Numb by Sam Fletcher

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Numb by Sam Fletcher
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Tuesday, April 9—My name is Solomon. I am twenty-eight years old. I write to you today from my home four miles northeast of Nuuk, Greenland. About every five minutes, the person closest to me dies.

I don’t mean the person I love the most or the closest in relation. I mean this quite literally. Proximity wise, since my body first saw the light of day, the person nearest me has died without explanation. No markings on the body, no internal damage. Dead.

Of course I don’t remember the chronological events occurring in the hospital room twenty-eight years ago. I can imagine, however, that the doctor held me in his arms when he passed. He probably cradled me so I wouldn’t fall, but I plummeted anyway. My mother, fatigued, panicked but did not initially get up. My father instead ran to me, along with the nurses in the room. Within the hour, however, everyone in the room perished.

My earliest memory brings me to Lincoln Group Home (which is, in my interpretation, merely a euphemism for “orphanage”) in Chicago. I remember the children next to me dying in the night. It terrified me at first. Questions arose when I was one of the only residents left.

What am I doing to them? I asked Sylvia, my favorite caregiver. Her hair, pulled into a tight bun, always felt like home. I could never explain that feeling.

Nothing, darling. This is a plague. A terrible, terrible disease. We are calling in all sorts of specialists to figure it out. But it’s nothing you should feel guilty about. You should feel grateful that you are unaffected.

I heard the staff bicker about the cause of the deaths. They did it almost every night. I knew it was me. I don’t remember a time unaware, in fact. But with Sylvia’s help, I suppose I denied it.

Regardless of the different theories, all agreed that I should be transferred to A&S a few miles east. Before ink met the final paperwork, however, there was no one alive to hold the pen. This began my first experience with homelessness.

I made lots of friends on the streets. I ate nice meals in shelters. I talked a lot to the housed humans who would volunteer. The holidays initiated a crazed influx of these humans; this may have correlated with the mass feelings of guilt during these times or the time off work. Maybe neither. Maybe both. Some of these people’s smiles came off genuine. They cared about me. I know this because they never asked about where I shower or what I usually eat. They didn’t ask my story or take a picture with me.  They would just sit and play cards. Not saying much at all, really.

I should say now, however, that when I say I make friends or have conversations I don’t mean it in your traditional sense, you should presume. I guess quite literally speaking I have never had a real friend or enjoyed a real conversation. I do, on occasion, see repeated faces or have a brief visit before these individuals die. And those, I must say, I enjoy well.

Throughout these years families would try to take me in. Even my homeless elders would try to provide greater shelter or, if nothing else, share their best collected strategies with me. Even the homeless pity homeless children. It of course didn’t mean much. In a short while they all died. I just always took interest in their efforts.

At fourteen I visited my first priest in confession. I learned quickly that it was not the place for me. Not because I did not consider myself catholic, but because I did not seek forgiveness. I sought answers. The contingency caused the problem: even after I revealed my disease, the priest was adamant about learning how I’d sinned. I didn’t feel like I was sinning. I felt like I was being victimized.

So I continued. I visited churches, temples, and mosques. Before passing, individuals would tell me I am cursed. Perhaps because of an act in a past life, perhaps not. Regardless of the house or the book of principles, each leader stood unanimous: God is punishing me. When I left, I always felt like I was supposed to feel guilty, like I was supposed to change something in my behavior and this would stop. I’ll give the theory the attention it deserves, but no more. I never much bought into it. I believe all of these gods who preach love and acceptance, no matter what I, another version of me, or any ancestral figure may have done, would punish me by deprecation of my being. What good does hurting the people around me do?

At sixteen people stopped trying to take me in. My mind matured at a rapid rate, as you can imagine in these forced scenarios of adulthood at a young age. It was sixteen, I suppose, that my body caught up to it. With stolen supplies and nothing to lose, I became a freelance writer for pay. This way all of my employers were nowhere to be found. I spent some years, still homeless, saving money. When I was of age, I purchased a ticket to New York.

My reason for leaving Chicago may seem illogical or childish, but you must understand that it was truly the only thing I knew. I figured, at the time, that since this curse, or disease, or wild coincidence, wouldn’t fleet, I should find a way to use it for good. My whole life I heard that New Yorkers always rush. They never stop to enjoy each day. I heard they push people out of the way to get where they need to go. They don’t respect each other or themselves. I thought, at this time, that if everyone around me were to die, it may as well be a location where there is no shortage of people, and the world may be better off without them.

My flight held one-hundred-and-eighty-two people for a duration of two hours. I sat in the last row. Roughly 12 deaths (or two rows) in, ground control called for an emergency landing. We crashed in a wheat field forty miles outside the city. I followed instruction to evacuate the plane as people kept collapsing. I decided to escape and walk the rest of the way to New York. By the time I got there I am sure the pilot, in the seat farthest from mine, perished. Leaving me once again the sole survivor.

I don’t remember many faces. I have seen so many, and so many have perished before they have logged into long-term recognition. A few stand out. I would like to share with you a short anecdote of two of these faces. In downtown Manhattan, two weeks after the grand move, I bumped into a man on the sidewalk. He turned to look at me. This brief moment of hesitation he could have spent continuing his walk. Instead he chose to spend it on me. This, of course, made it his last. As he collapsed to the earth, a crowd immediately hovered him. I thought it best to leave. A man tapped me on my back.

Ay, man—where you think you’re going?

I turned. His soft eyes laying within a thick layer of water and subtle resemblance told me he had just lost his brother.

He just died, he continued. You were right there. Do something.

I said nothing.

DO SOMETHING! he screamed.

Again, I remained unmoved. I hoped this man, like his brother, wouldn’t waste his last moment on me. He threw a punch. I could have blocked it, or at least gotten out of the way. I knew it was coming. But I didn’t. I instead let him beat me. I let him bruise my eyes and break my nose. Because, before anything too serious, the man himself died. Afterward I walked to the nearest hospital and allowed the receptionist to spend her last moment checking me in. I allowed the nurse to spend his last moment briefing me in the room. I allowed the anesthesiologist to spend her last moment putting me under. I allowed the surgeon to spend his last moment realigning my nose.

I cannot say that I have never wound up in an interrogation room. Too often am I the only person in a building of corpses. Because of this, they take me in. I have been in handcuffs seven times, actually. Some of these times it was purely for more information. Some of these times it was full of violent accusation. Regardless of the reason for getting me into interrogation, I always end up the only person living and walk out a free man.

Regardless of the theories of the justice system, however, they have no sound evidence for explanation. Neither do I.

Two years in New York, and I fell in love. I love its rich history, its proud culture and prominent counter cultures, and its influence on the world. I love its people. In these years, despite my goal, I was truly happy. Because of this, I had to leave. I realized, finally, that each community, no matter the size or location, is too diverse to be solely evil. Solely anything, really. But that wasn’t the only reason. Even in my youth I knew that I shouldn’t be too close to people of influence or politics. I was growing numb to the death of people. My greatest fear was to become numb to the death of legislature, purpose, and, above all, life.

On my next move I figured I could go by train. Depending on the duration of my travels and location of the passenger car, the conductor could be safe. Too often had I caused a commotion though. The time had come to go off the grid.

I sat in a rental facility and waited until everyone died. Someone on the ground of the parking lot had keys in their hand. Based on the model emblem on the keys and the direction of the corpse’s feet, I found their car. I drove north.

The drive to Nunavut, long and dull, forced me to find creative forms of entertainment. I took note of the different positions of the drivers in front and behind me as they died. I couldn’t see the bodies, of course, but I could guess the position by the action of the car as the body fell limp. Some cars slowed gradually to a stop—some halted. Some swerved off the road. Some sped up and, quite curiously, curved with the road for some fractions of a mile. The first few cars shocked me. The next set blanketed me in guilt and remorse. Hours into the drive, however, and they fully immersed me in joy and entertainment.

Of course the police started to catch on. This, too, I had fun with. The squad cars began to storm these crashed vehicles, too preoccupied with the dead to even pique interest at the living. By the end not only did I escape freely in a stolen vehicle, but I was able to go about thirty miles-per-hour over the speed limit without qualms.

It took many days, miles, and short conversations to discover the single cruise line between the Nanuvut mainland and Baffin Island. I spent the trip, about four hours, pacing between the lower cabin and the cockpit, allowing myself to talk to the captain without him dying right away. Stephen, I believe his name was. We became great friends, I should say. He taught me how to read, work, and understand the navigation system. He taught me the degrees at which to angle the rudder. I blamed my frequents to the cabin on a faulty bladder. Stephen expressed empathy on the matter at first but, towards the end, cracked jokes. I laughed along with him.

The passengers panicked before long. Inevitably Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter to haul bodies (and families of bodies) off the boat. By the time we arrived on shore, Stephen and I had a lot to talk about.

The boat from Baffin Island to the Port of Nuuk was an even rarer find. An expensive one, too, with overnight accommodations and few passengers.  Within three hours of leaving, the skills I learned from Stephen were put into effect. I felt like a criminal, learning the art of captaining a ferry with the intention to steal one. I intended to get to Greenland, I suppose. And with my contagion there was no way to do it without theft.

I live four miles away from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, in a shack I initially rented and now have no landlord. It has a small kitchen with a stovetop fireplace. I chop my own wood. I have a garden out back and am almost all the way self-reliant. I have no connection to much civilization anymore, so all of my jobs on the internet, like everything else around me, perished. I find it easier that way. Nuuk is the closest city to me, but it is too large for me to witness the deaths. And it is large enough, hopefully, to prosper regardless.

A fishing community, Følelsesløs, resides about seven miles north. When I feel truly alone I sit on a hilltop overlooking it. Far enough that they cannot see me. Close enough that I can hear their screams. When I feel completely vulnerable to the earth I sit on this ledge and watch the population drain. I feel this way more and more often these days. I used to sit here once a month. Now I do it almost every night. And every night that someone dies, the lights come on in the home. The family panics like they did the previous night and the night before that. They never get used to death.

I have.

I have pondered the benefits of my disease. I have found targeting deaths illogical. I have thought about the aids to population control, climate change, and efficiency of resources. None of which excite me.

Since birth, I have killed almost three million people. By the time I finish writing this, a few more will die. By the time you read this, the number will be much greater.

Sometimes I think I am selfish for staying in this shack. Sometimes I think I would do the world a favor if I killed myself. Sometimes I have tried. What is one life gone, verses a life gone every five minutes? I cannot say. I cannot make sense of any of it really. I am not aware if I am selfish, or evil, or a victim, or a hero. I just am. And that’s all I ever will be.


BIO: Sam Fletcher writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Off the Main Page, and The Simpleton. When he isn’t waiting tables or bothering people with telephone soliciting, he is studying journalism and creative writing in Bellingham, WA.