Short Stories

18 March 2017
12 October 2012
04 June 2011
01 April 2011
Chris Slatter

The Clinic



The Clinic


The news arrived the old fashioned way, electronically generated and then printed on a small white card. It came at 12 noon in a white envelope just as the party was beginning. It was the end of everything. At least it was supposed to be.

With a population of twelve billion the Earth was straining at the seams. There was not enough food, not enough room and not enough money to support everyone; something had to be done, governments had decided, before the pressure cooker exploded.

   But from whom do you withhold resources?  Certainly not from children, they are the planet’s future; not from the uneducated either because they supply the menial labour, although there was less and less of this as robot workers proliferated. Restrict childbirth then? But families were already restricted to one child unless they were very rich, or had staggering intellectual capabilities.  The minority groups: the politically deviant, the mentally ill and the recidivist criminals – all the groups traditionally targeted by governments looking to make cuts were so small that targeting them would cost more than doing nothing at all. And as for the migrants, well, everyone was a migrant in one way or another and, in any case, the economy needed them. And so, despairing, technocrats turned their attention to the one group which had benefited most from the technological riches of the 21st century, and which contributed least in taxes – the old.

Not that they were old anymore. Performers in their 70’s, once such a rarity, were now commonplace. Construction workers, ships’ captains, airline pilots and even astronauts aged in their declining years were not unknown. And old people didn’t look old, either; not any more. Silver hair, dentures, failing eyesight and fading memory were things of the past. At least they were things of the past in the western world. As long as you kept up your muscle supplements and had regular vitamin and mineral shots you could stay in your forties until you were over a hundred. And millions did exactly that, sucking money and resources from the planet’s economy without a second thought. The government was bound to step in eventually.

“I got the card,” Alexandra announced to no one in particular. “They don’t waste a moment do they? It’s my birthday and I get the card.” The group of friends which had gathered to celebrate Alexandra’s birthday paused and stared at the flame-haired woman with the plunging neckline who held the small white card in her hand.

“I didn’t know this was that birthday, Alexandra,” said a dark, petite woman wearing a tiara. “And you received the card today?”

An athletic-looking man thrust his hand out. “Can I see it? I’ve never seen one before,” the man asked. “I won’t be getting mine for years yet. Just wondered what they look like. What does it say?” he further enquired.

Alexandra thrust the card into the man’s hand. He fumbled it but recovered quickly and snatched the card from the air before it could hit the ground.

“Nice reflexes, Calvin!” A stunning blonde called from across the room. “I see how you keep your place in the first team.”

Calvin, who kept his place as the oldest player in the league by being married to a team owner, ignored the sarcasm and preened. He flexed his impressive muscles so the cloth of his jacket strained at his upper arms. Holding the pose he brought the card up to his face and began reading. It was disarmingly simple:

       Congratulations on attaining your 85th birthday. You are invited to a special meeting to discuss your future. Please call any of the companies printed on the other side of this card to register for your reward. If we have not heard from you after 7 days our representatives will call on you at home to discuss your options.

With much affection,

SimonTucker,                                                                                                                                                                            Mature Persons Representative

“I wonder what they mean by ‘discuss your options’?” Calvin asked. “What options do you have after you turn 85?”

“You have no options, Calvin,” sneered the stunning blonde woman whose name, appropriately, was Lola. “You don’t really have a choice, unless you count deciding which sanctuary gets your business.” She turned to the flame haired hostess, “Alexandra, I am truly sorry. Let’s all get drunk and forget about this until tomorrow.”

Getting drunk was not really an option because excessive alcohol had an alarming tendency to add years to a person’s appearance after just one session. The supplements didn’t like it. But it was worth imagining for a moment. Alexandra shook her head to clear it of the fantasy before taking a defiant sip of her very weak pseudo-gin and tonic.


A week later, still not reconciled to her fate, Alexandra heard the front door chime softly. Two               people, perfectly dressed with perfect smiles carrying lavender portfolios that were also perfect stood on the doorstep. He was an impressively groomed man in his thirties, she an impossibly thin woman of perhaps forty. Everything about them said government.

“Mrs. Pope?” the man enquired.

“No, I am her granddaughter,” Alexandra replied. And with her impressive décolletage and wrinkle-free face she could almost have got away with it.

“That’s a good joke, Alexandra,” the woman said, showing perfect teeth. “May we come in? We’re from the Mature Persons Foundation. You received our card, I think. We’re just following up. My name is Maddie and this is my colleague Kyle.”

Maddie and Kyle: two characters from a horror story, thought Alexandra

Settled comfortably in the tiny conservatory, Maddie and Kyle commenced their pitch without the slightest sign of embarrassment. Why should they be embarrassed? They’d done this almost a thousand times before.

“So Alexandra, you turned 85 years old last week and we just wanted to let you know what your options are,” Maddie said.

Kyle leaned forward, “Congratulations, by the way, Mrs. Pope, eighty five is quite an achievement.”

Alexandra was unmoved, “Thanks. So what are my options? Why do I need options anyway.”

“There’s no way to put this delicately, Alexandra, so I’ll just tell you,” Maddie said.

 Kyle adopted a fixed smile while his colleague spoke.

“The government cannot afford to give you support any more, Alexandra. Your doctor is expressly forbidden to give medical attention to any patient after their 85th birthday. He cannot prescribe medication or supplements.”

“Why not? I pay for them myself!” Alexandra snapped.

“It’s a matter of priorities, Mrs.  Pope.” Kyle spoke through his fixed smile. “There are so many of us, all needing support and help and there is only a small pot to dip into. I know you wouldn’t want to deprive children of the help they need, nor their parents for that matter. It would be selfish and we know how generous you have been in the past to your own family.”

Maddie took up the lead again. “The government has also withdrawn financial help.” Maddie raised her finger to forestall any objection from Alexandra. “You own your home, but you have been receiving assistance in the form of discounts on utilities and property taxes. These have now ceased and in future you will be charged the full amount for these services.”

Before Alexandra could object, Kyle spoke again.

“It’s for the best, Mrs. Pope. It’s such a small pot and so many want to dip into it. There isn’t room for everyone and you have led such a full life. You have thrived, haven’t you?” Kyle looked Alexandra directly in the eyes while he spoke. Alexandra found herself wondering how old he was.

Alexandra was extremely irritated.   “Okay, I’m sick of your good-guy-bad-guy routine. Give it to me straight; tell me what I am supposed to do.” Alexandra spoke harshly; she hated these people who had come with their beautiful clothes and their charming manners to kill her.

“You don’t have to do anything, Alexandra,” it was Maddie who spoke while her partner smiled. “No, you can continue just as you have before. So long as your savings and the medications and supplements you have managed to lay aside hold out there is no reason for your life to change at all.”

“I can stay in my own house? You won’t snatch me or have me assassinated?” she asked.

“Mrs. Pope! Do we seem like those sorts of people?” Kyle’s smile had wavered for an instant, like a small cloud crossing the sun.

“You can stay wherever you like, but we should inform you that many of the sanctuaries charge a fee if you delay your entry for longer than three months,” Maddie said.

“How much?” Alexandra knew the fee was going to be high.

“The amount is equal to the value of your dwelling and possessions if you’re a home owner; just the possessions if you’re a renter,” Maddie replied.

“I’ll be left with nothing to pass on to my family!” she said infuriated by the injustice.

“But only if you delay longer than three months, Mrs. Pope. It’s really quite generous when you think about it,” Kyle said winningly.

A few minutes later, seated in the front seat of their car outside Alexandra’s apartment block, Kyle and Maddie reviewed their visit with Alexandra Pope.

“I give her a day shy of three months,” Kyle said coldly.

“I reckon she’ll crack the month before,” Maddie replied with a laugh. “Just wait until the relatives start putting pressure on her.”

“How much this time? “ Kyle asked, giving his partner a quick glance.

“Same as usual, five thousand,” she replied, flashing him a rare smile. “Or is that too much for you?”

“Maddie, you have a bet,” Kyle laughed and steered the car out into the traffic.


The first thing Alexandra did after the pair had left was to ring her doctor’s surgery for an appointment. His receptionist said they had nothing available at the moment and she would consult with the physician and ring her back. Alexandra waited all afternoon and finally rang the surgery. The recorded voice of the same receptionist apologised for the surgery being closed and advised that callers should try again in the morning.

Her doctor was going over his consultation notes when Alexandra arrived. She walked past the empty reception desk and straight into his office, not even bothering to knock. The doctor looked up guiltily when she burst in; this was not going to be easy, he knew. Still, Alexandra Pope had been a patient for more than thirty years and he owed her an apology at least.

“Alex, how nice to see you,” he began. “It’s after hours, but I’m sure if you tell me what’s wrong I can…

“You can do what, Paul? Two visitors from the Mature Persons Foundation just told me that you can’t do anything because I’m 85-years-old.” Alexandra felt she had become a character in a farce.

The doctor had seen this all before. Dozens of his patients had been frog-marched to their reward when they turned 85. Some of them were in the prime of their lives. The news hit them differently, but reactions mostly followed a pattern: initial outrage, followed by bewilderment, a brief period of struggle, then fear and finally acceptance. When it was his time, which wouldn’t happen for thirty years, he planned to get outrageously drunk in a hotel room with two Asian prostitutes, preferably twins, take a pill when he was too drunk and exhausted to continue and not wake up. As he had admitted to himself, he was quite looking forward to it.

“I’m sorry, Alex, you’re correct in saying there’s not a lot I can do. I can’t prescribe you anything; I can’t sell you the preparations you need. I can’t even examine you. The penalties are quite severe if I do; disbarment isn’t even the worst one.”

   Alex slumped down on a chair and began dabbing her forehead distractedly. “I don’t know what to do, Paul.”

“I know, it’s terrible,” the man replied. “But bad as it is it could be worse. Did you know that in some countries people have no options at all? They don’t have sanctuaries; they have to report to a collection point where they are forced to take poison. The ones that go on the run are hunted down and executed on the spot.”

It was a stupid thing to say, he knew; it was akin to the how-would-you-like-to-die conversations people used to have over dinner. But there really wasn’t anything else he could say. Alexandra didn’t respond, she kept dabbing her forehead with the tissue while her eyes skittered over the walls in panic.

“You have three months,” the doctor said, “before you have to report, so you have time to get things in order and make decisions. I’ve never visited any of the sanctuaries myself, but a lot of the pharmaceutical salesmen say the Mount of Olives is very nice. The Shady Rest is good, too, if you’re an Anglican. And there’s the After Life, if you believe in such things.” He hesitated, thinking that the striking woman in the chair in front of his desk may well be a believer, “Which I do myself I should add.”

He began to warm to his subject, “But if you’re seeking something really progressive, perhaps you should consider the Blue Trilby,” he glanced sharply at Alexandra, “though of course that’s really for people with alternative lifestyles.” He paused, thinking.

   “Or yes, I’ve got it, the Ziegfield Follies! That’s fabulous, I hear, with dancers and full orchestras like the New York shows early last century. What a way to go!”

But Alexandra hadn’t heard any of it; she was wandering down the lanes and spinneys of her life. Her memories had suddenly become the most precious possessions she had.

“I was born in 2000, you know,” she whispered, “the dawn of the third millennium. It began with such hope.” She turned to look meaningfully at the doctor, “Before it turned to shit.”

She didn’t say anything further, just dabbed and skittered.

“Are you a religious woman, Alex?” he enquired as gently as he could. “Do you attend church? God can be a great comfort in times like these. Your parish priest can help you come to terms with things, if you’re religious.”

But the doctor wasn’t really thinking of the woman sitting before him, his priority was protecting his practise. Please don’t freak out on me in my consulting room, he prayed. I can’t treat you, or refer you. I am powerless to help you.

He had a sudden inspiration and opened a drawer in his desk to withdraw a sample that one of the salesmen had pressed on him. It was a new tranquilizer, very highly recommended with few side effects, so the salesman had said. Because it was a free sample it was absolutely untraceable. He poured a little water in a plastic cup.

“Take this, Alex, it will help you cope with things.”

He placed a pill in her hand and watched her as she swallowed it down. He put a second one in her hand and made her swallow it too.

The dabbing and skittering slowed and stopped.

   “I don’t feel old, you know. I don’t deserve this, dying on command,” she said. “I never believed the stories until now. I wish I had, I could have prepared.”

As if anyone could ever prepare for the moment when life is suddenly withdrawn, the doctor thought.

   “You can keep those pills, Alexandra,” he said, “Just don’t tell anyone where you got them!” On a whim he opened his desk drawer and scrabbled around for more free samples. He thrust a fistful in her lap.

Doctor Paul laughed the laugh of the guilty as he showed the woman out of the building.

“So long, Alexandra,” he called to her as her taxi swept out into the traffic. He even managed an extravagant wave.


Alexandra’s son, a trim, defiantly blonde man with an aching smile and fabulous teeth, was waiting at the kerb for her when she arrived home. He couldn’t believe how calm she was when she greeted him and showed him into the apartment.

“I just thought I’d come round to see how you are, Mother,” he began. “You look very well I must say.”

Alexandra’s son, whose name was Christopher,  lounged on the beige couch nursing a glass of milk. He sipped it thoughtfully, appraising his mother who was gazing out of the window.

“Cassandra is well; she sends her love by the way. So what’s the news, what’s been happening in your part of the world?” he asked gaily.

“I’m being killed by the government within three months, as if you didn’t know, Chris,” she replied spitefully.

Her son hated the contracted form of his name, insisting on the full Christopher even when he was a child.

“But that’s terrible, Mother,” he said, ignoring the slight. “What did they tell you?”

“I have three months to choose a sanctuary,” she replied. “Meanwhile, I lose all my benefits. I can’t even see the doctor.”

“That’s awful, mother. You seem very calm about it, I have to say,” Christopher added.

“I took some pills. I can’t tell you where I got them; it’s a secret,” she replied, smiling.

   “What happens if you don’t choose a sanctuary in three months?” he asked disingenuously and took another sip of his milk. “Can they do anything?”

“They can’t do a damn thing,” she snapped. “As long as the money and the body hold out I can live as long as I like. And I have to tell you I’m not tired of living yet!”

   “But are you really allowed to do that, Mother? I’d heard…” he said, startled by his mother’s intractable refusal to accept death and the snarl that had suddenly formed on her lips.

   “What are they going to do, assassinate me?” she spat at him. “They’re going to do that anyway if I let them. So, they fine me the apartment and my few precious possessions, what do I care!”


When Christopher reported back to his wife, Cassandra, later that evening he was furious.

“That selfish woman! Can you imagine, she’s going to give up her apartment and all her money and possessions just to spend an extra few years on Earth!”

Cassandra was equally exasperated, “I was counting on that apartment, Christopher. How can she do that to us! It was our chance to finally have a life, do some travelling, buy some clothes.”

She stopped to pour them both a non-alcoholic drink.

“Is there anything we can do?” she asked her husband artfully. “You know, what if she has an accident before the three months is out? No one would care; there’s even an argument that we’d be doing something to help the government, the planet even. If she fell under a train, or accidentally poisoned herself I bet there wouldn’t even be an investigation.”

Christopher was startled and stopped, drink half-way to his mouth, “You want me to murder my own mother?”

“Listen, Christopher, it wouldn’t be murder. You would be helping her make up her mind; you’d only be doing what the government wants to do anyway. In a way, it’s kind of noble, helping the authorities keep the population down.”

She sensed that her husband was wavering.

“You turned sixty in April and I’m not far behind. We’ve got twenty-five years to enjoy ourselves. Who knows what life will be like if we don’t have that apartment. Our rent is killing us and the cost of medical care is crippling. If she refuses to go into a sanctuary, then we’ll gradually lose everything. Do you want to watch yourself get older and broker until you finally die, bent and toothless and bald?”

But her husband was still not quite convinced. She continued to harangue him.

 “And what will we have to leave our son when it’s our turn? And what will our son leave to our grandchild, little Stefan? Your mother’s stubbornness could destroy generations of our family! Is that what you want?”

Christopher couldn’t resist the tidal wave of rhetoric his wife had unleashed. He leapt to his feet, “Goddamn it, Cassie, you’re a persuasive woman. Let’s do it!”


In a state of tranquil bemusement, Alexandra had decided to hold a party for her friends. She rang one after another but couldn’t get past their machines. She left messages for each of them, inviting them to a party the following Saturday evening. She’d have a barbecue she thought, in the communal garden of the apartment complex. Lots of the residents did it. Steaks and a dunk in the pool, how perfect!

But when the apartment supervisor told her that he’d have to charge her two hundred dollars for the use of the facilities, it didn’t seem perfect at all.

“You’ve never charged me this much before!” she yelled down the phone at him. “It’s supposed to be twenty dollars! It’s always been twenty dollars!”

The supervisor was apologetic and, it should be said, a little embarrassed, too. But he had received an official notification that he was to cease all concessions and discounts to Mrs Alexandra Pope or risk being fired and forced to vacate his apartment in the complex. He had dependents and couldn’t afford to risk his job and his home, he explained to Alexandra.

Alexandra decided to go ahead with the barbecue anyway. It may be the last one she had, after all. In her heart she knew she was being pushed inexorably towards one of the sanctuaries, but she had decided to fight. Her ancestors, who had crossed the continent in a covered wagon and faced untold dangers, lived on in her genes.


Her son Christopher, not particularly well-versed in murder, had decided to visit the library to research the subject. Libraries were still thriving even in the late 2000’s. The books were symbolic, protected by glass and rarely touched, but the all-knowing computers were powerful research tools. They were also blessedly anonymous. You could look up anything you liked and be sure that it would take days, or even weeks for the authorities to notice. He could always say he was researching a crime novel that he was writing should anyone stumble across his search string.

He started with the search term, Murder. The computer came back with 295 million references containing the search term, Murder. He scrolled through them. On the twentieth page he gave up. A library robot brought him a coffee. He sipped it considering how he should continue to research the subject without wasting years doing it. Finally, on a whim he decided to approach the problem in the simplest way he could think of. He cleared the screen of the broad murder references and typed in a single sentence: How to murder your mother and get away with it.

The computer paused for a fraction of a second as if confronted by the enormity of what it was being asked. Then it flashed up four entries. Christopher breathed a little sigh of relief and began to read. The first entry was: Matricide in Mythology and History: a primer for those wishing to delve deeper into the depths of the human psyche.

I certainly don’t want to do that, he told himself and moved the cursor to the next entry.

Matricide and Parricide – the new family game from Sega. Be the detective, the murderer, even the victim in this absorbing romp. You never thought murdering relatives could be such fun…

“Jeez, the world today!” Christopher muttered to himself.

He moved the cursor to the third entry: UBC Dept. of Psychology: case studies recommended for students studying for an MSc in criminal psychology.

There might be some useful pointers in that one, he mused. He would return to that later, after reading the fourth and last entry.

There was a single word describing the subject. It just said UNTHINKABLE.

Nervously, Christopher clicked on the entry. He hoped it wasn’t going to launch him into a world of gushing blood, beating heart effects and maniacal laughter. He had turned the computer’s volume down just in case, but he needn’t have worried. There was just a picture of a white card with a message in beautiful scrolled script:

Congratulations on attaining your 85th birthday. You are invited to a special meeting to discuss your future. Please call this number to register for your reward. If we do not hear from you after 7 days we will not trouble you again.

With much affection,

Simon Tucker,                                                                                                                                                                            Mature Persons Representative

At the bottom of the card there was a phone number in tiny script. It was all very puzzling; Christopher didn’t know what to do, so he decided to do what he usually did which was to ask his wife, Cassandra.

Peering at the tiny phone number on the bottom of the screen he made a note of it on his pad, trying to look as disinterested as he could. His fellow researchers didn’t even look up from their screens.


“Well, obviously Christopher you have to ring the number!” his wife said sharply when he returned home.

He made a move towards the phone and stopped abruptly as his wife shrieked at him again. “Not from our phone, idiot! Don’t you know anything about crime?”

Christopher had to admit that he had lot to learn when it came to illegal activities. He spread his hands to show that he was nonplussed. “Do you know where there’s a payphone, dear?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “there are several in China.” And then exasperated at her husband’s mystified expression added, “Call from work, Christopher. There are no payphones any more. You know that, don’t you?”

Of course he knew that, he told himself. This whole business had him utterly confused. He would call from work. If anyone traced the call then good luck to them finding the culprit from hundreds of suspects. He breathed easier. It was going to be okay.


Christopher worked as a supply teacher. Currently he was filling in for a pregnant teacher of biology at the Barack Obama High School several kilometres away. Biology wasn’t his first discipline, which was English composition. A fallow field if ever there was one, he thought wryly. Try teaching English composition to kids who do all their communicating via electronic devices. It will break your heart.

He took the morning period with the school’s youngest class. He liked the young ones best; you could blow their minds with pond life under a microscope, or by making a dead frog jerk about with a small electric current. The older ones seemed more interested in each other than what he had to teach them. They’re still learning biology though, he chuckled. Finally the bell rang and, after ushering the students out of the door, he rushed into the hallway where there was an actual payphone, a museum piece that had to be fifty years old. He’d never seen anyone use it, so perhaps it didn’t work.

It did work though, and the number connected, rang for a few seconds and was then answered.

“Unthinkable: solutions to insoluble problems”, the female voice said brightly.

The pedant in Christopher awoke. If the problem is insoluble then it cannot have a solution, he wanted to scream, but all he said was, “Hello.”

“How can I help you, sir,” the voice said

“Yes, er, I’d like to speak with Simon Tucker, please.” He was sure that sirens were about to go off all over the school; either that or the girl at the other end of the phone would say she had never heard of Simon Tucker.

“Just a moment, sir. Please hold while I connect you.”

An electric thrill coursed through his body. He was beginning to like crime.

“Yes?” The voice was male, completely disarming and possibly belonged to a man in his 40’s.

“I’d like to speak with Simon Tucker,” Christopher began. “I came across him on the internet yesterday and I would be very interested in speaking to him.”

“What was the search string you used yesterday, sir?”

“Did I tell you I’m on a payphone, a public payphone? In a public place,” he added to make sure that there could be no confusion.”

“Yes, sir. Please tell me the search string you used. I can’t put you through without it.”

Christopher looked up and down the hallway to see i

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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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