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At dusk, we left our unit with a soft pink bundle. I carried it through the wet streets and into the black woods. I said I’d take it all the way, the bundle, but that we had to drop it in together.

My wife’s green eyes flashed. “Don’t make me do that.”

I insisted. I couldn’t bear that burden alone. It would change things. Though never codified or enforced, it had become a common practice, but I still had mixed feelings. I never expressed these feelings, not to my wife or anyone else. My right arm started aching. This angered me. I wanted to scream. I stopped and shook out the arm. We continued.

Penny was five years old. My wife had named her after a song she’d heard in the Archives. I never got to hear the song—anarchists firebombed the Archives shortly after Penny was born—and my wife could only hum the melody. It sounded lovely. I liked the name, Penny. Penny was a sweetness in our lives.

“I’m cold,” my wife said, hugging herself. She was weeping, but without tears. She had dried up since the accident. Her face had shrunk. Her green eyes burned behind papery wrinkles. Furrowed by a mix of anger and astonishment, her forehead expressed the pain most directly. 

I removed my jacket and draped it over her spare shoulders. She wasn’t eating or sleeping and rarely spoke anymore. Of course she blamed herself for the accident. She admitted to taking her eye off the ball. I suppose I shared some responsibility. I should have been more vigilant, perhaps. But as my wife liked calling the shots, and I hated confrontation, I’d grown complacent.  

I can’t remember when it became a thing, the Chute, whether before or after the Reordering. Most people agreed it was after a new thing, possibly installed by the State or State proxies. Others pointed to a natural phenomenon—akin to a black hole, though no study could be made of its composition or origins. Anything that fell into the Chute never returned. Attempts to test it or explore it fully invariably failed. Countless researchers, scientists, and explorers seeking answers to their questions had fallen into the Chute, never to be seen again.

Some argued that the Chute had always existed—kept secret by faceless custodians. Or that it had always existed but had never been discovered. And who discovered it? A villager walking with his cow went missing one evening—the date of this event had been disputed. When a search party also went missing, the villagers called on the State. After conducting experiments, the State fenced it off with barbed wire and declared it a no-go zone. After further testing and analysis, the State determined that rather than being a terrifying vehicle of annihilation, the Chute might serve a pragmatic purpose. 

Thus it had become customary for citizens to dispose of their dead in the Chute, often accompanied by ritual or song, echoes of past rituals or songs, many long forgotten. Disposal of corpses in this manner saved space and manifested perfect hygienics. Naturally, the Chute also came to serve as a place of memorial, where people visited their dead.

The Chute had also become a waste depository, with a seemingly unlimited capacity, particularly if hitherto unknown compactification or quantum anomalies were at play. But this was for physicists and cosmologists to investigate, and many had been expunged during the Reordering.

My wife and I stood near the rubicund porthole of the Chute, glowing perhaps from an inner fire though no heat escaped, indeed nothing escaped. I held out the bundle—the corpse of our daughter swaddled in a pink blanket. I wanted my wife to hold one half of it.

“Please,” I said. “We must do this together.”

She shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t.” 

She looked ugly to me at that moment. My heart swelled with resentment. What did she expect? 

With no eulogy, no prayers, no send-off at all, I tossed the bundle into the porthole and with a soft sucking sound it vanished into the Chute. My wife sobbed and fell to her knees. I gave her a moment. I knew better than to intercede. Her sadness and self-loathing could not be mitigated.

Others had come, either to commemorate or dispose of their dead, or to simply dump their refuse. Another group could also be seen milling about the grounds surrounding the portal—sinister types with facial tattoos and deep scars, or burn marks from one of the various wars or local conflagrations. 

For one could also discard into the Chute corpses that belonged to neither family nor friends. Enemies could as easily be dispatched—that is to say, both enemies dead and alive. One had only to throw a living person into the Chute and they’d be erased from the time chart. And rather than mount cameras or station security to deter such a fiendish method of murder, the State decided to let it go. They reasoned that if a citizen went to the trouble of tossing someone into the Chute, they probably had good cause. Moreover, the bankrupt State could no longer investigate or prosecute every murder, so this saved a lot of time and paperwork and kept the prisons from overcrowding. Of course, more than a few people elected to end their own lives by leaping into the chute. Indeed, it had become the preferred mode of suicide.

I thought about my daughter, Penny. She never had a chance to realize the promise of her beautiful little form. And we had lost the chance to realize our dreams of family. I wept and wept. I stopped weeping when my wife slowly moved to the portal and stood before it with her arms raised. For a moment I thought she was going to jump. I understood. She could no longer live with herself. Part of me wanted to stop her.  


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