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Story 3

Lee Killough


Lee Killough's contribution to the Short Short Fiction issue appeared in an anthology called 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Greenberg, and Joseph Olander.

I don't remember if I wrote it specifically for that anthology or it appeared elsewhere, but it's had an interesting life. For years I received small royalty checks from that anthology and then three or so yeas ago an Aussie indie film maker Joel Rembach contacted me, saying he had seen the story many years before and always been haunted by it. He wanted to make a short film based on it. We negotiated, came to an agreement, and he did make a film. Here's the link I thought he did a nice interpretation of the story.

 ― Lee Killough



A Cup of Hemlock




Lee Killough


Two days after the Erasco shuttle crashed at the north pole of Chandanna, the local police arrested the man responsible. The trial was likewise speedy, the judgement being that: “Cars Merrivale Bantling, having caused the deaths of four hundred people by industrial espionage, has proven himself contemptuous of life and unfit to remain in society. He is to be confined for a period of thirty days, during which time he shall give up his life, be declared dead, and finally removed when all vital signs have ceased.”

“Do you really expect me to kill myself?” Bantling asked his Chandannair lawyer.

“You might donate yourself to the organ banks as many do. Your parts would be of no use to us, but the gesture would express your desire to expiate your offense.”

Bantling frowned. “And if I refuse your cup of hemlock? Is it forced down my throat?”

The lawyer recoiled in shock. “Chandanna is a civilized planet. No one will touch you with intent to harm.”

Aside from the barred door and windows, the cell looked more like a hotel suite. It had comfortable furniture, a good library, and excellent food. The only disturbing note was the altar-like table bearing a chalice of amber liquid. Bantling decided to wait the Chandannans out. He could do worse than live the rest of his life like this.

His appeals were denied and as the thirtieth day approached, Bantling became nervous. But the last day proceeded as the previous ones had. No one sent gas through the vents or poured the poison down his throat. Toward evening he laughed in triumph and hurled the chalice across the room, splashing the poison up the wall.

Then he began wondering where his dinner was. Its usual time of arrival had long passed. He tried to turn on the lights. The room remained dark.

Fear swept him. He rushed to the water taps...but though pushed full on, they only dripped a few drops...and stopped.

He ran to the door and pounded on it. “Hey! I want to see my lawyer!”

No one came.

The judge’s words echoed in Bantling’s head. “He is to be declared dead, and finally removed when all vital signs have ceased.

Bantling stared at the empty cup on the floor...and the drying stain on the wall.

A whimper rose in his throat.

The End

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