The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy Phil Phorce, episode 6: Soap Opera.
Christopher finally found the folder in the file cabinet. Slapping it onto the table before the young recruit, he sat with a sigh. “I assume you know what you’re getting into,” he said.
The boy nodded, but Christopher continued anyway. It was in his job description: sit the kid down, show him his file, and tell him what the Blanks were all about.
“You and I are part of a rare section of humanity,” said Christopher. “We are human, but the laws of life and death apply to us differently. Most humans will live their lives until their bodies stop functioning, whether peacefully or otherwise. We are different.”
Christopher reached across the table for his coffee and took a sip. It was still hot. “When our life’s work is finished, we die. It’s simple as that. Never before, never after—but once we’ve done all we’re meant to do in the grand scheme of things, we’re dead. We can’t die from natural causes, nor unnatural causes. It doesn’t matter if we get eaten by a dragon or hit by a truck; we just don’t die.”
The recruit’s eyes were wide with the mention of the dragon. It was the same with everyone. Dragons were a shock to people, which was why Christopher always included it in his initiation speech. It would take the edge off when they actually saw the beast the first time. The way he figured, he stopped thirty percent of heart attacks in the Blanks every year by telling the recruits what to expect beforehand. Not that heart attacks would do anything to them, of course, but they were painful. Christopher wished it on no one.
Christopher took another sip. “But when we face our destinies, that’s the end. No warning, no chance of saving yourself—you just fall down, stone dead.”
The recruit opened his mouth, but Christopher raised a hand. “I know what your question is: how do I know what my destiny is supposed to be? How can I twist this fact of nature to my own advantage? The answer is you can’t. You can’t know, and you can’t manipulate it. It never fails to surprise us. One minute the IT guy will be fixing a computer, then he’s lying on the floor ready to push up some daisies. The computer’s fixed, though. We all wonder what would have happened if the computer had broken two years before—if he had fixed it then, would he have died then? We all thank our lucky stars that the computer was tough, if only for that poor guy’s sake.”
Christopher considered taking another drink, but he wasn’t thirsty. He set the cup back on the table. “But the only thing for it is to face this destiny. There are those—you’ve seen them, probably even were one at first—who think fates are written to be escaped, that we should be masters of our own futures. But how do you know you aren’t falling straight into fate’s trap? It could be that your destiny is to finish every season of your favorite TV show. If you decide to cheat fate by lying on your couch, watching TV, you might find yourself dead much sooner than you expected. But if you join with the Blanks, you get the opportunity to do as much good as you can, with people just like you. If it turns out that you die while watching Hawaii Five-O, you have the satisfaction of doing good before embracing your destiny.”
The recruit nodded. Christopher could tell he was hooked, but he still went forward with his speech. He pointed to the picture hanging on the wall. “Those are my children,” he said. “These qualities are carried from father to child, so both of them will be Blanks when they grow up. When they do, someone will give them the same speech as I’m giving you and, hopefully, they’ll choose to serve as I did.” Christopher leaned forward and tapped the unopened file on the table. “This is your documentation. Since you’re one of us, we’ve kept tabs on you from your birth. If we had wanted to bring you in sooner and force you to join us, we could have. But we gave you the choice. Now that you’ve come to us and know what we’re about, what’s your decision? Will you join us or end your life quietly, watching television?”
The recruit licked his lips and leaned forward. “I want to join,” he said. “I’ve seen how my father lives, and if he’s a Blank too, I don’t want to end up like him.”
With one look at the boy’s face, Christopher knew it was his final decision. “Good,” he said. “Very good. You’ll find the first stage of your training through the door behind me.” He sat back, his work finished.
The recruit stood, smiling broadly, and extended his hand. Christopher raised his eyebrows, but took it. The recruit shook it exuberantly, accidentally knocking over the coffee cup. Brown liquid spilled across the metal table into Christopher’s lap.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” said the recruit. He began casting around for something to clean up the mess.
“It’s no problem,” said Christopher, standing and examining the stains. “Go on through the door. I’ll clean this up.” There were paper towels in the lobby bathroom, but that meant going through a room full of new recruits with a large brown stain on his pants. There was another bathroom in the training facility, and that was closer to his quarters. He could clean up here, then change clothes and be ready for the next recruit in less than ten minutes. He pushed open the door to the training area.
“I’m so sorry,” called the recruit from the other side of the room, where he was being tested for strength and endurance.
Christopher waved a hand and ducked into the bathroom.
The metal tabletop and linoleum floor were easy to clean up with the paper towels. Coffee had dripped onto his chair, staining the cushion slightly, so he switched it with the chair on the recruits’ side of the table. It didn’t matter to him what they thought when they saw the stain—he just didn’t want to sit in a puddle.
He threw away the wet paper towels in the training facility’s trash can, then went back to the bathroom to wash his hands. The water was frigid. Maintenance had worked on that problem several times before, but it seemed they hadn’t quite succeeded yet. He let the water run so it could warm up.
The soap was green. Christopher had never seen it before, but he wasn’t in this bathroom often. It didn’t lather that well and felt slimy. He didn’t like it. The water was still cold when he rinsed his hands.
As he turned off the water, he noticed a strange tingling in the tips of his fingers. At first he thought his fingers were just numb, but it hurt too much. He dried his hands roughly, hoping it would pass. He threw away the paper towels and looked at his hands. His fingers were gone.
Christopher held his hand before his eyes, hardly believing it as it crumbled into dust. This was wrong. This wasn’t how Blanks died. The pinching, tingling sensation ran all the way up his arm and into his chest and legs, filling him with agonizing pain.
His scream echoed through the room long after he had turned to dust.