Z for Zero-sum (Part I)

Freida Dantas stepped out of the queue to look around. The machine wasn’t that far from here–only a few hundred more. She looked behind. The queue went on for as long as she could see. She too had started from the end of the queue many hours ago. The machine took only a second to judge, so the queue had kept moving continuously. But she worried if there were more hopefuls in the queue than seconds in a day. She had been queueing up religiously for her pronouncement every day since she had died.

She’d learned of the system the day she had arrived at the purgatory. Learned is probably not the best word to describe the process. She had woken up in the purgatory a week ago knowing about it instinctively, with no recollection of her prior life. She knew exactly when and where to queue up for the machine. The machine would tell her if it was her time to ascend to the heaven yet. She’d witnessed thousands of ascensions on her first day. The ascendants one after the other had stood under the


    Rustum Patel was a rational man beset by an irrational malady. He was a perfectly healthy centenarian by all means, except that he was born no more than fifty years in the past. Every doctor in the country and abroad was consulted, but the symptoms themselves were an impossibility for even the most seasoned and discerning doctors. Lying on the bed he stared pensively at himself one last time through the mirror, as he had stared for days before, witnessing himself slowly lose hair and then teeth and finally the life in his skin, feeling horrified and bewildered and yet helpless all the same. In his last moment on earth, he felt his bones creak and skin crack and the air around him pull the last breath from his cold weary lungs, but not before he saw a younger image of himself smile demonically and wink at him from inside the mirror he had robbed from a crone.

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