The Unkind Cut
The condemned man strode down the front steps, unaware that this was the final day of life as he had known it. In less than 24 hours his entire world would change. The sun would seem a little less bright; there would be slightly less bounce in his step. This morning, at least, all of that was off in the future.
For the condemned man had no concept of time. For him, days unfolded endlessly into naps, walks, eating. His life had been distilled down to its most rudimentary elements, and when you live like that, there is no reason to pay attention to time: day, night. That's it.
There were times that he was left alone, sometimes inside, sometimes in his cement-walled prison out back. Those were sad times, times when he would peer out the window at the world, see it passing by and wonder, "Why am I left in here?"
Today, though, no one left him behind, forgotten. Today the condemned man joined the rest of the world outside, walking seemingly without a care, stopping to literally smell the roses.
After the walk, the condemned man was brought before a tribunal, inexplicably. He bravely faced a mob of 20, all eager to touch him. They treated him like a pet, like him completely unaware of the tragedy in his near future.
The condemned man lapped up the attention. Because he spends so much of his time alone, he appreciates any attention. "This is the way it should be," he thought. "There's plenty of me to go around."
He had heard whisperings, during his rare outings, of events so gruesome that he couldn't begin to understand. After all, he was a young man, and innocent. It was less than a year ago that he lived with his family on a farm, before coming to the city. And this, this ... process ... that he'd heard of, it seemed too awful, too inhumane to be true.
So he ignored it. He wrote it off as an urban legend, spread by some distempered airhead who liked to hang around the park and steal people's innocence. Why the world had to include people like that, he did not know. But his spirit would not be crushed by a sour old man's tall tale.
Later, the condemned man returned home from the tribunal. He was fine, he thought; the mob had done nothing more than talk to him and touch him. It was not his business if they wanted to act this way. If the condemned man knew one thing, it was that people liked to talk to him and touch him. He was attractive, if doomed.
The condemned man sleeps, dreaming of open fields full of friends, with birds flying overhead. He is relaxed as he can be, completely unaware of what lies ahead.
Tomorrow morning, the condemned man will awake and skip breakfast. The doctors have instructed him to eat nothing after midnight. Then he will get into his car and drive to the hospital. He will do this willingly, because it is a place he's been to before and nothing bad has ever happened to him there, save for a little prodding and poking. They always have good food there, which runs opposed to what he's heard about hospitals.
But tomorrow will be different. He will enter the hospital and they will speak kind words, as usual. They will be happy to see the condemned man.
This time they will take him to a back room and strap him to a table. They will inject him with chemicals, then put a mask over his face and tell him to count back from 100. He will find himself getting tired, and it will feel good, and no old man's urban legend will enter his mind.
He will drift off, and that is when his life will change.
When he awakes, he will be in terrible pain. Something very important to the condemned man will be missing. Someone will have placed a large white cone around his head. His innocent world shattered, he will think of the old man's story and wonder "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?"
And so the condemned man will return home, only part of what he was when he left, one of the growing community of creatures known not as men or women but simply as "neuters."
Poor Shack. He has no idea.