At The Hospital
By Saul Jennings

I'd first noticed something felt wrong At The Hotel. The receptionist and I exchanged pleasantries and I asked for my room. The girl on the desk confirmed it was available and gave me the keys. The whole thing was smooth but rather soulless and it got me thinking. At first I assumed the hotel had trained its staff to be friendly but bland. But then I recalled the odd conversation On The Plane. The man sitting next to me and I had exchanged pleasantries, both said our name, where we came from and then said what we did for a living. Then we didn't speak again for the remainder of the flight. It seemed odd.

It was still on my mind At The Restaurant, especially when the waiter suggested I ordered one first course, two main courses and several desserts. Just a small thing and I intended to raise it In The Reception with the couple I met. But after we'd explained who we were, what city we were from, what we were doing for a living and where we were going tomorrow, the conversation dried up.

It was still worrying me In The Office too, but my colleagues were not interested. Instead they explained what projects they were on, whether they had been a success or failure and which city they came from. When I pressed them for further information, they looked confused and just repeated a list of nouns.

It was In The Bookshop when I first got a clue as to what may be happening. After exchanging pleasantries and saying our names, I asked the shopkeeper for a book that might me help learn the language of the city I'm in. He explained that he would need to order one. I could see copies on the shelves so I pointed to them. He continued to take my order as I opened them up, read the text and panicked.

I decide to have a drink At The Bar and that was when I certain what was occurring. I had the same conversation twenty seven times with the barman. Each time I asked about his greatest fears, his first kiss or his life's ambitions but he refused to change his script. He told me about cities he had visited and cities he intended to visit. He looked more nervous each time we spoke.

I decided I could cope no longer. At The Gun shop I nearly faltered, until the man said that the gun had not been used in the past, but might be used in the future. I snarled at him and told him I was using it now.

I ran out the shop wild and crazy. I refused to accept my fate, forever re-enacting vapid conversations. I saw a cop, who was explaining he was a policeman as I let the gun roar. Then more cops arrived At The Shootout. We exchanged pleasantries and bullets for half an hour before I was overwhelmed. They all bade me a good night as the bullets ripped into me.

Now I lie In The Hospital, life ebbing away. A man and a woman approach. They explain to each other that they live in this city and that they are doctors. As I close my eyes for the final time, they begin to refer to me in the past tense.

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Saul lives in Greece and Switzerland and earns money doing undefinable things "with computers". After several decades of having unusual ideas that seemed like they might make interesting stories, he has taken the step of writing them down and letting them loose. So far five of the ideas have been re­homed in Corvus, Linguistic Erosion, the Mustache Factor, Abstraction and Apocrypha and Bartleby Snopes.

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