7 For Seven Fiction Friday: "Congratulations, You Are Dead"
"Sometimes a cloud would block the sun and that would feel nice."
Congratulations, You’re Dead
by Brady Gerber
Now that I don’t work there anymore, let me explain.
In 2026, Charon LLC finally broke through – the Midwest and Southwest being the last hold-out regions – to become everyone’s go-to service for assisted, or “fulfilled,” dying. The company went public. The Wall Street Journal dubbed Stefanie a success. “An unexpected success,” they said. Much to prove, they said. Stefanie, who struggled with her f’s since middle school and who twiddled her left thumb and index finger together when nervous, nailed her f’s on The TODAY Show that same morning after the IPO.
“There’s so much fear of dying,” she said. It was winter, and she was wearing a sundress and heels; she remembered to talk slow and from the top of her head. “And there’s so much fear of not knowing how we’ll die. It can be paralyzing. It can keep us from achieving our best selves. In a funny way” – she remembered to pause, look down, and smile before looking back up to the camera, still smiling – “our lives get in the way of living. But we are not here to worry. We are here to live. We want to take that worry away from you.”
An hour before she went on air, the news broke that Charon’s two main competitors, Stardew Inc (“We’ll show you the way”) and Maxwell LLC (“The end is just the beginning”), had just lost more investors over unrelated yet high-profiled scandals involving angry-turned-violent strikes from underpaid Guides (we were mostly called Guides) and another sexual assault case against Stardew’s CEO. If Stefanie knew about both, she didn’t show it on air. She did the right thing. She played cool and unknowing to her competitors. She nodded her head more than she talked. “We are here for you,” she said. Stefanie would continue to struggle with her f’s until her drowning accident while vacationing in Greece a few months later; her father chose this interview as the main footage for her memorial service because it was where she best hits those fs.
By that Christmas, gift cards for Charon “Partners” entered Amazon’s bestselling lists, and it topped every publication’s “essential holiday gifts” lists. (Her genius: knowing that “Partners” sounded more trusting than “Guides.”) It was still a legal nightmare. However, more people than not, including those in Congress, were warming up to its success. It did wonders for the economy. There was now a Charon station in every major city and midsized town. More would come with each year, she said. These Charon stations provided jobs for anyone willing to take two free day-long classes on how to become a Partner, which provided health insurance and, to wealthy and coastal liberals’ woes, fair pay. (“This is not the kind of fair labor we imagined,” began one New York Times op-ed.)
By the time I left, I had earned a decent paycheck and plenty of benefits. The unlimited vacation time was my favorite. I didn’t take advantage of that as much as I should have. I only took three long trips, all to the same place. The stations themselves were cheap. The office I worked out of was a converted TCBY in the strip mall off I-69 and Jefferson Blvd. Most of our work was done outside. Little overhead was needed. Our office was mainly used to store equipment and to handle walk-ins. At all times, even out in the field, we were required to wear the standard Charon ocean blue lab coats.
“The color white implies oblivion,” said Stefanie, sitting cross-legged in a sundress on the floor next to Bert and Ernie during a taping of Sesame Street. She was explaining to the children why Oscar the Grouch’s mom requested a fulfilled death. “The ocean is a natural and endless blue horizon. Looking at the ocean feels more like a journey than an end.”
We were allowed to wear any closed-toe shoes we wanted. My co-worker, Linda, wore red high heels that matched her lipstick. Her hair was always up. She was one of the best Partners I had ever seen. I had only worked with two other Partners, but still. She had charm as if she looked pretty without any makeup. Which was true. She had incredible forearms. She also spoke Burmese, which meant that she had more Clients; a key to Charon’s success was its low barrier of entry for employment, and it encouraged non-native English speakers to become Partners to best serve Clients in their own language. Linda was working to save money for her daughter’s school. She also enjoyed the work.
“It feels good to help, you know?” she would remind me.
Another key to Charon’s success, which the media did not cover as much, was that Stefanie had a genuine belief that every person, not just the rich, deserved fulfilled dying. Even more baffling: she believed that it didn’t have to be her method. Everyone’s fulfilled death should be personalized, no matter where or how you received it. If another service best served your needs, that was OK. Cost, time, and access to care shouldn’t get in the way. She understood how much people were willing to pay for this service. She did not take advantage of her customers’ fears. This was what made Charon so affordable.
Stefanie knew better than to share this belief in public. Best to appear cutthroat and only make it about business. Business as usual, dog-eat-dog world, whatever. She was taking advantage of trends and middle-class fears and cheap labor. Fine. They were right. Of course; the perils of the great economic good. And so on. If she ever married, she promised, she would open up to her husband and share how she really felt.
I only know all of this because she kept a journal on her computer. A friend from high school, who worked at Charon in the IT department, found it while fixing her computer. He downloaded a copy and shared it with me. I don’t know why. I might have been the only person he knew well enough at Charon to share something so secretive. I didn’t read it until after she was gone. I knew that I was quitting my job soon. Most Partners didn’t stay at Charon as long as I did; it’s not really a career kind of job. I was curious anyway. I read it all once slowly. I then deleted it from my computer. I still have the email that my friend sent me with the journal. There were more things that I learned from reading her journal – some of it horrifying, a lot of it sad. Maybe I’ll share more about that one day. My high school friend disappeared soon after I quit. I haven’t seen him since.
I never met Stefanie. I had quit before the new CEO took over. I forgot the new person’s name. I heard that she’s nice. Every now and then, I’ll still drive by the old office. It has a new sign that shines bright at night. Back at HQ, apparently there are talks of opening a Croatia office. The company is still banned in the UK. However, it sounds like the NHS is going to start adding Guides (or as the Europeans call us, Watchers) as a service. Paix, France’s own Charon, is going through Series B funding right now.
The website still helps, of course. I just looked it up on my phone. It looks good. Thank Harriet, one of Stefanie’s personal assistants and one of Charon’s lead designers. My wife, who worked at Charon for a little bit in HR before she passed away, met her once at a leadership conference in Toledo. She said that her breath smelled like cinnamon chewing gum. She said that she was really nice. The website was simple. All on one page, in respectable yet playful writing, written from the perspective of a Charon Partner (“Alex”) speaking to you for the first time, but like an old friend, the company’s history, purpose, and guidelines were laid out in an appealing 16-point, Cochin font-family that read well on your phone. The website also was covered in ocean blue.
Learn to die, in order to live. At Charon LLC, we want you not to just live, but to live the life you want. We know this can be hard. It will never not be hard. Let us help you make it less of a burden. Let us help you carry this weight of life.
It’s funny, isn’t it? Seeing a bunch of people now dressed in blue lab coats walking around. They look like a bunch of scientists, but they can’t find the lab. It’s so weird. It’s like hey, doofus. If you’re so smart, why can’t you find where you’re going? I mean, come on. So funny.
I shouldn’t talk about former Clients. But I still think about Simon. I don’t know why. Simon was my second-to-last Client. My therapist tells me to remember him now, just to see if he brings up any specific feelings. As if my feelings are the key to something. Like, if I can come to some conclusion and understand something about Simon, then I can understand something about myself.
Here’s what I remember:
Simon was 52 years old. He was healthy and, from what I could tell, happy. He described himself as happy. Happily married, happy with his job, happy as a father. He was one of the older Clients I had. Simon had three tall and successful children, all of whom I was required to meet and interviewed a few times throughout our time together. The children were kind to me. Most people by this point had come to accept Partners like me as just another part of life. I thought the daughter was pretty even if she was too young. The children continued to be nice to me even after the appointment ended. His wife was a little cool to me. Which was fine. I’m surprised it didn’t happen more often, especially considering that Simon signed up for someone like me. I was an “XE” Partner.
Let me explain “XE.” There are different kinds of Partners. Initially, all assisted dying companies (including Charon) only offered “ZE” Partners. These Partners dealt with hospice patients. We tried not to call them “terminal” Clients, but that’s what they were. In the early days, Stefanie was working at a hospice part-time while drafting her business plan. She became close to the administration, a group of rich old granola hippies who favored words like hüzün and Lululemon. They agreed to offer her service as an experimental alternative. At first, Stefanie made the appointments herself. They weren’t hard; she thought that maybe they were so easy because her clients were so fragile. It was good experience. Later, when it did get hard, she was ready. When she quit her job, Stefanie came up with the “YE” and “XE” Partners. YE Partners, which Stefanie came up with first for Charon, were for sick Clients in stable condition. You had to be in some type of hospital or external care, but you were now able to decide on your own if you wanted an appointment. A family member didn’t have to sign off, though it was still recommended. Most families approved anyway.
Then there was the XE Partners. This is what put Charon on the map. XE Partners were for everyone else. No family members or doctors had to sign off. It was more expensive than ZE and YE Partners; it was considered a premium service. The last time I checked, this was still the company’s highest-selling service. Simon had signed up for an XE Partner.
Clients first complete an online questionnaire, which includes reading the terms and conditions, taking an online quiz reviewing the terms and conditions (a safety measure to make sure Clients actually read the most important parts of the terms and conditions). Once they’ve signed the contract, they’re matched with the most appropriate Partner in their preferred location radius. When Simon and I matched, I suggested that we meet for lunch to go over our year together. I met Simon at the Panera near his office. That day, it was nice outside. It was fall. We sat outside on the patio. I sensed that he had overdressed for the occasion. He wore gray slacks and a blue button-up shirt. He wore black shoes. I wore my ocean blue coat and admired the sun and the sounds of the birds around me as Simon told his story. He told me about his life – a mostly well-educated and fortunate life, normal for this fairly affluent part of town – and he talked about his family and few close friends. He sold medical equipment for a living. He was born and raised in the same town where he still lived; he didn’t see this as either good or bad. He once had a baby sister. She fell off a high ledge when she was two years old. He met his wife in high school, but they didn’t start dating until late in college. They were both shy dorks, he said. They still argued about whether or not to get a dog. He was getting back into golf, too. He wasn’t a member of any clubs yet or anything. If he could travel anywhere, he said, he would go to Italy. He wanted to go to Italy because he loved pasta, and he had never been there. Sometimes a cloud would block the sun and that would feel nice.
We got to the “why” question. Simon repeated his answer nearly word-for-word from his questionnaire: he didn’t want to see all the suffering and death that was going to happen to his friends and family. He told me that he had a good and long-enough life. He wanted everything to end in peace. He said that his family understood.
This answer reminded me of another Client I had a few years ago. She was in a car crash that killed her husband and daughter. She survived the crash, breaking only a few ribs. She said she felt lucky to survive at first. It got worse when all the cards and calls from friends and family stopped arriving. A few years passed. Even though her pastor advised against it, she applied for a Partner. She wrote in her application that she was tired of waiting. She prayed all the time. She even reread parts of the Bible to make sure that she was saying the correct prayers and doing them right. She told me that she felt like she was being punished for something. She wanted the punishment to end. Or, she said, she wanted to at least understand what she was being punished for. She also was calm when we met at the Starbucks near her new apartment. (Her house now felt too big, she said.) She told me while sipping a red eye that she had been praying more often in the recent months, and then one morning, while sitting upright in bed, she realized that it was OK to do something. It was within her control. She felt relieved. Like some weight had been lifted off of her. I think He’ll meet me halfway, she told me. I think He’s pushing me to do something, she said. Maybe this is a test. I haven’t done anything for so long. Maybe this is His way of letting me know that it’s OK, she said. I’ve been so blessed, she said. She did go out of her way to ask me not to donate her organs to the black market; she told me that she had read somewhere online that some Partners were secretly selling organs. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing this. I told her that she had my word.
I asked Simon how he wanted his appointment to look. He told me. I countered with other questions to confirm what was possible, logistically. Charon prided itself in saying that its Partners could make any scenario work for any Client. That was mostly true. We also were instructed by our superiors to guide our Clients into more realistic situations that we could control. For some of our more timid or indecisive Clients, we provided a menu of options. This made our work easier. Yet I always felt a little thrill when I met a new Client who knew exactly what they wanted. Simon knew what he wanted. He was OK with my suggestions. He also was OK with the standard yearlong timeline. (We were allowed to adjust a Client’s timeline based on how much they were willing to pay; right before I left, our recent “Midnight Special” had become an unexpected hit among our more high-profiled Clients.) We arranged the ground rules. I told Simon that my cellphone was available at all hours to all family members who had questions. He was now free to enjoy his year, fear-free. Simon bought my lunch and shook both my hands with both his own hands.
“Thank you,” he said again.
The following year was uneventful.
Our appointment was on a Tuesday. Some Clients request that we set a specific time, down to the minute. Simon didn’t want to waste time counting down the seconds. We decided that it would happen on the back porch around lunchtime when the sun was near its highest. That day was warm, too. It was one of those days when the sky was deep. Simon brought out some lemonade and a turkey sandwich. He sat in his chair and placed his feet upon another chair. Ahead of time, he asked if it was OK to bring out his speakers and plug in his phone to play some Beethoven. It was a loud and winding piece. I forgot the name of it. He called it “at times graceful.” I could hear the piece play as I parked my car on the street by the house.
I thought about wearing a light jacket just in case. I decided against it. Simon wore faded blue jeans and a black short-sleeved polo shirt. He figured that he might as well leave his shoes off. He kept his socks on. I used my spare key and entered the front door and walked through the house, instead of walking around and taking the chance that he would see me. When a Client didn’t specify the “how,” I usually went between using a wire or my bare hands. Most Clients requested that I use certain items – a baseball bat, a shotgun, poison (the most popular request), and other more outlandish items. I didn’t really have a preference. Simon didn’t specify any items. The wire comes across as more professional, I think. I forgot to bring it. When I get nervous, which always happens in the final minutes, I start cracking my knuckles. I made sure to do so before I slowly and quietly walk through the house and open the sliding door. If Simon heard me, he acted like he didn’t. He just sat in his chair. Simon’s backyard overlooked a large yard. It was green and well-trimmed. Beyond the lawn was the neighborhood pound; it was big enough that no one could see us unless they were intentionally looking for us.
I stood behind him. I looked around again to make sure that no one was watching us. I walked up to stand right behind him. I could hear him breathing slow and steady. I couldn’t see his eyes. Maybe he was taking a nap. I grabbed his neck from behind. He didn’t react at first. His neck was surprisingly soft. I thought at first that I wasn’t grabbing it hard enough. I even thought for a second that I was grabbing the wrong part of the body. Then I heard the gasps for air. I felt his neck tightening. His hands reached for my own, as if his body had automatically alarmed them to pull mine away. He probably realized that, too. As soon as his hands touched mine, he loosened his grip but kept his hands on mine. He did not turn to see me. Either he didn’t want to, or he physically couldn’t turn around.
“Thank you,” he said faintly. I thought I had imagined him saying it. He started laughing. He laughed as much as his body allowed him to make any sound. I tightened my grip. The harder it was for him to laugh, the more he tried to laugh. He started kicking his feet. His hands were still on mine. He didn’t tighten or loosen his grip. “Thank you,” he said again, this time louder. The “you” almost didn’t make it out.
Beethoven had ended early. I could hear birds chirping now from the nearby trees by the neighbor’s yard. I could hear the wind. I tightened my grip as hard as I could. He was fighting the urge to scream. His neck turned purple. I looked out and saw that there was a beach ball towards the back of the yard. I thought that it was weird that there would be a beach ball in this yard that was so far away from any larger bodies of water. Thank you, he said, crying and laughing and crying while laughing. Thank you, thank you, thank you thank you thank you thank you he said. He fell over. It was more like he slumped over. I finished the rest of his lemonade. Then I cleaned him. I thought about finishing the turkey sandwich, but I decided against it. The family would be back in a half-hour to take care of the rest.
I went back inside the house, and I went out the way I came in. I got into my car, and I drove out of the neighborhood.