The letter arrived by regular mail in a grey envelope containing Willoughby’s full name and the familiar seal of government correspondence.
It was the third of five letters Willoughby and his wife received that day, so Willoughby opened it third, opened and read the fourth and fifth letters (a utility bill and a book of coupons) and said to his wife, “Dear, I have been selected for decimation.”
“We must find you something decent to wear,” his wife responded.
“Must it be fancy?”
“I feel you should make a good impression.”
The date of the decimation was Wednesday, June 9, at 1:30 p.m. Please arrive no earlier than ten minutes before your appointed time, the letter stated. We thank you for your cooperation.
“Do you think I should take the day off work?” Willoughby asked.
“Nonsense,” his wife responded. “You can work the morning and simply not return after lunch.”
Willoughby marked the date in his calendar, and proceeded to look through the book of coupons. “Melons look to be a good bargain next week,” he said.
After he awoke on June 9, Willoughby shaved, brushed his teeth and showered. Next he put on a freshly ironed white shirt and a new suit, ate scrambled eggs with his wife, then double-checked the address on the letter and kissed his wife goodbye.
“I suppose this is it,” he said.
“I suppose it is.”
“I love you.
“I love you too. Good luck.”
He arrived at the decimation centre early and waited patiently in his car until 1:20 p.m., before crossing the parking lot and registering at a booth outside the main doors.
The man in the booth examined his identity document, asked him his name, birthdate and address, and let him in. “Take a seat until called.”
“Good afternoon,” Willoughby said—rising.
“My name is Dr. Janet P. and I shall be your decimator. Please follow me.”
She led him to a long room flanked by two rows of chairs. Most were already filled with men, women and children. Willoughby sat. He looked down at his hands, then across the room at a woman his age, who smiled. Willoughby smiled too.
There was a window nearby, and through it Willoughby could see the effervescent afternoon sunlight.
The room had two doors.
Both were open.
In addition to Dr. Janet P., who was now showing a boy to the room’s sole remaining empty chair, there were two nurses and a government man with a clipboard.
The nurses prepared forty-two syringes, one for each person seated.
Dr. Janet P. proceeded down the rows, efficiently administering the lethal injections, and Willoughby watched as one-by-one the people seated across from him fell gently asleep.
When it was his turn, he whispered: “Aren’t you ever afraid someone will run—or become violent?”
Dr. Janet P. smiled. “That would be ghastly. Thankfully, I believe we are far too civilised for that.”
Willoughby rolled up his sleeve.
He barely felt a thing.