Not to Be

Evening! This is a short story I wrote in English Extension 1 in year 11. It's supposed to be in the style of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's not exactly a happy story, so be forewarned!

It deals with suicide fairly prominently, so if that's a trigger for you I might give this one a miss.


Not to Be

Lachlan Marnoch, 2011

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Do these words, the words of humanity’s greatest wordsmith, survive still in some ancient cache buried deep below ground? Or do they exist only in the minds of those who remember high school English lessons?

This is what I think as I hold the gun to my head.

In those five words is embodied every silent debate I held before I fell asleep, every pro and every con. Just pull the trigger, I tell myself, and it’s all over. Just darkness, sweet oblivion. No thought, not even awareness. Better than anything left here. Better than being eaten.

A bullet is fast. No pain, no sound. Just an ending, or a beginning.

You can tell Shakespeare thought about death a lot, because that’s what those five words mean. Yeah, they’re about suicide, but also the thought that maybe, just maybe, there’s something else after death. Heaven, Valhalla, hell, something.

I know what she would say. Keep fighting, no matter what, because that’s what we do. We survive however we can.  It’s been hardwired into us for three billion years. That’s what she says every time I ask her if it might be better to finally put an end to it, to escape the starvation and the cannibals and the rapists. But I don’t understand. If she wasn’t with me I would have ended it years ago.

My finger tightens on the trigger. Do it. But what about when she finds you, I think, blood and brains across the floor? What will that do to her?

There are two bullets left.

She’ll blame herself. She’ll hate herself before she ends it, if she even does. You can’t do that to her.

Yes, I can.

But I won’t.

I lower the gun, I stick it through my belt. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I hear her voice calling out like a singing magpie, Where are you?

I’m here, I call back, and a swirl of perfect coal-coloured hair peeks around the doorway, a pair of mahogany eyes framed within. Behind is the empty landscape, the empty sky.

There’s nothing in here, I say. Let’s go.

We walk past silent legions of matchstick trees, charred black to match the tarmac. The grey sky hangs above. Faded like the memory of its colour.

We stop. I have to eat. From the pack I pull an old crust of bread, slowly succumbing to the conquests of creeping verdigris. I break it in half, offering one part to her. She shakes her head. I’m not hungry.

You have to eat.

I’m not hungry.

Even the mouldering crust tastes like dust and ash. But hunger renders taste irrelevant. I sip from the battered plastic bottle and we keep walking.

The grime of ages is seeping into my skeleton. The bastard offspring of weariness and filth has taken me for a host. Infected me with its stench. I’m certain she feels the same, but she somehow doesn’t show it. Her pale features, without a sun to tan them now perpetually so, are as impossibly perfect as they always were.

We top a hill and a flat, bare plain stretches before us. Cracked, colourless earth runs like a scorched roadmap into the foot of the hills on the far side. Crowning them are the toppled metal trunks of a wind-farm. One remains standing, turbine turning slowly. It would have collapsed too, but the blades of its fallen twin prop it up from below.

This used to be a lake.

Piles of bone dot the cracked bed. Long stripped bare of all but the meanest scraps of marrow. Left behind as their owners followed the receding waterline only to starve.

We reach a fork in the road. We have no map to follow so I choose at random.

The road is at the top of a slope, a field below. Another mile. Sore feet. Empty stomach. Full head. We stop again to drink.


The multitude pinpricks of opening pores spread across my back. My head whips around to the source of the sound, somewhere in the treeline. I see a man standing there, a rifle pointed straight at me.


I draw the pistol, but he fires first. I dive to the ground and he somehow misses. Pushing myself from a crawl into a sprint I head straight for the other side of the road, I hear her breathing just behind me. We dive off the road and slide down the slope, kicking up gravel and dust. Losing control I begin to roll, then come to a halt at the bottom. Both of us scratched and bruised. I look up to see three men at standing at the road, the one with the rifle taking aim again. Running on hardwire I sprint along the bottom of the slope, aiming past a tiny shed left from whoever owned this field. But then from behind it, straight into our path, steps another man. Across his face is a red handkerchief, above which his wide eyes seem to laugh. In his hand is a machete. I am barely able to stop. A millisecond choice between running back and the shed. Leading with my foot I kick the wooden door open. She stumbles in behind me and I slam the door shut. I fumble with a metal lock, somehow getting it in place. A kick hits the door from the other side but it holds. We search frantically for some saving grace, another weapon, an exit. There’s no way out. That’s the only door. The lock’s sturdy, it’ll hold them for a few minutes, but then they’ll get in here and they’ll kill us and they’ll eat us.

No! There’s a way, there’s always a way!

I turn slowly, taking in the whole shed. Nothing. Everything was scavenged long ago. It’s a miracle the lock is still here. She scrapes at the dirt floor with her fingernails. I join her until our fingertips are bloody. The soil is hard. Futile. She stands up and beats the wall with her fist. They keep beating at the door.

I stand behind her. A dead fist clenches my stomach. Everything resolves in my mind.

There is a way


We have no choice

There is always a choice!

She turns and glares at me from between wild strands of hair. She lets out a howl of frustration. As though suddenly drained of energy she slumps to the floor.

I sit in front of her, legs crossed.  She sits up and does the same. She brushes the hair from her face, blank but for a single tear. Looking at me with those brown eyes, so deep to be almost black, she says Ok.

I stroke her cheek, I kiss her. I draw the gun with trembling fingers, check the clip. Two bullets. The beating at the door grows louder.

To sleep, I say.

She looks into my eyes. Perchance to dream.

I hold her hand.

A shot sounds, then a few seconds later, another. They boom with finality.

The men break the door down, the lock screeching metallically as it tears away. Inside is a dead man, slumped forward, weapon still clutched in his hand, blood and brains across the floor. Who was he talking to?

Who cares, he was probably a nut.

One of them pries the gun out of his hand, checks the clip. Son of a bitch wasted the last bullets.

Another examines a splintered hole in the wooden wall. Here’s the other one.

Another turns the man’s head upward with a foot. This is the one we met a month ago. The one whose girl we killed.

Hope he tastes as good as she did.

By Albert Goodwin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Albert Goodwin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons