Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


A Breath of Aphrodite
by Rebecca Birch

An Undiplomatic Incident
by Paul R. Hardy

Deus Ex Parasitus
by Josh Pearce

Dust to Dust
by Richard Wren

Space Horses
by Diane Ryan

Mercy Park
by Patrick Wiley

Patient, Creature
by Andrew Muff

by Timothy J. Gawne

Shorter Stories

Turn Off, Tune Out and Reboot
by J.R. Hampton

Sky Widows
by Matthew F. Amati

Crottled Greeps
by John Teehan


This is the Way the World Ends
by Carol Kean

A Reason for Returning to the Moon
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Mercy Park

By Patrick Wiley

Riding Mercy’s Chariot
A Report by Jason Chapman

JUNE 6TH 2024, “MERCY PARK.” The words loom over the gate rendered in a warm eggshell tone. The designers insist this portal had no Judeo-Christian influence but it’s easy to see them as the Pearly Gates of legend. Critics compare them to the gates of Auschwitz, and harsher critics the gates of Hell.

It’s a balmy eighty degrees, the sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. You couldn’t ask for better theme park weather. Technically this isn’t a theme park, not according to the board of trustees. They prefer it be called a “Public Service Park,” however this park most definitely has one resounding theme, a theme inseparable from its one and only ride.

I can already see the lift hill of the coaster from my vantage point. From here you can hear the far off screams, glee and fear mixed together, no different from any other coaster, until the noise dies down, leaving only the eerie sound of the cars sailing at high speeds through a series of inverted loops.

Early on they wanted to name it “Heaven’s Chariot,” but both the secular and religious communities responded with outrage. “Valkyrie Chariot” was considered for some time, but ultimately they dismissed the Nordic reference as too esoteric and locally inspired for a ride designed for international appeal. In the end, they chose Mercy’s Chariot. However many insist that they dispense with the euphemism and call it by its original name: “The Euthanasia Coaster.”

Conceived in 2010, it’s not surprising the Netherlands would be the site for this vision to be realized. The Netherlands has long been a pioneer when it comes to the subject of euthanasia and PAS (physician-assisted suicide). In 2002, both were legalized provided the person in question had received “every available type of palliative care.” Initially, this was reserved only for the terminally ill, but in recent years this requirement has extended to psychological conditions. The rational is that, if an untreatable physical ailment, which causes intolerable suffering, is justification for allowing a person to end their life, then why shouldn’t the same go for psychological ailments?

Currently, a fierce debate rages over so-called “killer shrinks,” psychiatrists who allegedly declare anyone’s mental illness “untreatable” and a source of “intolerable suffering” in exchange for a sizable fee. Stories of this practice have led to an international demand for higher standards to achieve the medical waivers needed to apply for euthanasia or PAS. Advocates argue that this is propaganda and fear-mongering drummed up in an attempt to infringe on the human right to a dignified death. I don’t seek to weigh in on either side of this debate. Instead, I simply want to document my experiences on board the most potent symbol of legalized suicide in our world today.

I’ve made my way across the parking lot and through the gates. Beyond lies one final hurdle, a check-in facility, manned by staffers in powder blue shorts and vaguely medical looking white button downs. Most riders are able to get through the turnstiles by handing over their mobile devices, flashing their signed death waiver, along with two forms of ID, and of course paying their service fee. However, I need special accommodations.

For decades, journalists have been champing at the bit to get a camera on Mercy’s Chariot while passengers are on board but this has always been strictly forbidden. The facility’s officials insist that it would violate the dignity and privacy of those utilizing their services. Critics insist that it’s to shield the public from what the coaster actually does, insisting that if people witnessed its effects they would have the place shut down overnight.

One thing is certain—every attempt to record on the euthanasia coaster has failed, including a most amusing case of a clinically depressed Finnish metal band, which succeeded in getting permission to shoot their final music video while on board. They closed the park for an entire day in preparation (and to ensure the musicians were the sole passengers). After much anticipation, the entire band called it off before even getting on the ride.

For years, people have had to suffice with videos taken through telephoto lenses of the coaster cruising down the track (with the faces of the passengers blurred out). A few audio recordings have been made, all of terrible quality due to the wind. Thankfully the latest “Thought-to-Text” devices have made my report possible.

Ironically, I’ve always hated T2T. Nothing gets me more worked up than the thought of the inane, pretentious drivel self-absorbed people pour out onto StreamCon. Unfortunately, it’s the only way to make this work, and in a way it’s the perfect method of capturing this moment. What could be more intimate then my final conscious thoughts?

Check-in has nearly concluded. A diminutive Southeast Asian staffer, by the name of Mimi, took care of everything with impeccable charm and politeness. She’s just handed back my heads-up display device (I won’t be so tacky as to say the brand name). Their technicians have ensured the camera function is irreversibly deactivated. The device will be a necessity for me to make small edits prior to the ride. Once on board, I’ll be recording all of my consciousness thoughts as a continuous stream. My editor is entrusted with adding punctuation and correcting errors without hindering the authenticity of the text. Original transcripts will of course be available for comparison.

I thank Mimi and she replies with a warm smile.

“You’re very welcome,” she says.

At a normal park someone like her might have said, “have a nice day” or “enjoy your ride” but I don’t think that would be particularly appropriate here.

I’m now free to enter the main concourse. An oval-shaped, open space, complete with chairs, tables, and grassy areas is set aside for those not yet ready to get in line. Everything is painted in whites and pastels. Designers wanted to avoid morbid blacks and greys, but also felt bright colors would be garish and insulting to the serious atmosphere. These color schemes extend to a ring of food stands, which surround this area.

I’ve decided to go ahead and get a last meal, and selected a crepe stand. As I wait, I can hear the coaster. First the familiar scream fills the air, and then it falters leaving only the roar of the carts as they fly through the track.

I’m reminded of an old urban legend. It’s patently false but highly amusing. In the 1950s, before they had reliable ways of inspecting ride safety, they simply tested roller coasters with sand bags. An amusement park built what was then the tallest coaster in the world. It passed the sandbag test, and when it came time for opening night a variety of dignitaries came for its maiden voyage: the mayor with his wife, the most successful businessmen in town, and even a couple of senators. They all hopped aboard cheerful and excited. The operator threw the switch and the coaster was off. Everything seemed to be going well until the carts returned. All those important dignitaries weren’t moving! In fact, they were dead, their necks broken by the intensity of the coaster. The moral of the story: people aren’t sandbags.

Mercy’s Chariot of course doesn’t break the neck. Rather, it sends its passengers through a series of 10-gee loops depriving the brain of oxygen. Brain wave monitors (an optional part of the experience) find that most riders lose consciousness by the second or third loop, and die by the fourth or fifth. The remaining loops are a redundancy to ensure the departure of particularly robust passengers.

I took a brief break from writing to get settled in with my last meal. I’ve taken my first bite and I have to say this is by far the most delicious crepe I’ve ever tasted. It’s caramel banana with cinnamon, and I’ve chosen a cappuccino to wash it down. I’d recommend this to anyone although you can only buy it if you or a loved one is riding the coaster.

That reminds me of another urban legend which claims there used to be a special fugu sushi, only available to passengers. Not even loved ones could try it. A sushi aficionado simply had to have it, so he got a psychiatrist to declare him psychologically untreatable. With waiver in hand he stepped up to the stand and got his fugu, the most delicious he’d ever tasted. Satisfied, he headed to the parking lot, telling the staff he’d changed his mind and wanted to live. He drove home with a smug smile on his face, proud he’d beaten the system and had the forbidden sushi. Once home he got out of his car, headed to the door then promptly dropped dead with his house keys in hand. The fugu sushi was meant only for people riding the train because it contained a lethal dose of puffer fish poison. The story is of course completely false. They don’t even have a sushi stand here.

Still, it’s a funny story, and like all great urban legends, it pokes fun at a matter of great social significance. Some argue that Mercy Park is in fact the world’s greatest suicide deterrent. Of the thousands who apply to be guests each year, twenty-five percent cancel their trip. Of those who actually visit, nearly half don’t make it past the common area that I’m standing in. Once people get in line, they are a bit more committed. Only about ten percent turn back after getting in line. Once on board the coaster, ninety-five percent take the plunge. It’s of course disingenuous to say that all of these people would have killed themselves were it not for the coaster. There’s no telling what they would have chosen if this facility did not exist.

I’ve finished the last bites of crepe, and even licked my fork to get the last taste of caramel. I’ll deposit the trash but take my half-finished cappuccino with me. There’s nothing left to do but get in line.

They have two lines here, one for those well enough to walk, and one for those requiring assistance. People in one line can’t see people in the other, thanks to a covered tunnel for the disabled. I suppose they felt it was kinder to spare us the sight of people being pushed along on gurneys with tubes going in and out of them, and perhaps those people wouldn’t want to see individuals like myself, who appear healthy and full of life. The line for disabled passengers connects directly to the security building where I had to be checked in. The ambulatory line is accessible from the open space and features a miniature archway, with the words “Mercy’s Chariot” rendered in the same eggshell white letters as the main gate.

When the coaster was first built, I don’t think anyone expected there to be actual lines, yet here is a snaking queue, which could hold its own against the world’s most popular theme park rides. Every day, roughly five hundred people pass through this line, never to return.

What can I say about the sort of people waiting here? For starters there are all sorts. In the next row over from me, there’s a man, eighty years old at least, one hand planted firmly on an aluminum cane. His liver-spotted face is fixed in a satisfied smile. Behind him is a younger man, perhaps forty; his rust red mustache enhances a bitter scowl. Perhaps the most off-putting is a boy of eighteen, twin piercings in his lips, who leans against the railing looking outward. He seems bored out of his mind.

It’s a challenge to pick out who is riding the coaster and who is merely a friend or family member coming along to say goodbye. I see a girl of about twenty standing stoic as a weeping old woman clings to her. Is the old woman going to die, or is she crying for her child? I think it would be rude for me to ask them.

People here are surprisingly chatty and I can hear a variety of languages being spoken. There’s French, English, German, and a bit of what I assume is Japanese. The man in front of me, a balding middle-aged fellow tried to strike up a conversation. I politely informed him that I was writing and needed to concentrate.

“That figures,” he said.

I’m not sure what that meant, but it makes me feel a little guilty.

Two spots ahead of me is a lovely blonde woman. She’s positively jovial, smiling and laughing, talking to everyone who will listen. I overhear that she’s a conceptual performance artist, Ingrid Ethridge of London. This will be her last performance.

Thankfully my HUD gets wifi and I’m able to look up this woman as well as her act. I said I wouldn’t weigh in but I have to admit this is a pretty egregious example of the system being abused. Her psychiatric evaluation argued that the torment of not being able to realize her greatest artistic vision would be tantamount to sentencing her to a lifetime of torture. Needless to say, the argument worked because she’s standing right in front of me.

At this moment, I can’t help but feel ill-equipped for this report. I’m not an expert in the “right-to-die” debate, or politics, or even ethics. Hell, if I were a theme park critic this would at least make sense. Until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t even a real journalist. I worked in the research and fact-checking department for the “New York Times,” which at least gifted me with a cursory knowledge of the issue, quick reference skills and all those charming anecdotes I’ve been sprinkling in.

What makes me uniquely appropriate to give this report is first, that I came up with the idea, and second, that I have an inoperable brain tumor. The doctor said I had six months at best. I wouldn’t even make it to my thirty-first birthday. For the first four of those months, I operated on autopilot. Then I happened upon a blog post about Mercy’s Chariot. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of it, but for some reason things just didn’t click until I read that inane, self-righteous, and horribly spell-checked blog post.

Somehow it seemed like the perfect way to go. Other people might have preferred to spend every last precious moment with their loved ones, but that didn’t appeal to me. Seeing my ex-wife again certainly wasn’t on my bucket list. My mother has dementia, she wouldn’t even know who I was or what was happening to me. Naturally, I’ve made sure she’ll be well cared for in my absence. I never knew my father, and I’ve never been curious enough to track him down. No, this was perfect, and I’d finally get a chance to break into writing for the “Times.”

The next day I went to the editor. After offering his condolences and begging me to reconsider, he begrudgingly promised to run the story. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect because it took a month to get a reservation to ride Mercy’s Chariot. Any longer and I might have lost the ability to taste that crepe (and this cappuccino I’m still working on), or I might have been unable to walk—they’d have carried me through the invalid line where I’d miss out on the diverse patrons waiting alongside me right now. In fact, it’s entirely possible the tumor could have ruined my ability to use a Thought-to-Text device.

We’re getting closer now. The sound of the coaster doing its job has become all too familiar, a chorus of piercing cries, building, and then dying out, leaving only the sound of the carts and the wind. It happens somewhat irregularly. This is about the eighth time I’ve heard it since my arrival. It takes an average of fifteen minutes for the coaster to complete a circuit, but the times vary wildly. It’s impossible to keep it to any firm schedule because each ride is different. On one, a guest might require a team of nurses to get them into the seat. On another, someone might change their mind at the apex, refuse to press the “drop” button and be escorted off. And of course, there’s always the problem of some rides requiring more clean up then others as the bodies are removed and sent off to whatever disposal method the former guest, or their family, requested.

As I listen to the latest chorus of guests, I wonder if it will hurt. The ride is supposed to create a euphoric sensation as the brain is deprived of oxygen. We don’t really know exactly what dying feels like. I’d never thought of it before, but it’s still a total mystery. Sure there are guesses we can make. Some methods are obviously more painful then others, but at that final moment what, if anything, do you feel? Even in the fastest method, say a fifty-caliber bullet straight to the brain, maybe there is still time for it to hurt. Maybe the whole moment slows down like in a dream, and you feel every millimeter of the bullet entering your skull, every shock wave as it rips through your head, every last nerve shredding before the impulses finally dissipate. If I feel something like that, I’ll try my best to think “It really hurts!” but I can’t promise anything.

The coaster has returned and another twenty-four people head around the corner to the loading zone, which is shielded from the queue’s view by a powder blue partition. With this group go the smiling old man, and the bitter fellow who as far as I can tell is still scowling. The disinterested teen will be in my group, along with the artist.

Speaking of which, there’s been an interesting development with her. Ms. Ethridge has begun to strip off her clothes, all part of her performance I’m sure. The European guests don’t find this particularly shocking, but a few people behind me have averted their eyes out of embarrassment or disgust. I’m not ashamed to admit she makes for a rather pleasant sight. There are worse things a man could see before he dies.

Her intent was certainly not to titillate. She pulls out a sharpie marker and writes “In Morte Immortalis Sim” across her bare torso. Someone in the art world will no doubt find this all incredibly profound. It’s a rebirth of sorts, I guess. She’s leaving the world the way she entered it, becoming a work of art in the process. Like most modern art, I see the point but I still think it’s a complete waste.

I got to enjoy Ms. Ethridge’s “performance” for a good half-hour before our turn came. I tried to look up how common it is for a rider to take the plunge naked but I couldn’t find any results. One last set of gates has opened, and we’re shuffling inside. A team of attendants checks our IDs and waivers one last time and hands us pairs of baggy plastic pants. They’re designed to slip over our clothes and look like something painters might wear.

Ms. Ethridge is arguing with someone. I’ll be damned. It’s Mimi. I guess she works topside, too. Ingrid doesn’t want to wear the plastic pants, insisting it will ruin the effect of her performance. Mimi insists that not wearing them would ruin the sanitary condition of the facility. (I’m going to trust all my readers can figure out why these pants are necessary.)

I just noticed that Ingrid has a photographer with her. She takes smiling photos in front of the empty carts, first without the pants on, and then with them. Apparently she reserved both front seats for herself. Damn, why didn’t I think of that?

Now I must take my HUD off, stop editing and record a complete stream of consciousness. I apologize but what’s next won’t be as eloquent as the rest of this. My editor will do his best to add punctuation and paragraph breaks.

Stream of Consciousness Begins:

I’ve given the HUD to an attendant.

There are a lot of tearful goodbyes. It’s the young woman, not the old one, who’s riding with us. Makes sense really. The teenager’s gone. He must have slipped out while I wasn’t looking maybe. No there he is. Wait ... I can’t tell ... he’s too far back.

Damn. My mouth’s dry. I should have had water with the cappuccino. Oh well, I won’t suffer long.

I’ve got the pants on and I’m seated. Damn, that’s tight. The restraints are on. It’s so tight though. Well, they can’t have me flying off. I might kill someone. Someone who’s not supposed to be dying already.

The attendants are giving the final brief. This is important. I’ve got two switches, one red and one ... there it is, white, on opposite sides so it’s impossible to confuse them. One says “Drop” and the other “Stop.” It rhymes. There’s some dark humor for you. When we reach the top everyone has to hit their “Drop” button or they’ll be asked to get off. The “Stop” is also a way to get off. It will stop mid ascent and people will come to assist you. They’ll come anyway if you don’t hit “Drop.” The second button is more of a panic switch. Superfluous. Yeah the second switch is superfluous. No. Wrong word. Redundant. That’s what I want to say.

We’re off. There’s the familiar old CLICKITY-CLACK! of a chain-pulled roller coaster. That’s one thing that makes me appropriate for this, almost forgot to say. I really love roller coasters! CLICKITY-CLACK! I especially love big drops! I’ve been on three of the top-ten tallest. This will make the fourth (It’s ranked at number seven). CLICKITY-CLACK! Ha ha! Woo! Just like Cedar Point.

The top’s not far now. The passenger next to me, the one I didn’t want to talk to is crying. I offer him my hand ... he doesn’t notice. He’s looking out at the view. Nice view, green country and a sparkling lake. The top’s not far now. Thirty seconds maybe. I think I see a windmill out there too.

Ingrid is saying something. I can’t hear her, no wait ...

She’s saying, “What am I doing? What am I doing? I don’t want to do this! Get me off! Get me off! I don’t want to do this! Help!”

So windy up here ... The train’s come to a stop at the apex. Ingrid is still panicking. She doesn’t know she can get off. I hit the “Stop” button for her. They have a team standing by in the elevator. I point to Ingrid so they don’t get confused as to who’s getting off. They rush out and take the restraints off of her. She’s sobbing, clinging to the attendants, still saying, “I don’t want to do this!” and “I’m sorry”

They put a trauma blanket on her and guide her onto the elevator out of view. It really is redundant. An attendant’s asking, “Does anyone else wish to get off?”

No one says anything. The attendant is getting back into the elevator. I’m tempted to get off. Maybe I should. I take one last look at the “Stop” button. We’ve been waiting a while. The elevator is on its way down. I think I’m the last one. I’m taking a deep breath. No, no turning back. I press the “Drop” button.

Here we go, we’re passing the ridge, no turning back. Here we go! No turning back!

Wooo hooo! Keep your hands up!

Here comes the first loop!

Owww! Seeing spots ...

No ...

Second loop ...

Dark ...

Scared ... END

Patrick Wiley is the lead writer for a nonprofit corp known as the Romani Media Initiative, in charge of all RMI publications including co-writing their upcoming novel “The Last of the Magi: Guardians of Evil.” He also writes dramatic monologues.


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