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Machine of Death


Machine of Death is a collection of stories inspired by one of Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics:

machine of death inspiration
The anthology is edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki, who opened submissions to the whole Internet for three and a half months in 2007. They got 700 submissions and late last year they self-published Machine of Death, which rocketed to #1 on Amazon and stayed there for 30 hours.

I submitted two stories, titled “POETIC JUSTICE” and “TERRORIST ATTACK”, the latter which awaits you below. (The title had to be a death that the machine predicts during the story.) Neither of them were accepted, but they were a lot of fun to write and I’d like to share one of them. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend writing a Machine of Death story as a writing exercise.

The masked man keeps me close, his gun thrust into my ribcage. He walks me onto my own balcony. He knows that if he allows any distance between our bodies he’ll be shot by a sniper.

I think I now know what the slip of paper in my wallet says.

Sunlight glints off the sea of cameras and vans and police cars assembled before my house. The terrorists are getting just what they want. Coverage.

I don’t know his name. He and two other men in masks broke into my house this morning. We were eating breakfast—me, my wife, Rodney, Timothy, and Samantha. Rodney is dead. He was twelve years old.

They knew who to contact. The Toronto Star. The Globe and Mail. They’re calling themselves political activists. In my head, I call them extremist fucks.

They’re protesting the legislation that was passed recently, making the Eventual Accident Predictor legally available to the Canadian public. They want the law reversed. They think the machine subverts God’s will.

Eventual Accident Predictor. Funny how they always try to cushion things for us. The thing tells you how you’re going to croak, but they make it sound like a kitchen appliance.

I was in California last week for business. I got tested on a whim. For a nominal fee, I received the nature of my death on a slip of paper. I don’t know about God’s will—I’m an atheist—but holding that kind of insight in my hand scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. The paper went straight into my wallet, and it’s been there ever since.

I haven’t looked at it. But as the masked man shoves me against the railing and raises his gun to my temple, I have a pretty good idea of what it says.

His breath is hot against my right ear.

I let my body go limp and fall to the left. His gun fires, and the bullet ruffles my hair. His head explodes. I am spattered with blood.

The dead terrorist begins to pitch over the railing, and somehow I have the presence of mind to grab him. His gun tumbles over. For a horrible moment, my balance is uncertain. If he falls, his friends in the kitchen will see him through the window. They’ll know what happened. I will be dead.

I haul him back. I sit down. I breathe.

I think the only thing that keeps me from going insane is the thought of my family, still captive. I have the blood of a dead man on my face. My neck. My arms. It’s still warm. I crawl to a potted plant near the door, and I quietly vomit.

The crowd has fallen silent. I stagger to my feet and put a finger to my lips. The motion feels ridiculous, but I need them to be quiet.

I could climb down the trellis to safety—let the police handle the rest. Instead I walk back into the bedroom I share with my wife. There’s no time to wash the blood from my face. I squat near the bed and root around underneath until my hand brushes a shoebox. I pull it out, take off the top, remove a stack of Time magazines, and pick up the loaded handgun nestled in the bottom.

There’s no time to take out my wallet, but I do anyway. I have to know. I unroll the slip of paper with shaking hands.


I nod. I let the paper fall to the floor, and put the wallet back in my pocket. My hands are no longer shaking.

I am going to die in the attempt to rescue my family. That’s fine. If anything, it will increase my chances of success. I no longer have to worry about self-preservation. With that advantage, I may be able to create a big enough distraction for my wife and two remaining children to escape.

I grab the gun and head downstairs.

The house is new, and as I descend two stories it keeps a conspirator’s silence. I can hear the intruders’ low, short utterances. They have begun to wonder why their friend has yet to reappear. I don’t have much time.

There;s a small, rectangular opening in the wall between our living room and our kitchen. When we moved in my wife and I joked about what its purpose might be. Now I know. It’s for spying on terrorists.

I peer through the opening. As before, my wife and kids are sitting at the circular table. My wife is weeping, but Timothy and Samantha are silent. Wide-eyed.

Slowly, I take aim at the nearest terrorist. That’s when the other sees me. He points. The first man spins around.

Twin roars sound, followed by a belated third. One of the terrorists falls backwards, his throat a bloody mess, his bullet grazing my left ear. The third bullet enters my forearm. I drop the gun into the kitchen and fall backward into the couch, screaming.

It isn’t long before the remaining intruder is standing over me, gun trained on my face. “Where’s John?” he screams. In his panic, he’s beginning to use first names. “Where’s John?”

Again a gun roars. He pitches forward, landing on top of me. Again I am sprayed with blood.

I push him off, gasping. My right arm sears. New pain has blossomed in my chest.

I dimly register my wife, standing over us with the other intruder’s gun, breathing heavily. Her face is devoid of color.

I pass out.



First, I hear voices.

“Ron should be here by now. Were you talking to him?”


“Damn it. Me and Barb have tickets to see Paul McCartney.”

“Paul McCartney is coming to Toronto? Now?”

“Yeah. Brave guy, hey?”

“I’d say.”

I groan. The voices stop.

With a Herculean effort, I open my eyes.

I’m in bed, in a room with a white ceiling. I turn my head slowly. There are two police officers in chairs, their eyes fixed on me. There is fear.

“Where’s Sandra?” I rasp.

“Who?” one of them answers.

“My wife.”

“Oh.” His gaze flits to the table near my bed, and then he presses a buzzer. Soon, a nurse appears.

“Where’s my wife?” I ask her.

She won’t make eye contact.

“Please, Mr. Dawson, you aren’t well. You’ve been shot in the arm, and you’ve suffered a minor heart attack. Why don’t you go back to—?”

“Where is my wife?”

The nurse walks to my bedside table and picks up a piece of folded paper. I notice she keeps her distance.

“She left you a note.” She hands me it, and walks quickly towards the door. Before exiting, she turns back. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dawson.” She leaves.

My hands are trembling. I open the note.

Dear Brian,

I cannot thank you enough for saving our children. You risked your life. In fact, I know now that you must have been certain you would die.

Your story has been all over the media. You’re a national hero. The man who the Eventual Accident Predictor said would die from a terrorist attack, and who charged into danger nonetheless.

You saved us, Brian, which is why it’s so hard to write this. I’m taking the children out of the country. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you where we’re going. You must understand that being around you is very dangerous for them. You’re fated to die from a terrorist attack that could happen at any moment. Who knows how destructive it will be, and how many people it will affect?

I don’t know what else to say.

I love you, Brian. I’m sorry.


I put down the letter. The cops won’t look at me. I turn away. My vision blurs.

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