VANISHING ACT • by Bruce Holland Rogers

Aegard made his living by writing how-to books. He found his first topics by accident. His cousin was a Border Patrol agent, and his sister had a job working the ticket counter at an airport, so he had inside sources to consult for How to Get a Job in Law Enforcement and How to Get a Job with an Airline. Other books in the career series were assigned by the publisher: How to Get a Job Working with Animals, …As a Forest Ranger, …on Wall Street, …in the Fashion Industry.

This wasn’t the sort of thing Aegard thought he’d end up doing. He had wanted to be an investigative journalist, but jobs were scarce. Nights of tossing and turning led him to write How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. His freelance income was unreliable, and he was always on the lookout for something else while he kept looking for a real job. How to Make Money from Home. He lived alone, and there were days when he didn’t bother to get out of bed. Sometimes such days turned into weeks. How to Pick Yourself Up from Depression.

He could research just about anything and get a book out of it. He proposed topics that he knew nothing about, and if he landed a contract, he worked like crazy to become an expert. How to Throw an Unforgettable Party. Champagne Wedding on a Beer Budget. Electric Car Conversions Step-by-Step.

He was bored. He was tired all the time. What did it matter whether he wrote one more book or not? Someone else could do it just as well. He began to daydream of hanging himself from a pipe in his building’s laundry room. Discomfort for a while as the noose tightened, yes, but then nothing. Oblivion. Release. He could bind his hands behind his back so that once he had kicked the chair away there would be no turning back.

Except, as he began to research hanging, he realized that strangulation was not ideal. In a proper hanging, the drop was calculated to break the neck. Death came instantly. Although that might not be the ideal method. To avoid pain altogether, what was needed was a sudden deceleration of the skull. A long fall. And the advantage there was that the death could look like an accident. Not that Aegard cared about that for himself, but his research had showed him that this mattered to some people because they would want their life insurance to pay off their beneficiaries or because they feared bringing shame on their families.

What about someone who had no nearby cliff to leap from? What about someone who couldn’t walk? Suicide shouldn’t be limited to the fit and able, should it? Aegard did more research. Carbon monoxide was too obvious in autopsy, and besides, what one wanted was an apparatus so subtle that it would remove all trace of itself from the body. What one wanted was a painless, natural-seeming death without the bother of having someone remove empty helium tanks or plastic bags.

When Aegard thought of not one, but several ideal means, he realized that he had the makings of a book. Vanishing Act: How to End Your Life Without a Trace of Suicide was, by far, his best-seller. The controversy led to regular appearances on talk shows. At a book signing in Dallas, he met a woman who poured out her heart to him about how the book had saved her, had given her confidence because now she always had a Plan B in life. They continued their conversation at a bar, then in his hotel room. Six weeks later, they married.

The book stayed in print for decades, earning fat royalty checks year after year. Aegard was a star of the lecture circuit. He wrote two sequels to Vanishing Act as new methods occurred to him. When, in his eighties, he died peacefully in his sleep, there were those among his readers who considered him a hypocrite. For others, the coroner’s finding of death by natural causes was the author’s ultimate triumph.

Stories by Bruce Holland Rogers have won two World Fantasy Awards, two Nebula Awards, two Micro Awards, and a Pushcart Prize. He has lived in Toronto, London, and Budapest, but currently calls Eugene, Oregon, home.

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