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A Skeptic's Last Day In Utopia

He laid in what he now knew was his death bed. His final moments of life were ebbing away and each breath became harder and harder. He caressed the flannel sheets underneath him, remembering the warmth of a bed and a once happy home he'd left a lifetime ago. He couldn't ever bring himself to call this place home after that. To him, this place was a lie.

There was just something about it that rang hollow. The people were too nice, the homes too neat, the children too happy, the parks too clean, no one went without, and no one really hurt. Oh there were scrapes and bruises of falling down during play, or the occasional bee sting, or broken bone, but nothing really hurtful, nothing that shook someone to the core. No cheating spouses, no drunken rages, no lies, no abuse, no murder, no real sense of loss. Not even death really phased the people of this town. They just took everything in stride and moved forward with a smile.

To him though, that smile was a lie. He'd spend almost half of his life trying to uncover the truth of this town. 40 years wasted digging into people's lives, skulking around hoping to hear a whisper of a secret, rummaging through trash, trying to bribe and threaten people, even breaking into someone's house once and looking for secret panels or hidden alters... something... anything... but to no avail. Instead he went to bed every night frustrated that he'd found nothing and woke the next morning doubly sure that he'd find something. "Today is the day," he always told himself.

Until today. Every other day he knew he would find something, even as he grew sick. He thought that the sickness was a sign that this was NOT a utopia. Elaborate plots sprung up in his head about the town's people secretly poisoning him, or the town being built on a nuclear waste dump and giving him cancer, or any number other ridiculous ideas about alien experimentation or voodoo rituals. His analytic mind swatted those ideas away one after another. There was still death here, utopia didn't have to be free of that fact. What made it a utopia was how people dealt with the inevitable. That fact was what finally shook him into submission this day.

He was dying, and as he lay dying the townspeople rallied to his side and gave him comfort. The baker brought in fresh bread and pastry, because even though he wouldn't be able to eat it, the smell was comforting. A nurse brought oxygen and pain medication, his neighbors tidied up his small unkempt home, the florist brought in some nice plants and flowers to brighten things up, and someone even donated nice warm flannel sheets; Those sheets that reminded him of a former life. Then as he laid there, rubbing the sheets between two fingers, remembering every nice thing that every person in the town had done for him, it hit him. His fingers paused their rubbing. His eyes fixed a the ceiling. It was all coming together. "TODAY IS THE DAY!"

The idea hit him like a wave, threatening to pull him under. The pieces of the puzzle began falling into place as he retraced the last 40 years of his life. Piece by piece it made more sense. How he came to this place, how easy it was to find work even though he didn't have references, how accommodating people were despite how horrible he was, how no one else who visited the town ever stayed or moved in like he did. He was mean to people every day of the whole 40 years he lived here, he was suspect of everyone in the town, he was crude and crass and demeaning of their very outlook on life and did everything he could to take the joy from them to prove that he was right. Yet no one ever said a harsh word to him. No one ever demeaned him or did anything to stop him from doing any of the horrible things he had done. Instead they did everything they could to make him feel welcome and cared for. It was then that he realized the mote in the eye of this utopia, its one flaw, was him.
The realization crushed him. Tears began to stream down his face as he realized the waste of it all; 40 years of being a constant burden.

The heartbreak threatened to take him now. The crying turned into sobbing which turned into a ragged cough and then a fit. The fit took what little air he could keep in his ailing lungs. The nurse ran to his side and forced him down into the bed, putting the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth and telling him it would be okay, until finally the coughing subsided and everything was okay.

He looked up at the nurse, his eyes still filled with tears and mustered a weak "... sorry... w...wasted..."

She held his hand and smiled down at him. "Nothing is wasted, dear. You were always the most valuable member our little town."

That final revelation did him in. He squeaked out a final breath, closed his eyes one last time, and died. It was the only time anyone had seen him smile in 40 years.

Epilogue: At the edge of a small town a man gets off a bus and collects his suitcase. He reaches into his pocket to pull out a crumpled letter and a map of the town. He reads the letter again hoping there will be more to it, "If you are reading this then I fear I have met a tragic end in this 'utopia'. I feel like I'm on the cusp of a breakthrough, if I only had more time. I leave you all that I have, my home, my notes, everything. Please come to the town and take over my investigation. I'm sure you will be the one to finally unlock its secrets. Sincerely - a fellow skeptic."

Finding nothing new he crumples the letter back into his pocket and looks around at the idyllic little berg. He finds it unsettling. Too quiet, too neat, too perfect. He looks again and sees revelers a few blocks away, all dressed in white, throwing flowers and carrying what looks to be a casket. "Yup, that looks a little strange. Today will be the day my friend. Today will be the day," he says aloud to no one in particular.