A Grim Thought Experiment


This one is more unpleasant than usual.  It reads like a guest post by Tom Arrows, but it’s me, Nikolai.  Your normally cheerful and exuberant narrator.

Wandering in the mountains I often have good ideas.  One such idea struck me upon a picturesque bend in the road, decorated with a giant, shady stand of bamboo and a gnarled, leafless, near-dead tree.  I thought, what if I was walking to my execution?  That next crossroads, twenty minutes away – that’s where my firing squat is waiting.  I am heavily guarded and shackled.  There no escape.  What is it like?

I look around.  Trees, shrubs, lichen, lizards and ants.  All striving to stay alive another day, to eat something and not get eaten.  Even those with the fastest reproductive cycles will outlive me.  Unlike me, they have a tomorrow.  I envy them.  Even the snails.  Fucking not-getting-shot snails.  I consider stepping on one but it seems petty.  Let the little snail have its moment in the sun.

I look at the sky.  Clouds gather on the horizon, moving with the wind from the coast towards us.  They will drop no rain on me.  A sliver of moon in the blue sky.  I never went there.  Always wanted to go.

I think, fifteen minutes left on planet earth.  What is important?  If anyone knows, it should be me.  I look around at the jungle again.  I see it now as a single entity, with me included in it, all breathing, striving, existing together.  All transient.  Especially the part that is me.

I consider the men around me who will also be shot.  They stare ahead silently and stoically, each thinking his own last thoughts.  Some pray.  I think, lucky fools to enjoy such comforts.  Pity the poor bastard who knows the gig is up.  I experience a wave of – what?  A Christian might call it ‘love’.  I want to reach out to my fellow-dead, to give them comfort, to enjoy what little time we have.  Our walk would be so much more pleasant with a sing-along.  It would help to pass the time.

I consider my life.  Childhood.  Didn’t do much.  Teenage years.  Wasted time in front of stupid computer games.  Young adulthood spent worrying about stupid crap like girls and direction in life.  Just get a job, put food in your mouth and save a bit, kids.  That’s all the direction you need until you’ve more life experience and know what you want to do.  Later adulthood, dating mad women, living abroad, hiking to remote locations and reading non-shit.  Regrets?  About twenty percent.  I can live with that.  I can die with that.

Ten minutes to go.  I think about my family and friends, extant and passed.  This is hardest on them.  I will never see them again, but I won’t mind because I’ll be dead.  I calculate, how many people will my execution devastate?  I think about this for a good few minutes until I am confident of my answer.

One or two.

I remember that billions before me have also died and I find this fact comforting.  Einstein died.  Dostoevsky died.  Faceless Roman ship-builders died, and so can I.

Five minutes to go.  Enough reminiscing and philosophizing.  I have only one thing left to do in this world and I should think about how I will do it.  It makes no different of course.   No, it does.  For the next five minutes it matters, to me.  How shall I play this?  Bravely.  I’ve never been brave.  Might as well start today while I still have a chance.  I prevent myself from crying by focusing on my breathing and by pressing my tongue into the roof of my mouth.  I request no blindfold.  Nonchalantly refuse a cigarette because smoking is unhealthy.  No, because I don’t smoke.  Try to avoid cliches.  I stand and face the guns.  Look into the faces of the men who will kill me.  Regard them with steady contempt.  The finality of it seems unreal.  Like this?  It ends here, like this?  After all that . . .

They raise their rifles and I shout my last line: “Don’t fuck it up, ya cunts!”  My heart is racing to squeeze in as many last beats as it can.  I feel a breeze against my damp face.  It is the last thing I will feel.  I hear the beginning of a bang and there’s a thudding, brutal explosion in my chest


I walk back down the hill and go home.  I perhaps expected that the experience would heighten my appreciation of life.  The leaves greener, the clouds fluffier and all that.  Instead I’m shell shocked, like a soldier coming around after an explosion and finding himself surrounded by the scrambled remains of his erstwhile comrades.

I have few deep connections to other human beings.  I have done little.  That which I have done is insignificant.  If I had children they would love me and miss me when I was gone.  If I died today it would barely make a ripple upon even a small part of this world,  much like a slick turd that slips into the water and down the s-bend without splash or sound.

But I don’t want kids.  This is the path I have chosen, and when the end comes – not like this, but probably among the gradual decay of lonely dotage – I will cop it without a fuss.





  1. The Empty Subject · May 18, 2017

    Good work. This isn’t the moment or the place to preach, but I’ve been thinking more about religion lately. I’ve grappled long enough with nihilism and now see it as a dead end. People and cultures can’t sustain themselves on it. I don’t have much faith but I’m looking for it. I’ve scorned religion, society, and children my entire life. And I’m starting to feel like a real chump.


    • Nikolai Vladivostok · May 28, 2017

      It’s a dead end but true. We need to believe in false things to give our lives meaning through the structure of morals and kinship.


  2. Allen · June 3, 2017

    Breaker Morant, great movie. Just before the execution Morant shouts, “Shoot straight you bastards”


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