Fiction: Legacy by Liam Hogan
Photo Source: PxHere
I can't sleep.
It doesn't matter what I do. If my phone is on silent, I still hear the chirp as new notifications arrive. If I put it in airplane mode, I know they'll be waiting for me first thing in the morning. And if I leave the battery to drain, rendering it an expensive paperweight, then no alarm will tell me I'm late for work, where, as soon as I log in, dozens if not hundreds of grim notifications will flash across my screen.
The dead, clamouring for attention.
When my cousin asked me to be her legacy contact on social media, I mentally squirmed, but couldn't really refuse. I made her promise we wouldn't need any such arrangement for a very long time, and then we went back to messaging about less morbid things.
Two weeks later, as I reached for my phone between alarm and snooze, to check messages, to check headlines, to check-in with the world, the curtains behind my head already pulled back to see what sort of a sky the day offered and shame me out of a second snooze, I froze, incapable of moving on to the next line of the notification.
Over and over I read, horrified, my fingers trembling and my eyes blurring the text, until after an age I realised it wasn't about my cousin at all, but some random person I'd never even heard of.
As the sick sensation in my stomach eased, I felt bad at being relieved. And annoyed. Someone, somewhere, had messed up, and now I was responsible for a deceased stranger's profile “in memorandum”.
I stabbed out a message to tech support, and tried to ignore the black-bordered profile picture of “Janet Connelly” that refused to hide itself unless I accepted control of her no longer active account.
It was lunchtime before I chased up the case number, frustrated with the messages from Janet's friends, reaching out for news, with condolences, and some, rightly so I thought, with suspicion.
After a bit of digging I found a phone number and picked at my sandwich as I impatiently waited to speak to a real person.
“We're very sorry for the upset, Mr Johnson,” came the disembodied voice from some call centre somewhere in Scotland. “But perhaps if you hadn't registered Ms Connelly deceased...?”
“I didn't,” I said, tetchily. “I'm not even friends with her.”
He sounded doubtful. Pointed out that Ms Connelly could hardly register herself as deceased, could she? So I must have done, inadvertently or not.
I assured him I hadn't.
He hmmed. “Let's see who was legacy contact before you, shall we?” I listened to the clatter of keys as I doodled RIP gravestones.
“Ahh... It seems no-one was.”
Somehow that made me feel even worse. Dead, but with your account in limbo. Gone from sad to tragic in a non-existent heartbeat.
“Well, Mr Johnson, again I can only apologise for the upset. I'll chase this up with technical support,”--who I assumed I'd been talking to all along--“and make sure you're removed as Ms Connelly's legacy contact. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
I said no, and an hour later the picture vanished and I thought that was that.
It was just the beginning.
The second notification came two days later, and the third even before I managed to get through to support. And then the flood gates opened. Male, female, young, old--mainly old, though rarely ancient--of every colour and shape.
As best they could tell, some bug had started allocating my details to anyone who died without a legacy agreement.
It wasn't just the annoyance. It was the grim reminder, normally only at the very back of my mind, that all around the country people were dying, well over a thousand a day. Of course, not all of them were users, and not all of them had omitted to set up a legacy contact, and not all of them were affected by the bug.
It might be trite to say we live our lives online, but just try and go without the internet for even a day. Just try.
I suggest to the tech guy, Saff (yes, we're on first name terms) that I might delete my profile.
He is horrified.
“But if you do that,” he says, “all the deceased accounts will be frozen, untraceable. No, please, we're investigating a permanent fix, and I'm told that will come this week or, the very latest, next. In the interim, we've tasked someone with shifting legacy contacts every time one is attached to your account.”
However this band-aid is applied, it doesn't stop the initial notification coming through, and it also resets my profile overnight. Forcing me to login. Forcing me to actively ignore all those dead users.
Maybe it's the lack of sleep, maybe the images of strangers funereally marching across my mind such that I begin to see black borders around everyone I meet, but they get me in the end.
The oldest trick in the book. For 12, blissful hours, there's not a single legacy notification. For 12, blissful hours, my phone isn't a grenade about to explode.
I'm busy sending heartfelt imaginary thanks via the ether, heading across the lights outside the tube station, a spring in my step, when there's a chirp from my pocket.
I reach in without thinking. Back to my normal pattern of behaviour so damned fast, I probably even do it with a small smile.
The smile freezes, just as I do, in the middle of the street.
The black-bordered photo is someone I know.
What are the odds of knowing a random person who died that day? The odds of that random person being famous, or a friend, or family?
What are the odds of that person being me?
As the lights change and the horns begin to blare, I stare at my photo, so transfixed I never even see what's coming.
Liam Hogan is an award winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 & 2019, and Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details at http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk