A Fate Worse Than Death
by Diana Lyles
"Come on, everyone! Rise and shine! It's time for breakfast!"
The orc prisoners groaned and tried to shut out the annoying cheerfulness of the chirpy, little faerie-guards. Damnation, how the orcs wished they could eat the flutterbugs. The faerie-guards were tiny, but they were also magically powerful and with a thought could have even the meanest orc singing "Mary had a Little Lamb" as punishment.
Once in the faerie-guarded prison, it was difficult for an orc to get out. They lived the rest of their lives crocheting baby blankets, making greeting cards, baking cookies, and other repulsively pleasant activities. There was one way to get out of the cheerful prison with its brightly muraled walls, but that was too horrible for the orcs to contemplate. It was a fate worse than death. The faeries had learned long ago never to mention it in front of the orcs, because the mere thought would drive them crazy.
Lorca shuffled through the breakfast line. Something was wrong with him, he was losing his taste for moldy bread and cheese. It used to be his favorite, now the sight and smell turned his stomach. There was fresh fruit at the end of the chow line for the faerie-guards. Normally, Lorca would have gagged at the site of all that sweet juiciness: today, it looked rather yummy. When he realized he was reaching for a nice red apple, he snatched his hand back then furtively looked around. Fortunately, none of the orcs around him had noticed. Orc-sludge, he must be getting sick. Right after chow he was going to the infirmary.
"Open your mouth and stick out your tongue" the faerie-doctor chirped.
Lorca did as he was told. The doctor fluttered in front of his mouth to shine her little light inside it. His tongue was smooth and pink instead of black and cracked. His teeth were straighter than normal. "Hmmmmm," she murmured. The doctor turned off the light then looked at his eyes. The whites were clear instead of bloodshot. She flew back out of his reach. "Have you been spending a lot of time with any of the guards?" She asked.
"Yes. Why?" Lorca asked in alarm. "Do I have a faerie disease?"
"No, I think it may be an orc disease," she answered, "but I need to run some more tests."
The rest of the day Lorca was poked, prodded, and jabbed with assorted medical instruments. Normally, this was very soothing to an orc, but by the end of the day, Lorca was ready to scream in annoyance.
He walked back to his dormitory exhausted from the day's trauma. He met Gylda, the guard he was friends with, on his way. Lorca and the little faerie-guard played orc-chess together. She was the only one he would play with, because she didn't smash the board and playing pieces when she lost. It had taken Lorca a year of hoarding his earnings from crocheting baby blankets and going without his favorite Red Blood energy drink before he had enough credits saved up to purchase his set from the commissary. He guarded it jealously and had played the game by himself until Gylda had shown an interest in learning the game. That was a day he would never forget. Gylda had fluttered over and sat on his shoulder to watch him play. Without thinking about the consequences for attempting to hurt one of the guards, he had reached up to flick the little faerie off, but before he could touch her, he was on his feet singing "The Rainbow Connection" at the top of his lungs. After that humiliating experience, he tolerated her presence and eventually taught her how to play. She was a good opponent for him: if he lost his temper (as orcs usually did), she would force him to sing that obnoxious purple dinosaur's song, "I love you, You love me," to keep him from smashing his precious orc-chess set.
"Hi! Lorca!" she chirped. "I'm sorry that you are feeling poorly. Is there anything I can do?"
"Thanks," Lorca said, "I don't think there is anything anyone can do. I feel like I am going to die. Nothing tastes good anymore. Even the sight of my favorite food makes me gag."
"Oh, you poor thing," Gylda consoled him. "Maybe a good night's sleep will make you feel better."
"Maybe," he agreed.
Lorca tossed and turned all night. He could not get comfortable on the craggy sharp rock that was his bed. He wished he had a pillow or something that was soft. That unorc-like thought troubled him deeply and kept him awake all night wondering what was wrong with him.
Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, Lorca staggered into the infirmary the next morning. "I'm dying," he moaned to the faerie at the reception desk.
"Oh, you poor dear," she cooed. "Let me take you right back to a room and call the doctor in."
Lorca had barely settled himself on the padded examination table, when the faerie-doctor fluttered in. She was carrying his medical file. "Well, Lorca, I've looked over your test results and I have some good news and some bad news."
Lorca felt relieved, but didn't respond. If there was good news, then at least he wasn't going to die.
"The good news is you aren't going to die," she said. "The bad news is that you have redemptaria."
"Redemptaria?" he asked. It didn't sound good, whatever it was. "What is that?"
"It's an incurable medical condition found only in orcs. It comes from spending too much time in the company of faeries," she said. "Basically, you are changing from a bad orc into a good elf."
"NO!' Lorca shrieked. "Isn't there a cure?"
"I'm afraid not."
In mounting horror, he listened to the faerie-doctor as she explained, "Once the process begins, it can not be reversed. We're transferring you into the medical ward until you have changed into an elf. At that point, you're no longer a threat to society, and prison will not be safe for you. Therefore, you will be released from prison to live the rest of your life in freedom as an elf."
She smiled sunnily at Lorca. "Isn't that wonderful?"
Horrified beyond belief, the orc fainted.
The doctor stuck her head out the door. "Nurse, bring me 2500 milligrams of thorazine! Stat!"