I’ve always loved dogs, but the sound of their barking infiltrating my dreams has always bothered me. I open my eyes to the faint light coming through my window, before closing them again sleepily trying to hold onto the last wisps of the dream.
My eyes snap open, my breath quickens and my heart races like I had just ran a marathon. Sitting up I look around desperately for the calendar on my bare apartment walls. Remembering with a jolt that I had already thrown it out. I hadn’t thought I’d need it, rather I shouldn’t need it. Panic rips through me like a cold wind and I’m running to the little mirror on my vanity. Horrified I pull my night shirt off and stand with my back to the mirror, craning my neck around to look at the back of my arm. There it is, as clear as it had been for the past 26 years, my death date. Yesterday.
I should be dead. I take several deep breaths trying to calm myself, thinking over the past 24 hours. Frantically searching my memory for any clue as to why I am still breathing. Nothing makes sense. I was prepared to die, I had even already set my affairs in order.
At noon the mortician would arrive to collect my body and take it to the crematorium. My meager belongings would be given away to those in need. My apartment was already set up to go to someone else. They would be here and moved in completely by five. What will I do? No one has ever lived past their death date. Fresh panic sweeps through me as I realize now that I’m not dead how much I truly wanted to live. How I wanted to grow old, and how unjust this world really was to us.
Since the last war over 1000 years ago scientists found the gene that causes us to age and die. The wealthy usually lived the longest while people like me tended to die early. Population control. At birth we are given a medication that takes our genes and alters them to give us a set number of years depending on our status. My family was pretty low ranking and as such they are all dead. Just like I should be.
I knew in an instant if I was found alive, I would be killed. They wouldn’t dare to let me live for fear others might ask for more time. I sprang into action digging through my boxes of belongings, dressing hastily in a pair of worn jeans, an old T-shirt, a pair of running shoes and a sweatshirt that was once my dads. I then pulled out my backpack and enough clothes to last 3 days. I found my toothbrush and packed it along with a tube of toothpaste, my hair brush and some hair ties. I grabbed a watch, an unused tablet of paper, a pen and two small blankets.
First I wrote a note to the mortician, who would be here in three hours to collect my body, telling him I had changed my mind about cremation and had decided to wander into the woods to become one with nature. Not unheard of, but rare. Then I laid out one of the blankets and proceeded to roll my clothes and the other blanket inside it to save some space. I threw the tablet and pen on top of this and put the watch on my wrist. Repacking what I was leaving behind into boxes, I took a last look around at my dingy apartment. Then I ran.
I’m not sure how I made it out of my apartment building or to the bus stop five blocks away without seeing anyone I knew. But even here on this smelly bus packed with people fear gripped at my heart. I had pulled the old hoodie up over my dark red hair as I ran for fear it would be noticed; I would need hair dye and scissors as soon as I could get them. I stared at my reflection in the window, my overly big green eyes, pale slender face and the small cresent moon shaped birthmark under my right eye would be harder to hide.
“Mind if I sit here?” A gruff voice asks. I jump startled by the intrusion into my thoughts. I look up, carefully trying to keep my face in shadow, at a man with light grey eyes and a handsome face.
“Sure,” I stammer uncomfortably. He sits down as I look back out the window.
We ride along in silence for a while before he speaks to me again in a hurried whisper, “I know what you are. I can see it all around you. You’re supposed to be dead.”
Complete and utter terror rips at my soul. I try to keep my face clear of emotion for fear he may see something telling in my reflection.
“Don’t fear. You are not alone. At the next stop get off the bus. Go to Washington Street take a left and walk eight blocks to High Street. Turn right and walk three blocks. You will come to a house with a bright blue door. Knock four times, pause two beats, knock three times. Tell them Sanders sent you. I’ll meet you there shortly after. Keep your head down, talk to no one.”
My heart feels as though it will beat out of my chest at any moment. But before I can question him the bus stops. He gives me a small smile and slides out of the seat before disappearing into the throng of people milling towards the doors. I look at the window, fear written all over my face. What should I do? The crowd is thinning, and now new people are starting to get on the bus. My breath catches in my throat as I lurch out of my seat and run for the exit. What choice do I really have? He knew, others could too. As I emerge from the bus I crash into a luggage cart toppling to the ground with a resounding bang. Subtle. I mutter apologies and run towards the Washington Street sign.
Eleven blocks later and I see the blue door. Only then does it hit me that this “Sanders” guy could be anybody. He could be affiliated with the government for all I know. I stand there silently berating myself and trying to decide wether or not I should just keep running when I hear heavy footsteps behind me. Fear building again, I turn. This man is huge. 6 foot 7 at the least and wrapped in thick sinewy muscle. I gulp and let out a little squeak of fear as he ambles closer. Moving slowly. As he draws closer I can see the confusion and concern on his face. His lips curl down at the sides into a deep frown.
“You should already be inside. Shit, did I tell you too many things at once? Never mind come on,” and with that he unlocks the door and ushers me in.
The entryway is dark. I hear a click and suddenly I’m engulfed in light and standing in a bright yellow hallway.
“Oh Sanders it’s you. I see you’ve found the girl.” This voice is like velvet, though the woman it belongs to has harsh eyes and a scar running from her forehead down her neck where it disappears below her shirt. ” You’ll want to know why your here I’m sure.” She states finally looking at me.