Dying To Live

by Annie Zahid
  • 21 Oct - 27 Oct, 2017
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The November of 2012 was a busy one for the town of Coldbridge. The first day of December would mark the 100th anniversary of the town. As per tradition, the Founder's Day would be observed on the second day of December. This meant that the first week of December would be full of grand celebrations which required equally grand preparations.

Since it was Coldbridge's centennial, all of the events, like the annual Coldbridge Ball and the Founder's Day Parade, were guaranteed to be more extravagant than usual. The founding members and other important people from nearby towns were also coming to witness the processions. Everyone was extremely excited.

Well, everyone except Damian Campbell.

November 28, 2012
A cup of coffee rested on a table outside Cher's Cafe. Damian Campbell sat on one of the four chairs arranged around the table with an open notebook balanced on his lap. The pen he held in his hand was tapping against the edge of the table and his other hand was pinching the bridge of his nose when a scraping sound alerted him that someone else has just occupied the chair opposite to his. He knew who it was but still, he looked up, and sighed when he met the blue-green eyes of his sister, Lexie.

"How much sleep did you get last night?" asked Lexie, noticing the bags under his eyes.

"Hello to you, too," replied Damian.

"Answer the question, Damian."

"Let me be, Lexie."

Lexie sighed at her brother and his self-destructive ways. She was about to ask him another question when his pen's incessant tapping stopped and it fell from his hand. Instead of picking it up, her brother was staring at her right hand's wrist, with a horrified expression on his face. Alarmed by how pale Damian suddenly looked, Lexie checked her wrist but she didn't see anything strange or alarming.

"What? What is it?" asked Lexie.

Damian continued to stare at the numbers written on Lexie's wrist. 100. Lexie couldn't see them. No one could; no one, except Damian.

Clearing his throat and covering up his shock as best as he could, he assured her that he had to be somewhere and was already late. Picking up his pen and notebook, he finished the coffee in one gulp and ran away from the cafe.

Rounding the corner of the street, he loosened his necktie because he was having trouble breathing. His heart was palpitating, palms were sweaty, fingers were going numb, and he was scared out of his mind. He could feel he was under a panic attack.

Usually, his sister was the person he went to, for help and advice, when life became confusing and matters became too hard to handle… but not now – not about this.

As scared as he was, he just couldn't go to Lexie. How will he explain his fear of the numbers on her wrist to her? The numbers she herself couldn't see. What will he even say? She'd take him to a mental asylum for treatment.

He had started noticing these numbers written on people's wrist when he was about 17 years old. He had figured out what they meant at the age of 19. They were a countdown, and as far as he knew, they weren't visible to anyone else except him. At that age, he was smart enough not to tell other people about them as no one would believe him, and for good reason.

His initial shock wasn't letting him process this properly. His heart's defense mechanism kicked in and all he could do was deny. This can't be happening. This can't be happening. This can't be happening. But it was. Seeing the numbers on his sister's wrist, felt like someone had just poured a bucket of ice-cold water on him. He knew this would happen. He knew that eventually, a countdown would appear on the wrist of a person he loved. He had been subconsciously preparing for it. But that didn't mean he was ready to lose his sister.

People were starting to stare at him as he speed-walked past them. He didn't blame them. He wasn't in the same festive spirit as them. He couldn't bring himself to care about what people thought about him anymore. He couldn't bring himself to feel excited about the centenary of his beloved hometown. After all, festivals and celebrations matter very little when you are the harbinger of death.

Slowing down his pace, he took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the situation. 100. He had 100 days to figure out what to do.

"You haven't been able to do anything in the past four years. What can you possibly do in 100 days?” asked a small voice in his head. But no, he had to do something. He was 23 years old, which means, he had been trying for the past four years to find a way to stop the countdown. But it never stops. It only stops at 0. Today, it was 100. Tomorrow, it will be 99. 100 days later, his sister will die.

His mind wandered off to Maxine. Maxine was Damian’s class fellow in high school. She was also the first person on whose wrist Damian first saw the numbers. At the first sight, he thought it was a tattoo. The next time he saw it, he could’ve sworn that her tattoo was 98 just a week ago, but convinced himself that he must have gotten it wrong since her tattoo was clearly 91. When his introverted self, mustered up enough courage to ask her about her tattoo, she… well, let’s just say it was a very awkward conversation. Both of them parted ways thinking that the other was pulling a prank on the other.

After that, he kept meeting people with numbers tattooed on their wrists, and their reaction was always the same as Maxine’s.

Whenever Damian asked anyone about the tattoo on their wrist, he was always met with bewilderment, wariness, and in some cases, an awkward laugh. Then some days later, people started dying. So he tried his hardest to ignore the tattoos. He tried to ignore the unknown fear that gripped his heart every time he saw the numbers written on someone’s wrist. Tried to ignore the unexplainable anxiety he felt when 90 changed to 89 and 10 changed to 9. He tried to ignore when a man’s 58 changed to 0 in front of his own eyes when he got stabbed.

After two years of trying to ignore the numbers, the deaths, and the pattern, he acknowledged what he had always known but denied, the numbers were a countdown.

Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t realised that he was making his way towards his old high school. Standing just outside the wrought iron gates, he looked up at the banner which bore Coldbridge High School’s name, written in bold letters beside a picture of the school’s mascot; a timber wolf.

The long walk had cleared his mind a little, and he recalled what his papa, who also happened to be his school’s principal, had taught him about problems. His father’s words rang inside his skull, “Ian, to tackle a problem, you need to understand it first.” It was in that moment that he decided to investigate the death of Maxine Jones.

to be continued...