A Change of Plans

Reads: 36  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 3

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Would you want to know the date you are going to die? In a world where everyone has a personal deathdate, what would your plans look like?

A Change of Plans

He walked to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, the frozen gravel bumpy and slick beneath his feet. Little tornadoes of sycamore leaves swirled across the yard as a cold wind pushed hard against his body. Stray leaves swooped and dove around him like brittle brown birds, the cold chilling his bones. And the forecast was below-zero days for the next two weeks. Arriving at the mailbox he reached inside and with frozen fingers retrieved a small stack of mail.

In the year 2109 paper mail was nearly obsolete. There were a few holdouts  preferring to receive paper mail, but most got theirs through email or vidmail. The sliver of the populace wanting paper was made up of two groups:  technophobes and younger folks, the latter finding it cool and retro. He fell into the former category…old school and averse to things electronic.

He had turned the big sixty just two days ago. It was referred to as the big sixty because that is the birthday that sexagenarians either dreaded or eagerly anticipated; the birthday when notices were sent out. Local and county governments were in charge of sending out the deathdate notices. He knew that his notice would arrive soon so the walks to the mailbox were usually accompanied by a churning stomach.

“Anything interesting, honey?” his wife asked smiling, as he stamped his feet on the doormat next to the front door. She knew his notice was expected any day though hers would not arrive for another year.

“Let’s see, some junk mail, store coupons, the electric bill, and…”

“And what?” she asked, putting the last of the dishes from the dishwasher into the kitchen cabinet. As she spoke to him she was gazing out the kitchen window watching the trees bend and sway in the fierce winds like multi-armed giants engaged in an odd sort of do-si-do.  She turned to face him.

“I’m not one hundred percent certain but I think I got my notice,” he said. He threw the junk mail in the trash bin in the corner, tore open the electric bill and tossed it and the unopened letter from the city onto the kitchen table. 

She knew what it was. She knew that it had to be. She knew it must definitely be his deathdate notice. For years they had planned for this day, as all families did. It naturally follows that when you are aware of your deathdate you can prepare and make plans. You have the freedom to choose how you will spend your remaining years, months or days. Most hoped for a long life, yet others did not. Life was strange that way; everyone had a unique response after receiving his or her deathdate notice. The computers that crunched the numbers were incredibly accurate. Mistakes were rare and considered outliers…usually the result of accidents, but even those were considered within the margin of error.

The advent of the deathdate changed the world: life plans, personal behavior, retirement, finances, family considerations, work choices, relationships…everything. The world was never the same after a Swedish scientist invented it followed by virtually all countries rushing to adopt it as a means to control and monitor their populations. With genetic mapping and deathdate computations a person had both: a birthdate and a deathdate; a beginning and an end…very tidy. The date of birth was often planned but still mostly a pleasant surprise, a happy accident. The deathdate, however, was scientifically designed and computed with amazing accuracy.

It was required in 2109 that a person get annual psychological evaluations as they were considered critical in the computation of the deathdate. The yearly evaluation results were fed into computers along with other life updates which accumulated with other masses of information on all citizens. The information included medical issues, psychological testing, family history, travel patterns, work types, living environments. The computations this generated still more masses of data in order to make certain calculations necessary in the generation of a person’s deathdate.

The knowledge of one’s date of death had monumental societal impacts and the governments of the various countries worked hard to adjust to the changes. Those with criminal histories could very easily erupt into violence and mayhem upon receiving their notice, or then again, maybe not. There were many stories of criminals who had received their notices taking up a life of good works, religion, and public service as they lived out their remaining time. But the risk of danger, though, required police and other law enforcement to monitor such individuals closely when their deathdate notices were sent.

For those receiving a deathdate notice before the age of sixty there was sadness and shock in abundance, as it usually meant that the person was predicted to die at a young age and often more tragically. Those, too, were people the government watched closely, especially the volatile ones.

“Is that what I think it is?” she said.

“Maybe so, it looks like it,” he shrugged.

They already had a plan in place and had discussed it many times.

“Aren’t you going to open it? We’ve been expecting your notice.”

“I’m not ready to open it,” he said. “I need something strong to drink.”

“What’s wrong? We need to know so we can start our plans,” she said. “This affects me as much as it does you.”

“Quit badgering me,” he said.

Looking puzzled she watched him pour bourbon into an ice-filled tumbler. Something had changed, she thought. They had been anxiously awaiting his notice in the recent weeks, even giddy about it, but now, what? They had made plans together, plans on where to go and what to do. After months of research they’d settled on two retirement locations, Hawaii and the Philippines; a condo in Honolulu and a concrete-walled villa in a nice area of Manila.

She saw an odd expression on his face that she wasn’t familiar with, though they had been together for over thirty years. It was as if he were a stranger who had suddenly appeared in their home.

“You think I’m ready to open that? Well, I’m not,” he said taking a swig of whiskey.

“Who have you been talking to?” she asked.  “Jason? You’ve been talking with Jason, haven’t you?  Honey, that man has mental health problems. He sees a psychiatrist for delusions or something like that. Sally says he forgets to take his meds half the time.”

“I haven’t been talking to Jason. I have my own thoughts, thank you. I just…well...I just don’t want to know the date of my death, that’s all. I thought I would want to know, but I don’t.  Listen, if I know when I’m supposed to die and how I’m supposed to die it will drive me completely batty. Those deathdates are pretty rock solid. They even account for suicides. Honey, if I know when I’m supposed to die, forget about Jason, I’ll need to be on psychiatric medication.”

She stared at him in shock.

“Why didn’t you talk to me before you made this big change of plans?”

He ignored her inquiry and flopped down on the couch in the living room.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“Well…I guess…we’ll have to make new plans.”

“Maybe later, not now,” he said, looking at the ceiling tiles above him as he lay on the couch. He followed the lines along the edges of the tiles as if trying to make his way out of a complex maze. Before long he had fallen asleep.

She walked into the living room and sat down on the floor near him. As she listened to him snore she wondered what could possibly have changed in his mind. Maybe he had had misgivings all along about the deathdate but simply kept them to himself. On the other hand she had been totally upfront about her concerns on both sides of the ledger.

Still reeling from the shock she sat with legs crossed, back propped against the couch. The notice envelope sat unopened in the kitchen beckoning to her, but warning her, too. The envelope was like a device with a kind of radioactive field around it; a device that would blow up their lives, but one that she dare not touch. She could see the table from where she sat. The letter called to her, but she resisted the urge to run and open it.  

It didn’t take long for her to realize that she would never open it, not in a million years; not with his change of plans. She realized that if he didn’t want to know its contents, then she absolutely didn’t want to know. Stroking his hair with her hand she imagined the torment of a life knowing the date when he was going to die, and simultaneously having to keep that knowledge secret from him. It was an untenable scenario.

Their plan was to get the notices, then carry out their plans for retirement. Then, on the day before the first of them was to die, they would take their own lives together, a kind of Romeo and Juliet with a twist.  The two of them had even researched methods of suicide, which ultimately led to the creation of a mixture which they kept in a jar in a high kitchen cabinet. They’d even tested the mixture on pet store mice. Both were acutely aware that even though he would receive his notice first his deathdate could very well be subsequent to hers.

 Neither felt they could go on living with the other one gone. They had no kids, no family they were close to, and no friends except the superficial kind.  

“What?” he said jolting from his nap. His eyes strained open as he turned to see her sitting next to him crying. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“We made plans and now you’ve changed them,” she said. “That’s the matter.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few weeks and I just don’t want to commit suicide,” he said.  “Taking one’s life is wrong…it goes against God. I wouldn’t want you to commit suicide either if I happened to be scheduled to die first.”

“Drying her eyes with her sleeve, she said “So you’re not going to open it?”

“No, I’m going to burn the damn thing!” he said. “I don’t want to know.” He got up angrily and marched into the kitchen where the notice sat waiting on the table.”

“I know, but…”

He reached the tiled kitchen floor at the place where it meets the edge of the carpet, unaware of a small patch of water that had pooled on the floor near the dishwasher. The problem with the dishwasher periodically leaking had gone on for years. Getting a new one or repairing this one was on his to-do list, but he’d never gotten around to doing either.

The water was difficult to see on the flecked white ceramic tiles so when his polyester-socked feet hit the wet spot it caused him to immediately slip and fall to the floor like a bag of bricks, but not before hitting his head on the sharp edge of the kitchen counter on the way down. Lying unconscious on the floor a large hematoma began to rise on his forehead. Blood was pooling in large amounts under his head.

She ran to him and lifting his head shoved a dish towel underneath it. His eyes were open but rolled-back. “Honey…speak to me! Sweetheart!” she said, as new tears rolled down her face. As he lay unconscious on the floor she quickly jumped up and grabbed her cell phone from the counter. She dialed 9-1-1.

It only took six minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Two paramedics came in quickly, one started to administer CPR while the other checked vital signs.

Sitting on the floor in the corner of the kitchen with her feet curled underneath her she watched them work feverishly to bring him back to consciousness. One of them suddenly ran out to the van to retrieve a stretcher.

“Ma’am, we have to get him to the ER. We’ll try to stabilize him on the way,” said one of the paramedics. The other continued chest compressions.

They got him out the door and into the back of the van in short order, then one of the paramedics jumped in the front seat and rolled his window down. “Grace Memorial Hospital!” he yelled as they pulled out of the driveway, tires squealing.

She stood in the driveway watching them round the corner then went inside to grab her keys. Running to the garage, she got in the front seat of the car…and sat. She didn’t immediately start the car. She was breathing very hard and had to calm down and gather her thoughts. Then the tears came, her chest heaving in and out between gasps.

Not moving or starting the car she sat and cried. With closed eyes she was seemingly paralyzed in the moment; a moment which turned into thirty minutes. After finally gathering herself emotionally she put the keys into the ignition when her cell phone rang.

“Ma’am, he didn’t make it. He died before we even reached the hospital. I wanted you to know first. Are you in the hospital or on your way here?”

She didn’t respond.

“Ma’am, I know this is difficult. You might consider staying home tonight. Get some sleep and you can come to the hospital tomorrow to formally identify him for the coroner. Ma’am…are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” she said.

“Accidental blunt force trauma was the cause of death that the doctor wrote down,” he said.

“Thank you. Yes, I think I’ll come in tomorrow,” she said, pressing the end call button on her phone.

The afternoon sun pierced the living room windows, the blinds making elongated patterns of light and shadow on the floor. The doorbell disturbed the quiet, but no sounds or movements were forthcoming. It rang again…nothing. A man in a business suit stood at the door alongside one of the paramedics from the night before. They both began knocking loudly on the door but still no one came. The man in the suit had a large envelope under his arm which contained a death certificate and information about funeral options and grief counseling.

Through the beveled-glass window at the top of the door the paramedic immediately spotted the woman lying on the couch only a few feet from the door. “She’s on the couch, sir…it doesn’t look good.” Police were called and they showed up within a few minutes. Two cops using a battering ram broke the door open and all four rushed into the house. The paramedic checked her vitals, but she was obviously dead. Her skin had a bluish tinge and rigor mortis had set in.  

One of the policemen picked up a jar from the floor which had a dark residue in the bottom and sniffed it. He recognized the garlic odor and put it in an evidence bag. “No forced entry, looks like a suicide. That had the distinct odor of arsenic.” While the paramedic was attending to the deceased woman one of the cops walked into the kitchen and saw the unopened letter on the table that he immediately recognized as a deathdate notice as he had received his only a few weeks ago.

The policeman’s notice stated that he had ten years to live before he would die of a heart attack. He and his wife had made big plans for their retirement which included a beachfront condo on the Gulf side of Florida.

The cop was puzzled that the notice hadn’t been opened so…he opened it.

“How about that,” he said. The other policeman was nosing around the house opening drawers, pulling back cushions and peering in closets. The paramedic and hospital representative had just finished sealing the woman in a body bag.  

The paramedic stood and walked into the kitchen. “What’s that, officer?”

“It’s the deathdate notice for this woman’s husband,” said the officer.  “I understand he died in the ER at Grace Memorial last night. Boy, the computers got this one wrong. Outlier…first one I’ve ever seen.”

“What do you mean?” asked the paramedic.

“It says here he was scheduled to live until the year 2146, another thirty seven years. He had a long life ahead of him. What is his birthdate?” he asked the hospital representative.

“December 9, 2049,” said the representative.

The policeman did the subtraction on his cell phone app and said “That means he was scheduled to live until the ripe old age of ninety seven.”

“Wow…I hope I get a notice like that when I’m sixty,” said the paramedic.

“Very sad,” said the policemen.

The other officer came into the kitchen shaking his head, did not speak.

 

 


Submitted: November 02, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Mark A George. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Comments

Ann Sepino

This was cool! It has a lot of scientific/Statistics-based touches, but the narrative still retains the human side of the story. The message about life's unpredictability was delivered well in that last part. The EMT and DOA procedures here are different from what I'm used to seeing, but then again this happens in a future with a completely different setting.

As for retirement plans, not saying that Manila isn't any good, but seaside properties on Palawan and Dumaguete are very pretty. Just saying. ;) Anyway, thank you for writing and sharing this with everyone!

Mon, November 2nd, 2020 8:30am

Author
Reply

Thank you for your kind words, Ann! I appreciate the feedback.

Mon, November 2nd, 2020 7:53am

Joe Stuart

I am still reading your older stories, Mark, but I could see that this new story of yours is different?longer, more detailed and with a more serious storyline. I had to take a look before going back to your other stories.
I enjoyed the mystery that you wrote into this story. Entertaining and thought provoking. Given the choice, I wouldn't want to know my death date in advance. I felt that the reactions of the characters in your story were credible and their dialogue realistic. You write in a style that is easy to read and uncluttered with needless detail. You are definitely one of my favourite writers on Booksie. I have already enjoyed your sense of humour, Mark, and now you have shown that that you can handle tragedy equally well.

Tue, November 3rd, 2020 7:41am

Author
Reply

Thank you, Joe. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. I prefer the short format whether writing humor or other types of stories. Maybe it's my short attention span, I don't know. Anyway, thank you. You are in a small group of writers on Booksie that I follow more closely. Your stories are entertaining and very readable. Serge Wlodarski and hullabaloo22 are in that group, too. Thanks again!

Tue, November 3rd, 2020 7:48am

Joe Stuart

I had put an em dash between 'different' and 'longer', in my review, but Booksie couldn't handle it and put a question mark there instead. Sorry about that.

Tue, November 3rd, 2020 7:44am

More Science Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by Mark A George

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Humor