Life Without Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What would you do if you knew how long you had to live? What if they made a watch that could calculate how much time left? What if you could change your numbers the healthier you got? Would you do it? and at what price?

Submitted: October 23, 2011

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Submitted: October 23, 2011

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I glared at the strip of pale flesh strapped across my wrist as if it were some ugly detestable scar. The small white hairs smashed against my skin like dying wads of grass under the snow.  But still all I could think about was the time.

“Don’t worry, you get used to it after a while.”  The man behind the counter said, as he handed me a black square beeper.  “It’ll take an hour. We’ll beep you when it’s done.”

I rotated the small black pager in my hands, a red little light stared back at me, dead.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a pager, maybe in one of those old movies back when people didn’t have cell phones and dinosaurs roamed the earth.

 I tucked it safely away in my coat pocket as I scanned the cluttered shop around me. I eyed some of the outdated electronics piled around the store.  While old clocks hung on the walls with their large brass balls hanging underneath like an old man on a toilet. 

In front of me was a smudged glass case covered in cracks and clear tape.  Inside were dusty rows of silver and gold wristwatches lined up like candy in a sweets store.I stared for a moment at the thin little arrows on the faces trying to remember whether it was the big hand or the little one that was for the days and months, or maybe it was just hours and minutes. I looked back at my own wrist, cold and naked, wondering what the time was and how much I had left.

I could feel the impatient eyes of the man glaring behind his watch-capped glasses.  I made my way out of the shop and found myself standing on the street wondering where to go. 

I looked at my wrist to check the time and only saw a blank piece of skin in reply.  I tried to imagine my numbers, 51:05:14:08:44:25.  Fifty-one years, five months, fourteen days, eight hours, forty-four minutes, and twenty-five seconds.  Well even that probably changed, due to elevated stress levels, minus a day, lack of breakfast this morning, minus a few hours, reduce in money, minus a week.  Of course there was no way I could calculate it myself, but the result was still the same.  I was going to die. But the real question was, how much sooner?

I could already see the numbers on my imaginary watch counting down faster and faster as I worried more and more about it.  Just like it did the first time I put it on my wrist three years ago.  I took a deep breath trying to calm myself down and imagined the numbers slow down as it recalculated decreasing stress levels and blood pressure.

I pulled out the pager and stared at the dead little red light and wished it would turn on.  But no matter how much I stared at it.  Nothing happened.  I let out a small sigh as I began to drag myself down the sidewalk.  Maybe if I was lucky I would run into one of those public gyms and increase a few more minutes or hours to my life. 

Ever since I first put on my watch, I would watch the numbers slowly sink towards the bottom and realized that they could slowly go up when I started to walk to work one morning.  Then I began to eat a little healthier, not really because I cared about getting back into shape, but it was to watch the numbers slowly climb and know that I was going to live that much longer. 

Then I began going to the gym, I was a bit self-conscious at first. But after a while I realized it wasn’t just me going, everybody who had gotten a watch began to go.  We would compare our numbers and soon the gym had boards on the walls of the people with the highest lifespan.  Even sex partners were being chosen by their numbers, because no one wanted their potential kids to have small digits. 

I tried to look at the time again and still only saw a blank piece of skin.  I looked back up and saw it down the street, the 25hour gym, ten floors of life-extending exercises and food.  The thought of food stabbed my stomach as I remembered the lack of it that morning.  Ever since I’d woken up late, stared at my blank watch, and rushed to look up the closest watch repair shop.  Now that I thought about it, I didn’t call into work sick, but I was sure they’d understand.

As I crossed in front of a small alleyway, I remembered the old hamburgers my father used to grill in the backyard.  Back before the fast-food ban.  I realized that I could smell it from a shop a little way down the road.  It’s been a while now since I had my last burger.  About a year after I put on my watch.  Before I realized it I had approached the door and could already taste the glistening greasy meat.

I peered through the grease-covered window.  For a moment it looked like a pig in an apron was at the counter, but then I realized it was just a man.  I looked at my wrist and for the first time I was happy it wasn’t there.  Without that guilty feeling of having to watch the numbers fall like my favorite stock, as I was tempted by every burger, french-fries and ice-cream stand I passed by.  But still I could see the numbers as if they were tattooed on my skin.  Falling, falling, plummeting their way to zero.  I looked back up at the portly man in his greasy sweat covered apron, behind the counter happily cooking away and listened to the sound of meat sizzling in the pan.

I looked back down at my wrist and saw it stare blankly back at me.  The little hairs, stretching their way towards the light like snow covered grass in the first rays of the spring sun. 

What’s one burger, I thought to myself.  I made my way up to the counter and ordered one Artery Clogger. 

I soaked into my first guilt ridden bite and felt the greasy fat slide down my throat.Even the bread tasted as if it was soaked with the burger’s sweet juices. For a moment it almost seemed as if I had forgotten how to chew as I swallowed bite after bite.  When it was over I could feel myself satisfied for the first time in a long time, and then the guilt that followed close behind. 

I started walking again towards the towering 25hour gym.  My mind set on running on the treadmill or lifting a few weights in an attempt to earn the time that I had just lost.  But as I stood across the street and stared up at the clear glass windows with the people blindly running to the sound of their iPods, I could see a puff of smoke stream across my view.  I could smell it, the familiar scent of tobacco and other chemicals that floated around me, freshly blown from the lips of some naïve youngster unaware of how much time was lost with each little innocent stick. 

I turned to look for the source and saw a young girl, probably in her early twenties, with a white ribbon of smoke rising from her partially open lips.  As I expected, her wrists were as naked as mine.  Another puff of smoke slipped into the air and a hint of her lip-gloss could be seen pressed on the end of her cigarette.  Her eyes locked onto mine. 

She licked her upper lip a little with her tongue as I stood next to her.  Then she did it again. All the while her eyes gazed deep into mine.

“You got a little something there,” she said as she licked her lips for the third time. 

I licked my upper lip and tasted the sauce from the hamburger before.  She smiled.

The little green man at the other end of the sidewalk began to walk, as I stood with the girl who was still blowing smoke into the air. I watched the little green man begin to blink then die down into an open red hand. 

Without thinking I asked, “Can I bum one off you?”

She looked at me for a little bit then reached down into her black purse that was dangling off her shoulder. Then she put the little white fag into my hand.  I rolled it between my fingers, as I tried to remember the last time I smoked one.  Exam week of my last year in college, or was it at one of my friend’s party, before one of them tried to drive home drunk and found a telephone pole instead.  Or maybe it was a few months after I had first put on my watch and was tired of watching the numbers slowly slip away with each white puff. 

I looked back down at my wrist, empty and bear. The imaginary numbers slowly began to fade into my skin as if they were written in ink and were being rubbed away.  I looked at the little piece of rolled up paper with whatever mystery chemicals it had in it.  What the hell, I told myself, as I stuck it in my mouth as the girl held her lighter next to it.

I took a deep inhale of that precious white smoke and felt it fill my aching lungs.  I could imagine the numbers in my head countdown like a time bomb with the wrong wire cut.  I held it in for a second letting the nicotine soak into my blood and then let it all go in one fell breath.  I felt her eyes on me and realized that I was still on the sidewalk in front of the gym.  The little green man had begun walking again and she had finished off the last of her cigarette and tossed it carelessly on the street.  A few moments before I probably would’ve cared but now a relaxed smoke coursed through my veins.

“These things will kill you, you know,” I said as I inhaled another invigorating breath.

She looked at me for a moment.

“That’s the idea.”

“But don’t you care how much of your life you lose?”

She looked at me again,

“You’re not one of them, are you?” she said eyeing the runners in the gym.

I hesitated a little, unsure of what to say.  Then she began to talk again.

“I used to be like that, running everyday on those stupid treadmills going nowhere.”

I looked back at her.

“What happened?”

“I used to have this friend; she had one of the highest numbers out of everyone I knew.  But one day on her way to the gym, just as she was crossing a crosswalk just like this,” she said taking a step back over the curb and onto the black pavement, “she was hit by a car, just like that.”  She said as she took another step over the white painted lines of the crosswalk that stretched towards the other side of the road, the hand was still red. 

It took me a moment to realize what was happening.  A car came blaring close by her sweeping up her hair as it passed.  I watched as she continued to take one step behind the other, her eyes locked onto mine as she slowly made her way across the street.  Her face looked almost playful, seductive even. 

Cars flashed behind her, then in front of her, like beams of light.  Her hair was wildly tossed up into the air as if it were on fire. All the while her gaze stayed with mine.  Then she held up her wrist for me to see and on top her skin where a watch would be, I saw the numbers tattooed on her skin.  00:00:00:00:00:01. Then she gave a little wink and turned to walk down the street.

I stared after her for a moment trying to comprehend what had just happened.  I wanted to go after her.  But the big red hand of the world told me not to go.  I inched my way to the curb as I watched her shrink further and further away.  I stared at the light hoping the little green man would start walking again.  But the red hand still remained.

I could already see her begin to turn the corner down the block and wondered if I would ever see her again.I took my first step onto the black pavement.  A car passed in front swerving a little with its horn cursing at me.  I stepped back, my heart pounding in my ears.

I looked to my left, then to my right. I saw the cars a far way off.  If I ran now, I would probably make it.  But still I hesitated and by the time I was ready it was too late.  I watched the blurred images of cars pass in front of me and for a moment I could see myself in the passing windows. 

I looked again and saw a small opening, right after a red car.  I leapt onto the road and ran as if the road was on fire.  My heart pounded louder than my feet against the pavement. I could see my numbers drop lower and lower with each step as my mind flashed images of my distorted body as it flew through the air like an empty soda can.  Then just like this morning the numbers were blank.

I looked up and found myself on the sidewalk in front of the gym, a bright little green man cheerfully walking above me. I peered through the glass windows and saw them; all lined up on their machines running like dusty watches in a display case.

Vrrrrrb vrrrrrb, I thought my burger had finally caught up to me.  Vrrrrb vrrrb.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out the black pager the man had given me before, the little red light now wide awake and flashing in my face.  Vrrrrb vrrrrb.  I looked back up at where the girl disappeared around the corner.  I looked back at my wrist and only saw a forgotten piece of myself.  I stuffed the pager back into my pocket as I made my way after her.

 


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