I had left my horrible 10th story apartment that I hated oh so very much that morning. My Hobbit hole, as I called it, was situated in an overstuffed building filled with low income dregs such as myself attracted by the low rent, still overpriced for this type of building, but still the best price in the city this side of the really bad neighborhoods.
Swallowing the last remains of my quickly conjured breakfast war crime, never having been the best cook, I nodded to the woman in the hallway. I never knew her name, but the kill counter above her head showed an ominous “2”, glowing like a condemnation. Rumors flew about this woman in the tenement, people saying that she had drowned her twin infants or that she had hit two people with her car while driving drunk. I knew that this was nonsense because it was next to impossible to get away with murder since the psychic counters were installed all those years ago. I knew that the deaths that she was responsible for were likely self- defense or an accident given that she wasn’t in jail, but I was cordial to her none the same… just in case.
The number “2” wasn’t the largest number I’d ever seen. I remember an uncle when I was little… Tim or Jim or something, the family never spoke of him, but his kill counter was “8”, the result of a drunk driving accident he had as a teenager and had spent several years in prison for. War veterans he had seen had counters in the 50s and 60s, but they had special dispensation. Same as the President of the United States whose kill count was zero as he campaigned, but was now psychically blurred from public view, that number seen only to himself until the end of his days.
What a weight that must be.
My number was zero as was most people. Giant glowing eggs floating above people’s heads like halos. These folks were safe and blameless in life and many of them took great pride in their advertised innocence.
My memories drifted back to a childhood friend as I walked down the street to the bus stop. That friend bore a “1” since the day he was born, the result of his mother dying in childbirth. Despite the fact that he was blameless, he had been met with such discrimination in his life, denied jobs and college, simply because of that “1”. I remember the last time I saw him… lying in that coffin, a “2” floating above his head.
I took my seat on the bus and started surfing Facebook on my phone, not wanting to engage in small talk with my fellow passengers. I hated this neighborhood so much and couldn’t wait to find a better job elsewhere. I’d put out so many applications and feelers that someone would have to contact me soon.
The bus stopped and a new stampede of humanity entered, followed by an ancient lady walking in small shuffles. A “1” floated above her head and a small button on her wool cap declared “I took my sick husband off life support to end his suffering.”
That’s clever, I thought, lamenting that maybe that would have saved my old friend.
Because I supported her cleverness and because everyone else on the bus was being a selfish knob and not offering the old woman a seat, I stood. “Here you are, ma’am.”
She looked at me with a smile that melted like a snowball in a volcano. Her look transformed into fear, her face went white, and she shuffled backwards at a speed I wouldn’t have thought a woman of her years would be capable of.
I stood there like an idiot, not knowing what to do or what I had done to offend. I was so focused on the old woman, I didn’t even notice the other passengers vacating their seats around me. They were looking at me with such unrestrained fear…
No, not me. They were looking above me.
I fumbled with my phone and put it in selfie mode.
The number above my head was a “9.”
“What the hell?” I whispered.
The number flickered and became a “14.”
“What the HELL!?”
The number kept growing. 25… 39… 65…
“STOP!” I screamed as it passed 100 and kept going.
The passengers were now on the other side of the bus which had come to a stop. People started getting off as though I had the plague. One was on his phone, no doubt calling the police. I could hear sirens in the distance.
297… 388… 499… My number was growing at a faster rate
“It’s a mistake!” I sobbed, “I haven’t done anything!”
But I knew that it wasn’t… the numbers were never wrong, but how? Why?
1,004… 1,276… 1,470
The sirens were closer, I could see the approaching… red lights? Not blue… not police.
A feeling of horror rushed over me, sobering like a bucket of ice water. All panic, all confusion vanished as I slowly turned and looked out of the large back window of the bus back to where I had come from.
The fire engine passed us, its siren distorted by doppler effect as it headed towards the black column of smoke where my apartment building sat.
I watched as the building crumbled into a pile of flaming debris, the raging fire consuming neighboring buildings around it. In the reflection in the glass my number read 1,876 and, although slowed, it still ticked mockingly upwards.
My breakfast came up in my throat in a flood of bile.
“Holy God,” I thought, “Did I leave the oven on?“
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