My doctor told me I had cancer. And it was inoperable.
I didn’t hear anything else he said for about five minutes. When I could hear again. He said the best I could do was to make the next six months as rich as possible because I would not see another summer.
I thanked him. He looked mortified and a maybe a bit sad. I went home to tell my family. Somewhere along the way, I changed my mind. I don’t remember the drive home. The traffic which once would have driven me crazy, just didn’t seem that important anymore. The hot summer air that once would have seemed oppressive, was just hot and sweet. It took me to be dying to stop my complaining and realize how much I wanted to live just a bit longer than six months.
I drove within five miles of my house. I stopped and parked my car. I was at a nearby mall, a place where lots of people engaged in mindless shopping without a concern in the world about the future. This was where I needed to be. Someplace where I could forget and engage in retail therapy, the Western world’s idea of psychotherapy.
I was a little dizzy, my stomach grumbled but it wasn’t food I was hungry for. It was life.
I could see these people; really see them, moving through the mall, much like ants bustling through an anthill, carrying their packages, herding their children, smiling, laughing, crying, feeding their children, arguing with their mates, looking at bedspreads, picking out linens, waving goodbye to their parents as they are dropped at the mall, laughing with their friends at the people passing by who looked different, waiting patiently for a wife to finish shopping, occupying their time looking at nothing in particular.
I start crying and I can’t stop. I can see the futility of it all. Everything I have ever done and I wonder what did I do with my life. Who can see the difference I have made and now I am out of time. I can’t make up for that time. I squandered it.
I get up and run, my legs heavy like lead, at first. Then I can feel the rage building in my heart, in my chest, a scream is trying to get out, my legs grow lighter, faster, stronger as the scream builds. I run past the people clumsily at first, knocking them out of my way, but I can’t really see them anymore, my eyes are full of tears, burning me like an acid on my face. As I get faster, I start to avoid them and I can feel the light from outside the mall, almost like it’s calling me.
This way. Turn. Faster. Run faster. Faster. There it is, the front door to the mall, but the scream is coming, I can’t hold it in. My arms are moving in perfect sync, I burst out the door, breaking the glass as the door is thrown back. I run out into the street and scream.
A scream long held in. One from all the horrors of my childhood. All the abuse, all the loneliness, isolation, ostracization, shame, especially the shame, watching my aunt overdose and die before my eyes, not understanding what I was seeing, finding my mother sitting on a window sill contemplating her own death, but I arrived and talked with her for hours before she came back inside, I held that pain inside.
For every abusive beating I was ever given by my drunken father, each blow I endured without screaming, again and again and again. For every story he destroyed, every book he ever burned and I saw him, dying from the same cancer that is likely killing me, all of these came to a head and poured out into the afternoon air. Something primal, people hearing the sound never forgot it. Small children wept without knowing why. A group of small birds take flight as I pass through them and my scream reaches its crescendo.
I never saw the truck.
“Is this what you want?”
“Is this what you fucking want? Is that better? Can you hear me now?”
I found myself standing on the curb frozen in time, talking to a man who looked alarmingly like Samuel Jackson. And when I say saw myself, I mean I was standing outside of my body, looking at myself running into the street into the path of an oncoming truck. A truck that has a green light and wouldn’t be braking in time.
“No, I am not Sam Jackson. I just chose the image of someone who shocks and offends you. Like the eyepatch? Let’s keep this short, that three seconds right there isn’t going to last forever. I say again, is this what you want?”
What did I want? I was so consumed with rage, frustration and pity, I didn’t know what I wanted.
“Knock it off. You are a self-absorbed narcissist, who, while life has dealt you a bad hand, you sat around juggling lemons rather than making lemonade.”
“Really? In my last seconds of life, whoever you are, you will spend my last seconds telling me my life didn’t matter? Do I need to take that shit from you? If you aren’t here to tell me something soothing or relaxing or to make my death less painful, shut the hell up and do whatever you came here to do, quietly!”
“Now we’re making progress.” Sam took out a cigarette and lit up. “You’re angry, that good. Have you decided what you want?”
“Why do you keep asking me that? I have six months left to live? What is there for me to want?” I couldn’t figure out what he was asking me?
“Geez, if this is the caliber of humans kicking off this mortal coil these days, it’s no wonder nobody’s taking candidates any longer. I have just followed you from your doctor’s office, through the mall and watched you have a meltdown and all but throw yourself in front of a speeding truck. Okay, the truck part is probably an accident with all that bawling you were doing, but what did you want when you were picking up speed and knocking over old ladies? You had to have something in mind didn’t you?”
“I wanted more time, damn you. I wanted more time to spend with my family. I wanted more time to spend trying to enjoy life rather than just existing in it. I wanted to believe my life mattered to someone besides me. I wanted to make a difference. And now I won’t.”
Sam looked at me and walked out into the street. He approached my body and walked around it. I followed but none too close. “Do you know how many times you and I have had this conversation? Do you remember that time in Alameda when you had just come back from the war and your mind was still a bit scrambled. You decided you had nothing to live for and wanted to end it all? No, of course not. You had a psychotic break and experienced some other event instead.”
“I do remember that. But I don’t remember you.”
“Of course not, if you did, I wouldn’t have been doing my job.”
“Do you remember what you said that day, when you took the gun out of your mouth?”
“There was a kid outside my window, crying about how he was lost.”
“Come on, keep up. I am already past that part.”
“You told me you were lost and your parents were in the exchange, nearly a mile from where you were standing. I thought it was far fetched but I figured I could always shoot myself later. I took you back to the exchange. It was you wasn’t it?”
“Wow, you get to the front of the class. Now what was the important part of that information?”
“I could always shoot myself later.”
“Bingo. Give this man a motherfucking cigar. You decided it was not a good day to die. No Stovokor for you. You lived another twenty years from that day. You got out of the military, which you loved and hated, you learned a new craft, one that paid the bills and that you liked a lot better. You even got married and had a kid, who looked nothing like you, thank God.”
“Truth hurts. Now let’s hurry this along, there are terrorists in Syria who are blowing themselves up right now and I have to get on with my work. Do you know what you want now?”
“Yes.” I stood up straight and turned to look him in the eyes. I took the cigarette out of his hand and flicked it away. He squinted and looked really scary. “I want more time.”
“Good. That was the right answer. Here’s six months. Make the most of it.” Standing behind my body, he pushed me and time started again. I flew into the median where some beautification program planted bushes instead of concrete blocks.
I could see Sam standing across the street and people were looking and pointing, one man had his camera phone out, preparing to film my demise. “I don’t make the rules, kid. I just enforce ’em. What you do with your time is your own damn business. You’ll be here soon enough, don’t rush it.”
With that, Sam walked by the man with the handheld and smacked it out of his hand. Landing a few feet away he stomps it as he passed by. “Hate these motherfucking camera phones. Always trying to catch a picture of Death. That is some repugnant shit.”
Turning to look back at me he said, “Who knows, I could get tied up somewhere and run late. Take your damn ass home.”
I couldn’t get home fast enough.
Dead Already © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a popular and recently awarded Top Writer, 2016 recipient on the Q&A site Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration, teaching computer science and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, The Enemy, Panel & Frame, Science X, Loud Journal, ComicsBeat.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in twelve different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.