Suffice to say, I was on edge the very second I woke the next morning. It was one thing to have an unexpected traumatic experience and deal with it afterwards, but it was another thing entirely to know about a future trauma. The thing that hit me the hardest was having no idea what to do about it. What could I do? I didn’t know what was coming, or how, or where, or why; only a vague prediction as to when.
Three spikes from now. The first would be two days away, at about noon. The second would be just over a day later, at about sundown. The third and final spike would be the following morning, which my calculations predicted would exceed 12:00 in value. And when that happened, I would—
I stopped myself. There was no way it could be right. I was getting too worked up. This was all just a conspiracy theory, after all. I did all I could to bury my anxiety. Everything will be fine, I thought. My denial was strong.
I ended up going to work. I needed something to keep my mind off this ridiculous theory of mine. When I arrived there, I threw myself into my work. I hit the ground running, so to speak. Right out of the gate, I furiously filled out forms and processed paperwork and analysed data. I might have set a new Olympic speed record, if there were such a thing as the office work decathlon. It was the same the next day, and the day after that as well. The clickety-clack of my keyboard was so intense that it drew the attention of my infamous co-worker with the annoying accent.
‘Wow, Drew, you’ve been going at it super hard this week! Are you, like, trying to finish early or something?’
I pretended not to hear her. Not that that helped.
‘Oh!’ she continued, clapping her hand to her mouth, ‘Have you got something on that you, like, need to get home for? Is that it?’
‘Yeah, I guess.’ Something on my mind, that is.
‘Mmhmm… is it a girlfriend?’
‘What?’ I looked up in surprise. How did she come to that conclusion?
‘Oh, sorry! It could be, like, a boyfriend or whatever!’
‘No. No! It isn’t anything like that! Do you mind? I’m busy here.’
‘Okay, okay, I’m sorry!’ she pleaded, raising her hands in surrender. ‘Gosh, like, take a chill pill! You’re gonna get your Life Clock all, like, maxed out again with that attitude!’
I snorted derisively. She had no idea. My glare must have been too intense for her, as she very quickly returned to her desk after that. I didn’t feel bad, though. She made me angry by being too nosy. And, admittedly, for being too close to the mark. She should have minded her business.
Having been distracted, though, I found it hard to get back to my work. Now that the subject of Life Clocks was back on my mind, it was all I could think about. Today. Noon. That was when the next spike should occur. It was nearly time. Maybe I could sneak out on my lunch break and deal with it out of earshot of my colleagues—
‘Morning, Drew!’ my boss said. ‘Just passed Jessica in the hall, is she bothering you again?’
‘More or less,’ I sighed, eyes on my wrist.
‘I’ll have to have a word with her. You’ve been doing some good work since you got back. I’d hate to have you off task.’
‘Please do. I’ll give you an itemised list of interruptions if that’ll help.’
‘Now, now, Drew, there’s no need to go that far.’
‘If you say so, boss.’
‘Right, well, I’m heading out for lunch, you want anything?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘All right. Keep up the good work, son.’
‘Will do,’ I muttered as my boss headed out. I checked my wrist again, just in case.
The hairs on my neck stood on end. My numbers actually changed. For a whole minute they stayed that way, before returning to their previous, much lower value. When they finally changed back, I found myself letting out a long-held breath. That was close. If anything showed up while my boss was here, then… My memories flashed back to that day a year ago. I didn’t care to have a repeat of that. As nice as it was for my boss to have my back, sometimes it seemed like his frequent check-ins were less for personal care and more for ensuring he didn’t have another incident with a company asset.
My focus was shot after that. The rest of the day was basically a wash; not a single task completed, and hardly a word spoken. So unfocussed was I that it took me until I sat down for dinner that night to realise that I had even gotten home. That Life Clock reading was the only thing on my mind. Over and over the memory played in my head. I found myself questioning what I saw.
What if I accidentally looked at the time instead?
Maybe I was just reading it incorrectly?
Was it my fault it went so high?
Did my boss’s presence increase the value, instead of something else?
If I stayed home, would the value stay the same?
Question after question after question raced through my mind. I debated myself; trying to make an excuse that would prove me wrong while, at the same time, trying to find definitive proof that I was right. It was a war of opposing possibilities, each side trying to bribe the other into relenting, doing nothing but bargaining with each other. It felt like I was losing my mind.
The anxiety kept me up all night. I didn’t even try to go to work the next day, or so much as call in sick. My phone rang multiple times—presumably my boss calling—but I didn’t answer it. If my prediction was right, then what was the point? All I could do was sit there, on my couch, staring vacantly at the wall. I didn’t even eat or drink, save for a large bottle of whiskey that I’d been given by my grandfather. It was a well-aged bottle, probably worth a lot of money and of the highest quality, but I didn’t notice. The only purpose it served was to refill my glass when it emptied and the only purpose the glass served was to refill my mouth when that emptied.
In no time at all the sun had set. Having spent all night and day without moving, it was actually kind of hard to lift my arm and then to lift my head to look at it. The alcohol certainly did me no favours, either. I watched the value—slightly higher than usual, thanks to the booze—for hours, perceiving the tick-tock but not the actual time. Then the second spike happened.
I laughed. Not a happy, mirthful laugh; that laugh was bitter, cold and painful. Not unlike the whiskey. When the spike ended who-knows-how-long later, I let my arm flop onto the cushion and downed the rest of the whiskey straight from the bottle. I wasn’t really thinking about much, but perhaps I thought that if I drank enough I could just pass out and miss the last spike altogether.
With a groan, I struggled to my feet, leaning on the couch for balance, then staggered around the apartment to the kitchen. I’d gotten used to walking around on my prosthesis, but as imbibed as I was it suddenly became extremely difficult. It was almost surprising to me that I couldn’t feel my missing leg, and constantly overcompensated trying to correct my perceived imbalance. I successfully found and opened another bottle of spirits, however, and stumbled back towards my couch.
Then I lurched. I reached out for something to hold onto but found nothing. My entire weight collapsed heavily on the carpet. As soft as it was, it wasn’t enough to stifle the entire impact. I tried to get up, but found my prosthesis was no longer attached to my stump. So much for that. Luckily, the bottle in my hand was unharmed, so I rolled over, opened it, and took the biggest swig I could. No point getting back to the couch now. It was going to end here. I’d drink myself into oblivion and, when I woke, I would be in a better place. That’s what I told myself.
I laughed again. A worse laugh than the previous. This laugh was a laugh of depression. A sad, pitiable laugh reserved only for those with no way out. Another swig. That’s not quite right, though. Another swig. There was one way out of this anxiousness, this fear, this depression: another swig. That’s what I reduced myself to. Nothing to look forward to but another swig. I closed my eyes. Everything went dark.