by Mandi Jourdan
Clark stared down at the bold red letters printed on his palm, which still stung from the lasers used to etch them.
“Murder/suicide. February 29, 2188.”
“There has to be a mistake,” he managed. When his brother Ivan had taken the PropheTest, he’d learned he still had thirty-five years to live. Clark hadn’t even been worried—Ivan was the reckless one. Ivan would probably die on one of his mountain climbing expeditions or because he’d forgotten to look both ways before crossing the street. But Clark was always careful, always safe.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, sir.” The young woman across from him spoke through the inch-high gap at the bottom of the bulletproof glass separating them.
Clark stared at her. Her skin was a light brown, her hair pulled back into a perfect chocolatey ponytail, her teeth neon white. As she slid Clark’s identification documents to him, he caught a glimpse of her palm and realized it was blank. She was either too young for the PropheTest or had opted out of it.
Clark hadn’t had that luxury. He’d been required to have his blood drawn from a pinprick in his index finger and his irises scanned to identify him and coax the date and method of his death out of the temporal matrix. The results of his PropheTest were a stipulation for completing his health insurance application. And today, his twenty-first birthday, was the first time he’d been legally permitted to undergo the test.
He knew, now, that the insurance policy was no longer a concern. His application wouldn’t even begin to be processed until next week at the earliest, and that wouldn’t benefit him now. It was already after three—he would die sometime in the next nine hours.
He snatched the papers from the desk and rushed for the glass front doors and the bus awaiting him on the other side. If he didn’t hurry, he would have to wait another hour for the next bus, and he didn’t have that kind of time to spare. He had to get home to Joan and tell her they needed to bar the doors and hide until after midnight. If Clark didn’t see anyone else, he couldn’t possibly be in danger.
“Thank you for visiting FateCo,” called the receptionist in a singsong voice from behind him. “Your bill is in the mail.”
Clark charged out onto the street, his lunch creeping its way up from his stomach. He shouldered his way through the afternoon bustle and drummed his fingertips against his leg as his need to be past the line of people climbing onto the bus chafed at his mind.
He followed the line up the bus’s steps. When he made it inside, he caught sight of the driver, whose eyes were bloodshot and ringed by dark circles.
Clark shuffled into one of the last remaining seats and slumped back into it, doing his best not to scream. He watched the last of the passengers enter and take hold of the bars running along the roof to steady themselves as the bus began to move.
Above the ambient chatter surrounding him, Clark heard a sniffle from his left.
He looked toward the sound to find a middle-aged balding man beside him, rocking back and forth in his seat and wringing his hands. The man looked over his shoulder every few seconds, scanning the bus like he thought he was being followed.
As he moved, Clark caught sight of his palm.
It read “Murder/suicide. February 29, 2188” in bright red letters.
Clark’s entire body seized.
He shoved himself to his feet and squeezed through the sardine-packed passengers toward the front of the bus.
“I have to get off,” he called to the driver. “I have to get off! Stop the bus, please!”
The driver didn’t respond. He was sobbing and muttering what sounded like a prayer.
“Please,” Clark begged. “Please, I have to get—”
The bus lurched violently to the right, careening into the guard railing of the Birch Street Bridge and hurtling down toward the rushing waters below.
“Forgive me,” the driver mumbled, his eyes shut tightly as the passengers screamed and Clark lost his footing and sense of gravity, falling toward the front windshield.