I was twenty-eight years old, the first time I died. It wasn’t anything dramatic or cool, like when I saved that kid from drowning in a river (the fifth time) or when I got shot trying to stop a robbery at the corner store (the eighth time). No, the first time, it was from pneumonia. The last thing I remember is laying in my hospital bed staring at the ceiling and listening to the hum and whoosh of machines all around. My last thought was “What a shitty–” and then nothing.
I didn’t even get to finish my thought.
To be fair, “What a shitty–” seemed to sum up my life to that point in time. I hated my job, had no love interest of any variety, and lived in a tiny studio apartment in a city I despised. And this isn’t some “Woe is me” story about turning your life around, because you know what? I wasn’t going to do anything differently. Hell, the next two times after that, I did pretty much the exact same thing.
It wasn’t until the fourth time a doctor was dangling me upside-down and smacking me on the ass that I began to feel like an asshole for not picking up on it. You die, there’s a bright tunnel of light, and you’re yanked screaming back into the same goddamn world. I’ve never been good at picking up patterns. That magic-eye shit, where you look at some wavy lines and see a sailboat? Never worked for me. All I ever got was a migraine.
As near as I can tell, there’s only one rule: I will die ten days after my 28th birthday. It doesn’t mean I can’t die before then. I’m not invincible or anything like that. Running out in front of a speeding car is deadly regardless of when you know you’re going to die.
I’ve lived this life a thousand times, and there’s one thing that started standing out: there same man is always there when I die. Tall and blond, with a little bit of stubble and bright blue eyes. At first I tried to tell myself it was just a coincidence. After all, there are a lot of blond guys in the world. If you think of the million variables that go into living just a single life, and I have, you realize the odds are impossible.
And yet he has been there every time.
He robbed the grocery store and shot me. He threw the kid in the river. Thousands of deaths and he’s been there for each and every one of them. A few times I tried just killing myself, and somehow he was there too. Staring at me. Maybe he’s a doctor who fails to save me on the operating table, or an enemy soldier shooting me in combat. My last life, I hanged myself in my closet and he broke into my house to watch.
He’s never said anything. His expression has always been the same. He didn’t seem to take any pleasure in it. Hell, once or twice he seemed bored by the whole thing. Standing there, watching me die like it was a curiosity.
I think it was somewhere around death #275 when I started to ask to myself, “What would happen if I killed him?” Would it change everything? Maybe he’s the only reason I come back to life. After living thousands of years, the one thing I do know is that life is an infinite variety of opportunities. That’s a hard thing to give up.
After lifetimes of planning, I finally managed to account for every last variable to manipulate the manner of my death exactly. I bought a gun, kept it well cared for and maintained. I spent one life just learning how to perfect my shot.
I bought a cabin out on the plains. After an earthquake collapsed it a few lives back, I learned that it had to be one away from any major fault lines. A couple lives later I figured out that it couldn’t be inside tornado country. The place is empty, to avoid tripping on any furniture and breaking my neck.
I made sure they installed a lightning rod on the roof to avoid the disaster from my last life. It was only accessible by foot, and I dug heavy trenches around it to keep any vehicles from driving through. There are no windows, only the one door. The only way he’d be able to get me is to come in through that one entrance.
The plan was simple: I would slowly starve myself to death, and when he arrives to watch me die, I’ll shoot him. It’s so simple that I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before. I’d only brought a few supplies: unopened water that I’ve brought myself, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. I also brought a small can of gasoline and some matches as a backup plan. There’s nobody around for miles.
I did my best to conserve the water, and after a few days, I started getting weaker and weaker. Still, he didn’t show. I started to panic. What if I didn’t have enough energy to shoot him when he showed up? I needed something more than death by starvation to bring him out.
Which leads me to now, sitting at the front of the room and trying to avoid the inevitable. I’m so weak from the hunger that I can barely stand without the world spinning. Suddenly, the gasoline has started looking real attractive. I have just enough strength to knock the can over and watch as it spills out onto the floor. Before I can tell myself that it was a bad idea, I reach out and light the match.
The resulting fireball sends me flying through the air and I land just short of the ditch. Somehow, I’ve managed to hold on to the gun. My lungs have been fried; I can barely breathe. Bits of flaming building rain down from the sky, and walking slowly across my lawn is the blond man. He’s shaking his head at me, almost like he’s disappointed.
I want to laugh, but it hurts too much. Did I really think it would be that easy? He stops just far enough away to make it a tough shot. I raise the gun with a shaky hand trying to focus through the pain. I think he’s smiling, the smug son of a bitch. Just as my strength runs out, I pull the trigger. He drops to his knees, a stream of blood flowing down the front of his clothing.
A peach of a shot.
I fall back now, making a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. If this is how I die, then at least I have the satisfaction of taking him with me.
My mind drifts back over my lives and the one persistent thought stays with me.
“What a shitty–”
©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.