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Death Date

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Charlie is in for a rude awakening when he finds out his death date.

Horror / Scifi
Anele Archer
Age Rating:

Death Date

The plain wooden sign read, “I can tell you the date and year of your death. For those who dare to know, enter.”

The message was crudely hand-painted and slung on a wire above a dilapidated storefront a half-block from the boardwalk. Charlie had had it with the crowds, the families, the drunks, the hormone-crazed teens, and the bums. He had even had enough of furtively watching the pretty girls in their short dresses cavorting in the salty cool air along the faded wooden slats of the Atlantic Boulevard boardwalk.

They had eaten hot dogs and ice cream and drank a beer each. They had been on the teacups and the rollercoaster, the spinner, and the crazy maze – twice. He was uncomfortable, too. It was a cool night, and he hadn’t the chance to change out of his sports jacket to his sweatshirt. Now the jacket would have to be dry cleaned to get rid of the smell of deep-fried Oreos, cotton candy, and popcorn that filled the air. He wondered when he’d be able to drop it off. He had little time for errands. Finally, he had convinced Tesha to quit the scene.

But when she saw the sign, she gasped with delight and said, “Oh, Charlie! Let’s go in.”

Charlie frowned.

“Babe, I am so tired. I thought we were leaving.”

Tesha pouted her lips and folded her arms across her chest.

“You said we’d do whatever I wanted tonight!”

She pressed against him, on tiptoe, and kissed his lips gently.

“You promised me,” she whispered.

He was spending long days at work, doing research and teaching. Charlie had to admit, he had been neglecting his new bride. And god, she was sexy. Just two inches shorter than his 6-foot frame, she had a body to kill for, one that molded to his when they made love. And while he wanted nothing more than to get home and get laid. He gave in.

“Okay. But you know these things are just a rip-off, right?”

Tesha giggled and grabbed his hand.

“Yay!” she squealed and pulled him to the doorway.

As they opened the door, an ancient bell clanged. Tesha giggled nervously as they stepped into the room. The décor was a commotion of colors and tapestry. Colorful silk scarfs hung from the ceiling. The walls were plastered with old circus and concert posters on top of red, green, and gold striped wallpaper that curled down at the ceiling and pulled away from its seams. A round metal table in the center of the room had three chairs of different styles around it.

“Hello?” Charlie called out. In response, through the hissing of an old speaker system above their heads came the command, “Sit.”

Tesha trotted over to a dark high-back chair with a golden tapestry seat. Charlie trudged to a white rattan chair with a red cushion and sat. Tesha looked around the room expectantly. Charlie rubbed his eyebrows and then raised them high, nodding wearily in response to Tesha’s wide smile.

Across the room, edges of a door became illuminated by a bright light that suddenly flicked on behind it. The door slowly creaked open revealing a slim figure outlined by the light. A haze of theatrical smoke engulfed the figure and cooled the room. The speaker hissed to life again suddenly with an ear-splitting, driving music that caused them both to start. Tesha fingers found Charlie’s arm. He could feel them trembling. Tesha’s smile was now frozen, her eyes riveted. The figure stayed still for a moment as the lights behind it changed color. It then began to move forward, becoming larger and more defined as it approached. As details emerged, Charlie almost laughed aloud.

He had expected a wizened old woman, witch-like and gnarled, with a slightly menacing demeanor, or a middle-aged woman with Romanian features and coloring, a sly, wise look in her eyes. Instead, it was a teen-aged boy, wearing a Grateful Dead tee-shirt and shorts with sandals. His straight blonde hair reached his shoulders and the bangs on his forehead were feathered back. He smiled and unceremoniously settled himself into the plaid armchair across from them. Charlie slid his eyes to Tesha’s face, expecting to find disappointment there, but she looked relieved and intrigued. She returned the boy’s smile.

“Welcome!” the boy said, “My name is Fred. Who are you guys?”

“I’m Tesha! This is Charlie.”

With that, Tesha gave Charlie’s hand a light squeeze and released it. She returned Fred’s smile.

“Cool. Let me see,” Fred began.

Fred put a finger to his chin. He then pointed it at Tesha, squinting one eye closed.

“Tesha wanted to come in….”

He moved the finger in Charlie’s direction.

“….and Charlie did not.”

“Very good,” Charlie said dryly, a mocking smile playing on his lips.

Fred laughed and Tesha joined in.

Fred looked directly at Tesha, pointing a thumb at Charlie.

“He wanted nothing more than to get home and get laid!”

Fred and Tesha laughed again as Charlie’s smile faded. He had been thinking just that before they walked in. But no. Looking at his beautiful wife, anyone could certainly guess that.

Fred’s laugh stopped abruptly, and he closed his eyes. Tesha’s laugh skidded awkwardly to a stop. She cleared her throat. The pause lengthened.

“We saw the sign outside. About the death date. I thought...”

Freddy opened his eyes and finished her sentence, his voice soft and dreamlike.

“…it would be fun.”

“Uhm, yeah,” Tesha said.

“It’s twenty dollars, each,” Fred said.

Charlie shook his head as he took out his wallet and held out the crisp bills across the table.

Fred took them.

“A promise is a promise,” he said to Charlie.

“So, you have a mic outside or something?”

Fred laughed again as he stuffed the bills in the front pocket of his shorts and drew out some playing cards from the back.

Fred laid the cards out face up. They were a regular deck.

“Hey,” Charlie said. “What’s this? Are we going to play poker?”

“Charlie,” Tesha said. “Don’t spoil it. Let’s see what happens.”

A slight smile played around Fred’s lips but then his face seemed to change. He looked older, as if a light was shining on him from below, highlighting lines on his face. Charlie tilted his head, trying to see where the light was coming from. Tesha remained transfixed.

The boy continued to deal out the cards, six in a row, and six down. When he was done, he studied his work and then put away all the cards except for two columns of six, one with a queen of hearts at the top and one with a king of diamonds. Slowly, he turned over each card below those two, revealing tarot cards. When he was finished, he studied them again, each column in turn.

Fred smiled and looked directly at them.

“You, Tesha,” he said, “Will live until October 15th, 2093.”

“Oh, wow,” Tesha exclaimed, that’s two days after my 99th birthday! How cool! I’ll be so old!”

Fred twirled his index finger at Charlie.

“And you, Charlie, will live until October 1st, 2172.”

Tesha immediately looked confused, and Charlie could tell she was doing the math in her head.

Charlie laughed.

“So, I’m going to live to be 151? That’s hysterical.”

Tesha laughed, too. Fred seemed amused.

“I didn’t say that,” Fred said, “I am simply telling you your death date.”

Now Charlie was confused.

Tesha laughed again.

“Don’t you see, Charlie,” she said. “It’s some kind of a riddle.”

Fred smiled at her, looking her up and down. Charlie didn’t like it. In that look was a knowledge that again made the boy seem much older. But in an instant, it was gone.

“You are a delight,” Fred said.

“Okay, okay,” Charlie said. “Come on, Tesha, let’s go.”

“Oh, Charlie, don’t be rude,” Tesha said.

But Charlie had had enough. He got up and walked outside.

As the door slowly closed, he heard Tesha apologize.

“This was fun! Thank you,” she added quickly.

Tesha shimmied through the door before it closed and wrapped her arms around Charlie from behind. She hugged him and Charlie felt his body soften to her touch.

“Thank you, baby,” Tesha whispered in his ear. “I know you think that was a waste of money but I’m so happy that you went in with me. I had a great time tonight.”

They stepped out to the sidewalk together, and Charlie turned to her. They kissed.

“Now let’s go home and get you laid,” Tesha said.

Charlie kissed her again. Finally, he thought.

A month later, the night at the beach was a distant memory. Tesha was again furious with Charlie. He had been working solidly through the weeks, barely taking off hours at a time.

There had been a huge breakthrough on his research. Charlie could scarcely believe it himself. It was as if that short diversion at the beach had somehow reset his brain, relaxed it, and allowed him to think at a higher level.

It was the energy cell, of course, that was the key. Once initiated, there had to be a way to conserve the energy to activate the cell again, as quickly as needed. He had gotten the time lag down to about five minutes. There was nothing that could happen in five minutes that could affect the time-space continuum. Five minutes was certainly reasonable, if one knew exactly where one would be, so it certainly safe to test it. And that was what he and his lab assistants intended to do. They would test it today and he would be home in time for dinner with Tesha.

Only, of course, there were delays. His one lab assistant had showed up to work so stoned, he had to send her home. His other two, while perfectly competent in the procedure, had to then split the work of loading the energy cell. It was delicate work and quite a lot for just three people. Still, they managed but it was close to midnight, just five minutes of, when the trio walked outside the physics department building and onto the campus quad. It was a Tuesday night, and all was quiet. Charlie and his assistants were alone in the still air.

“Well, here we go!” Charlie said.

His assistant noted the time and hour.

“September 30th, 11:57 pm. This is so huge, professor! We’ll see you soon.”

To his assistants, it would be mere seconds that Charlie would vanish and reappear. But he would live 150 years in the future for five minutes until reactivation was possible. Without further hesitation, Charlie activated the cell.

Charlie looked around him. He was on the quad, but something was wrong. The air was thick with haze. He fell to his knees. Here the haze was not so thick. He could see in the distance, the steps leading to the building but there was debris all around. He then noticed the trees were on fire. He was finding it hard to breath. Charlie looked at the energy cell. He had arrived just 30 seconds prior. He fell from his knees to his side, gasping for air, watching the cell, praying that he would survive long enough to reactivate. He had not anticipated that there would be any problem with the atmosphere when he arrived. How could he have not planned for such an eventuality?

The seconds ticked by, agonizingly. After three minutes, his lungs failing, with the feeling of falling relentlessly into a bad dream, he remembered. It was October 1st. Fred was right.


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