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Fated

Charlie Clipper is going to die.

Charlie Clipper is going to die. In 9,513 days, he will be shot twice through the heart and once through the skull. He has known this since he was seven.

The government calls it “Societal Induction.” At the end of every month, the government rounds up all the seven-year-olds and brings them to the towering stone mansion in the center of town. In this mansion, the children meet with their community counselors to learn about what their futures look like. They’re given their career path, total income, and neighborhood assignment. But Charlie, like the other children, was most interested in his death date. Upon entering the induction, each child is fitted with a bracelet. Once they step out of the building, the bracelet lights up with the number of days they have left on Earth.

Charlie walked out with a good number: 15,434. He wouldn’t die until he was forty-nine, giving him time to experience a career and family. His friend Davis was not so lucky. Davis didn’t have a future to learn about; he was selected to die from leukemia at age 10.

“Are you afraid?” Charlie asked him in school the next day.

“I don’t know yet. Mom says I’ll get lots of extra ice cream and won’t have to go to school for a whole month once my Death Day gets close. That sounds good to me,” Davis had responded.

Charlie thought a lot about Davis. He’d never looked sick. On the day his parents had taken him out of school permanently, Davis had been smiling and running around. Yet, Davis died, as they all do, on the day he’d been assigned.

10 days before he died, Davis called Charlie. Charlie never forgot what he’d said.

“Dying is amazing, Charlie. We all know it’s gonna happen, and sometimes Mom gets a little sad ‘cause my number was so small, but we spent the past couple of weeks doing everything, everything, Charlie! Have you ever seen snow? Have you ever been to the beach? No one ever takes their family to do those things, but I guess when you’re dying then you can. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”

                                                            * * *

Only about 50 percent have death dates past age twenty, the community counselors tell you. Something about population control. But it didn’t really matter why. They knew their death was inevitable, so the kids were okay with preparing for it.

Death Day parties peaked around the time Charlie was 16. Kids would throw insane parties the day before they were assigned to die, a sort of last hurrah in life. There were all sorts of themes, and Charlie saw pretty much everything, ranging from stomach-churning carnival rides to quiet tea parties. 

They always ended with reflecting on the person’s life, though, usually with pictures, memories, and songs. The only people who could see the dead after their actual death were the family members in charge of signing off on their death verification. So the end of the parties meant the final goodbyes.

Charlie really liked this girl named Leila, but her Death Day was three weeks after she turned 17. Her Death Day party, Charlie recalled, was the best. Her father worked in entertainment supply, and he bought everything Leila wanted for her party. She was going to die from alcohol poisoning (or so it said on the invitation).

Charlie didn’t really get to talk to Leila at the party. She was always surrounded by a dozen friends. But it came to the time of night when close friends and family gathered to voice their love for Leila through stories and song, and Charlie slipped away to the outskirts.

“Hey,” Leila said, after detaching herself from the circle of celebration.

“Hey.”

“They’re a bunch of downers, huh,” Leila said, sliding to sit against the tree next to Charlie.

“Uh, I guess so.”

“I don’t get it. This is supposed to be a party, my party. I just want it to be fun, you know? Like, we all knew it was coming, I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, practically. It’s not like I’m one of those jumpers.”

Charlie flinched. He’d heard of suicides, but people didn’t really talk about them. They were told during Induction that suicide was the only means of death not given to anyone. If a person chose to kill themselves, they’d be lost souls for eternity. There was no point in ever living if your soul doesn’t go to its destination.

“You know, more people jump than you’d think,” Leila said, then walked back to the inner circle.

Charlie recalled a teacher who hadn’t shown up at school one day, and how someone started a rumor that they jumped. The teacher came back, he’d just been sick, but the student who started that rumor was expelled.

Charlie looked across the yard at Leila one last time, then left the party.

                                                         * * *

Charlie was walking home from work at the steel plant when a man jumped from a building and landed on the sidewalk in front of him. Charlie had witnessed Death Days in real time before, most recently his mother’s, so this was not odd. But instead of being swarmed immediately by his family, the man’s lifeless body just remained flattened to the sidewalk, his neck propped up at an unnatural angle, his vacant eyes pointed to the spot where Charlie stood.

Charlie stood on the sidewalk, staring down at the man. A few minutes passed, but no one came out of the building looking for him. Charlie looked up the street and saw a dark van speeding towards them. It stopped in front of Charlie, and three men in dark green robes stepped out to pick up the man’s body. A fourth man got out of the driver’s seat, walked over to Charlie, and mumbled, “You’re coming with us.”

Charlie rode in the van with the robed men and the dead body. He tried once to ask where they were going, but was quieted. They pulled up to the mansion at the center of town, and Charlie felt immediate relief. The robed men must be community counselors, he thought, perhaps they assumed I knew the man.

The community counselors who had come for his mother’s body were not robed, Charlie recalled. They were quite cheerful, actually, greeting Charlie and his father by name as they wrapped her body in a bag and placed it in their van. Her Death Day party had been small, just Charlie, his father, and a few friends. It was the same day as Charlie’s 23rd birthday, but that remained forgotten as they went through old pictures and played their favorite board games.

“Never forget, Charlie, I love you very much,” she had whispered the next morning, before closing her eyes and dying in her sleep on the family sofa.

As the van pulled into its spot beside the mansion, Charlie thought about the last time he’d walked in, following the counselors carrying his mother. He and his father had escorted the body to the morgue, signed off on the death verification, and gone back home.

Two of the counselors carried the man’s body through the back door to the morgue, while the driver left with the van. The third counselor took Charlie’s arm.

“Come this way, please,” he said. Charlie found himself being led through a door he hadn’t seen before.

They walked down a long, winding hallway. The walls were white and the ceiling was lined with fluorescent lights. They walked along the hall for several minutes, then paused outside an office door.

“Wait here one minute please,” the counselor said before ducking inside.

He reappeared within seconds, and held open the door.

“Director Liu will see you now.”

Directors run the mansion. Charlie’s Induction began with a speech given by Director Kane, he oversaw the community counselors on duty that day. Director Campbell was in charge of the morgue the day they had brought Charlie’s mom in. He had no idea who Director Liu was.

Charlie walked into the office. Director Liu sat in a large armchair behind a metal desk in the far right corner of the room. He motioned for Charlie to sit in the chair across from him.

“Good Evening. Charlie Clipper, is it?” Director Liu said.

“Yes, sir, I’m Charlie.”

“Good, good. Well, Charlie, we just wanted to bring you in tonight to see if there was anything you could tell us about that man who fell in front of you.” He shifted in his seat, but never took his eyes off Charlie.

“I can’t really tell you much, sir. He landed right in front of me, and I was expecting to see his family come out as usual but no one did. And now I’m here.”

Director Liu sat back, folded his hands on his lap, and furrowed his chin. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then the Director stood, and began pacing behind his desk.

“Charlie, you seem like a nice young man. And I really hate to tell you this but that man…” he paused and leaned over his desk. “That man defied his Death Day. He was due to live until 86, can you believe that. But he just jumped.”

Charlie frowned. “Why would he do that, sir?”

“I just don’t know, Charlie. Some people’s minds just don’t work like ours do.” The Director straightened up again and clasped his hands behind his back.

“Do you believe in what we do here, Charlie?”

“Of course, sir.” Charlie was not about to question a Director.

“Very careful planning goes into Death Days, Charlie. We just don’t have enough resources to keep everyone alive forever. It’s a complex, calculated system. You live, you die as painlessly as we can manage, your soul makes it to eternity. What more can people want?”

Director Liu walked around his desk toward the door, and Charlie followed. “If you can think of any more information, we really need to know all the details,” the Director said, then opened the office door. The man who had escorted Charlie was standing in the hall, ready to lead him back out.

“I really don’t know anything else, I’m sorry,” Charlie said.

Director Liu patted Charlie on the back. “It’s okay, kid, you can go home now. Try not to mention this to anyone.”

Charlie turned to say goodbye, and for the first time he noticed the number on Director Liu’s bracelet. It was at 29,925. He must have received one of the latest death dates.

                                                           * * *

Charlie walked down the pathway from the mansion toward the Main Street sidewalk. He couldn’t stop thinking about the man who jumped. They were all told from a very young age that bad things would happen to you if you tried to defy your designated Death Day. 

Charlie’s father once told him the story of an airline pilot he knew who tried to get out of dying on his Death Day by hiding in his basement for a week. He was supposed to have died in a plane crash. According to Charlie’s father, a Director showed up at the man’s house on his DeathDay and escorted him out. 

They put him on the plane he was supposed to be flying that day, but the man refused to enter the cockpit. The Director strapped him into a seat in the back. The co-pilot, also scheduled to die that day, ended up flying the plane himself. They both died as scheduled.

This seemed like a much less pleasant way to die than to just live out life and have a solid Death Day celebration like everyone else. But even the pilot’s fate was not nearly as bad as the fate of the jumping man. The Director at induction made it very clear that dying before your death date was a terrible mistake. The only way to possibly do this was to commit suicide. Those who commit suicide lose their place in eternity. They become lost souls, and never achieve peace.

Charlie spent the rest of his walk home, and the rest of the night, thinking about the lost soul of the jumping man. What made him possibly want to choose eternal wandering over security, uncertainty and pain over joy and thanksgiving? The man could not have been much older than 40, by what Charlie could calculate, and Director Liu said he was meant to live until 86. He had so many good years left. So much life that others would have loved to be given. How could a man throw that away?

Charlie climbed into bed. He set his alarm clock and checked his bracelet. Just 382 days until I move into my own house, 548 days until that promotion, 724 days until I marry my wife, he recited to himself. He did this every night, counting down the days until the next big thing. His head hit the pillow, and Charlie drifted to sleep. He dreamed of never-ending hallways, and crumpled bodies.