I have 241 hours and 58 minutes left to live. In a minute, I am left with 240 hours and 57 minutes.
The wind tears at my clothing and makes my eyes sting as I blister through the sky at almost a hundred miles an hour, trying to force myself to go faster, faster, faster. My body screams in protest, but I refuse to listen. Time is of essence. Speed is a priority.
Below me, the aquamarine sea stretches on, a seemingly infinite body of water that has existed before me and will continue to exist independent of my own paltry life.
If I could be the ocean, I would. But I am not.
I enter the triple digits and fly on, taking no sense of pride in this near-impossible achievement of mine. I am one of the few people who can cross over the barrier of single-digits and keep at it for more than a few moments, but I do not care. If I am an anomaly, then so be it. I reject publicity.
238 hours, 55 minutes.
The island comes into sight. It is perhaps fifty feet in diameter, nothing more than a small chunk of land that seems to have been dropped out of the sky one day, long ago. It is solitary and constant, and I am drawn to it.
I angle my body towards the ground and splay out my arms and legs in order to slow down. While the landing process is full of complicated and delicate maneuvers and adjustments, I am hardly of any of it. The process is almost autonomous for me, an innate ability that I have possessed since I came into this world. The ground rushes to meet me, and in a moment I have adjusted my body and land on my feet, hardly out of breath.
237 hours, 54 minutes.
As my body adjusts to solid ground, I lurch forward and grab a shrub for balance. The island is mostly barren, just some sparse vegetation and rocky terrain, but it feels like home. In my sixteen years of existence, this is the only place I have truly ever felt comfortable. There is nothing outwardly attractive about the place, but that is its charm.
I strip off my backpack and rummage through it to find my food. I pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some carrots, cookies, and water. Then I walk down to the ocean’s edge and sit down to eat. The water rushes in to meet me, swirls around me, then pulls back. I watch the sand swirl around me and run a finger through the water, uncaring that I’ll get sand in my food. It’s all tasteless, anyways. I pick up a carrot, chew, swallow. For all I know, I might be eating sawdust.
Eventually, I give up and store the rest of my food away. I’m just not in the mood to eat. Or talk. Or do anything. I just want everything to be over already. But not even that, because I want another hour, and then another, and another.
237 hours, 48 minutes.
Will I just sit here and wait for the end? I know I cannot starve myself, because I won’t die before my time is up, so it’s very conceivable that I might just stay here for the rest of my life.
I’m lost in a melancholy train of thoughts when Adam arrives. I know it’s him not only because there’s nobody else who knows about this place, but also because he has this habit of landing on his hands and then flipping over onto his feet. I cannot see him yet, but I hear him walking up behind me, his left foot falling harder than his right.
I close my eyes. I don’t want to look at him yet, see the impossible patience on his face. I still can’t understand how he puts up with everything about me, how he’s saved me time and time again, all without ever complaining. He makes me feel so guilty. I’m not sure I can handle that now.
“Gemma,” he says.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I say shortly. “Wasting your hours on me.”
“Considering that I still have more than seventy years left, a couple of hours doesn’t mean anything.”
“Still,” I reply. Then I take a deep, shaky breath. Exhale. “I hate this.”
“What?” He knows, yet he still asks. Knows I need to get it out, one more time. I love him for it.
“Life. It’s so arbitrary.”
“I think that phenomenon has always been like that. It’s just manifested differently now. It’s more tangible.”
“I hate it.”
“How much longer?”
I sigh, close my eyes. The numbers appear in strong, bold lettering, mocking me. I try to keep my voice steady. “Two hundred and thirty seven hours, forty-four minutes.”
He sniffs. It’s the closest he’s ever come to crying.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t be. It’s beyond our control.”
“But that’s just it. I thought…I thought I could beat this. I just knew that if I played my cards right, said all the right words, did all the right things I’d get the full hundred-year package. And I had it.”
“Until last year.”
“I still remember the day.”
“So do I,” he says. “I was there.”
“It was horrible. From 85 years to one year, eight months. Overnight. And for no reason. Not even sickness. I just get to blink out.”
“Nobody gets sick, you know that. That doesn’t exist anymore.”
“And you’d think that the cessation of existence would have been eradicated.” I snort.
“Maybe, maybe not.” He’s maddeningly noncommittal, like he always is.
I open my eyes for the first time since he’s arrived and take him in once more. His delicate, wavy brown hair. His trademark hoodie and jeans. His folded, callused hands. Adam’s staring at me, not in a sexual way, but with an earnest, intense expression, so intense it feels like all these carefully constructed social layers are being systematically ripped apart. And maybe they are.
Maybe I need to stop trying to be someone I’m not, to do what I can’t do. And, as I die, live. Take all these action words—scream, skip, dance, fly, run, explore—and let them become a part of me. Right now, I am. That is all. Soon, I will not even be. But before I cease to be, I must live. Live, live, live.
“I want to go to the top,” I say.
He doesn’t question me, doesn’t doubt my sincerity. He only accepts. “Right now?”
To be continued