Punctuality just didn’t fit David’s lifestyle, not that he didn’t try. He always brushed his teeth first thing in the morning. He combed his hair with ease — it was a buzz cut — and tied his ties the night before, right after he set the coffee maker. But something always seemed to nag him whenever he was about to leave the house. A light was turned on, or a bit of dust had fallen onto the coffee table. Maybe the coffee pot hadn’t been rinsed thoroughly enough, or the eggshells left in the sink from his brother’s careless cooking methods needed to be cleaned up.
Whatever the reason, David always found a way to be late for any and all appointments. That’s why, when David locked his front door and made his way to The Office this morning, he was surprised to see that he was a full half-hour early.
8:15, his watch read. He didn’t even have to be there until 9. What a glorious day this would be; for once he would be there before everyone else. For once he wouldn’t have to suffer in tardiness.
For once he would be the first to receive the daily plan.
For once, he wouldn’t be the first to die.
David enjoyed this morning’s walk as he did every day. The hint of rain just on the tips of the fingers of clouds above, yet never quite breaking through. In two hours, the clouds would clear, the sky would become a bright blue, and that was always how it was every day, every morning: the threat of rain followed by the clarity of blue skies just before lunch. Just before his death.
This morning, as always, David narrowly avoided a child riding his bicycle — without a helmet, of course, because why would you wear one here? He sidestepped a hefty chunk of dog feces, and stepped up to the curb just as the bus arrived. David took a breath. This was the first time in his memory of living here that he’d made the bus. He smiled through the window at the driver, pulled cash from his pocket. The cash was multi-colored, appearing to form the printed text as he straightened it on the edge of the sign post. David knew this was a trick of the light, but this was the first time he’d seen money in as long as he could remember. The words on the bills made no sense to him, but they didn’t need to. Two bills should be enough.
The bus lingered, as if the machine itself was unsure. David stood there, smile on his face. He began to frown but was rescued back to smiling just as the bus doors opened.
“Uh, you going somewhere?” The driver was a large woman, her face as round as a basketball, her body distorted as though full of melons of different shapes and origins. David smiled up at her inquisitive look.
“Going to work, of course.” He boarded, placed the bills in the register which sucked them down, hungry to be fed. The bus was otherwise empty. “It’s nice to catch the bus for a change. Did you know I only work two miles away, but it’s just impossible to make it to work on time when I walk!”
“Huh. Must be.” She closed the door, waited and watched as David turned and chose the seat closest to the driver. David thought it odd that no other passengers were aboard, but he held on as the bus pulled slowly from the curb.
“So, how many more stops until the Office District?”
“Yeah, that’s where I work. It’s a complicated system of buildings and cubicles, so I just call it the Office District. I think it’s labeled stop twelve on your map?”
“Twelve. Well, this is stop one, so it’ll take some time. That is, if there are passengers at any other stops.”
“Ha! Somehow I doubt that!” She glanced back at David’s laugh, and shook her head. David closed his eyes and breathed in the fumes, placed his hand on the seat beside him to absorb the rumble of the bus as it moved forward. Nothing like catching that bus, knowing you’ll make it to work on time, before everyone else and able to greet everyone as they walk through the door.
“I won’t be dying today.”
“Oh no?” Her concentration had returned to the road, so she said this with less interest than a cat might have for, anything other than bathing or sleeping.
“Nope. Well, not first anyway. They like to think they know how to penalize us, but it only hurts if you’re the first to die. Otherwise, the mercy comes quicker and you can wake up feeling fresh tomorrow.”
“You think it’s a good thing? To die?”
David almost answered, then closed his mouth. A good thing? He’d never considered death as anything other than a necessity. After all, everyone dies today, so why not accept it? “It’s a necessary thing, to die. That cannot be denied.”
“But do you think it’s good?” She pulled to the next stop and opened the doors. Three people climbed on, an elderly couple and a young woman just out of high school. The couple shuffled to the rear of the bus, barely acknowledging David’s presence. As the bus started moving again, David looked up to find the young girl staring down at him, chewing gum loudly.
“Hello there.” He smiled up at her. She smiled back, for a long moment, unnerving David until she reached up and tugged the gum through her teeth. Back and forth, she built up quite the impressive ball of gum before yanking it from her mouth and flicking it onto David’s lap. He stared at it, unable to move, blocking out the sound of the bus and the snicker of the girl who remained standing over him
“That’s for hogging the seats at the front of the bus.” He looked up at the girl, confused. For a moment, she glared back at him. Then she reached down and pulled up the wad of gum from his leg. “I’ll help you out there, flaccid mad.”
“Yeah, you lose your balls somewhere in the last ten seconds? ‘Oh, I’ll say hello to this cute girl in the hopes she talks to me, all the while remaining an oblivious asshole to the rest of the people on this bus’. Brilliant. Dick.”
She stepped past him, took a seat and turned on her Walkman before David could utter another word. He looked at his knee, brushed at the small glob of saliva that remained when she pulled the gum away. He thought the driver would reprimand her, but then reminded himself that she had no power, not even on this bus. She probably went home each night, slept fine, and then came to work the next day to an all new vehicle which she had equally as little power over, all the while not realizing the necessity she refused to believe in. Good? Maybe for some people more than others.
The girl, she was another story. David had never faced confrontation like that before, not even from the Executioner at the Office District. At least that one had the decency to keep his voice just shy of a whisper during his death strokes. This girl, with her loud gum smacking and blaring music — and a Walkman? Really? Of all devices to try and hold onto, why a Walkman?
David decided to say something to her. He would show her that he was anything BUT a flaccid, weak man who didn’t know how to speak up for himself. He stood up and walked back to her seat, crossing his suitcase from left hand to right. She looked up, just as he was about to give her a piece of his mind — and then he lost his breath.
Her eyes. The violet iris, the large black pupils, and the bloodshot, hectic manner in which she stared up at him. David fell back into the seat across from her. She chuckled. “You know, I was just kidding. They always ride in the back. That’s where they get their smooch on.” She gestured, and David glanced back. The old couple kissed each other passionately, the old man’s hands running freely over the woman’s body.
“That’s…that doesn’t seem right.” David looked back to the girl, but couldn’t meet her eyes. Instead he focused on her Walkman.
“Nothing about this situation is right.” She followed his eyes. “You wanna give a listen? Really, it’s none of your business but since you seem like the obsessive type –”
“No! No, I’m alright. I’ll leave you alone. It’s almost my stop.” David struggled to his feet, and pulled the cord along the window. He dashed to the front of the bus as the driver frantically pulled over. She had not been prepared for the stop, and David noticed her face burned red as she struggled to make the stop, but the shade of red on her face was just a bit brighter than that of her shirt, which was a blood red, deep and empty.
“Alright, stop ten.” She opened the door, looked over at David expectantly. He glanced out the doors, at the still morning air, the faint hint of the smell of rain.
“Ten? I’d thought we’d have reached twelve by now.” He waited, no response. The driver stared back at David for a moment.
“Honey, I have all day. Not a lot of folks along my route, so I’ll wait for you.”
David looked outside, at the clouds which seemed to refuse to dissipate above. He sighed, closed his eyes. David felts his heart race, a bead of sweat collecting at his temple. Perhaps he should be walking to The Office. Perhaps the morning air would do him good, make him feel more at ease with his fate.
He looked at his watch: barely 8:30. He still had time. He could get to The Office on time, collect his thoughts and plan of action. He could settle into his routine and truly prepare for his eventual death. Something was different today. he could feel it. Perhaps he would even be the one to — “Okay, I’ll get off here.”
He stepped off the bus and began walking when he heard her call. The Driver, her face still red, driving the bus slow alongside David. “Well? You never answered me.”
David stopped, not looking at her. The smile fell from his face. He no longer felt that this was a good day. “Answered you what?”
“Do you think it’s a good thing to die?” She stared at him expectantly. David opened his mouth to answer but glanced back at the girl with the Walkman. She was wearing sunglasses and her headphones, but he could tell she was looking straight at him, waiting perhaps with the same anticipation as the bus Driver.
Instead of answering, David continued walking. The Driver shouted something, but it almost sounded like a different language. As the bus rumbled past him, David could almost make out a crowd of people on the bus, yet no one else had climbed on board. He shrugged off the image as morning mist in his eyes. He rubbed them, shook his head to clear it.
Over the horizon, in the direction the bus was headed, he could just make out the pale grey roof of his building in The Office District. The inside would smell like freshly painted walls, and the windows would be clouded with condensation. The entrance lobby would have several of the yellow caution signs from the night crew’s mopping, and the elevator would be empty. All of this David knew, having been through it before.
David enjoyed the rest of his walk, the air clearing his head. When he entered the building at The Office District he ignored the Security Guard’s request for his name to sign in. David intended to be upstairs first if it was the last thing he could do. His mind flickered to the bus once more, to the girl with the gum and the Walkman. Something about that Walkman remained oddly familiar. David stopped in his tracks, but the footsteps behind him did not.
David opened his eyes, little by little, and found himself staring at a leak in the ceiling. The brown stain of water overhead, the familiar sound of dripping water into a bucket. He tried to sit up, but found his hands bound behind his back, his legs tied together at the ankles. The floor next to his vision was riddled with blood and the bodies of his co-workers lay nearby. They were splayed in odd directions, bodies contorted, all faced away from him. He could barely identify any of them beyond male or female, the blood was so plentiful.
If his mouth wasn’t covered with duct tape David would smile. He wasn’t be the first to die. Not this time.
He frantically pushed himself up, felt his wrist twisting with pressure as he shuffled himself up to a sitting position against the wall. He watched as the Executioner strolled from Cubicle to Cubicle, the falling of the Executioner’s axe and the subsequent spray of blood toward the ceiling.
David was soon alone with the Executioner, and held his breath. The elevator dinged, and the Executioner rode up to the next floor. This is how the afternoon progressed, how the situation escalated, as the news reporter spoke every day. He looked at the bodies around the floor, wondering who was the one to die first, which unlucky soul had been late today, walking in at the most inopportune moment.
But today will be different, David thought as he tugged and twisted at the tape around his wrists. He felt his sweat and blood lubricate the tape around his wrists, allowing him to pull them free at a slow pace.
Just as his right hand came loose, numb from blood loss and exertion, the elevator dinged and the Executioner emerged, walking straight to David. With nowhere to turn, David raised his free hand and smiled. “Wait, wait! I just want to wait a little longer. Please. I’ve never lived this long before.”
“Lived?” The Executioner ripped off his hood, and David suddenly fell into terror.
Her eyes were still purple, but her skin had fallen pale, ghostly white. The girl from the bus, still chewing gum. Her headphones and Walkman were gone, her bag gone from her back. She looked down at David with pity. “You haven’t lived for a long time, David. This is not living. This is beyond that. Good or bad, this is Eternity.”
“But, but, I made it. I made it first. This was different –” David tried to raise his voice, but her axe fell, blacking out his vision once more.
As David lay in bed, dreaming of blue skies and cold rivers washing over his body, her image faded from his mind. He sat up, unable to sleep. He tugged his hand from under his back, and waved it to wake it up. After he emptied his bladder and ignored the shower, David tucked his shirt awkwardly into his pants, and snatched up his suitcase. In the kitchen, the coffee machine kicked on — 6:30 AM.
David walked briskly to the Office District and filled out the front desk form for the Security Guard by 7:15 AM. The guard gave him a stern look, and David only glanced up at him. He flipped through the forms, saw his name: David Glockney, David Glockney, David Glockney, at the bottom of every page. Today, he was at the top of the page. First in. Again. He almost mentioned the girl, the Walkman, then decided against it. Perhaps the Guard was helping her.
At his desk, David opened his suitcase — a Walkman with headphones, and a pack of gum. He strolled from Cubicle to Cubicle, but none of the computers worked. He turned on the morning news, but the only story that ran – over and over – was that of a hostage situation in which one of the suspects were apprehended, a disgruntled female, but she managed to grab an officer’s gun and shoot herself before they could get her to the car. The male assailant was still inside, identified and image on screen:
The man on the screen is David.
Outside the Office Building, the rain came down. David would not be the first to die today.