11-SEVENTEEN: A Short Story

Every star is a possible death
We gave ’em names
We called ’em cancers
Called ’em accidents

The one that’s like a vulture circlin’ my head
It burned out five-hundred-million years before I saw it

Count down the time that you have left
In a jar try to catch try and capture it

“Possible Deaths” by Typhoon

 

AH5009

“11-seventeen

a short story

 

November 20th, 2035.

Maureen Menendez-Chong sits at the end of the Ranchilito Bay Pier with a loaded revolver on her lap. She is waiting for two serial murderers to arrive. She understands the unavoidable. They will find her and they will kill her. However, that being the case, she doesn’t intend to go down without a fight.

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November 17th, 2035.

Maureen arrives at the annual 11-seventeen Convention. For the past 3 years, she has participated as a certified recipient of a NOVEMBER 17th Death Prediction Card. [1] She still remembers the day she received her Death Card. She asked the technician, “What does it mean to get a specific date? Does that mean that I’ll die on that day?” The technician was curt and only offered her the standard canned response to such inquiries: “The Death Prediction Card will tell you with 100% accuracy the cause of your future death.” Before Maureen could ask “What does that mean?” the technician called for the next patient and Maureen was ushered out the door.

She arrives at this year’s meeting just as the convention director begins the welcome address.

“Death Prediction Cards,” says the director. “Have served mankind. Helping us make peace with our inevitable demise. A lofty and noble goal.” [2]s

Nearing her 50th birthday, Maureen still moves with the nimble grace of youth, flaunting a bit of what she calls “vavavoom.” She smiles indiscriminately at other attendees as she makes her way through the sparse crowd in the dingy motel party hall. A handsome young man is seated alone at a round table. Maureen joins him and makes silent introductions as the director continues speaking.

“For a long time,” the director says. “We, the 11-seventeens, did not know why our Death Cards read: NOVEMBER 17th.

“At first, 11-seventeen murder victims had neither rhyme nor reason to their deaths even as a pattern of mass and serial killing became apparent. Eventually eyewitness accounts and video surveillance identified the ‘11-seventeen Killers.’ As we realized what was happening, some 11-seventeens rallied to face their fate with a stubborn life-affirming fortitude. These remaining ‘Survivalists’ are here with us today.”

At this last comment, a dozen or so 11-seventeen Survivalists applaud, drawing their weapons and pounding on their tables in defiance like Norse gods on the eve of Ragnarök. [3] The rest of the crowd continues to sit in resignation, gently accepting the unerring accuracy of Death Prediction.

“Presently, 127 survivors remain. All of us here tonight. Welcome.”

The audience as a whole applauds weakly, again except for the 11-seventeen Survivalists, who continue to hoot and catcall, taunting death. The room is small, filled with mostly empty circular dining tables. Maureen carries on a banal information exchange with her tablemate, comments that both of them have either already heard or have no interest in.

“Remember when we thought stuff like: I’ll just keep coming to these Conventions for like 40 years,” he says. “And then, I’ll be old, and maybe there’ll be an earthquake or a fire.”

“Sure, I thought that,” says Maureen. Then, “Don’t they usually have an open bar at these things?” [4]

“It’s just weird though,” continues the young man. “What’s the point of the date then? I mean, except that we all got the same Card. But there’s nothing tying that date to me.”

“I don’t think none of that matters.”

“Yeah, but I kinda think that the first murder happened on November 17th. Or something like that. Like they’re twins and it’s their birthday or something.” [5]

“Or,” says Maureen. “Maybe it’s something cosmic, you know? Like they’re not even people but angels sent from the heavens to gently guide us back home.”

“Sorry,” says the young man. “But that’s just dumb.”

Just as the younger attendee settles back into his theories, there is a flash of light at the podium. A grey smoke crawls into the space, rising to fill the room. Several people make for the doors which are of course locked. Maureen’s new friend flinches slightly, maintaining a strained but friendly smile. Maureen carefully removes a piece of lint from her blouse.

“It’s them,” he says. “I’m sorry. I wish we could continue our conversation.”

“You’re cute,” says Maureen. “But, I guess I better get going myself.”

The 11-seventeen Killers enter through the front. They are dressed in black hooded robes. They wear military grade gas masks. As the smoke overtakes them, the Conference attendees begin to fall weakly to the ground. They seem to fall one at a time, like a chain of dominoes.

The Killers systematically approach each victim, checking each one’s vital signs. For those who are still alive, they inject what appears to be a fast acting poison. For the ones who have already perished, they recite a quiet elegy, written especially for each victim. accounting for two or three or sometimes more good deeds and traits of the deceased. When they get to Maureen’s handsome new friend, she can hear them say, “You are kind and tender-hearted. When others suffer, you feel their pain.”

No one escapes except for Maureen. Though not immune, she has an unusually high tolerance for this particular poisoned gas. A coincidence, if not for the fact that these events are already understood as prearranged. As the Killers work their way through the smokey room, Maureen slips through a small flood vent in the ground. She briefly attempts to wave at her new friend even though she knows that he has passed on. She frowns slightly as she ducks under the hatch.

Once outside Maureen pauses for a moment to observe the quiet mayhem. She then gathers herself and begins to make her way across town to the ocean, to her hometown, the Ranchilito. Once there she sits at the end of the Ranchilito Bay Pier. Hours turn to days. The poison eats at her, weakening her immune system. She develops sores and welts and a persistent cough. With whatever energy she has, she tries to reacquaint herself to the environs of her youth, the snack bar and the friendlier fishermen.

Three nights later, on an otherwise humdrum evening, the Killers come for her. She has a small revolver on her lap. When they reach her, she draws her weapon. Still wearing their robes, they remove their hoods and show their faces. They are both close to her age. One of them could be mixed race, Irish-Mexican maybe, like her ex-husband. The other one is Asian.

“You’ve come for us,” says the Asian.

“Something like that, I guess,” says Maureen.

She fires at them until she runs out of bullets. She is a surprisingly bad shot, but even so, she is able hit them each at least once. The Asian dies immediately, shot through the skull. The other Killer, though gravely wounded, continues to move forward. He clutches Maureen, embracing her tightly, with all his strength.

He says, “You are beautiful and affectionate. An inspiration to the people around you.”

They throw each other into the sea.

And drown.

Three Death Prediction Cards are found on the pier.

One says NOVEMBER 17th.

Two say MAUREEN.

 

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NOTES:

[1] Sometimes people get dates. Sometimes it’s a day of the week, like Tuesday. Sometimes it’s a year, like 2043. Sometimes is a very specific date like: 9:00PM JULY 4th, 2020.

This July 4th date is a real Death Prediction Card. On that date, Sallie Jeffers died. Fully aware of her demise, she made every attempt to put her own affairs in order. She made peace with her enemies and prepared notes, videos and investments for her loved ones. On that final evening, she held a small celebration, a kind of a living funeral, where she was lovingly honored. A few minutes before 9:00PM, Sallie felt fatigued and resigned to her bedroom. Though not as dynamic as other stories, endings like Sallie’s are thankfully not rare.

[2] This “lofty and noble goal” is buoyed by the flimsy 8.5×11 sheet of 20# copy paper upon which each prediction is printed on. Hardly a card and hardly weighty enough to carry death. This is the business of Death Prediction, often ordinary and tenaciously ironic.

[3] In Norse mythology, the future is predetermined and known to all the major gods and goddesses. Ragnarök is understood as the armageddon of their culture. It is to culminate in a great battle where most of the major gods, including Odin and Thor, will die.  It is notable that the response of the gods is not one of dread but is instead one of facing their deaths with courage and honor.

[4] Maureen is the co-owner of the War & Peace Bar & Grill. Among other things, she is renowned as the restaurant’s best mixologist. Plaques and trophies from several mixology and bar-tending competitions grace the display case on her top shelf. The one she is most proud of is the Miss Speed Rack USA Championship, an all-female event that measures a bartender’s speed, knowledge and sex appeal. She also appears in the short story “One Good Memory”.

[5] Actually, November 17th is not the day of the first murder. It is the day that David Davis and Lothan Tzu, as prison cellmates and neo-daoist practitioners, were enlightened to the meaning of their identical Death Prediction Cards as well as their purpose on Earth. They would choose to serve as venerable grim reapers, devoting themselves to the practice of bringing a noble death to as many people as possible. Their methods and success rates are questionable. But, it appears, their motives are pure.

[0] This story is based on the Machine of Death (MOD) short story collection, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki. The MOD stories revolve around a machine that tells people how they will die. The machine is never wrong. But it is sometimes vague, misdirecting and/or ironic.

 

 

 

 

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