Author : Denis Bell

Morbid fear, for God’s sake. Driving home from the shrink, Hugh turned on the car radio in an attempt to blot out the thoughts churning in his head. The radio was tuned to WPB. It was Science Monday and they were discussing Hugh’s least favorite subject in the whole world, that and some weird new invention. It sounded like something out of The Twilight Zone.

“… process is rather complicated. But I can describe the basic functioning. The machine takes in a few drops of the subject’s blood. Performing an analysis on the white cells, it is able to determine the precise moment of the subject’s death.”

“Remarkable! But is the machine reliable, Morty? It would be unfortunate if a person scheduled to die say, twenty years from now, were to take up bungee jumping then end up plunging to his or her death next week.”

“As it happens, the technology is far from new. It was developed by DSSR in the late fifties and been in use ever since. The point is that in almost sixty years there is not a single instance where a prediction made by the machine has turned out to be erroneous. It appears to be infallible.”

The interviewer audibly gasped. “But the implications of such a device are… staggering! It will change the world. Why haven’t heard about it until now?”

“The project was highly classified until very recently. A group of us felt that– I’d prefer not to comment further on this.”

Hugh had heard enough. A machine that tells you when you’re going to die. Just what he needed. Hugh knew his own make-up and constitution only too well. He knew with the certainty of roast beef that if he ever encountered one of these contraptions it would be the end of him. Hugh suffered from hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, weakened arteries, a genetic predisposition to stroke and seizures… news of his imminent death would surely kill him. Right there and then. Right on schedule.

It seemed impossible, though. A blood test? It had to be some sort of joke. But the radio, why would they–

He almost laughed out loud when he cottoned to it. Almost, but not quite. Today’s date – April 1, 2013. Morty.

Last year was that report of life discovered on the dark side of the moon. He’d just seen Independence Day and lay awake night after night for a week worrying about an alien invasion. The previous year saw him peeling rubber along 90 East. Half of California had fallen into the Pacific. All those calls from people with family in LA and Frisco…

What a day! First a condescending little weasel of a shrink, now bozo radio pranksters. Hugh felt that he could kick their asses all over town. Felt light and heavy at the same time. This time next year he was going to be in bed with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

In the studio, the interview was winding down. Richard Morton nodded apprehensively as the interviewer thanked him. It seemed they’d done a dangerous thing going public with this. Intimidation … threats … Dr. Morton was a bold thinker but not a bold man. He never would have had the nerve except for one thing – he wasn’t due for another thirty years.

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