Author: Thomas Andrew Fitzgerald McCarthy
Charday Dee Williams’ entire body froze in mid-step on the sidewalk at the intersection. That thing happened which she’d heard stories about all of her life. All thirty-five of her years had begun to flash before her eyes. Memories collided into one another like exploding icebergs. Beneath everything, tiny green lights shimmered. Zeroes and ones, like console data. A gleam filled her eyes and she had a sense of weightlessness, like something had detached from her.
Without warning, she felt something hard hook her around the throat. There was a merciless yank and a crushing force expelled the air from her chest as she was flung backward.
At the last second, she heard the metallic vibrations, the kinetic explosion and sizzle of exposed electrical wiring and she saw a delivery drone whir by her head, propeller blades hacking at the air, searching for victims, its motor and cargo aflame. The fiery drone deflected off a blue postal pin and cratered hard into the sidewalk.
An old woman was standing over her, leaning on a walking cane and smiling, as if her entire life had been leading to this singular moment of quick-thinking.
“Like my boyfriend says, I may be an old crank, but I can still give a great yank!”
Charday looked up stupidly at her savior.
For months afterward, Charday replayed the incident in her mind over and over again.
Evolutionary psychologists published academic papers claiming that the flash was a biological survival mechanism, the brain’s way of frightening the body into motion. Still, that only made sense if her brain had known that she was in danger. She hadn’t seen the drone until she was nearly lying on the sidewalk.
Charday thought about the flashing lights, the technology hidden beneath everything, like cybernetic circuitry beneath a thin veneer of flesh.
Somehow, it all seemed so obvious.
The flash was a download. All of her memories. Perhaps even her soul. By whatever had been expecting her flame to be extinguished. The where and who didn’t seem to matter. Comptrollers, aliens, a holosuite’s datacore, a video game’s memory banks.
Now she remained, empty inside, like a banana peel after its unripened yellow core had been plucked from it. Charday struggled to motivate herself. Everything seemed like unsaved progress. No matter what she did, it seemed as if it would never matter. What of all that remained unfinished? A family? Philanthropic deeds? That celebrated novel she hadn’t written? What would a record of her be without a Magnum Opus?
Finally, with no other recourse, she began to experiment with her own mortality. After every published novel, each newborn daughter, she would test to see if the universe had taken notice. She drove truckloads of food through warzones. She sabotaged a parachute and then mixed it in with five other backpacks in a game of skydiving Russian Roulette. She drove a motorcycle ninety miles an hour without a helmet through Nova Scotia.
But there were no more flashes.
Finally, she realized that the unknown that she now faced was no different than it had been in the time before the flash.
At one hundred and six years old, three generations of her descendants gathered before her deathbed. Charday’s great-grandson, a minister, remarked, “To believe that your life is unwatched, is to believe that the eyes of God are blind.” Looking back over her life, she marked the flash as the moment that changed her entire life—the jumpstart that she’d needed.
Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and award-winning humanitarian Charday Dee Williams died peacefully in her sleep.