A Time To Die
Out Of Time series, #1
By Nadine Brandes
How would you live if you knew the day you’d die?
Excerpt from Chapter 1:
There was once a time when only God knew the day you’d die.
At least that’s what they tell me. I wasn’t alive then—back when life bore adventure and death held surprise. I guess God decided to share the coveted knowledge. Either that, or we stole it from Him. Personally, I think He just gave the world what it thought it wanted: control.
My thin rectangular Clock sits on the carved shelf across the room, clicking its red digital numbers—like blood. Today marks the first day of my last year alive.
Three hundred sixty-four days, seven hours, five minutes, and sixteen—no, fifteen—seconds to live. I’ve always thought it cruel they include the seconds. But people want absolutes. They demand fine lines in a fuzzy world.
My toes curl like pill bugs when they touch the cold wood floor. I creep to the open window, flick a shivering spider off the sill into the October breeze, and close the shutters. Wind still howls through.
I pull on a pair of wool socks—a frequent Christmas gift of which I never grow weary—and ignore the mirror. It’s the same face every morning: tangled hair, bleary chocolate eyes, and a waspish glare that doesn’t leave until after coffee.
I push through the bedroom door in to the kitchen and just miss a collision with my mother. She sweeps past bearing a mixing bowl of steaming cinnamon oatmeal. Pity her morning greeting isn’t as warm as the breakfast she slams on the table. “Twenty minutes, Parvin.”
“It’s my time I waste sleeping, not yours.”
The rectangular kitchen glows under the heat of the cooking fire on the opposite wall. A metal was tin and a red water pump sit to my left, beneath our only glass window. Cold morning light reflects off the soapsuds. The rough kitchen table crowds most of the walking space unless all four chairs are pushed in tight. I plop into the closest seat.
“It’s already six-thirty.” She blows a stray hair away from her face. “You’ve wasted seventeen years, let’s not spoil your last one.”
Ah, mother-daughter love.
She slides a wooden mug filled with coffee across the table with one hand, and reaches for the creamer with the other. My morning pick-me-up splashes over the rim. I shrug. More room for cream.
Once I’ve transformed my coffee into a liquid dessert, I spoon oatmeal into a dish and calculate my schedule: Five minutes to eat, five minutes to change, ten minutes to walk there. If I stick to my planned detour, I’ll be late for assessment. I don’t care. The hearing is more important.
My coffee turns to vinegar. I force a swallow against my shaking nerves. I won’t be nervous today. I have to be strong.
A life depends on it.
“Get out of those thin shorts.” Mother barks the command as she stokes the cooking fire, then places the blackened kettle over it once more. “And stop sleeping with the window open. No wonder you’re cold at night—you’ve got legs like twigs. I don’t know why you make such impractical clothing.”
“They’re practical in summer.” And more comfortable to sleep in than the wool underclothes she insists on wearing.
I take a bite of oatmeal. My sewing fetish is my version of rebellion and independence. At least I’m in control in some manner, although sewing never helped my popularity.
After three mouthfuls of oatmeal, I practically inhale my coffee before going to change into a grey wool shirt and black vest—self-tailored to fit my short torso. I pull on my double-layered cotton trousers and boots lined with speckled rabbit fur. The blend of dark colors makes me feel serious and firm—exactly what I need for the hearing.
Mother brushes my hair into a burgundy-umber fluff. I scowl and braid it down one side before jamming on an ivory cap.
She tucks my Clock into my vest pocket. “Forty minutes.”
No way I’ll be home in forty minutes. “Eighty.” I’ll probably be longer.
I stride up the uneven stone sidewalk of Straight Street. Mother never bids farewell anymore, not now that the real Good-bye is so near.
Weak rays of dawn peek over rows of identical wood-and-thatch houses. Flickering morning candlelight shines through every shutter. In the few homes with glass windows, homemade gadgets or goods line the sills—socks, herb teas, paper notebooks, candles, wax tablets, hair ribbons. Tiny price cards sit beside them.
I scan the sills for an old newspaper, rubbing my fingers over the last coin in my pocket. Crumpled black-and-white paper catches my eye. I stop and scan the headline:
10th Anniversary of Worldwide Currency ‘Specie’ Celebrated with Increased Dividends
My eyes flit to the date to confirm my sinking hopes: October 06, 2148
Three days ago. I’ve already read it. Besides, the price card tells me it costs two specie, and I have only one to spend.
With a sigh, I look between the houses to the horizon still shrouded in shadow. Barely, just barely, the Wallis visible through morning fog. The stone spine looks as menacing as ever, stretching a thousand feet high along the west border of my state, Missouri. It’s hard to imagine it encircles the earth’s longitude, but that’s what they say.
I break my stare and quicken my pace. Red maple leaves fly through the air like autumn snowflakes. I hug myself and cross the narrow, muddy street, nodding to the milkman on the corner as he organizes his various bottles between the wood slats of his pushcart. He waves a gloved hand, which returns to his side as if out of habit, rubbing a square bulge in his trouser pocket.
I’ve seen his Clock—four more years and a thimble-full of days until his zeroes line up. Longer than I have even though I’m younger, but I don’t begrudge him. We’re all a population of walking second-hands, ticking toward the end.
A wooden arrow painted white points toward the center of town—Father’s handiwork from his carpentry shop. My fingers brush across the smooth top of the sign. The black letters glisten, painted to withstand the upcoming winter: Unity Village Square.
Unity Village. The insinuation in the name is far from the disposition of its people. Seventeen years haven’t been long enough for me to change this. Instead, I’ve conformed to the cold separateness we cling to. The concept of unity is now a nostalgic whim from the past—like gentlemen doffing fedoras, free ice cream on a hot afternoon, barefooted children hoop rolling. Selfless consideration is rare, except from the Mentors. And they only fake it.
Mentor. The word turns my stomach and my shoulders tense.