Jennifer saw it everywhere, over every living thing. Invisible to everyone else, but always there, always accurate. She’d checked and double-checked. It was a bit morbid to go to the hospital or retirement homes and stalk a person who was about to expire. But it had been the simplest way to test whether she was crazy or not.
She wasn’t. The countdown never lied. And it was almost finished.
She’d known this was coming for years. As a young girl, she’d noticed that no one’s counter went past 2015. Many were shorter, but nobody made it past that year. As the years passed, the final day drew closer until today, when it was finally here.
She met the girl at the park. Betty was only fourteen, but she was also the only other person Jennifer had met who could see the timers. There were probably others, but how did you bring that up? It was only happenstance that led them to find each other.
Betty sat on the bench with Jennifer. Jennifer offered her a bite of her hot dog. Betty, a strict vegetarian, accepted.
“What the hell, right?”
“What the hell,” agreed Jennifer.
She liked Betty. The kid was younger by several decades, but they had the countdown in common. They both shared the same nonchalance toward death, a thing they always saw coming but were powerless to prevent.
“How do you think it’ll happen?” asked Betty.
“Meteorite maybe,” said Jennifer.
“Can’t be that. A meteorite would be visible by now. And it wouldn’t kill everyone at once. I was thinking a disease, but diseases don’t do that either. Best bet, some kind of chemical weapon unleashed in the atmosphere. Something that’s already in us just waiting to be triggered.”
“Again. Not all at once.”
“Wrath of God,” said Jennifer. “Literal supernatural judgment passed on from on high.”
“I don’t believe in God.”
Neither did Jennifer. Fate, certainly, but that alone wasn’t proof that there was anything more out there. The universe seemed more like a machine to her, a great collection of working parts. If there was a God, He / She / They / It were great watchmakers who had wound the whole thing up and then left it to wind down.
A squirrel scampered up to her feet with four minutes left on its timer. She tossed it a nut.
“Did you say good-bye to anyone?” asked Betty.
“Me neither. I almost told my mom, but she wouldn’t have believed me. All that matters is that they know I love them, right?”
Jennifer smiled, offered Betty the last of her soda.
“Yeah. That’s all that ever mattered.”
And the world counted down.