I had seven minutes to live.
Death is a funny thing. Actually, now that I think about it, it's not even that funny, really; it's actually more interesting, if anything else. People have their interpretations of dying, that when you die, you see a white light and an angel comes down to take you to Heaven, if you believe in it. Some people think that your body rises and you go up to meet the Guardian of the Pearly Gates after you move so far as to leave the galaxy and get to where you're headed. Some believe in nothing at all, that as soon as you die, that's it, you're asleep forever.
I didn't know at the time that those crucial seven minutes would be the last of my life. I was only walking down an empty city street, my eyes wandering about the sidewalks, looking for that familiar face, but goddamn it, she was nowhere to be found and because of her, I had seven minutes to live. It was all her fault, it's all her fault.
I should have known better than to go out on a foggy night. It's an accident waiting to happen, as if I'm practically running around the worst parts of the city, screaming: "I just came back from the bank and I have tons of cash in my pockets." The evils that lie under the streets, the sinners, they come out at this time, emerging from the shadows of the alleyways and hovering about the streets with the air of a storm cloud.
This right here is any horror story, any movie or TV show you've ever seen. My death was every cliche you'd ever heard of, every story your mother told you anytime she caught you wandering around at night, at least by the paper's standards. The newspaper said I was an open and shut case of robbery gone wrong, a street mugging taken to the next extreme. I, of course, could tell everyone differently but the boundary of death makes it rather difficult to communicate with the rest of the world, not that I mind. Meanwhile, my life is over while your colleagues continue to pester you about being careful in the streets, that there's at least one mugger who is unafraid of killing to get what he wants and that you might not survive any encounter you have.
Join the fucking club.
And with seven minutes left to live, I didn't even know what kind of danger I was in. I was thinking, "Shit," because as I wandered those darkened alleyways alone on a moonless, cloudy night, I felt something press into my back accompanied by a deep voice that whispered, "Don't move."
The man's voice was strangely calm for someone who was attempting to rob me. But the object sticking into my back, it felt like a gun and right then I was cursing myself for coming off as such an obvious target and cursing her, whoever she was, for leading me out here tonight if she wasn't even going to be any place I could find her.
At that moment, I never would have guessed I was going to die.
The man with the deep voice told me not to move, and like an idiot, my reflex was to turn and look into his face, to see who the hell is pointing a gun between my shoulder blades. He repeated himself again: "Don't move." "Jeez, sorry," I said, and I could only imagine the look of disgust he gave me at my sarcasm as he pushed the gun deeper into my spine.
"Don't be smart with me," he says, and I was automatically intrigued. If a man was trying to mug me, I don't think he'd be talking to me so much. At that time, I didn't think twice about it.
"Give me your wallet," he instructed me, and I pulled one of my arms out from my side, slowly bringing it to my back pocket. I pulled out the old wallet, and in what I believed to be one, sharp motion, he ripped it out of my hands. I turned slightly and watched him open it. He wasn't smiling. No victory grin, no "Jackpot!" It was just a solemn expression of nothing.
Even more odd. He didn't take any money out of it.
I had six minutes left to live.
Instead, he opened it and glanced at my driver's license. I couldn't see his face clearly from my peripheral vision, but I could have sworn that he wore a smirk.
"Your name is Anthony Garth. You are twenty four years old, male, brown hair, hazel eyes."
"That's correct," I told him, glad he couldn't see him roll my eyes. When did I become such a nonchalant asshole?
"Shut up," he snarled back, and he paused, waiting (waiting for what?). I couldn't take it any longer. I was impatient. I've always been impatient.
"Can I turn around yet?"
"No you cannot turn around yet!" he whispered in one breath. He paused again. "Your name is Anthony," he said again. Pause. "Like the Saint. Am I correct?"
"I suppose so," I answered slowly. I remember wondering if the gun at my back was even loaded. I wondered what the whole point of it was. The man had my wallet in his hands, with nearly two hundred dollars cash at his fingertips, and all he appeared to want was my I.D. and to know if my mother was religious enough to name me after a Saint. Fucking ridiculous. I had things to do.
"Listen, I don't have time for this," I told the man. At that point, I didn't even care if the gun was loaded or not, didn't care if he would shoot. Hell, I didn't even want to live that much anyway. There was one thing keeping me alive, and that was Her, and she was nowhere to be found. Looking for her, she was the reason I was in this mess in the first place. And I'd already stopped caring, didn't care if I came out of alive. There was a gun pointed at my back and at that point, I was almost praying that it would shoot me.
Everything bad that happened to me, it was Her fault.
And I didn't even know who she was.
I didn't even know her real name.
She was one of those girls that you would see walking back and forth on the sidewalk with no destination in mind, not acknowledging the people around her. You would see her and you know, just know, that she's trouble. But she's beautiful when she's wearing too much make up, she's beautiful, not when you see her or talk to her or ask her for her name, but only when she walks away; you can see it, you can see the black halo and the bruises on her torso formed from carrying the world on her shoulders, and you love it.
All this, and I'd never really gotten her real name.
The first time I met her, it was an accident. She stepped on my foot as she hurried along to nowhere, and she apologized quickly and walked on before I could tell her that it was okay. And I followed her; I'd seen her before and I'd
always been intrigued by this girl, this person, this invisible mark on the world that no one knew or cared about. Needless to say, it hadn't been the first time I'd trailed her footsteps, eager for interaction. And I continued to follow her for a half hour, until she led me into a darkened alleyway, turned around, and screamed "Why the hell are you following me?"
"I'm...sorry," I lied, I wasn't really sorry. "I didn't realize, I didn't mean to..."
She saw through my lies. "Bullshit," she said. She didn't say anything after that. Then she said: "What's your name?"
"Rudy," I lied. I didn't want to give her my real name. Somehow, I knew it wasn't important.
"I'm Tracy," she told me. She nodded, and then walked away. I stood there in the alley for ten minutes, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. I walked on.
The next time I saw her, I said "Hey, Tracy," and she looked at me with an unreadable expression on her face.
"My name isn't Tracy," she answered. "It's Sondra." And I nodded and said, "Well, my name isn't Rudy, it's Jonathan."
And so it would go.
Every time I saw her, we would give each other a different name. Today she would be Cassandra. Tomorrow, Elizabeth. Yesterday, maybe she was Bethany. The day before that, it may have been Alexis. The day after tomorrow, who knew. I would see her and I would say, "What's your name today?" And she would tell me, Janis, Gertrude, Penelope. And she would ask me the same question and I would answer with Thomas, Aiden, Bartholomew. That was the extent of our conversation. We never got past asking for each other's names when we saw each other, simply making up a new one every day and planning ahead for what we would say the next.
I never got her real name and she never got mine.
We really never spoke. The only thing we ever said to each other when one of us caught the other's eye was some variation of "What's your name today, sweetheart?" and giving a reasonable answer before walking on to another nowhere.
That was, until tonight.
I don't know how she had gotten my phone number because she didn't have my real name, and she didn't know anything about me other than the fact that I was a liar when it came to identifying myself. But either way, my phone rang at midnight while I sat in my room, contemplating what name I should give her the following morning if I happened to see her again. And it was Her. And I didn't even bother to ask how she'd found me, but then again, she was frantically screaming into the phone.
"Come here! I need you!" she screamed and I was almost unable to make out what she was saying, that's how close to the phone her mouth was.
"What is it? Where are you?" I asked and she was screaming into the phone again and I couldn't make out what she was saying.
"I'm..." she started. "The pay phone, by the alley where we first met. Come now, I need you!" And she hung up and I rushed out of my bed, adrenaline spiked, ready to get out of my apartment to find her.
For once, our conversation went further than asking for a name.
I kind of liked it.
And that led me there, in that alley. Five minutes left to live. A gun at my back.
I somehow knew that the man was going to kill me. He wasn't after my money. He was after me. I'd known that as soon as he'd dared to speak to me. He wanted my wallet but not my cash. He wanted information, and coming from me, that was worth absolutely nothing.
In those few seconds, I realized that I was probably going to die.
And I really didn't care. I just wanted to see her one last time. I couldn't even care if I ever found out her real name, though the curiosity was getting to me.
"Why are you going to kill me?" I asked the gunman, and I really didn't care if he shot me at this point. It was all so pointless, so weak and unemotional and I was just about ready to give up on feeling anything anymore anyway.
"Because I told him to," spoke another voice from behind me, and I recognized that voice and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew it. I heard it every day. Well, nearly every day, if I was lucky.
It was Her.
I should have known.
"So," she said, stepping in front of me. "Your name is Anthony."
"Yeah," I answered.
"That's not very interesting," she whispered.
"Thanks," I told her. "It's more fun to lie."
"Yeah," she said. "I know. I do it every day." We stood in silence. I could only hear the cars honking from other parts of the city, hear the deep snarl of the gun-man's breath behind me. She stood in silence. Whoever she was. She sat in silence and said nothing and I had no idea whether her silence would save me or kill me.
Because it was always all about her. For months, we would go back and forth in a simple greeting, simple conversation that meant nothing and everything at the same time.
"What's your name?"
"Mollie. What's yours?"
And that would be that, and we would keep walking, as if we'd never stopped each other in the first place, as if we did not just stand there for a few seconds in the middle of the street, exchanging false names and then walking past each other as if we'd never even met.
I didn't know how much she knew about me, and I truly didn't know that much about her either. I did know that she was a liar. I did know that she was generally homeless, sneaking into cheap motels and bolting the door so that she wouldn't get caught if someone happened to rent out that particular room. I knew that her insurance company paid entirely for her supply of anxiety medication and after every month, she would renew the prescription and then take her medication to sell to hopeful and addicted customers. Customers would pay high prices for her medication in her underground market, and she would willingly throw away her prescriptions for a chance to make more money. I didn't, however, know what she did with the money she made because I never saw her spend it anywhere. She had no spare change but she didn't ask for anything. She was alone. I knew this from watching from afar and I knew this before I even met her for the first time, before I ever never knew her name.
"Why are you doing this?" I asked her, and I didn't expect much of an answer at this point. I wasn't sure why I even asked. I really didn't care, I was just pressing for time. Then again, this was Her. She was no hero, no Savior, no martyr. It was just me, Her, and a gunman with a weapon pointed into my back.
"What?" She frowned. She looked beautiful when she did that, even more so than usual. Then again, I'd never even seen her smile. Her face had always been the same nonchalant expression and I'd never seen a variation of that gorgeous face. Until now.
"Why are you doing this? Why are you going through all the trouble to kill me?"
Four minutes to live.
She was still frowning. Her eyebrows were furrowed in a V-formation over her glazed eyes and at that angle, in the lack of light, I could make out a tiny scar on the side of her face that I'd never noticed before.
"I'm saving your life," she told me.
"I don't get it," I said back even though I did get it in that sick and twisted kind of way, and I accidentally shuffled my feet slightly. With this, the gun pushed further into my back.
"You want to die," she told me, and for the first time that night, she looked me squarely in the eye. She was reading me, I knew it. And I knew what she saw.
She saw truth.
"You want to die because you have everything," she told me. "I've seen you, I've followed you and watched you, just like you watched me. You are any other happy ending, except you have no beginning to work off of. Your life is a fairy tale. Everything has been given to you and you've been realizing lately that this isn't right, this isn't life. You've been looking for something more and you haven't found it. You're hopeless and you know it. If this gun wasn't pressed to your back tonight, if you'd never met me in the first place, you would be on the verge of death anyway. I'm making it that much easier for you."
Every word coming out of her mouth, completely true.
I had everything and at the same time, I had nothing. Seeing her and meeting her was the only reason I even bothered to wake up in the morning anyway. She was my reason to live and she knew it. I was fed up. There was no such thing as joy, no excitement. It was the same boring routine, and I was already done with it. Life, for me, was just a phase, and I was already over it.
She was nothing, and neither was I. And when a person's living for such a beautiful Nothing that wanders the streets in stolen clothing, you know you're coming closer to the end.
"I'm really saving you," she said. "I'm making you a hero. You come out of this as a victim. You're worth something because for a few, glorious days, your dead body on the pavement will be what you lived for in the first place. Your purpose in life was to die. You're a headline, but you won't be worth anything until your heart stops beating. Your life is your death and your death is the birth of your true life. You're a hero, you're in the glory. And just like that, it ends. Life ends no matter what happens. In your case, your life will be over before it even begins. Because once it begins, it's doomed to die. I'm sparing you that pain." She paused. "You can't have a hero unless you have a victim. I'm your personal hero but no one will never know it. And you, for the first time in your life, you'll be special. You'll be important enough to be something more than what you are now."
"You're crazy," I told her, emotionless.
"You only say that because you know I'm right," she shot back, and I cursed her for, once again, being correct. "This is the most we've ever spoken in months. You like it, and you want it. This is what you wanted. You live for nothing. And you die for something. That's better than your alternative." She paused and pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "Otherwise, you would live for nothing and die for nothing. And that is so much worse. This is what you want. You want to die, you've always wanted to die. I've known it, I've always known it, and you know it too. You would never have something to live for because you've been trained to believe that your world is all you have. Now that you're learning it's not true, you start to see the light. The only thing you'll ever be is another name and social security number. I'm giving you the chance to be more than that. If you can't live for anything, at least die for something. Die to save yourself."
It might have been hypnotism at it's finest.
With one blast, the bullet would shatter my spine. If the bullet managed to lodge itself in the bone marrow, my backbone would be crushed from the force of the impact, leaving bone shards in my lungs and my rib cage. In seconds, I would be unable to breathe because my lungs would fill with blood, and, only three minutes after that, I would lose consciousness. Less than two minutes after that, I would be pronounced brain dead from the lack of oxygen in my brain. After that, my heart would stop beating and I would be just another name on a headstone. Just the way I've always known I'd be remembered. If the bullet missed my spine, it would lodge itself in my lungs anyway and I'll be dead even faster than that. I'd choke to death in less than four minutes. I'd lose more blood than I ever knew I had and asphyxiate from the pressure of my own, vital organs.
It looked a bit appealing, actually.
Because I really wouldn't mind.
"I'm giving you the chance for something so much better than life," she was saying. "I'm giving you death. It's our dream, our fantasy but we're all too afraid of what we'll find to realize that it's been in front of us all along. We can end our lives at any minute but we don't because we're too afraid. But you, you're not afraid. You have nothing here. You might have something there. You die at the hands of another and your life suddenly has meaning. You're a good person because they'll consider you innocent. And that's what death brings. Once you're a victim, you're innocent. You are cleansed. You are free from your sins. You become a Saint, a Martyr, you died for something and that, my friend, is the greatest thing.
"Because if you don't live for something, you might as well die from it," she continued.
She said: "You would have given up ages ago if you'd never met me." And I nodded because it was true. And she knew it. I didn't know how she did, but it didn't really matter because it was my feelings coming out of her mouth and it was the most real thing that I'd ever heard in my entire life.
"This is reality," she said. "The only reason it's reality is because it's all you've ever known. If there was an alternative, then maybe your world wouldn't be real. Maybe everything you know could be a lie. But it's not a lie, everything you live for, it's real and you hate it. Because it may be the truth and it may be reality, but this is a world where all the truths are based upon lies and all lies bring destruction. You're dying already. Everybody is, they just don't know it."
"So why are you still here?" I asked her.
"I'm brave enough to do away with everything else," she told me. "I'm here to enlighten you. I'm here to be your personal hero. No one will ever know that besides you, me, and the man standing behind you. But I don't need to die a hero. I know that I am and you will die knowing I'm so much better than all of this. I'm here to save you. I'm here to free you." She stopped. She breathed. She said: "For all this fucking world is worth, I'm your own, personal God."
"God wouldn't say 'fuck'," I reminded her, and this time, the gunman released the point of the gun from between my shoulder blades and lightly hit me in the shoulder with the butt of the weapon. I grimaced, but there was no pain.
It was all in my head. The pain, it was all in my head.
Pulling the trigger would make it go away.
One minute left until my final demise.
"What's he got to do with all this?" I asked her, shifting my eyes towards the gunman.
"He's any other person, just like you. He's nothing, I'm nothing, you're nothing. We are all nothing but we're too busy trying to live for something to realize it." She looked up at the sky and pressed her lips together tightly. "He doesn't care if he dies, he doesn't care if he goes to jail. I've seen him on the streets, wandering, just like you. He's willing to sacrifice the lives of others because he know that by freeing you, he's freeing himself. And one day, when we've saved the world, we're going to free ourselves as well. And we'll be heros too. When the only thing left are the people who truly believe that they are worth something, we will be complete. And we can die as our own heros. We'll be the greatest people that never existed.
"I hope you understand, that I'm doing this to protect you." She still wore that solemn expression on her face, no hint of emotion showing through her slightly flushed cheekbones. "I'm doing this because I can, because power means nothing when you have nothing. I'm the one who has instructed that gun to be pushed into your back, and I'm the one who's going to save you, even if death is a consequence. I'm doing this because I love you. Because I'm meant to love everyone, and I really do, and that's why I'm saving you. Because I love you."
"I hope you understand."
And the last thing I ever said was: "I understand."
And she says: "Good. Because even if you didn't, it wouldn't matter anyway."
I was feeling pretty good right then.
And I felt the blast and I felt the eruption and I felt the split second of pain before it was gone, just like that, it was gone.
My seven minutes were up.