AGLETS - Glenn "Justice" Reisher
Vast and vibrant, the moon gazed deep into the darkest trenches of Aiden's soul. He could feel the same gravitational pull that affects the tides tug on his very blood. He took a deep breath and inhaled the moon's aura as a bitter-cold gust of wind gnawed at his core. As he stared deep into the abyss, Aiden fingered at the little slip of paper in his pocket. Alone, above the city lights, he was finally at peace for the first time since he had taken the test.
'How could one little piece of paper decide so much about a single person's life?' Aiden pondered. It said nothing of his character, it said nothing of what he could accomplish or of his capabilities as a person, and yet everything he had ever done—or was going to do, for that matter—seemed to ride on it.
He had not looked at the piece of paper in his pocket, nor had he intended to; but something within him kept him from throwing it out. Something in him longed to know, longed to get it over with, needed to know to keep himself satisfied. Who could resist it; a look into the future? To know how you were going to die? Who in the right mind would, nay, could turn that down? No one, Aiden had decided, and yet he couldn't even bring himself to pull it out of his pocket since he took the test two weeks ago.
The paper was frayed and wrinkled, yet soft and dirtied with the oils from his hands. Aiden didn't look at what it said, but he got a faint glimpse of the slip itself. It was no bigger than the ones they put in fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants. He had joked to a friend that he saw one of those "learn Chinese" printings on the back, and claimed to have gotten the lucky numbers "666 13 13."
Aiden was still falling into the routine of everything in his life. The city he had grown up in was foreign to him—going a rural college can do that to even the most cultured New Yorker. He graduated with mediocre grades after five years in a three-year program. When he made his triumphant return to his roots, Aiden had decided that he was done relying on his family, and found an apartment with Roger, his best friend all through high school. Despite the five-year absence, Roger hadn't changed at all. Aiden couldn't make up his mind if this was a good thing, but he had already decided that a welcoming environment is worth the price of a few sophomoric pranks.
They didn't have the machines out in Indiana. He had never really kept an eye on the news, and when he returned to New York, Aiden wondered if he was the only person who hadn't really heard of the machines. Sure, he heard of the technology and read an article or two when the machines had been invented, but he knew nothing of the mass distribution or of the major impact that they had on society as a whole. Had someone brought it up to him, Aiden would have thought it was some stupid gimmick; it sounded like something out of a science fiction novel. But ever since he got back to the city, these machines were everywhere he looked. One couldn't turn around without some reminder of them, be it "display your death" memorabilia, or "living with knowing" self-help books.
"You can't be serious," were the first words that Aiden heard after telling Roger how he felt about the machines, "You seriously don't have any curiosity?"
"It's something I don't want to know," Aiden immediately defended, "You were in my class, you read Oedipus Rex…"
"I seriously doubt you're going to fuck your mom if you find out you're going to get hit by a car…"
"Wha—no," Aiden had learned long ago to be careful when discussing literary analysis with Roger, lest he get an aneurysm, "I know myself enough that I don't know if I would die because I knew and tried to avoid it, or because I didn't do anything to avoid it. You know, a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"I still don't get what this has to do with—"
"Forget about the motherfucking mother-fucking!" Aiden shouted. Taking a deep breath, he regained his composure and calmly responded, "It's fucking with destiny that I'm worried about."
Those words stuck with Aiden. Fucking with destiny. He could lie all he wanted to Roger, but he couldn't deny the curiosity to himself. Aiden hadn't told Roger that he took the test, and as a result, the subject kept coming up. In the short amount of time the machine had been in existence, its use had become a social norm, refusal becoming a social taboo. There were protests to the machines, but the protesters were often militant in their cause, and unsympathetic.
The moon bore no life. With no life, there can be no death, and with no death, there is no need for a machine that shoves it in your face. It was a perfect existence, and he was a voyeur to its level of freedom. He was alone. Alone in ignorance. Alone in a world not accepting. Alone, on a roof, staring at the moon on a cold winter night.
"Hello?" a voice broke Aiden's train of thought. He whipped his head around to lay eyes upon the sudden interruption to his brooding. What he found was unexpected; a young woman—probably no older than he—stood in the doorframe, holding a pack of Camel cigarettes. The light from the hallway inside obstructed her appearance, making her a silhouette, "Sorry, I didn't think anyone would be up here."
Aiden wanted nothing more than to tell her to go find somewhere else, but before he could say a thing, the door shut behind her as she took a step outside. He let out an audible yelp, before catching himself. "The door locks from the inside," Aiden cringed calmly, as he watched the girl's expression change to one of fearful disbelief.
"Aw fuck," she turned around to examine the door and jiggling the handle. "Damn it," she muttered under her breath.
Aiden sighed, accepting that this small interruption wasn't going to go away any time soon. He turned to look back at the moon. 'Where was I?' he thought to himself.
Loneliness; that was it! He was so horribly alone, dreadfully so, and—the girl stepped up to him, once again interrupting his angsty narrative. "Do you have a light? I left everything inside."
"I don't smoke," Aiden turned to face her.
Her hair was dark, merging with the skyline behind her, fading into highlights that were tipped with purple. She wore a thin cotton jacket over a light tank top that revealed a decent amount of her womanly figure. His eyes wandered past her chest, where he noticed a large spider tattooed across her collar. She wore earrings that spiraled from her earlobes up through the cartilage of her ears. She wore a bud nose ring in her right nostril. As she turned to him with her beautiful green eyes, a piercing on her left eyebrow became visible. "Well, there goes my relapse," she sighed, lazily dropping her pack of cigarettes to the streets below.
"Damn shame," Aiden responded blankly, trying to not stare.
"Not really," she confessed, "I'm better off. Thanks."
"So I'm guessing 'Cancer' wasn't on your card?" Aiden sneered.
"Nah," she chuckled, making eye contact for a moment before continuing, "I am to die in the arms of my soul mate." She closed her eyes, a visible calm permeating throughout her body.
"Well, aren't you lucky," Aiden scowled, turning back to the moon before her eyes could open. A moment passed by before the silence was yet again broken.
"'And' what?" Aiden turned back to find her closer to him than before. She was behind him, bending down with her head hovering above his left shoulder. He jumped at the sight of her, and she smirked at his reaction.
"Isn't it common courtesy to say your CoD after someone tells you theirs?" An expression took over her face like none Aiden had ever seen before. He didn't realize that there was "courtesy" in any of this "Cause of Death" bullshit.
"Oh," he paused for a moment. "I got 'AGLETS,'" Aiden lied.
"What's that, some sort of disease?" She had a child-like curiosity in her eyes as she took a seat on his left-hand side; her legs closed and half turned toward him.
"Aglets," Aiden continued, "You know, those plastic things on the end of your shoelaces. Those are called 'aglets.'"
She burst out in laughter, "I didn't even know those things had a name!" As she laughed, her hand touched his shoulder for a moment before quickly darting back to her person.
"Yeah, I had to look it up to figure it out. I'm going to die from shoelaces." He reached his hand into his pocket, making sure his real prediction was still there. Sure enough, it had not budged.
Aiden was surprised that the absurdity of his lie wasn't called into question. He had heard of cryptic and ironic predictions before, but he never expected anything as stupid as 'aglets' to be even remotely believable.
"You know, it's funny," she was staring out at the moon, and Aiden noticed that all the life that had been in her face a moment ago was almost completely drained, "Nowadays you learn someone's cause of death before you even learn their name. It's like going on a first date with someone and telling them exactly how you're going to break up with them a year down the line."
"Yeah, it is pretty fucked up," he admitted, "I really don't believe in the machines. I carry my card, but I really don't talk about it often." Aiden noticed that her shoulder was now brushing up against his, but made nothing of it.
"With shoelaces being your storied downfall, I wouldn't blame you," she shivered, "Fuck, I didn't know it was going to be this cold, I'd have brought a heavier jacket."
"Take mine," Aiden blurted without thinking.
"You sure?" she asked, eyeing him inquisitively, "It's freezing…"
"Chivalry isn't dead you know," Aiden bit his tongue and forced a smile, "Plus, I like the cold." He regretfully removed his jacket just as a gust of wind blew, sending a shiver down his spine. The girl surprised him by slipping into the jacket before it even left his hands. Aiden felt her arms push through the sleeves until his hands met her shoulder blades and he noticed how small she was compared to him.
She cleared her throat, and Aiden realized that they had been in that position for quite some time, and she had obviously noticed him examining her. He let go of her abruptly and shifted away from her, embarrassed, not noticing that she had a smirk on her face. They sat in silence for a bit.
"Why were you going to," Aiden began, but paused.
"Going to what?" She looked up.
"You said 'relapse' before you dropped your pack of cigarettes," He looked over at the girl, and to his dismay her smile faded, "Why would you put yourself through that? I've known people who go through that cycle of quitting and relapsing. They describe it as hell."
"I… shit… uh—" she struggled with words, "I'm new around here, and—" she paused uncomfortably, and looked as he stared at her with utmost interest, "I've been going through a lot of shit with getting accepted around here. I'm not from the city, and I'm still getting used to things. Smoking took the edge off in college… I—I didn't know where else to turn."
Aiden just looked at her. There was an awkward pause. "I guess I just got desperate, is all." She turned away quickly, trying to get his eyes away from her. She closed her knees, and tilted them away from him. She did a double take, but his eyes had not left her face. "What? Stop looking at me like that. It's weird."
There was another pause. He thought for a moment on how to bring her smile back, "Well, it brought you up here."
"Yeah, I guess," she looked at him, bringing her legs back to her initial position. "Thanks, by the way."
"For what?" Aiden looked into her eyes and something clicked in his chest. He was starting to like talking to this girl.
"Well, for that—you're being really kind. You sound concerned for me, and I just met you. You gave me your jacket, and helped me down from a metaphorical ledge… You were up here and are keeping me company." She paused for a moment, pivoting her body more to face him, "What were you doing up here anyway?"
"Just… Thinking. See, you're not the only one who feels unaccepted. I just moved back from college a few months ago."
"Where?" she asked.
"Perdue, out in Indiana. I was a "Creative Writing" major. I just moved back, and I'm just having trouble mixing back into things."
"You write? Anything good?" she crossed her left leg over her right, leaning back.
"No. That's the problem! I thought it was fun in High School, but I wasn't ever any good. I don't know how I even got accepted, and when I was, I had no direction with it. I just did what people were telling me to, and I just barely got my degree with two extra years under my belt." The words seemed to flow out of Aiden's mouth without control.
"God, that's rough," she sympathized, resting her hand on his shoulder.
"I've moved here, and I realized, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life. And I come back, and not only do I have my life to worry about, but I have my death!" Aiden shouted.
"I don't follow..."
"We didn't have the machines back in Indiana, and I hadn't used one until two weeks ago. I haven't even had the balls to look at my result. How can I face my death when I can't even get my life on track?"
"I thought you were going to die from shoelaces," she smiled, crossing her arms and cocking her pierced eyebrow.
Aiden's heart dropped. He had completely forgotten about his lie earlier. He closed his eyes and thought of an explanation for himself. "Fuck," was all he could manage, taking a deep breath. Before Aiden could continue, he felt warmth on his face. He opened his eyes to find hers staring back. Her green eyes shimmered in the half-light, darting back and forth between his. Her eyelashes batted slowly as she moved in closer.
A kiss. It was quick, but there. Aiden kept his eyes open, taking the whole scene in at once. He watched her expression as she pulled away.
"I lied to you," he blurted out.
"I did too," she admitted, "At least you could take the test." She leaned in for another kiss. It was just as—if not more—spectacular than the first.
Aiden was the one who pulled away this time. He watched as a smile danced across her face. Before he could say a word, the door shot open. Both of them turned abruptly as Roger took one step outside, holding the door open with one hand, and his mobile phone in the other. "Hey," he called out to Aiden, "the usual; pineapple and olives, right?"
"Roger," Aiden gasped, "I was about to call! We got locked—"
"Hold on," Roger said in a agitated tone, putting the phone down, "I asked what kind of pizza you want, ass: Pineapple and olives, like usual?"
"That's a weird combination," The girl laughed, looking toward Aiden.
"Don't judge," he defended.
"Who's he," the girl asked, confused, "a friend?
"No," Aiden mumbled with a dour expression.
"Okay," Roger hung up the phone, turning toward Aiden, "You owe me ten bucks." He looked at the girl with an apathetic expression, "Who are you?"
"Someone else," she responded.
"Fair enough. I hope pineapples and olives is fine for you," Roger turned to walk back into the building.
"Those toppings are weird," she laughed to Aiden.
"Don't knock it 'till you rock it," Roger called back, being sure to leave the door open as he re-entered the building.
The girl turned to face Aiden. They smiled and stood in silence for a moment. They suddenly burst out laughing. Tears rolled down their faces, for a moment until the laughter died down.
"So you don't know what your card says," the girl clarified, drying her eyes on the sleeve of Aiden's jacket.
"No," he admitted, brushing off his face with his hand, "And you don't know yours either?"
"I feel like we're the only two people who don't know," he confessed.
"But," she began, "You took the test?"
"I have the result in my pocket," Aiden reiterated, "I just can't bring myself to look at it."
"I don't see why you keep it then. It's only going to haunt you until you look. Personally, I can't stand thinking about how I'm going to die, and you said it yourself; you have life to worry about…"
"I just…" Aiden pulled the little slip from his pocket. It was yellowed and crumpled, almost in a little ball. The blank side faced up. He tried to think of a reason why he held onto it, a reason other than wanting to know, and he sighed in failure.
"Well, I threw my demons to the wind tonight," she stated, "Maybe you should do the same."
Aiden looked at the yellow ball in his hand, and back to the girl.
"I'm Aiden, by the way," he introduced himself.
"Well, Aiden, I'm going to head inside. You can follow me, and we can continue this conversation, or you can stay up here until your pizza arrives," the girl teased, "Your choice."
With that, the girl turned and walked toward the door. She turned, and winked before she entered the hall and disappeared into the flood of light.
Aiden smiled, throwing the card from the rooftop, free of the hold it had upon him. Turning to follow her into the building, he paused. Be it a discomfort in the region, instinct, or even just because of superstition, Aiden made sure that his shoelaces were tied properly before leaving the rooftop.