The sagging-faced man stared deep into the face of his timer. He wondered if that dare he took all those years ago would come to pass.
Bah. Haunted timers. What utter nonsense, especially to one of his mental stature. Why, he graduated from MIT in 1951. Surely he was above a petty dare, an old legend passed down from superstitious father to innocent son to curious friend.
Yet, here he was, sitting on the edge of his patched-up yellow chair, peering into the clockwork soul of the supposed messenger of death.
It was his second year of college when he found it. His friend told him what it was when he showed it off. After all, why not? It was gold, twenty-four carat, he guessed, although he didn't know jack about gold quality. It had some sort of gem inlay around the screen, probably diamonds. If it weren't for his damned curiousity, he would have sold it in a heartbeat, and made an easy small fortune fit for a poor college student.
But apparently, it was a timer like no other. Once you set it, his friend had said, it would count down to your death. Oh, Bobby pestered him to set it day and night, week after week, until one day, on a particularly hopeless night, he sighed and started turning the dials.
He was too craven to stop; watching his years whirl by as the hands spun around the seven concentric circles gave him a primal thrill he couldn't define: one for seconds, one for minutes, another for hours, and so on for days, weeks, months and years.
Finally, satisfied that he had given himself enough time without making him too old to function properly, he put the timer in his pocket and went to sleep.
That was in 1949. Sixty-three years ago. And now, here he sat in 2012, watching his last five minutes melt away, wondering if it was worth it all.
He'd worked and fought tooth and nail to scrape together enough money to make it to MIT.
~And it made him an engineer, so maybe that had some merit.
In 1951, just after his graduation, he sprinted off to war just like so many young hopefuls of his day.
~He worked behind the lines, tinkering with computers and other experimental technology that no one really understood.
But America won, didn't they?
~North Korea is still a time bomb waiting to explode, and when it does it will have serious reprocussions.
Anyway, he served his country, so that's what counts.
~No one remembers the engineers. People remember the soldiers and the ones who gave their lives for the safety of others.
After the war, he settled down, got a job developing primitive computers. Life was good.
~The Cold War hung over everyone's heads like a thunderhead, and the old man was too scared to do anything about it. Maybe it was the horror stories the front-liners brought back to him that scared him off. The Cold War might have just been serious tension between countries, but the thought that it could escalate to something more was more than he wanted to think about.
Well, he settled down and married a beautiful woman later.
~The whore cheated on him and ran off with some doctor with slightly larger abs and much more money.
After that, he decided that lost causes weren't worth mourning, and he shaped up his game. Then he finally found 'the one'.
~She died eight years ago.
Well, he had kids, and they went to good schools and got good jobs.
All that money in his retirement fund?
~What does it matter if he's got nothing to spend it on?
The man glanced up at the digital alarm clock in front of him, putting the timer down on the armrest.
It read 10:22 PM. If his calculations were correct-of course they were, he'd done them a thousand times-the timer would go off in exactly one minute.
Then again, it could be less. The digital clock didn't have seconds.
He liked that: less warning. Make it a surprise; he didn't want to know when it happened.
The old man thought that over and over again, forcing it through his aged brain, until his curiousity, his desire to know got a hold of him, and he glanced down at the timer face.
He had just enough time to watch one second turn to zero.
A high, clear ding rang out through the night, echoing down the halls and out the windows, reaching to the whole world as it left him behind.
As it faded, he allowed himself a nervous laugh. Finally, he knew that his fears were unfounded, that he was finally free-
He was silenced by an enormous pain exploding in his chest, and he decided that maybe he should take a nap.
He'd be back in a second.
Except that he wasn't. He woke up staring into the face of a bright man-he almost looked like he was glowing, ha, how absurd-who looked down on him with understanding.
Only then did it dawn on him that he was dead. The old man reflected on this for a moment, and decided that the warm breeze coming in through the window was nice, and that maybe being dead wasn't so bad.
"Well, here you are," the bright man said. His voice sounded familiar...was it the his own, from so long ago, from his heyday in the late fifties? "You've got one question to ask the universe."
The old man considered asking if war would stop, or if computers would rule the world, or if he'd be remembered by anyone outside of his relatives.
But in the end, there was only one thing he could ask. It was the only thing his subconscious had been trying to disprove in his final minutes.
Well, subconscious, he thought, prepare to be wrong.
"Did I lead a good life?" the man asked. He was surprised by how weak he sounded. Maybe, after all the fighting he did against it in his final moments, he didn't actually deserve to hear the answer.
"Did I?" the old man added, in an attempt to strengthen his original question.
The bright man aquired a sly grin. "Not many people ask that. Usually the breeze is enough of a clue." He motioned towards the window, as if the statement needed more emphasis.
"Some people follow the guidelines, and others just live. I was the second one. I want to know," he said, with more conviction this time, "did I live well?"
The bright man pondered that for a moment. "I don't know," he finally said. "Did you?"
The old man didn't know what to say as the bright man pulled the blue lever. He felt himself drift off to sleep. Maybe he should take a nap.
He'd be back in a second.
A/N: Well, here's a one-shot for y'all. I'm not sure how I feel about this one, so review and tell me how I should feel. I think I should be fond of it, but...eh.