(This is a re-write of a previous story.)
The Machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a card upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.
It was tested before announcing it to the world of course, but testing took time — too much some had said, since they had to wait for people to die. After four years had gone by and three people died as the Machine predicted, the company shipped it out the door. The realization that we could now know how we were going to die immediately changed the world: people became at once less fearful and more afraid. There’s no reason not to go skydiving if you know your Death Card says BURIED ALIVE. Or was there? Was the Machine of Death as straight forward as it seemed? Had enough time been spent on testing?
In the US and Canada there were now Machines in practically every doctor’s office and in booths at the mall. You could pay someone or you might get it done for free, but the result was always the same no matter what machine you went to. Other countries, such as China, had made getting tested mandatory by age five. Not to do so was a crime. Being caught without carrying your Death Card was also a crime. Still other countries had banned the Machine all together, citing it as a detriment to humanity. A thriving black market sprang up almost overnight, seedy places usually found in dark alleys, where you could get tested for large sums of money.
Religious groups differed on their opinion of the Machine as well. Some thought it brought you closer to God in the knowing of your demise while others thought it was an abomination and against the Bible. There were even some new forms of religion that grew up around the use of the Machine itself.
Having a Death Card or a “Ticket” as the media began calling it became something of a status symbol to people under the age of eighteen. It meant you could live a life free of fear, well mostly free anyway. You would, of course, have at least one thing to fear – whatever the Machine printed on your “Ticket”.
Trey Brock was coming up on his eighteenth birthday in a week. He was the star quarterback for his football team, had a great girl friend, a pretty good part-time job at an upscale coffee shop as a barista, and owned his own car. But ever since he’d heard about the Machine of Death he’d been obsessed with getting his “Ticket”. Of course his parents forbid it. He didn’t see what the big deal was. Some of his friends had already gotten theirs and it hadn’t been bad for them. Jimmy got REVOLVING DOOR on his, Roger’s was TATTOO, Frank got CLAMS, and his girlfriend Amy’s read ARTICHOKE. All of those were easily avoidable so of course they were going to live long happy lives. The law said he had to obey his parents until he was an adult but the day after his birthday he was going to get it done.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Amy asked him for what seemed like the hundredth time.
“Yeah babe. You got it done and you didn’t freak out. I really want my “Ticket”.”
They were standing outside the drugstore on the corner of 4TH and Main. A brand new Machine of Death had been installed just the week before next to the ATM.
“Yeah, don’t sweat it man. It’s no big deal.” This was from Roger who had actually had gotten his “Ticket” three times because he just couldn’t believe that it was something so stupidly avoidable as TATTOO.
They went into the drugstore and made their way over to where the Machine was sitting. It wasn’t much to look at. It was a small white box, about two feet long by a foot high and wide sitting on a small table. There was a slot in the front where the Death Card came out and a small hole where you inserted your index finger for the blood sample. The hole had a bar over it held in place with a small lock. A sign on the top of the box instructed you to see the pharmacist if you wanted to use the Machine.
Trey looked over at the pharmacist and said “Hey! I wanna use the Machine!”
The pharmacist came out from behind the counter and held out his hand.
“Twenty bucks,” he said in a bored tone.
Trey put a bill in his hand and the pharmacist unlocked the bar over the hole. Trey reached forward to put his finger into the Machine but was stopped by a hand on his arm.
“You have to clean your finger with a disinfectant wipe first,” the pharmacist told him, handing him a wipe.
After cleaning his finger Trey boldly stuck his right index finger in the hole. He felt a sharp sting and the Machine made a few whirring noises and the end of a Death Card appeared in the slot.
All at once he was terrified to read it. All the implications of how it might change his life for the worse flooded into his mind. What if it had something horrible on it like “MELTED BY ACID”? He didn’t think he could live day in and day out knowing he would face a hideous and painful death. Or what if it had said “MURDERED BY PARENT” on it? What the hell would he do then? Act first? Oh God what if it said “EXECUTED”? Would that mean he was a murderer? Or maybe something as simple as “FALLING OBJECT”? How would he avoid that? Never go outside again? He was rapidly realizing this was a very bad idea and that maybe his parents were right all along. No way was he going to read his Death Card now. He noticed through his fog of terror that Amy was saying something to him.
“W-what?” he stammered.
“You lucky ass!” She squealed with glee. She was holding the Death Card from the Machine. His Death Card.
“What?” he said again, taken aback. “I didn’t hear you. I don’t understand.”
“It says OLD AGE you lucky bastard!”
What she said hit him like a hammer blow. All his fears vanished in the blink of an eye. OLD AGE! He was going to live a long time! This was awesome! He grabbed his “Ticket” from her and gave Amy a huge hug and a long kiss.
“Hey, no love for me?” whined Roger smiling. Trey punched him in the arm.
As they left the drugstore Trey was the first one out the door. Turning around and walking backwards he held his arms up over his head and said to his friends “I’m gonna live a long, long time!”
He never saw the car that was hurtling down Main Street and had jumped the curb. It plowed into Trey and crushed him against the wall of the drugstore killing him instantly.
Later in the morgue while going through Trey’s things they found his Death Card.
“OLD AGE huh?” said the Coroner’s assistant. “He isn’t old. I thought the Machine was never wrong.”
“It never is,” replied the Coroner, “the man driving the car was ninety eight.”