This story has been abandoned, in favor of a reworked storyline. To read the updated story, check out The Time Watcher.
My name is Nick Carter and in five days, twelve hours, forty-two minutes and fifty-seven seconds I'm going to die. Unless I can save someone else's life. Then I'll get to stick around for five days, twelve hours, forty-seven minutes and fifty-seven seconds. Every time I save somebody's life, I get an extra five minutes. If I saved all estimated three point six billion people in the world I'd be able to live for approximately ... let's see, carry the one, cross out the six... eight and three is eleven.... 34,246 years, 150-something days, twelve hours, forty-two minutes and fifty-seven seconds. Heh. Thirty-four thousand years, huh? .... Could be kinda cool.
Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters:
Action, Drama, Supernatural, SuspenseWarnings:
I'm only including warnings as they are added so the warnings list could change with time as the story develops. Therefore, please check the warnings list with each update before reading.
1. The Gift by Pengi
2. The First Time by Pengi
3. 00:00:00:00:00 by Pengi
4. Perfectly Healthy by Pengi
5. The Cabbie by Pengi
6. Believer by Pengi
7. Mystery Lady by Pengi
8. Handbook by Pengi
9. Derailed by Pengi
10. Escape by Pengi
If you could know exactly how long you had left to live, right to the second, would you want to?
Don't answer that question with haste; instead, really think about the idea first, the consequences of it. First of all, you would very suddenly carry the burden of watching time be wasted, slipping away without any meaning to it at all, far more prominently than you could ever notice it now. You would know on Monday that Wednesday you would be gone. You'd know when you saw your favorite places and the people you love that you'd never see them again. However, the plus side is that you'd also know when to make it count. You would not have to be afraid of death because you would know that no matter what you did, or what happened to you, that you would not die as long as your time was not yet up.
A friend of mine once said that there is no such thing as a life cut short, but only of a life extended. He was exactly right, I've found, because everyone has an appointed time to die, but if you are not there, your clock is reset, another appointment is made and you've successfully missed your own death... even if you were unaware of it. I know that I've managed to reschedule many, many such appointments... both of my own, and of others.
Kind of makes you wonder how many times you've been appointed to die, doesn't it?
You see, I have a gift. Although there are many times that I would rather consider it a curse than a gift. It's like a sword with two sides - each equally potent. On the one hand, I save lives. I keep people from leaving the world when I am physically able to prevent their deaths. But on the other, there are many times when I have been too late, or simply unable to stop what was coming. My gift has brought equal parts of elation and devestation both to myself and to the people with whom I have come in contact.
Well, I guess I better tell you the story... before my time runs out.
The first time I noticed the numbers that is what they looked like.
I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror in nothing but my boxer shorts, blinking into my own eyes, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. The numbers hung over my head like a digital alarm clock's face, bright red and glowing. I rubbed my eyes, blinked, rubbed and blinked again, sure I was seeing things. Then I decided I must've gone crazy. Surely this was the first steps of my mind being lost. I waved my hand above my head, making the numbers fall apart like smoke, then regroup almost instantly. I shook my head. "Impossible," I mumbled. I stepped to one side, the numbers followed. I bobbled to the other side. The numbers followed.
I looked around the bathroom. "Is someone here?" I called, "Is this a joke?" But nobody answered, of course, cos I was alone. I stared at the numbers. They didn't even make sense. Five twelve forty-two fifty-three? What was that supposed to mean? "This is nuts," I mumbled, waving my hands through the numbers again, watching them fall apart and regroup. I stood there a second, and then the panic set in.
I rushed out of the bathroom, into the hallway of the hotel and frantically banged on Howie's door. "Howie... HOWARD," I called. It took him a few minutes, but he finally answered the door, peeking out. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that he, too, had numbers over his head. His were diffrerent, though... longer. They were also blue, where mine were red.
"Howie..." I breathed, "What do they mean?"
Howie looked at me like I was a mental case. "What does what mean?" he asked.
I pointed, "The numbers, Howie... the numbers."
Howie glanced up at the numbers, then looked at me again, a confused expression clouding his eyes. "What...numbers, Nick?"
"Thirty-seven, one hundred twelve, fifteen, fifty-three, nineteen," I read them. My eyes met his, "Didn't you see them yet?"
Howie raised his eyebrows. "Them?"
"Yeah," I pushed Howie into the room, and right into the bathroom. I flipped on the switch. "See? The numbers." I reached over Howie's head and waved my hand through his numbers the way I had my own.
Howie eyed me wearily, "Maybe we should postpone the rest of the tour a little bit..." he suggested slowly.
"Don't you see them, D?" I asked.
"No.. no I don't," he answered, raising an eyebrow.
I waved my hand through my numbers and looked at him. "Maybe it's a government thing. Maybe they're numbering us for some reason. Like a census..."
"Maybe you lost your mind?" Howie asked, yawning and leaning against the counter.
"I don't know," I answered. "I don't think I am. I mean, I don't feel crazy." I looked at Howie's numbers, then glanced in the mirror at my own. "I just... see weird numbers."
Howie nodded, "Right. Well, Nick, go to bed... Maybe you're just tired."
"I'm not tired..." I answered, pouting.
"Okay." Howie shephereded me to the door and out into the hall. "Go relax, dude. I'll see you later."
I stood helplessly in the hallway, looking at Howie's door, even after he'd closed it. It took me several moments to regroup. Howie almost always backed me up, even if he didn't quite think I was sane. I scratched my head and glanced to one side, catching a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the glass front of a picture that was hanging on the wall. The numbers hung over my head.
Somehow I felt rushed just looking at them, and fear swelled up in my throat. I felt as though I had no time to lose. I ran down the hallway, past AJ's hotel room door and past my own, throwing myself against Brian's room door. Somebody, somewhere in this hotel, had to be able to see these numbers, too. Surely I wasn't the only one.
When Brian opened the door, he had Baylee at his heels. The first thing I noticed was Brian's numbers, like Howie's were longer than mine and blue.
The second thing I noticed was how ridiculously long Baylee's was.
"Do you see them, Brian?" I asked.
Brian looked take back by my greeting. "What? Good morning to you, too, Nick."
Baylee held up a DVD. "Did you come to watch the movie with us?"
I shook my head to Baylee, "I didn't know you were watching one."
"Yeah, it's gonna be great!" he ran back into the hotel room, leaving Brian and I in the doorway.
Brian eyed me, "What's going on, buddy?"
"Nothing. Well, something. A lot of something." I furrowed my brows, "Brian... have you looked in a mirror today?"
Brian's hands went to his face, "Why? What's wrong? Did Baylee scribble on me with his magic markers again?" he turned scurried around the corner into his bathroom. In the reflection the numbers glowed but he didn't even look at them. Instead, he leaned closer to the mirror and began stretching his face every which way trying to see if Baylee had written on him.
"The numbers," I said, "Don't you see the numbers?"
Brian raised an eyebrow at me in the mirror. "Numbers?"
I sighed. "Nevermind..."
"No, Nick, what --"
Before Brian could finish the sentence, though, Leighanne swept into the room, smiling. She wrapped her arms around Brian. "Hey Nick," she greeted me. I looked at her numbers.
I looked at Brian's. Leighanne was almost exactly the same as Brian. As hers ticked over to 29:354:23:10:40, Brian's clicked onto 29:354:23:10:43.
"I gotta go," I said, backing out of the bathroom, my knees feeling weak. "You sure you can't see it, Brian?"
"Nevermind." I rushed out of the bathroom, out of the hotel room and into the hallway. I stood, looking either way, unsure what the hell to do with myself. Was I going crazy? was this some messed up optical illusion?
As I stood there, AJ emerged from his hotel room. "Yo Nick," he waved to me. He wandered my direction, carrying two water bottles. "I was just about to come get you, actually..." he tossed one of the bottles to me. "Ready to jog?" I turned the bottle over in my hands, and glanced up at AJ's numbers.
"Yeah, I'm good," I replied, "Ready and good."
AJ smiled, "'kay then, let's go before the streets get too crowded, huh?"
"Yeah, let's go."
I followed AJ out of the hotel and onto the pavement. He stopped by a bench and began stretching his legs and arms while I looked around at all the people's numbers. Everyone had one. The world looked like a crazy sea of bobbling numbers, blinking and mixing together. There were so many I could scarcely focus on any one before my eyes had moved to another. They were mostly blue, a couple of red ones were mixed in, mostly on older people who looked sick or in their late, late years. What'd I have in common with THOSE people? I wondered.
"Aren't you going to stretch?" AJ asked, nudging me, "I don't wanna hear you whining a block away about your damn hamstring acting up."
I shrugged, "Yup." I was distracted. AJ worrying about me stretching or not was the least of my problems. I tried to spot even just one person that was my age whose numbers were red. That's when I spotted two of them. Two girls about mine and AJ's age, both of them sporting red numbers. Very similar red numbers.
00:05:42 ...... 00:01:15
00:05:41 ...... 00:01:14
00:05:40 ...... 00:01:13
00:05:39 ...... 00:01:12
AJ nudged me as they passed by us. "Hey, check out those quail," he whispered. I was, but not for the same reason he was. These girls, they had numbers even smaller than mine. It therefore reasoned that by following them I could find out possibly quicker what the numbers were counting down to.
"C'mon, let's follow'em," I told AJ. He grinned, always up for chasing some hot women, and nodded. We started out, jogging slowly behind them. I kept my eyes on their numbers, hypmotized.
When we reached a curbing, the stop for the pedestrian crosswalk lit up, and AJ and I skidded to a stop several feet behind the girls, but they kept on walking. It was at this moment when, to me, time was suspended. I don't know if anyone else saw or heard the phenomenon or if it was only me. I only know that AJ didn't feel the shift. He was talking to me as it happened, and his voice suddenly got slow and deep, like in the movies when time is suspended. I caught a glimpse of myself in the windows of the store we stood in front of as my head turned from AJ to the street.
My eyes landed on the street a moment later, and I saw the cab speeding up to get through the intersection, and the two girls halfway across the crosswalk, suspended in time, laughing and smiling, unaware of the vehicle. I rushed forward, pushing past a guy holding a Starbucks cup whose number was 31:14:11:59:31 and grabbed the arm of the girl with the higher of the two numbers. My hand closed around her arm, and I pulled her back, then reached for the other one, but before I could pull her away, time resumed it's normal pace.
We both fell backwards onto the cement as the sound of screeching tires followed and a scream that made my stomach curl around itself followed. I felt the girl whose arm I held pull to reach for her friend, but it was too late and as the girl hit the pavement at my feet, I saw her numbers and felt my heart slam in my chest.
"Somebody call a doctor!" I heard AJ yelling behind me on the curb.
The numbers blinked, then went out.
A young guy pushed around me and knelt beside the girl, whose blood was pooling around her head, just a few inches away from me. He grabbed her wrist, and closed his eyes. "It's too late," he whispered. The girl in my arms screamed and kicked. I glanced up at her numbers.
They were blue. But... she'd had 05:20-something when I'd pulled her back, and they were red... I'd changed her numbers somehow.
Suddenly it struck me. The numbers were counting down to when a person died. That girl -- the one who'd hit 00:00 -- she was dead because her numbers ran out. I felt sick. I crawled backwards, away from her, to the curb. AJ knelt down beside me. "Nick, you saved that girl's life."
I looked up at AJ, my eyes wide, frightened, "I'm-- I'm gonna die," I whispered.
AJ blinked, "What?"
"I'm gonna die.." I turned, "Just like her."
"Nick..." AJ bent and pulled me up to my feet. "Nick, you okay? Shit you must be in shock..."
"AJ I'm gonna die," I burst into tears.
AJ looked around and pulled me away from the intersection. "C'mon, let's go back to the hotel, dude, you need to rest."
"I'm gonna die," I whispered, trying to comprehend the words, "AJ I don't wanna die."
"You're not going to," AJ's eyebrows furrowed with concern. "Nick, it's gonna be okay.."
I glanced back at the girls as AJ pulled me away. One laying lifelessly in the street, her time run out, and the numbers gone, while the other one's numbers had been reset. She was destined to die another day -- because I'd saved her. I looked in the window.
But... before I'd saved the girl I'd been at 05:12:10:30-smething... I'd not only changed her numbers, but I'd changed mine as well. My head felt ready to explode, it was too much, too fast... WAY too fast. If this was true, what I'd discovered -- if the numbers were real, and I wasn't saved myself, then I was going to die in a little better than five days. FIVE DAYS?!
Perfectly Healthy by Pengi
"AHHHHHH......." The doctor poked at my throat with the giant popsicle stick, shining his little flash light into my mouth and humming. I tried not to gag on the popsicle stick. My theory was this: If I could save some random girl on the street and change her numbers from seconds to years then someone else could save me. The most logical place to look for help when one knew one was about to die was the doctor's office.
The doctor pulled back and laid the popsicle stick on the counter beside him, mused, then put on his stethescope. Now, I decided, was when he'd discover what was wrong with me. I breathed when he told me to and rubbed my knees to keep the cold stethescope from making me jump when he pressed it against my back. After he'd listened to my gizzards and stuff for a few minutes, he shook his head, "Hmm..."
"What is it, doctor?" I asked, "Is it... bad? Can you save me?"
The doctor pulled his stethescope off and pocketed it. He pulled a swivel chair over and sat down in it, then faced me. "Mr. Carter, you are perfectly healthy."
"No, there must be some mistake," I replied, "I'm dying."
He sighed and shook his head, "The only thing you've got is a case of hypocondria." He laid a hand on my knee and smiled like an old grandfatherly type trying to give advice. "Nick.. AJ told me about what happened this morning."
"That's not what's wrong with me," I told him, "I see numbers... and they count down to when a person's gonna die, and mine say I'm gonna die.. really soon."
The doctor looked at me with gentle, understanding eyes, and I thought for sure he was gonna understand me, and help me somehow. Instead, he stood up. "Maybe what we need here is a different kind of doctor. Let me get the number for Melissa Jole, she's therapist that I've worked with before with other patients, she's very well trained." He smiled.
"I'm not crazy, doc," I replied, shaking my head.
"I know," he answered lightly, "I know, Nick, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes there's feelings inside that you have to let out."
"Doctor," I said, "You don't understand... I'm not gonna be here long enough to let anything out. I just need someone to save my life."
"Like you did that young lady, I understand, Nick," the doctor smiled, his eyes sad. "I'll have Lillian schedule you an appointment with Miss. Jole and she'll be able to help you out a lot better than I can. How's that?"
I shrugged, "Yeah whatever."
"The first step to feeling better, Nick, is accepting that you need the help."
"Okay," I answered. I hopped down off the table and grabbed my jacket. I paused at the door. "Doctor...?"
"Oh yes," he stood up himself and opened a cupboard and pulled out a box. "Do you want cherry or orange today?"
"Cherry," I answered, taking the lollipop as he held it out to me. "Thanks," I said, pulling off the wrapper and sticking it into my mouth.
The doctor smiled, "It's gonna be okay, Nick... you'll see."
In the cab on the way back to the hotel, I leaned back into the seat, feeling defeated. The doctor couldn't help me, so how was I ever gonna live through all this? I wasn't ready to die, no matter what the numbers said. I had way too much still to do, too many people counting on me, and damn it I was just too good looking to be about to kick the bucket so soon. All I wanted was to be okay.
The cab's speaker crackled. "Joe, you still by Osmond headed to Astoria and Vine?"
The cabbie picked up his mic, "Yep."
"Pick up a 2nd fare on Vine."
The cabbie glanced at me in his rearview mirror, "You mind if I pick up another bloke?" he asked, his Irish accent was thick.
"Nawh it's cool," I answered.
As he put his blinker on to turn toward Vine, I noticed his numbers for the first time as they hovered over his head, by the roof of the car.
We pulled up by the corner of Vine and I glanced towards the guy waiting on the curb. He looked like a gang member - he was one of those ones you could just tell by looking at them that they were up to no good all the time. He had a backpack by his ankles and he looked nervous, one hand in his pocket. He glanced around as though making sure there were no witnesses or something. I looked at his numbers.
He, too, was only twelve minutes from death.
"Don't," I suddenly found myself saying from the backseat, "Don't pick him up, don't let him in.."
"What?" the cabbie didn't hear me, and was already pulled to the curb of Vine.
"Pull away," I said urgently, "He has a ---" But the door opened before I could say 'gun'.
The guy smiled as he climbed in in a weary, nervous way. He didn't remove his hand from his pocket. He seemed surprised to see me in there, and hesitated a moment, as though he were thinking he might not need a ride after all. I hoped he'd get out, but he got in instead. "Where to?" the cabbie asked.
"Astoria," the kid replied, clearly uncomfortable all of a sudden. As the cab pulled away from the curb, I looked him over. He couldn't have been more than twenty-one, if even that. The guy shifted, his hand tensing and flexing by his pocket as though he were trying to get up the guts to do it.
I looked at the cabbie's numbers.
"You don't wanna do this, do you?" I said in a low voice. The guy looked at me, surprised. "You don't need to. Why do you think you need to do this? What purpose could it possibly serve?"
The cabbie's numbers were under a minute.
"Money?" I asked, "Is that it? I'll give you money." The guy looked between me and the cabbie. "You don't gotta shoot this guy to get money."
"Why would you help me?" the cabbie asked under his breath, his grip on the gun in his pocket tightening.
I looked him right in the eyes, "Because I don't wanna die. And neither does this guy. And neither do you. But you will... If you pull that trigger, you'll die because they'll find you. Maybe a block or two from here, but it doesn't matter. They'll find you." I glanced at the cabbie.
This was it. The moment of truth.
"I want to help you," I said. The kid pulled his gun out of his pocket and held it up. The cabbie was unaware as he watched the road. It felt like I could hear my heart beat in my ears and the world stood a bit still. "Please," I whispered, "Don't throw your life away."
"Drop the gun," I added, eyes on the cabbie's numbers. The kid's finger tightened on the trigger and I held my breath.
He dropped the gun. It fell to the carpeted floor like a piece of led and lay there by his feet as the kid folded into himself, covering his eyes with his hands and crying. I looked at the kid's number --
Then I looked at the cabbie's.
And finally, in the rear view mirror, at my own.
I'd gained ten minutes.
When the cab pulled over on Astoria to let us out, I paid for both of our fares and left a good sized tip as well. The Cabbie thanked me profusively, and I couldn't help but wonder how much more he would've thanked me if he'd only known that I'd saved his life during the ride than he'd thanked me over a ten dollar bill. I stood awkwardly with the now unarmed gunman. "Soo..." I felt funny somehow outright asking what the guy needed for help, but I did genuinely want to help.
"My baby's sick," he blurted out," She's dying and I can't afford the medication that could save her life and my wife's out of her mind with worrying, you wouldn't believe it. She told me not to come back 'til I'd got the money 'cause she can't stand to look at me thinkin' I ain't givin' it my all to save our baby girl," he hung his head, "I was desperate man... I been tryin' so damn hard... so damn hard." He looked up at me, his eyes damp. "I just.. we ain't got it, you know? We got the jobs, but we can't barely meet ends as it is without this medication. It's damn expensive stuff, man, more than my rent is... and I live in fucking New York City!" he paused, then admitted, "Most nights me and my wife, we don't eat just so our baby can... so we can get diapers, and pay the medical bills..."
My heart broke for him. "C'mon," I said, leading the way to an ATM just inside my hotel's lobby. I swiped my card and pulled the maximum amount the ATM would allow and handed the guy five crisp one hundred dollar bills. His eyes widened and he started to protest, but I held up my hands. "No. You use that to get diapers and food. Maybe get something special for your wife. Come back tomorrow and I'll have a check for you for the medication then, okay? I gotta draw the check and all that."
The guy was crying as he took the money and hugged me in a big, manly bear hug fashion, something you wouldn't expect from a guy who looked like... well.. a hood. He was shaking. "Jesus... Jesus. Man, thank Jesus Christ for you. You're saving my baby's life."
I glanced up at my numbers... I'd gained another five minutes.
When I reached my hotel room, I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. The room was completely silent, and the pillows so comfortable. I had a massive headache: way too much was happening in my life, way too fast, and I felt pressured on all sides, in complete overload. I was fighting sleep - I didn't want to waste my time that way. See, I'd done the math once on the tour bus and I'd come up with the conclusion that - if people sleep for the recommended 8 hours a night - we sleep through one third of our lives. So if you live to be 75 years old, you sleep through 25 years of that. How freaky is that? So basically, having 5 days left, the last thing I wanted to do was sleep through 40 hours of that.
The pillow did feel nice, though.
I sat up quickly like being shot out of a cannon, and shook the sleep from my head. I could hear knocking on the door, and I glanced up at my time.
TWO HOURS?! Shit!
I groaned and struggled to my feet, cussing myself out for falling asleep as I waddled to the door. I pulled it open to find Brian on the other side. "Hey buddy," he said tenatively. "How're you feeling?" he inched into the room as I stepped back to let him through.
"I'm alright," I answered with a shrug, closing the door and following him into the room.
"AJ told me about earlier," Brian sat on the chair by the tiny hotel room desk, and picked up a pen and began fidgeting with it. "I thought you might wanna talk aobut it."
I paused, and sat on the edge of the bed with a sigh. "Everyone wants me to talk about it but I don't want to."
Brian nodded, "Okay. Well.. I can respect that, I guess. If you change your mind... you know." He paused, "Nick, I'm just worried about you, that's all. You're my best friend, and.. well... I don't know. This morning you were acting all freaky, and then the thing with this girl on the street, and..."
"I almost got shot in a cab today," I interrupted him, then I back tracked. "Well, I didn't. I got five days still. But the cabbie -- I saved him at the last second. Literally." I smiled weakly, then continued, "But you see, the guy.. the one with the gun.. his kid's dying and he needed money, so I want you to know that when I die in five days, please give him all my money. So he can help his kid and get his life together. Okay?"
Brian blinked, "What?"
"Well, I dunno, I mean I figure you guys don't need it really, you know?"
Brian tossed the pen onto the desk and got up, crossed the room and laid his hands on my shoulders definitively. "Nick... have you gone crazy?" he asked, "You aren't dying. This is absurd that you're even talking about it."
"Yes I am," I answered, I looked up at my numbers. "In five days, four hours, seven minutes, and like.. I dunno, thirty seconds."
Brian looked over my head at the place where my numbers hovered and for a split second I thought he could see them. But he couldn't. "Nick," he said in a tone that carried a finality to it, "You are not dying."
"The numbers are right, Brian, when they run out, I die."
Brian shifted uncomfortably and stood upright again, "Numbers..." he shook his head, "Nick, that's enough, okay?"
"It's true, Brian! I saw that girl, she had run out of time and then she died..." I paused, "And I'm running out of it fast."
"STOP," Brian shouted at me suddenly, his voice loud and sharp. He turned and looked at me, "You're my best friend, Nick."
"I'm not lying, Brian," I said in my most serious tone.
He looked me right in the eyes, and I could feel him searching me, waiting for some sign that I was full of crap to tumble out of my pupils. He stared hard into me and finally, after a solid minute, he backed away, his face paling, and fell helplessly into the desk chair again. "You aren't lying," he mumbled.
"I'm not lying," I repeated in confirmation.
Brian covered his mouth, horrorfied by the thought. "Nick..we gotta change it, you can't die," he whispered. "You can't."
I shrugged, "I'm trying, Brian... I don't know how else to change it." I frowned, "I save lives, and... I get like five minutes in return. I've saved FOUR LIVES today, Brian, and all I got was twenty minutes. Which I more than slept away just now."
Brian's eyes were closed as he absorbed the information. He took a long, shaky breath. "Then you need to save more lives," he stated, as though that were simple. "A lot more... Hundreds, maybe even more."
"I know," I said with a nod, "But I dunno how."
"We'll figure it out," he replied with determination, "We have to."
Brian was huddled by the TV while I paced the room. He had got the idea that if we watched the local news, we might see someone who needed rescuing that I could go save, but all we'd found out was that I couldn't see the numbers over the people on TV's heads. Cameras evidently didn't pick them up. Now he was flipping through all the action movie channels, trying to glean ideas for where to look at least. He sighed and flicked the television off, looking up at me. "This is crazy," he said, his voice defeated. "I hate this. I can't think of anything, and I feel like such a failure. I'm trying to help my best friend live and I can't think of a single thing."
"Well, it is a bit on the unconventional side," I pointed out with a sad smile.
"Yeah," Brian shrugged, "I just... I want to help save you, buddy."
I walked to the window and looked out at the people as they walked down Astoria Boulevard, their numbers all ticking along over their heads, even though they were unaware of them. I frowned at the sea of blue, and as happy as I was for them, I was disappointed not to see more red below. "Everyone's too damn healthy," I said with a sigh, "They need to like get in trouble already or something." I wandered away from the window. "Let's go somewhere," I suggested, "See if we can't find somebody somewhere who needs rescuing.
"Okay," Brian nodded, "Let's go. I'll call Leighanne." He stood up, pulling out his cell phone and followed me out the door and down the stairs into the lobby.
I wasn't sure where we were going, only that I wanted to go somewhere dangerous. Brian scurried along beside me, like a chihuahua dog trying to keep up with a Great Dane's pace. I tried to slow my steps for him, but I couldn't help but feel rushed with my time hanging over my head. I found myself glancing at it in store windows and even in puddles in the street. Every chance I got I checked it to make sure it wasn't any lower than it should be, that my time wasn't seeping away without my knowledge.
"Is it weird?" Brian asked as he pressed the pedestrian button while we were stopped at a corner. "Knowing, I mean."
I shrugged, "It's unnerving, I guess," I answered, "I feel like I have to make every second count... and mundane things seem like a colossal waste of time. Like eating, or sleeping, or even showering."
Brian smirked, "Nick, you thought showering were a colossal waste of time before, too."
"This is true," I replied with a laugh, "But it's even worse now. I may stink at my funeral. I don't suggest smelling me."
Brian's happy smile faded and his eyes clouded over. He glanced away from me, down at his toes and in the opposite direction. He sighed, "Nick, I wish you wouldn't joke about... that."
"What?" I asked, genuinely unsure what he meant.
"Dying," he answered. Brian pursed his lips and looked up at me, his blue eyes resonating with a sad look. "I... I'd rather think that... that you aren't."
"But I am," I said, my voice thick.
Brian hesitated, and by the time he went to say whatever it was he was going to say, the little computerized bird sound was going off, indicating that we could cross the street, and instead of saying it, he stepped off the curb. I followed him, hoping he'd say it once we were walking again, but he didn't. We walked onwards in silence.
After a few blocks he stopped and looked around, "So.. what exactly are we looking for?"
"Someone with red numbers," I replied, looking around myself.
Brian nodded, "Right. I can't see the numbers, Nick."
"Oh yeah," I paused, "Umm... Well, just... look for someone who needs saving, then," I answered.
We were in Times Square. Everywhere you look in Times Square there's hub-bub and hallabaloo and craziness. MTV's windows were crowded by thirteen year olds wearing Jonas Brothers t-shirts and screaming (very reminiscent of our Millennium days, I thought absently). The Fox News ticker was scrolling about the latest goings on in the world. Bright TV screens far above the streets showed advertisements and broadway play billboards cluttered the buildings. People were everywhere, their times melding together like what I'd seen earlier that morning with AJ.
Brian nudged me. "Her.. over there."
I followed Brian's gaze and.... well, the numbers weren't red, but her hair was. I felt like someone had splashed me with cold water. Her numbers actually, although not red, were very low.. considering.
A little better than a month. The numbers must turn red under a month, or maybe under a week. I wasn't sure yet which. But man what'd that matter? This chick was a knockout. If I somehow managed to live through the next five days and I was here a month from now... I sooo tottaly wanted to save her. I cleared my throat, "Let me go..uh.. check it out," I told Brian, then motioned for him to stay as I walked away.
Brian raised his eyebrow, "Are her numbers red?"
I didn't answer, afraid Brian would point out that hitting on girls whose numbers were higher than my own was of moot point. Which it was, but hey... a guy can dream. I wandered quickly towards her. "Excuse me," I said as I got closer, "I'm on tour here, I'm not usually from the area.. could you point me in the direction of the Empire State Building?" I smiled sweetly.
She stopped, looked me over and clenched her shoulder a bit tighter around her purse. "It's on Fifth," she stated, then pointed. "Go that way."
"Thanks," I paused, and she took that as a signal to continue going on her way, but I darted in front of her again. "Could you tell me a nice place to get some dinner, also?" I asked, "If it's not too much trouble?"
She sighed and stood the way models do when they reach the end of the catwalk, eyeing me. "What kind of place?"
"I dunno," I replied, "Your favorite place."
Licking her lips she replied, "Well I like a hole in the wall pizza place down by Washington Square. The NYU kids all go there and act like losers singing lame karaoke..." she eyed me, "Being a tourist, though, you'd probably perfer something like Hard Rock Cafe. There's a waiter there that can sing the whole menu... he memorized it cover to cover, and sings it to any tune you'd like. I'd suggest asking him to do it to the tune of the Beatles' song 'Love Me Do'."
I nodded, thinking, "Well.. Say I was to go to this pizza place... Would there be good odds of meeting someone there?" I asked.
A smile spread on her face and she shook her head, "Oh God. Why do the losers always pick me?" she asked, looking up towards the sky. She sighed and pinched the top of the bridge of her nose. "Maybe," she replied, "You're kind of cute, I guess. Definitely a loser, but kind of cute."
I smiled, "Hey I'll take cute."
"It's called Romano's," she said.
"Romano's?" I imitated Robert, "Evvvvvvverybody loves Raymond."
She laughed, and looked down, a smile spreading over her face. "Yeah, like Raymond."
"Maybe I'll see you there then, on...." I said, letting my voice drop off, asking for a day.
Her eyes sparkled, "Thursday."
"Thursday," I confirmed. I winked. "And..say I were to greet you, you know, by name... What would I call you?"
She laughed, "You can call me... Mystery Lady. And what might I call you?"
I shook my head, "Nick. You can call me Nick."
Mystery Lady nodded, "Well okay then, Nick... Maybe I'll see you at Romano's... Maybe I won't." And with that, she turned and began walking away, knowing I was watching her go. I waited until she had disappeared among the crowd before running back over to where Brian was standing.
"Let me guess," he said, "You have a date."
I laughed, "Sort of." Brian rolled his eyes.
Looking around Times Square, Brian began to get a bit restless. I was sure that it was the perfect place to find someone to save simply because of the number of people who walked through it every day. But I couldn't see anyone with red numbers anywhere in the whole area. Brian was beginning to get discouraged. "How about that kid?" he pointed to a gothic looking guy walking along with his eyes downturned to the pavement.
Blue numbers - a lot of them, too. "Nope."
"That woman?" Elderly lady in one of those Rascal things with a paper shopping bag in the back basket trying to navigate traffic. She had a little better than a year.
Brian sighed, "I'm bad at this..."
I shrugged, "It's not like we've had a whole lot of practice."
Brian's eyes narrowed as he looked around, scanning the streets like a crazy bird watcher. I could almost picture him all dressed up in Crocodile Dundee clothes and whispering in an exaggerated Australian accent, while crouching behind some bush. I smiled, humored by this mental image. After a couple moments, he looked at me. "I'm actually not any help at all."
"You're entertaining me at least," I said, smirking. Brian bit his lip and started rubbing his chin while I went back to searching for red numbers. Everyone in Times Square was too damn healthy, if you asked me. I dawdled a bit, then nudged Brian and started walking towards downtown, "C'mon, let's find somewhere else to look," I suggested.
"I was thinking the same thing," Brian agreed. He followed along behind me as we passed every nationality of people in the world. While some had shorter numbers than others, for the most part everyone was over a month.
Suddenly Brian spoke up, "What if you donated a lot of money to a charity that like built water wells or donated medicine to Africans or something?" Brian syggested. "Technically you're saving lives then."
I shrugged, I hadn't thought of stuff like that. "Maybe I should move to Bosnia or Sudan or something. Iraq."
"Join the army," Brian smiled.
I shook my head, jumping back a few subjects. "It's freaking New York City, dude, there should be lots of people to save here."
"Do they have to be dying to be saved?" Brian asked.
I looked at him, "What?"
"Well, you know, some people could be in trouble without dying..." Brian explained, "Like a rape victim or an abused child. Sometimes people die while they're still alive."
I paused. I found that statement quite profound actually, and I mentally wrote it down to save for another time. Again, though, I hadn't thought of things like that. "I actually have no clue what qualifies as saving a life," I answered, "It's not like this ability exactly came with a manual or anything like that, you know?"
"Sort of like everything else in life," Brian laughed.
"Yeah... So I'm still fuzzy with exactly how it works and all," I said.
Brian paused, "So... what, like you save someone and five minutes is just added onto your time?"
I nodded, "Yeah, like if I've got ten minutes left when I save them, it turns to fifteen."
I shrugged. "I guess so."
"Do other people get extra time for saving lives?" Brian asked, "Like if I saved someone's life, do I get extra time, too?"
"Good question," I replied. "Man, the more questions you ask, the more I wish I did have a handbook."
Brian laughed, "Aw.. Don't worry, Nick, you'll figure it all out. It's like a new video game or something. Before long, you'll know all the loop holes and secrets and have the thing conquored in no time."
"If I live that long," I supplied.
We rounded a corner and found ourselves in the NYU college district. I could see Washington Square up ahead, and there were students everywhere wearing the traditional blue and white school colors. Brian looked at how young they all seemed. "Maybe we should go to like a senior housing community," he suggested.
"They're all supposed to die, though," I reminded him, "Technically they're not in need of saving."
Brian shrugged, "Yeah, I guess that's true." He paused, "So ... see anyone yet?"
"Not yet..." I answered.
When we stepped into the Square, though, suddenly I saw quite a few. I stopped short, causing Brian to walk right into my back. A bunch of the students had the red numbers, all for about the same time: five minutes: I looked at Brian, "I might've found something."
"Where?" he asked, straining to look over my shoulder.
"There's about fifteen people here," I answered, "With five minutes or less over their heads."
"Seventy-five minutes," Brian whispered, "If you save all of them."
I nodded, a little better than an hour, but it was an hour I didn't have right now. I stood still, watching as they milled about in the Square, then one kid started coming our way... then a couple others. One checked her watch and nudged a girl next to her and said something. The kids coming our way turned and went down into the subway system. I looked at Brian, "Something's gonna happen down there," I said, "In like... four minutes."
Brian looked down into the subway tunnel. "What could possibly happen down there?"
I shrugged, "I dunno, but let's go." The two girls in the Square, as well as the rest of the people with the low number over their heads, were walking towards the tunnel. I led the way down the steps into the dimly lit underworld. Brian nervously followed right behind me, looking around in a paniced fashion. "Dude, Brian," I whispered, "Don't freak out... You've got a lot of time still." I watched as the students boarded a rail, all of them were on the same car. I looked at Brian, "Wait here," I told him, and I hurried onto the train. Brian bit his lip, looking concerned, watching as I ran off.
Once on the train, I looked around. Everyone there... every single passenger I could see... had red numbers. Some where lasting up to an hour, but none of them were any higher than that. Most of them were about two and a half minutes. I hesitated, then yelled, "Everyone! Get off the train!" They looked at me, a couple people swore. "GET OFF THE TRAIN," I yelled again, more urgently.
The girl from Washington Square Park was sitting on a seat right next to me. She looked up, "What's going on?" she asked, her eyes concerned. I looked at her numbers.
"You gotta get off the train, or you're going to die," I commanded, "Go, get off, right now."
"What?? Why?" she asked, confused sounding.
Her friend stood up, "Are you seriously going to ask questions, he probably has a bomb or something!"
A bunch of people panicked at that. One older woman with a wicker basket that had knitting needles sticking out of it's eyes widened and she scrambled to her feet. Several younger kids, including the girl and her friend and three or four others I'd seen in Washington Square hustled off the train. "GET OFF THE TRAIN!" I yelled as loudly and urgently as I could.
A dude that looked like John Mayer in a blue uniform came running towards me from another car of the subway train. "What're you doing?" he yelled. His numbers were at three minutes.
"Get off the train," I hollered at him, "Get off the damn train." I rushed down the aisle between the seats, "Get off the train all of you!"
A confused elderly gentleman looked up, "Get off the train, why on earth..." I looked at his numbers.
"Just DO it," I ordered him. "Please, sir."
He looked into my eyes, then turned to his wife. "Come on, honey." He took her hands, "Come on." He motioned for a herd of ten to fifteen year old kids, presumably his grandchildren, and began ushering them all out of the train.
So far I'd cleared half of the car I was in. My stomach began turning to knots. The blue uniformed kid was still following me. "Will you PLEASE, get people off this train," I begged him, "I don't know what, but something's about to happen. In under two minutes. These people are all going to die, including you, if we don't get them off this train. Please."
He paled, "Die?"
"Yes, die. Now go, get them off the train." He hurried away and began tapping people's shoulders, asking them to step out onto the platform. A couple protested, saying that this wasn't their stop, and he pleaded with them a moment before moving onto the next people.
I stepped through the door onto the next car. These people had longer times. Everyone here was over the four minute mark. "Please step onto the platform, all of you," I commanded in what I hoped was a voice of authority. "There's been a problem with the engine and we're asking everyone to please step onto the platform in a quick, but orderly fashion."
Suddenly I heard it from behind me... coming from what would be the front of the train. It was a honking, or a whistle or something... faint, but urgent. I glanced around. "Please, there's no time to waste." I realized it was going to be a head-on collision. This made sense. The front car of the train would fold quicker than the back cars and more severely. The further back in the train I went, the less hurt the people were going to be, and therefore the longer they would live. In the furthest car, there may even be survivors, I realized.
I made my way, car by car, running quickly, shouting as loudly as I could. "We are evacuating the train! We're evacuating the train! Please step onto the platform immediately!" People behind me flowed from their seats like flood water, pouring out of the doors on the platform side, which had been opened, presumably by some control the guy in the blue uniform knew of. He'd gone the opposite direction, toward the font of the train.
I assisted a couple kids in getting out of their seats, and nudged a few teens who were under their earbuds and looked surprised to be interrupted. A couple people recognized me and one asked me for my autograph. I told them to find me later, and kept moving through the cars. It took what felt like decades to get to the caboose cab, and each car the numbers were higher and higher. In the caboose, there were only three people with red numbers at all, the rest were blue. I grabbed those three and pulled them towards the back corner of the cab hurriedly, just as a sickening screeching crunching sound went up from the front of the train.
A fluid, unanimous scream filled the train, and I hoped that everyone had gotten out before the impact. I could feel the velocity pushing the train I was in back, further down the tunnel. People were yelling, and the people in the caboose cab with me were all screaming and panicked looking as well. "Hold still, everybody," I yelled, "You're all going to be okay! Don't worry!" Two of the people whose numbers had been red flickered to blue as I huddled with them in the furthest corner from the platform. One was a young woman, the other a kid whose mother was grabbing onto my arm, trying to get me away from her son. "It's okay," I told her, "I'm saving him." But of course she didn't listen.
Suddenly the ground felt weak beneath me, and the car shook, and then began to tip. I held my breath as the train derailed, and through the window I was closest to, I could see the rails of the next line rushing up towards us. "Brace yourselves!" I screamed. I hugged the little boy tight to my chest, protectively, and wrapped my free arm around the end of the seat so that as the ground came rushing up at us, I was laying against the end of the seat, rather than standing in the aisle. The young girl clung to my neck, and I felt the boy's mother get thrown away from me and fall down between the seats. The ground rushed up so fast it was a blur, and before I could comprehend fully that we were falling to the side the metal crunched and the rails came up through the windows, shattering the glass and bending the seats. Dust rose up and fell through the open doors on the side of the train that had now become the roof. People in the car were screaming and sobbing. I closed my eyes, unable to take anymore into my vision without being overwhelmed.
After we landed, there was a silence that was so silent it was deafeningly loud. You could almost hear the dust particles settling and drifting to settle. I opened my eyes carefully, fearful of what I would see, but found myself eye-to-eye with a terrified little boy. "Is everyone okay?" I asked, sitting up and looking around. One by one, everyone answered... except the boy's mother.
"Momma," he cried, tears falling across his little cheeks.
I looked over the side of the seat where she'd fallen. She'd landed on the floor -- well, the wall -- and was crumbled at the bottom in a pool of shattered window pane. Her numbers were red, just as they'd been before. Longer than they'd been when I first ran back into the caboose car, but not as long as anyone else's in the room.
I had to save her life. If for no other reason than the fact that this life had another life which depended upon it.
"Momma, momma!" the boy cried, his voice wailing, "Momma!!!"
I handed the boy to an older man and pulled myself over the seat, kneeling beside the woman. She was bleeding... a lot. "It's gonna be okay," I told her gently, looking her over. I took her hand and laid my fingers on her pulse point. She was definitely weakening.
"Is he okay?" she asked, her voice in a whisper.
"He's okay," I answered, nodding, "I saved him... Now I gotta save you, too." I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and looked at it. No reception. I stood up, looking to the other people. "Do ANY of you have reception here right now?" I asked frantically. There was a shuffle as they looked at their phones and one by one mumbled the resulting "no". I turned to the woman. "What's your name?"
"I'm gonna move you, Gloria," I told her. "I'm gonna be careful, but you tell me if anything hurts, okay?" Gloria nodded.
"Then what?" came an agitated voice, "We’re stuck here, kid."
"I gotta get her out of here," I replied, looking about the train car, "There's no time to waste."
The passengers looked at one another frantically. "Where? How?" they all questioned nervously.
I looked at the side of the car that was now acting as the ceiling. The doors had been opened, though I don't know why considering the platform had ended about three train cars back. I pointed to the door. "Can someone give us a hand up through that? I can carry Gloria to the platform and the ERs can start helping her while the rest of the emergency team comes back to get you guys out of here," I suggested.
"We'll all die before you return!" cried a hysterical woman.
I looked at her numbers. She had quite a few years left. "No one here's gonna die," I answered, "Nobody's even close to it, other than Gloria here," I answered.
My voice must've carried enough authority that nobody dared to question me. The woman calmed and other people all quieted. "I'll help you up," volunteered a guy who was probably in his mid-to-late thirties.
"It's going to be okay," I told Gloria, "I'm going to get you out of here."
"Thank you," she whispered, "Thank you."
I hoisted her up gently and held her in my arms as balanced myself standing on the side of the seats. The guy who'd offered to help formed a ten finger step and strained with all his strength to raise me and Gloria both up towards the doors. I laid Gloria down on the outside of the train car and struggled to pull myself up beside her. "Thanks," I called down to the guy. He nodded and waved. I turned to Gloria, "We're gonna get out of here now..." I told her.. then I noticed she was crying, really hard, and shaking. "What's the matter?" I asked, concerned. I kneeled beside her and looked into her eyes.
"I'm cold," she told me, her teeth chattering, "I'm so cold..."
I looked around the tunnel. It was really freezing cold in there. I, too, was cold, but instead of being selfish I pulled my sweatshirt off over my head and wrapped it around Gloria like a makeshift blanket. When I lifted her up into my arms, I hugged her closer and gently rubbed her skin, trying to warm her better. Carefully, I inched towards the direction of the platform, watching every step I took to make sure I didn't slide off the side of the train. The metal was shining, reflecting the underground lights, and slippery. Only the hind two cars had been tipped over, then there were three still upright before the wreckage that was the site of impact that'd destroyed completely the first three cars. That whole end of the tunnel was hazy with smoke that was pouring out of the wreck. I calculated my route, deciding that if I walked carefully on top of the two tipped cars, then got down and walked through the two upright ones, I could probably step onto the platform from the furthest upright car.
But could I do it in time?
I could faintly hear sirens blaring and people talking in rushed voices, The excitement and panic of an emergency sounded like a dull roaring hum at the end of the tunnel. I carefully carried Gloria along, ducking from the overhead lamps, which were swinging right at my head it seemed. "Are we... almost... there?" she asked in a weakened voice.
"Yes, almost," I lied, even though in reality I had no clue.
We reached the end of the tipped cars and I paused, trying to figure out what to do next. I set her down and examined the edge. "If I put you right on the edge and climbed down," I asked her, "Do you think you could push yourself off, as long as I catch you?" She looked frightened and shook her head. "Could you hold onto me while I climb down there then?" I suggested.
She closed her eyes, gathering strength. "I could try," she whispered at last, and that was the most I could ask of her.
I turned and she wrapped her arms around my neck tightly, holding onto her own elbows for support. I leaned down and slipped my foot over the ledge, and slowly lowered myself over the side. She hissed in my ear in pain and I winced as I dangled over the side, my arms stretched from holding the weight of us both, and tried to guess how long of a drop I had to make until my feet hit the metal of the bridge between the two cars. It couldn't be too far. I dropped, and my ankle twisted sharply on the rail. "Fuck," I called as the pain shot up my shin and into my thigh. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had to keep going, regardless, I told myself, even though what I really wanted to do was curl up and begin crying right there on the subway rails. My eyes filled with tears as I stood and began walking, my arms wrapping around my back to hug Gloria to me. I shuffled and limped as I walked, taking sharp inhales from the pain each time the ball of my left foot met with the floor of the train car.
The car was empty, and my steps echoed about the room as I walked. It was dark, too, only the faint lights from the tunnel illuminated the car. Everything else was pitch dark. Food was left where it had been being eaten, and personal belongings - bags and brief cases - were left abandoned by their owners on the seats. It was like something out of a weird sci-fi movie, like I Am Legend or something. I was the last human being in the train.
When I reached the end of the second car, I could see the platform faintly through a screen of smoke, running even with the furthest door of the third upright car. I breathed a sigh of relief, "We're almost there," I told Gloria, "Almost there..."
I rushed to the door of the third cab to find that it'd been an illusion that the doors were even with the platform. It was actually a good ten feet off, and the next car was smoking, crumpled like a paper model, and far too twisted to attempt walking through. I stood at the door, and looked at the platform, my ankle throbbing dully. I cleared my throat, "Hello?!" I called, "Hello! Somebody! Please!!" I looked in a window reflection for Gloria's number.
"Somebody!!" I yelled again with vigor, seeing time was running out. They'd need time to actually fix whatever was wrong too. Just getting her to the paramedics before her time was out wasn't enough. But nobody was responding. There were fire hoses spraying the engines, trying to drown the smoke and people shouting and talking and panic going on behind them. I cupped my mouth with my hands, "Help us!!!" I yelled. But still no response of any kind came. I looked down at the tracks below me, a couple feet under the train's door, and I slowly lowered myself down until I was sitting, then slid out of the train car and onto the rail, delicately walking along, trying not to scrape my hand on the wall or on the train. If the train moved, Gloria and I would both be flattened.
I inched along like that until we reached the platform, where I called for help again. "Somebody!"
A fireman in a blue t-shirt and the rubber pants they wear noticed me. "What the hell?" he mumbled, coming closer, "We have more survivors," he shouted, reaching for Gloria. When he pulled her up from my back, I hoisted myself up onto the platform, breathing heavily. Paramedics arrived to Gloria, pushing me aside.
"Where's my son, my son," she sobbed.
"He's coming," I told her, "In just a minute we'll get him out, too. Don't worry." I looked at her numbers. "You're gonna be okay... we made it."
The fireman came to my side, "Are there any others?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, "About fifteen others, including a ten year old boy... her son. They're in the last car of the train," I told him how I'd managed to get out, and the condition of the other cars I'd traveled through. Then I paused. "Did... did everyone else... make it out okay?"
"As far as we can tell," he answered, "There's over one thousand people who escaped from this train wreck, all up in the street." He paused a moment, studying me.
"A thousand?" I asked, my eyes widening.
"More like 1,500 is our estimate right now," he replied. Then, "Hey... wait a minute... aren't you..." He scratched his chin, "That one kid from the Backstreet Boys?"
I nodded, "Yeah... Nick Carter."
He pointed, "There's another one over there. He was looking for you, panicking pretty bad.. We put him in the ticket booth so he wouldn't get mobbed."
"Thanks," I hurried away as the fireman gathered his troops to go in after the other people in the rear cab, and went to collect Brian. As I was walking I caught a glimpse of my time over my head for the first time since I'd started this rescue, nearly a half an hour before...
I'd gained quite a bit of time, actually.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.