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?!