Sometimes, as I suspect all FP-contributors know, the microfiction machine doesn’t necessarily shut itself down once the unspoken deadline of midnight has passed. Normally, when this happens to me, my imagination usually decides to move on and delete whichever mini-tales that didn’t make it home before the witching hour, but the following tiny slice of story evolved from the glass slipper that one unused FP left behind. It’s a slight tale, but I thought it was fun, with a certain “around the campfire” spookiness to it. We’ll see …
‘No, I don’t think so,’ Ellis said, looking over her glasses at Sarah’s phone. ‘It sounds kind of creepy.’
‘Oh, it’s just a bit of a laugh,’ Sarah said, scrolling the screen. ‘All you have to do is download the app then put your details in.’
Ellis’s fingers tightened a little around her own phone, but she didn’t tap in the code to unlock it. It wasn’t that she thought Sarah might peek at the numbers, or use the phone to sneak into her Facebook or anything. She trusted her friend, and they’d even gotten past that night when Sarah had got off with Billy Simmons when Sarah had known that Ellis really liked him. She thought that Sarah had probably guessed the unlock code, anyway. One, Nine, Nine, Four – the year Harry Styles was born. Ellis didn’t really listen to One Direction anymore, but she still thought that Harry was gorgeous. It wasn’t her fault she liked older men.
‘What kind of details?’ she asked doubtfully.
‘Nothing much,’ Sarah told her with a smile. ‘Just stuff like your age, your height and weight,’ She drew on her cigarette. ‘How much you smoke and drink, that kind of thing.’
Ellis drew back as if Sarah’s phone was infected with some horrible disease. ‘I’m not putting my weight in.’
‘It’s fine,’ Sarah said. ‘You only have to do it once, and it doesn’t show up again.’
‘We’ll be late for school,’ Ellis shrugged. ‘I might do it later.’
‘Do it now,’ Sarah insisted. ‘We’ll walk quick.’
Ellis sighed. Sarah wasn’t going to let this go. She unlocked her phone as they started walking along Temple Road. Behind them, at the corner that led into Church Avenue, an old, olive-green van paused briefly at the junction, then began to turn in their direction.
Sarah gave Ellis the site address, and the two of them watched the screen as the app downloaded. Sarah finished her cigarette and pitched it into the road. Ellis followed the instructions on screen, tapping in her birthday, her height (she added an inch), her weight (she made Sarah look away, but still deducted a pound), and her smoking and drinking habits (never smoked, drank occasionally).
‘All you have to do now is press Calculate,’ Sarah said. Ellis was slightly conscious that her friend had raised her voice a little, speaking over the growing growl of an engine. ‘And the app works out the day you die.’
‘What did you get?’ Ellis asked her as they approached the kerb. Her fingertip hovered over the Calculate icon, but she still wasn’t sure if she wanted to touch it.
‘Oh, I got ages away,’ Sarah grinned. ‘Like, sixty-five or something. That’s even older than my Nan.’ Her voice clicked up another notch to compete with the approaching engine noise. ‘You don’t even smoke, so you’ll probably do even better than me.’
‘I hope so,’ Ellis said as she stepped off the kerb. Very suddenly she could smell petrol fumes, hear the tinny jingle of some morning radio programme. She tapped the Calculate button, her eyes widening as the projected date of her death appeared on the screen.
Beside her, she heard Sarah scream, a high, startled squeal that seemed to entwine with the other screech, the song of tires against tarmac. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sarah leaping back, back onto the kerb. She glanced the other way and saw the van, and the driver’s pale, horrified face. An air-freshener in the shape of a Christmas tree hung from the rear-view mirror, dancing madly on its string as he hit the brakes, the driver’s coffee toppling from the dashboard as the van stopped perhaps an inch from where she stood. Ellis could feel waves of heat streaming from the engine grille, sour with petrol fumes, but suddenly she was very conscious of how thin and insubstantial the heat felt to her, how little it warmed her skin.
‘Fuck,’ Sarah was saying, her voice ragged at the edges. ‘Fucking hell, Ellis, you nearly -‘
The driver was swearing too as he pushed open the door of the van and got out. ‘You stupid little cow,’ he was shouting. ‘You almost got yourself -‘
Ellis barely heard them. She was staring at the digits flashing on her phone. Staring at them and remembering that Dad had come home again drunk last night. Remembering how he’d been arguing with Mum at the top of the stairs and how she’d gotten between the two of them, frightened and wanting nothing more than for them to stop fighting. She remembered a shove in the middle of her back, her Mum or her Dad, she couldn’t be sure which of them it had been, but she supposed it didn’t matter, because she remembered falling from the top of the stairs, toppling like coffee from a dashboard, and she remembered –
She stared at the digits, realising that after that, she remembered nothing at all.
The numbers blazed red on the screen of her phone.