She stared at the envelope on the desk in front of her. Picking it up she held it towards the light streaming in through the open window. She tried to peek at the results through the paper, as if that would change something, make it less permanent, a less certain calculation then if she were to draw out the sheet of paper inside and read the black printed result.
She laughed at the whole Schrödinger’s cat metaphor that popped into her head, uncertain if she even had the analogy straight. Logically, she knew that opening the letter, reading its contents, knowing the truth, wasn’t going to alter it in anyway. Thousands of people around the world had set about trying to alter their fate after reading their predictions. Many of them realising too late, that by doing so, they had actually brought about the inevitable conclusion of their life.
When the machine of death spat out that prediction, you couldn’t change it. That was how and when you would die. End of story. Your final day etched in ink.
She could open the envelope, find out that she would die today or in seventy years from now. Find out that she would die peacefully in her sleep or be chopped up by a wood chipper next week. Knowing wasn’t going to change it. She wasn’t obsessed with wether or not she could change the outcome. What worried her was how knowing would change her. Would it alter the way she lived her life? How she felt about, well, everything? Would it make her a better or worse person?
She had run the scenarios in her head. Knowledge of a long life made her wonder about becoming complacent about living, knowing that she was going to have years upon years could result in her not actually living her life to the fullest, always putting things off. She hoped that it might mean she’d plan for that long life. Work hard, invest well and set herself up to really enjoy the years. Knowing she was going to have a short life might mean she really lived her life, did the whole ‘bucket list’ shtick. Or, maybe she’d end up spending those last days like so many others, desperately trying to figure out how to cheat fate only to waste the time she had left.
Endless possibilities, life and death sealed in an envelope at her finger tips.
Her phone rang as she continued to stare at the opaque white rectangle, she answered it.
“Hey aunty Lee, wanna come to the zoo today?” The voice of her five year old nephew chirped out of the phone, causing her to smile, the envelope forgotten in her hand.
“Sure pip-squeak, I’ll even buy you some fairy-floss.”
She threw the letter into the rubbish bin waiting on the roadside to be collected, before climbing into her car. It didn’t matter ‘how’ or ‘when’ she decided, what mattered was ‘right now’.
The original concept for The Machine of Death stories came from here. This machine only told you the manner in which you would die, cancer, chocking, poison etc, not when, I altered it for the purposes of my story. I’ve also just discovered that the anthology of other Machine of Death stories is now available free as both a PDF and Audio format, released under a Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 license download them peoples and have a read, I know I will now that I’ve written my own flash piece.