The cream colored calendar on my nightstand read June 6th 2016, the same date written across my forearm. It wasn’t a tattoo, a bizarre series of moles, or anything else I could’ve removed with a laser. It was a birthmark, a stamp each and every person on the planet was born with. My friends jokingly called it an expiration date.
But for some people, that was exactly what it was.
The government and geneticists and all the other suede intellectuals out there deemed it a “date of importance,” the pivotal moment in a person’s life. They day you’d meet your soulmate, the day you’d get the job offer of a lifetime, or the day you’d drop dead.
When my mother’s date popped up, she got crushed by a car and confined to the same wheelchair she still sat in today. My sister’s date was the first time she ever kissed another woman, which inspired her to come out of the closet. My father’s date wouldn’t occur for another twenty years. We assumed it was either his death date or his retirement date, both of which he was okay with, since he’d be eighty by then.
Some people weren’t as accepting, though. My best friend killed herself the day before her date, not wanting fate to control her life. Of course, the bullet didn’t hit the spot she wanted and it took her hours to bleed out. One day blended into the next and by the time her cheeks went cold, the date on her death certificate was the same as the date on her arm.
But now it was my turn. My turn to either have the best, the worst, or the last day of my life.
“Maybe Tommy will finally propose to you. His date is next week anyway, right? He should enjoy life while it lasts,” my sister said in between bites of cereal. She decided to eat on the edge of my bed after she realized I wasn’t coming down for breakfast. “Or maybe he’ll break up with you. Hey, it’s better than dying.”
“Not in a joking mood today, Lacey. I’m in more of a terrified-I’m-going-to-choke-on-my-own-spit-and-die-slowly type of mood.”
“Listen. I know mom had it rough, but my date was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. I think it’ll be that way for you, too.” She yanked the sheets off me to get a good look at my stomach. “You should check to see if you’re knocked up. Maybe today’s the day you find out you’re a mommy in the making!”
“That’s not it.” I rolled my eyes, wishing she’d leave me to sulk in peace.
She must’ve read the silent request from my face, because she bent down to swipe her lips across my forehead and said, “I have to get to class now, but good luck today.”
Despite her optimism, she paused before she left, no doubt wondering if it was the last time she’d ever see me. I was wondering the same thing. Of course, I’d do whatever it took to diminish my chances of getting royally screwed.
At noon, when I finally crawled out of bed, I called out from my job at the butcher’s market, so I wouldn’t end up accidentally chopping off a finger.
At two, I took a leftover pregnancy test from the last time I missed a period, just to be safe. It turned out negative, like I knew it would.
At five, I ate my first and only meal of the day, making sure my parents watched me closely and had a copy of the Heimlich maneuver pulled up on their conjoined laptop.
At seven, Tommy stopped by to say hello and have a quickie. He didn’t bring a ring and he didn’t tell me we needed to talk.
At nine, I threw some dry shampoo in my hair instead of taking a shower where I could’ve fallen and split my head open.
And at ten, I managed to fall asleep, even though my thoughts were overflowing with fears, rational and irrational.
When my sister nudged me awake a few hours later, one of her hands cupped my wrist, her fingers hovering over my pulse. “What happened?” she asked once she realized I hadn’t passed in my sleep.
I shifted, the fabric of my pillowcase rustling in my ear. “Is it morning already? It can’t be.”
“It is. June 7th. You survived, just like I said.” She elbowed me, waited a second, and then elbowed me harder. “Come on. Get up. Tell me how your life has changed.”
I propped myself up against the headboard, my sleep starved head trying to make sense of what had happened. “It was just a normal, lazy day.”
Her lower lip jutted out. “Keep it a secret from everyone else if you want, but you have to tell me. My mouth’s smaller than it looks.”
“I’m not lying, Lacey.”
She released an overdramatic sigh. “I don’t care what you did. If you cheated on Tommy. If you aborted a baby. If you murdered a guy. It doesn’t matter. I just want to know.”
“Who the fuck do you think I am?”
“You’re usually someone who tells the truth. So if you’re lying, something big must’ve happened.”
“So you’re trying to tell me that you’re the one exception in the entire world? That you’re some rare, special breed of human that’s immune to the—”
“God damn it. It’s two in the morning. Your mother’s trying to sleep,” Dad said as he pushed through my already half-opened door, wiping at the stubble on his chin. “Why are you two even up?”
Lacey sidestepped past him, patting him on the back as she left. “Congratulations, dad. One of your daughters is apparently made of magic fairy dust.”
He didn’t laugh, comment, or question. He just shut the door behind her, eying my arm the entire time.
I couldn’t blame Lacey for being pissed. I didn’t understand what the hell had happened myself. Maybe the six in my mark was another number that just looked like a six? Or maybe something monumental had happened that I wouldn’t realize until later, like that I conceived a baby or contracted an STD from my quickie with Tommy. Or maybe I experienced something so brutal that my mind had wiped it from—
“Watch what you say to her,” my dad said, keeping his voice low. “I know you had your memory messed with, but the truth has got to be rattling around in there somewhere.”
I used my knuckles to wipe the gunk from my eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“I wanted you to remember on your own, but if it didn’t happen yet, I don’t think it’s ever going to.” He sighed, pulling out the chair from my desk and straddling the back of it. “Honey… We’re not like them. We weren’t born with those marks. We had them surgically added when we were babies by people like us, doctors and nurses that are planted in hospitals to recruit us. We only have the marks to look like we fit in. Otherwise, people would start asking questions. Like your mother and sister.”
It was too early for his sci-fi nonsense. I would’ve assumed I was still dreaming, but it all sounded vaguely familiar, like something I had learned in a dream, so I asked, “What do you mean, recruit us?”
“To become protectors. We get our orders from higher ups, who determine if the others should be rewarded or punished when their judgment day, the day marked on their skin by God, arrives.”
I blinked, long and hard, wishing he’d disappear and take his conspiracy theories with him. “And how would they decide that?”
“They study security footage. Watch civilians through laptops and phones. Look at grades. Criminal records. Job reports. Come on. You know all this.” He groaned, a sound low and guttural. “You were the one who convinced that woman to hook up with Lacey after you were given orders to reward her. You were the one who convinced that best friend of yours to commit suicide because you didn’t want to do the dirty work yourself after you were given orders to punish her. And remember what you did to your mother?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but I don’t want to hear anymore of it. I’m going back to sleep.”
But I didn’t want to sleep, not really. Didn’t want to have an empty white-walled room to taunt me, the quietness pressuring me to think about what he’d just told me. I’d rather roll out of bed, grab my car keys, and drive the hell away from his insanity, but all that thought did was unearth buried memories of the night I sat behind the wheel of a borrowed van, my mother’s torso illuminated by headlights. I remembered the hitch the truck made as the wheels thumped over her body. Remembered the crunch of her bones, the blood painting the street.
“You lost your memory after the crash,” he continued. “Refused to remember what you did. The doctors called it a coping mechanism.”
That wasn’t the only thing I’d wanted to forget. Now that the safe holding my memories had been cracked, everything came spilling out. I had memories of murdering neighbors and classmates and cousins. Shooting and slashing and chopping up their fragile bodies. Sometimes I helped them like I helped Lacey, but most of the time I was forced to hurt them.
There were more people like us. I remembered that, too. People in the police force and in the hospitals and the morgues. People who would cover up what people like me did. Who would keep the process running smoothly. Who wouldn’t hesitate to exterminate me if I refused to cooperate.
“How could I do those things?” I said, stuttering over every other word. “How could you ask me to do those things again? What the hell is wrong with you? I’m your daughter.”
“I covered for you for long enough, giving out the rewards and punishments you were meant to give while giving out mine, too, but I’m getting older.” He softened his voice. “You have to get back into the game. Otherwise… Well, the punishments can extend to us, too.”
“Right,” I said, the word clipped. “Sure.”
“Your boyfriend’s date is next week, remember. I don’t think it would be right if I punished him instead of you. It’s supposed to be done by someone close.”
I cleared my throat three times before I could find my voice. “Punishment. That’s what they decided for him?”
“The news came in yesterday. I’m sorry. I know you—”
“Where do I keep my gun?” I licked my lips, waiting for an answer. “I do have a gun, right?”
“I have it in stored in my room. I’ll get it for you.” He paused by the doorway, like my sister did when she was concerned about me the day before. “Like I said. I’m sorry, honey.”
“Just make sure there are bullets in it,” I said, but I’d already decided I wouldn’t use them on Tommy. I’d stuff the barrel into my own mouth, right in front of him.
Losing the love of his life would be punishment enough.