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Inevitable

It's meeting new people that's the hardest.
Of course, what could I expect, when before I even know someone's name, before I even shake their hand, I know exactly when and how they'll die?
I'd always known about my own death, of course. Trouble was, I thought everyone knew. When I was a kid, my mother's cries of, "Don't play in the street, you could get yourself killed," were met with as firm a, "No it won't, Mommy" as a toddler could muster. It seemed wrong, somehow, to tell her precisely how or why I knew that, but at least back then my death was the only thing I could see.
Out of everyone, I think seeing her death hit me the hardest. For the both of us.
Imagine, one day you're sitting at home, making your kid peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and all of a sudden, you look up and your son is clamped to your leg, snot and tears running down his chin and blubbering about hospitals and wilted "get well" bouquets and too pale skin contrasting with the familiar dark skin he'd always known.
After that, it just got worse.
It started with just people I knew well. It didn't matter who it was or how they died, I would see it eventually. Then it got more frequent, with people I wasn't familiar with, to the point where I'd say "hello" and then....
It's only really bad when I'm with unfamiliar people. Which, granted, doesn't happen often these days.
"Mister Ernesto, they're ready for you."
After the vision about my mom, I dedicated my life to oncology (knowing which patients are going to die and when helps), despite the fact that I can do nothing to change her fate. It wasn't long before a former colleague caught on, and from there it was only a matter of time until the government figured me out and sent the CIA knocking on my door. Funny, how that works out.
I nod at the middle-aged, bottle-blonde secretary. She's just doing her job, I can't fault her too much when I'm just doing mine. She's going to get hit by a car in six months. Hit and run. Her name is on the badge the feds gave her, same as mine, and I'm sure she introduced herself at one point, but it's better for both of us if I don't remember it. Makes things easier when I don't have a name to put to a face.
I'm sitting in a small waiting room, no different from any other. Frankly, I've wondered since my youth if all waiting rooms are actually just the same room leading out to different places. Like the doctor's, the dentist's, a lawyer's office, a financial advisor, or in my case, a high-security military laboratory somewhere underneath Langley.
Miss Secretary escorts me to the office, the pale wrinkles in her face hidden beneath a caked-on makeup style only women her age wore these days.
The job's nothing major, at least not compared to that done by some of the other people who work here. I can't leave town unsupervised, but I'm also not risking my life by cooperating. I stay in my government-approved apartment with two CIA agents guarding the door (neither of them die until they're well into retirement) until my next appointment, then I come here and do whatever it is they want this time. As far as "kidnapped by the government" jobs go, it's not half bad. Still, there's nothing that makes you miss freedom more than not having any.
Three men and two women are lined up on the other end of the office, standing perfectly straight in front of an old white man whom I can only assume is their boss, and refusing to make eye contact with me. Miss Secretary turns to leave.
So it's one of those days.
They're not particularly attractive but not ugly either. The woman on the left has skin so dark it almost blends in with the pantsuit she's wearing. Her hair is tied back in a bun, and she looks like she won't care no matter what I tell her. The other is pale as a sheet, and though she's not looking at me, I can still see some perspiration on her brow. No one likes knowing how they die. Not in this line of work, at least. The man next to her has skin like mine, dark, a little ruddy, but his face betrays no emotion I can discern. No, that's all concentrated in his hands, tightly clenched behind his back. The youngest is next to him. He's not as pale as the woman opposite his buddy, but he's still white and looks like he's fresh out of college, probably hasn't seen the sun in a while. He's the only one who looks like whatever I say will come as a relief to him. Out of the five, he's probably the most dangerous. Next to him is an older man, tanned skin, I can see some gray hairs peeking out over his ears. He probably doesn't even realize they're there yet. He's quaking in his boots, but just his boots.
I walk down the line.
"80. Sniper fire from some kid wanting revenge. 45. Enemy spy compromises your position, killed on sight. 53. Car crash on your way to the pentagon. 35. Tortured to death. Oh," I grin, not bothering to hide my excitement. "Oh that's interesting."
"What's interesting?" The boss raises his eyebrows, arms folded.
"You're in a hostage negotiation, you're the hostage. The kidnapper's surrounded by maybe twenty snipers, out in the parking lot. Made it pretty far, if you ask me," I say.
There's a bead of silence growing between the seven of us. I took the moment to step back and think for a bit, to think of my mother, Stage 4 tumors ravaging her body in a hospital bed that I know no amount of research and wishful thinking will fix. I know there's no changing fate.
In a flash, I'm behind the last agent. His gun is in my hand and I've got him in a chokehold before the others can draw their guns.
"Well, let's get started," I say. I feel the man start to sway, his skin clammy as the realization that he's about to die sinks in.
No one likes to know how they die, after all.
"If it's any consolation, I only outlive you for a few seconds," I say as we back out the door.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 1st, 2017

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