She circled the delete button with her ring finger, the edges sliding smoothly under her fingertip. How many years was it when Astor was born? Twenty-seven? Something like that. She hadn’t heard from the Boss in a really long time.
Another notice opened on the server. It described a man who was forty-seven years of age, and on previous encounters, met Astor multiple times. Despite this, they were still acquaintances.
She wasn’t sure why she had chosen this particular man out of the billions of people that had life-changing notices open on her computer. Everyone knew exactly what Astor was doing, and she knew exactly what every last person was doing. There was no escape from the unnecessary information that bombarded her.
Did it suddenly feel warm in this large room? No, the temperature is always seventy-five degrees. Perfect conditions for maximum creativity was key to running this business. The Boss was well learned.
They were instructed that they write anything they wanted to, as long as the main character stays the main character, and that nothing supernatural in their world happens. And by all means, unless one makes a spelling error, they were not to touch the delete button. Ever.
She tapped a button quietly, just light enough not to make the letter imprinted onto the screen forever. What would happen if she stopped typing? What would happen if she left this story unfinished forever?
No one dared stop typing, let alone delete an entire story. Except for a young rookie who was a little too confident. And yet, she had written an entire story, then just deleted it. She was terminated fifteen minutes later. The Boss was watching, and it was out of the question to assume that he had any blind spot.
Time moved about five or six hours faster in her world than in Astor’s world. In that way, she could take small breaks while Astor continued on with what she had already written. How smart. The Boss knew what he was doing.
She realized she was thirsty. In her eagerness to return Astor home to his wife from a cocktail party, she had completely forgotten how dry her mouth felt. How empty her stomach felt. How restless her legs were. She quickly wondered if she realized this before. She found no such recollection in her memory.
Hesitant to leave Astor alone, she decided to make a quick run to the coffee machine. Quickly she got up and ran. And ran and ran and ran. She tried to remember the last time she left her cubicle for a coffee break. Was it this far away?
When she reached the machine she was almost out of breath. She gulped the scorching hot coffee down her throat as if it could calm her down, but it only scalded her, and she grabbed her neck in pain.
But wait. The sound of thousands of typing keyboards was gone. So was the computer screen that she faced every day. And so was the familiar smooth touch of the keyboard. All she saw was a dreary wall. And the coffee machine. Her eyes went blurry from the absence of an artificial glow, and she felt white noise pour into her ears like milk.
She dashed into the women’s room and locked herself into the stall farthest away from the door. Crouching on the toilet seat, she put her head down in her lap. Silence. Oh how sweet it sounded. Her fingers were touching the warmth of her skin, rather than the cool, artificial keyboard. She saw nothing but darkness, odd compared to the bright screen she endlessly stared at. This felt so good to her.
What time was it? Late at night? She could not recall the last time she went home. Oh yes. She had skipped that last break to plan out Astor’s dinner at the Bistro.
She decided that home would be a good place to go to. She would not move from this spot until her next break.
* * *
The next morning, when she sat in that creaky office chair and logged onto her computer, an notice instantly popped up:
twenty-seven year-old Astor Luther Martin has been frozen in time for around two hours. It is vital that his author commence writing immediately. We are investigating our security cameras for any abnormal behavior. If Astor does not unfreeze within the next 30 minutes, there will be serious consequences, and his author will be terminated.
Astor Luther Martin. Twenty-seven years old. Eight hours ago she had sat in that bathroom stall, and seven hours ago she departed to go home.
There was no person who could finish Astor’s story. And he could not stand there for the rest of eternity. That was not something she wanted. There was no choice; his life must end. It was her sole responsibility, her sole purpose.
Hesitantly she opened Astor’s document. The last words she had typed were, “As usual, he woke up at seven-forty-five AM and got out of his bed. He…” And that was where she stopped.
She could not kill him easily by disease. That was too boring for a character like Astor. He could not be murdered; he had done nothing wrong. And a car crash just didn’t seem right. How could he die?
Suddenly, she got another email:
Forty-seven year-old Winston Hayes will die in six hours by jumping off a cliff he has lived nearby for most of his childhood. If there is anything you would like to add, please do so in the next two hours.
The man that confused Astor so much. And, the ticket to Astor’s death.
Quickly she typed up an email and replied to the author. In sync, they both typed the ends of their characters. In eight hours, they both leaned back in their creaky chairs and sighed. Another life lost, another one soon to begin.
But she was not coming back. She would never come back. Astor was her last creation. Nothing like this should ever happen again. She knew herself too well – she was too faint-hearted for this job. It took courage to build a person, courage that she realized had been interpreted as a weak obsession. Courage that she didn’t have.
Quietly she gathered her things and walked slowly. And walked, and walked, and walked. Her heart dully ached for Astor, for the man that she needed. She thought she saw him in the lighting, in the distant stars. She could feel him in the ground, in the air that she breathed.
Her mother once brought her to a cliff. Told her that she spent many hours wondering why death made life so valuable. What she wanted to do. Who she wanted to be. What happened to her mother? She realized it had been a while since the last time her mother had brought her a breadbasket and left it at her front door.
It was black with a certain heaviness when she realized that the ground from under her toes had disappeared. She looked down into the nothingness. Her heart pounded. She rubbed her fingers together, feeling her own warm flesh and skin and blood. She breathed in deeply, fresh, thin air flowing into her lungs, feeling free of Astor’s burdens, his memories. She closed her eyes, and breathed.
* * *
Twenty-seven year-old Astor Luther Martin and forty-seven year-old Winston Hayes have committed suicide together by jumping off a cliff in a secluded area somewhere in Greenland. They were reported to have gotten a drink together in a bar, and remained there for several hours. Afterwards, Winston Hayes decided to show Astor Luther Martin said cliff, and the two jumped off, wondering what it was like to fly.
Age 17, Grade 11
Horace Mann School