Sixteen Minutes

A Short Story by Dana A. Caldwell

I had sixteen minutes to live, and I didn’t even know it.

Something had gone wrong somewhere in the world. A nuclear mishap or something. It doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that in sixteen minutes, everything would crumble like an old cookie. And I had no idea.

There I sat in the basement, crumbs collected in every wrinkle in my pajama pants and my eyes glued to the fourteenth consecutive hour of TV. On-demand is great until it makes you miss the broadcasted memo that the world’s about to end.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be, is it?

I’m not supposed to chill out as the planet literally implodes. There should be more. There has to be more.

Death is supposed to appear in the middle of the night, cloaked in darkness, scythe in hand. The very whisper of your fate should send terror ripping through you like a dagger. Your screams should echo into the abyss as you run, heart pounding, while you cling to the tiniest shred of hope. Of salvation.

Yet there I was, throwing my last handful of popcorn at the screen, angry the main character kissed the wrong girl. How stupid was that? Why should I care that some fictional guy tossed away the greatest love story in existence for some Mary Sue?

Why had I cared?

In sixteen minutes, everything would be wiped away. There was no begging, screaming, or crying- not from me anyway. It was so… normal.

Is this really how it was supposed to end? Shouldn’t I be fighting against it? That’s what a hero does. He fights. Win or lose, he fights.

But I’m not a hero, am I? No, I’m the girl about to die, lazing around on the couch.

The idea was like worms wriggling inside of me. I was going to die the same way I lived, letting moment after moment pass me by like a coward.

No, I thought. Not even a coward lived like this. To be a coward, you must see the danger before you. You can’t run from a battle you never thought to fight.

I wish I was a coward. I wish I was a hero. I wish I was everything else except me.

But wishes mean nothing. I am me.

I’m the girl who wasted her life on shallow entertainment.

I’m the girl who pushed aside every dream she had because “I have a whole life ahead of me.”

I’m the girl who had sixteen minutes to live and didn’t know it. Not until fifteen of them had already passed.