This story is by Sara Huggins and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Any question without a good answer is flawed.
The answer that has haunted me for 15 years correlates to the worst questions I have come across.
Kids answer it so flippantly, in a game of “Would you rather?”
But if they actually had to carry the weight of the answer, they would understand the curse that comes with such knowledge.
The only correct answer is “neither.”
The Halloween party in my junior year of college was unforgettable. The university went all out, with a band and a wandering magician. He guessed my card, first try. But the fortune teller was the real draw.
Always the skeptic in our group, my friends threw the spotlight on me. Mike and I just started dating, and in an effort to impress me, threw down the money. “Do it! Get your fortune read!” Laughing, I took my place opposite the heavily perfumed woman. Her costume looked like the part she was paid to play, but her eyes didn’t. She seemed bored with the proceedings, almost as unbelieving as I was. But she grabbed my palm and read my lifeline.
“You will then finish your degree, get married, and have some children.”
“That’s it? Pretty vague. Aren’t you going to give me some life advice? Or at least tell me how long I’ll live?”
A smirk, then a sharp gaze in my eyes.
“Would you rather know how you die? Or when?”
Now she looked like a fortune teller. Her hazel eyes seemed to take on an otherworldly quality as she bored into me, digging deep through the mysteries of my soul. Mesmerized I whispered, “How.” Not a question, more of a raspy demand. Her eyes searched deeper, never blinking, the strangest staring contest I’ve ever had. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to. I was suddenly hungry for the knowledge, I needed to know or I would burst.
“You will die in a terrible car crash.”
The whole group let out a collective gasp. I stammer… “What? When? Where? I have to know more!”
“No more questions. You had your request fulfilled. I see no more, I tell no more.”
I stood up, desperate “You HAVE to tell me more. You cannot leave me with this!”
“That is all I see. I asked specifically what you wanted to know, you gave me a specific answer. I searched for your request and delivered. There is no more I can do for you.”
I was about to wring her neck, shake the truth out of her. Mike stepped in, his arms wrapping me up in a secure prison, and moving me away from the table. My shouting had drawn a crowd, and everyone was repeating the odd story, the way shivers had gone up our spines in a way that never happened with the fake hypnotist. There was a shift, like the truth being declared.
I’ve always wondered if she actually saw my death, or if her announcing it would make it so?
Mike became the skeptic. He was always reassuring me that it wasn’t real and that I had a long life ahead of me.
“You don’t know that.”
I grew afraid. I hated getting in the car. Some people are afraid of flying, but not me. If I could make it to the airport I could get to the destination. Anyone who sat in the airplane with me could be certain of getting there, too.
I went skydiving.
I would do all kinds of things that would cheat death, knowing I would be fine.
But I made sure we lived walking distance to a grocery store and my work. I tried to bike everywhere else, thinking that she would have mentioned if it was a biking-and-car accident. But I hated cars. Every time I knew I needed to get in the car I was sure it would be my last day.
Mike and I took the train to get to our honeymoon. I wouldn’t let the anxiety of a dead bride ruin my wedding.
The worst was getting to the hospital to deliver my first baby. I was sure neither of us would make it home, and there would be the tragic story of a dead almost mother, or the death of a young family.
But we DID make it home. And with all the baby appointments, Mike somehow convinced me that the night with the fortune teller was not real.
I started driving again. Not just to doctor appointments, but to other baby activities. Mom and me classes, school appointments, taking our kids away from the small neighborhood where we lived. See the world, just a little. At first I would write down the date I had to drive somewhere, and I would not plan anything beyond that date. I did not want my death to disappoint too many extra people. I wrote Mike so many goodbye letters, I hope he never finds the stash.
But today, this trip was unplanned. My hairdresser had a last-minute appointment, so I jumped in the car, fortune forgotten. With a four-year-old and a toddler ruling my life, treats like a spontaneous evening away are rare. With a quick kiss goodbye, I was on my way.
Feeling like a million bucks, I just texted Mike that I was feeling good, and can’t wait to show off my new hair.
I’m on my way home now. The roads are slick and there is something electric in the air. I get scared again, thinking I should pull over and wait. But I am just as likely to get hit on the side of the road as I am driving, so I keep going. I’m only about 5 miles away. I can make it.
But the semi-truck has other plans. He pulls slowly into my lane, forcing the car in front of me to swerve, almost hitting the car next to him. He slams on his brakes, and the car behind him hits the red car into my lane. We collide. And I am filled with a lifetime of regret, of fear, of not enjoying the precious time I had flashing in front of my eyes.
Life should be enjoyed. As Mike always said, he could just as easily die in a car crash as I could. But while his timeline unknown, he is free, while I walked 15 years on this earth in constant fear of the inevitable death that awaits us all.