01 Feb Every year on my birthday, I have to die
I died for the first time on the 18th of August, 2006. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant death, nor was it one that I expected. It was simply the random act of violence that destroyed my life… and it came out of nowhere.
We were just relaxing at the pub, enjoying a few drinks after a busy day at work. It was my turn to buy a round of drinks, so I was trying to get the attention of the bartender.
I felt someone punch me in the side. At first, I thought someone had just hit me, but then I felt the warmth, and the rapid stream of blood pouring down my shirt. I realized then and there, that I’d actually gotten stabbed.
As far as I can remember, it wasn’t even that painful. Still, my legs gave out under me, and I collapsed to the floor. Even then I worried more about ruining my expensive suit, ignoring the fact that I might be dying.
Oncoming death is funny like that. Everyone thinks they’re the exception, that they’ll get out from whatever horrible situation the universe has thrust upon them.
At least that’s what I thought, as the life drained from my body. The world around me just faded to black, and before I knew it, I had just died.
Then there was the void. At first it was little more than darkness, only broken by weird shapes and colors in the distance. As I regained a sense of surroundings, I was dragged towards a new world, one without pain, suffering, nor death. All there was, were people on a journey to different destinations. Whether they had all died like myself, or if they weren’t born yet, I didn’t know. All I knew, was that I wasn’t afraid anymore. The worries, the anxiety and all my fears had been left behind.
A light appeared in the distance, endlessly far away. I knew that would be my final destination, my final purpose in the brief life I’d led. Unfortunately, I never managed to get that far…
I was jolted awake in my own bed, soaking wet from sweat and shaking like a maniac. My hand reflectively clutched my side to cover up the wound I’d sustained… but it wasn’t there anymore. In fact, I didn’t have a single scratch on me.
Had it all been a dream?
My phone lit up on the bedside table. I picked it up to find dozens of text-messages and missed calls.
“Hey man, we’re at the pub. You coming or what?” the first message read, sent at 9:43 PM.
“Hey, Rick, where the hell are you?” the second message read, sent at 10:23 PM.
Then there were a couple of phone calls, and another message.
“I guess you fell asleep, or maybe you’re getting lucky? Whatever, I’ll drink another shot in your honor. Happy Birthday Rick.”
Then I had over a twenty phone calls, and a singular message that sent shivers down my spine.
“For fuck sake, pick up the damn phone! Something happened to Danny.”
I immediately called back. My fingers were trembling both from anticipation, and from the memory of what had happened only a night ago. Even if my death had been little more than a nightmare, I knew for sure that I’d met up with my friends at the pub.
The phone rang three times, then Jake picked up.
“Rick, is that you? Where the hell are you?” Jake asked with a panicked, tired voice.
“I – I don’t know what happened. I guess I fell asleep?” I half asked, half stated.
“Danny got stabbed last night,” Jake said without listening to my explanation.
“I don’t know. Some nut-job just walked up to him, and stabbed him in the side.”
I almost dropped my phone in shock. Danny had been attacked just like myself, in exactly the same place. A thousand thoughts rushed through my mind, but worry quickly became my main concern.
“Is he alright?”
“He’s still in surgery. They’re only letting his wife know about – wait, here she comes.”
Jake put his phone down, but I could still her the muffled sound of their discussion. Danny’s wife seemed upset, but I couldn’t make out the words.
“Jake?” I asked.
“He’s – he’s dead… Danny’s dead…”
The next few moments turned into a blurry haze of information. We’d all known Danny since we were kids, and now he was just gone. The murderer never even made it out from the pub. Apparently he got shot by one of the patrons, as he tried to attack another guest.
Still, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to die that night.
Regardless of what happened, time marched on without answers. Some of our coworkers quit after Danny’s death, trying to hopelessly move on. I didn’t blame them, I also needed some distance. I never even told them what I experienced that night, it wouldn’t have helped them anyway.
A year passed, and I hardly spoke to any of my friends. I started to get some semblance of normalcy in the wake of Danny’s death, but that would all come to an end on the 18th of August, 2007.
My birthday had arrived yet again, and I had absolutely no intention of celebrating it. Instead, I called in sick to work, bought a bottle of whiskey, and spent the day playing video games.
By the time day had given way to night, I’d almost finished the bottle. Even as a rather large guy, the alcohol had hit me hard. At around nine o’clock, I just passed out in bed, awaiting a horrible hangover in the morning.
I only awoke around midnight, when I heard the front door forcefully break open, followed by footsteps and whispers. I tried to get up, still drowsy from the alcohol. As I took one step out from my bed, I slipped and came tumbling down onto the floor. It produced a massive crash, loud enough to alert whichever intruders had broken in.
“I thought you said no one would be home?” a man stated angrily.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll go deal with them.”
The footsteps moved quickly in my direction. I tried to lock the door, but they were too fast, kicking it open and knocking me back to the ground.
A masked man entered my room, holding onto a gun. He only spoke a single sentence to me, before pointing the weapon at me, and pulling the trigger.
“You should have stayed quiet.”
Unfortunately, the man was a horrible shot. He’d aimed at my head, but had hit me in my throat instead. There I lay, drowning in my own blood as I desperately gasped for air. I couldn’t crawl away, and I couldn’t call for help.
I died on my bedroom floor, on my own birthday, just as I had a year earlier.
Once the life finally drained from my body, and the God-awful pain ceased, I was back in the world beyond. I walked through the same, colorful dimension that lay just on the edge of life. I admired the shapes and colors as they passed.
In the distance, I saw a tree with branches stretching endlessly far from its trunk. From each branch dangled a person, real but not existing in our world. I wanted to visit them, but that wasn’t my destination. Because just like before, I would awake in my own bed, unharmed by the events from the previous night.
My phone buzzed, and I was filled with unfathomable dread. I still couldn’t quite believe it, but I started to understand that someone would take my place in death.
“Rick, it’s Dad… your mother… she’s – she passed away last night.”
A lump formed in my throat. I knew what was coming next, but I had to ask.
“How… what happened?”
“The police say it was a burglary gone wrong. I don’t know, I was working late… I should have been there…”
The discussion trailed off from there. My Dad was distraught, and could barely form coherent sentences. He blamed himself for not being there, but I knew the truth. It was my fault.
During the next two months, he fell into deep depression. I couldn’t blame him, he’d just lost the love of his life. I moved in with him, just to help him pick up the pieces. He put on a strong face, trying his best to keep the ship afloat, but I could tell how close he was to just breaking down.
“If only I’d been there…”
“It wasn’t your fault, Dad. Had you been there you might be gone too.”
“You don’t know that.”
But I did know, because the burglars weren’t ever supposed to visit my parents’ house. They were supposed to kill me. I had to come clean, I had to let him know the truth. But how could I?
Half a year passed, and the secret ate at me. After everything that had happened, I still didn’t know how to explain it. Still, I decided it was time to share my curse.
“Dad, can we talk?”
“Yeah, what’s going on?” he asked with a worried expression on his face. He knew me well, and he could tell a heavy burden was weighing me down.
I started by telling him about my first death, down to the smallest detail. Of course it matched everything that people had witnessed in the pub that night, even the location of the stab-wound. I told him Danny had taken my place in death, and that I felt guilty.
Naturally, he was skeptical at first. But then I told him about my mother. I didn’t spare him any details; I told him where I’d gotten shot, that the door had been broken down, and that there were two robbers. Every detail matched perfectly down to the letter.
“I’m so sorry, Dad. It was my fault. I killed her.”
He just sat there in silence, processing what I’d just told him.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
I was confused. There wasn’t a single ounce of anger in his words, only overwhelming empathy.
“How can you say that? She didn’t have to die.”
He mulled over his next words carefully before speaking. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Rick. You just went about your life, and these things happened to you. I don’t know why you’ve been brought back, or even how, but you’re not to blame for what is done to you.”
“So you believe me?” I asked.
He nodded, and embraced me in a hug. Suddenly I wasn’t alone in the world anymore, someone knew what was happening to me.
“What if it happens again?”
“Then we’ll get through it together.”
He stood by these words, even as my next birthday rolled around. That death was more tame. I just slipped in the shower and broke my neck. The last though that went through my mind as I left the world for a third time, was: “How fucking cliché…”
Once again, I awoke in my bed. I called out for my Dad, making sure he was still alive, horrified that he might have taken my place. I couldn’t even breathe until he came rushing to my side, asking what had happened.
“I broke my neck… But I’m fine, I think.”
It took a while before I figured out who had taken my place that time. But once I heard that my boss had died, something broke inside me. He was the kindest man I’d ever met, and just like myself, he’d slipped and broken his neck.
That was the final straw. It wasn’t some bizarre coincidence I could brush of, nor a premonition. I decided then and there that I couldn’t live with the responsibility. I had to put a stop to it, even if it meant giving up my own life.
I figured that if I took control over my own fate, and killed myself outside of my own birthday, maybe I could prevent more people from dying.
First, I left behind a long letter to my father, explaining why I’d chosen to leave. I couldn’t face him in person, I knew he’d just try to talk me out of it, but it was something I had to do. I couldn’t allow any more people to die on my behalf.
Alas, fate is a fickle bitch. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t end my own life.
I tried hanging, but the rope broke. Then, I tried to shoot myself, but the gun jammed. When that failed, I tried to drive my car into a tree, but I somehow survived that aswell… any attempt was met with failure. All I could do, was to wait for my next birthday, and let someone die in my place. No matter how many times I tired, I couldn’t die. I was a slave to destiny, and it was destroying me.
In 2009, I was hit by a drunk driver… and my girlfriend took my place.
In 2010, I drowned… and my kind neighbor had to go through that death.
In 2011, I died from a brain aneurysm… which ended up killing my aunt.
And so on, and so on… Each year I’d die, and a person close to me would take my place. I kept trying to find a way out, but fate wouldn’t have it.
Years went by, and on the 18th of August, 2019, I would die for the fourteenth time. I’d already fallen sick a week earlier, much to the doctors’ confusion. According to each and every laboratory value, I was fine, yet I kept getting sicker. My father and I both knew my time was near, but we also knew I’d be forcefully brought back.
Then, at midnight on my birthday, my heart just gave out. I was jolted awake in my own bed, and the sickness was little more than a distant memory.
“Dad?” I called out.
I got out of bed, and called his name again. I was met with silence. I didn’t have to call out a third time, I already knew what had happened. I carefully walked into his room, horrified at what I knew would come…
He was dead… just gone from a heart attack. He’d taken my place, and I could do nothing to save him.
The funeral came and went in a blur. The only noticeable thing was the missing seats from the people who had passed before him. Some of them had lived their own lives, and died as nature intended, but a number of them were supposed to live on… instead they’d just taken my place in death.
I inherited a number of things from my father. Among them, I found a letter addressed to me. It looked rather worn, so I could tell he’d written it a long time ago.
Today is your birthday, and it has officially been a year since your mother passed. While I miss her greatly, I’m thankful to still have you around. I know that if she was given the choice, she would want you to live; I feel the same way.
We both know that I might one day take your place in death. Never doubt that I would happily give my life, if it means that you may live. You didn’t choose this curse, so never blame yourself, just do what every person is supposed to: Appreciate the people around you, because you never know which day might be their last.
I love you,
Since I read that letter, I’ve been looking for a way out. My father might want me to stay behind, but how can I live on, knowing that I’m taking someone’s place?
I’ve long since left town, living by myself in a cabin somewhere away from people. Hopefully, if I have no one left that cares for me, people will stop dying.
At least until I can figure out not only how to die, but how to actually stay dead.