It was such a beautiful evening that part of me regretted the unimaginable anguish and suffering I was about to cause. But he had it coming; smart men don’t disobey the Authority.
“What time is it?” I asked the idiot sitting next to me.
“6:40,” he obediently answered.
“Damn, it’s gonna be close,” I mumbled to myself.
“Are you really gonna do this?”
“What the hell do you think?”
We bounced along in a rented U-Haul whose shocks had given out long ago. Every pothole shot shock waves throughout my entire body. Even small rocks and pebbles made their presence known. Perhaps I was just a bit sensitive at the moment; maybe the shocks were really that bad. I looked back at the idiot sitting in the passenger seat, then down at his watch, thinking he would understand what my next question would be. He didn’t.
“What time do you have now?”
“Now it’s 6:42. Does the exact minute matter?”
“You don’t understand, do you?” I scolded my ‘partner.’ “This guy has a set schedule! Weren’t you listening to the Authority?”
Awkward silence filled the cab as I took a right hand turn onto a side street at 35 miles per hour without signaling.
“Are you really gonna do it?”
“You can get the hell out of this truck right now if you want!” I barked. “I don’t need your crap right now!” More awkwardness followed. “What time is it?” I demanded.
“6:43 and…and 22 seconds.”
I had a tightness in my chest and this idiot wasn’t helping me any. The truth was, I didn’t know if I could go through with this. But there was no way I was going to show my doubt right now. I just decided to continue on and see what happened when we got there. I slowed slightly along the winding road.
“Damn, slow down.”
“Shut the hell up!”
I took the stop sign and careened around the corner almost lifting the vehicle onto its two right wheels, then shot a quick right nearly tipping it to its left side. The empty storage compartment rocked loudly. I had rehearsed this drive four times over the past week, so I knew exactly where I was going. I certainly didn’t want to rely on my partner for directions during this crucial final stretch. As I brought the truck up to 40 miles per hour on this final road, the canopy of trees above the quiet neighborhood road suddenly opened up. The sun, bright and large in the evening sky, blared directly into my eyes and I spouted at least two expletives while remembering that my previous runs had taken place either during overcast evenings or different times of day.
“Goddamn it! I can’t see!”
Nonetheless, I pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go, conscious that my target was approaching. This had to be done right – quick and painless. The engine roared as the sudden and persistent acceleration kept the transmission from shifting up.
“There they are!” my partner shouted. I was surprised that he would prove helpful afterall.
“I see them!” I shouted over the engine.
The next 20 seconds were a slow-motion blur. I squinted through the sun, lowering the truck’s visor, which helped a bit. I was able to make out two figures: the larger rushing towards the smaller, which was mounted on a bicycle on the far side of the street. I turned the vehicle towards the small figure. As I approached the small silhouette, features of a tiny child, maybe three or four years of age, became visible. I wished that hadn’t happened. Before I could look away, I saw the child’s face; I saw the fear. His sweet blond hair fell over his forehead and ears. His eyes were wide open, certainly not believing what was happening. His mouth was frozen in a timeless scream. My partner tried to grab the wheel, but my grip was icy, steel. Then I felt it. A sickening smack close to the right headlight followed almost immediately by a slight crunching noise and a shuddering bang as the truck’s shocks finally gave out completely. My gaze instinctively shifted to the right mirror and I caught a glimpse of something that seemed to be circling around the truck’s rear right wheel as I experienced another rocking smash of the truck’s frame, much worse than the potholes from minutes earlier. The truck began to tail to the right from the impact as I heard the scream of a man, a type of scream that can only be emitted from the very core of a human being. I struggled to straighten the vehicle to make a clean getaway, but that scream penetrated my ears, my mind, until…
By the way, 558 is the total number of things is it possible to know. To know more than 558 things beyond a shadow of a doubt (i.e. by completely confirming them against the other 557 you know) would take an infinite amount of time even if you had every square inch of the known universe covered with processing power. I forget where I read that…but I did and it’s true! I’ll research it if there is any interest.