On my eighteenth birthday I received a letter from the government. It came in a plain white envelope with a black stamp in the corner. Along the bottom, in faded red ink, was the urgent message, “TIME SENSITIVE INFORMATION: OPEN IMMEDIATELY.” I signed for the letter. Receiving it was mandatory.
I wished there was somebody else in the house with me, but my siblings had already moved out and my parents were shopping for furniture to remodel my room when I left for college. The silence in the house was absolute.
I took out my phone: “It’s here,” I texted Ally.
Ally: “OMG! On my way! Did you open it?”
Me: “Not yet. Door’s unlocked.”
I walked upstairs to my bedroom slowly looking at the envelope. It felt heavy in my hands, but that was probably only in my head. I placed the letter on my desk and sat in front of it. My dim, dark reflection caught in my computer monitor watched me as I tried to ignore the envelope sitting in front of me. I wanted Ally with me, but I could only resist the temptation for a few minutes before I opened it.
I put my finger under the triangular flap and slid it across the envelope. The sound of ripping paper filled my room. Inside was a single piece of paper expertly folded into thirds. The corners aligned perfectly. I wondered if there was one person at the Bureau that spent all day folding these letters into perfect thirds. It was, after all, a very important piece of paper that deserved that level of attention to detail, because printed on this piece of paper was the exact date of my death–my expiration date.
As part of the Third Law of Humanitarianism every eighteen year old received this letter from the government. The date printed on the paper was one hundred percent accurate.
My heart pounded in my chest. “Relax,” I said to myself, “there isn’t anything to worry about.” I was in decent physical condition. There wasn’t any trace of cancer, high blood pressure, or diabetes in my family history. My grandfather had died from a heart attack, but he was eighty-three. That couldn’t be blamed on faulty equipment. Of my immediate family my father had the shortest expected lifespan at seventy-two years, while my sister had the longest at one hundred and three. Everything would be fine.
I unfolded the letter:
Dear Matthias Williams,
In accordance with the Third Act of Humanitarianism we are sending this letter to inform you of your expiration date:
May 24, 2034
The Expiration Date Bureau
I glanced up at the calendar: May 22, 2034.