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Monday Muse: The Countdown

“There’s a countdown toward Midnight of the New Year. Something happens at the stroke of 12. What is it?”
– 1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts

* * *

The coffee shop bustled. Men and women, drunk from the night’s celebrations, swarmed in and around her as Noah Hill slowly sipped her cappuccino and watched the numbers slowly tick downward. Two minutes, most of them said. Some sooner, some later, but all within a few moments from the time the clock would strike midnight and the New Year would begin.

So many people were going to die tonight.

She sighed and watched a man and woman make their way toward central downtown, where the big countdown to 2020 was held. Numbers flickered in gold above their heads. One minute and forty-six seconds. One minute and forty-five seconds. One minute and forty-four seconds. They disappeared around the corner, away from Noah’s relative silence toward the craziness and noise downtown.

Every time something like this happened, Noah ached to warn people, to tell them not to do whatever it is they’re about to do and instead go home, relax, and appreciate their lives. She wanted to, but she never did. There was something in her contract about not interfering with the lives of mortals. If they were going to die, she had to let it happen. Sometimes she had to watch. Every time, she tried to get there as quickly as possible in the aftermath to do what she could to help.

After all, dying was a strange experience, and many times the souls needed a bit of guidance to find their way across.

Another group of people walked by. High heels clicked on the sidewalk. The girls huddled together for warmth against the frigid, winter air. Their legs were bare beneath their skirts. Their make-up smeared from drinking too much and staying up too late.

The clocks above their head shone in gold in the dark night.

One minute and three seconds.

Noah wondered what it was this time. She’d been at the scene of many tragedies, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters in her time. It had become almost a morbid game among her kind to guess what was about to happen next. Was it an earthquake? A shooting? Would a gas line break and ignite in a crowded building?

Noah pulled at a lock of her golden, wavy hair and took a sip of her drink. It warmed her tongue. The satchel at her side seemed to hum, as if it, too, knew that, in just a few more seconds, it was about to be full to the brim with human souls looking for their next adventure.

In the next long, few seconds, those with limited clocks disappeared and those who would survive the night remained. Just around the corner, the crowd murmured in a single mass. Hundreds of voices carried above the casinos, through the streets, and back to Noah’s ears.

As midnight neared, they died down. For a brief second, it was quiet.

And then the countdown began.

“Ten!”

“Nine!”

“Eight!”

Noah got to her feet and put her half-empty glass onto the tabletop.

“Seven!”

“Six!”

“Five!”

“Four!”

She pulled her sweater more tightly around her shoulders.

“Three!”

“Two!”

Noah grabbed her walking stick, took a deep breath, and looked at her watch.

“One–”

The city shook with a volley of explosions. Screaming filled the night. Hundreds of clocks switched to zero.

Categories: Monday Muse, Series, Writing

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