A figure draped in night shadow, waited patiently outside the home of Otto and Mary Owen for their lights to dim.
Inside, Otto crawled into bed and turned out the light.
The mystery man smiled. He crossed the lawn and laid a small package on the stoop and then melted into the night.
The next morning, Otto went to fetch the paper and found the package on the step.
“Mornin’, hon, look what was on the porch.”
“What is it?” Mary asked.
“Beats me.” He opened it. “Looks like a fancy gadget of some kind and a note,” he said.
He began to read:
As an old soldier of eighty-two, you should be aware that 1500 of your fellow comrades are passing away daily. It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected number 761 to join them after midnight tonight.
An electronic counter is included.
The Count Keeper
Otto shrugged and tossed the note in the trash. He kept the counter.
“Must be a joke,” Mary said.
“Not very funny.”
The letter’s message spooked him. All day and into the night thoughts swirled through his mind. Fear nested behind his eyes.
“Hon, you awake? I can’t sleep. I’m going to sit up for awhile.”
“You okay?” She asked.
He rose from bed, stumbled barefoot through the house to his easy chair. He switched on a lamp, picked up the counter and laid it in his lap.
At one second after midnight the black box came to life, shivering in his hands. The face glowed yellow. A chime sounded. The countdown had begun.
“Come eat your lunch,” Mary called.
By late afternoon, Otto’s face had turned ashen. He wiped his brow.
“You don’t believe that silly letter do you?” Mary called.
“Maybe . . .”
“That’s silly you know.”
“Can’t help it. . . damn.”
760 . . .
Otto twitched. He felt his chest tighten.
761 . . .
“Oh!” he moaned, and pitched forward out of his chair, dead.
The phone rang.
“Please leave a message,” the machine droned.
“Hi Otto, it’s me Orville. Pick up. Did you get my little surprise?
BIO: Ron Richardson is a native Texan, raised in Dallas . He spent time in the Navy in the early 50’s, married, graduated college, retired from DOT as an air traffic controller and began to write. Ron and his wife Lois have three children, five grand children and six great-grand children. he has completed several creative writing courses and is active in two fiction writers critique groups. He is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. and was recently published on line by LITBITS.CA and ESC! magazine. His work has received an honorable mention for flash fiction from Byline magazine.