Flash Fiction

Jumping-off Point

by Hwankyu Song

There’s a woman standing at the other end of the subway platform.

 

There’s nothing abnormal about her appearance: backpack slung over one shoulder, hoodie emblazoned with the name of some college, jeans ripped at the knees, scuffed sneakers tapping a rhythm against the yellow tiles, presumably to the beat of the music she’s listening to on her phone. The epitome of a college student. I would know, considering my own ensemble of clothes.

 

None of that is what grabs my attention, however; what does catch my eye are the numbers floating above her.

 

A timer, I realize after they count down to two minutes. As the woman turns her head to cough into her hand, the numbers follow the movement, as if they are attached to the top of her head.

 

I look around to see if anyone else sees this, get an unspoken second opinion or reaction. But there’s no one else around, it’s late, and this isn’t a popular stop to begin with, being located at the outskirts of the city and all.

 

Staring at the changing numbers, I wonder if this is something normal. New pieces of technology seem to pop up on the daily, and it’s impossible to keep track of every single one. Still, if such a thing were possible, something akin to a holographic display, Emily would have talked my ear off about it already. I consider taking a picture and showing it to her later when I get home, but I don’t. Knowing her, it’ll be met with some snide remark — “Oh, this girl caught your eye, did she?” — followed by a lot of passive-aggressiveness for the next few days. After the week I had, that’s the last thing I want to deal with.

 

Anyways, back to the floating numbers.

 

For the briefest moment, I even entertain the idea of a supernatural explanation before banishing the thought. I haven’t believed in anything supernatural all my life, and I’m not going to start now.

 

Of course, there are countless other questions besides “How?”

 

Is the woman even aware of the numbers? If not, am I the only one seeing them? Why only this woman, and not the countless people I met throughout today? What makes her special?

Is it somehow contagious? Will I wake up tomorrow morning and see a timer above my head in the mirror?

 

But most important of all: what is the timer counting down towards? What happens when it hits zero?

 

My initial thought is that it could be the waiting time until her train arrives. This is promptly disproven when her timer hits one minute, and there’s a ten second delay before the waiting time on the nearby train sign follows. So, not that then.

 

It could just be something mundane she set as a reminder for herself, like ‘buy milk’ or ‘feed the cat.’ Something that doesn’t matter to anyone besides herself, especially not to a stranger waiting for the same train. But then, why showcase it for everyone to see — which brings me back to the question of whether she’s aware of the numbers being shown.

 

Then, it hits me: the most obvious, clichéd answer that I somehow didn’t think about — it could be her time of death.

 

Now that I look again, the woman has this sort of resigned look on her face — tired but determined. She pockets her phone just as the light from the incoming train can be seen, growing brighter and larger as it approaches the station.

 

“Train approaching,” says the station-wide announcement from above. “Please stand back from the edge.”

 

The woman takes one step forward towards the edge of the platform instead, and it’s all the incentive I need to break into a run. The first passenger car enters the station, closing in on where the woman is standing, and I’m still too far away to reach her.

 

“Stop!” I shout, but my voice is drowned out by the screeching of train wheels against the rails, and all I can do is watch helplessly as the woman brings a hand up to her mouth, timer reaching zero and —

 

She sneezes, inaudible but unmistakable in motion.

 

The timer disappears.

Hwankyu Song 송환규  is a math major at Carnegie Mellon University who is also minoring in creative writing, which means he dabbles in writing on the side.

Archive of Fiction by issue:

     February 2021     September 2020     July 2020     May 2020     March 2020 

   January 2020     November 2019     September 2019     July 2019     May 2019     March 2019      January 2019   

   November 2018     September 2018     July 2018     June 2018     May 2018     April 2018     March 2018   

   February 2018     January 2018     December 2017     November 2017     October 2017     September 2017   

  August 2017     July 2017     June 2017     May 2017     April 2017     March 2017     February 2017     January 2017   

  December 2016     November 2016     October 2016    September 2016     August 2016     June 2016     May 2016

Archive of More Fiction by issue 

    March 2020     January 2020     November 2018     September 2018     July 2018     June 2018    May 2018   

    April 2018    March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017   

Archive of Flash Fiction by issue

     February 2021     September 2020     July 2019     May 2020     March 2020     January 2020   

  November 2019     September 2019     July 2019     May 2019    March 2019      July 2018     June 2018     

More Flash & Micro Fiction

     May 2020    

International Fiction

     March 2019    

Archive of Better Than Fiction by issue

     February 2021     September 2020     July 2020     May 2020     March 2020     January 2020     November 2019 

   September 2019     July 2019     May 2019     March 2019     January 2019     November 2018     September 2018 

   July 2018     June 2018     May 2018     April 2018     March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017 

   November 2017     October 2017     September 2017     August 2017     July 2017     June 2017     May 2017     April 2017