Humanity died fast when the list appeared.
First came the suicides. When you see yourself at the bottom of the list that supposedly represents all of humanity, it’s hard not to lose hope.
Then came the murders. Of the people who had discovered the list. The people who kept it running. Some decided that the list was fake, and that anyone who believed in it deserved death.
Eventually, we stopped. Killing and fighting and tearing each other apart. At least for a while.
I was born with a number on my hand. I don’t remember what it was. No one can tell me, because you can only see your own number. But right now, my number is 3,425,007. Out of the eight billion people on the earth.
That’s one of the better numbers. My mom told me once that her number had dropped to 6,331,909. I thought she was kidding until I heard the gunshots. One that took my sister. And one that took my mom.
I don’t know why my mom killed my three-year old sister. I don’t know why she killed herself. And I don’t know what the number on her corpse was. Because as far as I know, your number stays with you forever. Even when the only one who can see it is dead, it lives on.
I’d like to imagine my little sister was 1 on the list. Maybe 2, for that time she killed my fish by pouring too much food into its bowl. But other than that, she was perfect. I can’t understand why the cosmic power that decides where we stand would put her at anything less.
No one else understands, either. Everyone has their own idea of the list. I guess that before it showed up, people were content with their own views of right and wrong. But now that someone is deciding for us, we’ve gotten desperate.
A few streets from my house is a church. The sign outside says “God forgives all-Numbers are warnings, not punishments”. The church three blocks away is telling me to ignore the list entirely, that it’s a construct of the devil made to deceive us and turn us away from God. And the synagogue on Bailey Cove promises a way to move your number up the list, and a better understanding of why you were ranked where you were in the first place.
My mom and I went to a church back in our hometown that told us we had to be honest with our numbers and share them with the world. The next church we tried told us the list was a gift from god, to tell us when to repent. My mom loved that answer, but I wasn’t sure. I stopped going to church as soon as I could, and mom’s death didn’t do anything to persuade me to return.
I’ve always wondered who’s at the top of the list. You’d think they’d be on the news all the time, sharing their five-step plan to being a good human being. But only one person has ever claimed to have 1 embedded in their skin. Anton Icara, famous actor, TV personality, and philanthropist. When the first rape allegations came, the woman who had submitted them had been completely ostracized. After all, this man was the pinnacle of human decency. No accusations could ever stand up to that little number on his hand.
Security cameras don’t see your number, though. All they saw was Anton’s fifteenth murder. The same woman who had tried to tell the world what he was really like lay dead on the floor, a knife in her chest.
I wonder sometimes if he really was the best person on earth. If our own view of morality fell apart somewhere along the way, and he wasn’t lying when he told us that he was the only person who understood what perfection was. It seems plausible. When I was a kid, I wondered why the Bible banned so many things that sounded perfectly moral to me. Maybe the list works the same way. Maybe that’s why giving to charity didn’t move my number up the list, but watering my houseplants did. Anton Icara might have been right.
Then again, if he was lying, why did we all believe him?
I don’t know why the number on my hand is there. I don’t know what it means, what it wants from me. I don’t know who decides our numbers. And I don’t know what will happen when I die.
All I know is when this bullet goes through my head, I won’t be looking at the number on my hand.