I am not one of this year’s NaNoWriMo winners. In fact, I wrote a mere 775 words of the 50,000 words one needs to achieve to win. That’s 1.55% of the goal. I had the best intentions, and lots of ideas–but none of them coalesced into cohesive storylines during the month of November. And–you know what? –perhaps surprisingly, I’m okay with that. After all, the real point of NaNoWrimo, at least for me, is not necessarily to win, but to write–even if it’s just 775 words. Those 775 words would not have been written otherwise. In fact, they express (and inspired) an idea that likely would not have been born otherwise. And for me, those are both small successes–stepping stones I can build on later. Maybe next week. Maybe next November. Either way, 1.55% is a step in the right direction.
The real point of NaNoWrimo is not to win, but to write.
Below are the 775 words I did manage to write for NaNoWriMo. Give ’em a read. Let me know what you think. (And keep in mind, this is a rough, rough draft of a rough, rough idea.)
Untitled NaNoWriMo Project, 2016
Before Marshall Mitner had finished writing his required annual deathday diary entry, the sun had exchanged its vibrant afternoon blue for a pale lavender nightgown. Marshall sat, scribbling away, at a large, wooden desk directly in front of a window, through which skulked the last of the day’s diffused, white light. He was twenty-eight years old, and had been part of The Experiment for ten years.
“It’s no different than a mother knowing the approximate due date of her baby. Except—more exact,” an efficient, indifferent woman behind a large white desk at the Enrollment Office had told him. Her eyes had flashed up at him and then back down at her desk. “Just think of it,” she had said flatly, “as your due date in heaven.” It was a tagline and a euphemism. Marshall didn’t care.
“Sign me up,” he said.
“Age?” she said without looking up.
“Birthday? Including the year, please.”
“November 11, 2096.”
“Ah!” she said, the first hint of emotion evident in her voice. “You’re right on time then. Happy birthday.”
People had to be at least eighteen to enroll in The Experiment—unless, of course, a baby’s parents enrolled him at birth. The government offered a generous tax deduction to families who enrolled their newborns in The Experiment. Parents were required to keep their child’s participation secret until The Experiment Committee granted them permission to reveal the child’s participation. At that juncture, the child had a choice: Remain enrolled in The Experiment and be informed of his deathday, or withdraw from the experiment and remain ignorant. Children who opted to remain enrolled earned their families another generous tax break. Children who withdrew did not—but were permitted to re-enroll any time after their eighteenth birthday. After that, there was no turning back; any adult who enrolled in The Experiment was obligated for life. The good news? If someone decided he wanted out, he knew the exact day of his departure.
Marshall knew participants who kept countdowns.
The woman’s fingers tapped away on a small device laid flat in front of her on the desk. After several seconds of finger-tapping, she folded her hands on her lap and sat very still, staring at the screen on her desk, waiting. After a moment, the small device emitted a cheerful sound, as of several bells tolling in succession.
“Well, it appears you will be part of Experimental Group B.”
She pushed the device aside, and resumed working on whatever had been busying her before Marshall had walked into the office and interrupted her.
Marshall cleared his throat.
The woman looked up. “Yes?”
“Experimental Group B?”
“What does that mean?”
Her eyes once again cast down at her work, she wordlessly pulled a brochure from a drawer in her desk, and handed it to Marshall.
“Read through that. Then call the number on the back.”
“Thank you for your enrollment in The Experiment,” the woman said. “Heaven is waiting.” Just before the door closed behind him, Marshall heard her say, “Happy birthday.” Surely that had not been part of the script.
Marshall had walked just a few blocks down the bustling street to a familiar coffee shop where he and his friends sometimes studied. He sat down at a table near a window and opened the brochure. The left fold was dedicated to Experimental Group A, the center to his group, and the right to the Control Group, those who had enrolled in the Experiment, but had not been told their deathday. Without reading it, Marshall closed the brochure, leaving it face-down on the table, and approached the counter for a cup of coffee. When he sat back down, he turned the brochure over to its front.
Experimental Group A: enrolled and told deathday; no required to write annual deathday diary entries
Experimental Group B: enrolled and told deathday; required to write annual deathday diary entries
WRITE PHONE CALL THAT TELLS HIM DEATHDAY. AUTOMATED?
Marshall was twenty-eight years old. He had been part of The Experiment for ten years. He had lived for twenty-eight November elevenths. He knew he would live for forty-seven more. He would be 75—almost 76—on his deathday: October 9, 2171. He knew that was 23,741 days away. Twenty-three thousand seven hundred one sunrises. Twenty-three thousand seven hundred one sunsets. Twenty-three seven hundred one breakfasts, lunches, dinners. Well—maybe. All of that depended on the time of day he died. They hadn’t gotten that precise yet. They could pinpoint the date, but the cause and time remained mysteries.
There was a certain freedom in knowing.
There was a certain freedom in not knowing.