Three, sharp knocks on the door. Brian, spooked, took a deep, careful exhale as he paused his work. He climbed down from his precarious seating atop the cupboards, down to the living room floor, and tiptoed over to greet the unexpected guest. When he pulled the door open, a stern man in a black uniform stood on the other side. He had a blue patch on one shoulder. Not a normal cop, then. A census regulator.
“Mr. Brian Fisher?” the officer stated.
“Yes, that’s me. Not so loud, please!” he replied in a respectful but hushed tone.
The officer’s brow furrowed as he glanced behind Brian to see what the cause for concern was.
“My name is Officer Morris,” he continued, voice only a hint quieter now. “Are you aware that your termination date was yesterday? You failed to report to the office.”
Brian gulped, heart rate rising. “What? No, that can’t be right! My termination isn’t supposed to be until sometime next week!”
“Boy, never heard that one before.”
“No, really! I’m completely serious. Look, I’ll get my papers. Why don’t you come in?” He held the door open wide enough for the officer. As he stepped in, Brian held a hand out, suddenly frantic. “Oh, wait, you have shoes on. Give me one second. Delicate matters, you see.”
Brian paced back into the room, looking for anything lose somebody might step on if they weren’t careful. There was nothing, as expected, but it didn’t hurt to be cautious.
“Okay,” Brian said, returning to the front door. “You can come in, just please tread lightly. And if you go upstairs, you have to take your shoes off and be extra careful. No sudden movements of any kind. I’m sure it’s quite unconventional for you, but my house, my rules.”
The officer gave him a raised eyebrow at that, but he just shrugged in response. He stepped into the house, and was finally able to see what Brian was so worked up about.
Throughout the entire room, and branching off down the hallway and up the stairs, was an enormous card castle that took up the majority of the living space, even floor to ceiling.
“Whoa,” Officer Morris breathed.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? My life’s work. This last project has taken me over forty years, you know. If I go according to schedule, I’ll finally reclaim my title as the world record holder for the largest single playing card structure. That’s why I can’t die today, you see. I’m not quite finished.”
The officer had by now regained his composure. “You do all of this by yourself?”
Brian nodded. “Had to. If it’s a group project that’s an entirely different world record. Me and Jeremy Settle, some guy in Germany have been having a competition these past few hundred years over who can build the biggest castle. He’s held the record these last twenty five years after my old castle broke, but his termination date was two years ago, so I’ll have the last laugh! You know, this castle has over two million individual cards so far. It even goes out onto the backyard patio! I have it screened so the wind can’t affect it, you see. You’ll probably be the last one to see it unfinished, actually. I could give you a tour if you’re–”
“Sir,” the officer interrupted. “This is quite impressive, but I must inform you that my papers say your termination was due yesterday.”
“Oh!” Brian jumped. “That’s right. I almost forgot. My papers are upstairs. Wait here.” Without any hesitation, he bolted up the stairs, careful to avoid the trail of stacked cards that led up one side of them.
The officer took the time to examine the castle. There were no couches in the living room. In fact, the furniture it was built around and on top of all had flat surfaces. It was stacked atop the cupboards, into the kitchen, and was complete with towers and elaborate sculptures. The living room had the largest stack. It nearly reached the ceiling, and the cards in the center were surrounded by more cards. You couldn’t reach them now, meaning they had to be placed first. Officer Morris wondered how old those cards were.
As he looked at the cards at the base of the stairs, he noticed irregular markings on them. He leaned in to inspect one and noticed it was a number. Upon further investigation, every card seemed to have numbers, and most of the nearby ones were seven digits long. In a world where death was so hard to achieve it had to be enforced, he couldn’t blame people for finding odd ways to spend their lives. He had once met somebody that collected every scent of candle imaginable. She had them organized and everything. Her house, not surprisingly, smelled terrible.
Brian came down the stairs with a stack of papers in his hands, frowning. He looked up to notice the officer leaning in close to the cards and his eyes went wide in a panic.
“What are you doing! That’s too close! You might have to sneeze or breathe or–” In his frenzy to rush down the stairs, he tripped. Falling face first, he tumbled down the remaining steps, crashing into both the officer and the cards he had been inspecting.
Without so much as a thought of concern for either person, Brian immediately stood to check the damage.
And watched as, like dominoes, the card castle toppled down, flowing over itself and the furniture like a torrent of water cascading into an empty valley. It crashed to the floor, but the chaos continued it sought the other rooms in the house.
Brian’s despair was all but tangible. The officer couldn’t help but pity the man.
But then, forgotten on the floor, he saw his termination papers, and at the top was one big, bolded date.
“Well,” Brian said. “I guess there’s no point in even trying to plead for more time. I have nothing left to live for.”
Prompt: In a world where all diseases have been eliminated and it’s nearly impossible to die, everyone is allotted the same amount of time on earth. Your time is almost up, but you just need one more day…