ONE 8 • ‘The Death Predictor’: Winner of the Scottish Book Trust Creative Writing Competition ages 12-16

The Death Predictor

Horace screwed the final bolt into place before standing back to admire his creation. How long it had taken him to perfect his machine! It was unreal. For years Horace had been cooped up in his house. He wouldn’t leave for weeks on end, working in every spare second he could find. He no longer socialised and hardly ever left his living room, never mind his house. Neighbours no longer sent him Christmas cards and the community in which he had lived for many years didn’t even know his name.

This, however, did not bother Horace. As a child he had seen himself as no more than a failure and unfortunately his mother had held the same opinion.

The first chance she had, Horace’s mother left him and as a result, Horace was forced to make his own way through life.
During his school years, Horace was bullied and picked on. He did not enjoy the lessons and failed every subject, except science. When he finally left school, Horace found a job at the local Science Centre as a janitor. He spent many years working there, but was sacked after being caught in an exhibit rather that doing his job.

All that had happened some thirty years ago. Since then his youth had gone and his hair had receded. He had gained a couple stones in weight during the years he was unemployed, but Horace did not care!

What he did care about was his invention. It had taken so long to make and now it was finally complete, well almost. Just one last thing to do. Horace picked up a nearby rag and began to polish a silver plate in the top corner of his machine. It read: ‘The Death Predictor’.

The hall was beginning to fill up. Horace checked his watch to find that he had only five more minutes until he was to show off his invention. The same day that Horace had completed the Death Predictor, he had put an advert in the local newspaper, telling readers that if they wanted to witness something amazing, then they were to travel to the Town Hall the following day at lunch time.

Time had flown by and it was now time for Horace’s presentation.
‘Excuse me,’ Horace muttered, but the noise of the crown did not quieten.
‘Excuse me!’ Horace repeated, this time louder.
The audience hushed and turned to look at Horace. They had travelled here to witness something amazing and, unfortunately, Horace did not look amazing.
‘Ladies and gentleman,’ Horace began. It had been years since Horace had interacted with anyone else properly. The last time he’d had a conversation was while he was buying his shopping a few weeks ago, and even then he had only thanked the cashier.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Horace began, fully aware that his nerves were getting the better of him.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, ehm, you have gathered here today to, ehm, to witness an amazing event.’ Horace collected himself and after having a quick glance behind to look at the machine hidden in the corner, was suddenly full of confidence.
‘Ladies and gentlemen! It is my pleasure to present to you an invention beyond all others!’
The audience began to whisper among themselves, one or two of them screwing up their eyes in an attempt to make out what lay under the dusty curtain in the corner of the hall.
‘May I present to you with an invention made entirely by myself…’
‘And who are you?’ retorted a young girl in the front row.
Ignoring her, Horace carried on.
‘May I present to you: The Death Predictor!’
At that moment, Horace whipped off the dusty curtain and stood, ready and waiting for applause. He could imagine himself, in newspapers, on TV an important success. The applause, however, never reached him. Instead a chorus of laughter filled his ears. Fingers were pointing and jibes were being shouted.
‘What a stupid idea. I bet it doesn’t even work!’ the same girl in the front shouted to anyone who would listen. Similar comments were also heard by Horace. But he would show them.
‘My machine will accurately predict any living person’s death,’ he indicated his invention with his hand.

It had been perfectly crafted and every corner had been polished. It resembled a modern computer and had an assortment of buttons and dials located all over the shell. There were also many drawers and compartments, all made with the same shining metal.
‘Now, who wants to be a volunteer?’ Horace scanned the crowd but was only met with sceptical faces. As humorous as the machine sounded to the crowd, evidently no-one was willing to take a chance, just in case it actually worked.
‘Okay then,’ Horace had one last glance over the crowd.
‘I will demonstrate.’ It took several minutes for Horace to enter all his details.

After opening several of the drawers, Horace pulled out a set of wires and attached them to his right hand. During this time, the audience remained surprisingly silent.
‘On the count of three, the day of my death will be revealed.’
The crowd did not move. Horace stood holding his breath. His palms were sweating. All he could do was shut his eyes. And wait.
‘Oh my goodness!’ someone called out.
‘What a load of rubbish!’ called another.
Horace slowly opened his eyes and read the screen. It took him several attempts to take in what he saw. The date on the machine was the same as today’s, only it said at 11pm he would die!
The audience burst into conversation. Some of them glanced nervously before whispering: ‘What a waste of time!’ It was the general opinion of the crowd and Horace knew it.

They left Horace in the hall alone with one thought. He was a failure, yet again.

The house was quiet, just the way Horace liked it. His spirits were low and he was puzzled about why his creation hadn’t worked because there was no way on earth that he was going to die in a matter of hours. It was nearly seven o’clock and that was Horace home for the night. At ten o’clock he would go to bed and that would be him until the following morning when he would get up as usual.
Horace picked up a nearby book and engrossed himself in it as an attempt to forget about the day’s events.

The next time Horace glanced at his watch, he was shocked to discover that it was already half past ten. Where had the time gone? Horace put down his book and wandered into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, Horace searched for something to eat, but could only find a couple of eggs and half a chocolate cake. Taking the easy option, Horace took the cake out of the fridge and searched for a knife with which to cut it. It didn’t taste very good but Horace was too busy staring into space to really notice.

His mother was right after all. He was nothing but a failure and now it felt as if the whole world knew it. Another check on his watch told Horace that it was five to eleven. Time really had flown by tonight. Suddenly an inspired thought grabbed Horace’s full attention. This thought could make Horace a success! It was so tempting. What if the Death Predictor was actually telling the truth? After all before this afternoon he had been so sure that it was working. His faith in the machine was returning. Ten seconds to eleven. Horace grabbed the knife that he had used to cut the cake.

‘I am a success!’ Horace exclaimed on the stroke of eleven.

Then blackness …