Mark the Days

by Kat Heckenbach

Denver blinked against the sunlight blaring through his bedroom window, resisting the urge to pull the thick comforter over his face. Moments later, the sunlight shut off. He blinked more, seeing nothing but pitch black for several seconds. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, the furniture in his room appearing as deeper shadows, he noticed the hum of an engine coming from outside.

Blast it, Jerry. Denver groaned and flipped over on his stomach, scrunching his eyes shut again. Why could his housemate never remember to park on the other side when he came home at this time of morning? His headlights lined up exactly with Denver’s window, sending blinding light through the curtains.

The engine cut off, and soon the front lock clicked, followed by the slam of the door against the wall. Then the clomp of Jerry’s boots down the hardwood floor of the hallway that led to Jerry’s room on the other side of the house.

Denver lifted his head and glanced over at the clock. Three-thirty. He exhaled, glad he at least wouldn’t have to deal with Jerry in the morning. Jerry would sleep in, not rising until long after Denver headed to the office. Then he’d be gone again when Denver got home. Jerry working nights meant Denver had the house to himself most evenings. Simple blessings…

The alarm blasted Denver from a heavy sleep, and he grunted as he slammed the off button. Shoving the comforter aside, he dragged himself over to the edge of the bed. When his feet hit the floor, he let out a sigh. Mornings sucked. Even more so with lack of sleep.

When he reached the kitchen, the barest hint of sunrise lit the window, enough to see the coffee maker. He switched it on, listening to the gurgle of heating water with anticipation. While he waited, he snagged a marker from the mug on the counter and marked off the day on the calendar.

Jerry’s snicker startled him, and he spun around to find Jerry slouched over the breakfast bar, coffee in hand. Denver’s own cup sat steaming on the countertop. The room was brighter than five-thirty would allow.


Denver rubbed his forehead. Had he dozed off standing there?

“Dude,” Jerry said, “you okay?” His blond hair flopped over one eye, and he brushed it back, only to have it flop again.

“What? Yeah. Fine.” But Denver didn’t feel fine. He looked at the calendar he’d just marked. May fifteenth. That wasn’t right. He’d skipped a day.

Jerry snickered again. “I know, I know. You’re fine as long as your little ritual is done. Mark each day, every day. Perfect little X over the number…” He shook his head, eye peeking intermittently from behind his swinging bangs.

Denver stared at the calendar, the number 14 clearly visible with no perfect little X. “You see everything marked through today?” he asked, hoping the alarm didn’t show in his voice.

“Of course.” Jerry slid from the barstool and dumped his mug into the sink. As he walked past, he elbowed Denver’s arm. “What’s wro—I mean…” His voice dropped. “Never mind.” He didn’t say anything more and ducked through the door that led from the kitchen to the back porch. Which would make sense if it were May fifteenth because the fifteenth was Wednesday, Jerry’s day off. He only slept in on the days he had to work.

How was it May fifteenth, though?

Denver picked up his coffee mug. The muscle in his arm twitched where Jerry’s bony elbow had hit him. He rubbed it with his other hand, and his touch was met with unfamiliar slick fabric. He looked down at his shirt. It was one of those t-shirts made of moisture-wicking material. But Denver didn’t own one of those shirts. Much less a purple one.

He grabbed his coffee and downed several gulps. How had he gotten this shirt? Why did he not remember putting in on? And there was something about the purple…

Another gulp of coffee, and he slammed his mug on the counter. Then he dashed to his bathroom, flipping the light on only when he was standing in front of the vanity. He stared at his sudden reflection. The purple shirt had the outline of a white teardrop in the center of the chest. No, not a teardrop. A blood drop. With a number 3 inside it. The blood drive place gave out shirts like this with each gallon milestone. Denver had red and blue, one gallon and two respectively, but those were plain cotton. He’d noticed two months ago the donation center had switched to these. Two months ago, on March fourteenth, when he was one pint away from hitting the three gallon mark and made an appointment for May fourteenth.

Had he passed out? He’d never had trouble giving blood before. Never even felt light-headed. Yet, he couldn’t remember a single moment of the day before. Not waking up, not going to work. Not giving blood. Nothing. It was if he’d gone to bed Monday night and woken up on Wednesday. But he had to have woken up on Tuesday. He had the shirt. And a small red mark stood out against the skin of the inside of his elbow. He touched the spot and found it to be tender.

“Knock, knock.”

Again Denver jumped at the sound of Jerry’s voice. He spun around to find Jerry slumped against the bathroom doorframe.

“Hey, I know you’re proud of that shirt and all, but seriously, dude.” He lifted one eyebrow. “Michelle just called. She said there were some files you need to bring today, and if you don’t, something about your boys and a platter.” His mouth curled into a wicked grin, then he ducked out of the room.

Before Denver had a chance to have another thought, Jerry reappeared in the doorway. The wicked grin was gone, replaced by the most somber expression Denver had ever seen on his friend’s face. Jerry’s head dropped forward as he cleared his throat. “And, um, hey… I know you made me swear to never bring it up—and I do swear not a word after this moment—but I’m praying, dude.” Jerry disappeared from the doorway.

Denver stared at the empty spot where Jerry had been standing. What was that about? He almost chased after Jerry, but Michelle’s words slammed him to a halt. The files were supposed to be turned in yesterday. Why hadn’t Denver done so? His job, and Michelle’s, hinged on that account. He’d finished everything Monday night, crashing into bed late, which was why he’d been so ticked at Jerry for waking him up. If today really was Wednesday, and yesterday had been Tuesday, there was no way he hadn’t turned in the files.

He bolted out of the bathroom and grabbed his briefcase from where it leaned against his dresser. He barely had it unzipped when he saw the folders, clearly labeled. Toch Industries.


The briefcase slipped from Denver’s hands, hitting the carpet with a soft thud. Denver yanked his new purple shirt over his head and tossed it onto the bed, then hastily picked an outfit for work. Once he was dressed, he snatched up the briefcase and hightailed it to the office, fiercely gripping the steering wheel of his Honda Accord to stop his hands from shaking. If he didn’t get those files there literally yesterday, he was a dead man.


Michelle was sitting at his desk, stone-faced and twirling a pair of scissors in a way that made Denver involuntarily shift his briefcase protectively in front of, as she’d so eloquently put it, his boys. The scissors stopped their movement, and Michelle tilted her head to the side. “You wanna explain all this?”

Denver stared, tongue shifting in his mouth as if searching for words, possible reasons he hadn’t been to work the day before. But there were none.

His office chair creaked as Michelle pushed her weight forward so she could prop her elbows on his desk. The scissors did not leave her grasp. “You don’t show up to work yesterday, then ignore every call, every text, every email. I waited for you all day. I made excuses.” Her eyes narrowed. “Mr. Harrison does not like excuses.”

As if Denver needed to be told that.

“Now. You. Are. Going. To. Tell. Me. Where. You’ve. Been.”

A pain sliced through Denver’s side. Not his chest, but he immediately thought heart attack and grabbed his arm. Still no words came. He had no idea where he’d been, why he hadn’t come back to work. Why he’d put on his blood donation milestone shirt and worn it home without washing it first. Why he’d gone to bed wearing it. Why Jerry was praying for something he’d said in confidence and sworn Jerry not to bring up…

“Michelle, I…” It was all he could muster. He pulled the files from his still-open briefcase and laid them on the desk in front of her.

Her gaze shifted down to the file folders. The scissors, held in her left hand, lowered until their point touched the desktop. Without looking back up, she said, “When I’m done going through these, I’ll let you know whether to compose a resignation letter or not.”

Denver turned and left his office, the knot in his gut telling him he would not be going back except to clear out his belongings.

Which was why he stood, dumbfounded and speechless again, when Michelle called him back into his office and he found her leaning back in his chair with a smile on her face. The scissors had been returned to the mug he used as a pen holder on the corner of his desk.

“This is excellent work, Denver. I think you may have just saved yourself.” She snatched the files from the desktop, stood, and marched out of his office.

Denver turned when he heard her footsteps stop.

From where Michelle stood in the hallway, without looking back at him, she added, “Don’t screw up again.” She continued on her way, heels clicking on the tile floor.

Denver forced calm into his steps as he walked over and shut his office door. Then he slumped to his knees, sucking in breaths to settle the uneven pounding of his heart. He hadn’t lost his job. Michelle didn’t hate him entirely. His life could go back to normal.


He still had no recollection of the day before.

That couldn’t stop him from getting back to work, though. So he pushed himself up and moved to his desk. Within minutes he was in his usual groove.


The house was quiet when he got home. Jerry must have gone out, and Denver was glad to not have to talk to anyone. Jerry would’ve asked how his boys were, if Michelle had gotten herself a trophy or not. Denver didn’t need that right now. What he needed was a drink and a good book.

He fell asleep surprisingly easily, and the morning started as usual. Bathroom. Coffee. Jerry sleeping in because he had work tonight. Denver grabbed the pen and leaned toward the calendar. May fourteenth still stood unmarked, and he considered putting an X there. Or should he leave it and mark the sixteenth, moving on as usual?

He paused.

What if…

He took a quick survey of the room. The microwave clock said six a.m. The t-shirt he’d slept in was the one he’d gotten on a business trip in San Diego. He was wearing his favorite pair of sweatpants.

Denver moved the pen toward the page and shifted his arm to the right. Tightening his grip and clenching his jaw, he marked Saturday, May eighteenth.

The floor lurched under Denver’s feet. His head throbbed with pain. Sunlight blared into the kitchen. Not six a.m. any longer. He glanced at the microwave clock. It was almost noon.

His coffee sat on the counter, nearly in the same place it had been when he set it down the morning of May sixteenth—what he’d thought was the morning of May sixteenth. Only, now a tiny liquor bottle sat next to it.

Huh? He looked closer. Rum. He picked up the coffee and sipped, then ran to the sink and spat it out. What had he done? Why was he—

And then an old saying popped into his head: A hair of the dog that bit you.

That explained the throbbing headache. He was hungover. Massively. Yet he didn’t have the memories of the night before to justify it.

A deep sigh escaped him. The throbbing in his brain eased enough for him to notice an annoying itch on his left shoulder. He reached up with his right hand to scratch, and found the skin covered with a bandage. He lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt—not the shirt from San Diego, he noticed—and started pulling at the edges of the tape, then carefully peeled the bandage off.

Inked skin lay beneath. A black tribal dragon coiled around a Celtic cross.

Of course, Jerry chose that moment to step into the kitchen.

“Whoa, dude, nice tat.” He moved closer to Denver and inspected the tattoo. “That’s some fine work. No wonder you were out so late. That took some serious time.”

Denver leaned his weight to the side so his hip pressed against the edge of the countertop. It was the only way he could keep his balance. “Thanks.”

Jerry was right. The tattoo was fine work. Exactly the image Denver had been wanting for years but had been too scared to get. He admitted that to himself finally. He’d made excuses for not getting it before, albeit unvoiced to anyone but the inside of his own head, as he’d never told a soul he even wanted one.

Denver dropped the sleeve back down and gently smoothed it out. He looked at Jerry. “Why are you up? Don’t you have to work tonight?”

A puzzled expression settled on Jerry’s face. “I told you, I switched shifts with Brent.”

“Oh, yeah, right. Sorry. I’m a bit fuzzy this morning.”

Jerry looked down at the liquor bottle on the counter, one eyebrow angled up. “I bet.” He cleared his throat, and then turned to make a cup of coffee. “Listen, Den, I just want you to know you don’t have to…” He shot a glance at the bottle again. “Whatever it is that’s going on, I’m here.”

The words hung in Jerry’s ears. Whatever it is. Did Jerry not actually know? What had Denver said to him? Jerry claimed Denver had made him promise not to bring it up—a promise Jerry had, sort of, broken twice now—but had Denver not told him what “it” was? Unfortunately, there was no way to find out without asking Jerry.

Or, he could try marking May fourteenth.

Would that work? Would Denver go back and live that day, or had he already and just missed his chance to remember it?

The thunk of Jerry’s coffee mug on the counter pulled him out of his thoughts.

He offered a smile. “Thanks. I know I can count on you.”

Jerry nodded, bangs flipping in front of his eye. He pushed them back, then jerked his head toward the living room where two game controllers lay on the coffee table. “Let’s hit Robo-Siege. Time for me to humiliate you again.”

Denver laughed. “You wish.”


Three hours later, they dragged themselves away from the couch and made sandwiches. They sat back down, and Jerry reached for his game controller. Denver set his plate on the coffee table and grabbed the TV remote, changing the input.

Jerry groaned. “What the—?”

“Trust me,” Denver said, pulling up Netflix. He started scrolling through, searching for some classic sci-fi.

When Jerry saw what Denver was doing, he settled back on the couch, sandwich plate balanced on his lap. “Whatcha got in mind?”

Denver shrugged. “Not sure. Maybe something with time travel.”

The rest of the day passed in a series of movies, pizza delivery, and a shared six pack. Denver crashed into bed that night, tired but content.

The following morning, he stood in front of the calendar again. He’d slept in, and Jerry was gone already. A note lay on the counter next to his coffee mug. Headed to church early. Said I’d help out in the sound booth today since I had yesterday off. ~J

Denver held the marker in his hand. Which day should he mark off? Tempted as he was to go back to the fourteenth and try to get everything in order again, something deep inside squeezed tight at the thought. Maybe it’d all reset and he’d have no memory of skipping days. Maybe it’d jinx this whatever that was happening. He didn’t want to take the chance of either. Despite the love he had for order, his curiosity overpowered that desire.

He tilted his head, considering. Yesterday, he’d woken up with a hangover and no memory of the night of drinking before. If he marked that day, he’d get to drink and not worry about suffering the hangover afterward, since he’d already done so. At the very least, the hangover would be justified for him.

Tightening his grip, he marked off Friday, May seventeenth.


The day started off as a typical Friday, and stayed that way until four o’clock, when Mr. Harrison called him into the conference room. Denver arrived to find Mr. Harrison and Michelle sitting at the far end of the long, polished wood table. Three bottles of water sat on coasters in front of the chairs they occupied and a third, empty one. Denver took his seat. Neither of his superiors offered a handshake, so Denver grabbed his water and twisted the bottle cap.

“Good afternoon,” he said as calmly as he could with his heart thudding time and a half.

Why had he been called in? Michelle had said on Wednesday that the work he’d done on the Toch Industries account had been excellent. She seemed to have completely forgiven him for the day he’d missed. Of course, Thursday was still a blank at this point, so he could have screwed up again. Or they could have found something wrong they hadn’t noticed before.

Mr. Harrison tapped the table with his index finger. “Denver, you know we were pleased with the work you did, despite the day you missed. And had we known you were sick in bed all day with food poisoning… well.”

Denver did all he could to keep surprise from registering on his face. He had no memory of the Tuesday he’d missed, but everything from Wednesday said food poisoning had not been a part of it. There’d been no evidence of anyone puking or otherwise in his bathroom. But more importantly, he knew he’d been to give blood on Tuesday, which meant he’d been fine in the morning. Unless his breakfast of oatmeal—the only thing he ever ate for breakfast, if he ate at all—had given him food poisoning, it would’ve had to have been something he ate at lunch, which meant he’d have gone to work and turned in the files.

He shot a glance at Michelle. She just nodded.

Denver looked back at Mr. Harrison. “Thank you, sir.”

Mr. Harrison waved his hand as if dismissing the thanks. “The point is, you’ve been doing an outstanding job all around. And we think you’d be perfect for the supervisor position in the new department.”

There was no stopping the surprise from filling his expression this time. Nor the grin that spread across his face. “Sir, I don’t know what to say.” He laughed. “I mean, yes, of course. Yes, I want the position. Very much so.”

Mr. Harrison stood and extended his arm. Denver followed suit, clasping his boss’s hand in a firm shake. “Glad to hear it,” Mr. Harrison said, and then he nodded at Michelle and left the room.

Michelle leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. “I say it’s a night for celebrating. How about we grab the rest of the team and knock off early? We can make it to Neagan’s in time for happy hour.”

Neagan’s Pub was right next to a tattoo parlor. Denver rubbed his shoulder, the skin underneath his shirt as yet uninked. “Sounds perfect.”


The next day Denver marked was Thursday, May sixteenth. He wanted at least that gap filled, although he would not allow his marker to touch May fourteenth, just in case. The sixteenth would be the last day he had to live working his old position. Best to get it over with, then it would be all new days in a new job ahead.

It was a typical Thursday. The only thing at all odd—or what would have been odd had he not already lived Friday—was Michelle stopping in to tell him she’d covered for him. “Mr. Harrison thinks you were out with food poisoning on Tuesday,” she said. “You’re welcome.” That was it; she left his office without giving him a chance to reply.

He’d already skipped Sunday once, and decided that after Thursday he’d leave it for later again. He struggled with the urge to live the first week of his new job in order but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a first day that didn’t feel like a first day, and jumped ahead to the following Thursday, May twenty-third.

It was brilliant. He was already getting the hang of things, so when he jumped back to Monday—after living Wednesday, then Friday, then Tuesday—he marched in on his “first” day and wowed everyone. Not to mention putting Monday at the end of the week made it feel like Friday, so his mood couldn’t have been better.

Until his assistant walked into his office after lunch. Beth smiled sweetly at him as she stood on the other side of the desk. “You got a call while you were out, Mr. Barret. I took a message.” She handed him a piece of paper that detailed the call. Marjory from the blood bank had called, wanting to make sure Denver was doing well after “his experience” on the fourteenth.

Beth continued, “She said the number they had for you didn’t work last week, and by the time they tracked down your work number, you’d been moved over here. I told her you seemed to be doing just fine, but she hoped you’d call her back so she could be sure.”

Denver stared at the note. “Thank you, Beth.” He lifted his gaze to find her looking concerned. He smiled reassuringly. “I just got a bit woozy the last time I gave blood.”

“And they called to check on you. That’s very sweet.”

“I’ve been going there a long time. Just hit the three gallon mark.”

Beth’s smile widened. “How wonderful of you. You’re saving lives.” She took a step backward. “Well, I need to get back to it. Glad you’re feeling better.”

After she left his office, Denver crumpled the note and threw it in the trash. Something had happened that day, something that had Marjory worried about him, and it was definitely not just him getting a little woozy. He could call her back and find out. Should call her back so she wouldn’t worry. But that thing deep inside tightened again, as it had the day he’d almost marked off the fourteenth. Something was telling him he didn’t want to know. He surely didn’t want to find out over the phone with Marjory. When the time came, if the time came, he’d find out with a neat little X over the number fourteen.


Denver used the skipped Sunday to give himself a three-day weekend. Jerry came home from church whistling something that was no doubt a song they’d played in the service that day. “You missed a good one,” he said to Denver as he opened the fridge for a glass of grape juice. “Nothing like rockin’ the house of God.”

“Glad you had a good time,” Denver said. Jerry had invited him to church several times, but Denver just had no interest. The song Jerry was whistling was catchy, but that wasn’t enough to get Denver to want anything to do with organized religion. Not to mention, he had a hard time believing the other members of Jerry’s church were as genuine as Jerry. People, no matter what their beliefs, generally weren’t. Eventually, Jerry quit asking Denver, but he always came home on Sundays… well, the only word that fit was stoked. And for Denver this weekend had two Sundays, which meant a double-shot of stoked Jerry. He reminded himself to space out his Sundays next time.

Over the next few weeks, it became a game for Denver. Figuring out which days to live in which order. Working to keep the details straight. Following conversations about things that had happened on the days he skipped, and silent smiles when he went back to those days knowing what would be said about everything in the future. It was fun, if a bit maddening at times. More than once, Denver had to make notes to himself, and at one point he pondered creating a flow chart to track everything.

To keep it from not getting too confusing, he didn’t jump far ahead, clustering the out-of-order days in groups no longer than a week. Then, one morning he found himself staring at the calendar. Every day in May except the fourteenth was filled in. The first three weeks of June had been filled in as well.

He flipped to July, wondering how much longer he should continue. At some point the game would get old. At some point he would likely want to start living day-to-day again. Maybe it was time to get a little wilder before giving this up.

The page open to July, Denver went straight to the thirty-first.

The marker pushed away from the page, like a magnet being repelled by another. A strong magnet. He tried marking a few days before, and the same thing happened.

Maybe he could only jump ahead so far?

It was probably for the best.

With a sigh, he dropped the page back down, and marked June twenty-fourth. Which turned out to be a high-stress Monday at work, leaving him exhausted and irritable when he got home. Jerry had already left for his night shift, so at least the house was quiet.

Denver flipped on the news, tossed the remote onto the coffee table, then walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. As he passed the barstool on his way back into the living room, he noticed the pile of mail on the upholstered seat.

Setting his beer on the counter, he squinted at the envelope on top. It was addressed to him. The return address was for Memorial Hospital. Both addresses were visible through clear plastic windows that showed enough to make it obvious the envelope contained a bill.

So, he’d been to the hospital. And it had to have been on May fourteenth, as that was the only day left unmarked through today.

Denver could open it. Maybe it wouldn’t say explicitly what had happened to him, but it would have some information. The details of the bill would give him clues. It could contain the charge for an ambulance ride, or laboratory tests. It might say what kind of doctor he’d seen.

Or doctors, plural.

His heart stuttered and his throat suddenly felt smaller, tight and dry.

Then a thought pushed through the panic: No symptoms. He’d experienced nothing over the past few weeks. No pain, no dizziness. No puking. Not even a cold. Surely whatever had taken him to the hospital had turned out to be nothing. If not so, he’d have gotten sent to see a specialist or something, right?

His heartrate steadied, and he took a gulp of beer, noting that his throat felt back to normal. It was all going to be fine.

After the news, Denver tossed his empty beer bottles into the recycle bin. On his way out of the kitchen, he snatched the hospital bill from the barstool seat, then ripped it into pieces as he walked to his bedroom and dumped it all into the trashcan in his bathroom.


Denver finished up the month of June and flipped over to July. Again he impulsively moved his hand to July thirty-first, and again the marker was repelled by an unseen force. He back-tracked as he’d done before, but none of the spaces after the thirteenth would allow him to mark their numbers. He held the marker over the thirteenth, and did not feel the repelling force, but he didn’t X out the number.

Two weeks, then, must be as far as the calendar would let him go forward from the last marked day. He shrugged and put an X over July fifth. Might as well get his post-Fourth of July hangover out of the way.

The first week of July—Friday, Tuesday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday, Wednesday, Sunday—sped by. His new job had reached a point of comfort. He and Michelle still worked together quite a bit, but as equals now. The raise that had come with the promotion had meant he could pay his car off. He could buy a new phone, maybe a better laptop. And get some new clothes. He went shopping on Friday after work, for the first time not worrying about the cost. New work shirts, new dress pants, a pair of shoes that didn’t dig into his toe. And a leather jacket he’d been eyeing that had gone on sale, making it, with his new pay level, barely affordable.

As he hung everything in his closet on Tuesday, he yanked down old clothes he’d been wanting to get rid of, including the pants he’d worn on May fourteenth. He only knew he’d worn them that day because he found them in the hamper when he’d done his laundry later that week. He hadn’t worn them since. He hadn’t worn any of the clothes from the fourteenth, including his new blood donation milestone shirt. Denver folded the old clothes and put them into a bag for donation, going through the pockets first to make sure he hadn’t left anything of value in them, even though he normally checked everything as he loaded it into the washer. Of course, he found nothing until he stuck his hand into the May fourteenth pants pockets. He remembered throwing them into the machine without checking, at the time almost afraid of touching them. Now, he found a wadded-up piece of paper, softened into a ball from going through the washer and dryer.

His throat tightened. There was something about the paper. He had no idea what, no memory still of that day, only a feeling of dread he couldn’t explain. He did not want to see that paper. Yet, he found himself dropping the pants onto the bed and carefully prying at the paper wad. Much of it was gunked together, and some of it crumbled apart. But one corner pulled away. All Denver could make out were three words as he smoothed it out, each with letters smudged or washed off: Against Medical Advice.

The doctor had wanted him to stay. But Denver had left anyway. Signed a form, ignored the doctor’s advice. Denver, who had never missed a cleaning at the dentist, never missed an annual physical, had gone to every follow-up appointment he’d ever had. Not that there had been that many. He’d been healthy overall but had the typical stuff. Stomach flu, weird rash that one time after camping, broken arm when he fell off the top of his truck at a tailgate party back in college. He’d never failed to finish a course of antibiotics. He would never walk out of a hospital against a doctor’s advice.

But he had. Why?

The only reason he could imagine was that it must have been something horrible. Something he couldn’t deal with. Something that scared him.

Something that made it pointless to stay. Either because he thought the doctor was overreacting… or because it was something so awful Denver couldn’t handle it.

Denver wadded the paper back up and tossed it into the garbage. Either it was nothing to worry about, or it was something he’d face eventually, if and when he chose to mark May fourteenth. Maybe he would never have to make that choice.

On Monday, Jerry got a promotion at his company as well, and a raise, and celebrated by buying a TV that barely fit the entertainment center. The first time they used it while playing video games, Jerry let out a hoot of joy, and every five minutes he exclaimed, “Check out those graphics, Den!” Of course, Denver had already experienced the TV on Friday and Tuesday and missed the opportunity to appreciate Jerry’s enthusiasm along with him.

After he’d marked Saturday and Thursday, Denver began to think it would be time very soon to start marking days in order again.

Things were good in order. Going to work on Tuesday after having splurged on clothes Friday, thus not having them yet to wear, was frustrating. More so on Thursday after skipping ahead to Saturday—back to work sans the new phone he’d picked up.

Yet, when he hit the end of the first week, Denver couldn’t help trying the days later in July. The month had Xs on July first through seventh. He aimed the marker at July seventeenth, but it was pushed away.

The two-week theory was apparently wrong.

The sixteenth refused an X as well.

Then the fifteenth.


As before, he felt no resistance when he held the marker over July thirteenth.


He moved his hand to the right again and pushed toward the calendar page with all his might. The harder he pushed, the harder the unseen force pushed back. But he forced more energy to his muscles.

The marker moved forward a fraction of an inch.

The calendar blurred, the numbers fading.

Blackness closed in around Denver. Cold, empty.

The room disappeared from his vision. He felt no floor beneath his feet, no countertop against his side. He felt nothing but the marker in his hand, although even his hand felt separated from him.

He wasn’t breathing.

He wasn’t… anything.

He dropped the marker.

Air rushed into his lungs, and he gulped it down, gripping the edge of the counter. His heart pounded against his ribs. Ribs that he felt now, ribs that were definitely a part of him at this moment but had definitely not been a moment ago.

Denver looked up at the calendar.

The days stopped at July thirteenth. After that, the page was blank.

Jerry appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, hair a tangled mess and eyes bleary. It was still Monday—Denver hadn’t marked the calendar yet, so the day had just gone to the next open square, July eighth—and Jerry was sleeping in because he had work that night.

“Den, what the heck?”

Denver inhaled and forced himself to stand up straight. “What?”

“That noise you made. I thought you fell or something.” He yawned and rubbed the back of his neck.

“No, I’m fine. Sorry I woke you.”

“No worries. But you don’t look so great. This,” he said, waving his hand up and down, indicating Denver’s appearance, “is where they came up with the saying ‘death warmed over.’”

Denver swallowed and forced out a sarcastic, “Thanks.”

“Any time.” Jerry turned and plodded back toward his room. A moment later, his voice rang from the hall. “Maybe you ought to call in sick today, dude.” Then a few more footsteps and the thud of his bedroom door shutting.

Denver ignored Jerry’s suggestion, honing in on the words he’d said before. What noise had Denver made? Did Denver really look that bad?

He shuffled to his bathroom and looked in the mirror. Jerry was right. Denver had never looked so pale. Dark gray rimmed his eyes. And if he hadn’t thought it was completely crazy, he’d have sworn the edges of his lips looked blue.

Death warmed over.

He’d felt dead.

Maybe he had been.

He returned to the calendar—blank past July thirteenth—and called out, “Jerry!”

Seconds passed while Denver stared at the half-printed, half-blank page, and then Jerry appeared in the doorway of the kitchen again.

“Dude, what gives? I gotta work tonight.”

“I’m sorry. And… I know this is going to sound crazy but look at the calendar.”

Jerry shuffled around and made an exaggerated I’m looking expression. “Yeah, what?”

“Nothing weird?” Denver said, unable to keep the hesitation from his voice.

“Well, you forgot to write my mom’s birthday on here, but that’s it.”

“You’re sure?”

Jerry turned to face him, his eyes filled with concern. “For real, dude. Call in. Get some rest.” He patted Denver on the shoulder. “Stay home, and I’ll check on ya before I head to work.”

Denver nodded and let Jerry move past him. Maybe he did need to take a day off. He marked July eighth on the calendar and went to find his phone.


Sleeping in, reading, and watching TV had made a world of difference in the way Denver felt, but it hadn’t cleared the thoughts that plagued him. Why could he not mark anything past the thirteenth of July? Did it have to do with not marking the fourteenth? Could he only go so far from that day without going back?

Or was it worse? What had really happened on the fourteenth? Had the doctor given him some kind of med that had a delayed side effect, like a causing a blood clot that would release on the thirteenth and cause a massive stroke, making it his last day? Or maybe he was going to die anyway on that day, but it had nothing to do with his trip to the hospital. Maybe he was destined to be hit by a bus or crack his skull on the coffee table after tripping over Jerry’s shoes or have a heart attack. Maybe his ex-girlfriend was going to go mental and shoot him at work. Maybe he’d be in a horrible car accident.

He stood staring at the half-blank page again on the morning of July ninth. For a brief moment, he’d tried holding the marker over the white expanse on the bottom of the page, but nothing appeared, and Denver felt as though his body were lightening. As though the atoms were disconnecting from each other the way he’d imagined it would feel on the transporter pad of the Enterprise.

It could only mean one thing. His life would end on July thirteenth. The reason he couldn’t mark days beyond that, and the reason he could no longer see those days at all, was that there were no days for him past that point. Jerry could see them because Jerry wasn’t going to die yet.

Denver, on the other hand, would die in four days. It was the only explanation. If he merely had to return to May fourteenth, surely the rest of the calendar would not have gone blank. Right?

He reached up and pulled down the two calendar pages that would take him back to May. With a deep breath, he held the marker a few inches away from May fourteenth. His hand hovered for a moment, and he moved it forward. There was no resistance as with the days following July thirteenth, but his stomach turned and bile crept up the back of his throat. Dread washed over him, although he didn’t know if it was the power of the calendar or just his own fear of finding out the truth.

The marker moved forward until it touched the page. Denver’s hand shook as the room swam around him. Panic seized him and stuttered his heartbeats. His vision darkened, blackness moving inward until only a pinprick remained in the center. The pinprick grew, spreading out in all directions at once, filling with different hues that swirled and morphed into shapes. Moving shapes that tightened and clarified just enough to be discernible.

The blood donation center, in the waiting room. Marjory walking over and handing him a clipboard. Half paying attention, half looking at his emails and texts on his phone. Distracted, scribbling down the wrong phone number.

Then in the donation room, rising from his seat, band-aid already in place. The room spins and slips from view.

Motion and blur and sirens.

A bright hallway and ceiling tiles whizzing past.

Doctors, nurses, beeping machines.

Metal table, sliding into a human-sized tube, clicks and whirs and banging noises. A voice reminding him to hold still.

Sitting up but looking down at the purple shirt covering his torso, white dress shirt wadded in his hands, fingers fumbling the frayed tear on the sleeve. A voice murmuring, the only word clear enough to understand—inoperable—rebounding around his brain.

Scrawling his signature on a form, shoving it into his pants pocket, letting the heavy door slam shut behind him.

Ripping off the band-aid and wristband and tossing them, along with the torn work shirt, into the trashcan on the sidewalk. Hailing a cab. Picking up his car and driving home. Sitting in the car, scrolling through internet searches—brain aneurysm, inoperable, prognosis—on his phone.

Walking into the house. Jerry home early, eyes filled with worry.

“Where’ve you been? What’s going on?”

“Nowhere. Don’t ask. Don’t ever ask.”


“Swear it!”

“I’ll pray for you.”


Lying in bed, staring out the window. Scared. Helpless. Hopeless…

Blackness circled the vision and drew inward until, again, only a pinprick of light remained, and then popped.

Denver stood in the same spot, arm up, the tip of the marker touching May fourteenth. Before he could decide what to do, before he could decide what to think, an X appeared over the square. Perfect, straight lines from corner to corner. Perfect angles. Red, the color of blood.

He dropped the marker, ran to the kitchen sink, and vomited. His stomach clenched tighter with each heave until he slumped over the edge of the sink, willing Jerry to not hear, to stay in his room. Sweat clung to his face, his chest, the back of his neck. The sight inside the sink threatened to start the process again, so he rinsed it out and splashed cold water on his face.

Several deep breaths, and his heartbeat settled. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to turn around. It was his imagination, surely.

But when he returned to the calendar, the red X was there.

Jaw clenched, he lifted the pages and fastened them in place so July showed again. Eight neat black Xes covered the first eight days. He held the marker over the number nine. There was no more reason to jump. The last four days of your life were the last four days regardless of what order they came in.

Four days left, all because of May fourteenth.

The day he’d first marked the wrong number on the calendar.

The day he’d gone in to give blood and ended up at the hospital, to be billed for weeks later.

The day he’d signed an “Against Medical Advice” form and stormed out.

The day he’d told Jerry something bad had happened but never revealed that thing to his friend.

The day not just the order of time changed for Denver, but the way he looked at life.

He rubbed at the fully healed tattoo on his shoulder and glanced at the huge TV. He thought about the new wardrobe in his closet. The phone, the laptop. Promotions, raises. He thought about days of video games, movies, and beer. A friendship with Jerry that had deepened. The fun he’d had making a game of the shifting days.

Would those things have happened if he’d remembered?

He marked July ninth.

The following day, he marked Wednesday, July tenth.

Thursday, eleventh.

Friday, twelfth.


He talked Jerry into switching shifts on Friday so he’d have the day off. They spent the day together, renting jet skis at the lake. Denver took Jerry out to his favorite sushi place for dinner, and even choked down a sip of sake at Jerry’s insistence. The rest of the evening consisted of video games and a six pack of Denver’s favorite porter.

At the end of the night, Jerry thanked him after downing a glass of water before bed. Denver sat in one of the barstools, staring at the calendar.

One more day.

The end of this life, and then… what? The nothingness he’d felt before when he’d tried to mark the calendar beyond the thirteenth squirmed in the back of his mind. So cold, so empty. So wrong. The sensation screamed of lacking, of should be, as though it could and would be something, if only—

The clink of Jerry’s glass in the sink drew his attention. Jerry stood, arms now crossed, lip tucked between his teeth.

Denver’s throat burned and tightened, but he clasped his hands together and forced out the words he never thought he’d hear himself say. “Jerry… um… would you pray for me?”

Jerry’s gaze intensified, and he nodded, no questions asked. Then he walked over and stood behind Denver, placing his hands on Denver’s shoulders. Denver closed his eyes, listening to Jerry’s voice. “Dear Lord…”

Denver didn’t really hear Jerry’s prayer. He focused on holding back the tears that burned his eyes. It didn’t matter what Jerry said anyway—it only mattered that he was saying it.


And now, the calendar hangs in front of him. Every square visible to Denver marked with a perfect little X, except for July thirteenth. Denver picks up the marker from where it lies on the counter. He inhales, pulling his shoulders back, and marks the day.

Kat Heckenbach graduated from the University of Tampa with a bachelor’s degree in biology, went on to teach math, and then homeschooled her son and daughter while writing and making sci-fi/fantasy art. Now that both kids have graduated, her writing and art time is constantly interrupted by her 96 lb boxer mix. She is the author of YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles and urban fantasy Relent, as well as dozens of fantasy, science fiction, and horror short stories in magazines and anthologies. Enter her world at

“Mark the Days” by Kat Heckenbach. Originally published in Mythic Orbits Volume 2. Copyright © 2018 by Kat Heckenbach.
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  1. Wow. Powerful. The relationship we develop with Denver over the course of the story, sharing the mystery of it all, the game of it, and ultimately the terror of it. Had tears in my eyes at the end. And you managed to leave it hanging--harder than it looks, that sort of ambiguous ending that lets the reader fill in the blank. But I think you nailed it. Well done!

    1. Thank you so much! I love ambiguous endings and worked really hard to get this one just right. So glad you think it works!


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