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 would not leave for weeks on end, working every spare second he could find. He no longer socialised and hardly ever went out. Neighbours no longer sent him Christmas cards and the community in which he had lived for years didn't even know his name.
This, however, did not bother Horace. As a child he had seen himself as a failure and his mother had held the same opinion. The first chance she had, Horace's mother left him and 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 than doing his job.
All that had happened some 30 years ago. Since then his youth had gone and his hair receded. He had gained a couple of stones' 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 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 day 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, they should go to the Town Hall the following day at lunchtime.
It was time for Horace's presentation.
"Excuse me," Horace muttered, but the noise did not quieten.
"Excuse me!" Horace repeated, 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 he had interacted with anyone else properly. The last time he had had a conversation was buying his shopping a few weeks ago, and 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 glancing 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 to make out what lay under the dusty curtain.
"May I present to you 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 shouted. Similar comments were 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.
"OK 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, he pulled out a set of wires and attached them to his right hand. 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 glanced nervously before whispering: "What a waste of time!" ... 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 he was going to die in a matter of hours. It was nearly 7 o'clock and that was Horace home for the night. At 10 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 in an attempt to forget the day's events.
The next time Horace glanced at his watch, he was shocked to discover it was already half past 10. Where had the time gone? Horace put down his book and wandered into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, he searched for something to eat, but could only find a couple of eggs and half a chocolate cake. He took the cake out and searched for a knife to cut it. It didn't taste very good but Horace was too busy staring into space to notice.
His mother was right. 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 11. 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 11. Horace grabbed the knife that he had used to cut the cake.
"I am a success!" Horace exclaimed on the stroke of 11. Then blackness ...
Emma Brown is a pupil at St Andrew's and St Bride's High, South Lanarkshire. This is an abridged version of her story. For the full story and other winners, see: www.scottishbooktrust.com.