Don’t Fear The Reaper

by The Cowl Editor on February 15, 2018


person putting on surgical gloves
Photo courtesy of

by Marisa DelFarno ’18


There is nowhere to hide from death. This is the administration’s motto.

How did this become their motto? Short answer—overpopulation. Every three years, the population kept creeping over another billion. Another three years would go by, and another billion or so people would find an uncomfortable, claustrophobic home on Earth. When our population was inching its way to nearly 20 billion, people got scared, food got scarce, land got congested, and the administration felt that something had to be implemented. So they decided to play God.

It was about 100 years ago when the administration first announced that everyone would be assigned an expiration date. The date cannot be private or hidden. They believed it was best to plaster the date onto people’s foreheads. Why? Because you cannot hide it nor can you hide from it.

You do not receive the expiration date when you are born. Instead, you have to wait until you are 16 years-old to get the expiration date. That is when people get stamped like how cattle get tagged. By now, it has become some kind of coming-of-age event like someone’s Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah. On your 16th birthday, you have to report to the administration’s local branch first thing in the morning, 9 a.m. to be precise, and sit on some little chair, veiled by a thin, gauzy curtain, and get your death date confirmed on your forehead. If you refuse to report there on your birthday, they will find you.

The phenomenon with the stamps is not global. The administration argue that the countries that do not enforce the stamps are in “calamitous disrepair,” with no agriculture, only loads of people and collapsed infrastructure. The whole song and dance. They further justify that we live in a sunny utopia. Then why do many of us live in constant fear of the reapers?

Reapers is the slang word for the administration, because you know, the whole death-knocking-on-your door joke. It is a little silly and too tongue-in-cheek, but it somehow found a way to steep itself into our everyday language. But the reaper’s arrival is still completely unforeseen since the stamp only divulges the month and day, not the year of your death.

The date is October 11, my 16th birthday. I am in a line, about to find out what date will permanently be known as my death date. The line I find myself standing in is pretty humble in size. There are only about two hundred of us here. Some states have lines consisting of over a thousand or more 16-year-olds. The lines vary depending on where you live, and the size of your state. The wait shouldn’t be too long. The procedure takes a minute per person, though there is unfortunately only one lady administering it today.

As the clock drags, I eventually find only two boys remaining in front of me. They have the same exact cinnamon hair color and green eyes. Twins, I assume.

“I heard that they now make the date close to your birthday, or even on your birthday, and that is when they get you. They wipe you out immediately!” one of the boys says.

“Nonsense. Dad knows someone that has the day after his birthday pressed on his forehead and that man is now 50 years-old!”

“I said they now do it. Also, how come last year that sophomore boy never made it back to class after his birthday weekend? He hasn’t been seen since.”

“Eh…uh…he’s probably just the ultimate prankster,” the boy says shakingly.

“I guess he is Andy Kaufman then,” his twin scoffs.

“Next!” a worn, smoker’s voice calls out behind the white curtain.

One of the twins steps towards the curtain.

“Don’t flinch! They will botch it!” his brother calls out.

The other twin responds by rolling his eyes and vanishes behind the curtain. A minute or so passes and the twin exits the curtain, revealing a redden forehead with the date 10/25 newly etched on.

“Huh,” his brother catatonically responds before going behind the curtain himself.

I wait patiently for a minute before I hear the lady screech, “Next!” from the curtain.

I tiptoe my way over there, knowing my face will never look the same again. I unhurriedly tug the curtain out of my way.

Fluorescent lights soils the area with brightness like someone is viciously burning an ant with a magnifying glass. The station consists of a stool, a folded table with alcohol pads and a rectangular device laying on it, and a lady who fully materializes everyone’s vision of a reaper. Her eyes are so sunken in and blurred with dark circles that they resemble the hollow sockets of a skull. Her twiggy arms poke out of her baggy, pastel-colored smock. The bones under the sheer, veiny skin of her hands flex as she grabs one of the alcohol pads. She irons my forehead with the frigid pad, and promptly peels it off before she snatches the rectangular device.

“Look up,” she coughs.

I crane my neck up and before I know it, the strange rectangular device is cemented to my forehead, and a sudden flash of white light blinds me before the pain of 10 million needles rips through my forehead. The lady harshly removes it like Velcro. The procedure took a mere five seconds, but the pain continues to echo. I don’t even know if I have any skin remaining on my forehead.

“Don’t rub your forehead!” she snaps. “You will smudge it, and we don’t do redoes!”

“May I ask what date is on my forehead?” I shyly say.

“Pssh, like you are never going to see a mirror again.” She pauses. “Remember. Don’t touch it!” she says in a school teacher’s voice.

I let my arms stick to my sides and force myself to refrain from picking at my forehead. Smudged forehead stamps are never pretty.

The lady tugs at the curtain and barks, “Next!”

I get up from the rickety stool and tear the curtain out of my way.  I wonder if there is a bathroom somewhere so I can get a glimpse of the date forever etched on my forehead, but knowing the administration, they probably have no public bathrooms.

It is now a mission to exit the labyrinth so I can run home and peek at the first mirror I can find. The elevators are too slow and always mobbed, so I stick to the stairs—all 10 flights. My desire to dash home is fierce because reaching the front entrance took all of a millisecond.

As I am about to step out the door, I realize that the gleaming, freshly wiped down glass has a faint reflection. I drop my hand from the doorknob, and peer a little closer. The reflection is barely discernible, but the markings on my forehead are so bold that you can even see it through a foggy mirror. I squint. A boldface 11 is pressed on my forehead, separated with a dash and followed by 01. I read the date backwards and it hits me. The date is October 11.