The Final Countdown [Short Story]

There is something missing, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, and the pressure is mounting. It’s in these rare circumstances that your life begins to flash before your eyes. I mean you always hear about it, but never think it’ll happen to you.

“Are you alright over there?” A voice shouts from across the cordoned-off area.

I fiddle a bit more while wiping some of the sweat from my forehead.

I am not sure what to answer in this situation. I’ve been doing this for years now, this is my job for Christ sake, and this is the first time I’ve stumbled.

“Hey,” the voice asks again, but this time right behind me, “are you okay?”

The sudden noise gives me a fright. I’m under enough pressure as it is, and don’t need someone peering over my shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” I snap. I then look around to make sure no one heard. They cannot know what’s going on.

My partner. He dons a large, grey moustache, doughnut-filled belly, and the look of being wise beyond his years. Typical. He can never let me do anything on my own.

He stares at me for a few moments, trying to find words by the looks of it. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I started to get a little worried.” He peers over my shoulder.

“Looking at the timer you only have five minutes left.”

“I know,” I say irritably.

“And when those five minutes are up then so are you. So am I. Look… umm… if you can’t do this then it’s okay. I mean we’re not all… I mean it’s happened to me before and… “

I interrupt him. “That was practice. No one was depending on you.”

I look over my shoulder to see the huddled masses behind us. A camera crew films everything for the world to see. If I screw up I’ll be another tragedy, but only for a few minutes.

“Back behind the line with everyone else!” I shout.

He seems taken aback by my tone.


“Just get back behind there. You can’t be a part of this.” I need to appeal to his nurturing side. “You have a family. You have kids. God, what will happen to them if you-” I looked at the little LED timer. Only a minute remaining.

The sweat drips down my forehead again. Down the bridge of my nose and to its tip. I hunch over and try to figure out what it is I’m missing.

“Did you try the-” my partner chimes in.


“What about the-“


“And even the yellow thingy?”

“Of course! It’s the first thing I tried. It’s the first thing we were taught. Can’t you see?”

“I’m only trying to help.”

Only fifteen seconds remaining on the clock. If I cannot get it now, then I’ll never get it. There will be no point. I have to try one last thing.

My hand reaches in. The counter hits zero. Silence.

The two of us stand there, frozen. As we exchange looks, we aren’t sure what to do. I’m half expecting some sort of climactic ending, but I guess that’s just silly.


A small elderly woman walks over to us.

She looks me in the eye and says, “Sugar. You forgot the sugar, dear. You can’t make a cake without it. You’re disqualified.”