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Rolling past faster than you can keep track of. So boring. You hate homework.
There isn’t a more stupid assignment you can give a kid than to sit there staring at numbers rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling back like your eyes in your head when you pass out from boredom.
7,356,123, 063 people on Earth. And before you even know or care, 7,356,123, 070. Seven first straggling breaths, seven smiling mothers, seven crying fathers, seven sickly pink or blood red or mud-colored pre-humans wishing they could somehow make their way back into the womb, where dumb homework assignments like this one don’t exist. A mailman, a doctor, a truck driver, computer programer, two McDonald’s cashiers and a person you’ll brush shoulders with once in a busy crowd somewhere popped into the world in the last seven seconds. And already, it’s 7,356,123,080.
“Look at the world growing!” she had said, “Use those computers at your homes for good once in awhile and look at the world growing. And what kind of growth is it?”
“Exponential!” you all chorused.
“That’s your homework tonight.” she said. “Go online and watch the world growing exponentially!”
So here you are, watching the numbers tick on the screen with such unfathomable importance that your brain has no choice but to default unfathomable boredom. The population clock never stops, it never slows.
It teeters there, like the cart at the top peak of a roller coaster. Death and birth rate balanced like weights on two sides of a scale. On one side, a pile of babies lays, wailing, and on the other, a pile of bodies lays, having already wailed. Then, with the clunk of one more corpse on the balance, with the clink of the cart tipping over to the big roller coaster drop, the stillness ends.
It’s slow at first. More like the United States population clock than the world one, not rolling like a wheel down a hill. More like a wheel down a flight of stairs.
Wait, wait, scoot along with rapidly disappearing momentum. Threaten to stop there in the middle of the step before dropping the less-than-a-foot to the next stair and the next stair and the next stair after that until it plops into whatever there is at the bottom of the staircase. No one knows what lies at the bottom of the staircase, which only makes us want to get there more.
Hold your breath, chew your eraser, check your phone, cross your eyes and when you straighten them again,
But then the wheel picks up speed, it lands hard enough on a stair to make the entire staircase flatten. And suddenly, the clock is rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling down in the other direction like your eyes do when there’s something horrible just below your bottom eyelids and you’re daring yourself to see it.
7,356,123,079, and you still hate homework.
What are those noises outside the window? Noises like cats fighting in the night, muffled and violent noises that you refuse to believe are ghosts. Were they there before, before the engine plopped right out of the car and the wheels started rolling down instead of up? You don’t know, and you don’t like this assignment at all.
The numbers are stripping away in chunks now, leaving bald spots behind them. A lock of hair is pulled out instead of a single strand,bloodying the scalp. An entire braid of people can come off in your hand.
They chip off, they’re an old, tired paint job. Only a spot at first, only a few hundreds of thousands are wedged beneath your nail. But when you pick at it long enough, you can get a good sheet going. You can peel off billions of people in paint in one roll of numbers.
And that’s when the numbers start to blur. A giant hand flicks them into one rolling motion that doesn’t stop for you to check how many have been lost. It’s like a slot machine in Vegas, wheels of fate spinning too quickly for you to catch a glimpse of your destiny before the wheels stop with the rest of your life on the screen. You can wait for them to land on three sevens, but do you really want them to?
Too fast for you to see.
Too fast for you to think.
Too fast for you to breathe
Too fast for you to care.
There’s a thump from the kitchen, a lumpy and soft noise followed by the clatter of a frying pan hitting the tile, as if its owner dropped just before placing it on the stove.
You still hate homework.
The wheels don’t stop, not with all the kinetic energy pushing them down this hill, but the columns begin to disappear. First the billions, a blank rectangle of pixels glaring angrily at you from the screen. An eye without a pupil. No numbers flipping past, no numbers there at all. And then the millions column blankens, and the one after that and the one after that. One by one, a light shines on the pupils of digits until they shrink away into nothingness. Until only three eyes are left to stare at you in their blurriness, the ones and the hundreds with the tens as an additional cyclops blinking in between.
The howls from the window have stopped now. Now you can concentrate on this stupid assignment, at least.
What will you tell Teacher tomorrow when she asks what you saw? How will you break it to her that by now only the tens and the ones columns are left? But maybe she was one of the missing. Maybe you won’t have to tell her at all.
Homework isn’t really all that bad, is it?
The tens column has rolled too much and unraveled itself away like a spool of thread. Only a nine is left on the screen. You can see the numbers marching now, only about one bidding its farewell every few seconds.
There’s one final howl from out the window, one last shriek like an alley cat dueling in the night. The clock is listening. The clock knows. With a pixeled flash of finality, the final column rolls onto 1.