I was heading home from school one Friday afternoon when I spotted a pair of books - one small, like a journal, one a larger leather bound tome.
Nobody was by them, so I assumed someone must have forgotten them. I absent mindedly slipped them into my bag, intending to hand them in on Monday morning so their owner could reclaim them.
I got home to an empty house. My parents had gone away for the weekend - not that I'd have noticed. Even when they were here they were hardly here.
I made myself a quick dinner and then headed up to my room, where I dumped my bag in the corner. The heavy thump reminded me of the books I'd found.
The proper thing to do was of course to leave them and return them unread on Monday.
But I couldn't resist. Who could resist opening a pair of mysterious leather bound books?
I pulled them out of the bag and examined the cover.
The small book said "Death Note" on the front. The larger, "Death Notes: A User's Guide."
I opened the death note first. The inside was blank except for a small preface on the front cover.
- The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
- This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person's face in their mind when writing their name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
- See accompanying manual for additional information.
This was obviously some sort of sick prank. Someone had filmed me picking it up and was going to demand it back on Monday to see what I'd written in it. There was no way this was real.
And yet... and yet... somehow I didn't believe that. Somehow I knew it was real.
I opened the manual and begin to read.
It looked almost like a legal text. It contained an unbelievable amount of formal jargon about what the death note could do - some obviously designed as a limit on its power, some completely arbitrary. There were rules on timing, on transfer of information, on limitations of effects...
The short version was that I could use the death note to kill people and not much else. Any attempt to manipulate the future outside of its tightly bounded effects would twist out from under me - I couldn't use it to prolong someone's life by making them die at some future day, I couldn't use it to solve computationally hard problems by specifying the mode of their death, I couldn't use it to transmit information by having them do something specific before dying... It was impressively comprehensive. Perhaps I could have found a loophole with years of study, but I'm not sure even then, and I would probably have to kill hundreds in testing to find it.
Which brought me to the biggest limiting factor... could I do it? Could I actually take a life?
I thought about it. I thought really hard.
Could I take a life out of petty revenge? No. The very idea sickened me.
But could I take a life to save millions?
I thought about all the suffering in the world, all the damage we were doing to the planet through greed and selfishness, all the millions who died as a result and the billions more who would die.
Would I kill someone to save so many others?
But even that wasn't the hard question.
The hard question was whether I would do it twice.
Fiction tells me that the first time is the hardest, but I've never really believed it. Your first time you're innocent, you don't really know what it's going to be like. The second time you don't have that defence.
Even then I had plausible deniability. The death note was a prank, right?
I might not have really believed it, but I wasn't certain. That uncertainty protected me - it gave me the ability to act, telling myself it was a joke.
I knew I could act to save the world while I was in that state. I didn't think I could do that a second time.
But there was a rule that protected me. I could set the date for the future.
That meant I could write as many names as I waanted and then find out all at once if the note was real. All I needed was a picture and a name... The internet could provide me with both.
I opened Wikipedia and began researching.
And then I started to write.
I started with the worst. Dictators, despots, corrupt politicians who had ruined their peoples' lives to enrich their own pockets. People who the legal system could never touch because they were the legal system.
Then I moved on to the billionaires, the robber barons. The ones who destroyed the planet in the name of profit.
Then the rapists who had got away with it, the ones who had sheltered them.
I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. My hand cramped up and blistered, and I stole prescription painkillers from my parents cabinet to keep going.
My eyes started to droop and I made myself copy. I was like a man possessed, I couldn't stop writing.
No, not possessed. I was fully aware of my actions. I knew what I was doing, and I did it anyway. I can't even pretend I believed it wasn't real - after the first hour of writing I knew it was real.
I had no proof, but I knew it anyway.
One thousand, eight hundred and thirteen. That's how many names I wrote in the book.
Some survived. At some point I'd had to switch to my right hand because my left hand had seized up too much. My hand writing with my right is much worse, and some names were too illegible for even the note as a result. I tried rewriting them, but sometimes even the rewrite attempts weren't very good.
Lives saved by bad hand writing.
I worked through the whole weekend with almost no sleep - an hour catnap here or there. Monday morning arrived. 9AM, the time I had set for the deaths.
I put down my pen and opened Twitter to watch for the news.
At first, nothing happened.
I started laughing.
At first out of humour. Oh, they got me. They got me good. It had all been a joke. I'd fallen victim to an obvious prank and made a complete fool of myself.
Then out of relief. I wasn't a murderer. I hadn't just killed nearly two thousand people.
Then someone retweeted the first news: "Holy shit, I just saw the Prime Minister collapse getting out of her car."
Shortly later "We have unconfirmed reports of the president being rushed to hospital."
It's hard to tell exactly who I reached - we still haven't heard any news out of North Korea, but the silence is telling and there are videos of smoke in the distance. Of my nearly two thousand victims I think I reached more than one and a half thousand.
Dead, literally, by my hand.
It's been a week now. They're calling it the night of revelation.
From my point of view it was a morning of terror, but I guess night of revelation sounds better.
Thousands more have died, maybe tens of thousands.
I knew, intellectually, that when you cut off the top of a power structure you would get chaos. Rioting in the more stable countries, revolution in the less stable. I thought I was prepared for it, but I wasn't.
Several religions were claiming credit for it - that it was a judgement on the sinners. Not the Catholics obviously, but a lot of the other Christian denominations.
There was even a rather new worrying new religion worshipping an unnamed god of death. I rather suspected they meant me.
I've been wandering around in a sick daze since. This would look suspicious, but I'm far from the only one. I think everyoone is to some greater or lesser degree.
But most of them are asking what in God's name happened. I know.
I can tell myself that in the long run it will be better, that I have given the world a chance that nothing else could have.
I can maybe even believe it.
I'd said that there was no way I could use the death note a second time, that once I knew it really could kill there was no way I could use it again.
It turns out that was wrong.
I will write one more name in the book.