Momma got nipped after giving birth to her two hundred and fifteenth child—me. Two hundred and fifteen kids isn’t so many compared to her six thousand sisters, who averaged broods of twelve hundred or more. But these things happen and Momma got nipped, so I was raised by my one hundred and ninety-five siblings (twenty of them were nipped by the time I reached my sixth birthday.)
I go to a high school of six hundred thousand students, although the student body fluctuates wildly day-to-day. Just last week eighteen kids got smashed by four buses, another forty were kidnapped and turned into smoked sausage, and approximately one hundred eighty were just nipped. But the next morning, there were just as many new kids at the school. I’m used to making different friends all the time.
Today my homeroom class was twelve dozen fth graders and we had sixty-eight math teachers all trying to teach us the same thing: ‘an exponent is blah blah blah.’ I’ve never cared for math—when will I ever use it in the real world, when I’m fifty percent likely to be struck by a massive ballclap of lightning just walking home. When an 8.5 earthshaker could open up the floor, just like it did to Thunderbird High next door. When I could be nipped in my sleep a thousand different ways.
And I stared into these math problems and wondered about all that before the roof of the classroom ripped off and ninety of my classmates were sucked out by a raging tornado.
Good thing I remembered to bring weights to class.
If I make it through English and history without any third degree burns, I usually finish some homework in the janitor supply closet. The study room isn’t safe—at least eighty kids get nipped there a week and that’s only if there isn’t a gas leak. But nothing ever happens to the janitor supply closet—no one even goes in there hardly because custodians in this school usually get chewed up by the sprinkler system or rogue lawnmowers.
So I hunkered down there and reviewed my history lessons. History is so boring. It’s just a bunch of people dying. I was reading about the Great Execution, in which eight billion people got nipped in some bloody fistfight and I was trying to remember specific dates when important people got nipped or nipped other important people when the door swung open.
I jumped up, panicked, convinced that my time had come. I knew it would come sooner than later—much, much sooner than later—but I was still anxious about the idea.
Every night, I prayed, don’t let me get squished by falling, flaming rocks. Don’t let me get stabbed in an alley by a knife juggler. Don’t let me get snuck up on and injected with a deadly virus. I could die peacefully in a fiery eighty-two car pileup, so long as it was over quick and I didn’t have to be scared when it did happen.
So when the storage closet door swung open, I knew this was it and all these prayers were going through my head and that’s how I met Leah.
She had long dark hair that covered her dark eyes and she was crying and didn’t see me hiding between the shelves of rat poison and paint stripper and weed killer.
I listened to her tears fall—plink plink plink—and wondered what to do. I decided to leave, but she caught me jiggling the doorknob.
‘Don’t go,’ she said. I turned. She was clutching her books close to her chest, shivering. She wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Her socks were soaked with tears.
‘I’m Casper,’ I said, extending my hand.
‘Leah,’ she sniffed, taking mine. ‘Science class boiled over. I think I was the only one who escaped.’
‘That happens,’ I shrugged. ‘At least you made it.’
She started to cry again, so I put my arm around her.
‘You aren’t afraid of getting nipped?’ she asked.
‘Me? Nah. It has to happen sometime. It will happen sometime.’
She cried on my shoulder. I could hear the walls shaking and screams from the hallways. But we were safe in here.
‘Was your mother nipped?’ she sniffed.
‘Yes. Was yours?’
‘Yes. And my father and my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles and cousins and most of my step-siblings.’
‘Wow. At the same time?’
‘The bathtub flooded. There was nothing we could do. Only me and my eight hundred brothers and sisters survived.’
‘I never knew my father or my grandparents or any of my other relatives.’
‘All nipped. Before I was born.’
‘I should be grateful that I got to know my family at least. It just seems like there was never enough time.’
‘Oh, you’re right about that. There’s never enough time.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m not being very sympathetic, am I?’
‘It’s alright. I’m just grateful to have made it this far,’ I said. ‘Without being nipped.’
At this point, I decided to take a risk, because what’s the worst that could happen? So I asked, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
‘A boyfriend?’ She replied, shocked.
‘Or a girlfriend. Or any friends?’
After a pause, I said, ‘Well, I’ll be your friend.’
‘I don’t think so. I try not to too get attached these days.’
Leah and I sat there in the darkness, listening to the sound of water dripping in the utility sink. The screaming in the hallway had ended.
‘Want to check it out?’ I asked.
‘Do you think it’s safe?’
We peeked our heads around the corned. The walls were scorched and the floors were cracked like eggshells. But it was quiet and she took my hand and we walked out into what was left of the world.
Troy Farah is a journalist and photographer from the High Desert in California. His reporting and criticism has appeared in Smithsonian, Discover Magazine, Undark, Motherboard, and others. He co-hosts the drug-addled podcast Narcotica and can be found on Twitter @filth_filler and troyfarah.com