Judgement Day by James Rumpel

In this comic short, James Rumpel tells of a future in which reaching your 24th birthday obliges you to make a terrible sacrifice.

A dozen young adults were spread throughout the room. A couple of small groups were engaged in simple, meaningless conversation. The others sat alone, staring at their phones or reading one of the many messages posted on the walls. Embedded on the back of each of their right wrists was a small display screen with a blinking red light.

One of the solitary attendees, a muscular man, suddenly rose to his feet. He wore a tight-fitting shirt and blue jeans. On his left shoulder was a small placard that announced his name was Ricardo. After a few seconds, the name was replaced by a list of his hobbies; weight-lifting, rugby, and heavy drinking. The nametag then cycled through again, repeating the name and list of activities.

"Happy 24th birthday, everyone," he yelled, a sarcastic grin on his face.

"What's so happy about it?" replied a pretty woman dressed in a tight skirt and high heels. The sign on her shoulder proclaimed her name to be Lavanda and that her favorite things to do were shopping, dancing, and partying. "Don't tell me that you want to be here."

"Of course not," replied Ricardo. "I just wanted to get everyone's attention. I've got something to say."

The rest of the people turned toward Ricardo, except for one man slumped over in a corner chair.

"What?" asked Mari who enjoyed binging movies, eating exquisite food, and trying out new hairstyles.

Ricardo flexed then took a deep breath. "Why don't we just resist. When our lights turn green, we can just refuse to go."

Maliki, a short, bespectacled man whose tag stated that he enjoyed role playing games, mathematics, and sudoku shook his head. "We can't. It's the law."

"Yeah," added Mari, "why resist now? You could have refused to report when your light started blinking."

"My parents made me come. But now that they aren't around to stop us, we can just refuse to go."

"There would be harsh penalties," stated the sudoku enthusiast. "I'm sure our parents would end up being fined just like if we didn't report."

"Who cares," shouted Ricardo. "Big deal if our parents have to pay out a few bucks or they punish us. What could be worse than what's going to happen to us when we get selected."

"It's our duty," insisted Maliki. "The law exists for everyone's good. We are asked to make a sacrifice to help everyone else and I think it's the right thing to do."

It was Lavanda's turn to stand. "But the law doesn't benefit us. It only helps our parents. They're the ones who put the law in place and made us sacrificial lambs. Why should we have to give everything up just because we turned twenty-four?" A single tear rolled down her left cheek.

"You're all talking like it's a sure thing we're going to be selected," interjected a blond man; surfing, skiing, skateboarding. "There's still the test. I heard that if you do well you can earn another year."

Ricardo shook his head. "Have you ever met someone who got another year? I think it's all just a big lie to make us think we have hope of surviving."

"Well, I'm sure I can pass any test they give me," announced Maliki.

"Dudes, you got it all wrong."

Everyone turned to look at the man who had been sleeping in the corner. He slowly rose and pulled back the sleeve of his hoodie to reveal his wrist. His light blinked red like the others but at a much faster pace.

"You didn't get selected?" asked Mari.

"That's right. Today's my twenty-fifth birthday. I was here last year but didn't get picked."

"Your light didn't turn green?" asked Maliki.

"Oh, it turned green. But once I took the test it never turned to blue like the rest of last year's group."

Ricarda was still staring at the flashing light on the man's wrist. "And they just let you go?"

"Yup, I had another glorious year."

Ricardo smiled. "So, there's hope. How'd you do it? Was the test hard?"

The man, whose name appeared on his tag as Shooter, shrugged. "To be honest, man. I don't even remember taking any test last year. I was pretty wasted at the time." The small signboard on his shoulder switched to say his favorite hobbies were smoking, drinking, and snacking.

"Why would being wasted help you pass the test?" asked Maliki. "That can't be right."

"Maybe he just got lucky," suggested Lavanda.

"So, do you think we should try to do poorly on the test?" asked Mari.

"No way," replied Maliki. "I'm going to ace that thing."

"I don't know," said Ricardo. "Maybe doing bad gets you another year."

"I thought you weren't going to go when they called for us. What happened to your big resistance?" asked Lavanda.

"Well, now that I know there's a chance of getting passed over..."

"Admit it," interrupted Mari, "you're just as big of a coward as the rest of us."

Before Ricardo could defend himself, a loud klaxon sounded and the flashing light on everyone's wrist went from red to green. A large door opened in the front of the room as a voice came over the loudspeaker.

"All candidates proceed across the hall to station 100B for evaluation."

Slowly the room's occupants stood and began shuffling toward the door.

"I don't want to go," sobbed Lavanda. "I'm too young. I don't deserve this."

"It's the law," repeated Maliki. "We have to do it for the good of everyone. It must be done."

"Just shut up, nerd," yelled Ricardo. He glanced around the room as if looking for some path to escape. Finally, he grabbed Lavanda by the hand and walked with her toward the testing station.

The barista looked familiar to Ricardo, but it wasn't until she handed him his triple latte that he noticed her name tag. He had barely read her name before the display switched to an advertisement for an iced mocha.

"Lavanda?" he asked. "Remember me? Ricardo. We were at Judgement Day together."

"Oh, sure. I remember you, Ricardo. You were very nice to me. What assignment were you given?"

"I'm a data input specialist at Metacom. It's terrible. I have to work six hours a day, four days a week."

"Tell me about it," answered Lavanda. "My shift starts at 10:00am. I can't believe how difficult my life has become. And then there's my parents. They won't even help me with my bills. They say the law says that I am no longer their responsibility."

"Yeah," replied Ricardo, "that stupid law forced us out of our parents' homes, but, to be honest, there have been some good changes. I do get a slight feeling of accomplishment when I finish a shift."

"I suppose there are some positives," added Lavanda. "It seems to be more fun to go out after working a hard 4 or 5-hour day. I sort of feel like I've earned it."

Ricardo smiled. "Speaking of going out..."


  1. I wondered where this was headed. A clever and biting satire.

  2. OMG that's wonderful. Super build up, great detail and dialog. The conclusion is handled with such an economy of words that it stayed in front of me mentally the entire way. Just terrific.

  3. I agree with the previous comments, the dialogue and structure of your story are compelling. Good pacing, strong build up of suspense as to what this great sacrifice is all about, with a surprising and clever ending. Well done, James.

  4. Fun story, Judgement Day...the parents all hope everyone is going to pass...I like the slacker character..remaining in childhood dependency another year.

  5. A funny rite of passage. Now if they could only get married.

  6. Interesting. It kept me reading to find out what would happen--always a sign of a successful story. I wouldn't mind reading a more detailed version of this, something that goes into the back story of this world the characters inhabit.

  7. James Rumpel’s “Judgement Day” is a bit of futuristic whimsey inspired,, no doubt, by millennials forever inhabiting their parents’ basements and amounting to little. The hook was the absolute dread with which the characters regarded their birthday, prompting visions of The Hunger Games or any of several stories—including one by Asimov—involving the character’s survival—or not—on a significant birthday. In keeping with James’s style, the conclusion is a satirical—but happier—one. As with James’s other work, his timing and pacing is impeccable. Good job, James.