Col. Jack O'Neill: Well, that's fine. As long as it's a really big number.
A very basic premise — Alice is doomed, and she knows it. Whether it's due to a prophecy, a curse, a disease or something Time Travel related, it doesn't matter. What matters is that in the near future, she will die, and there is nothing she can do about it. Alternatively, Bob knows that Alice is doomed, but he also knows he can do nothing to save her.
Either way, cue misery and angsting. The character may also go through the Five Stages of Grief. They may also try to finish some important tasks while they still have time. Of course, this does not mean that Alice cannot be saved in the end — there just needs to be a period during which it seems like she is doomed. The seeming inevitability of a character's death can be heartbreaking, although if taken too far, it may come across as Deus Angst Machina.
Truth in Television, of course. Being diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness can invoke these feelings, especially if it's a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's or Huntington's. A not necessarily fatal but still very deadly disease such as cancer can invoke these feelings, especially if it's in a major body part where it can cause lasting side effects that will make the rest of your life miserable (such as the mouth or throat), or is simply almost inherently fatal (such as the brain or the pancreas). Plus, y'know, We All Die Someday — if you're "not dying" right now, that only means your number is still relatively big. Probably.
It may be physically represented in Death's Hourglass.
See also Secretly Dying, You See, I'm Dying, Like You Were Dying, Someone Has to Die, The Last Dance, Last Day to Live, I Will Only Slow You Down, Almost Dead Guy, Living on Borrowed Time, You Are Already Dead, Whodunnit to Me?, and Wring Every Last Drop out of Him.
Not to be confused with You Have No Chance to Survive, which is when the antagonist simply says "Your days are numbered!" or something similar, as a threat. Unless Alice is actually doomed, the statement in itself is that, not this.
This is possibly a death trope, and it may include spoilers, especially if this isn't revealed until later in the media.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films — Live Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- After a few months of feeling ill, a man visits his doctor for a physical. "I'm afraid I've got some very bad news," the doctor says. "You've probably got six months to live according to the tests." "That's terrible!" says the man. "Isn't there anything I can do?" "Well," the doctor says, scratching his chin, "You could get married and move to Georgia." "What?" the man asks. "And that's supposed to help me?" "No, but it'll be the longest six months of your life."
- A man gets a call from his doctor who tells him he has bad news and worse news. "What's the bad news?" the man asks. "Based on the tests I've run, you only have twenty-four hours to live," the doctor states bluntly. Unsurprisingly, the man is shocked. "Oh dear god, that's horrible!" he utters in disbelief. "What could be worse than that?!" "Well...," the doctor hesitates, "I've been trying to get in touch with you since yesterday."
- A man hasn't been feeling well, so he goes to his doctor for a physical. Afterward, the doctor comes out with the results. "I'm afraid I've got some very bad news," the doctor says. "You're dying, and you don't have much time left." "That's terrible!" says the man. "How long have I got?" "Ten," the doctor says sadly. "Ten?" the man asks. "Ten what? Months? Weeks? What?" The doctor interrupts, looking at his watch. "Nine... Eight..."
- A patient storms into a doctor's office: "Doctor, you told me I have a month to live and then you sent me a bill for $1,000! I can't pay that before the end of the month!" The doctor calmly says, "Okay, you have six months to live."
- 24 by Jem is about a woman who is given twenty-four hours to live, though it's unspecified if it's of natural causes or if someone is out to kill her. It counts down throughout the song until one hour before her death.
- The Bee Gees' "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" was about a man on Death Row.
I've just got to get a message to you, hold on, hold on.
- The Patient in The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. This is particularly apparent in "Dead!", "Cancer", and "Sleep".
- Crash Test Dummies:
- "I'm still young but I know my days are numbered" is the opening line to "At My Funeral"
- The entire album "Songs For The Unforgiven" seems to be Brad's fear of this trope.
- The Johnny Cash song "25 Minutes to Go" narrates the last 25 minutes of a man's life before he's hanged.
- The Wham Line in "Terrible Things" by Mayday Parade has the singer's currently deceased wife telling him about her illness.
She said, "Boy, can I tell you a terrible thing?"
- The creators of South Park included a cheery little ditty called "Dead Dead Dead" in their Christmas album.
"The minute you're born you start dying,
- The Trope Namer is the Book of Daniel, in a sequence that gives us three common phrases. "The Writing On The Wall" appears to Belshazzar, the last Babylonian king, specifically the words: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is simply a list of weights and measures, but is translated as a metaphor: "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, Your Days Are Numbered, and your kingdom shall be divided by the Medes and the Persians". Belshazzar is slain later that night by the Persian armies that promptly make Babylon part of their empire.
- The Bible also makes mention of how short and insignificant human life is in comparison to the rest of the universe. Your measly life of 80 odd years, maybe a hundred if you are lucky? It is likened onto a vapor or smoke, one moment it is there and the next it is gone as it is swept away by the wind. God who has existed since the beginning of the creation of the universe sees all of your lives, all of your struggles, and all of your triumphs as if they were blinks of his all-seeing eyes, they end in mere moments. The message is clear, it is humbling that an immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing God cares enough about you that he intervenes in our lives and how important it is that we take advantage of the days that are given to us.
- In a series one episode of The Ricky Gervais Show Karl discusses the invention of a watch that counts down how many days a person has left to live. When it reaches day three, it tells the wearer to visit a doctor.
- In the first half of Destroy the Godmodder, Doc Scratch appears in Act 2 of the second game saying this about TwinBuilder.
- Dungeons & Dragons: player characters turned into Revenants have this stipulation attached — once you complete a set goal, the character dies and for the most part cannot be revived.
- GURPS: The Terminal Illness disadvantage, which represents anything that leaves a character's death inevitable — Cancer, a Curse, and a bomb inside one's skull are all given as examples. The default assumption is that there's nothing you can do, so gaining a miracle cure results in a whole bunch of points you need to pay back.
- Mage: The Awakening: Tulpas only last for days or hours unless their creator regularly maintains the spell that forms them. Because they're fully self-aware, the Karma Meter treats this as premeditated murder unless the mage designs the tulpa's mind to be at peace with a transient existence.
- Magic: The Gathering: One race that exists in the Solar Punk plane of Kaladesh is the aetherborn. Unlike all other sentient beings on the plane, they have extremely short lifespan, as well as the ability to tell exactly when they will expire. This nature turns them into The Hedonist; after all, they know their life is short, might as well have fun and enjoy every second of it. A small percentage of the aetherborn are able to stall their demises... by sucking Life Energy from other living things.
- This trope defines the "Doomed" playbook in the Powered by the Apocalypse game Masks. Fulfilling certain story requirements or using certain powers advances your Doom track, which can be used to pick up even more Doom-related powers... until you run out of options, at which point the final option is "Your doom arrives; confront it and perish."
- This is a defining trait of Rifts Juicers. The drugs that grant them their exceptional abilities do an absolute number to their bodies, such that no juicer can possibly survive longer than seven years after the procedure. And that's the absolute maximum - most who don't die in combat have their Last Call well before the seventh year. It's possible to "detox" and survive, but the side effects are horrendous. Most don't bother, choosing to go out in a blaze of glory when their time's almost up.
- If a character in Rocket Age has the Striken trait they have a terminal illness and will die sometime in the next few months or years. Rules-wise this gives them extra story points but prevents them from using them to prevent their death.
- RENT's "One Song Glory" is one of the most heartbreaking portrayals of this.
- A 2010 Berlin performance of Bertolt Brecht's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny toys with this. In the original play, two characters die from sheer decadence: one by overeating and one by losing a boxing match. In the 2010 performance, the stage directions were projected onto a screen and often ignored or even protested by the characters, following Brecht's philosophy of "Verfremdung". So when Jacob sees that the stage directions say he has to die, he first starts protesting, then laughing, then whimpering, then falls over helplessly and stays there for the rest of the act while other characters are swimming in money around his corpse. He's joined by the boxer character (Joe) soon after. The performance is... unsettling.
- The main plot of the 1960 play Send Me No Flowers (adapted into a Rock Hudson/Doris Day film four years later) is about a hypochondriac man who overhears his doctor on the phone and ends up believing that he has days to weeks to live. Hilarity Ensues as he then starts preparing for his death, even trying to set his wife up with another man so that she will be cared for when he's gone.
- Tsukiuta's second stage play Yumemigusa features an alternate scenario in which Arata (in the Sakura version) or You (in the Moon version) is dying of Incurable Cough of Death, as that world's version of Okita Souji. Arata's reaction is more peaceful - as the representative of sakura season, he has accepted his fate, seeing death as more mysterious than scary. It is his childhood friend, Aoi, who cannot accept it. You, on the other hand, react with anger, as the representative of the hot August sun, and he is the one who kicks off the plot, instead of his partner Yoru.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Sakura reveals during her Free Time Events that she gained the title of Ultimate Martial Artist after her boyfriend and sensei was diagnosed with a terminal illness and retired. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls reveals that he managed to survive an extra two years despite doctors estimating six months, meaning he outlived Sakura.
- In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair this is revealed to be the case with Nagito Komaeda. While it's never revealed in the main story, going through his Free Time Events reveals that Nagito was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma and frontotemporal dementia right before he was accepted into Hope's Peak Academy and has around a year and a half left to live. May or may not be subverted as he appears alive and well in Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School but this may be due to his luck keeping him alive past his life expectancy.
- Kaito Momota in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony suffers from a terminal disease but manages to keep it a secret until late in the game, and ultimately succumbs during his own execution.
- Near the beginning of Dies irae ~Interview with Kaziklu Bey~ it is revealed that Claudia has at most one month left to live and is dying from skin cancer. She treats it as a non-issue and just goes about her life as usual best she can. Wilhelm on the other hand decides to try and make the best use of that time in order to make her soul as radiant as he can so that he can kill her during that peak and claim it for his own. Things end up not working out for him as Caudia ends up having to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to save him from her own out-of-control Creation Figment.
- This is the cause of Shuichi Kuze's angst in ef - a fairy tale of the two.; he has a rare heart disease that no one knows how to treat.
- Fate/stay night:
- The Servants. Their reason to materialize in the human plane is solely to participate in the Holy Grail Wars; after that, they effectively 'die'. By a matter of fact, they are summoned specifically to die, their energy of a heroic spirit is needed to fuel the Holy Grail. Though various means exist for a Servant to cheat "death" and remain after the war's end; Gilgamesh did so after the previous war, and it's possible for Saber and Rider to survive in the Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel routes respectively.
- Shirou and Sakura also fall into this in the Heaven's Feel Route. According to Kotomine, Shirou has 10 years to become an adept mage if he is to prevent Losing his life from overloading his magic circuits courtesy of Archer's left arm. And that's assuming he doesn't take off the Shroud of Martin and attempt to use Unlimited Blade Works. He does. Thrice. Sakura is in no less trouble as Matou Zouken turns out to have implanted a crest worm into her, which threatens to consume her vitality, and only the Holy Grail has any chance of saving her...well, up until her Superpowered Evil Side comes out, rips that crest worm out of her heart, and crushes it to pieces as the wound seals up without a trace. Zouken didn't see that one coming, to put it mildly.
- It is revealed Illya has a shortened lifespan due to being a homunculus that was designed to be a sacrifice for the war. Even if she survives the war, she'll only last a few years.
- Rika from Higurashi: When They Cry recognizes that she and everyone else in the town will be dead within a month. She frequently tries to hint at this to others however it comes off as creepily ominous. Rika has been stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for at least a century where she relives the last month of her life continuously. She is unable to break the loop until the end of the series.
- In Kanon, the foxes on the hill overlooking the town can use a miracle to become human, but they must give up their memories and their life to do so, meaning they won't live very long after their miracle occurs, so they have to live their remaining life to the fullest while they can. This explains the whole deal with Makoto Sawatari... she is one of these foxes.
- At the start of Katawa Shoujo, hero Hisao has a heart attack and is diagnosed with a serious, potentially fatal heart condition. A big part of the Visual Novel's plot deals with him coming to terms with the fact that he could die any moment (though his condition isn't untreatable).
- The plot of Shall We Date?: Angel or Devil focuses on the protagonist having one week left to live. Her fate will depend on her selected lover.
- In the Alpha Worldline, Mayuri is destined to die regardless of the circumstances so long as they fall below 1% divergence. While at first deaths are explained rationally (being shot by Moeka via SERN's orders or getting knocked in front of a subway accidentally), at a certain point she'll just drop dead of a heart attack if all other lethal factors are removed.
- In the Beta Worldline, Kurisu is fated to die in 2010, and Okabe is fated to die in 2025. However, it is found that it is possible to "trick" a worldline by manipulating events such that the world perceives a convergence death to have occurred even if it technically didn't.
- In Your Turn to Die, Shin Tsukimi's First Trial is them learning how likely each participant is to win the death game, their percentages having been meticulously calculated through hundreds of AI tests. And sitting below even Death Seekers and pre-teens is them with a flat 0.0%, displaying that they are guaranteed to die no matter what. They do not take it well, and assume the identity of Sou Hiyori in an attempt to avoid fate.
- Parodied in Adventurers!; right before the Final Boss fight, Khrima is told this by Karn, and responds in an appropriately epic/goofy manner:
Khrima: More like... numbered to infinity! For my number will continue to increment! The only number of consequence is your chance of beating me! And that's ZERO!
- In AntiBunny this is the entire premise of Nailbat's story. The protagonist accidentally etches the Grim Reaper's scroll-phone data into his head, allowing him to rewrite the fate of anyone else, but absolutely fated to keep his maximum remaining lifespan of one year no matter what he does. Thing is, as long as he doesn't intentionally lower his lifespan, supernatural luck will prevent him from dying before fate demands it. So what to do with one year of immortality and the power to Screw Destiny otherwise? Become a superhero of course.
- A Beginner's Guide to the End of the Universe has this happen to the protagonist in the second half as he catches an incurable disease and begins slowly dying.
- Rosof Tions Sarhgress as a Drow in the Drowtales universe, should for all intents and purposes be able to live well into his 900s, but his years living outside of drow society have caused him to do something a drow normally never does, age. Now he is very slowly dying of old age, well drow older than him are both younger-looking and much healthier.
- In El Goonish Shive, when Ellen is first created she and Elliot come to the (false) conclusion that she'll die in less than a month.
- In Grim Tales from Down Below, Grim is revealed to have been adding sand to Mandy's life-hourglass in order to extend her life. It eventually runs out, but because Grim still refuses to reap her, it effectively renders Mandy immortal, with the immortality becoming official after she accepts Grim's proposal. On the other hand, Billy's own life-hourglass looks like someone hiccuped while blowing the glass. Lots of times. And there's sand everywhere in it.
- From Knite, we have a terminally ill Min-Min and, going by what her brother said, she doesn't have very much time, which hammers home of exactly how severe her illness and the pollution that caused it is.
- The main character of No Future, Andrew, has twenty-three years to live before Death inevitably kills him, as, despite time being turned back, death is impossible to reverse.
- Oglaf: Exploited for laughs in "Forewarned" by a "death planner", who offers personalized death scenarios for people fated to die on a specific date.
- Belkar Bitterleaf in The Order of the Stick. The Oracle mentions that he "should savour his next birthday cake", along with several other less than subtle hints, surprisingly early on, but everyone forgets it due to the spell ensuring they only remember the predictions they paid for. The Oracle later gives Roy's ghost an official prediction (carefully worded to avoid Prophecy Twist, not that this stops fans who don't want to accept the Belkster's impending demise from trying) that he will "take his last breath - ever - before the end of the year", of which there are less than seven weeks left. There's no way of knowing how many strips that means, however.
- In Prophecy of the Circle, the tikedi Jahrd and his father Jacind may have a genetic mortal disease called "desert drowning".
- In Sandra and Woo, we've known for years Larissa has A) psychological issues for which she takes medication, B) diabetes. In strip #718, we learn she has an underlying condition that caused both: Wolfram Syndrome — a disease for which the oldest known sufferer lived to 49 and the median lifespan is 28.
- A non-fatal example in Sleepless Domain: regardless of when a magical girl's powers awaken, they usually lose their powers in their late teens, so many try to make the most of it before then. There's three known cases when someone lost their powers prematurely: Tessa burns out her power to heal Undine and loses her powers (which she isn't adjusting to well at all), Kokoro's mother Mitsuki lost her powers when they somehow transferred to Kokoro while she was in the womb (which, considering she was warned was a possibility and chose to carry Kokoro to term anyway, she seems to have accepted) and Mingxing burned out her powers after using her Super Speed to get a nearly frozen Kokoro to the hospital, despite being severely weakened from losing her arm (which she deemed Worth It).
- Marilyn Seong, AKA Mecha Maid from Spinnerette suffers from ALS and has maybe a year or two left.
- Unsounded: The Platinum caste die of old age at 30. Mathis Quigley is 25 and has no qualms about becoming a Punch-Clock Villain to earn enough for his young son to be secure without him.
- In Critical Role, Vax'ildan only lives a few more days after his death by Vecna's hand causes him to make a pact with his deity the Raven Queen, turning him into a Revenant until they manage to defeat the archlich. Despite a Hope Spot in the first half of the campaign's finale, this does come to pass.
- In the Enthalpy episode "Robot Pilot; Or, McDarnold's La Verite", Charles is told that he will die in three hours because he ate a rotten burger. Charles uses his time to try and exact revenge on the restaurant he bought the burger from. Played for Laughs, in this case.
- The Green Wanderer reveals that Marrox has been suffering from an illness that will kill him in a matter of weeks.
- In the KateModern episode "The Confession", Griffin reveals that he injected fifteen girls with a serum that has had the side effect of slowly killing their immune systems, meaning that they will die in a few months time. Charlie, Kate, Julia, Steve and Terry attempt to track them down, but all are either missing or dead by the time they reach them, with one exception, Lauren. Following the events of "Precious Blood", Lauren is currently being kept alive only by taking a variety of pills daily for the rest of her life, as revealed in "The Drugs Do Work".
- The Kindness of Devils:
- Nights In Lonesome Arkham has Erin getting possessed by Yog-Sothoth, which means the entity's powers will end up killing her in the span of a few weeks. Although its powers put her in a coma, she ends up surviving.
- A Conspiracy of Serpents has Hardestadt getting poisoned by Apophis during a swordfight with him, which gradually starts to drain his life. Like Erin, he manages to recover from it by the end after defeating him.
- Loves Lost And Found has Ceoladh, or "The Little Mermaid" within the story. Thanks to her pact with the Sea Witch, her life is cut short, and she ends up dying earlier than intended.
- Red Panda Adventures: One of the driving questions surrounding Mr. Amazing is why he was rejected for assignment for both the European warfront and the home front-based Danger Federation. As a Captain Ersatz of Superman, he's more than powerful enough and very willing, too. The Red Panda initially thinks it's his Smug Super attitude, but that came about precisely because of those rejections and he mellows considerably after A Lesson in Defeat. The answer lies in this trope. Specifically, the procedure that gave Mr. Amazing his powers only gave him a finite amount of those powers. Once they were exhausted, he would almost certainly die. In learning this, the Red Panda tries to convince Mr. Amazing to quit superheroics, but he refuses. Having discovered that Good Feels Good, Mr. Amazing declares he'd rather live a short life helping people as a superhero than a long life of doing nothing. In the episode "The End of the Beginning", his powers finally give out in the process of weakening the Nazi ubermensch Tevas enough for the Red Panda to strike the deathblow.
- Survival of the Fittest: no matter which way you cut it, all but one of the students on any of the islands are subject to this trope - and the guy who isn't won't be found out until right at the end. Additionally, every character except the most arrogant ones goes into the game assuming they're going to die.
- Tails of the Bounty Hunter shows early on that Cale Tomlik was exposed to a pathogen years ago that will inevitably kill him in a couple of years.
- The main characters of Twig are experiments created by Mad Scientist professors of an Academy of Evil, each with an assigned group of doctors to monitor their progress and report on the results. However, each project has an expiration date, and when the narrator, Sylvester, discovers them early on, he confirms that most of them aren't going to live to see twenty.
- In the Whateley Universe right now, there's an interesting variant. A young wizardess is trying desperately to avoid the consequences of an unstoppable curse. The variant? Said wizardess is the villainess Hekate, and the heinous curse was put on her by Fey, who is supposed to be one of the good guys.
- In Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG, Mr. Welch is no longer allowed to start a game with only 24 hours left to live. No clue if he can go longer.