I skidded to a wet stop at the bridge. The Kaliska River was roaring beneath me as I jumped off my bike. I nearly fell against the wet pavement, and had to hold onto the bridge for support. The box fell out of my hands, and landed on the sidewalk beside me.
The rain was falling so hard that it hurt my skin; I bent down and picked up the box, my breath catching in my chest.
I could see it perfectly: the metal case would leave my hands, flying in the air for a brief moment. The latch would come loose, and the lid would open with a horrible clanging sound. Papers and notebooks would fly into the air, littering the stormy sky. I would be able to catch one last glimpse of a phrase:
The Man In The Shadows–
The silver cup trembled–
Perhaps I would see Cyrus staring at me with those soulless eyes…
But then it would be gone, over. The case would fall with a splash, disrupting the already tossing river below me. I’d watch as The Man In The Shadows drowned, as Cyrus was finally vanquished, the edges of the paper soaking until the ink bled. A few, fortunate pages would blow in the stormy wind, far from my motionless form. Then, a roll of thunder would sound, so perfectly melodramatic that it would be ideal for the stories now sinking to the depths of the lake.
And I would turn, go home without a sound, and lie on my back, for once completely alone.
I glanced downward, my hands now clutching the case so tightly that my knuckles had turned white.
“Go–do it,” I muttered to myself, though without the force that I’d expected.
I should have known from the beginning that I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I couldn’t stand up to Virgil, I couldn’t write well enough for “Writer’s Oval”–I was beginning to wonder what I could do.
No, do it.
It had become a challenge. As quickly as it had been a statement moments ago, now it was a challenge. I had to do it to prove that… that I could. It was a test of will.
My grip loosened, my arms raised, my fingertips brushed the side of the metal–
I don’t know what happened. One minute, I was standing, ready to get rid of my problems once and for all. The next, I was face-down on the sidewalk, the blood from my cut washing into a puddle.
The case did fly from my hands, and it did open, but–rather than falling in the river–it landed lamely a few feet from me. I made to get up, but not before a harsh hand pushed me back to the ground.
A pair of shoes rushed past me, to my notebooks, now getting soaked by the rain.
I stood, grabbing onto the bridge for balance. It was hard to see through the rain, but I could hardly believe what was in front of me.
A man was looking hastily at the pages, as though he was in complete shock. There was a definite calmness surrounding him, but–rather than being comforting–the man’s serenity just made me more nervous.
He was a round man, not obese exactly, but round. His extra weight seemed to be more from muscle than Big Macs. The man wasn’t tall; he was probably only a few inches taller than me.
The man was in a crouched position, clutching the pages he had saved from the wind. He was staring at one of the papers now with wide eyes that didn’t lend any sort of actual emotion.
I opened my mouth to speak, though I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. The man seemed to recognize the movement, and he looked upward. His eyes were clear, steel gray–perfect mirror images of the storm brewing above him.
“What were you thinking!”
The man’s voice didn’t match his body, and I stepped backward in surprise. His tone was harsh, his voice more of a growl.
I was suddenly reminded of an old movie I’d once watched. The man’s voice was identical to that of the werewolf right before the full moon struck: gruff, savage, and strained. I stared at the man who–with the wind ruffling his hair and the rain lashing at his face–seemed to have an unusual inhuman quality surrounding him.
I continued to step backward, hitting the railing of the bridge. I gulped slightly, though the crashing waves beneath me muffled the sound. Apparently, the man’s earlier question hadn’t been rhetorical.
The man pocketed the paper, and sighed. The effect was immediate. He seemed to grow smaller, become more a part of his own body.
I didn’t move, but kept my gaze upon the man, who was now so drenched that his short, black hair was plastered to his head.
“Well, pick it up!”
The same gruff tone caught me off guard, and the man rolled his eyes. “The case, pick it up!”
I followed the man’s gaze. Despite the anger brimming from his words, his eyes were still without feeling. I saw my metal box, and realized with a jolt of horror that half of my pages were now soaked.
What had I been thinking?
I ran to the papers and scooped them into my arms as quickly as I could, holding them against my chest. The man only stared at me, his face unreadable; it was almost as though he was trying to assess the situation.
That wasn’t right. There wasn’t any “situation.” He was probably a… a Good Samaritan. He’d seen a distressed teenager standing over a bridge. Shoot, he probably thought I was suicidal.
I rose, throwing my notebooks into the case.
“Listen, I’m fine.”
He didn’t seem satisfied. He continued to stare at me with those emotionless eyes. As though to elaborate, I shrugged. “I’m not suicidal.”
“Well, I’d hope you wouldn’t be that stupid.”
I was surprised by how harsh his voice sounded.
I didn’t allow my eyes to leave his face. “I was just getting rid of–”
“Yeah, you were just getting rid of some of the most important papers to ever be written! Nice thinking, Todd!”
The man turned harshly on his heel.
My brain was about two steps behind reality.
“Wait–how did you know my name?”
The man turned harshly on his heel, giving me an odd glance. “I know more than your name, Todd. But I don’t see the point in explaining while we catch pneumonia in this storm.”
That’s right, it was raining. Hard.
I agreed and followed him. The man walked briskly from the bridge; normally, I would have been able to keep up, but I was struggling with both my bike and the metal case. He didn’t slow; it was as though he didn’t care whether or not I kept up.
I thought he was going to turn into the ice cream parlor, but instead, he continued into the alleyway. There was a small alcove in the alley, and he stopped when he was within it.
I came, huffing and drenched behind him.
“What took you so long?”
I threw my things to the ground; they clanged loudly.
He frowned. “Don’t know much about incognito, do you, Todd?”
“Who are you?” I made my voice as forceful as I could.
The man seemed to consider me for a moment, before shrugging. “My name is Chay–” Before I could open my mouth again, he added, “No last name necessary.”
I swallowed. My day was going from bad to worse.
“What were you thinking?”
I looked up. His tone was stiff, as though I deserved a lecture from someone I’d never even met.
“I wanted to get rid of it.”
“Do you have any idea what you could have done?”
“Listen, they’re just some old stories!”
Chay’s head tilted slightly. He seemed to be surprised. “You don’t know?”
“I thought you had at least mediocre intelligence, Todd.”
“How do you know my name?” I thought my voice sounded deathly, maybe even threatening.
Chay just laughed.
“Alright, I see your going to be hard-headed.” Chay leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. “Allow me to prelude this conversation: anything I say is on a strictly need-to-know basis. Do you understand that, Todd Everett?”
“Right now I need to know how you know my name.”
Chay frowned. “Persistent.” He sighed: it wasn’t a sigh of exasperation or pity, it was simply a sigh. “Okay, I’ll play it your way. Saves me a headache.”
Chay rolled his eyes. “I have been following
you, Todd. I know that you live on 312 Buckcreek Road. I know your mother, Cheryl, married Virgil Lawrence thirteen months after your father was killed in a car accident. Your father’s name was Milo Everett.”
I backed up slightly.
Chay’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to get wetter, then I’m going to have to take care of you. Not that I haven’t been doing that for years….”
“What are you talking about?”
“Slow, aren’t you?”
“Would you just answer a question!”
“I am. You asked how I know your name. I have established that my knowledge of your name is the least of your worries.”
“Listen, if you’re some sort of stalker, I have a cell phone. I’ll call the police.”
“You don’t have a cell phone. Your family’s hit hard times because of your stepfather’s alcoholism. He had to sell your record player.”
I know I flinched at the thought.
Chay raised his eyebrows slightly. “You should learn not to show your weaknesses.”
I took a deep breath, evening my speech. “What do you want?”
“What do I want? Well, quite frankly, Todd, I want to know why you were throwing these documents over the bridge.”
“They’re not documents! They’re just a stupid story, okay?”
Chay shook his head. “Still don’t get it?” He slumped farther against the wall. “Do I need to spell it out for you?”
I didn’t respond.
“Apparently I do.” Another sigh. “I was hoping you would have figured it out by now, but…. Okay, Todd, level with me.”
“You level with me.” I stared into his gray eyes. “Who are you?”
We kept each other’s gaze for a long while. He spoke first, but didn’t look away. “If I explain a bit, will you listen to me.”
“Who are you?”
“I told you. My name is Chay. I am employed by the government–all you need to know right now–and my current project is watching over you.”
“Why is the government interested in me?” It was an accusation, not a question.
Chay licked his lips. “Which brings me back to my original question: will you listen to me?”
“Good.” Chay straightened. “True or false, you write on a fairly regular basis.”
I was hesitant to answer at first. “True.”
“True or false, after writing you feel incredibly disoriented?”
“Do you have difficulty remembering anything you did while writing?”
“And does it sometimes seem like there is something missing from your writing?”
I didn’t answer immediately.
(“Everett, its seems like you forgot to write a chapter.”)
“Yes,” I answered at last.
Chay seemed satisfied.
“That’s what I thought.” Chay leaned closer so that he was whispering in my ear. “I know why you do those things.”
“Yeah, so do I!” I snapped. “I’m a crappy writer, that’s why!”
Chay seemed taken aback by my outburst. He shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe you are.”
I didn’t respond. Something in his eyes told me there was more. He bit his lip, as though debating whether he should continue.
“I don’t know how good of a writer you are,” he said. “But you do seem to be a fairly decent prophet.”
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020