Virgil kept his steins in the garage, wrapped in old newspapers. I felt no hesitance in stealing the newspapers, and taking the wrinkled wad–which was threatening to fall from my arms–to my room.
I wanted to read them in private. I knew I was alone, but this still didn’t feel like something I should do with an open door.
I shook my head, tossing the newspapers on my bed. The metal case was nearby, so I heaved it onto the mattress. It felt heavier than normal, and I groaned audibly.
Hesitantly, I opened the case, my fears confirmed.
All of the pages were still soaked: most of the ink had bled, and the pages were crumpled into little balls, the wet corners sticking together. If my handwriting had been difficult to read before, my story was practically illegible now.
I began to set the pages on my bed, one by one, hoping that I’d be able to decipher enough to prove Chay wrong.
I waved the alternative away.
Chay was wrong because… because….
Because it wasn’t possible for him to be right.
Those thoughts didn’t stop me from painstakingly setting each page on a different surface of my room. I’d had to throw most of my belongings on the floor.
I sighed, letting my hands drop to my side.
I turned to it and frowned.
It was still lying stupidly against the wall, and I was hardly any good with tools. In fact, a hammer in my hand was just as lethal as a grenade.
I heaved the door into the frame.
There–it stopped people from looking in on me. It wasn’t perfect, but it would work.
Now for the hard part. I faced my bed again, squinting at the first page of my… story.
Chay’s words were still with me and I exhaled deeply. Well, there was only one way to find out the truth.
It was six o’clock when I’d finally had enough. I fell onto my bed (after mercilessly tossing all the paper to the side), and put my hands across my face.
My initial feeling was exasperation: three years’ worth of writing, and nearly half of it was ruined. But that sense subsided quickly.
I don’t know exactly what it is I’m feeling now. It’s not really fear, though my heart has accelerated to an alarming speed. It was pounding against my chest as though it were wanting to escape. My throat was dry, and I felt unbelievably tired.
I would be completely content to stay on my bed for the rest of my life.
But, after a while, I rose, and stared at the mess I’d made. The newspapers were staring up at me, a few headlines catching my eye. “Sunny Weekend Expected” or “Reds Lose–3 to 5″ had been the topic of most of the stories, but others….
I shuddered. A few stories that had been collected from national newspapers (though I’m not sure how Virgil had gotten a hold of those–I wasn’t completely convinced that he could read) had been set carefully on the table beside my bed. Next to them was some of my story. I’d had to strain to read it, but there was not denying certain… similarities would be a good word.
That was it.
I reached for the first of my stories that I’d been able to decipher and read through it. I tried to tell myself that it had only seemed similar to the news articles due to my nervousness. The situation had seemed… more fantastic because Chay’s words were still with me.
Now, I’d had a few moments to reflect: surely I would see how… how impossible this whole thing was.
I sighed, beginning to read my old story more slowly, examining each word carefully:
The Man in the Shadows fell to the ground, clutching at his side. He was bleeding profusely, but it wasn’t deadly–not yet at any rate. The building behind him smoldered, the sound of breaking glass and melting metal reminded him of bones snapping in two. It was an analogy that he couldn’t explain, but it made him grimace. A sudden wave of heat engulfed him–and he ran, pulling Derek up from the ground.
It would have been much smarter to have not brought Derek at all–adventure never treated him well. Derek seemed about ready to pass out, so The Man pushed him harder, snapping, “Derek, just stay with me, okay?”
The gruffness of The Man’s voice seemed to invigorate Derek, and he moaned. “That is why I try to stay out of this stuff!”
The Man threw Derek to the ground when he was positive that Henbane hadn’t followed. The Man looked Derek over–unharmed. That was far more than The Man could say for everyone else, for the mission itself. In fact, the entire thing had been a disaster.
The Man frowned , clutching at his side.
“You’re bleeding.” Derek sounded immediately nervous.
‘It’s nothing–and you’re right. You shouldn’t have come. It was foolish of me… but like I knew what to bargain for when it comes to computers, Derek?”
Derek shook his head. “Never again. I swear, I’m not leaving the computer.”
The Man stood, looking back at the building, his heart suddenly heavy.
Derek looked around. “Where’s everybody else?”
The Man turned back to Derek and didn’t respond.
Derek stood, suddenly worried. “They’re not still in there!”
“They were dead before the fire.” The Man hoped his voice didn’t betray the sadness he felt, but the memory of the evening made him feel slightly ill. He turned away, trying to ignore the burning of his eyes, which had little to do with the nearby fire.
Derek fell to the ground. “Cyrus.. he–”
“Cyrus doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.” The Man looked at the gash that had been left on his body–his hands were covered in crimson, but the blood didn’t bother him. What worried him was the dizziness that was beginning to fog his reason. “He lets Henbane do this.” He motioned at his injury.
“Is pretty good at his job.”
Derek jumped and The Man whirled around. Henbane was standing directly behind them, his usual devilish grin reaching into his cold, blue eyes. Henbane’s menace seemed to emanate from him like a disease–deathly and definite. His rough face was marred by a long scar, still dripping blood down his neck. The Man was proud to say that he was responsible for that scar.
I threw the story to the side. It had been the first chapter that I’d ever written–the only chapter that Dad had ever read.
But the uneasiness I was feeling had nothing to do with the memory of my father, but instead with a news article I had found:
MYSTERIOUS FIRE KILLS FIVE
Last night, at approximately three in the morning, a strange fire engulfed a warehouse, used for storage on Vine Street. Five were found dead at the accident, and it appears as though foul play could have been involved. Investigators feel as though drugs could have been involved in the tragedy.
Police were reported in saying….
The rest of the article wasn’t important. What
was important, however, was the date at the top of the newspaper: February 3, 2005–two weeks after I’d written about The Man In The Shadows.
I shook my head; it was too confusing.
I tried to reason with myself that it had been just one story–a coincidence.
But I couldn’t deny everything that made so much sense: the disorientation I felt after writing, how disjointed and unfinished my chapters seemed to be.
I jumped at the sound of Mom’s voice. The room had grown dark, and I suddenly realized that I was hungry.
I heaved the door from its frame, and walked slowly to the kitchen. Mom was alone, and I was relieved to find that Virgil hadn’t come home yet.
Mom looked sadly at me–my bruises must still be pretty evident. “Todd, how are you feeling?” Her tones sounded as though I were ill.
“I’m fine,” I said and gave a shrug.
“Do you have any homework?” She began to make dinner, and I watched the process without really seeing her. My mind was back in the alley, hearing the urgency in Chay’s tone.
“What?” I started.
“Oh, yeah. Algebra.”
“Get started on it, Todd.”
I agreed soundlessly. Mom went through stages like this: most of the time she was distant and depressed, but–sometimes–she would start acting like a mother again.
I preferred that, so I never argued.
We were doing quadratic equations, and I struggled over the plethora of numbers and letters as Mom put the meatloaf into the oven.
I looked up–this was the only time in my life I had ever actually been thankful for math homework; its difficulty was keeping my mind off of Chay.
“I told Virgil to leave.” She said this as though it explained everything.
Well, she probably did think that my distant mood was the result of Virgil.
She wasn’t completely wrong but–
(“Those stories of yours, they’re not stories. They’re real. Real events that haven’t happened yet. Do you understand?”)
I turned back to my math homework.
A feeling of frustration that I didn’t understand flared inside of me. “How long until he comes back this time, Mom?”
Mom looked hurt, her blue eyes startled.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, and went on trying to figure out the square root of six-seventy-eight.
“Todd….” She was sitting beside me in moment. “Todd, I know these last few years have been hard, but we’ll get it to work out.”
Immediately I felt angry again. There was no reason for the anger–
Apart from the fact that my Mom married an alcoholic, my dad’s dead, and now the only thing that ever made sense to me–writing–is being threatened. No, where would this anger be coming from?
I didn’t let her see it though, and just muttered, “Mom, it’s not big deal.”
“I don’t feel like talking, Mom.”
She hesitated, then went back to making dinner.
That was when I noticed the newspaper. It was from today, and the picture on the front made my heart skip a beat.
A man in his early forties, yet unbelievably young-looking, stared back at me. His black hair was neatly combed, his stare arrogantly chilled.
I’d seen that man only once before–in my mind, on the pages before me. I could even hear his voice–low and uncaring as he gave Henbane orders.
I grabbed at the paper and began reading the story before I even realized what I was doing:
IMPOS INC. REPORTS STOLEN PROPERTY
It is believed that on the evening of May 4, 2008, that important documentation was stolen from IMPOS International Headquarters in Chicago. The break-in left little evidence, according to police, and the only item missing was a disc, that–according to the founder and president of IMPOS, Cyrus Stokes–contained the blueprints for a new product that IMPOS was planning for release in early 2010.
Stokes was quoted saying, “It is not important to us that the thieves are persecuted, but simply that they know we have many Plan B’s. It matters not that this disc was stolen–little was accomplished in its theft. Our plans have not been disrupted, nor have there been any need for changes.”
Police believe that this crime can be connected to one of the competitors of IMPOS and (contd. on Page 8)
A piece of my writing–something I had penned only a few days ago–came rushing into my mind:
“No. Cyrus needs time to reassess the situation. He thought he was coming after me for the software I’d stolen.”
And I glanced at the newspaper. It was from today.
Not bad, I thought grimly, shoving the newspaper to the side so that I couldn’t see it. Not only was I a prophet, but I seemed to have pretty good timing.
I laid my head against the table, giving an audible moan.
“Todd?” My mother’s voice. I didn’t look up or respond. I had a headache, and I was wondering whether my curiosity or good sense was going to win my mind’s battle: on one hand, I could find loads more stories on the internet.
On the other hand, I didn’t really want to know how often I’d seen into the future.
I shook my head, my hair sprawling against the table.
I’m not predicting the future, I told myself. The idea was… insane, and so was the guy who had told me. He was probably schizophrenic–and he’d managed to convince me of the same insanity.
Maybe I was equally crazy for believing him.
I’m not believing him. No where close. I was just curious.
Yeah, curious and becoming more and more alarmed with each second.
“Todd are you alright?”
I finally looked up. Mom was washing the dishes, but she had turned toward me, concern in her blue eyes.
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom.”
“Todd, you’re pale.”
“I’m tired.” I hoped the tone sounded matter-of-fact. I was a terrible liar, and Mom could see through me better than anyone.
Mom rushed over to me and put a hand against my forehead. “Todd, you’re clammy.”
“No fever, though, right?”
“You don’t feel warm.”
I pushed her hand from my face. “I’m fine, Mom. Just… tired, like I said.”
“Is dinner almost ready?”
She shook her head, obviously giving up on me. The silence that followed was stiff, so she turned on the radio. The mood lifted slightly, but I didn’t look away from the table.
This was all so confusing, I mentally tried to figure out what had happened–what was happening at this instant.
I wondered if Chay was watching, and that thought terrified me.
“Do you want to know a secret…”
I looked up, knowing that my body language was far more surprised than it should have been. I hadn’t heard my mom sing in years.
And there she was, singing along with a Beatles song that I’d heard many times.
I must have been looking at her strangely, for she gave me a little smile, a gleam lighting her eyes that I hadn’t seen for so long that I’d forgotten Mom could be happy.
“You remember this song, Todd?”
I was thankful for the lift in the mood, so I nodded. “Yeah, you and Dad used to dance to it all the time.”
She nodded. “You know, Todd, you’re Dad was something else.” She shook her head, drying a plate carefully.
I knew I looked confused, so she continued. “Did I ever tell you that your Dad serenaded me?”
I laughed outright. I couldn’t imagine Dad ever signing. “Did he?”
She nodded. “This was one of the songs. The other time.. oh it was for our anniversary. ‘Hanging by a Moment’–that was the other song.”
I knew I was laughing. It felt good to be thinking about Dad rather than… well, I didn’t want to think about it.
Mom returned with a chuckle. “Yes, your father serenaded me twice, and lost my wedding ring only once.”
I know I backed up in my seat. “He lost your wedding ring?”
She nodded, smiling. “Yes, but he was there on our wedding day.”
“How’d he lose your ring?”
She shook her head, sighing. “Oh I don’t know. He gave me some kind of excuse, but I can’t remember it now.”
I was still smiling when Mom had turned away, an undeniably sad air surrounding her. “Your dad was something, alright.”
I cleared my throat; it was suddenly dry. Mom came over, placing a plate of meatloaf in front of me. She and I were both silent as we ate.
“You have that song, don’t you?” she finally asked.
I gave her a curious look, and she explained. “‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ by The Beatles. You have that on record, don’t you, Todd.”
I shook my head. “I did.”
Mom’s fork clattered to her plate. “Todd, he didn’t–”
“Mom, you knew he was going to!” Again, that anger.
I was beginning to hate Chay more and more with each minute–surely this fury was from him.
“Todd, I… I…” She looked to the side, shaking her head. “Todd, we’ll get your stuff back.”
“Mom, you know that’s not going to happen.”
“Todd–we’ll work it out.”
I gave a nod because I didn’t want to upset her any more. I wondered if she knew how empty that statement was. Sure, we’d work it out–the same thing she’d said after the accident, after the first time Virgil had been drunk.
I hadn’t seen any changes yet.
It is very difficult to not think about anything, especially when a government agent could be outside your window. I was doing my best, though–
And failing miserably.
The ball I’d been bouncing against my wall fell into my hand and I threw it again. It bounded against a Rolling Stones poster, then back to me.
I thought it would be funny if posters were like voodoo. If they were, then Mick Jagger would have a very large, ball-shaped bruise on his forehead right now.
I laughed, and I knew that it was something Dad
would have thought was funny, too. He’d liked the same things that I had–even The Man In The Shadows.
Great, I was back to my stories… again.
I gave up. Whether or not Chay was insane or not, his words had sparked something in my mind. I might as well start trying to figure out what all of this confusion meant.
I thought back to my stories. The warehouse fire had been written when I was in the eighth grade–that would have been… 2005? Yeah, 2005.
My head was spinning. I was never going to make any sense of this.
I reached for a scrap piece of paper, and began jotting down what I had learned. I hoped that once I saw it on paper I’d be able to see how ridiculous I was acting.
When I’d finished, I looked across the paper skeptically and frowned:
written in 2005– warehouse fire 2007–newspaper article
written a few days ago–The Man steals a disc Today–news article
I hit my head against a pillow until it hurt, then rubbed more forehead dramatically. Rather than seeming more insane, it just seemed to fit together–like the pieces of a puzzle.
I stared at the two dates I’d been able to find in newspapers: sometime between the warehouse fire and The Man stealing the disc, he had met Aislynn, and–
I frowned. Where did my other writing come in?
I skimmed through the other stories I had written this week. During all of these writings, it seemed as though the disc had already been stolen.
So what I’d written most recently–The Man with Aislynn; The Man’s chat with Derek; Cyrus and Henbane’s newest plan of action–still hadn’t happened yet.
But that didn’t answer the most important question, the one I’d had even before Chay had ambushed me:
Who in the world were they all talking about? The person who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere–the one that The Man seemed to be taking care of.
I felt a lump in my throat.
I had an idea, but there was no way that I would say it aloud.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020