The Way It Was, Pt. 3

“How did you get here?” I ask, trying to change the subject and to draw out a less dickish side to my future self.

“Time Machine. Rift in the universe. Or maybe I just closed my eyes and said, ‘There’s no place like Donaghan’s’. Does it really matter?”

Ok, so there is no less dickish side.

“The important thing,” he says, pausing to take another sip of his drink, “is how will you get here?” He points to himself. “Or maybe, will you get here at all? Maybe you’ll go a different way. Drink all that untapped potential up and then flush it down a stained urinal.”

“Or, you know, I could just find a job that doesn’t turn me into a jerk. I mean, seriously, what happened to you – me…us?”

He grimaces and gives me a tight nod. “You’re right. I did come off a bit too harsh – ”

“A bit?”

“Fair enough. But you need a slap in the face if you’re going to get out of this funk, man. That’s pretty much what happened to me. I had a troubling realization about where my life was headed and changed course.”

“What exactly did happen?”

“Hey, no spoilers.”

I laugh, in spite of myself. At least he has some of my humor in him.

“Sorry,” he says, the cheap leather of the both seat squeaking in protest against him. “I can’t go into specifics of the future. Tossing pebbles into the timestream and that kinda thing. But I can tell you this. You need to shake things up. Change your whole lifestyle. And in no time at all, you’ll be headed for big things, my friend.” He adjusts the lapels of his very expensive-looking coat. “Big things.”

He sits up suddenly and I spring back. It’s unnerving when your own face comes swooping towards you.

“I can give you one tiny spoiler,” he says, a conspiratorial grin on his face. “Dani Hawkins.”

“Dani Hawkins? Wait, wasn’t she – ”

“The one that got away? She got hooked in again.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, Dani and you…Dani and me…” My own loneliness hits me like a slap in the face. Dani and I had dated for a few months, but it didn’t last. She didn’t like the direction my life was heading in. I guess she was wrong. Or will be wrong. I could potentially get back together with her, live in a big house and have a great job. It all sounds so perfect.

He motions to the bar, where his two companions are deep in conversation.

“Didn’t recognize her, did you? I’m not even sure if she’ll recognize you. She never got to see that beard, lucky her.”

Whoa. That’s her. She’s dyed her hair since the last time we’d seen each other but now I’m surprised I didn’t see it sooner.

“That’s…insane. You’ve really got it all together, huh?”

He shrugs. “Hey, nothing’s perfect, right? But I can’t complain, man. Life’s been pretty good to me. And it’ll be pretty good to you, if you let it.” He downs the rest of his drink in one gulp, the remnants of ice cube clinking against the glass. “Look, it’s been good catching up, but I better get going. If I hang around here too long, that won’t be good for the timestream. Plus, don’t wanna keep Dani waiting, y’know?”

We nod at each other and he slides out of the booth. I watch him walk back to the bar and join the conversation there, wrapping an arm around Dani. It’s as if I’ve become invisible again, retreated into the past that he didn’t want to completely relive.

I’ve just been wasting my time here, wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness, thinking that I’m being denied some magical life I deserve by an uncaring world. But, I realize, that life is mine to take. All I have to do is reach out for it and pull it towards me. Big things. That’s what he said. There are big things in store for me if I just walk out of here and try to make something of my life.

The again, it’s Saturday night at Donaghan’s and I’ve still got a tall glass of beer with my name on it. I reach for the glass, take a long sip and let the bitterness coat my tongue.

I look to the bar. My future self is still there with Dani, but he’s looking back at me now. Even from a distance, I can see the panic building in his eyes. I smile, raise my glass, and chug the rest of my beer. He’s nowhere to be found among the usual drunks that frequent this place.

Good. That guy was a dick anyway.

 

Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here. For more unusual tales, head to The Reading Room.

13 Tales of Terror: Plots For Sale

Marty wasn’t having a good day.

He had just found out his job was nearing its expiry date, and his love life had already crossed that threshold earlier that morning. Katie didn’t see their relationship going anywhere so she’d gone away instead.

After an excruciating few hours at his desk making small talk with people he’d rather not talk with at all, it was finally lunchtime and Marty could have a few moments to breathe. He didn’t really have much of an appetite that day, so he went for a long walk instead. He could still hear Katie’s voice echoing in his head, telling him that he really needed to buy himself a new life.

Marty kicked a can across the street in frustration, which was about the time he realized that he had no idea what street he was on. He stopped and looked around. None of the street signs were familiar. Neither were the buildings. His office was nowhere in sight, nor any of the office blocks that surrounded it. How far had he walked?

“Plots for sale! Plots for sale!”

There was a man standing on a street corner, perched on top of a small box. He was old, though Marty couldn’t guess at his age. His hair, or what little of it he had, was iron gray, as was the scraggly beard that covered his face. He was dressed in what seemed to be maroon wizard’s robes, tattered and possibly covered in dust. Marty tried not to pay too much attention to him.

“Plots for sale! Plots for sale! What would you like, sir? A thriller to set your heart racing? A little romance to make you dance? Ah, perhaps what you need is a good mystery to solve!”

Marty looked around, puzzled. It was clear the old man was talking to him. After all, he was the only one there. It didn’t make any sense. How did he end up on this strange street by himself? Where was everyone else?

“Come now, sir, don’t be shy! I have so many plots to sell! A new life awaits you with just the turn of a page!”

A new life?

“Right this way, friend!”

The old man waved a hand in the direction of a derelict bookshop. Before Marty could blink, the man was standing next to him and steering him toward the storefront. He wanted to protest. He had to get back to work. He had to find his office. He had to get back to his life. Or did he?

As Marty mulled over the direction his life had taken from the moment he woke up that day, he allowed himself to be led into the dingy bookshop that smelled like musty old paper. Maybe he could pick up some sort of self-help book.

“Well, sir? What will it be?”

The old man’s eyes shone as he displayed his wares, books spread out across rows and rows of dark wooden shelves. The shop was a lot larger than it looked from the outside.

“Perhaps you’d like to purchase a spy plot, full of suspense and intrigue?”

Marty opened the book that the man thrust into his hands. The pages were blank. Marty looked up to ask the shopkeeper about it but he wasn’t there. In fact, the shop wasn’t there. Marty was in an elegant casino, dressed in a sharp dark gray tuxedo. There was a high stakes poker game going on, and Marty was playing one of the most notorious arms smugglers in the world. The fate of several nations would depend on the outcome of the game. Keeping his cool but nervous on the inside, Marty turned over his cards…

“Well? What do you think?”

Marty was back in the bookshop and the old man was eyeing him hungrily. He looked down at the book; there were words in it now. It was describing the plot that Marty had just lived.

“I see spy stories aren’t quite your thing. Perhaps something more in the science fictional realm?”

Marty opened the next book he was given. He was in a satellite that was orbiting a dying world. As the leader of the last remnants of an alien race, Marty had some difficult decisions to make about where they would go next. They wouldn’t last off-world very long. He had to find them a new home. A new planet. He looked at his astronomical charts to determine their next course of action. And that’s when the missiles hit. They were under attack! Marty knew he had to do something, but another round of missiles knocked him off his feet…

“No? Is this not to your liking either, sir? My oh my…you are a tough customer.”

The old man stroked his chin, thinking for a moment. “Well, my friend, I think I have just the book for you.”

Marty’s head was still reeling from the last story, but he was curious about what else the old man had in store. Maybe the next plot would be the one for him.

“Ahh, here we go,” the man said, handing Marty a heavy leather-bound tome. It was devoid of any dust, and seemed almost out of place in the old shop. Marty ran a hand over the cover, relishing the feel of it. He opened it up, hearing a soft sigh escape from the book’s spine. Like the others, it was blank.

But this time, Marty wasn’t sucked into a spy story or a science fiction adventure. He wasn’t sucked into any kind of story at all. There was nothing around him except blank space. He heard a loud thump from somewhere in the distance.

“There, that’s better. Poor fool. You’ve wasted your life, wasted the potential story you could have told. But perhaps someone else will be able to use this plot, and to tell a better tale than you were capable of.”

Marty could do nothing but stay frozen in place as the old man placed the book back onto its shelf. He was nothing more than a blank page now, doomed to stay that way until someone wrote their story.

Timeless

Martin Wilkes was never on time.

A house full of clocks, alarms set on each one, and they did him no good whatsoever.

He was always running behind, trying to catch up.

Martin was the sort of man who would be late to his own funeral.

And indeed, he was.

Dog Eat Dog, Part 4

I ran until my lungs started to burn. This wasn’t happening. It was just another hallucination. It had to be. But I knew it wasn’t. Not this time. There was a shopping plaza up ahead with a fountain in the middle of it. The plaza was completely deserted. I knew the drill by now. Madness followed by silence. And then that bastard mongrel would show up, taunting me with its unblinking stare.

But it didn’t show. There was nothing hiding in the shadows. Nothing except a faint ripple radiating from one point on the fountain. Heart pounding, I walked toward it and leaned forward. The black hound stared up at me from the water’s surface.

I stumbled backward and right into a middle-aged businessman who was walking past.

“Hey! Get out of here, you stupid mutt!” he yelled, brandishing his briefcase at me.

The plaza was crowded. Families milled around idly, couples displayed unabashed affection and office workers enjoyed a small break from their desks. Everyone’s gaze turned toward me and I found myself running again. I had no idea where I was. Everything looked unfamiliar. I passed by a series of mirrored windows, seeing the hound behind the glass instead of me.

There was nowhere left to go. My whole life had been stripped away in an instant and the one person I could count on saw me as a stranger. I laughed. If only she did see me as a stranger. At least I’d be human. I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets, trying to make sense of the world again. At night, I found a secluded spot in a park and went to sleep.

Or I tried, at least. The barking was back. I knew the were there. As soon as I opened my eyes, I’d see an army of dog spread out all over the park. I didn’t want to see them. Or anyone. I just wanted to be alone. The barking stopped. Perhaps there would be some sleep after all.

Early next morning I found my way back to the office. The city had only just woken up and Joe was already at his seat downstairs. After a few minutes, the empty streets started buzzing with activity and people started heading to work. This is when I would normally arrive at the office, trudging in through the front door desperately searching for coffee. I hated that job, but it offered me some sort of stability.

Not too far away, Shauna would be heading in to work too. Shauna. If only I’d been better to her. Given her the commitment that our relationship needed. But none of that mattered now.

Joe greeted the people coming in, as he always did. After a few minutes, he came out to grab a smoke, leaving someone else in charge of the lobby. He saw me and I thought I was going to get shooed away again. But he didn’t do that. He just looked at me. And I looked at him.

I could see it all. Joe’s frustration with his divorce proceedings, the tawdry artwork that he had poured his soul into making and failed to profit from, the smoking addiction that was sapping his life away. A life he didn’t deserve.

Joe was rooted to the spot, staring. I didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. I sat completely still and stared right back. Right into his eyes. Right into him.

True Love

Milton and Angela were inseparable.

They would complete each other’s sentences, walk hand in hand everywhere and just bask in each other’s company.

A couple so perfect they were too good to be true.

But David would never tell anyone that he’d made them up. That was his secret alone.

Dog Eat Dog, Part 3

I woke up with a start. That was a hell of a nightmare.

Shauna sat by me, watching me with wide, fearful eyes. When I came to, she started sobbing and hugged me tightly. I looked around. I was in a hospital room. A doctor walked in to check on me. Apparently, I’d passed out in the middle of my living room and had been unresponsive for a long time. Shauna had found me and called 911.

My head throbbed like someone was trying to punch a hole in it. Everything felt upside down.

“It’s ok,” the doctor said. “You’re going to be just fine.”

He smiled at me then, and started to bark.

I stared at him. He kept barking, with a smile on his face.

I looked up at Shauna to see her smiling down at me. She ran a hand along my cheek, then emitted a high-pitched series of yelps.

A nurse walked past, growling. I could hear howls from another ward.

The doctor collapsed to the floor and crawled about on his hands and knees, barking wildly. Shauna followed suit. The entire hospital was a chorus of barks, howls, growls and yelps.

I closed my eyes and clamped my hands over my ears. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. I opened my eyes again to an empty hospital, dark and abandoned. There was only darkness around me, and not a single sound. No. Someone, or something, was breathing. Even without seeing it, I knew exactly what it was.

“What the hell do you want?” I yelled out into the blackness. “Why is this happening to me?”

There was no answer. I’m not even sure why I expected one. There was only the sound of soft, even breathing, and what seemed like a low growl, building up in volume and intensity.

My heart was pounding through my rib cage as I stared into the darkness. I could see the dog, pitch black but still forming a distinct silhouette, sitting at the foot of the bed. As I opened my mouth to speak again, it lunged at me. There was only darkness and silence after that.

********

I woke up the next morning and went to work as usual. I wasn’t even allowed through the building’s main door. Joe, who’d been greeting me with a smile for the past 8 months, wouldn’t even listen to a word I said and threw me right out. I wasn’t welcome there anymore. What the hell happened?

People on the street stared at me as I walked past. I headed straight for Shauna’s office. She was the only piece of sanity in this nightmare.Once again, I wasn’t allowed into the building. Furious, I called Shauna’s cell phone only to discover that my phone connection had been cut. That was impossible. I always paid my bills on time.

With no other option, I wandered around the area until noon. I knew Shauna would be coming down for lunch, going to the little cafe across the street from her office, as she always did. I’d talk to her then, explain what was going on and hopefully, we’d find a solution together.

As Shauna exited the building, I expected to be greeted with a smile, or concern. Instead, she looked at me without any recognition. She walked right past. I tried to stop her, to talk to her, but she seemed annoyed, and then, terrified. The security from her office drove me away this time as she continued on her path, not even looking back at me.

What was happening to me? Everything was spiraling out of control. I could hear barking again, but there were no dogs in sight. Not even the big hound. With a growing sense of horror, I realized the sound was coming from me.