6 Weeks

6 Weeks

A Story by Jim Parson
"

...and that's why I no longer read the paper.

"

            “Look, I told you no, I’m not interested!” Jack shouted into the phone.  He ran a hand through his thinning hair, pushing it back from his forehead.

            Damn telemarketers just don’t give up.

            “I understand, Mr. McKenzie,” said the voice on the other end of the line.  “But the Daily News is absolutely free for the next six weeks with this special introductory offer.  I can sign you up for it today and at the end of the six weeks, if you aren’t satisfied, simply notify us and we’ll stop service and it won’t cost you a thing.  Should you decide to continue service, you’ll be billed quarterly.”

            His tone turning ominous, Jack said, “Listen to me.  I do not want your paper.  I do not read the paper.  I will never read the paper.  Your paper will only stack up in my garage, unwanted, unopened and unread!”

            “Yes, sir, but…”

            “Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?  I said NO!  Now piss off and don’t ever call me again!”  Jack slammed the phone down and threw in a frustrated “AAAARGH!” for good measure.  Damn telemarketers!

            He wasn’t the least bit surprised the next morning when he opened his front door to find the Daily News lying on his doorstep.

 

            “I’m very sorry, Mr. McKenzie,” said the customer service representative.  While refilling his coffee mug, Jack called the Daily News and found himself on the phone with some pre-pubescent girl being trained in the fine art of not giving a s**t by a supervisor who was seasoned at caring less.  Jack attempted to explain his situation as pleasantly as possible, never an easy task before his second cup of coffee, but the conversation rapidly deteriorated and he was seeing red.

She continued, “I wasn’t aware we were offering a six week promotion.  We employ an independent telemarketing service and sometimes, miscommunications can happen.”  There was a brief pause; Jack visualized the supervisor whispering in her ear.  God forbid she should miss a training opportunity.  “Perhaps you’d be interested in receiving just the Sunday edition, which I can offer you today for only...”

            “Listen, I’ve explained this to you three times already.  I’m walking out the door this minute for work and I’m not going to debate this with you!  I DO NOT WANT YOUR PAPER, NOT EVEN IF YOU PAID ME TO TAKE IT!”

A new voice came on the phone, an older, bitchier voice.  “I understand, sir,” the trained smile in her voice long since vacated, making way for curtness years ago.  “I’ll take care of this for you immediately.  It may take two or three days for delivery to stop.”

            “Thank you!” banging the receiver down hard enough to crack the casing.  “These sonzabitches!”

            Jack snatched the newspaper off the kitchen counter where he’d thrown it in disgust and made his way through the family room to the garage.  On his way to the car, he tossed the unwanted paper into the recycle bin.  As it settled in the bottom of the bin, the headline caught his eye.


“27 DEAD IN FREAK BUS EXPLOSION”


            “Poor b******s,” he mumbled, climbing behind the wheel of his Lexus.

 

It was a long day at the office.  In addition to the normal cavities, crowns and inlays, Jack did three root canals, which must be some kind of record for one day.  It looked like tomorrow wasn’t going to be much better.  All he wanted right then was a cold Foster’s (Australian for beer, mate) and his recliner.  He pitched his keys onto the counter and walked to the refrigerator where he fulfilled one of those desires.  He took a long pull from the beer and set the can down next to his keys.  He gave a long, satisfying belch and rubbed his ample belly.

Since Marilyn left him two years ago, everything in his life changed.  He came home from the office, pulled a beer from the fridge, popped a frozen dinner in the microwave, and plopped into his recliner in front of the television, where he would remain until he fell asleep.  His only reason for crawling out of it was beer, either to get a fresh one or empty the previous one from his bladder.  Okay, maybe things hadn’t changed so much after all.  That was pretty much his life before Marilyn left, as well.  Maybe that’s why she left him.  His eating habits definitely changed though; Marilyn was a great cook.

He returned to the refrigerator and pawed through the stack of frozen dinners in the freezer, selecting the Hearty Appetite meatloaf with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.  He pulled the tray from the box and tossed it in the microwave.  While waiting for it to cook, he walked the fifteen steps into the adjoining family room and turned on the television.  Flipping to KCAL 9, he was pleased to find he hadn’t missed too much of the Laker game.  They were beating the Heat by six in the first few minutes of the second quarter.  It just didn’t get any better than this…he hated Miami almost as much as he loved his Lakers.

            Three steady beeps from the kitchen announced his food was ready.  He burned his fingers pulling the tray from the microwave and cursed.  He grabbed a potholder from the drawer next to the stove and slid the tray onto it.  With his dinner balanced in one hand and his beer in the other, he made his way to his recliner.

 

            He woke up to Rick Garcia, the anchor of the ten o’clock news.  He’d slept through the entire second half of the game.  “S**t!”  He glanced at the digital readout on the VCR…10:09.  “Sports Central” started in a little over a half hour, he could find out the score and watch the highlights then.  Normally, he watched the eleven o’clock news on KNBC, but tomorrow was going to be another busy day and this would get him to bed an hour earlier.  Besides, the weather chick on channel nine had great knockers.

             “…yet another disaster believed to be triggered by texting,” Garcia said.  “This afternoon, an MTA bus exploded when it jumped the curb and struck a building at the corner of Victory and Van Nuys Boulevards.  The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined, but sources close to the investigation indicate the bus may have broken a natural gas line when it struck the building, a medical clinic in Van Nuys.  All twenty-three of the passengers died at the scene, including the driver.  Early reports indicate four people inside the clinic also died as a result of the explosion, with another three hospitalized in critical condition.  An unidentified source with the MTA has informed KCAL 9 there is reason to believe the driver of the bus was using his cell phone to text at the time of the crash.  Officials inside the MTA report their investigation is ongoing and they hope on-board cameras may provide some insight into what may have caused this tragedy.”

            “Better get your facts straight, Rick,” Jack muttered.  “It couldn’t blow up this afternoon when it was in the paper already this morning.”  No wonder he didn’t watch channel nine.

 

            The next morning, Jack picked the Daily News out of the Manzanita hedge in the front yard, gritting his teeth.  The paper landed in the recycle bin, unwanted, unopened and unread.

 

            “I was told it would stop after two or three days.  It’s been two weeks already!”  Jack was back on the phone with the Daily News.  He insisted on speaking with a supervisor and seemed to have gotten one that at least gave the impression of competence.

            “I apologize for the inconvenience, sir.  If you could just confirm the spelling of your name and address for me again.”

            With an audible and obviously disgusted sigh, Jack complied.  For the third time.

            After a brief pause, the supervisor spoke again.  “Do you remember the name of the man who called you with this offer?”

            “No, he didn’t give me his name,” Jack said.

            “Give me a few moments, Mr. McKenzie.  I’ll be right back with you.”

            A Muzak version of ‘Kiss from a Rose’ played through his receiver.  Jesus, if you’re gonna make me wait forever, can’t you at least give me something decent to listen to?

            After several minutes, the supervisor’s voice interrupted the worst instrumental version of ‘Billie Jean’ ever.  “Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. McKenzie.  I seem to be having a little problem with the system.  It might make things easier if I knew the telemarketer’s name.”

            “He had no name!  What difference does his name make?  I just want this frikkin’ paper stopped!”

            “His name could give us another avenue by which to find you, that’s all.  You see, Mr. McKenzie, the truth is, I don’t show you in our system.  Perhaps the paper is being delivered to your home in error and belongs to one of your neighbors?”

            “That would be one helluva coincidence since it started showing up the day after I told this bozo no.”  Then, as the supervisor’s words sunk in, “What do you mean, I’m not in the system?”

“I’ve checked both your name and your address and I find nothing showing you are receiving the paper.  You aren’t in our subscription or marketing databases, nor is your address listed in your neighborhood’s delivery route.  I even checked billing records.  You aren’t anywhere in our system.  The only explanation that seems possible to me is you must be receiving someone else’s paper.  We’ll notify your carrier and have him double-check his route listing.  There really isn’t much else we can do.”

            Frustrated, but under control again, Jack said, “Okay, that would be great.  But, in the meantime, put me in your system.  Put in your system that I never asked for your paper, I never wanted your paper, and I am never paying you a dime for your paper, so if the bills start showing up in my mailbox, you can expect a lot more than harsh words from me.”

            “I’m sure that won’t hap…”  Jack didn’t hear the rest; he’d hung up the phone.

 

            As the days turned into weeks, the stack in Jack’s garage steadily grew.  Occasionally, a headline would catch his eye and he would be tempted to read the story, but he refused.  It was a matter of principle.  If he read the story, those b******s would win.  That day’s was one such headline.


“MAN SUSPECTED OF SETTING GIRLFRIEND ON FIRE”


            He fought back the urge and added the paper to the pile.  He pressed the button for the automatic garage door opener and walked to his car.  His mind went to his dental practice.  Today should be an easy day; he tried to schedule around Wednesdays as much as possible.  As it turned out, it was anything but easy.  An emergency root canal on a screaming child and a screw-up in insurance billings that meant his collections were going to be slow all month long and his “easy” day was shot to s**t.  The beer tasted better that night, though.

 

            The next morning, Jack stopped at the 7-11 on the way to the office.  He’d forgotten to buy coffee during his last frozen dinner trip to the grocery store.  He couldn’t function without it.  The mud served by 7-11 was less than satisfactory to the taste buds but it would open his eyes and get his brain working.  As he stood in line waiting to pay for his purchase, the L.A. Times rack next to the counter caught his attention.


“MAN SUSPECTED OF KILLING WOMAN BY SETTING HER ON FIRE”


            Interesting.  That’s yesterday’s news, dude.  Who would have thought the Daily News would get the scoop on the Times?  Since it was the Times, reading the story while waiting to pay didn’t violate his high stubbornness standard.

 

A San Bernardino man accused of killing his girlfriend late Wednesday evening by setting her on fire in front of her six children turned himself in to the Los Angeles Police Department Thursday morning, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

 

Tyrone James Harrison, 39, was transferred to the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino, where he is being held in lieu of $1,000,000 bail, according to the Sheriff's Department.  He was charged with murder and assault with a firearm in connection with the slaying of his former live-in girlfriend, Brandi Marie Martinez.

 

 

            Late Wednesday evening?  Not only was the Times slow, it was also inaccurate.  Oh, well.  He reached the front of the line, paid for his coffee and left.

 

Jack resigned himself the paper was never going to stop.  He’d been throwing the unread papers onto the pile in the garage for more than five weeks now.  He was on a first name basis with the customer service supervisor at the Daily News and most of their agents recognized his voice the instant he started talking.  He’d given up on getting any help from them and it was over a week since he last called.  He didn’t even get upset any longer when he saw the paper laying in his yard every morning.  His six weeks free trial would soon be up.  If it continued and he started getting a bill for it, there would be hell to pay.

Jack rarely paid attention in the beginning, but now he read the headline every morning on his way from the front yard to the garage.  He still refused to read the stories though.  A man had to maintain some standards, after all.  He had to admit, the Daily News did seem to be on the ball, as newspapers go.  He noticed they were usually the first to report local stories, even before the television news broadcasts.  But Jack didn’t care.  He did not want it, would not open it and would never read it.

Until now.


“ARMED ROBBER SHOOTS 6 AT MCDONALD’S IN ENCINO”


            It was eight blocks from his home.  He threw away his principles and broke his rule without ever noticing.

 

An armed robber was killed in a shoot-out with police at a McDonald's in Encino, but not before shooting and killing six hostages, Los Angeles police said.

 

The shootings occurred around 6:47 p.m. when an armed man walked into the restaurant on Ventura Boulevard and attempted to rob the clerks at gunpoint, said Officer Greg Blake of the Los Angeles Police Department.


An off-duty Burbank police officer witnessed the robbery attempt from the parking lot and fired on the suspect, who took the patrons and employees of the restaurant hostage, Blake said.  A Los Angeles SWAT team responded to the scene and in the process of attempting to apprehend the suspect, six of the hostages and the lone gunman were shot and killed.  Identities of the victims have been withheld pending notification of their families.

 

Los Angeles police detectives are investigating.

 

 

“Jesus, what a monumental cluster-f**k that must have been.”  It suddenly occurred to Jack, he drove right past that McDonald’s at just after six o’clock almost every night on his way home from the office.  The gunman was probably already inside by the time he drove by last night.  Judas Priest!  It was a good thing he didn’t stop for a Big Mac as he sometimes did.

Judas Priest!

Jack tried to control the shaking in his hands as he threw the paper on top of the overflowing bin and watched it slide off onto the garage floor.  Once the six weeks was up, he’d haul them all to the recycling center, assuming, of course, the frikkin’ paper stopped after the six weeks.  Or maybe he’d just dump them on the front steps of the Daily News.

 

            The phone rang as Jack was rummaging through the frozen dinner selections that evening.  It was probably his service calling with a minor emergency that wasn’t an emergency at all.  He debated letting the answering machine pick it up, but after the third ring, he grabbed it.

            “Hey, Jack.”  Jack recognized Marty’s voice, his neighbor to the south.  “Sharon is playing bunko tonight with the girls and I’m getting a pizza and watching the Laker game.  Why don’t you grab some beers and come over?”

            Jack enjoyed his solitude.  He worked with people all day, most of them whining or complaining or crying.  After a long day of burying his face in people’s mouths, all he wanted was to relax in his recliner.  Marty was mostly tolerable though and the remaining assortment of frozen dinners didn’t excite him much.  Pizza sounded pretty good.

            “Yeah, okay.  Game’s at 7:30, so I’ll be over in a while.”

            “Nah, come now.  I already ordered the pizza.  And I’m out of beer,” Marty said.

            “Jesus.  Use me for my beer, why don’cha?  All right, give me a few.”

 

            Jack arrived at the same time as the pizza.  He put the twelve-pack of Foster’s in the refrigerator while Marty paid for the pizza.  Jack picked up the remote and settled into the couch, turning the channel to nine.  The news was still on; the Lakers pregame show was still a half hour away.

            “Breaking news tonight…an attempted robbery at a McDonald’s in Encino has gone horribly wrong and has escalated into a hostage situation.  The suspect reportedly entered the McDonald’s just a few minutes ago at about 6:15.  We take you live to the scene where Patrick Branson is standing by.”

            “Thanks, Paul.  I’m currently across the street from the McDonald’s on Ventura Boulevard at Haskell Avenue.  The street has obviously been cordoned off, so this is as close as we can safely…”

            “Holy s**t!”  Marty said from behind Jack’s shoulder.  “That’s our McDonald’s!”

“Hey, yeah!  Did you hear about this?” asked Jack.  “I read about it in the paper this morning.”

“…a lone gunman is reportedly inside and has taken the employees and customers hostage.  The story we are getting is an off-duty police officer witnessed the attempted robbery through the windows and they exchanged gunfire.  At this point, we don’t know if anyone was hurt.  San Fernando Valley police units were quick to respond, and as you can see over my shoulder, a Los Angeles SWAT team has just arrived on the scene…”

“This is live, dude.  How could you have read it in the paper?”  Marty had moved around the end of the couch and was sitting next to Jack, the pizza forgotten.

“No, they must be running a tape.  It was in the paper this morning.”

“No way.  Look at the screen.  It says breaking news and live.”

“Listen, I’m telling you, I read it!  The cops are gonna rush the place and the guy is gonna kill six of the hostages before they get him.”

“…Paul, shots have just been fired!  The SWAT team is advancing on the restaurant!”

            Jack and Marty watched as the camera cut away to an aerial view of the McDonald’s, shot from the KCAL 9 helicopter.  The team of officers in full riot gear moving on the restaurant looked like tiny cockroaches, scurrying across the parking lot and climbing over window ledges.

            Marty turned to look at Jack.  “Dude, how could you know this?”

            “I’m telling you, it has to be a tape!”

            “…it seems to be over, Paul.  This is a shocking turn of events.  We’re hearing the suspect has been shot along with several of the hostages.  Their condition or exactly how many may have been injured is unknown at this time.  We’ll try to get further details and report back.  Reporting live from Encino, this is Patrick Branson, KCAL 9 news.”

Jack looked at his watch.  6:47.

            No, it couldn’t be.  It just wasn’t possible.



            Jack pulled a half dozen of the unopened newspapers from the recycle bin and carried them up to the loft.  He tossed them on the desk and flipped the switch on the desktop computer.  He couldn’t remember even turning it on in the past two years.  Marilyn used it to look up recipes and to store pictures from their digital camera, but since she left, it sat untouched.  He’d often thought of canceling the service but hadn’t gotten around to it, probably because it was always in the back of his mind that she would be back.  Now he was glad he hadn’t.

            Jack clicked on the Internet Explorer icon and once loaded, typed ‘google.com’ into the address bar.  He picked up the first paper from the stack.  It bore yesterday’s date.


“WEST HOLLYWOOD MAN BEATS MOTHER WITH SHOVEL”


            He typed the headline into the search engine…19,500 results.  He clicked on the first.  A forty-nine-year-old man allegedly beat his seventy-four-year-old mother to death with a shovel after arguing over household chores.  A neighbor heard her screams and called the police at 11:25 a.m., almost six hours after the newspaper landed on Jack’s doorstep.

            He picked up another paper and typed in ‘body found in LAX restroom’.  A cleaner found a man stabbed to death in a bathroom stall at the Los Angeles airport at four o’clock in the afternoon, more than ten hours after Jack’s paper reported it.  The next…‘brutal stabbing of aspiring actress baffles police’.  A young woman died in her apartment in Tarzana from multiple stab wounds on Tuesday afternoon.  Police have no clues.  The paper arrived Tuesday morning.  ‘Commuters watch as man abducts girl in train station’ was sitting on his front steps two hours before she was kidnapped at seven thirty.  ‘Man fatally shot in apparent gasoline theft’ eight hours after it was reported in the paper.

            Jack rushed back to the garage and grabbed as many papers as he could carry.  He lugged them up the stairs, losing control of them and spilling them on the floor all around the desk.  He grabbed paper after paper and entered headline after headline.  ‘Hospital worker charged with raping sedated patient’ before she was ever admitted to the hospital.  Shooting rampage at church camp - 4 dead’ fourteen hours before it happened.  ‘Fatal shooting of 23-year-old woman dropped off at hospital being investigated’ six hours before she had lunch with her mother at Yamashiro in Hollywood.  ‘Former L.A. fire captain accused of strangling woman’ seen by neighbors getting out of her car in front of his home eight hours later.

            Violent crime shrieked from every headline.  Without exception, the crime was committed after the paper reported it, anywhere from two hours to nineteen hours later.

            How was that possible?

            Jack’s grasp on the newspaper weakened and it slid from his hands and dropped to the floor at his feet.  He stared at the computer screen, both his mind and his eyes unfocused.  He put his head in his hands and closed his eyes, his mind reeling with too many thoughts to form a coherent one.  This wasn’t possible.  It just wasn’t possible.

            Was it possible?

            No, it wasn’t.

            Jack knew nothing of the supernatural, nor did he believe.  What he knew were cavities and implants and gingivitis and four a.m. calls from his service because a patient broke a tooth and couldn’t wait four hours for the office to open.  He knew about TV dinners and Lakers and Dodgers and Foster’s and about losing a wife he loved but couldn’t tell.  These things, he knew well, but anything outside of his plane of existence was beyond his comprehension.  This was definitely way outside it.

            Jack tried to wrap his mind around it, but was incapable.

Someone had to be printing these papers and leaving them for him.  That had to be it.  What other explanation could there be?  But no, if that was the case, someone was going out afterward and committing all of these horrible crimes in precise detail hours later.  That just couldn’t be possible.  Different people committed all those crimes, at least those where suspects were identified.  Plus, some of the stories included photos of the scene that would be impossible to duplicate perfectly.

What other explanation did that leave?  It left, the headlines were telling the future.

He had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t grasp its meaning.  Memories gnawed at him (six weeks free trial), just out of reach, floating through his mind (he had no name) but veiled from sight.  Headlines flashed (27 dead) behind closed eyelids, hazy and undefined, as were the memories (get it straight, Rick).  Pieces faded into view for the briefest of moments (set on fire) only to die out before fully formed (late Wednesday evening).

In a split second, it all snapped together in his mind.  And with the realization, a horrifying possibility.

            What if the headlines weren’t telling the future?  What if these terrible crimes were happening because of the headlines?  What if the headlines were causing them?

            There was only one way to know for sure.  He had to stop the paper.

 

            Jack sat on his front steps in the dark.  The early morning dampness settled into his bones and he pulled his jacket tighter around him.  He knew what needed to be done but wasn’t certain of the timing.  He knew it had to be early though.  He’d opened his door as early as six in the morning and the paper had always been there already.  He figured he was probably safe at four and he was right.  When he came out this morning, the paper wasn’t there yet.

            In spite of the chill in the morning air, he caught himself dozing off several times, snapping awake and looking around frantically in fear he might have missed it.  As morning’s first light was beginning to glow on the horizon, the sound of an advancing engine jolted him alert.  Headlights were approaching.  He glanced quickly at his watch.  5:30.  He jumped up and ran out to the curb in time to see an arm extend from what looked to be a small truck and toss a newspaper into the yard three or four houses up the street.  He raised his arm to flag down the driver, but the truck passed by him without slowing.

            “Hey!” he hollered after it, but its brake lights did not come on.  Another paper flew out of the window into a yard two doors down.  Jack watched as the truck turned the corner at the next block and disappeared from sight.  “Sonofabitch!”

            Wait…his paper wasn’t delivered.  No paper was thrown from the truck into his yard.  Is that all it took to stop it?  Merely showing up at the curb?

            Jack turned and walked back toward his house.  He got all the way to the front steps before noticing it lying next to the walk.  He stared blankly.  He wasn’t going to fool himself or talk himself into an explanation or choose to believe he’d somehow missed it.  The delivery guy had not thrown any paper out at his house.  He knew it.  Yet, there it lay.  Questions answered.  Cue the Twilight Zone music.

 

            Jack picked up the newspaper and carried it into the house.  He walked to the kitchen, set the paper on the table and poured himself another cup of coffee to take the chill off.  Sitting down at the table, he opened the paper.


 “$75,000 REWARD OFFERED IN MAR VISTA DOUBLE SLAYING”


            He couldn’t stop the paper by calling their offices.  Numerous phone calls already proved that.  He couldn’t stop the paper through the route delivery guy because he wasn’t the one delivering it.  No one was delivering it.  It just was.  Now, two more people were going to die today.

            Unless he stopped it.

            Maybe he couldn’t stop the paper.  But could he stop the crime?  He took another look at the headline and then read the story beneath it.

 

Authorities are offering a $75,000 reward for information in the double slaying of a couple in Mar Vista earlier today.  The reward is sponsored by City Councilwoman Jean Perkins, who represents the area.

 

Selena Wilton, a 51-year-old Latina, was driving with her husband, Jerome Wilton, a 49-year-old black man, along Venice Boulevard when police said an attacker fired a gun for no apparent reason and fatally wounded the couple.

 

As she was shot, Selena Wilton accelerated and smashed her vehicle into a pole, police said.  The couple was pronounced dead at the scene.

 

 

            A picture accompanied the story.  Several police officers stood around a vehicle that smashed into a telephone pole, its make and model unrecognizable.  It appeared to be silver in the black and white photo.  In the background of the photo was a donut shop.  Jack recognized it.  He knew exactly where this happened.

            Seventy-five thousand dollars.  That was a lot of money.

            He knew where and roughly when this was going to happen.  That donut shop was forty-five minutes to an hour away.  It wasn’t even six o’clock yet.  The paper didn’t give the time, only “earlier today.”  Surely, it couldn’t have happened earlier than seven.  If he got in the car right then, he would certainly get there in time.

            And then what?  How could he stop it from happening?  They were going to be shot while driving in their car, presumably from another car driving next to them.  What could he do to stop it without endangering his own life?  Could he perhaps block the suspect car somehow until the Wiltons were safely away?  Doubtful, not on a four-lane street.  Besides, what would stop the culprit from taking a shot at him?

            Seventy-five thousand dollars.  It really was a lot of money.

            He probably couldn’t stop it from happening.  But he might see who did it.  And if he just happened to have pictures of the murderer, or of his vehicle or license plate, that might be considered pretty good evidence, right?  Perhaps good enough evidence to warrant payment of a reward?

            He picked up the phone and held down the four, activating Cathy’s speed dial.  She would need to reschedule all his morning appointments.  As it rang, he walked to the hall closet and pulled his camera down off the shelf.

 

            Jack drove slowly past the donut shop on Venice Boulevard.  It was an Altima, a silver Altima.  A few people milled about but the police had yet to arrive.  It must have just happened.  He could see the woman’s head lying against the steering wheel and her passenger was slumped sideways against the restraint of his seatbelt.  There was blood everywhere, on the broken windshield, all over the dash, covering the seat, or at least what he could see of the seat.  His stomach churned at the sight and he tasted the bile rising in his throat.

Jack forgot about rush hour traffic.  What would normally be an hour drive took him an hour and a half.  He couldn’t have been more than two or three minutes too late.  He heard sirens in the distance, took a last look at the smashed car and pushed down on the accelerator.

 

            What was he thinking?  Was this the kind of man he was?  Jack sat at his kitchen table once again, staring at the newspaper but not seeing it.  He wasn’t a kid anymore; he knew his weaknesses.  He never realized one of them was greed to the point of criminal behavior.  But how was it criminal?  What law was he breaking?  Okay, maybe there was no law, but if the world knew such a thing as precognitive newspapers existed, he was sure it would be regulated.  It didn’t matter if there was a law or not, his guilt was making him sick to his stomach.

            He knew now he couldn’t stop the paper.  If he didn’t stop it, all of these terrible things would continue to happen.

            Or would they?

            Maybe he really could stop them.  But how?  He had the twenty-two caliber in the bedroom closet he hadn’t taken down in fifteen years.  So what was he going to do?  Show up at the scene of the crime and shoot the offenders before the offense took place?  Wouldn’t that make him the offender?  When the police show up, does he just tell them he knows the future and killed this perpetrator before he could perpetrate?  That would go over well.  Was he even capable of pulling the trigger and shooting another human being?

            If he chose the right crime, the right victim, he could make sure nothing happened to him.  He wouldn’t have to kill the criminal, just hold him at bay with the pistol until the police could get there.  He would have the element of surprise and he wouldn’t choose any crime where the perpetrator had a weapon that could give him the upper hand.  The intended victim would be a witness to him stopping the crime.  He would be a hero.

            The possibilities were mind-boggling.

He really could do something about it.  He could stop the crimes before they happen, or at least some of them.  He could be a modern day superhero.  He saw the mayor handing him the key to the city.

 

            Jack lay awake most of the night, the possibilities running through his mind.  At 4:00 a.m., he gave up trying to sleep, got out of bed and put on a pot of coffee.  Time crawled, consumed in visions of heroic scenarios and superhuman efforts.  At 5:30, he heard the thud of the Daily News landing on the stoop.  He rushed to the door, his thoughts whirling in a thousand directions.  He turned the deadbolt and twisted the knob.  Throwing the door open, he stood face to face with two men in facemasks, guns pointed at Jack’s chest.  As the assailants pushed their way over the threshold, his eyes were drawn to the doorstep where the newspaper lay, unwanted, unopened and unread.  The headline screamed at him…


“LOCAL DENTIST MURDERED IN HOME INVASION”

 

 


            Somewhere in another part of the world, perhaps in another world altogether, the man with no name stared at the final headline, a disturbing smile on his face.  He sat alone in the cramped office he never left, the only light coming from a dim, battered desk lamp.  Looking at the ripped and ragged calendar, he crossed off the final day.  He murmured, “Six weeks,” and laughed loudly, a hideous, cackling, diabolical laugh, revealing stained, yellowed teeth.  It reverberated through the small, dingy office, made even smaller by the floor-to-ceiling piles encircling the desk.  He tossed the newspaper onto one of the many heaps, its useful life over.  Jack McKenzie was some of his best work, although far from his most interesting prey.  He swiveled in his chair and turned to face the map hanging on the dirty, paint-flecked wall, knocking over one of the immense stacks in the process.  The map was brown with age, its corners and edges worn and tattered, bleeding from its many puncture wounds.  The man scooped up a dart from the desktop, closed his eyes and hurled it in the direction of the map.  Rising from his seat, he filled the crowded, confined room, his head only inches from the ceiling.

            He squinted at the map, pulling the dart from its purchase.  “Hmmm…Downers Grove, Illinois.”  Turning to the mountains of volumes filling the room, he walked directly to a tall stack in the corner and began shoving books aside.  Finding what he was looking for, he tossed the phonebook on the desk and opened it.  He closed his eyes and stabbed a finger at the open page.

            “S. K. Jahn.”

            He picked up the phone and began to dial.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011 Lyle James Parson II

All rights reserved

 

© 2011 Jim Parson


Author's Note

Jim Parson
I'm looking for the most honest critiques I can get. It has been suggested by one reviewer I trust that the last section should be longer and more information given. I tend to think it should be kept short and sweet, just enough to let the reader know what is happening. What are your thoughts, Hobson?

My Review

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Featured Review

Sorry I was too late to help with your submission deadline, but I'm not sure if I have enough solid critique to have helped you out. You've got a solid structure, the prose is competent and builds successfully to the climax and the twist (and again, even knowing or suspecting what the twist will be doesn't detract from the story, as long as there's suspense, and there is), and you have a decent character arc of sorts going on too (finally he decides to ACT with purpose, but just a bit too late). That's perhaps the best part - after finishing the story you try and work out how or if he could have avoided his fate. Was it predestined, or was it just one of many possibilities that he self-selected by his actions? Cool.

I think in terms of long vs. short ending, what you have works well. Otherwise it seems like you are trying to justify the existence of the story and would get a little too expositional (IMHO). The yellow stained teeth and the cackle may have been a little overboard, but why not go a little overboard every once in a while? ;)

Posted 9 Years Ago


6 of 6 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Wow. At first I thought it'll be just a mouthful of words kinda story but so far, this is the best story I've read in here. Great job mate! This is really an interesting and captivating story.

Posted 5 Years Ago


James, I always love your work. I am reading glow next, so I'm sure it will amaze me, but anyway, YES! Brilliant. Just captivating, enticing, INTERESTING. Fun to read! You made me want to just keep reading; I needed to know what happened next. You're characters are relatable because they are normal, yet interesting. You have great detail without boring the readers and the concept was cool. Favorited.

Posted 8 Years Ago


I always enjoy your stories, you weave characters and dialogue very clearly, leave the reader wanting more; this is no exception. I've read this three times, once aloud .. (tiring!) the only negative i can think of is that there's lots of detail, mainly necessary throughout but seems to fade as you're winding down to the finish; endings are difficult, where to stop but, they need to be satisfying, not make one think, ' Oh that's it, is it .. oh . oh well.'

Posted 9 Years Ago


That one was a long'on, haha.
I agree the ending could be a bit longer, but the current ending works just as well with the story.
Even though you didn't reeally describe them, I can see Jack and Marilyn sitting down to her home-cocked meal, Jack with a beer.
It's great really.

Posted 9 Years Ago


A very amazing story. One of the best I've ever read. Well, I, personally, think that the last section should have more information, but it's really up to you if you want to keep it short.

Posted 9 Years Ago


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EMW
Wow. This was so intense and incredible. Parts of it reminded me of an old tv show I used to watch called Early Eddition. Of course he used the paper to save lives and it didn't kill him in the end. You are such a talented author.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Amazing story... I haven't read a story that good since starting on this site. I feel that in the ending with the "diabolical laugh," and the "yellow-stained teeth" maybe was a little 'overboard' I guess you could say, but other than that I feel that it is perfect.

Posted 9 Years Ago


I was riveted to this one Jim. What an excellent story

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Once again, stunned. You certainly are the master of the short story.

I've been reading an awful lot in a similar style, the idea of a man playing god in an other world altogether, but this has a certain edge and a little more originality. The honesty drives it forward, and it fabulous. I personally find the extra information nice, just something to keep us on our toes and throw the reader off. The final section is fine as it stands; you could add more but I feel you would need to expand
else where. I like the way you leave me to think.

One point, when you say "The couple was pronounced dead at the scene", that is perfectly correct when talking as the couple as a single unit, but I would favour the more common "were" purely for flow and the fact that the wife was killed first. That's me being fussy, and really there is nothing for me to fault. Fabulous read and bravo!


Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Sorry for the late review but I just checked my read requests today.
Any way, here goes:

It was a great beginning, I loved how it all started but maybe a bit more background on Marilyn would make it more interesting. The name "Jack" had me hooked. Yeah I know it's weird, but I'm a a major fan of LOST, so I guess that's expected. Anyways, I loved how you kept the story fast paced and yet it still fell in the psychological thriller genre. At first i thought maybe he's going to find out he was dreaming the whole time. Though I think the ending was a realistic, it was a bit predictable. I would have loved it if it fell into the fantasy/fiction genre but anyhow, it was a great ending.

So great job with this one too, I really liked it.



Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on March 24, 2011
Last Updated on March 27, 2011
Tags: suspense, murder, mystery, thriller, horror
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Jim Parson
Jim Parson

Los Angeles, CA



About
I have been a banker for the past 28 years, but my dream has always been to write. I thought maybe it was time to give it a try. I don't think I'm the greatest writer, but I think I can tell a prett.. more..

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Glow Glow

A Story by Jim Parson



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