I’m excited to announce that I’ve approved several dozen new trailers for the video blog. You can find them by clicking on the links above and viewing the media clip.
Also, to contribute to the writing effort, I’ll post this free short story for readers to see.
It’s called The Paranormal Lists.
~ ~ ~
I know the birth and death dates of over three thousand people. I’m not talking about those who’ve already been born or passed on—that information is available to anyone with the peculiar interest in such records. I mean I see the dates in advance: the hour a new girl opens her eyes and absorbs a strange, cold world; the moment a shriveled widow closes hers…exiting a planet no less surreal and indifferent.
Some might say it’s a prescient ability. I’m not sure what to call it.
It began when I was eight, three weeks after Halloween and one week before my parents moved me and my two older brothers from New Mexico to Texas. I was in the living room with my mother, helping tape a box of books. My sneakers were wet from the first sticking snowfall of the season, and my hands were still numb from the snowballs I had rolled in the backyard and tossed at my brothers, Mike and Jay.
“Get it both ways like a cross,” Mom instructed me, pointing at the box. “And make sure you do it twice. I don’t want the bottom coming out in the driveway.”
I didn’t want to move away—no kid ever does—but I was in a better mood because of the weather and simply applied the tape as told without complaint.
The books had come off one of two matching red oak book shelves in the room. Most of them were fiction—mystery, horror, fantasy, romance (otherwise known as Mom’s happy sappy to my father)—but a few biographies and school texts were thrown in the mix. I had thought we’d be able to stuff all of them in one box. My mother knew better, and had brought two large containers she’d used years ago when she was single…while moving in with my father.
“Is something wrong, Danny?”
I had a long piece of scotch tape drawn out from my knee to my navel. I had just ripped it from the roll and was about ready to apply it when something peculiar entered my brain.
“Danny?” my mother asked, her tone sounding more concerned.
I glanced up, stared at her blankly for a moment, then saw her and room go suddenly black as my body tipped to the side, spilling my head onto the hardwood floor.
When I came to, my mother was holding a glass of water and my brothers were on either side of her, staring at me with a fascination I’d never seen before (and had never seen since).
“Hey, he’s waking up!” Jay said. Jay was closest to me in age…roughly three years apart. He wore a red baseball cap with a grease stain on the bill, the hat barely clearing his brown eyes.
“Step back, dummy. Give him space.”
This second voice came to me as if I were listening to it from the bottom of a well. Although my eyes were closed again, I knew it was Mike who was talking; his tone always carried the air of the person in charge…the oldest.
“Both of you get back,” my mother commanded. “Danny? Sweetie? Drink some of this.”
Now looking up again, I saw her holding the water to my mouth. I parted my lips instinctively and let her tilt the glass, feeling a rush of cold water slide over my tongue and down my parched throat. It came faster than I could swallow. A painful cough exploded from my chest, alarming my mother even more than I thought was currently possible.
“He’s dying,” Jay said, stepping back as if I were contagious.
“No he’s not, you moron,” Mike said. “He’s perfectly fine. Just fainted or something.”
I saw my mother’s eyes shoot to Mike for a second before coming back to me. She wasn’t so convinced.
“Can you sit up, sweetie?”
I nodded. In truth, I didn’t know what I could do at that moment. I could have been paralyzed from the neck down—unaware of my inability to move my legs or lift a single finger.
I slowly rose.
A deep relief settled in my heart—as well as my mother’s—and it wasn’t until that moment I realized I’d been lying on the hardwood floor, in the exact spot where I’d been taping the book box.
“What happened?” I asked. Hearing the sound of my own voice cutting through the room frightened me.
“We’re not sure,” my mother said. “What do you remember?”
I thought for a second. I pictured myself stretching out a long strip of scotch tape, from my belly to my knee, and ripping it. I recalled eyeing the box to see if I had measured properly…if I had used too much or would need to tear off another piece. I remembered feeling the tape dispenser slip from my lap and hearing it clap on the floor. I even conjured my mother’s voice—as distant and eerie as Mike’s voice had sounded.
Is something wrong, Danny?
Not wrong, I thought. No…just different. A switch had been flipped inside my head and I hadn’t the slightest clue what it turned on.
I retold all of these details to my mother—save the switch part—and she frowned while trying to make sense of it. Her eyes dropped to the untapped box I’d been working on, searching for answers, then focused back on the glass of water.
“I don’t see any reason to take you to the doctor. Not yet. But sit in the couch and relax. Jay will take over for you.”
“What?” Jay asked with surprise. “C’mon. Mom, I already did my work this morning. This isn’t fa–.”
“Hush,” my mother said with pressed lips. “Or I’ll make you do more.”
This threat put an end to Jay’s whining. He shot me a pissed glance that let me know I’d be in for it later—when I was out from under Mom’s protective wing—and turned for the tape dispenser I’d dropped.
It was then, while staring at Jay pout, that I remembered another detail from my blackout. I didn’t hear it. Or see it. Or receive the information through any of the other ordinary methods of perception. It just entered my head as if I’d always had the memory.
December 23rd, 1985
That unknown switch that had been flipped while I was unconscious had apparently ignited a light in the sensory attic…a bulb I never used or even knew existed.
I didn’t know a Tina Williams, but I did know a Sara Williams. She was my next door neighbor, and my brothers and I secretly called her Crazy Cat Lady whenever we played tag or hide-and-seek near her house. (My mother maintained that there were only three cats, but we swore we saw a new one every week creeping inside the bushes that marked our property line.)
Sara Williams wasn’t crazy—it just fit with the nickname—but she was heavily pregnant. At the time of that first snowfall in November, she was seven months along and already looking ready to burst. Her shirts protruded from her midsection as if they’d been stuffed with pillows. She waddled like a penguin, especially if she was carrying groceries or the diaper bag for her firstborn, a two-year-old named Jim. She gave my father a near heart attack one afternoon when he came home from work early and saw her hunched over beside her mail box. “She was lucky…that baby was ready to come right then and there,” Dad told Mom during the dinner after the scare. My mom calmly dished him a fried salmon patty and shook her head. “It’s just back pains, dear. I got them all the time in the last two months with Danny. It’s nothing serious. Sara will carry that baby to term just like she carried little Jim. She’s got strong genes.”
My mother was seldom incorrect on issues on which she gave an opinion. She was by far the brightest in our family, earning a Ph.D. before she turned 27 (a year before Mike came into the world), but she was wrong about Sara. The estimated date of labor was set at January 15th. Her doctor gave wiggle room two weeks before and after that date, but asserted that it would be born in the new year.
Tina Williams was on her own schedule—a timetable in which my mind was somehow connected—and came in the twilight of 1983. I didn’t get wind of the delivery until two days after the fact. It was at dinner, my mom serving stuffed bell peppers this time, and she told us rather casually that we had a new friend in the neighborhood.
“She’s 7 pounds, two ounces,” my mother said with a smile…not displeased in the least that she was off on the expected date. “Her name is Tina.”
I took a hard swallow of my bell pepper. It was so loud, both Jay and Mike shot a glance in my direction.
“Tina Williams?” my father asked. There was a small spark of relief in his eyes that he wouldn’t be the one stuck delivering the baby.
“Yep. Pretty name, isn’t it?”
“When did you say she had it, Mom?”
The question popped out of my mouth. I really didn’t want to know the answer—I had put aside that terrifying, black day in November. I’d shut the door to that strange room in my head and focused on kid stuff again: toys, cartoons, outdoor play.
“Last Friday. She said just before midnight. You boys ought to write her a nice note on a card or something and congratulate her.”
Mike and Jay moaned at the suggestion.
My thoughts were elsewhere. I immediately stood up and darted to a calendar my dad had stuck on the side of our refrigerator, three magnets holding it in place.
“Danny, you’re not even halfway done with your pepper yet. Come back to the table this instant.”
“Hold on, Mom,” I said, running my finger down the days on the calendar. I stopped on the Friday in question. My heart beat against my chest like trapped animal and my stomach clenched into a knot.
I was back in the bottom of that well again…hearing my mom’s distant voice drift down in the darkness.
The date stood out on the calendar as if the numbers had been typed in bold, the font three times larger than the surrounding text. My legs felt wobbly and every hair on the nape of my neck pricked up like tiny needles.
I wasn’t hungry anymore.
Not in the slightest.
“Danny if you don’t come back to the table right now–”
She cut off as I started back to my seat.
My feet were walking for me—a sort of bodily cruise control—and my eyes paid no attention to the puzzled stares from my family (Mike and Jay looking like chipmunks with unswallowed food stuffed in their cheeks). I sat down, grabbed my glass of milk, and drained the entire cup in three huge gulps.
I knew the name.
I knew the date.
I knew it all before it even happened…
I repeated this over and over again in my head. A part of me didn’t believe it was true; it had to be the result of sheer coincidence…for supernatural abilities, I’d be taught, might exist in books and movies, but they were impossible in real life. If you started to believe in them, it was best to get your head examined and seek some serious counseling.
But the other part of me screamed the truth. Supernatural, psychic, telepathic…whatever one wanted to call the gift, it was very real and very obvious. I wasn’t guessing what tomorrow might hold, or relying on personal experience (if there was such a thing for an 8-year-old) to predict a logical sequence of expected events. I had actually known the future.
Sara Williams, the Crazy Cat Lady, had brought Tina Williams into this world on December 23rd, 1983.
It was a birth date that mother and daughter would never forget the rest of their lives.
And neither would a kid next door…
~ ~ ~
I don’t remember the exact number of births I predicted between when I was eight and twenty-two. Maybe a thousand. Maybe a little more or less than that. It doesn’t really matter; it’s not a critical part of my story. I just want you to know that it was a lot, and that each prediction came more peacefully than I’d received my first vision. (The names and dates would usually come to me while dreaming, often in the middle of the night.)
A few of you might be wondering at this point what else I could see in my mind’s crystal ball. Could I know what kind of lives these newborns would lead? Could I find out whether they’d be rich, successful, politically powerful? Could I somehow expand my gift and stroll into the nearest gas station, purchase a lotto ticket, and then wait at home for my yet-to-be-claimed jackpot numbers to appear on the TV.
I’m afraid the answer to all of these questions is no. I don’t know whether Tina Williams will be a doctor, teacher, or plumber. I have no clue if Henry Westmore, born May 13th 1986, will rise above his modest upbringing to become the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. The same holds true for Jennifer and Rachel Lewis, twins born on July 5th 1988. And John Mills, Neil Davidson, Rita Sanchez—all born in blazing month of August 1990.
And as far as that lotto ticket idea…let’s just say my mail is delivered to Apartment 22 West Chase Avenue, near the turnout where you’ll find my clunker of a sedan parked alongside a row of ugly, overgrown hedges.
But something did happen to my gift when I turned twenty-two. Another switch had been flipped. I had just finished college in Louisiana and was driving westbound on I-10 back to the sweltering city of Houston. I was moving again…this time returning home rather than leaving it. I’d packed my 1995 Ford Explorer with all of my belongings—which hadn’t filled more than three trash bags and easily fit on the back seat—and decided to take a food break in a town few have heard of called Lafayette.
My options were painfully limited. Fast food, more fast food, a gas station with half a dozen suspicious hot dogs rotating behind the cashier window, and a 1950’s style diner called CJ’s Eats, the name written in neon cursive above the rain gutters on the building. Having stopped at two drive-thrus since leaving New Orleans, I was in the mood to actually sit at a table and eat my food on a plate.
A waitress with the name Betty on her nametag greeted me. She had a large overbite, and a nose that was bent like a hook.
“Hey, sweetie. I reckon it’s the stools for you.”
She gestured to a large counter that stretched half the length of the restaurant. Two large truckers sat in the middle, their asses spilling over their seats, their eyes firing my direction with an unnerving ruggedness.
“No thanks. A booth is fine.”
She shrugged, stuffed a menu under her arm, and made past the two gentlemen, finding me a nice spot in the corner of the diner with a large window, the early afternoon light bathing the table in a bluish-gray haze.
It was technically too late for breakfast according to the specials blackboard I had spotted when I’d first entered CJ’s, but I was confident they’d make an exception given the steaming grits and scrambled eggs that were waiting on the kitchen pick-up counter. This assumption was further supported by the fresh smell of fried bacon—an aroma so powerful it felt like the strips were sizzling directly under my nose.
“Okay, sugar…what’s it gonna be?” Betty asked, placing glass of iced water beside my closed menu.
“Eggs. Sunny side up with hash browns, bacon, and grits. Orange juice to drink, please.”
Betty eyed me for a moment. I was beginning to think that exceptions were only for the locals, but she scribbled down the order and went her way after taking my menu.
It was then, while sipping on a glass of iced water to control a rumble in my stomach, that a ringing flooded my ears. The restaurant became wavy—the stools dancing, the booths and tables wobbling as if suspended by unsteady wires. I shook my head, but the dizziness only intensified and made me nauseous. All at once my appetite vanished. I didn’t want eggs, or hash browns, or grits, or even the scent of bacon invading my nose.
What I wanted was to get to get the hell out of CJ’s.
But as I stood up to leave, my eyes rolled white and my world went black. I didn’t feel anything when my arm slammed against a nearby chair, or when my nose crunched against the tile floor. I was out. Cold out, as my father used to say when watching a football player get laid flat by a rival’s tackle.
I only found out about my nose and arm after I came to…some two minutes after hitting the floor.
The sight before my foggy eyes was frighteningly familiar to the memory of my waking after the first fainting spell. Betty was squatted in front of me. On ether side of her, standing slightly hunched over, were the two truckers. I swore it was Mom, Mike, and Jay. I was eight again. There was fresh snow outside—just a touch of it…enough to roll balls and pitch at my brothers—moving boxes inside, and water on my lips. Sara Williams, the Crazy Cat Lady, was pregnant and Tina Williams had not yet entered the consciousness of my strange world.
But as my eyes cleared, so did reality. My childhood was thrust back into the sea of memories and drowned dreams, and a rush of pain shot up my back from the nasty spill I had taken.
“Hey, sugar…you hear me okay?”
It was Betty. The water I’d felt on my lips was her doing; she was dabbing my face with a cold, wet washcloth.
I nodded stupidly.
The truckers looked at each other for a moment, weighing my response, then straightened.
“Jus’ a bull of a hangover,” the taller of the two men said. “Reckon it was keg stands at one of ‘em frat houses. Eh, Clive?”
Clive shrugged, shifting a wad of half-chewed food from one side of his mouth to the other. He swallowed and grinned. “Dunno. You been drinkin’ boy? Smokin’ the reefer?”
I shook my head, a decision I instantly regretted. My brain spun and a strong wave of nauseousness gripped my stomach. For a second, I thought was going expel whatever remained of my undigested fast food all over the truckers’ boots.
I fought the urge with all the force I could muster and stood up.
“Whoa! Hold on, sugar!” Betty said, grabbing my arm.
“I’m fine. I just want to go back to my table.”
“Mister… I ain’t seen nothin’ like that in my life. I’m a heartbeat away from calling 911 and gettin’ you an ambulance. You need a doctor.”
“No I don’t,” I said, finding my seat. “I’m okay. I promise. I just got a little dehydrated from a long drive. I should have made a stop sooner.”
Betty shot me a suspicious gaze. While it was true she worked in a two-star diner in a two-star town, she still had a good head on her shoulders. She saw through my lie, and opened her mouth to say so, but decided to let it pass and hand me the washcloth instead.
“Listen, sugar. You keep this on your nose and I’ll be out with some fresh coffee. Don’t you move, you hear?”
She didn’t wait for a response. It was an order.
As she turned, I managed a faint grin at her southern hospitality.
But my smile quickly vanished upon recalling a name that had been implanted in my brain while the rest of my body was frozen in a deep spell.
May 15th, 1999
Jennifer Welsh—if I had the right person in mind—had been my biology teacher in high school. A tall, spidery lady, Mrs. Welsh used to hover over our desks during pop quizzes and exams, clicking her tongue incessantly as if she were practicing some sort of mating call for the frogs she had bottled in formaldehyde in her dissecting cabinet.
May 15th is tomorrow, I thought. I checked the date on my digital watch just to verify it, then pondered why in the world I’d received premonition about a 66-year-old woman. There was no way she was pregnant. She’d divorced when she was 24 and, to the best of my knowledge, never remarried or had kids.
And there was something else, too. The name and date came to me with a different feeling. It was dark…ominous. Simply recalling it gave me gooseflesh up and down my spine—as if a ghost were standing behind me. A second switch had been flipped in my mind’s attic, and I had a pretty good idea what light it turned on. (Or off, in Mrs. Welsh’s case.)
My God, she’s going to die tomorrow…
I stared down at my hands, then instantly reconsidered my supposition.
“No,” I whispered under my breath. “You don’t know that. It could mean anything. Or even nothing at all.”
Clive the trucker caught me talking to myself. His forehead furrowed into three deep creases, and shook his head as though he were looking at a bum who had lost his marbles.
I faced the opposite direction, embarrassed.
I had to stop acting so damn strange or else they’d call the police and haul me to the funny farm. I was here to eat, not ponder the fate of a biology teacher I hadn’t seen in years. Mrs. Welsh could have been already dead for all I knew. That’s the way it worked with people who drifted in and out of your life like breezes through a house. Teachers, coaches, friends, girlfriends, relatives…one moment they occupied your world, either guiding your path or defining it. The next moment they were gone, leaving behind only the shadows of the roles they’d played.
“Here you go, sugar,” Betty said, bringing the coffee along with my order. “Put a rush in for you with the cooks. Reckon you’d need it.”
I’d been given another dose of southern hospitality.
~ ~ ~
I mentioned before that I didn’t find out about the birth of Tina Williams until two days afterword. For the death of Jennifer Welsh, it took two months for word to reach me.
“What did you say?” I asked my mother. I was in a hotel in San Diego, talking long distance on my cell to save money. It was the first call I had placed after my job interview, and I wanted Mom to be the first to know that I’d likely get the position.
“I remembered the name. You had her for biology, right? They had a nice write-up about her in the school newsletter. Said she passed away peacefully in her sleep.”
Speechless, I held the cell in my hand and stared out at the dimpled reflection of the nightlights on Mission Bay. A boat cruised across the black water, breaking the mirrored image into wavy lines.
I found myself asking the same question I had asked my mother when I was eight.
“What day did you say it was on?”
The ruffling of paper filled my ear. “Mmm, let me see. Had it here on the table just a second ago.” More ruffling. “It says the 15th at the bottom. The letter was for the month of May, so…”
Her voice trailed off.
So did my thoughts when she eventually continued with other pressing family matters.
Jennifer Welsh – May 15th, 1999
The gooseflesh that had riddled my body in Lafayette resurfaced with a chilling force. My knees became rubbery. I took a seat on my tightly made bed—a mint spilling from my pillow and onto the sheets—and unscrewed a water bottle I’d been given during my interview.
As I drank, I shuddered at the notion of what this meant. My initial gut instinct had been correct: that second button inside my head had been the death switch. I now had another window to the future—one that peered into the end to one’s life rather than the beginning.
The thought was frightening in itself, but what made it downright horrifying was the swelling list I’d been given ever since leaving CJ’s diner:
December 3rd, 1999
February 4th, 2000
April 20th, 2000
April 30th, 2000
~ ~ ~
Jennifer Welsh was the only name with whom I’d had a personal connection on my D-list—a title I’d given my disturbing new talent (B-list, of course, represented the names from my first gift). I had no clue who the other people were. They were as unfamiliar as names in a phonebook—completely random and without a trace of any linking ethnic or economic association.
Now I know some of you might pipe in at this point in my story. Argue that I have a duty here. People’s lives, after all, were at stake, and I was the only one on God’s blue gem of a world who had the amazing ability to predict the exact day a person would step out of life’s door and into the world of demons or angels or eternal nothingness.
In other words, I had to seek out these names on my D-list and save them!
But I must remind you of the limits of my ability. I only had dates and names. Even if we assume that I was able to track down the whereabouts of the right Paul Waters (and that’s a big assumption considering all the walking Paul Waters’ roaming the world), I still had another problem: I didn’t know how he was going to die. Was it a car crash? Cancer? Heart attack? Choke on a chicken bone? The shit if I knew… It could be anything under the sun, and that wouldn’t do squat for my credibility on the day I showed up at Paul’s doorstep to confront him about the sky falling down.
At best, I’d be laughed off his property. At worst, I could find myself in jail if others happened to overhear my warning.
Officer, I swear that’s what that strange man said! He said he’d die on the 20th, and sure enough that’s when I found Paul’s body locked in his car with the engine running. Paul wouldn’t do that! No! Never in a million!
You see my dilemma? I was stuck with a gift that served no practical purpose. It was like watching a sporting event on TV and seeing the consequences of the choices being made on the field, but unable to stop the train wreck no matter how much one shouted or cursed.
The best I could do was to simply live with it…accept the births and deaths as the natural course of nature, and move on with my own life.
Buy a house.
Find a nice girl with whom I could love and settle down.
And maybe, if I was lucky, even have a kid…
~ ~ ~
For close to five years after my resolution to move on, I lived true to my promise. I worked my way up at E-TechCone in San Diego—from staff clerk, to senior accountant, to manager—and bought a quaint house in Mission Bay with the money I’d saved, securing a loan just before the bottom dropped out in the mortgage market. I dated every girl imaginable. There was Trish from Boston, a petite brunette who I met while surfing in Pacific Beach. A redheaded lawyer named Patty who loved romantic comedies and hated shrimp and wine (we didn’t last long). Gina and Sara, both San Diego natives and both off and on flings that came and went whenever they pleased (for all the guys reading this, I dated them separately; sorry to destroy the fantasy…). There were one-night stands, one-night dud dates, and one-night never-to-be’s because of unreturned phone calls, texts, or emails.
I wasn’t proud of the revolving door in my personal life. I was often lonely and found myself staring at other couples around my neighborhood and wondering what it was that I was missing. Was it my looks? My game? Car? Job?
I came to find out, from a waitress named Lindsey at a Mexican restaurant, that it was none of these things.
“You’re a closed box,” Lindsey said bluntly, glaring down at me with narrow eyes. I’d been dating Lindsey’s friend for three months and the relationship, yet again, had gone south. I decided I had to get some answers this time, and Lindsey seemed my best bet. “Gina shared everything with you, but you gave nothing of yourself. She said it was like talking to the secret service.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said, stunned. “Why would she think that?”
Lindsey glanced over her shoulder for her manager, then sat at my table. It was late and most of the chairs were already stacked for closing. “What did you give her? Where you work. Where you grew up. Where you went to school. Want to give her your fucking resume while you’re at it?”
“I don’t understand?”
Lindsey shot me a condescending smile.
“Gina said you showed only what you wanted to show. That you always kept the cards you cared about close to you. The stuff that mattered.”
Lindsey leaned back, thinking for a second. “Okay. Here’s one. Not long ago she said she asked about your ideal vacation. She wanted to know where you’d take her if you two got a full month off to go wherever you wanted. You could do anything anywhere in the world. Do you know what you told her?”
I vaguely remembered the conversation with Gina. It had happened at my apartment two weeks before our breakup.
“Ummm…” I struggled.
“Wherever you want to go, sweetie,” Lindsey fired at me. “That was your answer. That’s what she said you said.”
“So what’s wrong with that?”
Lindsey exhaled a loud laugh and stood up. She shook her head and started to walk away. I grabbed her arm.
“No, I’m serious. Please. What?”
Her eyes narrowed again. “All your answers were like that. Just passing the chips right back. Keeping those cards nice and tight where nobody could see them. Gina swore you were hiding something huge from her. She complained about it constantly and I thought she was crazy for even dealing with it at all, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Last night she met a wonderful guy at this club we went to. She’s got a date for next week and doesn’t want you calling screwing things up. She wants you to get lost.”
Lindsey turned on her heel and marched off.
I stared after her, a look of stupid bafflement plastered on my face.
~ ~ ~
I had more reasons than fingers for keeping my two gifts to myself. I already mentioned my fear of somehow being linked to one of the deaths, but it went beyond that. I seriously doubted if anyone would believe my story. While being a closed box, as Lindsey put it, was certainly bad, it was miles above being considered flat-out insane. Broaching the subject of possessing paranormal abilities was about as easy as mowing the lawn with garden shears.
Gina… There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. Remember when you asked about my ideal vacation? Well…I’d like to go to some island where I could wipe a few thousand birth and death dates off my mind. It would be great if I could erase the names of the people, too. I really don’t care that Tim Garret is going to kick the bucket tomorrow, or that Maria Sandoval is going to be born a week after he goes. Do you think we can take a cruise to such a getaway?
I realized I’d gone overboard in protecting my thoughts, but I also knew that spilling my guts wasn’t going to get me anywhere as long as I lived on a world where such foreseeing abilities were nonexistent. I had to pick a middle path. My conversation with Lindsey had taught me that much.
“I was born with something special,” I said, staring at my newest date with nervousness. Her name was Katie. “I sometimes have weird dreams and visions that others don’t have. It’s hard to explain and even harder to understand, but I just want you to know that I’m a little different. That I’m sometimes sad or depressed because of it. If you ever see me this way, please know that it’s nothing you’ve done.”
Katie sat beside me on bench that faced a magnificent, shooting water fountain. It was our sixth date out, and we’d just gotten out of a crummy movie about two bank robbers who decided to become cops.
I braced myself for what would come next.
They always asked for more details.
“I’m moody, too,” Katie grinned, her eyes sparkling as fresh geyser of water shot into the air. “Especially if I eat a lot of food. I hate being full and feeling fat.”
I silently exhaled in relief.
She nodded. A silky strand of brown hair covered her right eye; she was beautiful—tan, soft, stylish.
“Oh yeah!” she said, lighting up. “Spaghetti always does it to me. Ice cream, too. I inhale it so fast that my mind doesn’t have time to catch up with my stomach. Hey, let’s go get some!”
Katie was goofy.
I liked that about her, too.
“Sure,” I agreed, sliding my hand in hers and standing.
As we walked, I learned something amazing about the power of opening up: others would reveal a deeper part of themselves in the process. Katie told me about a baby she had lost in her past. It had happened during her first marriage, in the second year, and it was supposed to be a girl. Katie had already picked out a name for it: Kayla. She’d bought clothes, toys, bottles, formula, a crib, even pink paint to redo the house office into a baby room. She said she jinxed herself. Come the second trimester, she had a painful cramp while taking a shower and saw blood trickling down her leg and funneling into the drain. Hours later, a doctor confirmed her worst nightmare: miscarriage. “I wanted that baby so damned much,” Katie said, spinning a thick ball of spaghetti around her fork. “It absolutely killed me when they said that. I felt so dead inside. Completely hollow.”
It killed her marriage, too. She and her ex never got past the loss and split a year later—Katie retaining the house while sacrificing the car and half her 401K.
“But I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat,” Katie said, the brown wisp of hair dancing over her face. “I’d do it as long as I had a chance of carrying it all the way. Of bringing something beautiful in this world and becoming a mother.”
She smiled at me for a moment, then dropped her gaze to her food.
“Oh gosh. It’s happened again. Soooo full…”
I smiled back. “Want some ice cream?”
~ ~ ~
I never saw it coming.
I’m sure some of you readers might slap the back of my head and curse me for being so naïve. I apologize if that’s the case. I guess I never got out of my box and considered other names and dates that would turn my world on its head.
Just what the hell am I talking about?
Let me explain.
A week after I’d proposed to Katie—we’d now been dating for over two years—I went to visit a friend in Los Angeles who was going through a costly divorce. It was weird visit. My love life was soaring in a blue, dreamy sky; his was underground…a headstone reading Death Due to Irreconcilable Differences.
Rather than meet at his apartment, a loft in which he’d recently moved and couldn’t stand, I picked him up at work and we went out for a beer in a bar on the lively 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I volunteered to be the designated driver. He, in turn, got very, very drunk and repeatedly warned me throughout the night to get out while I still had time. Single life was the only way to go. My decision would only result in heartache, misery, and many lost years of sexual promiscuity in which I could be scoring with the hottest beach babes in Pacific Beach.
After earning a number of reproachful glares from some girls nearby, I called it a night and dragged my friend outside, his arm slung over my shoulder. It was a terrible walk to parking garage. He weighed two hundred plus pounds and his feet kept cutting in front of mine, smarting my shins and drilling my ankles. To add to my troubles, I had to haul him up a flight of endless stairs to the third floor (the damned elevator, of all the days, was under repair).
By the time I got to my car, my thigh muscles felt like they were on fire. I dropped my friend, who was one inch from passing out at this point, on the passenger seat and slammed the door to prevent him from falling out. I then took a breather on my bumper—I was too exhausted to move around the other side of the car.
While resting, I thought about how I would do everything in my power to make sure I didn’t screw things up with Katie. Our life together was just beginning. I told myself to learn from this night’s experience…to make sure I didn’t end up in the same boat as my friend.
But life, I’m afraid, had different plans for me.
Another name and date came at that moment while I sat on my car.
April 20th, 2010
My heart froze.
I immediately stood and looked around the mostly empty garage as if I’d see the prescient vision written on the concrete walls. My fingers dug into my palms, and my mind raced with a mixture of fear, bafflement, shock.
No, that can’t be true! I just imagined it, that’s all. It’s only because of the godforsaken walk and those stairs…I’m so damned tired that I’ve now become delusional.
But my exhaustion had nothing to do with it. I knew the clairvoyant feeling all too well from my prior experiences, and I knew exactly which list on which my name was written.
The same one that had Jennifer Welsh’s.
“Oh my God…” I said aloud, running a hand through my hair. “That’s next year. Three months after we get married…”
My knees gave way and my butt hit my bumper with a thud, rocking the car. I felt nauseous, much like I’d felt at CJ’s diner, and thought for a moment that I was going to lose the two drinks I’d consumed inside the bar—along with my undigested dinner.
But nothing came up except for more swirling questions.
If that was true, how would it happen? Am I to be murdered? Die in a car crash? Struck by some killer disease between now and the foreseen, dreaded date?
“Hey, you okay?” came voice behind me.
I turned, seeing a parking lot security officer peering at me from a small electric vehicle with blinking lights on the sides.
“Do you need me to call a cab?”
I stood back up and shook my head.
“No thanks. I’m fine. I was only resting.”
He stared at me for a moment, undoubtedly judging my sobriety, then cruised along in his vehicle.
I watched the blinking lights disappear down the ramp of the parking garage, a chilly Santa Monica breeze funneling through the open air complex.
I had lied.
I wasn’t okay.
No one on the D-list was okay.
~ ~ ~
I tried to put it out of my mind. It had to be another Danny Rivers that was going to meet his end on April 20th. To support my argument, I Googled my name and came up with 2.6 million results. I spent hours flipping through pages and pages of Danny’s I’d never met and, I was certain, would never see no matter how much time I had on this planet. (Some of them were doctors; some were entrepreneurs with business listings; some were students, a sample of their profiles popping up on popular social networks).
When this failed to calm my nerves during my free time after work, I shifted my attention on helping Katie plan the details of our wedding. She had me call a dozen local florists to compare prices. She sent me to stationary shops to pickup samples of their invitations. She even made me her personal guinea pig, sampling a wide array of food for our dinner rehearsal and reception.
It helped the weeks pass, but it didn’t help erase my memory of what I’d foreseen. I’d find myself driving and wondering if my car would soon, somehow, become my grave, or checking my skin in the mirror at home, looking for bumps or bruises, or glancing over my shoulder while walking to work, a paranoid suspicion that a crazed psychopath was stalking me.
It drove me crazy. Death’s door, when one really thinks about it, is always at every corner. You could don a padded suit, stuff a gun in your belt for protection, look four times before crossing the street, and you’d still carry the risk with you. People die of strange accidents everyday. I’ll admit that some of them are boneheads and likely deserve life’s exit, but most are just like us: reasonably intelligent and sensibly cautious. They woke up, took a shower, ate breakfast, got in their car, and—minutes later—happened to find themselves in the crosshairs of the grim reaper’s gaze. Don’t believe me? Watch your local news sometime and make a note of all the deaths they rattle through with disturbing detachment (and keep in mind they are only reporting the eye-grabbing stories). You’re head will spin from the numbers.
Trust me on this… I did it while researching some of the likely causes of my own inevitable demise.
We all have an end.
At some point, whether it be days or years, we all wind up on the D-list.
~ ~ ~
Katie and I were married in a small catholic chapel in Old Town San Diego, a beautiful January sun filtering through wide stained glass windows. The pews weren’t filled to capacity. Nevertheless, we did a decent job packing the place with enough friends and family that the reception afterword ended up costing us a hefty sum—most of which came from our open bar tab.
It was the best day of my life.
April 20th was far from my thoughts, and so too were all the other dates and names I had collected over the course of two decades.
In its place was Katie.
Beautiful Katie Rivers, dressed in white…smile as gorgeous as the stars that swirled around us as we closed the day dancing on the balcony of our hotel room, rice and confetti trickling from our hair and clothes.
Her hands in mine.
Our hearts soaring impossibly high in the shortest of magical moments.
~ ~ ~
It’s the middle that counts.
I came to this realization shortly after I’d received another incredible prescient thought a few weeks following my wedding. (I’ll come back to this prediction later.)
So much time had been spent on my B- and D-lists that I’d forgotten what life’s painting really looked like when you stepped back and absorbed all the strange, marvelous colors. The births and deaths had only provided the paint and canvas. It was the strokes, the daily decisions, that filled in the details. The snowcapped trees. The orange sunsets. The mixture of hues and shadows on the watery horizon.
God—or Mother Nature, if you prefer—controlled the B- and D-lists.
But the middle was ours.
We could take that blank canvas, conjure something amazing in our mind’s eye, and bring it to life by applying the required commitment and persistence…steering clear of detours. It wasn’t a list. The product between the beginning and end was far too complex, too detailed to summarize or succinctly categorize in a tidy file. It was our ever-evolving work of art. Always subject to new interpretation. Always changing. Always dancing in our shadow—even in death.
This vast opportunity was both mind-boggling and frightening.
We could do anything.
All we had to do was follow the muse along her magic trail and cross our fingers that middle was large enough to finish the journey.
And, along the way, hopefully find love.
~ ~ ~
I decided to write about my unusual life in a notepad I picked up at a thrift store. I’ve written two dozen pages—what you’ve already read up to this point—and I’ve been amazed at the memories that have resurfaced as a result of my autobiography: the snowball fight with my brothers, the birth of Tina Williams, the smell of CJ’s diner, the image of Katie’s sparkling eyes as we sat beside the fountain near the movie theater. These ancient memories somehow managed to stick to my brain through the years…hidden liked forgotten photo albums waiting to be rediscovered. Some of them were hazy, I’ll admit. But most were as if I’d lived through the experience just yesterday—as vivid and fresh as the crashing waves outside my hotel window.
Katie and I are now on vacation in Hawaii.
Today’s date is April 20th.
The morning sun is winking off the pacific, casting a grayish reflection on the cluster of palms swaying outside our room. Behind me and the desk at which I’m sitting, Katie sleeps with her face and body turned from the window. One hand rests on a giant fluffy pillow; the other is tucked snugly in her lap as though it were cold.
Given the date, you might think I’ve been up all night—either fidgeting in my bed, or pacing in the room. I wasn’t. I slept a full seven hours, one of the best rests of my life, and awoke to the sunrise feeling refreshed and energized.
I know what thoughts are likely to be on the tip of your tongue…
But how can that be? You’re on the D-list and today is the day! How could you possible feel good knowing what’s in store for you? Did you realize you made a mistake about the date or name?
The answer to this last question is no. I’m just as certain now about what I’d seen as I was when I had first predicted it. I have little doubt in the coming hours I will meet some strange end, especially considering my youthful age, and will not live to see the next sunrise on this island of paradise.
I’ve accepted it.
I’ve grown to live with it just as I’ve grown to live with my strange talent.
What carries me forward is simply living in the moment—appreciating all that I currently have and savoring every drop of time as if it were my last. I know not the hour it happens. None of us do. But we do know what’s around us right now. What we see, smell, feel, taste, hear.
Take a minute and consider what I say, dear reader.
What unfolds before your eyes when glancing up?
What noises fill your ears?
Is there an aroma or scent wafting in your room?
How about a sweetness on your tongue?
This is your drop of time. Your bottled moment. It will pass as surely as mine will, but at least we can say we held it up for all it was worth and shared it together…painting life’s canvas a little brighter, warmer.
And let us share one last thing before I say goodbye and kiss Katie to take a run along the ocean.
It’s about that prediction I mentioned earlier—the one that came a few weeks after my wedding.
I think it will bring a smile to your face.
I know it will for my pregnant wife…
December 31st, 2010
~ ~ ~
The Paranormal Lists © 2010 by Vincent Lowry