New York City
I downed my Budweiser in a single go, pushed it aside, and ordered another. The bartender, Lilly, was attractive, in a simpering kind of way. Therefore I couldn’t help but check her out as she sashayed off to fulfill my order.
I was right in the middle of sipping at my second beer, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, some weird guy burst into the bar with worry written all over his clobbered face. My train of thought was immediately shunted, and thus my attention segued from Lilly to the newcomer. No one seemed to notice him but me. The rest of the heavily crowded room appeared to be engrossed in the blaring TV bolted to the wall. Some important baseball game was on tonight. It wasn’t a live transmission, but the folk were excited nonetheless. They quaffed their draught beer with a great gusto, wolfed down their snacks, laughed merrily and chatted casually about trivial matters, while joggling their tables from joyfulness.
The stranger shouldered across the room, sitting down at the only available round, little table. He looked like he had just participated in a fight to the death. His bottom lip was split open, he had an ugly cut on his left cheekbone and one of his eyes, right to be precise, was rapidly swelling up. I hazarded a guess that he had a few more bruises and cuts under his clothes from the look of him. His casual shirt was tattered and rolled up at the sleeves, and his dark, copper brown hair was fully drenched, as well as the rest of him, due to the heavy downpour of rain outside. I also couldn’t help but notice that the man looked to be in an exceptionally foul mood.
I took stock of him, and instantly knew that he was terrified. Not from his apprehensive behavior, not from the constant peeping out the window which offered a perfect view of the road and the entrance door, nor from the frequent drumming of his bloodied fingers on the table, as he beat a steady tattoo without actively noticing that he was doing so. The blood on his hands wasn’t visible in the semidarkness of the bar, but I knew it was there just the same.
One might ask how I knew all those things. Well, there couldn’t be a simpler answer than the one I would give you: I just did, all right? And that was all there was to it.
People had always been like walking books to me. I could read them if I wanted to. Some were more interesting than others, some were plain boring. Some were unimaginably easy to read and some were impossible–period.
I did not know exactly how it all functioned but it definitely helped me every now and then to get by in life.
Don’t be quick to mistake me for a mind-reader though, I was no such thing. Whatever it was that I did often came in pictures, rarely in words and mostly in confusing brain signals caused by my advanced levels of intuition. And all of that had to be processed and studied with utmost meticulousness in order to be decoded correctly. It wasn’t unlike trying to translate a book written in some foreign language, really. You had to make a point of interpreting and translating everything accurately. That is, if you wanted a faithful rendering of the original text, so to speak.
Curious to explore, I took a sip of beer and studied the newcomer from the corner of my eye. I could instantly tell that he was in his early thirties. He was born in London, England on the same day as I, which didn’t seem one bit surprising to me. You would be amazed how many people had matching birthdays, or other common similarities. I once had read a guy who was basically an exact copy of me in all his hobbies, actions and habits, but looked nothing like me superficially.
Michael Fleming, for I knew it to be his name, glared at the TV as if expecting it to melt or perhaps catch on fire. The television did neither of those two things, but its screen did however strangely go black for one brief second and then blink back into existence.
‘This is a channel six special report,’ announced an authoritative male voice. The intro music blared for a few short moments and was replaced by a cute, redhead news reporter. The baseball game was pre-empted by a special news bulletin. ‘Good evening to you,’ she said with a note of professionalism. ‘I’m Barbara Alexander and we are following some breaking news right now. It’s raining dead birds down in New Jersey…’
As she went on, the rest of the info-starved faces in the bar seemed to be hypnotized by her announcement, the male audience in particular. It was an unnatural phenomenon after all. I however, was more interested in Michael. It could be teeming with pink elephants, for all I cared.
Michael wasn’t paying any attention to the redhead’s report either; he was fully focused on the dark streets outside. His mind appeared to be occupied by some turbaned, no, hatted man…Vernon…or maybe it was a woman…Victoria…I couldn’t tell for sure. The structure of his complex mind was unusually hard to infiltrate. There was something alien about him. He certainly didn’t look it, but it was there. There was more to him than met the eye, and there was no two ways about it.
Intrigued by the discovery, and having nothing better to preoccupy myself with anyway, I grabbed my Bud and decided to approach him. The guy looked pretty beat down and scared. Maybe I would be able to help him out somehow. Perhaps give him a few bucks for a bus ticket home, or something amongst those lines…be a Good Samaritan.
‘Pretty dull weather, huh?’ I asked him; when I was close enough to see his facial features and contours better. He had a set of piercing blue eyes, pale skin and a sharp, bruised nose that gave him a fierce appearance. He looked at me almost indifferently, glanced at his digital wristwatch and then nodded.
‘At least it isn’t raining dead birds.’
I chuckled and took a greedy pull at my bottle. So he had a sense of humor. That was good.
I pointed to a chair across him. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’
‘No, please, be my guest. I actually have something to tell you.’
That surprised me, but I sat down nonetheless. People often had the tendency to say some weird, freaky things that didn’t make any sense.
‘You don’t look so good,’ I told him. ‘What’s your story? Are you in trouble?’
He shook his head, but I knew he was lying. He was in deep water, all right. In deep, deep water, at that. But I was unable to figure out what exactly had landed him in the boiler.
‘I want you to listen to me very carefully, Dan,’ he said, I raised my eyebrows in surprise, wondering how on Earth he had come to know my name. And then an all-knowing smile spread across my face. Maybe the same way I knew his…
‘I’m all ears, Mike.’ He didn’t look a bit perturbed at the mention of his own name.
‘I asked you to listen, not to speak!’ He glanced at his watch again, then scanned the outside sidewalks, and fixed me with a firm gaze. ‘I’m not in the habit of accosting strangers in random bars, but I’m afraid in exactly eighty-three seconds, this whole place is going to be blown to smithereens. Boom! Gone sky-high! Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
The claim was so unexpected, I barely managed to suppress a rising itch of laughter in my throat, but I didn’t have to keep doing that for much longer. My intuition suddenly told me that Michael wasn’t messing with me. This wasn’t a practical joke. I caught his eye, bellied up to the table and asked, ‘Wait, you’re serious about this, aren’t you?’
‘You bet your sweet boots I am!’
Lips pressed tight, I gave him a searching look, feeling the first stirrings of fear.
‘But how do you know this? Have you planted a bomb here or something?’ I posed the question in all seriousness.
‘I didn’t plant any damned bombs, or explosives, all right? In fact no one planted anything.’
‘Then tell me how you came about this information,’ I demanded, my voice filled with skepticism.
‘I just know things. I felt certain that you would come here, which is why I didn’t approach you myself. I knew that you would introduce yourself, but you didn’t because I was already aware of your name. And I knew it because you were supposed to tell me your name if I hadn’t disturbed the natural order of things. The long and the short of it is that I can foresee the future. Now do yourself a favor, Danny, and shut up.’
‘What?’ I uttered, completely disconcerted.
I was at an utter loss for words, finding it a mite too difficult to absorb all this unsettling information en masse.
‘Fifty-nine seconds left, Daniel. Mind me now; I’m going to give you my cellular phone.’ He produced a Blackberry from his pocket and laid it in front of me. ‘You are going to take it and keep it.’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Yes you are.’
‘Because you want to live, Daniel. It’s as simple as that.’ I felt an icy chill run down the length of my spine, and immediately adopted a concerned expression. ‘And the only way we can assure your survival is if you communicate with me through the means of this mobile phone, do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, very much so,’ I replied in a weak voice.
My intuition told me that I should hold back my questions and listen. So I did just that.
‘Splendid! Now, I’m getting out of this place without further ado. You want to do the exact same thing. You have forty-three seconds. The clock is ticking.’ He stood up, grabbed a napkin to wipe off a trickle of coagulated blood from his face and headed for the entrance door. He stopped midway across the room, turned around and said, ‘A lot of strange things are going to be happening soon. So you want to watch out. If I were you, friend, I’d get myself a gun whenever opportunity presents itself. Thirty-seven seconds, Dan. I’ll see you later.’ He left the bar without ever turning around.
I sat there for a while looking torn, staring into space, listening to the thumping of my accelerating heart, mulling Michael’s words over in my head. And then I guzzled down the remnants of my beer, so as to bolster up my courage, and surprised myself by jumping up decisively, like a bolt out of the blue. It was my bad luck that there were a lot of people in the bar tonight. In light of what I now knew, I felt it was incumbent on me to get them out of the danger zone. And I had to do it in nothing flat. I was in a bind. Lingering for a moment, I fetched a lighter from my right jeans pocket and brought it close to a fire detector. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of water droplets washed down onto the seated denizens. People jumped up to their feet with unfinished beers in their hands, their frustration and confused voices muffled by the steady yip of the fire alarm.
Just as I had hoped, there was a hurried exodus from the room. Cursing and swearing transpired in great abundance, as the angry, peeved clients streamed outside into the pouring rain. They jolted with one another for space, holding jackets, and other clothing items over their heads, so as to shelter themselves from the intensifying deluge. I grabbed Lilly by the arm and propelled her out of the door, while she petulantly tried to slap my hands away. Once I was sure nobody had been left behind, I grabbed the Blackberry, pocketed it and shot outside like fury.
‘Move back!’ I yelled at the displeased clumps of men and women. ‘Move farther down!’
One middle-aged woman, who seemed to be particularly upset about my behavior, decided to make no secret of it and thus launched into a short diatribe that questioned the state of my mental health. To put it in colloquial terms, I was accused of being a raging psycho. Several men went even as far to use abrasive remarks against me. But I pretended not to hear the uncalled-for epithets that they felt were right on the button.
‘Dan, what are you doing?’ Lilly demanded. Rage shrilled in her voice. She was beside herself with anger. I had never seen her so down in the mouth before.
‘Just move back Lilly! Everyone get away from here! The bar’s going to blow any second now.’ I grabbed her and shambled quickly behind a brick wall for cover. The rest of the small crowd scattered away in different directions, looking at the bar as if it was a ticking bomb.
Five seconds passed.
I chinned up the wall in a trice and peeked around the corner.
‘Dan, what’s happening?’ Lilly tried again, all worked up.
‘Shut up and wait.’ I stared at the bar expectantly. Nothing happened for a long time. Suspicion began to spread like canker through my body. My eyes narrowed into thin slits. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
‘That prick! That prick was fooling around with me, after all!’
I couldn’t believe it. Michael had lied to me. Some stranger had pulled an evil prank on me and I had totally fallen for it like a foolish, tractable boy. God did it infuriate me! Suddenly, I felt strongly put upon. I had been exploited by some seriously twisted freak. Then I found that I was uncomfortable in the extreme. All those people had been rousted from their cozy seats and pretty much dragooned out into the cold of the night by none other than me. I had committed an awful and embarrassing gaffe and had managed to make a total fool of myself.
With shame gnawing at my bones, I stepped from behind the wall and squelched closer to the flashing ‘Charlie’s’ neon sign hanging above the green door. That was when a strange, windy and steadily intensifying sound reached my ears. It was faint and seemed to be coming from somewhere far away…No, not that far away actually…The sound was growing louder by the second, coming closer and closer, until it seemed to be a spitting distance away from where I stood. I looked around the streets, alleys, at Lilly, and the inexhaustibly irritated scores of people that I had forced out of the bar.
There was a loud, earsplitting swoosh followed by a flurry of warm air-currents that rushed into my face. I gave a start, and losing my balance, was knocked off my feet. The entire pub flashed bright red, and the ground trembled as a large, truck-sized bolide smashed into its windows. The explosion was small, but very efficient. Three or four cars that had been parked right in front of the joint were thrown aside by the blast like mere toys. That was followed by a screech of tires. A cab driver lost control of his vehicle as he veered it sharply to the right. The car skidded and slewed across the road, smashing right into a lamppost, bringing it down on the hood and injuring an unsuspecting, nearby bicyclist. In a matter of seconds, there was a pall of flickering smoke hanging over the street.
Acrid fumes of burning leather and wood filled my nostrils. People yelped, moaned, gasped and jerked, streaming out of the opaque, sporadically flashing haze with baffled countenances. I forced myself upward, brushing a thick film of dust and ashes off my bomber jacket. My knees trembled, my ears buzzed and for a second or two I couldn’t hear a damned thing. Lilly mouthed something at me, but her voice never reached my ears. I went rigid with fear. Panic was beginning to grip my tensed up body when suddenly, all the noise came rushing back into my head like a huge tsunami. I could hear the distant emergency sirens headed our way, the confused, angry, and shocked out of decorum voices of both men and women. As well as the sharp, dry crackling of orange flames engulfing the burning bar, where I had been seated comfortably less than a minute ago. But most importantly, I could feel something vibrating in the depths of my jeans pocket. It took me a few moments to realize that it was the Blackberry ringing for my attention.
With shaking hands, I reached into my pocket and accepted the incoming call. My widened eyes never left the lengthening flames.
I licked my chapped lips. ‘Hello?’ My voice was frail, and modulated with faintheartedness.
‘Watching the fireworks, Dan?’ It was Michael’s digitized voice. He was somewhere nearby. I just knew it.
I had to make an effort to reply. My throat was as dry as the Sahara desert. ‘Yeah, the whole spectacle is unfolding right before my eyes.’ I finally managed to look away from the inferno, my shocked mind running in a thousand directions. ‘Mike?’
‘Right here, friend.’
‘What the heck is happening, man?’ I quavered.
To my astonishment, he actually laughed.
‘You don’t have to sound so chipper, you know!’
‘Sorry. I’ll tell you everything in due course. But right now, you better start running, Dan.’
‘Don’t ask questions, just run.’
‘Are you already running?’
‘Then what are you waiting for?’
Black smoke billowed down from the fire. The line went dead. I didn’t tarry long, but stared at the phone for a second or two, then tore my gaze away from the hypnotizing blaze and started sprinting eastward, all the time wandering what sort of nightmare was in the works. Serious trouble was brewing; I could sense its ominous approach like a ruinous noose tightening around my neck.
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Genre – Young-adult, Action and Adventure, Coming of Age, Sci-fi
Rating – PG-13
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