I’m reading about my death. A three-sentence story, circled in red on a single sheet of paper and stuffed in my mailbox, it’s similar to the others I’ve received over the past two weeks, but this one is different, in a very personal way, obviously.
The first one I receive, I nearly throw out as junk mail, but something outlined in bold red ink catches my eye and I open it.
It’s a simple broadsheet, containing an eclectic collection of stories that could belong on the pages of any local tabloid. The highlighted one stands out because it’s dated tomorrow. It describes an accident on Old Mill Road, a half mile from where I live, and involves a fatality.
I put the whole thing down to an elaborate practical joke and throw the paper in the kitchen trash. Imagine my surprise when I turn on the TV next morning and watch the female anchor reporting an accident on Old Mill Road, exactly as described in yesterday’s mystery paper.
I go back to the recycling bin, and fish out the news sheet, all crumpled and slightly dog-eared, but still legible and still as preposterous as when I first read it eighteen hours ago. On an impulse, I smooth it out on the kitchen table and put it into the sideboard drawer. Then I forget all about it until I go out the mailbox later that morning and find another sheet, neatly folded like the previous one, sitting at the bottom of the box.
This one I open before any other piece of mail that day. Just like previously, it contains a small set of stories with one outlined in red and datelined the next day. That’s tomorrow. This time I don’t trash the sheet. I leave it face up on the kitchen table where I will see it when I come down next morning. It’s the last thing that catches my eye before I go to bed that night.
Next morning, I’m up uncharacteristically early, seated at the table with my morning coffee mug, a full ten minutes before the newscast begins. Yesterday’s paper is spread out on the table, waiting for confirmation, and I keep glancing at it, although I know the content of the circled story by heart already. It’s a full forty minutes into the program before the anchor mentions a tree branch falling on someone sitting on a bench in Marley Park, killing her instantly. Exactly as laid out in the now slightly sinister looking paper in front of me.
And so on for two weeks, until I’m taking the predictions for granted, even though I can’t stifle a growing sense of unease. Why am I getting these sheets? Am I the only one receiving them? I’ve chickened out of querying my neighbors about it. They already look at me sideways because I don’t have a regular job. That news sheet is always the first piece of mail I open and I always leave it on the kitchen table before I go to bed.
Today, my growing feeling of discomfort bursts like a squeezed boil. Today’s news concerns me.
The ominous red-circled story on the page makes my heart nearly stop. I re-read it to ensure that I’m seeing it right. It says:
Yesterday, an Avalon, New York man, Carl Smyth, was found dead in his home. There were no obvious signs of trauma, but a cryptic note that read “tomorrow’s news today” was found clutched in the dead man’s hand. The authorities are asking for help from anyone with knowledge of this incident.
That’s me, Carl Smyth. According to this piece of paper, I’m going to die sometime later today, under mysterious circumstances.
I panic completely. It’s 11:00 AM and there are still thirteen more hours in the day. Scrambling back to the house, I lock and bolt the front door. I’m hyperventilating, leaning on the wall trying to pull myself together, trying to rationalize what I’ve just read.
For a brief moment, I’m tempted to dismiss this whole situation as crazy nonsense, but cold logic informs me that every single one of the past two weeks’ highlighted stories have been deadly accurate. I have a funny feeling in my belly. Needing to be pro-active about this whole thing, I sprint around the lower level of the house, obsessively closing and locking all the entrances and windows, then double checking them again and again. For good measure, I go upstairs and do the same for all those windows too. I draw all the blinds, trying to convince myself that if no one could see inside they might think I’m not home. But who are they, anyway? I have no idea what form or shape the threat will take. I pace around the living room. I lock and bolt the door to the basement without even going down there to check. I go upstairs and pace some more, then come back downstairs and do the same, getting angrier and more terrified by the minute.
Lunch time and dinner time ooze by like molasses. I can’t eat anything. I’m not hungry. I feel like throwing up.
It’s 10:00 PM, and dark outside. I’m seated at the kitchen table watching the hands of the wall clock crawl around with agonizing slowness. Usually, I’m in bed by this time. I’m an early sleeper, but I’m certainly not sleeping tonight. Every light in the kitchen is turned on, as well as all those in the hallway and upstairs too. I don’t want any shadows or dark corners tonight.
Waiting for time to pass is an excruciating pastime. I can’t find anything to do with my hands and I’m sick to my stomach, counting down the waning minutes of the final hour of this monstrous day. At fifteen minutes to the witching hour, I hear a pounding at the front door and almost jump out of my skin.
The sound echoes in my head like a gong, clamoring to be heard while my mind tries to dismiss what I’m hearing. The hammering continues, insistent, regular, like a knell. It’s so loud the neighbors must hear it too. Why doesn’t somebody put their porch lights on? That might make the sound stop. It might scare away whoever’s at the door. Maybe they do, because, suddenly, the awful racket stops.
I sit, frozen in my chair, unable and unwilling to move. I am not going to that door. Wild horses couldn’t drag me. I stare at the hallway, hands clenched, shivering and sweating profusely at the same time.
After a minute that seems like an hour, the pounding resumes, except, now it’s coming from the back door, down the other end of the hall. My heart, already beating like a jackhammer, speeds up even further. I put my hands over my ears to block out the sound but my palms are clammy and slippery. I can still hear that infernal drumbeat. I’m ready to have a heart attack when it stops, and doesn’t come back.
For a long while, there is almost silence. The only sound in the room is the ticking of the wall clock, seemingly amplified until it permeates the entire house. In a way, this is worse than the pounding. The insistent tick tock draws my attention to the clock like a magnet.
It’s still three minutes until tomorrow.
I watch the second hand spasm its way around the clock face, not realizing I’m holding my breath.
A zephyr of coolness touches the back of my neck, intensified by the sweat tricking down my scalp. The zephyr becomes a breeze that tickles my spine, then it’s a gust, as if the kitchen window at my back is open.
I know I locked that window. I checked it multiple times.
I can’t turn. I’m inert, like a stone, mesmerized by the clock, where the lurching second hand appears to have frozen.
It’s almost tomorrow.
© Copyright May 2019 Bryan Knower