Balancing her backpack and the box of doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, Jenny opened the door to the cramped student apartment she shared with Mark. She was surprised to see him still sitting at the kitchen table, two laptops going full speed and a half-dozen legal pads strewn here and there. He was immersed in deep thought.
He was always immersed in deep thought.
“You didn’t take the double shift?” she asked. “The coffee shop called my mobile by mistake.”
“Turned it down.” He glanced quickly from one screen to the other, picked up a dog-eared copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls and scribbled some quick notes on one of the legal pads. He skimmed a few pages of Miss Lonelyhearts and then flipped through As I Lay Dying. Mark was halfway through a PHD at NC State in modernist numerology, a field he had more or less concocted. State was glad to take his money.
Jenny stared at her boyfriend. “Would you mind telling me why you decided to stay home for the fourth day in a row?”
“I’ve made a breakthrough,” he said. “No time.” He still had on the same ratty jeans and pizza-sauce-stained sweatshirt he’d worn all day yesterday.
Jenny rolled her eyes. “Jesus Christ.”
He reached into a bag of barbecue chips and pulled out a handful. “Hemingway, like most modernists, tapped into the muse. The muse expressed itself not in the language and pacing, but the numbers.” He held up For Whom the Bell Tolls. “Page 43. Right here. The numbers…”
“Mark,” she said, trying to keep her voice down. “We need the money to pay the rent. That’s the only number I care about.” She set the doughnuts on the counter.
He reached for the box, but she snatched it back.
He flashed that aw shucks grin that had made her want to date him in the first place. “I wrote a flash piece today,” he said. “That’s money. Every Day Fiction already accepted it.”
“You’ll just blow your payment on coffee which you get for free when you’re a barista.”
She didn’t want to hear about another of his whimsical stories. He wrote about things like wise-cracking ghosts, cats who were secret aliens who could speak, and time traveling professors who accidentally shot themselves.
As if on cue, Mr. Ruffles, their fat tabby cat, jumped on the coffee table and rubbed his head on Jenny’s leg. He purred when she scratched his head.
“Holy crap!” Mark said.
“What now?” Jenny sighed.
“Just got an email from the editor of Every Day Fiction. It’s going to be their tenth anniversary online tomorrow. They’ve done… 3462 stories.” He pulled out a calculator and punched in some numbers. “Good God! No. Using that algorithm — that’s probably over two million words.” He began to hyperventilate.
“What’s going on, Mark?” This was even more crazy than usual for him.
He ran over to the bookcase and pulled down a dusty tome. The Big Book of Aztec Numbers. “Crap. Holy Mother—” He pulled down another book. Kabalistic Numerology. He flipped through the pages and finally read for a few seconds. He ran his fingers through his long uncombed hair. “No. No!”
“Mark? What is happening?”
“The Solar Eclipse last week. Mercury in retrograde until the middle of September. A partial alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Their tenth anniversary is equidistant between —Thirty-five hundred, the most sacred of Aztec numbers. 2.1 million, the Kabalistic Ideal. The number of words of the Bible with the lost writings of Paul and the commentary by the Third Session of Biblical Critics and the Apocrypha added. Multiplied by the — It’s gonna be bad. It’s gonna be real freakin’ bad!”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“A convergence of words and numbers. They can’t publish a story tomorrow or reality will shift. The stories may become reality. It’s doomsday. Well, not exactly, but Every Day Fiction has published some weird crap. You don’t want that stuff to come true. There was one about a talking coffee maker that hated cats. And—”
His eyes had a wild glazed-over look.
Jenny clasped his hand. “If you really believe this, contact the editor. Call her up.”
“How? All I know is she lives in Canada. Do I look like I know a damned thing about Canada? I hate Canada. I don’t even like Canadian bacon. If they wait one day to celebrate, the numbers won’t add up.”
“Send her a Facebook message.”
He breathed in short rapid bursts. “Yeah.” He raced to one of the computers and began typing furiously.
Jenny woke up early to the sound of Mark yelling. “No!”
She staggered to the kitchen. “What’s wrong now, honey?” She needed coffee desperately.
“She published it!” Mark whimpered. “I caused the convergence. It’s a perfect storm.”
“My Facebook message.” He turned the laptop around. “And, my message was exactly 472 words. Oh, God.”
The screen was open to Every Day Fiction. Doomsday by Mark LeGrange.
A special note from the editor preceded it. “A perfect tenth anniversary story from one of my favorite contributors. Cleverly sent to me as a Facebook message, I hope you find this insane literary conspiracy theory flash as fun as I did.”
Jenny patted Mark on the head. “It’ll be fine.” She stumbled to the kitchen to make some coffee.
“Where the hell’s the cat?” the coffee maker gurgled. “I hate cats!”
“Right here, you bastard,” Mr. Ruffles said. He wore a silver spacesuit and held a ray gun. “Make my day, punk.”
Jenny crossed her arms. “So, Mark. I don’t suppose any of those stories had you finding a real job.”
Peter Wood is an attorney who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s and, of course, at Every Day Fiction. He hopes EDF keeps publishing for many years. And, if his story today should cause the unraveling of reality, he is very sorry.
This story is featured today for Every Day Fiction’s tenth birthday, and marks the beginning of our second decade of publication.