“Who are you?” Kathy said, turning to see who’d just come up to her cubicle. She could have said “This Thursday?” or “Die how?” or “How do you know?”, but any of those would have meant that she was taking the nut case seriously, this guy who had walked in, barely looked at her, predicted her death, and immediately turned to go.
He turned back, his shoulders sagging. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week and a half.
(“Drugs!” said one part of Kathy’s brain. “Shut up,” said another part of her brain. “I’m trying to have a conversation.”)
Other than the exhausted/junkie thing, he was maybe a little cute: skinny, with dark hair and a kind of Antonio-Banderas-meets-Michael-Cera thing going on that made it seem like at any moment he might either flash you a look of soulful passion or trip over his own shoes and spill his coffee down the front of your blouse. She imagined the hot coffee scalding her chest and began to wish she hadn’t wore the pale blue blouse with the little flowers today. It was pretty, but it showed way too much cleavage
“I’m Brian,” he answered her, glancing up at her eyes from where his gaze had initially been attracted. “I jump a few days forward in time every once in a while. Then I find myself back in regular time, as if I just imagined it, except that a few days later things happen the way I saw them.
“Why don’t you play the lottery?” Kathy said.
Brian took a bent lottery ticket out of his pocket and waved it around. “I’ve been debating the ethics of that one,” he said.
She looked at him quizzically.
“I finally decided it was okay,” he said. “It’s not like lotteries are the most ethical things in the first place. They take money from desperate poor people every day and then turn a few desperately poor people into a miserably rich people. Not that I think that’ll be how it is for me. Not that people ever do.” He waited, a resigned expression on his face.
Finally, Kathy said “I think you’re crazy.”
Brian nodded unenthusiastically and turned to go again.
“Wait — you’re going to just announce my death and leave?”
Brian looked back over at Kathy, his eyes going to the wrong place for the first second or two again. “People think I’m crazy, so they don’t listen. Look at you: you don’t believe me, or else you’d ask me how it happens. It’s just that I feel like I have an obligation.”
“What about that airplane crash last week? Why didn’t you do something about that?”
“I tried. I phoned it in. I had to do it anonymously from a phone booth, though, or they’d lock me up as a terrorist. They didn’t believe me. Did I already say people think I’m crazy?”
“Maybe nobody can prevent the future from happening.”
He shrugged. “Why not? What’s going to happen — the time police are going to arrest you for not crossing the street?”
“Maybe I’m destined to cross the street.”
He shook his head. “If you don’t want to cross the street, you don’t have to. Call in sick. Take a cab and make them drop you off on this side. Leave town for the day.”
“What if the universe kills me some other way because it’s my time?”
“Then there’s an intelligent being directing the universe who has a plan for us all, which would be a nice surprise for us both. But my money is on the world not bending over backwards to kill you. You seem like a nice person. It doesn’t seem like it would be worth the extra effort to kill you off.”
“Why all the guesses? Don’t you know whether things can change or not?”
Brian shook his head. “It just started this month. Maybe it will stop sometime. That’s why I finally bought the lottery ticket.” He grinned crookedly. “Ironic, right? The time traveler who’s worried because he doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Kathy smiled, because it was ironic. There was an awkward silence that stretched out for a lot of seconds. Finally, Brian gave a little wave goodbye.
“Wait — ” Kathy said again.
“I really have to go,” said Brian. “There’s this lady whose cat gets run over.”
“What street do I cross?”
Brian looked surprised. “Just outside, in front of Starbucks at about 8:40 in the morning. You must be on your way to work.”
“And how do you know about it?”
“I’m right there at Starbucks, getting two double espressos to see if the caffeine from the future affects me in the present. I ask you your name while you bleed to death.”
“Well, okay,” Kathy said. “Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
Brian smiled, and the dial moved from 50/50 to about 75% Antonio Banderas. “You’re welcome,” he said. Then he turned around for real and headed toward the elevator.
Kathy bent back to her work, and she wondered how the caffeine experiment had worked out. She would ask Brian when she saw him on Thursday, although she’d look for him in the Starbucks instead of crossing the street.
She switched over to e-mail and started filing a personal day request.
Luc Reid is a Writers of the Future winner whose fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, and other venues. He’s the founder of the Codex online writers’ group; author of Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures (Writers Digest Books, 2006); and a former radio commentator. He blogs about writing and the psychology of habits at LucReid.com. His latest book, is a young adult novel of backwoods sorcery in Vermont called Family Skulls, available for Kindle on Amazon.com