By Chef Thomas O.
Sometimes, otherworldly beings find interesting ways to try and contact you. They might use a Ouija Board, or maybe come to you in a dream, or sometimes they speak through another person. They each have their own style and preference that’s particular to them. The one who contacted Jack spoke to him through his computer, or, I guess you could say the communication was through onscreen text. The first time it happened, Jack had been sitting at his computer playing Solitaire. A blinking red light from the router indicated that his internet connection was down again. This was at least a weekly occurrence, and Jack was getting used to this spotty internet service. As he moved his cards, the game faded into a solid black screen and the red text appeared.
“Hi Jack, I need a favor from you. You’re a very special person and I know you’ll help me. I can’t ask this of just anyone. I really need your help.”
Jack paused for a second. The router light was still blinking red. “Is this some sort of joke?” He couldn’t help but wondering.
Several moments later the message continued, “Yes Jack, I know this is weird for you. But I don’t want you to worry. This is just a small, easy favor I need. I’ll make sure you’re rewarded.”
Now nearly in a panic, Jack reached around and pulled the internet cable completely from the wall.
“Still here, Jack. I don’t want to waste any more of your time so I’ll get right to what I need. Tomorrow when you go to work I need you to move the large potted plant that’s next to the elevator on the ground floor. All you have to do is pull it out three inches from the wall. If you do it at 8:17am nobody else will be in the area.”
Jack sat there, refusing to respond, still trying to figure out what was happening.
The writing continued, “Look Jack, I’m asking you because I KNOW you’ll do it. You won’t let me down. You’re special. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Jack pulled the power cord from the wall and the computer went blank. “Did that really just happen?” he thought.
Still shaking from the experience, he took a warm shower and got ready for bed, convincing himself that he’d either had some crazy dream or that is was just some elaborate joke. But who would play that kind of joke on him? He didn’t really have friends, or enemies.
He woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. Work would start at 8:30am, and Jack was never late. He pulled into the parking lot at 8:10am. Normally he’d just go right in, but the message had told him to move the plant at 8:17am. Was he really going to do it? Overnight, Jack’s fear had turned into curiosity. Let’s say he moved the plant, he wouldn’t be doing anything wrong or illegal, right? In Jack’s mind, the most reasonable course of action was to move the plant. He’d do it, nothing would happen, and he’d be able to put this whole crazy matter behind him. One minute before 8:17 Jack left his car and walked towards the building. He entered the foyer at the exact time he was supposed to. The message was right, nobody else was around.
“Odd,” Jack thought. The building was normally busy this time of morning, but this temporary lull had been accurately predicted.
“Fine! Let’s see what happens,” Jack muttered to himself.
He walked up to the large potted plant placed firmly between the two elevators in the lobby of the ten story building. The plant looked like it was fake, a decoration people passed every day without really noticing. It was heavier than Jack realized. He put some might into his effort and pulled the plant out three inches to his best estimate. He stood back and looked at the plant, then looked around the lobby. People were coming in behind him now and the lobby was starting to fill up again. Nobody seemed to notice the plant was in a slightly different location, nothing seemed different at all. Jack skipped the next elevator and waited, waited for…something. But nothing happened. Finally Jack entered the elevator and made it to his 7th floor cubicle, on time like always.
If you ever asked Jack’s coworkers to describe him, you’d hear words like polite, quiet, respectful, and competent. And while those words were all accurate, they gave little indication of the truth, the truth that Jack really didn’t like most people. That’s not to say he disliked them, just that he had very little interest in getting to know them or being their friend, save for one. Allie, the girl who sat two cubicles down from him, was the only person he wanted to know more about. With her big smile, blonde hair, and beautiful figure, Jack was very interested in learning all about her. Despite his lack of success with women in the past, he was actually doing a fair job getting to know her. Every morning as he passed her cubicle, he’d stop for a chat. The chats were one minute at first, then two minutes, then several minutes. Jack was surprised that she actually seemed to like him.
On this particular morning, their daily conversation lasted only a couple of minutes. As they exchanged their morning greetings and talked about Allie’s wild night out, the elevator doors opened up behind them. Out hobbled James Bentley, the boss of both Jack and Allie.
James’ loud complaining could be heard throughout the office, “My damn foot!”
“What happened, James?” came the mumbled queries.
“It’s that damn plant they have in the lobby. I ran right into it and twisted my ankle.”
“James, you can barely walk. You need to go to the hospital,” came Allie’s concerned reply.
“Can’t do it now. I have meetings all day. Too important to cancel. I’ll just have to tough it out.”
Jack, feeling stunned, left Allie’s cubicle mid conversation and sunk down into his chair. It was his fault, he was sure of it. How could he have been so stupid and careless? Still, no use in worrying about it now. A twisted ankle would heal, everything would be alright.
Upon his return home, Jack went immediately to his computer and turned it on. As soon as the computer booted up, the screen went black and a new message popped up.
“How was your day, Jack?”
He sat there, staring at the screen, not knowing how to answer. The message on the screen continued, “Actually, I know how your day was, but never let it be said that I’m not polite. You’re wondering what’s going on. You want to know why James Bentley had to twist his ankle. Well Jack, this chain of events isn’t done playing out. I don’t want to tell you too much too soon, but this will all make sense to you in short order. Just go to work tomorrow like you normally do. Don’t worry about a thing Jack. You’ll be rewarded. You’re special. Talk to you tomorrow.”
Jack sat back in his chair. What was going on? Who was this was sending him messages? Jack’s curiosity was fully engaged, and he was almost a bit excited to see what would happen next.
The next morning at work started off as any ordinary day. Jack noticed that the plant had been pushed back fully against the wall, probably by the night cleaning crew. James Bentley showed up shortly after lunch, hobbling into the office on his one good foot.
“Man this foot is killing me,” Jack could overhear him say, but apparently James still had a meeting he didn’t want to miss. It wasn’t until around 3 o’clock that Jack saw him again. James, who always seemed to prefer Allie over others, came limping up to her cubicle.
“Allie, you’re not doing anything right now, are you?”
“Um, no. Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow I guess.”
“Good, could you please drive me to see my Doctor? I probably should’ve gone yesterday, but I just couldn’t get away. This pain is just killing me right now and I don’t think I can drive myself, I barely made it here this morning and I don’t think I can even push the gas pedal right now. We can take my car if you want.”
“Yeah that’s fine James, I don’t have a problem taking you.” Turning to Jack she said her goodbye, “See you tomorrow, Jackie.” She put on her coat and slowly followed James as he struggled down the hallway. She gave a half turn and a shrug in Jack’s direction, with a little smile as she walked away. Jack felt even lonelier than normal when she was gone.
It was ten minutes later that they all heard the crash. It was preceded by the loud horn of an 18 wheeler and screeching brakes. The collision itself was a sickening thud of two large metal object colliding. Even on the 7th floor it was loud. The office workers gasped and ran to the windows.
“Is that James’ car?” One of them asked.
“Hard to tell from up here,” someone responded, “It’s so banged up.”
The horrifying implication of what’d just happened came to Jack immediately.
“No, no, no,” he though. “This can’t be true.”
Shaking all the way, he ran to the elevator and went to the ground floor along with several others from the office. Some of them were crying. As they joined the growing crowd around the scene of the accident, Jack could hear the far off sound of emergency sirens. Looking past the gawkers, he could see that the 18 wheeler had hit James’ car broadside, its driver had been thrown out onto the pavement where he lay motionless. James was sitting in the passenger seat of his car, motionless but with a surprised look on his bloody face. Jack couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead. The driver’s side, where Allie was seated, had taken the hit. The space she’d been occupying had been compacted to a third of its original size. Allie’s head was smashed open and her twisted body was broken and battered. The crowd was stunned. Tears, screams, sirens; that was all Jack could hear. Without going back inside the building, Jack ran to his car and drove home, angry and sad.
He made the journey home and to his computer. There the machine sat, he wanted to turn it on, but was afraid of what he’d find out. Was he really the one responsible for Allie’s death? The whole chain of events had started with him. He knew he was to blame. Jack reached for the power button, and then pulled his hand back. Finally, after several minutes, he found the mental strength to turn it on. The screen flickered and then went black, and the familiar text started appearing on the screen.
“No Jack, it’s not your fault. I know you’re blaming yourself. But all people die eventually, some just sooner than others.”
Jack stared at the screen. He resisted the urge to throw the monitor to the ground.
After a moment, the writing continued, “Jack, I’m going to tell you something, and I really need you to seriously consider everything I’m about to say. You thought you were in love with Allie. The truth is, you just wanted to fuck her. And please excuse my language, but every once in a great while it’s best to be blunt. Jack, she wasn’t the one for you. She would’ve made your life miserable. Yes, you would’ve eventually found the courage to ask her out. She actually was interested in you. She thought you’d make a good “project.” Sad really, for her, not for you. I want you to think back to all the things she told you. Why did her last boyfriend break up with her?”
“Because she cheated on him,” Jack mumbled under his breath.
“Because she cheated on him, Jack. The same thing she would’ve done to you. She would’ve made you happy for about 2 months, and then miserable for the next 4 years. Sneaking around, laughing at you behind your back, spending all your money. Once you finally got rid of her, you would’ve been so jaded that you’d never date again. This is true Jack. I see all future possibilities, the ones that come to pass and the ones that don’t. You’ve seen how she really is Jack, but you let your lust for her blind you to the truth. Together, you and I have made sure you avoided that path. One more thing Jack, this isn’t done playing out yet. There’s more to come.”
“No! Fuck you! You killed her!” Jack screamed and threw the monitor from the desk. It landed on the floor and sparked out.
Jack got barely any sleep that night, and the next day he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to work, but the last words he’d been told had piqued his curiosity, and his anger had somewhat subsided. No work was done that day at the office. The company brought in grief counselors, people shared their thoughts, they cried, they hugged. James had actually survived the accident, but was in a coma. The doctors thought he might recover eventually, but nobody was really sure.
Late in the afternoon, Jack was approached by Diego Salbara, the head of the division. Diego was blunt and upfront, and he offered James’ position to Jack. Technically it would be a temporary promotion, but James wouldn’t be back any time soon. Diego promised him that the promotion would be made permanent once enough time had passed.
“Let’s keep this low key for now.” Diego told him. “I know it might seem quick, but the Lancaster project James was working on can’t be stopped. It’s too important to the company. I need someone in charge right away, this can’t wait.”
Stunned, Jack accepted the promotion. He left work with a strange mixture of feelings, not really sure how he felt about anything. On his way home, he stopped at the electronics store and bought a new monitor. He made it home and powered up the computer. Once again the writing came on the screen.
“Jack, I want to be the first one to congratulate you! I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
Jack stared at the screen.
“Jack, I have to ask your forgiveness because haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m called the Seer. Like I told you before, I see what will be, and I see what can be. It’s a very powerful gift I have. But you know what, Jack? For all my power, I still can’t do anything corporeal. I can predict, I can see, and with enough effort, I can even communicate. But I don’t have a body, that’s something that was taken from me a long, long time ago. That’s why I need you Jack. I’m an artist of sorts, an artist of human manipulation. You’ll be my paintbrush and my canvas. I want you to work with me Jack. It’s all very simple, just perform simple tasks for me, from time to time.”
Jack was becoming more and more curious.
“And Jack, before you give me an answer, I want you to know a couple of things. First off, I’ll never lie to you. Secondly, I’ll never ask you to do anything which, taken by itself, is wrong or illegal. Yes, bad things will result, and sometimes people will die. But they’re going to die eventually anyways, right Jack? And the bad will always be balanced out by something good happening to you.”
Jack winced at this last idea, but he fought the urge to turn the computer off. The Seer was right. Everyone would die eventually, why not let something good come of it? And what about never lying to him? If he’d known at the time that Allie was going to die, he’d have never gone through with the original favor. But as he thought more about it, he realized The Seer hadn’t lied to him, but had only withheld information. Still, Jack wondered if he could trust The Seer.
“Work with me Jack, together we’ll make incredible things happen. I’m just asking you to perform little tasks from time to time. Oh, but these little tasks will have great consequences! They’re going to be beautiful Jack, and they’ll always end with a reward for you. That’s the beauty of my art, one single task produces something bad and something good. Oh, one last thing Jack, I can see you’re having trouble with this. If I stopped talking to you right now, it would take you about two weeks to decide to join me. But you know what Jack, you WOULD join me. That’s right, you’re going to say yes. So instead of waiting, why don’t you just say yes to me now? Let’s get started Jack. And when all this is over, you’re going to thank me. I promise you.”
Jack considered what The Seer had just said. His initial feeling of revolt was slowly fading. He paused, and then for the first time, he placed his fingers on the keyboard and responded directly to The Seer. “What do you want me to do next?”
As years passed, Jack did every favor the Seer asked of him, and as the Seer had promised, Jack was rewarded for his actions each time. The rewards often came in unexpected and interesting ways. One of the more memorable experiences for Jack happened about 2 years after he first agreed to help the Seer.
“Jack, I need you to go downtown tomorrow,” the Seer requested. “Enter Garmin’s Liquor at exactly 12:37pm. A man will ask you a question. The answer you’re to give him is ‘twenty seven.’”
As always, the Seer’s instructions were simple and direct, yet mysterious. The next day, as requested, Jack entered the store. In front of him, a burly construction worker was at the counter filling out a lottery playslip.
“Let’s see here,” said the construction worker, “My birthday, that’s the 15th, my wife’s birthday, that’s the 24th, and my kids’ ages, two, ten and thirteen.”
The man scratched his head and looked around, zeroing in on Jack, “Hey buddy! I need another number. Ya got one for me?”
Jack smiled, “Twenty seven.”
“Really? I was thinkin’ bout playin’ thirty five. But ya know what? I like your face, let’s go with twenty seven!”
With that, the man completed his slip and paid for his lottery ticket. “See ya, pal!” he said happily and he patted Jack on the shoulder on his way out the door.
Jack tried not to put any more thought into what would happen to this man. “Just let these things play out, Jack. You’ll never guess how things end up, so just let yourself be surprised,” the Seer had advised him. Still, it was impossible not to wonder about these things from time to time. He knew, considering the way the Seer worked, there was no way possible that he’d actually helped this man. But giving him a losing lottery number? That was too simple for the Seer. And he couldn’t imagine he’d actually given him a winning number. So that’s how Jack was surprised, when two weeks later, he ran into the same man again, this time at the grocery store.
“Hey buddy! It’s you! I remember you! Check it out, I won!” Indeed, the man looked like a million dollars. Wearing new clothes, a new gold watch, and a big goofy smile, the man walked right up to Jack.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, but I’m glad you’re here. I coulda never won without you. Hey, lemme buy these groceries for you. No wait, that’s not good enough for you, you’re my good luck charm. Always gotta treat people right, that’s what my mom says.”
Reaching into his pocket, the man removed his checkbook and promptly wrote Jack a check for ten thousand dollars. “It’s the least I can do for my good luck charm.”
After thanking the man, and feeling a bit confused by the whole thing, Jack raced home to his computer. After turning it on, the Seer’s writing appeared on the screen. “Well Jack, how does it feel to be ten thousand dollars richer?”
“It feels good. But I can’t help but wonder, we’ve never helped anyone before. Why are we starting now?” Jack asked that question with a tinge of guilt. He never liked to admit that people were being hurt by his actions, but in this case his curiosity overwhelmed any latent feelings of guilt.
“Oh Jack, we haven’t helped anyone. Yes, that man is happy now, but he’ll have lost every last penny within two years. You saw it for yourself, he just gives money away. Old friends, lost relatives, they’re all going to come asking him for money. And there will be some very bad investments as well. The stress of losing everything is going to cause his wife to leave him. She’ll take the kids too. He’ll be alone and broke, a ruined man who would have been much better off if he’d never won. You needn’t feel bad Jack, it’s the man’s own stupidity and greed that will do this to him.”
Jack felt some regret, but the Seer’s rationalizing, and focusing on his own reward, always put him at peace in the end.
Through the years, no two tasks were ever alike. Sometimes the effects of his actions were direct and easy to see, other times they caused a chain reaction so complex that he simply could not follow it.
“Go to the County Administrator’s building, park in space number 43 at 4:47pm.” came one such request. Jack did so, and two months later he met Donna, with whom he fell in love and ended up marrying. He wouldn’t have even known the two events were even related if he hadn’t asked the Seer about it.
“Jack, when you parked in that space, you caused the person who would’ve parked there to park in a different spot, but she bumped the car next to her. She barely made a scratch, but she called her insurance agent anyway, causing him to leave the office late. He missed his train home, and while waiting for the late train, he was mugged and stabbed, he’ll never fully recover. The muggers took his credit cards and used them…..and Jack, I could keep going with this, but there’s another twenty three people involved. Sometimes these favors are going to be very complicated, but let’s just say your action ultimately caused Donna to be in the exact right place for you to meet her.”
Jack’s relationship with the Seer grew. Though remaining mostly mysterious, the Seer divulged enough information over time so that Jack could get a generalized understanding of the Seer’s history. From historical references, Jack knew the Seer was thousands of years old. When still alive, the Seer had been a powerful fortune teller and artist, who foretold future happenings through paintings. A foolish king, who misinterpreted the Seer’s prediction and lost a battle as a result, had the Seer executed. Unencumbered by physical senses, and existing in a lonesome void, the Seer’s abilities expanded exponentially. Finally learning to communicate with the living, the Seer began reaching out to those who would respond, including Jack. And of course, the Seer knew everything about Jack. In all, it was as much of a friendship as one can have with a dead person. And Jack was grateful to the Seer too. He had a nice job, a nice house, a beautiful wife, and people respected him. He was happy, which is something he never really felt before the Seer contacted him.
Twelve years in total passed, twelve good years for Jack. Task after task was completed, usually about one every month. Jack, sitting in the office of his large rural house, was contacted by the Seer once again.
“Hi Jack, I have a favor to ask of you. This one’s the easiest yet, you don’t even have to get up. Call Riago’s Pizza in exactly two minutes, let the phone ring three times, then you can hang up.”
Jack smiled, nice and easy. He no longer wondered about how these tasks would play out. He trusted the Seer and simply did as he was told. Jack made the call, exactly two minutes later.
The quietness of the household was broken 30 minutes later by the ringing doorbell. “That’s odd,” Jack thought. Neither he nor Donna were expecting anyone. Jack looked out the peephole and saw a pizza deliver boy. The logo on his cap said “Riago’s Pizza”.
Jack opened the door. “Here’s your pizza,” said the boy as he thrust it into Jack’s hand.
“But I didn’t order this.” Jack argued.
“Look, I don’t give a damn if you ordered it or not. Mr. Riago told me to take it here, so that’s what I’m doing.” the delivery boy argued, as he looked increasingly annoyed and spat in the bushes.
Jack looked at the boy in front of him. He looked to be about seventeen years old, but the most noticeable thing about him was his size, he was huge. Probably about six and a half feet tall, and very muscular.
“It’s already paid for by credit card, just take it, because I’m not driving it back.” The boy put out his hand for a tip.
“I, I don’t have any cash on me.” Jack told the truth.
“Whatever,” came the disgusted reply. The boy looked past Jack into the house, then turned and walked slowly to his waiting car, looking over his shoulder as he walked.
Jack closed the door and took the pizza to the living room, where Donna was watching TV. After explaining what had happened, he excused himself to go to his office, promising to return shortly.
Donna opened the pizza and took a piece. “Come back soon sweetie, this pizza’s got all your favorite toppings on it.” Donna giggled as she took a bite.
Arriving at his computer, the Seer’s words appeared on the screen. “Confused, Jack? Don’t be. Your neighbor down the road ordered the pizza. Mr. Riago told that boy the correct address, but a ringing phone made it difficult for him to be heard clearly. Still, give the boy credit, he got the street right at least.”
“So my reward is a pizza?” Jack typed, a little confused.
“Yes Jack, your reward is a pizza, and also the chance to spend a little time with your wife. Go down there, share the pizza, enjoy it. When you’re done, make love to Donna. That’s not one of your tasks, that’s just some advice I think you should follow. Oh, by the way, your neighbors who ordered the pizza are arguing right now, over the silly fact that the pizza didn’t arrive. Some of the things people argue over amaze me, they really do. Their fight is going to get very heated, but you don’t need to worry about that. Go, enjoy your night.”
Jack followed the Seer’s advice, cuddled with Donna as they enjoyed their meal, then made love to her on their big, comfortable living room couch. Donna fell asleep on the couch shortly after 11:00pm. Jack lay there awake, this latest favor, it just felt odd. Carefully extracting his arm from under Donna, Jack left the living room and headed upstairs. Sitting down at the computer, Jack typed, “Are you there?”
“Yes Jack, I’m actually always here. I’ve been waiting for you to come back. That pizza delivery boy. He’s quite a specimen, isn’t he?”
Jack looked quizzically at the screen.
The seer continued, “He’s a horrible employee. He was hired only three days ago and already Mr. Riago wants to fire him, but as a physical specimen, he’s strong, fast, and VERY observant. For example, he noticed that you didn’t lock the front door after he delivered your pizza.”
“What?” Jack said aloud as he started to get up.
“Sit down Jack. I need to tell you something important, and locking the door now won’t change your situation.”
Jack slowly took his seat again at the computer, looking behind himself as he did so.
“You see Jack, it’s true that I never lied to you. Everything I’ve ever told you is 100% honest. But yes, I’ve withheld certain facts. You see, I told you that every task causes something bad to happen to someone else and something good to happen to you, but there’s a third thing. There’s an ultimate goal that each task was working toward. Remember Allie? Of course you do. What you probably don’t remember about her is that she was helping to pay her brother’s way through college. When she died, he had to drop out. He was going to be a great psychologist, but now he works in a factory instead. That’s really too bad for our pizza delivery boy, he could’ve used a good therapist a few years ago, but that good therapist wasn’t there for him, instead he got some Freudian quack. And remember our lottery winner? Yes you do. He was a neighbor to our pizza boy, after he lost all his money of course. He beat the boy senseless after the boy jumped into the street in front of his car. Quite a traumatic memory for our young lad. And his mother didn’t care about that incident, didn’t protect the boy at all. She couldn’t, not after using all the drugs given to her by her boyfriend, who happened to be one of the muggers who robbed that insurance agent. He bought the drugs with the money he made from the robbery. Do you see now the scope of my artistry?”
Jack sat, glaring at the monitor. He wanted to get up, to check on Donna, but he was too scared to move.
The Seer continued, “Jack, you’ve done over a hundred tasks for me, and each one has served an ultimate purpose, to psychologically destroy this boy, turn him into a monster, and to bring him here tonight. Don’t you see Jack? This involved tens of thousands of people, and billions of possibilities. If you had failed to complete even one of the tasks, the whole chain would’ve collapsed. This was orchestrated by me, and set in motion by you. Together we’ve done something wonderful, this is a masterpiece of human manipulation. Our masterpiece. And it all begins and ends with you, two perfect points in time. Tonight, wrong address, no tip, this poor boy finally snapped. He’s downstairs right now. He’s slitting Donna’s throat, at this exact moment.
Jack could hear a short, muffled scream coming from the living room, followed by a gurgling noise.
“No!” Jack screamed and stood up, starting to run downstairs.
“Jack, stop!” The voice startled Jack. It was inside his head. For the first time, the Seer was talking to him directly. It was a pleasant voice, a feminine voice. “You can’t do anything, she’s already gone. He’ll be coming for you shortly, and you can’t stop him.”
“But why?” Jack cried with tears welling up in his eyes.
“It’s not an artistic masterpiece if it doesn’t begin and end with you, Jack.” Her voice was soothing. “I want you to appreciate the fact that I’m talking to you directly. This requires all of my energy, and as a result, I’ll have to rest for several years before I can contact anyone again. That’s how special you are to me. Please don’t feel bad about this, Jack. I want you to take a moment and enjoy our accomplishment as much as I do.” The voice paused briefly, and then continued. “Do you know what Jack? If I’d never contacted you, you would have lived for eighty five years. Eighty five boring, meaningless, and bitter years. And when you died, nobody would’ve been at your funeral. I gave you twelve great, meaningful years. You were happy, and together we did something beautiful, something unique.”
Jack paused a minute and considered his twelve years of happiness, and his tears of sorrow mixed with tears of joy. He turned and looked at the computer, while behind him, the massive hulk of the demented delivery boy appeared in the doorway, a bloody knife in his left hand.
On the screen, the last words from the Seer appeared, “Don’t you have something to say to me, Jack?”
Jack wiped his tears, and absorbed everything the Seer had just told him.
As the hulk started stepping closer to him, Jack said mouthed his final words, “Thank you.”