Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
Jacob Torrance would sit in Berman’s Café every night for a few hours, sipping black coffee and typing pages of his first novel, “Downfall.”
Jake secretly hated coffee. He couldn’t stand the taste. But he also couldn’t just sit around with his laptop and not order anything. He’d already tried getting away with that at Starbucks, and he was banned for life as a result.
Writing was not his fulltime job. Jake worked in an office, filing insurance claims for eight tedious hours a day. Writing was his only escape from the mundane existence he had created for himself. He’d written more than two dozen short stories, and now he was feeling confident enough to try fleshing out a full-length novel.
He was 300 pages in so far, and still going strong. Some nights, he’d sit there typing like a maniac, his fingers barely able to keep up with the words and details his mind was conjuring up.
“Downfall” was set in a bleak, dystopian future in which humanity was enslaved by monsters. Years of government-funded time travel experiments had torn a hole in our planet, and opened a gateway to another dimension. The creatures from this dimension crossed the threshold of the gateway and entered our world.
Their vicious rampage left millions of people dead. The remaining survivors fell in line, carrying out the orders of this deformed, grotesque horde of monsters. Led by Amicus, a winged creature that was as tall as a skyscraper, there seemed to be no hope for humanity. Ironically, Amicus meant friend in another language, which is precisely why Jake chose the name.
Of course, not all of the characters in Jake’s book learned to conform. The plot also focused on a group of rebels who were perpetually fighting a war against these unholy creatures. It wasn’t the most inventive or original plot in literature, but writing a story of this nature came easy to Jake. Almost too easy. It was as if he was reliving events he had previously experienced. Though he couldn’t recall any events in his life that involved a monster as tall as the Empire State Building.
Every night, he watched the same young couple wander in, order the same drinks, and sit down together. The girl would order a tall caramel latte, or a pumpkin spice latte in the fall. The boy would order a small French roast coffee with two scoops of sugar and a splash of creamer.
Jake would occasionally watch them from a distance. He could tell just from the smiles and glances they exchanged, that they were madly in love with each other.
As a writer, Jake enjoyed creating fictional backstories for this couple. He enjoyed speculating, using conjecture to fill in the blanks of their life. He knew nothing about this couple, but at the same time, he knew everything about them. He’d even given them names.
Craig was a banker, though he secretly hated his job as much as Jake hated coffee. Jake also assumed from his various tattoos and his tough guy façade that he was probably into extreme sports. Probably rides around the woods on a moped, and goes rock climbing or skydiving, Jake thought. He probably knows karate, too. Probably a third or fourth degree black belt in Taekwondo.
As for Jenny, she probably works in an office like I do, Jake thought. She probably does yoga or Pilates in her spare time. And I bet she refers to frozen yogurt as froyo. She probably loves Pintrest too. And she can’t eat a meal without posting a picture of it on Instagram.
But none of this mattered, so long as they loved each other. And all it took was one look for Jake to realize how in love they truly were.
Their seemingly flawless relationship echoed his once picturesque relationship with Heather. But Heather was long gone. She’d moved on with her life. And now all Jake Torrance had left was his work-in-progress novel, his roommate, and the imaginary lives of Jenny and Craig.
It was raining buckets outside, but that didn’t seem to faze him. He found the rain to be quite peaceful and soothing. He pried his fingers away from the keyboard for a moment and glanced out the long, rectangular windows of the café.
The streetlamps were dim and the rain made it hard to see in the dark, but Jake could see a man in an overcoat standing outside, peering through one of the windows. Jake looked directly at him, and for the briefest moment, he could’ve sworn the man was staring right back at him.
In seconds, the man was gone. Jake watched him hobble away from the café, moving as fast as his bad leg would allow him. He hadn’t gotten a good look at the man, but there was something oddly familiar about him.
Jake shrugged it off, finished the rest of his coffee, typed a few more pages of his novel, and drove back to the apartment. He didn’t trust Devon alone for extended periods of time. He was afraid of him burning the place down.
Devon Graham was a perpetual fountain of random factoids and useless information. His brain could soak up knowledge and trivia like a sponge. He could tell you off the top of his head who invented the Rubik’s Cube, or what team won the World Series in 1984. But he was also the kind of person who would put something in the microwave with the plastic wrap still on.
* * *
Jake had a long list of regrets. But his biggest regret was the tattoo of Heather’s name he’d gotten on his forearm. Surprisingly, he had no regrets about the Cowabunga tattoo he got when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were at the height of their popularity.
Devon had suggested adding an S to Heather, and turning it into Heathers. “If anyone asks, just say you’re a big Winona Ryder fan,” Devon had told him.
Jake limped into the apartment, and was cross to find all the lights on. He barged into Devon’s room without even knocking. “Why is every light in the apartment on?” Jake asked, clearly exasperated.
“I just watched a scary movie,” Devon quipped. Scary movies were the only movies Devon watched.
He had every DVD, every Blu-ray, every VHS cassette. There were signed action figures and autographed movie posters proudly displayed on his shelves and walls. He had a replica of the Lament Configuration signed by Doug Bradley, a fake machete that was signed by Kane Hodder, and a dirty-looking red and green striped sweater that was signed by Robert Englund. But his prized possession was the Phantasm poster that was signed by every cast and crew member. He had to go to five different conventions just to collect all the signatures.
Horror movies were his passion. And Devon sincerely thought his posters and collectables made the room look cool. But Jake thought it looked more like a shrine to Devon’s virginity.
“Our electric bill is sky high,” Jake groaned. “Look, I know you contribute around here. But until you can afford to pay an equal share of the bills, do you think you can show just a shred of consideration?”
“Yes, dad,” Devon said, talking like a small child.
Jake sighed and stormed, well, actually, he limped out of Devon’s room. Jake's limp stemmed from a bad car accident in his teenage years. Not many would know it just by looking at Jake, but he was quite the gearhead back in high school.
He drove a black ’71 Barracuda, back when all the kids used to race up and down Deer Park Avenue for money. He’d raced his car plenty of times without incident. But it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out.
The trucks had plowed and salted the roads that night, but the pavement was stilly icy and slick. Jake was changing lanes when he lost control of his car and swerved off the road, crashed head-on into a telephone poll. The surgery was a success, and saved his leg from amputation. But the limp would stay with him for the rest of his days.
Jake lied down on the couch, turned on the news. Devon came out of his room just to check on him, or maybe just to irritate him further.
“What’s grinding your gears, bud? It’s not just Heather. I can tell something else is bothering you.”
“At the café tonight…it was the strangest thing. I saw a man standing outside in the rain.”
“Nothing unusual about that,” Devon said.
“Well, he didn’t have an umbrella for one thing.”
“Maybe he didn’t hear the weather. Maybe he wasn’t expecting rain.”
“That’s not all. He was just standing there, looking into the café. And for a second, I could’ve sworn he was staring right at me. I couldn’t get a real good look at him, but he seemed familiar. And I left out the weirdest part.”
“What’s the weirdest part?”
“I saw him limping away.”
“Eerie. Maybe he’s your doppelganger,” Devon said, imitating the Twilight Zone music.
“Knock it off,” Jake shouted.
“Jeez, touchy. Relax, man. It’s no big deal. Just a coincidence. Don’t let it freak you out. Just do what Taylor Swift does and shake it off.”
“Don’t ever quote Taylor Swift in my presence again.”
“How do you expect me to go a whole night without mentioning my goddess, Taylor Swift?”
“First of all, Taylor Swift would probably have you Tasered and arrested if you got within ten feet of her. And can you just leave me be for a while? I need time to think.”
“Suit yourself,” Devon shrugged. “I’ll be in my room if you need me. I’m going to watch Hatchet tonight if you’re interested. The director is actually from Long Island. There’s even a Hofstra reference in the movie.”
“As an alumnus of Hofstra, I can only assume the reference isn’t flattering.”
Devon wandered back to his room and Jake sat up and muted the television. He opened up his laptop and picked up where he left off at the café, writing another chapter before he turned in for the night.
* * *
The next night, Jake sat alone in Berman’s café with his coffee at his side and his laptop open in front of him. Jenny and Craig were there, but Jake had no interest in them that evening. He wasn’t even looking at his computer screen.
His eyes were fixed on the windows of the café. Hours passed while Jake waited for the man in the overcoat to return. Berman’s was open ’til midnight, and Jake was going to stay until closing time if he had to.
Jake watched Jenny and Craig leave for the night, their arms wrapped around each other. He checked his phone and saw that it was almost eleven o’clock. He was getting tired and hungry, and of course he was concerned about Devon destroying the place in his absence. But he wouldn’t let up.
He pocketed his phone and looked up. Outside, he saw a dark figure lumbering past Jenny and Craig. A figure that made them stop dead in their tracks. They glared in disbelief at Jake through the windows, then turned back to the man who was limping down the sidewalk.
Jake left his laptop behind as he rushed outside and asked them which way he went. Jenny pointed up the street.
He saw the man hobbling under the dimly lit streetlamps and chased him up the block. The man turned down an alley and Jake followed without even considering the dangers.
The alley was a dead end and Jake had the man corned now, his back against a brick wall. “Who the hell are you?” Jake shouted. “Why are you following me around?”
The man in the overcoat moved closer, giving Jake a better look at his face. “I don’t know,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me who the hell I am?”
It was like staring into a living, breathing mirror. His wavy brown, dark green eyes, the limp. Jake even recognized the overcoat as his own. It was dirty and tattered and had seen better days, but Jake definitely had the same coat hanging up in his closet.
His mouth hung open, tongue flailing, stammering as he tried to squeeze out the words.
“How is this possible?” he finally managed to ask.
“I was sent back to find you and warn you.”
“Jake, I know this is hard to even fathom, but I’m you…approximately two years from now. It took the rebels a while to get the transportation devices up and running again.”
“So you’re me from the not-so-distant future, huh? And I’m supposed to buy all this? Devon is a notorious prankster. How do I know he didn’t pay some actor to mess with my head? I’m a pretty average guy. How hard could it be to find a lookalike?”
“I know all about Devon. Obsessed with horror movies, always leaving the lights on, never pays an equal share of the rent. But I also know he’s your friend and one of the few people that care about you. I also know about Heather, about the reason you broke up, about the tattoo of her name that you got because you were convinced she was the love of your life.”
“Again, not very convincing,” Jake shrugged, his mind unable to comprehend the grim reality of the situation. “Devon could have told you all of this.”
“Jake, I know about the book. About the time travel experiments, about Amicus, about the rebels plotting against the monsters who enslaved them. I know you’ll be finished writing it in two months. I know you are going to get the book published and make a lot of money.”
“Alright, now we’re talking,” Jake said to…well, Jake.
“But what good is money if you can’t spend it? Jake, you have to listen to me, no matter how crazy it sounds. You need to know what’s waiting for you in the future.”
Panicked screams echoed down the block. More than a dozen people, wearing nothing but their pajamas, sprinted past the alley.
Jake ran to the end of the alley and peeked out. He saw half a dozen more running down the street, clutching what little personal possessions their hands could carry. An intense screech filled the sky and drowned out their screams.
“Oh, no,” the other Jake said. “One of them must have followed me back.”
Jake Torrance–the present-day Jake Torrance–looked up to the sky and gasped. “Amicus!” he cried.
The creature was looming over a tall apartment building. As tall as the building appeared to be, it looked like a dollhouse in the presence of Amicus. It raised its gigantic fists and brought them down upon the building. The brick façade crumbled as the building shook from the rooftop to its foundation. One more devastating blow was all it took to level the structure, reducing it to a pile of rubble and debris.
Jake turned to his only beacon of hope. Confused, disoriented, and terrified, Jake turned to himself for answers.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Jake’s double told him. “The future is just as you imagined.”