The Futurists

Some say magic began to appear before Old Earth fell

The Futurists
Main image licensed through Shutterstock.

“Hi, Tom,” I said to the stranger walking past me on a sidewalk colored by an animated carpet made from this year’s autumn leaves.

Continuing his gait, he looked at me and asked, “Do I know you?” as leaves danced and swirled around his passing steps.

“You do now,” I smiled, walking on.

I had seen a flash vision as he approached— that’s what I called them: flash visions — of someone saying “Thanks, Tom” to him. A co-worker, maybe. I couldn’t tell because the background of the vision was blurred as if it was the victim of a movie director’s focus.

In the vision, I could plainly see Tom and his thick white hair, his pocketed tanned skin, his greyish eyes, but I could barely make out the man thanking him. The other man looked young, with dark hair and roving eyes even within the scope of a simple thank you, but that was about all I could discern.

I didn’t look back at Tom as I walked past him and listened to the leaves as they were whisked away by the motion of his feet.

Later, I wished I had said more. I wanted to know more about him. I knew I never would. I knew an urban encounter like this in Lincoln Park was a fleeting, one-time thing.

I glanced into a window on Webster Street, into a gym, just before a treadmill snapped and sent some poor woman flying. It happened in my mind just before it happened to her, but I was used to not being able to do anything about things like this.

I came to the window for a closer look. Attendants and gym patrons attended to her. She brushed herself off and seemed to make a joke about it. That was nice, I thought. Maybe she’s not litigious.

She was pretty. I wanted to come in to tell her what else was about to happen to her. But I didn’t know. That’s not how it worked. I knew I’d never see her again, nor any visions of her. Only that one moment. A flash of memory sent from the future. Random, meaningless, and terribly frustrating.

I walked a little longer and sat on the steps of a bodega. They didn’t call them that here in Chicago but that’s what it was.

After about twenty minutes of staring at my phone, the proprietor came out and cursed at me in a thick East European accent, telling me to buy something or leave. He was portly, shaped like a lemon, carrying a broom. I guessed he was going to try to sweep me away.

His hair was like a set of thick, greasy black filaments with big gaps of bald between them.

I looked at my watch, tapped it, and then looked at him. “She’ll be here at four p.m.,” I said. “She’s okay, too. Just fell asleep on the el and ended up going all the way to Rogers Park but her phone battery died.” I waited a beat. “That’s why she didn’t call you.”

He looked at me angrily and asked me who I was talking about. “You know who.”

I said that because I didn’t know. Not really. I knew that it was someone he cared about. Maybe his daughter. She was young. I was guessing fifteen or sixteen. She had a ring in her nose and dark eye shadow.

“I’ll admit, making another stop at Ravenswood knowing you’d be worried wasn’t cool.” This was unusual because it was two visions, somewhat interconnected. “To see Behrouz, I think.”

“I will kill him!” yelled the man. He grumbled some more and went inside his store.

Life is like that for me. The daily visions are connected to people I will soon see. But they’re strangers. Never anyone I know.

I sometimes thought about the potential of my useless gift. Fantasy football. Horse racing. Poker.

But I wasn’t a gambler, for one thing. For another, the visions were too random to be of any use in those scenarios.

I stood up from the steps of the bodega and looked at my watch, which beeped a crime alert from my crime reporting app, this one from only a few blocks away. Apparently, another small riot was happening. Somebody posted a video of The Lincoln Park Cultural Center in flames.

That seemed about right.

I patted the dirt off the back of my jeans and stepped off the store’s big step.

“I get them too,” I heard as I began to walk away. When I turned around I saw the store owner looking at me wistfully.

“Sorry, dude. Get what?”

“Visions. Like you got.”

How did he know?

“Well that’s fun,” I deadpanned.

“I used to get them once a week or so. Then once a day. And now?” He raised his arms in the air like he was trying to take off. “All the time. They don’t stop. I been thinking I’m going crazy but then I thought you get them too, don’t you?”

I nodded. “Just sometimes. Not even once a day.”

“But more than before?”

I had to think. Maybe. Maybe yeah. I shrugged. “I guess so, maybe.”

He approached me. “What does it mean that we get these things?”

“I don’t know, man. You tell me.”

“Maybe it means that the world is ending.”

I nodded at that. That seemed about right, too.

“Well,” I said, “The world is always ending, right? That’s just evolution. All species die out, then get replaced. That’s not the world ending, really, though. It’s a form of recycling.”

“How do I protect my daughter?” he seemed to mumble to himself.

“Do you have faith in her?”

He looked at me for a moment silently, then said, “Yes,” before sighing heavily. “In truth, yes. Yes, I do. She’s a good girl.”

“But is she strong?”

“Yes, I think so. She’s been through much hurt. Strong yes.”

“That’s all you can ask for. Because you can’t fix that now if she isn’t. And if she is, like you say, then she will be as okay as can be, whatever happens.”

“I wish these visions could tell us who is next,” he said.

“Yeah, they don’t seem to do that.”

I looked at my hand because lately, I had been contemplating how things might be if the back of my hand was as light as my palm, wondering just how much of a role all that kind of stuff played in what was happening.

Most people said it wasn’t playing any role in it at all, but was it wishful thinking?

Anybody poor, uneducated, lots of immigrants. That was all anybody really agreed on.

Almost as if he knew what I was thinking, the store owner said, “that’s why I worry for her so much. It’s not that I don’t trust her. I don’t trust them.” He looked up as if them were in the sky. “Do you work, my friend? Have a job?”

I nodded.

“Maybe then you are safe for now.”

That was just it. Nobody knew who was safe. That was one reason for the daily breakouts of small riots everywhere. I didn’t think those were helping at all, but some people disagreed, saying it was a fight for survival.

To me, it just led to fleets of helicopters flying overhead every night.

The man began to softly cry.

I just watched.

“I came here to this country for something else. Not this.”

“It’s happening in your country, too,” I said. “No matter where you’re from. Don’t matter none. It’s everywhere.”

“For what? Why is it this?”

I shook my head. “Population control? I dunno. We’ve run out of, well, everything. Nothing works anymore. Can’t buy anything. I paid twenty bucks for four rolls of toilet paper last week. I’ve gotten creative on its use, I tell ya’.”

“Ah yes,” the man smiled knowingly. “Fold one piece into the smallest piece you can, no?”

“It’s grim.” I looked down the street because I thought I heard a commotion.

The store owner stepped into the street because maybe he heard it too. “I just saw a brick go through a window.”

“I don’t see nothin’,” I said.

“No no,” he said, then pointed to his head.

“Ah. Where? Do you know where?”

“Down there.” He looked ahead. I didn’t see anything where I thought the commotion was coming from.

“They’re coming,” he said. “I should lock up the store.”

“Wait. Yours aren’t worthless like mine are. They’re warning you.”

“Yours are not worthless, my friend. Yours gave me comfort. I thank you for that.” He grabbed my arm, patted my shoulder, and scrambled to his store. “Good luck to you!” he said as he went inside and closed the gate to his door.

Part of me wanted to just sit down in front of his store and wait for the rioters.

The other part of me turned my body around and began to walk the other way.

I didn’t need visions to know there wouldn’t be many more days like this, to know that this was actually a pretty good day, and that the next day could be the harbinger of many darker moments.

I didn’t need visions to know that the vast recycling project of evolution was speeding up and that I was about to get ground up in the chains of its movement.

And then it hit me.

I had some time. My own end would surely come soon, but not until the frequency of visions became like that of the store owner.

I suddenly wanted to turn back to help him.

But I knew that it wasn’t my time to die quite yet.

So I didn’t.

The store owner would have understood.

This story is part of The MagicLand Chronicles: Short stories related to my debut novel, MagicLand, but with different characters and stories.