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- Any Coincidence Is - 6/17 -


second job. He had to earn enough to move out of here. Enough to move out yesterday.

"And this just in at WXOR," said the newscaster. "An English professor -- "

"Turn up the TV, Tommy, will you?!" Betty shouted. Tom sighed, annoyed at being called Tommy in front of a female, and reached for the switch.

" -- and disappeared earlier today without explanation. He was discovered missing after an unknown female student was seen running from his office. Police are still searching for both Prof. Turgy K. Sigger and the student. If you have any information, please call the WXOR Viewer Hot Line(R) at 387-4278 -- "

A scream interrupted the newscaster, which acoustically channeled the shattered death of a priceless chandelier. To Tom's surprise, Alona had leaped from the couch and had grabbed his arms, forcing him to look directly into her eyes. "That's him! He just disappeared when I looked the other way!" She began to sway, and Tom instinctively reached for her. "He's missing too!" she cried.

Then she swooned and fell forward perfectly into Tom's waiting arms. He helped her to the couch as his mother dashed to the kitchen to fill a glass of water.

Tom looked around, as if to see if anyone had been watching him. If anyone had seen what he had seen. If there was any way out. But there wasn't.

Tom was utterly, and helplessly, in love.

12. Cecil Gets Away "Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns." --T.S. Eliot

Cecil stretched and sniffed the air. Movement, but just the curtains.

He remembered that Julia had left. Probably back by dark. Or not. She had been sitting on the couch, and he had come from the bedroom and hopped onto her lap again. After stroking his fur for a while, she held up the shiny thing with the snake on the end. Cecil had batted it a few times, then ambled off to eat. Smelled like fish.

Later, Julia had thrown the fuzzy ball around the apartment, so he ran after it until he was ready for another nap. Then the phone rang. Julia left the house without petting him, although he stood near her legs and arched his back. He slowly padded his way to his pillow, which smelled like Julia, especially in the morning.

Cecil turned three times before settling down, but a sound stopped him. A footstep in the hallway. Then, nothing. Cecil waited for a moment, watching the doorway, his tail whipping softly on the bed. After another moment, he yawned.

But then another sound, a squeak. Cecil hopped down from the bed and peered from around the frame.

A man stood in the hallway. He moved something in his hand, like a twig, but Cecil didn't want to play with it. The man smelled strange. New. Odd. If he could have recognized human clothing, he would have recognized a lab coat, a clipboard, a pen. The balding man, glasses, a slightly weary look, who, after scanning the room, made a note on a yellow 12A.

The man turned and spied Cecil in the doorway, and Cecil darted into the closet.

The Lab Coat Man cursed quietly after he realized that the cat had darted into what appeared to be the world's most cluttered closet. And the cat was the last (damn) item on Forrester's list! He wondered if the Director knew of Forrester's cat phobia, how it was adding to an already full schedule. He'd have to wait for the next general meeting to bring up the matter, assuming the Director would even attend. And even by then, Forrester could have required them to round up as many house-cats in Tranquil as he could list on a 12F!

He began pawing through twenty-six years' worth of mementos, which were crammed into a space that could barely hold enough office supplies from one small conspiracy. But enough holes for an orange tabby to hide. He waited for any kind of movement, and something eventually flickered in the corner of his eye. He turned to see Cecil pull his head back into the bathroom.

The man's sublingual cursing increased audibly as he tromped into the bathroom and found find no trace of the cat in the bathtub, behind the toilet, in the sink, or under the sink. Nowhere. He cursed audibly and stormed out to see Cecil scamper off the couch and into the kitchen. He flew toward him, but he'd already gone again. The man let loose an expletive at the top of his lungs that woke the downstairs neighbor who was napping in front of a hockey game. And with manic grin born of angst and momentary abandon, he struck out the last line and its corresponding box on the 12F. His pen capped with a momentary sense of triumph, the man disappeared.

Cecil poked his head out of the bedroom closet and into the empty apartment. The man was gone. He snorted with satisfaction and hopped onto the bed to continue his nap. Before laying down, he turned three times.

Coincidentally, the phone began to ring.

13. Perfection "Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim." -- Graham Greene

After waiting for nearly a minute, Justin slammed the phone onto the receiver, muttering something about nine hundred damn miles and not having the decency to be home when someone was calling. He had to call. Something was wrong. He didn't go in for that malarkey about being in touch with the universe or having sympathetic vibrations reach him from a different plane, but, damn it, if there was something wrong, you did something about it. And he knew something was wrong. But would have been sent to the loony bin by one of those interns before he could explain it all to another human being properly.

He didn't give a damn (as those who ventured near him would often discover) about what everyone else perceived as reality. He saw what he saw. If no one else saw it, that was up to them. Sure, he couldn't verify it, but did that mean he was crazy? Not if he was right (which Justin had already concluded), which meant that he was seeing relationships and consequences that everyone else had just learned to ignore or couldn't see in the first place or would never see. Sometimes he saw it, sometime he just felt it. It was there, like an invisible web, telling Justin enough to either stay away or to get involved. And when he got involved, sometimes the people in the thick of it just couldn't understand what Justin was getting at! Of course, after the dam had broke, after the cows got loose, after the snake bit the dog, then everyone forgot all about old Justin and concentrated on what was practically too late to fix, unless he had been lucky enough to a have solution ready beforehand. All too often, he wasn't that lucky. But now, he felt that too. Luck. Invisible, intangible, and someone somewhere was going to feel the heat of it if he ever found out who was planning to harm his only (semi-sane) relative. But Julia wasn't home, so he couldn't warn her that he had had (as she would describe it) a vague impression of imminent danger that only sad, smelly, old Uncle Justin could perceive.

Put that way, perhaps it was best that no one had answered. Justin scratched his scalp and decided to have a beer. He harrumphed quietly, then turned around.

To his shock (but only mild surprise), there was a balding man with a clipboard standing in his corner taking notes. J.J felt paralyzed for a moment, until his anger regained the upper hand, and he reached down, opened the third drawer under the phone, and pulled out a loaded revolver.

The Lab Coat Man, weary, almost to the last of his forms (a pink 2D with carbons) wished he had could have arranged to appear in a sauna somewhere in darkest Finland, but resolutely kept noting all he was able until he realized somewhere between checkmarks that Justin Nelson was pointing a gun right between his eyes. At first, he wanted to flip to a red 1A. Somewhere on a 1A there was a box relevant to imminent personal danger. But then, he understood in the microseconds he had left that Justin's finger was pulling the trigger, which was pulling back the hammer, which would imminently fire the bullet in a more or less straight line directly into his tired, balding skull.

He had expected his life to flash before his eyes, but all he could remember (and in fact see, superimposed over the image of Justin's gun) was a Dali that he could not be sure he had ever seen or had even been painted. Perhaps, in those last days of his own early life, studying art history and believing he too was capable of producing something famous, immortal, perfect, he had envisioned such a painting, an abstract only now completed, detailing a life of frustration and mediocrity that wound its way, eventually, down to this last moment of nothing.

It was so beautiful, so tragic, that he held the clipboard over his face as Justin fired once, piercing the thin wood with a single, perfect hole.

14. Criswell Speaks "One is always considered mad when one discovers something that others cannot grasp." -- Bela Lugosi, "Bride of the Monster"

Julia and Rhonda ran inside the theater at exactly 7:10 pm. Still giggling, they bought two tickets from a weary looking man wearing a jacket and a "Manager" tag. When they hit the concession stand to relieve their munchies, they found a sign that said: "Closed".

"Aww!" Rhonda whined. "I was getting really hungry too!"

"It's too bad I can't hop back there and get us some popcorn. I worked at a theater for two summers when I was in high school."

"I beg your pardon?" the Manager inquired, somehow looking five years younger. "Do you mean that?"

"Oh yes!" exclaimed Julia. "I was Assistant Manager for a month as


Any Coincidence Is - 6/17

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