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Rated: E · Short Story · Other · #1634979
So you think you'd like to know the future. Be careful what you ask for.
Ursula Le Guin: "The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next."

Irving was a fortune-teller. At least that's how his wife had sometimes described his work. He preferred the title on his gold-embossed business cards - "Stockbroker".  It was a living, but a lousy one, because Irving was a lousy stockbroker. You could make good money buying all the stocks that Irving didn't. He occasionally made a correct choice by chance, but the only reason he hadn't yet found himself on the sidewalk holding a cardboard box filled with his stapler and his Howard Miller Rosewood Desk Set and Clock is that his father's name was on the door of the business.
Life was difficult. He had tried hard, but he had as much innate talent for predicting the stock market as Milli Vanilli had for tight a capella harmony. Until The Accident, that is. One blustery afternoon a bus laboring up the steep hill on which Irving's office building was situated had parted company with its right rear wheel, which immediately decided to convert its considerable store of potential energy into kinetic energy. Free from confinement, it made good its escape, rapidly gathering speed as it tore down the hill. Luckily for the pedestrians down on Main Street, its progress was abruptly arrested by the bus shelter in front of Irving's office. Unluckily for Irving, he was in the bus shelter.

Miraculously, the only injury he had sustained had been a tremendous knock on the head, causing a little cerebral scrambling and rendering him comatose for a week. As soon as his brain had rewired itself sufficiently to come back online, he awoke and realized he was in the hospital. He also realized that he felt subtly different somehow, like locked doors in his brain had been sprung open. He couldn't put a finger on the difference though, and promptly forgot about it, likely because a size 13 headache had his attention.

Two weeks later he was back at his desk, despite the entire staff's insistence that he take a few more months off to recover. He gave his first client some advice that had his colleagues shaking their heads, and looking for a cardboard box. By the end of the day that client had made almost a million dollars. In fact, every client he had advised that day had done well. "Bound to happen once in a while", his colleagues muttered to each other, knowing that luck was the biggest part of success in the business. But as this remarkable scenario played out day after day Irving slowly realized that luck had nothing to do with it; he KNEW what was going to happen in every case. That month he had earned $3,000,000 in commissions.

Intrigued by this newfound vision, Irving expanded his horizons, entering the frequent baby pools in his office, which had an abundance of fertile employees. Feeling cocky, he bet on the exact minute of each birth. He was never off by so much as a minute; getting the sex right was trivial. He even bet on twins once, proving the doctors wrong.

This was all fun for Irving, who had now become the most successful broker in the business. But his brain continued to rebuild the damaged circuits; his vision continued to expand. He soon could predict the outcome of any sports event. This was good for some quick pocket cash, but soon became boring. In fact, watching sports, which had been a favorite pastime, became utterly boring. He could do the play-by-plays a day ahead if he wanted. He could predict the newspaper headlines a week in advance, a month in advance if he could be bothered.

What happened next shook him to the core. Talking with his father across the vast expanse of his oak desk, he had a sudden vision of an airplane, one wing torn off, plunging into the ocean. The chair where his father sat was empty for a second. All returned quickly to normal, but Irving was unnerved. He asked his dad if he was planning any trips soon. "Nope", he grinned, "Business is so brisk here thanks to you, I'm staying put to enjoy the ride".

Reassured, Irving said, "OK, see you tomorrow then", and left. That evening, his father received an urgent call from Hawaii. His brother had suffered a heart attack and was not expected to survive the night. He caught the red-eye flight out of Los Angeles. At three o'clock in the morning the 767 flew into a Pacific storm. There was a mechanical failure; a wing separated from the plane and it went down. There were no survivors.

For Irving, it only worsened. He glanced at people and saw their entire lives laid out bare. He adapted to this; he kept his knowledge secret, no matter how fortuitous or horrendous the fate. This helped. But his own life was another matter. He lost interest in work; it was no challenge, uninteresting now that the novelty of success had worn off. He couldn't read a book or watch a movie; he knew the ending before the author had written a word. He knew what people would say before a conversation started, so he stopped talking to them. Life was unbearable, an open book with no surprises; it wasn't worth living.

Late one night, Irving had had enough. He wrote a last note to his wife, whom he had not spoken to in weeks, and climbed into his Ferrari for a last ride. Pulling into a dead-end street, Irving took a last longing look at the starry night sky. He floored the accelerator, dropped the clutch, and made his best effort to drive through the building at the end of the block. As fate would have it, Ferraris have an outstanding crash safety rating. When Irving awoke a week later with a size 15 headache, he felt only deep despair. And deep hunger. Only after he had asked, "What's for breakfast?", did he realize that life was going to be incredibly difficult, but worth living again.
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