1800 words. I know it lacks 'something'... but what is that something? Warning: not good.
When he’d been sixteen, at his grand-mother’s insistence, he’d gone to a fortune-teller. His father’s mother had taken him to a back-street in the city. It was an area he’d never been to before; the laneway was not even bitumised, but still had the cobble-stoned paving of the late nineteenth century. The buildings on either side stretched up menacingly, casting everything in shadow like they were at the bottom of a deep chasm. None of the doors were marked and the few windows were firmly closed, the majority shuttered. Not a single soul could be seen or heard. Despite trying to act cool, Zane found himself pressed against his grandmother as they made their way down the walkway.
At the far end sat a store beneath a torn awning, the glass frontage filthy with grime, the paint on the door peeling, the signs in the windows illegible. But it was the door next to this one that his grandmother guided him towards. A bell jangled dully above it, but the interior was barely lit. “No-one’s here,” Zane muttered. “Let’s go.”
“Madame Karishnikova?” called his grandmother.
A match flared into life with a scraping sound, followed by a candle wick catching aflame, then another, and a third, which finally gave enough light by which they could see the woman seated behind an old round table, surrounded by shelves filled with shadows and shapes that Zane could not identify. “Please, take a seat,” this woman purred. In the flickering flames she did not appear to be as old as Zane had expected, but she was wearing a dark cloak with a hood and had on too much make-up. And he had real trouble placing her accent.
“Thank-you, Madame,” Zane’s grandmother said submissively as she slid into one of the wooden chairs. He followed her lead, and found the seat uncomfortable and unbalanced.
“It is good to see you again, Mrs Kovak,” the woman said. “And this must be your grandson.” Her gaze fixed upon Zane, but her face remained impassive.
“Good guess,” the teenager mumbled under his breath.
Both women ignored his sarcasm. Instead, Madame Karishnikova placed her hands on the table and closed her eyes. A strange odour arose, smelling like fresh blood but not as nauseating, along with a thing fog of pale smoke. “Zane Alexander Kovak, one day you will be famous, known across the world,” the woman chanted before her eyes shot open, staring at him with the intensity of a hungry vulture. “I have no doubts at all, young man – people all over the world will know your name.”
It was a combination of her knowing his full name, the way she’d stared at him, and the feeling of electricity that ran through him when she spoke that convinced him in that instant that she was one hundred percent correct.
Eight years later and life was pleasant enough for Zane Kovak. Dull, but pleasant; however, it was lacking a certain degree of fame. Still living with his long-suffering parents, having dropped out of school early, he just did what he liked, his doting grandmother catering to his every whim, much to the chagrin of his mother and the anger of his father.
Life was essentially nothing. And this day started off like all the rest, although if things went well, it could finally be the start of the big things he was destined for.
It was ten o’clock when he crawled out of bed, probably later than he should have. He blinked against the sunlight streaming in from around the edges of the curtains. He grabbed his phone and smiled, then tapped a quick response to each of the ten or so messages and comments awaiting him. A quick morning selfie and he put it back by the bed.
Only then did he sit up and swing his legs around to sit on the edge of his bed, absently strumming the strings on the neck of the guitar beside him. Three months of practice had convinced him that that instrument was not going to be how he would become world-famous. Ditto being a piano maestro – his electronic keyboard sat on its side in a corner – or a DJ – his ‘wheels of steel’ holding the keyboard in place. Acting lessons had resulted in twenty-seven rejections, singing lessons in him being asked not to return to the school after just one term. The novel was two chapters long, unfinished, on the same computer he had created a strange stick-figure design which had been as far as his game designing career had gone. Although none of that was as sad as the crate of sports equipment in the shed which indicated so many other attempts at fame.
But his grandmother still continued to indulge him. She had been there when the fortune-teller had made her declaration – not prediction, but a genuine statement of truth – of future fame, and she wanted to be the one to make it happen.
So did Zane. And he was sure that fame would just be given to him; working for it was not part of the plan as he envisaged it. He stood slowly, stretching up, then wandered absently to the bathroom. He spent too long under the shower, then covered himself in colognes and body sprays before donning his shirt and pants. He stood in front of the mirror to admire his body and scowled a little. This six-pack wasn’t there. He wasn’t fat by any stretch of the imagination, but he felt he probably needed those abs if he was going to make it in his latest venture.
He finished dressing and then combed his hair. He knew he was good-looking, something a seemingly endless stream of willing girls could attest to, and so he could only hope that that would be enough to see him get through the selection process. But first he took his phone and clicked off a pair of super-casual selfies.
It beeped and he automatically looked at it. A message from a girl who the caller ID told him was Carol. He wracked his brain briefly, then nodded. The blonde one at the club two weekends before; she wanted to catch up. He tapped in a fast albeit vague response, then shoved it into his pocket. He had to leave; he couldn’t afford to be late.
The call-out had been to a venue in the middle of the city, so he decided to catch a bus. That would help keep him calm; driving in city traffic would stress him, make him sweat, and not leave him cool, calm and collected, all the things a good male model needed to exude. His grandmother had paid out a lot, allegedly, according to his father, to have him put onto the list to be potentially picked up by the big Nouvelle Lune Modelling Agency. He had to make the perfect impression and finally that predestined fame would be his.
His phone beeped again and he pulled it out. Message from Dan, wishing him luck. He smiled as he tapped a message back. Dan replied almost straight away and Zane was still typing away as the bus pulled up. He walked onto it without looking up, his phone automatically putting money through the pay-machine, still pressing the screen with his thumbs, which continued after he fell into a seat beside an elderly woman who clutched her hand-bag even tighter to her chest as she turned her head to gaze out the window. Zane didn’t even acknowledge her as he ended his text discussion with Dan and instantly started another with Viola.
By the time the bus reached the stop in town, he had had text conversations with Kirsten, D’nae (twice), Robbie and Leigh, as well as updated his FaceBook status and taken a few selfies which he posted directly to Instagram. Everyone he knew understood that he was once again trying to achieve the fame he had them all convinced was his birthright and all of them were encouraging him in this latest venture. They always encouraged him. Zane didn’t know the word ‘sycophant’, but he had gathered about him a sizeable gaggle of them.
Zane climbed off the bus, checked his reflection in a window, fixed his hair, and then set off to walk the three blocks to the hall where Nouvelle Lune was holding its open call. He glanced at his phone. Still an hour to go. Good. He’d get there in plenty of time to relax and be his best.
A new message popped up. ‘Good luck!’ from his grandmother. He smiled and opened FaceBook to update his status and continue his running commentary on the day for the copious number of his friends leaving a constant stream of messages of support.
He continued to hit the screen as he stepped blindly onto the road.
The bus could not stop in time, but as the driver swung the wheel in a futile attempt to avoid hitting the young man and hence squishing him into a red putty, he careened into the path of a delivery van. It slammed into the side of the bus, killing the two drivers instantly, its tail swinging around to knock into an oncoming car. A second car smashed into the rear of the first, its driver saved by the airbag, its passenger flying into the front windscreen. More cars, three motorcycles and another bus all became involved. In the end, eight people were dead and nearly three dozen were injured, many seriously, in the carnage.
It took them a few days to identify the remains of the young man who had set the tragic chain of events in motion.
And so it was that a scant six weeks later a new law was passed in the state that garnered the attention of news and media outlets across the world, a law that made it punishable by a substantial fine or up to two years in prison for the crime of using a hand-held device while walking in a public area. In addition, if a person was using an electronic gadget hands-free and anything happened, no matter who was actually at fault, blame always fell on the user of said device. The complete cultural change started to sweep across first that country, then a number of other countries. And every nation gave it the same knick-name, instantly recognised by all, a name that guaranteed fame for years to come.
Thus was born the regulation that became known as the “Zane Kovak Law”.