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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2255492
A reporter is assigned to investigate a man making predictions that keep coming true.
At moments like these, David tried to remember that going out on nonsense stories was part of a reporter’s job. His beat was a mix of investigative and human-interest stories, which were often strange, and this one was.

A man had called in to one of the city’s all-night radio talk shows several nights in a row with tales about what was going to happen that day. In his first call, he had claimed that a large meteorite would be seen flashing over Alburqueque, New Mexico, at 5:03 am that morning. That happened, right on schedule. The next night, he called and told of a small earthquake that would occur in Peru at 11:08 am, centered on the town of Caleón. That too happened, right on schedule.

At this point, the radio station contacted the newspaper and David was put on the story. He asked the host to ask the caller, if he called again, to meet David for a drink, off the record, at a bar in the city’s lawyer district.

The caller called in that night just after midnight. He claimed that a tornado would touch down at 4:24 pm near the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. A few minutes after the caller went off the air, David received an email from the host: the caller had accepted David’s invitation and would be at the Hammer and Anvil, on 14th Street, at 9 pm.

David had watched the weather in Lincoln all day as it deteriorated; the tornado warning was issued at 4:04 pm, and the tornado made its appearance right on time, destroying an auto parts store. And now, two hours later, David was on his way to the Hammer and Anvil.

He stepped through the door at 8:45 pm; there were the usual suited men at the bar, probably lawyers and judges blowing off steam after a tough day in court. There were several women, some almost certainly prostitutes. David ordered a drink and he sat there waiting for something to happen.

At 8:58 pm, a man stepped through the door. He was tall and wore a strange straw hat, something between a cowboy hat and a garden hat. He didn’t look up, but simply stepped awkwardly around the corner of the bar, just as David had done, and sat down on the stool next to him. “Keeping an eye on the door?” the man asked.

David immediately recognized the voice from the radio show. “That’s right,” he said. “How did you know it was me?”

“I know things,” the man said. He removed his hat and David got a look at his face—he was on the older side, gray hair and a thin, Amish-style gray beard that snaked down from his sideburns and under his chin; the lip was bare. “You work for a newspaper, right?”

“That’s right. TheGlobe.”

The man nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Never actually seen it.”

“Ah,” David said. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a newspaperman’s notepad. “You don’t mind if I take a few notes?”

The man shrugged and looked at an elaborate watch on his left wrist. “The time has passed now,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do.”

“I see,” David said, not really seeing, but willing to say anything to get to his questions. “Can you tell me your name?”

“No,” the man said. His eyes were roving around the bar; David got the feeling that he was more interested in the women sprinkled here and there. One of them caught his eye, smiled, and he smiled back and nodded.

“You’ve been making some predictions on the radio and they’ve been coming true. Can you tell me about that?”

“It’s not a secret,” he said flatly. “I’m a time traveler.” He pulled his eyes away from the woman and turned to David. “I watched these things play out the first time, and then I came back here and started calling that show.”

“You watched them play out,” David repeated. “What does that mean?”

“I’m sort of a navigator, I guess you could say. I navigate time.”

“Navigate time. How do you do that, exactly?”

“Well, it’s a little like navigating a boat. You ever been on a boat?”

“Yeah. How is it like navigating a boat?”

“Time is a river. I have a ship and I sail in the river. I navigate upstream and down.”

“Ah,” David said. “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish?”

The man turned to David. “I had to get you here instead of—where you would have been tonight.”

“Yeah? And where’s that?”

“At home,” the man said.

“Will you be calling in to the show tonight?”

“No,” the man said. “Last night was the last time.” The man got up. “It’s been great talking to you.”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to where I came from, which will be different now that you’re here and not where you would have been. If you had not met me here tonight.” And without another word, the man got up, placed his hat back on his head, and strode out the door and into the night.

David drove home, and when he got close, he could see yellow flickers of flame reflecting off of the houses on his street—something big was on fire. As he approached, he saw that his own house had collapsed into itself and was a raging inferno. There were fire trucks parked akimbo and an ambulance sped past him as he parked and got out. He approached one of the firemen. “This is my house!” David said. “What happened?!”

“Propane tank explosion,” the fireman said. “We’ve got it contained, but if we spray the house, it’s going to spread embers everywhere. Nothing to do now but watch it burn.” The fireman turned to the structure. “The neighbors said you live alone. You live alone, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Ah,” the fireman said. “Well. Good thing you were out.”
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