“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Future” is part five. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.
“The future’s a crazy place,” the stranger said. “You’ll die in a bus accident in Central America. In fact, you’ll do a lot of stuff in Central America. You’ll go bungee-jumping in the Costa Rican city of La Fortuna. You’ll date a woman who will inform you after three dates and a heavy petting session that she has two kids. You’ll even be an interim news correspondent for news radio in the aftermath of a minor massacre in Honduras.”
The man got out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. He didn’t light it, but what a thing to do, you know? I mean, the kid’s dad was dying of lung cancer.
He proceeded to enumerate countless far-fetched scenarios in which, he claimed, David would someday find himself. These ranged from the inconsequential (“You’ll accidentally brush your teeth with a tube of your roommate’s Ben-Gay your junior year in college”) to the milestones of David’s life (“You’ll lose your virginity at the age of 20 on the 7th-hole green at the Whispering Pines Golf Course one night in May”).
Were it not for the cigarette dangling menacingly from the man’s mouth, David said, he might have even been amused. The guy relayed his detailed vignettes with the sort of charm and charisma that often accompanies grandparents’ retellings of their most oft-told memories.
The unlit cigarette bobbed up and down as the man spoke. And though David’s dominant emotion at the time was a sort of bile-filled disgust, he felt something else that took him years to pinpoint. “A tinge of fondness,” he confessed to me, “that’s what it was.”
But it didn’t last long.
The stranger stood and put on his hat (Don’t all villains have a hat? It keeps them perpetually in the dark), and said, “Your foster parents will be good to you.”
Need I say this was a shock?
The man nodded at David and headed for the door.
David spoke for the first and only time. “What do you mean?”
“Son, your father will die tomorrow at precisely 2:01 in the afternoon. You won’t be here to say goodbye.” And in the predictable silence that ensued as David wrestled with whether or not to believe the guy, the stranger followed with another doozy. “And your mother will commit suicide three months from now by driving her car off a cliff.”
Three months later, his mom did indeed die in a car accident. And yes, a cliff was involved. It was never verified that she intended to die, but, of course, David was convinced. He’d been convinced for some time.
The day after the strange man appeared in his father’s hospital room, delivering personalized prophecies, David tried to get out of school early, first by lying to the school’s authorities and then by telling the truth. Finally, when the teachers’ looks turned from scolding to pitying, he simply ran away from them. He made it to the hospital at 2:04.