This Just In (Story #21)

Robert first noticed it while driving to work.  He’d been off for a couple weeks—he’d been having terrible headaches and his boss told him to take some time.  Too much stress, Jeff told him.  Now, he was stuck in the usual traffic jam trying to get on the 280.  Sitting there, he happened to look up at the overpass where a woman was walking her dog until she wasn’t any longer.  She dropped to the cement as if she were a wind-up toy that had come to the end of its string.  After the fact, Robert tried to make sense of the odd way the woman’s body collapsed in on itself.  He told himself he was seeing things.  A simple fall.  A trip.  But another thought took hold: if it was just a fall, then the woman should’ve gotten up.  And that was just it.  For the full minute he was stuck in the same spot, the woman just lay there in a pile while her dog kept trying to pull free.

No one noticed it.  The rows of red lights as far as he could see—hundreds of people, each with their coffees in hand or checking the radio, were oblivious.  And then the jam thawed and there was no time to worry about some woman and her dog.  It was sad, yes, but he had to get to work.

Robert worked for Jeff at an internet start-up based out of a bland office in a blander industrial park forty miles south of San Francisco.  His title was Associate Editor, having worked himself up from Assistant, though he wasn’t sure what the difference was.   He still did the same thing for the same amount of money.  His mornings were spent rifling through web-stats to see what the day’s popular searches were, followed by afternoons of writing stem-articles about the bottom ten subjects on the day’s top-100.  Zing-pop, the site he worked for, was not in the news business.  Jeff had made that clear many times.  His company was in the news-influencing business, a term Robert never quite understood.

Amelia, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what Jeff meant—or at least it seemed like it.  She was hired while Robert was on vacation and was driving more readers to the site than any of the other editors.  Robert was curious.  It was almost as if she knew ahead of time what to write about.

He wanted to meet her, but when Robert got to the office, Amelia beat him to the punch and introduced herself.  Robert put his hand out, but Amelia didn’t reciprocate.  “Not really into handshaking.  I once wrote an article about the Swine Flu.  You know you can catch it by shaking hands with someone who’s infected.  It’s not that I think you’re infected, but you know.  Better safe than sick and puking.”  She giggled.  “Feeling funny today.”

“I saw something today on my way in,” he said not really aware of what he was saying.

“A person falling down?”

“How’d you know?”

Amelia giggled again and then went back to her cubicle.  Within a few seconds, Robert could hear her fingers tapping away at the keyboard.

That night, Robert drove home, and again, stopped in traffic under the same overpass, he saw an old man walking with a cane until he wasn’t.  The old man fell just like the woman with the dog.  Robert pulled over and called 911 this time, but he had a suspicion that the dispatcher wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed.  She kept asking about him, about how he was feeling and if he could stay on the line until she sent him help.

As soon as he heard sirens approaching, Robert hung up.  It’d been such a long first day back and now he felt like he deserved a good meal.  He’d treat himself to a nice dinner at a place down the street from where he lived.

The next morning, Robert drove a different route in order to avoid the overpass.  Still not sure what to make of the falling people, he didn’t want to risk seeing another one.  But when he pulled into the parking lot of his office, he saw a number of people who worked at the other offices that surrounded his own walking to work until they weren’t.  Three, four, five, they just kept falling and falling like the woman with the dog and the old man with the cane.  It was a horrifying site, and like anyone seeing something horrible up close, Robert acted before he knew what he was doing.  He ran into the office, having to hop over a number of collapsed bodies and tried to get help.

No one was there yet—no one except Amelia.  As soon as Robert entered the office, he could hear her tapping away.

“I need some help,” he called out.  His voice sounded odd, almost excited, though he knew that was not what he felt.  But the tapping continued without stopping.  So he ran up to Amelia;s cubicle and found her with a smile on her face.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“I did, but I had to finish this.”

“What?”

“Today’s story—it’s going to be my best.”

“Something’s happened out in the parking lot.”

Amelia looked up and took him in.  Sit down and read this.  I want to know what you think.”

“Are you listening?”

“Yeah, I am.  But just sit down and read this.”

“I don’t want to read.”

“Just the first line.”

Robert leaned over her and started in.  It was an article about a writer in San Carlos who’d been taken in by the police.  He’d killed a number of people over the last 24 hours.  There was already talk of the death penalty because of the number of murders and the manner in which they were done.

“It’s not a big story yet, but it will be.  I know it,” Amelia said.

“I’m not famous.  Who’s going to read this?” Robert asked, his voice now sounding quiet, almost shy.

“You will be,” Amelia giggled.  “After I’m done with you, you will be.”

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Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at www.circularrunning.wordpress.com and Tumbls at www.circularrunning.tumblr.com

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