DISCLAIMER: This is a rough draft. There will be grammar mistakes and typos. Would love any thoughts you care to offer on it.
“Who are you?”
Gary yelled at the shadowed figured. No response. The only sound came from the occasional soft pop of the torch on the wall.
“What is this place?” No response.
Gary pushed himself up off the ground. His vision blurred as he stood. His whole body became unstable. He gritted his teeth, determination overwhelming desire for comfort. Gary sprinted toward the mystery man. As he ran the room appeared to stretch. The distance that, only moments ago, seemed like a few yards now appeared to be the size of a football field. What was this, some sort of hallucination? Perhaps he had hit his head? Had he hit his head? How did he get here in the first place? Why couldn’t he remember? This was a strange feeling indeed. He could figure out the how later. For now all he wanted to know was who. Who was this strange man lurking in the darkness?
He felt like he was running in slow motion. It was as if he was struggling to make his way through a sea of Jello. The harder Gary tried to run the slower he seemed to move. Gary screamed clutching his hands into tight fists. An oddly familiar sound caught his attention. It was a scratching sound. He had heard this sound before but where? He couldn’t place it.
Click. The dark elongating room disappeared. The mystery man was gone, replaced by an almost inaudible hum and a gentle glow. Whoosh. Gary’s computer speakers chime. He buried his face in his hands and shook his head back and forth quickly. He ran his hands down his face as if peeling off a transparent mask. With that report emailed to his supervisor he officially had nothing left to do for the day. Two hours left on the clock gave him some time to kill. Gary smiles slightly. He loved getting done with his work early so he could sit around and daydream. The chord from his headphones crackles faintly as he pushed the jack into his computer. With a few taps on his keyboard he was watching a video from his favorite band The Moirais.
The annoying glare from the overhead florescent bulbs was suddenly partially blocked. Pause. Gary minimized the video, removed the headphones from his ears, and turned around slowly. Michael, the chatty young accountant from the cubical next to his was standing at the entrance to Gary’s 6 x 6 monochromatic cell.
“Done with your work already?” Michael tosses his head signaling toward the screen. Clearly he had seen what Gary was doing.
“Yup. Just finished my final report for this week.” Gary smiled attempting to be friendly. Michael was not the popular guy in the office. He was the guy everyone else tried to keep out of any social events that got planned. He meant well. He just had the social skills of a teething toddler.
“Watching that music video again?” Michael leaned in crossing his arms over the top of the cubical wall. Gary sat silently holding his smile.
“Still pretending you are a lead singer?” Michael continued proving his inability to take a hint. Gary shrugged. What could he say? He just confessed to having finished all his assignments early successfully removing any polite way of asking his guest to leave. Plus Gary didn’t want to treat Michael rudely as everyone else did. Though Michael was lacking in social graces he had a good heart. Maybe if someone gave him a chance he would learn and could get better at human contact. Gary figured he might as well be the guy to give Michael that chance.
“Did you want something Mike?”
Michael sighed, “I wanted to see if you were going to the work party at Cindy’s tomorrow.” Cindy’s after work parties were often nothing more than a few office pariahs gathering around a living room with a bunch of solo cups drinking until the lame out of date music seemed less lame.
“I appreciate the offer but I wasn’t planning on it. Tell everyone sorry for me.”
“Come on man, it’s not much of a party without you there. Everyone really wants you to come.” Everyone being Ted the disgruntled employee who spends all his free time complaining about how much he hates his job, Sally the chatty receptionist, Geoff the chain smoking janitor, Cindy the socialite host, and Tod who responded to anything anyone ever said with ‘for sure’.
Gary could think of about a thousand things he would rather do with on the first night of his weekend. He could just say no. If he did he knew everyone would spend the whole night antagonizing Michael. That didn’t seem right.
“Jenny might come this time too.” That changed everything. Jenny was the cute girl from the corner office who handled the company’s public relations. Gary’s got excited just thinking about her. He had tried to get her attention for years. Several times he even walked over to her office hoping to strike up a casual conversation. Each time he tried he ended up chickening out.
“Alright. I will try to make it.”
“Yea you will!”
Michael smiled showing off his polished teeth. He slapped the top of the cubical with his hand enthusiastically and headed off out of sight with all the bravado of a conquering king. In seconds Gary had his headphones back on and his video was playing. After three repeat viewings where he pretended he was the lead singer of the band Gary was lost in a full on daydream.
There he was sitting in a recording studio surrounded by fancy microphones and expensive equipment. His loyal band sat around him holding their respective instruments waiting for their cue. Behind a panel of glass sat a small team of specialists tuning their equipment in preparation. Then it began. The smooth harmonic sound of the first chord rings out and the recording begins.
Then in a flash he is standing on a huge stage in front of over ten thousand screaming fans. He can almost feel the heat from the stage lights overhead. Smoke billows behind him. He’s gone. Standing on a street corner now walking into a grocery store. A young couple runs up to him. The girl is nearly hysterical.
“Like I so can’t believe this! You are totally Gary Otterman! Can I get a picture with you? My girlfriends are never going to believe this!” Her voice was an alarm. He poses with the girl and the camera flashes. He is transported back to his plain desk decorated by the trophies accomplishments of his mediocre life.
Why not me? Gary thought. I wish that I had the talent to be a star. At that moment Jake walked by. Jake was one of the nicest guys in the office. He was always bringing in donuts to share and asking people about their lives outside of work. He was the type of guy who would come over after work to help a co-worker move furniture. When he wasn’t working or being an overly helpful guy Jake was at the gym. As a result Jake looked as if he had been chiseled from a piece of marble. It showed. Even in a suit that was about two sizes too big for someone his height the cloth was stretched taut around his arms and chest.
Gary now began to daydream again. This time he was a rock star with rippling muscles that he imagined never having to maintain. Gary went on mental autopilot for the rest of the day. He was home and making dinner before he tuned back into the world around him.
After eating, his friend Eric came over for their tradition of beer, beef, and an episode of their favorite reality show Life Swap.
“Would you ever do it?” Eric asked with a mouth full of beef.
“Exchange lives with someone else?”
“Really? Like who?”
“Several people really. How awesome would it be to become a famous musician or an actor or something like that?” Gary started smiling just thinking about it. “Can you imagine having a bunch of crazy talents and being able to do all this really cool stuff?”
Eric laughed. “Thought about this a lot have you?”
Gary scratched his head blushing noticeably. “I guess I have. I actually thought the other day, how cool it would be if you could learn skills from people just by touching them. I would go out and find like all the best people in the world and learn all their skills. Then I would be…”
“A freak of awesome,” Gary shot back trying to cover his burst of frustration. “Haven’t you ever wanted to be someone else?”
“ I dunno know someone famous, talented, special.”
“Yea. I think about how cool it would be all the time.”
“Man that’s depressing.”
“Wanting to be great is depressing?”
“No. I think we want to be great at certain things but, it sounds like you’re saying you just want to be able to do what everyone else can do.” That was Eric. He had this cool sense of confidence that Gary often envied. Here he was still chewing the large piece of meat he stuffed into his mouth and he still didn’t seem interested in wanting the skills or abilities of anyone else.
“I see all these people who have such amazing talents and I think to myself, what do I have? Sports? No. Charm? No. Great looks? No. Brains? No. The list goes on and on.”
“You’re good at a lot of things.”
“Good. Not great. I don’t stand out in any way.”
“Well maybe we should do something about that.” Eric grinned finally swallowing his steak.
“Well you know how I have a cousin who works at the production company for Life Swap?” Gary nodded. “Well, he got us a couple of tickets for this new show they are looking at developing called The Hands of Fate. It’s supposed to be a similar kind of show but they are playing up the whole mystic, supernatural, transcendent thing. You want to go?”
“Yea I do. That sounds like fun. When is it?”
Gary winced, “Ohhh…I told Mike at work I would go to Cindy’s party on Friday.”
Eric shrugged, “Go after. We should be done by 8:30.” Gary hardly slept that night. He imagined being picked to go on the show, being televised all across the nation. His heart pumped noticeably faster. His legs and arms would occasionally twitch with excitement. What was this show? Could he win money? What would he be doing? Could he win? Question after question flowed through Gary’s mind like a stream.
Friday came and went like a blur. Gary stepped out of his office building to see Eric pulled up in his 1964 Ford Mustang with a new custom paint job. He laughed. The car was supposed to be silver, bright and beautiful. The “professional” who did the work was a friend of Eric’s who offered him a deal. For a little less than half the usual price Eric got a new paintjob on his classic car. Instead of glimmering silver he got a sort of tin grey. It wasn’t shiny. It didn’t look metallic. It wasn’t nice. Eric looked like a puppy after getting punished for tearing up the toilet paper.
“Is that the final paint job?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Get in.” Gary hopped in the car and they were off to the studio.
A burley black man named Chad directed them to their seats, second row center.
“Wow, your cousin must really like you,” Gary nudged Eric in the ribs with his elbow.
“I guess so.” The audience seating area was full within minutes. The lights overhead dimmed. Puffs of smoke began rolling toward the center of the stage. The dark black curtain that had concealed the mysterious set within parted slowly.
“Where have I seen this stage before?”
Eric chuckled. “How would I know where you had seen something?”
“No I mean I have seen this set before.”
“It’s probably just a standard design they use the same sets all the time on these shows.” It made sense. It still felt too familiar. Gary was sure he had seen this set before but not on a different show. It was like he had been here before. He hadn’t. The walls were made of stone like what Gary imagined the inside of a castle to look like. The back of the stage was lit with torches. In the center of the stage was a large chair. Seated in the chair was a man whose face was covered by a dark cloak. It’s him. It can’t be, but it is. On a stage he had never seen, in a room he had never been, Gary was staring at a dream. His dream. This couldn’t be right. Gary rubbed his eyes. Nothing changed. He pinched himself on the arm. Sharp pain. He wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t imagining things. He was looking at a set he had dreamed the day before. How could this be?
The lights went out. There was no screaming. There was no gasping or whispers of excitement. That was strange. There was no sound at all. This can’t be right, Gary thought. He clicked his cell phone for light. Eric was gone. Everyone was gone. It was as if they had all disappeared. Gary stood up suddenly waving his phone around hoping to catch a glimpse of something.
“What’s going? Where did everyone go?”
“You wanted to change your fate did you not?” A mysterious voice echoed all around him.
“W-who said that?”
“Calm down Gary. You are not in any danger.”
“Very reassuring creepy man hiding in the dark.” Gary spun around. If he could move fast enough he was certain he could catch this person in the act. Obviously they were using the studio’s surround sound system to create the effect but that didn’t explain how they knew his name. Something weird was going on here.
“I’m hardly hiding Gary. Turn around.” Gary spun around to face the stage. In all the commotion he hadn’t even noticed the hooded man still sitting in the center of the stage. “You know, when I wrote this scene I didn’t expect you to freak out so much.”
“Wrote? What are you talking about?” Gary started moving closer to the stage.
The mysterious man laughed. “Yes Gary, wrote, I’m a writer. Writing is what I do.”
“Who are you?”
“Sort of an axiomatic question isn’t it? I thought the name of the show was a bit of a spoiler.”
“Spoiler? Name of the show? What is—“ Gary paused for a moment. This couldn’t be. “This is a joke right? You don’t mean to tell me you are supposed to be—“
“Yes Gary, I am fate.”
“Is this part of the show?”
“Don’t worry about the show. I just wrote that to get you here.”
Gary stepped up onto the stage. He was only a few yards away from the strange hooded man. “So you’re telling me that you are fate, like the all controlling force that decides what happens to everyone.”
“Not exactly how I’d describe myself but yes, I am that fate.”
“And you are a writer?”
Fate chuckled. “Is that surprising?”
“A little bit.”
“Why? History is a story. You have a story. Every person who has ever lived has a story. Life is all a series of congruent stories running together to form one epic tale. Is it so strange to think that I would be a writer?”
“So you are saying everything that happens is predetermined? That my life, my story was written by you and I have nothing to do with it.”
“Gary,” Fate laughed mechanically “don’t overcomplicate it. I write the story. I don’t take away your choices.”
“But how can I choose if you are writing it?”
“You choose what to do. Some of those choices become important. Some of them don’t. I write your story by picking out the pieces that will become a part of who you are.”
“Enough with the questions. That’s not why you are here.”
“Why am I here?”
“As I understand it, you are not happy with the role I have given you. I wish to know why. As a writer I am always trying to improve my craft.”
“What do you mean?”
“You spend a lot of time daydreaming. You fantasize about what it would be like to be someone else, have their skills, know what they know. This makes me think you are not happy with what I have written for you.”
“Well, I never really thought it was written. But, doesn’t everybody have things about themselves they want to change?”
“Of course. Learned that lesson the hard way. When I first wrote the Irish I wrote them without any flaws to change. That’s why they drink so much. I made some adjustments with them, never could get the drinking out though. What I’ve learned is the desire to change is what drives you to accomplish great things.”
“So you can just make changes to people’s lives?”
“Could you make changes to mine?”
Gary waited. Nothing. The two just stood there staring at each other. “Well?”
“Do you need to get your pen or something?”
“For what?” Fate extended his hands up and away from his body.
“To make the changes?”
“But you just said you would!” Gary’s voice got louder.
“No Gary, you asked if I could. That is a very different question then asking if I would. Do you know how much work it takes to make changes to a person’s life? Every memory must be edited by hand.” Fate waved his hands as if that was an enormous task.
“I don’t mind losing a couple of memories.”
“Not just your memories Gary. Everyone connected to you and to them. If you were at a party and I change your story so you were no longer at that party I have to change the memories of every person at that party. I have to change the memories of everyone you might have met on your way to that party, every picture, which believe me was a lot easier before this whole social networking thing.” Fate sighed. “That’s of course not to mention anyone who would need to be involved with whatever new memory you want. It can be done, in extreme cases but it is a huge pain. I don’t do it often. Whatever change I want to make has to be worth it.”
“So what about guys like Hitler? Wouldn’t it be worth it to go back and change the story of some of the monsters of history?”
“Sure, sometimes it is. It’s not as simple as you think. These ‘monsters’ as you call them have done some terrible things. The effect of removing all those things is sometimes far worse than the things themselves. Believe me, I have gone back and erased some villains in my day. What I have discovered is human beings often are at their best when there are monsters in the world. The last time I went back and removed a villain’s deeds humans lost some of their greatest achievements.”
“Renewable clean energy, a cure for cancer, diet sodas that actually tasted like regular sodas, and an ice cream that actually burned calories. The man I erased did terrible things. Those terrible things inspired others in the world around him on to greatness. Take out one, you lose the other.”
“Couldn’t you just write them back in?”
“No. Actions have consequences for me just like they do for you. Whatever I write must come out of the story naturally. Take away the cause of something and you lose the event. Small changes can make a huge difference on the overall tale of life.”
“Like the chaos theory?”
“Ha, and I suppose you think gravity is a theory as well?”
“Ok so can we get back to why I’m here?”
Fate stood up from his chair. His long black robe flowed over him hiding any distinctive characteristics he may have had underneath. When Fate reached the wall on the side of the stage he grabbed a leather bound black notebook of the shelf. He tossed it casually over to Gary.
“What’s this?” Gary asked flipping the notebook over in his hands.
“That is a pages of fate notebook. Since you are so discontent with the life I have written for you I am going to give you the chance to write your own life. With that book you can make any changes to your own life you desire. You can make yourself taller, funnier, smarter, whatever you want. I want to see what kind of a life you write for yourself.”
“I thought you said you weren’t going to make any changes to my life.”
“I’m not. You are.”
“So I can write whatever I want in here and it will happen?”
“Not exactly. I am giving you control of your fate… not of the fate of others. Anything you write about your own life will happen as you write it. You can’t control other people. I don’t trust you enough to put their fates in your hands, sorry.”
Gary laughed awkwardly staring at the plain looking leather notebook. “I’m supposed to believe that I can just write whatever I want in here and it will happen? Do I need to use a special pen for that or will a BIC work just fine?” Gary looked up from the notebook. Fate was gone. The studio was gone. He was standing in his living room holding the notebook.
“Ok that’s strange,” Gary said to himself. He pulled out his phone; Friday, 7:30pm. He called Eric. No answer. He had promised Michael he would stop by Cindy’s party. He set down the notebook and drove over to Cindy’s house. Had his daydreams reached a whole new level? What was going on? Seeing some familiar faces would help him get his bearings.
When he arrived Geoff was standing on the top step outside Cindy’s second floor apartment. He was swaying back in forth with the total lack of rhythm that comes only from consuming too much alcohol. At Geoff’s feet was a bone yard of cigarette butts. He had one nearly finished protruding from his cracked lips. Pressed on the other side of his mouth was an unlit cigarette he was trying unsuccessfully to light. With his motor skills considerably compromised Geoff couldn’t even get his lighter to hold a flame. Each failure was followed by Geoff’s spewing every four letter word he could think of.
“Take it easy Geoff.”
Geoff looked up to see who was talking to him and nearly fell back and down the stairs.
“Who iiiiis disss who iiiis talking to meh? Ooooooh, ohhhhh iiiits Gary! Gary you are funniiiie looking in the stairs.”
“That’s good to know Geoff. I think you have partied enough for tonight. Not sure how you managed to pull that off by eight o’clock but you did. Let’s get you home.” Gary ducked down under Geoff and stood up wrapping his arm across Geoff’s back helping stabilize him.
“Miiiii ride iiiiis down. Iiitt’s down der….you know Gary down the steps at the car. You are miii I love you Gary.” Geoff’s head dropped forward. His chin pressed into his chest. As if spring loaded it bounced up causing the back of his head to roll across his shoulders. “You…you know….you know what Gary, Gary?”
“What Geoff?” Gary tried not to laugh as he helped Geoff to the bottom of the stairs. Sure enough a car pulled up in front of the apartments to pick him up.
“You are miiii best friend!”
Gary laughed. “Thanks I appreciate that.”
Geoff reached up and grabbed Gary’s neck staring deep into his eyes. Geoff’s face became very stern.
“Iiii mean it. Best friend….” With that Geoff passed out on the passenger seat of his friends car. Gary closed the door and the car drove off. That would certain make an interesting story at work on Monday.
Now back to the matter at hand, his obligatory party visit. Gary’s began to imagine how this visit would go even as he walked up the stairs to Cindy’s apartment. He opened the door. Everyone turned to see who was there. Holding their red plastic party cups they all cheered and called out his name excitedly. He smiled and put his hand up to silence their enthusiastic salutations. Michael ran over and offered him a drink. Gary took it and made his rounds, strategically spending enough time with each person to connect and then moving on as promptly as possible to the next eagerly awaiting fan. Each person expressed their gratitude for his appearance. Gary smiled from all the attention. It was good to feel appreciated.
Then, as he made a particularly clever joke that caused Michael, Ted the complainer, Sally queen of the large word count, and ‘for sure’ Tod to laugh inconsiderately loud for an apartment party, he looked up to see Jenny at the exact moment she was looking over at him. Her golden hair shimmered under the recessed lighting in Cindy’s living room. She was wearing a red open neckline cocktail dress that hung on her body as if it was hand tailored just for her. The draped bodice flowed seamlessly into the smooth skirt that rippled down her legs like waves cascading over the shore. The dress appeared to almost glow with a sort of silk red aura that pulled Gary in like a bug zapper lures helpless insects to their demise. As he looked over at her time itself slowed down. Every motion, every subtle gesture was in half time. Jenny smiled showing off her dazzling white teeth. When their eyes met she looked away briefly tucking her blonde hair behind one ear and then looking back up at Gary.
This woman was a goddess. Every motion she made was perfect. Gary felt his usual panic set in as he determined to walk over to her and say something. Mustering up all his courage me crossed the Berber carpet gap that separated them. Then it came to him, the perfect line to start a conversation and undoubtedly capture Jenny’s attention. It was perfect. He walked up to her with all the boldness of a Jr. High boy approaching the school’s head cheerleader and opened his mouth.
Knock. Knock. Gary’s fist tapped firmly on Cindy’s door. What he needed now was a dose of reality. After his little hallucination at the television studio, or whatever that was, he needed to stop day dreaming for a bit, even if that particular day dream was becoming one of his fast favorites. From through the door he could hear the low rumble of a bass. Tod had brought his karaoke machine again. Great, Gary thought. Part of the reason Gary so often dreamed of being a famous musician was due to the fact that he had no musical skills whatsoever. His voice was like the slow screeching of a car when the brake pads have all but worn out. There was only one force strong enough to cover his terrible vocals enough for him to imagine they were even passable as human, the shower.
Click. The bolt lock swung back and the door swung open. Cindy, short in stature but a giant in personality stood in the newly formed opening.
“Gary,” she said with a smile. “How are you?”
“Good, come on in, please make yourself at home.” She swung her hand out signaling him to come inside much like a traffic guard would signal a car. “Can I take your coat?” She paused and waited for a response; Cindy the natural born hostess.
“It’s July,” Gary paused for a moment expecting Cindy to respond. Nothing. She looked at him anticipating that he would in fact hand her a coat. “We live in California,” Gary paused again certain she would realize her own ditzy remark. Again nothing. “It’s 103 degrees outside,” still nothing. Gary chuckled to himself and shook his head. “No thanks Cindy, I think I’ll keep it with me for now.”
“Suit yourself. Coat closet is just over there,” Cindy pointed to a door behind her, “if you change your mind. Drinks are in the kitchen. Tod set up karaoke in the dining room. Dan is watching a movie in the spare bedroom with a few people from HR, some British movie called Snatch or something. He says it’s hilarious. I don’t really get it. Everyone else is hanging out talking in the living room. Make yourself at home.” She repeated at the end.
The party did not go as Gary had imagined on his way up. Most the people there seemed to involved in what they were already doing to even notice he had shown up. Michael, ever the office politician, came by and said hello. Gary lost fifteen minutes to that greeting. That was the great think about Mike though, if ever you missed something, he would fill you in like a host of ESPN whether or not you were actually interested.
Gary grabbed a drink from the kitchen mostly so he wouldn’t be awkwardly wandering around the party with nothing to do. A beverage gave him a certain casual look that allowed him to move around without feeling so out of place. The party was set out just as Cindy had described. Gary took special care to avoid the dining room so he wouldn’t get roped into singing a duet with Janet who was currently trying to rock out like an American Idol star to Jon Bon Jovi’s It’s my life. That song was now forever ruined for Gary.
Just when he was planning to say his goodbyes and head home he saw her. She was not in a movie star red dress but looking no less stunning. Sitting on the arm of a couch talking to ‘for sure’ Tod was Jenny. Her front of her hair framed her face masterfully while the back was pulled into a sort of bombshell ponytail. She was wearing jeans shorts and a graphic t-shirt with random splotches of silver mixed in with a sort of colorful grunge print. It was a simple look that would easily be overlooked on any other girl. Jenny however, made it look like an outfit for the Oscars.
Gary’s hands felt sticky. He rubbed his fingers against his palms nervously. This is what rubbing a clam would feel like. His throat turned to a desert. No matter how much water he drank his words formed like ash powdering out of his mouth. It had been a few weeks since his last attempt to speak to her had failed. Now it was time to try again. Exchanging his cup of water for something a little stronger he guzzled down some liquid courage and resolved himself to strike up a conversation. This may be the best chance he would have for a long time.
“Hey,” he managed. Not much of a start but still it was a marathon of progress from some of his last attempts. Jenny turned to face him, pausing her conversation with Tod.
“Hi. It’s Gary right?” She knew his name. Hearing her say it made Gary’s heart skip a beat. Then he realized he had nothing else to say. For all his dreams of actually striking up a conversation with this girl, here he was speechless. He did manage a sort of nervous, excited nod. It was not a graceful nod. It looked like the nod a teenage kid would give after staying up all night consuming nothing but cookies and red bull.
Jenny smile patiently. Gary had given her no reason to continue a conversation with him, but she didn’t turn away. “I see you around the office all the time but I don’t think we have ever talked before.” Gary chuckled awkwardly. “It’s nice to finally meet you,” she said with a smile too warm to be anything less than genuine. “I notice you walk by my office a lot, but you never stop in to say hello.”
“Hahaha,” Gary laughed even more awkwardly than his chuckle. “You’re so funny.” The long pause that followed was almost painful.
“You have a little bit to drink there buddy?” Tod asked.
“Me?” Gary looked away still trying to come up with something worth saying. “No, no, no, nothing like that. I’m just—uh—well you know.”
“For sure,” Tod’s token phrase. “Tell you what, why don’t you let me call you a cab, make sure you get home safe.” Tod stood up and put his hand firmly on Gary’s shoulder. “Come on buddy.” He led Gary away.
“It was nice to meet you.” Jenny shouted after them. Gary’s knees went weak at the sound of her voice. Tod stabilized him. At this point it would be difficult to convince Tod that he wasn’t drunk. Gary only had one cup of beer. It wasn’t even good beer.
“Tod, I’m really not drunk; just a bit clumsy with my words.” Gary chuckled. That wasn’t going to convince anyone.
“For sure. I’m just going to get you a cab to be safe.” Tod led Gary to the door. Before he could open it Cindy came rushing towards them.
“Wait Gary, before you go, let me get your coat.”
“I didn’t give you my coat, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot. You decided to keep it with you. Thanks for coming then. Be safe. See you on Monday.”
“Thanks Cindy, you are a great host as always.” Gary didn’t have to look back to see Cindy blushing. Her eyes watered a little.
“You know just what to say Gary! You are always invited to my parties!” She called out as Tod led him out the door and down the stairs of the apartment.
After about five minutes of explaining, Gary managed to convince Tod that he wasn’t drunk. Tod went back to the party and Gary drove home. He was frustrated with his inability to actually talk to Jenny, but also excited that she knew his name and now, they had finally met.
When he arrived at his little apartment off 23rd street next to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store Gary tossed his keys on counter. They didn’t land with their typical crashing and clanging sound. The sound was muffled. It sounded more like keys landing on a couch than keys bouncing and crashing across a faux marble countertop. Gary turned to investigate. His keys had landed solidly on the plain black leather notebook. It was real? Gary had convinced himself it was the delusionary remnant of a very surreal dream. It wasn’t. It was as tangible as anything else in his apartment. Gary picked it up to investigate. It looked like a typical Moleskine. Leather bound, blank pages, little thread ribbon that was sown in to serve as a bookmark. Nothing about this notebook seemed extraordinary other than the fact that Gary hadn’t purchased it. The only place he had seen it was in what he thought was a really vivid dream.
“You’re losing it bro,” that’s what Eric would say if he were here. Gary shook his head. This was ridiculous. There is no way this book would let him change whatever he wanted about his life. Was there? There was only one way to be certain. Gary picked up a pen and help the tip against the paper. This was it. He was going to write his fate. What to write? Gary looked up for a moment staring at the ceiling. He looked back down and saw his keys. That’s it.
Dear fate. Shook—shook—shook. Gary crossed that out. That’s a terrible way to start. How was he supposed to begin? Was there a magical combination of words? Abbra Cadabra. Shook—shook—shook. This is stupid. He should just write down what he wanted then go look, see it didn’t happen, and he could be rid of this silly fantasy. Pressing the pen to the paper he wrote: and Gary owned a brand Mustang. Shook—shook—shook over the mustang. He could do better than that. He replaced his crossed out word with Porsche.
Gary closed the notebook, walked over to the window over his kitchen sink, and looked down into the dimly lit parking lot of his affordable apartment complex. His car was still a rusty blue 1996 Ford Taurus. It remained remarkably unchanged. Gary wasn’t surprised even if he was mildly disappointed. Some part of him had hoped his strange meeting with author Fate was real and that he had been granted the power to write whatever he wanted into existence instead of just another silly dream. With that, Gary went to bed.
Saturday. No alarm clock. No need to get up at any certain point. Gary didn’t. He laid in bed like an underachieving college student until lunch time had arrived and his hunger became unbearable. Gary oozed out of bed and stumbled towards the kitchen. Everything had a sort of glossy blur as Gary’s eyes were still caked in the transparent film that forms after a long sleep. His legs wobbled beneath him and his arms swung lazily at his side. His whole body rebelled against getting out of bed.
Breakfast brought Gary back to the land of the living. This was one of his rare days off where he didn’t have anything he had to. As such Gary planned to do just that. Nothing. He walked over to the sink and began to wash out his large bowl of the remaining milk and few bits of Rice Krispy’s that caked to the side of the bowl. While he filled the bowl with water he looked out his window at the parking lot. Gary’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It wasn’t possible. He dashed over to the counter to grab his keys. They were different. Not all of them. Just one had been replaced. Gary made it to the door and swung it open. The morning breeze struck his naked skin and Gary spun around closing the door behind him. Probably best to avoid running down the stairs of his apartment building next to a busy grocery store in his boxers. Gary was pretty sure the last guy that did that ended up on the police database for it.
Gary had never dressed so fast in his life. Clark Kent had longer costume changes. In an instant Gary was dressed. His hair looked like an uncharted rain forest but other than that he looked close enough to presentable. No time for shoes, barefoot thudded against old wooden steps then against burning hot asphalt. Gary hopped, skipped, and danced to the spot his old Taurus had been parked. In its place sat a new fresh off the lot silver Porsche. Gary clicked the unlock button on the keyless entry, an upgrade that was worth more than his previous car’s blue book value, and the car responded with a beetle-bwoop. This couldn’t possibly be real. Someone was playing a joke on him. Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out at any moment and Punk him. Well, if Gary was a celebrity that might have happened. Gary jumped into the Porsche, mostly to spare his feet from turning medium well on the pavement.
He put his hands on the steering wheel. The seat adjusted automatically to his size. There was no way, no way this was happening. I’ve got it. Gary thought. He opened the glove box. Out popped the cars title of registration. Sure enough the line of registration read: Gary Otterman. He sat in the car speechless just taking it in for the better part of a half hour. The notebook! Gary hopped out of the car and locked the doors. He unlocked them only a moment later. He reached in and grabbed the title. “Probably best not to leave this in here.” He said out loud even though no one was around.
As soon as the door closed behind him Gary had the notebook in his hand and was clicking furiously at the tip of his ink pen. What should he write next? The car thing was crazy enough. Now it was time to test the limits of his new toy. His eyes lit up. Gary owned designer black leather furniture, stainless steel appliances, a Tempur-Pedic bed, and a 60 inch flat screen LED TV. Gary spun around. Patch brown couch with stuffing falling out. 32 in projection TV that weighed more than Peggie the oversized woman who stomped around like a Rhino on the floor above him, white dirt covered appliances.
Well that was disappointing. Then Gary remembered the car. It didn’t change immediately. He didn’t know how long the process took. Maybe a few minutes, or hours, or maybe he had to sleep. Maybe this was all a big joke. Someone could have seen what he wrote and changed out the car. It seemed unlikely but it was possible. Certainly that made more sense than a notebook turning changing reality to fit with whatever he scribbled on its empty pages.
Gary’s mind began to process all the possible explanations for the Porsche in his parking space. He got so wrapped up in trying to figure out how someone did it that he didn’t notice the faint musical sound until it had grown quite loud. It sounded like something off the Disney channel, crashing cymbals, violins, all sorts of brass instruments Gary didn’t know the name of. He turned around to see a sort of colorful glowing dust forming over his couches. The mist expanded and flowed almost dancing on the air. Each little particle of mist grew and shrank emitting a faint glowing light like a pulsing beacon. The light was red at first. The little orbs danced around each one a slightly different size than the others. They seemed to be flowing out of the notebook and all over his couch. Once the couch was thoroughly covered the orbs stopped and began to flash yellow. Moments later they turned a bright green and exploded out all over the room. Gary shot back bringing his arms over his eyes. He fell out of his barstool and landed on the floor.
He had expected to feel wet when the orbs crashed into him. He didn’t. He felt warm inside, like after taking a large drink of hot cocoa while sitting next to the fire. The orbs turned back to their original red color. They began to swoop and glide all around his apartment. One of the orbs, a rather small one by comparison to the others floated around directly in front of Gary. That’s when he realized the orbs were also making the music. Each one had their own sound. This one produced a tiny little Boop-ba-da-da-da-boop-boop as it flew. It floated back and forth right at Gary’s eye level focusing on one eye, then darting back to the other. If Gary didn’t know better, after seeing colored orbs start flying around his apartment from a magic notebook that he got from a man called Fate at a TV studio he wasn’t sure he actually went to it was hard to be certain of anything, he would have sworn the little orb was trying to communicate.
Gary glanced over to see his couches had been transformed into exactly what he had pictured in his mind. They were perfect. He felt a rush of excitement overcome him. The little orb darted in front of him again. Boop-da-da-boop. Gary squinted closely. Did this orb have little eyes and a mouth? That couldn’t be real, thought the man starring at a floating red orb. A larger orb appeared behind the little one. Dun-danna-nanna-dun-dun. The little orb flickered and flew off. The larger orb hovered a moment then followed.
This is what going crazy must feel like. Gary stood up. He needed to talk to Eric. Something they had eaten must have had funky mushrooms or something. That would explain everything. He wasn’t transforming his apartment with a pen in a weird notebook. He was having a really bad trip. Of course Gary had no means of comparison so it might be unfair to call this little trip bad. This might be what all tripping was like. If that’s the case, Gary wondered why anyone would ever choose to do it.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Eric! I need—“
“Gary, he man what happened to you last night? We were supposed to go to the show remember?”
“Eric! I need you –“
“Dude if you didn’t want to go you could have just told me. We could have done something else.”
“Eric! I need you to stop talking!” Gary finally managed to get that out. At this point he was breathing heavily. The magical colored orbs were parading their way into his bedroom. Eric had paused. “Can you come over?”
“Sure. I was going to run some errands a little later. My Aunt Becky needs some ointment for her cat—“
“Not later!” Gary interrupted. “Not after cat ointment. Please, you have to come over now.”
“I’m getting in the car now.” Eric must have sensed the intensity in Gary’s voice, though a deaf person probably could have at this point.
By the time Eric arrived the fuzzing floating glowing orbs had returned to whatever otherworldly plane they came from. Gary was securely fortified under a pile of pillows and the king sized sheets from his new bed. His new 600 thread sheets did a fine job of keeping more hallucinations away until Eric could arrive.
Knock knock thud. Door was locked. Gary pulled the sheets off his head and stood up. Suddenly he was hit with a dilemma. Should he tell Eric about the notebook? If he was going crazy Gary didn’t relish the idea of getting locked up in room with mattress covered walls. Then again, if he didn’t tell Eric how would he know if he had lost his mind? It was decided. He would tell Eric. Gary stepped toward the door. Then he stopped. Wait. If he told Eric, and Eric believed him? Surely Eric would want something. This notebook was an instant dream come true machine. Who could resist trying to capitalize on it? Now he was nervous. What if Eric wanted a mansion, millions of dollars, his own island? Fate had told Gary that he had the power to change his story but not anyone else’s. He couldn’t give Eric whatever he wanted even if he tried. What would that do to their friendship.
“Dude, the door,” Eric said turning the handle as far as it would turn several times in rapid succession. It was too late now. Gary slide the lock back and swung the door open. Eric stepped inside.
“Woah! When did you get new furniture?”
Gary exhaled. He wasn’t crazy. At least he wasn’t hallucinating. He still might in fact be crazy.
“Well…” Gary began.
“Is that a new fridge?” Eric walked toward the kitchen. Before he made it in he stopped. “Dude, what is that?” Eric’s jaw was dropped and his eyes were bulging. Gary didn’t have to look and see what Eric was referring to. His eyes had just got hold of the flat screen television. “Did you win some kind of shopping spree or something?”
“Where did you get all this stuff? It wasn’t here last night.”
“Well remember how we were going to go to that show?”
“Yea, I remember how you didn’t show up.”
“That’s the thing, I did.”
“No, you didn’t. I waited at the gate for like an hour.”
Eric paused. “What do you mean?”
“Like you honestly remember standing at the studio?”
Another pause. “No, I guess I don’t.” Eric scratched his head. “I mean I was so sure that is what happened but now that you mention it yesterday is a bit of a blur. All I really remember was waking up this morning.”
“Well, let me tell you what happened to me. You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy.” Fifteen minutes passed. “You are crazy! You want me to believe some weird dude in a cloak gave you a magic notebook? What’s this all about?” Gary’s telling of the story did not go over as smoothly as he hoped. Of course how could he expect anyone to just accept what he was saying? He needed proof.
“Oh, I know, look out the window.” Eric did. “See that Porsche?”
“Yea I’m not blind. I was checking it out on my way in.”
“It’s mine.” Gary held up the title to the car.
“So you live in a crappy apartment next to a grocery store and you bought a car that costs more than you make in a year. That’s your argument against being crazy?”
“I didn’t buy it.”
“Right, sorry, I forgot you wrote it. That’s much better.” It would take a towel to soak up all that sarcasm. Gary cupped his face in his hands and exhaled loudly.
“Here, let me show you. If you could eat anything right now what would it be?”
“Pepperoni pizza,” Eric responded without even considering the question. Gary scribbled on the notebook. And Gary had a large pepperoni pizza.
“Wow. That’s truly something you have there.”
Knock knock knock.
“Pizza delivery,” came a voice from the other side of the door. Eric jumped a little.
“Ok that’s freaky.”
Gary answered the door, took the pizza, and placed the box on the counter. Pepperoni.
“So how do you explain that?”
Eric grabbed a slice of pizza and took a single enormous bite that practically reduced the slice to crust. “That doesn’t prove much,” he mumbled through the pizza. “Crazy timing but it’s not like pepperoni pizza was a hard guess.” Eric lifted the rest of the slice toward his mouth.
“True. How about this then?” Gary scratched onto the notebook: and each slice weighed sixty pounds.
“Ahh” Thud. The weight from the slice dropped Eric’s hand down quickly. He instinctively chased it with his mouth and hit his head on the countertop. He stepped back to absorb the blow but the weight from the now hefty slice of pizza pinned his hand to the table causing him to trip. Eric caught himself on one knee his right hand still locked under the pizza slice.
Then the pizza returned to its normal weight. Eric’s hand pulled free launching the half eaten slice of pizza against the off white wall of Gary’s apartment. Eric didn’t seem to notice. He was starring a whole in the wall across from him. Gary waved a hand in front of Eric’s face. Eric blinked.
“So whatever you write in that notebook happens?”
“Sort of. I can change my life however I want. I can’t control others.”
Eric’s eyes got really big. “Dude! That’s awesome. I need you to do me one favor!” Here it comes. Gary tried to stop himself from groaning. The whole idea of his friend pinning for riches put a bad taste in his mouth. It was bound to happen. Just get it over with Gary thought. “Do me this one thing and I won’t ask you for anything else. I promise.” Eric paused. Gary nodded resolving himself to meet his friend’s request. “Tomorrow, all day Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles marathon.” Gary laughed. That was not at all what he had expected.
“Cartoon or the movies?” He asked through his laughter. There was no response. Eric’s eyes darted back and forth as if scanning the pages of an encyclopedia. Gary shook his head. “How about both then?” Eric smiled his enormous smile that followed anything exciting happening in his life.
The two of them spent the rest of the day playing with the notebook. Any big changes brought out the glowing red fluffy orbs. The little one that had darted in front of Gary’s eyes before now seemed to playfully dance all around him. Gary could recognize this orb from all the others because of its color. The other orbs all flashed the same hew and brightness. This little orb was much brighter and more vibrant. It landed in Eric’s hand who seemed particularly amused by the wispy creature. He tried to pet it which caused the orb to burst into even smaller dust particles and then reform away from Eric’s finger before darting off.
Monday came around and Gary drove into work in his new car. It was a much more enjoyable ride than his old one. This car had class. It had style. It had an air conditioner that worked. All eyes were on him when he pulled into the parking lot in his shiny Porsche. Gary noticed every glance, every whisper and he loved it.
It didn’t take long for this new attention to give Gary a confidence he’d never had before. For years Gary had starred longingly at the door to Jenny’s office wishing he had the courage to go in. He had passed by more than a dozen times trying to work up the nerve. Once he even rested the knuckle of his hand against the solid wood of the door. He couldn’t bring himself to knock. Such inhibitions no longer held sway over Gary.
Knock knock. Apart from his botched attempt to speak to Jenny at Cindy’s party this was as far as he had made it.
“Come in,” came the woman’s voice from the other side of the door. Jenny was sitting behind her desk typing away at her keyboard. She glanced to some notes off to the side as she typed. When Gary closed the door behind him she looked up. “Gary, nice to see you,” she smiled and waited for a moment as if considering whether or not to say what she was thinking. A slight look of concern formed upon her face. “Are you feeling better?”
That’s right, thanks to “for sure” Tod she probably believed he had been drunk.
“I’m fine thank you. I wasn’t drunk. I was just—“ How should he explain it? He was nervous because he’d had a crush on her for years? He was unable to think clearly in her presence? There had to be some way to explain it, something he could say that make their last encounter—. Nothing came to mind. Best thing to do when you can’t explain yourself: change the subject. “So did you enjoy the party?”
“I did,” Jenny said fidgeting with a silver charm bracelet she was wearing. “Janet ended up drinking too much. She turned up the volume on the karaoke machine. It was pretty funny until she started trying to sing a Justin Bieber song. That’s when the neighbors called the police.”
“Yea, they were complaining about the noise. Almost everyone had gone outside at that point. Apparently no one wants to listen to Janet’s rendition of Beiber.”
“Can’t say I’d blame them, it’s like audio torture.”
“Hahaha,” Jenny laughed loudly before she could cover her mouth with her hand to muffle the sound. Her cheeks turned a soft rosy red. “Sorry,” she almost whispered.
“No please, you have a cute laugh.” Her cheeks turned a darker hue. Jenny turned to desk. Her hands darted over some papers which then scattered everywhere. Gary started towards the mess.
“Umm, did you need something?”
Gary stopped. “No, not really. I just thought I would say hi on my way to the um…bathroom.” That was just great. Of all the things he could have said did he really just go with bathroom?
“Oh. Well I’m glad you did. It was good to talk to you.” Her smile seemed genuine but Gary couldn’t tell if she was patronizing him. A moment passed. Neither of them said anything. Neither of them moved. They just looked at each other. Each waiting for the other one to break the silence. “Hey, I’m so sorry, but I’m pretty backed up here.” She motioned to her now scattered pile of papers.
“Right, yea, me too. I um…I have tons to do. I just wanted to say hi.”
“Hi.” She said. Again he couldn’t really tell if she was flirting or patronizing. He hoped for the former but with some girls it was hard to tell.
“Right, well then, I better get back to it.” Gary snapped his fingers and then swung his arms clapping them together. Immediately he regretted it.
“Ok, thanks for stopping by.”
Gary waved as he closed the door. He regretted that to. His previous encounter with Jenny may have been awkward but it was a party, parties come with a certain awkward guarantee. There was no way he left that encounter looking like anything but a total fool. Not exactly the first impression he was hoping for.
Noon, three, four o’clock, the day was practically over.
“Gary, what’s up man?”
“Nothing, can I help you with something?”
Michael stood over the half wall that partitioned off Gary’s small personal workspace. He was tapping his fingers obnoxiously to a rhythm that was indiscernible to anyone listening.
“I saw you in talkin’ to Jenny. Did you make your move playa?”
“Don’t do that.”
“We’ve talked about this.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Michael was working hard and failing miserably to conceal a smile.
“The hip-hop thing, it doesn’t work for you. Just be yourself.”
Michael sighed and nodded. “I was just playing around anyway. So did you talk to her? How did it go?”
“Come on man, don’t hold out on me. I know you’ve had a thing for her for a long time. Tell me what happened.” Michael was nothing if he not persistent. He lacked any form of tact. In fact he lacked in most social graces including regard for the privacy of others. He wasn’t exactly the first person Gary wanted to tell about his second failed attempt to connect with Jenny. He did care enough to ask, to notice, and to keep it to himself. Michael may have had an abrasive way about him but at the end of the day he was a good friend.
“You ever ask a woman how far along she was only to find out she wasn’t pregnant?”
“Yea, that happens all the time. I hate that.”
“It was like that.”
“Oh, that bad?”
Gary nodded. “That bad.”
“You know what you should do?” The smirk on Michael’s face foretold a coming joke. “You should become famous, then come back here and throw it in her face. Then a few awkward conversations wouldn’t even matter. Girls go crazy for celebrities.” Michael was joking. Gary would have known that even if he didn’t proceed to laugh at his own idea. Gary realized what he was doing. Had he really just gone to work while sitting on the counter of his apartment rested a notebook with which he could change anything he wanted about his life? Michael was right, he just didn’t know it. Gary could become famous. He could become anything. All he had to do was write it. Gary shook his head and laughed quietly at himself.
“What?” Michael looked at Gary his eyes wedged almost shut and his head cocked oddly to the side. “Did I say something funny?”
“No, I just realized something.”
“I need to go.” Gary stood up and headed towards his car. Michael shouted something after him but Gary didn’t take the time to listen.
When he got home Gary darted for the notebook. He picked up his pen and opened it up. The first several pages were filled with the ridiculous things he had been writing with Eric all weekend. He tossed the used pages aside hurriedly flipping until he reached a blank page. Gary was the lead singer and song writer of The Moirais. He had all the musical talent and understanding of… He then proceeded to add any song or album he liked to his list of accomplishments in what became a mini-novella. Before he was done, he had written every popular song for the last twenty years. His hand was sore after finishing the compilation. What good was tons of fame and talent if he still lived in a crummy apartment?
Gary shook his hand furiously. Before he could pick up his pen to write out his new living situation the familiar red orbs began to flow out of the notebook like a geyser spreading out into a cloud above his head playing their familiar tune. Gary looked up to see the orb cloud descend upon him. This was a first. Up until this point everything Gary had changed had been in his surroundings. He hadn’t changed anything about himself. His body felt like that first gust of cool air after stepping inside an air conditioned room on a hot day as the orbs encircled him completely. He closed his eyes. He was pretty sure the orbs were going to fly down his throat but why take the risk? He had no idea what sort of effects magical orbs would have if ingested.
Even with his eyes closed he could sense the orbs glowing yellow. Moments later they were glowing green. Gary didn’t feel much different. His mind felt heavy. His hands felt tense. His throat felt a dry. He shook his head. His senses slowly started to return. After a few minutes he felt normal again. Now to test his new abilities; he thought of a song. They lyrics formed in his head without even having to think about them. He could sense the timing and the notes. He could hear the instruments playing in his mind as if the song was on the radio. He sang. He started off quietly, not sure what to expect. His voice was different and yet familiar. This didn’t sound like his normal singing voice. It was the voice of Johhny Kid, the lead singer, or formerly lead singer of The Moirais. Once again Fate’s notebook delivered.
Things escalated quickly from there. Gary became a martial arts master, a seven time academy award winning actor who had starred in everything from Die Hard to Batman. His home became a beachside mansion with servants and a bowling alley in the basement. He had a body like a professional athlete and the skills to back it up. He was the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. He had a private cove with pet dolphins. He invented Google. He had a Masters’ degrees in law and business from Harvard, which was completely necessary for the world’s most famous actor, musician, athlete.
Gary stepped outside to the sound of waves crashing along the shore that was his backyard. He was surrounded by a perfectly trimmed orchard of palm trees that lined the brick stone path leading to his fleet of cars that most teenage boys spent their youth drooling over pictures of in their magazines. His English butler walked over to him donning a full tuxedo. A white towel was draped over his arm.
“Would you like me to send for your driver sir?”
“No thanks Alfred, I’ll be driving myself.”
“Very good sir, I’ll fetch your keys. Which car will you be tacking?”
“Bring me the Lamborghini.”
His security guards chased off a mob of paparazzi trying to get shots of him leaving his house. His car allowed him to lose any who were bold enough to try and follow him. Gary rode to his old office building in his new car. His former employers were now employees of a small subsidiary of one of Gary’s many companies. Gary pulled into the spot closest to the door.
Gary marched straight to Jenny’s office. He opened the door without knocking.
“Oh!” Jenny blurted out. “Sorry, you startled me.” There was a brief pause where she starred at him intently. “Shut up! You’re Gary Otterman! I have all your cds.” Jenny started talking faster than Gary had ever heard her speak. She went on to tell him how great he was in six of his films and how incredible it was to meet him in person. During her monologue of his impressive accomplishments she rushed over from her desk to stand in front of him. She also fidgeted with her hair an impressive number of times. Gary lost count after twelve. Her monologue ended with, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m here for you Jenny.”
She didn’t respond.
Gary started again. Even with his celebrity status he probably wouldn’t get a date if he came off like a serial killer. “I mean, I came here to ask you out.”
Jenny almost fainted. Gary, using his newly written reflexes caught her in his arms and held her up. Jenny came to a few seconds later. Her face matched the dress Gary had pictured her before going to Cindy’s party. He smiled at her.
“I’ll take that as a yes?”
Jenny could only nod. She was still too flustered to speak.
“I’ll pick you up tonight at 6?”
Jenny nodded again.
He picked her up in his limo right at 6:00. The date went perfectly. Gary made sure of that with his notebook. He wrote out every detail. He took her to an expensive diner at one of the town’s most exclusive restaurants. Then they went to a little club where he grabbed an acoustic guitar and played a little concert for her. After diner and music he took her to his private dolphin cove and they went swimming with the dolphins in the moonlight. It was the sort of date you read about in a fairy tale. That page in Gary’s notebook read like a fairy tale.
Date two was in Paris. Date three was in London. Date four Rome. Each date was more elaborate than the last. Gary bought Jenny flowers, jewels, and chocolates from all over the world. He gave her a car, bought her a house, and got her anything she wanted. Within three months she was spoiled. Within a year she ran out of things to ask for.
Gary laid on his bed the size of his former apartment. He could see the stars through the windowed ceiling above him. With the click of a button a screen covered the window and a movie played. Gary had everything he could ever want and more. After the first few months he started writing things just for the fun of it. He had run out of things worth adding after the first fifteen days. He didn’t even notice the orbs anymore. Even when the little off colored one flew right up in front of him and hovered around he just brushed it away and went on doing whatever he was doing.
Days fell of the calendar like leaves off an autumn tree with the first icy touch of winter. Each day Gary managed to fill a page of his notebook with a new adventure. He learned to ski, surf, juggle, scuba dive, to name a few. With each new hobby he found himself less fulfilled. At first he would enjoy a new hobby for months. Now totally new skills lost their appeal within hours. Gary was filling pages of the notebook faster and faster to fight off his ever increasing boredom.
It had been just over a year since Gary got the notebook from Fate. Gary had filled all but the last ten pages. It didn’t really matter at this point, what could he add. He could change his life however he wanted with the money he possessed. He didn’t really see the people from work anymore. What reason did a superstar have to spend time with worker drones in an underperforming office complex? He didn’t see much of Eric anymore. Between sports games, concerts, movie shoots, and spending time with Jenny, Gary was constantly booked. Even Jenny didn’t get that much of his time anymore. Gary was literally living his dream. Yet something was missing. He had written everything he could think of but nothing fit. Despite having everything he could ever want he still felt incomplete. His life before had been less than glamorous but at times he felt like he had lost something with the notebook.
Ringing. Eric was calling, again. This would make number seven. Gary hadn’t actually spoken with his friend in three months. Eric had been faithful to his word he had never asked Gary for anything after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon. Even after all Gary’s fame and fortune Eric didn’t even ask him to pay for the pizza when they hung out.
“Hello?” Gary answered on the last ring.
“Gary? Hey man, I was sort of expecting your voicemail.”
“Well you got me, want to come over?”
“Not tonight man. I’ve got a meeting in the morning. Our office apparently fell way under quota the last three quarters. Lots of people are getting laid off.”
“No good. Well, why don’t you let me get you a job? I have some connections you know.”
“I appreciate it but no, I’d like to sort this out myself. No point in having a life if you don’t live it your way.”
“Ok.” Gary couldn’t help but feel a little slighted by Eric’s response. He knew his friend didn’t mean anything by it but it still stung.
“I was calling to let you know I asked Alex to marry me.” He paused but not long enough for Gary to say anything. “We are getting married on October 8th. I thought if I gave you enough notice you might be able to make it.”
“Of course man! Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Yea, you said that about my birthday, her birthday, and the last three times I tried to get together with you.”
Gary didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even remember what Eric was talking about. How could Eric expect him to keep track of a few random plans with all the things he was juggling? A wedding was different. Gary didn’t understand how Eric didn’t see that.
“I’ll be there.”
“Good, I’ll call your agent to make sure it gets put on the schedule.”
“Great. Hey did you—“
“Got to run man, I’m late to pick up Alex already.”
“Oh, ok. See ya.”
The conversation kept Gary up all night. He beat his hands against his oversized bed again and again. Venting didn’t really help. Eric was his oldest friend, how could he act like this. Surely he didn’t expect an international superstar to drop everything to hang out for pizza night. Maybe he did. He certainly didn’t have any idea what life in a spotlight was like. He didn’t appreciate how hard Gary had to work, how much Gary had to do. Gary grabbed his notebook. The leather binding was worn. The edges were tattered. Ever since he started using the notebook to make improvements to himself he never let it out of his sight. He carried it on his person at all times. As a result the notebook was practically biodegrading.
Eric understood all of Gary’s obligations and was a completely understanding friend. He never complained. He never got upset. He never felt disappointed when Gary couldn’t make it to hang out night. He was Gary’s biggest and most loyal fan. Gary scribbled furiously into his notebook. He knew it wouldn’t change anything, that’s not how the notebook worked. No matter how hard he tried or how creative he got he couldn’t change other people.
Going on a major international tour and playing his favorite songs before sold out crowds at some of the world’s largest venues didn’t comfort him. Throwing a record number of yards made little difference. Winning another award felt pointless, he was running out of wall space to hang them anyway. Avoiding star struck fans and persistent paparazzi became the bane of his existence. The adoration he had once longed for became a pestilence. He used three pages of his notebook to device ways to keep fans and photographers away from him. The only thing that gave him even the slightest joy was Jenny.
Two months had passed since his last phone conversation with Eric. He had been dating Jenny for over a year. Even that failed to excite him as much as it used to.
“Long day?” Jenny asked. She sat across the private booth at Rigatori’s, the five star Italian restaurant Gary owned. She was wearing a black designer dress, a handbag worth more than most cars, and a scarf hand stitched out of some rare fabric Gary couldn’t remember the name of.
“Yea, I’ve just been thinking a lot lately.”
“Thinking about what hunny?” She looked at him intently.
“Life, mostly. You know, my career, my relationships, all that.”
“Tell me,” he started, not sure if he wanted to finish that thought.
“Tell you what sweetie?”
“What do you like about me?”
There was a pause Gary did not expect, a pause that caused him a great deal of concern.
“Well you are so talented. The way you play the guitar, the way you sing, the way to throw a football, you’re strong, athletic, and generous. I like the things you buy me. I like your car. I like your house. I love how creative you are. Your songs are so insightful. You are amazing. I like everything about you.”
Gary’s heart sank. He tried not to show it on his face. He wasn’t very successful.
“Why do you look sad? Did I say something wrong?”
“No,” Gary said standing up from the table. “You just didn’t say anything about me.”
Jenny looked puzzled, “Babe, you’re not making any sense. All of that was about you.” It wasn’t. She didn’t know that. She described everything Gary had changed. None of that was who he was. He couldn’t change her. He did manage to change himself enough that she liked him. She liked a work of fiction. The man she cared about was nothing more than words on the page of a stupid notebook. Gary walked out of the restaurant leaving behind a very confused Jenny.
His Ferrari engine roared as he blasted out of the parking lot. Gary smacked the steering wheel of his high priced exotic car repeatedly. He began screaming at no one and nothing in particular. This wasn’t what he had wanted. This wasn’t what he thought it would be like. He loved being a famous musician, at least he had loved it. Now it was just another obligation, another burden. Was this really what fame was like? Was this the life that he had dreamed of longingly for so many years? The worst part was that he had the power to change it but didn’t know how. Nothing he wrote changed how he felt. No amount of money, skills, possessions, or fame satisfied him.
Without even realizing it Gary had pulled up to his old office. He hadn’t been here in months but for some reason he drove here on instinct. He stepped out of his fancy ride and into his old place of employment. This building had been a staple in his life for years. The people here had been his acquaintances and friends. It lacked the glamour and style of most the other businesses he owned. Gary never had been able to bring himself to renovate this one. It housed too many memories probably. For the first few months he had come here to stay grounded.
The office seemed different. It shouldn’t have. The typically chatty receptionist, Sally, starred at her screen with a blank look on her face. She didn’t even look up to notice a celebrity walk in the door. She wasn’t wearing her normal colorful makeup. Her eyes looked droopy. Gary stood over the reception desk for a moment expecting her to look up and start one of her normal, long conversations about anything and everything that came into her mind. She didn’t. Without even looking up she waved him off with her hand,
“Yea yea, go on in. Whoever you’re looking for will be in there somewhere.”
Not the greeting Gary had hoped for. He walked inside. The scene before him was unlike anything he could have prepared for. The office looked like the Friday before a long weekend fifteen minutes before closing time. It was Tuesday. Gary looked for Michael who was normally making his rounds socializing with anyone he could distract long enough to start a sentence. Michael wasn’t chatting up anyone who would listen, he was sitting at his desk with headphone on watching a movie that was streaming on his computer.
Ted the disgruntled employee wasn’t standing in front of the coffee pot complaining to himself about how underpaid and underappreciated he was. He was just sitting in the break room mindlessly thumbing the worn pages of an often read magazine. Geoff the janitor passed by with the trashcan. That seemed normal. Except Geoff wasn’t collecting any trash, he was just walking the circuit from office to office stopping for a minute then pushing on. Tod sat at his desk glaring a whole in the ceiling while he folded a paper airplane. What was going on? What happened to these people? Sure this office hadn’t been a beacon of productivity. The people here had never worked like programed machines slowing down only to recharge their batteries at night. This was different. They didn’t care about work at all. They were just winding down the clock. Where was the manager Veronica? Shouldn’t she have come by to rally up some productivity?
Gary opened the door to Jenny’s office. It was empty. She had quit her job after Gary bought her a house on the beach down the street from his. It was weird to see her office empty.
“Can I help you sir?”
He recognized the voice. Before answering Gary grabbed his notebook and scribbled quickly at the bottom of one of the last pages: And no one recognized Gary that day. He wasn’t in the mood for another parade of praise for how great he was. He just wanted to feel normal again. Gary turned around. Veronica, finally, she must have come to get the drones working. Veronica, who normally boasted a well-ironed, well-cleaned suit, was wearing jeans and a Hard Rock t-shirt. Not exactly the wardrobe of the woman in charge.
“Shouldn’t everyone be working?”
“Yea, whatever. It doesn’t really matter.”
“No, we’re just hear to get paid. It’s not like it matters.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?”
“Woah!” She protested loudly. “If you want it to matter maybe you should manage them all. I tried, God knows I tried. I pushed and pushed for months. No one wants to work anymore. All they do is just sit around daydreaming about what life would be like if they were more like Gary Otterman. Can’t say I blame them. I think about that pretty often myself.”
“Seriously? You just sit around and don’t do anything all day?”
“Have you turned on a TV lately? No one cares. No one works. MTV did a whole special on it.”
“MTV? That’s your source?”
“Look man, I’ve got things to do so why don’t you go bother someone else.”
“You aren’t doing anything.”
“Yea, and it’s not getting done on its own.” Veronica shooed Gary away with her hands.
Gary went home and turned on his six foot by twelve foot television. He flipped through all the news stations. The same story was on each channel. Wait a minute. Gary flipped back and forth. All the news stations were airing the exact same broadcast. Stock prices are down. National productivity was in the toilet. What was going on? He wasn’t supposed to be able to change what happened to others. Somehow something that he had done changed everything.
I can fix this, Gary thought. He pulled out his notebook and wrote frantically across the pages. He spent three pages trying different ideas.
“Come on come on!” He pleaded with the notebook. He desperately hoped to see the little orbs he had ignored for so long. Nothing. “Orbs, go. Orbs, fix it. Go-go gadget red orb thingys.” Nothing. Gary sank his head into the clutter filled pages of his notebook. “Ahhhh!” He stood up quickly and threw the notebook across room. It crashed against the wall. The binding which had been worn thin burst and pages fell loosely to the ground scattering all over. That’s just great. Perfect end to a perfect day. Gary gripped his head in his hands with his fingers running through his hair. He screamed. He screamed again and again.
Fate had tricked him. This wasn’t the dream life Gary wanted. This was a nightmare of his own design. That was it. Gary dove to the ground frantically scrambling fumbling through papers. He just needed one sheet, one spot with enough room for one final notation. Full, filled, covered, each page was soaked in the ink of his wild dreams. All of it, every word, was a waste of space. Now all he needed was a margin, enough room for one small sentence. There it was. His hands shook as he pushed aside papers that were no good desperately grabbing for the one at the bottom of the stack with white space. He touched it. Held it down with one finger and pushed the other papers aside. He grabbed hold of the paper and held it over his head like an Olympian holding a gold medal.
And Gary was standing at the studio with Fate.
“I told you that you can’t mess with other people’s fate. What makes you think you can just write me here?”
Gary was standing on the same dark stage of the studio. This was the game show stage, The Hands of Fate. Sitting in a chair in front of him holding an old fashion pen or more precisely quill was the hooded man, Fate.
“You lied to me!”
“Oh? Did I now?”
“Yes! You said I could only change my fate, that no one else would be affected.”
“Actually I believe I told you that you couldn’t control other people. I never said you couldn’t affect them. Decisions have consequences Gary you know that. Those consequences are rarely limited to the one who made the decision.”
“Where did I go wrong?”
“What? That doesn’t make sense. A little daydreaming never hurt anyone.”
“Didn’t it? Gary, when you start longing for what others have all you are doing is expressing a lack of satisfaction with what you have. You’re devaluing yourself. You really think that doesn’t have negative consequences?”
“Come on what’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“How can you still believe that? It hurts everyone. People are who they are. Striving to improve is one of the things that makes mankind great. Ambition, drive, and dedication lead to excellence and production. Daydreaming just cripples your effectiveness. You saw what happened in world where no one has any ambition. That’s what daydreaming does. It steals away your satisfaction. It prevents you from finding joy in your reality because it is inferior to your fantasy. You’re fantasy lead to the whole world becoming stagnant.”
“So you’re saying everything that happened is my fault?”
“Fault no. Consequence, yes.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Sure it does. If it were fault that would imply that you directly or knowingly caused the world to become a bunch of unproductive apathetic people who aspired to nothing and dreamed they had everything. I didn’t give you control of their fate for a reason it’s not your fault. Each person made a choice to live the way they did. Their responsibility is their own. What they chose however was a consequence of what you wrote.”
“Gary you took all the skills that people desire, all the talents anyone could hope for and you gave them to yourself. Skills, abilities, and talents that had been divided up among a thousand people were all housed in you. You had everything. You were a living legend. In the eyes of the media and the people you were perfect. That’s the problem.”
“I don’t understand, why did this happen?”
“You still don’t get it do you?”
“Apparently not, was that somehow unclear from my saying I didn’t understand?”
“Ohh, look at you.” Fate chuckled. “Getting a little feisty, I love it. Have you ever noticed that people who excel in one area typically struggle in another? A lot of great athletes lack any form of oratory skills. That’s why they babble like buffoons on post-game interviews. I don’t often give great beauty and a keen intellect to the same person, it’s a pretty unfair advantage.”
“That’s why movie stars often seem so…”
“Daft, yes. Not that they are all stupid, but not typically great thinkers of their day. Musicians rarely have great people skills, artists rarely know how to hold down a job. It goes on and on. Gary, do you know why I don’t just give great skills to everyone?”
Fate paused to let Gary answer. Gary couldn’t think of anything. He just shook his head.
“Balance. What you saw is what happens when one person has too many skills or excels at too many things. They begin feeling empty inside. People seem to think that if they could do everything life would be great. As you have learned, it isn’t. It’s lonely. You see Gary, written into the fabric of your very being is a need for connection. Think about it, even some of your most popular television shows; Friends, Seinfeld, Cheers, Boy meets World pick you poison, they were all successful for one reason.”
“They were funny?”
“No, they showed people who had the one thing everyone really wanted but didn’t know how to get.”
“Community. The need for community is hard wired into man. The beauty of the design is everyone is different. You have gifts that challenge each other, encourage each other, support each other. The beauty is the system works when we work together. You weren’t meant to be alone. You weren’t meant to do it on our own. The fact that you are not all good at everything is what makes you strive to connect. That connection is what gives meaning to your life. Those who are exception often don’t have a better life. They are lonely even when they are surrounded by people.”
“But why did things fall apart with the world I wrote?”
“Because Gary, everyone stopped appreciating what they had and wanted to be you. I work really hard to divide different skills among people. For some reason whatever skills I give you, you people take for granted. Whatever skills I don’t give you, you long for.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take music for example. Gary, I gave you the lowest possible skill level for music. Your singing makes the deaf cover their ears. You were not meant for music. Yet what do you long for, dream about, and envy more than anything? People with musical skills. It’s the infuriating. Doesn’t matter what skills I give you people, you will always want what someone else has.”
“The grass always seems greener sort of thing?”
“No Gary, the grass is always green on the other side. It has to do with how light refracts and, well I don’t really have time for that discussion. Point is you long for the skills I gave someone else and despise the ones I gave you.”
“What skills did you give me?”
“People like you Gary. You realize how uncommon that is, to just be likable? You have friends because of who you are, not because of what you can do. You know how many celebrities long for that? You can get along with anyone. You also have the ability to make people feel better about themselves. Most the people you know have some very obvious flaws. You could point them out, you don’t. You could mock them for it, you don’t. You help people become better versions of themselves. Not many people can do that Gary. That is your gift, you are a people person.”
“Why couldn’t I be a music person?”
“That’s not how you were written. You wouldn’t be happy with that life if you had it. You got to live it, the life of a famous musician. Was it everything you thought it would be? Or would you trade it for your old life any day?”
Gary stood for a moment without answering. Fate had a point. His little journey had been fun at first but it didn’t really make him happy. The people who were drawn to him didn’t really know him. The life he thought he wanted, he didn’t even enjoy.
“No, I guess it wasn’t.”
“Wouldn’t you go back to your old life in a heartbeat?”
Yes. Gary didn’t even have to think about it.
“Yes, I would. Can you do that?”
“Of course I can.”
Gary waited. He turned and looked at the stadium seating behind him. Was Eric sitting there? Was he back in his old life? No. There was nothing but an empty studio.
“You said you would send me back.”
“No Gary, I said I could send you back. Could and would are still different you know.”
“Will you then?” Gary was ready to beg. He wanted to go back. He wished in his heart that he had never taken the notebook in the first place.
“Why? After all the complaining you did about your old life why would I send you back?”
Gary fell down to the ground and ran his hands down his face.
“I can’t go back to what I wrote. That life, it’s all wrong. All that stuff I thought I wanted, I don’t care about. All the attention I longed for, I don’t want any of it. I just want my old life back. Awkward social gatherings and Cindy’s, movie nights with Eric, and botched attempts to talk to Jenny, I want my job, my friends, I want my life back.”
“I can do that.”
“But will you?”
“Hahaha, now you’re learning. I just need my notebook back.”
“What?” Gary’s heart sank. The notebook was ruined. Would it still work? Would Fate send him back after he busted the notebook?”
“Relax Gary, I’m kidding. If you want your old life back just turn around.”
“Turn around? Really?” Gary turned around. He was in his cubical. He looked back. Fate was gone. The stage was gone. He was starring at his computer screen as it powered down. He looked up to the clock on the wall. 5:00.
“Come on Gary, time to head out.” Michael said as he passed by Gary’s desk. “Weekend is here.” Michael paused. “You daydreaming again?”
“No!” Gary shouted back too loudly. “No more daydreaming.”
Michael chuckled. “Don’t forget, Cindy’s party is tonight. You said you would come.”
It was Friday. He was back. The whole notebook adventure had never happened. Gary walked out of his office to see Eric pull up in his freshly painted car. Primer grey.
“Is that the final paint job?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Get in.”
Gary hopped in the car. “How about we skip the studio visit?”
“And do what?” Eric asked raising an eyebrow.
“Ninja turtle marathon and pizza?”
“You had me at turtle.”