No matter what you do,
nor how hard you try,
the signs will come.
We don't always know when,
we don't always know why,
but futures can't be changed by you or I.
Marianne repeated the rhyme her grandmother had taught her so many years ago as she trudged through her morning ritual. Take a shower, start the breakfast, wake her daughter...
Partway through her routine, Marianne went to the foot of the driveway to collect the newspaper. She moved slowly, trembling slightly as she forced each foot to lift and move forward in turn. Her hand was visibly shaking by the time she bent to lift the newspaper from its concrete bed.
The newspaper was almost always where it began. The newspaper almost always contained the first sign.
Marianne unrolled the unwelcome messenger and began to scan the headlines. Most of the front page was irrelevant, containing details of the upcoming Presidential primaries. She kept scanning, waiting for a story, a photograph, or even a misprint to jump out at her. Nothing did.
"Honey, are you going to stand out there all day?" Stephen, Marianne's husband, called from the front door.
"I'm coming!" Marianne rolled up the newspaper and walked toward the house with a much lighter gate. She had felt no signs today. That did not mean that none would come, but when the newspaper was silent she had to feel some degree of hope.
As Marianne reentered her large suburban New York estate, she handed the newspaper to Stephen. He took it without a word and went to the couch to read. Marianne almost said something, anything, to begin a dialogue with her husband. How long had it been since they had really talked? Stephen always seemed so busy, though, and she was always preoccupied. Somewhere along the line, with all of Stephen's promotions, raises, and accompanying late nights, they had lost something precious.
"Need something?" Stephen asked, noticing Marianne's gaze.
She almost said yes. She almost told him what was in her heart. "No," she said instead as she headed towards the kitchen. Gabrielle needed her lunch and the dishes needed washing.
"Hey, Marianne!" Stephen said with a chuckle, "The newspaper's got the wrong date!"
She had forgotten to look at the date! Slowly, painstakingly, she made her way back to the living room and looked over her husband's shoulders. The paper clearly read: Friday, April 2nd, 2004.
Marianne felt an all too familiar electric tingle run up her spine.
"Maybe it's an April fool's joke," Stephen said. He had a smile on his face as he looked at Marianne, but it vanished when he saw her expression.
"Maybe," Marianne said distractedly. This was the first sign. Whatever future event she was meant to predict would happen tomorrow.
"I worry about you," Stephen said after a minute of silence. "You need to get out of the house, do some volunteer work or something."
If only the answer were that simple. "Yes, I should do some volunteer work."
Stephen stood up, "I'd better get to the office."
"Bye," Marianne called softly after him. She did not think he heard her.
"Mom, are you ok?" Gabrielle asked, "I need to ask you something."
Marianne turned her attention to her beautiful fourteen-year-old daughter, pretending for her sake that nothing was wrong. She even tried to convince herself that it was only today's sign that had her down, nothing more substantial than that. Most of her knew better.
"What do you need?" Marianne asked. Marianne was determined that her daughter have a good, normal life, untouched by the troubles of her own life. So far, it seemed to be working. Gabrielle was vivacious, energetic, and intelligent. She was on the cheerleading squad and in the school honor society.
"Could I have a ride to school?" Gabrielle asked.
"What's wrong with the bus?"
Gabrielle hesitated for a moment. "I'm sorry. If you're upset I can just take the bus."
Marianne cursed herself silently, "I'm fine, really. What's going on?"
"I just want to get there early. I have to talk to a teacher about a project."
"All right," Marianne went to get her keys. Half an hour of idle chatter with her daughter would at least keep her mind off other things.
* * *
Upon her return, Marianne went to the secret room under the garage; one she had commissioned herself during the design phase of the house several years earlier. Her husband had given her free rein to design and decorate the house, so not even he was aware of the room's existence. He had hoped that the project would give her something useful with which to occupy her time.
A single, incandescent bulb attempted to provide enough light for the small, windowless room, but the lack of light was not the true source of darkness for the room. The walls were lined with shelves containing books, candles, jars of potion ingredients, spell books, pendants, and charms. In the center of the room, resting atop a wooden podium, sat a large leather bound book open to about halfway through.
Marianne ignored all the trinkets and went straight for the leather bound book. Nothing along the walls had ever worked for her anyway; they were just the attempts of a desperate woman to make her life better. The book contained her true secret.
Marianne flipped to the first empty page and wrote, very clearly, at the top of the page, "April 1st, 2004." She wrote the number one along the left-hand side of the page and described, in as much detail as possible, the first sign and how it had come to her.
She would not allow her hand to tremble as she made her notes. Every curve she made, every line she wrote had to be perfect. Her hand only began to tremble when she finished making the final stroke and lifted the pen from the page. She put the pen down and began flipping randomly through the book, noting some of her previous entries. She had been making entries in a journal for twenty-six years, ever since she was ten-years-old.
Every prediction had come true.
Every prediction save those that were not yet due to happen, Marianne reminded herself. She came upon a prediction she had made two years earlier that was not due to come to pass for another two hundred years. She shuddered at the foreknowledge of death and destruction she possessed. If only there was anything she could do to stop it from happening.
"What a useless ability!" Marianne yelled.
Her grandmother, the only person she knew with this curse, had died far too young to be of much use to her now. She had only ever offered the rhyme as an explanation for why the futures they saw could not be changed. There was no one she had ever been able to talk to. Not even her husband, though she had told him about the curse.
There is Jacob, Marianne reminded herself. Her brother did not understand precisely, but he believed her. Her younger brother at least gave her an ear for listening and a shoulder for crying.
The thought of Jacob caused her heart to ache again, though. When she was a child, she had decided simply to not acknowledge the signs. She had thought that if she ignored them she would be just like everyone else. She had learned the hard way that when she ignored the peaceful signs, they grew violent in an attempt to gain her attention.
What a stupid prediction it had led to. Her parents would be surprising them with a puppy that afternoon, and Marianne refused to see all the dogs that had been put in her path. She could not miss the one that attacked her brother on their way home from school, though. It nearly killed him before one of the neighbors shot it and called an ambulance.
Jacob still had the scars all over his face and body. He had yet to meet a woman who could see past them. At least he had managed to be successful in his career. The brilliant boy was now a lawyer living in the Washington, D.C. area, not far from her.
Not long after Jacob's attack, Marianne had decided to keep a journal. She also decided to do her part to look for the signs so that they would never attack anyone she loved again.
* * *
When Marianne finished her entry she headed upstairs to try the television for more signs. As soon as she sat back in the recliner her black and white patchwork cat, Quilt, jumped on her lap, demanding attention. She granted it, stroking the cat's shiny fur until it purred. Quilt was such a good friend to her, always showing affection when she needed it most. She had fallen asleep with the cat curled up beside her many times lately, particularly with Stephen gone so much of the time. He would return home from the office so late that he would sleep in the guest room so as not to disturb her when he came in.
Marianne focused her attention back on the television. A newscaster was saying, "Five children were found dead in their home on the 2100 block of Maple last night. Investigators suspect their mother, 32-year-old Jackie—"
Marianne flipped to another news station.
"Police believe that the New York serial killer known as The Surgeon has taken another victim. Thirty-seven year old Maggie Johnson was found early this morning in her home with several organs skillfully cut out. So far, the surgeon has killed 7—"
Flip. This time Marianne found herself watching an attractive young doctor on a soap opera.
"I'm sorry, Katherine, there was just nothing we could do for your mother."
Flip. This time she was watching a cartoon.
"Is Goldie sleeping, daddy?" a child asked, referring to a dead fish in a bowl.
Marianne switched off the television. Death, she thought. The familiar electric tingle responded to the thought as she had known it would. The signs were pointing to death, and according to the newspaper, this death would occur tomorrow.
* * *
Marianne grabbed a pile of folded laundry from the dryer and carried it to her daughter's room. The room was a disaster, as usual. The clean clothes she had folded so carefully would undoubtedly be joining the rest of the clothes on her floor as soon as Gabrielle came home from school.
As Marianne set the basket down, she knocked over a book that had been lying on the bed. She picked it up and saw that Gabrielle had left one of her schoolbooks behind. She was apparently reading "Julius Caesar" for her literature class. Marianne picked up the book from where it had fallen and opened it to the bookmark.
The familiar tingle went up Marianne's spine. The bookmark was set at the famous betrayal of Julius Caesar, but the sign could not be for death since she had already seen and understood that sign. As she thought of the betrayal aspect of the scene she felt the tingle again. She took a deep breath, set the book down on the bed, and then went to her secret room to make a note of the new sign.
* * *
Marianne waited impatiently while her computer established a dialup connection. Marianne did not know why she decided to go on line just then. The internet was swimming with signs. Ever since she had bought the computer ten years earlier, many of her signs had begun to come from the internet. They were everywhere: in the banner ads that blinked at her obnoxiously, in the e-mail messages she received, and even in the mistyped URL's she entered.
"You've got mail!" A cheerful voice announced when the connection was established.
Marianne wasted no time in checking the in box. She had received seven messages all together. Five of them were spam. One was an airline confirmation for her husband's trip to Peoria, Illinois for a high school reunion. The last was a message from an old college friend she had not heard from since her wedding.
* * *
I know it's been a while since we've spoken, but I ran across this the other day and it made me think of you. Isn't it kind of spooky? At first I thought it was you but then I remembered you lived in New York. Write me back and let me know how you're doing. I'll even be in the New York area next month, we should get together.
* * *
Beneath the message was a URL. Marianne clicked on it and waited for the page to open, thinking back as she did to the days when she and Sarah had been friends. How easily people lost touch. She would have to write her old friend and make plans to meet for lunch next month.
When the page came up Marianne saw that it was part of a local on-line newspaper. In fact, it was the obituary section. Marianne scanned down the alphabetical list of the recently deceased until she came upon the one Sarah surely meant for her to see – Marianne Weber.
"Oh, God, no! No, please! You wouldn't show me my own death! No one should know when their own death is coming!"
Marianne left the room and began to run. The house was huge, and Marianne was out of shape, so she was out of breath by the time she reached the front door. Her lack of energy was not what kept her from opening the door and running out, though. It was the terrifying truth that there was no reason to run. There was no point.
"No!" Marianne cried, slumping against the front door. She began to cry in huge, choking sobs. Sure, she had been depressed for years, but she was not ready to die. She had a daughter who needed her, if nothing else.
Marianne ran to the phone and dialed her brother's phone number. If anyone could help her, he could.
Help how? "Jacob?" Marianne asked when she heard her brother's voice on the phone.
"Good God, Marianne, what's the matter? Is Stephen ok? Gabrielle?"
"I'm going to die!" Marianne said, her voice shaking as she tried unsuccessfully to hold back tears.
"Please, Marianne, slow down and tell me what's happened," Jacob said.
Slowly, Marianne managed to get through the entire story. As soon as she finished Jacob told her he was on his way and he would be at her house sometime that evening. When he hung up, Marianne was once again left alone with her dark thoughts.
Perhaps she should welcome death. After all, the signs had made her miserable for years. She had seen countless tragedies that she had not been able to prevent. Sometimes the attempt to prevent tragedies actually caused them to come about! Self-fulfilling prophecies, she had heard them called. Most of the time, though, people simply did not believe her.
To be fair, Marianne had not just seen terrible events. For example, she had seen the results of every presidential election for as long as she could remember. She knew the results of future elections in which the candidates themselves did not even know they were running. She had seen the scandals surrounding President Nixon and his subsequent resignation. She had also seen relatively simple things, like the adoption of a dog, a friend's broken leg, and the results of important tests.
But many signs had pointed to horrific events, even on a large scale. She had seen the Challenger explosion, the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 9/11 tragedy. All these she had seen ahead of time but had been unable to stop.
Since she had grown up, she did not even try any longer. As a child she had gone to the police many times with stories of murders, assaults, or robberies that were about to take place. Several times she had ended up in jail as a suspect because of her foreknowledge, but not once was she able to prevent anything.
"Why, God?" Marianne asked again, "What's the point? Why do I see things I can't change? Why would you show me my own death?"
He did not answer.
* * *
"Uncle Jacob's coming?" Gabrielle said when she came home from school that night.
"Yes, and I want you to stay at a friend's house tonight. Mrs. McKenzie is already on her way over. Jacob and I have things to take care of."
She was trying to put on a brave face for her daughter. She had kept herself busy that afternoon by making a videotape for Gabrielle, essentially saying good-bye. It was the only thing she could think to do.
"Can I talk to you about something tonight?" Gabrielle asked.
"What--?" Marianne began, but the doorbell interrupted her.
"There she is." Marianne started toward the door, where she stopped and hugged her daughter tight, "I love you. I love you so much."
Then Marianne hurried her daughter out the door, desperate for the last words her daughter ever heard from her to be words of love.
Stephen called to say he would be working late again that night, which suited Marianne. It gave her a chance to be alone with the only person she could confide in.
"We've got this cabin on the beach, about an hour's drive from here." Marianne said when Jacob arrived, "I think I'd like to spend my last hours there."
Jacob nodded solemnly, and then helped Marianne take her things to his car. They drove most of the way in silence, only breaking the silence to ask for or give directions. Finally, about ten minutes from the cabin Jacob broke the silence.
"Can't you just run away?"
"From death?" Marianne asked. She nearly laughed, "How would I manage to do that? A car accident, a plane crash, an elevator snaps, an earthquake, a fire, a floor, a deadly disease, a mugging, a drive-bye shooting; all these could kill me. There is not a place in this universe that is safe from death."
"The signs weren't more specific?" Jacob asked, "I mean, if you knew you would die in a car accident you could stay at home and not go out."
"Then an out of control car would run into my living room." Marianne said, "Besides, the signs weren't specific. The only thing I haven't been able to work in is the betrayal. For all I know, it's a sign for something else. Then again, my death could be caused by the betrayal."
Jacob did not reply because they had reached the cabin, "Someone's already here." He said, noticing a 2003 BMW parked in the driveway.
"That's Stephen's car." Marianne said as a terrible new suspicion washed over her.
Jacob's mouth dropped open, "We shouldn't go in."
"Yes, we should" Marianne said, her shoulders slumping resignedly, "I've got to see."
Marianne stepped out of the car and walked up the front steps of the cabin. She felt somewhat comforted by the presence of Jacob only a few feet behind her, and he did not interfere with her movements. Slowly, her hand trembling a little bit, she fit the key in the lock and opened the door.
"Stephen." Marianne croaked, her eyes filling with tears as she saw precisely what she had known she would see, had feared she would see.
Stephen and a young red haired woman were lying on the living room floor, completely naked. A fire glowed in the hearth and romantic music was emanating from the stereo. A half-empty bottle of champagne lay between them.
"Marianne!" Stephen exclaimed. The young woman tried to cover herself with a blanket, "What are you doing here?" he asked lamely.
Marianne did not answer. She simply turned and ran back to the car, with Jacob following behind her.
"Wait, I can explain!" Stephen cried.
Marianne stepped inside the car and slammed the door shut. A moment later Jacob was inside too, starting the car and putting it into reverse.
"Can't we talk about this?" Stephen asked.
Marianne sunk low in the passenger seat as if trying to hide, whether from Stephen or from herself, she had no idea. The tears began to flow freely again as Jacob silently drove them back toward the city.
* * *
"Maybe I'll be killing myself." Marianne said when they entered her estate.
"Don't talk like that." Jacob said, "You're stronger than that."
"Am I?" Marianne asked. She did not really know if she could agree.
"Please, Marianne, don't scare me like that." Jacob said.
What did it matter? He knew she was going to die. How did the manner of her death matter?
"Don't you want to live?" Jacob asked.
"Of course!" Marianne yelled. She had not meant to yell. She immediately apologized.
"It's ok." Jacob told her, hugging her, "No one should have to see when they will die. It's not something a person should know."
"Do you think Stephen is going to try to kill me?" Marianne asked.
"What makes you think that?" Jacob asked.
"His betrayal." Marianne said, "Remember, I told you about the betrayal."
Marianne let go of her brother and began to pace back and forth, thinking. She had never been able to change the future, true, but that did not mean she could not change other events effected by the future she knew would happen. For example, her husband might kill her, but she could keep him from getting any of her money. Her father's inheritance had only come through a few months before and she would see to it that Stephen never saw a penny.
"I need your help." Marianne said to her brother.
* * *
Stephen never came home that night. He called her the next morning to say he would come over and pack a few things before his trip, but otherwise that they should probably talk when he returned. Marianne agreed, not letting on that she would not be alive when he returned.
Marianne and Jacob stayed up all night completing the new will, which gave all her money to Gabrielle with Jacob as trustee. They filed the official paperwork early the next morning then left a copy in her safe deposit box.
When Marianne returned home, she saw that Stephen had already come and gone. He left a note saying he was sorry he had missed her but he would be back soon. She tore up the paper into dozens of tiny pieces and tossed it in the trashcan.
The message light was blinking on the answering machine when Marianne walked into the kitchen. She pressed it and heard the voice of the high school nurse saying, "This is Mrs. Thomas from St. Mary's High School. Gabrielle never came to school today and I was calling to make sure everything was all right. Please give me a call at 555-2394."
"That's not like her." Marianne said, worry for herself temporarily displaced by worry for her daughter.
She turned, intending to head back toward the living room, when she saw Jacob blocking the entrance. He clutched Stephen's handgun in gloved hands.
"What are you doing?" Marianne whispered, her heart accelerating to a dangerous level.
"I suppose I should just get it over with," Jacob said, "but I feel I at least owe you an explanation."
"Why?" Marianne managed to ask. Part of her mind was saying this is it, this is the end, but another part, a newly awakened part, was not ready to let go yet. That part kept saying, keep him talking, just keep him talking.
"Money." Jacob said.
"What do you mean? You got half of dad's fortune." Marianne tried to note, out of the corner of her eyes, whether there were any weapons nearby. There were knives on the counter, but they were several feet away and her brother held a gun.
"With enough money I figure a girl might even marry a man as ugly as me."
"That wouldn't be real." Marianne protested. What did she care about his happiness at this point? Her brother had betrayed her. Or had he? Marianne thought back to what her brother had just said and wondered if he had meant something else by it. Did he still blame her for his disfigurement? Had he held that grudge for so long?
Then Marianne realized something else. This was the betrayal, not her husband's affair. The other had happened last night, on April 1st, not on April 2nd.
"How did you know I would change my will to make you trustee?" Marianne asked, "You couldn't have planned this. You didn't know until I saw the signs." Or had he been waiting for an in like this? Maybe he had been planning something else but this worked better?
"The e-mail was from an old college friend." Marianne protested, "And how did you fix the newspaper?"
"I paid the delivery boy, told him it was an April fool's joke." Jacob said, "As for the e-mail, it's pretty easy to change the from field."
Marianne had not known that. She wondered how many other e-mails she might have received from people who were not who they said they were.
"What about the T.V.? And the book?"
"Death and T.V.? Who could ever have predicted that?" Jacob laughed, "I didn't do the book, but I suppose it could have really been a sign."
It had really been a sign, Marianne thought stubbornly. She had felt the spine tingling sensation with the newspaper, the T.V., the book, and the e-mail. They had turned out to be signs, even if Jacob had planted them.
"But how did you know that I'd change my will?" Marianne asked, trying to find new ways of keeping him talking.
"Everyone knew Stephen was cheating on you." Jacob told her, "I think Gabrielle knows. Everyone but you. All I had to do was point it out. I must say, it worked better than I could have hoped."
She had felt the spine tingling sensation upon reading the obituary, hadn't she? Marianne was suddenly struck with a moment of doubt. She had never mistaken a sign before, but then again she had never felt a series of signs predicting her own death.
"I just can't believe it." Marianne said, playing for time. Her eyes floated to the knives again.
"Good bye." Jacob said.
He cocked the gun. Marianne dove for the knives.
"Noooooooooooo!" Marianne heard someone scream.
Jacob fired, but Marianne heard the bullet crack the wall behind her. From behind Jacob, Gabrielle rushed at him with a steel baseball bat. She swung it, hard, hitting her uncle in the side. Marianne heard the audible crack of Jacob's ribs breaking as he fell to the ground.
The gun went off again. Marianne grabbed the butcher knife and flew at her brother, all the while terrified that her daughter had been hit.
"Leave her alone!" Gabrielle screamed. She hit Jacob with the bat again, this time cracking his skull. Marianne dropped the knife when she saw the gun drop from Jacob's hands. She picked it up and pocketed it.
"Gabrielle! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, are you ok?" Gabrielle asked, "The bullet hit there." She pointed at a place in the wall that now had a bullet hole through it.
"Yes, but-" Marianne went to check Jacob for a pulse.
"He's dead." Gabrielle said.
"How do you know?" Marianne asked. She searched for any sign of life, but found none.
"I've been seeing the signs for it since yesterday." Gabrielle told her mother, "I knew I would kill him, but I couldn't imagine why. I tried to tell you about it, but-"
"Oh, Gabrielle, I'm so sorry!" Marianne said, holding her daughter tight. How had she missed such an important thing? How had she failed to notice that her daughter was feeling this pain? She must have been too caught up in her own pain, too caught up in her desire for her daughter to lead a normal life. "I never should have brushed you off, not even with the signs of my own death approaching."
But death had not come. Nor would it come, at least not for Marianne. She knew now that she had truly misinterpreted a sign.
"I love you, mom." Gabrielle said.
"I love you too." Marianne replied, hugging her daughter tighter.
Everything in Marianne's life had been about the signs. The signs said something would happen so it was inevitable. But there were many things the signs never predicted. No sign predicted her husband's affair. No sign had ever predicted her failed life. No sign predicted her apparently strained relationship with her daughter. For it must have been strained if she had never known that Gabrielle, too, could see the signs.
"I think I have a lot of changes to make in my life." Marianne said, "But now I have to call the police."
"I'll do it." Gabrielle volunteered, dashing to the phone before Marianne had a chance to rise.
"Then call your father." Marianne said, "Tell him he needs to come home."
Christine Amsden is the award-winning author of Touch of Fate, which continues Marianne's story. Her second novel, The Immortality Virus, won the Epic Ebook Award and the Global Ebook Award for Science Fiction. She also has a new urban fantasy series coming out in 2013 beginning with Cassie Scot:
Published by permission of the author.