Too much afternoon coffee has Alejandro’s belly glup-glupping as his tiny red car bounces along the rutted dirt lane. Just a few minutes before, he was on an actual road. An actual road with a yellow line and painted shoulders. An arterial road tying into the same bypass that led to the vulgar three story building where he has wasted his nine to five the past eight years. But here he is now, no cubicle, no pavement, and nowhere left to go until he trades four wheels for two legs. He stares at the steel gate and rusty fence separating him from the wooded acreage.
Alejandro kills the ignition, listens to the engine tick in the cold. Already the sun has begun its slow melt into the horizon.
His door, buckled in the middle from a parking lot incident, creaks and pops until he leans enough bulk into it to latch it shut. The noise, transposed with what should be silence, raises goosebumps on the back of his neck.
About a hundred feet to the left, he spots an opening where the ailing wire has been tamped down. He is just tall enough to swing one leg over without snagging his crotch. Clearing the other leg, he notices a swatch of black fabric torn in the shape of Tennessee caught in the fence tie. Alejandro used to think emotions were something to control, but those self-empowerment books teach you everything that does not work. Fear is not something to be compartmentalized and checked off. Fear does not negotiate with positive affirmations and other slights of the mind. Fear absorbs you, owns you, then propels you towards your destiny.
Four months ago, life was simple. Boring and blunt, but that’s how he preferred things— a lot of dull, flat surface, no edge. Then his gift came along. Gift—ha! The words people tossed around. There were other words, too, such as psychic, clairvoyant, medium. But that last one wasn’t true, at least not initially.
It started small, Alejandro lounging on his hand-me-down sofa in plaid pajamas and pit-stained tee, trying to place the blonde from the police drama. A voice, not unlike his own, told him to check the kitchen. He ignored it—why wouldn’t he? But he kept hearing it: check the kitchen. He decided it could wait until commercial break; he had the actress pegged now and liked where his imagination was going. He’d seen her in one of those late-night skin flicks populating premium cable, five years ago maybe. The actress’s grapefruit-sized breasts strained against her white blouse as she leaned over the corpse, studying the exit wound. As he tried to recreate those beauties unholstered at the height of a saxophone-infused love scene, a screech sliced through the air, startling him from the couch.
It was a small fire, nothing a plastic souvenir cup topped with water couldn’t extinguish, but it shook him nonetheless. The result of a candle left precariously close to a dangling paper towel, a stupid oversight. He chalked the occurrence up to happenstance, but soon his new awareness became something he couldn’t reason away. Like applying the brakes mere seconds before the doe appeared, seeing the elderly man clutch his chest and collapse in the aisle an instance before it happened. He even played his new skill to his advantage in the company football pool whenever he got a hunch. His friend Chris, growing suspicious of Alejandro’s recent winnings, wanted to know exactly where this luck was coming from. Alejandro pulled him aside outside the breakroom and told him about the fire and the string of events since.
“Sounds like BS, I know, but I’ll prove it to you. Bethany’s going to be wearing this three-dimensional Rudolph eyesore tomorrow for the ugly sweater contest. But she won’t be here twenty minutes before she’s covered in that green smoothie she slurps on. It’ll look like poor Rudolph had a case of Montezuma’s revenge.”
Chris clapped Alejandro on the shoulder and laughed it off, but sure enough Bethany was heading back home to change fifteen minutes after she arrived. Word of Alejandro’s gift spread and his coworkers formed lines to seek him in private. Mary wanted to know if her husband was cheating with the neighbor. Wayne implored about his son getting clean. Rhonda asked about her mother’s cancer. And when Alejandro told the truth, that he didn’t know, they still searched him with clingy eyes bedazzled with hope, like he was some sort of office messiah sent to save them from life’s uncertainties. But as time passed, and they still didn’t have their answers, they began snubbing him in the hall, excluding him from conversations.
Even Chris turned on him when tragedy struck. His sister went missing. Went to her bartending job one night and never came home. The police were slow to file a missing person. Leads were nonexistent. Alejandro’s life continued as per the norm, little psychic blips consequential to no one, but then the frequency changed a few weeks after the investigation. All of a sudden he was on some next level shit he prayed would end.
But it wouldn’t.
Alejandro tramps over sodden leaves, circumnavigates the brambles and scraggly underbrush. The trees filter the sun in sleeves of lambent light and shadow. Not too far ahead he sees what God has abandoned to predators and nature’s unrelenting hand.