Let's Fix the Internet, Guys!


Sit tight, daddy-o’s. I totally figured out how to fix the internet, dig?

As all you hep, young cats are aware, SOPA and PIPA are some major bummers that almost happened but didn’t, because a lot of groovy websites did awesome things that made congressmen realize that they are all crusty old squares. I mean, obviously there’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s really all you need to know for now.

So, question: why were these two acts introduced in the first place? Well, obviously, like, the corporations, man, had something to do with it – lobbyists doing what they do best, and the various production companies wanting to protect their investments and all – but, me, I’m an optimist, and to the non-tech-savvy, they sound like pretty good things – ending piracy and all. (Yes, I know not everyone feels that piracy is inherently bad. I’m getting to that.) Most people are of the opinion that piracy is bad, and that some method of preventing it needs to be implemented. Just, y’know, a better one. Remember Google’s “End piracy, not liberty,” slogan and all that?

So, the argument in favor of file-sharing. Basically, it goes that the free distribution of files allows consumers to experience the song/movie/whatever before buying it, which allows good artists to gain positive word-of-mouth (and sell more) and bad artists to gain negative word-of-mouth (and sell less). The idea is that the consumer decides whether or not to pay for something after having experienced it. They assert that not every illegal download constitutes a lost sale (unlike with physical media), and thus that file-sharing is not stealing.

Now, I agree with that last bit. Not every illegal download is a lost sale. Let’s face it, if I couldn’t watch Legion for free (for my Christmas movie list), I wouldn’t have watched it at all. And it is definitely true that free things can build up an audience, which then pays for things. When I was first introduced to Muse, for instance, I took a couple of their CDs out of my library, gave them a listen, liked what I heard, and bought the rest. And now they’re my favorite band.

But I do have a problem with this argument. If you already have a given file on your computer, and you got it for free, there’s very little motivation to then pay for it, outside of altruism. You already have the file, so you wouldn’t gain anything from legitimately paying for it other than a sense of well-being. That sends the message that the song/movie/whatever in question is inherently valueless, and that any money the artist makes off it is contingent upon the milk of human kindness. Artists are made into beggars playing the acoustic guitar outside of subways, hoping that passers-by drop change into their cases. Which is bad, because it takes quite a bit of hard work to make art. Even Joyful Noise, which looks like it just might be the worst thing to ever be created, took work to make. Camera operators had to operate cameras, editors had to edit, and even Dolly Parton had to take some time out of her busy schedule to shit onto a microphone.

Some make the metaphor of file-sharing being similar to someone buying a book and lending it to a friend, which I disagree with. It’s a bit more like buying a book, making infinitely many perfect copies of it, storing them in your garage, and then inviting strangers to teleport into your garage, take a copy, and teleport away.

But others make the comparison to a library. And I do like libraries. But, again, there’s an inherent issue here. With a library, only one person can hold a book at once, and only for a limited amount of time. That makes library books poor substitutes for real ones, and means that someone who enjoyed a library book and wished to read it again very likely to buy it. Which would contribute to the “file-sharing as advertisement” argument, if not for the fact that the illegal files you can download are essentially the same as the real ones.

And that’s how I figured it out. Now, full disclosure: I know next-to-nothing about computers. But at the moment, I have a free trial of Final Cut Pro on my computer that’s going to expire in a little under a month. So if software can be made inactive a month after installing it, why can’t songs or movies? A month might be a bit long – especially given that modern pop songs only last a couple weeks on the charts, anyways – but presumably that amount of time can be altered.

Picture this: you log into itunes, or Amazon, or whatever your favorite mp3 dealer is. You see that the latest single from what’s-her-face is quite popular, so you head on over to her page. Next to the little Buy icon, there’s another one: Try. You click it, and you download the entire song, all three-and-a-half minutes. You can listen to it as many times as you want in the next 48 hours (roughly 822 times, if you keep it constantly on replay). At that point, the file does something bad to itself and you have to pay for the real one if you want to listen again (you’ll just download a completely different file, as opposed to paying for a code to unlock the free file. It’s neater this way, and we won’t have to worry about keygens). After you click on it, that song’s “try” button gets grayed out – you can only use it once, lest you just download it again once your copy runs out. To compensate, the 48 hours don’t begin until you either open the file or try to copy it (so that you can’t copy it before the 48 hours start ticking down and make a new copy every time your old one disappears). It’ll work with movies just fine, although not books, as someone could easily screengrab every page in 48 hours. Luckily, it seems that e-readers are super popular and financially successful, so I don’t think we have to worry about books here.

Now, we’d have to deal with the matter of how to make sure some unscrupulous individual doesn’t buy the legitimate file and then post it online for anyone to download. I’m not going to worry about people e-mailing the files to one another, or distributing them via flash drives. That’s small-scale stuff, it won’t make much of an impact. I don’t want to resort to overly-stringent DRM here, because if you’ve paid for something, I don’t want to tell you how to watch or listen to it. So I don’t want to jigger (technical term) the files to only work on one computer, or when played with a certain account, or anything like that.

This is where it gets sticky. If the files are just ordinary and unprotected, the only way to get them off the internet would be good old-fashioned lawsuits, which would take a very long time, because there would be a great many files to eliminate. Additionally, the only people who could afford the court costs would be the big-name artists signed to major labels – the ones who don’t have much to fear from piracy, because they’d be making plenty off of legitimate downloads. We can’t have the government go after them directly – the government’s busy.

Luckily, I think the situation will solve itself with time. If the “offer self-destructing files for totally free” strategy becomes widespread, there won’t be much sympathy in the courts for the guys uploading illegal copies – the “try it before you buy it” argument won’t fly, because there would already be a legal way to do that. So long as the lawsuits target those who upload files, rather than those who download, or the websites hosting them, I doubt there’ll be much public outcry. Suing for minimal amounts of money (plus court costs) would be more effective than the multi-million dollar affairs that we see today – the defendants have less reason to fight the claims, meaning a greater number of cases can be made, and more quickly – because the suits should be less about recovering “damages” (again: not every download constitutes a lost sale) and more about sending the message that they can’t get away with this. Plus, if the major record labels win more infringement cases more easily, then they’ll set precedents and make future cases faster, allowing the smaller artists to get in on the lawsuits (because the less time a case takes, the less it costs in legal fees).

The only problem with my strategy is that it requires a great number of people to act a certain way, such a way being contrary to their nature. Basically, people should just put me in charge of everything.

It Happened Again


I'm sitting in the lounge, minding my own business, playing Words With Friends. It's a bit past nine at night. Miguel, who lives down the hall from me, walks in, asks where Chris is. The two of them had planned to go jogging. Chris was studying. He had a calc test. I stand up.

"I'll go jogging with you," I say.

I'd finished all my homework before dinner and had nothing better to do. Plus, I could stand to get a bit of exercise. I hadn't gone jogging for a year and a half. Or for the seventeen years before that, either. So naturally, I decided to be the hero and run alongside this poor, partnerless soul.

"You're wearing jeans?" he said.

Apparently you're not supposed to wear jeans when running. For some reason. Unfortunately, I only have jeans and khakis, and I'm fairly certain khakis make for worse athletic wear than jeans. He said I would experience, quote, "chafing." I was pretty wary of this - I've been wearing nothing but jeans for about two months now, and I'd probably run for some distance at some point over the course of those two months - but I took my cell phone and ipod out of my pockets and pulled on a comfy t-shirt to appease him before we left.

Now, I was fairly certain that it takes the average person ten minutes to go a mile on foot. Running, one could go a bit faster, but he had a four-mile trek in mind - two each way - and there was no way I could run, or even jog, for four miles straight. So I figured I'd be getting back around ten-ish.

As it turns out, I wound up walking not alongside, but behind, him. Partially because he was a trained runner and I was just some schmuck, but mostly because I had no clue where we were going. I do not know the lay of the land here. The farthest I've ever walked was to the local CVS and back to buy truffles. So I let him stay ahead of me.

Then I let him stay a bit farther ahead of me.

Then he was staying ahead of me without my letting him.

Then he was a full block ahead of me.

He disappeared behind some overgrown topiary and I started walking. I'd waited until now because I couldn't let him see me walking, obviously. That would make him more manly than me, and I couldn't have that. I started running again after I passed the bush, but my chest was killing me and by this point, he was walking, too. Actually, he was walking rather oddly. Legs aren't supposed to move like that.

Then he passed under a streetlight and I realized he was walking backwards. I slowed down. We spoke. The bus stop we were heading towards was more or less straight ahead. He'd run up there and rest for a bit while I'd just walk, and then run back and meet up with me wherever I was by that point. Seemed reasonable. He dashed off and I walked on my own for about ten minutes before we met up again and we both headed back.

Having had time to rest, I started off in the other direction at a run. Then my ankles started aching and I started walking again. Still no chafing from the jeans. He asked if he could run ahead again. I gave him a thumbs-up. We'd meet up at the dining hall. No problemo.

Actually, slight problemo this time around. The route from my position to the dorms was not a straight line. There were turns involved. I don't do too well with turns. I have a very limited knowledge of the Massachusetts roadway system. I had to make a few guesses. They turned out to be the wrong guesses. I was walking around totally lost. Sometimes, when I was less fatigued, I would run. This turned out to be a very stupid move, because it just meant I was getting lost faster.

I was giggling, believe it or not. I found the situation totally hilarious. It's because I wasn't actually in any danger. I was in a small Jewish neighborhood in Massachusetts. I didn't have anything to be doing, so the scenario didn't inconvenience me. And so I could just step back and see the funny side.

I felt a few wet drops on my nose. Could've just been my imagination. Then I felt a few more.

Yeah. It started raining. So now I was walking around, totally lost, in the rain. Not bringing my cell phone probably wasn't the best move. The giggles had turned to swears. Loud swears. I was legitimately afraid that someone would stomp out of their house and tell me to keep it down because their kids could hear me.

You might remember that I had a very similar night about a month ago. There were a few differences - I was wearing thicker clothing last month, it was snowing, rather than raining, and I wasn't completely lost - but the parallelism is there. That is a problem. Wandering through freezing precipitation at night should not be a recurring theme in my life. That is not a normal recurring theme to have in one's life, unless one is a hobo, or Bear Grylls. I am neither a hobo nor Bear Grylls.

I passed by a row of unfamiliar shops. A gym. A dentist. A salon. A tailor. I crossed the street. I swore. I turned left. One thing you need to know: Boston College is primarily serviced by a road called Commonwealth Avenue. It is a very distinctive-looking avenue. After turning left, I saw, a block away, this avenue. She was beautiful. I ran to her, crossed her, pounding her wet asphalt with my rubber-soled kicks. Oh, joy, oh, joy, oh happy day! I once was lost, but now am found! I felt like I was emerging from Plato's allegorical cave and viewing the real world for the first time. I felt wonderful. I sprinted leftward down her, eager to get out of the rain.

My shirt was completely soaked now. I considered taking it off, but resolved not to, as a shirtless pasty white guy wandering in the rain at midnight would probably look fairly suspicious. The buildings started to look vaguely familiar. I had been running for far too long before I realized that I was going the wrong way. You may recall that I made two left turns to get here. Two left turns bring you back the way you came. I turned around and started running back down the street.

The buildings looked very familiar now. Because I'd just seen them. I ran and ran and ran and eventually, after a good twenty minutes, came to a very familiar intersection. I recognized it from the walk to CVS and back to buy truffles. I picked a street and walked down it. I got lost again.

I passed a row of familiar shops. A gym. A dentist. A salon. A tailor. Yep. Same row. The sign over the gym said "Get in Shape!" in big white letters, next to a picture of a shining golden Atlas. Well, gee, thanks, gym. I suppose if I was in shape I'd have been able to just follow the guy back home and be nice and warm by now. I turned back onto Commonwealth Avenue, this time going right.

I somehow managed to get lost again. I missed another vital street due to the darkness and kept going. After far too long, once again, I realized that I was going in the wrong direction, and turned around. This time around, I made the turn and saw the dorms and felt awesome. I passed another jogger, who was just starting out. She gave me a little nod. We are both jogging, the nod said. And I want to recognize this shared activity.

The second I got inside, my legs turned to lead. I stumbled, wet and dripping, into the lounge. It was 12:30 am. I had been out for three hours.

...and that's why I don't go to NYU. Because if this happened in Manhattan, I'd be dead.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


Well, it's that time of year again. The malls have started playing Christmas music again, and I saw a guy buying a tree last night, which means it's time for us to start feeling some holiday cheer. And I'm not, like, leading into a rant about consumerism here or anything. I love Christmas. Christmas is rad. I mean, yeah, you read about people who mace or shank people at Wal-Mart, but fuck them, they're crazy. Christmas isn't about shopping (although I did snag a very nice piece from Banana Republic).

It's supposed to be about Christ, hence the name, but it's become secularized of late, and some people don't like that, but I'm fine with it. I don't complain about much. I'm a pessimist, but I'm not a cynic. Because now, it's really just about being happy. It's about cozying up with your family and giving and getting and tradition and food and all sorts of other sweet things. It's about community and snow and those little model villages and trees and baubles and cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels and doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles and - well, you get the idea.

You know what else it's about? Movies. That's kind of the point I was trying to lead into. Now, I like Christmas, and I like movies, and because I'm such a sentimental bastard, that means I like Christmas movies. So, this month, I'm going to try something. You know those advent calendars? Where every day of December, leading up to Christmas, you open a flap on this cardboard rectangle and reveal a little piece of chocolate? Which you then eat? I'm going to do something like that. But with Christmas movies. Every day of December I'll watch a different one. This pretty much serves as a "Best Christmas Movies" list, by the way, except for Legion, which sucks. I've arranged them in a very specific order, in order to achieve maximum Yuletide cheer.

December 1st:    A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
December 2nd:   Home Alone
December 3rd:    Batman Returns (definitely counts)
December 4th:    Babes in Toyland (1934)
December 5th:    Better Off Dead
December 6th:    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (totally counts)
December 7th:    Legion
December 8th:    Frosty the Snowman (1969)
December 9th:    About a Boy
December 10th:  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
December 11th:  Diner
December 12th:  The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
December 13th:  Die Hard 2: Die Harder (obviously counts)
December 14th:  3 Godfathers (1948)
December 15th:  The Nightmare Before Christmas
December 16th:  A Charlie Brown Christmas
December 17th:  In Bruges (kinda counts)
December 18th:  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
December 19th:  How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
December 20th:  Love Actually
December 21st:  Catch Me if You Can (still counts)
December 22nd: It's a Wonderful Life
December 23rd:  Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
December 24th:  A Christmas Story
December 25th:  Die Hard (duh)

Rejected MoD2: ERROR


Remember how I said I finished my other story with eight hours to spare? This is the one I wrote in those eight hours. I wound up finishing and submitting it just a few seconds after midnight, however, so there was never much hope of this one being accepted. Once again, I'm not changing anything - in fact, this time I'm even keeping the formatting.


A51 Archives:
Search Terms: “machine + of + death”
Specify file types: Yes
            -> Public Case Notes
            -> Private Logs
See results between:
-> April 1953
-> Present
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            -> Benjamin C. Redwick

March 6, 1953: We have recovered all debris from the yesterday’s crash. Of particular note are the 7 identical black crates, all marked with a red star and labeled USSR-477 through USSR-483. We have yet to pick up any transmissions explaining what the aircraft was doing in American airspace.

March 6, 1953: Two crates are damaged beyond repair, as were their contents; the broken components are being shipped to the labs. The other five are on their way to the test chambers.

March 6, 1953: I don’t like this. Recovered artifacts are usually forced to undergo extensive scans before they’re ready for testing. These five were sent right through. What’s more, we’ve been ordered not to fire on any Soviet planes without first consulting Washington.

March 7, 1953: The five undamaged crates were all opened today. Their contents were all identical: A machine roughly four feet high and two wide; they are cylindrical at the base and semi-circular at the top. There is a slit close to the top two inches wide and an eighth of an in thick. Each one features an identical panel  covered in buttons – unfortunately, the labels are all in Russian, and a translator must be flown in.

March 9, 1953: The translator has identified the buttons for us: there is one labeled Power, one labeled Print, one labeled Drink (likely a rough translation), one labeled Eject, and one labeled Test. There is also an indent in the panel containing a glass vial and labeled Blood. Pressing Power on one of the machines yielded no visible effects, but a loud hum could be heard from within. Pressing it again caused the hum to subside. No further testing will be conducted until we have authorization.

March 10, 1953: J. Edgar Hoover himself, head of the FBI, came to the base tonight to “check on how things were going.” He specifically asked about the recovered crates, which is odd because we haven’t told anyone outside about them yet.

March 11, 1953: We received authorization and set up the five machines in a semicircle in Test Chamber 19, which used to be an aircraft hangar until the planes got too big. A monkey, Test Subject 001 (TS001), was strapped to a table in the center of the five machines, which were all powered up.

March 18: One week later and the monkey has yet to die of radiation poisoning. The machines were deemed safe to handle by hand.

March 18, 1953: All the machines are powered off and labeled 01-05. We turn on Machine 1 again and, acting on a whim, removing the vial from the indentation and placing TS001’s tail into it. We then try each button. Print causes a blank white card to eject from the slit on top. It has been taken into Chamber 233 for testing. Test causes the machine to emit a short, low, angry beep – and a red light lights up briefly. Drink and Eject yield the same result.

March 18, 1953: Scientists take a blood sample from TS001 and pour it into the vial. Pressing Test again yields the red light and low noise, but Drink causes the machine to take in the blood using some sort of pneumatic pump and a green light to light up, accompanied by a much happier ding! Pressing Eject causes the blood to run back into the vial. The blood has been taken for further testing.

March 19, 1953: The blood was returned, having been deemed normal. We put it back into the machine, pressed Drink, and this time pressed Test. The red light beeped incessantly for about two minutes, until eventually the green one lit up with a familiar ding! The green light remained lit until pressing Print, at which point another white card was ejected from the top of the machine, this one featuring black writing on it. Said writing was in Russian.

March 19, 1953: The blood sample was tested in each of the other four machines. They all worked in the exact same manner, and yielded the exact same card with the exact same writing, which our translator informs us means ATOMIC TESTING. Scientists immediately rushed TS001 to the Atomic Testing Field and disposed of the blood sample.

March 20, 1953: TS001 has died in Atomic Testing.

March 20, 1953: Atomic Testing is designed to test the capacity of a given material to withstand a nuclear attack, and thus its propensity for use in the construction of fallout shelters. No shit, the monkey died.

March 20, 1953: A rabbit is selected as the next test subject (TS002). As with the monkey, all five machines yield the same result. This time, they read DISSECTION.

March 20, 1953: Scientists immediately dissect TS002, hoping to find something out of the ordinary. Much to their surprise, it appears perfectly normal.

March 21, 1953: Codename Four, Head of Operations at Area 51, deems the machines unsafe and orders all testing to cease.

March 31, 1953: Off the record, for the last ten days our logs show power being diverted to Test Chamber 19 for roughly five minutes per night sometime between one and two in the morning. Someone is obviously conducting research on their own, but I don’t want to get anyone in trouble unless I know they deserve it.

April 1, 1953: Hoover stopped by the base again and spoke at length with Codename Four. Once again, only Area 51 personnel have been told about the presence of the five machines. How Hoover came to know is beyond me.

April 1, 1953: Codename Four orders us to resume testing.

April 2, 1953: Machine 1 was powered on and immediately shut off of its own accord. Scientists suspect a faulty power supply to be the culprit. Archiver Benjamin Redwick, checking the Test Chamber logs, discovers that someone has been secretly conducting tests without approval. The project is shut down by Codename Four pending an investigation.

April 2, 1953: If they knew I had been holding onto that information for ten days, I would have been in hot water, so I “just so happened” to check the electrical usage logs as a “preliminary measure.”

April 7, 1953: Hoover came again, this time with a Russian in tow. They went into a room with Codename Four and our translator, and came out again five hours later. I asked our translator, in private, what they spoke about, but he would not say.

April 7, 1953: Codename Four calls off his investigation, having determined that the power fluctuations were, in fact, the result of interference from adjacent test chambers. Testing is to resume once our engineers have determined the best way to hook up the machines to our generators, thus eliminating the danger of further outages.

April 22, 1953: We believe that Machine 1 has been suitably equipped with a conventional power cable. The rear of the machine is now a mess of transistors, wires, resistors, and electrical tape. However, as soon as we attempt to test a blood sample, the machine sparks and shorts out. It is taken in for further alterations.

May 2, 1953: Machine 1 has been equipped with a conventional power cord. Testing the blood of another monkey (TS003) reveals that it works in a manner consistent with the other four machines. We test the blood of two other monkeys (TS004 and TS005), and again find the five machines to be consistent. The other four machines are thus taken in to be outfitted with their own power cords.

May 2, 1953: Our translator informs us that the cards of TS003 read TESTING, those of TS004 read STUPIDITY, and those of TS005 read ESCAPE. All three monkeys are rushed off for further tests.

May 2, 1953: I managed to get our translator drunk after hours and ask him, once again, what his meeting was about. He will only tell me that the Russian has done more to aid us in the Cold War than every man in Area 51 combined.

May 3, 1953: TS003 died during testing. TS004 was given an IQ test, failed, and was thusly euthanized. TS005 was allowed to escape into the desert, where sensors indicate it died of heatstroke. The purpose of the machine remains unknown.

May 4, 1953: A bit of research on the archives revealed that the pilot of the plane we shot down was, in fact, American, and that his body is still being held in the facility.

May 6, 1953: The engineers have finished outfitting the machines with power cables. Testing is set to resume tomorrow.

May 6, 1953: I snuck into the morgue late at night and took a blood sample of my own from the pilot, one Charles Neverow. I am hiding it in my toilet tank and plan to test it at the earliest possible opportunity.

May 7, 1953: Ten monkeys (TS006-TS015) are each tested on every machine, yielding five identical sets of cards. Every single card simply reads MONKEY. The ten monkeys are placed in Test Subject Observation Homes.

May 8, 1953: Ten additional monkeys (TS016-TS025) are tested. Again, every card reads MONKEY. These monkeys are also placed in the Test Subject Observation Homes. Our scientists remain baffled.

May 9, 1953: Twenty additional monkeys (TS026-TS045) are tested. Once again, every single card reads MONKEY. The twenty Test Subjects are placed in the Test Subject Observation Homes. Every Test Subject Observation Home is now filled.

May 10, 1953: Unfortunately, it would seem the Test Subject Observation Homes collapsed and killed all forty Test Subjects. It is very likely that this was caused by our exceeding the weight limit of the structure, but in case this is the work of sabotage the Homes will be under constant, indefinite surveillance. Testing must be put on hold as the facilities are repaired.

May 10, 1953: I’ll test the pilot’s blood tonight; the guards are all busy keeping watch over the monkey cages, so Test Chamber 19 should be unguarded. I’m setting out at one in the morning.

May 11, 1953: I tested the pilot’s blood successfully. However, someone heard the hum of the machine and came in to investigate – I was only saved by the fact that I remembered not to turn the lights on. I got back to my room safely, but had to leave the blood in the machine – I hope no one discovers it.

May 11, 1953: Evidence suggests that there was a break-in at Test Chamber 19 last night, likely confirming our suspicions that the monkeys were killed by a saboteur. Furthermore, unidentified blood was discovered in the machine. It is our belief that these break-ins were all perpetrated by the same individual. Thus, testing will cease and guard presence will increase until this individual is caught. The blood in question is to be tested extensively.

May 11, 1953: By painting the attacks as the work of one individual (being the facility archiver does have its privileges), I hope that whoever was behind the initial round of break-ins will be caught and thus take the heat off of me. At any rate, I won’t be able to ask the translator to read the card to me for quite some time.

May 23, 1953: As the intruder has yet to be found, daily room checks are to be conducted on all personnel. As a reminder, as per Codename Four’s orders, testing cannot resume until the perpetrator has been discovered, and if anyone has any information on the break-ins they are urged to come forward. Compliance will guarantee lenience.

May 23, 1953: I flushed the pilot’s card down the toilet. If they found that…

June 19, 1953: The Russian visited again, quite angry this time. I managed to get the translator to tell me that he was extremely vexed because he helped us obtain the machines at great personal risk and we have yet to do anything with them.

June 19, 1953: Ten unauthorized cards have been discovered in the clothing of Leonard Svarkin, implicating him in the break-ins of March 21-March 31. He has been taken into custody for interrogation, and testing will hopefully resume shortly.

June 20, 1953: Hoover came today, and threatened to replace Codename Four unless he resumed testing immediately and let Svarkin free. Once again, Hoover should, officially speaking, know nothing about the machines. I strongly suspect Svarkin’s been feeding him information. When the Russian joined in the argument, however, Hoover blew up at him for so acting so recklessly around his comrades. The translator, heavily intoxicated, told me that the Russian’s name was Laventiy Beria, that he had helped to poison Stalin, and that the FBI was no longer offering him their protection. I asked the translator to meet me tomorrow night so I could show him the pilot’s card (the data should still be in the machine).

June 20, 1953: Leonard Svarkin was revealed to have been innocent of any wrongdoing; the true perpetrator is still at large. Regardless, Codename Four has ordered that testing resume tomorrow, this time on rats (monkeys being too heavy).

June 21, 1953: I brought the translator into Test Chamber 19 around midnight, following a night of heavy drinking (for him) and printed out a new card to give him. He informed me that it meant POOR PILOTING SKILLS before we snuck off to our respective rooms. Still unsure of what they do. Sidenote: I just remembered that Stalin died the same day as the plane crash. I’m guessing that we took advantage of the confusion to hijack a Russian plane.

June 21, 1953: Testing twenty lab rats (TS046-TS065) produced twenty cards, each bearing the name of a different chemical. The rats are thus to be tested for those chemicals.

June 21, 1953: A sweep of his room revealed that Vladimir Kolesnikov, our translator, was in possession of an unauthorized card. Codename Four has ordered that he be incarcerated until further notice, believeing him to be responsible for the numerous break-ins. He was heavily intoxicated when the guards took him in.

June 21, 1953: The translator was captured because he was too stupid, or too drunk, to throw out the pilot’s card. Hoover’s being called in to figure out how to deal with him, though I’m not supposed to know that. I just hope he doesn’t mention my name.

June 22, 1953: Pressuring the translator, we have discovered that the illicit card read POOR PILOTING SKILLS, and belonged to an unidentified pilot in the morgue (who has been deemed TS066). He is totally unrelated to the plane crash on March 5th. The cards from the break-ins in late March, if indeed any were printed, have yet to be discovered.

June 22, 1953: They don’t want anyone to know that we recovered the body of the pilot from the plane crash. As far as everyone in Area 51 is concerned, we shot down an enemy plane piloted by enemies.

June 22, 1953: The rats, having undergone tests, were found to contain dangerously high levels of the chemical identified on their cards. The ARSENIC and CYANIDE rats have, sadly, passed away.

June 24, 1953: Hoover came here again. He warned Codename Four that he’s got more important things to do and that, if he must return again for any reason, Four would be getting the boot. I didn’t hear the rest of their conversation.

June 24, 1953: Vladimir Kolesnikov is working with our engineers to refit the machines to print in American English. He is under the impression that, if he does this, he will be freed. Please do not do anything to dispel this notion. Work on disassembling Machine 1 will begin tomorrow. In the meantime, the other 4 machines are perfectly safe to use.

June 25, 1953: The other 18 rats have all died of poisoning. We believe that the naturally-high chemical levels of toxic chemicals in their systems were exacerbated by the tests going on one chamber over. We wish to determine whether the machines are safe for human testing (on humans who are currently alive).

June 26, 1953: Lavrentiy Beria was ambushed by Soviet authorities and tried for treason. I wonder if the Soviets knew what these machines did.

June 28, 1953: An article was published this morning suggesting that Beria, prior to his capture by the Soviets, would frequently meet with American agents. Codename Four is getting really desperate to avoid another visit from Hoover.

June 29, 1953: Engineers are now attempting to disassemble Machines 2 and 3 completely, that they might come to understand the inner workings and thusly discern the purpose of said machines. Tests are to be conducted on Machines 4 and 5.

June 30, 1953: Just got today’s paper. The journalist who wrote the Beria article has mysteriously gone missing.

June 30, 1953: We finally got our first live, human test subject! TS067 is to arrive via plane tomorrow morning. He was convicted of treason in a fair and legitimate trial, and willingly chose to participate in order to prolong his inevitable death.

June 30, 1953: The engineers working on Machine 2 are utterly stumped as to how it actually determines what to write, but have devised a number of methods to increase mechanical efficiency (integrating the vial with the machine, lengthening the pump, dye-sublimation printing, etc.). They will be applying these alterations to Machines 2, 3, and 4. Machine 5 is to be reserved for testing.

July 1, 1953: The first live human test has gone swimmingly. Neither TS067 nor the Machine suffered any ill effects as a result of the testing process. He is to be kept in a cell separate from that of Kolesnikov. Kolesnikov reports that the card in question translates to TREASON.

July 1, 1953: Scientists now believe that the Machine provides an in-depth analysis of its subjects, but cannot figure out why it chooses the wording that it does. For instance, with TS006-TS045, it merely identified the species of the Test Subject, but with TS046-TS065, it identified the specific chemical that existed within the subjects. TS065 had his piloting skills called into question, and TS066’s crime was identified. This suggests that humans are evaluated mentally, while animals, being less complex, are evaluated biologically, but further human testing is required to know for sure. This also fails to adequately explain the first five Test Subjects, with the possible exception of TS003 (which was evaluated mentally).

July 2, 1953: TS067 is executed for treason after attempting suicide. Kolesnikov attempts to kill himself, as well. He is, however, allowed to remain alive until Machine 1 is capable of dispensing answers in English. This task should be completed rather quickly, as the machine is already equipped with a component that translates the output from computer code into Russian; we merely need to modify this single component, which is thankfully separate from the component that determines the contents of the output (and which we cannot make heads or tails of).

July 2, 1953: I can’t help but think that we’re going about discerning the purpose of these things all wrong. I recommend that we test Kolesnikov, but am rejected on the basis that we need him to help finish the modifications, and every other Test Subject has wound up dead.

July 3, 1953: All personnel are given a two-day vacation in honor of this fine country’s 177th birthday. Happy 4th of July and God Bless America!

July 5, 1953: Our first day back to work, we’ve already made much progress: Machine 2 is fully reassembled, now with an integrated vial, a faster printer, and a more efficient pump. Although none of these improvements will improve the time it takes for the Machines to conduct a test, we believe they will reduce power consumption by as much as ten percent!

July 6, 1953: One of our employees, Leonard Svarkin, has graciously agreed to test Machine 2 (becoming TS068), which operates exactly as predicted. According to Kolesnikov, the card reads RUSSIAN HERITAGE. Though Svarkin is, in fact, descended from Commies, his records can attest that he is completely loyal to the U. S. of A.

July 8, 1953: Kolesnikov attempted suicide again. This time, he wound up completely breaking his right arm, which’ll make the translation of Machine 2 much slower. I don’t think he believes he’ll ever go free. Codename Four recommends that we just fly in another translator and test Kolesnikov.

July 8, 1953: Our translator, Kolesnikov, generously agreed to volunteer for testing. He informs us that his card reads DEPRESSION – an accurate analysis, given his recent behavior. TS069 is almost finished helping our engineers modify the output of Machine 1 – hopefully we can print cards in English by the tenth. Another translator is due to arrive tomorrow.

July 9, 1953: Kolesnikov was found this morning dead in his jail cell. We are of the opinion that his death was a suicide. Fortunately, the other translator – who is much faster – arrived today and finished working on Machine 1’s output component. It should be installed by tomorrow. Furthermore, Machine 3 has been reassembled with greater efficiency in a manner similar to that of Machine 2.

July 10, 1953: Our new translator graciously volunteered to become TS070. He first tested Machines 2 and 3, both of which provided the same Russian word. He then tested Machine 1, which printed a card reading PATRIOTISM – which, apparently, is the English translation of the output of Machines 2 and 3! Success! Furthermore, when asked if he loves America, TS070 replied that he does with all his heart. Our hypothesis regarding the machine’s function seems to be correct.

July 10, 1953: The new translator was lying. You could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. He’s as red as Khrushchev. I first got suspicious when he saw that the hammer and sickles that had emblazoned the machines had all been painted over. He saw the paint, and he gave one of our engineers a look.

July 11, 1953: Our engineers and TS070 began attempting to Americanize the output component of the other four machines. Machines 1 and 5 are the only ones now fit for testing – the others are all partially disassembled. Five more human volunteers came forward today, each one of them guards rather than scientists. All five – TS071 through TS075 – drew the same card, labeled FIRING SQUAD. Curiously, only two of them had been on the firing squad involved in the execution of TS067. Our scientists now believe that their former hypothesis regarding the machine’s function was incorrect.

July 12, 1953: I was right about the new translator. This morning, a guard walked in on him standing over the body of Svarkin. They shot him right through the head. The gunfire woke us all up. Svarkin got the worst of it, though – he was still breathing when we found him, but slowly bleeding to death. The Translator had carved the word Traitor into his chest with a knife from the kitchen, and was halfway done carving a hammer and sickle right beneath it when he was killed. Svarkin died slowly afterward. What worried me was that Svarkin was Hoover’s man on the inside – with him gone, who knew what would happen? We were afraid that Hoover might blame us. We had to make sure the translator was clearly responsible.

July 12, 1953: One of our scientists, Leonard Svarkin, suffered a horrific death at the hands of TS070, our former translator. Though Russian by birth, Svarkin loved America and he loved his co-workers. TS070, though a wretched Communist, unfortunately managed to fool all of us – rest assured that he has been properly dealt with. Unfortunately, this means that Machine 2 will remain inoperable, as the output component is disassembled and requires a speaker of Russian to fix. Machines 1 and 3 are in working order, and 4 and 5 will soon be reassembled. Each machine has been fitted with the upgrades needed to use power ten percent more efficiently. Codename Four recommends that testing cease until all Machines are properly assembled, given the recent deaths.

July 13, 1953: I had a sudden burst of inspiration. The rats were all killed by the chemicals on their cards, the monkeys were all crushed under the weight of other monkeys, Svarkin was killed because he betrayed his heritage, and Kolesnikov killed himself out of depression. The machine has, in every case, described the manner in which the subject dies. The only way I can prove this theory is by attempting – and, ideally, failing – to disprove it. I tried suggesting to the scientists that we test a large number of animals and attempt to kill them in a manner different from that described on their card, but they would have none of it, given Codename Four’s orders. I tried going to Codename Four himself, but he was in a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover all day – and Hoover was furious. I would simply have to sneak out at night and test myself – and then do everything in my power to stay alive. At the very least, this would provide me with food for thought until I have time to perform the animal tests.

July 14, 1953: I have snuck out and am now in Chamber 19. The first machine yielded a card in Russian. No good.

July 14, 1953: The second machine provided me with the response ERROR. I shall try another.

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            -> Arthur C. Doora

July 15 1953: I am sorry to report that Benjamin Redwick died last night while attempting to test himself using one of the malfunctioning Machines.


In case you were unaware, Machine of Death (an awesome anthology of short stories which you should totally read) has been taking submissions for the sequel. As you may have inferred from the title, my two did not make the cut. And so, I'm posting them here for your reading pleasure. In case you don't know: The premise of each story is, basically, that there exists a machine which can tell you, in very basic terms, how you will die. It is infallible, but vague. The idea came directly from this comic. The short stories are, by the way, all titled after a relevant death prediction.

By the way, I was going to fix the story up before submitting (because I finished about eight hours before the deadline and had no time to edit), but I figured that would be dishonest, and so I present it here in all it's mediocre glory. Except for the line breaks, I added those, because my initial submission was really, really poorly formatted. 


My cab slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. All around us, other cars were doing the same thing. All I could hear of what was going on out there was the sound of ambulance sirens somewhere far away; the windows were all closed and the air conditioner was on high. It was sweltering regardless. The cabbie shifted into park. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked what was going on.

“Zere are two men lying, probably dead, on ze street up ahead,” he said in an implacable accent, without bothering to turn around. “I do not know any more zan zat, except zat we are going to be stuck here for quite some time.”

I glanced at my watch. I still had an hour and a half.

“I’ve got time,” I said. And then, because I could think of nothing else to discuss: “Do you know what happened?”

He shook his head, wiping his brow with his cap. “No, no, but I would not be surprised to learn zat zose machines were behind it.”

“Well,” I said, “You know that they can’t really cause deaths, those machines, they can only-"

“Have you not seen how many more people are dying now zat zey are everywhere? Before, you look at ze news, you see robberies, sex scandals, politics – now is just death, death, death!”

“Well, you know how the media’s going to show what people want to see – people wanna hear about death, that’s what they’re going to show us.”

He did not reply, and for a brief time, the air conditioner’s loud hum was the only sound in the cab. There was a question, an obvious one, lingering between us, but neither wanted to be the first to ask it.

“So,” he asked, “what are you?”

“Pardon me?”

If he was going to ask, I wanted him to do it directly.

“You know, your… eh… your prediction, how you are going to die?”

That’s better. “Shots,” I said.

“What, shots, like, like, needles? Like at ze doctor’s office?”

I shrugged. “Could be injections, could be alcohol, could even be snapshots or gunshots. It just said SHOTS. So I’ve been avoiding all three. Well, all four, but then I’ve always been avoiding gunshots. What about you?”

“Me, I am not so worried about what ze machine told me,” he said. “It said I am going to die of pneumonia. But my grandfazzer’s friend, he also died of pneumonia, and he lived to be one-hundred and four. So me, I am not so worried. My wife is worried, because she will die of a fall – zat’s what it said, FALLINGbut, like you said, she was already trying to avoid falling, so is not like she can do much more. Do you have a wife?”

I nodded. “Funny you should ask, really; I finally talked her into getting tested today – that’s where I’m going right now, to pick her up from yoga.”

“Zat is smart, you should be tested, in my opinion. You know how you are born; you should know how you will die. It is ze worrying zat troubles me, zis fear zat everyone seems to get afterwards, zat troubles me about zese machines.”

I nodded, not really paying attention. I was nervously fiddling with the latches on my briefcase, tugging on the cuffs of my shirt, straightening my tie, tapping my fingers.

“If you want, my uncle is a doctor, and he can do it for you very cheap and very quickly, not overpriced and making you wait for half an hour like some people. I can drive you zere right after we pick up your wife, if you like.”

“That’s very kind, thank you, but my wife has this doctor in Westchester she’s been seeing since she was eighteen, so…”

“Zat is no problem, no problem, I am not offended. I am Taj, by ze way, Taj Raheet.” He awkwardly twisted his right arm to maneuver his hand into the back seat; I shook it and introduced myself.


My wife and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk on the walk from her yoga class to the train station – we were too rushed. Once we had settled down on the train, we relaxed – we still had half an hour before her appointment, so we shouldn’t be too late. I put my arm around her.

“Nervous?” I asked. She nodded.

“Come on, what’s the worst thing you could get? Fire? Crushed?”

“I just… I don’t know… I’m scared.” She leaned against me, arms on my shoulder. “I’m scared of dying. And… knowing how I’m going to die, that’s just going to make it scarier, because then I’ll know what it’s going to be, but I still won’t be able to do anything to stop it.”

All was quiet except for the sound of the train rumbling down the subway tunnel. Every now and again a dim orange light would fly past the dark windows. I tried vainly to figure out what I could say to her. How I could make her less afraid. I could think of nothing but to hold her tighter.

“You’ll be fine, Tess,” I said. “You’ll be fine.”


After we left the doctor’s office, I went back to our Manhattan apartment alone. She was staying with her parents overnight – she didn’t feel comfortable staying with me after reading that card. I couldn’t blame her – well, okay, I could, and I did, but I shouldn’t. That night, I reheated dinner, watched the TV on mute, stared out my window – but mostly I listened. People called me almost continuously – Tess, her parents, her brother, her friends – and I didn’t want to answer any of them until I had time to figure out what I wanted to say. It was ringing again right now.

The answering machine beeped. “It’s me again. You don’t have to pick up, I know you’ve been getting a ton of calls. But… I… I’m just scared, okay? I mean, you’re not a scary guy, but death… death is scary. Like I said. And, I mean, my prediction wasn’t exactly vague, if it said something like FORK I wouldn’t avoid forks, but… it basically said that you are going to kill me in a jealous fit.  And I know I can’t just run away from my fate, that’s not how the machine works, I know that the prediction’s going to come true no matter what I do, but… just for tonight, okay? I would just… I would just sleep a bit better here. I’m sorry. I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning. This is my last call, I promise. Night.”

“Night,” I said, unheard. I looked at my clock. Half past ten. Still a while to go before tomorrow morning. I had to talk to someone. Not Tess, not her parents, but someone. I eventually settled on Tori – Tess’ roommate for their last two years of college, and a moderately close friend of both of us. She was one of the first to call me, and she lived in Queens – not too far away. When I called, she agreed to meet me before I could even finish asking.


Shortly afterward, we met at a cocktail bar on East 6th street. I walked in to find her already sitting across the room and sipping away at a julep. Once I’d ordered, we settled into a hushed conversation.

“So, killed by jealous husband?” she asked.

I nodded. “Killed by jealous husband.”

“That sucks. I didn’t even know they made ‘em like that. All the ones I’ve seen were, like, decapitation, or cancer, or car crash. That one’s me. I’m CAR CRASH.” She pulled the card out of her wallet to prove it.

“You’re, what, needles?” she asked.

I nodded. “Well, SHOTS, but yeah.”

“Have you spoken to her yet?” Tori asked.

I shook my head. “Tess? She’s called me, but I haven’t answered. I want to figure out what I’m gonna say first.”


I absently stared at my untouched glass. “I’m not a murderer, Tori.”

She smiled, almost chuckling. “I know you’re not a murderer. And, trust me, Tess knows you’re not a murderer. She basically told me those exact words, ‘I know he’s not a murderer.’”

“I shouldn’t have asked her to get tested. She didn’t want to.”

“She would’ve found out eventually,” she said. “A lot of insurance companies are making them mandatory.”

“A lost of insurance companies are going out of business,” I added.

“That too,” she said, and gave my hand a pat. “You’re resourceful. You’ll do fine. I mean, Tess isn’t so much angry as… just scared. I mean, what if yours said that she was going to kill you?”

I had already thought about that, and had concluded that I should stay with her. Although I suppose it’s easy to say that hypothetically, and quite harder when a doctor hands you a neat little slip of cardstock implicating the person next to you in your eventual murder.


The next morning, I met with her father – he explained that she had spent most of the previous night sobbing, and didn’t want for me to see her like that. I told him that I could understand. After that, I spoke to her mother, her brother, her friends, my friends, her answering machine – I didn’t talk to her directly until a week later, over the phone. I suggested that she come to my apartment that night, but she recommended Central Park the next day, and I had no choice but to concede. The fact that she wanted to meet with me in public, in broad daylight, with plenty of witnesses around, was not reassuring.
I came fifteen minutes early and sat right in the middle of a bench. I had decided against bringing flowers, but I wore my snazziest clothes. Eventually, Tess sat beside me and stared straight ahead.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi, she said. I waited for her to start, and she waited to me to start, and for a while we just sat there waiting. Finally, I started.

“I love you. I love you. And I don’t want to kill you. I would never-"

“Please,” she said, “don’t make this any harder than it needs to be,” and at this point I noticed the official-looking documents folded neatly in half and sticking out of her purse. “I’ve made my mind up and, even if the machine didn’t refer to you, it would just be better for me mentally and emotionally if we…“

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. “If we what?” As if I didn’t already know.

“I’ve been talking to my lawyer,” she said, swallowing hard. “And he said that… because we don’t have any kids, it should… should be a relatively simple process…”

“Oh, you can’t mean you think we should get a divorce!” I said. I knew she did, and I knew she could, and I knew it was useless to fight it, but I had t at least act offended. She nodded.

In the end, her terms were admittedly fair. I got to keep the apartment, and most everything in it that wasn’t already hers. I would’ve preferred if she had tried fighting for more of our stuff – as it was, it seemed like a few belongings were a small price for her to pay to be rid of me faster. Tess and I cut all ties with one another, though most of our friends – Tori included – tried their best to stay close to both of us, to varying degrees of success. So now the woman I loved was gone, because a glorified fortunetelling machine had claimed that I might be responsible for her eventual death. How odd that a little slip of paper, the same size as my business card, could so effectively ruin me.


I stayed single for a long time after that, aside from a few flings, though I had no one but myself to blame for that. I would always tell girls the story of how my wife left me, to spark an interest in them – it is a fascinating story, even I had to admit. Unfortunately, either they began to fear that I actually was dangerous, or else I became too much of a novelty – the boyfriend with a dark and tragic past that they could check off their list before moving onto more serious relationships.

Five years passed without any major happenings. I kept the same job, lived in the same apartment, spoke with the same people (Tess and family aside, of course). Which is why I was so surprised when, one November morning, my phone rang and my caller ID informed me that Tess’ mother was on the other end.

“Hello?” I asked, taking a seat on the counter.

“Is this still the home of –”

“Yeah,” I said, “still me. What’s the occasion?”

“We wanted you to hear it from us,” she said, sounding much older than I remembered, “rather than some faceless police officer.” There was a pause as she sniffed wetly. “Tess has… well, she’s gone missing.”

The room suddenly got colder. I don’t know whether I was more worried that she might be dead, or that I might be blamed for it.

“Now, it’s only been thirty-six hours or so, so the police aren’t looking just yet,” she continued, “but they will be pretty soon, and we want to make you aware just in case.”

If I was more worried about my being implicated – and, mind you, I did not kill her – then I cared more about my own comfort than the life of another, and I was heartless.

“I mean, I’m not calling you because we think you might’ve done it!” she was quick to add. “Personally, I’ve never really trusted those machines, and I was against Tess’ decision to leave you, by the way. Which is why I didn’t want you to find out about this while someone is putting you in cuffs and dragging you away.”

On the other hand, if I was more worried about her death, it means I had never really forgotten about her over the five years we’d been apart, which –


“I’m here, I’m here,” I said. “I was just… I was – I’m still, still processing all of this, y’know? Um, yeah, thank you for telling me this. Do you know anything abou- no? Alright. You too. Ye- no, I know. Alright. Bye.”

I hung up. So Tess was missing. Obviously I was going to be blamed, or at least suspected. Her mother definitely seemed to be holding something back. All she told me was that Tess was missing – not how they knew she was missing, who had last seen her, or anything remotely helpful. I tried calling up Tori to ask her what, if anything, she knew, but after a few rings, her answering machine picked up. I told her I would stop by after work to ask her what was going on.


I stopped by my apartment after work, dropped off my stuff, ate some leftovers out of the fridge, and headed back out, overcoat wrapped tightly around me. By the time I knocked on the door of Tori’s house, the sun already set and my ears and fingers were bright red from the cold.

“Come in,” she said, opening the door and steering me onto a plushy couch, “Come in, I haven’t seen you in so long! What’s going on with you?”

Was she joking? “Well, I mean, isn’t Tess missing?”

“Right, right,” she said, sitting across from me. “So I guess you heard about that.”

She must not have gotten my message. “Yeah, yeah, her mother called me, and I thought you could just… maybe tell me a bit more about what’s going on in, uh, in that… regard.”

Tori clapped her hands together. “Well, two days ago, I was supposed to catch a movie with her, but she never showed up. So I went to her house, and she wasn’t there either. So I figured she had just forgotten and gone out with John that night, but I went there again yesterday, and John said that he hadn’t seen her since he left for work that morning, and he assumed she had been staying with me.”

“Who’s John?”

“Oh,” she said, looking embarrassed. “You didn’t… I thought I saw you at the wedding?”

“The wedding?”

“Yeah, she and John got married about… two and a half years ago. He’s at the police station now, trying to offer them help.”

I couldn’t believe it. “She got married.”

“Yeah, I guess she just needed some time to accept that she couldn’t stop the prediction from coming true.”

“And she didn’t go to me?”

“Well, she hadn’t spoken to you in two years. I guess absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, after all."

I looked up at the ceiling, down at my shoes, nervously tapping my fingers on the table again. So I was a dangerous lunatic, and she didn’t feel comfortable living with me, but then John rolls around and she’s perfectly fine with… “Who’s John, anyway? What’s he like?”

“Oh,” she shrugged. “Just some guy. Good with computers. Tall.”

“I want to see him. Y’know, to, um… to ask him if he knows anything else.”

It was stupid, I know, but I had to see this guy for myself.

“He’s at a police station in Manhattan,” Tori said, “if you want I can drive you-"

“No!” I said, a bit too suddenly. I didn’t want to drive with someone set to die in a car accident. “I mean, save your gas. I’ll just take the train back.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”


By the time I got there, I was thoroughly freezing. Immediately past the front door was a little foyer where you could hang your coat, and just past that was a much larger waiting room filled with rows of stiff plastic chairs. The walls were bare except for a white clock in one corner. Almost eleven. Only one person was waiting, reading a magazine. I took off my coat and sat by him.

“John?” I asked. He looked up from the magazine and shook my hand, confused.

“Yeah, why? I don’t believe we’ve met.” This was going to be awkward.

“Well, I, uh…” Just now did I realize how ridiculous this was. “I heard about you, ah, your wife…” he nodded, clearly still unsure as to who I was. “and I’m just here to, uh, to offer my sympathy during what I’m sure are…” he continued to stare at me, incredulous. “trying… times… look, I’m Tess’ ex-husband.”

His eyes lit up. “Ah, right, right, I remember she mentioned you once or twice.”

“What did she say? About me, I me- you know what, never mind, not important. So, um, how’s the case going?”

“Ugh,” he groaned, rubbing his eyes, “not well. See, what happened is…”

He was launching into story-telling mode. I made myself comfortable.

“… so she didn’t come in that night, so I figure she’s- she’s still at the movies or, or whatever. B-but then the next morning, one of her friends comes in saying she never went to the film in the… in the first place. So then I’m worried. So I call the police, and they tell us that-“ Here he sniffed loudly, and I felt as though I were intruding on something private, and he was telling me this only because he lacked the strength to argue. “-she wouldn’t be considered missing until forty-eight hours pass, so for two days we – that is, Tori and I, the friend and I – just call around all over the place, trying to find her, and no one’s seen any trace of her. So today, I come here, because by now two days have passed, so I figure I may as well give them whatever help I can. Right now, they’re poring over police records from all over the state, looking for any hit-and-runs that might’ve been her.”

“Sorry,” I said, “hit-and-runs? As in car accidents?”

“Well, yeah,” he said, wiping his nose on his hand and his hand on his jeans. “On account of her card, her prediction.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a well-worn card, moist with sweat. “See?”

That couldn’t be right. The card read, in faded letters, CAR ACCIDENT.

“Now, she didn’t own a car," he continued, "so they figure one must’ve hit her.” I had to tell him. He would find out eventually, and if I didn’t he might think I was hiding it.



“That’s not her card.”

“What are you talking about?” he said, laughing. “Right on our second date, we swapped cards, this is the same one she gave me then. I sold my car the day before I asked her to marry me.”

Oh, he would not take this well. “No, John, that’s… that’s Tori’s card. That’s her friend’s card.”

“No,” he said, no longer laughing. “this… this is Te… it’s Tess’. It’s her card. She gave it to me our second date.”

“John, I swear on my life, that card you are holding was not the one the doctor gave Tess. Did she ever tell you why we got divorced?”

“Look, I am her husband now, and I am worried out of my mind here, and I don’t need to listen to you-"

“No, you do,” I said, “you really do. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. Look, she divorced me because I took her to get tested, and the doctor gave her a little one-and-a-half by four inch white card which said, in black lettering, KILLED BY JEALOUS HUSBAND.” I paused to let him respond. He did not. I do not think he would have been able – his face was a mask of complete and utter shock. “So, she said she didn’t feel comfortable being around me anymore, that she was scared I might do something. Now, the police believed you when you showed them that? I thought everyone was registered or something now, like with fingerprints.”

He shook his head. “That’s only if you have a criminal record. If they find a murder victim, they usually get it tested, but they don’t know where she is, so there’s no blood sample, so they took my word. Jesus, dude, I’m so sorry, I had no idea – she told me it was because you wanted kids and she didn’t!”

“I hate kids!”

“Me too! So that’s why you came here, I guess, because you thought they’d suspect you?”

“Yeah,” I said, “that.”

“I’m sorry, man,” he said, shaking my hand with both of his. “I guess now we’re going to be suspects numeros uno and dos.”

“Hold on,” I said, holding up a finger, “don’t tell them just yet. I want to go ask Tori why she helped Tess trick you, or if she did. And if you tell them now, we’ll be both be taken in. So, yes, tell them, just... wait ‘till I’ve left.”

“Got it,” he said, “that’s a good idea. I’ll tell them you stopped by in, say, fifteen minutes, tell them what you told me. But for now, you go see Tori. You tell her I sent you.”

“I will do just that,” I said, standing. “See you in an hour or so.” As I put on my thick overcoat and walked out the door, I heard him wondering aloud why she chose to marry him despite the prediction. A good question.


I didn’t get back to Queens until sometime after midnight, and the temperature had dropped to somewhere in the low forties. Hands shoved in my pockets, collar turned up against the wind, I marched up her driveway, past her car – was the license plate missing? – and onto the front steps. Tori opened her door just as I was raising my arm to pound on it.

“Talk to John yet?” she asked, stepping aside to let me in.

“Yeah,” I said, walking into her living room. “I talked to John. And he told me something a bit odd. Do you know what he told me, Tori?”

She shrugged. “I can’t imagine anything out of the ordinary. Sit down, make yourself at home!”

I neglected to do so. “He told me that the police were going through local hit-and-run cases. Because Tess had given him a card that said CAR ACCIDENT on it.”

She nodded. “I figured that. I figured she showed him mine.”

“You figured?”

“Well, I used to keep it in my purse all the time, but just before her second date with him, it went missing. I assumed she took it because she didn’t want to frighten him off with something so accusatory, but I didn’t confront her because I assumed she’d tell him the truth eventually.”

“Well, she didn’t,” I said. “John was quite surprised when I told him, believe me.”

“Was he, now?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, told me to come right over here. Told me to tell you he sent me. He seemed just as mad as I was.”

“He should be angrier than you are, really,” she said, walking out of the room. “She lied to him, not to you. Hold on a sec, I gotta get something.”

I continued to stand right in the center of her living room, hands in my pockets. She was taking a while. I busied myself for a few minutes counting the minutiae of the room – the carpet had sixty-one concentric circles on it, one more black than white, the couch was supposed to have thirty-six red buttons on the plushy back, but was missing one, and a nearby lamp had a shade made up of twenty-one glass panels.

“You almost done?” I asked.

“Just about!” she called. Was she outside? I heard a loud thunk, and then she entered from the front door. She must’ve left through the back. “Anyway, what were you saying?”

“That John is angry at you. I guess.”

“You think we should go talk to him?”

“Well, I was just there, I don’t really thi-"

“I think we should go talk to him.”

“That really isn’t necessary, Tori, I don’t think he wants to talk to me-"

“I want to talk to him. Get in the car.”

“Do I really have to be there?”

“Get in the car.”

“Can I drive?”



Traffic was pretty thin. It should be, at one in the morning. Tori had been driving for a while. Her Volvo was filled with junk – pizza boxes, extension cords, old clothes, torn magazines.

“Might want to slow down here,” I said, pointing at an upcoming intersection.

“I know how to drive,” she said.

“You sure, now?”

“I’m sure.” She took a sip of coffee with one hand while turning in the wrong direction with the other. I was amazed she didn’t spill it all over her white peacoat – though I guess I was being a tad paranoid.

“This is the wrong direction,” I told her as gently as possible.

“No, it’s not.” She took another sip.

“The police station was right. We’re going left.”

“No,” she said, “John said to meet him elsewhere.”


“You’ll see.”

We sat in silence for a while. Lights flickered past, I held my hands in front of the heater, and soft rock played on the radio. Not long after, I asked, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what? Billy Joel? Yeah.”

“No, like, a noise from outside,” I said.

“This is New York, there are plenty of-"

“No, no,” I said, shutting off the radio. “Closer.”

We listened. It was clearer now: a long, muffled sound, accompanied by repeated thumps.

“Shit,” Tori said, stopping the car on the side of the road. We were on what had to be the most out-of-the-way street in the city.

Suddenly, there came the sound of ripping, and then, in a gasping breath, a loud scream.

“Let me out! Fuck! Let me out!”

It was clearly coming from the trunk, but before I knew what was happening, scalding hot coffee splashed me in the face. I flailed about blindly, kicking at the driver’s seat, clutching at my face with one hand and at the door handle with the other. I got the door open, but fell out backwards, hitting my head on the pavement with my legs still twisted inside.


You get to know that click, from watching enough movies. It is the sound of the first round of a pistol being chambered, but I recognized it as the sound you hear when someone points a gun at you. Sure enough, by the time I got my eyes open, Tori was standing over me and pointing a pistol right down at my face. Whoever was in the trunk was still shouting for help.

“Stand up,” she said. “And no shouting for help. That means you too, Tess! I have a gun!” The person in the trunk – Tess, presumably – shut up. I extricated my legs from the car and slowly got to my feet.

“Stay right there,” Tori said, stepping back and pulling out her cell phone with her free hand. She dialed a number and waited briefly. “John,” she said, “yeah, he found out.”

So John was in on it. John and Tori were conspiring together, and they had kidnapped Tess. I suppose they had kidnapped me, too, at this point.

“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean?’ I mean he heard her screaming in the trunk and tried to run, and now I’ve got a gun trained on him! No, he’s still awake …shit, you’re right. Hang on.”

She looked at me and said, “Open the door. Get in.” I pulled the handle and – “No, no, other door. Backseat. Quickly.” She was standing about six feet away from me. I climbed into the backseat. “Now lie down,” she said, “head facing me.” I complied.

She violently struck me on the head with the butt of her gun. My vision went black for a split second, my body went limp, and it felt like she had practically split my skull open, but one thing it failed to do was render me unconscious. She slammed the back door and, back on the phone with John, walked around the car and got into the driver’s seat, placing the gun in her lap.

“- no, I know you said not to call you, I know, just… get rid of your phone after this, or whatever, because – no, trust me, I’m fine, I’m fine, I guess I just panicked…” She began driving while on the phone. Where’s a cop when you need one?

“Thing is, when he found out, he kicked my purse and I heard a crack, so he may have…” She wedged her phone between cheek and shoulder and rooted around in her purse, eventually pulling out a plastic bag filled with… were those needles?

“Okay, no, one snapped, but the backup’s still intact – thank God you told me to bring two,” Tori said. At this point, Tess started screaming again in the trunk, and Tori – turning around – yelled, “I thought I told you to shut up!“ I closed my eyes as she was turning around – did she notice? I couldn’t open them, in case she was still looking at me, so I had no way of knowing.

“Shit,” she said. “When I knocked him out, I think I left a mark – no, because I hit him with the gun! Well, you told – no, no, don’t even, you told me to hit him with the gun!”

Jesus. John and Tori were arguing like an old married couple over how best to lead me to my death. Opening my eyes just a crack, I could see that she was even holding the phone between her shoulder and cheek while she drove.

“And now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get him in the warehouse! Should I wake him up, lead him there at gunpoint, and then knock him out again? No, I can’t drag him, what if he wakes up? He’s stronger than me!” My face still stung from the coffee – my jacket was ruined – and I felt like I had the worst headache of my life, but I could move. I shifted my legs slightly, testing them.

“No, I’ll need both hands to drag him, I’d have to put the gun in my pocket, and – are you sure I can’t just kill him first? I know the gunshot residue has to be on his hand, and I know they can… but… no, John, I’m just saying, my way is less risky than sticking a gun in his hand when he’s merely unconscious!” My head was sitting on a wrinkled sweatshirt, and my right foot was on a shoebox, and I could feel, tangled near my calf, a few feet of extension cord. If I could just reach it without her knowing…

“No, ‘cos, look, when the gun goes off, someone is going to hear it. Now, I could be away from the scene by then, but not if I have to shoot her, and tie up his arm, and make sure his saliva gets on the latex band so it looks like he tied it himself, and give him not one, not two, but three shots. And then, what if I leave and someone shows up before he dies?”

Shit. If John told the police that her real death card said KILLED BY JEALOUS HUSBAND just after I left the station, and he stays at the station all night, then when Tess dies there is going to be a grand total of one suspect. Me. I stretched my arm as far as it could go, and the very tip of my middle finger just managed to graze the edge of the cord.

“So,” Tori said, “I’m saying, I inject him, I wait ‘till he’s good and dead, and then I stick the gun in his hand and shoot her. I mean, they can’t tell figure out time of death that well, and you know how lazy the courts have gotten ever since the machines appeared. Plus, the story works out,” I finally managed to get a decent grip around the extension cord with one hand. I just had to wait until the gun was out of her lap.

“Think about it, he’s kidnapped Tess, holds her for a couple days, and goes to the police out of a guilty conscience, right? Now, he realizes that he’s still got a bit of time before they come after him, but not much, right? So he goes back to her and shoots himself up; he overdoses on purpose because he figures he’d just get captured anyway. And then, still high, he offs her –"  Tori picked up the gun, pointed it at nothing in particular, and mimed a gunshot “– bang! – just before he dies. It’ll be super romantic. In a Shakespeare kinda way.”

At that, she put the gun down on the passenger’s seat beside her and grabbed the steering wheel with her right hand, the phone with her left. Now I’d have to wait until she got off the phone – I couldn’t choke her if her arm was in the way.

“Well, I guess he just didn’t think about that before he kidnapped her. No, that’s good, it’ll make it more realistic. Criminals are stupid. Alright, I’m almost there. Five minutes or so. Get back inside, they can’t think you’ve been gone too long, it’ll look suspicious. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you, too. Bye.” So they were lovers, too. She hung up and put the phone beside the gun, grabbing the wheel with both hands. I surreptitiously tried to wipe the sweat off my palms.

In one movement, I sat up, grabbed the other end of the extension cord, and coiled it tightly around her neck from behind – she saw me in the rearview mirror, but not soon enough to react. She let go of the wheel to slap at me, and the car turned wildly, swinging me this way and that. Tess resumed her rabid screaming, drowning out Tori’s pained gasps for breath.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I waited for Tori to lose consciousness. She was using one hand to steer and the other to claw at her neck while I pulled harder and harder, struggling desperately against my slick palms to keep a grip on the cord. Tess screamed like a banshee in the trunk, pounding and kicking at it. The car accelerated faster and faster – Tori must have slammed her foot on the pedal as a reflex. Through the windows, I caught the brief flash of light or color, but I tried to remain focused on her.

Eventually, after an eternity of kicking and hitting and grasping and tugging, I felt the muscles in Tori’s neck relax. My heart was pounding in my ears, I was perspiring all over, I had a massive headache, and I was in a speeding car with no driver – so I was in a bit of a panic, you understand. There was no time to think clearly, and I was under too much stress to have much foresight, and so – seeing no other alternative – I wrenched the handle, kicked the door open, and half-leapt, half-fell out of the car, tucking my head and hands into my chest.

I hit the ground with my side, knocking the wind out of me, and then rolled skidding down the pavement for what had to be at least thirty feet. The only reason that I didn’t suffer a very gruesome-looking injury requiring skin grafts was my decision that morning to dress warmly. My black wool overcoat, long, thick, and heavy, was absolutely ruined, but it took the brunt of the damage. The expensive suit under it hadn’t fared much better, and even my shirt was a bit torn up, but my skin – though obviously covered in scrapes and scratches – wasn’t peeling off in flaps as it might have been, otherwise.

My amateur self-diagnosis was interrupted by a loud crash, and I looked up to find the silver Volvo crushed, smoking, against a building at the end of the street. I walked towards it, noting that no one was rushing toward the wreck – it was too late, and we were too far from any heavily-populated areas.

The front was unrecognizably warped and folded into itself, and the windshield sat, in millions of tiny shards, on the dashboard. I could just make out a dark shape, shiny with blood, sitting in the driver’s set, head twisted at an impossible angle. The trunk, however, had only buckled a little, and I ran to it; I tried to pry it open with my bloody fingers.

I pulled on it, and I pounded on it, and I put all my strength into it, but the trunk’s lid would not budge; it was locked, and the crash had ruined the latch. “Tess!” I yelled, working at the lid. “Tess! Are you… are you in there? You okay?”

I hammered on the trunk, tried to get her attention, and – after a few agonizing seconds of silence – was greeted with a sputter and a gasp. She was alive, if just barely. “Tess!” I yelled again, kneeling down to bring my face next to the trunk. “Say something! It’s me! It’s your husband!” I’m still not sure why I said husband, rather than ex.

Tess gasped again, and coughed wetly, and I could hear a few feeble thuds, as if she was trying to knock the lid open from within. Amidst wheezes and groans, very hoarsely, she said, “John?”

“No, no, no, Tess, please, it’s not John, John did this to you, John’s a bad guy, c’mon, please, it’s me! Y- your… it’s me!” I said.

There was a long pause, filled with more wet breathing. “I…” she said, struggling to catch her breath. “I… I’m s-s-s-sorry.”

After that, the trunk was dead silent. The worst part was that the prediction turned out to be absolutely true. I had killed Tess, by causing the crash, and – little though I wanted to admit it – I was jealous. I got to my feet and walked off down the long road, not sure where I was headed, tattered remains of my outfit hanging from me by threads. No one was out on the street, but at one point in my walk, I did hear sirens. I scurried across an alley and into an adjacent street just before a herd of police cars rounded the corner and sped down the one I had been on.

I decided to go to my apartment. John must have told them Tess’ real prediction by this point, which meant I’d be a suspect, and I’d look much more innocent if the police find me asleep in bed than wandering the streets at three in the morning. Keeping my head as low as physically possible, I took the train back to my building, where I was glad to find that no police cars were waiting for me.

On the way upstairs, I ditched the overcoat and suit in the incinerator, just in case someone had seen a figure wandering the streets in tattered clothes suspiciously similar to the ones in my bedroom. I entered my apartment in my underthings.

“Sit down,” a voice commanded. I turned to see John sitting in a dark corner of the room, training a gun on me.

“John,” I said, sitting. “I did-"

“Shut up. I don’t care.”

“How’d you even get in here?” I asked.

“Tess kept your keys,” he said, jingling them in front of me. “And I figured you’d come back here.”

“Do the police know you’re here,” I asked, “or are they ju-"

“I don’t know what the police know,” John said. “What I do know is that they rushed out to investigate a car accident, and then Tori didn’t call me at two-thirty like she was supposed to. I can put two and two together.”

There was a brief pause.

“Why do it?” I said. “For insurance money? I mean, why take the ri-"

A sudden gunshot interrupted me. I heard the sound of shattering glass close by. In the brief flash of light from the muzzle, I caught a glimpse of his face. Cool and calm as his voice may have been, his eyes had an almost maniacal focus to them – and they appeared to be glazed over with tears.

“I’m talking here,” John said. “I hold the gun, I do the talking. That’s how it works. The next time you talk, I’m not going to aim for your lamp. And, really, for money? That’s what you think of me? You’re just like your wife. She never did love me. She kept your keys, she kept your photographs, she kept the ring you gave her…”

At this, despite myself, I couldn’t help but smile inwardly.

“Tori, though, Tori saw me as more than just a substitute. When I was with Tori, I felt loved. And you took her from me.”

“She tried to kill me!” I managed to blurt out, just before he shot at me again. True to his word, this one hit me in the shoulder.

“Tess was quite adamant;” he continued. “she did not want a divorce, not again, and if I pursued one, I didn’t like my chances, property-wise. And, try as she might to hide it, as much as she tried to lie, I found out her real prediction soon enough. I was going to kill her. You can’t fight fate. I was her husband, so I was going to be the one to kill her – and if I didn’t, you would. That was a certainty. That was a fact. That’s how the machines worked. Why fight it? Why put my happiness on hold until she died if I was going to be the one to kill her anyway? But now that you’ve ruined any chance I had at happiness… I admit, shooting you isn’t nearly as poetic as what I had in mind, but… c’est la vie. Or, rather, c’est la mort…”

He stiffened himself, and I could tell that I was going to die very soon. I just had to ask, “What are you?”
“Pardon?” he asked, gun pointed directly at my heart.

“You know, your prediction. How you’re going to die. What are you?”

He laughed. “I’m alive.”

At that, he emptied his gun into my chest, shots cracking into the still night.