by Casie Blevins
I was twenty-nine when I discovered the cheat code. Old enough to be smart about it, to not turn into one of those entitled little snits you sincerely want to run over with your car when you see them at the mall. Out of high school, just past the age of youthful idealism and with one foot on this side of reality.
It was a good age. Maybe a tad cynical, if I’m honest.
I wish that I could tell you what it is–this magical cheat code, but that’s how it works. One customer per ride, one serial code per program, no cheating the cheat code.
At least that I have figured out. And really, let’s get real. I wasn’t really going to test it anyways. Risk losing it?
It happened like this:
One day I took that mangy mutt of mine on a walk and while he was busy chasing a possum into a gutter I happened upon a young man muttering to himself. He was young, way younger than me, probably just starting high school, sitting on a rock ledge, missing the world around him with his phone in hand, staring mesmerized at the screen. Muttering, muttering to himself. He looked…odd.
It was more than the usual teenage oddness. Or the opposite, maybe. Instead of awkwardness, he was perfection. The guy glowed. Well, not literally. He looked transcendent. He was beautiful, like art.
I’m not some weirdo but I was drawn to him and as I got closer to him I realized that I held my breath.
I was poised…for something. Expectant, but of what? I took a breath. But quiet. I didn’t want to be noticed.
My feet took me still closer to him and I was almost right on top of him when I saw his screen. He never glanced up, intent on social media, what else? Stalking some girl, of course and what he was muttering was– well, nevermind that part.
The other oddity was what he was doing with his hand. He held his phone in his right hand, scrolling with his thumb but with his left hand he was tapping the air. Like playing a piano. Or typing on a keyboard. It was so precise that my eyes were drawn to it and I noticed a pattern to his finger movements. It was almost as if he were tapping out— well, never mind about that part either.
Soon my fingers were tapping out the same rhythm, doing it of their own selves. I opened my mouth and I whispered the odd set of syllables that he had muttered and that’s when he glanced up at me, shocked.
“No!” He screamed and it was so loud and so sudden that I took three steps back nearly toppling over my dog pal who had run up from behind me to growl menacingly at the kid.
I closed my mouth, taken aback.
“Hey, what gives man?” I asked him.
“You, you, you cheat! You thief!” He sputtered at me. Literally, spittle flew out of his mouth.
And that’s when it happened to me. My eyes widened and I could feel the warmth slipping through my body like sunshine through my veins. It wasn’t just warmth, it was also joy, and power, and rightness. I felt joined to the universe in some way. I really did, like I was locked in somehow.
At the same time that my body was zinging with this newfound whatever it was, his body shadowed. That’s the only way I know how to explain it. It was like the sun stopped shining on him and all the color went out of him. Or some of the color. He faded, somehow.
I really looked at him at that moment, from my safe distance, standing beside my dog and I saw for the first time how dry his hair was, like end of summer straw, and noticed the acne that spread across his chin and forehead like little mountains of pus. It even smattered his nose. A sty glistened on his eyelid and his clothes hung off of him, ill fitting and cheap. His shoes had scrapes along the sides and scuffed black toes and were well worn. All of a sudden this young man who had his whole life ahead of him looked so tired he could have been an old man.
I felt like I was looking at the picture of Dorian Gray, his soul revealed in all its vileness.
Well, not that vile. The kid was only fifteen. But grayed, lessened. He was a boy instantly changed.
He raised a shaky hand and drew it through his hair. All of the fight went out of him and he sat back down again, looking resigned. He turned away from me.
“What does this mean?” I whispered.
“Figure it out yourself,” he said flatly.
That’s what I did. I went home and googled it all, all the little strange things he had done in combination. I only got one hit but that’s all that I needed to get me started.
Oh, and forget about getting on my computer’s history to figure it all out. I don’t even own that same computer anymore and even if I did, once I had gotten it all figured out I’d wiped the drive to cover my tracks. And besides, you won’t find anything anyways on the net. The website’s gone and the information was shoddy at best anyways. I had to fill in a lot of holes with experience.
I should probably state that I didn’t just jump on the supernatural bandwagon right off the bat. I was disbelieving at first, reticent, cautious. Unmoved. Even after I looked at my own reflection and saw it’s perfection, it’s inner glow, I was not convinced.
Hey, maybe I was just having a spectacular hair day. It could happen. I had gotten a bit too much sun on my walk and that’s why I was so sunkissed.
Sure, it was. And that scar I’d had on my right arm since falling off my bike when I was eight, just magically decided that today was the day to fade completely away. And the chicken pox scar on my shoulder…and the two gray hairs that I had found on my scalp last weekend…. and the tiredness I usually felt by ten pm….well the list went on and on.
I felt like a newborn vampire, sucking at life’s vivacious veins.
Maybe I was.
The first time, well, it was almost an accident. I wasn’t really thinking about it, I wasn’t focused on making changes, it was more an absent minded event. I wasn’t actively trying to influence things around me. I was just tapping my fingers, maybe on some level thinking about the music on the overhead in the store, finger dancing to it. I remember I was really annoyed about the kid in front of me, a little brat who kept staring at me and kicking his leg in my direction, swinging that little leg like it was a pendulum, higher and higher til he almost reached my thigh, a few bare inches from my actual flesh.
I didn’t have kids myself, found them a bother, and a real time and money drain. I was probably grimacing at the kid, a challenge from his point of view.
I could have moved out of the trajectory of that little leg but I was the adult and he needed to back down, the little bastard. That’s how I thought of it anyways. I was the adult.
I shook my head at him and that’s when he took a step forward, squinted his little beady eyes at me, grinning and swung his leg, this time like a club, and he impacted my leg with a whump, right in the shin.
I groaned and hissed through my teeth, all of my will power keeping me rooted to my spot. The mother looked back at me and smiled vacantly, she was trying to pay, and had missed the whole event. She looked away again and handed the clerk a twenty dollar bill.
I saw her little bastard kid rearing his leg back again and I whispered the invocation that I had heard the teenage boy say; frankly, it had sounded like a curse to me and dealing with this kid ahead of me called for using creative curse words and because I was staring right into his hateful little eyes I also said, “little boy.” And that’s when it happened.
His leg stopped in mid air, bent oddly and settled back at his side. His eyes went wide and his arms went to his sides soldier style and he went straight and stiff and turned abruptly away from me and actually marched his way out of the store, just ahead of his mother. I could see him trying vainly to turn his head to look at me but his feet just kept walking him forward and then he was gone from sight. I stepped forward to the cashier and set my items on the counter thoughtfully.
Had I done that?
Yes, I had.
There was nothing to do but to test it again.
I waited until the next Friday night. I had tickets to see a band that night and was taking a friend along, an unwitting witness.
“I bet they play Baby Mine, next.” I yelled at her.
“What?” She was dancing around me, eyes fixated on the stage, merely glancing at me when I spoke.
I pointed to the stage. “Baby Mine.” I yelled. Against my side I had already been doing the finger tapping. I spoke the words too, sure that no one could hear me in the din.
That night was the last time that I spoke them aloud. I soon learned that the universe listens without ears and that I didn’t need to use my voice at all.
Thinking it was enough.
Too bad that teenage boy hadn’t figured that out.
No, not too bad.
The band opened up the first chords of Baby Mine. I waited until the song was almost over before I yelled, “Next song, Ruby.”
A pleased look spread across Laura’s face when the singer belted out Ruby.
“Next song, Chill Out, Girl.” I yelled.
This time Laura narrowed her eyes at me. “Have you been to this show before?” she shouted.
I shook my head at her, secretly pleased.
By the eighth song I had managed to piss her off. “Shut up already! I want it to be a surprise!” She shouted at me, turning her back to me.
“Baby Mine,” I whispered.
Incredibly the band began to sing Baby Mine for the second time.
If I had had any doubt before, I was certain now.
I tried it at work; I got the best assignment. After three such assignments I allowed that I was due a raise.
I got one.
I went shopping, found everything I needed on sale.
I found a twenty dollar bill in the parking lot at the mall. I stood there for a long time staring at it, just thinking. This was more than just good fortune. This was Providence. Finally, a car honked at me and I bent down, swooped it up in one hand went inside. I walked up to the first hungry looking teenage girl I saw in the food court and gave it to her with a smile and nary a word.
There was a lot of reward in that. Paying it forward by using this fortuitous gift for the good of perfect strangers.
See? That’s where the gift of age came in.
I was rational. Played it low, passed it on. Never too much, never too good. Not standing out for the wrong reasons, or the right ones for that matter. Quietly influential.
Not seeking publicity.
It was more than luck. I was drawing the best possible people and situations to me like a giant magnet of prosperity. My luck resonated to others around me, too, making me even more favored.
But I never used it to manipulate people. Hurt them. Twist them. I never made them do anything reprehensible or harmful to their being, not after that little boy in the store.
Even when I really wanted to. Even when they deserved it because who knew what might tip the scales against me? I didn’t want to lose this gift so I always erred on the side of good.
You know, because, just in case.
I carried on like this for quite some time, years. I greeted my thirties with good humor and poise and played by my own rules with little effort.
I met Jack Deri on a warm Sunday evening in June. Relaxed on a park bench, I was watching my dog cavort with a squirrel and he walked right up to me and sat down.
I glanced his way and did a double take. Instead of minding his own business, he was staring at me. Intently, like he was trying to divine some question from my face.
I drummed my fingers under the cover of my book and willed him to walk away.
He didn’t move.
I kept glancing at him, becoming more and more annoyed with his presence. A wide smile spread across his face.
I turned away from him, finding new interest in my dog.
After a few agonizing moments I risked another look at him.
His eyes were just as before, fixated on me. Except this time he looked puzzled.
I glanced up at the sky, drumming my fingers and conjuring up rain. I stood up, made a general comment about rain and called my dog. I looked pointedly at the sky as if that would hurry the man on the bench away and saw the sky swept clear of clouds.
I felt foolish then, and frowned.
The man laughed.
“Well, I don’t know what you’re laughing at.” I sulked.
“I don’t either,” he said, wide mouthed and grinning.
There we stood, he and I, facing off, over–over, what? I didn’t know.
“Jack Deri,” he said.
“Ginger Rogers,” I quipped.
“Well, I believe the Ginger part anyways.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“I never met anyone like–you, before.”
“You’ll get over me,” I said sarcastically. “I’m just a passing fancy.” I averted my eyes.
He chuckled. Then his eyes narrowed. “You’re like me,” he whispered. “How can it be?”
“My grandmother said our family married into the fair folk in generations past.” He was eating a sandwich and chewing thoughtfully. “I always took it as the gospel’s truth. She was a very honest woman.”
I shook my head. “That’s not where I got it.”
He raised his eyebrows at me quizzically but I determined to ignore him. The other diners in the tiny restaurant carried on with their meals, clinking their silverware completely oblivious to the two uncommon strangers sitting at the table next to them.
I didn’t trust him. I just stared back at him with my lips pursed, daring him to try to get it out of me.
“I just can’t believe how blank you are, I mean, I get nothing from you. You’re completely outside my influence.”
“My grandmother was the only other person like that and she wasn’t completely unreachable, although I never admitted that to her.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
He looked chagrined. “I don’t even know,” he said and laughed. “It’s completely confounding.”
I sipped my tea, gnawing my straw nervously.
“Is anyone in your family–”
“I wasn’t born into it,” I said.
“Oh.” Now he really looked confused, and excited.
I looked around the room trying to distract myself from his infectious agitation. I had to keep this close to my breast. Protect myself.
“It’s like finding a long lost cousin, or something. You know?”
I nodded. I didn’t know. I didn’t really care. So what if he could do what I did. He didn’t need to know how I did it. Or why. Or my rules. Or me, for that matter. I was determined to remain aloof. Why had I even agreed to eat with him, anyway?
He tried to put his hand on me but I yanked it away. He mumbled a muffled apology and settled down.
“I think I, this is going to sound crazy because I don’t even know you but I think I love you. Don’t you feel it?” His eyes implored me.
The truth is, I did. And I very much didn’t want to. He felt dangerous to me. I was on the very edge of a precipice, and looking over. What should l do?
“It’s just the–thing,” I said awkwardly, rubbing my arms in the chill A/C. “Everybody feels drawn to me. It’s just part of this–thing.” I finished lamely, looking away again.
He shook his head at me. “No,” he said. After a moment he spoke again. “I could have any woman in the world. And I have. In fact, I approached you with the same intentions earlier. Have you, leave you, I imagined it happening in the bushes behind the bench–and then I would just carry on with my day. But you wouldn’t even look at me. Much less take your clothes off.”
I glared at him, thinking of all the rules that I had concocted to ensure just the opposite. I shuddered.
“Now, I just want to know you. All of you. Every detail. And share myself with you in equal detail. Confess myself. To you. Am I mad?” He giggled.
I rolled my eyes.
I was used to this sort of hero worship treatment. Like I’d told him, it would pass when he wandered away from me. Some people were just extra bamboozled by this cheat code. What I wasn’t used to was when they wouldn’t go away, when they lingered even after I sent them away.
And I certainly wasn’t used to feeling the same way about them.
Jack Deri and I were diametrically opposed. I was cautious, prudent even, certainly discreet. He was brazen, audacious, and unapologetic about it. He was used to getting his own way about things.
Something had to give.
I spent the whole next afternoon working him over and over again trying to make him more humble, more invisible, so he wouldn’t put us at risk.
I was trying to make it work.
Nothing that I did, no matter how I phrased it had any effect at all on him. He remained the same Jack Deri that I had unwittingly fallen for, a huge risk, his every action a flagrant disregard to all my rules for civility and self-possession. He grew ever bolder, in some effort to impress me, to goad me, while I just wanted to remain invisible.
What else could I do? I could lose everything.
It was time to dispatch him.
Jack didn’t have much of a schedule. He got up when he wanted, ate when he wanted, disregarding custom if it didn’t suit him that day. After all he knew that the restaurants would stay open, or open early at his whim. The world was quite literally his to command.
So, how to surprise someone who had no routine and who could probably reverse death if it came slow enough?
How, indeed. If I was to do this it had to be quick, bloodless, and taintless. After all, I was fond of Jack, I couldn’t deny that. He was handsome in a rugged way, and he was certainly entertaining. He just wouldn’t…behave. And I liked an ordered world.
Then I got pregnant.
Me, the one who couldn’t stand kids, had one planted within me and it changed everything. I knew the moment it happened when the seed met the egg and conjoined. I started to change and I don’t mean the necessary weight gain and hormones normally associated with pregnancy. I felt…exultant, even rapturous. I could feel the little being growing inside of me and it felt as if we were conversing all day long, one cell to another. I didn’t even have to use the cheat code to make him perfect, I could feel that he already was. I could feel him Becoming, with a capital B. Being, Building, inside of me. I could feel his Beginning.
And suddenly Jack Deri faded into the background, becoming less and less important, almost an afterthought, not even a consideration in my daily plannings.
We didn’t marry. I didn’t see the point. He was too flighty and despite my best efforts he was uninterested in changing for love of me or because of the new life inside of me. He was doting of me as always and ecstatic at being a father but he was still Jack, rakish rogue, wanderer, philanderer. Or at least I figured that he was. If I’m truthful, he didn’t really matter enough to me to wonder anymore. I couldn’t hear his siren call anymore over the din of my baby’s adoration.
I named him Micheal. It seemed fitting and he was an angel to me, growing inside of me. And he was like his father, I could tell that right away too, he had the gift, born of it and he was slowly transforming me to be more like him. By the time he was born my will alone was all I needed to influence the world around me. I formed it perfectly for my son, softening its edges and shining up its surfaces.
Micheal was born with wise eyes, deep and old. After the midwife left I stared at him for hours. He stared right back, impossibly alert, content and even tempered, the both of us completely in tune, harmonizing with the universe, as it were.
He wouldn’t let Jack hold him at all. He would scream and twist his newborn body, possessing more strength than a one year old child, much less one only a day old.
He was mine alone.
Jack took it in stride, handing him docilely back to me, with a small grin. “I just can’t get a read on the little guy,” he said and shook his head.
Micheal settled immediately in my arms afterwards and it felt as if a circuit was completed and our bond reinforced. When I closed my eyes to sleep, so did Micheal. When my eyes stuttered open, so did his. We were perfectly in sync.
“You have to go away, Jack,” I said a few days later, surprising myself. The thought had come to me while I nursed Micheal, watching his eyes slowly close, feeling the pull on mine.
“Leave. Move away. Hit the road.”
He laughed. “You’re in a strange mood today.”
“I’m serious.” My tone was light, airy. A smile played upon my lips.
He frowned. “Why would you say something like that? It’s macabre.”
“Because I mean it. Micheal and I don’t need you.” And I realized it was true. What was Jack doing here anyway?
“That’s my baby, Ginger.”
“If you stay–”
It started on Saturday, five days after Micheal’s birth, a burn in my stomach. By Saturday night I was sweating lightly as if I was running a fever.
I started eating, all of the fruit in the house, then vegetables. I buzz sawed through the carrots in the fridge, even ate three potatoes, raw, not bothering to cook them, desperate to eat, to consume. By bedtime I had finished all of the junk food in the house as well.
Sunday morning I woke up just as ravenous and I opened three cans of soup for breakfast, poured all of them into a bowl and microwaved it.
I could feel Jack’s judging eyes watching me, pressing me.
“I’m so hungry. Maybe it’s the nursing,” I said.
“You’re gonna get fat,” Jack said, sipping his coffee.
He was right. In the course of the week I grew to bulbous proportions. I expanded, not so much fat as size, my shoulders growing wider, my ribcage widening, my organs shifting and twisting and making… room.
I watched it all with interest, not worry, knowing I was changing for a purpose and that that purpose would be revealed.
My body thrummed with energy, increasing in intensity during the times that I was nursing like I was attached to a battery. I continued to sweat lightly and while I was switching Micheal from one arm to the other I had the sudden image that I was well oiled machinery. I sent Jack to the store for more and more food.
Still, the hunger built.
“You’re starting to look like my grandmother,” Jack said, wrinkling his nose. “You need to stop eating.”
“I can’t,” I gasped, feeling some sort of crescendo build in my body at last. Whatever was going to happen was almost here, I could feel it in my body like the hum of the air conditioner but instead of feeling cold course through me I felt the heat build and build and suddenly my mouth was stretching wider and wider and with Micheal still in my arms I leaned over to Jack who was pinioned to his seat, wide eyed and I bit him, taking in all of his head, his hair tickling my throat, his scream reverberating and finally getting lost down my throat as I took him, all of him down my gullet, and felt him settle in my gut.
I looked down at Micheal, and smiled, and saw his eyes wide open and the corners of his lips beginning to grin, as if he knew a little secret.
I guessed we both did. I put one nipple into his mouth and he nursed contentedly.
My body began to shrink then, falling into itself, becoming compact, reforming itself into its prior dimensions. I was almost liquid under my skin, jello hardening into the new me.
A knock sounded at the door. I stood up, lighter now and opened the door.
Two men in uniform stood before me. “We’re looking for Jack Deri on suspicion of–” his partner held up his hand and shook his head and the younger said, “for questioning, ma’am. Do you know where he is?”
“There’s no Jack Deri here,” I said truthfully, smiling beatifically at my baby.
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