“S is for stalker,” Ken told the kindergarteners. “S. T. A. L. K. E. R. For example, I need to leave here soon, because I have a stalker I’ve been avoiding and they’re going to show up in…” Ken closed his eyes, letting visions of possible futures sweep over him. He plucked the worst, but most lucky, one from the river like it was a mutant fish and he was starving. Ugly, but necessary for survival.
His stomach growled. On second thought, he's hungry. When was the last time he ate? His brain refused to answer. Ever since he got this ‘gift’, he’s only been able to remember the future, but not the past. Ken couldn't even remember how long he's been living this life. It felt like it started yesterday.
What was the first thought again?
One of the kindergarteners raised their hand. “Mr. Ken?” He asked.
“Yes, small child?”
“You asked about the cafeteria a couple of minutes ago and said you wanted to go to it…”
The kindergartener nodded. “So why didn’t you already?”
“Don’t know. I’m off now.” The future warned him the stalker would be here in a few minutes, coming from the main hallway. Ken slid open the classroom’s second story window and straddled it. “Don’t do this at home, kids,” he said, before flopping out of it and onto the bushes below.
“We’re not at home now,” one of the now-unsupervised children said.
“Don’t even think about it,” Ken shouted from below.
“Ken? Where did you wander off to?” Jason asked as he walked up to the half-bush half-man blob. The school’s principal stood beside him, a frown lining her thin lips. “What are you doing?”
Popping his head out from the bush, he said, “I have no idea.”
“Okay then,” Jason said, too used to Ken’s forgetful nature. Everything that’s past seemed to disappear from his memory the second it passes. He just doesn’t have room for the planted past as the river of the future floods his mind. “You have your new client; Ms. Mays would like to know her future.”
Now, I wouldn’t say Jason was Ken’s ‘pimp’ per say, but he arranged Ken’s clients in return for part of the profit of what Jason called Ken’s ‘gift’ generated. Okay, yeah, no, he’s definitely Ken’s pimp for future readings.
“Okay-dokey.” Ken hopped out of the bush and reached for the future surrounding the principal.
“Specifically,” Ms. Mays added, “I would like to know about my—”
“Love life,” Ken finished. “There’s not much to tell. You're gonna a lot of cats. But I suggest doing the alternative future where you start getting them at shelters and not on the streets. And the milk in your fridge has expired.”
“My mother-in-law could have told me that,” she grumbled. “Give me something I don’t know. How do I prevent this?”
“Get a likable personality and stop demanding a guy must be perfect for you to date when you’re far from it. When you do that, go to Philip's Popping Bar on June 3rd and talk to the guy in the red sweater. His standards are pretty low.”
Ken blinked a few times, pulling himself from the river before he drowned. He swayed on his feet like the current was carrying him before his stomach growled. “Food,” he mumbled. “Don’t I need that or something?”
“Kinda.” Running his hand through his fluffy brown hair, Jason sighed. Meanwhile, Ms. Mays stormed off to go ignore Ken’s advice and meet the stranger in the red sweater. “You don’t have any more clients for today. Let’s head back to our apartment for now." Besides being Ken's pimp, Jason was also Ken's roommate and the only friend he was aware of due to constant contact. "I’ll make lunch.”
As he tossed their keys into the dish on their spacious kitchen counter, Jason said, “Hey, it’s been a couple of hours. Take your binder off before you hurt yourself.”
While they had avoided big-ticket lotteries and desperation, Jason and Ken still lived a comfortable life from profiting off Ken’s 'gift'. Their three-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles spoke volumes of that. Winning small ticket-lotteries and telling fortunes to all kinds of naïve—and often rich—people paid more than its fair share of the bills.
Ken patted his chest, feeling his binder under his shirt. “Oh my god, that’s why my back was hurting so much. I totally forgot I was wearing it."
"Sounds impossible, but you do forget literally everything."
"Imma get my hoodie. Where is it again? Here?” He reached for the golden knob of a red door with the words ‘Do Not Enter’ hand-painted on it.
“Not that door!”
Ken laughed. “Why are you being so serious? What do you have in here? A dead body?”
“I don’t have a dead body in there.”
As Ken opened the door, a dead man flopped out and onto their nice, expensive carpet.
Jason calculated the cost of a professional carpet cleaning in his head while Ken freaked out. “OH MY GOD THAT’S A DEAD BODY.”
He put his hands on his head, feeling around it like he was certain it wasn’t screwed on right. His hands ran over his face. “What? What? Why? Who? WhAT?!”
Calmly, Jason made his way across the room to the corpse. Using his body to prop it up, he struggled to shove it back in the closet. “Jesus. Why couldn’t this just be the classic skeleton in the closet? It’d be so much lighter.”
Clicking the door shut, Jason relaxed and slid down the wall. “Finally.” He glanced at Ken pacing around, flailing his arms around.
“My dead body? What?”
“You know what? I really don’t feel like dealing with this.”
Going into Ken’s room, Jason got Ken’s Dysphoria Sweatshirt and flung it as his head. Ken struggled for a few seconds before ripping it off. “What’s this for?”
“Tits. Out. Now.”
Ken patted his binder underneath his shirt, again. He cracked a smile. “Oh yeah. Hey, what were we just talking about again?”
And just like that, the memory of the dead body dropped from his mind.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m too tired to cook now. Let’s just eat out.” He glanced at the red door. “Out of this apartment. With its doors that have clear warnings on them for a reason.”
“Okay. Oh, oh, oh! Let’s go anywhere but Matty’s Patties.
“What? That’s your favorite place?”
“It is? Oh, that’s probably why my stalker is waiting for me there.”
“Stalker?” Concerned edged it’s way into Jason’ voice. “What stalker?”
“I think I keep seeing future visions of the same girl with a twin braid hairstyle trying to talk to me everywhere—like she’s following me. Every time I tried to see what happens past meeting her, the vision stops. I’ve never seen a vision that stop. I always see everything in the future.”
Jason frowned. “You should stay away from her. It doesn’t sound good.”
“I don’t know why, but she seems familiar.”
“Probably because you keep having visions of her. It’s fine, but I would keep avoiding her.”
“From as far back as I can remember, I have never made a worse decision than this,” Ken declared as he touched the tip of the world’s soggiest fry at Vern’s Tavern—where the food might not give you food poisoning.
“This is the only you can remember,” Jason said, while trying to breath through his dense hamburger bite. It was like eating a greasy brick, though the brick might have actually tasted better.
“Which by default, makes it the worst.”
“And also the best.”
Jason gave the menu a second glance. “Something on here has to be edible.”
“Oh, edibles. Let’s get some.”
“How about we try the milkshakes first? I don’t think it’d be good to have drugs in your system when your gift already makes you act like a high idiot who can’t remember anything.”
As Jason got up to go order at the counter, Ken called out, “But you want this stuff in your system? Jason, the health letter grade on the wall is an F that’s drawn on to look like an B.” He squinted at the squiggly letter. “You know, they set their standards low, and I respect that.” He shoved the fries away. “Though, it’s the only thing I respect about this place.”
With his chin resting on his elbows and disappointment resting on his face, Ken stared out the window. Outside, a woman who clearly doesn’t get paid enough, dressed like a giant burger, gave out fliers for a burger joint. He narrowed his eyes. “Matty’s Patties,” he read off the burger’s forehead. His stomach growled. “Can’t argue with that. Though, I feel like I’m forgetting something.”
A goofy smile split across Ken’s face as he shoved a Matty’s Original Patty into his face. Satisfied as the golden grease dripped down his chin, he patted his stomach. “I can die happy now.”
Visions of his stalker swam through his head, spooking him. Ken flopped off his chair when the pictures inside his head matched with the ones outside it. There. Across the burger joint. The stalker with the twin braid hairstyle surveyed the room. Looking for him.
Already off his chair, Ken dove underneath his table to hide. “Jason, we have a pro—” There was no Jason. “Oh my god, I left Jason at the inedible restaurant. Dammit. Okay, Ken, think. What do you do?” Internally, he dove into the river of the future, looking for an answer, but the closer she got to him, the more the river dried up.
“Are you looking for something?” His stalker asked.
Ken slammed his head on the table’s bottom as he tried to glance up. Cursing, he shamefully rose from under the table. His stalker asked him, “Ken, are you okay?”
Grabbing a spork over the table, he held the plastic weapon at arm’s length. “Back off! I’m armed.”
“Clearly,” she deadpanned. “Seriously, Ken, what’s going on with you? Do you know how long I’ve been trying to find you? A year. A whole damn year. What happened to ‘nah, we’re best friends, Liv. I won’t ever ditch you when I get a boyfriend. Mostly because I’m greysexual, it’d be sooooo rare! Haha!” The girl mimicked Ken’s laugh, completing the look by holding her hands on her jiggly belly as she laughed like Santa Claus. After a minute she stopped, a scowl returning to her face. “But seriously, dude. What the hell?”
“Do… do I know you?”
She gawked at him. Rising her voice an octave, she shouted, “Do I know you? Do I know you?”
An ‘ooh’ fell over the restaurant. All eyes turned to what the background characters thought was a lover’s quarrel.
“How could you say that after everything we’ve been through?”
Their gazes turned to staring daggers at Ken. He gulped. A deep pit formed in his stomach as the river’s bedrock was exposed. He didn’t know how to react or live without the future to guide him.
“We’ve been best friends since the 5th grade, jackass,” she snapped. A few faces in the crowd dropped when they realized this quarrel was full of platonic hatred. “You know what?” Ken’s supposed-stalker pulled out a thick, vanilla envelope. She shoved it in his hands. “Here. I’m giving this back to you like you requested when you gave it to me. A weird request, by the way. But you know what? I did it because that’s what friends do. Though, it’ll be the last favor I do for you, Ken Lanroonie.” She shoved past him and left. “Goodbye.”
Shocked, Ken watched her leave with a slack jaw. “My last name is Lanroonie?”
Before it got away from him, curiosity told Ken to open the envelope, so he did. Inside was a necklace, a key, and a glossy photograph. In the photograph, ten college-aged kids in costumes for a Shakespeare play linked arms and grinned like idiot into the camera. Smack in the middle, was Ken and his stalker, not looking much younger than they were now. He flipped it over to see the listed names on the back. Ken Lanroonie and Liv Davids. No Jason. Huh.
In the front, he wore a necklace—the one in the envelope. He put it on, letting the familiar mass weigh on his chest.
Finally, there was the key. A worn, steel key that looked like it belonged on Ben Franklin’s kite string. He shrugged.
Ken thumbed his old necklace, letting his fingers find their familiar groove. A strange calm crossed him. His thoughts cleared. The future visions came back after Liv left, but the river was more tranquil. Less demanding. Less consuming. For the first time in a while, he didn’t immediately forget what happened. The memory of meeting Liv for what he thought was the first time stuck to his mind. How strange.
Maybe Jason knew something about this.
Quietly returning home, Ken didn’t have nearly as much trouble as he usually does finding his apartment. On the way there, the memory of Liv replayed in his mind.
God, this whole day was just… weird.
Unlocking the door, Ken said, “Hey, Jason—”
His voice immediately stopped as every brain cell in his head—that’s right, all three of them—devoted themselves to a staring contest with a silver fork that had grown tiny silver legs on the kitchen counter. The fork froze as Ken stared at it, eyes wide.
Other dishes continued to clean themselves in the soapy sink until Jason cursed and said something in a language that Ken didn’t recognize. The dishes dropped and the fork went dead. Ken poked it a few times just to make sure as Jason popped his head out his bedroom door with a fake smile on his face. “Hey, Ken. Just heard you come in, buddy. You didn’t see anything did you?”
“Haha,” Ken plastered on a fake smile of his own to match his artificial laugh. He had the same instincts to play dumb as possums had to play dead. “See what?”
“Oh nothing.” Jason ducked back into his bedroom.
Dropping onto his couch, Ken braced for the existence crisis he could feel coming on.
God, Ken thought, this would be so much easier to explain if I was just high like I wanted to be.