“I don’t get why you’re always on that thing.” Dawn waved her hand in front of Kelsey’s face.
“What?” Kelsey kept scrolling. “I’m just reading the news.”
Dawn raised her eyebrows. “News? Really?”
Kelsey shrugged. “You never know. Maybe they decided to cancel school again.”
“Doubt it.” Dawn snatched the phone and scanned the first few headlines. “This stuff is always the same. Look at today: ‘Five Year Old Boy Dies of Covid’; ‘Accident in Quarry Leaves 13 Dead’; ‘Mayor Announces Plans to Restore Downtown’: it’s all depressing garbage!”
Kelsey crossed her arms. “You missed the one about a phone stealing sister.” Dawn handed it back.
“Seriously, nothing ever changes in this town.” Dawn glared at Kelsey who was scrolling again. “I’ll prove it to you!” She grabbed the phone.
“If you don’t cut that out, I’m telling Mom!” Kelsey pulled it back.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “I just wanted to look up the articles from a few years ago. Dare you to do it and tell me the headlines aren’t similar.”
Kelsey started typing. She looked at her sister and grinned. “I know what this is.”
“You always try to freak me out this time of year, but it won’t work this time! I’m in middle school now, remember?” She went back to scrolling.
Dawn shook her head and took her own phone off the charger. She typed, October 20th, 2018 and read through the headlines. “No way.” Her mouth hung open.
“As if you didn’t already know.” Her sister snorted.
Dawn checked the current news again and then went back to 2018. “Did you read this? ‘Thirteen Dead in Chemical Leak, Five Year Old Died of Cancer, Mayor--”
“It was bound to happen eventually, I guess.” Kelsey sighed and sat her phone down. “You’re right. There’s gotta be something better to do on a Saturday.”
Kelsey left the room before Dawn could respond. She stared at the screen. October 20, 2015. There it was again: “Child Dies…”; “Workplace Incident…”; “Mayor Announces…”. How was this possible? What about yesterday’s news? She kept typing. “Department of Health Issues Warning about New Covid Strain''; “Croatan Positions Government for Grant--” Different. She fell onto the couch and dropped the phone on her chest. Kelsey was right. It was bound to happen eventually, unless--She picked up the phone, October 19, 2018. She sat up slowly. “Department of Health Issues a Warning about Water Contaminates”; “City Positions for Funding…” The room started to spin. She continued typing. The eighteenth, the seventeenth--every three year the subjects repeated. “M--m--mom!!!” She ran to the kitchen. “Mom, you gotta see this!”
“Just a minute, sweetheart. Let me finish these dishes.”
“No! Mom! Please!” She grabbed her mother’s arm.
Her mother turned off the water. “Alright, alright. What did Kelsey do this time?”
“What? Nothing. You just--look!” She pushed the phone into her mother’s hands.
“Oh yes. I remember that accident at the factory. Poor Mrs. Wilson was torn up for weeks. Maybe we should--”
Dawn grabbed the phone. “It’s not that, just--” She pulled up the current headlines and turned the phone around.
Her mother wrinkled her forehead. “Well that’s strange. I thought the Mayor’s plans were supposed to be finished by now.”
Dawn shook her head. “Didn’t you notice the articles? They’re all the same.”
Her mother handed her the phone. “Don't be silly, Sweetie, the accident a few years back was in the plastic factory, not the quarry.”
“But six years ago the--”
“That’s enough!” Her mother placed her hands on her hips. “Sitting around on your phone all day isn’t healthy for a girl your age! Why don’t you give Ruth a call? She got her license last week, didn’t she?”
Dawn groaned and stomped to her room. Calling Ruth wasn’t a bad idea. She put her phone to her ear and started shoving books into her backpack. “Ruth? It’s me. Do you think you could give me a ride to the library? There’s something I want to look into.”
“Why? Can’t you just look it up on your phone?”
Dawn dropped her backpack and pulled at the back of her neck. “I just need to get out of the house, okay? Besides, if my mom sees me on my phone, she’ll probably take it again.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Ruth sounded hurt. “I’ll head over now.”
“I didn’t mean to be harsh.” Dawn hung her head. “Just, do me a favor? If my mom asks when you get here, tell her we are going to your place to study.”
Dawn sat on the porch until Ruth arrived. As soon as they were in the car, she started explaining. She spoke so fast, she had to stop to catch her breath. “I thought the news would be similar, but this is insane!”
Ruth frowned. “I don’t know. Are you sure you’re not just making a big deal out of nothing?”
“Nothing?” Dawn felt a stabbing in her chest. “How could you say this is nothing? The odds of this happening by chance--”
“I’m not saying it’s not weird, but if there were some big conspiracy of news repeating itself, do you really think you’d be the first to notice? You didn’t even notice my new haircut last week.” Ruth nudged her arm.
“This isn’t funny.” Dawn’s ears were getting hot.
“I just mean, you and I have both grown up here and we’ve known most of the town since we were kids. Don’t you think someone else would have noticed?”
The car stopped in front of the library. “Whatever.” Dawn opened the door. “Thanks for the ride.” She slammed it and narrowed her eyes. If the news repeated every three years, maybe she could go back far enough to find a reason why.
She marched to the door and threw it open. A chill ran down her spine as the librarian's gaze followed her across the room. She dropped into a chair in front of a computer. She just needed to focus. She started typing, Croatan Daily News, October 20, 2012. Her eyes raced across the screen. Same. 2009. Same. 2006, 2003, 2000...1883. It stopped. There was nothing before that year. She leaned her head against her hand and squinted at the screen. The picture of the aged paper was difficult to read. “Five Year Old John William’s Dies of Polio”; “Mining Accident Claims 13 Lives”; “Mayor Jones Claims Great Things to Come for Croatan”--
Dawn jumped. “Mr. Wolf, you scared me.” Her voice shook.
He leaned towards her and whispered. “Not everything can be found on a computer.” The hair on the back of her neck stood as his hot breath brushed across it. Something about the librarian had always made her uncomfortable. “Come with me.”
She watched the long braid on his back sway as he walked across the room. She swallowed and tried to steady her shaking hands as she followed. He disappeared into a small room. She froze, not sure she should enter. He appeared a moment later with an old newspaper.
“You must not remove this from the building.” He met her eyes. “Be careful what you do next.” He grabbed her hand and wrapped her fingers around the paper. “History has a way of repeating itself.”
He was almost back to his desk when she remembered to breathe. Her knees were weak. She lowered herself to the floor and studied the paper. It had a strange logo in the corner she didn’t recognize. Her gaze fell to the date, October 21, 1883. Her head started to spin. She quickly read the front page:
“Young Woman Causes Death of Entire Town”
Croatan resident Jane Smith was recently arrested for disturbing the peace of the city founded just three years ago. Reports of her frantic behavior spread beyond the town border last week when she tried to bring a stop to all mining projects claiming the town had been founded on sacred Indian burial grounds. After the shame of her failed efforts to stop the town’s progress, Miss Smith was seen entering the mines equipped with a small explosive. It is assumed the young woman only intended to bring about her own death, but two-hundred and sixty seven villagers were killed by the collapse of the mine that resulted from the blast...
Dawn’s mouth flooded as she resisted the urge to vomit. She scooted herself against a wall and took several deep breaths. She scanned the rest of the paper. The only article about Croatan was on the cover, but if it repeated every three years--She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t too late. If she could show someone the paper, maybe they’d believe her. Energy coursed through her veins. She looked around. Mr. Wolf was nowhere in sight. She darted to her backpack and shoved the paper inside. She couldn’t stop until someone else knew what was going on.
That night, Dawn collapsed onto her bed and glared at her backpack. The school, the police, the news: they’d all been just as dismissive as her family. She pounded her fist against her blanket. Maybe she just needed to let it go. Her phone rang.
“Who is this?”
“It’s Jerry Cly, the intern you met at Croatan Daily News. I was interested in your story today. Would you be able to meet me in the morning to answer a few questions?”
Dawn struggled to find her voice. “Yeah--yes! Definitely! But can’t we meet tonight?”
“Sorry, it needs to be tomorrow. Meet me at the paper first thing.”
Dawn pushed her phone away and tried to close her eyes. First thing. She could still make it in time.
Before the sun was up, Dawn was out the door. Her mom would be worried, but she could explain later. Her eyes were fixed to her phone as she typed, Croatan Daily News. She scrolled and walked. Nothing since yesterday. She typed again, News October 21, 2021. A single article appeared with the same symbols she hadn’t recognized before. Her heart threw itself against the wall of her chest. “Gas Tanker Explodes Claiming Two-hundred Sixty-seven Lives” by Jerry Cly. Her fingers trembled as she clicked the headline. “Sixteen year old Dawn Wright committed suicide early this morning by walking--” The sound of a horn made her turn. Her eyes grew wide. Headlights.
Pain erupted throughout her body. She blinked several times but was too weak to move. Someone was standing over her. “I told you to be careful.” A cool liquid seeped around her feet, and burned her nose. She heard a match.
As the small light fell, she remembered. It wasn’t an explosive she’d carried into the mines, it was an arrow. “Cly” was engraved on it’s side. She shouldn’t have touched the grave, but she needed them to stop! The match reached the pavement. Not again. Jane Smith braced herself. This time, don't take it! Even as the thought appeared, she felt it slipping through her consciousness. There was a flash of light and a warm breeze as the girl drew her last breath for the forty-sixth time.