A Matter of Quantity

A Matter of Quantity
by N. E. Riggs

Malcolm Calamity became a fortune teller at sixteen, and a murderer at eighteen.

He isn’t the type of fortune teller a person might run into at a fair. He isn’t the type who works out of a gypsy caravan and tells young girls who they’re going to fall in love with. He isn’t the kind who carries around a deck of Tarot cards. He isn’t the kind who writes horoscopes, or even reads horoscopes.

In fact, he has never made much money as a fortune teller, and he never wants to. He’s an honest and respectable person, and that is the reason he became a murderer.

He became a fortune teller at sixteen, on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday. He and a group of friends had spent the day at Woodfield mall, shopping, goofing off, hanging out, and the other things teenagers do. The three girls in the group had gone into Marshal Fields, and the three boys waited outside, resting their legs. As on most Saturdays, the mall was packed with people, including tourists from other states since it was November and Woodfield was a famous mall. After about a half hour of waiting around, Malcolm had left his friends to go to the bathroom. He went to use the mall restrooms, not the one in Marshals even though it was closer, since he thought that, if he ran into the girls, they’d make him carry their purchases.

When he got to the bathroom, he heard sounds coming from one of the stalls. It sounded like someone was crying. And since he was a kind and thoughtful young man, Malcolm had knocked on the stall door and asked the man if he needed any help. And that was how he had met Sinclair Fléau, who taught Malcolm how to tell true fortunes.

Sinclair was a fortune teller, and he decided Malcolm should be one too. The old man had been weeping because he had seen an incident in the future that he didn’t like, but couldn’t do anything to change. After Malcolm pulled him out of the bathroom stall and offered him some toilet paper to wipe his nose, Sinclair had taken one look at the teenager and announced, “You have the talent too.”

Sinclair may not have used Tarot cards, but he did have a crystal ball. His small apartment also contained dead lizards, a very strange collection of occult books, a ceremonial dagger with the gold flaking off, and a strong scent of incense. When Malcolm helped him get home after meeting him at the mall, he thought the apartment was horrible, and decided never to come back again. But Sinclair had sat him down with a beer, even though Malcolm was underage, and told Malcolm about his talent.

The old man was a real fortune teller, one of the few left in the world. While he didn’t make predictions very often, his predictions always came true. And since he was getting old, he taught Malcolm everything he knew, since real fortune tellers should not become extinct.

Over the next two years, until he finished high school, Malcolm spent every Saturday morning at Sinclair’s apartment. His parents worried at first, but Malcolm told them he was friends with the old gentleman. And his parents allowed it, since Malcolm was doing a kind and generous thing by spending time with a retiree. The apartment smelled horrible no matter how many times Malcolm went there, and one of the first questions he asked Sinclair was whether the incense was actually necessary. The answer was no, and Malcolm vowed to never use the stuff when he became a fortune teller.

His first prediction, gazing into the murky depths of the crystal ball, was the outcome of a Bulls’ game. The team was on one of its winning streaks, so the prediction was really no surprise. Malcolm tried to bet on the outcome with his friends from school, but none of them thought the Bulls would lose. A week later, he had his second prediction: the Bulls winning another game, and he saw the final score too. Sinclair was ecstatic that he could see so much detail, and Malcolm was ecstatic too. He made a wager with his friends at school as to the final score (since still no one doubted that the Bulls would win). Two days later, the game commenced, and the Bulls won with the score Malcolm had seen. He made quite a bit of money, and was happy. But the next Saturday, he let slip to Sinclair the bet, and his teacher became furious. The ability to see the true future, Sinclair said, was a sacred and precious thing, and shouldn’t be used for anything so banal as making money, like fake fortune tellers did. He even said the ability shouldn’t be wasted on something as unimportant as basketball games. However, that had been all Malcolm had yet seen, so Sinclair allowed that, saying that since Malcolm was still learning and was such a big Bulls fan, it was no wonder he could see the outcome of the games, but not yet anything else.

He made Malcolm swear never to use his ability to make money, or to use his ability to hurt another person. And beyond even that, he must never let another person guess that he could tell the future. Malcolm, thoroughly chastised by Sinclair’s fury, had solemnly sworn. After that, he kept his promise not to make money off his ability, and his promise not to hurt people, and his promise to keep his talent as much a secret as possible.

By the time two years had passed and June with high school graduation rolled around, Malcolm had become just as talented as his teacher. He could see questions that would appear on his tests, and Sinclair didn’t seem to mind that he used that information to study. Of the entire basketball team at school, Malcolm graduated with the highest grade point average, and won a scholarship to Northwestern University. He had also learned how to see changes in the stock market, and couldn’t wait to invest some money there, another thing Sinclair didn’t mind. He eventually decided that Sinclair just wanted him to avoid using his talent to make money in a way that would make people suspect his talent, like specific bets. So long as there was another explanation for what he did, he could use his talent as he wished.

He graduated from high school happy, and the very next weekend he made another prediction. Looking into the crystal ball, he saw a horrible traffic accident on a nearby interstate, the image stretched oddly inside the ball. He had seen local news before, including weather forecasts and petty crimes. But this was the first time he had ever seen anything that involved people dying. Sinclair had been blasé about it.

“How can you sit there calmly like that?” Malcolm asked angrily. “People are going to die! Can’t we do anything to help them?”

His teacher shrugged and took a chug of his Miller. “We know they’re going to die. What could we possibly do to stop it?”

“But you said we should use our talent to never hurt another person,” Malcolm argued. “Shouldn’t that also mean we should use our talent to help other people?”

Sinclair glared and threw the empty beer can at Malcolm, who barely ducked in time. “No, it doesn’t!” he said sharply. “And how are we supposed to stop a traffic accident? We can’t go stand in the middle of the freeway, and we don’t know who the drivers will be either. So calm down, shut up, and try not to think about it.” And he’d picked up another beer, and another after that. He went through seven beers before he finally passed out. Malcolm put him to bed and left the apartment quietly. The accident bothered Sinclair too, more than he wanted to admit. For the rest of Saturday and Sunday, Malcolm racked his brain, trying to think of a way to prevent the accident. But he didn’t know who the drivers would be, so he couldn’t tell them to leave home at another time of day. He didn’t even know which express way it would be, although he guessed it would be a nearby one. He went to bed Sunday night miserable and worried, and never got to sleep that night.

Monday morning he went downstairs and watched the morning news in the living room with a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, ignoring his mother’s disapproval. Just before seven o’clock, the anchorman reported a giant accident of the Dan Ryan expressway. The eight car buildup had occurred at 6:43 am. Four people were reported dead, and another three had been helicoptered to a hospital in critical condition.

That Monday was the first time Malcolm ever went to Sinclair’s house on a day other than Saturday. He rang the doorbell and stood there looking miserable, and Sinclair let him in and gave them each a beer.

“What’s the point of it?” he asked after three beers. “What’s the point of having this power, if we can’t use it to help other people?”

Sinclair shook his head and passed around more beers. “I don’t know. But I need you to make another promise, Malcolm.”

Malcolm downed the fourth beer in one go. “Whas dat?” he asked, slurring.

“You must never interfere with a person’s death,” Sinclair said solemnly. “You can use your talent to help people in other circumstances, but never when it comes to death. Only the good Lord can decide when and where a person will die–” he crossed his crest when he said that, “–and we are not to try and change that. If you try and stop a person’s death, terrible things will happen. So promise me that you never will.”

And so he took another oath, with all the dignity a drunk person could have. He spent the night at Sinclair’s apartment, missing going to work at his summer job. When he woke up the next morning, Sinclair gave him the same speech a second time. And he swore again, this time with all the dignity of a person who is hung over. And he went home, showered, changed his clothes, went into work, and apologized for missing Monday. He worked extra hard that day, and tried not to think about Monday’s accident.

It was midway through July when Sinclair passed away. Malcolm was the one who found him dead in his bed on a Saturday morning. The paramedics said that he’d passed away in the middle of the night, without pain. His funeral was the next Tuesday, and Malcolm and his family were the only ones there. The priest said a final blessing, and, just like that, it was over. Malcolm’s family left him in peace, and the priest went away too. Malcolm found himself alone with the small grave, staring at it and wondering if Sinclair was satisfied with the life he had lived. He promised again to keep all the vows he had made to Sinclair in the past, and to live a good life, helping as many people as possible.

He was contacted by a lawyer the next day. Since Sinclair had no known family, he’d willed all his possessions to Malcolm. He spent most of Wednesday filling out form after form, and by evening he owned Sinclair’s apartment, Sinclair’s junky old Buick, Sinclair’s dead lizards, Sinclair’s very strange collection of occult books, Sinclair’s ceremonial dagger, Sinclair’s supply of strong incense, Sinclair’s crystal ball, and various other odds and ends. He took possession of the apartment on Thursday, and threw out the incense and the dead lizards. He sold the old Buick over the weekend, and starting going through the books. It had been two Saturdays, now, that he had not looked into the crystal ball. He would again, he knew, but not yet.

He had never been much of a reader, but he went through each and every one of Sinclair’s books. A few he had read while his teacher was alive, but most he hadn’t. A few spoke of fortune telling, using Tarot cards, palms, the movement of planets, and other such garbage. Malcolm laughed and ignored those parts. What he found fascinating was the magick in the books. There were ways to curse people, ways to put ghosts at rest, charms for good luck, and all manner of things. He was fascinated, and spent all his free time over the summer reading the books. By mid-August, he had finished all of them, just in time to go to college.

He went to Northwestern University, commuting from Sinclair’s apartment in Des Plaines every day. He kept up his job from the summer, and majored in business. He also took a class in religious studies, hoping to learn more about magick, but the topic was nowhere to be found in his overpriced textbook. It was September before he looked into the crystal ball again. To his relief, he saw no accidents or other deaths, just weather, stocks, and the Bears losing. He was so relieved that he laughed out loud. He watched the Bears game Thursday night, and the score was exactly what he had foreseen. He was so relieved that he promptly started investing. He started looking into his crystal ball every night, to see which stocks he should buy and which he shouldn’t, and when he should sell the ones he’d already bought. He could see maybe a month into the future, but as long as he kept checking frequently, he could make money that way.

He had made quite a lot of money by the end of his first year, and he decided to pull back on his investments some, in case anyone got curious where his information came from. He continued to do well in his classes by looking into the future to see his test questions, but he lost his scholarship since he wasn’t good enough for the university basketball team. With his job and stocks, though, the loss didn’t worry him too much. At some point in February, he joined the Pagan Students Association, again hoping to learn some magick. But after attending one meeting during which magick had not been discussed but various deities he’d never heard of were discussed, he left the group with a vaguely dirty feeling, and he went back to church and spent hours in confession.

It was a week after his Freshman year finals on a Friday evening that he saw death again in his crystal ball. It was just as bad as the first time he’d seen death, with a semitrailer overturning on a highway and causing a large accident. He watched, feeling sick, as ten cars ran into the semi, and burst into flames. After only a minute, he had to look away from the crystal ball. If he’d seen right, at least eight people would die, maybe more.

He took a beer from the refrigerator, even though he was still underage, and sat down to think. He had promised Sinclair not to try and interfere with people dying. And he had meant it, he still did. And this incident was so much like the last one, with him knowing neither people nor places and, therefore, having no way to prevent the accident. He drank two beers and tried not to think about it. Nothing was working, so he dove into Sinclair’s magick books, hoping to find something there to take his mind off the accident.

Fifteen minutes after paging through a book, fifteen minutes of not being able to distract himself, he came across something he hadn’t remembered reading. He frowned and read more closely, making sure he hadn’t mistook the meaning. But no, it seemed genuine.

What he had found the book called a blood sacrifice. It said that, if you took a person, said spells over them, and then killed them, you could use the death to make very powerful magick. If a person was killed using this method, you said what you wanted the death to accomplish, and it would really happen.

He read over the book page a few more times, and checked his other references to make sure they didn’t contradict it, but it seemed for real. He sat back and thought about it. Eight deaths, at minimum, was a horrible thing and a great tragedy. But wasn’t one death just as awful as eight deaths? He wasn’t sure.

He slept poorly that night, and woke up feeling awful. He ate breakfast over his crystal ball, hoping that the accident wouldn’t show up again. But it did, and he let it play a bit further this time. It wasn’t just ten cars involved in the accident; there were at least twenty, maybe more. He watched, unable to shallow his cereal, as at least sixteen people were crushed in the press of automobiles.

He threw down his cereal bowl and ran to the bathroom, where he was violently ill for a few minutes. When he pulled himself up, he had made up his mind. Sixteen deaths, and maybe more, was a horrible thing. Any decent person would do what he could to prevent that. So Malcolm put the magick book with the blood spell into a backpack along with Sinclair’s ceremonial dagger, and left the apartment.

It was Woodfield mall where he found himself around eleven in the morning, the same place he had met Sinclair. He tried not to think about the fact that he was contemplating murder as he surveyed the crowds. He had read over the book many times, and had the spell and the method memorized. The person he killed didn’t have to be someone he knew, or anyone in particular. It would take some time, though, at least ten minutes, so he would need privacy. And a place to hide the body afterwards, or a way of disposing of the body afterwards, he thought against his will. So he would have to take a person away from the mall, to somewhere private, but certainly not his apartment. Which meant he had to find someone willing to jump in a car with him, someone who was alone.

It was close to an hour later when he spied a mousy looking young woman, close to his own age, alone and hefting four bulking shopping bags. He paused, then followed her from a distance. She went to the McDonald’s in the middle of the mall, and bought a cheeseburger and a medium Coke while he watched from a short distance. The restaurant was crowded inside, since it was just after noon, but she managed to find a table to sit down at, placing her bags on the ground between her feet. Malcolm paused again, then went and ordered himself a Big Mac and a Sprite. Holding the tray carefully, he walked slowly through the crowded restaurant. Thankfully, there weren’t any open tables, so Malcolm finally made his way to where the girl was sitting.

“Hello,” he said in a friendly tone. She looked up at him. “There’s nowhere else to sit. May I join you?” He smiled at her. Her cheeks turned pink, and she nodded. He sat down across from her, placing his tray down on the table. He held out his hand. “I’m Malcolm Calamity,” he introduced himself.

She smiled and shook his hand. “Rachael Miller,” she replied. “Are you trying to pick me up?” she added, with a hopeful note in her voice.

“I guess so,” he grinned and shrugged. He was a fairly good looking guy, and he could guess that Rachael wasn’t the type who had ever been picked up in the mall before. This would be easier than he had expected. He pushed that thought from his mind. “You look like you’ve been busy today,” he added, gesturing at her shopping bags, then taking a bite of his Big Mac. She laughed and told him which stores she’d been to already, and what stores she still needed to go to. Malcolm offered to go with her, and help her carry her bags, and maybe take her out to dinner afterwards. She blushed harder and told him he was very kind.

They finished up lunch soon, and went back out into the mall. Malcolm found that Rachael was a very sweet and engaging young woman, if perhaps not very cautious. She told him all about her family, her parents who still treated her like a kid, her little brother who was a pain, and her grandfather who was fighting against lung cancer. She told him all about her job at an apparel store, and how all her customers just left clothes lying around the fitting rooms. She told him all about going to college part time at a nearby community college, and how her dream was to become a journalist. She was fun to be around, and the type of person Malcolm might have liked to have as a girlfriend.

But she was very nice, and very firm about personal rights, and looking out for the poor and handicapped people. So perhaps she wouldn’t mind being sacrificed so other people could live.

The hours flew by, and soon it was five in the evening. Malcolm smiled and asked if she would like to have dinner with him. She grinned and blushed, and told him that she’d taken the bus to the mall. He said he’d drive her home after dinner, and she agreed, without telling anyone where she would be before leaving with him.

And as easily as that, Malcolm had her alone in the car with him, and a major dilemma. Should he try to gag her? Should he try to knock her out? Should he try to give her something that would make her pass out? The book had said blood sacrifices worked best at midnight in a graveyard, so he couldn’t kill her yet. His hands trembled on the steering wheel, and he decided to bring her home for dinner first.

When he brought her into his apartment, he thought she should perhaps be a great deal more cautious. After all, he could have been planning to rape her or something — he didn’t think murder, since that was what he had planned. But she smiled at him and followed him willingly, trustingly. He made pasta for dinner, and she helped him put a salad together. He set Sinclair’s good china on the dinning room table and lit two candles that didn’t smell like incense. She laughed and her eyes sparkled with joy. They ate the pasta slowly, making small talk and laughing at stupid little jokes. He brought some ice cream out after dinner, and wished he had something refined like wine or champagne to offer her. But she cheerfully took a beer, even though he knew she was only nineteen and also underage, and they had desert over more smiles. He got himself another beer as he began to feel afraid, but she stopped after the one.

He sat down on the couch with his second beer, and she reclined beside him, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes in contentment. He finished off his drink in one long gulp and watched her cautiously. She smiled up at him and then kissed him.

As she kissed him a few more times, he quickly lost all sense of where he was, and what he was supposed to be doing. It didn’t take long before they were in his bed, both of them naked. She was concerned at first that he didn’t have any condoms, but when he made to stop, she wouldn’t let him go. He had never had a serious girlfriend before, so that Saturday night, Rachael was his first, and he guessed he was hers.

She fell asleep afterwards with a smile, but he stayed awake, watching her. She was a wonderful person. He knew he wanted to see more of her, get to know her, perhaps become her boyfriend. He couldn’t possibly go through with his plans, not after tonight. He swallowed and remembered again the horrible accident, and at least sixteen people dying. He may not have known who was going to die, or where, but he did know when. It would be Monday morning, during rush hour. Saturday had already gone past, and there was no guarantee he could find someone else on Sunday. And how soon would he need to perform the sacrifice, for the accident not to occur? He didn’t know. Rachael was his best option.

He got up quickly from the bed. He saw a picture of himself in high school, sitting in this very apartment next to Sinclair. They were both smiling broadly. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to his mentor. “But I can’t let them die. Please forgive me.” Then he did his best to stop thinking.

He got a rope and tied up Rachael’s hands, then slapped a piece of duct tape over her mouth just as she was waking up. She looked up at him in confusion, and he turned away. He pulled on his backpack and grabbed his car keys. He easily picked up Rachael, glad that he spent a few hours every week lifting weights. By now she was trembling and struggling, but he got her into his car without any trouble. He brought all her clothes too, and her shopping bags, leaving behind no trace of her at his apartment. It was well past eleven at night, and he didn’t see anyone awake at his apartment.

He drove to a small cemetery a few miles away, not the one closest to where he lived. She struggled and wept on the way there. He pulled his car up the crumbling cemetery road and again saw no one nearby. He parked the car on the path near a large tombstone. He pulled her out of the car, and had to fight her to the grave. She nearly got away from him, but he kept a firm grip on her, and tied her with another piece of rope of the large headstone. When he had her tightly secured, he knelt down in front of her and gently caressed her face. “I’m sorry about this,” he said quietly. “But you need to die, so a great tragedy will be averted.” She pulled her face away from his hand, and tears continued to streak down her face. He swallowed and stood back up, trying not to think about what he was doing.

He drew an inverted pentagram in the grass around both her and the headstone using the ceremonial dagger. He spoke the spell over her slowly, being careful not to get any of it wrong. It was in a foreign language, Latin maybe, since it sounded vaguely similar to Spanish. It took a long time, the full ten minutes he had estimated. As soon as he was done chanting, he checked his watch, and saw that it was a minute before midnight. “May her death prevent a traffic accident Monday morning,” he said. Then he paused and wondered if that was specific enough. So he added, “May the death of Rachael Miller prevent an accident involving a semi in the Chicago area.” He nodded to himself. That ought to be enough.

“I am sorry about this,” he whispered to Rachael. Then he reached out with the dagger and slit her throat at midnight precisely, according to his watch. There was an amazing amount of blood, more than Malcolm had ever expected. He drew back before any could get on him, and stared at her now vacant eyes. He trembled and turned away. He got her clothes and her shopping bags out of his car and dropped them on top of her nude body. Then he took out four cars of beer, and emptied all of them over her corpse, putting the cans back in his car. Finally, he pulled out a match, lit it, and dropped it into her soaked hair. She caught fire instantly, and he hurried back to his car and away from the cemetery long before the police came.

When he got back to his apartment, close to one in the morning, he had no idea what to do with himself. He pulled the sheets that smelled like sex from the bed, and tossed them, along with the clothes he had been wearing, into the wash. He sat and watched nervously. Throughout Sunday, he stayed inside, pacing and worrying and checking the television and radio. But there was no news of any accidents, or a mysterious death at a cemetery. So he stayed in all day and worried. He didn’t get much sleep Sunday night either.

Monday he rose from bed, dark circles under his eyes. He felt awful, and he turned on the television and the radio, and brought in the morning Tribune. He watched tensely throughout the morning, even though he had work. But there was no report of an accident, not even a minor fender bender. When the television anchorman mentioned a Jane Doe found in a cemetery early Sunday morning, Malcolm turned the television off. He forced himself to clean himself up, and then go to work. He told his boss he’d overslept, and the man didn’t questioned him further. Malcolm sighed in relief and tried to focus on his work, without much success.

For the entire rest of the week, there were no accidents anywhere in Chicagoland. The mystery death in the cemetery was all over the TV and newspapers, but it sounded like the police had no idea, even who the dead woman was.

Malcolm sighed in deep relief, and went on with his life.

* * *

Malcolm Calamity had become a fortune teller at sixteen. At nineteen, he had become a murderer. Neither stopped as he got older.

The fortune telling, he engaged in every day, to keep up his grades, to check his stocks, to make sure the police had no idea who he was, and to see if he caught sight of other tragedies he could avert. He didn’t see them very often. It was close to a year later, in April, when he looked into his crystal ball and saw an enormous tornado sweep through, throwing up houses, trees, and cars. As he watched the consequences of the devastation, he saw that some thirty people had been killed, probably more. He trembled in fear.

The next day, he went into the cafeteria at his campus and made a friend. She was Maria Sanchez, a freshman on a softball scholarship. Malcolm spent hours with her, reminiscing over his own scholarship, before inviting her home to watch a Cubs game. She had expressed a desire to watch the game, and complained that her reception had been on the frizz lately. Maria agreed excitedly without telling anyone she would be hanging out with him, and, since she didn’t want to drive to Des Plaines, Malcolm gave her a lift out, ending back at his apartment at six in the evening. They watched the game over buffalo wings and beer. Shortly after the game was over, Maria threw back a few more beers. When Malcolm shifted to sit closer to her and put a hand on her thigh, she responded eagerly. She jumped him and pushed him to the carpet. She wasn’t very pretty, but she was very enthusiastic. After they were done, she rolled over and fell asleep.

And Malcolm pulled out his rope, his ceremonial dagger, his duct tape, and his matches. He took Maria to a different cemetery than Rachael, but tied her up, drew a pentagram around her, dosed her, and killed her all the same. Maria struggled, fought, and tried to swear the entire time, but at least, to Malcolm’s relief, she didn’t cry. “May the death of Maria Sanchez prevent all fatal tornadoes from occurring in Chicagoland,” he said over her body. And once again Malcolm was well and gone before the police got there.

There were no tornadoes in the area for over a week, not even strong winds. The murder made the news, and one newspaper likened it to the last graveyard death, almost a year ago. But still no police noticed Malcolm, and the tragedy had been averted.

After Maria’s death, he started going to church more often. He went to confession, and tried to admit his two murders, but he couldn’t seem to get his mouth to form the words. He trembled, admitted to other sins, and kept quiet about Rachael and Maria. He also started visiting Sinclair’s grave more often, and found himself wondering if he’d really done the right thing. He remembered Sinclair’s warning, never to mess with a person’s time to die. But surely he was doing the right thing, by having two people die instead of thirty-six or more.

He had to believe he was doing right.

He forced himself not to visit Sinclair’s grave as often, although he continued going to church and his incomplete confessions. He started his Junior year at Northwestern with an excellent grade point average and plenty of money and the same job he’d had at the end of high school. He hadn’t managed to acquire a girlfriend. Every time he thought about asking a girl out, he remembered the way Rachael had smiled, the way Rachael had leaned against his shoulder, and the feel of Rachael in bed. And he remembered too the way Maria had cheered for the Cubs, the way Maria threw back each can of beer, and the way Maria had pushed him firmly onto the floor. He had trouble getting close friends, too. He had acquaintances, and classmates, and coworkers, but he never invited anyone over to his apartment. But he told himself that life was good, and that he was good. So he continued looking into his crystal ball, searching for any tragedies that would need averting.

* * *

At sixteen, Malcolm Calamity became a fortune teller. At eighteen, he became a murderer, and at nineteen he murdered for a second time. At twenty, he murdered a third person, and had no trouble with it at all.

The third was in January. There were snow storms in his forecast. He saw a poor apartment block that had a space heater short circuit. A fire started, and almost none of the tenants were able to escape. He saw maybe twenty-five people die. And so he took the Metra downtown and went to Navy Pier and met Eliza Silverstein. She was dressed in fishnet and a low cut top and too much make-up. He suspected she was a hooker, especially when she willingly took the Metra back to Des Plaines with him after he flashed her a handful of twenties. She didn’t say much on the trip back, or once he got her to his apartment. She wasn’t very good looking, but she was very willing and knew all sorts of interesting things that Rachael and Maria couldn’t even have imagined, so Malcolm took her to his bed.

Afterwards, she didn’t fall asleep, and he began to worry. He got them started a second time after showing her a fifty, but she still didn’t fall asleep. So he hit her, six times before she finally passed out. He took her to a cemetery to the north, almost in Wisconsin, and did to her what he had done to Rachael and Maria. “May the death of Eliza Silverstein prevent fires throughout Chicagoland,” he said when he slit her throat. She didn’t wake up before he killed her.

And there were no fires for six days, not even small ones, and no one died. The police connected this third body to the previous two, but they still lacked enough evidence to make a case, or to find a suspect. So Malcolm remained anonymous.

* * *

Malcolm Calamity became a fortune teller at sixteen. He became a murderer at eighteen, again at nineteen, again at twenty, and again at twenty-one. It was his fourth murder that made the most impact on him.

He had been out celebrating his twenty-first birthday with his family and a few of his friends, at a bar for the first time. He had laughed, and drank, and partied, and drank some more, and had a great time. His father drove him back to his apartment and left him at home. He had stumbled through his door, and collapsed in front of his crystal ball.

“Ish a good thin’ I’m doin’, right, Shincare?” he slurred to it. The ball sat there silently, reflecting the kitchen light above it, showing him nothing. He laughed. “I’m gonna do shome good tonigh,” he announced, and hoped he could find another tragedy to avert. He had only had a handful of nightmares after Eliza, and he decided that was proof that he was doing the right thing.

He looked deep into his crystal ball and waited. His wishes came true, and he saw another tragedy in the making. This one was far worse than any of the ones he had prevented before. He saw a man, not clearly but enough to make out the Cubs baseball cap. The man walked into a school, and into a classroom filled with twenty children, none older than seven. As Malcolm watched, the Cubs fan took out a switch and pressed it. The entire school, with the Cubs fan and children still inside, blew up.

He stumbled back from the vision, sobering up. The deaths he had seen before had been accidents and acts of nature. He had never seen deliberate murder. But he thought of the suicide bomber and knew that tragedy, if no other, had to be stopped. What good were his talents, if he couldn’t save the lives of innocent children?

The next day was a Saturday, and he went to a giant festival nearby. It was a cool autumn day, and Malcolm searched the crowds carefully. He was no longer nervous, although he was annoyed. Cell phones had become popular lately, and he didn’t think it would be wise to grab someone who had one. He watched the food booths, the carnival rides, and the concert stage, trying to find someone he could use.

As he walked, he saw a girl trying to knock down milk bottles at a booth. She was a two or three years younger than himself, and very pretty. He remembered Rachael, who had been plain but sweet; and Maria, who had been crude but enthusiastic; and Eliza, who had been worn but skilled; and thought he might take a good looking girl for a change. He watched for a while, making sure she was alone. When he was sure she was, and when she was on her sixth attempt at knocking down the bottles, he approached her.

“Want some help?” he asked in a friendly tone.

She turned around, an exasperated look on her face. “No, I don’t,” she informed him tartly. He raised an eyebrow, and she scowled and turned away. She went through two more games, not winning, before throwing up her arms in surrender.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like some help?” Malcolm repeated.

“No,” she snapped again, and walked away from the booth. He followed her a few steps behind.

“I didn’t mean to be insulting,” he said. He thought he sounded rather pathetic. After how easily it had been to pick up Rachael and Maria and Eliza, he had thought this girl would be equally simple.

She didn’t turn to look at him. “Bug off,” she said. “Having you hovering around threw off my aim.”

He jogged a few steps so he was blocking her way. She stopped and frowned at him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Allow me to make up for it by taking you on a ride?”

She paused to consider for a long time. Finally, she sighed. “All right. You seem like a nice guy,” she conceded. He cheered inwardly and let her pick a ride. She chose the Tilt-a-Whirl, and he bought tickets for them both.

As they stood waiting in line to get on, he said, “My name’s Malcolm Calamity.”

“That’s a weird name,” she noted.

He frowned. Perhaps he should have waited and found someone else. “I can’t help it that my name’s Calamity,” he protested.

She waved a hand. “No, it’s okay. Actually, it’s kind of cool. See, my name’s Justitia Farwell. So we both got weird names, huh?”

He laughed aloud. “Justitia? Isn’t that Latin, the name of the Roman goddess of divine justice?” He had learned quite a bit of Latin, going through Sinclair’s magick books. His Junior year, he’d even taken a Latin course.

“That’s right. I’m surprised you know that. Not many people do.”

“I took a Latin course last year,” he told her. “I know it’s the dead language, but I kinda enjoyed it.”

She turned to him with a flirtatious smile. “Uh-oh. Are you a geek?”

“Only a basketball geek,” he replied easily. “If only the Bulls were still winning,” he added regretfully. She laughed and then it was time to get on the Tilt-a-Whirl. The ride flung them both around, squeezing them against each other while they laughed. Justitia was still laughing loudly when they got off, while Malcolm stumbled a little, trying to regain his balance.

When he finally straightened, she laughed at him again. “You poor boy,” she snickered. “Did that little ride do you in?”

He groaned and rubbed his forehead. He hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. “A little,” he admitted. “I need a drink. Come with me?”

Justitia perked up. “You’re old enough to drink?”

Malcolm reached into his wallet and dug out his drivers license. He showed it to her, proudly pointing to his birth date, which indicated he’d turned twenty-one the day before. “You’d better believe it. Come on, I’ll buy you whatever you want.” He linked arms with her, and they went and got a beer for him and a banana daiquiri for her. He watched her as she sipped it delicately and smiled when she found the taste to her liking. After that, he took her back to the booth with the milk bottles. It took him three tries, but he managed to knock them down and win her a stuffed rabbit.

She let him hang out with her the rest of the day. Around three in the afternoon, they walked past someone talking loudly into their cell phone, and Justitia complained about how rude that was, and why she didn’t want a cell phone. Malcolm relaxed and complained with her. It was getting close to dinner time, and Malcolm decided he should be getting her to his apartment soon. “Would you like to join me for dinner?” he asked.

“No way!” She made a face. “All the food around here is garbage.”

He laughed. “Not here. I could take you out somewhere.”

She paused and considered his offer for a long time. “I don’t know,” she finally said, voice quiet. “You’re a nice guy and all, but I didn’t drive here, and I’d feel uncomfortable going off somewhere with you.”

It was the first time someone had said no to him. He reflected on his previous guests. Rachael had been plain, and had probably never had a boyfriend, and had gone willingly. Maria had thought she was just coming over to watch the game with a friend, nothing to worry about. Eliza had been a hooker, and the only enticement she had needed was money. It seemed that Justitia would be harder.

“Well, how about a restaurant in walking distance?” he suggested. Driving in, he had seen a number less than half a mile from the carnival. “And you can leave as soon as we’re done.”

She grinned. “Okay. That sounds nice.” They walked down the sidewalk, and found a quiet deep dish pizza place that she thought sounded tasty. Dinner was good, if a little overpriced, and Malcolm ordered a Chardonnay to go with the meal. He had only a glass, and Justitia drank the rest, telling him again and again how nice it was to get away with drinking alcohol, while he made sure the waiters were out of sight. He laughed and agreed with her. Desert rolled around, and he ordered another bottle. Justitia drank the whole thing, and by the time he paid, she couldn’t walk straight.

Acting the gentleman, Malcolm helped her back to his car, and this time she didn’t complain. He drove them back to his apartment, and helped her up the stairs. She had to run and throw up in the bathroom, and when she came back she was looking a little more coherent.

“Thank you for helping me,” she said politely. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d take me home now.”

He held up his hands peacefully. “Your honor is safe with me,” he assured her. “But I’m feeling a little tipsy myself. I made it here alright — it wasn’t far — but I couldn’t safely drive far.” That was a lie. He’d barely had any alcohol, but he doubted she would remember that.

She frowned and shifted on her feet. She still wasn’t sober, but she was thinking more clearly. He needed to sooth her, or she’d bolt. “I’ll stay in my room–” he pointed at the door “–and you can sleep on the couch. By morning, I’ll be fine, and I’ll drive you home.” He paused, then added in a quiet voice, “I won’t take advantage of you. You’re safe with me.” He had wanted to sleep with her. Having only slept with Rachael and Maria and Eliza, he felt like he was only allowed to sleep with girls he planned to kill, and that he always needed to have sex before he killed. Perhaps he would sleep with her, before he killed her… No, he’d just promised he wouldn’t. He was not a villain, and so he would keep his word.

“All right,” she finally agreed, although she still looked hesitant. He got out some sheets and a pillow and spread them out over the couch. Then he went into the kitchen to get her a little something to drink. While there, he paused to consider. It would surely be easier to kill her if she was drunk. Eliza hadn’t been drunk at all, and she’d fought back the hardest. True, Rachael hadn’t been drunk either, but he realized now that she would have slept with any guy who paid attention to her. Maria had been drunk, and that had probably been the only thing to make his plan work. Justitia was a little tipsy, but not drunk anymore. But he didn’t have anything except beer, and it would take a lot of that before she got drunk. So he shrugged, and poured her a plain glass of milk. Then he retired to his bedroom, closing the door behind him.

He didn’t go to sleep, but lay awake, listening to the sounds Justitia made. He heard her drink the milk, then take the glass back to the kitchen, rinse it out, and leave it in the sink. He heard her pace for a few minutes, then make another trip to the bathroom. He heard her lay down on the couch and slip the sheets over herself. He waited a long time with no more sounds from her before he assumed her to be asleep.

He inched his bedroom door quietly open and slipped out. Sure enough, Justitia was asleep. He breathed a sigh of relief, and slipped back into his bedroom for the rope and the duct tape. Then he crept back out and to the side of the couch. He moved fast, but he had barely started tying the rope when she woke up. She jerked and tried to pull to her feet. He pushed her back down, trying to force her back down on the couch, but she only struggled harder.

Then she seemed to noticed the rope, and her struggles got fiercer. “You’re trying to rape me!” she cried. “You said you wouldn’t!”

“No, I’m not,” he hissed back at her. He pushed her into the couch and pressed himself on top of her. She fought him, but he weighed more and was very strong, so she couldn’t get up. She opened her mouth to scream, but he clapped a hand over it, stifling the sound. He pushed her harder into the couch, and she bit his hand.

He swore but didn’t pull his hand back. Finally, he had the rope secure around her hands and tied off. She bit him again before he could get the duct tape over her mouth. She squirmed and tried to yell and glared. He watched her move, and realized again hot pretty she was. He paused and considered. The clock to his right read 10:34, plenty of time before midnight.

He had promised not to rape her. But he could only have sex before he killed, and he could only kill after having sex, because the two acts had become firmly entwined in his mind. And she would be dead soon, so it didn’t really matter anyway.

With that, he started pulling off her clothes. It was hard, since she tried to fight back, and because the ropes made it awkward. But he managed, and then he got his jeans off. He pushed himself back down on top of her, and took her on his couch. She kept trying to get away, and he was forced to hold her in place, squeezing bruises into her arms. She had none of Rachael’s sweetness and none of Maria’s fire and none of Eliza’s tricks, so he didn’t enjoy it as much.

When he was done, he sighed and climbed off her, zipping his jeans back up. She lay still on the couch, no longer fighting. He glanced at her and was flooded by guilt. This wasn’t how he’d meant it to happen. So he turned away and collected his ceremonial dagger, his matches, and his car keys. He picked her easily off the couch and carried her to his car. It was after 11:30 when he drove away from his apartment.

She was still motionless and limp when he brought her to a cemetery in the western suburbs. He quickly tied her to a gravestone, drew the inverted pentagram, and began his spell. He nearly faltered three or four times, staring at her vacant face. But he got through it and slit her throat. “May the death of Justitia Farwell prevent suicide bombings at any school in Chicagoland.” It was almost a relief, to have her dead, since only the dead were supposed to have eyes that blank. He dumped beer over her, lit her up, and drove away, more quickly than he had before.

He collapsed into bed when he got home. He had never slept after a murder before, but he was incredibly tired from the last few days. He slept until late Sunday morning, and got up with reluctance. The couch was messy from last night. His hands trembled as he picked up the sheets and threw them in the wash. It was over now, and best not to think about it. He went to the refrigerator, pulled out a six-pack, and drank Sunday away.

Monday morning he woke up and felt horrible. He called into work and told them he couldn’t make it. He’d miss some classes too, but he could get the work Tuesday or Wednesday. He closed his eyes and went back to bed. Why did he feel so strongly about Justitia? Her death had been no different from Rachael’s or Maria’s or Eliza’s. It must be because he had forced her before he killed her. He swore to himself never to do that again. If he was desperate for sex, then he’d make sure he only killed hookers from now on.

He fell asleep, at peace with himself and feeling righteous with his vow and his good deed. He woke up late in the afternoon. He took a shower and pulled on clean clothes. He made himself a microwave meal and sat down to watch some television. The bombing would have happened today, except he had prevented it. However, as with all his foretellings, he liked to watch the news to be sure.

When the commercial ended and he heard the headlines, his heart nearly stopped.

A kindergarten in Georgia had been targeted by a suicide bomber. He had made no demands, merely trapped the children in a classroom. Then he had blown up himself, and the children. The anchorman was talking with a psychiatrist about why a man would do something like that, and Malcolm continued to watch in horror. Then a picture of the bomber was shown. The man had been wearing a Cubs hat.

* * *

The dates of his murders, and the dates of the tragedies he had prevented, were firmly engraved in Malcolm’s mind. He would never forget any of them.

Tuesday morning he still didn’t go to school or to work. He went to the library and looked up old newspapers from across the country. As he found the dates in question, his hands shook spasmodically.

He had killed Rachael to prevent a traffic accident. And there had been none in Chicago, but there had been one in Denver, at the time he had seen. And ten people had died, more than the six he had seen.

He had killed Maria to prevent a tornado. And there had been no tornadoes in Chicago, but there had been one in Oklahoma, at the time he had seen. And forty-one people had died, more than the thirty he had seen.

He had killed Eliza to prevent an apartment fire. And there had been no fires in Chicago, but there had been on in Boston, at the time he had seen. And thirty-two people had died, more than the twenty-five he had seen.

And he had just killed Justitia to prevent children from dying in Chicago. And as he already knew, sixty-five children had died, more than the twenty he had seen, far more.

He had not been saving lives. He had been saving lives near him, but the tragedies had still occurred, farther away and with more people dead, more again if he counted the four he had killed. He dropped the newspapers, not noticing as they fell to the ground.

He buried his head in his hands and wept.

“Only the good Lord can decide when and where a person will die, and we are not to try and change that. If you try and stop a person’s death, terrible things will happen,” Sinclair had said. He had been right, and Malcolm had not heeded him.

At sixteen, Malcolm Calamity became a fortune teller. At eighteen, he became a murderer. Again at nineteen, again at twenty, and again at twenty-one he murdered. But the murder of Justitia Farwell was his last murder.

THE END