THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Six: Alix Twelve 10/12 | 10:02 a.m.

Alix paced around her apartment, a clean space with light colors and minimal clutter. A simple design for calm of mind, she liked to tell her subscribers. Right now, those simple lines were blurred by tears.

She wasn’t sure what to call this feeling. Panic? Adrenaline? Nauseating excitement?

For years she’d thought of David Youngstone. She’d repeated his name in her head, each time forcing herself to focus on the memory of his face. It was all she had left of him, and from day one, she’d been aware that it would fade if she didn’t work at keeping it alive. Every night, before falling asleep, she’d run through the memory again, from the moment he’d walked up beside her after school to the last time she’d ever looked at him. She remembered the loving touch of his hands when he’d shared that vision of her life. He had a magical jewel called a vauxna that allowed him to see such things. She could still see it glimmering in the low light of the diner.

Everything he’d predicted had come true. His visit had been a pivotal experience in her young life, giving her the strength to run away from home, which, despite being an unwise decision on paper, had turned out well for her. She’d shared her story with her audience, but his part had remained a secret. It was more than the worry people wouldn’t believe her. It was like somehow, she’d known this moment was coming.

 

She stared at her laptop on the desk. The video was still open, an orange blur of streetlight against a night sky visible on the paused screen.

She got out her vlogging camera and held it up. “Hey guys,” she said, running her fingers through her auburn hair as she let the camera adjust to the light coming in the sliding-glass door. “So, I was gonna film a video about stress management today, but something really weird just happened.” She stared at the camera. “I have chills all over my body even trying to talk about it.”

She stopped the recording and set the camera down. Maybe she should think twice about this. With over a million subscribers now, deleting a video and hoping no one would notice wasn’t an option. If she put this out there, out there it would be. Normally, that was no big deal. She’d shared every detail of her transition journey, and it didn’t get more personal than that. It was in her nature to share, but this … Something told her this was different.

She fixed herself a strawberry smoothie with Greek yogurt and sat down at the computer, heading straight for Reddit. David Youngstone, she typed into the search bar. A list of subreddits popped up, the top one named after him. It had fifty-seven subscribers. The title of the pinned post read: IF YOU’VE HAD A DAVID YOUNGSTONE EXPERIENCE, PLEASE SHARE HERE.

It opened into a large post full of information and links. There were only two comments, one from a user called golden_dahlia76567 and another from someone called Thisshitreallyhappened111. She quickly learned the latter user was Daniel Hale, the guy from the Crocodile Terrorist movies.

Her phone buzzed with a video call from her boyfriend Jay, who was working a brunch shift at one of the most popular restaurants in Los Angeles. They’d both worked there part-time since moving here a couple of years ago.

Jay appeared in one of the seats on the restaurant’s back patio in all his dirty blonde glory.

“Hey babe.”

“Hey,” she said. “Oh my god. Something like … astronomically crazy just happened. David Youngstone is back.”

Jay narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“I’m not kidding. He came through a portal and appeared to other people. There’s a subreddit about it, and I’m sitting here trying to decide if I should tell my story—”

“What do you mean, a portal?”

“Look up the video. Just search David Youngstone. It’s the top thing.”

“You didn’t say anything about a portal when he came to see you.”

“There wasn’t one. Maybe I didn’t see it. Okay, I think I’m gonna tell my story anonymously on here and see what happens.”

She left Jay to check out the video and began typing out her post, leaving out any identifying details, like the reason she’d been suicidal that day. It was the other part that really mattered. David’s part. The way he’d treated her with such kindness. The way he’d walked with her down the street, butterflies in her stomach every time she glanced over at him. She was becoming a butterfly then too, not fully formed but ready to work on it. All she’d needed was a push.

After finishing the post, she tried to go about her day as normal. She filmed the video and wrote the blog she’d planned, struggling to keep her focus the whole time. At 3:30, she went to meet Jay at the restaurant, where she had avocado toast with eggs and a Bloody Mary. They went and handled some errands, did an aerial yoga class, got some groceries, and headed back home. They were getting set up on the couch with food and a TV show to binge when she checked her reddit account again. The message symbol glowed orange.

“Oh my god,” she said. “People responded.”

The first two messages were public responses from the users who’d already posted their stories. She’d read those in a minute. It was the latest response, a private message from a user called Ghost_Collector, that caught her eye.

Jay read along over her shoulder as her eyes scanned the words.

Hey there,

My name is Robert. I just read your story. I don’t want to post mine in public, but I met David Youngstone too. Like you, he came to me on a day I was thinking about ending my life. For years, I’ve kept that to myself. I figured he was just some kid, not a real time traveler. Now, I’m not so sure. On top of that, I’ve recently gone through something that brought me a great deal of healing from my past. Something that seems could have only occurred thanks to divine intervention of some form. Because of these experiences, I’ve changed my entire worldview, and now I want to reach out and find others who might understand. I guess that’s the point of this message.

Feel free to ignore this if it makes you uncomfortable, but if you want to possibly get together in some way and discuss our experiences, please let me know. I’ve already contacted Daniel from the video and Ella, who also had a David Youngstone experience. We’d all like to meet up if you’re willing.

Hoping to hear from you,

Robert Johnson

Alix pursed her lips and looked at Jay. “What do you think?”

“I think you’ve waited a long time for answers.”

He was right, although “waited” was probably the wrong word. For the longest time, she’d accepted it as a weird experience she’d likely never understand. And maybe that was still true. But at least now, there were others who got just how difficult that lack of understanding was. And maybe, if they were lucky, they’d somehow come together and figure this out.

She took a deep breath and began writing her response to Robert.

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Discover the rest of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.

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THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Four: Noland Randall 10/11 | 6:20 p.m.

Noland was doing okay with the cleanup process until he got to Dad’s office. Everything in here was torturous to look at, from the empty bottle of Scotch ale on the desk to the UFO poster on the wall.

Then there were the filing cabinets, filled with notes about aliens, parallel dimensions, and other such things. Dad’s ability to believe in that stuff had always been enviable. It made for a magical life, which Noland wanted more than anything.

He crawled into Dad’s chair and curled up, hugging his knees. “Please, come back.”

The rain pattered at the roof as his muscles seized up with grief. It came in waves. When it was here, it felt like that calm numbness would never return. When it did, he missed the grief, wishing to cry until he turned inside out.

He’d given Dad that UFO poster for his birthday twelve years ago, along with some other alien-related items. Two years before that, they’d gone shooting with the gun that was in the closet. Noland hadn’t enjoyed it. Too loud and jarring. Plus, it had always scared him knowing the tiniest movement of a finger could change everything. That type of change was starting to sound comforting, and that frightened him even more.

The walls were closing in. He stumbled out into the hall, which was filled with empty spaces where their family portraits had been. The rain was coming down hard now, so he ran out back. Down it came, drenching him as he walked across the muddy grass.

He stood there as the water collected and spilled down his surfaces. Life was supposed to grow into something. He was supposed to have a family, or at least a career that meant something to him. He hadn’t accomplished any of that, and what little he had was being washed away, becoming one with the puddles and streams.

If only he could go back in time.

He thought of Jasmine. He was an idiot to have left her back at the apartments by herself. This had been his chance to be a gentleman and at least stick around the building for the evening to make sure she was all right. Maybe someone hadn’t traveled through time to warn of her murder, but there were people obsessed with the idea, and self-fulfilling prophecies were a thing. He’d look her up online and find a way to message her soon as he was back inside. Just to check if she was okay.

He turned, and something caught his eye. He walked closer, doing his best to focus through the rain.

Someone was standing in the shadows.

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Discover more of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.

THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Three: Robert Johnson 9/19 | 10:02 a.m.

Robert struggled to focus on I-40 West as it stretched ahead into the outskirts of Grants, New Mexico. He took another chug from the energy drink in the console, his palms sweaty, his heart slamming in his chest. He was getting close. She was waiting at a cheap motel a few miles from the next exit—or had been at the time of their phone call.

He glanced at himself in the rear-view mirror. Sixteen hours since he’d left St. Louis, and he hadn’t taken a full breath yet. His bloodshot brown eyes and rough dark skin aged him beyond his twenty-three years. It’d been days since he’d had a proper sleep or bothered with the skin care routine he’d been doing in Chicago. In some parallel dimension, he was looking like shit because he’d been out drinking with his friends the night before like a normal college student. Then again, if he was a normal college student, he’d already have his degree by now instead of having his studies delayed by a missing family.

Most of his friends had drifted, but it was his own fault for being so depressing. Adrenaline had fueled their efforts to help him in his search during the first couple of months, but no one could go on like that forever. They didn’t know what to say. All around him, the stench of tragedy hung in the air, emanating from the festering hole where the explanation should have been. His reality was a question mark, standing before him like a skyscraper. He had lived as a forgotten wanderer in its massive shadow, and now, after all this time, he was about to discover the truth. The only thing more frightening was the idea he never would.

A few nights ago, Mama had appeared on Aunt Tiffany’s doorstep in St. Louis. Tiffany had called, but by the time Robert made it there from Chicago, Mama was long gone, bolted out the door after overhearing Tiffany phoning the police from the bathroom.

“She wouldn’t even speak, Rob,” Tiffany said, crying. “I begged her to tell me where they were. She didn’t say a word.”

He’d stayed in St. Louis the next couple of nights, all his time spent driving around, unsure where to look. He’d eventually given up and curled up in a pathetic lump on Tiffany’s couch, where he stayed the next few days. She liked to watch the news, but the images of the massive earthquake in South America were too depressing for him to bear. Everything shook, rumbled, and fell. Including his phone when he’d realized the unknown number could be Mama. The thought crossed his mind every time someone called. This time, he’d been correct.

Mama had been quiet at first, but he’d recognized the sound of her breathing.

“I’m ready to tell you everything now, Robert,” she said. “I’m ready to tell.”

She’d given him her new location, and he’d left right away. Tiffany couldn’t take off work, but it was better this way. He wouldn’t have been able to take the car ride together, the unbearable silence as they both pondered the possibilities. Especially the one they were too afraid to ponder with clarity, the possibility that Jacob, somehow, was okay. Robert had put that sputtering hope out of its misery long ago, and it had now become the fog that floated around the back of his mind. He avoided it with everything he had as if acknowledgement would prevent it from ever coming true.

He took the exit and rolled down the road, passing hotels and fast-food restaurants despite his growling stomach. His GPS led him further from the recognizable chains and into a more remote area, where he spotted the sign for the Desert Lodge Motel, nearly invisible thanks to its display of faded gray letters against a dusty backdrop.

He pressed into the brakes, enduring a loud screech from his much-abused 2005 Mazda hatchback. It’d gotten him this far. Whatever happened from here didn’t matter as much.

He thought again about David Youngstone as he climbed from the car. The experience had remained fresh in mind over the years, at times giving him hope, other times making him laugh at his own baffling stupidity. Of course the kid hadn’t really been a time traveler. He was just a precocious young person. The water tower thing had just been a coincidence. It had to be. And that meant this whole thing could still be a bust.

Every screptch of his shoes against the dusty concrete walkway reminded him of that as he got closer.

He arrived at the door and knocked.

It opened to reveal Mama standing there. Thinner, older, and more vacant in the eyes, but Mama no question.

He’d envisioned this moment so many times. Prayed for it too. It didn’t feel like he’d expected. He could only tremble and stare.

“Mama?”

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Discover more of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon. Robert’s story will also be further explored in one of my future books.

THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Two: Jasmine North 9/17 | 3:47 p.m.

 

Jasmine’s eyes ached from staring at the open message. It had been at least an hour now. Just staring.

Ella:  Hey Jasmine. You don’t know me. Have you heard of David Youngstone? Have you seen this?

Below the message, a video was embedded in the chat. She’d watched it over ten times now. There was a man’s voice, barely audible beneath the screams from bystanders. It sounded familiar, but she couldn’t think of why. It tormented her.

Below the video, the text read:

Ella:  I don’t mean to alarm you, but David Youngstone was here on a mission to save YOU. He said he was from the future. He told us about the earthquake and warned that you’re in danger.

A few times, the typing bubble appeared and then vanished. Appeared and then vanished. Jasmine’s body surged with adrenaline every time.

This had to be some sort of experimental marketing campaign. She checked through the blinds and then the peephole to make sure there wasn’t a film crew waiting to get her reaction to being invited to “survive” some silly game. It’d been months since her last conversation, in person or online. She couldn’t handle small talk, let alone whatever the hell you’d call this.

There was no one she could see, so she returned to the computer and sat there attempting to breathe. Her fingers hovered over the keys.

Jasmine:  Whatever this is, I’m not interested.

Ella:  Someone wants to hurt you. He didn’t say who. But we think if we change your path, we can help you avoid getting hurt.

She checked her message requests every day, body burning with equal parts hope and terror. Noland was friendly. It seemed he might think to look her up on social media just for the sake of saying hello like a nice neighbor. Yet, he never had. And now here she was, sweating everywhere, going through something that could’ve avoided had she not chased that sliver of hope.

The typing bubble appeared.

Ella: He said someone was going to kill you.

 It made Jasmine laugh, which was maybe her third laugh this week. The other two had been produced by her favorite comedy show. Sometimes, books and TV were an escape, but the hollow pit inside was worsening, its echo destroying the equilibrium of her mind and body. She had so many holes, out of which spilled a quiet ceasing. She was a victim in one of those super-sick horror movies, trapped in a glass chamber filling an inch or two a minute. She might have been dying, but not for David Youngstone’s reason. It took self-esteem to believe someone would bother murdering you.

Jasmine laughed again, shaking her head. She hovered over the keys a moment more.

Jasmine: Let them.

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Discover more of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.

THE MANDATORY SIX, Part One: Ella Wen 9/16 | 10:30 p.m.

Meeting up to watch for possible news of a devastating earthquake wasn’t a typical date, but Ella was bored, and opportunities to hang out with D-list actors didn’t come along every day. Maybe Daniel had producer friends who could get her on a reality show. Even better, maybe she already was on a reality show.

She did a check in the bathroom mirror. A single swipe of thick black eyeliner. A bit of contour and highlight. Some clear gloss. She liked to keep things simple. This was technically a pajama party, so she chose her flowy golden pants and a designer tank top. The gold looked pretty in the artificial sunlight from the little bulbs above the mirror. She had them all over the apartment because they supposedly helped with depression and sleep cycles and all that, but she’d still been staying up until six every morning. At least last night, it was for an interesting reason.

It all started around 1:32 a.m. with four simple words.

Daniel:  David Youngstone came back.

She’d been halfway through a bottle of expensive champagne, and the sound of her “Hah!” echoed through the apartment. Drunken Ella had been even more determined to believe this whole thing was a prank, especially once she’d realized Daniel Hale was the same guy from those ridiculous crocodile horror movies.

Daniel:  He came back through time because whatever you were planning on doing, it doesn’t work. You can’t do whatever you did. You need to do something different to save Jasmine.

Ella:  I’m not planning anything. How can I not do what I did when I didn’t do anything?

Daniel:  You haven’t done anything YET. He came back to change whatever you would’ve done if he hadn’t sent me to stop you. He said Noland needs to help Jasmine. He’s gonna try to go to Pasadena the day she dies. We need to stop him.

Ella:  Who the FUCK is Noland? I’m too drunk for this shit.

Their chat had continued, and somehow, over the hours, and in between arguing and obsessing about David Youngstone and his multiple supernatural visits, she’d spilled her guts about her financial problems and obsessive shopping sprees. Daniel didn’t judge her on any of it. He was a good texter, and funny, too. They’d typed many a LOL before finally crashing around sunrise.

She’d woken up today in the middle of the afternoon with a headache and more texts waiting for her, including an embedded video.

Daniel: Someone who was there uploaded this.

MAN FROM FUTURE PULLED THROUGH PORTAL, it was called. Its shaky footage depicted a city street at night, darting about as a woman screeched and some guy yelled “what was that?” again and again. There were other sounds, too, like the roar of some sort of animal and another man’s shout.

The camera focused on a glob of something in the air near the street lamp. It was hovering there, spinning in place, growing smaller with every rotation, and then it was gone. The end of the video went on to show a dazed-looking Daniel Hale and a few other eyewitnesses describing what they’d seen.

Ella:  Special effects are good. But it just looks like some gunk. I don’t see a portal or a man.

Daniel:  I know. They didn’t catch it in time.

Ella:  How convenient.

Daniel:  He said the earthquake would happen tomorrow. Do you want to maybe come over tonight? Once the clock strikes midnight, we can watch the news and see. Plus … I really enjoyed talking last night.

Ella: Well, it’s supposed to happen on the 17th. That could be anytime in the following 24 hours.

Daniel:  You can hang out here for that long if you want. I’ll take the couch. Or you can just come the next morning. Or I could come there. Or not. Whatever.

Ella:  You provide the food and beverages?

Daniel:  Sure. I’ll order whatever you want.

That was all the motivation she needed.

Ella:  Then I’ll come to you. 24 hours. Unless you decide you want to throw me out.  

 

His apartment was upstairs in a small, quiet complex in Glendale. Daniel met her at the door. He wasn’t what you’d call unattractive, but he was no David Youngstone. Still, he gave her a nice hug, and he didn’t smell terrible.

His place was clean with decent masculine décor. A succulent plant and stone garden sat in the center of a glass coffee table. A carved swirl of dark wood hung on the wall.

She took a seat on the couch as he got her a beer. He skipped one himself, claiming this whole thing had sobered him up.

“Everything’s changed now,” he said. “I’ve changed. You can’t see something like that and not change.”

They got set up with their laptops on his coffee table, seismology websites open, the news on mute on the TV in front of them as soft piano music accompanied them in the background.

“You’re classier than I imagined,” she said, nodding and looking around. “It’s nice.”

“Thanks?” He watched her take a sip from her beer. “You don’t think it’s really gonna happen, do you?”

She gave him a sideways look. “Are you implying I’d come over for some other reason?”

“Can’t think of one more interesting.”

She snickered. He was right, and despite what looked like a pair of kissable lips and pleasantly sparse facial hair, she restrained herself. If they screwed right away, she might face all sorts of disappointments in the aftermath—not to mention during or even before. Plus, she liked him. What if he could be an actual friend?

“You’re an actor,” she said. “So, I guess you can understand why it’s hard to believe this isn’t bullshit.”

“I barely count as an actor. I’m a comedian, and I’m not famous.”

“I knew who you were.”

“The first thing you did was ask ‘who the hell’ I was.”

“Yeah, but I was buzzed and not looking at the picture. Anyway, what’s your point?”

“Do you know what it’d take to set up a stunt with that level of special effects on a residential street without anyone noticing? Something like that would cost millions of dollars if it were even possible. They wouldn’t use me as their guy. They’d use some A-lister.”

“Maybe they’re trying to throw me off.”

“Then why not use someone unknown? Why use someone from a cult movie franchise?”

“Okay. You have a point.” She nodded toward the clock on the news screen. “Guess we’ll find out pretty soon. It’s midnight.”

“Are you sure you still want to spend twenty-four hours with me?”

“Gets my mind off the treacherous road back from the hell I’m currently living in.” She shrugged. “What about you?”

“Same, kinda,” Daniel said with an awkward laugh. “And yeah, of course. You’re the only person I can talk to about this. You and my friend Nelson. He witnessed the whole thing, but I think he’s getting tired of me texting him about it.”

“You two have theories?”

“No, not really.” He slumped forward, hands on his thighs. “None of it makes sense. Why didn’t you see any crazy shit? Why just me?”

“Because it cost a million dollars, and they could only afford to do it once?”

“Good answer. Wrong, but good. At some point today, you’re gonna become a believer. So, we might as well start discussing how we’re gonna approach Noland.”

Ella let out a gasp. “I’ve got it. Maybe this is one of those shows where they test your morals by seeing if you’ll go out of your way to help someone.” Her eyes widened. “Maybe … if we help Jasmine … we’ll get a million dollars.”

“If it was that, they wouldn’t do the earthquake thing.”

“Maybe it’s a test. To see if we’ll try anyway just in case.”

“You’ll change your tune soon,” Daniel said, giving her a smirk. “I can’t wait to see the look on your face.”

“You shouldn’t look forward to the mass destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.” She glanced at the television, where a group of political analysts were discussing something the president had posted on social media.

“Is that what I said? Don’t play it that way. I feel bad, I just don’t know what I can do. If I warn someone—”

“It’ll open up a whole other realm of possibilities,” she said. “I know. I thought about it too.”

“So, you have considered this is real.”

“I considered the prediction making me famous, and me becoming a world-renowned psychic with my own talk show.”

“But you’re not really a psychic.”

“Yeah, but I think if I got a convincing head start, I could probably fake it from there.”

He shook his head and sighed.

“Yeah, yeah. I get it,” she said. “The big, scary earthquake is coming. Oooh. I’m bored. If we’re gonna pass the twenty-four hours, we’ll need to find something else to do other than just sit here.”

“We’ll have to sleep at some point.”

“That wasn’t what I had in mind.”

His eyebrows perked up. “Uh … What does that mean? You’re being coy.”

“Do you prefer direct? Okay. How about we use each other for sex to pass some of the time?”

“Um—”

“We know how this is likely to go. The earthquake won’t happen. We’ll see about Jasmine, and it either will or won’t get us a million dollars. But either way, you probably won’t talk to me again after this.”

“Why would you say that? I want to talk to you. You’re cool. As for the sex—”

“Too late.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m already bored of the idea.”

“What?” He let his jaw drop open. “Aw, come on.”

She laughed in her cruelest voice. “Eh, okay. Why not.”

She crawled over and kissed him. So much for restraint. Who was she kidding? She was Ella Wen. Lying to herself was part of the gig.

It was easy to get lost with his arms around her, but that wasn’t saying much. Sex was an escape, just like shopping, but its effects were less life ruining—if you were smart.

“You got a condom?” she whispered in his ear. She had some in her purse, but the more she spent on condoms, the less she could spend paying off her debt.

He didn’t answer.

She pulled back to meet his eyes. They were huge, stunned, and not focused on her.

“Ella.” He swallowed, raising a trembling finger toward the computer screen. “Do you see that too?”

She looked over her shoulder. There, on the map of South America, was a big red dot in the northern part of Chile.

No.” She pushed herself off Daniel and turned around. “That’s not possible.”

He furrowed his brow, dark eyes lit with the glow of the screen. “Magnitude eight-five.”

Her arms fell limp at her sides. “Well.” Her voice was dry. “Guess you don’t have to spend the next twenty-four hours with me.”

“You’re right,” he said. “Figuring out how to save Jasmine might take a lot longer than that.”

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Discover more of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.