THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Five: Daniel Hale 10/11 | 3:47 p.m.

Daniel drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, trying to focus on the music pouring from the speakers rather than his thumping heartbeat. Ella shouldn’t have gone up there. This was a mistake. He could feel it in his bones.

The hope had been for a solution to come to them on the drive over, but upon arrival, they’d drawn a blank, and after sitting on the street for twenty minutes, Ella had grown frustrated and stormed up to Jasmine’s apartment to give her one last warning and “put an end to all of this”. David Youngstone had said they needed to do something different, but Daniel was pretty sure this wasn’t it.

He leaned to the side, peering up at the building. Then he spotted Ella, exiting the bottom of the staircase and storming across the grass toward him, her dark hair bobbing with every angry step.

“What happened?” he called from the window.

She ignored him and returned to the passenger side. “Nothing,” she said, yanking open the door and climbing in with far more aggression than was necessary. “We can’t help her. We might as well go.”

“We can’t just give up.”

“What are we supposed to do? Hang out here all night and make sure no one murders her? If she sees us loitering, she’s gonna call the cops.”

“Well, do you blame her? I told you not to go up there!”

“At least I did something. You just sat here like a useless lump. What are you even good for? I can’t believe I almost had sex with you.”

“You haven’t come up with anything either. And believe me, the feeling is mutual.”

“Well, you’ll be rid of me soon.”

He sighed, resting his forehead on the steering wheel. “You know that’s not what I want.”

“Me neither,” she said, her voice barely audible.

“Then stop the bullshit. We know what we have to do.”

“Talk to Noland? I did. He was up there.”

What?” Daniel flailed in his seat. “You saw Noland?”

“Yeah. He came upstairs because Jasmine was yelling at me. I told him only he can save her now.”

“But did you tell him not to go to Pasadena? And about Bumbles?”

“No … We already talked about this. You can’t just go up to a stranger and tell him not to go to Pasadena.”

“That’s why you should’ve mentioned Bumbles! It’s his cat! Only he’d know about his cat. What if Bumbles was the key?”

She threw a finger in his face. “Why don’t you go tell him about Bumbles? I’m sick of looking like a crazy person.”

Daniel forced himself to breathe. She was right. He was failing to do his part. They’d gone over every scenario in the past few weeks, trying to think of a way to intervene. So far, they’d come up with two ideas. Starting a small fire outside the building to hopefully draw the authorities and deter Jasmine’s killer was the first. The second was to attempt a mild fender bender with Noland, stalling him long enough to ruin his plans in Pasadena and keep him in Los Angeles for the evening.

Obviously, both of those plans could result in life-ruining consequences, and they’d already seen from their dealings with Jasmine how unwilling people were to listen to strangers who popped up out of nowhere claiming to know the future. Daniel didn’t blame them. But he also wasn’t okay with failing the mission.

“David Youngstone chose us for a reason,” he said. “We can’t just give up.”

“Fine,” Ella said. “You go talk to Noland, and I’ll lurk in the bushes and watch for anyone who looks like they might be in a murderous mood.”

“And what’ll you do if you see someone?”

“I wasn’t being serious. Do you really think I’d crawl around in the dirty bushes?”

“Come on, Ella, the past few weeks have led up to this. Please help me think of something.”

“Why won’t you go talk to Noland?”

“I will. I’m just trying to think of the right approach.” He chewed his lip as they sat there in silence, the minutes ticking by. Then, it happened. The first raindrop, falling from the cloudy sky and landing on his windshield. Then another. Then hundreds.

“The storm,” Ella said. “It’s starting.”

“We’re running out of time.” Daniel let out a slow breath. “Okay. I’m gonna go find him—shit!” He threw himself forward, eyes wide.

“What?” Ella followed his gaze to see Noland coming down to the street. He turned in the opposite direction and headed toward one of the cars parked up the road.

“He’s leaving,” Daniel said. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

“He’s going to Pasadena!”

“Okay, we have to do something.”

“Get out!” Ella shoved him toward the door. “Now! Go! Run!”

Daniel opened the door and stumbled out, falling to his knees on the wet sidewalk. By the time he was on his feet, Noland was already in the car with the engine running.

“It’s too late. He’s going.” Daniel jumped back in the car and put his seatbelt on. “We have to chase him.”

Chase him?”

“Yeah. Maybe we can approach him wherever he stops. Maybe he’ll need gas or something.”

“Hang on,” Ella said, popping her door open. “You go. I’ll stay here.”

“Why?”

“Someone has to make sure Jasmine’s okay.”

“But what are you gonna do?”

She shrugged and made a face. “Hide in the bushes?”

“Okay,” he said, looking ahead to where Noland’s car was pulling out into the street. “I’ll text you when I get somewhere. Remember—if she’s still alive after the storm passes, she made it.” He gave Ella a firm nod and started the engine.

He made it to the end of the road just in time to see Noland’s car make a right on the next road, which led to the freeway.

This was probably the most important thing Daniel would ever do. Failure wasn’t an option.

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Discover more 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 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.