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                                    Dissecting the Future
                                                                        By Jon Etter


When Lucas gutted the mouse he found trapped behind his father’s refrigerator, he had no idea he would
get a glimpse of his future—he just wanted to know what its insides looked like. But there it was, amidst
the sticky pink and gray mass of entrails: a vision.

Lucas saw himself walking his father’s yappy little dog across the street, not noticing until it was too late,
the immense black SUV blowing through the stoplight. Lucas watched his body be knocked down and
ground under the tires and blood pool around his mangled body as Mr. Teeny sniffed at the remains of his
face.

But then Lucas saw the scene repeated, only this time he stopped before crossing to give money to a
beggar. While he did this, the leash slipped from his hand and Mr. Teeny trotted out into the street just in
time to be slaughtered by the truck. Lucas then walked over to the twitching, disemboweled pet, looked
down, and was engulfed in a red fog in which stood a hazy figure…

And then Lucas was back in his father’s dingy kitchen again, bloody knife in hand.

                                                                                #

Four weeks later, Lucas had all but dismissed the vision as some sort of drug flashback (he had reacted
to his parents’ rancorous divorce by self-medicating in many unhealthy ways) when he found himself at the
corner from his vision. As Mr. Teeny strained at the end of the his leash, Lucas turned and saw the old man
in ragged clothing sitting cross-legged next to the building, his sign—“BLIND HOMELESS PLEASE
HELP!!!”—propped up behind a Styrofoam cup.

“Spare some change, young sir?” the man asked. “Some sacrifice can be good for the body and soul.”

Lucas took a step towards him. “If you’re blind, how do you know I’m a young man?”

The homeless man gestured upwards with his cane. “The birds tell me. They tell so many things to those
who know how to listen.”

This is exactly what I saw in the mouse! It can’t be a coincidence!  Lucas thought as he dug in his pocket
for change. And then he stopped. But I didn’t just give the man change…

Lucas looked down at his other hand for a moment and then let go of the leash. Immediately after the clink
of coin hitting coin, Lucas heard the engine’s roar and the thump of metal on furry flesh. As he turned
toward the street, a hand grabbed his arm.

“Only some sacrifice is good for the body and soul, young sir,” said the homeless man. “Walk away from
that one—it leads to the flames of perdition.”

Lucas shrugged off the man’s hand without a word. How can you walk away from the future? he wondered
as he approached the splattered blood and guts of his father’s pet.

He looked down into the gore on the street, and again the world fell away. An older version of himself
stood in his father’s kitchen and opened a letter that congratulated him on his acceptance to a prestigious
college. Then he was in an alley snapping the neck of a ginger cat and slicing its belly open with a lock
blade knife. The red mists swirled up around him again and the mysterious figure within walked towards
him.

When the vision passed, Lucas went in search of a payphone from which to call his father and a hardware
store in which to look at knives.

                                                                                #

Over the next four years, Lucas became a model student to fulfill the prophecy found within Mr. Teeny.
During that time, he killed and dissected animals—fish caught in the river, stray cats that roamed the alleys
behind his parents’ apartments, dogs left chained up in people’s yards at night—all in pursuit of some
glimpse of the future that never appeared. He did, however, come to enjoy the feeling of power that killing
brought and the sensual pleasure of slicing flesh and stroking internal organs.

The day his college acceptance letter arrived, Lucas knew that he would find that orange tomcat and his
next glimpse of his future soon, which excited him more than the letter ever could. That night in a dingy
alley, he learned that he would be a political science major (even though biology and its opportunities for
dissection spoke to his desires much more) and that his next victim must be a homeless man encamped
under an overpass. And, as before, the figure in the mists—he could now see that it was a woman—drew
closer…

                                                                                #

At the age of eighteen, Lucas killed a man for the first time. He wasn't sure if he had the nerve to do it, but,
in the end, it was easier than he thought. He had brought along a bottle of fortified wine and planned on
befriending the man first, but as soon as he saw his ordained victim, Lucas took out his knife, snapped the
blade in place, and plunged it into the man’s throat.

As the man’s guts steamed in the cold winter air, Lucas learned that he would get involved in campus
politics and befriend a half-bright but exceedingly ambitious young conservative, his next victim would be a
young woman from one of his poli-sci classes, and the mysterious woman would not emerge from the mist
until much more blood was shed. And then, in spite of the stench and the cold, Lucas continued to carve.

Late that night, after the elation of the killing and the vision had ebbed, Lucas for the first time began to
worry. What happens when they find the body? Did I leave any clues? Will they catch me? They can’t, can
they? It was destined to happen—I saw it! I can’t be punished for fulfilling my fate, can I?

The next morning, Lucas sought out the local paper. The front page covered a tenement fire that killed
three, but those were the only deaths reported, and the only ones that would be reported outside of the
obituary page for the rest of the week.

Yes, Lucas eventually concluded, fate’s followers will always be rewarded—never punished.

                                                                                #

For the next decade and a half, Lucas followed his visions from success to success and kill to kill as the
woman of red shadow drew ever closer. College led to law school and then a jump into politics where,
thanks largely to Lucas’s intelligence and whatever dark red god chose to guide his path, he was able to
usher his college friend upwards quickly through the ranks of state government and into the governor’s
mansion. In the wake of his success lay the bodies of dozens of men and women, some sacrificed for
guidance, some for practice, others merely for pleasure.

Only the child—auburn pigtails and cheeks like Pink Lady apples—gave him pause. But she was fate’s
chosen sacrifice and his man was eyeing a bid for national office. More importantly, the woman in the mist
was so close now he could almost see her face.

And when he butchered the girl, there she was. There was no glimpse at campaigns or stock purchases
or any step toward promotion or prosperity this time—only the red fog and the woman. Hair as dark as
night, skin as white as now—if it weren’t for her fierce brown eyes, he would think her Snow White made
flesh.

Lucas awoke next to the girl’s corpse. Never had a vision so overpowered him as this last one. As he
staggered away, Lucas knew that he had to find the woman of his bloody dreams. Everything I’ve done, he
thought, was to bring me to her. She is my destiny. And when I peel back her flesh, all history—past,
present, and future—will be revealed to me!

                                                                                #

The next morning, Lucas enjoyed a Caffè Americano at Starbucks while perusing the local paper. He
read the headline—“7 Year-Old Latest Victim of ‘Midwest Ripper’”—with a great deal of pride, although he
was a little irked to have to share the front page with coverage of a case of arson that killed ten. Arson—
where’s the art in that? he wondered, shaking his head in disgust.

That’s when he saw her: the woman of red mist and shadow, the woman who had stalked him in visions
for over two decades, the woman he had cut a bloody swath through humanity to meet. There she was,
thanking the tattooed barista for her Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Not sure what to say or do but knowing that he must say or do something, Lucas grabbed his coffee and
rushed after her.

“Excuse me,” he said, tapping her on the shoulder.

She turned and her eyes seemed to widen slightly when she saw him. Does she recognize me? Lucas
wondered. Does she know that she is my future?

He gave her his most winning smile. “We’ve never met, but I’ve wanted to for a very long time.”

“Really?” she said, smiling back. “Do tell.”

“I’m Lucas.”

“Serafina.”

                                                                                #

“I still can’t believe that we never ran into each other on campus,” Lucas said as he fumbled for the keys to
his apartment that night. He felt slightly drunk even though he had only had a couple cocktails after their
dinner together.

Well,” she replied, “there’s not much overlap between bio-chem and poli-sci,” she said, walking into his
living room. “Nice view.”

He took her jacket and hung it up by the door. “I know. You can see most of the city from up here.”

She walked to the window and reached into her purse. “Mind if I smoke?”

Lucas suppressed a frown. “Sure. Make yourself at home.”

She opened a silver cigarette case and held it out towards him. “Want one?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Oh, then I don’t have to—”

“No. Please. I’ll go grab a lighter.”

“That’s okay,” she said taking a book of matches out of her purse. She struck one, lit her cigarette, and
looked at the flame. “I prefer matches, don’t you?  There’s something much more poetic about matches.
The way the flame dances on its end, the blackening and twisting of the wood, the wispy arabesques of
smoke that curl upwards.”

“Are you sure you’re a chemist? You talk more like an artist.” He held out a small saucer for her to put the
charred remains of the match on. “Sorry, this is the best I can do for an ashtray. Can I get you a drink?”

Serafina blew smoke out of the side of her mouth and smiled. “So is that your M.O.? Bring your victims up
to your tower, ply them with alcohol, and have your way with them?”

“You’re actually the first I’ve ever brought to my apartment,” he replied, which was true. He never killed
anyone in or even near any place he ever lived. But Serafina—she was special. He wanted to take his
time with her.  All night. Perhaps even the next day…

“So you’re one of those guys, eh? Have your fun and then go back to your tidy little life.”

“I’m afraid so, but I think things may be different now.” His body buzzed with excitement. This was different.
This was everything.

“Then I suppose we’ll need a couple drinks to toast it, then. Martinis, please.”

As he mixed the drinks, Serafina perused his book collection. “Looks like someone is obsessed with
fortune telling.”

“A little hobby of mine.”

“Let me guess—you’ve got a deck of tarot cards around here somewhere.”

“Several. And an antique Ouija board, I Ching coins, voodoo bones—”

“Magic 8 Ball?” she asked, taking the offered drink.

“Of course,” he said, smiling.

“I’ve always been fascinated with fortune telling myself. To be able to know exactly what’s coming. To be
able to work towards it, prepare for it. No messy chance throwing a wrench into things. No unpleasant
surprises.”

“Now you sound like a chemist.”

She gave him a look of mock annoyance. “Watch what you say or I may not have my way with you later.”

“I thought it was the other way around.”

“We’ll see. But first, a toast: to the future.”

“To the future.”

They clinked glasses and drank. Serafina drew close to Lucas. He could feel the heat of her thigh where it
touched his. “So, tell me: any of it work for you?”

“What?”

“The cards, the Ouija board, bones—any of it?”

Lucas could feel his face flush. He felt light-headed. “There has been one thing…”

“Really?” She looked deep into his eyes and he into hers. They were the eyes of a hawk that had spotted
its prey. “What?”

“It’s something they did back in ancient Rome. Do you know what a haruspex is?”

“No.” She leaned in and whispered into his ear. “Can you show me?”

“Yes,” he gasped. “Wait here.”

Lucas went into his bedroom, pulled up the carpeting in his closet, and took his bag from its hiding place
under the floorboards. The scalpels and other surgical implements he had acquired over the years would
come later—to start, it must be his trusty knife. He locked the blade into place and gave it a kiss.

 Then he saw a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye and felt a sharp pain in his neck. He cried out,
grabbed his neck, and turned to see Serafina standing over him, syringe in hand. He tried to stand, but
only made it halfway up before falling back to his knees. His body felt impossibly heavy.

“What—?” Lucas slurred.

“What did I just do to you? I just injected you with a chemical compound that is working with the one I
slipped into your drinks at the bar to shut down all of your motor skills while still keeping you conscious. I’d
apologize for that and for what’s coming, but I don’t feel the need after seeing that.” She pointed into his
closet. “They warned me that you were a nasty piece of work.”

“Who—?” he managed to gasp out before collapsing on the floor.

“The flames,” she said as she dragged him out of his bedroom and into the kitchenette. “It’s funny—they
usually show me places to burn. You’re the first person they’ve asked me to sacrifice.”

She went to her coat and pulled a small flask from one of the pockets.

“This will make you burn hot, bright, and true,” she said as she sprinkled its contents all over his body.
Then she stood over him and lit a match. He watched her beautiful, cruel face look at it dreamily.

“Now let’s see what the future holds,” she said. And the match tumbled from her fingers…
About Jon Etter

Jon Etter is writer and
teacher living in the
American Midwest. His
work has appeared in a
number of publications
including The London
Journal of Fiction, The
Singularity, and
Midnight Circus. Visit
him on the web at
www.jonetter.com.