As seen in the 'zine--"What the Cat Dragged in" (for copies email
the list mom)
Thanks again to Mary P for beta-ing. :)
Author's note: I tried very hard to maintain some sense of continuity in this story, which wasn't easy considering that there are some conflicting dates and facts in EE canon. I had to take some creative license in order to do so, so forgive me if there are any mistakes. EE and its characters mean too much to me, not to at least have given it my best shot. Thanks for reading!
Feedback: papercat @ optonline.net
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by Ms. Panther
At least once in every life a seemingly insignificant event changes a person's
whole perspective, maybe even sends them in a completely different direction.
Gary Hobson had experienced more than his share of ordinary, yet life-changing,
events, from an unexpected divorce to the muffled plop of a newspaper that
led him from one catastrophe to another. Over the last five years he
had been through all the emotions that came along with that Paper:
annoyance and frustration, rejection, guilt, and finally, a begruding acceptance
of his life as it had become. The Paper was a merciless taskmaster
at times, but Gary had come to realize that when the day was done and he
had prevented some unneccessary tragedy, given someone their future back
just as it was about to be torn from their grasp, it was all worth it.
And for that reason he was able to sleep at night, the well-earned sleep
of a man who made a difference.
But tonight's sleep was restless, wracked by a new guilt--a guilt fostered by the realization that perhaps he had snatched a bright future away, rather than given it back. And it all started with the simple, coincidental sighting of a young girl--Lindsay Romick.
He stepped silently through the shadowy loft, and made his way over to the window to sit at the sill and ponder this newest dilemma. A soft blue haze filtered in and bathed him in mellow light. Cat leapt up beside him on sure feet and sat facing him with knowing eyes. Cat always knew the answers, but he rarely shared them with Gary. The city had bedded down for the night hours ago, and Gary had an isolated feeling, as if he and Cat were the only two beings in the world. He gazed out at the night sky as if he would find some cosmic answer there. Was there really some invisible hand guiding things? God, Fate, Destiny, whatever? Marissa believed there was, and at times she had him convinced as well. But second-hand faith just wasn't cutting it for him tonight. Lindsay's life would someday be forever altered, and not for the better, and it was all his fault.
He had made a choice, one that would have far-reaching effects on Lindsay's future. He'd seen something special in her, and had made a choice as simple as that. And at the time, it seemed like the right choice. But today, upon seeing her again, the full impact of the life he had condemned her to settled somewhere deep in his chest, pressing down with every breath.
Cat kept vigil with Gary throughout the night, until he crept quietly away and disappeared unnoticed, only to reappear at the door with his usual morning delivery. Across the room, the radio deejay droned on about the weather or some irrelevant thing or another that Gary completely ignored. He ran one hand across the stubble that now covered his chin and replayed the conversation he'd had with Marissa only a handful of hours ago.
"So, you gonna tell me about it?", she'd asked, sensing his restlessness.
"I saw Lindsay Romick today," Gary answered without preamble.
"Oh!" It was a small word, but the response held a lot of meaning. Marissa looked as if she knew this moment would come. "Well, what happened?" she questioned, and waited through the silence for his answer.
Gary began pacing the small office space, and running his hand over the back of his neck in agitation. He glanced at Marissa, sitting at the desk, her hands wrapped around a mugful of hot tea. It was such a normal thing, to see Marissa like that, and it brought him a small amount of comfort at that moment. His life was anything but normal, so he'd take what he could get. "Well, n-nothing happened.......exactly. I just saw her on the street. She's a little older now, and she was with a........a boyfriend, I guess."
"A boyfriend? So? She's a teenager, Gary. It's only natural that she might have a boyfriend. What's the problem?" Marissa asked.
"What's the problem? What's the problem?" He repeated the question in astonishment, as if she should know. And all the while, he struggled to put into words what the problem was, to tell her what he was so afraid he had done. Finally, he stopped his pacing and sat down on the couch, only to jump back up and resume his pacing again. "The problem," he finally managed to say, "the problem is......" He sighed deeply before continuing. "The problem is....she had a boyfriend." It sounded so ridiculous, and he knew it. "I mean.....Marissa, what if that's what she wants out of life--a husband, a family, a normal life? What if..........What if someday she wakes up and finds a cat and a newspaper on her doorstep and...........What if she won't be able to have the things she wants because........"
"Because you chose her to be next," she finished for him. "Gary, you chose her for a reason. Just like Snow chose you for a reason. Maybe God had a hand in it--maybe he led you to her."
"Maybe, maybe, maybe!" His words came out in a rush of frustration. "Marissa, I may have completely destroyed this girl's future, *maybe* just isn't good enough."
Marissa's eyebrows went up and she took a deep breath, collecting herself before answering. "I don't believe you chose Lindsay randomly, Gary. And I don't for a minute believe that you've destroyed her future. But Gary, I think you're gonna have to find the faith in you to believe that too. I wish I could help, but faith can't be passed from one person to another."
"I know!" He whispered on a sigh of resignation.
Now he trudged wearily to the door to retrieve the Paper, picking it up with all the agility he could muster after his sleepless night. He ignored Cat, who headed immediately for his food dish, his sympathy of the night before vanishing with the evening sky. Gary shut the door and made his way to the couch, wary of what might be in store for him today. At this moment he was beyond tired. He was old. Not in years maybe, but in his heart and soul, he felt old. Just old! There was no other way to describe the weariness and the emotional fog that had settled upon him.
A knock on the door, and a vaguely familiar voice calling, "Mr. Hobson", pulled Gary from his seat again. The sillhouette through the door was as vaguely familiar as its voice. But Gary was completely unprepared for this visitor.
Boswell, a timeless man in a timeless doorman's uniform, stood on the landing with a brown paper and twine wrapped package in his hand, extended toward Gary.
"Mr. Hobson, your mail," he said formally. His manner and tone of voice were all quite natural, as if his appearance at Gary's door was a regular occurance.
"Huh?" Gary stood there, dumbfounded, staring at the man he hadn't seen since he'd first acquired McGinty's.
The package was thrust into his hands, drawing his eyes down to the scrawl of letters spelling out his name across the crackling paper. A hundred burning questions were racing through his fatigued brain, and trying desperately to make their way to his mouth. But there was no one to answer them, because when he returned his gaze to the doorway, Boswell was gone. He had slipped away as quickly and mysteriously as he had come, with no pounding of feet on the stairwell or creaking of doors in the office. He was as stealthy and elusive as Cat. Maybe even more so, since he seemed to be an elderly man, who by all the rules of nature should be slow and cumbersome in his movements.
With a quick shake of his head, Gary moved back into the loft. If it weren't for the evidence right there in his hands, he'd swear Boswell's visit was some sort of hallucination born out of his sleep deprivation and inner turmoil.
Everytime Boswell made an appearance in Gary's life, it seemed that he brought something important, something momentuous, even if it didn't appear that way at first. Gary knew instinctively that this would be no exception, and a feeling of apprehension washed over him. The package was square and weighty, like a heavy book. He carried it to the kitchen area and set it on the counter, then he made himself a cup of coffee. Caffeine was needed before he would be able process whatever it was staring back at him from the gleaming stainless steel countertop.
After his coffee, a hot shower, and a quick perusal through the Paper, he knew he'd procrastinated long enough. Curiosity was finally winning over apprehension.
With a satisfying snap, Gary's pocketknife sliced through the twine around the package. He was still only partially convinced he wanted to know what was about to be revealed, but he felt compelled to find out anyway. A gleam of light reflected off the pocketknife in his hand, mesmerizing him for a moment. As he continued to stare at it, transfixed, his mind became suspended somewhere between the past and the present. Now there was another pocketknife-- with a safe deposit key attached, a cemetary, and a young girl mourning the loss of her grandfather. The whole scene replayed in his mind, as clearly as if he were reliving it at that very moment. A sad and confused Lindsay tentatively reaching for the knife, declaring that it wasn't hers,
running her fingers over the initials--her own initials. He'd been passing the baton, so to speak, he thought. But was it really fair to pass it on to her, when quite possibly, and more than likely, she wouldn't want it? No! He couldn't convince himself that the answer was anything but a resounding no.
He set the knife down and pushed it out of his line of sight. These thoughts were getting him nowhere, he realized. Right now, it was time to deal with the package. He lifted it and examined it for a moment, turning it this way and that. The brown paper was glued together along one edge, forming a seam. Gary pulled gently at one corner, loosening it enough to get his finger underneath and break the seal. When the paper finally fell away, it revealed an old book, a scrapbook of sorts with a homemade look to it. A faded monogram in gold script graced the worn cover.
"LS--Lucius Snow," Gary whispered to himself.
The book consisted of two dirtied beige hard covers bound together by some sort of metal clasps. The inside of the front cover was inscribed, in a loopy feminine script: "To Lucius, You have lifted my very soul up into the light of your soul, and I am not ever likely to mistake it for the common daylight. EBB Love forever, Eunice." Inside there were black construction paper type pages that held old photographs, mostly in black and white and many with handwritten captions beneath them. But in the back of the book, almost as an afterthought, someone had added pages for journaling. They were yellowed with years, and filled with the same heavy scrawl that had spelled out Gary's name on the outer wrapping. The penmanship was familiar to him, more familiar even than the man who'd owned it. It was the same writing he knew from the letter he'd received from Lucius Snow several years ago.
Gary started at the beginning, with the photographs. Most of them were scenes from Chicago, some of them pretty old and many of them labeled with the year and name of the site or building. As he turned page after page, the photos became more recent, some even into the 80's. Snow had been organized, at least in this. The pictures were interesting, but seemingly insignificant, so Gary turned to the first page of the journal section and began reading. And thus began his journey.
September 17, 1955
"My name is Lucius Snow. I am a typesetter. At least, that's what I do for a living. I've never been much for writing out my thoughts. It's usually someone else's words I'm laying out. But my lady friend, Eunice, tells me that my words are just as important and that my story needs to be told. That's why she made me this book. Funny thing is, she doesn't even know the half of it. I'm thinking though, that maybe she's right. Maybe I should tell my story. Maybe it'll help someone someday.
As a young man, I always wanted to do something important--maybe leave my mark on the world at the same time. I tried to join the army.
Wanted to fight the Japs and the Nazis as bad as anyone. But Uncle Sam didn't want me after all. I failed the physical exam. Couldn't for the life of me figure out why a slight hearing loss made me incapable of firing a weapon--still can't, in fact. Now though, I'm thinking it's probably a good thing. I'd rather save a life than take one.
What happened next......well, I almost hesitate to write about it here. It still seems crazy, even after all these years. It was 1944. The days leading up to "the event" were bitter, and so was I. The war seemed to be winding down, boys were becoming men, heroes. Not me though! No, I was waiting bar at a place called Marty's. The owner, Marty himself, was a friend of mine. Still is, actually. Part of my pay was free room and board in the loft above the bar. I had my eye on a cute waitress there. Her name was Maria, and she was all wrong for me, but I didn't see it at the time. I was all set to propose to her when she threw me over for a returning soldier. Said she wanted a hero, not a loser. After that, well, I felt more like a loser than ever.
A few days later, a cat showed up at my door--a cat and a newspaper. I never had much use for newspapers. They were always filled with stories about the war--the one I couldn't fight. I'll never forget the first headline though. It read, "Army Seizes Factory" and the story was about Avery Sewell, chairman of Montgomery Ward, being forcibly hauled out of his office. I got a good laugh just picturing the whole thing. And for once, I was glad not to be a soldier and have to perform that duty. I only glanced at the rest of it briefly and tossed it in the trash can. I was more taken with the cat. I gave him some milk and let him curl up on my bed.
Later that day, as I was tending bar, I heard the news on the radio--a breaking story about Avery Sewell. The same exact story I had read earlier. I was confused. I ran back upstairs and took the paper from the trash, convinced I must've been imagining the whole thing. I wasn't! There it was in black and white, and there in the top corner was the date--April 27, 1944. But it was only April 26. I thought I might be going crazy. Even thought the Chicago Phoenix was playing some kind of hoax. Or maybe Marty, but that wasn't really his style.
The rest of that day, that week really, was a blur. The paper came every day. I ran all over the city with it--testing it out in a way. Made some stupid bets about the war with the guys, taking their hard earned cash, and wasted a lot of time acting like a selfish jerk. I guess part of me figured Maria would come back if I were some kind of big shot. I was wrong! But Marty got hurt one day, got hurt bad and I could've stopped it. I could've, but I didn't. I was too busy thinking about myself. Marty's been a real good friend to me, and I let him down. He recovered, and I told him what I'd done. I showed him the paper. He forgave me and ever since then, I vowed I'd use that paper to help others. I'd use it for good. And that's what I've been doing for
going on eleven years now.
Gary peeled his eyes from the journal for a moment. It was an engrossing story with eerie similarities to his own. But it was a lot to take in all at once, so he set it aside, stood and stretched, then stepped over to the window again to think. It seemed strange and somehow comforting to think that Snow had probably stared out this same window, maybe seeking answers to the same questions, hashing out the same doubts.
For one moment, a young Snow's face floated before him in the glass, staring back at him with great intensity. The face was young, but the eyes were much older, as if they belonged to a different face, a weathered face. Those eyes held a world of burdens. The image quickly faded from the window, but not from Gary's mind. It was something he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
Gary went back to the couch and continued reading Snow's journal.
September 24, 1955
I'm leaving tomorrow for a trip to Rome with Eunice. I'm leaving
the paper in Marty's hands, and I'm feeling a little guilty about it.
But Eunice is special, and she deserves this trip, so I'm not gonna disappoint
her. She doesn't know about the paper. I've only ever told Marty.
I'm debating whether or not to tell her while we're in Rome. I think
she's expecting me to propose while we're there. Maybe I will.
October 3, 1955
Just got back from Rome. It was a good trip. I'm not good
at describing everything, so I will just say that Rome is a beautiful city.
I learned a great deal about myself while I was gone. I think Eunice
sensed that I was restless. I know she was expecting a proposal, but
I couldn't do it. I love her. I love her a lot, and I'd be a fool
not to marry her. I guess I'm a fool.
Marty looks like he's aged ten years in one week. He says he enjoyed being the hero, but I can tell it took its toll on him. I can't ask him to do that again. I shouldn't have left. The paper is my responsibility, not Marty's. And I certainly can't ask Eunice to share in a life that's not my own. It wouldn't be fair to her. I won't be seeing her anymore. She deserves someone who can make her happy. I hope she finds him someday.
October 8, 1955
There's a lot more to my story. In fact, I've only just begun to tell it. I could write about my search for the origins of the paper, but it didn't yield much--just the name of the man who received it before I did. He died the day before I first received it and he lived at the Blackstone Hotel.
I got offered the typesetting job at the Phoenix pretty much because I was hanging around there so much trying to find out more about my paper. I took the job cause I thought it might help. It's pretty easy to set the headlines when you know them in advance. The guys there think I'm a little strange. Maybe they're right. When I set the headline for VE day, it caused quite a stir. I found out I wasn't all that keen on being the center of attention. Now I pretty much keep to myself.
Marty said I could stay in the loft, but I moved out to the Blackstone in hopes of learning more about this thing. In 1948, I moved back into the loft for a while because my room at the Blackstone caught fire. I still hang out at Marty's, helping out behind the bar occasionally, shooting pool or playing cards with the guys. It's a great place to have a beer and forget about the paper for a while. Marty said he'd leave the bar to me someday since it was as much mine as his anyway. But that's a story for another day.
I could write about some of the tragedies I've averted, or about some of the ungrateful people I've saved, and maybe, eventually, I will write about those things. But right now I'll stick to the heart of the matter and that is how the paper has changed me and some of the struggles I've faced because of it. I often think about how it might help to know where this thing comes from or more about my predecessor. Maybe by writing as much as I can, I'll help the next guy. And maybe the answers I seek will be unearthed one of these days, and I'll write about those as well.
For a while I was angry about the paper--well, angry at the paper if truth be told. I tried to run from it, but it followed me like some sort of silent predator. At times, I still am angry. How am I supposed to have a normal life with this thing showing up at my door every morning? Maybe I'm not supposed to have a normal life. I thought maybe I could with Eunice, but I couldn't ask it of her. I hear she's found someone new now. I hope he deserves her.
Gary paused again and thought about Eunice Fadiman. He wished for a moment that he could tell her how much Snow loved her. But she had passed away a few years back. Maybe now she did know. Maybe they were together at this very moment and all their questions had been answered. He hoped for that anyway.
Half the day was gone already. Cat had let him read uninterrupted, maybe because it was that important for him to learn about Snow. But right now, he needed a break, and he needed food. Leaving the journal open, he placed it on the coffee table and headed downstairs for a sandwich and a talk with Marissa.
When Gary returned to the loft, Cat was sitting on the open journal like a king on his throne. He gazed at Gary with those knowing eyes--the eyes that held the answers that he never shared. For a brief second, Gary swore his look was almost disdainful. After a quick swipe of his paws with his tongue, as if he were washing his hands of Gary, he leapt off the book, knocking it to the floor in the process, and scurried away.
"Did you play these games with Snow too?," Gary called after him with annoyance in his voice.
The journal lay on the floor, now opened to a new page. The date of the first entry immediately caught Gary's attention and he was drawn back into the story with renewed interest. This entry was a number of years later, but he knew Cat's little game was intended to lead him to this entry. Cat wanted him to skip ahead for now, and Gary willingly obeyed.
May 15, 1976
I saw this kid today at work. He was with his class, taking a
tour of the Sun-Times. I can't explain it, but I got the strangest feeling
when I saw him. It was like I was seeing someone I knew--or someone
I should know. Somehow this kid is important. I followed his
class on the rest of their tour and watched him. He stood up to the
class bully, defended one of the little girls. Seemed like a nice kid
and all, but different somehow, special.
There was another reason I was drawn to him though. He was in the paper today. His name's Gary Hobson, and the story said he was gonna get hit by a truck and killed. I got there in time to stop it from happening, and I couldn't help but notice that the kid was scared. Not just from his brush with death, but from something else. He ran out into the street because he was scared. I stayed around for a while, listened and observed. What I discovered was that Gary Hobson was taking part in some essay contest, and was visiting Chicago with his mother. I witnessed his respect and courtesy toward others. I watched him do the right thing even when it cost him something. But there's something more than just all that. There's an intensity in his eyes that......well, when I looked into those eyes, I saw myself.
The thought of Gary's near death at the age of eleven still cast a cold shadow over his soul. The memory of that whole event had been repressed for years, until a call from Morris had brought it all back. He wondered if Lindsay would remember her close call and the pocketknife he'd given her. Or would the memories be sealed in the recesses of her mind only to be triggered sometime in the future by.......something. He also wondered if Lindsay's life would parallel his own, the way his seemed to parallel Snow's. The thought of the struggles she would face, and that he had inflicted them on her, was the current thorn in his side. The guilt was still there, and the distraction of Snow's journal had not alleviated it even a little bit.
He skimmed further through the journal again. There was an urgency in him now to get closer to the end, as if that's where the all the answers would lie. But his own name caught his eye once more, and he slowed down to read more thoroughly.
September 9, 1994
I saw Gary Hobson today. His friends were throwing him a bachelor party at McGinty's. He's getting married and I feel kind of strange about it. He looked so happy and I couldn't help but wonder if.......Well, maybe I've put his future in jeopardy. What if this paper business destroys his marriage, his family? I don't know if he'll be able to balance it all. I couldn't do it, but then again, I didn't really try that hard either. I'm starting to wonder if I did the right thing, passing the paper on to him. I'm an old man now, and I've got nothing. Nothing but an old cat and a newspaper. I don't want the same thing for Gary.
September 10, 1994
Spent a sleepless night worrying about the Hobson kid. Today's his wedding day. But what kind of future have I inflicted on him? And will his wife be able to live with it, with him, once he starts getting it? I'm wondering if he'll resent it, resent me for choosing him to be next. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time, but now I'm not so sure.
November 10, 1994
All month I've been trying to figure out some way to spare Gary Hobson from........the paper, I guess. I don't think it's possible to take it back, now that I've tagged him to be next. I've hardly slept at all. And maybe it was lack of sleep, or a dream, but one night I swear I saw the face of my predecessor looking at me so intensely, like he was trying to tell me something. It got me thinking. I don't really resent him for choosing me to get the paper. I kind of figured there was some sort of guiding force behind it all. I guess I wouldn't be human if I didn't have my doubts every now and again, but I'm gonna choose to believe that there is a guiding force that led me to Gary Hobson as well. And I'm gonna trust that it'll all work out as it's meant to be. All I can do now is warn him somehow. I just gotta warn him not to let the paper become his whole world. To have something more. Not to end
up like me. To live his life.
There were a lot more entries. Enough to keep Gary busy for quite
a while. But for now he had read enough. He had learned more about
today than he ever dreamed he would. And he had learned some things about himself as well. He'd gone through the same struggles, had the same questions and doubts, but he certainly didn't resent Snow for choosing him to be next. Snow saw something special in him, just as he did Lindsay. He was beginning to see that Marissa was right. There was something more at work here than just someone making a simple choice. The evidence was right here in front of him, in the words of a simple, yet extraordinary man. Faith was beginning to rear its comforting head once again. Gary Hobson had come full circle. But he would not feel completely at ease until he accomplished one more thing. Without a moment's hesitation, he pulled out pen and paper and began to write.
I'm not exactly sure where to start. I'm not very eloquent. But I do want you to know that, although your Grandfather made mistakes, he did what was right in the end and that's all that matters. Hold on to that, Lindsay. As for the rest, I offer you the words of my predecessor:
"I imagine by the time you get this letter, you've got a whole lot more questions than I've got answers. I can tell you that I was not the first to get the Paper, and I doubt you will be the last. In this you've found your gift and I know you serve it with honor. I can tell you we are the messengers between time and it's keeper. You of all people know how fragile life is. So, somewhere between the pages of our newspaper, Lindsay Romick, find time to live it."
With great care, he creased the letter and placed it in an envelope. He left it unsealed and wrote out Lindsay's name across the front. The letters blurred before him for a second. He wondered if, no, he knew that she would one day face the same struggles as he had; the same struggles Lucius Snow had faced. It seemed to go with the territory. But now, he also knew that one day she too would come full circle and in the end, all would come out as it should be. God, Fate, Destiny, whatever, would lead them all to the place they needed to be--and just in time.
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