Friday, December 24, 2010

Speak of the Devil

     Edward possessed an unusual talent. He could summon people at will—but not like a king could summon one of his subjects to the throne. Edward’s talent was more subtle than that. In fact, it was mostly unconscious. If Edward was daydreaming, as he did frequently, and happened to think of a person from his past, then within a few minutes, days or weeks, that person would make an appearance of some sort in his life. For instance, Edward would pick up the phone and hear a familiar voice: “I was just thinking of you,” he would say. Or he would wonder what an old acquaintance was up to and then open a newspaper to find an article about that person.
     For Edward, many of these incidents were happy coincidences, but not all of them were. Sometimes that article in the newspaper was an obituary. Edward had a dark side, and he would dwell on the bad experiences in his life more often than was normal. With his special talent, the results could be disturbing.
     Once, several years ago, he was on a backpacking trip with some friends, who were also business associates, in the Colorado mountains not far from his home. As they hiked up the trail, they discussed some of their worst business experiences, and Edward told them about the time his Christmas had been ruined by a client who refused to pay a very large overdue amount before closing his business for the holidays. A few minutes later, who should come walking down the trail past them but that very same client. Edward was thankful for his baseball cap and sunglasses, and for his friends reacting with waves and greetings but nothing more.
     When they were safely out of earshot, the friends stopped and confronted Edward. “How did you do that?” one asked.
     “Do what?” Edward replied.
     “How did you get that terrible client of yours to show up on cue like that? Did you know he would be out here?”
     “No,” said Edward, looking down at his boots. “Things like that happen to me all the time. I think about somebody and there they are.”
     “Speak of the devil!”
     “You mean that old expression, ‘Speak of the devil and the devil appears’?” asked Edward.
     “Exactly! You’d better be careful who you think about if you want to keep things like what just happened from happening all the time.”
     The friends saw the look of concern on Edward’s face and started laughing to lighten the mood. One said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s not like you know any axe murderers!” They drank from their water bottles, adjusted their packs, and continued up the trail, with Edward bringing up the rear.
     As he hiked, Edward thought about what had happened and replayed in his mind all the similar occurrences that he could remember. There were many. And the bad feelings about them far outweighed the good. He resolved that he would try to prevent the devil from appearing ever again by living as fully as possible in the present and not thinking about the past.

     Edward’s strategy worked well for him while he was awake, but he could not control his thoughts as he slept. His brain, deprived of its normal daydreaming, would work overtime at night, creating vivid dreams and horrific nightmares. Edward would breathe a sigh of relief on mornings when he awoke with no memories of his dreams. When he did wake up remembering them, he would jump out of bed and busy himself with his morning routines to put them quickly out of mind.
     Early one morning, when it was still dark, Edward awoke suddenly from a dream so intense that his ears were ringing and his heart was thumping in his chest. He rolled over and tried to fall back to sleep, but there was no hope of that. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the dark ceiling, replaying the dream in his mind:

     A classmate from childhood had somehow gotten in touch and invited him to her home for Christmas Eve dinner. It was snowing as he walked up the sidewalk to the address she had given him. Her adult son was bent over shoveling the front walk. When he saw Edward approach, he stood up and introduced himself. They entered the house together and removed their coats and boots in the front hall. The rooms were decorated for the holidays, but there was no one in them. Sounds of cooking and young children came from the back of the house, behind a swinging door at the rear of the dining room to their right. The son gestured to the living room on the left and told Edward to make himself at home. He said he would let his mother know that Edward had arrived and pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen, giving Edward a glimpse of a young woman that he guessed was the son’s wife, seated at a table with their children.
     Edward walked through the arch leading to the living room and looked around. The room was comfortably furnished, and the walls were lined with built-in bookcases full of books and music CDs. He walked over to a shelf of CDs to see if he shared her taste in music. He was noticing the abundance of classical music when he saw her enter the room from the corner of his eye. He turned to face her and she stopped, still a few feet away. She was just as he remembered her, but her hair was shorter and more auburn in color. She wore a sparkling silver gown and matching shoes that made her glow in the room’s soft light.
     At a loss for words, Edward asked, “Do you still play cello?”
     “No,” she said. “I play the piano now.” She gestured through a door off the living room, where Edward could see a grand piano with its top open. “I’ve been looking for a guitarist to play duets with.”
     “I play guitar,” Edward said.
     She stepped closer and took his shoulders in her hands. She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. As she turned to pull away, Edward took her by the shoulders and kissed her softly on the mouth. “I love you,” he said. “I’ve always loved you.”

     That was the moment when Edward woke up. Somewhere in his subconscious mind, he still harbored feelings for this woman he had not seen since their twentieth class reunion, almost fifteen years ago. He also knew that given the intensity of his dream about her, she would soon appear in his life. His special talent would see to it. But he had been suppressing it for so long, he was no longer confident that it still worked. He needed to find her and tell her how he felt. He couldn’t wait for the talent to make it happen.
     Edward rolled out of bed and went into his office to turn on his computer. He tried every search engine and every networking site, but there was no mention of her. Finally, he found an address that might be hers. He wrote a quick letter saying that he had been thinking about her and asking her to get in touch with him. He put the letter in an envelope and hurried to the post office to mail it before he lost his nerve.
     Days passed and turned into weeks and months. The letter went unanswered. And the devil did not appear.

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