It wasn’t Morse code, no dots and dashes. It was more like a high-pitched shriek in his head, series after series of rapid bursts followed by weighty long and short pauses. All of it meaningless to anyone but him. Only he could decipher the code.
And the switch was on twenty-four hours a day, dispatch after dispatch. He received each one reverently, decoding it like a sleepless monk interpreting an impenetrable revelation. He was an engine. He wrote it all down, using only green ink – Sanford Flair felt tip pens, Model: PAP84401ZQ. Notebook after notebook – Hilroy Model: 013223, 1-Subject, 10-1/2″ x 8″, 250 pages.
He bought them when he was able, with the spare change he begged for on the street. And he lined the walls of his room when the pages were full of his divination, cover to cover, diagrams and text, both sides of each page.
When he first heard the code, at nineteen years of age, he’d held his hands over his ears. But that only increased its ferocity, making the rapid bursts sound like depth charges, the pauses like vaulted tombs of doomed echo. He wept at the curse of it. On the sidewalks of the city, raving and pulling his hair. Losing his former self in it, abandoning the kind words of family and all prospects of love. But, he learned to listen. He learned to understand. And knew that he was the functionary and go-between for an immense and cosmic broadcast of warning and portent.
He cracked the code early in 1981, at twenty years of age.
Understanding the gravity of one of the earliest directives, he tried to warn the world that an oily haired, B movie President would be hit in the lung by the ricocheting bullet fired by an obsessed John W. Hinckley, Jr.
And when he did, he was cast out of newspaper offices and shunned by radio call-in shows. Eventually, he shouted it in frustration to the police in his dishevelled street reeking clothes, and they beat him in an alley off Abbott and Hastings Streets.
And the thing happened as he predicted it would, on Monday March 30, 1981.
He spoke to no one after that. But decided he’d not only write his prophesies into notebooks, but also on the walls along the block long back alley behind his slum hotel, using countless black Pentel N 50 Markers, each wearing down rapidly on the mossy red brick. He would have starved, rather than allow supplies of the permanent markers to dwindle. His filthy fingers inscribing the soon to be history, line by prescient line:
Argentina will invade Falkland Islands; U.S. Embassy to be bombed in Beirut; Huge poison gas leak to come – Bhopal, India; Space shuttle Challenger is doomed, check the O rings; Beware of Chernobyl nuclear disaster; Berlin wall will fall come November; Branch Davidians will die; Twelve must die in Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas; Oklahoma Truck bomb Timothy McVeigh; Royal family plans to murder Princess Diana; Columbine, watch out for Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; Gore will concede to American terrorist, W, deception and domestic carnage will follow.
The high-pitched shriek and hollow paused ciphers resulted in tens of thousands of perfectly accurate forecasts. Graffiti volumed, issued and chaptered.
In a time when websites, blogs and on-line chat rooms were blighted with incoherent digitized conspiracy theories and mere guesses posing as prophecy, he lived in analog poverty and obscurity, predicting precisely the events that would bless and plague the planet.
He met Stanley in the summer. That was all he could remember about it. Stanley, the man sitting with him at the Ovaltine café lunch counter. The man with the broad trustworthy smile. The one who bought him coffee and listened without judgement.
“It must be hard to have that noise in your head,” Stanley would say. “And to feel the responsibility that comes with it.”
“I guess,” he’d said, staring ahead at a wall of café mirror, seeing his filthy image there. He’d never thought of it that way. The noise and the code were all he knew, and he couldn’t remember what responsibility meant.
“If there’s anything you need,” Stanley had once said, “you just let me know. You know I’ll be here.”
That was how the conversations went, between him and Stanley. Stanley, generous; him, pitiable and bedraggled. Stanley showing him photographs of his family, while he sat there with nothing to say. His family and the comfort it might bring as mysterious to him as the source of the code.
At some point, people began to visit the alley wall to read his predictions. They came to watch him write them down. They planned their lives accordingly. They created tiny shrines and lit candles. They left him food, money and necessary supplies. The wall was photographed and venerated. It inevitably and ironically appeared on the world wide web. To some, he was a hero and a prophet. Newspapers and television covered the phenomenon. It was human interest; it was mysterious, like UFOs.
When the attention became too much, he’d only come out at night, writing in the yellow incandescent light. In the morning there was fresh prophecy for the people, yet to be sullied by malfunctional network news agencies and government misinformation. Pilgrims journeyed to the wall and knelt before his foretelling.
But others watched, too. They knew his name. They loitered and creeped. And when they were finished for the day, they returned to agencies of cant where they submitted to the device of state. He’d become marked and if he survived, it was only because he’d been labelled insane.
Then one wakeful night, it came to him. Unclear at first, snowy dot matrix across the ceiling above him in his bed. A vision of malevolence, men planning the flight of jetliners, their collision with tall buildings. Towers collapsing on television screens worldwide as a supposed fool of a President sat in a classroom with school children, pretending to be caught unaware. Humanity scrambling like hornets, manipulated from on high, striking-out at wrong targets as the actual perpetrators gloated over their perfectly executed plan, branding the day 9/11.
He lived secretly with the foreknowledge throughout the summer, before September 11th. It was too wicked to be true. Had the code finally failed? When he could no longer hold it in, he told a street clinic psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was amused, and suggested hospitalization.
Then he wrote the newspapers and called radio talk shows, and in spite of all the accurate predictions he’d made already, he was ignored.
When he told Stanley, Stanley offered to drive him to the hospital.
On September 7th, 2001, he stood in front of the art gallery with a sign. He shouted and ranted, deliriously. Passers-by called him names and laughed. On September 8th, he finally wrote it on the wall.
There will be four passenger airliners, supposedly hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists. Don’t be fooled. They will be called suicide attacks. Two planes, AA Flight 11 and UA Flight 175, will impact the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Both towers will collapse, but not because of the impacts. AA Flight 77 will be reported crashing into the Pentagon. UA 93, will crash into a field near Shanksville. 3,000 people will die in the attacks. It is no conspiracy; it is a plan. This is no theory; it is foretold. Tomorrow, watch the blue skies.
More code came on the night of September 10th. He interpreted it all. He saw a world convinced by lies. Outrage misdirected. Facts and evidence ignored. Skeptics labelled traitors.
He sat alone in the dark of his room, that night. Thousands of dog-eared Hilroy Model: 013223, 1-Subject notebooks surrounding him on shelves. The high-pitched shriek pulsed on. A trash bin next to a simple writing table was filled with exhausted green felt pens.
There was a knock at the door. There were always mysterious knocks at his door. The hotel was filled with ghosts. He ignored it. There was another knock. He sat still, like Buddha with his eyes closed.
“You in there?” It was a familiar voice. “It’s me. It’s Stanley. Will you let me in?”
He opened his eyes. Stanley had never come to his door before. He felt panic, but didn’t know why.
“Just let me in,” Stanley said. “People are worried.”
He stood up and went to the door. He put his ear to it. There were faint noises in the hall. The shuffling of feet. Someone sighing. He placed his hand on the doorknob and began to turn it. But then the door came crashing in.
He fell to the floor, beneath the door that had been forced off of its hinges. Dark human forms surrounded him. He’d not foreseen this. Someone kicked him hard in the ribs. He curled up into a ball and took more kicks to the back and head.
“Stop it.” It was Stanley’s voice. “He’s harmless.”
“He’s dangerous,” another voice said, “a legitimate target. That’s why we’re here.”
“I’ve been assigned to him for more than a year,” said Stanley. “He’s not a physical threat. It’s what he knows and how he knows it. Just cuff him and let’s take him out through the back.”
The handcuffs were hard and cold. A sack was put over his head and he was dragged down four flights of stairs, and put into the backseat of a car. It smelled of stale men’s cologne and coffee. After a 30 minute ride, he was transferred to another vehicle. It was a small jet aircraft.