by Emily Larkin
A boy sits alone by a windowsill, playing with a toy train.
I edge closer. He doesn’t see me coming.
Most people don’t.
Are you sure you want to be here? I told you not to come. You could still change your mind.
change your mind.
Tell you about myself? What do you think this is – a talk show?
You’re not leaving? You are absolutely sure?
I have many names: Fortune, Destiny, Providence.
I rather like Fate. It suits me. It is not as dressed-up as some of the other titles suggest.
NOTE: My least favourite name is Luck. Luck implies I simply showed up, without planning or consideration. Or I tripped over my feet and, as a result, the future shifted. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?
Luck makes me sound very passive. That is the opposite of my nature.
I get things done.
I arrive in a particular place at a particular time to make something happen
. I am a thread connecting people the world over, the reason one man dies and another lives. Luck makes my masterpiece sound like an accident. As if Van Gogh created Starry Night
by spilling paint over a canvas.
NOTE: You may be interested to know that I had something to do with that particular artwork. I conditioned a painter no one saw any potential in. I guided him to the right places at the right times. When I look at someone, really look, I see what they can become.
Back to the present; the boy.
The boy is important. He has a spark in him that will one day be a flame.
I know what you are wondering now, do you know who I am? Am I important?
That is what you are thinking. Most humans are predictable and self-obsessed, but often the individuals with the greatest potential see little in themselves. The boy does not know he is important.
Oh – I apologise – you are still wondering, do I know who you are? Are you important?
Introductions on your part are not necessary. I know your name, your interests, and what will happen to you more clearly than you do.
But no more questions for now. Watch the boy with the train.
The boy’s mother stands in the doorway, her face lit by a smile. So many parents believe their child is special. This woman happens to be right.
She crosses the room and crouches next to him. Tousling his hair, she makes train noises and he smiles.
Something is about to happen.
The boy looks up at the sound, his bright eyes wide, and his lips parted. One of his front teeth is poking through.
The boy’s mother ruffles his hair again, and returns to the kitchen to answer the phone. I hear her voice echo as she says hello.
Maybe if the phone had rung a few minutes later, or the mother hadn’t left, I wouldn’t need to be here.
The boy rolls the train across the wooden windowsill. The wheels tilt, the toy spirals into space.
Children cannot see consequences. Pain and experience hasn’t taught them to fear like adults. The boy sees the train fall and moves to follow it.
I catch his ankle. Suspended, he shrieks. He sees the hard ground beneath him, but not for long. I pull him inside. Once he’s safely on the carpet again, I release him.
His mother has reappeared; she looks stricken.
‘Leo!’ She rushes over. ‘Are you all right?’
I lay my hand gently on her shoulder. The mother shivers, but doesn’t shake it off. I see my influence begin to work – she closes her eyes, hugs the boy tightly and her soul calms. She pulls back to look at him from arm’s length, and tells herself that somehow – unbelievably, miraculously – he is all right. She saw him fall, but here he is, unharmed.
Releasing his shoulders, the mother reaches for the window and tugs it shut.
‘The strangest thing...’ she murmurs, ‘his ankle caught on the sill – ’
My actions are explained away. Unfolding my arms, I begin to relax. The waiting is the hard part. I can never rush in. I try to minimise the ripple effect.
‘What are you doing here?’
The voice sounds like sandpaper, and startles me. Turning, I see a man dressed as I am, in dark grey, gloves and quiet boots.
A Few Points to Address:
1. Humans give us many names, but in our own circles we are called “agents of Fate” or just “agents”.
2. As suggested, I am not the only agent of Fate. I can’t do everything.
3. Two of us, in the same space and time however, is very unusual.
‘Why are you here?’ he repeats. He must be thinking along the same lines as I am.
‘I am here for the boy,’ I say. ‘Why are you here?’
He scowls and crosses his arms. He is wondering how much to tell me. ‘I’m here for him too,’ he says finally. ‘To push him out a window.’ He turns to the window and raps the glass pane. ‘It was meant to be open.
No. He is wrong. He must have misread the Schedule.
The child must live. His life will be precious.
Strange as this may sound, I am not intended for confrontation. I am a deciding factor in pivotal moments; I slip in and out of wars, natural disasters, court cases, family arguments – every kind of conflict. I am efficient because I generally go unnoticed.
‘The train already fell,’ he murmurs. ‘How strange. Why didn’t the boy follow?’ His eyes slide back to me. ‘You caught him.’ It isn’t a question.
I do not bother denying my part. ‘This is my case,’ I say softly. It is unlikely that the boy and his mother will notice us, but there’s no need to draw their attention with raised voices.
‘No,’ he says. ‘It’s mine. He was supposed to fall.’ He moves towards the child.
In a single step, I block his path. ‘You are mistaken,’ I tell him, keeping my voice polite and firm. ‘This is my case – and I have already intervened. The boy must live. The boy will
The mother turns slightly, her lips pursed. I freeze.
I have been noticed only a handful of times in – well, it is impossible to know how long – but I always fear it will happen again. The majority wouldn’t notice if I did the can-can in front of them, but some people are sensitive.
Yes, you qualify. The other agent does not hear us; we are talking on a private line. But we must be brief because he will notice if my attention is diverted.
1. When humans notice, they get in the way. Yes, I am talking about you. Stand over there, in the shadow of the bookcase. Ignore the agent I am talking to. Do not attract his stare.
2. Yes, I did say you could come, but I said it grudgingly. Now let me get back to the task at hand.
For another beat, the mother gazes in our direction. Then she blinks, and looks back to the boy. The boy sees me; he lifts a hand and points at me.
The mother looks again. She may have felt our presence for a moment, but she doesn’t see us. Children point at everything and nothing all the time. They see faces in clouds and panels of wood, and believe animals talk when no one is watching.
‘He sees us,’ the agent observes, one brow arched.
I nod. To me, it makes the boy more extraordinary, but I see the agent’s face darken.
The mother ushers the boy past us and to the kitchen. This small distance from the other agent is not enough to assuage my fears. ‘We have been here too long,’ I point out. ‘It is time to leave.’
‘You can leave,’ he says. ‘My mission is not complete.’
My chest tightens. I don’t need to breathe, but the memory of needing to breathe – and what it feels like when air doesn’t travel down my throat – is still there. Sometimes the feeling resurfaces and is overwhelming.
I have tried being reasonable.
There is only one thing left to do.
‘You can’t touch him,’ I say. ‘I won’t let you. And I have reinforcements.’ I nod towards you.
Please keep in mind:
1. I told you not to come.
2. I hate revealing you to another agent, who could make life very hard for you.
3. I didn’t know what else to do. He must know I have a witness. We must protect the boy.
He sees you for the first time and something like shock, or alarm, flits over his face. Agents are not allowed to bring an audience along. Especially a mortal audience.
I am breaking the rules. Your presence injures his resolve.
His skin seems to pull tighter over his face in fury. He strides back towards the closed window, and pauses. His neck twists to gauge the apartment as he wars with himself.
He dips his head, and I see he has made a decision. Like grains of grey sand blown along the beach, his fingers, then his wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders ebb away, drifting through the glass as though it isn’t there. His hair follows, strands growing thin and appearing to shrink into his skull, as more of his essence vanishes. His chest disappears, then his legs and finally his feet, as his atoms rearrange and whisk away to reassemble elsewhere.
You might be impressed, but I have seen and done it so many times myself that it no longer seems incredible.
He is gone for now, but he will be back.
You look at me, wondering what we are going to do now. If I knew, I might tell you.
Yes, I know the child’s not safe. But what can I do? Even someone like me cannot be present every moment to watch over him.
Hush! They are only in the next room and may hear you. I am trying to think of something. Stop distracting me.
Yes, there is a chance the agent will come after you now. That is unfortunate.
Let me think.
The germ of an idea slowly sprouts in my mind. I let the consequences unfold in my view, but I must remember that I am not the only player in this boy’s life anymore. The other agent may interrupt or change whatever I set forth.
Still, I let the idea expand until it is a plan. It is hardly original but, nevertheless, it is a plan.
I wait until night, and the mother tucks the boy into bed, and kisses his forehead.
‘Can Mr Bear breathe?’ the boy asks.
The mother checks that the shabby toy’s head is sticking out from under the quilt, next to the boy. ‘Yes, honey, he’s fine.’
The boy catches sight of me again, standing in the corner, and smiles. ‘You’re still here,’ he calls out.
The mother looks around. After a moment, her concern is replaced by warm affection. ‘When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend too. Goodnight, honey.’ She pauses. ‘Who loves you?’
The boy grins, and dimples pinch his cheeks. He knows the answer to this one.
‘Who loves you?’ she asks again.
‘You do!’ The words burst out, triumphant.
‘Yes, I do!’ She smooths his forehead and, to make sure he knows, says it again, more softly, ‘I do.’ She kisses him once more, and leaves, her feet padding against the floor.
It is my moment to act – and now it has come I find I don’t want to. It takes an extra moment for me to will my hands to move. I slide back the quilt and scoop the boy up. He blinks at me with heavy eyes, as though he has been asleep all night, and not a few minutes. Retrieving Mr Bear, I hand over the toy. It is obviously a favourite; his fur is worn, one eye hangs by a thread and stuffing droops out of his ears.
Holding the boy, his arms around my neck, I creep out of his room, through the kitchen, and to the hallway. We must leave before the other agent returns.
Oh, you – yes, you come too. Quickly now.
The bathroom light is on, and I imagine the mother brushing her teeth. Adults tend to stay up late, watching TV or wasting time in some other way. This woman goes to bed early. She knows her boy will be up at dawn, and wants the energy to spend time with him.
My feet freeze. A tremor runs down my spine.
I am taking her child. Her flesh and blood, her love and joy.
But I am saving him. And in turn, saving others.
I hoist the child higher. He reaches a stubby hand into my hair and tugs. Remarkably calm; other young ones would cry and scream in the arms of a stranger.
But I am not truly a stranger and maybe, somehow, he recognises this.
‘Time to go,’ I whisper. ‘I know this was not in the Schedule. But sometimes schedules change.’
Yes, come quickly now. Tread quietly.
I will place the boy somewhere safe.
Then I will watch, and wait.