For most of his life Walter has a recurring dream. It's a boring dream. Hardly worth remembering.
The dream is this: he's in the public library, sitting on the floor in an aisle between two bookshelves. There's a book in his hand. The title of the book is, "The Amazing Inventions of Nikola Tesla." As he's reading someone comes up behind him.
The person behind Walter says, "Greenland conveyor."
For 30 years there is nothing else he remembers of the dream. Until today.
Today Walter remembers it wasn't a dream. He really did go to the library and read the book.
He realizes the dream is a remembrance just as he realizes he's been seeing the man in the green shirt for at least six months. He wonders if the guy ever changed clothes. He wonders if anyone else notices him. Yellow-green vomit colored shirt. Dockers, khaki. New Balance sneakers. Muddy. He sees him in the grammar school parking lot when he drops his kids off in the morning.
Then in the checkout line at the grocery store on his way home from work. Aisle twelve. Ten items or less. Two grapefruit in the bottom of the green man's cart.
The video rental store. "Videodrome". "The Prince of Darkness". The guy rented the same movies every time. The checkout kid never said a word. Same kid, same guy, same puke green shirt, same DVDs every Friday night.
Nobody says a word. It's like it's not happening.
Then he dreams of the guy in the green shirt. He dreams he sees the guy in the video store in the horror section and the guy's picking his copies of "Videodrome" and "The Prince of Darkness" off the shelf when Walter asks him why. Why every week, the same movies?
Walter doesn't even hear the answer. He's so scared he pummels the guy to a pulp, right there in the video store. Then he pulls over a rack of videos on the guy and runs.
When Friday comes for real, the guy is standing in front of Walter in the video store checkout line.
He doesn't care if puke shirt is the devil.
The guy must feel his eyes blazing into the back of his neck, so he turns, and when he makes eye-contact Walter says, "Sir, I gotta ask you. Every week for the last six months I've come in here exactly the same time you do and I see you renting the same two movies. What's up with that?"
The guy says, "I really like them," in a milque-toast voice that sounds to Walter like his third grade teacher.
The silence grows uncomfortable when Walter can't think of anything further to say and the man won't stop staring into his eyes. He clears his throat and looks at his feet, but the guy won't stop staring.
It's the first time Walter's seen him up close. There's a card in the man's shirt breast pocket. He can see it through the green cloth. It's a badge, the type people wear when they're at work. There's a picture of the man and a name Walter has a hard time reading.
What he can read is this: Gaert First Savings -- IT Department.
"Is there anything else?" green shirt asks.
"Nope," says Walter.
"And I'm going to kill my boss for firing me," says the green shirt guy. "With these."
Walter can't stop himself from responding. He says, "You're going to beat him to death with DVDs?"
Walter doesn't feel much like watching videos anymore so he goes home without renting anything. It makes his wife cranky. She wanted to see "Braveheart" again. Her being cranky burns down the next-door neighbor's house. But she doesn't know that's why it burned.
"I liked them so much," says Walter's wife the next morning, ignorant she should blame losing her favorite neighbors on the bad mood she has as a result of a perimenopausal condition her gynecologist just diagnosed. She goes outside to the Yerbil's driveway, which now leads from the asphalt of Uvula Street to the carbonized wreckage that used to be the Yerbil's home. She takes their newspaper.
She and Walter don't subscribe.
"Since they're in temporary housing..." says Walter's wife. She puts the paper in front of Walter's coffee cup.
Usually Walter stares at the Formica table top when he eats his breakfast. Oatmeal. Raisins and brown sugar. He thinks of his dreams. Last night he dreamed he went to the library and read that book on Nikola Tesla. Today he stares at a headline.
"GAERT PLAZA IN RUINS TWELVE FEARED DEAD"
"Honey, Gaert Plaza fell down," Walter says, picking up the paper. The picture on the front shows firemen training hoses on smoking rubble. He's about to start reading the article when he loses his appetite.
The man in the green shirt is in the newspaper picture. He's staring at the rubble.
On his way home from work that night Walter stops at Tedesco's and sees the green shirt man in aisle twelve as usual. Two grapefruit are in his cart. Walter stands in aisle eleven. He's got a six-pack of Pepsi, two bags of Fritos, and a hand of five bananas. Thirteen items, as far as he's concerned.
"I killed my boss," the man says when he sees Walter. "Did you see the paper this morning?"
"I don't get the paper," Walter says.
"But you saw it," the man says. He grins. Says, "I wouldn't stand in that line if I were you. Aisle twelve is safer."
"Safer?" Walter says.
"Been to the library yet? Have they sent you there?"
"Huh?" says Walter, clueless.
"Tesla," says puke shirt. "Have they sent you to read Tesla?"
Despite the fact the man is in the express lane, Walter checks out first.
Instead of going straight home, Walter goes to the library. He hasn't been to a library since he was sixteen. He doesn't have a library card, but he remembers how to use the card catalog.
Unfortunately, they don't have card catalogs anymore. It's computers, now. And the computer tells him there is no book named, "The Amazing Inventions of Nikola Tesla."
But Walter remembers it. He remembers pulling the plastic-bound book off the bottom shelf in the biography section. He remembers sitting on the floor. He remembers reading something that startled him. It was this: in 1932 Nikola Tesla told the inhabitants of Milan, Italy, that at a specific time on a specific day he would cause all the electricity in the city to stop working. And on that day, at that time, for twenty minutes, all the lights went out. Not even a flashlight would work.
Walter had never heard anything like this anywhere else. As far as he knew, he'd never heard it mentioned. It was as if the whole world forgot it happened.
Even now, when Walter remembers it, he can't believe he'd forgotten there was a time when a man sucked all the electricity out of the world and nobody even blinked.
When he gets home his wife is frantic. She's watching the news. She drags Walter to the television.
A news helicopter is hovering over Tedesco's. The place is seething with cops, guns brandished.
"Grocery store robbers. They shot six people," says Walter's wife. "Then they blew up a bomb."
In the 'copter cam picture on his television, Walter sees the man in the green shirt getting into his car, two grapefruit in hand while police secure the crime scene.
Walter's wife hugs him and tells him she's happy he's safe and that he should shop at Safeway from now on.
She says, "First the Yerbil's house, then Gaert Plaza, then Hervy Yerbil is killed, now this robbery..."
"What?" Walter said. "Hervy Yerbil?"
"Killed when Gaert Plaza fell," says his wife. "He was the IT manager for Gaert First Savings. When the building started to fall he ran inside to hustle everyone else out. Brave man. First he loses his home, then he dies trying to save lives."
As his wife says this the television station cuts away for a commercial. The commercial is for Gaert First Savings Bank. The background music is an old song Walter remembers. "Hypnotized" by Fleetwood Mac.
The very next Friday Walter does not see the green shirted man in the video store. But he does see him Monday in Tedesco's.
Walter wastes no time.
"How did you knock down Gaert Plaza? How did you know Hervy Yerbil would be in there?"
The man says, "The same way they make you dream of Tesla. Resonance. Who remembers that Tesla used to invite Mark Twain to his lab to zap him with electricity? Almost nobody. And who remembers that one day he tied a small ticking device the size of a slice of cheese on one of the support pillars of the building his work shop was in, and a few days later the building shook so much every one ran out and the brick facade crumbled? And a couple days later he created an earthquake on Manhattan island with the same small ticking box? Nobody remembers these things, but they happened. We don't remember the resonances. They're like black holes. They make you forget in the black holes. Did you buy your land in Florida, yet? I'm asking you this as a friend."
Walter thinks the man is out of his mind. He starts to walk away when the man says, "The characteristic frequency of a 1982-era Digital Equipment Corporation RA-85 disk drive is 0.8 hertz when the heads swing from stop to stop. Zero-point-eight hertz is --was-- exactly the resonant frequency of the Gaert Plaza building. Hollywood DVD kept all its records on machines in the basement of Gaert Plaza. Put two and two together."
Walter says the first thing that comes into his head.
"And did you even watch the movies?"
The man buys his grapefruit and turns to go. He says, "It would have been easier if your wife had killed Yerbil like I wanted. Then I could have left the building standing."
The man says nothing.
Walter decides against telling the police he knows a man knocked down the tallest building in Wisconsin by renting the same DVDs every week for six months.
On his way home from Tedesco's, Walter stops at the library. He looks up the Greenland conveyor. He finds an article in National Geographic. It bothers him all the way home. He can't stop thinking about it.
He tells his wife, "It's about salt--you see? If Greenland gets too warm, like from global warming, and too much fresh water ice goes into the ocean, you get an ice age. It's like one tiny thing knocks over a bigger thing, knocks over a bigger thing, until the whole earth is screwed up. It's called beta. Little things wiggling can make really big things happen."
"And the Plaza," Walter says. "See--he ordered the same really old, unpopular videos every weekend so they had to start these crummy old disk drives to record all the transactions. And they backed them up every 10 minutes. The heads slammed back and forth for days. The vibrations built up. The building fell down. It's beta. Little things make big things happen."
Suddenly Walter knows how his wife almost killed Hervy Yerbil.
It was Friday and garbage day was Saturday. Her perimenopause made her cranky and she accidentally stopped feeding the dog. The Yerbils had a cat. The dog ate Peanut's cat food. The hungry cat killed a rat and brought it inside. Clara Yerbil screamed when she saw the dead rat on the kitchen Congoleum. Hervy hit the panic button on the home alarm. Walter had heard it go off. The Yerbil's front door was sticky. The cops broke it down while Hervy was trying to open it. Hervy, a chain smoker, fell backward onto a pile of newspaper all set to go out for curbside recycling. His cigarette lit the paper. Voila.
And now he knows why the man was buying grapefruit.
When Walter bolts from his house he doesn't know where he's going. But he knows when he gets there he'll find the man in the green shirt. He stops his car at Bob's Hardware Emporium. The man in the green shirt is in the aisle with the sump pumps and Tiki Torches.
Walter shouts, "You can't do this. It's insane."
"You only know half the story. You don't know why it happens or who's pulling the strings."
"Then tell me and don't destroy the world."
The man puts down two bamboo tiki torches and says, "First of all I'm never going to get to destroy the world. They'll stop me first. Secondly, the why is obvious."
"Not to me," Walter says, and he follows the man out of the store and into the parking lot.
The man says, "Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocks over a lantern and Chicago burns down. An engineer who's never been to Orlando in February designs in some o-rings and the Space Shuttle explodes. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge flutters like an airplane wing and shatters. A woman with typhoid has a drink in a London Pub and half the population dies. Get it?"
"High beta," Walter says. "I get it. That's how I figured out the grapefruits."
"What you don't know is that everything is high beta. All of life. Every single thing you do or say has the potential to blow the earth to pieces."
"But it doesn't," Walter says.
"Because they stop it. They dissolve events. They make us forget. They take things out of circulation. The ancient Egyptians. Atlantis. STENDEC. CROATOAN--the lost colony of Roanoke. All kinds of things have happened everyone forgets. Like when it rained frogs. Like the aliens who looked like bankers that used to land in New York before aircraft were invented. See, things happen that drive everything out of control, and they dampen out all the vibrations and keep things under control."
"Who are these they?" Walter says.
"Let's think about this for a minute," the man says. He folds his arms and taps a finger to his temple, mocking deep thought. "We do things, they stop us. We get ideas, sometimes in dreams, they erase them. Who could that be? Hmm."
Walter hangs on the man's breath, waiting for the answer he knows isn't going to come.
After a long and uncomfortable silence Walter says, "You take the last two on Monday, so their buyer always thinks they're out. Tedesco's is planting grapefruit trees in the Arizona desert. All that green where the ground albedo used to be high. The trees eat greenhouse gasses, but more sun energy will be absorbed by the green leaves."
"I'm figuring three-tenths of a degree, worldwide, in three years," the man says.
"And the Greenland ice cap melts. And the ice age starts."
"They won't let that happen, though," says the man in the green shirt. "They like this place, for some reason." His car is a 500-horsepower 2001 Dodge Viper. Red. He gets in and starts the engine. It sounds like a small earthquake.
Walter leans over and sticks his face near the open window. The man says, "I'm hoping I can get them to show themselves. End the big charade. We're the ones with the infinite power here. They should be praying to us. The whole goddamned earth is upside down. I'm the only one who seems to realize it. Coupla six-hundred million years, I'm still trying to get people to understand, you gotta cheat to win. If I could get just get a couple more people to see what you see--to rise up--we could get out from under these bastard's thumbs and run a real world."
Walter says, "I'm really uncomfortable with this whole thing."
"Do you know my name?" the man asks, and smiles.
Walter shakes his head. He doesn't want what he knows to be true.
"It's Will. What else could it be?" The man smiles. He shakes Walter's hand. "I was kind of hoping you'd buy in. Help me out."
"No problem. It's kind of hard for people to take and I've been getting a lot of bad press for the last couple hundred years. Now if you don't mind, you should stand back from the car. You don't want to catch any shrapnel."
Walter takes one step backward. The man drives the viper onto the road. Its gas tank is leaking
American Airlines flight 853 bound to Tulsa, Oklahoma from Raleigh, North Carolina, flies by at that moment. At 35,000 feet, Walter doesn't even know it's there. Ninety seconds before it passes directly over the viper's path a bolt over tightened by an overworked, myopic mechanic fails. A two-hundred pound tire from the landing gear falls from the plane. As it falls it reaches a terminal velocity of 234 miles per hour. It hits the viper broadside, knocking the car into a lamppost.
The viper bursts into flames.
A nine-year old girl with a brand new digital camera snaps a picture as the wheel hits the car.
After a protracted bidding war between a man in a green shirt representing US News and World Report and Time, Time magazine opens a $250,000 college trust fund in the child's name in return for the picture.
Her name is Grace.
c 2004 by Joe Mastroianni