The Midnight Paper (Episode 7/8)
WHERE IS EVERYBODY?
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It was Thursday at noon. Stephanie, the Removal Doctor, and I sat at the booth of a fast-food restaurant. It was like a bad joke. The duplicated girl, the mad doctor, and the lunatic reading magical newspapers. I was wearing sunglasses, the fluorescent lights in the building were making my migraine spike unbearably.
Stephanie and I had ordered, but the Removal Doctor hadn’t. As a matter of fact, in the time we’d been together, I’d never seen him eat anything, or ask for any food.
“Aren’t you gonna eat something?” I asked, “my treat.
He shook his head. “No need. Removed it.”
For some reason, hearing him say that made me less hungry. I didn’t want to ask him about why he hadn’t asked to drink any water, or why he hadn’t used the bathroom during our pit stop either.
“So…do you have any idea why your ‘creation’ allowed itself to be eaten like that?” Stephanie asked. There was that impatience in her voice again. It was like she needed answers, but the world was too slow to give them to her when she wanted them most. The world was always catching up to her in every way.
It took the Removal Doctor a while to answer. He seemed to be thinking about Stephanie’s question thoroughly. Finally, he shook his head. “It must have wanted that to happen.”
“Why? You said it was perfect, right? That’s the only thing a Perfect Being does? Want to die?”
“Your parents tried to make you perfect,” the Doctor said, “and many versions of you wanted to die too.”
Stephanie was gritting her teeth. I could almost hear them cracking from where I was sitting.
I decided to jump in and change the subject. “If we find the town with the Hunger, could you remove it from everyone there?” I asked.
The Doctor nodded. “If someone afflicted with it volunteered.”
“‘Volunteered?’” Stephanie asked, “you can’t just take it? Like you take whatever you want?”
“It’s a delicate process,” the Doctor said. “Someone volunteering one of their attributes for me to take is part of how it works.”
“Do you know why the events in the article happened? It was as if eating the Being broke reality or something.”
“I believe that this Hunger is a special quality, like what I have. I can take a quality and hold it, then put it into something else. I think they can eat so purely, so completely, that they can consume a set of qualities and take it into themselves. In essence, they become what they eat. I only made one version of my creation for a reason. More than one might cause things to get…noticed.”
“So all we have to do is stop them from eating the Perfect Being…somehow,” I said. Somehow, just talking about this had made my headache double in intensity.
“We have to find the right town first,” Stephanie said.
I nodded. “It’s been 12 hours since the Hunger became real. We don’t have much time before things go wrong.”
“But we won’t know what town the Perfect Being will appear over until tomorrow at midnight,” Stephanie said.
I frowned. “I guess we should pick a town, find a motel there, and wait till tomorrow.”
Our method for choosing a town turned out to be pretty simple. There was a stand filled with maps at the entrance of the restaurant. Stephanie picked one, opened it, and stabbed her finger down over the first town she saw.
“I’m driving,” she declared suddenly.
“Do you even-” I began stammering, but she cut me off.
“If you were about to ask if I know how to drive. Duh. If you were about to ask if I have a driver’s license. Nope. But look at you, you’re pale, you’re wearing sunglasses and flinching at the littlest light.”
I gave in. She was right. My migraine seemed to be getting worse with every passing hour. I was looking forward to lying back in the passenger seat with my eyes closed.
We climbed into my shitty car, with Stephanie in the driver’s seat, and off we went.
“So,” I asked, my eyes closed. “Are you even a real doctor?”
The Removal Doctor didn’t respond. I could tell he didn’t do jokes.
“Could you remove my migraines?” I asked, half-serious.
“Yes,” the Removal Doctor said.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Stephanie said, cutting in.
“Yeah…I know. It’s tempting though,” I said.
We settled into a shitty roadside motel by nightfall. Stephanie and I had decided, the night before, that we wouldn’t leave the Doctor alone. So we took turns going to the bathroom or leaving to get food, while the other person sat with him. Being alone with him was unnerving. I couldn’t stand the way he looked at me, the way he looked at everything…like he was studying it, measuring it, evaluating how valuable it was.
I was relieved when Stephanie returned with dinner. More fast food. Jesus, I was going to gain twenty pounds by the time this was all over.
“Why chemistry?” I asked Stephanie, taking a bite of a taco.
“I want to double major in bio and chem. I don’t know if the others did the same, but, judging how we’re all fucking alike, I bet they did. As for why, it’s stupid. But my parents used it to make me and my sisters, right? I guess I figured I could understand myself better if I studied it too. It’s weird…I remember always being into science, even as a little girl. Asking for chemistry sets and books on Marie Curie. But I know that’s all bullshit. I wasn’t little. Ever. I just woke up like this one day, with my Arent’s, in an empty house.”
I shuddered. It was unforgivable, what this girl went through. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like,” I said.
Stephanie shrugged. “Whatever, at least I didn’t have to spend time with the assholes who made me. Just their dumbed-down clones.”
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about that town, maybe close by, maybe further away…a town where people had been hungry for 24 hours…a town where food would soon no longer be enough.
The next day was pretty much the same. Stephanie and I made small talk and drank a lot of coffee. Neither of us seemed particularly hungry. I didn’t have to think hard about why.
By midnight, Stephanie and I were standing room, watching the door intently. The Removal Doctor sat on the bed behind us, scrutinizing everything around him like always.
Three knocks rapped against the door. I waited a few seconds, then opened it. There, in front of the door, was the same black bundle as always.
“Should-” I began.
“Just fucking do it already,” Stephanie said. “I wanna see what it says.”
I nodded and untied the twine. The paper unfurled itself…and I immediately wanted to throw up.
This was the only article on the front page:
WHERE IS EVERYBODY?
Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where is everybody? Where…
I tossed the paper into a plastic bag and tossed that in our room’s trashcan.
“Well, that’s not helpful at all,” Stephanie said.
“It’s my fault, Stephanie. I shouldn’t have fucking read any of them like my dad said. It’s my fault it all came true.”
“Your dad’s exact words were, ‘if you ever see a Paper, don’t read it.’ Right? That just covers the first paper. I think that once you read one, whatever happens in them comes true. Otherwise, he would’ve said. ‘Don’t read them,’ not ‘don’t read it.’”
“Maybe,” I said, not entirely convinced.
“Besides, what if the papers predict the future? Then reading them or not doesn’t make a difference. Your dad could’ve been warning you not to get involved.”
That made me feel a little better. Then I remembered something, and I ran outside. We were on the second floor, our room looked out into a hallway with a balcony. I was glad it did. Because there, hanging in the sky, was what looked like a star. Except that it was brighter than any star I’d ever seen.
“Well, hello, Perfect Being,” Stephanie said.
“It’s above the next town over,” I said, pulling out my phone. I opened a map application and scrolled a bit. There it was. The name of the town with the Hunger. “Got you now.”
“Yeah, but we’re missing the most important part…how the fuck are we going to stop the town from eating that thing?” Stephanie said.
“We’ll think of something,” I said.
I hadn’t even noticed that the Removal Doctor was standing next to me. He was looking up at sky. His eyes wide, his mouth a grin.
“Yeah, yeah,” Stephanie said, pushing past him. “Enjoy the view while it lasts, Doc, that thing’s getting torn apart in a few days.”
Somehow, the Doctor’s smile got wider at that.
Saturday morning, Stephanie, the Removal Doctor, and I sat a small diner. Not seeing the Doctor eat or drink anything for this long was seriously freaking me out. I tried not to think about it.
“Be right back,” I said, “I’m going to the bathroom. Watch him.”
As soon as I stepped out of the bathroom, I was met with an explosive ruckus. Several people were standing out in the middle of the street. They were pointing at the sky. There was a single news van, and its crew, among them. Exactly like the article.
I made my way back to our booth…only to see Stephanie sitting alone.
“Where is he?” I asked.
She turned around only to see the seat next to her was empty. I tossed all the money in my wallet on our table and bolted for the door.
Stephanie and I ran out of the diner and toward the growing crowd. Cellphones were out and pointed at the sky. I knew that, according to the article, their pictures wouldn’t show much. But it was still unnerving to see people acting exactly as the Midnight Paper had described.
Stephanie called out to me and then sprinted toward the news van. I already knew what she had seen.
There, among a few people talking to a reporter, was the Removal Doctor. I got there just in time to hear him speak. “I created it,” he said, “it’s the Perfect Being.” Those in the crowd who had caught what he’d said broke out in fits of laughter. I didn’t blame them.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing the Doctor’s arm and pulling him out of the crowd.
“Real cute,” Stephanie said, “talking to the press just like the article said.”
The Doctor didn’t say anything.
Stephanie drove out of town while I massaged my forehead. The sprint toward the crowd had made my migraine even worse. It was like a living thing, pulsating and growing and snaking behind my eyes, thrusting deep spikes of white-hot agony into my helpless brain. I was nauseous too, but I was probably just car sick.
“You look like shit,” Stephanie said.
“Want another aspirin?”
I shook my head. “I took four this morning.”
Stephanie whistled, “that’s not good, is it, Doc?”
The Doctor didn’t say anything. I was starting to suspect that he never went to med school.
Stephanie turned a corner, and that’s when we saw it. A roadblock, exactly like the article had described. There were sandbags, about half a dozen men and women in military fatigues, and a few unmarked pickup trucks.
“Hey,” Stephanie said, “isn’t this happening too soon? I don’t remember the roadblock being mentioned right away.”
“The Perfect Being’s real, right?” I said working my fingers into my temples to try and stave off the pain, “the timelines are different. The Doc became real like a week ago, but he already had finished the Perfect Being. He didn’t have to get all the parts over a few months as the article said. I think that the timeline has to match when the papers are delivered to make the things in them come true.”
“Well, we’re not getting through today. Those guys look like they mean business,” Stephanie said. “Wait, the last article got delivered on Wednesday at midnight, right? In it, the Perfect Being descended in the afternoon, and that’s when it got eaten…”
“So Thursday afternoon,” I said.
“Great,” Stephanie said, “I guess we know when reality gets flushed down the toilet.”
The 8th and final episode will be published on Halloween!