as narrated by Mrs. Schiff
People say that he’s a Harbinger of bad news — that where he goes misfortune follows.
“If you see him,” they say, “turn away. Don’t look. Go somewhere else, if you can.”
When I saw him I decided they were wrong.
It wasn’t a big philosophical thing. I mean, people have argued — people with real blogs and stuff — that you can’t change fate just by deciding. If he’s there for you, he’s already there for you, before you turn away or go somewhere else. If he’s not there for you, then turning away won’t change anything.
But even people like that, they agree, you don’t talk to him.
You don’t make a point of interacting with him.
That’s just making trouble for yourself.
He moved so gracefully.
It’s hard to explain if you’ve only seen him on television or in frozen pictures. It’s not like you’d expect.
Harbinger doesn’t fall into any uncanny valley. When you see him move, it’s like it frees up your own limbs — it’s like when the Wrights looked at birds (or maybe stiff-limbed trees with engines on them) and learned to fly. He’s beautiful.
So I said, “Hi.”
He gave this big delighted grin and moved to me and said, “You talked to me!”
There wasn’t any loneliness in his eyes. There weren’t any marks of it. He’s not like Emo or the Ice Guy. There was just this transformative joy of human contact.
But now that he was there and happy I was talking, I didn’t know any more of what to say.
“You’re Harbinger,” I told him, on the theory that perhaps he didn’t know.
“The very same,” he said. He looked away for a second, then smoothly back. “I was blessed by my godmother to be a hero — to have the speed to go where I am needed before it is too late, and to save the day once I am there.”
I set my purse down because I wanted my hands free, but then I didn’t have anything to do with them.
“Really,” he said. “But then I was cursed to get there before the trouble happened, and leave before it arrived. It’s all —”
He gestured like somebody trying to draw a Rube Goldberg schematic with club hands.
“It’s all in the order you get your blessings, with fairies. The right order and you’re a hero, the wrong order and it’s not so good.”
“Well, you could warn people,” I said.
“I don’t do that,” he said.
“That’d be trouble,” he said. He spun around uncertainly like a top. “I mean, not the same kind of trouble that happens after I leave, I hope — oh, God, paradoxes would suck — but the thing is, it’d just mean that my warning came too soon and that people would forget it just in time to need it. I don’t want anyone kicking themselves on my account, and they always would. My name is Jason, by the way.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t warn people. I don’t do anything like that.”
“But I’ll be in trouble?” I said.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “You’ll need a really fast guy to save you — well, plus my other godmother gifts, like strength”
“and laser vision,” he said. “But I’ll have already left, to get there before a big building fire or drowning puppy or something.”
“That’s too bad.”
“But listen,” he said. He took my hands. “Listen, it’s okay.”
I was blushing. I thought about yanking my hands away. I didn’t manage to decide to do it. It’s probably part of his supernatural powers.
“I wanted to quit,” he said. “I thought about it for a long time. But finally I realized that there was still something worth doing. I mean, when people don’t go all ‘run away, it’s Harbinger.’ on me. I figured out that everything I’m supposed to stop — that it can all be okay. Even though I can’t.”
I pulled my hands back.
“Not drowning puppies,” I pointed out.
“We make our lives really hard,” he said. “When bad stuff happens, we tell ourselves that we’re part of why; or we hurt ourselves extra, struggling against it or trying to hang on to what we had before. We don’t — people don’t — focus on the fact that part of being a person is that whatever is immediately in front of you, you can handle it. That’s what it means to be a consciousness in the world — that there are paths that you can take, and one of them is as right as you can get, and if you take that, it’s okay. And even if you don’t take that, as long as you have a good reason to take a different one, that’s okay too. Or if you learn better later. Whatever. There’s only the options we have in front of us, so it’s okay if we don’t have other ones.”
“That’s okay as far as it goes,” I said.
“I realized,” he said, “that maybe if I told people that, then they’d remember it when their suffering came. Because it’s not like there was any other way it could have been, not like the trouble is something they could get out of, not when they needed me and I’ll have already left.”
“You could tell them to blame you,” I told him.
He smiled and stopped smiling, smiled and stopped smiling, three or four times. “But it wouldn’t be true,” he said.
Then he looked up and away, sharply, like a dog that’s heard some hidden sound.
“They will need me,” he said.
Death and death and death; I could feel it. I could taste it, metallic in the air. It hadn’t even happened yet and it was calling him.
“Wait,” I said.
“Oh, my heart,” he said. “I wish I could.”
Then there was nothing left of him but my brain’s stubborn reluctance — for nearly half a second — to recognize that he was gone.