1. Bad Things Happen

July 2006

Catastrophe struck. It always did, times like this, and he'd gotten used to it by now. He'd just be going about his business, carrying on as he did, then something would go wrong—nothing too big, you understand, not yet anyhow. Anyway, he'd begin to get a bit grumpy, and something slightly worse would happen, causing him to get a little more cross, a little more anxious, and something even worse would happen, and so on and so forth, until eventually some would happen bad enough to shock him out of the cycle, stun him, turn his thoughts outward for long enough to notice the destruction, and it'd stop.

Today's was nothing unusual, unfortunately. He tripped on a kerb crossing the road, swore—then jumped out of the way as a passing car swerved around him, splashing him as it passed. He felt the heat behind his eyes, knew it was happening, but couldn't help himself. “Fuck,” he said, quietly, under his breath, as a car ran the red, sideswiped the van crossing the intersection the other way, and pushed both vehicles into and over the post box on the corner.

It was the sobbing that stopped him today; the sound of someone in pain, because of him, his sickness, his self-obsession. It wouldn't stop him next time, but today it was enough for him to mutter a half-hearted apology under his breath as he turned his back on the injured and walked away. If it wasn't that all eyes were on the carnage in the road, someone might have noticed the pain and shame in his eyes.

Brian was a man with a curse. It was the worst kind of curse, he thought. A curse whose consequences only affect the cursed, that would be kind indeed compared to his. Even a curse that affected everyone equally—that would be something of a mercy, at least as far as his sense of justice was concerned. But his curse was the worst; one from which the only ones to bear the consequences and effects were other people, and from which he, the bearer, always emerged unscathed, scot-free, and feeling guilty as hell.

He'd had worse days, though, he thought as he climbed the stairs to his apartment. I mean, look on the bright side, he thought—at least noone had died, and he'd got himself under control reasonably quickly. Still, the sobbing that had stopped him had really shaken him, too, more so than usual. A man who causes tragedy wherever he goes soon gets pretty inured to other people's pain, but that sobbing had gotten under his skin, wouldn't get out of his head.

He checked the corridor both ways before unlocking his door. There had been a mugging on his floor last week, and while he wasn't even sure if it had been his fault—or whether it was even possible to mug a man who causes Bad Things to happen when distressed—he wasn't prepared to take any chances today.

He kicked away a pile of junk mail as he latched the door behind him; flicked a light on, in a futile attempt to lift the mid-afternoon dimness of his small living room. He dropped his heavy coat on the floor, in a corner, and went into the kitchen to make himself a coffee.