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August Heat

Dan’s ending:

Geez! This is very weird! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Charles Atkinson, and I have had one weird day! It all started when I was, as usual given my occupation, making a tombstone—a sample tombstone I could show to prospective clients. I wasn’t planning to choose a realistic name to engrave onto the tombstone; I was planning to engrave a name like ‘John Doe’—but I didn’t. I started to daydream while I was chiseling, for it was a boring, hot day. When I emerged from my daydream, I looked down and saw a name I had never heard or seen before. I didn’t know how long I had daydreamed, but it must have been a while.

I was just starting to put today’s date—August 20, 1900—on the tombstone when I man entered my garden. He was a skinny man, but very tall--about six feet, three inches. As the man came closer, he seemed to be in shock as he looked at me. I asked him why he was staring at me, and what his name was.

All he said was, "Come over here, and look at this paper!"

I looked at the paper and almost fainted. I asked him how he had acquired a picture of me. He said he had had no idea that he was drawing a real person.

After he said that, I asked him what his name was. He replied, "James Clarence Withencroft, Sir."

That name sounded familiar. I tried to remember where I had seen or heard it. I was still pondering when I looked over at the headstone on which I had been working and saw the name I had chiseled into the marble. I ran over to the stone and read the name slowly again. I was sure it was the poor fellow’s name, so I told him to come over to the tombstone and see if it was.

He yelled, "Yes!"

Then he got a terrified look on his face, the same look it had borne before.

"That’s my name, and that’s when I was born," he cried, gesturing to the date of birth I had carved into the marble. "Oh, no! It says there that I am to die today!"

I started to get scared. We had a discussion, which ended with our concluding that we had had no way to know one another’s names or what each other looked like. He also had no idea what had led him to my gate.

"Must have been a coincidence," he said.

I had no idea. "Would you like to stay here until midnight, just in case you would get hit by a carriage or murdered by someone on your walk home?" I asked him.

He said yes.

It was becoming muggy out, so I told him that we would eat some supper and then sit upstairs in my indoor workshop until midnight.

We ate and went upstairs. The other man, James, seemed to like writing very much and began writing on a piece of paper on one of the tables in the room. The table on which he was working was wobbly, and I had told him a few minutes before that I would fix it. I was sharpening my chisel, since it had gotten dull while I was engraving letters and numbers into the tombstone a few hours before. I was just about finished sharpening the tool when James jumped up from his seat and told me to change the letters on the tombstone so they would not spell his name.

I agreed

Then I told him to erase my face from his sketch, which he promptly did.

We went downstairs, and I started chiseling away the letters. When I got to the dates, the clock struck twelve. I started shaking because right next to me was a man I feared was about to die. I mean, blimey—who wouldn’t go loony? I was so scared I didn’t notice that the chisel had flown from my hand. I looked around but did not see the chisel anywhere. I looked about me one more time, and there—in the throat of James—was the chisel. I checked to see if James was still breathing. He wasn’t.

I summoned our sheriff, who came to take the body away.

"How in the world did he accidentally get stabbed in the throat?" the sheriff questioned.

I told him the whole story, but he didn’t believe me.

"Well, Sir, you’re going to be held responsible for this, you know," he said.

I was put in jail, and eventually I went on trial for murder. I was asked a lot of questions, and I answered them successfully. In the end, I was declared "not guilty." The one question that I still could not answer was, "Why did James die?" I knew I had erased everything. Oh, no! I hadn’t! The date was still on there: August 20, 1900. . . .

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