Destiny—I heard an old man say many years ago, when I was a very young lad—is the result of all the choices one makes as one goes on living life. If I could turn back the wheels of time or if I knew then what life had in store for me, I would have lived my entire life without making choices. Then again, choosing not to choose is in itself a choice. Perhaps, in the end, it would have been impossible for me to avoid the chain of events that brought me to this point in my life. While I had promised not to reveal those events to anyone during my lifetime, I now feel compelled to write them down for the sake of my sanity.
The events I am revealing began one October 31, many years ago. I remember every detail of that fate-altering and twisted experience as if it had occurred yesterday. I have been unable to forget any part of it, even though I have tried. I was ambitious, young, and self-confident, with a healthy and unshakable sense of invincibility. Those were the qualities that Harvey Armstrong, a senior partner in the law firm of Powell, Armstrong & Maguire liked about me.
The firm catered primarily to corporations, investors, and banks. It was not a very big firm, yet some of its clients were large businesses. I wanted to work with them because they offered me the chance to work on actual cases from the start. I wanted that experience as much as I wanted to become a partner.
In the early morning hours of that dreadful Halloween day, I had a dream. Unbeknown to me, that dream was a prelude to the mind-boggling events that unfolded during the six days that followed.
In the dream, I saw a wide-open green field with springs of clean water and hundreds of sheep roaming freely around the field. Sitting under a tree, there was a shepherd hand feeding a small herd of sheep that surrounded him. I also saw a man reaching out from behind what appeared to be a large rock. He snatched one of the sheep and ran as fast as he could toward a nearby river.
The shepherd jumped after the thief yelling and commanding him to stop. The scene changed drastically, and I saw the shepherd standing by the riverbank crying bitterly over the loss of his sheep. I awoke at that moment a little disturbed by the dream. It had no particular significance to me, and before I got to my office, I had forgotten about it.
On that day, I intended to work late because I had a deadline to meet. I was drafting a mining contract for one of Harvey Armstrong’s clients, and he expected the first draft on his desk before noon on the following day.
Armstrong was a very difficult man to please. He was brutal, demanding, and downright obnoxious. Among the young associates in the firm, he had the reputation of a slave driver. Most of the time he was in a grumpy and nasty mood, and he rarely showed a glimmer of a smile. To his credit, he was undeniably a great negotiator and an avid litigator in the area of contract law.
In fairly a short time, I figured out that only three things moved and motivated Armstrong, money, people that had money, and any opportunity to make money! Nothing surpassed his perennial hunger for the mighty dollar. As demanding and difficult as he was, I often volunteered to work under his supervision. I wanted to learn my craft from the best. He was the best, and I was willing to work hard to earn my stripes. Back then, I was confident and I wanted to impress him with my skills. I also wanted to show him and the others, that I was partnership material.
The mining contract was the first major task that Armstrong had assigned to me. He gave me the assignment ten days before its deadline because I assured him that I could do it. That October 31 was my last chance to finish the contract, and my first real opportunity to demonstrate my true potential. I arrived at the firm around six o’clock that morning. I left written instructions for my secretary requesting not to disturb me, and closed the door to my office.
The morning hours flew by quickly. Determined to meet my deadline, I worked without rest. At lunchtime, I stopped only to use the bathroom, and to eat a sandwich that my secretary brought me from Vinnie’s Diner.
Engrossed in my work, I tuned out all the noises going on outside of my office, and again, I failed to realize the passage of time. When the typewriters suddenly died, and the scrambling of the secretaries rushing and muttering through the hallway finally ceased, I looked at my pocket watch. Ironically, the sudden onset of silence made me aware of the time. It was about five forty in the evening, and I had not finished yet. I took a brief break to drink some water and visit the bathroom.
I returned to my desk hoping to complete my task. An hour or so later, an uncontrollable yawning attack forced me out my chair. I stood up to stretch my achy, stressed-out body in tandem with my yawning fit, and the growling and gurgling sounds from my stomach made me self-conscious of my hunger pangs. I could not concentrate anymore, so I went to Vinnie’s Diner, just a few blocks away, to get dinner.
After dinner and a well deserved one-hour break, I went back to my office more determined to meet my deadline.
I knew that the end of my task was near. All I needed was to verify the accuracy of the regulations cited in the contract.
As the evening continued, the soft laughter of a woman and the familiar voice of a man distracted me. The sound of their voices drew closer to my office. Suddenly, the door swung wide open. There stood Keith O’Brien, one of the attorneys, with his arm hooked on the shoulders of a beautiful blond woman, who in turn had her arms wrapped around Keith’s waist.
Surprised to see me sitting there, they froze in place clearly embarrassed. Keith, in his usual funny way, broke the awkward silence.
“Oops! We’ve been caught red-handed, honey!” He said laughing and turning to his companion, whose nervous eyes wandered in all directions as she cracked a shy smile.
“Looking for me or did you lose your way?” I asked.
“Nah, we just have the wrong floor.” Keith said with a smirk and trying to appear sober.
“I know who you are,” I said pointing at Keith, “but who is this lovely young lady who’s making sure you don’t fall flat on your face?” I asked getting up from my chair.
“This beautiful young woman is my fiancée, Melanie Bradford,” he said proudly and kissing her hands. “Sweetheart, this is Clayton Ravens. He’s the newest associate in the firm."
“It’s a pleasure meeting you Miss Bradford,” I said politely and flashing a cordial smile.
“Likewise,” she replied, reciprocating the smile. “Please call me Melanie,” she added.
“Why are you still here Clay?” Keith inquired.
“I’ve got to finish a contract. It’s due tomorrow on Armstrong’s desk.”
“Yikes! I’m sorry you got stuck with the slave driver! I’m glad I didn’t get stuck with him this time.”
“Oh, no, I was the one who asked for the assignment.
Believe me; I knew what I was getting into.”
"Don’t take this wrong Clay, but you must have more guts than intelligence. I would’ve never volunteered to work for Armstrong in a million years,” he quipped. “Speaking of bad omens, we should get going. I wouldn’t want the old grouch to scream at you tomorrow on account of us,” he said chuckling and taking a step back.
“Not need to worry about that. Milly has typed the bulk of it already. I just need to draft a few more pages, and she’ll type them up first thing tomorrow.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that, but just the same, we’re gonna let you finish then.”
“Okay, Keith. I still thank you for staggering by, even if that wasn’t your intention,” I said smiling and shaking his hand.
“It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” Melanie said.
“The sentiment is mutual,” I replied. “As for you Keith, I don’t know what she sees in you, but you are one lucky fellow.”
“Hey, I’ve been thanking my lucky star ever since I met her,” he remarked as he and Melanie started to walk away. “Good bye Clay, and don’t forget to go home,” he shouted, looking back over his shoulder.
“Yes, and you both should follow that advice. Have a good night,” I said while closing the door.
A deafly silence filled my office again. Even the radiator had stopped hissing. This time the silence was very unsettling. It was the kind of silence that heightens a man’s awareness of his surroundings, causing him to become excessively alert and to expect the unexpected. The kind of silence that activates a man’s primal instinct for survival, and sends his senses whirling from a cautious state to the verge of paranoia.
It took me a while, but I managed to immerse myself in my work and to lose track of time once more. The next thing I recall was awakening abruptly when the resonant chimes from the grandfather clock in John Maguire’s office, echoed within the recesses of my half-conscious mind.
Startled and a bit agitated, I checked my pocket watch to confirm the time; it was already midnight. I had fallen asleep for some time. After shaking off the soporific cobwebs from my head, I checked the mining contract. I could not remember how or when I did it, but it was finished. I proceeded to reorganize my paperwork, and to write instructions to my secretary for the morning.
Before I could finish writing out the instructions for Milly, I had another yawning attack. Out of reflex, I stood up to stretch my numbed and achy body. A knock at the door interrupted the stress-releasing pleasure I was experiencing at that moment.
“Who is it?" I called out, wondering whether Keith and Melanie had returned for some reason. The door wide swung open at an explosive, violent speed. It struck the wall with great force, forcing the doorknob through the wall. At the instant when the door crashed against the wall, the window, which was opposite to the door, imploded, and spraying thousands of small broken glass and debris throughout the office.
My survival instinct kicked into high gear, and without thinking, I ducked under my desk to hide from the flying glass. Until that moment, I did not know that I was capable of moving at such speed. A familiar thumping sound in my chest caught my attention. It was my heart beating faster and louder than I ever thought possible.
During the millisecond that it took me to dive from my chair to the floor under the desk, thoughts and images passed through my mind like a movie reel in fast forward. First, I thought that a disgruntled litigant was sending a message with a heater, as it happened two years before I joined the firm. However, before I reached the floor, I realized that there were no bullet holes on the walls. I then thought that a gas pipe had exploded in the building next door, but there was no gas smell or fire.
My imagination, fueled by my adrenaline, kept running wild and getting the best of me. Meantime, I could hear the wind gusting, and pieces of glass and other objects crashing against my desk and against the walls. I felt relatively safe under the desk until two large chunks of glass, like the twin blades of a circular saw, cut through the inch thick wood top of my desk, and stopped just inches away from my face.
Feeling unsafe, I put my head closer to the floor and peeped out to see what was going on around me. I saw my files, books, pencils, pens, and everything else I had on my desk, slam against the wall behind my chair. I saw another chunk of glass ripping through the backrest of my chair. Then a fountain pen, like a javelin shot from a cannon and propelled by the winds of hell, became impaled in the headrest of the very chair where my head rested just seconds before.
I was so startled when the window imploded, and so wrapped up trying to figure out what was happening, that I did not notice the water running on the floor. My entire office was flooded. Water was dripping from everywhere, my desk, the walls, and even the ceiling.
Curiosity pushed me to find the source of the water. Shielded behind the desk from the swarming glass and debris, I crawled to the edge of the desk, and without exposing much of my face, I took another peep.
I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I took a second glance. Water was literally gushing in vertically and unstoppably through the window as if someone were injecting it with a fire hose. As strange as that was, what I saw next was more bizarre. My hat, books, papers, pens, pencils, and even my desk lamp were swirling like feathers in mid-air. It looked as if a tornado was trapped in my office looking for a way out.
In the midst of the havoc, a relentless manifestation of lightning, brightened the night, like fireworks on Independence Day. In turn, each bolt of lightening cracked the cold air of the night creating rumbling and resonant thunder making the oak floor vibrate beneath me. For just an instant, I felt an electrifying tingling sensation throughout my body as though a bolt of lightning had struck me, but I did not lose consciousness.
I felt the need to get out of my office and into a safer part of the building, but there I was in the crawling position and completely paralyzed with fear as the mayhem continued before my eyes. My knees felt nailed to the floor, and my arms were frozen stiff in place. I tried to stand up but something kept pulling me down.
As stupefied as I was, I slowly turned my body toward the door hoping to crawl out of my office unharmed. Before turning my head, a lightning flash blinded me temporarily. I saw nothing but absolute darkness where the door was supposed to be. My eyes had barely readjusted when another lightning flash illuminated the office. This time I saw the tall and slender silhouette of a man at the door. He was standing motionless, watching me in silence, as though he was enjoying a theatrical matinee.
“Mr. Ravens!” the man shouted over the whistling wind and the rumbling thunder.
“Please help me!” I hollered, trying to compete against the sounds of the wind and thunder. Just at that moment, the lightning, thunder, rain, and the wind simply ceased as abruptly as they started.
"No need to yell Mr. Ravens,” the old man quipped.
Being able to move my arms and legs again, I stood up immediately, feeling a little embarrassed. I ignored for a moment the old man, and examined my body—especially my face—I found some blood on my chin. With my handkerchief, I wiped off the blood and applied pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding. Based on the amount of blood on the handkerchief, I realized that it was a small nick and nothing of concern. Though I was still shaking from the dreadful experience, I composed myself and tried to appear as calm as possible.