Throughout his early academic years, the best grade Alex Hanley ever received was a B-plus. It was good enough to get him in to his local community college, where he studied to become a pastry chef. Upon graduation, he got a job at a fancy restaurant, which sounded impressive to his friends but at the end of the day paid far less than their office and factory jobs. Oh well, he always thought, I’m just an ordinary guy. Why would I expect anything more?
Day after day, week after week, year after year, Alex stood in the restaurant’s hot kitchen rolling out pastry, stirring up batters, and hand kneading dough. Every now and then one of the other cooks would flirt with him, and every now and then he would reciprocate, leaving traces of flour, sugar and baking powder on their uniforms (on their bodies if he was lucky enough to get past the flirtation stage). Other than that, nothing exciting ever really happened. Until one night when he got invited to a party at the owner’s house.
Everyone from work went, expecting there to be plenty of food and wine. The owner didn’t disappoint, and after rhapsodizing eloquently about each of the dishes he had prepared for them, he offered to take them on a tour of his house. It was a beautiful place, four thousand square feet in total, complete with three bathrooms, a media room, and an artist’s studio.
As the tour made its way into the family room, Alex noticed a large photo hanging on the wall above the piano. There were five people in the picture including Marco, Alex’s boss, which he assumed was the owner’s family.
“Is that your family?” Alex asked Marco.
“Yes,” his boss replied. “That’s me, of course, on the left, my wife to the right of me, and sitting in front of us are our two boys, Marco Junior and Little Anthony.”
“Who’s that man between you and your wife?” Alex then asked.
“There’s no one between us,” Marco said a bit confused.
“Sure there is, right here,” Alex said pointing to the photo. Immediately, however, he felt all eyes on him, not the picture. It was obvious to him that no one else saw what he saw, so he let on that he made a mistake. “Silly me,” he then said. “You’re right. I must have just been looking at it from a funny angle.”
The group moved on, but not before Alex took one last look at the photo and the mysterious man in-between his boss and his wife.
The following morning, Alex arrived at work to find everybody crying.
“What’s going on?” he asked one of the other cooks.
“Marco, he’s dead. He had a heart attack in his sleep last night.”
Alex was just as stunned as everybody else. Their boss had seemed so healthy the night before. How could he have died, just like that, without any warning? Three days later, everyone went to Marco’s funeral, and afterwards gathered at the home of one of the servers. Talked quickly turned to what the staff was going to do now that the owner of the restaurant was dead. The general consensus was that they would immediately look for work elsewhere. Some even talked about looking for work abroad.
“I’d like to work in Paris,” Richard, the head chef said. “I did an internship there years ago and loved it. See? Up on the wall? That’s a picture of me, making eclairs.”
“Who’s that with you?” Alex asked.
“What do you mean?” Richard asked in return.
“The guy standing…” Alex didn’t finish his sentence because he knew exactly who it was: the same man he had seen in Marco’s family photo four nights earlier. “Man, I have got to get my eyes checked,” he said trying to recover. “This is twice now I’ve seen something that wasn’t there.”
Two days later Richard was killed in a car accident. Six months afterwards, Alex’s grandmother died in her sleep. A year following Nana’s death. Alex’s sister choked to death on a peanut. Two weeks after that, the superintendent in Alex’s apartment building was electrocuted while doing repairs in the laundry room.
Alex had seen each of them shortly before their deaths, and in each case he had also seen the same man he saw that first night at Marco’s standing next to them in one of their pictures. Of all the extraordinary gifts Alex could have developed, he had to be good at knowing when the Grim Reaper was going to pay someone a visit.
If you ever get the chance to meet a pastry chef by the name of Alex Hanley, take care not to show him any of your pictures. You could be next.