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The Publisher

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Looking back, I'm still not sure why he started doing what he did, or why I let it go on for so long.  I suppose it was just too unbelievably to admit.  Although it started off as a joke, it really was kind of twisted.

It started off harmless enough.  My roommate and I would often play practical jokes on each other.  Some would be the classics of shaving cream in the face while sleeping, a ruined meal from an under-tightened salt shaker, or messy feet from plastic wrap over the top of the toilet.  Some were extra creative and at times flirted with poor taste.  After one such event in which he nearly missed his final exam, he decided to step up his game.  He used the whole winter break to plan and lay the foundation for the revenge prank.

When the spring semester started, I noticed a lot of people were giving me strange looks.  There was pity in their expressions.  The genius part of the prank was that I never had the chance to suspect it was a prank.  It wasn't until the "big reveal" that my roommate ever factored into the equation.

The odd looks and whispering behind my back went on for about four or five days before anyone worked up the courage to talk to me about it.  My friend Jane caught up with me when I left my psychology class that let out at the same time as a class she had across the hall.  She asked me how I was holding up.  I said I was doing fine, although a little quizzical by the phrasing.  I finally figured out something was up with what she said next.  "I'm sure this is a tough time for you, and I hope your family pulls through."

My immediate response to her was, "What the hell are you talking about?"  Apparently everyone knew something bad about me that I wasn't even aware of.  She went on to fill me in on the obituary she had read for my infant sister who had died in her sleep.  Apparently it was also included that the family was grief stricken.  I immediately tried to set the record straight, thinking that there had to be a mix up with names or something.  It only got worse from there.

We both went back to her dorm room so she could show me the obituary she had saved.  I suppose she was a bit sentimental for her friends.  After I read it, I was very shaken.  There was certainly no mistake that it was describing my family.  The names were all accurate for my family and the town it listed was ours. There was even our address in there for where to send sympathies.  Especially upsetting was that there was detail about the cause of death suspected to be SIDs.  It was probably odd at the time for me to have felt such a sense of loss, considering it wasn't describing a real person. I was an only child.

After reading it, I made a copy, still a little unsure of what to make of it or what to do about it.  I must have re-read that thing a thousand times, trying to come up with some kind of logical explanation.  No matter what I came up with, though, just wasn't practical.  When my roommate came in to find me still pouring over that obituary, he asked me what I was reading.  Trying (and failing) to add a hint of sarcasm, I told him I was reading the obituary for my sister.  He said with a completely straight face "I didn't know you had a sister, I'm so sorry to hear that, man."

Now, I would have thought that if it was a joke and he were behind it, that would have been the chance for him to drop the bomb on me.  He barely acknowledged it and seemed genuinely sympathetic. At the time, it was a bit embarrassing to tell him that I didn't have a sister.  His response was, "Oh, come on man.  That can't be healthy to say that just because she's passed."  To this day, I don't know what his end-game was to not come clean right then and there.  I ended up dropping it, not wanting to make a big deal of it before I knew what was going on.

The next day, I set out to do some more digging.  I asked Jane how she came across the obituary, and she told me that her grandfather had stumbled upon it.  She said it was his version of facebook, since more of his friends ended up there than online.  I wasn't sure whose morbid sense of humor that was, but I really didn't want to press it.  In retrospect, had I suspected a prank, this would have been an odd turn of events.  No one I knew was alerted to the obituary or given a push to find it.  The other odd thing was that Jane's grandfather didn't even live in the same county as us, so it's not like it was put in the paper we normally would have read to find it ourselves.

After continuing to be stumped, I finally decided to feel out my own family on the matter.  That's when things got really disturbing.  I told my mother over the phone about the obituary that Jane showed me, and she immediately went silent.  I initially thought that I had upset her because she thought I was making it up.  I was not prepared for what she said when she broke the silence though.

"I probably should have told you about that a long time ago."  She went on to tell me about the first child she and my father had about five years before I was born.  She had passed away from SIDs around her first birthday.  I was shocked to hear this.  I suppose not as shocked as my mother was when I asked if her name was Ashley, like it said in the obituary.  I immediately went back to the article, feeling at least a little bit better that there was now a logical explanation behind it.  I thought "it must have been somehow accidentally reprinted."  That thought quickly disappeared when I remembered that my name was specifically included in it.

When I told my mother about that, she told me that was impossible.  I had to read it to her verbatim, and she still didn't believe it.  She began to cry, and thought that I was making it up.  She figured I had found out and was trying to get back at her by making this up.  By the time we hung up, we were both pretty upset.  My roommate had come in toward the end of our conversation, and asked me about it after I hung up the phone.

As I recounted how the conversation went, he seemed to turn white as a ghost.  This was when he finally admitted to me that he had been the one to submit the fake obituary as a prank.  He was in a panic as he told me he had no idea that my parents had a previous child, and getting the right name was pure happenstance.  while I wasn't particularly inclined to believe him, his reaction did seem genuine.  He still got a scolding from me, since even without the coincidental accuracies, it was a pretty sick joke.  He did relent to it being completely tasteless and apologized.

It was at this point that he decided that he should probably start calling off some of his other pranks.  He filled me in on some of the other strange gems he had come up with over the winter break.  Apparently he had put up "Lost Dog" posters for a dog that wasn't missing, posted a help wanted ad for a position that someone hadn't quit from, and a classified dating ad for someone who was married.  For all of them, he had placed them in places that either the intended target of the prank would happen upon it or someone else who knew that person may see it.

For every single one of those, the same odd coincidences happened.  As it turns out, the "missing dog" went missing and ended up being found because of the posters.  The job in the help wanted ad, the person got fired from.  For the classified ad, the person who was supposedly posting it, found out his wife was having an affair.

Something changed in my roommate after that last one turned out to be true.  He said the only explanation is that he had to have some kind of special power.  He was able to tell things by writing something fictional.  He set out to test that by writing more things.  At first, it seemed harmless enough. He tried writing a fictional story about winning the lottery.  Turns out, that stayed fiction...at first.

It wasn't until April fools day, when the school newspaper observed their tradition of publishing fake articles that he finally figured it out.  He couldn't just write it, he had to put it into circulation, pass it off as real. He said he thought it was the universe either trying to save face or being gullible.  He had written an April Fools article about all athletics programs being cancelled due to budget cuts.  He had a tough time trying to explain that coincidence to the administration when they had to go public with the news after his article.

I don't talk to my old roommate anymore.  He turned sinister after he figured out that his writings came true.  He writes anonymous blogs now.  I miss the days when his blogs were about sports teams winning against all odds.  Those were some nice under dog stories that were really inspiring to see unfold.  Long gone are the days when he wrote about "trade rumors" and predicting the championship team that nobody else would have ever picked.  He first moved on to "injury news" which ended up ending some careers.  I've heard he writes conspiracy blogs and other more sinister stories.  while it's impossible to prove anything, since he's never actually been involved beyond his writing, I truly believe that he is responsible for some awful things.  He has intentionally written some awful things about subjects like murder and torture, knowing that they were going to come true.  I just hope he never writes about me again.

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