All my life, ever since I can remember anyway, people have thought me a liar, a lunatic, or a fool.
I always knew which people I shouldn't tell of my ability, of course, and which people I could persuade. Unfortunately, what I couldn't tell was which of the believers would go and tell others who would then come calling, come calling me a liar, a lunatic, or a fool. Nobody ever said 'charlatan', for some reason. I rather wish someone had. It's a nice word.
I learned that it was best to mostly keep my secret just that - my secret. I certainly never wished to be without it. It wasn't as though anyone could tell, if I didn't give it away, so all I had to do to be treated as normal was pretend to be normal. And I always knew how best to do that.
My unusual ability was a sort of precognition, I suppose. I only got a few seconds, it wasn't the sort of thing one could save the world with. I couldn't call airlines and tell them to cancel flights. What I could do is avoid punches, avoid offending people, avoid offensive people; generally make my life better. I could see the very immediate next few seconds.
It was always quite a blessing. Let me clear something up - I couldn't see the future, I could never see the future. What I saw was the most likely futures, including what I did to bring them about. In applying for jobs, for example, I knew which things would make the interviewer smile, and which would make them frown. And in a fight, I knew which move would result in a fist in my face, and which would result in my fist in a face. A couple of times I even rescued other people from things - avoiding car accidents and such.
A few months ago I decided to try to improve my ability - improve its focus, and its length. I meditated, I concentrated, I precogged to the exclusion of everything else. It worked, at first - I got five seconds, then ten, then twenty. What I failed to notice, during that time, is that with this additional length came additional breadth; I was picking up additional less-likely futures in the shorter term.
I noticed it when I went out to buy some food. I was jumping at shadows, expecting the people walking past me to suddenly assault me, expecting the passing cars to careen onto the pavement, expecting things to fall out of my pockets. Not all bad things, either, but those are the ones that particularly stick in my mind. There were times I thought a passing stranger was going to kiss me, or give me money. In their way, these predictions were bad too, of course; disappointing.
Obviously this addition to my ability was less than useful - I was predicting things that would never happen. I could still tell which were the likely things, but it was like trying to hold a conversation in a crowded room. You know which bits of sound are intended for you, but that doesn't mean you can make them out. I tried to let myself relax again, get the ability back how it used to be, but it kept on 'improving'.
Now, now I can't even go outside - a single step out and, in my head, I'm being hit by a thousand cars, exploded, crushed, generally pummelled. Sure, I'm being kissed, being befriended, meeting the love of my life, too, but that's pretty difficult to care about when there's a thousand cars breaking your every bone, splattering your every organ. Pretty difficult to care about when it's probably not even true.
The worst thing is that even as I write, I know that if I stop writing before the end of the story, the spider that isn't yet on my desk will bite me; a spider far more poisonous than its species has a right to be. On the other hand, if I don't stop writing, th