When he noticed the Fritos floating in front of him, he remembered dropping them between the driver’s seat and the center console some months back having stopped to fill up the car with gas after a long day at work busing dishes at his uncle’s dinner. He’d purchased the Fritos but decided not to buy a pack of cigarettes. That had been the last time he smoked and never looked back. Susan had smoked, and they had that in common but little else. When she told him to leave her alone, that she found someone else, he’d gotten drunk and found vomit stains on his pants the next day. Along with the Fritos, the cap from an ink pen rotated in the air describing a short arc. The pen cap, he realized, had escaped from the onset of the armrest of the passenger door. The pen had leaked and the ink stained his fingers but the cap was fine and why throw it out? If he ever needed one, he had this extra he could use although no pen presented itself and the cap stayed where he’d saved it. Now the smell of gasoline came to him. Not the normal fumes from pumping gas but this was warmer somehow, mixed with oil, dust, rubber, and shattered glass. He’d never known the smell of glass before but it was unmistakable: a release of the melting forge and the ancient ocean-washed beach having been raised by the geological consequence of continent meeting continent. Pain came next, a jolting shock that threw him into the car door and then into the steering wheel, bloodying his teeth and wrenching his left arm. Or was it the sound, a sudden absence of tires on smooth cement while the engine revved, an impotent effort with the car upside down and hurtling through the air. Gravity reached out to pull the car, Fritos and pen cap and all, to restore it to the earth. Foster considered this and knew with an unfamiliar clarity that he was approaching his final destination.
He knew the truth or not of the dice by their weight in his hand, which were even and fair. These dice, the ones which cheated a man and left him stumbling about trying in vain to earn back his losses from a fixed game. And yet from the looks in the eyes of the others around him he knew it might cost him his life if he failed to throw the bones. Make a toss and lose it all or pass and lose it all the same with a beating for good measure? This was a choice?
“Come on,” they said, elbowing him, pushing him forward to the worn velvet table. “Let’s go already.”
He raised his fist with the dice clutched within. Even crooked dice came up lucky once in a while, yes? Maybe once in a million. Maybe this pair had never failed in its bastardized mission. Wouldn’t that mean they were over due?
Yurgeson rattled the bones and released his fate to the arc of gravity.
The company Winter Celebration (named as such to be inclusive according to the climate and culture department) party seemed pretty normal: there were adult beverages –nothing unusual there– along with a buffet of food and a classy string quartet playing seasonal international music. Still, something felt off to Wickersham. Maybe it was the sound of distant sirens, or the simultaneous text everyone received asking them to remain calm. Maybe it was a low pressure front moving through the city. Maybe the stars were aligned for the trickster gods. Whatever it was, when crowds began running past and the windows started rattling from people pounding on them with panic in their eyes, those inside the event grew nervous. When one pane of glass shattered, people scattered. Screams and angry shouts filled the air.
As the sirens grew closer, Wickersham ducked for cover, pressing into the crowd to get as far away from the mayhem on the street as possible. People fell and others trampled on them. Wickersham wasn’t sure if it was a hand or foot he stepped on that caused him to lose his balance and crash to the floor.
He tried to stand, got knocked down and kicked, tried again, and managed to regain his feet. That’s when the lights flickered. Not the room lights. These were the lights from the police battalion outside. The normal red and blue rotating lights had been replaced with strobing laser. As the people around him looked at the lights –they really had no choice in the matter– the dropped and began convulsing. This wasn’t just a riot, this was a roundup, a purge, and Wickersham knew his very existence was in jeopardy. He considered flopping on the floor and imitating those around him, but no way he’d pass a screening. He lacked the mandatory genetic manipulation that made the populace susceptible to light-induced seizure response.
Another light, this one steady, swept the room. Wickersham turned and trampled the shaking bodies underfoot as he ran from the light, no direction in mind; his only purpose to evade. The lights were coming after him.
On the first of days, the sun shone and warmed the earth. All of the people liked the warmth and pointed up to the sky and sang songs to please the sun. In the evening, when the sun set and the sky grew dark, the people feared that the sun did not like their song, that they had done something wrong to offend the sun. And then the stars came out and the moon rose into the sky, and the people saw the twinkling lights and they thought the moon was the sun come back in a disguise so they raised their hands and sang their songs of praise. As the next day came and the next night and as the pattern continued the people noticed that the moon got smaller and sometimes they could see both the sun and the moon in the sky together and sometimes they couldn’t see the moon at all; even the sun hid behind the clouds from time to time. But the sun and the moon always came back, eventually. So the people neglected to raise their hands and they forgot the songs they had sung, but the sun and the moon remained faithful, even to this very day.
After the discovery of gold beneath the small town of Jeffersonia, every set to digging. All that dirt they dug up had to go somewhere so they all started dumping the tailings in empty lots and the Hills of Jeffersonia were born. Every house soon had a small hill piled up in the back yard, every shop had a mound out back, and it was there, in these man made hills, that children played.