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 phone rings, but I won’t answer it. Even if I didn’t have caller-ID, I’d still know it was my late grandfather. Look, I get that he’s in a tough jam, being dead and all, but even if I had any money, how would I get it to him, wire it somehow, or send it through an online digital currency account? He wouldn’t know how to use one of those if he was still corporeal. And how did he get this number anyway? I never saw him use a cell phone of any kind, not that we spent a lot of time together other than that last summer when the rest of the family begged me to stay with him and take care of him. There wasn’t much to take care of, truth to tell. I’d put him in bed at night, and in the morning, I’d hunt through the house to find where he’d fallen and help him get back up. Tough old bird if you ask me. Never broke a single bone. Just got back up with my help and off he went for the rest of the day. Steady when the sun was up. Guess he just couldn’t see anything in the dark.
If you’ve ever flown a regular commercial airline, you know that seat A is a window on your right as you get on, and the letters continue across to F, the window on the other side. C and D are aisle seats across from each other. Pretty normal, right? Something you might not know is that we still print out a flight manifest and it’s the responsibility of the lead flight attendant to check the manifest as part of the preflight routine. That’s exactly what I did on the late night run from Chicago to Seattle. Everything looked normal so I only skimmed through the list of notes, anticipated flight times, baggage claim location, available snacks, a reminder to push the credit card offer (free miles if you sign up now,) regular stuff like that. Boring and predictable. Well here’s where things get a little weird. There was a note at the bottom of the list that said “Watch out for the guy in seat 22C.”
What was that supposed to mean? Occasionally the prior flight crew might handwrite a note on the manifest if something comes up, like the reading light for 12E is out again, or the bathroom at the back needs more toilet paper. Certain planes have their own character like that. One seat that doesn’t recline, a window shade that’s stuck, whatever. But the thing was, this note about 22C wasn’t handwritten; it had been printed out prior to the first flight of the day.
Had I been the first to actually read through the manifest? Was the warning meant for this flight or one of the previous ones? And what was I supposed to do about a guy dressed in a dark hooded robe with a nasty looking scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other? Plus he had a raven wearing a therapy animal vest perched on his shoulder. What else could I do? I made the guy gate check the scythe and charged him for oversized carry on baggage. He didn’t cause me any problems the whole flight.
It is time for them to return, such as they do, each year in early spring, aflutter of wings, they splash down onto the lake to swim and sing and pair up. He worried that the dry lakebed would find no birds, that they would search out other places with water. The wasn’t even any mud left here for the birds and most of the larger animals had long since found more fertile ground or had succumbed to the drought. The remaining plants would soon join them in returning their bodies to the ground. He too would too soon release his body and join those who had worked this land before him.