This is my first story in a very long time (not counting a couple short ones I dashed off to keep in shape.) It's actually an attempt to rewrite a story that I lost during my last reformat. I'm not sure I'm satisfied with it yet, and it may get a complete redo, but I thought I'd see what other people thought about it. I'm especially interested in your thoughts about the ending.
It's the normal things in life that will do it to you. Perhaps you're sitting there happily in your chair, eating a wonderful sandwich, and you think that it's not possible that it could. But it will happen to you too, eventually. There will be the day when you finally realize that the pressures of life have piled upon you to the point of suffocation, when the ennui of your daily grind becomes a crushing apathy. And then, before you know it, you're out of your chair, sandwich forgotten in your need to run, to dash, to flee like a deer darting in front of a stalking hunter.
So you do. You abandon your house, not even bothering to lock the door. If you've really crashed, you don't even bother to close it. Perhaps you take the time to put on shoes, but it's just as likely you find yourself in stocking feet, wandering into places you've never contemplated, much less seen. The only thing you know is that you cannot stay there any longer. You will not become a father to 1.45 children and .73 dogs. You will not drive a minivan for 38 months before trading in for the next model, all the while wishing you were really driving a Lamborghini. You will not become one of those.
And that, Robert discovered, is how you wind up on a road you've never seen before, with $5.20 in your pocket, no wallet, no ID and not even any keys. He did at least have his watch on, but it wasn't going to do him much good. It wasn't worth enough to pawn, and he didn't have any desire to do that anyway.
So he just wandered down the street, which was called Blackstone Road. He was sure he'd never seen it before, but there were large sections of the city he'd never seen, despite having lived there for more than twenty years. In fact, the more he considered it, the more he felt that the whole street had strange architecture. That shop looked almost like a French boutique, while the one next to it would have been at home in a Persian marketplace.
Nothing really caught his eye though, until he came to the very middle of the street. There he felt, again, as if his feet were moving without him, and before he knew it he'd stepped into a squat ugly shop. The sign on the door offered him “Solutions to Problems Unknown Even To You”. A snake oil salesman, surely. And yet, he couldn't not enter.
As he stepped inside, he had a strange feeling, as he was entering somewhere completely different. And was the shop larger on the inside? Of course, that was foolishness. Buildings didn't grow; everyone knew that. And yet...
The shop was empty. Not even an employee. So, Robert began to browse. He walked up and down the rows of shelves. Hair tonic. Vanishing cream. Bright orange feathers. Small glass balls. The next row held various hats, scarves, and canes, as well as strange packs of cards and cups. Had he stumbled into a magic supply store? But the third row of shelves had things that he couldn't understand a magician's need for. Large jewels, vials of strangely colored substances, a very old goblet made of a burnished brass. Or... he looked closer... was it --
“May I help you, sir?” The suddenness of the voice right next to his elbow made him jump. He turned, startled. There was a man with bright red hair and a large mustache. He was short, but not abnormally so. He wore a nice sport coat, and leaned upon a cane.
“I was just browsing, really.”'
“Oh, no. That's never the case. No one comes in here unless they need something.”
Pushy, thought Robert. But, then again, he had seemed to come here almost subconciously, hadn't he? Maybe he did need something. “I only have a few bucks on me anyway.”
“We have items for all wallets.” The man smiled. “Indeed, it's more like what you have is what you need.”
“What?” Was he trying to sell him something or just scam him?
“I have items here for every possible dollar amount, because I believe that you're the one who has the answer to your own problems. You tell me how much you have on you, I find you the exact item you need.”
“In other words, you want to stiff me for every penny I have.”
“You could look it that way. Or you could look at it as perhaps you chose your own fate when you left home.”
Robert shook his head. On the other hand, he only had a few bucks. Why not go along with it? Even if it was snake oil, it wasn't like he was losing anything. “All right. I have $5.20.” The man's smile grew even wider. He began stumping past all the shelves, counting off in a pattern that made no sense to Robert. Finally he picked up a small object wrapped in clear plastic. He handed it to Robert. “But, it's... it's a fortune cookie!”
“It's a magic fortune cookie. It will answer the most important question you have.”
“What question is that?”
“How am I supposed to know? It's your question.”
Again Robert shook his head. This was the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Magic cookies, indeed. And yet, he reached into his pocket, placing the cookie in it and removing the money. He handed it to the man, and turned to go.
“Just remember not to use it until you know what your most important question is.”
“Yeah, sure.” And Robert stepped out onto the road, and slowly made his way home.
Robert placed the cookie in his sock drawer when he returned home, and after a few days, he forgot about it. Sure, he'd notice it when he went to get his socks, but even then, he never really gave it much thought.
A few weeks later, he managed to find himself a job in a city 30 miles away. He moved there the next year. He bought a motorcycle to get around in the new city, since they didn't have a subway system. Robert had to admit that he liked the motorcycle a lot. It even made him look good while riding it.
Apparently the women he worked with agreed with this assessment as well. Soon he found himself having to choose between a couple of young ladies who would regularly invite him to dinner with them. One of the two was an excellent cook, and she also was quite intelligent. He found himself more and more enchanted with her.
At his wedding, three years later, which everyone at his workplace attended, he ate some spoiled egg salad, as did most of the reception, and he spent his entire wedding night vomiting in a toilet in the hotel bathroom. However, he recovered completely by the next morning and managed to enjoy the rest of his honeymoon.
It wasn't long before he had to trade in his motorcycle, and get a real car. He decided that buying a minivan was a good idea. After all, kids were certainly not an impossibility. And indeed, less than a year later his first son was born.
And so it went. It would not be interesting to follow the rest of Robert's life this way. After all, we all know how lives like this go, don't we? Fairy tale endings aren't exciting, only the fairy tale itself. So you would be bored to hear about how Robert and his wife lived out their days happily. They fought, as most couples do, but they also made up. The kids were rude and lazy at times, but they also worked hard, and had fun a lot too. Sometimes the roof leaked, sometimes the furnace broke, but the house never collapsed or burned down or even became an unpleasant place to be.
Indeed, Robert lived to the very end of his days happy. And every day that cookie sat in his sock drawer. But he never could think of a question, and so the cookie stayed unbroken. And eventually he died, without ever opening the cookie.
A few days after his death, with the funeral over and the mourning finally beginning to stop, Robert's wife was surprised to hear a knock on the front door. She opened it to find a short man with bright red hair and a thick mustache standing there on her doorstep, dressed in a sport coat and carrying a cane.
“I'm sorry. I'm not really in the mood right now.”
The man shook his head. “I'm not selling anything. In fact, I'd like to buy back something I once sold your husband.”
Robert's wife was angry. “Now, hold on! Robert just died a few days ago. How can you--”
“I know. He died without ever using it, so I want it back. I sold it specifically to him. It was a magic fortune cookie. You have no need for it, but I do. I'd like to buy it back. I'll pay you twice what it was bought for.”
She was still mad, but she had seen the cookie in the sock drawer and had no idea what to do with it anyway. Honestly, she might even have thrown it out. But the gall of him to come so soon after Robert's death.
“If I'd waited too long, you'd likely have thrown it out, right?”
She sighed, but went in and got the fortune cookie, handing it to the man. The man smiled, reached into his pocket, and handed her $10.40.
“Is it really a magic cookie?” She couldn't believe she was even asking the question, but the man had said it so matter-of-factly.
The man stood there for a long time. Finally, he said “It's never been opened. It may even be blank.” And with that, he turned and walked away.
It will never TRULY be Tuesday again. Farewell, Ryan Davis