The cards spoke of fate, but the future they predicted was always left up to interpretation of the one reading them. Most people were almost illiterate. Preston fancied himself better than that.
He pondered that conclusion as he stared at the cards before him. He knew his present was a pair of jacks grinning at him, but his future? The jacks might have been a good a few hands ago, but now he was down to just a two more big blinds.
“What will it be?” asked Jerry with that lopsided grin he always wore. He sat behind a large chip stack that everyone at the table had been contributing to over the last hour or so. Preston stared at his opponent trying to get a read, but Jerry was a stone wall.
Preston thought about folding, but there wasn’t a promise of a better hand in the wings. This was the poker player’s dilemma. What did the future hold?
The jacks were mute, but Preston decided that the future was bright. He didn’t care if the light was that of victory or the burn out of defeat. He adjusted his shades and matched Jerry’s goofy ass grin.
First shoe to drop was when Amazon just went dark. Like not even a 404-error dark. A spinning wheel of painful waiting torture was the only eulogy for what was king the day before.
Facebook and Twitter were soon only posting stories about end of the world scenarios. Left wing, right wing, any crackpot scenario of the end of the world was jamming everyone’s feeds. Reddit was the same, no matter the voting of the members. Hell, 4chan was even doing it. Like what the hell, 4chan?
The aliens took over so smoothly that by the time we realized what was happening the only thing we could do was to surrender. Any attempt at pulling the plug and they would go all Terminator on us. We expected the AIs we would be fighting would be the ones we created, but we were naive. The alien AIs controlled every digital system on the planet. The best part was we were all home waiting for COVID-19 to be cured, but the virus that killed off the autonomy of the human race was digital. No mask for that.
The whiskey scorched all the way down as he took another swig. He almost fell over as he ground out his cigarette. That brought him face to face with that photo of her in that navy blue dress.
“I can’t believe you’re gone.”
A sob escaped causing him to slump into his recliner.
“We were so good together.”
Putting down the bottle, he picked up her image and gave it a sloppy kiss. He went to put it carefully back down, but instead, he fumbled it. The photo tumbled to the tiled floor, shattering the glass. He groped for the now naked photograph, cutting his hand, but undeterred, he snagged it. He sucked on the blood while staring into the picture’s eyes.
“You enjoyed that didn’t you, hurting me again?”
He picked back up the bottle and pounded what was left. Snatching his lighter he set fire to her visage.
He watched her burn, yet even when the flames reached his fingers, he couldn’t let go. Not even when she was just ashes.
“I told you I’d do anything to make you stay.”
He showed his fingertips to the navy blue urn on the bookshelf.
I remember the child sitting on my lap. “What would it take for you to do this one thing for me?” he had asked. They warn you about this when you join the corps, but it still amazes you when you hear it.
That’s why I stopped in my tracks and thought hard once I was in the man’s bedroom. What the kid was asking me to do came naturally. Still, I hated the son of a bitch for what he had done to the boy, so I wanted to gift the man something more. All it would take is a slight twitch and justice would be served. I had killed many a person, young and old, male and female, but never while they slept, not in cold blood. That was not who I was, at least not now.
I sheathed my blade and left his son’s note. I thought about leaving a bit of coal behind to emphasize that I saw his naughty ass and if I had wanted he would have been mine, but I am a man of the red cloth. “What would it take? I may only play a saint, but a devil I am not.”
“You must be daft! This is the girl who threw away your baseball card collection.”
“Yeah, she did do that.”
“And she was the one who made you get rid of your dog because she didn’t want the fur on her white carpet.”
“True. She did do that.”
“She had to buy her Corvette which is why you that P.O.S. out in the parking lot.”
“Ah, got it. Yeah. She does love that car.”
“And she stabbed you in the back by sleeping with your boss. How can she be the girl of your dreams?”
“Oh, I meant nightmares.”
“Now that I can understand. So tell me, why are you still with her?”
“I may have found the worst possible relationship, but that makes everything else seem so much better. I can look at dropping out of college, working this crappy job, and realizing I’m not going to accomplish any of my childhood dreams and feel some sort of contentment. It’s like I’m telling karma to go fuck off because I got this, so just hold my beer.”
“So let me see if I understand. The sex is that good?”
I let the lamp drop to my feet. The metallic clank it made with the cave floor brought me back to my senses. “Let me get this straight. Just one wish? That’s it?”
“That’s right,” said the genie. “Just one wish. I’ll warn you though. If you wish for more wishes you will be sad.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Okay, okay. Just give me a second.”
I began to pace. I should be a good person and wish that no one went hungry anymore. Either that or lasting world peace, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. I am a good person, honest, but right then I could ask for anything. There was a part of me that wanted to be selfish. I could be the wealthiest person in the world. I could be irresistible to anyone whom I desired.
I could bring back my parents and have one last dinner with them around the kitchen table. Now that brought a tear to my eye. But would that be a good wish? And yet I could…
“Okay genie. I wish for…”
Don’t you wish you knew what I wished for? Go find your own genie!
Her world was pitch black darkness. Actually, it was darkness and water, but after not breathing for so long she didn’t really notice the wetness. She didn’t have a concept of time, but she did know her chains hand rusted and broken a while back.
She felt around the floor of her prison and found a large stone. She picked a spot she thought was the same as last time and began hammering. It might take millennia to get through, but she had that and more. Still, she hoped she had picked the right direction. She didn’t relish chipping her way through Mount Torlock.
That’s when she heard a muffled noise to her right. She shifted her attention and started to hammer there. She had been pointing in the wrong direction. How long had she been off course?
Suddenly there was an explosion of sound. Light poured into her prison as the water poured out. She shoved herself out of the hole, reborn again into this world, and this time she would do the swatting. Before any swatting could occur, though, she retched up the water in her lungs and stomach next to her. Not the start she had imagined…
The killing field surrounded her as if she was in the eye of the storm. Bodies strewn all over, stabbed, shot, burnt. Not another living soul was in sight. Fallen comrades in arms were strewn among the remains of their enemies. It was a miracle that she was alive considering how much of her own blood stained the ground beneath her feet.
Her unit had been sent out to stop the approaching horde. Their village had been decimated by the plague, so they could only send out farmers and those too old to serve anymore. She was amazed they had stopped the monsters from taking away what was left.
She was so tired, but there was still there was more to do. She lit her torch and began to burn those bodies closest to her. The stench of sizzling flesh stung her lungs and eyes, but she didn’t pause as she raced to set more of the fallen ablaze.
The battle had been fast, but not fast enough. She tried to cry, but the tears were too tired to come. As the moon rose, so did the fallen. She could only set herself on fire. One fewer for the enemy.
He picked up his beer bottle and cried. Today had been such a rollercoaster. He closed his eyes and relived their last conversation.
“I can’t believe you bought that,” she said.
He cradled his prize like a baby. “Why not?” he asked.
“Just put that beer back or I’m going to leave you.”
“But it’s not just a beer.”
“What is it then?”
“Look, it’s in a copper bottle. See?” He slightly shook it in front of her face.
“You really want to do this again after the last time?”
“You’re the one wanting to do it again. I am just getting my beer.”
“I can’t handle this. It’s become a ridiculous habit. Look, it’s either the beer or me.”
She placed her balled fists on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “Do I look like I’m joking?”
He looked at the empty bottle of Sam Adam’s Utopia. She had left him, but now so did the beer. Life just wasn’t fair. He wondered if he could get her back. He opened his wallet to see if he had the $150 to buy another bottle. Nothing was there.
The forge glowed red hot, casting a hellish glow. Kira pulled her quenched metal from the oil bath. The piece blazed to life as residual oil ignited from the heat still encapsulated in the metal’s heart. Kira had beaten that heart into the piece, using a piece of hers as the model. She took a rasp and dragged it along the edge of the metal. The rasp danced and so did Kira’s heart. It was hard.
Later that evening she left the smithy behind and went in search of Pablo. She knew her parents would love to have her marry the boy, but Kira wasn’t happy about it. He was the baker’s boy, and while she thought he was cute he was a bit pudgy.
She found him entertaining his friends. She hung back watching him while nervously shifting her metal creation in her hands. That’s when she saw her opportunity. With a flick of her wrist, she sent the disc flying, cutting Cupid’s bow in half as the imp had been aiming at her.
Cupid’s look would have broken many a heart, but Kira smiled. She might still fall for the boy, but it would be under her terms.