by Greg Fox
Red lights flashed with rainy halos. A train was stopped on the tracks, and we were the only car at the crossing.
“I hate this,” I said.
“Life is in the waiting,” you answered.
Aboard the train, people smiled, talked, milled about. They waved at us; we waved back. They beckoned. We got out of the car and dashed through the rain to climb aboard. The conductor greeted us by name. Amidst jubilation, the train started moving.
Outside the windows, we passed the same intersection over and over, saw our car parked there with ourselves sitting inside, waiting. Faster and faster we went—or perhaps the world was spinning around us—until, like a kinetoscope, the images blurred into one. We watched ourselves waiting, aging, sometimes looking cross, sometimes looking tender, until we huddled close together and you laid your head on mine.
The train stopped. Outside the window was our empty car, sitting in the rain. A voice rang out, “This station stop, waiting. Next, eternity.”
You moved immediately to the door, tugging me along. I hesitated. You stepped off the train, then turned back toward me.
“The train is preparing to depart. Please step away from the doors.”
James had been sneaking liquor into work and spiking coffee for a few weeks now. First it was just his own drinks while he was on break. When he told a couple of friends about it, they started coming in during his shift so he could make them special orders as well. Not long after that, the pranking started. The occasional rude customer would become much friendlier, the couple having serious relationship talks would get emotional and start yelling, the lady who slipped religious tracts into the tip jar felt the encouraging warmth of the spirit. And James just chuckled behind the counter. He was surprised that no one seemed to have noticed, but maybe they didn’t mind.
James woke to the sound of a beeping heart monitor. A doctor informed him he had been in ICU for several days. The drunk driver who had struck his car was still unconscious, but was expected to recover. However, the three children who had been in the car with him were dead. The man’s wife visited James in the hospital. She shook her head with tears in her eyes, saying over and over, “He never drank. I don’t understand. He never drank.”
“What’re you looking at?” Harold asked.
Dana had stopped eating—a noodle still on her fork. Her gaze was fixed beyond him. “Something’s happening,” she said.
Her brow furrowed. “I don’t know. People are stopping in the street. They’re looking up at … something. The sky maybe? A building?”
He gave a half-glance over his shoulder. “Why?”
“How should I know,” she snapped.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. Just wondering.” He jabbed absent-mindedly at his chicken. “It’s obviously interesting enough to distract you.”
“Don’t be like that, Harold. I just mean I can’t tell,” she said. “It looks like it’s above us.”
His eyes drifted to the ceiling and found only a light fixture. “Above us?”
“Yeah,” she said, still mesmerized.
“That’s it,” he said, dropping his silverware and tossing his napkin onto the table. “I’m going to check it out.”
“They’re leaving,” Dana said.
“It must be over.”
Harold hurried out of the restaurant. All around, people were shrugging, walking away. Looking up, he saw shimmering pinnacles of glass and steel. He saw birds. He saw the sky.
Dejected, Harold came back in, sat down and resumed poking at his chicken.
“What was it?”
“Nothing,” he said. “It was nothing.”
The water hitting my face woke me. I was laying beside a hole that cut right through the concrete floor and down into the ground. Above it, another hole opened through the upper floors and the roof, letting in the storm.
I had just needed somewhere dry for the night. I’d used the empty house most of the last winter, and with storms coming, it would make a perfect shelter. But once I got inside, I heard a voice. It was counting.
“… 96609226454614304087 …”
“Hello?” I called out. More muffled numbers. A dim light under a doorway led me to the basement. I crept down the steps and saw a human shaped bundle curled up beside a candle.
The voice kept going. “… 757626837119261335990 …”
“Hey, buddy. You staying here?”
The hairy shadow of a man turned around slowly and looked at me, eyes wide with a kind of madness, like he was happy and terrified all at the same time. The numbers kept coming, his gravelly voice getting louder and louder, “… 922415118713814691393 …”
“What is that? What’re you doing?”
“… 4901567618144852795178 …”
“Stop it,” I shouted.
His voice dropped suddenly, almost a whisper: “… 855431231853 … 2 … 1 … 1”
There was a flash.
Everyone said it was a miracle. They tell me I’m blessed, ask what I’m going to do next; they tell me that now I can go anywhere.
And of course, they ask me what he’s like. I tell them what they expect: that he was wonderful, that he was mysterious, that the fire of starlight is in his eyes. I don’t have the heart to admit that a part of me hates the ugly carpenter.
I have fallen four times, gotten lost twice, and once cut my heel so badly that I was almost lamed again.
For although he gave, he stole from me as well. He stole my whole world. After thirty-eight years, I was content with the life I had, such as it was. There was my mat, and there was the pool, and as long as I tried to move from one to the other, it was enough. Now I’m a prisoner freed after long internment. I’m a newborn child. I don’t know how to live in this world.
“It’s a miracle,” they say. “You can walk!” But they don’t understand. The miracle was when I stood. Walking is a curse. It’s a beautiful, wonderful curse