Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free Write...Wednesday?


Part Three.

Please Read Part One and Part Two first.


Ben used the awkward silence that followed to cover his exit. Sam stood in his unused bedroom, looking between the Eight Ball in his hand and the conglomeration of eight balls on his bookshelf. He didn't even notice that Ben had left, just formulated a test once and for all to prove that he was right, that this was something different.

He selected twenty eight balls at random from his shelf, none of them touching any of the others he selected, making sure to get a healthy mixture of balls still in their packages, out of the packages, and so forth. For good measure, he chose the first one he had ever recieved, which actually sat on the desk in his "office", which was really the second closet in his bedroom. He took all of them into the living room and laid them out on the table around the edge, and placed the new one in the center. He started at the corner of the table closest to the kitchen, where the oldest eight ball sat, and asked, "Should I go to work on Monday?"

The oldest eight ball failed to answer, as years had drained enough liquid so that the answers could not float all the way up to the window, but with a small amount of shaking, Sam satisfied himself that the eight ball told him "All Sings Point to Yes." He had numbered one to twenty-one down the left side of a piece of notebook paper, and it was to the right of number one that he made a note of this answer.

He consulted the next one to his left, asking the same question. This one answered "Outlook Not So Good." He logged this answer as well.

The next one said, "Yes."

He made his way through all twenty, before finally consulting the Eight Ball in the center. "You Should Try, Sam." He made a note of this and surveyed the results: eight said yes, nine said no, three were indesicive, and the last as enigmatic as he had expected.

He returned to the first one and asked it the same question again. This time, it took even more vigorous shaking before he fianlly gave up on finding out what it's conclusive answer was. He drew a line to indicate it had given no response the second time around, and proceeded down the line again. And again. No immediately obvious patterns emerged as he worked his way through the exercise again and again; almost always an even number of yes and no, a few odd responses, and no consistency from any given eight ball.

But his log of the Eight Ball in the center spoke a different story.

21) 1. You Should Try Sam. 2. Try, Though You Will Fail. Sorry. 3. We've Been Through This, Sam. 4. This Is Pointless. 5. There Are More Pertinent Questions. 6. Outlook Not So Good. 7. Aren't You Getting Bored Yet? 8. You SHOULD Go Through Your Routine Monday Morning.

At this last one, Sam stopped, convinced he had proven himself beyond a doubt. He siezed the Eight Ball and said, "Is something going to happen during my usual routine?"

The Eight Ball displayed, "...Yes. Wrong Question, Though, Really."

Sam thought quickly. "Is something unusual going to happen during my usual routine?"

"You Are Learning, Sam."

Sam asked again.

"Patience." And at that, the Eight Ball lapsed into what could be characterized as a stony silence regarding the matter at hand. Further inquiries were met with responses along the lines of "Magic Out Of Order," "This Unit Is Undergoing Routine Maintenance," "Your Call Is Important To Us, All Our Seers Are Busy At The Moment," and finally, "No More Questions, Sam, It's Close on Four in the Morning."

The next day being Saturday, Sam saw no reason to set an alarm, but as he crawled into bed on his couch, he knew what had to be done. He contemplated a course of action and decided, after several minutes deliberation, that the best course was to get out of bed and put on a strong pot of coffee. He chekced the clock on the VCR, and saw that it was 4:15; he had an hour and a little bit longer to steel himself for what he thought he must do; he started the coffee brewing and went into his bedroom to dig through his closet full of clothes; somewhere in there, he was sure, he had a pair of running shorts, tennis shoes and a plain white tee shirt. As he searched, he tried to remember where Ed said he ran in the mornings.

An hour and a half later, Sam was pulling his car up in front of one of those so-called luxury condominium villages that are really not all that luxurious for their proximity to the train tracks to the north and the lingering smell from the nearby cat food factory.

It was exactly the place for Ed, who was desperate to climb his way up as high as possible, as quickly as possible. It befitted him, this slice of property that would have cost him four times as much in a decent neighborhood, and his rusted white 1986 BMW 513. Half the trappings of the successful, for the guy at the office that wanted everything but would never get there. Even his early morning jogs seemed like something he had adopted because he thought that's what a corporate man should do; a glance at his physique would tell you just how serious he was about his jogging. This suited Sam just fine, as he hadn't run for more than thirty seconds since he was seventeen. He stepped out of his car, wearing a pair of gym shorts and a YoungBlood Brass Band t-shirt he had bought at a concert he went to in high school, and a pair of beat up tennis shoes. He was holding a travel mug full of coffee. He wasn't sure if he should wait or knock on Ed's door, but at that moment Ed stepped out of the house across the street, and Sam felt both relieved and also slightly foolish for getting the house wrong. He hadn't consulted the Eight Ball, which was sitting on the passenger seat of his car, as to which was the right house.

Ed looked around, not seeing Sam, and started stretching. Sam decided to walk across the street and say good morning, so he set the travel mug on top of his car and stepped into the road. "Good morning, Ed!" he shouted, which seemed to frighten Ed a great deal.

Ed gasped, looked around, fear in his eyes, before realizing where the voice had come from. He squinted through his obviously fake Oakley sunglasses and took them off, as if to be sure of what he was seeing. "Sammy, is that you?"

"Yeah, Ed, but it's just Sam."

"What are you doing here?" Something about the tone made Sam stop in the middle of the street. It wasn't accusatory, just, bewildered.

"I thought you had a standing invitation for anybody who wanted to join you for a run in the mornings?" Sam glanced back at the clover-leaf travel mug he left on top of his car. His all-nighter tugged at his eyelids, trying to draw them down, and he needed more caffeine to shore them up enough to last an hour at least.

Ed seemed to relax slightly. "Oh. Yeah. Only..."

Sam waited, but Ed just shook his head and started stretching again. "So that's okay, right? I can take a run with you?"

Ed looked up, pausing in mid-stretch. "Absolutely. Be ready in a couple minutes."

Sam stood still in the middle of the street, watching Ed stretch, Ed whom he realized he had spoken more words to in the last three minutes than he had in the entire three months he had been working at Vanderheyden Financial. Ed, who was a talker but had been suddenly struck dumb. "Okay," Sam called. "I'm going to finish my coffee and stretch, then I'll let you take the lead." He stood still again, waiting for an answer from Ed, but none came. He turned back to his car, and reaching it grabbed his mug and slurped some more coffee. He thought about abandoning his plan, but he had already told Ed he would run with him, and a thought struck him. He took the lid off his travel mug and quicly gulped the rest of his coffee in one swig, then opened his car door. He dropped the mug into place in the cupholder, then picked up the Eight Ball. "Am I the first person from the office to ever go running with Ed?"

"You're Not Running Yet, Sam," The Eight Ball displayed for a moment, before replacing it with, "...But You're The Only One Who's Ever Even Showed Up."

"So should I go for this run then?"


Sam looked back at Ed, who had finished stretching and stared uncomfortably across the street. "Where to, Ed?" Sam called. A dog barked.

Ed shrugged his shoulders. "There's a park about three blocks away, it's got a jogging path." And Ed started clumsily jogging along. Sam fell into step behind him, taking notice of Ed's shoes.

"New shoes?" Sam asked.

"No," Ed called back. "Just...haven't taken them out yet." Ed was already breathing somewhat heavier than Sam would have assumed a person who jogs every morning would, and Ed slowed to a walk after only one block. Sam caught up and matched his pace.

"One of those days, huh?" Ed merely grunted. "Tell you the truth, Ed, that's the farthest I've run since my last high school gym class." Ed remained silent. Sam wished he could ask the Eight Ball if he should persist, or wait for Ed to talk. He closed his eyes and in his mind's eye he saw, clear as if he were holding it in his hand, the Eight Ball. He thought, should I wait for Ed to talk? and in his mind's eye, he saw the display read, I Would if I Were You.

They walked halfway down the next block, and Ed turned to cross the street. Sam turned as well, and at the same moment they broke into half-hearted runs, barely faster than they had been walking. When they reached the other side of the street, a city bus drove past, and Ed turned to look at Sam.

"It's the farthest I've run since I started working at Vanderheyden."

"I'm sorry?" said Sam, suddenly brought back to the world. He had been trying to come up with more questions to ask the Eight Ball in his mind, but was having trouble getting the clear picture he had had moments before.

"I hate running alone, and my wife..." he trailed off. "Well, she never went running with me anyway, that's why I always asked around, had the standing offer."

"And I'm the first one to show up?" Sam asked.

"In three years. Can you believe that?" Ed turned his wide eyes on Sam at his side, and though Sam could believe it, he also believed that to be the wrong response.

"That's...I'm sorry," Sam said. On a whim, he lied, something he had not done in years because he knew the bad luck that always followed lying. "I've been meaning to come do this for a while, but just haven't got around to it." They walked in silence until they reached the park.

The park was of a good size, with a running path that would be well shaded in the summer but now, at the peak of autumn, was nearly lost under the cover of red and gold leaves upon the ground. Spaced periodically at intervals along the path were the kind of work-out stations municipalities put up in spite of the fact that Sam had never seen anyone use them in his entire life. "Let's try and make it around once," Sam suggested. Ed grimaced, but nodded. Together they set off at a slow pace, running in silence but for their breathing. They were not the only ones using the path, and Sam was very conscious of this fact when they were lapped the second time by a man more than twice his age.

Yet they continued running, each of them silently pushing the other, neither willing to give up while the other one could still run. When they reached the chin-up bar, which was where they had been when they started running, they came to a halt in unison. Ed looked at Sam, and Sam back at Ed, each gasping for air. Sam's muscles ached, and his rabbit's foot key chain had shifted in his shorts pocket, poking into his upper thigh with each stride he had taken for the last twenty minutes. Finally, Ed swallowed hard and said, "What made you come here?"

"I need to know," panted Sam, who paused and took a few deep breaths before starting again. "I need to know where you got the Eight Ball I got for my birthday."

"Really?" Ed looked skeptical. "That's it?"

"I promise you," Sam said, heading off any punishment for lying with this preemptive pennance, "that I will come running with you every Saturday morning if you tell me where you bought it."

Ed looked bewildered, and sat down on the ground. Sam sat next to him, eager to hear what Ed had to say but also very grateful for getting off of his feet. He had been thinking about how painful it would be to go all the way back to his car when Ed derailed his train of thought.

"I bought one for myself, because...I'm in this tough spot. And I'm desperate, and maybe a little off kilter, which would explain an awful lot about what's happened to me in the last day or so, but...I bought two of them. I just happened to be walking by this shop, I was looking for somewhere to get your present because it had just occured to me that I was supposed to get it. I am sorry, by the way, but you're lucky I remembered, I don't even know why they make me get the gifts sometimes because I almost always forget. Anyway, I was having trouble even deciding where to go, and there was this sign in the window of this shop over on Nebraska Street. The sign said, something like 'Have A Tough Decision To Make? Try Our Magic Eight Ball!' So I thought, that's fitting, okay, I'll take it. And I went in, and picked up the one they had on display, and asked it if I should buy one for you."

He paused, and Sam found that he was leaning forward, listening to Ed's story. Finally, Ed spoke again. "The display didn't say what I figured it would say at all. You know, I've seen these things before, they have standard responses, and I've seen them with gimmicky responses but nothing like this one. It said, 'Don't You Think You Need The Help More, Edward?' Now what are the chances of it knowing my name?"

Ed stood up and paced. "That's why I got up to go for the run. Yesterday morning, when I woke up, the first thing I did was ask my Eight Ball if I should go for the run, and it said, 'Ask Me Again Later. Like, Tomorrow Later.' So then I asked it if I should go to work, and it said, 'For the Sake of a Co Worker, Yes.' I still don't know what that meant.

Sam thought he knew. "It meant for my sake. If you hadn't come in, I wouldn't have gotten my gift, and I wouldn't have found out that I won't make it to the big meeting on Monday morning."

Ed cocked his head at Sam. "What do you mean?"

Sam told Ed the story of his Eight Ball, the tests he put it through the previous night, how it told him he should go jogging.

"Mine said I should go jogging, too. That's why I did," Ed admitted, as they walked back towards Ed's condo. Sam noticed something missing from Ed's left hand.

"Ed, did you get a divorce or do you just not wear your wedding ring when you run?"

Ed frowned. "She left. Three years with minimum salary increases, no bonuses, and no prospect of future advancement...I guess the glamor got to be too much. But it's for the best."

"You checked the Eight Ball?"

"No, I just know that it is. She deserves so much more than I can actually give her. She needs a man with a heart and a soul already installed." They had reached Sam's car, and Ed asked Sam to wait a moment while he ran back inside. He came out momentarily with his Eight Ball and a piece of paper. "I just have a test I want to run," Ed said, handing his Eight Ball to Sam. Sam understood, had been eager to perform the same test himself, and so he had his at the ready, and surrendered it to Ed.

Sam turned Ed's Eight Ball over and asked it, "Do you know who I am?" When he looked, he was surprised enough to laugh at the response.

"Not Really, But You're Sure as Hell Not Edward."

His test completed, he looked to Ed, who was staring at the Eight Ball in confusion. He noticed Sam looking at him and he smiled weakly. "I'm just not sure what to ask it."

"Ask it if knows your name," Sam suggested.

Ed closed his eyes, turned the Eight Ball over and looked. He laughed as well, before showing it to Sam. It read, "No, We Haven't Been Properly Introduced Yet, Friend."

"Either we're not crazy," Ed said, "or we're getting the same brand of crazy. Here, directions to the shop, I can't remember what it's called, but trust me, you'll know it."

They exchanged Eight Balls and thanks, and Sam got into his car. He asked the Eight Ball if he should go home and sleep. "Only If You Don't Want To Crash Your Car On The Interstate," it answered.


Okay okay okay, I know, it is NOT finished, but I AM for now. I have spent three weeks + on this one story, and I like where it is going and how it is getting there, but I need to put it to momentary rest. You will see it later, excerpted, polished, done, because I am going to use this for something, if not for the Three Day Contest then something else. A great idea and a BIG THANKS to Becca for the original suggestion, Kathy for the second, and all who made suggestions. Some of them may even add to the final outcome. As it stands, he will go to the shop and find...his destiny? His soul mate? Certain death? The cocktail napkins that match his dessert plates, even though he was sure they had been discontinued? What?

I leave you today with a quote from my very own wife, whom I love dearly.

"Man, I wish I had this cartoon character's legs. Look at those!"


Becca said...

Elliot, Dude, the suspense really is killing me. But I like where this story is going, really. I'd like to see it be developed more... : )

RRRRIGHT! So here's my suggestion, just for you. A man in his mid-late 20s, he's a chronic dater, looking for that perfect woman. He's dated HUNDREDS of women. After yet another unsuccessful date, he goes for a bike ride. Man, his bike is such a smooth ride, such a perfect bike specimen... IF ONLY his bike was a woman... But wait! He decides to turn his bike INTO a woman...

it could happen.

Becca said...

The more you write, the more I like it. : )

mGk said...

Did you really say "drop it like it's hot"? Could you BE any whiter?