Monday, October 17, 2011

Magpie Tales: The Anniversary


Peking Palace is not the best Asian restaurant in town. Hung duck carcasses awaiting their turn to grace the plates of diners turn many away, people like separation between themselves and what they eat. The food is well enough to keep a steady flow of traffic on the weekends, but most Tuesday nights only a handful of tables are taken and the atmosphere is much more muted.

Chris is here neither for the atmosphere or the food. His arm raises and lowers the fork bringing food to his mouth mechanically. He chews and swallows, never tasting. It is a forced effort, the pushing bits of sustenance down pipes to the tight twisted confines of his stomach in effort to calm himself for what comes next. 

Tonight is the anniversary of the death of his wife, and this another echo of the last meal shared. 
_____

The first year after her death Chris found himself sitting in the same booth, unsure how he had arrived. He had every intention of going home after work to a quiet night alone, but that was not meant to be. He had ordered the same meal they shared, completed his own and was staring at her untouched plate when the waiter broke the spell asking if he was ready for the check.

He must have waved a hand because the check arrived with three fortune cookies. He did not even like fortune cookies, and their manufactured messages written by some back room hack with nothing better to do than spout nonsense on unsuspecting patrons held no more sway in life than newspaper horoscopes. Chris crushed them one by one, more to feel the texture of their texture in breaking.

Opening his clenched fingers, crumbs scattered across the table and he retrieved the three slips of paper. These fortunes were different though than any Chris had read before. They were messages from her. I am still here, repeated once on each white rectangle.

Chris waved the waiter over, animatedly asking for more, offering to pay for a box. Cooks stared through the hanging duck bodies as his voice got louder and behavior more frantic. To appease him or perhaps in hopes he would leave, the waiter brought him a box, which he tucked under his arm as he ran out the door into the cool night air.

Sitting in the center of their bed, his bed, Chris crushed them one after another, the silk sheets filling with grit and discarded fortunes. Each one mocked him with insane riddles, but no further messages. Howling in anguish, he tore open kitchen cabinets until he found a dusty bottle of bourbon that quickly emptied, becoming another and another.
_____

Staring into the mirrored window by his table, Chris runs his fingers across his face, each whisker a thorn in his palm. His hair is a mottled nest, barely fit for an animal. Cheeks hollow, eyes vacant unfathomable pools. He is little of the man who once strode confidently into meetings with customers, pen in hand ready for the sure sale. All the trimmings that had come with being a successful sales man had disappeared.

Raising his cup to his lip, he lets the liquor spill into his mouth, no longer feeling the burn of its advance. Five years. Was it five? He is no longer sure of time, other than each year he is here, on this night and she will speak to him. Try as he might to keep himself from this moment, it always came.

A soft click against the table announces the arrival of the check. Turning, Chris is confronted by three fortune cookies in their shiny plastic wrapping, the waiter familiar with what to expect retreats to a safe distance.

Taking the first, the wrapper crinkles, cackling laughter, as Chris' trembling fingers struggle to hold it. Hot tears scald his face, lips sputtering, as he tears the plastic skin. Dropping the cookie, he chases it as it rolls from the table. Aloud crash erupts as the table over turns spilling his empty plate and cup into the adjacent bench seat. He scrambles gathering each of the cookies to his chest, his wild eyes casting about at other patrons.

Cooks yell in chaotic chirps, the waiter appears, grabbing at him, but Chris fights frantically pushing him away. Remnants of his meal soak into the seat of his pants. Their eyes, every person's eyes crawl across his body on sharp feet. What little meal that resides in Chris' stomach forces its way into his throat, hands strangling him from the inside. Duck carcasses dance on the ends of their strings.

Searching his fingers between the shards of cookie, Chris finds the white strips. Words dance in red until his eyes focus. The message is the same. The same it has been every year since the first.

I know it was you. I know it was you. I know it was you.

this is a Magpie Tale.

88 comments:

Jim Swindle said...

Chilling tale, Brian.
I think you accidentally typed "masssage" where you meant "message."

Ruthiey said...

I love the word-collision of rushing visualizations and the crash and burn of mental distress. Once again, love it.

lori said...

Yes! I love it. I was excited to see another short story up, and you did not disappoint. I could picture him in his bed with the fortune cookies, and at the end in the restaurant. I'm not kidding when I say you're stories would be so good on screen, any screen, big or small. Definitely Twilight Zone-esque, this one is. And, again, I love it :)

Pat Hatt said...

Wow you really sucked me in that time
Agree with Lori's Twilight Zone-esque chime
I knew I seen that pic before
With a little verse at another shore
But you took it and blew all away
Always a delight to see a short story at your way

kaykuala said...

Brian,
Comes along a little of the super natural,a little mystery,a singular love that still lingers. It contends around fortune cookies and Chinese takeaways putting some exotic colour into it! Great Magpie!

Hank

Kathy Bischoping said...

Great story. I was really drawn in at the point when he began breaking the cookies, just to feel.

JeannetteLS said...

Oh, this is the first short story I've seen, Brian. OUTSTANDING. It swallowed me up along with the duck and cookies, right to the end.

Man, what a talent you have!

David Allen Waters said...

brilliantly chilling....dude, this rocks!

Eva Gallant said...

Wow! How to give someone the shivers! Great!

anthonynorth said...

Beautifully done.

adeeyoyo said...

Wow, I am covered in gooseflesh, Brian! Fantastic story and well told. :D

Doctor FTSE said...

Great idea, well worked out. (We Brits are into Fortune Cookies. Our restaurants give us thin chocolate mints.)

Helen said...

You managed to do it again ~ chills up and down my arms, legs, all over!

The Bug said...

Excellent! You need to write about a dozen more & then publish a book of short stories :) Or submit them to Ellery Queen magazine (is it still around?).

TechnoBabe said...

Ouch, living with guilt takes its toll.

Brigid said...

Great tale, again Brian...love the supernatural twist.

Anonymous said...

This is surprising, you told a story with a guy in a different culture, with such haunting imagery, it reads like a native who made it.

It is also not surprising, because you are capable of writing the best short stories to impress others, regardless of topics or settings.

Vivid and spooky descriptions,

reading it reminds me of myself sitting in a movie theater watching Happy Potter, totally carried away by the picture you draw.

keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter Movie clips alike.

superb job.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thingy said...

Awesome. Reminds me of another tale, by some guy named, Poe. : )

jabblog said...

Extraordinary and very touching. It's hard to accept and move on.

Lolamouse said...

Very "other worldly." The dead are never really gone, are they?

Berowne said...

Remarkably imaginative and clever...

Ginny Brannan said...

"I know it was you. I know it was you. I know it was you."
Hmmm, descent into madness, haunting echoes of guilt, or perhaps just the slide down the slippery slope of alcoholism and depression? I thought it was going to be a sad. sweet story of love lost, until I really read this. Quite intriguing Brian, so many ways of looking at this.

Christine said...

Chilling, sad. One can never escape guilt. A well told exploration.

Ed Pilolla said...

nice and dimly dark. i was into it. great tension. fun read.
thanks so much for stopping by and the note. i've been at a wedding in chicago and am just checking in after a few days offline. looking forward to getting home to la tomorrow and getting back it the writing routine.
:)

The Golden Eagle said...

That was an amazing story. It gripped me from the beginning.

Thank you for coming by my blog!

its me!!! sharan :) said...

lets be honest...I didnt read your full post because i am not interested in food...I am quite impressed by reading your guest post at madhulika's so i am gonna come back :) till then bbye :)

stay connected!!!
its me!!! sharan :)

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Most epic story involving fortune cookies that I will probably ever read, nicely done.

Carolina Linthead said...

Thanks for stopping by! I haven't had much new for you to read, frankly...been a difficult year. The funny thing is that I had come by and read your Magpie earlier today. I was going to comment when someone came into the office, so I'm just now getting back to it. Brilliantly ensnaring! A bit of Poe's Imp at play here. I'll try not to be such a recluse :-)

Pat said...

Wow! I got chills when I read those last words, "I know it was you". Did he kill her? Will we ever know?

Zeba said...

Ooooooooooooooh. Loved it. As usual. I try to think of something different to comment every time. But you always leave me thinking.

Leovi said...

Wonderful story, I do not want to see in the shoes of Chris.

Fred said...

Awesome tale, love the combination of sorrow, pain and a brain that just can't handle it. Great weaving. Thanks Brian, great read

Friko said...

Now that I did not expect.

Nice little twist, they're the best.

rosaria said...

Love it!
Five years? My, the weight of loss!

ipenka said...

Oh, that was a twist. Very nice writing and could definitely imagine how haggard he looked.

Reminds me of a chinese gamblers tale for Mahjong. The tiles are always changing until you pick it up. Maybe the same thing for fortune cookies.

Anyes said...

The tales fortunate cookies tell ;-)

hedgewitch said...

You let those ducks lead you into a place where all kinds of things are hangin and swingin--loved it bri. And I totally didn't expect the ending--though knowing your twisted mind, I should have.

formerlyonlyamovie said...

wow, this is great. :-)

manicddaily said...

Great tale. I've had some pretty chilling fortune cookies actually. Years ago though. Now, they are more like little aphorisms.

Not yours though!

ayala said...

Great story, Brian. I got lost in it, love it !

Tara Miller said...

wow! That felt like a creepy and guilt ridden tale.

happygirl said...

Oh, I can see an entire novel explode from this tale. Ala SK. The innocuity of the humble Chinese restaurant. The inexplicable desire or return of hunger for Chinese food and the fear of being caught, by the spirit of your victim. Oh the tangled web we weave, when....

Katherine Krige said...

Hmm, like how you move from "I am still here", where you create sympathy for the grieving widow, to the end, where it is accusatory "I know it was you". Nice twist.

lifeisaroadtrip said...

Another great story, Brian!

KB said...

That's a clever ending to the story.

Claudia said...

ugh...was feeling sorry for him first...but should've known there would be a twist....but somehow still feel sad for him...maybe even more now..

Caty said...

The twist at the end was great...I assumed his alcoholism was from grief not guilt...guess, I was wrong :)

Isabel Doyle said...

A gripping read Brian - I think you could turn this into a first class story.

Tumblewords: said...

Excellent story - grief and guilt are quite often interchangeable!

Muhammad Israr said...

chilling and gripping... you are a marvelous writer here :)

Pseudo said...

Excellent. Love your short stories Brian.

ladyfi said...

Chilling, dramatic, spooky and perfect!

Lydia said...

Tell me, if you were to create your family tree at ancestry.com would one of the branches above you say Alfred Hitchcock?

This was amazing. All of your stories are, but each is amazing in its own way. This one fooled me because I was getting all sentimental over the first messages, and then.....Yikes!

Catfish Tales said...

Reminding me of 'The Fountain', an odd but lovely film. I have found love a curse, myself, confounded by it for many years till giving up the ghost. :)

Most excellent writing, Brian!

Dave King said...

Brilliantly written. Maybe it was the Chinese connection: I somehow knew there was chaos ahead. Great tale.

SueAnn said...

So beautiful Brian!! Many things can speak to us and transport us to another time and place. It is quite surreal! Pleasant! And a little frightening as well!!
Hugs
SueAnn

Valerie said...

I am delighted to read another Magpie Tale. You do these so well, Brian. This one filled me with goose bumps and that's all down to your excellent writing.

Deb said...

Wow. While taking a break from blogging, I truly missed reading your work. When I got to the end of this story, I realized I had been holding my breath...really. You created suspense with your words and I can 'see' the whole story in my mind. The ending blew me away !

Zuzana said...

Dear Brian, I have to return to read this more carefully, I am still out of town, but sneaking in to blog a bit.;)
Hope you are having a great week,
xoxo

Kate Hanley said...

Very chilling. I was totally hooked start to finish.

AmyLK said...

Very Poe-like! The beating heart of guilt. Love it!

Lorraine said...

oh man that story breaks my heart...you are such a gift for bringing out all emotions :)

Jill from Killeny Glen said...

DAMN Brian!!!!!!!! I was SO CAUGHT up in his GRIEF...and then WHAM....

GUILT!
GUILT!
GUILT!

Did NOT see that coming!!!!
Love it!

Mama Zen said...

Brian, this is unbelievably good!

Hope said...

awesome! thoroughly enjoyed it!

G-Man said...

Brian Allen Poe.....

Kulio said...

ooh, creepy!!!

Magpie said...

Oh, good one!! I love it. I like what G-man said. So appropriate for this time of year. Whatever happened to your Odin tales?

Myrna R. said...

Eerie, spooky and so well written. Enjoyed this one so much.

Daniel said...

Kind of a "Twilight Zone" kind of tale. A bit spooky and eerie.

Who Is Afraid Of Miss Lovett? No, Mrs.Lovett... said...

Hi! Brian...
What a very interesting read...very vivid, descriptive and captured my attention until the end. I agree with the previous commenter quite an interesting, chilling tale as is the title Of this tale.
[Once again, I liked the "breaks" in-between the tale!]
Ty for sharing!
deedee ;-D

Baino said...

Keep it up Brian, your penchant for horror is good.Nice to see prose again.

izzy said...

I think I get it-love the jangling ducks!

Nicholas V. said...

A poignant take on this prompt. A very distressing experience well-related.

Susie Clevenger said...

What a great story...reminds me of Hitchcock...

Nanka said...

Brilliant and you kept the suspense line going!! The details are superb!! That's the way the cookie crumbles!!

Ann Grenier said...

Great surprise ending! Just those few words, "I know it was you" were at the same time confusing and a shock. Guilt is the culprit, more than grief.Really had me glued to the piece.

Trellissimo said...

Sorry, Brian, but I only think I understand the ending. Needs another wee clue somewhere?

Morning said...

It is worthy the time reading your words.

Another grabbing tale,

;)

xo

chiccoreal said...

Dear Brian: Very imaginative short. I particularly like how the conscience plays trompe l'oeil mind games with the "fortune" cookies. (some fortune!) And poor Chris reliving each year his denouement. Chilling. My favourite line;

each whisker a thorn in his palm

Ouch! and ToucheZ! great story!

Whosyergurl said...

WOW. This really pulled me in! I kept reading faster and faster so that I might see what happened. You sure have a way with words, my friend.
Cheryl

Goofball said...

she'll come after him!

Arnab Majumdar said...

Wow, that one certainly kept me on the edge of my seat! Now, there are a thousand different possibilities running around in my head...

Loved this!

Cheers,
Arnab Majumdar on SribbleFest.com

Jackie Jordan said...

Spot on, Friend. You've got an impressive winner here - a classic Tales from the Dark Side ...

Lyn said...

I love the ever increasing maddness, there is a beat like Poe. A good, chilling tale!

Steve Isaak said...

Exemplary, effective in its language and structuring - mood-effective and quietly amazing.