Short Story: “Wager”

Well, remember how I said I’d be posting one of my older stories? Read on if you’re interested. Before we get to the story, a little bit of background…

The following is narrated by Isis Malone. I could spend a lot of time describing her, fleshing out the details of her character, but I think it’s better if you discover her on your own. What I will say is: this story introduces Isis to the reader at a point in her life when she’s already fully entrenched in the supernatural. She’s been traveling all over her world and searching for clues about her father’s mysterious death. And along the way, fighting off some serious threats. With help from an unlikely ally, she’s on a mission to hunt and destroy the dangerous and demented creatures that threaten to overtake humanity. She’s about to find our that she still has plenty to learn.

The story begins with her just having finished off her latest foe and storming away from her partner after they get into an argument. She’s angry and looking for a way to blow off some steam, so she walks into the closest bar she can find…

Wager

Isis Malone

            I took a seat next to the biggest guy I could see at the bar. My first guess when I walked in the door was that he had to be close to seven feet tall, and not what you would consider skinny. That estimate was wrong by almost a foot, since his legs were nearly as tall as me. Even seated on his stool with his feet firmly on the floor, his knees threatened to scrape the bar top. He wore plain black pants, made from a thick material, and a large, fur-lined coat with a hood that might have served as a tent for someone my size. Nothing about him gave me any indication of the sort of work he did, but I doubted that someone so naturally bulky ended up working behind a desk. I didn’t think a cubicle could fit him properly. His hands seemed too big for a human, but I suppose for someone his size they were just right. The large glass of beer he held in his hand seemed almost childlike in his grasp. A promising challenge, if the stranger would entertain my idea. I had a nice sum of cash and the desire to get very drunk.

If I managed to make even more money while doing it, well that was a bonus.

“Interested in a wager?” I asked him. “It involves drinking, which I suspect you’re here to do anyway.”

He signaled the bartender first, and then turned to answer me with a grin on his face. A big face at that, with a jaw and chin combo that reminded me of a wide spade that tapered down to a point. The structure of this jutting monstrosity was visible even through his thick, black beard. He kept his hair tied back in some sort of ponytail/braid combination, a look that probably would have made anyone else appear too feminine. On this guy it just magnified his presence. I looked into his eyes, their color deep golden amber that almost matched the beer he held, and I sensed that he was older than he looked. His voice came out in a low, almost perfectly unaccented growl. I didn’t think that English was his first language, even though he spoke it well.

“I’d have to say that’s my favorite word,” he said. “Gets my blood going whenever I hear it. Wager.”

I believe he actually shuddered a bit as he spoke the word, that little all-body tingle that always makes me think of an orgasm.

“Look, I’m not interested in how you get your kicks. Was that a yes or a no?”

My expression never changed. My mouth a straight, serious line. Maybe it was the way I had to look up at him from such an extreme angle, or maybe he thought I was joking. He laughed and pounded on the polished wood, sending a great rattle down the bar, as though he’d heard the punch line to a hilarious joke. I kept looking up, waiting for him to answer. The smell of his breath floated down toward me and almost made my eyes water. A strong, almost spicy scent lingered in the air. Some of the other patrons started to pay attention to us, with only a few actually trying to hide their interest. I’m sure it all made for one hell of a sight. A little woman like me, legs dangling from my stool, glaring up at such a behemoth and making demands.

By that time the bartender made it over.

“How I do I know you’re serious?” asked the big man. “I don’t like to bet for small stakes.”

I pulled out the money. Some of it was covered in writing, still legal but barely resembling its original form. Even the cleanest bills folded in odd ways or had some small rips along their edges. Once I got the bulk of it out of my pocket it made an odd, disheveled-looking mountain. In total it was worth more than most people made in a week.

“I didn’t have a chance to count it yet,” I said. “Had to grab it all in a hurry.”

“Do either of you want a drink?” the bartender asked. “Planning on spending that?”

“I’ll have a bottle of vodka and two glasses also.”

The big man raised his eyebrows at this, mocking me with a comically surprised look. Now normally I would take offense at that sort of thing, but I’ll be honest with you: I went into that bar looking for trouble. Any other time I would have been reaching for a weapon and challenging him not two seconds after he had laughed in my face. Instead I smiled, just a quick one, and waited for the booze.

“What’s your name?” I asked him. “I can’t just call you ‘Ugly’ all night.”

Another roar of laughter came rushing out of him. He started to answer me, but he turned and saw our bottle was on the way. At the time I didn’t find it odd that he was quiet when the bartender approached us, but eventually it fell into place with some of the other details. When we were left to ourselves again, he picked up the vodka and read from the label. The bottle looked ridiculous in his hands, like a toy. Made me wonder if they made little plastic mini-bars for boys, the more masculine setup for those kids that wanted to make pretend without needing one of those kitchens with all the fake pots and pans. I figured that idea probably got shot down at the marketing table. Someone would say that it promoted underage drinking. The bottle came crashing down, hard enough to cause a bang but not shatter, and tore me away from my musings. The giant next to me was saying something.

“Did you hear me, little girl?” he said.

“No, actually I was gleaning the refuse of my somewhat addled mind. What were you saying?”

“What I said was: What makes you think I like vodka?”

That time I laughed. I picked up the bottle and poured myself a drink.

“I know I like vodka,” I said as I raised my glass. “I don’t care if you like it or not.”

He watched me drink close to a third of what I’d poured, a little more than two shots, and nodded. If he expected me to sputter and choke, or maybe make some screwed up face, he was shit out of luck. As he was about to find out, I could really drink.

“Marvin,” he said.

“Like the Martian?” I tried to picture that freak of nature dressed in an oversized costume of the cartoon character, complete with his helmet and white shoes. Quite an image.

Marvin just looked at me, a blank stare that told me my reference went soaring over him.

“Forget it,” I said. “Way before your time, I guess.”

“But not yours? You don’t look a day older than twenty, and yet you talk like some old-timer.”

That one actually stung a little. Not because he meant anything by it, I mean he was convinced I couldn’t be older than I looked, but because he was right. I sounded old. And his talk of me looking twenty was a classic lie that women love to hear, the kind that both people know is a lie but at least one of them wants to believe.

“I guess I need to update my trivia.”

“Not to worry,” he said. “I wouldn’t know the first thing about anything around here. You could say I’m just visiting.”

I finished the rest of my drink and started on the second without delay. Getting beyond the sober state takes time for someone like me. How would I describe it? I know I’m not invincible, because my death had come really close on more than one occasion. To say that I’m immortal might be closer to the truth. That night when I walked into the bar, I was steadily approaching my fiftieth birthday. No one would ever have guessed. My face showed no signs of ageing, my features stayed strong and defined. I looked to be about thirty years old, in perfect health, and (dare I say it?) pretty good looking, too. Agelessness is only one of the perks of my immortality. Among other things, my body learned to strengthen itself against all manner of foreign substances, including alcohol. In the first few years after I’d discovered my more than healthy tolerance—well you can imagine the sort of shit I got myself into. Sure, I was still capable of getting drunk. The process simply became a much longer and difficult one to complete.

The first few drinks barely even registered on the drunken scale. Like stretching before a real hard workout or tuning an instrument before a live show, they only got me to the starting line. I suspected I would finish off most of that bottle by myself, unless Marvin decided to join me. The second glass still waited.

“I see you’re going to make me ask,” he said. “I’ve given you my name. How about yours?”

“I really don’t think my name would suit you too well, Marvin. It’s not one of those names that can go for a boy or a girl, like Taylor. That’s an awful name, by the way.”

Marvin grabbed the vodka and filled the other glass for himself. Game on.

“This wager you mentioned,” he said. “Are the terms negotiable?”

“Depends on what you mean.”

“Aside from any cash involved, if I win then you tell me your name. How does that sound?”

I considered his terms. There didn’t seem to be much harm in telling him, since he claimed to be from somewhere else. My name could cause all sorts of trouble if someone recognized it from the news reports or heard it in a story somewhere. Someone new in town or just in the area for some business might not have any idea who I was. Either way, I could always lie to him if I lost. How the hell would he know the difference?

“I can do that. But what if I win, what do I get aside from money?”

His grin reappeared. I thought his face might split at both sides if he smiled any bigger. I was expecting a come-on of some kind. What he said to me turned out to be the most pivotal part of our entire conversation. The one part that I paid way too little attention to.

What he said next should have started all manner of alarms going in my head. Whether I was too hell bent on getting drunk or just having an off night, I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.

“Well, in the unlikely event that you win,” he said, “I will owe you a favor. Anything you want, I’ll be more than happy to provide.”

“That sounds too good to be true,” I said. “But it’s always good to have a blank check.”

I grimaced and took another gulp.

“What kind of favor are we talking here?” I said. “I might not be in town much longer, and as you said, you’re not from around here.”

Some part of me kept trying to convince myself that the vodka would start to taste better. The taste made me think someone stored it in an old garbage can. I considered asking for something else, but once I killed my second drink I decided there would be no going back.

And I was secretly hoping that Marvin hated the stuff as much as I did.

“Plus,” I said as I refilled my glass, “how do I know you could even help me? I got some serious problems, Marvin. Some of them are even bigger than you.”

Instead of answering me, he looked down into his glass and shook it just enough to get the vodka moving around. He didn’t seem too thrilled by the thought of finishing it.

“So the idea is, what, you plan on out-drinking me tonight?” he asked.

“You got it.”

“Can I pick the next bottle? This stuff is horrible.”

The lights that hung over us were just bright enough to see by, but smoke drifted around the room and covered everything in a haze. One guy sat alone at a corner table smoking. I’d been there less than a half-hour and he must have worked his way through half the pack already. Nothing about that made me blink askew, but I was a little creeped out by how quietly he puffed away the time. He never coughed or stopped to clear his throat. I was reminded of his presence only when a fresh cloud of smoke passed by me.

Marvin started on his second drink right as I moved to finish my third. The bottle was empty.

“Are you paying for the drinks?” he asked. “That could get expensive.”

“Why not?” I said. “I plan on winning, so it shouldn’t cost me too much.”

When the bartender started toward us with another bottle of the same vodka, Marvin held his hand out in a STOP gesture.

“Please, please,” he said. “We’re in need of something that tastes better. The lady assures me that she’s buying.”

I nodded when our host turned to me for confirmation.

“You know, I figured you had something in mind,” I said. “Gods know what he’ll be bringing us to drink.”

“It could hardly be worse than this.”

The next bottle ended up being some kind of whiskey with a strong but not unpleasant taste that crept onto the taste buds long after it had passed through the lips. I found myself drinking more steadily as each glassful disappeared. Marvin made a fairly successful attempt to catch up to me, his fourth and fifth drinks going down in less than a minute. The conversation between us picked up and left off in short bursts. Most of our audience packed up their belongings and left once it became clear that our wager would be going into extra innings. Still, a few guys sitting at three or four tables kept a marked interest in us as the night progressed. They spoke freely, and sometimes loudly, across the tables to each other. I guessed that they were regulars, letting off some pent up energy after a slow day at work. Their presence didn’t seem to affect Marvin one bit, and I personally enjoyed it. I felt sure of my eventual victory over my towering drinking companion, so I looked forward to gloating over my win.

At that point the only worry I had was whether or not the bar would stay open late enough for our contest to finish. I looked at the old clock hanging behind the bar, realized it was just past midnight, and figured I could easily spend a couple more hours drinking. Even by that point I was only on my twelfth drink. I noticed that Marvin started to fill his glass closer to the top with each refill, so I matched him and said nothing about it.

Marvin started us back up again, leading with a question that I’d been hoping to avoid.

“I noticed that you were in quite the mood when you walked through the door,” he said. “What’s made you so angry?”

I didn’t want to tell Marvin about my problems, I figured he would never believe me, but I felt that I owed him some explanation.

“It’s all very complicated, and I doubt I could explain it even if we stayed here drinking all the way through tomorrow night. But the short version is this: I had a disagreement earlier about something very important.”

“If I may ask, with whom did you have this disagreement, as you call it?”

I told him the truth. Part of it, anyway.

“I guess you could call him a colleague. A partner, even.”

Marvin’s eyes seemed to open a touch wider. He looked more interested than before.

“I see,” he said. “This is because of a man. I should have guessed it. You work with him, but I wonder. Is there more to this partnership?”

“If he had it his way there might be, Marvin.”

He looked at me with searching intensity, a measuring gaze that might have looked intimidating if he’d been standing up at that moment. I could tell he wanted to ask me more questions, but his politeness kept him from probing too much. I respected his caution. Too many people I’d met thought that acquaintance was akin to friendship, but the truth was that I stopped making friends long ago. Trust became the most valuable currency there was, and often even those that earned mine found it difficult to break through my self-imposed barrier. Marvin looked hard for that line and decided better than trying to cross it without an invitation.

“You do not wish to talk about this,” he said.

“Bet your ass I don’t.”

“That is an expression I have not heard in some time.”

“I guess I’m dating myself again, huh?”

He sounded off another booming laugh, drawing a few looks once more.

“Anyone would be lucky to date you, my friend.”

“Please save your energy and stop lying to me.” I grabbed our latest bottle. “There’s still drinking to be done, sir.”

“As you say.”

The remainder of our night went by with little talk and a whole lot more drink. I found myself getting warmer and feeling the first twinges of intoxication. The last time I drank so much was about a year before, the experience felt like getting back together with an old friend. Before that I’d been on quite a run, outlasting even the most hardened old drunks in every city I wandered into. I realized very gradually that my anger was falling off, replaced by the dull joy of forgetfulness. I looked over at Marvin to see how he was faring, and much to my surprise he seemed no drunker than when I walked in the door. I should have been worried by that point, considering the unbelievable quantities of hard liquor we’d both locked away. If my count to that point was still accurate, which I started to question, then I was approaching my forty-fifth drink and Marvin was in the process of pouring his forty-third. The bartender kept the bottles coming our way, but after a while I noticed that he started to keep an eye on us. If he had any misgivings about serving us lethal amounts of liquor he hid them well. I was dimly aware of the fact that no human being should be able to consume so much alcohol in such a short time. Marvin should have fallen off his stool long before then.

Like a moron, I took note of that fact and promptly said, ‘Eh, fuck it.’

I lost all sense of time as I started to move from the boundaries of being buzzed into a good solid smashed. I felt fairly sure that I still had my reflexes and wits, but until I got off my seat that was just a guess. By my rough calculations, the two of us had already drunk somewhere around seven hundred dollars’ worth. Even by then I had no intention of conceding.

Our host walked over and quietly inserted himself into our midst. He looked tired and a little nervous.

“Look I appreciate your business, both of you,” he pulled an old rag from his belt and used it to wipe the sweat from his forehead, “but I need to start closing up this place. I’ll never be able to get those other guys outta here if you two won’t leave.”

He turned and nodded at the tables where a group of the locals still huddled over half-finished beers.

“Well, ain’t that a bitch,” I said. I could be wrong, but I think the last word came out more like ‘bisch’ as I fought through the haze of my booze-soaked thoughts. “Looks like we’re not gonna get a chance to finish after all, Marv.”

Marvin looked at me for a long few seconds before nodding very slowly and finishing the rest of his drink.

“S’ok, really,” he said. “I was just about to quit. No other way to end this thing, I think.”

“Look, lady,” said the bartender, “I think this guy’s got it right. I just hope you two have enough left to walk out of here without some help.”

If I tried to stretch it out any more, I’d simply be imposing upon the guy. He needed to get out of there and get off his feet. We were his last roadblock to a nice bed and some quality rest. I cursed, maybe a little too loudly, and slowly got up from my stool. Time to call it a night.

The room threatened to spin out of control briefly, but a couple of deep breaths set everything back in its full upright position. I watched Marvin lumber up from his own seat, slow moving but not showing signs of any real impairment. I was impressed and a little shocked. Some part of me expected that the two of us would fall over in a heap the second we tried to leave. So far we were exceeding my rather low expectations.

I paid the tab we’d run up, a little more than I had guessed, and thanked the bartender for putting up with our night-long binge. He didn’t count the money in front of me, but I was sure that he would eventually find out about the large tip I left for him.

As I scooped the rest of the disheveled looking money into my hands, I found Marvin standing next to me.

“How we gonna settle this?” I asked. “Nobody really won, I guess.”

“Are you walking somewhere? We can talk about it on the way.”

I don’t usually travel with strangers, but at this point I had my doubts about making it home on my own. I shrugged and motioned him to follow me out. As we walked out the doors and into the quiet streets, I heard the sounds of the last patrons getting ready to leave behind us.

Marvin walked beside me down the lighted sidewalk, taking the side nearest the traffic, and his shadow stretched almost all the way across the street. With both of our soles touching the ground, I felt tiny and exposed next to his hulking form. I didn’t say anything at first, as I struggled to see and think clearly through the gallons I’d consumed, and Marvin was equally silent. Once I felt a little more coherent, I spoke up.

“I’m not sure how to handle this, you know. I really thought I was going to win.”

I laughed a little and almost stumbled right onto the pavement. Marvin caught me and pulled me upright with about as much effort as it takes to lift a salt shaker.

“The way I see it,” he said, “you did win. I conceded back there, after all. That makes you the winner, right?”

“Bullshit, Marv. That’s bullshit and you know it. I’m starting to think you went easy on me, anyway. I dunno how you did it, but you really can drink a lot.”

I heard a series of voices from behind us, but I still felt too unsteady to look back while we were walking.

“I didn’t win anything, and neither did you since you quit like an asshole. So the whole thing’s moot, if you ask me.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed that you’re an angry drunk, my friend. It does not suit you very well.”

“I’m not even as drunk as I was a couple minutes ago. Seems like a waste.”

That was only partially true. While I could slowly feel myself swimming up from the depths, I still had a long way to go before I could call myself sober. I was angry, but only because I felt cheated. I wanted to win, to prove something, but instead I had only proved what a waste of time and money the night had been. We were walking away with nothing solved, our audience gone, and it all left me feeling petulant.

The part about our audience turned out to be quite wrong, however. Voices were now getting louder behind us, and I saw Marvin take a quick look over his shoulder. He leaned down some and quietly filled me in on what he saw back there.

“Looks like those men from the bar decided to follow us,” he said. “I think they saw you stuff all that money into your pockets on the way out.”

“And here I was thinking the night was all over and done.”

Marvin slowed his pace and carefully took me by the arm. I looked up at him and raised one eyebrow, or at least I think I did.

“How would you like to handle this situation?” he asked me.

“Let’s assume you’re right, that they are looking to get my money. I’m sure as shit not just going to give it to them.”

“I never imagined you would.”

“So I’m gonna fight, is my point. What about you, big guy?”

Marvin never answered my question. He simply stopped moving forward and turned to face the men behind us. I turned once I realized that I was the only one walking. By the time I got back to Marvin, the guys from the bar were only a few feet away. No one had said anything yet, but I think by that point pretty much everyone knew what to expect next. A couple of the guys looked wasted, easy enough to fend off if need be, but the rest looked clear-eyed. I did some quick math and found out that Marv and I were seriously outnumbered. The two of us would be taking on ten adult males. Not very good odds in any circumstance, but in that particular case I had more than most people going against me.

I hunt monsters for a living, so I’m used to getting into a fight. Most of those fights end up with someone or something dead on the ground. I enjoyed the sensations of battle and, I’ll admit it, I sometimes reveled in the moment of cutting down my foe. Years and years of armed combat honed my skills and made me more comfortable in a battle than anywhere else.

If we found ourselves facing ten vampires I would have been eager to jump in, but fighting humans was a different story. I couldn’t just pull out my sword and start slashing away like I would in any other situation. Even as drunk as I was I felt pretty confident in my ability to take out a large group of men, but only if it meant killing them. The choices in front of me really sucked. I could fight fair and probably lose, since I was drunk and only weighed about one-twenty with all my gear on. Or I could draw my weapon and murder some people that probably didn’t deserve it. Even if they did have intentions of robbing me.

I had no way of knowing how Marvin would fare in a brawl, but I guessed that his size and strength would probably give him a better chance than me.

At least he was on my side.

The fighting started almost immediately when both sides got close enough to throw the first punch. I couldn’t tell you who actually did throw that first punch, except that it wasn’t me. I felt someone’s fist slam into my left cheek as I tried to shield my eye from the blow. Whichever guy hit me first, he definitely knew how to punch. I got my arms up in time to block the next incoming hit, but I was not in good shape to defend myself from what I imagined would be at least three or four attackers. When the stinging in my face subsided a little, I took a step back and ducked the next attack aimed for me. I managed to trip the guy that came for me and I made an effort to step on his head as I circled away from the rest.

Marvin made some scary noises as he fought the rest of them. I didn’t even have to look over to know it was him. The sounds were similar in tone to his huge laugh, only these were more like war cries. Again I felt very glad that he was with me.

I set my feet and got into a more defensible position as the other two, make that three, guys came after me. The one in front moved too slow to hit me and I dodged both of his clumsy swipes. A good kick in the groin was enough to neutralize him, for a little while at least. Part of me felt bad for using a low blow, but then I remembered that someone was trying to rob me. His friends didn’t hesitate to jump over his prone body and come at me. After seeing what happened to their buddies before them, they decided to attack me in unison.

From the corner of my peripheral vision I watched someone go flying through the air, arms flailing and a dazed cry of panic escaping, and land somewhere out of my sight.

Two against one was a little fairer for these guys, and I found myself having to work more to keep up. I took a straight right from one of them, but that punch didn’t have much behind it. While he tried to regain his balance, I stepped in close to him and used every bit of strength I could muster to shove him sideways. He stumbled right onto his partner and they ended up slamming into the ground in a tangle. All of this happened very fast, but by then the first two men I’d put down were already back on their feet and coming back for seconds. The guy whose nuts I’d rearranged snarled at me and pulled out a knife from inside his coat.

I started to question my choice of fighting without a weapon.

Fighting off two men is not easy, but fighting off two men when one has a knife is much harder. I tried to keep moving, forcing them to chase me around a little, and I hoped I would catch them in a compromised position. I realized that my time was running out, though. Within seconds all four men would be up and ready to surround me. If that happened, I would almost certainly be getting cut. I looked over to see Marvin struggling against five men at once, one of them literally hanging from Marvin’s back with his arms around the giant’s neck.

My time was up as they realized the position I was in and started to approach me from all angles. I thought for sure I was about to get stabbed, but that’s when the air started to heat up. It would have been hard to miss in the cold winter night: one minute my breath was coming out in clouds, the next I felt every inch of my body sweating. All of my attackers seemed stunned into silence, their assault forgotten as they stared behind me in disbelief. I used their hesitation to charge past one and knock him to the ground. When I gained enough distance to be out of their range, I turned and looked to see what had caused the commotion.

Marvin was on fire.

He didn’t scream or flail his arms around. He looked perfectly calm, serene, as the fire coated his entire body and leapt out from him in darting tongues. I didn’t know what I was seeing, except that it defied most of what accounted for accepted science in those days. Marvin stood there wreathed in flames, his clothes somehow intact and not being consumed by the fire. I knew the fire was real, I could feel the heat rising more and more. When he spoke, his voice crackled and popped like the fire around him.

“Enough of this,” he said. “I will grant each of you your lives if you run now. You would be wise to accept this gift.”

I heard one of the men on the ground whimpering, while the ones closest to Marvin were scurrying away with one hand over their eyes to shield themselves from his brilliance. Once he finished speaking it didn’t take long for all of them to run from us. Some screamed and cried in fear, while others backed away without ever taking their eyes off of Marvin. I think I heard someone yelling for their mother as they retreated into the night.

In spite of the growing fear I felt inside me, I walked over to Marvin and faced him. The fire began to dwindle and soon he looked normal again. I had no idea what to say, so I waited.

“Do you not fear me?” he asked.

That made me laugh real hard, but in that high-pitched nervous way that people often do when they’re on the edge of their sanity. I had seen some things in my life, but this was certainly a unique event for me.

“I fear you plenty, Marv. I just figured, since we’re friends and all, that maybe you’d also give me the gift of my life.”

I had about one second to realize that I’d been a smartass, and that maybe it wasn’t the best strategy in that situation.

Marvin’s smile returned once more and I realized that he had no intentions of setting me on fire.

“I was a bit overdramatic, I suppose,” he said. “But I thought it would be unwise to hold back any longer. It would be a shame to see you killed by the likes of them.”

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Thank you for totally saving my ass.”

“You are most welcome.”

I stood there feeling rather foolish, lacking anything useful to say at such a moment. Was there even a right thing to say?

“There is still the matter of our wager,” Marvin said. “I am not one to take my promises lightly.”

“But we talked about this, Marv. I didn’t—”

“Regardless of your opinion,” he stressed the word, “I did concede. I owe you a favor.”

My head started to swim a little, partially because of the drastic temperature changes but mostly because of the implications of what Marvin, or whatever his name was, had just said to me. A favor is nothing to laugh at, but in this case I figured that the favor would be worth more than having a buddy to help you move into a new apartment.

“You just saved my life, you know. I’d think most people would call us even.”

“I am not most people. In fact, as you know, I am not people at all.”

Hell of a night it was turning out to be, I’ll tell ya.

“This is so crazy,” I said. “I just spent the night drinking in a bar with a… what are you? I don’t know what to call you. I’d call you a genie, but you’re not exactly a big blue cartoon character.”

He stood silently and watched as I babbled, with an amused smile still on his face the whole time. He waited for me to stop talking.

“What I am called, or what I am, is not important at the moment.” Easy for him to say. “I will grant you a favor. A wish, as your genie might call it. I would advise you to think very hard about what it is you want and consider all the possibilities.”

All the possibilities. When he said it like that, the only thing that seemed impossible was deciding what I wanted. The struggles I had been through, the confrontations I had somehow survived, all flashed through my memory in a blur. What could have helped me in those spots? What advantage had I always wanted but never been able to get? There seemed to be an endless number of choices, and perhaps there was. None of them made quite as much sense to me as the one that I ultimately chose.

“I want to be bigger,” I said. “Not just taller or more muscular, but bigger in every way. That’s what I ask of you. I want to be larger and be more capable of physical growth than a human can be.”

My huge friend stared at me, his eyes expressionless and his face a blank mask.

“I can grant you this,” he said. “I will give you one more chance to change your mind. Are you sure that this is what you will ask of me?”

With all the choices in front of me, I had chosen one that seemed rather bland. I never doubted the worth of my decision, but in that moment I had time to consider just how worthy it might be compared to others. I could stand there and debate until the sun rose, but in the end I felt in my core that my first choice was the correct one. I was tired of being the little one in every situation.

“I’m sure of it.”

“That is good. I can see your conviction in this matter. Others before you have chosen hastily and come to regret their pick. I doubt that you will have such regrets.”

And with no goodbye or last parting words, Marvin turned away and started to walk.

“Wait a minute,” I said scrambling after him, “how does this work?”

He slowed down to let me catch up to him, but he never stopped walking.

“That is something which I could not hope to explain to you in the time we have now. You have my word that what you have asked of me will be so.”

I was hardly in a position to doubt him, given all the pyrotechnics he’d displayed before.

“You have my thanks,” I said. “For my life and more. I don’t know how I can ever make things square between us.”

“I do not expect any such thing.”

An idea floated up from somewhere in my head, and though it seemed pitiful for an offering I gave it up nonetheless.

“My name is Isis,” I said. “I never told you before, but I figure you more than earned the right to know it.”

At this he stopped once again and turned to face me. He rested his large hands on my shoulders, a gentle but powerful force holding me there.

“I know your name, Isis Malone. And I know more about you than you know yourself. I think that perhaps some day you will be a force that shapes this world in ways no one could imagine.”

I was shocked, purely. I probably shouldn’t have been, but his words had a powerful effect on me. He turned and walked away again, but this time I could not muster the will to follow him. My feet seemed stuck there, but I didn’t want the encounter to end. I called out to him one last time.

“You said some day I would be. What am I now?” I asked.

I heard the longing and desperation in my own voice, and hated it. Sometimes we ask questions that have been dwelling inside us longer than we ever realized.

“My best guess,” said Marvin without turning back to face me, “is you’re an alcoholic.”

I knew even without seeing his face that he wasn’t smiling anymore.

—————————————————————END——————————————————————

OK, if you made it this far–thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. I’d really like to know what you thought about it. Did you like it? Did you think it sucked? Please feel free to comment, as your feedback would be very helpful for me. (Not you, Catherine! I already know you like it.)

I have a follow-up to this story that I’m working on. I’m considering putting that one up here, too, if there’s enough interest.

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