by Grey Harlowe
It was their last chance to get dinner; the restaurant scene in town closed in an hour. Max and Claire had been arguing Mexican versus pizza, Paige wanted seafood and Boyd was ambivalent about any option. He was thirty seconds away from just heading home when they stumbled into a Chinese diner, keeping a low profile next to an arcade.
“Let’s try here,” said Max, triumphantly.
The diner had low lights and an old fashioned bar. The four coworkers, who’d worked late at their small office, sat on its round stools eating. The staff, indulgent types, left them alone.
As the meal wound down, Paige cracked a fortune cookie. Boyd, who hated them, moved to stop her. She giggled.
“Superstitious?” she asked.
“No, that’s why I don’t read these. And who’s ever heard of anything this silly actually telling someone’s future?”
Rolling her eyes, Paige opened her tiny white scroll.
“Good health will be yours for a long time.” She smiled.
“Can’t beat that,” Max said, smiling back. Everyone knew the ex-lovers had been considering reconciliation, delayed while Paige endured a cancer scare. The final tests weren’t back, but it appeared she’d dodged mastectomy.
“Indeed,” said Claire. “I’m next.” Slowly, she recited, “A new wardrobe will accompany great change.”
“Like you need improvement,” Paige said. They all nodded. Claire was often mistaken for a model. “Do yours, Max.”
Max hesitated, then read, “You will be successful in your work. Hmm. Maybe Chuck will lay off soon.” Their boss had been giving Max a hard time. Rumor was, Chuck was unhappy with Max’s pitch to a big overseas client. Chuck was impatient for their product, eco-friendly playground material, to go international.
Pressured by his friends, Boyd opened his cookie.
“You will soon be crossing the great waters.” He was greeted with cackling laughter.
“Ouch,” said Paige. “You don’t think that means—”
“What does it sound like? Is there ambiguity there?” Max teased. “No wonder you hate these cookies, bro.”
“Helpful,” said Boyd, trying to stay brave. The reason he avoided fortune cookies was to avoid tempting fate.
He drove home apprehensive.
It turned out, he’d had cause to be afraid.
The next morning at work, he arrived to a grim scene. Paige was in the breakroom, staring at her coffee mug. Max and Chuck were facing off in the doorway of Chuck’s office, clearly having had a harsh exchange. Eventually, Max stormed out. Boyd could hear someone crying in the bathroom. It sounded like Claire.
“What’s going on?” he asked Paige.
“Well,” Paige said, “Claire’s pregnant. I’m surprised we didn’t notice, but she’s been…dressing to hide it.” Paige looked at the wall. Both recalled the ominous ‘new wardrobe’ fortune.
“Gets worse,” she continued. “Claire admitted affairs with both Max and Chuck. Paternity’s up in the air. Max is dealing, but Chuck’s pissed enough he fired him.”
Boyd gulped. He wasn’t shocked; Chuck was a territorial guy.
“How’re you dealing?” This couldn’t have done Paige’s intended reunion with Max any favors.
“Fine, I guess,” she said. “Doc’s office called. My tests are normal.”
It became surreal. Claire fled the bathroom, tears streaming. Paige followed Claire downstairs. Boyd and Chuck soon heard the women arguing in the street, alongside Max’s voice. Then tires squealing. Screams. Paige would enjoy her ‘good health’ an eternity.
After the funeral, Claire disappeared. So did Max, to search for her. Chuck told Boyd that Boyd would take over their new European account, which Max had been successful at securing in the end. Boyd was to leave immediately, courtesy of a trip on the client’s cruise line.
Crossing the great waters after all, Boyd thought bitterly.
The third day out, Max surprised Boyd beside his deck chair. He looked livid. About his firing, his lost women, or both, Boyd decided.
“I’ve felt so guilty,” Boyd said “Mine was the only nice fortune. Here I am, crossing the water.”
“Don’t feel guilty,” said Max, blood in his eye. “Fortune didn’t say you’d be crossing back.”
Grey Harlowe’s fiction has been featured on Every Writers Resource and Microhorror.com. She is the 2014 winner of the Saugus.net annual ghost story competition, and has also been published in the journal, The Last Line.