It started out like any other winter day in South Texas. Gray, gloomy, not too cold but not warm – a hint of fog to add another layer of gray to an already blah landscape.
The first indication that something was amiss was the snow. Fifty degrees outside, and it starts snowing. At first it was just a few flakes here and there. Then the temperature started to drop, and the snow kept falling. Soon, wind began whipping at the flakes, sending them sideways. Before an hour had passed, the temperature had fallen 20 degrees and a foot of snow was on the ground.
All in a city that last saw snow 30 years ago, and even then it was a fine dusting that melted in hours.
In the chaos that ensued, no one noticed the lanky, tanned man standing in the middle of a Whataburger parking lot, staring in satisfaction at the sky. Drivers were too busy trying to control their cars as they skidded across streets suddenly slicked with ice. After all, in a city where drivers panic even driving in the rain, snow and ice were too much for their sensibilities. Even the snow birds, made lax by usually sunny skies and moderate temperatures, were having issues dealing with the sudden blizzard.
The man smiled and thought to himself, “Humans are so easily distracted.”
He adjusted the straw cowboy hat incongruously perched on a head of long sunbleached hair, brushed a spec of lint off the lapel of his loud Hawaiian shirt, and made his way into the fast food chain. The fact that everyone around him was hunched over in the cold, pulling forgotten sweatshirts and jackets out of their cars, while he walked erect clad only in an unbuttoned shirt drew a few glances, but for the most part, peoples’ eyes slid right past him, the oddity forgotten in the wonder and worry caused by the snow and ice now bulleting down from the sky.
Instead of standing at the counter to order, he sat at a booth in the corner somewhat isolated from the few diners inside. Neither restaurant employees or customers paid any attention to him – their eyes were riveted to the winterscape that had suddenly appeared outside the windows.
He checked his watch, frowning as he noticed his expected company was already five minutes late. He hated wasting time.
A disturbance in the air drew his attention to the seat across from him. What was an empty seat a few seconds ago was now occupied by a woman. Her long black hair was pulled severely back in a bun, and dramatic make-up accented her eyes. Blood red lips curled with slight disdain as she looked around the garish orange and white fast food decor. Only the male patrons seemed to take note of her presence. Eyes lingered appreciatively, until she turned her gaze back upon them. She may have been gorgeous, but she was also intimidating as Hell. Hers was the expression most people imagined when one mentioned “Resting Bitch Face.”
An impatient huff escaped her as she turned back to the man.
“Well?” she asked with a wave of her hand. “You asked for a meet. Here I am, what do you want, G-”
“In this form, I am known as Kevin,” he interrupted.
She looked him up and down. “Well, Kevin, you look a little far from the coast in that get up, don’t you think?”
“It amuses me,” he replied. “Besides, I’m on my way to Hawaii. I just took this detour so I could handle some business before pleasure.
“And what should I call you?” he continued mildly.
She thought a moment. “Call me Lucretia.”
He snorted and caught himself before laughing outright.
“What?” she asked indignantly.
“Nothing, Lucretia,” he retorted, putting extra emphasis on her chosen name.
“Yeah, well, at least I don’t look like a surfer dude reject.”
“No, you just look like a refugee from an old Robert Palmer music video,” he snarked, miming playing a guitar woodenly while rotating his body stiffly from side to side.
“Fine, both of us need to work on our human guises. Now that we’ve established that, would you kindly tell me why I’m here?”
He looked around to see if any mortals were watching. No one paid them any attention; they still seemed mesmerized by the freak weather occurrence outside.
“We’re here because we need to discuss The List.”
She straightened in the booth, a scowl forming quickly on her face.
“What about it? You aren’t going to renege on our agreement, are you?”
“Of course not; you know I keep my word. It’s just that there has been an… unexpected development.”
“Pray, continue,” she said with a smirk. He raised an eyebrow and nodded in recognition of her pun.
“It would seem the same name appears on both of our lists,” he announced somewhat dramatically.
“That’s impossible!” she cried, a little too loudly. Several heads rotated to see what was causing the excitement. Twin glowers from both entities suddenly made any observers less curious.
“That’s impossible,” she continued more softly. “When we set this up, we made it nearly impossible for the same person to appear on both lists.”
“Apparently, ‘nearly’ impossible was not sufficient. The fact remains, we must do something about it.”
“Of course. Leaving things as they are will throw off the entire operation. We would have to nullify the wager,” Lucretia responded with growing horror on her face. “Who is this person, and how did they wind up on both lists?”
A small notebook materialized in his hand. He flipped the cover open, revealing a single name on the top sheet. Kevin slid it across the table to her.
“A woman?” she exclaimed in surprise.
“Yes, I was flabbergasted by that, myself. I triple checked the information.”
“And you’re sure her time nears,” she asked.
His look clearly expressed “duh!”
“How much time do we have until she expires?”
“According to our calculations, she will leave this world in exactly two weeks, 5 days, 20 hours, and 13 minutes.”
“An unfortunate accident caused by one of her beloved pets and a set of stairs.”
“Was that sympathy I see? Are you going soft on me?”
Her eyes flashed crimson. “Never. I can merely sympathize, as I know just how bad it can hurt when one takes a fall,” she replied sardonically, emphasizing the last word.
“Touche,” he said. After a pause he asked, “So, how do you want to handle this?”
“You’re sure she is perfectly balanced between good and sin?”
“Unfortunately, yes. I reviewed her life, and she is the most interesting mix of saint and sinner.”
“It won’t do, not at all. We have to do something to push her to one side or the other, or else our little game is ruined.” Lucretia tapped her chin, lost in thought.
As she contemplated, she became aware of the conversations going on around her. The humans seemed most distressed by the snow and ice. When she overheard a man’s voice state that it seemed like magic, her gaze snapped to Kevin’s face.
“Magic,” she blurted.
He cocked his head to one side, studying his companion for a moment. Slowly, realization dawned on his face.
“Ah, yes, what’s the one thing that all humans crave? Power. Giving her magical power would most definitely be a good test to see if she uses it for good or ill.” His eyes narrowed.
“But how do I know you or one of your minions won’t try to step in and encourage her to use it for evil?”
Lucretia slumped a little in her side of the booth.
“Unless,” he continued, “that were part of the game. If we each had a lackey there with her at all times, trying to encourage her to use her new power for either good or ill, we could not only make this more interesting, but we could also ensure the other does not step outside the bounds of good sportsmanship.”
“And neither servant is allowed to harm the other – physically, mentally, or emotionally,” she added quickly.
“Of course not,” he conceded.
Slow smiles spread across both of their faces.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Lucretia stated with a satisfied grin, “but our little game just got more fun.”
Across the city, the woman in question burrowed further under the quilts on her bed and continued dreaming, completely unaware that the fate of the world would soon rest on her shoulders.
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Hacker. This original work is the sole property of the author, and may not be copied or reprinted without express permission of the author. Promotional links to this site are allowed.