Convenient Incidents

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The Incense Salesman
Snakebite

Happy Anniversary

Happy anniversary babe! I’m sorry I can’t come see you today – I’m just way, way too busy – but I wanted to send you this letter because three whole years is a big deal. If you’re around tomorrow we’ll go for a hike or something, so long as you’re cool with celebrating a day late. Also, you should be getting a gift in the mail today. If it didn’t come, blame the post office. Not me.
From,
Megan

Darren lets the letter fall down to his desk. He takes the box in his hands – it’s about the size of a Bluetooth speaker and made of a cheap cardboard, not the good stuff Amazon uses – and shakes it, trying to distract himself by guessing what’s inside. It doesn’t work.

‘What is she so busy with that she can’t come and see me?’ he wonders to himself as he digs through his pencil mug for the little sword letter opener he has. ‘She hardly lives fifteen minutes away.’

Wielding his blade, Darren slices through the yellowish tape holding the top flaps down, then he slices through the tape holding them together. He dumps out the contents of the box – it’s loaded with packing peanuts and three more boxes. The first is a wide and somewhat flat unmarked cardboard box; within it are two incense burners, reddish oak disks with hunks of soapstone glued into their middles; handmade, too, as evidenced by the imperfections. Both soapstones have flower petals carved around the depression where the cone is supposed to go, and they’re both mixed in color, pink and a pale green, although one of them – the one with a crack in the disk – presents a lot more green than its partner with the frayed edge.

The other two smaller boxes contain incense cones, according to the text printed on them. One is white with a picture of a heart made of roses – the scent is called Romantic Rose, which Darren thinks is kind of cute – and the other is black with a picture of a woman wearing nothing but shirtless sleeves and black high-heel boots. A monstrous brown snake baring shark-like teeth is coiled around the woman’s naked body, constricting her right leg and revealing just about every other inch of her form aside from her mouth; in retaliation, the woman has the snake’s tongue gripped tightly in her left hand. The snake’s underbelly is plated in ghostly silver scales, and dark, black circles run from the back of its head to its tail. This scent is called Poison, and the i is even dotted with a skull, which Darren thinks is fitting; if you’re going to be lewd, you might as well take it all the way and be grim.

Upon sliding the trays out of the boxes, Darren sees that each one only contains one single cone. ‘What is this, some kind of free sample?’ Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, right? Megan didn’t need to send him anything – on their first anniversary they didn’t even talk to each other, not so much as a single text message was exchanged. It was understandable, as she was visiting a relative in Las Vegas at the time, although when Darren brought it up to her parents they told him they didn’t have any relatives living outside of northern New Jersey… anyway, it’s most definitely the thought that counts, so Darren decides to just man up and enjoy his present instead of wallowing in the pits of his mind’s most despicable what ifs.

Loading the Poison cone into the cracked burner with one hand – he decided to save the Romantic Rose cone for the next time Megan comes over in hopes it’ll get her to be romantic with him – Darren whips out his Bic with the other and sparks the tip. The flame encloses the cone’s dull head in a shell of wavering orange plasma which spouts smoke darker than the circles around Megan’s eyes after she got back from Las Vegas. The smoke fades into a lofty gray after Darren blows out the flame, and despite the scent being named Poison, it actually smells quite pleasant. So pleasant, in fact, that Darren decides to meditate.

Leaving the cone up on his desk so he doesn’t risk setting his bedroom on fire, Darren tucks his chair in and fetches a pillow from his bed. Sitting lotus on his hardwood floors always makes his legs go numb, but using the pillow helps; thirty seconds after contorting his legs, Darren’s lost in the trance.

He comes back to consciousness an unknowable amount of time later – though it couldn’t have been too long, as the cone is still releasing plumes of smog – and looks up above his desk so he can watch the smoke twirl and swirl through the air like he used to do before Megan got him to quit smoking pot.

And that’s when he sees the djinn.

The smoke gives way to the tops of her plump, supple thighs, her torso is lean and cut, her breasts are propped up by her folded arms, and her face – her terrifying, mouthless face – is tightened into a squint, her eyes sharp like fangs, digging into Darren’s soul. Her hair is dark and long but bundled, as not to flow like the haze from which she emanates.

‘State your name, mortal,’ the djinn says in Darren’s head, her essence dark and gorgonlike. At first Darren doesn’t say a thing, his body frozen like stone, but then he hears a distant rattling and remembers the snake on the box. The snake he can’t currently see.

“Darren,” he says in a voice which comes out like a sneeze: abruptly and laced with spittle.

‘You have awoken me, Darren; to return to rest, I must grant you a wish. Choose your words wisely, as the price they claim is death – though not for you.’

“Then for who?” Darren asks, but his mind stays silent and the djinn’s arms stay folded. “I will not make a wish until I know whose life that wish will be stealing, djinn; I’m familiar with your kind.”

The djinn’s eyes widen a bit at the human’s referring to her as djinn, but she keeps her arms folded. ‘Is that your wish, Darren? To know who will die upon my fulfilling of your desires?’

“No,” he says flatly, then stands up and crosses his own arms. They stare at each other for a long moment, Darren’s eyes locked on the djinn’s, the djinn’s locked right back.

Finally, ‘Nobody you’re close to, human; I am a djinn, not a devil, and a soul is a soul. I wish to go back to sleep. Make your wish with haste and quit wasting my time.’

Darren smiles with one side of his mouth. “Good, good. I want to spend my anniversary with Megan – we’ve been together for three years and I want to celebrate it correctly. That is my wish, djinn – to see my woman today.”

Though mouthless, the djinn smiles brightly. ‘So it shall be done, young man.’

The rattling of the snake’s tail grows thunderous. Darren falls to his knees and presses his palms over his ears, but it only makes the infernal clatter harder to ignore; it’s tunneling into his brain, seeping through his veins, invading his very being. His thoughts and feelings shatter into the pattern of a snake’s skin; then, his perception begins to fall away, one scale at a time.

Smoke fills the bedroom and Darren collapses in a dreamless heap, and the rattle only gets louder.

I Like You

When Darren comes to, he can still hear the rattling… wait, no, that’s not… that’s his phone. Trying to eradicate his headache by rubbing his hand against his scalp, Darren rises and drags his feet to his bed where he flops down like a fish out of water. ‘What the hell was that?’ he thinks as he reaches towards his nightstand to grab his phone.

Answering without looking at the caller ID, Darren ventures a slow, “Hello?”

“Darren! Hey babe, it’s me! How are ya?”

‘Surprised.’ “I’m doing well baby, how are you?”

“I’m gooooood,” Megan says, her voice rising in pitch as the guh approaches the uhd. “Did you get the stuff I sent you??”

It’s at this point that the memories all flood back and Darren shoots straight up like a stalk of bamboo. “Yeh– uh, yeah, I got the letter and the incense stuff. Thank you, that was…” He trails off as he gazes over to his desk and spots a dark black splotch where the incense burner was. “That was really sweet.”

He can hear Megan’s smile in her voice. “I’m glad you liked it! I got the stuff from a dude I met on Tinder, he said he was an incense salesman who liked to send out free samples. Pretty cool, right?”

“Yeah… wait, you’re on Tinder?”

Megan laughs, and Darren is sure she does so innocently, but it comes off like a scoff. “I am, but just to make friends! You got some free incense stuff out of it, so I guess it worked out pretty well for all of us. Listen, I know I said I was busy in the letter, but, like, it’s our three-year anniversary. We should probably hang out for at least a little while. You feeling up to that hike I mentioned?”

Darren certainly is feeling up to that hike, and he tells her as much, adding, “I didn’t think you really liked hiking with me, if we’re being honest with each other,” at the end.

“I like you, Dar’, it doesn’t matter what we do. But… let’s not go too deep into the woods, okay? It’s buggy out there.”

“Deal. Meet me at the pond?”

“Be there in twenty minutes.”

They both hang up at the same time, and after Darren trades his pajamas for jeans and a tee, he realizes neither of them said I love you. Whatever, it probably doesn’t matter – not all couples need to constantly remind each other they’re in love. Sometimes it’s an unspoken thing, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s better, that just shows how strong the relationship really is.

After toasting himself a bagel and slathering it with cream cheese, Darren wolfs his late breakfast and then goes to search for his car keys. He doesn’t find them within two minutes, so he calls it a lost cause and decides to walk up the road instead. Leaving his front door unlocked despite the chain of burglaries sweeping the area lately, Darren proceeds up the deceptively uphill stretch of bumpy asphalt known as Fricker Drive.

The Snake

A half hour after leaving his house – that’s forty minutes after their phone call ended – Megan pulls up to the pond and parks on the side of the road. She’s wearing a sleeveless crop top and shorts which don’t quite cover her legs, an odd choice of hiking attire if Darren’s ever seen one. Not that he’s complaining – Megan hasn’t dressed this delectably for him in a long, long time; ever, in fact, and by the way he’s looking at her all wide-eyed and such, she can tell her outfit’s producing the desired effect.

“Hey babe!” Megan chirps as she wraps her boyfriend in a tight hug. She kisses him on the cheek then breaks away, saying, “Ready for the hike?”

After picking his jaw up off the ground, Darren says, “Yeah, definitely!” Hand in hand they cross the pond’s lawn, walk over the concrete bridge (taking care to step gingerly over the tilted block which separated from the rest for God knows what reason) and embark into the forest. They follow the wide trail – Darren reminds Megan that this trail used to be a logging road in the early nineteenth century, and Megan tries to roll her eyes less obviously than she rolled her ankle a minute ago – until the second turn-off point before the main trail goes down an excruciatingly rocky hill. This looping, sidewinding side trail was dubbed Dirtbiker’s Path by a dude who used to live on Fricker Drive with his folks before everyone started moving away; Owen, his name was. Darren ran into him a few times out here – he was an odd one for sure, but he knew these woods like the back of his hand and he showed Darren all the best spots, including the glorious Raspberry Perch, a flat-topped boulder which Dirtbiker’s Path runs over after passing by a grassy rock outcrop called The Lost Colony, of all things, so long as you’re walking it in reverse, which they are, because Megan doesn’t like to be in the woods and Darren is conscious of that, so he took a shortcut to skip a big portion of the walk for her. Because he loves her, even if he doesn’t say it. The Lost Colony was the go-to spot for woods parties when Darren’s parents were still in high school, but it doesn’t get much use anymore.

Until today, that is, when Megan tugs on the back of Darren’s collar and makes him stop. “It’s so sunny over here, let’s go lay down on one of those rocks.”

Darren looks over to Raspberry, hardly twenty meters away. “The spot I wanna take you to is like ten seconds that way, let’s keep going. There are berry bushes growing over there, if they’re fruiting we can eat ‘em!”

Megan pouts. “Can we lay down on the rocks first? I’m tired from all this hiking.”

“But we’ve only been walking for like five min–”

Megan convinces Darren to lay down on the warm rocks with her, and when her shirt’s back down, she grabs his wrist and pulls him across The Lost Colony. They cross the sun-browned tall grass and climb up on a gently convex boulder with zero trees growing over it, then lay down together and soak up the rays like snakes basking in the sun. A moment later, Megan rolls over and climbs on top of Darren, then kisses him.

“What was that for?” Darren asks, sending his hands to travel where they may.

Megan smirks, allowing his hands to roam. “I dunno, I’m just feeling some type of way today… hey, you know uh… you know that thing you always ask me to do?”

Knowing damn well exactly which thing Megan is referring to, Darren plays the fool.

“You know…” she hums, moving one hand slowly down his chest until her fingers find his belt. “That special thing that I’ve never done for you before…”

Megan sits up and scoots back to Darren’s shins. Then, she begins to unlatch his belt.

“I uh…” He gulps as sweat begins to form on his temples. “I think I might…”

Megan bites her bottom lip as she unzips the zipper. Then she leans forward. The sun feels cold, frigid as an Alaskan ice box, in comparison. Darren rocks his head back with his mouth open and closes his eyes in ecstasy, and things continue along this route for a blissful minute and a half. Then, Darren jerks himself upright and shouts, “Ow, the fuck?! Why’d you bite me?” but he doesn’t even hear himself say it over Megan’s blood-curdling scream. She flops off him and rolls over on her side, grasping for her trembling left leg.

“Megan, are you okay?!” Darren pulls his pants back up and does up the zipper, then kneels over her, trying to figure out what happened. Had he not taken the time to make himself decent he would have seen the snake, the brown snake with the black circles running from the back of its head to its tail, but he didn’t, and so the gushing chop meat in the middle of his girlfriend’s calf is the only indication that she was bitten.

“I-I-I don’t know, I think a– FUCK!! I think a snake bit me!”

Darren musters another look at the wound, the oozing flayed patch of unshaped hamburger embedded into Megan’s calf, and genuinely doubts that a mere snake caused that damage. But still, semantics and specifics really don’t matter too much right now; they’re in the middle of the woods, his girlfriend of three years is bleeding, and by the sound of her cries, she’s in immense pain.

“Oh God, what do I do? What do I do?!”

I don’t know!” Megan shouts between shrill sobs of horror. “You’re the fucking hiker, what do you do?!”

Hyperventilate, apparently. Darren can’t take his eyes off the visceral wound; between his breathing and Megan’s crying the whole rest of the world just doesn’t have room to register, and so he doesn’t hear the footsteps coming up from behind them.

“What the hell is going on?” asks the voice, and Darren looks up to its speaker like a fearful man of faith witnessing God in all His glorious wrath. A young woman with long brown hair dressed in hiking attire – her backpack has a blue water tube coming out of it and everything – was standing over them before she crouched down to inspect Megan’s wound. She looks sharply at Darren and says, “This looks bad, what the fuck happened?”

“I-I-I–” he stammers, half disassociated from reality. “I don’t know, I think she got bitten by a snake, I–”

Megan screams as the random woman’s hands grip her calf on either side of the wound, the scream leveling up into a howl when she squeezes. “A snake? It looks like she was shot by a fucking shotgun! You’re sure it was a snake?”

“WHAT THE FUCK ELSE WOULD HAVE BITTEN ME?!” Megan screams, thinking she’s talking to Darren.

“Okay… okay, hold on.” The woman bends low and puts her mouth over the swollen hole in Megan’s leg, then begins to suck. She comes up to spit out venom-laced blood four times before she has to stop and retch. “I can’t… there’s too much blood, I don’t know if it’s working.” She then faces Darren. “You got a phone on you?”

Daren shakes his head no, feeling too nauseous to speak.

“It’s fine, I have mine. Listen, I’m going to call an ambulance, yo–”

“NO!” Darren shouts. “Neither of us have insurance, there’s no way we can afford an ambulance!”

“Then how the fuck are you going to get her to a hospital? I’m parked on the other side of the Monksville Dam, it would take me at least forty minutes to get back there, and that’s if I ran.”

“Uh… UH…” Darren uhs as dots and stars begin to flood his vision. He feels a crack across his face, then looks back up at the woman, who’s rubbing her hand.

“Sorry, but you kinda needed it. I’m not from around here, dude; even if I could get my car here in ten seconds, I don’t know how to get to a hospital. You need to get her there, so how are you going to do it?”

“Uh… she, she parked her car by the pond, I can drive her.”

“Good. What’s your cell number?”

Carried by the moment, Darren gives this random woman his cell phone number without asking questions.

She saves it under Snakebite. “Okay. I’m going to run back to my car now. You’re going to carry her to the pond, throw her in her car, and go straight to the nearest hospital. Break the fucking speed limit, because that bite looks bad. I’ll call you when I get back and you’ll give me the name of the hospital, then I’ll meet you there. Okay?”

“Wuh, why are you go–”

She slaps him again. “Because I just sucked out a bunch of her blood and I’m going to need a fucking myriad of tests performed on me, and I have insurance like a rational human being so I’m not afraid of getting myself help. Now stop asking questions and fucking go!”

Darren stops asking questions and fucking goes. The woman helps him get Megan, who’s weeping has grown disconcertingly faint, into his arms. Both parties split off in opposite directions.

The Hill of the Neverending Stride

Darren doesn’t bother with the trails on the way back to the pond. Lumbering along with his girlfriend in his arms, the two crash through tree branches, rip through saplings, and shred through bramble bushes, the thorns sinking into Darren’s jeans like the fangs of the monstrous snake into Megan’s calf. The sweat pours off both of them in disgusting, rank waterfalls, and Darren tries to ignore the flow of Megan’s blood soaking his right arm, but he’s totally unable. His left arm catches on the back of Megan’s top and pulls it up, revealing her breasts by accident, but not even that distracts him from the horrific morbidity of this anniversary hike gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Finally, after what feels like eons stretched into fat infinities, each passing second longer than the last, they breach the end of the trail and leave the woods of Fricker Drive. Darren rockets over the shifted concrete pathway, miraculously not tripping, not yet at least, and crosses the lawn in a flurry of whimpers and pants. He lays Megan down on the hood of her car and tries the passenger door, but it’s locked. He tries the back seat, locked. He tries the driver’s side door. Fucking locked.

“Megan, where are your keys?!”

But Megan says nothing, as the venom has seeped into her brain and she’s more than a little bit delirious, fading faster and faster by the second. Darren checks the pockets of her shorts but finds nothing. Then, after fixing her top and saving her at least a little humiliation in case a car comes by, Darren goes around and tries the driver’s door again, just in case he didn’t pull hard enough the first time, and that’s when he sees the keys. They’re dangling from the ignition, just one turn away from starting the engine. One impossible turn.

“Fuck! You locked your keys in the fucking car, Megan!”

Megan says nothing back. Her breathing has devolved into a strained wheeze.

Without thinking, Darren scoops her back into his arms and starts running down the road. He lives at the beginning of Fricker, it’ll be a long run but he’ll get there, he’ll throw her in his car and they’ll take off to the hospital – hell, he’ll even call them and let them know they’re coming – it’s going to be okay, Megan is going to survive, everything is going to be oka–

Fricker Drive is a deceptively hilly stretch of black pavement. Turning onto it off Stonetown Road, you think it’s a flat driveway leading back into the forest, maybe to an old farm house, but that’s simply not the case; the reality of the situation is that the pond at the end of Fricker is about one hundred fifty feet higher off the ground than the lawn surrounding the first house on the road, which just happens to be where Darren’s family used to live, and where Darren lives now. The first one hundred feet of that incline is very gradual, deceptively gradual; one doesn’t notice it until one takes a walk (or run) and experiences the torture for themselves. The last fifty feet, however, is marked by a gruelingly steep climb up a hill. This hill was referred to as The Hill of the Neverending Stride by one Owen Johnson before he mysteriously vanished into the forest way back when, because on his way back from his hikes (those hikes he didn’t finish in his backyard, that is), he loved to let the decline take him and force his legs to move faster than his mind (his genius mind) could keep up with. Just a moment ago, with his belt still unbuckled, his pants unbuttoned, and his zipper falling with every harried step he took, Darren was sprinting down that hill in the same fashion as the late Owen Johnson, his legs moving faster than his mind – his average, not genius, and slightly hung over mind – could keep up with.

Was sprinting, that is, until his pants gave up their good fight and fell down around his knees, tripping him up and spilling both him and his dying girlfriend down the road, down the steep road, the steep road down which they both tumbled and rolled, their skin grinding into the pavement, their bones bruising and bursting with hairline fractures, and they only stopped when they finally hit one of the few trees growing along the side.

Or, in Megan’s case, the mailbox of the last house before the pond.

When he finally regains consciousness nineteen minutes later, Darren fixes his pants up right and hoists his dead girlfriend of three years into his arms, then limps slowly down the road. No cars pass him, as all the houses on this road besides his own are owned by one man who happens to be in a basement talking to his catatonic mother right now, and by the time Darren gets back to his house, he doesn’t even think to go inside and get his phone. He throws Megan into the passenger seat of his car, fishes his keys out of the console where he left them after getting home from the bar last night, and takes off for the hospital.

I Love You

There was nothing the doctors could do for her. Megan Bidonno of Treeburg, New Jersey, died mercilessly on the third anniversary of her relationship with Darren Shmurnski.

The funeral was carried out a couple weeks later – Megan’s family was not happy with Darren’s incompetence, but after many and many’a screaming match, they came to an understanding and forgave the lowly, backwoods Treeburgian. Even the relative from Vegas – who wasn’t actually a relative but a long-distance fiancé whom the parents knew all about – found enough goodness in his heart to forgive Darren for dragging Megan into the woods on that fateful day. Of course it was all Darren’s fault – had he not liked bumbling around in the forest so much, Megan never would have perished, as they all reminded him multiple times throughout the process of burying the girl – but they are good Christians, and so they forgave Darren and left him alone to bear the weight of their dead daughter, their dead daughter who died so tragically young, their dead daughter who Darren once carried in his arms (but not fast enough), who he’ll now carry on his conscious for the rest of his life.

In the end, Darren and Megan’s three-year-long relationship concluded in much the same way it was spent: without the uttering of the words I love you.

You

“That is my wish, djinn – to have my woman back.”

The giant, smoky rose engulfs Darren into its luminous core. When he wakes up, he is alone in his bedroom, just like he was when he lit the first incense all those weeks ago, just like he was when he lit the second one a few moments ago, just like he will be for the rest of his life, because his woman is dead. Djinns aren’t real, he’s a delusional mess, and Megan is dead. He plucks a piece of paper towel off the roll he keeps by his desk and wipes up the scorch mark, then tosses the trash into the garbage can. Then, he throws some presentable clothes on, gets his keys and wallet, and heads out to hit the local watering hole, just like he’s done every single night since he let Megan die…

Suddenly Darren is in the bar/casino’s parking lot. He doesn’t remember driving here, he just remembers thinking about how he took his girlfriend of three years into the woods and she got bitten by a snake and she died…

Suddenly Darren is sitting at the bar. The music is terrible but loud, just loud enough to keep him present in the moment instead of spiraling into the deepest, darkest pit his mine hole of a mind can imagine. ‘I once took Megan to a flooded mine hole to go cliff jumping…’

Suddenly Darren has two glasses in front of him, both empty. His vision is beginning to swim but he can still feel his face, so he can’t be that gone, it couldn’t have been anything too strong. The bartender comes up and asks if he wants another. Darren says yes, then fishes out his wallet and slaps down a fiver, as if that will cover his tab. The ‘tender walks away to pour Darren’s drink and the young man is left alone to wallow. Just before he slips back under the surface, he hears that voice again, but not the footsteps, just like last time.

“Holy shit, it’s you.”

Darren slowly turns around and takes in the cool drink of ice water standing behind him. She’s dressed casually – gray sweats, a zip-up hoodie, brunette locks bound in a ponytail; he gets the feeling that he’s seen her before, but he can’t quite place where or when.

“You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“I don’t,” he answers plainly, looking at her like a dog looks at a stick of celery: ambiguously, and slightly confused.

The woman takes out her cell phone and taps the screen a few times, then turns it towards Darren. He squints his eyes against the blinding unfiltered blue light. She asks, “Is that your number?”

Darren studies the numbers, which is no simple task when they’re jumping around like frogs on the lily pads floating in the pond at the top of his street… the pond where Megan parked he–

“Wait, why is my name saved as that? Who are you?”

She locks her phone without answering and pockets it, then takes a seat next to Darren. The bartender comes back at just the right time and sets Darren’s drink down, and the woman asks the ‘tender what he’s having.

“It’s called a snakebite, some British cocktail. Half beer, half hard cider.”

“Well that’s just downright fitting. Make it two, please.”

The ‘tender goes to make it two. The woman turns to Darren and locks eyes with him, then proceeds to take a sip of his drink while maintaining direct eye contact.

“Meh, it’s all right. Not bad. Probably won’t get another one, though.”

“I didn’t even realize I ordered it, if we’re being honest with each other.”

The woman arcs an eyebrow. “Wow, I can’t tell if you hold your liquor really well or really, really badly.”

They sit there without speaking for a moment. Then, “So uh… are you gonna tell me who you are? Or…”

“I’ll tell you who I’m not: fuckin’ Dracula. Bleh. I damn near had to get my stomach pumped to get the taste of blood out of my mouth.” The bartender cautiously sets the woman’s drink down and backs away slowly, not daring to ask for money. She picks up the glass, says, “That was wise of him,” then downs the cider half of the cocktail in one gulp.

And suddenly, the wheels turn. “Holy shit, it’s you.”

“There he is!!” the woman exclaims, giving him a pat on the back. “You never called me back, either. So, hope you don’t mind me asking, but uh… she make it?”

Darren averts his eyes to the bar. Then he gulps down half his snakebite without taking a breath.

“Ah… well, that’s very unfortunate. I’m sorry, Sna–… well, given the circumstances I won’t call you that. What’s your name?”

“Darren,” says Darren. “Sorry about uh… sorry I didn’t call you back. That day was, um… a little hectic.”

“Joy,” she says with a smile, raising her glass. Darren tinks it and they drink. “Don’t worry about it, dude. What’s happened has happened, and I didn’t catch AIDS or anything. No hard feelings. So… what brings you here?”

That same ambiguous look sweeps over Darren’s face but hey, at least he’s not thinking about Megan. He looks to his drink. “You know, just uh… drowning the sorrows. Was thinking about maybe pissing away some cash downstairs.” He looks back and sees that Joy is still staring at him. “What brings you here, Joy?”

Joy smiles. “Do you know what ka is?”

“Ra?” Darren earnestly asks, as the terrible music is so, so loud. “Like, the god?”

A light titter escapes Joy’s mouth. “Close. Its originally an Egyptian spiritual belief, but this author I read – some may call him the king of authors, but uh, that’s a cheesy some – he uses it to describe fate or destiny or the latent conscious intelligence that drives reality, something along those lines.” She takes a small sip of her drink, then, “You know where I’m going with this?”

“Not a single clue,” replies Darren, finishing off his snakebite. “I stopped believing in all that a long, long time ago.”

“Hah, welp. Never mind then…”

They sit in relative silence again. Then Joy gets up, decidedly not finishing her drink, and throws a fifty down on the bar. “Come on.”

“Come on?”

She grabs him by the elbow and pulls him out into the parking lot. The sky is beginning to lose its blue in favor of warm pinks and oranges.

“What are you do–”

“I’ll tell you what you’re not doing, Darren – driving on a full stomach. My car’s right over there. Since we’re being honest with each other, I don’t know why I stopped here tonight. But there you were, and now here we are. Funny how that works, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, uhh… so what? Who are you, Joy?”

Joy smiles. “Oh would you just come on? I wanted to go for a walk anyway, so now you’re joining me. The Monksville Dam is beautiful at sunset.”

And so they go to the Monksville Dam, and the view of the sunset is beautiful.

And Darren gets his woman back.