There was a little misfortune cookie sitting on the doormat when Rob arrived home from work. It was wrapped in a gold tipped red ribbon.
Rob felt the uncomfortable prickle of sweat beading on his brow. His pulse quickened. Who had he upset? A misfortune cookie was more of a promise than a prediction. Someone clearly had it in for him.
He paced back and forth, trying to think. He couldn’t recall any recent arguments with work colleagues. There were no simmering family feuds. No recently scorned lovers.
But it didn’t have to be anyone he knew, did it?
The misfortune cookie could have been delivered by a relative stranger, someone he accidentally barged past when getting off a train, a waiter he’d forgotten to tip, a pizza delivery boy who been torn off a strip when Rob had claimed his money back because his deep crust wasn’t delivered within the advertised time frame.
The possibilities were endless, as were the manifold disfiguring outcomes.
Might there be a clue contained in the message inside the cookie? Did he really want to read it? He considered crushing the cookie under his heel and sweeping away the crumbs. But then how would he know what his ill-wisher had planned for him?
Not knowing might be unbearable.
If you knew, you could steel yourself for the inevitable. You might even be able to pitch for a retraction of the cookie with a profound and unreserved apology. It wasn’t unheard of for a reversal misfortune to be granted in exchange for an act of contrition.
Bowing to the inevitable, Rob fumbled with the ribbon, he fingers slick with sweat. He snapped the cookie in half. His hands trembled as he unraveled the little rolled up slither of rice paper that nestled inside.
The message that was printed there carried three words of warning that oozed unbridled malice.
Avoid the stairs!
Rob dropped the halves of the cookie.
This was torture. It was callous and inhumane. His apartment was on the fourth floor. There was no elevator. He looked down the stairwell. It brooded with a malevolence that seemed to want to goad him into risking everything with a reckless descent. What attempt at amputation or mutilation lurked within the trap that had been set there in the gloom?
He swayed as a sickening wave of vertigo washed over him.
It felt as if the walls of the lobby were actually closing in around him.
He turned the key in his lock, stumbled into the apartment and slammed the door shut. Everything looked impossibly claustrophobic. There were still cookie crumbs nestled in the lines on the palm of his left hand. The ink from the rice paper had tattooed a dark reversal of the malicious message into the sweat on his palm. He didn’t have to hold his hand up to the mirror read them.
They were etched into his memory.
Avoid the stairs!
He decided this was his neighbor’s doing. A crusty old git. Always complaining about the noise on the stairs when Rob came home late. They’d had a run in only last week. Rob was sure now that he was the one who wished him ill. Whatever misfortune lay in wait for him on the stairwell it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
Well two could play that game.
Rob picked up the phone and punched in sequence of numbers.
“Hello,” said the voice at the other end.
“I’d like to place an order for a misfortune cookie,” said Rob.
“And what kind of misfortune did you have in mind?” asked the voice.
David Turnbull is a UK based writer whose recent short fiction has featured in Sensorama Eibonvale Press and Beware the Little White Rabbit Leap Book, as well as five part serialized story featured in Serial Flashers Magazine. He can be found at www.tumsh.co.uk
Image by James Halliday