No Questions Asked

by Patrick Weekes

I'd had less than twenty bucks in it, and I'd cancelled the credit cards when I noticed it was gone. But it was a nice wallet, and I sorely missed the personal mementos -- a few photos, a half-dollar that had always brought me luck, a particularly apt fortune cookie fortune. So I took out the ad:

"Lost Wallet -- blk men's, l/s city library. Rwd if Ret -- No Questions Asked."

One week later, I got the call.

"Are you certain?" A raspy voice, slow, stumbling, as though repeating syllables learned by rote.

"Absolutely. Twenty bucks, no questions."

"You swear to that? Promise, and I will come."

I did.

He was good as his word, the gangly, hunched-over man in the baggy brown coat. We met in the park. His eyes burned with a bloodshot ferocity. His gloved fingers thrust it upon me as though it burned him. He never spoke.

Now my wallet glows under ultraviolet light. Sometimes I see scales in the pattern of the black leather, or perhaps they are circles. At times, it suddenly burns, heavy with scorching urgency. Other times it is cold, afraid, burrowing into the recess of my pocket. Each time, I spin and search the crowd in the street around me, looking for a reason, a logic. I find nothing.

The fortune cookie fortune is subtly altered, the meaning different though the words are unchanged. The lucky numbers on the back now form the Fibbonacci Sequence. My lucky half-dollar shows the leering countenance of a man I do not recognize.

I cannot throw it away. I have tried, but always I must return, sifting frantically through the dumpster until my fingers bleed, until I find it. I put it in a lead-lined box when I go to sleep to avoid unnatural dreams, filled with words in a language I do not understand, though I have learned the syllables by rote.

I see him, the man in the baggy brown coat. I see him in the street, the subway, the library from time to time. He smiles at me, a rictus grin, and I glare or shudder as my pocket burns, grows heavy.

But I never ask.

After all, a promise is a promise.

Copyright © 2003 Patrick Weekes

Patrick's professional publications include "Dragons and Other Extinctions" in Realms of Fantasy, "Glass Beads" in Science Fiction Age, "I am Looking for a Book" in Shelf Life (Anthology) and "Why the Elders Bare Their Throats" in Strange Horizons.

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