FORTUNE COOKIES

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jack and Sam toast their wedding anniversary over an exquisite Chinese meal. But what is the meaning of the cryptic messages in the fortune cookies?

Submitted: August 29, 2012

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Submitted: August 29, 2012

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The restaurant was a spacious cavern, intimately laid out and discreetly lit by warmly glowing lanterns in the velvet comfort of the surrounding darkness. Attentive waiters moved briskly and quietly around and the atmosphere was complemented by the sound of a waterfall artificially installed, along with the quiet hum of conversation and the sound of glass and cutlery. At a round table under a golden dragon  in a quiet alcove Jack and Sam toasted their first wedding anniversary with another glass of Chinese beer, as the waiter arrived with the hors d’oevre of crispy aromatic duck, rice pancakes, hoisin sauce and salad. The restaurant, Black Orchid, was a favourite of Sam’s and perfect for an occasion like this, even though it was one of the most expensive Oriental bars in town. Jack mentally patted himself on the back, first  for having made the booking as it had delighted Sam so much, and secondly for his good fortune in having been chosen by her, as he studied her dark hair cascading over her shoulders in almost Grecian tresses, and her eyes that seemed like black pearls, complementing her fair complexion, lit by the glow of the red lanterns so that it seemed almost like marble, with a pink tinge given by the light and chiaroscuro that highlighted her high cheekbones and strong features. They fondly recalled their first meeting, when they were teen-aged students.

“You stood over me in the lecture theatre with a sprig of mistletoe and demanded a kiss.” Jack remembered. “ ‘Come on then, you,’ you said.” Sam tittered. “I wanted the ground to open and swallow me up. I almost ran out of the place. The whole theatre went silent.”

“I know.” she said. “And you pecked me on the cheek and sat down. Everyone went ‘aahhh’in this disappointed way. I think they wanted a full-on French job the way I did.”

“Well, I felt so embarrassed. I guess it was either full-on or run away. I didn’t do either, did I? Was it for a dare?”

“Somebody had to make the first move.” She gazed adoringly into his eyes. “You’d been dickering about for weeks. I couldn’t wait forever.” She spread sauce onto a pancake, added the cucumber and onion, and placed a few shreds of duck on the top, then rolled up the pancake and munched it whilst Jack ordered some extra pancakes and two more Chinese beers.

“The firm’s looking at the Hong Kong contract again”. he announced. “They’re offering an executive role in developing it. They’re asking how interested I am.” Jack was a planning engineer with a big company of architects moving from London into international circles. He had risen quickly to a position on the edge of management after having been instrumental in delivering a successful contract. He felt he was going places, and an opening in Hong Kong had been on the cards for some months. He helped himself to another pancake.

Sam looked steadily into his face. “Yes, I know. You’ve been angling for that for a while. It’ll be very good for you, Jack. How long?”

“Six months to begin with, probably up to two years. It means I’d have to ask-”

“Yes, of course.”

“What do you think?”

“I’d love to come with you. I really would, but my own practice is starting-” Sam was a freelance architect. She’d done two years with a small firm and had gained enough experience to realise she wanted a more creative way of working, on projects that were smaller, but which offered more freedom. So far she had been working on eco-houses as individual building projects. Jack was more of a corporate player.

“Yes, I know. It’s just so exciting. I don’t want to be away from you for long.”

The beers, in green bottles with chilled glasses arrived and the waiter poured for them. The pancakes in a bamboo steamer were placed on the lazy susan in the centre of the table. The waiter silently withdrew.

“Let’s wait and  see, shall we?”

“Would you be able to come out there? I’d have leave every three months or so, what about it?”

“I don’t know, Jack. It really would depend on how a project was going. If I could, I would. I’ll miss you so much. But shall we change the subject? This is our anniversary, not a planning meeting.”

“Sure. Sorry.” Jack felt her discomfort and mentally chided himself for his insensitivity. Sam knew all about this development, but she was right, tonight wasn’t the right time. It was simply that in his last management meeting Jack had been so comprehensively sounded out about taking on this Hong Kong contract that his soul had been singing with ambition and success for days. He couldn’t hide his excitement. And how long would it be before they started a family? Jack knew Sam wanted kids, but they were both so ambitious and career-focussed,  when would the right time be? But Jack tried not to think about that now. It was his duty to make this an enjoyable evening for both of them.

Jack had skilfully steered the conversation around to their wedding by the time the duck had been finished and the soup had arrived in a steaming tureen with prawn crackers. A waiter in immaculate white shirt with black tie and waistcoat ladled into two bowls and vanished. Jack was busy describing his chaotic attempts to get ready on the day. He was working up to his big surprise, which was where they were going for the weekend to finish off the celebrations. He knew Sam had some expectation, so didn’t want to leave it too long. He also knew she wouldn’t agree to go away for a week. Although they could have booked the time off and everyone more or less expected them to, they were simply too busy, and they knew it. Hopefully later in the year they’d be able to spend a bit more time together. They both spooned a little of the wonton soup into their mouths. It was a delicious and lightly spiced broth and the wontons were filled with a delicate mixture of prawn and vegetable.

“Mmmm. I love coming here.” Sam said, for the second time that evening. Jack was just at the point of explaining how, full of butterflies about the ceremony, he had gone to the Queen Mary pub about five hundred yards from their apartment in jeans and sweat shirt. The locals has asked him “Jack! Thought you were getting married today!” “I am.” He replied.” “What the bloody hell are you doing in here, then?”

“I was nervous as hell.” he said. Sam had of course, heard this before. “And all the while I was standing on a footstool with Mum and my sisters fretting about me with pins!” she recalled. “I stood there for hours while they got me into that dress! All this time you were in the pub! Men!”

On honeymoon they had gone to America and stayed in Las Vegas, walked the Grand Canyon and visited New York, where they had both fallen in love with the architecture and hot dogs. Memories of this came flooding back as the soup vanished and the next course arrived, King prawns, each the size of a small lobster tail, in a piquant chilli and garlic sauce, crab claws, sizzling fillet steak in a black bean and oyster sauce, special fried rice with prawn, pork and finely chopped vegetables, and a platter of stir fried vegetables. Sam was beginning to wonder whether they would finish it all. The aroma of spice and delicately cooked meat and fish hung tantalisingly in the air. They ate in absorbed silence for ten minutes, making the odd appreciative comment until Sam declared herself in need of a break. “This is wonderful, Jack, but it’ll wreak havoc with my poor figure”!

“Rubbish.” He replied. “Ever since I’ve known you you’ve been able to eat as much as you like without putting on an ounce!” He filled a prawn cracker with rice and signalled a waiter. Following a short and murmured conversation the waiter disappeared and came back carrying a tray containing a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and two flutes, which he quietly set down on the table and poured solicitously. Sam was delighted. “Champagne too! Oh Jack!” she cooed. The waiter vanished into the surrounding gloom.

Jack waited for the plates to be cleared before reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket to take out a slim envelope which he placed pointedly on the turntable and spun it round to Sam. “What’s this, then?” she raised a querulous smile.

“Surprise.” Jack said.

She opened the envelope and looked at the ticket receipts inside. Her mouth made an astonished “O” and she covered it with her hand. “Oh, Jack! My God! “ How did you ever afford it?

“I got my bonus.” He smiled with satisfaction.

“Dubai! The Burj-al-Arab! The sail!”  Leaving on Friday! My God, I don’t even have a new dress!

“Really, don’t you have enough stuff? It’s just for the weekend.”

“But you know how long I’ve wanted to go! I must get something! Oh Jack! It’s a marvellous surprise.” She leaned over the table and grasped his hand tenderly in hers. There were tears in her eyes.

Coffee and brandy arrived, with  a small plate containing two fortune cookies. Sam always loved this part of a Chinese meal, enjoyed the cryptic little messages, always promising good things in their vague manner. Jack poured coffee while she reached for a cookie and broke it open. Inside was a tiny slip of paper which she studied smilingly. The smile dropped from her face to be replaced with a puzzled look.

“This is a bit of a funny one.”  she said.

“Let me see.”

Sam passed the paper to Jack. On it were a set of Chinese characters and an a phrase in English  He read:

 

Your troubles will soon be over.

 

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked.

“Well, it sounds a bit final, don’t you think?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.” he said dismissively. Sounds like good news to me. Let’s see what’s in store for me.” He broke open the other cookie and read:

 

You will soon begin a new journey.

 

“Hey, look at this!”  he exclaimed, passing the paper to Sam. “Looks like they got it right, seeing as we’re going away! Or maybe that Hong Kong job’ll come up after all!”

Sam shrugged and smiled, although she still appeared slightly uncomfortable at receiving such an ambiguous message. Jack began to feel the edge was disappearing from the evening. Such a shame, he thought sadly. “Come on, have some coffee.” He passed her a cup and grinned, hoping it would restore her mood. A few minutes, another glass of champagne and a Grand Marnier seemed to do the trick, and Sam’s spirits were restored, even though she was beginning to become sleepy. Eating his fortune cookie he stuffed the paper into his wallet. “I might look back on this one day.” Jack summoned the waiter and drew out his American Express card to pay the bill. Oddly, as the waiter thanked him and gave a  slight bow before wishing him goodnight and  turning  away , he thought he noticed a furtive and vaguely sardonic look in the man’s eyes, but he put this down to imagination, probably because of Sam’s misgivings about the fortune cookie.

 

Their apartment was a short walk away from the restaurant, so it was perfect if they wanted to avoid driving. Jack saw it as one of the perks of city living, and as they were in a quiet area there never seemed to be much crime. Sam leaned groggily against him as he held his arm around her and supported her walking home. “Hope you’re going to be alright in the morning.” He muttered. 2There’s going to be a lot to do.” She murmured happily in response.

 

He was never quite sure what happened next. As they passed an alley the shadowy, silent form that came out of it careered into them and knocked them down. Jack was winded and although slightly drunk, suddenly felt alert to danger. Keeping his voice calm he started to stand up and good-humouredly started to say “Hey mate, watch where-”

 

The shadow had vanished. Sam lay on the pavement, making spasmodic movements like those of a starfish and choking. Jack  leaned over her. “Sam.....”  Something warm and sticky splattered onto his shirt and he saw with mounting terror that Sam was bleeding in the throat. He looked closer. A widening black line spilled life into the air.

 

Jack moaned “No... Oh God, NO!” he cradled her in his arms. “HELP!” he cried at the top of his voice. Sucking in the air to his lungs to yell. “HELLLP!”

 

He reached for his cell phone, in his pocket, his fingers slick with blood. Now others were beginning to appear. Jack became vaguely conscious of being surrounded by more dim forms. Guttural sounds came from above his head.

 

“Whassamatter-”

“Hey mate-”

“Oh God,” a female voice.

“Jesus, he’s killed ‘er!”

“ For God’s sake!” Jack yelled, “Get an ambulance!” He felt Sam slipping away, along with the Hong Kong job, the holiday in Dubai, his future, their unborn family, all avalanching into oblivion as her life ebbed away, tears mingling with blood.  Someone shouted “Police!”

As Jack heard the sounds of distant sirens, he realised that Sam’s troubles were now coming to an end, and as he heard the crowd muttering and someone saying “Why did you do it, mister?” he realised he was beginning a very different journey than the one he had imagined.

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 MARCUS DARWIN. All rights reserved.

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