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A Chance Encounter in the Cafeteria

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  • A Chance Encounter in the Cafeteria

    This was the product of a free write I did early this year.

    # # #

    Two boys sat at a round table in the middle of the cafeteria. Only when a third boy joined them, distributing drinks from a tray before taking his seat, did I suspect they were brothers. Even in height, about fifteen years of age, each could have been a perfect clone of the other except for the peculiar shades of their hair. Dark brown, dirty blonde, and the third one had a head of shock white hair. Looking at each one in turn was like adjusting the contrast knobs on an old television.

    “Are you sure we should be here?” Asked the dark-brown haired one I would later know to be Ash.

    The white haired boy whom I would learn is called Cher, took a sip of his warm drink and looked around the cafeteria. No one but I seemed aware they were there and this seemed to be his point. They were polite and quiet, and anyone who looked on them would probably assume they were there to visit a family member, or a friend, or that they were a relative of staff. Then again the beverages were cheap and your business didn't have to be with the hospital to visit the cafeteria.

    “Work is work,” Cher said. “We don't get a say in where. So, who gets to be death?”

    At this I sat up straight. Not so fast as to draw attention but I was concerned that no one else seemed the slightest bit curious as to what these boys were talking about. They did seem a little young to be there and now that I thought about it, wasn't it a school day?

    “I was death yesterday,” Ash said. “And that was more than enough for one week.”

    “Death is part of the job, you don't have to like it.”

    Ash held up a hand as if he were in class.

    “Yeah, question, uh who died and made you the final fate?”

    The dirty-blonde, who until this point had been quietly sipping his own drink put his hands between the two boys and said, “There's no need to argue. I'll be death this time.”

    I had a very good mind in that moment to get up and go over to their table and demand to know what they were talking about. I looked around and tried to find a security guard, or an off duty police officer, someone who might have the authority to make these boys answer me. But I restrained myself and listened, thinking I might build a bigger case against them.

    Cher made a fist and scowled at Ash, who returned the look with one of mockery.

    “I'm tossing you for dreams, then.”

    “With what coin?” Ash asked. “You convinced the cashier to give us the drinks for free, remember.”

    “Rock, Paper, Scissors then.”

    “How hard is it to bring the new ones to Earth? I'm the one who was knee deep in shit and blood trying to get them situated and on their way to the other side. I never want to see another cruise ship for as long as I live.”

    The dirty-blonde sighed. He placed a hand on Ash's arm and said, “Why can't you just let him handle dreams. He's tired. And you shouldn't go to bed so soon after, that.”

    Cher and Ash exchanged glances. Their scowls softened and with a sign of resignation Ash said, “Fine. But just so you know, he wet the bed.”

    “No I didn't,” the dirty-blonde one said, blushing. “It was very hot. That was sweat.”

    Cher rolled his eyes.

    “Will you two grow up? I'm going to the house on Phobos. See you in a century.”

    The boys finished their drinks and rose. If anyone else overheard their strange conversation, they gave no sign. I waited until they left before leaving the cafeteria and returning to my office. I set about transcribing their conversation, making a note of the time I was down there so I could make a full report to security, the police, anyone. I tried to describe the boys as best as I could but the details were fading. Their clothes, their individual characteristics, the sounds of their voices.

    There was a knock at the door. I looked up and saw Cher standing in the doorway. He smiled at me and entered without an invite. Before I could ask if he had an appointment, or what he wanted, he introduced himself to me and told me the names of his brothers.

    “Cousins, really. Our mothers had us at the same time but we all have the same father, so it's easier to think of ourselves as brothers. But that's not why I'm here. I can't let you remember what you heard.”

    I looked down at my notebook and the pages I had written. I fully expected him to reach across the table and yank it away but he just sat there and smiled, cordially.

    "You have quite an imagination there, doc."

    There was a knock at the door. I snapped awake and saw one of the nurses in the doorway, concerned for my well being.

    “You fell asleep,” she said. “Are you feeling okay?”

    I blinked and stared and looked around my office in confusion. Then my mind cleared and I smiled, assuring the nurse that I was just a little tired.

    My notebook sat on my desk. I flipped through the last few pages and recognized my handwriting. What an interesting work of fiction, I thought. I should explore these ideas more.
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