Marcus Turner - Gifts
It was Saturday night, Christmas Eve, and Marcus was sitting in Choppers with a variety of old friends, mostly college buddies, but a few from high school, as well. The place was pretty chill, as one might expect the night before Christmas, but even so there was a decent crowd gathered. Many, like Marcus and his friends, were people gathering to have a drink or three while they were in town. Tomorrow he’d be with his family, but Christmas Eve was always reserved for “the gang”.
Tom Unser, the local boy turned actor, was in the midst of telling some joke about the stars of the new nighttime drama he’d managed to become a part of. He was always good at telling stories, Tom was.
“….and then she turns around—this hot chick from TV, movies and Maxim—looks at me and says, “Did you say peanut butter?”” He laughed. Everyone laughed. “Man, I about died. So friggin’ funny.”
“Seriously?” Janice Summersby rubbed at her eye. She was the typical girl-next-door; cute, personable, and sweet as can be. Her and Marcus had hooked up back around the beginning of college but it was a little weird, them being friends for so long, so it never took. “I love her so much. How can she be such a ditz?”
“And a dirty one at that!” Jesse Clouse added, laughing again. He was Marcus’ closest friend. They’d known each other since grade school.
“I don’t know,” Tom admitted, “But I gotta tell ya, after something like that the shine just wears off a little, you know?”
They all laughed and Marcus caught the eye of the one server in the bar, a long-time employee named Megan. He waved and did a circle, indicating another round, and she nodded with a smile.
In short order the third—or was it the fourth?—round of drinks was delivered and everyone was settling into their chairs nicely. Good company and good drink does that to a group, and the half-dozen of them around the table had all known each other for years, plus the additional two “significant others”. Tom was dating a tasty little morsel named Kaitlyn or something, and Jackie had brought her newest lover, Sara, with her. Marcus wasn’t sure but he thought that maybe Dale and Nina were hooking up and trying to hide it, not that anyone cared.
“Okay,” Janice said, putting her hands on the table and looking around pointedly. She paused and took a quick sip of her fruity drink. “Okay,” she said again with a smile. “Everyone ready?”
Marcus chuckled and, like everyone else, reached down to pick up the small gift he’d brought. It was a ritual. Everyone brought a thought gift to the table for Christmas. Marcus had to smile; he loved this little ritual. Jackie obviously did, too.
Everyone put their gifts on the table. Except Kaitlyn, because she was new and no one had expected her. None of the gifts were very large but the comments and jokes regarding choices in wrapping paper and styles soon had everyone laughing again. Jackie waved them all to silence, her red hair bouncing on her shoulders. She looked up with raised brows and called out: “Megan! Call it!”
Megan laughed and reached into a pocket on her apron. She fumbled for a moment and pulled out two slips of paper. “Um…seven, and…two.”
There was a brief cheer. The first number was the seat number, with the seat closest to the door being seat one. That meant Sara was in seat seven. The second number Megan called out was how many people to skip, so she passed over her lover and handed her gift to Jesse. They had arranged that little gimmick years ago so that no one would know who was getting their gift before hand. The chaos of gift-passing began with several almost-spills, and Marcus was surprisingly pleased that his gift was going to Janice. He’d picked up a pair of decorative candles after landing at the airport, and now that he saw who they were going to it seemed highly appropriate. Maybe he should try again…
His thoughts were interrupted by an ice cube bouncing off his head. “Hey, lawyer boy,” Dale laughed. “Take your damn present!”
Marcus laughed and took the proffered gift, hefting it thoughtfully, shaking it, listening to it, smelling it—then laughing again when Nina hit him in the arm.
“Just open it, already,” she said, giving him a nudge. She knew what it was, so it seemed likely that he was right. She and Dale were definitely hooking up.
Marcus began tearing into the Dr. Seuss Grinch paper, wondering whether he was getting a box of crayons or a small fruit cake—both of which he’d received in years past.
He tore the paper off…
The seat collapsed beneath him, the table simply not there anymore. Marcus was sitting on a cracked and blackened concrete slab, half open present in one hand, the other splayed out and bracing him as he tried to understand what his eyes were now telling him.
Marcus started to laugh. These things happened, and he supposed he was due. He opened his mouth to speak and stopped, the laughter dying away. He blinked several times and slowly swiveled his head this way and that.
Choppers was gone. Simply gone. He was looking out at a series of low, rolling hills upon which were dotted the crumbling and weed-choked squares of concrete that indicated buildings had once stood here. The burned and twisted remains of automobiles could be seen here and there as well. Foot-tall yellowish grass blew in a mild breeze, the sun beat down on everything like a hammer, and still it was cold. The sky was a deep purplish-blue, a color that Marcus had never seen before up there above his head. Puffy white clouds drifted lazily, unhurried, uncaring overhead.
"Hell of a way to spend Christmas, huh?" he heard from off to his left, near what might have been an Escalade or and H3. The vehicle looked like a giant bat or pole or something had come down upon it dead center, its trunk was jutting up in the air, as was the front end. Like it had been folded. Hopping, yes hopping on one foot, and then the other, was a pale man with dark hair and huge eyes, gimlet eyes. The man was grinning, but it wasn't a happy grin. A grimace, maybe. Something wrong there, something wrong with his teeth. They were enormous. He wore all black, and his skin was so white in the sunlight, like milk. He raised his hands and wiggled his fingers, long white fingers, and said "Ah, cha cha cha!!!!"
With a grunt of surprise Marcus scrambled backward, his legs kicking in the dirt like a man trying to swim in…well, dirt. After a few moments he hurriedly and ungracefully pushed himself to his feet, the gift held incongruously in his hand. This time when he turned around it was quickly, as if trying to catch sight of something moving just in the corner of his vision. He returned his attention to the…man…and took another step back.
“I-I don’t know what’s going on, mister,” he said, trying to muster his courage. The guy was freaky looking! And what the hell had happened to the bar? “But y-you just stay back!”
The man straightened up and laughed, a braying, donkey sound. "Oh my toes and testicles, but you are going to be fun!" He swept a hand out, encompassing Marcus in one broad sweep. "And look at you: sprung like Adidas from his fathers navel. Or however that goes, anyway. All new born and covered in muck, tell me," the man squatted down and regarded him as seriously as that grin would allow. "Do you like what's been done with the place? Be honest, I can take it."
Marcus frowned down at the man, not trusting him for an instant. His eyes flicked up, then back to the squatting man, then to the sides and back. This was repeated several times before Marcus shook his head in frustration.
"I don't know what you're talking about, man," he said, a little measure of calm finding its way into his voice. "I was at a bar, and now..." His frown deepened. "I don't know where I am. Or how I got here. Or who you are." He jabbed a finger out for emphasis. "Did you have something to do with...this?" He waved a hand, noticed he was still holding the gift, ignored it. "Do you know what's going on?"
"I'm talking about the present. And the present," replied the stranger, grinning like a hyena. "You're still in the bar, it's just gone native. You're in Denver, Colorado. You got here in your car. It's right over there under that pile of used-to-be-a-candle-shop." He pointed just off to his right at a mound of rubble. I am Randerawl. I most certainly did, and I most certainly do." He hopped up onto the canted remains of the trucks hood, a leap of easily six feet, and took a seat, legs dangling idly. Marcus saw he was wearing hose, and shoes that were pointed at the toes, like a jester. "Look at me, being a plot exposition guy. My mother would be SO pleased." Randerawl pointed at the gift. "I'd open that, if I were you."
Marcus flinched as the...man...hopped onto the hood of the truck. He was highly unsettled, his heart hammering in his chest, but he found himself rooted to the spot, a mixture of fear and curiosity keeping him in place. His gaze followed Randerawl's gestures toward the rubble. This was Denver?
He glanced down at the present in his hand. It had Stewie and Brian wearing Santa hats and mistletoe...and little else. Part of it was torn where he'd started to open it before. He looked back to Randerawl, thoroughly overwhelmed.
"I don't get it," he said plainly. "What's going on?"
"What's not to get, Marcus? It's Christmas Day. You have a present in your hands. You should, out of courtesy to the gift giver," Randerawl pointed off somewhere to Marcus' left. "...I believe her corpse is lying somewhere over there, open it. It was her last act, after all. You owe it to her memory. You owe it to the future. And," he held up a finger and pointed it skyward. "You'll make the baby Jesus cry if you don't."
Marcus' mouth went dry. He couldn't help but look in the direction indicated. Corpse? He looked down at the gift again. Last act? He blinked, feeling his eyes watering. It was all so strange, so confusing...and oddly compelling.
The notion hit him that this gift was something he had in his hand before...well, whatever it was that happened, happened. Maybe he'd fallen and hit his head and this was a dream. Maybe somebody had spiked his drink, though he didn't really think any of his friends would ever consider such a thing. Dream, psychotic break, drugs. It didn't matter. It wasn't normal. But the gift was something he'd had in his hands. It was normal. It was real.
He began tearing at the paper in earnest.
It was a dark box, long enough to hold a pen, or maybe a watch. When he opened the box, he saw a necklace lying on fine dark purple satin. It gleamed, a beautiful thing of platinum, the links impossible small and delicate. Dangling from the end, about the size of a penny, were a pair of feathery wings done in silver, the detail work so fine that he could almost make out each individual feather nestled one against the other.
He held up the necklace, brows furrowed as it twisted slowly this way and that. It was...beautiful, the sort of present he wished he'd bought for Janice. Nina wouldn't buy this kind of thing, though. Not for one of the gang. Would she?
He looked from the necklace to Randerawl, puzzled. "What--?" He shook his head. "Did you know what this was? How?"
"Put it on, Marcus. Put it on, and make a wish." The smile was Pandoras box, the grin of the Cheshire Cat. "Go on..."
Marcus opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He couldn't think, couldn't make sense of any of this. Everything around him, this man Randerawl, the necklace...he was so lost. And the man was so compelling. It was as if this was all scripted and he didn't have a choice.
The torn wrapping paper fell from his hand as he undid the clasp. He carefully reached around his own neck and, with only a moment's fumbling, hooked the clasp again. He felt the wings charm settle against his throat. The moment the little wings settled upon his neck, the very moment, everything went black. There was in insane sense of vertigo, as though he had been dangled over an impossibly high ledge over an chasm whose depths had swallowed suns. His stomach dropped into his shoes, then rammed nearly up into his throat, and he had to swallow bile as his hands flailed around, seeking anything to hold onto. And then his ass hit a chair, the darkness cleared, and he found himself sitting at a pentagonal wooden table in a five-sided room...
(end of scene)