Popcorn Prayers: A short short fantasy story
DRIVE-BY STORIES #14
I knew something was wrong when the popcorn didn't pop after two minutes in the microwave. Two minutes of the rough gears grinding and squeaking as the yellow silicone and glass popcorn carafe turned and almost no kernels popped.
Nothing else on that June evening seemed amiss. It'd rained a bit earlier—we'd been having more rain than usual, thank climate change—but going on 9 PM, mostly blue skies and pink fluffy clouds as the Sun settled down for the night. I had the apartment to myself, unfortunately, but I wasn't in the mood to go out into the Seattle nightlife and find any company. Not that night. I was going to sit down on my free from-the-curb corduroy blue couch in my pajamas, munch popcorn, and stream The Mist on Netflix. I might half-heartedly browse through some dating apps, though doing that at my age mostly reminded me that my demographic wasn't all that well represented. And didn't understand what demisexual meant. Plus I think most men moved the age slider so it didn't include me. Even those older than me.
I poked the button for an additional thirty seconds when the microwave was counting down the last ten, then pushed it again for another thirty seconds. A few more kernels lazily popped like they just couldn't be bothered.
"I get it," I said, leaning back against the opposite counter and crossing my arms. "It's definitely one of those nights."
I let it run forty-two seconds, figured that was as close as I'd get to an answer, and stabbed the cancel button. Less popcorn was better than burnt popcorn.
I pulled the carafe from the microwave, lifted the lid, tapped it to shake loose any melted butter clinging to it, and looked glumly at the results. Not even half the normal amount of popcorn. I sighed and dumped it into the waiting bowl. I left the carafe to cool on the counter.
I took my popcorn, a glass of mango and pineapple juice over ice (I don't drink), and carried both the five steps it took me to get from the microwave to the couch. My bare feet didn't make any noise on the faux wood floors. I sat down in my spot—the left side of the couch, because the cushions met in the middle and I didn't want to sit on the crack and the supports on the right side were broken (probably why it was free on the curb), but the left side was perfectly fine and I could still stretch my legs out over the right side, no problem—and put my paltry popcorn and juice down on my DIY wire-spool coffee table (sanded, stained, and topped with counter laminate).
I picked up the Roku remote and pressed the home icon. A click and a tone, and my sister's hand-me-down TV came on. In the corner it read, "NO CONNECTION. CHECK YOUR INTERNET."
Shit. "Life wasn't supposed to be so hard," I said, dropping the remote on the coffee table.
That's when I smelled the cigar smoke. I have absolutely no knowledge to judge the quality of cigars and I don't want to know. It reeked, I didn't like it, and I wondered if I'd left a window open.
Except I never left windows open. Not on a movie night. Too noisy in the city.
"It doesn't have to be so hard," said a deep, masculine voice, coming from the man sitting in an elegant black leather chair positioned at ninety degrees to my couch. He wore what I assumed was an expensive black suit with gold hints woven into the fabric. Like a full, formal, going to a wedding, funeral, or board room suit; the kind of suit I only saw men wear on the TV that I wasn't watching. The man in the suit looked as if he was in that silver fox sort, George Clooney, sort of age, maybe younger, the sort of man that would never set the age slider in the dating app to include women (or men) his own age.
I screamed. I reached, not really thinking at that point, seized my juice glass, and hurled it at him like a was throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. That's what they do, right? Anyway, I did, threw it as hard and as fast as a top league or whatever player.
The juice didn't keep up with the glass. It splashed all over me and the couch. The glass sailed harmlessly past the man by at least a couple of feet, hit my front door behind him, and shattered into dripping shards and ice.
"Whoa!" He said, raising his hands. "My bad. Let me clean that up."
He twirled his upraised index finger, rings flashing on his hand like a bunch of pirate gold, and the pieces of the glass and ice flew back up, bonded, then the resurrected glass shot right at me like a bullet. Streamers of juice rose up in that weird sort of rewind thing they do in the movies, fascinating until I realized that it was hurling straight at my face.
I screamed again, raised my hands in front of my face, maybe waved them about a bit, but at the same time I was trying to burrow my way down into the couch. I didn't see the glass shoot past me but I heard it explode (again) when it struck the bar.
"Huh," the man who'd appeared in my apartment said. "I see what you mean about things being hard. Let's try that differently."
I peeked between my fingers, still pressed down into my couch like a turtle. The glass reappeared—not moving like a bullet train—settled on the coffee table and the juice poured back in.
"I'm not drinking that," I said. "It's been all over the floor and everything."
He smiled. Of course his teeth were perfectly white, unnaturally so. "I assure you, it's free from any possible dust or contamination."
I shook my head. "Like I'm going to trust the Devil."
He let out a short bark of laughter—with a maniacal tinge. "I shouldn't be surprised you're so quick."
I uncurled from the couch, sitting up on my side, tucking my feet beneath me as I looked at the devil. Everything about him screamed "handsome"—each little detail all by itself—yet when you put everything together, he was hideously ugly. As in it was a good thing I hadn't eaten any popcorn yet or we'd be revisiting it; I couldn't even stand to look at him. When I looked aside, looked past him rather than directly at him, it was as if he had movie-star-good-looks again. Until I looked back and my eyes felt like they had worms burrowing into them.
I looked at my hands. My nails were a mess. There were still flecks of nail polish I hadn't removed from the last time I'd gone with my sister to get our nails done and that was like months ago.
"Life doesn't have to be so hard," the Devil said. "I'm here to—"
"Don't need to. You should leave," I said. My toenails were—unsurprisingly—worse than my fingernails.
"I can change—"
"If you were a voicemail, I'd have already hit block and report spam."
"You won't even—"
"Nope. Not interested."
"—heard my offer."
I'd done nothing to invite the Devil's attention. I didn't want it. Didn't need it. And didn't need to listen to him explain why I should be so lucky.
"No. For God's sake, I can't believe that even works anymore." I held up a hand to stop him from responding, though I heard his intake of breath when I said the G-word. "You and every other magical, wish-granting being always find a way to twist it around. It's like a date where you end up finding out that your date voted for Trump. Doesn't matter how good it looks—it's rotten to the core."
"Need to leave now," I said. I pulled out my phone. "Or do I need to start reading the Bible out loud?"
"You don't even believe in God!" The Devil objected.
I shrugged. "You've kinda proven that point, haven't you? Hard to refute the evidence when it is stinking up my apartment and making my eyes feel like they have worms squirming around inside."
I expected a noise like a balloon popping or a loud fart, something, but the Devil was gone without a peep. A trace of the stink remained, so I had to get up and open windows. I dumped the juice, the barely popped popcorn, and started over from the beginning.
I put the new batch of popcorn in the microwave and sent up a little prayer that all the kernels would pop this time.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!
This is a new challenge. I’m writing short short stories, under 2,000 words, many under 1,000 words. I’m sharing them to my Instagram stories. They’ll drop off that, but premium READINARY subscribers can read the full archive of stories here. When I have 100 stories, I’ll publish a collection of them all.
Best wishes, always — Ryan
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