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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever

Nighthawks

[This short story was originally published in the summer 2007 edition of The Hawai’i Review and republished in installments on my previous, now defunct personal blog.]

I’ve always thought that the little moments in life count just as much as the big ones. If you really stopped to think about it, you’d probably go insane. I mean, let’s say your shoelaces come untied. If you bend down to tie them, you just might end up meeting the love of your life. But if you decide to ignore the situation and walk just a little bit farther—WHAM!—you’re flattened by an out-of-control eighteen-wheeler. One little moment changes your life forever. Or ends it.

Now I’m not sure how many of those little moments it took to get me halfway across the world, but there I was—stranded in Singapore attending an academic conference on “Words in Asian Cultural Contexts.” And it was all thanks to fate, God, or a world of happy coincidences. Hell, maybe L. Ron Hubbard was to blame.

Whatever the reason, this whole conference business had taken its toll on my patience. So as the day’s proceedings came to a close, I detached myself from the crowd and discreetly slipped out the back of the room. Luckily, none of the people milling around outside the conference hall seemed to notice me as I made my way to the hotel lobby. I wasn’t trying to be anti-social; I just needed a break from everyone. Once I got back to the hotel suite, I thought I’d mix myself a nice Scotch and water, watch a little idiot tube, and then call it a night. So much for seeing the sights.

But once inside the confines of the elevator, I had a change of heart. Stomach actually. Just as I was about to punch the button for the fourteenth floor, I noticed there were small signs on the control panel indicating where all the hotel facilities were located. The Millennium Restaurant was on the second floor. The swimming pool and the gymnasium were on the fifth. And the popular Boku Bar was on the ninth. But there was one listing I hadn’t noticed earlier, a place located on a floor marked “12A.”

MUGEN
Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

The comical way my stomach growled at the mere thought of Japanese food was like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. But as hungry as I was, I couldn’t help but wonder about the dress code. I had a strong hunch that Mugen was a classy establishment, and since I was still dressed in my best suit and tie, I figured I’d better go straight there for dinner. When the doors of the lift opened, I stepped out onto what I assumed was a superstitiously renamed thirteenth story. There, I was greeted by a slate grey corridor with matching marble floors. Large cubes were cut out in the walls, and inside those hollow spaces were flowerpots filled with Easter lilies dotting the whole length of the hallway. As per its name, Mugen’s external features were meant to look Japanese, although hyper-stylized, if not downright futuristic. Case in point: the two suits of fearsome samurai armor guarding the entrance door were far from traditional, as each bore a strong cyberpunk influence design-wise. Similarly, the door between the two figures resembled a shoji screen, albeit with a sleek mechanical appearance by way of Star Trek. Sure, the faux roof overhang seemed conventional enough, but its shape was so distorted that it gave the unsettling impression that an actual Japanese castle had somehow magically sprouted from within the hotel itself. As I drew closer, I couldn’t hear any noise coming from inside. The place seemed dormant. Guess I came at the wrong time.

While I searched for some indication of whether the place was open for business, the stillness of my environment was soon disrupted when the front doors parted automatically, revealing a bustling restaurant inside. The place was jam-packed. Guess the walls were soundproof or something. Just from the look of things, I was pretty sure the meal would be pricey. But what the hell, I could afford to splurge just this once. Good thing I was still wearing a suit. Might’ve been turned away if I’d shown up wearing my trusty aloha shirt.

A young woman dressed in a blue kimono greeted me as I approached the reservation counter. She was probably in her early twenties. Very pretty. In fact, she looked a helluva lot like—

Irasshaimase,” she said.

“Howdy,” I replied. Unless she thought I was a Japanese tourist (and since I’m half-Japanese, she’d be about half right, I suppose), I was betting she’d probably revert to English or Mandarin once the traditional greeting was out of the way. But just to be on the safe side, I figured I’d speed up the recognition process just a bit with my Oklahoma twang. Strange as “howdy” might sound to her, I knew that just by saying something as “country” as that she’d immediately peg me as an American. Sure, I could have responded with some half-assed Japanese, but I really didn’t feel like embarrassing myself.

Still processing my “howdy,” the woman smiled uncomfortably. “Do you have a reservation?”

I shook my head.

“I see,” she said. The woman tilted her head slightly, her pen poised over the reservation book. “How many are in your party?”

“Just me, ma’am. Just me.”

“Regular dining or sushi bar?”

“Oh, the sushi bar will do nicely,” I replied.

During this whole banal interchange, I couldn’t help but stare. While her face betrayed no inkling of recognition, I felt that somehow I knew her. But from where, I wasn’t exactly sure. Before I could ask, a kimono-clad waitress appeared and led me to the sushi bar. There were three empty stools, so I took the one in the middle for comfort’s sake. Before long, a glass of tea was placed in front of me and a wet towel was in my hands. After checking out the menu and doing some calculations in my head, I found the food to be surprisingly inexpensive. Even better, the place had a number of my favorite dishes on the menu. The service proved to be swift as well, as the waitress brought my dinner almost immediately after I ordered. After saying “Itadakimasu” to no one in particular, I dug into my meal.

When I was about halfway through my salad, a man took a seat to my right. I acknowledged his presence with a nod, a gesture he politely repeated in turn. Like me, the stranger wore a suit and tie. But unlike me, he was probably wearing Armani or Brioni or some high dollar brand like that. Hell, I wouldn’t know myself; all my suits come from JCPenney.

I couldn’t help but glance over at him from time to time. The stranger looked to be about my size. He was tan, possibly of Asian descent, although from where exactly, I couldn’t tell. Probably some kind of a mutt like me. His shaggy black hair was parted on the opposite side of mine, and some careless locks fell in his face, obscuring his left eye. The right one remained uncovered, and it looked about as feral as a wolf’s. After the waitress took his order, the stranger pulled out a pack of Marlboros and turned towards me.

“Got a light, pal?” he asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my trusty Zippo.

“Thanks,” he said, giving me a slight wink.

As the stranger took a drag on his cancer stick, I noticed something on his left middle finger. A silver ring. It looked like a high school class ring, only much, much bigger. It’s a special trinket they hand out to football players at high school all-star games. And I should know. I have the same ring at home. I stopped wearing it years ago, but there it was, on this stranger’s hand.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Sorry to bother you, but that’s a pretty big ring.”

He gazed at his hand absently. “I guess it is.”

“Where did you get it?”

“It was forged in the fires of Mount Doom by the Dark Lord Sauron,” he replied in a booming voice that caught the attention of some nearby diners.

I laughed and did my best Gollum impression. “So does that make it your preciousss?”

He smiled. “Somethin’ like that.”

I dutifully finished my salad and wiped my mouth off with my handkerchief before picking up the conversation again. “Funny thing is, though, I got one at home just like it.”

“Is that so? I got this playing in a high school bowl game back in Oklahoma.”

“Southwest Senior Bowl?”

He nodded, but was unsurprised.

“I played in that bowl, too,” I said. “Starting quarterback.”

“Really? I got this ring back in ’97 playing wide receiver.”

“Well, that’s a little before my time, but it’s the same ring, the same bowl. I’m from Marlow, by the way.”

The stranger didn’t say anything at first. His face twisted into an expression that I can only describe as quizzical. Then he paused, as if waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally let me in on a joke he’d been keeping to himself all this time. “I grew up in Rush Springs,” he announced proudly.

“Watermelon capital of the world? No kidding?”

“No kidding,” he said.

“Damn, man. Two guys from Oklahoma towns less than ten miles apart, and we meet up in a sushi bar at the other end of the globe. What’re the odds?”

“Small world.”

I extended my right hand. “Sanjuro Jones.”

The stranger gripped my paw firmly. The man had a good handshake, I’ll give him that. “Pleased to meet you,” he replied.

I narrowed my eyes when it became clear that he wasn’t going to state his name, but the stranger didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he simply motioned for the waitress to come over.

“Excuse me, miss, a bottle of your best sake for me and my friend.” He turned to me. “You like sake, don’t you?”

“Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist?”

The stranger grinned.

“But still, that’s gotta be expensive,” I said. “I really can’t let you pay for—”

“Don’t worry. It’s on me. I got plenty of what you might call ‘disposable income.’ No point in living if you can’t feel alive, am I right?”

“Fair enough,” I said. “So what brings you to Singapore?”

“Vacation,” he replied. “You?”

I told him, and soon the waitress brought a bottle of sake. The stranger poured me a drink, and I returned the favor. And that’s when we started talking. Really talking. When I think back on every genuine friendship I’ve ever had, they’ve always started the same way. On some level, I instantly knew I’d have a friend for life, and this guy, well, he was no exception. We had a lot in common: same mindset, identical interests, even similar experiences.

“Brothers from a different mother,” the stranger joked between gulps of sake.

Oddly enough though, as much as he and I had in common, it always seemed like I had gotten just a little bit farther than he had. For example, while the stranger was an all-area honorable mention in football, I was awarded the Oklahoma All-State Player of the Year Award. Similarly, while he did well on the ACT, I actually got a perfect score on my SAT. And perhaps most notably, the stranger mentioned that he was a state finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, but in my case, I damn near won the whole thing a few years back. And so on. The “almost” nature of our similarities was kinda eerie.

I didn’t think about it too much though. We just kept talking, trading jokes, and having a helluva good time. Strangely, I felt more focused with each passing drink. As clear-headed as I was, I have to admit that my tongue did loosen up quite a bit. A lot of stuff that I had been keeping inside…well, it came out. It wasn’t long before I started talking about Sakura. I don’t know why. After the funeral, I refused to even say her name. I had made my peace. Or so I thought. But now I was pouring my guts out to a complete stranger. A kindred spirit, perhaps, but he was still someone I had just met. Hell, I didn’t even know his name!

As comfortable as I felt with the stranger, my eyes sank low when I began talking about Sakura. I just sat there and told the whole sad story of how we met, how we fell in love, and how it all fell apart. When I finished and finally raised my eyes to meet his, I saw the damnedest thing. The stranger had tears in his eyes.

I thought I was torn up. I lived it, after all. But apparently my story had left the stranger shaken up as well.

“I’m sorry,” he said flatly, before clearing his throat. “So very sorry.”

“Yeah, well. It’s not like it’s your fault. That’s just life, I guess.”

He put on a plastic smile and nodded repetitively before finally coming out with it. “No, it is my fault.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Everything,” he said, not looking at me. “It’s my fault.”

“I think you had one too many drinks there, partner.”

“Sadly, I’m completely sober, Sanjuro.” He took the cigarette out of his mouth, looked at it, and then stubbed it out in the ashtray. “I don’t even really smoke.”

“Oookay,” I said, looking around. “Well, I appreciate the sake. Really, I do. But maybe I should—”

“Could you wait just a moment, please?” the stranger asked, before sighing loudly. “Well, I guess this is as good a time as any.” He fidgeted in his seat then looked over his shoulder. “See that woman that greeted you at the door.” I turned to look. “You thought you recognized her, didn’t you?”

“How did you—?”

“She reminds you of Yi-Ling, that girl you dated several years back. You couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but the answer was there, lingering in the back of your unconscious. I put it there, just as I put her here in this restaurant.”

“Why?” might have been a wholly illogical response, but it was the only thing I could think to say at the time.

“To prepare you. Call it déjà vu with a twist.”

“All right,” I cut in. “Stop yankin’ my chain, and tell me what this is all about.”

“Hmm, I think you need to see more so you’re fully ready to understand what I’m about to tell you. See that waitress over there?”

I craned my neck in the direction the stranger had indicated. There was a short waitress carrying a tray of food that seemed far too heavy for her small frame to support. Even so, she seemed to be handling the precarious balancing act rather well, all things considering.

The stranger spoke in an authoritative tone. “Overwhelmed by the heavy load, the waitress slipped, spilling her tray on an unsuspecting elderly customer.”

In seconds, the stranger’s minor prophecy came true.

“The elderly gentleman, however, was not upset. In fact, he found the whole thing amusing.”

And just as the stranger had said, the old man didn’t make a scene at all. He didn’t scold the waitress. He didn’t even ask to see the manager. In fact, I’ve never seen a man so overjoyed to have a plate of teriyaki chicken dropped on his crotch.

The stranger smiled and finished off his sake, before refilling his own cup. “Sorry,” he said. “I have a flair for the dramatic sometimes.”

“How did you do that? How do you know about Ling?”

“Oh, I guess the same way I know that you like the color red or that your favorite movie is Casablanca.”

“Just who in the hell are you?”

“A friend.”

“Thanks, but I got enough friends. What’s your name?”

“I have many names.” He reached into his pocket and took another cigarette from the pack and placed it in his mouth. I watched as he snapped his fingers and a small flame emerged from his thumb. After lighting the cigarette, the stranger shook his hand and the flame was gone. He took another drag then blew a perfect smoke ring in my direction.

“Oh, I get it,” I replied. “You’re supposed to be Satan.”

“I’ve been called worse. An angel with broken wings to be sure, but nah, I’m no devil.”

“God then?”

“I’m certainly a god. I’m not the God…I don’t think.”

“So now you’re quoting Groundhog Day?”

“Good catch,” he said, obviously pleased. “I knew you’d get that.”

“Of course you knew,” I said. “You’re a god.” I squinted at him impatiently for emphasis, but the stranger just let the silence hang for a bit. Guess it was up to me to figure this out. “Okay, all this double-talk is super swell, but who are you really? Is this some kind of practical joke? Who put you up to this?”

“Nobody put me up to anything. It’s no joke. And to address your first question, I should tell you that who I am is not as important as why I’m here.”

“Which means?”

“I’m here to help,” he assured me. “I know all these things about you because I’m the one who made you. In my own image.”

“Is that so?”

“Well,” he mused. “I gave you a few enhancements here and there.”

“Okay,” I said. “Provided I’m not hallucinating right now, why are you even telling me this?”

“Before I get to that, can I just say that it’s an awfully strange feeling to be at once in control of a situation yet also be so totally out of control. I’m ‘writing’ this scenario as we speak, yet it’s happening quite differently than I envisioned.”

The stranger made air quotes when he said “writing.” I hate air quotes.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen next,” he said. “You’re really throwing me for a loop here, Sanjuro.”

“It’s what I do, pal. It’s what I do.”

Creation of Adam

I popped some nigiri toro in my mouth and mulled things over, while the stranger waited patiently. When I finally swallowed, I resumed my friendly interrogation.

“Okay,” I began. “Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. You’re a god.”

“Well, yes and no. For all intents and purposes, I am the creator of this universe. I’m an author, you see. You’re just a character in my stories.”

“By ‘just a character,’ you’re suggesting that I’m not real?”

“I didn’t mean ‘just a character’ as a negative, but yes, you are a character. As far as reality is concerned, you’re as real as I am, I suppose. But then again, I’m technically a construct.” He stopped and sucked air in through his teeth. “Um, maybe that’s not the best—that is to say…well, you know what? Try not to think too much about that one. I mean, what is ‘real’ anyway?”

“Skip the Philosophy 101 bullshit. I’ve taken the class, I’ve seen The Matrix, I know what’s up. Just give me some straight answers.”

“Always the comedian, Sanjuro.” When I didn’t say anything, the stranger took a deep breath, as if pondering not only his next move, but each potential outcome. Finally, he asked, “Do you really want to know?”

“I think I’m entitled.”

“Do you believe you’re real?”

“Yes,” I said firmly, although between you and me, I was beginning to wonder.

“Then that’s enough, isn’t it?”

“What do you take me for, an idiot? Say what you’re holding back.”

“Maybe you should just finish off your unagi, chum.”

“And maybe you should just tell me what the hell is going on!”

I think I actually frightened ‘God,’ because he recoiled, ever so slightly. “Hardheaded as ever,” he replied. “Fine. I don’t know if this proves or disproves whether you’re real or not, but it’ll give you something to think about. Remember that birthday party you went to at that teppanyaki place in Payne City? The one that occurred not long after you and Yi-Ling broke up?”

“Yeah, so?” Where was he going with this?

“What happened at the restaurant?”

“I excused myself from the party early and walked home.”

He let out a smug little laugh. “That’s not the whole story, but I’ll take it. What happened afterward?”

“What do you mean?”

“When you got home, what happened?”

“It was a long time ago. Probably went to sleep. Who remembers things like that?”

“But you can recall leaving the restaurant and walking home, right? Why not what happened next?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Sanjuro, it’s not a foggy memory that’s preventing you from telling me what happened. The reason you don’t know is because I don’t know. I never wrote that part. I never even thought of what happened after that. When I know, you’ll know. Or perhaps you’ll know when I finally get around to writing it.”

“So is that how the universe really works?”

“To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, but at the very least, that’s how my universe works,” the stranger replied, before tipping back another cup of sake.

I, on the other hand, just stared at my cup. It was then that a long forgotten line of poetry entered my tiny little fictional brain. All that we see or seem…

“Is but a dream within a dream,” the stranger said, finishing my private thought aloud. “That Poe guy was a kooky fellow, wasn’t he?”

“That he was,” I said, gripping the cup tightly. “That he was.”

“Tell me, though, what’s the next memory you have? I’m curious.”

Without hesitation, I replied, “The tornado. Happened about two weeks later.”

“And then what?”

“I remember going to Texas to check up on my uncle. He had disappeared.”

“Well, the reason why you have two weeks unaccounted for is that my first novel ended with you walking out of the party. The sequel begins with the tornado.”

“That doesn’t prove anything,” I retorted. I’m not sure why I was fighting so hard. I’d already lost. “There are gaps in anyone’s memory,” I continued. “Besides, I remember some things in-between.”

“I sincerely doubt it. But I won’t push you on that point. This has all been quite a lot to digest in one night, I’m sure.” The stranger held up his hand. “When I told you I got this ring in 1997, you said it was before your time. So when is your time exactly? When did you get your ring?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know the reason why you’re drawing a great big blank right now? Because you’re a fictional character meant for an ongoing series. You exist solely in the present day, thus your history can never be pinned down. You can’t isolate the actual time period because I haven’t set that down in writing. I bet if you think hard enough, you might just have multiple memories. Different versions of the same event having equal weight in your mind, perhaps even blurring.”

He was right.

“Edits, I imagine. I’ve been working on your stories for quite a long time, Sanjuro. Every time I make a change to the novels, your memories are altered. I wasn’t for sure if the old ones were erased or if they blended together somehow, but I always suspected you retained some trace of your alternate histories.”

“So why am I here?” I asked, defeated. “And why are you here talking to me?”

“You are here because I wanted you to exist. Your story is my life’s ambition, and I’ve only just begun. On some level, despite the turmoil that you’re obviously feeling right now, this news has got to be fairly comforting.”

“Comforting?”

“Isn’t it? To know—not to take on faith, but to actually know for a fact that God exists, that the world was created for you, and that above all, God loves you, well, is that not comforting? I know I’m not much to look at, as far as deities go, but meeting me has to be somewhat of a relief.”

Well, he was right about one thing. I figured God would’ve looked more like Charlton Heston, not some overgrown kid in a suit. “Well,” I said, “it’s kinda hard for me to embrace this whole ‘God Loves Me’ revelation, when I’m still trying to make sense of being a fictional character.”

“You’re taking it pretty well, all things considering.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m an agnostic and an avid comic book reader. So in a sense, I’ve been preparing for this encounter my entire life.”

We shared a final laugh together, and for a brief moment, I was almost content with what should have been a mind-blowing revelation. But just as I was settling into this new idea of reality, out of nowhere, Sakura’s beautiful face flashed through my brain. And there it was. A nagging, previously inexplicable sensation made real. Discontent. If my life was a complete fiction then that meant that certain things didn’t have to happen. Certain irreversible events. Certain tragedies.

“What about Sakura? I was going to marry her!” I grabbed him by the shirt collar, but the stranger remained composed. The world fell away. It was just me and my God.

“Well, that’s the other reason I’m here,” the stranger began. “That’s why I’m talking to you. Y’see, I’ve come to apologize. You’ve already been through so much, I mean, for Sakura to die, to lose your father, your friends…”

“She didn’t have to die!” I tightened my grip. “If this isn’t real, then you could have changed that. You could’ve made this world whatever you wanted!”

“Yes, theoretically, I could have, but as hard as this may be for you to understand, Sanjuro, sometimes characters take on lives of their own. They make their own decisions and their own mistakes. And sometimes they die. I’m sorry that had to happen. I wish I could do something, but…”

“Horseshit! That’s a cop-out! You’re the author here. You’re in control, so you can write the story anyway you damn well please!”

“That’s where you’re wrong. If I’m in control, then why are you so angry at me? Wouldn’t I prefer you to be overjoyed? To accept me? Yet wouldn’t that do away with the whole purpose of me apologizing? True, this conversation exists because I permit it to exist, but the fact of the matter is you’re exerting free will right now, son.”

Son? I couldn’t even look at him.

His voice grew quiet. “About your father, your friends, and Sakura, well, I-I feel bad about it. T-that’s why I’m here. I’m here to…”

“Have me absolve you of your guilt?”

“Partially, I suppose.” He thought his words over carefully. “But really, I just want to bring you comfort. I want to apologize. At the very least, you can take solace in knowing that as long as I have anything to say about it, you will endure and overcome. And with any luck, you’ll live happily ever after.”

I just stared at the bastard. Nobody said anything for a long while.

“Sanjuro,” he said timidly. “Are you okay?”

“Bloody fucking lovely.”

“Is there anything you’d like to say?”

It took me a while to muster up the words, but when I finally did, I let ‘er rip. “You’re a piss-poor excuse for a god, I’ll tell you that much. Every time I got stabbed in the back, every time I got my heart torn from my chest, and every time I lost someone who meant something to me, that wasn’t just life, that was you!”

“Technically, I suppose, but like I said…”

“So how much money have you made off my ‘adventures’? What are you, Stephen King-famous now?”

“Well, actually,” he took in a deep breath. “I’m not published.”

“WHAT? What did you just say to me?”

“Well, I, um, easy there, hoss.” He raised his hands in defense. “My work is under consideration at some publishing houses right now, but the last few seemed like they either wanted some crybaby coming of age story about ethnic identity or a lame-brained mystery without an ounce of substance to it. Guess your stories are just ahead of their time.”

“Or maybe you’re just not a very good writer.” His visible embarrassment was almost revenge enough.

“That, too, is a possibility,” he said diplomatically. “But the thing is…”

“So let me see if I understand you,” I interrupted. “You’re telling me that not only is this world not real, but that all I’ve suffered never really happened or had to happen, that I myself am a figment of your imagination, and that my sole purpose for being is to make you rich and famous, yet MY STORIES AREN’T EVEN PUBLISHED!”

“Yeeaah,” he said slowly while rubbing the back of his neck. “That’s about the gist of it. Sorry.”

What happens when you punch God? I was willing to find out.

“Hold it right there, Sanjuro. I know what you’re thinking. But just hear me out. Why don’t I make this up to you? Through me, all things are possible, right?” He let out a nervous chuckle. “For example, that lighter you have in your pocket, that’s your father’s. He meant a lot to you. And you’ve always wished you had a better relationship with him before he died, isn’t that right? Just wait one second, and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”

Before I could react, the stranger spoke quietly, as if reciting an incantation. After he finished, a cascade of memories suddenly flooded through my mind. My father. Alive. We were working on cars in his old workshop, fishing together, and tossing the ol’ football around. Those and hundreds of other little moments were now a part of me, connected like a chain from birth to the present instant. No more arguments. No hurt feelings. No cancer. And above all, no death. All gone, now replaced by new memories, real memories, enveloping me like a warm baby’s blanket. The whole thing would’ve been overwhelming if it weren’t such pure bliss.

When it was all over, the stranger put his hand on my shoulder. I was too shaken to say a word. “And now just this once, I’ll…” he paused. “Now I can’t do it again, but just this one time, I’ll give you something I took away. Correction. I’ll give you someone that I allowed to be taken from you.”

“Giving me back my dad doesn’t change a goddamn thing,” I said through gritted teeth. “You can’t buy my respect. Or my forgiveness. Or my love.”

I looked him square in the eye to make sure he knew I meant it. I could tell that my words had hurt him, but the stranger attempted to mask his feelings, before finally speaking: “I don’t intend to buy anything, Sanjuro. I simply want to reward you. Call it a gift from God.” He mumbled something under his breath before speaking clearly once more. “Turn around.”

I did. There, sitting on the stool to my left was Sakura, alive and well, and more beautiful than ever.

The stranger stood up and spoke, “I’ll settle the bill. Not that it really matters, but hey, might as well go through the motions, right?” He counted out a wad of cash and placed it on the sushi bar. “For what it’s worth, I’m truly sorry. Sorry for everything that has happened. And for everything that will happen.”

I broke my gaze with Sakura and glanced at the stranger. “It can’t be all bad, can it?”

He smiled and waved his hand. “Orujnas tegrof.”

*      *      *

The stranger’s words were said more out of a sense of whimsy than for any practical reason. In truth, he could make Sanjuro remember as much or as little as he wanted without saying a word. The stranger was not God, but—as he had said— only a construct, and when his purpose ceased to exist, so did he. When the stranger vanished, no one in the restaurant cared to notice, least of all Sanjuro. Instead, he and Sakura tried to pick up where they had left off four years earlier. The two of them joked and laughed and reconnected as only lovers can after experiencing a long, tortuous separation. Sanjuro had not known happiness like this in quite some time. The next morning, however, he woke up alone and wept.

Elsewhere, his true Creator stares at the page and fumbles for a happy ending.

– Calvin McMillin 2007/2011

Wanderer

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