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Chance Encounters

A Short Story

Randall knew he was never a lucky guy, if there existed such a thing as luck. He felt as though the subway doors always closed right before he stepped on, felt some other pedestrian always snagged his taxis just before he could wave it in, and felt every pretty girl in New York which he could summon the courage to talk was always taken. But today, today he found a scrap of luck in the form of an abandoned cellphone on the sidewalk.

It wasn’t a nice cellphone, not an iPhone or Android, but a simple burner like the ones used by the bad guys in movies about organized crime. Perhaps that detail about the phone is what made the discovery lucky. If it had been a nice smartphone, Randall would have found himself blocked by passcodes, or the owner would have cared enough to call their service provider and shut down the device. But not this phone. This one appeared to be in perfect condition with full service and not a single scratch, even after laying on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue during a Saturday morning.

Randall already had a cellphone—it wasn’t as if he needed this lost one. Nonetheless, he had been selling Percocet to a closed circle of trusted acquaintances (a guilty burden on his conscious, but the money helped keep the lights on) and using his regular phone for these errands made him nervous, as if the DEA would bust down his apartment door any minute. After all, it wasn’t a purely artistic choice that those bad guys in the movies did use these types of phones. Once Randall was safe in his apartment, slouched in the solitary, beer-stained loveseat of his living room, he began sending texts from the burner phone to each contact who bought from him. He waited for each person to respond, confirming they knew this number to be the only form of contact they should have, and then saved their respective names and numbers into the phone’s contact list.

On Saturday’s, Randall was free of his commitment to the corner E-Z Mart and wouldn’t have to worry about getting stabbed over a pack of menthols until Monday stuck its head around the corner. Thus, he kicked his feet up on the coffee table, turned on Hulu, and poured himself a vodka and soda (easy on the soda). The daylight hours escaped him in a montage of Rick and Morty, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Handmaid’s Tale (yeah, he watched that, and he dared anyone to say something about it). As the view outside his window turned soft and purple with the falling sun, the burner buzzed against his leg. Randall, surprised someone had already run through their supply, reached into his pocket, and flipped the phone open.

The text showed an unknown number. Had he forgotten to save someone’s name? Or perhaps one of his customers sent a friend to his number- something he had told each and every one of them to never do. Irritated, Randall clicked into the message, but what he saw made no sense.

212-555-7641

23 Jones Ave, Brooklyn…3am

After his initial shock and confusion, Randall figured this must be someone trying to contact the phone’s previous owner. It was the only explanation he could reach. Randall double checked he had texted every customer and saved their numbers, which he had. Deleting the message, Randall returned to his weekend entertainment. After Randall had drunk himself through a new six-pack, and the streets of New York had turned dark and ominous, the phone buzzed again.

212-555-7641

??? Now’s not the time to back out. BE THERE.

A fog of paranoia drifted from the recesses of Randall’s thoughts and hung its greyness over his logic. The mob and gangsters didn’t just exist in movies, they were reality. Drug dealers populated New York’s underground like red ants—small and hidden to the unaware eye, but bountiful nonetheless. They would come looking. They would go to this address and find their man missing, and then they would come for Randall. He shook his head. It made no sense. How would they find him? They could trace the number. Yes, that was entirely possible…right? No. Paranoid, he was acting paranoid. Randall shook his head again and tossed the phone onto the cushion.

The phone buzzed again. Yet this time, it kept buzzing. Someone was calling. Randall looked at the phone, the hairs on his neck prickling. A slow hand reached over and picked it up. He held the phone as if it was a wired bomb with the last seconds ticking away. Randall flicked it open and saw it was, in fact, the same unknown number. He pressed decline. Seconds later, a string of messages rattled the phone.

212-555-7641

You son of a bitch.

Coward. Answer me.

This isn’t a game anymore.

Blood is on your hands. Remember that.

Don’t throw this away.

Randall watched the messages roll in, his stomach twisting into a knot with each vibration. Through his fear and confusion, a short gasping laugh escaped from his lips. It seemed his bad luck remained the same. The phone vibrated once more, and rather than reading something he never wanted to know, Randall jumped from his seat and launched the phone at the wall. It clattered to the floor, perfectly intact. Randall leaned over, hands on his knees, and began to laugh. He had forgotten that before the days of fragile glass phones, they had been built with the structural integrity of a slab of brick and mortar. Nonetheless, he intended to destroy it. It had been a mistake picking it up. He wanted no part of this bloodied feud between anonymous faces.

Picking up the phone, Randall walked to the sink, dropped it in the garbage disposal and flicked the switch. The metal blades inside the drain screeched and began to toss the phone about in a spray of plastic shards. The phone jumped as if trying to escape the shredding blades. Randall flicked the switch again and stared down at the tattered phone. It was destroyed, useless. It had to be. Yet still, Randall felt unsafe. He felt as if someone was down below on the street, smoking a cigarette as they surveyed his apartment and calculated how they would break in and kill him. This time, he couldn’t convince himself otherwise. The liquor and beer had made his thoughts fuzzy and incomplete. Logistics escaped him and the paranoia found him, staring into his face with an evil grin of yellow teeth. Randall grabbed the gashed remains of the phone and fled out the front door.

If he truly had put his ass on the line by picking up the phone, he meant to be proactive about it. He meant to make sure he was prepared for whatever mess he had stepped in. As Randall jogged down the stairs of his building and hopped into his car, he ran through the plan a hundred times. He would go to the address, keeping a good distance of course, and he would wait to see what happened. He had to make sure he could be ready for any potential repercussions.

As his rusted Sedan bumped off the curb and into the street, Randall almost made a U-turn and ran right back upstairs. This was crazy. Why should he go directly to the danger, if there even was any? He risked a whole lot more just by putting himself closer to the situation. Nonetheless, he drove on, the alcohol sloshing through his stomach and his mind. Randall checked the clock—1:30 AM—as he turned the corner onto 23rd street and parked the car. He killed the engine, turned off his headlights, and leaned the seat back just enough to peek over the rim of the window.

The street was dark. Multiple light posts were out and the others flickered with their last bit of strength. The supposed meeting wouldn’t happen for over an hour, but Randall scoured the street with eyes as if he expected Al Capone to appear from the shadows with a trunk full of cash. But there was nothing, just a lone wanderer stumbling down the street with his head low and hands tucked in the pockets of a jacket. Distant car horns could be heard in the still of the night. Randall slid further down in the seat as the man passed by his car. The occasional car drifted down the road and Randall watched them turn away, their brake lights a bright beacon in the shaded hours. As 3 o’clock drew closer, Randall’s foot bounced restlessly against the floor of the car. His mind played tug-of-war on itself—one half telling him to get the hell out of here, but the other half kept him glued to his spot on the street. Just when the rational side of the battle urged him to throw the car into reverse, the phone began to vibrate in the passenger’s seat. How? How could it still be working?

Randall grabbed it, almost dropping it from his shaking hands, and flipped the screen open. The unknown number pulsed on the display, wobbling a happy dance as the staccato vibration went through its cycle. Randall declined the call. If there was any doubt left in his mind, it had run off when the phone rang. It was time to leave. He tossed the phone to the side, stuck his keys in the ignition, and—

TAP TAP TAP.

Randall jerked back in his seat, slamming his knee on the underside of his steering wheel. He looked up and almost pissed in his pants. His car was surrounded.

Somehow, during the phone call, a group of men dressed in all black had snuck up on him and now stared through each window. They wore dark sunglasses, even in the darkest part of the night, and their faces were stale plaques of stone. The man at the driver’s side window tapped again and twirled his finger in a circle—roll it down.

Randall, in a split-second of fear and confusion, attempted to start the car and drive as far away from this street as possible. He made one quick motion to start the car, but at the same instant, each person around his car reached into their black coats and produced sleek pistols. The man outside the window shook his head and tapped again. Randall leaned away from the steering wheel, bringing both hands to hover by the side of his head.

“Unlock it,” the man said beyond the glass.

Randall obeyed. As soon as the locks clicked, every door to his car was thrown open and the man grabbed Randall by his collar, yanking him into the street. Randall fell onto his stomach, tried to get up, but a heavy boot pushed into the small of his back and kept him pinned down. No one spoke to him. His car was being frisked by the others as the one man kept his gun aimed at Randall. They threw the contents of his glovebox into the road and turned the seats up. One of them found the phone and brought it over to the man standing on top of Randall.

“Guess we know where Smith went,” he said, handing the phone over.

The pressure eased on Randall’s spine as the man observed the phone. “Where’d you get this?” he asked. Randall went to turn his head, but the man’s other foot came up pressed it back down. “Don’t look at me. Answer the question.”

“It was on the sidewalk,” he stuttered. “I didn’t know anything about it, I swear. It was just lying there!”

The two men exchanged whispered words. Randall’s breathing was short and fast, his mind floundered.

“Get up,” the man commanded and grabbed the back of his shirt. Randall stumbled to his feet as they pulled on him and threw him against the side of his car. He stared down the barrel of a pistol, trying not to soil his pants. Beyond the pistol, he could see his own reflection in the black mirror of the man’s sunglasses—wild eyes and a trickle of blood coming from above his eye. He hadn’t even felt it. The man stared at him silently, as if some device in those sunglasses was finishing an analysis of Randall’s threat level, and then said, “Get her.”

“Who? Get who?” Randall asked.

“Shut up.” The man jabbed the gun towards Randall’s face and he flinched back.

The man who had brought the phone from the car walked away, towards a black SUV which Randall had just noticed for the first time, and popped open one of the rear doors. Out stepped a woman, dressed in a shirt which fit tightly to her hourglass figure. The shirt had a long tail which billowed behind her. Randall, through the fog of terror, found her beautiful. She wore white, contrary to her serious counterparts, and strode towards him with fluid steps, like a Russian ballet dancer gliding across the stage. She came to face Randall.

Her eyes were green, not a soft aqua, but bright and piercing like polished emerald gems. Long blonde hair was pushed behind her eyes, framing the dazzling irises like a priceless renaissance painting. But, as she stood there and examined Randall’s face, the green melted into violet, then to red, then to blue. Randall knew he had to be hallucinating. The stress of the situation had broken his conscious and he was imagining things. Yet he couldn’t even convince himself of these things. Before he could comprehend the sight, the woman reached a hand up and placed the palm against his brow. He felt heat, saw a muffled flash of light from the woman’s palm, and the heat became painful. Randall tried to scream, but no sound came.

“He’s telling the truth,” she said and stepped away. The woman spun on her heel and glided back to the SUV, stepped in and disappeared as if she had never existed.

The world around Randall began to swim. The street tilted and his legs were weak. A whirl of visions raced through his mind—a grassy hill with a lone, massive redwood tree on its peak, an angry ocean of violent waves crashed against jagged pillars of rock, lava flowed through a channel of burnt earth surrounded by trees on fire. None of it made sense. Where were these things coming from? What had she done to him?

The world went dark.

Randall sat up straight, gasping for air. His head dribbled with cold sweat and his hands shook uncontrollably. He was home, sitting on the love seat with Netflix on the TV asking him—Are you still there? Randall wasn’t sure if he was. He looked around the room, remembered the cold stare of those black sunglass, and slowly rose from the couch. Blood drained from his head and his vision started to go dark, forcing him to sit back down. As he did, something rattled on the cushion beside him. Randall removed his head from his hands and saw an overturned medicine bottle sitting beside him. White pills were spilled across the cushion—Percocet. He grabbed the bottle turning it over in his palm.

Randall had sold the last of his supply. He was positive. Then, like a splash of cold water, the memory of that woman’s changing eyes came back to him. He saw her irises dissolving and changing colors as she stared into his soul. Even from his memory, he felt as though she could see him, see into him. He looked at the bottle in his hand, looked at the empty handle of vodka on the floor, and a creeping suspicion began to form itself in his head.

He had overdosed, gotten overconfident with his limits and drank himself into a night terror. Yet there remained a doubt, like a small flame in a dark room. The phone. Where was the phone? Randall jumped from the seat once again, fighting off another head rush, and overturned the entire apartment. He checked the wall for a mark where he had thrown the phone, checked the garbage disposal for traces of plastic—there was nothing. After checking under his bedcovers, under every couch cushion, Randall sat back down. Looking at the empty bottle of Percocet, Randall accepted the overdose. It was rational. He had a problem and it had taken him to a dark dream world, one which he had no intention of ever visiting again. Randall scooped the spilled pills into the bottle and threw them all in the trash.

Randall went to his window, looking down on the Sunday morning. The street was quiet, occupied by a few pedestrians on a stroll. He jumped as he saw one of the men in black standing in the alleyway across the street and staring up at him, but it was only a trash can. Randall leaned his forehead against the window and blew a hard breath, creating a small circle of moisture on the glass. In his heart, he knew what he had seen. The woman’s eyes were burned to the side of his brain like a brand to a cowhide. He could feel the weight of the phone in his pocket, could see his own face in the reflection of those sunglasses. It had been real. He knew it to be true. He sold his Percocet, the bottle shouldn’t be here. It was a ploy. They wanted him to forget, wanted him to convince himself of a bad dream. And it was easy for him to accept, far easier than convincing himself of an encounter with some witch and her bodyguards. They were smart, but Randall trusted his memory. He couldn’t escape those eyes. He had to tell someone, had to explain what he had seen.

But who would believe him?