Grey Geppert’s “Serendipitous Collisions” won third place in our latest short story contest.
While reading the paper, Chappy happened upon an interesting ad.
“Serious curiosities collector in search of gallimaufry’s crowning jewel.
Will compensate in kind. No demand is too high.
Will meet in dark alleyway of your choosing.”
There was a time when it was more responsible to put your hands on the steering wheel. Cars rushed on, one after another. Eating. Texting. Snapping a picture of the Han river. Haneul watched five cars rush across the bridge into downtown Seoul; not one driver drove. Which didn’t bother him as much as his inability to imagine it any other way.
The “Curiosities Collector” was not what Haneul had expected, but not entirely different either. Gallimaufry’s Crown Jewel was a pointlessly cushy pseudonym for the drug most just called Hash. But the man seemed pointlessly cushy himself, sporting a clean pressed suit that melted into the night.
As he approached Haneul and came into the boundary of the street lamp, Haneul pinched a smile and put a mental association to the buyer’s face. Friend. Safe. Fun. “Haneul.” He extended his hand.
The man did not take it. Instead, he replied using net-cafe name. “Atticus.”
“Shake my hand, Atticus.”
“I’d rather not.” The man adjusted his suit jacket, as if proving something by the fact he owned one.
Haneul fought the rising heat. Friend. Good times. Happy… He took a slow breath. I’m happy. “Relax, friend. I’m just a different kind of business man. Now shake my hand. It’s…statistically significant.”
Atticus finally understood, and his sweaty palm grasped Hanuel’s. A dull light blipped indicating a successful data transfer, and the lens in Haneul’s left eye populated with the man’s directory information. Haneul didn’t read the info, before minimizing it. He didn’t actually care what it said. Instead, he checked his watch. Contact exchanged within the first minute, very good.
Haneul indicated for Atticus to join him at the bridge’s rail overlooking the water. He slid over the little bag of weed casually. Atticus snapped it off the rail and quickly passed back a fully charged service card, before checking over his shoulder. Haneul looked at his watch again. “Ok. You got me for four more minutes.”
“Also statistically significant. Serendipitous Collisions. That’s what they call them at Lnk’s service center. Like when you meet a friend of a friend, or run into someone you want to do business with on the street. We-” Haneul was cut off at the sound of the a siren, but kept an even smile. Police. Safety. Law. The association came to Haneul so easily he didn’t even have to manufacture the positive feelings anymore.
Atticus was stiff as a board.
“Relax friend. Nothing rocks an upstanding citizen’s Volatility Score like a negative association with law enforcement. Smile. Wave if you have to.”
Atticus didn’t smile, but he did seem to start breathing again.
“Anyways, we’re acting out one of those scenarios. Exchange information. Have a positive but shallow conversation. Then, like in most SC’s, we’ll never speak to each other again. But five’s the magic number. It’s a statistics thing. We fall under the radar and Lnk doesn’t raise our scores for meeting on a secluded bridge at night, and we don’t get branded as latent criminals.” Haneul continued to smile at the last traces of the strobes glinting off the river, genuinely grateful.
“You’re psychotic.” Atticus smiled. It seemed he respected the game Haneul played.
Good. Respect still falls within SC parameters. He could maintain his score, but what made dealing an art was that it was a two player game. It was his job to try to play on their controller at the same time. While they were together, suspicion or paranoia from the buyer could ruin his score no problem.
“More of a psycho-athletic. Two minutes left. Tell me why a black-tie like you suddenly picks up Hash.”
Atticus sighed like he’d lost a battle. “I was feeling inspired.”
Atticus went tight lipped.
“C’mon, You might as well. This is one of the last places in the city without audio surveillance.”
“By the idea of breaking the law.”
The muscles around Atticus’ eyes and face relaxed. His shoulders lowered.
Yes. Get comfortable. Confide.
Right on cue Atticus said: “Lnk painted this beautiful picture of my life. A great house. A fat-paycheck-job. I just put one foot in front of the other and I was there. My wife, I was proud of my wife, we didn’t check for compatibility until our wedding, and we were a perfect match. Without even trying I’d done perfectly.
“But something about that bothered me. For months. And then I guess…I just realized it. Every choice I can make, I can’t even tell if it’s mine or me subconsciously keeping my score clear and low. So, I got a strange idea.”
“If you break the law…” Haneul felt uneasy.
“Then that would have to be my own decision. Exactly!” Atticus wagged his finger at Haneul like it was some profound point. His sharp smile was regal, even a little smug, as if he was the first one to think of all of this. And he was getting too excited. Attracting too much attention to himself. Atticus was saying something else but Haneul couldn’t hear over his own heart beating. Still 30 seconds left, but Haneul could almost feel Lnk’s eye on them now. And this stupid black-tie didn’t realize he was holding up dangerous ideas, the worst ideas, the kind that threatened its own existence like a flair for it to see.
“I didn’t realize how bad I needed to talk—”
“Shut up. You are going to walk to the other end of the bridge,” said Haneul.
“But my car’s-”
“Take the train,” Haneul shoved passed, “Trust me, it’s safer. Don’t go home.”
Haneul didn’t stop when Atticus cursed. Didn’t look back when he ran. He kept his eyes front and shoulders down. Deep breaths. Deep breaths off the bridge into the streets. Deep breaths past the only nice car in the parking lot. Deeper breaths past the undercover cop pretending he wasn’t waiting for Atticus to return. Panic echoed from its hidden place, suffocated beneath his artificial association between society and safety.
Think you have what it takes to be a 7th Titan contest winner? Our Short Story contest is currently open! See the Contest page for prompts and submission details.