Frank and Gordon in: Crushed by a Falling Meteorite (A Machine of Death story)

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Frank returned the small piece of paper to Gordon while keeping a wary eye on his friend, who was loading a single live bullet into a small snub-nosed revolver.

—Crushed by a falling meteorite?

With a giddy laugh Gordon spun the cylinder around and fastened it shut.

—Yeah! Is that the best thing or what? What’s with all the dog food?

Gordon put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, causing Frank to jump. Frank’s concern was for nothing, as the gun let out a harmless click and left Gordon standing, head intact.

—My neighbor is gone for the month, I offered to feed and walk his dog. So you ended up using that stupid thing too? I didn’t even know we had a Thano-Star in the area.

Gordon, almost as if disappointed by the last click, spun around the cylinder and put the gun to his head again.

—There’s a new kiosk in the mall, near the hibachi stand. And you’re looking at the next falling meteorite victim!

—Gordon, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to keep doing that.

—Why not? It’s not like it’s going to kill me.

—I don’t understand. How is getting crushed by a falling meteorite supposed to be good news?

—Because usually, you never know exactly how it’s going to happen. Like if you get “old age,” an old person could kill you. You know, irony and stuff.

Gordon spun the cylinder again. Testing chance even more, or maybe just testing that piece of paper in his pocket, this time he pulled the trigger three times, each one an impotent click.

—How is an old person going to kill someone anyway?

—They could… I don’t know, beat you with a walker or something. Anyway, with mine there’s no gray area. Honestly, how much room for interpretation is there in ‘crushed by a falling meteorite?’ There’s no other way for me to die, other than a random rock falling from the sky and crushing me. And when it happens, it happens. Till then I can do whatever I want without any fear of death.

Gordon put the gun to his head once more. Four times in succession, each one a click.

—Please don’t pull that trigger again. Or at least don’t do it in my house…

The gun slipped out of Gordon’s hand and fell on the floor. Upon impact it finally shot off its lone bullet, fortunately well away from Gordon’s head, but unfortunately right in the middle of Frank’s living room window.

—Sorry. I thought it would be empty. Well, at least we’re alright. Don’t worry about the window, your landlord will have it repaired.

—Yeah, after I explain to him how it broke from a gunshot!

—You could tell him… there was a gang fight.

—Gordon, I live on a cul-de-sac, there aren’t any gangs around here! Just don’t ever bring a gun into my house again.

*

Frank rubbed the sore tip of his finger and mulled over the small piece of paper in his pocket as he watched Gordon shovel forkfuls of teriyaki steak in his mouth. Twenty minutes ago, he visited what appeared to be an ATM, garishly painted black and purple with an almost grotesquely cute cartoon mascot of the grim reaper, riding along the night sky on his sickle as if someone had confused the traditional memento mori with the intro animation to Bewitched. Despite its apparent intention to please and comfort, Frank found the machine’s minimalism disconcerting, as its only other features were a small slit that spit out paper predictions and a single needle, which also made him wonder how sanitary the whole operation was, if at all. Frank didn’t even like this particular hibachi stand, but more than that he wanted to put off looking at that piece of paper for as long as he could, in which case he never would have bothered with if not for Gordon’s fierce insistence, and so he feigned a craving for tempura.

Gordon popped the lid off his drink and dropped a tiny droplet of clear liquid in his cup.

—What’s that?

—Arsenic.

—…why did you just put arsenic in your drink?

—I want to develop an immunity. Rasputin used to imbibe small doses of poison every day, and when his assassins gave him a huge dose of arsenic he survived.

—That’s ridiculous. Who’s going to try to poison you?

—No one. I’ll be crushed by a meteorite first. But it would still be cool to be immune to it, don’t you think?

—Alright then, if you know a meteorite’s going to kill you, why not just take a full dose?

—Be real, Frank. That much would kill me. I wouldn’t do that to myself if I knew I’m getting crushed by a meteorite in my future, would I?

—You’re right, that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?

—Want to try some?

—No thanks.

—Come on, a little bit won’t kill you.

—I’m not imbibing any arsenic.

—Alright, fine. But look at your prediction, will you?

—I really don’t want to. I’m not comfortable with this at all…

—I’ve got a lot of things planned, and I want to do them with you. You’re my best friend, I want to make sure nothing will happen to you. Besides, you’re out fifteen bucks, you might as well look at it.

—Things planned? Like what?

—A bucket list. Skydiving and stuff.

Frank sighed and took out the paper. The last time he got into an argument with Gordon it became unbearably maudlin around his house for weeks. Nothing but checkers by himself and the occasional World War II special on the History Channel. Gordon could be an idiot from time to time, true, but he was his only friend living reasonably close to the area, which effectively made him his best friend. Like all of his phases, this one would peter out soon enough. Besides, lots of people go skydiving, how bad could it get?

—What does it say?

Frank took a peek at the paper, and clenched his eyes shut in dread. He said nothing for a long moment, then took a deep breath.

—Old age.

—Awesome. I have a plane reserved for us in a week. As long as we stay away from old people we’ll be set.

*

The next day Frank awoke and emerged from his bedroom to find, among several boxes and suitcases littered among his living room, a cage in which Gordon sat cross-legged and meditating, wearing nothing but a pair of tattered cutoff jean shorts, along with a cornucopia of rattlesnakes, adders, mambas, cobras, and other dangerously venomous serpents from all over the world.

—What the hell…

—I accidentally burned my place down while learning how to breathe fire. Can I stay here for a while?

—I don’t know, I’d have to check with my landlord. What are you doing?

—I read this book about a guy who wanted to get into the Guinness book of records for staying in a cage full of poisonous snakes for the longest time. His fatalistic attitude was an ironic contrast to the other characters who were deeply afraid of death, but even more ironically, he failed when he realized the snakes he used were non-poisonous. Well, I don’t have to worry about all that literary stuff, since I’m dying by meteorite, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

—Are you crazy? You’re risking your life for one line in a book that no one reads anyway.

—First of all, it’s funny you put it that way, because that’s exactly what the main character says! And second, even if I get bitten, and I know I won’t, I have all the antidotes.

Gordon pointed to a neatly-arranged set of bottles, labeled with the scientific name of each snake present with him in the cage. Frank clutched his forehead and let out a sigh.

—You’ve got to get those out of here. Right now…

Frank unwisely approached the cage and placed his hand on one of the bars, and a snake in Gordon’s company responded with a swift bite. He fell back on the floor, clutching his hand and screaming in pain.

—Frank! Oh my God, are you okay?!

—I just got bit by a snake, I’m not okay!

—Alright, stay calm. I think it was a viperid type, and the bite lasted about half a second, and you’re what, one seventy pounds?

—One eighty.

—Oh, you’ll be fine for a while.

—Gordon, get out of that cage and give me the antidote!

—If I leave now I’ll have stayed all this time for nothing. It’ll be hours before your arm goes into necrosis, and I’ll be done long before then. Just sit tight, the proteases in the venom will break down your proteins, cause pain and swelling, and, I don’t know, you might lose a little blood too. Also, all of these snakes are about one and a half years old, which is very young for a snake…

Frank tried to protest, but the viperid venom in his arm, after satisfactorily numbing it with the most immense pain he had ever felt in his life, courteously coursed through his veins and all the way to his tongue, effectively stopping any chance of Frank disrupting Gordon’s bid for a world record.

*

True to Gordon’s reassurances, the venom did not kill Frank or even putrefy his arm, but Gordon failed to break the record in any case, as the pilot for the skydiving session he had reserved later in the week had called him for urgent business, business which he was reluctantly compelled to take care of if there was any hope of him keeping his engagement. With all the particulars seen to, Gordon and his friend, right arm completely recovered, found themselves standing over the opened bay doors and overlooking a grassy, bare drop zone.

—Sorry my little bite there messed up your record thing yesterday.

—Don’t worry, that’ll pale in comparison to what’s coming next. I’m so excited. My whole life I’ve been living in fear. I’ve always hesitated to do the things I wanted to do. But not anymore. Nothing’s holding me back now. I’ve been reading the occasional astronomy magazine, you know, to keep track of when meteor showers are going to occur, but other than that…

—Hey Gordon?

—Yeah, Frank?

—I couldn’t help but notice we’re not wearing our parachutes. Do we put them on now?

—No, there’s only one.

—But, I thought we were skydiving…

—No, silly. The pilot’s skydiving!

The pilot got to his feet and left the cockpit, slung the lone parachute onto his back and jumped out of the open hatch. Frank helplessly watched the pilot freefall and deploy the parachute. Buttons at the cockpit beeped and flashed red as the plane lurched, ready to nosedive into the field.

—Don’t worry, I checked, he’s only thirty-five. As long as a meteorite doesn’t hit the plane on the way down, it’s smooth sailing!

*

A couple days later, Frank was discharged from the hospital and allowed to return to his home. It was a miracle, the doctors remarked, that he not only survived a plane crash, for Pete’s sake, but scraped by with just a concussion, some sprains and a broken arm. That Gordon walked away from the crash with mere cuts and bruises, on the other hand, was so baffling that it seemed even beyond the scope of traditional miraculous fare. Some of them believed the cause of Gordon’s near-invincibility to be the fact that he had imbibed two or three precautionary shots of whiskey prior to the flight, which prevented him from instinctively tensing his limbs on impact. Gordon, of course, wholeheartedly believed the cause to be those five magic words printed on that small piece of paper in his pocket, CRUSHED BY A FALLING METEORITE.

It took a bit of doing for Frank to park his car straight against the side of the street, being unused to the cast on his arm, and during the ordeal he could have sworn he heard what sounded like elephant trumpeting. Shrugging off the odd sound, he advanced toward his house, only to hear the trumpeting again, coupled with thunderous thumping footfalls. Plenty of external factors, then, logically concluded it, but when Frank opened his door he still could not believe what he saw: a large African elephant, trampling around the room, stomping on and crushing furniture, picking up appliances with its trunk and throwing them around (a habit which, Frank noticed, had completely broken the window that before had only a single bullet hole), and perhaps most puzzling of all, Gordon astride its back.

—Hey, Frank. Good to see you recovering. You know how people always say ‘there’s an elephant in the room?’ I always wondered what it would be like to have a real elephant in the room!

—Gordon… I can’t even believe what I’m seeing now.

—I know, it’s awesome, isn’t it? Tomorrow some Mexicans that live a couple streets away are going to let me take an actual bull by the horns!

—Where did you get an elephant, anyway?

—I bought one from the zoo. I figured they had more than they knew what to do with.

—Really? Aren’t elephants endangered or something?

—The ICUN conservation status for an African elephant is only ‘vulnerable’, and that’s not so bad.

—You’ve got to get that thing out of here now! I don’t care what world records you want to break.

—I don’t think we can get him out. I tried to take him for a walk outside, but he couldn’t fit through your door. And I didn’t want to break it down, so…

—Wait, what? Well then, how did you get it into the house?

The elephant lumbered over to Frank and nudged him on the shoulder with its proboscis.

—Look, he likes you. Go on, shake his trunk.

—I refuse to touch that thing’s…

Before Frank could finish the elephant bucked its legs up in the air and bellowed at him. Frank staggered back through the front door to avoid the impact of the elephant’s feet as Gordon slid off its back and landed on some broken debris. After a moment the elephant calmed down and reverted to a slow lumber among Frank’s crushed possessions.

—How do you even get an elephant, or a bull, or a cage full of poisonous snakes from all over the world? How can you afford to crash a plane in the middle of a field?

—I’ll show you tonight, if you really want to know.

*

That night Frank drove his friend out a couple miles from his house, as per Gordon’s directions, until they reached the parking lot of a local First American Bank. Gordon reached for the latch on Frank’s door, but Frank activated the lock before he could open it.

—Hey Gordon.

—Yeah, Frank?

—I couldn’t help but notice you led me to a bank, at midnight. And that you’re wearing all black, and a ski mask, and you have a crowbar and a duffel bag with you.

Gordon, realizing he could pull the lock up on his door himself if he wanted, opened his door, stepped out of Frank’s car and pulled the ski mask over his head.

—I’m just going to make a little ‘withdrawal’.

—Gordon, please do not rob this bank.

—Keep the car running. I’ll be back in ten minutes.

Twelve minutes later, Frank heard an alarm, followed seconds later by Gordon frantically running out of the building. He scrambled inside the passenger seat and slammed the door shut.

—Go! Get out of here!

Before Frank could say anything, or even think about what he was doing, he found himself speeding out of the First American, with Gordon beside him, a duffel bag on his lap full of bills flying out of the window.

—Jesus Gordon, I told you…

—What? I didn’t do anything wrong.

—You just robbed a bank! The sirens went off, the cops are going to…

Sure enough, a group of three red and blue flashing lights appeared behind Frank’s car.

—Relax, Frank. Everything’s fine. None of those cops are retired yet.

Gordon was interrupted by two gunshots that pierced the rear window and the windshield, narrowly missing one or the other’s head.

—Yeah, well maybe you’ll die by a falling meteor, but we can still go to jail!

—Frank, I’m trying to tell you. That bank is a front.

—What? What do you mean, a front?

—I stole laundered money. It belongs to the Vitti family, a local crime family around here.

—A crime family? In the suburbs?!

—It’s true! The Vitti family’s been paying for my whole bucket list. Hell, the cops wanted me to steal it, I arranged it all with them a week ago.

—Then why are they shooting at us?!

—Well, I still technically robbed a bank. They have to keep up appearances, don’t they?

During the high-speed pursuit, Frank neglected to notice a spike strip on the road that sent his car reeling, until it decided to stop upon impact with a lamp post. Leaning back in their seats, the front-end of the car up in the air, Gordon gathered errant bills and stuffed them in the bag while Frank clutched his forehead, seething in agitation.

—See? They stopped chasing us. Hm, I’d say we only lost a few thousand, which makes about a quarter of a million left. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

*

—So Gordon. We need to talk.

Gordon stood and faced Frank, sitting on the half of his sofa not yet befouled by elephant droppings, with a mug of coffee too hot to take any more than awkward grimacing sips from, and still in his pajamas, his chest curiously stained with a large spot of what looked like blood. The elephant was calm for the most part, standing still and manipulating wrecked debris with its trunk.

—Sure, Frank. I haven’t seen you in a while, not since you drove getaway for me. It’ll be good for us to have a little talk, won’t it?

—Yeah. Well, um… an interesting thing happened this morning. While you were gone.

—Really? What’s up?

—Well, I went next door and brought in my neighbor’s dog. Then I fed him, as usual.

—Sounds good so far.

—Then I opened the back door and let him outside to do his business.

—I could see why you would do that.

—Then I thought I’d play fetch with him for a little bit. So I picked up a stick and threw it into the backyard.

—Understandable.

—And then he ran after the stick, and grabbed it with his mouth. Then he ran back to me, and on the way, he, um…

—What happened then, Frank?

—Hm… what’s the word I’m looking for? He, uh… he exploded.

Gordon fell silent at this. Frank took another pained, hot sip of his coffee.

—Gordon. Would you care to explain to me why my neighbor’s dog… exploded?

—What do you mean by, exploded?

Frank dumped the remainder of his coffee on the carpet (a stain which barely stood out amid the wreckage of his house anyhow), threw the mug aside and forcefully grabbed Gordon’s wrist, dragged him to the kitchen and opened the sliding door to reveal the backyard, with a conspicuous crater in the middle and scattered dog’s blood and parts all around.

—Blown up, detonated, gone up in smoke, in a mighty conflagration, in pieces, to smithereens as it were. Exploded!

—Oh… Right. I forgot to tell you, I planted some landmines in your backyard.

—You… what?!

—I thought it would be more fun to run laps around your yard that way. Hm… now that one of them went off and spread detritus around, I might not remember where I buried them.

—And when were you planning on telling me my yard was full of landmines?

—I wouldn’t say full of them, more like five or so… I’m sorry, I meant to tell you but I feel like you’ve been trying to avoid me the past few days.

—Gordon, they’re landmines! How did you even get them? They’re like, banned by international law!

—Well, I don’t think I’m breaking any international laws if I’m just putting them in a private backyard to run around in, am I?

Frank let out a deep breath, pulled out his wallet and slapped the piece of paper on the kitchen counter for Gordon to see. Not “old age,” but one word, impeccably printed in black ink, all capital letters: GORDON. Neither of them said or did anything for a moment. Gordon picked up the paper and took a closer look, as if his disbelieving his distant sight. Sure enough, the paper still said his name, even up close. Frank noticed his friend’s lower lip lightly quiver as he returned the paper to him.

—But… Why didn’t you tell me?

—Because I’m your only friend, and if I showed that to you, you would have locked your door and sat next to your phone and whimpered all day like my neighbor’s poor dog, for months at a time. Because I felt sorry for you. Real stupid of me, I have to say. You’re going to get me killed, Gordon. Pack your stuff and get out my house.

—I can’t pack. Big Sandy wrecked all of my luggage.

—Big Sandy?

—It’s what I named the elephant.

*

Gordon left, and after a day or so the elephant left as well, but not before breaking an elephant-sized hole through the wall and Frank’s front door. A couple amusing local news updates pertaining to a wild elephant running rampant around the suburbs notwithstanding, it was back to the usual Gordon-less doldrums for Frank. One day, after beating himself twice in checkers (but not before losing three times), he perused the TV listings for a good historical documentary TV show to spend the afternoon with, and settled on a show that elucidated the general weekly eating habits of Adolf Hitler.

Frank, however, would never learn about the diet of the world’s most hated man, for just as he reached for his television remote he was struck in the back of the head and knocked unconscious. When he came to, he found himself in the middle of the living room, hands and legs tied to a chair, mouth duct-taped. Two men were in the room with him, who could only have been those responsible for his being bound up as he was. One of them, a heavyset, perpetually sweating man, leaned against the wall and kept silent, spinning a quarter with his fingers. The other man, older but more refined than his companion, with a well-tailored suit and tasteful tie to match, noticed Frank had regained consciousness and approached him.

—Hello. Frank, is it?

Frank mumbled through the tape the best he could, then realized it was a better idea to simply shake his head yes. The well-dressed man turned to his partner.

—Why in the hell did you gag him, anyway? You can see we’re here to interrogate him.

The corpulent man, apparently the well-dressed fellow’s underling, approached Frank and ripped off the tape from his mouth in one attempt. Frank took a moment to recover from the stinging sensation on his mouth.

—How did you get in here, anyway?

—You hear that, Jimmy? A guy with a giant hole in the wall wants to know how we got in his house.

Frank rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. If he survives this ordeal, he thought, he probably should get that wall fixed soon.

–—Anyway. My name’s Don Vitti. I run the local Vitti crime family…

—His name is actually Don, though. Donald Vitti.

—Thank you, Jimmy. Anyway…

—He’s not really Italian. Well, part Italian, although his mother’s maiden name was…

—Jimmy, please! Now listen, kid. I know you and your buddy have been stealing a lot of money from me. I just want to know where it is. And maybe your friend too. Not necessary, but you know, it would be nice if you threw us a bone.

—I got to say, you’re not really intimidating for a mafioso.

—The hell did you say to me, kid?

—I mean, what are you doing here if you’re the boss? Interrogation, that’s grunt work, you should have just sent your pal here himself. And you don’t actually call it a “crime family,” dumbass, the whole point is to have a front so that people don’t know you’re a criminal. I guess I should have expected as much from a suburban mob.

—Hey Jimmy, this kid here thinks we’re not intimidating or something. You wanna show him what we’re all about?

—He’s kind of right, boss. What are you doing here, anyway? I could have handled this…

—Ah, shut up and smack this kid around for me, will you?

Don Vitti stepped back and allowed his companion to adequately strike Frank across the face. After giving him two black eyes, several cuts on his face and possibly a broken jaw, he retreated back to his spot against the wall and resumed spinning his quarter. Don Vitti then took some time to inspect Frank’s living arrangements, shaking his head and tsk-tsking in disapproval.

—What happened to this place anyway?

—There was an elephant in the room.

—The hell does that mean? Is he like your boyfriend or something?

—No, he literally brought an elephant into the room.

—Hey Jimmy, this guy thinks we’re a bunch of idiots or something. I don’t think you hit him hard enough.

—I just got back over here to my corner. I just made myself comfortable…

—Get over there and smack this kid again!

Jimmy grumbled, pocketed his quarter and struck Frank on the face a couple more times.

—Are you going to need me to keep doing this? I don’t want to go all the way back to the corner if I have to keep walking back and forth.

—Shut up, Jimmy. Say, what about this? You two use it for some sort of sick bondage game or something?

—No, that’s… my friend’s. He tried to break the record for sitting in a cage full of poisonous snakes the longest.

—Are you jerking my ass around again, kid?

—Come on, I’m tied to a chair and I’m getting beaten in the face! How much of an imagination do you think I have right now? Look, I got bit by one myself, it bit me right on the arm. See those antidote bottles?

Don Vitti picked up the discarded bottle, housing the antidote to the viperid venom that had recently attacked Frank’s bloodstream, and set it aside with a scowl.

—Huh. It checks out, Jimmy.

—You want me to smack him anyway?

—Sure, why not.

After a few more preliminary blows to the face courtesy of Jimmy, Don Vitti went over to Frank and pointed at his cast.

—Got bit on the arm, huh? So I take it you got that from this snake bite, right?

—Well, no. This I got from a skydiving accident.

—Skydiving accident? How the hell do you break your arm going skydiving?

—Well, I didn’t really, ah, go skydiving. It was the pilot, mostly…

This was met with another hard blow to the face by Jimmy. Don Vitti gave him a reproachful look, which made him shrug defensively.

—What? You were going to tell me to anyway, weren’t you?

—Alright, alright. Look kid, just tell us where this guy is with my money.

—He moved out of my house, so it’s not here. And, he told me he burned his house down, so I have no idea where he is now.

—Burned his house down? How the hell did he do that?

—I don’t want to say, you’ll just find it absurd and tell your guy to hit me in the face again.

—He’s not giving us anything, boss. I say we just kill him.

—Alright, fine. But before we do that…

Don Vitti reached into Frank’s back pocket and pulled out his wallet. After taking a moment to inspect, he found and took out Frank’s death prediction.

—What’s that, boss?

—It’s a Thano-Star prediction. You never heard of it?

—Oh, that. Nah, wasn’t my thing. When it happens it happens, you know?

—What’s this, ‘Gordon?’ What does that mean?

—That’s my friend’s name.

—Damn. That means we need to find this guy if we want to kill him.

—What are you talking about, boss?

—If it comes up on his prediction, he’s not going to die any other way except by ‘Gordon.’ Neither of us are named Gordon, so we can’t do it.

—You gotta be kidding me. I’m telling you, I’ll just shoot him.

—It won’t work, Jimmy, Trust me.

—Ah, come on, boss. Look, see? I got a gun right here. It’s got bullets in it. I point it at this kid’s head and shoot it, he dies. It’s that simple.

—Forget it. Let’s get in the car and find this guy.

—Alright, how about this? What if I officially, here and now, name my gun ‘Gordon’? Okay? On this day, I hereby dub thee, Jimmy’s .357 Magnum, Gordon. May you henceforth and forevermore be known to one and all as Gordon. There. Can I shoot this guy now?

—Nah, it’s just not the same. Besides, I think for a legitimate name change you’d at least need a notary public to verify…

—For Chrissakes…

—You just don’t understand it, Jimmy. These things, people take them seriously. I did mine about a year ago. I wanted to know exactly how I’d go so that in the future, anything else I try to do I know I’ll be safe. It’s a security precaution, it’s just good business. Look, see?

Don Vitti reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, similar to Frank’s own death prediction, and showed it to Jimmy.

—Says landmines, boss.

—Yeah. Landmines. There ain’t any landmines anywhere in this country, they’re banned by international law. They only got those in Vietnam and places like that. Long as I never go to Indochina I’m set for life! Hell, I might as well be immortal…

—Oh! Guys, I know where he hid the money. Sorry I wasted your time, but I just remembered. He told me before, but I totally forgot about it until now. Yeah, weird huh? Gosh, I can be a real dummy sometimes…

*

Later that night, the police came and offered to clean up, if not the rest of Frank’s house, then at the very least the pieces of Donald Vitti and Jimmy spread around the backyard, and with a careful, thorough sweep courtesy of the local unexploded ordinance technicians later on, Frank’s backyard was once again able to accommodate dogs or anyone else accustomed to enjoying the use of backyards without any fear of death by clandestine explosives. Frank slept as peacefully as one could who had knowledge of one’s own death, who had just survived an aborted mafia hit, and with a five foot by seven foot hole in the front of one’s door courtesy of a wild elephant gone awry. By next morning it was business as usual, a loss against himself at checkers and an upcoming Civil War documentary.

When Frank turned on his television, however, he was surprised to find, not the show detailing the ways Union and Confederate leaders used experimental occult practices in attempts for various military advantages, as was promised by the TV listings, but a local news report about a former customer of a Thano-Star machine, one by the hibachi stand at the local mall. A bland reporter was interviewing this customer, who one day put in fifteen dollars and used the machine much like anyone else would, but received a perplexing result.

—The piece of paper said I would die giving birth to fraternal twin boys.

—And why did you find that odd?

—Because I’m a man.

What had happened was, when an unknown customer had one day decided to use the hibachi-stand Thano-Star machine, the roll of paper in this particular machine had unexpectedly jammed. This customer found himself without a prediction and no other choice but to call the Thano-Star company and ask for a full refund. Once the machine was repaired, however, the Thano-Star technicians had failed to remove this customer’s prediction, still attached to the roll of printing paper by perforations. So, when the next customer thought he or she received his or her own prediction, EXPLODING GAS TANK IN A VIOLENT CAR CRASH, for example, that person had in fact received the last disgruntled customer’s prediction. And when the next customer used the machine, their prediction was in fact the last customer’s, and so on. This had been going on for almost a week, unbeknownst to anyone until the hapless fellow on the news revealed the mishap. Thano-Star Incorporated decided to issue a recall for all predictions since the beginning of the month, and the customer’s choice of a full refund or a complimentary re-prediction.

Frank took out his own prediction and contemplated it for a moment. GORDON. So it wasn’t his after all, he thought. Gordon will be responsible for the death of some other guy. Or who knows, maybe it will be some different Gordon. What mattered was that he could have his best friend back, something that he could not help but realize he did desperately want sometime in between the last Hitler TV-doc and the first two or so punches courtesy of Don Vitti’s finest. It was usually during little personal epiphanies to himself such as this one, Frank figured out long ago, that Gordon would call him, either to let him know he was coming over or to let him know some unimportant thing or other, and today was no different. Frank answered his phone.

—Hey, Gordon.

—Oh, Frank, I just found out the news. It’s horrible.

—I know, I’m watching it on TV now…

—It’s all over the NASA channel.

—The NASA channel?

—The meteor shower, Frank! They’re predicting a meteor shower in a week! I could die at any moment!

—It’ll be alright, Gordon, listen…

—I know you’re mad at me, but I didn’t know who else to call. Could I come over?

—Sure, come on over. Where are you now?

—At a Hilton. I had to dip into some of that Vitti money. Listen, Frank, I’m sorry for everything. Is your neighbor’s dog going to be alright?

—I don’t think so, seeing as how it’s dead.

—Ah, geez. I really shouldn’t have put landmines in your backyard, huh?

—Don’t worry about it. They actually saved my life, believe it or not.

—They did? Oh, good. And I’m sorry I made an elephant destroy your house. I still have quarter of a million dollars, I can pay you back for everything if you want.

—That would be good, thanks.

—Hey, Frank. I really miss Big Sandy.

—We’ll look for her tomorrow, put up signs and all that.

—Do you think we’ll find her?

—I think so. How hard can it be to find an elephant in a suburb?

—Yeah, you’re probably right. Hey Frank, did you have any fun this week? I mean, I know I almost killed you a few times…

—Yeah, I guess… I could have done without a venomous snake bite. But you know how when you’re learning to swim and you’re afraid to dive for the first time, but once you finally do you realize it felt so good you wonder why you hadn’t done it sooner? Well, once I knew I was going to be okay, falling five thousand feet in the air, in a plane, possibly to my death… it was, I don’t know, kind of fun.

—Really? Want to do it again sometime?

—Absolutely not.

—Alright. Well, I’ll be over in a bit. I might take a while, I have to drive carefully if I’m going to dodge these meteorites.

—Take your time, I’ll be here.

As Frank hung up the phone and reached for the television remote to change the channel, something made him stop in his tracks, surprised it had not occurred to him until just then. How long ago did Gordon get his prediction, anyway?

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