Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Story 216: The Other Shoe

The terrorists are prowling around the edges of great-grandpa's birthday party, like predators circling a cornered flock of sheep.  I don't even know what they want.  Knowing Great-gramps, he's thinking about offering them some cake and party hats.

Or maybe not.  Something looks wrong with him.

I mean, yes, his surprise birthday party has been crashed by terrorists.  But I've heard all the stories, he should be smiling and telling everyone it's going to be fine while he charms the bomb vests right off these assholes.  Instead he's crying.  I'm the closest, I'm probably the only one that can sidle over and talk to him without getting shot.
"Gramps!" I whisper.
He smiles at me, for a second, then looks even sadder. "Oh, honey.  I'm so sorry.  This is all my fault."
"Dude, Gramps, you didn't even know about the party.  And it's not like you invited the terrorists... did you?"  I mean it as a joke, but he looks away like he's feeling guilty.  "It's fine, Gramps.  You've gotten through worse than this.  What about that time you were on a collapsing bridge in Bangladesh?  Or that thing with the airplane over the Atlantic?"
He shakes his head.  "Those were different."

One of the terrorists is on the phone.  I can't make out what he's saying, but he looks... passionate.  I guess he's making demands or something.  Presumably that means the police or military or whatever are already working on a plan.
"We're going to get out of here, Gramps.  This is just going to be a funny story for next year's 111th birthday party."
"No," he says, "there won't be a next year.  I've killed you all."  Well, Jesus.  Is it possible he's serious?  Could lovable old Gramps have something to do with these guys?  It doesn't seem likely.  I mean, he's lived an interesting life - as evidenced by the enormous turnout for the party - but it's all been basically aboveboard.  If anything he's just one of a hundred targets; among the friends and children (and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren...) are some very important people.  Politicians, renowned doctors, entertainers, high profile lawyers, military... it was giving me an inferiority complex before I got distracted by the threat of being blown to pieces.

"Gramps, don't be so negative.  We're going to be fine, and this isn't your fault.  I mean, do you even know who these yahoos are?  You couldn't have seen this coming."
He shrugs.  "Not exactly.  But I should have known something would.  I was stupid, of course he's patient.  He had all the time in the world to set this up."
"Okay Gramps, you're officially freaking me out.  Everyone loves you.  Nobody is out to get you."
He sighs, and looks at me with the most crushed, apologetic face I've ever seen on anyone in my family.  "I was young, and foolish.  I was in Turkey, walking along the shore.  There was a place where a cliff was slowly crumbling into the sea, probably had been for hundreds of years.  And there was a spot, it must have been a cave once but by then it was just a shallow alcove."

For a second he doesn't look so sad, he's lost in the memory.  To someone that's a hundred and ten I guess 'young' could mean a lot of things, but from that faraway look I'm guessing it was at least ninety years ago.
"I found what seemed like a strange rock - it was the shape, like an egg, that got my attention.  But once I cleaned the dirt and salt off of it I could see it was some kind of pottery.  Not a vase or anything, just a hard-baked lump."
"Gramps, I don't understand."
"I broke it," he says, as if I hadn't spoken, "I was leaving and didn't feel like keeping it, and I threw it against the rocks.  That's when I realized there was something inside.  A container."
Oh my god, nobody could ever get a totally straight answer about how Gramps made his first fortune.  Is this it?  Did he find a lost pirate treasure on some Turkish beach, or... I look at the terrorists again.  The one on the phone has gone from 'passionate' to 'disconcertingly intense'.  Maybe not treasure.
"Jesus, did you find some terrorist drug stash or something?"
"No, no.  Far worse.  It was a container with a Djinn inside.  A genie."
"Um."

Okay, Gramps is either messing with me or insane.  Probably that first one.  This whole 'upset' act is a con to suck me in so he can have a big laugh later.  That's more in line with the Gramps I know.
"He offered me three wishes for freeing him, and... I thought I was clever.  My first two wishes, they were terrible run-on sentences, mangled things that should have been three or four wishes each.  He looked furious, but each time he just said 'granted'.  After the second one I got scared, I knew that money and talent wouldn't do me any good if the Djinn struck me dead.  So I wished for a long healthy life, and I said..."
He breaks down, full on sobbing.  Shit.  Is he not joking?  What the fuck is going on here?
"Grandpa, are you okay?  Grandpa?"
"I'm so sorry.  So sorry.  This is all my fault."
"Grandpa, no!  We'll be fine."
He grabs me by the shoulders, those old hands still powerful.  His eyes are on fire, staring into mine like he's begging me to forgive him.
"I was picturing a hospital bed, do you understand?  I was thinking of something peaceful."
"Grandpa, you're going to be okay.  You'll see."
"No.  He was so angry.  And I said..."

The terrorist on the phone raises his voice for a moment, screaming Bible verses at the negotiator or whoever on the other end of the line, and then he throws the cell phone against the wall where it shatters into a hundred pieces.

"I said I wanted to die surrounded by my loved ones."