The letter arrived in the afternoon mail, sandwiched between a fistful of flyers and bills. I hesitated opening it, certain I’d find another complaint about our fortune cookies. After all, the letter was written in hurried cursive with the return address blacked out. I’d seen this letter a hundred times before. The customer was upset they were dumped, even though the cookie promised a life full of happiness.
Inside the envelope, I didn’t find a complaint, but rather a 100,000 dollar check with my name on it. I strained my eyes, checking, then rechecking for some catch buried within the fine print.
Well, you did it. You got all seven numbers. I had a hell of a time tracking you down, but felt it was my obligation. Your company, Lucky Yu, told me that you wrote this particular fortune, even the lotto numbers below. I thought I should give you part of the winnings, since you made this dream come true for me.
Best of luck,
Aunt Janice didn’t see anything wrong with the letter. She read the note out loud, in her high pitch voice, emphasizing all the positives I’d missed.
“I’m so proud of you,” Aunt Janice said, hands on top of my own.
“Well, have you told your cousins about the check?” she replied.
“This is my company, too, Aunt Janice.”
She lifted her head upward, smirking, about to burst into laughter. I snatched the letter before she could start, nearly ripping the paper in the process. She pouted until I gave it back.
“You know, everyone would flip if you got a food truck,” she said.
“And what would I sell?” I asked.
“Fortune cookies, of course.”
“That’s not a real idea.”
“You know, Sean” she replied, “why do you think we’re here?”
“Like, on earth?”
“No, I mean in this crappy trailer, adjacent to the real office building? There’s a reason you know.”
I sighed with my hand rummaging through a pile of fortune cookies. Maybe deep inside the mound there was something to prove her right, an omen to confirm the letter she kept reading out loud.
After the fifth cookie, I told her she didn’t need to read the letter once more; in fact, she could burn it for all I cared.
The cookie spoke to me.
Lucky Yu says: “Success will come once your options are exercised.”
The night before our grand opening, I blindfolded Aunt Janice, then lead her toward the parking lot where the food truck was located. To my surprise, the truck was filled with rats, hundreds of them pouring out the windows, clawing at the sides to remain inside. The rats now scurried through the parking lot, nipping at anything that moved. I quickly turned around, pushing her toward the office-trailer, praying she didn’t get bit by one.
Aunt Janice kept screaming my name, blindfold now resting around her neck just like an old timey bandit. I stayed silent, pacing around the lobby, racking my brain for some explanation. I’d scrubbed the entire truck from bumper to bumper, every nook and cranny accounted for. The company, which sold me the vehicle, even included one of those cherry scented trees that hung from the rearview mirror. Certainly that would’ve stopped some of the rats dead in their stupid tracks. Rats hated cherries.
“What was all that about?” Aunt Janice said. “Where’d they come from?”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “Just give me a minute, then I’ll figure it out.”
“Nothing?” she yelled, face red with panic. “We’ve got an army of rats running around our truck and a grand opening tomorrow.”
“Shhh,” I replied, hand over her mouth. “Will you quiet down?”
I let go of her mouth, wiping the saliva onto my pant leg. She did have a point, though, even if it was slightly exaggerated. The whole project was now at a standstill. I resumed my pacing, scanning the room for any insight into the rat infestation.
On the bulletin board, next to the Luck Yu newsletter, I noticed several sample fortunes I posted this morning. As I read each of them, everything began making sense, even the rats scrounging around the parking lot. The fortunes had come true. Not just for Mr. Arbuckle, but the rats, too. I plucked one fortune off the board, then read it silently, mouthing each word.
Lucky Yu says: “Your family will multiply, covering the earth with your glory.”
Granted, that did seem a little incriminating, especially the part about someone’s kids covering the earth. I wondered how many more I wrote like that one. For all I knew, one rat wondered into the food truck, had a nibble of a cookie, then magically sprouted kids. I began fantasizing about a quick fix, some death fortune cookie that would solve this problem instantly.
Lucky Yu says: “Your family will die a short, but painful death. Your intestines will explode out of your butt, then tie into a noose, which will hang you until you are deader than a doornail.”
I began laughing while typing them up, which caused Aunt Janice to erupt.
“This isn’t a joke,” she said. “The party is less than twelve hours away, Sean.”
“Just a minute,” I replied, “and I’ll have this all taken care of.”
“What are you going to do? Spam them to death with your boring emails?”
“Huh? I thought you liked those links?” I said, head now cocked to the side. “Well, anyway, we’re going to reverse their fortune.”
She rolled her eyes before walking to the parking lot window.
In less than an hour, we’d assembled a batch of death fortunes, some even designed specifically for rats. Those were my favorite. I pictured the rats keeling over, writhing in pain just before death. We tossed the cookies into the swarming mass, making sure to spread them out evenly, so every rat would at least get a taste.
The rats began dying in waves. Some of them poofed into thin air, while others spazzed out on the concrete, blood pouring out of every orifice. A couple even smelt like burnt popcorn. Yet no mater how they died, I could hear them screaming, praying for absolution. It sounded human, if only for a moment.
I scoured the parking lot after they were gone, using a trash bag to collect the dead rats. The whole scenario, while new, felt some what familiar. Unlike my cousins, I was enrolled in fat camp as a kid, while they got to stay at the YMCA. It was my job to collect the garbage each morning, then dump the bags out back, in the bin that we shared with the YMCA. All of my cousins thought this was hilarious. They not only made fun of me, but pinched my nipples until they were purple. Just like back then, I kept filling the trash bags, attempting to block it all out. We had a whole garbage bin of dead rats at that point. I tried washing off the blood once were done, but, just my luck, it had stained both my hands. They were bright red, even in the moonlight.
Lucky Yu says: “You will be forgiven by the rats, because deep down, you are a good person.”
The rats put a damper on the festivities. I’d originally planned this big party for the launch of the food trunk, yet canceled most of the activities after the whole killing spree happened. Still, there were some things I couldn’t get rid off, no matter how much I tried. The face painter, clown, and juggler all required 24 hours notice. I didn’t want to loose my whole deposit, so I had them perform for the crowd, despite my initial hesitation.
Everything was going fine until Jerry from accounting showed up. He dug his sweaty hand into the bowl of cookies, scraping the edges, attempting to find the perfect cookie. When he went in for seconds, I almost slapped him across the hand, yet didn’t have the chance. He fell into my arms, grabbing his throat, as if he were choking. The Heimlich didn’t work, no matter how hard I squeezed. It just made him cough up blood, then spill his intestines onto the pavement. He died before the paramedics arrived.
I couldn’t watch the aftermath. The crowd got bigger, especially when the coroner showed up with his body bag. People poured out of the main office, gathering around the bloodstain, taking pictures with their cellphones, then posting them on Instagram. I sat in my office, peering out the blinds, fixated on Jerry’s closed eyes. It was amazing how that simple detail made the situation seem better. His face was peaceful now, unlike the rats, who were tossed in a trash bag, with no concern over their appearance.
I closed my blinds once Aunt Janice arrived.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “What in the hell just happened out there?”
“I dunno. One minute he was just eating a cookie, and the next thing you know, he was dead.”
“Wait. Did you say he ate a cookie?” Aunt Janice asked. “Like one of ours?”
“What did you do with the death fortunes?”
“Ah, well, I’m not too sure,” I replied. “I think they were destroyed.”
Aunt Janice straddled the chair, then grabbed my jaw, lifting it upward. She had that look in her eye, where the vessels in her retinas seemed to pop out a bit, bulging with anger.
“Think?” she yelled. “Holy shit, Sean. You just killed someone.”
“Just keep your voice down. There’s no way the coroner will rule this a fortune cookie death,” I replied. “That’s not a real thing, okay?”
“Real thing? What about the lotto guy? The rats? Now poor Jerry?”
“I dunno, Aunt Janice. I just don’t know.”
“Typical,” she replied. “How typical of you.”
Aunt Janice made me throw away all of the death fortunes, but I managed to swipe one when she wasn’t looking. Then, after she left, I said my amends under my breath, preparing for that bight white light. I chewed slowly, waiting, hoping my death would be painless, unlike Jerry and the rats. Heaven seemed close at that moment. It was as if each family member came back, circling around my body, pushing me toward the afterlife. I focused on them, determined to follow, no matter where they led me.
Lucky Yu says: “Your life will gain meaning in death. A shrine will be created inside the main office, near your cousins’ boardroom.”
Unfortunately, I woke up unaffected by the cookie, bleary-eyed, head swimming with questions. Instead of being back at home, I found myself in Jerry’s driveway, sleeping near his back door. Claw marks were ripped into the wood and my hands were bloody. It seemed as if I pawed all night, begging to be let inside. I stumbled forward toward the other entrance, which, ironically, was ajar.
When I opened the door, Hermes, Jerry’s overweight beagle, appeared in the doorway. I bent down wearing a smile, but, sure enough, he darted toward the living room, settling behind the oversized leather couch. I prayed Hermes didn’t smell the death that lingered on me. If he felt hung up on my scent, what chance would I have with the rest of the world? With future women in my life?
I searched through my pocket, attempting to find a treat, and, of course, I only had were blank fortune cookies from yesterday.
I sat there a moment. The dog looking at me, then me looking at the dog. The cookie began calling my name, begging for me to toss it underneath the couch. It would be so easy. Hermes would finish the cookie in one bite, instantly forgiving me for everything I did. Then we’d ride off into the sunset afterward, two friends, with unlimited possibilities now on the horizon. I quickly wrote a forgiveness fortune, then tossed it toward him.
He ate it in one bite.