The Panhandler

This is a bit of fiction, and, if all goes well, the first draft of the prologue to a comic science fiction novel I’m writing. Rebecca is decidedly not the main character of the story, or even much of a character at all. The way that I hope it works out is that her story will be interspersed with the main plot, giving the broader world’s perspective on it–as filtered through this fairly absent-minded and kind of useless businesswoman. Perhaps eventually she’ll join up with the main story, perhaps not. (And of course, the entire device may prove not to work at all.)

Regardless, I think I like the character. So…

********************************

Four hours later, Rebecca Salazar was unsettled.

She wasn’t bothered by the simple fact that someone had asked her for money. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue is a minefield of beggars and environmentalists, and she had long-ago learned to ignore them without even a twinge of guilt.

The man was begging, or advocating for the environment, or whatever he was doing, early, catching morning commuters. That was odd; asking for money didn’t usually start until lunchtime. Still, Rebecca didn’t mind. It was kind of refreshing, ignoring someone before the midday summer heat hit. It meant no perspiration that might somehow be confused with caring.

But four hours after ignoring him, Rebecca did care. It was hurting her greviously: she had treated herself to a fancy grilled chicken salad, with fourteen different types of healthful leaves drowning in creamy ranch dressing, and she wasn’t enjoying it the way she should. She was distracted and dripping ranch on her blazer.

What exactly did the man ask for? It wasn’t money, she somehow knew. No, he was warning of impending doom, she decided, as she tried and failed to spear a slippery tomato with her fork.

That was, perhaps, the least common flavor of unwelcome human interaction on the Mag Mile, but hardly unprecedented. He wasn’t even wearing a sandwich board alternately blaming Russians, Italians, Belgians, and Buddhists for the world’s ills, which should have eliminated any chance of him being written into Rebecca’s memory.

“It must have been the third eye,” Rebecca murmured to the waiter after he informed her unconvincingly that she could take as long as she needed with the check. The waiter opened his mouth, intending to assure Rebecca that she (as the customer) was correct, before deciding that his integrity wouldn’t permit him to say any such thing. He left with a slight bow.

That was definitely it. The man proclaiming that disaster would come unless somebody would listen to him had three eyes. Two normal and one in the middle of his forehead.

The middle eye had winked at her.

Unsettling.

But realizing what was wrong, and putting a name to it, provided Rebecca some comfort. It meant the problem was the strange man’s, not hers. It wasn’t even that much of a problem, she reflected as she drained her glass of water, with no ice but a slice of cucumber. It was probably handy; if his normal eyes became farsighted, that one would let him read without glasses.

The possibility that the danger that the strange man warned of could be real never crossed Rebecca’s mind.

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One thought on “The Panhandler

  1. Pingback: Becky’s Back! « Greg Landgraf

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