First published in Happy Hour #1 by Ahoy Comics | November 2020
You are reading this on a small oblong of paper, squinting down at this first line, bigger than the rest. The paper itself is thin like the pages of your mother’s Bible, the one she left you when she died and you’ve never opened, not once. You pay for your meal – cheap Chinese, all salt and oil – and leave the restaurant, but not before brushing the cookie crumbs from the slip of paper and pocketing it.
You’ll only read the rest of this later, once you find a magnifying glass. You feel a little ridiculous, peering through it like a cartoon detective, but now you can read the tiny text. You immediately skip to the last line. How could you not? It reads and you crack the cookie in half. You blink twice; your eyes dart back; your stomach drops like a missed call from a hospital. Something is wrong.
You call the restaurant. Someone in the kitchen answers: you can hear the flames. Their english isn’t great and your mandarin is non-existent and you end up shouting into the phone. “Is this a joke?” you say. “Very funny.” They hang up on you. If this is a joke, it’s elaborate and nonsensical. You imagine a warehouse, somewhere, in which every man, woman, and child has a box of cookies just for them. Cookies that know every single thing about them and must be consumed in the correct order.
It’s not late and you’re not tired, but you clamber into bed. This already feels like a dream. You try to remember the fortune’s exact wording but it swims in your mind until you get back up and grab the magnifying glass again. You suddenly remember using it to burn ants as a child. The crackle and the acrid smell. The fortune says you decide to go back to the restaurant – so you do. You forget to change out of your pyjamas, even after reading this sentence.
The streets are busy tonight, but people see your face and quickly step aside. It makes you wonder what expression you’re wearing. Are you angry? Angry that someone knows the future and this is all they do with it? You grab the next man to pass you – he’s 60s, heavyset, headed home to his family – and you say: “Do something to me. Anything. Something the cookie can’t predict!” He shoves you backwards with the ease of a seasoned city-dweller, eyes barely registering surprise.
You stop dead. The cookie knew, and you already knew that it did. That means your fortune is that man’s fortune, too. Whoever wrote this knew what everyone would be doing right now, not only you. The fortune’s text, still getting smaller, was actually a web of complex interactions between strangers. You’re at the center of that web, stuck and struggling against it. That means that something spun it; that something’s coming for you.
You throw the magnifying glass to the ground. It shatters, but it’s too late – you’ve read until the end already. You know you reach the restaurant before it closes. You jump at the bell over its door, collapsing into the nearest chair. You hold up a finger and say that you want a fortune cookie. Nothing else. Again, your expression makes them humor you. It arrives alone on a small white plate. You wipe your hands on your pyjamas, carefully pick it up, and you crack the cookie in half.