Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cheating Fate


Edmund Prescott III was a secular humanist, and proud of it. A graduate of Cornell, he didn’t believe in witches, ghosts, God, angels, demons, Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy–in no particular order.

The Christian faith was a crutch, a pacifier, for overgrown children. No “god” wrote out the plotline for his life. Edmund was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. Not that he had a soul. But if he had one, he’d be its skipper.


Edmund was visiting Todd, a former college roommate, in Missoula, Montana–when his friend, as a lark, challenged Edmund to see a local psychic. Edmund relished the opportunity to debunk paranormal claptrap.

The psychic whom they went to see greeted them by name when they arrived–unannounced. They found that a bit disconcerting, but assumed there had to be some rational explanation.

“Psychic” was actually a bit of a euphemism. Yelina, as she called herself, was actually a witch. Her pendant necklace was a miniature baphomet.

Edmund pretended to be a genuine seeker, wanting to know his future. After some banter, they got down to business. The psychic told him that he was fated to die the very next day.

Edmund was used to hearing vague predictions of weal or woe, so he pressed her on the details. As it turns out, she was happy to comply.

“Where will I die?”

“In Ten Sleep Wyoming.”

“Where will I stay?”

“At the Sitting Bull Motel.”

“What will I have for lunch?”

“BLT with lemon soup.”

“Any music?”

“’Honky Tonk,’ with Bill Doggett.”

“When will I die?”

“At nine in the morning.”

“Anything else?”

“You’ll sit next to a passenger by the name of Ziggy McBains.”

Needless to say, Edmund didn’t believe a word of it. But even if he were fated to do all that, she’d just given him a roadmap to cheat fate. All he had to do was the opposite of what she said.


Edmund boarded the RJ for the short trip back to Durango, Colorado–where he lived. There were more seats than passengers, so he bypassed his assigned seat to avoid doing anything too predictable. There was a pretty woman sitting by a widow seat. He pretended to check his ticket to see if he found the right seat. She took a second look at her own ticket to make sure she was in the right seat, which gave him a chance to cast a surreptitious glance at the name on her ticket: Jean Dawson. So he sat beside her.

After the plane leveled off, they chatted a bit. She extended her hand to introduce herself: “I’m Ziggy McBains.”

He gave her a quizzical look.

“Is something wrong, she said?”

“Oh, nothing. I couldn’t help noticing the name on your ticket.”

“Of course,” she said. “That’s my married name. Even though I’m divorced, I still use it for business. Dawson is my maiden name. And Twiggy is what my mom always called me, so it kind of stuck.”

Edmund nodded politely. “Todd must have put her up to it,” he thought to himself. Todd was always such a practical joker.

Still, it was a stroke of luck that he wound up next to this particular woman. But stranger things had happened.

As they were about halfway to their destination, the captain came on the loudspeaker to make an announcement. Due to mechanical difficulties, he had to make an emergency landing on some airstrip nearby Ten Sleep, Wyoming. He apologized for the inconvenience. The airline would reimburse the passengers for their room and board.

Edmund felt a momentary twinge of panic. What were the odds?

After they found themselves deposited on the tarmac of the weedy little airstrip, he was sorely tempted to hitch a ride out of town. But then he felt ashamed of himself. How could he jettison his principles over a mere coincidence? Maybe this was all an elaborate prank. Might as well be a good sport and play along with the gag. Imagine the embarrassment if he chickened out. Todd would never let him live it down.

Edmund checked into the motel. No, not the Sitting Bull Motel. There was no motel by the name. Instead, he checked into the Log Cabin Motel. Indeed, that was the only motel in town. Didn’t take much to cheat fate!

After he showered, as he was looking over the receipt, he noticed the name of the motel on the receipt–the Sitting Bull Motel. He was puzzled, as well as a bit disturbed, by the discrepancy. He asked the man at the front desk.

“Oh, yes, this used to be the Log Cabin Motel. It changed hands a few weeks ago. Haven’t had time to change the sign or the letterhead.”

Edmund was hungry, so he went down the street to the Ten Sleep Saloon. Ordered the BLT with crème of chicken soup. Once again, he found satisfaction in how little it took to thwart fate.

While he was waiting for his order to arrive, he went over to the jukebox. Sure enough, there was “Honky Tonk.” He punched in “Satin Doll” instead. A moment later, the jukebox began to play “Honky Tonk.”

Edmund was a flummoxed. He went over to the bartender and asked about the jukebox. “Oh, yeah, we had it serviced a year ago. But the repairman is a bit dyslexic.”

“Why would you hire a dyslexic repairman?” Edmund asked, in a condescending tone of voice?

“He’s my cousin!” the bartender glared.

Edmund retreated to his table. The sandwich was good. But when he tried the soup, it tasted funny. Just then the waitress returned to apologize for mixing up his order. She accidentally brought him lemon soup instead of chicken soup. So sorry. Would he like to finish the lemon soup, or have a fresh cup of chicken soup?

At that point it hardly mattered. Back in college, Edmund had be the butt of Todd’s many pranks, but this was his pièce de résistance.


There wasn’t much to do in Ten Sleep, so Edmund slept in. Overslept, in fact. He glanced at the clock: 9:03. So much for fate.

He shaved, showered, put his watch on. It read 8:44. How was that possible?

He scurried over to the front desk. “The clocks in the motel rooms are still on daylight savings time,” the clerk explained.

“That’s just too much!” he thought to himself. Even Todd couldn’t orchestrate all this. Edmund determined to walk out of town before it was too late.

As he was about to cross the city limits, a sleepy truck driver ran over him. When the undertaker removed his broken watch, it was frozen at 9:00.

Back in Missoula, Yelina was meeting with a new client.

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