It was a pleasant day. Blue sky prevailed with just wisp a of cotton cloud on the horizon where the buildings struggled to support the massive azure dome. Closer to the earth was a café patio. Sun baked bricks greedily sucked at the beating solar light, while the cobblestone streets shunned it, hiding huddled in the towering shadows. Beside the patio stood the café itself, all smiles and courtesy walled off from the outside by plate glass.
Robert Ash sat in one of the patio chairs. The cast iron grew out of the ground, its dark metal now perverted with the green rot of age. The table was the same, dark boughs branching off to support the silvered surface top. Robert stared at it. Anything he could do to keep his eyes off the man opposite him. With vain determination he continued listening.
“It is your choice to make,” the man said as he leaned forward, the wool of his coat scraping the table. “I only offer this once.”
“I know it’s my choice. I came didn’t I?”
The man leaned back, crossing his arms. His face betrayed a hint of a smile. He waited.
Six years ago Robert’s business failed, sending him into bankruptcy. He had exhausted the rest of his bank accounts in one fruitless attempt after another to gain back his financial well being. With his time spent trying to buy his way back into success he had distanced himself from his wife and children. Now he hardly saw them. Now he had the opportunity to change everything.
The sun had sunk behind the café, casting the patio in shadow. Robert watched the dark line creep along the table and then up the man’s body. He seemed to grow darker and not for the shroud being raised across his face. His eyes grew cold, features sheathed in murky light. He seemed to grow bigger, hulking, over-sizing his chair and stretching across the table towards him. Robert edged back involuntarily.
“What did you say your name was?”
“My name doesn’t matter, only my offer.” The man said. His voice was low causing Robert to lean forward again.
“I don’t know…”
“What have you to lose? Your life is failing you and you it. All I give you is a chance to fix what has been wronged”
“And the price?”
“The price?” He laughed, a low rumble echoing out from the cavern of his mouth. “The price is the chance you take, nothing more”
“And you can guarantee your offer?”
“All I assure you of is the chance”
Robert put his head in his hands, running them over his scalp, through his thinning hair, thinking. The chances he had taken in his life had led him to ruin. All the pledges and reassurances had been empty promises, paths that could only lead farther down the abyss, only he had been too blind with desperation to see it. Perhaps he was blinded now.
“What do I have to do?” Robert asked
The man sat up straighter, reaching into his coat. The motion was smooth, almost serpentine. His hand stayed there while spoke. “You need only take the risk. Say the words and I will take it out of your hands. It will be fate that decides then”
“Who are you?”
“Who I am isn’t important, only the service I offer.”
Robert accepted it. He had to if he wanted to change. “I only have one question”
The man gestured with his free hand.
“If you offer life on one hand, what’s in the other?”
The man smiled, withdrawing his hand. He extended his arm down the table, fist clenched. “Everything must be balanced in this world, Robert. Every chance has two sides.” He opened his hand, revealing a large silver coin.
Robert looked blankly at the coin, blind to everything around him. He didn’t see the people in the café, didn’t notice the gloom creeping into the streets, and he didn’t notice the man sitting across from him. All he saw was the coin in the man’s hand; the coin with his face on it.
Robert looked up. “So a flip of the coin decides whether or not I get my life back”
“It’s not the coin but fate that will decide this. I am only the device.” He flipped the coin in his hand. The face on the on the other side was his as well, only it lacked the lifelike realism of the other face. It was dull, lifeless. “All you have to do is put your faith in it.”
Robert sat there for a long while, not moving, thinking. A clean slate, new beginning, whatever was offered he wanted it. He took a deep breath. Any way he looked at it his life was at an end as he knew it. He squeezed his eyes shut in decision. “I’m ready” he said in barely a whisper.
“Open your eyes.” The man said, “You have a right to view your own fate.”
Robert did in time to see the coin lift from the casual flick of thumb and forefinger, such an insignificant motion to decide a man’s life. The coin arced high over their heads, spinning so fast that the two faces blended together. They were screaming. Higher, higher it went until it reached its zenith, stray bands of sunlight glinting from its shinning surface. It hung there for a moment suspended in time as if fate had forestalled her judgment. It came down then, fast, making up lost time. It plummeted down into the man’s waiting hand. The resounding slap echoed across the buildings. Robert closed his eyes. He heard distantly the man’s voice.
“You cannot escape your fate, Robert.”