Plausible Coincidences

It wasn’t surprising that I could hear Ben’s phone echoing throughout the bar.  It was a Tuesday night, and there were only other two groups of people in the room.  It wasn’t surprising that the ringtone was some sort of digital screeching sound, either.  Ben’s idea of a good ringtone usually involved whatever stupid joke he had recently found on the Internet.  No, the surprising part was the fact that it was ringing at all.  The battery had died half an hour ago, in the middle of one of Ben’s Snapchat filter selfie binges.

“Are you… going to answer that?” I asked, staring at the phone with one eyebrow raised.

“No point,” Ben said.  He grabbed his mug in both hands.  “I mean, you can answer it if you want,” he added, “but I already know what it’s going to say.  Lemme finish my beer, and then we can go.  I’m gonna need your help with a few errands.”

I cautiously picked up Ben’s phone.  I didn’t even have to answer the call—it picked up once I held the phone next to my ear.  “We need you again,” said the raspy voice.  There was a loud click, and then nothing.  I paused, examining the phone closely.  There was no caller ID, no incoming number… just a black, dead screen.

“Dude, what is going on?”

Ben shook his head.  “Don’t worry about it.  Just… we need to go to WalMart.  I need to buy a 4-pack of light bulbs.  The really bright, high wattage kind.”

I folded my arms, and stared at him.

“Okay… look, just… I need to do this.  So either you drive me there, or I walk home and try and drive over there myself.  So if you don’t want me to drive drunk, then let’s go.”  He slammed down his beer mug for emphasis.  Whatever was going on, I was going to have a better chance of getting an explanation if I went along with his plans.  I shrugged, and put on my coat.  It wasn’t like I had anything better to do tonight.

“So… now we just need to take these down to Central Park.  I need to put these on one of the picnic tables under the gazebo.”  Ben glanced over at me, as if this was a perfectly logical thing to do with recently purchased light bulbs.

I stared back at him.

“Okay, see, this is the part where you turn on the car, so that we can go to the park.  You know… you turn the key?  And then the car… does… the turn on thing?”

I shook my head.  “We’re not going anywhere until you explain why the creepy phone call needs you to leave light bulbs in the middle of a public space.”

“Because I sold my soul to Satan, okay?  I sold my soul, and now I occasionally have to do the bidding of random demons.”  I raised an eyebrow, but he wasn’t backing down.  “I’m not kidding, dude.  I sold my soul.  They called me to action, so now I have to take this box of light bulbs to the park.  So please, can we go now?  If I miss the window for the drop off, bad things happen.”

My initial reaction was to try and call him out on a ridiculous lie… but I had to admit, that phone call was fairly creepy.  Something really weird was going on here.  “Okay, I’ll bite.  If you sold your soul, why didn’t you get anything good for it?”

Ben punched me in the arm.  “Shut up!  My soul is worth way more than yours would be.  But also… the market is, like, heavily saturated.  So, as it turns out you don’t get to sell your soul to Satan unless you’re, like, amazingly pure.  I had to sell my soul to a subsidiary demon.  Even then, my soul ended up getting refinanced a few years ago.  Once I went to college here instead of an Ivy League school, it apparently counted as a breach of contract or something?  I forget who owns it now.  Some low-level chaos demon.  The point is… as a part of the loan condition, I occasionally forfeit all rights to free will for a period no less than five minutes, not to exceed twenty minutes unless…”  He looked over at me, and coughed.  “The point is, occasionally I have to do busy work for some random demon.”

“And he wants you to buy light bulbs?”

“Well, I mean… I’ve had to do this a few times now.  And every time this happens, two days from now, somebody in Town Hall dies.  But it’s probably fine.”

“You what?”  I slammed on my breaks, sending Ben’s package of light bulbs onto the floor.

“Hey, watch it,” Ben said, giving me the stink eye as he picked them up between his feet.  “I can’t exactly go around giving away broken light bulbs, now can I?”

“People are dying, and you’re worried about the light bulbs?” I said.  “Are you serious right now?”

“Well, it’s not exactly my fault, now is it?” he said.  “I’m just buying light bulbs and leaving them in a public space.  It’s not my fault some secretary to the mayor ends up dying from a carbon monoxide leak, or whatever.  I mean, it’s probably not even my fault.  It’s just a coincidence.  Probably.  I mean, the two day thing is weird.  But it’s probably a coincidence.”

I pulled over to the side of the road, putting the car into park while I tried to process everything he said.  “Two days from now, a government official is going to die, and you’re telling me it’s not your fault?  Even though you are literally doing the devil’s work?”

“Okay, first off, you’re being incredibly rude right now.  Second, it’s not the devil’s work.  It’s just some low-ranking demon’s work.  Big difference.  Third, does it really count as a government official if it’s just some local city official?  And finally, yes.  I am telling you it’s not my fault.  Because it’s not.”

I placed my head in my hands and sighed.  There was no arguing with Ben when he got this belligerent, truthful or not.  If it hadn’t been for that phone call, I wouldn’t have even considered any of this to be true.  Even then, I was still expecting one of our friends to pop out of a bush with a video camera.

“Look, all I’m doing is putting a box of light bulbs under a gazebo.  Whatever the fox does with the light bulbs, that’s none of my business.  Whoever dies two days from now, I had nothing to do with it.  Probably.  Even if I did, you can’t prove anything.  It’s just a coincidence.”

“It’s not a coincidence if it’s a set pattern!”

“Sure it is.  If this were a court of law, you wouldn’t be able to prove anything.  Plausible deniability.  Err… coincidence.  It’s a plausible coincidence.  You can’t prove anything.  That fox might not even work for Satan.  Maybe foxes really just like boxes.  Did you ever think of that?  No, you just immediately jump to assumptions about people dying.”

I buried my face into the steering wheel and groaned softly to myself.  “Just… no.  You can walk from here.  I don’t know what’s going on any more, but I am not going to be a part of it.”

Ben rolled his eyes.  “Fine.  Last time I tell you any of my secrets,” he muttered, trying to unbuckle his seat belt while maintaining eye contact with me.  Presumably this was supposed to be a self-righteous, judgmental glare.

Two days later, the local county assessor died in a freak electrical fire.  Ben maintains this was not his fault.

Neil Siemers grew up in Derby, Kansas, a comparatively small town south of Wichita. He moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas, and hasn't left since. Neil likes to pretend that he is a big shot full time writer, although it's probably closer to a hobby. Either way, it's funded by a full-time job in the insurance industry, where he happily works as a cog in the machine for The Man so that bills can be paid.


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