The waning sun slipped away from the raging battle of clouds and sky. Beneath the war, the aging truck lumbered up the hill toward home and the tires slipped and spun against the icy street. Overturned trashcans lined the curbs, ominous corpses beckoning the coming darkness.
Each empty trashcan weighed heavy on Ben’s mood. His would be empty. Redemption and escape mingled with regret. This rollercoaster of emotion drained him. Artie’s parting comments plucked the few remaining threadholds from the unraveling quilt of his resolve. He piled Stan’s platter of meat with delicacies of lobster, Dungeness crab and a sauce of arsenic.
He crested the hill and crept through the intersection to begin the slow slide down the hill.
On the far side of the street, this morning’s snow lay deep, his solitary tire tracks the only evidence of life on the block.
Only one other neighbor braved the snow to set out trashcans. As the snowplow didn’t think their little block worthy of attention, neither did the garbage man.
Ben began the decent down the hill and stared down his lonely trashcans.
Stan had only one epiphany over their mugs of beer. He’d tapped his paycheck on the bar, no astral voyage could be worse than this reality.
Despite his efforts to crawl toward the house, the truck began to pick up speed.
As it slid sideways toward the trashcan, Ben pumped the brake. The tires locked. He spun the wheel to the left. The truck didn’t correct its course and continued to bear down on the twin trashcans. He gripped the wheel as if by concentrating hard enough he could will the truck’s bumper in a different direction.
He glared at the cans, their lids glinting in the diminishing day.
Jumping from the truck, he rounded the fender. All the lids were still in place. He stared back down the street, desperate to convince himself the garbageman skipped their street. Destiny bestowed on him a non-deserved pardon.
He scratched the back of his neck, and stared at the can. Learn this, Artie said. Embrace the magic of your ability. Ben wondered at the parting comment about changing the world. A joke, to be sure.
Magic, such a twisted, unique word. Magic is both the greatest known and the deepest unknown. Masters of magic must learn things beyond the realm of imagination. It is the leap from the edge of unknown into an endless library.
Artie asked Ben to trust, to leap into the blackness of the unknown. A mechanic armed with only curiosity and the most generic of toolbelts.
Was he foolish to follow the instructions of a stranger?
Not the stupidest thing he’d ever done. This, at least, promised a payoff. Of sorts.
This morning’s confusion had been a costly expense for a meager payoff. If Artie is willing to teach him how to fix wither end of the bounce, Ben could be lured to the dark unknown.
To his left, the garbage truck crested the hill and slid into Ben’s tire tracks. At the driver’s downshift, the engine whined and the truck lurched into the unplowed road.
Ben grabbed the can tight against his body, desperate to keep the contents safe now.
Behind him, the truck lights illuminated his path, casting his tall shadow across the yard. It bent in illogical angles around something in the middle of the driveway. Ben paused and searched the shape. If Artie watched in a cloaked form, he’d see everything he wanted. Huge flakes began to fall as the garbage truck hoisted the neighbor’s can. Ben set the can by the house door under the carport and trotted back to the truck, wary of going down in the snow.
He gunned the engine and the truck slithered sideways up the driveway. Slamming the gearshift into park, Ben jumped from the truck. He jogged across the dry concrete of the carport to the trashcan.
He braced his hands against the lid, took one big breath and pried the lid free. There, completely undisturbed, lay all the material he’d tossed out last night.
“Ben! Is that you? Dinner’s ready?”
He bit back a grunt of exasperation. “Let me wash up. I’ll be right there.” He hoped for a few minutes to get everything from the trashcan and a chance to glance through the material again. Now it would have to wait.
Turning back to the books and pamphlets, he scooped an armful and raced to his workshop off the carport. Arms loaded, he used his elbow to push aside greasy bolts and his latest project. He settled the stack, straightening it against he back of the workbench and jogged back outside to grab the remaining pieces.
Though he didn’t want to consider the reason his street didn’t get plowed, his thoughts drifted there anyway. In the decades on his street, they were one of the first streets plowed. Even yesterday, the snow had barely a chance to accumulate between passes. Could he fool himself into blaming it on a sift change? Some simple oversight on the part of the plows, instead of an otherworldly intervention?
Next to him, the shadows merged and melded again.
“Yes. A shift change.” He said to no one.
Inside, he heard the clatter of silverware and the orchestra of voices. He grabbed the last few pieces and jammed the lid back down over the trash.
After dropping them with the others, he pulled his workshop door closed, satisfied with the certain click of the knob. He rested his hand on the wood paneled wall. Redemption: 1, Regret: 0.