MAGIC 8-BALL • by Rollin T. Gentry

“David Jones, Software Engineer,” read the placard outside his cubical. He’d only been away for five minutes: a bathroom break and a quick trip by the vending machines. Sipping his Diet StimRev, Dave realized immediately that something was wrong.

His Magic 8-Ball was missing, again.

Lately, the thing had a way of disappearing and then reappearing in strange locations. The first time it reappeared on the counter in the break room. The second time it reappeared on the roof of his Hoverlectric coupe, which he had bought with his company discount. And the third time it reappeared on Dave’s favorite table in the cafeteria, the place where he decompressed in solitude for five lunches a week. Someone was trying to screw with his head, someone who knew his habits. A stalker? A prankster? But why the Magic 8-Ball? Only Dave knew the sentimental value of the thing. To a casual observer, it was a meaningless tchotchke, an eccentric paperweight.

The Magic 8-Ball was scratched in a few places, but it could still churn out advice and predictions like the day it left the factory. It reminded Dave of his mother. She had bought it for him at a flea market when he was ten years old, two years before she died. And some jerk had taken it three times already. Dave was fed up. He was going to catch this guy red handed. Dave had glued a small tracking chip, the kind people implanted under the skin of their pets and kids, into the groove between the top and bottom hemispheres. Unlike the last three times, Dave wouldn’t frantically pace the third floor, invading his coworkers’ space and making false accusations. This time, he would simply follow the tracker and put an end to this harassment once and for all.

The tracker pointed down, so Dave hopped on the elevator and got off on the second floor. Still down. The first floor was divided between sales and tech-support. The tracker pointed in the direction of tech-support. After walking up and down several rows of fake-polite support-folk, Dave finally spotted his Magic 8-Ball in the cubicle of “Allie Snyder, Customer Support Specialist”.

Dave was ready to rush in, but Allie was on a call. She spoke into her headset with a serious tone, but her boots were kicked up on her desk. Allie was dressed in black leather from head to toe. She had multiple earrings, a bar through one eyebrow, a ring through one nostril, and a stud poking out below her black lipstick. Her pitch-black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

Over a year ago, Dave had been dating a prim and proper accountant. His parents loved her, but she eventually cheated on him with some guy from her firm. He wondered if that was why he was able to see through the thick eyeliner and the piercings and see a cute, quirky girl who shared his taste in antique toys. And besides, who was he to judge someone’s fashion choices anyway, standing there in his sandals, threadbare jeans, and black tee shirt with the symbol for Pi printed in gigantic white letters.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Allie said. “So the AI in your Hoverlectric 5000 responds with the word, ‘No,’ every time you give it a command?” Pause. “And you’ve tried rebooting the entire car?” Allie asked. She looked down at Dave’s Magic 8-Ball resting in her lap and read, “Outlook not so good.” She continued, “I’m going to have to put you on hold and forward your issue to an engineer.” Pause. “The current wait time is approximately twenty-three minutes. Thank you for riding with Hoverlectric.” Allie slapped the end-call button. “Jeez!”

“Hey,” Dave said softly, “I need my Magic 8-Ball back. It kind of has sentimental value.”

Swiveling in her chair, not looking a bit surprised, Allie said in a faux Southern belle voice with the back of her hand pressed to her forehead, “Oh, you caught me.” She handed the Magic 8-Ball back to Dave without a fuss. In her normal voice, she said, “Sorry for messing with your stuff, but this job can get really boring. You don’t know how much fun I’ve been having with that thing.”

“Oh, I know,” Dave sighed. “It’s a blast. It’s a shame they don’t make them anymore. And if you find one on the Net they usually want an arm and a leg for it. I got mine at a flea market when I was a kid. Maybe I could show you some good flea markets and antique shops around town. You might be able to get one cheap.”

“David Jones, Software Engineer,” Allie asked, smiling, “are you asking me out on a date?”

Dave looked down at the Magic 8-Ball in his hands and read, “Signs point to yes,” and they both laughed.

Rollin T. Gentry lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife where he works as a software engineer for a large company. He reads and writes as much speculative fiction as possible during his spare time.

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