Many thanks to the awesome crew at Write It Up! Burbank for helping me come up with this little tale of sci-fi San Francisco and unfortunate birthdays.
Charlotte the Savior, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 676
Overhead, the skies were thick and gray with an oppressive fog. Flying cars mingled with high-res camera drones in the skies of Neo-San Francisco. And hiding out in Aisle Twenty-Three of a drug store on Fremont was Lance Martin, whose life was more or less over.
He was roused from his nervous breakdown by a sultry voice, which asked, “Sorry to bother you, but can you give me a ride? My car’s—”
Lance looked up at the stunning redhead standing behind him. She tugged at the hem of her little black dress and gave him a surprised frown.
“Oh, hey,” she exclaimed. “I recognize you. You’re tonight’s birthday boy.”
“God help me,” said Lance, “I am.”
His colleagues at Fields Insurance had arranged it all—without his consent. After discovering that his twenty-first birthday was imminent, they’d slapped him with a friendly ultimatum: to join them at the Bow and Arrow, a prestigious bar in South of Market, and drink no less than twenty-one shots. Their boss Davy had even chosen the most expensive tequila that he could afford for the occasion: Alma de Perrito.
“Well now,” the redhead continued, “shouldn’t you be on your way? You’re the bar’s guest of honor.” Her green eyes sparkled. “I’ll be singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you, lucky boy.”
“I can’t…” Lance quivered. “I can’t do it.”
He swallowed. “’Cause I’ll get sick. I’ll embarrass myself. And everyone there can smell blood in the water. You know Carl Jackson wants my cubicle? After tonight, he’ll get it for sure…”
Lance continued to ramble on in this way, totally oblivious to what the jazz singer was doing. Not until he found a bottle of ice-cold, ionized water being dumped on his head.
Coughing and sputtering, Lance glared at the woman. She grinned back sheepishly.
“Sorry, but I didn’t think you’d ever stop.” She then flashed her wrist chrono at him. “Also, if we don’t hurry, we’re gonna be late.”
“But there’s no way I can—”
“Hey. Listen to me.” The redhead crouched beside him. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Lance, I’m Charlotte. And if you help me make one quick purchase here—and you pay for our airtaxi fare to the Bow and Arrow—I’ll get you through this ordeal.” A mischievous light gleamed in those soft green eyes of hers. “Sound good?”
Half an hour later, Lance stood at the head of a long table. It was dark inside the Bow and Arrow, with only flickering white lamp globes to illuminate the eager faces of his coworkers and the handful of regular patrons behind them. From the nearby stage, Charlotte winked at him. Then, as she adjusted her floating microphone, she began to croon, “Happy birthday… to you….”
Lance stared down the row of tequila shots arrayed before him. The team from Fields Insurance held their breath in anticipation.
He let out a long breath and then took a shot.
And then another. And another.
Soon, he tore along the table at a frightening pace. Alcohol flooded his veins, and yet he chugged without pause. His coworkers, as well as some of the other bar patrons, cheered and whooped for joy.
As he flipped over the last shot glass, the entire bar burst into applause. At almost the same time, the jazz singer finished her performance on a lingering final note. Lance grinned and took a bow.
Then, while everyone was still cheering, he slipped over to the stage and caught Charlotte’s eye.
“Thank you,” Lance shouted over the din.
She laughed and leaned over to him. “Don’t thank me just yet. That antiemetic pill you took should be wearing off any second now.”
As she spoke, her words became real. Lance smiled openly, which in no way reflected the sudden lurching somersault that his stomach had just performed.
“Then remind me to buy you a drink,” Lance replied. Fighting back a gurgle in his throat, he was barely able to add, “And tell the bar staff I’m truly sorry for what I’m about to do to their men’s room.”
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