Payback (HTML excerpt)
 
The second invitation arrives twenty years later. I’m not surprised. Perhaps I should be, but all I feel is that peculiar resigned relief that comes with the dropping of the other shoe.

Nothing much has changed since the first time. Same cheap Kenner apartment. Same middle management job. When they promoted me off the drive-through window, I’d thought it was the start of something big. I’d paid my dues under the paper hat, and at last I’d earned some real responsibility. The next step would be a store of my own, and then my own franchise empire. I was naive. I was young. Then, overnight, I wasn’t.

Not that anyone noticed. No one looks closely at your face in a job like that. And it would have taken a close inspection; the effects of aging twenty years in one night weren’t immediately obvious. Faint lines had appeared around my eyes and a few silver strands in my hair. It took a few days for me to admit that the low-level fatigue that had settled in wasn’t just a hangover from the party. I visited a doctor; it turned out my blood pressure was suddenly too high. No reason, he said. It sometimes happens as we get older. How old was I again? Twenty-eight, I said. He stared at me. I didn’t know what else to say.

I never questioned that first invitation. It was Mardi Gras season. An anonymous invitation to a masquerade ball was hardly odd. And I was a big man in the industry. I was going places. I was going to be the next Al Copeland. Anyone could see that. Of course they’d invited me.

I consider, just for a moment, throwing this second invitation away. Fool me twice, once bitten, and so forth. But I need answers. No guarantee I’ll get them if I go, but I one hundred percent won’t if I don’t.

So I do. But I don’t bother to get especially dressed up this time.

It’s at the same nonexistent address on Chartres....
__
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for May 25, 2018. Subscribers can download the full-length fictionette (1432 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook depending on their pledge tier.

Cover art incorporates and modifies public domain image from pxhere.com.

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