BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL - ASHER ELLIS
Sam Bookman’s uncle Abe gave him the best present he’d ever receive on Christmas day, 1946. After unwrapping the package, which was disappointingly small in the boy’s eyes, Sam was puzzled at what he was holding in his hand.
His first reaction was sensible enough: it was a billiard ball, the 8-ball, to be exact. But the ball was oversized, yet at the same time, oddly lighter than it should’ve been.
“Is this really my present?” Sam asked his aging uncle.
Abe Bookman smiled and replied, “Flip it over and find out.”
Sam, still utterly confused, turned the ball over to reveal a round viewing window. Before he could ask what it was for, a simple phrase of words floated to the surface of a strange blue liquid. Sam read:
IT IS DECIDEDLY SO
“My gift to you,” Uncle Abe said through a gentle grin. “The Magic 8-Ball.”
That night, Sam lay awake in his bed staring up at the Superman poster on the ceiling above. He could hear his parents argue as he rolled the 8-ball in his hands. As soon as the last relative had said their good-byes and been out the door, his stepfather resumed the berating of his mother as if Christmas was just another day. But even with their shouts penetrating the thin, wooden floor of his bedroom, the only voice Sam could hear was that of his uncle’s—an echo of their conversation a few hours earlier.
“Is it really magic, Uncle Abe?”
“Indeed it is, Sammy. But only if you truly believe it.”
“So it will always answer my questions?”
“As long as you have a question to ask, the 8-Ball will always have an answer.”
Sam lowered his eyes to the black orb in his palm. After another scream vibrated through the floorboards underneath his bed, Sam took a deep breath and asked:
"Will mom ever get away from Ted?"
Holding his breath, Sam turned the ball over and waited for the answer block to emerge from the azure depths. A moment later, the words appeared:
OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD
The negative response paired with a sudden shriek of his mother’s voice was far too much for Sam to take. A glass piggy bank at the edge of his nightstand shattered on the floor as he threw a wild, frustrated punch. Over the jingling symphony of dancing pennies, Sam could hear his mother’s light footsteps running up the stairs, the thunder of Ted’s bulky weight closely behind. Moving as quickly but quietly as he could, Sam leaped off his mattress and pulled the bedroom door open just enough to see through.
Ted’s back blocked most of Sam’s view, but the boy could still see his mother cowering against the wall on the far side of the hallway, her hand pressed to her freshly slapped face. Ted wavered drunkenly in front of her, parallel with the stairs but threatening to advance at any moment.
Sam was far too young to know anything about the intricacies of primal human instincts, but it was the instinctual desire to protect his mother that spurred him to rush at the drunken man without a second thought.
Oblivious to Sam’s approach and already horribly off-balance, it did not take much to shove “Dad” right off his feet.
Sam had always fantasized about a more prolonged demise, but at least he caught Ted’s one final glance of confused fear right before he dropped down the unmercifully hard teeth of the wooden stairs.
A few hours later, when the ambulance arrived to haul away Ted’s broken body, Sam sat at the kitchen table and watched his corpse be wheeled out the front door. From his seat behind some Oreo Sandwich Cookies and a glass of milk, Sam could overhear a police officer explain to his mother that accidents just happen now and then. Staircases and alcohol just isn’t the best match.
His mother cried in the policeman’s arms. The officer held her gently, his gaze moving over towards the open kitchen door. His eyes met Sam's and he smiled.
Sam did not return the gesture, his face remaining expressionless. He was too busy thinking about the next question he was going to ask the magic eight ball. And for the policeman's sake, it better have the right answer.
BIO: Asher’s fiction has also previously appeared in The Oddville Press, Cell Stories, The Cynic Online Magazine, Flashes in the Dark, Bewildering Stories, MicroHorror and Yellow Mama. He is a 2006 graduate of Colby-Sawyer College, where he earned a degree in English Literature, and is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at The University of Southern Maine.