In 1999 (Part 2)

Vernon Punch’s ice cream van sat on abandoned lot. He never drove it; he didn’t need to. People came to buy his ice cream, and he had no competitors on his side of town. This is why: for five years now the owner of the only other ice cream van in town, Terry Whistler, had refused to venture within ten miles of Vernon and his van. It was five years ago that an irate Terry confronted Vernon and accused him of undercutting him. Vernon said he was doing no such thing: his prices were fair, and would even have been considered exorbitant a decade ago. Terry thought Vernon was lying, and what’s worse, mocking him, so he shook his fist and yelled one hundred and sixty-three words at Vernon. Vernon listened and then spoke eleven words in reply. Terry swung at Vernon and struck him in the shoulder (Vernon was fourteen inches taller than Terry, and still is). When he hit Vernon, Terry’s elbow locked and fused; he could not bend his right arm. The arm remained rigid for eight days. On the eighth day, an oncoming car struck Terry’s van. Terry suffered only minor whiplash from the accident, and was able to get out and check if the other driver was all right. When he saw her he was terrified. The driver was elderly and barely breathing. For a split-second, Terry considered not getting help and leaving the woman to die. He considered it only for the briefest flash of a moment, but he considered it wholeheartedly. No one else would have noticed that infinitesimal pause, but Terry did. The driver of the car died. She would have died regardless of Terry’s pause; a five-star heart attack had caused her to swerve into the wrong lane. He knew who the woman was: her name was Wanda Olafsen. After she died, Terry was able to bend his right arm again, and he stayed away from Vernon. Eight days prior, just before Terry punched Vernon in the shoulder, Vernon had told him, “You’ll regain the use of your elbow when Wanda Olafsen dies.” Terry would for the rest of his life carry a mild, uncertain guilt, even though he was in no way responsible for Wanda’s death. Vernon never felt guilty, even though he was in a way responsible for Wanda’s death.

Though Vernon found pleasure in visiting earth, he was here on business. Parts of his job inspired fear and sorrow in people, but that never bothered him. In fact, he found their depictions of black robes and scythes amusing. He had never used a scythe in his life.



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