A Bird in the Hand

Sam felt ready for anything. He sat at a small round table with Herbie next to him on one side and Lira on his other side. A tall, well-dressed gentleman sat across from them and eyed the trio. Shadows covered most of the room. The only light in the room came from a small lamp sitting in the middle of the table. The three of them had been training under the gentleman for almost a year already but not once did he give his name. Anytime any of them asked he tended to change the subject in order to avoid the question.

“Ready?” the gentleman asked the group. All three heads nodded. “Fastest hand wins. Nonstop,” he said. The gentleman cast a stern glance at Herbie. Sam hoped he didn’t raise a fuss again like he did the last time they played. The rotund man tended to be a sore loser; and, a poor winner the few times he did win. “No arguments,” he said plainly and looked Herbie in the eyes. Sam saw Herbie give a slight nod.  “We’re starting now,” the gentleman said clearly.

“Cup.” The man said. Immediately all three competitors dipped their hands into the shadows under the table. Sam heard a hollow, plastic-y sound from Lira first. She placed a red plastic cup on the table in front of her. While Herbie looked disappointed Sam kept feeling around in the darkness until he felt something. He grabbed it and pulled it out. Sam placed a frosted, translucent tumbler on the table in front of him in time to hear the next item. “Three quarters and a dime,” the gentleman said. Lira and Sam reached back into the darkness as Herbie placed a blue ceramic coffee cup on the table in front of him. He rushed to reach under the table again. Sam slammed his hand on the table and pulled it away to reveal three quarters and a dime.

“Plunger. Clean, please.” the gentleman said. Lira dropped her change on the table and reached back into the darkness. Herbie threw two quarters on the table then reached back in for more coins.

“An onion,” the gentleman said when Lira and Sam showed him their plungers, then tossed them on the floor. Herbie placed the rest of the coins on the table and showed his plunger off. He tossed it away when the man nodded.

“A single slice of pizza,” the man said when three different onions rolled onto the table. Lira pulled her slice out first. She had enough time to take a bite before Herbie and Sam pulled out their slices. The gentleman smiled. Sam wasn’t sure if he was the only one that saw the smile, but he felt confident he was the only one of them that knew what it meant. The tests were about to get harder.

“The rest of that same pizza,” the gentleman said. Sam moved the fastest; he expected something tricky and was ready for it. He placed a pizza box on the table and opened it to show where his slice fit.

“I guess they just finished it,” Herbie said as he placed a box on the table. He opened it to reveal a single slice and placed his stolen slice next to it. The gentleman nodded then looked at Lira’s pizza and nodded at her.

“Two hands,” the man added the new rule. “Fire extinguisher.” Sam reached into the darkness with both hands and produced a small fire extinguisher first. Lira placed hers next and the gentleman looked at Herbie. “You’re out.” Herbie shrugged and reached for Sam’s full pizza box. “Tiebreaker,” he added while looking at Sam and Lira.

“Duck!” The gentleman shouted. Sam reached both hands under the table. He felt feathers brush his fingertips and grabbed what he could to pull. He heard a squeaking sound next to him and saw Lira squeezing a rubber duck in her right hand. He almost let go of the animal in his hands, but he realized he could still win. He yanked a flapping, angry duck out of the darkness with both hands then threw it towards the couch.

“Sam wins,” the gentleman said.

“Why?!” Lira shouted. She slammed her hand on the table in anger. “You didn’t say it had to be alive!” The gentleman nodded.

“You’re right, I didn’t. But I did say to use two hands.”

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