Friday 22 November 2013

#FridayFlash - The Numbers

Elijah sat on the platform at Ealing Common, cheap ballpoint in one hand, small wirebound notebook in the other. Every day, he'd turn to a fresh page in time to see new equations appear, and he'd steal fragments of time throughout the day until the equations were solved. Though he'd never tell anyone, the numbers spoke to him. They told him stories. The completed equations even sang him lullabies when his brain felt too full and sleep eluded him. He kept the notebook with him at all times, solving equations in snatched moments between tasks. The compulsion to solve the equations neutralised any curiosity he might have felt about what the equations were for, where they came from, or what might happen if he didn't solve them.

At the same time across the Atlantic, Benny huddled behind a dumpster in Hell's Kitchen, solving a sudoku from a discarded copy of The Post. He'd wrapped himself in newspapers every night for as long as he could remember, but he only noticed the number puzzles a month before. The first time he did the puzzle, a man gave him a dollar for finishing it, and every day, as soon as he finished his puzzle, he found a coin in the street, or a kind passerby gave him some food. He didn't think the puzzles and his new luck were connected but he wasn't going to risk losing it, not now. He scrawled his final digit into the box, a misshapen number 9, and waited for dinner.

In the early Italian sunshine, Marco sat at a table in a Venetian piazza, scrawling equations on a napkin. Sometimes the numbers twisted and turned, leading him on a merry dance through a whole pile of napkins and onto the tablecloth, but today they were behaving themselves, and were slotting into place all over the thin paper. Or were they? Thunder rumbled around the sky as he stared at his equation. He knew it was wrong, but how? Another rumble erupted into a sky rapidly sliding from blue to slate grey. Marco stared at the numbers and swore loudly; he'd written a 3 where there should have been a 4. He corrected the mistake as the waitress brought his brunch. He continued to work on the numbers as the sky lightened.

Seconds ticked, digits flashed on trading floors, hearts beat at around 70 beats per minute, and the numbers continued to spin the universe in the right direction.