Mark pushed his debit card in the slot and tapped his code into the keypad. He didn’t like these outdoor ATMs. They seemed especially dirty and prone to tampering. But it was noon, and the bank was closed for lunch.
The glare of the sun made it difficult to read, and he paused a moment too long before responding to the prompts. The screen went black. Rather, the console shut off; the glass was not black, but hazy with the reflection of a sand dune at sunrise.
Wondering why what he assumed was an advertisement did not contain any ad copy, Mark turned around to see the billboard or poster that might be the source of the image. But only an empty, unadorned bus shelter loomed behind him.
As Mark turned back to the ATM screen, the reflection of a man’s arm swung out in front of him. He jumped back, turning to fend off the thief, but again, nothing was there.
What in hell?
The reflected arm carried a gas lantern. Was this a new kind of ad? A stunt from a reality TV show about camping? Mark composed himself for the security camera. He pulled in his gut and flashed a knowing and, he hoped, attractive smile.
“Ladies.” He spoke the greeting directly to the electronic eye, raising a brow the way he’d seen in one of those shows.
While he wanted to signal that he was in on the joke, the puzzle was compelling. He couldn’t imagine how they’d manufactured a reflection. Mark waved his hand over the image, trying to determine the origin of the projection. But it did not flicker.
He felt the cool breeze of a desert morning waft over his fingers.
Ignoring the fear of appearing absurd, he put his face close to the screen so he could examine the machinery above it. The lantern in the image swung at him and conked him on the head. The screen dissolved and the man in the desert reached through and grabbed him by the back of his shirt to haul him, face first, with a “whump” onto the dune.
The sand rubbed into his cheek and got in his mouth. He brushed it off angrily and turned to confront his aggressor.
The man was dancing around the lantern on the sand, kicking up his feet with glee.
“Ha-ha! I’ve caught you! I’ve done it! Hee-hee!”
The street had disappeared, replaced by endless sand and sky.
The lunatic peered at him. Wrinkles wreathed his leathery face as he smiled, revealing a solitary front tooth.
“Now, my friend, I have you, and you must grant me three wishes.”
“What? I don’t grant wishes, you nutbag. Put me back.”
“Oh no. You know the rules. Three wishes.
Number one. I would like a paper airplane.”
Mark drew back.
“Hold up. What?”
“A paper airplane. I would like one. That is my first wish. Don’t try to trick me.”
The man thrust a yellowed piece of paper at Mark and sat down, head in hands to study him.
“That’s your wish? Of all the things you could —”
Mark broke off. Why try to convince him?
“Fine. One paper airplane.”
Using his leg as support, he creased the paper and folded it into a plane.
“Fly it,” the man commanded.
“You’re sure you want me to do that?”
“Fly it! Fly it!” The man jumped up. Leaving his lantern on the sand, he flapped his arms and galloped about.
Mark tossed the plane into the air and they watched it zing away.
“Oh, I wish my brother were here to see that,” the old man said.
The man stared.
“That’s three wishes. I made the plane, I flew it for you, and you wished your brother were here.”
“No! Oh no!”
“Sorry, bub. That’s it. Go get your brother and we’ll have a show.”
“Ah, in that case, you’ve wasted your wish. Put me back, crazy pants.”
Some time later Mark found himself on the street, his memory of the last few minutes wiped from his mind,
Mark spotted an ATM.
He didn’t like these outdoor machines, but it was lunchtime and the bank was closed.