The Drone
by Ruth Anne Boothe

Strange man. Beige trench coat, rumpled hat, (who wears hats, anymore?), badly in need of a shave ... and mumbling, constantly mumbling. The drone of barely, coherent words went on for nearly an hour before their meaning struck me.

I'd been at the races since 9:00 a.m. Sitting beside the drone since 11:00. Won a few. Lost more. Hell, I'm no gambler. Not even a semi- educated speculator. Here's my race-day secret. If I like the horse's name, I place a bet. Hardly scientific. But in my mind, probably just as accurate as anyone elses method. You know, I hear they pitted a Wall Street broker against a monkey to pick stocks. The monkey had better luck.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, the drone. Poor guy. Probably no one to talk to at home. Or no one who'd listen. Suddenly - from the mumblings, I caught the name "Goliath's Pride". 10 to 1 odds.

A minute later Goliath's Pride won.

Lucky bastard. I figured it was his horse, but he didn't move to collect his winnings. Odd.

Silver Streak. Another mumbled name. Picked to place 3rd.

Silver Streak came in first.

I must have sat there, frozen, for a good 7 races, before the rush of adrenalin hit, projecting me up and towards the ticket window to place a bet. I won. 2 to 1 odds. My $50 bucks was now $100. Again, I placed a bet, 5 to 1 odds. $100 turned to $500.

By 4:30, my legs had turned to rubber from running back and forth to my seat. I estimated I'd won enough to, after taxes, pay off my house.

I decided to stop. Any more would be greedy. (Okay, so it was all greedy.). Time to thank my unknowing accomplice and go home.

Reaching my seat, I looked once more at the peculiar man to my right, wondering what I could possibly say to convey my gratitude.

I leaned over, intending to place a hand on his shoulder ... and faltered. My hand grasped air. No substance. Just air. Off-guard and off-balance, I fell forward and felt a jolt run up my arm as my palm landed hard on the seat, my head in the space his head should have been.

Startled, I jumped back and stared.

He sat there, mumbling, unmoving, unchanging. More slowly this time, despite the roaring in my ears and the almost sure knowledge that this was all a dream, I moved my hand to the space he filled. Again, nothing. No body. No density. Nothing.

Icy fear and confusion filled my lungs with air and I knew I was about to release a blood-curdling scream ... when he turned his head and pinned me with a calm, level look - oddly reassuring -- and nodded.

Inexplicably, I sensed a goodness about him, a peacefulness that deflated my lungs and fears. Holding his gaze another moment, I nodded in return, then turned slowly and left.