After getting off the San Francisco trolly, a young woman receives a notification on her phone about two unread prophecies. When the first one comes true, her curiosity compiles her to investigate the second one, despite its danger.
Claudia could not think of a single previous instance of when she took the San Francisco trolly with practically no other riders. It was just her and another woman with red hair like herself the whole ride home. It was nice at first, but as no one else boarded, the entire trip began to feel like a bad omen. Where is everyone? Is there a big event going on? Did something terrible happen? She could feel the whole trolly getting wider and bigger with each passing moment while the other passenger was jamming out to tunes on her headphones.
When Claudia’s stop finally arrived, she bolted out, nearly tripping on the steps on her way out. She could feel her face light up on fire with embarrassment, but the driver didn’t seem to notice as they said nothing and carried forward.
“What was that all about, Claudia?” she said to herself. “Come on, now.”
Claudia spent her first minute of freedom letting the world resize back to normal. She focused on her breathing and then listened to the sounds of the city. Feeling composed, it dawned on her that she hadn’t looked at her phone since leaving the coffee shop. She pulled it out from her laptop bag.
On the phone was a notification: “You have two unread prophecies.”
Claudia re-read the notification three times to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her. She thought it might’ve been something from one of her games getting her attention, but none of those had anything to do with prophecies. She tapped the banner, which brought her to her text messages.
The first message warned: “Watch out for the firebird.”
Claudia scratched her head. “There’s no such thing as a firebird.”
Curious, she scrolled down to the following message, which warned, “A woman in a black dress with a matching briefcase and a pink scarf will get off the next bus. A man in a brown suit and a brown briefcase will follow her and kill her.”
“That’s specifically odd,” Claudia said as she put her phone back in her bag. She then corrected herself. “Or oddly specific, but totally fake still.”
As she snapped her bag close, a pair of car headlights blasted her eyes. She looked up to a red convertible with a flaming bird painted on it swerve in her direction on the sidewalk. She leaped out of the way, avoiding the car. It continued to weave down the hill and around a corner.
“Idiot,” she grumbled. She paused, remembering the warning. “But there was a firebird on it.”
Claudia pulled out her phone again and re-read the second message. Consumed with curiosity, she decided to cross the street, placing her opposite of the bus stop, and waited.
She scrolled through her Instagram feed, catching up with news from her favorite local businesses and friends. There weren’t any major or terrible events she saw that would’ve warranted the trolley’s lack of people. I guess I didn’t miss out on anything, she thought. While scrolling, she kept an eye out for the bus after every few posts. The sun was almost gone, and the night was starting to take over.
She wasn’t sure what she would do if the message was true. She figured if she followed the woman, the man wouldn’t make a move on her with someone else present.
Safety in numbers, she remembered her parents drilling in her head.
As Claudia read a post about the Museum of Ice Cream, the bus approached the stop. She kept her phone out, pretending to be on it as the bus let out passengers. When the bus drove away, it revealed an Asian woman in a black dress with a pink scarf, holding a black briefcase as she walked up a flight of steps with a Caucasian man in a brown suit and briefcase following her.
Claudia’s jaw dropped. “Well, fuck.”
Claudia looked both ways before jogging across the street, following the two up the stairs. The unassuming and easily missed concrete staircase provided a passage to the Ashbury Heights neighborhood and also provided some scenic views of the city. The woman continued up the street, walking along the sidewalk with the man not too far behind and Claudia not far behind him either. She caught strong gusts of the man’s tobacco and oak scented cologne that almost made her gag. She thought for a moment that her reaction would’ve drawn too much attention, but both strangers marched forward like they were eager to get home after a long day.
They walked past a dozen houses to a turn in the road, revealing the tiny thousand square-foot park, Mount Olympus. Claudia remembered one of her friends telling her this place was once considered the city’s geographical center. With a name like Mount Olympus, her first and only visited shattered Claudia’s grandiose expectations with disappointment. There was just an empty pedestal for a lost statue, and any views of the city were obstructed by trees and condominiums. Nothing had changed since her last visit with the expectation of maybe that there were even fewer viewing spots of the city.
Claudia kept back as the woman walked up the stairs to the top by the pedestal and waited. The man joined her.
“Cats are dangerous creatures,” the woman said to the man.
“Not as dangerous as birds,” the man replied.
“You have the item?” the woman asked.
The man tapped on his briefcase. “I thought it would only be fitting to sell The Ring of Olympus here.”
The two exchanged briefcases. While the woman looked inside the briefcase given to her, the man reached inside the side of his jacket.
Thinking she saw a holster for a gun, she shouted, “He has a gun!”
The woman looked up at the man and immediately swung the briefcase at his face, knocking him out. As he hit the ground, a gun slid across the concrete. The woman walked over and kicked the weapon even more out of reach.
The woman looked down at Claudia. “Thanks for the warning. Are you okay?”
“I feel like I should be asking you that,” Claudia replied as she revealed herself.
The woman laughed as she walked down the stairs. “It’s my job to protect people.”
The woman extended her hand out. Claudia studied the friendly gesture for a moment before shaking her hand. The woman’s silver bracelet flashed a calm, blue light, rendering Claudia unconscious. The woman grabbed and gently laid Claudia down. She seized Claudia’s phone and tapped the screen with her bracelet, unlocking it. She went straight to the messages, finding the prophecies.
The woman held two fingers on her bracelet and spoke into it, “Hey, I got a situation of another innocent human getting one of those ‘prophecies’ to our operations. We really need to figure out who is sending these messages to people.”
From the balcony of a condominium across from the park, the redhead woman on the trolly with Claudia earlier spun and danced with a gigantic grin plastered across her face. She paused, leaning on the steel balcony rail as she watched backup arrive for the agent. Her grin grew even wider.
“Looks like you hit a nerve, Veritas,” she praised herself as she spun around to her freestanding door.
Veritas opened the fiery-orange door, revealing the aftermath of the first prophecy text message she sent to a person in Hoquiam, Washington. She closed and opened the door, rewatching the scene of her prophecy text in Augusta, Maine. She closed and opened her door several times, rewatching the endings of all of her escapades. She took a long look at the one in Atlanta, Georgia. When she closed the door, her smile snapped straight.
Veritas pulled out a tablet from the air. “I think it’s time to conclude this quest and force those secret keepers to reveal their truth.”
For this short story, I wanted to expand on the mystery of, “You have 1 unread prophecy.” No prompt inspiration this time. I chose to write about San Francisco because I was thinking about Oklahoma City’s streetcars and then thought about the trolly system there. I looked around Google maps, learning about Mount Olympus, and thought that would be an interesting focal point.
For this story, I wanted to show the same thing happening to another person, but when I finished the first draft, I felt like it was basically an alternative version with nothing new. I thought it over and decided to use this story to reveal the person behind the prophecy message: the end-timer, Veritas. As I hinted in the story, Veritas is obsessed with the truth. She never tells a lie and believes the universe’s lies and secrets brought its downfall.
The ending does set up for a third and final text prophecy story. I don’t have any ideas for it yet, but it will involve three unread prophecies. 😉