Somewhere between San Diego and Santa Fe, a late ‘80s station wagon with original wood paneling glided through the Southwest. Behind the wheel, Alice, the driver, scanned the horizon.
“How far is the next gas station?” she asked her index tapping against the steering wheel.
“There’s one coming up in like ten minutes but we just filled up at the last one,” Jamie, the map reader, said from the shotgun seat.
“I need to make a pit stop,” Alice said.
“Why didn’t you go when we stopped earlier?” Jamie checked her watch and opened up the map. “This is going to put us off schedule.”
“I didn’t have to go earlier. I have to go now,” she hissed between clenched teeth.
“Just hold it for a couple of hours and you can go when we stop for lunch.”
“Hey, uh, I think I have to use the restroom too,” Greg, the passenger, said from the backseat.
“Seriously?!” Jamie tossed the map onto the dashboard. “You can hold it too. We have a schedule.”
“It’s two to one for a pit stop. Where do I turn?” Alice asked.
“Passengers shouldn’t get votes.” She sulked in silence for a minute. “Get off at the next exit. It’s just off the feeder road. Can’t miss it.”
A few minutes later, Alice was pulling into a parking space in front of a gas station. All three walked inside, two peeling off to the restrooms, while Jamie browsed the fruit pie selection. Next to the wire rack holding the sought after pies as well as other pastries were a series of coin-op machines. Most dispensed a variety of small toys in plastic eggs. The one that caught Jamie’s eye was shorter than the rest, lacking the large clear hopper of plastic eggs. Instead, it had a red squat winged devil figure over the coin mechanism that took pennies and dispensed slips of paper through a slot.
“Hey, what’s that?” Greg asked as he walked up behind Jamie. She jumped slightly, realizing she had been staring into the plastic jewel eyes of the devil.
“It looks like some sort of cursed fortune telling machine.” She rubbed her eyes and returned to considering the fruit pies.
“Aww cool! I always wanted to try one of these things out,” Alice said. She twisted the dial back and forth but it refused to turn without a penny offering. “Anyone got a penny?” Greg turned out his pockets and held out his change, all dimes, nickels, quarters, and a golden dollar. Alice turned to Jamie.
“Just leave it alone. We’ve already lost enough time to this unscheduled stop,” Jamie said picking up an apple fruit pie and turning it over to read the ingredients. She raised an eyebrow at the surprisingly natural ingredients and grabbed two. At the counter, she paid with a five and dropped her pennies into the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny bowl.
Alice grabbed a quarter from Greg’s change dropped it into the bowl and removed a small pinch of pennies. The clerk gave her an odd look but said nothing. She skipped back to the machine and squatted in front of it. She inserted a penny into the slot and turned the lever. A slip of paper popped out with a metallic ding.
“Questions unasked cannot be answered,” she read from the paper. “What does that mean?”
“You have to ask a question first, maybe?” Greg said.
“Do I have to ask a question first?” Alice said to the devil statue.
Penny, turn, ding! “Yes.”
“Ok, now we’re cooking. What should I ask it?”
“Ask it if we’re ever going to get back on schedule,” Jamie said.
Penny, turn, ding! “Time wasted cannot be returned.”
“You hear that! The cursed devil machine agrees with me now can we please get back on the road?” Jamie said.
“I still have pennies left.” Alice paused to think of a question.
“What about: will we make it home safely?” Greg said.
“You can’t ask it leading questions like that it’ll just twist the answers to keep you asking questions,” Jamie hissed at the other two.
Penny, turn, ding! “No one lives forever.”
“See! It’s totally trying to mind trick you into asking more questions.” She stomped over to the machine. “I know what you’re doing and I’m not falling for it.”
Penny, turn, ding! “You can’t fool all of the people some of the time.”
“Oh no, you don’t! Don’t think that just because you’re agreeing with me that I trust you. Also, that’s not even the full quote.”
Penny, turn, ding! “A smart person knows when to leave the buffet.”
“Hey, who are you calling ‘smart’?” Jamie shouted at the machine. She waited for Alice to feed it another penny. When one was not inserted into the machine, she looked down at Alice.
“I’m out of pennies. Well, that was fun. If we cut our lunch short, we can get mostly back on schedule,” Alice said standing up.
“But … But I’m not done fighting with …” She looked at the devil and thought she saw its eyes gleam. She let out a sigh, “Right, cursed devil fortune machine. Ok, let’s go and we don’t have to cut our lunch short. We just won’t take our afternoon pit stop.”
“You know that’s not going to work, right?” Alice asked.
“Yeah but I can try,” she said as they walked out to their station wagon.