There was only one gift under the little Christmas tree atop the TV when Lauren awoke on Christmas Day. It was no surprise. Lauren had put it there herself the previous day. She picked it up, hesitating a little. Then she opened it.
In the box was her father’s old .38 Special. Putting down the box, Lauren took out the revolver and opened the cylinder. There, just as she had left them, were five bullets and one empty chamber. A one in six chance of living was good enough, Lauren had decided.
Lauren’s father had died in September, followed by her mother in October. Both had contracted COVID, probably at the party that she had warned them not to attend. To top things off, Lauren’s boyfriend Paul had assaulted her a week after her Mom’s funeral, then left her for dead. She still hurt in places from that, not all of them physical. So as the end of 2020 loomed, Lauren decided to give Fate the final say on whether she saw 2021.
Lauren spun the cylinder a few times, then snapped it shut without looking at it. She had to give Fate a chance to make its decision. Then she put the barrel in her mouth, aiming up. All that remained was a single pull of the trigger.
If the hammer clicked on the lone empty chamber, 2021 would be her year. If it hit a loaded one, life would go on without her. Which would, Lauren thought, probably be the better outcome for all concerned. Maybe she should just rotate the cylinder to a loaded chamber and get things over with.
“Bye,” she thought, then pulled the trigger.
There was nothing but a click of the hammer. Fate had chosen to keep her alive.
“Fuck Fate,” Lauren cried in her head.
She did not remove the gun from her mouth, suddenly wanting the other ending.
Lauren had promised herself, promised Fate, that one pull would be all. If nothing happened, then she would accept that judgment as readily as one that took her life. Now, though, Lauren wanted her ending, not Fate’s. She pulled the trigger again, bracing for the explosion. But the explosion never came.
Lauren was stunned. A dud? A misfire? Why was she still here? She pulled the trigger again. Once more, Lauren lived on.
One more try, she promised herself. Already, though, a kind of strange joy was displacing the despair that had led Lauren to this terrible game. Still, she pulled the trigger, as much from curiosity as desire for death. When she once again lived, Lauren removed the barrel from her mouth and opened the cylinder. All six chambers were empty.
She gasped, “What the fuck is this?”
Hands shaking, Lauren put the gun back in its box. She stared at it for a moment. Then she went out onto her apartment’s small balcony. For a few minutes, Lauren stared out over the city of Eversham. Light snow was falling. A few Christmas lights twinkled in the streets below.
Joy swelled in Lauren’s heart for the first time in months.
“I’m alive!” she cried out, “And I plan to stay that way. Thank God! And Merry Christmas!”
Then Lauren heard the faint, distant sound of someone singing carols. A tear in her eye, she began to sing along. For the first time, Lauren started planning for the new year.