For three consecutive nights, Seth woke with a start. That in itself might have worried him because he was generally a sound sleeper, but the thing that scared him on the second night, and terrified him on the third, was the time that it happened: 1:11.
On all three occasions, he found himself staring at the digital alarm clock, the three red 1s glowing diabolically in the dark. On the third night he was so shaken that he got up, went to the study and switched on the computer.
A brief search told him that he had no reason to worry: seeing the number repeatedly seemed to be a good thing. He learned that 111 was a so-called “Angel Number,” apparently a veritable gateway of energy that could turn your thoughts and dreams into reality. Seth wasn’t by nature a spiritual, religious or superstitious person, but there was no denying the evidence of his own eyes and body: he’d woken up at exactly the same time each night, and not just any old time.
The next morning Seth went about his daily routine but now with a feeling that something had changed in what had been, up to now, a humdrum sort of life. He felt empowered somehow and found himself thinking of positive things that would make his life better.
But what did he want exactly? Well, he supposed, things that he didn’t have. Money, for instance, friends, and maybe a good woman. No, hang on, why be so conservative? What he really wanted was a lot of money, famous friends that would set him apart, and a woman who looked like — what the hell, since he was merely fantasizing — Penelope Cruz!
On the bus to work — he was a despatch clerk at a factory — he invented a kind of wishful-thinking chant and repeated it silently to himself: Cash, Chums, Cruz; Cash, Chums, Cruz; Cash, Chums, Cruz. In fact, the fantasy had already grown so much in his mind that he was beginning to convince himself the world might actually hand him this free pass to happiness.
He didn’t expect it to start paying off so soon, though. When he got off the bus he saw something out of the corner of his eye, lying on the pavement next to a dilapidated fence: a five-pound note! He bent down as if to tie his shoelace and closed his hand around it. He was about to get up when he noticed the fence. It had most of the railings missing, and he was staring at a 1:11 made of those that remained. It was the final piece of proof he needed that something strangely wonderful was happening to him.
Seth pocketed the money and on instinct headed for the nearest lottery shop. He was late for work but maybe he wouldn’t be needing that job for much longer anyway. In the shop, he completed a coupon, changing two of his usual favourite numbers for 1 and 11. He used the money he’d just found to pay for the ticket. The draw was that evening.
As soon as he got home after work he turned on the television. He sat on the sofa clutching his coupon, repeating over and over again the little chant he’d created. When the lottery draw was over, he remained staring at the screen, numb and speechless. He hadn’t won the five or ten pounds he’d been winning every few months but the jackpot! And when the value of the top prize was announced, it sent a new shiver through his already trembling body: £111 million.
The next few weeks were a maelstrom of activity for Seth. Naturally he gave up his job, he bought himself a new apartment in town and an Aston Martin, he joined the local golf club and through the people he met there, he became a member of an exclusive club in the city. He was soon being invited to the most fashionable of parties and got to know some of the most famous personalities of stage, screen and sport. At one such party he met her.
The first thing he noticed was her slim body and her exquisite neck, partially obscured by long dark hair, hanging down her back in a plait. She was talking to two men hanging on her every word. Seth manoeuvred himself so that he could see her face. She had dark brown, almost black eyes, a bold but elegant nose and full lips; she was, in Seth’s eyes, perfect. He got closer and could hear her slightly hoarse, infinitely sensual voice; she had a distinct Middle-Eastern accent.
“Oh yes. We covered a lot of territory that day,” she said, the two men laughing heartily. The story appeared to be over because she excused herself and moved away, perhaps to get herself another drink, Seth imagined. She turned to say something else to the men over her shoulder but carried on moving and bumped into Seth, knocking his glass of wine down the front of his shirt.
“I’m so sorry!” she cried out, grabbing a serviette from a nearby table. She started to dab at the red stain.
“No, please. Don’t worry,” Seth murmured, gently holding her wrist. Their eyes met. “My … my name’s Seth.”
“Taraab.” Her smile was warm and gentle, her dark-brown eyes exquisite, fathomless. Seth was in love.
And so, as it turned out, was Taraab. Three months later they were married, the wedding held at a desert oasis in Taraab’s country. The honeymoon was to be a trip into the desert with camels and guides — as exotic as Seth could ever have dreamed. After three days, they found themselves in the heart of the scorched land, and that was where the guides left them, taking all their valuables and the camels and leaving the newly-weds with only the clothes on their backs.
Taking stock of their predicament, Seth and Taraab made an attempt to retrace their steps, but the heat was vicious and after half a day they knew it was hopeless. They lay on the sand, Seth trying to shade Taraab against the ferocious rays of the sun. He began mumbling a new chant: “Save our souls; save our souls; save our souls.”
Seth felt himself drifting towards oblivion, but something dragged him back into awareness. He lifted his head and gazed into the distance, shielding his eyes with his hand. Riding towards them were three figures, apparently on camels, elongated by the red desert shimmer. One of the riders was slightly separated from the other two.
Seth burst out laughing with the relief of the moment and tried to rouse Taraab, who merely shook her head gently and moaned. Seth staggered to his feet and began waving, though it was obvious from the direction the figures were taking that they’d already seen him.
As they got closer, Seth began to shout and laugh, almost hysterical now: “HERE! HERE! HERE!”
What he didn’t register were the things the men were brandishing: the three swords, glinting fiercely in the merciless afternoon sun.