“Heads,” you answer. This is an old game. You’ve done this before.
Your companion deftly flips the coin from his thumb, letting it spin in a shimmering arc before catching it and flattening it against the back of his hand. He meets your eyes and grins. Slowly, drawing out the suspense, he draws back his hand to reveal the coin.
Heads. You hold out your hand, triumphant. “That’s two you owe me.”
“Hold on a moment. Let’s try this again.”
He flips the coin again. Again, it spins to the apex of its arc, then falls to land in his waiting hand. Again, he presses it to his hand, then reveals the coin with a swift flourish.
Heads. It wouldn’t have seemed strange, if he asked you to wait—but in the pause between the first throw and the second, while the coin tumbled through the air, you could have sworn you felt the gears of probability grinding to a slow halt.
“Try it again.” Not waiting for him to reply, you snatch the coin from his hand and launch it into the air, watching it spin. You see heads and tails flashing together. For an instant, the two of them swim and blur, until they become indistinguishable. Then the coin falls heavy on your palm, and you turn it over onto the back of your hand.
A chill runs down your back. “It mightn’t mean anything,” you say, but you know in your marrow that you’re lying. “If every toss of the coin is equally likely to be heads or tails—”
Your companion isn’t listening, though. He has the look of a hare who has sighted a hawk. His lips move briefly, but you have never learned the trick of reading them. “There was a messenger,” he says. “We were sent for.”
You hear a not-so-distant pounding, like the steady beat of a drum.
“A knocking at the shutters,” you agree. “Early in the morning, the two of us still half-asleep. And a voice: ‘Rosencrantz! Guildenstern!'”
One of those names is yours, by birth or by choice. The other is on the tip of your tongue. Your companion looks up at you, eyes golden-green in the dim light filtering through the trees. For a moment, you imagine coins laid over his eyes. The moment feels as delicate as a skin of ice over a swift-moving stream. A breath might shatter it.
You fear you must speak or go mad.