“Don’t go home.” We were watching old reruns of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, laughing about how all of the ads on this channel targeted our aging bodies: Nugenix for that flagging penis, a Hurrycane, to help with that bum hip, and Life Term insurance, in case of sudden death. “Don’t go home.” She had said it, suddenly, mid-Consumer-Cellular commercial. “What?” Her words felt like a sudden slap. Her long legs were tucked under her on the couch. She cradled her wine glass in both hands, then set it, slowly and deliberately, on the coffee table. This time, Laura’s voice was quiet, but persistent, “Don’t go home.” I waited for more information, while the “1-8-7-7-Kars for Kids song” blared through the awkward silence. She finally reached for the remote, hit the “mute” button and continued to stare at her wine glass. “Are you OK?” In twenty-five years of friendship, I’d never seen Laura at a loss for words. I found myself bracing for the worst. “Jan,” she started, then fell back into silence. I’ve learned that if someone begins a statement with my name, nothing good is coming. “I just got a message.” Her speech was slow and careful, and she kept her eyes on her wine glass. “What kind of message? I don’t understand.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Quark dragging Odo up a mountain. The familiarity of the episode provided an anchor in the strangeness of the moment. We’d watched countless episodes like this, every Friday night. At first as a couple’s night, with Laura and Jack, me and Rob. Rob was the kind of man who didn’t believe in institutions—felt that living together was enough. We never married. After six years, Rob had had enough togetherness. And then we were three. Laura and Jack were kind, and easy. They never made me feel like a third wheel. So, we kept our Friday night tradition. I’d bring wine and something for dessert. Laura and Jack would cook dinner and we’d eat, chat and nerd out on Star Trek, until it was time for me to go home. And then we were two. The driver of the Suburban sustained only minor injuries when he t-boned Jacks car. We were told that Jack died instantly. In the depth of our shock and grief, we clung to our tiny island of routine. Just now, I wanted to hide in an episode I’d seen too many times to count—to pretend my friend wasn’t about to rupture our serenity. Reluctantly, I turned off the TV, looked her in the eye and said, “Just tell me.” The words came flooding out, “It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I’ll just hear a voice in my head. Not all the time—not like split personality or anything, but just a clear statement. It doesn’t sound like me, when I’m talking to myself, trying to work something out, more like a message from someone else. The first time it happened, I was walking home from school and I the message said “turn right.” It was the wrong way, but I turned right and there was a dog that had been hit by a car. I found an address on his collar and his owner got him to the vet before he bled out. “Well, that could’ve been a coinci— “ “I know, I know, BUT, then I picked up a lottery card in college. I also heard this message with five repeating numbers, so I played them.” “And. . .” “I won a thousand dollars.” “Still. . .” “Remember when we met? I’d just moved to town and I was actually on my way to the mall and the message said “get coffee.” So, I stopped at the first coffee shop I saw, and you were there, remember? You were writing something, and I asked what it was and. . “ “The rest was history.” We’d often shared the story of how we met, as friends, but she’d never told me the first part. “So, what are you saying?” “There was one more message. It was for Jack.” She fell silent again. I reached for the wine bottle and filled our glasses. “What, exactly, was the message?” She took a sip and met my eyes for the first time. “Stay home.” She shook with silent sobs. “Oh, honey. How could you know what that meant? I mean, how were you supposed to have any idea of even WHEN he should stay home?” “I DID, though. I knew it was an urgent message. It meant, STAY HOME NOW!” “Did you tell him?” “Yes, but you know Jack – he was always Mr. Skeptic. He thought I had just been watching too many episodes of Outer Limits.” Guilt, regret and fear poured out with her tears. I grabbed a box of tissues and tried to help, “you always were a nose crier!” She blotted away the mess and even managed a small laugh. “Please—don’t leave me alone, ” she said. “All right. I’ll stay. Move over though, you’re in my bed!” She unfolded her legs and I swung my feet into her lap. The air grew lighter as we both let out a collective held-breath. The end credits for Deep Space Nine were rolling and we settled in for the next show in the “All Star Trek” block. Halfway through Voyager, she sat up, sharply. “What is it?” “New message. She handed me the remote and said “press two.” The local news station showed the roof of a building collapsing under the flames, as three crews of firefighters tried to drown the conflagration. A gas explosion in the fourplex had shattered windows for two blocks. We stared, open-mouthed, at each other. I raised my glass and silently toasted the voice in her head. Then we turned back to the screen to watch my home crumble into the fire.
About the Author Deborah Sale-Butler is an American writer, born on Halloween. She is moving from Los Angeles to Portland, to be closer to the spirit of Ursula Le Guin. When she isn't writing, she is providing voices for video games and animation. About the Artist Viggo Krejberg is a 21 Year Old Chicago based Artist and Animator. He attributes his work to being heavily inspired by artists such as Junji Ito, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Ian Worthington. Updates on his art & current projects can be found on his Twitter @VKrejberg.
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