Long Distance-Chapter Two: A brief fiction
Author’s Note. Be sure to read the previous post of Long Distance before reading Chapter Two.
“It’s bizzare,” said Ian. “Feels kind of like I’m in the middle of a Dali painting.”
When he told Mike, Ian knew he was taking a chance. He expected his oldest friend to chastise him for calling the number, which he did. Mike was the kind of guy who didn’t mince words. He was aconstant friend, but he thought tough love was always was the truest form of compassion—which meant his friendships were few and often ephemeral.
“Just let it go, man,” said Mike. “You found a note. You tried to find out who it belonged to. You couldn’t. End of story.”
Ian wanted to believe Mike. He wanted to just throw the thing away, forget about it and move on. But the thing chirped at him like a cricket in the darkness. Every time he thought the insect had settled down, the chirping started over.
It had been two days since he had spoken to Alethia. Two long, distracted, days. Ian wondered if he was losing his mind. Was he becoming obsessive-compulsive? Did mental illness run in his family? His aunt was a bit of a hoarder and sometimes she had what his Mom had called her “spells,” but other than that he didn’t know of anything he should be concerned about.
He decided to call her again.
“Hello, Ian.” This time she picked up on the first ring.
“How did you know it was me?”
“You do know what caller ID is don’t you, Ian?” she laughed.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”
“I’ve been waiting for your call.”
Her voice was gentle, imbued with a kind of understanding and kindness that made him both calm and uneasy.
“Of course. What do you need?”
Ian laughed. He wasn’t the needy type. All his personality profiles told him he was a guy in control. Diligent. Analytical. Can-do. Everybody said so.
“I’m sorry. Did I say something funny?” asked Alethia.
“No. No. I’m sorry. It’s just I don’t need anything. I’m still just trying to solve this puzzle. For some reason, I can’t let go of this number—the note I mean. I can’t figure out why I even bothered to pick it up.”
“Everybody needs something, Ian.”
“Well, sure. I mean I get that—sort of.”
“I think maybe you were the one the note was meant for. I think you were supposed to call me, Ian.”
The way she kept saying his name, he thought, it was as if she had known him all of his life. He felt vulnerable and safe at the same time.
“Alethia, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, Ian. That’s what I’m here for.”
“Do we know each other?”
Athlethia paused. For a moment, he thought she had hung up.
Just yes. That was all she said. No backstory. No stating of her case. No need to prove herself. She just said it with a confidence that defied the need for explanation. Ian wondered if he was in the middle of some elaborate hoax. He and Mike played practical jokes on one another. But this? This was the apotheosis of all pranks if indeed it proved to be one.
“I’m gonna need a little more than that, Alethia.”
“Of course you do. Let me be clear. We haven’t met. At least not in the sense of how you and Mike met. But we do know one another. We’ve known one another for a long time. Since you were a boy.”
Alethia continued for a while, offering validation of their relationship. She told him things about himself, some of which he had long since forgotten—things that made it clear she was telling the truth. She told him about that time his sister Callie died and how he was afraid he would die too. She told him she knew about how he still talked to Callie—which was also something that had made him worry he was crazy. But that was something he had never told anyone. He should have been afraid. But the more Alethia told him, the more his anxiety fell.
“Is there anything else you want to ask me, Ian?”
He started to ask her a question, but the train of his mind had entered the pitch of black of the tunnel and for a moment, he couldn’t think. The train, there in the middle of the tunnel, had stopped. No rattle of the steel wheels grinding over the rails. No roar of the engine. No bells of warning. Only quiet.
But the engines roared to life. The horn blew with the power and fury of the priests with Joshua at Jericho. The train raced further into the darkness. Not in the sense of how you and Mike met?
He hung up the phone without saying anything more.