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Suspense

 

There was this moment this morning as I was leaving The Brew Haus, just after I crossed Second Street where I thought I had gone crazy.

But I didn’t. I didn’t go crazy. And now I know.

Six times today I’ve heard the same noise, a ping, like when your Google search has found something or your total at the register is $6 exactly, but today, I wasn’t looking for anything and I hadn’t bought anything.

Like usual, I went to The Brew Haus at 7:05 AM. It was only two blocks from Apollos Tech; just close enough to grab a few lattes and just far enough to merit a vague sense of accomplishment.

It was there I heard it the first time. Phone on the counter, credit card in hand, I was about to swipe when I heard it.

Ping.

It wasn’t from my phone though. I remember because I looked down and could only see my reflection in the dark screen.

It was very distinctive, I know that now. I could recognize it anywhere, but I almost missed it—I almost missed that first noise because immediately following the ping, the fire alarm wailed and the sprinklers spurted on. In the chaos that ensued, I grabbed my soaked phone and was pushed with the crowd, damp and shivering, out into the street. A hand wrapped tightly around my wrist and jerked me away from the mass of bodies. I pulled hard down, breaking the grip before I caught sight of who held me. I didn’t recognize him.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, looking down at the ground. “I’m sorry I thought you were somebody else.”

“It’s fine,” I grimaced, rubbing my wrist. “It got a little crazy in there.”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, before tripping down the sidewalk and out of sight. We all disentangled ourselves from each other and stood in a single file line in front of the shop. Bleakly, I looked through the misty windows of the chaos, then down at my watch. My phone vibrated with the second warbled ping, and as soon as I looked down, the notification slipped away. Confused, I swiped up, down, tried scrolling through my apps—but nothing.

Is that normal? I wondered to myself, frowning down at my lightly wet screen. Wiping my phone on my almost dry pants, I thought It’s ironic that I’m so bad at technology. I squinted at my phone, at a small black pinpoint in the top right corner that seemed to grow as I watched it. No no no, I groaned inwardly, Don’t die.

“Alice.”  

I looked up to see my supervisor standing in front of me.

“Callahan. Hi. Hello.”

“Don’t come into work today,” Callahan commanded. He squinted out into the street, then down at my dark suit. “Take the day.”

Stunned, I just frowned at him. He was not moist. He wasn’t in the shop. What was he doing here?

“I was getting you a coffee,” I told him dumbly, pointing to the misty shop.

Without looking at me, Callahan stated, “Don’t. Go home, Alice. We’ll see you later.”

He skirted around me, then pushed down the sidewalk. He hadn’t even looked up when the fire truck jolted to a stop beside them and he hadn’t even noticed the comically slippery employees sweeping water over businessmen’s shoes and into the street.

It was funny. And he didn’t even notice it.

Don’t. Go home, Alice. 

Don’t. Go home, Alice. 

Don’t. Go home, Alice. 

His voice looped in my head. He hadn’t even asked why I was damp and standing awkwardly in the street. Don’t. Go home, Alice. That was all he said.

I frowned again, shaking my head. Fine. I’m going home. Turning toward the street, I saw a parked taxi, its driver looking at me. Raising my hand slightly, he motioned for me to come and I jogged across the street.

Sliding into the backseat, I pulled the door closed and sighed, “Corner of 9th and Madison, please.”

That’s when I heard it again.

Ping.

The cabbie’s phone, affixed to his dashboard, had a small white notification slide down, then disappear.

“Is there some weather warning I should be aware of?” I asked, looking out the smudgy windows up at the perfect sky.

“Huh?” He asked, giving me a quick glance in the rearview mirror.

“Oh I had just gotten that notification earlier too, but it disappeared before I could read it.”

“Huh.” This noise was a statement, not a question and several moments of silence passed between us before I asked, “So is there bad weather on the way? Is there an amber alert or is there like a shoot-off in Mile’s Square again?”

“No.”

“No?” His short response made the hair on the back of my neck raise.

“No.” He repeated, eyes fixed ahead.

“Then what is it?”

He paused for a moment before saying, “An EMA.”

“EMA? That sounds familiar,” I muttered to myself, tapping my phone screen a few times, groaning when I realized it wouldn’t turn on. Under my breath, I cursed the fire sprinklers, pressing my eyes with the palms of my hands. “I think I got the notification too, back at the coffee shop. Why would it disappear though?”

The cabbie just shrugged, stopping abruptly in the street. I cried out, stopping myself from hitting my head on the seat in front of me. “Maybe it didn’t happen.” He shrugged.

“No, I definitely heard it.”

“Maybe the EMA didn’t happen.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged again, looking hard out his side window. “Sometimes, things don’t happen like they were supposed to. Maybe they had to cancel the alert.”

“But I—”

“Five dollars,” he interrupted without ceremony. After looking back at me, he frowned. “Six dollars. You’ve made my taxi wet.” Thoroughly confused with this man, I handed him the bills and slid out of his vehicle. I watched the cab slowly drive away, pulling around a corner and out of sight.

EMA. I thought to myself, wracking my brain. I’ve heard of that before. It’s an alert.  Amber alerts are for kidnapped kids, like with the pictures posted up in Walmart. Silver alerts are old people, cuz like silver hair.

I dragged my feet to the front door of my apartment building and stood there for a minute, just thinking.

EMA.

EMA.

EMA.

Don’t go home, Alice.

I started. I had forgotten my boss said that. He told me to not come home. Wait. No, he didn’t.

Don’t.

Go home, Alice.

That’s what he had said. That’s different. I waivered, hand hovering over the doorknob.

I’m home, I thought. So, why am I afraid? What’s an EMA?

Cautiously, I unlocked the front door, then the hall door, then my apartment door. With each lock click, the knot in my throat grew.

Don’t go HOME, Alice.

DON’T go home, Alice.

DON’T GO HOME, ALICE.

I slammed my front door behind me and the voice in my head silenced.

“EMA,” I whispered urgently. Spotting my laptop on my kitchen counter, I rushed over. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” I murmured, as my shaking fingers typed “EMA” into the search bar.

Ping.

I turned just in time to see a dark bag pull over my head. One heavy blow rendered me almost unconscious. I heard ping number six right before I slipped into total darkness.

As I was dragged out of my apartment, a small notification bar slid across my screen, then disappeared.

 

 

 

Endangered Missing Advisory: Alice McKinnon: abduction in progress.

 

 

 

July 20, 2021 01:16

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