Try Not To Panic

by Tom Dillon

One of the few advantages to working retail was that I could steal office supplies, whose value in all likelihood far exceeded my paycheck. At first I worried that I might be caught, that they might be watching. Of course, to justify that sort of expense, there would have to be some sort of office supply racket, Office Depot selling the pens, stealing the pens back, and then selling the pens once again to replace those that were stolen. Kind of like Wall Street.

The idea of an entire shadow economy based on stolen office supplies distracted me and I was out of the supply closet without first checking to see if there were actually any customers on the floor. I ended up saying “Hello” by sheer baked-in reflex to some woman with three kids attached (who was probably equally surprised to see an employee). Once I got to a safe distance away, I looked down at the objects in my hands: two black pens, a marker, a hi-liter, and a notepad. The notepad was the one item that I actually needed, everything else I just shove into my pockets.

The pocket notepad was, besides my wasp-yellow utility knife, the most useful item that I carried around the sales floor. Not because of any work related use, but because it was in essence a pocket-sized camouflage generator. See your boss walking towards you? Simple, whip it out and open it to one of the pages that you covered in meaningless numbers at the last store meeting, hold it in front of you and face the shelves, looking at them intently and thoughtfully, as though they hold the secrets of the universe. Your boss will walk right past you, content that you are another productive worker bee, diligent in your efforts to make the store more profitable for the owners.

The notepad was probably empty, but I flipped through it anyway, just in case I got lucky. It wasn’t empty, bits of black flitted by as the pages flipped past my thumb on their spiral binding. This might have belonged to someone who actually worked. Excellent. I would now be able to use the time that I would have otherwise spent filling it with random letters and numbers tracking down whoever stole my last notebook. I lifted the black cardstock cover, and written on it in black marker are the words “TRY NOT TO PANIC”. Interesting. I flipped to the next page, and it was covered with something that I didn’t immediately recognize, a precisely written mass of strange characters, jutting angles meshed into sickening curves, a language Giger and Lovecraft would have corresponded in. I push my glasses up my nose and squeeze my eyes shut for the briefest of moments.

When I open the notepad again, the strange writing was still there. It was different, though. Not physically, mind you, the lines and squiggles and jags hadn’t changed, but it didn’t look alien any more. I was probably imagining it, but it seemed as though some light went out of the world, sounds muted, and the sunlight dimmed. Then again, I was working retail, that sort of thing was to be expected.

“Hey Dan, what’s up?” Kevin’s voice from behind my shoulder scared the hell out of me. It’s never good to be oblivious out there, on the killing floor.

“Check this out,” I said, moving so that we stood almost shoulder to shoulder. “What do you make of it?”

Kevin and I were the ones who worked out the trick about the notepad, and I figured there was half a chance that he’s the one who wrote it in there. Its the sort of thing he would do. Then again, he was exactly the sort of person who would have stolen my last notepad.

He looked at the notepad, and there was no glimmer of recognition on his face. He squinted a little at the pad and leaned forward to get a better look at it, running his left hand through his blond hair before massaging his goatee in a considered fashion.

“I don’t–” he begins, but then he was clawing at his eyes, screaming. I watched, frozen as he dropped to his knees, still clawing madly. Almost as quickly as it started, it ended. His hands dropped to his lap, and although I could see marks where his fingernails took off layers of skin, his eyes look OK.

“Shit, man. You scared me–” I didn’t finish my sentence as he fell backwards. It’s sickening to watch, like a trust exercises gone horribly wrong. It wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the sound his head makes when it hits the floor, the dull thunk of his skull against the concrete that is covered only by a thin veneer of commercial carpeting.

I looked around, no one was nearby. One thing was immediately obvious. If Kevin’s untimely demise was due to my notepad, it wouldn’t do for security to have the same reaction and associate it with me. I knelt down and pretended to check for a pulse, although I was sure there wouldn’t be one, and with my left hand, pulled his notepad out from his apron.

Someone had spotted us by then, and people were starting to converge on us, running up the stairs. Questions were asked, gasps at the sight of my dead friend, and Brian, the store manager, took me by the shoulder to his office, so that I could fill out an accident report.

The accident report form was it’s own special sort of hell. You watch your co-worker die and the company’s first reaction is to have you fill out paperwork. What sort of sick joke is that? Thankfully there was no checkbox for “zombies” or even “supernatural” under cause of accident, it would be worrying if the company had expected it. On the other hand, I was worried by their lack of preparedness.

It wasn’t until I had finished the report and was putting my things away –they had sent me home early– that I looked the notepad I had taken from Kevin’s corpse and realized that it was my old notebook. I had lost my best friend twice in one day.

For the record, funerals suck. When I die, I want only people who I disliked to be invited so they can stand around and feel bad about whatever it is they want to feel bad about. To my friends and loved ones, I plan to buy them one last dinner at my favorite restaurant. Sure, I get the whole mourning thing, but I don’t want to make someone else waste one second of their life crying over me. If I didn’t live life to the fullest, that’s my own damn fault.

As it was, I was quickly discovering that the only thing worse than attending a funeral was spending a Saturday morning at your best friend’s service and being the last one to speak to him. Everyone wants to know what his last moments were like, and I want to say, “Not fucking pretty.” But I don’t. I tell them whatever lie about his courage and dignity will get them to leave me alone the quickest and maybe give me the opportunity to duck out early and study the notebook some more.

An hour and a half in, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, having assuaged most of the people in attendance. Then Adria finds me. Adria with her delicate, angular face and red hair. Adria who always seems to be watching me, but who I’ve never been able to choke out more than two words to.

“Daniel?” she asks. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” What I meant to say was no, of course, but what can I say, she’s pretty.

“I saw what happened, with the notepad,” she said. “I want to see it.” Shit.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but we’re at Kevin’s funeral. Show some respect.” I almost believed that I believed what I just said. It made me want to puke.

She didn’t say anything, just cocked her head to the side a little and stared at me. While I was trying to figure out what I needed to say in order to get her to leave me alone, another of Kevin’s family members came up to me and started asking what his final moments were like. Adria shook her head and stalked off.

On Monday morning I arrived at work to find everyone freaking out. My first thought was that someone else had pulled a Kevin, but I calmed down when I realized that people were too panicked for that, which meant that one of the higher-ups was visiting. Of course they wouldn’t want to see the actual condition of the store, but rather the Powerpoint version, with everything going along on greased rails. The back office was deserted, with all of the management out on the floor doing last minute stuff, and so I was alone when she walked in, the Vice President of something or other.

When she saw me she stopped dead. Apparently the incident report had featured my face. Awkward. Might as well milk it.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” she said, extending her hand in the automatic manner of someone who had spent too much time in the macho fairyland of American corporate culture. By the look on her face, she regretted it instantly. I squeezed hard enough that she couldn’t let go, then looked her in the eyes. She looked away. I released her hand and walked out of the office.

I found my manager, Paul, in the stockroom. He looked tired, probably having pulled an overnight to get the store in shape. I felt bad for him, he was one of the few managers that actually did anything, and he always seemed to end up paying the price for it.

“Dan. Thank god you’re here,” he said. “Miss Peterson is making a visit today, and I need to get ready for her.”

That name sounded familiar. Then I realized that Peterson was in charge of Visual. Peterson was the one who was responsible for most of the pointless bullshit that Visual had to put up with. Every time we completed a major project and then a day or two later got a directive to undo all of it, her name was attached.

“She’s already here, I just saw her down in the office.” I didn’t like the idea of ruining his day, but I was just the messenger.

“Crap.” Paul seemed to deflate, and when he spoke again, he sounded defeated. “I guess I should go talk to her, then.”

“Good luck,” I told him as he headed for the door.

“It was nice working with you,” he said.

I wanted to yell something encouraging after him, tell him not to worry, but I couldn’t bring myself to, the mere fact that he had done nothing wrong wouldn’t protect him. Instead, I picked up where he left off, letting the day fade into a comfortable blur of work.


I looked up to see Adria standing by the stockroom door. I turned back to the pallet I was working on.

“Daniel, they just fired Paul,” she said. Just because I had known it was coming didn’t make it any easier to hear. “Come on.”

The stockroom was on the second floor, and we made it to the front balcony just in time to see Paul escorted out the front by Loss Prevention. Like anyone who has ever worked anywhere, I’m sure Paul had dreamed of telling the Company what was wrong with it, saying “Fuck your job, and fuck you!” but he hadn’t done that today. He left defeated in the truest sense of the word, he had lost the will to fight.

“I’ll miss him,” Adria said from beside me.

“Really? Did you even know him?” I asked.

“I worked with him at my last job, actually, he brought me over with him. How long have you known him?”

“I didn’t realize–”

“Of course not, you’re too busy with that whole loner thing. I don’t have time for your bullshit.”

Just when the day didn’t seem as if it could get much worse, I got called to the Brian’s office. Inside, Brian and Peterson were waiting for me. It looked like I was next up on the chopping block. I resolved to make up for whatever Paul had left unsaid. Brian waved me to sit in the vacant chair on the other side of his desk, next to Peterson.

“So, Daniel,” Brian began. “I imagine that you heard about Paul?”


“Well, that leaves a big hole in Visual, and we’re going to need you to step up. Can you handle that?” It’s not really a question.

“Of course,” I hear myself say. What the fuck? They fire Paul and promote me? Me, of all people?

There’s a call for Brian over the intercom, and he excuses himself to deal with a situation at the registers. Which leaves Peterson and me sitting in the office. I look around Brian’s office, which is covered with the usual mix of corporate propaganda and nauseating inspirational posters. My eyes settled on one that showed a man in a suit adjusting his tie with a caption that read: If You Want To Change The World, You Have To Let The World Change You. Sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t an unwilling participant in some bizarre psychological experiment by the CIA.

“You know, Brian is a big fan of yours. You can go places if you play this right,” Peterson said, interrupting my train of thought.

I had no response, it was all I could do keep the horror at the idea off my face. She looked down at my hand, and I realized that I was holding the notepad that had killed Kevin. I didn’t remember pulling it out, but I knew what to do. I opened it to one of the pages of black writing.

“Can I show you something?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. She looked confused, but took the notepad anyway and looked at it. She stared right at it, and after a few seconds her eyes unfocused, and her hands went slack and the notepad dropped to the floor. I picked it up and placed it back in my pocket. I looked at her, and waited.

Nothing happened. No screaming, no clawing at the eyes, she just sat there as though in a trance. For what it was worth, I was doing the same thing, unwilling to move or snap my fingers and possibly make things worse.

A short eternity later, her eyes regained their focus. When she looked at me again, there was no hint that anything unusual had happened. I had gone from panic to full-on terror. Suicide was starting to look attractive. Then Brian came back.

“So do you feel good about this?” he said.

“Yeah,” I lied.

“I’ll look forward to seeing more of you,” Peterson said. The feeling was not mutual.

Someone was pounding at my door. I rolled over and squinted at the angular blue numbers on my clock. I hoped that the power had gone out or something and that the clock was off by six hours, 3:47 in the morning shouldn’t even exist.

The battery powered clock in the main room confirmed my fears, there was indeed a 3:47 in the morning. I made a mental note to buy a handgun for times like these. I didn’t bother trying to figure out who was on the other side of the door, just opened it.

It was Kevin.

My first thought was that he was a zombie, and I reached for the crowbar that I kept next to the door just for such occasions. He backed away, looking at the edge of the doorframe. I rested the bar back up against the wall, zombies don’t feel fear. Whatever he was, the odds were against him attempting to eat my brains.

“Aren’t you . . . dead?” I asked. He was still wearing the suit that he was buried in, and he looked pretty pale, but other than that seemed to be alive, or at least ambulatory.

He shrugged. “I woke up in the morgue, but couldn’t get out of the bag. Have you ever tried to open a zipper from the wrong side? Anyway, after I thought about it, I realized that if they realized I wasn’t dead, I would be paying off the medical bills for the rest of my life, so I waited until they buried me. And here I am!”

“But didn’t they pump you full of embalming fluid and stuff?” I asked.

“I really don’t want to talk about it.” He shuddered.

“So you had to dig your way out of the grave?” It seemed kind of far-fetched, I’d seen him struggle to get out of the couch in the morning.

“No, I skipped out of the coffin before they buried it that evening.”

“Then what took you so long? The funeral was two days ago.”

“No money for the BART train. Do you have any idea how far away Colma is from The City? Seriously, if the dead did rise, San Francisco would be like the safest city on earth.

I realized that we were having one of those impossibly long conversations at the threshold of my apartment, the kind that everyone else on the floor hates, and I wouldn’t want to deal with a neighbor who was equally upset about the existence of 3:47 AM on top of being annoyed by us. I ushered him in.

“I always thought that Colma was only ten miles away, how far is it?”

“About ten miles.” He shrugged. “I took some wrong turns.”

By the time I had finished re-latching the door, he was in the kitchen, digging through the fridge. Part of me wanted to laugh, the rest just felt bad, my fridge is not a happy place for a vegetarian. He shut the fridge and turned back to me.

“Dude, I’m starving, do you mind if we get something to eat?” he said.

“Sure. Let me get dressed.”

I caught sight of us in the mirror on the narrow patch of wall between the bedroom and the bathroom. Even postmortem, he looked better than I did. I needed a shower.

I was still getting dressed when I heard him yell.

“That bitch!” He was sitting at my computer, and even from behind he looked angry.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She sold all of my stuff,” he said. “I hate Craigslist.”

“Let me get this straight,” Kevin said after we got back from the pizza place on the corner. “You find the notepad. It does nothing to you, then kills me, but does nothing to that hose beast from corporate. Then they promote you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I hate you.”

When he put it that way, I hated me, too. “Sorry about the whole killing you thing, by the way.”

“No worries. You know, it’s not even all that bad, it did get me out of my student loans.”

“I’m glad it wasn’t all for nothing, at least,” I said.

“Do you still have it?” he asked.

“Of course.” The truth was that I had spent every available second studying the thing, but still couldn’t make any sense of it. I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it over to him.

“Hmm,” he said after he flipped it open. Then his eyes glazed over. Then he died, again.

I grabbed another slice of pizza from the box. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with the paperwork this time.

I kind of expected him to get back up, but the next morning I gave up waiting. In retrospect, even with all of the hassle, and questions, and awkwardness, having an ambulance come and pick up your dead friend was a very useful service. I couldn’t keep the body, obviously, and I didn’t have a car. I would just dump the body in an alley nearby, but that would raise too many questions. I could borrow a car, but I didn’t know anyone in the City who had one, and I didn’t have the skill to steal one. It seemed that the sum of my choices had boiled down to two: taxi or bus. One, really. I had enough money to get downtown, but that was it, and that wasn’t even counting the return trip. Bus it was.

I wrapped Kevin in black garbage bags, then in an extra large navy blue duffel bag and half carried, half drug him out of my apartment, down three flights of stairs, and into the lobby. Where Adria was waiting for me. Not waiting, actually. She had dialed my apartment number and was waiting for me to pick up. Little did she know that the buzzer for apartment #34 rang only into the ether. I started to drag Kevin to the stairway that led to the basement, but she spotted me, and started to bang on the door. Crap.

“What’s in the bag?” she asked after I had let her into the lobby.

“Stereo equipment,” I said. I don’t know why I picked stereo equipment, but it was better than telling her about Kevin. “Shit, that’s my bus.”

She grabbed a handle on the bag and proceeded to help me lug it towards the bus. Kevin was heavier than he looked, and I was glad for the help. We flashed our neon bus passes, and maneuvered the bag through the too-narrow aisle. We took three seats across from the rear door, with Kevin-in-a-bag propped up between us. I tried to ignore the dirty looks of the other passengers, but couldn’t shake the sense of self-loathing that came with bringing too much stuff onto the bus.

I had been planning on dumping Kevin in the Bayview or the Mission, where the appearance of another body wouldn’t raise as much fuss, but the bus that we got on was headed to Cow Hollow, the dark heart of yuppie-land. It was better that way, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the shit storm that descended on a minority neighborhood as a result of a random dead white guy, but the same thing in Cow Hollow I could live with. What I didn’t count on was getting mugged there.

“The bag, give it to me.” The guy who had followed us out of the bus was big, and had a knife. I set the bag on the ground, or rather, let my end drop and backed away, doing my best to let my non-threatening nature show through. Adria looked like she was going to fight though. I grabbed her arm.

“Come on, it’s just stuff,” I said. She looked at me, and dropped the bag. The guy just stood there watching us as we backed off and walked away.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Kevin was livid. “‘Just stuff’? You’re an asshole. I can’t believe you put me in a god damn duffel bag! Hi Adria.”

“Hi.” Adria appeared to have gone into shock, her pita forgotten in her hands. I ushered him in.

“What would you have done?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He made it across the room and sort of collapsed onto the couch, his face breaking into a grin. “And you should have seen the look on that guy’s face. Fucking priceless.”

I looked over at Adria, still frozen in Looney Tunes surprise mode. I took another bite of my pita, not sure what to say to her. Kevin was looking at my pita like a stray dog, even though there was a piece of chicken sticking out. I was beginning to worry for the safety of my food when he was distracted by Adria.

“I thought he died,” she said. “I thought that notepad killed him.”

“It did,” he said before I could finish chewing. “Twice. But no worries, I got better.”

She looked at me and it was all I could do to smile and shrug. After that, I explained the whole thing to her, except for where it came from and what it was for, of course. On those counts I had no clue. Once she got over the whole Kevin thing, she seemed to take everything in stride.

“I want to try it,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Why the hell not?”

“What if it does to you what it did to Kevin?” I asked.

“What if it does?”

“She’s got a point, man,” Kevin said.

“OK, but don’t blame me if it does something horrible.”

I tossed her the notepad, and if there was any hesitance in her mind over what she was about to do, I couldn’t tell. She opened it, smirking at the note on the cover before being sucked in by the writing on the pages. Her eyes went glassy, and both Kevin and I leaned forward in anticipation. Then she flipped the page. I hadn’t made it past the first page, nor had Kevin or Peterson. I half expected the building to freeze and shatter. She flipped the page again. And again, until she reached the end of it, and set it on a teetering pile of clutter on the coffee table.

“Well?” I asked after a few seconds of silence.

She looked at me, with the irritability of someone not amused by a practical joke, then pulled a Kevin, leaving us sitting there looking at her lifeless body. Kevin shrugged. It was late, I went to bed.

In the morning, I woke to find that Adria had revived during the night and was now hunched over the coffee table, right hand and pen working mechanically on the back of a junk mail envelope. Kevin was sitting next to her, doing the same thing, each of them with a stack of paper in front of them. Neither of them were looking at what they were doing, instead watching some Saturday morning cartoons. It wasn’t Saturday, it was Thursday, but being able to watch Tail Spin on DVD any day of the week is one of the few pleasures of adulthood. That and sex.

“What the hell?” I asked. They both looked up, but their pens kept on moving.

“Don’t you feel it?” Kevin asked.

“Apparently not,” I said.

“It’s like . . . a pressure inside your head,” she said. “Like the words need to get out.”

I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but nodded my head anyway. Etiquette is the low wall that separates civilization from barbarism, after all. Also, I wanted bacon.

After the bacon had cooked I set it on Kevin’s side of the coffee table, where it would be safe from straying hands, and went back to the kitchen to get a glass of chocolate milk. When I came back out, half the bacon was gone. I immediately looked to Adria, but she was still writing. Then Kevin reached out and grabbed another slice. I opened my mouth to say something, but there were no words. I mean, after years of unproductive work to cure him of his vegetarianism, there he was, sitting on my couch and eating my god damned bacon. I carefully snagged a slice off the plate, worried that I would break the spell, that he would realize that what he was eating, but he just mumbled something about how tasty it was. Maybe dying twice had done something to him. Something wonderful. Who knows.

The DVD ended, but I didn’t feel like swapping out the discs. So I grabbed one of the papers that they had written on. It was covered in the same writing as my notebook, but something was different. I pulled out the notebook and compared them. They were almost identical, but a few of the characters were different. I grabbed another sheet, and it was the same as the first, they both matched each other but not the notebook. Adria finished with another one, and I snagged it. I spread them out on my lap and let my eyes relax so that I could see all three at once. The two new versions were different in different places from the notebook. Weird. I put in another disc of Tail Spin.

They kept on writing almost until the disc ended, with Adria finishing first. Then, at 10:38 Thursday morning, in violation of my lease agreement, Kevin opened up the living room window and Adria tossed both of their stacks of paper out the window to flutter four stories down into the street below like oversized confetti.

In shock, I watched them watch the street below. There was a loud crash, then screaming, then nothing. The street looked like it had been hit with a combination of air-dropped pamphlets and poison gas, between the unmoving bodies and the paper snow almost no asphalt was visible.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“No idea,” Kevin said. I looked at Adria, and she shrugged.

“Want to go see a movie?” she asked.

She was looking at me, not Kevin. Asking me, not Kevin. It was enough to bring me out of my daze, push all concerns of the consequences of their actions out of my head. Of course I wanted to go see a movie with her.

“I can’t,” I said. “Work.”

She looked as disappointed in me as I felt, and so I drowned it out with the routine of preparing for work.

A little after 2pm the trickle of foot traffic into the store disappeared entirely, leaving us standing there with nothing to do but dust shelves. Then the protest came. Or at least it looked like a protest at first. But from the second story of my work’s glass wall I could see that there were no signs, no anti-war chants, just a mass of people funneling silently through the street below. A handful of police were in front of the group, shouting at them with bullhorns, but the crowd took no notice.

More cops arrived, on foot, in cars, and on motorcycles. Enough to form a solid wall of dark blue. The crowd continued their march forward, and I saw the police checking their holstered guns and clubs. The distance between the two groups closed from twenty meters to ten, then down to five, until the boundaries of each group were an arm’s length away from one another. Some of the police had drawn their weapons, and I wanted to look away.

I was about to be witness to bloodshed, I was sure of it, as though I was looking at a piece of wood that had been bent and was starting to crack. I wanted to look away, to return to my work, but could not. In the window’s reflection, I could see the ghostly reflections of my co-workers, each one equally riveted. Then there was a flurry of paper coming from the front of the crowd. The first line of police fell instantly, and the paper kept on coming. All told, about two thirds of the officers wend down under the paper onslaught, and the rest were frozen for a moment, eyes glazed over. Like a movie, a post-it note was captured in an updraft and floated close enough that I could see it was covered in the notebook-writing. Gunshots rang out, and I saw a few in the crowd fall. Then it was over, people rushing up to the remaining peace officers. I saw guns and clubs wrenched out of hands, officers shoved and knocked unconscious.

By then the first group of officers were back up, and had joined the crowd, their comrades forgotten. Thousands of people streamed through the street below me, stepping carefully around the fallen.

“What do they want?” The question barely registered, and I had to turn and look to see that it was Steve talking.

“Does it matter?” I asked without stopping to think about it. Steve returned to watching the people below.

There was something infinitely more powerful about the people marching below as compared to protests that had failed to stop our invasion of the Middle East, despite the apparent lack of demands or larger goal. Perhaps it was because of the lack of a specific goal with which to disappoint or placate them. Either way, I wished that I could be down in the street with them.

The rest of the shift had a dreamlike quality, and I went about my work in an automatic fashion that I would have been proud of had I stopped to think about it. But I couldn’t. My thoughts were completely occupied by thoughts of my experience with the notebook and with what had, or rather hadn’t, happened when Peterson had been exposed. What did I have in common with her or with the police officers who had fired on the crowd? I didn’t want to believe that I had anything like any of them, but clearly I was wrong.

By the time my shift had ground to a stop, I felt that I needed to go out and do something, be part of something. The only problem was that I had no idea what that something was. The best option seemed to be to just leave work and go wherever my feet took me, to wander through the city. But after enduring the minor humiliation of having a manager look through my bag as through I was a criminal (what sort of idiot hires someone who they expect to steal from them), I found myself standing in front of the store, my feet content to stay where they were. I started to walk home, at least Adria might be there.

Adria wasn’t at my apartment when I got home, and Kevin was sitting at my coffee table, with two stacks of paper in front of him. He was writing again, and I watched him finish one, place it on one stack and then grab a fresh one from the other stack. He was writing on post cards, classic San Francisco pictures of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge being used as vectors for the notebook.

“Hey Dan, do you know anyone in Austin?” he asked.

“Sure, why?”

“Could you address one of those to them?”

“You want me to send this to someone I know?” I grabbed the just-finished postcard of the stack. The entire message space was covered with Kevin’s notebook-writing. “Why Austin?”

“We have most of the big cities covered, but neither of us knows anyone in Austin.”

In my mind, I could see the masses of people walking through the streets of New York, LA, Chicago. Whatever it was, it was too late to stop what the notebook, what I, had set in motion. I looked at the writing on the card, and the same thing happened, like the world was dimming for a moment, but then nothing happened.

“Why does it affect you but not me, Adria but not Peterson?” I asked. Kevin stopped writing.

“When I first read it, I felt it change something inside of me,” he said. “But at the same time, when I copy it down, I know that something in me has changed it, as well.”


“So, you don’t let anything get close enough to touch you. With your sarcasm and your detachment, you haven’t changed since I met you in college,” he said. I started to speak, but he waved me silent. “The point is, I’m not sure you are even capable of interfacing with this thing. You’re too cut off.”

There was no response to that, and I relaxed back into the couch while he went back to writing. I would like to say that I went over his words in my mind, considered them, dissected them, analyzed them, but I didn’t. What he had said was true, and I knew it. The only paths before me were to accept or reject it, and then live with the consequences.

I picked up a pen from off the table, but it was empty. I tossed it towards the trash can in the kitchen. Kevin reached over and handed me a fresh one out of a box. I addressed the postcard to Regina Scholes in Austin. Then I shifted my focus to the notebook-writing that covered the rest of the card, relaxing as much as I knew how, and just looked at it, letting it fill my mind. The world went black.