November 19

            Ugh.  

            Concrete encases my head. I can’t move. At least for a second or a minute or for a while I can’t tell. I’m floating on a river and I’m standing headup under a waterfall. The everything all around is suddenly flooding and pouring in. 

            I have to take a second to suddenly figure out everything. 

            Where am I? 

            That’s the first question. 

            What happened? 

            The second. 

            Where is she? 

            The third, which might be the most important. 

            My friend is nowhere to be found. But I swear I smell like her in every single way and on every single inch of me. 

            I look for proof. For a sign. For a goodbye. And sure enough, I see a note waiting for me with words written in pen. 

             “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”–Bob Marley

            So I’m left with Bob Marley quote. Very nice. 

            I’ve woken up. So how am I supposed to live? 

            But really I still feel drunk. Still feel drifting. Still feel like the slow guitar is playing my slow demise. 

            “Hello?” I ask.             

            But nope. 

            She’s not here. 

            I find my phone—in the kitchen—dead of course. I charge it and can’t find any other sign of any other sign. 

            I try to remember any warning signs or any X-rated moments or anything of anything but can’t. All I have is this Bob Marley quote. 

            Then. . . 

            I spot the picture on my phone. The two of us, her kissing my cheek, very cute.

            “Where’s this?” I ask nobody. 

            Nobody and nothing. It’s the 19th and I know there’s a whole lot I need to do but I can’t even begin to think about it because I can’t stop thinking about Lexi. 

            The brain is interesting, closing eyes and shop and forcing you to go back to a land where you had everything. But another part wakes you back up and then forces you to get up and at ‘em. 

            Just a little more just a few more.

            A few more? What are you talking about?  

            Before I can answer myself, I get a text from Dermot. 

            We still meeting this morning? 

            Wait . . . It’s Saturday again? 

            I don’t know what my problem is.

            Absolutely. Running late. 

**

            “24,335,” Dermot tells me as I sit down with my coffee. 

            He looks like he’s been in solitary confinement for the last week. I give him a questioning look as I take a sip. I need caffeine before engaging with my novelist friend. 

            “24,335,” he repeats with excitement. “That’s how many words I have. I’ve cranked this week.”

            “Wow. Didn’t you only have 2,000 or something last week?”

            “I’ve been in the zone,” he says. 

            I don’t ask what the book is about because I know he’ll spend the next hour telling me about it. I love to see passion but sometimes he gets carried away with it and forgets that he’s talking to another human being who has some thoughts of his own. Well, sometimes I do. 

            “You look worse than me,” Dermot says.

            “That bad?” 

            “Oh yeah. Where were you last night?”

            I think about telling him but hold off. I’m too tired to recount the story.

            “Just hanging out with a friend.”

            “Guy or girl?” 

            “Girl.”

            He nods and grins like some 13-year-old boy. I don’t say anything, which is a bad decision because he gets back on the subject about his manuscript in progress. 

            “I decided to write a horror novel. Set it in Batavia. But really it’s Appleton. It’s about the urban legends surrounding the quarry.” 

            “Urban legends?” I ask. 

            “Yeah. You’ve heard about them, right? People seeing and hearing strange things at night. Supposedly someone once found a dead body there. The hermit who lives there–Otis Sykes–is definitely sketchy.”

            That name . . . 

            The name from Jack’s list, the guy Cameron looked up. 

            “Sketchy? How?”

            “Oh you know how people talk, especially kids. I’ve heard everything from he’s some pedophile to he’s a ringleader of some secretive cult”

            That word . . . 

            The word I’ve been hearing several times now. Cult. Occult. 

            “That’s weird,” I say. 

            “What?”

            “Someone was just talking about that. With Otis and what’s he’s involved with.”

            Dermot is intrigued. “How’d that come up?” 

            A publisher I know. Hey, maybe you two will fit in together. 

            “I don’t know,” I say. “Just a weird coincidence.” 

            “There’s this awesome quote from a Stephen King novel. ‘Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, okay? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning its fabulous gears.’”

            “That’s a great quote,” I say. “You have a good memory.”

            “Usually I don’t,” Dermot says. “Maybe that great machine just helped me out this time.” 

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