Jewel stirred on the top bunk of my dorm room bed, meandering along the last stretch back from the other place. I waited below, on a patch of checkered shag that blanketed the cold vinyl floor, hunched over a 1940s-era Smith Corona. A half-finished story, oddly titled “Hotel Charlie Echo,” poked from its ancient, grimy carriage. An incipient masterpiece, I felt sure, though I couldn’t seem to bang out the ending. Instead, I uncrossed my legs and reached for a blank cassette from one of the tall, neat stacks that encircled me. I wanted to make her a mix tape, play it for her, over and over, so she would remember all of this, me. When her narrow green eyes blinked open, she sat up on one elbow, brushed a wisp of blond hair from her face, and yawned. I should go, she said, her voice drowsy. You’re trying to work. No, you shouldn’t, I assured her. I’m not really a writer. Anyway, it’s only a prop. See, I said, lifting the machine to reveal its hollow insides. Oh, I get it, she said, smiling at me in that achingly beautiful way only she can.
Beside the typewriter, a telephone—an old jet-black rotary model that gathered so much dust, like some forgotten exhibit in some forgotten corner of some forgotten museum—thundered to life. I lifted the receiver and clutched it to my ear, wincing as a blast of static hit me. Hello, I yelled over the crackling line. Is anyone there? I thought I could make out X, an ex who vanished ages ago and hadn’t spoken to me since, muttering some kind of message. What, I shouted, unable to comprehend. We … connected … mistake, she repeated, louder this time. I called … got you, she continued, her glumness palpable, despite the interference. It’s nice to hear your voice again, at least, I said, hoping to console her. But my nostalgic lapse engendered only a low, mirthless laugh. Are you drunk, we asked each other, just before the connection spit out its final, feeble clicks and died.
As if on cue, Y and Z, two bygone school chums, burst into the room, trumpeting a plot to storm the quad in protest, their esoteric agenda, as always, confounding me. Y, who’d arrived in the garb of a Continental Army general, stood at attention, a toothy grin spread across his pasty face, while Z, donning fuzzy white ears and painted-on whiskers, hopped around him like a deranged Easter bunny. You should come with us, Z coaxed, bounding to the window for a peek at the expanse of snow-shrouded lawn that glistened through the dingy glass. I have an extra pair, he cheerily offered, his back to me as he twirled a gloved finger above his leporid headpiece. I considered following them, joining their merry, harebrained crusade, but the stark truth dissuaded me: none of this existed. That arcanum, well, that and the angel in my bed, the one who dreamed of me, dreamed me, held me captive here. I needed to tell her something, something important, but she’d already started drifting away again.
J.D. Kotzman works in the health policy field and lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his girlfriend and two pugs, Grendel and Ginger. Previously, he has served as an editor and writer for several print and online news publications. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Speculative Edge, Straylight, Crack the Spine, the An Unlikely Companion collection (a project of Spark), and Inscape.