Sarah looked at her neighbor. John was staring at his hands, his eyes were open wide. She had passed him countless times in the hall, at the mailbox, in front of the building, seeing him multiple times a day. Turns out you could see someone a lot before you took the trouble to look at him. He said nothing. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since they looked at the second envelope. Finally, he spoke up.
The thunder seemed to rock the building
“Better grab the flashlights, the power goes out if you sneeze in this place,” he smirked, and his features seemed to ease a little. He left the living room for a moment and returned with two flashlights, putting them on the table next to the envelopes with care, as if he was going to wake one of them from its slumber.
He cleared his throat, “You should take off your shoes, at least. The rate we’re going, we could be here a while.”
Sarah thanked him with a half smile and slipped off her shoes. Setting them carefully by the door, she said,”What should we do?”
“I’d open it,” he said, “if it was just me.”
“How can you be sure that something awful wouldn’t happen?”
“You can’t. Then again, you can’t be sure something awful won’t happen when you get in a cab or go to work, or whatever.”
“But I don’t like it. Something about it feels wrong; scary.”
“Yeah,” he had to agree with her there, “Yeah it is scary”.
John continued, his voice rising and quickening with his pulse, “The thing is, how did we both get the same envelope? And how did you just ‘know’ to come to me? I mean, how can you explain that?”
Sarah’s face was very serious, “I can’t. You can’t. Whatever it is we’ve found ourselves in, it’s bigger than we are.”
Thunder rattled the building. There was a flash, and the lights went out in a blink.
John switched on his flashlight, “You okay? Here’s your light.”
Sarah’s face was illumined by the harsh beam. Her hair fell across her forehead and hid part of her right eye. Her lips were pursed. John could tell she was trying hard not to appear afraid, as he was.
“I’m fine,” she said, with the same automatic ‘fine’ you give a stranger who asks how you are when you have had the worst day you could remember. She forced herself to smile. John smiled as well in an attempt to reassure her. Her shoulders relaxed a little.
“Well,” he said after a moment, “What’s it going to be? Open the creepy letter from who-knows-where or forget about the whole thing and go back to our days off?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah was hesitant, “I mean, it is scary, but there has to be a reason we both have one at the same time, and that they appear to be the same.”
“Yeah,” John said, “Exactly. Besides, odds are this is the most interesting thing that will happen to me today. So I might as well have a look at it. And if it’s not for me, then, just forget about it and go about my business.”
“Right,” she said, “Okay, we’ll open them at the same time.”
“Okay,” John looked her in the eye, “Ready?”
“Ready,” Sarah said.
John propped up one of the flashlights and its light formed a narrow funnel between them, just wide enough for them to read the contents of their envelopes, and just bright enough for each of them to see the features of the other. Sarah had set the other one in front of her on the floor, and it cast its light on the kitchen island.
The room fell silent other than the tearing of paper. The storm, though still a presence outside, seemed to have obliged them. The rain fell in hushed tones; the thunder seemed to rumble from somewhere more distant for the moment.
In each envelope was a single, folded piece of paper. Their eyes met. They couldn’t seem to find words of readiness, so they nodded to one another, watching each other’s fingers unfold the pages they held.
John said, just above a whisper, “Now we’ll read them. Both of us.”
He heard Sarah take a sharp breath in as she nodded. Tears, seeming to form as he watched, magnified her eyes.
“Sarah,” he said, “I’m sorry. We don’t have to do this.”
She blinked and the tears seeped out.
“No,” she answered with resolution, “I’m ready. I’m just afraid.”
“It’s okay, I am, too.” His own admission surprised him.
“Alright,” John said, “Here we go. Now or never.”
He made an attempt to smile at her in a way that might be reassuring. She was not crying anymore. She pulled the corner of her mouth into a smile and said, “Okay”.
John and Sarah felt a crystalline sense of awareness: of the moment, of the dark, still room, of one another. There was a deep breath that seemed to come from both of them, and their eyes shifted down to the pages now facing each of them.
Together they read:
We are the messengers.
We have been silenced.
Give us back our voices.
You alone can hear them.
They are calling to you.
In a single moment, the sky seemed to burst into light and dark and there was no more apartment, no more city, no more day or night. John called Sarah’s name. He heard nothing and felt only earth moving and time bending. In that single second, everything seemed to split and everything came together. He could not be sure whether they were alive or dead. Sarah could see nothing but colors and light. They seemed to be plunging, falling toward nothing that she knew or understood. But her hand was in his.