Strong winds bring the chill and cover us in ocean spray, but they are a welcome counterpart to the blazing sun, so we stay over the foredeck of the ferry and welcome it.
Clara nuzzles in closer, hides her face within the too-large windbreaker she got just for these occasions.
Alan is doing his best King of the World impression, and his red 49s jacket looks like Superman's cape.
Beth is off to the side, a camera up to her face, moving a bit to secure a proper vantage point.
"Composition," she explains to anyone who will listen, "is the most important aspect of photography," then chuckles at her own joke.
She is now lining up Alan and the mountains off in the distance, attempting to get both into an iconic Pacific Northwest shot.
"This is going to be fun," Clara says for the dozenth time and kisses my cheek.
I stare ahead and nod.
An announcement comes on over the loud speakers, we're close to our destination, and so everyone starts heading back to their cars.
We are almost there.
Clara is driving, I'm in the passenger seat, and we are singing along to a bit of Dad Rock as the ferry personnel wave us off the boat and onto dry land.
In the back, Beth is going over the photos on her camera, and Alan is trying to distract her with some playful tickling.
She struggles for a moment, then gives in and puts away her camera.
I glance toward the back, then run my fingers along Clara's leg and up the inside of her thigh.
I lean over and whisper in her ear, "Thanks for arranging this, babe."
Clara pats my cheek, then moves my hand off her leg.
"You need a break, sweet, after the week you've had.
I'm just glad we were able to find this place.
Do you know if they've got wifi?"
"They're supposed to," Beth pipes up from the back, sounding slightly out of breath.
"Never-mind wifi, hope they've got a grill!"
Alan adds, laughing.
Shopping, cabin, a talk, dinner
The island is not a large one, just big enough for a grocery store, a nursery, a small doctor's office in the corner of a strip mall, and two MJ dispensaries.
Alan likely has a dozen joints in his overnight bag, but we stop off at one of the stores anyhow and pick up some CBD edibles for Clara.
We get to the cabin just as the sun begins to set, so we toss our things into the house, then watch the sunset from the pier.
Alan lights up a joint and we pass it around.
I can feel the tension seeping out of me and for a moment, I consider not quitting my job.
Remembering the damn job makes me feel depressed, of course, so I practically inhale half of the joint.
"L’Chaim," Alan toasts me and lights up a new joint.
Beth and Clara head back toward the house and leave us alone.
Alan watches them walk away, then turns towards me and grins like an idiot: "I almost thought this part of life was behind us!"
I shrug and take another puff.
"How's it going, man?" he asks.
He means my job, of course.
It's been close to a year since we last got away with them, that time to an oceanside lodge on the Oregon coast, and close to two months since we all met up for Clara's birthday.
"Fucking sucks," I reply.
I watch the sun for a second, another, a third.
Alan is watching me, but says nothing, just gives me the time to consider things, reply on my own schedule.
After a bit I wave at the water around us, the quiet inlet that comes in from the Sound.
"This was Clara's idea.
I think it was this, or she was going to strangle me in my sleep."
Alan nods, a single motion that is full of understanding and comradery.
We've known each other since college, but we've become close friends just in the past five years.
He moved up here from Raleigh after a messy divorce and we picked up our friendship pretty much where we left off.
Then I introduced Alan and Beth, and Beth brought Clara into my life, and we've only gotten closer since.
We sit on the pier, feet dangling over sloshing water, the smoke of our joints torn up quickly by the sea breeze, and I spill it all.
I talk about the nightmare contract, the ever-changing deadlines, the back-stabbing colleagues, the upcoming regulatory changes that triggered the whole cluster-fuck.
Eventually, I mention the online poker, the secret bank account, and the resulting late-night talks between Clara and myself.
Alan looks back toward the cabin and his expression turns sour.
"Clara's an angel, man."
That's when I break and the tears come.
Alan holds me as I lose it, says it'll be ok.
After a few minutes we head to the cabin.
The girls are waiting for us on the patio.
There's a salad on the table, sodas and bottles of beer, and a tray of steaks.
The grill smells like it's heating up, so Alan goes over and starts cleaning it.
I plop down on the bench next to Clara and kiss her.
She wraps one arm around me, uses the other to wipe away the remnants of tears, kisses away my troubles.
Beth's camera clicks and things are once again okay.
A chat, good night
After dinner we retreat inside and Beth continues telling us about her recent trip to Peru.
Then Alan tells us about the camping he has done the past few weeks.
For the next two hours, everyone except for me talks, catches up all of us on the last few weeks.
I'm more than happy to be a fly on the wall, to hear my friends' stories, the wildly different directions our lives are taking.
Alan gets out a poker set and we play for a while.
Clara and Beth take advantage of our altered mind-states and rob Alan and me blind.
Eventually something inside me thaws, possibly helped by a bit of 15 year old scotch, and I speak up, mention my brother, share some family developments, but for now I avoid talking about work.
Clara seems to brighten at that, is happy to see me "coming back".
We're on the couch and she nuzzles up close to me.
I squeeze her hand and thank her.
"Would you look at the time," Beth exclaims.
Alan is about to speak, but a glance from Beth stops him in his tracks, so he just smiles and nods.
It's only quarter past eleven, early in his book, but this isn't his weekend.
"Pretty damn late, man, better get some shut eye," is all he says as they get up and head towards the guest room.
"Good night," Clara calls after them.
After a minute, Clara gets up and leads me in the opposite direction, toward the master bedroom.
Someone had the sense to put the two bedrooms at opposing sides of the cabin, and of course Clara had the foresight to check for that.
Clara puts on some soft jazz, plays it through the wireless speaker we bring everywhere, and we get in bed.
We don't talk, we don't make love, just hold each other and peacefully drift off into sleep.
First morning, love and coffee
Early morning sun shines through a grove of swaying evergreens, through a bug screen, the slightly tinted windows, past the open curtains, and finally hits my face.
Still half-asleep, I turn away from the light and bury my face in Clara's left shoulder.
In her right hand she holds an e-book.
She puts it down when I move and runs a hand through my hair.
I smile and kiss her on the shoulder.
"What time is it?" I ask groggily.
"It's still early.
Sleep in, no rush."
I nod and for a bit we just lie there and listen to the chirps of the birds, the song of the windchimes.
It takes a few moments, but eventually I hear faint sounds of love-making.
"Time enough for love, eh?" I ask.
Clara laughs, then shifts in bed.
"Well," she drawls slowly and sensually, "looks like someone is up."
She slides down the length of the bed, under the covers, and wraps her lips around me.
It's the first time we've been intimate in the past week and we take our time, allow our bodies to rediscover each other.
Our love-making is soft and gingerly, as if we are both afraid of scaring each other away, like two petrified lovers at the very beginning of their courtship.
Afterwards, she tosses on a silk pink kimono-like robe and heads out to the living room.
Friendly voices and soft laughter drifts in through the doorway, coupled with the song of the espresso machine.
I nod off, but wake up again to the scent of coffee that Clara holds in front of me.
"Rise and shine, stud."
She hands me the coffee, then tosses off the robe and goes into the attached bathroom.
After a moment, I hear the shower start.
I smile and wonder, for the first time in a while now, what I did to deserve this wonderful life.
For a few minutes I just sit there, drink the coffee, and look out the window at the swaying forest.
Clara's e-book is closed, its faux-leather cover shiny in the morning sunlight.
I contemplate reaching over and opening it, but instead I make my way into the bathroom.
The glass shower is all fogged up and for a moment Clara doesn't notice me.
The wireless speaker is playing the same jazz album as last night and she sings along to about half of the verses.
I walk up quietly, try not to even breathe too loudly, and press my face up against the glass, my features squashed and distorted in some horrific way that, once she turns around, makes her jump and yelp.
She looks at me and our smiles match up.
**** are you reading?" I ask.
She opens the glass shower door and pokes her head out, "Sorry, what did you ask?"
"I said, what
**** are you reading?"
A strange look crosses her face.
"I can't make out that word.
She shuts off the water, steps out of the shower and punches the pause button on the speaker.
Her bronze body glows in the bright rays of the skylight and I react.
She smiles at that, but then her face scrunches up in confusion: "Sorry, what were you saying?"
****. What are you reading?"
Clara shakes her head in an attempt to unclog her ears.
"David, I can't make that word out.
It's... it's strange, it's like I'm hearing static...
Are you saying 'book'?"
**** are you reading?"
We stand and look at each-other.
Clara's brow is furled and I finally notice something strange.
I hear static as well.
Clara wraps a towel around herself and walks closer to me.
My erection is gone, replaced now with concern.
"I... I don't know what's going on," I slowly say, pronouncing each word slowly and with great care.
Shit, I'm starting to freak out.
"What the fuck..."
"Come here, sit down," Clara says, leading me out of the bathroom and back to our room, to our bed.
She goes to her side table and digs through her purse for a moment, then comes over to me with a small penlight.
"Look straight," she says and shines the light into my eyes.
I'm shaken and a bit out of it, so I just go through the motions, do as she asks.
"Alan, get in here," she yells over her shoulder, then remembers my state of undress and tosses an old shirt over my lap.
"Sup?" Alan asks from the doorway, his body blocked off by the door.
"Get in here, there's something wrong with David."
Alan runs in at that point, and Beth is close behind him.
They both ignore Clara's towel wardrobe and start talking at the same time, asking me what's wrong.
"David, say 'book'," Clara asks me.
****," I say, my voice frail.
****," I repeat, but even I hear the static that comes from my mouth.
Alan and Beth exchange glances with each-other, then look questioningly at Clara.
"What the fuck?" Alan says.
"Right, so what the hell did you two smoke last night?" Clara's eyes are serious, a look that typically withers anyone unfortunate enough to be its target.
"Sativa, Sour Diesel, the same shit I always smoke," Alan replies and sticks a pinky in his ear, works it around as if he's digging for gold.
"He sounds like fucking static!"
Beth hits him on the arm, then addresses Clara: "I hear it too.
There's a doctor on the island, we passed the office yesterday.
You two get dressed, I'll drive."
Video, trip to the doctor, exams
On the way to the doctor's, Clara makes a video recording of me with her phone.
"Apple, alphabet, boundaries, bolt,
****, bounds, base,
We review the footage and everyone hears the static come out of my mouth.
Alan mentions a special developer feature of the camera app, one that he's used in the past, so Clara is able to pull up a waveform of the audio.
The static shows up as random noise.
My body is actually producing static.
We park at the mall and beeline for the corner where the doctor's office is located.
It's a slow day and the doctor is hanging out in the lobby, chatting with a reception over a cup of coffee.
He blinks when he sees our little posse run through the door.
"Are you the doctor?" Clara asks, all business, no bullshit.
He nods and extends a hand.
"Doctor Frank, how can I be of assistance?"
Clara glances around quickly, notes the empty room, and nods to me.
"I can't say the word
****," I say and everyone just kind of freezes there.
The receptionist stares at us over the cup of coffee that she is holding up to her mouth but isn't drinking.
The doctor shakes his head minutely, then extends his hand toward the back office in a welcoming gesture.
Without discussing it ahead of time, as if it is all just a foregone conclusion, all four of us head into the lone observation room.
I sit on the paper-covered exam table, Clara stands next to me, while Alan and Beth stand against the wall on the other side.
"When did this start?" Frank the doctor asks.
"This morning," Clara says.
"David asked me what book I was reading, but it didn't come out like that, it was just static."
"I heard the static as well," Beth chimes in.
Alan just nods along, his face serious and worried.
The doctor looks at me, like I'm a damn trained dog.
So I perform my trick.
I can say other words: block, bold, breakfast, novel, auto-erotic asphyxiation.
Doctor Frank brings out a flashlight and starts checking my pupils, just as Clara had done just ten minutes ago.
We go through the usual rigamarole, mention the weed, the steaks, and the booze from last night, but Doctor Frank doesn't seem to be concerned about those.
"OK, let's take a look at you now," he waves Clara into my spot.
I get up, she sits down, and Doc repeats the same checks he did of me.
We all take turns sitting on the exam table.
I'm halfway tempted to ask the Doc to jump up there as well, but I don't.
It doesn't seem like the right time.
We finally remember to show him the video and Doctor Frank is noticeably relieved.
He was probably starting to doubt his own sanity.
Doctor Frank takes saliva, blood, and urine samples from all of us and has them air-lifted to mainland with one of those trebuchet drone delivery systems, and promises to call us as soon as the results are in.
Cabin, a talk, super-heroes, lunch
We get back to the cabin and it's a strange atmosphere.
Alan mentions getting back to mainland, finding a neurologist.
Clara is already looking up ferry times, but by the look of things she's not having much luck.
"The next mainland ferry is in two days," she says, shaking her head.
"You know what I liked about the time before cell phones?" I ask and three sets of eyeballs swivel in my direction.
"If you had a question, like 'what is the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse?', you ended up debating with your friends, instead of just looking up the answer online."
"Sure, David, but we're not going to get anywhere by debating the ferry schedules," Clara replies with a bit of edge in her voice.
"Yeah, but at least we'll be talking, discussing, exchanging ideas.
Look, this shit with
**** is weird," everyone winces at this point, but I press on.
"It's weird, but... well, frankly, it's not hurting me.
And, honestly, some strange part of me just really doesn't want to ruin our weekend.
So let's go for a swim?
Or grill something?
And maybe hypothesize about what's going on?"
"David, listen to me," Clara puts her hands on my shoulders and faces me square-on, "worst case scenario, your brain is melting, and we can't wait until Monday to get you into an MRI."
"Hey, that's an interesting theory, but how does a melting brain explain the strange noises my body is now able to make?"
Clara looks down and when she speaks her voice is tiny.
"David, I'm worried about you.
Please don't make a joke out of this."
"I'm not, I'm being serious.
If my brain is melting, there's probably not much to do, so I'd rather spend my last hours here with you all than in a damn hospital."
Clara buries her face in my neck and cries.
"Maybe David's a mutant, and this is the next stage of human evolution," Alan offers.
"We can call him Static-O!"
Despite herself, Clara laughs at that.
"Mr Static is here to confuse us," Beth chimes in.
"Is 'White Noise' too PC?
Or a bit exclusionary?"
"Mister Censor sounds like a villain from 'Orgazmo`!"
Alan starts cooking, we continue brainstorming super-hero names, and things are good.
Strange, but good.
After a light lunch we go kayaking in the Sound, two to a boat.
We take a counterclockwise path around the island, Alan and Beth in the lead, Clara and I follow them.
It's a wonderful time out on the water.
We chat about Clara's work and she tells me she's going to take fewer hours, once we go back home.
I'm taking my time, thinking of how to comment on that, when she changes the subject, asks me if I've brought any video games with us.
We talk about the new Mario Kart tracks and Clara insists she is going to beat me at Mario Kart this time, and we fall behind Alan and Beth.
When I next look up, they're something like a mile away from us.
I pick up the walkie-talkie, one of the four that we brought with us, but then change my mind.
****!!!" I yell out as loud as I can.
After a few seconds, Alan and Beth both snap their heads in our direction.
I hear a faint echo of the static, turn my head toward a nearby rock formation.
After a beat, the walkie-talkie comes alive: "Holy shit, man, Beth and I heard that loud and clear!
It's like the truck backup white noise generators, we instantly knew where you guys were!"
"Echo-Location Man?" Clara jokes and pokes me from the back.
"Dolphin Man to the rescue!
Sonar Dude is gonna find you.
Or Bat-Man... uhh, nevermind!"
A swim, systems, last summer
When we get back to the cabin, Alan decides to put up a slack line, and Clara wants to keep him company with a hot cup of coffee, so Beth and I go for a post-kayaking swim in the Sound.
Of the four of us, we two are definitely the polar bears.
Beth asks me how I'm doing when we're far enough from the shore.
I reply honestly, that I am having the time of my life, and it's irrelevant if I can't say a specific word.
It doesn't matter to me, not here, not now.
Maybe on Monday I'll go in and they'll find the Higgs particle in my brain.
And that'll be Monday's problem, and I'll probably be the most famous person in the world.
But until then, I'd like to still be me, David, the somewhat insane goof-ball who incidentally has trouble saying
Beth agrees with, or at least follows, that particular reasoning, though I can see that something is eating away at her.
"What's on your mind?" I ask her.
I'm having a hard time dealing with it.
It's so strange, and I've seen strange in my life."
She looks at me and frowns.
"Static as an idea is hard for me to get used to.
Static flies in the face of my entire belief system, David.
But I'm trying."
"Yeah, it's a mind-fuck, that's for sure.
Maybe we shouldn't talk about it?"
"Ha, as if ignorance has ever been a viable strategy.
No, I need to face this."
She stops swimming, so I have to come back to her.
We're just floating in the deep, the current is slowly dragging us parallel to the shore.
Beth faces me, stares deep into my eyes.
"Repeat after me.
Book book book."
I maintain eye contact and repeat after her.
Beth reaches over, tugs me by the shoulder, comes closer, and kisses me.
It's a short kiss, we barely touch, but we both feel something.
"Uhh, sorry," she says.
"No, no, don't be," I reply, smiling.
"I've... wanted to make a move, but... didn't really know where you were."
"I was remembering last summer..." she trails off with a twinkle in her eyes.
"The Big Chill weekend, yeah.
Clara and I talked about that, last night.
If that's still something you and Alan are interested in..."
I trail off and we float awkwardly in the current, and for a few minutes we tread water and watch as the cabin gets further and further away.
Beth heads back first, and I follow.
Together again, visitors
We climb out of the water at the pier.
Clara has thoughtfully left us a couple of towels on the deck.
Alan's speaker is blaring "Black Eyed Peas" and he's balancing atop a taught rope.
Clara is laying on a lounger, a drink in one hand, an e-book in another.
We come closer and for a moment watch Alan balance and jump on the rope.
He gets down after a minute and kisses Beth a hello.
I come over to Clara.
"David was mentioning the Big Chill weekend, from last summer," Beth tells Alan just a bit too loud, loud enough for Clara to hear perfectly well.
Clara looks up at me, smiles, hugs me.
Alan hugs Beth and toasts us with a drink that he manifests out of thin air.
Beth, the more officious one in the group, starts an actual toast, an old one that she'd told us years before, from an ancient Soviet film about a mountain kidnapping.
Then she kind of drifts off in the middle of the sentence.
She is staring at something in the bay.
A bright orange coast guard boat is accompanied by two black cutters with white three-letter designs on each side.
They are approaching the dock, slowly.
The walkie-talkie on my hip comes to life: "Come in. I repeat, this is United States Coast Guard, please respond."
"This is David Imenez and friends.
What is the meaning of this?
What do you want?"
"This is Officer Janns with the Department of Homeland Security.
The island you are on is being quarantined.
No one is allowed to enter or leave this particular space.
You will be provided with food, water, and testing equipment, and must remain on this island for the forseeable future.
Is that clear?"
Clara squeezes my hand and we look into each others eyes.
I look to Beth and Alan.
We are all in shock.
****," I mutter under my breath.
Lock-in and drinks
Without touching down, the feds drop two containers on the dock.
They're not aiming guns at us, but every fed we see is actively holding a weapon: Alan points out the M4s, the AR-15s, and the various sidearms they're using.
After they're a good mile away, Alan and I retrieve the drop from the end of the pier and carry them into the cabin.
It's a dozen gallon-sized containers of water and a styrofoam cooler full of food: chicken, burgers, veggies, frozen shrimp, the usual sides for everything, organized and clearly labeled.
We estimate that it's enough for a week.
That seems depressingly-long.
"We're fucking trapped!"
Alan is pretty open with his feelings.
"Apparently, yeah, and calm down babe, that anger isn't helpful right now," Beth answers him and holds Alan, hugs him like a bear.
"They think David is contagious," Clara says.
She's sitting at the kitchen island, but her eyes are a thousand miles away.
She occupies a different world.
"But thankfully, I'm not contagious.
No one else here is having the same symptoms.
I look around and everyone shakes their heads.
Now, I really did mean what I said about not letting this nonsense ruin our weekend.
So if anyone's interested, I'm gonna put on some old rock, make a dozen cocktails... and wings sound good right about now!"
Three pairs of incredulous eyes look at me, then at each other.
Alan shrugs and gives Beth a questioning look.
Clara is chewing on a thought, but that quickly gets replaced with a smile and she gets up from her chair.
"Yeah, I can use a drink.
Cabana boy," she is jokingly addressing me, "make me a margarita!"
I snap my fingers in her direction: "You're a margarita."
Except she isn't, so I examine my fingers and try snapping them a few more times, all to no avail.
Clara gently whacks me upside the head and I start making her a drink.
Internet, beginnings of dinner
The internet is out, all of our cell phones are reporting zero reception.
"Homeland has these fake cell towers that they drive around, called Stingrays," Beth explains.
"Your phone thinks it's talking to AT&T, but it's really a Stingray, so the phone just does what they want.
Like tells us that we can't make an outgoing call."
Beth takes her cell phone out and turns it off.
Then, for good measure, she tosses it into the freezer.
"Do they do that with TV transmissions too?"
Alan asks and points at the dinky TV in the corner that we hadn't even noticed yet.
He goes over and switches it on.
In this moment, I'm very thankful for the gigabytes of offline music I remembered to download, so I start playing the "Big Chill" soundtrack.
Alan laughs, Clara approves and starts singing along to Marvin Gaye.
Beth is off to the side, no doubt moving into a better position, her camera clicking once, twice.
"TV's out," Alan says quietly and switches the set off.
He comes back to the kitchen and gets the chicken wings out of the freezer, starts thawing them.
We drink a fair bit, or a lot more than that, scarf down a bunch of wings, and then we start to play "Who Has The Best Theory?"
It's a very simple game.
It's kind of like "Apples to Apples" or "Cards Against Humanity".
A player tells the rest of us their theory about WTF, and then we judge it.
Each of us can judge a theory as good (1 point), meh (0 points), or bad (-1 points).
The player can get a maximum of 3 points, if everyone else loves their theory, and a minimum of -3 points.
Theory 1 - Clara
Clara offers to go first, says that she prefers to set the bar, to not have high expectations of her.
I think she wants to be the first to offer the most realistic explanations for what we're seeing here.
"An alien landed on this island, about a week back, and has been trying to learn about us.
About Washingtonians, about Americans, about Homo Sapiens.
So they started to mess with our minds, but they're still learning, so messed up, with David, and left a bit of a scar around 'book'."
"Alien?" I ask.
"Yup, it's an alien, with a faulty brain-scanner."
"Let's go find it, kick its ass!" Alan offers.
He's hugging Clara, holding a hot mulled wine in another.
He walked over and sat down with her about half an hour back.
At first Clara was trepidatious, she seemed nervous, but she is now relaxed, is leaning into Alan, relaxed into this posture.
"It's on the island, and we're not affected?"
Beth pouts and tuts as she carries over a tray of cheese and fruit.
"Why just David?
That's a 'meh' from me, sorry."
"Well, I certainly love the idea that a wacky alien scientist is messing with my brain!"
I say, smile, and give a thumbs up, that's a +1 from me.
Alan and Clara each give a thumbs-up, so Beth writes down in her notebook.
As the most sober of the bunch, she's the score-keeper.
"2 points for Clara," Beth declares.
Theory 2 - Alan
"I think it's a mold, one of those brain-eater bacteria type, and the shape of their bites is what we're hearing, the static."
Alan is proud of his theory.
Clara is a bit taken back.
She looks at me and smiles, after a moment.
"I'm not tempted to vote for a flesh-eating bacteria," she tells Alan and nudges him, lightly, in the ribs.
"That's a 0 if I ever heard of one," Beth chimes in.
"I'll go for a plus one, cause I like mold, in theory," I reply and scratch my head, as a joke.
"Flesh eating virus, that might be contagious, and worsens the symptoms over time.
Plus one for the horror factor, well done, sweetie," Beth says and writes in her notebook.
"2 points for Alan."
Theory 3 - Beth
"Beth, what do you have for us?" I ask her.
She puts down the pen, closes the notebook, picks up a tumbler and takes a sip of her whisky.
"Uno momento," Beth utters and busies herself with my phone, which is playing music through the wireless speaker.
After a moment, Gordon Lightfoot starts crooning about the Edmund Fitzgerald.
"Who here has heard of a 'rogue wave'?"
Only Alan raises his hand, neither Clara nor I have ever heard the term.
Beth nods at that.
Of course, Alan would have heard, he probably knows the theory already, probably has heard it a dozen times by now.
"Rogue waves are much larger than 'regular' waves, something like twice as tall, and way heavier.
They form suddenly and unpredictably, when the conditions on the water are just right.
Rogue waves are destructive motherfuckers, they can rip apart a boat like a tissue, and have even been known to kill lighthouse operators.
Just thirty years ago, back when we were using a crappy model to predict waves, we though that rogue waves happen once in a thousand years, something that's pretty much a damn miracle.
But then we started hooking up enough sensors to the internet and suddenly started noticing these insanely-large waves happening much too frequently, and practically overnight we've had to rethink everything we know about waves of all types.
And we've also started studying historical events, and we now think that three rogue waves in Lake Superior took down the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a gigantic ore freighter."
Beth comes and sits down next to me on the couch, and for a while we all just listen to Gordon sing about the ore freighter on the Great Lakes.
"Rogue waves," Beth continues, "are present in every medium where waves can occur.
There are rogue electromagnetic waves, and rogue gravitational waves.
The planets of our Solar System are, right now, aligned in such a perfect way as to create rogue waves in this very cabin, in this very brain," she pokes at my head for this, "in a way to cause the Static."
"Space weather and planetary alignment, that sounds like a wonderful theory!" Alan proclaims in a god-like voice, and it sounds just a tad practiced.
"And that sounds like a plus one for him," Beth says and puts down a mark in her notebook, then looks to me.
"You and the missis?"
Clara and I look at each other, nod, then on the count of three we bring up a fist: I give a thumbs up, Clara makes a circle with her thumb and index finger.
"No one else is affected," Clara explains, "which seems like a very targeted action.
But I find the theory and the physics behind it simply fascinating."
"2 points for moi, thankyouverymuch."
Theory 4 - David
All eyes are on me.
I've had plenty of time to prepare, lots of theories smacked down by the very questions the others posed.
I reach for my phone and put on Malaguena Salerosa by Chingon.
For a minute we listen and remember what this song means to us.
"Zhuangzi, an old Chinese philosopher, once dreamt that he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with itself and doing as it pleased.
The butterfly did not know it was Zhuangzi.
Suddenly, the butterfly woke up and saw it was Zhuangzi.
But, he was now struck: was he Zhuangzi who dreamt that he was a butterfly, or was he the butterfly who dreams that he is Zhuangzi?"
I'm on the couch, facing toward the coffee table and the other couch.
Beth is at the far side of my couch, leaning into the corner with her camera, waiting to snap a photo.
Clara is sitting opposite me.
Alan is giving her a back massage.
"I wonder if this entire island, even the four of us, are just artifacts of a butterfly's dream.
And then, I wonder, if that butterfly has brain cancer, and that manifests here, in the dream, as static, like when I say
I smile and the camera clicks.
"I think that's tonight's winner," Alan says.
"We're not done, are we?" I reply.
"3 points for David," Beth notes.
Late night, PJs
Alan and I share a heavy dark stout on the deck and watch the moon seemingly come out of the Pacific.
After a bit he goes back in and I stay out for a while longer.
The biting cold feels good on my skin, and tonight I want to feel some pain.
There is anger brewing under my skin.
I watch the moon and feel some of the anger dissipate.
I walk back into the cabin a renewed man.
The light is on in our bedroom, but it's Beth whom I find on the bed.
She is wearing a pair of Spider-Man pajamas, something that I recall from our college days.
I glance toward their room and see that the door is closed.
"Come over here, lie down with me," she whispers, but to my ears she is deafening.
The entire room is just loud.
I walk over and lie down next to Beth.
She coils herself and gently pushes me, so I move as she guides me.
Unusually, I'm the big spoon, and it must have been a long day, because I fall asleep pretty instantly.
Cram session, restlessness
"Behave, behavior, behavioral..."
I feel Beth before I see her.
It's the faint click of her camera, the slight vibrations that I somehow pick up through the floor.
I realize that she is taking a photo of me almost subconsciously.
Turning to the right, toward the patio door, I see her familiar green hoodie, the shiny black of her camera, the lens that swallows all light around it.
The door opens and Beth comes out, shuts it quietly behind herself.
The camera is hanging from her neck and in her left hand Beth holds a glass of red wine.
"Mind if I join you?"
I wave at the chair next to me as an answer.
"Can't sleep?" Beth asks, eyeing the book I'm holding.
"I promised myself that the static wouldn't impact our weekend.
But I just can't stop thinking about it.
What if there are more words that I can't say?
So I'm just hanging out here, reading."
I pick up the dictionary, open it to where I left off.
"Behead, beheld, behemoth..." then note Beth's expression.
"Go on," Beth replies and sets her camera on the table, its business end pointed in my direction.
"I also can't stop thinking..."
She turns a dial, makes an adjustment to the lens, the shutter clicks, and I keep reading.
"If this is the end of times..." Beth begins.
I wince internally, but put on a happy smile for her.
"Yeah?" I ask.
"Why didn't we ever..."
"Make time for each other?" I think I know what she is asking.
"No, why didn't we ever date?
And, come on, we make time.
"You had theater... and other stuff," I reply.
"And the same with me and my games, my writing.
The times we'd tried to go out on an actual date, it was a strange toss-up: you'd either need to practice lines, or I'd need to write, or we'd wind up in bed.
We liked each other, but maybe just not enough."
We sit and look at each other and it's a comfortable silence.
Each of us is replaying the Movie Of Us, each is watching their favorite highlight reels, each is crying a bit at the sad parts.
"You've had a bit of time to think about that," Beth finally says and I can hear the tears in her voice.
"Strange days require a bit more self-reflection, right?
And it doesn't get much stranger than this.
Second morning, coffee, photos, ingenuity
Beth is a beauty in a sea of cyan cloth.
She sleeps and I stalk, silently, on the lookout for the perfect shot.
I walk over a backpack, around a pair of shoes, over the unused pack of condoms.
She is an angel in blue.
Beth stirs and the scene is gone, that specific orientation never to repeat again.
Not at human timescales, anyway.
"Morning, sunshine," she says, yawning.
"What's a girl gotta do around here to get a cup of coffee?" she asks, smiling.
I know my cue when I hear it, so I head out into the living room.
It's early, but the sun is up and I don't need a light to navigate around.
No one else is up, so I quietly set to making a big pot of coffee.
"These are good," Beth says from the doorway to the master bedroom.
She is still in her flannel Spider-Man PJs, standing there, looking down at her camera, examining the handful of photos I took last night and this morning.
Leaning against the door to the bedroom, examining photos, she is a sight I want to remember the rest of my life, however long or short that may be.
"That's a good photo, with the sea of
Beth is trembling, she holds the door for balance, I rush over and help her to a chair.
"Are you OK?
What is the word you're trying to say?" I ask her, then point to her cell phone.
"Type it out?"
The Stingray-impacted phones may not allow us to call out, but we can at least use them to write the words that we can no longer say.
After a moment, she turns the phone in my direction.
The word is 'blue'.
Alan runs into the kitchen and kneels by Beth: "Are you OK?
I heard you yelling, in static.
He looks between Beth and myself.
She holds up the phone and says "I can't say the word
Beth is sitting by the window, reading the dictionary like I did, but faster.
She is determined to learn quickly where this static is coming from.
Alan has a hand around her and is drinking.
He is the drinking philosopher of the group, no doubt about it.
He is now preparing a theory.
I'm sitting on the couch in front of a roaring fireplace, reading some speculative fiction on Clara's e-book.
"Hey, David?" Alan calls out.
I look up from an info-dump paragraph and instantly see it in Alan's eyes.
"What word?" I mouth, not even trying to sound out the words, knowing full well that Alan knows the only important question of the moment.
Breakfast, theories, end-times
And Alan makes three.
Because I don't have any other reasonable ways of dealing with this shit, I just start making breakfast for everyone.
This once again reminds me of college days, of living in a big, busy house, everyone always running around in a perpetual state of frenzy.
Cooking breakfast is by now muscle-memory for me, so breakfast is practically an hour-long meditation session.
I press my ego into manual labor, to give my self time to heal.
I think deep, deep thoughts, while my body prepares eggs on auto-pilot.
"I thought this was one of those dream-or-not-a-dream deals, and the dream universe was being eaten alive by a tumor," I remind the group.
"Well, with these new developments, I can defiantly say... it's not a tumor!"
Eye-rolls and groans are my applause, so I give a slight bow, flip the eggs.
"Now, this morning, I'm thinking that someone is trying to send us a message."
That raises eye-brows around the kitchen island.
"What kind of a message?" Beth asks, her head cocked and eyes to the ceiling.
She is trying to work this out for herself.
"Who's sending it?
And why can't they just use email?"
"All good questions," I nod to her and continue making toast,
"First, I wonder if
****, 'blue', and 'ocean' are part of a message.
That seems possible, considering how the words fit together.
Second, maybe this is all still a dream, but cancer isn't messing with us, it's someone from outside the dream.
Maybe they need us to do something in the dream.
So who knows, maybe the 'lost' words spell something out, perhaps a message from beyond.
And finally, it's not email, because anyone in this world can write an email, but who the hell has ever heard of this static nonsense?
The un-reality of it all suggests, to me, that we're in a dream.
And that suggests that most of us aren't real."
There are looks all around, but no one is talking.
After a moment, Beth is the first to speak up: "You are suggesting that this is a dream, one of us is the dreamer, and the rest are figments.
"Correct, that's my theory," I nod and plate some eggs.
I have a few minutes downtime, while the sausages cook, so I get a coffee and take a sip.
"Is everyone else as freaked out by this as I am?" Beth asks.
"If this is a dream, who is the dreamer?"
Alan seems confused, and looks questioningly to Beth.
She is deep in thought, or pretending to be, in order to avoid a strange conversation.
Clara is staring at the bookshelf on the side of the room.
"I've been staring at those books since we got here," she explains to the room at large, without taking her eyes off the shelf.
I can't stop watching her, her features are so determined, so centered on the bookshelf, as if her entire existence depends on it.
And I realize, that my own existence depends on Clara's.
I am a dream.
I began, as dreams do, in the middle of a trip from mainland to the island, aboard a ferry.
Clara was hugging me, Alan was being a goofball, Beth was taking photos of it all, it was a reassuring and welcoming birth.
A creation worthy of narration, perhaps.
Clara stands up, walks a step toward the bookshelf, reaches out a hand.
"This book is called 'Blue Ocean Strategy', and it's the last thing any of us would want to read."
She pulls on... it... and finds resistance, needs to tug harder.
She pulls again and the veneer falls away from the world.
The cabin is no more, it is gone, and it is replaced by a void.
We stand atop the void, which fills a large circle around us.
Beyond the circle is a wall of blue.
A large polygon of white light appears on the blue wall, and then the wall opens in that spot.
A man in strange armor runs through the opening, straight into Clara.
"We've found you!
We've found you!", he says.
"Here, put this on," the man says and offers Clara a tiara-like contraption.
"That'll start to break their neural blocks, you'll start to remember your real life."
Clara puts a tiara-like contraption on her head even before I can reach her, to warn her.
But I know it won't matter.
The dream is over, my job is done.
I stand and watch as Clara remembers her truth, the true memories of her life, her existence, her rebel-like reality.
The man looks up at me, then Beth and Alan.
"They... uhh, made copies for you?"
He is talking to Clara, but his eyes keep shifting between the three of us copies.
His gloved hand is clutching his weapon and his finger is moving higher and higher, up to the trigger...
"Get out of here, Warritz," Clara says in a voice I've never heard before.
The man snaps to attention so fast, I wonder how his skull manages to survive that kind of acceleration.
She looks from me to Alan, then to Beth.
"Not... a lot to say, here," she says.
I can't tell what she means by that, her voice is unfamiliar and I can't hear a single recognizable detail in her words.
I hang my head and wait.
That's all there is to do.
Clara exits, the door shuts, the lights go out, there is only static.