Today marked the beginning of the month-long writing event. I sat in my recliner, my mind fueled with various forms of caffeine, and prepared to unburden my heart on digital paper.
I’ve been up for several hours, my sleep interrupted by the fear of not updating my word count. “Wake up,” my mind shouted at me. “Time’s a-wasting.” A long month is ahead for me if this becomes the norm.
Still, I’ve got thirty days to write fifty thousand words. All I must do is decide what I want to write about. As of now, my topic is nothing. Zip. Nada.
This entire situation blew out of proportion because of General Tso’s Chicken, fried rice, and a hard drive. I had ordered the first two. The hard drive showed up uninvited.
I had gone to the diner to meet with a friend. After an hour, I placed an order to go. Thirteen minutes later the waitress brought my food to me, and I handed her my debit card. When she returned, she handed me my receipt and the silver USB drive.
“Here you go, sir. Thank you for business.”
I looked at the USB drive and frowned.
“Excuse me, ma’am. This isn’t mine.”
She turned and smiled at me. Her eyes were the color of jade, her brown hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail.
“Well, you dropped it. I picked it up and brought it to you.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t take this.”
She leaned close; her jade eyes bore into mine. Coldly she whispered: “Take the thumb drive and follow its instructions to the letter. Do not make a scene.”
I looked around the restaurant. No one seemed to notice what occurred. Everyone went about their day. The waitress stared at me. I stood and shoved the thumb drive into my hoodie pocket.
The waitress smiled and bid me a good day. Our weather had changed to autumn. A brisk wind blew through the saffron colored leaves of various trees. Some leaves were tinged with yellow. The body of some leaves were a deep, brooding red.
“They look like a massacre in a trailer park.”
I walked home. My cabin was eleven miles away. Veterans who committed suicide when they returned home from war is an issue that remained dear to my heart. I’ve signed up for a 22-mile ruck march in the coldest month of our short winter season. The eleven-mile jaunt back and forth made up the 22-mile course I would walk in support of the mental war many veterans fought when they came home.
It’s the least I could do.
My mind raced with thoughts of what the USB drive contained. “Follow the instructions to the letter,” the waitress said. I cursed my bad luck. This small town is nowhere near where I grew up.
Of course, small town living doesn’t change, regardless of where you go. If you’ve been in one, you’ve been in all. About five miles into my return trip home, I pulled out my cell and dialed my friend Ashley Hendricks.
“Hey. Can you pick me up?”
“Sure. Where are you?”
“At the halfway point.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
Ashley is a saint. Not because of her willingness to pick me up. Back in the olden days there used to be a thing called Candy Stripers. Here in the northern portion of the state, the girls are called Saints.
They visit the old, the feeble, and the unwanted. Their sole job is to shed joy with those who have none. Sometimes, they sit and talk to people, other times they read to those who have no one to visit with.
I met Ashley at the end of my rope. In 2016, when I returned home from another deployment, I was hospitalized. Nothing made sense to me. My mind created delusions that I believed. Paranoia ate at my mind.
Then, I reacted to my delusions. My best friend received a shattered jaw after I clubbed him in a fit of rage. I’ve apologized several times for my actions, but we’re no longer best friends.
“That’s what this is, another delusion. The waitress wasn’t there. There’s no hidden code on the thumb drive. It’s just an illusion.”
My head began to ache. I sat on the shoulder of the road and cupped my head with both hands. I began to rock back and forth. Ashley pulled up beside me.
“Hey, Jayce. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Just a bad day.”
I got into her truck. She spun around and headed south on Highway 10. Ashley looked at me from the corner of her eyes.
“Are you on your medication? Don’t lie to me, Jayce.”
“Yeah, I take them every morning. You know I become unbalanced without them.”
“I know, and I know that it has been years since I saw you holding your head and rocking back and forth. You look like crap. What happened?”
How do you tell someone that you’re nuts? We rode in silence for a while. Ashley gave me space and concentrated on the road.
“I went to get Chinese food. Somehow, I thought I asked you to meet me for lunch. When you didn’t show, I ordered my food to go.”
Ashley stared at me, the crows’ feet at the corners of her blue eyes tightened. She shook her head.
“Jayce, you didn’t call me. I wouldn’t stand you up.”
“The waitress gave me a thumb drive and told me to follow the instructions to the letter.”
“What thumb drive?”
I patted my coat pocket and shoved my right hand into it. My fingers brushed against it, and I pulled it out.
“Oh, thank the Lord,” I muttered. “At least I didn’t imagine that part of it.”
Ashley pulled into my driveway. It was a winding road that led further into the woods. She pulled up in front of my cabin and shut off her engine.
“What’s on it, Jayce?”
“I don’t know, Ashley. Let’s go in and we will find out together.”
My cabin had two bedrooms. I lived alone, so I converted the guest bedroom into a library. Ashley and I walked into the library. She sat in a wooden chair next to my desk. I sat in the black faux leather seat and powered on my laptop.
After booting up, I inserted the drive into the PC. A small figure with a gun in each hand danced across the screen until it reached the middle.
It turned and pointed the handguns at me and screeched:
“Kill yourself Jayce Walker.”
Then, the figure pointed the guns at its head and pulled the triggers.