Prompt: One week after attending the funeral of a close friend, you receive a postcard in the mail with the words, "I'm not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido's Pizzeria. Tell no one."
Response: The card was smaller than the average postcard - its edges crumpled and the reproduction painting of Venice so faded in spots that it was nonexistent. The lack of a stamp suggested it had been hand-delivered to my apartment. My throat felt dry - bone dry.
As if it was unrelated and disconnected from me, I saw my thumb running over the words - the dried ink. Over and over, wearing the paper down, trying to blot out the words that rang behind my eyes. I'm not dead.
I swallowed hard, closing my eyes, calling up the memories that had been my relief over the course of the last week. All the pretty people - so perfect in their misery - standing around in their neat black clothing. None of them looking at me. None of them wondering why Jared's best friend could not quite work up tears.
All the pretty pieces - the chemicals, the wires and timer, the gloves so perfect in their sinister qualities - sitting on my kitchen table in preparedness. Gleaming so seductively.
The golden flames rising from Jared's car and the rush of relief - the picture of relief. The bomb would never be traced to me. Jared would never tell anyone about me. No one would ever know. The relief covered the guilt - the despair - the empty space in my life where Jared went.
I opened my eyes. The words glared at me - snarled at me. I'm not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido's Pizzeria. Tell no one.
Guido's. Jared's place. My place - mine and Jared's. He was telling me it was him - the location confirmed it. He always teased me when we would meet at Guido's. He would tell me "Tell no one" like some spy in a hokey old movie.
I traced the words again - the condemning phrase. I'm not dead.
How had Jared survived? I wondered. The bomb had been perfectly, neatly placed - unavoidable in its destruction. I had watched him get in the car with a heart half heavy, half rejoicing. How had Jared survived?
I glanced at the kitchen clock. 8:30 PM. Jared and I always met at Guido's at 8:45.I wondered if I should go - if I could.
I looked at the words again - they cut my eyes, terrified me to my core. I'm not dead.
Without even knowing what I was doing really, I slipped on my coat and walked to Guido's. The lights were dim and I felt so cold inside. My ears were filled with cotton, my throat bone dry as I opened the door to Guido's.
The bell on the door ringing made me jump. As soon as I got in the door I knew something was wrong. The only lights on were in the kitchen. The Pizzeria was empty - spookily empty, entirely empty, frighteningly empty.
I'm not dead. I'm not dead. I'm not dead. I'm not dead. I'm not dead. Pounded in my ears.
The door swung shut behind me and the bell chimed again - almost echoing in the empty room.
I'm not dead.
"Is anyone here?"
I'm. Not. Dead.
I felt the cold metal against the base of my skull and I already knew I was dead before I heard Jared's voice. "Hello, Daemon. Miss me?"