Katie had snuggled into her afghan on the sofa, her gray and black Tabby nestled under her knees, and her laptop perched on them. Pete was on Zoom and it was Halloween – exactly one year after the terrifying events of 2019.
“Babe, it kills me that you’re there alone,” Pete said.
Kate pulled the afghan a little closer to her neck, and Tabby mewed in protest. “Don’t you dare come over. You’ve got chemo on Tuesday.”
“But if you’ve got no symptoms . . . you’ve been so careful.”
“Pete, stop it. Sky tested positive five days ago.” And she wasn’t going to tell Pete about the fever that had sent her to the sofa. He didn’t need that as well.
“Jesus, Sky too? I thought it was only Jessie. This fucking year, I swear . . . .”
There was nothing Kate could say to that; fortunately, Zoom let her nod along in sympathy. It had been a roller coaster of a year – her high school boyfriend, Jake, had turned out to be a cult leader and raised seven demons of hell last Hallow’s Eve. She’d had to drop a hay bale on him to save the tri-city area, and in her grief and guilt, she’d hooked up with Pete at Christmas and was in love by New Year’s Day. Pete was diagnosed with cancer on Valentine’s Day (Friday, 5 p.m. – all the bad news in 2020 had dropped on Friday at 5 p.m.), and her mother died from complications of eye surgery . . . shot in the eye by a rubber bullet on the third of July, dead on September fourth.
Tabby crawled out from under the afghan and curled herself around Kate’s neck.
Pete said, “Hey, Tabby, Tabby!” Tabby looked at him, ears forward. She liked Pete almost as much as Kate did.
The Zoom crackled and spit, and Tabby launched herself off Kate, and cowered under the side table across the room. “Hey, Pete, your camera is off. Pete?”
No answer. Which was par for the course. With her connection, she lost her Zoom companions at least three times a week. The static, like an old-fashioned television on an empty station, was new, though.
“Katie, Katie, Katie.” A horrible sound, a man’s voice was heard through the hisses on the screen, vaguely reminiscent of somebody calling a cat. Only Jake had called her Katie.
“Pete, is that you? What’s going on?”
“Not Pete, Katie.” There was a long pause, and Katie felt chills going up her spine and down her upper arms in marching rows of goosebumps. “Pete.” This was almost spit out, like the person behind the Zoom camera had bitten into the pit of a cherry. Another long pause, and Kate sought to organize her scrambling thoughts, but they eluded her. They ran for all the corners of her mind, leaving nothing but a blank space and this snowy screen. “Why, Kate? Why me? Not . . . .” Kate was frozen. “ . . . you?”
Ideas suddenly flooded into her head. She frantically hit the trackpad, trying to close the window, stop the program. She pressed on the power button once, twice, three times, and the third time for a long 15 seconds. Silence from the screen for this minute, but as soon as her finger released the power button, an evil laugh issued through the hissing fog of the computer.
She slammed the laptop shut, and instinct prompted her to roll off the sofa, crawl under the coffee table, and her butt caught on it, so she crawled across the floor, bringing the table along with her. Part of her mind wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of it, but the other part was wrapped up in fear.
The ceiling fan dropped, glancing off the coffee table, and knocking the laptop off the sofa. It flew open, still a screen with her desktop, and a Zoom app of black and white static fuzz. “I missed you, Katie.” Another long 15 seconds of static. “Come with me.”
“No!” Kate screamed. She tried to back away from the damned computer, when the oddest thing happened. A new person had been invited to the Zoom. It . . . it looked like her mother’s Zoom name. She crawled toward the laptop.
Little chunks of plaster rained down upon her, but the ceiling fan had brought down most of it when it fell. She allowed the new person to join the call. It couldn’t be her mother . . . it must be whoever bought her mom’s old desktop.
Two windows of static, but the one with her mom’s name was pink, and less hissy. It sounded almost as though someone was playing a theremin, or an electric harp with only three high strings. Whoo-whee-woooooo. “Kate.” It was her mother, she knew it. “I’m here.”
“Noooooooooooooooo.” It had to be Jake. Kate began mumbling the spell her friend had taught her that Hallow’s Eve. “I won’t stand for you running around. I won’t stand for you putting me down. I am mine. I am mine. I am mine.” The hissing of static became more quiet, and then winked out . . . exactly like the old tube TV her mom had owned, not at all like the digital Zoom window. Pete’s dear face showed on the screen again.
“Kate, darling. What happened?”
“I . . . I’m not sure.” She could see her face on the screen, weirdly reversed as it always was on a Zoom call, but now covered with plaster dust. She wasn’t ready to throw the coffee table off her back yet.
“Kate, who are you talking to on the other screen?”
Kate looked at the pink screen, now pulsating with burgundy and returning to a warm, comforting color. She could barely hear the strains of the three notes. “Love you, Kate.” It was a low whisper, and another long pause, as if gathering the energy to say a few more words. “I’ll take care of him.”
And just like that, Zoom chimed and informed her that LindaT&J had left the call.
“Kate, are you OK? Dammit, I will come over.”
“No, it’s OK, Pete. I think it’s done. Stay on the Zoom with me for a little longer? It’s almost midnight?”
“Sure, Kate-my-dear. I’ll stay on all night.” Tabby picked her delicate way through the wreckage of the ceiling fan, and unerringly pointed her butt at the screen. Pete laughed and Kate giggled and pulled the cat under the coffee table. It was going to be all right. Somehow, everything was going to be all right.