It was a mysterious message that started it all: a mistaken text sent to her number in the deepest part of night, her phone, face-up across her lap, all at once coming to life with a soundless throb of silvery light.
Later, when she shuffled back through the slender deck of cards which were the events of this night, she wasn't surprised to discover that she remembered everything with an almost dreamlike clarity: alone in her flat, laying low on a Friday night, not sleeping but seated upon her bedroom floor and listening to piano chords seep through the speakers of her stereo, a gentle click of rain just beginning, then the first cryptic message in a bloom of electronic light.
She happened to just then be looking in the direction of her phone, almost as though she'd been waiting after all — almost, indeed, as though in her music-addled melancholy fog she'd wanted it to come — and, tilting her head like a dog (her phone still face-up across her lap) but otherwise unmoving, she read:
"Some say whiskey is merely sunshine held together by water."
This is what the message said.
Through her rain-stippled windowpane and across the alleyway not far below her second-story flat, she saw the only other light around her now wink out (her neighbor, the late-night barman whom she barely knew, though liked). Watery darkness descended about her like a shout. She knitted her brows and, baffled but also intrigued, she read the message again. And then again. It was clearly a mistake, yet she felt herself pulled in and almost instantly immersed. A second message, then — coming from the same mysterious source — appeared below the first:
"Some of us are followers. Some of us are leaders. These are just the facts. This book is for leaders, of course."
She wasn't quite finished reading this missive when a third one unexpectedly bloomed:
"Yet none in life are fated, are they?"
There was a longer pause while she read and read again. Then a longer one came in:
"No human is truly slotted into some unalterable place or role, some fixed unchosen path. Excellence is not a rarified DNA strand reserved only for a selected few. Me. You. Our lives are all cultivated, yes. Yes. All. I believe that this is true. Conformists can unconform. Followers, if they want, can learn to lead — lead by example, best of all: leaders, learners, independent thinkers, nonconformists, anything we want with enough passion and zeal. Do you think this is true? Of course no one need to if they don’t want it, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Still, I think followers who grasp the core of the book, its meaning and its theme, will do more than merely — you know — 'dare to dream.' Because there is no darkness but ignorance, and the price of wisdom is above rubies."
Then the messages ceased.
She felt perhaps the neural itch of inkling now. Talking lit while getting lit. And now her hanging heart beat fast — hammering inexplicably against the cherry-walls of her cavernous chest. The blood-gush through her veins increased.
"May I know who this is?" she wrote at last, tapping deftly with her thumbs.
After sending which, though, there was only silence — silence and a sudden sense of stillness that she couldn't explicitly codify or name. It frightened her. Yet also a lingering tremor of intent still flickering from the words — their words — living words, the product of their thinking brains, the words they'd each already sent. Her face glowed greenly phosphorescent in her darkling room. Outside the gentle rain decreased, then died.
Thus she waited. Thus she stared. She eyed with lidless fixity her pulsing cell-phone screen, watching with a gaze of liquid heat. Abruptly, then, and to her horror, her phone went black. Simultaneous to that, the piano music ceased. Silence was complete. Still she waited. Still she stared. She stared into the darkness of her screen as upon the darkness across the face of the deep where the spirit of primeval God did move and creep. She didn't shift — neither shift nor fidget nor twitch. The darkness around her grew velvet fur, the silence evolving into a complex thing, imponderable, rich. The moment she felt herself about to burst, a mini miracle occurred: the electronic light bloomed back with life, keeping the darkness at bay — light and life in the written words of a sapient power-source. She nearly gasped.
"Sorry," the message said. She thought it carried a note of real regret. "I thought I knew who. Wrong person. Please forgive, forget."
Immediately she started typing a reply, but a second message interrupted this typing work, a message coming in through a narrow cleft or corridor of night:
"The word 'wisdom' is a derivative of the word 'wit,'" it said, "which I didn't know before I read this book. I, however, am a tool."
Again she started to reply when yet a third message danced before her eyes — her eyes alight now, and glowing like pools of greenish-red:
"Goodbye and goodnight," the final message said.
"Stranger ..." she swiftly wrote, and touched the upward arrow that signifies to send. She at once typed another message, a sense of urgency mixed with something like longing — now awakened within her — growing rapidly acute: "Fellow pilgrim of the night ..." She touched the send again.
This time, though, there was no reply. Nothing at all. Nothing except stillness — stillness and a silence that reigned: cosmic, absolute, the foothold of the night regained.
"Pilgrim?" she wrote, yet with no real hope in what was now the slushy snowcone of her cherry-colored heart. Nor did she in that moment hear the silence softly break outside as the rain began anew, with a sound like the whisper of wind in the grass, and the front door across the way opened with a gentle snick — a snick-and-rasp. She tapped the upward arrow once again.
And then something unexpected happened — something that struck her as an amazing, magical thing: almost instantly, as if poised there with equivalent longing in the darkness of the void, the following message came:
"Yes?” the stranger's message said.
Her scalp went numb as hot needles came raining down upon her head. But then nothing more.
Until the gentle knock upon her door: the one she secretly hoped would come.