Coming June 5, 2018.
LIFE IS GOOD
Thora wakes up every morning with her beautiful fiancee. She’s the new owner of the town’s most popular dog kennel. Her parents are moving across the globe to Tokyo; with an open invitation for Thora and her new wife to visit often. She's started to feel like her recent troubles are behind her. Her life is close to perfect.
And then she receives a shocking package in the mail. It's only a calendar with a few words scribbled on the pages, but it's enough to shake Thora. Now everything's changed. But is it true, or is it a terrible joke? Thora makes decisions that change her life and the lives of everyone she loves. Has she made the right choice?
Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!
Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!
Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!
Refusing to open her eyes, Thora Evans untangled her arm from underneath the oversized quilt and swiped her index finger across the face of her phone to turn off the alarm. She returned her arm to its cozy spot under the warm bedding and sighed. Wednesday. Hump day. Dog walking. Then class. Then more dog walking. Then dinner with Jess. Then dog walking. And then sleep again. Thank God.
Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!
Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep! Beee-
Thora groaned and flicked her hand over the phone once more without opening her eyes. Just five more minutes, she thought. Or maybe ten? Do I have enough time? She rolled to her side as she pulled the blankets up to her eyebrows and curled her knees into a ball.
“Oh, COME ON!” Thora yelled as she kicked her legs under the blankets. Only then did Thora open her eyes. To find her phone. And maybe throw it across the room. Glancing at the screen she saw it wasn’t an alarm - it was a call. Damn. Her parents.
Thora swiped the screen to answer.
“Mom. Dad. Hey,” she said, coughing lightly to free the sleep from her voice. “How’s Tokyo?”
“Hey, sweetie,” Dorrie Evans replied. “It’s fantastic. Switch over to video, your dad and I want to see your gorgeous face.”
“Mom, I look awful. I just woke up, like two seconds ago.”
“Ok, ok, just a sec,” Thora sat up in her bed and threw the covers to the side. She rolled her eyes and swiped to turn on the camera. “Here I am. Morning, Mom. Hey, Dad.”
Thora laughed as her mother squealed with happiness at seeing her daughter on camera.
“Hi! Hi! Can you see me?” Dorie asked.
“Yeah Mom, I can see you. How’s your trip going?”
“It’s fine. Every morning, your dad goes to his conference, and I get to wander around the city. I bought so much, I'm probably going to have to ship a box of stuff back. Your Dad’s frowning at me. He's frowning in the corner, as I'm talking to you right now.”
“I tried to tell her not to buy so much!” Malcolm Evans said off-camera.
“Honey, she can’t see you,” said Dorie. “Let me turn the camera around. Thora, honey. That was your father speaking, just so you know.”
“Yeah, Mom. I know it’s Dad,” Thora smirked. “I didn’t think you just had some random guy in your room.”
“You never know,” Malcolm said as he leaned his head so the camera found him. “Maybe Mom wants to trade me in for a newer model. One that doesn’t tell her how to pack.”
“Enough, enough,” Dorie laughed, shooing her husband away. Thora cleared her throat again as her mother turned her full attention to their call.
“So. Thora. We’ll be home at the end of next week. I hope we can find an apartment here by then. You're still picking us up from the airport, right? We can bring your PRESENTS,” Dorie grinned.
“Yeah, I am,” answered Thora. “You're doing it, huh? You're moving your entire life all the way to the other half of the freakin' globe.”
“Not my entire life! I know, I know. It's crazy. But I couldn't turn down the job. Anyway. you and Jess will know someone in Tokyo!” said Dorie. “Oh, and tell Jess I found that moisturizer she wanted, I bought her three big bottles and one travel sized one.”
“Yeah. Ok. Um. Yeah. I’ll tell her. When I see her. I’ll mention it,” stammered Thora.
“Honey, if you’re gonna hide your fiance in your bed, you should make sure to cover her foot with the blankets. Hi, Jess!” laughed Dorie, waving her hands at the screen.
Jess peeked from under the covers and smiled. “Hey, Mrs. Evans. And Mr. Evans.” Jess tucked her hair behind her ears and waved. “Good to see you. Thanks for the moisturizer.”
“Good to see you and Jess looking so happy,” answered Dorie. “And no problem. Anything for you, Jess.”
“Seriously, Thora,” Dorie continued, stifling a laugh while yawning. “It’s too early there for you to pretend, and too late here for us. You’ve been dating Jess for what, three years? Plus, you've known each other for forever before that. When you two got engaged last year, Dad and I knew you were practically living together. And everyone else with a pulse on planet Earth. You’re fooling no one, sweetie.”
“Stop embarrassing her, Dorie!” Malcolm scolded.
“I’m not embarrassing her, Malcolm!”
“Yes you are,” Malcolm insisted. “She doesn’t want to discuss her love life with her parents.”
“The 18th of next month will make it five years,” answered Thora, ignoring everything else her parents said. “So. Yeah. Um. I gotta get going. What time is it over there?”
“I don’t know. I think 9? It’s getting late, that’s for sure,” said Dorie. “Ok, have a good day, girls. We’ll see you next week!”
“Buh-bye,” said Malcolm, now somewhere offscreen.
“Bye guys,” Thora said. “See you soon. Stay safe.”
Thora ended the call and turned to Jess.
“Morning. Sorry you have to deal with my parents.”
“Morning, yourself. And you know I love your parents.”
“Only because They love you more than they like me.”
“Well, of course, they do. They have good taste.”
Thora leaned over and kissed Jess once, then twice, then stood up. Thora stretched her arms to the ceiling and yawned.
“I love waking up with you, babe. But I gotta go walk some doggies,” Thora said. “And then class. And then more doggies. What are you up to today?”
“Just helping kindergartners to become productive members of society,” Jess said. “Or as I call it: Wednesday.”
“Oh my God you are so freaking dramatic,” Thora said. “I love it. And I love you.”
“I love you, too, but I can’t keep talking to you unless I get a cup of coffee!” Jess groaned as she tripped out of the bedroom and into the hallway. “Coffee first, Thor.”
Thora walked into the bathroom and started the shower. She pulled off her pajamas as the water warmed and shivered as the cool air whispered against her skin. It was a typical Wednesday morning, and Thora missed the warmth of her bed.
After a shower, breakfast, and coffee (thanks to Jess), Thora was ready to go to work and officially begin her day.
Thora would never wake up again.
Thora didn’t know this, of course. The 22-year-old dog walker went about her midweek routine, one she’d developed over the past four years. She showered, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, placed her hair in a ponytail, slicked lip balm over her lips once, and rolled deodorant under her armpits twice. She took five minutes to check social media, checked her emails for any last minute work instructions, ate a breakfast of one bowl of cereal and two pieces of toast, brushed her teeth, grabbed her keys from the hook by the door, kissed Jess as she left for a day at school and was out the door by 7:15. Around twenty minutes later, having ridden her bike through rush hour traffic, Thora walked into SitStayPlay, and said hello to her co-worker Rachel, a seventy-something woman with pink hair and purple lipstick. She waved to the intern, Sydney, a recent hire from the local high school. Sydney worked mornings at SitStayPlay, answering phone calls and pitching in with doggie daycare, then went to classes for the rest of the afternoon. Thora tied on her blue apron and began her day.
Thora loved her job. She’d only taken it in high school because her parents said she had to take a summer job. To build a strong character, they said. It was only meant to be a few hours a month, but Thora realized she was meant to work with animals. After graduating from New Amsterdam High School, Thora started at a college two towns away. She hated every minute of it. It took her two years to convince her parents that they were wasting their money on college tuition. It took only five minutes to convince Rachel to hire her back as a dog walker and groomer. Three weeks after returning to SitStayPlay, Thora mentioned owning her own dog walking service one day. Rachel didn’t even look up from trimming a standard poodle’s nails.
“Whenever you’re ready to buy, this place is for sale,” Rachel said. “I’m gettin’ tired of doin’ this by myself. My kids weren't into working in the store.” Thora said yes without hesitation. It had been a rough year and a half. Taking extra dog walking gigs. Saving every extra penny to pay for the down payment for the store. Taking business classes at night to learn how to run a small business. It was work she loved, so she didn’t mind. And while she appreciated Rachel staying on to help her get started, Thora couldn’t wait for the day that SitStayPlay was 100% hers. She didn't have much time for daydreams and fantasy. She had bills to pay, especially since she moved into her own apartment. Even living a contented life meant bills to pay, dogs to walk, a business to learn and a girlfriend to woo. Did she miss being single and carefree when she was away at college? A little, sure. Who wouldn’t? But Thora couldn’t wait for the next chapter of life to begin. And the freedom that came with it.
At eleven, Thora glanced up from giving Precious, a tiny Yorkshire terrier, a blowout. She’d take an early lunch again. She finished up with Precious and placed her back in her kennel. After Thora finished cleaning the grooming station, she yelled to Rachel that she was leaving for her usual hour-long lunch. She grabbed a turkey sandwich, chips, and an apple from the small refrigerator in the break room and left the shop. She walked to the park on the corner and sat on the bench furthest away from the fountain. Thora ate the sandwich straight from the plastic baggie, revealing just a small corner of bread between every few bites, as she did every Wednesday. She finished her chips and apple, drank her water and brushed the crumbs toward the waiting pigeons. Every Wednesday, they waited patiently for Thora’s crumbs, and every Wednesday, Thora rewarded them with the extra little potato chip crumbs at the bottom of her baggie. After lunch, Thora took the long way back to the shop, glancing in the neighboring store windows and chatting with the workers. This was her favorite part of her workday; exploring the tiny world around her business.
As she walked back to SitStayPlay, a delivery truck was leaving. Thora opened the door to find Sydney at the counter, putting away the stapler, writing reminders on sticky notes that she placed on the desk. Sydney glanced up at Thora as she came in and motioned to a stack of packages.
“Mail just came.”
“Yeah, I saw the truck leaving.”
“I didn't sort the packages. Sorry! Gotta get to school.”
“It’s OK, Syd. See you tomorrow.”
Thora walked to the pile and started looking through each parcel, ticking items of an internal list as she went. Shampoo, extra leashes, the new brochures, a sample of organic dog biscuits, and a wall calendar.
“Hey, Syd. Did you order a calendar?” Thora asked.
“Nope,” Sydney said as she walked to the door. “I have two that I don't even use. One on the computer, and a paper one by the phone. Gotta go. See ya tomorrow.”
“Ok. Bye, Syd.”
Thora turned to Rachel, who was sweeping the play corner, getting ready for the boarded dogs afternoon play time.
“Rach, did you order a-,” she started.
“No. Why would I? I come here. I work. I go home. Who needs a calendar for that?” Rachel answered.
Thora opened the calendar and looked at the pictures. Every picture was of lava, molten and heavy, streaming from volcanoes. Fiery orange mixed with the darkest black, twisted into angry knuckles of heat. She closed the calendar and looked at the cover. There was no text on the cover. No logo. Nothing. Only brimstone.
“That’s the strangest calendar I’ve ever seen,” said Rachel, suddenly appearing over Thora’s shoulder. Thora jumped and let out a strange squeak that bounced along the walls.
“Don’t scare me like that, Rachel!” she said, putting her hand over her heart. “Don’t sneak up on me. I hate that.”
Thora shrugged her shoulders and closed the calendar before putting it back on the pile.
“Wait. What was that?” Rachel asked, reaching for the calendar. “There’s something written on the calendar. Maybe someone meant to return it, and it was accidentally delivered here instead.”
Thora looked at the ripped packaging and shook her head. “No, it’s addressed to us. See?” She held up the paper to her former boss. “Thora Evans. SitStayPlay.”
Rachel turned the pages and pointed to a section. “Here.” Thora looked over Rachel’s shoulder and gasped. Scrawled on the current week’s block were a few words in light blue ink:
The next time Thora Evans falls asleep,
the entire universe will cease to exist.
Thora laughed until she looked at Rachel, who wasn’t smiling. “Come on, it’s a joke...right? You sent this. Who else would send this...here?” Thora motioned around the shop.
“I don’t know honey,” began Rachel. “My jokes are more of the knock-knock-who’s-there variety. Or putting a hat and sunglasses on a dog. Not this kind of thing.”
“Ok, someone’s watching to see my reaction, then,” Thora walked to the window and looked at the street. Nothing. No one. The birds chirped in a tree across the street. The flowers the Chamber of Commerce planted were beginning to bloom, their petals ruffling in the afternoon breeze. The ice cream shop across the street was busy. The record store next to it was not. An old man pushed a red-hatted toddler in a stroller on the sidewalk in front of the store. The child looked in the window. The man did not. Thora could hear the sound of the stroller’s wheels fade as the pair walked away. Everything was as it should be. Rachel walked up to her former employee and patted her shoulder.
“Could it be Jess? Would she pull that kind of prank?”
“No. Jess doesn’t have that kind of humor. She can’t even tell a joke without laughing through the punch line. Nah. It’s not Jess.”
“What about your other fr-”
“My friends wouldn’t do that, Rachel. Ok? They just...wouldn't,” Thora snapped, spitting out her words like darts. Rachel recoiled and raised her shoulders in frustration. She walked back to the kennel and picked up the broom.
“Ok. Thora. Ok. Ok.” Rachel said as she began to sweep again.
Thora sighed. “Rachel...I’m...I’m...sorry. I’m just freaked out by this.”
“No problem, Thora. I understand,” Rachel said. She didn’t look up from her sweeping and kept her eyes on the floor.
Maybe that’s why Thora believed the message on the calendar. Because no one ran to her with a wide smile and arms ready to hug her, to say it was a joke. Thora could never sleep again; or everything everywhere would end. She knew it to her core. The universe was going to erase itself, and Thora had her finger on the ‘delete’ key. Thora wanted to scream, but she wasn’t sure if she remembered how.
She took a deep breath and looked around the shop. The six boarded dogs, now free from their kennels, ran in excited circles around Rachel. The pink sticky note Sydney left on the computer drifted to the floor. ‘Order more bandanas’, it read. Sydney. Maybe it was a joke after all. Thora fumbled in her back pocket for the phone and sent a quick message to the intern.
Is this some kind of joke? Because it’s not funny.
Thora typed, then pressed ‘send’. She placed the sticky note on the computer, then changed her mind and put in on the countertop, flattening the upturned corners with her hand. The phone buzzed and Thora looked at Sydney’s reply on her screen:
??? Huh? Did you mean to send me this? In class, Can’t talk.
Thora dropped her phone and allowed the sticky note to curl itself into a tiny paper tube. Not a joke. Not Sydney. Not Jess. Or maybe Jess. They’d been in a tiny rut lately; maybe Jess wanted to make Thora laugh with a weird joke. Thora picked up her phone again and texted her girlfriend: You got me. She pressed send, placed the phone on the counter, and spun the sticky note around and around, flicking her finger against the corner to propel it around the desk. Thora wanted to walk away, but she couldn’t move until she heard from Jess. She spun the paper five times, ten times, twenty, then fifty. The phone buzzed. Thora scooped up the phone and took a tiny breath before looking at the screen.
And I got you. XO see you at dinner. Russo’s @ 7, don’t b late.
Ok, so maybe it was Jess, Thora thought. She walked over to Rachel, sidestepping around a pug and collie. Thora held up the phone.
“Ok, so you were right,” she said, managing a half smile. “I guess it was Jess.” Thora knelt on the ground to play tug of war with a labrador retriever.
“Really? What did she say?” Rachel asked.
“See for yourself,” Thora said, handing Rachel the phone. Rachel took the phone and read the texts.
“Uh. Thora. Honey. Baby. Ok. Where does she say it was her?” Rachel asked. “I don’t get it.”
“Geez, Rachel. She says ‘and I got you’, understand? She’s saying she tricked me.”
“Ok, I guess. It doesn’t really say that, but you know her better than I do.” Rachel shrugged her shoulders and started to hand the phone back. Thora shook her head and pointed to a bench. Rachel placed the phone there instead.
During next few hours, the pair worked in relative silence, keeping the conversation to just two things: the dogs and the work. To Rachel, Thora looked like she was back to her usual self, but in reality, Thora was paralyzed with fear.
It was good Thora was on the floor with the dogs, because she didn’t think she could manage to walk. Her brain raced from one thought to the next, and she sat on the floor, unable to get up. Her breath came faster and her hands, usually calm and purposeful, shook as she played catch with a Great Dane. Her head remained frozen while her eyes darted from the calendar to her phone and back again. Her tight brown curls quivered from the subtle movement. The dogs barked and growled during their play, but the sound was muffled, as if their entire world was at the bottom of an empty barrel. The walls of her store, the store she loved more than most anything, closed in on her. Thora wanted to scream but felt as if her scream was taken from her, and placed inside the pages of the calendar.
“You OK, honey?” Rachel’s voice pierced Thora’s thoughts. Thora stared at her former boss, her mentor, her friend. She searched for the right words. She swallowed once, twice.
Thora blinked. Her voice sounded so...weak. Even when she was stuck at a school she hated, her voice had never been so...uncertain? No, that wasn’t it. Afraid. Thora realized she had never been so afraid.
Thora picked up a cocker spaniel puppy and walked to the counter, gently scratching the little dog behind its ears. The dog yawned with contentment. Thora stood at the counter, staring at the street, and watching the people pass by. The cars passed in slow motion, their colors becoming smudges outside the glass. Yet the people moved in quick time, as if they were wind-up toys that had been overcranked.
Thora hoped Rachel was wrong. Because if she wasn’t, it meant everything changed, and the thought terrified her. The very idea of it was ridiculous and silly, Thora knew. Yet she understood. She did not want to believe it, she hoped it was a bad joke, but somewhere, in a dark hallway of her mind, she knew it was true.
The world could end tonight. As the thought became clear in Thora’s mind, the world outside froze. She considered all the things she wanted to accomplish. I won’t make it to Paris. I won’t ever go scuba-diving. I won't ever see another Valentine’s Day. Jess and I won’t -
All these dogs.
All of it.
“Rachel, I think I’ve got it from here, you can take off for today,” Thora said, turning to her friend and smiling.
“You’ve sure, hon?”
“Yeah. You normally stay until 2 and it’s…” Thora reached down to her phone to check the time. “Whoa, it’s almost 4. Thanks for staying, but I’ll be ok.”
“I don’t mind staying, I really don’t,” Rachel said, as she quickly gathered her coat and handbag, and hugged the dogs goodbye. She walked to the door and twisted to look at Thora. “It’s gonna be OK, hon. It will. Someone’s just trying to mess with you. You have fun tonight, and you tell Jess I said ‘hi’, OK? And tell her my grandbaby loves having her as a teacher. You’ll tell her, OK?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell her,” said Thora. She’d forgotten Rachel’s granddaughter was Jess’s student. “Jess loves having her in the class. Says she’s a real sweetheart.”
Rachel blew a kiss to Thora, and Thora blew a kiss right back.
Thora went back to work and made it through the rest of the day, her mind and body falling back on her daily routine: walk the dogs, groom the dogs, clean the kennels, talk to the clients, play with the dogs, bill the clients, answer the phone. In the quiet moments, her mind returned to the calendar and the prophecy. Thora made sure she had few quiet moments.
At half-past six o'clock, she cleaned up the shop, locked the doors, got on her bike and went home. The house was empty and her bed was made; Jess always made the bed when she slept over. Thora showered and put on jeans and a clean shirt. As she put her hair into her usual ponytail, she looked at herself in the mirror and changed her mind. She put on a red dress, and took her hair out of her ponytail holder, shaking her curls over her shoulder. Thora pressed her lips to form a thin line and furrowed her brow as she looked at her reflection. She opened the bathroom drawer and fumbled, searching for a few moments before finding a tube of lipstick and slicking it over her lips. There. She was ready.