"Hello, is this Mr. Henderson?"
There was no real reason for me to pick up the phone. The spam app on my cell called out the mystery number right away. But, hell, I thought. Fuck it. There was no one else left in life for me to talk to. Even a debt collector sounded good at the moment.
My wife was murdered in 2015. There really isn’t an easy way to say that other than getting it out of the way early. It was a random robbery gone wrong. One rainy night, some sick tweaking fuck snuck into our house and shot her.
The suspect was caught, two days later, and sentenced to life in prison. He still sits there today.
I have worked in web development ever since. The job is remote, and the field caters to my hermit-like behavior out here in the woods of northern New Jersey. The lack of drug testing is really just an added benefit. I was perfectly free to fuck up the remainder of my own life.
I don't have any friends, anymore. Not really. Sometimes… I guess it is easy to look for companionship in all the wrong places.
"Senior or junior?" I replied to the lady with a sigh before settling into the armchair in my office with a bottle of wine. It was raining that night. The wind whipped the old pine tree in our back yard so hard I thought it might topple.
"Uhh… Senior," said the pretty, calm voice on the other line. She sounded familiar, but I blamed that notion on the half empty bottle of wine.
"Apologies, ma'am, but… Senior died six years ago." I said, a little annoyed at the lack of record keeping at this place.
"Oh gosh… gosh that is not what we have here. I am so sorry, Sir. We were not aware. Please forgive the intrusion and assumption. Would you mind pausing while I check my records?"
A filing cabinet clicked steadily in the background as static crinkled. My guess was that the woman held the receiver to her shoulder. I chuckled a bit at the lack of audio quality.
"No, no, no that is okay, no problem at all. No worries. Why don't you start by telling me your name?" I asked, cursing myself for the hint of shameless flirting at the end.
She giggled. Something about that laugh was very familiar. "My name is Emily, and I work with his credit card company," she said in a rehearsed tone. "Unfortunately, we cannot divulge which firm over the phone if you are not on the account… which uh… you just admitted yourself, of course…"
"I am guessing that you are Mr. Henderson's son," she mumbled while audibly thumbing through papers.
"Yes ma'am, that's right. But it's been years… I could not possibly be stuck with the old man’s debt, right?" I asked hopefully.
"Well, let's check, shall we?" there was a panicked shuffling and opening of books in the background. "I am so sorry, Sir," she replied with a regretful tone. "The rules are in one of those three-ring binders, and they are very difficult to find. Please hold for a moment."
"That's okay… did not know anybody still kept records that way… do I get an e-mail confirmation of this charge as well?" I asked.
"Email… like… electronic mail. A confirmation of the charge?" I asked again, allowing my confusion to turn to frustration. What was this lady’s problem?
"We don’t do that here… still a few years away from all those fancy features,” she continued. “But as you know, late payments are a pretty serious issue. They can even affect the credit score of an individual when a large amount has not been paid."
"Okay, okay, of course," I said, genuinely starting to grow worried and a bit flustered. "What can I do?"
"Is there a Mrs. Henderson in the household?" she asked quietly.
"Mrs. Henderson died in ‘06,”
"What year did you say? Oh my gosh. That is so horrible. I really am batting one thousand today."
I gasped. That was it. That phrase. I don't know if it was the way she said it, or the fact that simply not that many people used that exact language. But as soon as she did… something clicked in my memory.
My wife worked for a credit card company, before we met. Her name was also Emily. The voice sounded like hers… but it was younger. More hopeful than I remembered.
"What is your last name?" I asked.
The line was silent.
"Look, look, I know that's a weird question. But please, I think we know each other.”
"I can't give that information out…" she started
"Okay. Did you go to Jefferson Memorial High School?"
"Yes…" she said, astonished. "How did you know that?"
It was impossible. Emily was dead. The voice on the phone barely even sounded like her. It was younger, happier, more optimistic. This type of dream was actually the type of thing that had kept me up a million sleepless nights in the past. And yet, I was awake. Could it be a coincidence?
"Is your mother's name Eva?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. Then her mouse-like reply confirmed my suspicions.
"Who is this?"
I took a deep breath. Either I understood what was happening, or I lost my mind. Might as well enjoy the ride. “This next question is going to sound strange. What is today's date?"
"I am sorry, Sir… what..? One moment." She paused and shuffled around some more papers.
"Today's date is July 9th, 1999."
It was impossible. Could it be the storm? The anniversary of her death?
"Emily, listen to me."
"Okay, Sir, this conversation is getting a little strange… let's keep it to the payment plan…"
"Listen to me very carefully…. One day…. one day you are going to meet a man. You are going to love him, Emily. And he will love you more than you ever know.” I had to give her something to remember. “On your first holiday together, he will buy you one gift for all twelve days of Christmas.”
"Sounds dreamy," she replied with a laugh and a sigh. “Are you one of those psychics?"
"I am serious. You will marry this man, Emily. He will buy you the ring you always wanted. The ceremony will be In a beautiful one in your home town. Your entire family will be there, including Aunt Zelda and your grandma from Tennessee.."
“I like this fortune cookie,” she said with dripping sarcasm.
“But two years later, on July 9th, 2015, you will be murdered in the home you share together.”
She shifted the phone nervously.
"So what do I do?”
First, I tried to tell her to avoid the house that day. To never date me, to stay away forever and find a better life somewhere else. But somewhere in the middle of my rant, the line disconnected to the tune of a blood curdling scream. I called back to find a non-working number. She never answered again.
I fell asleep listening to the thunder rolling through the sky. The scream from that night repeated from time to time while flashes of her body on the floor occasionally invaded my mind. I never questioned the call. I never asked why. Maybe it was God; maybe it was just time. But yesterday morning, when I woke up…
Emily was by my side.