He stared at the screen. The word “The End” seemed to dance in front of him – mocking him. Fred ran a hand over his face. The story wasn’t that accurate. Some of the hard facts would be considered imaginative than truth.
In the year 2128, most people were more open-minded to uncanny abilities some of their peers possessed. They didn’t dismiss the existence of empaths and animal whisperers.
Still, the story’s setting was mired in superstitions and speculations befitting its nickname, the City of Mysts. Not a soul had gone to the tunnels and returned in recorded history. Having it posted online in a website full of fan fiction, no one would believe half of what was written there.
The truth would remain a secret. There was no cause for alarm after all. But his gut feeling told him that he was missing something important. He mulled over the story. Fred scrolled up the page, read the title, the author, and… the date: 2113. He hadn’t stepped foot in the academy, much less in the city until 2118. Could it be?
Nowadays, anyone who knows how to use a computer could manipulate the date, his sensible side said.
But it’s worth looking into, just in case, his instinct countered.
Fred couldn’t let anyone in on this, except – those who were involved. He had lost contact with Louis after leaving the academy. And, even if he hadn’t, Fred didn’t want to upset Louis unnecessarily.
James would have to do, he thought. Fred sat straight in his chair. In fact, he’s the best person to make the inquiry. James had recently won an award for his third book. Who can better reach out to a writer than a fellow author?
He hooked the earpiece to his ear and said, “Call James Hydleburgh.”
“Hello,” a man answered groggily at the fourth ring.
“Hello, James. It’s Fred.”
The seriousness in his tone made Fred backtrack a little. James hadn’t recognized him.
“Frederick Williams,” Fred said.
“I’m —” James yawned. “I’m still here – sorry. Do you know what time it is?”
Fred looked at the clock: eight o’clock. The time in the Mysts was six hours ahead. Quickly, he calculated and realized his mistake. Before he could say anything, James beat him to it.
“It’s two in the bloody morning,” James complained.
“I apologize. I forgot about the time differences. But it’s important that I call you—”
“In the middle of the night? Can’t it wait for a couple more hours?” A baby wailed in the background. “Give me a minute.”
Faintly, Fred heard James say, “Honey, let me take David. You go back to sleep.”
“He’s hungry and you don’t have breast milk,” a woman replied and laughed softly.
“Yes, I do.”
“No, I – I meant I have your milk – the one you had pumped,” James defended. “Oh, bother! Just let me have him.”
“Go talk to you friend.”
“I can manage both. Please?”
Seconds later, James returned and said over the phone, “What is it you wanted to tell me?”
“Maybe this isn’t such a good time.” Fred was embarrassed. He had not only forgotten about their differing time zones, but also James recent change of status as a family man. Fred felt like he was the worst friend anybody could have.
“This is a good time. David’s wide awake and will be for an hour. We might as well talk.”
“How is Mrs. Hydleburgh?”
“Diana’s fine. We’re just happy to have the latest addition in the family. Diana’s more excited than me though. I think she had David’s future already planned. I saw several brochures about schools on her desk yesterday.” James paused. “Don’t think I know what you’re doing. Just answer my question.”
“It’s not important.” I shouldn’t have called, Fred thought. He could have hired a hacker to trace whoever uploaded the story.
“You barely kept in touch with us after high school. Calling me at this hour means it’s not a laughing matter.” There was no resentment in James’s tone which made Fred feel guiltier for calling.
“Out with it, Fred.”
“You aren’t going let this go, are you?”
“Does it have something to do with the Roucans?” James asked; the lightness in his voice had gone.
“Yes. And it had everything to do with us.” Fred sighed. “It could be a false alarm.” He didn’t want to drag James into his problems. His friend should be focusing on being a fulltime father.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Reluctantly, Fred said, “There’s this website. It has a story about us and – and Electra.”
“Send the web address to my phone. I’ll see what I can do.”
“James, what about Diana?”
“She’ll be relieved to see me not cooped up in my study. Anyway, Diana would love to have the baby all by herself. She keeps on about me spending more time with little David than she does.”
“Alright, I’ll send it later. Thank you, James.”
“No worries. Good night.”
James padded towards the bedroom. The baby in his arms gazed at him with big brown eyes. The bottle had emptied before the phone call even ended. His son had been uncharacteristically quiet for the remainder of the conversation. It was as if the child knew about Fred’s troubles. Humming tunelessly, James rocked him gently to sleep.
A little while later, James placed the sleeping baby between him and his wife on the bed. Diana stirred and brushed a lock of red hair from their son’s forehead.
“How is he?” she asked.
“I think something spooked him. I promised I’d help.”
“He never called before.”
Fred never did. It was always the generic greeting cards and postcards with his personal signature they received occasionally by post. What James knew about his best friend’s activities came from the news. Fred had been through a lot in the past years. The most alarming had been four years ago: He had disappeared during a medical mission in Africa. It was assumed that a terrorist group had abducted him.
Thirteen weeks later, a picture of Fred in Moscow looking emaciated with over bright eyes had spread online. James had called him right after seeing it. They had talked about the weather and ordinary things. Fred spoke normally as if nothing bad had happened. He only confirmed that a terrorist group had indeed taken him. He didn’t name the organization and never spoke about what he had suffered in their hands.
James had been disappointed with his reticence at first. The feeling soon dissipated when he discovered that Fred had lied to everyone. The official report only said that he had been cut off from his colleagues during a stampede in public market. Fred had declined to answer further questions on what had transpired afterwards and how and why he was in Russia.
Very little could scare Fred, James thought. It made him more curious about the source of his best friend’s agitation.
“I think he’s coming back,” he said.
“That’s good. Invite him to dinner, so he’ll get to meet his nephew,” his wife said in her semi-awake state.
That afternoon, glass crashed in the study. Diana looked in worriedly and saw James picking pieces of his favorite coffee mug off the floor.
“Are you alright?” she asked, helping him gather the glass shards.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said absently.
Diana peered at him, seeing through the lie. She stole a glance at his computer. From her vantage point, she had seen the words “The End.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: There seems to be no end to Fred’s secrets. What else has he kept hidden from his family and friends?
Is that a good or a bad sign?
What do you think of the James’s new family? Does he also have secrets no one knows about?