A MOMENT AND FOREVER EXCERPT FROM SERVER BY STEPHEN MORAN
Scott arrived home late, but not so late it was unusual. Michael, the floor supervisor at the factory, delayed him a few minutes to offer him an extra shift on Saturday. Scott answered that he had plans with Diana. Offering an empty apology, Scott rushed home, hoping to catch her before bed.
Scott entered a dark, quiet apartment and paused for a moment in the doorway, unsure how to proceed. Usually when Diana went to bed before he got home, she left a light on in the kitchen and a plate of food on the counter. He flicked on the light and found an empty counter. He continued to the bedroom, opening the door slowly. The bed was empty, left as he made it that morning. He returned to the kitchen, looking for a note or some sign explaining the empty, dark apartment. The light blinked on the answering machine, so he pressed the button.
It was Diana. She needed to attend a retirement party for one of her bosses. She promised not to be late, but gave no definitive time frame. The machine stamped the time of the call at a few minutes before nine o’clock. The microwave clock showed midnight; he expected her return quite soon.
“I’ll wait on dinner,” he muttered, getting a beer out of the refrigerator and heading into the living room. He took a seat in the armchair, turned on the television, and put his feet up on the stool.
An hour passed without a call or arrival. Scott drank through the better part of a six-pack of beer, pulling the tabs off as he pushed each empty can aside. Constant glances at the clock failed to calm his nerves and he began chewing at his fingernails. Anxiety formed a physical presence in the bottom of his stomach, a knot hardening by the minute. He wiped sweat from his brow and checked the clock again.
The phone rang at 1:45, breaking the silent tension in the room. As his arm snatched the phone with an energy fueled by jealousy, he muttered a curse about acting like a schoolgirl.
“Hello?” He heard a roar of voices and music on the other end. The volume hurt his ears.
“Scott,” Diana said, her voice slurred thick with alcohol.
Close to the phone, he heard a male voice urging Diana to hurry.
“Yes, Scott. I’m going to party for a little while, okay? Don’t wait up. I’ll get a ride,” she said in a blinded rush of words.
“Okay. I love you,” he said, but she had already ended the call.
He opened the last beer, ripping the tab away and throwing it onto the floor. Shaking his head, he tried to understand her call and ward off the creeping thoughts of morbid jealousy. A question echoed in his mind: Where was she? Images of debauchery and treachery fluttered inside his brain.
Turning up the volume on the television, he attempted to drown the thoughts, the concerns, and the growing jealousy. He dug through memory, searching for a similar incident to quell his fears and enable him to sleep. However, no such memory came to his aid; Diana had always been punctual, habitual, there—always and forever there for him when he arrived home from work each night.
He sipped whiskey until his body drifted towards sleep. The last thing he saw before his eyes closed was the neon green numbers on the alarm clock: 3:15.
Darkness enveloped him, a darkness so complete it shrouded his path. Running and running to no place, sweat ran down his arms and cheeks. A babble of voices speaking foreign languages filled the air. “It’s an invasion!”
A woman screamed in the darkness, followed by peals of laughter, the echoes filling the space around him as if with light. The rumble of a train approached, coming fast and bearing down upon him, but he could not run. His feet felt trapped in shackles. A gong rang, and a voice screamed, a long terrible shriek that contained all his jealous anxiety. It came to a sudden halt.
“You are the dead!”
The train bore down. He felt the heat of the invisible lights burning into his back as he ran. The passengers engaged in an auction, selling his possessions.
“A book of stories, original. Do I hear one dollar?”
A mad demon’s laughter ripped at his ears as he felt the train pushing against his legs.
“Not even a dollar!” the voice bellowed. A tremendous thunder of voices in all the languages of Earth answered in the negative.
“Burn it!” the crowd screamed in one voice.
A ripping sound shook his body and the train moved beyond him.
The alarm clock razzed an insistent chorus next to the bed.
He woke drenched in sweat and looked at the clock: 8:15. Diana’s side of the bed remained empty. Jumping up, he checked the machine, but there were no messages. He checked the living room, half expecting to see her on the couch, but there was nothing. Walking onto the porch, into the hot sun of early morning, he stared up at the sky. A neighbor lay prone on a lounge chair, absorbing the sun and smoking a cigarette.
“It’s going to be a hot one, Scott. You should work on a tan. You’re pale from sitting in that house all the time.”
“I guess,” he muttered.
The neighbor lifted the visor of his cap, exposing his blue eyes. He lay on the chair, awash in tanned health with his skin heavily oiled, the whites of his eyes stark against the deep color of his face. “Pull yourself together, Scott,” the neighbor said.
Scott nodded as he heard the phone ring. Running back into the house, he felt a flood of hope and a glimmer of happiness touching at his veins. He grabbed the receiver off the cradle.
“Scott?” It was Michael. “Can you work today?”
“No, I can’t. I’m waiting for Diana. She didn’t come home last night.”
Silence answered him. Finally, Michael spoke, “Did you have the dream again, Scott?”
Scott mumbled and held the phone away for a moment. The clock ticked, the refrigerator wheezed, and he struggled to breathe. “Yes,” he said.
“Scott?” Michael asked after a pause. “Still there?”
“She left three years ago, Scott.”
He hung up the phone and leaned against the wall. A tear worked down his cheek.