I love it.
She whispers in the dark, “How do we fix this, Jason?”
“I’m working on it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means ask me again in the morning.”
Her breath in my face is sweet and warm.
The essence of everything I associate with home.
She’s asleep within a moment, breathing deeply in and out.
I think I’m right behind her, but when I close my eyes, my thoughts run rampant. I see versions of me stepping out of elevators. In parked cars. Sitting on the bench across the street from our brownstone.
I see me everywhere.
The room is dark except for the coils of the space heater glowing in the corner.
The house lies silent.
I can’t sleep.
I need to fix this.
Quietly, I slide out from under the covers. At the door, I stop and glance back at Daniela, safe under a mountain of blankets.
I head down the noisy hardwood floor of the hallway, the house getting warmer the closer I get to the living room.
The fire is already low.
I add several logs.
For a long time, I sit just staring into the flames, watching the wood slowly crumble into the radiant bed of embers as my son snores softly behind me.
The idea first occurred to me on the drive north today, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
It seemed insane at first.
But the more I pressure-check it, the more it seems like my only option.
In the living room beside the entertainment center, there’s a desk with a ten-year-old Mac and a dinosaur printer. I power the computer on. If there’s a password required or no Internet connection, this will have to wait until tomorrow, when I can find an Internet café or coffee shop in town.
I’m in luck. There’s a guest login option.
I open the web browser and access that asonjayessenday email account.
The hyperlink still works.
Welcome to UberChat!
There are currently seventy-two active participants.
Are you a new user?
I click No and log in with my username and password.
Welcome back Jason9!
Logging you into UberChat now!
The conversation is much longer, with so many participants I break out in a cold sweat.
I scan everything, down through the most recent message, which is less than a minute old.
Jason42: The house has been empty since at least midafternoon.
Jason28: So which of you did this?
Jason4: I followed Daniela from 44 Eleanor St. to the police station on North California.
Jason14: What was she doing there?
Jason25: What was she doing there?
Jason10: What was she doing there?
Jason4: No idea. She went inside, never came out. Her Honda is still there.
Jason66: Does this mean she knows? Is she still in the police station?
Jason4: I don’t know. Something is up.
Jason49: I was nearly killed last night by one of us. He got a key to my hotel room and came in with a knife in the middle of the night.
I start typing…
Jason9: DANIELA AND CHARLIE ARE WITH ME.
Jason28: Prove it.
Jason10: You fucker.
Jason9: How doesn’t matter, but yes, they’re safe. They’re also very scared. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I assume we all share the same basic desire, that no matter what, Daniela and Charlie can’t be harmed?
Jason9: I would rather die than see anything happen to them. So here’s what I’m proposing. Two days from now, at midnight, we all meet up at the power plant and conduct a peaceful lottery. The winner gets to live in this world with Daniela and Charlie. Also, we destroy the box, so no other Jasons find their way here.
Jason100: No way.
Jason21: How would this work?
Jason28: Prove you have them or fuck off.
Jason8: Why chance? Why not fight it out? Let merit decide.
Jason109: And what happens to the losers? Suicide?
JasonADMIN: For the sake of this conversation not becoming incomprehensible, I’ve temporarily frozen all accounts from participating except me and Jason9. Everyone else can still watch this conversation. Jason9, continue please.
Jason9: I realize there are many ways this could all go wrong. I could decide to not show up. You’d never know. Any number of Jasons could choose not to participate, to essentially wait in the wings for the smoke to clear and then do to one of us what Jason2 did. Except that I know I’ll keep my word, and maybe this is naïve on my part, but I think that means all of you will too. Because you wouldn’t be keeping your word for us. You’d be keeping it for Daniela and Charlie. The other alternative is for me to take them and disappear forever. New identities. A life always on the run. Always looking over our shoulder. As much as I want to be with them, I don’t want that life for my wife and son. And I don’t have the right to keep them for myself. I feel so strongly about it, I’m willing to submit myself to this lottery, where, judging by the sheer number of us involved, I’m almost certain to lose. I have to talk to Daniela first, but in the meantime, spread the word. I’ll be back online tomorrow night with more details, including proof, jason28.
JasonADMIN: I think someone already asked, but what happens to the losers?
Jason9: I don’t know yet. All that matters is our wife and son living out the rest of their lives in peace and safety. If you feel otherwise, you don’t deserve them.
Light coming through the curtain wakes me.
Daniela is in my arms.
For the longest time, I just lie there.
This extraordinary woman.
After a while, I disentangle myself and grab my pile of clothes off the floor.
I dress by the remains of the fire—nothing but a bed of coals—and throw on the last two logs.
We’ve slept in.
The clock on the stove reads 9:30, and through the window above the sink, I see sunlight angling down through the evergreens and birches, making pools of light and shadow across the floor of the forest as far as I can see.
I head outside into the morning chill and step down off the porch.