I’m dying today. It’s happening. It’s okay. I didn’t have any plans for the weekend anyway.
Amber wants me to try again. Try to avoid the inevitable, I mean. She’s sent me about a thousand IMs this Tuesday morning, trying to convince me. My computer at work is cluttered with messages:
amberwavesofpain: ira, you there? c’mon we can fix this. please don’t give up…
I smile sadly at her concern. It hurts a little not to message her back but if I respond, we’ll fight and I don’t want to leave this world on bad terms with Amber.
She’s the only reason I’m alive.
Five years ago, I was done. As in, goodnight, Irene, let’s go find a bridge to jump off…done. It was a combination of dead-end job, dead-end life, and some past grief that I don’t feel like sharing. At least not with anyone but Amber.
I was web-searching for local bridges. I’m not proud of it. But that’s when an unexpected IM appeared in the middle of my computer screen.
amberwavesofpain is online
amberwavesofpain: ira, is this you?
irajohnson1971: Yes, I’m Ira. Who’s this?
amberwavesofpain: OMG internet wormhole success!!! so. weird. anyway it’s a long story and i’ll tell you everything. but please, please, please stop thinking about killing yourself. you matter, ira. your life matters.
irajohnson1971: Wait, what? How do you know…
amberwavesofpain: it’s sooooo complicated and you’re the slowest typist in the world so just let me do the talking, k?
irajohnson1971: …about that?
amberwavesofpain: people born in 1971 shouldn’t be allowed to im :P
amberwavesofpain: haha see what I mean? :)
irajohnson1971: Seriously though, who is this?
amberwavesofpain: i’m amber and i’m the girl who’s gonna save your life…but first get a piece of paper b/c you’re gonna write a letter
irajohnson1971: To who?
amberwavesofpain: i think you mean “To whom” :) it’s to me and it’s important so just write down what i say. ready?
amberwavesofpain: “dear amber, this is ira. i need you to do something for me. but first, don’t freak out. the first time you talk to me i’ll have been dead for over 15 years…”
Amber told me to tuck the letter away in the paperback copy of Charlotte’s Web sitting on my desk (“also why do you have Charlotte’s Web in your office?”).
amberwavesofpain: and then put it in the bookshelf
irajohnson1971: In my office?
amberwavesofpain: mhmm…someday it’ll be my office and i have to find it or none of this works
irajohnson1971: Okay, now what?
amberwavesofpain: now we save your life
She did. That first time anyway. I didn’t go through with it, obviously. How could I? You try to be dark and depressing after a girl from the future starts talking to you.
But then the timeline shifted. Amber was frustrated.
amberwavesofpain: grrrrr. what are your plans this weekend?
irajohnson1971: I was thinking of staying in, rent a movie or something. It’s supposed to thunderstorm.
amberwavesofpain: yeah, no kidding. according to this obit, you get struck by a random bolt of lightning in the blockbuster parking lot. p.s. ha blockbuster!
irajohnson1971: Oh wow. Okay, I’ll steer clear. What’s funny about Blockbuster?
amberwavesofpain: nothing really, netflix killed it.
irajohnson1971: What’s a netflix?
amberwavesofpain: where “scrubs” lives. i became a nurse b/c of season 1 scrubs and you’re about 6 months from watching it for the first time so i’m a little jealous. also watch out for bolts of lightning k?
After the lightning, there were earthquakes, drownings and other near-deaths as the timeline tried to correct itself again and again. Amber guided me through all of them, convinced she could save me.
It’s in her nature to save people. She’s good at it. She didn’t become a nurse just because of a TV show. She cares. A lot. To the point that she’s willing to give up her own life for someone else.
I know. Because that’s what she’s trying to do for me.
It took me a while to figure it out. Amber started saying I needed to move to Portugal or “like, Northern Canada.” She didn’t tell me why. She wouldn’t explain what new death was incoming. But then, the company I worked for moved across town and the old building was torn down.
irajohnson1971: I thought you said my office became your office?
irajohnson1971: Amber, how do you get the book if you don’t find it in the office?
amberwavesofpain is offline
When she finally came back online, I forced her to tell me everything.
Amber gets the book from the man who saves her, pushing her out of the way of a semi that plows through a crosswalk downtown on a Tuesday morning. This Tuesday morning. She’s eight years old and just doesn’t look. Neither does the driver.
But I look. I hear a woman scream “Amber!” far too late to do any good.
I dash into the crosswalk, hook my hands under little Amber’s arms and throw her out of the way. She has a rough landing, breaking her wrist in two places. I’m sorry about that but there’s little more I can do before…
Somehow, the book survives the impact and the letter remains undisturbed between its pages. The paramedics think it might be Amber’s (“what grown man walks around with Charlotte’s Web in his pocket?”) and give it to her at the scene. She’s crying and clutches the book to her chest with her uninjured hand. Her mother puts it on her bedroom bookshelf and it remains there, untouched, for more than a decade.
Years later, Amber finally cracks the book open and finds the letter inside. A few more words are hastily scrawled on the back of the envelope:
irajohnson1971: This is a book about friendship. The kind that lasts forever. Don’t be sad, Amber. I’ll see you on the other side :)
Gretchen Tessmer is a writer/attorney based in the U.S./Canadian borderlands. She writes both short fiction and poetry, with work appearing in Nature, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and F&SF, among other venues.