Chapter 1: The Phone Call
No one would have ever guessed how Friday's friendship group meeting would change all of our lives forever. No one could have foreseen the implications that night would bring. It was our custom to meet every Friday afternoon at Nell's Threads, a local fabric and sewing supplies store. We would meet around a couple of large folding tables and work on our projects. Sometimes we worked on a group project, other times we worked on our personal projects. More often than not, it was a mixture of the two.
The phone call came Thursday night. Ken, my husband, had already gone to bed. I couldn't sleep. Don't ask me why. It was just one of those nights. Thoughts kept swimming around in my head and they wouldn't stop. The more I tried not to think, the faster and harder the thoughts would come. That's how insomnia works. If someone asked you NOT to think about elephants, that would be all you'd think about. At some point in the night, I finally resolved that sleep was going to allude me, and with that, I began to drift off...
… then the phone rang. The ringtone sounded like a stick of dynamite had exploded in my ear. I jumped out of the overstuffed chair in our multi-themed living room, my heart pounding so hard I thought it might escape my chest and run away. I grabbed the receiver from the landline phone on the end table. I thought it was three in the morning and wondered who could be calling us this late? But, it only felt that late to me. It was actually only eleven at night. “Hello. Barbara Smith speaking,” I said groggily. For what seemed forever, there was silence on the other end. Dead silence, yet I knew someone was there. “Hello?” I repeated.
“It's me... Nell.”
At first I frowned in bewilderment. Nell's voice sounded so thin and weak. I even entertained the thought she might be sacred. My sleepy brain immediately thought the worst. I imagined Nell was being chased through her house by a murderer, a thieving murderer, ready to stab her multiple times and leave her gasping in a pool of blood. I shook the image from my head and asked, “What's up? You sound funny.” Again, there was a long pause.
“I had to talk to someone. You're the most broad-minded of the bunch. I thought you'd understand, that you'd believe me...”
Understand? Believe? My curiosity was tweaked. I felt as if I were falling down a dark hole, and I didn't know if there was any bottom to it. Maybe I would fall forever. I mentally reached out for something to hold onto. I stopped my mental fall and found a way back into the conversation. “Is this about the friendship group? Are we still meeting tomorrow?”
There was a laugh from Nell. A very quiet laugh. A whisper of a laugh. Barely a laugh at all, but it was significant. It meant something. It meant she was scared and nervous and hesitant to tell me what was on her mind. She burned with something to say, but she was too frightened and worried to say it, thinking I might react to her badly. What the hell could it be? Nell, after a pause to gather her wits once more, said, “The friendship group is still on.”
“So. Is it about the friendship group, or is it about something else? Are we playing a guessing game here?” I didn't mean to sound insensitive. I could tell Nell was struggling, so when I spoke, I injected a little frivolity into my voice. Something odd was going on inside Nell's mind, something she felt was extraordinary, and she saw me as the only person she could confide in.
I pondered - within the conversational gap caused by her urgent reluctance - where Nell got the idea I was open minded? Maybe she was linking me to my husband's interest in all things bizarre. Ken would listen to that popular all night radio show, Coast to Coast, into the wee morning hours if the guests or callers were particularly interesting. The show's host mainly discussed these esoteric topics: ghosts, aliens, shadow people, extrasensory perception,