Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
The bed had an aggressive creak in one spot, the spot where I always shifted myself off. It’s been there at least the 15 years I’ve been staying in this place. A tiny, old home, on the Oregon coast just south of Canon Beach. You already know the kind of beach rental home it is, you’ve likely already been to it, or one like it; and if not, you will someday—well kempt, exposed wood, ship lap, green glass balls, thick rope decorations, a sign that reads “Life is a Beach.”
I’ve been renting this place once a year for the last 10 years, on the anniversary of my best friend’s death. It’s the same spot our group used to go to for years before he died. After his death I made the decision to just come here alone. You see, Jake and I, Jake’s the dead dude, were always the closest. When I say he was my best friend I mean it in the most literal sense. We were soul mates.
I walked out of the bedroom and in to the kitchen. I’d taken a late evening nap, and it was dark now. Like so many years before, there was a nasty storm, so I didn’t bother going to the beach that day, or even leaving the house. I really never left the house on those anniversary weekends.
I stayed inside, drank Jack Danials—mine and Jake’s favorite. I watched old videos of us in college. Me, Jake, and our group of friends went through a phase where we’d film ourselves doing damn near anything, and thank god I was smart enough to save them long before I knew Jake would die in a car accident.
This year was special though. Not only had I spent my time getting a little extra drunk with our old friend Jack, but it was also the 10-year anniversary of Jakes death. So, this year I grabbed a bunch of old stuff that I had saved in a U-Haul moving box.
One of the things was the phone I had at the time of his death. It wasn’t operational anymore, but the cool thing about old phones is the text messages live on them for perpetuity, like physical photographs or ghosts. And I had all the remaining texts between Jake and I on that phone.
I poured myself a Jack on ice, set the bottle down on the counter with a sharp clank that filled the small house for a brief, fleeting moment, then walked out to the living room where the U-Haul box sat on a coffee table.
The leather sofa moaned as I sat on it. I grabbed a coaster, this one said “Heaven is closer to home by the water,” the “O” in home was a sea shell. My favorite coaster said “Home Sweet Beach.” I’d probably left that one back in the kitchen.
The inside of the box was like a tiny world in and of itself. A different area in the universe that I once knew so well and no longer could visit. I was all Jake.
Luckily, I was smart enough to remember a charger for the old phone I kept with our texts. The battery on the phone was as dead as Jake by this time. So, I shifted my ass over the edge of the sofa to reach the outlet and plugged the old phone in.
Waves crashed on the beach, and rain belted the windows on the west side of the old house. I listened to wild weather outside while the phone slowly groaned to life.
The phone was a time capsule, no doubt. There was a lot to explore, but with the Jack I’d just poured working its magic, my buzz from before the nap had come back with quick and authoritative conviction. And I wanted to read mine and Jake’s old texts.
I opened the messages and froze. Looked at my big glass of Jack—he was usually to blame—then back at my phone. You see, mine and Jake’s last conversation used to be down the line quite a way. After Jake died, I got a lot of texts from friends and family telling me how much they loved me. But now, now it was right at the top.
I clicked it open.
The rain crashed against the window.
My entire world shifted for a fast and aggressive moment. What was I looking at?
There was a new message from Jake. My heart began to race.
Quickly I stood, grabbing my drink. I took a long hard pull, then stopped, realizing Jack might be part of the Jake problem I’m now having on my phone.
For no explainable reason, I walked toward that cabinet all rentals have with the games, my drink in one hand, the other hand shaking as if something were stuck to it. I opened the cabinet and pulled out a tattered old Clue board game and slapped it on the table nearby. My breathing was heavy as I ran a hand through my hair. I could taste the sweat on my palm as I wiped my face with it.
Then, I went back. To the sofa.
The phone seemed heavier than normal, but I clicked the once old text thread between Jake and I.
He’d texted me. Since he was dead. I read it.
“Hey man. It’s been about 10 years now. I know you can’t read this, but I just had to say something. You have no idea how much I miss you. Well maybe you do. But I miss you a lot. I love you brother.”
My leg was twitching like crazy. I couldn’t focus. Was this even real? How was he texting? I had to text back, right?
So, I did.
“Jake?” The gravity around my hand pulled harder than I can explain. But I hit send. Instantly I shot up, once again running my hand down my face, sweating now. Fuck no, this isn’t happening, he won’t replay. I paced.
Then, the phone lit up.
I ran over to it.
A text had come through. It was from Jake.
“Don’t fuck with me. This used to be my best friends old phone number, who is this?” It read. Just like him to go on the attack first. Guess I just have to lean in to this. There is something that can prove he’s real.
“How do I know this is Jake?” I typed.
“Eight-years-old, on my trampoline. A girl I told you I’d marry someday, who was she?”
The phone showed no activity for some seconds. Then…
Dead on. But I wanted more.
“Ok,” I typed. “But what about you? We were 22. Drinking a bottle of Jack at our apartment table. I asked you what you’re most afraid of. What did you say?”
My heart raced again. I took a drink of Jack. What the fuck was happening? Then the phone chimed again:
“I told you I wanted kids but I was scared, my dad was such an angry man, and I’m an angry dude, I told you I was terrified that I’d be bad to my kids.”
Art by Anonymous
A single tear rolled down my cheek. I don’t know how, but I was texting my late best friend.
“Jake,” I texted. “Dude, what the fuck?”
“I don’t know,” he texted. “When I texted you, I really didn’t think this would work. I just needed to say something.”
“Man, I have so many questions. Like what is it like, where you are?” I typed.
“Not that exciting honestly. I’m actually down in the south now. I’m married.”
That text, ‘down in the south now,’ made me nervous. But him saying he’s married made me happy.
“Ha, you can get married there?”
“They let you get married anywhere dude!”
I still couldn’t believe what was happening. My heart was shattered when he died. And now, here I am, texting him.
“What about you?” he texted back.
“I spend a lot of time at the beach house man. Well at least once a year. I swear it still smells like your old farts.” I typed.
It took a while for him to respond. It made me nervous. I couldn’t lose contact now.
“I miss that place. I miss being there with you. Dude, you have no fucking idea how much I miss you. This is insane that we’re texting like this.”
“I’m right there with you.” I typed. “I miss you too.”
The wind, rougher than usual, picked up and blasted the west side windows.
I waited for a response.
“I reread our old texts every year. The last ones we sent to each other.” He finally texted.
“I wish you could come here. Wait, what does your world look like?”
“Same as ours, when you were around. Just a little updated I guess.” He typed back.
The light from the screen lit up my face.
“When I was around?” I spelled out. “Do you have ghost powers, like can you just zoom over here to the coast house and haunt me? That’d be rad.”
There was a longer than usual pause. The ice in my drink had mostly melted and the condensation left a small island of water around my glass.
“I’m not totally sure what you’re talking about man. I don’t have ghost powers.”
He sent that text, but than following it quickly came one more.
“Do you remember the end? The last time we were together?”
I did remember.
“I do. The car accident.”
“Yeah” He texted.
“I was driving,” I texted to him, “and I’ll never forgive myself.” I took another drink of my Jack. This part of the story was always hard to tell. “We were headed to our buddy’s house that night, and there was that 30-mph corner I totally missed. We shot across the road and hit that tree. Paramedics saved me, but that’s where you died.” It was a long text, but it needed to be said. I actually needed to add more. “I am so fucking sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”
I took another drink of my Jack, terrified of what he’d say. Did he resent me for what I did to him? Did he forgive me?
The text thread showed three dots… then they went away.
Three more showed up. Then gone.
I took another drink. Had I said something wrong?
Finally, a text came through.
“Danial, I don’t know what to say.” Was all it said. I started to text, but then saw he was texting again.
“I didn’t die in the accident that night. You did.”
That next sip of Jack really felt great going down. And as much as I wanted to text him back, I realized I didn’t need to. I finally saw it. But he texted more.
“When the car hit that tree, I was a dumbass and didn’t have a seat belt on. I went straight through the windshield and landed about 10 feet in front of the car. I still have back issues from it. Dude, a branch from the tree came through the window and stuck through your throat…”
He wasn’t wrong. I guess… It was just hard for me to remember on stormy nights like that.
I wanted to leave the small house I’d been in. But that storm outside… how long had it been going on? When was the last time I was actually outside the walls of this place I once felt closest to the person whom I loved most?
I pulled the plug from the phone and decided maybe I’d sleep awhile longer.