Arkansas. September 13th, 2020. 4:30PM. Cloudy. Rainy. 65˚ F. I’m wearing a wool sweater. Jeans. And black-and-white Converse. The phone’s in my pocket. The forest is directly in front of me. Some bird song—like dying sirens.
Pull the phone out of my pocket. Stumble into the woods. The woods eat me—black, tall trees. Orange and red swirls of bark shooting out into explosions of still green flame. They’re watching me. I click the on/off button on the phone. The girl’s face stares up at me from the lock screen pic. I feel like I know her somehow. She’s blond. Tall. Sorta’ cute, you know? Pretty normal. Probably had lots of dreams. A few guys who liked her. An overbearing father. I wonder if I’ll ever find out who she was?
There’s a dove purring somewhere in one of these trees: sad and low, like a baby giggling, except it gives you the opposite feeling.
This whole business makes me nervous. I need to click the home button—but it’ll just ask me for the password, which I don’t have.
I don’t know. Not even sure why I’m out here at all. I just don’t remember—like it was all washed away by the rain. It was a day just like today, cloudy and rainy, except I was at a park near some railway tracks. And a dying merry-go-round. Then, in the grass, just lying there was this phone. Abandoned. I picked it up cause you know. . .I guess I figured whoever left it was in trouble.
My thumbs are shaking now—finally I click the home button, and it sends me straight into a Messages conversation with some Anne Switchblade. No need for the password. I sigh—half relief, half bemusement. That was easy.
I keep walking, away from the light, into the tall orange line of trees, always turning left at every cross in the road.
I flick through the convo with Anne. There are literally 16 texts from this girl, all nice and neat in a long row of green message blobs (just like the bad drawings kids make of trees.) No response from the blond chic, or whoever owned the phone.
A black bird flies right over my head, screaming like a dying woman. It gives me the chills. I keep walking. I am going somewhere. I just don’t where. Yet. I’m tracing my way back. To some place. Some time. Some temperature and weather. Something probably not at all as concrete as now, but something more important.
Lots of random texts about random teen girl stuff.
“Trevor asked me out!!!! Can you believe it?!?!?! SO excited. LOL.”
I roll my eyes though, to be honest, I’d have a mind to ask the blond girl out myself if I had a chance. I had the strangest thought a minute ago. What if she’s out there looking for me too?
The forest’s getting darker with each step, further and further away from the outside.
Wait a minute. . .I scroll back to the first text from Anne. Something’s wrong. I look around me in the darkness and keep trudging through the brown path. My eyes are on the phone. There’s something definitely sketchy here. The first text’s from. January. February. March. April. May. June. July. August.
September. September 13th 2006. Wait a minute. Today’s the 13th, and… I look over my shoulder at the dark trees again. . .What if they’re following me? Trees can’t follow you. They’re not alive. Well, not like that. . .2006 is. Let’s see. So, it’s 2020. So, 20 minus 6 equals. . .6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. That’s 14. 14 years ago. Can’t believe I still count on my fingers.
Fourteen years ago on this exact day. This phone has been lost for ages? Freaky.
My hands fling into action—put the phone to my mouth with the home button down—and, like that, I’m talking into Siri.
“What year did the first iPhone come out?” Eew. My voice sounds so low. Cool!
“Looking,” Siri says. It’s like her voice is echoing throughout the entire forest, making it feel emptier and darker and us feel smaller and more helpless. Her voice is so calm though—I wish I was that calm. “Here’s what I found on the web for, ‘What year did the first iPhone come out?’”
I scroll through the results. 2007. 2007. 2007. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. Yep. They’re all unanimous. . .2007. A year after those texts were sent. And another thing. Siri wasn’t on the first phones. This is definitely sketchy.
If I was on my own phone, I’d shake my virtual finger. Blond chic, I will find you.
The trees are so black—as if the lights completely gone out. Like an idiot, I close the phone and put it in my pocket and just keep walking.
There’s no one to call. I could go through her VIPs. But if the last open text is from 2006, I doubt they’d be relevant or trustworthy. Someone’s been messing with this phone. And plus, I can always call 9-1-1, even if the phone is locked—it’s called an emergency call and the newer phones (with Siri) let you make them.
Keep walking. The birds keep singing and croaking. Maybe some frogs too. The trees are darker every minute, if that’s even possible. Keep walking.
I know I’m being brash; and if there was anything other than my own intuition to rely on, then I’d do it, but there isn’t.
A crow caws. I hear my own feet—crunching on last year’s dead leaves. I’m making too much noise.
Where did I find this phone? In grass. Next to a dying merry-go-round.
Why did I think the owner was in danger? I didn’t think the owner was in danger. I knew she was. I know she is. Somehow, I just know, and that’s why I’m in this forest going who knows where. I just can’t remember.
I check the phone. It’s been 2 minutes since I locked it. Step after step I take.
Just open the phone.
No. I have to see if it lets me in again without a password.
I breathe slowly. Just got to wait five minutes. That’s usually as long as anyone will leave their phone before the automatic lock sets in.
Wait a minute. I squeeze my eyes and try to concentrate, pushing my fingers over the eyelids—the skin feels rougher than usual. So wait. If the lock was set for five minutes after use, that means the blond chic would have had to be using the phone five minutes before the first time I opened it. . .
Which was just now. That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve had the phone since. Since. I shake my head. Of course. I can’t remember. Just like I can’t remember where I found the phone. Exactly. I can’t remember how I got to the outside of this wood. I don’t really even remember who I am . . . I guess. I mean, I’m a teenager. I’ve got a mom somewhere who’s totally sweet and awesome. I’ve got to find the blond chic. I shake my head again, and it’s like thought juices are bumping around in there. I really don’t remember. This is bad. Really bad.
Maybe when I get there everything will come back. Or. . .I mean when I get wherever I’m going. Lost kid in the woods with amnesia finds way back home through amazing intuition. Sounds like a headline I’ve never read.
Now. It’s been five minutes since I locked it. I guess I’ll just have to try. See if it lets me in.
I stop walking again. Breathe in the cool, fall air (it makes my throat feel scratchy.) Let the birdsong soothe me and the soft pit-pat of the rain wash over my skin. Just for a sec.
Then. Take the phone out. Smile at the blond girl, wishing I could look at her for longer. Click the home button. And it lets me in. It lets me in!
I start walking again. My pace is markedly faster. I’ll wait longer this time.
I wait. Ten minutes. I get in. I walk faster. I wait. Twenty minutes. I get in. I keep walking. Wait. Thirty minutes. In. Walk. Wait. Forty. In. Walk.
Come on! It lets me in every single time! Blond chic, no wonder you’re in danger if you don’t have secure settings on your phone! I lock the phone again. Try opening it with my left thumb. And it asks me for a password. . . Say what. . .Try my right thumb. It lets me in . . . Oh no . . . Oh no you don’t. . . I think I’m onto something. This could be really bad. Or good. Or both.
I need to look at her settings. I go to Settings: Touch ID and Passcode. But I need the password to see anyth. . .
What? I stare down at my hands, calloused and strange, then back at the screen. How did I know the password? What was the password?
I can’t remember a single number—except—my fingers somehow knew. My thumb.
My right thumb. That’s just it. My right thumb. That’s everything. Every time I click the phone with my right thumb it lets me in without a password. Even after forty minutes. And my right thumb, at least, somehow knows the password anyway.
I scroll to see her info. Her password can open the phone. I scroll lower for the touch ID. Both her thumbs can open the phone. Ok. And “Zack’s right thumb” can open the phone. Zack’s right thumb. Zack’s right thumb.
I’m terrified-ly overjoyed. I stop in my track—again. My fingers fly to the camera app. I have to know. Turn it to selfie. Am I Zack?
My face is dry and calloused and middle-aged. I’m not a teenager at all. I touch my face. I have a beard. A black beard. My hair is dark and black. I have glasses on. This isn’t me. I’m not me.
I lock the phone and click the on/off button again just to look in the blond girl’s face—she’s smiling, she has a white dress on. Deep, blue happy eyes. I don’t know why. My eyes kind of just water with the rain. A tear splashes right onto her face and I wonder.
Who are we at all?