[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
Tam stared down at the phone, his hands trembling. Immediately, the worst case scenario flooded in: that something had happened to his brother when he was taken by the witch, that it really was from Ash but that Ash didn’t recognize him any more.
But as soon as he thought that, he dismissed it as unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely. Maybe Ash had dropped his phone and a stranger had found it. Maybe it was the witch herself, digging for information.
He had to play it cool. He knew that, and even so, it took an intense act of will to reply casually.
He typed carefully: Wait, isn’t my number in your phone? It seemed like the best option to get some kind of information from whoever this was.
Waiting for the reply, he took a few moment to steady himself, drawing a few deep breaths with his eyes closed, then letting them back out. There was nothing to do but take things step by step. And he needed all the information he could get.
Tam forced himself to move. He rose from the bed with his phone in one hand, leaving his room and heading down the hall to Ash’s. For a moment, he thought he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to turn the knob—but he did, stepping inside just as his phone buzzed again.
It was a relief to look at that and not the empty room. The reply on the screen read: Yes, of course it is. But who are you?
That made things clearer and less clear all at once. He answered right away: Did you find this phone or something? I’m not sure how I could be in your phone and you not know who I am…
It took him a moment to force himself to look up from his phone to examine the room. He tried to stay critical as he did so, not letting himself think or feel anything, but even so, the ache in his chest was starting again, like there wasn’t enough room in his rib-cage.
There was no sign of a struggle, and the bed didn’t look slept-in. The desk chair was pulled out, and Ash’s laptop was missing—the charger was still there, though, which seemed odd. Did he not have enough time to take it with him, or was he too drunk after the party to realize that he’d need it if he was leaving?
Or had he thought he was only going for a short time, and didn’t realize he wasn’t coming back?
What was on the desk was a birthday card. Tam’s heart stuttered in his chest, and he approached it slowly. His hand felt like it belonged to someone else as he reached for it, running his fingertips over the ridges on the cover. It was an overly cartoonish “You’re 1 years old now!” baby boy card. Ash had scribbled a 2 in front of the one in sharpie, his usual sort of humor.
His phone buzzed again. Trying to swallow the lump, he lifted it again, peering at the screen through the haze forming in his vision.
It’s not my phone, no. Do you need it back? I can take it to a drop-off location if you want.
It sounded like the phone had just been discarded, but Tam wasn’t ready to give up hope yet. He wanted to believe that whoever had it was testing him, or at least that they were still close to wherever Ash might be. He might be able to get into Ash’s account, maybe use Google’s Find My Device feature to at least narrow the area down. And if it had been lost, that itself might provide information. Where did you find it?
He sent the message, then grabbed the card before he could have second thoughts, opening it up.
It didn’t seem to be any sort of clue. Two tickets were folded into the card, both to Lithway’s One Shadow Play: Diary of a Madman. Tam loved the couple of Lithway plays that he’d seen—the shapeshifting shadow-creature was able to mimic multiple parts with ease, though all the characters had that same soft, yearning voice. In the card itself, there was a note, or most of one: Happy birthday, “little” bro! I thought we could see this together. These tickets were the first ones sold for the show this year and come with the chance to meet Lithway themself backstage after the per-
And that was it. Ash’s sort of sloppy handwriting had stopped there, as if he’d been interrupted and hadn’t picked his pen back up.
Tam couldn’t hold it in any more. He folded the card around the tickets and held it in one hand as he sank into Ash’s chair, sobbing. He hated how it felt, the tension in his cheekbones and forehead, the pressure in his nose, the scarring temperature of the tears leaking down his face. But he couldn’t help it, either. All he could do was let this out and then… keep trying. He’d go down to the library once he’d got himself back together. He could talk to Sahil, and maybe try to learn more about the Valley in person.
His phone buzzed again, and he looked at it through a blur of tears:
I didn’t say I found it. Once again, who is this?
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, or deeds!]
[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]