The email took me aback.
Looking at my emails was not the best part of my day. Otherwise, I’d have been a big loser. Nevertheless, it was peculiar.
It came amid cold emails from Nigerian princes and corporations spamming me after I gave them my email for a discount. The sender was akin to Lord Voldemort, having no name. My finger hovered over the delete button just in case looking at it would send a virus racing through my part in cyberspace.
But I was too curious.
Don’t eat the fish.
“Unknown” had sent to my personal email, email@example.com, a simple five-letter sentence. It made little sense in the slightest. I didn’t even like fish at all. It left a weird, sluggish taste in my mouth.
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion, reading it repeatedly, sitting at my desk while Carmen interrupted a slew of confused thoughts with loud snoring. She was out cold again, curled up into a ball on her dark bed sheets.
Carmen was the only nocturnal human I knew. She took all night classes and hustled through the wee hours between 12am-12pm and then crashed for a day. She was probably a vampire, one who snored loudly.
It was a funny-sounding email. Nothing malicious or trying to take my information. But it was just funny. Out of all the things a potential scammer could send, it was telling me not to eat fish.
The next day, my best (really, only) friend in university, Oliver, dragged me to a rare live taping of the popular French chef, Pierre Renat, who guest lectured a culinary class. Despite wanting to tackle the monstrosity that was Moby Dick, Oliver, our resident foodie, just had to be first in line to maybe get on TV. Pierre made a special salmon filet that only twenty people got to taste test for the new show.
Oliver gobbled it up with glee alongside the others who got to see Pierre cook his live culinary mastery. A rarity. I remembered the email that had appeared in my inbox. Unsuspecting, yet curious. Opened, yet never lingered on.
I didn’t eat the fish. Only because I wouldn’t have eaten it, anyway.
The next day, the bathrooms became as clogged as the bowels of the people who had eaten the fish. They recalled most of the product for bacteria, and I guess Pierre never thought to check. It was like an epidemic had swept the place.
I thought back to the email.
It couldn’t be.
It was a scammer. Some spam mail had made its way into my inbox. But I listened. I didn’t eat the fish that made a chunk of campus sick. I wouldn’t even have eaten it, anyway. Pierre Renat was overrated, but if Ollie heard me say that, he would fight me.
The next time I checked my inbox for a grade on my recent assignment, I clicked over to my personal email where I spotted an email from Effie, who was too fancy to send me text messages. How else would she focus on her mighty place at Big Shot Law School™?
But there was also another email. My cursor ran to the delete button, but then it stopped, then it hovered, and then it clicked.
Something weird ran through me. It was almost a shiver, but it didn’t go all the way through. It was drops of some incomprehensible emotion that trickled down my spine and my consciousness.
I didn’t feel alone anymore, but Carmen was gone for the day, out somewhere with her boyfriend. So far that has disrupted my nocturnal theories.
I looked around the small four corners of my room, past the door, our two beds, our desks, and the window that poked dusty light into our room through the barely open blackout curtains. Below the Calgary streets were the same sounds of traffic.
Go to the library today.
I promptly deleted it, but the thought stayed in my mind. Why was I even listening to this person? I wouldn’t have eaten the fish, anyway. I didn’t even like it! What if some psycho killer was waiting for me and this was all some sick joke?
It was a crowded library, though. If I was a killer, I probably wouldn’t do it in a library where people could easily call the cops.
What was I thinking? It might not be a murderer, but someone might pickpocket me on the way. No way. I had no money anyway. Someone could kidnap me. But again, it was a crowded area.
I grabbed my tote bag, leaned on my desk table leg and made a beeline exit for the library. It was a ways away from my dorm, but I got there, slightly out of breath from not doing anything physically challenging for the last couple of months.
I entered the calm library, only serene for a minute, with the air-chilled rush brushing against me. The sound of quiet voices muffled against my ears, as well as the tentative flipping of pages, and tears of students probably studying for an exam tomorrow.
I stopped in my tracks once I realized I didn’t know what I was looking for, yet. The anonymous emailer had told me to come to the library. Whether that be to check out a certain book or get murdered would make all the difference.
It hit me all again. Who was I even doing this for? Was it to prove a dumb point? Perhaps, this was one of those social experiments to see how people would respond. Maybe some guy with a hidden camera would come out and tell me they had pranked me.
I promptly turned back to the exit, determined to go back to my dorm room and do nothing, all in silent rebellion at something so small that I had given more meaning to than needed.
Then I stopped. The feeling had come back again. It was like déjà vu, but instead of recognizing something that already happened, the feeling that was inside of me was like recognizing something would happen. It was a twisted, chilling version of foresight. Maybe it was just anxiety.
I hesitantly turned back into the library, looking for nothing, and weaved through all the shelves full of books on multitudes of topics students would come to browse whenever they needed to. I wandered into the biology section, the chemistry section, and philosophy, glancing at pages of the theory of ideologies, the English section, and the cosmology and physics section.
“Coming through!” a winded voice yelled.
A student librarian pushed a cart with books in it extremely close to me, seemingly in a panic. I quickly leaned against the wall, which proved not to be sturdy as it was full of books, some of which fell.
I ducked down to place them back on the shelves, noting their reference number and author name in the quick pocket of time. Relativity: The Space and General Theory by Albert Einstein and Nigel Calder went right back beside Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian, its rightful place.
Then I waited. I immersed myself in the slightly active study zone of the library, pushing my headphones over my fluffy curls, skimming over scribbled-up notes I took in my English class and reading the pages of Moby Dick, which almost bored me to tears. I read, but I didn’t absorb the words.
Reading was my favourite thing, but university English proved to be a challenge. I wondered if I would graduate before my brain finally melted away. All I had was two brain cells rubbing against each other hoping to create friction.
I guess the only reason Mom and Dad would let me major in this was to become like Effie and go to law school, which was my purpose in life all because it was hers. Wanting to write books for a living wasn’t the plan. It was the one thing I was interested in that I could do without interfering with Effie’s insane schedule. It came after many unsuccessful attempts at establishing myself in any activity I could find. But it never worked.
You can’t do basketball because it interferes with Effies’s debate club meetings.
Theatre isn’t serious because Effie didn’t like it in third grade!
Effie never did art classes, so why should you get to do it?
I sighed and brushed it all away. I thought Calgary would be a fresh start, away from the hustle and bustle of Brampton and the family it contained. But right now, I didn’t have to think of them. All I needed to find was the meaning of the email.
The library closed in a couple of hours. Maybe there was something I was to wait for. I had no classes in the afternoon. I was a complete psychopath and did morning classes.
So I waited.
And then I waited.
Skimmed two pages of my book, looking at the words but not absorbing them.
Time moved like an anxious, little bird. Fast, but not fast enough. Yet four hours had passed, the lights had dimmed, and students were already packing their bags.
The passage of time annoyed me as much as it confused me. I threw my things into my bag and walked out. A girl cut in front of me, probably coming from somewhere else in the library. She had bright and vibrant purple hair, a face full of jewelry, and big headphones blasting drill music into her ears. She walked fast and forward with nothing but a purpose. I wondered what she was up to.
She wasn’t up to looking because her backpack was half-zipped, and a pencil case fell out.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, reaching down for it. “You dropped this!”
She didn’t seem to hear me thanks to the music blasting in her ears. She moved forward even faster like she was trying to escape from me.
“Hello!” I screamed adjacently, running after her.
By the time I got outside of the library, Purple-Hair was gone, vanished into the throng of students on their way somewhere. Maybe her pencil case was lost forever.
I stuffed it into my bag and headed back for my dorm room with a day full of nothing but confusion. Carmen was still asleep before her nightly hustle. I put my noise-cancelling headphones back on and made a nosedive for my email.
The same message told me to go to the library. Nothing different, nothing new. I didn’t even do anything in the library except study. I could’ve easily done that in my dorm room.
I opened my tote bag to bring out the thick copy of Moby Dick and my pencil case. Only when I reached around the canvas bag, I didn’t find my usual pencil case. I peered inside to see everything else I owned, except for my pencil case.
What the heck? I pulled out my laptop, my notebooks, my diary, and everything in between.
No pencil case.
I sighed in frustration. I must have left it in the library or something or misplaced it. How was I supposed to annotate this behemoth of a book?
I peered at the pencil case I set on my desk, watching it like it might grow legs and get up or something. How would I even know who this girl was? It’s not like I could just return it to her easily unless my eyes stayed peeled for purple hair.
So I reached over for it. Surely there was nothing bad that would come out of using someone else’s stationery.
I unzipped it and instead of various pens and pencils, all that was there was a folded-up sticky note, a necklace made to look like it was telling time, and an expensive-looking pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. I tried my hardest not to look at notes just in case I had confidential secrets or some grocery list. But I saw it anyway.
You are like a paper clip, my safe place, holding everything I have together. I don’t need to look at the stars when you are here with me. Tell me you love me, and I will let you in. Wear the gifts I have gotten for you. -T
I have heard honey, sugar, babe, and even sweet potato. Never in my life have I heard anyone use ‘paper clip’ affectionately. Whoever this writer was, T, had similes up their sleeve. I then realized that ‘T’ didn’t mean for me in the first place and quickly tossed it back into the pencil case.
The necklace and the sunglasses looked expensive, and I definitely couldn’t afford to misplace them. It was an unconventional place to keep things. Perhaps I would post this on the school Reddit page so Purple-Hair could retrieve her belongings.
I set the pencil case and refocused on my screen when I saw another email in view, and I almost jumped. I couldn’t tell if it was nervousness or excitement. They were all the same emotions, anyway. I swallowed hard. There was nothing to be scared about. Right
The end is near. Do not look up.
Continue to Part 2 on May 19th, 2023
About the Author
Esosa Zuwa is an aspiring author hailing from Canada who writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Grain of Salt Magazine and The Violet Hour Magazine. She is currently a contributor to the fanworks blog Fanficable and an editor for Sea Glass Literary. When not writing, you can find her gushing over fictional men written by women, fangirling over 20+ k-pop groups, having world tours in her living room, and attempting to navigate the turbulent but fascinating waters of teenage life. Like Issa Rae, she is rooting for everybody Black. You can visit her website: https://esosazuwa.carrd.co/# Twitter/TikTok: @esoszuwawrites