The evening air was cold and thin, with stars stretching from horizon to horizon. Charles sat alone in the middle of a field, the silence so sharp he could hear the beating of his heart and little else.
On his lap was a cheap walkie talkie. It reminded him of one he used to play with. He and the kid next door, what was his name, Peter, used to conduct secret missions, whispering frantically into their walkie talkies as they patrolled the neighborhood, sneaking into backyards, hiding in garden sheds, and taking pictures of “evidence” with their polaroid cameras.
Then, one day, Paul moved away. Charles forgot him. A number of other things happened, but Charles couldn’t remember them, either. The cold made it hard to recall. The stars insisted there’d never been anything, anyone else in all the world.
But the existence of one walkie talkie indicated the possibility of another.
Charles found the transmission button easily, lifting the device to his ear.
“This is Charles, calling… well, anyone, I guess. Do you copy?”
His words were met with silence. The same cursed, ever present silence.
“Come in, Paul.”
Charles felt his heart quicken as the old, familiar voice reached out across the large and empty universe. By God, it was Paul, his friend. Warmth spread through his fingers and toes.
“Paul, my man! It’s so good to hear your voice. I can hardly believe it. How are you doing? What are you doing these days?”
“Do you have eyes on Mrs. Hubbert? Over.”
“Do you have eyes on Mrs. Hubbert, Charles? We need to get those pics—prove she’s up to no good. Over.”
“Wait, are you talking about that little old lady who used to live on the corner? She’s got to be long dead by now.”
“Do you copy, Charles? This mission is of vital importance.”
The warmth retreated.
“What’s your 20, Paul?”