PAGE NOT FOUND
She clicks the link and the page won’t load. This has been happening all weekend. It’s nothing important, it’s just something she wants to read. Or, rather, it is important, but not for what’s on the page. It’s important for the flow of her thoughts. She has been here with him for 39 hours—39 hours, twenty minutes, and…ah…forty seconds now—and it isn’t going too well. She’s known him for a couple of months. They went out maybe six times, and had sex twice, and the sex wasn’t so hot, but that was fine, they just weren’t used to each other yet. She intended to keep dating him. He was kind of funny, he knew how to relax, he liked to drink but not to excess, he liked a joint now and again, he didn’t mind watching a movie that wasn’t about aliens or superheroes. And he seemed to have money, that was the other thing. Not a big thing, but a thing. Not from his job, which was in tech something and probably made him a respectable salary, but from his family. Like, a trust fund. A big one.
She knew she was right about the trust fund when, at the end of the last date, he invited her to go away for the weekend. To this beach house. He just called it “our beach house.” Right. Family money. It was at the Jersey Shore, Long Beach Island, which she didn’t know anything about, but yeah, pretty swanky, this little corner of it anyway. The place is huge and right on the water. Three floors, four-car garage. An elevator. A pool. On the roof. They spent half of Friday driving here from the city and when they pulled up it was like his coming-out. I’m rich, you got anything to say about it? He looked at her, there in the car, waiting. It was a test. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Dude. Sweet,” and voila, she passed.
But something changed after that. They had sex that night in the king-sized bed in the master bedroom and he was…honestly, he was a bit of a dick. He had a little swagger now. When he was done, he pulled out, flopped over, put his hands behind his head and got a look on his face like, yeah, job well done, bro. Up until now he would ask her if it was good for her, which annoyed her because what the hell is she supposed to say? No? But this time he didn’t and it was somehow worse. Like he assumed it was good for her. When in fact it was the same. The money, that was the difference. He thought his dick was full of money and that that made it special.
They went to sleep and in the morning she decided she’d misjudged him so she sneaked out of bed and drove his car down to the market and got eggs and bread and fruit and what have you and came back and made him breakfast. She brought it to him on a tray, in the bedroom, naked. Figuring he’d like that. He was lying there awake and scowling at his laptop and he didn’t look up when she walked in and he said, “The fucking wi-fi’s fucked.”
“What a shame,” she said, and rattled the tray a little so he’d look.
“Yeah, it’s the router, it’s shit. I gotta go reset it. It does this.”
“I made breakfast.”
“I don’t usually eat—” he started to say and then looked up and laughed. Not in a nice way. “Whoa, what the fuck!”
“Sorry if my tit’s in your coffee.”
“Haha, whoa. Whoa. Yeah, come here,” he said, “wow,” and she set the tray down and they had sex again and it was a little better this time, but he was also smugger afterward, which ruined the effect. The whole time she was thinking, Dude, I made you this fucking omelet and it’s getting cold, and how about getting off me and eating it, or at least thank me for making it while you’re fucking me, for shit’s sake.
It was downhill from there. He had some kind of work problem. All Saturday he spent on his laptop, angrily typing, or on his phone, saying things like, “It’s the weekend, man, I’m with my girl here,” and then he would hang up and say, “I don’t know why I bother with this fucking job, I don’t need to work.” It was as if, once the money was out in the open, there was no need to pretend he was not in love with himself and his wealth. Also his mother kept calling on the landline asking him various things about the house, was he taking care of this, was he careful not to get that dirty. It was about her of course—Mother, as he called her, was worried about the girlfriend. The low-class girlfriend, slutting up the place.
The fact is, she has her own job. She got Friday off from it to come here with him. She has articles to write, interviews to set up, that kind of thing. And you don’t hear her bitching about it. She’s just sitting here with her own laptop, doing the work. There was no sex last night, she said she was tired, which was not a lie. And now it’s Sunday morning and he sort of expected breakfast again, so she made it, and instead of eating it he yelled at some guy on the phone.
Half an hour ago he said, “Fuck, this router,” and he stormed across the room and poked at the back of the thing where it sits on a bureau. He’s got himself set up in the sunken living room in front of the giant ocean-facing window—facing away from it!—and she is sitting at the kitchen island looking out at the ocean and trying to work. And now, when she clicks a link, it won’t load, and she says “router” and he says “fuck” and gets up and pokes it again. She wants to leave, but he can’t. “Lemme put out this fire,” he keeps saying, meaning his work drama. He’s angry at her. She’s never going to fuck him again. To his credit, he seems to know that. She wishes there were a bus home but rich people don’t ride the bus so she’s out of luck.
The weather outside is weird, that’s the other thing. It’s October, nobody’s around, and the sky is dark. It’s going to rain like hell soon, when this thing that’s out on the ocean hits. Indeed, this is the link she was going to click—a story about the weather, the big storm. Ships lost in some kind of fog. A big maritime hullabaloo. But the point is the internet, she needs the internet to keep her thoughts away from him, to keep them focused on the world outside this stupid house. She closes her eyes, waits two minutes while the router resets, then clicks the link again. The page sort of half loads. She gets a headline, MYSTERY STORM BAFFLES METEOROLOGISTS, and couple of ads, and then it freezes again.
“What the fucking fuck!” he shouts, and slams his laptop shut. She couldn’t treat her computer that way. It cost her three weeks’ salary.
While he’s futzing with the router yet again, she looks out the window. The clouds are black and low. The sea is calm. The grasses in the dunes are still. It’s strange. There’s a radio on the counter an arm’s length away and she switches it on, rolls back on forth along the dial. It isn’t getting any stations.
“The radio’s dead.”
“This shit my father’s assistant buys,” he says. “It’s shit.”
Yes, she thinks, what a meaningful elaboration. The shit, it’s shitty! She says, “That storm is very freaky-looking. Maybe we should beat it out of here?”
“I told you. I can’t yet.” He stands up from the router, cracks his back. He’s what, thirty? He looks like an old man.
“I know you hate me. I know you want to get away from here.”
She says, “I don’t deserve that.”
He hangs his head and mumbles something she can’t hear. She says, “What?” and when he looks up she is surprised to see tears in his eyes.
“It’s always like this,” he says. “Every fucking time. I tell a girl I’m from money and it all falls apart. You’re all so fucking shallow.”
She can’t believe her ears. She says, “That’s not why, Daniel. Jesus Christ.”
“Of course that’s why.”
“Don’t be a fucking crybaby. It’s you. You’re the one who changes. As soon as the money’s out in the open, you act like a dick. How many girls have you brought out here?”
“I’m not a dick,” he says.
“I didn’t say you were a dick.” Though she does happen to believe this, now. “I’m saying you’re acting like one. I don’t care about your money.”
“Yeah, Daniel. Right.”
She’s so pissed she can’t look at his face. She refreshes the browser. Now the page just says page not found. She tries to load some bookmarks and they all say some version of the same thing. And then finally the computer tells her there’s no internet connection at all.
He has just sat down and is staring in wounded fury at his screen. “The fuck!”
“I don’t think it’s the router now.”
“What did you do?” He’s looking at her.
“What did I do? I didn’t do anything.”
“It’s never done this before. Did you mess with the IP settings?”
“Jesus. No. I don’t know what that is.” She shuts, gently, the lid of her laptop.
He has stood up and is now stomping back to the router, which he pokes and prods at like some kind of IT ape. He’s sweating, there’s sweat on his neck and forehead, but it really just looks like his whole head is crying. She thinks, why in the hell do I keep dating douchebags? What is my problem? Outside, the clouds appear darker, lower, nearer. The horizon is lost in them. Even the beach is going dark. The underside of the cloud bank is vaguely defined, but tendrils of black are snaking down from it, like wisps from a cigarette, upside down and in negative. It occurs to her for the first time that she has never seen anything like this before, not remotely.
“Did you look out there? It’s like…it’s really weird.”
“Just shut up, please, and let me work on this.”
She stands up, goes to the window. The grasses are still still. If anything, they’re stiller. She can’t even see the water now. Almost all the light is coming from inside—the sun is invisible. The cloud is close. It’s everywhere. It moves over the spit of land to the north, where the lighthouse is, and like that the lighthouse is gone.
“This shit is fucked,” he says, behind her.
She doesn’t respond. A few seconds later, she hears his voice again, this time hushed: “What in the hell.”
“I told you.”
“That’s…” he says, but doesn’t finish. They watch. It comes closer. The tendrils are clearer now, black smoke etched against the sand, gently probing it, seeming to…dig in it. As though looking for something. For food. They are like animals, parts of an animal digging. When the cloud reaches the dune grasses the tendrils increase in number, they drop down like ropes, and they wrap themselves around the shoots of grass and pull. They’re pulling the grass out—she could swear she sees them do this. Then the cloud is upon them and the whole window blacks out.
Now the sound starts. Gentle, strange. Like something, many somethings, being dragged across the walls and roof. She is reminded of being in a car wash—the whole house in a big gentle car wash. Yesterday she wanted to open some windows, but he’s the kind of man who likes the climate carefully controlled, and he told her no. It pissed her off at the time but now she’s glad. She’s really glad. She says, “Does this ever…” But she knows the answer.
“No,” he says. “Never.”
Mixed in with the slithering, the whispering, is a kind of…beeping almost, chirping, in a high register, over half an octave, something between a bird—many birds—and an electronic synthesizer set to random. It’s quiet and distant. There is also splashing—spluttering, slurping—coming from directly above.
“It’s in the pool.”
“It’s in the pool. Jesus.”
Something in the way he says this annoys her, as if the violation of the family rooftop swimming pool is the most offensive part of this strange experience. Maybe it is, for him. Until now, she hasn’t been afraid. Now she is.
“Look,” he says, “we need to get out of here.”
Right. As though she wasn’t just making this argument like ten minutes ago. But now, she has changed her mind. “I don’t know, Daniel,” she says.
“No, really. We really—oh, duh.” He crosses the room and picks up the landline. She can hear the busy signal, urgent as an ambulance, from where she’s standing. He looks at his cell. The hand that holds it is shaking. “No bars.”
“Let’s just sit tight,” she says.
“I don’t think so.”
“No, really,” he says, “I really think we need to get out of here. We can race it west. Probably it can’t get far inland. We can get to the causeway even with this low visibility. Then we gun it west.”
“I think it’s more like no visibility.” She literally cannot see the deck railing, just six feet from the window. It is the blackest fog she has ever seen. It is not fog. It’s just not.
She hears the jingle of keys and looks up in alarm. He’s holding them, the car keys. He’s wearing a windbreaker. “Look, I’ll be right back, okay?”
“I’m just going to check it out. The car’s in the garage. I’ll get in the car, close the door, then open the garage. I’m just going to see how far it goes and I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Don’t be insane.”
He affects anger but it’s clear this emotion comes from someplace else. It is part fear, of course. Shame. Why shame? That he is pampered, impractical? That he feels helpless in front of a woman? In any event, he should not go out there. It’s too bizarre. They should sit it out. It’s not a normal thing, it’s a new thing. You can’t have the old reactions to the new thing, they won’t work anymore. Who said that to her? Some shrink, a couple of years ago, after the last douchebag who made her feel like shit.
“I’m not insane, Anna. I’m just going to scout it out.”
He turns, scowling and sweating, and heads for the door to the garage. She follows him, silently. They stand before the door together. His hand is on the knob. She is determined to say nothing. She is never going to say another thing to him, ever. You don’t have to respond to irrationality, the shrink told her. Why did she cut that guy loose? He was solid.
Daniel, this weekend’s douche, gazes at her, sets his jaw, turns the knob. The car is sitting there, in the dim garage light—that’s it. No fog. He looks up at her in quiet triumph and nods. Then he enters the garage and shuts the door behind him. A moment later she hears the garage door motor start up, and the big door scraping open on its track. The car starts up and the sound fades as he backs it out. Then she hears the garage door closing again.
The engine noise disappears almost immediately. She doesn’t know what this means. It is replaced by an increase in the volume and frequency of the chirping, and fear grips her entire body and she has to clench her bladder, hard, to keep from pissing herself.
She reaches out and locks the door to the garage.
Two hours later, after she has checked every door and window lock in the house for the tenth time, after she has read the same message on her laptop screen (Page not found. If you feel you have reached this page in error, please contact a site operator) again and again, she decides, for real, that he is not coming back, he is never coming back, and from here on in she is on her own. She still has five eggs left, and some milk, and some mushrooms and broccoli. She has coffee. The water is still running and the power is on. She’s going to wait this thing out. The only problem is the music. That is, the chirping sounds different now, it sounds like music. It hasn’t changed, not really—it just sounds different. To her. She has changed her attitude towards it. It is music now, and it is beautiful. It’s telling her to go to sleep. Which is why she is making coffee. She’s making coffee because she likes the sound so much. She’s making coffee because she doesn’t feel quite herself, and she would like to go outside, just to see what it’s like. Just to hear the music a little more clearly. How could it hurt? It’s like birds, beautiful birds. She wonders what they look like. She is almost convinced, almost, that if she goes out there, she will be allowed to see.