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There’s a Voice in the Distance

By Lisa Elis

His brother used to make voice memos every night, and now, three months after Justin’s fatal accident, Colbert still couldn’t sleep without them.

The time glared at him from the lockscreen of Justin’s old phone. He scrolled through a year’s worth of recordings until he found the one he’d left on last night. Hitting play, he brought the volume down to a minimum, and set the phone on his dresser.

Justin’s cat watched him, wide eyed, from the foot of the bed as he curled under his blankets.

“Good night, Maggie,” Colbert murmured to her as he shut his eyes.

The memo played on.

For years, Colbert had fallen asleep to the rich voice of his brother, recording an audio journal in the bedroom next door. Colbert had never listened closely to what was being said. It hadn’t been his business. Just like now, he didn’t want to know what Justin was talking about in his memos. Didn’t need to know. Someday, when everything was better, he could listen again. But right now, he was happy to hear the familiar voice, to feel like things were normal. Even if they weren’t.

He drifted off to sleep, caught in the arms of tangled dreams, where he rescued stray cats, rode motorcycles, evaded thunderstorms. And through it all was his brother’s voice in the distance, calling.

Hours later, Colbert woke with a start as the cat tried to nestle in the crook of his neck. Rain drummed on the eaves. The voice memo still played.

Had he forgotten to set the sleep timer? He shuffled to the dresser but paused at his brother’s words. “…This job is really not as heroic as it seems. It’s dangerous and difficult.” Traffic rumbled in the background of the recording. “I need to tell Colbert more about it. I haven’t told him enough.”

What? How could Justin say he hadn’t told Colbert enough? Even if Justin never divulged the details of his current investigations, he used to ramble about his job so much that Colbert wanted him to shut up about it.

His brother’s deep and cheerful laugh brought Colbert’s attention back to the memo. “Where did I put that shopping list Colby gave me? Shoot. I can never keep track of things others give me. Always losing them… No wonder he didn’t get me a present for my last birthday. I wonder where all the other presents I received over the years have gone? Oh well, hope he isn’t sad when I don’t return with… the… things…”

Colbert’s finger punched the stop button.

Shopping list? Colbert never gave Justin shopping lists. Justin always kept one on his phone.

Losing presents? That wasn’t true either. If anyone was sentimental about gifts, it was Justin. And Colbert had bought him something for his last birthday—a book about a character who returned years after his presumed death…

Colbert returned to his bed but couldn’t find sleep. This was all… wrong. The recording was his brother’s, he knew that. The voice was unmistakable—deep and strong in a way that had made everyone say Justin should have been a singer or an actor or a news anchor. Colbert had laughed at that, but how could he have known how much he would miss the sound once it was gone? Snuffed out when Justin’s sabotaged car went over a cliff.

Didn’t the police listen to this recording? But they wouldn’t realize there was something off. They didn’t know these details about Justin’s personal life. And the phone… it was the only thing that survived the crash. Everything else—including the body—incinerated in the explosion.

That was… strange… too. Even the police said that.

Emotion squeezed Colbert’s chest. Was it hope? Maybe he was just exhausted.

“Maggie, what do you think?”

The cat climbed onto his chest.

“Shopping list…” Colbert murmured to himself. “Always losing the presents… where are the presents… hope he isn’t sad when I don’t return with… the things…”

When he didn’t return with what things? Colbert couldn’t remember an instance when Justin had forgotten to bring back something so important that he would be sad.

But the day of the accident, Justin had gone to the post office to retrieve something for Colbert. He remembered because guilt had eaten away at his heart for the past three months. But this memo… it couldn’t be referring to that. Could it?

Where are the presents…?

Colbert dumped the cat and bolted to the storage room. Throwing open the door, he flicked on lights, climbing over a mountain of boxes. Finally, he found the chest where Justin stored his old presents.

Colbert paused for a second, doubting himself, but he brought the box back to his bed and began to unpack it, laying every gift aside. At the bottom was a sheet of paper that looked too white, too clean, too crisp to have been in the box for very long.

He lifted it with trembling hands.

Hazelnuts from Mama Rena’s

Brake pads from Maverick’s Motorcycle Repairs

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that I lent to Ethan

Colbert squinted. These people were all good friends of Justin’s. What was this? A list of clues?

“Maggie, what do you say we go solve a mystery?” Colbert looked at the cat.

Maggie meowed.

“I’m coming, Justin. Hold on.”

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Lisa Elis is a creative who lives in Canada and loves stories, art, and things that grow her wanderlust. Though often hermitting at home, you can also find her scrambling to post regularly on her blog.

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