“Pull Up A Pencil”

It was late. Very late. But there was homework to do before tomorrow. It was the big contradiction of my freshman year of college. I always finished my homework, but I never started it before midnight. Either doing it earlier or not doing it all would have been better for my health, but I had too much fun socializing to seriously consider the former, and the latter was ruled out by my sense of responsibility for school, such as it was. So I was often up until four in the morning, trying to get things done before my 8 AM class.

Tonight was no different. My roommate was already asleep in our room, and there were people still watching TV in the lounge. As a result, I retreated to the only relatively quiet place I could find, the lobby.

It was getting hard to focus on the words, so I decided to take a break. I stood and walked around the lobby trying to wake myself up a bit. Near the door to the building sat the nightguard. They were on duty all night to make sure only residents or their guests entered the dorm. Her head was down, pencil in hand, working on something.

Without thinking about how creepy it might seem, I walked over to see what she was doing. She had a book of logic puzzles open, and she was working on one. When she noticed me, she slid the book over some so that the right hand page wasn’t in front of her. “Pull up a pencil,” she said as she held one up.

I had loved logic puzzles for years, so I took the number 2 and kneeled down in front of the book. She continued working on her puzzle as I made my way through the one she had offered me. When I finished, I thanked her and walked back to my actual homework.

And that is how I met one of my very best friends.


He grabbed a can of pasta and sat down. Taking a bite while turning on the power, he quickly backed away from the microphone to avoid the initial feedback. Next he checked the meter; there was enough power for about twenty minutes of broadcasting. The transmitter warmed up, he leaned forward in his chair.

“Good morning, listeners. Can’t talk long today. It’s been a bit rainy here on top of the mountain. Solar panels trying to grab what they can. But we’ve got a few minutes, at least.

“Today is,” he paused to check his notes, “looks like it’s April 4th. 2 years and 136 days into this new world. Of course, standard caveats apply. I may have screwed up at some point, so feel free to add or subtract a day or two. But it’s definitely spring. The rain leaves little doubt about that.”

He stood up to look out the single window set high up the wall and then came back to the microphone.

“Just checked. It’s still raining. I’d complain about someone setting up a transmitter running on solar panels in the Northwest, but at least they still provide some juice out here. Don’t think I’d be talking to you without them.

“Of course, I guess I can’t be sure I’m talking to anyone.” He looked morosely at the phone. “I’ve got a phone, but I don’t know the number. And the line has been dead since almost the beginning. And I have no receiver, so I don’t know if anyone else is transmitting.

“I suppose this is as good a time as any to welcome new listeners. I’m James Demi, and I broadcast every day on this channel. Always an hour after the previous day, to try to catch people who may be trying to find a signal at different times. I’m not asking for anything from anyone. Just trying to let anyone else know that they aren’t completely alone in the world.

“I do have to say, though, I’m getting tired of hearing my own voice out loud. I used to rant about the people that created the mess we live in now, but I lost steam on that. My days are pretty boring, so I’m kind of running out of things to talk about.

“Those are words my family would never have expected to hear from me. I was always the talkative one. People couldn’t shut me up. They thought I could talk forever. Turns out, forever is only about two and a half years.

“Still, I can talk. And it use to get me in trouble. In fact, there was this one time. My dad was dating this woman. She was very nice, had a daughter a few years older than I was. They were over at our house just before Christmas, and I mentioned to the two of them that I wanted to get an album. I can’t remember, now, what album it was. Anyway, the mom whispered in my ear that her daughter had the album, and I excitedly asked her to borrow it.

“It turns out, the mom had gotten her the album for Christmas; I had misunderstood what she had whispered. So my penchant for talking and not listening spoiled her Christmas surprise.”

As soon as he finished, he felt silly for telling that story.

“See? I told you I was running out of things to talk about. But don’t worry, I’ll still keep broadcasting. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”

He looked at the clock and checked the meter again.

“I’m nearly out of juice. So I’ll mark down another day in my notes. It’s 9:15 am Pacific time right now. I will come on tomorrow at 10:15, if you have any means of keeping track of time. I think tomorrow I’ll start reading through one of the books I have here. Give you all something other my rambling stories to listen to.

“I’d ask you what you thought about that idea, but we’ve already covered that. Instead, I’ll just wish you all a good day, wherever you are. Whoever you are.”

He flicked the board off. There was maybe a minute or two of power left. Another day done with little else to do. He hung on to the belief that people were listening. The alternative was too depressing to consider.