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Last Text

Ephiny Gale is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes that have appeared in publications including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Constellary Tales, and previously in Daily Science Fiction. Her fiction has been awarded the Sundress Publications' Best of the Net award and the Syntax & Salt Editor's Award, and has been a finalist for multiple Aurealis Awards. More at ephinygale.com.

Mikala Godfrey receives the final texts that people send before they're murdered.
She has a shrine for this in her house; a smartphone on a stand, from where she copies the texts into a series of identical leather notebooks. She calls this 'keeping witness.' She kneels before the phone every day in a strapless black dress, resting on a gel pad to help save her knees. We tried taking her phone away once, but the texts only switched to arriving on Mikala's replacement phone. They want her to see them.
Most of them follow the same pattern: I love you. I'm so scared. I don't want to die. I think he's coming. But she also gets the ones where they obviously have no idea. Where they say they just put the washing on, or isn't this episode great, or just k.
We visit her regularly, me and my partner Steve. We sit in what she calls her "Greeting Room" with the glass coffee table and the couches that are a little too hard to be comfortable. We ask about murders, and she finds the relevant ones in her notebooks (if they can be found), and we photograph the transcription. Some of them aren't relevant at all; she receives all of the texts-before-murder written in English, from all around the world, and since she started learning French she receives some in French as well. She says she'll learn German next.
Sometimes we sit there for a while, so I start to bring cookies in a bag. Then danishes. Then petit fours. Mikala serves us water, coffee, a pitcher of homemade iced tea. She starts to ask for a trade before she slides over the transcripts: a description of our breakfasts this morning, or a ballpoint pen, or the top button of my shirt. All small enough that we don't protest about handing them over. A stone lodged in the tread of my shoe. The weather forecast for tomorrow. A kiss.
We are not in a relationship, Mikala and I. We have never exchanged phone numbers nor made any effort to meet outside her home. Still, that doesn't stop her from asking me to draw a rabbit and a bee in sharpie on her upper arm. She has them tattooed there permanently. It doesn't stop me from thinking of her when I'm alone, and my hand dips beneath the sheets.
At the last minute, Steve says--unconvincingly--that he is sick and I should go and see Mikala alone. She takes me through the white door to her shrine, and I see that she has updated the stand and gel mat to a little desk and an ergonomic chair that still has her half-kneeling. Very sensible. Near the desk with the smartphone is what looks like a small altar. There is my pen, my button, the stone.... But she has retracted into herself. I would distract her from her important work, she says.
I start to bring fewer pastries, less often. Mikala stops asking for trades for the transcripts. Steve and I are sent into the bush for a rural investigation, and when I put my officer's hat back on it seems to be vibrating, and then there's a sharp sting on the top of my scalp.
The bee or wasp flies away. My head burns and balloons, but I was stung as a kid with no real consequences, so I tell Steve I'm fine. Within minutes, though, I'm itchy. Getting dizzy. My throat has closed up, and I feel like I could vomit if its passage wasn't blocked by the swelling. Steve calls an ambulance, but out here I know they won't reach us in time.
Acutely struggling to breathe, I retrieve my phone and text my own number. I tell Mikala that I love her, that she was the greatest thing in my whole life. When I hit send, my own phone beeps a moment later.
Then I'm lying in the dirt. I'm gasping, my own gun pressed against my temple. Steve's pleading with me, saying that he can pass the message on, that we don't have to do things this way. But I want to. The edges of my vision are receding. I wrap his hand around my own, with the gun underneath them both. "Please," I manage to get out, although now my tongue is swollen, too. "Please."
Steve pulls the trigger.
Mikala gets a text.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

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- Ephiny Gale
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