GPS Signal Lost

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“Turn left on Miraloma Avenue.” It wasn’t the synthesized voice of Google Maps, but that of a genuine human female.

Richard obeyed and turned left. He no longer questioned the GPS’s choices.

“In one point two miles, turn right onto North Kraemer Boulevard.”

According to his phone, he was only ten minutes away. Sweat popped from his forehead in tiny pearl sequins. He hoped he wouldn’t be late. No, he didn’t think so. That was the damndest thing. He was always right on time. Right on time to prevent a fire, to stop a crime, to save a life. Richard had no idea where the benevolent voice in his GPS had come from, only that whenever it manifested with vague destinations like “Flood,” “Robbery” or “Suicide,” it always pointed him to a dangerous event that was about to occur.

Once he’d determined it wasn’t just a sick prank being played on him by one of his techie friends, he’d ignored it, driven in the opposite direction from wherever it was trying to lead him. But then he’d watched buildings burn to the ground and people die on the news, and soon his conscience had gotten the better of him. Someone, somehow, had set him on a mission, and his heart wouldn’t allow him to abandon it.

“Turn right.”

Richard turned right. Seven minutes. He stepped on the gas.

He wasn’t typically so anxious. Maybe at first, but the GPS had never steered him wrong. It always delivered him right where he needed to be at just the right time. But today was different. Today, the destination printed at the bottom of the screen said “Wife.”

What was going to happen to Katy? God, they’d only been married three years and had a baby on the way. He had to reach her.

“GPS signal lost.”

What? Richard slammed on his brakes. A car behind him whaled on the horn and flashed its brights, but Richard didn’t move.

“What do you mean, GPS signal lost?” Richard shouted. He sat staring at the phone mounted to the dash, dumbfounded.

Silence. The phone’s display now displayed a red banner with the text, “Searching…”

Nonono! He had to get to Katy. Maybe if the area were more familiar, he might have guessed where the phone was trying to take him. But instead he’d been routed to a dingy, rundown quarter of Anaheim that he wasn’t at all familiar with. Why was she so far from home?

“Tell me,” Richard shouted. “Tell me where to find Katy!”

As if in reply, the phone repeated its previous statement: “GPS signal lost.”

The car behind him had swerved into the other lane, honking repeatedly until it was out of sight. Other cars were doing likewise, but Richard wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he yelled. Bucked. Screamed. Banged the steering wheel with balled fists. Threw the phone against the door.

“GPS signal lost.”

“No,” said Richard, weeping now. “No, tell me, goddamn you!”

He drove for more than an hour, frantic, almost hitting three other cars as he cut corners at over sixty miles per hour, scouring the streets for signs of his wife.

He’d just pulled over to the side of the road, desperate and lost, when his phone rang. The sound startled him and filled him with an unexpected terror. What did this mean? He reached for the device with hands that were now shaking and looked down at the display. He didn’t recognize the number.

Slowly, as if dreaming, he answered the call.


“Hello, this is the Anaheim Police Department. Are you related to Katy Aimes?”

A stone sank in his stomach. In a dull voice, he answered, “Yes. I’m her husband.”

There was a sigh at the other end. “Mr. Aimes, I’m very sorry, but we have bad news about your wife.”

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Janelle stood before a network of interconnected roads, celestial paths across space and time that fanned out into the horizon and beyond, forking and dividing in an increasingly complex and unforeseeable set of possible futures. So many choices. It was dizzying, thinking of all the places she might go, all the things she might see. Some were good. Others were not.

She hesitated.

She’d spent her whole life preparing for this moment, taught by her tribe from birth that someday she would have to stand before the Great Road and walk toward her destiny.

They’d promised her a guide, someone who would travel beside her unseen and pick her up when she couldn’t go on by herself. But now, at the outset of her journey, she felt alone, and that made her afraid.

Faced with an infinite array of choices, how was she supposed to pick the right one? She could see one, perhaps two steps ahead, could calculate the probabilities and possible outcomes as she saw them, but beyond? Her journey might have promising beginnings, yet end in disaster only a few steps ahead. Every step forward, every fork in the road was another risk, and one way or the other, whether her travels were long or short, fortunate or unfortunate, no path continued forever. One day, at the end of her road, there would be a door, ready to take her to the other side. Not knowing where that door might be or where it would lead terrified her.

But she couldn’t stand here forever. Some had tried, had spent their entire lives paralyzed by indecision, too afraid to move. But they had eventually been escorted away in shame, forced through their own door before their journey had even begun. Janelle had no desire to pass over her journey.

The end, she realized, would come for her whether she was ready or not, so what was the point in stalling? She would have to go, hope she was headed in the right direction and trust that her unseen guide would catch her if she fell. Her tribe had said the first step would be the hardest, that once she got moving she wouldn’t want to stop. It was time to see if that was true.

She took a deep breath, her heart thumping in her chest like an overworked piston. She glanced down at her feet, swallowed a lump that had formed in the back of her throat. She lifted one foot, then the other.

There was a shift, an instant of double vision as the world changed, and then her surroundings resolved. She looked around, overcome by cosmic beauty such as she had never seen before. She was overcome with joy. Now she was hooked. The fear remained, but was superseded by a deeper desire, an inborn need to discover what else was out there. There was a whole road just for her. There would be joys and sorrows, conveniences and hardships, but in the end, it would all add up to one hell of an adventure.

Janelle found the next fork. Stepped. The world shifted.

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It was with her for as long as she could remember, a thin golden thread of light that tugged at her as if she were a hooked fish. She had no idea where it came from or where it led. She only knew that it was always pulling, that with every passing year the tightness increased until the pain was too much to bear.

Nobody else could see it. Not her mother or father, not her relatives, not her friends. It got to be so bad that she spent most days alone, afraid others would think she was crazy.

On her eighteenth birthday, the pain blossomed into searing fire. Not knowing what else to do, she left home, left behind everyone and everything she’d ever known. She followed the pull of the thread out of Phoenix, out of Arizona, out of the US. Traveling helped; the thread slackened when she followed. She spent most of her life allowing it to drag her across the world, never knowing where or if it would end.

Now, after more than forty years of never staying in one place, she stands before a tiny redbrick house in Belgium and knows that she’s come home. She sees that the golden thread leads here, that inside the house there is an even brighter glow. This is where her journey ends.

She swallows, takes a deep breath, walks up and knocks on the door. There’s a brief moment where she wonders what she’ll do if it doesn’t open, and then it does. Gold floods her vision.

“Come in,” says a kindly voice. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

She enters. The door closes behind her.

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