Petunia didn’t want to think of what might happen if she did not finish this painting. Literally the world depended on this.
“Canan, do you copy? It’s Petunia.”
Angrily the artist spun her chair away from the gargling radio to face her easel. Gnawing on her lip, she picked up the paintbrush, holding it before the big blank paper. She had to paint, but what?
Petunia didn’t want to think of what might happen if she did not finish this painting. Mass hysteria? Utter extinction? The possibilities were endless. Literally everything depended on this. She had barely even started. And Canan, that twit, was unresponsive on the other line.
Glancing nervously at the clock, Petunia saw that it was already 2:14am. She was running out of time.
Suddenly the radio hissed. Petunia whirled around, grabbing the receiver.
“Copy Canan,” came the garbled voice over the line.
“Where have you been?” Petunia demanded and quickly added, “Actually, never mind, we don’t have time. What do you have for me?”
“Gathering info,” came the lazy response.
“Well, hurry,” said Petunia, trying to be patient. She didn’t want to upset Canan or he might disappear, and she needed him because she had not found the other informant yet — the better one, the real one. It was out there, she knew. How did she know? Well, she really couldn’t remember, which was awkward, but deep down she just knew there was something more solid out there than Canan. His track record of showing up on time was frighteningly reckless. There had been a few very close calls, and tonight was shaping up to be one of those. Petunia could feel every muscle in her back and shoulders tying themselves into tight little knots.
The steady static from the waiting radio filled the air, as nerve-wracking as any silence. Petunia paced. Finally Canan’s voice crackled again and Petunia leaped toward the receiver, mentally translating the words as they came through the speaker.
“A as in apple,” the broken sounds said. Life, decisions, the artist interpreted.
“M as in music.” Spirit, emotion.
“B as in boy.” Play, learn.
“Oh, sorry, scratch that… B as in beer.” Outside influence.
Inwardly Petunia fumed. A word error like that could be very costly. And it was evident from the lazy tone on the other line that her informant could not care less.
“H as in Halloween,” came the last information bite. Saints, ghosts.
Hurriedly Petunia compiled the information. It was a nightly routine: the informant fed her data, she translated it and painted the next Earth day accordingly. That was how it worked. She needed correct information because without her painting, there would be no Earth. Cities would stop, countries would cease to be. Every crawling metropolis which bustled on that distant globe the Inhabitants called “Home” would collapse into nothingness. Petunia raised her eyebrows as she thought of how little the Inhabitants knew of their own brushes with extinction. Petunia’s brush had saved them.
But at least right now she had the info, even though Canan had delivered the next day’s morning news dangerously late. Involuntarily Petunia shuttered as she considered all that was left to do in the next few hours. On top of that, she prayed that there were no unacknowledged pieces of misinformation — like that “B as in boy vs. beer” stunt Canan had just pulled. After all, the only way that –
Suddenly Petunia stopped. Things didn’t make sense. The information she’d received.
With quick motions she flipped through her paintings for previous days, stored on her easel. That last data, “Halloween”… some thing was wrong. It didn’t add up. She looked hard at her previous work and an eerie thought hit her. What if she had been mislead deliberately? More unnerving, what if she hadn’t noticed?
“Canan, are you… lying?” Petunia ventured, slowly turning back toward the staticy receiver, paintbrush in hand.
A shock shook Petunia. She was alone. Alone with the fate of the world. She had to find that other informant. Canan was lying — fake — and now he was gone again. A painting based on this current info would bring catastrophe because even if most of it was right, that bit of false info — deliberately given or not — would end things. Furious and fearful, Petunia clutched her paintbrush in one hand and cranked the radio dial to a random frequency with the other. She had searched so many times before that this attempt was really a blind plunge. But she had to try.
“Do you copy?” she shouted desperately. “This is Petunia!”
She twisted the dial again. “Copy! This is Petunia!”
Tucking the end of her paintbrush securely into the corner of her mouth, Petunia took the ribbed black dial between both palms and spun it with all her might. As it slowed and stopped she clutched her paintbrush tightly in her fist and once more spoke into the receiver. “This is Petunia… Do you copy?”
“Copy Foxy,” came the steady response.
Petunia couldn’t believe it. Speechless, she let out a joyful scream. The real informant! Hold on…
Quickly checking the current frequency, she turned the dial back to its original station.
“Copy Nebcy,” came an unfamiliar ghostly response, waveringly. That was a new voice, and also the wrong station.
“You are fake, too,” Petunia muttered darkly, cranking the dial in order to speak with Canan, if he would speak to her.
3:27am. She must hurry.
Surprisingly she heard, “Copy Canan.”
“You are finished,” said Petunia triumphantly. “I’ve found Foxy and I don’t need you anymore. You are lies.”
“No! Wait-” Canan scrambled. Petunia though he sounded desperate, a tone she had never heard in him before. But she didn’t care.
“Canan, you’re fired.” And she spun the dial back to the real informant’s frequency.
3:32am. There was time!
With a relieved breath and confident smile, Petunia flicked her paintbrush around in her fingers, expertly spinning it around the back of her hand and back into her grasp. The day would be good. The day would be.
“Foxy, do you copy? It’s Petunia.”
“What do you have for me today?”
A brief confused silence reigned before the answer came, and Petunia froze as she heard the delayed words. “What…do you have for me today?”
This story was written by Boise, Idaho native, Sarah Howard. Sarah holds degrees in Musical Theater Performance and English. When she’s not performing on the stage, she enjoys writing, spending time with her family and cats, and reading good literature with a hot cup of coffee.
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