The Last Rae of Hope
The phone’s screen was flashing Nora’s name. I accepted the call because I knew the consequences would be dire if I didn't.
“Are you grounded?” Nora asked breathlessly. Was she running and talking on the phone again? Or just excited?
“No.” I put her on speaker as I sat up and rubbed my face sleepily.
“Are you just waking up now?”
“Yeah... why? What time is it?” It was beginning to dawn on me that I was covered in cold sweat.
“Half past noon.”
“That’s not late for a Saturday.” I stretched and stood up, still in my clothes from yesterday.
“Don’t be late, okay?”
“Yeah, I just need to shower.” I really, really needed it.
“Then you read the–”
“Yes, and I had the strangest–” I flinched. Oh no, there was no way I was telling her about the dream. “I mean, I’m prepared for our discussion.”
“I’ll be there with the snacks.”
“Over and out.” Nora hung up first.
I eventually made my way to Nora’s house, refreshed from a long hot shower. Before entering Nora’s inner sanctum, I first had to pass through the kitchen of Mama Perez. I stepped inside the open kitchen door and was blocked by the chef herself.
“Taste!” It was more a command than an offer. Held out from her hand was a forkful of cheesecake.
“It’s delicious! Cotton style cheesecake?”
Mama shouted up the stairs. “She got it one try!” I had passed the challenge with flying colors. She handed me two plates, each topped with a slice of cheesecake and a generous serving of fruit. “Dinner at six, save room!” I carefully balanced the plates and bags I brought as I went upstairs. I stepped inside Nora’s room and sat in my favorite bean bag chair.
“Cheesecake?” I offered her a plate.
“Nah.” Nora waved her hand. Mama would be heartbroken if she knew! I would once again end up making the ultimate sacrifice and finish both slices before dinner. To pay for her silence, I tossed her half a dozen boxes of chocolate-covered pretzel sticks in assorted flavors.
“You loved it.” I told Nora after finishing the first slice. “It was a little tart but also sweet, and it melted in your mouth. Might want to recommend whipping the egg whites for just a little longer next time, though.”
“Got it.” She grabbed a pile of papers and sat across from me in the other bean bag chair. “I hereby call this meeting to discuss The Last Rae of Hope to order. We’ll begin with a discussion of the latest chapter. Rae, you may now present your thoughts.”
“It’s absolute garbage.” I folded my arms across my chest. I usually just gave the author compliments, but not this time.
“Go on.” Nora’s eyes widened slightly in surprise.
“Who publishes something like that? Relias does practically nothing, Rae gives up, and Oliver…” I scrunched my face tight.
“Well, he said what he was doing and I still don’t get it. I mean, I get it, but I don’t like it.” Let’s just leave it at that. No need to say I was so mad I dreamt him up to accuse him of murder.
“We’re not supposed to get it.”
“We’re not supposed to understand, because the author doesn’t understand!” Nora jumped up from her chair. “The author focuses on Rae, right? What she’s doing, what she’s thinking, what she’s feeling. Sure, here and there she pulls in some insight about the others, but it’s obvious Rae is her favorite. That’s why the chapter is so jarring. Rae is practically dying, so she’s not thinking or feeling much except weariness and pain. Then poof, she’s gone! For real, gone. The author is stunned! Completely blindsided!”
“Uh, doesn’t the author control their characters?”
“Characters can take on a life of their own. Happens all the time in my fanfics.” Nora shrugged.
“Nora… I’m being serious.”
“Okay, okay.” She waved her arms. “Think, though! It’s clear the author is having trouble. You’re right about Relias too. He doesn’t seem like he knows what to expect.”
“No one’s ever defeated the demon king before, so I kinda get that.” I was pulling back on my own criticisms already, getting ready to end everything on a more serene note.
“But how can a great sage not know to just heal up their wounded party member? That’s basically their only job as a resident squishy.”
I frowned and started scratching at my right wrist. Suddenly I remembered something. “Oh, I owe you twenty bucks. You know, about Oliver.” I pulled out some cash.
“Nope. I can’t accept it.” Nora waved off the money.
“I said he was a demon in disguise who was supposed to stop the party from reaching the castle of the demon king, but I had the timing and motivation wrong. Happens even to the best of us.” She paused, opened a box of white chocolate pretzel sticks, and selected a single stick to admire for a moment before devouring it. “Back to the author, though.”
“What about the author?”
“It’s obvious she’s written herself into a thorny corner, so that’s where we come in.”
“I beg your pardon?” What crazy scheme was she concocting this time?
“Look, if we don’t do anything, we’re looking at more than just a hiatus. We need to save Rae, Rae!”
“I’m thinking we start with leading comments, you know? Baited hooks to help the author. Stimulating situations. What-if suggestions might help? Like, what if Rae isn’t dead but… trapped between dimensions? In hyper-sleep? Except we can't use that term or it’s going to go sci-fi.”
“Nora.” I tried again.
“We can gather other fans in on it too. Launch a whole social media campaign.”
“I don’t…” I was getting upset again. My head started throbbing and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I pulled off my glasses and applied pressure to both sides of my nose. “I don’t want to do anything like that. I’m just gonna let it go.”
Surprisingly, Nora didn’t argue with me. “Okay,” she agreed.
A long interval of silence passed.
“I’m sorry.” I sniffled.
“Are you… crying?” She hopped from her bean bag to mine. “You are! Actual tears! You’ve never cried in front of me before! Even when you took that soccer ball to the face!”
“We won’t have anything in common now!” I started bawling as I curled into a ball, putting my arms over my head. A bunch of worries sort of just spewed out of me all at once. “I promised myself after midnight tonight that I wouldn’t have anything to do with this story but it brought us together and now you’re gonna abandon me just like the author did this story and just like I’m doing now and I probably deserve it!”
Nora patted my head. “So that’s what’s been eating you? You big dummy. We’re going to be friends forever.” I was more than a little surprised she understood everything I had just said on the first try.
“Promise?” I asked hopefully.
“Who else will put up with me?”
“Your insanely rich and ruggedly handsome future husband?” I suggested between sniffles.
“Yeah, but I won’t meet him for at least six years yet, and even then he’s going to be busy with his interstellar travels, so you know, I’m going to have a lot of free time on my hands.”
“You’re not going to go with him?” I knew she was being silly to distract me, but it was working.
“Nuh uh. I get carsick. Could you imagine cleaning up something like that in zero gravity?” She pulled my arm off my head. “Feeling better now?”
“Oh. About the soccer ball thing. I really was aiming for the goal, so…”
“I believe you. I don’t think you could have done that on purpose even if you tried.”
Nora stood up and grabbed her laptop. “Are you up for a Viking funeral?”
“Rae’s not dead! She’s not!” I almost shouted it.
“I don’t mean for Rae. I mean, for the story itself.”
“How do you have a Viking funeral for a web novel? We have nothing to set fire to, let alone a sea to set it adrift in.”
“We can do the next best thing by comment bombing the chapter with an alt account.”
“What would the account name be?”
I blinked, then giggled a little too much at that. “Let’s do it,” I agreed.
Would you believe NoWayNoRae was already taken? But NoRaeNoWay was still available at least. For the next several hours, wrapped up in our silly teenage thoughts, we crafted a commentary masterpiece of vitriol. We did, however, sprinkle in some suggestions here and there as opportunities for improvement. The only break we took was for dinner because Mama Perez insisted. No one ever got hungry in her house.
It was very late when we had made our final edits. I reread the declaration of criticisms and makeshift action plan we had forged one more time, and then I paused. “I can’t post this.”
“You just click ‘Post Comment’.” Nora pointed. “We’ll break it up if we’re past the character limit.”
“Okay, technically, I can do it, but I won’t.”
“It’s too mean, especially in the beginning. I can’t. If this story didn’t exist…”
Nora sighed. “Yeah, we might not have met.”
“I still can’t believe you caught me reading it on my phone from that height. You were at least five rows up in the stadium!”
“I have my ways of finding kindred spirits.” She tapped her fingers in front of her face together, trying to look mysterious.
“That would be one of them, yes. The other is the uncanny ability to not pay attention during school assemblies.”
“I think everyone has that one.” I handed her the laptop. “Look, I won’t blame you if you want to post it but–” Click. Nora posted it and I suddenly got a chill down my spine.
“How could you do that?!” I was such a liar. I certainly was blaming her.
“It needed to be said.” She shrugged.
“But we were… we were really mean!” Even as I gestured at the laptop, a little heart emoji popped up in response to our post from BitterDarkTroll53. “Look, even the old hag agrees! She never likes anything unless it’s full of spite!”
“My goodness, what are you so worried about?”
“Karma!” I replied instantly.
“We didn’t use any obscenities or anything. We just said what we found upsetting and offered pointers. Besides, we used an alt account. What could possibly happen?” Nora smiled impishly.
“It’s like you’re begging the universe to prove you wrong! You’re not actually supposed to say ‘what could possibly happen’ out loud either! You know this whole thing is—”
“Time’s up!” An alarm went off on her phone.
“It’s Sunday now. Let’s start on your essay.”
We didn’t know it then, but it turns out that the universe takes its sweet time to settle karmic debts.
Post Chapter Omake
Nora: Actually, there's no solid evidence outside of myth that Viking funerals were held on water. However, many involved human sacrifice!
Rae: What! Then why did you suggest such a thing?
Nora: I knew you didn't know that.
Rae: Stop destroying my childhood fantasies!
Nora: You fantasized about having a Viking funeral at sea?