Every other day it seemed, I would see the ad in the classifieds. It was a small, unusual little ad. It said:
Sid Seeks Alexis
It had been going on for a few years. When I first saw it I thought it was some kind of covert romantic correspondence, but it never changed. It was the same message every time, it couldn’t be anything like that. When I started working at the paper in town, during the walk through of the offices with Barry, who was bald and spectacled and nicer than just about anybody, he asked me if I had any questions about the paper. I thought of it and I had to ask him. He laughed. He knew exactly what I was talking about.
“That stupid thing. I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what that’s all about. This guy sends in orders for the posting every month like clockwork. Every month for five years. Crazy right?”
I couldn’t argue with him. I was new and had now way of knowing if it was crazy. I put it out of my mind for awhile, but every now and then, when I least expected it, it came back to haunt me. Who was Alexis? Why was Sid ‘seeking’ her? What do the numbers mean? How could something be ‘soon’ for five years? Seemed like an interesting story was behind it.
I wasn’t a reporter. I worked at a newspaper, but I didn’t write. I just sold advertising space, which is probably why the little blurb kept coming across my field of vision. I wasn’t on my page regularly, but it was always somewhere in the paper. I asked Barry if he knew anything about the guy paying for the space. If anybody had ever considered talking to him about it.
“The idea floated around the office once or twice,” he admitted, “But the return address on the orders are a P.O. box. We pulled a stake-out at the box they used to come from once. Hoping to catch the guy in the act, ask him about it. Do you know what happened? The next letter came from a different P.O. box.”
Barry shrugged and explained that after this happened a second time, it was decided that the man did not want to be found, and that it was the sort of thing best left alone. Crazy is crazy, and there’s no accounting for it. In the meantime, nothing the infamous ‘Sid’ was doing was illegal, he paid for all the ad space he asked for, so why go poking around in it. It sounded like a totally reasonable conclusion. Except it made no sense to me. Again, maybe it was just because I saw it every other day, but it drove me crazy not knowing what it was about.
I thought about it for a long time. Like I’ve said, I wasn’t a writer, but I had to figure this out. If only for my own peace of mind. That’s just how annoying this thing was. I figured I had a few advantages over Barry and his guys in this regard though. He was an old-school type of reporter. His first instinct had been to stake out the mailbox, which was a fine instinct, but I was a child of the internet age. I googled the numbers. Whatever they referred too, it was probably mentioned somewhere online, right?
I was definitely not prepared for the results.
There were hundreds, thousands, maybe more. These numbers, in that sequence, written exactly like that. 3500.1938.0916. It was everywhere. In newspapers all over the country, in other countries, on message boards, on craigslist. It was all over the place. I wasn’t the first person to notice it either. There were sites devoted to researching whatever the hell this thing was, and who was behind it. I spent hours of my off time, and way more of my work hours than I really should have, reading everything that had been gathered on the numbers and the message. There were hundreds of theories, but nobody had it figured out yet. This made me even more curious.
I read all of it. Everything anyone had ever written on the subject. It was mostly printed in major cities (Tokyo, New York, London, etc.) but there were dozens of smaller towns too. People had been looking for a paper trail, of course, but everything seemed to dead end at one point or another. I was at a loss. It seemed to me that there were people devoting their whole lives to finding the eponymous Sid. It was unlikely I’d be able to accomplish it in my off hours. At the time, I resigned myself to keeping an eye out for anything new. I did this for another couple years. Every now and then somebody would have a new ‘breakthrough’ about the numbers, which invariably turned out to be more wishful thinking than anything else. And it seemed the mystery would never be solved.
Until one day, the community exploded.
The message had changed.
Sid Seeks Alexis
The internet went absolutely insane. At least, the part of it obsessed with the message did. One word was all it took, and everybody (myself included) freaked out. It was ‘Soon’ for 7 years, and now it was ‘Very Soon’. What did it mean? Was the change significant or merely a new choice of wording for aesthetic reasons? A thousand new theories were born overnight, all of them convinced that this new word was key to the whole mystery. Many thought that perhaps the message had been taken over by a new prankster. I wasn’t sure about that. I found myself solidly in a different theory’s camp. This word choice wasn’t aesthetic, something had happened. Something very big.
I decided to try something. I don’t know if I really expected it to work, but if it didn’t there would be no harm done. But Sid wouldn’t change a 7 year routine unless big things were happening. Maybe he would be less than cautious now.
I put a response in the paper.
It wasn’t very long, and it was expensive. I put it out to several major papers. I still wasn’t sure Sid would even see it, take it seriously, or even be able to respond to it in anyway.
Alexis Seeks Sid
I left it at that, just to see if I could get a response. I also sent it to the P.O. box we got on the order forms and in a reply to some of the online postings of the message. Still I didn’t expect any response. People had been trying to find this Sid for years. I doubted that he even checked those P.O. boxes for incoming mail.
The internet had a slightly less grand freak out over my response, mostly because it was more local than the original message.
But to my surprise, a message came back to me. From the P.O. box no less.
Sid Seeks Alexis.
Will hear you out.
I wondered if it was a hoax. After all, why would a message in the mail read like the classified ad? But what else could I do. I dialed the number. It rang and rang, and just when I was sure there would be no answer.
“speak.” the voice was quiet, but hard and clipped. If you could see words, then this one would have been cut from granite.
“Hello?” I responded, “Is this Sid?”
“…yes,” more jagged granite words. They hurt the ears on their way out of the phone. Was there static? Maybe. It was like there was a strange feedback over the line. “speak.”
“Uh…Yes. You are the Sid who puts those ads in the paper. The one looking for Alexis.”
“…sid seeks alexis. 3500-1938-0916.” These words were different. Smoother, more natural, softer. The numbers came out faster than the other words, with only half a beat between the sequences. They sounded rehearsed. The next words were granite again. “information. speak.”
“Right, I have information on Alexis. But first tell me, if you can I mean, why are you seeking her?”
“…alexis seeks sid?” it was a question.
“Yes. I mean…of course she does. But she wants to know why you’re looking so hard for her.”
“She wants to know why? Or, I think she wants me to know why,” I lied, but it’s easier to blend a lie with honest ignorance, “I’m a little confused myself. She told me to talk to you.”
“…she know…very soon…3500-1938-0916. avoid impossible.” Sid implored. The granite took on a rougher more rushed quality.
“What’s impossible? Avoid what?”
“3500-1938-0916. Very Soon.” The voice was louder now. The feedback was getting worse. It felt like nails were scratching on a chalkboard right at the front of my brain. “Sid Seeks Alexis. Alexis…Not Found…“Alexis Seeks Sid”. Why You call?”
“I just…I need to know,” Whoever Sid was, he was getting angry at me now. I would never have another chance I thought. I needed to lay my cards on the table. “I see the message. I need to know what it says. I need to know. What do the numbers mean? Who are you? What’s coming soon?”
“Alexis…alexis not seek sid?” Granite became gravel.
“I’m…I’m sorry I lied. She might still be…”
“sid speak…speak to you…sid will show.”
And then the feedback spiked. It was like a car battery had been attached to me at the base of the neck. My spine tried to fold in half and I screamed so hard my voice gave out. My vision went completely white, or at least I thought it did, for a moment.
I saw it. I saw it all. I saw Sid, and I knew it was him. I saw Alexis, and I knew it was her. They were people, and not people at all. I saw them together, in the Place of Great Becomings. I saw it all. I saw the day they left, I saw the place they left, I saw the who they left. I saw the endless voyages. Across an ocean of stars. Across the boiling waters of space and time. I saw the day they arrived, the place they came to, and the who they Became. I saw them torn apart. Flung so far from each other in their haste to arrive. I saw the thousand dead and dying worlds they fled. All the same and different. All dead or nearly so, and all the same way. I saw the feasting halls on the dying worlds. I saw the things that dined within, and what…who they dined on. I tried to scream again. I saw the guests turn at my wordless cries. I saw them.
And they saw me.