THE WARNING • by Bruce Stirling

Sam swore as he switched on the light. He couldn’t sleep. The label on his new pillow rustled every time he moved his head. He was about to tear it off when Betty his wife sat up and cried, “Don’t!”

“Why the hell not?” Sam said.

“You’re not supposed to tear the label off,” Betty replied.

“Says who?”

“Says the law.” Betty turned the label over. “Look. It says ‘Warning: Federal law prohibits the removal of this label.’”

“Ridiculous,” Sam said.

He grabbed the label and tore it off.

Betty paled.

“Will you relax?” Sam said. “It’s not as if I murdered your mother. As much as I’d like to.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. Just go to sleep.”

As Sam reached for the light, a fist pounded on the front door.

“Who the hell’s that?” Sam groused.

He glanced at the clock: two a.m.

“Screw ‘em,” he said.

He tried to sleep, but the pounding fist refused to go away.

“Go see who it is,” Sam said.

“Forget it,” Betty replied, rolling away. “I warned you. I did.”

“You’re insufferable,” Sam said.

He made for the front door. Ten minutes later he returned, his face white, his shoulders slumped.

“Who was it?” Betty asked.

Sam stapled the label back onto his pillow.

“Sam?” Betty insisted. “Who was it?”

“Just go to sleep,” Sam replied.

He crawled under the covers.

“I warned you,” Betty said. “I did.”

“You did.”

“Next time you’ll listen.”

“I will,” Sam said.

He turned off the light, the label rustling under his head as the black car down in the driveway started up and drove off.

Bruce Stirling‘s work appears in a variety of print and online publications. Visit his web site for more.

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