A Dinner Surprise

By Ande Jacobson

Since surviving the pandemic of 2020 Bea continued eating all of her meals at home. Even after the crisis had passed, although she ventured out for work and various activities, for Bea, one dinner was much like the next. Her meal consisted of a plate of rice or noodles covered in veggies, chicken, and cheese, and she zapped it in the microwave. She lived alone and loathed housework and cooking, so anything that kept those to a minimum was a plus.

On one particular evening, Bea set the microwave to do its thing and sat down to play the piano while waiting for her dinner to heat. After a few minutes, the microwave beeped, but something was off. Instead of it flashing “End” like it normally did until she either cleared it or opened the door, it just displayed the clock. She thought it odd, but she hit clear just to be safe and proceeded to open the door. As soon as the door opened, the light went on as it should, but it also started humming and rotating as it started its cook cycle again. Unfortunately Bea was preoccupied and didn’t notice anything amiss while reaching in to remove her dinner plate. With her hands inside the humming microwave, a beam shot out from the screen around the light. She was frozen in place for at least 20 seconds as the beam engulfed her hands before the microwave stopped humming and released her.

Unaware of what had just happened, Bea pulled her dinner out of the microwave, closed the door with her elbow, and set her plate on the kitchen table. As she sat down at her place preparing to eat her dinner, the light inside the microwave turned on. Before taking a bite, Bea glanced over her shoulder at the clock on the microwave, the light turning itself off as she looked. When she turned back to begin eating, the light turned on again. Bea took her time reading a book while eating her dinner. After she finished eating, the microwave light turned itself off just as Bea stood to take her plate to the sink. After rinsing her plate and placing it in the dishwasher, Bea turned to walk out of the kitchen. As she reached the microwave, the light turned itself on, the door popped open, and the beam that had previously grabbed her hands shot out and completely engulfed her, freezing her in place in front of the door for 2 minutes and 36 seconds.

After the beam released her, Bea felt odd. She was slightly tingly and energized in a way she’d never felt before and thought that maybe she had just gotten a boost from having eaten dinner. She glanced to her left and noticed that the microwave door was ajar. Pushing the door closed, she was again unaware of what had just transpired and went into the living room. She sat down at the piano to play for a bit more before calling it a night.

Before dinner, she’d been working on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and was struggling with the third movement. She decided to start where she’d left off, only this time, she had no trouble at all. In fact, after playing through the third movement, she went back and played through the entire sonata effortlessly with a precision she’d never previously enjoyed. Intrigued, she pulled out another piece she had been working on but hadn’t yet mastered, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Just like with the Beethoven, she played it perfectly from cover to cover. She really didn’t understand, but she couldn’t stop. She went through piece after piece from her musical library and played each one perfectly not missing a note. She was dumbfounded. She’d always enjoyed her music and could play reasonably well, but this was far beyond her normal level of proficiency. She ended up playing for about four hours before finally calling it a night. As she lay in bed, music was running through her head, each note as perfect as she’d played them after dinner. She drifted off to sleep dreaming of notes. Lots of notes. She dreamt of every note she had played not just that night but throughout her entire life. She awoke a minute before her alarm was set to go off, her head clear and feeling very rested. Bea was the technical manager of a design team at a medical device company, and she had a presentation at work that day. The company had adopted an at-home work policy that allowed employees to work from home most of the time except when they needed to access hardware directly or needed to be present for some customer presentations. This was one of the rare presentations when the entire team was required to be at the plant.

She left for work well before the meeting to allow herself time to set everything up. She was first to arrive and headed straight to the conference room rather than first stopping by her office. She had her presentation on her laptop, so she connected it to the conference equipment and initiated the video session well ahead of time. As she flipped through her presentation, she was thinking about the music from her dreams, picturing it in her mind, and hearing it as though it was playing in the conference room.

Frank was the first member of her team to join her. She glanced up as he walked in, and she sensed his state of mind. She knew that he was panicked for some reason, and she immediately started hearing the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It seemed odd to her that she could sense Frank’s mood, but her hearing music in her head wasn’t at all unusual. The truly odd thing was that although Bea was not aware of it, Frank started hearing the same music as though she was projecting it into his mind. As he listened, he smiled, calmed down, and the music drifted away.

As each member of Bea’s team arrived, the same thing happened. She sensed each team member’s state of mind, and started hearing a piece of music that served to normalize them. Jane was the last of the team to arrive, and she was tired. She wasn’t upset, just really tired. She had been up all night unable to sleep. Bea sensed this and as with each of the others she started to hear some appropriate music, this time Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag which Bea projected into Jane’s mind to wake her up. Jane smiled, sat down at the conference table, and started tapping the table in time to the music. Bea noticed this and realized that Jane’s taps matched the tempo she was hearing. At this point, Bea realized what had been happening, but she had no idea how.

Not wanting to disrupt the meeting that was about to begin, Bea called everyone to order and began the day-long presentation which went very smoothly and was well-received by their customers. After the meeting ended, Bea left the conference room and went to her office. She wanted to see if there was anything in development even obliquely related to what she’d observed before the meeting. After an exhaustive search of the company’s research database, she found nothing relevant. She was perplexed. She wanted to understand what was happening and she had no idea how to pursue the mystery at hand at that moment. She also needed to turn her focus back to work.

After reviewing her team’s latest prototype test results and signing off on the report, she packed up for the day and started through the hallway on her way out of the building. She was again thinking about the music before the meeting and the apparent effects that it had on her team. She still couldn’t explain it, and it was bothering her. Although she often listened to the classical station on the radio in her car, this evening, she turned the radio off, instead contented with the music in her head as she drove home.

She was deeply engrossed in the music in her thoughts as she pulled into her garage, took her coat and laptop out of the car, and entered the house. She changed into her slippers, hung up her coat, put her laptop in her study, and went to the kitchen to start getting her dinner plate ready. She pulled her ingredients from the refrigerator and the freezer, arranged her plate just so, and pulled a paper towel from the rack to place into the microwave. As she reached for the release button, she stopped cold. Instead of the time, the following missive scrolled on the microwave’s clock display:

“Good evening, Bea. You have been absorbed, and you are now our emissary.”

As she read the missive, she heard a completely new and unfamiliar piece of music in her head.

Editor’s Note: a version of this story has been submitted to the 2020 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.

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