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Cold Feet
About the Author: Nils Gilbertson is a San Francisco Bay Area native, UC Berkeley graduate, and practicing attorney. In the scarce moments when he is not buried in legal books, Nils enjoys writing mystery and crime fiction. His work is recently featured or forthcoming in Pulp Modern, Thriller Magazine, and Close to the Bone. You can reach him at

Greg opted for cropped trousers and loafers for the wedding—as if his feet weren’t cold enough already. It’s the style, I’m told. But as I stood a few groomsmen away, watching him fidget across from my gowned younger sister, Heidi, I couldn’t help but think he should’ve sprung for the extra few inches of wool. As Heidi glowed, her eyes welling with young, joyful tears and the late afternoon sun glistening from her blush-tinted cheeks, Greg—ordinarily drowning a room in his baritone voice—mumbled through his vows. His bashful promises culminated in the standard embrace. On-looking family and friends cheered—chalking his dearth of enthusiasm up to love-induced nerves—and the party began.

After dinner and speeches, I loitered by the least busy of the bars, putting down double scotch and sodas while others danced. Noiseless photography drones hovered in the air and captured the celebration in resolution that made the human eye look like a flip phone camera. They were standard at those sorts of events, but still creeped the hell out of me. Much friendlier were the sleek cylindrical bots that glided from guest to guest, offering crab cakes and bacon-wrapped shrimp in a gentle British voice.

The place was swarming with congressmen and other D.C. elites. I’d been around them long enough to know most were nothing more than slick talkers who got sick of their day job. Or lost it to AI—provoking an anger-fueled campaign. Instead of fraternizing with my esteemed representatives, I nodded and smiled at the bridesmaids as they passed on the way to the bar for tequila shots. I repeated the same quip about how I remembered when Heidi was a girl she’d scream bloody murder before you could get her into a dress. Most giggled; all scurried off.

Greg took a break from the dance floor and stopped by and ordered a soda water with lime. His thicket of dark brown hair was dense enough for him to share with a room full of balding guests. It gleamed like threads of plastic.

“Enjoying the big day, champ?” I asked.

He smiled at me like we were at a work happy hour. “Sure am.”

I leaned in close, my mind muddied by the whisky. “Look, I want you to know our chat in Charleston stays between us. It’s normal, as far as I’m concerned. Even if she is my little sister.”

He glanced up like he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, then his face uncreased with understanding. “Thanks, Mitch, I appreciate that.”

At Greg’s bachelor party, about ten in, he confessed to me that he’d discovered what I’d known for decades: Heidi’s mental. Her affliction was a hyperactive mind. She was goddamn brilliant, but it was to the point that in a split second she could hypothesize every potential cause or eventuality of a situation, and her anxiety-addled mind honed in on the worst ones like flies to shit.

“Besides,” I muttered, “it’s her own damn fault for telling you about the man in the wall.”

The left side of Greg’s mouth curled up and he grinned through his worry for her. “I’m not going to lie,” he said, “that one spooked me a little.”

When Heidi was seventeen, she thought there was a man living in one of her bedroom walls. While she acknowledged the likelihood that the rumblings in the night were the natural aches of an old house, she couldn’t dispel her mind of the possibility that there was a man, trapped, built into the wall and struggling to escape. Mom and Dad sent her to the doc and he gave her some pills that mellowed her out for a while. Until one night, home alone, she heard a moan from beyond her posters and plaques. When Mom and Dad got home from a campaign fundraiser, they found her on the floor, sobbing. She’d splintered the wall best she could with a sledgehammer.

After the man in the wall, things went downhill. For years her behavior oscillated between mild eccentricity and alarming instability. That is, until she met Greg. His steady presence calmed the restless corners of her mind and accentuated her brilliance. But at the bachelor party, he let down his saint-like guard and admitted to misgivings about her mental state. I didn’t think too much of it. Hell, if anything it convinced me he’s human like the rest of us.

We took a couple of sips in silence until Greg said, “Well, back to it.” I raised my glass to him and his face twitched as he went back to the dance floor.

This story appears in our NOV 2019 Issue
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