Author's note: I want to thank everyone who has read so far. No one has raised any objections so far so I'll take that as a good sign.
Tom slid down into the armchair in the lobby of the motel. His face was deathly pale and he looked like a person suffering from a fever. In an adjoining space there was a spread of cold breakfast items for the guests on a sideboard. At one of the dining tables a family with two young children, a boy and a girl, was eating. They were among the few guests Rachel and Tom had seen at the motel.
"Do you want anything to eat?" Rachel asked. Tom shook his head emphatically. Rachel went to get coffee and toast for herself.
There was a large television set in the lobby, an old picture tube model, that seemed to be on at all hours, tuned to some news network. Tom stared at it without watching. Just then the picture disappeared and there was only static. The noise of the static seemed to be increasing. Tom stood up, staring at the random gray and white dots on the screen. He was drifting towards the television as if something was drawing him towards it. Then Tom saw thick, muscular gray arms extruding from the screen and grabbing hold of his hair, his shoulders and his head. They were trying to pull him into the screen. Tom screamed. He was struggling against the pull of the arms, trying to fend them off. He was vaguely aware that the girl in the room was screaming in an higher pitched echo.
Tom found himself lying on his back on the carpet in front of the television. He looked up to see Rachel's face hovering above him. He looked around to see that the couple had gathered their children and were leaving. The little girl was still crying, her red face glossy with tears. The man was muttering to his wife and both were casting stares of outrage and condemnation in his direction. He could hear the drone of political commentary coming from the television set and didn't have to look to realize it had returned to normal. In a whisper he managed to tell Rachel what had happened. "You didn't see anything unusual did you? About the TV, I mean." Rachel shook her head, as he expected.
They returned to their room. Rachel couldn't avoid looking over at the manager at the front desk. The woman didn't say a word but her look was enough. Tom had confirmed her lowest suspicions of him. Rachel figured that was another lesson of living with Tom, getting used to being viewed as some kind of drug addict or alcoholic lowlife.
Rachel said, "I think it's time we left."
"I was planning to stay here in this room until it's over."
"The managers would have a nasty shock."
"You're right. I suppose that wouldn't be a good idea. It wouldn't be fair. I don't want to leave a mess for other people to clean up. I suppose we'll have to go back to your house." Rachel nodded. "When I tell you it's time for you to go, you have to go."
"Yes, all right."
Rachel knew the usual consequences for witnesses of a death from the video. Her heart fell as she remembered visiting Katie's friend in hospital.
"Who knows," Tom remarked as they were packing, "we could be wrong. The video may not be fatal any more."
Rachel grimaced. "How could this killing carry on, over and over?" she asked bitterly. "I could never understand what Samara wanted. I held her in my arms once. She was a flesh and blood child, or at least it seemed that way to me. I felt so sorry for what had happened to her. But now she's like this mindless evil force living in all the copies of the video."
Tom was silent for a while. Then he said, "I was thinking about what Longley said. This is bigger than us. Maybe it's bigger than Samara too. I mean, maybe she started something but now it's out of her control, too."
They drove north again, hardly saying a word. Dark clouds built up against the mountains to the east.
On the flight to the funeral Aidan wore a white shirt and gray dress pants. He had chosen these without Rachel telling him to. If he had asked she would have said it was all right to wear anything on the flight. She was often struck by his precociousness and his seriousness. She wondered how much of this was innate and how much had been shaped by his experiences.
"Honey, do you ever feel the presence of Samara? Do you hear her voice?"
"No, I don't. I haven't for a long time."
She thought about what Tom had said, about the ripples in the lake. The circles get ever wider but they've passed over us and beyond us and we're still here. "Then it's over. Samara won't trouble us any more." Then she added, "I've decided we're going to move back to Seattle. I'll try to get my old job back, or something like it. Won't that be great?"
Rachel remembered walking with Tom on the boardwalk by the ocean. They passed a tall man carrying a little girl on his shoulders. The girl was giddy with the view so high up. Rachel was turning to Tom with a smile when she noticed that his eyes were moistened. She turned away with a pang of distress.
Rachel leaned over to Aidan and, much to his surprise, gave him a fierce hug.