Flash Fiction: Diary Entry 248

Crossing through the barrier was never the issue. Hardly anyone complained about the momentary queasiness and disorientation. It was the overwhelming smell that we couldn’t stand. No matter how many times we hosed down the cages and sprayed illumination mixture over them, their disgusting odor returned in a day or two.

In the early days, a lot of us didn’t like the idea of keeping a good number of them alive, let alone tend to them on our own ship. Guards had to keep watch over their quarters for the first few months. I volunteered as much as I could. Unlike other members of our crew, I wanted to learn more about them, and I took advantage of those opportunities whenever I could.

Everyone heard the stories growing up and could recite most of the legends about them. And despite having to cross through the air barrier to get near them, I enjoy watching them interact with each other. Most days they kept pretty quiet, resting on the horizontal frames we constructed for them. In the beginning, none of them would respond to my gestures and light manipulations.

The formal literature on the species indicates that they do know how to communicate to each other, but they hadn’t mastered much of anything beyond that. I’d studied all of their languages but, of course, didn’t have anyway of mimicking the sounds they made. My superiors laughed when they saw me shifting the light by one of the females, trying to get her to respond.

I’m hoping we’re planning on keeping the creatures for an extended period of time, and perhaps build a sheltered area for them on our home planet. It would need an air barrier protecting the enclosure since they need oxygen to breathe.

The hair on the top of their heads is so fascinating to me. And after awhile, their overwhelming smell becomes tolerable, as long as we spray them often enough.

Unlike my shipmates, I think these human beings have the potential to learn our language. I just need more time to teach them.

Thank you for visiting my blog. To show my appreciation, the first 2 people to comment on this blog post will receive a free ebook copy of either one of my short stories: White Technologies or Designer Grief. Indicate which one you would like in your comment. If you read this too late, don’t worry, there will be more offers to come. 

Ovid’s Valley Prologue

James Theodore Kole didn’t start believing in deities until one spoke to him in the shower.

The particular day it occurred was already the most important in his life—for reasons that had little to do with the divine. His hair was mostly gray when it happened but he felt an exuberance that could rival any man half his age. James had stood naked in front of an old bathroom mirror minutes before the fateful encounter, talking to himself and practicing his smile for the cameras.

“It is with the utmost humility and graciousness…no,” he said, shaking his head. “I stand before you all today humbled by your generous show of support, and your…your tireless efforts helped this campaign steamroll straight through to Washington.”

He knew the words themselves did not matter. That’s what the speechwriters were for. His job was to deliver the message to his fellow Republicans for the next few months and secure the presidential nomination. Having served the last eight years as the Vice President during an unprecedented economic upswing for the nation, the political pundits were ready to declare the race over before it even began.

His wiry frame and impeccable posture certainly appeared presidential, James observed, admiring his bare flesh in the mirror. Maintaining his public smile, he turned around and pulled the curtains aside on the bathtub shower of his childhood. While certainly not comparable to the Victorian mansion on the Naval Observatory grounds that he and his family had called home for close to a decade, he enjoyed being back in his parent’s house in Boulder. Where better to kick off a campaign than in your hometown? He had found no reason to argue with his advisors.

The initial burst of water through the showerhead came out ice cold, just as he remembered. James did not back away from the chilly stream as he had growing up. Instead, he adjusted the ancient knobs and stood his ground, patiently waiting for the temperature change.

Once tepid, he positioned his full head of hair underneath the water and mused about the other changes that his political success had brought about. The Secret Service agents protecting him at all times made the top of his list. If he tried to imagine himself as just another blue-collar guy from Colorado—like the rest of the men in his family—all he had to do was open the frosted bathroom window to prove otherwise.

Even though he had relied on his working class roots to lay the foundation for his political career, James privately enjoyed the fact that he hadn’t worked a day of physical labor in his entire life.

Washing his soft hands with a fresh bar of soap, he heard a voice nearby and wondered if he had mistakenly left the bathroom door opened. But he knew he hadn’t, and confirmed that fact with a quick pullback of the shower curtain.

Perhaps he’d imagined someone calling his name, except the clarity and volume of the speaker made him think otherwise. Unconcerned about his own safety, though, he resumed his hygienic routine rather than dwell upon meaningless noises.

James.

The soap bar dropped from his hands and hit the inside of the bathtub with a thud, sliding along the acrylic surface and coming to a stop against his toes.

“Who’s there?”

He stood with his back facing the stream and listened for a response. While still unconvinced that he faced any immediate danger, he noticed his heartbeat had sped up and a good amount of adrenaline was coursing through his bloodstream. Whoever had spoken his name was undoubtedly inside the room with him, although he couldn’t understand how.

The warm liquid splashing against his shoulder blades and lower back shifted, as the pressure increased in spots and ceased completely in other areas. Something—or someone—was manipulating the flow of water behind him.

James allowed his eyelids to lift as he continued staring at the grayish grout separating the tiles on the wall in front of him. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt such fear, if ever.

Rapidly sorting through the list of candidates wanting to scare him like this, his older brother immediately came to mind.

“Steve, if that’s you messing with me,” he said, turning around and expecting to see a hairy forearm thrust inside the shower curtain, changing the water pressure with his hand.

What he saw when he turned around was definitely not his brother’s arm—nor was it even human.

An intense desire to back away from whatever occupied the space in front of him took over. The dented bar of soap was the only traction his bare foot found, however, and his frenzied momentum away from the thing lifted his body into a near horizontal plane, briefly rising above the wet tub before the inevitable fall back down.

He heard himself screaming and made uncoordinated, mid-flight arm gestures in an attempt to shield the back of his head from slamming against the hard acrylic.

Then everything paused.

Everything, that is, except the thing standing underneath the suspended water flow. James couldn’t move his arms or legs but he accepted the paralysis as a tradeoff since his body hung a couple of feet above the tub. His screams had ended as well, though not from any restraint on his part. Try as he might, regaining control over his body proved an impossible task, finding himself unable to move anything except his eyes.

The suspended motion in the bathroom had also stripped away all sound. Water droplets and longer strands of liquid hung in the silent shower around him, obeying the rules of a newer, more powerful force than gravity. The quick glimpse James got of the entity suggested it might possibly be older than any elemental forces in nature.

You are not in danger, James Kole.

With both of his arms closer to his head than his sides, and suspended in a supine position, he felt trapped on an invisible hammock. Staring up at the light fixture embedded in the ceiling, the presidential candidate didn’t want to adjust his gaze and glimpse the entity addressing him. Coherent thought patterns escaped him.

My business with you today involves your family, specifically your son, Nathaniel.

James listened to the words as if in a dream. The voice sounded oddly familiar to him, though he couldn’t pinpoint why.

I never intended to secure you in such an unflattering pose, but I’m afraid you left me with no choice since today is not your death day. I am going to rotate you and unfasten the restraints around your head and neck. Please don’t bother screaming and yelling. Believe me when I say that nobody in this house can hear your cries.

His head tilted back at first when released as if he were a newborn unable to support the weight of it. The involuntary positioning of the rest of his body started next, shifting his frame upright slowly. When completed, James’ feet remained off the tub and his hands stayed raised beside his ears. He had the freedom to turn his neck and avoid the sight in front of him, but he didn’t. Nor did he scream.

His curiosity overwhelmed the initial fear response and he simply observed his captor.

He had been wrong. The entity was not standing underneath the water—it was the water. With the stream exiting the showerhead temporarily shut off, along with the standard laws of physics, the remaining water had pooled into a swirling form in front of him. There were no discernable features or body parts outlined by the liquid, only a controlled motion around a central axis, maintaining a spiral-shaped design. Bursts of muted color briefly illuminated the drops, changing back to clear as quickly as they appeared.

No longer worried about his personal safety, James almost felt comforted by the strange presence. The being had used most of the water within the shower to materialize in front of him, he assumed, arriving from some ethereal location to speak with him. A sense of satisfaction grew within the suspended politician.

“Does this mean I’m going to win the nomination and get elected?” James asked. “Do you appear to all future world leaders?”

Most people inquire about my identity when I first appear to them. But since you asked, the answer is no, to both questions.

“I don’t understand! What goes wrong? How could I possibly lose this election?”

You are going to remove yourself from the race and end your campaign today, rather than start it.

James furrowed his brow as moisture from his wet hair trickled down his face. The lights intensified around the spiral being when it spoke. He finally recognized the familiar nature of the voice it used to communicate: it was his own voice transmuted as if hearing himself through a microphone or electronic recording. Despite the revelation, the message the spiral delivered was more troubling than the medium through which he heard it.

“But I’m the favorite! Why in the world would I ever withdraw?”

Because I’m asking you to, that’s why. As I said before, my business with you involves your son, Nathaniel. Your central purpose during this lifetime is to provide aid to his cause, and your current path will only prevent you from doing so.

“I don’t understand,” James said, attempting to dislodge his arms to provide a display of frustration. He only managed to shake his head back and forth. “What’s my son going to do that’s so important? He’s still in college!”

Years from now, the answers you seek will reveal themselves to you. Withdraw your name from the election now and support him when he asks for it.

“What if I don’t? I believe in free will, you know. Shouldn’t you allow people to live their lives as they choose? This isn’t fair.”

The spiral being pulsed with greater intensity as the light bursts flashed deeper, more brilliantly, triggering a low hum along with the visual activity. James felt his heartbeat increase once again. He wondered if he had crossed the line.

You cannot remember doing so, but you asked to be born into this role. This is the destiny you chose for yourself. Do not underestimate the importance of supporting your son. And yes, you can decide to disobey me and continue your campaign. Understand, though, that you’ve already made the choice for this destiny long ago. Only fools and cowards fail to accept their life’s purpose. I trust you will do the right thing.

He had felt his body gently lowered back to the tub moments later, watching the world reanimate around him as the spiral shape dropped to the ground without warning, swirling away into the drain. There were so many questions he wanted to ask but his stunned state prevented him from voicing any response at all.

He fully believed that the being would appear to him again, either later on in his life or on the other side of it. This knowledge helped him eventually overcome the missed opportunity to question a deity further.

And decades after his surprise press conference later that afternoon—the last of his political career—James began another sort of campaign, requesting favors for a unique objective.

His son had asked for his support to help build a large research facility in some backwoods town called Ovid’s Valley.

James Kole agreed immediately.

Continue the journey by reading OVID’S VALLEY, Book 1 of the Recruiters Series.

Poetry: A Strange Game

White-washed church with a metal cross on the roof,

slightly leaning, blue cloudless sky so bright you squint

makes shadows of the church in the red earth.

Dirt, dust, clay maybe; all dry and almost steaming.

The front four steps are layered with red earth,

the last step half submerged making one wonder

how far down the steps reach if dug out.

 

A small boy no older than 14 kicks the shadow of a ball

on the side of the church in slow motion.

His loose, white t-shirt moves against his body

like a flag in a slight breeze.  He follows the shadow,

waits for the dark circle to hit the ground,

then slowly sends his dirty bare-foot forward and

the shadow-ball dances off the white wall.

The real ball we never see.

Random Musings: Pet Woes

How do you say goodbye to a pet? Do you take them for a final walk? Shower them with endless treats? When is it time to finally hand over the leash and shake their paw for the last time?

All pet owners know that the animals they allow into their homes will eventually die. It’s a sad reality that everyone understands. However, the brevity of their stay makes you appreciate your adopted family member that much more. At least it should.

Dogs are special creatures that display unconditional love for those that take care of them. I’m sure cats have some redeeming characteristics as well, but my experience with them is limited. Growing up, my family home always featured a dog or two, with their pictures hung beside the humans. They’re part of the family history.

The dog I’ve owned since college is sick and has been for some time now. The specifics of his illness aren’t important. What matters is that his affliction has solidified a place for him in my heart. Watching him regress this summer made my insides feel as if they were a blanket, with his shortened existence pawing around for a comfortable spot of his own, rearranging my priorities and feelings. How long does he have left? I might find that out when I take him to the veterinarian tomorrow.

Despite his troubles, he continues to eat regularly and wag his tail when we come home. I’m not even sure if he is aware of his issues. Perhaps he knows, on some level, and our efforts to ease his suffering comfort him.

Looking over my shoulder while writing this, watching his dark tail wiggle from the attention thrown in his direction, I realize that any goodbye message we deliver won’t be that important.

He already knows what we are going to tell him, and probably has since the day we welcomed him home.

Poetry: Stockton, Iowa

I feel lost in this unfamiliar place,

The road signs are foreign, meaningless;

Corn stalks surround me,

Past knowledge is useless. Nothing

Works here.

Houses pop up and disappear like scared rabbits.

Familiar buildings yield no clues,

Up is down, left is right.

 

The start of being lost comes

At the end of a relationship,

Photographs in their frames begin to ridicule me;

Worn in paths are now off limits,

Familiar faces have lost their color.

Old friends have become acquaintances,

The one person who knows me best

Has become someone else.

Flash Fiction: Missing Your Stop

Caitlyn stepped off the train platform and felt the absence of pain.

She hadn’t planned on doing it weeks or even days in advance. It was more of a spontaneous idea that occurred to her, a whimsical thought she decided—for no apparent reason—to act upon. Sitting on the same wooden bench she had every weekday morning for the past two decades, staring out at the graffiti covered freight cars across the yard, idle in the morning light, Caitlyn stood and brushed the back of her skirt with a gloved hand.

If she were going to end it, it wouldn’t be proper to appear slovenly.

Her long, oft-brushed auburn hair fell about her expensive pea coat, tightly buttoned across her toned midsection and ample chest. The wool belt tied around her waist displayed an impeccable knot, as always. Adhering to a strict workout schedule since college and a simplistic diet, she had kept her dress size the same for a generation, succumbing only to the unavoidable age lines around her features. She had no issues with her body image. Most of the male colleagues in her firm, many half her age, still turned their heads when she passed by.

As she took her first step away from the bench, a strong gust of winter wind shook the barren branches on the trees surrounding the train station. When the chilly breeze hit her, Caitlyn stopped. She looked back at her leather briefcase she’d abandoned at the side of the bench. Merely a few feet away, the worn handle and metal clasps appeared unreachable, as if viewing an underwater enclosure at a zoo, pressing a hand against the glass in an attempt to touch the animals on the other side.

There was no way to stop this, she realized, turning back to her intended destination. The concrete platform featured a bright yellow, ribbed surface along the edge, designed to warn future train passengers from disaster.

She passed by a younger man wearing a hat with headphone cords draping his cheeks. He smiled at her. Intensely focused on her objective, Caitlyn looked right through the unspoken greeting. After the incident, the headphone man would describe her demeanor to a local reporter as “unplugged”.

The scuffed, domed bumps under her feet felt oddly unfamiliar. She’d crossed over this warning strip thousands of times when alighting from her evening train ride home over the years. But the truncated ridges underneath her designer boots felt more like the surface of another planet than her hometown platform.

Caitlyn heard the whistle and turned her head to view the southbound 7:15. The trains always slowed as they approached the stop but she figured the front car moved with enough speed to get the job done.

In her final moments on the platform, she thought more about abstract things than she did her failed marriage at home. Without a goodbye message written, she had little doubt that friends and family members would point to the divorce as the culprit. It really wasn’t, though.

Sure, splitting up with Tony over the past summer had certainly not been a positive, but it wasn’t the main reason behind her decision. Given the opportunity to explain herself on the other side, she might have listed a general emptiness to it all as her official explanation.

The biting breeze intensified as the lead train car rushed down the tracks. She stepped forward to meet it and closed her eyes.

Expecting a collision, Caitlyn instead felt pressure around her waist, sucking the breath out of her diaphragm. She fell back against an object and opened her eyes. The headphone man lay beside her, still holding the belt around the outside of her coat.

Looking into his eyes, a flood of emotions rushed in and filled the emptiness within her.

Poetry: Leaving

Rifling through my closet of insecurities,

Searching for that special spark, I turn

And find you. Who are you? And what

Are you doing in my sacred tomb? This

Is my holiest of holies, and heavily guarded.

 

You’ve come to set me free, you say. I turn

And refuse to leave. The walls in front of me

Are rotting and streaked with vile filth, but

It is familiar to me. What you offer is new,

But sickeningly scary. I do not leave.

 

Weeks pass and you remain there. Each

Time we meet you smile brightly, asking

About my day. You are still not welcome

Within my soiled refuge space, but I might

As well answer you. Everyone deserves a turn.

One day I awake in my sheltered sarcophagus of

Pain and call your name. You do not answer.

Where have you gone? I need you now. I hear

Your voice but it is faint, as if outside. Turn

To me, you say, and leave your guilt behind.