Below is a story I'm bringing out into the light. I will post parts each week. I would love to know what you think. I really like it but not sure what to do with it.
Part 1: Arrivals
Once upon a time sounded good. Like the sound of the church bells vibrating into the big blue sky, distant, out of reach. Or maybe it was more like the approaching of thunder, rattling the windows before the lightning strike. In either case, both would be welcome. It was a horrible place to be for anyone not interested in conquering the highest peak.
All day long Amanda poured coffee into the white ceramic cups of men’s ambitions. Hers was the last stop of sanity on the road to the conquest of the tallest peak in region. Anything higher required an airline ticket. Once you got into your car and started up that long, twisted road there was only one destination. Can you call yourself a man, or at least a true mountaineer, if you turned back before even stepping onto the trail? For six months you’ve trained, running up and down the stairs in your apartment building with weights strapped to your legs and four 2-litre bottles in your backpack. You’ve had a picture of the snow- encrusted pinnacle on your computer desktop at work for weeks. You’ve spent thousands of dollars on the kick ass gear: crampons, base layers, top of the line mountaineer boots, ice poles, an ice axe, down jacket, heavy duty bivey, cold weather sleeping bag liner, dehydrated foods, and gloves so thick you can barely bend your fingers around the pole grips. How could you ever face your buddies again without even have tried? Be it courage or stupidity, this was the point of no return.
The Top of the World Café catered the last meal to this exclusive group of individuals. The omelets and hash browns served up would be their last real food for at least the next three to five days. For some it was their last real food ever. The mountain had taken many lives over the years. It wasn’t always blind ambition either. Even those well-equipped and fully trained could be taken by surprise in a sudden storm. Gales of cold windblasts of eighty miles per hour upwards to one hundred plus were common. Snowstorms were known to happen every month of the year. Least of all was the frequent cloud cover that would completely swallow the mountain whole and leave you clothed in the amorphous shroud of white moisture. Any turn could be your last when you had no idea where you were going.
The interior of Top of the World Café was like many of the eateries in the area; rustic and cozy, like your living room. In the comfort of a real fire crackling from the depths of an oversized fireplace pieced together with large river rock, worn smooth by years of the flow of the water before it ended up here. Maybe not so much in the summer, but guests were always great admirers of the monster mantel. The greeters and servers wore their own clothes, casual but clean. The only thing that distinguished them from the customers were the black aprons they wore around their waists and the pot of coffee they usually carried around with them.
Amanda had lived most of her life in the shadow of the peak. In what she still considered to be a rash decision, sudden in its execution, her parents had moved from beautiful Fresno, California, poetry capital of the Golden State. She did not understand it then and she had yet to understand now. Well, of course she knew why or at least was told why. Her dad worked for Search and Rescue and there was an opening. They wanted a change. A fresh start, or something, they had not bothered getting her opinion on the matter. She had been four at the time and she still had not let them forget how she felt about it. She remembered the day they left. sitting on her sky blue Charlie Brown trunk in the middle of her empty room. Her parents took turns trying to reason with her. They promised great adventures with new friends, a new school, and a bigger house. What was wrong with the friends she had now, day care was not school, and she liked the trailer park they had been living in. They would have to go on without her, she had decided.
Years of experience with children of all ages through her middle and high school years had taught her many things, the first of which was that you cannot reason with a four year old, nor should you even try. Eventually her parents gave up on their postmodern parenting technique and did what was needed. With piercing shrieks, she kicked and bit all the way to the car, her father paying dearly for his determination. Buckled in the child safety seat against her will she watched with blurred vision as her old neighborhood slipped by and into the realms of a few vague memories and some fading photos in the family album. She pulled on the shoulder restraints, she knew the big red button in the middle was the key but really, what would that accomplish? Finally she cried herself to sleep in her car seat and dreamed about her new friends, new school, and bigger house.
She still lived in that bigger house with her parents. She, Rebecca, and Bobby daydreamed often about moving out of their parent’s homes to find a place for themselves but there were not any apartments to speak of. The town existed for one reason alone. They knew of a few families that had made small rooms in their garages to rent out and there were several hotels around but that was it. Their only real option was to leave, go to a real city with apartments and while they would list all the things they would do once in that new city with all the malls and multiplex movie theaters they could ever dream of none of them managed to do anything different than what they always did.
Day in and day out Amanda served food to the determined. Their pent up energy came out in friendly chatter about the weather and had she ever tried the climb herself. She would politely respond “no” and wish them luck. She had never been interested in going to the top or even approaching the bottom for that matter. It was an endeavor she did not understand. What was the point? You were not the first to do it; you would not be the last. There was no prize money, just a metal plated book at the top to sign your name in, why put yourself through such hardship just for bragging rights? It was stupid.
Sometimes, most times, at the Top of the World Café she got to serve the first taste of triumph. For better or for worse they returned bloodied and frost bitten the victorious would eat double than when they had gone up. Despite their deep exhaustion and injuries they had indeed accomplished something unique, something mighty, something less than ten percent of anyone else ever does. And man did it feel good. Or so she was told. Climbers of all shapes and sizes would slouch in the booth, faces sun and wind burned but beaming, retelling of their exploits to each other and laughing more than called for in their delirium. It was in those moments when a thought would pass through her mind that maybe, possibly there was something to it. The price might be worth paying. Or maybe she was just letting herself get duped into the delusions of grandeur of the oxygen deprived.
While it was true that the lifeblood of the town was fueled by these kinds of adrenaline junkies there were also the town’s people themselves that would come and feast at their fine dining establishment. Even in the digital age gas stations needed attendants, hotels did not clean themselves, and someone had to sell overpriced last minute supplies to the adventurers. For the local that did not want to do it themselves their choices consisted of the Burger Loft, a throwback to the age of drive-ins, their servers still wore roller-skates. Backyard BBQ served only lunch and dinner for obvious reasons, who had heard of barbeque for breakfast? In the interest of neighborly competition they didn’t serve hamburgers. And finally, for something really different, the Davidson family ran the taqueria, Los Locos Hacienda, neither of which made sense. For Davidson family was not Latino and to anyone’s recollection had ever been to Mexico. Nobody talked about the Italian Food.
As far as the locals were concerned there were very few people coming and even fewer going. It was like living with a large extended family. You knew whose car was whose. Dogs and cats might as well be community pets and nothing was a secret or sacred. And it was a very boring place so absolutely any disturbance of the most trivial sort was the subject over dinner tables everywhere and at checkout stands. One time she had held Bobby’s hand, at least that is what people were saying. What they had not seen was him yelping in pain like a little girl as she squeezed his hand as hard as she could for implying that she should date Brandon Jacobs. Stuff like that.
There was one person above all the others that everyone loved to talk about. Loved to share and compare every scrap of information that could be discovered and passed on. Each tidbit was prized and devoured like the last morsel of rations in the Donner Party. If you had something no one had heard of, which was rare, you were the hero of the day. All would seek your first-hand account to be sure that the facts were straight. Most of the time your revelation was really a variation on something already known. Shedding any degree of light on the mystery and enigma that was Jonathan Moore was always a welcome subject no matter where you were.
Amanda had seen him twice before, once was at a stoplight. He was driving a silver Lamborghini. It was in the middle of the day and no one else was around. They lived in the middle of national forest land it was quiet. The engine hummed softly with its flawless Italian engineering. She was on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street. She tried not to stare, it was rude, she knew that. Muffled music blared from inside the vehicle. He had come to the light just in time for her to cross. Fixing her gaze on the icon of the walking man she stepped into the street. As she did so she could see the silver shining vehicle in her periphery. Slipping past her with each step. This had never happened to her and who could say it would happen again. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look. Why was she holding her breath? This was ridiculous.
So she did what she should not have done, swiveling her head she looked. Jonathan Moore stared right back at her. This was no mere catching of the eye. She turned her gaze toward him to find he was already looking at her. She stopped walking. He had to have been watching her the whole time. She stood frozen in the middle of the street staring at the man everyone knew about but no one really knew. She had seen photos of him, his dark brown hair was always the same length and parted to the left. He was never seen wearing anything other than a suit and even then it was always with the jacket. She wasn’t sure he knew the meaning of the word casual. There were people in town who had met him on the rare occasion he came in, but all that was known was hearsay and rumor. He smiled at her, hands at ten and two o’clock position on the steering wheel, his blue eyes never wavering from her.
A car horn burped. Amanda jumped. A blue and white Chevy pick-up waited behind him. It was Tommy Brooks, they had been in the same class all through school. He gave her the evil eye for holding up traffic. Looking above her she could see the light was green and across to the red hand that held steadily. She quickly dashed out of the way, pivoting on her heel to watch him pull away. The car moved forward at a leisurely pace. As it passed by her Jonathan Moore smiled and nodded. He was heading in the direction of his private residence, an ostentatious estate deep in the forest accessible only by a gated, private road. She shook it off if only to get to the other side of the street. By the time she had met up with Rebecca and Bobby later that day she was asked about how she narrowly cheated death at the hands of that man, who did he think he was anyways.
Lysandra Carlisle is about to have the worst week ever...
The Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India – 7am
When I was born my mother said that I brought a light into the house the so she called me Jyotirdhar, holder of the light. And I am the favorite of all her sons. It is not a family name and my father protested, but she would not give up and he could not fight her insistence for long.
Sometimes, I wonder if she has the third sight because she always knows when I'm doing something I shouldn't. I thought it was a gift Vishnu gives all mothers, but after becoming one with the light I think she knew something no one else could know.
The Great Desert is my home. It was there that a blazing light came from the sky and entered my soul. It was too much to bear and others share the burden with me. Vishnu did not choose my mother, but it brings honor to her that he chose me as the chief among the blessed. Before the screaming and fire from the sky, our village was of little interest except to those who lived in it. Now, people come from all over the Great Desert to be touched by one of us. It is a high honor and a heavy burden to carry such a gift.
I do remember that day. I had left the village to get water for our family, as I do every morning. All our water comes from a large pool. It is not a long walk, but far enough that the sounds of the village are left behind. Everyone goes to the well in the morning but I am usually the first.
Along the way there was a terrible sound from the sky. I stopped to see what had made such a terrible roar but there was nothing. Just as the morning sun rising into a cloudless, dry sky. The sound was like that of rushing wind or falling water. A whistling sound made my ears hurt. When I turned to again to the sky this time I saw a red light falling from it. It burned and smoked and screamed as it came toward me. I dropped my pails and started to run.
I did not know where it would fall but I could not help but feel it would be on me. There was another booming sound. This time I dropped to my knees and covered my head. With my face to the ground I prayed to Vishnu to save me. I could feel fire and the sound thundered around me. With a mighty crack that shook the ground beneath me everything went silent.
I dared not look up. It seemed to me the earth was sighing. There was a pattering sound. Like that of dough as it is tossed from hand to hand. Then I felt it on my arms and feet. Large wet drops slapped the ground around me in a sudden deluge. I uncovered my face to see that I was surrounded by splats of mud raining down. I sat up.
The well. Along the shallow end was a deep trench. Water steamed and bubbled. I could see there was something much darker beneath the surface. The falling mud stopped. I ran to the water’s edge. I could feel the heat even as I stood only a few feet away from the mysterious object. The lapping water licked at my toes, it was hot. I don't know why, but I wanted to touch it. I felt that I was meant to find it. Vishnu meant it for me. For my family. It would bring us much honor.
The heat was great but my need to touch it even greater. I was drawn to its power. As I reached my hand toward it I could feel the light overcome me. It burned. More than fire. More than the sand on my feet in middle of summer. More than the light of the sun on my back. I fell to the ground, the mud only a small relief to the fire that consumed me from the inside. The dome of the sky above was devoid of clouds, just the blue horizon above me. Sinking. My arms and legs disappeared under the mud. Burning. Everything in me was melting away. My heart in my chest burned, my blood seared my veins. The pain absorbed all sound, thought, and feeling. I was being burned alive. Everything went white.
Arcadia, CA – 10:00am
The lobby of the Department of Planetary Affairs was packed. The energy and noise of so many people bounced off the vaulted pine ceiling and assailed the crowd. Everyone who was not on duty or performing a vital role was there.
Officers Lysandra Carlisle and Matt Holloway stood at attention at the back of the crowd on each side of the automated doors in full uniforms, working, vigilante, annoyed. Well, Lysandra was annoyed, Matt was giddy, which was even more annoying since she had to work with him. The jostling of so many bodies kept triggering the automated doors, just as soon as they started to shut, the crowd would shift and the doors opened again. Annoying.
The vortex of activity centered on the focal point of the room, a black porous rock, not much bigger than a bowling ball, rested on a clear pedestal. It was the meteorite that had crashed only a few miles away, bringing with it a new form of energy and a new era in human history.
Elbie, as they were popularly called, were an extra-terrestrial form of energy that came to earth on the meteorite at the center of the room. That meteorite was found by a small group of teenagers. What happened that day fourteen years ago was now a matter of public record. The Department of Planetary Affairs and the room they were gathered in, was the culmination of that historic event.
A man stood above the crowd, one hand resting on the rock and the other he held up to quiet the crowd. An immediate hush fell as everyone stilled. The man was an anomaly. His tussled blonde hair touched the collar of his designer button down and his copper goatee needed trimming on the sides. The laugh lines around his eyes and mouth were deep from years of weather exposure. He was the most famous guest the Department had ever hosted.
“I would like to thank your leaders, Commanders Draegg and Eriksson for indulging me in this small obsession of mine.” His Australian accent was thick, like he was auditioning for a movie role and wanted to be convincing. “It is a masive honor and privilege that I, Xander Hanson, get to serve this brilliant organization by bringing to you the very best of what I have to offer in modern security technology.”
There was a round of applause. Lysandra shifted on her feet and looked over at Matt. He had the biggest smile on his face as his full attention was on the guest of honor. She wanted to throttle Matt. Xander Hanson was all he had talked about for the last week and she was over it the minute it had been announced.
Xander waved his hand again. “I am so excited to be here with you fine people. I look forward to talking with each and every one of you. ‘Damn the man, let’s make a plan.’” Applause filled the room as he waved and stepped down, disappearing into the sea of people.
The crowds funneled out through the main entrance, following Xander Hanson as he started his tour of the DPA’s one and only facility. Lysandra let her shoulders drop as the last of them left the lobby. Commander Eriksson had not moved from his position just behind the monument, hands behind his back. As soon as the last person had left the room he approached them.
“Holloway, Carlisle.” He nodded at each of them in turn. To a biased observer it might appear that Eriksson was constantly puffing out his expansive chest, but Lysandra knew by the clean lines of his haircut it was his military training that made him stand that way at all times. “Training for the new system will begin at eleven hundred hours, until then, you are free to go.”
“Yes, sir.” Lysandra and Matt answered in unison.
Eriksson left without further word. The security detail for having someone as high profile as the CEO of the Vixen Corporation created a lot of extra work for him. Lysandra immediately unzipped her uniform jacket and pulled the radio link out of her ear. This was her signal to everyone she was not available. First order of business was coffee followed by the peace and quiet of her personal quarters.
“I cannot believe that you are being suckered in by that megalomaniac in designer jeans.” She loosened her dark hair from a tight bun and let it hang loose over her shoulders.
Still beaming from his brush with fame, Matt bounced as they walked along. “He’s not a mega—whatever. Would a maniac do the Charlie’s Angels pose for the pictures of total strangers?”
“Yes! Obviously. I just witnessed thirty minutes of that bullshit.”
Matt pulled out his phone as they walked. “If he’s in the cafeteria will you take my picture with him?”
“Absolutely not. I’m getting my coffee and I am done until our next stupid thing.”
“Jealous.” Matt pushed her in the arm.
The cafeteria was unusually empty, to Matt’s disappointment. Lysandra grabbed her required libation and headed to her room to be blissfully alone.
Lysandra skimmed the articles in the paper, her bare legs stretched out across Esben's lap. He absently ran his hand back and forth across her shin as he read his work documents. They were both dressed for bed. It was in this comfortable silence that they spent their evenings at the end of each day. At least, that's what it seemed like. Locked in the tiny theater, just the two of them, with just enough room for the couch they reclined on. The elaborate Art Deco chandelier above them gave off yellow light like a faded photograph. Its pewter and brass flowers were dulled by years of dust and neglect. Three walls were covered with heavy red velvet and the fourth was just a lifeless screen.
Panic gripped her chest- where’s the door? She could not remember how or when they had come into the room. They were just here. Auto-pilot. This is how it always was. Just the two of them, secluded, the rest of the world shut out and forgotten. That was the way she wanted it. Panic yielded to deep contentment. How she came to be in this secret place with Esben was not important. They were together.
Bored with the day's events, she dropped the paper on the worn black and gold floral rug. It was so old that the pattern had disappeared in places. Specifically, a path that circled around the couch. As if someone had spent years walking around and around. She sat up on her elbows. Where’s the door? There was no well-worn path to the door. Nor any break in the curtains. As far as she could tell it was one continuous piece of fabric. Maybe the terrible lighting helped create the illusion of no door.
"I have an idea." Esben slid his hand up her leg and climbed over her until they were face to face.
"I like the way you think, Mr. Drake." Lysandra wrapped her arms around his waist.
"You haven't heard my idea yet." He smiled mischievously.
She met him halfway, their lips touched as her hand slipped under his shirt.
Esben pulled back, looking down on her with a thoughtful expression. "Does it bother you?"
"What's that?" She reached around his neck and pulled him closer.
"That alarm." He kissed her with ardent urgency.
Lysandra could feel a heat rising from her stomach into her cheeks. She welcomed the response but it was such a weird question. There was a sound somewhere outside, muffled by the curtains. It went in sonic circles like a police siren but it was not that kind of alarm.
Esben's hand moved up her thigh. "And the light?" He nuzzled and kissed her neck.
Lysandra looked past him as he kissed her collarbone. The chandelier dulled and brightened in sync with the distant sound. Noticing this made the sound louder, more distinct.
The lifeless screen had begun to glow. The sound grew louder. She should know what it was. In fact it was her job to know what it was. Job. The light flickered more invasively. Undeterred by any of this, Esben's hands moved under her shirt. Lysandra pushed him back. The screen flicked on giving her a view of her room. The room she lived in at the Department of Planetary Affairs. A green light flashed, bathing the whole room in an eerie light. This was the room where she actually was and not in the theater with Esben.
Lysandra leaped from the Popazon chair, her heart trying to break out of her chest. The alarm clock on the nightstand flashed and blared. Procured for the heavy sleeper, it had an alarm that went as high as a hundred decibels. The flashing lights and shake mode were optional features she needed most days. It could take a beating too. She hit off button and grabbed her jacket. The meeting had just started without her.
It had been eight months since she had last seen Esben. It had taken her weeks to go a whole day without thinking about him. But no matter what she tried, the dreams would not stop. As hard as she tried, she could not get away from the idea of him, of them. Always the frustrating paradox of how it right it felt to be with him and the anger at him for what he did to her.
She came into the security center. Her fellow security officers had already gathered as Commander Eriksson explained what this afternoon would entail. Next to him stood three men in grey uniforms that said Stronghold Security on the front pocket.
A thin, lanky man stepped forward. His white hair was parted sharply to left and swooped across his forehead. His sharp cheeks and chin followed the line of his body as it tapered from his shoulders down to his feet. “Thank you, Commander.” He accent was English, each syllable precisely annunciated. “You may call me Kaine. Today will be showing you the important features of your new smart security system. Over the next two days, my staff and I will be training each of you in all aspects of it. Let’s start with the most advanced part first.”
Kaine turned his head toward a glass room that had been constructed onto the far wall of the security center. “The Vault. Because the DPA is on a completely independent grid, it has to be its own backup. In the event of an emergency, all vital records will be transferred to the systems in this room in less than five seconds and transmitted to a dedicated satellite as a backup.” He walked through the group, people gave him a wide berth like his personal bubble was something they could feel.
He stopped at the entrance to the room, turned and faced the group without looking at anyone specific. “What cannot be transmitted are Elbie. Since they are considered a limited and precious resource by your government, it is the top priority that they are secured under any circumstance. All Elbie not in active service will be stored here.” He reached behind his head without looking and pressed a button on a panel inside. At the center of the small room the floor plates separated revealing another level. “Once the top is closed, this room will seal as an extra layer of protection. The Vault can withstand a nuclear blast. It has a self-sustaining generator beneath it that will keep the system up and running for three months. If needed, there is life support for two people for three months. The more people, the less time you’ll have.”
Lysandra stood on her tip toes. From her vantage point at the very back, the space in the floor looked to be less than ten feet across. Any more than three people in there would be hellish.
Kaine continued. “Emergencies can include: cyber-attack, forest fire, or bio-chemical attack to give a few examples. Over the next couple of days we will be running drills for each scenario as part of your training. Any questions?”
A few hands went up. Lysandra looked around the room. Matt was up at the front of the group, taking notes no doubt. Eriksson had disappeared as soon as the talking started. Her communicator chirped in her ear. It was an urgent notice alarm. She looked at her watch. A message from admin read: Report to room 101 immediately.
Room 101 was where Eriksson did all his debriefing sessions. The last time she had been called into that room resulted in a yelling match with him over her use of inappropriate language for official reports. Nothing came to mind when she tried to imagine what she had done wrong this time. No point in keeping him waiting, that, she knew now, made things worse. She started for the door.
Matt stepped into sync with her. “You too, huh?”
Lysandra flashed him her watch. “Looks like we might get out of this training thing.”
“Aw come on, this is the most exciting thing to happen around here in months.”
Life at the DPA was very stable and routine; something Lysandra had never had her entire life. “I could do with some chaos.”
“That’s the spirit.” Matt leaned against her shoulder and took out his phone. “Look, look, look.” It was a selfie of him with Xander Hanson. Xander had his arm around Matt’s neck as the two of them flashed peace signs with wide eyes. “He’s so awesome.”
“Something’s not right about that guy.” Lysandra pushed the phone out of her face.
“You just have an aversion rich men.”
Lysandra did not appreciate the not so veiled reference to Esben. “Anyone that likeable is up to something.”
“Stop being so paranoid.” Matt looked at the picture one last time before putting his phone away.
“Media mogul, world cup sailing team owner, mass transit guru. The man is definitely compensating for something.”
“All he needs to do is acquire Disney and AT&T and he could rule the world.”
“Blugh.” Lysandra shivered at the thought of it. “New subject please.”
They arrived at the conference room. The door was locked; it was set to private meeting. Matt swiped his ID card. Access granted. Inside Commander Eriksson and Agent Ian Reynolds talked between themselves, stopping suddenly at their appearance.
“Holloway, Carlisle.” Eriksson stood up and beckoned them in. “Let’s talk.”
This is my first official short story from the Elbie reality. I actually posted it on my personal blog but this is an alternate version of that story with one critical change. I hope you enjoy it.
The innocuous looking box sits on the corner of David’s desk, perfectly aligned to the edges. He likes it when his assistant does that. The shipping label is nondescript and gives no indication of what company it is from or what kind of products they offer. Completely inert and yet he feels his blood pressure rising at the thought of its contents.
David doesn’t believe in destiny. Such mystical notions are childish. Feature articles, podcast interviews, blog posts, and personal appearances all tout his brilliance and his quiet climb to power from a humble patent clerk to the Director of the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office in only a matter of months. The American dream prescribes hard, honest work to be rewarded with a rich and fulfilling life. Whenever someone bestows accolades on him for his forward thinking and innovative genius this is the line he gives them.
When asked, he claims to have done nothing extraordinary. He makes decisions and takes risks that make sense in their context. It’s what anyone would do given the same information and options. It is a source of constant bafflement to him. It’s all so obvious and natural to David. One step leads to the next logical step, then another, and so on. Simple. All the fuss and analysis really is unnecessary.
David had spent years as a clerk, doing the work set before him, never looking for anything more than the next stack of documents to file, his next paycheck, the next government mandated holiday. All “I”s were dotted and all “T”s were crossed. Then one day he took a step back and he could see the whole picture and not just the one square inch allotted to him. And for the first time in his life he had decided to do something about what he saw, to be the agent of change in the world, as suggested by greater men.
But in truth it wasn’t just any day. It had been a succession of days that had changed him. He doesn’t like thinking that this is the case and he tells himself it was just coincidence, but it has never let him go.
It was the same as any other day because that was how he liked it. Order. Routine. No surprises. At the time he had had the same address for forty years. The same barber for fifteen. The same alarm clock since he was in college. He called his sister every Sunday at 6pm. He wrote his nephew once a month. He paid his bills as soon as they were due and he never answered the door unless the person had called ahead. The postman knew to use a special knock.
Leaves were changing from bright summer green to yellow as autumn settled in. He had his lunch in the usual place, a small park across the street from the office. Right bench, right side, in case someone else wanted to sit on the same bench. But they never did. Turkey, cheddar, mustard, no mayo. When he was feeling adventurous it would be Monterey Jack instead. Otherwise his lunch was as predictable as his schedule.
As he ate his sandwich and thought about the order of actions he would take after lunch, a woman walked into the small park. She wore plain brown flats, a skirt that covered her knees and a cardigan over her button up top. She looked around the parklet uncertainly. Their eyes met. She smiled. David looked away and pretended to be searching for something in his lunch bag.
“Hello.” The girl said to him as she sat down. On his bench. On the far side of it, but there were at least two other benches she could have picked from. She set her thermal bag in her lap and started organizing her food around her. Since it seemed like she did not require a response he kept eating, making sure his interest was on watching the birds in the trees or anything else that would discourage conversation.
After she had laid out her meal, she opened her fruit cup and started eating. Within a few bites she looked at him. “I’m Pandora.” She took another fork full of peaches. “I know, I know. My mom’s name was Cassandra. I guess my parents decided to go with the tragic Greek figure theme. I’ll have to name my daughter Persephone. In a way all Greek figures are tragic, don’t you think?” She looked at him but moved on without him. In this manner she talked the whole time. Including him in her conversation but requiring nothing of him.
On the third day of this she asked for his name.
He already knew that she was a receptionist temp from the building across from his. Her favorite pet growing up was her cat Spotty who was mostly black but had a white spot on his forehead and chest, thus the reason for the name. Her major in college was English and her favorite course was the political satire of the late seventeen hundreds. Mustard was too tart as food but the best color for fall leaves. All of this, and more, had been offered to him, giving his name in return couldn’t hurt.
“David.” He answered after a moment.
“So glad to meet you, David.” She held out her hand.
He had not expected that. He did not want to be rude. He wiped his hands on a napkin, her hand suspended in mid–air waiting for his. He forced a smile and took her hand. Her palm was hot, as if she had just been holding a fresh cup of tea. She released his hand and picked up her fruit cup.
“David is such a great name.” They continued their meal as she went about explaining who her favorite David’s were through history.
So it went for several days, each getting shorter and the sun colder than the last. They both wore additional layers but still ate at the same time and place as they had all the days prior.
“It’s supposed to snow late tonight.” David reported and took a sip from his thermos, letting the steam warm his face.
Pandora looked to the sky and took a deep breath. “Today’s my last day.”
David didn’t know what to say. He had become accustomed to her conversations. Sitting on the park bench alone no longer appealed to him. “Oh.”
“Yeah, I start a new assignment tomorrow.” She set down her fruit cup and looked at him. “Thank you for being my friend.”
He had never been one for words, but now he found he was completely devoid of them. David nodded his head.
She placed her hand on top his wrist. It was hot to the touch, more so than it had been the when they shook hands. He shivered.
“You’re sweet. Good-bye, David Dresher.”
Her hand was still on his wrist. He had never told her his last name.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek. His brain failed him, neither flight or fight had kicked in, he was paralyzed, stuck to that park bench like he was a part of it. The world burned white hot as he tried recall how she could know his last name.
He had been kissed once before, by a girl in his music class. They sat next to each other every day, sharing the same music stand as they played clarinet. They had been practicing in one of the sound proof rooms for an upcoming concert. They were the only clarinetists and there was to be a ten bar solo, they both wanted it to be perfect. He was the better player and he had stayed after school to give her pointers. Just before leaving she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. It was so sudden he didn’t know what to do. She giggled and waved at him as she rushed out the door leaving young David in a daze.
A digital beeping snapped him out of the memory. He looked down at his calculator watch. Lunch was over. He looked around. He was alone. Not only that, he had his sandwich in his hands, paused midway to his mouth. There was no sign of Pandora anywhere. He threw the sandwich in the garbage and rushed back to work.
As usual, he went into the bathroom to wash up before returning to his tasks. As he looked at himself in the mirror he noticed the blush of pink lips on his cheek. A sudden drumming pounded in his ears, he felt light headed. He used extra soap to make sure there was no trace of pigment on his skin. He checked the mirror again, the reflection of the fluorescent bulbs against the black marble walls were brighter than usual. He looked at the vent above the sinks blowing out hot air and pulled his sweater off. He was burning up. He would make an appointment with his doctor right away.
As he returned to work something happened. People looked at him. Some of them even smiled. “Good lunch?” Eric from accounting clapped him on the back as he past him in the hallway. “Beautiful sweater.” Shelly from HR commented as she cruised by his cubicle. Anyone who walked by him said something or did something. Friendly gestures and casual comments had not been part of his prior interactions with his co-workers. Usually they looked past him like he was an apparition that haunted the hallway but now they took notice of him.
He called his doctor. Diagnosis, negative. More than negative. Since his last check up, less than six months ago, his blood pressure was down and his insulin levels had evened out. The friendly gestures and casual comments led to actions. People asked him out to lunch and he accepted, with reluctance at first. Within a few short months he had friends. There were people in his life that wished him happy birthday and asked him to their house for celebrations.
When the snow had thawed and the sun warmed, he returned to the park when he could but Pandora never did.
Whenever he wonders about how she learned his full name, a sadness comes over him and he misses her quite kindness. Her friendship had done something to him. Thinking back on those days it’s like he is watching another person living that life. He feels no association to the man he had been. What matters is who he was now.
The box waits for his attention. After cutting the tape he peels back the four sides and looks down on a pile of biodegradable foam pellets. Dipping his hands into the pile his fingers find another box within. A smaller silver box shimmers with an electrical current as he brings it closer.
He sits down at his desk and sets the box in front of him. This technology has been available for some time but it was only now that he found the resolve to acquire it. After taking a deep breath he flips up the lid. He feels pressure throbbing in his temples.
A shining silver bracelet gleams under the track lighting. There are no markings of any kind, just a band of black that runs around its center. It is open at the back so it can be put on easily. Once the ends are snapped shut the device will activate. A small card wedged into the lid reads: DPA Certified Technology.
The item is not from the Department of Planetary Affairs directly but it has passed their standards which are the highest in regards to these matters. Certainty is what David wants. The banishment of doubt is what he is looking for.
No matter how many times he thinks it through or the number of possible explanations he can devise for the changes in his life he always comes back to the same conclusion: Elbie.
As beings of pure energy they are easily passed from one person to another. He does not display any of the usual signs of a host; accelerated healing, interference with electronics, or waking visions. No one ever mentions self-confidence or a social life as possible side effects of being a host but there is one way to know for sure.
He is ready for the truth.
He takes his sweater off first. It is always too hot in his office. He will have to tell his assistant to check the thermostat.
Just put the band on. In a few minutes he will know if all he is today is something he had found within the depths of himself or is the result of an outside entity that has been planted there by a friend.
David takes the item out of the box and slips it over his wrist. Blue for Elbie-free, red for not. He snaps the ends shut.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Does knowing change anything? What will he do if he has one? Will he register or ask for it be removed? His life has only improved over the years. He is the same person he was ten years ago, just more involved with his world.
His mind fills with burning white heat, like the center of new born star. He can hear the blood rushing in his ears. He opens his eyes. The silver band is settled in its silver box. David closes the lid. He will have his assistant return it to the company this afternoon. This is who he is and there is no changing that.
Copyright © Pat Griffith 2013
With the help of 99designs I had the terrible burden of picking a cover for my first book. Here are the finalists.
It was a great experience getting to work with so many great designers from all over the planet. And very exciting seeing my story come to life through their imaginations.