Those Who Do Not Remember

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***

It was October 8th, the last edges of dawn were receding, and the courtyard was empty. The sun was beginning to peer over the nearby mountains, and soon the cool morning air would burn away.

An apartment door opened and Tom appeared in an old football jersey. He led his sixty-five pound lapdog, Cali, outside. The mutt woofed impatiently as Tom locked the deadbolt.

“I know, I know! We’re going already!”

Once Cali had done her colossal business, which Tom deposited into his neighbor’s trashcan, they started their walk. Cali, per usual, nearly dragged Tom through the neighborhood and out to the main road, then on toward a walking path.

As they approached the path, a loud electrical chugging sound suddenly filled the air, accompanied by an anguished cry. Both were cut off as quickly as they started. Tom hesitated, dropping the earbud he was about to insert, briefly hit with déjà vu. There was something familiar about that scream. Cali’s ears perked curiously as they neared the main turnoff to the path, where the sounds seemed to originate from.

Entering through a wrought iron gate, they slowly rounded a bend, pausing once the path straightened enough to see farther. The thin strip of asphalt with a single, broken yellow line stretched ahead of them. Completely empty, no other soul or creature in sight. The scream had been close, as if someone were just around this bend.

Unsure of what to make of that, Tom shook his head and gave the leash a little tug.

“Come on, girl…”

But they hadn’t gone very far before he stopped her again. A metallic item was laying in the middle of the path at their feet. Tom picked it up, inspecting it. It was indeed metal, gold in color, triangular, and extremely lightweight. A scoop was carved between two of its points which housed a wheel. Odd symbols covered one side of the object, while a different set circled the wheel’s outer edge.

“Look at this, pup…”

Tom turned the wheel with his thumb. It clicked from one symbol to the next, ending on one consisting of three connected spirals surrounded by an unbroken circle. He looked around, the path was still empty. Cali stared up at him, her head cocked to one side. She let out another impatient woof. He glanced at her before shoving the item into his pocket.

“Alright, fine. We’ll put up some ‘found’ flyers later.”

Cali happily dragged Tom onward.

A few minutes and a hundred brief stop-and-sniffs later, the two approached an underpass. Tom could see the city had finally painted over the graffiti underneath. He gave it a week before there would be more.

Tom stopped in his tracks. The freshly painted spot warbled in the middle with what appeared to be an electric current. He hesitated, then took another step. As he slowly approached, the warbling spot grew wider and wider, revealing new graffiti beneath.

When he reached the wall the spot was two feet in diameter. That odd electricity seemed to chew away at the edges, which ebbed and flowed around a revealed symbol. It matched the one the click-wheel had ended on. Above the symbol was a small indentation, the same triangular shape of the metallic object.

Tom tentatively reached for it, and drew back surprised as his pocket began to thrum. He reached in and brought out the object, which glowed and vibrated faintly in his hand. He stared at it a second, before bringing it toward the indentation in the wall. The object’s vibrations grew violent as it moved closer, before it shot from his grasp, lodging itself into the carved spot. It glowed even brighter as Tom stared, awestruck.

The ground shook beneath his feet and Cali barked nervously, pacing at the length of her lead. Small bits of rubble and dust fell from the underpass as the shaking became more intense. Suddenly a bright cone of swirling, warbling light emanated from the object, enveloping Tom as it angled to the ground.

Cali paced faster now, outside the cone, barking madly. Tom looked at her through the rippling light. Her barks grew more and more muffled as the cone’s energy built, droned. Reality outside the cone began to shift and skew as the power grew to an ear shattering pitch. The cone finally burst, the sound dissipating with its energy.

Cali’s lead fell slack, severed, dangling from Tom’s wrist.

***

Veins stood out on Tom’s face and neck as he doubled over, grabbed at the wall, and vomited. He tried to regain himself.

“Cali? Cali, come!”

But his dog was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the severed leash, confused.

As he wiped his mouth on his sleeve he heard screams. He looked around and gaped at the chaos surrounding him. The sky was now a severe, burnt-orange. Columns of smoke rose from the distant city and surrounding hills.

Many people ran around the path, panicked, dodging beams of light. A woman was hit and burst into a cloud of ash. Tom jumped.

“What the fuck?!”

He looked up and saw the air was filled with impossibly fast, swarming Alien Ships. They fired bolts of energy down on terrified people. Up, past the swarm, a Mother Ship hung in the atmosphere.

A frightened woman struck Tom in the arm as she ran past, bringing his attention back to ground level. He watched the frightened people scrambling for safety. Here and there they were zapped by more energy bolts, silting away.

Further down the path a small battalion of Marines fired at the Aliens from behind a barrier. A few Marines tried to herd the civilians that would listen. One of them yelled at Tom, but he was still too shocked to move.

The Mother Ship launched an energy bomb. It descended quickly before bursting four feet above the ground with a low WHHHOOOMMM, sending out a shock-wave of light.

“Robertson! Get down!” The voice came from Tom’s right.

He looked as a Marine in her late thirties tackled him to the ground, just before the shock-wave rumbled over them. More dust and rubble shook from the underpass. The woman stood, pulled Tom to his feet. Tom saw the name on her uniform: HOWARD.

“Are you hit?” She looked at him. And then at his clothes.

Tom blinked. “What?”

“Where are your fatigues?! Where’s your weapon?!”

He glanced at his attire, then back to her. It was all he could think to say. “What?”

An Alien Ship swooped low and fired above their heads. Howard pulled Tom aside as energy beams scorched the underpass wall. Another Marine ran up and fired back at the ships, covering them.

Howard pulled a sidearm from her belt and shoved it at Tom. “Here!”

He accepted it, unsure of how to hold it properly. She turned to the newly arrived Marine. “Martinez!”

The Marine fired off a few more rounds before he ran over to meet them. “Captain!”

Martinez looked at Tom’s clothes, confused, then back at his commanding officer.

“You and Robertson take the lead.” She handed Martinez something wrapped in cloth. “Get the package to the Colonel.”

He stowed it and nudged Tom. “Let’s go!”

Martinez ran up the path half-crouched, firing off rounds. He clipped a ship, which banked, then rocked the earth. Tom just stared after him, mouth agape.

Howard shoved him after Martinez. “Move out, Marine!”

Tom stumbled, nearly tripped, but found his feet. He ran bent over toward Martinez, the gun dangling uselessly in his slack arm. Howard followed, keeping a secure distance, covering the two.

Tom finally caught up to Martinez, who was still blasting his way through the chaotic zone, up the path. They both took cover, diving behind a small barricade as a ship bore down on them. Martinez quickly reloaded his weapon as Tom jerked and winced with every hit the barricade received.

He turned to Martinez, eyes wild. “What the fuck is happening?!”

Martinez continued to reload, glancing at Tom. “I don’t–“

“What is this?! Who are they?!”

Martinez paused, worried, knowing something. He grabbed Tom’s collar and pulled him close, searching his eyes. “Did they reprogram you, Sir?!”

Tom stared at him, baffled by the question.

Understanding dawned on Martinez’s face and he released Tom. “You’re not him. Fuck. You’re not him.”

The ship circled back and opened fire. The two ducked as most of the barricade was obliterated. Martinez got to his feet. “Come on!”

He ran to another barricade. Tom hesitated, then quickly followed after, nearly getting shot. He dropped down next to Martinez, terrified. Howard stole after them, barricade to barricade, boldly firing at oncoming ships, winging one which soared overhead and crashed behind her.

A piece of shrapnel flew from the blast, lodging into her thigh. She screamed in pain and dropped to the ground.

Martinez slammed the item against Tom’s chest and looked him in the eye. “Get this to the Colonel…Sir.”

Tom nearly fumbled the item. “I don’t even know who that is!”

Martinez pointed at the end of the path.

Tom could make out a small warble of blue light. A doorway of sorts. The occasional energy bolt hit it, but didn’t pass through. Inside the protective light, a figure watched the ensuing battle.

Before Tom could say anything Martinez was already running for the Captain, firing at an oncoming ship. The ship banked right and away.  Martinez reached Howard, grabbing her pack, and dragged her backward toward a barricade.

The ship circled back and bore down on them, bolts of energy scorching alternating lines on the asphalt as it approached the target. Captain Howard fired her clip dry with an animal yell as both she and Martinez were disintegrated by the energy bolts.

Tom looked from their drifting ashes to the onslaught around him to the item in his hand. Shakily, he unwrapped the cloth, revealing the triangular metallic object he’d found on the path that morning.

“Oh shit…oh shit…”

The ship that ended the two Marines arced quickly and locked onto Tom, shooting at him.

OH SHIT!

He jumped out of the line of fire and ran for the doorway.

100 yards away…

He juked left, then right. He hurdled a barricade and quickly dropped behind another to dodge an energy bolt. He got to his feet and ran again, further down the straight path. A bolt barely missed his head.

75 yards…

Tom spun aside as gravelly bits ricocheted up from another miss and into his face. Remembering the gun in his hand, he began to fire wildly back at the ships.

50 yards…

He dropped down to avoid a swooping ship and slid under a raised barricade topped with barbed wire. Once the ship passed he continued, leaping another barricade in his rush. His foot caught the topside, throwing him off balance, and he slammed to the ground.

In his hand, the object clicked a few times and began a slow beep. Tom saw it was flashing along with the alert.

25 yards…

He looked up just in time to roll out of the way of another energy bolt, then hauled ass for the Colonel.

15 yards…

Another barricade. The beeping sped up.

10 yards…

He juked a bolt. The beeping grew faster and faster. The Colonel prepared to open the doorway, his hand on the sensor.

5 yards…

Tom leapt as the doorway opened, his hands outstretched.

The object glowed incredibly bright, emitting a continuous, uninterrupted tone as time elongated, slowed.

Mid-jump, Tom finally noticed the Marine standing guard beside the doorway, staring at him, mouth agape.

Tom’s own jaw dropped. The Marine looked exactly like him. They could have been twins.

An energy bolt sliced through Tom and he disintegrated, leaving a cloud of ash where he once was.

As the object fell from the drifting ashes it released a pulse of energy, opening a small tear in reality below.

The Colonel let out an anguished cry, diving for the metallic triangle.

The object dropped through the tear, which immediately resealed itself.

***

It was October 8th, the last edges of dawn were receding, and the walking path was empty.

Suddenly, two feet above the ground, a bright flash occurred as a short rift opened.

A loud electrical chugging sound filled the air, accompanied by a familiar anguished cry. A small, metallic, triangular object fell from the opening and onto the path. The rift quickly sealed back up, cutting off the sounds.

Moments later, down at the head of the path, a man and his large dog rounded the corner. He paused briefly, as if confused.

Finally, he shook his head and gave the leash a little tug, continuing toward the object.

“Come on, girl…”

***

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Relent

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It was night when I came to with an aching head in what I would later find to be a beautiful field of daisies.

I say later, because initially the moon was hidden by thick clouds, obscuring my sight. I could barely make out my hand before my face, the side of which felt warm and sticky. I could only assume it was blood. Was it mine?

I tried to recall through the throbbing pain. My last memory was at the duke’s manor. He had introduced me to a woman, whose name I cannot retrieve, and proceeded to offer me a drink…and then there’s a gap.

I don’t recall the drink itself, but immediately after his offer there was a bright flash across my vision. I think it’s safe to assume his butler cracked my skull with the Malacca cane I handed him mere seconds prior.

No matter that now, I told myself. More pressing was my missing locket. I had found it among an inheritance from my Great-Uncle. He’d left me books mostly, but the fascinating necklace was part of the lot.

My Great-Uncle always had a penchant for the odd and occult, and the aforementioned books fit the bill. The duke, having learned of my recent gain, requested to borrow the volumes some time ago and I obliged, having no interest in such trivial hoodoo. But the locket was…different.

I’d pocketed it upon discovery, impulsively, and carried it with me ever since. I did so because somehow having it in my possession made me feel…powerful, incredible. But in that moment, sensing the negative space in my vest pocket, I felt lost.

“Relent!” It was faint, a whisper from nowhere.

“Relent!” It came again, louder now,  as a command.

Try as I might, straining my eyes, I could not see the source of the voice in the pitch-dark. As fate would have it, the clouds chose that moment to break for the moon…and that’s when I saw.

The knife held fast in my hand, poised to open my throat. A fresh brand on my forearm. And blood. It was hers. The woman lay before me like a sacrifice to some unknown deity.

Beyond her, the ever-present butler lay twisted and slashed. I then saw the duke, a few paces to my right. His hands raised in exaltation, my missing locket around his neck.

“Relent!” yelled the duke. In a panic I tried to drop the blade, but my hand would not release. The brand glowed brightly as I forced my grip open against its will, the knife falling free to the matted grass.

“Relent!” I ran from his awful cries. As I fled with my heart fit to burst, head aching, and legs unsure, darkness began to race across the field before me.

I glanced up and saw the clouds starting to reclaim the moon. As I looked, a vertical slit of some great eye manifested upon the surface before it slipped behind the blanketing stratocumulus.

I tripped and tumbled into dewy growth. Something snapped within my leg, forcing a cry from my lips. Unable to move I watched the dark invade, slowly overtaking the world.

In that moment I found a brief, odd respite when I noticed I was in a beautiful field of daisies. They swayed lazily in a slight breeze. Without a care, they welcomed the inevitable night that enveloped them, one by one.

I envied them, hated them. I longed for such dispassion as theirs. How could they affect such a state in a situation so dire, so bleak?

I realized they were making a choice. A choice to be apathetic. It was far less burdensome than the alternative. It was then that I, too, chose apathy.

The pitch finally washed over me. I felt the blade returned to my grasp as the brand resumed its bright glow. The duke whispered in my ear “Relent.” So I did.

It was effortless.

432 PARK AVENUE

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1 second ago – I heard someone scream.

It wasn’t me this time. They stopped pretty quickly.

1.5 seconds ago – I closed my eyes and waited.

I gave in to my fate. It was now beyond my control.

2 seconds ago – I left the denial behind.

Why let it eat at me? It’s already happened.

2.5 seconds ago – I made one last bargaining plea.

If you’re there, God…well. Never mind.

3 seconds ago – I wondered if it’d hurt.

I tried to do the math. But I was never good at math.

3.5 seconds ago – I swear I heard him laugh.

The one time in my life I actually hear him. Great.

4 seconds ago – I pleaded with God.

I’ve made a terrible choice. I need a miracle. Please.

4.5 seconds ago – I frantically tried to undo this.

It’s impossible, though. It’s already begun.

5 seconds ago – I kept doing it anyway.

My throat feels ragged. I can taste copper.

5.5 seconds ago – I realized screaming was futile.

I briefly hesitate, then carry on. Because I’ve got nothing to lose.

6 seconds ago – I was still screaming.

If I have a guardian angel, I could use him now.

6.5 seconds ago – My screams continued.

I wondered if angels are real.

7 seconds ago – I started to scream.

What was I thinking?

7.5 seconds ago – I wanted to take it back.

God, I’m such an idiot.

8 seconds ago – I realized what I’d done.

This was a terrible mistake.

8.5 seconds ago – I felt free.

This is amazing.

9 seconds ago – It was exhilarating.

I feel so alive, released from every weight of life.

9.5 seconds ago – I stepped from the ledge.

It was easier than I thought.

10 seconds ago – I made my decision.

I let the telephone ring as I opened the window.

15 seconds ago – I knew what the call was about.

I wondered if I’d prefer it by my hand or theirs.

20 seconds ago – The telephone began to ring.

I set down the ticker-tape. Staring at it wouldn’t change a thing.

30 seconds ago – A general sense of panic filled the air.

An uneasy murmur crept in from beneath my door.

60 seconds ago – I pulled the fresh ticker-tape.

The numbers didn’t lie. It was all true. We were done for.

Americano

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I really hate Americanos.

Did she know?

She gazed at me from her small, scuffed table in the corner. I was seated near the door. We’d been there for thirty-seven minutes.

My Americano was three-quarters full.

Hers was nearly empty.

I think they taste like watery shit, but she loves them and this is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. What they order, I order. I don’t know why, but I did it on my first time and I have ever since.

You could say I’m unoriginal, but I’m just a sucker for tradition.

She smiled at me. And chuckled.

Yeah, she knows.

Man, she’s good. It’s alright. It’s happened before. She’ll run now. Makes it a hell of a lot harder but it’s fine. Might have to do some subsequent cleaning but that’s what contingencies are for.

She grinned before returning to her book.

What’s her deal?

She spotted me…why hadn’t she tried to run? It wasn’t typical. They always run.

She turned a page, a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

Does she think this is a game?

This was a first.

I’d done this a lot, and not once had someone grinned when they made me. They all freak and bolt, regretting the deal.

See, people make rash decisions when they’re depressed or sick and unable to off themselves. That’s where I come in. It’s like assisted suicide, without all the judgment or red tape. And the best part is they don’t know when or where. It’s easier on them that way. They don’t have a chance to second guess their decision and back out.

We assistants are a dying breed.

Literally actually, as three of my fellow euthanizers wound up on the wrong end of their barrels recently…

She looked up, the smile reappearing, and twiddled her fingers at me.

OK. Now it’s weird.

I don’t like to interact with clients. Most in similar areas of the business don’t, but my niche especially. It just gets…well, weird.

Like right now.

She eyed me, sipped her drink, then indicated my own.

I glanced at it briefly.

There’s no way…could she…?

She threw her head back and laughed. Now I was really starting to worry.

And feel it.

My skin tingled. My heart rate increased. I was sweating.

I’d been poisoned before. Poison I can take. It’s the doing things while affected that presents an issue.

She’s the one. It was her.

I needed to end this quick.

I tried to stand and draw, but my legs were on holiday. I fumbled the pistol.

My head lolled back. I noticed the staff and patrons, obviously part of this, had cleared.

Just us now.

My head lolled forward and she was in front of me, my gun in her hand.

“Why…” I finally slurred out.

She paused, genuinely considering her words.

“Preservation. First for me…once I’d had my wake-up call…and now for those who missed theirs.”

She smiled curtly, then proceeded to discharge a single round, removing the back of my skull.

My Americano toppled over in the process.

Good riddance.

Tradition kills originality, anyway.

Liquid Sun

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A liquid sun slides down the sky.

Dusk envelopes a small, empty cabin.

Fowl return to their nests and cover their young, while crickets tune up for the evening’s performance. An owl hoots in the distance as the last orange ripples slip over the horizon.

Night has fallen upon the woods.

A low, quiet rumble as something approaches.

Seemingly out of thin air, a door opens two feet above the ground spilling light across the road. A hooded man jumps down from it, clutching a bag tight.

He latches the door of the blacked out carriage and with a quick thanks runs towards the cabin.

He bursts inside, quickly slamming shut and barring the door.

Knowing the layout he makes his way through the dark to another door. This opens upon a set of descending stairs which, after shutting and barring this one, too, he takes to the basement.

Now concealed, he finds a small lantern in the corner and turns up the wick. The light reveals a small workshop adorned with tools and items. Some familiar. Some strange.

He rushes across the room pulling the bag from his shoulder and sets it upon a workbench. Pushing his hood back, he reveals a young, stubbled face. He opens the bag, removing an unseen item.

Tossing the bag aside, eyes on its former contents, a look of excited urgency spreads across his face. He grabs some tools and begins to work. 

The clock on the far wall reads a quarter of ten.

•••

At half past one he appears spent.

His look of excitement has been replaced with one of worry. It’s not coming together as fast as hoped.

He spreads out some tattered plans, moving the lantern closer. Brown and worn with age, they show something spherical with crisscrossing bands. The lettering is foreign, symbols of some kind.

Looking from the plans to the object then back to the plans, he sees the problem.

•••

He’s still tinkering when the clock strikes three.

The urgency resurfaces, mingled with a healthy dose of panic. He quickly grabs the clock’s chimes, cutting off their extended ring, and listens.

One minute passes. He’s still clutching the chimes.

A sigh of relief as he hurries back to the workbench. He grabs a tool and reaches for the object.

Upstairs the bar thumps to the floor. He looks towards the sound with a start and listens.

A long creak as the front door eases open.

He looks up the stairs and sees the knob twisting slowly back and forth, before something large begins slamming itself into the door, over and over.  

Quickly turning back to the object, he tries to finish before it’s too late. The slamming continues, now emphasized with a guttural growl upon each and every impact.

He fumbles tools and pieces, struggling to maintain control as panic begins slamming against a similar door in his brain.

Something finally clicks into place on the object. He grabs the last remaining piece off the bench and tries to force it home.

The door at the top of the stairs splinters, cracks. A plume of blackness pours through the growing opening and begins concentrating itself around the bar.

He fumbles the items, hands slick with sweat.

He quickly wipes them and regains the object.

The beast resumes the attack. Wood groans, snaps.

Blackness lifts the bar from its slots and hurls it down the stairs. It slams into the wall above, startling him, before dropping to the bench.  

He turns and looks at the door as the beast’s red eye peers through the giant cracks. They make eye contact, and for one eternal second everything seems to stop.

The beast seems to grin and resumes beating the door.

He turns back to the object, forcing the piece.  

The door bursts open, hinges give way.

The man grabs the bar and slams it against the piece like a hammer.

It slips into place.

The beast charges down the stairs, trailing blackness.

Light illuminates the man’s face. The object swirls inside with an electric orange.

The beast leaps, jaws open, claws extend.

The man grabs the object and spins.

Panic overcomes the beast as the sphere releases a bolt of plasma. Surging forward it connects with a thunderclap.

Windows explode outward as the beast launches through the roof in a beam of orange light.

The beam extinguishes.

A smoldering pile of melted fur lands nearby.

The man slowly exits the cabin, approaching the pile. He stares at it, taking it in.

Looking to the moon he sighs, relieved. He begins to turn, a crack in the distance stops him.

He stares into the murky black.

Nothing.

Everything.

This night is far from over. He turns for the cabin, recharging the object.

A legion of red eyes glare from the shadows.

1/1000

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Blackness.

A lone bird chirped distantly.

The wind rose and something rustled.

Tom opened his eyes.

The world was initially blinding until his pupils adjusted.

Clouds, motionless, appeared to be painted on a fading sky.

Sitting up, he found himself in a field, wearing a baseball shirt and jeans.

He tugged at the shirt, trying to read it. It seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place why.

He’d been here before. He’d been gone a while.

It seemed so recent, yet so long ago…whatever “it” had been.

He took in his surroundings.

It was late evening by the sun’s position, right above the horizon.

Trees off to the east. A lake to the south. Some thickening brush to the north. Hills to the west.

He rose, and after a moment’s deliberation, headed west.

It just felt right.

He couldn’t explain it if he tried, but it felt like he was supposed to head for the setting sun.

Like he belonged there.

He’d only gone a few paces before noticing a baseball glove lying on the ground.

Stooping, he picked it up, and immediately put it in his back waistband.

The entire motion was involuntary.

Once again, it just felt right and he hadn’t a clue why.

•••

What seemed like an hour and roughly four miles later, Tom found himself at an abrupt edge to the field.

The lake still glistened in the south.

Farther ahead, in a wide stretch of desolate, desert-like terrain lay a small, motionless war.

Upon arrival, he discovered it to be a battalion of life-sized G.I. Joes opposite the Cobra Command. The latter appeared to be decidedly losing. The toys were massive, as tall as him.

But for Tom this seemed normal. He didn’t question it.

A sound began to grow.

Similar to wind, but not quite.

Tom looked down as the earth shuddered slightly beneath his feet.

Turning to the north he saw a tsunami rapidly approaching. He hadn’t time to react and was gathered up in a swirl of oversized plastic jeeps and futuristic aircraft.

•••

He awakened, wet and muddy, on the shoreline of the lake.

A giant plastic missile floated nearby, a Joe’s arm purposefully wrapped around it.

Pressing himself up, he tried to make heads or tails of what just happened.

But again, that odd familiarity filled the moment.

A few barks in the distance grabbed his attention. They came from further west, stopping as soon as they began.

The sun flickered.

It was only for a split second. Had he blinked he would have missed it.

He rubbed his eyes and squinted at the sun, waiting to catch it again.

It dawned on him that although he’d been walking for over an hour, not to mention the unknown amount of time he’d been unconscious, the sun hadn’t dropped an inch.

He considered for a moment the change in terrain, landmarks, and his positioning.

None of them added up.

The sun was definitely in the same spot.

Another bark, even further.

He pressed on, leaving the toys behind in the muddy shallows.

•••

Hours passed as he continued walking toward the motionless, although larger, sun.

It had flickered three more times, in quick succession, but that was over an hour ago. Or what felt like an hour anyway.

Without a way to track time it could have been five hours for all he knew.

He had left the desert terrain and entered another field, almost identical to the first.

It was then he had another realization:  He wasn’t tired.

He’d been walking for miles now, for an undetermined amount of time, and he wasn’t exhausted. He wasn’t even short of breath. He had no thirst or hunger for that matter.

Suddenly, a small dog burst from the brush to his right, barking wildly as it tore into the distance.

Tom jumped, startled. “…Jack?…Jack!”

The dog skittered to a stop and jerked around, searching for the source of its name as if it hadn’t heard it in years.

Spotting Tom it padded up slowly, suspiciously, coming to a stop some four feet away.

Tom knelt down and reached out a hand, beckoning the dog.

After some tentative sniffing, snorts, and questioning looks, the dog seemed satisfied.

It began to wag its tail, barking loudly as it ran around Tom in a few circles before heading off in the distance again.

Smiling as the dog ran away, he noticed a blue Jeep Wrangler nearby, with giant floodlights on the roll bar and an oddly placed center steering wheel in front of one giant bench seat.

Approaching it, he saw keys hanging from the ignition. He hopped in and felt something press against his back.

Pulling out the glove, he noticed a baseball in the small trunk space. He tossed the glove in with the ball.

It felt involuntary again, familiar again.

He turned the ignition. The key clicked in the slot, turning in circles.

This brought a fleeting memory, gone before he could catch it.

Pressing lightly the accelerator, a high pitched whine began as the Jeep eased forward a few feet.

He released the pedal and the Jeep stopped. Gathering it was electric, he floored it, resuming his trek towards the sun.

•••

Cruising along in the electric Jeep he made much better time. Or so it felt.

He’d passed through miles of gravel.

The Jeep got stuck a few times in the thicker areas. It was while digging himself out he noticed the wheels were made of plastic.

This seemed off, yet perfectly reasonable.

He’d begun to accept these double feelings.

•••

A few more hours and he was out of the gravel. The sun had quadrupled in size and flickered at least once per minute now.

As he pulled around some more brush the Jeep’s familiar whine began to drone down. As it lowered the power dropped in step. A few minutes later it came to a halt.

Releasing and pressing the pedal only got a few lurches, then eventually nothing.

Tom stepped from the Jeep and continued on foot.

•••

The sun appeared to grow larger now with each step.

It also appeared to be changing shape.

With each flicker he thought he saw shadows pass across the surface.

•••

Another hour had passed.

The sun was visibly a square in shape, and the brightness that once flashed from it seemed more ambient now.

The closer Tom got, the shadows looked more and more like people.

•••

Hours since he first awoke in the field, or days for all he knew, Tom finally reached the sun.

It was still square in shape, and spanned about ten feet across. It was some kind of plastic, translucent, like a giant, semi-frosted window hanging in the air.

He could see his reflection. The reflection of a young man.

Cupping his hands around his face he pressed against it, and could see the vague outlines of people on the other side.

He yelled out for them. No response.

He beat against it. The plastic rippled, but still gained no response.

Turning away, frustrated, he started.

Behind him was a power wheel Jeep with ball and glove in the back, a pothole filled with gravel, his dog, Jack, some G.I Joes floating in a small puddle created by a running hose, and a small patch of grass beyond which spidered around everything.

Turning back to the window, his reflection was one of a child in muddy clothes.

A female voice sing-songed “Say cheese!” and the sun exploded in a brilliant, white light.

•••

In a well-kept kitchen, a college aged Tom digs through a refrigerator, sandwich in one hand.

On the freezer door above him, a magnet holds a photo of a 4 year old Tom with Jack and his power wheel nearby, as he happily drowns a pile of G. I. Joes with a garden hose.

Multiple other photos of Tom, from differing ages, surround this one.

An older woman approaches, notices the photo of young Tom and smiles. She pulls it from the door lovingly.

Tom finds what he’s looking for, closes the refrigerator, takes a bite from his sandwich.

The woman holds the photo up. “I remember this. So long ago…but seems like yesterday. Do you? That day when you decided to flood my yard?”

“…Not really,” he mumbles through a full mouth.

Her smile returns. “Well I do…I love these…”

She replaces the photo on the door.

“They’re like little moments of you I get to keep forever.”

•••

“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.”                                                                                     – Eudora Welty

SolEx

Standard

SYSTEM BOOTING…

DIAGNOSTICS SCAN…

SYSTEM REPORT Y/N?

COMMAND: RETRIEVE SOLEX UPDATE

SEARCHING…

ACCESSING SYSTEMS…

FILE DOWNLOADING…

SOLEX UPDATE-

DATE/TIME_ERROR – UNABLE TO ACCESS

ASSESSING DISTANCE…

LOCATION_4.6 MILLION MILES FROM SOLAR SURFACE

OPEN FILE Y/N?

PLAYING AUDIO FILE…

“This is Petty Officer William Harrison of the USS Solaris, Mission 0105-1211, also known as ‘SolEx.’ As sole survivor and now the commanding officer aboard, I am reporting this mission as failed. Given the current status of our communications systems, I am unsure if this report will transmit to base…

“And given that…I guess we can drop the formalities. I don’t go by ‘William.’ I’ve always hated that name. My friends call me ‘Mac.’ So if this ever reaches anyone out there, well…you know what to put on my headstone.

“I’m not sure how bad the ship’s memory file was damaged, so I’ll give you a brief re-cap. Roughly eight months ago the crew and I, along with a handful of civilian scientists, led by Captain Feinz, departed on this mission. We were assigned to the international space station for some three weeks while our ship was supplied.

“The purpose of the mission: to witness, up-close, the effects of the sun on a passing comet. Six months prior to the mission, one of the scientists on board had discovered the largest comet we’d seen in a long time. After some calculations to determine trajectory, he was thrilled to announce to the world that the comet would be passing within nearly 4.4 million miles of the sun’s surface. Passing within such close range would cause the ice and dust of the comet to react, allowing for us to learn more about our universe’s past.

“So a few governments and some private investors put together this ship. Complete with radiation protection and enough thermal shielding to park right beside the damn sun itself. This hulk wasn’t cheap.

“And there you have it, folks. We came 88.4 million miles in a quadrillion dollar spacecraft so some nerds could watch a 500 million year old ice cube melt.

“Everything with the flight went according to schedule. Nothing exceptional to report. The systems did their jobs and we did ours.

“Our ship’s windows were coated using a specialized polarization process that blocked out nearly 80 percent of the sun’s light. This allowed us to make it about halfway before deploying the solar shield, which added additional light blockage and diverted radiation. It was made of a special alloy that allowed a small percentage of light to pass through. This let us view the sun, while also protecting our eyes.

“That last part was important. While I already mentioned we had more than enough heat protection, without the shield the radiation would have us all in stage four cancer in a matter of minutes and dead soon after. It was intended to ride ahead of us for the journey there, then swing around and protect our backsides on the way home.

“We arrived at the midpoint of our mission: 4.45 million miles from the sun’s surface. A mere stones throw from where the comet would be passing. The nerds were in for a great show.

“Anyway, we put her in park, set all of the recording equipment, and waited on the comet to show itself. It finally did, arcing past that big star ahead of us. I have to admit, it was breathtaking. One of the most gorgeous sights I’ve seen in my life.

“The sun’s heat began to affect the comet. The shimmering ice particles made way for refracting water droplets. The dust that escaped spread out in a cloud. It was like watching a bottle rocket slowly explode before turning into weightless marbles.

“The crew and scientists all applauded. It was a spectacular payoff for such a long journey.

“While most of the crew started popping champagne corks in celebration, one scientist lagged back, still looking out the window. I noticed and joined him.

“Some of the ‘marbles’ were behaving oddly. While the rest of the comet continued its journey at the same rate of speed, the water droplets were drifting back from it. Like they were purposefully slowing down.

“A few moments later they stopped entirely. By this point the scientist had called the others back, and we all watched as the water rippled, first slowly, then violently. A black substance began to withdraw from the liquid.

“It pulled itself into a sphere and just sat there for the longest time. A large, dark blemish against the pure, bright sun.

“The comet was old news now. The scientists were trying to analyze the substance with all the scanners and readers the ship had to offer.

“Then it began moving toward us.

“The sphere drew closer at a steady rate. Our pilot leapt to the bridge controls and hurriedly pulsed our reverse thrusters, trying to keep us at a safe distance. It tracked us for about fifteen minutes before it attacked.

“It fired pieces of itself at us. Our pilot managed to evade the initial pieces, but it gained accuracy with each additional attempt.

“Finally, one struck the solar shield.

“The substance began dissolving the alloy. We were shocked. Panic began to creep in. The alloy was nearly indestructible and this sludge was melting right through.

“The pilot engaged our reverse thrusters to maximum and continued trying to evade the sphere’s subsequent shots. It matched, then doubled our speed, slipping around the shield and firing directly at us before we could even spin the ship around.

“All of our proximity alarms on board brayed as the sphere plowed into the side of the ship. It was dissolving the hull now. The thermal shield would follow soon.

“We couldn’t stop it. We had no way to remove it. The captain did the only logical thing and evacuated the cargo hold and crew quarters. This put a few extra layers of steel between everyone and the sludge.

“We watched on the security monitors as the substance breached the hold. Once through, the pressure change tore away a large part of the hull and cargo…metallic cases, supplies, and some stored EVA suits all went flying off into space. The ship buckled and groaned under the pressure loss.

“We had a crew of 15, including the 4 scientists. We departed the space station with 15 EVA suits. A couple were to be used for routine maintenance and stored on the main deck next to the cockpit…we just watched the remaining 13 just float away.

“But the substance clung to the ship through all of this, and now, as the pressure had equalized, it began to enter the opening.

“Once inside, it resumed its spherical shape and floated around the hold, searching. It found the bay door and pressed into it, dissolving right on through. This caused another pressure change and as the next section equalized, the ship buckled and groaned more. Our formerly arrow-straight craft was bowing pretty badly by this point.

“The life support systems were compromised beyond repair…we could actually see the O2 levels dropping on the gauges.

“The captain suggested the scientists draw straws for the remaining EVA suits. The scientists agreed that while they appreciated his noble gesture, they assumed that, suit or no suit, this ship was probably incapable of taking anyone home.

“Before the captain could even reply, the bridge door buckled inward, cracking. Some of the black substance shot through, splattering Thompson.

“We all ran for the second section of the bridge, which was closer to the cockpit. The bridge door lost its seal and ripped from the wall. The vacuum sucked back Smith, Jennings, and Carson.

“I was the last one through the second door and hit the airlock. The door closed quickly enough for me to look through the window and watch the three men being drawn into space.

“As I watched, their heads swelled like balloons…their skin split open, revealing shiny skulls underneath…their eyes popped from the sockets before bursting, leaving trails of ocular jelly floating behind them.

“I couldn’t turn away. It was hard to accept what I’d seen. When you’re confined to an area the size of a small house with 14 other guys, you get pretty close…you become family, and I had just watched three of my brothers die horribly painful deaths.

“When I finally snapped out of it, I turned in time to see Thompson collapse. Some of the others caught him and lowered him down. He still had the black stuff on him. It was burrowing into his skin. He started to shake violently and his eyes rolled back in his head. The captain screamed for someone to grab a medi-kit, but suddenly Thompson stopped.

“For a few seconds he lay motionless. Then his head ticked to the side a couple times. His eyes fluttered, then snapped open. Thin veins spread quickly from around his eyes, down his neck.

“The captain called his name. Thompson turned and looked at him slowly with curious, wide eyes. It was as if he’d never seen the man before. He tried responding. It was a struggle. The captain called his name again.

 “When he managed to speak, it wasn’t his voice. It wasn’t right. Something was manipulating his vocal cords, speaking through him, like he was possessed. 

“The thing inside him finally said ‘Thompson…Thompson…Thompson, Thompson, ThompsonThompsonThompson–‘

“Thompson lunged up at him, biting his face. Captain Feinz screamed, pushing the crazed man away. The rest of us jumped in, tried to separate the two.

“We pulled them apart. Thompson bit a couple other crew, Klein and Olsen, in the process. Davidson, the medic, began treating the Captain.

“Feinz started shaking. He let out a small scream and shoved the medic away. When he raised his head we saw he had the same, curious eyes, veins spidering out and down.

“This time there was no talking. Feinz simply lunged for the nearest member, sinking his teeth into their shoulder.

“Turning to run we found Klein and Olsen staring at us with that familiar look. Davidson threw the medi-kit in Olsen’s face and I tossed a nearby coordinate binder at Klein, who caught it and looked at it inquisitively.

“The remaining crew and I ran for the cockpit. The infected ones chased after us. Somebody tripped, I didn’t see who, and took a couple down with them. They were all bitten before we even got into the hall.

“We rounded the corner and hauled it for the cockpit.

“They were faster.

“They took down Quinn before we were even halfway there.

“Arriving at door a few paces ahead of the rest, I punched the airlock button and slipped through. Spinning around I saw the final uninfected member, a scientist named Rogers, taken down.

“They began tearing into him…I punched the button and the airlock slid shut.

“I locked it from my side…

“So that’s it. As I’m recording this now, I can see the entire crew through the airlock window. They’re all just standing there, with those curious eyes, waiting.

“The gauges in here, if they’re still accurate, indicate the O2 levels outside the cockpit have fallen below habitable. Whatever infected the crew seems to be unaffected by this.

“I, on the other hand, appear to have about three hours left of breathable air. If I could get to an EVA suit in the hall I could last another six…but three will have to do.

“The ship’s engines still appear operational. She might fly a little drunk, but I think I can still maneuver her enough…enough to do the job anyway…

“The infected may not need oxygen to survive, but I’m guessing they can’t take the heat…here’s hoping she’ll hold true to course once I’m gone.

“This is Petty Officer ‘Mac’ Harrison of the USS Solaris, Mission 0105-1211, signing off.”

END TRANSMISSION…

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