Amazon’s Kindle Vella On The Horizon

Amazon will be introducing a new platform for writers and readers called Kindle Vella. If you are familiar with WattPad, it is very similar, allowing the author to release episodes one at a time, while interacting with their readers. This methodology has proven very effective for new writers on WattPad, including me, but add to this, the robust Kindle authoring platform of Amazon.

The idea is this: The author can release one episode at a time , from 500 – 6,000 words, of a Work In Progress (WIP) and add notes to the end of the episode, facilitating early feedback. The reader gets an early adoption of works by authors they follow. Sounds like a win-win. There is a catch (Being Amazon). The reader can read the first three episodes for free, but to unlock additional episodes, the reader is required to purchase a pack of tokens. The token packs seem pretty incidental

  • 140 tokens (2+ episodes) for $1.99
  • 368 tokens (7+ episodes) for $4.99
  • 770 tokens (15+ episodes) for $9.99

I have not figured out the significance of those numbers, but I’m sure a gazillion was spent on the research of big data and captured user content to arrive at those magic click baits.

There will be an IOS application coming out on Amazon in the upcoming months (as of this writing: 4/21/2021) it is not yet available)

I have already uploaded my first short story (Mylar) under the series title: “End Of Days.” Come back here and look for updates when this becomes available to all.

This is the first story in a series that got me thinking.  How would my family and friends feel about their last day on Earth?  Would their last day be as complacent and torturous as mine? That I can’t help.. I love a twist to a good ending.  Would they be angry or have regrets? Would they feel compassion, love?  Would they have a sense of being cheated or fulfilled in life?  Could I make this into a series of shorts?  So I asked them:  Where would you like to be?  Who would you like to be with?  How do you think you would feel?  But there was one catch–– I choose what takes them out.

Blue Light Special (End of Days Series)

BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL

(End Of Days Series – David Nadas)

“Hello? … Hello?…  F’ing thing! ” Jammie shouted into the car’s navigation screen as if that would speed up the Bluetooth connection from her mobile phone.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Her husband’s worried voice asked through the speakers, catching only her last remarks.

“Yeah… I’m fine…. It just takes so long for the phone to work its way through the screen thingy to the speakers and you have no idea if the other side is hearing you… whatever….yeah… I’m fine… What’s up Grumps?”

“I hate when you call me that… “

“Sorry, Paul, but you sound so seriously grumpy.”

“Jammie, have you checked your phone lately? Every device on the planet with an emergency alert is going off!”

“Yes I heard my phone, but it’s in my purse on the back seat… What am I looking for?  A Kia Soul with tinted windows? A white Camry? A maroon 2017 Honda CRV Touring?  Wait… that’s what I’m driving…. I suppose the amber alert could be about me because I heard a BOOM and I thought a Walmart eighteen wheeler had hit me–– and you know my premonition of being taken out by one of those…. So then I scooted into middle lane to let it go by and some A-hole started honking from behind me, so I moved back into the fast lane and almost clipped some Millennial who was lying so far back in the seat I thought it was one of those self-driving EVs…. where was I?  Oh yeah––”

“Jammie…. Are you through?

“Sure… what do you want me to pick up?”

 “What? Where are you?” 

“I’m on 15 South.”

“Pull over….”

“Paul, I’m on 15 South… I can’t just pull over––”

“Pull off the road, Jammie, NOW!”

“But––”

“Do it!” She heard and the space in the car went silent.

“Paul.. Are you there?”

“Yes.” Paul said calmly this time.  Please pull off the road, Jammie.”

“Ok, I’m taking the Poway Rd Exit–– Good God!  There’s another Walmart truck exiting in back of me.  I feel like I’m being herded to my death….”

“Let me know when you’re on the side of the road”

“Ok, just let me find a safe place to park.  There’s like no shoulder here and the only place that looks decent is occupied by a food truck with yet another Walmart rig next to it!  Where am I, Walmart Truck Hell?  Is this where they all meet up and compare their kills? 

––Hey, I just took out a minivan.

––Yeah, those are great. Love the crunch but not as good as clipping an RV

–– ‘Cuz they’re full of people (chuckle, chuckle, chuckle).  Do Walmart truckers stamp icons of cars indicating the number of kills they have, like the WWII pilots did?“

“Jammie, get serious.  Pull off the road.”

“I’m trying, Paul. Okay, I see a shopping center up ahead.  I’ll pull in.  Oh Christ, Paul, it’s a Walmart Supercenter!”  This must be the mecca of Walmarts, because judging from the size, this one probably gives birth to smaller Walmarts––”

“Jammie!  I’m not joking around.  You need to pull in but do not shut off the car or you’ll cut me off.”

Jammie did as he asked, parking as far away as possible in the lot, looking around at all the haphazardly parked Walmart rigs around her.

“I’m stopped,” she said, unbuckling her seatbelt.  “What is so important that I now have a front row seat at my premonition?”

“The world is coming to an end, Jammie.” Paul said through the connection with Jammie detecting a crack in his voice.

“Tell me about it Paul–You should see this place.  It’s like I crawled into a den of sleeping Walmart Trucks and there is an alarm clock with two giant bells on it next to them about to go off in three seconds and I can’t reach it in time––”

All she could hear was a slight whimper coming through the car speakers.

“Paul?  She said gently.  Paul was not the kind of guy who would tear up like that. Paul?  Is everything okay?” 

“Jammie.  I’m serious.  Look at the alert on your phone.  You heard that boom, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but I thought that was the Walmart truck?”

“It wasn’t.  Apparently there was and undetected intergalactic rock the size of Manhattan that came out of nowhere and just skimmed Earth, passing close enough that it tore a trench in the upper atmosphere on the other side of the planet and that was the boom we all heard––” 

“But it didn’t hit us… that‘s good, right?”

“Maybe, maybe not.  At least if it had hit us we would have never known it, but it took out most of the satellites communications and seriously screwed with Earth’s electromagnetic field, so much so that scientists speculate a reversal of the poles and we will lose all our protection from radiation until the fields realign.  It’s not good, Jammie.”

“So.. like how long does that take?  Can’t we just stay inside for a bit?”

“No one really knows.  There’s evidence in Earth’s past that the poles have switched many times before, but no one knows if it’s an overnight thing or several thousand years.”

“So like how much radiation are we talking about?”  Like we all have to wear 500-block lotion just to take out the recycle?

Paul started to laugh.  This is what he loved most about Jammie; she could get him to laugh in the most dire of situations, turning the corners of his mouth upward as much as he tried not to smile.  

“Like it is going to kill most of the vegetation and the downstream effect will be pretty devastating for terrestrial life not to mention we are losing a boatload of atmosphere.  And it gets worse; they think it will slingshot around the sun and head right back at us. 

“Oh… that’s not so bad, it will give me time to put on some makeup.”

Paul burst out laughing on the other end of the phone. And then there was silence and a crumble of soft sobs. 

“Paul––”

There was another Earth shattering boom and her car seemed to bounce in place, with the rear hatch window shattering into micro tiles as the car settled ninety degrees from its original position.   She had instinctively ducked into the passenger seat, looping her forearm under it to hold herself tight against the cushion; a scenario she had practiced in her mind dozens of times thinking she would one day see a Walmart truck jackknifing towards her and slicing the roof off like a mandolin does to an onion.

When she got up to look, she was facing the Supercenter, watching a wave of tarmac make its way across the lot, flipping standing groups of people, cars and trucks like toys before slamming into the front where every window seemed to implode simultaneously.  She expected to see chaos, and hear rivers of alarms, sirens going off, but it was dead silent.

“Paul? Paul did you hear that? My God Paul, what was that?” she asked into the air, trying to roll down the driver window to see up into the sky as if whatever did this was still up there, but the button was not working.

“Paul?  Are you there?” she asked looking directly at the navigation screen that was now dark, and noticed the car engine was off. She pressed her foot on the brake and pushed the start button, but nothing happened.  She opened the door and stepped out.  It was pin drop silent.  People were starting to get up as if someone had pulled the Earth carpet from beneath them.  As people started running toward the building that was billowing a grey white dust out of every orifice, Jammie realized the entire roof must have collapsed within.  She turned in a circle and could see the same thing being played out in every direction. Every tree, signpost, anything that had been vertical was not lying on the ground.  There was destruction everywhere and that destruction had taken out everything that was capable of making a sound.

Fishing out her mobile phone, that was lodged behind the gas pedal, and pressing every button was as effective as trying to give life to a brick.  She tossed it into the seat and stood up, resting her arms on the roof watching as people were dusting themselves off and scratching their heads, discovering the same about their own mobile phones.  She watched as everyone tied to start their cars then open the front hoods to more head scratching.

She looked up but there was nothing but blue sky.  The sounds of humanity started to flood back and there were fires evident in the building, smoke everywhere, but no sirens, alarms to be heard.  Whatever happened took out anything and everything that was electronic. 

People began to realize the situation, organizing and trying to assess the damage done, wondering if they could save anyone inside.  The only sounds were sounds of material things breaking or crumbling, stitched together with cries of fear.

Jammie started to walk toward the group, when a vintage jungle truck rolled up beside her, still running.  

“Get in!” the guy said.

Jammie was fluxed, looking around and then back at him.

“If you’d rather walk to where you need to go, that’s fine with me,” and he ground his shift into gear.

“Wait!” Jammie called out. “Ok, but how do I know you’re not going to take me down some dirt road and … well do things to me before you choke me to death and the last thing I see is your twisted smile?”

“I’m afraid I can’t offer that kind of excitement. I’m just a normal guy,” he said, reaching over and opening the passenger side door, shoving it a couple of times as it protested against the rusted hinges.  “But you better make up your mind, and quickly,” he said nodding his head to the crowd of people behind her that saw an operating vehicle and started running towards them.

Jammie didn’t hesitate and jumped in, closing the door as the truck lurched forward and the driver, not bothering to follow parking lot rules, rode up and over the curb and through a row of planting on the straightest path to the exit.

Jammie was pressed against the seat, gripping the roof handle and console, managing to only shriek a few times as the planting were uprooted and thrown upwards over the brush guards, bouncing off the roof and up over the rear.  When they exited the Walmart Supercenter, the driver stopped in the middle of the road and pulled up on the emergency brake.

“Are you okay?” he asked, sucking in the on side of his mouth as if something were stuck in his teeth.

“I think I would have been better off down the dirt road with your hands on my throat––Do you always drive like this? I mean there are distinct entrance and exit arrows, streets and things clearly marked for cars,” she said, straightening out her blouse that had hiked up during the ride.

“Sorry,” he said, sincerely. “But the faces on those people running towards us looked like a scene from the Walking Dead.  I don’t think they were about to kindly ask us for a lift.

She looked back through the rear window to make sure the walking dead were still not running towards them.

“Yeah,” she agreed and faced him.  “Hey, why exactly is this thing running when every other vehicle isn’t?”  She asked, now curious, looking around at the sterile metal compartment with not a hint of softness to it.  Just beige on beige on beige chipped paint over grey metal.

“Well, this is a 1968 Defender,” he said tapping the dashboard as if this was his pride and Joy.  “There are zero electronic parts in here.  This is completely mechanical, including the manual crank starter in the grill.  Nothing is going to keep this baby in the corner.”

He could see she was looking him up and down from his blond spiked cropped hair, neatly ironed flannel button-down to the patina of jeans that looked from the same year as the truck.  She guessed he was in his early fifties, like herself.  His rolled up sleeves revealing tight arms and a ropy physique––someone not afraid of manual labor and a clean living. He was contrary to the compartment they were in––impeccable.  Not unlike herself.

“My name is Darrel.  Darrel Glick,” he said stretching out his hand.

“Jammie,” she said, remaining on a first and only first name basis, still not entirely trusting him to give her last name as she reached over and shook his calloused hand.

“Where to, Jammie?” He asked, placing one hand on the steering wheel while the other rattled the shift into a spot that popped them forward.

“And don’t worry,” he added, seeing the distrust of lines stacked along her forehead.  “All the dirt roads I know of are in back of us,” he said, with a wink before turning his attention ahead, turning from time to time to see how she was coping.

She had always possessed a good instinct in people, albeit sometimes bluntly telling a person what she thought with no filters.  Settling back into her seat, the lines on her forehead began to melt.

He followed her directions back to route 15 and continued south, weaving between stopped cars with their passengers either still inside or looking under the hood or walking down the highway, never bothering to help anyone and going off-road now and then to avoid gatherings which might pose a problem for them.  The people he passed seemed star struck, not knowing what to make of the little tan truck bouncing by, out of place to the Tesla, Audis and modern versions of itself–– the spit polished Land Rovers with their custom leather interiors now worthless heaps of junk, some trying to pursue them on foot but falling far short when their Louboutins, Manolo Blahniks or Balenciagas refused to touch dirt.

“So what’s your story, Darrel?” Jammie asked.

“I had a good gig going until COVID came along, then got permanently laid off from my tech job, but with everyone still clicking away on-line, the trucking industry held up so I thought, ‘What better way to social distance and earn a living at the same time?’”  And you?” He asked.

“Well––”

“Wait, let me guess,” he interrupted. “You are a stay-at-home-mom, have a husband who retired early so he could perfect his golf game, have grown kids with families, own a dog, and live in nice house with an ocean view,” he said giving her a once over look and nodding in confidence of his guess”

His assessment spooked her and she leaned forward to stare at him as he kept his gaze out the window.

“Wait a minute… Do I know you from somewhere?” She asked.  “Have we met before?”

“No.  I would have remembered you,” he said, causing her to blush.

“Then how would you know all that about me?”

“I was in Big Data,” he said as if those two words needed no other explanation.

“What does that mean?” she asked.  “Like you sat in a windowless room, dressed in a faded black T-shirt with skulls and lightning bolts on it, drinking red Bull and eating day old cold pizza in front of a billboard of flat screens, spying on people surfing the internet?”

“The T-shirt was red,” he said, matter of fact. “And my drink of choice was Mr. Pips.”

This brought a chuckle to Jammie who faced forward and leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms in front of her chest, momentarily, before leaning forward again to see his face as he drove.

“Seriously? Do people like that really exist?”

“Yes,” he said.  

“So why are you driving this clunker?”

“She didn’t mean that,” he said tapping the dashboard.  “Yes, at the time, I could have afforded any car but this is what I wanted.”

“Oh, turn here!” she shouted, almost missing her entrance, a nondescript packed crush-stoned driveway that skirted through a grove of brush, winding its way along a canyon ridge.

Darrel dropped the defender into a lower gear and headed up the drive until they rounded a bend and through the trees he could make out a sleek and modern structure almost indistinguishable from the landscape around it, beyond, unobstructed views to the coast miles away.

“Ahhh…” he said.  “I’ve hit the mother load,” he said, bringing a huff to Jammie.

“Don’t even think of looting anything or holding us hostage.  My Dog is trained to attack at the sight of flannel.”

As they pulled into the driveway, Paul was already standing outside with their Papillion resting at his feet.

“Is it safe to get out?” Darrel asked, nodding toward the small dog.

“Don’t be fooled,” Jammie said confidently.  “One wrong move and the last thing you see after being taken down to the ground will be the eyes of my Millie.”

They opened the doors to the sound of popping metal and stepped out, brushing the dust that had swirled through the open windows of the truck on their way up the drive.

Paul immediately rushed over and held Jammie in her arms, kissing her hair and cupping his hands along her face,

“I thought I would never see you again,” he said with tears in his eyes.

“Me too she said and kissed him lightly upon his lips.  You can thank Darrel for that, “She said, turning to introduce him.

Paul stepped over, shaking Darrel’s hand.  “I can’t thank you enough.” Paul said looking deeply into his hazel eyes, not knowing what else to say. 

“Nothing to it.  I’m here for the Silver,” he said, getting a laugh from Jammie.

Paul shot a confused look between them.

“Never mind, Paul, I’ll clue you in after we get a drink,” she said, locking her arms into each of theirs and leading them into the house.

On the back terrace, Darrel and Paul were seated in cane chairs, staring out over the stone sitting wall, a glass of 25 year old Michter’s Whiskey in hand, looking at the sun about to set over the Pacific, a light breeze coming from the west carrying a marine freshness with it.

“Nice view,” Darrel remarked.

Paul was silent, taking in what Darrel said, knowing this view would be gone not long from now. “Cheers,” he said, raising his glass.

“I’m more of a craft beer guy, but this is damn good,” Darrell commented, lifting his glass where the sunset refracted through the amber color of the whisky.

“I was saving this bottle for a special occasion,” Paul said.

“It doesn’t get more special than this,” Darrel replied.

“So how does this end?” Jammie asked, walking up behind them, and taking a seat.

“Hard to say,” Paul said.  “That asteroid ripped a nice hole in the atmosphere, sort of like a slow leak in a balloon.  At the same time, the magnetic disturbance was enough to begin the reversal of the poles.  I don’t know much more than that because everything is down.”

“When do you think the Internet will be back up?” Jammie asked.

“I doubt it’s coming back.  Every satellite now has it’s GPS screwed up or was fried.” 

As the sun set over the Pacific, a darkness had swept over them, and where the starburst of lighting from homes, buildings, shopping centers and street lights once filled the landscape below, rendering the sky a sheet of grey, their eyesight had adjusted to the darkness, and painted from horizon to horizon was the plate edge of the Milky way with it’s full spectrum of stars and dust clouds like a river of light.

“Wow that is gorgeous, “Jammie said. “You’re telling me that was always there but we could never see it?”

“Sadly true,” Darrell said. “This is what Native Americans saw every night before the neighborhood went to shit.”   

They were leaning back with their feet resting on the warm stones of the fire pit Paul had started from scavenged wood along the slope of their property, something he had not done for years due to the wildfires and stigma that an open fire brought about by the increasing pressure of California culture.

“I’m afraid Paul,” Jammie said.

“Me too,”

Darrell pulled his feet from the warm stones, brushing off his pants as he stood. 

“Well, thanks for the hospitality and view,” he said.  “And I honored to have met you both, but I better be on my way.”

“Wait!  Where will you go?” Jammie said getting to her feet.

“Seeing the two of you, together, well, there’s someone I ought to go see.”

Jammie could tell from the sadness that veiled his face that he was talking about an apology, the kind of apology for walking out on someone he still loved.

“Let me see you out,” she said.

Paul stood and the two men shook hands with no words passing between them, the interrupted awkwardness welcomed by Jammie looping her arm into Darrell’s as she led him through the open slider into the great room and towards the front door.  As he was about to step out, she stopped him with a gentle pull on his sleeve.

“She’ll appreciate it,” Jammie said with encouragement.  “And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always the dirt road thing you got going,” which brought a genuine friendship to his smile before he turned and left, his silhouette against the cascade of blue starlight, reminding everyone just how small they are in the universe and what truly matters.

 

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

For those who have been following this series, or for that matter, for those who are reading this for the first time, the series started as a casual conversation with a friend, who when asked: “If this was your last day on Earth, what would that be like? Would you have any regrets? Would it be anything unusual? Her reply surprised me, and that lead me to ask other friends the same questions.

Of the stories written so far, writing Blue Light Special was one of my favorites. My friend is convinced she will be taken out by a Walmart Truck…

 

On a side note, I am working with a friend and author, Richard Murray, in putting together an anthology of Sci-Fi shorts of which a section will be titled, End Of Days.

 

Isn’t The View Delicious

End Of Days Series

“Can we see the basement now?” Frank asked their realtor.

“No, Frank,” Julie replied rather curtly.  “Let’s move on.”

“Why not?”

“Because that… is where people… get murdered.” She answered.

“Are you serious?” He said laughing, the corners of his mouth turning up as if her next line was to say she was only kidding.

“I’m dead serious, Frank. Every movie you have ever seen where people wander into the basement— those people get murdered. Let’s move onto the bedrooms upstairs,” and she turned to walk away from him.

“Julie, wait.” He couldn’t believe she was carrying on like this.  “If we’re going to be buying this house— and quite a handsome commission to you may I say— then we’re going to want to see everything, and that includes the basement.”

“I’m not going to show you the basement, Frank.” Julie said stopping to address him.  “That’s it! No argument.”

Confused, Frank looked to his wife for support.  “Gina… I’ll be right back. Go with Julie, please.”  He realized he was dealing with an idiot and started off.

“Frank! Stop right there!” Julie said halting him.

Regretfully, he stopped, tilted his head back in annoyance and turned to see she never missed an opportunity for a pose with her tone arms crossed, her perfectly manicured nails strumming lightly along her forearm to the clank of expensive bangles and bracelets on her wrist, her balletic legs one in front of the other to reveal the tautness of her Peloton shaped calves.

“Julie… I’m a big boy,” he said drawing a muffled laugh from his wife.”  He stood at 6’3” and was imposing with his barrel chest and stock build. “I can handle this.”

“There’s nothing to see down there, Frank… Nothing! It’s a basement. It’s empty…. The solar inverters, Tesla battery storage and state-of-the-art hybrid furnace are in the garage. There aren’t even windows down there, Frank, and for a good reason, the basement is where people get murdered,” she fired off in quick succession, her agitation making their choice in a realtor, questionable.

“Julie. It’s okay. I’ll be right back. Please show Gina the bedrooms and I will join you shortly, I promise.”

Julie closed her eyes and took in a slow breath then exhaled lightly to calm herself as her yoga training has taught her.

“Fine… If you want to get murdered in the basement, Frank? That’s fine by me, but you might want to ask your wife if that is fine with her, she said uncrossing her arms and gracefully invited Gina to weigh in.

Frank could see his wife’s brows rise and her lips pinch as if holding back a laugh. Not sure what to make of this, he said nothing and headed back through the kitchen toward the basement door, with it’s industrial bolt cinched into place.

With Frank’s exit, Julie huffed and stormed out from the dining room, leaving Gina to follow, the heels of Julie’s Louboutins stabbing at the travertine tile leaving the clatter of echoes in their wake.  Gina kept up, but was thinking about Julie’s talk of people getting murdered in the basement. It was silly… she knew… but what if Frank did indeed get murdered in the basement?  She would never forgive herself.  She pushed these thoughts from her head and followed Julie up the staircase, her hand sweeping along the curved cherry banister which felt like silk to the touch as she admired the finely tapered rungs with hand carved fluted tops, like tiny hands holding it up from below.

Julie paraded Gina through the two finely appointed guest suites with their private baths fitted with quartzite countertops and glass vessel sinks that with a touch along the counter edge, the vessels lit up from below.  Next, she led Gina down the hallway and surprised her with a concealed sliding door that revealed a laundry room fit for a queen. Further down the hallway they passed a servant staircases that led down to the kitchen and adjacent to the master suite, where Julie stepped aside affording Gina the unobstructed and spectacular view through the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the russet reds and virulent greens of the marshland beyond.

“It’s breathtaking.” Frank is going to die when he sees this view,” Gina said, pulling up her shoulders in such anticipation of surprise.

Julie responded with a quiet ‘hmm’ as if to say, we’ll see about that. “Yes. Isn’t the view delicious,” she muttered as if a compulsory response was needed, her hand reflexively dusting away a fleck from her lapel.

“Speaking of which, where is my husband?” Gina said stepping back from the threshold past Julie to the staircase in hopes of seeing him. When she turned around, Julie was looking at her watch, leaning against the frame of the doorway with her arms folded.

“Well. We might as well get going,” she said pushing off the doorframe.  “I’m afraid this home–as lovely as it is, my dear–is not for you.”

Gina was confused. She hadn’t even stepped into the master suite and loved everything about this home. “But I love this home…. Oh, I know I should never tell a realtor that, but you already know I just love it. Don’t tell Frank I told you,” she said in a hushed whisper.

“You will need not worry about what Frank will think,” Julie commented as she straightened out her Channel jacket and started down the staircase, leaving Gina shocked.

“Wait!” Gina called after her from the top of the stairs, watching Julie take each step in disappointment, a sale gone to waste. “Shouldn’t we wait for Frank to see the Master? That spectacular view?” With no acknowledgement, Gina, having once found Julie’s peculiar personality almost charming, was now ebbing to the point of anger. Who’s the client here, she found herself thinking as she began to follow Julie down the staircase like an abandoned puppy.

Never looking back, Julie walked through the kitchen and dining room to the foyer and looped her finger through the lockbox that rested upon the emerald veins of the Biedermeier console near the entrance, then opening the front door, she ushered Gina to step out and around her so she could lock up the house.

“Stop… Just stop! ” Gina screamed out facing the street with her arms locked straight down by her sides. She spun around to face Julie and stomped past her back into the house.

Julie knew it was pointless to call her back and went about her business of shutting the front door and securing the lockbox in place before returning to the Mercedes glistening in the driveway, cell in hand about to dial her next client.

Gina heard the door shut behind her–the last straw–It’s time to get a new realtor. She stomped through the dining room and kitchen sweeping her hand along the deeply turquoise granite island to the open door leading down into the basement and stood at the top of the staircase, the dim Edison bulb illuminating the unfinished concrete floor below.

“Frank!” she called out. There was no answer.  “Frank!” She called again. A slight crack in her voice this time as she apprehensively started down the staircase, ducking her head below the transom of the ceiling, taking each step slowly until she reached the landing where the souls of her feet felt the crumble of cement pellets while her head was filling with stupid thoughts from Julie. She walked out to the edge of light looking into the pitch of blackness beyond.

“Frank? … Come on…. I want to show you the master,” expecting Frank to jump out from the shadows at any moment. Nervously, she brushed back her hair, crouching slightly with her knees pointing inwards. “It’s not funny, Frank!” Come on. Julie’s has left us…. She even locked us in! We need a new realtor, Frank!”  She felt a cold sweep of air rush by her leaving the smell of dank wetness in her nose. She couldn’t understand why people built basements in the first place. She would never use one let alone go down into one. But here she was.

The light switched off and she heard the door at the top of the staircase shut.

“You Fucker! That’s not funny, Frank. Turn the light back on!”  There was no answer and fright had taken hold. She was truly scared as more thoughts flooded her mind knowing Frank was taking advantage of it.

She jumped and screamed out when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Reaching up she felt her husband’s hand; a hand she knew was his, the smooth top and callused sides from his craft as a sculptor. She held onto it bringing it down by her side but it seemed too light, no resistance.  Terror gripped her when she realized there was nothing attached to it.

The next scream never left her mouth…

Please visit my WattPad site for more stories in the End Of Days Series and other works

Red Velvet

ADAPTATION SERIES: Red Velvet

The Giant Red Velvet Mite: Dinothrombium pandorae

 

“Tevis, have you located Newell?”

“He’s out.”

“Who let him out?”

“No one.  He’s part of Ops and has the overrides. But with our EVs in maintenance, he’s out there on foot–”

The pound of the colony commander’s fist on the table startled her; she had always thought of him as cool and calculated.

“What’s he doing out there? He knows we’re into the 220s of the year.”

“He sent a message he was going to see if he can get the beacon back online.”

“Get him on comm for me,” he growled through the clench of his jaw.

Tevis had anticipated this and pushed forward the PTT toggle on the console.

“CQ CQ calling CQ.  This is A1DUP, Alpha-One-Delta-Uniform-Papa.”  There was a faint hiss and crackle coming from the console speaker on her desk.  She turned the volume up.

“Call again.” he said more calmly this time.

Tevis could see the vexing of muscles along his jawline and repeated the call signs.  A second or two passed which seemed like an eternity.

“N2EEC N2EEC, this is AD2DB, Alpha-Delta-Two-Delta-Baker.”  Relieved, Tevis let out a breath between her pursed lips.

The commander reached down and grabbed the call mic from the stand as Tevis pushed forward the PTT toggle once again.

“Newell, let’s not make this a rag chew.  What the fuck-up are you doing out there?”

Tevis released the toggle.

“Trying to get the aerial back online, sir,” Newell said between breaths, “before the KapCo supply shuttle cruises past us for the second time.  If we miss this window, sir, it will be another five days of rations.”

Tevis and the commander could hear Newell’s labored breaths as he trod through the soft sand with a heavy toolkit all of which was taking its toll on him.

“You know we’re in the 220s and what time of day it is.  You had your orientation on the mites … you don’t want to be out there when they get to the surface–”

He snapped his fingers for Tevis to give him the conditions out there.  “I am ordering you back here, immediately, Newell.”

Tevis brought up the ENV panel and swiveled it toward him.  The temperature was up, and the frozen CO2 had already begun to evaporate. It was too late. He tilted his finger for Tevis to push forward the toggle.

“They’re out on the surface, aren’t they, Newell?”

“Yes they are, sir,” he responded, “but I’m double sealed. They aren’t getting in.”

The mites were bleeding to the surface to eat and mate. It has been 247 days since their last migration and the females velvet abdomens were flush with eggs waiting to be fertilized; the males purposeful in finding a host to carry their young. Newell had not been stationed here long enough to see this event before today, but the orientation videos he watched did not prepare him for what he saw now.  When he reached the aerial, it looked as if someone had draped the antenna in red velvet.  The thought of pushing away that many mites to locate the problem made his skin crawl.  He dropped the toolkit to the sand, and the mites began to crawl onto it, the beacon seemed to be a magnet for them, and he was starting to think this was not such a good idea to be out here. His hero mentality had evaporated, and his idea of impressing Tevis seemed secondary at the moment.

“I’ve arrived,” he said through his helmet mic., his tone, regretful.

“What are you seeing, Newell?” The commander asked.

“A whole lot of mites, sir…” he answered.

“Get back here, Newell.  We’ll spray you down, and you can survive in the chamber for 48 hours for quarantine and observation.”

“I’m already here, sir,” he said against his better judgment as he looked down at his chest and legs of his EMU suit swollen with clots of red mites that were crawling upwards toward his helmet.  He swept his hand across the visor, smearing the mites on the Plexiglas, their viscous yellow insides spreading a swath across one eye, just enough to be bothersome like an itch he couldn’t scratch.  He reached down to brush off the lid to the toolkit and flipped it open, the back of the lid crushing fistful of mites that set off a chemical wave through the colony, now agitated and swarming toward the disturbance.

“This is not going well,” Newell said through his mic.

Tevis wanted to grab the handset from the commander; she could hear the pulsing of blood in her ears at the rasp of Newell’s voice. She pushed forward the PTT button in anticipation.

“What’s happening, Newell?”

There was no immediate answer.

“Newell!” shouted the commander into the mic.

“I’m heading back, sir…” said Newell, the shout of the commander getting him to refocus.

“Good. We’ll be ready for you.  When you reach the rim wait for further instruction.”  Tevis released the toggle and she slumped into her chair with relief.

“Let me know when he’s in sight,” the commander said peering out the window and handing the handset to Tevis, then turning, he left without a word.

She waited until he left the room before toggling open the channel to Newell.

“Where are you, Irwin?” Tevis asked using his first name.

It was good to hear her voice, but he was beginning to feel he made a fool of himself.

“I’m still here, Tevis,” he said addressing her by her first name and disregarding her rank.

“I’ll be with you the entire way, Irwin.  Hang in there.  Our SAT will pick you up in another five minutes, and I will guide you in.”

“Thanks, Tevis.”  He needed to focus on her voice and knew that any stray thoughts could open the door to panic.  But It was getting difficult, the smear across his visor had changed, uneven, like a melt. As it was, he had to contort his head in the helmet to see below the distortion, and even that was no benefit for his non-dominant eye.  He was covered in mites, but he knew not to brush them away this time, so he shook his head, which seemed to work for short periods of time before the visor was covered again.  Fortunately, he could see below the distortion to his feet and follow the footsteps he had made getting here, occasionally shaking his head to clear his visor, but it was becoming more frequent, and he was starting to get dizzy from it.

“I have you on SAT, Irwin,” she said with a lift in her voice as she zoomed in on his coordinates, but froze at the site of the red mass surrounding him and pooling from the beacon tower.  She let go of the toggle in time for him not to hear her gasp and could taste the bile in the back of her throat.

It made him feel better that at least she could see him. “Just keep me on track, Tevis… it’s getting hard to see my steps.”

“You got it, Irwin.  You’re heading in the right direction.”

Although the mites were small, only a shirt button in size, the sheer number of them made his knees wobble from the added weight.  Another shake of his head to clear his view and he almost fell over.

Tevis could hear his breathing becoming shallow and faster, and she knew panic might be setting in.  “Slow down your breathing, Irwin.  One step at a time, and breathe in deeper.  I’m right here with you.  We can do this.”

This was the longest conversation with Tevis since his arrival over fifty days ago when he attended her orientation briefing.  He knew she was of Native American heritage and he tried to imagine her face right now, her rounded chin and full lips, her high cheekbones and narrow eyes framed by her raven black hair. He thought his status and lack of social skills would never get her full attention, but here he was, and he had her full attention. Don’t blow this he kept chanting to himself. Don’t blow this…

Tevis tried to keep him focused on her.  “Where are you originally from, Irwin?” She asked while monitoring his progress.

“Ah… um… East Coast… New Jersey….” He replied and almost stopped to answer her.

“Keep your pace up, Irwin.” She said a bit more commanding.  Maybe it was not a good idea to distract him like that.  She knew he seemed to have a thing for her, his nervous glances when the crew was in the canteen together, the crack of his voice when they worked the same shift as he performed telemetry maintenance in and around the control center.  She wanted his safe return.

He was in good shape, taking longer strides and keeping his breathing under control, but he thought he could smell the scent of burning plastic, his mask, so he picked up his pace, stepping on more and more of the mites pooling around him.  Another shake of his head and it dizzied him, dropping him onto one leg where he felt the squish of mites on his knee and gloved palm.  It repulsed him, and he sprang up and shook off the mites from his arm and could see the bright yellow splotches on his suit and glove.

“You okay, Irwin?” she asked with concern.

“Yeah… just got a little dizzy trying to clear my visor.  I will remember to stop next time before I do that.”

Tevis continued to monitor his progress, thinking back of her time here.  This marked her third cycle on J147b. She was one of the original team members remaining and knew what the mites could do to a person.  Twenty days after landing here, she had almost lost her life from a bite.  Fortunately, removing her leg before the infection spread saved her.  What no one had known at the time was that had a female mite bitten her, it would have deposited thousands of eggs into her bloodstream.  They knew very little of the mite’s life cycle, and with a reduced budget this year, they did not have the resources to get an exobiologist on site. All they knew was not to go out in the 220s during the mite’s yearly migration to the surface. Maybe if she had let Irwin know she was wearing prosthesis as a result of a bite, he wouldn’t have ventured out.  But why would she, it’s not something you just come out and say to someone upon arrival, and she wanted to keep that part of herself, private.

What troubled her at the moment was the size of the mite field, visible from above.  In the three cycles she has been stationed here, she has never seen this many.  From the view on the SATcam, the soil had turned velvet red and her glance out the window at the crater rim above, confirm what she saw on the screen.

Newell was in sight now.  “I can see the base, Tevis.”

She looked out the window and saw him standing along the rim in a wash of red spilling over the edge into the crater.   She toggled the overhead to notify commander Ricklefs.

Moments later, Ricklefs arrived, he looked out the window and was disturbed by what he saw, the flow of red spilling into the crater toward them.  He grabbed the mic.

“Newell… stay there!” He waved his palm for Tevis to toggle off the mic.  “I can’t let him in.  He will endanger all of us.  You of all people should understand that, Captain?”

Tevis felt the knot tighten in her stomach.  She knew he was right.  There would be no way of separating him from the mass of mites.  “Yes, sir.” She replied.

“Good.  Do what you must.   He turned and left, leaving Tevis to herself.

“Sir, where should I approach? Irwin asked.”

Tevis couldn’t bring herself to answer.

“Sir?  Are you there? Commander? …. Captain?” His voice beginning to rattle.

Tevis toggled on the mic.  “Irwin…” and he heard the death sentence in her tone.

“No… No… You can’t leave me out here!”

“We have no choice, Irwin,” and this time he heard a sharp inward sob. “We can’t open the doors for you.  We have no way of killing them without killing you in the process.  You will have to see if you can wait them out, then we can come out and get you.”

“That’s not true!” He shouted through his mic.  “You can vacuum the hatch and kill them!  Please… don’t leave me here.”

“You are not wearing a pressurized EMU, Irwin. And even if we left one in the hatch there would be no way for you to transfer into it without the mites getting in it with you.  You need to wait them out.”

“I can’t, Tevis… I think my outer suit and visor have been compromised-– I don’t know how much longer it will hold up.”  He began to panic and had been so focused on her voice he had not realized he was in total darkness from the mites covering his helmet.  He shook his head, but couldn’t knock them clear, so he reached up to swipe the visor clean, and the weakened section ripped free, the mites pouring through the gaping hole.

Tevis could hear his screams being choked off in silence.  She swiveled away from the window and began to dry heave, hearing only a hushed rumbling coming through the speakers.  She lifted her head and glanced over hev shoulder, out the window And could see his clotted arms frantically attempt to remove his helmet before toppling into the crater. He started to slide down the face but was halted by a mass of red pushing back. And suddenly he was being passed up to the top of the rim like a mosh pit of fans raising one of their own until he disappeared beyond her view with the drape of red receding with him.

Tevis could feel the phantom burns in her limb and reached up onto the console to shut off the feed from the SATcam and mic.  She stayed there with her hands clutched together and her head resting above her knees and under the shade of her dark hair until she no longer felt nauseous.  Ten minutes had passed before Tevis took a deep breath and sat up.  She pushed her hair behind her ears and wiped her eyes.  Maybe it was time to leave this rock, she thought.

“Captain,” came a voice from behind.

Tevis turned to see the new arrival.  His patchwork indicating he worked in the mining division.

“Commander Ricklefs granted my request to see you.”

“Come in, private.”

He stepped quickly and deliberately toward her and stood at attention.  “I knew Newell, ma’am, ” he said?  “We had arrived together on the same shuttle, and I heard what happened to him.  We all did.  He thought very highly of you, ma’am.”  From his pocket, he pulled out a small sack and stretched out his hand.  “Ma’am, this morning, Newell handed me this and told me that if anything were to happen to him, ma’am, I should give this to you,” he approached Tevis and placed the small sack upon the console desk and stepped back.

She sat staring at it, wondering why he would have ventured out knowing something might happen to him.  The new arrival was stationary.  “Thank you…” she said reading his tag… “Percy.”   He turned on the balls of his feet and left.

She took a minute before picking up the sapphire blue bag, gently untying the knot at the top and sliding its contents onto the table.  From within slipped an intricately carved scorpion, a gypsum blade and a note.  How would he have known this? Then remembered a conversation she had in the canteen not long ago with Newell seated quietly at the end of the table, listening to her saying to the others that she had one cycle to go and couldn’t wait to get back to her home in Carefree, AZ, where the only thing she needed to worry about was a scorpion or two.  She unfolded the note and read it, making her smile through tearful eyes:

“The scorpion was carved from the soft stone found along the rim of the crater, but you will notice there are no segmented lines engraved onto the abdomen or tail.  For your remaining time here, carve a segment line every twenty days, starting from the head to the tail.  Both your time remaining and the carvings should be met at the same time.  Thank you for your kindness – Irwin.”

She picked up the gypsum blade and carved the first two lines into the abdomen and placed the contents back into the sack and sat staring out the window, thinking about Newell and being home.

Image:  “Red Velvet Mite” by Judy Gallagher is licensed under CC-BY 2.0. The image that was resized, cropped to fit required size.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I started on a triad of shorts, where the idea came from my studies in Ecology, specifically, from The Economy Of Nature by Robert Ricklefs on Species Adaptation.

According to Ricklefs, all species adaptation is driven by their encounter with a variety of environmental factors deriving from one of three sources: 1) Exposure to the Physical and Chemical; 2) Exposure to predators, parasites and prey; 3) And finally, exposure to individuals of the same species.

The first of my shorts addresses the Physical & Chemical aspects of adaptation as is titled, Red Velvet.  My story is based upon the 1962 research of biologists Lloyd Tevis and Irwin Newell of their observations of the Giant Red Velvet mite of the Mojave Desert.  The mites have quite an interesting life cycle, where they migrate to the surface once a year to eat, mate, and for their larvae to find a host.   The story takes place on the exoplanet, J147b, where a new arrival (Newell), is trying to impress his female mentor (Tevis) and gets stranded during the yearly migration of red velvet mites to the surface.  If you have any Arachnophobia tendencies, you may want to stop reading, here.  This short may not be for you…. it will make your skin crawl….

As a writer, the part that really excites me is the etymology and origin of taxonomy. The genus and species of the Giant Red Velvet Mite (Dinothrombium pandorae) is the perfect alien for my story.  Dino, is derived from the Greek word, deinos, meaning terrible and Thrombos, a lump or clot.  This particular species is named after Pandora who was sent by Zeus to bring evil to the human race as a counterbalance of Prometheus, disobeying Zeus, who gave the gift of fire to the humans.

Under Eden

END OF DAYS SERIES: Under Eden

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Photo by Mark Lynch

“Shite, that was close.”

From the impact, the sky had lit up so bright we could see clearly down the street with its neatly parked cars, perfectly aligned like the teeth of a zipper. But no one was out and no lights came on in any of the homes; our neighbors had all moved to the underground.

 

 

When we go we want to taste the air and see the sun going down and not have the taste of someone else’s exhale lingering in our mouths or staring up at a filament, waiting for it to extinguish and be left alone in darkness with only our fear leaning in.  The underground was not for us, but I suppose for those who have chosen to stay below, there is something to be said for not knowing or seeing the end coming.

For us above, we enjoy free rein of the big box stores and the design outlets to get all the lumber, tools, and furniture needed to build a roof deck on our flat… something I had always wanted to do for my family but never had the funds to do it.  It’s bittersweet under these circumstances, but our roof deck rocks.  We have a full working tiki-bar and a well stocked drinks cupboard up here with unobstructed views of the sunsets.  And the sunsets have been magnificent lately, even knowing the colors are fed by the ash of every living thing that was incinerated from an impact.

We have allowed our fifteen-year-old daughter, Louise, to drink alcohol along with us, enjoying these last days together as a family.  Tonight’s concoction of a drink is a Commet-Kaze, but instead of Triple Sec we used Orange Curaçao– stuff we could never afford but is now readily available at the off-license… free of charge of course.  Honestly, I hope the end comes soon because we are running out of clever drink names.   My youngest, Alec, is a space nut.  When we had a family vote to stay above or go under, he was the most vocal of staying above; he wanted to see what was coming.  For the record, it was unanimous, we all wanted to stay above.  A weird lot we are.

Ever since the announcement that Earth would pass directly into a catastrophic asteroid storm, spelling out the end for us all,  Alec has been glued to his kit of computers and monitors lined up on the dining table. Seated upon his newly acquired oversized luxury office chair with his feet dangling, he has been tracking everything coming in; it’s like having the ESA in our sitting room.  He has informed us that the impact we just saw was an 8 on the Torino Scale with a low MT potential… whatever that means.    He said if it had been a 9 we would have been okay but we would have had to remain inside for a while, but if it had been a 10, well, that would have been a bit of a damp squib.

Louise has been on a mission every day now, looking for pet stores to liberate or following the barking or meowing of dogs and cats left abandoned in their homes. When we find them,  we open the doors, cages and pet food.  We even take the freshwater fish to a freshwater canal or pond and take the saltwater fish to the sea, but we need to check in with Alec before going there in case an 8 or 9 hits off the coast creating a tsunami.

My wife, Jenny, has been a rock through all this.  Me, well, when you have loved someone for eighteen years, every day as much as the first, someone you would instinctively put your own life before theirs… well… I can’t think about that right now.  It’s been a long day.  We’re off to bed.

We were awakened by the alarms from Alec’s monitoring alerts, Jenny and I still in a tangle with the lingering scent of our lovemaking around us.   We knew the drill.  If this was going to be the one to take us out, we wanted to be together through to the end.  Jenny would gather up Louise, as I headed down the steps to the sitting room to find Alec inches away from the monitors, the screen data reflecting off his specs as he nibbled away on a biscuit from Marks & Sparks.  Now that we were directly in the path of the storm, Alec has been sleeping here on the couch under a litany of graphs and hand drawn eclipses of near misses and impacts, looking for the one that will do us in.  He never had a passion for sport or music and had always been a bit of a loner with his technical books and sci-fi pulp fiction, but this makes him happy, happier than I have ever seen him.  So be it.  The kit he put together came from the Apple Store and smaller bits and PC shops down the block.  I’m not sure of what his kit does, but he seems to know of inbounds before anyone in his circle of plusers does.  Lucky us.

“Alec.  What does your crystal ball show?” I said coming up behind him, making sure to slide my slippers on the floorboards so as not to startle him.

“Daddy, you should see this one. It’s big.  A 10 with a high MT.” he said not turning away from the screens.

I stooped over his shoulder, trying to see what he was seeing, but all I could make out was a ball of multicolored elastics knowing somewhere beneath it all was Earth.

“Hmmmm….” was the most meaningful response I could come up with.

“This is the one,” he said without the slightest doubt and proud that his forecasts have always proved to be spot on.

I palmed the mop of his hair, thankful he got the hair gene from his mum. “Let’s get up on the roof then,” and I helped him into his pullover hoodie with the phrase, Waiting For The Asteroid, written in front.

“I’m very proud of you, Alec.”  I said reaching down to zip him up, tucking the hoodie around his ears to keep out the chill.  When we got to the roof, Jenny had the mushroom heaters going and a hot tea for me in hand.   We sat close together on the outdoor furniture, our overly fluffy slippers up on the ottomans while passing the tin of peanut butter shortbreads, from Luigi Zuck.  This was our routine; no one should have to go out without the finest shortbreads at hand.

“See it!” Alec said jumping up and almost losing his glasses.

It started as a white dash in the night, elongating and brightening as it raced toward us.

“It’s traveling at 24.360 Kilometers per second,” Alec said.  He moved to the edge of the deck, leaning over with his hands on the rail, then looked back at us with a child’s innocence.

I reached over and pat Jenny on the knee.  “He’s right about this one.”  And stood up to join my son at the railing, my arm draped around his tiny shoulders, pulling him tight.  I was proud of him and he knew it. Jenny led Louise to the railing, standing beside me as I reached for her hand and felt the wedding ring I had slipped onto her finger eighteen years ago.  We looked up at the dash in the sky, its cobalt blue tail under a gown of white forming a cone.  It was beautiful, I had to admit, like a slow moving shuttlecock entering the atmosphere.  Then from the tip of the cone, the object projected outward, a second stage, plunging into the lower atmosphere and growing brighter, affording us a clear look down the entire block of flats as if it were daybreak.

“Shades down everyone.” And I helped Alec with his before my own.  It was bright, even through the welding goggles we were wearing. I knew Jenny was looking over at me and I turned to see her smile beneath the dark lenses.

“Don’t think you’re getting your back scratched, tonight,” she said as a statement of relief.

I laughed. “It’s been wonderful, Jen.” and I leaned in for a kiss, her head tilting to the side, her lips slightly parted and I knew her love for me and I for her would never dim.  As we kissed, we drew in Alec and Louise.  There is something to be said for the human spirit, something that feels it will never extinguish, even where it can’t exist.

Author’s Note:  This third short was inspired by a fellow G+’er, Mark Lynch (Lynchy), who lives in London and posted a beautiful sunset of his street. It moved me and I knew the story to come with it belonged here. Thanks Mark for the image and please extend a thanks to your  lovely wife for the ‘squib’ reference… I’m still laughing……

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View From My Kitchen

END OF DAYS SERIES: View From My Kitchen

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Image by Ann Swanson

They said it would come, that it would start with a sunset of such unbelievable beauty it would bring tears to your eyes.  They were right. It was quiet. Eerily quiet.  No bird chirps or the whine of motorboats speeding across the lake. No one in their back yards, no joyous shrieks of children chasing fireflies, no smell of fire-pits and no sound of car tires rolling down the crushed stone roads, eager to get to their weekend camps.  Everyone was down in their last-minute shelters with not enough supplies to outlast what was about to unfold.

My children, grand children, friends and neighbors begged me to come with them into the town’s shelter.  But why miss the last sunset one would ever see.  Where was there to go?  Nowhere.  It would take ten-thousand years just for the fires to burn out, and the only reason they would extinguish would be due to the absence of oxygen left on Earth.
I know it might seem selfish–that I should spend the end of days surrounded by family and friends–but I just wanted to spend it in my kitchen, overlooking the lake where I can see the memories of my grandchildren out on the dock, their silhouettes with fishing poles matching the paintings in my home .  So here I stand, glass of Chardonnay in hand and raising it to the sky, thankful I was given this sliver of time to see and experience this magnificent world and hoping my next journey will be as spectacular. Cheers.

Author’s Note: This short was inspired by a friend’s profile picture update on Facebook (Ann).  Although my interpretation is a bit dark and not what she intended.  Thanks, Ann….  it is a beautiful image.  Then I thought about building a collection of shorts based upon the End Of Days told through the eyes of the people who wrote them.    Enjoy.

 

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Mylar

END OF DAYS SERIES: Mylar

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Photo by David Nadas

Geri!.. Don’t do that. It will be political suicide and end your career.  It’s not that bad—”

“NOT THAT BAD! Are you kidding me, Dave? You need to pull the plug on this!  We’re talking about the end of days here.  They have no clue what they are about to do… All the data… All the research I’ve conducted points to the fact that this experiment will be a run-away process–”

“Just listen to me, Geri. I’ve read the data and it’s….” he said coming to a halt.

“It’s what… Dave? Inconclusive? Is that what you want to say to me? I can understand these button pushers up here not taking me seriously…” she said with a snort, catching the irony of the situation. “But you Dave! You of all people…” and she stopped, a pointless end to it.

He could hear the sadness in her voice as much as the pain felt in his heart for what he was about to say to her.

“Yes… It’s inconclusive,” he said from the hammock in his backyard. There was silence on his connection to Geri who was orbiting 250 KM above him. His phone was resting along his shoulder as he looked up through the tree branches at the sky, so blue and crisp on this Indian summer day that he never wanted it to end.

“It’s inconclusive because no one has ever lived through the consequences to make the data conclusive. I’m sure this same scenario was played out on Mars eons ago…. There’s your conclusive evidence, Dave. All you need to do is look at Mars. It’s scorched.”

“Geri…. I promise… nothing is going to happen. I know you’re the smartest person on this project and everyone on the team up there has read your report and they feel the same way as I do. Trust us on this. I’m sure some folks on the Trinity Project in ’45, including Oppenheimer himself, must have had some worry in the back of their mind that what they were about to do could end the world. But it didn’t happen. They trusted their research.

“It’s not the same, Dave. They weren’t trying to open a wormhole with a so called controlled singularity.”  He could hear the mock in her voice.  “And it’s my research we’re talking about here!”

“You’re right, Geri. It’s not the same thing, but it is the same level of research and much more. We’re not calculating these models with slide rules; we’re using quantum computers on this, Geri. We’re about to make a gigantic leap for humanity and you will stand among history’s greatest scientists that has ever lived.”

There was more silence between them.

“Geri? You still there?”

“Yes, Dave.”

“Then we’re good on this?”

“Dave…”  she said ignoring his question.

“Yes, Geri.”

“I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me—”

“No need to thank—”

“Just hear me out, Dave,” she was running short on time.  “Don’t talk. I would never have had this opportunity without you in my life. I would never have had the chance for this opportunity had it not been for you on that cold morning, seeing me in the shadows outside, Alley Bakes, as you strolled by with that bag in your hands.” She let out a saddened laugh. “I don’t even know how you picked me out from under that cardboard box…. and now that I look out from the portal of my bay, I can see all of New England below without a cloud in the sky there. I bet you’re out on the hammock, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Good.” she said.

“I look forward to seeing you upon your return,”  and he held up his wrist to see the counter ticking down.  “T minus 1 minute, Geri. How come you’re not with the team?”

“No view there and I wanted to see Perkins Cove for the last time.  Dave, It should be beautiful. You’ll see a bright flash and although you won’t see the X-ray projecta, it will bore a silent hole through the atmosphere creating a brilliant circular rainbow… a halo around a spot of emptiness….  I’ll have been gone by then and you will have about a minute to reflect on the life this world has had. Nothing lasts forever.”

“Geri… come on.. don’t think that way,” he said with a chuckle in his voice. “I thought we were good on this one?”

“Bye Dave.”

“Geri….” but he stopped short when a flash blinded him from above and he turned his head to shield his eyes. When the overload on his retinas began to clear he looked up and could see the partial circular rainbow through the branches and got up from the hammock and moved out into the clearing of his patio along the cove. The sun was low in the sky behind him,  but above, at the center of the rainbow he could make out a black dot. He stood there, looking up until he felt the skin on his arms begin to crawl and the hairs on his forearms were curling into ash and drifting away. His eyes sparkled, but this time like melting Mylar, and everything went dark. His heartbeat was pounding in his chest and he could hear the blood boiling behind his ears as he dropped onto the pavers and pooled there as bird after bird thudded to the ground around him with the sound of flesh and earth sizzling before a shockwave of dark fire swept over.

 

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