Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by Velvet Pearson

Excerpt from Novel in Progress "The Challenger Deep"
A Flash in the Night

Jonathon had already brewed the coffee, eaten his breakfast, and gathered up his notes when I came wandering into the kitchen the next morning. He was rinsing out his cup at the kitchen sink when I leaned over and kissed him, unthinking.

“Hey!” He jerked away from me, fearing the shock of the night before. We both looked at each other in surprise.

“Nothing happened,” I said. “Let me give you a real good morning kiss then.”

He raised his palms. “Let’s not push our luck. Besides, I’m just on my way.” He set his coffee mug on the counter, picked up his book bag from the cupboard, and was out the back door before I could say another word.

I poured my cup of coffee, barely able to keep my eyes open. “Come on, caffeine, kick in so I can make it to work today.” I wondered how Crystal would react if I made enough typing mistakes today to make up for yesterday’s perfection. Just the thought of typing made me sleepier. I sat down in the dining room with my coffee and stared at the pieces on the table. Jonathon hadn’t touched them, and I didn’t plan to either, but something caught my eye. The U-shaped piece glistened as if it were wet. It must be a trick of the light, I thought. I closed my eyes and took another sip of coffee, shaking my head back and forth to wake up. Snap out of it kid, you’ve got to get dressed and get to work or there’ll be hell to pay.

I couldn’t stop looking at the object and its apparently new surface. What had happened to it overnight? And why hadn’t Jonathon noticed the change? I could see that he had carefully removed his notes without touching anything and knew it was because he was afraid of them, afraid of me. The glistening piece attracted me in ways I could neither identify nor comprehend. I touched it and knew I was falling to the floor but could do nothing to stop it, and my last thought before I blacked out completely was that Crystal would probably fire me for being late.

Hours or days had passed when I woke up. I raised my right wrist to look at my watch and was surprised to see that only ten minutes had gone by. I couldn’t remember a thing, no strange visions, no dreams. My restless sleep of the night before had been strangely dreamless. I usually remembered my dreams when I didn’t sleep well. I pulled myself up into one of the dining room chairs. Light from the kitchen window made the print of Monet’s “Sunrise” almost unbearably bright. I closed my eyes, but then opened them wide when I saw the table. The pieces had rearranged themselves into a new pattern, calling me, emitting a low hum that no one else could hear. I scooted back away from the table, still in the chair, and then turned and ran. The pieces had risen into the air. I ran down the hall, into the bedroom, into the closet, and shut the door. Panting, panicking in the dark, I kept perfectly still. Just breathe, Helena, I thought.

The door rattled and I squealed, covering my head with my arms.

The door flew open and I saw the pieces floating in the air, making the figure of a man, and I fainted.

I dreamed of flying through dark space, dark and cold, littered with glittering, cold stars, stars that cared nothing for me, but only for their own mindless existence. Planets and strange creatures, microscopic multi-limbed beings that floated on air, great amoebas flying on cosmic winds from one end of the galaxy to another, an uncountable multitude. Finally, I saw a man, no, a bi-pedal creature with green scales instead of skin, a tail swishing back and forth.

“You must help us. We do not mean to harm you.”

The image flickered like a bad television signal, marred with jagged lines and then reformed itself. Now one of the floating amoebas spoke to me.

“Help us. We are too small to defend ourselves against these creatures.” The green man reappeared but did not speak. “We only want to live in peace. We will give you many gifts. Cure your ills, renew your planet, help you travel the galaxy. Please—.”

The vision faded, replaced by the rough carpet under my cheek. I had fallen out of the closet and into the bedroom. I’d been lying there long enough to make a puddle of drool on the floor. I groaned, tingling pain bringing feeling back into my heavy arms. Tentatively, I sat up. The pieces were gone. My head was pounding and the computer fan was whirring. Jonathon had left the computer on again. I reached out to touch it, and my body convulsed, sparking, and the computer shorted out and went dead. I wrapped my arms around my body, afraid to move for fear of what else I might destroy. I thought of the night before when it seemed that I could move by thinking it, and this morning when I touched Jonathon and didn’t hurt him and wondered if I could control it.

An experiment, then.

Carefully, I stood up. So far, so good. I took one step and then another. Still good. Finally, I closed my eyes and pictured myself standing at the kitchen counter, eating my favorite breakfast, waffles with maple syrup and bacon. I heard a quiet pop, and when I opened my eyes, that’s exactly where I was. The waffles smelled disgusting, so I picked up the plate and dumped the food in the sink. I turned the water on and thought, control, control, and flipped the switch for the garbage disposal. No problem. I grabbed the refrigerator door handle to open it and get a glass of cold water. Overconfidence. Little blue sparks ran up and down the refrigerator door, around the back to the coils, and I heard them sizzle and smelled the electrical burn. The motor came grinding to a stop.

“Shit! What the hell?” Jonathon would kill me if all the groceries were ruined, so I took some stuff over to the neighbor’s; she was obliging and quiet and didn’t ask many questions. I explained the fridge was on the fritz and handed her one thing at a time. I loaded the rest of the perishables into a couple of ice chests and left them on the cool garage floor. If it all ruined, Jonathon couldn’t say I hadn’t tried. I laughed out loud. Did I really think he would care about the groceries?

The phone rang, and I went to answer it, almost picking it up without thinking. I waited, controlling myself until the answering machine picked up. Crystal.

“You’re late.” Pause. “You’d better be on your way.” Longer pause. “I hope you’re not standing there listening.”

I smiled in spite of myself. Crystal was a bitch, and I would love to blow her off. I dressed quickly and rushed out the door, for the present happy to be described by work.

I walked down the block to the bus stop, mentally chanting, it was all just a dream, just a crazy dream.

Crystal didn’t speak to me when I got there, but her thin lips compressed as she shook her head in my direction.

I sat down at the computer and got busy typing, but only after some deep breathing. It seemed to be getting easier to control my electrical output, but I did fry the automatic paper dispenser in the bathroom as well as the auto flush in the stall I usually used. The microwave mysteriously went on the fritz; at least, that’s what everyone else thought. I managed to keep my phone and computer intact for the rest of the day. It wasn’t a perfect day like the day before, but it wasn’t bad. Crystal kept walking by to glare at me, and a copy of the company’s late policy mysteriously appeared in my email and on my desk.

I knew that the hint was a warning, but I had bigger worries. I wanted to find my bus buddy and ask him about the pieces, so I was glad when I finished my last project at 6:30 p.m. and found myself outside waiting for the bus as usual.

The bus was on time and I climbed up the steps and walked all the way to the back. He wasn’t there. I turned around and found a seat near the front to see if he got on. I scanned each passenger, each disappointment making my pulse race a little faster. The bus drove past my stop and I stayed on, hoping against hope to find him. At the end of the line, I got off and walked around Pine Street. There were plenty of homeless guys, but none of them the right one. I went into Rock Bottom and ordered an amber ale. Sipping it, I inspected the crowd, all of them liquoring up after a hard day at work before going home to face whatever was facing them. What was wrong with me? I had put off thinking about the pieces. All day long, I had kept myself from thinking about them, but in this loud and lonely place, I couldn’t stop myself. Two mechanical devices had been absorbed into my body, and all I felt was detachment. No, that wasn’t quite right. Anticipation was a better word. I wondered if any of the smiling people in the bar ever had that feeling from childhood that just about anything could happen, and that surprise lurked around every corner.

My eyes came back into focus when I realized a man was speaking to me, sitting in the chair across from my small café table for two. “Yes,” I snapped, “What do you want?”

“Hey, sorry, lady, just trying to make small talk. You should be so lucky.”

He was right, and I almost wanted to apologize, a woman my age. I just wanted to be left alone with my beer to pass the time until the next bus came to take me home.

A dark alley attracted my attention on the way back to the bus stop. I thought I saw a bright light out of the corner of my eye as I walked past. Now it was completely dark, but the light had seemed unbearably bright, a light that would blind you if you looked directly at it. Out of the darkness came a voice.

“We are looking for you,” it said. “We want to help you.”

On a normal day, I would have kept right on walking, but this was about as far from a normal day as you could get.

I took a few steps into the alley, and turned to look behind me. The street was still there, awaiting my return. I took a few more steps, and there was my Armpit fellow, lying back in a pile of garbage, his forehead bleeding. I ran up to him.

“Hey, what happened to you? Are you all right?”

He grunted and looked up at me, the pain clear in the taut skin around his eyes

“Are you hurt? Do you need the hospital?”

He shook his head vehemently. I pulled him to his feet, my hands already scuffling in my bag for my cell phone. “I’ll get us a cab back to my place, and we can get you cleaned up.”

He didn’t say a word as we walked back out to the street and waited. Neither did the cab driver, though he did raise his eyebrows when he smelled my passenger.

“It’s all right,” I said. “He’s my long lost uncle.”

“Whatever you say, lady. Where to?”

As I told the driver my address, I saw my homeless fellow smiling gratefully in the rearview. In no time at all, we were back at my place. All the lights were out when the cab pulled into the driveway. Jonathon wasn’t home yet, and I could get this guy cleaned up and hidden away in the back room, buy myself some time to explain the situation.

I ushered the man into the house and turned on the porch light to signal the driver I was safely inside the house. Who was I kidding? I looked out to the street before I locked the front door and didn’t see any car lights. He was long gone, and so was my guy, I discovered, when I turned around to face an empty living room. The guy was good; I heard water running and walked down the hall to find the bathroom door shut.

“You okay in there?”

He grunted in return, so I assumed that meant he was okay. I went into the kitchen, grabbed a chocolate bar out of the freezer and started nibbling on it. I set the bar on the counter and went back to the garage to look for an easy dinner hidden in the ice chests. There were some baby zucchini that might be good, sort of healthy. Back in the kitchen, I poked about in the cupboard and found some spaghetti and pre-made sauce. Maybe a bottle of wine? But what if my guest was a wino. I was presiding over the simmering sauce and a pan of boiling water when I heard my man whisper from the hallway.

“Do you have anything I could put on?” he said.

“Coming right up.” I walked back to our bedroom and found an old pair of sweats and a t-shirt of Jonathon’s in the dresser drawer. Underwear and socks were probably overdoing it, so I tossed the two items down the hall. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you want something to eat.” No answer, just the sound of the towel being snapped smooth over the bar. At least he was a polite guest. I heard the medicine cabinet opening and closing and wondered if he was looking for drugs. Maybe he just needed some aspirin. I let it go.

I served up the pasta on a couple of plates and took them into the dining room. He was sitting there, staring at the table, and I wondered what he saw there. He smiled up at me or at the smell of the food, and said thank you very much and put the napkin I gave him in his lap. Not completely inept, then. I sat down next to him and chewed thoughtfully on my first bite. Jonathon could do better, but it wasn’t bad for a ten-minute effort out of a jar. I looked up at him carefully. He had made three butterfly bandages out of sterile tape for the cut on his forehead.

“Are you all right? Does it hurt?”

“No,” he said, “I will live.” His eyes dropped back down to his plate.

His wrinkled brow betrayed him. “I could get you some aspirin or something,” I said.

“No, I cannot take anything like that,” he said.

I decided to wait until we were both finished eating before asking any questions. He didn’t make a single slurping sound, but after I was finished, I looked over at his plate and saw that it was perfectly clean, not one speck of red sauce left. How had he done that without any bread?

“So,” I tried to sound casual, “you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“It’s a long story, and I am so very tired,” he said.

“That may be, buddy, but there are some very strange things going on here,” I said.

“Yes, you’re right. You deserve to know everything.” He paused. “Look at the table.”

“What about it?”

“The pieces are gone.”

“How did you know about them?” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, the kind you get when you know you’re about to hear something unpleasant.

He told me everything, and I believed him because he had been hurt and because he shed his human skin later in the night and showed me his green scales, and because I somehow knew he was telling the truth. He said that the organic mechanisms would change me, make me into a warrior, an explorer, a savior.

Later that night I cried into my pillow and asked the universe, “Why me?” When I stopped crying in the dark long after midnight, I realized that I wasn’t afraid, and then I rolled over in bed and remembered that Jonathon lived here too. He hadn’t come home at all.

BIO:  Velvet Pearson has been teaching creative writing, literature and composition at Long Beach City College since 2001. In the interstices of this busy academic year, she has worked on two new short stories and continued to revise The Challenger Deep, a novel in progress.