Pilot 38 – 1

Transmission Incoming.

38.

Um, hi, this is, uh Pilot 38. I guess you don’t want us using our real names which is weird cause you have all that info anyway. Well, whatever. Pilot 38. Yeah. First entry.

According to your machines here, I’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks now. I mean … [shuffling sound. buttons being pressed] … sixteen days, thirteen hours, twenty-eight minutes, and eight seconds. Nine seconds. Ten seconds. You get the idea. I haven’t even passed Mars yet, I don’t think. Total distance is … [tapping on screen] … sent now.

Information Received.

Space is … Space is a lot more boring than I thought it’d be. You guys said it would be okay if we added personal details to these, right? The human perspective and all that. Still weird we can’t use real names. Anyway, there’s nothing out here. Don’t get me wrong, I was in awe at first. I mean who wouldn’t be. But I’ve been awake for a few hours now and the novelty has sort of worn off. It’s pretty. Lot of black. Lot of little lights. Sometimes. But that’s about it.

I was hoping to see a comet.

I hope the rest of the pilots are doing well and off to a good start. Lord knows we need it. For the record, I’m honored to have been chosen for this. I hope some real good can come of it. Even if it’s not me who finds New Eden or whatever you’re calling it now – that’s what a marketing department’s for, right? – I still hope my data’s useful for something. Not like there’s a lot waiting for me back home. I guess this ship is pretty much my home now.

Speaking of, it’s not half bad. A little small, maybe, but cozy. Got enough room to stretch out and a nice workout station. You’ve loaded this thing with plenty of time killers too, which I appreciate. And I know, don’t stay awake too long. Don’t waste oxygen – I’m sorry, O2 – and limit my isolation risk. But I’m getting familiar with this thing. It’s not the simulator. You know what I mean.

To me, it wasn’t that long ago I was in the array with the other pilots back on Earth, shot into space, and now this. It’s been weeks for you, but only a couple hours altogether for me. I still feel like the new guy at work, you know?

So I guess that’s all from me for now. Not much to report. I’m gonna watch a movie or something then get back in stasis for a while. Hopefully when I get out again, there’ll be something new to look at.

Catch ya later.

End Transmission.

Pilot’s Projected Vital Levels:

Physical Health: 10

Emotional Health: 10

Course: Within Projection

Running Diagnostic Scan.

Complete.

Sending Transmission.

38.

Ship structure intact.

Outside anomaly detected.

Please investigate.

End Transmission.

Cycle Messages.

Transmission Incoming.

2.

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Parallels

It happened again.

I could tell by the mattress springs. I didn’t even have to open my eyes. Then came the smells. Wool and dust. A hint of cinnamon apple from a long extinguished candle. I knew it all immediately and couldn’t stave off the panic. I squeezed my eyes tight, praying sleep would take me once more.

The mattress groaned as she shifted next to me in her sleep. Please, don’t let her wake up. Her name was Sarah. The first time I switched, I had to look at a piece of mail for clues. Thank you, Discover Card. I know her, but her voice still sounds strange to me. I had expected it to trigger some kind of lingering familiarity, but dreams don’t carry sound.

I need to go back. This wasn’t mine. The face in the mirror would be me, but the woman and the children were his. How could they not know? They had to suspect something from my stumbling. I was never a good improviser. My eyelids were growing rosy from the morning sun. My hands balled into fists as I ground my face against the pillow.

This wasn’t like that movie. This wasn’t a dream. I knew that much. This was real. A kind of real, maybe, but not my real. I missed Tiff and Cooper and Julie. The times between were growing longer. What if I couldn’t get back?

It didn’t make any sense as I was in the same situation, but the thought of him in bed with Trish punched a hole in my gut. He had to have figured out what was going on too. It wasn’t like I could talk to him. He was stranded like me.

I heard another groan, Sarah, and felt smooth arms slide underneath my own, hugging my chest. “Morning,” she mumbled.

I was shaking. I felt tears in the corners of my eyes, but I still didn’t open them. I didn’t dare. Once I did, I was awake and then … and then I’d be stuck here. Again. Maybe for the last time.

“Morning,” I whispered back, hoping she didn’t hear the fear in my voice.

It was a voice she’d heard a million times. She had to know there were days her husband loved her and other days he didn’t. Trish would know. I never asked her. She wouldn’t believe me. But she’d have to know something was off.

It always started with the dream. Snapshots of another life. A beach. A blue house. A street with birch trees.

Sarah’s hand rubbed my chest and I knew she wouldn’t be going back to sleep. Neither would I. Frustrated, I squeezed her hand in greeting and got up to go to the bathroom. The face in the mirror was me. Sighing, I rubbed my eyes and checked the medicine cabinet.

Inside the pill bottle was the note I’d written last time. “You work at Slott and Stegman’s on Harris Ave. You don’t like ties. The car keys are in the bowl by the sink. Sarah. Maddie and Gracie.”

Did he have a note too, helping him through the motions? Was he as scared as I was? I folded the well-creased slip of paper and hid it amongst the painkillers once more.

“Hurry up,” Sarah said through the door. “I need to go too. Can you start pancakes?”

It must be Saturday. They always had pancakes on Saturday. I couldn’t fight the flare of panic. That meant more time at home.

“Sure,” I said, staring at the pill bottle. The panic brought something else too. I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before.

Rummaging through the basket of reading material by the toilet, I found one of those subscription postcards that had fallen out of a magazine and a pencil. Sarah was waiting for me when I opened the door. She was pretty but she was no Trish.

I kissed her on the cheek and brushed by her before she could answer. Luckily she was preoccupied. I heard noises downstairs. Maddie and Gracie were probably up. The shower started. I let out the first sigh of relief I’d felt all morning and began scribbling on the postcard.

“Tom, my name is Brett, but you probably know that. Am I doing this or are you? Do you know why this is happening? How do we go back?”

I hesitated. What if he didn’t want this to end? No, I decided. Judging by how his family looked at him, Tom would be as scared as I was. He’d have to be.

Without giving it a second thought, I tucked the postcard under the pillow and went downstairs to make pancakes. The mix was in the Lazy Susan on the left.

Elusivity

My New Years’ resolution was to blog more consistently.

OK. It wasn’t. But I still want to post more consistently anyway.

Life at the Melnick household has been a bit rough lately. The Missus is super sick. I mean when stuff gets in your chest and ears kind of sick. The babies have also picked up little baby versions of this illness in the form of stuffy noses, sniffles and even more spitting up. Yep. That’s just what babies needed: MORE spitting up. It’s lead to a lot of sleepless nights and me running around trying to make sure everyone else gets as much sleep as they can.

As I type this, I can feel the telltale tickle in the back of my throat. The number at the deli counter just rolled over one digit closer to the matching one on my ticket.

I hope everyone had some happy holidays. In between traveling and illnesses, I’ve been daydreaming about getting back to Fairfax Cleaners and brainstorming for novel #5. I’ve decided that my alpha readers have had over a month now to read the draft and while that’s not a lot of time in this busy time of our lives, it’s been long enough that I can hassle them for an update to at least let me know WHEN they’re finished. I don’t mind waiting around and working on other things as long as I’ve got something out there dangling. But if I’m not fishing, I’m not being productive.

I’m still doing research on the next book and I think I’ve got the plot basically figured out. I’m about ready for the outlining phase. This one’s been a lot quicker than usual since I’m adapting a screenplay awhile ago I wrote into a novel. I’ve basically changed the entire story with the exception of the core concept, but I’ve had this character’s voice in my head for years. Writing in first person – fingers crossed – should alleviate some of those professional pressures that have started to creep in without a pitch-worthy product.

So far, I’ve only been scratching that writing itch through mental exercises. I would love to sit down and fire off a short story or two, but that’s just not my style. I outline too much. Coming up with a plot is the hardest part for me for any book, so you’d think that something smaller would be easier, but it’s the opposite. Usually, I can propose a scenario to myself and ask “what happens next?” OK. “What happens after that?” And follow that story down the natural rabbit hole. But with short fiction, I end up doing so much brainstorming, I’m developing material for a full length novel and I’ve forgotten what it was about the short story that grabbed me in the first place.

I’m hoping to kick that habit. I had a pretty vivid dream the other night that’s still haunting me. I thought it would make a great idea for a romantic comedy at the time so I wrote it down in case I ever wanted to tackle a screenplay pretty far outside my genre as an exercise. Then I massaged it into drama shape for kicks. And now, I’ve basically rebuilt it into a science fiction piece. I like the central concept, but it’s that illusive plot thing that’s tripping me up. I supposed I’ll keep working on it in the hopes that I see an end in sight.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Prophet

My brother got the flash fiction group back together. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I thought you might be interested what I come up with. Every time I crank out a piece, I’ll make sure to post it. Enjoy!

The Prophet

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Dr. Sam Marsters rubbed his thumb over the tiny statue. The stone was smooth to the touch having been handled for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. The little figurine had been gradually ground down over countless gentle touches. With just the faintest traces of a willowy beard and an overly elongated head, it barely looked human anymore. “This is the second one this week,” Sam said.

“Now that we know what we’re looking for, they’re popping up all over the place.” Caleb checked the inventory list. “Kosovo, Papua New Guinea, Marseille, hell, even Baltimore. Climate … religion … doesn’t matter. Ever since the university started offering rewards for acquisitions, it’s been like a fire sale.”

“Thank God for benefactors, I guess.”

The office was cramped. Documents and catalogs were everywhere. Sam, leaned back, his leather chair squeaking while Caleb moved a stack of reports off the only other chair and took a seat opposite the desk. The cord of the ceiling fan clinked with the rotation.

Caleb shrugged. “Plenty of fake ones too. Who would’ve thought there’d be so many out there?”

“I think that’s the point.” Sam put the figurine down and massaged his eyes. Christ, he was tired. Bone tired. The weariness that settles into your marrow making you heavier than cement-tired. “I’m still having the dreams.”

“Me too,” Caleb said, softly.

“I’m sure most of the planet is by now.” Sam gestured toward the impressive inventory list. “Always the same thing too. Darkness. Pressure. Something’s coming. Something big.”

“They haven’t ruled out some kind of psychological warfare,” Caleb said.

Sam scowled. “This isn’t the War.” He snorted. “Please. You and I both know it’s more than that.”

Caleb was one of the calmer grad students, but even he was getting frayed around the edges. “Well then what?”

Sam crossed his arms. “There’s an intelligence, can’t you feel it? In the design, sure, but in the application too. Every time I see that black place, I can’t help but feel like something’s staring at me from the other side. This lurking presence just looking at me like it’s waiting to come through. Every time I think I’m getting close, like I’m about to see what’s in there, the dream shifts to the figurine-thing.”

“The Prophet figures. But that would mean whatever this thing is, it’s been trying to get our attention for a long time.” He looked to the bearded figurine sitting on the desk. “Some of those carvings are ancient.” The ceiling fan did little to relieve the heat or the humidity, but still Caleb shuddered. “So the dreams … they’re its way of announcing the arrival? You realize what you’re saying, right?”

“That an extraterrestrial intelligence has invaded our dreams and is sending us a ‘save the date’? Yeah, I know how that sounds.”

There was a knock at the door. “Dr. Marsters?” Lydia poked her head inside. He waved her in. “Another package for you, sir.” She handed him an already open box. The ripped tape and loose packing material looked like the entrails of a carcass.

“Cairo,” Sam said, checking the return address. Caleb made a note on the inventory list.

His fingers probed the contents searching for the familiar form of another Prophet figurine, but they brushed against something flat. He pulled the object out, spilling shredded paper pieces everywhere. It was a piece of wall tile.

“They sent it up from downstairs,” Lydia said. “Thought you’d know what to do with it.” Her hands clasped in front of her, she waited for dismissal.

“What is it?” Caleb said.

Sam didn’t have the foggiest. The tile was old, that much was easy to tell. Probably like the figurine on his desk it could be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years old. Hard to know without proper dating methods. It was painted, not carved. The style looked about right for what he knew was ancient Egyptian and …

The realization hit him like a kick to the gut. More sweat beaded on his brow. “Is this real?”

“That’s what they say.” Lydia shifted uncomfortably and checked a memo pad. “Let’s see … ah, here. Clay and paint composition put it somewhere around 2000 BC.”

“What’s wrong?” Caleb said. “Jesus man, you’re white as a ghost.”

“That’s all, Lydia.” Sam’s words sounded raspy even to his own ears. “Thank you.”

He waited until she’d closed the door behind her again and he was sure she’d be back at her desk before he flipped the tile over to show Caleb. There were many hieroglyphic markings he didn’t know, but the center image was obviously clear. Human shapes were kneeling, praying maybe, to something massive and humanoid with an overly elongated head. But instead of the beard, the figure’s mouth was a mass of writhing tentacles.

“Jesus,” Caleb said. “That’s …”

Sam’s hands tingled. He’d drop the tile if he wasn’t careful. “I don’t think it’s a ‘save the date’,” he said. “It’s not announcing its arrival, its announcing the return.”