And all I loved, I loved alone
I sign my life away for $25,000. More than I’m worth but it’s not like I’m going to tell them that. After all the needles and tubes and tests, I’m a bit wobbly as I make my way out the main entrance of the clinic. Is it the pill that makes my stomach knot and my palms sweat, or is it the knot of unease settled in my stomach?
The sun burns through the thin fabric of my sweater and I shiver, lifting a hand to sheild my eyes. I’m not invisible, yet no one pays me any attention. Can’t they see the wires snaking up my spine or the camera nestled in the golden rose strapped around my neck?
Maybe the pill kicked in sooner than expected. Afterall, I’m not a rat. Which is something they’ve told us too many times to count, though as a warning or a form of comfort, I’m not sure. Even in the latest batch of tests, a rat died, limbs jutting out at jagged angles, mouth open and blood crusted around its eyes.
They gave us one last out before taking us back, one by one, into the exam room. As our group shrunk from twenty to nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, I didn’t miss the way their eyes darted from one dusty picture frame to the next, fingers intertwining in their laps and feet tapping erratic rythms on the glossy tile. They’d taken our phones at the front desk but I’d brought a poetry book which I flipped through, trying to block out the annoying melody of nervousness. My eyes skimmed each page, every word burned deep in my brain from years of sleepless nights.
I tried to skip page 49. And yet, the ink pulled me in and I couldn’t get my fingers to move past it. The lines formed chains, tugging me down, down, down until I found it among the waterstains.
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Two words had been sloppily scribbled above the dash. With you. I heard the words, echoing and repeating long after my head grew foggy from all the vials of blood they took.
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone with you.
It’s a little hazy now, a memory I left behind when I stepped out onto the sidewalk. The book is tucked away in my backpack, where it will probably stay until I can bring myself to dig it out again. I don’t even know why I brought it in the first place.
I glance in a store window. My hair is darker than I remembered. Longer, too. And my undereyes are so puffy it looks like I cried all night, which I haven’t, of course. I make a mental note to get an eyemask later.
I don’t. Get the eyemask, that is. The subway’s too crowded to even breathe and I’m so sick and tired of bodies being crushed into mine I can barely stand to look at another person within a hundred feet of me. Which is basically everyone.
Only when I’m in the stairwell of my apartment building do I finally get some space. Definetely no quiet though, with muffled shouts and thumps bleeding through the walls. My skin prickles with sweat and my steps slow. I hate this place, the way the air sticks in my throat, heavy with that attic smell—all dust and insulation and crumbling memories.
But it’s all I can do to not sit down on stair 169. The door is right there, looming over me, but if I sit with my back to it I can pretend it’s not there. But eventually my legs will carry me through this door to one marked 9E.
Two hours, they said. So if they’re right and my body responds like a rodent a mere fraction of my size, I should be invisible in twenty minutes. I wonder how the other half of the trial group are doing, trapped in isolation chambers and surrounded by cameras and one-way mirrors. The rest of us will be compared to them in what I was told was an effort to determine the effect of strong emotion on the duration.
Or maybe I got a sugar pill or something and they want to see if the placebo effect is strong enough that I turn myself invisible. A tiny laugh escapes my lips. It’s not much, but it gets me into the hallway.
By the time I get to the door my legs hurt and my fingers shake a little as I fumble for my key. I push my way inside, dropping my backpack on the floor with a dull thunk. The air is dry, empty and almost stale. Not a single light is on, the bright glow of a streetlamp fighting to get through drawn curtains. It has almost always been like this, and yet a small part of me hopes —well, nevermind.
“This is my lovely abode,” I say for the researchers monitoring me. I doubt they’re amused. “I can’t decided which crime I want to commit in fifteen minutes.”
I bet that’s what the others are planning on doing. And nobody’s going to stop them, not even the researchers. That rush of adrenaline, the spike of panic—it’s perfect.
For a moment, I entertain the idea. It’s a distraction, a chance to be someone else for a night without consequences. But that’s not really what I want. Not anymore.
I flick on the light over the kitchen sink as I slip off my sneakers and kick them in the general direction of the other shoes. There’s half a chicken sandwhich next to a plate of spaghetti I should have thrown away a week ago. Neither sounds appealing and I’m not hungry so I might as well go lie down on the couch.
The still room begs me to stay and I linger for a heartbeat under the faded yellow glow. The shivers are back, cold seeping from the fake marble countertop into my arms. I have what, ten minutes now? Time is dragging as it slips through my fingers and even my phone seems confused, the spaces between each minute growing uneven.
I rummage through the drawers without so much as a word as though I don’t already know exactly what I’m looking for. Maybe all of my observers have become bored to tears and left, though I doubt it.
Finally, among the matches, two pocket knives, a pair of scissors and a stack of multi-colored notecards, I find it. Ripping off a piece of duct tape, I wrap it around and around the charm containing the camera. In my mind’s eye, I see the researchers freaking out in their lab over loss of visuals on Patient String of Random Numbers like in the movies.
“I’m just going to take a shower and I don’t think you need to see that. I mean, I’m not invisible yet.” They won’t come bust down my apartment door because they can’t watch me for fifteen minutes, will they? “Oh, and the mic too...that’s just weird, man. And I’d like to note I’m not breaking any terms of the contract I signed. I’m not removing any of the equipment from my body nor causing any damage to them.”
At least, I don’t think so. I hope not.
I cover the mic before I change my mind.
Jumbled syllables fall from my mouth as I scramble back. Splotches of my hands float in the air, my knuckles disconnected from one another. I rip at my sweater, struggling to pull it over my head.
I can’t breathe. Panic explodes through my body at the sight of my dissolving arms. Even the skin tight body suit they gave me is phasing in and out. My vision wavers and blurs. I think...I think I’m going to pass out. I can’t...
My stomach flips and turns, bile burning the back of my throat. An acidic, bitter taste burns my tongue and I’m shaking so bad my legs refuse to hold me. Or maybe they aren’t even there anymore.
I’m not sure how long I stay there, huddled in the corner between cupboards and the stove as I hyperventilate. But gradually, my breathing evens out and I can actually stand up. Though walking is another matter altogether.
I can’t stop searching for my arms, even though I can’t see them anymore. I’m nothing more than a floating pair of pants and my insides don’t like it one bit. The croissant from this morning—the only thing I’ve eaten all day—threatens to come back up and I have to keep swallowing it down. It didn’t even taste good the first time.
“Okay, focus, Lena.” I scratch at my arms, but the once comforting gesture only makes things worse. “It’s okay, Lena, it’s okay.”
The words blend together as I shuffle through the tiny living room area into a narrow corridor. In the darkness, the walls press in on me, blank faces angry and accussing. The shadows settle in my aching bones and I can’t chase them away. Not anymore.
Another closed door awaits me, another opportunity to change my mind. Just like those two girls did this afternoon when they left the waiting room.
But despite how much I’ve tried to bury it, I can’t. It keeps coming back, stronger and stronger and some day, I know it will carry me away.
When I open the door, what was and what is collide with a dizzying rush. The air is stolen from my lungs and I am frozen in time, stuck between two worlds bathed in washed-out blue—what we were and what is left.
The blankets swallow you up and I tug them back. You’re drowning again and I can’t save you, can’t do anything but wipe away the tear trickling down your already soaked face.
You whisper my name through cracked lips and my heart breaks all over again. My fingernails dig into my chest but I can’t make it stop. Slowly, your eyes open but they don’t see me. You look right through me, feverishly scanning for my face. Just so you can tell me to leave with a voice that isn’t yours.
Even your eyes are different, darkened with the unfathomable depths of demons I can’t fight. What have they done to you? They stole the man I loved, dragged him to a hell even pills can’t bring him back from.
I want to hold you tightly, want to stay beside you all through the night. I want to tell you something but the words stick in my throat.
I am a coward. A coward for not being able to face you anymore, a coward for creating an excuse for why your eyes stare right through me, all recognition gone from your face. I am not the woman you love anymore. I am a coward for wanting something from you that you can’t even give yourself.
I am sorry and angry and sad and so, so tired.
The carpet muffles my footsteps and when I slip under the covers you barely stir. I stare at the ceiling, the once familiar pattern of criss-crossing cracks nothing more than broken plaster.
The pieces I’ve tried so hard to keep together are shattering into a million shards, burning as they pierce my skin. Perhaps this is what dying feels like.
Like every time before, I roll on my side, my arms searching for you but all I find is the body of a fragile paper boy. You try to twist away, lost in your restless sleep. But I won’t let you, not this time.
I kiss your neck. Your skin is so cold.
I shouldn’t stay. I can’t stay. But if I leave, I know where I will go. I’ve visited the roof many times, stared over the edge to the ground far below. There’s too many people, even at night. But nobody will stop me now.
Then I hear my name again, so faint it might be my imagination. I close my eyes, scalding tears dripping on the pillow. I cling to you with every bit of strength I have left and, for a moment, I can pretend I’m not in love with a stranger.
The Unexpected Icarus
The three of us stared in awe at the rock nestled in the freshly made crater. The trees all around the impact site were snapped in half outward, and the ground was utterly barren of any debris. There were no leaves, no twigs, or even pine needles, just broken fir trees and the steaming chunk of rock in the crater’s center.
“Is that a meteor?” asked Ethan, inching closer to the crater’s edge.
“Meteorite,” said Mike.
“That’s what I said, a meteorite.”
“No, you said meteor, this is a meteorite.”
Ethan looked at me with a dumbfounded, slack-jawed expression, held his hands out to his sides, and turned back to Mike. “What’s the difference, professor?”
“Well,” said Mike. “a meteor is a piece of space rock that burns up in earth’s atmosphere, but a meteorite is a space rock that makes it to the planet’s surface.” He went on, but I wasn’t paying attention. I shut my flashlight off and leaned over the crater’s edge as much as I dared. “Now, an asteroid is a rock that’s generally in orbit between Jup-”
“Shut up for a second,” I interrupted. “Kill your light.” Mike gave me an indignant look but did as I said. With both of our lights off, my suspicion was confirmed. The meteorite had a faint green glow. The rock not only glowed, but it seemed as though it were pulsing, and without Mike and Ethans talking, it sounded as if it were humming. With each pulse of green light, the hum would grow louder and then quieter as the light dimmed.
“We need to call someone,” I said. “I don’t care if it’s the state police or park rangers.” I turned my light back on to see Mike nodding anxiously in agreement as he backed away from the crater. On the other hand, Ethan remained firmly rooted where he stood, his hands on his hips, still eyeing the meteorite.
“What do you think it’s worth?” asked Ethan.
Mike shrugged. “I don’t know what the going rate for irradiated space rock is, but I don’t want to keep standing next to it.”
“You know they can make sword’s out of this shit, right?” said Ethan, turning his back to the crater.
”Sword’s, Ethan?” I said. “I don’t know what fantasy novels you’ve been reading, but I don’t see that being the government’s top priority.”
“Well, he’s not entirely wrong. King Tut had a dagger made of meteorite,” said Mike.
Ethan opened his mouth to add more, but the ground at the crater’s edge shifted, and he began to lose his balance. He reeled backward and desperately tried to stay upright by swinging his arms in a windmill pattern. Mike and I both reached out for him, but I got to him first, grabbing his shirt and yanking him back upright.
“Holy shit,” said Ethan. “Solid save bud-”
Before he could finish, the ground below me gave way entirely. I stumbled backward and went end over end before coming to a stop inches away from the meteorite. I laid there in a cloud of dust with my face in the dirt.
“John!” yelled Mike. “Are you ok?!”
I spat out a mouthful of dirt and got up to a knee. The dust filled the air around me, but through it, I could see that the faint green glow had gotten brighter. The light had not only grown brighter, but it was pulsing much faster, and the humming noise that accompanied it had become much louder.
“I’m alright!” I called up to Mike. “You see the rock strobing out too, right? If not, then I have a bad concussion.” I began to back away from the rock without taking my eyes off of it.
“Yeah, I see it too! Whatever you do, don’t touch it!” said Mike.
“So does that rule out licking it?!” I yelled.
The pulsing light continued to increase in speed, and the hum had grown so loud that it was vibrating the ground around me. Tiny bits of rock, pulverized from the impact, began to jump and dance with each light pulse. The residual dust from my fall dissipated as though being blown away by a fan, and with it gone, the green glow became blinding. I covered my eyes from the bright flashes, and just as I thought to turn and run, all the activity stopped. The flashing green light was gone, and the hum had ceased altogether. For a brief moment, there was only darkness and silence. Then, it happened.
The meteorite lit back up, even brighter than before. I didn’t even have a chance to cover my eyes when the rock discharged a bolt of green light that hit me square in the chest. The blast sent me flying backward, and slamming into the crater’s slope, sending up a fresh dust cloud. I laid there, stunned, and unable to catch my breath. The last thing I remembered before passing out was the sound of Ethan’s high pitched shriek. I would have laughed my ass off if the wind hadn’t just been knocked out of me.
I don’t remember getting dragged out of the crater, but I woke up with Ethan and Mike standing over me. Mike had two fingers pressed to my throat, looking down at his watch while Ethan just stood there with his mouth open, wide-eyed and pointing when he saw the I was conscious.
“Dude!” said Ethan.
Mike looked up from his watch. “Oh, thank Christ.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” asked Ethan.
I tried to answer him, but I had inhaled a lot of dust, and all I could do was cough. Mike handed me his canteen and insisted that I drink the rest of its contents. They both quietly watched as I sucked down the entire canteen and waited for me to catch my breath when I finished.
“The last thing I remember was you screaming like a little bitch.” I said, pointing at Ethan.
Mike howled with laughter. “I WAS HOPING YOU HEARD THAT TOO!”
“Oh, I heard it,” I said. “I’m never letting that one go.”
Ethan glared back and forth at us as we both laughed. “No one will believe any of this,” he said. “so I’m not too concerned.” He crossed his arms and continued to glower as Mike and I stopped laughing to exchange glances.
“But we’ll know,” said Mike, pointing to himself and then to me. Ethan tried to keep scowling, but a smile began to creep onto his face.
“I did sound like a little bitch,” Ethan finally said, causing the three of us to burst into laughter.
They helped me to my feet, and both stood next to me as they observed my ability to remain balanced and upright. My legs were weak, and my chest was sore, but I felt better than I expected. I took a few test steps with Mike staying right behind me, then turned around and nodded.
“I can make it back to camp,” I said.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you say that,” said Mike. “We did not want to drag you back.” He pointed his light towards the trail we used to come in. “We need to get back to camp and either find a spot with cell service or hike out to the car.”
“Why not wait until morning?” I asked. “Whatever just happened, really took it out of me.”
Mike looked at me with a dead-pan expression. “Because there is a glowing chunk of cosmic rock shooting out green lightning in the middle of Vermont.”
“How about we decide what to do after we eat some food?” Ethan interjected.
It was then I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch. We had just made camp when the meteorite struck the opposite side of the mountain, and the entire event had me so preoccupied that I didn’t realize how hungry I was until Ethan said something.
Even just thinking about crappy camp food made my stomach growl. I was tired, sore and the thought of a hot meal got me excited. I was just about to agree with Ethan but was interrupted by Mike yelling and pointing to my feet.
“HOW THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THAT?!”
Ethan and Mike both stood pointing with their mouths open. Confused, I looked down at my feet and saw nothing at first. I lifted my foot to see if I was standing on top of whatever they were pointing to, and it was then I realized what had them so worked up.
When I picked my foot up, I saw that the other was not touching the ground, but hovering five inches in the air. Upon seeing this, I rose another few feet in the air and stopped. My breathing became rapid, and I felt an overwhelming sense of panic as I began to rise even higher while frantically looking around for any explanation. Then, without warning, I shot upward like a missile.
The wind roared past my ears, my cheeks flapped like a windsock, and the rushing air was so strong against my face that I could barely keep my eyes open to see what was happening. It took a few seconds to comprehend my situation, but the moment I did, I screamed. Like a pop bottle rocket, I continued shooting into the night sky with an ear-piercing screech. But just as I was taking another breath to continue screaming, I was briefly distracted by the scenery below.
I looked down to see the mountains and foothills getting smaller and the landscape’s view becoming much broader, and despite my extraordinary circumstances, the sight was still incredible. So incredible that it got me to stop shrieking and appreciate the view for a moment.
Like a long winding mirror, the river below reflected the full moon’s light as it peeked over the mountain tops. For miles, I could see patches of lights nestled randomly throughout southern Vermont, and there was no traffic on any of the back roads or highways. The entire land seemed so quiet and serene, and that was when it dawned on me that it was quiet.
The air had stopped rushing over my ears, my lips and cheeks had stopped flapping, I could look up without tears filling my eyes. I looked around and saw that I was no longer accelerating upward, but steadily descending toward the ground as if wearing a parachute. Upon this realization, I began talking to myself out loud.
“Ok, ok, ok,” I said. “you’re flying. You don’t know how you don’t know why, but you’re flying.”
When I said that, my descent stopped, and I just hovered in the sky.
“No, down!” I shouted angrily. “Go doOWWWWNNN-”
I went up faster than before, and I mean way faster. It was like having my ears next to a large waterfall, and the downdraft was so powerful that It hurt my face when I tried to look up. A tiny hole in my down jacket tore open, and I left a streak of goose feathers in the sky behind me, like my own personal jetstream. I had been freezing before, but the loss of my jacket’s insulation made it far worse.
The more altitude I gained, the colder I became, and the harder it was to breathe. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t inhale, and my shivering had become so violent that I couldn’t control my arms or legs any longer. I was terrified, my brain was starving for oxygen, my entire body was numb, and I was too exhausted to stay awake. I had to rest my eyes for a moment, and that was the second time I blacked out that night.
When I started coming to, I was still shivering but able to breathe. I tried opening my eyes, but it felt as though they had weights attached to them. I could feel that I was lying on the ground with a blanket draped over me, and felt the warmth of a fire crackling a few feet away. The sharp snaps and pops of the burning wood brought my hearing back into focus, and that was when I heard whispering.
“We have to get him to the hospital,” said Ethan.
“And tell them, what?” whispered Mike. “A glowing, green meteorite zapped our friend, and then he blasted off towards the atmosphere like a high pitched shuttle launch?”
“Well we hav-”
“And then, after defying every law of physics, he floated to the ground like a godamn feather.”
The conversation jolted my memory, and the entire event came rushing back. The rock, the green light, flying, it all came back at once. I jerked awake, sat straight up, and you guessed it. Up I went. I grabbed for anything I could to keep me tethered to the ground, but there was nothing. Just like before, I began accelerating into the sky. The tree branches, just out of reach, blurred by me as I frantically clawed for them.
Just as it was all coming together, that what I had experienced was not a dream, I was about to repeat it. Was I fated to replicate this nightmarish experience over and over until I died from heart failure? Was I going to make it past the atmosphere this time and out into the vacuum of space? These were the questions that plagued my mind in the time it took me to go from the ground to the treetops.
Then, at the height of my desperation, I felt a sharp pain in my ankle, and my ascent stopped abruptly.
“HOOOOOOLLLY SHIT!” I heard Ethan yell.
“I KNEW IT!” shouted Mike.
The same sensation of being pulled towards the sky overwhelmed my body, but I wasn’t moving for some reason. I stayed right at the tops of the trees. It was calm, quiet, and much like the view from far above the valley. It was another one of those moments that made me forget what was happening, even for a second, and I started to descend.
“YES!” yelled Mike. “I am a genius!”
I reached down to my lower leg and came in contact with something wrapped around my ankle. I rolled it between my fingers and realized what it was. It was nylon paracord.
Mike had always been a stern advocate for bringing extra paracord on our hiking trips. It may have been the boy scouts, or maybe it was his time in the military, but Mike was ready for anything. He might have been awkward around women and had terrible timing with his jokes, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the most prepared person I had ever met. He was also the most intelligent person I knew, and his quick thinking had just saved my life.
“John!” Mike shouted up to me. “This is going to sound out there, but I need you just to trust me, ok?”
“Kay...” I responded.
“I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As deep a breath as you can take in, then let it all out. Ok?
I took a long deep breath, released it, and the speed of my descent increased. I took another deep breath in, let it out, and continued moving gradually towards the ground.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked.
“Let’s get you to the ground first,” Mike responded. “then we’ll talk about it.
Both he and Ethan were below me, each holding the paracord, pulling it hand over hand. As they assisted me, I continued the deep breathing and was to the ground in no time. The moment I touched down, Ethan grabbed me in a full embrace.
I awkwardly patted him on the back. “I uh, love you too, buddy,”
“I’m not hugging you, dipshit,” said Ethan.
“Hold him tight.” I heard Mike say.
I craned my neck and saw him tying something together. “What the hell are you guys doing?”
Mike continued with his task. “Making you a harness.” He walked up to me with Ethan still bear hugging me and held up paracord he had braided and knotted together to make an x pattern. He draped the makeshift harness over my shoulders and clipped it to a rope lashed around a tree.
“I have a working theory,” said Mike.
“Am I safe now, or does he need to keep doing this?” I said, pointing down to Ethan, still hugging me.
Mike nodded. “I believe you’re safe, but you have to stay calm, ok?”
Ethan released me from his embrace but remained next to me, ready to pounce.
“Here’s my theory,” said Mike. “I don’t know how, but I believe your ability to fly is tied directly to your emotions, more specifically, your stress levels.”
“Case in point, when you were screaming, your stre-
“YEAH!” interrupted Ethan. “who screams like a bitch now?!”
Mike shrugged. “You both do, but I would like to get to my point now if you don’t mind.”
“As I was saying, when you were screaming, your stress levels were obviously through the roof. No pun intended. But for whatever reason, relaxing your mind, body, or both reverse the effects.”
I nodded. “An hour ago, I would’ve told you that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard, but now I’ll get on board with anything.” Ethan took a step back and somewhat relaxed while Mike and I discussed what to do next.
“So, what should we do?” I asked.
Mike looked up at the sky. “We might be isolated, but that was a massive impact. It might have registered on a seismograph or two, but it most definitely popped up on radar. Not to mention, we aren’t the only people camping out here.”
“So we should get as far away from it as we can,” said Ethan. “Let’s pack up, get to the car, and pretend like we never saw it.” Mike finished.
Before I had a chance to add my opinion, a blinding white light engulfed us. I couldn’t see much, but I could tell that it wasn’t coming from a single source. It was many individual lights surrounding the campsite.
”PLACE YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND DO NOT LOWER THEM,” a voice commanded from behind the lights.
I did as ordered, and when I did, I began to feel the same sensation as before, the feeling of being pulled up. The feeling took over my body, but I remained rooted to the ground. The only thing I could see was that all three of us had our hands in the air, but not what was keeping me grounded.
Mike whispered. “No matter what, you have to stay calm.”
As my eyes adjusted to the lights, I could see out of my peripheral vision that Mike was standing on the rope attached to my harness.
”INTERLOCK YOUR FINGERS, PLACE THEM ON TOP OF YOUR HEAD AND GET ON YOUR KNEES.” commanded the voice.
Mike continued to whisper as we all complied. “We saw and heard an impact but never went to the impact site. If we never went to the site, then we know nothing about a meteorite. Got it?” Just as he finished, I could see several of the lights approaching us.
Hands grabbed each of my arms and wrenched them behind my back. I then felt cold metal around my wrists, binding them together.
“What the hell is all this?” asked another unseen voice. I felt a sharp tug on my harness.
“Our friend wasn’t feeling well, and we were in the process of setting up a harness in case we had to carry him out,” answered Mike.
“He looks fine now,”
“Hence why we stopped, sir.”
“Get this shit off of him and separate these three. I’ll handle the questioning.” said the voice.
I felt another jerk on the harness, heard a knife cutting through the nylon cord, and felt it slide off my shoulders with a final pull. Someone put a black hood over my head, led me by my wrists to a vehicle, and shoved me in the backseat.
I had been sitting in a room for what felt like hours. I still had the hood over my head but could tell from the sounds of the footsteps that the room wasn’t big. Other than that, I had no idea what was happening or where I even was. We hadn’t been in the car very long before pulling off on to a bumpy back road. We stopped, then someone pulled me out of the vehicle, led me up a set of metal stairs, through two doors, and cuffed me to a metal chair.
I might have been able to pick up on more details through my hearing if I hadn’t been so focused on staying relaxed. From the moment they caught us, I had been practicing the deep breathing Mike suggested, and it was working. Despite all the new added stress, I remained calm.
Finally, I heard the door open and listened as a single set of footsteps entered the room. They uncuffed me, ripped off my hood, and began speaking before my eyes could adjust.
“What did you see on the other side of the mountain?” he asked.
My vision came back into focus, and across from me, sat a man in black fatigues. A balaclava mask covered his face and hair, but I could still see his lips moving when he spoke.
“What did you and your friends see on the other side of the mountain?” he repeated.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Bullshit!” he snapped.
I took a deep breath in and let it out steadily. Stay calm, I told myself. “We only heard and felt an explosion. We didn’t leave our campsite.”
The man held up three of his fingers. "Three sets of footprints led directly to your camp from the event site, and one set of them matches the soles of those boots on your feet. Just come clean and tell me what you saw.”
I took another deep breath and proceeded to lie. “We didn’t go near any event site, or whatever you called it.”
“Again, with the lies. What did you see at the event site?”
“I don’t know what event you’re referring to, but we didn’t go near it. We only heard and felt the explosion.”
Through his mask, I could see his face contort angrily. His eyes narrowed.
“Last chance,” he said quietly.
Just as I was about to continue my lie, I was interrupted by a voice in my head. It wasn’t my voice, either. It was Mike’s.
”John, they know we saw the meteorite. Tell them we were there, but you never touched it, and nothing else happened.”
Confused, I looked around the room.
“Mike?” I said out loud.
The man sitting across from me threw his hands up. “Yes, him too.”
”Hopefully, I can explain later, but trust me and listen for now. We saw the meteorite, but we didn’t come in direct contact with it. Also, I know you’re about to respond out loud, don’t. I can hear what you’re thinking.”
“I hit my head or something,” I thought to myself.
”No, you didn’t,” said Mike’s voice. ”answer this guy and make him think you are the dumbest, most inept person to walk the earth.”
The man was moving to get up from his chair, but I stopped him.
“You’re right,” I said. “We went to the impact site.” He froze in his seat.
“Go on,” he said.
I could feel myself getting anxious, so I held up my hand for a pause. Not only did I need to calm down, but I also needed time to ask Mike what to say next, presuming it was really him speaking to me. I hadn’t even finished my thought before Mike’s voice answered.
”It’s really me, dude.
”Prove it,” I thought.
”You came down with the flu the night before your thirteenth birthday. I remember this because I was at the Boy Scout meeting when you found out you were sick. When you-
“When I shit myself!” I interrupted out loud.
“What?!” said the masked man. “You shit yourself, just now? You better not have!”
The whole night had already slowed my cognitive abilities. Between the rock, almost being launched into space, having to do meditation breathing to keep from relaunching, and then being kidnapped by unidentified military personnel, it had been a rough one. My friend speaking to me in my head didn’t help my critical thinking skills either.
“Did you just say you shit yourself?!” the man demanded.
I looked down at my feet, gravely, and nodded.
“Yes, sir. Well..., I mean, not just now, but earlier...” I said, looking back up. “I’d had the bubble guts all day. I’m not sure if some camp food didn’t agree with me, or if I didn’t purify my water enough, but I felt terrible. Well, my friends didn’t care about that and still insisted that we check out whatever the explosion was. So we found the spot where the thing hit, right? We make it to the site, and before we even have a chance to investigate anything cool, the thunder comes rumbling.”
The masked man leaned in and quietly asked. “The thunder?”
I shrugged. “Yeah. I had to, you know, poop...”
He shook his head in annoyance and leaned back in his chair as I continued.
“So there we are at this crater thing, I’m already nervous, my guts are bubbling like a hot cauldron, and then my buddy Mike tells me that stuff from outer space gives off radiation, like a lot of it. So then I’m worrying that if I drop trou right there and dump out, I’m going to get radiation poisoning or some form of butt cancer.”
Mike’s voice came out of nowhere. ”He thinks you’re a total idiot! Keep it up!”
The man held up his hands, motioning for me to stop, but I ignored him. “So instead of risking the radiation poisoning, I just let ’er rip.”
“Ok, I’ve heard plenty,” he said, getting up from his chair. “feel free to move about this room.” He pointed all around the room then sternly to the door. “If you try to walk out of here through that door, you will be shot. Understand?”
“Yes,” I said. “is there somewhere to take a leak?”
“Go in the corner,” he said, then walked out the door.
The instant the door shut, Mike began speaking to me again.
″That could not have gone better. You set the bar low, so he’s expecting the same from Ethan and me. I spoke-...err reached out to Ethan already, and as long as he doesn’t screw it up, we’re getting out of here.”
I concentrated on not responding out loud. ”These guys are government agents. I don’t think they’re letting us go.”
”That’s the thing,” said Mike. “They’re not with the government.”
I responded out loud. “What?!”
”They’re with a private military company. They somehow got a line on the meteorite, and the government missed it.”
”So wouldn’t it still be easier to kill us?” I thought.
”It would, but the CEO of this company remotely oversees all operations, and he has a history of leaving loose ends untied. All of his personnel think he’s far too soft, but he pays the best. The guy asking the questions earlier thought about how he was going to have to let us go and he was not happy about it.”
As it turns out, Mike had been right about everything. They tried to question each of us multiple times, but it was no problem with Mike able to read minds. They kept us for twenty-four hours, then let us go, and much to the man in charges chagrin, his boss forced him to give us a ride back to our car. They unceremoniously kicked us out, then peeled out on the gravel in front of us.
I calmly walked over to a small tree, sat next to it, and wrapped my arm around it. I seemed to have the whole flight thing under control at that point, but I was taking zero risks.
Mike waved and smiled as the masked man held his middle finger out of the window.
“That guy may be an asshole, but I think he hates you, Mike,” said Ethan. Mike continued waving as we watched the SUV, and the middle finger hanging out of the passenger side window disappear in a dust trail.
“That’s because once I figured out they weren’t going to kill us, I started messing with his head,” laughed Mike. “he thinks his wife is cheating on him, so I watered that seed for a bit. He actually thought about killing me for a second, so I laid off.” Mike then walked over to Ethan’s truck, pulled out a length of rope, tied one end around the truck’s trailer hitch, and then walked over to me with the other end.
“What now?” I asked, annoyed.
“I have a hypothesis,” said Mike.
“Not right now, bro. I just want to rest for a few minutes.”
“Just humor me, please.”
“Fine,” I said, standing up.
Mike spoke as he tied the other end of the rope around my waist. “So the meteorite gave you the ability to fly, right? And presumably, it gave me the power of telepathy.” He gave one test pull on both ends and then stood in front of me, placing his hands on my shoulders.
“Take as deep a breath in as you can,” he said calmly.
I did as he suggested and inhaled through my nostrils. Just as I reached the height of my breath, Mike lifted his hand in the air and slapped me across the face as hard as possible. SMACK!
The pain, the anger, the ringing in my ears all came at once. I was confused, stunned, and wouldn’t have remained upright if Mike didn’t help me keep balanced.
“WHAT THE HELL BRO?!” I shouted.
“Look!” he said. “You’re still on the ground!”
I looked down and saw that he was right. Despite the anger, my heart rate increasing, or whatever triggered my flight ability, I was still on the ground. I regained my senses after a few moments, but the slap’s pain lingered.
“You didn’t have to slap me that hard, dickhead,” I said, rubbing my cheek.
“Probably not,” said Mike. “but I wanted to make sure.”
“Is it gone, like for real gone?” I asked.
“Well, my telepathy abilities are gone, so I naturally assumed.” Mike shrugged. “The last thing I heard was Ethan thinking about how he couldn’t wait to get home and log on to his favorite paid por-...”
“You listened to my thoughts without telling me?!” Ethan interrupted from behind us.
I turned to look at him, but no one was there. I looked around and behind me, but there was nothing. “Ethan?” I said suspiciously.
“What?” said his voice from a few feet away. Mike turned to look as well.
“Where the hell are you? How are you doing that?” I asked.
“Doing what? I think you need to get some sleep.” said Ethan’s voice. I looked down at the spot where he had been and saw the gravel shifting around as though someone was still standing there, shuffling.
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose and squinted. “Oh, shit...” he said.
She Sees Me
She sat hunched over a book with her hood pulled over her brown hair. They called her Stray, as if she were a wild animal that had gotten lost. She told everyone she didn’t have a name, and that her parents died when she was 2. I had gotten her to say maybe 2 words to me, but she hated everyone. She was strange. Not the cut-your-hair-short-and-paint-your-nails-black kind of strange. She was the grow-your-hair-out-and-cut-your-nails-into-points kind of strange. Stray looked like she had no idea what sunlight was. She was as pale as a ghost but her eyes.... oh, those eyes.... one was red, like fire. The other was cold and blue like ice. I had been staring into those eyes for 2 years. 2 years we had been sitting next to each other, both aggressively unfriendly. Maybe we would ocassionally borrow a pen from one another, but that was it. I knew she had a dark secret somewhere, I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I had found out a few hours ago that I had the power to become invisible. I know you were expecting some crazy way of revealing it, but sorry, there’s no story there. I just woke up today and couldn’t see my reflection. That was my dark secret, but I couldn’t figure out what hers was.
“Hey, Stray?” I asked her, attempting to not sound nervous. She never told anyone her name, no matter how many times people, even teachers, asked her. Stray grunted in response. “I hate it that we aren’t nice to each other, maybe we can hangout sometime? I know you don’t have any friends or anything,” I said, she glared at me, “But maybe we could try?” I continued. I didn’t get a response that time. I almost never got a response from her.
She was beautiful, now I’m not saying I want to date her or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking, but her hair... her eyes... her skin...
“Ryan,” Stray said, snapping in front of my face, I snatched my gaze up to her and chills were sent down my spine. I had never heard her say my name before.
“I said okay. We can try,” she said. My heart was practically leaping out of my chest at that point. I grinned at her and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Stray slipped me a piece of paper before turning on her heel and walking out of the classroom, hugging her books to her stomach. I unfolded the paper, it was her phone number and her address. I didn’t even think she had a phone. If she did, she never brought it to school. The bell rang and I jumped out of my chair, grabbed my bag from beside me, and ran to get on the bus. I called my mom on the way back home.
“Hey, Ryan. What’s goin’ on?” my mom said into the receiver.
“Mom, can I go over to my girlfr- I mean, my friend’s house?” I stammered. “A girlfriend! Finally! Yes of course you can go,” she said, I said thanks and hung up. Stray rode my bus so I decided to just surprise her and get off at her stop. I slid into the seat next to her.
“Hey,” I said, hitting my hand on the seatbelt and wincing. “Smooth,” she replied, smiling slightly.
“You busy today?” I asked her, hoping I didn’t come off as overexcited, she shook her head, “Do you wanna hangout?” I questioned, she thought for a second before finally saying, “Okay.”
After my silent celebration, we got off the bus in front of her house- which looked like a freaking mansion- and Stray led the way through the door and down to the basement. I got kind of nervous and momentarily wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into, going into the weird girl’s basement. But it was unexpectedly nice down there. Couches, TVs, a minifridge. “You’re the first one to ever visit, you know,” Stray said, suddenly. She pulled her hoodie off and it was the first time I had seen her without most of her face covered.
“Where are your parents?” I asked, genuinely wondering where they were and why she could just randomely have people over. “They’re never home. Always working or getting drunk at parties,” she said, forcing a smile, I kind of felt bad for her. Essentially, she was all alone, but maybe she liked it, maybe that’s why she didn’t have any friends.
“So, what’s your secret?” I asked, sitting down on the couch, she sat next to me, looking confused. “What do you mean?” she asked me.
“You’re always alone, your hood is always up, you never smile. What’s been going on? What’s your secret?” I asked, she looked slightly shocked. Maybe I shouldn’t have memorized her entire schedule for two years. “You memorized my schedule?” she asked, as if she could read my mind... wait, could she? I slowly nodded.
“What, do you like me or something?” she asked. Think of no, think of no, think of no. Slowly, I noticed little things about her. The small dot next to her perfect nose. How she didn’t need makeup to be beautiful. “Yes,” I whispered. “I like you, too, Ryan,” she said, the chills returned, I grabbed my thumb, which is what turns me invisible. I figured she couldn’t see me, so I started physically celebrating, jumping around, pumping my fists.
“What are you doing?” Stray asked me, I stopped. “You can see me?” I asked, shocked. She nodded, I looked down, I couldn’t see my hands, so I knew I was invisible.
“I’m gonna go make a quick phone call,” I said, getting up and locking myself in her bathroom. I went to the one person I told everything to... Reece.
“Hey, Ryan, what’s up?”
“Reece. She sees me.”
“I’m at Stray’s house. I turned myself invisible and she can see me.”
“Ooooh. You’re at Stray’s?”
“Yes, but that’s beside the point. She sees me. And she can read my mind.”
“Geez, bro, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s Stray. Anything can happen.”
I hung up, I guess he was right. Anything can happen with Stray. I exited the bathroom and I heard a door upstairs open. “Bexley! We’re home!” someone yelled from the first floor. “Crap, that’s my parents. Turn yourself invisible, now.” she commanded. I pulled my thumb and turned invisible.
“Yes, mom! I’m in the basement!” she yelled. Her parents came downstairs and hugged her, I stayed in the corner so they wouldn’t touch me by accident. “We’ll be upstairs if you need anything,” her dad said as he followed Stray’s mom upstairs. I pulled my thumb again and stared at her. “What?” she asked.
“Your name is Bexley?” I asked in disbelief, she nodded. “You’ve been lying to everyone,” I accused, she nodded again and stared at the ground. I shook my head and pulled my thumb. “Ryan, I never meant to lie. I just didn’t want people knowing me that well. I wanted to throw them off.” I shook my head at her and hung my head. I climbed out through the window and this time, she couldn’t see me.
A Charmer, A Grouch
I'd rather be loved by a Grouch.
At least with him, I'd know when he meant a compliment, when he'd say one. If he'd say something sweet, charming or lovely, I would know he meant it, and it would mean quite a lot, it would be more of a deal and be sweet and warming.
Unlike with a Charmer, who would most likely continuously charm and compliment that it would lose all its meaning, all its emotion and all its, well, all its love.
For all that I'd know, a Charmer could be charming some one else, too. Maybe someone's daughter, friend, wife, girlfriend... I don't know.
I Wonder - (The demise of the Pub)
As I sit in my virtual pub
With no packet of crisps
And no pub grub, I wonder
The beer looks great
With its frothy white head
Sat at a table with my virtual mate, I wonder
We drink a toast and the fire is glowing
To absent nights out
And the beer is flowing, I wonder
Go, going gone are the constant reports
Another pub closed
Through lack of support, I wonder
- I wonder if all our pubs will close
No frothy white head
On the end of my nose, I wonder............................
©Julian Race 17/06/2020
i hate that i
have the audacity to write about
what the hell do
how do i know if
i ever really felt anything
or did i just want it so much that i convinced myself that something was happening
cause i keep the safety on
never taking a shot
a scrap of anything
i only have salvaged truths
from the neighbor's trash
im a just a coward
an emotional pen
raspberry laced with that honey
sweet sound of you talking about
and the tangy new flavor of
butterscotch mango as i
listen to your red-velvety monologue;
cause your words taste like licorice
when your eyes collide with mine...
the meaning might not matter if
the taste is maple-syrup sweet and
your mouth keeps delivering dessert
but as the minutes roll by
i start to find a sour aftertaste
in your lemon words--
cause they might be within your
palate but i've realized:
you're not within mine.
“I’ll always love you.”
“I didn’t think it would end like this.” As I walked around the kitchen, the smooth surface of the countertops under my fingers, I thought about us. Memories came rolling back to me like waves in a storm: birthdays, holidays, celebrations. Good times. “But that wasn’t all, was it?” I whispered. I closed my eyes, and saw our dark times, too. Fights. Funerals. Emotional breakdowns. I’d known this moment was coming for so long, but now... it was so much harder than I thought it’d be. “I’m sorry. You’ve always been there for me, but... it’s just not working. And I don’t know what else to do.” Tears filled my eyes, and I took a shaky breath, fighting for control. “I’ll always-” My voice broke. “I’ll always love you.” Overcome with emotion, I fled the room sobbing, leaving the cake waiting on the counter forever.
The translation of the Lucien Yentl letters.
16th of February, 1940.
My dearest Marguerite,
It’s cold, so terribly cold, my fingers wince like an old man’s. The paper is damp. The draft from my little window – do you remember? – worsened after the landlady tried to fix it. I hear the wind whistle at night, but I gather the cat to my chest and think warm thoughts of you.
My friends spoke so highly of you after your visit. They called me mad not to run home to Rouen and make ardent love to you. Parisians love differently. Men are in love with many women, none of them their wives, and no man but me has begged for a hand in marriage. Only aristocrats rely on fathers’ blessings, though I’m told even they think it old-fashioned. These artists think me a fool. They don’t know me as a Jew, nor an orphan. I am afraid they would withhold invitations and introductions.
Some ladies, one rather great actress in particular, are said to enjoy my stories. Have I told you about the letters gentlemen give their mistresses? I’ve written three so far. I am told they were very useful. So, you see, my love, I will make my fortune and steal you away from the dairy farm. Then, you and I shall live in a castle, and you shall eat oranges every day. Who I am shan’t matter. It’ll be just you and I.
Please don’t worry about the news of Germany and Poland. I was merely repeating the gossip of market streets, which means nothing. No Frenchman wants another war. The Germans are too frightened of us, in any case. And if there is a war, I shall be sure to come back to you a hero.
Write back soon, tell me how you are. It’s all that matters.
Also found in Lucien’s belongings: Apology Letter for Monsieur de Guisson.
So many times since our last encounter I have thought of you, of the wet curls which clung to your cheek. You think I am forgetting you, but how could any man forget one such as yourself? Accuse me of a selfish, indolent and cruel nature and you shall be thrice right, but never for a moment doubt my devotion towards you.
For months, I have watched you sing at the opera. A hundred times, I have walked past the Deux Magots Café in the hopes of seeing you perched over a café crème. A thousand evenings, I have drafted an invitation, a million more dreamed of your entering the grounds of my castle, where I should hide in disguise, and surprise you from behind, and you would know me by my lips.
I’d press myself against your hips, and find a tree to lean you against. As I think of kissing your dear, sweet face, I remember your hair and neck smell of rosewater. I will carry you to bed, should you wish it, and undress you to caress every inch of your body, I’d make you moan and whimper until you trembled in my arms. I’d make love to you until you begged me to stop, and then I’d pleasure you till morning.
My dear, you ask why I’ve been quiet. Some family matters, unfortunately, but these have not for a moment stopped me from thinking of you. I’m sure you’ve heard through little birds that I am a cad, that I could have you and leave you. Do not let anyone trick you into thinking you are the sort of woman one could so easily forget. To possess you only once would never be enough.
These were found in Lucien Yentl’s briefcase. Though his landlady was forced to let all the rooms to German officers, she kept Lucien’s belongings throughout the war.
A woman, by the name of Marguerite Girot, daughter of dairy farmer Joseph Girot, retrieved them in 1951.
Marguerite Girot had not heard from Lucien since the spring of 1940, when Lucien Yentl disappeared. He is thought to have worked as a writer for the French resistance before being captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1942.
Marguerite Girot married André Martin. These letters were published by her one and only daughter, Lucienne Martin.