You had better watch out
I am always supposed to close my eyes when I'm in bed on Christmas Eve.
No matter what!
Mommy says it doesn't matter what I hear, keep your eyes closed and fall asleep as fast as you can. Santa won't leave you presents if you are awake!
I have been such a good boy this year. I can keep my eyes closed, I know I can. I am trying to fall asleep and now I hear him on the roof!
Clomp clomp clomp.
He is going to know I am awake and the song says I better watch out and better not pout and he is going to leave the house when he sees that I am awake so I close my eyes as tight as I can.
I try to fall asleep, I really do. I promised Mommy and Daddy that I would.
But I am just too excited! Santa got my letters, I know he did and he is going to bring me what I want for sure because I was so good all year.
Now I can hear him climbing through my window. We don't have a chimney, so this must be how he gets in every year and oh my gosh I can't believe Santa walks past my bed every Christmas but I shouldn't even know this because I am supposed to be asleep.
Heavy footsteps, clomp clomp clomp. Like when my Daddy wears his boots in the house and Mommy yells at him. More footsteps, clomp clomp, clomp clomp. Santa brought a friend!
I can't help myself, I have to see Santa and whoever is with him so I open my eyes ever so little, just a peek.
He is here, in my room! I hold my breath because if I don't I am going to just scream out I am so happy!
There is someone else here as well. A woman with Santa, oh wow it has to be Mrs. Claus! They are both wearing funny clothing and Santa has a big bag where he has all the presents well maybe not all of them because you would need a bag the size of the moon but my presents are definitely in there!
I am peeking just a little more now. I see them pass by my bed. She is stopping, maybe she is looking at me? I see Santa shake his head at Mrs Claus.
Now they are leaving my room. I wait to hear them go down the stairs, but I have my eyes open just enough to see them walking towards my parents room.
I just knew my parents knew him!! They said they didn't but my Daddy is such a light sleeper, no way he wasn't going to know Santa was in the house every Christmas. He always hears me pee at night because I can do it myself now and he always scares me talking out of the dark and he asks if I need help and I tell him no way I most certainly do not.
I can hear them talking right now. I hope my Daddy doesn't say something silly like he usually does, I want those presents! Don't ruin it for me Dad!
There are some loud thumping noises now. It sounds like when I jump on their bed in the mornings and I try to get my Mommy out of bed but she's all sleepy and it takes a lot of jumping before she is finally up and then I know it's breakfast time and usually I have pancakes. My parents must be really excited too, I know I would be if I got to talk to Santa every Christmas. And Mrs Claus too, oh boy I sure would be jumping up and down on the bed. More footsteps, they are coming back!
Now they are going down the stairs. I am so excited that now I have to go to the bathroom. I know Mommy told me to stay in bed but now I am awake and no way am I going to be able to go to sleep while Santa and Mrs Claus are in the house! I tiptoe to the bathroom which is right across the hall from Mommy and Daddy's room but I slip in something wet on the floor. Ow it hurts my head when I hit the floor but I try really hard not to cry because grown ups don't cry, that's what my Daddy says. The bang was so loud though, no way my parents didn't hear that. I look into their room but it's so dark, I can only see my Daddy's legs which are hanging off the bed in a really funny way.
Then I hear a creaky creak noise on the stairs and I look down and there is Mrs Claus! She sees me, oh no, oh no oh no I am never going to get my presents now, I am in such big trouble.
But she doesn't yell at me, she just waves at me. I think she wants me to come down the stairs! I look towards my parents room but Mrs Claus puts her fingers to her mouth like Mommy does when she wants me to be quiet.
I get up off the floor and I can't see what I slipped in but I can tell that it's warm and sticky. Eww it’s on my bum for sure, Mommy is going to have to clean it and I am going to get in trouble again!
Mrs Claus is still waving at me so I creep down the stairs because my parents must be asleep and Mrs Claus doesn't want me to wake them so I am super quiet as I go down the stairs. No creaky creaks!
Mrs Claus puts her arms out like the last time I saw her and Santa at the mall, so for sure she remembers me and I give her the biggest hug! She smells funny, like the pennies I'm collecting in a jar so I can buy a house when I'm a grownup like my Mommy and Daddy.
She picks me up and takes me into the room where Santa is giving us his presents. But it looks like he is taking away presents. Oh no, I have been a naughty boy this year! Santa looks at me and his eyes are mean, and he wags his finger and makes a noise like my Daddy does when I am in trouble and he sends me to my room but now all I want to do is go to my room and get back in bed and sleep like my Mommy told me to do.
Santa is covered in red but not like the red I saw him wearing in the mall or in my story books. This red looks dark and black and he looks wrong, all wrong. His beard looks dirty and gross and I start to cry. Mrs Claus hits me on the cheek, it hurts so much, Mommy and Daddy never hit me even when I get in big trouble so I start to cry more and Mrs. Claus hits me again and it hurts even more.
Santa comes closer and he smells even funnier than Mrs Claus. He smiles and he has gross yellow teeth that are sharp and oh no I hope he doesn't bite me for crying I just hope he sends me to my room.
He points to the fake fire that we put out every year because we don't have a real one and our stockings are there and there is something in the one for my Mommy and in the one for my Daddy. They look big and round at the bottom and whatever is inside looks like the time my Mommy got Daddy a bowling ball for his birthday and he laughed because he is pretty bad at bowling and my Mommy laughed and then he kissed her and they were so happy and I laughed too and then Mommy picked me up and she smelled like flowers. Mrs Claus doesn't smell like flowers and now her and Santa are laughing but it's not funny ha ha laughing so I don't laugh. Mrs Claus pushes me towards the stocking and they want me to look inside but I don't want to because there is something icky dripping out of the bottom and I don't want to be here anymore.
Santa pushes me hard and he looks even meaner now and I know I have to look inside the stocking. I take my Daddy's stocking and I try and lift it off the hook but it's so heavy. Santa laughs and Mrs Claus laughs and I cry because I don't think it's funny and I want my Mommy and Daddy.
Santa grabs me and takes the stocking off the hook and he turns it upside down and my Daddy falls out but his legs are upstairs and he is looking at me here but he looks scared and now I'm scared and I scream so loud that I wake my baby brother upstairs who is such a good sleeper and he starts crying.
Santa looks at Mrs Claus and then they both look upstairs and he says Merry Christmas to Mrs Claus and then they smile and then I scream.
The Lone Whale
One day the earth trembled and shuddered, tore itself open and swallowed up a little girl.
"Mom, what is that?"
"That, sweet darling, is the ocean."
Iris looked at me. Sometimes I saw her in those eyes, but I dare not think about her. If I did I might walk into the depths before me and bury my head beneath the surface until I died choking on salt and water. In those last, gasping moments I like to think that I would picture tucking the hair behind her ear as I whispered “I love you”. Were I afforded a measure of peace in this life, I could be content in my last moments.
But I do not walk into the depths. My daughter is gone, but I have another: Iris, named after those moments when she looked at me and my body convulsed with pain and grief. When I first saw Iris I swore to the Earth that it would never claim her. I held her in my arms and mourned a soulful song, like the lonely whale sailing through the deep.
Together we stared at the endless tide. Crests of churning white water danced across the black, glossy surface like bleached bones sticking up out of a field of ash. I steadied myself. Closed my eyes and imagined, for a moment, a blissfully sunny day where families threw towels on white sands and laughed into the ocean breeze.
I opened my eyes and Iris was standing at the edge of the surf. Visions of her floating, bloated corpse infected my mind. I carried this disease everywhere I went. If I looked at her while driving I saw a shattered windshield ripping her skin apart. If she ran ahead of me on the sidewalk I saw myself turning the corner and seeing her skull bashed in, brain matter splayed across the concrete. When you don't know, when you can't be sure, then any death is possible. The floating corpse; is that what happened to her? Dying wet and cold and screaming into the depths for me?
Iris turned around, and I knew the question before it fell before me.
“Mommy, can we stay?”
How could I say no to those eyes?
We took the years the rising and setting sun gave to us and built our life on those deserted shores. I found a place so close to the water that we could step outside and feel the sand on our feet. It was perfect; a secluded cabin tucked away at the end of the beach, a forest creeping up one side and the crushing surf on the other.
I often felt as the house must have: a lone figure caught between the invasive growth of nature and the erosion of time and gravity. Though Iris was always with me, I could never shake the feeling that somehow we would both be better off if one day I walked out the door and joined the other lost, wandering souls. Iris would forget my name, my face, my hands as they tucked her hair behind her ear.
Then she would laugh, or cry, or call my name and a warm, smothering sensation would envelop me. Iris was there, right in front of me. The Earth had not swallowed her up. All thoughts of leaving would roll out like the tides, and for a time we would be happy.
Until he found her.
When we first settled, whenever people came to the beach I would close the blinds and keep Iris inside. I kept finding her trampled on the sand, crushed by the swarming masses invading our beach. I watched her sucked beneath the surface by a raging torrent of arms and legs as I flailed around hopelessly, begging the ocean to release her. But as time passed I grew to find a level of peace and comfort I had not known since before she was taken.
The day that he came felt different from the moment I opened my eyes. She was standing there….no, it was Iris, standing at the foot of my bed with her favourite beach towel in one hand and a red plastic pail and shovel in the other. I always said no, not when people are out there, but there was something about the way Iris was looking at me that made me waver. I dared to hope that maybe it was safe, that mercy had made its home on our shores and granted us a life that we could enjoy, free of the burdens that weighed me down with every step I took outside.
“Okay,” I said. “Let's go.”
She squealed with delight the whole way out the door and onto the sand. I couldn't help but smile. The action felt foreign, like my face had been split apart by a rusty hatchet.
I could see in the distance an uncomfortable amount of people, but I allowed myself to breathe. No one would come this far. I sat on the sand and watched Iris build something in the surf. I wanted to tell her to stop, to warn her that the water would swallow it up; it was an living, unrelenting organism that did not care if she was sweet and kind and beautiful. But the calming sound of the rolling waves and the warm midday sun proved to be my downfall.
I fell asleep.
I was in pain. She called out to me, screaming. I tried to reach out, but my hair was caught. My scalp began to rip away. I could hear skin and tissue tear apart, and as blood began to pour into my eyes I woke up. Iris was tugging at my hair and visibly upset.
“Mommy, who was that man?”
I bolted upright. I looked in every direction but no one was around us. Picking Iris up into my arms, I asked her what happened, but she put her head into my shoulder and cried. I started to stroke her hair when I heard a harsh snapping sound. I saw Iris’s leg break apart. Shaking my head and willing the vision to leave me, I whirled around and I knew. Someone was in the forest, breaking twigs apart with heavy boots.
Heavy boots that had made prints in the sand.
We ran inside and bolted the door. What else could I do? Even if I wanted to call the police, they would do nothing. They did nothing. When the parasitic journalists had scurried away she became a file, stored away, never to see the light of day again.
Then I stopped myself from tumbling off the cliff. If someone was walking around, what did that really mean? The beach, the forest behind our house: they were public areas. So what if someone came walking through?
I put Iris down and looked into her eyes. No, not you; I want to talk to Iris.
“Sweetheart, tell Mommy what happened. Did the man talk to you?”
She nodded her head slowly.
“What did he ask you?”
“He...he wanted to know my name.”
My stomach dropped. An icy finger scraped down my spine.
“Did you say anything to him?
Through the tears in her eyes, I saw something change. It was a flicker, an almost imperceptible motion. But it was there. I felt as though the sand beneath us shifted, that the Earth was ready to open up and swallow us whole.
“No,” she said.
For the first time in our lives, Iris lied to me.
I was paddling through a current, a swift riptide that threatened to suck me down and suffocate me. We stayed inside for weeks afterwards but her incessant whining and crying broke me. I only allowed her to go outside early in the morning when the beach was deserted. But every time she was out there I felt a sickness, a smothering darkness that crawled up my legs and brought me to my knees. Someone was out there, in the forest, watching us. If only I could see them, know for sure they were real, then we could leave. A nagging tick in my brain kept me from grabbing Iris right then and there and escaping this life, starting anew. It was paranoia; an unrelenting notion that at the end of the day I was not sure I could trust myself.
Nights became interminable. Sometimes I heard voices coming from Iris’s room. Once I burst through the door expecting to see a man hunched over her bed, sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight, but I only frightened Iris. As I hugged her, I felt the air in the room shift. My body froze when I saw the curtain billowing in front of the open window. The window I closed after I tucked Iris into bed.
“Did you open the window Iris?”
She shook her head vigorously, and I knew she was telling the truth. I looked around and saw things had been moved around. Picture frames had shifted. A book lay on its side. Her hairbrush was in a different spot. And it was clean.
Someone had taken her hair.
I did not put it together then. I should have known, should have seen what was coming. But the pull of Iris was too strong. She was the moon and I was the tide, completely at the mercy of her gravity.
I died the day my daughter walked out of our house and into the void. I was reborn when I saw Iris for the first time.
I died again on a day that began like any other. Iris stomped around in her bathing suit, pouting and crying until I gave in. We walked out onto the shore and I scanned the horizon. The beach was empty. The forest behind was calm, deep in an ancient slumber.
I was in the eye of the storm.
Iris turned around and waved, but not at me. She was waving to the man behind me. I smelt him before I saw him, a sweltering waft of sweat and pain and anger. He was standing fifty yards away on the beach, swaying like a dead corn stalk in a soft breeze. A cool mist had formed where the water still soaked into the sand, blurring his features. I sensed his presence more than anything; more than the ever-eroding waves crashing against the cliffs, more than the squawking cry of a lone seagull overhead.
As he started walking towards me, I glimpsed gaunt features, wiry sinew that rippled across his legs. I did not need to see his face to know who we was, and I trembled, felt a roaring, rumbling quake that quivered and groaned. I took my last look at Iris and tried to imagine our lifetimes, to watch as the whole world blossom around her. But in her eyes there was a void. She knew who I was. Knew what I was.
I ran from the man whose daughter I stole. Iris, her chubby legs shaking the wooden bench with excitement as the man in a dark, clean-cut suit ignored her. His soul, drained from the technologies that ruled his life, taking for granted his most precious tether to the world. When I lost her I lost my tether. I was a decaying branch, clinging to its mother like an arm cut down to the bone at the elbow. As I snatched her away I felt the tether form once more.
“Hi beautiful. I’ll be your Mommy now.”
As I trample fallen leaves on the forest bed, I can hear the sound of rotating blades in the air above me. Sirens, strange and haunting in this place, converge on the house. I feel a shudder tear through the sea air I have left behind. I lost her. I have lost Iris.
I will not lose another.
To fight monsters
They came, like all monstrous things, in the night. Tore through the valley, shredding fully grown trees into dirty brown pulp. My father woke me, his face pallid and ashen as he shoved a rifle into my hands.
"Get your sisters, I'll get your mother".
I didn't need to ask him what was wrong, for I could hear murderous wailing while those things ripped our neighbours apart. The same sounds that had plagued my dreams those many sleepless nights. I caught glimpses of shadowed masses outside as I ran past the hallway window. I burst through the bedroom door and scooped both of my sisters out of bed, their tiny bodies frozen in a paralyzing fear. I wanted to sit them down, stroke their hair and tell them everything was going to be okay, but there was no time.
My Mother and Father were waiting by the back door, and I looked at my Father's sunken face. He raised a gnarled finger to his lips, and we all understood: silence was our only chance. My Father and I quickly checked our guns while my Mother and sisters silently put their boots and jackets on. Then we heard a window smash upatairs, a demonic growling that shook the floorboards: we were out of time.
With my Father in front and me at the rear, we ran outside into the chaos. The black sky behind us was awash in an eerie orange glow, and I knew in an instant that the town was being burned down to the ground. Our people were fighting back, trying to purge the terror in a fiery blaze. If only we could warn them, tell them how futile their efforts were.
Our family managed to reach the forest high above the town, and for a moment I dared to hope. Maybe, just maybe, we had done it this time. I glanced over at my Father, our eyes meeting and a slight smirk dawning on his face. I smiled then too, for perhaps the last time in my life.
When I saw my Father reach for his gun, I knew. I knew before I heard them. I knew before I turned around and saw them. Their thirst had yet to be quenched on this night.
Then many sounds filled the air. Two gun shots, one for each of my Mother's legs. Her anguished screams. My sister's stifled cries as I covered their mouths.
"Please, please, it has to be this way" I said through my own sobbing, more to comfort myself than the two precious girls I held in my arms. We ran, through the forests and over the mountains, away from the death and on to a new life.
To start again.
It comes knocking at your door
Alvin had problems. He had done something no human had ever done before.
Watching his wife Sarah wash dishes in their farmhouse kitchen, he scratched and itched vigorously, prying at the scabs on his arms and tearing off little chunks of skin. Chipped porcelain plates vibrated on the oak table as his leg bounced up and down nervously. He tried not to continuously glance over his shoulder as sweat beaded precariously on his forehead.
Sarah will know, she will find out.
"The sows are acting up tonight," she said suddenly, and he fought against the purging urge to scream.
They were acting up. A surge of inhuman squealing pulsated in and out of the barn; it sounded like choking toddlers crying. Sarah glanced out the window, but everything was smothered in a thick blanket of darkness.
"I wonder why," she continued on. All Alvin could manage was a weakly muttered "Mmhmm".
He knew exactly why.
His lungs felt crushed. Buried beneath the rubble of the sins he had committed. He looked at his wife, standing there, a dish towel in one hand and the worn out tea kettle in the other, and beneath the rough exterior of his stubbled face he wept. As she turned towards him she frowned. Obviously, the sadness had seeped through.
Before she could speak, a soft knocking on the front door could be heard. A quizzical look dawned upon her face. Quite right, he thought, we are in the middle of a long way from nowhere.
"Who could that be, at this time of night?" she wondered aloud.
"Don't...." he croaked. His voice was like gravel being chewed up by a garbage disposal. He had no breath. The sows screamed louder, harder. A furious wind picked up and started throwing the porch swing against the house, causing the walls inside to shake with each slam.
Sarah started towards the door.
Alvin tried to call out to her.
Just as she reached for the doorknob, a howling scream pierced the air and the door flew open. Sarah cried out.
The sows stopped crying.
There, on the porch, was a freshly dismembered pigs head. In a numb shock, Sarah picked it up and saw that it's eyes were stitched shut.
Sarah threw a rage into the night. She turned on Alvin, her heels digging into the carpet as she advanced on him. She could barely contain her simmering anger as she forced the words out.
"Yes," Alvin cried out. "It made me. Talked to me."
Sarah slapped him, twice, across the face.
"How could you? After what it took last time? Do you remember what we buried in the backyard?"
Alvin started wringing his hands and muttering under his breath. He fell to his knees and wept softly.
"Alvin, what are you saying? What did you DO?"
He looked into her eyes.
"Sarah...this time it wants you".
Between his stifled sobs, the sows began to cry once more.
We are about six hours into a twelve hour flight. The attendants have already dimmed the lights, and as I look around most of my fellow travellers have settled into their seats and appear to be sleeping. I was advised by my doctor to make sure I get up and move around every few hours, so I lean over to the window and kiss my sleeping wife before unbuckling my seatbelt. My body creaks and groans in protest as I stretch my arms high above my head. I walk through the curtain separating business class from coach and walk down the aisle in an attempt to wake my muscles up.
The plane is eerily dark, small yellow bulbs running along the ground of the aisle and the occasional passengers lamp above them the only lights on in the cavernous cabin. Most people have their window shades drawn, and for those that don’t are treated to a view of a black abyss, the lights on the wing barely penetrating the smothering darkness. As I walk towards the back of the cabin, the only sounds around me are the occasional whispered discussion and the steady humming of the engine, a constant reminder that we are hurdling through the air at a prodigious rate of speed. I am almost at the back of the plane when I catch the tail end of two passengers conversation, a cacophony of hushed words passed between them.
“anddidyouhearthatIsawsomeonewhenIwasintheairportthat I thinkyou should strangle your wifedid not belong there”
I reach the back of the plane before I stop, my brain finally processing what was said. I turn around and my breath catches in my throat. The entire tail section of passengers have sat up and are staring back at me with a blank, dead expression. Everything is suffocatingly silent around me; I can’t even hear the humming of the engines anymore. I am too stunned to move, a cold fear trickling up my legs and freezing them in place. I am about to say something when all the passengers turn around in unison and resume their sleeping positions. The engine sound returns. If I did not still feel a paralyzing dread, I would be convinced the event never even happened.
I take one step forward when a shrill scream cuts through the air. The business class section, my section, plunges into absolute darkness and then there are more screams, men and women wailing as though their skin is being peeled from their bodies. The passengers around me begin to wake up, wondering what is happening. A flight attendant sprints up the aisle across from mine, panic crawling all over her face. She disappears through the curtain and another piercing scream follows. People around me are beginning to panic, squirming in their seats, reaching for their phones. I pull mine out to try, but it’s useless: our phones won’t work up here. I want to run up there, check to see if my wife is okay, but what I’m hearing from business class has driven into me a fear I’ve not known, a horrific dread that consumes my entire body. The screaming turns into a chorus of wet, crunching sounds, reminding me of when my wife and I used to play tug of war with the wishbone of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. We would pull and pull, gobs of turkey fat falling off and dropping onto the table, and then a sickening crack would be followed by the splitting of the bone, a winner finally proclaimed. Nobody on the plane can see what is going on in business class, but all I can think of are bones being pulled apart, guts spilling out like turkey stuffing.
And then, as quickly as it began, everything stops. A hush falls over the plane, and nobody moves. Nobody dares.
I wipe sweat off my forehead, try and slow my heart rate down. Deep breaths. In and out.
In and out.
My hands are throbbing, fingers sore. I have been clenching them against my palms, fingernails digging into the skin and drawing blood.
I take a tentative step forward. The other passengers sense what I’m doing, and they try and talk me down.
“Don’t go in there!”
“You don’t want to see what happened!”
“Please, you can’t, you won’t be able to handle it!”
I ignore them, and as I draw the curtain back and see what’s left of the passengers in my section, what’s left of my wife, I scream.
I wake up in my seat. Everything is as it was. The plane is quietly humming, passengers are dozing in and out of dreams. I take a breath, soaking in the calmness of it all. I turn my head; my wife is beside me, face etched in worry. I look at her, take her all in. I love this woman.
“I had the worst nightmare. You were taken away from me by a monster.”
She takes my hand, caresses my face.
“Yah, you were thrashing in your seat. I tried to wake you up, but you wouldn’t stop screaming.”
“I am just so happy you’re here. Alive.”
“I would never leave you. Everything is going to be okay. See?” She points towards the cockpit.
At first I can’t understand what she is talking about, and then I see him. He is standing in front of the cockpit door. I can see his face, but I can’t. His features shift and swim, revealed in the light but bathed in shadow. I turn towards my wife.
“Who is that?”
“Don’t you know?”
I turn back towards the man. He brings his finger up to his mouth.
“Darling, what’s going on?”
“Just watch,” she says.
I look as the man opens the cockpit door, something that should be impossible. I see the co-pilot turn his head back, mouth open, twisted and contorted.
Then the door closes.
Only a moment passes before the plane bucks, drops down like a roller coaster that’s descending at 300 miles an hour. My stomach tumbles. People around me start to scream. I am perched on my seat, waiting for the gas masks to drop down, waiting for the pilot or the attendants to speak through the intercom and tell us everything is going to be okay.
I am still waiting when the plane drops again so violently that those who aren’t buckled in are thrown into the ceiling. Heads are caved in, skulls are split open. There’s a sickly wet crunch as their bodies tumble back to the floor. Overhead compartments burst open, tossing heavy suitcases onto unsuspecting passengers. The plane is descending so quickly that our faces press against the seat in front of us. I fight against the pressure and turn my head, try to see if my wife is okay. My eyes meet hers, which are bulging out of her skull. Her face is red, veins popping out of her forehead. At first I think the air pressure in the cabin is making her unable to breath. I frantically try to punch the overhead compartment, practically willing the gas mask to fall down. But I can’t. My hands are wrapped around her throat.
I can’t let go.
She struggles against me, clawing at my arms, but I refuse to budge. No matter what I do, I can’t stop from killing her.
And as her last breath escapes her, a raging inferno bursts forth from the front of the plane and engulfs us, boiling my skin until it bubbles and bursts.
My eyes open, and I’m first aware of a hand on my arm. It’s my wife, grabbing me and asking me something.
“Honey, are you okay? You’re holding everyone up.”
I turn around, see a line of people behind me, impatient looks on their faces as they await to board the plane. The plane that I was just on.
Or was I?
I look at my wife, beautiful as ever.
“Honey, you’re sweating. Are you sure you’re okay? We don’t have to go anywhere.”
I look towards the plane, attendants patiently waiting with drawn on smiles.
“Yes, yes I am okay. Sorry, I must have dozed off.”
My wife laughs, an infectious sound, one of a million reasons why I love her.
“I’m not surprised, we’ve both had a really long journey. Just a few more steps, and everything will be okay.”
I smile, comforted by her strength, by her confidence. I step into the plane and give one of the flight attendants my ticket so she can point me towards my seat. She scans it, and for a second a flicker of confusion falls over her face. Then her eyes meet mine and she spreads her mouth wide open in a smile I’m sure she’s practiced in front of a mirror a thousand times.
“Welcome sir, you’re in seat SS. Enjoy your kill.”
My wife is pushing me to my seat before I’m able to talk to the attendant. Did she really say that?
“Did you hear what she said? That attendant?”
“Just sit down Sis, we are about to take off.”
What did she call me? That’s not my name. I sit down in my seat, but I can’t push away this gnawing fear that everything is wrong. The pilot’s voice comes over the speakers.
“Welcome aboard folks. My name is Suez, and I’ll be flying this old rock today. My co-pilot’s name is Sedah, and we couldn’t be happier to take you to your destination on this fine day. Please enjoy all the comforts provided by our very capable crew.”
I can’t stop sweating. It’s dripping from my forehead, pouring into my eyes. I turn towards my wife. She’s looking out the window when she says “Don’t worry honey. We’ll be there soon.”
Then she turns to face me.
All of her skin is missing, revealing a hideous mask of blood and muscle. I can see her whole jaw, all of her teeth. She looks at me with lidless eyes. Her jaw moves up and down.
“What’s wrong honey?”
I wake up in a seat, the distant sound of rumbling plane engines swirling around me. I’m in the airport, waiting to board. I’m breathing heavily and my heart is racing. I can’t understand what’s going on. Are these premonitions, something or someone trying to tell me not to go on the plane? I look around for my wife, but I can’t find her anywhere.
My hands are sore. There are claw marks on my arms. Something heavy is on my back.
A woman’s voice comes over the intercom:
“Passengers flying on Air Tartarus, please be advised this is your final boarding call.”
I look out the window and see my plane. There’s a face in one of the windows, and I could swear it’s staring straight at me. Then it draws a long boney finger up to it’s lips.
Alternate histories: The Last Transmission of Apollo 11
“What is that?”
As the world looked on, those were the last words spoken by the crew of Apollo 11.
Or so I thought.
Commander Grace, our greatest astronaut, was renowned for her ability to remain freakishly calm under any type of situation imaginable. Stone Cold Grace: she was the epitome of stoic, a natural leader who inspired a nation to build towards the stars.
So when she spoke those words, unmistakably afraid, the world was scared. I remember sitting in front of the television when it happened. My father was a retired NASA administrator, and I will never forget the look of fear etched into his face as the signal from the moon went dark. The phone rang twenty seconds after. I watched as his face swam with a torrent of emotions; fear, anger, denial, resignation. Then he simply said “I understand” and hung up. After hugging my mother and I, he walked out the door and for the next twenty years hardly ever left his office at NASA.
Not surprising, then, when I did everything I could to make sure I followed in his footsteps. I studied, trained, neglected myself socially, all to ensure I got up there.
To the darkness.
There were thousands of us. The last transmission from Commander Grace influenced an entire generation of astronauts. We all wanted to know what made Stone Cold Grace afraid. I saw so many burn out of the program. The nation's best and brightest reduced to a quibbling pile of frayed nerves and broken bodies. I lost friends, lovers. But the call of the darkness was too enticing.
When I got the call, the one I had been waiting for ever since the Last Transmission darkened the world, I considered myself lucky. Fortunate. I had been chosen to represent the entire human race in our quest to bring those brave souls back home.
I learned all too quickly that bringing the crew of Apollo 11 back was the company line, fed to the masses to instill a sense of national pride. To get investors to sign the cheques.
I had seen my Father a handful of times since the Last Transmission. My memories of him during those years are fleeting: glimpses of his harried face through the crack of my bedroom door when he thought I was asleep, his cracked hands running through his thinning hair as he and my mother argued in the kitchen. He was a ghost. I had an idea of who he was, but the reality of him slipped through my fingers like sand.
When they brought me into NASA, I was called straight into his office. We stood there looking at each other in silence for what felt like a lifetime, the years of pain and neglect hanging in the air between us. I wanted to rage, to scream, to beat upon his chest while begging for answers. Where had he been? What was said to him on that phone call that threw him into the back hole?
I could tell he was conflicted. Torn between the man loyal to NASA, to the nation, and the man who cradled my screaming body in his hands when I was born. My father.
He was the first to speak.
“Please son, sit down”.
*Son*. Despite my resentment, it was all I could do to run into his arms.
As I sat down in front of his desk, he hesitated for a moment. I saw then in his eyes the toll his burdens had taken on him. The strong, virile man I remembered had been reduced to a withered, strung out shell. There had been whispers of NASA’s failures after Apollo 11, but like Commander Grace, the ill-fated space program had been on radio silence, buried in a shroud of secrecy as the world continued to wonder what had happened on the moon that day. Were those failures because of my Father? What had he and NASA been doing all this time?
He shook his head and it broke the trance between us. He gathered his breath and began the conversation that would forever change my life.
“You have been selected as the Commander for Apollo 19.” Gone was any hint of fatherly tenderness. Here before me was the man of NASA, the man who had walked out of the house and out of my life. I struggled not to break down under the knowledge that there had been seven secret Apollo missions.
“What the world knows as ‘The Last Transmission’ from Commander Grace was incomplete. For reasons that will soon become apparent, NASA cut off the public broadcast two minutes before Commander Grace's final moments.” Here he stops, and takes a deep breath. I am trying to quell the millions of questions burning through my brain.
“I have sat in this chair seven times telling every Commander that came before what I am telling you, and seven times I have been wrong. We are under the strictest possible orders not to show you those last two minutes. No human being other than myself and the group of people working on Apollo 11 has ever seen it. I would be dragged in front of a wall and shot if they knew what I was about to do. But you are not like the other Commanders. They failed because they didn't *know*. Their bodies litter the surface of our moon because they didn't *see*. You are my son, and you will not die like the others.”
Before I could say anything, he reached down and pressed a button on one of the many remotes littering his desk. A projector slid down from the ceiling. He handed me a pair of headphones. As I placed them over my ears a overwhelming sense of dread poured down my back and sent a shiver throughout my body. I knew whatever I was about to see would change me forever. I looked to my Father. He nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder.
It was a small comfort.
The screaming. That is what I remember most as I sit here, strapped in beside the world's greatest soldiers. Whatever sickness I felt when we heard the fear in Stone Cold Grace's voice was nothing compared to the sickly wet sound of her screams. What we face now, on that lunar surface, is something the world is not ready for. As I look out into the darkness, I wonder upon the horrors and weep. Wish me well, dear Father, and pray if I don't come back, nothing else does.
I have seen the willow trees grow old, their swooping branches kissing the ground before they are ripped apart and buried beneath concrete.
I have watched the migrating whales moan and cry as they are speared, and cut, and gouged from the oceans, their last song echoes of grief.
I have stood by as my children grow and live and die, their hands grasping mine as they draw final breath.
I cannot tell them that I have lived a thousand lives, been a thousand people, loved a thousand souls, buried a thousand children.
For I am immortal, and time withers away all that I have.
Pour into me,
I'll drink you in.
Quenched, soaked in succulent seduction.
Slick skin drenched in raging torrents.
I am submerged.
Filled to the brim.
Drowning in dreams of you.
Let streams be overrun,
Let the rivers rise up,
Thrash me around in rushing rapids.
Let the tides roll in,
Caressed by curved, cresting waves.
Let storm clouds open up and rain down,
Drizzling, gushing, in you I am sodden.
A flood of feverish desire,
I will plunge the depths of you.
I am parched,
Dying of thirst.