Book: The Zoo
The year is still too infantile to even be counted. The setting is a quiet, desolate desert. Suddenly, breaking the absolute silence, comes the determined mechanized hum of an aircraft ... the planet’s blazing sun reflecting harshly off it’s black, metallic exterior as the massive craft finally breaks through the partial covering of clouds sprawled low along the horizon.
The mute drone of the ship steadily reverberates off the miles of torrid rocks and boulders that lie beneath it. At last, after some hesitation, the craft, denying it’s bulk, darts quickly off in a northerly direction.
Here, the clime is found to be not quite as thermal. The immense airship slowly glides over lush forests, gentle valleys. and sparkling waters. It is almost as if it were searching for something.
Decisively, it makes a rapid vertical drop, coming to rest on the solid green turf of a small, peaceful glen. On the ground for barely moments, it departs as quickly as it had come. Seemingly effortlessly, the hulking craft is gone, having ascended straight into the endless heavens.
It has successfully completed it’s intended purpose.
It has left something behind.
Long ago, Gluskabe lived with his grandmother, Woodchuck, near the big water.
Gluskabe is the one who defeated the monster which tried to keep all the water in the world for himself. He is the one who made the big animals grow small so they would be less dangerous to human beings.
When Gluskabe had done many things to make the world a better place for his children and his children’s children, he decided it was time to rest. He went down to the big water, climbed into his magic canoe made of stone, and sailed away to a far island.
Some say that island is in a great lake the people call Petonbowk.
Others say he went far to the east, beyond the coast of Maine.
Boston Mercilessly slamming the heavy oak door behind her, Samantha Coley automatically took a moment to rattle the brass knob, insuring that it was safely locked (damn door had never latched properly, anyway). Hurriedly skipping down the worn brick steps, she climbed into her Camry without so much as a backwards glance.
Slipping the car into drive, she cautiously eased her way out into the fast paced weekday Boston traffic.
"You will not cry!" she fiercely admonished herself, gripping the wheel tightly.
What was that stupid T-shirt saying? "This is the first day of the rest of your life."
Finally, safely over the Mystic River Bridge, merging into a thinner line of outbound travelers, Sam allowed herself the questionable luxury of lighting up a Marlboro. Opening the sun roof just a crack (it was still chilly for mid-May)
she watched as her first, satisfying exhale climbed up into the sky beyond.
Grimly, Sam thought, "Maybe I should give these up along with Jeff. Sort of like getting all my traumas over with at once." Then she wryly chuckled out loud, honestly admitting to herself that she liked her smokes far too much ....
certainly more than she liked her ex-husband at the moment. "Bastard." she thought.
Comfortably settling into a steady 70 mph on I-95 North, Sam flipped on the car radio. "Japanese were asking Saturday why someone would choose Children’s Day, a national holiday of family outings, to try to spread poison gas in one of Japan’s most crowded train stations..." droned the reporter in a well modulated voice. "One of the bags left burning Friday contained sodium cyanide, the other diluted sulfuric acid. Had the vapors combined correctly, they could have formed enough hydrogen cyanide to kill at least 10,000 people in seconds... ".
Shaking her head, Sam abruptly changed the station, eventually finding a soothing Mozart aria. With nothing to look at but miles of endless trees, Sam unwillingly found her thoughts retracing the past year’s events.
It had actually started out to be a very good year .... in fact, one of the best.
Satisfied and secure with her career in the special communications field at MIT
for the SETI program plus happily married (or so Sam had thought ...) to, as all of her friends constantly reminded her ... "A great guy", life felt like it could not have been much better. But to Sam, the ultimate icing had been put upon her cake that year. After thirteen years of marriage, she’d found herself pregnant. At 36 years of age, it was, without a doubt, a surprise. But not an unpleasant one. True, Jeff was at first somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect of such a huge upheaval in their, by then, well-planned-everything-in-it’s-place lives. But as time went on, Sam believed that he rather began to relish the foreign idea of fatherhood. At least to Sam, he had seemed to begin to act so.
Or, in retrospect, had she just so desperately wanted Jeff to be accepting of the new life that, in reality, she had projected his accidence?
"Not that it matters now." Sam thought bitterly, flicking her cigarette out the open roof. Nothing really seemed to matter anymore. At least not since last January, a good four months ago. During that stretch of time, Sam had remained carefully devoid of all feelings and emotions. In Sam’s neat analytical mind, the reason for this self-imposed emptiness was very simple. For she knew without uncertainty that if she were to allow any of her pent up sensibilities to seep through to the surface, she would surely become a raving lunatic.
Bass Harbor, Maine Five grueling hours later, Sam pulled her vehicle into the ferry terminal’s gravel parking lot in the picture postcard fishing village of Bass Harbor, Maine.
Slowly, unfolding her small frame, she stepped out into a fine, gray mist that smelled pungently of the Atlantic.
"Take a whiff of that, kid." She said to herself, breathing in deeply.
Immediately, Sam began to cough. "Got to give those damn smokes up ...".
Silently, she stoically promised herself a fresh start once on the Island.
Both mentally and physically.
She checked her watch, realizing that she had made good time on the drive up.
The ferry for Swans Island wasn’t due for another half hour. Coffee, she thought.
Glancing hopefully about, she spotted a weathered sign that read "Bub’s Bait & Tackle" hanging lopsidedly over a door. Gradually working all the tight kinks out of her body from the tiring journey as she walked, Sam headed for the door.
Inside, there really was the proverbial pot-bellied stove, warmly glowing against the chill in the early spring air. The small store, it’s ambiance caught somewhere between a Seven-Eleven and a 1950 Woolworth’s, was empty with the exception of a matronly looking woman perched behind a battered counter reading the latest issue of The Inquirer.
Unhurriedly pushing her thick reading glasses up on top of her head, she finally addressed Sam.
"I’d like a cup of coffee," replied Sam, "to go, please."
"Only kind we’ve got." Muttered the woman, heaving herself off the stool.
Shrewdly eyeing Sam’s Barry Bricken tweed jacket as she handed over the steaming Styrofoam cup, she decided to become gabby after all.
"A little early for summer folk, ain’t it?"
Gratefully, Sam took the offered cup, putting her change down on the worn counter.
"Actually," she tried smiling at the sullen woman. "I guess I’m not really "summer folk". I own a house out on the Island that I intend to live in all year round."
"Ever been out there in January?" Sniffed the gloomy woman.
Wisely deciding to ignore that barbed lure, Sam strolled about the tiny market, slowly savoring the hot, rich coffee. Unexpectedly, she felt the first genuine surge of emotion in months go through her. God! It felt good to be back!
Is it really possible that it’s been fifteen years since I’ve been home? Sam wondered. She and Jeff, both thoroughly immersed in their respective careers, had never really even taken a proper vacation in all of the years that they had been married. But, even if they had somehow been able to find the time for one, Jeff had no desire to "Rough it". A phrase he thought synonymous with Sam’s home state of Maine.
Sam’s parents, though they had certainly never warmed to Jeff the way that she had hoped they eventually would, had been perfectly content to work their annual visits around their daughter’s hectic schedule. Each June, when the dogwood on the Commons was in it’s full glory, her parents would leave the Island for Boston to stay with them in their spacious apartment on Charles Street. Sam remembered how much they enjoyed coming to "The City", as her dad insisted on calling Boston, much to Jeff’s chagrin. Although looking back now, Sam wondered if her father had used that particular phrase simply because it did seem to cause Jeff such irritation?
Her father died five years ago. And, as so often happens when a couple spends a companionable lifetime together, her mom lived barely a year beyond that. Sam, being an only child, was heartsick and forlorn at losing the only family that she had. It was shortly after that, at Jeff’s continuous urging, that Sam finally sold her family home on Swans Island, painfully facing the fact that she and her husband would never use it as a restful, quiet retreat.
She had turned the property, furniture and all, over to an enterprising young couple from Hackensack, New Jersey who were eager and thrilled to have their own little piece of Maine. They had extravagant plans to turn the lovely old Queen Anne style home into a prosperous Bed & Breakfast.
Unfortunately, the logistics of their dream were totally impractical. This was something that the inexperienced man and woman fully realized some two years later when, after only nineteen paying guests (they really couldn’t count family and friends) they were both not only bored but broke as well.
When they had sheepishly contacted Sam, she had, without first consulting Jeff, happily made the arrangements to take back the mortgage on her parent’s old property. The thoroughly relieved couple literally jumped the first ferry back to the mainland and Sam made the necessary arrangements to have the house closed up for the interim.
Now, the big, old house situated on a couple of rocky, rambling acres with assorted outbuildings in sundry stages of disrepair was to become her final sanctuary.
Peering out one of the store’s dirty window, Sam could just make out the incoming ferry off in the distance.
"See?" she thought caustically, "You really can go home again."
Swans Island, Maine It was the purest light Sam had ever seen. Much brighter than white, yet inexplicably, it didn’t seem to hurt her eyes to look into it. Gradually, as her consciousness returned, she became aware that she was unable to move any part of her body with the exception of her head. Lifting it slightly, Sam was able to see down the length of her torso and locate the problem. She was lying on some sort of a hard, metal table. Her body was completely encased from her shoulders to her toes in what seemed to be a transparent, moldable covering of some kind.
It certainly looked pliable enough, yet when she tried to move her legs, Sam was surprised to find it as unyielding as steel.
Don’t panic, she soothed herself, taking a deep breath. It’s just a bad dream.
It was than that she realized she was entirely naked under the translucent material. NOW you can panic, she told herself in alarm. Wildly, she looked about her surroundings and it was only than that Sam saw that she was not alone.
For standing off at a distance in this room that was seemingly without beginning or end, were ..... WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY, ANYWAY? Shapes, Sam decided. Yes, a few yards from where she lay stood a group of ....... shapes. Sam gaped at them in disbelief. They were absolutely towering! Even allowing for the fact that she was prone, they were still exceedingly tall in height. The shapes were garbed in what seemed to be long, voluminous gowns of a flowing, gauze like textile. Sam stared, her eyes wide open now.
It wasn’t really their immense stature or even the way in which they were attired that made Sam start to shake uncontrollably. It was the simple, terrifying reality that, although they plainly appeared to have heads, they had no discernible facial features.
Sam opened his mouth to scream but it was cut short by a sudden, intense pressure on her left breast. Gazing downward, she grimaced in pain as a sinister looking coiled instrument of some type wound it’s way heavily to the right side of her body. Pausing over the area of her heart for a brief moment, the oppressive, twisting apparatus started to slide lower across her swelling stomach. This is a dream ....... I’m going to wake up now! thought Sam hysterically.
Thoroughly terrified, trembling violently, she sensed the encroaching device between her legs before she actually felt it. As the ominous implement began to corkscrew it’s way up into her body, Sam finally started to scream. Her entire being was giving way to an agony never before imagined, let alone experienced.
Just before permanently sinking down into the murky, blessed nothingness of unconsciousness, Sam moaned desperately, "My baby ......... ."
Sobbing uncontrollably, Sam bolted upright in bed, snapping herself out of the dream. Clammy and shaking, she sat amidst the twisted sheets tightly hugging her knees to her chest, waiting for her breathing to slow and for reality to set in.
The problem being, she thought as she lit a cigarette with a somewhat shaky hand, that her reality was the nightmare.
Only when the murky night sky began to streak with a vague silver morning light, did Sam, burrowing in under the thick, downy comforter, let sleep overtake her again.
Early the next morning, her head fuzzy from the previous day’s long drive and lack of sleep, Sam was just lacing up her sneakers when there was a raucous pounding downstairs at the kitchen door. Her nerves already frayed, the sudden noise made her jump. Frowning, she quickly made her way from the master bedroom down the narrow back stairs. Cautiously peeking through the yellowed lace curtains, she was confronted with a widely grinning face. Fumbling with haste, Sam eagerly unlocked the back door to instantly find herself engulfed in a warm and vigorous embrace.
"Well, I’ll be damned!" Sputtered the woman. "I didn’t believe the rumor when I first heard it. Had to come look for myself!"
Sam was finally able to push herself back in order to look into the kind, solid features of someone she’s known since she was four years old.
"Martha" she cried, "you look wonderful!"
"Bullshit," laughed her friend, giving Sam another quick hug. "I look old, tired and fat. But Honey, you try having four kids in five years!"
Inwardly flinching at the mere mention of children, Sam turned away, getting busy with the coffee things. Martha settled herself comfortably into a scruffy press-backed chair at the round, oak kitchen table.
"My God," she breathed, gazing around the time worn room, "nothing’s changed in here since we were eighteen years old! We sure were hell raisers, weren’t we, Sam?"
"Dad always did swear that the two of us together were the absolute scourge of the Island." Remembered Sam, placing a steaming Ironstone mug down in front of Martha.
"I’ll never forget that fall when you left to go to college. I was losing my best friend! Back then, I was pretty sure that my life was over." Reminisced Martha. "But than Kevin and I got married and started having babies. All of a sudden, I had all the life I could handle!"
By the pride in her voice, it was clear to Sam that Martha considered her children the greatest accomplishments of her life. Would I have felt that way?
She wondered longingly.
Martha was still talking. "Can’t wait for you to meet my kids, Sam. They’re worse than you and I could ever have dreamed of being! Kev’s anxious to see you, too. The three of us haven’t been together since high school, for God’s sake."
She paused to take a sip of her coffee.
"Tell me about Wanda." Said Sam, referring to Martha’s grandmother. "Is she well?"
"Nana’s pushing ninety and proud of it. She’s just as mean as she ever was. "Martha grinned. "She’s got the small apartment in the back of the house. My cousin, William, is staying with her for a few months. Do you remember him?"
Sam could vaguely recall a younger boy who used to tag along after them usually uninvited. As she was trying to remember him, Martha said, "You know Sam, despite all our letters and phone calls over the years, I still feel like we’ve lost touch with one another."
Martha leaned forward across the table intensely searching Sam’s haunted looking eyes.
"Really, Sammy, how are you? I haven’t heard from you for almost three months now." Martha paused for a second and than asked politely, "How’s Jeff?"
"Our divorce was final last week." Sam replied in a monotone.
Silent for a long moment, Martha finally spoke. "Well, Honey, you know what they always say."
At Sam’s puzzled expression Martha continued, "There’s always two sides to a divorce ....... yours and the asshole’s!"
Sam’s giggle burst out before she could stop it. "You never did like him." She accused her friend.
Martha carelessly shrugged her shoulders. "Wasn’t much to like," she observed dryly. "Pass the sugar." she said, dismissing the thought of Jeff for them both.
So much passage of time and distance had enabled Sam to forget just how enormous her childhood home was. She was fully confronted by that realization later that morning after Martha had finally gone home to her, by then, undoubtedly starving husband and children.
Feeling that it was as good a place as any, Sam started in the kitchen. Taking the grime covered dishes and platters from the open pine cupboards for a good scrubbing, then wiping the shelves down while the plates air-dried. No shiny, stainless steel dishwasher in this antiquated kitchen! Locating the broom and sponges in the pantry, she lathered and rinsed the old red linoleum floor.
Stepping out the back door into a strident wind straight off the ocean, Sam briskly shook out the frayed multicolored braided rug that her mother had so proudly made years ago. After smoothing it down over the clean floor, she struggled with the heavy pedestal based oak table, putting it back in it’s rightful place in front of the bay windows.
Sam found an old radio tucked behind the toaster on the kitchen counter.
Scanning quickly, she found a Bangor station playing ‘70’s music. Her hands automatically moving to the beat of Neil Young’s "Every Man Needs A Maid", she scrubbed the countertop and then moved on to tackle the stove.
Vaguely, as she slowly built up a sweat, it dawned on Sam that plain, old-fashioned manual labor had it’s rewards. It gave her something she needed right now.
Mindless work. The most important decision she’d had to make so far this morning was what brand of cleaning fluid to use. Manual labor. Throughout the years, Jeff had so adamantly refused to do anything around their apartment with his hands that Sam had accused him of actually believing that manual labor was a Mexican gardener.
Sam smiled grimly at the thought of Jeff. She had done the right thing by coming back home. She was sure of it. Already she could feel the familiar house safely enveloping her as she went from room to room, uncovering furniture and obliterating the past few years of accumulated dust.
The graceful home, built in 1872, held a good sized kitchen; pantry; dining room; study, and Sam’s favorite, an enormous double parlor with fireplaces situated at opposite ends of the room. A sturdy staircase with a nicely turned mahogany railing climbed from the wide foyer to the second story.
Upstairs there were five bedrooms, the master having it’s own full bath. This was the room that Sam had spontaneously taken for herself upon arriving the previous evening.
Her parent’s old bedroom held wonderfully cozy memories for her. Leaning against the doorway, gazing about the well proportioned room, Sam was suddenly flooded with long-forgotten scenes. She recalled the many happy hours she had spent curled up on her mother’s chaise placed by the window. She would stare out at the sea below as her father read a wondrous mix of Kipling, Longfellow, and the Bobsey Twins out loud to her in his deep, low voice. The massive cherry four poster made her think of blustery, subzero winter days kept home from school with a scratchy throat. Satisfactorily, she would snuggle deeply into the bed, piled high with goose down pillows, while her mother pampered her with endless processions of honeyed tea and buttery warm cinnamon toast.
The combination of these nostalgic memories brought Sam a much needed impression of safety and belonging. She felt herself relax as she worked. For the first time in months she found herself letting down her guard.
Sam walked slowly through the rooms becoming reacquainted with the familiar, well worn furnishings. Lightly running her fingertips along the hand hewn molding of a pine fireplace, Sam was well aware that this sheltered atmosphere she was creating for herself was, at best, only a temporary illusion.
Sighing, she wearily pushed an escaping curl of thick, auburn hair back behind her ear. She was bone tired from lack of sleep and the unfamiliar exertion of heavy cleaning. "At least I’ve made a dent in the old place," she thought with satisfaction. "You’re really just putting off the inevitable," she silently chided herself, "sooner or later you’re going to have to stop moving long enough to face this situation."
"Not yet," she muttered out loud, startling herself in the silence. Turning from the study, Sam started up the stairs for a well deserved shower. The only reason that she’d so easily gotten rid of Martha that morning was that she had promised to come for dinner. The inevitable, it seemed, could be delayed just a bit longer after all.
She ignored her waiting parked car, deciding to hike the few minutes to Martha’s.
It was a beautiful, soft evening. Sam could smell the annual rebirth of the land all around her as she walked. The trees were slowly becoming outlined with a vague, velvet-like green. One more good rain, Sam thought, and everything should really start to blossom. 10 Surprised, she realized than that she was actually looking forward to summer on the Island. Sam remembered each and every one of her girlhood summers in remarkably vivid details.
Situated some forty-five minutes out by boat from the mainland, completely surrounded by the mighty Atlantic , the two mile long island was an unquestionable heaven-on-earth to a child. As brutal as the long, unrelenting winters could be, the island’s summers were pure magic. But, it wasn’t summer yet, Sam reminded herself, as she hugged her jacket closer against the damp, evening chill and consciously intensified her pace.
Martha and Kevin Dodge’s house was the very last one on Joyce Road in Minturn, one of three small communities the island held. Coming up upon it Sam was, once again, struck with just how God-awful-ugly the huge, rectangular building was.
Built high on a knoll with a view of Jericho Bay, the early nineteenth century brown, clapboard house had at one time been Swans Island’s solitary general store. For the past hundred and fifty years or so the old place had belonged to Martha’s side of the family. She, Kevin, and the children shared living space with her elderly Abaneki grandmother, Wanda Kneeland.
As Sam walked up the steps, the front door was vigorously flung open before she even had a chance to knock.
"Look at you!" exclaimed Kevin Dodge,lifting Sam up off her feet in a mammoth bear-hug and kiss, his full beard tickling her face. "Martha’s back in the kitchen and you’re in deep shit."
Sam smiled up at the hulking man, "It’s good to see you, too, Kev. Guess I’m late, huh?" Not bothering to wait for his answer, she made her familiar way to the kitchen. Even if she hadn’t already known the route, she could have found it simply by following her nose.
Pushing open the kitchen door, she took a moment to savor the blend of delicious aromas that emanated from the vicinity of the stove. Her long black hair caught up in an elastic, looking like an orchestra conductor, Martha stood in the middle of all this wizardry, serenely stirring the contents of all the bubbling pots with a big, wooden spoon. Even amid all the culinary mess and clutter, Martha had an air of contented grace about her that Sam immediately yearned for.
This soft sentiment, however, was quickly dispelled when, without even bothering to turn around, her friend spoke, "You’re late, you jerk."
"Sorry", replied Sam, without sounding it. "I’ve been swamping out the house."
"So, how do you like domestic life so far?" asked Martha, tossing a grin over her shoulder in Sam’s general direction.
"Well ......... I can honestly say it sucks. My back is killing me." commented Sam, chewing on a raw carrot and perching herself on a stool. "But the house is starting to feel like home again. It needs paint, though. You know, Martha, I rally did the right thing. Coming home, I mean. It feels good to be here."
Turning with a air of concern, Martha answered, "Of course, I’m thrilled to have you back here again. But Sammy, you will let me know when you’re ready to talk, won’t you?"
"You know I will ....." Sam started to reply, but was interrupted by a deafening clatter on the back steps. The door banging wide open, three kids exploded through it into the kitchen. "Whoa! Where’s Kevin Jr.?" shouted Martha above the din.
"He’ll be here in a minute, Mom. He’s closing up the barn." explained the youngest, trying unsuccessfully to swipe his blond hair out of his eyes with a thoroughly grimy hand. Looking at Sam without any hint of shyness, he stuck out that same hand and proclaimed, "I’m Michael and my Mom’s told me everything about when you two were growing up together in the old days."
Without hesitation, Sam took his hand. "I sincerely hope not quite everything!" she laughed.
"What do you mean "old days" buster?!" Martha whacked him neatly on his butt with the dish towel in her hand. "You monsters go get washed up for dinner."
"My God, Martha," exclaimed Sam, momentarily stupefied by all the clamor, "Four boys!"
"Yep, couldn’t throw a girl for the life of me." stated Martha flatly as she ladled the thick stew into a deep tureen. "Here, Sam," she said, handing over a stack of silverware, "go put your brand new domestic talents to good use."
Later that night, after the boys had been corralled and tucked into their individual beds, Martha, Kevin and Sam sat amicably in front of a roaring fire finishing off a bottle or two of Kevin’s home brew.
Sam found herself feeling more relaxed than she had in months. The combined warmth from the fire and old friends felt wonderful. Martha had just finished explaining how her grandmother had decided to instill a sense of their Penobscot heritage into her great - grandsons. From there the talk went to another of the Island’s oldest inhabitants.
"I can’t wait to see Happy again." Sam commented. "How is he doing?"
"He’s as crusty as ever, the old fart." Said Kevin. "Still lives out on the Head with all those broken down cars and that old hound of his."
Eventually, the conversation came around to Sam’s work in the SETI based tracking progrm over the last few years.
"Kev doesn’t believe in little green men from outer space ..... or UFOs." Martha reached across her husband on the couch for a handful of pretzels in a bowl on the coffee table. "Say’s it’s all Hollywood bullshit." She ended with her mouth full.
"Course it is!" Chimed in Kevin, "Only a fool would believe all that hype.
Roswell my ass."
"So, what do you say to that, Sammy?" Martha sat back against the cushions grinning. She was starting to have fun. This was an ongoing difference of opinion that her husband and friend had been having for years now. She knew it wouldn’t take much to get them both going. When they were kids, their arguments would get quite loud.
"God, Kevin. How can you be such a close minded idiot?" Sam snapped in disgust, fully taking the bait. "Little green men ....... Jesus."
"You tell him, girl." Martha knew that Sam was just getting warmed up.
"In our galaxy alone, Kev, there are approximately three to four hundred million stars. That’s so many that I can’t even begin to comprehend it! But think about this, Kevin. Each and everyone of those stars could be possible homes for other beings. Don’t you know that Earth is a relative late - comer to the cosmic scene?"
"Well then," Kevin, unimpressed by her figures, munched loudly on a pretzel, "why don’t we just take a little trip to a couple of those stars and check them out?"
Sam laughed, "Kevin, we couldn’t afford the gas to get to the star next door let alone the other three hundred and ninety nine million of them. That’s why the tracking programs, like the one I work with, are so vital. The interstellar distances are so vast that it’s just simply more cost effective to listen. Not to mention the time it would take in terms of years of travel to those distances.
Radio broadcasting is the only way to go."
The three sat quietly for a few moments thinking about what Sam had just said.
Suddenly, Sam started to laugh. "Really, Kev. Little green men? Aren’t you going to feel like an ass when your nearest galactic neighbor turns out to be so much smarter than you?"
"Probably better looking, too." Roared Martha, shoving her elbow deep into her husband’s ribs.
Sam shook her head as she rose from her chair. She knew when to fold with these two.
"Laugh all you want, guys, but I’m convinced that somewhere out there - lost among all those stars - is a civilization that is much older and therefore that much more elaborate than ours. Our culture has only had technology for a bit over a hundred years now. What if we are able to discover one that has used technology for one hundred thousand years? Think what we could learn from them!"
She started to pull on her jacket for the short walk home.
"Yeah," said Kevin, as he helped with the coat, "or maybe we should think about how they could blast the bejesus out of us!"
"Do you really believe that, Kev?" asked Sam incredulously, spinning around to face him.
"Don’t really know what I believe, kid. All I’m saying is this - maybe, just maybe, when all is said and done after using all your fancy science, silicone chips and amazing computer that can make a trillion fucking calculations in a heartbeat - maybe if we ever do find someone else out there - well, we may find that we would have been better off just to have kept our mouths shut."
Sam reached up to give Kevin a hug goodnight. "That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Kev. You’re so damn positive in your outlook."
Sam heard him approaching long before she actually saw him. The unmistakable chug of a vintage VW bus as it climbed the small hill at the foot of her driveway. When she heard the engine being roughly shifted downward to make the turn, she knew she was going to have a visitor.
Scrambling to her feet, she quickly gathered her scattered papers up from the porch floor and made an exit for the front door ...... and security. Safely inside the house, Sam watched tensely from a shaded parlor window as the dusty, blue bus emerged from behind the thick cedar hedge. It pulled up and parked in front of the porch that she had only seconds ago vacated.
He was exceptionally tall and walked in long, easy strides. Sam’s first impression of him was that he looked ready for anything. Loping effortlessly up the steps, he crossed the porch and was at the door quickly. Ignoring the ornate brass knocker, he rapped loudly on the wood with his knuckles.
Sam turned to her desk and pulled open the bottom drawer. She withdrew a .38, checked it’s chamber and slid it into her deep sweater pocket. Feeling slightly reassured by it’s weighty feel, she went into the foyer and opened the front door just an inch and asked firmly, "Who is it?" while keeping her hand lightly on the gun.
"Per Erriksson." Responded a deep, musical voice. "Martha asked me to stop by."
Not getting an immediate answer from within, he continued, "You are Samantha Coley, aren’t you?"
Sam was instantly flooded with embarrassment. God, she’d totally forgotten that Martha had arranged for someone to drop by today to give her an estimate on painting the house. She hastily pulled the door open and stepped out onto the porch.
"Sorry," she exclaimed, "it had completely slipped my mind that you were coming this morning. I appreciate your taking the time."
Looking down at her with steady, dark gray eyes, Per was instantly mindful of her wariness. It was unmistakable, despite her attempt to disguise it. Somehow, he was certain that her reaction to his sudden arrival was based on something more than simply a healthy distrust of strangers. Per had no doubt that it went deeper than that.
"If this isn’t a good time for you, I can come back." He said softly.
"Oh, no," Sam stammered, " this is fine, really. Let me show you around."
She led the way down the porch steps onto the still brown lawn and walked with him around the house and attached barn. Ten minutes later, back where they had begun the tour, Sam asked politely, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"That would be great." Smiled Per, pulling a pencil and small pad out of his jacket. "If it’s okay with you, I’ll just sit here and do dome figuring."
Gingerly, he sat down on a wicker chair. Instinctively, he knew that she didn’t want him to follow her into the house.
Relieved, Sam went inside, down the foyer to the kitchen in the back. While she gathered the makings for coffee, she tried to calm her jangled nerves.
Primarily, she was irritated. For Christ’s sake, she silently berated herself, people are bound to show up once in awhile. What are you going to do? Go through the rest of your life getting sick with fear overtime you run across a complete stranger?
But even as she admonished herself, Sam knew there was more to her irritation besides the sudden appearance of her visitor. Damn. He was very attractive with his deep gray eyes and lyrical (was it Scandinavian?) accent. Martha hadn’t bothered to mention those features when she’d spoken about him.
Ok, Ok, she thought in annoyance, tossing a handful of oatmeal cookies onto the plate despite herself. Just give him his coffee, tell him you’ve decided the house doesn’t need painting after all, and he’ll go away. Squaring off her shoulders, Sam carried the laden tray out to the porch.
Hurrying to his feet when he saw her coming, Per helpfully opened the screen door. Smiling somewhat self-consciously, Sam placed the tray down upon a small wicker table set between two chairs. As she bent forward, Per had a clear, unobstructed view into her protruding sweater pocket.
"Help yourself," she said, glancing up at him. Frowning slightly, Per sat back down and reached for a mug, concentrating on stirring in the sugar and creamer.
"Do you ..... ?"
"Will ..... ?"
Laughing, they both waited for the other to start speaking again.
"You know," Sam began, "as we were looking at the house, I was thinking it really doesn’t look so bad. Perhaps it could go another year before I bother to paint." She finished hopefully.
"I suppose you could put it off," nodded Per agreeably, "but it would make the job that much harder and expensive the following year if you decide to do that."
This certainly wasn’t going the way she’d planned. But, before she could think of a more tactful way of putting things off, Per spoke.
"Martha said that you had lived in Boston for the past fifteen years or so."
Sam nodded, wondering just what else Martha had said.
"That’s a nice town," he continued, "I’ve been there in my travels. Overall, I remember the residents of Boston as being rather friendly. I can’t say that the rest of your country’s cities are all that way." He finished wryly.
Curious now, Sam looked at him sprawled out before her in old, faded Levis; a blue work shirt; badly scuffed boots, and a beat up leather jacket. She couldn’t help but notice how his sandy hair curled slightly around the upturned collar.
Aware of her scrutiny, Per smiled broadly, showing splendid white teeth.
"You are Scandinavian?"
Per nodded in agreement. "Norwegian, actually." He said. "I have been in your country for a few years now. Just traveling about, seeing the sights, as they say." He paused, "That’s how I ended up here. I liked it, so I stayed.."
Sam was more than a little intrigued. "Why do you stay here?" She asked. "What appeals to you about Swans Island?"
"Probably the same things that makes anyone move to an isolated location." He replied quietly, catching and holding her eyes with his own. "The need to be alone. To have abundant space around you. The desire to test yourself. And, of course, the appeal of feeling safe that such a lonely spot as this island can give you."
Per remained silent for a moment, then he finished his thought. "Some people, when picking a place such as this, are running to something while others are really running away from something."
Sensing that his line of talk was making Sam uncomfortable, Per rapidly changed the subject.
"Now, How about letting me start on your place first thing Monday morning? It needs some scraping, but it shouldn’t take longer then a couple of weeks to finish. Besides, my partner and I need the work." Per smiled as he leaned back in the chair, waiting for her reply.
Without fully understanding why, Sam capitulated, agreeing on Monday. The issue resolved, he stood up to leave. However, just as he reached the top of the porch steps, he turned to give Sam one last, long pondering look as she waited for him to go with her hands shoved deeply into her sweater pockets.
"Be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot with that thing." He said gently.
Quickly, he descended, climbed into the battered bus and, painfully grinding gears all the way, was gone down the drive.
Wanda Kneeland had been having the same dream for three nights in a row now. As a full - blooded Pa’nawampske’wi-ak, or Penobscot, she knew enough to pay attention. Proudly, Wanda could trace her ancestry back to the great chief Madockawando who had lived and fought in the Penobscot region of Maine in the mid sixteen hundreds. One of Madockawando’s daughters had married the French adventurer, Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de St. Castin, according to both Abenaki custom and Catholic Church. From this union came a son and a daughter. It was with a great deal of pride that Wanda could mark her lineage that far back. So, when her heritage spoke, she listened.
William glanced up from his newspaper to peer out the kitchen window.
"I don’t see anyone, Nana." Shrugging, he returned to the sports section. "The Red Sox couldn’t take one in a Little League Game ..." He muttered in disgust.
Wanda’s chair began to rock vigorously. "He’s coming." She stated stubbornly.
William folded the Bar Harbor Times on top of the kitchen table’s cracked linoleum and walked over to his grandmother.
"The only one who’d better be getting here right off is Per. We’re late this morning. Did I tell you we were going to start painting Martha’s friend’s old house today?" Bending down, he gave her a kiss on her weathered cheek. "See you tonight, Nana." He said as he heard the old bus chugging into the driveway.
Long after William had gone, his grandmother continued to rock steadily back and forth in her chair.
"Company’s coming today." She said, smiling to herself.
"Make yourself at home," Wanda Kneeland said, moving her rheumatoid filled body as quickly as she possibly could to grab a pile of Reader’s Digests off the worn couch. "Don’t get much company anymore," she said vaguely, looking around her living room as if she’d never seen it before.
"Grandmother, do you know me?" Asked the tall man quietly.
He stood before her with his face painted a deep, dark red with stripes of vibrant blue over his upper lip, nose and chin. On his head he wore a kind of coronet, made of a substance like stiff hair, colored red. He had jewels of quartz in his ears and bracelets of little white round bone, fastened together with a leather string.
"Oh, yes," breathed Wanda, "you gave me the visions, didn’t you?"
"Yes." Gluskabe smiled gently at the old woman.
"In my vision, Turtle swam up to the water’s surface and started to pull the Island back into the sea. When I asked him "Why?" he replied, "There is no longer any place to put Earth." ....... here Wanda paused, uncertain how to continue. "There was something in my dreams that I do not understand."
At the man’s patient look, she continued. "The shell on Turtle’s back was broken.
Instead of the usual number of plates, thirteen, he only had a few left. What does that mean?"
"Yes," he replied, "the shell would be broken now." He sighed heavily, "Old Woman, each plate on Turtle’s back stands for the Abenaki nations that belonged to the Wabanaki Confederacy. Turtle’s shell was made this way to remind us that everything in the natural world is connected. To tell us that there is balance and rhythm and a plan to all things. Turtle’s shell reminds us of this and also reminds us to keep that balance."
Listening closely, Wanda nodded her head to show understanding.
"Your visions tell you that the balance in Creation has been lost." Gluskabe smiled both sadly and gently at the elderly woman sitting before him. "There are things I must tell you. Things that you must remember in order to pass them along to our people. These are words of great importance."
Wanda Kneeland leaned forward eagerly, clasping her withered hands together in her lap. Waiting for what was to come next.
Once again, Sam had not slept well. At some point during the middle of the night, she’d finally given up on all thought of sleep and had made her way to the chaise in the dark, dragging the comforter from the bed with her. Making a small nest for herself by the window, Sam contemplated the dark, star-ridden sky as she smoked.
When she was a child, Sam would spend long summer evenings after supper in the field behind her house catching jars full of lightening bugs. Eventually, when she tired of that, she would stretch out on the scratchy ground, still baked full of warmth from the day’s sun. She would lie there as still as could be, trying to count each and every star in the endless heavens above her. Even now, she could precisely remember the awesome feeling of insignificance that would overtake her as she lay looking up at the vast expanse of night sky. Smiling, Sam remembered how she would often doze off where she lay, stretched out on the grass, as her young mind had contemplated infinity. Somehow, miraculously it seemed at the time, she always awoke in her own bed the next morning. Years later, of course, Sam understood that her father had been responsible for moving her. But when she was a child, it was just one more magical thing that could happen during the Island’s tranquil, summer nights.
Infinity, she thought, taking a deep drag off her smoke. Almost thirty years later, it was a concept that still intrigued her. The very idea of all that fathom less space surrounding this tiny planet, Earth, had fostered her desire from an early age to be part of the space exploration program. When she had seen the video of Neil Armstrong jumping on the moon in 1969, she had been hooked for life. Sam was ready to have another drag when she started coughing harshly. Talk about being hooked for life on something, she thought, disgusted with herself and complete lack of willpower. That’s it, she thought resolutely, I am quitting these damn things right now. Sam smashed the smoldering cigarette out and put the ash tray aside.
"How smug we are to seriously believe that we were all alone in this universe .......
" Snuggling deeply down into the comforter, Sam drifted off into sleep.
The dull thump of something decidedly heavy hitting the side of her house abruptly woke her a few hours later. Peering groggily over the windowsill, Sam could just make out the rear end of the battered VW parked in the drive below.
"Swans Island Paint Company," she thought wryly as she watched Per and an extremely large man jointly wrestle an uncooperative extension ladder into place.
Happy Joyce lived on five acres situated high on Hockamock Head. Ever since the old lighthouse station that overlooked Jericho Bay had been abandoned in 1963, Happy was the sole inhabitant on that lonely stretch of the Island. And that was just fine with him.
Happy was fond of boasting that he could trace his family back to Swans Island’s first white resident. Thomas Kench was his name. He had fled to the Island as a deserter from the Revolutionary Army, and for fourteen years had existed as a solitary recluse. Kench had been part of Benedict Arnold’s ghastly march on Quebec in the autumn of 1775. Like his comrades, he had become sick, cold, and desperately hungry. He had survived the long, arduous trek to Canada only to freeze in a tent during the winter months on the open Plains of Abraham. While a raging smallpox epidemic killed men all around him, Kench had come through it strong enough to be one of the first American soldiers to climb the cliffs, scale the walls and attack Quebec’s Citadel. Kench was one of the few to make it back to American lines, struggling and straggling all the way through the wilderness to Maine hip deep in snow.
By 1776, Kench had withstood all he was going to. He deserted and fled, heading to the lonely islands off Mount Desert. One a day late in October, Kench grounded out his boat on a tiny islet of Swans Island. After years of solitude, he took a Penobscot woman for his wife, sired six children and lived well into his nineties to tell the story.
Happy was about as ornery as his ancestor. He owned a ramshackle Cape Cod style house on a rocky bluff that looked straight out to Marshall Island. It was, by anyone’s standards, a perfectly fine house. Nonetheless, Happy preferred to cook his meals outdoors and sleep in one of the several dilapidated, broken-down automobiles he kept spread out over the property. In the spring and summer, as it was now, Happy generally slept in a rusty, silver 1962 Chevy Impala convertible. This way, as he said, he had an unobstructed view of the stars in the night sky. He liked to lie fully stretched out in the back seat, slowly drawing on his pipe, watching the twinkling lights overhead. Every once in a while, Happy would be fortunate enough to spot a shooting star or two. A comet was a real treat. Overall, most people agreed that Happy may not have known much, but he sure did know his night sky with all it’s various and mysterious constellations.
Somewhere, on a rather vague level, Happy was aware that the Island’s other citizens, most of whom he had known for all of his 82 years, considered him a little strange and eccentric. If the truth were to be know, Happy was more than likely outright certifiable. But due to the innate, fundamentally held Yankee belief that each man has a basic right to his own privacy, the locals pretty much left Happy to his own devises ......... and that was how he liked it.
This particular Wednesday evening, Happy was just tossing the day’s catch of clams into the boiling pot on top of his Coleman stove when a sudden movement to the east caught his attention. Pushing his grimy cap back on his head, Happy looked up, watching the gradual streaking of lights as a plane made it’s way almost leisurely over Jericho Bay.
"That boy better pull her up some, Spike, or he’ll be taking a bath." Happy commented to his customary companion.
Spike, alertly watching the bright lights getting even brighter as the craft slowly went still lower in the sky, whimpered nervously.
His master, though, had gone back to tending his clams and didn’t pay anymore attention to the dogs’s uneasiness.
"Just a couple more minutes for supper ... " Commented Happy, checking his antiquated pocket watch before shoving it back into his pants. Rummaging around deep in the trunk of the Chevy, Happy surfaced triumphantly with a paper plate and plastic fork. Irritably, he abruptly turned around to address Spike, who had finally stopped his whimpering and was now loudly barking.
"What the hell, boy ....... ?" He never got to finish the sentence because for the first time in his life, Happy was struck speechless by what he saw.
Just about sunrise the next morning, Happy rolled over in his sleep. This sent him crashing off the back seat of the Chevy Impala onto the rusted out floorboards, heavily hitting his head on the door handle as he fell. Happy didn’t even feel it. That small wallop was nothing compared to what was going on inside his head.
"Jesus Christ on a crutch, Spike," He muttered, " worse hangover I’ve ever had ......
But even as he said the words, Happy remembered old Bobby Pigeon’s grandson’s wedding festivities just this past winter over in Deer Isle. Now, those folks down Deer Isle - Stonington way knew how to throw a party.
Hazily, the previous night’s events started to come back into focus. Splashing ice cold water onto his face, Happy paused, trying to recall exactly what had happened. He could clearly remember Spike barking like an idiot. He could remember seeing something bright. So bright that it should have hurt his eyes, but for some reason it didn’t.
Happy was concentrating so hard now that he was squinting. Passing a rough towel over his face, he gingerly touched his forehead. What a pounder, he thought sourly.
But no matter how hard he tried, Happy couldn’t seem to jog his memory.
There was only one more thing that he could recall after the brightness.
That was being scared shitless.
Happy could remember being so terrified that he could barely breath. So, when the brightness had finally gone, he’d done just what any other All-American Male would have done. He’d gotten good and drunk.
"Come’on Spike," he said planting his cap firmly on his head. "Let’s you and me go see if Wanda’s got the coffee pot on this early."
Leaning heavily on his walking stick, Happy started the short hike to Minturn, on the other side of the Island. By the time he arrived at Wanda’s back door, the sun had burned through the early morning mist and the day ahead promised to be a warm one.
Peeking through the window, he spotted Wanda in her usual rocking chair. Not bothering to knock first, Happy opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.
Wanda barely glanced up from her newspaper.
"Morning, Hap," she nodded, "coffee’s on the back burner."
Trying to move slowly so as not to jog his head unnecessarily, Happy took a mug down from the shelf and filled it to the rim with hot brew. Sighing, he carefully let himself down into the chair at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands.
"Hap, you look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet." Commented Wanda casually. "What’d you do, tie one on?"
Not waiting for his reply, Wanda proceeded to read a news article out loud.
"A teenage girl in New Jersey is facing up to thirty years to life in prison.
The girl is accused of murdering her newborn son in the bathroom of the local high school gymnasium minutes after giving birth in one of the stalls.
Authorities say that she wrapped and hit him in the bottom of the trash reciprocal, and then returned to her high school prom, where she preceded to dance the night away with her date."
After a long moment of silence, Wanda finally spoke again. "It’s all there ......
in the papers, on TV ...... just like Gluskabe had said it was."
"What’s that, Wanda?" Happy asked, picking his head up carefully.
Sharply, Wanda looked over at Happy. She may be old, but she sure wasn’t stupid.
If she didn’t want to sound like a crazy, old woman, she had to be real careful here.
"Hap, what do think about the state the world’s in today?"
"Excuse me, Wanda?" Happy looked up from his coffee mug, not quite sure what she meant.
"The world, Hap .... you know, this place we all live in together. The one where every time you pick up a paper or turn on a TV you hear more about people killing each other every day and playing Russian Roulette with our environment."
Wanda stated irritably.
On the other side of the Island, Sam was stubbornly trying to ignore the persistent ringing of her telephone. Groaning loudly, the finally gave up and rolled over. Making a grab for the receiver, she knocked a pile of books precariously balanced on the bedside table onto the floor with a loud bang.
"Speak." She growled into the instrument as she automatically fumbled on the night stand for her smokes.
"We’ve picked up two more." The voice on the other end stated without preamble.
"Not interested, Jake." Replied Sam, flipping over onto her back as she remembered she no longer smoked.
Obviously fully prepared to ignore any protests, Jake continued as if she hadn’t said a word. "I’ve made all the arrangements. The equipment that you need will be arriving today on the 4:00 ferry. See that you’re there to meet them."
Scrambling to sit up, Sam snapped, "Goddamn it, Jake. I don’t work for you anymore. Have you forgotten that?"
"I need you with me on this one, Sam ...... it could be for real this time."
Without allowing her enough time for so much as another word, he quietly disconnected.
Sam made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Disregarding Mr. Coffee, she made herself a quick cup of instant. She slumped in a chair with it, sipping slowly as she replayed the brief call over in her mind.
There was a great deal about Jake Gorham that Sam didn’t understand. He was as much an enigma to her now as he had been when she had first gone to work for him on SETI based tracking project nine years ago. However, the years working with him had taught her this - Jake was a resourceful man who never wasted valuable time or energy with what he considered meaningless chatter. Sam knew that if Jake had contacted her now, even after all the animosity he knew she held for him, than there could be only one reason for it. Jake was sure he was on to something big.
Precisely at 3:55 Sam was waiting at the ferry terminal. Shading her eyes and squinting across the water she could just make out the Edmund S. Muskie as it steadily glided towards the Island. Right on schedule, as usual.
Sam waved to the men in the nondescript white van, indicating they should follow her. Five minutes later they were unloading the highly sensitive equipment onto her front lawn.
"In here, guys." She said, striding down the foyer. Opening the parlor door, she pointed to the space she had cleared of furniture in one corner of the big room.
After they had gone, Sam wandered back to the parlor and sank down into one of the wing chairs. The jumble of modern, technical computers and equipment looked ridiculous in the old room. It was all so shiny. Sam sighed, knowing she should stop stalling and get busy setting it all up. She knew that Jake would expect her to be online as soon as possible.
It’s too nice to be stuck inside behind a desk, Sam thought longingly as she gazed out the window. Dutifully, she tried to return her attention to reading the latest batch of print - outs. Carefully checking each column against the previous one, looking for any kind of deviation at all.
Screw it, she muttered, tossing them into a pile.
She grabbed her jacket and headed outside, deciding to take the well trampled cliff path to Hockamock Head. It was one of those pristine days that can happen in Maine only in very late spring when the mud season is finished. The sunlight made dappled patterns through the newly sprouted leaves, which blew sharply in the constant breeze from the Atlantic.
As she got closer to the Head, she was joined by an enthusiastic Spike, who unexpectedly bounded out at her from a clump of bayberry bushes.
"Hello there, good boy," Sam stroked the soft, burnished fur on top of his head,
"where’s your partner hiding himself, huh?"
But even as she asked the question she spotted Happy a short distance away. He was smoking his pipe, perched on top of a faded blue Ford Fairlane that was missing all four of it’s tires.
"Looks like someone’s playing hooky." He commented dryly as Sam settled herself beside him on the sun - baked hood.
"You caught me," Sam grinned, "don’t tell anyone."
They sat looking out at Jericho Bay in a companionable silence, both enjoying this peaceful moment in their own way. Sam could count seven working lobster boats out there pulling traps. She shaded her eyes from the glare of the sun, trying to see if one of them was the Sea Bitch, Kevin Dodge’s boat. But they were all too far out for her to easily decipher any of the lettering on the sides. Giving up, she leaned back lazily on her elbows, raising her face up to the warm sun.
Happy proceeded to pack his pipe with his standard Cherry Blend. "Still eavesdropping on outer space?" He asked as he patted his pockets for a match.
"Yep." Was Sam’s only reply. But in that brief moment, the relaxed, contented expression had left her face to be replaced by .... what? Happy wasn’t sure. He just knew that suddenly she looked worried and tired.
"Do you recall what you kids used to call me when you were back in school?"
Asked Happy, drawing on his pipe. "Crazy Joyce." He finished, nodding his head up and down.
"God, Happy, were we that shity to you?" Sam slipped her hand into his as she tried to remember. "All just because you were a little different."
"Yep," joked Happy, "that’s me ...... just a round peg trying to fit into a square hole and always ending up in splinters."
"Kids can really be cruel, Hap. But you know what I remember the most?" Asked Sam. "I remember when I stopped being afraid of your difference and got to know you. You’re to blame for my obsession with astronomy, you know. >From the first time you pointed out Orion to me when I was ten years old, I was hooked."
"Maybe," he mumbled. "Anyway, Sammy, know what the kids call me now?"
Sam shook her head.
"Crazy Joyce." Happy said with a chuckle. "Some things don’t change. Probably aren’t meant to."
There was a comfortable stillness between them, only broken when Happy spoke once more. "Well, I may or may not be crazy .... damned if I know the answer to that one. But, Sammy, I’m still here for you if you need someone to talk to."
"Just like the old days, Happy." Sam said, reaching over to give him a quick hug, which only served to make his face go deep red with embarrassment.
"Go on with you." He said roughly, pushing her off the Fairlane’s hood. "Don’t you have any work to do?"
The walk had been just what she’d needed. The fresh sea air had helped to jump start her brain. For the remainder of the day, Sam diligently picked away at the immense pile of paper, reducing it to only a small pile of paper.
Finally, sighing with fatigue, she pushed her chair back and did a couple of quick neck rolls, easing the tension in her shoulders. Glancing at the tall clock in the corner, she realized that she had a bit over an hour to shower and change for her big night on the town with Per. Okay, she thought, just enough time for one more sheet.
Sam spotted it almost immediately. She couldn’t have missed it even if she had wanted to. It practically jumped up at her from the paper. A distinct spike. Not only that, but a prolonged and sizable spoke. She marked it with the highlighter, conscientiously noting the day, month and time of occurrence in the margin of the paper.
Despite herself, she was trembling with excitement. Professionally, she knew that all coordinates needed to be checked and triple checked. Nonetheless, Sam instinctively recognized what she had before her spread out on the desktop. A
genuine, Goddamn, cosmic greeting card.
Her mind totally engrossed in her finding, Sam immediately forgot everything else, including her dinner date with Per.
According to the date on the print-out, the atypical spike had occurred just three days before. Sam couldn’t believe how calm she was acting. Inside she felt as if she were ready to boil over. After all these years of listening, we finally have one, she thought to herself. She had always wondered if it would even be possible to recognize such a message if one were actually received. Back in 1977 a forceful signal had been picked up that couldn’t be explained before it had just as rapidly disappeared. But this time, there was no doubt about the validity of what she had found. This was a planetary message that was so unusual it couldn’t help but stand out against all the natural, every day radio waves that were floating around out there over vast, interstellar distances. This one had made a series of tell-tale blips rather than merely random noise, thus allowing it to be picked out easily from all the garbage.
Quickly glancing at her watch, Sam punched Jake’s private office number into her deskphone. Even though it was well after six PM, she knew he would still be in his office.
"I’ve found it." She flatly stated. "Of course, I’ll double check it with Goldstone, but I’m certain in my findings. I’m faxing it to you now."
"Hold on," Jake practically shouted into his end of the phone, as he dropped the receiver to retrieve the fax. "Christ, Sam ...... it looks damn good. Very possible indeed."
She realized that she had never heard Jake excited before. Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember ever having seen him show emotion about anything.
"I’ll stay on this and get back to you with any changes." Sam broke the connection.
However, before she could take her hand off the phone, it rang loudly making her jump. "Hello", she said breathlessly.
"Hi there". said Per. "I’m afraid that I will be a bit late in picking you up this evening. I hope this doesn’t cause a problem."
Sam quickly tried to refocus her thoughts. "Per," she said, "could we please make dinner for another night? I’m terribly bogged down with something here at the moment."
"Well, I see no reason why we can’t postpone." replied Per. "Shall I ring you tomorrow, then?"
Surprisingly, he sounded disappointed at the prospect of their canceled date. "Yes, please." responded Sam. "Per, I am truly sorry about this. I was very much looking forward to dinner with you tonight."
"No worries," Per said warmly, "I’ll speak with you tomorrow, Samantha."
Then he quietly rang off.
Her social life neatly taken care of for the moment, Sam quickly switched gears once again.
She worked through the night, stopping only once to make a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich which she wolfed down with a tall glass of milk before she hurried back to her small bank of computers. She set up an immediate direct line with Goldstone Deep Space Tracking in the Mojave Desert, which allowed her to start fine pointing all possible coordinates with their team. She spoke with Jake three more times during the night, keeping him promptly updated on all new data as promised. By three in the morning, she had located two more hydrogen frequencies, obviously ET’s radio frequency of choice. They were both substantially stronger and closer in proximity than the first find had been. As Sam worked, a definite pattern was gradually starting to unfold.
At last, as outside night was slowly blurring into dawn, Sam wrapped herself in a throw and slipped into an exhausted sleep, head down in her arms on the desk.
For the next few days Sam worked feverishly. Stopping only when necessary, such as when her stomach growled from hunger. The ensuing days and nights seemed to blend one into the other. Her resolution to give up cigarettes literally going up in smoke as one after another burned down in the ashtray beside her on the desk. She was in constant contact with Jake in Boston as well as the team at Goldstone. Everyone involved was obsessed with the recent findings. This was momentous and they all knew it.
Occasionally, her house phone would ring to leave messages from either Martha or Per on her answering machine. They would both have to wait. Sam could not take the time to speak with them right now. But, as usual, she underestimated Martha’s persistent nature.
Becoming concerned after three straight days of silence, Martha stopped phoning and showed up on her doorstep in person early Thursday morning.
"What the hell’s going on here?" She snapped at Sam as she pushed her way past her friend into the foyer. "I’ve been calling you for three days straight."
Turning around, she took a good look at Sam. "When was the last time you got any sleep? You look like shit. Are you sick or something?" Impatiently shifting from one foot to another, Martha waited for an explanation of some sort.
Sam rubbed her forehead tiredly. "I’m sorry, Martha. I’ve just been really tied up with something the last few days." Martha followed her into the study where they both sat down.
"I didn’t mean to worry you." Sam finished lamely.
"Well, you have worried me - and Per, too. Jesus, he’s driving me nuts with phone calls. Is your machine broken or what?"
"No, it’s working fine." Sam mumbled. Giving herself a mental shake, she sat up straighter. "Look Martha, I can’t explain right now, but I’m working on something that’s very important. Believe me, when I can go into details, you will be the first to know. You’re just going to have to trust me for now." She got to her feet. "Come on, I’ll walk you to the door."
"Are you kicking me out?" Asked an incredulous Martha.
"Damn straight. I’ll call you." Promised Sam as she firmly closed the front door on her friend.
But Martha’s intrusion had broken her concentration. She rang Jake.
"I’m taking the 7:00 ferry in the morning. I should be in Boston by noon time."
"Good," Jake responded, "I’ll set the meeting up. Everyone will be here. Drive safely, Sam. We need that data."
He hung up before Sam could reply. What a warm bastard, she thought, freshly remembering why she had stopped working for the insensitive s.o.b.. Doesn’t matter, she reminded herself. What I’ve found is beyond all that.
As she headed upstairs for a much needed soak the phone rang. It was Per. This time Sam picked up. Slightly out of breath from her race up the stair, Sam sank onto the bed as she answered the phone.
"I’m here, Per." She said loudly over the mechanical recording.
"Samantha! How nice to find you in. Have you been away?" He asked.
"Sort of." Laughed Sam. "Per," she asked spontaneously, "how about that dinner tonight? Are you free?"
They agreed on an early meal that evening. After having spoken with Per, Sam realized she was too fatigued to move. Her longed for bath would have to wait.
She rolled over and slept deeply for the first time in days.
Sam stayed comatose for a solid ten hours. When she awoke around seven, it was with dismay to see how late it had become. Regrettably, all thoughts of a leisurely soak left her as she settled for a hasty shower instead. She really didn’t know if she would be able to pull this evening off. How could she possibly sit over a quiet dinner chatting about pleasantries when she knew she was on top of the most stupendous revelation of her life? Or anyone’s life, for that matter.
Sam was seriously beginning to regret her earlier spontaneity when she heard the old VW pull in. What the hell, she thought. I have to eat sometime, don’t I?
Rapidly grabbing a sweater off the bed she ran downstairs to let Per in.
"Good evening, Samantha." Smiled Per as he clumsily handed her a tiny bouquet of May flowers.
At her astonished look, he said, "This is the traditional custom, I believe?
Flowers for the lady?"
Shaking her head, Sam took the straggly bunch out of his hands. "Anyone ever told you that you’re quaint? Where did you get these?" She carefully stuck them into a vase on the hall table that held a bright display of tulips.
Grinning from ear to ear, Per sheepishly admitted, "Your front lawn."
Taking Sam’s arm, he propelled her out the door and into his van.
"Buckle up," he said in serious voice, turning the key over, "I’m afraid my driving is not very precise as of yet."
Having sad that, he preceded to grind every possible gear searching for reverse as he backed the vehicle up, turned it around and roared down the driveway.
Gripping her seat with both hands, Sam was visibly relieved when, five minutes later, they pulled into the Blue Goose parking lot.
"Where on earth did you learn to drive?" She asked as she thankfully scrambled out of the bus, feeling bruised and battered by the short drive.
Rather than answer her, Per commented, "Isn’t it a lovely sky tonight?" Sam looked up at the twinkling stars that, with the onset of darkness, were just starting to make their presence in the universe known. Which one is it? She thought to herself. Would it be any that we could see from here?
"Shall we?" Prodded Per, as he held the restaurant door open for her.
Not only was the Blue Goose the best restaurant on the Island, it was the only restaurant on the Island. That is, if you didn’t count the hot dog stand that ran from June through the end of August down at the ferry terminal. The owners of the Blue Goose wintered in Florida and had just reopened for the season.
Consequently, Sam and Per had the place virtually all to themselves.
"The service here should be excellent." Stated Per, looking about at all the empty tables.
"Don’t count on that." muttered Sam, who knew the proprietors.
He really is attractive, thought Sam as she sat back sipping her after dinner brandy and listening to Per talk about his recent travels across the country.
She is lovely both inside and out, thought Per, as he watched Sam laugh uproariously at one of his stories.
After dinner, they decided to go up to the old lighthouse on Hockamock Head.
Through silent, mutual agreement, Sam drove. She peered hard into the darkness as they went past Happy’s property, but she didn’t see any lights on. Happy strongly believed in the ‘early to bed and early to rise’ concept.
"Have you met Happy Joyce yet?" She asked Per, as they settled down onto a grassy spot by the cliff. It was a lovely night. The moon had climbed just high enough in the night sky to send long, shimmering threads bouncing vibrantly on top of the ocean waves.
"I have," replied Per, "he certainly is .......... different." He finished lamely, for lack of a better word.
"Different isn’t the word," chuckled Sam. "I’ve known him my entire life.
Believe it or not, he’s the one who first sparked my interest in astronomy. If it hadn’t been for Happy, I might never have left here and pursued my career."
"Of course," she said reflectively, "that might well have been all for the best."
Suddenly, her face had that same fragile, withdrawn look it had worn the very first time Per had met her. Wanting only to somehow give comfort, he reached over and pulled her to him. After spending some time sitting quietly in the calm refuge of his arms, Sam disengaged herself and slowly got to her feet.
"Come." She said, holding out her hand to him.
"Touch me here," she murmured, guiding his hand to her breast. Her rapid intake of breath told him that he had found the spot. Per couldn’t believe his senses.
She felt so good under him. I could lose myself in this woman, he thought. Never before had he felt so completely connected to another being. It was as if he’s always known her. And as if she had always been a part of him.
Sam was fully alive now and terrified by it. So many conflicting emotions were racing through her thoughts that she felt entirely overwhelmed by them all.
Better not to think at all .... just allow yourself to feel, she silently told herself. It had been so very long since she had given herself permission to feel
..... to need ....... to want .....
Much later, Per watched as she flicked her ash in the general direction of the ashtray on the bedside table. "Disgusting things." He commented. "Why don’t you quit?"
"Okay," Sam agreed amicably.
"When?" He asked, surprised at how easy that had been.
"Soon," she replied, lighting another.
The next morning was glorious. A true precursor of summer. This was Happy’s favorite time of year. His old body didn’t ache as much in the warmer months.
"Course, you know what this means," he grumbled to Spike as they both munched their breakfast bacon, "damn tourists will be here again soon."
"Oh well," he said sensibly to his comrade, "can’t have the good without taking the bad, I suppose." He shoved the last of the bacon into his mouth and wiped his greasy hands on his pant legs. "Time to do the breakfast dishes, boy."
From the depths of the Chevy’s trunk Happy pulled a crumpled trash bag out and neatly disposed of the used paper plates. Cramming his ancient cap onto his head, he and Spike headed for Wanda’s place and their usual morning cup of coffee.
Sam leaned on the railing in the bow watching the water furiously churn under the running ferry. There was no denying it. She felt wonderful this morning.
Stealthily, she had showered and dressed as Per lay sleeping. She had barely made it to the early ferry to Bass Harbor on time. The few residents who were headed to their jobs on the mainland were just loading their vehicles when she had arrived.
Sam quickly became chilled in the early morning crossing. She climbed back into her car and turned the heater on full blast for a few minutes. Soon, all thoughts of last night departed as she started to focus on the meeting that lay ahead of her in Boston.
Sam was nervous. No about presenting her data but about what they would do with it. Unquestionably, she knew that both Washington and the military would be heavily represented at this afternoon’s conference. Would they consider these recent findings a possible breech of national security? Since discovering the findings earlier in the week, Sam had been totally caught up in the excitement and amazement of it all. Not once had she considered this a safety issue. God knows, she reasoned, that she of all people certainly had a right to be concerned. For the remainder of her life she would carry with her the emotional scars from her encounter with those faceless beings. However, Sam had no concrete evidence to prove that these recent signals were in any way related to what had happened to her. It’s a big universe out there, she thought sensibly.
Just because alien transmissions have been isolated and identified it certainly doesn’t mean that there is any danger of imminent harm. Okay, she warned herself, don’t start thinking like Kevin Dodge. That’s not a good way to make new friends.
Wanda groaned audibly as she sank into the kitchen chair across the table from Happy.
"Know who I was thinking about this morning, Hap?" She continued without waiting for an answer. "The English brothers."
Happy just sat there looking puzzled.
"Come on, Hap. You remember those boys ..... the twins, Millard and Milton English." It didn’t take much to get exasperated with Happy.
Immediately, Happy’s expression cleared. "Jesus, the English twins. Haven’t thought of those two in years. What the hell made you think of them, Wanda?"
"Don’t really know." shrugged Wanda, "must be getting old. I’m starting to spend a lot of time these days thinking back over my life and the people I’ve known."
She took a sip of her coffee. "Which twin was it, Hap, who had the problem? Do you remember?"
"Oh sure," replied Happy firmly, bobbing his head up and down. "That would be Milton. Never met anyone who could tuck it away like that boy could." He couldn’t help himself, there was admiration in his voice when he spoke. "Finally killed him in the end, though. Christ, his liver must have been completely pickled through and through."
They both sat silently for a few moments, then Happy said, "I was there the day they took Milton to the hospital on the mainland. Pronounced dead, he was, by the time the ferry docked at Bass Harbor. We got him loaded into the waiting ambulance and they were just about to slam the doors shut when old Milt sits straight up, sheet flying away from his face! "Bring rum, boys!" he yells, as they close the doors on him. Jesus, the driver of that ambulance almost shit himself!" Happy roared with laughter at the memory. "Damnedest thing I ever saw!
Course, Milton died for good on the way to the hospital."
Happy, his body practically doubled over from laughter, had tears streaming down his craggy face. He fished around in his back pant’s pocket for his handkerchief.
Finding it, he proceeded to blot his eyes and wipe the tears from his face.
When Happy’s laughter had subsided, Wanda asked, "What ever happened to his brother, Millard?"
Happy looked up with surprise. "Why, Wanda, don’t you remember? Millard moved away to New Hampshire and became a Baptist minister. Last I heard, he had his own Sunday morning radio show down there."
He gave his eyes one last, good swipe with the bandanna. As he bent over to stuff it back into his pocket, something fell out of his left eye and tumbled with a clink onto the kitchen table.
"What the FUCK is that?" Happy pushed himself away from the table so fast that his chair almost went over backwards.
Wanda leaned forward, picking the strange object up and held it in her hand turning it over curiously. She put on the reading glasses that were hanging around her neck for a closer look.
It was smaller than a dime, round in shape and slightly concave. It’s color was milky white and it vaguely reminded Wanda of marbles they used to play with as children ...... only this one had been broken in half. The sides of this thing, though, had been smoothed and, as she peered more closely, she could see a tiny hole that ran all the way through the center of it. No doubt about it, whatever this thing was, it was machine made.
"Jesus Jumping Up," exclaimed a badly shaken Happy, "what the hell is it and just what the HELL was it doing in my goddamn eye?" He poked at the object suspiciously, as if he were afraid it would bite him.
In the kitchen on the other side of the house, Martha wasn’t scrambling the morning eggs for her family ..... she was beating them.
Kevin shook his head as he watched her scurry about from sink to stove, slamming everything in her path. His wife had been this way ever since she’d gone over to Sam’s the morning before.
"Would you calm down?" He said, giving her a friendly swat on her butt on his way to the breakfast table. "Sam is just fine."
"Sam is not fine, you idiot!" Martha replied hotly, slapping an overflowing plate of eggs, sausage and toast down in front of him. "Something’s happened."
"Well, maybe she’s finally found her little green men." Chuckling at his sudden flash of wit, Kevin began to devour his breakfast.
"Gentlemen," Jake Gorham said solemnly, "may I present Dr. Samantha Coley."
Sam was escorted into the conference room by the plain clothed security guard who had been standing at attention outside in the corridor where she had been impatiently waiting for the past hour.
Why am I not surprised to be the only woman in this room? Sam silently asked herself.
As she placed her attache case on the spacious mahogany table, she quickly looked around the room at the nine faces turned expectantly towards her. Not counting Jake, there were two SETI representatives that she recognized. The remainder of the group were made up of suits and military.
Rapidly realizing her ex-boss was not about to waste valuable time with social introductions, Sam set about giving a brief overview of her findings.
She talked and answered intense questions for the next four hours. Time seemed to pass by in a blur. When finished, she was politely asked to remove herself from the room. Jake walked with her down the hall to the row of elevators.
"Good job." Was his only comment to her.
"Where do we go from here?" Sam asked tiredly.
Jake came to an abrupt standstill in the middle of the hall. "WE don’t go anywhere. It’s entirely out of our hands now. The government has the ball." He moved to hold the elevator door open for her.
Sam stepped into the waiting elevator. As the automatic doors started to slide shut, Jake distincly heard her ask, "Doesn’t that make you nervous?"
Once on the ground floor, Sam joined the flow of office workers emerging from the building outside onto the late afternoon Boston street. She stood there for a moment, as if perplexed, wondering what to do next. Crowds of harried people jostled by her.
All Sam wanted to do was to go home. Funny how quickly the Island had become that once again. But she knew that even if she made the long drive back to Maine now, she still would have missed the last ferry over. She resigned herself to having to spend the night in town. Probably all for the best, she realized. She was worn out from her presentation and the intense question and answer period that had followed.
Sam quickly decided against looking up any old friends and instead took a room for the night at the downtown Sheraton on Boylston Street. From there she took a cab to the Northend where she treated herself to a good bottle of wine and a quiet dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. After all, she didn’t know when she would get back to Boston again.
Sam was back on the Island by mid-day. As soon as the ferry docked, she drove directly to Minturn. She owed Martha that explanation.
She found her coming from her grandmother’s apartment, loaded down with dirty laundry.
"Wash Day?" she asked cheerfully, bending over she picked up the items Martha was dropping.
"No," Martha bit off, not slowing down her pace one small iota, "I’m on my way to go dancing."
Sam could see that she had her work cut out for her. Martha knew how to hold a grudge. While her friend put the laundry in, Sam went into the kitchen and rummaged around in the cupboards. She was looking for the bottle of brandy that she knew would be hidden away somewhere. Martha’s father used to call it his ‘cough medicine’. Sam had a good couple of fingers poured into a pair of juice glasses by the time Martha walked into the room.
"What are you doing?" Martha asked, spying the bottle sitting on the counter. "It’s barely past noon."
"We’re celebrating." Sam handed her the glass with Fred and Wilma Flinstone on it.
"Celebrating what?" Martha asked suspiciously, as she automatically took the cup.
"We’ve positively identified life outside of our own universe." Sam replied excitedly.
Martha managed to look extremely unimpressed. "You mean California?" she asked meanly, tossing back the brandy in one good gulp.
Sam sighed. She knew better than to get exasperated. She’d hurt her friend’s feelings and payback from Martha had always been a bitch.
Patiently, she recounted her last few days to her friend. She gave Martha every detail, from finding the first communication to yesterday’s meeting in Boston.
When finished, she sat back waiting for Martha’s reaction. She didn’t get the one she’d expected.
"This is just great ..... just friggin’ great! S’cuse me." she muttered, reaching past Sam for the brandy bottle.
"First, I’ve got Nana prattling on and on about Gluskabe, scaring the shit out of my boys and now this." she rubbed her forehead tiredly.
"Gluska ...... who?" asked a bewildered Sam.
"Never mind" said Martha, "you wouldn’t understand."
First, she poured for herself and than splashed some into Sam’s glass.
She’s thawing, Sam noted happily.
"What the hell are you talking about, Sam? And don’t forget ... we didn’t all go to fucking MIT."
Sam paced back and forth as she talked. Her hectic schedule over the last few days was starting to catch up to her. Fatigue was setting in. When she finished speaking there was complete silence in the room for a few moments before Martha finally broke it.
"Shit. Kev’s never going to believe this one."
Over on the Atlantic side of the Island, Happy was sitting outside the Post Office with a small group of old-timers. He and Spike had been to collect the mail - something they did religiously once a week. Not that he ever got anything exciting other than junk flyers, coupons and the occasional Publisher’s Clearing House promise of winning big bucks. His weekly trips to the PO were merely an excuse to socialize and pick up on the current Island gossip.
"I hear she’s got a lot of weird, flashy equipment in her house. Doesn’t sound right to me." Old Mink Ollenburg, knowing he had everyone’s attention, was on a roll.
Happy took that opportunity to relight his pipe, studying Mink as he did so. He’d known him his entire life. They’d gone to school together and off to WW II and now they collected their Social Security checks together. Never did like him much. Mink, who stood just a hair over five feet tall, looked like he’d swallowed a basketball. He had a hump not only on his back but front, as well.
That wasn’t the reason Happy didn’t care for him, though. Hell, Happy had never set much store by how people looked. Truth was, Mink was just plain sneaky.
Always poking his nose where it didn’t belong. Like right now. Mink was the kind of guy who only felt good when he was making someone else feel bad.
"Leave it be, Mink." He said gruffly. "Sam Coley’s a good, hard working girl. It’s not her fault that you’re too stupid to understand what she does with all that equipment."
"Oh," smirked Mink, quickly turning on Happy. "And I suppose you do?"He challenged.
The small cluster of men gathered closer - they didn’t want to miss this. Happy was known for his relatively short fuse.
"Well now," said Happy, blowing out a perfect smoke ring, "guess I do at that.
It’s real simple, actually. Sam listens to conversations from Outer Space. You might say she’s got sort of a high security job."
Mink snorted unattractively. "Jesus, Hap, what have you been smoking in that damn pipe of yours? You really expect us to believe that fairy story?" All the men laughed at Mink’s clever repartee.
"Don’t really give a rat’s ass what you boys believe." Grumbled Happy as he got to his feet. "People used to think hot-air baloons were a fairy tale, too, I expect ‘til one dropped in on them. Come on, boy, we’ve had enough socializing."
Silently, the men watched Happy and Spike head down the road. Just as they disappeared out of sight around a corner, Mink said, "Christ, Hap’s getting crazier all the time."
No one disagreed with him.
Happy knew better than to even try to keep up with Spike. The dog eagerly dove in and out of bushes all the way home chasing anything that moved from butterflies to rabbits.
Happy was deeply troubled. There was simply no getting around the truth of that.
It was an uncomfortable feeling for him. He had spent a good part of his life determined never to succumb to worry. Happy considered it a futile waste of time.
Like paying the rent before it was even due. He’d always believed that you should wait and worry when there was something to damn well worry about. Like now, he thought.
Starting to get winded, he paused for a moment on the path, leaning heavily on his walking stick. Without really seeing it, he gazed out at the choppy, gray waters of the Atlantic. Sudden gusts of wind were making white caps in all directions.
It had taken him a few days, but he’d finally remembered what had happened that night. Guess the mind can only take so much than it sort of shuts down, Happy thought. But, a little bit at a time, the memory had returned to him. Slowly at first, then in one rushing flood of recollection. He couldn’t have stopped it if he had wanted to. God, he wished he hadn’t remembered. Now he knew he should be doing something about it, but what? Who’d believe his story, anyway?
But even as he asked the question, Happy knew the answer. Whistling to Spike, he abruptly changed his course for Sam’s house.
"To what do I owe this honor?" Sam grinned at her old friend as she opened the front door widely. But her smile quickly faded as she gazed into Happy’s serious and drawn face.
"What’s wrong, Hap?" she asked as she joined him on the porch.
"I need to talk with you, Sam. And I guess I’d like you to let me finish having my say before you speak." At Sam’s amiable nod, he continued. "Something happened to Spike and me the other night ..... something that I want to tell you about."
Sam tried to wait patiently while Happy shuffled his feet and tried to decide where best to start. Sighing heavily, he sank down onto the top step, nervously crunching his cap between his knotty, arthritic fingers. She took a seat beside him.
Encouragingly, Sam asked, "What is it, Hap? You seem really upset." She absent mindedly patted Spike, who had flopped down beside her.
Taking a deep breath, Happy, seeing no other way, jumped in with both feet. "I had a visitor last week, Sammy. You might say a real unexpected visitor," he paused for a moment, "from someplace far away."
Sam narrowed her eyes as she peered suspiciously up at Happy beside her. "How unexpected?" She couldn’t figure out where Happy was going with this conversation.
"Well," he mumbled uncomfortably, "to tell the truth, I’m not real sure where it was from."
"Can you at least tell me what "It" was ?" asked Sam, feeling herself becoming annoyed at his reticense.
"It was a flying machine of some kind." he replied.
"You mean an airplane?" Sam laughed. At the negative shake of Happy’s head, she continued, trying unsuccessfully to control her heightening irritation. "Or perhaps a helicopter. Maybe the National Guard is playing war games out of Bangor again."
"Nope, it wasn’t anything like that. Besides, it wasn’t one of ours." Happy stated flatly.
Sam’s eyes widened. "Well, if it wasn’t one of ours than just who’s the hell was it?"
"That’s just it .... I’m not sure. Never seen anything like this before."
At last, completely exasperated, Sam snapped, "Okay, Happy, I bite. Where the hell do you think it was from?"
Sitting up straight, Happy looked her directly in the eye and blurted out earnestly, "Outer Space."
"Hap?" questioned Sam, certain that she had misunderstood him.
"I said from Outer Space, goddamn it!" he cried belligerently. " First, I thought it was just a small plane, you know, flying in way too low over the bay.
But it kept coming and coming and all of a sudden it was just there ..... sort of hovering like ..... right in front of me, clear as day. It seemed to send a kind of beam out to me ...... like a green light or something. I’ve never seen a light like that before - it sort of reached out and wrapped me up in it. Spike, too. No matter how hard I struggled, I couldn’t get away from it. Jesus, it was so bright I felt like it was going right through me." Happy paused to take a shaky breath. He looked over at Sam. She didn’t so much as blink.
"Anyway, next thing I remember was being inside this thing. Don’t ask me how I got there - couldn’t tell you for the life of me. All I know is that one minute Spike and I are standing on the bluff minding our own business and the next we’re in this ....... big, metal thing!"
Sam sat stiffly beside her friend. All of a sudden, she was finding it difficult to breath.
Happy continued, "Funny thing was, I find I’m not alone. There were others there, too. Jesus, they were tall bastards. But that’s not all, Sammy." Happy choked back what sounded suspiciously like a sob. His gnarled hands were rigorously shaking now and the tattered cap fell unheeded to the porch floor.
Here it comes, thought Sam. She knew with certainty what he was going to say next. As if she’d wished the very words out of his mouth, Happy spoke in a voice filled with undisguised agony.
"They didn’t have faces, Sammy! Swear to Christ!" Happy buried his head in both hands as if that motion would help to erase the dreadful memory from his mind.
Sam tried to speak, to offer Happy some sort of solace. But no words came. She felt as if she suddenly needed to fight for every breath she took. Inside her head, her mind was screaming, "It was real! It was real!"
Tears started to trail down her cheeks. the salty taste of them seeping through her lips seemed to help snap her out of her trance-like state.
"Happy!" Sam clutched him by his faded flannel shirt, roughly pulling him to his feet. "I know! I know! It’s okay, I believe you!" She was both laughing and crying at then same time. Happy stared at her in astonishment.
"What do you mean, ‘You know’?" he asked suspiciously, trying to regain his footing by grabbing hold of the porch railing.
"I’ve seen them! These ..... beings. I’ve been with them, too. And the light, Happy! My God, it’s just like you describe it ...... it’s so powerful. It’s all encompassing!" Sam gripped his arms as she spoke. "Happy, I lost my child to them ..... and there’s been no one to believe me! No one I could talk with about any of this."
Awkwardly, her elderly friend put his arm about her shoulders. Happy was long unaccustomed to any form of compassionate contact. The sympathetic gesture felt totally foreign to him.
"Did they hurt you?" While you were with them, were you ..... hurt in any way?"
Anxiously, Sam looked up at him with remembered grief etched upon her face.
"I don’t rightly know, Sam." Happy replied uncomfortably, "They put something in one of my eyes. It didn’t hurt." He rushed to reassure Sam at her look of alarm.
"This is the thing they stuck in me."
Happy retrieved his rumpled handkerchief from his back pocket and carefully unfolded it. Gingerly, Sam took the odd looking disc out of the material. She’d never seen anything like it before.
"How did you find it?" she asked Happy as she turned the round object over in her hand.
"Damn thing fell out." He replied. "Guess I wouldn’t ever have known it was even there if it hadn’t. What do you make of it, Sammy?"
Sam was thoroughly perplexed. "I don’t know, Hap. But I’d like to have someone I know in Boston take a look at ii, if that’s okay with you. Can I keep it for a day or two?"
"Be my guest." Happy responded. He sat quietly for a bit staring off into space.
"There’s one more thing that I need to tell you about that night, Sammy." He took a deep breath before continuing. "They talked to me for a long time when I was in that ..... ship ...... with them." Here he snorted a quick chuckle. "Doesn’t make any sense, does it, Sam? I mean, how can you talk if you don’t have a face?"
Happy absently kneaded his forehead, which had started to ache.
"It’s what they had to say, though, that really scared the shit out of me. Sammy, they told me all about the end."
Sam stayed huddled in the same spot on the porch long after Happy had gone home with a hungry Spike eager at his heels. She desperately wished she could have a cigarette. But she was determined not to give in to the temptation. The silence that surrounded her was comforting to her tired mind. She worked the strange disc in her hand like a worry stone. There was a great deal to think about.
Martha had been looking for the boys for almost an hour now. Where could they be?
She was just starting to feel the first twinches of worry when she realized that she hadn’t checked Nana’s apartment. They seemed to be spending more and more time with their Great-Grandmother these days.
Quickly, she opened the door to the main hall and crossed it into the small apartment attatched to the back of the house. As soon as Martha opened the door, she could hear their voices. Immediately filled with relief, she alowed herself a moment to rest against the door frame.
"But Nana," Kevin Jr. was saying, "why can’t Gluskabe try to save everyone?
Doesn’t he want to?"
His Nana answered him quietly. Martha had to strain to hear her words. "Of course he would like to be able to save everyone, child. But no one can do that now. Gluskabe tells us that all the people of this world needed to change their ways a long time ago in order to protect our earth. But mankind was not able to do this. It is because of this that Gluskabe tells us that the time has come for the prophesy to be fullfilled. No one will be immune from the Great Purification."
Martha, who had heard enough, loudly interrrupted the older woman’s sentence. "What are all you guys doing in here on such a beautiful day? We wait all winter long for a day just like this and you’re going to spend it cooped up inside? Get out there and get the stink blown off you, go on."
She waited paitently, with her arms folded across her chest, as the kids quickly filed outside. She didn’t speak until the screen door had slammed shut for the last time.
"Nana, what am I going to do with you? I asked you to stop filling their heads with that nonsense. You are scaring the younger ones. Why are you doing this?"
"Gluskabe is counting on me to help spread the warning, I told you that, Martha.
People deserve to know what’s coming." Wanda stopped at the look in her grand-daughter’s eyes, sighing heavily. "You think I’m just a silly, old fool, don’t you girl?
Think your old Nana’s gotten soft in the head from age?" She continued with conviction at Martha’s lack of response. "Well, you think whatever you like about me. It doesn’t matter now anyway.
But you listen to me, girl. The time Gluskabe spoke of is almost here. There will be no where to hide from it. Not for any of us."
It was the damp chill in the early evening air that finally forced Sam inside the house hours later. She hurried through to the kitchen, flipping on lights as she went, unconsciously wanting to delay the impending onset of night. In the kitchen, she put the kettle on for tea. She went ahead to the study and turned the TV on before going back to the kitchen to prepare a tray for herself.
Ten minutes later she was comfortably settled in the old tapestried wing chair munching cheese and crackers, sipping her tea and watching the NBC Evening News.
Tom was giving the latest, up-to-date developments surrounding Pakistan’s game of brinksmanship with India over who had the biggest and best nuclear weapon.
The next news story was yet another grammar school shooting. This time in a sleepy little town somewhere in Pennsylvania. Children killing children .....
what does that mean?
As the news went drearily on with assorted murders, wife beatings and political faux pax’s, Sam lost what little appetite she had and put the tray aside. She was cold. She grabbed up the knitted afghan that rested on the hassock at her feet and wrapped her shoulders in it. It didn’t do much good. Her iciness was generated, not from the weather outside, but from the growing fear deep inside of her.
It was going to rain very soon. Per could almost taste it. He stood silently only a few yards away from the house watching Sam. Partially hidden behind the massive trunk of an old maple tree, he remained absolutely still. Like an unmoving sentinel, he was content to quietly observe Sam as she intently watched the television.
Surreal, her face and hair constantly changes hues and tones from the flickering light of the screen in front of her. Per was reminded of the paintings of an artist named Klimt he had seen while in Vienna.
But despite the ever shifting shades, the very essence of her face continued to display what Samantha was. She was a good and loving person. Per found her to have an uncommonly high sense of both honesty and honor ....... two traits he found lacking in many humans. Per realized, much to his surprise, that he thoroughly enjoyed her company. He found Samantha Coley to be refreshing.
It started to rain softly, just a light, summer shower. The maple leaves directly over his head began to drip fat raindrops onto his hair and shoulders.
Either unaware or uncaring, Per remained motionless.
He was fully intent on watching Sam.
At last, only after Sam darkened and left the study, did Per silently slip away.
Had there been anyone there to have seen him, it would have been impossible to tell if the wetness running down his face was rain or tears.
The next day started out shimmering with heat. It promised to be a true scorcher.
Sam awoke to the now familiar sounds of the house painters setting up for the day’s work. 7 AM by the digital. Right on schedule today, she thought as she tugged on old jeans and a T-shirt.
She made a cup of coffee for herself and then, on second thought, filled a large thermos with the steaming beverage and grabbed two mugs off the shelf. She made her way around to the back of the house, savoring the feel of the morning dew under her bare feet. Although still early, the morning sun singed her skin with heat. The rain showers throughout the night had left a fresh feeling on everything. Off in the distance Jericho Bay radiated blue under the wide expanse of sky devoid of any clouds.
Sam sat on the damp grass, her back against a tree sipping her coffee. Both men were high up on staging scraping the old paint off the second story. She contented herself for a bit watching Per work. His back already stained with sweat in the early heat, his muscles visibly rippled interestingly under his shirt as he moved back and forth. When, as if sensing her presence, he at last looked down and saw her, Sam waved the thermos as a bribe in the air. Per said something to William, who shook his head, and then climbed down the extension ladder.
"You look lovely this morning." He remarked, putting a light kiss on the top of her head as he joined her on the lawn.
"Not getting sleep must agree with me, than." said Sam as she poured from the thermos.
Instantly looking concerned, Per asked, "Not sleeping well? Are there worries?"
Now that’s an understatement, Sam thought grimly. Winding her arms about her bent knees, she looked sidelong at Per. I wish I knew you better, she thought.
As if he’d read her inner most thoughts, Per said softly, "You can trust me, Samantha. If you need someone, I am here."
Not receiving a reply, Per tossed the coffee off in one last gulp and said, "Back to work for me. Will I see you later?"
"Probably. There are only so many places you can go on this island." Sam replied lightly. Don’t be an asshole, she thought, as she watched his face fall somewhat.
"Would you like to come over this evening?" she finished lamely.
"Yes," he said decisively, "see you around eight."
Sam wandered back into the house. She could no longer delay what needed to be done.
By mid-afternoon she was filled with frustration. She had spent a good part of the day trying to reach Jake Gorham. She’d left countless messages both with his secretary and on his voice mail. By three o’clock she knew he had no intention of speaking with her. That’s right, Jake, use me and lose me, she thought disgustingly.
Picking up the phone, Sam hit redial one last time. "Sally," she stated without overture, "tell Jake if he doesn’t return my call by 4:00 he should be sure not to miss the 6:00 news tonight."
She had barely put the phone down when it rang shrilly. Sam counted the rings as she opened a new pack of Marlboros.
One ... two ... three ... four ... now, where did I put my lighter?
five ... six ... oh, here it is.
seven ... eight ... nine ... "Hello?"
"What the fuck kind of a game do you think you’re playing, Sam?" Jake was fuming.
"Why Jake, you seem ........ upset."
"Damn straight I’m upset. Do not - I repeat - do not even think about going to the press."
Sam immediately got serious. "Why is that, Jake?"
"This has top secret clearance and you damn well know it." Jake bite off.
"It’s being handled."
"Jake, there’s a great deal more than just contact going on here," Sam desperately tried to explain. "These communications have been sent for a specific reason."
"What reason would that be, Sam?" queried Jake in a bored voice.
"I’m not sure yet,’ stammered Sam, "but I do know there’s much more to this than we initially thought. I have something interesting to show you." She looked down at the tiny, opaque disc sitting on her desk. "Our investigation is not finished
...... it’s just beginning. Please Jake, you have to help me with this."
"Sam," Jake sounded as if he were speaking through gritted teeth, "I like you, kid, always have even though you’re such a constant pain in the ass. So I’m going to tell you something for your own good. Forget everything you know and everything you think you know. There never was any confirmed contact. There never was a high level meeting. You and I have never had this conversation. It’s all that simple."
After a moment, Sam asked quietly, "What if I go public with this anyway?"
"No one would believe you if you told them" were his last words before the connection was killed.
This time, when the phone rang, Sam jumped. Perhaps Jake has changed his mind, she thought hopefully as she picked up. But it was Martha’s strained voice that came from the other end.
"Can I come over? I’m loosing my people skills here."
Sam laughed, "Martha, you never had any people skills."
By the time Martha arrived, Sam had a tray of frothy drinks ready. "You sounded like you could use one of these," she said as she led the way across the lawn to the gazebo.
"Didn’t we love playing in here when we were little." Martha remembered as she settled onto a bench with her drink. "It was a magical place."
"Still is." replied Sam, looking around her. The gazebo was overrun with bittersweet vines. For years now there had been no one to train them, so they ran randomly in every direction, twisting this way and that. In many places the vines and leaves were so dense that the gazebo’s lattice work was barely distinguishable. It had become the perfect hide-away.
"So," Martha hesitated for a quick sip, "ever heard of Gluskabe?"
Sam looked at her friend keenly, "That’s the name you used the other day, isn’t it?"
"Yup. Nana’s driving me nuts with it." Martha sighed heavily, "Gluskabe is an Abenaki deity - sort of the original watcher over all creation since the very beginning of time. It seems that Nana’s been having him in for tea."
"You heard me. Nana claims she’s been having visits from him. Not only does she say she sees him, but he’s supposedly speaking to her, as well."
"Jesus, Martha. I don’t know what to say." Sam was stunned, Wanda, despite her age, had always seemed so completely coherent.
"I know," replied Martha in a wearied voice, "Thing is, she’s frightening my boys with these Gluskabe stories."
"Why would they be frightened by only a myth?"
"Well, Sam, it would appear that Gluskabe visits Nana for a reason other than just her good company. She says he’s here to explain the end of the world - which is due any day now, according to Nana."
The second Per saw her, he knew she was upset. It wasn’t anything that she actually said, for she remained as reticent as ever. No, he knew by watching her hands. Sam had beautiful hands. Long, tapered fingers meant to play a musical instrument skillfully. Tonight, those hands could not seem to hold still. Per tore his focus from her hands and paid attention to what she was saying.
"Do you ever watch the news casts on TV?"
"Of course," replied Per.
"I can’t believe everything that is happening right now." Sighed Sam.
"The total global situation seems to be getting worse each day."
"What makes you say things are getting worse?" asked Per.
Sam was surprised at that question. "How can you ask that? God, just turn on the TV or pick up a paper! Wars, genocide, so-called ethnic cleansings seem to be happening everywhere. These days, it seems that if people aren’t literally killing each other off they are, at the very least, chronically lying to each other. From the heads of nations on down. When the hell did having morals become a liability?"
Per sat quietly for a moment before replying. "Perhaps, everything is the same it has always been since the very beginning of mankind. The simple difference between 1998 BC and 1998 AD may only be the advent of media coverage."
"What do you mean?"
"I am saying that it is only within the last fifty years or so that the masses have no longer been sheltered from the harsh realities of the world around them.
Television, newspapers, radios, computers ........ people now have instant, multi-media global access. Through you evening TV newscasts, you are now able to get a steady daily diet of war, famine, disease and disasters ..... all streaming into your home by way of a little, square box plugged into the wall.
It makes it impossible to stay uninformed."
"Are you saying that people have always been this wretched?" asked Sam.
"I think, Samantha, that kindness has possibly never been an innate trait of this civilization. After all, it wasn’t until 1945 that the notion of Crimes Against Humanity was even conceived."
"What an odd way of putting things you have, Per." Once again, Sam realized how little she knew about him. She tried to recall what knowledge she had of Scandinavians and quickly realized it was extremely limited. Despite the passion and caring she had found in him, there seemed to be an esoteric edge to Per.
Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, yet the feeling nagged at her.
"Enough of this distressing talk of war and corruption. Come have another glass of wine with me and then I must leave. It is getting late."
Sam accepted the glass Per held out to her. By tacit agreement they spoke of other things for a time. Far more pleasant topics. It became quite late and Sam, to her abashment, could no longer suppress her frequent yawns.
"I will go now and let you get some much required sleep." Per grinned, as he started to rise from the couch. But Sam stopped him with a light hand on his arm.
"Are you sure?" questioned Per.
"I’m sure," Sam replied firmly. "Besides, you must admit, it would certainly be convenient. You’d already be at work in the morning."
Much later, after Sam had fallen into a deep sleep, Per softly left the house and rapidly walked out to Hockamock Head. As he silently made his way, he surveyed Happy Joyce’s property. All appeared tranquil. Both Happy and Spike were apparently slumbering soundly. Per walked to the very edge of the cliff overlooking the water and patiently waited. He knew they were coming. He had been receiving internal signals all day. It was just a matter of time now.
Per had been mistaken. Despite the fact that his house stood entirely dark, Happy was not asleep. In fact, he was wide awake. One of the admittedly few benefits of achieving old age was the reduced requirement for sleep. Stretched out comfortably in the old Chevy’s back seat, with Spike asleep on the floor beside him, Happy had just begun to think about dozing off when he’d heard someone approaching. Spike’s hearing not being what it once was, of course, it had taken the animal a bit longer to detect the presence of someone unfamiliar to him. But Happy had quickly muzzled him before he could sound the alarm.
It was a clear night with a fine moon. Happy had no trouble at all making out who it was wandering around on his property in the middle of the night. The question was, why? So, gently holding Spike’s collar, he was content to wait patiently. Because, that was one of the other benefits of old age ........ you find you have plenty of time on your hands.
Per kept his vigil for almost an hour longer before he saw the airship just to the left of Marshall Island. Stealthily, it moved invariably towards him, coming to a complete standstill only a few yards above his head. A portal in the underbelly of the ship silently slid open, emitting a peculiar green glow that fell downward, directly onto Per’s waiting form. Within seconds, his body began to disintegrate. Slowly at first, then swiftly picking up speed, Per began to disappear from his head to his feet. Molecule by molecule. When he was completely gone the craft’s door closed, sealing off the strange verdant light.
Then, as silently as it had arrived, the ship withdrew.
The night was, once again, completely still. The hush was broken only once by the sound of Happy bellowing,
The beginnings of a working theory hit Sam like a thunderbolt.
It was her monthly excursion to the Mainland for supplies. With the extensive shopping list completed, Sam was treating herself to lunch and a salty rimmed margarita at THE MEX before heading back to catch the late afternoon ferry.
Sitting alone in a corner booth, she was mulling over the recent happenings, trying to gain some sort of prospective on it all as she ate.
The very idea was so ludicrous that it caused her to choke on her chicken burrito. Got to take it easy on that hot sauce, the waitress mumbled, as she quickly brought Sam a glass of ice water.
Sam put her fork down and found her cigarettes and lighter. Try to think sensibly, she admonished herself wordlessly. Deliberately, one by one, she mentally began to lay out the recent events, trying to place them into some kind of order.
Where to begin? Her abduction. Happy’s abduction. Start with those. There had undeniably been many similarities between the two unrelated incidents. The same type of unfamiliar craft, light and faceless beings. Could they both have dreamed it? No, Sam didn’t believe in the possibility of that strong a coincidence. Besides, what about the disc - like object? If, as Happy claimed, it had really come out of his eye, wasn’t that some sort of physical evidence?
Next there were the enigmatic radio beacons. What if they hadn’t meant to be contact signals to Earth at all? Perhaps the signals really weren’t overtures from a friendly, distant civilization as she had assumed. What if they had simply been mistakenly intercepted?
And what about Wanda’s recent visions? Well, Sam reasoned, why not? Christians claimed to see Christ; Buddhists saw Buddha, so why couldn’t Wanda see Gluskabe?
Was there any significance there? Of course there was.
Here Sam paused to finish off her margarita in one gulp.
The one common thread running through all of these episodes was the constant allegation of an imminent end to the entire world.
Sam reluctantly weighed the possibility. Doom and damnation.
Now, that’s a cheerful hypothesis, she thought as she paid the bill.
She was queued up in a long line of cars to board the ferry in Bass Harbor when the next incongruous notion occurred to her.
Was Per somehow entangled in this pattern of events? Where had he in reality come from? Was it truly Norway, as he had claimed? Perhaps more importantly, why was Per on Swans Island? Once again, she realized how very little she actually knew about him. He, on the other hand, seemed to know a great deal about her.
Before the ferry had even begun to dock, Sam spotted first Spike, then Happy sitting on the wharf. She had to assume they were waiting for her. She departed the ferry and pulled off onto the side of the parking lot to pick them up. Sam tried very hard not to wince too noticeably as Spike eagerly clawed his way into the back seat.
As it was now the middle of June, the tourists were out in full force. Sam had to wait a bit before she could turn out onto Harbor Road. Traffic jams on the Island were generally a rare occurrence.
She took a quick glance at Happy as she drove. He had said absolutely nothing.
On the other hand, he didn’t have to. The audible crunching on the stem of his pipe spoke volumes by itself. For the first time in all the years Sam had known him, Happy looked every day of his age.
"When are you going to tell me what’s wrong?" she asked, pulling the car neatly into her driveway.
"I saw it again ..... last night." Sam nodded quietly, waiting for the other shoe to drop ..... knowing it would. "This time, though, I wasn’t alone. Someone else was there, too."
Sam was elated. "Happy, that’s wonderful! Someone else has seen it, too.
Who? Who was this person, Hap?"
Clearing his throat, Happy tried to pick his words carefully. "It was that Per fellow standing out there. He was waiting. That’s just what he was doing." He finished strongly.
"But Happy, I don’t understand. What’s the problem here? God, I’m delighted that someone else besides us has finally seen it!" Sam quickly snapped her head up to look Happy in the eye. "What do you mean, he was waiting? Waiting for what?"
"Them." Happy stated flatly. "He was waiting for them to come. And another thing, he’s not a he."
Sam couldn’t suppress a short, humorless laugh. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"I watched him, Sam. Stayed out of sight in my old Impala, don’t you know, and I saw him ....... disappear before my very eyes. Jumping Jesus! His body just started vanishing from his head on down! People can’t do that, can they Sam?" He sounded like a plaintive child desperately seeking reassurance that all was right with his world.
Sam didn’t believe Happy. She couldn’t. She reminded herself that, after all, he was well into his eighties and everyone knew he did like to go on a good bender every now and then. Obviously, this fantasy was the end result of the latest one.
The air at first light was heavy with mist. Sam had given up on sleep, found a warm sweater and was walking the lonely stretch of beach at the Carrying Place well before dawn. The only sounds were of the gently lapping water and a sleepy night owl hidden above in the trees.
She had just rounded the bend when she saw him, thickly shrouded in the vagueness of the early morning light. Somehow, she wasn’t at all surprised to see him standing there. As if compellingly drawn to him, she intensified her pace over the rough pebbles until she was standing in the short dune grass beside him.
Per’s eyes were warm and friendly, so damned attractive the way they looked deeply into hers. He didn’t say a word as he cupped his hand under her chin, lifting it in order to touch her lips lightly with his own. Then he touched them again. This time a little longer and firmer. Gently, he skimmed his thumb along her cheek before he dropped his hand.
"How was your excursion to the Mainland yesterday?" he asked.
"Crowded" Sam replied briefly. "What have you been up to while I was away?"
"Not a great deal." Per responded nebulously. He took her hand in his and they leisurely made their way along the path that dipped in and out of the rocks until it came to her house.
Sam could hear the insistent ringing of the phone as she opened the door. Martha sounded frantic on the other end.
"It’s Nana." she said brokenly.
Wanda was gone quickly. A massive stroke. Without any warning, Martha said.
"But, Mom," insisted Michael, doggedly tugging on her arm, "Nana said she was going to go away to be with Gluskabe."
Eventually, though, he gave up, joining his brothers to play outside in the sunshine.
Geez, no one ever listens to us kids, he thought disgustedly.
It was just before 3:00 in the morning when Per noiselessly slipped out of the warmth of Sam’s bed, leaving her alone to her dreams. In the heavy darkness, he left the house and made his way to Hockamock Head.
Sam’s eyes flew wide open the moment he left her room. With a single determination, she pulled on nearby jeans and a sweatshirt before following Per out into the moonless night.
She stumbled along the rocky track that was barely visible in the dimness. In her haste, she tripped, smashing her left foot into a rough outcropping of granite. In reflex, she frantically grabbed at a bush on the side of the trail.
The sharp thorns that studded it’s gnarled branches penetrated deeply into her hands. She staggered a few more steps before going down completely, painfully scraping the skin from both her knees as she fell. For just a moment she lay where she was on the ground, waiting for her pounding heart to pump needed oxygen back into her body. Stubbornly, she regained her feet and pushed on. She was almost there.
Sam saw the eerie green glow ahead just before making her way out into the open.
She hurriedly dropped to her belly, oblivious to the sharp rocks and twigs that tore at her body, momentarily knocking the breath out of her.
The massive airship vibrated as it hovered over the cliff about two hundred yards away. It almost seemed to hum with a life all of it’s own. Per was no where in sight. Sam lay there, remaining perfectly still on the damp earth, waiting. For what, she wasn’t sure.
There was no actual way to determine how long she had been laying there, but the far eastern sky was just starting to streak with a silvery gray when Sam saw the portal soundlessly gape widely open. Within moments, Per materialized before her on the stony cliff.
Sam had to remind herself to start breathing again.
Happy had been right after all.
Probably in a state of shock, she lay where she was until the intensity of the morning sun began to beat down upon her. Slowly, her body feeling bruised and fragile, Sam got to her feet and looked about her surroundings dazedly.
The morning was peaceful. Lobstermen were already pulling their traps out in the bay. The glint of seagulls diving in and out of the boats in hopes of scrapes was reflected by the sun. A soft breeze delicately ruffled Sam’s hair. It was all so deceptive.
Wearily, she made her way home. With each of her foot falls, her mind repeated what had become a sort of mantra.
What do I do now?
It wasn’t much later that day when everything seemed to go to hell in a handbasket in a big hurry.
Peering out the window at the sound of crunching tires on her driveway, Sam spotted Fed Larson’s dusty Ford Ranger. Fed was the lone constable of the Island.
Had been for over twenty years now. There were only two reasons for a visit from Fed. He was collecting money for the local firemen’s auxiliary or there was bad news. From the expression on his face as he climbed out of his truck, Sam knew he wasn’t here because of the first.
"Happy’s holed himself up in the abandoned lighthouse with a rifle." He stated bluntly at Sam’s questioning look.
Jesus H. Christ, she breathed, as she climbed into the truck beside Fed.
By the time they reached the Head, a crowd had formed. At least, a crowd by Island standards.
"Out of my way," bellowed Fed, letting his large frame shoulder it’s way through the mass, clearing an open path for himself and Sam.
"Is he drunk?" she shouted to Fed through the wind as they carefully climbed their way to the lighthouse door on the rickety, wooden steps.
Sam could hear him before she reached the top, but she couldn’t quite make out the tune. It could possibly have been I’ve Got The World On A String, which was an old favorite of Happy’s. However, when it came right down to it, he was so atonal that it really didn’t matter what the song was.
A distressed Fed turned to her in mid-step, "You need to talk to him, Sam. Get him out of there before he goes and hurts himself."
"This could take some time. When he’s this drunk, Happy usually likes to sing for a while first before he feels like talking."
She was about to assure the Sheriff that she would do her level best when the window above her head banged open just enough to allow a protruding gun barrel through it.
"Who’s out there?" Happy’s voice, though belligerently loud, was seriously slurred. "Don’t try to sneak up on me, now. I’m armed, you know. Armed and goddamned dangerous."
"Hap, it’s me. Let me in." Sam had to yell in order to get herself heard above the constant blow of the wind off the Atlantic.
The lighthouse door snapped open so fast it almost came off it’s ancient hinges.
"Sammy! C’mon in here, girl. Hell, just the one I wanted to see. How’d you know where to find me?"
S am leaned against the cracked and peeling paint on the interior wall and glanced out the dirty window. Down below she could see what by now must have been most of the town milling about. She could make out Mink Ollenburg and a few of his cronies sitting in the bed of a pickup truck just like they were attending the annual Fourth of July picnic. Per could also be seen, standing alone, off to the side of the throng.
"It wasn’t too hard to track you down." She replied dryly. She walked over to Happy and slid down beside him onto the filthy floor. "Is that thing loaded, Hap?" she inquired, gesturing to the 30/30 Winchester tucked between his legs.
"Hell, yes, Sam - ‘course it’s loaded." Happy snorted at such a ridiculous question, "Not much good if it isn’t."
Surprisingly spry, Happy jumped to his feet and started dancing a lurching waltz with the shotgun nestled tightly to his right cheek.
"I’ve got the world on a string ....... sitting on a rainbow ............
wrapped around my finger......... duh, duh,duh .... what a world ..... duh, duh."
Okay, stay calm. You can handle this, Sam thought. "So what are we drinking, Hap?"
Abruptly, Happy stopped whirling and reached behind himself to the window ledge.
"Meet Jack ..... my good, old friend Jack." There were only a couple of inches left in the bottom of the bottle. Obviously, Happy had killed off most of the Jack Daniels all by himself. This was going to take even longer than she had thought.
"How about a toss for me, Happy?" Sam smiled.
"Sure thing - sure thing, where are my manners?" he grinned amicably, handing her the neck of the bottle. "Anything for one of my favorite girls."
Abruptly, Happy’s mood swung to the other extreme. "Of course, I had another favorite girl, too, but she’s gone now."
In a voice beyond sad, Happy said, "Everybody always goes away, Sammy. You’re always left alone." Morosely, he shook his head. "Mark my words, girl.
Friendship, love ...... in time it all just gives you the illusion that you’re not all alone ...... but you are, no mistake about it. In the end, you’re always alone."
Happy, with his chin resting down on his chest by now, was starting to mumble drunkenly.
Sam put the bottle aside and took Happy into her arms. "I’ll miss Wanda, too. We all will." She tried desperately to think of something of solace to say. "It was just her time, Hap, that’s all."
He exploded. "Just her time? What the hell are you talking about?
Haven’t you been paying attention? It’s EVERYBODY’S time now. Annihilation, Sammy ...... we’re standing on the fucking edge of annihilation."
Happy dramatically punctuated that dissertation by passing out cold.
"You okay, kid?" asked Martha solicitously as she wrapped Sam’s shoulders in a heavy, yellow slicker.
Sam shivered. The wind had blown up an incoming gale and the evening air was thick with clammy mist. She automatically clutched the oversized slicker to herself. Everyone and everything all around her was now banked in an opaque film of fog.
"We’re in for one hell of a squall," Martha commented unnecessarily.
Sam turned to watch Fed and two other men hauling an anesthetized Happy none too gently from the lighthouse. Everyone had dispersed now. Gone on home to their waiting wives, suppers and beers. It was a disgruntled Mink Olenberg who’d been overheard to say, "Shit, we almost had us some excitement here."
Hours later Sam knew she was losing control of herself. She had wanted desperately to talk to Martha about it, but somehow, she hadn’t been able to find the right words. Martha had seen her home and safely settled with a warming cup of tea in her lap before she had reluctantly returned to her family.
There just hadn’t seemed to be any way to say, "Guess what? Per is either an angel or an alien ......... I can’t decide which," without sounding like a complete lunatic.
So instead, Sam had smilingly insisted to Martha that all was fine and let her go home.
With Happy so out of commission for the remainder of the evening, she had brought Spike home with her - for both their sakes. "Come on, good boy, you must be famished."
There was something comforting about the sound of the solid padding of the animal’s paws as he followed her down the foyer to the kitchen. The sidelights around the front door rattled loudly in a strong gust of wind. In the brightly lit kitchen, Sam opened a can of beans and franks for Spike, pouring most of it into one of her mother’s Spode dishes before placing it on the braided rug.
Picking up a tablespoon, she sat on the counter and proceeded to dig the remaining beans out of the can, licking the spoon thoroughly after each bite.
Companionably, the two ate their cold dinners in silence for a few minutes.
The lights only had to flicker once for Sam to know they would lose the electricity at some point that night. Perfect, she muttered, getting down from the counter and going into the pantry for candles. Much to her relief, she found a good stock compiled there. Even though everyone on the Island had been enjoying electricity for fifty years now, to this day no one really counted on it always being there - especially when they needed it.
Sam had placed the last candle into the brass holder when, after a final weak wavering of the lamps, all went utterly dark.
Automatically patting her jean pockets, she tried to locate her lighter. "Oh, great time to decide to give up smoking," she said outloud. Spike whimpered in agreement. Blindly rummaging about on the shelves, she located a half-filled box of kitchen matches. But before she had a chance to strike one, Spike was barking ferociously. Putting her hand on his back in the dark to steady him, Sam could feel his hair standing upright along the entire length of his spine.
"Easy, boy ..... easy," she murmured, stroking him gently. As much as it killed her to admit it, Spike’s sudden barking had spooked her. Barely daring to breathe, she stood stationary in one place, listening for whatever it had been that Spike may have heard.
The only sounds that came to her were of the heavy rain, wind and the anticipated creaking of an old house withstanding yet another nor’easter.
Emitting a sigh of relief, Sam turned to retrieve the matches she had dropped onto the table.
It was then that she saw him.
It was a form that was darker than dark. If he hadn’t been moving she probably wouldn’t have seen him at all as he silently approached the front door and lightly tried the handle. Frozen in place, Sam stood in the kitchen with a reassuring hand on Spike, staring down the unlit length of the foyer. Gently, she heard the door knob turning first this way and that. Then, nothing. Only silence. Straining to hear any movement at all, Sam waited.
Suddenly, Sam screamed as Per’s face was pressed tightly to one of the sidelights. She didn’t know if he could see her or not in the absolute blackness of the kitchen - and she really didn’t care. Some distant animal instinct she never knew she possessed screamed in her mind - RUN NOW.
Sam did just that. With Spike literally hard on her heels, she wheeled about and fled through the back kitchen door out into the obscurity of the night and pounding rain. Skidding clumsily off the slick back steps, Sam went down hard - right on her ass. She struggled frantically to get her footing on the drenched lawn. The unrelenting force of the wind tore her hair out of it’s braid and whipped it across her face. Somewhere over her head, she heard the agonizing crack of an immense branch as it was mercilessly severed from an aged oak tree.
Unsure of her sense of direction in the storm, Sam made for the gazebo. Once inside, she and Spike were able to safely camouflage themselves behind the thick screen of snarled bittersweet.
Shaking uncontrollably, Sam hunkered down in the dankness with her arm around Spike. She just needed to wait now. She had become so acutely attuned to the dog that she knew he was going to growl before he actually did. Spike sat back on his haunches, his head down, emitting a low rumble that slowly built in crescendo to an eerily high and mournful howl.
The structure’s entire side exploded with a suddenness that took Sam totally by surprise. Splinters of wood and fragments of shrub flew in all directions. Sam turned her head and quickly closed her eyes, protecting herself as best she could. When she opened them once again, it was to see Per towering menacingly above her.
Sam scrambled frantically to first her knees, then feet, charging headlong out of the gazebo. This time she didn’t know if Spike was with her or not. Terrified and beyond all rational thought, Sam was only aware of the heavy pounding of her feet on the damp earth. She quickly lost all track of her whereabouts in the murky darkness that surrounded her from all sides. Glancing back over her shoulder, Sam tried to define Per’s outline anywhere behind her in the blackness.
That was when it happened. Although, even if she had been looking straight ahead, it still wouldn’t have changed anything. The combination of darkness and fog made it impossible to see more than a foot in front of her in any direction.
All that Sam knew was that one moment she was firmly on the ground and the very next she was treading nothing but air.
Gradually, Sam came to. It took her a few moments to acclimate herself. What the hell am I doing at Martha’s? She thought as she gingerly endeavored to sit up.
"Heh, don’t rush it." Martha scurried to the couch to assist her friend.
"You’ve had quite a nasty ordeal."
"Martha? What ......... ?"
"Hush," soothed Martha, gently pushing Sam’s hair back off her forehead, "you sleep now."
The next time she awoke the sun was streaming in through the windows.
The storm is over, was her first thought.
"She’s awake, Mom!" Kevin Jr., proud to have been the first among his brothers to discover that fact, loudly shouted to his mother.
"That will be enough yelling, son." Martha hurried to Sam’s side and shooed the boy away.
Carefully, she helped her friend sit up, banking her back with pillows. After an initial flash of dizziness, Sam felt fine. She tucked her legs comfortably under herself and asked, "What am I doing here, Martha?"
Martha turned to look at her friend with concern. "You don’t remember?"
She continued at Sam’s negative shake of her head. "Per brought you to us. In the middle of the night. Said you’d had some kind of an accident out by the cliff."
Sam stirred. Rapidly, faint images started pressing themselves in upon her. She weakly sat back against the pillows and closed her eyes for a moment. She’d been running in the storm. She could remember being afraid ..... very afraid .......
for her life. Because of what? Or whom? Per ........... Per had been following her. Sam sat up straighter as memories from the previous night’s events rushed back to her. Jesus Christ, she had it all now.
She had been trying to get away from Per. She had thought he was going to hurt her. But the fog had been so bad she hadn’t been able to see where she was going.
My God, she thought completely stunned, I ran right off the fucking cliff!
Quizzically, she looked down at herself. A scratch here and there - her jeans, caked with mud, a bit worse for wear - but certainly nothing major. She could vividly recall the unnatural sensation of unrestricted nothingness around her heavily falling body. Why aren’t I lying in a broken heap on the rocks? She bewilderedly questioned herself.
Because of Per. That was why. With a shock that physically jolted her entire body, Sam distinctly remembered what had happened next. Per had come off the cliff after her and caught her rapidly descending body up into the safety of his arms.
The son of a bitch could fly.
Everything about him exuded melancholy. There was no longer any point in carrying on the pretense. His identity had been discovered by both Sam and Happy.
Not that he really minded all that much. After all, it had been tiresome impersonating a human. So many exhausting emotions that had needed to go into the part in order to perform well. For many year-spans now he’d been playing that charade. Yes, Per was wearied.
Primarily, he was weary of humans. Per found them, overall, to be a tiring race.
In all the time that he had lived among them, they had never understood. As a whole, they were a race who firmly believed they existed with the absolute right to be happy. They have never comprehended that true happiness was not a right at all - it was an achievement. Something that needed to be diligently worked towards with integrity and principles.
Per sighed heavily. There was no denying that in all of his duration spent on this planet he had formed close relationships with a few, special humans. People who, when their lives had stopped, he had missed for a very long time afterwards.
Samantha was, perhaps, the most special of all. To Per, she embodied all that was fine and exceptional about the human race.
When he was younger, he had eagerly and utterly unsuccessfully tried to help guide various humans he had met to a more righteous path. Once, years ago, he had even been severely admonished by the Assembly for his endeavors. After all, he was there as an observer only and as such was expected to maintain a hands off attitude. It had taken many years of co-habitation on Earth before Per was able to admit to himself that this was a race who would never entirely evolve spiritually. Sadly, they would never learn how to bring about their own fulfillment. It wasn’t that they didn’t have a fine potential. It was just that the human race, as a whole, was a race devoid of consciousness.
Yes, he would honestly miss her when the time came. And the time was coming soon.
He had been foolhardy to have impulsively saved her life the previous night. To what purpose? He had only prolonged the inevitable.
Ruefully, Per gave himself a mental shake. He had a great deal to do. He needed to prepare for the final Event.
In the end, it was the absolute realization that it was all over that resolutely made up Happy’s mind.
He’d lived a lot in his eighty plus years - it had been one hell of a continuous party. Looking back over it all, Happy couldn’t find too many regrets. He’d always done the best with whatever he’d been dealt. More importantly than that, he’d never whined.
Sure, he would have liked to have had a family like most men. Especially now, in his last years, it would have meant a lot to have children and grandchildren about. But for decades now Happy had been telling anyone who asked that he’d just never found a woman who suited him well enough. The real truth of the matter, though, was that no self-respecting woman would take him and his habits on for any memorable length of time.
"Suppose this is as good a time as any to face up to my drinking problem." He mumbled sullenly to Spike, who licked his hand anyway.
Good, old Spike. Happy gave the dog a vigorous scratching behind his ear. Hell, a man couldn’t ask more from a steady companion. He didn’t argue, didn’t complain and never once got upset when he came home stinking drunk.
Wanda and Sam were the only two people who meant anything at all to Happy. At least, he corrected himself, Wanda HAD meant something. Now that she was gone, he knew that nothing would ever be the same for him again. His and Wanda’s friendship had gone back a lot of years. He’d gotten sort of accustomed to it after all this time.
And as for Sam, well, she was like the kid of his own he’d never had.
Guess there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for her.
Well, old man, he smiled grimly to himself, let’s see if that’s true.
Happy shut Spike up in the rusty Ford Fairlane, leaving the windows cracked just enough to allow air to seep through but not enough for the dog to escape. He rubbed Spike’s head apologetically before closing the car door, "Sorry, boy. You can’t come with me this time."
Determinedly gripping his Winchester, Happy set out to find Per.
It was late afternoon before Martha gave her grudging permission for Kevin to drive Sam home. By then, Sam had a massive headache that was only being compounded by all the children’s noise.
Exuding a sigh of relief, Sam leaned momentarily against the inside of the door savoring the silence around her. Slowly, she made her way to the kitchen. The back door had been left wide open from the night before, but aside from a thoroughly soaked kitchen floor and rug, there was no major damage done. Swans Island didn’t have much of a crime rate. Sam shut and locked the door before going up the back staircase to her bedroom.
She had made up her mind. She was going to Boston. Jake would have to listen to her if she showed up on his doorstep. And if he wouldn’t, well, she would just find someone else who would. Somewhere, there had to be someone who would believe her.
Quickly, she stripped off the filthy and tattered clothes, kicking them into a corner of the bathroom as she gratefully stood under the steaming shower. After last night’s ordeal, the steady pounding of the water against her bruised body felt nothing short of therapeutic. She was heavily tempted to linger, but knew she needed to hurry if she intended to make the 4:15 ferry off the Island.
Stopping at her desk only long enough to collect the small disc and her data - filled bag, Sam was out the door in a record twenty minutes. She fumbled in her bag for the keys as she ran to her car. After a few moments of frustration she finally located them and hurriedly turned the ignition. The clock on the dash read 4:08. She was going to make it on time after all.
Sam rapidly backed the car up, spinning gravel out from under her tires as she did so. Throwing the gear shift into drive, she shoved her foot down hard on the accelerator. She had almost reached the end of her driveway when the exit was suddenly blocked by the unexpected appearance of the Volkswagen bus.
Even with both her feet jammed on the brake, Sam couldn’t stop the car quickly enough at that speed on the dirt. She braced herself as best she could as her car continued to slide and then loudly but harmlessly crashed into the old bus.
Per was at her car door before she could get it open. He said nothing as he firmly took Sam by the elbow and propelled her out of the car. Stridently, Sam tried to shake his hand from her arm but Per would not relax his grip on her.
She faltered, stumbling to keep up as he strode purposely back down the long drive towards her house.
By the time they had reached the porch, Per was practically dragging her.
"Come on, Samantha," he said tightly, as he pulled her up over the steps and through the front door into the house. Once inside, he relinquished his iron grasp on her arm.
Rubbing the blood flow back into her numb right arm, Sam furtively glanced about.
I could try to run, she thought. But she knew that would be useless. Even if she could somehow get out of the house away from Per, where would she go? She was on an island, for Christ’s sake. Where the hell was she going to run to?
Watching her closely, Per saw her eyes alter as she quickly discarded one notion of escape after another. He didn’t want to harm her, but he knew he could not let her go now.
"Do you mind if I sit down?" Sam asked him grimly.
Immediately Per’s body relaxed. She was accepting the situation with, if not absolute grace, at least good sense.
"Please," he said, pointing to the parlor.
But instead of sitting, Sam started frantically going through her desk drawers.
"What are you looking for, Samantha?" Per tensed, thinking about the gun she kept somewhere. He was relieved, however, when she produced an unopened pack of cigarettes instead.
"So much for quitting ...... " she mumbled as she lit one. For a moment she smoked in silence. Then, as if newly fortified, she resolutely turned and looked directly at Per.
"Who the hell are you?"
Drawn out seconds passed as Sam waited for his response. The very house itself seemed to have taken on an oppressive atmosphere. Everything seemed to be suspended, as if anticipating Per’s answer.
Outside the wind had begun to come up once again, sighing loudly and rattling the parlor windows. It looked like nightfall would bring yet another storm to the Island.
When at long last Per did speak, it was not to answer her question at all.
"I’m truly sorry about your child, Samantha. I realize how much you wanted to have him." His face was filled only with compassion for her and the suffering he knew she had endured. "You must believe me when I tell you that was a mistake. A
At that moment, everything in and around Sam went intensely still. So, she thought benumbed, we have finally arrived. It was like coming to the end of a very long dance. She shivered uncontrollably and wrapped her arms tightly about her body as if this gesture could somehow protect her from what she was about to hear.
"You know about that." She stated heavily. "I never spoke of it to you."
"Yes," he replied. "I know everything. That’s why I am here."
When she spoke, her voice sounded shrill and oddly unfamiliar to her own ears.
"What do you mean, ‘That’s why I’m here’?" Jesus, she was cold. Nervously she moved to the hearth and touched off the wood and newspaper that were lying in wait in the fireplace. Down on her knees, she poked at the growing fire aggressively with the brass tongs, making sparks fly about wildly. Smoldering pits jumped onto the worn Oriental carpet. Automatically, Sam stamped them out with her hand.
The heat radiating from the small blaze helped mobilize her thinking.
"I’m still waiting for you to tell me who you are."
"Before I can explain who I am," Per replied earnestly, "You need to understand who YOU are."
"This planet that we are on - that you call Earth - has been a participant in an extensive experiment. One that was initiated by my race millions of years ago."
"Your race ........?" Sam felt as if she were in the middle of some sort of horrible sci-fi movie. A grade B sci-fi movie. This couldn’t be happening.
Watching her face drain of all color, Per rapidly moved to Sam, kneeling down beside her on the rug. Putting his strong arms around her inflexible body, he gently stroked her back.
"As you have suspected, Samantha, I am not from this place." He spoke quietly into her hair, tightening his grip to hold her more firmly when she would have pushed him away. "My home is several light years away from here."
Placing her hand against Per’s chest, Sam strained back in order to be able to look him levelly in the eyes with her own. Per’s grasp on her relaxed somewhat, however his hands remained loosely on her waist.
"Are you really expecting me to buy all this horseshit?" she asked with contention. But even as she spoke the words she knew they were nothing more than sheer bravado. He was telling her the truth - at long last. Everything that had happened over the past six months was starting to make a bizarre sort of sense.
Ignoring her comment, Per continued speaking. "It was to be a major experimentation. We wanted to form a new race. A race who would have all the advantages of this new planet we had discovered. Advantages that our race would never have." Per paused for a moment, trying to gage the depth of Sam’s expression, hoping to see some sort of comprehension there. Seeing only confusion and bewilderment, Per resolutely navigated Sam to the sofa situated in front of the fireplace. He sat her down and then went to the kitchen. From the parlor Sam could hear the sound of cupboard doors banging open and shut. Stunned, sinking back against the cushions, she felt as if she were in a stupor. She couldn’t have made a run for it now even if she had wanted to. Gee, hope my life doesn’t depend on it, she thought with a downright hysterical giggle.
Per returned momentarily carrying a glass of amber colored liquid. Seating himself beside Sam on the couch, he closed her trembling hand about the glass.
"Drink this down." he insisted.
Sam complied without any sort of argument. Her hand shaking radically, she drank the entire contents down in one, long swallow. Immediately, she started to cough as her throat reacted to the strong, burning rye whiskey. But almost at once her body was imbued with a glowing warmth that radiated throughout. Gratefully, the constant shivering checked, Sam sat up straighter.
"Please continue." she said to Per.
"Eons ago, my entire race was swept by a catastrophic virus. Because it was airborne it traveled swiftly through our population in epidemic proportions. We could not find a cure. We were desperate. About the same time as the deadly outbreak occurred, the planet Earth had been discovered. After several vanguard expeditions, it was determined to be a completely sterile environment.
Ultimately, the decision was made to attempt an experiment of major proportions.
We would endeavor to construct an entirely new race. Call it a zoo, if you like.
Into this new creation we would add our finest genetic qualities." Here Per halted for a minute, giving all that he had disclosed to Sam a bit of time to sink in.
"You are telling me that we - my civilization - has been nothing more than a .......
fucking zoo!’ She exclaimed in disbelief.
Per said nothing, he simply nodded in agreement. Sam turned to stare out the window as the thoughts tumbled through her mind. She moved her lips as if to say more, but nothing came out. Her face was in shadow from the quickly retreating light. Per slowly got to his feet and went about the room turning on a couple of low table lamps. The glow from them helped push back the developing gloom.
"What happened to your society? Was a cure for the virus found?" She finally queried.
Per rejoined her on the sofa. "No, never." He said heavily. "It’s effects were devastating. By the end it had wiped out one quarter of our population. But the virus eventually slowed down and then, in time, it stopped altogether. However, by the time the deadly virus had ceased, the new race on planet Earth was evolving nicely. So the decision was made to leave it untouched - not to interfere in any way."
"You have been watching us?" Sam asked incredulously.
"Monitoring." Corrected Per, taking hold of both Sam’s shoulders.
Happy crept stealthily towards the house. His rheumy old eyes were stinging from the heavy wind, making them squint and water. He paused behind a thick forsythia bush in order to look the house over thoroughly before going on any further.
Most of the house, which stood silent and dark, was rapidly disappearing into the gathering dusk. Cautiously, he scuttled over the lawn and around the porch to the front of the house. Happy braced himself against the driving wind, leaning into it, all the while keeping a tight grasp on his Winchester.
When he reached the shelter of the house Happy crept around the corner of the porch, crouched way down low, until he was beneath the only room that had a yellow light spilling out of it’s windows.
Ever so slowly and biting down sharply on his lower lip so as not to groan out loud, he stood up.
Jesus Jumping Up, I’m too old for this shit, he decided.
Trying not to make any noise, Happy stepped over the low lying Juniper bushes and carefully peered through the bottom left hand pane of the window. Slowly, he straightened up until he could see well into the room.
Sammy was sitting on a couch in front of the fireplace down at the other end of the parlor. That Per fellow was close beside her. Happy strained to see what was going on. As he watched, he could see Per’s hands holding tightly onto Sammy’s shoulders. Son of a bitch, he mumbled.
Once again, down as low to the ground as his old, arthritic body could get, Happy moved silently to the window closer to the couple, the one just behind them. From this new vantage point Happy had a clear view of Per. Not to mention a clear shot.
A true son of Maine, Happy had been handling guns all of his life. He’d hunted moose; deer; rabbit; the occasional bear, and plenty of Japs during W.W.II. But never before had he taken such careful aim with more purpose.
Hell, he was pretty sure he’d never hunted alien before.
"Closely monitoring?" Sam echoed his words in a parrot-like fashion.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means just what it says." Per said shortly. "We have been here since the very beginning of the evolution of the human race. As your creators it was our job to observe the experiment first hand."
"How have we been monitored?" Sam asked.
"By various means." Per replied plainly.
Sam stood and poked a moment at the fire, tossing another log on. The fire crackled loudly. Then she went purposefully to her bag and rummaged around inside. Turning toward Per, she held out her hand.
"What is this?" She asked, indicating the miniature disc that had fallen out of Happy’s eye.
Per was taken by surprise. He took it out of Sam’s hand and held it up to a light to peer through it. "This is a contact lens camera. It was implanted into a human retina. With the help of this device, we have been able to literally see what the human is looking at. Where did you get it?"
Sam ignored his question. "So, it is a type of monitoring tool." She said slowly.
"Do we all have these implants?"
"No, only the people who have been picked up and examined were given these." He paused for a moment, "You have one, Samantha."
Sam instinctively probed both of her eyes with her fingertips. "But I can’t feel anything."
"You wouldn’t." Said Per frankly.
She started to pace back and forth. Her mind was churning.
"Let me see if I’ve got this all straight." She fumbled on top of the desk for her Marlboros and lighter. Her hand was shaking so much she could barely light the damn thing. "Okay now," she continued, blowing out a gray plume of smoke, "you are telling me that the entire human race has been nothing more than an experiment? An experiment that has been taking place for these past millions of years on a planet that has been nothing more than, essentially, a gigantic zoo?"
Sam stopped pacing, whirled around and stared hard at Per. "Guess that sort of makes you the zoo keeper, doesn’t it?" This was all so ludicrous that she grinned despite herself.
The incoming shotgun blast blew a hole the approximate size of a Susan B.
Anthony silver dollar right through the back of Per’s head. The bullet kept right on coming out the front, eventually lodging itself into the knotty pine of the mantle piece a few feet away.
Screaming, her ears still ringing from the deafening blast, Sam lunged forward to seize Per as he slumped forward and started to slip to the floor. She collapsed onto the floor under his weight and frantically struggled to get out from under him. She heard the crunch of glass and looked up to see Happy climbing through the shattered window. It took her a moment longer to register the sight of the gun in his right hand.
"You okay, Sammy?" Anxiously, Happy pulled her onto her feet and tried to steer her towards a chair. But Sam violently shook his hand from her and rushed back to sink to the floor beside an inert Per.
"My God, Happy," she groaned, "what have you done? Jesus, help me roll him over."
Happy scurried to help her, all the while trying to explain, "I was saving you, Sammy. Saving you from that ........ thing there." He pointed to Per. "No telling what he would have done to you if I hadn’t been here." He finished lamely. This sure wasn’t going the way he’d planned.
Sam opened her mouth to respond but it was then that she noticed something truly extraordinary. There was no blood. Not anywhere. How could that be? Not only was there no blood, but what had just moments before been a gapping hole in Per’s head was now a small hole ........ and getting smaller all the time.
Amazed, Sam moved closer to him in order to better examine his skull. Even as she watched, his tissue was somehow rapidly repairing itself. Atom by atom.
Molecule by molecule. Cell by cell. She blinked her eyes disbelievingly. This couldn’t really be happening. But it was. Somehow, what had only moments ago been a jagged, gapping hole was now filled in with healthy skin and hair. What should have been a lethal wound - certainly would have been to anyone else - had miraculously and completely healed itself.
Per stared to stir. Sam glanced over her shoulder at Happy and said bluntly, "I think you’d better get out of here."
But Happy had decided to get stubborn. "Nope. I’m not leaving you alone with him, Sammy. Why, he’s just not .......... human!"
"No, Hap, he sure isn’t." Sam couldn’t help but laugh at the gross understatement of Happy’s remark. Should I try to explain this to him? She wondered. How the hell can I do that ......... I can’t even explain this to myself.
"Happy," she hauled herself to her feet, " you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. I will be fine ...... Per will not hurt me."
Sam continued at the look of confusion in Happy’s eyes, "I want you to take your gun and go on home now. I promise I will explain everything to you latter."
She put her arm affectionately about Happy and moved him to the front door as she spoke.
"Shit," groused Happy as the door closed on him, "no one appreciates a hero anymore."
"That’s another problematic area with your human race," muttered Per behind her,
"if they don’t understand you, they are inclined to blow you away."
Sam wondered what to say. Christ, did she have to apologize for her entire race now?
"He thought you were going to hurt me. He was trying to be my hero." she explained inadequately, walking over to his side.
"What about you, Samantha," Per asked as he got to his feet. "Do you think I am going to harm you?"
Sam didn’t need time to think about the correct answer. She knew it instinctively. "No," she said simply.
"Good." said Per as he stood in front of a mirror looking his head over.
"How’d you do that?" Sam, still having a difficult time assimilating everything, couldn’t stand it. She had to ask.
"What can I say? It’s a knack - you either have it or you don’t," joked Per. But when he caught sight of Sam’s solemn expression reflected over his shoulder in the mirror, he became serious.
"Our molecular makeup is different than yours," he explained. "We have always had a moderately limited ability to self - repair some forms of damaged tissues."
"Some knack," mumbled Sam It took a bit of effort, but she finally managed to do a makeshift repair job on the broken parlor window by tacking up a trash bag on the inside. Not very attractive, but it kept the rain out.
er, claiming to have a small headache (no shit, thought Sam), had gone out to the porch for a few minutes to take some fresh air. The elements, such as rain, didn’t seem to bother him at all.
Having done all she could with the damaged window for now, Sam made for the kitchen, deciding she needed a strong cup of tea.
She was just marveling at how steady the full mug was in her hands, when she felt him standing in the doorway. Turning slowly, she looked into his grave face.
"Why do I have the feeling you haven’t told me everything yet?" she asked with dread in her voice.
"Have a seat, Samantha," Per said emphatically, pointing to the kitchen table.
Almost against her will, Sam obeyed. Instinctively, she knew she didn’t want to hear what was coming next.
Minutes later, Sam huddled in the kitchen chair, gripping her drawn up knees for comfort. She was having a difficult time comprehending what Per was saying. She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them, trying to pay better attention. What was he talking about now? Extermination?
"So you see, Samantha," Per was saying, " in the end, there is nothing any of you can do to alter what will happen. It is inevitable."
It was impossible for her to stay still any longer. She got to her feet and wandered out of the kitchen, down the foyer and back into the parlor. Silently, Per followed close behind. Sam stopped at a low mahogany table picking up a silver framed photograph of her parents. The picture had been taken years ago on one of their holidays to the Caribbean. They were both wearing large, ridiculous straw hats which cast half their faces in shadow. Despite that, though, the happy smiles on both of their faces couldn’t be hidden. They looked so naive.
"I’m sorry ......., " Sam stammered, "I am having a very hard time understanding all of this."
Per sighed heavily. Once again, he regretted Sam having discovered who he was.
If she hadn’t, it would have made everything much more simplistic for him.
Patiently, he tried to find the words that would help her to understand what was about to happen.
"The decision has been made to close the Zoo down," he said bluntly. "The human experiment has been determined a miserable failure. I am to witness the final Event. After it is done, I am to report back to the Assembly."
"Why?" was all that Sam could get out.
"The human race has not turned out as we had wished. It has evolved into a warrior breed who systematically tortures, kills and murders one another." Per paused than continued, "The horror has gone on for far too long, Sam. Human kind is incapable of changing. The decision has been made and there is nothing to be done that will alter that judgment."
Feeling as if she were in a daze, Sam looked down at the photo of her parents still in her hand. How pleased and contented they looked in it. Could they have possibly ever imagined such a day as this happening in the almost perfect world they had created together so filled with family love and happiness? Her parents were good people. Why is it, she thought suddenly angry, that people like my parents are to be punished?
She looked at Per and asked him that very question. "Why do the good people in the world have to suffer for what they are not responsible for? I have to believe that this planet is filled more with caring, humane people than the kind you are talking about." When Per didn’t immediately respond, she finished plaintively, "You average global citizen doesn’t climb onto his roof and snipe at the neighbors, for Christ’s sake."
"No, they don’t," Per willingly agreed. "However Samantha, what they do is just as obscene ....... perhaps even more so."
At Sam’s puzzled expression he continued speaking. "For they do nothing.
Absolutely nothing at all. You’re so called average global citizen, Samantha, stands complacently by while all of this ongoing carnage takes place ..........
and they never try to do anything about it. Throughout your centuries only a bare handful of people have tried to stand in the way of the injustices that have been consistently perpetuated onto the masses ........ by their own kind."
When Per continued speaking, his voice was uncharacteristically laced with sarcasm.
"The one you call your ‘average citizen’ rarely ever raises even so much as a voice in protest."
"What you must understand, Samantha, is that to my race, there is no difference between the perpetrator who actually commits the evil act and the person who does nothing to try to stop it. In our eyes, they are one and the same."
"But surely there must be something we can do to stop this!" cried Sam frantically. "You make it sound as if there is no hope at all."
In the stillness, their eyes locked across the expanse of the room.
"There is no hope," He replied curtly. "The end will come."
"How will it happen?" asked Sam
"It will be merciful and swift. I can promise you that," stated Per as he started to turn away from her.
"You bastard," screeched Sam, suddenly lunging forward and beating Per’s back with her fists doubled in rage. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Slowly, Per turned back to face Sam. He stood in front of her silently, not even attempting to fend off her furious blows. His face was still as a mask as he waited calmly for her frenzy to come to an end. Finally, exhausted, Sam fell sobbing to the floor.
It was only then, after she had quieted, that Per answered her question.
"As you said, Samantha. I am one of your Zoo keepers."
Happy was feeling pretty sorry for himself as he stumbled through the darkness and light rain back to Hockamock Head.
Jesus Jumping Up .... Women. Who the hell can figure them? Well, he’d done his best to rescue Sammy, at least he could say that. Funny how she didn’t want to be rescued, though. Happy sure couldn’t figure that one out. He took some satisfaction in knowing that he’d gotten that foreigner a good one. Smack dab in the back of the head. No doubt about it, those 30-30s sure packed some wallop.
By rights, Happy knew he should have been dead. Wonder why he wasn’t?
He made a quick stop to let an overjoyed Spike out of the dilapidated Fairlane and then kept right on going with the hound bounding after him. It being a Saturday night, Happy knew he would find most of the boys at Mink’s place having their weekly game of poker. Being the true loner that he was, Happy had never participated in their game, but tonight he thought he might just drop in on them.
Over on the Minturn side of the Island, at the Dodge’s house, Martha was getting her youngsters settled for the night. Kevin Jr. especially seemed to be going through a difficult time since Nana’s death. Martha sat on the edge of his bed and gently rubbed his back, trying to coax him to sleep.
"Mom," asked Kevin Jr. groggily,"where do you think Nana is right now?"
Her son’s question took her breath away. "I think she’s still with us, Kev - right here in our hearts." How could she explain to an 11 year old something that she herself did not understand?
Kevin Jr. abruptly rolled over onto his back, looking at his mother with a serious expression far beyond his young years. "Know what I think, Mom? I think Nana’s with Gluskabe." Hurriedly, he continued at the doubtful look in his mother’s eyes. "It makes me feel good for Nana to know she’s with him now. I’m glad that Gluskabe took her with him before the Great Purification begins."
"Oh, honey," Alarmed, Martha gathered her son tightly into her arms and spoke softly into his dark hair, "there isn’t going to be a Great Purification. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing like that is going to happen to us, son."
Kevin Jr. pushed himself back in order to look his mother levelly in the eyes. "Isn’t it, Mom?"
When her husband came home from his weekly poker game a short time later, he found Martha wrapped in her old plaid flannel bathrobe sitting alone in the dark on the front steps.
"You’re home sooner than usual." she commented.
"Yep," Kevin heaved a sigh as he sat down beside her, "I got fleeced early tonight."
They sat quietly for a few minutes, both looking up at the stars that were slowly emerging from behind the rain clouds.
"Sure smells fresh after that shower, doesn’t it?" Commented Kevin, taking a deep breath of the sweet night air into his lungs.
Martha didn’t bother to answer. Instead, she said, "Kev, I’ve been thinking.
What if Nana really knew what she was talking about? About the Great Purification coming, I mean. What if the ancient tribal prophesies are real after all? Suppose it’s all true?"
"Christ, Martha, don’t you go getting weird on me now, too."
"I mean it, Kev. Just listen to me for a minute." Martha grabbed her husband’s arm as he started to turn away from her. " For once just shut your big mouth and listen. You’re always such a damn skeptic."
"First rule of skepticism ..... never fool yourself." Her husband managed to get out before he slammed his mouth shut.
Martha’s body shivered spastically in the night’s clammy dampness.
"Come on," Kevin said decidedly, pulling her to her feet, "let’s get you inside.
You’ve had a long day."
Not long after, Martha lay rigidly on her side of the bed listening to the sound of Kevin’s loud, monotonous snoring. It wasn’t the noise that was keeping her awake, though. After sleeping in the same bed as her husband for fifteen years now, his snoring was just so much more background noise, like the constant dripping of the sink faucet in the bathroom down the hall.
No, what was keeping Martha from sleep was that last conversation with her youngest son. She couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it. This is ridiculous, she thought disgustedly.
Martha crawled out of bed and into her robe, tying the sash firmly as she made her way down the stairs to the living room. She fumbled in the darkness on the coffee table for the remote to the television. Slowly, the room acquired that eerie, flickering light the TV gives off and she starting clicking rapidly through the channels. At three in the morning her viewing was somewhat limited.
She skimmed past various fitness ads; whiter teeth ads; jewelry sales on the shopping networks, the Rifleman and an old Cary Grant movie. Finally, she settled on CNN and laid back onto the couch, pulling one of Nana’s crocheted afghans over her.
A man with a well bred British accent and a tie that looked as though it had been drawn by a hyperactive third grader was reading the news as if it were nothing more interesting than a weekly grocery list. It had been a few days since Martha had taken the time to catch the latest news but she found things really hadn’t changed much. Or, she corrected herself, at least they hadn’t improved any.
There were the usual heinous crimes and tragedies that somehow had become an accepted part of every day society. As she listened it occurred to her that much of the news consisted of natural disasters, seemingly on every continent.
Weather patterns were apparently spinning out of control. These days what was considered extreme weather had become the rule rather than the exception. Today, everywhere you looked there were epic floods; droughts; wildfires; killer tornadoes; earthquakes and epidemic diseases. As a matter of fact, Martha realized with a jolt, these catastrophic events were becoming almost common place throughout the planet.
Easy girl, she thought to herself clicking the TV off. She sat for a moment in the complete blackness of the living room before she wearily got up and wandered over to a window to peer up at the night sky.
What if Nana had been right? What if the signs really were all there? What if .....
just what if, she silently asked herself, this really was the beginning of the Great Purification?
By the time Happy arrived the poker game was just breaking up. He burst through the front door causing everyone inside to momentarily freeze midway through whatever it was they had been doing.
"You’re too late, Happy," commented Fed Larson as he pulled on his jacket, "Mink’s already cleaned us all out. Try us again next week." It took him a full minute longer to register the sight of the Winchester Happy was cradling in his arm.
Mink walked over and took one look at Happy’s face. "Heh, get this man a beer," he yelled as he pushed Happy down into the closest chair at hand.
While someone scurried into the kitchen the rest of the men gathered closely around Happy.
"What the hell’s the matter with you?" asked Mink. "Christ, you look like you’ve seen a ghost or something."
"Something," mumbled Happy as he gratefully took a long swig of the ice cold beer.
Carefully, Fed disengaged Happy’s hand from it’s tight grasp on the Winchester.
He cocked the breach open and sniffed. From the acidic smell of it he knew the gun had been discharged recently ..... very recently. Shit, I guess I’ve got to go to work, thought Fed as he pushed his hat back on his head.
By the time the Budweiser was half gone, Happy’s breathing had almost returned to normal. Spike, on the other hand, still sounded pretty winded as he lay on the floor panting by Happy’s feet.
Putting the gun safely aside, Fed lowered his bulky frame down onto his haunches in front of Happy.
"Want to tell me what’s going on, Hap?" he asked steadily. "It’s too damn early for deer."
Happy shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair. Here goes nothing, he thought to himself. "I shot me an alien." he said bluntly. His remark was met by stone silence. God knows it wasn’t funny, but he couldn’t refrain from laughing at the expressions on the men’s faces turned towards him. "Yeh, I know you boys don’t believe a word of it, but just hear me out anyway."
Pausing only once or twice to take a swallow of the fresh beer someone handed him, Happy recounted all of the events within the last few weeks that had led up to what he’d done earlier that night. When he was finished you really could have heard a pin drop ...... no one said a word.
It was Fed Larson who finally broke the silence. "That’s quite a tale, Hap. You really expect us to believe all that?" When there was no reply, Fed continued talking as he helped Happy to his feet. "What do you say I give you and that old dog of yours a lift home? Sounds to me like what you need is to sleep this one off. Sure everything will look a whole lot different by the light of day."
Feigning obedience, Happy shuffled out to Fed’s truck. The hell with them, he thought angrily ....... the hell with them all.
Miserable, Sam wasn’t sure if she wanted to cry or scream. It didn’t really make any difference because she realized she didn’t have the energy for either. She propped her elbows up on the table and put her face in her hands. She sighed tiredly.
"Want a brandy?" Per asked.
They both sat silently at the table. Sam slumped in her chair and Per leaned forward in his. He stared at her as she stared into her half - finished glass of Hennesy.
"Heh," she said, craning her neck to look up at Per, "know when you’re a little kid and everything seems really confusing to you? And you keep waiting and waiting until the day you grow up so you can understand everything?"
Per just shrugged.
"Oh yeah, I forgot ....." Sam mumbled, clearing her throat. "Anyway, what I was going to say was that I guess I’m still waiting to grow up because I don’t understand a damn thing."
Per fixed her with those eyes of his, which could be so warm they made her knees weak or so cold they made her turn to ice inside. Sam tried unsuccessfully to break his gaze. Giving up, she shoved her empty glass into his face, "How about a refill?"
"Later." His chair squeeked loudly as he shoved it back, holding out his strong hand to her expectantly.
Without any hesitation, Sam took his hand firmly into hers and wordlessly followed him upstairs. When they reached her room Per turned toward her. His first kiss was gentle and many times more intoxicating than the brandy she had been drinking only moments before.
"Guess it’s too late to play hard to get?" was the last thing she said just before her mouth dissolved under his for good.
The whole room seemed to be awash in silvery light. To Sam the moon seemed brighter than usual. Turning to Per she asked curiously, "Do you have a moon on your planet?"
"Actually, we have two moons. One is a bit smaller than the other and they are different colors." he replied.
Jesus, this is insane, Sam thought. She couldn’t have stopped herself if she had wanted to, she started to first giggle and then laugh hysterically.
"What’s so funny?" inquired Per propping himself up onto his elbow.
"Sorry ..... " Sam gasped for breath. "I was just thinking of something my mother used to say to me when I started dating."
"What was that?"
"She used to say, ‘Honey, you sure can pick ‘em.’ Too bad she isn’t here to meet you." Once again, Sam doubled over with laughter, clutching her side.
Finally, she sobered. Brushing her thick hair back out of her face, Sam leaned over Per and gently ran her fingertips down one side of his face and across his lips.
"I was very happy just now." She said softly then shook her head bewilderedly. "Doesn’t make any sense does it?"
"Why do you feel there must always be logic in all things?" Per asked as he pulled her close to him. "Feelings are never logical, that much I have learned."
They lay intertwined, each with their own thoughts, until the pale walls of the bedroom began to turn a faint lavender hue from the rising sun.
Sam stirred, whimpering incoherently in her sleep. Per gently stroked her hair, trying to soothe her. Startled out of her sleep, Sam sat up clutching the blanket to herself in fright.
"My God, Per," she exclaimed, "I’ve had the most horrible dream ...... I dreamed the world is coming to an end!"
Slowly, Sam’s eyes cleared and focused as she finally awoke fully. With complete consciousness came the realization that it had not, after all, been a dream.
Suddenly, time mattered a great deal to Sam.
Clutching Per’s arm, she cried, "Is this it? Will it be today? Please, tell me!" she begged desperately.
Seagulls streaked across the cloudless sky, which gleamed a deep azure in the midmorning light. Perched on a rocky outcropping overhanging the Atlantic, Sam stared up at them. They seemed so far away. She raised her left arm high .....
stretching her fingers as far as she could ..... but she didn’t even come close to touching them.
They flew so far that they almost completely vanished into the distant horizon, but then abruptly changed course and came back her way. For a time, Sam concentrated entirely on the birds and their ostensibly random flight patterns.
She emptied her mind of everything else.
Per had remained behind in the house while Sam took a walk out to Burnt Coat Harbor. He knew that more than anything right now, she was in need of some time alone. Standing at the kitchen counter making coffee, Per closed his eyes for a moment and clearly saw what Sam saw. He wanted to go to her, but knew he could not. She could only come to terms with what was about to happen by herself.
There was nothing more he could do for her right now.
Eventually, Sam tired of watching the gulls. They seemed to compose images of peacefulness and serenity. All false, of course. Nothing in this world would ever be peaceful or serene again. There would be no more chances. Per had been clearly emphatic about that.
Reluctantly, Sam turned her thoughts inward, replaying in her mind Per’s harsh words of judgment from the day before. The thing was, as desperately as she would have liked to, Sam could not find a strong basis to dispute his opinion of mankind. If anything, if she were to be absolutely objective about it, she would have to agree with his assessment. Over all, mankind sucked. Period. Oh sure, every once in a while a Buddha, Jesus Christ or Mother Tereasa would pop up and do a great deal to revive your opinion of humanity for a time. But soon enough it would be back to the usual dictators and despots, interested only in squeezing the proverbial lifeblood out of their own people simply in order to get theirs.
However, Sam realized, if she were completely honest with herself she would have to admit that Per was accurate about something else as well. Horrendous as your run of the mill dictator could be, this was only one person out of thousands or millions at any given time ..... and it was the thousands and millions who should have counted.
It was the world community itself who was in the wrong ..... and always had been.
The human race, with all it’s marvelous scientific and technological achievements, would never be able to put down all their differences and learn to work together in order to solve their issues. Let’s face it, she thought, achievements of the heart were merely not considered important enough for the collective benefit of man.
Grabbing up her sweatshirt, Sam headed back to the path that would take her home.
She picked her way carefully over first rocks and then brambles until she had reached the top of the cliff that looked over Burnt Coat Harbor. She stood for a moment in order to catch her breath and gazed out at the beauty of the scenery for miles before her.
There was one more thing that she still needed to face up to. When she had asked Per ‘will it be today?’ and had continued to press him for an answer, he had at length given her one.
Shit, she thought, this could really ruin your whole day if you let it.
Psychologically, Happy had to admit that he had sunk pretty low. Even by his standards. No one would believe his story of spaceships and a shot-in-the-head alien. What the hell, he thought, having another pull off the bottle.
"You believe me, don’t you boy? Hell, you saw the ship for yourself!" Consoling himself that at least his dog believed him, Happy gave Spike a good rubbing behind the right ear. Spike whined appreciatively and rolled over onto his back hoping for a vigorous belly rub as well.
Grunting from the effort as he bent forward, Happy obliged him. "You’re a good old boy," he said fondly in a gruff voice, "and I’m going to miss you."
He knew the end could come at any time now. He didn’t suppose there would be a warning first or anything like that. No, they had told him it would be quick and merciful. Probably over with in a blink of an eye.
Well, at his age it was no surprise to be thinking of death anyway, he decided.
It was just strange to think of everyone else in the world checking out with him at the same time. What was it Wanda used to say about death? He remembered now.
She used to say that death was nothing more than the failure of living. Guess that’s about as accurate a description as I could come up with on my own, Happy thought.
He really had no concrete beliefs in the existence of either a heaven or a hell.
Happy had to admit to having never been much of a religious man. Not that he didn’t believe in God, he quickly assured himself. He’d just never been very big on all that folderol that seemed to go along with belonging to a church. No sir, Happy’s cathedral had always been the outdoors. For over eighty years every time he had gone into the woods; gotten his fishing line wet, or slipped his boat into the water, he’d gone to church in his mind. To a fellow like Happy, nature and spirituality were one and the same.
Even so, he felt a shiver of dread pass through him. Oh, not for himself. Hell, he guessed he was ready to go anytime. No, it was for all the young who hadn’t had a chance to live yet. To enjoy life. Now they never would.
"It’s a pity ... a Goddamn pity, that’s what it is," he confided to Spike in a voice beyond sad.
For a time Happy sat peacefully by Spike, giving him the belly rubs that he loved and looking out at Jericho Bay. Jesus, it was sure pretty out there, he sighed. I’ve been a lucky man to have woken up to that view almost every morning of my life. Absentmindedly he lit up his pipe, puffing away to get it going.
Then he was struck by, for him, what was an odd thought. Has my life been meaningful?
The question so startled him that he paused in mid-puff. But the answer never did come to him even though he waited awhile, so instead he turned to the dog and said, "How about another beer, boy?"
Kevin Dodge was loosing his patience. Something he didn’t have a great deal of to begin with.
"Heh!" he shouted to his wife, "Think we could do this in my lifetime?"
The boys all giggled. Dad was funny when he lost his temper. They never knew what would come out of his mouth next.
"Keep your shirt on, Kev," yelled Martha as she hurried down the dock to the Sea Bitch, "I’m coming as fast as I can." Her arms were overflowing with picnic things.
"Yeah, and my clothes are going out of style." Kevin muttered almost under his breath, which elicited yet another round of giggles from his sons. Swinging around abruptly, he bellowed, "What’s the matter with you guys? Get up there and help your mother, for Christ’s sake."
All four youngsters scrambled over the side and ran to meet their over burdened mother who was still struggling her way up the dock.
"The day’s half over now," Kevin grumbled as he gave his hand to his wife and helped her into the boat.
"Jesus, Kev, it’s only ten o’clock in the morning." Martha replied almost absentmindedly. She was so used to his bluster that his ways barely even affected her by now. Acting spontaneously, Martha reached up and grabbed herself a beard full, pulling her husband’s face down close to hers. "You are one frumpy son of a bitch, but I love you anyway," she drawled before planting a big wet one square on his mouth.
This, of course, sent the boys into another spasm of laughter as they, too, climbed on board. "All right," their father growled as he tried unsuccessfully to hide his grin, "make yourselves useful. Let’s get ready to cast off."
There was a mild flurry of activity on the compact deck of the Sea Bitch, as everyone turned their attention to the chore that had been set for them.
Martha stowed the picnic hamper and extra blankets in the wheelhouse. One set of sons cast off the stern line while the other saw to releasing the bow line. Once they were free, Kevin throttled up and the Sea Bitch slowly pulled away from her mooring, complacently chugging out into the harbor. Waves and loud ‘Good Morning’s were exchanged with everyone they met along the way out to the open water.
These are people I’ve known my entire life, thought Martha as she leaned against the wheelhouse door watching their leisurely progress through the bay. Most of them were honest, hard working folk. The sea was a harsh mistress and Martha had many friends who had lost their fisherman husbands to her over the years. Fondly, she looked over to Kevin who was carefully tracking their passage through the midmorning traffic of working boats. He’s feeling guilty, she realized with a grin. Guilty for taking a day off for pleasure. She moved closer to her husband and linked her arm through his, leaning her head onto his broad shoulder for a moment.
In the back of the boat the boys chortled and elbowed each other at this unaccustomed open display of affection between their parents. This was a real treat. It was pretty rare that their dad could take time off from fishing to spend the whole day with them. It was going to be a great day.
"I’m glad you talked me into this," Kevin said happily, giving his wife the customary pat on her behind.
They had passed the outer bouy now and Kevin opened her up, letting the Sea Bitch stretch her legs as they moved out into the open Atlantic. There was a slight chop on the water today, but nothing to worry about. Martha looked up at a deep blue sky that held not even so much as a hint of clouds. She returned her attention to the sea. Farther out there was still a touch of sea smoke left over from the early morning.
"Heh, boys," she yelled back to her sons, "know what Nana used to tell me the fog was?" She continued without waiting for a reply, "She used to say the fog was really smoke from Gluskabe’s pipe." I miss you, Nana, she said silently to herself. I’m sure looking forward to seeing you again.
With that thought in mind, Martha turned and gazed at the rapidly retreating Island as if she’d never see it again. She watched it until first it became only a mere speck on the horizon and then nothing at all.
The day was lengthening.
"Isn’t it about time for you to be hitting the road?" Sam inquired cooly.
"Hitting the road?" Per looked puzzled. "What do you mean, Samantha?"
"You know ...... getting along; going away; making tracks, leaving town. Christ, I can’t think of anything else. Have you packed for your trip yet?"
"What trip would that be?" asked Per, although he was slowly getting her drift.
"Just what the hell do you pack for an intergalactic journey anyway?" Sam was nervously pacing about the room. "I mean, do you need electrical transformers for your hairdryer or what?"
From his position by the fireplace, Per reached out for her as the next lap took her by him. Ignoring her meager protests, he pulled her down onto the big wing chair with him and wrapped his arms tenderly about her.
"I like the way you smell," he said as he burrowed his face deeply in the nape of her neck.
Automatically, without having to think about it, Sam turned her face and offered him her mouth. "Hmmm, and I like the way you taste." she grinned, licking her lips.
But the sweet moment soon passed and once again Sam’s demeanor quickly became somber. "Can all this truly be happening?" she asked in a small voice.
They sat in complete silence for a bit, both watching the crackling flames jump about in the fireplace. It was Per who broke the silence first.
"I don’t know if this will be any type of consolation, Samantha, but I can tell you something for certain. This planet only had a few more decades at the outside anyway." he said gravely.
Stunned by this small piece of news, Sam frantically twisted herself around on his lap. "What on earth .... if you’ll excuse the expression ..... are you talking about, Per?"
"Surely you’ve noticed the recently increased changes in global temperature?" he asked, "It’s very simple, really. As the temperatures continue to rise, snow and glaciers are caused to melt which in turn causes more rain and unstable weather patterns around the earth."
"Yeah, but this isn’t really a news flash, Per. Atmospheric scientists have been warning us of this for at least a decade now."
"Yes, that’s true." said Per, "However, despite all of the warnings from some of your most eminent professionals in the field, no one really ever took it all seriously. Or at least not seriously enough. Even now, the intensity and frequency of significant global changes are occurring on a daily basis. With these changes, as you well know, come floods; earthquakes; tornadoes; droughts, and severely contaminated water sources. In short, it is a climatic catastrophe."
"So you’re saying life would have changed a great deal." said Sam slowly, thinking about what he had said.
"No," replied Per firmly, "what I’m saying to you is that life would eventually have reached such a point of misery that it wouldn’t have been worth living for the few people who were left. Between both the natural and manmade disasters, humanity doesn’t stand a chance. The weather patterns are not the only changes taking place around the globe. Infectious disease patterns are also rapidly changing due to the warmer climes. These warmer patterns create a furtile breeding ground for widespread epidemic outbreaks. And Samantha, these are new types of diseases for which man has no recourse."
Per held her close to him as he talked. "With the new killer diseases and lack of food and water would come great inequity around the planet. As time went on and what few resources that remained became all important, major wars would break out on every continent."
He was quiet for a moment before finally continuing in a strained voice, "Given enough time, Samantha, human kind would have totally eradicated themselves without help from anyone else. But it would have taken you many more years of appalling hardship and horrible suffering to the global population."
"So your way is a lot quicker, more humane you might even say." Sam commented. "Sort of like a mercy killing of global proportions."
Per nodded his head in agreement. Sam stood up and taking a crumpled cigarette from her shirt pocket, lite it, tossing the match into the glowing fireplace. "Guess I’m not destined to quit smoking on my own," she said wryly, watching the smoke curl upwards to the ceiling.
Sam smoked in silence, enjoying the acid taste of it. For perhaps the very first time in fifteen years of smoking she didn’t feel guilty because she liked it.
She flicked the remains of the cigarette into the fire and then slowly turned to face Per.
"You still haven’t given me an answer. When are you leaving?"
Per stood and walked to her side where he looped his arm familiarly about her waist. The room was growing dusky with the advancing encroachment of evening.
The fire kept the room cheerful against the inky blackness that was pressing in from the outside. The warmth of it felt good. In a way, Sam thought, the fire made you feel almost safe.
When Per did speak to answer her question, she somehow was not surprised by what he said. "I will be remaining here with you, Samantha. That is a choice that I made some time ago."
Wearily, yet at the same time strangely content as well, Sam rested her head on Per’s shoulder. There was no need to say more. The two stood for a long time, arms intertwined about each other tightly, quietly enjoying the dancing of the flames. The fire caused their standing shadows to merge and be thrown far back into the depths of the darkened room as if it was made by not two but one person.
Inevitably, the flames began to grow smaller and the previous warmth from the fire began to turn noticeably cooler. Per kept his arm securely about Sam’s waist and said decidedly, "We will let the fire die out now."
Gluskabe sent Turtle to the big water. Turtle swam up to the water’s surface and started to pull the Island back into the sea. When an old woman asked him ‘Why?’, he replied sadly, "There is no longer any place to put Earth."
The ensuing silence was absolute. Where once there had been life and all the good and bad that went along with that, there was now nothing ....... only undiminished emptiness.
However slowly, over time, even the emptiness would fill in. There is little point of having a vacuum in a cosmos when it can be so beautifully saturated with stars, moons and comets. Within a short period, it will have been forgotten that the planet Earth had ever even existed. It will be as if it had never occurred.
Yet, many thousands of miles away, barreling through space at an undetermined velocity, could be found fragments of that very same planet. Bits and pieces of Earth still retaining in their fragile shapes microscopic matter of mankind’s essential building blocks. What would their final destination be? Publishers Note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.