The Veil

The Veil

- 52 min read -

Day One

It was the hardest thing Rebecca had ever done in her life, leaving the room her father was now a residence of in the Sgt. Lester Howard VA Retirement Home and in the dementia ward.

As Rebecca stepped out of the room, she leaned against the door as it closed behind her. Tears welled up in her eyes and she ruffled through her purse to find some tissue. Not finding any, she tried wiping away the tears with her fingers before noticing a box of tissues on a nurses medication cart. She plucked a few from the box and dabbed at her eyes.

She had done her best to appear strong, positive, and confident in front of her father as she told him she’d see him the next day. She promised to bring his favorite ice cream sandwich – though not entirely sure how to keep it frozen in the middle of a sweltering summer from the nearest convenience store to the farthest room from the parking lot. Honestly, she didn’t really need to bring one as he probably wouldn’t remember the request and the conversation they had.

She began the long trek down multiple hallways of veterans from various wars and multiple branches of the military: J. Williams, Navy; S. Tucker, Air Force; D. Parker, Air Force; T. Dakota, Army; M. Bittle, Air Force. Room after room. Some with a single vet, others with roommates, some with couples. But Rebecca’s mind kept going back to her father.

Once a powerful figure in her life, hoisting her on his shoulders when she was little, fixing her car as a teenager, and standing tall at the altar when she married Thomas, but now the fragile figure sitting alone and unaware in a hospital bed. It was something that no one could prepare her for experiencing. Alzheimer’s was a son-of-a-bitch taking the minds of people putting a veil between their memories and the world that was filled with a lifetime of experiences and people who loved and cared for them.

As she passed by the room of T. Perry, Army, an elderly man stood in the doorway and said, “It’s getting dark, ma’am. Mind the bushes. The Strix love the bushes,” Rebecca just nodded, not sure she heard him correctly. Perry then mumbled other words she couldn’t understand.

At the commons room, many patients gathered. Some in wheelchairs, some just standing, and others seated in the furniture strewn about. They clustered together, she noticed. But in rows, in the case of the patients in wheelchairs. And a few standing were doing so with their backs to each other. The exceptions being of one man at the exit, and one near a doorway that had a view of two halls. A man in a wheelchair rolled up to her, looked up at her and simply said, “The baby is dead, ma’am. Twern’t nuthin I could do. It’s dead.”

Rebecca headed out the door and headed down the elevator leaving the dementia ward and her father.

—-

“You’ve got to get me out of here, Becky,” her father whispered over the phone at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.

“Dad? What’s wrong?!” She bolted upright, waking her husband, Thomas, who gave her an urgent inquisitive look as he turned on a lamp.

“There’s someone wounded and they won’t help him. He just keeps moaning for help!”

“Dad! Calm down just a bit. I don’t understand. Are you okay?” She heard a beeping in the background. “What’s that beeping?”

“I called for the nurse, but no one has come. She may be dead.”

“No one is dead. Why do you need a nurse, dad?”

“They got Tucker! Those bastards got Tucker and no one will help him. MEDIC! GODDAMMIT TUCKER NEEDS A MEDIC!”

The line went dead.

“DAD!?”

“What’s going on? What was he screaming about?” Thomas asked, trying to comfort Rebecca. She just shook her head and tears started streaming down her face.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not real. It’s all in his head.” She composed herself. She looked at him, wiping the tears away. “But it’s real to him. How do you help someone when they believe something to be real that just isn’t?”

Rebecca called the nurses station on her father’s floor and waited as it rang nearly a dozen times.

“Floor six,” was the answer.

“This is Bob Steven’s daughter, Rebecca.”

“Hi Rebecca, what can I do for you?”

“Dad just called me and said some crazy things but I think he just needs some of his meds. I heard a beeping in the background from one of the machines in his room.”

The nurse paused a moment without answering.

“Hello?”

“Yes. Sorry. We had two people call in sick and it’s a little hard to respond to everyone. Plus,” she paused, “It’s a full moon and the patients get a little overzealous. I know it sounds silly, but…it always happens.”

Rebecca felt a little relief. Then, in the background, she heard someone yelling.

“HUUULLLP MEEAHHH!” a man cried out loudly in a deep voice. His voice was followed by several other screams and cries.

“Ma’am?” Rebecca asked.

“Hun, I’ve got to run. I’ll check on your dad. If anything is odd, I’ll call you back and let you know. I’m sure he’s fine.”

Rebecca started to say something but the nurse hung up and the line went dead.

“Is he okay?” Thomas asked.

“I’m going to go with the answer,” she paused, “maybe?”

Day Two

“Honey, you didn’t have to bring me this. Let me get you some money. There’s some cash in my wallet in the top drawer of the dresser over there.” Bob said to Rebecca upon her arrival on her lunch break.

“It’s no trouble, dad. And I don’t need any money.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ve got kids to feed. Take the two dollars at least.”

Rebecca went through the motions of picking up her dad’s wallet and rifling through it to take out money. There was, of course, no money in the wallet. They had been warned to not even leave any valuables out in the open as a resident, not meaning any ill will, just picked things up from time-to-time.

“So dad, about last night,” she started to say as she watched her dad dig into the ice cream.

“Yeah. That was something. Three of those bastards attacked us last night. Poor Tucker. He didn’t stand a chance. But he got us plenty of time to mount a defense,” some ice cream ran down his chin and on to his shirt. Rebecca grabbed a napkin and cleaned him up.

“Yeah, what was going on?”

“Well, apparently those strixy fuckers, pardon my French, only come once a month for three days. Just my luck you stuck me in this damn place on the first night they always show up.”

“Strixy?” she asked, taking a seat but her concern raised tremendously. She had heard of Alzheimer patients forgetting things, falling into old memories, and otherwise having the brain create false memories. She figured it best to just let it all play out.

“Yeah, the bloodsucking critters that live in the basement. It was hard to get information from some of the soldiers, but when the Strixy show up we go through the, what’s it called? Bola? Vola? Voal?, or some shit…sorry…some crap. Anyway, it’s cool ‘cause we get to all be young again and fight those crazy things.”

Rebecca was a little worried. Her dad wasn’t making sense.

“I actually took two of them out or gave them a whoopin. Sucker left some good bruises though.” he held up his arms and found them completely covered in massive bruises from just above the elbows to his hands.

“Jesus, dad! What did you do? Did someone do this to you?”

“Yeah. The Strix. I just told you.” He happily kept eating his ice cream like nothing bothered him.

“Does it hurt?”

He swallowed. “Not anymore. Not since I shifted back from the Voal. Yeah. That’s it! The Voal.”

“Maybe I need to get you into a new place after all,” she said.

Bob put down his ice cream container and began to protest, “No, no, no! It’s okay. We’ve got reinforcements now. Three new guys, plus an old nurse who is one of the guy’s wife. We came up with a good plan, plus some of the old timers gave us some advice on what’s worked in the past.”

Rebecca’s phone vibrated and she saw it was time for her to go and get back to work. She stood up, grabbed the trash, and gave her dad a hug and a kiss.

“Okay, dad. I’ve got to head back to work. I’ll swing by afterward. But I’m going to talk to the on-duty nurse about responding to your beeping from now on and see if we can watch those bruises.”

“Oh, I just unplug the machine now if it beeps too long,” he grinned. “And don’t worry, there’s a lot more of us than those Strix. They don’t want to drain us all at once. They need some of us around for next month. But don’t come too late! Sons-a-bitches will start swarming us again and I don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.” He put on his glasses, turned on the TV, and drifted away.

Rebecca headed down the hall to the nurse’s station. While waiting, she noticed a room being cleaned out. An orderly came out carrying a chair and placing it on a large cart. The nameplate on the door said, ‘S. Tucker; Air Force.’

“Excuse me, what are you working on?”

The orderly put down the chair and said, “Just cleaning up the room and getting it ready for a couple coming in. An old army guy and his wife who was a nurse back in Korea.”

“What happened to Mr. Tucker?” nodding towards the sign next to the door.

“He passed away last night, ma’am.”

—-

Rebecca arrived back at the retirement home with extreme anxiety from what she’d been mulling on since her earlier lunch visit. Her dad was really diving into some fantasy she’d never even heard traces of him imagining during her entire life. Was there something on TV? He didn’t read much. She couldn’t imagine him finding some sort of video or story on his computer. He only used it to play solitaire and check the weather. That or download viruses that she regularly had to clean off and uninstall.

Were all places like this one? Was there always a hint of some outside influence that caused paranoia and delusions?

She had looked up ‘life in retirement homes’ online that afternoon and found most people just understood you had to either wait for the same bland food at meal times, tried not to upset the nurses or be too much trouble, and avoid complaining of fear of being labeled as a ‘troublemaker.’ But veteran homes were different. These were all people who served in the military, though, like her father, it had been fifty-five years earlier. But he strongly identified with his Air Force service, regaled us with stories of his time in the Vietnam war (though he never saw combat), and would update her on all the events, friends, and differences that were happening.

Her father, being on the dementia ward, was a whole different level. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases nearly always caused a basic shift in personality. Some for the positive. Nearly always in the negative.

But all of that wasn’t what was causing her anxiety. It was all the talk of the Strix and the strange Voal. It would be odd if it was just her dad, but two other vets had mentioned them as well. And, while an elderly patient passing away wasn’t unusual, it was how it had tied into the story of the vet’s passing.

Rebecca parked her car and headed to the entrance with trepidation. She glanced up at the huge thunderheads building up and blocking the sunset. Even with the knowledge, a storm was coming, the rays of sunlight streaming past the cloud tops were glorious.

As she opened the door, she immediately heard an alarm going off.

She picked up her pace to the elevators, forgetting to sign in at the front desk, but the receptionist, Debbie, called out to her.

“Rebecca! Wait!” the young woman shouted, jumping up and grabbing some keys. “You can’t go up that way. There are a few patients blocking the doors to your dad’s ward. Here. Let me take you around to the employee elevator.”

“Is everything okay up there?” Rebecca asked as they headed to a different elevator.

“Sure, this happens every now and then. With so many in wheelchairs and being short staffed, it just takes a while to clear the entrance. But then the alarm sounds, everyone gets more agitated, and it escalates,” she explained calmly as she inserted the key that was hanging from a cord higher than most patients could reach into the elevator panel. A few seconds later and the elevator opened.

“Why are there separate elevators?”

“Oh, for moving supplies, equipment, and access to the basement and loading doc. But this doesn’t stop on your dad’s floor but does above it. We’ll have to take the stairs back down to his floor.”

“That’s not very convenient for supplies and equipment, then.”

“True. Old building. Hadn’t thought of that before.” the receptionist said without looking at Rebecca. She shifted uncomfortably as if Rebecca had just caught her in a lie.

They made it to the floor above the dementia ward and headed for the stairs back down. The alarm stopped sounding just as they opened the door and stepped into chaos.

The door opened up just off the main common room that was next to the exit. There were still several patients in wheelchairs blocking the door, but people were able to get around them and out if needed. They had turned off the alarm.

“I’m going to go see if they need help. I’ll log you into the book downstairs and see you in a bit,” Debbie said to her as she rushed off to help the nurses and orderlies.

Rebecca just watched for a moment to see if her dad was out in the mix, and once certain he wasn’t, turned to head to his room.

On the way, one man was in the middle of the hallway in a wheelchair trying to get movement by moving his sock covered feet without success. His arms seemed too weak to move the chair on his own, but he acted like he was holding something. “Do you need help going somewhere, sir?” She asked respectively.

“Back to the front, ma’am. The storm is comin’ and the Strix will overrun us if we’re not ready,” he said with a bit of fear and determination in his voice.

Rebecca just nodded sadly and headed to her dad’s room.

“Hey! Why’d you ask if you ain’t willin’ to help? They’ll get you too, ya know!” he shouted at her.

—-

Rebecca took a moment to compose herself before entering her father’s room.

‘How many of these patients had bought into the Strix story? Was it something the nurses planted in their heads. Something to unify them and keep them more focused? Or was it just mass hysteria brought on by the full moon?’

She knocked on the door.

“It’s open.”

“Have you got your pants on dad?” she jokingly asked.

“Shit. Yeah. Of course.”

She came into the room and he looked a bit surprised.

“Becca! What are you doing here,” he asked angrily.

Taken a bit aback, she replied, “I told you I was coming back up today. I even brought you a soda.”

“I told you not to come up so late. I don’t need a Gawd Damn soda. What the hell are you doing coming back up here? I’m fine. The nurses can take care of me.”

He sometimes got like this. Angry. Belligerent. She tried not to take it personally, but when it came on suddenly, it took her a while to regain her composure.

This was one of those times she wasn’t keeping it together.

“What the hell, dad?! Don’t talk to me like that!! I’m going out of my way to make sure you can feel as ‘at home’ as possible!” She immediately regretted saying ‘…going out of my way…’

“Well don’t let the door hit ya on the way out. Just get out.” She didn’t move. “GET OUT, DAMMIT! NO BODY ASKED YOU TO TAKE CARE OF ME! GO!”

“YOU DID, DAD!” She slammed the soda on his overbed table and turned and left. Luckily, the doors all had hydraulic hinges or she would have slammed it.

A nurse rounded the corner almost running into Rebecca. They both came to an abrupt halt. “OH! I’m sorry.”

“Quiet alright,” Rebecca said.

“Is everything alright? I heard shouting.”

Rebecca dabbed her eyes and nodded saying, “Yes. He’s in one of his sudden onset angry spells, so be careful going in.”

The nurse, Shayla, Rebecca remembered, put a hand on her shoulder with empathy. “Its hard when their frustration flows back on family. He’ll come back around. You can’t let that aspect of their personality overpower the memories you have of them. It’s the disease. Not the person.”

Rebecca nodded feeling more tears welling up.

“You get on back downstairs. Visiting hours are almost up. I’ll take care of your dad. He talks some good smack, but I can give as good as he gets. I think that’s why he’s flirting with me when you’re not around,” Shayla winked. Rebecca laughed and groaned.

“Oh…a step-mom younger than me. Great!” she said sarcastically and with a smile.

Shayla patted her on the shoulder, gave her a little squeeze, and said, “We’ll see you tomorrow. He’ll be fine.”

Shayla headed on down the hall and Rebecca headed to the elevator.

On the way, she noticed there was still a bit of a commotion at the doors, so she went back down the stairs. It was labeled, “For Employees Only” and was locked, but a key hung up high on a plastic elastic spring. She reached up, pulled it down, inserted the key, and was able to open the door just fine.

Still shaking the sadness and anger off from her experience with her father, replaying the angry exchange, and trying to take some solace in realizing he probably wouldn’t remember any of it the next day, Rebecca realized she had gone done several flights of stairs and gone all the way to the ground floor. She had forgotten to take the stairs up so she could take the elevator back to the lobby. She looked back up the stairwell and decided that the extra exercise probably did her good.

Rebecca opened the door and stepped into a dark corridor. She squinted her eyes as the door closed and locked behind her. She had not exited into the lobby, but apparently, it was the basement. There was a foul smell, like something had rotted.

‘Was this the morgue?’ she thought before quickly realizing they didn’t have those in retirement homes.

Lightning flashed outside from the storm and small windows near the ceiling let in light to the basement she now found herself in. Large rooms seemed to open up at both ends of the short corridor. Trying to get her bearings, she decided the elevator to go back to the lobby must be to her left.

Sure enough, as she turned to the left, she could see an ‘EXIT’ sign and the dim glow of an elevator button. She quickly hurried to the elevator and pressed the button. Lightning struck again and lit up the room. She turned around, but darkness had fallen engulfed the room so she was unable to see anything. She turned back to the doors and pressed the button again, knowing full well it never did any good.

She heard rumbling from the thunder outside as lightning flashed again. She could hear the elevator nearing her level.

That’s when she heard the voices. Whispers, really. Not in English, either. She turned around scanning the darkness. The whispers stopped. “Who’s there?” she demanded.

The elevator answered with a ‘ding’ and Rebecca quickly turned and got in, hitting the lobby button and quickly looking back into the room where the light from the elevator spilled out from. Lighting lit the room again, but this time revealing three figures standing far to the back away from the light. She nearly screamed as she looked into the gaunt faces of three gangly men standing close together, their mouths hung open with teeth bared. Two of the men started to move towards the elevator, but one man put up his arms to stop them. He spoke hushed words and they stopped.

The doors closed and the elevator began to ascend.

As soon as the elevator doors opened up to the lobby, Rebecca lunged out and rushed to the to reception desk where Debbie was packing up for the night.

“Oh, Rebecca! I didn’t know you were still…”

“Debbie! There are some strange men in the basement.” Rebecca shouted, reaching the edge of the receptionist desk, and trying to catch her breath.

“What? Wait. What were you doing in the basement?”

“What?” Rebecca asked confusedly “Did you hear me? There were three men and two were about to attack me. They were just standing in the dark. The lights were out downstairs. There’s an awful smell too.”

Debbie picked up a phone but stared quizzically at Rebecca.

Rebecca let out a sigh, “I accidentally took the stairs down and missed the lobby.” Debbie nodded in satisfaction but still concerned.

“Joe. Debbie,” she spoke into the phone. “Yeah. The boys got back into the basement. Sounds like they may have even crapped up the place. … Yeah …. Yeah. Nearly scared Mr. Steven’s daughter to death. … Yeah. … She accidentally went to the basement via the stairs because of the door blockade.” Rebecca listened and slowly started to calm down. Debbie hung up the phone and turned to her, placing a hand on hers.

“So sorry, Rebecca, you probably saw Mr. Fitzgerald and his two tag-alongs, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Gattner. They’re kinda in bad shape. Cancer has eaten away parts of Mr. Fitzgerald’s face, Mr. Jones has become very emaciated due to treatment he’s going through, and Mr. Gattner has lost all his hair and avoids the sun at all costs, so he’s white as a ghost. It’s no wonder they rattled you. It would have me too if I didn’t know them.”

“Why are they down there? And, I think they were speaking a different language.”

“They’ve gotten ahold of the keys to the stairs sometimes. Sometimes, when its super noisy with the alarms, Mr Fitzgerald seems to come to a little clarity and can work his way out of the security. Still can’t get out of the building, but….” Debbie looked at Rebecca and grabbed her hands again, “Oh sweetie! You’re shaking like a leaf.” She came around the counter and wrapped her arms around her. “Let me take you on out to your car.”

The two walked through the doors and saw the storm was really powering up. They could smell the rain coming. Rebecca regained her composure.

“Good grief! It’s about to pour. I can make it to the car. You go ahead and get back in. I appreciate the help and explanation.” Rebecca said.

“Not a problem. The dementia these people go through can be a bit upsetting. You’ve seen your own father’s progression, but stepping into the middle or late stages of other people can be really unnerving. Their mannerisms and actions can seem bizarre if you haven’t been around them for years….and even then…” Debbie smiled weakly.

The wind picked up and lighting struck nearby with thunder following immediately behind. Rebecca and Debbie both flinched.

“Get back inside. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Be safe!” Debbie said and ran back inside.

Rebecca made it to the car, started the engine and started to leave. She slowed for a moment to look up to her father’s room. The sky was black only occasionally lit by the storm. The light from her father’s room, and all the others, allowed her to see in. She looked up sadly, and then noticed a figure in her dad’s room that stood in front of the window. ‘Is that dad?’ she thought. He seemed too tall.

The rain started falling in large loud drops and soon it was torrential. She looked back up, and noticed all the blinds had closed.

She shook her head, slowly pulled out of the parking deck, and drove home in the pouring rain.

Day Three

‘I have NO idea how he’s going to be today, but at least there were no midnight calls,’ Rebecca thought to herself as she went up the elevator.

The thunderstorms from the night before had knocked out power to several parts of her home town. Their own power had been out for several hours. It didn’t seem like they had experienced any issues at the Veteran’s Home, according to the front desk when she signed in.

Being a Saturday, Rebecca decided to come up a little early. She had brought her dad a soda, some fried SPAM, and a new shirt she had found on sale. Historically, he’d either complain about it all or be extremely happy. She just never knew which would happen.

She said hello to several people, waved at the nurses at their station, and stopped a moment as she saw another person’s room being cleaned out. Shaw was their name. She also noticed a room that used to be empty now had a new person. She didn’t take time to read the name, though.

Rebecca paused at the door to brace herself. She knocked on the door, cracked it open, and said as always, “You got your pants on dad?”

There was no answer. ‘Maybe in the bathroom or in the cafeteria,’ she thought. Though he preferred food be brought to him. She went on into the room, “Dad?” she said.

She entered into the main part of the room to see her dad still sleeping laying on his side and facing away from her. Very odd for 10:00am on a Saturday, but not completely unheard of. He had gotten on some new medication that made him drowsy. She walked up and gently grabbed his shoulder, remembering to avoid the bruised area from the day before. “Dad?” She whispered.

Bob slowly rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes trying to focus. They were bloodshot and he had a bandage on his forehead where blood was seeping through, but dried.

“Dad! Are you okay? Did you fall?”

Bob smiled. “Hey Becky,” he said quietly. “Yeah. But I’m okay. Just tired. It was a busy night. We really put up a fight against the Strix. Only lost Shaw.” Bob’s eyes drifted off in a memory, “Shaw…man…that guy…” Bob’s eyes opened a bit wider with alertness, “What time is it!?” He asked as he started to sit up.

“Easy dad. It’s early still. 10:00am. I brought some fried SPAM and a new shirt for you.”

He relaxed a bit laying back down, but then sat back up, “SPAM you say? I can smell it! Oh! And you got me a Dr. Pepper. Thanks so much, sweetie.”

Rebecca, still concerned about the latest injury, calmly unwrapped the SPAM and handed it to her dad. “How’s Thomas and the latest on his car restoration?” he asked.

She was taken aback. Her dad hardly remembered Thomas’ name in months, let alone make any comment about Thomas’ restoration of an old ‘65 Ford Mustang. In fact, he’d never commented on it at all even though she’d shared the story a few times.

“Um, pretty good, actually. He said to say ‘hi.’ He’s only got to replace the door panels, and then start the engine rebuild and it should be ready to drive.”

“Hey, that’s something else. I remember when those came out. Kinda wanted one. Your mother wouldn’t have anything to do with the notion though.” He laughed. “Sure do miss her,” he said solemnly but with affection.

It had been even more months since he remembered her mom wasn’t with them anymore. He often would ask for her, or worse, think she was her mom.

“Well, let’s try on the new shirt. I might be seeing your mom sooner than later and I need to look good! Maybe you can give me a shave and a trim while you’re here?”

“Of course I can dad. And don’t talk like that about seeing mom.”

He stopped for a moment and grabbed Rebecca’s hands and looked at her with clarity and awareness, “It’s okay, sweetie. You’ve done good. I know I’ve been a son-of-a-bitch sometimes, and I can’t help it. And I was mad when you brought me here, though I knew I needed to be here. But, the past two days… while scary at first… have made me feel more alive than I have in years.” He smiled and lifted her hands up and kissed them affectionately.

The rest of the visit went remarkably well. She spent a good couple of hours soaking in the clarity her dad was experiencing knowing full well, it may be gone at any moment.

He joked around with the male and female nurses that came in during their rounds. “Can you put some Bud Light in the next fluid bag, Stan?” He asked.

“You know I don’t mess with that piss water, Bob. But I’ve got some Crown Royal I can dump in there.” He said winking at Rebecca.

“Hey, that’s my favorite. Put some of that shit in there, but not too late! I gotta be on my toes for tonight’s skirmish.”

Rebecca winced. The clarity was ending.

“Well, dad, I gotta go run some errands, but I’ll stop back in tonight…Not too late, of course!” She added quickly so he wouldn’t warn her against coming.

“Okay, sweetie. That would be good. I’m getting kinda tired again and could use a nap. Gonna be a busy night! Need all my energy. We’re going to run those sons-a-bitches out of here for good this time. We’ve got a rock solid plan.” He smiled. “Can you fix my sheets before you go? My feet are stickin’ out.”

“Of course dad.”

——-

Rebecca was late. She almost wasn’t sure she should drop by. She was afraid her dad may flip out and really wanted to remember the morning. It was completely refreshing from the past few weeks and months.

But, she needed to check on him. Thomas had said he probably wouldn’t notice if she didn’t drop back by. He was probably right.

But she’d know.

She entered the passcode for the doors, since they were locked after hours, and headed into the lobby to sign in. As usually, no one was at the desk after hours, but she signed in anyway.

When she reached the elevators, she discovered they were off, or just not working. She wondered if that was normal. Luckily, she knew how to get up to her dads floor after the blockade issue the day before. And as she went around to the employee elevator, she discovered it was working fine.

She stepped into the elevator and pressed the floor above her dads. As the doors closed, the lights flickered and a loud deep vibration reverberated around her. It faded as the lights came back on and the elevator started moving. But it wasn’t the smooth sounding elevator she had ridden in before. It was loud and shaky. As she neared her father’s floor, she thought she could hear pops, and bangs, and then shouting. A loud explosive sound caused the elevator to shake and the lights to flicker again. “What the hell?” Rebecca thought grabbing a hand rail.

The doors opened to the floor above her dads and she rushed down the stairs. The sounds of pops and bangs sounded more like gunfire, shrapnel hitting walls, and the shouting more like screaming now.

Rebecca grabbed the door handle in a panic and swung it open to see patients and nurses running up and down the halls. They were ducking behind furniture and, amazingly, running and diving at their ages without slowing down. She could hear the gunfire, explosions, and feel hot waves across her, but couldn’t see them.

She stepped into the hall to begin the mad dash to her dad’s room, but as she stepped across the threshold, the world shifted around her, and she no longer found herself in a hospital, but falling into dirt, rocks, shrubs, and crumbling, shell shot buildings. Suddenly, explosions lit up the woods and buildings around her. It was dark, but the sky was clear save for smoke from the explosions and burning buildings.

Gunfire erupted and pieces of the wall above her were pelted with bullets sending bits of cement and brick raining down on her.

Her mind spun. Was she in the “Voal” her dad had talked about? Was this real? “Dad.” She murmured to herself. How in the world would she find him. And, if this was real, were the Strix?

Another explosion went off a bit too close and she decided to run in the direction she normally would when visiting her dad. She got up, but stayed low. As she rushed forward, she saw soldiers in army, navy, air force, and marine attire firing weapons and hurling grenades. As she ran down what she thought was the hallway she always went down, something tackled her sending her and it tumbling. She twisted around to try to get up on her hands and knees, but someone punched her hard on the side knocking the wind out of her and flipping her onto her back. She felt someone climb onto her and restrain her hands and body. She opened her eyes to a nightmare.

Above her was one of the men she had seen in the basement in the shadows. But this was no man. His eyes were sunken, nose was missing, and a gaunt face that was part of a head that seemed unnaturally elongated. But not only that, he had pointed ears and a mouth full of sharp razor-like teeth that dripped with blood and saliva.

Rebecca screamed as the bald headed Strix opened its mouth wide to feast on her.

Out of nowhere, the butt of a rifle slammed against the Strix’ head causing it to tumble off of Rebecca. The soldier fired multiple times into the creature which then fled into the distance. The young soldier turned to her, looked shaken, but stuck out his hand to help her up. She looked at the man who was both familiar but couldn’t be who he looked like. She looked up past his out stretched hand at his Air Force uniform and saw the name “STEVENS” embroidered on his chest.

“Dad?”

“Sweetie, I told you not to come this late, but I’m glad I got here when I did. Let’s get you someplace safe,” he extended his hand out further with urgency.

“Dad? How can…”

The shriek of a Strix was near. Her dad whipped his head around and seemed to see something. He turned quickly back and this time grabbed her loose hand. “Come on, Becky. Move your ass!” She grabbed hold of his hand, jumped up and they both began to run.

“This way, Stevens!” a soldier shouted motioning them to a small building. His name was Parker.

Rebecca had completely lost her bearings and though she’d lost her mind as well as she ran with a younger version of her father she’d never met.

They rounded some rubble and into the half demolished building. Her father pulled her against a wall and had them quickly sit down on the ground. He scrambled on his belly to poke his head out of the doorway, pulled up his rifle to look through the scope to the surrounding landscape.

He backed up to her still staying low. “I think we’re okay Becky. For now. But if it’s anything like the last couple of nights, they’ll be back in 10-15 minutes. But, just gotta get to Parker and Bittle and collect some goodies that will get rid of these Strixie bastards for good.

“DAD! WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON? AM I DEAD?”

Her father looked at her with eyes she hadn’t seen in years. He put a hand on her shoulder like he used to when she ran into challenges in her youth and various times in her life giving her strength and courage.

“You ain’t dead, Becky. But you don’t seem to be affected like me and the others in the VA.”

“How is this possible?”

“I don’t know kiddo, but it’s a second chance for me and the others in here. I’m not sure how they do it, but I’ve watched enough scifi and horror movies with your mother to think that these Strix… actually, I think they’re Stragoi. Energy vampires from the old world of Europe. Maybe… Romania? Seems like I remember dumb stories while in my Vietnam tour, or maybe some books or movies. But I think they LIKE us to relive this part of our lives. It’s when most of us felt most alive. I know I do at the moment.” He heard noises from outside and turned away to keep an eye out.

Rebecca was still reeling. This was all impossible. But it was what was happening right in front of her. And her dad was now the opposite of a weakened old man who had trouble walking, thinking, or remembering what should have been the most memorable of pieces of his life. Like her.

“Dad.” She whispered.

He didn’t look at her, but kept on alert, ‘Yeah, sweetie?’

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m not going anywhere, hun. I’ll keep you safe here.”

“No. Dad. I’m not ready…” she whispered in a trembling voice. “I’m not ready for you to go.”

Private Bob Stevens turned and looked into his daughter’s eyes now welling up with tears. This wasn’t about the Battle in the Voal. This was about his battle with Alzheimer’s that was leading him to a place where he would forget everything and everyone including those closest to him. And his only daughter would have to face an angry old man who once loved her more than anything and would no longer recognize her.

Private Bob Stevens had not been a father while he was a young man in the Air Force. But Bob Stevens was. He put down his rifle, took off his helmet, took his daughter into his arms, and held on tight. Rebecca broke down into body wrenching sobs and tears, clawing at her father to get closer. He was the strong man she remembered growing up, though much younger. All the feelings she had came gushing out as she gasped for air in between sobs. “It’s not fair. First mom. Now you. I’m not ready to be alone. I’m not ready for you to go. Please don’t go.”

“I know, sweetie. I know.” He rocked her back and forth ignoring the shrieks, screams, and gunfire going on around them nearby. “I’m not ready to go either. But… being trapped in my mind is awful, sweetie. At this moment, I can remember everything from the past year and even this morning.” He looked down at her. “And you know I haven’t been able to remember even yesterday in a long time.”

Rebecca pulled away a little and looked up at her father.

“This… Voal… these Stragoi, I don’t know what they want, but I’m grateful I’ve gotten to be with you and remember. They lifted the fog I’ve been in for years.”

Rebecca hugged her father tight again and nodded.

“It’s gonna be alright. Maybe not right away, but eventually. Heck… how many kids get to play army with a younger version of their dad?” He laughed.

So did Rebecca.

He kissed her forehead.

Parker and Bittle burst in through the doors and dove for cover. Rebecca and her dad hopped up, her dad grabbing his gun and putting on his helmet.

“You boys ready?” her dad said.

“Hell yeah, Stevens.” Bittle shouted with a sly look.

“I got all the supplies. You sure you remember what to do?” Parker asked.

“That a joke, Parker?” her dad said.

They all laughed like people do when they’ve been under stress and need to let out the anxiety.

Parker and Bittle dumped a bunch of materials onto the floor and went back to keep watch.

Her dad started sorting through things while Parker and Bittle fired occasionally into the darkness.

“What are you doing, dad?”

“You don’t think ALL the stories I told you were made up did you? Whether these Strix did it on purpose or not, they gave me back my memories.” He smiled at her, “ALL my memories.” He turned back to his supplies and set to work.

That’s when it hit her. Her dad had been an explosives expert in the Air Force. He was making explosives from materials around the hospital. Somehow, they weren’t changed in the Voal. Fear swept across her.

“Dad. Things that happen in the Voal are real, though. What if other patients or nurses get hurt?”

“I don’t think the nurses actually come through the Voal. Just the vets. I think they know it happens, but I’ve never seen them. FIVE MINUTES, BOYS!”

“Still the same plan? Lead them down to the cafeteria?” Parker asked.

“Yes sir!”

“You think it will really take them out for good?” Bittle quizzed.

“Only way to find out.”

“Dad… what are you planning? Leading them somewhere to do what?” Rebecca asked.

Her dad looked up at her with a determination she hadn’t seen in years. “Going to blow these strix out of the building and into a million pieces,” he said as he held up a makeshift bomb and grinned.

“WHAT?!”

“There are three, really, though we’ve heard there are sometimes more. Parker, Bittle, and I are going to go hand-to-hand and lead them to the cafeteria, though it looks like an open area with a tent next to it at the moment. The Cafeteria is along the outside wall above the parking deck. So we’ll get them along the wall and at the right moment, I’ll trip the ignition on the bomb and toss it at them. It should blow the real cafeteria wall out and the Strix with it. They’ll be some clean up and I may get kicked out of here, but if we can end these Strix for good… well… that’s a mission worthy of all missions in my book. Right boys?”

“Hell, yeah!” “Bet your ass.”

“That’s crazy, dad! You could get killed. All of you could.”

Bob carefully set the explosive down, grabbed Rebecca, and simply said, “I’m going to go soon anyway, Becky. This will give me a reason and a helluva story… a story that you’ll never be able to tell anyone… or they may lock you up.”

Whether it was the craziness of the situation, the shifted reality, the adrenaline, or the fact that seeing her dad so vibrant and young, Rebecca grabbed her dad’s arms, smiled, and said, “Let’s go kick some Strixi ass!”

The boys yelled in approval and Private Bob Stevens and his daughter stood up to join the boys at the doorway.

“Question, and I’m no military expert, but… who the hell is shooting at you if the Strix are physically attacking you?”

The guys all looked at each other as if it had never occurred to them.

“She’s definitely your daughter, Stevens. Always bringing up stuff that has to make sense.” Bittle said.

“Maybe it’s friendly fire, but they want us to believe it’s them firing,” Bob said.

“Keeping your energy high. Dad, you slept all day today. Maybe they are keeping everything ramped up to feed off of all of you.”

“Okay boys, watch for friendly fire then. Only fire at the Strix.”

The three men fanned out and, although seemed to be moving through a wooded trail, believed it was a hallway heading towards the cafeteria. Bullets ripped into bark and whizzed past their heads.

“Soldiers! Cease Fire!” Parker shouted, “Call out! We believe we’re firing on each other. Parker, Air Force!”

“Bittle, Air Force!”

“Stevens, Air Force!”

“Williams, Navy!” a voice said close to them.

“Dakota, Army!”

“Perry, Army!”

This continued for a few minutes at varying distances. Then she heard, “Jones… Marines!” Something struck her odd. Then another.

“Fitzgerald, Army!”

“DAD!” Rebecca said quietly. “Fitzgerald and Jones were in the basement the other night. There was a third too… Ratner?”

“Gattner, Air Force!”

“Gattner! That’s the third. THEY’re THE STRIX!” she said.

Her father, Parker, and Bittle pointed silently getting directions on the three.

Parker questioned, “You sure? I play checkers with Jones. Seems okay. I little off. Now that you mention it…stays in his room all the time until dinner, when it’s dark.”

“Fitzgerald is a definite now that you mention it. That cancer story about his nose seemed off. He always had that ski cap on too… even when it’s hot,” Bittle added.

“Okay boys. Got your targets?” Parker and Bittle nodded. “On three… one…two…three!”

The three men opened fire at the targets Rebecca identified. Shrieks filled the air and the Voal shifted slightly as if all of reality suddenly became transparent and the Veterans home shimmered through.

“Push ‘em back, boys!” They continued firing and saw the three Strigoi run the opposite direction towards the cafeteria. Bittle saw them and broke into a sprint behind them.

“NO! Bittle! WAIT!”

Parker started after him. “Dumbass.”

“Dammit, they’re going to screw this up.” Bob looked down at his bomb and fiddled with something on it.

“What are you doing?”

“Making it so I can lob this fuc… sorry… lob this thing into the room. Gonna probably have to pull the guys out and hope we aren’t followed out. Plan won’t work if they get out of the cafeteria.” Rebecca watched what her father was doing.

“How do you set it and how long after you do?”

“Just pull here and you’ve got about to the count of three.”

She looked at him and nodded.

“You can stay here. I’ll be back after you hear the boom.” He smiled.

“Not a chance, dad. I’ve got your back.”

“Like you have the past two years.” He patted her face lovingly and then motioned to get moving.

Just as they started moving, he heard Bittle scream. It was like Tucker two nights before. They were tearing him to pieces in the Voal. In the real world it would look different.

“BITTLE!” He shouted breaking out into a sprint.

Gunfire erupted. Had to be Parker firing.

As they approached the field/cafeteria, it was mass pandemonium. It wasn’t just Parker and Bittle, but the three Strix as well as Dakota, Williams, and Perry. Everyone was in hand-to-hand combat with Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner. Though they looked much more terrifying, larger, and stronger than the men swarming them.

“Stay back, Becky!” her dad shouted and he tried to squeeze off a few shots before finally rushing in to fight as well.

Long taloned hands slashed at the young transformed soldiers. Rebecca watched in horror as she saw Gattner grab Dakota up by the throat off his feet and into the air. Two men tried to help, but their blows had no effect. She watched as Gattner took his free taloned hand and eviscerated the dangling man and listened to his screams. She covered her ears, but couldn’t look away this close to danger.

It was then that Bittle became the next to fall at the hands of Fitzgerald.

“NO!” Parker screamed.

“Push them back, men!” Her father cried as he swung his rifle butt and connected with Jones’ head. It was Jones, she knew now, who had pinned her to the ground and almost tore her apart as well.

“That’s it! A few more feet.” He shouted. The military men, though being beaten to death, had the Strix circled and their backs against the cafeteria wall, though to them it looked like dense trees.

Bob pulled the bomb out, “Ready to SCATTER, BOYS! IN Five…” her dad began the countdown and prepared to pull the ignition trigger. “FOUR!”

At that moment, Fitzgerald pivoted away from two men who had him pinned and right into the path of her father. With unimaginable strength, the Strix leader swung his arm and backhanded her father off his feet and flying across the room/field.

The bomb went flying and landed without incident sliding across the floor and stopping at Rebecca’s feet. She looked down for a moment, and then up at her father who was struggling to get to his feet.

Fitzgerald looked from her father to her and to the bomb. He turned and started towards her. But her father in his spry peak of youth, leapt onto the Stix’ back and yanked him backwards into the fray and towards the wall.

“BECKY! PULL IT AND THROW!” The Strix shrugged him off by flipping him forward over his head and onto the ground. Fitzgerald began pummeling her dad with his taloned hands. She watched as she heard clothing, skin, and bone breaking.

“NO! DAD!”

“DO IT, BECKY!” He screamed.

Rebecca grabbed the bomb, pulled the ignition switch and yelled, “THREE!” and hurled the bomb towards the Strix now gathered back together thanks to her dad.

The soldiers scattered and Rebecca ducked back. Her last glimpse of her dad was him rolling onto his stomach and covering his head.

The explosion shook the whole area. Debris and dust completely blocked her vision from seeing anything and her eardrums were ringing and she could not hear anything.

After a few moments, she thought she could see lights flashing and suddenly water started streaming down on her from above. She blinked and saw that the Voal was gone and only the hospital remained.

Nurses and security were running around trying to help evacuate the floor.

Fresh air hit her face and when she stood, she could see that the entire wall of the cafeteria was gone. Laying on the floor next to the opening, was her father.

“Dad,” she meekly muttered. She rushed to his side.

He lay face down in his t-shirt and sweatpants. She slowly turned him over to see no indication of being shredded by a taloned Strix, but he was definitely bruised and dazed.

“Dad!” she cradled his frail figure onto her lap and tears started streaming down her face. She wasn’t sure from relief, fear, sadness, hope, or all of the above.

His eyes fluttered. Still with some of the brightness from earlier, but definitely dazed. “Did we get them? Are they gone?”

Rebecca hadn’t even stopped to take stock. She looked around and saw many of the men who had just been fighting, though much older, weaker and frail. Parker was standing close to the hole in the wall with a hand resting for support as he looked down to the parking deck below. A few others were being escorted out of the building. Two men were laying on the floor like her dad. Maybe Bittle and Dakota. Neither eviscerated as in the Voal, but not moving. Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner were no place to be seen. “I… I don’t see them, dad. Maybe.”

“Damn.”

“No,” Parker said, slowly turning from the hole in the cafeteria wall. “We got them, Bob. We GOT them, goddammit.” Parker smiled as he moved close. “Well done, soldier. Solid plan.” Her dad smiled at him and the clasped hands for a moment.

A nurse came by, “Oh my god! Shayla! Mr. Stevens is on the ground. Get a gurney! Mr. Parker, are you all right? Let’s get you out of here. We’ll be back for you and your dad in a minute, Rebecca.” She grabbed Parker by the elbow and back and began guiding him away to, what she thought, was safety.

“Becky,” her dad said.

“Yeah dad?”

“You did good, kid. Nice throw.” Tears welled up again. Her dad coughed slightly and winced in obvious pain. “Becky… I gotta go now. I’m sorry.”

“Dad. No. We’ll get you taken care of.”

“Becky… you know I’ll be ‘gone’ in a little while. The Voal is gone. The Strix are gone. My mind will be gone soon too.”

She knew he was right. She wasn’t ready. But she was more ready after tonight. She had her dad back, if only for a while.

She smiled at him with tears in her eyes. “Okay, dad. Okay. I’ll be okay. It will be okay. I’ll just stay here with you.”

“You were the best thing I ever did, kid. You be good, okay? You be good. Be happy. Do something for yourself from time to time. Don’t put off anything. Okay?”

“Okay dad. I love you. I’m glad I got to see you in action. Even if no one believes me and wants to lock me up.”

Her dad chuckled. He closed his eyes and seemed to relax.

“Becky?” He said.

“Right here, dad.”

“Love you, kid. You did good.”

“Tell mom I said ‘hi’ and I love and miss her.”

“I will.”

He took a few more breaths. Then he smiled and quietly said, “I’m coming home.”

After

A year after Rebecca’s dad passed away that crazy night, the Veteran’s home was reopening the Alzheimer’s wing. There had been no evidence of foul play and the news reports said it had been a gas leak from the kitchen. Six men had died that night, three that had borne the brunt of the explosion out of the building, and three inside – including her father.

Since that night, Rebecca had poured a ton of money and time into helping raise money for a new Alzheimer’s ward at the VA. Because of this, they had decided to dedicate and name the new wing after her father: The Bob R. Stevens Alzheimer Veterans Ward.

She and Thomas were there for the ribbon cutting. On the entrance was a bronze image of her father’s face on a plaque with his name, the branch of service, and a short bio. The grand opening was bittersweet as she knew full well that others would have much harder struggles that she and her father had, but the new facility was filled with caring people and excellent professionals.

As the festivities came to a close and night began to set in, Rebecca said goodbye to everyone and thanked them all. She and Thomas headed down the elevator to head home. As they headed out, they stopped by the main desk to sign themselves out, even though she hadn’t been visiting anyone. She was tired but happy as she watched people still filtering in and out.

“Did you have a good time, Rebecca?”

“I did,” she smiled. “Thank you for asking.”

“Have a good night, now,” Debbie said smiling.

She turned and looked back for a moment remembering her very first visit. As Thomas held the door for her, she smiled and glanced back towards the elevators.

She paused for a moment and was sure that it was just a play on her eyes after a long day and memories of the past, but as the door closed, she could swear that an elderly man in the back looked just like the deceased Mr. Fitzgerald.

“Everything okay?” Thomas asked.

She stood there for a moment, turned to her husband, and finally joined him saying, “Of course. I’m sure it’s all okay.”

The Veil

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more
Doorknobs

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more
Fifty-Three

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Doorknobs

Doorknobs

- 8 min read -

In the small town of Pettigrew, Arkansas, in a clump of trees on the land of Bob Pendergass, several thousand doorknobs lay strewn about. They ranged in age from a hundred years old or more, to some made of materials I’d never seen. From decorative to plain, they formed an arc on the ground over 50 yards long and 20 feet wide.

“This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” I told my girlfriend, Katy Pendergass. We had come to her folks house, taking a break from the college scene.

“It’s funny, most people don’t think anything about it, and I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except for your comment about our mishmash of doorknobs on my folk’s house. Now you know where they came from,” she took my hand and leaned in against me for a little extra warmth.

I looked down at her, incredulously, “No I don’t! What the heck? Where did these all come from? This is utterly bizarre.”

“That’s not all,” she pulled out her cell phone to check the time.

“What do you mean?” I looked down at her.

She nodded towards the newest doorknobs and said, “Watch. It’s almost time.”

I whipped my head around to see what she was talking about, scanning the horizon for whatever I was supposed to be seeing. I heard a crackling of electricity first and the hair on my arms and neck started to stand on end. Something flashed and I saw sparks appear in mid air a few feet above the newest doorknobs. The air shimmered and I could feel the low rhythmic thumping in my bones start to grow. The flashing and sound grew faster and stronger. Then everything was back to normal with a sucking whoosh, except a single doorknob which dropped to the ground and bounced away to join all it’s brothers and sisters in the field.

I stood there, transfixed. Thoughts poured through my mind from being ‘pranked’ to interdimensional aliens. But this was real.

I dropped Katy’s hand and went running towards the doorknob that had just fallen from nowhere. I was just entering the field of knobs when I realized Katy was screaming for me to stop. As I took my next step towards the center of where the flashing lights had been, everything went black and I could feel myself falling. 

I woke to sharp pains all over my body; arms, chest, knee, hip and side of my head. Something wet and warm was dripping over my face. I could feel Katy kneeling next to me. My eyes had a hard time seeing through the dark hazy tunnel-vision, but I could see enough to know that the jacket she had pressed against the pain on the side of my head was covered in blood.

I tried to sit up, but gravity was against me.

“Whoa there. Easy. Let me get the bleeding to stop,” she pressed the jacket harder against my head and tried to get me into a sitting position.

I was, no longer, in the doorknob debris field for some reason. “What happened? Did you drag me over here?” Waves of nausea washed over me

“Why didn’t you listen to me? Do you have any idea what might have happened? You’re just lucky the lights had just finished,” She just shook her head.

I pulled away, a little miffed, “How in the WORLD would I know a doorknob field would make me black out? No, wait! How would I know WHY a doorknob field would even exist?Hey, no…how about…How would I know a weird light show that deposits doorknobs in my girlfriend’s family field would make me pass out?!” I tried to stand up, but I hurt all over. I must have really wiped out on all the doorknobs. I was lucky none of them were too sharp.

Katy sat back on her on her feet and looked at me sadly. “Look, we just don’t talk about it. It’s weird, okay?”

“What do you know?” I pressed Katy’s jacket against my tender noggin. The blood was flowing a little slower.

She stared at me for a few seconds and gave a little shrug, “The doorknobs have been coming for at least 85 years, but maybe even longer. The older ones are more like doorhandles. Since most of the them are metal, they tend to rust and break down after several years. Not to mention the elements, grass and birds.”

“Birds?”

“Yeah. Birds. They like shiny things for their nests. Some birds, anyway.

Anyway, my great uncle studied the field for a long time and did some digging. He also was the first one to realize that the lights keep slowly moving south east. He thought maybe it’s just because the land is moving. Unfortunately, he never focused on timing when the lights, which seemed random, but arent. We’re guessing he either got caught in the lights while digging, or intentionally went into the lights, while he was here by himself. We never saw him again. Just found notes.

“I’m sorry,” I reached over and took her hand. She smiled.

“I didn’t know him. It was way way before my time. The late 40s, I think. But shortly after that people started testing the field. Even some military came out for a bit, but they up and left suddenly after a couple of years. We discovered anyone going into the lights never came back. And if you went around the effect right before or right after, you black out…as you’ve discovered.” I rolled my eyes, tried to laugh, but grimaced with the sharp pains in my ribs.

“Come on,” Katy said, helping me to my feet, “let’s get back to the house, clean you up, and get you some asprin. You’re gonna to need a lot of it.”

To be continued….

©2011-2019 Eric A HuberDoorknobs is a work of fiction. Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Spiderstock with photo editing by Eric Huber All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The Veil

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more
Doorknobs

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more
Fifty-Three

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Heading Back to Elementary School

Heading Back to Elementary School

Sometime between sixth grade elementary and seventh grade junior high, my father brought home a tape recorder that was designed for hearing or vision impaired students. It was bright orange and all the buttons were colored and had braille on them. But besides being such a vibrant styled tape recorder, it had two other unique functions: variable speed and play-in-reverse.

It was AMAZING! I could slow recordings down, speed them up, play them in reverse (slow or fast). But, being a fan of radio plays, record albums with stories, and most of all, the Orson Wells version of War of the Worlds radio broadcast, I was able to reproduce many of the cool effects I heard in audio recordings.

In sixth grade, having been recently exposed to Star Wars (which was life changing for me) and being a fan of Cracked and Mad magazines, I had started writing stories that were parodies of my favorite shows and movies. Specifically, a series of stories titled “Star Crack” about a goofball captain named Captain Joke and his trusty science officer Mr. Pimple. They were, of course, amalgams of myself,  my best friend at the time, and a couple of TV characters you may be able to guess. He, the funny class clown, and more popular was Captain Joke, and with my newly sprouting acne issues, and more academic mindset (not to mention my ‘by the rules’ activity that landed me as a Safety Patrol officer), I was Mr. Pimple.

I won’t bore you with the adventures of the USS Refuse (the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy) or their first trip to the planets Caramel, Chocolate and Nougat foiling the nefarious Klingtoes evil plot by creating “Milky Way” candy bars to make them all fat. NO! I won’t bore you with that or their other adventures, but I will tell you what happened as we entered seventh grade.

No, not the awkward teenage issues (there were many) or bullies (there were some…that all seemed to have the name Tony for some reason) OR the Friday night skating rink adventures. NO dear reader, I will tell you of the librarian who asked if my friend and I would be interested in recording our stories, creating art, and making slideshows to set up in the library in a listening pod.

I was SO excited and, of course, fearful of being judged. Honestly, and more precisely, I was fearful that my crush – who shall remain nameless – wouldn’t think I was ‘cool.’ Not that she ever did. But other people liked them. So I did a few more and kept writing odd stories ever since. But those audio programs were just plain fun.

Some 40 years later, I remember recording various sound effects with some electronics kit I had, a trip into a black hole that slowed time (and lowered voices), as well as creating echoing voices in the empty underbelly of the USS Refuse’s empty bowels (ewwwww).

All this reminiscing got me thinking about all the tools, software and experience in production I have. So, dear readers, I decided to transform one of my recent short stories into an audio program. Not quite an audio drama, but more than a simple reading.

Below is a culmination of about 8-10 hours of production (and a few more hours of brainstorming and researching). Of course, I’ll get faster as I learn. Already I’ve found some great podcasts, gotten some good information on equipment, and otherwise stupendous feedback on how to make each one better. I won’t lie. I’m not going to pull a George Lucas and keep rerecording stories, but I’ll try to learn as I go along.

I’ve been trying to write and post a new short story every month and am currently at tad behind due to, well, you all know… life.

I hope you all enjoy this audio version of Palengenesis. You can visit the link if you prefer to read. I’ve added the audio version on that page as well.

Palengenesis

by Eric Huber | Stories from the Edge

Notes: I found a photo and video showcasing what is referred as a book player from the Telex corporation circa 1975-76


© 20016 Eric Huber. Palingenesis is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Artwork by Eric Huber

©2017 Audio recording by Eric Huber. Music from FreeMusicArchive.org | Kwartet Japonski I by Maciej Żołnowski | The Warbird EP by Tri-Tachyon | Additional audio from NASA

The Veil

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more
Doorknobs

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more
Fifty-Three

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

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The Piano

The Piano

- 31 min read -

The Path

The feeling of the brisk air on his face, the sound of the wind shaking leaves from the trees, and the smell of pine in the woods on a beautiful sunny fall day all combined together did absolutely nothing to offset the feeling of utter loss Joe had experienced just a few short weeks ago.

As a man, Joe was taught that you were supposed to be the strong one. The one everyone leans on. He was not expected to feel loss, pain, or even suffer like his wife when a miscarriage occurred. And while it’s true that the experience is not the same, it doesn’t mean that a man, like Joe, could simply move on or ‘get over it.’

And when he found out that it was much, much worse than a miscarriage, that it was a trauma of such magnitude that children were not even a possibility anymore, Joe’s world fell apart.

He fell to his knees.

He actually broke.

But we all heal.

Scars cover the wounds.

And after time passes a man, such as Joe, begins to feel something besides pain and sorrow again. Every now and then he laughed. But immediately he felt guilty as he realized the enormity of what was lost.

It’s not just the loss of a child, but the loss of the entire future imagined ahead of him, his wife and the child, and the child Joe and his wife named Joy.

She was actually going to be named Joy. The irony left Joe and his wife with sorrow instead.

It wasn’t long before well-meaning people started saying, “You can always adopt.” Trying to give hope for building the family they had planned and talked about for several years. And while they could have done so, and it would have been wonderful, the thing they were ignoring was what was lost.

You see, Joe got to hold Joy in his arms on the day she was born. He stayed up with her at night when his wife was too tired. He watched her first steps. Made her laugh uncontrollably. Joy would run to Joe when she was scared in the middle of the night because monsters lurked under the bed, in the closet, or in the shadows. She would fall asleep in his arms after a long day of playing, laughing, and exploring the outdoors. Joe would carry her from his parent’s house to the car as her head lolled to one side completely oblivious to the world; trusting so completely that she never stirred. And when he tucked her in at night, she’d would curl up on her side and softly snore as she tightly hugged her favorite bunny doll next to her.

His wife stayed at home with Joy taking time out from her home business to play, cook, dress up, draw, sing, dance, and learn. They’d have entire performances ready for Joe to watch after he’d get back from a long day at the office.

Their inevitable trip to Disney World when she turned six was miraculous. Watching her wide-eyed amazement of all the movie characters come to life was sheer happiness for Joe and his wife.

Her first school dance. Her first heartbreak. Her first solo. Her graduation. Her acceptance to college. Her first big job in her chosen career. Her husband. Her first born.

Joy was a dancer and an actress and a scientist and a mother.

But none of it happened. None of it would happen.

It was all gone.

Other people just didn’t get it.

They didn’t understand what was lost.

Joe and his wife didn’t talk about it either. Probably not the best approach, but they knew they’d just break down. Joe and his wife stayed focused on what they could do in front of them each day and tried to take the time to just heal. They spoke to their pastor and found some solace in their faith, even if not understanding God’s plan. They believed there was a purpose. There had to be.

But sometimes, a man has to break away and step out of his life for a time to just get some perspective. Perhaps even some enlightenment elsewhere to be free of his daily routine that keeps him locked into his feelings and his loss.

Joe had been strong. But he needed to not be. So Joe arranged for his wife’s sister to take her away for a few days to break her out of her daily rituals and Joe planned to do so for himself. Luckily, his wife silently understood. She knew Joe needed to grieve as much as she had to.

And so, he found himself hiking in the woods, passing other hikers who smiled and commented, “Beautiful day for a hike, isn’t it?” Joe would smile back and say, “Amazing!” or some such thing until they passed and he could let his happy visage slip away.

His trip to the woods was on a day after several weeks of cold wet weather. But the trails had dried up enough for hiking and they were packed with people from town ready for some sunshine. It was one of the reasons Joe chose this as his escape from reality as well.

But there were too many people. He grew weary of the pleasantries and decided to go off the trail and create his own path in the woods.

The Cliff

Joe must have just gone into auto pilot as he plunged headlong into the woods. One foot in front of the other. Mechanical. Methodical. Meditative.

The woods, usually fairly spacious, started to close in with a lot more underbrush than Joe ever remember. Where there weren’t underbrush, there were huge boulders. He had to slow down and consider his footsteps more carefully.

As he moved through the underbrush, he looked up for a moment and noticed the sun was reaching the noon hour and clouds were coming together. As he did, he managed to step into a leafy patch that had nothing beneath.

His left foot rolled sideways and Joe felt tendons pop. Keeping his wits about him, he tried to roll to the left to keep his foot from slipping down further and possibly breaking. Unfortunately, a large boulder was all that he had to catch himself. He missed with his hand and, instead, hit the boulder hard with the left forearm and raked it down across it before finally hitting the ground.

Pain and fire shot across his arm, which he was sure was not broken, but definitely scraped and bruised – perhaps even lacerated. He quickly freed his foot from the hole he’d slipped into. He could move his toes, but the ankle was definitely sprained and swelling.

Joe laid there for a while, cursed a bit, and yelled in frustration a little more than he’d admit to others later. It was like he had to let out some primal screaming with the hell he’d been through – they both had been through.

It felt good. So still laying on his back, he screamed again. He screamed until his throat was raw.

The pain, sorrow, and loss were still there, however.

It didn’t vanish.

He didn’t know how long he had laid there screaming. He started to wonder if someone had heard him and grew concerned that someone may think he was in real trouble and needed help.

Slowly Joe sat up and took stock of his condition.

Besides his throat being sore, and his abs aching from the spasms of crying, he rolled up his left sleeve to find that his arm was pretty scraped up and a little bloody. He could twist his arm, flex his fingers and no blood was gushing out, just really bruised and battered. It wasn’t broken or fractured and definitely still usable.

Joe’s foot, however, was a little different. As he removed his hiking boot, and rolled off his sock, Joe found the ankle to be crazy swollen and the side of his foot, where he felt the tendons pop, were bruised and swollen as well.

‘Great.’

Sitting there, he again flexed his foot and wiggled his toes, all without any serious pain. While the foot was throbbing, there was no piercing pain. He thought that was good and counted his blessings.

Slowly, Joe rolled his sock back on and put his boot back on which caused some discomfort. He then laced up the boot tight and tried standing up.

‘THERE’S the pain!’ Joe thought as it shot from the whole foot up to his brain.

He quickly used the boulder for balance (instead of a cheese grater this time). Joe put a little weight on his foot and it was a little less painful. He took some time to take some short steps, and it got even a little better. The problem now was that he was a little off balance.

Looking around, Joe found a wood of some weight, length and strength and started using it as a walking stick.

Before moving on, however, Joe sat on the boulder and broke out his pack to clean up his bloody arm. While there, he also took a short lunch break and considered how he would proceed with his hike from here on out.

With the weather still nice, but cloudy, Joe decided to keep hiking. He hadn’t been to this part of the woods and was interested in what may lay ahead.

With his arm cleaned up, foot taking his weight, and pack all stowed, Joe grabbed his new walking stick and made his way through the brush which was still surprisingly dense.

The wind started to kick up and he could hear the sound of water flowing ahead. After some time and effort, the brush started to thin to the point where he just had to duck and dodge a few branches.

With just a few steps more, there was a sudden break in the tree line and a huge outcropping of stone lay ahead. Joe stepped out from the tree line and saw it was a rocky ledge overlooking a valley with a small river that flowed below – the source of the water sound he had heard.

Joe stepped closer to the cliff to get a better view just as the sun broke free of the clouds and shined a beam down upon the valley. It was glorious. All the pain and suffering of the hike made this moment especially fantastic to see.

Finally having a bit of a good feeling was nice, but as always, it didn’t last long.The guilt kicked in. Joe dropped his shoulders and slumped. His head dropped  looking straight down. When he did, he got a bit of the vertigo feeling and started to step back from the ledge. But just then, a thought hit him, ‘Why not just fall?’ Why not let go of all this pain and move on?

But Joe stepped back from the ledge suddenly and reflected, ‘What if I didn’t die and just ended up paralyzed? My wife would have to take care of me the rest of our lives… if she even would after everything else.’

Joe sat down and stared at the view.

There were no sounds now but the wind above and water below. No traffic from the trails. No highway noise. No planes. Joe was surprised there were no trails to this spot with such an amazing view.

He pulled his pack off and laid back on it using it as a pillow and stared into the sky.

After some time, he noticed two eagles played on the currents of wind nearly directly above where he lay. They seemed to just hang above him in the air at times as the wind was so strong and steady. He wondered what it would be like to fly on the currents of the wind. He wondered if these events were simply currents that needed to be coasted upon instead of fighting against them. The eagles didn’t fight. They soared.

Joe’s mind cleared. He stayed in the moment watching the eagles.

He listened to the water that flowed in the valley below.

He drifted into sleep.

The Dischord

Joe woke with the sound of music.

It must have been a dream. As he sat up, there was nothing but wind and the water nearby. The eagles had flown away. And the sun, still behind the clouds, was definitely lower than it had been when he nodded off.

Joe tried to remember what music was he dreaming about.

Getting up from his nap, he adjusted his pack over his shoulders and used his walking stick to stand up. Once again, the pain in his foot was jarring, but the more he moved around, the less it hurt.

He turned to gain his bearings and decided he should probably head back and that an overnight in the woods with the injuries he had may not be the best idea. While he had brought a tent along, he thought it might also be too cold in his present condition to sleep well.

Joe noticed that he had come through the trees a little further from the top of a ridge that the rocky outcropping and cliff seemed to run up to. He decided to go higher, walk along the ridge and head back to the trails and, eventually, his car.

As he he made his way heading up the ridge, over the shuffling of his feet and the other sounds of the woods, Joe heard a single noise that sounded like a piano key. A single high note coming from the woods.

He paused for a few moments, but the sound never returned.

He shrugged it off and continued up to the ridge.

As he approached the top, he turned and headed into the woods again. ‘It’s only mid afternoon and I still have plenty of time before dark,’ he thought to himself.

It was just as he entered the tree line into the rustling leaves, that Joe  heard another musical note. This one was lower than the first. It repeated several times before only the sounds of the wind in the trees returned..

Joe turned around several times listening for the sound to return and to try to get a bearing on where it was coming from. “Once? I’m imagining. Twice? I could be hallucinating.”

The music returned. A few ethereal notes played together floating gracefully and harmoniously through the trees. And then they stopped.

Joe locked in on the music and it was coming from straight ahead just over the rise. “It has to be coming from there.”

He limped and hurried as fast as his bruised and swollen foot would carry him.

Muted and rich deep sustained tones now carried on the wind drawing him ever closer to the source of the music.

But as Joe reached the crest of the ridge, he tripped and went tumbling head over heels down the other side hitting rocks and sticks along way down. Piles of leaves came sliding down with him as he skidded down the hillside. After what felt like forever to Joe, he came to a sudden and jarring halt as his his head hit the base of a tree with a sickening thud.

“SON OF A …. OWWWWWW!” he shouted face down into the leaves that had tumbled down the hill with him and under him.

Joe slowly rolled onto his side and managed to open his eyes to get his bearings as dizziness engulfed him and fire lanced across his chest from where, he knew, ribs had been broken.

Something warm and wet flowed down his forehead and into his right eye. He wiped his hand across his face and discovered it was now covered in blood.

Slowly sitting up, and as his vision cleared, Joe saw something that his brain wouldn’t let him believe was really there.

There, in the middle of the woods, in a very small clearing, was a grand piano. A squirrel sat on a few keys with a pecan in its paws. It gnawed on the nut and then tried to bash it against one of the keys making a repetitive plinking sound. The nut broke, and the squirrel shoved it in his mouth and leaped off the keys, landing on the lid, and scurrying across the back side finally leaping into and up a tree.

While Joe’s first thought was, ‘Oh, the squirrel was playing the music,’ his second thought – which should have been the first thought – was, ‘Why the hell is there a grand piano in the middle of the woods?!’

Dizzily, Joe struggled to his feet. He definitely bruised his back and side in several places, cracked his head, ribs (not broken, but hurt enough that it was hard to breathe), and discovered that his knee cap was also in considerable pain. But that was all overshadowed by the discovery of the piano.

Joe thought it was weird enough that the piano was there in the first place, but what was even more odd is that it looked nearly brand new with no weathering at all. There was no way anyone could have put it here. There were no trails. And although this was a clearing, the trees surrounding it would not have allowed for any kind of vehicle to bring it here, especially without leaving ruts or some kind of mark in the dirt.

‘I suppose a helicopter could have lowered it here,’ Joe said to himself looking up past the trees. But he shook his head as he realized the stupidity of the comment.

There was also a piano bench.

‘Why wouldn’t there be one?’

Joe hobbled over to the piano, a little scared, a little in wonder, and a little confused. He pulled the bench out and decided to lift the lid. There, inside, was a single piece of sheet music.

Joe picked it up and stared at it. The color drained from his face and he dropped the walking stick and grabbed the piano as if the world had started to shift beneath him.

He didn’t exactly sit on the piano bench, but rather fell onto it perfectly seated and still clutching the music in one hand and the piano with the other. His eyes never left the sheet music.

Slowly, he put the music on the stand, already propped up ready for the sheet to be placed there. Tears welled up in his eyes as he shakily placed his right hand on the piano keyboard, only remembering a few parts of music from his high school days, but enough to know a basic scale. In a steady rhythm, he looked at the first two notes, he recognized, were on the treble clef and an E on the scale. From there he ascended one key to F and then G. Repeating G, then down to F, then E, then D and finally landing on C twice before progressing back up to D, E and repeating E but holding a slight bit longer before briefly hitting the D key and then hitting it again.

Joe leaned back holding the last note for a moment before letting go of the note and staring a the keyboard for several minutes.

He looked around the woods, but no one was there. Not even the squirrel that had been there earlier was still around.

Joe looked back at the sheet music.

It was Beethoven’s piece, Ode to Joy.

The Melody

Joe sat staring at the sheet music for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that the sun had started to set. And yet, Joe sat staring.

“I’m dreaming. This is a dream,” was a recurring thought that was accompanied by a numbness that felt akin to being drunk, stoned, or otherwise isolated from all outside thought other than what was right in front of a person.

Finally, Joe stood as if in a trance.

He gathered wood, cleared a space near the piano, and started a fire in a ring of stones he had painfully moved to the clearing. He unpacked his tent and set it up, hammering in anchor pegs, and unrolled his thermal sleeping bag. From time to time, he would stop, turn, and stare at the piano and the sheet music that never moved, even though a breeze would kick up from time to time strong enough to move leaves on the ground. But the sheet music never fluttered.

Night fell and Joe cooked food on the fire, constantly staring at the piano and the music. The fire illuminated and danced across the finely polished surface of the piano’s housing.

As the darkness of the forest enveloped his campsite, Joe slowly retired to the tent for the night, his eyes never wandering too far from the oddity that lay before him. His mind never wandered either. Nor did it wonder. It simply fixated on the music of Beethoven and the piano that existed where it should not.

The wind had died down and the only sound was the crackling of the fire.

As Joe slipped into slumber, he realized he no longer felt the pain he had in his body. The emotional pain was gone as well. There, in the silence and tranquility of the forest, something seen and unseen was moving about him. He didn’t understand why. Just that it was.

While the fire kept Joe warm, he dreamed of his wife and of Joy. Of days in the park. Of days of conflict. Of days of laughter. Of days of sadness. He dreamed of how he and his wife had come together and created this being of light who never got to shine, and yet affected them so deeply and forever.

Finally, Joe dreamed of standing on the cliff that he had slept upon the day before. Joy was by his side holding his hand. She appeared to be a young girl of ten. He could remember all ten years of their time together. And none of it.

He looked down as she looked up at him, smiling taking his hand.

“You didn’t lose me, daddy. I’ll be with you forever. Besides, I would have tortured you as a teenager.”

“You would have been perfect,” Joe said to her. She smiled.

“I have to go. It will be okay.”

“I know. But it’s hard.”

“You’ll know when it’s easy because of this moment,” she squeezed his hand.

“I know.”

Joy turned to Joe and he lifted her into his arms and hugged her hard in an embrace that he hoped he would never forget. An embrace of warmth, connection, and love.

She kissed him on the cheek and said, “I love you, daddy.”

“I love you too. You have fun, okay? Maybe I’ll see you again someday,” Joe said to her as he set her down.

“You will.”

Joy smiled and started skipping and dancing away. The wind picked up and it appeared to take her away and she dissolved into the sky as Joe watched.

Joe woke at peace, but still sad.

He slowly sat up, sore, bruised, battered, and yet, a feeling of acceptance. He was, by no means, over his loss. But the visions, dreams and strange occurrence in the forest gave him some peace.

As he opened his tent, he was not at all surprised that the piano, bench and music were gone from the clearing. No sign of it existed. Not even an indention in the ground. He accepted the experience as it was without any question.

Joe slowly packed up his campsite, strapped it all on his back, grabbed his walking stick, took a last look at the clearing, turned away, and headed home.

The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet,
excerpt from On Joy and Sorrow

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find
it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board,
remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,
needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Author’s Note

I love stories with a twist. And I also love finding weird occurrences in the world. This story was inspired by a news article in 2008 about a woman in Harwich, Massachusetts who came across a new piano fully tuned in the woods while on a trail and no idea how it got there.

But a weird news story is not a story. You have to have a human connection. Someone to travel with to experience the strange event. And it has to have some meaning or why make a story.

I wrote this story shortly after a series of losses that occurred closely together. Loosing both uncles on each side of my family (my dad’s brother and my mom’s brother) in the same year was more difficult than I care to admit. My mother died nearly twenty years ago. A member of our spiritual community also died in an accident. It brought up lots of memories.

I used the words of Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet in my own mother’s eulogy and have gone back to the text many times.

The point of the story, of course, is loss and hope and how part of our existence is filled with duality and extremes. I hope you all realize that even the worst experiences in life give us the contrast for the best experiences that life has to offer.

Ode to Joy

If you’re not familiar with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, here is a magnificent flash mob that builds and builds and builds. I like that this version is triggered when a little girl throws a few coins into a hat and stands there and watches the whole performance completely transfixed, but disappears at the final crescendo and final notes.

She also appears to be about 10 years old.

Coincidence?

© 2017 Eric Huber. The Piano is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Photo from Unsplash.com photographer Ryan Holloway of https://unsplash.com/@hollowaykryan

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Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Palingenesis

Palingenesis

- 18 min read -

SYSTEMS CHECK

“Ground Command, this is Leo Station. Ground, Leo. Over. Ground Command, this is Leo Station. Do you read? Over.” Commander Su’e Inana finished her daily call to Ground Command for the 393rd day without response. Only occasional static was ever returned and the monitor screen continually displayed ‘no signal.’

She gave a slight sigh as she finished her broadcast and then turned to her duties to ensure the integrity of Leo Station. The station was located on the solitary natural satellite that orbited around her home world of Egom. They named it, Naan. There was no atmosphere on Naan and it had taken her people many decades to develop the technology to reach such heights after seeing it in the skies for millennia. A network of stations had been planned to spread across the surface and beneath, but due to various political and global situations, once the Naan had been reached, plans for expansion were delayed.

Su’e started, as always, by reviewing all of the command center’s various monitors, systems and readouts before taking a quick glance at the exterior of the station for any problems by way of cameras located outside on the surface of the Naan.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary and with her mind at ease, Su’e left the command center on her way to the rest of the station. Before leaving, she paused and spoke, “System: Play ‘Ocean Sunset’ on all station speakers. Quarter volume.” A series of tones followed by the requested music that began to play. She smiled and manually closed the door to the command center careful to ensure the seal of the door was secure.

Su’e headed to engineering at the far end of the station to check all of the equipment operations even though the command center showed nearly everything was functioning nominally. She liked visual confirmation just to be sure. Once there, nearly all readings were in good shape except one, as she expected. She didn’t seem too concerned about it, but simply gave a slight sigh. All the equipment was running well, batteries were at peak charge, and the geothermal equipment looked like it would not fail for many many years in the future.

She headed to the dining hall to get some breakfast and passed the crew and guest quarters along the way. At it’s height, Leo Station housed over three dozen scientists, students and citizens who focused on expanding knowledge for the world of Egom. Most people only stayed for a week or two, serious researchers a few months, but the permanent staff of five stayed for six months at a time to ensure continued operations and station integrity.

She sat alone eating and drinking in the hall that easily housed ten to fifteen people at a time when the station was buzzing with activity. While there, she looked over at a screen and spoke, “System: Play last message received from my daughter.” Again, a few tones were emitted as the music stopped and another series of tones began and were followed by moving images and sounds of a young beautiful woman in her early twenties. Her long dark hair fell across her shoulders onto the rich bright blue material of her blouse. Around her neck, she wore a bright green scarf that nearly matched the vibrant color of her eyes.

“Hey ma-ma! I just wanted to send you this. I know we’re not scheduled to talk until this weekend and you’re probably in a sleep cycle, but I couldn’t wait.”

The woman raised her hands and pulled away the scarf revealing an intricate necklace of polished crystals, stones and wood. At the bottom of the necklace rested two strands forming a knot: the traditional symbol for an engagement. The young woman then screamed in excitement and joy to Su’e on the recording.

A young man poked his head into view smiling, “Hope you’re okay with this, Ma-ma!”

Her daughter kissed the young man on the cheek and turned back to the screen, “Can’t wait to talk to you about all the plans we’ve made…”

Static appeared in the recording and the screen’s colors and image shifted and twisted for a moment and then resolved.

“..and you’ll love the place the we picked…” and then finally the screen went black with a total loss of signal.

Su’e stared at the screen for a moment, a slight smile on her face, but her eyes showed sadness. She sighed, returning to her meal and finished her last bite. As always, she picked up her plates and made sure to wash them and stow them away. As she left, she powered everything down and turned out the lights.

It was time for her to get busy in the library. Su’e went to inspect all the work stations and banks of crystals that stored much of the world’s knowledge accumulated by her people over the past several thousand years. At least up until fourteen and a half cycles of Naan ago. Once she was satisfied that everything was in order, she wandered over to one of the larger screens and took a seat.

“System: Playback log date 3751.15 northern hemisphere.”

The screen flickered into action and showed a beautiful blue and green planet with clouds floating over land and sea. Much was covered with grand glaciers, but where it wasn’t, vast lush green areas of forests and fields spread across all the visible continents.

But it was on this day, fourteen and a half months ago, that the unthinkable happened. Su’e watched it unfold on the recording, just as she had seen upon awakening that day and had forced herself to do every day since then.

On the screen, she watched as Egom slowly rotated in space. Dawn was just hitting the western most coast of her home continent. Suddenly, a burst of light in the northern hemisphere appeared. The light becomes a streak of light for a few seconds before suddenly impacting one of the northern glaciers and becoming a massive explosion on the surface. While horrifying in itself, this moment was followed by three more smaller burst of light that ended in explosions; two more on land and one impacting in the eastern ocean. Each one emitting such an intense flash that the exterior cameras were temporarily blinded. As she watched, she could see the red hot blaze radiating from each point of impact and debris being thrown up miles into the atmosphere. Pressure waves emanated in all directions and she could see the clouds being forced away from the blasts all the way to the equator and beyond. Watching the recording made Su’e hold her breathe every time until she finally gasped for air.

No contact with anyone on Egom had been established since that day and even trying to reach someone using the man-made satellites in orbit for relaying signals yielded no results.

She finished the playback, and made sure to file the recording properly before turning off the monitor and getting up to leave. Su’e left the library shutting down all additional power and lights.

From the library, she went down past the medical bay ensuring all power was turned off there, and headed to the exterior hatch to do an external inspection. She donned a space suit, sleek in design and with a wide vision helmet. After checking her supply of air and ensuring her suit was adequately secure, she equalized the pressure in the room inside the hatch and exited the station.

She walked slowly across the surface of the Naan and rounded to the side where the greenhouse, now dark and cold, was located. She looked up into the night sky to her old home world. The skies were dark over Egom and the once vast green lush lands were blackened. Some fires still burned after all those long monts ago. The coastlines weren’t recognizable any more as the glaciers had nearly all melted. And since nearly eighty percent of the world’s population had lived by the oceans, she was fairly certain that anyone still left in the center of the continents would not have lasted long.

A ring of debris was visible around the planet she once called home creating an amazing banded ring. It was both beautiful and terrible at the same time. She knew she’d never see Egom from the ground again, let alone the sight of the rings from the same perspective. No one was left.

Su’e looked down to the burial mounds where she had buried her fellow crew members over the past months. None of them had been able to deal with the catastrophe or the fact that their days were numbered on the Naan. Each one died by their own hand and own manner and were kind enough to not to do anything too drastic that those remaining would have to clean up. However, someone did need to remove the bodies and bury them. Su’e took it upon herself to give the final rites upon each passing.

As the commander, Su’e knew she would never kill herself. With the others gone, the food and air lasted much longer than they normally would have. However, without replenishing, she had calculated the time remaining, and while not obsessing, she decided to find a way to allow Leo Station to last as long as possible, just in case someone finally did make it back to the Naan.

After changing out of the space suit, Su’e powered down the rest of the station. One thing she knew, from various studies, was that allowing everything to keep running after all the air was gone, without people performing maintenance, could result in an accident that could destroy the facilities. So her next step was to power down all the equipment except the last bit of energy provided by solar and batteries. She left engineering and headed back to her quarters where she picked up an image of her daughter and a pillow before heading up to the command center.

All lights and power were now turned off in the station as she closed and latched the door to the command center. Su’e set the photo of her daughter on the console in front of her and sat down in a chair placing the pillow on her lap.

“System: Record and broadcast to Ground Command,” the system gave a series of tones as always.

“Leo Station to Ground Command. Leo to Ground. This will be the last recording and report from Leo Station, Commander Su’e Inana reporting. It has been fourteen months and fifteen days since the asteroids impacted on Egom and we have never been able to regain contact. While I wish more people had been here on Leo Station to survive the disaster, instead of back on Egom while we were in a maintenance period, we wouldn’t have lasted but a few months. The members of the crew all passed on in their own way and lay interred outside the station.” she paused and reflected.

“I have no idea if anyone will ever get this message, or if anyone will ever reach the Naan again to find what is left here, but my hope is that someone will one day and with no atmosphere here, the facility and all the records will remain and that the technology is easy enough to use for someone to understand. I’ve spent the past fourteen months attempting to find ways for those with different languages to be able to interpret the knowledge stored here. Hopefully some of our technology will survive. I’ve set the station’s system to remain in low power mode, but be triggered by any communications it may pick up. The system will trigger a low power signal back. Hopefully, it will be before all the power drains.”

Su’e picked up her daughter’s image, “Dearest Aribel, I hope you did not suffer and you and your love were together as the asteroids fell. I’m glad you were happy and hope you did not feel much fear.” She set the image down gently.

“If you find this message, this station, or me, know that the disaster that fell upon our world was one that could happen at any time. We focused so much on ourselves, what was happening around us in our daily lives, and what might happen tomorrow, that we forgot to look outside and see what may be coming. Too shortsighted in thinking of the timeline of the universe that we had only just begun.”

“If you find this message, and you have come from Egom, I hope you plan for the future of our world and our children. While this disaster may be the most horrible thing to have ever happened, I am at peace.”

“System: End recording.” A final series of tones indicated that the recording and system were completed.

Su’e pulled the pillow from her lap and laid it on the console. She carefully laid her head down on the pillow with a view of her daughter’s image and a view of Egom through a window. A quick glance at a nearby monitor showed that air would last for approximately two hours more. As she drifted off to sleep for the last time, she held onto her memories of holding Aribel in her arms and watching the sunset over the hills from their home in the hillsides of Egom.

EPILOGUE

Millenia passed.

The debris of thousands of asteroids impacted Naan.

Dust, rocks and debris covered Leo Station from the asteroid impacts and destroyed some of the weaker parts of the structures that still stood.

Egom’s rings disappeared, the debris pulled back into the planet by gravity.

The skies cleared and the glaciers returned for few thousand years and then receded again in a much less disastrous and more natural way.

The system on Leo Station began to falter. Every now and then, it picked up a random signal, something with a pattern, but Su’e had programmed it only respond if more than a few random signals were picked up and within a certain range.

The batteries were failing, no longer being fed by sunlight, and the geothermal energy had long ago stopped working.

And then it happened.

The system picked up a signal.

Strong and local, right on the surface of the Naan. A few key systems powered up in the command center where the body of Su’e still lay entombed. An ancient monitor flickered with a tiny bit of light showing an image of the Naan’s surface coming from some visual feed. Static from barely functioning speakers vibrated against the dust of ages. The images came into focus and a voice came from the speakers for the first time in nearly thirteen thousand years.

“Houston. Tranquilty Base, here. The Eagle has landed.”

© 20016 Eric Huber. Palingenesis is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Artwork by Eric Huber

©2017 Audio recording by Eric Huber. Music from FreeMusicArchive.org.

Audio credits at end of story.
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Revised Intro to “Black Dragon”

Revised Intro to “Black Dragon”

- 6 min read -

First stab at my first rewrite of the intro.
_______________

A low rasping moan echoed through the dank dark entombed ruins causing sleeping bat wings to flutter as well as small rodents and thousand-footed insects to scatter back into holes for safety. No light had reached this place in a millennium and no living soul had entered in at least a quarter as many years. And yet, as frequently happened, the rhythmic sound of shambling footsteps paired with the dragging of wood on stone began to rise in the darkness. Even though the cave dwellers that lived in the pitch black of the ruins could not see, they recognized the smell of death and could hear it’s scuffling progression as it passed them by in their hidden burrows.

They waited, as those that survived over the years had learned to do, until the sounds faded into the distance until even the occasional rasping moan could not be heard. Only then did the normal sounds of the underground return.

One small rodent scampered out to sniff out the path of the creature in search of any morsels to eat. In a short time, it finally patted out far enough to discover a bit of dried flesh. If anyone could have seen in the darkness, it was obvious that with a twitch of its nose and a turn of it’s head, the discovery was not pleasant at all. It scampered a good distance away from the droppings and came to a quick stop.

The rodent lifted his chin up and it’s ears rotated hearing something unusual. Quickly, it scampered away as part of the ceiling collapsed with a cascade of water, rain, dirt, rocks, wood, and a body that was screaming as it fell some twenty feet down into the ruins. The screaming stopped as it hit the ground with a muffled thud.

“Kaelyn! Are you okay? Hold on, cousin! I’m coming down,” a panicked voice called down from a gaping hole where the first light in ages came flooding down onto Kaelyn’s motionless body.


© 2015-2019 by Eric Huber
Header artwork by Sean Wong
Black dragon by Eric Huber. Inks by Chad Maupin.

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