[Music Matters, right? Sure it does.]
‘Like a moth to the flame. A flame…that flame…her sun streaming through roseate glass, amber pulses…oh no, it’s turning inside a cobalt dream and I’m caught inside…’
Then he was face down on that white sandy road, only now it was steamy hot out, the air here scorching hot.
But now he felt weak, weaker than he had in days. He tried to push himself up and gasped at the exertion, shocked by how far he had deteriorated, and by how fast.
He gave up and rolled over on his side, gasping for breath as he fought off waves of nausea, and only then did he realize he was really back. Back – to wherever this was. Tall grass still weaving through an insistent breeze, misty, snow covered peaks in the distance. And that forest on the far side of the field, the one with the hideously bright light at its heart? The light was still burning bright. He rolled onto his back and looked up through the cobalt sky to the huge ringed planet overhead, still hanging up there like a watchful eye, still a surface full of Jovian swirls dressed in blues and purples. A gas giant…isn’t that what we called them…once upon a time? But it seems closer now, but how could that be? An eccentric orbit?
A shadow passed and he tried to find the source – until Pinky flew in low over the grass and landed on the sandy road next to him. She smiled at him, that gentle, almost sorrowful smile that seemed to bathe in the differences between them. Then she shook her head and sighed…
“I don’t know how you do this…?” she whispered.
“Face this thing alone.”
She nodded. “I look at the changes consuming you and I am filled with fear. I could not do it, and I do not understand how any being possibly could.”
He chuckled at that. “Well, as soon as you figure out an option I hope you’ll let me in on the secret. By the way, I hate to ask but just where the Hell are we?”
“Here? This was California, perhaps fifteen million years ago. I thought you might appreciate the irony.”
He shook his head and pointed at the ringed planet overhead. “I don’t buy it.”
“Earth was captured in a galactic collision eons ago; she belongs to another solar system now. As hard as it may be to comprehend, she’s been moving away from the Milky Way for a few million years.”
“Does anyone…are there any people here?”
She smiled. “A few. People we bring here from time to time.”
“Time to time? I get it…you’re trying to be funny.”
“There is a village not far from here, if you’d like to go and meet some of them.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “I am.”
“I’m just kind of curious, but what kind of people did you choose for this little experiment?”
“Thinkers, usually. Aristotle is here, Plato as well. Buddha and Jesus and a few others religious types just to keep things interesting. DaVinci too. What you might think of as an eclectic bunch.”
“How long have they been here? Millions of years?”
She shrugged. “Time doesn’t behave here the way you are used to, yet there is time enough to think. We could not bear to think of losing such voices, so we bring people such as these here from time to time.”
He looked at her, tried to see the truth behind her eyes. Was she playing him? But there was utter seriousness in her eyes now. Unexpected. Pure.
“Or perhaps you would like to go see your children now?” she said, changing the subject.
“Your children. Eva and Britt are there now, as well.”
She smiled, then she stood and held out her hand. “Come. Walk with me. There is much we need to talk about…”
He came back to them, and the priest caught him before Henry began falling. Anton dashed to help and they carried his wilted form to a pew and laid him down, though soon Henry was surrounded by dozens of curious parishioners who had come over to see – and touch – this strange man who glowed with all the colors embedded in the glass.
And then Tracy was there beside him, smiling and holding out a hand. “Come,” she said. “Walk with me.”
Still phasing in and out of time, Henry stood and looked around, shocked by the sudden reappearance of the cathedral – still aglow in all its dazzling light. “What happened – while I was gone?” he asked.
“Gone?” Tracy said. “You haven’t gone anywhere.”
He nodded as he looked around. “I need some air…”
“I’m not surprised, you’re burning up, Henry. You must be running a fever.”
He shook his head. “I’ll be okay once I get outside.”
Anton helped him stand and get to the center aisle, and once there people stood aside as Anton and Tracy helped him to the entrance. He stepped out into the crisp November air and, his body still covered in rolling sweat, he took a deep breath – then almost instantly began shivering.
“Restaurant,” he gritted between chattering teeth, almost panting now as he pointed to a place across the street. “Let’s-go-there.”
Tracy ordered hot tea for him and the proprietors warmed him with hearty cooking, and soon Henry felt better…at least well enough to talk.
“Very weird, Genry,” Anton said with a sigh. “Never see anyone glow before.”
“Glow?” he asked.
“It was almost like a huge aura,” Tracy said, “only everyone could see it. It was kind of out there, Henry.”
Mike said not a word, though under the table he keyed the voice recorder on his phone before he brought it up to his coat pocket.
“It felt like I was moving back and forth between times,” Henry finally said. “I was caught there, caught between you and Claire,” he added, looking at Tracy, trying to read her willingness to accept the things he needed to tell her.
“Are you saying you could see Claire?” she asked.
But he shook his head. “I don’t think so, Tracy. It was more like an echo. You walking where she had, saying the things she said…”
“Wait one,” Mike interrupted. “Are you saying, well, that Tracy here isn’t a stranger?”
“No, she’s not,” Henry sighed.
“Oh, that’s just fucking great,” Mike snarled. “So tell me, Henry. Just when do the aliens get involved in this story again?”
“Aliens?” Tracy cried as her eyes darted around the table. “What aliens!?”
“Whoo-boy,” Anton muttered under his breath. “Can of worms open now.”
Sitting in the aft cabin with only the glow of an oil lamp to put her at-ease, Henry told her about the Seattle working group and his role in it, then about Pinky and her gang and even the whales and how they’d been a part of his journey so far. He did not go into what had happened to Eva and Britt and what he had just learned while he stood transfixed in the cathedral – if only because there were limits, he reasoned, to just how much she could absorb.
“You expect me to believe any of this,” she quipped at one point, her head shaking in quiet rage.
“Go ask Mike, or Anton.”
“What? And fall for some kind of sick joke the three of you have cooked up? No fucking way, Henry…”
So he laid back on his berth and cleared his mind.
‘Yes, I need you now,’ he said to Pinky. ‘Is it still too dangerous for you here?’
‘No, but it is dangerous for you, and for her.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The man, Mike. He is not what he appears to be, Henry. You are in great danger, and so is she.’
‘I figured as much.’
‘The woman. Does she need to understand these things?’
‘I need her trust, and I am in danger of losing it now.’
‘I understand. Move off the bed now.’
He rolled to the edge of the bed and stood, the room spinning as his blood pressure dropped.
“Help me to the seat, should you?” he asked Tracy. “– And, stay off the bed.”
But just then a pink orb dropped through the ceiling and hovered a few inches above the blanket covering the berth, and in the next instant Pinky was there in all her ten-foot tall feathered glory.
Tracy’s scream was best described as blood-curdling. Anton was just returning from taking Clyde for a walk and had just stepped aboard when her cry split the night; he of course fell back and flopped down into the river. Mike helped him climb back up on the swim platform but the aviator grumbled all the way down to the shower, just managing to get out of the way as Tracy ran from the aft cabin and up the companionway steps – swearing all the way.
“My, my…that went well,” Henry sighed.
“Maybe it menopause?” Anton said helpfully. “Or maybe not…”
“I have seen Britt and Eva,” he typed into the massaging app on his phone. “They are well, but they will not return for quite some time.”
He hit send and waited for the reply.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, QUITE SOME TIME?”
“That’s all I know. If you want to know more you’ll need to speak to Pinky.”
“WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!!!”
“In California, I think you could say. Babies born, all doing well.”
“THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE.”
“I understand. All girls, by the way. Thought you should know.”
“I’ll see you this coming weekend.”
“GO TO HELL!!!”
He moved to put away his phone but it chirped a moment later. It was Rolf.
“He, Amigo. What’s going on?” he said.
“I can hear Grandma-ma crying, Henry. What happened?”
“You have two sisters, kid. They were born in California a week ago.”
“But, how is that possible, Henry? Isn’t it too soon?”
“I think Pinky had something to do with it, amigo.”
“Yeah, my sentiments exactly.”
“Is my mother alright?”
“Yes, she’s very happy.”
“Okay. Are you still coming this weekend?”
“Yes, that’s still the plan.”
“When will I be able to see her, Henry? I miss her.”
“I don’t know, kid. Soon, I hope.”
They talked a while longer but it seemed a spark had gone out of Rolf when he heard he wouldn’t be able to see his mother this weekend. Dina was another matter entirely. She seemed rabid now, and he genuinely didn’t want to run into her while up there this weekend.
He took his meds and went topsides – only to find Tracy sitting in Time Bandits’ cockpit talking with Mike.
“So, all that stuff is true?” she asked as he came up the companionway steps.
“Why would I make-up something like that, Tracy?”
“I don’t know? Schizophrenia, maybe?”
“Ah. Well, yes, there is that.”
“That…thing…down there? That was Pinky?”
He nodded. “She’s actually very sweet,” he added unnecessarily.
“Right. A sweet alien. Why didn’t I think of that…?”
Anton came up the companionway carrying cups of tea, then he disappeared below – only to come up a few minutes later carrying a plate full of freshly baked scones. “I watch Dina,” he shrugged. “Not hard follow recipe.”
Henry grabbed one and took a bite. “Not bad, Ace. Always better when they’re warm, too.”
But then Anton leaned over and whispered in Henry’s ear: “Don’t move fast but whale behind you, maybe ten meters.”
Henry nodded and put down his bread, then in one smooth motion he stood and jumped overboard.
“What the Hell!” Tracy screamed, running to the rail as Henry swam out to the big male, the strong current carrying him downstream as Mike and Anton went aft to the swim platform.
But by then Henry was wrapped in the big male’s pectoral, locked in a huge embrace while he rubbed around the whale’s eye.
“Jesus H Fucking Christ!” Tracy muttered. “I’m not sure I can take much more of this…”
They cast off early the next morning, bound for Rouen – and the cathedral there that Monet had painted – and popularized for generations of American tourists and ex-pats. Tracy pulled up alongside Time Bandits once again and she held up her phone. Henry answered on the first ring.
“Are you okay now?” he asked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“Yeah. It took me a while to warm up, but thanks. You were very sweet. Again.”
“What’s going on, Henry? What does all this mean?”
“I’m not sure yet, Tracy, but I learned a few things yesterday I had no clue about.”
“I’m still trying to piece it all together.”
“Can you contact that – alien – anytime you want?”
“Pinky. Her name is Pinky. And yes, most of the time I can, but she can block me out, too. How’s Anton doing over there?”
“Good. I like him.”
“He seems like the real deal to me. Good people.”
“Is Mike still asleep?” she asked.
“I heard him down in the galley a few minutes ago, right after I started up the engine.”
“Thanks for letting me have Anton today. Mike gives me the creeps.”
“Man, I haven’t heard that one in a while.”
She laughed a little. “That orca? He came with you across the Atlantic?”
“Yup, but we met out in Seattle.”
“Seattle? You met him?”
“Yeah, Pinky’s group is studying them, too. We’ve been together since then.”
“How long is that?”
“Geez, let’s see…I guess he’s been around about ten years now.”
“Henry, do you know how really weird all this is?”
“You’re repeating yourself, Tracy, but yes…I have a pretty good idea.”
“There’s another cathedral in Rouen, Henry. Are you going in?”
“I don’t think so, but feel free.”
Mike came up with coffee and scrambled eggs on toast, and Henry smiled as he shot a ‘thumbs-up’. “Well, time for some chow. How’s your fuel holding up?”
“A little above a half tank.”
“Okay. We’ll gas-up in Rouen. Let me know if your tank hits a quarter and I’ll pass over some jugs.”
They rang off and Henry managed to get some food down, then he left Mike at the wheel while he went below to take his morning meds. Pinky was waiting for him down on his berth.
“He’s recording all your conversations,” she said to him.
Henry nodded. “I know. I saw him yesterday.”
“We don’t know who he’s working for, but it is not for his navy.”
Henry was taken aback by this new wrinkle. “Oh? Who else could it be?”
“One of the other groups, perhaps,” she said. “I think they want to understand just how much you know about our technology.”
“But…why? I’m not threat to anyone else now.”
“Maybe. But someone obviously doesn’t think that is so.”
Henry looked around the room – knowing the Pinky knew the boat was bugged. “Well, it doesn’t matter. As soon as we get to Paris I’m going to head straight for the oncologist Dina recommended. After that, I doubt anyone will be interested in what I know.”
She held out her hand and rubbed the side of his face, then she disappeared.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this…” he whispered, grinning just a little bit.
“Henry?” Mike called out. “There’s something on the weather you need to take a look at.”
“Be right up.” He took his meds and looked at the readout from the pulse oximeter on his finger and shook his head, then he walked up the companionway – and stopped in his tracks when he saw the look on Mike’s face.
They tied up at a fuel dock on the west side of Rouen and topped off their tanks, but Henry was more than a little concerned now…
“There’s some kind of arctic high moving down fast, real fast, but here’s where it gets interesting,” he said to Tracy. “There’s a deep low moving up from the Med, and another coming in off the Bay of Biscay. Last time this happened, back in ’99 I think, it flattened trees and dumped a ton of snow everywhere.”
“When’s it going to hit?”
“Looks like tomorrow morning.”
“Shit. When will we get to those locks?”
“Well, that’s kind of the point right now. I think we ought to tie off here and wait it out.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Henry. Half the places we’ve seen still don’t have power and people are getting angry. You sure you want to be locked up inside an industrial city with a couple hundred thousand pissed off hungry people?”
“What’s on the far side of Rouen?”
“There’s a sheltered marina in Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf. We can just make it this afternoon if we push.”
“Is there any danger the river could freeze?”
He hadn’t thought of that though the idea was a little terrifying, if unlikely. “I think the weather is going to warm up quickly behind the front, but if we get a heavy snow that will be problem enough.”
“Damn, Henry, all we need now is a plague of locusts…”
He nodded. “Do you want to stop for lunch or press-on?”
“Let’s get where we’re going. I assume we can come back by train if we want?”
“Yup. Okay, can you make five knots?”
“I can, but I’ll be at 90% of redline.”
“How many hours on the engine?”
“Not quite two hundred.”
“Okay, it should be okay if we vary our RPMs every now and then, but we’ll need to push hard through the city center.”
She nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
As soon as he was aboard Mike cast off the lines and Time Bandits drifted out into the current while Henry idled the engine, waiting for Tracy to head out from the dock. He circled once then she came out into the current and joined up with him.
He called her on 16 then switched over to 21. “Everything okay?”
“Hart to start, and there’s not a lot of water coming out the discharge line.”
“Okay. You’ve probably pulled some garbage into the intake, or simply clogged the inlet. We’ll have to pull-in somewhere to fix it, but it shouldn’t take too long.”
“You mean like a mechanic?”
“Hell no. It’ll take me five minutes, tops.”
“Can you show me?”
An hour later they cast off again and pushed hard for Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf, the sky already full of mackerel clouds and the barometer falling rapidly. As they pied off at the little marina just east of the village center, a light snow started falling…
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.