Ooh…it really makes me wonder.
If only because music matters.
Henry thought the sphere might be translucent, but no…the surface was almost mirror-like, though he could make out his stateroom – as well as Tracy and himself standing there – inside the fisheye-distortion of the orb. And yet standing there he saw something else inside the orb, flickering pulses of sparkling light that almost looked like a thunderstorm was raging inside the sphere. Just beyond the surface reflection Henry was sure he could see the latent image of an eye, and that also bothered him. Yet the orb remained stationary; he reached out pushed on the surface of the orb and all he felt was immutable force permeating his little stateroom. Tracy, however, was still down on the floor, shaking in absolute terror.
He moved to the edge of the bed and sat next to Clyde, put his hand on the pup’s head and scratched behind his ears – and the sphere seemed to moved just a little, almost like something inside was following Henry’e movements, tracking his motion around the room.
“Are you okay?” he asked Tracy.
“Physically, yeah. Nothing’s happened yet that puking wouldn’t take care of.”
“When did you notice this thing?”
“When you went forward…it just appeared in the doorway out of nowhere.”
He nodded, then laid down next to Clyde, who opened his eyes – fractionally – for a moment before he closed them again, then Henry put his face next to the pup’s – until they were nose-to-nose.
“I love you, good boy,” he whispered. “Just be easy and get warm, okay?”
“Henry? Are you going to sleep?”
“Probably. Yeah, make that definitely. I think I’ve just run out of steam.”
But Henry’s eyes had closed and he felt himself drifting off…
And immediately he felt the same presence in his mind, and even in this drifting state he was aware that whatever was guiding the orb was indexing his memories once again – as if ‘they’ were searching for something…
Tracy heard her mother coming down the companionway steps and stood. Not knowing what else to do about the orb, she draped her fleece jacket over the shimmering globe and moved to intercept Edith before she made it all the way into Henry’s stateroom.
But…she was too late.
Edith walked in and saw Henry crashed on the berth, then her eyes went to the jacket hanging in mid-air by the door to the head – yet she apparently didn’t think anything of it as she went and sat down next to the berth and put her feet up on the comforter.
Then she looked at the jacket again.
“You know, is it just me or is there something weird about that jacket?”
“It’s just you, Mom.”
“Oh. Okay. What’s with Henry?”
“Exhausted, I think.”
“I thought I heard some kind of commotion in the water and I find you in here with wet hair and your clothes soaking wet…”
“Clyde fell in the water, Mom. No big deal.”
“Oh. Now…what about all that malarkey at dinner…?”
“Aliens and spaceships, Tracy. Don’t play coy with me right now, either. I’m not in the mood.”
“I really wasn’t paying too much attention, mother.”
“Don’t give me that BS. I saw you, watched how you responded to that navy guy, and it seemed pretty obvious to me that you didn’t think it was just crazy talk.”
“But the thing is, Tracy, it is nuts, pure and simple. And I don’t want you hanging around all this crap anymore. I’ve made reservations for us to return to LA tomorrow evening, so you need to go over to that floating hovel of yours and pack your duffel, or whatever it is you carry around these days.”
“Why mother…are you annoyed I’m not packing in Gucci saddlebags?” Tracy said, moving over to her jacket.
“Don’t take that tone with me, Tracy. I was prepared to find all kinds of goings on when I got here, but not aliens. I would have thought with you being a mental health professional that you would be trying to get Henry into a mental hospital…”
Tracy reached out and pulled her jacket from the orb, revealing the sphere hovering there.
Edith seemed unimpressed. “And just what the hell is that supposed to be?”
“I’m not sure, mother, but it just might be an alien.”
“Bullshit, Tracy,” Edith said, standing up and walking over to the orb. “What is it?!”
“Henry said he’d never seen this one before.”
Edith put her hand on the sphere and when nothing happened she pushed it once, then a second time – but much harder this time. When it didn’t budge she turned and looked at Tracy, her eyes wide now – as she was beginning to realize that something was seriously wrong with this picture.
“Tracy? What is this thing?”
“Mother? I do not know.”
Edith backed out of the stateroom and Tracy heard her running up the companionway seconds later, followed by Anton and Mike coming down right after Edith jumped to the dock at a dead sprint. Anton was the first to arrive in Henry’s stateroom, and he just about ran into the orb as he shuddered to a halt.
“What in fuck is this?” he screeched. “Not Pinky, I think.”
Then Mike stumbled in and stopped dead in his tracks when he spied the orb. “What’s this? A new one?”
Tracy shrugged and Mike leaned over and shook Henry.
Who didn’t budge.
Tracy went to Henry’s side and opened an eyelid, then she peered first at one pupil and then the other. “Fixed pinpoints,” she sighed. “We need to get him to the hospital.”
And with that the orb moved across the stateroom until it was hovering squarely over Henry’s face – pushing Tracy out of the way as it moved across the room – the meaning of the orb’s shift in position abundantly clear to her.
“Well, excuse the fuck out of me,” she sighed.
Mike leaned in and tried to push the orb away, and when that achieved nothing Anton joined in and they both pushed. Still nothing happened…and Mike shrugged then sat down next to Henry.
But just then Mike felt something inside his head – just before he fell asleep.
Within seconds both Anton and Tracy fluttered down and dropped off into a disturbed sleep, but by that point three more spheres had joined the first, each positioned over the face of a human.
And then a very small humanoid figure appeared on the bed, and the tiny creature walked over to Clyde and stuck a probe into a vein in the pup’s forearm. A moment later the creature walked over to Henry and did the same thing, then it – and the four spheres – simply disappeared.
Tracy opened her eyes only to find the noon-day sun streaming through the overhead hatch and the room spinning around uncontrollably, and then she realized she was having the worst headache she’d ever had in her life. The deep ache started in her forehead and darted behind her eyes, but then she felt little pinpricks that seemed rooted in her mid-brain and that seemed to be sending little electrical jolts down her spine…
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Mike said, trying to sit up, then rubbing his forehead.
“Who want breakfast?” Anton said, his cast iron aviator’s stomach carrying the day. Mike groaned and ran for the head off the foreword cabin…
…leaving Tracy to turn her attention to Henry.
She rubbed his forehead gently, then with a little more pressure, until he stirred a little before opening an eye. He moved his head a little then rubbed at his eyes. “Cripes, what the hell hit me?”
“Headache?” she asked.
“Where’s that thing?”
“It was gone when we woke up, and that was about ten minutes ago.”
He scratched at his forearm and then looked at the spot where the venous probe had entered. “Feels like an insect bite,” he muttered, then he looked at Tracy again. “Did you say ‘we’?”
“Yup. Mike and Anton were here when I woke up, and they’d been out too. My mother was here for a while but she left before all the fun started. Which reminds me, she thinks she’s got me on a plane out of here tonight…”
“Sounds like I missed out on all the fun.”
“Fun? Not really fun, at least not after she realized the sphere was in here with us.”
“See, now that sounds like a lot of fun to me.”
“You need a humor transplant, Henry.”
“Reckon you’re right.”
“Well, I’d better go check on mom. Be back in a flash…”
Henry nodded then turned his attention to Clyde, who was breathing gently but otherwise unresponsive. “Hey buddy? You ready for some fresh salmon?”
One eye opened and his tail beat the bed a couple of times.
Then Clyde bent down and began chewing at a spot on his forearm and Henry leaned over to take a look. He saw the same ‘insect bite’ he’d seen on his own arm, so he went to his first air kit and got some topical antibiotic ointment and applied some to both their arms, then he popped two Tylenol before he walked up to the galley.
Anton was poaching eggs and making a fresh hollandaise for Henry’s favorite smoked salmon eggs Benedict, and as Anton had already diced up a cup of salmon for Clyde, Henry carried the bowl back to his berth while making all his usual breakfast noises. Clyde sat up and ate a little, but then he slowly laid his head down and closed his eyes – leaving Henry feeling more than a little concerned.
Henry watched the pup breathe for a while then sighed; he went to the galley to help with the English muffins and set the table, then he texted Tracy and told her to come over for breakfast.
“Should I bring the fire-breathing dragon-lady?” Tracy replied.
“Sure. We could all use some fun this morning,” he added, then he turned to Anton. “You’re beginning to like cooking a little too much, Anton. You going to sign up for a cooking school?”
“Not bad idea, Genry, but like flying too much.”
“No reason you can’t do both. If you start flying private jets that skill could be a bonus. Something to think about, anyway.”
“I never like before. Now it is new, so kinda fun.”
Edith came clopping down the companionway in five-inch heels and Henry just shook his head because he knew she knew better. So, she was just egging him on, trying to get a rise out of him…which was par for her course. Tracy followed her mom down the steps and when she caught Henry’s eye she saw he was trying his best not to let it bother him. Not too much, anyway.
“So,” Henry began, firing the first salvo of the morning, “I hear you’re headed back to LA tonight. Too chilly here for you?”
“Yes, and I need Tracy at home so she’s coming with me.”
“Is she? Well, how nice for you.”
“How nice? Why on earth would you say that?”
“Don’t you just hate traveling alone?” Henry replied.
“I haven’t given the matter much thought. By the way, Henry, you look like crap this morning.”
“Well, I haven’t had my morning dose of post-menopausal horse shit yet, so cut me some slack.”
Edith’s face turned deep crimson. “My, my, Henry. I had no idea you’d matured into such a misogynist troglodyte. I must say, you wear it very well.”
“Thanks, Edith. I knew you’d appreciate the labor involved.”
“Can I fix plate for you, Miss Edith?” Anton asked.
“Just some toast if you please, young man,” she said – though a little too obsequiously. It was as if, Henry thought, she was trying to highlight her take on the division of labor on board – in order to fill Tracy with doubt.
“Miss Tracy? You?”
“I’ll have two please, Anton. Did you roast potatoes this morning?”
“I know you like, so yes, of course. You want lots?”
She nodded gleefully and Anton smiled as he passed a plate to her.
Soon everyone was gathered at the table busily ignoring what had transpired in the aft cabin overnight. Everyone, that is, except Edith.
“So, what did your aliens want last night, Henry?”
Anton looked at the ceiling and started humming the Russian national anthem.
“You know, I have no idea,” Henry said – but only after slowly cutting some salmon and constructing the perfect bite. “You know, Anton, your Hollandaise is getting better and better.”
“I’ll say!” Tracy added, causing Anton to grin again. “And your potatoes are phenomenal!”
“Tracy!” Edith interrupted. “You really need to pack your duffel. I want to head out to the airport on the early side.”
“Mom, I told you. I’m not going back with you, so let’s just drop it.”
“We are not going to drop it, young lady! You’re flying home with me tonight!”
“Mother? Drop it now, please.”
“Tracy,” Edith wailed, her voice almost a scream now, “how dare you take that tone with me!”
“Edith?” Henry said gently. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like some estrogen to go with that toast?”
Her face turned beet red and she started to stutter: “H-h-hen-hen-ry Tag-tag-gert, if you m-men-mention men-meno-menopause or est-estrogen just one-one more time I’m go-go-going to cut your fu-fu-fucking balls off-off…”
And on hearing that Henry turned to Mike and slapped the table with both hands: “Your Honor,” he concluded sardonically, “the Prosecution rests.”
Two hours later Edith followed Mike and Anton to the taxi stand outside the marina gates and they rode out to de Gaulle with her – to make sure she actually got on the airplane, because Tracy had asked – leaving Henry and Tracy alone on the boat for the first time in days.
“I feel like a teenager again,” she said, smiling at him as he curled up on the bed next to Clyde. “Maybe we should run away now, just for fun.”
“I’m sorry about your mother. I had no idea she’d be so…”
“I was thinking unpredictable. But deranged works, too.”
“She didn’t get what she wanted.”
“C’est la vie, darlin’…” Henry sighed. “That’s the same song she’s been playin’ for years, but even so I was kinda surprised she hasn’t moved on yet.”
“She was always like that?”
“Only when she wanted something she knew she couldn’t have.”
Tracy nodded. “It’s the old definition of crazy. Do the same thing over and over and somehow expect different results each time you try.”
“I reckon that’s her.”
“Hank? That thing last night? You really don’t know who or what it was?”
“No clue. My best guess is it has something to do with one of the other groups, and now for some reason they think I’m a threat.”
“Why? Because you might be able to fly one of their ships?”
“I don’t know why they’d think that…”
“Unless someone told them,” Tracy said, smiling innocently. “Maybe to throw them off the scent?”
What a strange thing to say? – he remembered thinking at the time. Strange…as in…Tracy suddenly seemed to understand more than she should have, at least given the limited information he’d passed along to her so far.
“Clyde? You ready to go outside?” he asked gently.
The old boy raised his head and farted.
Henry took one sniff and ran for the leash…
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.