I spent the summer in Arkansas and wrote these three pieces. They were first posted @fictionaut alongside photos I made with my phone on the trip and later published in the fall 2015 issue of Olentangy Review including an audio recording.
The heat was incredible. It was brutal and reminded him of the existence of higher powers. He locked up his car, and tried the handles twice to make sure it was locked. He shouldered his backpack, pushed his baseball cap (“AREA 51”) down and set off in the direction of the UFO’s landing site. The scene from the night before still stood clearly and solemnly in his mind like the calm surface of a sacred pond at night. He felt the power of transition, of transgression even, creep up on him. He had led a quiet life so far but who knew what the future would bring? If there even was anything like future on the alien planet. Maybe time was immaterial there. They had invited him into their world. He had accepted immediately without weighing the options. He would have done in any other earthly circumstance. He did not know why. As he was walking he wondered if the car was really properly locked or not. He wondered if he had switched off the burners at home. He thought he had but…it was so easy to zone out, to leave without having taken proper precautions. He stopped, took a deep breath. Who was he kidding? He was not ready to leave: not with everything back here in such a state of disorder. The possibility of chaos was overwhelming. The aliens did not offer a solution to the chaos, they only offered an escape, an exit to entropy. The hot tongue of the sun licked his back. The cicadas were crying for him. The birds were wisely holding their song. He walked back to his car, focused on getting through the day without going crazy.
Published in: Fictionaut. Image: road to Ward, AR.
The priest had noticed the elderly robot who came to every one of his services: he always sat in the back of the church, almost in the dark where the windows were broken and were now boarded up. The robot came in, knelt, bent his head, folded his claws and stayed that way until the concluding rite. The priest imagined that the robot did not want to raise a ruckus by getting up and down – old machines could be noisy.
One day, he decided to approach him. The robot did not seem to notice, so the priest stepped in his way. The robot stopped, looked up. He was indeed very old: oxidization had left deep marks on his cheeks; the glass over his large head lights was almost blind; and the silicone rubber of his body was so smudgy and wrinkled that it almost looked like real skin. The robot could not fully command the braking; the process of slowing down was painfully drawn out and smelled of defeat: the robot’s torso bent back, the head thrust forward, his limbs trying to snatch control from the jaws of decay.
“Yes, father?” said the robot when he had managed to come to a standstill. The stench of burnt oil was in the air now. The priest felt sorry for him and guilty for having stopped him.
“Aww…nothing really, I am sorry to bother you, my son…,” said the priest, “I noticed you come to mass regularly and I wanted to make contact.”
“Sure, father,” said the droid, “sure.” He started to shake and splutter. Then he began again: “Sure.”
A cloud of white smoke formed above his head and the light bar that ran around his skull went dark. The priest sighed. It was too late for the viaticum.
Published in: Fictionaut. Image: dead tree in Garrison, AR.
At Wal-Mart, Bryston noticed that he had forgotten his glasses. He wouldn’t be able to see a bloody thing. He might lose his way if he dared to go more deeply into this new Hyper-Store. It was so large that most people caught a robocart at the entrance. He looked around for help.
A woman approached him and said: “You’re looking for aisle 72.”
Bryston said: “Am I? I’m looking for shampoo. Is that the aisle for shampoo?”
She shook her head. She had a lot of hair and looked ageless; her face was radiating a high mood: she looked serenely happy. Perhaps she wanted to sell him something. Well, he wasn’t going to buy anything but shampoo today, even if she offered him bodily love.
“No it isn’t,” the woman said. “But you have to trust me, Mr. Boyd, you want to go to aisle 72.” She slowly smoothed her hair back with both hands. He noticed how meticulously groomed her nails looked. How delicate her fingers were.
Bryston snorted. There was something very soothing in the woman’s voice and in her whole demeanour. He wanted to resist it, he really did. He didn’t know how she knew his name but there were probably scanners at the entrance.
She took his hand. It was cool and warm both. She walked off with him silently through the store.
After a while, he said: “This is an awfully long way, Ma’am.”
She did not reply and Bryston didn’t push it. Holding hands with this stranger felt good, there was no need to make a fuss. Just enjoy it while it lasted.
They hadn’t met any other shopper or employee for some time.
“Here we are,” the woman finally said. Bryston saw the large number ‘72’. He nodded.
“Now what,” he said.
“Now you disappear,” she said smiling and flipped a switch right below the sign. Bryston Boyd couldn’t read it because he hadn’t brought his glasses but the woman wasn’t lying: in an instant, he was gone.
And so was his car outside on the parking lot. And his house back on Clinton Drive with everything in it. And his social security record. And the memory anyone had of ever having met Bryston Boyd.
Published in: Fictionaut. Image: clouds at dusk in Houston, TX.