Gary ducked into the pressure suit locker pulling it shut behind him. The stench of sweat and disinfectant pushed him back against the locker door. He shoved himself into the claustrophobic space at the back of the locker’s rack where a third suit normally hung.
His rapid heart beat made him shake. If any of the officers saw him, he’d be scrubbing urinals with his tooth brush, or worse. He just couldn’t do the drills today. Not today. They were dropping tomorrow and he needed alone time.
Gary slumped down in the dark as much as the cramped locker allowed. His back pressed against one wall with his knees painfully jamming the locker wall in front of him.
“It won’t be that bad when they shut off grav,” Gary reminded himself in a mutter.
Andy sat on the edge of his bed, hands cuffed behind him. Uniformed police finished carrying the last folders out of Andy’s apartment. His computer, all the contents of his filing cabinet, and even his checkbook left with the last of the uniformed officers.
A suit-clad detective made one last sweep of the apartment. He spotted the phone sitting in its cradle by Andy’s bed.
“Almost forgot your phone.” He grinned at Andy. “Not that we need it after what we found on your computer.”
“Marcus?” his caseworker said, her hands folded on Mama’s kitchen table. “Did something happen to your sneaker?”
Marcus looked down at his size thirteen feet—two shoes, one old, one new. “No ma’am.”
“Why don’t they match?” She didn’t understand that matches weren’t the same as pairs. Daddy never told her about arks.
“They’re opposites,” he said. Daddy explained it better because he had more words. That was okay. Marcus was better at pairing.
“Like your socks?”
One foot, two foot, red foot, blue foot. Marcus smiled and nodded. “You and me, we’re opposites, too.”
“I guess we are. Is your father still spending all his time at the hospital?”
One knock sounded on his door at 12:01 AM on the first of November, as it had for 250 years. Anthony hesitated, even though the request was familiar. He glanced out the kitchen window at the moonwashed cliff of Beachy Head and the Channel beyond. Then a million knocks, a billion, pounding away in unison, a coruscating knot of sound that quaked his small home. The knocking made dishes rattle in their cabinets and his glass of whisky to dance and crash to the floor.
I remember quite distinctly the day I met him. One does not easily forget the strangest day in one’s life. It was a soggy morning, gray and overcast; fitting indeed I should think for what would soon take place. He stood at my doorstep, gripped my hand with unearned familiarity and smiling at me, attempted to enter my house.
While he appeared vaguely familiar, I was quite certain I had never made his acquaintance. “Pardon, sir,” I said abruptly, blocking his path. “But I am not in the habit of allowing strangers into my home.”
Greetings fellow graduates, parents, and faculty. No one is more surprised than me that I am speaking to you tonight. When we first walked through the big glass doors of Happy Valley High four years ago, did anyone imagine that this budding goth girl might one day be valedictorian of the class of 2014?
So many students studied more than me. So many worked harder than me. So many were smarter than me. Yet somehow none of them survived the high school gauntlet, so here I am. I didn’t even take any AP classes. In hindsight, that was probably lucky. Otherwise I might have suffocated on the chlorine gas Mary Llewellyn mixed from those mislabeled ingredients in chemistry lab. Or perhaps I would have suffered acute radiation sickness in AP Physics after that unfortunate typo on the laboratory supply form. You probably wouldn’t have found me in AP Biology though. My strict vegetarian principals made me uncomfortable dissecting fetal pigs. Who could have guessed that my squeamishness would save me from contracting flesh-eating bacteria? There’s a lesson about the importance of sticking to one’s principles in there somewhere.
“Druy, where did you find that pitiful looking piece of space junk?” Capitan Saga asked as he slid off the ramp onto the lower deck of his ship.
“In the emptiness,” Druy said and continued circling the disk shaped object.
“And why wasn’t I informed?” he asked.
The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.
An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance – as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door…” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation.
“You never sing for me. Why is that?” Rob’s voice was casual, but I froze. It was a breezy evening in March and a tired sun handed out the last lights for the day.
“I have an awful voice. I fear you’ll stop loving me once you hear me sing.” I tried to keep my voice playful, but fear in me didn’t make it easy.
He sighed and put a finger under my chin, turning my face so that my eyes met his. Chocolate brown and inviting—that was what his eyes were.
“Don’t lie, Nupur.” His casual tone had gone, and hurt framed his voice. “You sing for the young, the old, the sick and I always hear that you have a lovely voice. Some say your voice has magic.” With a great effort, I kept my face expressionless. The last word hit too close to home. “So why not for me, love? What have I done wrong?”
“Dad, I’m feeding the skeleton in the closet.”
My seven-year-old daughter stated this. She wasn’t asking permission.I had to sit up in my arm chair and set down my Kindle.
“Yes. He likes donuts.”