by Michael Kingswood
The moon was a waxing gibbous, just a few days away from full. It shown down on the field where Susan lay with blue-white brilliance, giving the world a dull, mysterious illumination that hinted at mysteries almost uncovered. Secrets whispered in the shadows.
She tucked her hands beneath her head and just lay on the quilted blanked she had placed overtop the wildly growing grass strands and the interloping wildflowers that in the daylight would have made the field a kaleidoscope of color. Now they were dimmed to shades of grey, and the moon alone grabbed her attention.
The late summer breeze caused the grass around her to wave slowly, and it tugged at the loose cotton of her blouse and skirt, carrying the lingering heat from the day away and leaving her pleasantly cool, just south of warm. The scents of growing things and flowing water, from the stream she had passed on her way out here, came to her nostrils.
But the moon. The moon was all.
The darkness of the mares, the brightness of the impact craters and their surrounding ejecta blankets. The way the light and shadow of its surface seemed to flow into and around itself.
It called to her, beckoning. She felt its desire for her; its need.
But she also felt the great breadth of distance between it and herself. A distance that only a few humans had ever crossed, and that she almost certainly never would.
The knowledge that she could not answer that call tugged at her heart, and she willed it to stop with all her might.
But still the call came. Unceasing.
As Susan lay there, the moon seemed to grow in her vision, the shadows of the night elsewhere growing deeper with each breath she took, until the moon as all, filling her eyes and seeping into her mind with its siren call.
“You feel it, don’t you? The call?”
Susan turned her head and was unsurprised to see a man lying on her blanket next to her. He had a lean, handsome face and well-coiffed black hair. Piercing eyes that she could somehow tell were green despite the darkness. His body was long and lean, covered in a black suit with a white shirt that was open at the collar, no tie.
The man faced her, propped up on one elbow, and his eyes burrowed into hers as she met them.
“Will you answer?”
Susan hesitated. What would it mean if she said yes? But the call, silent and insistent, tugged at her, and her uncertainty faded beneath it. She took a deep breath.
The man’s lips turned upwards at the corners, then he leaned into her. Their lips met, and she tasted salt beneath sweetness, and beneath that something almost metallic. Lightning swept through Susan’s body as he pulled her into an embrace. She wrapped her arms around him as heat followed the lightning, and felt herself carried away by the sensation of it all.
After a short eternity, the man broke the kiss and pulled his head back. He stared down into Susan’s eyes, and his smile grew larger. Unnaturally large, as though his mouth was growing somehow, even as it stayed the same size.
His lips parted, and she saw long, pointed incisors.
As he drove down toward her neck, Susan screamed –
And jerked awake, sitting bolt upright. Her bedsheets fell off her body, and she pressed her fingers to the side of her neck. She expected to feel the wetness of her own blood, where those terrible fangs must surely have ripped her throat out.
Nothing. Just the smoothness of her skin, unbroken and dry save for the sweat that covered her body, making her nightgown cling to her.
Shivering, and not just from the nighttime chill in the air, Susan looked over at the alarm clock sitting on her nightstand. Its blue digital numbers told the tale: 3:45 am.
With a suppressed groan, Susan pushed the remaining covers off and forced herself off of her mattress and to her feet. She knew there would be no more sleep tonight; there never was, lately. So instead of fighting a hopeless fight, she stumbled the ten feet from her bedside to her bathroom.
Flicking on the light, she stood in the yellow-white glow that the old incandescent bulbs gave off—better by far than the new ones the government forced on everyone to enrich cronies—and bent over the sink to wash her face. As she straightened and looked at her own reflection in the mirrored medicine cabinet mounted on the wall above the sink, she was struck, not by the frizziness of her auburn hair, but by the lack of fatigue lines on her face.
The dreams were getting more intense, and her sleep shorter and less restful. But she didn’t look at all excessively tired.
Nor did she particularly feel it, once she got out and about her day. Despite never getting more than four or five hours down any more.
It was odd. But if it wasn’t for the dreams, she’d take it. Sleep was annoying in how it cut into her productive time.
But the dreams. Always the same place. Always the same man. But they’d been coming more intensely the last week or so. And tonight’s…
She shivered again as memories of his touch, and the thrills it brought, wormed their way upward, and her body responded. As the shiver passed, she felt an itch in her left arm, just above the wrist. She looked down and saw that the scar she’d gotten from an accident a few months back, the one that almost looked like a dog’s head that she’d had since she was a little girl, was inflamed. Red and rigid, almost protruding.
She scratched at the scar, and the itch faded, but the inflammation remained.
“What is going on?” she asked her reflection in the mirror.
Silence, and the reflection of the blue-white moonlight spilling in through her bedroom window, was the only response.
* * * * *
Susan spent a full day at work trying and failing to put the previous night’s dream out of her mind. The day passed in a blur, with the glowing moon, its light reflecting off the man’s sharp teeth, intruding into her thoughts when she least needed them to.
Which was often. Though her duties as a paralegal were not physically strenuous, they did require attention to detail. And many times she found that she had typed a clause wrong, or misspelled one of the disputants’ names. And once she transposed a comma, so a settlement proposal for $10,000 became $100,000 before she caught her mistake.
As a result, when she left the Law Offices of Bricks and Capeto, she was well and truly frustrated with herself, and befuddled by her lack of wits.
She was just happy she’d caught the major mistakes before her bosses saw them.
It was not far from the law firm to her rented house, maybe four miles as the crow flies. Many days she rode her bicycle in, weather permitting.
Not today, though. She hadn’t trusted herself to keep focused and not ride straight into traffic this morning. So instead, she got into her red Ford Fiesta and drove home, with a stop at Vons for the week’s groceries on the way.
Her thoughts were still encumbered by the strange dreams, and stranger feelings, she’d been having as she picked out a cart and, passing through the automatic doors of the grocery, turned right into the produce section. She picked through the fruits, selecting good specimens of apples and oranges, and was turning around a stacked pallet of melons when she stopped cold, the blood draining from her face and a chill running down her spine.
There, ahead of her in the organic vegetables section, stood a long, lean man with a fine mop of black hair. His skin wasn’t pale—in fact it was nicely bronzed—but it seemed to reflect the fluorescent lights in the ceiling for a moment as he turned toward her. He wore a black suit and a white collared shit, unbuttoned at the collar.
His green eyes met hers, and his lips twisted upward ever so slightly.
Susan wanted to shriek. To cry out in denial, and flee. But she was rooted to the spot, like her feet were encased in concrete. And though she could breathe, it was only in quick bursts, through her nose. Her jaw was open, dropped wide in astonishment, but she had no power to move it.
It was like she was paralyzed.
The man walked toward her, and she clearly heard each footfall as he came closer, his footsteps making sharp rhythm against the suddenly frantic beating of her heart.
God, he’s beautiful, part of Susan’s mind cried out, nearly ecstatic at the sight of him.
The other part was gibbering with terror.
He came to a stop in front of her and smiled more fully. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Susan said, breathlessly. Though her mind rebelled against it, she could not deny what her eyes said to her: this was the man she had been dreaming about, more vividly each night, for the last several weeks.
“Do you come here often?”
He said it with a tone of ironic humor, and Susan responded with an almost instinctual laugh as she played along with the cliched joke.
“Every week,” she found herself saying, and still she could not bring herself to move from the spot she had stood upon the moment she first laid eyes on him.
“Well,” he said, and he reached out to take the apple she still clutched in her hand away from her with a negligible twist of his wrist. “Why don’t we go someplace less routine, shall we?”
Susan’s mind cried out to her to resist the incursion. Or at least to see to the basket full of foodstuffs that she was leaving in her wake. But her feet turned her to follow him, and basket be damned, as he led her back out of the grocery store.
He turned left after they exited, and she followed until he came to a stop in front of the parking spots at the edge of the building where a shiny chrome and black motorcycle stool leaning against its kickstand.
The nameless man walked up and threw his leg over the bike, then settled his weight onto it and pushed up enough to relieve the kickstand of its weight. Then he kicked the stand back up and looked at Susan, his mysterious smile still plastered all over his face.
He reached out his hand to her. “Let’s go, Susan.”
She should have been screamed out the question: how do you know my name? But a flash of insight told her his: Gerald. It was like she’d always known him, somehow. And he’d known her. Without protest, she took his hand, then mounted the bike behind him.
A minute later, they were screaming down the road, headed toward God knows where.
Except that Susan also knew exactly where they were heading.
* * * * *
The drive lasted forever, and it passed in a heartbeat. They swept through the intersections and thoroughfares of the suburbs, then out into the countryside surrounding the metropolitan area until the subdivisions faded into individual houses spaced a broad distance apart. Then the houses fell behind completely as the road rose into rolling hills that presaged a mountain range to come, a hundred miles or so away.
Susan rode without a helmet, arms wrapped around the man from her dreams, and felt a mixture of exhilaration and horror. Exhilaration at her first time on a motorcycle, the speed the man drove, the quick precision that sent thrills through her body unlike any she had never experienced. Horror as she berated herself at her foolishness for willingly going with a stranger to who knows where.
But he’s not a stranger, that voice in her head said, and you know where he’s taking you.
Sometime into the night, Gerald slowed and turned off onto a narrow two-lane road that shoved its way through an overhanging forest canopy deeper into the wilderness.
The night had fully closed around the land, and beneath the rumble of the motorcycle’s engine Susan imagined she could hear the chirping of night insects, the croaking of toads…all the sounds of the forest at night.
They drove on, accelerating again, and then after several minutes of darkness broken only by the illumination of the bike’s headlight on the road ahead, they burst out from beneath the canopy and into the open.
The road turned right, hugging the edge of the forest, but to the left was open field.
The man slowed, and as the noise of the engine faded, the sounds of the night grew louder, exactly as Susan had imagined. The air was cool, but moist, and the smell of flowing water and growing things covered the land.
The same way it had in her dreams.
As if in a daze, Susan slipped off the motorcycle, detaching herself from Gerald with a strange reluctance. She stepped back from him and the bike, and watched as he also dismounted. His movements were fluid and efficient, exacting.
He paused for a moment, stooping to open one of the two plastic saddle bags that flanked the bike’s rear wheel. He pulled something out from inside, then turned to face her, the smile still locked onto his face.
Susan’s eyes lowered to the thing that he held in his hands. It was a quilted blanket.
She didn’t have to wonder about it at all; she was certain. The same blanket from her dreams.
Gerald gestured toward the field on the other side of the road, and raised an eyebrow. “Shall we?” Then he set out across the road, apparently confident she would follow.
She was getting her wits back, and the fuzziness that had been encroaching on her mind since their meeting in Vons was fading, but it was just replaced by a deep curiosity, and beneath it an aching earning. To know. To understand.
And to go.
Susan moved to follow him, and called out, “Who are you?”
He didn’t look back at her. “You know my name.”
And she did. But… She shook her head. “Yes. But who are you?”
Gerald chuckled, but didn’t answer. Instead he ascended the little mound that separated the field from the road, then began pushing himself through the grass and wildflowers that grew to almost knee height beyond.
The entire scene was bathed in blue-white light from the moon, and lesser light from the multitude of stars. But there was not even a hint of a manmade light source. Susan cast about to be sure, almost doing a complete circle. Nothing. Just nature’s own illumination.
She glanced up, and saw that the moon was maybe a day away from full. Only a sliver of its western half remained dark.
A bout of nerves crossed over her, and she swallowed. But she couldn’t not follow Gerald. So she, too, mounted the mound and stepped into the field.
She found him fifty or sixty yards in, reclined on the quilt blanket, which he had laid out on the ground, trampling grass and wildflower beneath. As she approached, he shifted, boosting himself up onto one elbow to watch her. In the crystal clear moonlight, she saw his smile widen, then his eyes left hers as he looked back up at the moon.
“Have you ever wondered why it calls to you?”
Susan recalled the sharp teeth from her dream, and the nerves she felt a moment ago tried to creep up again. But something forced them down as she looked at him, gazing up into the sky with such a look of devotion on his face.
That was just a dream; not reality. But then, so was he…until he was also real.
Susan shook her head as she sat down onto the edge of the quilt, as far from Gerald as she could be without not being on it. She did not follow his gaze upwards; she kept her eyes on him.
He must have seen her head shake from his peripheral vision, as he lowered his gaze back to her. From the look in his eyes, he had noted the distance she was keeping. But if anything, he looked amused by it.
“I’m not going to harm you, Susan,” he said.
She looked askance at him. “How can I be sure of that?”
His eyebrow crooked upward, then he rolled his shoulders in a little shrug. Sitting up more fully, he reached with his left hand and pushed up the sleeve of his suit and shirt on his right arm. “Because we are kin.” He extended his arm so that the inside of his right wrist was clearly visible.
He had the same scar she did, but on the opposite arm. And looking at it here in the moonlight, the dog’s head seemed to be almost three dimensional. And it glowed, seemingly giving off light of its own in response to that of the moon.
Susan looked down at her wrist, and saw that her scar, too, was reacting to the moonlight, the same as his was. She raised her hand for him to see, and he nodded approvingly.
“It is how I found you. How I reached out to you these last weeks. You’ve grown up, and now it’s time to take your place.”
Susan shook her head. She was almost thirty. She’d been grown up for a while. And… “Take my place where?”
His smile broadened, and for a second it seemed it was going to do the unnatural face-consuming thing that it had done in her dream. Instead, it halted at its normal, natural breadth, and he pointed upward toward the sky.
Toward the moon.
She did look up now, and it seemed like something was moving up there, on the moon’s surface. She couldn’t quite make out what, but the patterns of light and shadow had shifted. Were shifting. What –
“What is that?” she said, aloud.
“Your transport,” Gerald replied. He had gone back to reclining on the blanket, a peaceful smile on his face. “They first came here when mankind was young. They saw we needed guidance, and picked certain people from the population, to be emissaries. Prophets, if you will.”
“Prophets.” She knew the look she was giving him was skeptical, but it didn’t seem to give him any pause.
“They did not pick from any specific race, or based on status or wealth. Just people of promise, from whatever walk of life, who could help spread the message and guide mankind on the path.”
She could see he was completely serious about what he was saying. But it didn’t make any sense at all. She didn’t recall ever having been chosen, or..
But when she looked back up into the sky, the bit that had been moving around on the moon’s surface was larger now. It was certainly detached from the moon’s face. And it was growing larger. Getting closer.
Susan felt her jaw drop again. “So… So they’re aliens?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Gerald replied. “They’re from a dimension outside of ours. They were once physical like us, but have evolved to a higher realm, and seek to help us do the same.”
“And they just pick people at random.” She shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
The object, whatever it was, was much closer now. Though it was the same color as the moon, it now completely eclipsed Earth’s companion. And it was growing still. A soft humming began to fill the air, organic-sounding, almost like a heartbeat sped up three or four times but kept at its same tone.
“It does,” Gerald said, “if you consider that real changes cannot be imposed from above. They must arise spontaneously. So they influence people throughout society, all at once.”
“Making us puppets on their strings.”
Gerald chuckled. “Nothing so melodramatic as that. They are teachers, not dictators.”
The humming was getting louder, and now it seemed the sky itself was parting before the object. The spaceship?
She still couldn’t quite make out what it was. It seemed to come in and out of view even as it grew closer and more distinct.
And then it was there, on the ground right in front of her and Gerald. It wasn’t like any ship she had ever seen, or ever envisioned. Just a silvery column rising straight up into the sky about thirty feet away.
She jumped to her feet in surprise at its sudden arrival, completely without sound except for that humming, and without even a breath of wind except for what was already blowing.
“Holy sh*t,” she said.
“Indeed,” Gerald replied as he got to his feet as well, though more calmly and deliberately than she had.
In the column ahead, a dark rectangle seemed to slide into place from left to right. Like a door opening? Sure enough, a second after the rectangle stopped its motion, pure white light began shining forth from within. Susan could see stairs leading upward, and humanoid figures inside, waiting.
“Well,” Gerald said. “They’re here, and they’ve been waiting on you for a long time.” He lifted an eyebrow at her. “Don’t want to keep them waiting.”
Uncertainty reared its head again. Susan chewed on her lip. “I… How do I know it’s safe?”
Gerald took her gently by the hand and began leading her forward. He didn’t tug at her, but she didn’t really resist him either. Despite her uncertainty she found herself walking with him, toward the doorway. “I told you, they only want to help us.”
“Have you gone with them?”
Something crossed over Gerald’s face for a heartbeat, then he smiled at her, the same beautiful smile she recalled from her dream. “I have. It’s like nothing you can imagine.”
They were just in front of the door now, and she could see clearly inside. The steps looked to be made of marble, and the being standing just within, waiting for her…
She heard herself drawing in an awed breath, and couldn’t blame herself. It was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. Tall, stately with proud, but not haughty, features that could have been male or female or both. Its long wavy yellow-brown hair flowed past its shoulders. It wore blue-white robes and had its hands clasped in front of where the navel would be on a human. And was looking at her with an expression of love, love that flowed into her from its presence until she felt like she would overflow with it.
All doubt swept away. This was not a creature to fear. It was impossible such a being could do her harm.
Susan moved to step inside, but stopped, looking back at Gerald. “Are you coming as well?”
He shook his head. “I have other tasks to perform. But go. They will take care of you.”
Susan smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Gerald.” She leaned forward and gave him a little peck on the cheek. Then she stepped into the aliens’ craft.
The being within moved to the side and gestured for her to proceed up the stairs. As she mounted the second one, she looked back and saw the doorway sliding shut.
And through it, Gerald sprinting away, like he was being chased.
What – ?
As the door closed completely, the light changed. Where before it had been pure white, warm and cleansing, it began to take on a greenish-yellow tint.
Feeling suddenly uneasy, Susan turned to look at the being who had greeted her, and saw that it had changed as well. In the new light, its proud beauty was twisting, becoming somehow unclean-looking.
The humming, which had been filling her ears before, changed tone, becoming discordant, then downright jarring. Like rhythmic metallic screeching.
There were other beings like the first now, closing in from all sides and floating through the space even as the lighting continued to shift, moving from green-yellow toward red.
As she began to get a scent of sulphur in the air, the being who greeted her opened its mouth wide, and she saw the same huge incisors she had seen in Gerald’s mouth during her dream.
She heard herself whimpering as she backed away from the thing, but as she looked left and right, the other beings were still there, getting closer.
Her foot came down on the edge of the stairs, and she almost fell. She caught herself, but not before she saw the source of the red light, and the sulfurous smell: raging flames beneath the staircase, some unimaginable distance below here.
She was gibbering now. What was this? This couldn’t be happening.
Susan cast about, looking left and right, up and down. But there was no escape. The creatures were everywhere, circling. Eyeing her like meat.
Then they charged her, from all sides at once.
And she screamed.
* * * * *
As the portal winked out of existence, Gerald thought he could hear Susan’s shriek. The first of many, that would go on for a long, long time.
How long, Gerald didn’t know. Time didn’t move the same in the beings’ dimension as it does in ours. But she would be a long time in the dying. That much he knew for certain.
That was, if she ever actually did.
He sniffed in satisfaction. It used to be more difficult, sweeping up the mark. But these millennial girls were so stupid; they fell for the hope and change fix the world bullish*t so easily…
Part of him, a tiny sliver of what had once been his conscience—the stubborn part that refused to die no matter how he worked to sear it away—cried out in sympathy for the girl. He smothered it. Hard. It could have been him in there; would have been him if he hadn’t struck the deal he had.
It could still be, if he didn’t produce. Better her than him.
It took only a moment to get his mind right, then he went about folding up the quilted blanket.
As he was walking back to his motorcycle, he felt the brand on his wrist pulse. Once. Twice. On the third time, a feeling of warmth and strength flooded through him. He arched upward, going up onto his tiptoes for a moment as he was swept up in ecstasy.
Then it passed, and he went on back to his bike.
After stuffing the quilt back into his saddle bag, he mounted up and started the engine. He took a moment to look at himself in the mirror mounted on his handlebar.
The lines that had been growing on his face had faded, his skin going back to the smoothness of youth. His muscles felt more taught, and his pants looser where the little paunch that had been starting to grow had receded.
He smiled, satisfied at his pay, and maneuvered the bike around to head back to town.
But as he gunned the engine, the little voice in the back of his head whispered to him. Ten years ago, he would have ended up looking twenty three or twenty four. Now, he looked about twenty six. The payments were getting shorter; or he was getting more tolerant of them. What happened when they stopped being effective altogether?
How long did he really have before they finally came for him as well?
It was harder to cast that thought aside than his earlier doubt. But he did it.
Focus on the present. Enjoy eternal youth while you have it. The other is a bridge to cross when the time comes.
But above all, keep doing the job.
And so he sped off into the night, looking for his next mark.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: