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EP536: Prophet to the Dogs

RELEASED 3.August.2016
AUTHOR: Bethany Edwards
NARRATOR: George Hrab
HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author… Mystery!

narrator George Hrab

narrator George Hrab

about the narrator… Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer, composer, and heliocentrist George Hrab has written and produced six independent CDs and a concert DVD; published two books; recorded hundreds of episodes of an award-winning podcast; emceed countless science conferences; been a TEDx speaker; and has even performed for President Clinton. He’s traveled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song. George is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. www.GeorgeHrab.com

Prophet to the Dogs
by Bethany Edwards

A long time ago, in another life, when there were so many billions of us that 382 of them were small change, I worked in an office building. I was the graphic designer for a community arts magazine—circulation 382—on the top floor.

Across the street from this office building was a tiny, nameless park. It contained a few trees, some scraggly bushes, four benches, and just enough grass so that people thought they could hide their cigarette butts in it. I would always put my butts in the trashcan on the corner like a civilized person, but no one else ever took after my good example.

Despite being small, the park attracted a very diverse crowd. People in my building took their lunch break there, college students read or tapped away on their devices, teenage skateboarders attempted to skid across the backs of benches, moms let their young kids burn off some energy, and homeless people curled up with their dogs in the evening.

But by far the most interesting people in the park were the protestors. There were no huge corporate or political headquarters in that part of town, so we didn’t get organized protestors. We got lone Don Quixotes, tilting solo at the windmills of modern evils. They were usually spreading the message that the end was nigh if we didn’t stop global warming or come to Jesus. I got a big kick out of them when I first started my job, but over time they all faded into the background of my everyday life.

Until the day I noticed the “YOU ARE ALL F&@^%D” girl.

She sat on a bench by herself, wearing sunglasses on a very cloudy day. I noticed her at lunch, but I couldn’t say when exactly she showed up. She wore a leather jacket, army boots, and short, blue-black hair that ended at her chin without the slightest hint of a wave.

I was taking a late lunch that day because things had been hitting the fan pretty hard at work. A major advertiser was threatening to pull out because our circulation had dropped to that unimpressive figure of 382, and we’d only managed to keep him in by cutting his fee nearly in half. It was better than losing him, but not by much. On top of that, the editor and the advertising director were at each other’s throats about how much space to dedicate to the community theater’s latest production.

As the graphic designer, there wasn’t much I could do about

any of this besides wait for the screaming to die down.

Normally I didn’t talk to the park protestors, especially when it had been a long morning and I just wanted to eat half of a turkey sub and smoke a couple of cigarettes in peace. But “YOU ARE ALL FUCKED” really resonated with me in that moment, so I went and sat on the bench next to the new protestor.

“How so?” I asked her as I unwrapped my sandwich.

She had been staring into space and turned her head slowly to look at me. “What?”

“How are we all fucked?” I asked. “Global warming?”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think that will be a problem for much longer.”

“Ah,” I said. “So Jesus is coming back?”

Her eyebrows arched above the rims of her aviators. “Hardly.”

“Ok…so what is it, then?” “The aliens,” she said.

There it was. “Ohhh,” I said, back on firmer ground. “The aliens.” I settled back on the bench and started in on my sandwich.

She leaned closer to me. Her sunglasses were reflective, so my own distorted image loomed in as well. “You know about the aliens?”

I cracked open a soda. “Of course. There used to be this guy over on that bench,” I gestured with the can, “Who only had one leg and told everyone how the aliens took the other one. They probed him, too, apparently. Poor guy, I think he was a vet. Told me ALL about the aliens.”

By the time I finished talking she’d settled back into her previous slouch. “You think I’m crazy,” she said.

“Well, yes,” I admitted. “Unless your story matches up with that other guy. Then I’ll have to re-evaluate my place in the universe.”

“You’ll have to do that, anyway,” she said. “They’re coming on Thursday. I’m supposed to be warning people.”

Her voice was strange. Raspy. Not hoarse exactly.

Whispery, but loud–like she was talking very softly through a microphone. But I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. After all, I told myself, god knows what the kids are smoking these days.

I chewed another bite of sandwich thoughtfully. “You don’t want to take out an ad in a community paper, do you? You could get the word out to almost four hundred eager subscribers.”

She bit her lip, appearing to think it over. “How

much?”

“Pretty expensive, but then as the publication deadline gets closer and the ad department gets more desperate the rates really drop.”

“So we’re talking about your personal paper, then?” “Oh, god no. I don’t own it–I’d jump off the roof if

I owned it. But I work for it. It’s called Footlights, the office is right up there.” I gestured once again, this time with the sandwich.

“Tempting, but no,” she said. Her tone said, “And you think I’m the crazy one.”

Minutes passed. The girl drank out of a thermos, and I polished off half my sub. Sparrows flitted in the branches of the park trees, a homeless guy turned over on the far bench, and some kid leaning against a tree did something very intently on his smartphone.

I didn’t see the homeless woman with the dog, so I wrapped up the other half of my sub for what I suspected would be a working dinner. Naturally the editor and ad director wouldn’t sort out what they wanted to do until around 4:30 and then I’d be figuring out layouts for the next several hours.

As I finished my soda I asked the girl why she was there. “What’s your deal, anyway?”

“I’m a student.”

“A student of how people respond to alien warnings?” “Look, if you think I’m crazy, fine. Go back to work

and let other people form their own opinions.”

I usually smoked by the trashcan, but something made me feel extremely unrepentant about bothering this girl with my second hand smoke. I stuffed the empty soda can in my sandwich bag and lit up. “Look,” I said. “You’ve got to be the worst prophet of doom, ever. I mean that guy with one leg was absolutely certifiable. In fact he’s not around any more because his nephew had him committed. But he really sold the alien thing. Had me half convinced one time.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah! It was after the office Christmas party and I was really drunk, but he had me half convinced. I wouldn’t buy what you’re selling if I was on ecstasy. If you want people to form any kind of opinion about you at all, you have to really lean in. Add some details. Put ‘aliens are coming’ on your sign and yell at anyone who gets within earshot. Maybe one of them will listen. But there is definitely no point just sitting there with that sign.”

“Thanks for that,” she said. Her tone said, “Fuck off already.”

So I did. I didn’t even know why I had bothered with the rant. Faulty salesmanship was giving me enough problems in my real life without me trying to coach a crazy alien evangelist.

On Tuesday morning I was getting coffee from the food truck before work. I pocketed my change and noticed that the girl’s sign now read, “YOU ARE ALL FUCKED – aliens are coming.” I was surprised she had taken my advice. As the morning dragged on I took breaks from staring at my computer screen to go stare out the window that faced the park. She was always out there. A couple of times I even saw her talking to people. At lunch I got my usual sandwich and went over to her bench again. “Glad to see you taking your crazy more seriously,” I said.

She shrugged. “It won’t make any difference, but it’s less boring.”

“What is this really about, anyway?” I asked. “You don’t actually seem crazy. You seem like someone doing a social experiment. You did say you were a student yesterday.”

“Yeah. I’m sort of a history student.” She tilted her face so that I thought she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye. Hard to tell with the sunglasses. “I got an assignment to try and change the past.”

Oh boy. “So you’re from the future.”

She put a finger by her nose and probably winked at

me.

“And you’re trying to change the result of the alien

invasion which is coming on Thursday.” “Yeah.”

“This seems like a weird way to go about that.”

Once again I couldn’t quite tell because of the mirrored lenses, but I thought she rolled her eyes at that.

“What do you think I should do instead?” she asked “You know, talk to people who can do something about

it. At least take your sign to the Pentagon or the White House, not some shithole of a neighborhood park.”

“It’s been tried. Never works. The student always gets arrested, or just ignored.” She looked away from me at a commotion on the other side of the park. The homeless lady with the dog had just showed up, and her dog had mistaken a passing Yorkie for a chew-toy.

The Yorkie’s owner turned out to be a lot scrappier than he looked. He elbowed the homeless lady’s Rotweiler

mix in the teeth and scooped his little dog to safety against his navy blazer. “Bad dog!” he yelled at the Rotweiler mix. “Fucking control your dog!” He yelled at the woman. “It could have killed Sebastian!”

The homeless woman shouted something back, but it was hard to understand at a distance. I couldn’t tell whether she was yelling at the man or the dog.

“See,” I said. “Now that’s something you could have changed. I really think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew with this school assignment. Preventing an alien invasion is huge. Like that one time in college when I decided to do a paper over imagery in Moby Dick. You gotta set realistic goals. I ended up doing the paper on religious themes in ‘Billy Budd’ instead, and it practically wrote itself. You should change something little about the past, like stopping a dog fight.”

She turned back to me. I got the impression that her mind was churning. “Something little,” she said. “Something that wouldn’t really matter.”

“Well,” I said. “It would matter to the dog.” She nodded her head slowly. “Yeah.”

The homeless woman meandered over to us, eyeballing my sandwich. “Think about it,” I told the girl. I stood up to hand the remaining half of my sub to the woman. She mumbled what might have been thanks and began tugging the turkey slices out of the bread and cheese.

“I will,” said the girl.

Tuesday afternoon was so busy I didn’t even have time to look out the window. On Wednesday morning I saw that the girl was gone from her bench. Disappointing, but no big surprise. But when I went to get lunch I saw her sitting on her sign, on the ground, playing with the Rotweiler mix. The homeless woman was sleeping on the girl’s bench.

“Hey,” I said as I walked over.

“Hey,” she said, standing up in a slow, careful way. “I lent out the bench. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Not at all,” I said. “I don’t really have time to sit and eat today, anyway. Deadlines approach.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Time’s a bitch.” “So, tomorrow? Aliens? End of the world?”

She nodded. When she spoke her tone became less sarcastic and more somber than I’d heard before. “I’m sorry. I wish I could really stop it. I know it doesn’t look like I’m trying very hard, but better students than me have tried really, really hard. It just doesn’t work.

Major events in time are fixed. That’s really why they send us back, to learn that.”

I had been humoring her for almost three days and it had become a habit. “That makes sense. I guess it’s comforting, in a way. I don’t have to worry about anyone going back in time and killing Steve Jobs.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” she said. “Things tend to shake out over time, too. There’s this thing called Ferak’s Hypothesis. ‘Any catastrophic event will eventually give rise to a situation where those involved would choose not to go back and prevent the catastrophe.’”

I wondered if she’d made that up herself, or if there was a whole little cult of fake time travelers who shared fake wisdom. “Any event? What about 9/11?”

She just stared at me. “What?”

I stared back. “9/11. The Twin Towers. New York.

2001. You are seriously not young enough to not know about that.”

“Oh, right, the big 2001 terrorist attack. Sorry, it’s a lot further back for me than for you.”

That annoyed me. She was free to do any kind of weird social experiment that she wanted to, but to me it was in pretty poor taste to stay in character when discussing real tragedies. “Right, of course. So with your great future wisdom, how does 9/11 fit the whatsit law?”

“Ferak’s Hypothesis. Well, it doesn’t say that any bad event leads to something objectively good, just that after enough time has passed the new generation wouldn’t change anything if they had a chance.”

“Oh, so people just get used to the world the way it is, even if it’s terrible.”

“That’s probably part of it. Another part is that people worry that changing a big, bad event would somehow lead to something even worse. I can’t give you an example about 2001 off the top of my head. Usually the example we talk about in class is…well, tomorrow.” She looked very solemn.

“Ok, fine. Well you can tell me tomorrow morning about how the alien invasion will shake out over time. I have to get back to work.” I turned and left.

She was so calm and sane and certain. She’d obviously put a lot of thought into her story. I suspected she might even believe it. The idea of aliens dropping out of the blue the next day was obviously nuts, but I couldn’t help being a little unsettled by how she talked about it. Like it was a huge historical tragedy, no different from a real

terrorist attack–and so far in the past she didn’t personally feel anything about it.

If something terrible did happen the next day, it seemed like she would just take it in and say that history was happening on schedule.

All through Wednesday afternoon I took frequent smoke breaks on the roof, which was closer than going downstairs since my office was on the top floor. I stayed late, past 7:00, partly because there was so much to be done and partly because I was having so much trouble concentrating on it instead of thinking about the skinny park prophet and her disturbing conviction.

On Thursday I didn’t go to the park at all. It was partly because I didn’t feel like seeing her again and partly because the rain clouds that had been hanging heavy all week finally broke. A steady, soaking rain began to fall. Good, I thought. I had always found it easier to concentrate when it was raining, and my intractable Friday deadline loomed large.

I ordered in for lunch, making sure to tip the dripping delivery guy.

“What’s that smell?” asked the copy editor as we swiveled in our desk chairs, chewing our respective sandwiches.

I didn’t smell anything except my turkey club. “Chipotle mayo?”

“No…” She looked thoughtfully out the window for a moment, sniffing, then shrugged and turned her attention back to Minesweeper.

There was a tiny covered patch on the roof right by the stairs leading up from the top floor, and that was where I went for my midday cigarette. From that part of the roof I could only see the far edge of the park. Wet trees moving gently under the impact of the rain.

I noticed the smoke from my cigarette moving straight up. Odd, I thought. All this rain with no wind.

The afternoon wore on. Every time I looked up from my work I noticed that the rain kept falling at exactly the same rate, drumming gently on the windowsills; never lashing the panes, never letting up. Partly from deadline stress and partly just to see, I went up for another cigarette around four o’clock. The smoke drifted straight up again.

After I ground out the butt on the wet tar roof, I noticed a strange smell. It wasn’t ozone, tar, cigarette, traffic exhaust, or wet-park-smell. It wasn’t unpleasant,

but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. Probably not a gas leak. I shrugged it off and went back to work.

I’d known it would be a late night, and it was. As the last man on the assembly line, so to speak, I was also the last one left in the office. By 8:30 I had uploaded all but one layout to the publisher’s website. The final layout was open across my enormous monitor—-my beautiful, high-res, retina-display monitor, the one I’d been so excited to get, the one I got so thoroughly sick of staring at on deadline nights. Sometimes I still miss that monitor.

My cell phone rang. I expected my editor, calling to remind me everything had to be in by midnight, but it was my brother.

“Hey,” I said, “How’s Cali?”

“Rainy as fuck,” he said. “It’s been coming down all day. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Yeah, here too,” I said. “And it was cloudy all week. I think I’m getting a vitamin D deficiency.”

“Ha, me too. Same cloudy bullshit over here, all damn week. Anyway, I called because Megan’s been bugging me about this smell she’s been smelling all afternoon. She’s afraid it’s anthrax or cyanide or something.”

“I’m not poison control.”

“Oh come on,” he said. “You’re always watching those crime shows, right? Don’t they have that kind of crap in them? Like, what does cyanide smell like?”

I sighed. I did love my crime shows. “Supposedly it smells like almonds, if NCIS can be taken as a source of literal truth.”

His voice became distant, calling out away from the receiver. “Hey Megs, cyanide smells like almonds. Is that it? Should we get out the hazmat suits?”

I love my brother, but he can be kind of an ass. I really didn’t know why Megan had voluntarily lived with him for three years.

“She wants to know what almonds smell like,” he reported back.

That was where my knowledge fell down. “I don’t know,” I said. “Nutty?”

“Hmm. Well, apparently whatever it is has been around for hours and we’re not dead, so it’s probably fine. Oh, hey, shit, this is your deadline night isn’t it? Are you still at work?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Ok, well, sorry for bugging you then.” His voice became distant again. “Megs, it’s her deadline night for fuck’s sake, I told you—“ He paused for a second. “Megs wants to know if you’re still coming for Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah, probably,” I said. “As long as you’re cooking the turkey.”

“Well of course. I’m sure not letting you anywhere near my smoker.”

“It can’t be that hard to use if you manage it.” “Hey, is that any way to talk to the man who smokes

your Thanksgiving dinners? Get back to work, dammit.” “Ok, you go tell Megan she’s an amazing woman for

putting up with you,” I said. “Eh, she knows. See ya.” “See ya.”

I put my phone down slowly, thinking. Then I turned back to my monitor and pulled up the. Rain and solid cloud cover everywhere. And, according to Gawker.com, a strange smell everywhere. Those weren’t exactly sure signs of impending doom, but it all made me feel very weird. I closed down the browser and tried to get back to work but ended up staring at my keyboard, tapping my teeth with a fingernail.

Then I heard breaking glass.

I whipped around in my chair. A window on the far side of the office had shattered. Something blurred across the room with a mechanical whine, then a window on the near side smashed and it was gone.

“What the hell…” I went over to the near window. The rain had stopped, and the wet pavement outside was gleaming under the few streetlights and a wash of very bright moonlight. Blue moonlight.

Crisp air blew in through the broken pane. It smelled like rain and something else–that something I’d smelled earlier, but stronger. That something Megan and hundreds or thousands of other people were also smelling. It did not smell nutty.

I noticed a humming noise and chalked it up to the streetlights, but then I remembered that I’d never heard them hum before. Besides, the humming was too loud for lights that were four floors down from me.

I suddenly understood the phrase “my skin crawled” in a way I never had before.

Glass broke behind me again, and I had exactly enough time to turn and hit the floor before a whole swarm of little things whined over my head. When they had passed

and I had gotten my panicked gasping under control I saw that nearly every pane of glass in my whole office was broken. How many of those things had there been? Fifty? A hundred? What the hell were they?

As if a weirdly selective cosmic force had heard my last thought and decided to answer, I heard an erratic buzzing and looked down at the floor several feet away. One of the things had strayed beyond the bank of windows and hit the brick wall instead. It was down, flickering blue and rolling in a sad little circle on the carpet. I edged over for a better look.

It was about the size of a baseball, but stretched out into a more elliptical shape. A thought drifted in from the far left field of my brain. More aerodynamic, it said. This thought was immediately displaced by another, more urgent thought. Get the hell out of here before they come back, it said. I ran back to my desk, crouching to stay below window level, and grabbed my jacket and bag off the back of my chair. I noticed my mouse was sitting in my seat. Panning up, I saw the shattered remains of my big, beautiful monitor.

“Bastards,” was all I had time to say about that before my feet sent me scuttling for the stairwell.

It was pitch dark inside, but I didn’t know where the light switch was and I wasn’t about to spend time looking for it. So, of course, when I was halfway down I collided with someone coming up. We tumbled down a few steps and hit a landing. A hand gripped my arm and dragged me to my feet.

“Thank god, here you are. When I saw the windows I was afraid the drones took you out. Now hurry, we have to get to the roof.”

That strange, electric-whisper voice. It was alien girl. She began pulling me back up the stairs.

“I’m not going up to the roof, there’s probably those things on the roof!”

“The monitor drones, yeah, probably. Just stay out of their flight path and you’ll be fine, I have a plan.”

I stopped resisting. “She is crazy after all,” I thought. But at that moment I felt much crazier than she sounded, so I followed her.

Getting to the top seemed to take an eternity but it couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. I ran into her from behind and said “Oh, sorry,” like we were in line at the supermarket or something. Then I heard her scrabbling with the lock. A blast of cold air hit me as the

door opened.

The sky was terrifying. Awesome, in the most literal, old-school sense of the word. It was crisscrossed with intensely bright beams of blue light, and they lit up the night like a football stadium. Occasionally one would swoop down like an epic searchlight. Blue moonlight, I thought. There was a loud, electric hum in the air and the smell that was not almonds was stronger than ever.

“What’s happening?” I shouted over the hum.

“The aliens,” the girl shouted back. Her voice was even stranger when she shouted. Instead of sounding louder, it just sounded closer, as if she were speaking into my ear. “Like I’ve been telling you!”

She had run up to one of the many metal shapes that you see on rooftops and was inspecting it closely. It wasn’t an air duct, but I thought it might be a water tank of some sort. Suddenly she kicked it and a door in its side sprang open. Blue light poured out.

“What the hell are they doing?” I screamed.

She leaned into the opening, flipping switches and touching panels. “You’re being terraformed,” her too-close voice rasped in my ear.

I gaped. “Terraformed?”

“They’re changing Earth so it’s better for them to—“ “I know what ‘terraformed’ means! But it’s not real,

it’s just some sci-fi plot device thingy!”

“Well it’s happening! The atmosphere and climate will change, and I think they level off the Himalayas a little or something. It kills a lot of the humans.”

I stared at her back so hard I started shaking. I was terrified and I just wanted to get back and finish the design of my last page. “That’s insane,” I said. “I’m going back downstairs, I have work to do.” Then I remembered my dearly departed monitor. The midnight deadline would not be met tonight. Not mine, at any rate.

The erstwhile park prophet’s deadline seemed right on schedule. I wanted to cry.

She turned back to me, and I saw that her sunglasses were gone–and why she had been wearing them in the first place.

Her eyes were too big for her face. Not just aesthetically but physiologically. Then I noticed that her hair had slipped off to one side. She straightened it when she saw me looking.

“Wait,” I said. “Are you an alien?”

She pulled her wig off and tossed it under the panels

of switches. Underneath was only smooth skin. “Mixed heritage,” she said. “I’m from the future, like I said.”

I shuddered and looked up. I was glad the brightness of the blue lights and the clouds above them kept me from being able to see what else was up there.

“You mean we…mingle with them? Seriously?” I folded my arms across my chest, mainly to keep from covering my eyes.

“Yeah. In the end…well, in my time…it all shakes out.

Like Ferak’s Hypothesis. But for at least the next fifty years it’s going to be really shitty down here. Come with me, I can get you out.”

I only half-heard her offer. A new thought had occurred to me. “So, if someone did prevent this, you would never have been born.”

“I…guess that’s true, but it doesn’t matter. No one could change this. The past isn’t—“

“Is everyone in the future ‘mixed heritage’?”

“Yes. Or just alien. Some of them shared their genes with the survivors. It was the only way to keep surviving after the terraforming.”

Acid anger settled in my stomach, companion to the tight fear in my chest. “You and all those other students must have been trying really hard to change things, I bet.”

Her face set stubbornly. “The others before me really tried.”

“How do you know, were you there?”

She looked away. “They said so. We believe them.” “And THAT’S why you didn’t really try this time? No

one ever thought of, say, going to the aliens, and getting them to make a hard left and keep going?”

“They didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she said, her voice no longer close, so soft I could barely hear her over the sound of the world ending–of my world ending.

“Well neither do I!” I screamed.

“Yes you do! You come with me!” Her voice blared right in my ear. “It’s like that thing you said, about stopping a dog fight. It matters to the dog.”

“You couldn’t be bothered to save your own goddamn planet, but you’re offering me a ride out of the apocalypse because I came and harangued you about being a bad prophet of doom, and then a Rottweiler went after a Yorkie?”

“Are you going to come or keep standing here till it’s too late?”

I whirled away from her and stalked a few steps toward the edge. I buried my hand in my hair and pulled, trying

to ground myself. My eyes stung. The blue-washed city started to blur.

I turned back to my alien prophet. “I have a brother.

He’s kind of far away but could you maybe–”

“No,” she said. “No way. We have to get out of here in like ten seconds. I should have left an hour ago, but I needed you to see what was happening so you would listen to me and come along.”

So my brother was probably doomed. No smoked Thanksgiving turkey after all. The homeless woman, her dog, the yuppie and the Yorkie, all my friends and coworkers, all the dozens of people I saw every day, all doomed. For a moment I couldn’t breathe. Did it even matter if I went with this girl or not? What could my life possibly be after this terrible night?

You-are-all-fucked girl turned and climbed up into one of the seats in the contraption she had kicked open. “We have to leave, come on! I’ll explain everything later, in a nice safe bio-dome over a glass of—” The final word was simply a garbled noise. A translator, I thought distantly. She’s using some kind of electronic voice translator, and that word got lost. Even language is different in the future, and the drinks are untranslatable.

She pulled a strap out of the seat and held it, waiting. Her too-large eyes made her stare even more intense.

“I don’t even know your name,” was all I could think to say.

“I don’t know yours, either, we can talk about whatever the hell you want to talk about later, just come get in!”

“What will happen to me?” “You’ll live!”

Part of me was firmly convinced that whether I got in the pod-thing or stayed on the roof or even jumped off and landed on my head I would wake up in my own bed the next morning and go to work as usual—with hell to pay for the missed deadline. The half-alien girl let go of her strap and began to climb back out of the cockpit.

A little drone whined past, dinging off my hip with enough force to knock me flat-out on the gravely surface of the roof. For a second I thought my hip was broken.

Before I could get to my feet, the girl was coming after me. I realized that her disguise as a full human would not have held up very long if she had done anything in the park besides sit. Her body looked normal enough,

tall and skinny but normal, but the way she moved did not. Her knees went out the wrong way and she sort of scuttled sideways. She was also very, very fast. I’d hardly registered her jumping out of the cockpit before she was grabbing me by the arm and dragging me across the roof. My jacket and shirt came up and gravel dug into the small of my back.

“Wait!” I stopped our momentum by bracing myself against the door.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she screamed. Her voice sounded almost normal now, with her face so close to mine. “You are going to die, you are all going to die, you are all fucked and YOU told me there was something I could do to change it and now you are FUCKING WITH ME! JUST. GET. IN!”

She was shaking and there were tears in her eyes, gleaming blue in the horrible light. I suddenly felt really bad for her. It must be awful from her side, some part of my mind thought, like the time I tried to rescue a kitten from a drain pipe but it was scared of me and wouldn’t come out. Of course I hadn’t had the option to go back in time and keep the kitten out of the drainpipe in the first place.

“But what if I’m important? What if I’m fixed in time?”

“You’re not!”

“You don’t even know who I am! I might, like, rally the human resistance or something.”

“You don’t, you are nothing! There are no community newspapers in the future!”

Well, some crazy part of my brain thought, that’s just not ok. Community newspapers are the beating heart of America. A world without local arts pages to design is not a world I want any part of.

A less crazy but also less articulate part of me didn’t want to leave my brother, even if he was doomed. It felt firmly that abandoning humanity while I fled through time with a half-alien teenager was the definition of treachery. A still deeper part decided that the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t. The distant, alien-packed future with no family, friends, or community arts was even more unimaginable than this apocalypse.

I pushed back.

She was so surprised she lost her grip.

I stumbled back a couple of steps, favoring my hip. “I’m not coming. I’ll be important. You’ll see. Look me

up when you get back.”

She gaped, then started to say something, but the cockpit door began closing by itself. An automated voice spoke in a language I didn’t understand. The girl started shouting, also in a language I didn’t understand, but she was pretty obviously swearing. She tried to hold the door open, but it seemed the little pod had a better sense of self-preservation than either of us did.

Through the final narrowing crack I heard her yell, “Who ARE you?!”

I didn’t have time to answer. The door closed with a hiss, then the whole contraption disappeared in a blink. I felt a slight rush of air swooping in to fill the void.

“That might have been a really stupid decision,” I said out loud. A mini-swarm of ten or fifteen drones sped by, and I managed to dance awkwardly out of their way.

Then I looked down and saw a pair of mirrored aviators lying on the roof. I picked them up and put them on. They helped block out some of the blue glare.

Hitching my bag up onto my shoulder, I tried to decide which way was west. I had half a continent to cross before Thanksgiving.

Comments (2)

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  1. Patti says:

    I really enjoyed this one— especially the build up with the constant rain and how his smoke lifted straight up– that gave me the heebie jeebies. And I really liked how the ending wasn’t the typical ending we would expect.

  2. basest says:

    Enjoyed this one a lot. Story and narration were both excellent.