When I posted the chapters I didn’t realize it didn’t paste everything, just SOME of my story. So here is the official first rough draft seven chapters of Earth Man.
THE DOORWAY TO THE UNIVERSE
Two young male bucks dart through the trees, the white plumes of their breath the only sign of their silent passing. The two young men hunting them had no sense of the change that was happening around them, but the deer felt it. The setting sun sliced the forest into pieces creating shards of light and shadow that the deer used to their advantage. The scent of the hunters was gone when the deer leapt over the rotted log and for a moment they felt relief. As the second buck’s back hoofs hit the soft soil on the other side it never even felt the bullet blow through its heart. It dropped to the forest floor, kicking dry leaves up into the air with its final convulsions. In a flash the second deer was off and running but another bullet bore through the air, hitting it in the neck. For a moment its legs buckled and it dropped but the deer recovered quickly. It ran off, clipping the nearest tree with its small antlers in anger.
Phil Morrison ran up to the dead deer, breathing heavily, his rifle bouncing off his shoulder.
“You got it Danny! Hurry up!” Phil said, waving to his companion. As Danny reached the deer he’d shot, he felt remorse.
“That was too easy.” Danny said, disgusted with himself.
“I told ya it would be! These woods are flush with animals, man.” Phil said enthusiastically. He was too dense to pick up on Danny’s moral dilemma, so he grabbed his rifle with both hands and followed the second deer’s trail.
“We’ve got to keep on the other one. I know I wounded him and if we lose him, we’ll never find him again in the dark.”
“Phil why don’t we let him go. This is not cool. I’ll buy the beer, let’s just call it a day, okay?”
Phil smiled and grabbed Danny by the arm, pulling him along.
“I wounded it Danny. It’s out there somewhere dying. It would be inhumane to leave it to suffer now. You might not be a hunter yourself, but we have a code you know. I shot it, I have to take responsibility for it. Now come on.”
Danny nodded and pulled away from Phil, spreading out to cover more area. The deer was in great pain, it was attacking the trees and kicking up dirt as it ran. Danny kept up with Phil, keeping him in site for as long as he could but as night fell the forest suddenly seemed to grow thicker.
Danny quickly found himself in darkness. Turning in circles, he could not make sense of any direction and so he lunged forward, breaking through the trees and falling right down the side of a steep hill. Racing down the incline Danny tries to grab onto the trees but he hits them too hard to stop himself and he bounces down hard. The final twenty feet of the hill drops over to a sheer drop into a cluster of trees. Danny manages to let out a scream before he hits the ground, knocking himself unconscious.
Hearing Danny’s scream Phil stopped in his tracks.
“Danny? Where are you? DANNY?” Phil headed backwards but the forest looked different. The sun was gone and the trees seemed to wear the darkness like a cloak. Phil was not a spiritual man but when a breeze crept up the back of his neck he could swear it was the forest breathing a sigh of relief.
“Shit Danny COME ON. Helen is going to KILL ME!” Phil turned in circles, shouting his friend’s name.
A voice seemed to call out to Danny, coming not from the ears but from the back of his head to the front of his brain. Danny opened his eyes to the faces of strange white aliens peering down at him.
YEEE-AH. EARTH MAN. IT’S TIME.
He tried to scream but his chest was restrained and his voice would not come. Their large inhuman eyes blinked and they looked from one another and back and him as if he were a strange curiosity. Pulling with all his strength he broke the straps that restrained him and opened his eyes, this time for real. He was on his back in a pile of dried branches, surrounded by old, shriveled trees.
“Phil? Phil?” Danny shouted.
Danny got to his feet and stretched his sore and bruised back. He checked himself for any blood and everything seemed to be dirty but intact. Brushing the dirt off his plaid jacket, he began walking. It made no difference which direction he headed; he had no sense at all of where he was. There were no stars overhead to guide him as most of the sky that was visible was overcast. He had no way of knowing north from south so he simply walked, pushing through the thick underbrush. The forest around him was so silent and still that he felt like a giant; crashing and slamming through bushes like an uninvited intruder.
A red light flashed ahead of him and he stopped. The light was so bright it was impossible to tell if it was close or farther out. When it flashed it blinded him and it was impossible to see anything in the surrounding dark.
“Phil is that you?” Danny asked.
He stopped moving forward but the light still flashed at four second intervals. Looking back over his shoulder, Danny realized there was no where else to go. Reluctantly he moved forward but the light felt invasive and it was beginning to hurt his head.
ALLAH JESUS MUHAMMAD, GOD YAHWEH SATAN. SHIVA, RESPECTED PERCEPTOR.
“Who is that? Who’s out there?” Danny shouted, holding his rifle tight in his hands. There was no answer, just the silence of the trees and the repeated pulsing of the light. Strangely the light itself was red but the light it gave off with each pulse was white. It wasn’t until Danny started feeling afraid that he noticed and he stopped in his tracks.
“Alright, relax. It’s probably just a car alarm light blinking, no reason for me to piss my pants.”
As Danny turned back toward the light a massive moose came out of nowhere. He had no time to move and it tossed him aside like a child with its massive antlers. As he rolled over, scrambling for the gun, the moose continued its fearful retreat. It paid no attention to Danny, whatever was out there was strong enough to push the massive male bull out of his own territory. Danny dusted himself off a second time and looked around. When the moose had flipped him he’d landed hard on his ankle, he gritted his teeth as soon as he put weight on it. With the ankle swelling up and his heart pounding in his chest he headed toward the light again. Even though the fear in him was growing ever larger he could not bring himself to run away. It was pulling him in, even though all his senses told him to run the opposite way.
As he came to a clearing he saw the injured deer lying on the ground. It was breathing heavy, a wet wheezing sound that tore at Danny’s heart. Walking closer to it, he could feel its life ebbing away. The life force within it called to him, pushing away the creeping uneasiness he was feeling.
“I’m so sorry. What a stupid thing to do,” he said, kneeling down next to the bleeding deer.
The deer turned its head, trying to look at him as its antlers dug into the soft dirt. He stroked its neck to comfort it but it just stared at him with large wide eyes. All the fear he felt washed away, replaced with a deep heartbreaking guilt. The creature could only stare at him with wet eyes, unable to communicate its frustration as its life drained away. Danny felt pulled in by it, into its darkness. The deer did not see to want to leave the world alone, something connected them both and pulled Danny in. Down and down, everything seemed to get darker around him, he was falling into the deer and yet he fought with all his might to break away. Finally he fell back, scrambling across the dirt to get away from the dead creature. Its eyes were closed and the forest became quiet again.
Danny tried to contain the fear that came crashing back down on him. When he had been close to the animal the fear had been pushed away, but now the red light was blinking again at the horror he’d felt was back. Soaked in sweat he considered taking off his plaid jacket but it was offering him a minor piece of comfort. This time as he walked toward the light he held the rifle up, hoping it would scare away whatever was out there.
“I can see you God damn it!” Danny shouted at the light, waving his rifle at it. Still the light continued to flash, the same pulsing rhythm over and over. It was beginning to make a noise, a dull throbbing like a bass.
WHOOMB. WHOOMB. WHOOMB.
Danny could feel it in his chest. The entire forest seemed to pulse with the noise, expanding and contracting around the central red light. Danny swept his medium length blonde hair back out of his face and rubbed his eyes.
“Please. Stop. Please.” Danny begged quietly.
THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING.
The light disappeared and suddenly reappeared overhead. Danny looks up, covering his eyes. The light seems to be pulling everything around him into the air. The rifle flies from his hand and disappears. Small stones and bits of the forest begin to float free of gravity, spiralling around him and moving into the sky. Danny fought with all his might but he is soon pulled off his feet, but he does not fly away. His toes touch the earth as his chest thrusts forward, a scream tears out of him and echoes across the forest. The world seems to contract toward him as trees bend inwards and upwards at the same time. Danny’s scream continues for a long time, long after the light vanishes. Danny continues to scream into the darkness, passing in and out of consciousness. Even unconscious his body remained in the air, when he would awake the light still seemed to be cutting through him.
WHOOMB. WHOOMB. WHOOMB.
Suddenly he is released and he lands on the ground. Wracked with pain and seized by fierce convulsions, Danny cannot stand or move. There was a presence in the light, a presence that reached out somehow and touched Danny. The beam of light stays on him, even as he tries to crawl away. Alien, yet more than human, the beam seemed to transfer information to him. It was beyond his comprehension and his brain could not handle the influx of new experience. When the strange presence released its hold on him Danny could only lie on the ground on his side, holding his knees tight to his chin until he blacked out. This time he did not awaken again for a very long time.
The deer, its wounds healed, stood over Danny and licked his face. It remained by his side until it caught Phil’s scent. Phil’s flashlight beam cut through the trees just as the deer disappeared. Danny’s body was so hot in the cold air it seemed to be steaming. As Phil turned him over, he took a step back in shock. Danny’s face no longer looked human, his eyes were too wide and his mouth stretched open in a way that Phil had never seen before and would never forget for the rest of his life.
The emergency medical staff had done everything they could for Danny Boyle. By the time the paramedics had found him and Phil in the woods Danny’s face had returned to normal. They took him first to Mills Memorial Hospital but once they realized his vital signs were normal and Danny’s injuries were all superficial, they had him air-lifted to Kelowna General. If it was a brain injury the people at Kelowna would be better equipped to deal with it, or at least that is what they told Phil. Phil did not call Helen until the helicopter was in the air and she responded better than he’d expected. Unfortunately things got worse at Mills Memorial, as Danny suffered a cardiac arrest minutes before the helicopter touched down. As they rushed Danny to the second emergency room of the night, Phil was forbidden from seeing him so instead he waited for Helen. When she arrived she was beautifully frazzled and obviously worried. After embracing, Helen started with the question.
“What happened to him?” Helen asked.
“I’m not sure. I’m guessing he fell, maybe hit his head. We got separated and when I found him he was just laying on the ground. There was no blood or anything, so I think he’s okay, but I don’t know.” Phil replied.
“Fuck!” Helen said, falling against the wall. “Can I see him?”
“No. He’s in the emergency room right now. I am sure he’ll be fine. Danny’s tough and takes care of himself.” Phil said the words but he did not believe them. He’d seen Danny’s face; whatever had happened to him was not normal. Phil had felt something in the woods and although he couldn’t say what it was or how it had made him feel, there was something.
Phil hugged Helen again, trying to reassure her.
“It’ll be okay Helen. Trust me this isn’t how Danny Boyle’s going to die, falling down a hill on a hunting trip. At least you were wrong.”
“I was wrong? What about?” Helen asked.
“You said we’d probably end up shooting each other. So let’s be happy nobody got shot.”
Helen laughed and wiped her eyes, turning away so Phil couldn’t see her cry.
“Danny will pull through, Helen, don’t worry. He’ll be good as new.”
As Danny lay in the emergency room, hooked up to a breathing mask, he suddenly jolted awake. The doctor and three nurses jumped back, frightened as he suddenly shot straight up on the stretcher. Nobody was wearing face masks but the doctor had on a pair of latex gloves. Using one hand the doctor tried to push Danny back down.
“Please lie down sir. You had an accident which caused a heart attack. The EKG is running now and your heart seems to be okay, but we need you to relax and let us run a few tests, okay?”
Danny laid back and breathed in oxygen through the mask. He tried to remember what had happened but his memory seemed fuzzy, like he was hung-over. All he could recall was a deer, perhaps two. It was dead now, because of him and yet for some reason he thought perhaps it was not dead after all. Confused he closed his eyes and listened to the beeping machine and the sound of his breathing, letting it lull him asleep. Just before he passed into the realm of dreams he heard a quiet skittering noise.
“This hospital is falling apart! Ugh!” shouted one of the nurses as she backed away from the sink. Insects began to swarm up the sink from the pipes, crawling along the stainless steel. A second nurse saw them and quickly turned the water up as high as it would go. The two of them splashed water on the insects, forcing them back down the drain.
“Call the janitors, tell them to bring some Drano up here, this is disgusting!” the second male nurse shouted. Neither of them noticed that the variety of the insects they were dealing with. Spiders, earwigs, ants and silverfish all crawled together, acting as if they were one species or of one mind. It took a few minutes but the nurses soon washed them down, the female nurse dumped hand sanitizer and let the water run boiling hot just to be on the safe side.
The Second walked along the beach of the Baja Peninsula wearing the human skin-suit it had borrowed in Africa when it had first arrived. Having arrived to Earth second, it was responsible for the protection of the one who arrived before it. The humans were hiding the First, moving it from place to place but they could not hide it forever. More of their kind was coming, it was only a matter of time. It muttered to itself, occasionally stopping to bend down and smell handfuls of dirt. Years had been spent trying to cross the great oceans of this planet and now that it had arrived it was impatient.
“The First. The First must be found,” was all it said, over and over again. Somewhere in the maze of lights was the object he sought, that which would allow the others to come and join him and the new, wet rock he had discovered. The Second coughed and wiped its mouth with the back of its ragged sleeves. A streak of dark blood stains its mouth and hand. Using a long crooked finger nail it drew an X in the blood. Looking down at itself it realizes it must find new dressings, the swim across the sea left little of its clothing intact.
Danny had lost count of how many times he’d opened his eyes to new surroundings in the last twenty-four hours. This time he was greeted by his wife, her short, fiery red hair in bobbing in front of him. His daughter Morgan, who was eight going on eighteen, leapt up onto the bed next to him.
“Careful Morgan!” Helen said, but Danny took his wife’s hand to let her know it was okay. Danny’s oldest child Raymond hung back; being thirteen he no longer comfortably showed affection. Danny waved him over anyway, pointing to the spot on the bed next to his sister. Ray scowled but hopped up next to him anyway.
“Daddy’s a bit bruised so take it easy, okay?” Danny said, pulling Ray close. He kissed his son on the head and although the boy scowled with his mouth, his eyes shown brightly.
“So you’re okay Dad?” Ray asked.
“Everything seems to be working, but I feel like I got run over by a car full of fat people.” Danny answered, the kids chuckling at his humor.
“We thought you were in a coma.” Morgan said.
Danny looked up at his wife.
“You were out for two days.” Helen said matter-of-factly. Danny was once again surprised at her strength, amazed at how calm and cool she was.
“Two days? Shi. . . shoot. Did my work call?”
“Yeah. You’re fired. But we’re glad you are okay.” Helen replied, throwing her arms around his neck. She kissed him on the temple and whispered in his ear.
“Don’t do that to me again, Dan.”
As Danny kisses his wife on the lips he hears a sound from inside the room. It sounds like mice inside the walls, running around frantically.
“You hear that?” he asked Helen, but she shook her head.
“Nothing, sorry.” Danny said, kissing his wife a second time.
“What are you wearing Dad?” Ray asked, looking at the hospital gown.
“Well this is what they give you when you are in the hospital. Something so ugly no one would ever steal it.”
“It kind of feels like a napkin.” Ray replied. Danny reached out and grabbed the Toronto Blue Jays cap off Ray’s head and put it on. It was too small and sat on top of his crew cut hair.
“Give it back Dad!” Ray said, snatching the hat away. Suddenly Morgan threw her arms around her father, squeezing him tight.
“I knew you’d wake up Daddy. I know you’ll always be there to protect us.”
A nurse appeared in the doorway so Danny took the opportunity to break his daughter’s choke hold.
“Doctor Rue is ready to see you now.” The doctor entered the room as soon as nurse finished speaking and Danny wondered why he didn’t just come in. Unless he was heading in their direction and the nurse took too long to tell them, creating a situation where the doctor walked in right after it was announced. Either way, Danny didn’t like the blonde doctor already. When he smiled at them he lingered longer on Helen.
“Is it okay to talk in front of the children?” the doctor asked. He flashed a healthy white smile. Danny and the doctor were the same age and he suddenly felt inferior, now that he was unemployed.
“It appears that Mr. Boyle had an idiopathic seizure,” the doctor said with a little too much enthusiasm. “The strain on his body caused him to suffer a heart attack, which occurred during his transfer here from Mills.”
The doctor walked over to Danny and checked his temperature with the back of his hand.
“The good news is that there was no damage done, at least none that we can see at this point. His brain scans came up clean, his heart looks stronger than mine, all in all he’s in great shape.”
Danny smiled until he realized the doctor was smiling at him.
“So what’s the bad news?” Helen asked, fiddling with her fingers like she always did when she was nervous.
“What?” asked the doctor.
“What’s the bad news? You started with saying ‘the good news is’, that implies there is some bad news as well.” Helen said, narrowing her eyes.
“Oh, no. I mean we have to keep him here for another couple of days to run some tests. I am not sure why it took him so long to wake up and we have no idea what caused the seizure in the first place. But another 48 hours and I’d say he was good to go home. That’s the bad news, I guess.”
“Can I stay in a hotel? It’d be cheaper.” Danny stated. The doctor just shook his leg playfully and walked toward the door.
“Take it easy, I’ll be back in a couple hours for some blood.”
Danny nodded and the doctor took off, down the hall to another room where another patient waited. Danny wondered if that person had a story as bizarre as his own.
The family stayed together for a few more hours, just talking and enjoying each other’s presence. Danny felt fine while they were there but after Helen and the kids said goodbye the sounds started in the wall again. Anxiety began to build in his chest and when it got close to midnight a new noise started outside the window. It seemed like a dull vibration, a throbbing that grew in intensity every minute. Danny lay in his bed, looking at the curtains, wondering what was outside the window. His room was two floors up and even though it was making him nervous he had to see what it was. Finally he gathered enough courage to go toward the window and he stood there with his hands on the curtain. Something banged against the window, sounding like a thousand tiny little hammers. He threw the curtains open and saw the largest swarm of bees he’d ever seen in his life. They moved as a giant mob, banging against the glass repeatedly. Danny had never had seen bees at night and something told him this was far from normal behavior. Lifting his hand to the window the crowd of bees gathered around the point where his fingers touched the window. Moving his hand back and forth, he stood in awe of the bees as they followed the path his fingers traced on the glass. Making a fist, he slammed it lightly against the glass and the entire swarm dissipated. The bees flew back into the city and the surrounding areas, disappearing into the night.
The rest of the noises faded away and Danny made his way back to bed. Although the sound in the walls had stopped the feeling of uneasiness still lingered. Lying on his side Danny fell asleep reluctantly, unable to shake the feeling that something, somewhere was watching him.
The next morning Danny began running the gauntlet of tests that Dr. Rue had scheduled him for. For breakfast Danny had a CT scan and an MRI. All he could think of was the dent these two tests were going to put in their savings. For lunch Danny gave a couple vials of blood and sat in a reclining chair for an incredibly boring EEG scan. Dr. Rue didn’t administer any of the tests himself but he made himself present every hour or so, hammering Danny with a series of questions. At least three times the doctor asked him about his past experiences with recreational street drugs. It was clear Dr. Rue believed this to be the cause of Danny’s seizure, that perhaps Danny and his questionable black friend Phil were snorting cocaine or popping pills out in the wild. Of course Phil was the most mainstream, least experimental person Danny knew; other than drinking beer Phil didn’t even try new things when they were in college. Phil liked the same things now as he did when he was twelve; guns and girls. Danny had never tried any drugs without his wife present and most of those times occurred out of the country while they were on vacation. He’d tried mushrooms in Peru and smoked a ton of free pot in Jamaica, but beyond that he’d never taken anything so bad or had a trip so terrible that it could come back and haunt him years later. Danny was one of those people that believed if you looked good and felt good, you WERE good. What he saw that night was not drug induced or fantasy. Although his memory was fuzzy and confusing, that did not change that fact he was sure, as sure as he was about anything that something happened out in the forest.
The hospital saved the best test for last, the lumbar puncture. There was simply no other way for the doctor to test his cerebrospinal fluid. The pain was minimal and the procedure was over fairly quickly. He returned to his room just in time for lunch but halfway through the mashed potatoes he began to develop a terrible spinal headache. Dr. Rue had warned him about it but he did not expect it to come on so fast and so hard.
“I heard you are getting some headaches?” Dr. Rue said, entering the room.
“Yeah,” was all Danny said, rubbing his forehead.
“I’ll get you some stronger painkillers. If the headaches persist, let me know right away. Okay? Otherwise you should be fine to go home tomorrow.”
“How did you get all these tests scheduled so quickly? Danny asked out of the blue.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve never seen any hospital ever get anything done so quickly. It took six months for a doctor to even look at the lump Helen had in her . . . chest and another seven months for an appointment to get it removed.”
“Well I guess we got lucky this time. Rest up, Mr. Boyle.” The doctor gave him that infuriatingly joyful smile and disappeared. Danny sat up in bed, trying to bring back memories of what had happened in the woods. Between his thumb and finger on his right hand Danny had an ugly scar from a sports accident when he was sixteen. He began to rub his scar nervously, staring out the window until he finally fell asleep. Dreams of running through fields of grass kept his mind busy until morning.
As Danny slept the things that moved unknown and unseen in the universe began to circle the small blue planet called Earth. Humanity, who by its very nature was a species hungry for social interaction, could not have been less prepared for the creatures that would come to hide among them. For they knew no god but themselves, they worshipped nothing but corruption. They did not come to Earth in a space ship or through teleportation; they came as a virus, dropping from the atmosphere after a million years in the cold dark of space. They wanted no allies, no friends, no companions, only hosts for their viral intelligence.
Descending down through the atmosphere wrapped in a protective shell of ice and compressed space dust, the tiny microbe directed itself to toward the place where it believed the watery blue planet would develop an immune response. Unlike the first and second who arrived before it, this entity wanted only to fight. It was a warrior, one whose ancestors had corrupted a thousand worlds throughout the universe. The First had a mission of great importance, while the Second was the one who would lead the others and protect the First. The Third, as good a name for it as anything else the human language could devise, wanted only one thing; to find the strongest of the humans and devour them. It could sense Danny from 45,000 feet, somehow knowing which direction it needed to go even as its icy shell melted away in the atmosphere. The Third saw Danny Boyle lit up brightly among the rest of the animals on the planet and that meant he would become either its host or its first opponent. Its kind did not know pleasure in the way that it was understood among other sentient beings but its pathogenic body quivered in anticipation. As it drifted down to the hospital it found numerous bodies to choose from, each one offering a different possible configuration. The Third was feeling creative and so it decided one body would not suit it, it would take two hosts simultaneously. Living flesh was clay to it, easily malleable and easily transformed.
Meanwhile much farther south in California the Second, tracking the scent of the First, smashed through the front door of a Chem-X Laboratories research facility. The frame of the door exploded inwards, glass flying in every direction. Alarm bells rang out but it had already torn the security staff apart outside in the parking lot. Its fingers had mutated into strong, armored black weapons which it used to tear open the steel door of the elevator. The elevator sat forty feet below on the bottom floor and the Second simply leaped down onto it, punching through the hatch and dropping in. It paid no head to the experiments in the other cell, it smelled its own kind and that was all it could focus on. It was the Second that was responsible for the others; it was the one who must bring them together to ensure complete and total consumption of the planet. A human, slim and weak, tried to run past The Second and it grabbed the man by the throat, slamming him against the wall over its head.
“Where is she? Where have you taken her?” The Second screamed. It was confused by its use of a human gender descriptive. In order to identify that which was different from itself it’s newly corrupted human brain was searching for the only terms it could easily grasp. The Second paid it no mind, it was what it was and humanity’s language was nothing more than a tool. It slammed the human against the wall a second time, repeating its question. The human scientist broke easily, his head splintered and the creature had no choice but to toss it away. It kicked over a nearby metal table and a tank of white lab rats broke open. The rats scurried in every direction, running over the body of the dead scientist. The Second reached down and grabbed one, looking at it with great curiosity. The rat did not move as the creature stared into its pink eyes, moving it back and forth. Earth was different than many of the other world’s its kind had infected; there were so many varieties of life here, so many opportunities to create new things. So many ways to create new monsters.
The nurse walked in just as Danny was greeting his family the next morning.
“Mister and Missus Boyle? The Doctor said Mr. Boyle is free to leave. He’ll meet you at the front desk when you are ready just have them page him,” the nurse said.
“Wow. Great thanks.” Helen replied.
The kids were overjoyed, climbing on the bed and hugging their father.
“Yay!” Morgan shouted, bouncing on the edge of the bed.
“Well you heard her,” Helen said, lifting Morgan off the bed.
“Time to go.”
“Can you guys give me a minute? I need to get dressed.” Danny threw the covers off and swung his feet down to the door.
Ray leaned against the wall, playing his Nintendo DS, looking up occasionally just to insure he was not missing anything. Danny was annoyed his son had brought his video games to the hospital but on the other hand, at least the boy came.
“Unless you want to see me naked.” Danny said. Ray shook his head in disgust at his father.
“Being naked is completely natural, right Mom?” Morgan asked. Ray shoved her, fake puking on his little sister.
“Yes Morgan, but your Daddy is a little shy.” Helen said, winking at her husband.
Helen pushed Ray out the door, Morgan following behind them both, turning back to give her father a big smile. He loved his family so much that thinking about it often made his heart feel as if it would explode. Given his recent heart attack, he had to remember to keep calm and relaxed for the next little while. Instead of carrying that anxiety in his chest over his loved ones, he decided he would simply tell them how much he loved them. Helen had brought him a sports bag with a change of clothes. The clothes he’d worn on his hunting trip were long gone now, only his shoes had survived. Instead she’d brought him white University of British Columbia shirt and a pair of jeans one size smaller than what he was comfortable with. As he finished buttoning up his jeans he heard a noise that instantly caught his attention. It was very quiet, very distant, but it sounded like monkeys screaming. It was one of those things that you just assumed the movies portrayed accurately, he’d never personally heard animals shrieking madly but he recognized the sound when he heard it. Although the racket seemed distant it was unmistakable and it wasn’t just monkeys he could hear. There were other animal sounds, guttural growls and low roars that seemed to come at him from every direction. Pulling on his t-shirt he subconsciously rubbed his scar.
At the front desk Helen had decided to page the doctor and she waited patiently for him to arrive while the kids bought themselves treats at the vending machine.
“Mrs. Boyle, a pleasure to see you again.” Dr. Rue said, extending his hand. Helen hadn’t seen him coming so she assumed he must have come out of one of the nearby rooms.
“Thank you. I just wondering, you know is it really safe for him to be going home so quickly? What if he has another seizure or something?” Helen asked while avoiding shaking the doctor’s hand.
“I don’t think we have any reason at this point to be concerned. We’re not even sure what happened to cause his seizure in the first place. I’m still waiting for a few test results but Danny appears to be fine.” The doctor finally pulled his hand back and placed them both in his pocket.
“Only your husband knows for sure what happened out there. We can do our best to figure it out but unless he’s going to be honest with us, there isn’t much we can do.”
“What do you mean?” Helen said, narrowing her green eyes. “Are you saying he’s keeping something from me?”
“No, no, not at all. Maybe he really doesn’t remember what happened. Whatever is going on, we’re not going to get any answers here in the hospital. And your insurance doesn’t cover a private room and I just felt you’d be better served letting him rest at home. But if you are concerned. . .”
“No. No you are probably right.”
Suddenly Dr. Rue’s phone rang a simple three tweet tone. The doctor pulled it out quickly and when he saw the number calling a dark shadow passed over his face.
The Doctor gave Helen a slight bob of his head and left, heading back to the nurses desk. Helen checked her watch impatiently wondering what was taking Danny so long. Occasionally the doctor would glance over at her and finally Helen decided to find out exactly what the kids were up to. Handsome or not, the doctor’s overt attention to her was reaching the point of being creepy. Especially since he was keeping the phone stuck to his head the whole time.
Two meters away Danny walked passed his family in the emergency stairwell, following the noises he was hearing in his head. A lion’s roar assailed him and he almost lost his balance, grabbing onto the railing as his foot slipped off the stair. Righting himself, he continued down, trying his best to dim the noises bouncing around in his head.
RUN. RUN. RUN. RUN. INFANT. NEW. INCAPABLE!
Finally reaching the bottom Danny slowly pushed open the door. The sounds he was hearing made one final cascade of noise that caused him to wince in pain. As the door flew opened the noise finally stopped. The basement was coated with plastic drapes, there was so kind of construction going on and the smell of fresh paint was strong. Danny pushed past the plastic into another room. It took him a moment to realize he was in the morgue and that although under construction it was still being used to hold bodies. Something moves under the nearby table and Danny freezes. Stepping closer, he slowly leans over and sees a homeless man crouched under the morticians table.
“You the cops?” the homeless man asked. The man was dirty and unkempt and he appeared sickly, his hands were hidden inside his jacket.
“No. I just got lost.” Danny replied, stepping back away from the man.
A smell came off him, something repugnant and inhuman. As the homeless man crawled out from under the table Danny saw his hands, purple and swollen and misshapen.
“Somethin’ bit me. I jus’ wanted some help. You a doctor?” the man asked. Holding up his hands, Danny recoiled in horror. The skin was sloughing off of them, revealing large black pincers that unfolded like a grasshopper.
“Help me!” The man lunged at him but Danny leaped away, faster than he’d ever moved before. As the homeless man landed on the floor his flesh make a sickly tearing noise as his face split in half. The alien-like face pushed through the bloody skin and blinked its eyes. When it turned on all fours to face Danny, the face was now that of some kind of insect-like creature. The moans coming from its throat turned to clicking noises from its ant-like mandibles that jutted out from the place where it once had a mouth. It moved on all fours at lightning speed but Danny once again remained faster. Time seemed to slow down; in the corner a spider weaved its web, unaware of the monster in the room or the human who seemed to be watching it. Danny reached out with his mind, reaching into the spider and replicating its abilities. It all happened to fast that Danny did not even know what was consciously going on. The creature scurried across the floor toward him and Danny leaped, absorbing the abilities of the spider in the corner and clinging to the ceiling. Tiny scapulae made of red energy formed on the ends of Danny’s fingers and allowed him to stick to the roof, dangling above the former human that now hosted the Third. The alien creature merged the insects it had found living on the human with its new human host. It scrambled around under Danny for a minute, its newly grown antennae twitching in the air, until it remembered its human form and stood up. Danny swung away, landing near the entrance to the morgue. The Third followed him quickly, chasing him into the room of plastic curtains. He slipped on the floor, pulling down a plastic cover as he fell that wrapped itself around him. By the time he’d freed himself the alien hybrid was standing over him.
“INSECTS. ANIMALS. THAT IS ALL. THAT IS ALL THIS WORLD IS,” the creature hissed with a human tongue. “WET STICKY CREATURES CRAMMED INTO EVERY ORIFICE OF YOUR WORLD. EASY FOR US. EASY FOR US TO CONSUME.”
It lashed out with its left mandible, no longer even an arm, tearing through the plastic tarp, slashing Danny’s shirt with the sharp spikes formed on its carapace. The creature seemed to grow bigger, swelling and thickening at the same time. The pink human skin was quickly turning black and Danny knew there was no way he could ever help the human being inside. The homeless man was nothing more than a cocoon for something otherworldly to grow in.
Danny felt the strange new strength surging through him again and he kicked the Third with both feet, sending it flying back into the wall. Leaping to his feet like a cat he quickly looked around the room. The only way out was the emergency staircase behind him or the morgue behind the creature. He was reluctant to flee back up the stairs; if it followed him to a more heavily populated area many others would be at risk. His family was up there, he wanted to keep it as far away from them as possible. Whatever had drawn him to the monster, whatever was giving him these strange adaptive abilities wanted him to stand and fight. He believed he could destroy it, he believed he had to. There was no one else that could.
Danny’s heart was in the right place when he decided to stand his ground, he faced his enemy with courage but his bravery could not stop the monster. Leaping off the wall he used all his strength to smash the creature with both fists. Its claw like hands ripped across his chest and drew blood. Danny managed to dodge the second swipe with incredible speed and for a moment he thought he could win. It fought with no sense of self-preservation, no fear of pain. As he swung his fist at it, the Third raised its arm and cut shear through his right forearm. The limb fell to the floor with a dull thud. Danny stumbled backwards, his mind racing as shock set in. He thought it was raining and he looked around, then he realized it was his blood spraying on the thick plastic wall covers. A pulse of red energy burst from the stump and it blew Danny and the Third into opposite ends of the room. Danny’s blood had turned into pure glowing red energy, blasting out of his wounds and his eyes like lasers. As the energy snaked out across the room it did not damage or burn anything, it simply flowed across the objects it came into contact with. The Third tore itself free of the plastic that had wrapped around it and shrieked so loud it shook the room. Danny crawled across the floor until his back reached the wall, then he gripped his bleeding arm tight. The Third was scared of the strange red energy, it burned and blinded it. Frightened for the first time in over a thousand years, the Third fled the body it inhabited. It took a few minutes for the corpse to fall over but in that moment the alien transferred its consciousness to one of the ants inside it. The moment the body hit the floor the energy faded from Danny’s body and he fell back in shock. The lights in the room flickered and went out and there was a high pitch whine as the emergency lights kicked in.
Moments from passing out, his own blood pooling out around him, Danny heard voices coming down the stairs.
“That you again Norbert? You know you can’t sleep down here. If you’re sleeping in here we’re turning you over to the cops this time.”
ITSY BITSY SPIDER, EARTH MAN..
Danny recognized the voice right away; it was the voice from the forest. The sound came from somewhere inside him and jolted him awake. He thought he’d heard it before but he ignored it, but now it was loud and clear. This time the voice would not be ignored and Danny no longer had the strength to fight it.
ARANEAE. IXODIDA. HOME SAPIENS. ALL IS ONE.
Danny’s skin began to ooze a thick clear liquid. The fluid filled in his wounds and tried to cover his mouth but he wiped his face with his good arm.
A second voice chimed in, deeper than the first.
“I don’t know why you keep giving this guy another chance, let’s just toss the bum out into the trash and be done with HOLY SHIT!”
Danny couldn’t see them, his vision was fading fast. Danny tried to call out to them but he couldn’t find his voice. They seemed to radiate a glow that made them stand out like to Danny like a 3-D image. They were wasting valuable time inspecting the freakish corpse they’d discovered and by the time they’d notice Danny lying at the other end of the room they had already lost valuable seconds. His life was fading and Danny knew it, each beat of his heart sent his life’s blood pumping out onto the floor.
The security guards were out of their element and they quickly ran upstairs, yelling into their radios for police and paramedics. Danny couldn’t help but be amused by the fact he was dying on the floor of a hospital. Finally the song of the darkness overtook him and he closed his eyes. He could feel the molting fluid covering him up and he had no more energy to fight.
OLIGOCHAETA. HUMAN. ALL IS ONE.
Suddenly Danny understood what the voice was saying. Araneae was spiders, Ixodida were also known as ticks. Oligochaeta.
“Oligochaeta.” Danny whispered to himself. A common earthworm. What did they mean though? Why was it important? Danny opened his eyes and looked at his wounded arm. The bone had already grown back and he watched in amazement as the meat and skin regrew over top of his skeleton. The molting fluid worked as a healing agent, covering his wounds and regenerating them quickly. Danny had no idea if anything in nature could even heal that fast. It was like watching some kind of magical plant flower before his eyes except he could feel the nerves and the sensations flooding through the new flesh. The paramedics and police burst into the room, waving flashlights in his face. As he held up his hand to block the light, the last pieces of his new hand knitted themselves together. The new bones cracked for the first time and the paramedics put Danny on a stretcher. All he could do is stare at his new arm, the skin pink and fresh.
When the hospital finally cleared Danny to leave it was Phil who picked him up. After what happened in the basement Danny and Helen both agreed that it wasn’t safe for the kids to come back to the hospital. Helen had missed too much work already and with Danny now unemployed, Phil volunteered so Helen could keep her bosses happy. It was a Wednesday anyway and the kids were off at school. There had been a lot of questions about what had happened and what exactly that creature was they’d found downstairs. But with all Danny had been through and his general lack of cooperation, the police decided he was simply an unlucky guy who’d happened upon a very sick individual. The Center for Disease Control had been called in to remove the body and they could find nothing that could pose a risk to anyone else. The body was long gone before Phil showed up and the hospital wanted to put it behind them as quickly and quietly as possible. They even went so far as to wave Danny’s single room costs, wiping it off the bill entirely. Danny said nothing as he got dressed, this time with a plain white t-shirt; his jeans had survived the encounter with the Third in one piece. Phil waited patiently for him to sign himself out and they walked side by side to the car. Phil opened the door for his old friend who he’d known since high school and although Danny gave him a strange glance, still he said nothing.
Inside the old Volkswagen that smelled like Phil’s oldest sons hockey bag, Phil took off his hat and tossed it in the back. Putting his seatbelt on, Danny watched Phil rub his balding, short cut afro before a moment. Then his friend turned to him, scratching his stubbly beard and said “Look are you going to tell me what the fuck is going on or not, man?”
Danny was taken aback for a moment. “What are you talking about, exactly?”
“Look I’m not your wife or that dumb-ass doctor. I was there, Danny. I saw things, heard things. I saw your face, when I found you. It was messed up. I didn’t come to the hospital because I didn’t want to talk about it. But they just pulled a monster out of there, didn’t they? So rather than spend the next few days of my life trying to figure it out I’m going right to the source, right now. Whatever is happening is happening to you, Danny. So either you trust me and let me in, now, or I hit the road. I am not going to end up getting killed because you have communication problems.”
“Killed? What are you talking about? Why would you get killed?” Danny asked wryly.
“You think I’ve seen more than enough movies and TV shows to know how this is going to go down, I’ve? I even read a few books. You know what every science fiction and horror story has in common? The victims. Aliens land on Earth and half the town is dead before the guy who suspected they were aliens says anything. Dude sees a vampire eat his neighbor and he doesn’t call the cops until it is his turn. Ninety nine percent of all movies could be shut down right away if the person who is the lead character just shared what he knew with everyone else.”
Danny burst out laughing but Phil kept on, deadly serious.
“Why am I the main character here? Maybe YOU are!” Danny said.
“No. You’re the white guy, you’re the hero. More power to you man. I don’t want all this shit following me around. I don’t want all that responsibility and commitment. I just want to keep my head down and get out of this alive.”
“I think you’re overreacting a bit Phil.”
“I mean it, you tell me what is going on, to the best of your ability, so I can make an informed decision about which path I take. Otherwise I am just walking blindly into the jaws of death.”
Danny continued to chuckle until he realized that Phil was truly afraid. Whatever that voice was in the woods, whatever was happening, Phil was a part of it. Danny didn’t even know where to begin with all the odd and terrible things he’d seen. There was no way to put into words what he was experiencing but he owed it to his friend to try. After the monster he’d faced in the morgue he couldn’t ignore the danger all around him. If he was going to protect his friends and family, he’d have to start by telling them the truth. Phil was right in that regard; the more people knew the better prepared they would be. Something big was happening that much Danny was sure of. It was as if something was picking at the edges of the world, trying to peel back a loose piece of reality and climb through.
“Can we at least get some beer first?” Danny asked.
Phil smiled and started the car engine.
After picking up a twelve pack at the Beer Store, Danny and Phil headed for their favorite drinking spot; the curb at the base of Knox Mountain Drive. They parked the car on the dirt shoulder on the opposite site of the intersection and with their beer between their feet they sat on the gray stone block.
“You heard the voice too?” Danny asked. Phil nodded as he cracked his beer bottle open.
“Yeah it sounded like T-Pain. I thought there was a car parked somewhere nearby but I didn’t see anything,” Phil replied.
“I did. I saw a light. A red beam, flashing somewhere in the forest.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. I never saw anything. I followed it and I found the dead deer we’d shot and,” Phil cut him off quickly.
“When I found you there was no deer.”
“Yeah man. Just you and your face, all messed up in fear and shock.”
Phil stretched open his mouth and eyes, hiding his teeth, to show Danny how he’d looked when Phil had found him. Danny just shook his head.
“Is that what I looked like? Really? I don’t remember anything other than the deer. The voice didn’t sound like T-Pain either.”
“Well not like T-Pain, exactly, but it was definitely auto tune.”
“It didn’t sound like that to me at all. If anything, it was more child-like, higher pitch. More alien.”
Phil finished his beer and walked over to the garbage can and threw it out.
“You mean like those little bug-eyed things?” Phil asked.
“Yeah, the ass-probers.”
“Did you get probed?”
“Well there’s some good news right there. So what happened in the hospital?”
“Did you see it? The thing, the creature?”
“No, but I overheard the nurses talking about it. Some kind of burn victim, or deformed freak or something.”
“It was a man, at least it was at first. I could see it happening, the change, like right in front of me. From a man into something else, something horrible. It tried to kill me, it chopped off my arm.”
“What??” Phil grabbed the arm as Danny held it up. Unable to pull Danny closer from a sitting position, Phil stood up, took off his hat and tossed it on the curb and took Danny’s arm in both his hands.
Taking the thumb, Phil moved it around, rubbing the skin.
“Where’s the scar?” Phil asked, turning the hand back and forth.
“I told you it re-grew, I lost the whole hand, man!”
“This is totally and completely crazy. It’s impossible.” Phil sat back down, put his hat back on and opened another beer. Danny stood up while Phil tried to make sense of what he’d just heard. Regeneration. That was more serious than just hearing voices; this was a serious breach of the rules of the universe. People just did not grow limbs back. People did not get attacked by monsters either, but the exact nature of this monster was still up in the air. A mutated human was not that far outside Phil’s realm of possibility, after all people were born with defects all the time. A new hand meant something else; it meant that something was reaching into their fragile world and altering it.
When Danny was eighteen he and Phil had played football together for the Kelowna Sun. During a practice, with Phil and Danny on opposite sides, Phil had taken Danny down hard. In the ensuing pile-up the quarterback, Danny, was stepped on quite a few times. One of the players had stepped on his thumb, bending it back and snapping the bone. The skin had stretched back and torn open and the surgery to repair the muscle tissue and regain use of the thumb had left a scar as well. There had been no permanent injuries but it had taken months before his hand was back to normal. The scar was there long after their football careers, and their career aspirations had moved on. To see that scar, that childhood reminder of the boys they were, wiped away by some strange supernatural force, really hurt Phil in a way he could not explain.
“The voices I keep hearing, they aren’t mean or scary. They distorted and distant, but they seem more frustrated than anything else.”
The two men sat silently for a moment, watching a car drive by. The driver of the Ford pick-up, a woman, gave them a curious glance but kept on driving.
“I’m going to have to explain all this to Helen too when I get home.” Danny said, sighing deeply.
“How’s she doing? Is she pissed at me?”
“No. She’s been an angel, actually. I figured she was waiting until I was up and around and back home before she went off.”
For some reason Phil found himself thinking about God as Danny paced back and forth and that was when an idea struck him.
“Angels. Satan. God and Satan.”
Phil jumped up, spilling his beer slightly as he grabbed Danny.
“Now you’re sounding like the voices, Phil.”
“No I mean look, we heard voices in the forest and SOMETHING happened to you. Now you are drawn to this weird thing in the hospital that is somehow connected. There are TWO things here, Danny! Something in the woods and another thing here, in the hospital. With you in the middle.”
Danny knew what Phil was talking about but he was skeptical. Yet in the hospital hadn’t that voice from the foods talked to him, told him to reach out to the crawling things around him and show him how to heal? Was something trying to protect him from the mutated monster?
“Angels in the forest, devils in the city. Men, women, life, death. It’s a two-sided coin.” Phil was so happy with his sudden brainstorm he finished off his beer and threw the bottle. The bottle smashed on the rocks on the side of the road.
“What if you are wrong?” Danny said, looking down at the ground.
“What if it IS two different things and they are both demons?”
Phil took out two beers, twisted the lids off both and handed one to Danny.
“Well if that’s the case, we’re all fucked.”
They finished their beers and spent a few hours talking, trying their best to come up with a plan of action. Danny did not tell Phil everything. There had been something between him, the voices and the insects in the room. Something in him reached out to the spider. When they connected, he was aware of its entire being and the energy within him latched onto it somehow. His body had duplicated the abilities of the insects in the room; his speed and strength had been increased for the brief time he was in danger. Without that ability he’d certainly have died. Even as he sat and talked with his friend he could feel a weird pull at the corners of his mind. There were things out in the world he was suddenly aware of. He could sense the butterflies tasting the sap of a nearby maple tree. A stray cat sniffed around a dumpster, wondering if the scent of the home it was born in could ever be found again. Accepting that reality was changing was one thing, accepting the core of his being was changing was far too much for him to handle. Sharing that would be like stepping away from his humanity. Danny was afraid of what was now inside him. If he told Phil and Phil saw it in him, saw that he had changed too, how could he trust Danny anymore? The guy in the hospital basement, his name had been Norbert. Within a minute he’d turned into an alien ant creature, snapping and hissing at him. It happened so fast the man couldn’t have even known what was going on. If whatever was in that man was in him, then he was a danger to everyone around him. It seemed so far fetched, so impossible, that he couldn’t talk about it. It was too horrible to contemplate so Danny kept to himself. Phil came up with some sort of plan that helped him cope with what he’d experienced. Danny nodded and agreed with his ideas until Phil sobered up and drove him home.
When Danny walked in the children his daughter had just gotten out of the bath and she ran at him with a red curls soaking wet clumps of curly red hair..
“Daddy!” Morgan shouted. There was no sign of Raymond.
“Where’s Ray?” Danny asked his wife as soon as she appeared behind Morgan.
“Hi. He’s in his room.” Helen seemed relieved that he was home, which surprised him because he’d spent more time with Phil than he’d intended to. His wife was still wet from taking Morgan out of the bath and she wore only a pair of black shorts and a white tank top. He smiled at her and she gave a small smile back, both of them were still in love and attracted to each other but Danny could see the burden he’d left her with. It was written with wrinkles in the corners of her eyes and the stiffness in her hands.
Danny carried Morgan upstairs to bed, his wife trailing behind. As she climbed quietly under the covers he sat down next to her and read Morgan her favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are. Helen left to get ready for bed and Danny read his daughter the story as she curled up next to him under her blanket.
“And they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.”
By the time he finished she was fast asleep, her tiny chest rising and falling. Danny placed a hand over his daughter’s heart and then leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Closing her door quietly, he knew his wife was waiting in their room and he headed there with his head down. More than anything else that had happened, this was what he dreaded most. If the choice was offered to him, he’d fight three more of those mutated monsters if it meant he would not have to hear the disappointment in his wife’s voice. Helen had asked him not to go hunting in the first place; there was too much that needed to be done around the house for him to take off for the night on a camping trip. After everything he had been through the last three days Danny did not have the energy for a fight even though he knew he deserved what was coming. How many times was she going to have to tolerate his stupidity? For how much longer could she carry the responsibilities of their family alone? Things were changing all around them and during the brief walk down the hall Danny swore to himself that this was going to be the last time she had to yell at him. The universe had opened itself and revealed to him a small fragment of something amazing and terrible, how could he possibly go back to being the same irresponsible ass he’d been? It was his job to keep them safe, all of them. As he touched the bedroom door he could almost feel the anxiety and concern flowing out from his wife, through the wood and into his chest. When he stepped into the room he was prepared for anything. Instead Helen ran to him and threw her arms around him, tears bursting out as she sobbed heavily. Somehow seeing her cry was worse than the anger, this was out of character for her and it shocked him. Of all the strange things he’d recently experienced, the tears streaming down his face and her sobs against his chest made him feel like he’d just stepped into another world. To see his wife, who was always so strong and confident, suddenly reduced to a sobbing mess hurt him more than anything he’d ever known. In the back of his mind he could not help but wonder if she too was changing, just as he was. The idea that something might have happened to her stirred the fear that had been growing in his heart since the minute he’d shot the deer. That fear finally overwhelmed him and he clutched Helen tight. They clung to each other for comfort, just two small human hearts beating as one, afraid for their tiny, inconsequential lives that held so much wonder and potential.
They kissed each other gently at first, through tears and soft sobs. Soon the passion between them ignited a fire and they began to stroke and caress each other roughly. Danny covered Helen in kisses; across her shoulders and neck as she pulled his shirt over his head. Wrapping one arm around her body he lifted her up off the ground and laid Helen on the bed. The strange red energy crackled through his body but neither of them noticed. Their eyes were closed and they let their hands find and explore each other as their bodies began to move together. Danny could feel the life force flowing out of her and into him and back like an electrical circuit charging them both. His heartbeat quickened to match hers and as spread her legs for him to climb on top of her their hearts beat in unison. Her arousal and hunger was an aphrodisiac to him, it fueled his own fiery passion like gasoline. Every part of him wanted her and yet as they lay naked, moments before he entered her he stopped and took her head in his hands.
“I love you Helen. More than anything in this world,” Danny said as he kissed her bottom lip gently. She smiled and let out a breathy response.
“Show me. Show me how much you love me.”
Dr. Rue sat at his desk, nervously tapping his Carmio loafers against the tile floor, his eyes locked on his office phone. He’d never been good with anxiety, it was the reason he was a general practitioner and not a surgeon; his nerves just couldn’t hold up under pressure.
The Third watched him, eager for his flesh. The ant that served as its host had the ability to grow wings inside its DNA, so it had activated the gene earlier. It buzzed around the corner of the room, a fat bloated mutation of its former self on withered wings. It had purged itself of the fear it had felt before, a side effect of the weak human it had inhabited. It would not accept fear, for it has faced defenders before on worlds that were stronger and more powerful than Earth. It was the adaptable and versatile, free of the restrictive instincts of lesser life forms; it would not be brought low by the basic brains of evolved mammals. It flew toward the doctor and settled on the corner of his desk. This time it would not rush the change; it would wear the human and savor the transformation into a warrior form.
Just as the phone rang the Third flew into Dr. Rue’s ear. The doctor felt only a slight itch as he placed the phone against his head.
“You were correct. There were no traces in the subject’s bloodstream.”
“Exactly! Whatever it is you are looking for, Mr. Boyle isn’t carrying it. What do you want me to do with the other body?” Dr. Rue asked nervously.
“We’ve already sent over a team to clean the contaminated areas and remove the body. Just do your part, Mr. Rue, we’ll handle the rest.”
“It’s Dr. Rue,” even as the words left his mouth he knew he’d made a mistake. His ear was ringing but he could still hear the voice clearly.
“No. Doctors have morals and ethics. You have neither, Mr. Rue.”
“When do I get my money?”
The phone clicked and Dr. Rue breathed a sigh of relief. As he placed the phone down he rubbed his earlobe to relieve the pressure that seemed to be building in his head. Finally he got up in search of some painkillers, thinking it was a migraine coming on. The Third nestled into the soft flesh, burrowing inside as it released a neutralizing painkiller in the doctor’s bloodstream. Comfortable and warm, it would wait patiently for an adversary worthy of its abilities.
Danny flushed the toilet and after checking in on the kids, returned to bed where Helen waited for him. They had spent hours making love, enjoying each other for the first time in a while. It was one of those experiences that was more romantic than sex but too rough to be called making love. It was primitive, animalistic and spiritual at the same time. She was still smiling lazily when he flopped back down on the bed. Helen wore only an Ottawa Rough Riders t-shirt while Danny had on the track pants that matched it.
“I got three different phone calls you know.” Helen said as she sat up on one elbow.
“Each one started the same way; there’s been an accident.”
“I’m sorry,” Danny started to apologize but she placed a hand on his chest and he let her continue.
“I know it wasn’t your fault. But why are you lying about it? I know you lied to the doctors and the police, it was obvious. You’re not very good at it.”
“It would have made me sound crazy or sick in the head or something. What else could I tell them? I don’t even know what is going on. ”
“But you know something is, right. Even I can feel it. It’s changed you.”
“It feels like everything is changing.”
“Everything is. But we’ve got each other. It’ll be okay.”
Danny had no response for that and he kissed her on the chin gently. Helen laid her head on his chest, listening to his heart beat until he fell asleep.
When Danny woke up an hour later, Helen had slid over and circulation was cut off in his arm, the same arm that he’d just grown back the day before. For a moment he panicked, thinking he’d lost it again. Jumping out of bed he flexed his arm repeatedly, grimacing through the pain as the blood worked itself back into the stiff limb. Realizing he was over-reacting, he let go of his arm. Once it was back to normal he moved Helen’s head back onto her pillow and tucked her under the blanket. Once again he felt the call of nature and he headed back to the bathroom. It took longer this time for him to go, his bladder muscles were still asleep and the rest of him was exhausted from the sex so he gazed out the small open window. The neighborhood was still dark but there was a smell of dawn coming in. Just as he began to relieve himself something moved below the window. Danny tried to get a better look but he could not stop the urine flow so he wasn’t able to catch another glimpse of it. Someone had run out of the trees and slipped along the side toward the back, sticking close to the side of house. The row of houses he lived on faced a large creek and forest area. It wasn’t huge, but it was big enough for a child to get lost in. Or get lured into. Danny ran to Morgan’s room and opened the door slowly. He felt his throat closing and he could barely breathe; the bed was empty. Danny sprinted across the hall to Ray’s room and opened his door. Ray was awake instantly, rubbing his eyes.
“What the hell Dad??” Ray said quietly.
“Morgan’s missing,” was all Danny said before running down the stairs.
Morgan came walking through the back door just as Danny reached it, forcing him to stop quickly so he wouldn’t run into her.
“Morgan!” Danny shouted, balancing himself on the wall.
“Why were you outside? You know you’re not allowed to leave the house, especially at night!”
Danny swept her up in his arms, holding her tight.
“Sorry Daddy,” she said, nuzzling against his neck. “There was a man out there. He wanted me to come say he. He said he’s waiting for you.”
Danny’s blood froze. As soon as Helen and Raymond appeared at the top of the stairs he sent Morgan up to her mother.
“What’s up, Dad?” Ray asked. The boy was genuinely concerned but Danny did not want him involved. Whoever was waiting for him out there got too close to his kids already.
“Nothing. I don’t know, stay here. Lock the door.”
For a moment Danny and Helen stared at each other and then she gave him a gentle nod of her head in approval. Whatever was out there, they both knew he had to face it head on.
As Danny stepped out the door, he knew right away he was in a different world. The trees, the yard, even the house was still the same as it has always been. Yet he knew, more importantly he felt the subtlest change in the universe. Closing the door behind him, he headed toward the trees. After a few minutes of walking something rustled in the trees ahead of him.
EARTH MAN. IT’S TIME.
A large bush blocked his view between two thick trees but Danny knew there was something on the other side, he could hear it moving. The voice seemed to linger in his mind longer.
As he pushed through the bush the world seemed to resist. Reality warped before his hand like plastic, sending out rippling waves as he passed over some invisible threshold. Looking over his shoulder he tried to get a glimpse of the effect again but something big moved in the shadows and he turned back to face it. The hooves appeared first, stepping out of the wilderness like two massive white pillars. The horns followed, so thick and dark Danny thought at first it was a tree. A giant male deer stood before him and the forest seemed to bloom at its touch. As it approached him flowers sprung up in the hoof prints, a rainbow of colored bulbs sprung from the soil and opened like hungry mouths. The deer brushed the branches of the nearest trees with its huge antlers and the trees seemed to puff up and grow with pride. It took Danny a moment to realize that this was not any deer, they knew each other. This was the deer that Phil had shot. Even worse, Danny himself had shot the deer’s companion. His first and last kill, he swore to himself.
“I’m sorry. . .” Danny started to apologize but the deer trotted toward him and he lost his nerve. It was over six feet high and must have been ten feet long. The antlers were large and thick and looked as like they could easily run him through. It wasn’t Danny that had shot him, it was Phil but that didn’t make Danny any more comfortable, considering he’d shot and killed the deer’s friend. Yet the deer seemed peaceful, almost friendly. As he reached out a hand it pressed its large wet nose against his palm.
“How did you get so damn big boy?”
The deer suddenly turned and hopped a few paces. It turned its head and looked at him, waving its antlers forward. As soon as Danny took a step forward it dashed a few feet away. It was trying to get him to follow it, so he picked up the pace and jogged over. The deer then began to jog and Danny chased after it. After a few minutes it became apparent that the deer wanted to run. Danny felt energized and wide awake even though it was the middle of the night. It was the same energy he’d felt in the hospital, fighting the monster with abilities taken from the nearby insects. Something in his brain was attuning itself to the speed and power of the massive deer. The life force of the animal radiated outwards, crashing into Danny like ocean tides. He could feel the strength and power of its heart beating, his own heart quickening to match the rhythm. They began to run together, tearing through the trees recklessly. Faster and faster they went until the trees seemed to blur past. Danny had no problem reacting to the branches and bushes thrown in his way, he was reacting faster than humanly possible, ducking and leaping with superhuman skill. The red energy burned through his skin leaving ephemeral traces of red behind him. As he caught glimpses of the deer he could see its antlers had changed as well, glowing with neon red energy. They were bonded as one, sharing their natural life field while drawing on the life force of the very planet itself. Everything was alive and vibrant, the trees and grass seemed to shout their green and brown color from the darkness. A joy unlike anything he’d ever felt filled him up and he began to laugh and cheer as he ran. The deer felt it as well, he could tell from the way it was playfully leaping in front of him that it was happy too. They ran over a hundred miles before they even came to a road. The deer leaped across easily but Danny was moving so fast he did not see the truck coming down the road in front of him. There was only a moment to react before he collided with the side of the truck so he did what the deer had taught him to do, he jumped. The big Mac truck seemed to move in slow motion as he left the ground, legs and arms flailing long a professional long jumper. The driver didn’t even have a chance to catch a glimpse of Danny before he hit the ground on the opposite side. In the blink of an eye he was gone again.
Danny lost all sense of time and distance as the power inside him distorted his senses. Caught up in the moment, he had no idea how far he’d run when the deer finally stopped to let him catch his breath. He doubled over, laughing with joy, trying to breath between fits of laughter and exhaustion. The deer hopped around him playfully, its endurance far greater than his. Rubbing the deer’s neck, he could not help but be in awe of its massive size. As he leaned against it, finally catching his breath, he felt it tense up. Its head turned from side to side as it sniffed the air. Danny could feel it too, something was coming, something powerful. The deer nuzzled his palm and then bounded off into the woods. As it went, the light went with it and the forest suddenly darkened. The energy he’d felt earlier seemed to evaporate away, leaving only an empty, cold spot within him.
VILDE CHAYA WE HAVE COME.
The ground began to rumble and the trees parted as four massive giant aliens surrounded him. They came from all directions and stood close to twenty five feet. As they pushed through the trees the forest seemed to push back, hooking into their skin. Fur and feathers sprouted out of the tears in the outer flesh, horns and ears and animal eyes burst from beneath the white outer shell. The skin peeled away from them like clothes being casually shed so that when the four of them reached the clearing they were alien no longer. Their bodies were amalgams of earthy creatures, mismatched heads and limbs that looked preposterous and monstrous at the same. The largest had the body of a bear with an ape-like face, huge curved horns like a ram with a matching goatee that was ten feet long. It had bear paws with chubby little fingers and leaned on a huge oak staff. The second was a female, with a walrus like face with tusks and whiskers. Her body was covered in gray feathers with rows of white that gave her a striped look and instead of arms she had massive wings that fluttered uncontrollably. The feathers covered her dog-like legs and stopped short of the gray paws that tore up the dirt as she walked. The third had the head of a bald eagle but a muscular body like an upright pull, with hoofs instead of hands but large ape-like feet. The creatures feathered head was white but the body was a dark brown. It clapped its hooves together and Danny could not help but jump out the sound. The last of the creatures was smaller than the rest and while it had the face of a goat its body was scaly and golden like a fish. Its hands and feet were soft and round like a kitten, fluffy with yellow fur. Danny watched it clean itself like a cat as it walked toward him, smearing slobber and spit across its golden scales.
NOW WE AM BECOME QUATZACOATL, BUILDER OF WORLDS. NOW WE ARE HERE.
This time the voice was not in Danny’s head, it came out of the ape-like face of the first and oldest of the creatures.
“What are you?” Danny asked quietly.
The creatures looked at each other but did not respond.
YOU ARE THE VISHNU JESUS. WE ARE HERE TO GUIDE YOU. YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN.
“Chosen for what? What do you want from me?”
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN TO SAVE YOUR WORLD, YOUR KIND.
This time it was the female that spoke, her voice only slightly higher pitch than the other.
“From those things, right? But how?”
WE HAVE GIVEN YOU GREAT POWER. GREAT RESPONSIBILITY.
“I don’t want it. Why me? Why do I have to do this?”
This time it was the small one that spoke but when Danny looked at it the creature turned away shyly.
Something was not right. First they had appeared to him on a ship as aliens, now they were creatures of nature. It was almost as if they were changing to please him.
“What if I say no? What if I walk away right now?”
The creatures began to gnash their teeth and claws, stomping on the ground so hard that Danny almost lost his balance. Yet his fear evaporated, he had figured it out, even though he didn’t quite know it yet, he knew what was wrong.
“Nothing you say makes sense. Not really. Who are you? What are you? Where are from?”
HERE. WE ARE FROM INSIDE.
“Inside what? Where is here? Right here?”
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN.
“Then I quit.”
THEN WE WILL EAT YOU UP!
The creature with the bald eagle head snapped its beak at him menacingly and Danny burst out laughing.
‘This is all fake, isn’t it? All of this. The aliens, the ship, the voice? All of this is in my head.’ Danny did not say the words out loud but still the leader of the creatures responded.
‘That’s all this has been about? I’m losing my mind. This is just me going nuts. The red light, the noise, everything, it’s all been in my head.’
Danny threw up his arms and began to spin around like a madman. The three large monsters begin to disappear, merging back into the darkness of the trees. Only the ape-faced elder remained, shoulders slumped by age or sadness or perhaps both.
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN DANNY. THE DANGER IS REAL.
The monster held out a large bear paw and a small black cloud formed on its open palm. Foul, deformed faces took shape in the cloud including the mutating face of the homeless man from the hospital.
THE THREAT TO EARTH AND ALL LIFE IS HERE.
“What is that? What is threat you keep talking about?” Danny said out loud.
The giant creature began to shrink suddenly, closing its hand so that the cloud vanished. It’s horns became smaller, its face and body became more human-like, the bear fur retracting to reveal dark brown flesh. It stood only six feet, the same height as Danny.
IT HAS NO NAME OF ITS OWN. IN YOUR LANGUAGE, IN OUR LANGUAGE, IT WOULD BE CALLED THE CANCER GROWTH. THEY ARE THE DESTROYERS, THE CORRUPTORS.
It reached out and placed a hand on Danny’s shoulder.
YOU HAVE NOT GONE MAD. YOU HAVE SIMPLY STEPPED THROUGH A DOORWAY INTO THE BIGGER UNIVERSE. THE TRUE UNIVERSE.
“Who are you?”
I AM ALL THINGS. I AM YOU.
“You don’t look like me.”
YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE YOU.
Danny pulled away, recoiling from the creature.
“Of course, I never realized it before but you’re just plucking words out of my head, aren’t you? All that religious talk, the strange sentences, it’s all just nonsense my brain is throwing back at me, isn’t it? I can feel you in there, scratching at the back of my brain.”
WE ARE THE SAME DANNY. I AM TRYING TO WARN YOU.
“Warn me? Of this Cancer? It’s a little late for that. One of them already CHOPPED MY FUCKING ARM OFF!”
YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN.
“By who? Who chose me?”
THAT WHICH WE HAVE DESIGNATED ‘SHE’ HAS AWAKENED. SHE WHO IS KNOWN AS EARTH WILL SPEAK WITH YOU NOW.
Suddenly the creature stepped forward and embraced Danny, the horns pressing against his short hair. When it released him, it blinked its black eyes and shook its head.
“I wish we had been better prepared,” it said. It spoke with a human voice for the first time and Danny was speechless. As the creature turned its back he felt something at the back of his mind. Turning his head, the Earth revealed itself to him and he collapsed.
From the moment he’d entered the forest in pursuit of the deer only a few days earlier his brain had been preparing itself. From the red light in the woods to the wild things he’d just met, all of it was just a warm-up to the images he was now being bombarded with. Information was downloading into his brain at a superhuman speed, the entire history of the living planet called Earth. Not only was ‘she’ sharing her history with him, but she was sharing the history of the universe. It was not the life on the planets that the universe was created for, it was the planets themselves. The planets were the children of the Big Bang with stars serving as their guardians, nurturing and providing for them as best they could. They were not conscious in a way recognizable to humanity; to try to grasp their existence was akin to bacteria trying to figure out the life of a dog.
In the beginning there was darkness, a realm of pain and corruption where nothing good could exist. All things change and even evil cannot live forever. The old universe collapsed under its own weight and from its death came a light, a spark that ignited the potential of a new existence. The new universe was born in a Big Bang and with its birth came the concept of life. As the stars began to settle into their orbits they began to attract and mold matter which then formed into new planets. The planets carried a sentience within them, a small developing form of consciousness much like that of a child. More importantly though they carried in them something that had not existed in any of the previous incarnations of the universe; they carried HOPE. With a stable orbit and a nurturing star, the planets became sentient individuals, with a greater population spread throughout the galaxy than all the people on Earth. Like humans, each was different and unique in their own way. Some remained barren, lonely rocks with no interest in changing their natural formation. Others created massive chemical changes inside themselves which gave them atmospheres and elemental deposits of various colors and hues. Some created life that lived and died alongside them, while other life forms moved on, remembering their home world as footnote in their history. The lives of the planets spanned millions of years and when they died their bodies served as their tombstones until their parent star collapsed and the cycle began anew.
Danny saw it all in his mind, from the beginning to the formation of the solar system he occupied. Two planets around our Sun formed water, the rarest and most delicate element of all. He saw Mars struggle to hold on, creating life that ended in tragedy. Unable to keep its water, Mars dried up and went to sleep. On Earth the water told hold and turned the planet blue, so blue that it could be seen from space. The Earth was proud of itself and when life sprang from the water it felt complete. Danny could feel the planets pride at what it had done.
Danny also saw glimpses, raw flashes of imagery from the farthest reaches of space where the light ended and the forever darkness began. The planets on the fringe grew without love and comfort. The oldest evil lurked in shadows of the darkness on the edge of creation. It could not manifest itself in our world, its time had passed and it could not touch our reality directly. Yet its very presence was enough to corrupt, Danny could feel the Earth’s fear of it. On a world ten thousand times the size of the Earth a simple bacteria grew on the side of a massive mountain. Each time the planet’s orbit brought it into contact with the membrane of the universe, each time it grazed the darkness, the bacteria grew larger. Eventually it spread across the entire surface of the planet, covering every inch of it until the life force inside was suffocated. The world became home to the earliest incarnation of the Growth, but on its own it was only a simple bacterium, alone and powerless. If not for random chance the Growth would have died eventually with its planet. The corpse of its world began to crumble, its gravity collapsing as it broke into pieces. For a hundred thousand years the planet fell out of orbit, pulling away from the edge of the universe. Eventually the remnants fell into a nearby star but not before it had spread the spores of the bacteria into nearby solar systems. The bacteria could live even in the vacuum of space but on its own it was harmless. The Growth was nothing more than a sentient fungus; it did not have the ability to grow beyond that. Not until it came into contact with other life forms. To the Growth living DNA was malleable and changeable. The tiny spores infected the bodies of other living creatures and used their own genetic advantages to further its own agenda. It did not matter if the aliens were made of iron or water, the spores would infect them eventually and immediately change them into a suitable host, mutating and controlling them. Once all life on the surface of the planet was part of their collective they would destroy the planet, sending more spores out into space. The planets tried to defend themselves the only way they could, by creating life. A hero was chosen on every world to stop the spread of the Growth, someone who the planet believed could save it. Some heroes won and purged their world of the taint. Others, far too many, failed and were consumed, corrupted and eventually destroyed. The bigger the planet, the more evolved the technology, the farther the Growth could spread itself. Now the spores had reached Earth and she did what the others had done; she chose a champion to defend her and the diversity of life she’d created.
Danny opened his eyes and took a deep breath. The sun blinded him but it was warm and comforting. The wind stirred the grass and it brushed gently against his face and he decided to lay there a minute longer and enjoy it. All the stress and fear he’d felt the last few days was gone. Although his head hurt and his legs were sore he felt better than he’d ever felt before. With his eyes closed he could almost feel the planet moving through space beneath him. His mind had been opened to see the larger picture, the bigger universe that existed. Earth was more than just a home, it was the birthplace of all mankind. Knowing how unique the diversity of Earth’s life was, knowing there was other life out there, gave him a feeling of intense joy.
As he stood up he looked down at his feet, wondering where his shoes were. Then he suddenly remembered leaving the house in his pyjama pants the night before.
“Oh shit. Helen.”
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Danny managed to wave down a burly man in a pick-up truck, even though he was standing by the side of the road in a pair of plaid pyjama pants. The big bear of a man was named Greg. He was kind and believed Danny’s story of sleepwalking during the night. Greg dropped him at the nearest gas station and even gave him a pair of old flip-flops a woman had left in his truck a long, long time ago. The way Greg spoke of the woman made it clear there were still open wounds, it made Danny miss and appreciate Helen even more. As he waved goodbye to the man Danny couldn’t help but feel a small kinship with him. There were few things in life as memorable as love, or more painful. Danny had to call the house collect. Helen sounded tired when she picked up.
“Helen, it’s me. I’m okay. Everything’s fine.”
“Why aren’t you home?”
“Something strange, something wonderful happened.”
“Well where are you?”
“Edmonton, I think.”
“How the hell? Nevermind you can explain when you get home. You’re okay?”
“Yeah. Helen I’m great, don’t worry about me. Are the kids okay?”
“Yeah. They were worried and didn’t sleep much, wondering where the hell you went, but they’re at school now. Morgan was pretty upset but I gave her cookies for breakfast.”
“Okay. I’m at a gas station right now but I’ll be home really soon.”
“I don’t know. How fast does a bird fly?”
“Nevermind. I’ll be home soon, I promise.”
The moment she closed her phone Helen broke out into tears. Her sobs lasted only a moment before she regained her composure. Chastising herself, she grabbed her tool box off the table and headed for the door.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes Mr. Swelter. Just taking a quick break.” There was no reason to even tell the old man, he was oblivious to what was going on, but he was a client and Helen always treated them with decency and respect. It was her livelihood and even though it had been one hell of a tough week for her, she had to keep the customers happy. In her entire life she had never cried as much as she had recently. Helen had been in love with Danny since the day they met in junior high. No matter how irresponsible he’d been she could always forgive his mistakes because she’d always known he had it in him to change. Now that he was finally changing, she found herself more afraid of what the future had in store than she’d ever been before.
Once she was in Mr. Swelter’s backyard she opened her toolbox and took out the pack of cigarettes hidden beneath the top tray. As soon as she took the first puff she immediately felt better. With all the things that had happened, from the accident in the woods to the strange events that followed after, Helen knew she was in over her head. The cigarette was her little secret, her act of rebellion against the organized chaos of her life. As relieved as she was he was safe, she had a feeling it was not over. A primal, maternal instinct seemed to have awakened in her. She could not shake the idea that her family was in danger. Not just Danny but her children too, Raymond and Morgan. There was only time to smoke half a cigarette; she had to have the Mr. Swelter’s pipes repaired in time to pick up the kids from school. Looking around for a place to toss it, she finally leaned over and buried in the garden next to the back stairs. Just to be safe, she stepped on the soil and pressed down gently. Just like her feelings she kicked dirt over it and forgot about it, burying it just enough to be sure no one could find it.
Danny stood on the asphalt of the parking lot looking up at the sky. Tying up the string on his pyjamas he reached out into the world, using the abilities he’d been given by the planet itself. The power he’d used unintentionally to tap into the natural abilities of animals and insects was now fully under his control. It felt natural and he stretched out his arms as the power spread outwards. He skipped over the insects and animals and focussed completely on the birds. An owl slept in a nearby tree; three miles away an eagle scouted for food on the outskirts of the city. Choosing the eagle he felt the energy surge into his back and up his spine and then in a burst of red sparks two pairs of giant wings burst from his shoulder blades. They flexed themselves, spreading each detailed feather and shaking as if the wings had a life of their own. Danny began to run and immediately the wings responded, flapping until his feet were lifted off the ground. The wings seemed to reach above and pull him up with them. Although he looked as graceful as an albatross, Danny could not help but let out a heavy laugh as he went higher and higher into the sky. Once he reached a few thousand feet he began to glide on his new appendages, looking down on the world from above for the first time in his life. He was not sure how he knew which direction was home, but he had a clear picture of his destination in his head that showed him the way. Then he began to climb higher and higher, up into the clouds until it became hard to breathe. The eagle who’d given him the wings coasted next to him, watching him curiously with its tiny eyes. It had never seen a human in the air and yet the eagle had no fear. There was a bond between them, an understanding between the creatures of the sky that Danny could only barely catch of glimpse of. The eagle approved of him, however and as soon as he crossed over into British Columbia the eagle turned back.
Beneath him passed hundreds, perhaps thousand of living creatures. Each of them had a unique signature he could feel, like invisible tags read on a computer game, popping up as you need them. A lynx chased down a wild rabbit. Born from pet shop stock, the rabbit had little chance but it ran even though its heart was ready to burst. A black widow spider, farther north than she would normally travel, had an elaborate web thirty feet in the air between two huge trees. Two large bats living underground had eaten the previous spiders with the same plan. A trio of bears of different ages, their families lost to them, form together to hunt, learning from the older female whose babies never survived the last winter. Every living thing seemed to have a story to tell and a power to share. As much as he wanted to meet them all and see all the various combinations of abilities that were at his fingertips, he knew his family had to come first. The world was not in danger, not as far as he knew. Danny wanted nothing more than to get home to them to share his excitement over all that he had discovered. His life was suddenly filled with mystery and he couldn’t wait to bring those he loved into his new world, to share his amazing story with his wife and children. Danny wondered how his children would react, would they believe him? He grabbed onto his pyjama pants and pushed himself to fly faster. The flip-flops flew off, disappearing behind him into the blue sky.
Helen watched Danny touch down from the driveway. They had just gotten out of the car, Morgan running to catch up to her Mom as she dug into her small purse for her house keys. Danny floated out of the sky, bare feet gently touching the grass with red streams of light evaporating off his back.
“Daddy!” Morgan shrieked, dropping her Toy Story backpack and running to her father. Her tiny red pigtails bobbed as she ran and laughter as he swept her up in his arms was like the ringing of tiny little bells.
“Hey Pumpkin!” Danny said, kissing Morgan on the nose. Helen walked over to them with a smile on her face and Danny wrapped an arm under her butt and lifted her into his arms as well.
“Hey!” Helen shouted. She kicked her feet as Danny kissed her and Morgan repeatedly.
“Where’s Ray? I’ve barely seen him lately,” Danny asked.
“He’s at a friend’s house. He’ll be home in time for dinner. Put me down please.”
“Nope. It’s just me and my girls!”
Danny began to walk toward the house but Helen pointed toward the backpack on the driveway.
“Morgan’s backpack,” Helen said.
Danny put his daughter down and she ran over and picked it up. With his arm free, he swept up Helen’s legs and carried her toward the house. Morgan dragged her bag behind them, running as fast as he little legs could move.
“You’re crazy, put me down, I’m too heavy for you,” Helen said, kicking her feet. To impress her, Danny held her under her tail bone, balancing all her body weight with his right hand while opening the door to the house with his left.
“Okay, what are you on?” Helen asked as he carried her over the threshold of the house.
Morgan squeezed in beside them, kicking her shoes across the floor. Danny and Helen ignored Morgan as she spread her clothes and school bag across the living room. Instead they kissed, lost in their own world until Morgan fell over her own shoe and let out a loud howl. Danny slowly broke their kiss and placed his wife on the ground.
“Daddy, why are you still in your pyjamas?”
After Danny got dressed he decided to prepare dinner. He was definitely no chef but he was brimming with confidence and wanted to do something for his family. Wearing an old black and white Adidas track suit from his days as a runner, he tied an apron on over the front. They didn’t have the money to go out to dinner but they had a stocked fridge, which Danny stared into for a few minutes. Helen was willing to wait until after the kids went to bed to hear his explanation of what happened the night before. His optimism was infectious and Helen figured she could wait considering how happy Danny appeared to be.
Since he’d missed breakfast Danny decided to make French toast and bacon for dinner. The bacon grease could melt the nylon of the track suit so he made sure the apron covered him properly. He looked ridiculous but he didn’t care at all. Taking the eggs and bacon out of the fridge he placed them side by side on the counter. Using a sharp kitchen knife he cut the bacon package open along the bottom seam, peeling back the plastic. As soon as his fingers touched the fatty pork he saw an image in his mind of the animal it had come from. An obese hog with arthritic knees, the creature had managed to avoid slaughter by hiding in the middle of the herd during the cull. Eventually the pain in its legs got so bad that it collapsed and it was dragged away with a meat hook like a sack of potatoes. Seeing it happen firsthand turned his stomach. Sliding the garbage can under the counter, Danny took hold of the bacon gently by the plastic corner, afraid to touch the meat. Then he slowly slid the bacon package across the counter until it fell over the edge into the garbage can. As he put the trash back in its place Helen walked in, dressed in a yellow t-shirt and her favorite jeans.
“I just bought that,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, the bacon? Yeah it’ll make more sense once I tell you what I can do, what happened I mean.”
“It has something to do with bacon?”
Danny crossed their tiny kitchen, leaned over and whispered to his wife.
“It has something to do with everything.”
Raymond raced home on his old customized BMX bike, doing his best to hop as many curbs as possible. He wore a helmet only because his father would take the bicycle away from him if he didn’t. His parents were pretty cool about letting him use Marcus’s half pipe and they never said anything about the risky tricks he attempted all over town, so he figured wearing a helmet was a fair compromise. Dr. Rue sat at the intersection nearby, lost in his own mind. The natural chemicals the Third secreted into his bloodstream kept him passive and pain free. It had learned from its last host that the human body did not respond well to rapid changes in its form. It needed time to prepare itself properly and so it burrowed deep into the brain of the doctor, slowly changing him into the perfect battle-suit. It could smell the boy was near, the son of its enemy, for it had adapted and improved the human’s olfactory receptors. It shifted nervously and the doctor awoke from his stupor, a sharp stabbing pain in his ear. The light was red and it seemed as if he’d been waiting there forever. Dr. Rue finally saw Raymond coming down the road, riding on the sidewalk. As he tried to clean out his ear with his little finger, he saw Raymond slow down as he came to the intersection. The light was still red, with no sign of changing. It seemed to take forever for the boy to cross and the doctor watched him pass in slow motion. The Third was nervous, the enemies child was too close. The boy smelled like his father, the one who had escaped its clutches, the one who had hurt it. As the boy passed in front of the car Dr. Rue stepped down on the gas, closing his eyes when he heard the thud as Raymond rolled over the roof. The Third forced him to open his eyes, forced him out of his car to see the boy. Raymond was gone. The creature was confused and its human host responded to its strong emotion, searching back and forth on the road. It ran to the front of the car where the bike had left a stain of paint. Finally looking down the road The Third saw Raymond pedalling away. The boy had gotten up and retrieved his bicycle and simply pedalled away. The son of his enemy was tough and clever. Dr. Rue felt a twinge of guilt as he got back in the car, wondering why he’d pressed down on the pedal. Something told him to follow the boy, to mark the house where they lived. The Third spoke directly to the doctor’s brain, he could no longer tell which thoughts were his own and which belonged to the alien inside. Soon it would begin to consume his brain, filling the space with discarded layers of its constantly growing form. It had learned how to use the limbs well enough and it was enjoying mocking the other humans, hiding in their midst. Subtlety was a new experience for the Third, it liked the sensation. Human forms were lacking in so many physical ways but they had developed their own weapons, with hands and ideas. There was a word it had learned from humans, ‘marinate’. It planned to remain in the doctor and allow his body to marinate in the chemical stew it created. This was a word that pleased it; the human would grow more flavorful in his own fear and waste, screaming in silence as the Third consumed him cell by cell. There was no rush to conquer Earth; it had been hasty to attack its enemy so directly. There was no reason for it to anything at all. The Growth could wait forever if they must. Dr. Rue turned on the radio and the buzzing in his ears faded away. Turning right, heading in the direction Raymond had headed, he suddenly felt euphoric. He thought it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the child, make sure he was alright. A gym bag in the back seat containing a hundred and fifty thousand dollars was of little interest to Dr. Rue now.
“The stupid doctor hit me with his car!” Raymond shouted as he walked toward the dinner table.
Danny put the plate down for Raymond and then squinted his eyes to see if his son was hurt.
“I’m okay Dad. But the guy’s an idiot.”
“You’re serious?” Helen said, standing up just as her son sat down.
“Yeah Mom, the guy ran into me on a red light. I had the right of way.”
“Which doctor, Ray? Dr. Rue?” Danny asked.
Morgan dipped her French toast in ketchup and stuffed it in her mouth. She had little interest in the stuff her older brother talked about.
“Yeah, you’re doctor. The one from the hospital!” Ray grabbed a piece of toast and stuffed it in his mouth as well, grinning at his little sister who smiled back with ketchup all over her mouth.
“You’re okay though, right?” Helen asked, returning to her seat. She tried to see if his face had any bruises while she raised her coffee to her mouth.
“My back is going to look like shit, but I just like, rolled over the car, landing on my feet like BAM! Then I got back on and rode home.”
“You didn’t talk to him?” Danny said.
“No. Why? He’s lucky I don’t sue him.” Ray replied triumphantly.
“Yeah but does he know you’re okay?”
“I rode away Dad.”
“You aren’t supposed to just get up and leave when you have an accident, Ray.” Helen added.
“Yeah well, he’s the idiot who hit me. I can do what I want, I’m fine.”
Danny just shrugged his shoulders and continued serving dinner.
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow, Helen. I have to go by the hospital anyway. The bills have started arriving.”
“Tell them to wait their turn behind the others.” Helen said, raising her mug into the air.
After the children went to bed Danny paced back in forth in their bedroom, trying to find the right words to start with. He started to talk about the planets first, about their sentience, about how each was unique. From there it began to pour out of him, all the things he’d seen and felt. He told the story in reverse, ending when he’d left the house in pursuit of the deer. Helen listened to it all, sitting on the edge of the bed with one foot on the floor. When he’d finished she pulled him down next to her on the bed and said “I need a cigarette.”
A minute later she returned with a pop can as an ashtray and a lit cigarette in her mouth.
“So you started smoking again.” Danny said.
“So you apparently got superpowers.” Helen replied.
Danny closed his eyes and let the power of the Earth flow through him. Helen gasped as the tiny red tendrils of light began to form around his shoulders and head. The light seemed to come from inside him, spreading through every cell as if he were a neon sign. An owl was already out, desperate for a morsel of food. Taking its abilities, he began to levitate off the floor. As he opened his eyes he realized there was not enough room for wings to form yet he still floated off the ground. Helen got up slowly from the bed, dropping the cigarette into the can where it fizzled out.
“Are you flying?” She asked, circling him.
“I’m flying. I flew home from outside Edmonton. That’s where I called you from.”
“Holy shit tell me you are not flying!”
“It’s like that Shaman’s and environmentalists always say, you know? Hakuna Matata, the Lion King, all life is connected. I guess they were right. Circle of Life.”
“Hakuna Matata means no worries.”
“For the rest of your days, yeah I know, but how else can I explain it?” Danny shrugged his shoulders and suddenly the wings burst forth, crashing into the ceiling. Helen scurried back across the bed and Danny burst out laughing.
“Come on, Helen. Their just wings.” Danny held out his hand and helped his wife off the bed.
“This is what I felt in the hospital. I felt this power reach out and I healed. Completely healed. Tomorrow I’m going to start practicing, training, I don’t know. See what I can do.”
“Should I even ask about work then? I mean, what does this mean?” Helen said, running her fingers along the wings.
“Are we in dire need of money?”
“No more than usual, I guess. We’re okay as long as nothing else goes wrong.”
“Nothing else is going to go wrong, Helen. We’re going to be okay. This is exciting isn’t it?” Danny said, floating from one wall to the next. Helen tried her best to seem excited rather than show the real fear she was feeling.
The next day after work Helen went to Phil’s house. Danny had begun training as he’d promised and apparently there was something at Phil’s that she had to see personally. The weather was nice and Phil’s girlfriend Linda had invited her over to swim any time so she wore her yellow bathing suit and her sandals. They only lived a few houses down from him so Helen dropped off the kids at the house and went off to find her husband, a tower around her waist. Helen could see Linda in the backyard so she opened the gate and entered. Phil sat with his back to her, drinking a beer with the rest of the case at his right hand. Linda leaned against him, both of them staring at the pool.
“Where’s Danny?” Helen asked. Neither of them turned around.
“In there.” Phil said, pointing with his beer can.
Helen walked in front of them and sat at the edge of the pool. She could see the faint shadow at the bottom, moving back and forth.
“How long has he been down there?”
“Thirty-five minutes!” Linda said cheerfully.
Before Helen could worry Danny suddenly surfaced, spitting a mouthful of water out. Leaping out and grabbing Helen, he pulls her down into the water. As they pop back onto the surface Danny kisses his wife and although she is angry she kisses him back.
“This is so much fun! I can breathe underwater, no lungs or flippers, my body like, takes the air out of the water. It was so amazing.” Danny says as he helps Helen out of the pool.
“So he says he’s a superhero now.” Phil said, cracking open a fresh brew.
“You’re one lucky sonofabitch, Danny. Always have been.”
“Damn right he is.” Helen said, kicking water at him. Linda, wanting to be part of the fun, tackled Helen into the pool. Within minutes both women are splashing Danny and he dives below and disappears. Phil smiles and shakes his head at the three of them.
“You guys are worse than the kids.”
A week later Helen stood next to Highway 97, facing Ellison Lake. Suddenly Danny flies past her, laughing hysterically. Turning back around Danny comes towards her again but he is flying too close. She steps back quickly, clicking the stopwatch as Danny disappears southward. Suddenly he twists around and begins to spiral out of control. Helen runs in his direction as he bounces full speed into the ground. Still in motion he flies back up and into the lake. Helen runs to the edge but before she can call his name he walks out of the water holding his arm.
“I’m okay. I guess that’s what I get for showing off.” Danny said solemnly. “It was easier with the wings.”
Danny had figured out he didn’t need the wings, they were optional. It was much easier for him to maintain control and it felt more natural to have them pushing him through the air. Flying under his own power made him uncomfortable.
“Well let’s stay on the ground for a while, okay?” Helen said, checking out his arm. It was red from the impact with the water but she was sure nothing was broken.
“Learn to walk before you try to fly, alright?”
Even though Danny had only told Phil and Linda, people in Kelowna began to suspect something was going on. Danny’s weird behaviour was only half the story, people began to see him doing things, things like flying and digging in the dirt. Soon there were stories everywhere and they had no choice but to tell the kids. People began to watch him with interest, waiting to see if he’d do something remarkable. Danny took Raymond and Helen and the three of them drove south into Washington, DC. There they found a nice quiet stretch of sand on Rimrock Lake where Danny could practice his abilities without being self-conscious. Morgan had gone to visit her grandmother so they could take as much time as they wanted. Raymond was no longer as interested as he’d been when he’d first found out. After flying and breathing underwater Ray didn’t find his father tracking scents or lifting rocks to be all that exciting. Helen and Danny agreed that they’d probably discovered all they could with the animals and insects that lived in their local area.
“It’s not natural anymore, it’s not working properly.” Danny said from the passenger seat.
Helen drove them home, the sun was going down and both men were bored, hungry and whiny.
“Then we have to stop trying. Let’s just relax and see what happens.” Helen said as positively as she could.
“You need to go into the city, like Vancouver, show everyone all the shit you can do.” Ray said.
“Watch the language Raymond.” Helen said, glancing at him in the rear view mirror.
Helen pulled over at the local convenience store just off Boundary Point Rd on the U.S. side of the border.
“I need a coffee, you guys want anything?” Helen said as she parked.
“I have to use the washroom.” Danny said, getting out of the car with her. The building containing the bathrooms was added to the back of the main structure so Danny headed around the side while Helen entered through the front. Just as the reached the bathrooms a man came out and headed toward the vending machine at the end of the path. The man was middle aged, black and dressed in a large cape or cloak and fur moccasins. Danny entered the washroom, relieved himself in the urinal and washed his hands. When he came back out the man was holding up a can of cold Coke and staring at it.
“Looks good.” Danny said, admiring the frosty soda.
“Perhaps.” The man replied.
Although clearly a black man, everything else about the man made him seem Native American. His clothes were made of fur and leather and were all tanned a dark brown. The stranger’s hair was straight and graying with a headband wrapped around that seemed to be keeping it down.
“What brings you to Washington?” the stranger asked. His eyes never left the cola, although his face did change expression. Danny saw a bench across from the washrooms and sat down. He could see the car, Ray in the back listening to his mp3 player.
“Checking out the wildlife I guess.”
“Aren’t the animals the same as in Canada?”
“How do you know I’m from Canada?”
“I can recognize one of my own,” at this the stranger offered Danny the cola with a smile. Danny took it and smiled, taking a small sip. As the man watched him, he realized something was wrong.
“I’m sorry, I can’t pay you for this, I don’t have any change on me.”
“If I wanted it, I would never have given it to you in the first place. My name is Morgan Snowfall.”
Danny shook hands with the man, but immediately the stranger, Morgan Snowfall, began to walk away.
“Take it easy.” As the stranger passed he patted Danny on the shoulder. There was a smoky scent about the man, like a fire of pine wood mixed with marijuana and tobacco.
“Thanks for the Coke.” Danny said. The man only nodded in response and continued walking north toward the highway.
“Sometimes an act of kindness makes all the difference,” said the man as he pulled his cloak tight against the night chill.