Walking out of a production studio at the radio station I felt prepared. I smiled in simple amazement that three years of 'Simple Advice for Complex Living' was behind me. For some who enjoyed helping others, I mused happily, this was living the dream. Lost in my thoughts over this, I watched the staff rush to the windows. Puzzled, I joined them, looking over the downtown area. Ias I did a shimmering cloud rolled into view.
Vaguely conscious of the voices resounding around me, I stared as the shimmering cloud moved. A frown formed as I noted people running in all directions. Shaking my head, I tried to dislodge a rising sense of panic. Spotting the afternoon news anchor, I pulled her away from the window saying, “Beth, broadcast NOW!”
Watching her dash into the air studio, I faced the rest of the staff. Forcing calm into my voice I said, “Alright everyone, lets get any info we can.”
Everyone scattered, leaving me along at the windows. Astounded, I saw the cloud in every direction. I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. Minutes passed, the sight before me holding me captive. I turned, determined to find information amidst the seeming chaos of the staff working. I dodged scurrying staff as I headed into the nearest studio. Hammering away at the computer, I waited impatiently for web pages to load. As the first page struggled to load, sound intruded on my racing thoughts.
“It's here! Run!”
Moving to the open doorway, I watched as the staff fled towards the emergency stairs. I stared, then turned my head in the opposite direction. Frown resurfacing, I tried vainly to reason why the staff tore off in panic. Engaged in this preoccupation, I flinched as the lights flickered. Instinct moved me at that moment to hide behind the door. Willing my thoughts to empty, I held a breath in anticipation. Through the crack of the open door, shimmering air moved past me.
Minutes passed before I dared peek from my hiding place. Creeping out, I scanned the hallway for a sign of anything. Sprinting down the hall, I skidded to a stop in the air studio. Attempting to broadcast, I discovered the transmitter was offline. Nothing I tried resolved the problem and only added to my sense of worry. Giving up, I turned and cautiously exited the building, intent on reaching my truck.
Making the trip in record time, I squealed tire on the way out. Concentrating on driving, I only vaguely pondered this sudden event.
Leaping from my truck, I hurriedly entered my house. Gratified to find nothing amiss, I began throwing items into packs, boxes, anything on hand that could carry something. Panting from my frantic efforts, I stopped and drew in a breath of a summer night's air. As I stood, a sound reached my ears. Focusing, singing surged through the air and my surprise. Listening, not a recognizable word registered, yet human voices unmistakably sang.
My mind cycled and cycled over this development. My rampaging thoughts produced nothing beyond ever more insane theory. Holding a hand to my head, I forced myself back inside. Wild thoughts echoing with every step, I locked every window and door. Sleep claimed me hours after crawling into bed, banked by countless images.
Waking six hours later, I bolted from bed. Heading straight for the shower, I set a record for quick and cold showers. Dressing hastily, I sat at my computer. Seeing the Internet functioned, I commenced searching for news on last night's event.
A short study of news provided me with some facts. The visitors (Labeled 'Fey People' by most of the news outlets.) arrived simultaneously across the globe. Panic naturally ensued at their spectacular arrival. As governments around the world struggled to cope with a frightened populace, the Fey People delivered a simple message:
People of this planet named Earth, we greet you in peace and harmony. Our arrival, despite the chaos caused, is peaceful. We strive to join with you, people of this Earth. To join with you, desiring to provide happiness in all endeavors. Shortly shall we meet with the leaders of your world to prove the truth of our words.
Continuing my search, I located statements from various governments. Each basically stressed co-operation and calm. A message from the president provided a similar theme, adding that people could remain home and await word from the government. A few minutes longer of searching provided no other information or relief to my mind.
Leaning back, I felt my mind process these details. Having written, read and watched enough science fiction, I realized this easily fit one of the first contact scenarios. The classic plot line of aliens offering friendship, only wanting to kill/conquer/plunder in the end. Laughing at myself for this thought, I halted my ever troublesome mind. Ascribing human psychology to aliens involved a level of madness beyond my imagination. Rising from my seat, I focused my energy on a practical task. No mention of a curfew or a state of emergency figured into anything I read, so I reasoned it should be safe enough to head to work.
Well, I thought darkly, that is the going theory.
Arriving in town after an uneventful drive, I parked in the garage nearest the station. Exiting the truck, I impulsively strolled to the edge and peered at the street below. People moved about in the normal manner followed by shimmering air. Baffled by this, I noted that each individual seemingly conversed with said shimmering air. Watching this interplay for several movements, I forced myself to walk to the radio station. Walking to my small office, each staff member I passed also was attended by shimmering air. I checked around myself only to find nothing hovering about me.
Sitting at my desk, I pushed aside any further thought. Rapidly sifting through email, a smile slowly spread across my face. Tonight's show, I reflected, could be one for the record books. Perhaps, I thought joyfully, others might need help like never before.
Indeed, that night's show turned in a performance for the books: The lowest caller turn out ever. The next 15 nights each set a new record for lowest calls. Trying countless tricks, nothing seemed to change the downswing I faced. Each night continued draining and frustrating me.
Tapping my desk, a presence in the doorway intruded upon my darkening mood. Glancing up, the figure of the station's general manager confirmed my depressed frame of mind. Wearily I said, “Hello Amanda.”
Amanda's green eyes spoke sympathy as she said, “John, I would like to see you in my office.”
Sighing, I looked at her, then once more about my barren office. Finding my voice, I spoke quietly. “No need for a talk my dear. Simply hand over the envelope behind your back.”
A sad smile formed on her face as she strode into the office. I rose, accepting my termination paperwork. Shaking her hand, I placed my keys in her palm. I grabbed my hat and began to leave the office. Sensing she wanted to say something, I spared her the trouble, “No need to worry my dear. I have been here a long time. I will continue to be here for a long time.”
Leaving her there, I stiffly marched down the emergency stairs and to the street. Walking slowly, my depression deepened with each footfall. Finally reaching my truck, I drove home in the blackest of moods.
Finding myself in a heap on the living room floor, I rose slowly. Wincing in pain, I deduced that a large quantity of Belgian ale was to blame for my poor choice in sleeping positions. I grabbed my cell phone, noting with amusement that it was dead. Moving slowly, I plugged it in to get a charge. I spent the next hour answering a variety of messages. Satisfied, I occupied myself with random tasks. Finishing a long list of things, I felt the need for a distraction. I called my friend Maria for a drink and food.
Dinner passed uneventfully as Maria and I hardly spoke. Maria seemed distracted, although I barely registered the fact. I found myself completely disturbed by the lack of noise from the fairly crowded restaurant. Every person (Maria included.) seemed entwined with shimmering air.
Days passed before realization halted me cold. Carrying a load of laundry, depression gripped me. Try as I might, I could not recall the last time I spoke to anyone. Dropping the laundry, depression mounted, prompting a frantic search of my memory for any occurrence like this. With a resounding no echoing in my mind, I spurred myself to action. Leaving message with abandon, I waited for people to respond. As the minutes stretched into hours then days, I fell deeper into a dark mood. Finally, with the days mocking me, I hopped in my truck and sped away from my house.
Parking at the spot by the lake, I hoisted myself onto the bed of the truck. Squinting into the sun setting over the lake, I allowed my thoughts free reign. No matter the turns my mind traveled, all thought turned to the same subject.
Every individual I encountered radiated happiness. Concurrently, every person was attended by a Fey person. Somehow in all this, I seemed immune, never a Fey person in attendance of me. Trying for all I was worth, the mechanics of those facts escaped me.
Time and thought passed, the sun sinking below the horizon. I watched the colors fade for a few moments. Directing my gaze aloft, I waited for the stars to appear. One by one a star flickered in the darkening sky, prompting a slight smile from me. Sound intruded upon my musing, causing me to pivot off my perch. Standing, I spotted a group of nine figures moving through the nearby trees. Their appearance struck me, glowing faintly with wings fluttering slightly. I vaguely realized this marked the first time I actually saw any Fey People.
Moving quietly, I followed the group, intent on observing them. Perhaps, the hopeful thought sprang through my mind, I might learn something useful. Managing to keep the group in sight, I avoided tripping in the darkness. Studying them, my mind analyzed the Fey People. Their abrupt disappearance brought me up short. Disappointed, I produced my flashlight, picking my way back to the truck. I mulled over the brief period of observation with most of it amounting to nothing. One item stood out to me.
Why did the one female Fey person display sadness?
Standing outside my cabin, I breathed in the fall air. Smoking, I watched the leaves fall, mind empty. I finished my cigarette in a blank state, then moved inside. Mind still void, my stomach decided to remind me of the need for food. Rattling about the kitchen I set to making something to stop the rumbling from my stomach.
Once I finished eating, I checked the stoves heating the cabin. Engaged in this activity, my eye caught the calendar. My ever present depression resurfaced, as I noted three months had passed since the world turned upside down. Sighing, I faced away, sitting in my battered armchair. Lighting a cigarette, my thoughts returned to the subject of my life. I frowned, trying yet again to fathom why I seemed unaffected by the Fey People. In my travels I had checked countless people. Each, I discovered, was attended by a Fey person and blissfully happy. I shook my head as the same question haunted me:
Why did I appear to be the only unaffected person?
No answer sprang forth for the question as always. I blew smoke at the ceiling, trying to drift my thoughts with them. My attention focused on the propane light overhead. Memory surfaced, reminding me I needed to contact the store responsible for filling my propane tank. The delivery approached a week late, forcing me to use an emergency tank to run the lights, stove and water heater.
Making a decision, I rose and grabbed my field jacket. Locking up, I head to the truck and drove off. I drove down the highway, my destination a 24 hour gas station. I pondered if anything was required, as I bought another tank of propane. This mundane line of thought occupied me, neatly allowing me to ignore everyone near me. A sudden desire for pudding prompted me in the direction of another store. Being unfamiliar with this store, I wandered about in a vain search.
Dodging packs of scampering children I finally located an employee. “Excuse me,” I said politely, “I am in search of pudding.”
The employee looked blankly through me. My patience followed my fading smile. Irritated after waiting, I said in pure annoyance, “ I know you got the bloody Fey hanging about, but I am asking for a small measure of assistance.”
The man stared a moment longer. I spun, disgusted when he finally spoke. “Aisle 6.”
Stalking off, I located the aisle and pudding. I strolled about the store, trying to plan for any other sudden cravings. Avoiding kids and heaps of stock liberally strewn about, I finally checked out. .
Driving the scenic route, I crawled past a serious hole in the road. I sighed in sadness, realizing the hole was far worse than two months ago. Finally past the mess, I kicked up my speed. Smoking, I kept a wary eye out for deer all the way back.
Reaching the cabin, my mind returned to my situation. Unloading the tank and the pudding, I pondered the happiness of everyone with the Fey People. Per usual, disenchantment followed my musing. Sighing in depressed frustration, I stood outside and smoked. A light breeze rustled the trees in the darkness. Finishing the cigarette, I decided on attempting sleep.
I awoke early, finding the covers all over the floor. Blinking, I stumbled my way to a cold shower. Surviving that episode, I reviewed the task of the moment: Finding out why the propane delivery was missed. Dressing, I set my determination to bake. Grabbing smokes, I set off for the short trip to the local general store.
Reaching the store, I managed a triple take. Alarmingly, the outside of the store bore the marks of what could have been cannon fire. I stared as my serious disbelief carried the day. Seeing the door open, I cautiously headed to it. Pausing, I drew a breath, hoping a bear was not within.
The inside of the store appeared in disarray. Still worried a bear caused this trashing, I poked about. Avoiding boxes and items, I turned to the front counter. Tapping the bell, I cast a glance about the store. Patience expiring rapidly, I slammed the bell repeatedly. With no response, I carefully searched the chaos around me.
A noise from a back room spun me about. Walking to the doorway, I saw a man inside talking to the air. Exasperated, I spoke angrily. “I, perchance, wonder if I could speak to you about a missed propane delivery?”
The man focused a distracted smile on me. Feeling my fingers flex, I forced myself to remain in one spot. Anger mounting at his almost non-response, I fought off the yell forming inside me. Huffing, I settled on practicing an old parlor trick on my companion of the moment: Glaring a hole through him.
“Oh, “ his sudden outburst snapped my concentration, “do you require something?”
Seething beyond anything possible, I said coldly, “With whom do I speak about a missed propane delivery?”
The man's face reformed into the distracted smile. Shaking my head, I fought the urge to lash out and strike him. Just as steam certainly issued from my eyes, he spoke in almost a mutter, waving at the air.
“Oh no worries, no worries. The Fey attend to all...all.”
Pivoting, I exited the store disgusted beyond measure. In my anger, I slammed a fist against the door frame. Pain shot through me, occupying my mind as I raced away. Before reaching the cabin, depression reasserted itself. Gripped firmly by it, I opened the door and fell on the ground, crying and screaming.
I lay there for untold minutes, crying freely at my shattered life. Nothing made sense anymore in this world. Lacking any purpose, the feeling of being lost intensified. Tears finally expended, I rose shakily and entered the cabin. Reaching the fridge I pulled out a bottle of Belgian ale.
Sitting in the armchair, I commenced drinking and smoking with abandon. My thoughts raged, unable to focus. For some unfathomable reason, images of the past three months flashed before my eyes. I laughed sadly at this choice in memory. Even in the darkness of my emotions my mind still attempted analytical reason.
Draining the bottle, I rose and grabbed another. Turning from opening the bottle, I caught my reflection in the mirror over the mantle. I studied my face, seeing all the telltale signs of fatigue and crying. Welcoming any distraction, I continued my study of the reflection in the mirror. A nagging sensation gripped me in the midst of my preoccupation.
My reflection frowned, turning into a slight smile as realized how silly I looked. The smile faded as thoughts solidified. The images poring through my mind, far from merely random, held a definite purpose. My reflection squinted, focus coming at this revelation. Puzzled, my surroundings melted away and the nagging sensation strengthened.
“Humanity will never die, as its precarious balance of good and evil drives it.”
I jumped to the sound of my voice. Mystified, I struggled to ascertain why that quote found voice. The quote (Formed from a science fiction story I read years ago.) helped form a cornerstone of my belief. The story involved a letter written to the future generations of humanity from a near immortal human. In it he described why mankind would continue living and growing, based on its constant struggle and drive of good versus evil.
My red eyes widened. Pieces fell into an order. The images and thoughts wove into a pattern. I quickly finished the bottle in my hand, then grabbed another. Cracking it open, I drew a long drag of ale. A weight lifted, depression and sadness replaced with a sense of purpose. Thinking at full speed, perhaps even understanding was reaching me.
Humanity, removed of the need to fight, was decomposing before me. Pondering this in the mix, I pulled another bottle of ale. Drinking, I sat, pulling a cigarette and lighting it. Blowing smoke at the ceiling, I felt the alcohol and nicotine filter through me. Closing my eyes, I felt my thoughts ramp up on what I reasoned.
Doubt surfaced. In no conceivable fashion could I possibly be the only one immune to the enchanting happiness of the Fey people. No reason existed where I could possibly be the only one seeing the disillusion of mankind. Mind streaming for all its worth, I reviewed every last thought on my revelation.
My considered review ended with my hands shaking. Uncertain if the cause was alcohol and nicotine overdose, I sat back. Blowing smoke at the ceiling, I contemplated the deepening horror of my theory. I lit another cigarette, polishing off the ale in my search for comfort. A question formed, demanding an answer.
Who was I to play god with the happiness of anyone, saying nothing of the entire planet?
Following hard on the heels of that, another question presented itself. I started another cigarette, forced into the most serious contemplation of my existence. Logic, I mused grimly, would provide no comfort or assistance in this truly humanistic dilemma. Facing the second question, I knew I would try, no matter the answer.
Was there truthfully anything I could do?
Evening arrived, giving me pause. Satisfied as possible, I looked about my cabin once more. Smiling faintly, I lit a solitary candle, Placing it carefully on the mantle, I strolled outside. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, willing my thoughts away. I focused every ounce of mental energy on a single thought.
Timeless moments passed. Sensing a presence, my eyes popped open. Two feet before me stood a blonde Fey woman. Appraising her, I noted her expression, sad as I always had seen before. Drawing a breath, I steeled myself to speak.
“I know, “I detected the barest of tremors as I spoke, “you understand me.” A slight nod confirmed my guess as I continued. “As such, you know precisely why I called you forth.”
Pausing, I looked deep in her gray eyes. “I understand, “I spoke as calmly as possible, “your purpose, your basic intent. Perhaps on this planet you would find few who agree more.” Uncertainty gripped me. I forced out my next words. “As much as I wish perpetual happiness for all, a factor never entered into account.”
Waiting, I studied the Fey woman. She simply stood with wings lightly fluttering. Pressing on through uncertainty, I said, “Mankind represents a fighting, driving, questioning species. While striving for good, a balance with evil needs maintained. Mankind, for all its faults, “I spread my hands open to encompass all, “requires a drive, a focus to fight for.”
Standing there in the fading sunlight, I looked at my alien Fey of the moment. Struck by her beauty and sadness, my doubts grew. So easy, I thought suddenly, to give up, to stop my restless fighting. So easy to give myself over to the happiness, never knowing, soaking in bliss.
“You never could. Your conscience's forgiveness and peace would escape you eternally.”
I jumped at the soft and melodic sound of that voice. The Fey locked eyes with mine, a shadow of a smile on her face. Simply nodding, my acceptance of her flowed between us. After a few more seconds, she spoke again.
“Our kind strove truly to provide happiness to your peoples. Your races differ from others we encountered on thousands of worlds.”
Holding her gaze, I explained. “Humanity walks a precarious path. History and philosophy, everything rife with signs of that journey.” I feel silent in dread at the question I asked last.
“Does a way back exist?”
She looked intently in my eyes. Sadness tinged her tone. “A way back exists.”
Watching her wings flutter lightly, her answer and tone confirmed a suspicion about the potential price. I opened my mind and focused on a lone thought. Her expression transformed, as I voiced the thought with a minimum of emotion. “Acknowledge and accept I do. Reason dictated a cost.”
My beautiful alien companion nodded. She opened her mouth to speak, but I held out a hand to stop her. Smiling sadly, I spoke the last words of my life. “No further words my dear. I always said I would gladly exchange my life in order to give someone...anyone...a chance at another five minutes of living.”
Taking one more breath of the fall air, I closed my eyes. Waiting, I felt the brush of lips against mine.
Warm grass and ground pressed against my cheek. Scrambling to my feet, I looked about me in astonishment. In defiance of logic, I found myself outside my home in summer. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket, checking the date and adding to my disbelief. My phone told me it was the day after the Fey People arrived. Turning, I opened the truck and checked several radio stations. All carried normal programming.
Smiling, I felt sadness and happiness tug at me, a tear flowing down my cheek. Understanding of the price I would pay washed over me. I watched the tear fall and land on a blade of grass. I turned my head, searching. For a fleeting moment, I caught sight of her, floating and dancing on the wind. I bowed to her, watching her smiling form fade into the late afternoon haze. Smiling and crying, I entered my house, content in the knowledge and memory of the occurrences that were, but were not anymore.