Brian H. McLelland
make me go there!
The girl at the counter smiled at Terry when
their eyes met. Her brunette hair was streaked with blonde and bound in a
ponytail. She looked young and sweet. This place was always slammed around
lunch time, and the food—fancy sandwiches and expensive salads—wasn’t worth the
price. The wrought-iron stools scraped over the granite floor with a
horrible din. It made Terry not want to adjust himself, even though the
seat was uncomfortable.
Drawer? What the hell is this place called?
Terry finally stopped staring when he noticed
his coworkers across the table looking at him.
“Yeah, it’s bullshit,” Terry
“Why? You don’t think it’s cool?”
Terry realized he wasn’t sure what the hell
conversation was, but he’d stick with his chosen position so he wouldn’t appear
“It’s total bullshit.”
“Well I think it’s pretty cool. I
equipment is going to fail eventually anyway, so they might as well get some
use out of it, ya know?” Steve said. Steve was new, and annoying. Allen
had told Terry it would be a good idea to invite him to lunch.
“I wonder what kind of data they’ve
it so far,” Allen said. He looked enthusiastic for a guy who believed anything
anyone told him. Terry once convinced him that Madonna was replaced by a
lookalike years ago. Allen still shook his head whenever he saw a picture of
her and asked how other people didn’t notice.
“What do you mean?” Terry asked.
“I mean when the satellite slams into a
surface, or whatever…what kind of data gets sent back after impact? I heard a
few months ago they slammed one into Europa and it confirmed the presence of
liquid water right before it ceased transmitting,” Allen said, as he looked
between the two of them, waiting for a reaction.
“Eh,” Terry said; Allen was talking
NASA’s decision to slam old satellites into random moons for scientific
purposes. Allen wouldn’t shut up about it. He mentioned it as often as he
brought up the pyramid on Mars, which was every time they went to lunch. Fruities?
No, that’s worse.
“NASA should crash one into the pyramid
Mars, or anywhere near Cydonia, really,” Allen added.
“She is pretty cute,” Steve
said, as he
stared at Terry. The twinkle in Steve’s eyes indicated he’d noticed
Terry’s infatuation with the girl at the counter. Her face reminded Terry
of the girl he’d liked back in High School. This girl was being born when
Terry was graduating. The giant sign behind her made her seem so small.
Crispers! He’d been looking at
it the whole time.
“I’m going to head out. I need to
stuff from the store…see you guys back at work,” Terry said, and stood up from
his chair. He winced at the horrendous clatter that erupted from his movement.
He left Steve and Allen to their NASA science exploration talk and headed for
his car in the parking lot. It was difficult to locate at first among the sea
of cars in the lot all similar to his.
“Fuckin’ yuppies,” he said,
as he got in and
pulled out of the lot.
Terry wondered what Danielle was doing. His
marriage was still together, although he wasn’t sure why. He woke up every
day and played the role of husband as he always did. Danielle did the same. No
kids happened. He wasn’t sure if it was Danielle or him, but they just stopped
trying shortly after his 32nd birthday.
He flipped the radio on. Modern music was
terrible and the oldies stations just cycled through the same hundred or so
songs they’d been playing for forty years. He hit the “1” preset—the
fallback channel, old faithful: NPR. Fuck, I’m old.
pass between the Earth and the moon shortly after
midnight tonight. We’ll be back after this short break.” A saxophone
played some horrible amalgam of jazz, and Terry turned it off.
He pulled up to the stop light. Plastered
across the pavement at the intersection was a stain that was once a dog or
cat. A blue collar was flattened into the concrete amidst
indistinguishable piles of brown. It looked like Play-Doh. Someone’s
loving companion had been crushed on the road, never to beg for attention again,
their life a meaningless footnote in the annals of an ever-marching
history. Terry could relate.
The light changed and he turned away from the
pile of rotting tissue that he’d felt a brief kinship with. A few moments later
he parked at the giant retail store—the Blue one, not the Red one. The Blue one
was cheaper and closer to home.
The store was bright and full of
people. The geriatric greeter offered him a shopping cart. He
declined and headed to the condiments aisle. Danielle wanted barbecue
sauce for dinner tonight. The shelf was full of the stuff, mostly from one
brand—different bottle sizes, different variations of the same bland
formula. Terry grabbed an off-brand sauce and headed toward the
registers. He felt bad for having allowed his eyes to linger on the Crispers
girl for too long at lunch. I hate dirty old men. I don’t want to
Only two registers were open even though the
store was busy. Men never get over their first crush. We’re all
just giant boys walking around still holding our teenage hard-ons for the girl
from high school. He felt better framing it that way, though he knew deep
down that even if the chance for an intense love affair with the Crispers
girl ever arose, he wouldn’t take it.
“I can help you over on two,” the
clerk said. The person in front of Terry began to turn and bolt toward the
newly opened register, but stopped when Terry moved. People are such
selfish assholes. Terry didn’t want to apply for a credit card and didn’t
understand why stores still asked that. He just wanted to pay for his
items and leave. The clerk made a few awkward jokes about the weather and
asked if he was going to watch the event tonight. He forced a smiled to humor
the boy before grabbing his bag and leaving.
He called in to work and went home. He would
rather languish on the couch in peace for a few hours than go back to work
where Allen would continue prattling about space exploration or conspiracy
theories. He didn’t bother turning the TV on. He hated watching it
anyhow. It was all reality shows with stupid people in contrived
situations…except the one about extreme fishing and the survival one. Those
were okay, still contrived, but okay. He’d rather just lie on the couch.
Only half an hour passed when the sound of the
garage door indicated Danielle was home early. So much for quiet time. The
door leading to the garage squealed on its hinges. He meant to fix it, but
never got around to it and felt no motivation to do so now.
An exasperated sigh and the jingling crunch of
keys hitting wood preceded Danielle’s, “Hey, you’re home early.”
“So are you.”
“Yeah, I came home early to have sex with
boyfriend I keep on the side,” she said, and went into the kitchen.
“No way. I came home early to have sex with
your boyfriend too,” he said. He heard the refrigerator door open followed
by the cabinet near the stove. She was getting a drink.
“That kind of day?” he asked.
“Shit yes, you want one?”
“Ahh, yeah, I guess.”
A few moments later she returned with a drink
for each of them. She made him move his legs so she could sit on the
couch under them. She was drinking her purple “Brain Juice” spiked with
something and had brought an Abandon All Hope on the rocks for him.
“Why do you buy that Brain Juice?”
“Don’t call it that. It’s pomegranate
“The front of the bottle talks about how
specially blended to help your brain.”
“I didn’t notice that. I like the
way it tastes.”
She drank half the glass before laying her head back.
“I got your sauce. Do you still want to
asked, somehow managing to sip from the glass without sitting up.
“No…” She looked around the
“I don’t feel like going to get anything,”
“Yeah, me either,” she sighed.
They sat in silence for a few minutes,
finishing their drinks. He wished he could think of something fun for them
to do, but nothing came. He decided to fix the garage door squeak. It was
at least one small thing that he could work to change immediately.
“I’m going to go fix the garage door,
might tighten the screws on my computer desk,” he said as he got up.
“I love it when you get drunk and repair
things. It’s very manly.”
“I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.”
The trash needed to be taken out. Terry
guessed he would go to bed afterward. It was after midnight and Danielle
was already in bed, but he didn’t feel like sleeping. The garage door
swung open without a sound. Terry was pleased. He hefted the recycle bins
downs to the curb along with the giant green trash can. The neighborhood
was quiet. The busy roads that connected his suburban region to the rest
of the city thrummed above the rooftops.
The blue flashes of a TV screen illuminated the
guy-across-the-street’s curtains. Terry guessed at what he was watching by the
rhythmic up and down motion of the light. He sighed and looked
up. The stars seemed brighter than usual and there were no clouds in
The black of space pulled at him. The
light of the stars, burning in their orbits, shone upon his eyes. He
wanted the night sky to reach down and take him. The thrum of the streets
was overtaken by the hum of the Earth. The stars mesmerized him and, for a
moment, he began to despair in considering his own insignificance compared to
the eternal vigil of the universe. He knew that he was seeing how the
stars looked millions of years ago, and that the stars would, in time, die
But, stars never really stay
dead. Out there
in the ink of space is where immortality lives.
The wind blew and skittered the dead leaves
over the pavement. Terry remained transfixed with his head back and eyes
upon the astral sight above him. Hours passed.
Giggling teenagers awoke Terry from his
meditation. They ignored him and continued down the street. He looked
around at the neighborhood. His neck ached. He rubbed his eyes and
headed back into the house.
The microwave clock said it was two-something
in the morning. His mind felt fuzzy. He’d had only three glasses of rum,
but felt far off and gone. His body was difficult to control; limbs moved,
but he didn’t experience any tactile sensation when they touched
anything. He decided he just needed to sleep off whatever this was, and
strained to reassure himself of that as he headed into the bedroom where
He didn’t bother brushing his teeth. He
to take his nighttime vitamins. Ah, sleep. But his body moved
him to the window. A resounding cosmic call lured him to place his eyes
upon the stars. Tugging aside the curtain, he stared into the sky
again. He could feel his feet holding him in place, but felt something
slipping away. Terry squeezed his eyes shut after tremendous effort, but
the blackness behind his eyelids was speckled with points of light. The
stars were in him now.
“Are you okay?” Danielle asked from
The voice that answered was Terry’s, but
and monotone. “I can feel the universe in motion tonight.”
“What? Just come to bed, hon. You have to
in the morning,” she said.
“The stars are so loud I can barely hear.”
Terry moved to the bed where Danielle tried to
go back to sleep. He pulled the covers off her and tugged at her pajama
bottoms. His body was acting, but he was powerless to stop it. He
wanted to scream that an agency not his own was working through him.
“Feeling twenty and virile again tonight,
she said, as he took her with a vigor rare in their marriage for several years
That night he dreamt of stars and slumbering
powers that were old when the Earth was young. Tomorrow would be different
McClellan, email@example.com, of Reno, Nevada, who wrote
BP #74’s “Beyond the Stars,” was born and raised in the Deep South, where he
garnered an appreciation for gothic horror, supernatural tales, and sci-fi. He
received formal education from the University of Nevada, Reno and is currently
working for ReGen Magazine and
releases short stories on his website, The
Underside of Everything (http://brianhmclelland.wordpress.com).