Black Petals Issue #74 Winter, 2016

Beyond the Stars
Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Beyond the Stars-Fiction by Brian McLelland
Doesn't Play Well with Others-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Killkenny Man-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
The Family F.-Fiction by George C. Economou
Masks of Innocence-Fiction by Dr. Mel Waldman
Trim Thought-Fiction by Chris Moylan
When the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Anticipating Miracles- 3 Poems by Teresa Ann Frazee
Cemetery Haze-3 poems by Michael Keshigian
Seven Horror Haiku-by Denny E. Marshall
Four Zombie Haiku-by Denny E. Marshall
Love Letter (to L. W.)-Poem by Reyhan Qayoom

Fiction by Brian McLelland

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Beyond the Stars

 

By Brian H. McLelland

 

Don’t 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. 

The Fruit 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 said.

“Why? You don’t think it’s cool?” Allen asked.

Terry realized he wasn’t sure what the hell the conversation was, but he’d stick with his chosen position so he wouldn’t appear stupid.

Salad Shack?

“It’s total bullshit.”

“Well I think it’s pretty cool. I mean, the 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.

Garden Hut?

“I wonder what kind of data they’ve gotten from 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.

Freshers?

“What do you mean?” Terry asked.

“I mean when the satellite slams into a moon’s 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.

Veggers?

“Eh,” Terry said; Allen was talking about 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 on 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 grab some 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.

            “—will 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 be one.

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 greasy-faced teen 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 the 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?” He asked.

“Don’t call it that. It’s pomegranate and blueberry.”

“The front of the bottle talks about how it’s 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 cook?” he asked, somehow managing to sip from the glass without sitting up.

“No…” She looked around the living room.

“I don’t feel like going to get anything,” he said.

“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, and I 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 sight.

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 out. 

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 Danielle slept.

He didn’t bother brushing his teeth. He forgot 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 bed.

The voice that answered was Terry’s, but deep and monotone. “I can feel the universe in motion tonight.”

“What? Just come to bed, hon. You have to work in the morning,” she said.

“The stars are so loud I can barely hear.”

“Mmmhmm.”

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, huh?” she said, as he took her with a vigor rare in their marriage for several years now.

That night he dreamt of stars and slumbering powers that were old when the Earth was young. Tomorrow would be different for everyone.

 

The End

 

 

Brian McClellan, brianhmcclellan@live.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). 

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