by Tony Rauch
Tony Rauch has four books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press), and “What if I got down on my knees?” (Whistling Shade Press).
He has been interviewed and/or reviewed by the Prague Post, the Oxford Univ student paper in England, Rain Taxi, the University of Cambridge paper, MIT paper, Georgetown University paper, Iowa State paper, and the Savanna College of Art and Design paper, among many other publications.
He is looking for a publisher for additional titles he has finished and ready to go.
He can be found at: http://trauch.wordpress.com/
– Part -1 –
I’m biking in the fields out past the cemetery when a big rushing blur flickers right past me, nearly knocking me down. It’s just a sudden rush of wind, a flash of color zipping by. It’s gone just as fast as it appeared. It seemed the size of a billboard, thin as a sheet, fluttering and semitransparent.
I stop. A tiny cloud of dust swirls around me from the whirlwind created by the strange rush.
Then there’s a flash from the other side of the gravel road. Another instantaneous, transparent, colorful billboard blurs by. From this perspective, the flash looks as if a series of sunspots had formed into a big fluttering semi-visible flag. It was cruising along at a thousand miles per hour, just an instant blur of light. I look around for more big colorful zooming whatevers. But there is nothing more, just the slight breeze left over from the speed of the rushing transparent colors.
“Did you get it?” a voice swirls from the tall grass in the ditch at the side of the road, “Did you catch that one?”
I recognize the voice, but know he’s not speaking to me. “Hey. Hey,” I call, looking around. “Who’s there?”
“Hey man,” someone greets from behind. I turn around. Someone pokes his head up. It’s my friend, Byron Stupovitz, his hair blowing in the breeze.
“Byron?” I lean to the tall grass, holding onto my bike handlebars.
“Hey,” he nods hello, then looks down into the grass, “Did you get that one?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I think so,” Francy Mildomeyer rises from the tall grass. She’s looking down into a small video camera. “I’m trying to play it back. I’m pretty sure I got the first one. . . Yep. There. See,” she nods.
Byron leans in for a closer view. “Yeah. There ya go,” he grins and nods, leaning to examine the image, “Now that’s the stuff. . . Oh crud, it’s just a blur of color. You can’t even tell what it is.”
“What’s goin’ down?” I ask, looking down on them from the dirt road, then looking around to see if any more of those fast, ghostly visions are out and about. I can’t see any more of them, just the trees and fields and clouds in the distance, “Were you filming those big zoomy things that whooshed by?”
“Yeah,” Francy chuckles, “Funny you should call ‘em that, ‘cuz that’s what we call ‘em too: ‘The Big Zoomers.’”
“You’ve seen ‘em before? How long have you known about ‘em?” I look around.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Byron looks to Francy, “Maybe a week or so?”
“Yeah,” Francy nods to herself, “About a week, I guess.”
“What were they?” I gasp. I look around again, expecting one to knock me over at any moment.
“Big transparent zoomy things,” Byron shrugs.
“Oh, thanks,” I nod, “That clears things up.”
“Whadda ya think they are?” Francy gazes down into her little video recorder.
“I don’t know. I didn’t get a good look at it. It flashed by so fast. Like a giant sunspot. Like a giant see-through rippling flag. What do they look like when filmed?” I ask.
“Well, so far pretty much like they do in real life: just a blur of light flashing past. Just a streak of color. A sunspot. A reflection,” Francy whispers, then exhales in frustration, “Hard to tell, really. They kinda don’t really look like anything. . . Just . . . indistinct . . . Flashes. . . A glint of light. All blurry, I guess.”
“Slow it down,” Byron points, “See if anyone’s in there.”
“I’m tryin’. Geez,” Francy pulls away.
“Are they always out here?” I look around. “Who found ‘em?”
“We did. . . Stumbled upon ‘em last week,” Francy shakes her head, “Yeah, this is maybe a little better,” she hands Byron the little recorder and steps from the weeds, climbing from the ditch up to me and my bike on the road.
“Yeah. By accident,” Byron shrugs, “Or as I like to say: ‘It happened by stupidity,’”
“We were just coolin’ out, when flooooom, one flashes by. . . .Then another,” Francy makes a sweeping gesture with one arm and turns her head as if watching one zip on by. “We were out lookin’ for flying saucers. You know, UFOs. Wanted to catch some on film. So luckily I had my recorder with me and we catch the flashes by accident. . . . At first we thought they were just sunspots. Or light glinting off something – some metal or glass in the distance or something. . . A reflection off some car maybe.”
“So we thought we’d investigate,” Byron climbs out of the ditch and joins us on the dirt path. “So far we’ve filmed a couple. . . What? Two of ‘em. Looks like different ones too, not always the same size or colors. . . They’re hard to catch ‘cause you never know when they’re gonna shoot past.”
“I’m thinking I could just jump right into one, and it would take me away to another world. Maybe another dimension,” Francy smiles, “Or another place in outer space or something. Maybe another time even. . . . Hop a ride on outta here as they blast on through.”
“Yeah. A magic carpet ride. . . Carry us outta this festering dust bowl,” Byron kicks a rock into the tall grass.
“Whaddaya think they are?” I ask, “Where they from?”
Byron shrugs a “who knows” gesture.
“Another dimension,” Francy points her arm around, “Probably.”
“Yeah,” I nod, “Probably just zippin’ on through.”
“I bet there’s all kinds of invisible crap out and about,” Francy looks around.
“Probably an intergalactic superhighway or something,” Byron kicks at another rock, “An’ we’re just the rest stop.”
“Just in the way,” I nod, “Just the toilet on the way to some place better.”
“Some place more exciting,” Byron kicks at another rock, but misses, “More exotic,” he winds up and tries again, sending the rock into the tall grass in the ditch.
“Here comes one,” Francy squeals in excitement, “I can feel it.”
A breeze lifts her hair just slightly.
There is a flash.
“Jump!!!” Byron cheers with an expectant smile.
And Francy leaps into the air from a standing start. She hops off the sandy road and floats slowly to the grass in the ditch. There is a flash of yellow. We see her stop in midair, she seems to glow for a split second, then stretch out, her body and arms elongating for just a split-second. Then she is gone.
“Whoa,” Byron waves his arms excitedly, “It worked! . . It really worked! . . She’s gone! . . . She did it! . . . Ha ha! . . .” he slaps his knee, “Did you see that?” he looks to me.
“Yeah!” I grin, “I did,” I nod, looking around, trying to find Francy, expecting to see her rolling down the side of the ditch, into the grass. Or expecting her to fall out of the air and thump in the dust beside me.
Another silent flash of color zooms by on the other side of the road. I feel a little rush of breeze beforehand, then the air kind of cools, then grows hot again, then flash – transparent colors streak by in a blink, like a subway rushing right past for just a brief second, for just an instant.
An old guy stumbles out from the flash. He stumbles between Byron and me, then loses his footing and rolls to the ground, rolling on his sides to finally come to a stop in the dust.
“Yeah!” he chuckles to himself, “Ya see? That’s the way you do it,” he nods. He has a scraggly beard, dirty skin, and filthy, ripped-up clothes.
“We’ve been studying them,” Byron looks down to the older fellow, “Francy just jumped into one.”
“Yeah. Ya see what I tell ya,” the older man sits up. “I been catchin’ them for years it seems,” he looks down the road, to the blank horizon, “Only a few more for the rest of the day though, I bet.”
I look down and ask the older man, “How long were you gone for?” I study him. He looks to be entirely from another time and place.
“About a week this time. Caught these two out this way last week, just before I left,” he looks at me, then nods to Byron, “Trying to find my fort and steal my treasure, weren’t you?” he points to Byron.
“No sir. Not me,” Byron shakes his head respectfully, “I didn’t even know you had a fort out here. Or anywhere else, for that matter,” he looks over the fields. There is nothing but wheat and grass, and then corn and lines of faint trees and the distant horizon beyond that – just wheat and grass as far as the eye can see. “Why would anybody want to waste any time out here at all?”
“Where’d you go off to?” I’m still watching the older man. His clothes are old and ratty. His hair is matted into twisted clumps, as if he’s been living in the dust for years.
“The other worlds,” he shrugs, sweeping his arm out to the fields dramatically, “Been doin’ it for years now. Seems these inter-dimensional beings scoot around that way – on these here beams of light. . . For some reason these parts are configured in such a way that we can just barely perceive them. We see them as mere flashes. But they’re invisible everywhere else. . . I think it’s the old iron pits around here. That they have a certain magnetism. Maybe they focus energy somehow. . . Anyway, long ago I found I could hop the light and end up somewhere else for a while – another place, another time, another dimension. It’s some sort of . . I-don’t-know-what-all, . .” he shrugs, looking around for the answer, “A super-fast transportation system – like an invisible subway train, invisible super highway, a three-dimensional map, an index of places and times. . . Er, well, something like that. . . Anyway, I didn’t build ‘er, I just found ‘er.”
“All just from a thin slice of transparent light?” I shrug and look over to Byron.
“Yep,” the older man rises to his feet, “Now I bet you young fellows are from the future, aren’t you? . . . Well, my future, not your future. This here would be your time. My time was a long time ago,” he dusts himself off, “I’ve been hopping the light for years now, jumpin’ back an’ forth,” he looks around, “I don’t even know what year it is anymore. That’s why I got my fort hidden. So I can hide out in whatever year I need and not be noticed. So I have a home in time, whatever time I’m in, there it always is, just tucked away, waiting for me.”
“Seems like a lonely way to go about things,” I wonder out loud.
“Well, yeah, sometimes,” the older man shrugs, “But I think you’ll find that life is a series of trade-offs. You have to make compromises. . . .”
Another flash of fluttering light shoots by – green and orange this time. Just like that. That fast. In a blink it’s here, then gone in an instant. If you weren’t looking right at it, you wouldn’t have even noticed it.
A woman stumbles from out of nowhere. She just appears, stumbling out of the flash.
“. . . But you’ll also find that life has its little surprises,” the older man finishes, “And you never know when or where they’ll just pop up. . . Inspiration. . . Treasure. . . Knowledge. . . Friendship. . .”
“Well there you are, Bernie,” the older lady beams, steadying herself as if she just stepped from a speeding bus. She looks at the older fellow, then around to Byron and me. “Well, aren’t you going to introduce me to your new friends?”
She is wearing a nice business suit – pink skirt, pink jacket, with a pink pillbox hat, looking like she just stepped out of the early nineteen sixties.
“I’m hoping to revive the pillbox hat in this era,” the man looks to me, “But will I get that? . . .” he looks to the woman who is walking over to him. “. . . Probably not.”
They embrace in a great hug and spin around.
– Part – 2 –
“Go ahead, try one,” the older man smiles as he spins around.
“Hop a beam,” the woman mentions, “See where it takes you.”
“How would I ever get back?” I lean to look down the road to where the beams of light were flashing from, to see if any new ones are on their way.
“Just hop on another. Right where you stepped off. Like waiting for a bus. Eventually you’ll find yourself back to where you started,” the man stops spinning. “Just hop on one and eventually it’ll shoot you right back here. Just like that.”
“As if pulsating through many universes or time signatures almost at once,” the lady looks around to see where she is at.
“There are several of them this time of day,” Byron shrugs, “Just wait.”
“Here comes one now. I can feel it,” the lady looks down the road.
“I don’t feel anything,” I shrug and whisper to myself. Then I feel a slight breeze and a sudden spot of coldness growing around.
There is a flash down the way, and I jump into the air, to where one of the beams of light had been before. I leap into the air, floating three feet from where I was standing with my bike, and zammo! I’m whisked away on a whirlwind. I’m in a rushing torrent of air. There is a flash, and I see the fields rush by, telephone poles flash past, fence posts zip by as if flashing on and off. There is a glint of me and Byron on the side of the dirt road, me standing by my bike, and the man and woman spinning in a great happy hug. Then a stream of colors, everything blurring into long, thin, fuzzy strings, me just standing there, the air cooling, a waft of gentle breeze swirling around me.
Prior to stepping into the rushing stream of transparent colors and rush of wind, my life had become a blur like this – days, people, events just flashing past in a blur that I couldn’t slow down or manage to catch up to. I had come out to the fields to try to get away from the rushing blur, to clear my head out, to try to slow things down. And now here I find myself right back in another rushing blur, a different kind of blur.
The delicate strings of color begin to pulsate into solid blocks of transparent hues. Through the colors I start to see various landscapes zipping by, as if flashing on and off, as if I’m on a super-fast train – cities and small towns, and then through a strange forest with blue bottle flies the size of couches, then there are a series of gorges with strange blue twisting bushes all around and tall waterfalls, and then back to a series of fields.
The older man walks up to me and stands beside me.
“See?” he looks around, “Pretty neat, eh?”
“Yeah,” I gasp in a whisper, “It’s pretty. . . Pretty interesting. . . And pretty to look at,” I study the wall of slab-like colors in front of me. I look up and there is a flat ceiling of colors floating past high above, and another rippling wall on the other side of me, as if I’m in a narrow, tall, invisible fluttering hallway or something, the world rushing past outside – scene after scene after scene – but as if made of slightly rippling water.
“It was built way back when. . . A long time ago,” the man watches scene after scene flip past, “I don’t know by who or why.”
“Man,” I gasp, “So many places to visit. . . So much stuff to see.”
“Yep. It’s a super expressway,” he nods, “Will take you to all kinds of places, an’ all over.”
“I’d like to go to a ballgame,” I nod, “Or go find Francy.”
“She’s back there. She’s fine. . . Oooop. This is my stop,” the man nods to no one and just steps out, into the colors, through the curtain of rippling lights, out into some city street and then – whoosh – is gone, lost in the rushing blur of outside worlds – a city square, a village, a farm, a desert, an ocean, a mountain, a stream in a forest.
I look ahead, down the tunnel of light, and see the scenes coming up ahead. I see a small town coming up fast, so I hop out, just step out, right through the transparent colors and land on a sidewalk in a small town. The rush of wind is gone, the cool air returning to warm air. I look around. The sidewalk is made of round pavers, the streets are old brick, all worn and faded. There are people walking by wearing strange, ornate robes the likes of which I’ve never seen before in any book or movie. The architecture is exotic – curved windows and sweeping, sloping roof lines. The people seem to have flaps of skin all over, like gills, and long, thick prongie things sticking from their faces and heads, like antennae or whiskers protruding out several inches. Their skin is a light greenish-gray pallor.
Where am I? I take a few steps and look around behind me. The trees are all tall, with bluish-green leaves, some dark blue. An ornate metal fence is at my side made of variously sized metal circles. A rolling thick carpet of dark blue grass is on the other side, under the thick canopy of large leaves. A house is hidden in the yard, behind trees and bushes. Everything is just slightly different here. I can’t tell if this is the past or the future, or another world entirely.
I wonder if there are any kids my own age anywhere around here. I take a few steps, looking all around. A strange large bird swoops past, the size of a kid’s wagon. The bird is swirled in metallic hues of green and gold scales, almost snake-like. There must be a park around here somewhere. Maybe I’ll ask someone. Maybe I can find some other kids to cool out with for a while. I walk a few steps and come to a store. I look in the window to see what kind of store it is, but the insides are hidden in shadow and thus I only see some vague lines of shelving. In the window, I see a strange reflection behind me. I turn around to find a large slug-like thing sunning itself on the side of the road. The slug is the size of a dining room table.
Someone from across the street yells, “There’s one of them!”
I turn to see who’s shouting and what they’re so alarmed about. Maybe it’s a bank robber or a purse snatcher or something. When I look, I see a man in an ornate lavender robe with gold and white trim. He is pointing at me, nodding his head, the antennae protruding from his face shake as he nods, the flaps of skin or gills on his head seem to open and close slightly, moving up and down as if breathing. Several of the passersby also stop and look around to see what he is alarmed about. They see him pointing and look over to me.
“Oh, my,” one of them gasps, “It’s one of them. . . One of them!”
Most of them step off the sidewalk, into the paved pathway. They walk slowly, cautiously. I don’t know what to do. I look around for help, but no one else is around.
Someone grabs me from behind, grabbing both my arms with his hands. He spins me around, “Who are you?” he demands sternly, bending to look down on me. He’s a tall one, his gills rippling and breathing in and out like many thick folds, one on top of the other, like long, thin mouths all over his face and neck. His antennae wiggle and reach to me and twitch, as if they’re trying to read my mind or something.
“I . . I , . .” I stammer, leaning back, as if trying to get away, “I just got here. . . Really. . .”
“You’re one of them,” he leans in, his gills flaring. His grip is impressively tight. He starts to shake me in anger, frustration, disbelief. He turns to the ones slowly approaching, slowly, carefully surrounding me. “Finally. . . Finally. . .”
“Show the eye,” advises one of the strangers from across the street, “Show the eye.”
The guy who’s holding me lets one arm free and opens his robe with it. Sure enough, there in the middle of his body is a great big eyeball the size of a softball.
The eye blinks slowly, hypnotically. “Show the great one,” a small mouth under the eye announces. A small arm unfolds from under the mouth and struggles to reach to me.
The man spins me to the side to face the large storefront window. I still can’t see inside because the canopy above the window is causing a shadow and the lights are off. I still can only make out the vague outlines of the shelves inside. The entire window flashes, a sudden static appears, as if the window is also a large television screen. The static fades to an image of a great eye that covers the entire window.
“So there you are, infiltrator,” a speaker above hisses a slow, deep voice. “Where do you hail from?” The eye on the screen slowly blinks.
Someone rushes up from behind and swings his arm up, into the face of the big guy who’s holding me. I think he’s going to hit the guy in the mush, but his arm stops short and something flies out, some sand or something. The big guy catches the handful in the face and spins away, dropping down. His grip releases. I feel free as he falls away. I stagger back, watching as the big guy collapses into the large window, then slumps onto the pavers.
I look down at the guy, then up to who got him from behind. It’s the older guy in the tattered clothing. He grins at me, opening his hand to reveal a salt shaker. “Sorry kid,” he looks down on me sadly, “I should’ve been watchin’ you more carefully, should’ve warned you about some of these places,” he looks around, “We’re supposed to leave some of these places alone. . . Some’ve been infected, others mutated, others just . . . well, contaminated. . . Some have evolved differently from us. Different customs and manners. Different expectations.”
I look around, watching the others slowly lurching to us.
“Ready?” the man asks.
“Huh?” I look to him, confused.
He is looking away, far off, down the street. “Feel that?”
There is a slight breeze. The air chills.
“That’s right,” I smile, “The second one. . . I forgot about the second one.” And that’s when I remember. There was always that second beam, that second one. Maybe that’s why they send two at a time, just in case there’s a problem right away – maybe you get off at the wrong stop or something, so they send a second one – and you need to jam right off.
“Ready. . . Jump,” the man bends, then leaps to the side.
I jump with him and flash, we’re in the transparent hallway of watery lights, rushing along.
He’s standing there. He looks to the woman, takes out his salt shaker and shows it to her. “The Da’al Ma’ak are causing problems again,” he sighs.
“Let’s go back in,” the woman shrugs, “Talk to them. Explain things.”
“Geez, they’ll never listen,” the man shakes his head and looks away, into the blur of fuzzy colors and scenes flashing by outside, “Why even bother. . . Let’s just leave ‘em be.”
“How many people know about this?” I look up to the man, then look down each side of lights, as if we’re in a long, tall, narrow, luminous, transparent hallway with a train of thin, boxy colors moving past on each side of us.
He shrugs, “I think just the few of us. . . I never told anyone,” he looks to the woman, “Did you?”
She shakes her head, “Are you kidding. . . Why spoil a good thing?” she looks to the man, then back out to the worlds passing by and grins, “I stumbled upon it just like you all did. . . Just think of the exciting worlds and wonders out there. Just waiting to be discovered, . .” she shrugs, “OK other worlds, here I come, . .” and leaps out through a thin curtain of rippling translucent green light.