More haunted than anything on earth, deep space to the human ear is beyond silence. To the awareness of the spirit it is a chaotic soundscape. Ninety nine percent of the universe is a total mystery even to the experts who study the heavens. For every one of the billions of souls to have lived and breathed the air of the earth hundreds of stars spin in the heavens. Each of those stars have collected planets in its pull and spun them into masses of gas and sometimes life. Planets that are green and lush, and some that are frozen and dead.
Each world speaks its own language.
One journey ends
Gene Reddick gripped his grandson’s hand. He had been in the hospice for only three months but he was still surprised that Billy was coming everyday. Most boys at the age of twelve wouldn’t understand until long into adulthood the opportunity they missed by not getting to know their elders. Not Billy, he understood.
The cancer had spread into his bones and was buried so deep in his body that nothing modern medicine could do would help him. He had lived ninety one years and had come a long way from the one room school house in southern Indiana. Not just geographically speaking; sure, he had established himself in western Washington. He married Estella while in graduate school and they had raised a family of three. His oldest grandson had started a family and his youngest Billy loved and cared for him these last few years since Estella passed.
No grandson needed to be so kind. Gene knew he deserved more and had told him many times to go play and be young.
“It’s not right you being so full of life spending your days watchin’ your papa die.”
Billy was a great listener when he wanted to be. He would ask questions, deep questions, deeper than a boy like him digs. The meaning of life, but not just life, why create life? It wasn’t questions about life that kept Billy coming back; he had deeper questions still--indeed, why spend everyday with a dying old man if you wanted to learn about life?
“Are you afraid?”
It was weeks of visits before he asked.
“Of dying? Who wouldn’t be – Billy you have no right to think about this until you’re older.”
“What is going to happen to you Grandpa?”
Gene looked at his TV, it was on but the sound was muted. The news raged on silently but he knew every story. The war in the middle east had claimed thirty more, a corporation was indicted yet no one would see blame, the rates of drug addiction and unemployment had risen this month again. He had been born into a simpler world, and was leaving it a mess.
He knew it wasn’t his fault; six billion other people and billions more of their ancestors shared the blame. Billy was waiting patiently for an answer.
“You mean after I’m dead.”
Billy nodded. He would wait until he was damned ready to talk about it, one lesson Billy had taken to heart. He didn’t have much time left, so let him take what he could, to make sure he said the right thing. Billy waited.
“My soul is pretty important to me, but I figure every one of those people – on both sides mind you - that died over in that damn war think they are pretty important to.”
Gene hit the power button on the remote, the TV clicked off and he stared at the blackness of the screen.
“It’s a big universe, I suppose--room enough for all of us somewhere.”
This light becomes you
He watched the boy tremble and felt guilt for the first time. Mark Neale hadn’t felt a shred of it when he saw them walking down El Cajon Blvd after dark. He knew she worked this street and wondered why the hell she had a child with her? He didn’t usually hunt on such busy streets but this was too much to pass up.
Her name was Didi and her son, Chucky--at least that was what she said. She shook like a cellphone on vibrate coming down off heroin and methadone. She asked for forty dollars, hesitating only slightly before offering one hundred for the family package.
Sold, Mark brought her back to the house, he could only hunt while Sally and the kids were visiting her parents in West Virginia. It was a pattern that was difficult for a profiler to pick up on. He got out his born in the USA vinyl and turned up the Boss as loud as he could. The neighbors thought he was drunk and relieving his glory days. He assumed that is what they thought.
It was his fourth hunting trip and Didi was still clutching her purse when the plastic Albertson's bag went over her head. He twisted the bag in his fingers behind her neck trapping her breath. It blew out filling up the bag but her mouth and nose were cut off from planet earth. Didi fought to keep her eyes on Chucky but she could only see a frosted white shape. She reached out for him, wanting to beg him, to plead for help. She was without air or a voice to use. Her body hit the floor thumping like wet laundry. Chuckie didn’t move an inch; would he stand there like a fucking sculpture while Mark played operation with mommy’s guts?
Time to find out.
The door burst open and Mark turned just in time to see the first two members of the SWAT team enter. They had followed him. Was Didi a cop? Mark quickly lifted his knife to his own throat but he didn’t have a chance. The light burst from the barrel and swallowed his existence. The bullet traveled nine hundred miles per hour but he was moving faster now.
Garrett Johnson wondered when the hell his coffee had gotten so cold; he slammed down the cup but didn’t wake Barry, the other technician. They were the only ones working in the afternoon. Since the radiation haze was weaker at night, prime time listening were always vampire hours.
He sat ready for numbers, languages, patterns; who knew if the signals would come during prime time, or interrupting a soap opera. So Garrett gave up on One Life To Live to spend his days monitoring the skies through the one-hundred-twenty-five satellite dishes the government and the private sector had patchworked together for SETI in southern New Mexico. Besides Barry, he was left alone during most afternoons.
So here he was searching for extra terrestrial intelligence – a task one could argue was the most important endeavor of the human race, and tried desperately to stay awake. If he was lucky, he would get half-an-hour-long signals downloaded that he’d have to compress into minute-long MP3s. Most SETI research was done from tapes, but there was something important about listening live to his team.
All the money spent on Garrett’s education, which was three times the amount of social service programs for the homeless in the state of Rhode Island, got him a seat here listening to background buzz. The phantoms of space are good at hiding, and their hum became as natural to him as the soft breath of his wife as she slept.
His eyes felt heavy, if only he had drank that whole cup of coffee before it became chilly. He dreamed he was at home. His mother’s home, the one where he and Rebecca Crossen had been all the family one could ever need. He hadn’t been back to Minneapolis since the week of the funeral, not since the day he and Jessica had packed up his mother’s things.
The whisper was soft and gentle, calling his name.
Garrett shook awake and looked at Barry still deep asleep in his sound muffling headphones. Even if he had whispered his name--Garret had his on, listening to the hum.
If the Tree falls
The chainsaw ripped through the center of the great tree spitting splinters into the river that passed by for hundreds of years. The tree had stood over this river since before an upright being had set foot in the land. It watched as the rivers once clear became dirty and brown, it listened as the roar of thunder took over the clear skies.
The ground churned as the giant yellow earth mover ripped through the soil. Thousands of earthworms–-members of eighteen species in all--circled up to avoid the attack.
Worms have a mouth, but do not have a throat. Nor any means to scream in terror. Their bodies are covered in fine hairs called Setae which they use to feel. In moments of attack--whether it would be birds eating them or small children showing their parents what they found--the hairs retract.
Worms and trees have no screams, but they are not without a voice.
The whole family had come in, one at a time, all day long, telling him that they loved him. It was his first clue that he was going to die soon. Billy was going to wait for his turn but Gene asked for him to stay with him. It took more strength than he wanted to think about, but he held Billy’s hand.
The youngest of the great grandkids were in and out, his grandchildren took only a few minutes, and Gene’s three children (who were not so young themselves) were distraught. While his son Luther Reddick talked to him about the house they lived in during the sixties, Gene found his attention drifting out the window.
Night had come in so many ways.
He didn’t even have the strength to close his eyes. Luther’s voice faded away. The room faded away. The bed was gone and without any fanfare, his body blew away in cosmic wind, his soul being pulled toward a bright light.
“What did he say?”
“Listen Billy, and then he was gone.”
“Just like that.”
“Yep, gone, just like that.”
You need a vacation
Garrett nervously tapped his pen on the table. Members of his SETI team were leaning back in their chairs and he knew none of them took him seriously.
“Garrett,” Barry coughed, “Have you lost your mind?”
“It wasn’t a voice exactly, but coming through the clicks and pops you can hear my name. Look--it repeated three different days as soon as the scan passed this system, it’s a little planet named Vir 70 by the Astronomers who…”
All of the four men and women looked at each other and then back at Garrett. Their team leader Lori Greenshaw rubbed her eyes before standing up enough to lean over the table.
“The magnetic pull of the poles spinning a planet gives off radio waves; we have charted around one hundred planets, give or take. Beyond those, there are likely a billion or more Jupiter-sized planets in our galaxy alone.”
Garrett put his hands up, he hated when she talked down to them like they didn’t know as much as a fifth grader. But he also knew she wouldn’t stop.
“It’s seventy-eight light years away. Consider how many radio waves are humming in the background, and considering how many sounds and variables are possible, don’t waste our time until you have studied the source and the sound a little deeper.”
“Dude seriously,” Barry laughed. “It’s like that Ozzy song they played backwards.”
Everyone but Garrett laughed.
“Fine,” He would let it go with them--but he knew what he had heard.
Find your voice
“If a life form were not humanoid--would it’s language be anything like our own?”
James thought about her question, he didn’t want to get into another of Rachel’s deep conversations, not that he had much choice. They were both locked into a tree stand a hundred feet above the forest floor by U shaped bike locks. They could hear the far off sound of chainsaws and knew the forest was coming down around them.
“No--it would be different.”
“I think the earth speaks to us all the time.”
They both wanted to save this old-growth forest, but her motivations were so alien to James. He wasn’t here for any hippie Gaia worship, he just loved being in the forest, breathing the clean air. He just didn’t want to see it go.
“It’s not language.”
“You don’t think the earth has a spirit, a soul?”
“Maybe, but not one we are able to understand.”
“Exactly, maybe she is talking to us through the wind, the rustling of leaves.”
“Or earthquakes and Hurricanes.”
Rachel smiled, for all his macho-ness, he was getting it. She reached and felt the U Lock scrape her neck, it was a struggle but she wanted to hold his hand. James stretched and felt her finger tips.
“If she could she’d thank us.”
The light faded away. Gene felt himself waking and wanted to stretch his muscles. His body was gone. He felt a breeze, air was moving but he didn’t feel any lungs. He woke up thirsty every single morning of his ninety-one years, but this time, he could feel the water already. Was it a spring day? He could feel warmth, smell blooming flowers. That wasn’t all. He felt cold, the fresh feeling of snow fall. He could feel feet running, mouths chewing on grass. He could feel it all.
He remembered this feeling, a distant memory of a home of his own - a world of his own.
Message from your mother
“Give it a try mister man of science.” Jessie was stoned. Garrett knew it when he walked in the door. The only thing he liked about his wife stoned was that she liked to walk around the house in her underwear. She sat on the bed in her bra and underwear looking at the Parker Bros Ouija board.
“From the makers of fine board games and a conduit to the dead,” He laughed and kissed her. She laughed and tapped the board.
“Available at Wal-mart!” Standing up she grabbed his belt buckle. “No, no, try it.”
He shook his head. She gave him the ‘I’ll make it worth your while’ eyes, and he melted like candle wax. She suddenly became serious as their finger tips touched the plastic piece.
“Who do you want to talk to?”
“Anyone from the planet Vir 70.”
“Dead people, not aliens silly.”
“Can I talk to someone from the planet Vir 70?”
The piece moved softly to the yes spot. Garrett laughed.
“No way,” Jessie smiled. “Do you have a name?”
Garrett felt the piece moving slightly faster than their fingers to the yes spot on the board.
“What is your name?”
The piece moved quickly to the letter R. It moved so fast it almost passed E. Garrett looked at his wife and silently told her he didn’t think it was funny when the piece finished spelling the name Rebecca. It was still moving and Garrett lifted his fingers until only the tip of his index touched the piece. Jessica did the same but the piece still moved spelling out Crossen.
Yes the piece responded. They looked at each other and a moment of silence passed.
“I asked to talk to someone from the planet Vir 70.”
The piece went to yes.
“Hey Becky are you on that planet?”
The piece went to no. The piece started moving across the board quickly spelling--I,M,V,7,0.
You should see the other ones
Mark just had enough time to realize the cop was shooting him, not enough time to be thankful he would miss Sally on 20/20, they had paid for her exclusive story. Marriage to a man who had stalked hookers and children became good business for Sally. She wrote books, sold film rights, and tried to protect the children from the memory of their father.
Mark’s soul had left the earth like a bullet train, the light overtook him and spit him across space. That was what it felt like; he was an old soul that had returned to earth and failed again to transcend. He was returning to his heavenly home and relaxed. He hated life on earth, somehow he had always connected to something greater. Something his human brain could not handle.
Hunting was something he enjoyed, he supposed that somewhere inside he always had this memory of spirit; the body was a disgusting prison of blood and guts. He was a liberator deserving of chocolates and flowers, not scorn.
Home was a world of lush mountains, rolling up near the shores of beautiful green oceans teaming with life, so much a part of his soul that he ached with sorrow each moment away. One planet in a system of three, each one four times the size of earth, floating around a pulsar still young in the celestial nursery when last his spirit was called for duty.
As he traveled further from earth, his body becoming memory, his name meaningless... But his experience was floating just beyond him.
He felt the world taking shape around him. The pleasure of life slipped past him, the green mountains had melted to ash, the oceans boiled to vapor which blew like hot gas throughout the atmosphere. High in the sky the pulsar burned bright, looking as close as a full moon.
William Reddick had paid the hospice nurse twenty dollars to let him know when his grandfather’s room was next empty. He had promised her one hundred for the use of the room for a single night. It was over four months before the phone call came. The woman who had been dying in the room had passed. Her family had cleared out her things and he had one night before the next tenant of the arrived.
It had been almost ten years since he had last been here, but little had changed. When the nurse let him in, she gave a reminder to be quiet that no one knew he was there. Billy looked around as the door shut. The sun was going down. If he was going to have the light on, he would have to stuff a towel under the door.
The room was almost empty: TV and the bed. Billy understood a lot more filled this room. It was a gateway of sorts. One after another this room was the last stop in the lives of hundreds of human beings. This room was not empty.
He pulled out his tape recorder and microphone. Put in a fresh cassette and checked to make sure the counter was on 000. He pushed record.
“Grandpa? Gene Riddick?”
He waited while the tape reeled away.
Is an ocean aware that it is alive? Is the sky aware of its own functions? When does a soul forget that it once had a name? Creating a breeze for a summer day or dropping rain into fields filled with seeds might seem complicated, but to a transcended spirit, answering something as alien as a name is more of a challenge. It came across the heavens like a wave rolling up on him...Gene Riddick.
His name? It washed over him.
Time and distance didn’t matter, as he traveled to the voice. It was ironic that it seemed so long ago since he related to a physical body and already he felt like he was just an echo of Gene Riddick. Physically speaking, it was great distance, spiritually speaking, he never left here really, not even during his times in the body.
Billy was ready to listen.
Billy pushed stop. The counter was on 150. He put on his headphones as the tape rewound. Volume on twenty-five percent, he heard himself ask for his grandfather before turning up the tape until it was buzzing with near silence. He heard steps walking by the room on the tape that he hadn't heard when he was recording. At least they sounded like steps. Then the whisper.
“Billy. Don’t worry, I’m home.”
The counter was on 027 when it started. He rewound and listened to it four times but that was it. The tape wound through to 150 and the old man had spoken his piece.
Clear as crystal
Jessica hadn't told Garrett about it. While he believed that his mother was trying to communicate with him, there was only so far he would go for answers. He would have laughed at her and tried to stop her. She had to drive north to Santa Fe to find a medium that could channel the spirit for her. She talked to one in town, but he seemed like a fraud to her.
The channel’s name was Lydia, she asked her to come on Rebecca’s birthday or the day she passed. Her birthday was three weeks away and the appointment was set. She brought every item of Rebecca’s that had made the trip down from Minnesota. When she arrived at the medium’s house they piled the items on the kitchen table and held hands.
Lydia was in her sixties and her three daughters completed the circle. They were into Wicca, the whole house was filled with earth spirit and pagan symbols. Lydia wanted to turn around and leave before her hands had a chance to get sweaty.
“Your negative spirit is gonna push Rebecca away,” Lydia warned Jessica with a whisper. It didn't keep her away. Rebecca had heard the call and came into the room. Lydia sensed her presence right away.
“She is here and very happy to see you.”
Jessica wanted to look around the room but was worried she might break the connection.
“Ask your question, we may not have time.”
“Becky, Garrett misses you so much. When last we spoke you told Garrett and I that you were Vir 70, what did you mean?”
Lydia was silent for along time. Jessica was sweating now.
“Rebbeca wants you to understand the scope of the heavens.”
“She says life exists on many worlds, but not one is like the other. Our souls are tested on earth but when the test is over we live in a world of our own...”
Lydia let go, the daughters dropped their hands. Jessica opened her eyes to wide smiles.
“Is that heaven?”
Lydia took Jessica’s hand. “Sounds like it to me.”
If the spirits are killing
“What are we but shells for the spirit?”
“I don’t see your point?”
James wished she would stop talking, they ran out of water hours ago and the sheriff’s department had arrested their support team and cleared out base camp. No water was coming. The trees were falling so close now that they had to raise their voices over the chainsaws and the trees, when they screamed their way down to the ground. The old growths crashed and shook the forest.
“Earth, Venus or alpha fucking centauri or my body-–Yours. Turtles, Bears, they are just different sized shells.”
James watched as a family of deer ran away from the logging crew. The sheriff was shouting into a bullhorn and seemed to be getting closer. James sat up as much as the U Lock allowed and saw the sheriff and a construction crew assembled below them. They had a crane. If they could get up, they’d use the Jaws of Life to cut them free.
A chainsaw roared near by. They heard the familiar sound of a tree falling and hitting other trees. Rachel felt tears forming that never came. The tree was an old growth; it would have taken both of them to hug all the way around it. The crew on the ground had expected the tree to fall south, but it fell north. They winced and turned away, but the home office had been screaming for board length that the protestors had denied them.
The tree hit Rachel instantly knocking her brain around in her skull. James was locked into another branch and felt his tree falling before his neck snapped under the pull of the lock. He saw a flash and then light.
Apple never fell far from the tree
He closed his eyes, but felt both trees crashing to the ground. He watched his body being ripped apart and instantly let go. The spirit that was in that body didn’t travel at all, feeling the earth take shape in it’s place.
The rivers ran hot with chemicals, the oceans became devoid of life, billions of souls waited in mountains of waste to be eaten. Molded stone and steel tore into the surface and scarred the sky. What realm was the next escape?
Click Here for Part 9 of SKY PIRATES,
by John Shirley