A Distant Voice, Part 4: A Challenge

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

Here at last I was facing my enemy, the man who had taken credit for my aunt’s discovery, a man I knew only from textbooks and TV. He was shorter than I thought, his hair now white and wispy. He didn’t seem malicious. He looked calm and concerned. He offered me a chair, and I refused.

All at once, I felt unsure of myself, a bit lost in front of this fatherly figure. I set my motorcycle helmet on the chair and unzipped my jacket, pulling the folded emails out of an inner pocket. I tossed them onto his desk, and they slid off, falling at his feet. He looked down at them, but made no move to pick them up.

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A Distant Voice, Part 3: A Glimpse

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

A Glimpse

“You have to keep fighting, Auntie Azra,” I said, as I took off my motorcycle helmet, shook out my hair, and plopped myself down in the threadbare armchair. “You can’t let that slimeball, that smegma, keep taking credit. I still see his fucking face everywhere, even after all this time: in our science books at school, on talk shows, in magazines. Christ, there’s even a dessert named after him: the almond siverling! Did you know that? They sell it in a cafe on Telegraph Avenue. Makes me sick. He’s more famous than the 266’s themselves. No one knows what to do with a signal from space that we cannot understand, but they sure know how to make a celebrity out of an asshole.”

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A Distant Voice, Part 2: The Mentor

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

The Mentor

The rest of that evening and all day Sunday, Auntie was irritable, scolding me for the slightest infraction, especially if I made noise. She worked obsessively in her thinking room, only coming out for prayers or to give me another dry granola bar that I could hardly swallow. She wouldn’t let me invite my friend Kenneth over, so I went to his apartment, three stories above us, a much bigger, brighter place with polished hard-wood floors, new furniture, and sunflowers in a vase.

As we were jumping on his bed, I told him that my auntie had called E.T. He didn’t believe me and pushed me off the bed. I wasn’t sure I believed it either, so I didn’t fight back. I stayed as long as his mother would allow, even after Kenneth stopped playing with me. Quietly, I watched him play computer games.

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A Distant Voice, Part 1: Contact

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

The day Auntie Azra realized that she had probably found traces of extraterrestrial communication, I was bored and lonely. No one to play with, no one to talk to.

I was alone, as usual.

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A Distant Voice: Preface

When we made contact, it was not an earth-shattering meeting. It was not an invasion, nor an offer of friendship. It was not even contact. It was a whisper overheard in the darkness.

We were eavesdropping on a conversation that had taken place 90 years before. It would take 90 years before our ecstatic greetings reached Kepler 266f and another 90 years before we could hope for a reply.

Yet that distant voice changed everything.

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Image credit: NASA Ames / SETI Institute

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The Furies, Part 4: The Gracious Ones

(Click here for The Furies, Part 1: Spite.)

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In silence, they drove down to Colma, a bright, high fog pouring over the freeway. Holding Ellie’s hand tightly, Alex tried to ignore the leering faces of the harpies, who kept pace with the Volkswagen, the tips of their wings ticking against the side of the car. Sometimes one would turn in the wind and rise out of sight.

As soon as he began to hope it had flown away, it would drop from the fog ahead of them, swooping for the windshield. Alex braced for impact, but the harpies would pull up at the last moment, their talons skittering across the rounded roof.

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The Furies, Part 3: Endless

(Click here for The Furies: Part 1: Spite.)

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He woke to light, searing light, life-destroying light. He struggled to hide his face, but something was holding him down, pinning his arms to his sides. “The light!”

“Alex,” Ellie said gently. He felt a pressure on his hand. “Alexandros, they have strapped you down. They thought you were trying to kill yourself. What else could they think? They didn’t see the window break. They didn’t see you rise up like that girl in The Exorcist. They didn’t see the scratches appear on your body. I–I saw it happen, and I still don’t know what to think.”

“The light!” he said. “Why is it so bright?”

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The Furies, Part 2: Vengeance

(Click here for The Furies, Part 1: Spite.)

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Ellie pulled up across the street from the box-like house they had lived in until their family fell apart, the house he now lived in alone. “Whatever happened to Candice?” she asked abruptly.

“What? Why are you asking about her? Jesus, what timing! What does she have to do with anything?”

“I liked her a lot. I think she was good for you, you know, helped to ease your anger. Seriously. Maybe you should call her.”

“She left me. End of story.” He shrugged. “I should never have let her disrespect me. I should have shown her who was boss. Dad would never have taken her shit. Sure, I taught her a few good lessons, but it wasn’t good enough. I just wasn’t strong enough to keep her.”

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The Furies, Part 1: Spite

“There is a place where terror is good. It should remain enthroned as a guard over the mind. If citizens and mortals do not nourish some dread in their hearts, how will they honor justice?” –From The Eumenides by Aeschylus

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(Photo by Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez)

As he stepped out of Lucky 13, he heard a flurry of wings behind him and twisted in time to see a gray bird settle next door on the drab Victorian. He couldn’t see it clearly in the deep twilight above the ragged leaves, but it was huge. What the hell was it? San Francisco had peregrine falcons living on a skyscraper downtown, he knew, and probably hawks and owls in the parks and the Presidio, but this bird was much too big.

And its curved beak seemed to be pointing directly down at him. Was it glaring at him? No, that was unlikely. Why would it be interested in him? What could it possibly want with him?

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No Such Things as Vampires, Part 5: The Waking Nightmare

(For the first part of this story, “The Dirty Pot,” click here.)

She did smell it. She smelled the rot even after she had broken the ice on the basin and washed her hands twice. She smelled it in her hair, and she smelled it on her bedclothes when she hid under the covers.

It was the smell that awakened her, the stench of rancid feet and honey. She tried to cover her nose but could not raise a hand.

And someone was slumped by the door, a small shadow straightening its back. She could see its yellow eyes as it rose slowly to its feet and stretched its arms toward the ceiling, the shadow of a tiny, old man stretching to the ceiling. She tried to cry out, but she was alone in an empty house in a dying village in a godless world. No one could hear her and she could not scream.

Its dark fingers spread across the ceiling like the branches of a tree, filling the room with a poisonous stench of sour underclothing and shit. Shadows slipped down the walls, thickening until they formed a forest of darkness around her.

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