Everything changed when it began to rain nails. Pam Zelzah was heading across the factory floor, walking from her office to the break room on the opposite side of the building. She was around 40 with blonde hair and grey eyes, the only woman on the board at the brewery.
Giant vats–stainless steel clad in copper, for that “old timey” look that the tourists passing through liked so much–and machinery glimmered around her, fermenting the product, ever so slowly, until the point at which it was ready to be harvested.
As she passed by a scissor lift where someone high above was fixing the ceiling, she felt something hit her shoulder. She looked up to see nails suddenly coming from the above. She screamed and covered her face, trying to escape.
The maintenance worker in the lift screamed, “Shit!” as his hammer fell toward the earth, gaining velocity, quicker and quicker, until it landed on Pam’s head, cracking her skull like the shell of a walnut and killing her instantly. The nails tinkled around her, the hammer came to rest in the warm pool of her blood. “Oh God oh God oh God” you could hear the maintenance worker repeat as he panicked in the slowly lowering basket.
They had been watching the Hiker for two days as he moved alone along the trail. They, the creatures of Light. Tonight, they’ve appeared–glowing blue skin, walking just above the ground. Silent as ghosts and just as much as the cause of quivering. They are focused. There are three of them now triangulating around his resting body in a yellow and silver sleeping bag. One at the head, one at the foot, one at his right hand. They reveal their palms to the sky, opening their four-knuckled, two thumb hands toward the great beyond.
Above, a swirling crimson vacuum begins to form among the rain clouds. The stars turn to lines, the portion of the sky becoming a vacuous whorl.
Upward! Upward! The hiker’s body begins to rise.
Once Sam clocked out and reached his car, he checked his phone. It had been dead for the past couple hours so he missed the call from an unknown local number.
They had left a voicemail. Sam began the voicemail with his finger over the delete key figuring it was someone saying he’d been pre-approved for something but….
“This is Officer Threets with LAPD.” His finger retreated from just over the button, “We regret to inform you that your mother passed away today in an accident at work.” His heart stopped, Threets continued, “As is procedure, we’ll need you to come to the station to identify her body. Please contact me at…”
Sam’s thoughts went dull, his body went numb, his mouth went dry, his ears were overtaken by a ringing. He ran a hand through his brown hair, wiped his eyes. At 24, he was unwilling to believe he was already orphaned. His dad had died of cirrhosis so long ago and now fucking this? This just didn’t seem real. He sat in his car, sat and sat and sat, repeatedly listening to the voicemail, each time praying it said something different. But it refused, was locked in its place in time. Sam called Threets back and arranged to see his mother.
When he got home, he immediately turned and walked out. He shared the place with his mom–it was her place, everything was basically hers. The floral couches, the TVs, the peach walls were hers. The flood of memories and the despair and unflagging confusion were his.
It smelled like Japanese cherry blossoms, her favorite scent. But the place was cold and unmoved and quiet since he left this morning. Shadows fell over the eastern wall, darkening the pictures that hung there: moments suspended of a person forever gone.
He didn’t know how to cope is what it was. I mean, how does somebody? he wondered before he thought of walking. So he turned and left and went to the police station to find Officer Threets. He was an overweight man in his fifties clad in the desertine brown of the Sheriff’s uniform. His balding hair was buzzed short.
Sam was led down the hall as they made for the Coroner’s office, silently, his utility belt and its weaponry jingled with Threets’s every step. Sam slowing and keeping up with Threets, dragging ass to prolong the waiting, prolong the time before he had to see his mom one last time.
They entered the observation room, the door closed quietly behind him. It was a small space cordoned off from the rest of the room by a wall with a metal-latticed window.
Sam looked through the glass. It felt as if it’s a TV screen, unreal. His mom laid under a sheet on a gurney mere feet in front of him.
The coroner appeared from out of the darkness and looked at Threets who in turn looked at Sam: “Ready?”
Sam nodded in spite of totally not being ready for any of this. Threets nodded back to the coroner who removed the sheet–her skull is fissured. They’ve cleaned out the viscera from the wound and shaved her head.
It was unmistakably Pam Zelzah, mother of Samuel Zelzah.
He vomited on the glass.
They had been waiting for him. Surreptitiously, hoping he’s the key, genetically chosen and well sought after. An entire world he knows nothing about. The hope is that his blood will save them.
Their race had homogenized, they were dying out. But they found through Universal Knowledge, that which connects All throughout All, of planets and people, that Earthlings, humans, people had a genetically similar structure and their blood could be fused with theirs.
“Their genes are just like ours but locked somehow by their innate interpretation of time.” is what they realized.
He was their first candidate for Unlocking. They were going to see what happens when they modify his genes to match theirs. Put him in the Aura Chamber and see him be utterly changed into understanding–knowledge that leads to peace even if he is a million miles from home and never can go back.
He bought supplies for a hike, maxing out his credit card buying things he already had in favor of ever going back home. He needed to leave upon leave upon leave upon leave and couldn’t go back home anymore–at least not yet. He didn’t know when he’d be ready to return or if this would at all be enough to allow it. The memory now etched of her open white skull being the last thing he’ll ever learn of her: what her brains, all her thoughts and love, were boxed up and shipped around in.
Sam knew of the High Sierra Trail from his time in Boy Scouts. They did the first day of the hike up to the little tent resort at Bear Paw. But Sam wanted to go further into the giant sequoias, so deeply green–to see the rain come slanting through its needles and branches, dripping wet with words to speak themselves in rustling tones.
He slept through the night at a rest area off the highway, listening to the rains patter against the roof and windows of his white sedan. He woke early, before dawn, that time of lightening and natural awakening, and drove the last few miles to the trailhead.
The parking lot was completely empty, devoid of souls and perfect. A jolt of happiness burst through Sam’s sadness as a result. He smiled for a quick second before descending once again.
The rain fell steadily, dripping from Sam’s hood and marring his vision of the Kelley greens and bark browns and slate greys around him.
Colors whirling–rain from the sky and tears from his eyes. Everything within wet with hurt and solace and loss. He was lost in his own mind.
My mom is gone
Focus Sam Focus on the good,
help me to understand
Knowledge I seek from
walking this forest path.
Once a grown ocean now
a valley–ever and always a summit, a lake to swim–
Maybe I should die too
Make the leap and leave
What little behind
I know I’m gonna lose my job for this.
I know I’m gonna have to bury her–this–all of it–
I know that I’m a coward
Stray thoughts carrying him as the day’s light began to dim. It was as if the rest of his life was in crisis, conferred against him.
I shoulda gotten my degree in something other than philosophy
Shoulda found a better job,
been paying rent
Gathering, isn’t it, all these thoughts.
Traversing, transversing, I am 24 but I feel something beyond my years–
He drifted further into bleakness, weakening, wanting to get out the rain, quit for the day or forever.
The Light Creatures watched him set up his tent in a clearing between two large trees. It was slow work in the rain but, finally, he the entered the small plastic tent and light his lantern. They watched him weep. As empathes, they felt his pain. Knew that what was to come was for the best for the Hiker.
They encircled. The crimson vacuum grew in the sky above the tent. The light appeared.
Sam awoke as he was being lifted off the ground, through the polyester fabric of his tent, skyward.
He felt no urge to scream so he didn’t. They were telling him that what was to come was for the better.
There was peace. He rose into the clouds, distended and disappeared. The creatures, one by one, followed after.