The Object: a free serial novel
Episode Seven: “Waking Up Falling”
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~ ~ ~ ~
Lillia sensed she was falling before she opened her eyes, and when she did she caught a glimpse of Drake’s pale, terrified face before shutting them again. She felt Sherman’s bony arms wrapped around her, smelled his rancid clothes, and behind the rush of wind in her ears she could hear the roar of the fire behind her.
Kate screamed and Drake called her name. Then, suddenly, she was no longer falling.
I’m dead, she thought. I’m dead now.
“Holy Jesus,” Sherman said, his mouth right next to her ear. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”
~ ~ ~ ~
Hayden stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. His head was pounding. He wiped the steam off the mirror and inspected the bruise on his cheekbone. Those two frat boys had put up quite a fight, but Hayden handled them well. A kick in the ribs for one and two punches for the other. Everyone at the party had looked stunned. A scrawny five-foot-eight kid against two football players, and he put them on the ground so fast half the crowd missed it.
In twelve years of studying Tae Kwon Do, Hayden had never used his skills outside the dojo. Sometimes he broke into the high school gymnasium after hours to use the exercise equipment and practice, but that was it. None of his friends knew he could fight. Not even his dad.
His dad knew he took Tae Kwon Do, but to Barry it was just another boring subject of polite dinner table chatter, like strangers stuck sitting together in a crowded restaurant. He had no idea what Hayden was capable of. Hayden hadn’t even known until last night.
It happened in the front yard of C.J. Norton’s house. Right by 3rd Street on a busy evening. Cops could have rolled past any second, but a group of people had gathered outside to stare up at the object and talk about it.
An argument unrelated to the object began to swell between a girl and one of the guys Hayden ended up taking down. At first everyone ignored it, but as the arguing turned to yelling and the yelling to screaming, more and more people turned away from the enormous alien rock in the sky to better understand the context of the fight.
Hayden was the last to tear his eyes away from the object. A loud pop was what drew him to the crowd, then the wave of gasps and some girl saying, “Oh my God, I can’t believe he hit her.”
Before he realized it, Hayden was pushing his way through the ring of people. Someone spilled a solo cup full of cold beer all down his back. He didn’t know if it was an accident or not, and before he could address the subject he spilled out into the open center of the crowd and found a girl cowering, covering her face and crying, in the arms of another girl. A few paces removed stood a thick-necked frat boy being grappled by a friend of equal size and stature.
They both saw him coming and came forward, their struggle set aside immediately at the chance to fight someone small and wimpy.
The rest took place in an instant, and before anyone could say anything Hayden took off down the street to his car.
Hayden brushed his teeth and got dressed, then pulled his wallet, keys, and loose change from the pocket of his dirty pants–he’d slept in them last night.
When he stepped out of the bathroom, he found his mother lying dead on the floor.
~ ~ ~ ~
In the middle of the night, Roger and Danny loaded up on handguns and took one .12 gauge shotgun apiece from a gun store, filling shopping bags with ammunition. Roger felt stupid, but he’d played too many video games not to get a certain thrill from having a pistol sticking out from the waistband of his pants.
The roads were empty, which made turning around easy after realizing they’d passed Stacie’s apartment. They found her building on a little road behind a large multiplex that housed, among other things, a movie theater and a grocery store.
When they stepped up to Stacie’s front door, Danny began to kick at it.
“Whoa, whoa!” Roger said.
Danny stopped. “What’s the problem?”
“People might still live here, man.”
“I’ve got the keys.”
“Well why didn’t you say so?”
Danny stepped back and lit a cigarette. Roger tried several keys until the deadbolt turned. He unlocked the knob itself and they entered.
The apartment looked like it was occupied by an old woman. Antique furniture, flowery print on the sofa and seat cushions, a grandfather clock standing in one corner, dozens and dozens of family photos hanging on the walls, intermixed with way too many clocks for a girl in her early twenties.
“Nice place,” Danny said.
He crossed immediately to the kitchen area and threw the door open. His head disappeared inside for a moment and then he came out with a pickle jar in his hand, a block of cheddar cheese in his mouth, and a half-full bottle of wine tucked under his arm.
“Mmm’gonna take a shower,” he mumbled through the cheese.
Roger flopped down on the couch, grabbed the remote off the coffee table, and turned on the TV.
“. . . said that government officials in conjunction with the U.S. Marine Corps and NASA are attempting to make basic contact with the object. A spokesperson for the White House stated that no immediate plans are in place to launch a preemptive attack, but the president did say in his address to the nation late last evening that he would ‘do whatever it takes to protect American citizens.'”
That was the last Roger heard of the news coverage. He was fast asleep on the couch.
When he awoke again, Danny had raided the refrigerator. He sat at the kitchen table with food spread out all around him.
“I think I might just live here,” he said with a mouthful of cereal.
Roger sat up, coughed. “Have you seen the cat?”
“Did you look for him?”
“I don’t think I’m into the cat thing.”
Roger got up from the couch and came to the table. He made a peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat bread and took a banana from a bowl on the counter top. He sat at a stool and ate as Danny finished off the bottle of wine, then wandered to the couch, where he flopped down and was soon snoring.
Roger sat in peace for the first time in hours and just stared around the room. On top of the microwave was a small framed photo of Stacie with Sprinkles in her lap. He was solid white, slender. His big green eyes stared at the camera with seeming intent.
Roger started to get up and look for the cat, but seeing Stacie’s face again brought back an image of her hanging upside, piercing screams set against the sound of the expressway, the rush of wind coming off that enormous spaceship–if it was a spaceship.
This was the first time he’d stopped to think about the object and the trouble not only he and the city of Louisville faced but the entire world.
And what were those lights he’d seen in the sky last night?
He thought about the military barricade on the interstate. If he were going to escape the city, it would have to be through the woods. Mount Washington was quite a hike, but he could make it.
This Danny kid, though, apparently lived an hour south of Louisville. Maybe they should stay here for now, wait it out in a dead waitress’s apartment. Either that or find some other abandoned place, likely one not so nice. Besides, the very feel of Stacie’s apartment spoke of a very lonely young woman. Surely the odds of someone showing up to look for her were minimal. And even if they did, Roger might be the only person left in the city who could tell them what happened to her.
He certainly didn’t want to tote a cat all around the city while he looked for a place to stay.
That thought brought his mind back to Sprinkles, who, if even alive, hadn’t so much as meowed since Roger and Danny arrived. Danny kicking the door probably hadn’t helped matters, nor did his current snoring.
Roger got up from the stool and crossed the kitchen to the short hallway, which had three doors, two standing wide open, the third cracked open about three inches.
He peeked in the spare bedroom, flipped on the light switch.
The room was completely empty. Just freshly vacuumed blue carpet. He checked the closet, found it as empty as the room. Stacie must have lost a roommate before she died.
“Sprinkles?” he said, turning back toward the door. He came out into the hall, stepped into the bathroom, turned on the light. The shower curtain hung neatly folded up and laid over the rod. Nothing in the tub, nothing behind the trashcan.
The door barely cracked open was the last option, and before Roger even pushed on the door he caught a glimpse of Sprinkles’ big green eyes underneath a some kind of furniture–maybe a chifforobe. Only a narrow line of light spilled across it, and beneath that, in the darkness, a set of glowing green eyes shrank to horizontal slits. A rising growl built with the creak of the door as Roger inched it open and reached into the dark to find the light switch. Before flipping it on, he glanced back over at the chifforobe. The glowing eyes were gone.
Light flooded the room and Sprinkles slammed into Roger’s arm, raking his claws across the skin and sinking a sharp incisor into a knuckle before flopping back to the floor, landing on his feet, and sprinting out of the room hissing and growling.
Roger backed away from the door and sat on the edge of Stacie’s neatly made pink bed, heart pounding. He inspected the hole in his knuckle and wrapped the bottom of his t-shirt over it, then the scratches on his arm, blood trickling from each one.
Then Danny screamed and the cat shrieked. Something toppled over and shattered. Roger jumped up and came out the door as Danny stood near the couch prying Sprinkles from his face. He watched Danny rip the cat free and fling it over the bar and into the kitchen, where it landed on the counter, sliding back against the wall, then leapt up on the refrigerator and across to the top of the cabinets. There it ducked and growled low, staring down at Danny, glancing at Roger.
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That’s when Roger noticed a strange thing about Sprinkles. It wasn’t the right angle of light spilling into the bedroom that had made his eyes glow bright green. Here in the fluorescent white of the kitchen, they still glowed–even brighter now.
The gun went off before Roger realized Danny had drawn it. Beneath Sprinkles, a section of the cabinet door exploded in chunks and splinters. The cat leapt to the refrigerator, then to the floor. It passed Roger as he fell against the wall covering the sides of his head with his arms. “Damn it, Danny!”
He looked up at Danny, whose face looked like Roger’s arm.
“You see that thing’s eyes?” Danny asked.
“It’s a damn devil cat. Evil. Or maybe–shit, dude! Maybe it’s an alien.”
“An alien that looks like a cat?”
“Yeah. I mean, you know. Like an alien that takes whatever shape it wants. To blend in with the world.”
Roger climbed to his feet. “Why would an alien want to look like a cat?”
“So people won’t know it’s an alien.”
“Its eyes glow,” Roger said. He looked directly at Danny. “Why don’t you put that gun away?”
“Nuh-uh,” Danny said, reestablishing his footing amidst the fragments of a broken lamp. His eyes continuously darted to the hallway floor, where he held aim with the gun. “I’m for real about this, buddy. That’s a freakin’ alien cat. You wait till I blow its head off, see what comes out.”
“Let me just–“
“What? Talk to it?”
“Just wait,” Roger said. He entered the hallway.
“Dude, seriously,” Danny whispered. Roger didn’t stop. He stepped up to the open door of Stacie’s bedroom. No sign of Sprinkles. He could be under the bed, in the closet, atop or underneath any one of Stacie’s strange antique furniture. “If that thing starts eating you, I’m outta here,” Danny called in a hushed voice.
Then Roger stepped into the bedroom and pushed the door to behind him, leaving it slightly cracked. The corner of the bed was less than six feet away. He’d be making his face vulnerable if he got on his knees to peek under there.
“Sprinkles?” he said.
He felt ridiculous trying not to make a sound as he knelt, placed his hands on the floor, and dropped. Under the bed he found several plastic storage containers, a magazine with a man in a Speedo on the cover, a hair brush, and mason jar filled with quarters.
“Here Sprinkles,” he said. “Sprinkles? I’m not going to hurt you. Dumb cat. Here kitty kitty.”
From high up in the closet, Sprinkles growled at him. He got to his feet quickly and moved around the side of the bed opposite the closet, where he could scan the shelf hanging above the clothes rod. A clutter of boxes and small luggage.
He saw the green eyes peeking down from atop a stack of shoeboxes, just the faintest outline of a head and horizontal ears.
“You may not like me, cat, but I’m all you’ve got now. Better get used to it.”
Something shifted on the closet shelf and Sprinkles suddenly leapt out and landed on the bed. He approached Roger, stopped short, looked him square in the eyes, and gave a long, almost melancholy meow.
Roger reached out to pet him. Sprinkles hissed and lowered his head.
“Well make up your damn mind,” Roger said.
Sprinkles meowed again, this time harshly, impatiently, even. His green eyes seemed to pulsate with light, leaving dark spots in Roger’s vision when he glanced elsewhere, which hadn’t been often thus far. Danny could be right about this creature. Hair sticking straight up, teeth showing, and those neon LED pupils. He wasn’t sold on the alien idea, but this was no ordinary cat.
He tried to pet Sprinkles again and Sprinkles pawed at the air.
“Look, I don’t know what to tell you, cat,” Roger said. “We can either be friends or I can find me another place to stay. There’s a big UFO over the city and the military set up a quarantine so I can’t get home and I don’t have a lot of options left. I told Stacie I’d come here and take care of you. Not sure what the hell I was thinking, but there it is. Tell you the truth, this whole situation is making me think I’ve lost my freakin’ mind.” He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Enough that I’m talking to a damn cat, anyway.”
Sprinkles meowed. Roger looked down. It was strange for a cat to stare at someone so long. Cats are easily distracted, but Sprinkles hadn’t flinched.
“What the hell are you staring at?”
“Great,” Roger said. “Not only crazy but a smartass, too.”
“I think it’s safe to say we have a communication problem.” Roger winced and grabbed his arm to fight a fresh round of stinging in his lacerations. “I really appreciate this, too, by the way.”
Sprinkles let out a closed-mouth snarl, jumped off the bed, and scurried out the door.
“Hey, wait!” Roger called. He braced himself for screams and gunfire, but they didn’t come.
He sat at the edge of the bed, arm in his lap, inspecting his wounds. A loud crash emanated from the bathroom.
“Yeah,” Danny called from the living room. “Did you kill it?”
“No,” Roger said.
“If it comes in here I’m killin’ it.”
“No you’re not either.”
“You just watch and see, buddy.”
Roger raised his voice. “I told it’s owner I’d take care of it, right before she died. You kill that cat, you better kill me, too.”
For a moment he got no response. Then, “You’re a crazy sum’bitch, man. I’m outta here.”
He heard Danny rustling around in the kitchen, probably searching for liquor. Then the front door swung open and slammed shut and Roger felt a sudden wave of relief. He hadn’t realized how nervous that boy made him until he was gone.
He jumped off the bed and spun around. Sprinkles had returned, and something lay at his feet.
“You’re a freakin’ ninja cat,” Roger said. “What’s that you got there?” He took a step forward, then stopped. “You’re not gonna claw me again, are you?”
As if he understood, Sprinkles backed away a few steps, allowing Roger to quickly reach in and grab the small plastic tube.
It was Neosporin.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Honey, how on Earth–I mean, what the . . . that was impossible.”
They stood on the street in the early morning, watching the house burn. Kate was crying, mourning one of her dolls, or maybe just terrified. Watching the only home you remember burn to the ground underneath a giant spaceship directly after seeing your sister and a smelly homeless man float in midair was quite a lot to take at once.
Not to mention the screaming. Ted’s awful, agonizing howls, tapered off now but still fresh in everyone’s memory.
Here in the orange glow of the fire, Lillia remembered the little squid creature crawling up her arm and onto her head. She could feel its tiny tentacles woven into her hair and synthetic dreadlocks, and when she tried to touch it, her fingers stopped short, like when you try to put the positive sides of two magnets together.
She felt strange. Light, loopy. One time she had to be hospitalized for a severe ulcer and the doctor gave her a shot of Demerol. This sensation was similar to that, except the shot had slowed everything down, and if anything the world seemed to be moving at a faster pace now.
Kate stepped up to the side of the road, then onto the sidewalk, and there she stood, tiny, shaking, the glow of the fire lighting up her hair.
“You–we were floating, Lillia,” Sherman whispered.
“How did you do that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Hold on.”
She stepped away from Sherman and came up to the sidewalk.
Kate looked up. “Does this mean we don’t have to live with Mrs. Wilkins anymore?”
Lillia smiled and put an arm around her. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing that woman again.”
“Will we see Mr. Wilkins?”
Kate nodded ardently. “Good,” she said. Then, after a moment, “Where are we gonna live now?”
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
Behind them, Sherman said, “We should probably get to figuring that out. No tellin’ what kinda delinquents we’re liable to run into out here.”
The left wall of the house collapsed, bringing the roof down with it in an explosion of smoke and embers. Lillia reached down to take Kate’s hand and led her out to the road where Sherman stood with Drake. Drake had hardly looked at the house; he was transfixed by the object in the sky.
“We’re in the wild west right now,” Sherman continued. He pointed up at the object’s underbelly. “That thing scared off I’d say ninety percent of the population, and what you’ve got left is mostly crooks and crazies.”
With her back to the fire, Lillia said, “Let’s go to the public library.”
Sherman curled his brow. “The library?”
“I don’t know,” Lillia said. “I just think that’s where we should go.”
Sherman reached into his pocket, came out with nothing, then patted the other pocket. “Dang, I forgot. Lost my cigarettes.”
“You should quit anyway,” Lillia said. “And you should quit drinking.”
“What’s wrong with today?”
“Well, that thing,” he said, pointing up again, “whatever the hell it is.”
“I can tell you what it’s not,” Lillia said.
Sherman laughed heartily and shook his head. “Okay, honey, okay, you got me. I’ll give it a try.”
She smiled and said, “Come on guys.” She led Kate down the road and looked back to see Sherman patting Drake on the back to get his attention.
“The library, huh?” Sherman said when he and Drake caught up.
“I guess ain’t nothin’ there anybody’d be of a mind to steal,” he said. “Just a bunch of books.”
“I’m gonna look for books about aliens,” Drake said.
“Might not be a bad idea,” Sherman said.
~ ~ ~ ~
Barry sat in the recliner by the door, tapping the side of his handgun on his hip and rocking back and forth. “Hi, son,” he said.
Hayden backed away a few steps until Barry pointed the gun at him.
“You know, I wouldn’t move another inch if I were you.”
“What did you do to her?”
Barry smiled. “I snapped her little neck in two.”
Hayden began to cry, and despite the overwhelming sadness welling inside him, he couldn‘t help but fight against the tears, just to spite his father. “Why?” he choked.
“To be honest, I’m not really sure. I just really . . . can’t stand either one of you. Never could. I hate this shit. Family dinner, small talk, arguing about why I’m late coming home or whatever the hell you’re up to every night. It’s so boring I could gouge my eyes out.”
Hayden took several deep breaths. Then he said, “I’m going to kill you.”
“Well, see, I’m afraid not,” Barry said. “Think you can dodge a bullet?”
Barry laughed. “Say what?”
“If you’re such a tough bastard, put down the gun and fight me.”
“The gun is a lot less painful.”
This time, after laughing, Barry gritted his teeth. “Okay, you little shit. You want it the hard way? You got it.”
Hayden quickly considered his options as Barry removed the clip from the gun and the remaining bullet from the chamber. He put both in his pocket and dropped the gun on the recliner, then dramatically interlaced his fingers and popped his knuckles.
Just as Barry moved to approach him, Hayden swept a vase off the table and chucked it at his father’s head. Then he bolted into the kitchen, threw open the balcony door, and leapt over the rail.
When he hit the ground, he heard something pop in his ankle and a white hot streak of pain shot up his leg. He cried out and clutched his shin, but when he heard his father screaming above him, he forced himself to his feet and hobbled as fast as he could around the side of the building. As he turned the corner, a gun shot rang out.
It felt like someone had launched a hornet at his shoulder with a slingshot. He saw the blood mist out in a line right before he dove behind the wall. There, he took a moment to inspect the exit wound and immediately felt queasy.
Move your ass, man. Go!
He staggered alongside the wall to the parking lot, where he’d thankfully parked under the oak tree at the corner, far away from the building’s entrance.
Another gunshot rang out and the window to the second floor landing shattered. Hayden jumped in his car, fumbled the key twice trying to insert it in the ignition, and finally tore away from the parking spot, backing up so fast he burned rubber when he spun the front end around to face the exit.
The rear passenger window exploded in a hail of gunfire, and Hayden counted each shot until he skidded out into the road and pushed the accelerator to the floor.
~ ~ ~ ~
Under a cluster of rose bushes and weeds, a black, skeletal hand reached out and clawed at the hard dirt, and behind it a set of large white eyes sought after a tiny ball of light glowering in the shadows just a few feet ahead.
The hand was passed by its opposite, reaching out, grasping a clump of Johnson grass, ripping it out of the ground. The smoldering monstrosity dragged itself along, inch by inch, until finally its charred, hairless head, blackened and leathery with patches of pinkish white where the skull was exposed, emerged into the light of the little golden squid creature.
Ted tried to whisper to it, but with lungs filled with smoke and no lips, it came out as nothing more than a raspy breath.
He reached out for the creature, but when his fingers were within an inch, he collapsed.
He couldn’t hear, speak, or smell, and he could barely see–just enough to navigate his way through the kitchen and out the back door after the rope burned in half, just enough to watch the fuzzy golden orb as it floated up his arm.
The fire had burned away his sense of touch, too, but now, as the thing moved up his shoulder, his neck, and finally his head, all his senses returned to him. Now he was screaming uncontrollably and writhing about in the bushes.
All he felt was agony. Grief. Anger. Hatred. And in the midst of it all, he could only think of one thing.
To be continued . . .
Read Episode Eight