This is a flash fiction piece I just finished for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at his “Terribleminds” blog. The challenge is to complete a 1000 word piece using one of three available opening lines. The line I chose was “Everyone else remembers it as the day the saucers came, but I remember it as the day a man in a suit shot my father.”
So, without further ado, I present “Calling Down the Stars”…
Everyone else remembers it as the day the saucers came, but I remember it as the day a man in a suit shot my father.
It had been a long time since I’d seen Pop so happy. He wore his best tweed suit and his favorite fedora. He even left out the aluminum foil lining he usually put in his hats to protect him from “psychic influences”. Today he wanted to be “open for communication” with the Visitors. His eyes, so dull of late, shone behind the thick lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses. Smiling, he slipped the latest copy of Astounding Science Fiction in his coat pocket and lit his pipe before grabbing his cane from the umbrella stand by the door.
“Son,” he said. “Let’s go meet my new friends.”
I swear to almighty God he nearly skipped to the waiting Packard.
For the past year or so, Pop spent most of his time in his bathrobe, shuffling from one room of my apartment to another or falling asleep reading one his story magazines. Occasionally he’d wander up to the roof where he’d make adjustments to his “broadcast apparatus”–a bizarre series of wires and antennae that he made me promise I would not disassemble until he was “long gone from this world.”
He had retired from his professorship shortly before moving in with me. Mother had passed some six months before and Pop had started to lose focus on his work. He would be found wandering the corridors at Bellington Hall, muttering equations to himself. In conversation, he would drift off in mid-sentence, distracted by some dialog only he could hear. Finally, the deans contacted me to let me know that they would have to end his tenure if he did not choose to retire on his own.
The old man took it well, I have to say. He just smiled and asked me about the height of my roof. So we sold the house where he and I and Mother had spent most of our lives and moved into my apartment in Manhattan. His distractions increased tenfold soon after–he even began to neglect his health. I had to take off from my own position to stay and care for him. I despaired of him lasting another year.
I thought it was because he refused to grieve for my mother. The man couldn’t focus on finishing a bowl of oatmeal, but would fixate on these pseudo-scientific journals with outlandish claims of alien autopsies and psychic phenomena. He was obviously distracting himself from his grief. So I hid his magazines and told him he had to pull himself out of his fugue. But, finally, I relented. How could I take away the old man’s one happiness?
So on that day, the day the saucers descended upon every major city of the Earth, Pop positively vibrated with anticipation. I promised to take him out to the field in New Jersey where one of the vast flying discs had landed. We’d join the crowds of onlookers, scientists, and soldiers that formed a perimeter around the craft, waiting for some message or emissary from beyond.
“They’re waiting for me,” Pop said with a merry chuckle as he clambered into the car. “I called them and they came. They’re waiting for me.”
I shook my head and laughed. “Sure, Pop. The visitors traveled across space to visit a myopic retired physics professor from Queens.”
Pop just shrugged. “You’ll see, Son. You’ll see.” Then he winked–that same “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” wink he used to pull out when he had a surprise visit to the soda fountain waiting for me after church when I was a kid.
The crowd was thick around the field, though we could still see the gleaming iridescent dome that topped the steel disc of the craft. We parked the car at filling station about a mile from the perimeter. We’d have to hoof it to the crowd from there.
I didn’t think the old man could make it but he insisted that he’d make it to his “rendezvous” just fine. He lead the way, slowly, his cane pressing hard in the packed earth of the trampled field while I followed, hands outstretched in case he stumbled or fell.
I needn’t have worried; he seemed to find strength as he got closer to the disc. Once we reached the edge of the crowd, I was the one who breathed a sigh of relief, ready for a break. But he pushed on, using his cane as a lever to move people out of his path.
“Make way! Make way! I have an appointment to keep!” he called.
I sighed with exasperation and prepared to push my way through the throng behind him when I heard a metallic “whoosh”, like the movement of a pneumatic tube. Turning, I saw a man in a dark suit and sunglasses make his way out of the crowd. Then the people around me gasped and screamed, forming a ring around something–or someone–ahead.
Forcing myself through the wall of agitated onlookers, I saw my father lying on the trampled grass, a bloody stain spreading across his chest. I fell to my knees, crying, holding his head in my lap and called for help.
“It’s too late, son. Too late for me. But I was right, my boy. I was right.”
He was right. It was too late.
I still don’t know why the man in the suit did what he did or why someone important wanted an eccentric old widower dead before he could see the Visitors. All I know is that it proves that my father was right. That he did have something to do with their coming–and I think his death had everything to do with their leaving, silently, soon after. So now I simply try to live by the final lesson that he imparted to me–that even the mildest of men can have the power to call down the stars.