Ten Years by Susan Cunningham

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Short fiction for short moments! The inevitable nature of humanity emerges in this speculative short story about alien discovery. What happens when we learn the truth about our universe? Ten Years explores a snapshot into a young girl's life adapting to the harsh reality of a world changed forever.

Ten Years 

It’s been almost ten years, but I can tell you everything about that day. I was thirteen years old, and I lived in a little farmhouse in what was then Northern New Hampshire. A thick mist hung along the fields, hugging the ground while the sun attempted to break through. The calendar read December 15th, and the temperature climbed to a balmy 42 degrees. Our TV hung above the fireplace at an angle. Dad fixed it almost every day, but for some reason it always ended up tipped. That morning, I ate oatmeal showered with blueberries while I painted my nails. The color was my favorite, frosty pink perfection.

The breaking news banner flashed across the TV screen accompanied by attention beeps.

“Suspected extra terrestrial signals received.”

I left my oatmeal and yelled to Mom. We huddled around the TV while reporters argued over the claims. The bottom and right hand sides of the screen exploded with related information banners. Mom assured me it was a hoax, but I could tell she wasn’t convinced. Dad wanted to shut off the TV.

“Garbage.” He grabbed his work boots and left for the barn.

Lots of projects got done that day. The leaky faucet upstairs stopped leaking, the mystery hole in the basement wall disappeared, even the shower nozzle earned a new lease on life. My Mom flipped from channel to channel hoping to catch the slightest bit of new material.  Back then we craved information. Today, we want it all to end.

We had discovered the universe didn’t revolve around us. Scientists preached patience while they attempted to decipher the messages.  The media responded with speculations varying from words of peace to warnings of invasion. Our world changed as curiosity and fear united. Sunday church services moved to daily, hate groups found a new focus for their energies, and a new field of science emerged all within the first few weeks. 

We called them Homo Externis, Latin, I think, but meaning human outsiders. Since most people couldn’t handle the concept of a non-human species, we labeled them as just another branch of our evolutionary chain. The church said God made them, and the scientists claimed the Big Bang had spread the seeds of our DNA to other worlds. Neither explanation mattered. We were our own worst enemy, proficient at creating a frenzy, and deadly at breeding suspicion. 

“Garbage.” 

I made a crumpling motion with my hands and pretended to fling my journal into the air. The pages stared back at me as if to say, “Everyone writes about the time before the end, what makes your account any different?”  Here at the refugee camp, writing pretty much means therapy. Throw a few words down and sit in a circle talking about how your sob story outshines all the others.

“How’s the writing, Sarah?” 

I tossed the scowl my parents had hated towards the voice. Joyce threw it back at me. She was my post war survival teacher, or my therapist, depending on the day.  It was Wednesday, so I guess that made her my therapist.

“It sucks.”  My expression was as gray as my jumpsuit. I clutched my journal to protect the crap I had just written.

“Why does it suck?” Joyce asked.

Long ago, I would have thought her monotone voice and lack of facial expression dry. Today, it seemed way too cheerful. “I only like stories with fairy tale endings. Not much to be happy about here.” 

I crossed my arms and looked around the room. A dozen or so newcomers like myself sat scattered around what was once a roller skating rink.  The giant disco ball in the center of the room no longer spun, and the concrete floor was just as cracked as we felt.

“Didn’t you ever watch a Disney movie?” Joyce asked. “More death in those fairy tales than in some horror movies.”

 I couldn’t help but smile. I hated Joyce for knowing what to say.

“Hey. Get over here, Joyce.”  

The chef/radio repairmen had opened the side door and yelled. Everyone stopped to look at him. Joyce did her best to hide her annoyance, but if there was one thing I knew it was the look of irritation.

I waited until she left the building to follow. The area behind the shelter was off limits, but my curiosity burned. My parents used to get mad when I didn’t listen, but my inquisitive nature had saved my life. Pity it hadn’t saved them too.

The rink’s rear exit was once the emergency area where EMT’s would lead out some bawling kid with a broken wrist. A large piece of plywood functioned as a door.  I peered in between the wood and the building frame. Joyce and Chef were in a heated debate. Her hands moved like a Frenchman, or was it the Italians that spoke with their hands? I couldn’t remember, but any show of emotion out of her meant something serious.

I felt the vibrations first.  The rows of rental roller skates shook on the shelves. When the air raid siren blared, everyone screamed. I dove behind a row of seats and began to count. One-sheep, two-kitties, three-armadillos.  My mother had created games during the air raids to keep me calm. Damn, I missed her. 

“What do ya think? Russian or South American?”

A girl with a patch over her eye joined me. Her breath smelled of garlic.

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“Sure. A bunch of us have a bet called ‘Who’s gonna kill us first?’”

An explosion in the distance shook the building.

“Yes! Definitely Russian,” she said. “South Americans always drop two at a time. That means I’m still in the pool.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. One eyed-garlic breath seemed genuinely pleased. I now felt better about my silly coping skills.

Joyce came back into the building. “All clear. Just a warning run to let everyone know we are still at war.”

We. The word meant something different now. I used to think of “we” as Americans, or Yankees, or a group of teenagers. Now, “we” meant the ignorant Homo Sapiens that had decided to destroy themselves instead of waiting for a maybe or maybe not alien invasion. The refugees returned to their business, and I decided to work on my journal. I figured it was more productive than guessing which shell-of-a-nation was going to kill us first. I scribbled a few words and crossed them out before starting again.

 “Do you think they look like us?” Mom asked. She flipped through the translated messages printed in the newspaper. 

“Gonna take ten years for the first ships to arrive, so it doesn’t really matter.”  Dad didn’t even look up from his breakfast.

Mom frowned. Dad had become even more grumpy since we had found out the Outsiders were on their way to visit us.

“I bet they do,” she said. “They picked up our television broadcasts, so they must have a similar society.”

 It was scary to think some alien race light years away had found us because of our TV shows. When the war first broke out, cable was our first luxury to go. Mom had dug out her old VCR tapes. We would sit around and the watch 80’s shows she had recorded. I can only imagine what this highly advanced civilization thought of us. Maybe they were coming to save us from sitcom hell.

The first bombs began to drop after the United Nations had agreed to send our biological information to the Outsiders. Since it was going to take ten years for their ships to reach us, the UN had pledged to work with the aliens on understanding both our immune systems. The UN said they wanted to avoid another genocide like what had happened when the Europeans visited the Native Americans centuries before. The hate groups thought the Outsiders wanted the information to create viruses to destroy us and take our planet. We certainly showed them! By the time they get here, nothing will be left of us.

“Sarah. You ok?”

Joyce had returned. She held a walkie-talkie in her hand. I wondered if she expected more bombs to fall.

“Yeah,” I said. “That one wasn’t even close.”

“I saw you had followed me,” Joyce said. “You know you can’t go out back. The radio equipment is all we have to connect us to the other refugee camps. If someone breaks something…”

Joyce didn’t finish her sentence, but I wondered why the equipment mattered. It’s not like someone was coming to help us.

“Sorry. Just curious. Checking things out saved my life once.” Wow. Did I really say that? I knew what was coming.

“Is that when your parents died?”

Joyce had that smug look again. She had managed a sneak attack against my safety walls. I sighed. I might as well tell her and get it over with.

“The air raid sirens had started just before nightfall. I saw our neighbor’s dog, Chipper, in the field. Mom had told me to get into the basement, but I couldn’t leave him out in the open. I remember how cold the dirt was against my bare feet as I chased him. Chipper ran away, and just when I had decided to turn back the bombs fell. By the time the dust had settled, not a building was standing in my neighborhood. It was just Chipper and I alone in an empty field. 

Joyce hugged me. “I’m sorry, Sarah.”

I pulled away as Joyce’s walkie-talkie screeched a series of beeps. Joyce looked at the little box as if it had insulted her. 

“Stay here.”

 Joyce hurried toward the back of the rink. I noticed her hand shaking as she whispered something into the walkie-talkie. I wasn’t the only one to notice. The air raid signal began, but this time the building had not begun shaking. I could tell everyone was confused. One-eyed garlic breath looked disappointed. I guess they never factored something like this into their game.

 Despite our instructions to never go out back, our group trickled out of the rink. Joyce and Chef didn’t even flinch. Their gaze was focused on the sky. It didn’t take long to see why. A large space-craft crawled over the horizon. It reminded me of a beehive with hundreds of honeycombs covering the structure. Lights flickered across the ship in rapid succession. I closed my eyes, but the silence scared me. The ship was soundless, as if floating along calm seas. I heard someone throw up behind me.

Our ten-year wait had ended. The Outsiders were here. Something strange crept over me. I should have been terrified, but yet I felt a sense of overwhelming relief.  This was the end. No more fighting over what might be, no more torment from what may come.  After today, the unknown would no longer haunt us. We were finally free.

 

For more information on Susan Cunningham, visit her website www.beyondthehiddenrealm.com

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