Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Mind Power

By Mary Brunini McArdle


The First Day

Stan Winchester knew even before he opened his eyes that the March morning would turn out to be unusual. For some reason he was certain this awareness was unrelated to his minimal psychic ability, something his wife Millie refused to discuss.

“The less said about that the better,” she had declared early in their relationship. “It’s just too spooky.”

“Millie, it’s completely natural.”

“It’s spooky to me.”

So Stan refrained from ever bringing it up.

In the half-light, Millie stirred and mumbled in her sleep. Stan slipped out of their bed and made his way soundlessly to the window.

The view from their ninth floor apartment was foggy. A typical Tennessee March morning. Or was it? Stan wasn’t able to see much, but something didn’t look right. Could it be a matter of color, of tint? Perhaps.

Millie hated living on the ninth floor and had been begging to move. “Stan, I really would like to have a garden—some connection with the outdoors. I feel so closed in.”

The couple had spent several weekends looking, but hadn’t found anything they liked. They had begun thinking of building a house.

Stan worked as a paramedic; Millie a nurse. Their schedules were irregular, to say the least. As often as not, one side of the bed or the other was empty when husband or wife worked a night shift. This morning both had a night and a day off.

“I’ll make some coffee,” Stan said.

. . . . . .

It was foggy in North Alabama too. Rosalie Beaumont liked to rise early to work in her yard. Saddened that the pansy season was nearly over, she consoled herself with the thought that sometimes her favorite flowers lasted through May. The pear trees were already finished and soon the forsythia and cherry would blossom—the buds were already there.

Later I’ll look for some of those miniature petunias—for the summer, she thought. My, that sky is an odd color! Can’t see the sun, but the clouds look pinkish. Maybe my cataracts are getting worse. Maybe I should call the eye doctor later this afternoon. Only I thought maturing cataracts made everything look yellow.

Not bothering to find out if any of the neighbors were up, Rosalie went in the garage to get her trowel. Digging was so much easier early in the morning when the soil was dampish. Rosalie was getting a little arthritis in her hands, but she didn’t intend to let that stop her. Rosalie was a determined woman.

. . . . . .

So too was Jean Callendar. She had inherited an old historic monster of a house in Central Mississippi when she was nineteen. Lacking the opportunity to go to college, Jean didn’t command high salaries. She longed to go to school part-time, but her two jobs made that virtually impossible. All her money went into repairs on her house. She knew it was unusual for a black woman to own a house like that, and her main goal in life was to hang on to the place and to keep it in good condition. That goal took precedence over anything else.

Jean was a pretty woman in her mid thirties, with chiseled features, a finely shaped head, and closely cropped hair. Some would have dubbed her beautiful. She liked to give herself an extra hour before work and walk through the old house. It was not yet in shape to put on tour—someday it would be, Jean hoped. She had thought about renting out rooms but most on the upper floor were not livable and to make them so would take money too.

She sighed. “Everything takes money,” she murmured. She glanced over the balcony rail to a sunken living room with marble floors, completely restored and furnished lovingly with antiques, some left by the same aunt who had owned the property. Slowly Jean walked down a curved stairway with a mahogany banister and down a hall to the kitchen in the back. It had also been restored. Jean kept a spare bedroom downstairs to use during tornado weather, but her real bedroom was on the second floor. These were the only updated bedrooms, along with their accompanying baths.

She looked out the window in her back door and saw a foggy morning. Soft pink light streamed across the white kitchen floor. “Oh, lovely. What a lovely day. I wish I could stay home, but after breakfast I need to get dressed.” She would then walk the two blocks to the

restaurant where she worked her first job waiting tables. Several nights a week she drove her ten-year-old car to a better restaurant where she was one of the main hostesses. Jean preferred the latter job because she could wear glamorous long black dresses. She enjoyed the feel of silk against her skin. No one knew she found the gowns at consignment shops in Jackson.

Climbing the staircase once more, she donned her pink cotton uniform and grabbed a crisp white apron from her bureau drawer. Her smooth skin required no makeup; her hair was already done. She went back downstairs and out the front door, locking it behind her. She shivered in the chilly air, noticing the fog still had not lifted.

. . . . . .

Stan and Millie favored percolated coffee. In ten minutes the coffee was ready, its fragrance filling the apartment. Millie came out of the bedroom barefoot and sleepy-eyed. She put her arms around Stan’s neck and whispered, “I have an idea, Stan.”

“Yeah?”

The couple had discontinued their subscription to the newspaper, preferring to spend mornings they had off together talking. They drank coffee and chatted a while before making breakfast.

“Yeah,” Millie continued. “We don’t have many days off at the same time like this. Let’s down a couple of cups of coffee and then go out for a big breakfast. A buffet or something.”

“Good idea,” Stan replied.

A half hour later Stan and Millie returned to the bedroom to begin dressing. “Cute,” Stan

said, referring to Millie’s jeans and Saints T-shirt. Her blonde hair and blue eyes glowed against the black and gold shades of the shirt. Full breasts strained against the fleur-de-lis on the front.

“I’m tempted to go back to bed,” Stan said.

“Buffet first, then home and we dive under the covers.”

“With you on that.”

No one else shared the elevator down. Stan and Millie went out into a foggy morning, opened their private garage, and climbed into Stan’s car.

“Still foggy,” Millie said. “Still pinkish.”

Stan frowned. The character of the sky made him uneasy, but he didn’t voice his misgivings.

They stopped at a favorite pancake house. The parking lot was empty.

“It’s not that early,” Millie said. “Almost nine. I’m surprised it’s not crowded.”

She jumped out of the passenger’s side. “Come on, Stan—I’m hungry.”

He opened the restaurant door for her and they stepped inside. The interior was cool and quiet.

Millie looked around, puzzled. No customers were seated in the booths, no waitresses scurried around.

Stan spoke first. “I’m going to look in the kitchen.”

It was empty too, but much warmer—as if it had been used recently.

Millie stared out the front windows. “Stan, there’s no traffic! I wasn’t paying attention on the way here, but—“

Stan’s uneasiness gnawed at his insides. “Millie, let’s grab some of those muffins and get out of here.”

“We’ll get arrested.”

“No, we won’t. I’ll leave some cash. Then we’re driving to the police station.”

“And tell them—what? That there’s a closed pancake house where somebody forgot to lock the doors?”

“I have a feeling we’ll have more to tell them by the time we get there.”

. . . . . .

Rosalie lived alone in a small cottage. She didn’t mind; she enjoyed solitude. She had her garden and her knitting and television in the evenings. She didn’t read much, but she liked fixing her own meals. She rarely went out, just for necessary things like groceries and doctor appointments. Her only relative was a niece who worked at a dry goods store nearby and who checked on Rosalie once a week.

Rosalie was happy in her small world. And because she didn’t go anywhere that day until afternoon, she was late discovering how small that world really was. Her favorite drugstore was well lit, but completely empty. “That’s strange,” Rosalie murmured. “The doors are open, but the pharmacist isn’t here. Guess I’ll come back later. I would have liked to buy some toothpaste and Band Aids. I have a couple of cuts on my hands from this morning.”

After supper, the television cable wasn’t working. Rosalie shrugged and took out her knitting. Then she put it down and picked up her phone to call the drugstore. There was no dial tone.

Maybe I ought to go next door, she thought. Philip and Margery are probably home. Philip was a retired insurance salesman—the couple were quiet and pleasant neighbors.

But when no one answered the door, Rosalie assumed they had gone out. She knew there was no real reason, but she began to feel a bit nervous. Hush, she told herself. Hush.

There was a short-haired, white dog with one black ear at her front door. “What’s the matter, puppy?”

The little dog wagged his tail and whined. “Are you lost? I think so. Want to come in?”

Without hesitation, the dog followed Rosalie into the living room.

“I bet you belong to somebody, but I suppose you can spend the night. I have some hamburger.”

The dog was housebroken. After going out, he accompanied Rosalie to bed and Rosalie’s nervousness faded away.

. . . . . .

Jean was used to working two jobs and being around even more people than was necessary. She was always grateful for her stolen hours of solitude.

A blonde co-worker in her forties named Carol met Jean up front. “Hey, there. Something peculiar this morning. We’re the only ones here.”

“Where’s Joe?” Joe was the owner and fry cook. He normally had at least one helper in the kitchen and three waitresses on in the mornings.

“I don’t know. He’s always here first.”

Jean raised her eyebrows. “Thank God for the small blessings. No customers are here

yet. I don’t know what we’d serve them without Joe—we could made some coffee and we have sweet rolls and stuff. In case somebody comes in.”

Carol shivered. “It’s cold. I’m going to check the thermostat.”

“It’s March; of course it’s cold. Nobody ever turned the heat on today.”

The women stayed around until noon. “Let’s go,” Jean said. “Why don’t you come home with me? Spend the night?”

“Let me go get some stuff and I will. I’ll be over in a half hour. Can I bring Atlas?”

“Sure. I love Atlas. But bring his stuff. I don’t have any cat food.”

. . . . . .

Stan and Millie drove up to a deserted police station.

Millie shivered. “I don’t want to go in, Stan.”

“Then let’s wander around a while,” Stan suggested.

They went past their bank, their pharmacy, Millie’s beauty salon, her favorite grocery. They did not see another human being anywhere, and only a lone cat in the alley behind the grocery. Millie started to cry. “What’s happening, Stan? I’m scared.”

“I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out. Cheer up, Millie, at least we’re together.”

The elevator still worked; they rode to the ninth floor and unlocked their door. “Did I

imagine it, or was it getting darker outside?”

“You didn’t imagine it.” Stan pulled back the living room drapes. “Come on, we’re going to watch the sunset.”

Millie got a couple of beers from the kitchen and joined Stan. They sat and sipped beer

for a long time. The sky gradually turned to a dusky rose, then a deep magenta. “That’s not our sun,” Stan said.

“Oh, Stan, please. Now you’re scaring me more. Of course it’s our sun.”

Stan raised his eyebrows.

“Just because it’s pulling the fog down with it and it looks so big doesn’t mean it’s not the same old sun. Sunsets often make optical illusions. And if you dare say you feel it’s not our sun, I’m going to hit you. I’m making us some dinner.”

Stan waited until she turned her back, then mouthed, I know it’s not our sun.

. . . . . .

When Carol arrived she made Atlas at home downstairs. Atlas lived up to his name; he was a black twenty-five pounder with a sad face and droopy eyes. Jean got in her friend’s car and they drove around their neighborhood too. Just like their counterparts to the north, the women saw no other people. Carol took a notebook and pen from her purse and started writing.

“What’s that?”

“I went by the pet store. To get food for Atlas. Since nobody was there, I just took some. I had no cash except for a twenty, so I’m writing down what I owe. If things get back to normal I’m going to pay back every penny.”

“I hope to God things get back to normal,” Jean said.

“Me too, but if it’s still weird tomorrow, I’m going back. There’re three cats in cages, not to mention fish, gerbils, and parakeets. I’m going to feed them.”

“You’re so kind, Carol. To think of those animals at a time like this. But later

tomorrow, I think we might drive up the Interstate—toward Memphis. To see what we can see.”

“Fine. And this goes with us.” Carol waved the notebook and pen.

. . . . . .

“Millie, that was a good dinner. I’m going downstairs for a minute.”

“Why?”

“Just want a breath of air.”

Stan rode the elevator to the first floor and opened the door to the street. The usual night guard was not present. There were no lights from passing cars.

“All the better,” Stan muttered. “I want a clear view of the night sky.”

He craned his neck upward. The fog had dissipated. The sky was velvet black, filled with brilliant stars. There was one enormous azure star—as big as Earth’s moon--nothing like any heavenly body Stan had ever seen with the naked eye. In fact the star patterns were totally unfamiliar—no recognizable constellations.

“I knew it! I knew that wasn’t our sun! I could hardly see it for the fog, but it was enormous. Obviously not too hot or we’d be burned up. We’re misplaced. How in the world could the surroundings seem so normal (except for the lack of other people) when we’re misplaced in the universe somewhere? We’re alive, we’re breathing. This is so weird. I hope I have some astronomy textbooks left. I need to find some star maps.”

Being in the medical profession, both Stan and Millie were science majors. Stan loved astronomy and had taken a couple of electives in the subject.

Stan and Millie were in their late thirties and had no children. Had there been a child,

especially one with unusual abilities, Stan’s psychic nature might have been forefront in his mind. As it was, largely because of his wife’s insistence, Stan had tucked the whole business back into the recesses of his subconscious. Even Stan himself had no idea his powers exceeded those of anyone born thus far to human beings.

As an adolescent and a young adult, Stan had tried to deny inwardly that he was “different.” Consequently he had never learned control, how to use or to harness his “gifts.” They were rusty, unpracticed.

His paranormal ability came through unbidden only occasionally, as it had a while before when he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were orbiting an unknown sun.

Which indicates that we are in another solar system or even another galaxy, Stan thought. No need to bring that up with Millie just now, though.

Long after she had fallen asleep, Stan rifled through old textbooks. The huge azure star had rung a bell; it wasn’t long before he located it.

He breathed a sigh of relief. I was pretty sure it was Rigel, he thought. We’re still in the Milky Way Galaxy. Thank God we’re not on the other side of the known universe. I couldn’t deal with that.

And what makes me think I can deal with this? he asked himself. Because I can. And because I suspect I caused it. There’s been too much power imprisoned in me for too long. Like a beast waiting to break loose. I think that beast might be what misplaced us in the first place. Unguided, uncontrolled: it had to have some kind of release.

The Second Day

Rosalie had never gone by a rigid schedule. She didn’t notice the clocks in her house were off, only that the day seemed long. She didn’t realize that it really was about an hour longer than normal.

She let the little dog out; he happily rejoined her in a few minutes. She was afraid he belonged to somebody, but she was already fond of him. She called him Flopsy because of the one black ear, which always seemed to hang forward.

Rosalie had an Associate’s Degree in Business. She had worked most of her life as a bookkeeper in her town’s only fabric shop. Later she took in alterations in her home. Now she had truly retired. At seventy-six, Rosalie dressed smartly in slacks and matching sweaters, usually wearing the real pearl earrings her mother had left her. She was robustly healthy and quite impatient with her cataracts.

I believe—yes, the Post Office, she thought. “Flopsy, let’s go. We’ll stop at the vet’s and buy you a leash—and some dog food.”

The Post Office was open. Mr. Clooney stood behind the counter.

“Hello, Rosalie.”

“Morning, Mr. Clooney.”

“We’ve known each other thirty years. Isn’t it about time you started calling me Kenneth?”

“I suppose. How are you, Kenneth?”

“Fine, except the driver hasn’t shown up. Guess I’ll have to deliver the mail myself. Who’s your little friend?”

“This is Flopsy. I think he’s lost. He’s a good dog; I’d like to keep him.”

“Why don’t you ride along with me on the route? It won’t take more than a couple of hours. Then we could have lunch.”

“That’d be nice. Could we stop by Dr. Vick’s on the way and let me put up a ‘Lost Dog’ sign? And get some food and a leash for Flopsy?”

“Most certainly. I’ll have to lock up here first.”

The door at Dr. Vick’s swung open with a sigh. No one was at the register. “Dr. Vick? Lisa? Anybody here?”

No one answered. “That’s odd, Kenneth. Yesterday there was no one at the drugstore, either.”

“I was off yesterday. Didn’t go out.”

“Do you think I could leave a note with some cash? Flopsy really needs dog food.”

“Pick out the food and a leash and I’ll make your sign for you.”

Rosalie settled for a bright red leash and hooked it to Flopsy’s solid black collar, which sported a red rabies tag. “Smart,” she said. “Perfect for a small male dog.”

There was no traffic, but that was sometimes normal for such a small town. Every house looked quiet. Kenneth inserted the mail in the boxes and headed for a sandwich shop.

But it too was empty.

“Where is everybody?” Rosalie said, puzzled. “My TV is out and so is my phone. Has something happened we don’t know about?”

“My phone is out too. I don’t even own a television set. I like to read. But come to

think of it, no one threw my newspaper today.”

“Why don’t we go to my house and I’ll fix our lunch myself. Fresh vegetables from the garden and homemade bread and iced tea. Sugar cookies.”

“Sounds grand.”

. . . . . .

“Let’s take your car, Carol,” Jean said. “Mine’s so much older. I’ll buy the gas.”

Carol turned out to be most efficient at the pet store, feeding and watering the animals quietly and quickly. She finished in an hour.

“Hey, Jean—“

“Huh?”

“You ought to adopt one of those kitties. That yellow tabby female is so pretty—and only ten months old. Think what a time she would have in your house! So much space—and stairs to play on too.”

“I just don’t know, Carol. I have to watch every penny.”

“You seem to enjoy Atlas. Besides, cats don’t cost much and that tabby seems very healthy. You could use some affection.”

“You’re right about that. Look—there’s the Grenada exit.”

They stopped at a service station. Jean used her card, then filled the car. “I can’t believe it—the card worked and the pump activated.”

“Why wouldn’t it?”
“Well, I’d call this a bizarre day and a bizarre car trip, Carol.”

The sky was as foggy as the previous morning. But the trip north was pleasant and uneventful--if the fact that theirs was the only car on the Interstate could be called uneventful.

“Look, Jean,” Carol said, pointing. They had arrived at a large suburb south of Memphis. “There are lights on high up in that building. Somebody must be there!”

“Park, then!” Jean exclaimed. They entered a lobby minus a security guard. “There’s the elevator. What floor?”

“Eighth or Ninth, I think.”

Jean punched “nine.”

“Let’s hope this is right. Why don’t we start ringing bells?”

It took six attempts. Then a youngish man with sandy hair opened the door. “Ladies! Where are you two from?”

“Canton, Mississippi. We drove up here hoping—“

“Hoping you’d find a living person,” the man finished. “I’m Stan. Come in and meet my wife Millie.”

“Hello,” smiled an attractive blonde woman.

“Hi, I’m Jean and this is Carol. Have you guys any idea what’s going on?”

“I don’t,” Millie replied, “but Stan thinks he does. Why don’t we all sit down?”

“Jean, Carol,” Stan began, “I don’t know how much to say at this point. It’s so complicated and mind-boggling you probably won’t believe me. Even Millie is doubtful.”

“Do you want to give it a try?” Carol asked.

“Let me give you a little information now. I believe the Earth has been ‘misplaced,’

for lack of a better word. I’m pretty sure I know how it happened and I think there’ll be a solution of some kind. Why don’t we all meet in Grenada in say—three days? I need some time. . .”

“How about the service station where we stopped?” Jean asked Carol, who nodded.

“Yeah—nobody’s at the fast food places.”

They described the location; Millie wrote down the directions.

They parted, the four of them looking forward to seeing each other again.

. . . . . .

“Millie, have you noticed yet the day is an hour longer than it should be?”

“No, I have not.”

“Well, it is. But it’s getting dark now. Come outside with me; I want to show you something.”

“Stan—“

“Aw, Millie—I went out last night. And look—I’m just fine. Baby, please?”

“Oh, okay.”

She held Stan’s hand on the way down. It was crisp and cold outside—no fog. They could see the stars.

“Ohhhh. . .”

“It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Oh, Stan—that blue moon—“

“Star,” he corrected.

“Really?”

“Yes, Rigel. I’ve been reading about it. It has a companion that’s a multiple, but you can’t see it because Rigel is so bright. We are not in the solar system, Millie. Or we couldn’t see Rigel like this.”

“Lord. Lord, Lord.”

“Mind if I stay out a little longer?”

“No. I’ll take a shower and wash my hair.”

Stan sat down on the porch and tried to concentrate. Don’t want to mention the part about my causing all this to Millie. Not yet. But we need to talk more. Get this out in the open. So I can use my gifts, direct them. First thing, though is to find a way to protect us. We got here without physical harm, but I don’t know how. Now I have to figure it out. Some kind of shield.

He closed his eyes and pictured a barrier reaching all around the Earth. In his mind he could actually see it forming, rosy pink sort of like the daytime fog. He continued until one in the morning, at last assured the barrier was holding. Yawning, he decided to go to bed. He would start again the next night.

. . . . . .

Rosalie and Kenneth had lunch, Kenneth remarking it was wonderful. They spent the entire afternoon talking.

“Rosalie, have you ever been married?”

“No. I may have been in love once, but he turned out to be engaged. He married the other girl and I never met anybody else.”

“What a coincidence!” Kenneth exclaimed. “The same thing happened to me! Her name was Anne. I met her too late; she was already engaged. And like you, I never found another special person.”

“Amazing,” Rosalie said. “Kenneth, there’s one thing that really scares me. We are so alone—I thank God for you. But there’s nobody to fix my cataracts and I don’t want to go blind.”

“Of course you don’t. But I have a strong feeling—we’re going to get back.”

“Back—from where?”

“I don’t know, but this sure isn’t the world we know. Even the sky is different. Like we got put somewhere by mistake.”

“Kenneth, do you think I’ll ever see Cathy again?”

“Cathy?”

“The ‘Cathy’ who works at the dry goods store. The girl with the short brown hair and blue eyes. She’s my niece, the only relative I have. She checks—checked on me every week.”

“”Well, like I said, Rosalie. I think we’re going to get back. And everything will be all right. Cathy too.”

“I have a spare bedroom, Kenneth. Spend the night?”

“If it’ll make you feel better.”

“Yes, and I’ll fix us a good supper. I love to cook.”

“I can tell, Rosalie. Your cooking is absolutely wonderful.” He reached out and

took her hand. “For now, it’s you, me, and Flopsy. A sort of family. Cozy and comfortable.

And maybe later--
“Yes?”
“Maybe later—a real family. Us. And the dog. And Cathy. Why not?”

“Why not indeed?”

. . . . . .

Jean and Carol had a smooth trip back to Canton. They saw the night sky for the first time.

“Carol, look! What is that?”

“That big blue, shiny ball?”

“Uh, huh.”

“I don’t know, Jean. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That is some sky, Carol.”

“You’d better believe it. Say, the pet store is probably still unlocked.”

“And?”

“Don’t we need to feed those animals again? For the night?”

“It’d be a good idea.”

“Do you know how much they charge for adoption?”

“Only about fifty dollars. Just to cover the shots. That yellow tabby is old enough to have been spayed, but we can’t tell for sure, unless she hasn’t grown her fur back. There’s a vet that does a lot of stuff like that for free.”

The lights were on and the door was open. Carol started on the litter boxes, Jean on the

parakeets. That was quick; all she had to do was to throw them some seeds, half of which were promptly thrown on the floor. The fish and gerbils were a breeze. Then Carol beckoned Jean over to the cages to inspect the yellow tabby, which went right up to her.

“She knows she belongs to you, Jean. They do that sometimes. And look—she’s been spayed. She’s still shaven on one side. That’ll save you money.”

“Carol, let’s take her home with us—tonight.”

“She’ll probably share Atlas’ litter box. Maybe they’ll be friends.”

Both Atlas and the tabby acted mildly uninterested and noncommittal. Much easier than growling and hissing.

The women put the litter box at the top of the staircase since Atlas was more familiar with Jean’s house than the tabby. Carol took the big black cat to her room at bedtime and Jean curled up with “Summer.”

Jean felt more contented than she had for a long time. “I guess it will cost a little money and maybe delay work on the rooms, but I don’t care. I’m young. I can get it done.”

The Third Day

Stan spent more time studying his maps; Millie cleaned the kitchen and played solitaire. Late that afternoon, she glanced up.

“Stan, what are we going to do?”

“I’m going to get us back.”

“Oh, really?”

“I’ve already started. I’m glad you and I are together, darling, but we’ll want to find the

other people again. I have a lot of work to do. At night, outside. Is that all right with you?”

“I guess. If you think it will help. No point in going to work. I’ll bring you dinner out and eat with you. And beer and snacks every now and then. Maybe I’ll start making a new summer dress with all this time on my hands.”

“Sounds good.”

“Okay, see you in a while—with some swiss steak and mashed potatoes.”

At dusk he brought out a couple of small chairs and put them on the front sidewalk. He made his mind a tunnel, trying to project it forward to his own solar system. Such a narrow point in space; he hoped he was facing the right direction. He thought he was, from studying all those star maps. An hour passed; he broke out in a sweat. Then he began to see.

He waved Millie away. “I can’t stop now, Millie—would you put mine in the oven for me?”

“All right.”

The solar system came into view as his mind bore through the barrier he had erected. Earth’s moon had been deflected to an orbit around Venus. Mercury had disappeared—perhaps into the sun? Mars was closer in; Saturn tilted on its axis.

What a god-awful mess, Stan thought. We can’t go back until the system’s rearranged somehow. There’s no satisfactory orbit for the Earth.

I don’t even know if I’m seeing the present. Rigel is 775 light years away from the Earth. Is that the past or the future?

I can’t be sure but for some reason, I feel I’m seeing the solar system as it is right now.

I’ve got to move all those planets around. Maybe I’d better sleep on it.

. . . . . .

“Carol!”

Jean was leaning over the banister.

“What?”

“Are you up?”

“I am now.”

“Am I going to catch rabies?”

“Of course not, Jean. They don’t put those cats out in cages for the public to view if they haven’t had rabies shots.”

“Okay. Be down in a minute.”

Jean tripped lightly down the stairs, Summer in her arms. “Let’s eat. I’ve got bacon and eggs in the kitchen.”
“Oh, good.”

Carol joined Jean from the downstairs bedroom.

“I think you should stay here until—whatever—goes away, Carol.”

“But I’m using your special downstairs room.”

“It has twin beds. I’ll come down if we have bad weather. Of course, we’ll have to watch it for ourselves. The phones and TV’s aren’t working. Neither is my radio.”

“We both know what that kind of weather feels like. It builds up with a south wind and gets too hot right before. I need to get some more clothes from my apartment. Come with me?”

“Absolutely. I’m not leaving your side, Carol.”

It was a treat to wear clothes that weren’t work uniforms. Carol had on a dark green sweater and slacks, Jean a rose sweater dress. They took Carol’s car to her garage apartment and packed a large suitcase. As they started down the outdoor staircase, Jean glanced up. “God!”

“Jean! What is it?”

“Look up.”

“Oh,” Carol said. “The sky looks different. It still foggy and pinkish, but now there’re distinctive layers—each shade deeper the higher up they go. Like—like rings!”

“Wow. Wonder what that means? Listen, let’s go back to the pet store. I’m going to owe them a fortune, but I want to get a collar with a bell for Summer. Atlas has one.”

“Actually he has two. A red one and a purple one.”
“Summer should have—green and maybe blue. And a litter box for upstairs. Then

we can put the other downstairs. That’s one thing we have—plenty of room. Can’t you just picture this place when it’s all redone?”

“Jean, if things keep on like this, there won’t be anyone but us to do the work.”

“I’m not going to think about that. I’m thinking about this as an episode—like an ice storm.”

Carol took her notebook and pen into the store. “We’d better feed everybody while we’re here. And come back again tonight.”

They left with their merchandise a bit later and went back to Jean’s for lunch. “We’re

going to have to get groceries soon.” Carol started laughing. “We’re going to be in debt up to

our ears.”

Soon both of them were giggling. They would stop, look at each other, and start all over again.

“I have an idea, Jean,” Carol said, catching her breath.

“Yeah?”

“We’ll eat supper or lunch every day at the diner. No debts—wages. We wait on ourselves and clean up afterwards. Joe’ll be grateful to see the place so shiny clean.”

“Right on, girl friend.”

. . . . . .

Like Carol, Kenneth needed to pack a suitcase. He and Rosalie rose early; he drove to his little house on the outskirts of town. Flopsy sat agreeably on the back seat. Although adequate, the house did not have the charm Rosalie’s did, but then there was no woman’s touch inside and no garden except a couple of trees and shrubs. He had an owl on top of his mailbox, the only decoration Rosalie saw the whole time they were there.

When they pulled up at Rosalie’s Kenneth got out and whistled, “Well, if that doesn’t beat all. Rosalie, would you look?”

“Look at what?”

“Up there.”

Rosalie’s eyes followed where Kenneth was pointing. Slowly she got out of the passenger’s side. “Is it my cataracts? Are they worse? I see rings.”

“No, it’s not your eyes, Rosalie. You’re seeing the same thing I’m seeing—rings

progressing from pale pink to deep rose the higher up they go. The sky’s changed.”

Rosalie started to tremble. Kenneth took her hand. “It might not be a bad thing, you know. Maybe something good is happening. Maybe something is ending.”

“Oh. . .”

“Let’s go in. I’m hungry. And I have a surprise for you. Make a special lunch and you’ll get a present.”

“What? Tell me.”

“Not until after we eat.”

Made-from-scratch buttermilk cornbread, liver and gravy topped with onions, mashed potatoes, and green beans from the previous summer grown by Rosalie herself. “This is a feast,” Kenneth said.

“When do I get my present?”

“Just like a girl.”

“I’m hardly a girl.”

“To me, you’re a beautiful girl. Close your eyes.”

He put something small in her hand.

Rosalie gasped. “It’s a ring!”

“It was my mother’s. You don’t have to promise me anything right now, Rosalie, but I

would consider it an honor if you would wear it.”

“It’s so beautiful. And, Kenneth, it fits!” Rosalie held out her hand and admired the

large Burmese ruby surrounded by diamonds. “I’ve never had anything that I will treasure like

this, never.”

“Good. Still have some of that apple cobbler?”

“Sure do. I like a man with an appetite”

“Don’t think I’ll ever disappoint you that way, my sweet Rose.” Kenneth patted his tummy and licked his lips, making her laugh.

“I’m glad I didn’t retire. The postal work keeps me fit. Just like your gardening and cooking. I’ll have to start helping you in the garden and washing the dishes if I keep eating like this.”

. . . . . .

The bedclothes were in a rumpled mess when Millie woke up. She got one ankle tangled and almost fell on her nose trying to get out of bed. “Shit,” she said under her breath, not wanted to disturb Stan. He had tossed and turned all night.

She pranced back in their room thirty minutes later modeling her new dress for him. He grumbled and rubbed his eyes. “Look, Stan, the result of my labors. Isn’t it pretty?”

The dress was medium blue with a square neckline, the hem trimmed with ivory lace. Millie’s blue eyes and blonde hair were downright angelic. It was a shame Stan wasn’t in a mood to appreciate his wife’s good looks.

“Uh, huh,” he mumbled.

“Stan, what’s the matter?”

“Headache.”

“I’ll get you some Tylenol.”

“Please. Then, Millie, we need to talk. We need to have a serious talk. First, I want you

to go downstairs and outside and look up. Come back and tell me what you noticed.”

“Have to change first. It’s too cold for this dress. Here’s the Tylenol.”

“Okay. I’ll be right here.”

She was pale when she returned. “Stan—the sky—“

“What about it?”

“That pink fog has rings. All different shades. They start out light and get darker as they get higher.”

“Good.”

“What do you mean—‘good’?”

“I did that, Millie. To the sky. That’s what we need to talk about.”

“Y—you—“

“It’s a protective shield. To keep us safe on our way back. But, Millie, I’m really scared. What if I can’t do it? What if we end up inside a star? Or at the end of the universe? Or in a black hole?”

“Stan, how in the hell are you going to put us in—in—a black hole?”
“This is what I’ve been trying to tell you all along. You won’t let me talk about my

psychic powers and they’ve been straining at the—uh—leash. They broke free and misplaced the Earth. But some of the people got left—somewhere.”

“Oh, Stan. . . .”

“Please, Millie. You’ve got to listen. I wouldn’t lie about something this important.

You’re a sane person. You’ve seen the pink sky and now the rings and the absence of people. You’re not in some kind of dream, for shit’s sake. And I think--I hope I can put it right. But I need your support. I need you, Millie. And this afternoon we have to meet Jean and Carol in Grenada. I’d like to have a final report for them, but I need to work at least one more night.”

Millie put her arms around him. “Yes, Stan. I’ll help you anyway I can.”

“Do we need gas?”

“No.”

“Then let’s get ready to go to Grenada.”

. . . . . .

“I’ve been mulling all this over,” Stan continued as he and Millie nosed onto the Interstate. “I’ve considered—well, why not just leave things alone? We’re not suffering at the moment. Jean and Carol found us; surely there are others out there. Only it’s not practical to search the entire United States in a car to talk to people in person. We don’t have any real communications.”

“Stan, why do you think the electricity and water are working but the television and phones aren’t?”

“I don’t know—unless it’s that the power and water are localized—grounded on the Earth and the communication relays are more global and even out in space.”

“We can freeze food and treat water for now,” Millie added. “But how long will the power grids last? Freezers would be useless then. We’d have to burn things for heat. How long before we start running out of stuff?”

“A long time, but it will happen.”

“Then I think you have to try, Stan. To get us back.”

Jean and Carol were waiting inside the service station, eating candy bars and drinking soda.

“Hello,” Millie said. “We’re really glad to see you.”

“Let’s help ourselves to some snacks too, Millie,” Stan said.

He and Millie joined the others in their booth. “I wish I had something conclusive to tell you,” Stan began. “I have made progress, though.”

“How?” Carol asked.

“I imagine you’ve noticed the rings.”

“Sure did,” Jean replied. “What do they mean?”

“Well, since the Earth has been misplaced—about 775 light years from its orbit in the Solar System, it’s got to be moved back.”

“Moved back? Moved back? On a truck or something?” Carol snickered.

“Hush, Carol. This is nothing to joke about.”

“It got misplaced by psychic power. Extraordinary psychic power. It’s going back the same way. None of us were harmed. Those rings are a barrier, to protect us physically while we—uh—travel. But first I need one more night—to repair the orbits in the Solar System to accommodate the Earth again.”

“Repair? With what? A screwdriver?”

“No, with the same power that got us here, Carol. Please don’t ask any more questions.

It’s too hard to explain. You’re in one piece. Just pray that we stay that way. You’re going to have to trust me.”

“He knows what he’s talking about,” Millie put in. “Stan knows. The proof is all around us. Missing people, a different sky. . . but we’re going back where we belong.”

“Should we pack?”

“Carol,” Jean said, “that’s enough. If you don’t stop making wisecracks I’m going to leave you here to walk back to Canton.”

“Go back to Canton and wait, you two,” Stan advised. I’m hoping by tomorrow things will start to change.”

“I don’t see anything else we can do,” Millie added. “We can meet here again—next Saturday if we need to. In fact let’s do so regardless.”

“All right,” Jean agreed. “Take care. Let’s go, Carol.”

. . . . . .

Rosalie and Kenneth rose much earlier than Stan and Millie but for different reasons. At four in the morning Flopsy insisted he had to go out. Kenneth emerged from the guest room in his red, white, and blue bathrobe with the American flag on the pocket. “Don’t get up, Rosalie, I’ll take him.”

A few minutes later they burst back into the hall. “Rosalie! You’ve got to see this!”

She had on her bathrobe with the lavender azaleas. “What, Kenneth?”

“It’s so beautiful, Rosalie.” He started humming an old song. Then singing, “I saw you standing alone. . .”

They held hands and went outside, Flopsy following behind. Above was a starlit sky with a gigantic blue moon set like a sapphire in a field of diamonds.

“Ohhh. Oh, my goodness.”

“Well, I wanted to see you in the moonlight, Rose, but I wasn’t expecting this!”

“It doesn’t look like any moon I’ve ever seen.”

“Me neither, but I think it deserves a kiss.”

“I think you’re right, Kenneth.”

“Guess we might as well stay up. Have breakfast.”

“Yes, Kenneth. Let’s.”

“I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like this again, Rosalie.”

“But we saw it once, dear. We saw it once.”

. . . . . .

“Stan, I’m starved. I don’t feel like cooking.”

“There’s that deli on Calhoun Street. They have all kinds of frozen casseroles and pies.”

“Think they’ll be fresh enough?”

“They have dates on them, Millie. I’ll leave some cash like we did at the pancake place.”

After the couple feasted on corn pudding and chicken and dumplings and cherry pie, Stan noticed dusk was rapidly approaching. “This is it, Millie. Outside for me—for as long as it takes.”

“Coffee in an hour or so?”

“Thanks.”

Stan put his head in his hands and said a brief prayer. He had armed himself with intricate maps and mathematical details on the Solar System. First, he thought, straighten Saturn. See what effect that has. It was the easiest step of all; his mind pulled on the gas giant until it was correctly set on its axis. Jupiter was drawn further out as a result; Stan concluded that was its normal orbit. He breathed a sigh of relief—Mars had also been tugged out again. Stan left the moon where it was for now, since the Earth was not yet in place to anchor its satellite. Then the hard part—where was Mercury?

He concentrated and felt intense heat coming from a hard nodule near the periphery of the sun. Gradually he called out a flaming round object which cooled as it traveled the distance to Mercury’s former orbit. He wondered if it were changed forever or if its previous proximity to the sun had done enough damage, crushing the mountains to ash, burning out smoldering craters of rock.

“Looks good,” he whispered. Millie came out and handed him a mug of coffee. “Almost finished, darling. Cross your fingers—we’re going on a long trip.”

“Should I pack?” she quipped, mimicking Carol, and doubled over laughing.

He grinned up at her. “No, just pray. I think we’re going to make it. What time is it?”

“Two in the morning.”

“Let’s hope tomorrow we’re back. Is it still our day off, I wonder?”

“Good question,” Millie replied.

“I’ll be up in about thirty minutes.”

When Stan opened his front door Millie was sitting on the sofa, reading.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep the rest of the night, Millie.”

“There’re other purposes for a bedroom. Do you think we’ll—feel anything? As we—“

“We didn’t on the way here. I don’t even remember dreaming.”

“Let’s watch the sunrise together.”

“Yes, Millie. Let’s.”

. . . . . .

Rosalie and Kenneth slept like innocent children. Rosalie and Flopsy curled up in her bed; Kenneth repaired to the guest room. But tonight neither closed their doors; the elderly couple wanted some kind of connection. They dropped off dreaming of a small wedding in the future.

. . . . . .

Jean and Carol ate supper at the diner. Carol finished off her meal with four chocolate doughnuts. “I’m going to have heartburn, Jean.”

“I have Tums at the house.”

Both women took leisurely showers and retired to their bedrooms.

I can’t wait until Saturday, Jean thought, Summer enthusiastically rubbing her head on her owner’s chin. “Sweet kitty,” Jean murmured. “What did I ever do without you?”

The Last Day

Stan and Millie came together more than once that night. They lay together a long time whispering to each other. Around four in the morning Millie got up and padded to the kitchen to make coffee. When she finished she came back and pulled open the bedroom drapes. She and

Stan watched eagerly as the sky brightened to the cerulean that preceded the sunrise. The advent of a normal yellow sphere minus the pink fog brought forth applause. They clapped and cheered and hugged each other. At seven the phone rang with a request for Millie to come in to work. She didn’t mind at all, even without sleep. She felt almost gleeful.

“There’s a world out there, Stan! There’s traffic on the street!”

. . . . . .

Dr. Vick greeted Kenneth and Rosalie when they arrived at his clinic to ask about Flopsy. “Does he belong to somebody?” Rosalie asked.

“Let me look up his tag number.” Dr. Vick grinned. “I thought so. This is the little dog my neighbor was trying to find a home for. She’s moving in with her daughter in Birmingham.”

“Then I want him,” Rosalie said.

“He’s caught up on his shots. I’ll give you some heartworm pills and a copy of his records. Give him a pill every day. Congratulations. He’s only one year old.”

Rosalie bent down and hugged the dog, while Kenneth looked on, beaming. Then they went out to a beautiful day. “Look, Kenneth! No more fog.”

. . . . . .

Jean indulged in her morning prowl through her house, careful not to disturb Carol. It wasn’t twenty minutes before the phone rang.

“Was that the phone?” Carol peeped out the guestroom door.

“Damn!” Jean looked out the window and gasped when she saw the bright blue sky. Carol picked up the phone in the downstairs hall. “I—I’m sorry. Yes, it’s Carol. I spent the

night with Jean. We’ll be right there, Joe. Give us a few minutes.”

“Carol, we’re going to have to call Stan and Millie. Joe will never let us both off work

on a Saturday.”

“I’m sure they’ll understand, Jean. They must be back to normal too.”

“Yeah. We’ll know that as soon as their phone rings.”

. . . . . .

Millie went off to work and Stan, which was unusual for him, became exceedingly bored. He missed his coffee companion more than he could say. So he went first for a long walk and took some photographs of cardinals and squirrels in a nearby woody area. Photography was a favorite hobby that he hadn’t had much time to enjoy, and it was such a beautiful early spring day—white puffy clouds and an azure sky. After showering, he decided to surprise Millie and cook dinner for her. He went to a favorite deli to get ingredients for antipasto, spaghetti, French bread, and red wine. At the last minute he picked up an early edition of the evening paper.

The newspaper was already slipping out from under his arm on the elevator and by the time he entered the apartment the sections all fell to the floor. The front page lay exposed—a huge banner headline on top: “What has happened to the moon?”

The packages from the deli followed the newspaper, and the bottle of wine shattered, spilling on the olives and cheeses. Stan picked up the paper, his hands shaking.

The article ran down one side of the front page and continued on the third. The entire scientific world was speculating as to what had caused the relocation of the Earth’s moon to an orbit around Venus. There was sufficient technology to locate the satellite and calculate

every detail of its position on its axis, the orbit, the orbit’s length, and the speed of rotation—and there were six rotations per orbit rather than one. The calculated distance from Venus was twice as far as from the Earth in the past. This made it possible to view the moon with the naked eye at certain times and from certain locations. And imagine how different the Evening Star’s position and appearance! But no one could come up with an explanation of how the relocation had occurred. Only when—sometime during the night of March 27.

I forgot, Stan moaned inwardly. I forgot to put back the moon. How could I have been so stupid?

Rosalie and Kenneth were so absorbed with each other and Flopsy they paid little attention; the “pink fog” interlude was viewed as the time that brought them together. They would remember fondly the night “under the blue moon.”

Jean and Carol discussed the strange events at length but only with each other. “I’m not telling anyone what we experienced those days in March,” Carol declared. I’m not ending up in the nuthouse.”

“And I’m not telling anyone what they told me at the pet shop either,” Jean replied. She had gone there on her lunch hour to inquire about Summer’s records, only to overhear one salesclerk beefing at another about nobody cleaning up all the birdseed on the floor from the night before. The first clerk turned to help Jean. “A yellow tabby, dear? Someone gave it to you and said they got it here? We only had two cats for adoption—that gray and white male and that tortoiseshell.”

Jean asked the woman for the name of a good vet and left.

“Stan, can you do anything? Can you fix it?” A worried Millie asked her husband when

she got home from work.

“God, Millie, I’m afraid to. Things are pretty stable—I’m terrified at the idea of messing

something else up. Just about everything’s changed to some degree—ocean currents, wind patterns, weather, animal populations—but things are stable. I’m leaving well enough alone.

And I sure can’t talk to anybody. No, best leave well enough alone.”

Ten Years Later

Stan and Millie kept their mouths shut and continued with their lives, still talking in the mornings over coffee. Kenneth and Rosalie were in their eighties and cared more about staying out of nursing homes than astronomical discussions. Jean continued to improve her house and Carol rented a room and bath there. Atlas and Summer became quite attached.

Schools and universities rewrote textbooks, people with doctorates published papers and gave talks, and a new branch of science was born.

If you asked any ten-year-old kid what he or she wanted to be upon reaching adulthood, the answer was invariably a “lunologist.” Eventually shuttles were launched to explore the view of Venus from the moon of years past. A lovely view—drifting clouds of gold mist, a night and day for Earth’s old satellite. . .but not a hint of pink anywhere. Which only six people alive would attach any significance to whatsoever.

The End


© 2007; Mary Brunini McArdle

Mary Brunini McArdle earned her degree from the University of Dallas and has taken Continuing Ed or Graduate Courses in Art, English, History, Marine Science, and Military Strategy. She has been writing seriously for about twenty years. After publishing in small journals across the country, she now submits mainly online and has had pieces in APHELION, BEWILDERING STORIES, COMBAT, THE TRUTH MAGAZINE, and others.

McArdle has won numerous prizes in poetry, fiction, essays, and short plays. She lives near Huntsville, Alabama where she works on writing, art, and original doll clothes. She has three children and three grandchildren and is a cat lover. Her first novel, ALICE REFLECTED, a paranormal thriller, will be released by Rain Publishing in April.

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