Aphelion Issue 283, Volume 27
May 2023
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

Playing God

by Stephen Faulkner

When Jared told me the story originally, that was all that I thought it was: a story, one of his silly "supposes." It had to be that, I figured. How can you take something so crazy and give it credence as being something real? I mean a flying, invisible vehicle that fits in your pocket when you're not using it? Crazy, no?

"I love your imagination," I told him. "Your sense of the absurd, but, please, don't insult my intelligence."

Jared laughed from the word imagination, as if he found what I thought of his revelation as absurd, then truly guffawed when I mentioned an insult to my intelligence. "It don't take no 'telligence," he yelped. "Jus' seein'."

"Seeing," I huffed--no question, just a flat declaration in a nasal monotone. "Like 'seeing is believing'?"

"Zit," he said. "Now you got it. You just gotta see, then you bleeb. Pee in yer pants kinda bleed is what you do."

"All right then," I said, figuring I had nothing to lose. "Then let me see."

"Now?" he said, seeming surprised that I was so willing. Actually, at the time I thought his reaction was more fear than surprise; fear that I had called his outrageous bluff and now he wouldn't be able to deliver on his crazy promise, his otherworldly vehicle.

"Now, right here," I said. "Where is it? In your pocket?"

"The 'veloper is," he said, "but the seein's to be done outside. "

I got up from my seat at the kitchen table and headed for the back door. "Then let's go," I said, barking out the words like a command while arm-waving him to the door. "Backyard."

Jared put his soda can down and, shrugging, followed me out the back door, slapping his pockets as he came. He stopped on the deck, feeling his buttocks and thighs, looking sheepish. "Jacket," he muttered, and hurried back inside. Here I was thinking that this was just a stalling tactic, that maybe, as well as I thought I knew him, I didn't really know the lying son of a so-and-so at all and that perhaps he would light out and I would never set eyes on him again in this life.

A minute later and he was back on the deck, his beat up denim jacket hanging from his left hand as he rifled its pockets until he found what he was after with his right. A wan smile slowly constructed itself across his plain but pleasant face. "There y'are," he said and pulled out what he termed the "'veloper,'" a folded manila envelope the size and shape of which would be used to send a small wedding invitation.

He opened the 'velope as he came down the stairs from the deck and was holding a small wad of something colorless in his hand by the time he had reached me in the middle of my small backyard.

"That?" I asked. He said nothing, but in answer held out the handful of alien matter to me. I reached to touch it, and then pulled back as it hummed and vibrated at the approach of my fingers. "Yug," I said squeamishly.

"You don't hafta if y'don't wanna," he said and, smiling that half-formed, gentle smile of his, he stepped back, bent down and laid the stuff gingerly on the grass. He then stepped away from it and affected a posture reminiscent of a soldier at standing rest; all calm bearing and readiness with hands folded over one another at the crotch, the same expression of meek attentiveness on his face. Several solemn, silent minutes passed in this way before I broke the mood, whispering as if in a church waiting for the service to begin, "What happens now?" He raised his right hand in a gesture suggesting restraint, his left to indicate that which was happening before us.

I didn't so much see as feel the vessel rise out of the grass in front of us. To say that it was transparent would be a fallacy since all senses of the flesh--sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste--insisted that there was nothing there to be perceived, but there was something. I could feel it, not like the vibrations that the handful of nascent goop had given off moments before that had frightened me, made me pull my hand away, but feel it with a certainty that I was standing before a vessel, a vehicle resting on skids or wheels in front of me that was as large as a hearse giving off an aura of electric force unlike any other in the universe. The known universe, my fevered, frightened intellect amended this thought even before it was fully formed. This can't be real.

"Now," said Jared, answering my question as he headed toward the thing. "We gets in."

* * *

I had met Jared a little more than a month earlier and, as opposing as our worlds and ways of seeing the world seemed to be, we liked each other and found a bond of trust with one another almost immediately. If I were forced to place a label on him, Jared would be the young, black, uneducated male gardener for the cluster-home development in which I live. I, on the other hand, am a middle-aged (I guess thirty-six is middle aged), divorced, and college-educated, white female.

I am successful enough to afford a "unit" in a small but well-heeled new subdivision of closely packed houses. My unit has no front yard, the front door giving onto a one care parking pad directly in front of my living room window. Each unit has a small chunk of backyard big enough in which to have a small party as long as no one deigns too take more than twenty steps in any given direction. To the extreme rear of the property is a gully that serves as a drain for the westward slope of the development as a whole and which disappears under the eight foot wall demarking the extreme southern perimeter; part of the reason for the excellent price I got on the house was the fact that it is one of only three units in the subdivision that sidles against the perimeter buffer wall outside of which can be heard the hiss and roar of Interstate traffic. Step off of my deck and head to the right (about ten paces) and you will reach my neighbor's yard and his yappy little overbred, hypertensive Yorkie, Flondrick. One day either I or Jared--at my bidding--will kill Flondrick for all the little landmines he has deposited on my miniscule back lawn. Jared is in total agreement with me on this which is probably the reason he and I began our friendship in the first place: our loathing of that little dog.

If I am to be totally honest, however, this is not really where it all started. Yes, Flondrick was the subject of our first conversation after Jared had stepped in one of that mutt's turds while he was mowing the right side stretch of my little lawn, but it was not the real reason why I spoke to him at all: the reason there was fully and only sexual. In the parlance of the day, Jared was a hunk, and the fact that he often worked with his shirt off and occasionally in shorts was, in my mind, a definite plus.

If he had worked in the nude I would not have been so fascinated by his lovely physique, might even not have looked at all. As it was, I wanted him and, not knowing how to get him, as it were, I instead became his friend. The fact that, through conversation, I grew to like him as a person did nothing to sway my desire for him sexually. It only made the actual doing (the kiss and slap and tickle of it all; the grope and grapple and heady engulfments that I fantasized and dreamed about)--if I ever was going to do it--all the more problematic.

"Whatchoo lookin' at, Miss Linda?" he would ask, drawing me out of a horny reverie many more times than I would care to admit. I could never do more than mutter a halting assurance that it was nothing, I had only been lost in thought, perhaps daydreaming. I told him the truth but I was too much the coward to admit to him that he was the subject of my lubricious daydreams. Just looking at him with the sweat coursing down between his dark pectorals, gathering in the cuts of his washboard rippled abs was enough to make me turn my face away and bite my lip in an agony of desire.

God, was I ever pitiful!

Then, with the friendship came a growing understanding between us of who the other one was. There was equality between us. He was not "just" the gardener hired by the development to mow my lawn, trim my anemic hedges, kick my neighbor's annoying little dog. He was a man, a human being, a nice guy, someone to share with. His schedule had him in my area every other week during the spring and summer, once a month during the off-season. Once we established a rapport--all chat and gossip in the beginning, more intimate dialogue as time went on--he came whenever the mood struck him, whether scheduled or not.

Even as the friendship grew, though, I still had a thing for him, gazed on him longingly as he worked, intently watched his muscles move under the skin as he walked the lawn mower, wielded the hedger like a heavy sword, cut swathes in the ditch grass with the weed-whacker; watched as his butt muscles tilted and rippled as he walked away with the mower, the chest muscles expand and flatten with his breathing as he came toward me, abdomen tighten, the lump in his crotch shift with each step, the smile on his gentle face. I am sure he knew what was going on in my mind, and the dampness he caused under my panties. For my part call it a heated friendship, a passion unrequited. I would have loved to have called him inside for one of our talks, and then surprise him at the door in some lacy nothing that I would dare him to tear into with his bare hands to get to the pale flesh beneath, but I didn't have the gumption, the guts or the heart. I wanted, was wracked with a desire so sweet, so intense that it hurt at times but perhaps it was not enough for, ache as I might, I did not act.

All I had, then, was his friendship and that seemed to suffice. I had his voice, his stories of family and his desires for a better future, a more successful and fulfilling life with a woman he had yet to meet (!); of "supposes," as he called them, tales of surmise meant to entertain both the teller and the told; conversations that sometimes lasted for several days in a row. At night I had my fantasies of unbridled passion with Jared on me and over me and in me that had me thrashing the bedsheets into coils that wound around my thighs and waist until I was so spent I would drift off into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.

Pitiful! And still I would say nothing, admit nothing to him. How could I? I would ask myself. So I would only tell him whatever I had to tell of my thoughts, my day, then listen to him talk, have his say, tell his tales; just be his friend.

I listened with interest when he divulged his secret, the story of the alien vessel that landed out on the field near the road he had traveled so many months ago, of the faceless ones and their gift: the hand-held 'veloper of formless glop that turned into a machine that could take its passengers through the air to whatever destination chosen at the speed of thought as if on spirit wings. "Suppose" is the word I thought as he rattled about this strange topic. What if….

"See what I'm sayin'?" he said mildly. "It's like all you gotta do is kinda will it, and it happens."

"A lovely idea," I admitted. "If it only could be."

"Is," he said flatly. At first I did not understand. Then it hit me: the hard point of his gaze on me, his hands open as if in supplication, the tilt of his head to one side, the look in his eyes, all in the attitude of waiting for me to see.

My God, I thought, finding the epiphany he meant for me to attain. He thinks that this thing he's just described is real.

As if reading my mind, he repeated his assertion: "Is."

* * *

The sensation under my outstretched hand was one of an electric shock about to happen: a rasping tickle along the palm and the undersides of the fingers, the feather hairs on the back of my hand rising as if from the sucking force of a vacuum cleaner held too close. Still, though, I could detect nothing of the alleged vehicle. All was surmise, nothing solid.

Get in?" I asked Jared. "Get in how?"

"Like here," he said and moved toward the field of electricity; three steps and then, on the fourth, he was… gone! "In," I heard his voice say from nowhere. "C'mon."

Stupidly (so I thought then), I followed. The sensation of walking into, then being surrounded by an electrical force or field intensified until it seemed that it ranged through as well as around me. I could see as well as feel Jared next to me; he seemed canted forward on his toes as if leaning against an invisible buffer of some kind. He motioned for me to mimic his posture. I did so, angling myself into something that pillowed my torso in a quite pleasant warmth.

The feeling of electricity in the air and on the skin abated, giving way to a comfortably warm feeling almost of nakedness, I looked down at myself to be sure that I was still dressed, the feeling of bareness being so intense, the feeling on the skin that of taking a warm, luxuriant bath, but there was my blouse, my shorts and sandals; and there was Jared beside me, dressed as he had been before we had entered the craft, though when I noticed this I was a little disappointed. Would that he were naked, I thought. The feelings of pleasant warmth turned erotic against my skin as I looked at him turn his face to me and smile, a simple action on his part that nearly gave me an orgasm. "Takes some getting' used to, it feels so good," he said. His smile brightened. "Even better with you here."

I thanked him, said I was a glad of his company, too, and asked what happened next.

"Go somewhere," he said and spread his arms wide, taking in all the world.

"Then go ahead," I thought. "It's your show."

Jared looked at me, smiling, and nodded as if he had heard me, and willed the craft into flight.

"Uh," I thought, stunned.

"Yes," he said without speaking. "In here we read minds."

"We, uh…. Whuh?" I thought, even less articulate in thought than I would have been if I had used my voice.

But Jared didn't continue the conversation nor allow me to wonder at this startling news. Instead, he drew my attention to our surroundings. It was as we had become characters in a super hero movie or cartoon, flying through the crisp blue void a thousand feet off the ground. Controls winked and sparkled in front of us just below eye level as Jared guided us through clouds, scudded us over treetops to scare up a flock of grackles, did loop-the-loops over rich but fallow farmland twenty miles outside of town, aimed us through underpasses behind the diesel stink of a semi heading down the Interstate toward a city hundreds of miles to the west. I was like a kid on her first thrill ride at the amusement park, unsure whether my fear would overtake the adrenalin rush of fun that coursed through me as we flipped and dove and soared and careened, sending waves of giddy nausea through me at every turn and change of direction, every rise, dip and barrel roll. I nearly lost my breakfast several times, but always managed to hold it down, and then hold my breath for the next thrilling rush, the next surprise at Jared's hands.

Always, throughout the whole experience, I trusted him. Until the very moment we landed back in my yard, our feet seeming to plant themselves back in the grass not ten feet from the steps of my deck, I had every confidence in his skill at piloting (if that was the word) this machine (if that was what it was). When we were out of it, though, then the worries welled up and overtook me.

"How…?" I started, but could say no more. Jared understood what I meant, but could give me little in way of explanation.

"Will," he said rather sheepishly. "I just does, and it does, and there we go."

I hadn't expected anything more than that. What, really, could he have said? The thing had been a gift, he had told me as much, and it was his to use or play with as he would. Whatever the physics or mechanics, it was attuned to his will and did his bidding. End of story.

And a new one beginning as I recalled something rather troubling.

"We knew each other's thoughts," I said quietly.

"In there," he said, nodding. "Not out here."

"But in there," I repeated, remembering what I had been thinking, and then feeling embarrassed for those thoughts. "When I looked at you…."

"Thinking I was nekkid," he said softly.

"Wanting you to be," I corrected him. He nodded; he had heard my mind well. "I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable, knowing that."

"No," he said, still in that soft, shy voice. He was apparently not used to a woman admitting that she was attracted to him, didn't know how to deal with it. "Me, I had to hold back thinking what I felt."

"What you…?"

"The same as you," he said and look led at me sharply, almost a leer.

"Oh." Now we were both embarrassed, at a loss for words, for thought or action. Time stuttered to a halt; both our gazes moved to the ground. Finally, feeling a bit stupid, I said, "What now?"

"This, I guess," he said as he stepped toward me and wrapped his powerful arms gently around me, pressing me to his chest, and he just held me, hugged me, thrilled me and made me feel that there was no other place or predicament in which I would rather be. Our faces rested together, cheek to cheek; our arms and hands pressed into each others' backs. We breathed in unison. There was nothing else to do that felt so right.

* * *

The next few trips, Jared and I did fly naked. On the ground, in my home, we were lovers; in the air we were like children testing the limits. The sensations were incredible as we flew, hand in hand or hands on each other, still the super heroes but this time feeling very wicked, like exhibitionists in the sky. We outraced jets at twenty ant thirty thousand feet, mooning the passengers at the portholes. We performed as many acts in as many positions as we could think of for our supposed audiences. No one could see us, of course--it was an invisible craft, after all--so there was no real danger, no real wickedness done. Childish fun and games was all it was, done for our own amusement. It soon became old, even boring. Orgasms attained in the craft at no matter what height or speed, we found, were the same as orgasms achieved in my bedroom or in the back of Jared's rickety pickup truck. The feeling of doing something wicked; the rush of the idea of being caught at our erotic shenanigans was greater in that dilapidated vehicle of his than anything we did in the alien craft. We still flew--the thrill and novelty of it never wore off--but after only a few nudie flights we decided to keep our clothes on and concentrate on the flying itself rather than what to do while in the air.

It was then, too, that we began to experiment with the sparkling controls, the color-coded winks of light that lay before us just below the sightline level as we flew along. All, it turned out, was not in the will alone; there were hand controls, as well. Think left and you bank left, Jared thought to me, explaining in his mind to me how he controlled direction, pitch, yaw, and roll. Think right and you go right; think up and you rise; think down and you sink at whatever rate of speed that you wish.

But what, I thought to him, happens when you touch the red or blue of that crystalline yellow?

Find out, he thought, reaching. Later he told me that the yellow control tickled his finger when he touched it, and a narrow burst of red flame jumped to life in the cornfield below us.

We had found the weapons system of the vessel, and an exciting new set of toys to play with, possibilities to explore.

* * *

"Yellow, red, blue, green: that was the ascending order of destructive force that the vessel could deliver. Actually, we only tried the vessel's abilities up to blue. With that we had totally destroyed a dilapidated barn as well as all the vegetation covering what seemed to be a half mile radius around the structure. We didn't want to monkey with the next higher integer and perhaps risk doing any real harm to the town and its inhabitants.

"Wish this thing could mow lawns," said Jared wistfully. "Make my life a who'lot easier."

We stayed with the yellow control--the lowest on the destructive scale--and, assuming that much of the ship's systems were predicated on the will of the pilot, then maybe the weapons systems could be calibrated, as well. We were partly right: aiming the weapon depended on will, yes, but not the resultant explosive force. That, it seemed, was a non-negotiable set.

I forgot what exactly it was that I wished but it must have run something along the lines of "I wish that I could do with these systems whatever I want." It was only an errant thought but it garnered results: a set of controls appeared under my hands similar to those that Jared had on his side of the craft. They appeared so suddenly that I did not know they were there until my lover pointed them out to me. "Your turn looks like," he said.

I gingerly touched the yellow control and closed my eyes. Nothing happened. What am I doing wrong? I thought. Jared shrugged; he had no idea. Where's the damned instruction book when you need it? I thought irritably.

Then, a single word came to me; again, just a thought, but this time I knew that it was not my own. The word was "say." And I knew exactly what it meant: say what you want the system to do. As with Jared's piloting of the craft, so with this new weapon system, if that was what it truly was; will was everything.

"Okay," I said aloud, reaching again toward the glowing yellow control. Jared considered me warily for he had not heard or understood the word that had played in my head. "Let's try it."

Of course, I had no idea what to try or how to go about it if I did, but I was game for anything. So I touched the control and said "Wind from the east at forty miles an hour." A small stand of pine trees in front of us bent away from the near gale-force wind that had come up out of nowhere to ravage them; cones and needles flew straight and swift off of the trees, peppered against the shuddering windowpanes of the nearby homes; the surface of the shallow water of a manmade lake rippled and skimmed; a frisbee lifted off from the top of a clutter of toys on a front porch and sailed away to the west like a UFO going home. "Wind cease," I said, and all was calm once again.

Jared and I relaxed and remained silent for a while, reflecting on what I had just done, seeing what the machine we were flying in could do. "Whoa," Jared finally breathed, astounded.

"Damn right, whoa," I said and reached for the controls again, and again and again and again. That quickly and I was hooked.

We spent the day, then, playing with the weather. We caused freak storms to develop, hail to fall from blue skies, thunderheads to take on the shape of copulating animals in such detail that there was no doubt in the minds of whoever saw them what they were meant to represent, twisters to come down and lift up cars and buses and individual people, spin them around and set them gently down only twenty or thirty yards from where they were originally taken. We laughed as they ran and screamed.

We turned the water in a backyard above-the-ground swimming pool into lime Jello. It was with this trick that we became aware of the machine's shape-shifting powers. That was when we turned around, went home and set the vessel back down in my backyard so that we could talk about what we had here.

"You saw what we did," I said in a voice made tight by labored breathing. "We can change things with this machine. We can kill and burn and change--I don't know--water into wine."

"Tha's blasphemy, Linda," Jared said, suddenly angry. "No one do that but Jesus."

"You think we can't? We just turned water into Jello, so why not into wine? Or why not salt into pepper, poop into cheese, plastic into wood, dirt into ash, pizza into paper, anything into anything else? You see what this is? You do, don't you?"

"I think that..." Jared murmured but would not go on. Oh yes, he knew.

We got back into the machine at my insistence. "Try," I said. "We can't let this go, can't stop…." Yes, at one point he had suggested that we not go on, that we stop doing, making, changing, and trying. "Keep on," I said as we took to the air again. "See what it can do."

Jared remained silent, only steered where I said, did what I asked.

"Push the limits," I said softly. I pointed to the left and Jared worked his will and we banked and veered as my hand reached for the blue control. Aiming at an animal scurrying along the ground--a squirrel, I think it was, or a rat--I told the machine to do something suitably absurd, and there was a toy stuffed rabbit where the living animal had been.

Jared, it seemed, had lost the capacity for awe. He did as I said but didn't seem to care anymore.

* * *

No more childishness. After a few days of changing this into that and just about everything into something else and back again, all for the fun of it, I was again bored with the game. I finally came to the pass from which Jared seemed to have started, though I came to it not from a sense of the wrongness of what we were doing but from a totally different direction, and that pass was this: a sense of unease, an unwillingness to play God any longer.

It was done, finished. We knew what we had to do; we had passed thoughts back and forth about it until we had come to a mutually agreed conclusion. Still, though, I wanted one more shot at making a difference, small as though I knew it would be. Two things, I told Jared, then done with it all. He heard me out, smiled and said okay.

We flew high, directly above my house; hovered and waited. Our chance came soon: there was Flondrick. I aimed on the little Yorkie, hit the red control and said, "Silence. Yap no more, my little friend."

Still focusing on the little dog, I hit the blue control--the strongest I had at my command--and, smiling, said, "Poop into lawn fertilizer." I heard the dog yelp his last as he crapped out a load of 5-10-5 onto my grass, and so he would continue to do so for the rest of his puny life.

"Anything for you?" I asked my lover. He shook his head. "Sure? No changes you'd like to make?"

"None," he said. Let's set'er down."

So we landed. Before I got out I hit the last control that I would touch and said, "Five minute delay, then this vessel will cease to be." We exited the craft and waited on the deck at the back of my house until we could sense that it was no more.

Jared and I then went into the house and got ourselves something cold to drink and, holding hands, went out the front door to sit on the stoop to watch the world go by. Soon, a car went past. The driver, an older white man, considered us for a moment. He made a disgusted face before he gunned the engine loudly, squealed his tires and put as much distance as quickly as possible between himself and the offensive spectacle he had just been forced to witness.

"Well," said my lovely man thoughtfully between sips of cola. "Maybe there's one more thing I'd like to've changed."


2014 Stephen Faulkner

Bio: Mr. Faulkner is an out of work college administrator who is now honing his writing craft. He looks forward to sharing his stories with those who appreciate his singular style and point of view.

E-mail: Stephen Faulkner

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.