Aphelion Issue 232, Volume 22
September 2018
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

First Bite

by Jeff Dosser




Even on the enlightened darkness can fall. Or so Eve had reasoned these past few months of her assignment. She stood beside a table of dirty beakers and half-filled jugs, a man in a dirty white tee shirt duct taped to a chair before her. He was an ugly man, both inside and out, with a jutting chin and skin an unhealthy shade of gray. His sunken eyes followed Eve with bored resignation until she pulled out a lighter and ignited the torch of twisted newspaper she held in her hand.

With a flick of her wrist, she tossed the torch to the ground. The yellowish flames licking along a trail of gasoline poured across the floor, curling up the linoleum as they passed. As the flames raced towards the table, the man threw himself to the ground in a futile attempt to roll towards the front door.

“Cut me loose, you bitch!”

Eve marveled at how the tendons in his neck bulged as he tried to turn and catch her eye.

“Or you’ll get what’s comin’,” he growled. He kicked out a thin leg trying to hook a heel on the fridge and pull himself from the flames.

She glanced down, wondered if “gettin’ what’s comin’” meant another session strapped to the bed and gang raped by a bunch of humans too stupid to grasp the basic laws of thermodynamics. If that was his meaning, she doubted he’d get a chance to teach her that lesson again; although he was about to receive his own crash course in the conversion of mass to heat.

“What’s the matter Johnny?” she dropped to her haunches and met his eye. “I thought bondage was your thing.”

Smoke billowed across the ceiling in black somersaulting clouds, a sudden flash of heat washing over her like a wave as the flames hit the meth lab and clawed hungrily up the trailer walls. She’d been studying these people for months yet it still amazed her the results they obtained from such crude equipment.

“Come on baby,” Johnny said, his voice plaintive and low. “It wasn’t all bad was it?” As she glanced over past him to the snarling inferno, the heat pressed like a warm hand on her skin. Grabbing his foot, she dragged him out of the kitchen and across the living room floor.

“You know what I want Johnny. I want my phone. I can’t get home without it.”

In the kitchen, the table collapsed with a cacophony of shattering glass. Eve dove to the floor and threw an arm over her face as a fireball rolled across the ceiling and blew open the front door.

She scrambled to her knees, eying the flames. “You’re running out of time, Johnny. Where is it?”

His eyes darted from the fire to Eve. “Sure, sure. Wayne’s got it, Wayne’s got it.”

“You’re absolutely certain?” She asked.

Johnny jerked away from the growing inferno, the hair along his legs curling in the heat and filling the air with their stench.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Now cut me loose.”

Eve scooped up a baggie of white crystals sitting on the coffee table and stepped to the door. She wondered if the occasion warranted some sort of gibe or heartfelt admonition. She felt no real anger towards Johnny, no need for revenge other than his death. Anger was a primal emotion, one her people had outgrown. She simply closed the door and stepped into the humid July air empowered by a glowing feeling of…satisfaction.

Gravel scrunched beneath her boots as she crossed the drive and crawled into Johnny’s beat up Mustang. She keyed the ignition, the engine rumbling to life with a throaty surge of power she’d grown to love. It was a deep contrast to the smooth hum of electric motors or transducing engines. There was a primal rawness in the primitive tech that was difficult to resist.

The sound of screams and popping metal filled the air as Eve dug through her purse. She pushed aside a .38 snub nose revolver and a rubber-banded roll of bills until she found the pipe. She dragged out the elongated glass tube, rounded like a globe on one end, and pinched some crystals from the baggie. She dropped them into the pipe's bowl and sparked her lighter. As black smoke curled from the trailer and feathered into the dimming mid-west sky she inhaled the clouds of white swirling inside the spherical bowl. Then she punched the gas, sending chunks of gravel pinging off the sides of the doomed trailer as lightning bolts of energy coursed through her veins.

If today was to be her last on Earth, she had loose ends to tie up. Eve didn’t want to leave anybody out, but without her phone, she wasn’t going anywhere. She’d be stuck on this God forsaken outback forever.

With a squeal of rubber, she slewed the car onto the old county road and zoomed for the big town of Alsuma, Oklahoma. Already the purple tinted horizon was brightened by the lights of the city, like the glowing pyres above the Promised Land. Behind her, an ebony column rose into the deepening darkness like and accusing finger jabbed at the heavens. In less than an hour, she’d be at the casino. If Wayne had her phone, the place to find him would be there.


*****



The River Breeze Casino blazed in neon splendor in the center of an asphalt plain. Eve parked the Mustang and took another hit of ice before strolling up to the front door. The place was a cheap imitation of any second-rate gambling joint you'd find off the strip in Vegas. An expansive, windowless warehouse crammed with binging, buzzing, flashing, jingling slot machines, most every bar stool and chair crowded with a forlorn and desperate mix of humanity’s dregs.

Eve pulled a pack of Marlboros from her purse and tapped out a cigarette. She strolled through the aisles of slots and card tables until she spotted Wayne against the back wall, seated at the Book of Ra penny slot. He was one of those rare meth addicts who somehow maintained his weight. He wore a bleach stained Rolling Stones tee. His ample love handles spilling over the top of his too tight khaki shorts. Eve moved up behind him, the cigarette dangling from her lips. For a long moment, she watched him spinning the electronic wheel, then flicked her cigarette across his shoulder. It hit the center of the machine, the red cherry exploding in a shower of sparks.

With a hoot of surprise, Wayne jumped back, almost tumbling from his stool. He swung around, an expression of outrage melting from his face when he recognized who it was.

“I want my phone, Wayne.” Eve tapped out another cigarette and lit up.

Wayne leaned back on the stool, a wry grin spreading across his face. “Why Eve, just the woman I was wantin’ ta see.”

He spun back around and continued punching at the buttons, the wheels spinning on the screen in chromatic hues of orange and red. “That’s quite a phone you’ve got there, Eve“ He turned and studied her, his gaze roving from her feet to her face. “What are you exactly? CIA? FBI? Some kind of foreign operative?”

Eve gulped down the panic that welled in her throat. How had this stupid turd figured out she was different? She cocked her head and took a long drag then blew the smoke into his face. “I said I want my damn phone, Wayne. And I do mean now.”

He chuckled, his sausage fingers tapping out a staccato on the buttons. “You didn’t answer the question, doll.” The machine began flashing and dinging as it counted up a winning spin. “Look at that, I won a hundred bucks.” He brushed a lock of greasy, black hair from his face and smiled, his too small teeth framed between flabby wet lips.

“I’ll give you five hundred bucks for the phone,” she said, “and I won’t kill you.” She rummaged through her mind for a label to the meth induced emotion she felt while talking to Wayne. Frustration.

He cocked an eyebrow, spread out his arms to indicate the crowd milling about them. “Really? I don’t think you’ll do either. At least not here, not now.” He leaned over, his voice a hoarse whisper. “Who are you?”

Eve rolled the cigarette in her fingers, considered the question. “What makes you think I’m anyone?”

“Cuz that ain’t no regular phone,” he said. He leaned back, held up his hands in a symbol of placation. “I don’t know what went on between you an’ Johnny. Ain’t none ah my business. Fact is, Johnny traded me the phone for a bump. I figured it was yours but like I said, it ain’t my business what goes on between my customers. Sellin’ dope is my business and a nice new iPhone like that.“ He shook his head in appreciation. ”Something like that’s gotta be worth a buck or two.”

An old woman ambled up, her eyes flitting from Wayne to the machine. “You finished on this one?” she asked. “That’s my lucky slot.”

“Piss off, Granny,” Wayne huffed. “I’m still playin'.”

Eve watched the old woman waddle away throwing angry glances over her shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s a nice phone,” Eve said. “It cost me $950. I’ll give ya a grand right here and now if you give it back.”

Wayne shook his head. “I ain’t done with my story,” he said. “So I try an’ open that phone up, ya know. Remove the sim card so I can sell her. An’ guess what. It can’t be done. Nothing you do will open the sim tray. The damn screens password protected too. Hell, the screws to open up the back don’t even work. So I take that bitch and throw it against the wall.”

Wayne glanced into the crowd then turned to face the slot machine. He began punching the buttons to spin the wheel. Eve glanced back and spotted the old woman returning with a man dressed in a blazer and tie. She’d obviously complained about Wayne not using the machine.

After a moment's discussion, the man in the blazer moved on, leaving the old woman staring at Wayne, her wrinkled face pinched into an angry grimace. Eve stepped next to the machine, leaned towards Wayne. “Two grand.“

He glanced up tapping blindly at the spin button. “You know what the phone did when it hit the brick wall?” Wayne asked the question as if Eve hadn’t said a word. “Nothin’. It bounced off like a tennis ball. Didn’t even scratch it. Then I stomped on the screen, hit it with a hammer.”

He laughed and waved a hand over his head. “Hell, I tried pretty much everything.“ He turned and met Eve’s eyes. “Not even a scratch. That thing’s made of some sort of secret metal or …or plastic alloy. Either way, it’s some kinda secret spy shit. So I ask you again. Who are you?”

Telling Wayne the truth wasn’t an option. Besides, he’d already sold himself on an answer. “I’m CIA,” Eve said.

“I knew it!” He slapped his hands together in a loud clap that drew scowls from the neighboring players. “I knew it,” he whispered. He stood up, grabbed Eve’s elbow and led her to a spot next to the wall. “So how much are you willing to pay?” he asked. “No telling what kind of embarrassing information is inside that phone. You don’t want that falling into the wrong hands.” His head swiveled, examining the crowd. “You’ve got people watching me, don’t you?”

“Always,” Eve told him. She doubted Wayne trusted anyone enough to let them hold onto the phone. That meant he had it hidden somewhere. Probably in his car or house. Hell, he was stupid enough to have it on him right now.

“So, Wayne.” She moved up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You need to decide if the price I offer is the most we’re willing to pay, or if we’ll just decide to kill you and search through your shit afterward.”

He looked nervously into her eyes, then scanned the crowd. “Okay. What’s the price?”

She needed something reasonable. Too high and he might balk, too low and he’d begin to doubt the CIA story. “Twenty large,” she said. “I can have it to you in half an hour.”

His eyes widened. “Twenty grand?” He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “I’ll agree to that.”

“And I want the phone when you get the cash,” she said. “No transfer later BS.”

“Sure, sure,” he said. “I can get it. Someone I know has it right now. They’re in the casino waiting for my go ahead.“ He stepped away from the wall, eying the crowd over her shoulder. “What guarantee do I have you won’t kill me?”

Eve snorted and shook her head. This guy was so stupid. There was no one holding the phone. She was half convinced it was in his pocket right now. “Maybe you should have thought about that before you decided to blackmail us? “

The color drained from his face.

“I’m just messin’ with you, Wayne.” Eve turned and nodded towards the casino floor. “There’s cameras everywhere,” she said. “We do the exchange in the parking garage and everything will be fine. You get your money and decide how you’re going to get out of here if we decide to follow you. And I get my phone. Give me twenty minutes to get the money and I’ll meet you at your car.”

Wayne squinted at her for a long moment. “Okay. Fine,” he said finally. “I know you people can control the cameras, but I’m going to take the chance.“ His eyes searched the crowd, beads of perspiration forming on his brow wrinkled. “I’m parked on the third floor, west lot. I’ll be standing by my car at…” he glanced at his watch. “Twelve-twenty.”

“Until then,” Eve said. She turned and strolled back to the Mustang. The crystal meth hummed through her veins, throbbed with an efficacy she never imagined she could hold. She was amazed such a primitive race had stumbled upon this miracle. She sprinkled another pinch of crystals into the pipe, sending another rollercoaster of power tumbling through her brain.


*****



At twelve-fifteen she fired up the pony and eased out of her space, rounding the parking lot to the west lot and rolling up the garage ramp. The last message the overseer sent before her phone was stolen said the pickup was at four a.m. She pulled onto the third floor, spotted Wayne leaning against a concrete pillar at the end of the lot. She slung her purse over one shoulder and pulled up behind his beat up Jeep.

“You got my phone?”

“If you got the money,” Wayne said.

A car eased around Eve’s Mustang then rumbled deeper into the garage. She watched it disappear up the fourth level ramp then dug the rubber banded wad of cash from her purse and held it up. “The cash.” Her hand and the money disappeared inside the bag.

“And here’s the phone.” Wayne pulled the black iPhone out of his pocket and held it out.

Eve pulled her hand out of the bag but instead of cash she held the .38 nickel plated revolver.

“Lay the phone on the pavement, Wayne.

His eyes shot wide at the sight of the weapon. Slowly, he raised his hands.

“Put your arms down, damn it.” She glanced over her shoulder and back at Wayne. “And toss the phone at my feet.”

Wayne did as he was told, his hands hanging limply at his side.

“I know you were there,” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

“The night Johnny put Rohypnol in my drink. The night you all had such a good ol’ time.” Eve felt the heat rise in her neck, a flush grow in her cheeks. A scream threatened to boil out of her, a shout of ..of. She didn’t know how to classify this thing, this…new feeling. After years of studying the humans, she would label this feeling ‘rage’. Her species had no equivalent to the rampant emotions of the humans, no equivalent to the feelings cavorting through her soul. At least not until now, not until the discovery of the crystals.

“But how, how can you remember?” Wayne asked. “You were knocked out.”

“Somewhat, yes. But the drug has a different effect on my kind. It dimmed by perceptions, but it did nothing to my memory, nothing to dull the pain and humiliation of what you did. What you all did.”

The discharge of the .38 was a thunderclap inside the concrete confines of the garage, the bullet exploding like a crimson flower in the center of Wayne’s chest. He clasped at the bloody wound, then his eyes rolled up and he tumbled backward. Like a felled tree, he hit the pavement with a hollow thud.

Eve turned to go and found the old woman from the casino standing behind her. Her gray face washed white with fear. Eve considered her, the .38 smoking in her hand. “What do you want?”

“N..n..nothing,” she stammered. She pointed a quaking finger at Wayne’s limp form. “I was going to tell that man what a rude person he was… that’s all.”

Eve glanced back at Wayne, a stream of blood pooling beside his head. “Yeah, well he won’t be rude ever again.” She stared at the old woman for an instant then waved her gun towards the exit. “Leave.”

The old woman dropped her purse and fled, the sound of her echoing footsteps ringing through the lot. Eve glanced down as a single red apple rolled out of the old woman purse and bumped to a stop against her toe. She scooped up the fruit and climbed into the Mustang, squealing the tires as she zoomed out of the garage and onto the main road.

She tapped in the entry code on her phone and read the message displayed on the screen:

Pickup at 4 A.M.
Usual Location
Last Opportunity For Extraction
Please Acknowledge

Eve held up the phone. “Species evaluation emissary four-one-three ready for extraction. Pickup time and coordinates read and confirmed.”


*****



In an hour she was deep on county road nine pulling the Mustang onto the shoulder. A short hike brought her to a large pond surrounded by windblown grasses. It was only minutes before a darkness flitted across the star-studded sky, dropping rapidly beside her. The great ship, its oblong shape only vaguely visible in the dim illumination of the sliver moon was split with a light that grew to brilliance as a garage-sized door opened on its side.

Eve strolled into the light and up the extended ramp. At the top, a tall man with close-cropped hair and a blue uniform awaited her.

“I’m assuming you encountered problems,” he said. “You have been in and out of communication for over a triasta yet you’ve sent no distress signal nor updates. He examined a notepad he held in the crook of his arm. Your biometric readings have been unusual, to say the least.” He paused and narrowed his eyes, his lips pulled into tight thin lines. “I assume you have returned with intriguing data to explain this anomalous expedition?”

Eve cast a discerning eye over the man, then dug through her purse. She pulled out the apple, the frost colored pipe and the bag of crystals. The rest she let fall to the ground.

“Yeah, I’ve got intriguing data to share with you.” She took a bite of the apple and strolled inside. “Believe me, it’s gonna blow your mind.”



THE END


2017 Jeff Dosser

Bio: Jeff Dosser is an ex-police officer and current software developer living in the wilds of Norman, Oklahoma. His fiction has appeared in several magazines including Tales of Terror, Shotgun Honey, Iridium Zine, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt and DeadLights magazine as well as Deadman’s Tome, Mother's Revenge and Hindered Souls Anthologies. He's also the recipient of Writing.com’s 2016 Quill Award for Best Short Fiction. You can find out more at jeffdosser.com.

Website: Jeff Dosser

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.