TERESA’S GIFT 17 pages
Without taking his eyes off the screen, Randy Johnson found the remainder of last night’s brew on the shaggy carpet, downed it in one swallow. Normally, he didn’t drink until past noon, but what the news discussed was huge, and the beer, a Michelob.
“The meteorite known as, ‘Teresa’ seems to have been some form of delivery system,” the anchorman said. “Having protected an inner layer through space, her hull melted away at the precise moment it became safe to do so, dispersing trillions of alien particles, each the diameter of a sharpened pencil tip. These “seeds” absorb moisture from the air and rapidly bloom into pods that many scientists speculate have plant-like characteristics…” The program swapped to a computerized mock-up, displaying a box the color of polished gold.
“Once saturated with moisture from our atmosphere, these pods sprout a type of leaf…”
A bronze stem grew from the top of the box-shaped pod and fanned outward, resembling the apex of a spewing fountain.
“…that acts as an effective propeller, carrying these objects in all directions. Analysts project they will land on nearly seventy percent of the planet. What their effects will be, nobody knows…”
His cooking eggs charred enough to coagulate. Randy dropped the pan in the sink, activated the water.
What is going on?
Opening the refrigerator, he learned two beers survived the night. Selecting one, he twisted off the cap and took a healthy pull. Funds were tight, but he needed more brew to handle this madness.
In the bedroom, he counted out six dollars. Four for his normal brand of twelve pack and two for random supplies. He shoved the money into his front pocket and stood before the television, draining the bottle.
A globe showed when and where the seeds would land. It seemed he had almost seven hours until aliens parachuted into his backyard.
Exiting the dent-riddled door, Randy thought the sunny afternoon’s dry heat and cool breeze acted as a welcoming mat to the invasion. After running his fingers through his wavy hair, he crossed the dusty lawn, lifted his ten-speed, and embarked on his supply run.
Faded paint and mismatched stencils told of Bells’ Convenience and Gas’ harsh existence. The store’s history made it a meeting place for the many loners populating the rural township. Bells’ sung with conversations. Randy dropped his head. He didn’t have time for gossip. He needed to complete this errand, get home, and figure out how all this would go down.
He nodded to those he knew as he grabbed his beer, three cans of meat ravioli, and as always, a complementary book of matches. After a brief, anxious wait in line, he piled his things onto the counter.
Seconds prior, the plump woman who worked the day-shift had been a chatterbox. By avoiding eye contact, Randy kept her focused on adding up his total.
As she bundled his purchase, he recalled all the years he’d known the woman and said, “You know where I’m at, right?”
The woman paused with a can of ravioli hovering over the open plastic bag. Her eyes found him, “What’s that?”
“Third trailer on the left, round the bend back there.” He nodded in the general direction.
“Oh, yeah.” She sniffled, finished depositing the food.
“Things get too wild with these gold critters, you come on by. I’ma have things worked out; keep everyone safe.”
A man snickered behind him.
With teeth set on edge, the cashier bobbed her head and swallowed, no doubt grateful to be included in his plans.
Pedaling down the center of an asphalt road, he thought about how to best prepare for the end-of-the-word chaos. This was Texas. All of his neighbors had guns. Randy knew who to pass ‘em out to. He’d put Jim’s wife in charge of medical since he’d heard she worked as a nurse. He’d assign teenagers missions, planned by him, to snatch food and medicine.
Besides organizing everything, Randy could put together their new world. He’d never had a chance to prove it, but he understood the big things. Of course, that made it right hard to focus on the small ones, hence his life spent treading water.
Gliding the bike down his empty gravel driveway, he felt alive for the first time in years. He’d rally these folks, establish a perimeter, a defensive strategy, and a system of housing.
Everything would be okay, but prep-a-ration required planning, his sole activity for the rest of the day.
* * * *
The golden seeds landed in every sediment Earth offered. Yet, so far, nothing happened. They hit and lay there, or, if in water, sank.
The news showed individuals and scientists attempting to sprout them. Being the size of a square M&M and weighing eleven ounces, they were heavy little suckers, right beautiful when viewed up-close, and apparently, near indestructible.
The first reporter to crush a seed went straight pansy. He wasted time by using his fingers. Next, he tried a pair of pliers, and then a hammer on concrete flooring; all without hurting that tiny E.T.. Throughout this process, the reporter often turned to the cameraman and asked whether they should continue, carrying on about why they should quit.
The seed finally burst when squeezed in a vice, oozing a golden sludge. Once it happened, the reporter turned his face away from the camera—mumbling on what sounded like the verge of tears—that they shouldn’t have done that. He was sorry. It had been stupid. He was so sorry.
Yankees like him made Randy proud to be a real man; a Texan.
The world agreed on one thing: if you ate a seed, you died.
Swallowing an alien pill should be a rare thing, but thousands of people had done just that. Drowsiness followed, and then the Big Sleep.
Randy wondered what all the fuss was about. If a person possessed enough stupid to eat an alien pod every report said killed them, well, the world might be better off.
Live local media coverage of the golden cascade started a few hours before the spores would be visible outside of Dallas. When the time arrived for the seeds to reach Randy’s locale, he went outside.
The trailers on Randy’s patchworked street sat on generous lots of two to five acres, set apart by their identifying model of broken down car on the lawn. Bunch of chatter without thought reached him on step number two; bunch of words that showed the retardation he dealt with everyday.
Randy felt pride he wasn’t one of them groupies, that he’d joined the festivities last. After a glance and a hand raise across the street, he climbed on his roof. The golden drifters filled the sky, twinkling gold when the sun caught them just right, making it seem as if magic dust sprinkled the world.
The pods descended gently, swaying as if to a sweat melody only they could hear. It caught him up in a spell, which is why he didn’t hear his neighbor, Leann, approach. Widowed and in her seventies, she lived with four cats, whom she treated like offspring.
“Beautiful, ain’t dey?” She said from below.
During a swig, he searched the sky. They were beautiful, ma-jes-tic. Truly Heaven sent. He nodded.
“Man on the radio said they’s the souls of our loved ones.” She cupped her hands over her eyes and sought them out. “Got me hopin’ one of ‘em is my Harold. I do miss him dearly.”
Randy moved into a sitting position with his feet dangling over the edge and bit his tongue. If he spoke up now, he’d go on a tear about that DJ’s nonsense.
Their eyes met. She parted a faint smile. “Well, I best head back. Make sure my babies is inside. Don’t want ‘em eatin’ no golden treats.”
“Maybe I’ll put my blue sundress on. It got daisies on it. Harold loved that dress.” She stepped back. “G’day, Mr. Johnson.”
When she reached twenty feet away, he hopped down, righted himself, and called to her. “Miss Dean.” Unsure if she could add value, but thinking it neighborly, he continued, “If things go bad, you’re welcome to come here. I’ll make sure we all get through this.”
She stared at him a beat. “Thanks a mighty, Mr. Johnson. But truth be told, things couldn’t get much worse for me.” A forced smile, and she trotted away.
First thing inside, click off the television. There’d be nothing new on the news. The pods would touch down within twenty minutes and fools would eat them.
The shower at his place was compact and dingy. The water had more rust in it than usual and the pressure lacked oomph, but the heated H2O felt great, and he stayed in until the liquid cooled.
Stepping out to towel off, he knew the world had changed—hundreds of aliens populated his backyard.
Digging through his sock drawer, he found his whitest pair. Next, he donned his best Wranglers and tucked in his Winston Cup Series T-shirt. In the mirror, he saw the shape of a leader, and if he shaved, cut his hair, and whitened his teeth, the face of one.
Snatching another beer, he plopped in front of the television, leaving it off. A small thud sounded above him.
Yeah, yeah. I know you’re there, he thought as he gulped from his can. They could wait. He wasn’t that guy who gushed over celebrities. They were people, like him.
In his bedroom, he unplugged the radio and carried it to the kitchen. Not to listen to a guy talk about dead relatives, but to rock out. That plan, plus the beer in his hand, had his juices flowing. The only CD he owned stayed in the player, a mix of eighties rock his nephew burned for him.
He forwarded to song three and downed his current beer to the lead-in drum solo of Van Halen’s, Hot for Teacher. After cranking the volume and fetching another beer, he tackled the dishes. Starting with the pan of burnt eggs, which were now orange lumps spread out from nighttime roach munching.
The pan required elbow grease, which coated his brow in sweat. After the dishes, he cleaned mice turds from the corners of the cupboards, scrubbed the countertops, vacuumed the living room, and swept and mopped the linoleum.
Five beers plus an hour-and-a-half of labor left his home as clean as he could remember. He shut off the radio, popped a new brew, and briefly held it to his forehead before taking a swig.
Those things were out there.
He imagined all of his neighbors, everyone in nearby Dallas for that matter, rushing outside to watch them land. Some of those people would be so foolish they’d twirl their arms out as if singing in the rain. Randy possessed the manhood to let them land, give them a chance to settle. The time had come for his own peek, for him to solve their cosmic riddle.
His rear door exited to an aluminum-roofed deck and spacious backyard. A creek ran along the back of the property, separating him from the people one street over.
Maybe the pods needed to be boiled? Perhaps in creek water. Had anyone tried that? He thought over the coverage: no one had. Before his first descending step, a golden sparkle drew his gaze to the ground. A survey of the backyard revealed dozens of golden flashes belonging to box-shaped aliens.
He paced around, careful not to step on one.
The air smelled clean and dry. A breeze rustled his hair and matted his shirt against his lean frame. He bent to pick up a golden seed. A moment before his fingers clasped the object, something happened that caused him to jump outright, step back, and nearly scream.
The golden alien box spoke to him.
Not with words, but as clearly. The message had sprung into his mind.
“Not me,” it said, meaning not to touch it.
“Randy,” again, a voice in his head coming from a seed, but this wasn’t directed at him. He was hearing crosstalk.
“It’s Randy Johnson,” one said with awe, as if they’d spotted George Strait.
“Randy,” cheered another.
A swell of joy washed over the backyard.
He wondered how he could have been so careless as to leave his beer inside. A drink would help with the processing, and his blushing. He stepped to his right to select a different seed.
“No, Randy,” chimed a few.
A thought froze him. Thinking back over the media coverage, no one mentioned anything about pods communicating with people.
He leaned to select another.
“Not that one, Randy. Not for you.”
Every few steps he bent and awaited advice. Finally, he found himself stooped below where they usually spoke. The silence jacked his excitement and he crept lower.
As his index finger and thumb gripped the seed, a hundred little voices erupted into cheers, hoots, and hollers.
Randy couldn’t help but smile, and take small bows.
Placing the golden box in the center of his palm, he admired its presence. After a moment, he nudged the brass stem with his finger. Sturdy, yet flexible, with flared ends that curved inward like a threatened leaf.
The applause around him faded.
The reflective box looked identical to the others, but the strong connection he felt proved their kinship. Bringing it to eye level, he wondered if only he heard them? Surely there were others. If that were true, why not report it?
The pod rested on his palm. It did nothing out of the ordinary, yet it appeared…kingly, magical.
“Why are you here?” Randy asked. The rush of adrenaline enhanced his mild buzz. He smiled.
“To go inside, Randy.”
He lifted it closer, searching for a month, a parting of its shimmering outer shell.
“You want to go inside?” He asked.
Randy cupped his hands as if holding a trapped butterfly and took his guest indoors.
Even though he had recently cleaned his plates, he wiped one off with the bottom half of his shirt, set it in the middle of his dining table, and positioned the seed in the plate’s center.
Randy knew, in monumental moments like these, you didn’t blather every question that buoyed up. You collected your thoughts, made each word count.
If this Being possessed intelligence enough to talk, Randy might learn why they were here and from where they hailed. Considering the possibility of becoming an interspecies go-between, he grabbed a pen and paper from the junk drawer, situated them in front of the chair.
Still, he stayed standing.
His instincts told him he should talk to someone first.
His mother died years ago. His father called himself an “active retiree,” whatever that meant, which left his sister, Sheila.
The house phone hung on the wall between the kitchen and living room. As he reached for it, a question surfaced: What percentage of the world still used house phones? Who, in this day and age, didn’t own a cellular? Randy never had, never would. Perhaps that neglect allowed his communication with them? Everything happening at that moment felt unreal; bringing up that word, fate.
He got his great understanding of everything with no education, which meant no influence. Never having the platform to express his gifts led to him being a loner. Isolation created a lot of time to think—a training of his brain. Big thoughts caused alcohol consumption, a messed-up sleep pattern, leading to poverty. Poverty forced him to ride a bike, stay healthy.
Everything fit. It all made sense.
Snatching the phone, he dialed the Connecticut number.
Sheila loved him, not his theories. Besides, her normal nine-to-five soccer-mom thinking would prevent her from comprehending how the universe selected her younger brother. He’d stick with the facts.
Her husband Mike answered. Randy asked for Sheila. After a greeting, Mike said, “Pretty wild stuff, huh?”
Randy almost went into it with him. Instead, he kept it simple. “Sure is. You watch ‘em land?” He heard another receiver lift.
“You know it. Your chicken sister stayed in the garage all paranoid, but you know me. I went out there, spread my arms, and spun in a circle. Didn’t I babe?”
“He sure did,” she said with less annoyance than Randy would have.
“Not too bright, but the kids loved it. Who’s calling?”
“The Randinator,” Mike said. “See you, bud.”
One line went dead, taking tension with it.
When his sister spoke, her voice quivered with concern. “Is everything okay, Randall?”
It’s more than okay, he tried to say, but his mouth stayed tight. He had planned to get right into it. He had been downright amped to do so, but regardless of the effort, his words wouldn’t form, so he said, “Yep.” He then admired the floor, the empty sink, as he struggled to voice his experience.
“This is really something ain’t it,” he finally mustered. Perhaps he needed to push through small talk before breaking the big news about them speaking.
A long beat, “Yeah, it’s crazy up here. Me and the kids buried a few. We…” Another pause. “Josie cried.”
That’s really neat sis, but I talked with them, he wanted to shout. Instead, he said, “They’re so golden.”
Another lapse in sound.
Perhaps his subconscious wasn’t ready to tell her. Every time he tried to share, the thoughts scooted around his mind, as if that information were too slick to grab.
Calling Sheila was turning into a waste of time.
“I’ll call later,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you were all okay.”
She hesitated, “Sounds good. We don’t want to run up your bill.”
“I’ll try back tomorrow. Bye, Sheila.”
“I, I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Not only had that call been awkward, but he felt drained; like he’d been reading for an hour non-stop. They’d never had any long flowing talks, but…
“Randy.” From the seed.
He faced it.
It rested on the plate. The same size and shape, but somehow it seemed larger. It loomed.
“Please come sit, Randall. We have urgent things to discuss.”
Randall? Hearing the name paused him. No one besides Sheila ever called him that. He briefly wondered if it heard them speaking, or if it could read his thoughts?
His body tensed at the idea.
He attempted to reply using only his mind: Can you hear me?
Say yes and I’ll come sit down.
He released a pent-up breath. Aliens rooting around in his brain was the stuff of horror fiction.
“You want me to sit?” He asked aloud, and flinched as the boom of a shotgun rang out.
After a moment to collect himself, the answer surfaced: this was Texas.
“Yes, Randy. Please sit, but only if you are prepared for a revelation.”
A rev-e-lation? He stepped closer, but pivoted and retrieved another beer. He’d sip this one. This wasn’t going to be limited to some smart talk with an alien—it was going to be a revelation from another world. Gripping the beer fully allowed its cold to seep into his flesh. He cracked it, drank, and sat.
Once situated and relaxed, the seed spoke. “This may be very difficult, even for you to understand, Randy. Are you absolutely positive you want to hear my words? Once they are absorbed, they must be heeded, and cannot be retracted.”
“Of course I do.”
Another swig, followed by a wiping of the brow.
“We arrived on your planet at this exact time by design. We came in search of six special human beings. Six specific people who will shape the future of your civilization.”
Randy’s mouth salivated. He licked his lips, swallowed.
“My people possess no vocal cords. Yet we also communicate with vibrations, chaining them across the atoms that connect us. Our method is more strenuous, subtle, and personal. Randy, we have been transmitting you crucial information since your birth.”
These words rocked his foundation. They felt accurate beyond measure and explained all kinds of things. A third party might think them crazy, but he knew their truth. He had lived his life. That didn’t mean he’d pass on hearing their sweet truth one more time. “You have?”
“Of course, verily, I think you know. Every major tenet you live by has made you capable of absorbing our knowledge. Randy, I can and will unlock the dormant sections of your brain. Guidance will be yours as you develop understanding and abilities that no human has ever conceived. Only six of the thousands of selected subjects adhered to our encouraging and can now accept the gift we offer. These few people will use it for the betterment of your world, and through that, the universe.”
“There are other species out there?”
“Vast multitudes. Most feel, after a universal enhancement, humans will be ready to join. You alone will illuminate the suffering that accompanies uncertainty of purpose. It was imperative that we located you, and now that we have, we can thank the heavens we did so in time.”
“Yes, Randy. What you see before you is tantamount to a transmitter. It has a fleeting shelf life. I could lose my capabilities at any moment. That is why it is crucial we establish the connection now. This is, and always has been, your destiny.”
“Of course,” Randy said. Feeling giddy, he juiced that emotion by finishing his beer. “Just tell me what to do.”
As he rose, he envisioned himself with the power to raise up off the ground. He’d do so like in the movies, with his arms out to his side yet hanging limp. That would draw a crowd of people, and after he told them something mind-blowing, he’d use his powers to rocket off into the clouds.
He’d be giving a speech where an assassin would fire a round at him and he’d snatch the spinning bullet with his mind, shocking the world.
He’d heal sick people from his private jet, needing only the patient’s full name and address.
“You must ingest me.”
Wait a minute, what?
Randy set the new, unopened beer on the table, examined the seed.
“If I ingest you, I’ll die.”
“Not you, Randy. That beer does more than soothe. It has conditioned your liver and thinned your blood. The people who die ignore our pleas. They are foolish. We beg them not to ingest. Plead for them to assist us in locating the chosen, but they… yours is a difficult species.”
Randy knew that to be the truth. He opened the beer.
“Don’t be like them, Randy. Do not ignore our pleas. You have been chosen.”
Randy paced. His legs trembled with each step. He raked his fingers through his hair: swallow an alien lifeform and die, or swallow an alien lifeform and become a super-genius, bringing people toward an awesome future. If the seed spoke honest, there were only five others chosen in the world. Odds pointed to him being the only one found, perhaps as it should be?
“We hope to locate all six of you, but there is math to suggest we would find none,” the seed said. “We must go on the pretense that you are the sole participant. Our species will not be able to send another message pod for hundreds of millennia.”
“I don’t know,” Randy said softly, almost to himself. He upturned the beer and drank until the can echoed, then opened the fridge and found another. He needed more time.
“Randy.” He faced the seed, the alcohol splashing his brain.
“There isn’t much time. I feel myself evaporating.”
He cracked the new beer. Foam fizzled out its top. He sipped quickly to keep it from overflowing. “We got time,” he said quietly.
“We don’t. Listen. Do this. You’re not a sit-on-the-sidelines kind of man. At least pick me up. After that, you make the choice. Either follow your mind, heart, and soul, and save humanity, or flush me down the toilet and remain what you are, but you must choose. We are almost out of time.”
He would not swallow the seed. It was that simple.
But neither could he deny the truth of its words.
The beer kept him relaxed and thinking clearly as the two opposing logics warred.
“Randy Johnson. You pick me up and make a choice.”
Okay, fella. He snatched the vermin tight in his fist, drained another gulp on his way to the toilet.
“Follow the trail of your life,” the seed said. “And ask yourself; are you really just a failure? Or is it that you were wise enough to listen to the subliminally suggested regiment that mated biological and intellectual potential to form a peak specimen designed for greatness?”
“I can’t,” he flushed the toilet. He only needed to toss the seed into the swirling water.
“So you really believe you’re just some pathetic drunk?”
Randy went rigid, scoffed. One thing he knew: he was not pathetic, nor close to a drunk.
Popping the golden cube in his mouth, he chased it down with the last of his beer, draining it as the toilet ended its flush.
There was no way someone with his skills and super smarts could fail so grandly, unless a higher power made it that way.
His throat burned cold from the icy beer. He smacked his lips and checked the mirror. Hair a mess, a beard sticking every which way, but that moment brought clarity. He’d made the right choice. A shave and a haircut were in order, but despite his lack of accomplishments, he’d always been a leader.
Intending to phone his sister, he strolled into the kitchen. Before reaching the receiver, he decided to leave it there. You shared this news in person. Plus, someone should witness his upcoming change. He exited the back door, crossed his yard, and hopped the chain-link fence that separated his property from Leann’s.
A sensation from that seed, and the liquor, coursed through his body, confirming its promise.
“Miss Dean? Leann?” He called through her screen door. Without awaiting a reply, he let himself in. “Leann, it’s me, Randy.”
He found her on the couch in her blue sundress. Sitting up, but long gone. Her eyes bulged and were coated a milkly gray. A faint, offensive odor told him she had soiled herself. He plopped on the couch next to her.
Now who would witness his switch from man to super hero?
He shot her a dirty look. She must have been too damn arr-o-gant to accept her neighbor had been the chosen one.
She clutched a half-sheet of paper in her clammy, mottled hand.
Snatching it, he turned over the pizza delivery menu, found her note:
I have gone to see my Harold. It was
he who spoke to me as to how we could
I love all of my children and grandchildren.
Happily signing off,
Tired all of a sudden, feeling more drunk than usual, his hands dropped to his thighs.
Why would she write that?
He yawned, leaned his head back, resting it on the cloth. His eyes grew heavy. He needed a brief nap. Beer did that sometimes, made him sleepy
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