This is a short story I wrote this summer inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “August 2002: A night meeting” from the martian chronicles.
Michael peeled back the black tape on the dashboard on the car to reveal the orange blinking signal “check engine” he scoffed to himself, why am I not surprised. Michael’s father was putting his things in the trunk, Michael replaced the tape before his Dad took the passenger seat next to him. Michael thought to bring it up, but decided against it, “you excited?” he asked amicably. Michael’s father had been going through what the family at first thought was a run-of-the-mill mid-life crisis, but after 20 years of spontaneous trips, impulsive buys, and about three career changes; the family was pretty sure it was not just a phase.
“Am I excited?” Dad asked rhetorically, “that’s an interesting question” he paused pretending to think hard about the question, “well,” he finally continued, “how do you suppose Neil Armstrong felt getting on space rocket?” passionately declared, “how do you think Captain James Hook felt setting sail into the new world?” Michael nodded holding his scorn back. He found it most productive to just sit back when Dad works himself up as he often does when he starts his next venture.
“You know a lot of people out there are content with their sheltered and comfortable lives, sitting back and watching and reading about other people’s accomplishments and that is just fine,” he said those last words in a way that gave Michael the sense that dad didn’t really think that. “But this, this!” he repeated holding up his tickets, “this is the way to the future, this is for people who don’t want to read history, but make it.”
“I wonder how Amelia Earhart felt when she was getting on the plane” Michael mocked unable to help himself. Michael’s dad now faced him. Michael was driving, but looked over at his dad briefly and saw the look in his eyes. It reminded Michael of the family camping trips they used to go on when Michael was a kid. Dad had the same look in his eyes when they were pitching tents, and making fires, when Dad taught him to do bear-hangs and how to spot a good tenting area. That was before Casey’s soccer tournaments started taking weekends, and Michael dropped the boy scouts and started playing video games. Michael felt bad for a moment, he understood. He really did understand why his dad was doing this.
The awkward silence was interrupted by the GPS instructing, “turn left in 100 feet” the robotic voice said. “You know if use that thing too much you’re never going to learn how to drive yourself”
“I know how to drive, dad, I’m just not sure the best way to get there” Micheal called to mind the time they went on a family road trip and dad missed the turnoff, they were stuck on the side of the road for hours waiting for mom and dad studying paper maps and yelling at each other trying to figure out where they were.
That was years ago after Dad quit his job in accounting and decided to run a bike shop in a mountain town in Oregon, he sold the house and he and mom moved into a small apartment with the bike shop on the lower level. Michael’s sister Casey was already graduating college and had moved to new york to be a journalist, but Michael was still college when they moved and went on the road trip with them.
“Turn right on Houston road” Michael made a right turn, but a few yards into the drive, Micheal’s headlights illuminated a big orange sign, “roach closure, take detour” Micheal’s Dad nodded and sternly asserted, “you see this is what happens when you follow GPS, you end up spending twice as much time turning around because the dammed thing took you someplace you weren’t supposed to be” he promptly stated like he knew this would happen. Micheal began to reverse the car and go back, “it’s the fine dad they just haven’t updated the data, it’ll reroute us once we get back on the main road. Dad harrumphed in his seat, Micheal ignored his dad’s righteousness.
They got back on the main road, but the navigation tool wasn’t rerouting, they had taken a back road to avoid traffic and they were out of range. “Hows this navigation going for you now Mr. I-know-how-to-drive” his dad teased in a playful way, but Michael resented the enjoyment his dad was getting of it. Micheal sat quiet, it had been a long time since he traveled these roads but he was pretty sure he knew where to go. He decided not to backtrack but to go up the road along the mountain ridge that separates the suburbs from the ocean. It was dark now but the fog still hung in the mountains when it had already burned off down below.
Micheal loved these roads, sometimes he would secretly take them home from work adding an extra 30 minutes to his daily commute just because the open road gave him a sense of freedom and makes him feel alive. Driving 60 mph through winding roads surrounded by a canopy of lush redwoods.
“Woah there not so fast around these turns, we won’t get there any faster if we’re dead” Micheal almost forgot that his dad was sitting next to him. That’s when Michael noticed that the fuel gauge was near empty. How could that be possible it was almost full when we started. “Dad, is your car leaking?” Dad was studying his maps he looked over “hmm, oh that, yes the fuel gauge is broken. It only tells you when you’re at empty” Micheal couldn’t hold his frustration, “Are you kidding me? When’s the last time you got this car checked out?”
Dad was startled by Micheals sudden outburst of frustration, “I can’t remember” dad replied innocently. “Of course you don’t, why would you?” everything began spilling out of Michael and he couldn’t help himself, he wasn’t even thinking about what he was saying “when’s the last time you took care of anything that matters in our house” Micheal noticed he said our house even though he hadn’t lived with his parents for years. “You’re too busy planning your trips and going out every night and leaving it to the rest of us to take care of the house, the bank accounts, and all the things you’d rather not think about while you find new ways to top your next extravagant experience” Micheals Dad sat stunned, and then calmly folded his map brewing his next words carefully. Micheal was boiling with rage and hated the way his father patronizingly established his control over the conversation.
“Now Michael,” he said sternly, “before you go criticizing me for my choices ill have you know that there’s a lot you don’t know that happens. I do take care of the house, and the expenses you may not see me do it because when I’m with you I’d rather talk about things that worthwhile with my son” Micheal felt a bit guilty, “and as for your mother. I welcomed her to come on this trip, on all my trips, I beg her, but your mother just isn’t interested in doing new things like I am, so I go on these trips alone.” Micheal knew this to be true, his mom had lost a bit of her sense of adventure, but Micheal always figured that was a product of his dad’s failure to include her. It hadn’t dawned on him that his mom was more interested in her quaint life at home. “I’ll fix the car in time, but I would rather spend the money on new things, and it works just fine besides I saw a sign for a gas station a few miles back, we should be fine”
Micheal drove ahead, a bit embarrassed. Micheal felt a relaxing feeling again and he loosened the grip of the wheel which he realized he was clenching to so tightly that his knuckles were sore. The darkness and fog made the road ahead of them seem infinite. They had been driving for a long time without seeing another car. Micheal slowed down a bit as they passed through a low layer of fog.
Micheal pulled over to an unnamed gas station at the top of the road. There was a small run-down convenience store that was closed. Micheal’s Dad hopped out of the car, “gotta take a leak” Micheal watched as his dad head towards an unmarked trail to elevate himself. Micheal began filling up the car with gas when he heard something in the bushes beside the opposite to where his dad left. Micheal looked over his shoulder, it sounded loud whatever it was, but Michael didn’t see anything. He returned to the gas pump, which was old and pumped slowly.
Again Micheal heard the loud noise, he looked over his shoulder and this time he could vaguely make out the outline of some enormous creature, unlike anything Michael could have ever seen. It was the size of a horse, but much more elegant,each of its limbs or which it had may moved like samurai swords. As the creature approached Michael it moved as if floating propelled by some invisible force. With his black eyes, the being peered down at Michael as if looking into a well.
“Hello” Michael looked around, but to his astonishment these words seemed to be coming from the creature himself. Michael unsure of himself, but not without manners replied, “Hello”
Michael’s confusement seemed duplicated by the creature in front of him, Michael looked more carefully and noticed his large horse-like muscles, and the skin was shiny, scale-like, and sparkled like diamonds catching the light. When he inhaled Michael could hear his entire chest expanding, a deep reverberation that even shook Michael.
The creature looked at him with seemingly equal bafflement, “you’ll have to pardon me, I’m a bit tired you see. I was up all night doing– well actually my first daughter was just born”
“I’m Ned by the way” Ned said, he had been looking down at the ground while he spoke but now he examined Michael. Michael suddenly felt self-conscious, “Michael” he said clumsily, he wasn’t sure whether to reach out his hand. He wasn’t sure if Need necessarily had hands.
“Say what brings you to our neighborhood” Ned questioned michael could detect slight tone of suspicious, michael glazed down the street and only saw lush forests. Hardly a neighborhood he thought to himself. “I just…” Michael began forgetting for a moment what exactly brought him where he found himself, “my dad” Michael collected his thoughts, “I am taking my Dad to the airport, he’s going on a trip. A trip to the new planet”
“Ahhh the new planet, right. They’re always finding new ones out there. You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve nearly lost track. There seems to be a new one everyday”
“Yeah sure seems that way” Micheal felt more comfortable than ever thought he would feel talking to an alien.
“I remember when I first left my birth planet. It was a while ago, before I met the mother of my child.” I haven’t been to many, but from the ones i’ve seen I like this one best. It’s so new. So full of possibilities. And such fascinating inhabitants too. You know I heard somewhere that this used to be a water-planet” Michael was silent, “that’s right, almost all of the plant’s surface was oceans and seas. Incredible”
Micheal looked around at the cathedral of Redwoods around him, forming a canopy surrounding him, filling the air with the smell of time and salty seas. And above the canopy Michael could see stars which most of time felt distinant, but at that moment felt close as if painted onto a ceiling that michael could reach out and touch.
“Where are you from?” Michael realized then that maybe he should be asking his new friend when rather than where. What a crazy thought.
“Oh my birth planet was beautiful, and I have many fond memories, but the more I travel, earth man, the more I realize that the exact location where your parent sprouts you into existence is nothing more than throwing a stone into the water. Where the stone happens to fall changes about the velocity of the ripple nor the sound it makes as it drops. We’re here now, you and I. I’m alive. You’re alive. The air I breathe now was breathed by trees that lived here thousands of years ago, and the limbs I have now will soon become part of this place I was not born. As is life, earth man”
Micheal nodded in agreement, the two earthings thought in silence in solitary. Suddenly, Micheal remembered the pump that he had left. He abruptly turned back to see the pump, realizing his panic was whether the pump was still even there. Michael turned back and for a moment he couldn’t see Ned, but there he was. Michael noticed now that his skin wasn’t sparkly but rather reflective of the stars above, a whole kaleidoscope inside his purply, navy body. He was beautiful.
“Well, I really should be getting back, no use talking the ear off of a stranger when my girl is experiencing the world for the first time” Ned said cordially.
“Yes, well, congratulations” Michael replied, “nice to meet you” and Michael really meant it.
“Good luck on your journey, Micheal, safe travels” Michael turned away a little sad. He wanted to look back as he walked back to the car, but didn’t want to admit he was afraid that there may not be anything when he looked back.
What a strange dream that was, Michael thought to himself.
What a weird meeting thought Ned.
When he got back to the car, his Dad was already in the passenger seat. “You know you’re really going to like your trip,” said Micheal. Dad nodded and smiled, and they drove off into the darkness, unafraid.