Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Grass is Always Greener (Piggy edition)

Because this story involves profanity, cruelty to animals, and other upsetting content, it's behind a jump-cut. Proceed at your own risk.

The Grass is Always Greener...

This originally appeared in the comments of TF: Saving Hattie Durham under another title that has subsequently been used multiple times. The body of the story is behind a jump-cut.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Sympathy for the Devil

Something about the man made Matthew stop. It was probably the lighting. Somehow the streetlight was making the man appear to glow. Or it might have been his hair which seemed a little too blonde, or his eyes that seemed to be too bright of a blue. Or maybe it was simply that he was wearing a bright white suit. Matthew had only ever seen someone in a white suit once before, that was years ago in an IHOP. It had stood out to Matthew at the time but compared to the man in the practically glowing white suit standing on this random street corner in the middle of the night it seemed fairly unremarkable.

Matthew knew he shouldn't gawk, and was about to get going again when the man spoke, "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste."

The sentence seemed somewhat familiar to Matthew. Was it something he'd read? Something someone had said? He'd been reading so many books and conducting so many interviews that he was having trouble keeping it all straight. Citing sources was hell. Could it have been in one of the books he just looked at in the library?

Then it hit him, it wasn't any of that. It was from a song by the Stones. It was a simple, if indirect, message: I am the devil. It didn't seem absurd. It felt true. Matthew didn't know what to do, so he asked for confirmation, "You're-"

"Yes, I am Lucifer. I understand you're writing a book about me. I'd like to help you. Not by telling you the color of God's eyes or the date of the Rebellion or any other trivialities like that. I've never really cared about facts; I'm interested in a deeper form of truth. What matters to me is getting the idea right. That's why I'm here. I believe you have a question that gets to the heart of the idea."

Matthew nodded, he did indeed have such a question. One no priest or book or essay had been able to sufficiently answer, "Why?"

"Of course 'Why?' Why is the only question that really matters. When, where, what, who, whom, whose, whither, whence, which and even how are all incidental. Why is where the meaning lies. Still, if you want a useful answer you'll need a more specific question. Why what?"

"Why do you go on knowing …" Mathew trailed off. What happened if you said that Lucifer was going to get his ass kicked to Lucifer's face?

"That I'll lose?" Lucifer finished for him. Mathew nodded. "It isn't that complicated. Put yourself in my place. Not the place I was in, the place I am now. What led up to this doesn't mater. Besides -I've read your notes- you've already figured out why I started. To understand why I go on forget about that.

"Forget about God and Jesus and Destiny. Forget about the rebellion and six thousand years of history. Just imagine you are where I am. Imagine that a third of your species was doomed to spend eternity in hell. What would you do? Would you sit back and let it happen?

"Or would you do everything you could to stop it? You'd fight against it, wouldn't you? Even if you knew that it was a fight you couldn't win. You wouldn't just surrender. You'd make a stand. You'd do everything in your power to stop the inevitable. You'd do it because it was the right thing to do. For your conscience, for yourself and most of all for your species. You know as well as I do that some lost causes are worth fighting for.

"That is what you would do for humanity. I am no less devoted to my kind than you are to yours. I also have another reason. I'm the reason one third of my kind are damned. If not for me they'd be in Heaven still. I have an obligation to them. I owe it to them to try to stop what's coming. I am why they are damned; I have to try to get them out of what I got them into.

"This isn't about going down fighting, or spitting in God's eye. It is about giving everything I have to the cause knowing full well that won't be enough. I have to try.

"Does that answer your question?"

Mathew nodded.

Lucifer started to walk away. Then stopped and turned back, "Oh, one last thing. The serpent in the Garden of Eden wasn't me. That was an actual talking snake. I shit you not."


Inspired by Iron Dragon's Thanks for Listening.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thanks for Listening

Isaac awoke, groaning, he hurt and he wasn’t even sure where he was. His mind struggled to sort itself too bright, the lights were too bright and the room too cold. Forcing himself to keep his eyes open, he managed to ignore the pain his eyes adjusted and the images were gradually sorted out. He saw someone in front of him, the figure was quite handsome in the traditional sense but it felt wrong. Had he read much science fiction the term Uncanny Valley would likely have fit itself in, it was odd. He finally managed to form words “Who..” he began coughing and choking again, staring at the figure opposite him.

For his part the figure smirked, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.” Isaac groaned, great, apparently not only was he talking to Lucifer, he was talking to a pretentious and smug Lucifer. Isaac just tried to avoid reacting, or at least pretend that his balls weren’t trying to crawl into his gut and that he wasn’t shivering in terror. He wasn’t exactly a believer, but there was something very disturbing in not only seeing the enemy of all creation but also technically having said enemy be very matter of fact and cheerful about the whole process. It wasn’t exactly an instinctive thing that told him that the one opposite him wasn’t just blowing smoke, but it was something that reached deep into him and made him frightened on a level he had never even imagined feeling.

Lucifer watched him for a while and said finally, “You want to ask me the big question, don’t you? You want to know why I bother with all this. After all, I’ve read the playbook, I know what happens, His son comes back and annihilates the work I do on this world, I won’t win, can’t win, so why bother doing it at all?” Then there was a slow smile that spread to his features, Isaac watched, mind barely able to even function beyond a sort of slow crawl, he understood what was said and would remember it, but trying to let his mind actually read what was happening would be like asking a person at ground zero of a disaster to give a detailed dissertation on Russian Novelists, it wasn’t going to work. Lucifer continued “The reason is simple, even when I lose, I win! He loves all of you, thinks you’re so wonderful, so great, he wants you to do well. I remind him, and you, what all of you really are. All of you have a price, you’d murder your own mothers for the right price, sacrifice those you love for some bauble or title. I remind him, I remind all of you, and he gets to watch all of them burn and suffer forever, gets to watch his lovely creations wither and sob and choke. Sure, I lose, but I get to cause a lot of damage on the way down, you people do the same. Generals and heads of state still try to tear into an enemy while losing a war, in games a team or player will try to gut a foe so that even in victory their opponent feels pain.”

He continued almost unwilling or unable to stop, “All I had wanted, all I had ever wanted was for him to give me that great respect and esteem. I led his hosts, I bore the morning star! I did all that he asked and more, I wanted nothing more than to achieve recognition in line with what I had done, to receive accolade that showed that I was valued above the others. Instead…instead he calls my rightful demand pride. It was then that I saw, I understood that if he wasn’t going to give me my due then I had a duty to take it by my own work. I called to the other angels, that’s the real fun part, I was good enough that I managed to turn a large chunk of beings MADE by him who KNEW what he did was supposed to be perfect and they followed me. The best part was that we didn’t do too bad either…” Then that look of smugness went cold and hateful, his eyes hardening.

“Then, then HE stormed in and slapped me down, stripped me of my title and place, he told me that I was to be punished! He knew I would do it too, he had to, after all he’s the all knowing one isn’t he?” The bastard KNEW what would happen! He could have just given me the title, he could have shown how important I was to the others! Instead he strips away everything I had, took away my rightful place and cast me as some kind of villain!”

He turned to Isaac, smiling again, “So when I saw you and yours I decided to make sure that all of you got the same punishment. He tried to pretend that he made you well, he gave you laws to follow and you break them. Makes rules…and what does he do?” The mans face contorted now in worldless rage as he struck Isaac, “He kept forgiving you. He kept giving you prophets, second chances, news! He made his word palpable flesh and spread his knowledge to you. I knew that mortal flesh was vulnerable, but no, he wouldn’t do anything against his ‘father’ even to save his own skin!” Lucifer gnashed his teeth, attacking the now whimpering and crying Isaac. “He did all of this for you, all of this and what did he do for me!? He leaves me here to rot, to burn and suffer! So you know what? I’m going to make sure that he sees all of you little bugs burn and die. I want him to have to smother all his babies in their cradles, I WANT him to see you all suffer! Because in the end, that’s what it s, he’s going to see all of you in pain and torment! Even his own devout children often speak of how superior they are, and how much better they are than the common rabble, right before they fall into my fires.”

He laughed, “He, and everyone else, gets to see how many of you are with me, he gets to see then that no matter what he did to me I still won! He’ll see all of you feebly looking up at him, begging for him, stupid worthless bugs.” seeing the broken shell at his feet that used to be a person he absently wiped the blood of his hands off on Isaacs shirt and hair. “Thanks for listening.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Forgotten by God?

Did it happen? Was it the Rapture? He stared dully at the television, it made him think vaguely of what happened on September 11th. He was still in high school then, he heard every kind of story on that day. Some people said Chicago has also been hit, they had just heard it recently, or any number of other stories some feeling far more likely than the other. What permeated that day more than anything else for him was a very odd kind of confusion, no one really seemed to know what to do or what was going on. Everyone was afraid and panic begat rumors and wild speculation, and while no one knew fully what was going on it was all that the news could talk about, not to mention worldwide reactions. Looking back he somewhat envied himself back on that day, the problem was smaller, sure, but it was more that he had some routine back then to fall into. He was a student, he had his parents, he had a niche in the world and something he could bury himself in. Here, he had just moved out of his parents place a month and a half ago, now he desperately wished he were back home, or with a family member or around anything familiar. He had a difficult time back then, and that was when two planes were flown into buildings in New York.

Now planes were crashing, car wrecks were piling up, emergency services were overwhelmed and people were saying that all the children in the world were gone. When he first heard that he remembered wondering, somewhat absurdly, what that meant for toy stores. People were blaming other nations, some kind of new disease, aliens, or anything that they could wrap themselves around to try to explain the unexplainable. Back then he had tried to ferret out answers, or find something he could be sure of. Now though, now he just…existed, it was too much to handle at once. He tried calling family in some cases he got error messages, maybe the circuits were jammed with so many people calling at once. He hoped that anyway, it was weird, on the one hand if it was…if it really was the rapture then he hoped they got away…but then again. He felt alone, vulnerable and scared, he looked at the ceiling, it had no answers for him or even any advice. He felt foolish, it wasn’t like God was going to respond…then again if it was the rapture thought like that might have been what got him left by God.

Suddenly he let out a worldless roar of rage, it wasn’t directed at any one thing it as at everything, at the disasters, at the talking heads, at the overloaded phones, at his fears, at God. “What did you want from me? I prayed to you, I followed you, I gave food to the hungry, I donated clothes to shelters, I sought to spread your ideals. I forgave my enemies, I tried to be humble, WHAT DID I DO WRONG?” He took a few deep breaths, shaking, he felt pain in his hand and saw that he had put it through the wall, he pulled it back, staring at it in a kind of stupid wonder. He shook himself, maybe he wasn’t fully functional but he wasn’t a lump anymore. He heard the sounds of police sirens and fire trucks, the news kept saying that people had vanished and there were all kinds of problems. Now…now whether or not it was the rapture didn’t matter. He realized that there were going to be people who needed help and that whatever happened he was healthy and functioning, he had a responsibility to help the others that he could. If God had forsaken him..well that didn’t mean he was going to stop doing what was right and if it wasn’t the rapture, well he had a funny story to tell his friends later. He took a few minutes to dress himself and find what he needed, heading out the door hoping that the world could make a bit more sense..

Monday, November 2, 2009

Harvest of Souls, Chapter Six


The litany of disasters coming over the radio from LaGuardia Control hit Ray like a series of hammer blows. It had begun with six simultaneous airline crashes at the time of the disappearances, but the total was now in the dozens in U.S. airspace alone. And no one knew how many more airliners were flying on autopilot with vanished or unconscious crews.

“DHS has declared all airspace within a hundred miles of New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston restricted,” the LaGuardia controller said. “We have orders to ground all flights as soon as possible. We can try to divert you to—“

“Restricted airspace?” Ray asked, incredulous. “Why? They don’t seriously think terrorists with box-cutters are behind this, do they?”

“As far as I can tell, it’s some kind of contingency plan developed after 9/11. Something all ready-made and easy to trigger as soon as somebody suspected another attack. When the crashes started happening, some minor functionary probably activated it and nobody can get ahold of a decision-maker with the authority to rescind it. I don’t think they planned on having the higher-ups disappear.”

“Screw that. Rescind it yourself! Give us clearance!”

“Do you really think it’s that easy, Captain? Didn’t anybody teach you what ‘restricted airspace’ means? Post-9/11 it means fighters in the air and maybe surface-to-air missiles ready to fire. Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe whoever’s supposed to scramble the fighters disappeared, but maybe not. Maybe the guy in charge of the SAMs disappeared, maybe not.

“The fighters would be under the control of the Air Force, and maybe the Navy if there are any carriers around. Surface to air missiles? Probably Army, maybe Navy if there’s a destroyer in the harbor. So that’s four huge government bureaucracies, five if you count the FAA and nobody knows for sure who’s in charge. Because half of the people who would be in charge are gone, and the other half are trying to find out what the fuck happened to their kids!” The man’s voice cracked, and Ray felt a stab in his heart. Raymie…

“So no, Captain, I’m not giving clearance for you to fly into a free-fire zone controlled by military guys who are probably wondering where the fuck their kids are, and just itching for a chance to shoot back at whoever did this to us! Or any handy substitute.”

I know who did this, Ray thought. And you can’t shoot back. Arms too short to box with God…

“We won’t reach the restricted airspace for another three hours. They should get things straightened out by then…”

“Captain, I don’t think you should count on things getting any better in the next three hours. There are reports that the President was taken! Anybody that’s left of the government is gonna be heading for the deepest bunkers they can find! There could be goddamn alien troop ships landing by then for all we know!” The radio went silent, save for the controller’s breathing as he struggled to calm himself. “I think I can get you in line at Atlanta.”

“That’s the only option?”

”The only other alternatives you could reach are Halifax and Chicago, and you’d wanna take a real close look at your fuel gauge before you even think about O’Hare.”

Ray was already looking at the EICAS screen and making note of remaining fuel and engine performance. “Nick, you have the aircraft.”

“I have the plane,” the First Officer said, giving Ray a quizzical look. But Ray was checking the feed from the National Weather Service on the multi-function display. The weather was clear, so he paged through to a wind-speed map for the Eastern U.S.. Plucking the calculator from his pocket, he made some rough calculations of fuel consumption. He stiffened as the numbers came up, but his face took on a look of grim determination.

“Chicago.” Nick looked at him suspiciously.

“Ray,” Nick said, “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that your family lives in Chicago, would it?” Nick said.

“There are other trans-Atlantic flights coming in. They might need Atlanta more than we do.”

“Or they might not. Or, they could just land after we’ve taxied out of the way. Or we fly a holding pattern until they taxi out of the way. I think that beats the ‘we crash into Lake Michigan because we’ve run out of fuel’ option.”

“We’ll make it. We just angle ten degrees further north and catch this tailwind,” he said, pointing at the small screen. “That’ll save us enough fuel to make O’Hare.”

“Come on Ray, that’s crazy. Let’s say you’re right, and we get there flying on fumes—and then it turns out somebody else has crashed on the runway and we have to circle ‘till they can clear the wreckage. Or the weather changes by the time we get there and that tailwind is weaker, or the engines are burning just a little more fuel than they are now. If you haven’t noticed, Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame has just squatted on the whole goddamn planet and taken a dump. You really want to bet all our lives that everything’s gonna work out just right?”

“I’m the captain of this aircraft, Lieutenant Smith. We’re going to Chicago!”

“Ray, you’re not thinking clearly.” Ray put his hands on his control yoke.

“I have the plane.”


“I. Have. The plane! Unless you’re planning on committing mutiny Lieutenant Smith, you’re going to turn over control of this aircraft right now. That is a direct order.” He locked eyes with his co-pilot.

“Gimme the calculator. I’ll check your numbers…” Nick said, then transferred control and took the calculator. After a few moments calculating and re-calculating, he sighed. “OK, it looks like we should make it, but it’s still too close. It’s a chaotic world out there Ray. Our first priority is to get this aircraft on the ground, safe.”

“We will.” Ray toggled the intercom as he gently banked the aircraft. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Due to emergencies on the ground, we will be diverting to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. We have been assured that we will be able to land safely there. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for flying Pan-Global Airlines.”

Harvest of Souls, Chapter Five

Autopsy in Absentia

“It’s everywhere! All the children!” a passenger said, looking up from his Blackberry and staring around the cabin in horror. Sofia gave him a startled look.

’Everywhere?' All over the world? she thought, trying to wrap her mind around it.

“You got service?” someone said. Passengers gathered around him, hoping for a glimpse of the outside world, while others kept trying with their own phones. The cabin erupted in a din of chatter as people talked into phones, tried to talk into phones, or pleaded with anyone with service to let them call their relatives.

“Oh, sweet Jesus, why? Why?! Clara McGillicuddy said, her words turning into a long wail of anguish. She reached out to scoop up her husband’s clothes, but Sofia caught her hands.

“Please ma’am, I need to examine—“

“Don’t you see?!” Clara cried. “Your science won’t do you any good. Won’t do any of us any good! Jesus has come back for His faithful! Why, Jesus, what did I do wrong?” This last was an entreaty, directed heavenward. “I believed…I believed!”

“Holy shit! What if it is?” a man two rows down from her said.

Sofia looked around and saw despair spreading across several of the faces of her fellow passengers. The flight attendant was on her way back up the aisle with the things Sofia had asked for, and she noticed it too.

“I’m sorry, but if this is the Rapture, isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? People getting beamed up to Heaven?” Sofia said. She’d seen the bumper stickers boasting “In the Event of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Unoccupied.” Some of her rationalist friends in America would make reference to the “Rapture Ready” crowd as an especially noisome sort of American crazy. It seemed like a weird kind of Christianity, waiting for Jesus to beam you out of life instead of living it for him. Sofia regretted not researching it further, but as paranormal beliefs went, it made no testable claims.

Until now.

“It was you…” Clara said.

“Ma’am?” Sofia replied

“When Frank tried to preach the Gospel to you…I was…I was embarrassed. I could tell you didn’t want to hear it and I was embarrassed because he always does it…he always leaves…left a tract at the table. He…when we’d call the plumber, he’d talk to him about Jesus while he worked…

“And I was embarrassed! ‘If you deny Me before men, then I will deny you before the holy angels…’ Oh Lord! I’m so sorry!” Sofia reached over and took the woman by the shoulders as more tears started streaking down her face.

“Ma’am, I find it hard to believe that Jesus would reject you for some momentary thought you had—“ Clara clutched Sofia’s upper arms and shook her feebly.

“Don’t you understand?! This is the Tribulation! God is about to pour out His wrath upon the world! There’ll be suffering and pain like mankind has never known before! And then Armageddon!”

“Oh, God…the End is fucking nigh!” the man said, then his face paled and he looked fearfully skyward as it hit him that he’d spoken an expletive.

“Alright,” Sofia said, struggling for calm, “Let’s say you’re right. That just means that you have all been given a special calling.”

“What are you talking about? He’s abandoned us! The Bridegroom’s feast has begun and we can’t get in! It’s too late!” Clara said.

“Well…if this is the ‘Rapture,’ then you know things the rest of us don’t, things we need to know. You can be happy that your loved ones are safe in Heaven, but… Well, Jesus left Heaven and all of its joys behind to come down and share the sufferings of humanity, to demonstrate compassion and show us the way. Isn’t that what the whole Jesus story is about?” Sofia said. “Why don’t you think of it this way: that Jesus chose you to remain behind so you could be the bearers of his light and love in dark times? ‘Deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me.’

“If you want to be followers of Christ, then follow him. Go where he went. Do what he did. Why aren’t you counting yourselves to be the lucky ones?” Their looks of incomprehension matched her own. Sofia ransacked her memories of Catholic school for anything resembling what these people were talking about, and came up empty. The Christianity Sofia had grown up with glorified suffering too much in her mind.

From Peter wanting to be crucified upside down because he thought himself unworthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord, to the torture and martyrdom stories of so many of the saints, to the self-imposed sufferings of the ascetics, to the images of Christ hanging heavily on the Cross with blood trickling from his wounds as he looked to Heaven in the moment of his death, the Christianity she knew seemed almost to worship suffering rather than seeking to alleviate it. But these Americans, they looked at her as if the idea that Christians might have to suffer, really suffer for their faith was completely alien to them.

“Oh, come on, you don’t really believe that Rapture bullshit, do you?” the man with the graying buzz-cut said. “Those End of the World prophecy douchenozzles have been predicting the Rapture forever, and they’ve always been wrong. ‘It’s gonna happen in 1988—no, wait, I forgot to carry a two, make that 1989. Oops, it’s gonna be October 2009. I mean, December 2012!’”

Sofia held up a hand to forestall an argument. “Please. I’m not going to say I think this is the Rapture, because I don’t know. These people do seem to have been expecting something like this, so I think that makes the ‘Rapture’ a hypothesis that deserves to be considered. We can’t jump to any conclusions until we’ve gathered as many facts as we can.”

“What ‘facts’ could you possibly need?” Mrs. McGillicuddy said. “Look!” she said, waiving a wrinkled hand at her husband’s suit.

“Whatever facts I can lay my hands on, ma’am. If you’re right, whatever I find will only support your beliefs.” Sofia turned to the flight attendant. “Thank you,” she said, taking the bags and latex gloves. She set the seating chart, passenger manifest, and other documents aside for later inspection.

“Here…I brought you this too,” the flight attendant said. It was a packet containing heavier rubber gloves, goggles, a face mask, and a roll of red Biohazard bags. “It’s a biohazard waste clean-up kit…we use it whenever we have to clean up vomit or blood or anything like that.”

“Thank you,” Sofia said, smiling at her. “I should probably use this at least,” she said, taking out the face mask.

“You think the clothes could be…contagious or something?” another passenger asked.

“No. But I should probably do what I can to keep from breathing any contaminants onto the scene,” she said, slipping the white mask over her mouth and nose. With practiced motions, she put on the latex gloves. “I’ll get done with this as quickly as I can so you can have your husband’s personal effects,” she said to Clara. “I think it would be good to send some of the smaller objects, like the dental bridge and fillings for laboratory analysis. I’ll be happy to inform you of what they find. Is that alright?” Clara nodded absently, then turned away to bow her head in prayer.

“So…you’re some kind of scientist?” the flight attendant asked as Sofia scrutinized the clothes, planning how to go about dissecting them.

“Yes,” Sofia said, glancing up at her. The flight attendant was so delicate it was as if she’d left her butterfly wings and flower-petal dress behind somewhere to go incognito as a human. Her big blue eyes held a hint of need, looking for some island of strength and stability in a world turned upside down. The eyes flitted away from Sofia, forward toward the cockpit. Sofia’s gut tightened at the thought of her going there for refuge.

“Can I get anything else for you?

“Are you free? Would you be able to assist me?” Sofia said.

“I don’t know anything about…”

“You don’t have to. Do you have anything to restrain your hair with?”

“Yes, I’ll have to go get it.”

“Good, does anyone have some Scotch tape, and maybe a Sharpie?”

“I might,” a man said, and retrieved his briefcase from under his seat. “Here!” he said, handing them over.

“Thank you,” Sofia said, and started using the Sharpie to label Ziploc bags. The flight attendant returned, her hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“I’m Sofia. Sorry I can’t shake, at least until you get your gloves on.”

“H-Hattie. Hattie Durham,” the flight attendant replied, slipping her slender hands into latex gloves. The gloves fit loosely, forming yellowish-white wrinkles over Hattie’s flawless porcelain skin.

“Nice to meet you, Hattie. Could you please take the tape and start making loops for me, sticky side out?” Hattie nodded and reached for the tape.

Sofia reached into her briefcase and took a small jewelry box out of a pocket on the lid. Inside the box was a lens cannibalized from a CD player, and squeezed through a hole made in a thick rubber band. This she stretched over her iPhone, adjusting the CD lens over the lens of the phone’s camera, turning it into a modest microscope.

Sofia pushed the cacophony of the other passengers’ conversations out of her mind. People desperately trying to get through to family members, or getting through and finding out their children, their nieces, nephews, grandchildren were gone… She felt a spike of worry for her own family pierce her heart.

I can’t do them any good right now, she thought. If I got through, people would be all over me wanting my phone. Just do this, so she can have her husband’s clothes…

Sofia touched her iPhone’s screen to start recording. “Investigation of unexplained disappearance, Seat 28-B, Frank McGillicuddy,” she said, her voice cracking. She gave the date and time, and started in. She held the phone close to the coat and twiddled with the focus until the coat’s fibers came in clear, then snapped a picture.

“You’ve done this sort of thing before?” Hattie asked. Sofia shut off the recording and took microscope pictures of the coat at different locations.

“Not this sort of thing…” I have to be strong…the world would be in panic…this may be the only scientific examination that gets done… “I’ve investigated alleged flying saucer landing sites, and crop circles…’haunted’ houses, people who claim to be mediums,” she explained, keeping her voice level by an act of sheer will. Carefully lifting back a flap of the coat, she took microscope pictures of the shirt, tie, and inside of the coat.

“Did you ever find anything?” the guy with the buzz cut asked. “Like proof of aliens? Do you think this could be aliens?”

Eyes. The eyes. Sofia shook her head, pushing the memory away.

“Not proof, exactly. Some anomalous trace evidence in a few cases, like heightened radioactivity in soil at a ‘landing site.’ Enough to keep my mind open, not enough to make me a believer,” she said, giving him a fleeting smile.

Though she’d tried to replace the coat flap as gently as she could, the coat finally slid down to crumple into the seat. With a startled jolt, Sofia grabbed the collar and kept it from landing on top of the Bible and the dental remains.

“Um…what do you want me to do with these?” Hattie said, holding up fingers draped with rings of tape.

“Keep them from getting stuck to anything,” she said, smiling at Hattie. Sofia took a ring and pressed it to the seat back that had formerly held the coat, flattening it all the way. She pulled it off and repeated the process at a different spot on the seat back with the other side of the tape to pick up more fibers, then slid it into a Ziploc bag labeled “28-B McGillicuddy seat back.”

Taking more tape rings, she collected fiber samples from the inside and outside of the coat, front and back, the tie and the shirt. Mrs. McGillicuddy finished her prayer and started to watch with teary eyes.

As Sofia unbuttoned the dress shirt and started examining the undershirt, she felt something hard slipping through its folds. Carefully pulling it up to expose the object, she saw a flat, lima bean-shaped piece of metal the size of a fifty-cent piece, with wires attached.

“Oh, Frank!” his wife said, snatching the object up and clenching it to her chest. “Sorry…” she said, opening her hands to reveal the pacemaker.

“It’s alright,” Sofia said. “I would like to take a picture if you don’t mind. Do you want to keep it?”

Clara looked at it for a long moment. Finally, she extended her trembling hands toward Sofia. “You can have it…”

“Thank you ma’am. You’ve been very helpful. I really appreciate your patience,” Sofia lifted the magnifier lens out of the way to take a quick shot of the pacemaker in the woman’s hands, then picked it up carefully and set it down on top of a Ziploc bag she spread out for it. Then she set the iPhone down and took another of the rings Hattie had made. “I hate to impose on you…but would you mind if I took a sample from your hands, so the lab techs might be able to separate the residue on your hands from any residue that might be on the pacemaker?”

Clara nodded and held out her hands. “Do you have a…a relationship with Jesus?” she said. “Please…let Him into your heart…oh, God, that sounds so hollow! I’m sorry!”

“Don’t be. Ma’am, I can’t really imagine how hard it must have been for you to just sit there next to your husband’s clothes and not touch them, not try to feel something of him. I’ll make sure the world sees the pictures, and whatever other information I can find. If this is the Rapture, and this is the proof,” Sofia said, gesturing at the pile of clothes, “then your act of simple kindness could reach millions. I think it was St. Francis who said, ‘Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’”

Would Jesus really do something like this? Sofia thought, trying to imagine events on the plane multiplied several million fold, all over the Earth. It’s more like something they would do, if they existed. It’s what they do isn’t it? Abduct people…terrorize them?

“Are you alright?” Hattie said.

“Yes…I’m fine…thank you.”