February 2008 Volume Two Issue Two
Distant Destinations - Michael McNichols
Linwood stared out his window at the stars scattered across the night sky and wondered if any of them were his dead wife's soul.
Shuffling back into his living room, he gazed around. Pictures of Apollyanna hung from the walls, her favorite perfume blanketed the air, and her most expensive blue dress sat nestled on the sofa. In his hands, he played with the small silver sun she used to wear on a chain around her neck. Her parents had given it to her when she was younger.
The doorbell chimed and Linwood tucked the talisman back into his pocket. He crossed over to his door and opened it with his palm print.
"Come right in, Mister Nova," he said and his visitor wandered past him into the living room, looking it over.
The man's smooth blue skin shone radiantly. He had tied his long black hair back into a ponytail, revealing a taut face with silvery-blue eyes. Though he only rose up to Linwood's chest, he still filled out a purple coat and trousers.
In contrast, sleepless black hollows ringed Linwood's eyes and wild brown hair spilled down onto his shoulders. Also, his white shirt and black jeans hung loosely off his wide frame.
Nova nodded and said, "All up to specifications, Mister Reynolds, but I believe there is something more of your wife's that should be out here?"
Reluctantly, Linwood pulled the silver sun out of his pocket and handed it over. Nova smiled slightly as he cradled it in his hands.
"So she was of the true faith after all," he said.
"She fell away from Impyrielism after her parents died," Linwood said. "She only kept that because it reminded her of them."
"The mind doubts, but the heart believes," Nova said, sitting down on the floor. He gestured for Linwood to join him and then set the silver sun down between them.
"Just find her," Linwood said.
They had met eight years ago when Earth Authority had sent Linwood to inspect the sound-fueled monorail they had gifted to Astaron. Since she was a female monorail conductor, he had pelted Apollyana with dozens of safety questions. Though one round had satisfied him, he routinely questioned her until she finally asked him out to lunch.
After marrying, they moved to Earth. While Apollyanna easily found work with another monorail company, she felt uncomfortable with the slightly different Earth controls. Or at least that was how Linwood explained the crash she died in to himself.
When her sisters insisted on an Impyrielist funeral pyre, he didn't resist. It was all the same to him. Neither of them had been religious. They had been married in a courthouse rather than a church.
But while watching his wife burn away beneath a pile of sweet-scented wood, Linwood wondered about the afterlife. Which one would he go to? Earth boasted so many different religions. Heaven? Valhalla? Or would he be reincarnated?
He knew he'd never see the Impyrielist afterlife. That was reserved solely for those of Astaron's people who had accepted that faith, though Linwood had learned about their beliefs during his stay on Astaron.
Impyrielis, the great starfire prophet, had proclaimed that sentient beings merely perceived time as being linear. Once freed from their bodies, Impyrielist spirits flowed into the past, the future, and all places in-between. They then became all the flaming stars that pinwheeled throughout space. In fact, an Impyrielist peering up at a bright star might actually be looking up at their own spirit.
But would that happen to Apollyanna? Not only had she lost faith, but she had married a human and lived on Earth with him. Did that qualify her for one of Earth's afterlives?
Linwood wanted to believe that there was a better place where they could be together again, but he needed to know where to find her first. Even if he could never get to the same place she was now, he at least wanted to know she was all right.
To that end, he had searched for a psychic. After nearly exhausting his bank accounts on frauds, he finally found Nova. Linwood felt convinced he was legit, and not just because he was from Astaron.
He hadn't told anyone that he was napping during Apollyana's crash and that he had startled awake right when it happened, but Nova had known.
Reaching out to the dead apparently required considerable effort. So Nova asked Linwood to lay out Apollyana's things where they had lived together. With that much of her presence around him, he thought he should be able to reach her, wherever she might be.
Sitting across from each other now with the silver sun between them glinting from the overhead lamplight, Linwood and Nova joined hands.
"Remember Apollyanna," Nova said, "how she looked and smelled and the life you had together."
Shutting his eyes, Linwood concentrated. He recalled waking up in bed with his arms curled around her. After smelling her rose-scented, midnight-black hair, he rose up quietly to go make her a breakfast omelet.
However when he strode into the kitchen, he discovered flapjacks and bacon on a hot plate with a note saying they were for him. Apollyana must have made them hours earlier after she had finished stargazing. Some nights, she gave up sleep entirely to study the constellations.
Suddenly, Linwood heard murmurs. It took him a few seconds to realize the voices were speaking in his apartment and not just in his head. Another few seconds later, he realized it was only one voice speaking.
"I always wake up before you."
"I've always loved the night."
"I wish we could lie here like this forever."
Excitedly, Linwood was about to open his eyes when Nova snapped at him not to.
"But she's here!" Linwood said, tears dripping out of his closed eyelids. "I can hear her!"
"Those are just traces of her. We're getting closer though. Don't give up yet."
Nodding, Linwood fell back into reverie. In his mind, he saw a silver sky and an apple-red sun hovering within it.
A gigantic gray bullet train whipped by him, fluttering his clothes and hair. It twisted around on the track and lashed by him again, ultra-quick and silent, sucking in all the sounds it made for fuel.
He had noticed a beautiful, angelic-blue face gazing out of one of its windows. When he called out to her, the monorail stole his shout.
It then changed tracks and he chased after it, screaming until his lungs hurt, but no words poured out. Onward, it sped ahead into thick, looming darkness.
Linwood hadn't noticed that he'd kept screaming, and now with the monorail gone, it came out, piercingly.
He felt a soft hand clamp his mouth shut and shush him.
"Please, Mister Reynolds," Nova said, "I'm sure you don't want to disturb your neighbors."
"B-but she's gone! I can't hear her!"
"You didn't hear her before. Not really."
Linwood flung open his eyes. Across from him, Nova sat back, panting, his forehead slick with sweat as if he'd just run a marathon. His hand dove into a pocket and produced a cigarette. He was about to light it when he paused and then proffered the small square box of cigarettes to Linwood.
"Would you like one?" he asked.
Shaking his head, Linwood climbed unsteadily up onto his couch and sank wearily into his cushions. Apollyanna's blue dress spilled over onto his lap. He caressed its smooth fabric as he eyed Nova, who had now staggered up from the floor.
"What happened?" he asked. "It felt like we were so close, then suddenly, she was gone."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like a cigarette?" Nova asked. "I think you might need one."
Tossing the dress off his lap, Linwood stood up straight and towered over the little blue psychic.
"Tell me straight. What went wrong?"
Nova exhaled deeply, a thin gray snake's tail of smoke curling up to the ceiling.
"I was wading through your memories, using them as a trail to your wife. This works all the time with loved ones, especially when they pass on before their time."
"Then where is she?"
"Nowhere," Nova answered, biting his lip. 'it's like you said. She's just gone."
Linwood stared down at him.
"What are you saying?"
After a long pause, Nova said, "The trail I was following ended and she wasn't there. She's not in any afterlife nor has she been reborn anywhere either. She's beyond me or anyone or anything else."
Linwood roughly seized Nova by the neck and shook him.
"You told me you could find her!"
"I'm sorry, Mister Reynolds," Nova said, struggling to pry Linwood's grip off him, "but it isn't that I can't find her. It's that she can't be found."
Linwood tossed him down and he hit the floor with a heavy thud. Nova lay sprawled next to the silver sun, which still rested on the floor where he had left it.
"She has to be somewhere!" Linwood shouted down at him. "Your own religion says she has to be!
"I know," Nova said quietly.
He flinched when Linwood reached down to grab up the silver sun and hurl it at the wall. It banged off and clattered onto the floor. Breathing deeply, Linwood clenched his fists at his sides and tried to control himself.
He heard shuffling and glanced up. Nova had already scurried up to his feet and to the door.
"I'm not paying you the rest of your money!" Linwood shouted after him.
Nova looked back, his lips pursed, his forehead creased in thought.
"No amount of money is worth what I learned here tonight, Mister Reynolds."
The door registered his visitor's palm print and let him out. Linwood turned away and collapsed to his knees, weeping and pounding his fists against the floor.
Finally, he rolled over and stared blankly up at his ceiling. He tried to imagine nowhere. No sound, feeling, taste, touch, or even thought. An infinite blackness hung over everything like that between stars.
That thought made him sit up. He crawled over and picked up the silver sun. Then he shambled over to his window and peered out. Multitudes of stars still burned within the black blanket of space sprawled all across the sky.
Holding the silver sun up to his heart, Linwood looked between the stars out at those seemingly empty black spaces. He concentrated and heard a low murmur.
"I've always loved the night."
Smiling, he whispered, "I've found you."
- END -
Michael McNichols has an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago. His work has been published in The Banana King, Worse Than Pulp, AfterburnSF, Lost Souls, Inclinations, Hungur, The Externalist, Life in a Bungalo, Lumino, Pen Cap Chew, and CineCity.