TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Ivan Salazar. Ivan graduated from the UCLA writing program in 2007. He entered into the Comics and Graphic Novel world in 2009. He’d mostly been writing press releases and marketing until, in 2018 he was published alongside Margaret Atwood, and Gerard Way in “The Secret Loves of Geeks” published by Dark Horse Comics. He is currently working on a horror short story collection and a screenplay. This is The Lightness & Shimmer
On the clock, I see we have about 10 minutes before planetary alignment between us, the Moon, Mars, and Anteras – which, like, have you heard of Anteras before I mentioned it? I know I hadn’t until the info just showed up in my head a few months back. We both finish putting on our space suits, sans helmets – which by the way we call them “space suits” but really, they’re just modified fire fighters’ outfits, upgraded to the gills – literally we figured out this filtration system for the low atmosphere planes we were told we might jump into, it takes off some of the strain off the oxygen tan-
“Test,” Alex says, his voice comes through my ear piece in a tinny crackle.
“Test,” I reply, and he nods. His face brightens with a smile.
I shoot a shy one back and give a shaky “thumbs up” that’s wholly unconvincing, even to me.
He gives me a semi-confused and amused look as if to say, “okaaay.”
The small mountains of tech and wires that now surround every corner and wall of our garage start up their hum. It’s questioning noise ramps up in level and pitch as if to say, “Hmmmm? What now?”
We both find ourselves staring straight at the doorway in the center of the garage. It started as a simple prop doorway, but as the instructions and schematics came flooding into our heads, we transformed it into so much more. We added components from PCs, fridges, TVs. Tubes and hoses of all kinds looped throughout, supplying coolants. We even added a couple dozen Texas Instrument calculators – specifically 1995 era TI graphic & scientific calculators for their interlocking-
“Suz?” Alex’s voice crackles through the earpiece. “You ok?” I turn to him and he’s pointing to his nose sporting a thin line of blood coming out of the right nostril.
I wipe my bulky hand across my nose and I can see red blood glossy against the black glove.
I look back at Alex wiping his own nose and see him staring at nothing but the garage door on the other side of the pulsing empty frame. The circuits, motors and tubes kick up slowly, increasing their glow through the scrap metal and duct tape casings around the frame. We know that doorway won’t be empty for long.
“Could you check the power levels Suz?” He says.
“Yeah, let me check Pringles’ suit first,” I say, and I hear myself add unintentional bite.
“Oh, right. Good call,” he says a little apologetic. “I’ll check the supplies.” He croaks through the earpiece – “ies” drops off, but I know what he means. This reminds me: the tech we got beamed into our heads works, but it’s far from perfect.
There’s a slight drop in my stomach – the image of a roller coaster creeping up a high hill of rickety wooden planks comes to mind. One of those big, whitewashed monstrosities, past its prime and ready for tear down. I see myself strapped into a tiny cart at the head of the train; a flimsy metal bar across my lap, and metronomic clacks ticking away the moments before the big drop.
Alex paws through the “journey pack.” It’s one of those internet-advertised “Never travel with a suitcase ever again, carry up to 200 pounds in just one pack” sort of bags. It’s got tons of pockets and pouches where Alex has stocked tools, first aid materials, protein rich MREs and one or two “human curiosities” – one of his is a rubik’s cube, which Alex swears they’ll get a kick out of. My “curiosity” is the pack itself. I made Alex get the cheetah print one because space exploration shouldn’t be as serious as military style digital camo.
I trot over to the table next to the power cells where Pringles, our cat, is resting in his carrier. I unzip the door. I stare at him. His fuzzy head and whiskers tilt and he beams a nice memory of me holding him while wearing a soft Christmas sweater from three years back that read “Nice, Naughty, & Loves 2 Party!” I smile and run my thumb over the top of his head, massaging it lightly. “That’s right,” I say, inaudible through the building hum all around us, but I know he gets it.
Pringles has already made this leg of the jump. It wasn’t my idea! But then again, I also didn’t stop myself from figuring out the schematics for a cat-sized space suit with the ability to keep him alive in the climate condition we were told would be in the first jump.
There were a lot of times in the last couple of weird months where I didn’t stop things from progressing. Even when I knew deep down it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Really, that could be said for a lot of things between Alex and I. Somewhere in my head, the roller coaster clacks up further.
He almost didn’t come back to us, Pringles I mean. The first time he went through the doorway, we were still figuring out the power source, and honestly, we thought we had it. When the door just blipped off severing the rope. Yeah, ok, I know interplanetary travel should be more sophisticated than just using home depot variety rope. We might’ve gotten too cocky after cracking the secrets to planet jumping. So sue us.
Alex and I yelled Pringles’ name repeatedly into the communicator that linked us. This must’ve looked like the world’s weirdest potato chip commercial. The door came on, then blipped off, turned on, then blipped off; my heart sinking with every time the door went offline. Then it turned on again and held steady. I snatched a bag of treats and shook them into the communicator, piping the tasty rattle directly to Pringles’ helmet. That’s when he jumped back through the doorway on his own. The door blipped off for the last time that day after that.
When Alex tried to justify Pringles’ life vs. first contact space exploration, that’s when I left Alex and “the project.” I holed up in a hotel with Pringles and noticed I could understand him a lot better – not talking exactly but just images and smells. Which was fine most of the time. Pringles has a lot of nice memories of us. It’s just when he needs to poo that things get gross. Alex found the hotel I was staying at and showed up in person to apologize. He told me I was right, that he should’ve listened more to me when I said things were getting weird and dangerous. How he needed me because I was the only one that really understood what we were going through. That he was scared. And that he couldn’t finish without me. That he’d do better to listen and back me going forward. Standing in the doorframe of the hotel room holding Pringles in my arms, I looked at Alex, tears shrink wrapping his eyes and I just wished this conversation had happened before aliens abducted us.
Oh right, did I mention we got abducted by aliens?
It wasn’t that big of a deal. Neither of us can completely remember it. It was a romantic getaway weekend in the mountains where we tried to “figure things out” but mostly spent time in different rooms quietly resenting the waste of time. On the last morning of the failing weekend, we woke up in our cabin bedroom with every electronic in the room perfectly disassembled and immaculately ordered in a grid around the bed. We wrote a sorry note and left 50 bucks in an envelope to the Air BnB person. Thought to mention poltergeists or kinky burglars, but instead we just wrote “Sorry. Found things this way. Didn’t know how to fix.”
At the time we didn’t really KNOW it was aliens, but a day after coming back we individually started scribbling down schematics, taking apart electronics, and noticed we were already building before even knowing what it was we were building. Then we started getting more messages – Alex in dreams, and me through weird phone calls. It would’ve been scary, but then I found I was communicating so much more with Alex than I had in the last few months, or maybe even years, which was its own kind of scary. Like why did it take alien intervention to pull us out of our bullshit enough to talk to one another?
In any case, it was nice a nice change. It felt like we were working together, being a team again. Laughing a lot like we used to. We even came up with these in-jokes around “the project,” like having enough know-how to modify a jet ski to take us to Hawaii in a couple of hours. Or how we totally needed to build an escape pod for Pringles, kinda like baby Superman in case the power cells overloaded and he needed to escape the blast radius. Ok maybe that one was less of a funny “ha ha” joke and more like funny “oh shit what are we doing?” joke.
Outside the terror of potentially making our home (and half the city) a crater, it was fun slipping into a routine of talking in bed about the days’ tasks when we woke up. Slapping together the next components at night while sharing some take out sushi and rum. Exchanging shy smiles as we reached for the same screwdriver or soldering iron. Making fiercely physical and present love and then after holding each other until sleep took us. Aliens communiques aside, it felt like the old us, the us after we got married, the us that could and would do anything for each other and, god help me, I was thankful for every day we had like that.
But listening to Alex’s apologies outside my hotel door, I wondered what our lives would be like once we completed this thing. The project meant so much less to me after we almost lost Pringles, but it was difficult to stop the plans flooding in. Only the building could get rid of them. I tried talking to Alex about it, how it would just invade my every day thoughts until I put driver to screw. I also pleaded with him for us to talk about something, anything that wasn’t “the project.” But then he just sank deeper into the building. Slowly, just like before the abduction, I found myself feeling increasingly alone around Alex. Funny how someone could be laying right next to you, staring directly into your eyes and still feel worlds away.
“Suz?” Alex’s voice crackles through the earpiece. “— ok?”
“Power cells, ok?” He says and my stomach drops again. The roller coaster image is topping the peak, clacks slowing in anticipation of the drop. I clench my fists at this.
I glance over to the readouts from the power supply status screen. Alien symbols and markers bounce and glitch. I can tell it reads roughly 60% power left, wait, 58% now, I think. I find it odd how Alex was never able to read these symbols and signs. How I had to be the one to explain it to him. “58% give or take.” I say
“Should be enough!” He says and I can tell he’s smiling.
I fasten the helmet onto Pringles. He beams mix of “pick me up” and “hold me close” memories at me. So, I do. I’m grateful for this. I take a deep breath. I start to say “Alex, we need to ta-”, but I’m cut off. The doorway switches on. Whenever it does a shimmer bubbles from the doorway. As it expands outward, twinkling in a soft blue white light, everything it touches slightly lifts for a second. Gravity drops out, giving everything a brief weightlessness.
Alex, Pringles and I lift slightly, the balls of my feet never leaving the ground.
“That’s it!” Alex, shouts. “We have planetary alignment!” He runs up to me and grips me tight with his bulky suit hands. He kisses me hard and I kiss him back, wanting to believe everything that soft touch promises. “C’mon we got to go through while we still have power. Once this door closes we won’t be able to hit the same set of gates that link the planets,” he says before donning and locking his fishbowl helmet.
“Alex, I need to tell you something.” I say and look at the floor.
“Sure, sure, let’s just jump this gate and we can talk on the walk to the others,” he says slinging the cheetah bag over his shoulder and wobbling slightly from the weight.
“Alex, please” I say just in time to see him give me a salute and walk backwards through the doorway. The shimmer ripples, twinkling along with the throng of electronics all around, and the gravity drops out again. A moment passes. I strain to hear something over the static through the earpiece.
“Test,” he says.
“I’m not going,” I say. And the roller coaster drops.
I tell him everything, all of it, even the things I should’ve said way before Aliens came into our lives. How I loved the promise of change and the return to love the last few months signaled. How I desperately wanted to stay in that promise, even with all the crazy dangerous alien stuff, if it meant we could stay good for each other. But, now I’m afraid that once the project ends it would mean the end of that fantasy and soon after the end of us. And how I might be able to handle that on Earth but there was NO way I could handle on the other side of Anteras.
A long staticky silence drags for eons, then Alex’s voice starts, “Suz, I’m sorry you feel that way bu-”. The doorway blips out. It sends out a final wave of shimmer and lightness. With it goes all the noise both inside my head and outside of it. And in the end, that was our answer.
Rachel Granda Gluski is a chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play companies Starlight Radio Dreams and Locked into Vacancy Entertainment. She also performs every summer with the Bristol Renaissance faire. When she’s not performing she enjoys being a huge nerd and hanging out with her cats.
Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years. From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything. A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago!