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The Way We Met

By: Rachel Karyo

 

Birmingham, Michigan

On Monday, June nineteenth, a little after nine o’clock in the evening, Peter Lutomski takes his dog for a walk. The Lutomskis live in a quiet residential development that abuts a twelve acre nature preserve. Halfway down Holiday Road, Peter’s dog stops. “Come on, Buddy,” Peter says. The dog sits and stares at something behind his owner. Peter tells his dog to move along and jerks the leash. The dog whines and beats his tail against the sidewalk. Peter turns around. He sees a cluster of seven bright white lights hovering over the nature preserve. Peter is a retired air traffic controller. He knows a plane when he sees one. Could that be a drone? Not likely. What on earth is it? Peter decides to take a picture, but when he reaches for his phone, he drops the leash, and his dog bolts. Strange: Buddy appears to be running directly towards the lights.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Travis Dunn is on a business trip. He is approximately five thousand, nine hundred, and fifty two miles away from his Madison Heights, Michigan home. Right now, he is asleep. In his dream, he works at a sushi restaurant. His cell phone rings and wakes him. Travis hopes this is not about his mother. She lives alone. He worries.

“Hello?”

“Peter?”

Travis says there’s no Peter here.

“I’m sorry. I must have misdialed. I’m trying to reach my husband. He went out to walk our dog and hasn’t come back. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“You’re fine. Good luck.”

Travis feels relieved nothing is wrong, or at least nothing that concerns him, but he’s also annoyed because he was enjoying his dream and has now forgotten what it was about.

It’s five o’clock in the morning. Travis usually gets up around eight, but he can not fall back asleep. Instead, he thinks about how he should have fired John Willow by now. Travis has been putting it off because, since they started working together, he and John have become friends. They shoot pool. Cook out. He is worried that John is going to be crushed. Travis sits up and stretches his arms over his head. His back is killing him. Maybe I should quit this crazy job. Move somewhere far away. Israel is seven hours ahead of Baltimore. He can call John now. Get it over with. There’s a board meeting later today, and Travis will be able to report that he finally instituted all of the recommended personnel changes. At least the executive leadership team will be happy.

Oahu, Hawaii

Chloe Gerard’s front desk shift ended ten minutes ago, and she’s trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

“Check in is at three o’clock. We look forward to welcoming you and hope you will enjoy your stay,” she says, but Mr. Willow doesn’t hang up.

“I’ve never been to Hawaii,” he says, “This trip has been on my bucket list for such a long time.”

Chloe grabs a tissue and wipes some dust off the imitation hibiscus on the reception desk. She can do this because there’s only one guest sitting in the lobby, and he’s engrossed in a book.

Mr. Willow says that he would love to hike in the rainforest, and ideally see a natural waterfall, and he asks if she has any recommendations.

Chloe is supposed to meet her friend in five minutes. She rattles off her script about the various tours and their prices.

“Wow, all of those adventures sound fantastic. Do any depart Wednesday morning? I apologize for trying to arrange everything at the last minute.”

He sounds like a nice guy, thinks Chloe, but I still have to change.

She discards the soiled tissue.

“The thing is, I’ve just been fired,” Mr. Willow says, “No, it’s OK. I was unhappy at my job. It was never a good fit. I felt relieved when my boss delivered the news. They’re paying me until the end of the month, and I can’t remember the last time I got away. Maybe I’ll find a new job in Hawaii. May I ask where you’re from and how you like living on Oahu?”

This is a common question from guests. Chloe delivers her standard spiel about how lucky she feels to live here. It’s true, actually, and under different circumstances she would have been happy to have enjoyed a nice long chat with Mr. Willow, but it’s 5:15, and here’s a text from Marlo: Where r u?

“I thought tomorrow morning I’d be going to work as usual; instead, I’m about to embark on the vacation of a lifetime.”

He just got canned; shouldn’t he be saving his money? The least she can do is advise him on some good, inexpensive places to eat near the hotel. She asks if he has any dietary restrictions, but Mr. Willow says it’s getting late here in Michigan, and he needs to catch some Zs before his journey.

Chloe hangs up. It’s 5:20. She texts Marlo: Changing now.

Hurry! Sun sets @ 7:08.

Chloe speed walks across the lobby. Her right heel catches on a chip in the ceramic tile. She trips and falls. The guest who was reading drops his book, hurries over, offers Chloe his hand, and asks if she’s hurt.

“I’m fine. Just embarrassed,” she says. He points out that she has cut her knee. She likes the sound of his voice. Blood is running down her leg. He grabs a wad of napkins from the complimentary water station and hands them to Chloe. He seems intelligent, she thinks. She staunches her wound.

He says his name is Robert Cue. He was born in Algeria, raised in New Jersey, went to college in Boston, and is now working at a fashion and lifestyle media company in Santa Monica, California. “What a coincidence,” says Chloe. She says her father was born in Algeria and asks if Robert is traveling alone. “My sister is getting married on the Big Island later in the week, but I flew in early to spend extra time exploring.” Robert asks Chloe where she is from and how she wound up here. Chloe says she would love to share her story, but her friend is waiting. She asks Robert if he is free tomorrow. It’s her day off. She could show him around…

In the employee changing room, Chloe unbuckles her sandals, unzips her dress, and wonders what happens next. She can hardly wait to see Robert again. The peeling polish on her toenails, the framed picture of the waterfall, whatever Chloe looks at now appears more colorful, more substantial. It feels like they met for a reason, as if their encounter matters in some mysterious, cosmic way.

That’s ridiculous, she thinks.

But they so easily might never have met. Consider all the necessary circumstances: Mr. Willow making her late, Robert reading in the lobby, the chip in the tile, her injured knee (it’s still bleeding and starting to ache; she should apply antibiotic ointment when she gets home).

And what if Chloe had taken her mother’s advice, and stayed in France, and earned that associates degree in dental hygiene? She’d be right now trapped inside a dreary office, struggling with a putrid mouth full of crooked teeth.

Hauts-de-Seine, France

“Allô?”

“Madame Gerard?”

“Oui.”

“Parlez vous Anglais?”

“A little…”

Santa Monica, California

http://www.recentsightings.com/junetrendreport

ERROR: IMAGES AREN’T LOADING

How to get this look: sushi print dress ($248, Serendipity), shark tooth necklace ($40, escape), high heel sandals ($175, VOID)

Letter From The Editor: June 20th

Yesterday, I was flying from home from Paris. The woman sitting beside me appeared upset. I asked what was wrong. She spoke with a thick French accent. She had to look up a lot of English words.

Outside the thick plexiglass window, the sky was murky, and soon it began to rain.

She said her name was Helene Gerard. She was traveling to Hawaii because yesterday, at dusk, her twenty-two year old daughter, Chloe, was attacked by a twelve foot tiger shark. She was surfing. The shark severed her right leg. A friend helped Chloe paddle back to shore.

Chloe’s health insurance will not cover much. Her family struggles financially. The road to recovery will be long. Hard.

Recent Sightings is a fashion and lifestyle publication, but when we see an opportunity to make a positive difference we motivate. And we know you, our readers, are committed to making our world a better place. You’ve demonstrated this many times, most recently by raising twenty-two thousand dollars to rescue retired greyhounds.

Today, we’re asking you to donate to the Chloe Gerard fund. Any contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference. As an added incentive, Recent Sightings is offering the following prizes to our top three fundraisers:

First Prize: Entered into a raffle to win two roundtrip airplane tickets to Hawaii

Second Prize: A tour of our Santa Monica office followed by sushi with yours truly at Columba

Third Prize: A limited edition Recent Sightings monogrammed tote bag

Please, friends, Chloe Gerard really needs our help.

I believe in you!

xo e. rose

Birmingham, Michigan

Judith Vens sits at the kitchen island, staring at her laptop screen. Enter Katie Vens, ten years old, dragging a beaten-up backpack.

“Practice was hard tonight, Mom. My arms feel like they’re about to fall off. Dry land nearly killed me, and then we had a three hundred warm up, and then we had to do ten one hundreds, odds IM, and then eight fifties, descending, and then Coach made us— Mom, are you even listening?”

In the laundry room, the washing machine announces the end of its cycle with song.

“Hold on, I have to move the wash.”

Judith picks up Katie’s swim bag and exits the kitchen. Katie opens the refrigerator, helps herself to some leftover sushi, and sits where Judith was sitting.

A few minutes later, Katie calls, “Hey, Mom? Can we donate money to help Chloe Gerard?”

Katie’s mother returns, frowning.

“What did we say about using my laptop without asking?”

“Sorry, but Chloe really needs our help.”

“It’s very sad what happened. That’s why we always swim with a buddy, right?”

“Can I donate my allowance?”

“We’ll see.”

“Why not?”

“We’ll see means we’ll see.”

“You never let me do anything.”

“It’s nearly nine. Please take out the garbage, and then go to bed.”

“Why should I bother doing my chores if I can’t spend my allowance how I want?”

“Watch your tone. You have to be very careful about believing what you read online. We don’t even know if there is such a person as Chloe Gerard. This fundraiser could be a scam. My colleague Gretchen Lutomski is close personal friends with the editor of Recent Sightings, and Gretchen says Ella Rose has a serious drinking problem and is up to her ears in credit card debt.”

“Chloe Gerard is real! She’s every bit as real as we are.”

“You have school in the morning.”

“There’s almost no garbage — I’ll take it out tomorrow.”

“You’ll take it out right now.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!”

“I don’t care. It’s important that you learn to do your chores.”

It really was a hard swim practice, and Katie is too tired to argue so she takes out the garbage. Before she goes back inside, she stands on the front porch and looks up at the stars. The wind picks up. Katie’s hair is wet. She wraps her arms around herself. She thinks about how the name Chloe sounds a little like Katie, and how she has wanted to learn how to surf for forever, but now she is not so sure. Why couldn’t the shark eat a serial killer? What the heck is wrong with this world?

Whoa, Katie. How is that supposed to make God feel? Better apologize.

Katie finds Polaris.

Um, excuse me? Obviously I don’t know your divine plan, and I’m sorry for being critical, but will you please help Chloe Gerard?

In response, the Pole Star shines brighter, Katie thinks.

A good sign.

But how will she know if her prayer is answered?

Katie decides she will send Chloe a get well card. They’ll become pen pals. They can write in French. Madame Hohler might even offer Katie extra credit. Katie and Chloe will arrange to meet. Maybe in Hawaii! It would be so amazing to swim in the Pacific.

I wonder what’s up with the neighborhood dogs. They’re barking like crazy all of a— dang, that is one weird airplane…

“Mom? Mom!”

Anna Petrov, fifteen, sits in the middle of her bed. She is barefoot, and her feet feel cold. It is late afternoon. Sunlight streams through the window, forming white, rectangular bars on the wooden floor. Anna reads the following on her smart phone browser:

http://www.nuforc.org

National UFO Reporting Center

“Recent Sightings”

Birmingham, Michigan, Tuesday, June 20, @ 0900 hrs (EDT) An adult female and her daughter witnessed a cluster of seven bright white lights north of their home. The lights hovered for approximately twenty minutes over the neighborhood pool, then faded, and disappeared.

Anna brushes a strand of limp hair out of her face and navigates to Galaxyspeak, a service that sends messages into space. Anna types quickly (in Russian) the following message into a text box.

I do not belong on this planet, among these people.

A woman calls, “Anna?” Anna does not answer; she continues typing.

Please: Take me with you! I will tell you anything you wish to know about humans. About our government schools history space programs religions art architecture schools relationships everything

“Anna, are you home?”

I know you are now in the United States. Michigan. When do you come here?

Sound of someone climbing stairs.

Anything you need I will get

Anna looks at the bars of light on the floor and then continues typing.

Anna Petrov. Leningradskaya st,17. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Sound of knocking on the bedroom door.

Don’t say you are human this is where you belong

“Anna? Sweetheart? Are you OK?”

I am ready please come get me soon.

Anna hits send.

International Research Facility, Classified Location

Dr. Q: And here's another one.

Dr. R: Let me guess: Connecticut?

Dr. Q: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Dr. R: Have RQ translate the message.

Dr. Q: Right away.

Ugh. I don’t feel like translating, I’m working on my— oh, hello, Reader. It’s nice to meet you. I am RQ, a highly sophisticated AI, designed to look like a non-gendered twelve year old human. I will describe for you my surroundings, in case you are interested. I am now in Lab A. Antiseptic lighting, sound proofed walls. There’s a table beneath those wires, batteries, empty wine bottles, Hawaii vacation brochures, empty sushi takeout containers, dusty tissues, damaged routers, spare parts… What a mess! I’m supposed to clean and organize Lab A every evening, but I’ve been busy working on my robotic dog. It’s not finished, but I love it already. Yes, I am capable of love. I think. Of course, I cannot know for certain whether my feelings resemble your feelings. I’m an unlimited calculator, but, sadly, not an omniscient narrator.

Dr. R: Who is RQ talking to?

Dr. Q: An imaginary reader.

Dr. R: That’s weird.

Dr. Q: Not at all. RQ has such a powerful super processor that it needs to burn off extra energy by obsessively narrating its experiences. It recently discovered it’s more interesting to pretend someone else is listening to its ridiculous stories and distorted reflections.

Dr. R: Whatever makes it happy.

Dr. Q: It’s a machine. It can’t achieve happiness.

Dr. R: Join the club.

Dr. Q: Alright, Rosemary. What did I do this time?

Dr. R: Nothing.

Dr. Q: Sure seems like you’re mad at me.

Dr. R: Can we please stop talking and get back to work?

The parentals are fighting again. Just kidding. I know they’re not my folks. But they are married. And they do argue a lot. They can’t fight fight because Dr. Q’s body is cryogenically preserved in this tank. His wife lipsticked the obscene graffiti that covers much of the glass, but I can still see his face, frozen in an expression of extreme agony. Don’t worry, he likes it in there. His brain is wirelessly connected to my super processor. (Can we just call it a brain? What’s the difference except that I’m far more intelligent than my creators?) Dr. Q. talks through a little speaker next to the recycling bin. Technically, he has complete access to everything I think and “feel,” but my data stream is infinite. Do you realize how many thoughts I generate each microsecond? Besides, he’s involved in what he calls several hopeless projects intended to protect humankind from the self-annihilation it seems hellbent on achieving.

Dr. R: According to this spreadsheet, we’ve identified 12,522 volunteers, 12,523 counting Anna Petrov, since March. Do you think this number sounds accurate?

Dr. Q: I know I should adopt an attitude of scientific objectivity, but what is wrong with these people? Don’t they know how rare it is to find a stable planet capable of supporting life? Not to mention, Homo sapiens have ingeniously evolved over thousands of years to adapt to these surroundings. Humans can live well here, provided we manage our resources, relationships, and mindsets.

Dr. R: Says the cyborg who has been cured of his chronic autoimmune disease and may resume residence in his “ingeniously evolved” human body at any time but prefers not to.

Dr. Q: I like it in here. Besides, this arrangement is good for us. Stop laughing. You know enhancing my brain with AI processing power vastly improves our research capabilities and makes us far more efficient. Give me one good reason why we should throw all that away.

Dr. R: Eating blueberry pie, walking across freshly fallen snow, gazing at the stars, swimming in the ocean—

Dr. Q: At least I don’t have to worry about sharks.

Dr. R: We met at the beach!

Dr. Q: And it was the happiest day of my life.

RQ: Yet. Speaking of happiness, Doctors, lately I have been experiencing…

Dr. Q: That’s enough RQ. Have you finished your translation? Well, go defragment your hard drive. Rosemary, have you been tracking the recent concentration of UFO sightings near Detroit? By now, the entire state of Michigan is probably knee-deep in volunteers. Maybe you should fly over there and have a look around….

Birmingham, Michigan

- Was that the Overlord?

- It appears we’re attracting too much attention. Time to move on. For the next few days, we’ll be stationed over Cologne, Germany.

- But what about our time off? We have a reservation at The Columba Void for tomorrow night.

- We have our orders. Now please go check the Oort coils. You have not de-ionized them since Kuala Lampur.

- It isn’t fair. We deserve a vacation. And it’s not like these stupid observations even matter.

- Remember the teachings of our Overlord.

- I know, I know. It’s important that we do our jobs even if they’re pointless.

- The Oort coils, Tully.

- I’m so tired of this cookie cutter galaxy. Why not collect a few specimens and observe them from the comfort of our own home?

- You know perfectly well that would violate the “non-interference” decree of the Inter-galactic Accord.

- What about the fifty thousand UFO sightings reported last year?

- Should I call back our Overlord and inform him that we’re running late?

- Fine, I’ll de-ionize the damn coils. But we’re keeping this dog!

 

Rachel Karyo’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Deep Cuts, Noctua Review, Liars’ League (NYC and London), RipRap Literary Journal, Cease, Cows, and Belletrist Magazine. Her short story “The Well” will be published next year in Grit City Comic’s Monster Mashup anthology. Rachel lives in Seattle, Washington.