READY OR NOT
RICHARD MANLY HEIMAN
READY OR NOT
RICHARD MANLY HEIMAN
In the darkened auditorium, men and women in military uniforms, laboratory and business attire sat impatiently. as the frock-coated man at the front of the room tapped the microphone. The buzz in the room hushed.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “Welcome. My name is Jonathan Chalmers and I’m the technical director of this Institute. Thank you all for being here this evening for a demonstration of one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time…” he paused. “Make that, of all time, as you’ll soon see.”
Chalmers gestured and the curtains behind him parted to reveal a wall-sized circular plasma screen.
“Ten years of research, multiple trials and- you are about to glimpse an alien vista, just on the other side of this portal. We call it the “Wormhole Window” here at SETI Squared. We don’t know exactly where this distant, terrestrial-like planet is, yet, but--there is life! In a moment you will be see unique life forms like nothing on Earth, interacting in their own environment. You could even cross the threshold and be in their world. but that—“ Chalmers paused dramatically—“requires more trials and will have to wait. One small step at a time!” He picked up a rubber playground ball from beneath the podium, held it up in one hand for all to see, and smiled broadly.
He motioned with his other hand and the screen brightened, revealing a rocky plain under a violet sky. In the background the viewers saw building-sized mushroom shaped growths. Six legged insectoid behemoths reached up toward the top of the mushrooms, far beyond the upper view of the screen, with telescoping appendages, foraging. As everyone in the audience stared with wonder, Chalmers tossed the rubber ball at the screen. There was a rippling flash as it seemed to melt into the portal. Then it bounced onto the yellow soil on the other side. A moment later the ball exploded. Before the collective gasp had faded, what appeared to be a large rock in the mid-distance sprouted and launched an appendage straight at the screen with lightning speed. “Shut it down!” Chalmers shouted into his headset. The power surged, then there was blackout.
When the lights were restored, an eight-foot long tentacular mass lay on the floor in front of the portal, yellow smoke rising as a caustic green ichor leaked from the severed end. At the other end, dying teeth chewed eflexively on the head raggedly removed from an unfortunate young researcher in the front row.
Six-year-old Billy Goldman had nightmares-- “night terrors,” his pediatrician called them-- and fought going to sleep most every night. He just knew that’s when the monster would escape from his closet and take him, body and soul, from his bed. His stepdad didn’t like it when Billy woke him with his cries and the last time Billy’s nightmares disturbed the household, the man swore to “knock some sense into the boy if he don’t stop his antics.”
It was three in the morning when Billy was awakened by a curious rasping sound. Disoriented, he thought it was the family cat at his door and was just about to get out of bed and let the animal in when he realized the noise was coming from his closet. Quaking, Billy peeked through a gap under his comforter and saw a violet glow emanating from around the closet door.
Moments later, Billy’s mother and stepfather were jolted awake by screaming. Swearing, the man threw back the sheets and stepped heavily to the floor. He lurched to his feet and stumbled to the door. “Don’t hurt him, Mike- please!” Billy’s mother pleaded. “Remember he’s only a--” but Mike wasn’t listening as he stormed out of the master bedroom, leather belt in hand and muttering curses.
Stomping down the hall, Mike heard wood splintering. Reaching Billy’s room, he slapped the belt against his thigh and smiled tightly before he shoved open the door and flipped on the light. He froze when he saw Billy in his Transformers pajamas halfway out his open bedroom window, eyes bulging and cheeks white with terror. Following Billy’s gaze, Mike turned toward the closet to his right and came face to mouth with a yard and a half wide gaping flesh tunnel filled with four inch razor sharp teeth. A moment later, he knew nothing more as a fang severed his aorta and acid began to dissolve his body, engulfed from the waist up.
As Billy Goldman jumped from the edge of his rooftop safely into the large pile of raked up leaves below and fled shrieking into the Central California night, scenes similar to the one he witnessed were playing out in a dozen other households across the country. Within hours there were hundreds, then thousands of violet-tinged apertures opening around the world in bedrooms and board rooms, restaurants and airport terminals, laundromats and palaces. And on a rocky, M- class terrestrial-type planet 452 light years from Earth, a powerful aching hunger for sentient flesh was finally about to be satisfied.
Richard Manly Heiman lives in the pines on the slope of the Sierra Nevada. He works as a substitute teacher and writes when the kids are at recess. Richard's work has been published by Rattle, Bop Dead City, Into the Void, and elsewhere. He is a two time Pushcart Prize nominee. His URL is poetrick.com.