WHO THE GODS LEAVE BEHIND
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
My novel in progress. I'll post scattered segments of it here.
Chapter 1 - Emily
A star had just gone missing and Emily would never leave Earth now.
Her mother used to say that when God answers a prayer, a new star is born somewhere out in the Universe. Emily knew that was some real It’s a Wonderful Life bullshit. But it did tell a story about a dissappearing star.
Her knuckles ached.
A lump of a man lay in a heap at her feet.
She had not meant to hit him. She just had. Even now, seconds later, she barely remembered doing it as she stood over the toppled man, rubbing her knuckles. She took a step back before the thin trail of blood running from his nose could dye her faded red Chuck Taylors red again.
Shit. There’s no time for this!
Emily shivered. Her ears rang. The shrill of the alarm shouting from the nearby console shook her. The insistent whimpers of the lump of a man grunting weakly at her feet scratched at the space between her ears. She locked her fingers behind her neck.
“Shut up! Come on…man. Something’s happening here! It’s gone!”
“Don’t tell me to shut up!” The round man leaned himself up off the floor with the support of a floppy arm. “You…hit me!”
“Oh, come on! That was a girl punch. Stop whining. Also, maybe don’t push me next time…”
“Push you?” he cried. “I didn’t push you!”
“You pushed my chair.”
“Moved!” He flailed a flabby hand. “The chair has wheels. I needed to see the console to see what you were yelling about.”
“Yelling about?” Emily yelled. “Uh, I’m kind of doing your job here, so…”
“My job? You don’t work here! Alright, I…I think that’s enough for tonight. Your time slot expired an hour ago anyway.”
“I’m sorry, ok? I just don’t like being touched. Here, let me help you up.”
The man relented, reached out an arm, and allowed himself to be hoisted up. He swayed and pushed at his fleshy jaw.
“Dang, you pack a punch alright… I was just trying to get to the console. No harm meant. ”
“Forget it,” Emily said, turning to the screen. “I’m sorry. You’re sorry. We’re good. Right?”
“Ok. Then let’s get to work. Something bigger than us is happening here.” She pointed at the screen. “It’s gone.”
“What’s gone? Wait…you don’t work here! Get out.”
“Alpha Centauri A.” Emily ignored him. “Gone.”
“Fine.” He stretched his jaw. “Show me.”
“I had the scope pointed right at Alpha Centauri. A and B were there. Then A wasn’t. And then…” she pointed a thumb at the red flashing light on the console and the puddles of paper and blood on the floor.
“And then you hit me.”
Emily thrust her finger at the screen.
“Ok, so a star…stops being there, and then,” she pointed her forehead at the screen. “And then this says there are radio waves coming from the same spot. It’s gotta be something.”
“I don’t know,” The man said. “Could be nothing. But that’s for me to figure out. You’re gone. And you’re kidding yourself if you think I’m letting you rent time on my telescope again… I might just have to report you to the university too.”
“No no no, look, don’t do that!”
Emily could smell her own sweat. In the sterile whiteness of the lab it was overwhelming. As an alum she was still granted access to the University of Hawaii’s UH88 telescope. An assault of a senior member of the observatory staff was probably the best way to ensure she would never again be welcome to ascend to the frigid, arid top of Mauna Kea that held up the giant telescope above the clouds like a one eyed island.
She hopped over the drying trail of Howard’s nose blood, grabbed a tissue from a metal filing cabinet, and stooped to wipe the floor clean.
“Look, uh…” she snapped her fingers and searched his face.
“Howard. You’ve been coming here for months and don’t know that my name’s…Howard.”
“Hey, that’s not on me, maybe you should have a more memorable name. Howard kind of sucks.”
Shit. Stop it, you idiot.
The air sizzled around Emily's scalp.
“Ok, enough,” Howard pointed at the door. “You’ve been renting time here for months, just sitting there, staring through the scope for hours, wearing that same old ratty flannel shirt, being generally…unpleasant. Are you really an alum…?”
“I am!” Emily yelled. “Well, was. Just walked. Astronomy and Biology. But this isn’t for that. I just come here to…look. It’s personal.”
“Well. I’m glad for you. Congratulations. I guess it’s personal for me now, too. But you’re right about one thing, something is going on here. I need to work. And my intern quit yesterday, so I guess I get to do interviews for a new one with a busted jaw. So…go. Please.”
Harold pointed to the door again.
“Wait! Please don’t kick me out. What do you think happened to it?”
“Look,” Howard said, his arm still hanging in the air pointed at the door. “Alpha Cen is probably right where it’s always been…”
“Alpha Cen? Oh my God, are you on a nickname basis with a star?”
Idiot. You fucking idiot. Just be nice!
“Emily,” Howard said. She bristled at his voice as it took on the calming tone of a parent. His lips formed a thin line across his round face. “Please. Just go.”
Red lights from the console bounced off the polished floor.
“I’m…” she muttered to the floor. Her shoulders sank and the heat at her scalp began to cool. “Fuck! I'm bad with people. I’m sorry.”
Howard stood rigid, like a man attempting to build up the courage to pluck a thorn from the paw of a tiger. Emily quickly shoved her things - knit cotton gloves, worn leather journal, thin denim jacket - into her rucksack.
“It’s ok,” he said. “It’s alright. But listen. I can’t let you come back here any more. Actions have consequences.”
Emily wondered if this is what her father would have sounded like. She imagined him leaning against the doorframe of her bedroom, listening with patient annoyance as a teenage version of her lashed out at him.
“Yeah.” Emily picked at the fabric at the edge of her plaid button down shirt. “I… I uh, applied to NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Program.”
“Oh? That’s great. That’s really great.” He chuckled to himself. “So… you dislike people that much, huh? Just going to leave the planet altogether then?”
“I didn’t get in.” Her fingernails bit into her palms. She looked past Harold into the lab for the last time. “I didn’t get in, and now…”
“Oh! So that’s why you’re a bit…punchy.” He chuckled again. “I applied myself back in the day. It’s a difficult program.”
Emily looked up at him. He had a kind face. Normal. Boring. But kind. She pressed her lips together.
“Ok,” she turned and leaned a shoulder into the door.
Outside, Emily pulled one of the gloves from her rucksack, bent and filled it will a handful of the fresh, unpacked snow that had fallen while she was inside. She rose and handed it to Howard.
“Here.” She mimicked holding it to her own cheek. Howard took it and smiled.
The heavy metal door that typically slammed loudly was closed softly and soundlessly behind her as the dry mountain wind outside chilled her face.
Emily made it halfway to her jeep, stopped, and slumped down in the snow. The wetness seeped into the knees of her jeans and took her back there, to the kitchen of her childhood home.
She was there again, kneeling over the prostrate form of her father who lay frighteningly still beside the oven. A sweet and acrid smell filled the room. She could still see her whimpering reflection in the dirty glass of the oven door, the hammer sitting in a pool of blood so thick it might float away.
Leaning forward she let her gloveless hands sink into the deep snow. The cold turned to numbness and the numbness took the tears from her eyes before they could fall.