“They come to me every night, but nobody believes me.”
Jerry put on his glasses and looked at Reuben, sitting on the couch across from him. “Who comes?”
“I’ve told you a million times,” Reuben said, twitching his shoulder. “You never believe me.”
“Let’s say I do believe you. Tell me about them.”
“Just look at your notes,” he screeched, motioning to them with his open palm.
Jerry took a breath and set the clipboard aside. “You haven’t told me yet.”
“You’re all the same.” Reuben rubbed his hands under an imaginary faucet.
Jerry’s stomach ached with knots. Straight out of med school and into the deep end. This would be the norm in the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for mental health.
“Please tell me.” He made his voice as friendly as possible. “Who visits you? Are they aliens?”
“Aliens?” Reuben scoffed and laughed an off-kilter, flat-tire kind of laugh.
Jerry felt his cheeks turn pink. He made a show of taking off his glasses and blowing off a piece of lint.
“You think I’m one of those schitzos, don’t you? That what it says on my chart? Classic case of schizophrenia? That why they passed me off to a newbie?”
Jerry moved his shoulders. In reality, he suspected that was exactly what happened. “Why don’t you just tell me what you see when they come?”
“I don’t see anything.” He leaned forward so far that Jerry held his breath against the stench. “I only hear them. Yes, I know. Symptom number one of schitzo. I know all about that. We have some here.” He jerked his thumb toward the door. Reuben’s eyes remained locked with Jerry’s while his head moved side to side and his eyebrows raised and lowered, like he was trying to hypnotize him. “I know what the voices tell them. They say, you’re terrible, you aren’t good enough, the world would be better off without you, why don’t you do everyone a favor and jump off a bridge? They don’t tell me that.”
Jerry gulped involuntarily. He had to show who was in control or there’d be no trust. A patient had to trust Jerry before he could help them.
“Reuben.” He twisted his wedding band, still getting used to it. “I asked you to tell me something about your visitors. Anything. What do they say? What do they sound like?”
“What do they sound like?” He moved closer, knelt beside Jerry’s chair. “They are the sound of a million souls dying, like skin against a cheese grater, but in colors. They speak through dreams and textures that make your hair stand up all over your body. They feed on fear and pain and they want to eat you!” He lunged at Jerry’s throat and Jerry jumped from his seat, knocked it over, and spilled onto the carpet.
Reuben was back on his couch laughing in a split second.
Jerry pushed up his glasses, stood, and set the chair upright. He thought about calling the orderly down the hall, but then his colleagues would hear of this. He’d be the office joke.
Reuben watched him with laughing, teasing eyes. “Just messing with you, doc. Little hazing is all.”
Jerry straightened his jacket and sat again. He crossed his legs. “If you don’t want to tell me anything, we can just sit here for the rest of the hour.”
“Come on, don’t be sour. I’ll tell you.”
Jerry took his clipboard and scribbled his name, unable to think of any real notes.
“What do you want to know?” Reuben crossed his legs to match Jerry.
“Do they visit every night?”
“Every night the Northern Lights show.”
“Why is that?”
“Look at your notes, they speak in colors.”
“They use the Northern Lights to talk to you? How do you understand them?”
Reuben shrugged. “I just understand it.”
“What do they say?”
“That they’re coming.”
The way he spoke the words sent a shiver down Jerry’s spine, and he mentally reprimanded himself.
“Coming to the Earth?”
“No, the middle of flipping nowhere Alaska.” He voice dripped disdain.
“So they are coming to Earth. Why? What do they want?”
“I told you.”
“They want to eat us?” This time Jerry’s voice held the sarcasm.
“I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
Jerry sighed and glanced at the clock. “Why do they want to kill us?”
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Reuben’s laugh set Jerry’s teeth on edge. “You don’t know Alice in Wonderland? Let me tell you something, Doctor Smith, you’re working in Wonderland now. Land of the mad.” He rolled his eyes in so unnatural a way Jerry had to look down. He wanted to go home.
“So they want to kill us all?”
Reuben sat back again. “Every last one of us.”
“And why do they talk to you, and tell only you this information?”
“Because I saw them.”
“When was this?”
“A year ago today.”
“I was up on the mountain, watching the Northern Lights. And they just appeared out of nowhere.”
“Then why hasn’t everyone heard of this?”
“I waved my flashlight around, and scared them off.”
Jerry doodled as he thought. He had no idea what to write, or what to ask next.
“They’re coming back tonight.” Reuben’s eyes were almost savage, but somehow sane.
Reuben chuckled lightly. “Sure. Don’t believe me. Take the risk with your pretty little wife and your unborn child. Don’t come crying to me tomorrow.” He looked away and rubbed his fingers.
Jerry’s heart jumped. Baby? Lily wasn’t pregnant. Or was she? He realized his teeth were clenched, his jaw hurt.
“What makes you say that?”
“They told me. Didn’t you know?”
Jerry didn’t want to answer. “And is there anything we can do to protect against this coming invasion?”
Reuben looked back at him. “You believe me.”
“No, I don’t.” Jerry put up his hands.
“You do!” Reuben leaned forward, again his eyes turned wild. “Then you’ve got to let me out.”
Jerry exhaled and dropped his head on the back of the chair.
“No, listen, this isn’t just some escape ploy. I’ll come back after, if you want, I promise.”
“I have to go to back and scare them off again.”
“Scare off aliens with a flashlight? That’s your great anti-alien scheme?”
He jumped up and pleaded with his hands. “I wasn’t crazy before this, before I saw them. But I can feel them now, it’ll work I tell you. I know it will.”
Jerry shook his head. “All right. Time’s up.” He put down his clipboard and stood.
“Wait, if you won’t let me go, then you have to. Think of your wife, the baby! Just what if it’s true? Will you let them die because you didn’t believe?”
“I don’t believe.” He opened the office door.
“Listen, here are the coordinates.” Reuben grabbed the clipboard and scribbled numbers.
Jerry’s face burned from his fake notes, but Reuben didn’t notice.
“Go here around eight o’clock tonight, when the lights come out. Bring the biggest flashlight you can find. Just shine it straight up.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chapman. I’ll see you next week.” He waved the orderly in to escort Reuben to his room.
“You’ve got to believe me, Jerry. You’re our only chance now.” He continued to yell as he was dragged down the hall.
Jerry exhaled and shut the door. He collapsed in his chair, shaking. There was something about the man that was so earnest, it was hard to ignore him. If nothing else, he believed they were in danger.
Jerry took Reuben’s notes and looked them over again. It seemed his symptoms started instantly a year ago. He had maintained his story to every doctor without change. He had tried to escape on several occasions. Jerry sighed. It was a ridiculous claim, impossible. But just because he was crazy, it didn’t mean he was wrong.
He called Lily.
“How’s your first day going?” she asked. “I have dinner all-”
“Are you pregnant?”
She was silent for a moment. “How? How did you know?”
“So you are?”
“I was going to tell you tonight over dinner. How did you-?”
Jerry’s stomach sank. How did he know? How could Reuben? He couldn’t even explain it to himself, let alone to her.
“Jerry? Are you okay?”
“Can I ask you something strange?”
“Yes.” Her voice sounded suspicious.
“Do you believe in aliens?”
He expected her to laugh, but she didn’t. “I guess so. Why do you ask that? What’s going on?”
“Why do you believe in them?”
“I have a harder time believing we are the only living things in the whole universe. Did aliens tell you I was pregnant?”
“No.” He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Are you feeling okay? Why don’t you come home?”
“No, I have more patients to see.”
“Are you sure? I don’t think you should overwork yourself on your first day,” she said.
“I’m okay. It’s just been a bit crazy here.”
“Well,” she chuckled. “Remember where you are.”
“I asked you not to make any crazy house jokes.”
“Sorry. I won’t do it again.”
They said goodbye and hung up. He stared at his phone. Since he was already holding it, he pulled up the coordinates. They were close to the hospital. Did that have something to do with why Reuben could hear them so well? He threw the phone down. How could he believe any of this? He had a child to think of now, a baby on the way.
The next patient came in and Jerry hardly heard him. He couldn’t shake the feeling. There would be no harm in going, if he went. It was so close he could go and no one would be the wiser.
After the last patient left, he paced the office, keys in hand. It was just too much. But the ‘what if’ plagued him. What if it were true? With so many unexplained things in the universe, was it worth the risk?
He jumped in his jeep and headed home, watching the directions to the place on his phone. It told him to go north up the mountain. He pulled over and tapped the phone against his knee. He had to take care of his family now, no matter how crazy it sounded.
He texted Lily that he’d be late and drove up the mountain. He parked, grabbed his light from the emergency bag in the trunk, and holding it like a baby against his chest, climbed.
His phone rang, Lily called. He didn’t answer.
“This is so stupid! There’s no way!” But he kept climbing, exhaustion and cold creeping in. He was no longer in control as he climbed, but watched himself from far away. Or from high above, like the aliens would be if they were really there to watch.
The air nipped at his face while his gloved hands sweated. Following the GPS on the phone, he crunched through snow and stopped in a hollow surrounded by snow-laden rocks. He shivered from the cold and nerves.
“Okay. I’m here.” He turned on the flashlight and looked up at the sky. The Northern Lights danced across the horizon, blues and greens.
Something moved, way up there. He gasped and strained his eyes. Was it just a plane? A satellite? It seemed to grow closer, coming toward him.
Something not of this world hovered before him. His hands shook and he swung the light around and yelled, “Get out of here, you crazy aliens!” It moved away.
Had he just saved the world? Or had he gone absolutely mad? Nobody was ever going to believe him.
Laughter surrounded him in echoes. He turned as Rueben stepped out from behind a rock.
More people appeared, the hospital staff, the other doctors, and orderlies, all of them laughing. One of them held a remote. The flying saucer came back, hovering in his face.
“Smile for the camera!” he said.
“Welcome to Fairbanks,” Reuben said.
Brittany Miller lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband. She loves to write short stories, especially sci-fi. With her blog, www.writelikewind.wordpress.com she tries to bring together writers and readers. You can also find Brittany on Twitter.