This original short story is a special contribution from my friend, the author Chris Corkum, whose debut novel "XOXO Hayden" was the subject of a Q&A in March.
Darlene decided not to go to work at all that day and drove back home to Shady Pines, the complex where she and her mother had lived for more than twenty years. There were twenty-six mobile homes in the community, each with their own separate backyard. Elaine, Darlene's mother, had chosen their particular home because of its distance from the neighbors and the woods that butted up against the backyard. When Darlene was younger, the woods was dense and she would play in it for hours, losing herself completely, but now the trees had been thinned for housing developments and a car dealership whose lights could sometimes be seen through the trees.
She stepped into the stillness of the house, the vinyl door slamming shut behind her. Her mother's Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds perfume lingered in the living room, left behind in her hasty departure to Seacoast Bank where she worked as a teller. When Darlene was younger, her mother sometimes visited the bank to pick up a paycheck and Darlene was allowed to play with the cylindrical container propelled underground at the drive through window. The suctioning sound and the sudden apparition of the plastic tube had always fascinated Darlene, as though it had been delivered from another world.
Darlene stepped through the dark living room, maneuvering around the stacks of Redbook and Readers' Digests her mother had left lying around. She pulled back some of the drapes, letting in the light. Her mother always kept the place closed up, making it look smaller and more depressing than it actually was. In the kitchen, she unplugged the coffee pot, overlooking the mound of dirty dishes in the sink. She would get to them later. Instead, she walked down the hallway, passing framed photos on the wall of her as a child. Not one new photo had been hung in the last fifteen years.
Her bedroom adjoined her mother's, separated by a bathroom in between. She had painted the walls bright yellow to balance out the darkness of the rest of the house. At one point, she had been really into making photo collages. Several giant frames hung on the wall, filled with smaller pictures pasted together: her and Lisa, her dog Buddy, her mother. She liked the way it looked. As if the sum of all of the parts added up to something.
She lay on her bed and played the clip one more time before placing the phone on her bed. How could Lisa not believe these were aliens? It was so obvious. She wondered if there was someone, some expert or scientist who would be able to validate the evidence, to prove that what she saw was real. She turned on her desktop computer, waiting until the string of lights along the bottom of the monitor illuminated like green diamonds. A Google search resulted in a series of websites offering assistance with extraterrestrial situations. One in particular, interested her, where users were encouraged to upload their personal documentation. She scrolled through the list of pictures, videos and testimonials, convinced that her evidence was equally as valid. She uploaded her video and beneath it typed a caption: Seaton, NH. 2/08/12. In an optional field, she typed in her email. If her best friend didn't believe her, maybe someone else would. When she was finished, she felt an overwhelming sense of fatigue, like they had sucked some kind of life force out of her. Convinced that it was the result of what had happened last night, she lay back on her bed and fell asleep.
When she awoke, it was barely still light out. The sun had set and the cold, blue light of the winter afternoon seeped through her window. She pulled her body in tightly and looked at the time on her phone, wondering how it was possible she had slept for nearly five hours. The email icon on her phone notified her of thirty-five messages. In disbelief that she could possibly have that many emails, she began reading her messages. The majority of them were comments posted to the video she had uploaded to the website.
“This is exactly what I saw when they visited me.”
"You have to know, your (sic) not alone."
"Did they tell you anything? Give you any messages to share with the world?"
Darlene scrolled down surprised so many people were interested in what she had posted. One of the last emails, was from a man named Dr. Michael Hightower. It was a direct email, not a posting on the site.
Darlene. This is a very important development. We must act quickly. Please call me at (617) 453-2423. Sincerely, Dr. Michael Hightower.
Darlene reread the email several times, feeling both flattered and confused. Who was this guy and what did he want? The front door of the house opened, shattering the quiet afternoon.
"Darlene!" Her mother's shrill voice cut down the hallway, into her bedroom.
Darlene groaned and got up off the bed, knowing she would have to greet her mother. The consequences of not doing so would be grave. She stepped into the kitchen where her mother had thrown her purse on the counter and leaned into the refrigerator, searching for her 'after-work' Pepsi. She stood up, groaning and cracked the metal tab on the aluminum can. Concerned about her mother's weight, Darlene had tried to get her to stop drinking Pepsi, or at least replace it with diet, but Elaine insisted that it didn't taste the same.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" she asked, wiping the condensation from the can onto her pants that were too tight. She needed to go up another size but didn't want to acknowledge it nor did she frankly have the money for a new wardrobe.
"I didn't go to work today."
"How come?" she asked, wobbling over to her chair positioned in front of the couch. She sighed audibly, finding her familiar spot. Her chair was a like a hermit crab's shell. Every hour away from it was spent in anticipation of climbing back into it.
"I wasn't feeling very well."
Elaine flipped the television on, basking in the familiar sounds of afternoon talk shows.
"A little. I'm gonna go rest for awhile. I'll do the dishes after, okay?"
Darlene turned, walking back down the hallway to her room.
"Can you turn up the heat? I'm freezing."
Darlene adjusted the thermostat and lay back on the bed in her room. She grabbed her phone and scrolled through her email, rereading the one from Dr. Michael Hightower. Meanwhile, six more posts had been added.
Her thumb hovered above the phone number, before finally pressing it. As it rang, she was certain the email had been spam or was some kind of joke. Dr. Michael Hightower did not exist.
"Dr. Michael Hightower," the voice on the other end said crisply.
Darlene sat up on the edge of the bed, without even having time to prepare what she was going to say.
"Hi. This is Darlene Pearson. I posted a video on that website and got an email saying to call you."
There was a pause on the other end. Darlene rubbed the corner of her pillowcase between her thumb and forefinger. She wondered if she should elaborate further, to explain the purpose of her phone call.
"Yes, Darlene. I remember," he said, speaking slowly and carefully. "That's very interesting evidence you have."
Darlene was silent, unsure what to say, though she strangely felt proud of having something someone else deemed worthy. "Thank you."
"Have you had any more contact?"
"No. Not since then. That was the only time."
"Where are you located Darlene?"
"I'm in New Hampshire. Seaton. Near the border of Massachusetts."
Again there was an awkward pause. For some reason, Darlene imagined him sitting at a desk, leg crossed, biting on the end of a pen.
"I'd like to meet you."
"Yes. In private. I'd like to get a first hand experience of your encounter."
"Well I have to work. I finish at three o'clock."
"Give me your address. I'll meet you after work."
Darlene hung up the phone, smiling, though she wasn't entirely certain why. She called Lisa to tell her about Dr. Michael Hightower and their impending meeting.
"What are you meeting about?" Lisa barked. A Guns and Roses song was blasting in the background. Darlene knew Lisa was still at work. She would never play that shit at her house. It was Fat Brian's playlist.
"About the video. He wants to interview me."
"Yes. About my encounter."
"Darlene, there's nothing on that video.
"There is too. How would you know? You weren't there. I was."
"Who is this creep anyway?"
"I don't know. He found me online."