The Unexpected Friend
by Arthur Jackson
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Unlike the previous attempt, Bethany does not speak or give Sky any warning before she lunges her hand toward the console of the radio. Sky again reacts, slapping at Bethany’s moving arm. But this time Sky is unable react fast enough to keep Bethany’s pointer finger from managing to hit its target.
The button is pushed. The radio channel changes. But it doesn’t matter. Because the single voice follows them. Bethany pushes the same button again and again and again but the man’s voice simply follows.
This puts the final piece in place. The puzzle of what is nagging at Sky becomes complete. She then asks aloud, “If this is just some nut job, how the hell would he be able to hijack my satellite radio?”
As if answering Sky’s question: “I am using satellites and the Internet to send my message across the globe as best I can. Televisions. Smart phones. Smart tablets. Xboxes. Streaming services like Hulu or Netflix. XM radio. I will send myself as far as the reaches of our technology will take me. Anywhere I can get the word out.
“Some of you are hearing my voice. Some of you can see my face. I don’t know how long I will be able to continue reaching you before they silence me. I am afraid, but I will no longer hide. My name is Dr. Wesley Brant and I am trying to save you all.”
He is using both satellites and the Internet? Is that possible? Sky then notices a set of bright headlights of an approaching vehicle, heading their direction from the opposite lane. As the dark SUV passes them, she wonders what the odds are that the same strange man is also speaking to them at that very moment. Is Dr. Brant is telling the truth? Sky asks herself. The odds are very good.
Even though the results are the same, Bethany once again begins desperately to pound on the radio’s station button. And Dr. Brant continues to speak to the two young women from every channel, like a preacher giving scripture to his flock from an altar raised high and far from reach.
While her unexpected friend continues failed attempts at ceasing the man’s voice, Sky slowly glances away from the road over at Bethany. Why is she acting so strange, right now? Sky questions. Acting a little... erratic. Why is she so desperate to shut off Dr. Brant?
“I have seen our invaders,” Dr. Brant goes on, “and they are cunning and clever. They do not have the strength to attack with brute force. Instead, they are using the shadows and our own tunnel vision and ignorance against us. They are dangerous. But they are also weak and cowardly. And they have chosen to move behind our backs instead of meeting us face-to-face. But not any longer.”
As Sky looks at Bethany, something bewildering and dumbfounding happens. At first, Sky is unsure whether what she is seeing is real but, right in front of her, Bethany seems to alter, to change in some bizarre way. The change does not happen in a physical way. And, if she were later asked to do so, Sky would find it near impossible to describe the change in words.
“I have seen them,” Dr. Brant insists. “And I need you to see them, too. Open your sight and listen to my words. Look with an open mind. The invaders are all around you. Once everyone else, the rest of you around the world, sees them, too, we can then begin to fight.”
Across the surface of Bethany’s pale, porcelain-like exterior thin, metaphorical fissures begin to crack apart and spread. As the fissures become wider, gaping crevasses, Sky begins to see below the disguise. Then, as Bethany’s familiar shell crumbles away, Sky is no longer looking at the same Bethany that has been her carpooling buddy for the past few months.
Sky has always known that Bethany’s innocent, doll-like appearance isn’t true to the person beneath it. Just like a beautiful, precious puppy that will chew their favorite shoes, rip up the trash, and piss all over the furniture the minute no one is watching.
But, as the outer shell of her unexpected friend falls away, Sky is left with something truly... unexpected.
“Can you see them?”
A complete stranger.
“Can you see them?”
A silent invader?
As Sky stares at Bethany, she realizes that Bethany is staring back. Their eyes meet and something passes unseen between them. Without warning, Bethany reaches over and grabs hold of the steering wheel. A brief tug-of-war for control over the vehicle ends with the blue Honda sharply swerving, violently lunging over the white line and off the road.
From the blackness of the night, a broad tree rapidly materializes directly in their path. Headlights strike across the side of the thick trunk, forming large glowing orbs. Somehow, Sky manages to find the brake pedal with her left foot. She thrusts down onto the pedal with as much force as her leg muscles are capable, yet the attempt fails to slow the blue Honda quickly enough to keep its front end from wrapping around the solid base of the tall tree.
During the collision, Sky nearly blacks out. Everything goes completely black, a total eclipse of her sight. Her other senses, however, fully experience the two seconds that take place between the instant her blue Honda smashes into the tree and the moment when it succumbs to the violent stop.
Time slows and two seconds feel like hours.
Metal savagely twists and shatters and bends and implodes as the front end of the Honda hammers home. Denying her body its desire to continue its forward trajectory, in spite of the car’s stopping, Sky’s seat belt, which has been buckled out of habit, instantaneously tightens its grip on her.
Lungs deflate. And ribs fracture.
The windshield disintegrates in a clap of thunder; large and small slivers of glass rain down around her like sharp hail. A massive boom fills her ears, like the detonation of a grenade, when her air bag inflates.
Hitting the air bag feels more like hitting the side of a brick wall. The cartilage of her nose bends and nearly caves in on itself, but somehow manages to refrain from snapping. And her neck pops from bottom to top, luckily without breaking.
Two seconds that seem to go on forever. Like Hell must be.
But Sky doesn’t have time to be paralyzed by pain. She has to act. She has to move. She has to do what she needs to do in spite of it. And the first thing she has to do is catch her breath, no matter how damaged her ribs are or how much oxygen feels like razors when it enters her lungs.
Her eyes shoot open.
Sky attempts to shift her weight, to power through the intense pain shooting throughout her beaten body, so that she can possibly determine in what condition the crash had left Bethany. Instincts are telling her to get out of the car. Run! Run!
Sky’s curiosity overrides her survival instinct. But when Sky attempts to shift her body in her seat, her locked seat belt, which had remained tightened even after the crash, restricts her movements.
Reaching down the right side of her seat, Sky tries to disengage the seat belt. However, during the collision the latch had somehow jammed. Like Bethany with radio’s channel button, she jabs her thumb against the big red button over and over and over, but the belt remains locked. Sky then tugs hard on her seat belt but fails to get free. Again she tugs. Again she fails to disengage it. Again. And again. Claustrophobia threatens to grab and squeeze her as firmly as the seat belt. She is becoming more and more frenzied as she fights to free herself from the simple contraption.
And right when she borders on insanity, Sky remembers the utility knife she always has for her job is tucked away in the right front pocket of her khaki pants. The razor is worn and mostly dull, but it should be sharp enough to cut through the seat belt. She pulls the knife free.
Yet, before Sky is able to start cutting herself free, she hears a hack and cough from the passenger seat. Somehow, in her frenzy to get free of the seat belt, she has temporarily forgotten about Bethany. Quickly, Sky darts her eyes toward the sound and finds her passenger returning to consciousness.
The strange words of Dr. Brant begin to replay through Sky’s mind as Bethany and her unexpected friend again lock gazes.
Like a leaping python, Bethany instantly lunges toward Sky. Bethany never wanted to wear her seat belt, no matter how much Sky lectured her. But that lack of restraint to Bethany’s waist is what gives her the freedom to shift her body closer enough to wrap Sky in a headlock.
Sky frantically begins to dig her stubby fingernails into the flesh of her attacker’s arms, struggling violently and fiercely against her narrowing airway. She forces herself to inhale, taking in whatever wisps of air that she might be able to squeeze down her throat.
Heavily mixed within the wisps of air, however, is the lingering smoke, along with drops of blood from her still bleeding nose. At once the mixture burns her airway causing her to hack and cough. No matter how hard she fights, breathing is becoming nearly impossible.
“Why are you doing this?” Sky somehow manages to exhale. “Please, just—”
Sky is unsure whether or not Bethany hears her low raspy pleads, because Bethany doesn’t answer. Instead, Bethany cuts her off and says, “You need to quit! You need to just quit!”
But Sky isn’t quitting. She is going to start fighting back. Like Dr. Brant wants her to. Swiftly, Sky begins to throw her fists and elbows at Bethany, hoping that one good hit might cause Bethany to loosen her hold. But the few attacks that strike are too awkward to make a difference.
Bethany starts to jerk clumsily at Sky’s upper body. She begins trying to haul Sky over to her own seat, most likely to gain better leverage and control. But the seat belt remains jammed and locked and refuses to let go of Sky. Like an incorruptible hug of a guardian angel, the belt holds Sky and keeps her from being pulled to the other side of the Honda.
Abruptly, Sky halts her arms from their mindless flailing. Rather than empty attacks driven by her survival instincts, Sky chooses to force in a deep yet shallow breath, agony and blood-filled, in an attempt at regaining even a second of mental composure. Unfolding the black and yellow handle of her work knife with a nimble flick of her thumb, Sky exposes the blade.
Sky then ferociously thrusts the exposed blade toward an area of Bethany’s leg less than an inch above the knee, an exposed area of skin below Bethany’s dark shorts. The blade is worn and dull from use, long overdue to be switched for a new one.
However, as the razor smoothly sinks into Bethany’s leg, without a snag or hesitation, the knife proves to be just sharp enough. At once a bubble of dark maroon blood rises from the fresh wound before beginning to quickly pool and flow down Bethany’s leg in a narrow stream.
But a wounded leg does not stop Bethany. She pulls her right arm away, leaving only her left arm wrapped around Sky’s throat. The hold is loose, slightly weaker, but with her free arm, Bethany begins an awkward attempt to seize the utility knife from Sky’s grasp.
Grabbing and smacking. Tugging and tearing. Jerking and wrenching. Pulling. Pulling. And pulling. Sky does everything in her power to keep Bethany from getting a finger on the weapon. But, Bethany has the upper hand and leverage; Sky cannot help feeling outmatched and overpowered.
Like the silent invaders of Dr. Brant’s warnings, Sky needs to be smarter.
In spite of the alarms and bells beginning to scream in her head, Sky slows the hand holding the razor knife and allows Bethany to wrap fingers loosely around her wrist. Instantly and with fueled conviction, Bethany begins to pull on Sky’s arm with all her strength. Sky attempts to gather up what little vigor she has left, to match Bethany’s conviction.
Passionately, Sky screams through a wide, gaping mouth. She then brings down her free hand and grabs hold of her own arm, just below Bethany’s fingers, and begins to pull, using not just the muscles of her arms, but those of her upper body, her shoulders and back. Sky pulls upward, toward her own chest, toward her aching lungs, toward her center of gravity.
Sky’s tired arms are able to bring the knife up level to her heart, the weapon sitting an equal distance between the two women. At the point when Sky believes that she does not have the strength to pull any further, she pushes.
Caught off guard by the sudden and unforeseeable change, Bethany is helpless to stop the new direction of momentum. Wide-eyed, Bethany cannot react in time to stop Sky from plunging the blade of the utility knife squarely into the middle of her chest.
Without pausing or giving Bethany the chance to recover, Sky yanks the blade out of Bethany’s chest. She then stabs Bethany several more times, keeping the following attacks in close proximity to the initial wound. Sky watches as silent shock and rushing death fill Bethany’s face, making her unable to speak or cry out.
Sky sits back in her seat, motionless, and stares ahead intensely at nothing at all. She waits emotionlessly for the last scraps of life to leave her unexpected friend.
Sky doesn’t bother to wipe away the sticky layer that now coats the metal of the razor blade. Instead, she is finally able to use it and cut herself free of the seat belt. After forcing the battered car door to open, Sky falls out in an exhausted and beaten heap.
As the river of adrenaline that has been pumping and pounding through her veins slows and ceases, it is the simple desire to survive that keeps Sky moving forward that stops her from folding up into a fetal position to die.
Somehow, Sky manages to rise to her feet. Glancing behind her at the crushed and disfigured chunk of metal that had once been her blue Honda, Sky fights the urge to vomit at the sight. It is a miracle that she has managed to survive that wreck, let alone crawl free of it.
Turning from vehicular rubble, she slowly stumbles and crosses the handful of yards between her crushed blue Honda and the side of the two-lane road. The full moon, hanging in the clear sky above her, pours down unhindered beams of light. By that light, Sky can see that she stands at the edge of a dense and shadowy stretch of woods, tall and bulky trees that run parallel to the gray asphalt of the road as far as she can see.
On the opposite side, Sky discovers a massive, open field. With the flash of a mental picture, the piece of land stands out as familiar. She clearly recalls having driven by it on a thousand different occasions while on her trek to work. A massive wooden, three-story house sits to the left of the open field. Even though the white home stands a hundred or so yards back from the road, the large, looming structure, and its adjacent matching white barn, could distinctively be noticed by any passing driver, like herself.
In the mornings, Sky would sometimes see the Amish family that lives there. Children running and playing. Plain women gardening or hanging laundry. Strong men tending and farming the open field.
The familiarity of the place puts much needed solid ground beneath her feet along with establishing a reliable sense of direction. She no longer feels she is free-falling into nothingness.
From the direction of the Amish farm, Sky at once detects faint voices in the air. Within the night’s darkness, she notices orbs of light, lanterns, moving in a group toward her, bouncing their way across the open field, coming from the direction of the tall, white home.
The clamorous crash must have been heard, even from that distance. Perhaps it even woke the family from slumber.
The sight of the approaching Amish family suddenly fills Sky with a harrowing sense of dread and the frantic urgency of purpose. Dr. Brant has explained that he is hijacking satellites and the Internet in order to reach people, to warn them. But the Amish, even the more evolved families, don’t generally use such devices.
They have no idea what is really going on. Their world is no longer the same. And they need to know. The invasion. The secret war. All of the raw truth that has been thrust upon her. Is it up to her, then? Sky wonders. Is it now her responsibility to warn them about the threat, to let them know what is beginning? Apparently it is falling hard onto her shoulders, whether she has asked for the burden or not.
Copyright © 2018 by Arthur Jackson