episode one / chapter one…
Joe Logan gazed forward at the horizon. The future lay ahead. It took him to the past.
His eyes were covered, sitting at the head of his family’s weathered and stained pine dinner table. A swirl of voices and noises blew around the room. Three of his best friends from the fourth grade yelled and laughed and belched from somewhere nearby. The whir of the engines of the Millennium Falcon vibrated from the oversized television speakers and put them all waist deep in a low roar. His younger sister, Abigail, sat to his right and hummed loudly to herself amongst the chaos.
The blindfold felt tight around Joe’s head. His Mom didn’t want him to peek at the upcoming birthday surprise, so she made sure to pull it snug. The sharp scent of pepperoni poked at his nostrils. He sat up straight and fidgeted. The anticipation was driving him crazy. He wanted to see, but the black cotton that pushed hard against his eyelids allowed no secrets to pass.
“Hit the lights!”
Someone, Abby probably, heeded mother’s call and went to the nearest switch. He heard the click. His friends got quiet. It must be time now.
Joe assumed the room had been darkened and that, finally, the surprise would be revealed. He bit his bottom lip. His sister giggled. He got warm.
“Ok, take it off!”
Joe’s hands sped to his face and pushed his torment up as fast as possible, scratching his left cheek fairly deeply in the process. His eyes focused, and then refocused again. The glare from the rectangular outline of dozens of small, lit candles made him squint.
He opened his eyes wide again, despite the glow, determined to see what the tiny torches surrounded. The flickering wicks bounced shadows off beautiful, perfect, white.
A massive slab of gleaming frosting lay before him. His jaw dropped at the majesty. Joe glanced to his Mom briefly, whose smile somehow seemed brighter than the cake itself. He looked back to his birthday gift and into the middle of its sweet plateau, where two plastic toys had settled.
One of the toys appeared to be an alien space ship. Or, at least as Joe, and most people, imagined it. A thin, green disc with painted black windows had wedged itself halfway into the dessert. It gave the appearance of a crash. Understandable, considering the immense size of the tasty surface.
About three inches away, leaving a trail of tiny footsteps, stood the craft’s likely pilot. Big shoulders, all muscles, flowing cape. He fit the superhero model. Clearly he had set out on a mission from his world to rescue someone or, perhaps, obtain a side of ice cream.
Joe looked back at his friends, who all displayed the proper and well deserved gaping of silent awe. His sister leaned forward, likely more excited to get her hands on a corner piece than anything else in the world at that moment or ever again. Joe grinned at her, and then back to his mother. She continued smiling.
“Happy birthday Joesy, I love you.”
“I love you too Mom.”
Her right hand reached for a spot behind the cake and emerged with a massive, metallic knife. It reflected the white frosting to everyone around.
“So, whaddya say kids? Anyone want some?”
The five voices responded as one.
Joe watched his mother position the blade over the nearest corner of dessert. His body stiffened. From somewhere inside, he felt something. It pushed the hunger and wanting aside, and filled his guts. He had never suffered this pit in his stomach before, not in such a way. Joe felt sadness.
He realized that, once she brought the knife down, this wonderful moment would be over. Seemingly from nowhere, there came an understanding of imminent loss. His childhood, like the perfection of the cake, would reach an end. Joe had aged. This wasn’t what he wanted on his birthday.
As his mother brought the sharp tool within an inch of the incision, Joe did the only thing he could. He stared hard at the unspoiled gift, and then shut his eyes hard to lock in its memory. For the count of ten alligators, nothing could get through. Neither the singing nor the clinking of knife on plate pushed its way in. More importantly, though, for that period, nothing would get out.
The clear blue sky of Barrow, Alaska stretched for miles. It had reached late June, and the dense ice fog that often settled in during the summer had so far not appeared. Sunlight and icy ground collided, giving the surroundings an over exposed sheen. Joe looked out past his back fence, and shielded his eyes.
Beyond the shed with the wood he’d need to warm his house come fall and winter. Beyond the two rusty tractors in mild disrepair that needed to be fixed for his boss. Beyond even the ancient barn he used for target practice when he was bored and/or drunk. Further than all of that, he stared.
Shimmering white snow stretched just short of forever. The canvas had always remained blank. Today, for the first time, it wasn’t.
In the midst of it all, two things had appeared.
An unusual, yet somewhat familiar craft.
Someone, or something, walking his way.
Joe closed his eyes, and felt hungry.