by Andrew Godwin
The pounding at the door was relentless. After an hour of constant thuds with no signs of stopping, Frank could stare at the ceiling no longer. “This cannot be happening,” he said, pressing hard against the sides of his head. He snatched a pillow up and stuffed it around his ears, but the muffled thumps continued. Nothing worked. Nothing ever worked for these people. Rubbing his temples, he rose and threw on his robe.
Sliding his way through the maze of moving boxes, he walked towards the front of the house. Two weeks, and he already had people breaking down his doors again. He wondered what the requests would be this time. Most were fairly simple in the beginning, once people started noticing the odd coincidences. He remembered a time when he even had fun with it but, after his fourth book, the flood of requests starting pouring in. It was too much for anyone to handle. Six moves in ten months had frayed his patience down to nothing, and his career had ground to a halt.
He took hold of the curtain and took a deep breath. Rehearsed lines ran through his head and, as he finished acting out the scene, he knew was about to happen. He peered out. A rush of light stabbed his eye and the neighborhood flooded into view.
A sudden, sad thought entered into his mind that he’d probably never even meet his neighbors and never unpack all these boxes. Blinking away the blur, he saw two faces come into view.
A woman’s face, red and heaving, appeared from the bushes. She was a small, middle-aged woman with dark hair and eyes that bulged from their sockets. She wiped away sweaty strands of hair from her face and tapped on the glass of the door.
Frank looked past her to the thin-faced man perched on the stoop. His less frazzled appearance actually unnerved Frank more than the wide-eyed woman fogging up his door. The man’s long face was fixed in suspicion, an eyebrow was cocked high on his forehead, and he scanned the front of the house quizzically. When he was finished, he stared at Frank.
“He’s awake!” the woman said, pressing her nose against the glass. Frank wondered if they had been outside his house all night. The bags under her eyes spoke of little sleep, and both she and the man were disheveled and covered with leaves. Tapping on the glass again, she continued, “We need to speak with you!”
Frank’s face instantly fell as reality flooded back.
“Go away please,” he said, slamming the curtain back. “I’m done taking requests, and I’m done hearing about all the miracles.” He turned and started towards the kitchen. He heard hard footsteps on the front stoop and subdued talking.
“This is important, sir.” The woman’s muffled voice crawled in under the sill of the front door as Frank rounded the corner. He stopped and sighed. It was always important. He almost decided to leave it be in that moment, but he turned and spoke.
“You don’t get it do you?” Frank said. “I’m not some genie. I don’t have a lamp everyone in the world can rub for wishes. I’m done. No more sick kids, no more finding long lost relatives, no more financial windfalls. I’m done with it all.” Frank nodded to himself. It felt good to actually say that out loud. He was done with all this nonsense. He had never wanted any of it.
“And what about finding a way to end it?” The man’s voice interrupted in a clear, controlled tone.
Frank let the words sink deep into his mind. The only way he’d ever thought to end it was to quit writing, to quit coming up with stories. He’d never believed any of them, but there were many people who did. He had to admit that some of the letters about recent events in people’s lives were eerily similar to what he had written, but it couldn’t be true. Honestly, he felt trapped. That’s why he’d gone into hiding and that’s why he’d decided to test it, once and for all.
“How do I go about doing that?”
“We know you have another book, Frank,” the man said.
“We need to talk to you about it.” The woman had steadied her breath. “We need to know what’s in it. We need to know what you’ve done.”
“No one’s read it but me,” said Frank. “What if I just burn it?”
“We don’t believe it works that way, Frank,” the pair outside spoke in unison.
Frank took a deep breath. He knew his writing career was over, but he wanted his peace back. Turning around, he tightened his robe and flung open the door.
The pair introduced themselves as Joanne Margoles and Henry Vaughn, two members of FMF, the Frank Martin Fanclub. Frank had definitely heard about this group. They were true believers and had dedicated much of their time to collecting and collating any and all information about the strange occurrences with his writings. He had never met anyone from the group and had hoped never to meet them. In his mind these “Martians,” as they liked to call themselves, were cracked, but if they knew of a way to stop this madness, he was willing to listen.
Frank unpacked a couple of chairs for them, set them out at the kitchen table and then went to retrieve his latest manuscript. When he returned, they had filled the table with computers, notepads and stacks of letters from all over the country. They greedily took the stack of papers and began to pore over them. Frank started a pot of coffee and watched them work.
Hours passed, and not many words were exchanged between the pair. Both seemed to work independently on their respective computers and collaborate with slight gestures and nods.
When Frank was nearing the end of his second pot of coffee, Joanne perked up. “Mr. Martin,” she said, looking up from the last few pages of his book, “this is fascinating. When did you complete this?”
Frank searched his caffeinated mind. “About two months ago.”
“Have you followed any news sources?” Henry said, staring at his computer screen. “To see if your ‘test’ had worked?”
“I... well,” Frank looked down into his cup. He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t even know how ‘it’ really worked. “Honestly,” he continued, “I’ve been afraid to check. Sounds stupid, I know.”
The pair looked at him. Neither blinked. “Not at all,” they both said.
Frank nodded, he should’ve expected them to say that. He set down his cup and searched the ceiling. “I really don’t want to know if my ‘test’ worked. I mean, it couldn’t have. Up until now, everything I’ve written has been real, in a sense, but...” He looked back at the pair to find Henry’s computer screen turned towards him. A news headline scrolled across in bold, red letters: THEY HAVE LANDED. WE ARE NOT ALONE.
“It is very much a possibility, Frank,” said Henry.
“Here,” Joanne said, scribbling a note on a piece of paper and handing it to Frank, “this is an address to a safehouse. We need you to know where to go if you get separated from us. We need—”
Frank felt his breath catch in his throat. This was absolutely impossible. He stood and began to pace around the room. Henry and Joanne rose from their seats. “Frank,” Henry said, spreading his arms out wide, “we need to you to stay calm.”
“I’m way beyond calm!” Frank said, hyperventilating. “Just, stay here, please.” He turned and made his way down the hall into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Three strong heaves and Frank emptied his stomach into the toilet. He sat back against the wall. He heard the two of them moving around outside the door.
“Frank,” Joanne said, “you’re in danger. We don’t know what’s going to happen with these visitors. We need your help.”
“This...” — Frank spit bile out of his mouth — “this can’t be real.”
“It’s more real than you realize,” said Henry, knocking on the door. “Open up. We need you.”
Frank’s eyes fell on the window as he scanned the room. This was impossible. He needed to get away from these crazy people. In one swift movement he raised the window and felt himself hit the ground outside. He pressed his back up against the house and heard them yell.
He found the courage to move when he heard the bathroom door slam off its hinges. Ploughing through the flowerbed, he jumped to clear the small fence at the back of his yard when a pair of arms snagged his left leg, sending him crashing into a pair of bushes. It was Joanne, her small frame was wrestling his feet into submission.
“No, Frank!” she yelled, holding an iron grip on his ankles. “These aliens are going to come after you. We need you to write a sequel to the book. We need you to undo what you’ve done. You’re the only chance we’ve—”
Before she could finish, a bolt of white hot plasma vaporized her head, covering Frank in a pink mist. Her body fell quivering to the ground. Frank stared at the headless corpse for what seemed like an eternity until another bolt caught his eye and sizzled passed his arm, cutting a path through the fence behind him.
Frank looked up to see Henry, running towards him, weapon in hand, looking not entirely human. Frank looked down at the paper with the address, then he took off through the burning fence and into the woods.
Copyright © 2018 by Andrew Godwin