VIDMA LODUA Young Heroes United Short Story By J.L. Love I love my friends Sue and Tracy. They are like unto sisters to me. They…
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Rain is pretty. Rain is necessary. Into each life, some rain must fall.
I personally, hate rain. Being in it, I mean. I could look outside at a rainy day for hours, but if I have to go out during a rainstorm, it immediately puts a damper on my day. Pun totally intended.
Of course, I own rain gear: waterproof shoes and boots, slicker, and an armada of umbrellas. Doesn’t make being in the rain any more pleasant for me.
Moving to Seattle wasn’t one of my better career decisions.
I thought people were exaggerating when they said that it rains nearly every day in Seattle. Feh. The only time it doesn’t rain, is when it snows. Thankfully, it doesn’t snow that much or that often in Seattle, which is why umbrellas far outsell snowplows. Still, there are many people who just okay with strolling down the street at a gingerly pace, as if it weren’t raining at all. They’re either incredibly brave, lovers of water, or they’re psychopaths.
Which brings me to my coworker, Irv Crawley. He’s freshly moved to Seattle from parts unknown and is always equipped with his trusty black-on-black umbrella. Except today.
It seems that his favorite, possibly his only, umbrella has been misplaced, forgotten at his home (wherever that is), or has been stolen. And he’s quite freaked out about it. At least, he’s as freaked out as one of his particular persuasion is likely to be. Crawley’s generally an even-keeled kind of guy, a rather typical personality for an accountant. This is possibly the first time I’ve ever seen his brow furrowed.
“What d’ya say, Irv?” Graham, the lead sales guy says to Crawley while slapping him on his back.
“I say appropriate and succinct responses to reasonable queries,” Crawley replies.
Graham laughs. “Always the card. I’ll catch ya later, pal.”
“I do not believe anyone has any intentions of throwing me.”
“Ha! Love it!”
I say good morning to Crawley as he walks by. “Greetings, friend Bethany,” he replies. He always addresses me thus, even though we aren’t much more than office acquaintances.
“You seem perturbed.”
“Quite an astute observation. I am deprived of my moisture-shielding apparatus on this day.”
“Lost your umbrella, huh? I can sympathize. I don’t like getting sprinkled while trotting from my car to the office, either.”
“I do not distress as a result of being rained upon,” he says. “The device is of immense sentimental significance to me. It was gifted by my antecedents, who placed trust of its custody in me.”
“Well, where do you think you lost your precious bumbershoot?” I ask.
“It is my conjecture that I did not lose it. I’m subscribed to the belief that it has been taken from me. By whom, I know not.”
Mr. Teakwood, the station manager, walks over to Crawley and myself from the coffee corner, a piping hot eight ounces of dark roast in his “I’m The Boss Applesauce” mug. “Top of the morning to ye, Bethany. Irving. Might I inquire as to why we aren’t yet at our desks?”
“Crawley lost his umbrella.”
Teakwood snickers. “Oh, is that all? This is Seattle, Irv. As such, we keep a surplus of umbrellas in that pail over there. Strange that you never noticed it before.”
“The large receptacle did not evade my purview,” Crawley says. “Utilizing an alternative has never been a viable option.”
“You’re that attached to it, huh? I understand. A piece of your life from where you were born? A family heirloom, perhaps?”
“Those declarations are somewhat apropos.”
“It’s not even raining today, believe it or not,” I say, hoping to lift Crawley’s spirits.
“It is my predilection to be in possession of my umbrella even on days of no precipitation,” he replies. It just now dawned on me that he does indeed come in with that umbrella every single day since he started working here.
“Hopefully, someone will turn it in,” Teakwood says. “Until then, we’ve got a television station to run, so let’s get to it, shall we? I mean, those numbers aren’t going to crunch themselves, y’know.”
“Quite right, sir.” Crawley walks into his office. I retreat to my cubicle, which is just a few feet outside of Crawley’s door.
The rest of the morning proceeds normally; I watch my usual internet news channels while I go about the task of arranging the TV station’s MeTV affiliate’s commercials in the proper order, making sure competing personal injury lawyers’ commercials aren’t running immediately before or after one another.
Since it is a non-rainy day, I decide to go out for some fresh air during my lunch hour. There’s a pleasant city square park two blocks away, with lots of benches and lush green grass. I head westward to it with my latte in hand, preparing to do some people watching as I sip.
“G’day, beautiful,” a homeless grey-haired gentleman says to me as I walk down the too-narrow sidewalk. I’ve seen him before; he passes by our building, greeting people but never asking or begging for anything. And occasionally he’s gifted a sandwich, or a buck or two. He’s got a shopping cart with the store’s name covered by duct tape, full of his belongings and whatever discarded recyclables he hopes to redeem for a few coins. One of these days, I should get his name.
“And to you,” I reply. “Will be a nice day if it doesn’t rain.”
The old man laughs. “Sweetheart, you gotta learn to find the niceness in every single day, rain or shine.”
I smile at him and he smiles back. I continue on my way to the park.
On my way back into the office, I take note of the increase in the cloud cover and fear that we won’t make it a full twenty-four hours precipitation-free. No matter: my fuchsia-colored umbrella stands ready to keep me dry during my walk to the parking garage. Why Seattle doesn’t have a fully functional skyway system like Minneapolis-St. Paul is so beyond me.
I offer to walk Crawley to his car under my large umbrella if his hasn’t turned up by quitting time. Actually, I’m not even sure he has a car. When the workday is over, Crawley just kinda…disappears.
“Immensely kind of you, friend Bethany, but I have resolved to remain here until my apparatus reappears.”
“You mean you’re gonna stay at work until you find your umbrella? What if it’s gone for good? You won’t ever go home.”
“That is absolutely correct.”
“What does Teakwood have to say about you camping out in your office indefinitely?”
“He is not aware. And will not be unless you were to apprise him.”
I shrug. “I won’t say a word. Well, see ya tomorrow.”
As I step out of the elevator on the P4 level of the parking garage across the street from the office, I notice Graham exiting the stairs.
“Hey there Blondie,” he says to me, even though my hair’s clearly nutmeg brown.
“Did you take the stairs all the way up?” I ask.
“Sure did. Just like I do every day. Keeps the stems in shape. You might wanna try it.”
“Nah, I’m perfectly good with the state of my ‘stems.’ Hey, what you got there? Is that…Crawley’s umbrella?”
As we walk to our cars, Graham shuffles the umbrella to his side, out of my view. “What? No, it’s mine.”
“I’ve never known you to carry an umbrella, Graham. Why did you take Crawley’s? Do you know he’s planning to stay up in his office until it’s returned?”
“Fine. It is Crawley’s. But I didn’t take it. I found it in the stairwell. Honest!”
“Right. Well, gimme it. I’ll take it back to him.” I reach for it, but Graham snatches it away.
“Wait, wait, hang on a second. Have you ever had a good look at this thing? It’s no ordinary umbrella. It’s much, much heavier. Feels like maybe it’s made of cast iron or something. The handle is almost too cold to touch. And why does it have so many buttons? Most umbrellas just have one. Two, at the most.”
“Hm. What happens if you push the buttons?”
“Don’t know. I’m kinda scared to.”
“Give it to me. I’ll push ‘em.” I reach for the handle and he pulls away again. “Graham! What’s your deal, man?”
“Sorry, Bethany, but I’m not letting it go.” He runs down the parking garage, presumably toward his car.
“Graham! Stop!” I yell as I begin to chase after him.
He turns a corner down an aisle. He stops in the middle of the ramp, probably unsure of where he parked his car. As he’s standing there, a red dot appears on the back of his suit jacket. Is someone pointing a laser pointer at him?
I stop running after him and duck behind a SUV. Another red dot appears on him. I gasp as several gunshots ring out. The umbrella hits the pavement with a clang, then Graham lands face-down with a thud.
I see a couple of figures dressed in black and wearing what look like silver motorcycle helmets trotting toward Graham. I scuttle under the SUV, hoping that there’s nothing icky under here that’ll make me shriek, get noticed, and get dead. From my new vantage point, I can only see the feet of the two guys I’m assuming just murdered Graham. One of them picks up the umbrella. One guy mumbles something unintelligible, and the other guy says, “No don’t!” Next thing I know, there’s a flash of light and a tremendous boom, then they both fall to the floor.
I wait about half a minute, listening for any other footsteps. When I hear none, I wriggle out from under the car. Sure enough, where there was just one body, now there’s three. I snatch up the umbrella, being extremely careful not to touch any of the buttons, and almost literally jump down the four flights of stairs to ground level of the parking garage.
I squeeze through the opening elevator door to our office floor and sprint into Crawley’s office. He stands up when he sees what I’m holding.
“Friend Bethany! You have located my beloved device!”
“I didn’t find it,” I reply, panting. “Graham did.”
“Oh? I must go to him at once and offer my sincerest appreciations.”
“Don’t bother. Graham’s dead.”
“What? By what method did his life functions cease?”
“A couple of goons shot him, in the parking garage. And then something zapped them. What the hell’s going on, Irv?”
Crawley settles back into his chair. “Oh dear, this is most unsettling.”
“To say the least,” I add. “What do we do now?”
“Friend Bethany, I sincerely regret that you have found yourself entangled in this scenario. It pains me to think that you will not emerge from it.”
“Hey now, wait a minute. I ain’t ‘entangled’ in nothin’. Take your umbrella, or whatever it is. I’m so outta here.” I get up and head for the elevator. Before I can push the down button, the elevator dings and the doors open. Someone’s coming in here!
My grey-haired homeless friend from the sidewalk steps out. “Bethany,” he says, “are you okay?”
“You? What the heck are you doing here?”
“Don’t worry. I’m here to help.”
“And how do you know my name? I don’t know yours.”
“I’m Steve Mantega, Special Agent with the IDF.”
“The Interplanetary Defense Federation. Please, there’s no time to go into detail right now. You and Crawley need to come with me. Now!”
Crawley steps out of his office. “Agent Mantega. It is time.”
“You bet your sweet bippy it is. Let’s go.”
Crawley and Mantega head for the elevator. I stay stock-still.
Mantega calls to me. “Bethany…?”
“Can’t I just go…home?”
“I wouldn’t advise it. I will do my best to protect you. I promise.”
If I weren’t so scared, I would laugh at that. What exactly is this decrepit old man going to do to protect me?
We get into the elevator and Mantega pushes the ROOF ACCESS button. Before I can ask him why we’re going up instead of down, he takes off his dirty Mariners cap, revealing a head of lush brown hair. He then starts removing what turns out to be fake facial hair and scars from his face.
He notices the incredulity in my face. “I suppose you’ve got a few questions.”
“Too many,” I reply.
“All will be explained,” Crawley says, “once safe refuge has been attained.”
I exhale deeply. “Can’t believe that those guys killed Graham. He may have been kind of a jerkass, but he didn’t deserve that.”
“Fret not for the one known to you as Graham. It has long been my suspicion that he was seeking to impede the progress we have endeavored so earnestly to gain.”
On the roof, there’s a funny looking winged car parked on the helipad. We all pile into it and Mantega punches some code into the back of the driver’s seat. A robot sitting in the seat buzzes to life.
I turn and look out the back window and see about a half dozen dark-suited men running out of the roof access door. “They’ve got guns!” I shout.
“Their weapons will not penetrate our force shield,” Crawley says.
The driver of this strange contraption flips a lever on the conspicuously sparse control panel, and rockets ignite under us just as the laser beams from the attackers’ guns ricochet off an invisible barrier. G-forces cause me to sink into the cushioned seat as we are propelled straight up into the cloudless sky.
“Wh-Where are we going?” I ask, my breath getting shorter.
“To the ISS,” Mantega says.
“The International Sp-Space Station? Can’t you just drop me off at my uh-apartment in Wedgwood?”
“Regrettably we cannot,” Crawley says. “Our focus must now be tuned to assuring that there will be a home for you to return to.”
As we gain altitude, my eyesight starts to blur. “You’re—you’re not from Alsace, are you, Irv? Your name’s not even Irv Crawley, is it?”
“Truthfully, while I do not come from that region of France, I assure you I am indeed who I say I am. Rv Crau-Lee, from the sovereign planetoid L-Sas.”
“Of c-coursh,” I slur.
Crawley’s voice begins to change. “And now Friend Bethany, since the oxygen within this vessel has been depleted, you and agent Mantega must enter stasis while we proceed to our destination.”
My eyes open. Crap! Did I fall asleep at my desk again?
Nope. I’m not at my desk. I’m in bed. But it’s not my bed. And I’m fully clothed, thank goodness.
I’m still struggling to focus, but I see Crawley walking toward me. “Friend Bethany, are you well?”
“I..I think so. Man, I just had one mama of a dream, though. We were on the run from some guys who thought you were an alien—”
My eyes are focused now. I look out a nearby window. I see nothing but black and a small round blue object that looks a lot like Earth.
I turn to Crawley. “It wasn’t a dream, was it? We’re really on the ISS?”
“We are no longer inside the confines of the International Space Station,” he replies. “We are now in my personal shuttle, en route to L-Sas.”
“What? We’re leaving Earth forever?”
“I am optimistic that I will be able to return you to your home planet one day, when the impending threat to the entire Milky Way galaxy is ultimately quelled.”
“Um, okay.” I take a seat on the bed. “Do they have any TV stations on L-Sas?”
“Several thousand, yes.”
“Cool. I shouldn’t have too much trouble landing a job, then. I’m gonna catch a few more winks. Wake me when breakfast is served, yeah?”
I lie down. Crawley—I mean Crau-Lee, returns to whatever he was doing.
And the umbrella-shaped spaceship continues hurtling through the cosmos.
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