Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 37
Stories
Elsa's Spheres
by Marina J. Lostetter
Underwater Restorations, Part 1
by Jeffrey A Ballard
Into the Desolation
by Catherine Wells
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Missing pieces
by Chris Bellamy

Elsa's Spheres
    by Marina J. Lostetter

Elsa's Spheres
Artwork by Eugene Carter

Elsa slipped a glossy travel brochure over the top of Amir's cornflakes' bowl. He chewed slowly, scanning the white letters that splayed across a background of vines and palms. Visit Costa Rica, Pura Vida!

"This is where I want to go for our anniversary," she said, brushing aside her unkempt curls. "I especially want to visit Caño Island. See the Spheres."

"The Spheres," Amir whispered to himself, splashing cold water over his face, washing the memory -- along with his shaving cream -- down the drain.

He patted his face dry, then examined his teeth in the mirror, smiling a caricature of a smile. His fingers ran through his freshly cut hair, trying to get it to lie down like it was supposed to.

This would be the first time he'd visited the cemetery since she'd been moved. It had been a while; she wouldn't recognize the scruffy, unwashed, sweat-pants wearing lay-about he was on most days. He wanted to clean himself up, look like he used to when they lived in California, so she would remember him.

He didn't want her to know he'd lost his job at Berkeley. Or that he'd had to sell their old house. Or that he'd barely been able to hold down a minimum wage position these last few years.

Bypassing the crookedly hung family photos in the hall, he left the apartment without breakfast. When he started the truck, his hands shook. He could barely control the tremors well enough to back out of the drive.

I don't want to. I don't want to see her.

But he had to. He'd put it off for too long. He'd planned this morning for months, promising himself he'd go.

It's just a walk in the park, he told himself. A nice walk on a spring day.

"Can you hear it? A buzz," Elsa yelled. Wind whipped past the motorboat fast enough to steal the majority of their conversation.

Amir leaned closer. "A bug?"

"No." She cupped her hand over his ear. "A buzz. A hum. I can feel it in my chest."

He smiled. "That's just the boat."

"It's coming from the island. I'm sure of it."

He shook his head. "You're too eager."

She shrugged. "Maybe."

The scientist in him remained skeptical. Subconsciously, he'd already dubbed it a hoax.

Rain had plagued the coast all morning, but the mid-afternoon sun finally broke through, brightening everything. Beyond the lingering haze, the island rose out of the water, not much more than an oblong, boxy silhouette at that distance.

They'd hired a local man, a Tico, to take them to Caño for the day. From his wet-dock they'd sped south along the coastline toward the Osa peninsula and the island about ten miles off shore.

Twenty minutes later they pulled abreast of the rocks surrounding the island; the uncontained jungle toppled down the side of its sheer cliffs, reaching the sea in several places. The boat stopped ten feet shy of the shore and their guide signaled for them to hop into the ocean. Elsa jumped overboard without a second thought, not even bothering to pull her sundress off over her swimsuit. The water came to just above her waist, which caused her sundress to float around her like a brightly colored jellyfish.

"Come on Amir, toss me the backpack!"

He handed her the towels instead, then slid into the water, carefully keeping their supplies balanced atop his head.

The pull and push of the waves fought them all the way to the dry-line, but they kept their footing. The guide called that he'd be back in five hours, then sped away.

They flopped down in the sand together, a heap of limbs in the hot sun.

With the boat gone and the sloshing of the ocean away from his ears, Amir heard it. "They do hum."

"I told you," she sighed, slapping his chest.

"But I still don't believe it's the stones," he said.

Near the tree line, a small, weather-beaten cabin served as the Reserve entrance gate. Inside was a modest museum and gift shop filled with wood and clay wares, as well as colorful Boruca tribal masks.

A ranger came down from the cabin to great them. "Buenos Dias. You are here for the Spheres, not for the beach, yes? You are the geologists from California?"

"Yes, but we aren't visiting in any official capacity --" said Amir, afraid to add an air of legitimate scientific inquiry to their arrival. "We called ahead for passes."

"Yes, no problem," said the ranger, ushering them toward the path.

In amongst the trees, the heat of the day did not lessen. A wave of mugginess settled over them, which made breathing difficult and sweating pointless. Despite the rough ground and their usual sense of decency, they both discarded their shoes and the majority of their clothes.

The further they climbed into the jungle, the louder the hum became. "It's a pleasant sound, almost musical," Elsa commented.

They first noticed small Spheres near their feet, softball to basketball sized. Larger ones appeared as they walked deeper into the heart of the island. Elsa trembled with giddiness.

The Spheres were made of granite, painted over with a lime-wash. Their color and shape made them stand out in harsh contrast to the organic lines and tones of the environment.

Elsa found one that loomed a foot above her. Tentatively, she touched the stone. "It's vibrating, deep inside," she said with wonder. She wrapped her arms around the perfect globe as far as she could reach. "It's amazing."

Amir could see in her eyes what this visit meant to her. She was making a connection to the stones on a personal level -- it went deeper than her love of geology or the uniqueness of the experience. There was something spiritual to the way she embraced the stone.

A pair of tourists walked by and she let go, stepping back from the stone as if she'd been caught in a private moment with a lover.

Amir took her hand, gave a wave of acknowledgment, and led her down the path. He kissed her cheek, smiling understandingly at her embarrassment. "What makes them sing like this?" he asked.

She shrugged. "They didn't used to. Not until the government returned all of the wayward stones to the island. They used to be scattered all over the region. I -- I actually petitioned forthe Costa Rican government to release a Sphere to our labs at Berkeley." She blushed under his stare. "I'm sorry, I should have told you, but I know you're skeptical about them. You would have tried to stop me. Doesn't matter anyway; the request was refused."

They passed a smaller one, baseball-sized, and she bent down to feel its vibrations. It pulsed at a much higher frequency than the large one. Different-sized Spheres made different sounds, like the strings on a guitar.

She pushed it and it rolled away, eventually stopping by a crook in a tree root. Picking it up with both hands, she looked up and down the path to be sure no one was watching, then passed it to him.

He rolled it over and over in his palms. It still hummed. Convinced of its solidity, he put it back. "Genuine wonder of the world," he said without cynicism.

Taking her hand, he lead her deeper into the jungle.

His truck tucked into a corner of the parking lot, Amir slumped with his forehead against the steering wheel. You're working yourself up over nothing, he insisted. Don't think of it as Elsa.

Her parents had prompted the visit. They'd stopped by under the pretense of seeing Jake, but they knew it was the beginning of spring semester at the University of Oregon. They weren't there to see their grandson; they wanted to gush about Elsa's new home.

"Oh, it's wonderful there," her mother had said. "So clean and pretty -- trees everywhere. You need to go see her, Amir. It'll be good for you."

But if it was so good for him, why did he feel like puking?

He knew they thought it would help him move on, but . . .

No, no 'buts.' Get out of the truck.

He locked his Toyota and thrust the keys in his pants pocket. Hunching his shoulders, he walked toward the broad, wrought-iron gates as though heading into a chill wind. He passed through the open archway without glancing up at the sign that proclaimed, Welcome to River View Cemetery.

He moved briskly down the well-manicured walks toward the river side. Tiny finches flitted back and forth over head, chirping happily, and a light breeze carried the scent of roses past his nose. There were just enough clouds in the sky to keep the sun from beating down, and just few enough to assure him there was no chance of rain. It very well could have been a nice walk in the park -- if he wasn't surrounded by the dead.

Passing a grove of spruce trees, his ears picked up the sound of distant music. It became louder the closer he drew to Elsa's plot. He could hear the full melody long before he saw the first Sphere -- watermelon-sized, perfectly chiseled, and glaringly white.

Just like the original ones on Caño.

His legs seized up and he stopped walking. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes. It was too much. Why did they have to move her? The Spheres were only supposed to make him smile. Never . . . never remind him she was gone.

After their initial visit to Caño, Elsa had worked all the harder to get a sample stone sent to the university. Amidst international cries of "Hoax!", the Costa Rican government had finally caved.

Elsa's experiments had been broadcast all over the media. Every journalist had a take on why the stone stopped humming as soon as it left the island, and why the humming on the island had changed. Every reporter had a theory as to what was inside.

Jointly leading the study, Amir and Elsa sliced the sample Sphere open and found crystals. Each Sphere that hummed was a ball of pegmatite -- an over-sized geode. But that hadn't explain why they sang.

Willing himself now to walk on, Amir located her plot easily. Elsa's parents had left him with a photo and a map. She rested directly under the spread of an oak tree, with one human-sized Sphere three feet away and another tennis ball-sized one tucked up against the oak's rough trunk. Their individual notes rang clear, more defined than any of the hums produced on the island.

"Well, I made it," he said. He glanced awkwardly at his empty hands, thinking, I forgot flowers.

He wandered around her grave, fidgeting. "I know what you'd tell me, Elsa. That it's been six years, and that's more than enough time for anyone to grieve. But -- "He looked at the large Sphere, staring blankly into its center. After a moment he found himself laying his finger tips on its white-washed surface . . .

The answer to the riddle of the Spheres had come to a young grad-student of Elsa's. Caño was one massive graveyard. The indigenous people had buried their dead on the island for centuries. Somehow, the dead made the Spheres come alive.

Else and Amir tested it. Artificially produced Spheres -- grown in a lab -- had been taken to a graveyard near the university, and sure enough, they sang. But they sang differently than on Caño. The sound was more distinct. Solid notes could be heard. Different configurations of the stones changed the music. It varied from a mellow buzzing all the way to a real melody.

The indigenous Costa Ricans had discovered a connection between their dead and the stones. The pegmatite resonated with the mass of organic matter, drew energy from it, directed vibrations -- but the specific mechanics were a mystery.

"I know you loved these." Amir's voice cracked. "I know that's why your parents wanted to move you to a Portland graveyard that had them. But, that day, and our years of research . . . And now it's . . . tainted."

He moved to lean against the oak, pausing to listen again to the music. The song was long and looped over and over, seamlessly. The pattern was subtle and hypnotic, calming, yet somehow eager. It felt like an unanswered question, like there was something more.

"I'm sorry. I know it's selfish of me. But, you know how I am. You were taken from me so fast, I never got to say goodbye." His tone changed, pitch rose, "And I can't say it to a grave. I needed to tell you. You have to know. Maybe other people are satisfied talking to thin air and pretending their loved ones are really there, but I'm not. You're gone and I'm talking to the wind."

He punctuated his last word with a kick at the small Sphere. It rolled a few feet down the subtle incline away from the oak.

He walked away as it went, finished with his visit.

"Amir."

He stopped and looked over his shoulder. The voice was soft, almost not there; so quiet he wasn't sure it hadn't come from his own thoughts.

"My Amir."

He held still, letting only his eyes roam. He resisted the urge to call out like a frightened child in a haunted house.

"Amir."

Legs like Jell-o, he staggered back to her graveside. "Elsa?"

"Amir, my love." The words were monotone, delivered as if spoken to no one. They had a breathy, bell-like quality.

"I'm driving myself insane." He stood and placed his hands over his ears. "I shouldn't have come."

He gripped his head firmly between his palms as though he could squeeze out the madness. When he let go, his ears immediately sensed a difference in the music. The song of the Spheres had changed.

Its questioning quality was gone.

Why was it different?

He looked over at the Sphere he had kicked. His brain connected the dots. Different configurations change the sounds. Different alignment, a different relation to the graves.

He reached out and scooped up the stone. Its vibrations felt like heavy breaths. The Sphere seemed alive.

Testing, he put the stone back against the tree. The song returned to its usual tempo. He heard something desperate in it now, like the call of a creature that had tasted freedom but was now trapped in its cage again.

He searched frantically for the next nearest moveable stone. This one came up to his knees. He braced himself against the ground and pushed. It rolled easier than he'd imagined. He moved it several feet closer to her plot. The music leapt in volume, but he heard no more words.

He tried again, and again, with all of the smaller stones he could find. He listened intently to the changes. Perspiration stains fanned out across his back and under his arms. His hair rose up in a sweat-aided cow lick, and his tie and his belt found a resting spot beside a random plot some way down the path.

He worked toward defining the sounds, making the music clear enough to transcribe to notes.

And finally, in the background, like chimes tinkling in the wind, he heard her for sure.

"Amir. You make me so happy."

He ran back to her grave. "Elsa? Elsa, please, don't do this. Not unless it's real. My God, how is this possible?" He crawled to her headstone and lay down with his face in the turf as though snuggling into bed. "Elsa."

She whispered sweet things to him, memories of their life together. He stayed for hours. Later into the day, visitors began wandering past, looks of amazement on their faces.

A little girl called out, "I hear Grandpa!"

Some people laughed, some cried, one woman fainted dead away.

Only the chill of the evening tugged Amir out of his stupor. He sat up and leaned against Elsa's headstone, more revitalized than he'd ever been after a solid night's sleep.

"I'll be back tomorrow," he promised, and kissed the letters of her engraved name.

Two days later Amir found an article in his newspaper: River View Cemetery Speaks. The first sentence suggested the phenomenon was a publicity stunt to get more people to pay for high-priced Sphere-surrounded plots.

Amir laughed, then finished his breakfast. Ignoring his responsibilities for the day, he decided to go for another chat with Elsa. He stopped by a flower shop on the way.

"I remembered this time," he said, laying three stems of purple dendrobium orchids beneath her name.

He visited every day after that, snubbing the world around him. He didn't work, he didn't pick up his phone, he didn't answer the door, he didn't open his mail. A few weeks later he received a letter from his son. The envelope was emblazoned with the university's yellow-and-green emblem. He shoved it in his jacket pocket and forgot about it.

All he did anymore was plan for the next day with Elsa. What he would bring her, what he would say.

They never had a real conversation. He didn't think the connection was as strong as it could be. Sometimes it seemed like she could hear him, other times it was as though she were speaking just to speak. But she was there, she was back in his life.

He began seeing the same faces every day. Some wore renewed smiles, as he did; others looked haggard, re-burdened. Just the same, they were there for many long hours, standing, sitting, or kneeling. They took scant notice of each other, never with a wave of greeting or a word of introduction.

Sometimes Elsa spoke of the same things over and over, telling a story nearly word for word as she had before. Once in a while, she told him something he didn't know.

"I slept with my roommate in college. We were snowed in . . ."

"I broke Amir's stereo the first year we were married. I replaced it and he never noticed . . ."

"The best way to make pie crust is with shortening, not margarine, but if that's the way your mother made it . . ."

She spoke about anything and everything, from the important to the mundane. It was just like when she was alive. It was better than photographs, better than home movies. If only he could touch her again, it would be real. If only she could hear him better, they could really communicate. He could ask her what it's like being dead, ask if he could join . . .

The thought popped in and out of his head.

"No, Mom, that's not how it was!" a man several dozen graves down shouted. He kicked at the dirt, and the young woman with him tugged on his arm. "Why do you say things like that? I told you. I told you, you old bag." The young woman said something to him and he pushed her away.

"I'll tell you again, Mom, I'll show you if I have to!" He stomped off, shaking with rage. The woman scurried after.

Amir forgot about the incident until a few mornings later, when he opened the paper. Police Search for Motive behind Murder/Suicide. The article was accompanied by a picture of the killer and his victim: the man and the woman he'd seen at the cemetery.

The faces began disappearing one by one, the ones with smiles and the ones without. Another headline said it all: Local Suicide Rate on the Rise; Spheres to Blame?

They'd all had the same thought. Elsa was dead, but still there. He'd wondered if he could join her.

The more he thought about it, the more the idea appealed to him. His life had felt so empty with her gone. He'd felt vibrant when she was alive, filled with light that only Elsa could provide. That light had gone out when a drunk driver barreled over her with an SUV.

While his heart fluttered with thoughts of reconnecting with Elsa, his gut shuddered at the idea of abandoning the living.

It's not really dying, he rationalized. It was only abandoning a body. Not even that. It was . . . moving to another type of existence.

The idea was both alluring and frightening.

One day he decided to broach the topic with Elsa. Maybe she could tell him what it was like, reassure him that it was worth it.

"I want to be with you again," he said. "Tell me if I can come now. Or tell me to wait. Just tell me something."

Else replied, "Remember the blizzard in 2009, when we were kids?"

Amir knelt down with a hand on her headstone, staring at the engraved 'E' as though it were her eyes. "I need you to hear me today, Elsa."

A man walked by and Amir glanced up for a moment, afraid he might be overheard. He'd seen the man before. He was about Amir's age, with a businessman's haircut, leather shoes and briefcase. He wore the biggest grin Amir had ever seen. It was the same expression Amir remembered seeing in the mirror the day he married Elsa.

They locked eyes for a moment, but the man walked briskly on.

"Elsa? Elsa, can you hear me?"

"People abandoned their cars on the interstate because of that blizzard, abandoned them right in the middle of the road. Created the biggest traffic jam I can remember."

"Elsa," he was growing impatient. He slowly enunciated every word. "Focus on my voice. Try to understand what I'm asking. Can I be with you? What happens if I -- if I -- " He looked around to be sure no was listening.

He saw the businessman again, a baker's dozen plots to the right. They held each other's gaze again, and the man's expression was the same. His briefcase lay on the ground, wide open and empty. He raised his right hand to his temple, and before Amir could register what was in it, there came an ear-shattering pop.

The man crumpled to the ground. The gun, his arm, and his right shoulder were covered in a red spatter.

Amir's body shook, but his feet were frozen to the ground. Shock, horror, and disgust fought for prominence on his face and his gut. His breath burned in his nostrils. He closed his eyes as if that would undo what he'd just seen.

Regaining control of his limbs, Amir sprinted for the entrance, searching for someone who worked there. There was nothing he could do for the man directly, and if he'd gone any closer he would have vomited.

He found someone, and eventually the police came. Amir gave his account, but later that evening he couldn't remember a word he'd told them; while his mouth had been relating what happened, his mind had been turning on why. It was one thing to read about the deaths in the paper; to witness it, though . . .

I did this. He kept repeating to himself. I did this. I moved the Spheres. Once the voices started, everyone was afraid to lose them, so nothing had been changed.

They're killing themselves because of what I did. He'd crossed a boundary into death while he still breathed, and had unthinkingly dragged hundreds of people along with him.

The next day he still went back, undeterred. Six plots were roped off with crime-scene tape, and blood splatter was visible both on a tombstone and the single Sphere corralled within.

Amir choked on bile when he saw the spray of dark red -- realizing he hated the Spheres as he loved them. They told him he already spent days lying on a grave, so he might as well be in one.

And he'd believed them.

A grain of a plan wedged itself into his consciousness. They need to go away.

I need to get rid of them.

Amir sat at his kitchen table that evening, drawing a map from memory, jotting down where each Sphere sat in the cemetery. He could throw them in the river, but if he took them one by one someone would notice. How could he remove them all at once?

The phone rang. He disconnected the receiver without noting the familiar Eugene number on the caller-ID. He couldn't afford interruptions.

The plan came together quickly. He needed the right supplies. He had to make sure he could pull this off in one night. The internet became a trustworthy conspirator.

He still visited as usual. Watching the businessman kill himself hadn't cured him of his desire to be with Elsa. He longed for her even more, knowing his daily sessions would soon end. The days ticked by and he marked each one on the calendar, watching time march toward a Wednesday he'd circled in red. That would be the last day he would ever speak to his wife.

He held on to every moment, told her everything he needed to say, asked everything he needed to ask. But he never received any answers.

Just three days away, he decided he couldn't do it. He couldn't kill her a second time.

Amir made up his mind to ask a final time.

If I kill myself, will we be together?

He had to have an answer, had to know she'd heard him.

And he could only do that if he finished moving the Spheres: including the large ones that he couldn't budge alone.

If she said yes, maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. Maybe he could destroy the spheres and rid himself of the burden of living without her at the same time.

Amir understood the irony: killing himself while trying to prevent other suicides.

In the nights before, Amir spent long hours in his kitchen, bent over a chemistry set. He worked slowly, keeping himself focused. The results had to be perfect.

The morning of, he hopped into his truck and drove to the Heavy Construction Equipment rental facility five miles from the cemetery. The employees graciously helped him connect the trailer that carried the bulldozer he'd rented. He then took the machine to a park a few blocks from the cemetery and left it in the parking lot.

On his way home he stopped by a corner drug store and picked up a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills.

"I'm in love," Elsa declared, bending backwards against a Sphere, its vibrations pulsing through her spine. "No wonder people have pilfered them for centuries; they feel alive. But not like a plant or an animal. Like a string." She laughed at his quizzical expression. "Like a connective thread, tying life -- me -- to something greater." She turned and pressed her ear to the granite. "It's like the universe is speaking through them."

Amir walked up behind her and pressed himself against her body, sharing the deep reverberations. "And what is the universe telling you?"

She found his hand and entwined their fingers. "That it's time."

Evening came to his door earlier than usual. Time seems more fleet of foot when it only has a few hours left to run.

The cemetery closed at dusk, which meant it was time to make his final visit.

He packed two suitcases full of supplies and tucked them into his truck. Then he brewed three thermoses worth of fresh black coffee and evenly distributed the sleeping pills amongst them. Finally he combed his hair, washed his face, and shrugged on his jacket.

Amir felt like he'd arrived at the cemetery before he'd even turned the engine over. The majority of the cemetery grounds were a bulky, black shadow, silhouetted against the dusty blue-black of the city's night sky. Only the "Welcome" sign above the locked gates was directly illuminated.

Armed with one of the thermoses, he pulled his arms tight around him, to give the impression he was cold, and jogged up to the gates. He called out, "Hello?"

A flashlight flicked on inside of the small guard post on the other side of the fence. "Hello?" its owner echoed.

"Jimmy?"

The flashlight's beam moved out of the post and bobbed along towards Amir, its glare shielding the guard. "What are you doing here this time of day, Amir? You know we're closed."

Amir had stayed until closing hours often enough to get to know the night staff. They were all underpaid, bored, and eager to start a conversation with anyone who was around.

"I couldn't get away today. I'd really like to see my wife, just for a few minutes, let her know I didn't forget." He held up the thermos and jiggled it back and forth. The coffee sloshed inside. "I brought a peace offering. Enough for all the guys."

"You know I shouldn't."

"Come on, what am I going to do, run away with her head stone?"

Jimmy considered for a moment. "Alright, just a little while. Half-hour tops, okay? Let me call the guys, I'll take your 'peace offering' over to the main office."

"Thanks, means the world to me."

Amir hurried back to the truck to get the rest of the coffee while Jimmy unlocked the gate.

Returning, Amir handed the containers over, and the gates were re-secured. To be sure they drank heartily, Amir helped carry the coffee to the office, watching carefully as each member of the night staff gulped down lid after lid full. In fifteen minutes they'd all curled up someplace warm to "rest their eyes."

Amir lifted the keys and hurried to begin implementing his plan.

Driving a bulldozer down the well-tended path, crushing flowers and flinging pebbles as he went, felt surreal. It gave him a sense of physical, kinetic control. He relished it.

Amir didn't stop to greet Elsa. They'd speak soon enough. He went immediately to his task of organizing the correct Sphere configuration.

The maps he'd made helped guide him. A subtle pattern had already risen from the new placement of the smaller stones. It had a distinct center, and branches -- not tree branches, more like fingers. More like a crystal pattern. Like a snowflake.

He approached the innermost large Sphere and held his breath as he pushed against it with the machine's blade. Though it weighed close to half a ton, its globular structuring allowed it to roll with minimum leverage. It tumbled slowly over several graves before stopping, but the residents didn't seem to mind.

He took his time, filling in the gaps in the array with the right stones, stopping now and again, turning off the bulldozer, to listen.

Soon the voices began to overpower the song. The chatter rose, louder and louder, drowning out the clear-cut notes.

But when he moved the last Sphere, confident of the pattern he'd created, it all stopped. The music ceased, the chatter died. Silence: the sort that engulfs all Sphere-less graveyards, gushed in with a swampiness, thick and miserable.

His heart stuttered in his chest. One horrible thought engulfed his brain: I've lost her.

He jumped from the dozer and landed in the middle of an occupied plot.

"So I said to her, if you can do better, do it."

He leaped next to the headstone, sure he'd been caught. It sounded as if someone had spoken right beside him, right to him.

"And she said, see if I don't. Can you believe the nerve?"

He stepped off the grave, and the silence returned. He stepped back on.

"She can be so hard-headed sometimes."

He stepped off. Quiet.

Amir laughed, open and hardy. He'd done it. He'd completed the array and focused the energy just so.

He resisted the urge to run to Elsa.

They'd have time, plenty of it. But right now he had a job to finish, and only a few hours in which to do it.

He had packed the cabin of the bulldozer with all of the implements he needed, and now brought out a drill and a can of machine oil. Here came the gamble. If he disrupted the integrity of the Spheres' surface, would they still work?

He set his drill-bit against one stone, then squirted some of the oil to act as a lubricant. Steadying his hands and swallowing his misgivings, he drilled. Carefully, slowly. The resulting hole bore a few inches into the granite, but did not breach the inner sanctum where the crystals lay.

Nervously, he returned to the nearby grave.

"So then she --"

He ran to the next stone, eager to finish.

After hours of work, all of the stones had holes in them, ready for their implants.

The suitcases were filled with home-made trinitrotoluene: TNT. He'd found both the recipe and the supplies online. "They should know better," he'd commented while placing his order for nitric acid.

Amir popped nugget after nugget of TNT into the holes, followed by a blasting cap -- also home-made.

He rigged it all together with a web of fuse line.

The last nugget and cap he saved for himself. These he left in his jacket pocket.

"Elsa?" he called into the night, knowing she couldn't answer until he stood on her resting place. "I fixed it," he explained, stepping onto her grave. "Tell me now," he said. "If I die, will we be together?"

"Amir."

That single word drew his neediness to the brink of its containment. His breath caught in his throat.

Else's voice rang clear and human, without an other-worldly quality. Nothing more than air stood between them.

"Is it that simple?" he croaked. "Or do we have to be buried together?"

"Remember our wedding day?" she asked. "I was so afraid of forgetting my vows, and then we both forgot. Remember?"

He knelt, staring into the turf, wrenching it between his fingers. "I remember. Of course I do. We talked about it last week, and we laughed about it when you were --" Amir caught himself drifting with her. No. No! "Focus, Elsa! This is important, and you have to tell me. Now. What do we have to do to be together?"

"Yes, we were so happy, together."

"No, no, no. Elsa, listen --"

She continued to reminisce about their wedding.

Amir pounded his fists against the ground. "Don't you understand what I'm trying to accomplish? I want us to have happy days again, like our wedding, like the day at Caño when you fell in love with these damn stones." He thrust his face in his hands, holding back a scream or a growl, he wasn't sure which. "I can't do it unless I know. I --"

"Caño."

He fell back to his knees. "Yes," he said. "Remember, baby? Remember how happy we were that day, how perfect and beautiful --"

"Remember Jake."

"Jake?" His son's name sobered him.

"You're sure?"

They were back at the strip of sand, on the lookout for their boat.

She nodded, then rested her chin on his shoulder. "Absolutely."

"Because the music of the universe told you to?"

She slapped his butt. "No, silly. Because we're us. Because I love you so much. I want to bring that love to life. Want to see it breathe and grow, find love of its own."

Amir let out a deep breath. "We're really going to do this?" He looked her in the eyes for reassurance.

"Yes. We'll be good parents." She smiled broadly. "Great parents."

As soon as they arrived back at their hotel room they stripped down and made love. Silly, messy, rambunctious love.

If Amir could have lived forever in that moment, he would have.

That night was a big part of what made that day so special. They'd conceived Jake that night -- made a family.

"Jake." A dim recollection struck Amir, and he reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out the crumpled envelope with green and yellow embossing on the front. With shaking fingers he ripped it open and unfolded the letter.

Hi Dad,

You must be really busy. You haven't been answering your phone or your e-mail, so I thought I'd try the old fashioned way.

I really want to talk to you. I'm thinking about proposing to Emily, but I don't know how. I want it to be special, but I'm not really the creative type. Any ideas?

Call me when you get a chance. If I don't hear from you I'll just take a trip home at the end of the semester. Call, okay? I want to do it soon. It's like the way you talk about Mom, you know? I don't want to spend a minute without her. Anyway, hope to hear from you soon.

"I don't really remember when Jake was born," Elsa said. "I'd been in labor for forty-two hours, and I think I fell asleep before they had him cleaned up. Amir got to see him first."

Amir realized two things at once. He touched the ground with his fingers, taking in the sensation of each blade of grass. "You're not really here, are you?" He carefully removed the explosives from his pocket and set them aside. "If you were really here you would have told me not to do it a long time ago.

"I've got a son. We've got a son. He's love come to life and I've ignored him for a shadow."

He shook his head, tears welling up. He suppressed them, determined to retain control of himself. "They're only your memories. I kept asking myself why you repeated remember over and over again." He slapped his forehead. "Because that's how you live on. In me, and in Jake." Amir looked into the sky and tried to shield out the city light with his hands. He picked out a few stars here and there amongst the gloom. "Your memories stayed with your body, but you're somewhere else. Somewhere I can't reach yet."

He touched the top of her headstone.

"I love you, Amir."

"I love you too, Elsa. But this has to be goodbye."

He walked away. When he reached the outside of the Sphere array, he struck a match and lit the fuse.

He crouched behind the bulldozer, waiting, until a concussion rocked the entire cemetery.

When the dust settled, he inspected his work. The smallest Spheres had been obliterated, themedium Spheres had split into pieces, and the largest Spheres had simply cracked open. He struck another match and used it to peer down a fissure in one of the large-sized stones. The crystals within had all shattered.

The instruments were dead, the universe would play no more.

Don't let the memories drive you insane, he said to himself. It was a message he had to convey to everyone.

"Goodbye," he said again, and kissed his finger tips in a final farewell. Then he turned and walked away, leaving the signs of his handiwork for all to see. He envisioned the next morning's headline: The Dead Speak No More.

Tomorrow he would face life anew, with whatever it had to offer him.

But first he had a phone call to make. Jake needed his help.


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