Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction

 Lavender Fields is a first contact story based loosely on the poem, “Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep,” by Mary Elizabeth Frye. It's for everyone who's lost a loved one, but who still, from time to time, can feel their presence.  Alien world artwork by Brandon Crampton.

 

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft star-shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

 

 

Lavender Fields


Connor bent to one knee and inspected the empty, brown uniform.  No signs of violence, no blood stains - belt fastened, shirt buttoned, boots laced - just like the others.  He ran his hand through the knee-high lavender grass.  Searching, his fingers touched something round and metallic.  Using thumb and forefinger, he retrieved a thin silver disk and brought it to eye level.  A wrist-implanted identity chip.  All that was left of…

 He slowly shook his head, and then touched the communicator chip fastened to the high collar of his dark blue uniform.

“Doc,” he said.  “Found the last one.  Same as the rest.  Call Mac in. We got ‘em all.”     

Connor sat on his haunches.  A light west wind tousled his black and silver hair and whistled through the tall feathery grass.  In the indigo sky, high clouds veiled twin yellow suns.  He covered his face with his hands.  Twenty colonists – gone.  Jennifer, Timmy – gone.  What the hell had happened?  

Nineteen silver coins nestled in a tray in the center of a black table.  Two uniformed men sat quietly in the shadows of the low-lighted room.  Behind them, monitors displayed views of the planet outside the supply ship: metal fabricated buildings, foot-worn dirt paths, fields of tall lavender grass bending toward the horizon, lightning flashing over distant hills.

The door to the room hissed, shimmered, dissolved.  Four eyes followed Connor as he entered and moved to the captain’s chair.  His mouth, a gash in his face, Connor slid his hand toward the tray and gently deposited the silver disk.  The lines around his eyes deepened and he placed his hands, fingers splayed, on the table.

“Okay,” he said, “what do we know?  Mac?”

 A short, muscular man with unruly red hair spoke.  His voice was gravelly.

“I was the last one to talk with the colony.  Yesterday.  Routine stuff.  We discussed supplies, medicine – the weather - everyone was excited about that storm still brewing up North - first real one since the colony set down.  Everything seemed fine.  Then this morning before we broke orbit and, well, as you know there was no response.”

Mac glanced down, bit his lip, and then continued.

“The colony’s security videos show nothing.  Once we discovered that there was only plant life here, the colonists redeployed their cameras to track the weather.  Not one covered the fields.”

“Damn - Doc?”

Doc ran his fingers through thick brown hair.  “No bodies – just empty clothes scattered across the countryside.  Besides the identity chips, I found some plastic implants – you know - body and facial enhancers.  But, here’s the really odd thing,” he leaned toward Connor and Mac, “The med scanner found no genetic traces on the clothes.”

“What?”

“That’s right.  Nothing - not a hair, not a skin cell, not an enzyme.”

Connor bent his chin toward his chest and closed his eyes.  “It’s almost as if they never existed,” he said.     

“What did the Council say when you reported the situation?” asked Mac.

Connor stood, placed his hands on his hips.  “We’re to return to Earth immediately.”

“So we can sit in quarantine for six months?” said Doc.

Connor’s mouth remained a red gash.  He picked up the tray holding the identity chips and cradled it in his palms.  “They were my friends, my wife, my son.  I’m not going anywhere until I know what happened.” 

Doc looked at Mac.  Mac nodded.  His voice deepened an octave.  “I think we just developed engine trouble,” he said.

***

The next morning, Connor peered through a small window.  Two golden orbs crested the horizon and long, double shadows spread across the land.  A violet fog crept through the lavender fields and oozed along the streets of the compound.  Slowly, Connor turned from the window and sank onto a small, soft bed.  A light breeze fluttered the bedroom curtains of the silver hut.  He inhaled deeply. 

Jenny.

Home.

 

On the dresser, a hairbrush, a child’s book, a folded blouse, and a picture.  Jenny, Timmy - and him.  Connor wrapped the blouse around his fingers, brought it to his lips, closed his eyes.  The scent of the coming rain wafted through the window, and with it floated a memory from another world, another time…

“No umbrella?” asked Connor.

“You know I love storms,” said Jenny.  She tilted her chin toward the sky.  The rain glistened upon her face and the wind tangled her long, black hair.  “It’s nature’s way of touching us.”

Gently, he cupped her face in his hands.  He looked down at her.

“Are you scared, Jenny?” he asked.  “Going to a new world.”

His lips touched hers, a whisper of a kiss. Her eyes smiled.  “As long as I’m with you, nothing can hurt me, Connor...”

 

“connorrrrrr.” 

The curtains snapped against the bedroom wall as the breeze stiffened.  The purple morning haze had thickened.  It streamed through the open window. 

“connorrrrr.”  A voice filled the room.  Couldn’t be, thought Connor.  Her voice.  Jenny’s!

He shook his head, peered outside.  Nothing.  Tugging the window shut, he again heard his name.  This time it was coming from the intercom on the wall.

“Yeah, Doc?”

“Better get back to ship, Connor.  Mac’s disappeared.”

***

Connor peered over Doc’s shoulder at a ship’s viewer trained on the lavender fields.  Doc pressed keys and attempted to adjust the picture.

“Can’t track him because the damn fog keeps distorting the focus.  He said something about hearing voices in the fields.  If you ask me, it was just the wind.  But, you know Mac, he’s impulsive.  He shot out of here to investigate.  No weapon, no communicator.  Haven’t heard from him since.”

Silently, Connor reached above his head, touched a keypad on a storage compartment.  It hissed open.  He extracted a med kit and a communicator chip, which he fastened to his collar.  He placed his hand on Doc’s shoulder.

“I’ll stay in communication as long as I can.  If I disappear, get the hell out. The ship will pretty much fly itself – and command can help if you run into trouble.”

“No weapon?” asked Doc.

The corner of Connor’s mouth ticked upward.  “To do what?” he said.  “Fight the fog?”

Before searching for Mac, Connor strode to the compound.  Dark storm clouds filled the sky and the air crackled.  A rising wind howled through Connor’s hair and the fog twirled madly above the lavender fields.

Connor pushed open the door to his hut, stepped inside, inhaled deeply.  In the bedroom, he pressed his fingers to his lips, touched Jenny and Timmy’s picture.  “I love you,” he whispered, and then he hurried to the fields.

The grass reached Connor’s belt, shoulders, head as he pushed deeper into the fields.  The world smelled of clover and hay, and of something coppery, alien.  Heat lightning lit the sky and the violet mist swirled through the grass.  The wind gusted, the grass bowed and he spied a dark uniform standing a hundred meters to his right. 

“Mac!”  Connor screamed, his shout torn asunder by the wind.  Thank goodness, he thought.

The sky roared and he quickened his pace, parting the walls of lavender with outstretched arms.  Again the wind gusted and the grass bowed.  He stopped in his tracks and dropped the med kit.  Ahead of him, Mac’s uniform danced crazily in the maelstrom.  Violet vapor streamed through vacant legs and sleeves, out an empty collar and spiraled to meet the sky.  In the spiraling column, small tan and brown bits and specks shimmered and sparkled. 

“Mac!”  he screamed.

The vapor eddied at Connor’s feet, wrapped around his leg.  He swatted at it.  It flowed toward his arm.  He turned to run, tripped, attempted to right himself.  The fog caressed his body.  As it did, the sky burst.  Huge, purple, shimmering drops splattered the ground, dissipated the fog, and drenched Connor.  And with each drop – a voice, a touch, a memory – rained from the sky.

“Daddy,” a high, soft blue-eyed voice.  “Catch me.”

And Connor spun Timmy in his arms and in his mind.

“Connor,” a deep, red haired voice.  “Congratulations, Captain.  Your own ship.”

“A smooth landing.”

“A new world.”

“Short on supplies.”

“Hurry home, my love,” a warm, wistful voice.  A parting glance, a longing kiss. 

And then, the rain poured and with each glistening drop, the planet spoke of the universe through the memories of long forgotten explorers.

***

Connor coughed, sputtered and then attempted to sit upright.  A hand gently stopped him. “Jenny?”  Connor’s voice rasped.

“No, Connor, It’s Doc.  You’re back on the ship.  I found you in the mud after the downpour.  I found Mac’s uniform too. You were clutching it.”

Connor’s eyes focused.  He grasped Doc’s hand.

“They’re not dead, Doc.”

“What?”

“Jenny, Timmy, Mac, the others.  They’re still here, still with us.  Somehow they’re in the fog, the wind, the rain. Or, their spirits, their souls are.   They’re a part of . . I don’t know... ”

Doc rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and then he patted Connor’s hand.

“Rest,” he said.  “We’ll talk in the morning.”

Connor closed his eyes, gathered his strength, and waited.

 

***

Dawn.

The door to the ship hissed open.  Lips curving upward, Connor sprinted to the fields.  Yellow buds tipped the lavender grass and a light violet mist embraced the land.

 

***

Twin, golden orbs floated straight overhead when Doc found Connor’s identity disk.  As he returned to the ship, he hesitated.  For a moment, the wind seemed to call his name.    

 

 



If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.