I paid for my breakfast and walked down to get a copy of The 1920 Sentinel hoping there’d be something in it about the explosion. Last night a huge explosion blew out some of my windows and a few seconds later I was literally shaken from my bed and dumped on the floor, earthquake-style. It brought back a terrifying memory. Just before I died the same thing happened. The south side of Chicago lit up one night as if the sun had come down for a look around, then the wall of my apartment blew in. I seem to remember being drilled by debris in a moment of intense pain. I woke up in the resurrectorium. I haven’t thought about that night since.
Edward was already there at the Sentinel building, looking over a copy. “Nothing,” he said when he saw me.
“Nothing?” I went inside. Edward followed me in. There was no one at the front office. I could hear someone in back. “Hello?” I called. No reply. “Hello?!” More noises from the back. Edward stepped around the counter and through the door to the back.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Mark, ol’ buddy.”
“Oh, Eddy,” I heard Mark reply from the back. “Come on in.”
I followed Edward back. Mark’s dark green jumpsuit was mostly black, as were his hands, which were furiously working on changing the front plate of the paper.
“New Edition?” I asked. Mark looked up. I could see he was trying to place me.
“This is my buddy, Webster,” Edward said.
“Wayne,” I corrected. “Wayne Bailey. I run the New Harmony Delivery Company.”
“Oh,” Mark said, “Reese’s boss. I’d shake your hand, but…” He waved his ink-stained hand at me. “Reese is well-liked here at the Sentinel. Zelda especially—”
“So, Mark,” Edward said. “What happened last night? It wasn’t in the paper.”
“Oh, we mostly write that the night before. The news cycle is usually pretty slow around here.”
Edward snorted at that. “So, what’s the story?” he said. “What’re you gonna to put in the paper?”
“Zelda’s out getting the whole story, but it looks like a comet landed outside of town.”
“When will she be back?”
Mark was putting in the headline COMET STRIKES! NO INJURIES when Zelda opened the alley door. She didn’t see us in the other doorway.
“Mark! Mark, it was an angel. An angel unmade Reese!” By now tears were flowing. “I just got back from the resurrectorium. Amber is there, and she—.” Zelda saw us standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“They came,” Mark said, “because the first editions didn’t have the scoop. Eddy, Webster, if you’ll excuse us, Zelda and I have a paper to get out.”
“It’s Wayne,” I said. We saw ourselves out, dropping our morning editions in the recycle bin just outside the front door.
“Shit,” Edward said. “That nails it, Webs…Wayne.”
“Let’s get a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you.”
“Marnie’s is open.”
“Nah. She went native long before I got here.”
“You know. She’s naked half the time. In a restaurant. Like she was a Zoë or something. I’m a couple blocks off Main. I’ll brew us a pot.”
“Well, I…” I looked at my wrist out of habit. Edward started laughing.
“Reflex, eh? Look, you know as well as I do, whatever it is, it can wait. If there’s one thing I do like about this burg, it’s that no one’s in a hurry.”
“I ought to get to the office.”
“You got employees for that. Come on.”
We were a block off Main street when Edward said, “The delivery company, right?”
“You said you run the delivery company. The one Reese works for.”
“That’s right. I suppose they can open without me.”
“You know they can. I was wondering what you thought of your transportation.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your fleet of trucks. They running okay?”
“Oh. I see.”
“Here we are,” he said when we reached his home. It was an unassuming workman’s cottage. It was painted gray, but it had a double lot and the yard next to it was filled with a riot of flowers with a path of brick winding through it.
“You’re quite a gardener, Edward,” I said.
“Eddy. I’m Eddy, Wayne,” and he emphasized my name. “My dad called me Edward. When he was pissed at me. Which was all the time.” We went back to the kitchen, which was large considering the size of the house. He busied himself heating water and setting up a drip while I sat at a table.
There’s a kind of guy you don’t anticipate having a domestic side until you encounter it. Eddy was that kind of guy. First the yard full of flowers. Then there were the water colors, of flowers, I’d noticed on the walls of the living room as we passed through to the kitchen. Then seeing him bustle about pulling cups down and setting them on the counter near the stove, pulling down the sugar bowl from another cupboard and putting it on the table, and getting the creamer from the small, 1940’s style refrigerator. He wasn’t wearing it, but there was even an apron hanging close to the stove. The house was neat, in a way atypical of single guys. My place back in the world, even with a dishwasher, always had dirty dishes on the counter, and my digs here are the same. Not Eddy’s. Here, a broom stood in the corner, the dustpan standing on its edge in front of it. There was a large vase of fresh flowers on the table, and a single rose in a vase on the widow ledge. Domestic Eddy.
He poured the coffees out and set one before me. He flipped his chair around and sat on it backwards.
“So, spill, Wayne. Tell me about this new life, here in The Kingdom.”
The way he said ‘the kingdom’ carried his air quotes and disdain for the place.
“Where are all the cars and trucks?” I asked. He knew it was a rhetorical question and nodded to indicate I understood what he was getting at. “That press, back at the Sentinel, that thing’s an antique even in the real 1920. Yet Marnie’s is a stainless steel diner, with vinyl seats and all the appliances you’d expect. In that diner green, no less.”
“And then there’s the fact that there are travel restrictions.”
“Blammo!” Eddy shouted and slammed his hand flat on the table, then pointed his finger at me. “I knew you saw it. This whole set up is fake, Wayne. As fake as a movie set.”
“Is that what you meant when you said, ‘Look up at the night sky’?”
“And did you?”
“Look up? At the sky?”
His face said ‘yes.’
“Yes. It’s all wrong.”
“Exactly!” he shouted again.
“I grew up without electricity, so I was used to seeing the night sky. Once you pointed it out, it was obvious.”
I ended up telling Eddy about the commune. He told me about his life growing up in the Great Depression, Union organizing before World War II, getting wounded at Anzio, then shot to death by his lover when he drove up to their apartment in his new Edsel convertible.
“I miss that car,” he said. “I went from sitting in the front seat of this turquoise beauty — Mack loved turquoise — to waking up in that resurrectorium. From seeing my blood soak the seats of my new car — seven miles on the odometer — to hearing beeping sounds in that operating room.”
It was an odd reminder that we weren’t back home, in the world that was, because if we were, I would be talking to a man from Eddy’s generation in a nursing home, or, at best, on his front porch as he struggled to speak past loose dentures.
“As I was saying earlier,” I said, “The night sky. It’s wrong.”
“Can’t find the Big Dipper.”
“Oh yes, I can,” I said. His eyebrow shot up saying both ‘no shit?’ and ‘are you calling e a liar?’ “But it’s moved. Orion is in the summer sky, and Polaris isn’t the pole star. We’re not in the Southern Hemisphere, either. I found the Pleiades, but not where they should be. So if what I am seeing is what I think I’m seeing, with Vega in the constellation Lyra as the pole star, we’re half way around the precession. 13,000 years.”
Eddy whistled. “I knew something was off.”
“Mind you, I’m not an astronomer. But that’s what it looks like.”
I nodded, and Eddy refilled our cups.
“So, we’ve got your precession, and now Zelda claims an angel came down from heaven and killed Reese.”
“Unmade,” I corrected him.
“Yes, strange word to use. Look, Wayne, put it all together and it’s clear we’re not being told the truth. Zoës and all that. Angels. The Kingdom. Jesus has returned! Sure, sure. I’ll believe it when I see him. I have a word for you, Wayne.” He sipped his coffee, waiting for me to deliver his line. Eddy was obviously good at manipulating drama.
“What word, Eddy?”
I screwed up my face enough that he said, “I kid you not. Aliens or humans 13,000 years in the future. Or both. Could be both.”