An excerpt from
From Strangelet, Issue 0
Our son, Cale, was the first one who noticed, though we didn’t have a name for it then, and the news didn’t start reporting it for another week. We were raking leaves when Meredith was lifted through the front door and set down again, as if by an invisible hand, her hair whipping her face. We stood startled before Cale clung to her waist and told her to be careful not to blow away. She brought him back into the yard, and they played among the leaves so she could prove the difference between her and them.
The first report we heard was about a man in a neighboring town who supposedly could levitate. He floated two feet above his lawn and explained to the reporter that he’d been born with the ability, though he had only just recently begun to hone it, and he hadn’t yet figured out how to come back down. Locals paid a five-dollar fee to shoot photographs with him. He was celebrated or shunned, holy or damned, sent to do whatever bidding there was to be done until other floaters were reported. Meredith was quiet through the segment and went to bed after dinner. The next morning I found her in her robe quietly crying in the bathroom, nothing between her heels and the floor. “I can’t come down,” she said. She called in sick to work and walked on her tiptoes. That evening I took her hand and twirled her. “A ballerina in our home,” I said. She smiled but told me to stop, and I did.
Meredith was a foot above our bed the next morning, floating horizontally above our covers. She cast a shadow on the wall, her hair and nightgown hanging beneath her. She could bend her limbs and rotate, but she was permanent in her coordinates. She didn’t budge when I pressed her shoulders or pulled from beneath her. When I tried to guide her to the bathroom she winced as I pulled at her ankles.
“You’ll be down by morning,” I told her.
“What if I’m not?”
“You will be. Where else is there to go?”
We both looked at the ceiling. “Don’t let Cale see,” she said. I brought her breakfast and helped her undress from her nightgown into jeans and a t-shirt. Cale and I wandered the park most of the day, stopping briefly to regard an old man hovering inches above his cane.
The next morning, I heard Cale playing in the hallway. He jubilantly moved himself along the walls. “Come down,” I said, but I already knew.
“I can’t, Dad.” He laughed and pushed off the wall.
“I know,” I said. I ran my fingers through his hair and pressed down. He groaned, the tips of his toes lightly touching the floor. I guided him to our bedroom where his mother blinked at the ceiling. She looked at me. “No,” she said.
“Buddy,” she said, “look at you.”
“You’re high,” he said.
“Oh, Cale,” she said, “we’ll be down so soon.”
“Yeah.” He smiled and tugged at her leg.
These are the phantoms that lurk in doorframes and dark corners, conjured easily by the chirp of a bird, the creaks of a house.
There were reports of people being crushed in homes and offices. We threw a family party later that week, just the three of us. I went into town to buy those paper cone hats with the elastic bands, a cake with a cartoon car, and kazoos. I bought Cale a talking Superman figurine, Meredith a dozen gerber daisies. We stayed in the room and laughed and opened presents. The occasion was the last night we’d all have in the house. The next morning I went and rented a reciprocating saw and cut a hole in our ceiling and roof.
Somewhere in the Middle East, soldiers shot each other in the sky. In New York City, a man slept floor by floor in a skyscraper next to his floating daughter. Paraplegics floated out of their wheelchairs; comatose floated from their hospital beds. High-ranking government officials, royalty, homeless, people in every country, of every race, age and height, celebrities, athletes, scholars, kindergarten teachers, astronomers: the floating was an egalitarian act of indifference. Whispers of the rapture came and went. Canned goods and jugs of water were swept off shelves, ammunition stockpiled. On the news, a picture of a woman in Taiwan tethered to her husband, an infant held to her mother’s breast.
We lived on the roof for three days, bundled in coats, hats, and scarves at night. I brought their meals up to them by ladder through the hole in the roof. The last night I could touch them, Meredith said we should drink. After Cale fell asleep, I brought up a bottle of vodka and two glasses. “We’re not coming down,” she said.
I told her not to start.
I asked her to stop please. I told her they’d have it figured out soon.
“Who?” she said.
Them, I told her. The ones who make it right.
“Make what right?” she said.
I motioned with my arms toward her and Cale and gestured at the sky. “It. It. It.”
“Please,” she said.
“No, you please,” I said. Cale mumbled in his sleep.
We sipped our vodka silently for a while, our breaths dissipating into the night. I pulled our gloves off and took her hand in my own and squeezed. I told her to believe in something, any shapeless deity, to sell her soul. Close your eyes and pray, I told her. Beg for forgiveness. I told her I would. I was the damned. This was my fault somehow, a bad choice somewhere down the line, unluck.
She told me to stop.
“Please, let me make it right,” I said.
“I hereby relinquish my soul,” I said to no one. Cale stirred. I downed my glass. She unwrapped the scarf from her neck and pulled off her hat, and her hair blew wildly beneath her head. I told her she’d freeze, that she was throwing everything away, for Christ’s sake. She unzipped her coat and drew me to her. The warmth of her neck. I kissed it until I reached her mouth, and we breathed into each other, her rising under my lips.
I handed her scarf and hat back up to her and told her to bundle. “I don’t want us to freeze,” she said.
I told her okay.
“I don’t want us to starve,” she said.
I told her I wouldn’t let them.
“We will,” she said, “one way or another.”
Joseph Lucido received his MA in English from Missouri State University and will be entering the MFA program in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on fiction, at the University of Alabama during the fall of 2014. He has previously been a finalist for Glimmer Train’s New Writer Award. This is his first publication.