Narrated by Bob Eccles
‘Attaboy , Boatswain. There’s a good dog. You’re hungry, aren’t you, pal? A few more minutes, okay? Soon as I’m through talking with this nice man.
Jim, is it? Well, Jim, would you believe old Boatswain here is the only living creature I can call my own in this entire black hole of a universe?
See, Jim, we’ve been had by the old cosmic scam, all of us. We’ve fallen for that dream big time. Me and you and a dog named Boo . . .
It’s all here on these video cassettes I made of her.
But that’s for later . . .
You got that Sony on ‘Record,’ Jim? Good. Because I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen. Your readers will love this. Or maybe they’ll just laugh themselves sick.
Don’t care . . .
Some imbecile of a poet once wrote how it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, blah, blah, and blah. I guess the words look good on paper if you’re a Freshman taking Horsefeathers Lit 101. Well, Jim, I’m here to tell you Mr. Tennyson got it wrong.
I loved once.
I lost love once.
For guys like myself, ‘one’ seems to be the allotted number.
A more devout man might believe unendurable loneliness is part of the cosmic plan, some universal litmus test designed to measure the soul’s perseverance. There’s a plan, all right, but I doubt a benevolent or loving Being has much to do with it. If this sorry little planet is overseen by any omnipotent or omniscient God, then as far as I can tell, that deity is into whips and chains and tearing the wings off flies.
You remember Deela, boy? Sure you do . . . Sure you do . . .
Her name was Deela, and although she was impossibly beautiful I never once touched her. The downlink was a crazy accident, of course, a happy stroke of serendipity. Happy accidents aren’t my usual lot, but if you’re talking about the other kind . . .
See these legs, Jim? They’re as useless as pinewood stumps now, and I’ve been unrehearsed in matters of good fortune for some time. During the winter of ‘94 the Throughway looked like Aspen clear up to New England. A ten ton eighteen-wheeler barreling down the Greenwich exit ramp thoroughly exhausted my personal allotment of godsends.
Except for my old pal Boatswain here . . .
. . . and Deela , of course . . .
You miss her too, don’t you, boy?
I couldn’t describe the moment as anything less than extraordinary when I first saw her, although this part will sound absurdly simple. But I’m telling it to you the way it happened, Jim, and if you’re just humoring me to get my story, then this interview is past tense. Are we clear on that point?
The associates at Menkin & Malish were decent enough to let me work out of my apartment, and I’d been downloading July’s spreadsheets when my IBM monitor suddenly strobed and smoke belched from the disk drive. While I was trying to salvage July’s barbecued actuary tables the girl simply appeared alongside my wheelchair like a magic trick, standing there big as life where a split second earlier there had been nothing. I had to rub my eyes to determine she wasn’t some sort of colossal mindfart, thinking that being laid up like this had finally done to my brain what that diesel had done to my limbs.
The woman seemed more confused than frightened, like some innocent forest creature that had fallen asleep and awoke to find itself in completely unfamiliar surroundings. Boatswain was sniffing at her feet but she simply stepped away from him, browsing my study as if to confirm no predators lurked behind the day bed. When her eyes found mine, there they stayed. She didn’t back off when I pulled my wheelchair closer.
I couldn’t utter a sound for several minutes, and that wasn’t entirely because of the girl’s unique entrance. I had never seen any woman so completely and so effortlessly alluring. Ivory flesh glowed through her delicate garments like a polished ceramic. Had she entered my apartment using the doorbell I would have remained stupefied. But coming out of the ozone the way this girl did, that tore it. Who wouldn’t believe his sanity had flown south?
You saw her too, Boatswain, didn’t you? You sniffed and sniffed, and nothing was there . . . but, damn straight, you did see her.
Jim, that dog’s reaction was all that convinced me I hadn’t gone completely mad . . .
“Can you speak? I’m Allen . . .” I offered as my introduction. I might as well have been talking Swahili. Her dark eyes never left mine, but she said nothing.
I reached out slowly to her, carefully, concerned I might frighten her the way she had scared the hot piss out of me. But the woman was made of sterner stuff. She never so much as flinched. I’d expected a being made of flesh and blood, but that was going to be the first of several surprises.
My fingers passed right through her cheek, her image flickering like some old penny arcade movie. She seemed to enjoy – no, to encourage – the contact. Even leaned toward me, for Chrissake, responding to a caress that she couldn’t possibly feel.
Jim, I swear to you, there was nothing to feel, nothing there at all. But my hand warmed to her that instant.
She was some sort of holograph, incorporeal, yet alert to her surroundings. If my brain was playing sandbag with me, then the woman was the most authentic head fuck I’d ever seen. I half anticipated her to corroborate, Why, yes, Allen, of course, a head fuck. That’s what I am!
When a semblance of rationality returned I tried putting pieces together. Something had happened while I’d been downloading the month’s figures, something powerful enough to give the computer one potent hot flash. Somehow my PC had plucked this woman like an errant radio signal from Nowhere. Crazy when you think about it, Jim, I know. Billion dollar satellite dishes scan the skies every day from remote S.E.T.I. outposts in Pago Pago and they come up empty, and in a nanosecond I’m yanking women from another dimension courtesy of a cheap Radio Shack modem.
So, Boatswain, what do you think? Is our friend Jimbo pretending to buy all this phonus bolonus because it will make good copy, laughing up his sleeve at the poor gimp, jingle all the way . . .?
I can’t blame your skepticism. Call it a fluke, call it karma. But can you come up with a more plausible explanation? Who knows what’s bouncing around among the stars? Light beams from fifty years ago? Old television signals of “I Love Lucy”? If you’re searching for logic, then the girl’s image might have been the refracted light from some star that burned out ten thousand years before Ricky Ricardo ever belted out his first “Babbaloo.”
But there’s the rub, Jim. The girl responded to her surroundings in the here-and-now. She saw me. Whatever glitch that occurred in the proverbial space/time continuum unquestionably would have given Al Einstein ‘dem ol’ cosmic blues. Well, you can tell the gang at Omni I’ll take a pass on that migraine, thank you. E Pluribus Unum = MTV2, there’s my formula. I’ll happily let someone else do the math. \
Besides, the question we need to ask ourselves now isn’t “How?”
Here’s a good hook for your feature, Jim . . . The ‘Yehbut’ syndrome . . .
Yeh I know none of this makes sense . . .
. . . But there’s got to be an explanation . . .
Man is one stupid bastard. He searches for comforting logic even when his own senses tell him there is none to be had . Like some idiot goldfish swimming inside his little bowl, he convinces himself God must be the one who changes his water.
Maybe the answer is that there is no answer . . .
My canine friend here, his is another tale entirely. The order of the universe never enters into your equation, does it, Boatswain? A dog can’t be bothered with dogma, right, boy? You are so much clearer on matters of the senses than we homo sapiens can ever hope to be .
My first attempts at communication proved futile. The woman continued watching me and I kept right on watching her. That became so damned unnerving I tried going about my routine with some degree of normalcy. I guess I was hoping that habitual behavior might impose some order back into a universe that had suddenly gone gonzo. I smoked a cigarette or two, thinking she might acclimate herself to my world while I tried to assimilate her appearance into mine. She had made herself so completely unobtrusive that after several hours I even nodded off.
I dreamed of her, Jim. Dreamed of walking right out of this wheelchair and holding that girl in my arms. But every time I reached for her, there was nothing .
And here the plot thickens. Here the impossible downshifts to the incredible.
“Allen? . . .”
She had stepped closer to me while I slept. Although she spoke in the faintest of whispers, the girl’s voice didn’t come from her image. I shook myself awake and turned so quickly I practically spilled out of my two-wheeler thinking someone else must be in the room.
“Allen, can you understand me? I’m Deela . . . Allen . . .? “
Her lips didn’t move. Instead she spoke from some obscure chamber within my brain, sounding like a lost child who had fallen down a dark and bottomless well.
I started to respond, but she interrupted before I got my first word out.
“Not with speech, Allen . . .”
It seemed a gnat had gotten inside my head and taught itself the English language. Until that moment I’d felt about the same respect for mental telepathy as I did for voodoo. But I couldn’t tell you what goes on inside my telephone either, and I know it works.
My lips formed a silent “Hello . . .” Had someone entered the room during that moment I felt certain they would have found me talking to myself. Mindlessly I began straightening up the study, sweeping papers from my desk and emptying ash trays like some obsessively compulsive neurotic. The crap we do when confronted with the incomprehensible . . .
” . . . place is a mess . . .” I lip synched like an idiot.
Communication with her was that simple and that absurd, a dialogue so unpretentious that I smiled at my candor concerning my house-cleaning skills. But we had managed to break through the tension, and the girl was even beginning to show some grit.
“Was sleeping . . . dreaming . . . when suddenly I am here . . . Unfamiliar with this place, Allen. Not frightened now . . .”
. . . and a hesitant attempt to smile here.
” . . . I have questions . . . Not familiar with here . . .”
She studied my wheelchair, then turned her attention to my ruined legs. The story was there inside my head for her to decode. For me there were few other places than ‘here.’ My universe during the past three years effectively had ended at the door. But Deela didn’t need to read my mind to comprehend the supreme irony. The first human she had ever met was a cripple who feared someone – anyone – would prove better company for the new girl in town.
She’d been studying my face, probably matching what she saw in my eyes against the thoughts inside. Hesitating, Deela uttered something I couldn’t make out because she said it so timidly, as if uncertain of the appropriateness of her remark.
“Repeat, please?” I asked.
“I like when you smile.”
That’s how it started, Jim. Man’s first contact beyond his own dimension and it reads like a first date.
No, I wouldn’t think so. I have to admit our early conversations would seem anti-climactic even for the science fiction crowd. After all, we had transcended the boundaries of time and space. Yet here we were exchanging this getting-to-know-you drivel, seated on our cosmic barstools trying to get past ‘So, you come here often?’
We talked. She shared with me how telepathy is the one true universal language, how self-imposed dream states were, for her, the equivalent of a day at the beach; I shared with her Bruce Springsteen and episodes of ‘Survivor.’
We talked like this for weeks. It’s all here on video – at least my end of the conversations because of that telepathy thing. Fun for the entire family, I promise you, at least as much fun as watching those piles of dirt beamed from Mars.
But that’s not why you’ve come here, is it, Jim? You know what sells magazines. Leave the cerebral discourses for those folks at PBS, right? We’re talking National Enquirer and maybe the lead story on Hard Copy, aren’t we, Jimmy? The Paraplegic and his Love Affair with The Girl from Dimension X .
So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
Let’s get to the downlink . . .
I coined the phrase because I was the only person who had ever pulled off that stunt, the only guy who probably had ever tried it. I don’t know a microchip from a cheese doodle, but I felt certain of one thing. Whatever had brought Deela to me lurked inside my computer the moment I’d begun that download weeks earlier. It stood to reason that if she had immigrated to my address via modem, then shutting off the power ran the risk of sending her back into cyberspace like returned e-mail.
So I had to make certain I kept the computer’s power switch turned on . . .
. . . But just how reliable is electricity in this town, Jim? Brownouts are as common in New York as dog turds in Central Park, and with all those midtown air conditioners doing double shifts in August a power outage becomes an event you could set your watch to. The most natural law in nature has always been Murphy’s.
Aware that it could all vanish in a moment, I took my chances . For weeks we shared a private world that never left this room. I couldn’t tell you why Deela chose to remain with me. I never asked her. I’d like to think it was something other than pity, and if that’s what it was then I didn’t want to know.
Yehbut . . .
Maybe it was the dreams she had been having , dreams she didn’t want to face alone . . . In any case our brief time together should have been enough . . .
Because something was missing from the get-go with Deela. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? What man wouldn’t know? Just because my legs had quit kicking didn’t mean the rest of me had .
The woman was only a holograph! A puff of mist near enough to reach out to but as impossible to touch as Casper.
. . . and Christ I wanted to touch her!
I agonized the decision for weeks. To risk losing Deela amounted to pulling the plug on every emotion I’d experienced since that first day.
In theory the downlink could happen again because any valid experiment can be replicated. The downlink had worked, and that made it valid. Some rogue microchip residing inside my PC had successfully tuned in to Deela’s channel, and presto! the rabbit was pulled from the hat. So I got to thinking . . . could celestial lightning strike twice?
Excepting the rust-colored Rorschach around the upper lip of its disk drive, the computer didn’t seem badly smoke-damaged. How difficult would it be to perform a similar operation, to reestablish the original downlink and pull Deela back, this time in the flesh? Any high school Freshman taking science knows solid matter is never created; it’s recreated. Matter is particles, zillions of the ubiquitous fuckers. When you strung enough of that dense matter together you had yourself – academically speaking – one breathing, heaving, and perfectly solid woman.
Could I bring those particles closer together in a new downlink? The variables would have to be different this time, of course, but the central nervous system of the operation clearly resided in my PC and its modem. Working in tandem the first time, hadn’t those babies proven a pretty efficient vacuum cleaner that had sucked Deela right into the third dimension?
But not quite . . .
Because the first downlink lacked the muscle to pull off that trick with complete success. And I knew why.
The human brain is a regular dynamo when called to action, Jim. I searched for an answer and that light bulb inside my head blared like a 1000 watt klieg.
The first downlink didn’t pull Deela entirely through because she had to share space with the other data I had downloaded. My computer did what any computer would do. It downloaded what it could . . .
It downloaded the image of Deela, but not the substance . . .
Ergo and ipso facto, Jimmy . . . This time I would create a file specifically for Deela, I’d clear up a load of memory on the IBM, then I would wait for her to drift off to sleep and play that computer’s keyboard like Chopin .
One to beam down, Mr. Scott.
Because I haven’t told you about the dreams . . .
Deela couldn’t sleep without having them. All that mental magic she had been practicing on me had its downside, because she’d been tuning in on some demons as well. Practically every night I awakened to the sound of her screams reverberating inside my head.
“Something horrible . . . Something huge . . . Darkness all around me . . . each time the same dream! Each time, always the same!”
I never wanted to hold Deela so badly as I did during those moments I came to awaken her from those nightmares . . .
Do you ever scream yourself awake, Jim? Are your worst dreams so real you have to keep screaming to bring yourself out?
Do you ever worry that maybe the next time you won’t be able to bring yourself back? ‘To sleep, perchance to dream . . .’
The old cosmic scam.
Deela had been having that same nightmare when the first downlink found her and carried her to me. Here’s a thought . . .
They say our brains give off certain alpha waves when we sleep, that these become more intense when we dream. Let’s say those alpha waves could be picked up by some sort of transmitter like radio signals, then relayed someplace else?
No, not relayed. Something more . . .
Do you get what I’m saying, Jim? Are we on the same frequency?
Deela was . . .
It was a gamble, of course, an inexact shot in the dark, and odds favored complete failure. But if it worked! Christ, if it worked . . .
I emptied every file on my computer menu, probably kissing off my career with Menkin & Malish in the process. I didn’t tell Deela what I had planned, fearing that even the slightest tampering with the variables might affect the second downlink.
Yes I know, Jim. Deela could read my mind like the Sunday paper. I wasn’t kidding myself. She must have known how much it meant to me .
But she never said a word .
I waited for her to fall asleep.
Wheeling myself to my computer I opened the single file I had created.
I had labeled it “DEELA.”
Switching on the modem, I turned to watch her as she slept alongside Boatswain on the day bed. I hoped on this night her dreams were more peaceful.
I inserted the floppy disk marked ‘e-mail’ I’d formatted for this moment and moved Deela’s empty folder online, selecting the key that would open it.
I opened the vacant Menkin & Malish file and began the download. \
Deela disappeared that same instant.
You ‘ll want to see how it came out, James. This part has to be seen. I think we’re ready to roll tape now.
Pop this cassette into the VCR , would you? I think you’ll enjoy our denouement.
Come here, Boatswain. You’re going to want to see this too.
All right, there’s Deela fast asleep on the day bed just before the downlink. She could pass for a little kid with a tooth hidden under her pillow, couldn’t she? Watch her closely, because . . . because . . .
Now you see her . . .
. . . and now you don’t!
Sing it along with me, all together now . . .
YEH . . .
She’s vanished like words erased from a chalkboard . . .
BUT . . .
. . . where has she gone? Oh, you can watch me on the screen for those first few moments and tell I was just fine with her disappearing act. Hell, it meant I was right on the money. That comforting thought didn’t last long.
There I am seated by my trusty PC, my faithful canine by my side, doing what I’ve since learned to do best.
I’m waiting . . . just waiting for Deela to reappear . . . and waiting some more . . .
I had observed the downlink procedure to the letter, but as you can see nothing much is happening on the screen, is there? How much time had I spent sitting here? Five minutes? Ten? Tell me, what’s wrong with this picture, Jim?
Ever see a guy in a wheelchair move his ass like that? Here I am hustling into the bedroom where I won’t find any trace of Deela whatsoever. Come out, come out, wherever you are! ‘Olly-Olly-Oxen-Free!’ How about the bathroom? Nope, no Deela here either. Inside the closet? Maybe under the sink? Watch me find nothing for my efforts, Jim.
Watch my world crumble.
But she’s there on the screen. Oh, yes . . . Deela is there . . .
You have to know where to look for her . . . how to listen for her . . .
Do you see her? Can you hear her now? Shhhhhhh . . .
. . . Shhhhhhhhh . . . .
What about you, Boatswain? I’m seeing those ears perk up. Is it all coming back to you now? Is it, Boatswain? Is it, boy?
“Allen . . . Help me . . . Allen . . . Please . . . Please . . .!!!”
Yes, that’s Deela screaming just as she had screamed in her dreams.
It’s hard to hear on the TV, but that’s Deela screaming her lungs out, all right. Want to know why she’s screaming, Jim?
. . . because she’s reliving her nightmare all over again, that same nightmare from which I had stolen her and now had returned her!
(Something horrible . . . Something huge . . . Darkness . . . )
Still can’t see her? I couldn’t either. . . at least not then. Watch me searching for her, frantically searching for the voice no longer speaking from inside my head, a voice that somehow remained so small, so impossibly and infinitesimally tiny . . .
“Allen . . . Allen . . . Please . . .”
“Deela! Where are you? Tell me where you are! I can’t find you! ”
My good pal Boatswain knew where to find her, Jim. Dogs have their incredible senses of smell and hearing. Boatswain’s a Labrador Retriever, you know, and those hounds make the best hunters. That’s what Labradors do.
They hunt . . .
. . . and they retrieve!
You see, I had brought Deela back, all right. The downlink had worked perfectly. Except I had miscalculated one small thing, one tiny detail . . .
When all those particles of solid flesh came together in the downlink, they condensed the former image of Deela back to her original size . . .
. . . to reconstruct the real flesh and blood Deela . . .
. . . a woman who had always been three inches tall!
“Allen! Please, . . . oh please! . . . Allen . . . EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE……………………….!” Look closely at the screen, Jim. There’s my Lab, there’s man’s best friend, and sure enough, he’s doing just what nature intended him to do.
He’s retrieving something! He’s eating something!
Why, Jim, it looks like he’s pulling some sort of gravy-matted lump from his dog dish . . .
Can you see what Boatswain is carrying to me in his mouth . . .?
BIO: Former teacher, Ken Goldman, an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association, has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the South Jersey shore. His short stories appear in over 600 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2012. He has published two books, “You Had Me At ARRGH!! (Sam’s Dot Publishers) and a novella, “Desiree ” (Damnation Books). Ken has received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Anthologies, and he has won numerous awards, too many to mention here—but he will happily supply a list. Further information on Ken Goldman and his writing can be found at the Masters of Horror website (http://moh.spruz.com/member).