Earphones are a wondrous thing, how they shut out a very disagreeable, Earthling dominated world. But sometimes you hear somebody coming before you see them, and earphones get in the way of that.
But it’s okay. It’s just Alex.
I take off the earphones and force myself to smile.
Still listening to Mozart? He says with condescension.
Sonata number 11, i say.
You’ve said that three times now, i say.
Well, he says in a huff. It certainly bears repeating. Austrians do everything to excess.
Foreigners laugh at them. Ask someone to name a famous Austrian and they’ll say Julie Andrews.
That’s funny, Alex. Does your contempt extend to more recent compositions?
Sure. Just gimme a name.
Well, uh…Paul McCartney.
McCartney. He never learned how to finger pick. And those silly-ass songs he wrote. Plinka-plinka-plinka…
I got to go, i say.
Michael has another vision within a dream, the same as the one he had when he touched Valenti’s key but with an urgency that is unsettling. He picks up a pencil and a sheet of paper and begins to sketch.
Next day Michael shows up for art class. It’s been over a week since he was there.
Mr. Guerin, the art teacher says sardonically. To what do we owe the pleasure?
What pleasure is that? Michael says, scratching his head.
You of course. I mean it’s Thursday and i dont think i recall seeing you since Monday. Monday of last week.
Yeah, uh, sorry bout that. But i kinda just really want to draw.
You just kinda really want to draw?
Yeah, Michael says. I didnt when they made me take this art class but i do now. I’m just gonna take this easel here…
Knock yourself out, Mr. Guerin, the art teacher says.
I am shelving books at the UFO center. Milton Ross sees me looking thru a book and says, That’s a good read there.
I smile and say nothing.
Of course, Milton goes on, Szcerbiak’s theory that the military coverup of the ’47 crash was financed by an international consortium lacks credible evidence to support it. Still, it debunks several fallacies that have long troubled me. But if you’re going to be working here, then for my money these are the best books to read.
Milton picks up a heavy volume from the shelves. Walton, he says. Rubbish! Ah, yes. Here. James Atherton.
He hands me the hardback with a paper cover intact. Among Us, i say.
A bit on the alternative side, Milton says. Atherton had an underground following, never truly embraced by the UFology mainstream, such as they are…but it might be of interest to a true believer like you. Take a look. Tell me what you think. I know you want answers, Max.
Yes i do.
Max, Michael and Isabel sitting in the Crashdown. Michael is sketching his vision frantically. It begins with a semicircle that has geometric shapes superimposed.
Izzie says, Michael, do you think you should be doing that? In here?
Drawing that thing, she says. Whatever it is. In public. Here.
It’s getting clearer, Michael says.
It’s getting weirder is what it’s getting, Izzie says. Max, will you please tell Michael this isnt a good idea?
Max hears her vaguely but does not answer. He is deep into Among Us by James Atherton.
Max, wake up! Izzie says.
Huh? Yeah, yeah. No, it’s just Atherton. Listen to this. He says…this guy’s nuts. He says that aliens wouldnt possess the lung capacity or brain capacity for more than short term survival on Earth. Brain capacity?
Where does he get that? Michael says.
Earthlings, Max says, In their limitless talent for self-congratulation once believed that their supreme intelligence was demonstrated by the size of their brain. There is an evolutionary sequence of increasing cranial capacity from lower proto-humans to Homo Sapiens but it’s language and opposable thumbs that really make the difference. Then someone pointed out that since elephants have several times the brain size of humans they must therefore be many times more intelligent than humans. That shut ’em up. But in Atherton’s day they still believed in that.
So he was ignorant, not crazy? Michael says.
He was ignorant about brain capacity like everyone back then but he writes like a fruitcake. Still, there’s something about his mythology that is compelling.
Max, Isabel says patiently, will you say something to Michael? He’ll listen to you.
Michael sighs indulgently and produces his sketch.
That looks really good, Michael, Max says. Maybe you have some real talent. IDK what that thing is but i could swear i’ve seen it somewhere before.
I’ve been working on it in art class, he says proudly.
Max, this isnt right, Izzie says. We’re getting careless.
Isabel, it’s just a sketch, alright? Michael says, angry now.
We cant keep pretending that what we do doesnt matter, that what we do isnt noticed. Because it is, Izzie says, getting huffy.
Isabel, STFU! Michael is shouting now.
Back in art class Michael continues to sketch a vision of something both in and outside himself. He starts painting and colors emerge and blend meaningfully in the geometric shapes. He even works on it after school. Finally Izzie and Max go to see the original.
This is not good, Izzie says, shaking her head.
It’s pretty good, huh? Michael says like a seven year old going to Mom and Dad for approval. I didnt even know i could paint. But Mr. Cowan says it’s the best thing to come out of art class this year.
Michael, this isnt right, Izzie says doggedly.
A public display! Izzie says indignantly. Your thing just sitting here like this.
It’s not a thing! It’s…well IDK exactly what it is but…
What Isabel is trying to say, Michael, is that it’s not a good idea. It might even be dangerous.
How could it be dangerous? It doesnt mean anything to anybody. Including me.
Max says, We shouldnt be taking chances like this.
You did, Michael hisses.
Max knows that what he did will never be forgotten or put aside.
Yes, Max says, but…
But what? You can take chances and i cant? You can roll the dice with our lives but if anyone else does, god forbid.
No, Max says weakly. I saved someone’s life. I wasnt just dabbling in the arts.
Michael looks hurt and walks off and Max curses himself. Michael is right. What he’s doing is harmless.
Izzie, Max says, white with anger at himself and her, You are the worst goddamn nag. You owe Michael an apology. We both do.
Michael, back in art class.
Very good, Mr. Cowen says.
Thank you, Michael says self-consciously.
But dont you think it’s time to draw something else besides a geodesic dome?
Sorry, Michael. I guess that was before your time. It’s a type of house, architecturally post modern.
It’s a house? Michael says incredulously.
That’s right, Michael. A house.
At an outdoor table in a desolate corner of the schoolyard. Trying to defend Michael i say awkwardly, Michael’s drawing isnt one of our most pressing problems, Izzie.
Does that mean there’s a problem i’m not aware of? Izzie says shrilly.
Paranoid today, arent we? I say. I cant take my eyes off that Atherton book but there’s something familiar about Michael’s drawing i cant quite place.
RU still reading that? Izzie says.
Nasty habit, i say.
Michael stares blankly into space.
Wake up, Michael, i say.
I just wish i had more answers, he says sadly. The dome, you know. What’s the point of having a vision if it means nothing?
Patience, i say, yawning and stretching.
Izzie takes the Atherton book and speed reads it as she flips the pages. Boring, she says dismissively.
When she puts the book down the flyleaf falls open.
Max! Michael! Look at this!
What’s wrong? I say.
This! She says.
There on the flyleaf is a photo of James Atherton standing in front of his house, a geodesic dome in the middle of the desert. Beneath the picture are his birth and death dates. Atherton died November 16, 1959. The same as the corpse with the alien handprint in the postmortem photograph that was in Valenti’s office before the Feds took it away.
Michael, it’s your vision, Izzie says, shaking visibly.