By John Lane
For the past fifty years, NASA led a secret government project, called The Spoken Word, to determine the existence of life inside black holes. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, after the first two probes self-destructed, the agency successfully sent out a third probe, nicknamed Alpha 3, equipped with faster-than-light technology. In 2019, Alpha 3 discovered a transmission along Sagittarius A’s event horizon. NASA, upon receipt of the transmission, loaded the signal into the main computer banks in their office at Cape Canaveral, Florida. All communication with the probe was lost in twenty-four hours.
Based on calculations from Sagittarius A’s present rate of expansion, NASA determined the recording to be dated between the years 30,000 and 32,000.
Senior linguist, John Whittman, spent over a year painstakingly transcribing the signal. John discovered that the language was comprised, in part, of an unusual form of English. How the species even spoke a language similar to English was unknown.
The current administration recently declassified the document and made it available to the public in the hopes of obtaining more information.
Anyone with information related to this document is asked to contact Neville Parker at the NASA.gov.alpha3 website.
Jason Carver, Lead Scientist, The Spoken Word
I have been awakened from a near-catatonic state to find myself in a sea of all-consuming blackness. After many attempts to be freed from what I assume to be total body paralysis, I wondered the purpose of my entrapment, a poor attempt at an uncomical joke, or victim of something more sinister.
I have been particularly engrossed to the point of vexation, like the constant experience of a hangover without imbibing any type of alcoholic based liquid refreshment, at least, as far as my memory serving me.
After an eternity of staring at darkness, images of various household furnishings surfaced, bringing to my mind a vague familiarity with each article of furniture, from a comfortable-looking quilt-laced queen-size bed to an oak-finish eight-drawer chest. The most familiar detail that became visible to my eyes laid on the bed in the form of a female that I had intimately known for most of my life. I recognized her pert lips, her come-hither brown eyes, her slightly grey hair and it all started to come together for me. I remembered our dating experiences, our wedding day, our financial issues, everything that we lived through together. I knew her as my beloved wife.
I notice a startling, uncomfortable detail from my spouse. Her breathing became extremely labored as if a heavy object pushing on her chest took effort to remove. I wanted to rush by her side but the total body paralysis kicked in as a fateful reminder of my current imprisonment.
I struggled to break free, but was ultimately unable to make any progress from my immobility.
I stood there as a helpless lamb while the scene unfolded before me, fighting my conflicted feelings, experiencing, on the one hand, fear of the unknown, and on the other hand, sheer terror at my helpless condition for not being able to help her. I heard her voice, gasping for air, attempting to enunciate each syllable, struggling to form her words. “Henry… please… help… me! I… can’t… breathe.”
My wife turned her head, appeared to stare at the door, breathing becoming more intense and labored. I witnessed her expressing an increased difficulty in articulating her words. “Henry… please… help! Can’t… breathe!”
The fog that had filled my mind started to life, flooding my mind with unwanted memories. Witnessing her pain triggered a flashback in my mind to that fateful evening. I accepted a microcell phone call from my immediate supervisor, Albert Shuman, involving a newly minted position as an Alex and Weir, a Big Two firm dealing with financial compliance with ninety percent of corporations in the North American continent. I waited for years to come to that realization. I almost tasted the power and prestige that came with a new title. In my enthusiasm for being included in such a prestigious job, I had purposefully blocked out my wife’s needs, focusing on my own, clearing avoiding my husbandly duties. I now realized that I wanted to turn time back, to recapture that moment, a moment that I cannot physically change.
I participated as an unfortunate bystander to the last words elicited from her lips, reverberating in my ears, a verbal ping-pong bouncing between the hemispheres in my brain.
After her eyes closed, I witnessed the last action that my wife took before parting from this material world. She expelled her last breath, chest slowly deflated until it flattened out. I cried in horror as I relived the memory. When the tears dried, silence befell in the room, feeling its emptiness in the pit of my stomach.
Seemingly from nowhere, a mysterious dark-cloaked figure materialized in front of me. Suddenly, the last remnants of my mental fog lifted from the recesses of my mind until I became completely clear headed. I remembered every last detail regarding the situation that played itself in front of my eyes. I also remembered the succeeding events for the most part that brought me to my imprisonment.
The figure vocalized each syllable of my name to supplement the clarity in my thoughts. “Mr. Henry Ellison Llewyn?”
Unaware of the purpose of his visit, I experienced a spontaneous bout of extreme nervousness characterized by the trembling of my hands. At the figure’s behest, I calmed down. His black dagger-like eyes stared through me as though his gazing brought forth spirits of discomfort around me.
The figure continued his line of inquiry. “Do you know why you’re here?”
As if on cue, a repeat performance of my memory engulfed my mind. I recalled mostly every detail. Barely muttering the words from my mouth, I stated, “I do.” Part of me needed comfort in what was happening even in the unknown person’s seemingly disingenuous nature.
I spoke up. “I believe so, but I’m recovering from an intense mental fog that cascaded over me.”
The figure leaned toward me, whispering in my ear. “That’s the effects of your imprisonment.”
I stared at him. “What do you mean?”
He stood at an upright position. “Only your mind is here. We housed your body by encapsulating it in a force field bubble that we submerged under water. This was a condition of your sentence.”
I thought that I remembered everything, but I soon realized that I had been confused to the point of having more questions than answers. “I don’t know. Please explain.”
The figure let out a barely audible sigh. He nodded in a calculated motion while speaking his words in a continuous monotone. “Mr. Llewyn, I am your sentence officer, Sergeant XO, and the one currently assigned to your case.” As if on cue, a holographic image of my entire file presented itself on the back wall, its graphics shimmering in its brilliant green neon glory.
Sergeant XO said, “Mr. Llewyn, I am responding to your final appeal regarding case number Q1R2, the Galactic Count vs. Henry Ellison Llewyn.”
I had to interrupt the stoic-sounding Sergeant. “Appeal?”
The Sergeant responded, “You really don’t remember, do you?”
I exchanged quizzical looks with the Sergeant. “Please refresh my recollections.”
The Sergeant eyed me with a sense of dread in having to explain my situation. “Exactly one year from your current imprisonment on the evening of Januarius 5, you answered a micro cell phone call while your wife struggled with profound chest pain, which eventually led to her demise from a heart attack. Your inaction violated both the spirit and the letter of the Ethics Constitution’s Seventh Code, known as the Good Samaritan Code, which explicitly stated that any inappropriate conduct defined as being complete and careless disregard toward another human being, shall be tried, and if found guilty, punished.” He reached inside the pocket of his cloak and pulled out a white envelope, “However, I have procured an envelope regarding the results of your appeal.”
I felt a bizarre mix of emotions, partly from fear of the unknown, and partly from experiencing a rush from the possibility, however remote, of having my freedom. I nodded affirmatively, knowing that deep in my soul, I didn’t want to know the answer.
The Sergeant had torn the flap of the envelope and pulled out the piece of paper, folded in thirds. He unfolded the paper, letting the raised typescript make contact with his fingertips.
He cleared his throat in preparation for his arduous task, reading the words with solemnity. “After a thorough review of case file Q1R2 by the appellate Galactic High Court in accordance with the appeal process, the High Court had decided that your appeal has been summarily denied.” The word “denied” crashed in my ears with a rhythm of doom. All hope faded from me at that moment.
I finally surrendered to those emotional demons, the ones that plagued my soul with the reminder that I lined a very inept life. “What happens to me now?”
“As punishment for your crime, we are carrying out your sentence to relive those memories, ad infinitum.”
It has all come to this. “Starting when?”
“It has already started.” The cloaked figure disappeared as quickly as he appeared.
Everything blacked out.
The memory replayed itself like an image on a digital recorder, only faster. The furniture became visible, then my wife appeared, struggling through physical pain. Her body expired; her eyes closed. Again, everything blacked out.
Every time that the memory repeated, it picked up speed. Soon, the images blurred into each other. I numbed my feelings to lessen the effect of what was shown before me. I finally broke down and sobbed uncontrollably, a reminder of the pain that I put my wife through.
In facing the damage that I caused my wife, I came to one conclusion, one that I must live out the rest of my life.
I’m in my hell.
John Lane’s fiction has appeared in 101 Words, Bright Flash Literary Review, Boston Literary Magazine, The Disappointed Housewife, The Drabble, Visual Verse and other venues. John’s fiction has also appeared in several horror anthologies.
John’s story about a tragic playground incident was featured on the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai: 100 Days, 100 Supernatural Stories podcast.
Member of the Horror Writers Association, Army and National Guard veteran.