How Like a Man, Part One
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
Raymond Fleck sat up and groped for his laptop. Have to write this idea down before I forget, have to write it down. The memory of the dream was already fading but one phrase remained. And it held the key to getting rid of the vampires forever, he knew it.
As the desktop with its Earth Day wallpaper appeared, Raymond repeated the phrase to himself, fingers twitching on the keys. His mother had said it when he was still a teenager.
There! The word processor was ready. With trembling fingers, he typed, “How like a man. The world is not a spaceship.”
But then he stopped. There had been more to it. The vital piece was missing. It had been implied in the dream, something to do with ecology. But it was gone now. He stared bleakly at the useless words he’d written. They meant nothing, nothing!
He got up and stared out the window with angry eyes. Every shadow out there was probably full of vampires. But vampires knew who had and who had not seen Charla Thorpe’s viral video explaining that the sanctity of your home included peace, quiet and the view from your windows. They were still pressed over every inch of Sam’s house, his Luddite neighbor who couldn’t go online to save his life. He should at least leave Sam a voicemail telling him what to do.
What had been in the dream? Raymond tried to get it back. His mother had been complaining about someone. An old man with horn rim glasses. She’d said that bit about him being just like a man and that the earth was not a spaceship. And then she’d said something, something that had to do with ecology. What? It had seemed so important, like it was the key to everything.
There was no teasing a dream out. It might come if he ignored it. He stopped pacing and climbed back into bed. The bed, of course, was in the inner sanctum. Even though he knew he would be safe in the front bedroom with the big picture window, he wouldn’t feel safe. It was almost worse now that the vampires were hidden from view. You still knew they were out there. You still found yourself straining to see…
He shut out thoughts of vampires and their damn logistic curve growth. They’d kept biting and biting until they’d reached the carrying capacity of the earth. Rather like humans had done, leave out the biting.
What was it, what was it?
But the thought still hadn’t come as he stood at the window of his on-campus lab office. In the noonday quad, earnest young people with daypacks hanging off their shoulders walked through the sun. Some of them might be coming to classes in this building where he worked in the Environmental Studies research department. His focus had been global warming until the vampires put an end to that problem. The human race drove less than 12 out of 24 hours now. The freeways were empty during the long nights. And with the carbon emissions cut in half, global warming had slowed, might even reverse itself.
Should we even try to get rid of the vampires, he wondered as he watched the busy quad, trying not to think of the elusive dream. No more global warming. An ecologist’s dream.
Unless, of course, we manage to get rid of the vampires. Then we start destroying our spaceship earth right over again.
Spaceship Earth? Buckminster Fuller! That was the man his mother had been speaking of. He was the philosopher and designer and dreamer who had written about our spaceship earth. Raymond had never read any of his stuff but his mother had heard him speak many years ago, back in the 70s or 80s. Margaret Fleck had had strong opinions about many things and Raymond well remembered her expressing them in her stern Oxford accent. About Mr. Fuller and his spaceship earth concept she had snorted, “How like a man. The earth is not a spaceship.”
He almost had it then. The key to getting rid of the vampires. She had said something else, something to do with ecology and it was the key.
The lunch rush wound down. The radiant midday light poured like liquid honey on the people basking in the sculpture garden, stretched on the grass which tonight would be crawling with vampires. If he did snag the elusive idea, how would he convince anybody else of it? Post something online? Start a blog, tweet the news? He had to face it, nobody ever paid attention to anything he put online. He didn’t have any kind of online presence.
As the day was ending, he called up Cindy, even though they weren’t that close, and said, “Stay with me tonight?”
“Sure baby,” she answered easily. “I won’t have time to do anything and still get there.” Before sunset, neither of them needed to add. “Do you have food, everything we’ll need?”
“Baby, I got everything we need,” he answered suavely, and she chuckled. “Good oh, then. See ya half hour before.” Before sunset. Everything in our lives revolves around the rising and setting of the sun.
He rode the train home, wondering as always if today would be the day it broke down. It happened here and there around the world. A bus or a train broke down and stranded people. But it was a temporary home if everyone agreed it was, and you didn’t have to stay in it for any six months or a year like that crazy guy in San Francisco. You all just had to agree it was home for the night and with one tragic exception, an end-of-the-worlder who had called the vampires in, nobody had been killed for being stranded away from home. Even if you thought you might make it, you took no chances, you stayed and slept on the floor of your train or your bus.
But all went smoothly tonight, he got off at the Park West station and headed for home with the sun an hour from setting. Things were easier on these summer days. In winter when the sun set at 5 pm, god, you didn’t have much life left.
His phone rang. He didn’t have a car mount, so he pulled to the side of the road and answered it just before it cut off.
“Baby, don’t panic,” came Cindy’s voice, with an edge of tension. “But my car broke down. I’ve pulled to the side of the freeway and I’m fine–” She said it too harshly. “But I think I’m going to have to stay here tonight.” Safer to just stay in the car all night than to risk being caught outside one second after sunset trying to get to a gas station.
“But it’s still, um, 45 minutes, won’t somebody come?”
“I already called Triple A. They’ll send someone around first thing after sunrise, but everyone is heading back to the garage right now. Unless some good Samaritan stops, Jesus, I’m, I’ll be fine, I’ll be, I’ll just stay here.”
“I’ve got plenty of gas,” he almost barked into the phone. “I’ll come get you. Where are you?” He wasn’t a brave man and he and Cindy weren’t that close. But he needed her now, he had to have someone to talk to, he had to prove to himself that he could do something.
“Baby, no, don’t take the chance,” she was suddenly sobbing with relief. “I can’t ask you to, no…”
“Share your position with me,” he snapped, far more firmly than he’d ever done before. He started the map software on his phone and 30 seconds later, her icon updated itself. Quickly he got directions from his location to hers. The map estimated 16 minutes of driving. “I’ll be there within 20 minutes,” he told her. “Hang tight.”
“Don’t hang up!” She’d never been that vulnerable with him before. More calmly, sounding ashamed, she continued, “Can you, if you can just keep the phone connected, in your lap, I don’t know, don’t –” She sputtered into silence. “I’ll keep the connection live,” he promised, putting the phone on speaker and into his lap. He plugged in the charger.
Plenty of power, plenty of time. 43 minutes to sunset, 16 minutes there, maybe 20 minutes to his house, plenty of time. His palms started to sweat, his throat went dry as he said in a hoarse voice, “I’m still here, I’m coming to get you, to take you home, we’re both in our cars, whatever happens we’ll be safe.”
How like a man. He smiled. He’d never done anything brave before.
Then he frowned again. The earth is not a spaceship, she’d said. What is it then? What?