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Michael Mayhew works in the television business, primarily as a writer of children's television. His stories have been published in various magazines, including Random Realities, Lost Worlds, and After Hours. Recently, he sold a story to Weird Tales. He lives in Van Nuys, CA.

Michael is also a small-press publisher. Last year, his company (Bald Mountain Books) published a book of Halloween stories for adults entitled Harvest Tales & Midnight Revels, which won two Benjamin Franklin Awards for independent publishing.

 

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Air Optica

by Michael Mayhew

 

I saw the ghost jet floating at the edge of perception, glittering like phosphenes at that distant place where massive things become motes and molecules. Silent, slow motion, blue on blue.
Phosphenes is just the fancy name for that cheapest of childhood toys. Rub your eyes, stare at the ceiling and there they are: drifting translucent jellyfish that dart away as your eyes try to follow them. We called them "floaters" when I was a boy.
The ghost jet was like that -- a faintest transparent outline wavering above me as I floated on my back in the Larkspur public pool, eyes on the stratosphere, water lapping in my ears, drifting as it drifted, floating as it floated, a dream watching a dream the exact color of summer sky.
My underwater ears were filled with the noises of my own body, the bellow of old lungs sucking air, the thud and gurgle of pulse in the veins. And other sounds: the swish of filters, the splash of children in the shallow end, laughter, whistles, shrieks.
I have never flown -- at least not in a pressurized tube of titanium and plastic. (Do you count the silent sea excursions of a body cruising just below the lane lines, or the drifting of phosphenes on the cracked ceilings of a lazy afternoon?) Real flying seems a much riskier endeavor.
The ghost jet was so insubstantial I wondered if it was even there. I'd never seen one over Larkspur before. To my knowledge their aren't even any flight paths over our little village. We're pretty far off the beaten path. Maybe it was just my old eyes staring for too long at nothing and needing to fill the void. Maybe it just a jet-shaped phosphene.
When I was a boy I used to play a game when I was bored. I would stare at the ceiling and try to control the floaters. Try to make them move where I wanted them to go. Herd them into a corner, or maybe stack them up on top of each other. But they had a mind of their own, those little transparent worms. I never could control them. Hell, I could never even catch them! I would try to sneak up on them with my eyes, and just when I was getting close they would shoot across the ceiling like watermelon seeds.
I sometimes wondered: were they in my eye itself? Was it my own effort to follow them that made them shoot away?
But gradually, over a lifetime of daydreaming, I learned a sort of Zen trick. I would force my eyes not to move, not to chase, and let the power of my thoughts gradually ease all the floaters into one place or another. The hard part was remembering not to follow them with my eyes. One false look and -- zip! -- they'd be pushed away like same-sided magnets. It was tricky, but over time I actually got pretty good at it.
And so, in my floating, daydreaming way, I started to fiddle with the ghost jet.
(Maybe, I mused, it's a real jet, but flying over some other place entirely, Teheran, or Manila, or Yuma Arizona, the image reflected off the upper atmosphere somehow)
I fixed my eyes at a point halfway to nowhere and gave it a little nudge.
(Or maybe it's really over Larkspur, but far away in time. Maybe it will be here tomorrow, or was already here three weeks ago, and left a lingering afterimage like a thumb print in the sky)
The ghost jet trembled the tiniest bit.
Or did it? (Remember the Zen trick? I couldn't look directly at it)
I nudged again, a little harder this time, and now for certain the ghost jet slewed a bit to the left. I was so surprised my eyes snapped across the sky for a closer look.
And the ghost jet shot out of the sky like a watermelon seed.
A moment later we all heard the impact. Even underwater I heard it -- a low bass rumble that made the water shudder in concentric rings around everything it touched.
The children stopped splashing. The laughter subsided. Like a herd of antelope, everyone at the pool looked up in unison, knowing instinctively that somewhere, somehow, something very bad had happened.

 

THE END