Come Find Me(2)

But he won’t. He also won’t try to come in. He hasn’t even crossed into the yard.

Marco spends what feels like an eternity hovering around the garage. Standing beside it, sitting in the dirt, standing again. “Kennedy!” he finally shouts, drawing out each syllable and tilting his head back like he’s a wolf and I am the moon, and I wonder if maybe he’s drunk. The voices nearby stop. “I’m sorry,” he adds, and that’s how I know he must be drunk. The words come six months too late.

He eventually walks back toward the voices, shaking his head. I check my watch. Seven minutes. A Herculean effort, for sure.

I have to wait another hour for the voices to disappear. Unlike Marco, I’m practiced in the waiting. I’ve grown comfortable in it, though nothing quite like Elliot, who was patience personified. Everything takes time, Elliot told me, fidgeting with the tiny wires of the satellite dish, turning it into something that could listen to the vastness of space. Anything worth something.

After I’m sure I’m alone again, I slip out the window, heading back to the observatory. The dish sits in the middle of the abandoned farmland, a cable running to a shed that had once been a small stable, until Elliot converted it to this. Now it holds an old computer with several monitors set up—the base of his solo operation and his contribution to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)—and it still works as long as the electricity is kept on, even if I can’t access it through the Internet. I wouldn’t let the Realtor touch it.

    I take my flash drive and download the last few days’ worth of data, searching for radio signals that could’ve been sent out by intelligent life beyond our world. I’ll spend the weekend sorting through it, unspooling the data like a lie detector test, little blips in frequencies giving rise to more questions: Is it real or background noise? Is it the truth or something else, like a trick of light? I’ll map the coordinates, check the amateur SETI message boards, and tag and file every one, like Elliot taught me.

Most searches have scanned just a fraction of the universe. They’re guessing, grasping, listening for a very specific signal. It’s no wonder they’ve come up empty so far. Elliot said there had to be something more. We’re new, he told me. Humans, I mean. Earth is 4.5 billion years old; the universe, closer to 14 billion. Modern humans first came on the scene 300,000 years ago. That’s a lot of unaccounted-for time in the universe for intelligent life to develop elsewhere. That’s a lot of chance.

This is boring, I told him the first time I sat beside him in this very room. We were the new family in town last summer, and I hadn’t met anyone yet. Hanging out with my older brother was better than nothing, but it didn’t stop me from complaining, even then.

This is everything, he said, his face glowing, his fingers mapping the frequency readouts, as if he could commit them to memory. Three hundred thousand. Fourteen billion. Do the math. Don’t tell me there’s nothing else. All I saw were tiny peaks and tiny valleys on a screen, meaning nothing. Elliot was like that, though, seeing something where the rest of us couldn’t. Excited by the possibilities of the things he imagined—the world he believed might exist one day.

    I should start back for Joe’s, but I’m tired, it’s the weekend, Joe sleeps late. This is what I think as I climb back through Elliot’s window, feel my way to my mother’s room on the other side of the living room, sprawl out on top of her covers, and shut my eyes, listening to the sounds of the empty house.

Elliot was right, of course. I can see that now. There must be something more than this.

Marco in the night, the empty house, the endless sky.

This cannot be everything.

This cannot be all that exists.

I could tell you at least ten different stories about the woods of Freedom Battleground State Park—mostly ghost stories, a couple of legends thrown in for good measure—but there’s only one that matters.

Here it is: Seventeen-year-old Liam Chandler takes his dog for a run into the woods during a family picnic held between the tire swings and the park-owned grills. His younger brother gets a premonition—one of those all the hairs stand up on your arms moments—when he suddenly remembers the dream he dreamt the night before, the one he hasn’t remembered until that very moment when it’s already too late. The dream was one of those running-in-molasses types, where no matter how fast you run, you never seem to get anywhere. And no matter how hard you try to scream, your voice won’t come. So the word he’d been trying to yell—Liam—remained lodged in his throat until morning, when his mother woke him for the picnic, and the light from the window made him groan, and he promptly forgot the dream entirely.

    Liam and the dog—this mutt of a thing they’d adopted years earlier that preferred Liam to all other life-forms, except maybe rabbits—had been gone for, what, ten minutes, maybe, by the time the dream came back to the brother? By the time the hairs on his arms all stood on end and the boredom turned to panic? Ten minutes, we’ll say.

“Where’s Liam? Liam!” The brother starts running. He starts searching, tearing through the twigs and underbrush, following the unpaved paths deep into the woods and back out again. Eventually his parents, hearing the desperation in his yells—this time, not stuck in his throat—ask him what’s the matter. The brother tells them, with an air of inevitability, that Liam is gone. No, they say, he’s with Colby. He’s out for a jog. He’ll be back soon.

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