Excerpt from Lovin' Large

           The Grabber powered up as usual. As he waited for it to reach maximum efficiency, Asa eyed the enclosure. Immediately he could tell the space had been widened. Plus the walls were thicker. Other than that, he couldn’t tell what, if anything further, had been done.

            “Hey, Asa. Have you ever wondered how the Grabber is able to go back in time to pick up these animals?”

            “I can’t even begin to guess the science behind it.”

            “Ever wonder how far back in time it goes? I mean, I know it’s able to precede the comet going by us, before the Earth entered the residue left by the tail, but I mean, how many years before that do you think it’s able to reach?”

            Asa grunted. “It’s got to be at least several hundred years. Remember that dodo we retrieved a few months back? The species had been declared completely extinct in the sixteen hundreds.”

            “Yeah. I remember that. Completely threw everyone for a loop.”

            They heard the machine leveling off. Lifting the cap that covered the power dial, Asa placed his hand on the big black knob. “Okay. Take note of the time. Raising to fifty-five percent.”

            “Roger. Fifty-five percent at oh eight ten.”

            “Send each step to Westfall as we progress,” Asa included.

            “Already done and done.”

            He barely moved the dial, until the numbers on the display read fifty-five. There was hardly any change in the low rumble coming from the machine, but he hadn’t expected there to be. Three percent wouldn’t make any kind of dent, but it would be much safer taking baby steps over time, rather than revving it up all at once.

            “How long will you hold it here before advancing?” Sergei inquired.

            “I’m not going by any timetable,” Asa admitted. “I’ll see how this old girl’s doing, and make adjustments when I feel she’s ready.” He cast a grin at the young man. “Getting antsy?” It was then he noticed Sergei’s pasty face.

            “Oh, yeah,” the assistant admitted. “I’d be lying if I said different.”

            After a few moments, Asa reached for the dial again. “Note time. Upping to sixty percent.”

            “Noted. Sixty percent at oh eight twenty-three.”

            Again, there was barely any increase in the machine’s internal noise.

            “She seems to be handling it well,” Asa remarked. He got a prod in the ribs with an elbow. Looking at Sergei, the man gave a nod in the opposite direction. Turning around, he spotted Westfall standing just inside the doorway, watching the proceedings. Apparently, getting the information direct wasn’t good enough, and Asa couldn’t blame him.

            “I’m holding it here a bit longer than I did the first time. Give the Grabber a chance to acclimate.”

            Westfall strode over to the console in time to hear Asa’s remark. “Good idea. See if it happens to hit on anything.”

            “Mr. Westfall?” Sergei addressed the CEO. “Just curious. I know the scientists never were able to figure out why only certain animal species were wiped out after that incident with the comet. But do you have a theory?”

            “Do I have a theory?” Westfall repeated. “I have a dozen theories. But for every one I have, there’s at least one major flaw I can find to argue against it.”

            “Bet one of them is Mammal Theory,” Asa half-teased.

            “Ah!” Westfall chuckled. “The most popular one, despite it being blatantly wrong.”

            Asa nodded. “I agree. I mean, if only mammals were susceptible, why weren’t we humans?”

            “Or, for that matter, whales and dolphins, and the like?” their boss included.

            “What’s your favorite theory?” Sergei inquired. “Which one do you ascribe to?”

            “Personally? I tend to lean toward the Genetic Theory,” the man admitted. “I believe it has something to do with a particular or specific genetic makeup that caused some species to be wiped out, and others to dodge a bullet.”

            Sergei turned to Asa. “What about you?”

            “I believe it has something to do with genetics,” Asa answered. “But I don’t think a specific set of genes had anything to do with it. I think it may be either an additional gene, or the lack a gene, that placed a target on their backs.”

            Westfall gave a nod. “There are a lot of scientists who think that. What do some birds and insects have, or don’t have, that kept them from being wiped out entirely?”

            “See? That’s another thing that confuses me,” Sergei remarked. “So many mammals and reptiles died off, but not humans? And birds! We lost chickens and hummingbirds, and crows and eagles, but not vultures? Or hawks? Or owls? Why not all birds? Why snakes but not alligators? Or turtles but not lizards?”

            “We may never know why the epidemic targeted some but not all. All we know is that every bird species’ DNA is different, or else there wouldn’t have been hawks and falcons, and eagles, and condors, and cardinals, and parrots. Same for the reptiles.” Asa checked the time. “All right. So far, nothing’s been latched onto.” He glanced over the readouts. “Going to dial up a little more. Taking it to sixty-five percent.”

            There was no mistaking the change in the Grabber’s tone as he gradually raised the power level. If Asa didn’t know any better, he’d swear he’d changed gears. Westfall and Sergei also noticed it.

            “Sounds like it kicked things up a notch,” the assistant commented.

            “Add that information to the record,” Asa ordered.

            “Done.”

            “Kelby.” Westfall’s tone drew his attention to where the man was pointing to one of the monitors. The red flashing CAPTURE sign lit up the screen.

            “All right! Notify the team,” Asa ordered. “Let them know we got something.” He eyed the readouts. “Not a biggie, but weighing in at almost a thousand pounds. Anybody want to take a stab at what we have?”

            Sergei peered over his shoulder. “Judging by the height, I’m going with a bear.”

            Westfall agreed. “Sounds like a bear to me, too.”

            The Grabber shifted sound, and the three men turned their attention to the enclosure as it began to fill with the white mist. Hank and Benn rushed in, along with Dr. Besenji, with Tarika not far behind.

            “Is this under the increased power?” Besenji called out, raising her voice to be heard over the grind.

            Westfall nodded. “Yes! And we haven’t pushed as high as we were aiming to go.”

            The enclosure’s interior darkened. The moment it went black, the Grabber powered down. Almost instantly, they heard a deep growl come from the interior.

            “If that isn’t a bear…” Sergei commented as the blowers kicked in.

            They waited with eager expectation to see what would be revealed. Despite knowing the enclosure had been reinforced, they still kept a respectful distance away out of habit.

            When the fog finally cleared, Asa gasped in disbelief, unable say anything as he stared at the creature crouched inside. It was Tarika who spoke first, voicing what everyone was thinking.

            “Holy shit! Is that a saber-toothed tiger?

 

 

 

 

"All right, cousin. I got it, and I’m holding it in my hand this very moment."

"Open it," Lena ordered him.

Grant sighed in exasperation. He had always been a pushover with it came to his cousin. In many ways, she was more like a sister, and had been an integral part of his life growing up, since he was an only child.

The envelope had the embossed logo of Toppers Cove CSD on the upper left-hand corner. The letter had originally been sent to him at his old mailing address. Grant could see where his mother had crossed it out and written the address of his New York apartment to have it forwarded.

Grabbing a letter opener from the pencil cup on his drawing table, he ripped open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper. Even as he unfolded it, he could tell it was an invitation of some sort. His first impulse was to toss it without reading it first, until a name at the top caught his attention, right underneath Lena‘s name.

Sanderly Blakeney, Vice Chairman

Vice Chairman of what? He scanned the paper.

You are invited to attend the First Annual Hearts on Fire Valentines Day Dance at the Toppers Cove Consolidated High School gym on Friday, February 14th. The dance will be from 7 to midnight. Music will be provided by J.D. Maxx and the Maximums.

He glanced back up at the name at the top, and the first thing that he realized was that she was still a Blakeney. Sandy Blakeney. Either she hadn’t gotten married, or if she had, she’d taken her maiden name back. Either way it means she’s free.

Grant frowned. It was coming back to him, and it wasn’t pleasant. It had been years since he’d felt that deep sense of longing. It was immediately followed by sadness, disillusionment, and regret.

"Well?" Lena’s voice drifted from the speaker.

"Well what?"

"Are you coming or not?"

"I don’t know…"

"Oh, don’t give me that bullshit, Grant David! We’ve worked a lot of long, hard hours to get this thing together. Think of it as a class reunion, only with a lot more returning graduates!"

"I’ve never attended any of the class reunions," he reminded her.

"Like I don’t already know that," his cousin retorted. "Your folks are already expecting you to come up for a visit."

Oh, shit.

"Grant?"

"Yeah. I’m still here. Let me think on it, Lena, and I’ll get back with you."

"No way, cuz. I know why you’re back-pedaling. It’s because of Sandy, isn’t it?"

Yes, Lena would bring her up, considering she was the only person in the world who knew of his history, or rather the lack of it, when it came to the Blakeney girl. As he tried to figure out a way to get out of the going to the dance, his cousin persisted.

"I told her I was inviting you."

"Lena!"

"Hey, it’s been ten years! You don’t have to tell me you’re still carrying a torch around for her. Listen, bro…" Her voice softened. Lena never referred to him as brother unless she was speaking to him from the heart. Despite the fact that they were adults now, his closeness to Lena was his only strong familial bond, and she would forever hold an emotional attachment to him.

"When I told Sandy I was asking you to the dance, you would have sworn I’d sucker punched her. There’s something still there, Grant. When are you two going to finally have a heart-to-heart, and let bygones be bygones?"

"Lena, you know the answer to that."

"Because your folks don’t approve of her? What are you? Twelve? It’s time to grow some brass ones, bro. It’s your life, and what’s more important, your parents no longer have any say-so in it."

That was true. Since he got on with the company of his dreams, he had become totally independent of his parents, both physically and financially. Plus, truth be told, he was a bit homesick to see his home town again.

And Sanderly Blakeney.