The Message

In Novel Excerpts / Novella Issue 11 by Richard Friedman

Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2025

“Mr. Bookman, time for dinner!”
Simon Bookman roused, groggily, and studied the nurse. He didn’t recognize the nurse that took care of him for the last two years. Josephine Lucas rolled Mr. Bookman in his wheelchair to the dining room for today’s feast consisting of a dry piece of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and a little cup of vanilla flavored ice cream.
If Simon Bookman could remember the old days, he’d recall the smell of baked apples wafting up the staircase and hypnotizing his three boys, Winston, seventeen, Sebastian, fourteen, and Wellington, age ten, respectively, dropped in the lap of Simon and his wife Margaret after Simon’s brother and sister-in-law died in 2000, courtesy of a drunk driver.
The older boys retreated into the safety net of their deceased father’s transportation company. Wellington chose the sciences and graduated from Stanford, and celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday, a shared celebration with his beloved uncle.
Simon’s gradual deterioration left family members not knowing from day-to-day if he would recognize them. He continued to inspect the young man through watery eyes, “You’re Welly, aren’t you?”
A broad smile greeted the question. “I’m happy you recognize me. I came to wish you a happy birthday. How ya’ feeling today?”
A slight tilt of the head, and ignoring the constant smell of soiled undergarments permeating the room, Simon said, “My shoulder hurts. The doctor said it would improve with time. How much time does he think I have left?”
Welly said, “You still have a sense of humor. If you lose that, I’ll start worrying.”
“Such a sweet boy,” said Simon.
His nephew stood, raised his arms over his head, extending all of his six-foot-five body, his fingernails nicking the florescent bulbs. “I’m the tallest one in the family. Aunt Margaret says my dad was the best athlete in his class. I barely remember him at all.”
“He was a kind soul,” said Simon. “Damn shame what happened.” He paused and asked, “What exactly happened? I can’t seem to recall. I say that a lot lately.”
Welly told his uncle on numerous occasions how his parents died. He learned to shorten the story to a simple, one-sentence explanation: “They died in a car accident.”
“Oh, right, I forgot,” said the old man. He grabbed the spoon and reached for the ice cream. He skipped the frozen treat and placed the wrong side of the spoon in his tea and tried to sip it with the stem of the spoon. Wellington’s heart sank. The transition from brilliant scientist to hopeless victim of a mind-altering, progressively degenerative disease neared completion.
Wellington grabbed the spoon, re-adjusted it in Simon’s hand, and watched as the man scooped a small portion of the ice cream into his mouth.
Josephine returned to check if Simon consumed his meal. A bite or two made it inside the old man’s belly, the rest remained spread around the edges of the plate.
She said, “You gotta eat to be strong, Mr. Bookman!”
He didn’t answer; instead, his head drifted to one side and he fell asleep.
Josephine added, “His health is slipping. He’s not going to be with us much longer if he stops eating.”
Wellington stood, gave the nurse a hug. “Thanks for keeping tabs on him. I have so many questions to ask him. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Anything for you,” said Josephine.
“Please ask him why he quit working at SETI? Nobody in the family received a satisfactory explanation.”
Josephine agreed. “I’ll call you if he spills the beans.”
Wellington grabbed his coat, scanned the room, and said in a soft voice to no one in particular, “God bless you all. Happy Thanksgiving.”
As he walked out the door, the old man said to Josephine, “Was that Winston?”
“Nope, that was Wellington. That boy sure does love you. He wanted to know why you quit working at SETI.”
Simon’s glassy eyes cleared and he found a moment of sanity. He sighed, acknowledging his end was near. “I resigned because they refused to believe me. The signal was real,” said Simon, his voice fading badly.
“What signal?” asked the nurse.
He pointed with a bony finger towards the sky, and then he was gone. He put his head down to rest. Three hours later his life ended on his eighty-seventh birthday.

January 2, 2026
Wellington Bookman’s laboratory
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

“That’s the last of them, all sixty boxes,” said Brian, the UPS driver. He wiped the perspiration from his brow and plopped on a chair to catch his breath before heading out for another delivery.
Wellington thanked him for his efforts and enlisted his research assistants to separate Uncle Simon’s private research journals and records by year, then by subject.
Simon’s professional career ended at SETI, a.k.a. as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life. His employment began in 1993, and stopped abruptly, without explanation in December of 2013.
“How did anybody keep track of the information without computers?” asked Patish, one of Wellington’s assistants.
Wellington said, “It’s ingenious how you used your iPad to sync with the computer. I learned the old-fashioned way, before everything went digital. I’m reluctant to change.”
Patish said, “It’s not too late to learn how to adapt. Let me teach you a few tricks.”
“No thanks, I’ll stick with a notepad and a ball point pen. No worries concerning my Bluetooth connection, or searching for my power adapter.”
She asked, “What happens when your pen runs out of ink? Isn’t that like my laptop running out of power?”
Wellington shook his head, ignoring her comment. “Let’s concentrate our efforts on documents prior to my uncle leaving SETI in 2013. Shortly before he died, he told the nurse nobody believed him, something about a signal, whatever that means. Considering his mental aptitude at the time, I’m not sure if he knew what he was saying. Let’s start at the end of his time at SETI and work backwards.”
Patish said, “File 113-122513 is the last entry in his database. “
“What’s in it?” asked Wellington.
“Not sure, 122513 is the date, Christmas Day, 2013,” said the assistant.
“Please display it on the monitor,” said Wellington.
Wellington flipped through the last file in the database. He called his assistants to review the documents.
“Listen to this, and I quote, ‘the unusual telemetry and electronic pulses originating from deep in space found at the Green Bank Observatory are worth bringing to Tier 2 for review,’ unquote,” said Wellington.
Patish shook her head and said, “Professor, what pulses was he referring to?”
Wellington closed the file. “I’m headed to California to find out. I have a contact from Stanford and he owes me a favor. It’s time to cash in.”

February 3, 2026 — Stanford University

Wellington had met Jimmy Hedson for the first time at a Biology 101 study session during their freshman year, and as they say, the rest was history. James remained at Stanford after graduation and ultimately became Dean of the Biology department. The large man with glasses, a bald head, wearing a red Stanford sweater greeted his old friend with a hearty handshake. “Wellsey, splendid to see you. What’s it been, five, six years?”
“Ten,” said Wellington. “You know I hate when you call me Wellsey. It makes me sound like a little kid.”
Hedson said, “That’s exactly why I do it. What brings you back to campus?”
Wellington said, “My uncle passed away not too long ago and I suspect he was working on a big project at SETI until December of 2013. I’m hopeful you can hook me up with a colleague who works there. They say, if you don’t ask, you never know. So, I’m asking.”
Hedson rubbed his chin, as if purposely imitating a man rubbing his chin in thought.
“Let me see … I’ll have to check my files. That was years ago. My memory isn’t so hot. I’m fortunate to recall the periodic table to my students. I used to say it faster than the alphabet.”
Wellington offered a cordial smile to his old associate. “I’d appreciate any assistance. I’m staying at the Marriott. Text me if you have any suggestions.”
Hedson said, “I shall. Let’s keep in touch.”
“Will do,” said Wellington.
An hour later Wellington’s phone vibrated; a name and a telephone number popped up on the mobile phone. The message read, “Call Henry Gladstone. He’s a bit eccentric. Good luck-JH.”
Wellington wasted no time in calling. To his surprise, a man answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Mr. Gladstone, my name is Wellington—”
The line turned silent. Wellington re-thought his greeting and called again.
Gladstone answered, and this time Wellington jumped in, “Dr. Hedson told me to call; please don’t hang up!”
A long silence followed. A reluctant voice said, “Alright, two minutes, go ahead.”
“Two minutes? I was hoping we could have lunch or a drink? I want to discuss my Uncle’s work at SETI.”
Gladstone asked, “Who is your uncle?”
“Was. My uncle was Simon Bookman.”
“CLICK!” The line went dead again.
“Jesus Christ! What’s with this guy!” shouted Wellington to the four walls of the room.
Wellington’s phone rang. “This is Wellington Bookman.”
“It’s Gladstone. I switched to a secured line. Don’t call that other number.”
Wellington said, “Yea, sure. What’s the big mystery?”
“I thought that’s what you wanted to find out,” said Gladstone. “Meet me at ‘The Rose and Crown’ in an hour.”
“How will you find me?” asked Wellington.
“You’ll know me when you see me.” Gladstone ended the call.
Wellington grabbed a quick shower and headed to the pub. The Tudor style building paid homage to its English heritage; Old Speckled Hen on tap, Union Jack’s the walls, and a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth with the words “God Save the Queen” scribbled in magic marker covering her face.
In the corner of the pub, Wellington saw an old man sitting at a booth reviewing the beer selections. The man was pushing eighty, grey, thinning hair, parted in the middle, the remaining strands combed straight back to the rear. Without looking up, the man said in his Liverpool accent, “I wonder if they have Camden Hells Lager? The unfiltered one is outstanding. If they don’t have it here, when you visit London, you simply must try it. It’s brilliant.” He looked at his guest, smiled, and said, “Sorry for the espionage. I’ll explain in short order.”
The Brit waved at him to join him at the table. The waitress appeared, stopped chomping her gum long enough to ask, “What are you gentleman having?”
Gladstone gave her the order, “Two Speckled Hens, please.”
Gladstone turned to Wellington. “Our conversation must remain private. What we discuss here must remain between us. Is that acceptable?”
Wellington had come too far to argue, accepting any terms required, and said, “We’ll pretend we’re in Las Vegas.”
Gladstone said, “Sorry?”
Wellington said, “It means whatever you and I say to each other remains between us forever.”
The beers arrived and Gladstone proposed a toast, “To England, fine breweries everywhere and Uncle Simon.” Gladstone finished half the bottle without stopping. He asked the waitress to bring another round.
Wellington wasn’t a drinker. If imbibing generated answers to his questions, tonight he’d drink. Gladstone removed a notebook from his jacket sleeve. His eyebrows rose in anticipation of telling his story to a new audience. “Do you know of your uncle’s work at SETI?”
Wellington shrugged. “He never spoke about it. Simon and his wife adopted us after my parents died. I loved him very much, but he kept his work to himself.”
Gladstone showed no emotion. “You appear to have weathered the storm.”
Wellington asked, “How old is that notepad?”
Gladstone held the ancient pad as if it were a beloved family heirloom. “I took this notebook to meetings prior to the invention of laptops. Simon and I were ‘old school.’ I took pride in my ability to take first-rate notes. Do you take excellent notes, Wellington?”
The question stumped him. He thought to himself, “What could this possibly have to do with Uncle Simon?” He played along. Allowing Gladstone to be the smartest man at the table made tactical sense.
Wellington said, “I graduated third in my class. I must have done something right.”
Gladstone said, “I’m talking about the notes, man, the notes. Here, look at this page.”
Wellington couldn’t make meaning out of any of it. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Of course, it doesn’t! That’s precisely my point. If I wrote in Standard English and I lost this page, anarchy would have followed. Simon and I developed our own language. People thought we used a code, or symbols. That’s nonsense. See for yourself. We replaced traditional English with words without meaning or bearing to their proper usage. It took us a number of years, but we mastered it.”
Wellington said, “I believe Uncle Simon was working on a special project when he left. Can you confirm that?”
Gladstone said, “Let me start by saying Simon and I used to listen to Art Bell on the radio. Every night Bell would find a person who said he saw a spaceship in Laguna Hills, or a bloke from Arkansas would say that aliens abducted him and administered sexual tests on his private bits. We wondered why alien ships never landed in Washington, D.C., like Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still. If they managed to get here, couldn’t they find the White House? Did you know Rennie was an English chap? I knew a few of his mates back in Yorkshire.”
The elder scientist took a long drink from the second beer. He wiped the froth from the edges of his mouth and said, “Yea, we discussed that movie many times. Gort! Gort!”
They both smiled, recalling the giant metal robot that did not destroy Earth.
Gladstone inspected the bar a second time. Finding no immediate threats to his person, he leaned in closer to Wellington.
“Here’s the rub. Your uncle found unusual radio transmissions from outer space.”
Wellington put his beer on the table. “Now it’s getting interesting,” he thought.
“Your uncle listened for sounds from space on a daily basis. He sat hour after hour, wearing oversized headphones waiting for a sound that likely would never come.”
“But you said it did come,” said Wellington.
“Yes, it did. I’ll show you my notes from the events of December 11, 2013,” said Gladstone.
Wellington skimmed through the words. It had the markings of a classic “Gladstone” page. The time and date were marked at the top of the page, and a mish-mosh of writings filled the rest of the page.
“What does it say? I don’t speak your space language.”
“I don’t appreciate sarcasm,” said Gladstone.
Wellington backed away, his frustration growing. “I’m sorry, no offense intended. I appreciate you meeting me. Please tell me in English, not code, what Uncle Simon found emanating from space?”
Gladstone said, “It was a warning.”
“A warning from who?” asked Wellington.
Gladstone said, “THAT is the eight billion-people-on-earth-at-risk question.”
He had Wellington on a string, pulling him this way and that, as each new part of the story grew more fantastical. “I was with your Uncle on the day he quit his position at SETI. Do you want to know what happened?”
Wellington nodded.
Gladstone finished his beer, delaying the story for dramatic effect.
“Uncle Simon and I met with the Board of Directors on December 25th. The ramblings of your uncle incensed the staff and forced the entire Board of Directors to work on Christmas morning. I must admit, my wife wasn’t too pleased either. We prepared to enjoy the holiday, and Simon’s presentation put an end to the plans."
Wellington interrupted, growing anxious, “The meeting?”
Gladstone smiled, “I’m getting to it. Americans have no patience! I’ve never disclosed this information, not even to Hedson. I’m an old man and my life will end soon enough either way. As a relative of Simon, you deserve to know the truth. It’s time I let the cat out of the bag. Once you hear it, your life, as you know it, will change. Your uncle recorded a series of broadcasts coming from space. He described them as radio signals, light years away, and these recordings, as he came to understand their meaning, said alien forces unfathomable to man will destroy the Earth within our lifetime. The message, and I’m paraphrasing, said we’ve made such a mess of the place, we don’t deserve it any longer.”
Wellington eased back in his chair. “Didn’t he tell anybody this information?”
Gladstone’s voice grew louder, “Of course he did. With profound vigor and urgency! Nobody believed him. One has to admit the suggestion is farfetched. Who sent the signal and why? If a powerful force of unknown origin chose to destroy the earth, why bother sending a warning? Just do it! Simon and I spent many a night drinking pints of ale at this very table discussing that possibility. I drank a few more than he did. Simon guaranteed the messages were not a hoax. He took these recordings to his boss, and they scoffed. As he received more of them, he became convinced life on earth was in peril. His boss ultimately agreed to show his evidence to the big-wigs.”
Wellington leaned in closer. “What happened next?”
Gladstone smiled. “Are you sure you can handle it?”
Wellington’s patience grew thin with the old man’s grandstanding drama-filled talk. “God almighty! Tell me, old man!”
Gladstone spun the empty glass in his hand, twirling it round and round. “The chairman of the board, a dashing young man from Yale named Marc Shane, reviewed the documents. That’s the only time I observed your Uncle display a bit of nerves. He fidgeted with his pencil, bouncing the tip of the eraser on the table. The chairman thanked him for his research and gave us his decision later in the day. He said, 'Simon, you’ve done exemplary work here. You believe you’ve made the find of the century. There’s no doubt the messages are interesting. Without confirmation the data is genuine, continuing to pursue the matter is pointless. In fact, if you insist on claiming these radio signals are a warning, we’ll ask for your employee badge. Your services here will no longer be required.'”
"I wrote furiously in the notebook. It’s all here, on the last page. Your uncle understood the problem.”
Wellington said, “The problem? You’re talking about the most significant discovery of all time? How is that a problem? It shows we’re not alone in the universe. Imagine the possibilities? We could cure cancer, avoid disease, and save the environment to boot! All I see is the upside.”
“Did you hear the part where I mentioned the earth is doomed? Perchance these affable aliens missed the ‘love your neighbor’ sermon at St. Ann’s Church? You’ve watched too many Hollywood science-fiction movies. Here’s the problem, my good man. Imagine if the President of the United States came on television and announced scientists detected radio transmissions proving there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”
“That would be wonderful! Stupendous!” said Wellington.
“Would it? Would it really? Eventually, somebody would reveal the specifics of the message. If the government released a message saying mankind was doomed, law and order would fall apart within hours. Society holds together by the smallest fraction. A mere blink in the electronic grid could start a world-wide panic. The President would declare Marshall Law. You saw the riots in Baltimore years ago. Multiply that by every city in America, and every civilized country in the world. SETI knew they had to bury the story, and deep down, your uncle knew it, too. The lords at SETI would never acknowledge such a truth. Your uncle was too proud to bow his head to his superiors. He packed his bags on December 26th and walked out the front door. He refused to discuss it again. He retired and enjoyed reading and traveling until the disease stole his mind.”
Wellington pried deeper. “I disagree! If the United Nations held a special conference to discuss the warning, they—”
Gladstone slammed the empty glass on the table, drawing the attention of surrounding tables. He said in a hushed voice, “The United Nations is a sham. The United Federation of Planets from Star Trek couldn’t solve this problem! Do you expect OPEC to stop producing oil? Or that the world will reduce carbon emissions to zero? We should clean up the oceans too! And let’s stop global warming. Shut the factories down. Have you seen the latest temperature charts from last year? And now, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is running rampant! It’s just a matter of time before somebody pushes the button. Come now, dear boy, mankind is too far down the road to turn back now. The die has been cast.”
“You make it seem like it’s a fait accompli?” said Wellington.
Gladstone asked, “It is what it is. Tell me, do you have children?”
Wellington smiled. “We have a daughter named Sue. She’s seven years old.”
Gladstone polished off the rest of his beer. “A girl. How sweet. Does your wife cook?”
“Chicken Romano is her favorite,” said Wellington.
The Brit rubbed his ample stomach. “A delectable dish! Let’s role-play while we wait for another beer. Tomorrow night you finish dinner, a large portion of Chicken Romano. You beg the youngster to put her toys away for five bloody minutes because Daddy has something important to say. She acquiesces and sits at the table. Congratulations, you’re a step ahead of what happens in my son’s house. You gently grab your wife’s hand, and you speak calmly. You proceed to tell them the world is going to end soon. Your wife begs you to not upset the child and wonders what drugs you are taking. She whisks your daughter to the bedroom, far from you, the crazy, scary man. She considers leaving you and going to her mother’s house. You tell them beloved uncle Simon received dire warnings from outer space, and his aging, functioning alcoholic English friend Henry William Thomas Gladstone agreed with him. How do you suppose that plays out?”
Wellington began to appreciate the difficulties of the situation.
“They’d say I’m mentally unstable, or mean, or both. Uncle Simon quit years ago. Nothing has happened to the planet. Maybe he was wrong? What if we change our ways, stop polluting the world, stop killing each other?”
“I assure you, he was not wrong," said Gladstone. “I have continued his work. What your uncle identified as a warning is an unequivocal message. The content is in a mathematical language no more than ten people in the world are capable of interpreting. I’m one of them. SETI’s management stealthily moved their offices to the NORAD facilities in Colorado. They left a skeleton crew in California to avoid suspicion. It’s their belief government officials have a three percent survivability rate in their underground bunkers. It’s my expectation the world will end within six months. It’s time to cash in your savings bonds.”
“I need another drink, a stiffer one,” said Wellington. He ordered a shot of whiskey to go along with another beer. “Your words are sobering.”
They both laughed as they simultaneously grasped the play on the word “sober.”
“I’ll call Uber for a ride back to the hotel,” said Wellington.
Gladstone said, “Good choice, you’d hate to be incarcerated with a DUI if the world ended tonight. That would be a cruel twist of fate.”
Wellington shook his head. “Damn you for planting this horror in my head.”
“As I recall, it was your wish to speak to me, not the other way around,” said Gladstone.
Wellington bowed his head in apology. “Allow me to re-phrase. What the hell am I going to say to my family?”
Gladstone’s voice lifted half an octave in excitement. “Spend time with them. Take them to Africa and see Alexandria Falls. Cruise the Nile and imagine the world that existed ten thousand years ago. Don’t waste away pretending this isn’t going to happen. It will happen, Mr. Bookman. Pardon the pun, but you can ‘book it!’”
The news stunned Wellington. “That’s it, huh? Mankind’s reign is finished. I thought it would be a pandemic or nuclear war that wiped us out.”
Gladstone shook his head. “I’m talking about a planetary disaster beyond imagination. My guess is a large meteor strike, or a series of earthquakes crack the world in half. We’ve spent thousands of man hours trying to send messages back to its point of origin. It’s proving impossible to identify where the signals originate. The messages are coming from a point so distant that we don’t have the technology to determine how they arrive. They appeared out of thin air. We’re using methodology we know, and ones we’re making up on the fly and we’re no closer to finding the source.” Gladstone wiped his brow. “I’m relieved to get this off my chest. It’s been a heavy burden to bear. Now we share it. Go home, Mr. Bookman, straight away.”
Wellington stood, wobbled slightly, grabbed the Englishman’s hand, and said, “Call me if anything changes. You’ll find me swimming with sharks in Australia, or painting street scenes on the La Rive Gauche in Paris. Best of luck.”

February 5, 2026
Cleveland, Ohio

The bank manager asked, “You requested the entire seventy-five thousand in cash, correct?”
Wellington said, “That’s correct. All of it.”
He left the building and hurried home. He pulled in the driveway and spotted his wife Rochelle waiting in the wings, ready to strike.
“Jesus Christ, how could she find out so quickly?”
He closed the door of his MINI Cooper and prepared for the onslaught. Her biting words cut through the frigid temperatures. “You quit your job? What the fuck?”
Wellington knew this conversation would begin badly. “Ro, honey, let’s talk inside the house. It’s freezing out here.”
“Don’t ‘honey’ me. We’re gonna talk. I’ve got plenty to say to you, mister.” The beautiful woman he married ten years ago did not resemble the angry woman in front of him today.
They entered the modest house. Rochelle slammed the front door with a violent force that activated the doorbell mechanism and made it ring.
“Were you expecting company?” said Wellington. He immediately regretted the timing of his humorous attempt to diffuse the situation.
Eyes bulging, spittle flying, this wasn’t the woman that gave birth to his daughter. “You think that’s funny? I’ll show you funny!” She turned, and swept her hand to the left, wiping out two antique acrylic figurines sitting on the old Victoria record player. Rochelle screamed, “Now that’s funny!”
Wellington reached to save them, but they were in hundreds of shattered pieces. “I bought those in Zanzibar.”
Rochelle raged on, “That’s too damn bad! Why don’t you go back and overpay for another one?”
Wellington had the good sense to avoid mentioning that he wished to return to the Zanzibar Peace Memorial Museum before the world came screeching to a halt.
He begged, “I’m asking you politely to calm down so we can talk rationally.”
Rochelle grabbed the cordless phone and chucked it at him, missing his head by an inch. “What use is having a telephone if we get kicked out of the house? The bank manager called and told me what happened. Are you having an affair? Is that it? This explains those long nights at the lab with your precious research assistants. I bet I know what they’re researching. You disgust me!”
Her accusations crossed the line. Wellington had his faults, but cheating wasn’t one of them. “You’re out of control, and you’ll feel terrible about it tomorrow. Take a minute, take a few deep breaths, and plant your butt on the couch, and shut up for a minute.”
It was the first time in their marriage he said the words “shut up” and it stung. He didn’t care. Her allegations hurt, too.
Wellington took a seat in the recliner. Rochelle faced him from her position on the couch.
She said, “I’m going to try and be calm. Please tell me what in the hell is going on?”
How does a man tell his wife the world is going to end without sounding like a crazy lunatic? He tried a different approach. He lied.
“Ro, I need a fresh start. I can’t handle one more day at the laboratory. We’re going to take a long vacation, even if it means pulling Sue out of school for a week, maybe longer.”
“We can’t leave, she has homework and spelling tests, and—”
He interrupted, “We can do whatever we wish. We’re her parents and a month off of school isn’t going to prevent her from going to Harvard.”
Rochelle yelled, “You said a week, now you say a month. Do you have cancer? Are you dying? Christ, you’re dying, that’s it, right?” Her anger flipped to concern in the blink of an eye.
Wellington scoffed, “Of course I’m not dying. I’m fine, never better.” Another untruth. His stomach was a ball of knots as he worked through the minefield of deceit.
Ro took a deep breath and the redness faded from her cheeks. She began to resemble the woman he married.
Rochelle said, “I wish you had come to me earlier. All you had to do was talk to me.”
Wellington thought for a moment. “I’ll buy time with another lie.” He stood and moved next to her on the couch. “I should have told you. I knew you’d be mad, and I didn’t know how to bring it up in conversation."
“What about the money?" Rochelle asked.
Wellington was ill-prepared for the question. Instead of spilling out another lie, he chose to speculate on how they’d spend the time.
“We’ll discuss the money later. Let’s talk about our immediate future plans. You always talk about going to Europe. Let’s do it! We’ll start in Italy.”
Rochelle didn’t know what to make of this suggestion. She was primed to hear the details of a sordid love affair. The last thing she expected to hear was that her husband wanted to travel the world.
She said, “That explains the money. I guess you’re planning on staying at first-class hotels and fancy meals. Are we flying first class? But you loathe airports, planes, parking lots, shuttles, and taxi rides. Traveling is a royal pain in the ass. How are you going to handle it?”
Wellington said, “We’ll figure out the details. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Isn’t that what they say?”
“You want to take me to Europe?”
“Or Zanzibar.”

February 22, 2026
The Island of Capri

The Bookman family walked the steps to the top of the Island. They surveyed the Mediterranean Sea beneath them. The sparkling blue water reached as far as the horizon. A cool breeze flowed though Sue’s brown hair.
Rochelle basked in the warm sunshine. “It’s beautiful. Thank you for bringing us here.”
Wellington grabbed Rochelle’s hand. “That’s not what you said a couple of weeks ago.”
“I didn’t realize what you were doing, and how happy I’d be getting away from carpools, playdates for Sue, cooking dinner, and cleaning the bathroom. To be fair, I knew skipping the bathroom gig was a plus.”
Sue roamed the wide expanse of the stone walkway. Two ancient trees provided shade, and the smell of garlic lingered, courtesy of the Bulgarian couple who forgot their leftovers on the bench. Local birds fought for the scraps, knocking the container to the sidewalk.
Sue giggled, as little girls do, enjoying the winged free-for-all. Rochelle scooped up the food and tossed it in the trash bin.
Sue asked her father, “Daddy, what kind of birds are those?”
Wellington said, “They’re Erithacus Nubecolas.”
Rochelle frowned. “Really? She’s seven, and speaks English, not Latin.”
Wellington re-addressed the child, “They’re robins.” He turned back to Rochelle, “Look at her, young and full of energy. I’m not even forty and it’s hard to keep pace with her.”
Rochelle said, “Imagine what it’ll be like when we’re grandparents!”
Wellington’s eyes filled with tears.
“What’s wrong, baby?” asked Rochelle.
“Nothing’s wrong. I planted myself in that laboratory, wasting away. This place is amazing.” He stood, inhaling a big breath. “The air is revitalizing. It’s the most beautiful place in the world.” He exhaled and closed his eyes, letting the joy of the moment wash over him.
Rochelle kissed his hand. “Let’s make a vow to see as many places in the world as long as we live.”
They walked the main tourist area, smelling the flowers, and ate lunch at an outdoor café, gorging on fresh bread, olive oil, stone-baked pizza, topping the meal off with chocolate gelato.
Rochelle cherished the view. “This is the good life,” she said. “Let’s check out the beach.”
The rocky shore forced the family to walk with their shoes on. Sue slipped out of her sandal and cut her foot on a rock. Rochelle found sterile cleaning solution and bandages in her travel bag and mended the wound.
“All better,” said Rochelle.
Sue reached for her father. “Up-eeee, up-eeee.”
Rochelle said, “Daddy’s tired, Sue, let him be. You’re too big for him to lift you.”
“Nonsense,” said Wellington. “One of these days she won’t let me carry her and I’ll regret this moment. Come here, Daddy’s got you.” He grabbed the child and lifted her high in the air. She clasped her fingers around his back and hung tight as they walked the shoreline.
He spotted a fishing boat unloading today’s catch. Amberjack, snapper, and needlefish filled the container. The haul pleased the captain, his crew, and the rich Europeans who paid big bucks for the three-hour charter.
Sue screamed, alarming her father. “What’s wrong?”
“The fish are bleeding, it’s gross!” she said.
“Don’t look! We’ll hurry on by,” said Rochelle.
The girl did as her mother requested. Wellington overheard commotion originating from the walkway on the hill. People scurried in all directions, some of them pointing towards the sky.
“What is it?” asked Rochelle.
In that moment, Wellington knew exactly what it was. Gladstone spoke the truth. He couldn’t protect his cherished daughter.
“Hold on tight, Sue. There’s going to be a big sound, like the fireworks on the fourth of July. Don’t be afraid,” said Wellington.
Rochelle said, “You’re scaring her. What’s going on?”
Wellington whispered in her ear, revealing the mystery to her for the first time.
“What? Are you sure? A meteor?” she asked.
Wellington nodded sadly. “That’s what this is about: the money, the job, the trip to Italy. I didn’t think it would happen this soon. It’s over, babe.”
Rochelle latched on to her husband and child and waited for the end.
Wellington squeezed her daughter tight. She’d miss the fun in life. No sweet sixteen party, or college mixers, or motherhood, or her dream car, a yellow Volkswagen beetle. “Keep still, baby. This hug needs to last forever.”
Rochelle didn’t have to wait long. The explosion occurred high in the atmosphere, neighboring the coast of France. The earthquakes and roiling firestorm spread quickly. Rochelle buried her face in her husband’s chest, the image of Sue in her head as they died instantly, without pain.
God had seen enough. First it was Noah. This time there wasn’t a boat.

About the Author

Richard Friedman

Richard Friedman has short stories published recently in two anthologies: “A Modern Cronkite” is in “2047: Short Stories from Our Common Future” and “Wall Street Predators” in “LifePlus2M Vol. 2”. In October of 2017, he attended the Climate Reality Leadership Training Corps in Pittsburgh, PA. Former Vice-President Al Gore is the driving force behind that organization. It was an honor to spend three days with him. Richard is now a certified Climate Reality Leader and plans on teaching others how we can save the world from global warming and climate change.

Read more work by Richard Friedman.

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