“Maybe it’s a metaphor,” Simon called from the next room.
Meghan tapped her mechanical pencil, each dip creating minuscule graphite gashes along the starboard side of the page. Eric. Hay. Canada. The three roughly-centered words stared up at her. “Why would I write a note to myself in code, especially if I didn’t build a decryption key first? What’s Canada supposed to represent?”
“Multiculturalism and civic engagement?” Even under the They Might Be Giants melody he was abstractly noodling, she could hear her husband’s grin.
“C’est peut-être un orignal?”
“This has nothing to do with a moose! And who’s Eric? Am I meeting him to purchase hay, or hold a conference about it? Is this a hay summit?
“Worst vacation ever.” Moria waltzed into the kitchen, intent on hunting a wild cheese stick. “No offense to your friend, Mom, but I hope we’re not flying all the way to Canada just so you guys can talk about baling techniques and endophyte toxins.”
“No, of course n–” The sounds froze in Meghan’s mouth. Her elder daughter sifted through the refrigerator, seemingly unaware that the conversation and Simon’s ukulele-jamming had ceased. “Moria, how did you know we were discussing Canada?”
“It’s one of The Words,” Moria said with a serving of bewilderment, as if she couldn’t believe any adult would require an explanation of such a simple concept. “Eric, hay, Canada. And you were talking with Dad about the other two, so…” A tiny shrug.
“But how do you know about the three words?”
“Oh, I wrote ’em down the other day when they appeared to me.” Moria slid her preferred chair out from the table, snacks at the ready.
“What? When? When they appeared to you?”
“Don’t remember. They seemed important somehow, so I grabbed a Post-It. Ash let me borrow her Sharpie. It’s a library book–sorry about that.”
“Forget that for right now–did Ash write the words too?”, Simon asked. His eyebrows were enrolled in an advanced callanetics class.
“No. I tried to explain it to her, but she was drawing the cast of Babylon 5 as camels or something.”
Meghan flashed her husband a Look. Her mystery had spread, leaving more confusion in its wake. What was happening here?
“Is the answer to your riddle hidden in my beard?”
“What? This is some meticulously-maintained facial topography!”
Several blocks away, Col. Adam Clayton scowled at his yogurt container. He’d recently endured two separate tirades about his rather enthusiastic sodium intake–one from his doctor, the other from his wife. The Colonel managed a strike force that did not officially exist. He had a direct line to the President. On occasion, his stress level during the workday spiked. “I am being conscious of my health, Karen, but if I need to occasionally eat a Dorito while saving Kansas from a pair of particularly nasty weregoats, then it’s crunching time! You didn’t have to hear the bleats, Karen. Those horrible, growly bleats.” Now, he surveyed his team and wondered again if he could demand a status update simply to pacify his mood. A dramatic sigh escaped his lungs. What a substantial fool he’d been as a young officer, lured by the promise of fancy medals. If I’d gone into textiles, I could be on a beach right now. Not one of those tourist-y joints, but a real, nearly-deserted beach.
Everything moved too quickly, yelled at an unreasonable volume. A beach–where he ought to be–generally didn’t maintain unreasonable volumes. I could’ve built Fort Clayton. I helped Dad put up a gazebo once. Gods. I could be eating honey ham and Pepper Jack on sourdough. Maybe a little Sriracha.
“Sir?” Lieutenant Ricciardi wore an intense and slightly concerned expression. Brooke Ricciardi could single-handedly smash an international arms deal without her heart rate escalating. It was an ability she shared with every soldier under Colonel Clayton’s command. But Clayton insisted that during active missions, his staff deliver their reports with a touch of unease. He appreciated dramatic pacing.
“OWLSPEC confirms two hits. Sir, they’re from the same household. A woman and one of her children.”
Clayton puffed his electronic cigarette with gusto. “That’s operator error. We can’t afford mistakes, Ricciardi. Tell Owl to rerun it.”
“They did, sir. Four times. They even recorded a conversation between the two subjects. We’re downloading it now–I can assure you that every syllable will be scraped.” She inhaled deeply; the excitement bubbling in her chest felt delicious. After three consecutive months of filing paperwork, she was starving. “The subjects heard The Words, sir. OWLSPEC observed them attempting to discover a link, construct some sort of logical narrative of sorts.”
The colonel rolled his eyes. “Civilians. I picked ‘Eric’ because I’d been relistening to Clapton’s Unplugged album during the signal programming. You ever heard that version of ‘Running On Faith,’ Ricciardi?”
“I haven’t, sir.”
“Amazing album, though, right?”
“I…haven’t heard heard it, sir.”
“You haven’t heard ANY of it?” A noise somewhere between a snort and an indignant huff shot through Col. Clayton’s nostrils. “Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. Winner of two Grammys! The most commercially-successful live album of all time! I mean, to date!”
“I can study it this evening, sir,” Lieutenant Ricciardi offered. Her boss’s tendency to yell opinions about pop culture at his subordinates was not among her favorite employment perks.
“That…won’t be necessary, Lieutenant.” The two stood silently, the perpetual din behind them steadily humming on. Clayton cleared his throat. “But if you’re gonna tell me that you don’t own a remastered copy of The Wall, then we’re–“
“Sir, I will absolutely discuss this subject at a duration of your choosing, but perhaps at this particular moment, the imminent threat to all humanity should–“
“Ah, fine,” the Colonel muttered–not without some degree of sulking, Ricciardi noted. “Yes. All three words are random. But OWLSPEC’s completed scanning in 13 states, and they’ve uncovered six Beyonders. SIX, out of 50 million people!” A drop of sweat dove from his rust-colored hairline into the cold flood below. “There’s no genetic component. This woman and her daughter…any other living family?”
“Plenty, sir. Meghan’s husband is Simon, and Moria’s sister is Ash. Neither Simon nor Ash are Beyonders.”
“Shouldn’t be possible.” Clayton rubbed his temples delicately.
Ricciardi’s fingers itched more with every tick of the clock. “Sir, if OWLSPEC is this certain…it’s extremely probable that our adversary has also identified Meghan and Moria as Beyonders. If those hell-creatures confront them before we do…”
Clayton nodded. “Assemble the team.”
“Should I bring cupcakes? We still have half a dozen left. Sam’s birthday was Wednesday.”
The colonel considered for a moment, but that was mostly a formality. “Yes, Ricciardi. Always bring cupcakes. Let’s go explain to this Meghan that she’s destined to fight an ancient evil with her thoroughly untested psychic abilities.”
“Can’t wait, sir,” Brooke Ricciardi practically sang.
And she couldn’t.
Based on a Facebook post written by @jodythebad.