by John A. Vikara
The images danced and whirled through Lieutenant Josh Robert’s mind; the skirts of his wife and daughter twirling in colorful circles, his son leaping and tumbling between the two. The joy, the smiles, the gayety as they celebrated life was pure contentment. He, too, smiled and blew a kiss to his wife and applauded the antics of his pre-teen children. This concocted scene had burst from his heart and into his brain where it played on and on like a never ending home movie, keeping him going, making each stride a step closer to reality, to being able to touch them, hug them, wrap his arms around his wife and passionately kiss her. He was almost there.
He approached the house, key in hand. The one-story ranch looked the same as when he had left for the war; white clapboard with green shutters and overflowing flower boxes. But a house was only an appetizer to what waited behind the red front door. Inside waited a home. He was early; they wouldn’t expect him. He would open the door and step inside, maybe yell “surprise”, maybe just silently smile in anticipation of the love that would be showered upon him.
He stopped at the door and took a deep breath, hesitating, the key hovering an inch from the lock cylinder.
“I said, you have to come back.”
At first he thought it was his son, coming from around the corner to beat him to the surprise, but the voice was too deep, too mature. His mind was so preoccupied with this visit that he had forgotten about having Captain Parks along. A layer of imagination and intellect peeled away from the surface of his thoughts, removing the sweetness of his family and replacing it with a sense of intrusion. But why intrusion? He liked Captain Parks and wanted him there, but yet, didn’t want him there. He turned. His superior officer was off to his right, a grim stone-face punctuating his last statement.
“You’re needed,” Captain Parks said.
No, I… I can’t come this far just to turn around and leave.
“We have our orders.”
No! I’m here to see them and that’s what I’m going to do.
You’re not going to stop me.
“You’re being insubordinate. Don’t make me write you up when this is over.”
The key slid into the slot.
He turned the key. There was a vibration. Everything shook. Stronger. An earthquake? A roar, muffled but distinct, came from the other side of the door, the door that refused to open. He pushed harder, feeling tremors through the surface. He twisted on the key until his forearm muscle strained.
And then it opened. Another layer of subconscious deceit was painfully torn from his mentality as the door swung inward to the sight and odor of charred ruins; what was furniture now ashes, what were walls now plumes of smoke and… Nothing else.
The image transformed into a control panel of flashing, blinking lights and spinning number counters. The final stratum had disappeared, replaced by reality.
“What the hell was wrong with you, lieutenant? You verified the authorization code but ignored my countdown and then go into a trance? I had to watch your actions to synchronize my key ignition. You…” Captain Parks saw the distant look still frozen on his crewman’s face. “Oh, God. You were thinking about them… I’m sorry.” The captain bowed his head. “Well, the bird is on its way. God help us but this may even the score for now.”
Lieutenant Roberts released his grip on the key. “No, it won’t. It never will.”
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John Vikara was born in New York City and is now retired and living in Pennsylvania. He has self-published a trilogy of novels – The Vandals, Adjuster, and National Defense – and a novella, Auld Lang Syne – as a supplement to complete the series. He has placed third in two short story contests and has had short stories appear in New Realm, eFiction, Heater, the Western Online, Nebula Rift, Jazz and Culture, The Flash Fiction Press and Romance magazines.