The tall man in the purple trench coat and beige Barcelona sun hat caught her attention far in the distance. Annoyance crept through her calm demeanor at his visual interruption of the sunlit ocean. She expected a distraction-free drive along the winding, mountainside road. Nothing about his presence made sense to her. His lumbering obstruction forced her mind back to the reality of the moment, out of a serene headspace. She hadn't ever seen any hitchhikers until the mandatory exit off the road. Even at her far vantage, Sara could see that he stood with grand form against the mountain backdrop.
She watched his odd progress as her cherry, red sedan approached at seven miles over the suggested speed limit. Her increasing confusion intertwined with 70’s classics pumping from the custom sound system. Who the fuck is this gebroni? she thought all while trying not to admit that she desperately wanted additional information about his mystery. She fought with herself to stop caring. Enjoy your day out with its full complement of music, driving and ocean view therapy, she insisted internally.
Her car swung ahead, winding effortlessly with the road. Confusion set in at his form becoming closer into her vision and alternately, his silhouette appeared farther down the road. She chose to blame an ongoing optical illusion and the stress of a long work week to ease the ill-fitting puzzle piece into place. Ocean view, doll, focus on the ocean view, her internal dialogue prompted her. "Ocean view," she said to herself out loud admiring the majesty of the open, blue water. Sara opened up the throttle to twelve over the posted speed limit hoping to put the purple-coated, mystery man behind her and get back to floating in her thoughts.
He raised his hand into the air as her car approached closer this time. Sara believed his arm much too long for an appendage to be, feeding the hungry lion of her curiosity a fresh lamb. Stupid, you’re a lone woman on a desolate road, leave the eggplant be and focus on the drive, she continued to prompt herself. A deep need to know this man's mystery cross jabbed her logical mind to the canvas for a thorough knockout. Sara decided to learn more about this walking enigma.
She eased her car to a gentle stop to the right of him, temporarily blocking the two-road lane.
"Thank you kindly. A ride is what I need, a ride to the end of our conversation." His smooth-toned speech filled her with instant ease.
“Where are you going?” She became overwhelmed with calm as if floating on the softest of clouds under a warm sun.
“Ah, but yes, isn’t that the question? Where might you be going?” He inquired.
“Just out for a drive,” Sara responded, her eyes happily glazing over.
“Yes, that’s exactly where I’m headed. We should take that journey together.”
“We should take that journey together.” She parroted, basking within a sense of peace better beyond what her outing could offer.
“May I get into your backseat?”
“You may.” Her sense of calm increased as he entered the rear passenger side. The door shut with a muted thud.
“Please drive, we have much to talk about.” He insisted.
She casually pressed the accelerator. Sara experienced simultaneous focus on driving and ample tranquility. A logical spark encouraged her to at least see her passenger's face. The coat's high collar blocked the sides of his features, creating a wrapped shadow. The front of his face shimmered in the rearview mirror. She justified this phenomenon as sun glare.
“You’re world is on track to end soon, Sara.”
She sat stunned by this idea, instinctively accepting his words as fact.
“I have come to save a select amount of your kind. The specifics you won’t have the capacity to understand, all be it say that, of the 8 billion, 12.997 million will qualify for saving.”
"That's just over 10%, and what do you mean 'qualify for saving?'" Questions poured into her mind’s mental vessel.
"We have the spatial ability to transport hundreds of you to safety at a time. We further estimated that of the 12.997 million that qualify for extraction, roughly 993,422 will be saved. It's a much smaller figure, but it's well enough all the same."
Sara slowed down into an overlook parking area. She hoped to create circumstances for a more thorough discussion.
“Please, don’t stop yet. Once you put the car in park, I will be forced to exit and we have much to go over.” He eased his words through the car.
“Oh, that’s easy, I won’t shift the car into park.” She smiled at her loophole discovery.
“Please, Sara, there isn’t time for these antics.” He encouraged.
She continued past the overlook.
“Thank you. I promise that you will want to consider what I have to say.”
The sun’s warm rays reflected off of the car’s paint as it wound through the turns.
He continued. “Unfortunately, not everyone we meet will be willing to accept our invitation. Many will choose to remain with their loved ones to the end. Some will be caught in their own decision whirlpool and miss this opportunity.”
"You're not going to tell me everything are you?" Sara's disappointment etched upon her face. She looked at him in the rearview mirror.
"What I can tell you is that if you accept my invitation, every second of your existence will consist of a happiness that's a hundred times deeper than what you feel since I entered your car. Your knowledge will increase by ten-thousand fold. The nearly unending mysteries of life and the universe will be solved to reveal fresh ones you could have never imagined."
“Such as?” Her eyes squinted trying to see his face past the shimmer.
“Imagine being able to understand how to arrange any grouping of molecules into whatever you wanted to create. A cup, a building, a life form, even a star.”
Sara pressed into her seat, stunned. “You would make me godlike.” Her words trailed in deep wonder.
"Godlike in the sense that a greater understanding of how to manipulate time and space. My ability to move up and down the road without transport, know all about your collective futures and have the ability to save numerous of your kind must seem godlike to you, yet I am not a god. To a remote tribe in the jungle, your Wifi, planes, nuclear bombs and cosmic understanding would make you seem godlike, yet you are not gods. The concept of gods is relative to the ones creating the overarching sentiment."
Sara marinated over this idea. “What do you want from me exactly?”
“I want your consent to join us.” He offered.
"How do I know that you won't use me as a slave or food or worse?" She expressed faux concern, feeling confident about her passenger's words.
"You're last thought intended to mean like some sort of breeding instrument or scientific experiment."
Sara’s eyes widened. Those were exactly the two ideas she thought of. Her hands gripped the steering wheel in unplanned frustration. “You read my mind.”
“Read, no. I’m able to receive impressions of thoughts. Much like something you would refer to as subtitles, though not as clear.”
“Stop doing that.” She decided to push back.
"I can't stop something natural. Much like asking you to stop hearing without earplugs. I'll try to be more obscure to make you comfortable."
“How can I know that you’re real and not my imagination run amok?” She inquired.
“What do you propose to validate our experience?”
"You're the all-knowing, not-god. You tell me." She offered, lifting her hand as an invitation.
“I can reach into your memories and tell you something personal.” He offered.
“But if you’re part of my mind, you would know that.” She countered.
Silence fell between their respective seats. A bright flash blinked around his head.
“In the trunk, there is a silver dollar. It’s in the wheel-well alongside the spare tire. It’s a 1972 Eisenhower with your moon and an eagle in the background. Obviously, your mind couldn’t know of its existence.”
“Nice try. I can’t park and search for it, can I?” She dished with a playful smile.
“Not at the moment.” Silence fell hard in the car for several seconds. “Let us make a deal. Listen to what I have to say as the truth. When you stop next time, if the coin is there, this has been a real experience. If it’s not where I say it is, then you can disregard the conversation and justify it as whatever you like. Can we agree?”
Sara considered the proposition. “Okay. But I’m not convinced until I have the coin in my fingers.”
"Let me offer a further point of consideration. Your stock market will drop exactly 781 points at 11:58 am tomorrow. This is not information anyone but an advanced mind could know."
She considered both proofs. Sara desired to check the trunk with every fiber of her mind. “Agreed.”
“I assure you that checking the trunk now or when we are finished in the next few minutes will provide the same results.”
“Let’s say for the sake of argument that you convince me to leave my life, how will you know that I want to join your expedition?” She implored.
“Interesting that you would choose the term expedition. All you would have to do is drop a flower into the pond behind your home within the next two sunsets. While this in itself has no intrinsic value, the act will demonstrate consent. If you decide to drop a flower in the pond, the water will shimmer in exactly 10 seconds. We will contact you two sunrises after that event. If you choose not to drop the flower, your life will go on as normal with this memory slowly being erased until you recall it as the overactive imagination I mentioned before.”
“Will I notice the shimmer?” She inquired, playing the scenario in her mind.
“You will and before you ask yourself after I’m gone, no it will not record on anything capable of recording, nor will your wife or anyone else be able to see it. This will be for you alone.”
“Will Jane be able to come with me?” Her heart began to pound.
“I don’t know this answer. I have come to visit a handful of your kind this time. She may be for another to contact, though if you talk about this in any form with her or anyone else, the plan becomes revoked.”
Sara’s mouth frowned. The mere idea of leaving her beloved alone stung her deep. Jane had given up so much for them to be a couple, only to be left alone. Sara wrestled with the prospect.
“I can tell you that if you choose to come along, you will not feel any pain or sadness for your choice. You will find contentment with your decision, spending lifetimes exploring the bounties of existence. I can’t speak of her fate, good or bad.”
His answer created an emotional chasm across her heart.
“How will all of these absences be explained?” Her inner detective hoping to wring all the clues from him.
“I can tell you that the explanation will satisfy everyone needing closure and their heartaches will dissipate faster than normal.”
"What would I bring with me?"
“If you drop the flower in the water, all the details will be made clear. But keep in mind, the span from flower to leaving will be very short.”
“What will happen to those who remain?”
"They will make do with the fate of the world. Nothing further can be explained about the future course of events."
Sara's emotions began to get the best of her. She decided to change the subject. "Are you some type of hologram?"
"Not so much a simple hologram. More of a living hologram to interact with your kind. I can interact with your world visually, verbally and to some degree physically."
“My kind? What’s your kind?”
“The words can’t be expressed in your language, at least not for another 400,000 years.”
“Where’re you from?”
“We don’t live on a planet, more accurately it would be explained as a plane of existence. Imagine a place of pure thought. This would be the closest that I can describe.”
“So my normal, ‘get to know where you come from’ questions won’t be worth asking, will they?”
“Not so much. It would take your lifetime just to explain basic concepts like location or matter interaction.”
The end of the winding road grew larger in front of her.
“It’s time for us to depart. Please consider my offer.” He gestured for her to pull onto an overlook shoulder. She eased into a parking spot. Sara hoped her guest would remain in her car.
Her eyes followed him in her mirror as her hand adjusted the car's shifter into park. A blink of shimmering light-filled her vision. She squinted. Her eyes readjusted to an empty seat behind her.
The day of the second sunset had burnt through much of its solar clock. Sara spent the time mentally weighing her life. She asked Jane to accompany her to the pond in the back of their property after a small dinner. They walked together, her wife commenting about the beauty of their hidden natural gem. Their steps stopped at the water’s edge. The sounds of twilight life filled the air. Sara leaned down. She stood up tall holding a small, yellow flower. The sun began its descent near the horizon. The women stood in silence.
Sara's eyes filled with tears behind dark sunglasses. She rolled the flower within her small hand contemplating her choice. The silver dollar had been in the wheel well as described and the 781 point drop in the stock market had both been enough for her to consider the hitchhiker to be real. Sara took Jane's hand with her free one. They smiled at each other. The flower arced into the air before them both, catching the passing body of a small breeze. They watched the yellow petals cascade through midair, Sara appreciating its significance. Their gaze followed downward. Sara closed her eyes.
The flower landed with ripples pushing across the water’s surface. Sara began counting, solely focused on the pond. Her lips moved with each passing number. Jane’s attention shifted to a lazy frog on the far side of the algae pool. At zero, the water shimmered with unmistakable colors. The couple spent the remainder of their sunset looking deep into the sky’s evolving palette. Sara wondered to herself what her upcoming experience would be like.
The trench coat man appeared to Sara a full day after she cast her future into the pond. He provided her with a simple envelope that contained a faux plane ticket and faux notice for a luxurious grand prize that would take her across the ocean on a private airliner. She planned her last three days to nonchalantly say all of her final farewells.
Sara waited in line to board a towering 767 Streamliner outside with her ticket in hand. The lone plane stood ready to board on the tarmac. Its passenger windows were blackened out as if covered in a thick shade from inside. Sara looked at her wife one last time from a distance and mouthed the words I’m sorry. Jane mouthed back from beyond the metal, divider gate, I love you too under a flood of fresh tears.
Sara trusted that her intense loss would be gone when they arrived at their destination. Her thoughts scrambled through the surreal moment. She wondered how the entities would transport them. A midair passenger swap into a UFO. Maybe a UFO would take the plane in its cargo hold mid-flight like a sci-fi movie or perhaps a covert landing somewhere, she considered.
The young woman walked up the twenty-two metal grate stairs to the oval entrance. She turned to look at Jane one last time. A series of tears streamed down her flush cheeks. Her hand waved with expressed love. Her wife returned the gesture. Sara entered the plane and took the hard right towards the rows of passenger seats. She took three steps into the fuselage, coming out of sight to Jane. Sara passed through a shimmer and disappeared out of her known reality.
She arrived into her newborn existence as if walking out of one room into another. Her mortal form transformed into an elongated, diamond shape of multi-colored energy, void of her human shell. All the vivid sights and sounds of the universe presented themselves for her awe. A deep, lasting peace enveloped her. Anxiety, grief and depression existed to her as merely far-off thoughts in a dream. Sara found respite with her experience.
A series of profound thoughts filtered within her. This is your new form, Sara. Your old shape limited access to so much experience. The temporal one will allow you to access the universe in a way you never could imagine possible. If you choose to take on your human form in the future, you may, though we don’t think you will want to after experiencing what is yet to come. Take your time and enjoy the wonders of immortality.
She spent the rest of her existence in a state of perpetual bliss, transforming in and out of various lifeforms as she chose. The concept of time became irrelevant to her. Identifiers such as name, gender, social status, genus, etc evaporated all meaning. Sara floated within the experiences of her memories when she wanted to reminisce, reliving her most pleasant times as if they were real. Everything the hitchhiker had explained to her became true. She learned how to manipulate everything around her for greater understanding or for pure entertainment. In all her eternity, she often relived the day she met that odd hitchhiker walking on a winding road.