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July 15, 2024

Take My Place

By Nicholas Woods (short, PG-13)

Cover image.
Image credit: Public Domain. More info.

Nicholas Woods is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He wrote and directed the crime/drama ‘Echoes of Violence’ which premiered at CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL in 2020.

~~~

IT WAS FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE ACCIDENT, and Alexander could recall a menacing feeling in his gut that later he deduced as a warning. Whether from his body, or God, or an otherworldly cautioning, something was trying to tell him that where he was headed was not where he should be.

But, Alexander did not listen.

He was riding in a military escort van, two soldiers sitting in front of him, heavily armored, expressionless faces behind masks and goggles. There were also soldiers on either side of he and Annie. Alexander peered over at her, wondering if she had the same foreboding feeling creeping through her entire body that he had. Of course, Annie did not. The woman’s face held a tight smile that verged on giddy. She glanced over at Alexander and she gave him a pitying look. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it. Alexander could feel her wedding ring brush against his in a soft scrape of metal.

“This is going to be exciting,” Annie encouraged. “We’re going to change the world.”

Alexander felt himself calm a bit. Perhaps they *could^ do this. As long as they were in it together. Alexander squeezed Annie’s hand and felt her heart-beat through her palm. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, focusing on Annie’s pulse and the way her hand caressed his. He would know her touch anywhere, and for a moment he began to relax.

They arrived at the laboratory, except it was unlike any scientific institution Alexander had ever seen. A three-story modern house sat perched on the edge of a grassy cliff that overlooked the North Sea. Coming out of the roof was a near-translucent wire Alexander had a difficult time viewing. It rose into the sky as far as the eye could see, though he knew it extended much further than that.

His eyes scanned the green expanse that met dark waters. Alexander was eager to see the history-rich Scottish countryside, but upon arrival to their destination he discovered none of his pre-dispositions were what he expected. The strangest thing being the amount of military-styled guards that stalked the perimeter of the tall fence that enclosed the building.

Alexander grit his teeth as the van moved inside the fence. He did not like guns, especially the massive assault rifles every guard held tightly. But it was what it was. Annie’s research was important, not just to the scientific community but to the entire world, because it had the potential to harness an entirely new energy source. When information became that valuable, people would do anything to take it, and so, those invested had to protect it. Still. He really didn’t like seeing all the guns.

The car parked and the van’s doors opened to a man in his fifties, a heavy coat pulled over his well-tailored grey suit. Alexander had met Burke only once, over the phone.

“You’ve made it! Fantastic, fantastic. Come on out of that van and breathe in this fresh highland air,” Burke said enthusiastically, waving them forward. The man was from the states, like Alexander and Annie. Why the operation was taking place in Scotland, Alexander had never received a full answer. But here they were. And it was time to get down to work.

Annie hopped out of the van and embraced Burke. “Wow, look at this. You really delivered, Burke, except, what’s with all military?”

Burke took Annie’s arm in his and lead her toward the front door of the building. “Not military, Annie my dear, privately hired security. No Uncle Sam involved here, at least not directly, which is what we need to achieve our goals. But we can’t take any precautions. You know there are several other countries all trying to achieve the same thing we are doing here. We have to be prepared. For anything.”

Alexander could see Annie nod, but she turned inward and Alexander could tell she was growing nervous as well. There was a lot of pressure on her to succeed before anyone else in the world did.

Burke led Annie and Alexander through the heavy metal front doors into an interior they never expected. The place looked like a beautiful log-cabin with great mahogany timbers for every banister and support beam in sight. Before Alexander could even set his bag down a woman well into her fifties approached them.

Burke turned, making the introduction. “Annie, Alexander, this is Dr. Menosha. She knows the tech that will allow you to work with the space station. We’ve got two great pilots up there, and you’ll meet them shortly. But before I go, we need to discuss something quite serious.”

Burke’s voice lost its jovial host-like-tone and instead grew quite serious. “A time-line. The investor meeting is in one-week. I know that isn’t a lot, but it’s all we have as it is literally costing us millions per second running this operation. So, in seven days we need to have something to show them. If we do, Annie, you’ll get to research as long as you want with every resource available to you. If we don’t, well, that’s it. Operation over. We all understand?”

Dr. Menosha acknowledged him seriously. Annie looked at Alexander, and this time she sought him for some silent encouragement. Alexander gave her a small smile.

Annie nodded, turning. “We can do this.”

And that was it. It was time to get to work.

Burke left and Dr. Menosha brought them to the second floor which looked entirely different than the ground level. This level was a fully equipped research station with everything Annie had requested to aid her work. Dr. Menosha led them both into a communication room fit with a massive computer panel and several screens. The doctor turned everything on, two of the screens showing video footage of what seemed to be the interior of the space station. She tapped the microphone and spoke into it.

“Tom, are you there? Rose? Come in,” Dr. Menosha asked. After a moment a man and a woman in their forties appeared on-screen dressed in simple blue jumpers.

“We’re here, Dr. Menosha. I see your teammates have arrived,” Tom said waving.

Alexander was confused a moment, not sure how they were being seen, until Dr. Menosha pointed to a camera above the computer system. He and Annie waved back and introduced themselves.

“So, Annie, do us a favor and explain what we’re doing here, because we still aren’t exactly sure, despite reading your notes about fifty times,” Rose admitted shyly. “It’s still going over our head.”

Annie sat down at one of the chairs and acquainted herself with the computer controls as she spoke. “Well, in ways it’s all very simple. The clear wire that is coming out of our facility here that connects all the way to you guys is called a “Particle Coil”. It will help us transfer energy from your station to ours.”

“And this energy,” Tom said curiously, “Where is it?”

Annie smiled. “Well, Tom. It’s all around you, there in space.”

Tom and Rose looked confused, each waiting for Annie to continue explaining.

Annie sighed wiping any lasting travel fatigue from her face. “Well, we have seven days. Might as well start now.”

Annie looked at the screens finding the station’s external camera that showed Earth sitting in open space. Annie pointed to it. “Camera 5T. I sent you all an AHF with an exact Lumos color coordinates. Did you receive that?”

“Hold on,” Tom said looking through a digital-pad in his hands, swiping. “Yeah, I have it here.”

“What’s an AHF exactly?” Rose asked. “Sorry, we just control the station. This type of work is new to us, so the more you explain the better we can assist you.”

Annie exhaled, seemingly annoyed that Tom and Rose hadn’t read through her notes and acquainted themselves with her research better. Alexander silently agreed, but he also couldn’t blame them as Annie’s notes were nearly six-hundred pages long.

Annie took a breath. “An AHF is an Andros-Hawx Filter. It’s a specific color filter to help detect certain light. Light has millions upon millions of wave variations. Some types of light are obvious, in a sense, but many waves of light remain hidden. And that’s what we discovered, Alexander and I, and what we are all going to harness together. Add the filter to camera 5T and you’ll see for yourself.”

Tom typed at the computer and Rose read off the fifty or so numbers that were the coordinates to the color map. Once they were entered, Tom looked up.

“Okay, here we go,” Tom said then pressed a button. Suddenly, the screen in the corner of the room changed, an almost purplish filter added to it. Dr. Menosha gasped. Alexander felt himself take a deep breath, although he had seen this wonder several times already.

The camera showed Earth still sitting, beautiful and blue, spinning in the dark void of space. But around it appeared a massive halo of light, a stream of golden-white spiraling around the planet in a perfect ring. From their view, Earth looked similar to Saturn, except Saturn’s rings were made of rocks. This ring was made entirely of light, and it spun right before their eyes.

“How… How did you discover this…” Tom asked incredulously, looking between the camera and the window next to him showing open space and a ring-less Earth.

“A lot of luck, and a lot of long nights with some very smart people,” Annie said looking at Alexander. Alexander knew she was being modest, as all of this research and discovery was Annie’s doing. Alexander had just been lucky to float near her orbit at the right time. And then they had fallen for one another, their love fueled by discovery and the hope that they could change the world for the better. They were the best days of his life. In that moment Alexander felt all his remaining anxieties melt away.

Annie’s eyes narrowed in fierce determination. “Alright, team. We have seven days to show the investors something incredible. So, let’s do it.”

And that was it. They were off to the races.

Alexander’s job the first two days were to prepare the ‘Energy Seals’, which were basically three large translucent vats that connected to the Particle Coil. They needed to be spotless, airtight, and ready to go for when the team would attempt their first energy transfer.

Annie worked with the space station team on identifying the energy that they would later attempt to harness.

“The unique thing about this energy swirling inside the ring is that it seems to be comprised of small clusters that make up the total ring,” Annie explained one morning to a tired looking Tom and Rose.

“And let me guess,” Rose said yawning. “You have a way to track these specific energy cluster’s identities.”

Annie looked like she fought the urge to snap at her. “Yes, I do. It’s all in the notes, Rose.”

At the end of each day Alexander found himself looking at the camera which showed the ring of light around Earth. The energy’s swirl contrasted brilliantly with the blackness of space. A beacon of hope in the dark lonely void. Alexander stared at the flowing light and for a moment knew for sure there was more to this world than just a brief mortal life that began and ended on this planet. There, in the ring of light, awaited knowledge, truth, and most importantly. Answers.

The team was five days into their experimenting and Annie was feeling exceptionally good about their progress. The night before she could barely contain her excitement.

“And the equipment is flawless! So much better than the crap we were working with at Caltech.”

Alexander watched her pace around the bed. He loved seeing her like this, full of pure and unfiltered life. Her face was flushed, and her eyes had small dark circles underneath, but her aura burned brightly from within and it was infectious. Alexander could have listened to her all night, but he knew they both desperately needed sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day.

“This is it, Alex. Something special that we are going to leave behind. Something special for when we are gone,” Annie said.

Alexander teased her. “Where do you think we go when we leave this Earth?”

“Oh, come on. You know what I believe. We die. That’s it. There’s nothing else, no afterlife, no next place. I know that’s what you believe too, deep down. Any real person of science has to.”

Alexander wanted to disagree with her, but he didn’t want to deflate her mood, so he kept quiet. Of course, her suggestion was what made most sense, given scientific understanding. But Alexander always had a feeling that there was more to this life than just the brief time they were allowed on Earth. He could never explain it. He just knew there had to be. That the universe was far too complicated for it all to end here.

“Come here, lay with me,” Alexander pleaded, pulling at her wrist.

Annie gave in and sank into Alexander’s arms. He could feel her entire body relax into him.

“I just want you to know,” Alexander whispered at the top of her head. “I’m so damn proud of you.”

Annie looked up, her eyes full. “Thank you, Alex. I’m proud of you too.”

“No need to be,” Alexander joked. “I’m just along for the ride.”

Annie sat up slightly and looked into Alexander’s eyes. She shook her head. “No, honey. This journey, with you. It is the ride.”

Alexander felt his throat tighten slightly. It meant so much to hear those words from her. He was sure she didn’t know how much the weight of them pressed upon his heart. For someone like her to care about someone like him was more than he could express. He was a nobody, really. And Annie. She was special. He smiled, then kissed her, and eventually they found sleep. The morning’s light came quickly, and the day had finally arrived.

It was time to harness one of the energy clusters inside the ring.

“Alright, Tom. Rose. Are you ready?” Annie said into the microphone at the communication center.

“We’re ready,” Tom said in the space-station camera. “We have the tracker ID input for the specific energy cluster. It’s right next to the station. Hopefully an easy transfer down to you guys.”

Annie looked at Alexander. “The Energy Seals. Are they ready?”

Alexander had checked them five times every hour. He was sure they were all functioning, although they were only going to utilize the first one for this initial transfer.

“They’re ready. Let’s do this.”

Dr. Menosha sat in the background observing, a cup of warm tea in her hand. Annie looked from her to Alexander making sure everyone was ready. When Alexander assured her they were, Annie made the call.

“Initiate energy transfer!” Annie yelled out.

Tom pressed a button and almost immediately after the lights in the entire facility began to flicker. The screen’s transmissions began to short circuit and the bulbs on the panels began to blink off and on.

Annie looked at Alexander confidently. She knew this would happen. She sat up from her chair and moved into the other room with the Energy Seals.

One of the three Seals was pulsing with electricity. Alexander grabbed Annie’s arm, instinctively pulling her back. Suddenly, light began to appear. It came in at a rush, filling the glass chamber of the Seal with bright burning light visible to their naked eye. The moment the light filled the Seal and the transfer was complete the entire facility seemed to return to normal.

They could hear Dr. Menosha from the communication room. “Transfer complete, Annie! How do we look?”

Alexander watched as Annie stared at the glowing glass chamber with fascination. “We did it! We’ve done it. We’ve capture the energy.” She moved over to the digital reader on the side of the Seal. “Alexander, look at these levels. This energy… it’s massive.”

Alexander looked at the reading and was astonished. “And this is just one cluster. There is a whole ring of energy surrounding the planet.”

Dr. Menosha entered the room and looked at the glowing chamber. “We can see the light?”

Annie nodded. “The light is interacting with our atmosphere. I wonder how it would look with the AHF filter.”

Alexander looked around excitedly. “Well… There is a retractable screen that pulls down over the glass. It can be used as a dimmer, but I may have replaced it with some of our gels. Just in case.”

Annie looked at Alexander like she might kiss him. “Do it.”

Alexander went over to the electronic panel on the side of the Seal and pressed a button. He stood back as a thin screen appeared out of the top of the chamber slowly covering the glass.

And like the snap of a finger, the air in the room seemed to grow cold and empty.

“Oh my god,” Dr. Menosha exclaimed before any of them could utter the words themselves.

Alexander couldn’t believe his eyes. The glow from the chamber had completely disappeared behind the filter. What stood there now was incomprehensible to his eyes. The only way he could describe what he was seeing was… a figure. A slightly glowing skeletal figure stood inside the chamber.

An awful feeling began to claw at Alexander’s insides. “Annie, what is that?” he asked nervously.

“I… I have no idea,” Annie responded horrified.

The skeletal figure inside the chamber had very clear arms, legs, and a head. The head seemed to be looking around slowly as if it was watching them. Suddenly, the figure’s hands went up and it seemed to pound its fists against the interior of the glass. Of course, no noise sounded. No physical force pressed upon the Energy Seal. But the figure inside looked desperate to get out.

Alexander peered over to Annie who was stepping closer to the glass chamber.

“Annie, wait,” Alexander whispered to her, but she didn’t listen.

Annie moved closer and closer to the Energy Seal, the skeletal figure still thrashing about inside. The figure seemed to calm slightly at Annie’s approach, as if it could see her drawing near.

“Annie, please,” Alexander cautioned once more but Annie didn’t listen. She moved closer to the glass and raised a hand, the skeletal figure watching her.

Alexander was just about to stop her. He was about to pull Annie away. He even heard Dr. Menosha call out, “Don’t touch the glass. The metal in your ring! It could…”

But her words were too late. Alexander was too late. Annie reached her hand and touched the glass. Suddenly, there was an explosion of light within the chamber once more. The entire building began to shake as if there was an earthquake happening right underneath them. The light inside the room grew so bright Alexander couldn’t see. He heard Annie scream. He tried to find her, his hands groping in the blinding light.

But just as fast, the light vanished. The glowing subsided and the Energy Seal looked just as it had, the skeletal figure standing inside it.

“Annie!” Alexander yelled moving to her. Annie was on the ground, shaking as if she were having a seizure. Alexander raced to her, lifting her head. Suddenly, Annie gasped a deep breath.

“Take my place!” she yelled.

The strange words came out of her mouth in a voice he almost didn’t recognize. Alexander held onto her, unsure what to do. He turned to Dr. Menosha. “Transfer the energy back. The test is over today. Do it!” Alexander shouted and his command finally prompted Dr. Menosha into action.

Alexander looked Annie over. Her shaking had subsided but her eyes still stared off in the distance and she hadn’t spoken any other words. Alexander looked over his shoulder as the Energy Seal began to fire up the transfer back to the space station. The skeletal being inside snapped its head in all directions. If Alexander wasn’t mistaken, the thing seemed scared. It was no longer acting frantic like it was before. Instead, it seemed to be trying to get his attention as it pointed to something. It was pointing to its finger. Not just any finger. It was pointing to its ring finger.

Alexander could hear inside the communication room where a frantic Dr. Menosha was trying to explain what happened to Tom and Rose as Tom worked to initiate the energy transfer back.

“The ID tracker on this cluster is different. I don’t know how to explain it!” Tom yelled.

“It doesn’t matter. Just send it back. Send it back!” Dr. Menosha yelled.

For a moment, there was calm. Alexander looked at Annie, her eyes starting to focus. As Annie’s eyes landed on Alexander they narrowed. Right then and there Alexander knew something was wrong.

“Annie?” Alexander asked fearfully.

“I’m not Annie,” the woman in his arms responded. Of course, it was Annie. This was Annie’s body. But something had happened. Something unexplainable had taken Annie and put something else here in her place.

“Where is Annie?” Alexander heard himself ask.

“Where I was,” the woman responded. “In there… and… up there.” She pointed up to the sky, her eyes going wild with terror.

Alexander’s head whipped to the Energy Seal and the figure inside. “Annie?”

Suddenly, the Energy Seal fired up. Alexander tried to yell to the communication room, he tried to scream for them to stop. That something had gone wrong. That Annie’s spirit was now inside the chamber. But before he could, the Seal began to glow drawing the energy up the Particle Coil and back into space. In a flash, the skeletal figure inside the chamber was gone.

Alexander moved into the communications room. “Bring it back! Bring that energy back.”

“What are you talking about,” Dr. Menosha demanded.

“That energy, I don’t know how to explain it. But Annie, she’s not herself. Something… Something happened to her. Something switched with her. You have to come see,” Alexander said frantically as he pulled Dr. Menosha into the other room. But as they moved inside, Annie was no longer there on the floor.

“Where…” Alexander said looking around. They moved down the stairs quickly seeing the front door was open.

“Oh no,” Alexander whispered.

Alexander and Dr. Menosha moved outside stepping right into a scene of pure horror. At the bottom of the porch steps was one of the guards, a knife sticking out of his neck. Blood rushed out of his jugular, the man moments from death. He looked at the fence, where to Alexander’s pure terror, he saw Annie. At least, it was Annie’s body, possessed by some other spirit or ghost or soul in a way he could barely comprehend. Annie had a gun in her hand demanding that the guards stay back as she attempted to move out of the gate. The guards pointed their rifles, shouting for Annie to lower her gun.

Alexander yelled to Annie. “Wait! Please just come back. We can help you!”

Annie peered over at Alexander giving him a look that told him she wasn’t going back. Wherever she had come from, she was never going there again. Annie turned and fired the gun at the guards, striking two. She tried to run through the gate, heading for the forest in the distance, but other guards appeared firing at her. Annie ran fast, but she couldn’t outrun the bullets that struck her in every direction. Alexander watched as the love of his life was gunned down in the middle of a grassy field, unable to do anything about it.

Later, the guards locked Alexander and Dr. Menosha inside the facility until Burke could arrive and assess the mess that had been created. Dr. Menosha was a nervous wreck. Alexander didn’t know what to tell her. All he knew was he could not give up. Annie’s body may have been torn to shreds, but her soul, her aura that burned so bright as it tried to help this cruel world, was out there somewhere in the ring of energy. He couldn’t put her back in her own body, but he could save her from wherever she was.

It was late at night and they worked in secret. Tom looked into the camera on the space station. “Are you ready, Alexander?”

“I’m ready,” he said confidently.

“Running tracking ID. Initiating transfer, now.”

And just like that, the facility began to shake once more. Alexander moved inside the room with the Energy Seals. The same one lit up brightly, before the power in the room began to settle. He heard the pounding of fists upon metal. The guards were downstairs trying to break past their own locks and stop them from their work.

Alexander had just enough time.

The vat began to glow, then the skeletal figure appeared. And there she was. His Annie. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but deep in his heart, perhaps in his own spirit, he knew. He would always know her. The skeletal figure looked around confused a moment, before its head turned Alexander’s direction. The banging downstairs grew louder as the door began to splinter off its hinges. Metal doors hit the ground and footsteps pounded quickly up the stairs.

Alexander moved up to the chamber and lifted his hand, his wedding ring around his finger.

The guards moved down the hall, seconds away from reaching him. It didn’t matter.

Alexander touched his hand to the glass, whispering to her.

“Take my place.”





* * *


Written and directed by Nicholas Woods:

As a director and producer:







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Article © Nicholas Woods. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-07-15
Image(s) are public domain.