Kylyssa Shay is releasing a serialized science fiction novel in single chapter increments that you can read for free only on HubPages.
A Little About the Gift of the Gruldak Story and Why I'm Serializing a Science Fiction Novel Online
Gift of the Gruldak is a serialized science fiction novel set in the near future and it's free to read online at HubPages. It's about first contact with extraterrestrial life, confused doppelgangers, tiny robots on life-saving missions, odd lonely aliens, and profit-mad corporations. It's a story of tiny complications that can ruin billions of lives, even entire solar systems.
But mostly, Gruldak is about what it means to be a human being and an individual living life with a lot of hard decisions to make.
It is a typical life-story, in that no life-story is typical. There's no such thing as an ordinary life. Some lives just have more interesting scenery, odder relatives, and addresses that don't include the words "Milky Way" after their stellar systems' names. This is that kind of story.
Don't worry, it's not so different as all that. People still don't remember to wipe their feet at the threshold and people still sometimes get embarrassed by relatives. I'm sure you can relate, even if they aren't put together quite the same way you were.
I decided to serialize this science fiction novel online because I think that's where my audience lives. I think this is where curious people are most likely to find it. It's also giving me the motivation to polish it one short installment at a time in a chronological manner. I hope you enjoy the first nineteen chapters published so far.
Table of Contents - Hubpages Links to Available Chapters of This Serialized Science Fiction Novel
- Table of Contents and Chapter One
- Chapter Two: Friends and Relatives
- Chapter Three: Complications Within Complications
- Chapter Four: Simple Solutions to Complicated Problems
- Chapter Five: There's No Place Like Home
- Chapter Six: Relationships
- Chapter Seven: Heartless
- Chapter Eight: Building Bridges Isn't Easy
- Chapter Nine: Skating on Thin Ice
- Chapter Ten: Terminal Thoughts
- Chapter Eleven: Bubbles Within Bubbles
- Chapter Twelve:Neuropsychiatric Research Hospital of Glendale, Arizona
- Chapter Thirteen: Clouds Lifting Before a Storm
- Chapter Fourteen: Connections
- Chapter Fifteen: Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces
- Chapter Sixteen: Of Seeds Planted
- Chapter Seventeen: Relationships in Retrospect
- Chapter Eighteen: The Other Side
- Chapter Nineteen: Seeing Is Believing
Boundless and Finite, Poetry by Kevin Capricorn Wang IV - Don't read until after chapter 17.
Chapter One, Playing Possum
By the middle of the 21st century, Detroit's Chinatown had been standardized, moved, and shrunken down into something like a China block inside what natives called Ethnic Strip. In 2054 it stood in a straight line between Greek Town and Little Mexico and consisted of twenty stores on each side of New Fort Street. Red, gold, and luminous sulfur-yellow dominated the color scheme of Chinatown. Vegas-like blinking storefronts advertised prawn pizza, fine teas, rice candy, and detailed manicures. I thought the too-vibrant colors might start melting my eyes when it reached eight o'clock and the screen siding on all of the storefronts went dark for the night. Ethnic Strip turned into a long row of gray-sided inactive stores, indistinguishable from any other stores in America.
I turned at the next cross street and walked into the tiny retirement neighborhood behind Chinatown. The lawns were picture perfect and accented with an artistic riot of multicolored blooming flowers, rock gardens, sculptures, and water features. Unidentifiable herbs and more flowers grew in scattered window boxes, some under gingerbread shutters, others clinging to extrusions of ultra-modern wrap-around glass porches. Grandpa's house, a tidy light blue split-level ranch with periwinkle shutters, sat smack in the middle of it, looking smaller and less confident than its neighbors.
I walked in through an attached two-car garage which hadn't seen a car in it in my entire lifetime. Rooting around through dead bonsai attempts and ancient yellow plastic children's furniture, I found a respectable shovel and carried it through the back garage door into Grandpa's back yard. Grandpa greeted me at the gate to the garden, wiping a red paisley handkerchief over his creased face.
"Hi Grandpa, how are you this evening?"
Ignoring me, as usual, he said, "I called you about the possum."
"I know. Now where is it?"
Grandpa led me around overgrown dill, down a narrow path planted with thyme and tiny blue violets between its mostly grapefruit-sized flat stones. A dead possum huddled on its side in the rich soil between rows of soybeans just past the intermixed bed of orange nasturtiums and cucumbers. Picking my way carefully to avoid damaging the plants, I headed toward the animal with the shovel.
Just as I started to push the shovel under it, Grandpa yelled, “No! Don’t do that!”
I jerked away and almost dropped the shovel. “Why not? Is there a land mine?”
“No! I didn’t call you over here to poke that poor animal with a stick.”
“It doesn’t matter; I don’t want you to touch it.”
“Then why am I here?”
“I saw a wonderful opportunity. This possum has much to teach you.”
I looked at the pathetic grey-furred body, dried blood clotted on its one visible ear, and sighed. Grandpa was in another “wise old Korean” phase.
“OK, so what do you want me to do?”
"Be the possum"
“What!? Dude? The possum is dead!" My bewilderment caused me to forget to breathe through my mouth, something I quickly regretted.
"You mean the possum wants you to think he is dead."
“No, this possum is seriously dead," I said, backing away. The sweetish rot odor coming from the slightly gas-inflated corpse was so awful I could actually taste the clinging death-sweet stench when I spoke. It was reminiscent of rotten potatoes cooked in rancid bear fat and sprinkled with powdered sugar substitute.
"Why do you shape your beliefs about the universe to please a possum?"
"Maybe it's because my beliefs have a sense of smell?"
Grandpa had to admit the animal smelled pretty rank, "All possums smell bad. Now... Be the possum!"
"Old man, you want me to be a dead possum?" I asked.
"No, the possum wants you to be a dead possum. I want you to be like that live possum right there, pretending to be dead," he said, pointing at the poor, dead thing.
Flies buzzed around the possum's cloudy open eye.
“It's definitely dead."
A black beetle with a green iridescent gleam to its wing cases crawled from inside the possum's nose disturbing a fat, black fly caught washing its face.
"There, see that? It's dead."
"Kevin, that’s just a sign of commitment. If only you were so dedicated!" he replied wistfully.
“Didn’t you tell me that the key to happiness is learning to enjoy the wanting as much as the getting?” I asked, trying not to lose control of my face, but my eyebrows had other ideas.
“Who told you I want a happy life?”
“Everyone does, Grandpa.”
“Not we Koreans.”
Grandpa is at least a fifth and a half generation American whose family hadn’t really clung to traditions. His knowledge of Eastern mysticism was a synthesis of things learned from ancient Bruce Lee movies and sketchy knowledge of Korean culture derived from episodes of a once-popular television show called MASH.
“Then why did you bother to tell me the key to happiness?”
“You’ve got some Irish on your mother’s side. Maybe you can use it someday.”
“Hey!” I didn’t know whether to be amused, confused, or offended. My eyebrows won. It’s always my eyebrows that give me away. OK, I was amused. Grandpa had been Chinese the year before, anyway.
I might use that, I thought, I could totally dye my hair my hair red and get with anime chicks at conventions. Grandpa’s words cut off my daydreaming.
“Now go home and practice!”
“Practice being a dead possum?”
“No, practice being a possum fooling a stupid boy into thinking he is dead.”
He turned around and went back to his gardening. I turned away from him and walked toward the white picket fence clad in sky blue morning glories demarcating the edge of the garden.
“Use a mirror,” he called over his shoulder as I reached the gate.
“Yes, Grandpa.” If Grandpa’s family hadn’t hung onto any other traditions, at least we’d hung on to the most important one, respect for our elders.
“Come back here in the morning and clean up that stinking dead possum.”
I looked briefly in the mirror while brushing my teeth before bed; fortunately, I didn’t look any more like a dead possum than I had before. Gramps was still just as good at yanking my chain as he'd always been.
The next morning I woke up in my bed from this trippy nightmare that my blankets had turned into thick gummy sheets of breast implants. Their nipples had pressed aggressively into every square millimeter of my body, my internal organs victim of centripetal force as I hurtled through space. Only it wasn’t exactly a nightmare.
My bed looked exactly as I remembered it. The bed sheets were the same mis-matched purple, blue, and green patterns, but they felt like the love-child of a jelly sex toy and a silicone baking sheet. I pulled myself out of their slightly moist burnt plastic and menthol grasp to examine my surroundings. The coverings slurped unnervingly at my body as I struggled free of them. Everything was smooth and blubbery and attached to the blubbery floor. In the living room my book reader was part of the squishy coffee table, as was the remote control and the crumpled Mars bar wrapper. A gentle, tide-like breeze washed over my skin as the walls breathed softly.
I told Grandpa I didn’t want to try acid.
Staggering into the bathroom, I planned to splash some water on my face. However, the fact that the almost fleshy-feeling brass colored knobs on the sink wouldn’t turn put a dry blanket on that idea. The sight of what was in the mirror over the sink was the final straw. I don’t think my mind could even process it.
Waking up on the squidgy floor, I began to appreciate its cushioning aspect. I took my time getting up and tried to brace myself before looking at the mirror again.
The mirror was shaped like the mirror in my apartment’s bathroom and it reflected things. The resemblance ended there; the lens of the Hubble Telescope isn’t half as well polished. My fingers didn’t even leave prints when I touched it and its warm surface rumbled softly with a vibration like the faraway purr of a giant cat.
That wasn’t the big surprise, though. It was what wasn’t reflected in the mirror that popped a breaker in my brain. The somewhat scrawny, thirty-something mostly Korean-looking guy I’d come to know and love was gone. He’d been replaced with a brawny, naked, teen-aged heartthrob. If anything had been in my digestive system I would have puked it up. The one thing a man can usually count on is that he’ll wake up the same man who went bed the night before.
I was relieved to find some actual clothes in the closet as well as wall panels that simulated the edges of the clothing in my real closet. Where my old closet might have been in relation to me, I had no idea. Whatever “me” was anyway. Although they were cut like footy pajamas and made of more of the floppy rubbery stuff in a malignant shade of rotten peach and closed with awkward giant buttons, I felt better fully dressed.
Unexpected nudity has a way of interfering with a guy’s mojo.
Thus armored, I looked around the apartment, trying all of the doors and windows. None of them budged although I couldn’t make myself try very hard to open the windows, giving up after a few casual thumps on the “glass” with the heel of my hand. The perfect reflective surfaces behind the permanently three-quarters open blinds freaked me out a little too much to try any harder. I wasn't too sure if there was even air outside them.
The doors gave just enough that I didn’t hurt myself, even when I ran at them full-tilt. My beefy new body should have been able to knock down a pretty substantial door, but it made no more impact than the former model could have made on a brick wall.
Clearly, nothing was real, but everything was very detailed. The printing on the bindings of my books was exactly as I remembered. Even the text on the outside of the can of beans left on the counter was perfect. The chairs looked like chairs and the stove looked like a stove, but everything was molded of a single piece and of a single substance. It looked staged, but it wasn’t like being in a movie set: it was more like being in a life-sized dollhouse, only dirtier looking.
I began to regret not cleaning up a bit better before getting abducted by aliens.
About the time that epiphany flopped into the pit of my stomach, I realized I had to pee really, really urgently. While the bathroom appeared to have a perfect replica of my toilet in it, my experience with the sink didn’t leave me feeling very optimistic. Since the lid could open and close, albeit in a completely different manner than it should have, I decided that, even if the toilet wasn’t real, at least I could close the lid to block the stench until I could find a way to escape. Lucky for me, the inside of the toilet (which looked like a gelatin photograph of the inside of a bachelor’s toilet) absorbed the stream of urine as soon as it made contact. I closed the lid and hit the flush lever on autopilot.
A pressurized rush of water from above battered me to the floor in a heap. The water forced past me and sucked through the floor where it looked like my terry shag bath mat, disappearing so fast I almost doubted it had happened. I didn’t, however, doubt it quite enough to flush again. At least it solved the problem of how I was going to wash my hands after using the toilet, albeit a little more forcefully than I’d prefer. The water drained swiftly from my coveralls and sucked into the rug with an audible slurp as I crouched, gasping for air.
I squelched into the closet and changed out of the excessively moist gummy pajamas into an identical but dry garment. Distracted by the struggling required to don the unfamiliar and strangely designed garment over damp skin, I failed to see what happened to the one I’d peeled off. It simply wasn’t there when I looked.
My experience with the toilet made me a bit more cautious of investigating my prison, but eventually hunger drove me to experiment in the kitchen and pantry. It turned out that the “fridge” opened and, indeed, had food inside it. Rectangular slabs of stuff that looked and acted an awful lot like Jell-O filled the room-temperature compartment. Their translucent butterscotch and lime coloration did not exactly whet my appetite, nor did the very realistic looking grill marks on the rubbery hunks. The smell coming off them didn’t help their case very much, either. But I was feeling weak and hungry enough to try them anyway by the time I found them.
The wobbly blocks actually didn’t taste half as bad as they looked and smelled although Grandpa’s dead possum might have been an improvement, even raw and completely assembled. Once I swallowed the stuff it didn’t try to climb back up although my lower intestines were quick enough to send it on its way. Fortunately, I didn’t have to eat the nasty things for very long and they began to taste better and agree with my insides by the third week anyway.
Oddly enough, I just wasn’t as worried about my situation as I should have been. I could think the words of panic, but they failed to reach my autonomic nervous system most of the time. I speculated that maybe it was something in the food. All of my negative emotions were softened. But in my new low-key way, I worried about Grandpa a great deal during that time. While he was still remarkably healthy for a man entering the second half of his eighties there was really no one else to take care of him, should he actually need taking care of.
He’d taken my parents’ and Uncle Stan’s deaths in the Great Pandemic awfully hard, almost losing his mind in his grief, so I feared for his safety. I imagined him searching for me, wandering about talking to road kill just in case I’d managed to learn the possum’s lesson that night I disappeared.
Grandpa was not only my closest remaining family member and someone I loved, he represented everything that meant home to me. He’d always been there to drive me batty whenever I needed him most. I missed the crazy old bastard so much it was a physical pain.
In some ways, it was worse than losing my parents. Sure, Grandpa might have been home, alive, and safe, but when I’d lost mom and dad, I'd had him.
Grandpa was good at just being there and somehow he knew just how to get a grieving young boy to share silence with him. He hooked me in with downloads of the television shows and movies of his childhood and youth. We watched hundreds of hours of old action films from back when movies were shot on actual film of some kind. On evenings when I was clearly feeling down at first we watched Star Trek or Stargate in all their glorious campy versions. When he was clearly feeling down it was MacGyver, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Saturday Night Live, or any of a few dozen other fluffy and or funny shows.
A few months after our loss we sometimes found peace just sitting quietly next to each other on the couch and not watching anything. I don’t know what I’d have given to just have him sitting on that weird, gummy couch next to me.
I filled the rest of my time studying my prison; I’m not sure what for, perhaps in the hope that some tiny flaw would expose my captors’ weaknesses and provide the key to my escape. I counted a lot for some reason. I counted the tiles in the ceiling. I counted my heartbeats and figured out how many heartbeats there were between each new whoosh of fresh air. There were 109.
I counted the blocks of nourishment in the fridge and the gummy clothes in the closet. No matter how many I ate or dropped onto the floor, there were always the same number left when I checked back in a few minutes. I never saw them getting replaced, but they were always there when I wanted one.
Round about the middle of the second week, I flipped out. I pulled all the clothes out of the closet and stuffed them in the toilet. I'm not sure why, maybe I hoped it would get someone's attention so I'd finally know who I was dealing with. They just slurped right in as if a bottomless pit lay just under the toilet's nasty-looking visible interior. I reacted by screaming and pounding on the walls and fixtures until my fists were bleeding, crying all the while. Somehow I set off the toilet shower and slipped on the floor, managing to hit my face on the toilet. It was so absurd I started laughing and eventually calmed down, aching and feeling like a dumb animal. I walked up and down the hallway for I don’t know how long afterward.
My feelings were softened, but human beings are social creatures. Isolation can drive us crazy, apparently even when we’re emotionally anesthetized to some degree.
Towards the end of that light cycle, when I was sitting at the pulled-out appearing chair by the dining room table, just staring at the immaculate detail of the simulated faux wood grain tabletop something happened. I’d scarred the original when I’d sat up drinking Chianti by candlelight with a girl I was trying to impress. I fell asleep on the couch alone and, in the morning, the wooden candle holder had burned all the way down to the tabletop. It left an oval burn scar as a permanent reminder of the utter stupidity of trying to drink my way into being brave enough to ask a woman if I could have a peek at her panties.
The burn scar disappeared under my hand as I touched it for the forty-second or possibly forty-third time since my confinement. I was more intrigued than alarmed by the development and hoped it meant my captors were ready to talk. I ran my hands over the tabletop and it felt as unnaturally smooth as the mercury slick things that had replaced all of the mirrors and windows in my cage. Usually, it felt like everything else, slick but not slippery, somewhat pliable, and always rather squishy.
Eventually, I grew bored of the novelty and wandered off to look behind the couch again for clues to my escape. The next time I got near the table, it flickered at me. For less than a second, it turned as gray as unlit store siding.
The table flickered again, this time twice in a row.
“Now I know you’re trying to communicate with me,” I said, desperately eager for conversation of any kind.
Reaching out from as far away as humanly possible, I touched the pseudo-burn spot with the very tip of the index finger of my left hand, my right hand shielding my half-turned face from potential responses. I picked up that approach after the toilet water incident.
Three stumpy bright lapis blue and lime striped tentacles extruded like erections from the tabletop and began to sway in a way one might find enticing in a Hawaiian girl. Their unconventional presentation of the dance move left me completely nonplussed. What came next was slightly less ambiguous although no less freaky.
An image appeared on the tabletop between me and the psychedelic hula boners. The color balance was all wrong, but I eventually made out that it was an image of me, or more accurately, an image of the new and improved me. It was lying naked in that horror show of a bed I’d refused to consider sleeping in since waking in it nearly two weeks before. I cringed as a creepy rictus of a grin slashed my double’s face almost in half and its eyes stared right into mine, following them as I moved into the always-pulled-out chair.
Its eyes expressed no recognizable human emotion, but they weren’t cold. If something like that had happened to me a month earlier, I’m pretty sure I would have shat myself. That brief period of alien captivity had jaded me to the bizarre to such a degree that I merely almost shat myself. Fortunately, the loneliness generated by those long days of solitary confinement kept my finger on the imaginary burn scar despite my shock. Then the grin twitched so wide I could see the thing’s molars.
I didn’t understand why the screen suddenly went blank until I noticed my left hand still clutched at my throat in a gesture that would do a skit comedy church lady proud.
After about ten, deep, slow breaths I touched the spot again. The image came back. My double lay peacefully on the bed, eyes closed and unmoving, smile constrained to normal proportions. “That’s more like it,” I breathed.
As far as I could tell, nothing changed on the image and, after staring at it for about a thousand pounding heartbeats, I gave up and puttered about the apartment, analyzing the experience. After two days of touching the damned thing for hours at a time, I could only conclude it wanted me to go and sleep in the bed. I really, really didn’t want to. But I really wanted to know what was going on.
I showered under stinging chilly water released by the toilet handle and changed my clothes. By observation, I had learned the dirty clothes were absorbed quickly into the floor. I’d also gotten the hang of dressing in the weird material while slightly damp. After writhing into my Jell-O jammies I tried to climb into bed. I had a sinking feeling I would have to take my damned clothes off to get into the freaking thing so I shucked the garment off when nothing happened.
A sinking feeling is exactly what I felt as I slithered nakedly into the bed’s gummy embrace and was completely enveloped in its translucent folds before I could so much as open my mouth to say, “Uncle.”
I woke up feeling calm and refreshed. My hands were completely healed of their self-inflicted injuries and all my aches and pains were gone. I dressed and went back to the table to see if anything had changed. This time my clone in the image smiled at me before closing his eyes in a much more accurate depiction of a resting Kevin Wang, weightlifter, K-Pop version. He was still naked though.
That day, my food made a giant leap forward in taste. I decided to sleep in bed again that night. The next morning, the toilet shower rained gently down instead of slamming me to the floor in a rush. I took to sleeping in the bed every night once I saw my environment improving after every session. My double in the table was communicating more and more complex ideas as time went on. The “carpet” in the living room grew softer and thicker.
I was still surprised as Hell the day the table spoke to me.
What's Really Going On Here? Where Is Kevin?
© 2014 Kylyssa Shay