The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is Frasier Armitage!
Frasier wins a $25 Amazon gift certificate and the narwhal amigurumi collectible shown below.
I received so many great entries, and I’ll share some more of them later this week. You can read some of my thoughts on why Frasier’s entry shone above all the rest. (It’s stellar!)
October Contest: I’ll be announcing the October contest soon! (Probably next Monday.)
I started the story below, and see how seamlessly Frasier picked it up after the red line and gave it his own twist!
But this is Frasier’s moment, so enjoy the story!
Jess leaned back in the blue, plastic Adirondack chair on the back deck. It was a kids chair and he had almost outgrown it. But it was the only chair that allowed him to tilt his head back to look at the stars.
Tunes from the 1960s purred from the outdoor speaker. His Mom kept the family speakers on a steady rotation of “decades” music going back seventy years.
They lived in the suburbs. With light pollution, Jess knew he wasn’t even seeing half the stars up there. But this summer, with all the bad news online, he found himself escaping to the quiet of the back deck and looking at the starry sky.
In school, he had read about the Civil War and the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement and a bunch of other depressing stuff. And then his grandfather had died. Jess and his grandfather were not close, but everyone went to the funeral and everyone cried. Even Jess cried.
Sometime that summer, Jess realized everyone else in his family would die. Not anytime soon. Probably not, anyway. But, eventually, his parents would grow old and die. And, eventually, Jess would also grow old and die. And if he ever had kids, they would grow old and die. Someday, everyone Jess knew would be dead.
Staring up at the night sky made him feel small and a little scared. It never used to before. But when he was little, he didn’t know how much empty space was really up there. And how tiny the Earth really was.
Last week and the week before he had stared up at the stars.
Maybe, he had thought, it would be OK to die as long as I’m remembered. Maybe I could get famous like Elvis or Beyonce. So famous that no one would ever forget me.
Jess had thought about that for a couple of weeks. He would have to be really famous to be remembered in two million years. Like Hitler famous. And he didn’t want to be evil. He remembered seeing photos of the gas chambers and shuddered.
In two million years, the wind might even wear down the Great Pyramids and the even the pharaohs of Egypt would be forgotten.
Words floated from the speaker on the dark, night air.
Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
It was “Across the Universe” by the Beatles. His Dad loved the Beatles. All of the Beatles were dead.
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
And that’s when the idea struck Jess. He rummaged through the junk drawer and found a penlight. He sat back in the kid-size Adirondack and shone the light into the sky.
Dad was an engineer and he knew lots of science. He said light beams were made of photons. In space, photons just keep traveling forever–travel at the speed of light, Dad said–unless they hit something. Like a planet or a star.
Jess sent the weak beam of light into space. He clicked the light on and off. If he knew Morse Code, he could send a message on a stream of photons into space. And if that beam never ran into a star or a planet, it would travel forever. Unlike the pyramids, it would never be worn down by wind or time.
The next day Jess bought a brand new flashlight–the most powerful one he could afford at the big box hardware store. That night on the deck, he sent coded messages into space. He looked up Morse code on his phone and shot off the messages in different directions into the sky.
I am here
My name is Jess
I dont want to die
Never forget me
. . .
Halfway through high school, Jess had learned enough about lasers to build his own high-powered laser from a kit. He even got his Dad to help mount it on the roof. Mom thought he was crazy, but Dad was into science stuff and thought it was a cool project.
Jess studied star charts and learned how to aim his laser using the computer in his room. He sent coded messages into the night sky almost every night. He aimed the laser into the empty stretches between stars, nebulae, and galaxies to give his messages the best chance of flying forever through space.
No human would ever see them. Racing at the speed of light away from the Earth, no human could ever catch up with them to capture the light and decode it.
And what alien would ever know how to decode Morse code? Or care to try?
But Jess knew that his coded messages racing through space would last longer than even the Earth itself. Eventually, the sun would supernova and the Earth and the Moon and every human landmark in the Solar System would be absorbed, melted, obliterated. But Jess’s small, silent, staggered rays of light would live on.
. . .
In college, he studied engineering and physics, trying to decide which way to go. Both were incredibly tough. Jess had programmed the computer in his bedroom at home to aim the roof-mounted laser at the emptiest reaches of space. He had saved hundreds of different coded messages and each night, his computer sent the messages into space.
He was so busy at school, he forgot about the laser most of the time. And, miracle of miracles, he finally had a girlfriend!
But when he came home on breaks, he checked the laser on the roof. He cleared the dead leaves away, wiped the lens, applied another coat of water proofing. He checked his sky maps and scheduled some new programs to run when he was away. At night, sitting on the deck, he thought up new messages to send.
I am Jess
This message will outlast everyone
Jess was not trying to reach anyone out there. He never thought to try to look for replies to his messages. Besides, detecting a laser reply from space would be quite a trick. That would take more physics, engineering and money than he had.
So it was merely by luck that he was sitting on the back deck after graduation, drinking a beer and peering up into the sky, that he saw it.
A single star blinked a rhythm of dots and dashes, over and over, like ocean waves. Jess’s beer crashed on the deck, spilling between the planks. He scrambled for his phone and recorded a video, pointing to the heavens, and muttering the words that flickered in clumsy Morse.
Everything will be alright
Jess staggered backwards and flipped his camera. He garbled something about his grandfather’s funeral and uploaded it to the Web.
Within ten minutes, more than a million views ticked across the screen.
Was this really happening?
All he could think about were the lyrics to that Beatles song, stuck on repeat.
Images of broken light
Which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
His phone shuddered. Unknown number.
Jai Guru Deva, Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my . . .
“Hello, is this Jess Dawson?” A voice sharp as gravel crunched down the earpiece.
“Who are you?”
“Name’s Grant Knox, FBI. We’re sending a chopper for you.”
In the distance, a low rumble carried across the sky. Jess shook his head. “A chopper? Why?”
“For your protection, Jess. We saw your video. Half the world’s seen it by now. You’ve no idea how long we’ve been trying to make contact.”
“Contact? With who?”
“You’d best pack some things. We need to get you secure.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re about to go down in history, Jess. People will be talking about this forever.”
“About what?” Jess looked at the sky. The flashing dots.
Everything will be alright
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Matthew and Frasier wrote together. It was a fun collaboration!
For more fun endings to this story, look for some honorable mention finalists in a separate blog post later this week. And next week, we’ll reveal the October Contest story beginning and the new prize!
Finally, if you enjoyed Frasier’s prize-winning ending, please make sure to share some kind comments below.
Matthew Cross and Frasier Armitage