mar stratford

after the end

What’s bullshit is how everyone calls Rick a cult leader. They’re saying he brainwashed us. First of all, brainwashing is a myth. Everyone who’s read the Rockefeller Commission knows that. Secondly, Rick never tried to intimidate us or do anything even remotely manipulative. We believed of our own free will.

Indra’s dad called the other day. Said he saw her on the news and what the hell was she doing, he was not paying out-of-state tuition just so Indra could waste her time on this nonsense. Said he wanted her to come home right away. To which we said, no way. We said, it’s not nonsense. Many great thinkers have believed in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Winston Churchill, for example, and Steven Hawking. It’s not like QANON or something - conspiracies that are verifiably false. The existence of organic consciousnesses beyond our planet is a legitimate possibility.

Or in another dimension. There are eleven dimensions on Earth alone, only most are too small to be seen by the naked eye. But that’s digressing into technicalities. The point is, when Rick said he knew the time and place of first contact, there was no reason not to believe him. The time was April 19, 2021, at 1:49 P.M. The place was Los Angeles.

Rick was born in Utah but looked more like California than anyone that any of us had ever met. His eyes were Pacific-ocean-blue, his hair was sunshine-gold, and his teeth were bright like sunlight on water. When Rick said the aliens were coming, we wondered if they were coming just to meet him, the same way Indra and Kim and the rest of us had all followed a pull to California, to L.A., to Rick.

Kim shared that thought one day during Empathy Practice. Rick said no, no, Sister Kim, it’s not about me -- we are all Children of the Next Evolution. When the aliens arrive, they will uplift us all. All, of course, being Rick plus the twelve of us that were staying in his condo. Everyone else was doomed. 

When Rick said that we would be lifted up to the next stage in human evolution, we could believe it. It was harder at night, lying in our bunk beds, either staring up at the sagging mattress of our bunkmate, or studying the water stains on the ceiling. At night, we wanted to know why. Why us, out of the billions of people in the world, why had we been chosen and why would the rest have to die? But Rick wasn’t concerned with why. He was only concerned with when and where.

No one else, none of the reporters we mean, care about the theological underpinnings of our belief, either. To them, the “UFO” in “UFO cult bombs Hollywood sign” is just headline glitz. They don’t really care about what happened to Rick, so we didn’t say shit when they tried to interview us. Besides, we don’t really have anything to say. Rick’s plan didn’t work. The bomb didn’t collapse the sign, which didn’t cause an earthquake, which didn’t cause a tsunami, which didn’t cause a mass extinction event. Also, the aliens never showed.

We didn’t know what to say, either, after the bomb went off early and killed Rick right before our eyes. He was incinerated so fast, it was like he just slipped out of reality. First we were looking up at him on top of the H, then he was gone. We went back to the condo and sat around in silence for a day, maybe a day and a half, however long before the cops showed up. They took us to the station and questioned us for a while, but in the end no charges were brought and they let us go with referrals to social services, since they had decided we were cult victims. We didn’t know where to go. Some of us got on a bus to the airport, some of us just started walking. Some of us went back to Rick’s condo.

The thing we think about at night now is, maybe Rick really did slip out of reality.  Maybe his body is not ash drifting down the Santa Monica mountains. Maybe the flash of light and heat which made us all temporarily blind so that we stumbled backward over low growths of sage bush and laurel sumac was, in fact, a portal through to the aliens’ mothership, and Rick was right about everything except the fact that we were all Children of the Next Evolution, that in the end, only he was judged ready to leave.

Sometimes, when we can’t sleep, we drive Rick’s Honda to the Griffith Observatory, then hike up to the scenic observatory point and look at the sign. They’ve replaced the scorched parts of the H now. We sit on the ground, legs stretched out, with the quietly preoccupied attitude of people who are waiting, because we are waiting.

29 May, 2021

Mar Stratford a third year student in the University of Arkansas Creative Writing MFA program, and their work has previously been published in Shimmer Magazine (Sept 18) and Asimov's Science Fiction (Jan/Feb 20).