How do I feel? What kind of fucking question is that? When I said I was gonna talk, were you all so surprised that you didn’t prepare any good questions? How many suspects refuse a lawyer? The responding officers were dumb-struck, but they at least got their shit together to unstick me and Riley from the walls. They could’ve waited a few minutes before slapping on those cold, metal loop-de-loops. But I guess that’s what we get for breaking into The National Air and Space Museum: cold, metal loop-de-loops.
Thieves’ honor is fucked when the cops who pick you up and take you away are in different uniforms. We were all color-coordinated. Cops and robbers, all in black.
Did you guys get Lee outta the suit? You did? Has he ratted on us already, told you everything? Ah, your poker face is cracking, Detective…Murphy.
Maybe I won’t tell you anything.
This is the part where you offer me something cool to talk like enhanced immunity. Deal. I’ll take a cigarette too. But wait, what about that No Smoking sign? Ha! I always knew cops liked breaking the rules too.
Alright, Detective Murphy, look deep into my green eyes and see that I’m telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the—my eyes are gray? They change with the lighting, sometimes. This interrogation room is pretty gray.
Consider yourself lucky. I’ve wanted to tell this story for weeks. Each layer almost had me running to tell all my best friends and none of them are cops.
I swear we got the job from a flyer. You know, one of those paper octopuses stapled to telephone poles that wiggle names and numbers in the wind? MOVING JOB – CASH is what it said. All caps, little clarification needed.
Why did I apply? Did you not hear me? Cash. C-A-S-fucking-H. I thought you were supposed to be a detective. You didn’t notice my college ID in the empty wallet you guys made me put in that gray bedpan? But you’re right. It was also the perfect job.
I ripped the fifth paper tentacle thing off. Lee was the second and Riley was the fourth. No idea who was first or third. Probably two other broke college students.
But I do know why Dr. O’Connor hired us. We each had a skill and a past. Riley was an IT specialist at Hagerstown Community College and was the go-to expert to remove the virus that was slowing down you and your rich uncle’s PCs. It helped that she created the virus.
And moi? I’m an actor. I worked with Riley. We met through a mutual mark. Long story, not worth the jail time to tell. Though I don’t know which jail you’re gonna put us in. Guantanamo? Area 51? Roswell Correctional Facility for the unlucky souls who encounter extraterrestrial, paranormal, or weird shit while committing crimes?
But lemme shine that spotlight back on me. If casting directors didn’t frown upon such things, my audition reel would be full of Emmy-award-worthy CCTV performances such as Milo as a rich, senile old man who needs to make an ATM withdrawal.
Lee? We didn’t know Lee, but we’d learn more about him later. Be patient. You’re getting this testimony for a few stale cigarettes, a grudge, and a promise. Don’t expect better service.
We all got a text saying we had to go to some house in Northwest DC, where all the rich diplomats live. Me and Riley talked about it while planning another con—I mean, birthday party. It was funny that we both had walked by the same flyer, both ripped off a tentacle. But we both can’t turn down cash so it wasn’t that much of a coincidence.
Neither of us remembered texting the number, but, sure as shit, there was a message on our phones proving just the opposite. We agreed to act like we didn’t know each other.
If I write down Dr. O’Connor’s address, can I get another cigarette? Thank you. Nice pen. I don’t know the ZIP code, but I bet you can rustle up a meter maid to track it down. I’ll give you the pen back when you hand me the lighter.
We all arrived at the same time, driving dusty sedans with red, white, yellow parking passes watermarking our windshields. There was no FOR SALE sign on the lawn or moving truck in the driveway.
Dr. O’Connor’s house looks like a castle and a triple-tiered wedding cake had a gray and purple baby. You can see it for yourself when you go later, if she hasn’t burned it to the ground already. Don’t worry, don’t worry. Jeez, your face sure can tremble. She never explicitly said she was gonna do that, but it would be a good way to destroy the evidence. A lot less messy than having to pay someone to shiv us in our cells.
Lee lunged up the walkway and stood flexing on the porch. With too much stuff in her backpack as always, Riley shuffled up, leaned on the railing, and played with her phone. They didn’t talk.
I sat in my car, sticking on a fake beard with Vaseline since I forgot my spirit gum at home. When the beard slid off my face and onto my lap, I got out. Waving to the other two made them shiver. The door opened too.
I’m not one for interior design—that’s Lee’s area of expertise, so to speak—so I don’t remember much about the insides beyond all the…eccentric antiques.
Dr. O’Connor’s collecting philosophy seemed to be to take all the things no one wanted. Tacky court portraits that must’ve lead to a few free haircuts for their painters, thick yellowing skeletons of small dinosaurs that would offend a dog, coral totems that were the missing link between mythological and pathological. All boring, off-putting, and odd. I’d need to take way more electives to understand any of it, but I don’t think they teach you about spooky shit like that in college.
You didn’t wanna touch the stuff. Nothing was small enough to fit in your pockets too. Believe me, I tried.
A tall woman in a long black dress ferried us into a dining room. That was the only time I ever saw Dr. O’Connor’s “help.” Trying to think of her makes my head hurt. It’s like her face was…blank. Smooth. Gone.
We had our interview around a long, thin wooden table shaped like an oval. It made the dining room seem huge. Dr. O’Connor sat at the head of the table. Under her right hand were three manila folders.
She asked us how our days were and had us introduce ourselves to each other. Lee said he was studying physical therapy or one of those pre-med thingies. Riley reminded me of her major: biomedical informatics, which made me think she was working on cyborgs. I talked about some commercial work I did and the plays with the long and twisty names that college directors love performing like they get paid by the syllable. But my eyes never left those folders.
During our introductions, Dr. O’Connor stayed silent. She didn’t even say anything when one of us finished, just open-palm pointed at the next person. She didn’t seem to be paying much attention, but was acting like she was. Her body was turned toward the speaker, her arms uncrossed, her eyes level. But she was staring blankly like someone who’d memorized the answers before taking a test. And I was right. That body language master class paid off after all.
When I finished speaking, she slid us our folders. Every folder contained the same thing: single-spaced reports about each of us. The crimes we’d committed, all the ones we got away with, the close-calls, the mugshots who got the book thrown at them instead of us. There were frames from security cam footage that’d been blown up to reveal as much of our beautiful faces as possible. If she was working for you guys, you might’ve caught us. I consider your capture today to be a supernatural technicality.
The pictures of me were terrible, but they made me wish I didn’t have to burn the costumes after my performances. Riley only had one picture that I assumed was her hacking into a computer that wasn’t hers. The rest of the documents about her were confusing, full of coding language that read like an error message. I recognized some debit card numbers from our cons—birthday parties.
But I did learn why Dr. O’Connor chose Lee. He was an excellent rock climber and liked stuffing shiny rocks into his pockets. His muscles made sense. In his stills, he was walking on his hands, more often than not.
Lee slammed his folder shut. Me and Riley were more polite. We wanted to see what the blackmail was being used for.
When we looked up, three stacks of cash were in front of Dr. O’Connor. She slid these across the table and then told us about Edgar Mitchell. Edgar Mitchell was—Riley already told you. Lame. I really liked that story.
What did the others not tell you? The planning? Really? What did Lee end up talking about? His trip, huh. Can you tell me that? We didn’t have time to talk in between you peeling me and Riley off the walls and dragging down Lee. You can’t? Ugh. Fine.
I’ll set the scene and then I might head to bed. Okay?
Imagine Riley hunched over her chunky multi-monitored computer, clicking and typing away with two mouses and three keyboards. Why she needs this bulky set-up, I’ve never understood. She’s digging through the National Air and Space Museum’s iCloud account or something, nabbing all the passwords and floor plans she can get. She can’t get everything however and that’s where I step in.
After Riley spreads some very convincing lies on the Internet, Dr. O’Connor outfitted me in a snazzy suit and ran lines with me. I become Michael Collins-Danforth The Third, a rich kid looking to become a patron of the arts, sciences, humanities, and whatever else museums hold nowadays.
Act One involved me bragging to the museum’s head honcho about my love of private jets and rockets, my wealth, and, of course, my wealth. They put me on hold the first time I called. But not the second time. They didn’t want me to throw my money at SpaceX and urged me to accept a private tour of the history I’d be preserving.
Act Two was me driving down to DC in Dr. O’Connor’s Mercedes and getting a private tour of the whole place, after all the plebes left for the day. During the tour, I took obnoxiously long and loud phone calls with my imaginary but persistent stockbroker Timmy. These one-sided phone calls revealed everything about my wealth and allow me to wander where I shouldn’t.
I also teared up and ask for a moment to be alone near certain artifacts and their less dusty outlets and control panels. My shiny wing tips and manicured hands set off every single alarm. I got in trouble a few times, but then they just turned off the alarms. Money talks.
I didn’t ask about the suit. But they did show me some of the rocks that Mitchell and the other guy brought back. They were boring until I touched them. My hands froze. Literally froze. My bones and muscles bent into a C. I couldn’t even pocket one.
The attendants didn’t respond to my contortion. Even when I groaned. They were frozen too, staring at the ceiling. I wiggled my arm and the rock rolled off it. An attendant caught it with one gloved hand like she’d been waiting for it. My hand cracked back into place.
I didn’t tell Dr. O’Connor or the others about the rock. It would’ve killed the job or made it harder. I was paid for the space suit, not the rocks. And I’d already spent all the money.
I should’ve called it and let some other talented, black mail-able, and broke college student get the gig. But I didn’t. That’s the scariest sentence in our whole language: But I didn’t.
Act Three took place back at Dr. O’Connor’s. We met there three times a week to plan the heist. Me and Riley hadn’t done anything this big. Lee might’ve, but he didn’t like talking. He preferred bending us into uncomfortable positions and grunting when we couldn’t do standing backflips. Dr. O’Connor let him do all this because she thought the security was gonna be tougher than what our recon said.
The floor layout of the storage area gave us all chills. Rows and rows of the same shelves, the same boxes. Our eyes strained and dripped with the lack of detail. But we stuck with it.
Dr. O’Connor provided those special bags you had to detach from the wall next to me. We bought the clothes and the tools with Dr. O’Connor’s never-ending fortune. We never went into the same store together, never purchased the same things together, never even thought about appearing in public together. They didn’t even visit to the museum until the big day—night.
So yeah, we broke in. The museum could’ve saved all the destruction costs by just selling the damn thing to Dr. O’Connor. Just saying.
Can I take a nap now? There’s something about wrestling with the occult and cops in two different uniforms that really drains you. I’ll take another cigarette before I leave. Thank you very much.
I’m not saying shit. Nope. Nothing. You can speak to my lawyer. You did? She said I should talk? You got that on paper? You do. Hmm. Lemme call her. You need to get a new phone, Officer. This one’s so outdated. It doesn’t even have a—
Hello. Okay, Auntie…relax—I didn’t…yes. But…Okay, fine. Bye.
Do I want a cigarette? No. Milo smokes, I don’t. Save them for him. You’re gonna need one while talking to him. But I do want some Advil and an iced tea. I’ll take a Pepsi. Thank you. My head’s all puddled.
What do you wanna know? Why Dr. O’Connor wanted it? Isn’t that obvious? Someone must’ve told you what the suit can do! Why does it do that? I don’t know! It’s nothing I learned in my STEM classes, I’ll tell you that.
Before working for Dr. O’Connor, I didn’t believe in any of this shit. Still don’t, really. I always thought occultism was something rich people invented when badminton got boring.
But Edgar Mitchell, a smart ass dude, MIT graduate, Apollo 14 astronaut, he believed in it. He also believed in aliens later on, but that’s not important. Or maybe it is. Dr. O’Connor didn’t tell us about that part and told us not to look anything up because of search histories and all that stuff rookies don’t know how to hide. But seeing how good she was at tracking us, I stayed sequestered and tried to find her bugs in my computers without setting off too many alarms. Maybe Milo knows more about it. Lee isn’t much of a reader.
In 1971, while on his way to the moon, Edgar Mitchell conducted a few…experiments. I don’t know if my professors would call what he did experiments, but I’m not sure if there’s a better word.
The first one he did was telepathy. Mitchell flipped a bunch of cards, stared at them, and then wrote some stuff down. On the return trip, he did it again. His psychic friends back on Earth were supposed to be receiving his mental messages.
Mitchell got fifty-one out of two-hundred right which, considering statistics, is about how much you would get randomly guessing. But if you compare the two score-cards, he got every single one wrong on the second try. He was trying to fail.
But that was after he walked on the moon. As him and Alan Sheppard were descending, something malfunctioned. After lots of jiggering, they got back on track. But then the radar blew. Mitchell commanded the radar to work—“Come on, radar. Lock on!”—and it did.
Considering the tech they were using, it wasn’t a miracle. The recorder you’re using right now is probably more advanced then some of the stuff inside those space ships. Is that a TASCAM DR-680? Officer, the police get so much funding. I’ve seen the bank accounts. You really should get—You should hire me as your tech assistant after this. Okay. We’ll talk more about the moon. You’re lucky the Advil and Pepsi are working.
So they landed and something went wrong, again. They were lost. Mitchell forgot to command the radar nicely since it dropped them somewhere not on their itinerary: the dark side of the moon.
No one knows exactly what happened while they were there. They took some pictures with a 16mm data acquisition camera and both made vague statements after the fact. Mitchell threw a javelin and Sheppard swung a golf club. This is why I don’t date STEM guys. Can’t remember a birthday if it’s not written in C++.
Dr. O’Connor was convinced something happened and that whatever it was, Mitchell’s suit would provide some answers.
Why did I join the team? You ever have to fix thirty laptops full of porn and viruses for minimum wage while juggling a full schedule? It’s not fun.
Fun is shutting down the National Air and Space Museum’s security system. Luckily, government-funded stuff usually runs on outdated technology, even science museums.
The night guards move inefficiently. You need at least two pairs of eyes to notice anything. The head guard was on a smoke break when we showed up! Our fake keycards were useless since he propped the door open. You think the museum would hire me, if you don’t?
We went in through the unguarded security room, dressed in all-black. I plugged my computer into one of the terminals and killed the electronic locks and security cameras. After that, I looked into what I could do with the lasers from inside the museum. Lee stretched. Milo paced around, leaning to the right and left when he got to a corner, mimicking Lee. Lee grunted and I told them both to knock it off.
I ran through everything and found no way to do it. The lasers were old as shit, barely better than electric fences. It was like someone wanted us tenderized before we got to the suit. There was a laser outside the security room so we had to exit through a fire window. My back’s still hurting from that one.
With the security cameras looping last night’s footage and the electronic locks thinking they were closed, we only had to deal with the lasers and the guards.
Did I notice that there were no guards? In the moment, not really. I just thought we were lucky, that all the guards were living in the fantasy that no one would rob the National Air and Space Museum. You take luck when you find it. Most people’s passwords are obvious and stupid. Besides, the silence was loud. It usually amplifies everything. But tonight, it sucked every decibel away.
Where were the guards, by the way? The ceiling? Are they—I’m not gonna ask that. I’m too tired to deal with that guilt now. I’ll answer your “final” question and then I’m gonna end this and call my aunt again. I mean, my lawyer. Ask the question.
What color are my eyes? Brown, but usually red from staring at screens all day. Weird question considering you have two eyes to answer it for you. Do you want me to tell your eye color? You get one more question.
How did I feel? Scared as shit.
The cold air in the museum didn’t help anything. We used the moonlight and red EXIT signs to guide us. Hoping for a guard’s flashlight was a bad idea. The preparation in Dr. O’Connor’s mansion gave me nightmares and backaches, but it worked. If you turned off the lights right now, I could see better, clearer.
Yeah, nightmares. I dreamed that every thing I opened lead to a locked door. Cereal box, computer file, storage bin, door, door, door. The knobs were hot, cold, rusted, slick, jagged, smooth. But the doors were all red. The red of headaches, of heatstrokes, of sun blindness. I’m not gonna sleep well tonight.
We moved in a single-file line, a hand on each shoulder. Lee was in front and Milo was imprinting his bony hand into my new bruises. The floors should’ve squeaked more and the carpet should’ve been rougher. But it was like a cold stone path.
We went over and under the lasers. I don’t know how long it took us. Time seemed to stop. The moon barely twitched.
The darkness shifted with each step. Propellers, parachutes, and prop planes lunged at us and retreated. We almost slammed into a rocket in one hallway. The faceless mannequins wearing flight suits made us gasp more than any security guard could’ve. But we had time. The cleaning staff weren’t coming until dawn. Dawn was so far way. It still is for us three.
I really need to lay down. My back pain’s spreading to my feet. Being stuck to that wall didn’t do me any good. Smashed my computer and phone too. Can I use your phone again? It’s dead? Ugh.
I fla-fla-fla-floated. I floated. It was…I’m cuh-cuh-cold. Turn the he-heat o-on! It’s on aye-eighty? Nuh-nuh-no way. My gums fuh-feel like eye-eye-icecream. The cuh-coat. Gim-me-me the coat! Nuh-now!
I can still feel the cold in my lungs and stomach, but it’s not pressing against my skin anymore. One thing they never tell you is that museums are cold at night, laboratory-cold, ice-bath cold, cemetery-cold. Cold as space.
You said if I talked about the other two I walk, right? I’ll take “basically.”
Do I want a cigarette? No! Do you know that every cigarette stabs your lungs? It weakens all your muscles. You shouldn’t smoke. Try running instead.
I’m never stealing again. Promise. I can’t—I floated. I fucking floated.
It took us too long to get through the main building. Not because of me. The other two needed to take breaks to keep up. They’d forgotten everything we’d practiced at Dr. O’Connor’s. She’s the woman who hired us. Thinking about her makes my chest hurt. The others will tell you more. I need to get this off my chest so it will literally get off my chest. I have a triathlon in three weeks.
The storage area was dark. The moonlight was gone. No guards waving their beams. We had flashlights. Little blue icicles of light. The same brand as the security guards. If one of them was in the storage area, they’d think we were their coworkers. If they got too close, I was supposed to snooze them.
The boxes all looked the same to me. Dr. O’Connor had told me privately that I alone would know when we found the right box. She said I was more observant and had better sense than the others. Since I spend most of my time perfecting my body and reflexes, I agreed with her. She was right about something.
The first box I sensed weighed at least two-hundred pounds. What do I mean by sensed? You know when you look at a pile of plates and know much you can clear that day? It’s like that. Alpha-sense.
Only I could take the box down. It was no biggie. Inside was a disassembled iron fence. After lifting bar after bar and finding no suit at the bottom, I slid it back into place. I told the other two to turn off their flashlights so I could sense better. Milo laughed at me and Riley kept searching.
The second box I sensed was lighter. When I shook it, it clinked like a glass visor hitting metal. But inside it were thirty-five teacups. They cracked as I threw it back. I was about to yell at them to turn off their fucking flashlights, but I heard scraping.
Milo found it. His flashlight shone on its cracked label first. A chill sprinted up my lats. It had to be the box.
For how weak he is, he didn’t need my help lifting it. It didn’t make a sound when he dropped it on the ground. He stuck his tongue out when Riley and I got next to him.
I jabbed the crowbar into the lock, but it didn’t give. The lock on it was different than the others. It was older, not like the new ones where a well placed punch can short-circuit it. It took Riley longer to find her lock picking kit in her backpack than to crack it.
The suit was resting on a foam pad. It looked like the suit was surrounded by a thin empty oval. It was so ordinary. Smelled bad, though. Cheesy feet. Milo retched. Riley said it was the humidity, a fault in the AC.
While holding his breath, Milo unzipped the bags. Riley kept watch. I scooped the suit with one arm. It shouldn’t have weighed much. Nothing I couldn’t deal with.
But it…rose, rose like someone was dragging it by the helmet. Its gold visor was reflecting rays from some invisible light source. It sparkled like another sun.
Its reflection widened, coloring the room lava orange. And it rose higher. Milo screamed. All that actor’s training he wouldn’t shut up about didn’t help him one bit. He should’ve hit the gym like I told him to.
The suit’s right hand twitched and Milo was flung to the wall with all the bags surrounding him like giant blood stains. Riley ran away. Her backpack spilled her things everywhere. Milo’s thud was followed by another one to my left. She was gone. A smeared puddle somewhere out of reach.
I couldn’t move. The visor’s reflection shrunk. Only a crescent of orange light was blazing on the ceiling. The helmet was more than empty. A void. And it dragged me into it.
Something heavy pressed into me on all sides. My muscles swam. My triceps flooded into my shoulders. My jaw cracked back and forth, left, right, left. All my bones broke, but I couldn’t pass out. My eyes sunk into my skull. They couldn’t close.
No, I don’t need the cigarette and I don’t need to stop. I am a man. I am strong. The other two can’t tell you this. The suit would’ve pulverized their weak and lazy skeletons. It chose me.
The helmet clicked. I sucked in oxygen rich air. Mountain climbers’ saving grace. My lungs were squeezed tighter with each inhale. My senses were jumbled. I could only hear the darkness. I could see this…humming. I raised my hand to guard my eyes. My arm shot up too fast, but caught itself with a tug at the shoulder. My fingers pressed against a soft, padded glove. I was in the suit.
I jerked down the visor. When I looked up, I saw a night sky that held no hope of day. The oxygen choked me, but the visor didn’t fog.
And then I looked down. On my feet were boots pressing against gray rocks covered in dust. The ruins of a scarred desert. The ground shook. A rock pile that looked like a mountain range made of glass rose in front of me. It was no bigger than two feet squared, but it electrified my spine.
I heard a new frequency. Two high-pitched notes tried to merge, but didn’t connect and wailed in agony. It was like two ice needles were jammed into my ears. The glass rocks seeped steel oil full of sparkling chunks of red light.
Even though it was leaking away from me, I ran. The moon’s surface was flat and dead. Perfect terrain to run in. But the suit restrained me. It felt like one hundred rubber straps were suffocating every stride. My heart rate spiked, but I wasn’t scared. I was not scared.
I stopped and turned around. The oil stopped too. I was safe. And then it shot up and rushed toward me. The sparkling chunks were full of gnawing teeth made of cracked red glass. No eyes, no lips, just teeth.
Stop asking me if I need a fucking minute! It’s over! It’s all fucking over!
I woke up to the two officers cracking open the suit with the crowbar. All the lights were on. The storage area guards were standing on their heads, their arms twisted behind their backs. There was less blood than I expected. Milo and Riley were being carried away on stretchers, in handcuffs. The air was too thin and I got sick. Thinking about it—Ugh.
Sleep? I do wanna sleep. I do. But when I blink, I see it. Void. It’s in your eyes too. It’s beyond the iris now. Blinking doesn’t help. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am not scared. I am…We’re never gonna leave here, are we?
Dan states: “I studied journalism at Boston University and received an MFA in creative writing at Columbia University. I’ve worked as a movie theater cleaner, a cashier at a vacation clothing store, an indie bookseller, and a tech assistant for an art consulting firm. My website is dadell.com.”
If you would like to be part of The Chamber family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines.
If you like more mainstream fiction, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.