Stories

The In-Between

The rain, it had to be the damn rain. Daniel hated the damn rain...not that it rained so much in sunny Los Angeles, but when it did, his whole world came crumbling to a halt. He had moved from rural New England to So-Cal five years ago to be with his new wife, and although he thoroughly enjoyed marriage, he had never gotten used to the traffic.

Before coming to L.A., the most traffic he had endured was a large moose stopped in the middle of the road (not street, mind you). The roads in rural New England were winding and old—many of them were nothing more than wide dirt paths really—but you could drive. You could drive out into the country and never know where you were going to end up. You could drive and drive and drive, until you found some cute little general store; he would pull into the dirt parking lot, order an ice cream or a coke, and sit on the porch and enjoy the sweet air.

And the rainstorms in the hills, how he loved thunder and lightning. The delicious taste of warm summer rain...oh, he missed dancing in the rain and wondering if the lightning might hit him that time.

Now, as he sat in his idling car in the midst of a million inane Angelinos scared shitless by a few drops of rain, he was wondering if the commute to his new job was worth it. Every day in every way possible he thought he was going crazy: he loved his job and he loved his home, and he even loved the neighborhood in which he lived, but it was the in-betweens that made his life miserable. And these people...they were so ruthless, and yet so skittish when the sun wasn't shining. It was like they were the opposite of vampires, or lived on photosynthesis, or needed sun like Superman.

Either way, he knew there was only one way to survive this madness. He turned on the radio to the local jazz station and leaned his head back against the headrest. As a new lawyer, this wasn't "the life" he had expected to be living, but there was nothing like Ella or Duke or Bird or Coltrane to soothe his soul. Life was good. Life was really good, especially with a baby girl on the way. As long as nothing changed, he could handle this. Life was good, and for now he hoped it would stay that way.

***

The morning moved slowly, but Daniel occupied his time meeting with clients and preparing bankruptcy petitions. He often tried to trace the path that had led him to this position, but usually stopped himself somewhere around taking his first exams at law school. The past was past, and meant nothing; the present was filled people and problems to be solved. “In fact,” he said to himself, “I like solving problems. I like figuring out how the pieces fit and then making it happen.”

That last part was more than true. On several occasions, Daniel had acted too quickly and the results had been less than hilarious. Nevertheless, no one would ever describe him as a passive player in life. His wife, Dahlia, always relied on him to be both embarrassing and decisive; both traits, she would often say, were the reasons she loved him so much and was glad he was the father of her unborn daughter.

They were both so excited to meet this little girl and to teach her and learn from her. When thinking about it, his heart would overflow, and he would become so distracted that the normal, rational thought that typically punctuated his life would sink away from view.

Daniel shook his head and returned to his work. When he began to think about himself in the third person, he knew he needed a break. Since it was too early for lunch and it was too wet for a walk, he decided to run over to the nearby coffee shop. He rarely remembered to bring an umbrella to work on rainy days, and today was no exception, so he raced through the downpour in search of a cup of joe.

As he ran, the world seemed to slow down, the moments seemed to elongate; he caught a glimpse of himself as a series of images placed back-to-back through time. Daniel wasn’t a physicist—hell, he had never even taken calculus—but he read physics books for fun and because they helped him to discuss and ponder the nature of the universe. Daniel liked to ponder these kinds of things; he liked to wonder, for instance, if somehow there was a moment between the frames of him running through the rain like Jackie Joyner-Kersey. And if there were such a moment, what existed there? Could anything exist there?

Daniel liked to believe that these gaps, just like the empty space between electrons, was where God filled in the world. God, like everything in Judaism, was just one more theoretic concept to which most of the people in his life could not become accustomed. These thoughts were even more complex than the last set and they made him feel …what was the word?…wet. Oh yeah, he laughed to himself; I’m standing in the rain.

He walked the last 10 feet to the café’s porch. He wiped his shoes on the carpet and entered the café. The shop was new and while he wouldn’t eat the food, it seemed like one of those cute little coffee shops he used to visit on the East Coast. He walked up to the counter and ordered a medium cup of regular coffee. He paid with his debit card and turned to the television while waiting for his drink.

There was a special bulletin on the local news, and he asked the cashier if she could turn up the volume. “…many experts demanding action on the part of the U.S. Government. These ships might not have hostile intent, but they are certainly causing widespread panic in all the major U.S. cities. At this time, U.S. military leaders are refusing to comment on the situation, but we can presume that they are preparing for the worst. For those of you just tuning in, this morning at around 10 in the morning—in all times zones around the world—massive airships descended upon every major city in the world.” Images appeared on the screen, and he almost dropped his coffee: these were clearly spaceships.

Daniel had envisioned this scenario so many times, and he had watched enough sci-fi films to know what to expect…which is what was most shocking. Reality never mirrored fantasy, only the other way around. And yet these aircraft looked so familiar that every nerd in America could identify different styles embedded into the overall themes. “In fact, we have our own visitors to Los Angeles. At this time, they are located about 500 feet above the Disney Concert Hall. We now go onsite to our own Tanya Stevens. Tanya? What’s happening there right now?”

The screen switched to the image of a young, pretty blonde woman. “Well, Chuck, just in the last few hours, large crowds have gathered and many people are just enjoying the day off. Although the rain makes this gathering a little impractical, the mood here is light and celebratory. Many people are drinking.” The light on the reporter began to increase and the camera panned to the ship. The bottom of the ship had begun to open. “Chuck, as you can now see, the ship’s bottom has opened and is shining some kind of incredibly bright light. I cannot make out anything inside the ship, but it does not appear that anything is happening…oh wait…do you hear that high-pitched humming? It sounds like—” The reporter’s final words were cut off and the camera feed died, but not before transmitting images of a swarm of metallic figures descending to earth. The last image transmitted was a close-up of one figure; it appeared humanoid in design and brilliantly reflected the midday sunlight in a thousand directions. The hands each had five fingers and one hand grasped what appeared to be a large weapon of some kind. This figure pointed the weapon at the camera and there was a flash of light and then the feed went dead.

“Tanya? Tanya? Are you there?” The anchorman kept repeating his questions, but Daniel was no longer paying attention. In fact, he was no longer watching the broadcast at all. He was running for his car and he was heading to his wife. His coffee dropped from his grasp as he ran from the café, and by the time he reached his car, the stain it was leaving on the carpet was still warm.

***

When a panic hits a city there is only one thing you can hope for: be the first one to panic. That first person will always have the drop on everyone else because he or she reacted faster than all the other smart people. The stupid people would likely be caught with their pants down; they were usually too important to be bothered by or care about the riot or the earthquake or whatever was shaking up the City of Angels that day. Not today they weren’t—but from the top of Mulholland Drive, Daniel could see the smoke rising from the east, from downtown, and he put the accelerator down as far as safely possible and thanked God for his poor impulse control.

He had tried Dahlia on her cell phone and on her work line, but she wasn’t picking up. What if she had a special event downtown today? So often he was wrapped up in his own mess that he forgot how busy she was—and that did not include being six months pregnant. He zipped around cars and sped through intersections. He had only one thing in mind: I need to find my wife and unborn child. I need to find them and get them out of this city today, or else they will not get out—we will not get out.

As he approached her work, he slammed the brakes on and turned on the hazard lights. Several signs read “No Stopping Any Time” but he paid them little heed. He ran out from his car and entered the synagogue where his wife worked. The guards at the desk asked to see his I.D. and why he was visiting, and usually Daniel liked to be polite, but today he ignored the guards and ran through the halls and up the first flight of stairs to the second floor. Down the hall and the first door on the right, he banged on the door and yelled her name. “Dahlia! Are you in there? We need to go right now!” No response. He calmed himself and counted to ten. He opened the first door on his left and walked downstairs to the main office.

He approached the secretary and asked her where he could find his wife. “She didn’t come in today. Said she wasn’t feeling well and needed to rest.” Her tone was not sympathetic, and any other day Daniel would have taken the time and energy necessary to hate this woman who clearly disliked his wife, but today was all about moving. “Did she say she was staying at home?” The secretary looked confused and replied, “Do you want to call home and check on her?” He shook his head. “Daniel, right? Is everything ok?” He looked at her and then began to run. As he left, he yelled, “Get out of the city as soon as you can!”

***

Traffic was heavier than before and he cursed his stupidity at not calling Dahlia. He called home on his cell phone, but, as he expected, the entire network was busy. He had wasted valuable time by stopping at her work. Nonetheless, he was making good time. He would be home in 30 minutes at this rate. Give another 45 minutes to get food and other supplies and they could be out of the city by 2 p.m.

He was so preoccupied with these plans that he didn’t brake in time and his car slammed into another sedan. He couldn’t even tell the color he was so distracted. He looked at the cross street and decided to run the rest of the way. Traffic was jammed. The other driver exited his car at the same time as Daniel, but Daniel just yelled “Sorry!” as he ran off.

He hadn’t taken more than one hundred steps when he heard a loud humming sound and then saw a large flash off to his left, right in the center of Century City. Light travels faster than sound, so he first saw the explosion before he heard the light slamming into the buildings and the sizzling and burning and the crackling like lightning. He looked back and saw that the explosion had cut a wide swath through the traffic, including his own car. It was only a moment later that he was hit by a shock wave from the explosion.

He felt himself tumbling up into the air and through the space—frame by frame—and he was more terrified than he had ever been before in his entire life: More terrified than the night before the California Bar Exam; more terrified than the morning he found out his wife was pregnant; and more terrified than the night he proposed. The shock wave threw him through the air several hundred feet, and as he landed with a distinctive “thud!” on the Cheviot Hills golf links, he blacked out almost immediately; however, his last thought was of Dahlia and his baby, and if he was ever going to see them alive.

squaresdaniel greenbaum


Daniel Greenbaum was born and raised in a tiny, rural New England town at the foot of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.  He has written his whole life, although he has focused more on poetry and music than prose.  He received his B.A. in Religion from Oberlin College and, more recently, his J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law.  He runs a small bankruptcy law firm in the San Fernando Valley.  His life-long passion is songwriting and playing the guitar, which he attempts to do whenever he has a free moment.  He currently lives with his wife in West Los Angeles and is expecting his first child in
early 2011.