He huddled against the wall of the prison, a large chamber, with walls of a strange material he had never before seen, extremely smooth to the touch. His upper extremities were restrained by some strange force that allowed him to move them but prevented him from using them effectively. However his legs were free. It was the same with the other captives, some of whom he recognized, but most of whom were strangers to him. But strangers or acquaintances, they were now all in the same situation. He tried to communicate with the others, but they were too frightened to respond, and they backed away from him rapidly, in a state of high agitation, whenever he approached them.
He thought about how he had been captured, but try as he would, he could not understand what had happened. It was so far beyond his experience. There had been no warning. He had been lifted suddenly from the familiar solid earth by an irresistible force, up towards an ever-brightening light. He panicked as he was pulled into a poisonous atmosphere that he could not breathe. But after a short time, and before he lost consciousness, he was tumbled back into a breathable atmosphere. There, in dark cramped quarters, he found many others, similarly confused and agitated. How long they were kept like that, was hard for him to judge. There were vibrations and loud sounds that he could not identify, and their prison swayed and lurched from time to time, and they jostled against each other. As time passed yet more captives were added and the prison became increasingly crowded. Their captors were indifferent to their comfort.
Finally the vibrations and the lurching stopped. But then an even more frightening thing happened as got he his first sight of the aliens, if only briefly. They were huge and unmeasurably strong, and they lifted him into their unbreathable atmosphere and did something to his upper extremities so that he could not use them.
Then he was flung along with others of the captured into this strange prison with the ultra-smooth walls and the silvery, shifting ceiling high above. They were not fed, but at least they could breathe. He had the sensation that they were often observed by alien eyes and he could just make out large shapes that seemed to move beyond the walls. There were strange sounds both loud and soft, again something beyond his experience. It was bright all the time.
And then the Claw came, terrible and gleaming, down from the shimmering ceiling. It seized one captive at a time, to be lifted irresistibly, protesting, kicking, frightened, and despairing. The strongest among them was no match for the power of the Claw. When the Claw came, some captives backed away as fast as could they. Others tried to resist, but with their extremities restrained it was impossible. Others simply froze, paralyzed with fright. All were transported off to a fate unknown. The selection process of who was taken and who was not seemed random and none who were taken ever returned.
How long this went on, he did not know.
Finally the Claw came for him. Its grasp was powerful and sure, and though he kicked and thrust his body about, it was hopeless. He was borne up through the shimmering ceiling into a glaring bright, poisonous atmosphere. The Claw held him over something very noxious, very hot………..
“Remember,” said the chef to his new apprentice, “You must be careful not to burn yourself when you take the rubber bands off the claws after the lobster’s done.”
“Right,” said the apprentice as he opened the jaws of the tongs and dropped the crustacean, legs thrashing, into a pot of gently boiling salted water.
Out in the dining room, the beautiful alien smiled at her handsome date and said, “I’m so glad you talked me into ordering the lobster and it was so neat that I got to pick mine from the tank. I’m starting to feel hungry.”
The call came on Saturday morning. “Hello Tom, how are you? I’ll bet you don’t know who this is.”
Give me a break, Tom thought irritably. Guessing games. Not as likely to be a salesman since it’s Saturday. Must be a crank. But the voice was vaguely familiar so he didn’t hang up. He bought time while he ransacked his memory. “You sound sorta familiar. But it must have been a long time since we last met or spoke.”
“You don’t have the foggiest idea, do you?” the voice said with a chuckle.
“Wait a minute. Our Fiftieth college reunion, last year,” Tom guessed at last.
“That’s pretty good. Now what’s my name?”
“What are you, some kind of egomaniac? I thought I was doing well just getting that far. You’re probably not someone I was really close to because then I’d know your voice, but we must have been acquainted. In the same dorm or class or played pool sometimes.”
“Well, I’ll put you out of your misery. I don’t want you to wear out your few remaining brain cells guessing. This is Al Zucker. And we were in the same dorm and played pool and you usually won.”
“Al Zucker—ol’ A-to-Z. Yeah, sure I remember you. We sat with you and your wife at the same table one night at the reunion. So what’s up?” I’ll bet he’s coming to Hawaii or is already here and wants to get together. Well, I can spring for lunch or dinner. “How’s your wife?”
The voice on the other end turned serious. “She passed away six months ago.”
“Oh. I’m very sorry.”
“You couldn’t have known. Any way, that’s one of the reasons I’m calling. I’ve been looking at our Reunion report and feeling nostalgic.”
Oh, oh. Is he calling to say goodbye? “You’re not having health problems yourself, are you?”
“No, in fact health-wise, I’m feeling much better than I was at the reunion. And I’m not depressed, so you needn’t worry. No, we’re all at an age that we don’t know what’s waiting for us around the corner. So I called to say hello now. And I’m not coming out to Hawaii anytime soon, though I’d love to.”
Their conversation continued for twenty minutes, mining the lode of nostalgia and sprinkled with the talk of former classmates, the: ‘remember when” and “do you ever see’ and ‘what happened to’ and ‘what do you think of.’
“You sure were on a long time. Who was that?” asked his wife Flora, looking up from her reading after he hung up.
“Al Zucker. We sat with him and his wife Dianne one night at one of the reunion dinners. She died six months ago in a car crash.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That’s sad. I met so many of your friends, but I don’t remember him.”
“Wouldn’t have expected you to. Guess he’s feeling his own mortality after losing his wife. So he’s calling the people he knew.”
“That’s really nice of him, but is he okay himself?”
“He said he is.”
The second call came a day later. “It’s for you,” said Flora, “I’ve almost got dinner ready, so don’t be too long, she whispered, handing him the phone.
This time he recognized the caller immediately. “Jason! Great to hear your voice. But what’s happening that couldn’t wait for the usual Christmas letter? You coming out for another visit?”
“Well, I talked with Al Zucker who said he just spoke to you, so I thought I’d do so too.”
“That Al. He really is going through the reunion report and systematically calling everyone he knew and you follow me alphabetically. So what’s going on in your life? How’s things in Miami?”
His wife signaled him that the food was on the table, but Tom waved her off, continuing to speak. “Jason Lee,” he silently mouthed to Flora and motioned for her to start eating; she shrugged and picked up her fork.
“That was Jason,” he said after he finally hung up. “Said to say hello to you. Zucker called him too and that stimulated him to call.”
“You had a tight bunch of classmates, but now your food is cold. I’ll put it in the microwave,” said Flora.
The third call was two days later. It was his old roommate Paul McDermott, who left after his sophomore year to enroll in the small college that his girlfriend, later his wife, attended. But he had come to the reunion too. They remained good friends even after Paul left, attending each other’s weddings, and meeting at conventions, since both were in the same line of work.
“Zucker called you too? Even though you didn’t know him that well,” Tom said. What a convergence, he thought, three calls from three old friends in four days. Well, two good friends and an acquaintance, he corrected.
“Yeah, I spoke to him. And also Jason,” said Paul.
“Practically an electronic reunion. It’s so great that everyone still cares enough about everyone else that they still reach out. It’s something I wish I’d done first instead of waiting to be called. But are you all right, Paul?”
“Yes, I’m feeling fine. In fact, much better than I’d felt in a long while.”
“Your arthritis is controlled? Some of those new drugs are just marvels.”
“Yeah,” laughed Paul. “I feel like I’m twenty-one again. Well, maybe thirty-one.”
“And your heart?”
“Yeah, that’s not a problem anymore.”
They spoke for a long time.
Then, after a pause, Paul asked, “You’ve got a will, don’t you, Tom?”
“What a curious question. Sure, just got it updated last year. Why?”
“That’s good, Tom. When Al’s wife was killed in that freeway accident six months ago, well, they didn’t have one.”
“But even without a will, everything would have gone to Al, right?” asked Tom.
“Al was driving the car, Tom. And he didn’t survive the crash either,” said Paul gently. “So it affected their kids.”
Tom felt disoriented. “But what are you saying? Al just called four days ago! How could that be? What’s going on? Is this a joke?”
Paul continued on, speaking slowly and softly. “And I know you haven’t heard, but Jason died of a stroke last month.” He paused to let his words sink in. “And I passed on six days ago,” he said finally. “We took turns calling you to get you ready. Welcome to our real reunion, Tom.”
“No, oh no, no!” the phone fell from Tom’s hand as he struggled heavily to his feet. He saw Flora, concern on her face, start towards him. His chest felt tight. It was hard to breathe. He could feel his heart rapidly throbbing in his throat. Then suddenly the heart beat was gone. “Why, I’m dead,” he thought in wonderment as his world faded to gray. Flora’s voice, “Tom? Tom!” came faintly from a great, dark distance away.