Autumn's Dream

By: CNJ

A/N: A one-chapter War of the Worlds/Girl Talk crossover...in this story, Suzanne McCullough is retired, in her mid-sixties, has two grandchildren and lives in Ireland.

Randy Zak, meanwhile, is in her early thirties, is a successful freelance music composer/creator, is married and is raising two children and lives in New York City.

Takes place in the current time...across the ocean, Suzanne and Randy both have the same dream one misty November morning.

The dream is in past tense while the awake times are in present-tense...this story is first-person from both Suzanne and Randy's POVs.

The usual disclaimers that characters that War of the Worlds and Girl Talk fans recognize are not mine; they belong to their creators, much as I wish dear Suzanne and darling Randy were...enjoy!

Suzanne:

I wake up quickly that second Saturday in November, but it takes me a few minutes to focus my eyes and as usual, I have to rub them for a few minutes.

The vivid dream I just had is still so vivid in my mind that I'm not sure I want to fully wake up just yet...it was a pleasant dream for once...I'm so glad I don't have as many nightmares as I used to, especially about the war with the extra-terrestrial Morthrens who attempted to invade the Earth and kill off humanity and all other Earth creatures.

I lie there, mulling over the dream...in it, I was walking through the autumn forest in a damp, slight drizzle, just enjoying the cool, damp air and the last of the fall foliage.

Ireland, where I now live, is magical at this time of year...I'm glad I was able to retire here. I still occasionally write short articles here and there for science magazines and often volunteer, usually at secondary schools, but I'm glad to be out of the conventional workforce, where I was a full-time microbiologist.

In the dream, I came to a large river where I sat on a low, thick tree branch and watched the water for a while, listening to the soft sounds of the water flowing.

A small black bat flew around above the branches, a funny little creature with huge brown eyes and black, rather spiky fur on her head. She had webbed, black wings with little black-furred hands and feet.

I watched her weave between the branches until she landed beside me on the branch. Her fur and wings were glossy from the dampness.

"Hello..." I greeted softly, not wanting to scare her off.

"Hello..." she greeted back in a soft, rather deep voice...she had somehow taken on a human form without my initially realizing it.

An animagus? I wondered with mild curiosity. Some sort of shape-shifter? I had the feeling that she was not from around here.

"You're from New York City, aren't you?" I made an educated guess based on what some instinct told me. "I'm Suzanne McCullough, by the way."

"I'm Randy Zak," she introduced herself and we briefly shook hands.

She was a rather young-ish woman who appeared to be in her early to mid-thirties with silver, round, wire-rimmed glasses, jet-black, straight, shoulder-length hair and vivacious, large, dark brown eyes.

"I've read some of your work on extra-terrestrial life and micro-cell mutations, Dr. McCullough, and it's positively brilliant," she gushed.

"Thank you..." My own eyes widened in a bit of a startled reaction.

"I also want to thank you for your service to humanity in battling the Mortax and Morthrens," Randy added.

"You're...welcome..." I said, my thick brows rising slightly in surprise.

I could see why Randy seemed so familiar even though I have no recollection of ever meeting her in person before...I had seen her name, Rowena Zak, on the credits of several movies where she had composed musical scores.

"I've heard your wonderful music," I told her.

"Have you?" Randy gazed out onto the river.

"Yes...you're quite gifted," I confirmed.

"Thanks."

We watched the river for a while. I guessed her to be perhaps five or so years younger than my own daughter, Debi. Debi today is forty-one, is a computer programmer, lives in Maine and is married with two children.

"My daughter, Debi, is not much older than you," I said. "You remind me a bit of her...she lives back in the States in Maine...programs computers and electronics for a living...married with a daughter and a son."

"It must be neat being a grandma," Randy said. "My mom loves gushing over my kids when she visits...my wife, Haniya and I have two. Our son, Reese is eight and our daughter, Adila's four."

We were quiet again for a few minutes, the sounds of the flowing river washing over us like soothing touches.

"Dr. McCullough..." Randy started hesitantly, sounding almost timid. "Were these aliens a patriarchal society?"

"I think so," I responded. "They would take over human bodies, both male and female...we think the Morthrens were divided by gender...the aliens kept themselves mostly hidden...oh and you can call me Suzanne."

"Sure," Randy smiled a bit. "These aliens sounded horrible...I imagine it was a frightening time for you and your colleagues."

"It was," I told her. "It was a war that we tried to keep hidden...we were afraid of widespread panic and chaos...some of the war leaked out despite all our efforts to keep it hidden...people were being killed and brutalized."

It is still sometimes even hard today to keep my hands from trembling recalling that war, especially the memories of our Cottage being destroyed and worst of all, the untimely deaths of two of my colleagues, Norton Drake and Colonel Paul Ironhorse.

My other colleague, Harrison Blackwood, who lives in Washington State today, is still so much calmer than I am...he also was affected by Norton and Paul's deaths, but he somehow didn't seem as shaken up as I was...perhaps he was more adept at hiding it than I ever was.

I had cried often and had been depressed and full of fear and anxiety for months afterwards, especially when Harrison, Debi and I had to move into the underground of an abandoned warehouse once we joined forces with an old colleague of Paul's, John Kincaid.

Randy probably saw the slight shaking in my hands because she put her hands over mine and sort of stroked them. I smiled at her gratefully.

Looking at her, I suspected that she and her peers had fought a few wars of their own, even if it was not extra-terrestrial beings.

"I'm glad to hear you're moving forward and conquering the enemies of your own world," I told her softly.

Randy's dark, softly angled brows rose slightly in surprise. Then as if it dawned on her about what I was talking about, she nodded thoughtfully.

"I hope the recent mid-term elections are going to start turning things around back in the States," Randy said. "Homophobia is slowly fading...sometimes, it's tiring and sometimes we get discouraged, but more of us are banding together and eliminating the alt-right groups...problem is, there are so many little groups and factions...the white supremacists, the neo-fascists, anti-feminists, the conspiracy theorists, the white nationalists and the Holocaust deniers to name a few..."

I nodded. "It's hard...but one advantage is that since they are not all united anymore, it's not a huge, powerful group...I'm glad you and your allies are hanging in there...humanity has moved forward since my own youth...even when I was in my thirties, female scientists were not very common...back then, girls were not encouraged in the non-traditional fields...I imagine even in the nineties, it wasn't always easy for you and your friends growing up."

"No, it wasn't," I confirmed.

Randy:

Suzanne's brilliant, one of the brightest people I've ever met. Looking back when I woke up this morning, a part of my mind realized that this was a dream, but I felt it was vividly as I had truly gone to Ireland and met with Dr. Suzanne McCullough, the microbiologist who was part of a team who vanquished hostile extra-terrestrials when I was just a little girl growing up in New York City.

It's funny how Dr. McCullough...Suzanne...still looks the same as she did in her thirties, yet is somewhat different. I had seen a few pictures of her from way back then. Her once-dark-brown long hair is now about chin-length and is the salt-and-pepper color than most brunettes acquire as they grow older.

She used to be really thin, but has put on weight and is now rather plump like me...her large eyes have remained the same...they're brown like mine, but not as dark; they have a bit of gray in them.

"When I was eleven, my mom and I moved to this small town in Minnesota, Acorn Falls," I told her. "It's nice on a lot of ways, but it wasn't as progressive as New York City and even here.

"Not too many girls were encouraged to be drummers or anything else but singers in bands...a friend of mine, Katie, had to fight to get a place on the hockey team..." I watched a pretty bright red leaf float slowly downward. "It was even unusual for girls to be encouraged to skateboard...thank goodness Adila won't have as hard a time today."

"I'm glad you and your friends banded together," Suzanne said. "We didn't have nearly enough of that in my growing up years...I was lucky enough to have one good friend who stood by me in middle school and high school."

"That must have been hard when you started out in the sciences," I said. "I know there were so many fields there, even in microbiology where so few women were welcomed...did it make you uncomfortable being the only woman in some groups?"

Suzanne nodded. "Yes, I was...I tried to hide it...I'm glad the people in the Blackwood project were more progressive...we had an Edna Pennyworth as our housekeeper and a few women on our Omega squad."

"I'm glad to hear it," I sat back. "There were times when I was the only girl in a group...I was the drummer for a band and sometimes the lead singer gave me a hard time."

I tried not to let my mind dwell on a time in tenth grade when a group of misogynist guys in my high school beat me up in the parking lot of the school. Thankfully, I'd escaped, screaming in fear and pain...it had been very traumatic for me and my mom.

Even my friends had been shaken up...they stood by me, however and we were able to band together and have the guys who beat me sent to prison with the help of another girl who'd also been hurt by them.

"There was more, wasn't there?" Suzanne asked softly, putting a hand on my shoulder. I nodded.

"It was pretty bad by tenth grade," I ventured. "Lots of girls were targeted and there was a lot of racism, even in the nineties...there were several cliques with racist, homophobic and sexist attitudes...this was in addition to classist attitudes...it was all over...and hard to tell initially."

One incident stands out in my mind from the winter of my freshman year in high school...I was doing a bit of food shopping for M, my mom...after I had paid and was leaving the store, the clerk on duty muttered something about Acorn Falls "deteriorating" to another customer.

The customer had added a horrible remark about "broken families" and "those Spanish people taking over."

It had hurt me...not being mistaken for a Latina, which I often am by unsophisticated, provincial people...but the dreadfully racist implication behind it in addition to the insinuation that single-mother families were somehow "broken."

I know Allison, as a Native American, had to deal with her share of stereotyping in our teens also.

"And since my parents were divorced with my mom raising me alone, some people looked down on that," I added. "'Broken' homes, we were labeled...as if somehow, a woman was 'inadequate' without a man in her life."

"I know that last feeling right there," Suzanne said. "I was divorced when Debi was nine...Debi and I dealt with that 'broken' home epithet so many times."

"And I'm sure the horror tales being peddled about kids from so-called 'broken homes' growing up to be delinquents or teenage moms didn't help any," I said. "I'd think that since half of all marriages ended in divorce, even back then, common sense would tell these people that criminals and other frick-ups don't make up most of today's adults."

"You, Debi and Debi's husband along with millions of other successful people are sure proof that the 'broken homes, broken kids' hawking is nothing but sensationalist rubbish," Suzanne said as she reached back for a small metal box.

"You fish?" I asked her, delighted.

She nodded. "Debi and I sometimes went fishing together when she was growing up...my great-aunt Vesta taught me how...another thing not too many girls were encouraged to do."

"My mom taught me how to fish once we moved to Acorn Falls," I told her. "Sometimes we'd go on Saturday afternoons. I also taught a good friend of mine, Allison, how to fish, so she'd sometimes join us...my other two close friends, Katie and Sabrina weren't as interested."

We spent the next few minutes getting our lines, tackle and bait ready, then cast our fishing poles in. We caught a few small fish as we were talking.

"Debi always had an interest in computers even as a little girl...Norton showed her a lot of the first ropes of computers," Suzanne sat back a bit.

"Of course, back then, computers were a lot larger and less advanced...there was no internet back then. But Norton was brilliant at breaking codes and tracking Mortaxan activity without their being aware of it. He'd often take a break, though, when Debi came home from school and they'd sometimes play video games together or he'd introduce her to the latest program...it was hard when he and Paul died in battle."

"Oh, Suzanne." My heart went out to her and I reached out to touch her hand again.

How dreadful it must have been for her to lose her colleagues like that...from her tone, it seemed like they had become good friends of hers.

"Was Paul also a good friend of yours?" I asked her softly.

"Yes, he was."

I felt my brows tighten and tears sting behind my eyelids as I imagined how traumatic this must have been for her, Debi and her colleague, Dr. Blackwood.

"He was a full Colonel and was in charge of security for our project," Suzanne added. "Our initial team of four...Dr. Harrison Blackwood, Paul Ironhorse, Norton and I along with Debi...lived on a government-owned property that we called the Cottage and did most of our work there...Edna Pennyworth did the housekeeping there. She was an elderly, gentle, retired woman...in some ways, she was like a mother to us...a grandma for Debi."

"So, they were like family to you and Debi." Before I could stop them, the tears spilled over my face. "I'm...so sorry you and Debi had to l-lose two of them..."

Suzanne put a fat little silver fish into the can and pulled me close, holding me, her warm embrace maternal.

In some ways, she reminded me of M and her love. I'm so glad Debi was another fortunate daughter who had Suzanne as a mom. I leaned on her, but fortunately, the tears were quiet and short-lived. Suzanne handed me a tissue.

"It took time, but Debi, Harrison and I were able to continue and defeat the Morthrai beings," Suzanne said softly. "Paul and Norton willingly sacrificed their lives for world freedom and peace...it's something we can take consolation in."

I nodded, taking in what she said...and it made a lot of sense. I thought over the people who died fighting for civil liberties and even some who died in the battle to end sexism and homophobia here among humanity.

Feeling another bite on my line prompted me to sit upright and I pulled in a larger, really fat, kind of reddish fish.

"That's a good catch," Suzanne smiled.

Despite my eyes still feeling a bit stingy and damp, I was able to smile also. It squirmed quite a bit and I had to ball it up to fit it into the can.

"Wait till my friends back home hear about this catch!" I crowed.

"I'm so glad I have another fishing partner," Suzanne told me. "I'm glad you also have your close friends...they sound wonderful."

"They are," I confirmed. "They got me through a lot of tough things, especially in high school...in our own wars against bigotry, we stood by each other...and even though we live in different states now, we're still good friends."

"I'm glad to see more women standing by each other today," Suzanne said.

I had the feeling that, like me, she was considered an "oddball" as a teenager. There's still lots of pressure even today for everyone to be the same, to conform to some arbitrary standard.

"Did you have a hard time in high school?" I asked. "I know girls who were good at science were given a hard time."

Suzanne hesitated, then nodded a bit. "Fortunately, I had one good friend, Marion, and we stood by each other during middle and high school...we were separated in college when her parents sent her far off, but we re-united in our thirties and we're still good friends today."

"I'm glad to hear that you didn't have to go through it alone," I said.

The mist was lifting, so we decided to walk back. I had to get back home, so Suzanne and I hugged each other goodbye before I took flight again. As I soared back into the air, I saw her plump face smiling softly as she watched me take off for home...

And I wake up in my own bed back home in New York City. Haniya is just waking up also. We kiss good morning, then quietly lie there and listen to the kids, who are down in the kitchen, probably eating.

And if I know them, they're probably leaving bagel crumbs and shredded wheat in a fine trail from the kitchen table to the living room as they go to watch the classic cartoon channel on our media laptop. Both kids love the classic, old, old cartoons with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and that gang.

"I just had the most interesting dream," I tell Haniya.

"Hmmm?" Haniya yawns and peers at me.

"It was about one of the scientists who fought against those extra-terrestrials back in the Extra-Terrestrial wars..." I tell her about the dream and about Dr. Suzanne McCullough.

"I had the feeling she was a remarkable lady," Haniya nods. "I'm glad she recovered from that state of shell-shock she was in after the war."

"Me too," I agree. "I'm glad she can pass the word on to us today."

~~~ 2018 Storyline Copyright by CNJ ~~~

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