A morning news show host receives three tips on his phone about the future as he spends time with his sister.
Ever since our parents died, my sister and I made a point to take a weekend vacation around their wedding anniversary as our way of honoring them. We lived in separate states, living separate lives, so getting together once a year – just the two of us, no spouses – would’ve made our parents happy.
This year was my sister’s turn to pick a destination. She watched a travel video showcasing the moonshine, mountain gondolas, and food in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When she suggested Gatlinburg, I was surprised as the city was nowhere near a beach like she favored, but after doing some research, I was excited to visit too.
Weekends were easy for me to take off but tricky for Sarah. My sister was the Operations Director for a lake resort while I was a co-host for a morning news show. Our parents’ anniversary was toward the end of March, which was a slow period for her work.
After breakfast at the hotel, we visited one of the local moonshine distilleries. We tried Friday night when we first arrived, but we didn’t have the patience to deal with the crowd. Plus, we’d figured we would have better luck in the morning. Gatlinburg’s walkability motivated us to leave our cars at the hotel. (Side tip: you should do the same as parking is hard to come by.)
The winter season still had a grip on the trees, but the skies were clear and sunny, although cold enough to warrant jackets for us as Sarah led us into Ole Smoky Moonshine. Marcus (I think that was his name) entertained us with jokes and samples of six different moonshines. I liked the sour lime while she favored the apple pie flavor. The pickle was…interesting.
My phone buzzed as my sister stepped away to use the restroom. There was a notification that read, “You Have 3 Unread Prophecies.” I had no idea what app of mine would display such a message. I opened the notification, which brought up an app I didn’t own with a mail-like interface.
The first message said, “Bring cash for donuts.” I didn’t have any cash on me at the moment, but I remembered seeing an ATM outside the building.
“That’s a good tip,” I said as I swiped open the following prophecy.
“Go to Clingmans Dome when prompted.”
When I drove through the Smokey Mountains to get to Gatlinburg, I saw a sign for Clingmans Dome. I didn’t know anything about the place, but the name and location made me think this dome would be like an observation post. I was game to visit. I figured I could get some breathtaking photos.
The last message was the most crypt and eyebrow-raising one. “When you arrive, have your video camera ready, but be safe and don’t get caught.”
This is all so weird, I thought. I bet my sister sent these. She knows of my affection for donuts and exploring.
I tried to re-read the messages, but the app disappeared.
My sister returned. “You ready for our next stop?”
“Sure,” I said. “Just let me hit up this ATM for some cash.”
“Good idea,” Sarah said with a straight face.
With cash now in my wallet, we strolled over to The Village, which had German architectural motifs in a cute, walkable shopping district. The place was like nothing I’d experienced before. Buildings weaved all over the place, not following any sort of grid pattern like a standard city block. Since there were no streets, delivery people hauled packages on handcarts, which I’m sure was also quite the workout for them. There were hardly any flat surfaces. I took picture after picture with my iPhone.
Then as the prophecy foretold, we discovered the donut shop that only accepted cash. The warmth and smell of fresh donuts in the tiny cottage-like business brought a wide grin to my face. Using the money I pulled out, I paid for our treats.
“Good thing I got some cash,” I said with a wink to my sister as we each enjoyed a chocolate long john.
“Yeah, good thing.” Her casual reply and straight face made me wonder if she did indeed send me those prophecies. She changed the subject. “What do you want to do after lunch, Lucas?”
I thought for a moment. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a woman with long, vibrant blue hair starring at me, but she turned away and around a building. I shrugged the watched feeling off. “Maybe we can drive around or go hiking.”
“How about Clingmans Dome?” my sister asked. “I saw a photo taken out there in the hotel lobby and thought you would like to take some pictures yourself.”
Sarah crossed her arms. “What’s so funny?”
In my big brother teasing voice, I said, “Nothing.”
She repeated “nothing” in a mocking tone and then asked what I wanted for lunch. I told her anything, and she suggested we walk around some more and eat wherever caught out attention. We settled for a small burger joint, which I thought was okay. Every summer, we would do a special on creative burgers on our morning show, so I was spoiled. Technically, I’m spoiled on excellent food because of my job, but I appreciate all food, and I didn’t nitpick. My sister liked the place, and that was good for me.
Then as planned, or prophesied, we took my car and made the hour-long drive to Clingmans Dome. The information we found online warned that the road to Clingmans Dome may be closed for the season, but the gate was open for us. Despite being the weekend, the parking lot for the vantage point was empty. We chalked the lack of visitors as luck, or maybe this was the first day they opened for the season? We weren’t going to complain.
We didn’t get far into the hike when we saw a woman dressed like a spy with a long, black trench coat talking to a blue, reptilian alien creature. The alien had on this black leather outfit that made me think he needed extra warmth while also being ready to fight. I yanked my sister down, and we hid behind some rocks.
“What’s going on?” she whispered.
“You tell me,” I mocked, keeping my voice low as I pulled out my cellphone. “This was your plan for me to film this, huh?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I believed her. But who sent me those messages?
My phone had full cell service, which I thought was odd as I didn’t have any bars on the way up. I started a live stream on my Instagram. I positioned my phone like a periscope to watch without them seeing me.
“This is an interesting location you picked.” The woman’s tone didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the location. She pulled in on her jacket.
The alien checked his surroundings. “I wanted to make sure we would be alone.”
“Of course,” said the woman. “I understand.”
The alien brought up the briefcase to his chest. “See, I don’t think you do understand. My sources told me that some other people who tried to sell to your group are never heard from again.”
The woman scoffed. “Don’t believe in rumors. Do you have the artifact?”
“My price has doubled.”
“Don’t be obscene. Give me the item at our original price.” The woman snapped her fingers, signaling the alien to bring over the briefcase.
“And cut!” I about dropped my phone from the sharp, booming voice. The voice seemed to startle the people, too, because they both jumped. A woman with a long, flowing red scarf marched from around the corner and straight toward the two people. “I think we’re done here.”
I looked around for any other film crew, but I only saw the director. My only explanation was that they were on wireless mics, and this was a drone shot, so everyone was out of sight. At least, that’s how my brain processed their setup at first.
A fire truck honked its horn as they pulled up behind us.
The woman with the alien held up both hands like she was trouble. “Director Lux. This isn’t what you think-”
The director turned and looked at us. “Hey, how did you two get on this set?”
I stepped forward and sort of explained. “The front gate was open.”
“That gate should’ve been locked. Now, get out of here,” the director ordered. “I better not see any footage online.”
“Right, sorry.” My sister had a good laugh at the situation. I turned off the live stream and deleted the clip.
The firetruck pulled in front of us, blocking the path. People dressed in uniforms like no other firefighter I had ever seen got out from the vehicle. I shrugged them off as actors. Before we returned to my car, Sarah said she needed to use the restroom. Luckily, there was an outhouse next to us in the parking lot.
I listened to the film crew on the other side as I waited.
I heard the alien character complain. “I should’ve known you would’ve double-crossed me.”
“I’m in cuffs too,” the spy snapped back. “Hey, how did you find us anyway?”
“Lucas was live-streaming you, idiots,” the director said. “Our V.I. monitor caught the feed and dispatched us. You got a lot of explaining to do.”
The spy grumbled something I didn’t understand, but I understood when she said, “I bet he got a text message disguised as a prophecy.”
In the fall, my wife and I, along with my parents and sister, visited Gatlinburg. We didn’t even spend a full day there, but we knew we all had to come back (during a warmer month). I used the location as inspiration for the third unread prophecy stories, which are connected by the end-timer, Veritas, working to anonymously expose the illegal activities of a rouge fraction of Unity.
Thanks to Janine De Guzman and Mikey Marchan for bringing the scene at The Village to life. Thank you for reading my December short story. I got another one coming for January. Been busy with the holidays, client work, and sickness last month.