Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Southern Lights (FFF #41)

It's that time again.  Yes, boys and girls, it's time for Friday Flash Fiction.  This week's sentence comes from The Professor and is quite a good one.  It would've been very easy to go in the PI direction, but why always take the easy road?  Without further ado, I give you.....


Southern Lights

He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk.

"There.  I have proof this time."

"Proof of what, Zeke?"

"The UFO.  I told you I saw one."

I picked up the grainy photograph and looked at it.  The photo was almost completely black with a fuzzy white blur in the middle.  "This is your UFO?"

Zeke hitched his thumbs in straps of his overalls and said, "Yup."

The townsfolk have been worried about Old Zeke for a while now.  Ever since his wife died, the farm's gone to shit.  His cattle died.  He fired all the hands.  He rarely leaves his property these days.  From the smell wafting across my desk, I could tell he hadn't bathed in five or six days.  The acrid stench of sweat and desperation filled my nostrils.

"Have you shown this picture to anyone else?"

Zeke shook his head.  "Nobody but you's gonna believe me, sheriff."

"Hell, I'm not even sure I believe you, Zeke."

"Come out to the farm. I'll show you where the alien craft touched down."

I sighed and agreed to go with him.  I grabbed my hat and walked out into the bullpen.  The police force of Hope, New Mexico wasn't much to look at.  Then again, we didn't get much crime in these parts.  The occasional complaint about neighbors burning trash in their back yards.  People, mostly tourists, speeding down the main drag through town.  Apart from me, we had two full time deputies, a dispatcher, and a woman who comes in to do the paperwork a couple times a week.  I saw Deputy Hill was on duty today.  I told him if anyone needed me, I'd be at Zeke's farm and that he could reach me on the radio.

Zeke and I got into my squad car and I rolled down the windows, even though that probably wouldn't make much difference.  It took us about fifteen minutes to get to the farm. It was in much worse shape than I had seen it last.  The fields were overgrown with weeds, the barn was crumbling down, and his house was in desperate need of a new coat of paint.

Gravel crunched under my car's tires as I pulled up to the left of the house.  Zeke got out and pointed left toward the clearing between the house and the barn.  "It touched down right over there."

I got out of the car and walked in the direction Zeke indicated.  I noticed a burned out spot in the grass and knelt down next to it.  The spot was a perfect circle - about the size of the bottom of an oil drum.  The ground was completely black and was covered with an ashy powder.  "Have you been burning your trash out here again, Zeke?"

Old Zeke shook his head vigorously.  "Nuh-uh.  There's two more over there."

I stood and looked around.  Sure enough, there were two more burned out spots in what looked to me like a triangle pattern.  I stood in the middle of the triangle and put my hands on my hips.  I felt a funny feeling in my chest as I stood there.  Like there was a huge buildup of static electricity in the air.

"This is, what, the second time you said you saw a UFO?"

"Third."

I nodded.  "You get any kind of warning before they come?"

"The TV goes out during the middle of Jeopardy.  The sometime later that night, they show up.  Their craft hovers for five or ten minutes and then flies off."

I looked at Zeke's house.  There was a giant oak tree growing in the sad patch of grass he called a front yard.  They say his grandpappy brought the sapling from back east when his family moved here all those years ago.  My gaze then drifted to the front of his house and I spotted the satellite dish over the front porch.

"Couldn't it be just a tree branch getting in the way of your satellite?"

Zeke shook his head.  "Nope.  Never had any problems at all with that there dish.  Not even during those big storms we had last winter."

I rubbed my chin.  Old Zeke was obviously crazy, but I couldn't have him scaring the townsfolk with tales of aliens and their spacecraft.  Leave all the nonsense that brings to the folks up north in Roswell.  "Tell you what, Zeke.  Next time that happens, you give me a call.  I'd like to see your spacecraft first hand.  In the meantime, we'll keep this just between you and me.  That sound like a deal?"

Zeke nodded.  "Much obliged, sheriff."

I got in my car and drove off.  It still smelled like Zeke in there, so I left the windows down.

I finished out the rest of my day without much change in routine business.  I had to break up a domestic between Scotty Anderson and his wife again.  Every month or so, Scotty drinks too much whiskey and starts mouthing off to the missus.  This time, like most times, just showing up put him in a more civil mood.  I was thankful for that because I didn't feel like throwing him in the drunk tank again.

Around six thirty, I grabbed a quick dinner and a slice of pie at Mabel's Diner.  Best apple pie in the state and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  I paid my bill, left the tip, then walked out to my car.

The radio was squawking.  "Sheriff Heindricks, Sheriff Heindricks, this is dispatch.  Please respond."

I leaned on the side of the car and reached in to grab the receiver.  "This is Heindricks.  Go ahead."

"Sheriff, we just got a call from Old Zeke.  He was complaining that his cable went out and was adamant that I get in touch with you.  I told him to call his cable operator, but - "

"That's fine," I said.  "I told him to call me.  I'm gonna head up to the farm and see what's what."

I got in the car and drove off.  Zeke was starting to be a pain in the butt, but I sure as hell hoped he hadn't seen a UFO - for both our sakes.

I pulled up next to the farmhouse again and Zeke came running down the front porch to meet me.  "I'm sure glad you're here, sheriff.  The TV went out during Jeopardy again.  The aliens should be along any minute now."

"Uh-huh."

The setting sun painted the horizon a bright orange.  The sky above was dark and clear.  The first stars of the night were just starting to come out.  There were no birds or crickets around making any noise.  The silence was deafening.

I felt the static charge like I had felt in the afternoon.  This time it was much more intense.  I looked at my watch and noticed the hands stopped moving.

"They're coming!  They're coming!" shouted Old Zeke.

I looked up into the sky and three lights in a triangle pattern appeared.  Without warning a larger, brighter light appeared in the middle of the triangle and engulfed both me and Zeke.  A hum started to build and I covered my ears.  The light kept getting brighter and brighter until it almost blinded me.

Suddenly, I was plunged into darkness.  I blinked to readjust my eyes and I noticed I was alone on the hilltop.


Days passed.  Then weeks.  Men from the state police and the FBI came and went, but nobody had found any sign of Old Zeke.  Eventually they all left and things got back to normal in Hope.  The case file on Zeke's disappearance stayed open, but got shuffled off to the cold case room in the basement.

Every once in a while people still talk about Old Zeke.  Some say he finally went off his rocker and got himself committed to a mental hospital.  Some say he wandered off into the desert at night and died.  A handful of people even claim that he was abducted by aliens.

You gotta keep your eye on those last folks.  The High Council don't take too kindly about people poking into their affairs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Until Gwen

On Monday, friend of blog StephenD posted a link to a Dennis Lehane story entitled "Until Gwen".  How's this for a kicker of an opening line:

Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.

Sold!  It's a great story and told uniquely in second-person (how often is that done?).

Stephen also links to an interview that Lehane did with The Atlantic.  Here, Lehane talks about his books, his writing process and his thinking behind writing the story.  Here's a brief quote:

At the time, I'd been teaching a lot and trying to get my students to understand that a character is defined most adroitly by his actions.  I eventually decided to practice what I preached, and "Until Gwen" became a story in which the main character reveals himself entirely by what he does, as opposed to by what he thinks or says.

"Until Gwen" has just made it onto my list of favorite short stories.