Monthly Archives: June 2016

Chapter reveal: The Conveyance, by Brian W. Matthews

Title:  THE CONVEYANCE

Genre:  Horror/SciFi/Thriller

Author: Brian W. Matthews

Website: http://www.brianmatthews.org

Publisher: JournalStone

Purchase on Amazon

Beneath the calm waters and pastoral fields of Emersville, a deadly secret lurks. When psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan stumbles upon the odd happenings in the town, he unknowingly sets into motion a series of tragedies that could expose a danger long kept hidden from the world. As he doggedly pursues a trail of madness, suicide, and murder, he soon finds himself confronted with a massive conspiracy, and a sinister device known as the Conveyance…

A tense, taut and terrifying tale, The Conveyance is resplendent with twists, turns, and a pulse-racer of a plot.  Informed by the author’s extensive experience as a therapist, The Conveyance teems with authenticity.  The Conveyance is a standout thriller destined to stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

Chapter One 

“I can’t imagine how difficult your life’s been,” I said to the rail-thin boy slouched in the chair opposite mine. At twelve, he wore the characteristic sneer of a child who knew little about the world but hadn’t failed enough times to realize it.

Doug Belle didn’t respond, not that I expected him to. The question had been a trial balloon, my way of gauging his willingness to converse. It worked about half the time. This wasn’t one of them.

“Fighting,” I said. “Not listening to your teachers. At risk for failing classes. Quite a change for you, if I’m not mistaken.”

I paused, letting the message sink in: I already knew something about you, we didn’t have to start from scratch. I left out that I also knew about his other, more serious issues: tendencies towards self-abusive behavior, occasional property destruction, two episodes of running away. Important as they were, they would have to wait. I needed to build a rapport first.

So I waited.

Silence burned the long minutes to ash.

I let the disquiet to play out. From an early age, parental interactions and social norms conditioned us to converse, to follow the ritual back-and-forth pattern of communication, and long periods of silence tended to make us anxious. That, in turn, prompted us to say something—anything—to fill the void.

Another trick, if you will. A way of encouraging patients to open up.

It also failed.

Time to change tactics, see if a little empathy would help.

“A lot’s changed. New home, new school. Forced to make new friends while leaving the old ones behind. Nobody likes having to do that.”

Doug sat, head down, arms clenched over his chest. One leg kicked back and forth, the heel of his sneaker smacking against the sofa.

Bang bang bang

Neither of us spoke, conscripted soldiers in a wordless war. But like a man defending his native country, I had an advantage: I knew the terrain. I knew every treacherous drop-off, every false turn, every dead end. Eventually, I would win. Not that victory would come easily. A fourteen-year-old girl I’d treated for an eating disorder sat through six sessions before uttering her first word. She was a tough nut. I liked her.

I was beginning to like Doug, too.

That didn’t mean I wanted to spend the next few sessions playing Easter Island with him, staring at one another like great stone statues. I reached into my desk, withdrew a handful of small, squarish objects wrapped in white wax paper and covered with blue and red lettering. I unwrapped one and popped the pink tablet into my mouth.

Bubble gum, and not just any kind of bubble gum.

Bazooka bubble gum.

I chewed loudly, waiting.

Bang bang bang

The cloying smell of sugar filled my office. Some in my field might have called this tactic immature, or even unfair. Perhaps they were right. But to me it was more about encouraging kids to open up than quibbling about the method used. It was, after all, only bubble gum. And sometimes a cigar really was just a cigar.

Bang bang bang

Bang bang

Bang

Doug’s defiance wound down like a pendulum running out of time, until his jean-clad leg hung motionless over the edge of the sofa. He fidgeted a little—reluctant to give up the fight, no doubt. His shoulders gradually unclenched. His hands, which had been tight balls of anger, opened, and he wiped his sweaty palms on his shirt.

That was all he would allow. His head remained firmly down, his eyes averted.

I held out my hand. “Care for one?”

No response—then, a slight nod of his head.

“Do you have braces?”

He mumbled something unintelligible.

“I didn’t catch that.”

“No.”

“Sorry, champ. You’ll have to prove it. I don’t want any trouble with your mom.”

Another pause, longer this time. I began to worry that I hadn’t won him over.

Before I could withdraw the treats, he lifted his head. Strands of fine ginger hair covered the upper half of his face. He brushed them aside to reveal brilliant green eyes.

His lips parted into a reluctant smile.

He had told the truth: no braces.

“Here you go.” I dumped the gum into his hand. “The rest are for later.”

He unwrapped one and began chewing.

“What do you prefer to be called?” I said. “Dougie, or Doug?”

“Doug. I hate Dougie.” He paused. “What am I supposed to call you?”

“Well, my name is Doctor Bradley Jordan, but that’s a mouthful. Most kids stick with Doctor Brad.”

* * *

Doug unwrapped another piece of gum and stuffed it into his mouth. His jaws worked like a wood chipper trying to grind a forest into sawdust.

For the first ten minutes we chatted about this and that, skirting the more emotionally charged issues. Eventually, we arrived at the difficulties of being “the new kid.”

“Johnny Richardson’s pretty cool,” Doug said. “He’s got one of those funny divots here.” He jabbed a finger at the middle of his upper lip. “What do you call those?”

“Harelip?”

“Yeah, that’s it. A harelip. Anyway, his ain’t so bad. Johnny says there’s lots worse. Still, he’s gotta have surgery. I feel bad for him. He gets picked on a lot.”

“It’s never easy being different.”

“That’s why Johnny and me, we stick together. We’re pals. He’s got my back, and I got his.”

“He’s lucky to have a friend like you.” I paused. “Is Johnny one of the reasons you’re getting into fights?”

Doug made a sour face. “He don’t know how to defend himself. He stands there like an idiot, arms hanging at his sides. He don’t know nothin’ about fighting. Never hits back, just stands there, eyes big and shiny. I’m surprised he hasn’t pissed himself.” He looked at me with hard, unforgiving eyes. “That’s the worst part, you know—letting them see you’re scared, showing them you’re weak. You might as well wear a shirt that says ‘fuck with me’ across the front. I tried to tell him, tried to get him to man up, but he don’t listen. He never listens.”

“You associate fear with weakness.”

“You mean you don’t?”

“I’m more interested in what you think.”

“Nobody cares what I think.” He picked up a stuffed animal, a fuzzy orangutan I occasionally used during play therapy with my younger patients, and began tossing it in the air. “I’m just a kid.”

“That doesn’t make you unimportant.”

“If you say so.”

“Somebody’s told you different?”

“Kids are kids,” Doug said glumly. “They’re meant to be seen and not heard.” He caught the orangutan in his fists and stared at it. “Why do you have a toy monkey in your office?”

He was stalling, changing the subject. Fine, at least he was still talking.

“I sometimes use them in my work.” I pointed to a large plastic container in the corner of my office. It was filled to the top with dolls, hand puppets, Matchbox cars, and games like Connect Four and Trouble and Uno.

“People pay you to play games?”

“Among other things.”

“Did you have to go to school for this job?”

“College, eight years. It was a long time.”

Doug snorted. “All that, just to play fucking games?”

His words hung in the air. More time passed. Therapy was often a waiting game.

“That’s twice I dropped the f-bomb,” he said finally, “and you didn’t say anything. How come?”

“It’s one of the rules. You can say what you want in here, within reason, and you don’t have to worry about being judged. Another rule: our talks are confidential. No one will know what you’ve said. Only under certain circumstances will I break that confidence.”

Doug’s eyes narrowed. “What circumstances?”

“If you say you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else, I will tell your mother, possibly the school authorities, maybe even the police. I won’t allow anyone to get hurt. And if I receive a court order for your records, I’ll have to turn them over. That’s usually not an issue, but you have a right to know.”

“Whatevs.” He held out his hand. “You got a tissue or something?”

I handed him the box of Kleenex. I had nineteen more in the closet next to the door. I ran through them like they were…well, like they were tissue paper. I should own stock in Kimberly-Clark.

Snatching a tissue, Doug hawked the wad of gum into it, wrapped it into a lumpy, gooey ball, and lobbed it at my trash can. The pinkish-white monstrosity bounced off the rim and tumbled to the floor.

“No worries,” I said, picking up the sticky mess and dropping it into the can. “Three-point range. Not an easy shot.”

He looked around the room. “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?”

“What you’ve been doing. Talk, ask questions, think.”

“Sounds like a waste of time.”

“It could be, if you let it. Therapy is like any other activity—the more you put into it, the more you get out. Work hard enough and you might be surprised at what you could accomplish.” I paused. “Tell you what, you agree to work hard, and I promise to work just as hard. What do you say, do we have a deal?”

He stared at me, his expression tight. “What do I have to talk about?”

“Whatever you want. It’s your time.”

My answer must have pleased him. His face relaxed, and he lost some of his adolescent guardedness. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of what he would look like as an adult: strong, bold, yet at the same time, sensitive. A rare mix in a world where role models were spoiled pop stars and unapologetic, multimillionaire athletes.

Doug Belle was a good kid.

He was also a troubled kid.

“I know there have been problems,” I said. “You’re not here as a punishment. My only concern is for you and how you’re feeling. I’d like to help, but in the end, it’ll be up to you. No one can force you to talk.”

More silence, longer this time. The overpowering smell of bubble gum had thinned to a nauseating wrinkle in the air. Outside my office, a door opened, followed by heavy footsteps as someone lumbered toward the waiting room.

I resisted glancing at my watch. Never let someone think your time was more important than his. George H. W. Bush made that mistake and it had cost him the trust of the American people.

Doug held the orangutan, his thumb caressing its tattered cheek. He blinked, three times in rapid succession. A tear spilled from the corner of his eye and traced a path down his cheek. He wiped at it with an angry hand.

Was he thinking of his father, or his mother, now a widow?

Was he thinking of himself?

Would he see his tears as a sign of weakness and shut down?

I didn’t know. I could only wait, so I did.

Doug finally let out a long, slow sigh and tossed the doll aside. “Do I have to talk about my dad?”

“Only if you want to.”

“And if I don’t?”

I spread my hands. “Like I said, it’s your time.”

“You always this easygoing?”

“Mostly.”

He eyed the container of toys. “I’m pretty good at Connect Four.”

I felt comfortable checking the time. “Maybe a game or two.”

Doug reached for the container. There was a hint of a grin on his freckled face.

Yeah, he was one of the good ones.

* * *

Doug hadn’t lied. He was killer at Connect Four, beating me three games straight. I frequently let patients win, but by the last match, I was putting my full effort into the game. He still trounced me, blocking my pieces time and again.

I congratulated him, told him it was time to go, and packed up the game.

We found his mother in the waiting room, sitting alone and leafing through an old edition of Entertainment Weekly. Desiree Belle was in her mid-thirties, but grief had eroded her youthfulness and left behind a woman who looked much older. She had limp, languid hair parted down the middle, haunted eyes, and she wore a dark jacket that hung like a sack over her thin frame. Her socks didn’t even match.

Doug wasn’t the only one in trouble.

Desiree Belle noticed us standing in the doorway. A smile erased some of the years. She rose and held out her arms. “How’d it go, honey?”

Doug slipped into her embrace. The hug didn’t last long. “Pretty good. He wants me to come back next week.”

“If that’s okay with you,” I said.

“I’ll do whatever he needs.” Her smile faded; the years returned. “Do you think you can help him?”

“He’s bright. As long as he keeps working, I think we can do some good.”

Desiree touched Doug’s shoulder. “He’s the man of the house now. We need him to straighten up.”

Oops, there went my red flags. “Can we talk for a moment, Mrs. Belle?” I pointed to the hallway. “In private.”

“Sure, I guess.” She turned to Doug. “Go have a seat, honey. I’ll be right back.”

I led her down the hallway, far enough from the waiting room so Doug couldn’t hear us. Cheery watercolor prints hung on the walls. I doubted they would soften the blow of what I was about to say.

“Mrs. Belle—”

“Call me Dee Dee. Everyone does.”

“All right. Dee Dee, please keep in mind your son is only twelve. That’s a difficult age. Couple it with the loss of his father and you can see what happens.” I paused. “He’s trying to cope with a lot right now. Too much, really, for him to process effectively. That’s why he’s here.”

“I know all this,” she said stiffly. “It’s why I’m getting him help.”

“I think his school suggested the therapy, but that’s beside the point. What concerns me is your ‘man of the house’ statement. It puts unintended pressure on Doug. He’ll want to please you; to prove he can live up to your expectations. The trouble is, he can’t. He can’t be a man when he’s still a boy, and he needs to be a boy for a little while longer. You need to let him be a boy.”

“Are you saying this is my fault? He’s behaving like this because of me?”

“No, of course not. I just want you to understand that words carry power, and with them, consequences. Doug loves you very much. He’ll want to make you happy. But for now he needs to focus on himself. Making him responsible for the family, even if it’s just an off-hand comment, won’t help.”

Dee Dee Belle snugged her jacket more tightly over her shoulders, as if it were a shield against my words. A classic defensive gesture.

“I’m doing the best I can,” she said. “I hadn’t planned on being a single mother.”

“None of this is meant as an accusation. I’m simply looking out for your son’s best interests.”

“Fine, I’ll watch what I say.”

“Another thing.” I lowered my voice. “I know this has been tough on everyone. If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you the name of a colleague, a woman who specializes in grief counseling. I think she might be able to help you, and in the process, help you help Doug.”

Her expression grew hard. I’d seen the same look on her son, not an hour ago. “You think I’m the one who needs a shrink.”

“Everyone needs help from time to time. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I coping well enough. I don’t need to talk to someone.”

Then she glanced at her watch, and I knew I’d lost her.

I stifled a sigh. Doug was my patient, not her, and I knew better than to push. I led her back to the waiting room.

“Will next week at the same time work for you?” I asked.

“I’ll let you know.” She grabbed her son by the arm and practically dragged him out of the waiting room.

Doug glanced over his shoulder and waved goodbye.

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Chapter reveal: TRISOMY XXI, by G.A. Minton

Title: TRISOMY XXI

Genre: Horror

Author: G.A. Minton

Publisher: World Castle Publishing

Purchase on Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Joshua Allen was born with an extra chromosome—a genetic aberration known as Trisomy XXI, or Down Syndrome.  When a serious accident leaves him in a coma at the hospital, Joshua receives a mysterious injection that endows him with supernatural powers.  The transformed teen is linked to a string of bizarre, unexplained deaths that have both the town’s sheriff and the coroner baffled. But when a ghastly creature from another planet lands on Earth and begins its hunt for Joshua—viciously slaughtering anyone in its path in order to complete its deadly mission—Joshua and his friends are thrust into terrifying circumstances.  What follows is a horrific life-and-death struggle with this seemingly-indestructible extraterrestrial being. The salvation of an entire race of aliens hangs in the balance…

TRISOMY XXI

by GA Minton

Chapter I

HENRY

Spring had finally arrived in the small town of Tranquil.  The winter snow had melted, and all that remained were a few patches of frosty white ice nestled under the shadows cast by some of the loftier pinion pines and alligator junipers.  Like clockwork, Mother Nature had once again displayed her magnificence.  The newly transformed landscape was now alive with a panorama of plant and animal life, recently awakened from a forced slumber under a blanket of wintry snow.

Drawn by nature’s fragrant bouquet, ruby-throated hummingbirds and bumblebees could be seen hovering over colorful spring blossoms, sipping nectar, only to be exploited as naive vectors of pollination.  As a white-tailed deer lapped up freshly melted snow from a babbling brook, two rock squirrels emerged from their seasonal nap, giving noisy chase to each other across a sun-soaked, high-desert terrain.  Off in the distance, the muffled bugle of a big bull elk was faintly audible.

Tranquil, a rural Arizona town with a yearly population of almost three thousand, was located in the picturesque White Mountains, which boasted an elevation of seven thousand feet above sea level.

Most of the people living in this close-knit community were honest, law-abiding citizens who worked in the large copper, silver, and molybdenum mines dotting the area.  The rest of the townspeople were either retired, or small business owners who catered to the assortment of tourists that visited the region each summer.

Tranquil was just like its name, a sleepy mountain community where nothing much ever happened.  Yes, there was that incident that had occurred around six months ago, when Henry Pickridge, a local resident and retired miner with a fondness for straight bourbon whiskey—or  for that matter, any other spirits he could get his hands on—claimed he had been abducted by a space alien.

According to Henry, the extraterrestrial being he encountered that day wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill visitor from another planet.  It wasn’t a little green man or a Grey.  Nor was it cute, furry, or friendly.  The otherworldly thing that attacked Henry was a nightmare—a monstrosity that he’d never seen the likes of before, or ever wanted to see again.  Unfortunately for Henry, the horrific image of that alien creature was permanently etched into his brain.

Henry Pickridge was Tranquil’s proverbial town drunk, a crusty old-timer who lived by himself in a little wooden cabin located on the outskirts of town.  He grew up there, back when it was just a widened area in the road, missed by most passing motorists if they had blinked their eyes.  His father, Foy, was employed by the Midas Mining Company as a miner who worked hard in, at that time, the only molybdenum mine in the area.  Foy worked the lode for over twenty years until he died of lung cancer, when Henry was only fifteen.

In order to help his mother out with the bills, Henry was forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade.  The boy worked in the mines off-and-on for longer than he could remember, until finally retiring a couple of years ago at the age of sixty-eight.  On two separate occasions, Henry ventured out to find work in Texas and New Mexico, but within a few short months found himself back in his beloved Tranquil, homesick and broke.

A rough-and-tough abrasive man, Henry possessed a mouth so foul that it would have knocked the socks off of anyone’s Aunt Mildred.  The old duffer had about as much appeal as a turd in a punch bowl.  He was the king of cuss; the prince of profanity; the sovereign of swear; the viceroy of vulgarity.  Over the years, Henry amassed a huge repertoire of curse words and expletives—an obscene vocabulary that would have elicited the envy of any seasoned sailor or traveled truck driver.  And he didn’t limit himself to the use of the same profane phrases over-and-over again, ad nauseum; nope, the wily senior was too sophisticated for that.  The patron saint of smut had the unique ability to combine certain words together—creating a descriptive expression that would be offensive to anyone around him—one of Henry’s favorites was “pig fornicator.”

Taking immense pride in his unsavory slang, Henry became a connoisseur of the cuss-word, mixing and matching obscenities that would best accommodate his particular conversation or situation—even to the point of applying the art of alliteration in the deliverance of a choice selection of his vulgar verbalizations.  Even though he had barely attained an eighth grade education, Henry must have paid special attention in English class that day when the teacher was discussing the merits of alliteration in sentence construction.  To question if old man Pickridge had a foul mouth would be as ridiculous as asking if the Pope were Catholic—or, in Henry’s language—if the Trojan Horse had a wooden dick, or if a bear craps in the woods.

The silver-haired speaker of smut did his research.  Curious about the origin of cusswords, he visited the town library and learned about some interesting historic accounts pertaining to the derivation of certain obscenities.  Take the word crap, for example.  Henry read in The History Book of Slang, that this word is merely a shortened version of the name Crapper, taken from the English plumber and royal sanitary engineer, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern toilet.

Henry’s verbal antics were even too much for his wife, Mabel, to handle.  She divorced the foul-mouthed fogy many years ago for what her lawyer called irreconcilable differences.  Differences. . .yes; irreconcilable. . .definitely.  “Fix me my damn dinner, you bony bitch!” wasn’t exactly the most romantic of phrases one could use to greet a wife when arriving home after a hard day’s work.  And Mabel didn’t appreciate Henry’s gift of alliteration either, especially when it was used that way—no woman appreciates being called the “b” word.  The old geezer’s lewd language had kept him a bachelor ever since—no self-respecting female would even think about tolerating his vocally offensive shenanigans.

Henry was truly the father of filthy four-letter-words.  If the citizens of Tranquil ever decided to hand out an award for “The Most Potty-mouthed Citizen,” he would be its proud recipient, winning hands down.  It would be a dream come true for Henry—one that he pictured often.  The master of ceremony would heartily announce to a hushed audience, “This year, the recipient of ‘The Most Potty-mouthed Citizen of Tranquil’ award goes to. . .Henry Pickridge!”  The crowd would erupt into loud clapping, cheers, and cat whistles.

Old Henry, dressed in his best fishing outfit, would graciously walk across the stage to receive the prestigious honor.  The boozer would step up to the microphone and read from a wrinkled napkin that he had scribbled his acceptance speech on earlier.  “I humbly accept this bitchin award and I want to thank all you a-holes out there who voted for me!” 

The unruly members of the cheering audience would go crazy—hooting and hollering, screaming and yelling—some chanting “Hen—ry. . .Hen—ry. . .Hen—ry,” while others would cry out, “You da man, Henry. . .you da man!”  Amiably waving and throwing kisses to his rowdy admirers, Henry would proudly exit the stage, shining trophy in hand.  Like perpetual constants of the universe; the earth revolves on its axis every day and Henry Pickridge cusses—that was the name of that tune.

Around six months ago, Henry camped out one night next to Fletcher’s Pool, a small pond that was located about five miles north of Tranquil.  There were some nice trout that resided in the deep fishing hole, and he was going to try to catch a stringer-full.  The only way to get there was to travel on Route 44—a poorly maintained, winding mountain road that everyone used before they built the new highway to Tranquil six years ago.  Now, the pothole-ridden artery was only utilized by those wishing to fish, swim, or picnic at Fletcher’s Pool, although occasionally, a group of backpackers would also take the scenic journey to explore the wooded hills and grassy valleys enveloping the area.  Henry fished there many times before, so he was familiar with the surrounding countryside.  He parked his old blue pickup truck, and set up camp about fifty feet away from the dirt road that was adjacent to the small body of turquoise water.

Henry was the proud owner of a 1965 Chevrolet pickup truck that still sported its original factory paint job, except that now, as a result of weather and time, the “blue” had degenerated into at least five distinct shades of color—ranging from light gray to dark purple.  He would affectionately refer to his well-traveled vehicle as Betsy—Ole’ Betsy if she wouldn’t start.  All of the townsfolk in Tranquil were familiar with Henry Pickridge’s mode of transportation—it was the ancient, broken-down, bluish pickup truck sporting the white sticker with red printing on the back bumper that read, IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THEN YOU ARE DRIVING TOO CLOSE TO ME—SO BACK OFF, JACKASS!  And Scotch-taped to the truck’s rear window was a sign saying, When Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns!  Henry was just that kind of a guy—a free spirit who didn’t give a rat’s butt about what others thought of him.

After starting a small fire from the kindling he had gathered from a nearby wooded area, Henry sat down next to the warmth in his worn-out folding sports chair—one that he purchased many years ago when living in Irving, Texas.  The seat and back supports of his wooden throne were constructed from some type of cloth fabric, now noticeably discolored and tattered from weather and wear.  Imprinted on the frayed seat was a faded image of a blue-and-white football helmet, and stenciled on the back of the armchair were the washed-out and barely legible words, Dallas Cowboys.  For all the years that Henry lived in Irving, he had never attended a Dallas Cowboy’s football game, but he did use that chair religiously—for all other outdoor events.

Gazing upward, Henry took off his raggedy New York Yankees baseball cap and repeatedly repositioned it on his head until it felt just right.  The full moon was out that night, shining brightly in all its splendor, and there wasn’t a single, solitary cloud in sight.  His eyes followed the somber stretch of dusky sky, dotted with twinkling luminaries that radiated their brilliance in a way that reminded him of countless white sequins reflecting off of a solid black evening dress.  As Henry meditated the vastness of the firmament above, an occasional streaming white trail of a distant shooting star would entice his peripheral vision, only to disappear from sight as he turned to observe its celestial journey.

While downing several shots of his favorite brew, Henry noticed some strange blinking lights—darting in a zigzag pattern, much like a misguided bottle rocket—moving across the clear, nocturnal sky.

“Well, crap fire and save your matches,” Henry spouted.  “What, in the name of fornication, is that?”

As the mysterious flashing beams approached his campsite, he could visually make out the outline of a cigar-shaped metallic object, dark gray in color.  A dome-like structure extended upward from the middle third of the craft, and Henry estimated the soaring thing’s length to be about fifty feet.  There was absolutely no sound emanating from the unidentified flying object, which hovered effortlessly in a fixed position over the gently swaying, neighboring treetops.

In a state of awe, Henry vigilantly rose from his chair—eyes bugged out and mouth gaped open—astounded by the surreal presence and sheer magnificence of this alien mechanical masterpiece.  He watched intently as the Mack Truck-sized, sheeny Cuban cigar peacefully glided over the nearby assemblage of towering evergreens.  Then in one smooth fluid motion, like a raindrop falling from a leaf, it vertically descended out of sight—into an open meadow located about a hundred yards away from his camp.

“Mamma mia. . .if that’s what I think it is, I’ll kiss a rang-o-tang’s butt,” quipped the old-timer, as he followed the flying saucer’s flight through inebriated eyes.

Outwardly, Henry tried to remain calm, but inside the retired miner’s chest sat an adrenaline-driven heart that was fluttering faster than a thumping pair of hummingbird wings.  His wrinkled flesh crawled with goose bumps, sending a huge wave of chills streaming down the entire length of the weathered fisherman’s scrawny back.  Momentarily spellbound by this strange and unusual event, Henry slowly took off the scruffy baseball cap and scratched his grizzled head, pondering about what his next move should be.

Sitting down next to the fire, he took a big swig out of the whisky bottle, swallowed hard, and then wiped his alcohol-soaked lips on his dirty shirtsleeve.  As he stared across at the crackling flames, a wisp of crisp mountain air coolly caressed his pensive face.  Heaving a deep sigh of deliberation, Henry screwed the cap back on his glass container of booze and defiantly stood up.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!” he crowed.

The effects of the alcohol may have helped, but the determined old imbiber had made up his mind.  He walked over to his truck, opened the door, and grabbed the ivory handled Smith & Wesson, three-fifty-seven magnum, snub-nosed revolver lying on the seat, tucking it under his belt, behind his back.  There was a history behind this hand-held cannon that fired .357 magnum bullets—hollow-point projectiles with enough power to knock down a Clydesdale horse.  It had belonged to his big brother, Fred, who was a member of the Phoenix Police Department—a senior detective with only three months of duty left until his retirement—when he was killed in the line of duty.  Needlessly murdered by two new members of a street gang robbing a 7-Eleven convenience store as a part of their initiation.  It was around four in the morning, and Fred had walked through the front door to buy a pack of cigarettes, catching the robbers totally by surprise.  They had already killed the store clerk, so the pair of punks emptied five caps into the unsuspecting detective—Fred was dead before he hit the ground.  Never even had a chance to un-holster his gun.  The thieves got away with less than a hundred dollars.  This was just one of the thousands of countless, senseless murders that occurs every day when someone is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Henry used to jokingly caution his brother, “Fred, those damn cigarettes are going to kill you someday,” and he was right—in a bizarre, Twilight Zonesort of way, it was the addiction to the neatly papered cylinders of tobacco that were responsible for the police detective’s untimely death—Rod Serling himself could have authored the script, with its unforeseen O’Henry ending.  Never in his wildest dreams would Henry have thought that something like this could have ever happened to his only brother.  The sterling Smith & Wesson was happily gifted to him by Fred’s wife, who never, ever wanted to see a gun again in her life.  Henry always kept the firearm close by, treasuring it as a memento, in commemoration of his brave older brother.

Hellbent on finding out what the metal thing with the aerial acrobatic maneuvers was, Henry slammed the truck door closed, walked back to the fire, and downed another big gulp of liquor.  Then he set out toward the UFO’s landing site—located due west of his campsite, just beyond the haughty rows of pine, juniper, and fir trees that majestically bordered Fletcher’s Pool.

Slowly making his way through the arbor of wooded columns, Henry’s eyes caught a glimpse of fluorescent light, shimmering brightly from the settled saucer ahead.  As the surplus of coniferous branches gestured in the wind, the rays of illumination radiating from the alien ship twinkled and flickered, like shiny strands of colored tinsel draped loosely over the boughs of a freshly cut Christmas tree.

Exiting a thick grove of ponderosa pines, Henry observed the gargantuan metallic beast with its collection of blinking lights, obscurely nestled in the open grassy field ahead.  As he approached the docked spacecraft, the only sounds audible were the high-pitched chirpings of the crickets around him.  The jittery old coot slowly and silently walked through the thick grass, cautiously stopping about ten feet away from the mystical flying machine.  A sudden gust of howling wind swept across the open meadow, upsetting the rabble of wild flowers clustered around Henry’s feet.  The perennials thrashed about angrily, making thumping sounds as they unmercifully whipped against the pant legs of his trousers.

Standing motionless and taking in a slow deep breath, the amazed septuagenarian marveled at the exquisiteness of the interplanetary phenomenon from another universe.  The smooth outer surface of the saucer was fabricated from a dark gray metallic substance, an alloy that Henry had never seen before.  Flashing luminescent lights, which reflected a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, extended in a horizontal fashion around the centrally placed dome.  Five symmetrically placed, teardrop-shaped landing extensions projected from the belly of the craft to the ground below.

Henry had watched enough documentaries about military aircraft on television to know that the complex design of this mechanical creation was far too sophisticated to have come from this Earth.  Besides, there were no jets that he knew of that could instantly reverse their direction of flight while traveling at such fantastic speeds—physically defying the laws of gravity.

This thing was definitely extraterrestrial.

Henry happened to look down at the gold plated watch strapped to his left wrist—an inexpensive timepiece he had received as a retirement gift from the Midas Mining Company.  Its luminous white hands were spinning like an airplane propeller, stopping at the high noon mark that was pointed directly at the spacecraft in front of him.  He frowned and grunted, “Suck my sausage. . .this goddam watch had better not be broken—it’s almost brand-spanking new!”  The perturbed souse moved his arm at a forty-five degree angle, extending it away from his body, and like clockwork, the hands again spun furiously, this time ending up praying to the three on the dial.  Henry shook his wrist and said, “Must be some son-of-a-bitchin magnetic thing. . .from that freakin flyin contraption over there.”  In reality, the retired miner was clueless when it came to knowing anything about wristwatches, magnetic forces, or for that matter, alien saucers from outer space.

From a distance, the curious elder examined the UFO’s outer structure, but could see no seams, rivets, joints, or openings on the exterior of the ship, so he carefully moved in closer to get a better look.

Then something suddenly dawned on Henry.  There was no sound coming from the landed spacecraft.

Not a peep.

He cocked his head and listened.

Nothing.

It was disturbingly quiet—too quiet to suit Henry.  A particular reminiscent thought flashed through the old codger’s boggled mind.  He recalled the 1951 science fiction epoch, The Day The Earth Stood Still, a movie that he had seen countless times before.  Would an invisible door suddenly slide open, exposing Gort, the giant frickin alien metal robot that could beam out disintegration rays from where its eyes should be? 

Unsure if he would be facing friend or foe, Henry slowly and carefully reached behind his back, pulled the snub-nosed firearm from his belt, and held it nervously at his side.

Not knowing what to do next, Henry took a deep breath in and anxiously cleared his throat.  His voice quivered as he called out, “Hel. . .hello, is any. . .anyone there?  Any. . .body    . . .home?. . .I ca. . .come in peace!”

Silence.

There was no response from inside the metal aircraft that had arrived from another planet.

Attempting to pacify his building anxiety, Henry jokingly recited the outer space vocabulary he had memorized from his favorite old sci-fi movie—the utterances used to keep the giant robot from harming any Earthlings—“Gort. . .Klaatu. . . Barada. . .Nicto!”  The old drunk felt really stupid saying that, but those were the only alien words that he knew of, and besides, it couldn’t hurt.

Again, no reply was given to the trembling alcoholic.

Henry swallowed hard, gripped the pearl handle of his magnum tightly, and began to slowly raise the barrel.

Without warning, a condensed beam of rainbow-colored light discharged from the undersurface of the craft, seizing the surprised senior citizen in its paralyzing grip.  Henry struggled to get away, but was unable to move a muscle or scream for help.  The gray hair on the back of his neck stood on end, sending a cold shiver down his bony spine.  Henry was so horrified that he thought he was going to lose control of his bowels—take a crap, pinch a loaf, or dump a deuce in his pants, as he would fondly say.  He was petrified. . .too petrified to do anything!  The terrified tippler wouldn’t have been able to drop a load even if he had wanted to.

Son-of-a-bitch!  I’m screwed. . .what am I gonna do now?

Henry was trapped.  He was helpless.

The engrossing iridescent shaft of luminosity lifted the senior citizen slowly and methodically toward the ship.  Floating ever closer to the mammoth spacecraft, the frightened old-timer sensed that someone orsomething inside was watching him.

From nowhere, and without making a sound, a small oval-shaped panel slid open on the hard metallic covering of the UFO, discharging a yellow cloud of foul-smelling gaseous material into the air.  Henry caught a whiff of the vapory miasma, which reminded him of the sour acid reek that he had occasionally inhaled when he was a miner, working in the deep shafts of the molybdenum mines.  It was a fetid smell that he would never forget.  The stench was overwhelming, so Henry held his breath to avoid inhaling any of the noxious fumes.

As the gas slowly dissipated, he caught a shadowed glimpse of something moving from inside the ship.  Rapidly blinking his irritated eyes in order to help clear up the blurry vision, the drunkard could barely make out the gangly figure of an alien being—human-like in appearance—lumbering directly towards him from within the portal opening.

Henry wasn’t one to believe in creatures from outer space—the only aliens he knew of were the illegal ones from south of the border—those with black hair and brown skin that spoke no English and worked for below minimum wage.  Old man Pickridge was in for one helluva surprise!   

Holy Jesus!  What the hell’s that thing?

As the dark anthropomorphic being approached, Henry squinted to try to see its face, but was unable to discern any features—only that it possessed a large, oblong-shaped head.

Don’t come any closer, you overgrown alien piss-ant!

A monstrous reptilian-like extremity reached out for him, grabbing at his frayed shirt collar.  The limb was bulky and muscular, covered with coarse green scales.  Four long flexible fingers with two opposable thumbs, joined together by bands of thick fleshy webbing, extended from the animal’s grotesque hand.  Projecting out from the end of each lime-colored digit was a thick, black fingernail—a horny claw that was long and curved, with serrations—ending in a razor-sharp point.  Henry’s heart was pounding like a rock band’s drummer, and he could feel the surge of adrenaline racing throughout his quivering body.

Do I still have my. . .where’s my damn gun?  Even though he couldn’t move his arms, Henry sensed that the revolver still remained at his side, its pearl handle tightly gripped in the sweaty palm of his trembling right hand.

Closing both eyes and using every ounce of strength that he could muster, he moved his right wrist just enough to elevate the snub-nosed barrel of the Smith & Wesson.  Unable to accurately aim his gun, he would have to shoot from the hip, just like a quick-draw artist—only minus the quick-draw part.

The saurian hand latched onto Henry’s left shoulder, and the frail old man could feel the vise-like grip of the beast’s claws painfully tighten down on his bony flesh.

Then a terrifying thought raced through his head.

This motherthumpin thing is gonna kill me. . .I don’t wanna die. . .not like this!  Henry didn’t want to end up like his brother, the haphazard recipient of a senseless murder.  You weren’t given no chance to do anything, Fred, but I will. . .I will, dammit!

Panicked but determined, the leather-skinned whiskey guzzler concentrated all of his will on his right index finger, which was firmly curled around the contoured trigger of the .357.  Even if he could only fire off one round, his hollow pointed slug was bound to inflict some serious damage to whomever or whatever it hit.

Come on, you pussy. . .squeeze your finger. . .pull the trigger. . .move the hammer. . . shoot the freakin gun!

Forcefully flexing his forefinger, he felt the metal trigger slowly begin to budge, then depress.

Screw you and the horse you rode in on, you alien bastard!

The trigger finally yielded to his finger pressure, firing the weapon once—discharging its deadly hollow-nosed projectile in the direction of the alien aggressor.

“Boooom!”

The report echoed through his ears—a deafening sound, as if two symbols had been clashed together next to Henry’s head.  The recoil of the magnum’s barrel was so intense that the gun flew out of the old man’s hand and landed on the grassy ground below his levitated feet.  A cloud of blue-gray smoke fumed before the alcoholic’s terror-filled eyes, and the strong distinctive odor of gunpowder permeated throughout his flared nostrils.  Those were the last things that Henry remembered before he passed out.

#

When Henry awoke, it was daylight, and the sodden old-timer found himself at the campsite, lying on his sleeping bag, fully clothed, with his baseball cap and shoes still on.  The elder’s revolver, along with his half-full bottle of liquid spirits, lay innocently on the grass next to him.

“What. . .what in the name of Jesus H. Christ is going on?”

Groggy and disoriented, the rousing rummy slowly lifted himself from the sleeping bag and sat up.  His head throbbed, and he felt woozy and weak—like he had been drugged with a Mickey Finn.  Henry instinctively reached over for his nearby bottle of hooch, uncapped it, and tossed down a few nips of intoxicant.

“Oh, man. . .I feel like hammered dog crap.”

Wait a minute. . .how the hell did I get here?  Was that all a dream. . .a damn hallucinatory?  I didn’t drink enough to pass out. . .did I?

Henry popped his baseball cap off and swept back his scraggly locks of silver hair with both hands.  The old alcoholic had suffered through enough hangovers to know that the sensations in his head were very different from those symptoms that he usually experienced after a night of heavy boozing.

“This is just too friggin freaky!”

The befuddled inebriate felt mighty weird, and knew that something creepy had befallen him the night before—something he was presently unable to explain.  Determined to find out what happened, Henry picked up his gun and walked back to the area where the UFO had landed.  He meticulously explored every inch of the grassy field and found nothing—the saucer was gone, leaving no trace that it had ever been there before.  No footprints, no blood, no wounded monster from outer space.

Jumping in his pickup, the dazed dipsomaniac raced back to town and reported his fantastic story to Buck Evans, the sheriff of Tranquil.  Buck was very familiar with the alcoholic antics of Henry Pickridge—he had arrested the old coot several times before for drunk and disorderly conduct.  The experienced lawman was extremely skeptical, but still drove out with the protesting boozer to search the area.  When they arrived at Fletcher’s Pool, Henry led Sheriff Evans to the grassy site where the alleged alien landing had occurred.  They hunted for any signs of an extraterrestrial visit, but found nothing—there was no evidence to indicate that anything had landed there, much less a flying craft from outer space.

Most of the townsfolk never believed Henry’s bizarre account, attributing it either to hallucinations conjured up by his alcohol-demented mind, or to the dream illusions associated with an affliction of sleep paralysis.  Besides, no one else saw the flying saucer or any aliens, and the retired miner had no tangible proof to back up his startling story—except for the oddly shaped bruises on his left shoulder, and the fact that one of the bullets in his three-fifty-seven magnum had been fired.

Henry Pickridge was the talk of Tranquil for the past several months—and because nothing that exciting had ever occurred in the town before, the local gossips milked the scary story for everything it was worth.  Frequenting the local bars in town, the liquor-loving lush would gladly spin his tale over a wet whiskey for anyone who would listen—especially if they paid for the drinks.  Henry really didn’t care whether they believed his grisly encounter with the alien or not—in his mind, he knew that it had happened.

#

After enduring months of a snowy, harsh winter, the community of Tranquil approvingly welcomed the onset of beautiful spring weather.  In preparation for the upcoming tourist season, the residents hung up a“Welcome to Tranquil – The Quietest Town in Arizona” sign over the street entrance to its business district—a city block of about twenty stores, shops, and eating establishments located on both sides of Main Street.

As an orange-red sunset slipped into the western sky, the townspeople prepared for the approaching darkness of night.  Scattered puffs of grayish-white smoke could be seen arising from a handful of chimney tops, as the evening chill still had enough bite in it to warrant the welcome of a warming blaze in the household fireplace.

Most of the residents and newcomers had already departed the downtown area and were heading for home, but a few window shoppers could still be seen milling around the outside of some of the quaint gift shops that were interspersed along the row of small business establishments.  Even though a spattering of rental cars belonging to a handful of visiting tourists remained parallel parked along the curb located on the north side of Main Street, virtually all of the shops and stores in town had pulled the shades, hung up their CLOSED signs, and locked their doors for the night.  For now, everything was peaceful and quiet in the charming little mountain village of Tranquil. . .but that would all change drastically in the days to come.

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