It was a beautiful mid-summer’s day. The sun was bright between cotton shaped clouds. Autumn was just around the corner and the leaves were beginning to turn. I spent the latter part of the afternoon throwing the football around with Richard and his three sons.
During this time I spotted a heavy aircraft propelling above us. It was an army green military plane flying at a low altitude. The engines were loud. So loud that my concentration broke when Richard threw a ten yard bullet in my direction.
The ball landed in my temple. I saw stars among the clear sky behind my blinking eyes. The side of my face welted with pain, like I was a child who had cursed in front of his parents. I laid on my back for some time, trying to get my vision back. Despite my eyes welting with tears, I laughed it off because that’s what you do when you’re with the boys.
Richard’s shadow loomed over me. My eyes followed the tip of the football as he panned it from right to left.
I smiled. The three boys tackled each other at my feet, laughing and hollering as they rolled in the lush green grass.
I stood up and brushed the imaginary dirt off my shoulders. That’s when the clouds became dark. They formed a grayish fog and spun in a circle at a high velocity. A perfect retractable circle formed in the center of the cyclone eighty feet above us. It opened from the center. A cluster of rods stretched out of the opening and pointed towards Richard’s oldest son, Casey.
I jumped over the beam and ran towards Richard who ordered his two youngest boys inside his two story country home. They did as instructed, scattering up the bi-level wrap around porch. It was odd, like they had rehearsed this.
“Follow the boys inside.”
I stood there for a moment, unable to move.
I sprinted towards the front porch, scooping up Bagel in my arms. He licked my face, un-phased by what was happening. The little beagle must’ve been prepared too because he didn’t seem all that surprised by what was happening to Casey.
The boys had gone to their bedrooms to change clothes. I held Bagel and peeked out of the window. Bagel jumped out of my arms and scattered to the living room. The aircraft was gone and so were Richard and Casey.
I went back outside, took a few steps off the porch, and looked into the sky. It was calm. The clouds were gone and so were Richard and Casey.
The only place they could’ve gone, logically, was the detached four car garage by the swimming pool. I tried to open the garage door but it was locked. I tapped my fist on the tinted window next to it. The door opened, ajar, and I grabbed the jamb to enter.
Richard came out, shut the door, and locked it behind him.
“I saw one earlier while I was driving to the filling station. I told a military officer, who was there to recruit local teenagers, that they had another one on their hands. He didn’t listen.”
Richard gave me one job: make sure the kids stay occupied. Don’t let them chase each other around with scissors.
I went back inside. I had never been to Richard’s home before. All of his furniture and appliances were outdated by at least forty years. The boys were in the living room, watching a baseball game. Roberto Clemente was at bat for the Pirates on a thirty two inch tube television. The VCR below it was on, in playback mode. The boys were sprawled out on red bean bags, transfixed by the game.
Looking around the room, I didn’t see any scissors. So far, I was doing my job. I wanted to change into dry clothes since my trunks were still damp from swimming earlier, but my bag was still in my rental. I was also afraid to leave the boys alone in case they knew where the scissors were.
I took a seat on the sofa. Yellow and orange patterned flowers covered the velvet cushions. I put my elbows on my knees and rested my head in my hands, unsure of what to do next. The clock on the wall was an old grandfather model. I imagined if I lived long enough to see midnight, a bird would come out on its stoop and chirp that the clock had struck twelve.
I received a letter from Richard earlier in the month, he didn’t use email, requesting to visit his new property. The letter was written in beautiful penmanship on heavy paper. I assumed he was lonely after his wife had died and wanted some adult company for the weekend, so I obliged. Following his lead, I sent him a letter. He responded with a detailed map on where to find him once my flight landed. He requested that I not copy the map, and to present it to him when I arrived. Now I found myself in his seventies-style home, questioning everything I thought I knew about life, about God, about humanity.
The screen door slammed shut and Richard appeared. He rushed around the house, disappearing from room to room. He occasionally popped his head into the living area to check in on me and the boys. Eventually he joined us with a bowl of popcorn and a canister of Planter’s cheese balls with a six pack of soda under his arm.
I shrugged my shoulders.
Richard stacked a pile of pillows between his two sons and was soon fast asleep with them wrapped in his arms. Bagel was sleeping on the couch next to me. I waited until the four were snoring before I left. I stood up and went into the kitchen where I found a key ring. Only one key was looped around it. Curiosity set in. I was sure it was the same key he used to lock the garage.
The sun was still bright when I went outside. I looked at the rental, down at the keyring, and decided to see what Richard was keeping from me.
I entered the garage and there was his oldest son, Casey. His tanned skin and sun blonde hair were no longer present, but instead a beautiful aqua color, almost albinism. He laid in a military hospital bed. An IV bag hung above his head. A small tube from the bag into his arm. A pink substance was being fed into his veins, a slow drip. I approached Casey with caution. I looked at his translucent eyelids as he laid there. I could see the corneas. His pupils were dilated.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” Richard said.
I turned around. Richard stood there with a concerned look while Bagel wagged his tail below him.
“Are you going to inform me on what exactly is going on here? I’m sorry but I’ve been questioning my own existence for the past few hours and all you seem to be doing is ignoring the fact that Casey was just zapped by the Starship Enterprise, like everything is cool. Well, bud, everything is not cool.”
“They’re back,” Richard said.
“Who is back?”
He pulled the curtain open next to Casey’s bed, revealing a long corner desk, and sat down. It was occupied with two-way radios, green radar screens, and weather monitors. This type of equipment was obsolete. They had to be hand-me-downs.
“See this?” Richard pointed to a darkened area on the weather radar.
“Yeah. Looks like an ink blot. A very large one.”
“That’s them,” Richard said.
He flicked some levers on a switchboard and turned a large dial. Only static came out at first. He adjusted the antenna and turned the large dial again. A voice finally came through:
“All flights landing and departing to and from Rocksville, Pennsylvania have been cancelled due to a severe terrorist threat. All airports have been vacated. Please stay tuned for further details. This is an emergency broadcast…”
He turned another knob. I watched as a tiny red line moved behind a row of numbers, trying to find a valid frequency. The red line scrolled all the way to the right before Richard gave up searching. He returned to the previous channel. It only produced more static.
“Did you hear the voice? Terrorists. That’s what they say now to hide the truth. The truth is too threatening for the public to understand.”
He took a worn cigarette out of the desk drawer and rolled it between his thumb and index finger. Richard reclined in a weathered office chair, looking more like a used car salesman than he did a scientist.
“I’ve always known about it.”
Richard removed his bifocals, rubbed the red markings on each side of his bridged nose, and stroked Bagel’s head.
“It was only until recently that they started really paying attention to us. You know how when you access certain apps on your cellphone, like Google Maps for instance?”
“You’re prompted to give your location. You can choose: accept or deny.”
“Right,” I said.
“That’s them. They’re tracking us. Studying us. And we’ve made it easier for them. Ever since the technological boom, I’ve been finding more and more of them. In Russia, China, Germany…everywhere. They want to know what we’re doing, what we’re eating, who we’re having intercourse with. And the different ways in which we do it. They’re very perverse that way.”
Richard sighed, put his glasses on, and continued.
“What’s important to us. What entertains us. What are motives are. Why we live. You see Daniel, we are the ants under the magnifying glass. We have been for several years now, and it’s only a matter of time before the sun emerges through the clouds and hangs above their shoulders, burning us all.”
“You’re talking alien life forms?” I said.
Richard felt underneath his desk and removed a crow bar. He peeled back a rug, among several on the floor, and pried into the concrete floor. A hatch opened and he disappeared inside of it. I looked over at Casey’s body.
Richard popped his head out from the passage.
“He’ll be fine. You coming?”
We climbed down a long ladder into a dark room. I heard Richard messing with a control box. Moments later a long row of fluorescent lights lit his hidden laboratory. Three tanks hung from the ceiling. They were filled with the same color fluid that fed Casey’s IV bag. Floating in the liquid were human bodies. One in each tank.
“Here, put these on,” Richard said. He handed me a lab coat and a medical mask, the kind with the tiny rubber string on the back.
I approached the center tank to take a closer look. The naked body of an old man was suspended in the fluid. Pubic follicles swayed back and forth between his crippled legs. I could see each rib through his malnourished torso. Tiny fibers of hair danced among his bald head. I eased around the rear of the tank. His wrinkled buttocks was swollen below a rigid spinal cord. The same could be said about the bodies in the other two tanks, one woman, and one child. Three decrepit bodies preserved by Richard. Thick glass the only thing separating us.
Richard was perched on a ladder, attaching tubes from a machine to an empty tank.
“Daniel, see that hose over there? Would you hand it to me please?”
There was a table next to him scattered with surgical tools, packaged sponges, and several boxes labeled confidential with a red marker.
I handed Richard the hose. He held onto one end as I pulled on the other end, making it taunt. He then attached it to the top of the empty tank and flipped a switch on the machine. A low rumbling hum echoed through the lab as the machine filled the tank with a thick pink jelly.
“It’ll get thinner as it warms up,” Richard said, climbing down from the ladder.
I had a feeling who Richard was prepping the tank for. My eyes glanced down inside one of the boxes. It was filled with bubble wrap. I peeled it back and found a steel gun, similar to the staple type. Four syringes were attached opposite the trigger. Richard removed it and filled the syringes with a saline solution.
“We have to get Casey in this tank soon, or he’ll turn.”
“Turn to what?” I said.
Richard again dodged my questioning and touched the tip of each syringe, ensuring they were sharp.
“Are you preserving his body?”
“Who’s in the other tanks?”
“Previous owners of the property. The old man had heard about my research at the university. He contacted me after their first encounter with them.”
“The one you worked at after college?” I said.
“I was fired after they discovered I was spending their funding for my own experiments.” Richard said, shrugging his shoulders. “Can you blame them?”
Richard removed a green lollipop from his lab coat and stuck it into the corner of his mouth.
“I was their only option. Their claims were dismissed by authorities. Their grandchild, the one you see on the right, became very ill after the encounter. He couldn’t break the fever. Soon after, the old man and his wife became sick with the same fever. To prevent an outbreak, I preserved their bodies in these tanks so I could research their anatomy.”
He switched the lollipop to the other side of his mouth with his green stained tongue.
“It took me the better part of the winter to get the lab in order. I returned home to find that Lindsay’s battle with breast cancer was over. She was dead.”
“Richard, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t bother. It’s not important now. The old man sold this property to me when I arrived. My plan was to move my family here, take care of Lindsay, and work on a cure for the fever. Upon learning about Lindsay’s death, I packed up the boys and we settled into the property after the funeral.”
Richard took me by the shoulder.
“That beam you saw disrupts the brainwaves of the young and old. Middle aged humans are unaffected.”
“I think it has something to do with the research they’re conducting.”
“But why here? Why Rocksville? Why this place?” I said.
“This land is rich in fossil fuels for their spacecraft. I found what we’ve come to know as crop circles in the acreage behind the home.”
“Two birds, one stone. While they fuel up they tried to take Casey for research purposes?” I said.
“You always were a smart one Daniel.”
“What about the other boys?”
“He’s my first born, Richard. They know that my love for Casey is stronger than that of my other two sons. As I said before, they’ve been watching. It’s what they want. For me to choose. A win-win for them. A win-loss for me, that is, if I can save Casey.”
“What about the boys now? Were they affected? The fever?”
“It’s already set in. They were already warm after they fell asleep. That was the last moment I will have with them, before they turn. I’m happy you were here to share that moment with us Daniel.”
“Casey’s body is almost ready. I need your help carrying him down here.”
I knocked Richard’s hand from my shoulder and reached for the ladder back to the garage, skipping every other rung as I climbed.
“Trust me Daniel, it’s too late to do anything about it now,” Richard said, calling up to me from the laboratory.
I rushed towards the living room, the screen door rattled behind me. I found Richard’s middle son on top of the youngest, holding a pair of shears. The TV reflected a prism of light from their sharp points as Willie Stargell rounded third base. The crowd cheered. I lunged forward, knocking the boy off his brother.
But it was too late, he had snipped his brother’s eyelids. Four bloody triangles rested below the brow, curling back. Two paralyzed eyes stared back at me. The boy’s throat was slashed.
I crawled backwards, distancing myself from the boy’s body. The middle child stood up. He was covered with yellowish sores. The bubbling flesh on his face expanded. Some popped. Some just deflated. A tentacle coiled in the air where his left arm was just hours earlier. Suction cups covered the underside. They oozed with a slimy gel.
“Get out of here Daniel!” Richard said.
The middle child turned to Richard. He looked down at his dead brother, then to the shears, confused by what was happening. The tentacle continued to stretch and recoil.
“He’s not my son anymore Daniel. Do you understand that?”
I nodded my head as I crawled behind Richard. He held a pistol in his right hand, a machete in the left. He handed me the blade, then pulled the trigger. A small bullet entered the boy’s forehead, just above his nose. Bullseye. Blood and pus splattered the walls of the living area.
“Cut it off Daniel, hurry!”
I approached the thing that was once Richard’s son and raised the machete over my head. I sent the blade through the shoulder, freeing the tentacle from his body. It hissed at me as it squirmed on the floor.
“Step back,” Richard said. He fired two shots into the aqua colored limb. The squishy gel that once dripped from its pores began to dry up. A furry cocoon grew around the tentacle. It was hibernating.
Richard ran towards the garage. Underneath the hammock swing were two cans of kerosene that Richard spoke about. I poured it on the velvet couch, the cocoon, and the two boys, now dead. One from murder, the other from a monster. I took a red tipped match, stuck it against the side of its container, and glanced at the television. The Pirates won 8-7 from a walk-off home run by Clemente. Game over.
I heard an explosion from outside when I tossed the match to the floor. Red and yellow flames danced across the furniture. The television contorted as it melted away. I could feel the raging heat against my face. Sweat dripped from my armpits like a fountain. The grandfather clock toppled over on top of the cocoon. The crash sent springs in every direction. The birdie popped out and sang in a distorted tone. I guess I will see midnight after all.
Outside, the garage flamed up like the living room had. Small explosions went off every few seconds as evidence of Richard’s work was destroyed. I met him behind the house like he instructed. Richard waved his hand towards me from inside a helicopter.
I hoisted myself into the cockpit from the landing skids and shouted at Richard over the main rotor blade.
“I didn’t know you had a pilot’s license!”
“I don’t!” Richard said, smiling.
We hovered in the air for a moment before taking flight.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fly one!”
In the cabin was Casey’s body. Richard had transported it before setting the garage afire. He looked the same as before, only he didn’t have the IV bag feeding his vein. Richard turned to me as I studied his body with my eyes.
“His fever broke,” Richard said. “He might make it.”
Black smoke floated in thick circles above Richard’s farm property as it burned to the ground. Soon, the authorities would be there to put out the fire. But we would be gone. Long gone. With the Pennsylvania mountains below us, Richard, Casey, and I flew through the purple sky while the sun set behind us, thinking about how we were going to start over.