Authors: Kristin Dearborn
Tags: #Horror, #ufos, #aliens
P.O. Box 338
North Webster, IN 46555
© 2012 by Kristin Dearborn
Cover Artwork © 2012 by Daniele Serra
All Rights Reserved.
Copy Editors: Steve Souza & Bob Mele
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, and Gramps.
You all have always believed in me as a writer
and were never afraid to show it.
Thank you, and I miss you, Gramps!
No artist works in a vacuum, and the list of folks who have contributed to this book, via edits, read-throughs, and just support as I slammed my head against the keyboard is a big one.
Special thanks to Tim Waggoner and Scott A. Johnson, without whom this book would be very different (and far inferior). Proud to be a SHU mean girl forever. Thanks to Seton Hill crit partners, Jared, Paul, Christina and Dave. To Dr. Arnzen. To the BWG, who remember this book when it was Alien!: Douglas, Dan, Beth, Althea, Heather C-M, and Jenn. Thanks to Heather T, who’s spent maybe more time than anyone poring over my work and is never afraid to tell it how it is (but always with love!). And to the people who supported me away from the keyboard simply by being themselves: Monica, Aunt Sue, Mom, Karen, Brian, Jeff, Chris, Glen, Steve B and Steve M. And last, to Maggie, who always had a wagging tail and knew when I needed to go for a walk.
None of this would exist without these guys, and it wouldn’t exist either without the wonderful editors at Darkfuse who took a chance on an unknown author and made this book a reality. And it wouldn’t exist without you, readers. I hope you enjoy.
She is awake in the night, her body drenched in sweat. The perspiration pools between her breasts as she brings a hand to her swollen stomach. It’s all she has left.
Every night, she leaves the bathroom light on, because she can’t face the dark. In the light that creeps through the cracked door, everything looks too white. She strains her ears, listening. There is an ice machine in the hall; it clunks to life. Outside, a car turns into the lot
of the cheap motel, its headlights dragging across the wall, turning dim white bright.
She can’t run forever. She’s just one woman.
Maybe it’s all right. Maybe she can close her eyes, go back to sleep. Before that, she checks the pistol on the nightstand. Loaded. Good. She listens a while, satisfied that it was just the ice machine down the hall that woke her. She closes her eyes. Thinks to the baby,
It’s going to be all right…we’ll find a way
. But she wonders if she can keep that promise.
As she is drifting off to sleep she hears something else in the hall. Sitting bolt-upright in the dim bathroom light, she waits…watches.
So white…so impossibly
A hand at the doorknob. Testing it…turning it…finding it locked.
She draws into herself, sitting up, knees tucked up as far as her pregnant stomach will allow. Holding the pistol as steady as she can, she aims it at the door.
Even if I shoot this one, there will be others.
She waits. The lock proves to be a minor challenge. The door opens, meeting resistance with the chain. Blinding white light pours in. She lifts the hand with the gun to shield her eyes, the other remains on her stomach. Despite crippling terror, she will protect the baby until she dies.
Against the blinding white, fingers creep inside, groping, feeling for the latch.
They are not human.
She could shoot…but knows it will be fruitless. So she lies on the bed, cradles the gun and her unborn baby…and waits…
Felix was late. Sun bleached the long dusty road as Valentine Slade squinted to see down its emptiness. He dropped onto his ass in the dust, his few meager belongings by his side. A bench, metal and baking, sat by the chain link gates to the New Mexico State Penitentiary, but Val preferred to sit here in the warm dirt while he waited. Without a watch, it was difficult to tell how late Felix was.
He looked to the cloudless sky, up at the sun, and decided to wait a while longer. Too much blue, too bright out there. He’d been inside for too long. The sun felt good on his skin, and he smiled at the mundane worry of a sunburn. Let it burn. After six years, let it burn.
A truck blew past, kicking up dust that stung his skin. It was too hot to get angry. Maybe they’d give him a drink of water if he went back inside. That would be a little like admitting defeat, though. He wished for a cigarette, to have something to do with his hands. But he’d quit smoking years ago.
From behind him he heard an engine. A shiny red Monte Carlo slowed down at his side, one of the new ones. Val sighed. He hadn’t heard much from Felix in the year since he’d left through this very same gate, but it would surprise him to hear the car’s purchase was legit.
Felix slammed the brakes, kicking up a dust plume in its wake. He pounced from the driver’s seat in a single fluid motion and wrapped his arms around Val in a huge bear hug. Pearl Jam and air conditioning poured from the Monte Carlo’s open door.
“Easy there, tiger,” said Val.
Felix pulled away and beamed at him. Same old Felix. Thick black hair, Latin good looks, eyes so pretty you’d swear they belonged in a woman’s face.
“You’re out. How are you?”
Val rolled the question around in his head. There were a million ways he could answer. Thirsty, terrified, in awe of all this sky…
“I think I’m all right.” He picked up the paper bag holding his shit. “Ready to head home.”
“Well let’s go! Hop in.”
Val got in on the passenger side, setting his bag between his feet. The music seemed too loud, the air too cold. “Can we do windows for a bit? I’ve had about all the canned air I can handle for one lifetime.”
“Want to stop for a beer or something on the way home?”
“Not today. We will. Later this week. I want to get home, get myself settled.” He paused. “See Kate.”
Felix turned the car around and peeled out, spraying loose gravel on the brown New Mexico State Penitentiary sign.
Val stared at the yellow dashes in the road, which started to blur together as Felix accelerated. He should have called someone from home, someone who wouldn’t bring him back to the time on the inside. This was behind him now. But Felix was Felix…after all their time together he was more a part of Val than just a part of Val’s time in prison. He glanced behind him, at the pink adobe and barbed wire growing smaller and smaller. In the silence, beside him, Felix sat, staring straight ahead. For a moment he made Val think of an automaton, something that mimics humanity but falls short. Then he turned, grinned, and asked Val why he hadn’t had Kate pick him up.
It was a complicated question.
“I wanted to get a chance to see your ugly mug.”
Felix cocked an eyebrow. He wanted a real answer.
“I want to get my groove back before I see her.”
“I know what you mean. It’s crazy, getting out. The pen spreads her legs and pops you out…you’re naked out here.”
Melodramatic though it was, Felix’s analogy was apt. Val did feel naked but told himself to cheer up. He was out. More important, he was going to get to see his girl.
* * *
By the time they pulled down the dirt driveway to Val’s mother’s mobile home, Val was tired of Felix’s chattering. He loved the guy, but everything seemed so overwhelming. The gaping brown desert hemmed him in more than the prison walls did. He wanted some time alone.
“Thanks,” Val said, picking up his stuff—a few changes of clothes and some law books—from the car’s floor where it rested.
“Sorry,” Felix said, letting the engine idle. “I know how it is. Let me know when you want to go for a beer.” He smirked. “Have a good time with Kate.”
Val left it there. Kate had come to see him once every month while he was inside.
“It’s crazy you two are so strong, even after...” Felix let his voice trail off, he usually knew when to stop talking. “Well, watch out for her brother. If you need my help, give me a call.”
“You’re in town for a while?” Val asked. An anti-social part of himself wanted the answer to be no. He knew, though, once he cheered the fuck up, he and Felix would tear the town apart.
“Yeah, I found some road work here, up on Lobo Street. I’m around.”
“I’ll look you up soon. We’ll go drink.” Val forced a smile. He bet it looked as plastic as it felt, and Felix’s sad nod confirmed this. He lifted a hand in a wave, said “take care” and drove off, kicking up a plume of dust behind the Monte Carlo.
Alone in the driveway, Val looked at his house. Peeling paint, dark windows, no mother inside to deal with.
When Val’s mother went to the hospice almost a year ago, they’d said she would survive a month or two, tops. Still she clung to life with a mysterious stomach cancer which followed its own agenda.
The sound of Felix’s car faded away to nothing. Using the key tucked into the eaves of the little porch overhang Val let himself in. For the first time in years there was no one to be macho for, no one to stop him from crying. He couldn’t deflect his sorrow and his fear with a joke. It constricted in his chest and he clapped a hand over his mouth to keep in a sob.
There was nothing to do but cry.
And Val did, sinking to the dusty, peeling linoleum, crippled by self-pity, fixating on how far he could have gone.
Instead, he was back here.
The tears blew over like a storm, leaving Val a drained, snotty mess on the floor. A hum resounded in his head, a low droning, on the near edge of his consciousness. He walked to his bedroom and raised a hand to tear down old posters:
Black Flag, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Reservoir Dogs
, then resisted. He sat on the edge of his bed. Everything was as he’d left it before college. It reeked of high school here. He brought his hand to his forehead, trying to block out the hum.
It couldn’t be called a headache because the throbbing didn’t actually hurt. The hum filled his head like a giant machine, vibrating his silver fillings. It rose in a crescendo, not in intensity, but in his awareness of it. The hum was like something refracting off broken glass, gritty and bright. It built and he wondered if his brain would simply explode.
The sensation was constant at least, and after it became apparent it wasn’t going away, Val made a thorough search of the small trailer.
Maybe the air conditioner was malfunctioning.
He even dragged himself through the crawl space underneath, dirt and dry pine needles sticking to his sweaty skin. Nothing. Not even the sounds of
could cut through it and as dark fell he turned the music off, leaving the house stark in its silence. He trudged outside into the night.
He sat on the hood of his truck, a hulking old Ford F-100. Once glossy black, now it looked like an angry dinosaur.
The hood and windshield radiated heat along Val’s back, and he looked up at the sky, watching the last traces of orange and pink bleeding away into purple darkness. The stars glittered overhead, their strength building as night grew. So much sky.
He didn’t get up when Kate arrived in her shitty yellow Daytona. Maybe the car was nice in 1988 when it rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, or back when her brother Rich bought it for himself, but even six years ago when Kate inherited it, Val thought it was like a dog that needed to be shot and put out of its misery.
He chose to watch her as she walked by in the failing light, jeans and a wife-beater, unruly mane of tangled hair pulled back into a bushy ponytail. Kate was always self-conscious about her smallish tits—she claimed she looked like a pre-pubescent boy. But she did not, and never had looked like a pre-pubescent boy. He called her name just before she got to the wooden steps. She jumped, dropped the six-pack she carried, and let out a small yelp. She turned to him, backlit from the yellow glow of the kitchen window.
“Sorry,” he said, unable to keep himself from smiling.
She bent to pick up the beer, her ponytail spilling over her shoulder. He wanted to touch it, and he felt bad for scaring her.
“I can buy beer now.” She held it up like a prize.
Val nodded, drinking her in. There was no thick plexiglass between them, no phone which felt filthy and germ-drenched even though they wiped it between prisoners with disposable bleach wipes. After all the phone calls, the letters, the glassed-in visits, everything was real again. Seeing her was enough to distract him from the hum, though as soon as he noticed he wasn’t thinking about it, it came back with a vengeance. She set the six-pack on the hood and looked at him.
Val couldn’t decide whether to tell her he missed her or tell her he loved her, so instead he decided on “Do you hear something? A hum?”
“Yeah,” she said. His hopes soared. Then what the hell was it?
“Not a hum, though,” she said. “A car.”
Yes, there was a car approaching, one with a throaty engine sound. Val turned to Kate, who—judging by her expression—came to the same conclusion.
Her hands balled into fists.
“Aw, fuck,” Val said. The vehicle rounded the bend in the short dirt driveway; the halogen truck light bar on Rich’s Wrangler washed the driveway in blinding whiteness. At least he wasn’t driving his patrol car. Val raised his hand to shield his eyes. He could feel his pupils shrink and felt the omnipresent hum around him like a muffling pillow.
Val hopped off the hood, heard the squawk of an emergency brake. Rich stepped out of the Jeep, mirrored on the other side by TJ Drinkwater. He left the engine running. It mixed and blended with the hum in Val’s head.
“Sister,” Rich called.
“Get off my land, Fulton.”
Rich reached into the Jeep and pulled out his Mossberg shotgun. It looked long and lethal in the low light.
To her credit, Kate didn’t ask Rich any dumb questions like “how did you know you would find me here?” “Go home, Rich,” she said instead.
TJ stepped up behind Rich. Val remembered a time when he was the one standing at Rich’s shoulder.
“Got yourself a new flunky?”
“Shut up. Let me handle this.” Kate cast a withering glare over her shoulder, and while it wasn’t the time or the place, Val thought she was fucking hot when she was pissed at him.
Val suspected it wouldn’t be quite that easy. After Val went to jail, Kate told him TJ had been asking her out, confessing his love for her, all that jazz. That in itself was enough for Val to want to punch him so hard he’d be shitting teeth for a week…but the new Val, ex-con Val, refused to head down that road. So he smiled a big mean jackal smile and kept his mouth shut.
“I want you to come home, Kate. Florence worries about you.”
Kate laughed. “Florence’s too drunk to know if I’m there or not.”
“She’s not doing too well. She been asking about you. All I can tell her is I don’t know.”
“Put her in detox,” Kate said. “Rich, leave. Go home.”
“You think it’s easy? I have to deal with this while you’re whorin’ around with this child molester.”
“You have a hearing problem?” Val said. “She asked you to get the fuck out of here.”
“No one asked you,” Rich answered.
“Rich, can’t we do this another time? I’m real tired, really looking forward to fucking your sister tonight—”
“Val!” Kate snapped. She knew Rich couldn’t stand down a taunt. It didn’t take him long to heave his bulk across the distance between them. Val could smell Rich’s fetid landfill breath, see his pores.
“Come on, you don’t need to deal with this,” TJ said, from behind Rich.
Rich whirled. “You’re not here to talk.” He turned back to Val. “Take it back, you sonofabitch.”
“Are we in seventh—”
Val meant to say, but it came out a muffled, garbled mess as Rich, in one fluid movement, raised the shotgun and jammed the muzzle in Val’s mouth. The cold metal of the gun mashed his lip into his teeth, splitting it. The gun knocked against his teeth and rammed the back of his throat and he gagged, smelling gun oil, tasting blood and spent powder, and thinking of prison. Other cons don’t much care for child molesters, not even likeable ones like Val. He took a half step back, and his head clunked into the side of the truck, and for the first time he began to question his safety. He gagged again, his stomach roiling and his eyes watering in bright light. His mouth filled with thin saliva and goose bumps rose on his arms in the hot night.
“Rich, cut this shit out!” Kate shouted, not touching him for fear his finger might slip. From the corner of his watering eye, Val saw TJ put a pudgy hand on Kate’s shoulder. She shrugged him off without looking at him.
Val made some vowel sounds.
Kate said, “Rich. I’ll go see Florence with you.”
Before pulling out the barrel, which clacked against Val’s teeth just as it had on the way in, Rich added a final jab that sent Val into a coughing fit. Val slid his tongue around his mouth to make sure all his teeth were still intact.
Between the light and the hum, everything seemed distant. Val tried to blink the sensation away, but it hung with him like a cloud. “You can’t—”
“We’ll go tomorrow,” Kate said. “Now leave.”
“It’s always tomorrow with you, kid sister. Someday it’s gonna catch up to you.” Val swallowed down all that spit and drew himself up to his full height in front of Rich. His mother would be proud of his good posture. Rich was wider but Val was taller, by just a little bit. It was a point of contention when they were younger, boys standing back to back measuring height.
“Time to go,” Val said. “Buh-bye now.” He couldn’t think through the hum. Fuck, if only he could focus.
“Please,” TJ whined. His doe-eyed admiration of Kate made Val want to stave his face in. His goddamn hand was back on her shoulder.