Now that I've gone this far, I gotta have more!!
Now that I've gone this far, I gotta have more!!
On the return trip over the bridge, I noticed that a large group over spectators had gathered at Ditto Landing hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever the military was so interested in. Just as I had made it to the road, several cop cars were turning in to the marina right as I passed the entrance. No time to investigate; I just need to get to school (Thought I might try thinking in italics for a bit, hmm… interesting). Suddenly, I remembered that the Explorer 1 launch was Friday night; I had gotten so caught up in this whole alien business that I kind of just forgot. Then I got excited; not only is the US about to join the “satellite club,” there was also a good possibility that intelligent life existed somewhere other than Earth (some of whom were living next door no less! ).
Throughout the day I overheard several people talking about the “mystery object” in the river; some said that it might be from another world. One of them was Shirley Jackson, a former crush of mine, who I overheard saying that they came from “the moon or something”, because “there’s, like, air up there and stuff!”(Note I said former). She was a very sweet girl, but she wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. This also may have something to do with her being attracted to a complete idiot like Silversmith (He can have her; she wasn’t really my type anyway. I preferred the bookish, nerdy type, but I digress). To be fair, not a lot was known about our solar system outside of telescope observations at the time; however, this was quite outside the realm of a reasonable mistake.
Waiting for the bell to ring, I started to pull out the copy of Robert Heinlein’s “Time for the Stars” that I had borrowed from Mel to kill a bit of time. However, a snippet of conversation from across the room caught my attention.
“You know I’ve been thinking,” wait, Fungus thinks!? “Those Canadians showed up about the same time that those guys saw that ‘thing’ in the river. What if they aren’t Canadians at all? What if they’re from space or something you know, and they’ve come to invade Earth?” The other guys looked at Fungus like he had three heads. He got up and started walking toward Jack, “I know what’s going on here, it all makes so much sense now: you, yer’ family, and those freaks you pal around with ( read: Me, Rick, Kelly, Walter, Bill), yer’ all some kinda’ martians or somethin’!” The whole class looked at him dumbfounded, yet not entirely surprised. What he did next shocked all of us; the mountain of flesh that was Fungus dropped to his knees and shouted in front of the area where Bill, Jack and I were sitting. “Tell your leaders to have mercy, I promise I’ll never be bad to nobody ever again!” He jumped up and bolted out the door, bawling in terror. In response, the entire class just sat slackjawed for a few minutes. I looked at Mrs. Willard; she was trying with superhuman effort not to burst into hysterical laughter. Then the bell rang, the best one of all, the one announcing that school was over for the day.
Last edited by Gemini; 2011-Jun-25 at 07:15 PM.
“Okay, what just happened?” Kelly had heard the commotion from another room down the hall; she had managed to catch me on the way out the door.
“Apparently Fungus thinks we’re Martians .”
“Wait, hold on really?”
“Yeah, he thinks that you, me , Bill, Rick, Walter, Jack, and Jackie are really invaders from Mars.”
“So, wait, what you’re trying to tell me is that Fungus thinks? But seriously though, that’s hysterical!” Ironically, this wasn’t the first time she had been mistaken for an alien. Several years ago, Bill and I was at her house when she walked out with some weapons-grade acne treatment she was trying at the time on her face. At the sight of this sea green- faced humanoid, Bill screamed and made for the nearest exit. This is only half the reason that Bill is afraid of her. Honestly, I’m a little afraid of her, too.
“Oh, hey Jackie!” Jackie had appeared next to Kelly.
“What did you do to that poor guy?”
“Why do you think it was me?” I shot a grin at Jackie and Kelly rolled her eyes, “He did it to himself, he’s somehow convinced himself we’re space invaders. Well, I know I’m not, are you?” Kelly’s eyes widened. Jackie smiled and chuckled menacingly , and then laughed.
“No, haha. You haven’t seen Ja… oh there you are.” Jack seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. Maybe I was just distracted, hmm…
“That was awesome. Oh, Les,the launch is still Saturday, right?”
“Explorer 1? That’s Friday night.”
“Well, that too, but what about the rocket you guys are flying?”
“Oh yeah, it is!” I had totally forgotten in all of this excitement.
“Thanks, See you all later.”
Let's hope that treatment worked, at least.
On the way home, I thought I’d make one more pass over the bridge. Gone from the marina were all of the military vehicles and personnel, instead was a single silver Chevy in the parking lot; something about it seemed oddly familiar. Of course it looked familiar, it’s the Johnson’s car or maybe I was just being paranoid. As I passed the entrance to marina on my way back, that same car pulled out behind me and rode my bumper for a while. In the rear view mirror, I could make out the unmistakable and imposing visage of John Johnson studying my vehicle before merging into the next lane and angrily speeding off. Despite his best efforts to hide his actions, I knew exactly what he was (partly because I had used a similar technique in the past). On the other tentacle, Canadians may just be irritable drivers. Something else of interest was a Redstone Arsenal decal on the windshield of his car. It was either legit or a really good fake.
Pulling into the driveway, I noticed that Mr. Johnson had made it home as well.
“Les, what took you so long to get home? It’s almost dinnertime! ” Mom was in the kitchen fixing what I presume from the smell was something vaguely Italian.
“I hit some traffic on the way home- there was a wreck on the parkway.” There actually had been a wreck on the parkway, but it had long since been cleaned up.
I plopped down on the couch in the den and flipped on the TV, not really watching, just using it for background noise while I read “Time for the Stars.” I was about finished with it and had another book on deck “To the Moon” , written by local author Neil “Doc” Clemmons, an associate of Mel and Dave’s from the Arsenal . Both agreed he was more than a little crazy, yet rather talented in the areas of science, engineering, karate, and electric guitar. He would also be at the event Friday night at the Morris place (He was a member of the HSFS, but was not a regular attendee).
After dinner, I was in my room working on some homework when suddenly, Mom called from the living room.
“Les, could you come here a moment? There are some people here to see you.”
“Thanks for the tea Mrs. Wilkins.” Bill was sitting on the couch with Rick and Kelly.
“You’re quite welcome Mr. Gibson.”
“Whoa, Les, you look like death warmed over! What happened?”
“Well, come on, we need to hurry.” I was curious to see what the fuss was about. If it was more tinfoil hat silliness then I was not going to be a happy camper, that’s for sure.
“Bill, this had better be important.”
“Oh trust me it is.”
“Also, why did you not call us, and where’s Walter?”
“I was worried that the phone lines might be bugged, and I don’t think walking into Walter’s neighborhood would be good idea.” Rick raised an eyebrow; he too was wary of Bill’s shenanigans.
Arriving in the Gibson’s basement, I could hear some unintelligible electronic gibberish interspersed with static coming from a Bill’s dad’s HAM radio.
“Don’t you guys tell me you don’t hear that?” Bill pointed at the radio.
“I hear it, but what is it?” I could tell by the look on his face that he was about to murder Bill for waking him up (it wasn’t late; Rick just goes to bed early).
“Tonight I got the wild idea of switching dad’s old radio on. After flipping channels, I came across this. At first, it didn’t sound like anything at all, just white noise. Then I started to listen a little more carefully; there was a pattern, maybe a code of some sort. Anyway, I managed to find the direction of the signal since I’m using a Yagi, which is a directional antenna, and was able to determine the exact location by employing the help of another HAM operator in Anniston. I managed to triangulate the source of the signal to a point within a mile of this house and the direction of the signal passes right through the Johnson’s place. “
“It almost reminds me of Sputnik in a way, in fact, I’m pretty sure that was the last time I remember you using this thing; maybe they’re talking to that ship of theirs. Shouldn’t we try to get a …” Suddenly, it stopped and the next few words out of Kelly’s mouth were none too pleasant, which would be a shock to most guys, but we were used to it at this point. Regaining her composure, she continued, “Well, there goes any chance of getting a recording.”
“All is not lost; I still have the frequency that I received the signal on. I’ll call Mr. Ayers office about it in the morning.”
Worth the wait! I can see all of this playing out in my head like a movie.
Upon returning home, I had the sudden, horrible realization that my homework was not done. Begrudgingly, I picked up my pencil and set back to work to defeat this blasted English class paper. I worked on through the night, finally defeating my haughty foe. I woke the next morning at sunrise, still seated at my desk, face down in a puddle of drool. However, all of my homework had been completed for another day, the one before Friday; so close, yet so far.
Right after the weekend is Monday you know? Great, you again. The one and only. You really need to see someone about talking to yourself like this. I wouldn’t need to if you just shut up or say something useful once and a while. What fun is that? By the way how’s that Martian lady friend of yours? I’m not even going to bother telling you what all’s wrong with that statement. You know, she probably looks like Chtulhu or something under that costume of hers for all you know. I don’t think I have enough evidence to support that… Come on man, the saucer, the way their hands felt, the eye thing, the deal with the river and Old Man Johnson... Did you just call him “Old Man Johnson” ? That’s beside the point, anyway, the evidence is there. But, there’s no proof they’re hostile at this point, and besides it seems like they want to be our frien… Les, Les, Les, they’re toying with you, its all part of some kind of asinine science experiment. You’re a hamster on a wheel to them. You asked me to say something useful once in a while and I’m saying it. Wake up Les; THEY’RE MONSTERS FROM ANOTHER WORLD, THEY’RE THE TERROR FROM SPACE!
I blinked and the next thing I knew, I was suddenly lying down, awake in my bed, and drenched in sweat. I ninja-rolled out of bed and looked in my backpack, everything in order and completed.
“Okay, that’s the last time I eat a bologna sandwich before bed,” I said out loud.
“Son, who were you talking to?” Dad had apparently heard all the commotion.
“I was having a bad dream.” I hope it had been a dream. It was all a dream, trust me on this.
Aside from the weirdness this morning, Thursday was actually the most normal day I’ve had in a while.
I love how this mixes funny and serious.
However, something completely unexpected happened Friday morning. Waiting for school to start, I was minding my own business when suddenly all six feet eight inches and three hundred and fifty pounds of Fungus Wilhite came slowly and deliberately lumbering toward me. I froze in terror as the behemoth came to a stop just two feet from where I stood.
“Wilkins!” he barked out. Was I about to die? “Well!?”
“G-good Morning Fungus.” I was still expecting to be crushed.
“Please, just call me Nathan. Also, I’d like to apologize. For everything. ” His voice had suddenly taken on a much less bellicose tone. I just stood there, trying to comprehend what was going on.
“I accept your apology, but Jack’s the one you almost gave brain damage to.”
“In due time, you just happened to be standing here close by and besides, you’re the first guy to ever stand up to me, and that , well, means a lot.”
“I’M NOT FINISHED! This week made me realize that after all these years of hurting people, I absolutely hate it, and I hate being Silversmith’s muscle. I only hung out with those guys because I knew them from the football team and wanted to fit in. I’ve spent whole life trying to ‘fit in.’ You know, I only did the whole ‘dumb guy’ routine because Dad didn’t want his son to be ‘some panty-waist academic.’ He wants me to take over his lumber company when he retires, in addition to taking over his position as an imperial wizard of the Klan. You know, the Bible says to honor your mother and father? Well, I have a problem with honoring anyone who takes pleasure in suppressing the rights and freedoms of others. He always tells me how the ‘Old South’ is going to rise again. The ‘Old South’ needs to die once and for all and I hate being named after the founder of such a hateful institution. By the way, I don’t think you guys are from Mars, I was still in character when all that went down.” For a moment, he got a bit misty eyed and but choked it back down. “You guys are alright, well, Kelly still gives me the willies, but other than that.”
“Hey, if you’re interested in coming, we’re all getting together tonight watch the satellite launch attempt.”
“I think I’ve heard of that. Yeah, I’ll be there, sounds awesome.”
“See you then, I'll give you direction to the place after school.” We both went our separate ways and headed off to class.
Well, that's good.
As Mr. Wiggins droned on about, well, nothing really, I could have sworn that I actually saw the clock move in reverse a time or two. To this day I believe that man may have very well had the power to freeze time and space. Suddenly, a familiar ringing put the class out of its misery and Mr. Wiggins let out an apathetic sigh “Class dismissed” as everyone filed out as if leaving a funeral. On the way out, I noticed a copy of the Huntsville times on Mr. Wiggin’s desk and the thought occurred that it might have some information regarding the object formerly in the river.
“Mr. Wiggins, may I borrow that newspaper?”
“heh?” Wiggins was nearing retirement and was a little hard of hearing. I spoke again, louder this time.
“May I borrow that newspaper?”
“Wha…? No, get your own! What do I look like, a newspaper stand? Get out of here!” Well, so much for that plan.
I rushed out the door to meet up with Jack and Kelly, who I had my second period class with. Walking toward them, I noticed Nathan headed that way as well. Jack and Kelly froze as the wall of meat stopped in front of them.
“Uh… Good morning, Fungus.” Kelly seemed puzzled at the sight of Nathan alone as bullies typically tend to hunt in packs.
“GOOD MORNING, AND PLEASE CALL ME NATHAN! Also, Jack I’d like to apologize for my actions Monday. I understand fully if you do not accept, as they were extremely out of line.”
“Well I suppose…” Jack seemed as confused as I was this morning.
“I AM NOT FINISHED! Also, I realize that you are not Martians, but I seriously wonder sometimes, uhh… no offense intended. The whole ‘dumb guy’ thing is just an act. However, I am also not very intelligent, but I’m trying.”
“I guess I accept…” Nathan grabbed Jack and squeezed him tight.
“Alright big guy, I can’t breathe.”
“Sorry. I also, realize that there are a lot more people who I owe an apology, but I have to start to somewhere.”
“So, Nathan what brought all of this on?” I thought that surely the incident Monday wasn’t all that was behind this.
“I don’t really want to talk about it. By the way, what time is the party tonight? ”
“The actual launch isn’t until 9:48, but the party itself starts at 7.”
“Wait, you invited him to the party tonight? This is my house we’re talking about!” Kelly seemed a bit shocked over the thought of Nathan in her home.
“I promise I’ll try to be good .”
“Can I hold you to that?”
“Yes, ma’am, you can.” Nathan seemed a bit uneasy as he walked away. “see you in fourth period.” Kelly shook her head in approval .
“He said he was afraid of you when I talked to him this morning.”
“I don’t know what causes it, but I seem to have that effect on guys.”
I suspect the party may not be entirely pleasant, if the other guests share Kelly's attitude.
Also, are you planning to do anymore with ItC?
I wrote more, I've just been too busy to post as I've been involved with writing projects elsewhere online. But now that you've asked, I can finish posting the story arc I had started.
The rest of the day passed glacially slow as my excitement grew with regards to the launches this weekend. At the same time I puzzled over what may have caused Nathan’s sudden change of heart and what the mysterious Johnson family truly was . My fourth period class, Current Events, was taught by a gentleman in his late 60’s named Mr. O’Conner. In his younger days he was lean, athletic, and clean shaven back when he coached track for the school. As he progressed in years, his facial hair and gut grew, lending him an appearance not unlike Santa Claus.
“Alright class, what’s going on in the world right now? More to the point, what’s happening tonight?” My hand shot up.
“Wilkins, you can’t answer.”
“Awww…” He knew how I was about space.
“Someone besides Wilkins?” Erica Hammond’s hand went up. Her dad was one of the higher-ups at Boeing and was a huge space and aviation geek in addition to being extremely quiet. We we’re somewhat friends, but I kept my distance since I didn’t want to make her boyfriend feel like I was encroaching on his territory.
“Harmon!” O’Connor always pronounced her name wrong.
“It’s Hammond, sir.”
“The Army Ballistic Missile Agency is going to try to launch the Explorer 1 satellite on a Jupiter C rocket, a modified Redstone Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile. This Is coming in the wake of the failure of the Navy’s Vanguard rocket and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1.”
“Very good Ms. Harmon.” Erica cringed. Suddenly, another hand went up belonging to Regina Wilhite. She was a very unpleasant and destructive individual, she was Nathan’s sister after all and had roughly the same build, just much shorter and not quite as much bulk; she was also bat guano insane. I braced myself.
“Sputnik was a hoax perpetrated by the Soviet Union to create panic in the United States.” To be fair, remove the words “a” and “hoax” she’d be right. “Any intelligent person knows that spaceflight is impossible,” she began spouting out “facts” to support her claim, “Furthermore, the efforts of the US are also just an effort to fool the masses. In George Orwe…”
“That’s quite enough Ms. Wilhite.” Erica and I briefly made and eye contact and shook our heads. Regina sat at her desk and smirked for the rest of class.
Last edited by Gemini; 2011-Sep-02 at 01:28 AM.
The funny thing is that, that has been me in many of my social studies and science classes. (Also, you forgot "a".)
Okay, got that fixed for you.
Thinking back to two summers ago, I felt sorry for Erica, Kelly, and some girl from out of state named Victoria Rowe (her brother was a North Korean MiG-15 pilot who had defected during the war) who had the extreme displeasure of rooming with Regina at camp. While there, she would talk constantly of how the universe is actually a flat plane and that she practiced witchcraft and spoke with the ghosts that inhibited the Wilhite’s antebellum mansion. This would have been tolerable had it not been for the fact she could often be overheard at the odd hours of the night performing strange (and loud) rituals in her room. Kelly finally, and angrily, confronted Regina on the last day of camp and explaining just how wrong she was about, well, everything. From then on, they were pretty much enemies. From then until Christmas break that year, Regina tried to make Kelly’s life as miserable as possible up until Kelly caught Regina keying her brand new, blue ’57 Thunderbird, which was the final straw. As if Regina knew I was thinking about her, she turned towards me right in the middle of Mr. O’Conner’s lecture on the upcoming presidential election.
“Lester, you associate with the intruders, do you not? These are the demons that have entered our world to bring about its destruction. ” Okay, how do I respond to this? (Do I respond to this?)
“Um, Excuse me?”
“You don’t know? Just last week, they arrived through a portal in the heavens, yet you are around them as if they were human beings, fully unaware of their true nature. They’re not people; they are monsters in a human form. I’ve seen this before, they’re not the first,” she paused for a moment due to the ringing of the bell, “and certainly not the last. You have been warned.”
“Why are you telling me this, you know I’m friends…”
“Yes, I do, but now that the demons are here, we would do well to put our differences aside. We are all equals now. ”
I sat my desk for a few minutes trying to parse what I had just heard; This is the first she had spoken to me at length. I gathered up my notebooks and headed for the door. Turning a corner, I met up with Bill.
“Hey, guess who just blew off a philosophy paper and slept through Biology?”
“You got it!” He noticed Nathan approaching the two of us. “Oh, hello Fungus, eat any good books lately?” Bill, being of short stature, considered it his civic duty to antagonize those larger than himself, which included going to football games and holding signs that read “I’m with stupid” over the rival team (he's no longer allowed at said football games). Nathan lurched toward us with determination and spite.
“Ok, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“You’d do well to do so, otherwise I’d have to whip out my disintegrated ray and…” Suddenly, Nathan grabbed him by the shoulders and pinned to the wall.
“You know, there’s a word for guys like you, and it starts with…”
“Hey guys, cut it out! Nathan’s on our side now.”
“Wait, what, really? When did this happen?” Nathan loosened his grip on Bill.
“Oh, by the way Les, my sister said she spoke to you earlier. Though she is nuttier than a fruitcake, there was a minute kernel of truth to what she said.” Bill cringed. “I have some explaining to do…” He then eyeballed Jack on his way into Mrs. Willard’s class. “ …later.”
Last edited by Gemini; 2011-Dec-19 at 10:53 AM.
Worst roommate ever.
During class, I noticed Nathan was still sitting with his usual group of cronies.
“Hey, Les, are you really sure that Nathan has changed? He’s still pretty chummy with those guys. How do we know we can trust him.”
“Bill, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that Nathan could easily destroy us- he’s trained his whole life more or less to basically be a human battle tank - and he isn’t afraid of the repercussions. We really have no choice. Furthermore, he may seem dumb; however feel he may be a lot smarter than he lets on.”
“Yeah, how do you figure?”
“Well he did use the phrase ‘minute kernel of truth’.”
“Yeah, that was a little odd.”
“Hey guys, what’s going on?”
“Oh hey Jackie, we’re discussing Nathan and his sudden change of heart.”
“The guy who tried to give your brother brain damage with his class ring.”
“Oh, right. Seriously? ”
“Yeah, he’s apparently very sorry and feels just awful about the whole ordeal.”
“Really? That’s a shock.”
“I know right?”
“Excuse me is there something the two of you would like to share with the class?” I turned to see Mrs. Willard’s laser-like stare flashing over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses and burning a hole in the wall behind us.
“Yes actually, we we’re just discussing the significance of…” Jackie blanked.
“… Beowulf’s rise from being a weakling to the super human that he would eventually become.” I breathed a sigh of relief. That was close.
“Very nice. Also, I would be more than happy to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from you.” I told you she wouldn’t buy it. Well, it was worth a shot. I looked over at Jackie and she shrugged innocently, as if to say “Sorry, I tried.” As Mrs. Willard continued her lecture, I only half listened as I scrawled out a plan for a new launch stand, since the tree stump obviously not going to work. It was basically a slab of wood with three holes for 3/16” steel rods that would guide the rocket during the first few seconds of ascent. I could pick up the rods at Harrison Brothers Hardware store on the way home and finish the rest tonight in Mr. Morris’ basement which also served as our rocket lab.
Following class, I met my friends under the awning in front of the school, towering over them was Nathan.
“Hi guys, how’s it going?”
“Well, I found out I bombed my last math test.” Kelly seemed extremely irritated. “Yeah, I made an A-.” Everyone turned to look at here as if to say “Seriously?”
“So, guys…and girls, sorry, I forget we have more than one now, anybody hear anything else on the whole UFO business lately?” I quickly glanced at glance at Jack and Jackie, no reaction. They have great poker faces if you ask me. Yeah, well I didn’t, so quiet, you.
“Yeah, last I heard there were some strange lights seen over Lake Guntersville, but that’s about it. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same one we saw, or that there are several saucers. It seems kind of peculiar that these things would visit this part of the country, I mean, aside from Redstone and Oak Ridge, what else is out here?”
“Well, Rick, part of it could be that this is a rural part of the country and they could move around with a relative ease without being spotted where there are fewer people. What people that did spot them would most likely be written off as a bunch of uneducated rednecks as opposed to say a heavily populated city like New York, or… Vancouver. ” Jackie’s logic was suspiciously spot on.
“Thing is it came in a major city where they could have been seen by hundreds of people. Why do think you they did that?” Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a silver Chevy with a grey-suited, bespectacled driver pulling up to the curb.
“Love to talk more, but our dad’s here.” Jackie gave a friendly wave as she departed. “ Bye everybody.” That was oddly convenient. I thought we were playing the quiet game. I play to lose.
“Jack sure doesn’t talk much,” Kelly absentmindedly spoke, “nice enough guy though.”
When Nathan chimed, no one would have anticipated what he said next.
“Now that they’re gone, you guys remember how I said that there is some truth to what my sister says?”
The other four of us nodded.
“Yeah, well, during a bad storm ‘round ten years ago, my sister and I were arguing over some sort of insignificant thing in the den. Right before mama was about to break us up, there was a huge ruckus outside. It sounded like, I don’t know, a semi truck crashing into a mountainside. Anyway, we all run outside to see the source of the noise, daddy came in behind us with his double-barrel. Up in the sky was this big thing, ‘bout 50 or so feet across looked like a pie plate maybe, heading to the east and trailing smoke pretty badly.
As it fell, something came of off it, popped out a parachute, and fell for while before crashing into the shed. As we got closer to it, it was a big silver ball, about big enough for a man to fit in. Suddenly, a hatch swung open on it and daddy closed the breach on his gun. There was a man inside; or at least it looked like one, but not really, and was wearing a silver suit of some kind. Of course at this point I was terrified, I had never seen anything like this in my life, especially at tender age of eight. My sister was about six at the time, she always been the smart one; that’s why she’s in the same grade as us. Crazy, but good at school stuff. Anyway, at first we thought it was dead, until it started moving. I watched with rapt attention as the thing got out of its pod. A sudden gunshot and the torso of the thing partly exploding brought me back to the real world. Daddy stood there shaking, with his gun still smoking in his hand.
He shook his head as he opened the breach on his shotgun. We all just stood there, stunned with disbelief. Shortly afterward, I heard the sound of police sirens; naturally, we all briefly turned to look. When I turned my head back, the person in the pod was gone. Along with the local cops were some men from the FBI were questioning daddy and mama about what they had seen and for the next few hours I could hear hound dogs baying off in the distance, probably searching for our mystery man. As far as I know, they never found him, though I didn’t think he could have gotten far with an injury like that. Freaked Regina right out, she being so young and all, addled her brain. I don’t know where she gets some of her stuff though, probably from those old hardback Southern Gothic horror novels mama got a at yardsale years ago to decorate the bookcase.
The reason I tell you this is that the man in the pod had that same sort of pale, glassy-eyed sort of look as those Canadian friends of yours. I first noticed it when I had Jack up by the collar and something about him just didn’t look right. When all that business started about flyin’ saucers in the river, well, all I could think of was that day back in ’47 and that maybe somebody was looking for some revenge.”
Making my way home, I briefly ventured downtown to visit Harrison Brother’s Hardware. The store, due to its owners ignoring modern merchandising, looked like a relic from the turn of the century and was also the go-to place for obscure hardware. In spite of some archaic ways, their selection was well laid out and I got what I needed with no problem.
“Lester Wilkins, what brings you here on this fine afternoon?”
“Rocket stuff, Mr. Harrison.”
“I figured as much. How many times have I told you to call me Danny?”
“What going on? What’s eatin’ ya?” Danny Harrison was happy to be talking to somebody. Normally people went to the larger department stores to do their hardware shopping.
“You hear about the thing in the river earlier this week?”
“Bits and pieces mostly, what does it have to do with you?”
“A lot, I’m afraid. I don’t want to talk about it right now. However, we are doing our rocket launch tomorrow if you’re interested.”
“You think it’s gonna work this time?”
“I hope so.”
“Y’all still at Gunderson farm?”
“I may have to check that out.”
“Well, I need to be going. See you later Danny!”
“Till we meet again Mr. Wilkins!” Wait, what?
Even though the party wasn’t until 7, I went on over to the Morris’ house to work on the launch stand; Melvin’s well-stocked basement workshop was a welcome boon to our rocket efforts. I was a regular over there, so I didn’t bother knocking, I just walked in the front door. The Morris’s living room was typical enough, however where most people have a large family portrait or landscape painting, the Morris living room was a large reproduction of a Chesley Bonestell painting featuring spaceships in Mars orbit. Despite his graying and spectacle, he was still a kid inside and his wife Leanna didn’t mind, she had her own pleasant eccentricities. Kelly used to be somewhat embarrassed of her family, but she eventually had to face the fact she was a nerd as well, though her area of interest was in psychology; the math thing was just a hobby. I was just about to enter the basement when Mr. Morris suddenly appeared.
“Hey Les, give me a hand with this will you?” He was carrying a large, white piece of folded canvas.
“Um, alright, hang on a second.” I put my sack of materials on the coffee table and followed him back out the front door. He started to unfolded the thing and handed me a corner with a strap attached.
“Here, just tie that off to that rafter over there.” I was still a little puzzled over what was going on. As I tied off my end, he did the same, except on a step ladder ( he said I was tall enough not to need one).
“Okay, what was the purpose of all…” walking into the lawn, I finally got a look at the fruit of our efforts. “Oh wow, that’s just, wow, ha ha ha… ” It was huge banner that read “GO ARMY-BEAT NAVY!” with a drawing of the Jupiter C launching on the Army side and a cartoon explosion on the Navy side. The latter was an obvious reference to the failed Vanguard launch.
“What do you think?”
I just shook my head, laughed, and headed back to the basement. Like many of the “old guys “from HSFS, Mel was an Army combat veteran in addition to a rocket scientist (well, rocket engineer). Not only was he eager to see America prove it can launch satellites, but also that the Army was better than the Navy at space.
Ha, that's pretty funny with the poster!
I walked back into the house, once again with a resolve to work on the launch stand. Just about to reach the basement door, I heard a familiar voice from behind. “Hey Les…” Startled, I quickly looked around to see Kelly walking in the door behind me. “So earlier when we were talking to Nathan, you walked off, like you usually do.”
“Sorry, I have a habit of…”
“I know you do, anyway, after the incident Monday, Silversmith’s group has pretty much abandoned him. “
“No, not awesome, first of all, this has been brewing for a while and this has nothing to do with anything you did.”
“He’s blaming you, though.”
“You’re a convenient scapegoat.”
“The party’s not till 7, what are you doing here so early?”
“Working on a launch stand.”
“Oh, good, it’ll be nice to launch off of something that isn’t a tree stump.”
“Oh yes, definitely. This stand is still pretty Spartan though.”
“Still better than a tree stump. “
“You make a valid point.”
We made our way into the basement and I set work by first selecting a good sized wooden plank.
“Ah, just my luck I’d pull out cedar wood.” I sniffed it heartily, savoring the aroma.
“Hey put that back, dad doesn’t like you using his cedar!”
“I was just taking it out to smell it.”
“Aw come on, you look me in the eye and tell me that stuff doesn’t smell amazing.”
“It smells awful, I don’t know why dad likes that stuff.”
“A chacun son gout.”
“I didn’t know you knew French.”
“ Les, now what are you doing?”
“Searching for old paint cans.” I was digging through one of the trash cans like a hungry raccoon. I often liked to brag I was an Olympic-class dumpster diver.
“I’m going to build a flame deflector to divert the rocket exhaust gasses away from the rocket.”
“That could be useful.”Suddenly, I heard the front door loudly creak open. From upstairs, I could hear Mr. Morris yelling angrily at someone through the floorboards.
“… and if you’re here to cause trouble, I will call the police. I don’t care how powerful your father is, no one above the law! You’re sister...” Nathan was here and rather early as well.
“Mr. Morris I was invited, I’m not here to cause trouble. So please put the sword down… “ Mr. Morris collected swords, go figure.
Hearing the drama upstairs, I turned to Kelly.
“You did tell, him didn’t you?”
“Les, I’ll handle this.” Kelly rushed up stairs.
“Dad, it’s ok he’s telling the truth; he was invited. So please, Lady Vivian will not be needed.” He also names his swords; Lady Vivian was rather vicious looking as I recall. Assuming that Kelly had it under control , I resumed my work, using a drill press to cut the holes needed for guidance rods. In between drillings, I could make out occasional bits of conversation.
“…Mr. Morris, I promise I won’t break anything.”
“ Fine, come in, but keep in mind that I’m watching you.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
In short order, the rest arrived, joining me in the basement. Just before 7:00pm, a strange, yet eerily familiar noise began emanating from upstairs.
Heading up stairs, I noticed that the source of the odd sound was a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Huddled around it were Saul Gunderson, Mr. Morris, Doc Clemmons, his brother Pete, and his nephew Chuck. The latter were part of Doc Clemmon’s “Neighborhood Watch” program, which was organized for the detection, investigation, and eventual repulsion of extraterrestrial threats. The man may have been a little off, but he was an absolute technical genius, which he showcased in his “Missiles n’ Moonshine” articles that he wrote for National Geographic.
“I don’t get it, it just sounds like radio noise. Probably interference from someone’s TV set.” Saul was incredulous over the idea this was something significant. Suddenly a light turned in Rick’s head, and he spoke up.
“Hey Bill, is it just me, or does that sound a lot like what you were picking up on your radio?”
“It sounds exactly like what we were picking up.”
“Odd question, uh Bill, odd question, is your HAM call sign W4ARP?”
“Yes I am actually, wait, are you W4RCR?”
“I remember you, you were the other operator Wednesday night. We were able to triangulate the signals; there’s a transmitter not far from here that the signals are coming from.”
“One more thing,” Doc Clemmons interjected, “Check this out.” He produced a low-resolution photo of something that looked like a big metal gantry floating in space. “Last Wednesday, me and Chuck spotted a really bright object passing over town. First we thought it might be one of the Sputnik satellites. Thing is, it was in the wrong orbit, according to the ephemeris the guys at the Arsenal come up with, neither satellite was making a pass that night. Plus this thing was way too bright. Anyway, we did some calculations to get the orbital properties of it and used the motorized telescope with the camera attachment that we built to shoot photos of Soviet satellites. “
“Aw man, I remember that article, that was awesome!” Rick was starting to geek out.
“Glad you liked it, anyway, as I was saying, we got some pictures of it during another flyover and this was one of them. I don’t think it’s coincidence this thing showed up right around the time all the UFO sightings started up in town. I’m going to come right out and say this: it’s aliens, gotta be. No human nation has this kind of capability. Normally, you guys would just roll your eyes at me like usual, but I know that s bunch a’ you were there in the clearing that night when the ship landed, so was I. I was leading up the science team that had been sent out. By the way, who are they? “ He gestured over Jack and Jackie.
Jack was about to speak up when Kelly intervened, “They’re some friends of ours from school.”
“Well, I figured. Reason I ask is that I didn’t recognize you two from the club meetings. I’m Neil Clemmons. Sorry if I’ve weirded y’all out a bit.
“No worries , I’m Jaclyn Johnson, you can call me Jackie if you like.” Her left index finger was twitching slightly.”
“I’m her twin brother, Jack.”
“Good to meetchall!” Doc Clemmons' folksy charm was legendary.
Hmmm... now we're finding out more.
And the whole sword part made me laugh.
“Yeah, I don’t believe we’ve all met.” Tom Clark downed an entire dinner roll in one go. "I believe this calls for a formal introduction!” After an introductory spiel by Jack and Jackie, Tom began to speak again. “Canadians. They look like us, they sound like, and for the most part act like us. It’s almost like they’re up to something, you know?” An awkward silence followed by laughter.
“We’re just messing with you guys. Shoot, my family’s from Canada!” Dave smacked Jack on the back. “Lighten up guys, it’s a party!”
Idle conversations continued for a little while longer. Martin and Rick got into a heated argument over spaceflight being taken over by the private sector in the future while Doc Clemmons, Pete and Walter discussed rocket propellants. Across the room Ray, Ed, and Nathan got caught up on football,
I headed back the kitchen, where the older women had all congregated, for more food. Passing the basement door, I heard rustlings.
“Must be some big rats down there, “ Anne Fontaine mused.
“Sounds more like squirrels.”
“You think so, Leanna?”
“I should really get Mel to set some traps down there.”
I put my ear to the door. Suddenly, I could make out a couple of human voices, hushed and agitated. No squirrels, but definitely a filthy, pretentious rat: Marlon Silversmith (and some other guy I didn’t recognize).
“Pipe down idiot, they’re gonna hear us!”
“Well, I thought we were gonna wreck up the place. We haven’t done any wrecking yet!” The other voice was high pitched, nasally, and whiny.
“For last time, SHUT UP!”
“Sorry boss.” This was preceded by a barely audible slap.
Suddenly, the floor shook as Nathan returned to the kitchen for seconds.
“What was that? Do they have an elephant up there? Hey, I found some rocket stuff.” There was a crash. Though this wouldn’t delay tomorrow’s launch, that rocket was out at Walter’s for fueling. However, things had just gotten personal.
“Nathan, Ol’ buddy. Could you do me a favor? ” I whispered .
“Go around to the back of the house and watch the basement door, Silversmith and some other idiot broke in and I don’t want him breaking back out again until the cops get here, please?” I wasn’t worried about them getting out the other way. Many of the old guys from the club were ex-military and would make short work of a guy like Silversmith.
“Sure thing, this sounds fun.”
There was another crash, this one a little more metallic. Some of the other guests seemed like they noticed it too.
“Porter, for the last time be quiet! This isn’t going to work if we make a lot of racket. I knew I shouldn’t have let you come.”
Apparently, they were using the party to distract us from their shenanigans. A good plan, but this “Porter” person had thrown a huge monkey into his plan.
“Les, what are you doing? Is there something wrong?”
“Oh,” I backed away from the basement door, “Silversmith and some idiot broke into the basement and is attempting to wreck our rocket stuff. “
“Shouldn’t you call the police?”
“I’m doing that right now, actually. Don’t worry though, I’ve got them hemmed up, they’re not going anywhere. Could you please be a dear and guard the door and make sure no one comes in for me?”
“Excuse me?” She gave me a pseudo evil eye.
I just gave her a lighthearted laugh, patted her on the back and walked over to the phone. From there I could see here smirk. Discreetly, I phoned the local police.
“You’re taking this awfully well.”
“Worst case scenario, Mr. Morris gets new shop equipment, I’m pretty sure all of that stuff is insured. Plus, this may be the first break-in Silversmith hasn’t got away with.”
“Well, let’s hope it is, on both counts.”
From outside came the familiar wail of police sirens and flashing blue lights filled the window. Over the uproar from the police, I heard Silversmith’s panicked voice yell out, “What are you doing here, butthead!?” as a uniformed officer banged on the door. Mr. Morris got up to answer it.
“Hello, is this the Morris resident? “
“Yes sir, are we being too loud?”
“No sir, we have reports of a break-in progress.”
“Excuse me? “
“In here, officer.” I motioned to the basement door as Jackie stood aside. Two more cops followed him in. Right as one of them opened the door, Nathan walked out with Porter ( I presume) under one tree trunk-esque arm and Silversmith under the other . “Good work, Mr. Wilhite!” Nathan let the two of them drop in the kitchen floor.
“Mrs. Morris, I think you have bigger problems than squirrels.”
“Max Porter, what are you doing in my house, you little creep?”
“Oh, hey Kelly.” He gave her a toothy grin. “I lov…
“GET HIM OUT OF HERE!” Kelly cut him off before he could finish. Porter looked a little dejected.
Suddenly, the two ne’er-do-wells attempted to make a run for the door but were quickly grabbed by the cops, handcuffed, and moved to the squad car.
“Nathan,I believe I owe you an apology for the way I treated you earlier.” Mr. Morris had a shamed look on his face.
“It’s not a problem sir. Trust me; your misgivings were well justified.”
Shortly afterward, I rallied everyone to the basement to assess the damage. All of the rocket bodies were scattered all over the floor, but appeared undamaged. The other equipment looked relatively undamaged.
“Kelly, odd question, but how do you know that Porter guy? “ Bill asked.
“Max Porter? That little freak freshman has been stalking me all year.”
“Why was he hanging around with …”
“I… don’t… know…”
Back up stairs, the party got back underway until Mr. Morris made an announcement.
“Attention everyone, for everyone that doesn’t know, the launch is not being broadcast live on TV…” There was a collective silence and my heart sank for a moment. ..”However, one of the local radio stations has a crew in Cape Canaveral covering the launch, so we’ll have audio, but no video.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
We sat with rapt attention huddled around the Morris’ clunky old stereo, listening to the chatter of the blockhouse control team intermingled with commentary of the local news anchor.
Not much longer now…
Just a moment, I’m hearing word that the number 2 control vane is deflected, however, they’re launching anyway… X-10, 9,
My heart felt like it was going to leap into my throat
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
Why haven’t they launched yet? This looks bad.
Firing Command? Shouldn’t they have done that already?
X+1, 2, 3, 4…
Count *up*? That’s a new one.
And there we have it folks…Blast Off! Explorer 1 is in the air! Oh, it’s a beautiful sight! The sound is just getting here, that roar is tremendous, even at this distance!
The commentator stopped talking for a moment while ground control continued to speak. The silence remained in the room a little while longer.
We’ve done it! Explorer 1 is in orbit!
The room erupted in cheers and applause. I noticed Mr. Morris fiddling with stereo’s turntable and The Stars and Stripes Forever exploded from its speakers. Off the distance, there was a loud bang, followed by another, and yet another. I rushed over to the window to see fireworks. Someone had apparently had a bunch left over from New Year’s Eve. Looking over at Martin, I could have sworn I saw him wiping a tear; I was a little misty-eyed myself.
In the excitement, I turned to look at the Bonestell painting in the back of the room and smiled. Perhaps, after not too much longer, that’ll be reality. I thought back to closing monologue of the Disney “Man in Space” special from a few years back:
Man has taken his first stride forward in the conquest of space! His next goal will be the exploration of the Moon, then the planets, and then the infinite universe beyond!
Very, very good.
Coming off cloud nine, I started to think about our launch tomorrow. As far as I knew, everything was in order: Walter had the propellant (“fueling” would occur just prior to launch); the rockets and launch pad were all down stairs, and the ignition system was safe at Rick’s house. Everything was “GO” for launch.
Everyone stayed around for a little while after the launch, mainly so the older folks would be sober enough to drive home. Mrs. Morris seemed a little tipsy; thankfully, she had not been drinking near as much as she had at Christmas- no one got dinner rolls chucked at them this time. I chuckled quietly to myself at the thought of dodging flying baked goods again. Suddenly, something yellow and delicious-smelling whizzed past my face. Jackie, who was sitting next to me on the couch, had apparently managed to catch it and was staring at it in her hand, startled. Bill, who was on the recliner, just sighed. In the kitchen, I looked over to see an embarrassed-looking Kelly snatching up the wire basket full of rolls from mother.
“Mom, I’m not letting you repeat Christmas.”
“ Party pooper.”
Getting up to use the restroom, I noticed something moving outside. I smiled as I saw the moon-light silhouetted figures of the elderly couple, who lived next door to the Morris family, gently waltzing in the street. Putting my ear to the glass portion of the door, I swore I could make out Strauss’ “Blue Danube.” I watched them for a little while before returning to the business at hand.
Performing an about face from the door, I almost ran into Nathan.
“Hey, thanks for inviting me to this thing tonight, I had fun. I’m really sorry about the whole business with Silversmith and what’s-his-name. “
“It’s not your fault.”
“Well, I probably had a part in provoking it.”
“Don’t worry about it. Besides, those guys may finally get what’s coming to them.”
“Well, I’ve got to leave.”
“Well, before you go, we’re flying our rocket tomorrow at 9, but we’re meeting here at 8. You interested? I feel like I owe you one. “
“Sure, I guess.”
“Surely we can fit couple more people in Bill’s hearse.”
I suddenly realized that he caught the middle of urgent business and made for the head (Pardon the Naval parlance).
After the rest of my group had begun to file out, I was standing on the lawn, the water vapor in my breath intermingling with the stars. Suddenly, there was bright light, making a slow and deliberate eastward motion, far too bright to be a man-made satellite. Suddenly, I noticed a few others had joined me.
“What is that?” Rick remarked.
“You don’t supposed that’s the thing that Clemmons guy was talking about?” When Jack said this, I twitched.
“It could very well be,” Jackie’s reply made me twitch again and Walter’s eyebrow rose ever so slightly, “it’s certainly strange looking, whatever it is. Odd duck, that ‘Doc’ fellow. Well, good night everyone! Thanks for the invite; we had a great time!” Jack nodded in agreement and the two of them left. I said my farewells and joined them.
“Glad you two could make it tonight.”
“Glad to come, it was quite entertaining. “
“Yeah, sorry about Kelly’s mom, she does that sometimes.”
“I thought it was quite hilarious; a bit startling though. I was amazed at how that one guy could talk about such advanced concepts while at the same time sounding like a backwoods illiterate.” She was referring to Doc Clemmons.
“Yeah, he’s quite a character. In fact, just about everyone has some sort of interesting personality quirks.” He actually is a character in a few of his early novels. “You missed Mr. Morris brandishing a sword at Nathan earlier.”
“Well, see you tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll get some sleep tonight.”
“You better, you’re gonna need it.” She grinned playfully.
I laughed at the dinner rolls bit.