Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Area 51 and the Dead Cow in the Middle of the Road

And, another story I'd forgotten I'd written.


Area 51 and the Dead Cow in the Middle of the Road
By Marcy Green



I

Wanna hear a story? I know what you're thinking. If some old coot in a hole-in-the-wall bar out in the middle of nowhere -- in the middle of the desert of Nevada, no less -- asks you if you want to hear a story, then maybe you'd just better say 'no' and leave it at that. I wouldn't blame you. But, I got a great story to tell -- well, maybe 'great' ain't the word, but it's pretty good at the least -- and if you buy me a beer...or two, I'll tell it. Now, wait. Before you answer -- I know what you're thinking. Well, prolly I do. You're thinking, 'What kind of story would this scraggly old geezer have to tell'? I know, I know. You figure it wouldn't have a kernel of truth and be filled with all kind of exaggerating and maybe even some hyperbole -- but, you'd be wrong. In fact, I can prove what I have to say is true. Well, pretty much prove it -- I guess 'proof' can be faked, everybody knows that. But, I promise you this: if you buy me a beer I'll tell you one entertaining story and -- I'll be able to show you proof that what I told you is true. Whether you believe the proof, well, that's up to you. Welp, that's my offer. Take me up on it? Wait! -- I'll set things up better so they got more structure. You buy me a beer, just one beer, and I'll tell you the first part of the story, and if you don't think it's worth another beer to hear more, welp, that'll be that. If you do, you can buy another round and I'll tell you more. Like that, till the end. That way you're not in too deep up front -- won't feel too scammed if my story's a dud. Deal? Alrighty, sir! That's just fine. Yep! Just fine! Lemme call the bartender on over here. Two beers right here if you would, kind sir!


Thank you! Mmm...good suds. Mmm... I surely love a nice cold beer on a hot evening like this one is. I thank you much. Mmm... I'll get right to my story. You like spooky stories? Yeah? Good, cause this one's kinda spooky -- not in a, whatta you call, bloody slasher kinda way -- this is more of a psychological, creepy story -- plays with your mind. But, still fun though, like a good old-fashioned horror movie. Like them old movies we used to see as kids, you know. Although, there are some elements of gore in it, I'm warning you. Hope that don't bother you. No? Well, all right then. Mmm...good beer.


This here is a story about the incident. 'The Incident' me and Joe call it -- Joe, that's the guy the incident happened to -- he's the one who the story's about. Not me. Happened to a fella named Joe. Joe first told me this story a few years back and I remember like it was yesterday. (He told me a hundred times if he told me once). Anyway, this story is about what me and Joe refer to as 'The Incident'. Happened out in the desert, just a short distance from where we are right now. Happened right next to that secret base in the desert the government has -- you know? Area 51. I see you've heard of it. Most folks have. Most folk don't put no stock in all them stories about Area 51 that you're always hearing, like how they got all them spaceships stored out there, and them autopsies they supposedly done on them aliens -- little green men from outer space. Well, I ain't saying any of them stories is true and I ain't saying they ain't true, I'm just saying that's where this incident, this here story, took place -- out there by Area 51, and, that it might possibly, just might, have something to do with the events that transpired.


Well, the incident in question happened on a hot day -- like most are in the desert, I guess. Joe was out splitting blacktop -- that's what we call it when you paint the lines -- those broken white, or sometimes yellow, lines? -- down the middle of the road. That's what Joe was doing that day -- same thing he'd been doing for, oh, how long has it been? Forty years...no, forty-five, at least. Lord, is that how long I've known ole Joe? Guess so. That's a long time. We've been best friends all that time, too. Good friends -- people say they was 'best' friends but they don't really mean it, but me and Joe was. Hasn't been a time when we weren't. I was a year behind Joe in high school. He was a pretty good fellow back then -- well, I mean he hadn't got all angry at everything back then like he would later on -- you'll see what I mean once I get going with this story. Anyway, Joe was normal back in high school. Regular. Not too smart, not too dumb. Regular, like me. Happy.


Anyway, back then, like I said, Joe was a pretty happy guy. See, he had been dating this girl, Delores...can't remember her last name. But, don't matter. Him and Delores were the classic high school sweethearts -- the kind of couple they write songs about -- and they planned to get married right after graduation and start a family. They even got engaged -- most kids don't bother with that -- in fact they tend to keep it a secret till it's too late to stop them. You know what I mean. Anyway, Joe just seemed pretty comfortable in his own skin -- easy-going -- back then while he and Delores were a going concern. Makes sense -- she was a pretty girl -- one of the prettiest at our school. Why shouldn't Joe enjoy dating a girl like that? Why shouldn't he like to be seen with her? You'd see 'em coming down the hall, her arm in the crook of his elbow, holding on to him, and him walking tall trying not to smile real big like a fool, you just knew they was good for each other and Joe was as proud as a man could be. People would sorta move out of the happy couple's way when they walked past, so they could stay side by side like that, pretty as a picture.


Well, that was when they was together. When Joe was by himself he was sorta cocky about dating such a pretty girl, and being engaged. He didn't just walk tall, he kinda strutted everywhere he went. Rubbed some of the other fellas the wrong way, and, after a while those guys would shoot Joe a narrow look when they passed him in the hall. Well, sure enough, between those fellas felling like Joe was being arrogant about dating Delores and Joe's somewhat uppity nature -- one day there was a fight. Not one of them shoving matches like what you see mostly in high school -- you know, where the kids get all red-faced challenging each other and use cuss words that don't really come natural to them yet. This was a real fight -- punches were thrown. Joe lost one of his front teeth. Made him look kinda slow. He always hated that. He had the sort of face that, well, it didn't look too academic to start with, if you know what i mean, and that missing front tooth sure didn't make Joe look any smarter.


Anyway, things were different between Joe and Delores after that. They just didn't have that spark. You could see it. Some of us sorta could tell what was coming, and, sure enough, a coupla months after the fight Delores broke off the engagement and stopped seeing Joe. Well, he wasn't the same after that. He sorta dragged his feet and kept his eyes down, and when he walked past you in the hall he'd keep real close to the edge of the hall, right next to the lockers, and he'd pass you right by without saying a word. I guess that's when ole Joe first started carrying a chip on his shoulder. (It stayed there his whole life -- up until the incident that is. After that he was a pretty happy fella once again. I'll get to that momentarily, though).


Anyway, after Delores broke up with him, Joe up and quit high school. Said he didn't believe in it no more. Said 'Spending your day earning a wage beat the hell out of sitting in a dumb class any day'. That's what he'd say. Every chance he got. But, I knew it was because the break up. I knew he couldn't stand going to that school no more, what with being whupped in a fight and losing his girl. Everybody did. Just too much for a man's pride to bear -- especially at that age. Yeah, we all knew.


After he dropped outta high school Joe went to work at this local burger joint. Small place that was owned by a friend of Joe's dad -- that's really the only reason he got hired. Joe worked there a coupla years, hating every minute of it. Used to try and hide in the back when me and some of our pals came by on a Friday night. Sometimes we'd talk to him through the little hole in the window where you placed your orders, tell a few stupid jokes, yammer on, trying to let him know we was still friends. Later after he'd get off work we'd meet up someplace, usually out in somebody's field, and have us a few beers and smoke some cigarettes. Talk shit. You know, normal stuff.


I graduated and got a job at the DOT -- Department of Transportation -- and was able to get Joe on at the Division of Highways. He was glad he could stop flipping those burgers, I'll tell you. Took to his new job pretty well. He had a truck and spent all day out fixing traffic lights or them lights at railroad crossings. He'd change the bulbs or other such work. Sometimes, he'd adjust the timing settings for the lights at intersections according to what some traffic engineer had figured out -- so the traffic would flow right. Joe loved it cause it was 'real work' and it wasn't in an office or, heaven forbid, a burger flipping grill, where the boss was always looking over your shoulder. Joe says, 'They're just waiting for you to screw up so they can ream you'. That was his attitude back then. Defensive. Guess I can't blame him.


Mmm...good beer. Welp, ole Joe was doing fine. Had become pretty much a go-to guy the Division of Highways -- got sent all over this part of Nevada. Pay was good, especially for a single guy that lived the way Joe did -- simple. He bought himself a place out in the desert where property's real cheap. He saved up a lot of money, too. Didn't have nothing to spend it on. Didn't date, not hardly. About all he spent money on was his TV -- regular at first, back in the day with rabbit ears and all, then cable, then what you call high definition plasma. That, and and a constant supply of tall cans of Budweiser. That's all he spent his money on. Like I said, 'simple'.


Well, just when it looked like Joe might be getting on the right track he suffers a set-back. Got caught driving on the job with a open container. Now, I knew Joe would keep a few beers in his pack up under the seat but, hell, I figured he'd never be so stupid as to drink one while driving. I mean, I thought he was downing a couple with lunch, maybe on a break. Not that that would make it right, I suppose. But, what was I supposed to do? Turn him in? Hell no! Anyway, Joe's headed out to this interstate interchange to install one of them traffic monitors -- you know? The kind with that tubing that lays across the road and counts every time a car goes by? Yeah, those. Welp. Joe's headed out and misses a stop sign while making a right turn. Dumb. Cop pulls him over. Just doing his job, really. Yep...cop smelled the beer, and all that cop had to do was crane his neck a little and he saw that beer can wedged in between Joe's hip and the center console.


Well, luckily, Joe only had the one beer -- he had drunk the other two with lunch, but that had been a few hours earlier. And, that's what saved him. He'd thrown those two cans out and had just cracked the one he had left -- was a Friday afternoon and he wanted to get started on the weekend before returning his truck at five, which was just about half an hour or so. Can't blame him, I guess -- I get me an early start right around five or so, but it don't matter whether it's Friday cause I been retired for some time! Mmm...


Anyway, Joe passes the, what are they called? Those tests? The Field sobriety test. That's right. He passed it -- easy. Said it weren't nothing. Nothing at all. All that leaning back and touching the tip of your finger to the tip of your nose, and whatnot. Hell, Joe prolly coulda passed one of them after four, maybe even five tall Buds -- he's built up a immunity of sorts to alcohol over the years. Guess I have, too, come to think of it -- truth be told. So, Joe -- he passed the test so the cop couldn't write him up for no DUI, especially since Joe had just cracked that last tall boy and there weren't but one sip taken. Hell, the cop couldn't even have proved a sip had been taken, so the cop, he just gives ole Joe a ticket and has him pour the remainder of that beer out right there in the gutter. So, Joe's pouring out that beer onto the hot pavement, and Joe says that dumb ass cop says to him, honest truth -- 'If I see you take even one sip of that beer I'm writing you up for DUI'. What the hell? Joe's pouring the beer out into the gutter and he's supposed to take a sip of it. Joe always says, when he tells the story -- and he told me a hundred times if he told me once -- 'If I'd a leaned over and taken a sip of that damn beer as I was pouring it into the gutter -- right in front of that cop -- after he'd given me a ticket for having an open container -- I'd a deserved a ticket for being a dumb ass!' Ain't that the truth. Can you imagine? -- taking a sip of a beer that a cop done told you to pour out -- while you're pouring it? I always agreed with Joe on that point: that was one dumb ass thing for that cop to say. One dumb ass thing for sure. Mmm...


Joe says he was so mad at himself because he'd been driving his truck for thirty some-odd years, the whole time with a sixer of tall cans of Bud under the seat, and not once had he even come close to failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Hell, Joe says he was so mad at himself in the first place for not coming to a complete stop at that stop sign, and, so mad at that cop in the second place for saying such a dumb ass thing, that he (Joe that is) almost did take a sip of that beer while he was pouring it out into the gutter just to spite that stupid ass cop. Says he almost did lean over and take a sip outta that stream of foamy beer coming outta that can before it hit the gutter. Ha! Can you imagine?! Joe says it woulda been worth it -- in a way. Always makes me laugh -- that part. Lean over and take a sip from that stream of beer... Love the way Joe tells that part. Can't help it, laugh each time. Can you imagine? Mmm...good beer.


Well, I'll tell you who wasn't laughing -- that was Joe's boss, that's who. Come that following Monday morning, Joe's supervisor finds out about the ticket. Now, you can't drive a truck for the State Division of Highways if you had a moving violation. You see? So, as soon as Joe's supervisor gets the news he calls Joe into his office and tells him he's got a choice: start splitting blacktop or leave. Well, somebody's got to do it, Joe says. And with all the roads, there's always some stretch of highway that needs them broken lines painted. That was the deal they offered. Take it or leave it, they said. Nothing could be done. Hell, Joe was lucky he was offered that much. If he'd gotten a DUI instead of a plain ole ticket for a open container he wouldn't be able to drive nothing for them Highway Boys. No, sir! But, there's a loophole...of sorts: if you get a, what they call 'Class 1' infraction you can still qualify to drive, or operate, certain types of vehicles or machinery, but not a regular State truck. But, if you got a 'Class 2' or worse, well, you can't drive nor operate nothing for the Division of Highways. Welp, open container is a 'Class 1' infraction so, just because of that and because Joe had been such a good employee, he got a second chance. So, Joe decided to lay down them broken lines because he knew that, if kept his record clean for a period of five years, he'd be eligible to get his truck back.


And, that's how Joe ended up painting them broken white lines (sometimes yellow lines) down the middle of state highways in Nevada. One of the worst jobs in the whole Division. But, what was he supposed to do? Couldn't say no. Besides, he figured he could keep his nose clean for five years. Hell, any idiot could do that, Joe says. And, that's what he decided he'd do.


He didn't stop drinking on the job. Oh, no! He kept right on stashing tall Buds under the seat just like always, and he kept right on drinking 'em -- even while splitting that blacktop. Oh, yeah! He didn't care. He said, 'Those damn line-painting rigs move so slow you couldn't hit a damn thing if there was a cash prize for doing it'! Hell, I laugh at that every time. Not, that I condone that sorta thing, mind you. Nope. But, he had a point. See, they only gave Joe the 'out-of-the-way' jobs. Out of populated areas. I mean, it weren't a secret that he enjoyed himself quite a few beers. But, the Division couldn't prove anything, and sure wasn't going to pull no surprise inspection to see if they could find his stash. I mean, you just don't do that sorta thing. How could you look a man in the eye if you did? I mean, it ain't like Joe was selling drugs, or anything. Right? Plus, with him driving one of them slow-ass line-painting rigs in the middle of nowhere, nobody really cared anyway. So, the Division, they was happy just giving ole Joe assignments out in the desert, where he couldn't possibly hurt nobody -- and, he couldn't -- not out there. Between crawling along at fifteen miles an hour -- that's how fast those rigs can go with the rollers down painting them lines -- and working roads that was out in the desert where, sometimes, you don't see another car all day, sometimes for a coupla days! Yeah! There's some roads out here that don't get used sometimes for two days and nights! Well, Joe wasn't likely to have another infraction, if you see what I mean.


And, that's how it went for a few years -- I'd say at least four years, or so. Until a coupla years ago -- when 'The Incident' happened. And, here's what happened. One day, Joe gets this assignment way out -- way out in the middle of no damn where. He and his driver head out early in the morning -- it takes two people minimum to split a blacktop. See, one guy, Joe's partner (I forget his name) drives the truck which is towing the trailer that's carrying the line-painting rig out to the location, and the other guy, Joe in this case, he's the one that actually paints them lines with that rig. So, Joe's partner drives them both out to the starting point and Joe backs that rig off the trailer and then Joe's partner drives the truck and the trailer off -- with the understanding that he'd pick ole Joe up at the end of the line and take the whole kit and kaboodle back to the shop at the end of the day.


So, they get out there -- State Route 375 was the job site that day -- and, Joe takes his pack with his lunch (which was a bag of Ruffles barbecue potato chips) and his sixer of tall cans of Bud, and he fires up the line-painting rig and backs it off the end of that trailer and his driver waves and leaves. So, now Joe's out there all alone -- which he liked just fine.


Now, it's important you understand, SR 375 ain't just any stretch of road. Naw! No, sir. First of all there ain't nothing out there. That highway runs from Crystal Springs up north to Warm Springs (down south). Just almost exactly one hundred miles through the flattest, most barren desert in Nevada. And...it also happens to run right past a part of that secret government installation, Area 51. That's right! Right past where they say they got all them aliens and their spaceships. Same place. The 'Extraterrestrial Highway' is what us locals call SR 375. And, we call it that cause there's been lots of strange stuff seen out thata way. Lots. Lights in the sky, some say. Some say they seen ships in the sky, like big silver metal cigars, zooming by real low, not making a sound, then just turning in a way no plane can turn and flying away. Zoom! Gone in a coupla seconds. Yep! That's what folks say. Sure, some are old coots like me -- booze hounds that live way out away from people, prolly a little crazy. Not that I'm crazy, mind you, but I sure am a old coot, that's for sure. But, some people that say they seen strange stuff out there on that highway, they're regular folks -- young, college educated, city folk, people you could believe when they say they saw something. I guess that don't prove nothing, anyhow. But, that's what people say.


Anyway, Joe hated that stretch of SR 375 because it went past that secret base -- Area 51. If he had known he was gonna paint lines out there that day he might have called in sick and let some other schlub do it. See, Joe's real superstitious. He don't like black cats, the number thirteen, any of that stuff. And, not only is he superstitious, hell, he even claimed to have heard strange howls at night from time to time. Out near his house -- he lives right out in the desert, like I said. Says them sounds ain't right -- natural. Well, there's a lotta creatures out there, coyotes mostly, I says to him. 'These ain't no coyotes', Joe say, making sure I can see that he means what he's saying. Well, I just let it go. Hell, I figured he was just yammering on. That is, until one day I went out to his place for a few burgers and beers -- we do that maybe coupla times a month -- and I seen this bunch of garlic up on the wall next to the door -- Joe calls it a wreath. A whole bunch of it -- whole cloves of garlic -- all bundled together in a big circle. He said he kept it there so no supernatural beings could get in his house while he slept. 'No supernatural beings!', I says. Couldn't hardly believe my ears. Like what? I ventured. He just shrugs. Well, I figured he meant like vampires or werewolves or something so I says, 'Joe, there ain't no such a thing out here -- nor anywhere for that matter', that's what I said. Well, he just looked me right in the eye real level and calm but didn't say anything. Back then, I kinda rolled my eyes, took a good swig of my beer and asked about the burgers being done or not on the grill. Well sir, that was the way I was -- back then. But, now, after the incident, I ain't so sure. I had thought he might of been yammering on at one time, but not so much since I seen how serious he took it, what with all that garlic next to the door -- and not since I seen that video tape. No, sir. I reckon just because I ain't seen nor experienced a thing ain't no reason for me to judge too harshly those that say they have.


Mmm...that's a good beer. Anyway, I guess I mentioned that video enough times I ought to explain it some. See, Delores -- that was Joe's girl back in high school, the one that married that fella she met in college -- she and her husband, I don't know his name, sent Joe a video camera one year for his birthday.

Well, at first, Joe had a mind to just throw that camera away, he was so indignant at getting such a gift from Delores and her husband, especially as they hadn't really been in touch much at all since she got married. Why she sent Joe that camera I'll never know -- guess she was trying to patch things up. Anyway, Joe had a mind to throw it out but instead he got himself a better idea -- at least that's what he thought. He was gonna make a video of a day at work -- that is, what he seen painting lines all day -- from his point of view. Don't that beat all! He told me that video would be so boring it would make Delores and her husband feel...well, Joe didn't know, not exactly, but it seemed like a good joke to him at the time. So, Joe took the video camera with him to make his mind-numbing movie.


Well, as it happened, Joe's birthday was right before the incident, just a coupla days before, and, so, in a way it was real lucky for him that Delores and her husband sent that camera when they did cause otherwise I don't reckon Joe woulda had no camera, video nor otherwise, with him the day of the incident, and I don't figure he woulda gotten no record of what happened to back up his story. And, that woulda been a damn shame! -- as you'll see once I get to the good part. If Joe hadn't had that video camera and made a movie of what happened out there, well, I reckon he'd be pissing into the wind if he tried to get anybody to believe him. Oh, I woulda humored him I suppose, at least some, to be polite. But, hell, he couldn't get nobody else to even listen -- all things considered.


Anyway, the driver of the truck and trailer drops Joe and the line-painting rig off right outside of Warm Springs where US 6 and the north end of SR 375 meet, and he says he'll pick Joe up outside Crystal Springs, where the south end of 375 hits SR 318, and then he takes off, leaving Joe out there all alone to paint them lines -- almost exactly one hundred miles of them between Warm Springs and Crystal Springs -- all in one day, and all by himself. Well, not counting a lunch, that's almost seven hours of line-painting if you're doing fifteen miles an hour -- way I figure it. Well, Joe don't mind. You might think he woulda seeing as he was such a hot-head back them, but he don't. He had his barbecue Ruffles potato chips and his tall Buds, and no boss looking over his shoulder, and so...he's a happy camper. He goes to work.


So, there's ole Joe, driving that rig, laying down those broken white lines -- well, I guess the line-painting rig is doing all the work, but Joe's keeps her centered nice. And, every now and then he'd have a coupla chips and wipe the orangey powder -- you know -- on the leg of his cover-alls. (You could always tell what flavor of chip Joe had for lunch) -- if his cover-all leg was just greasy it had been plain potato chips, but if the cover-all leg was all orangey and greasy, it had been barbecue chips that day. 'Why use a napkin', Joe would say, 'when you got a perfectly good pair of cover-alls to wipe your hands on'. Myself, I couldn't take it -- having my pants all greasy and orangey like that all day -- especially out in the hot sun -- would make me uncomfortable. Mmm...good beer. Anyway, Joe was driving that painter, painting them lines and eating them chips, and he would wash it all down from time to time with a swig of beer. Like I said, he was a happy camper.


Welp, according to the Division of Highway's policy, once it gets to a certain temperature, you got to stay hydrated. It's policy, don't bother asking. If you don't drink enough water and you have a heat stroke or something, they'll write you up with a disciplinary action -- all official. Get enough of those and you might get your pay docked. Have that happen a coupla times and you might get suspended. Like that. Don't bother asking.


So, you got to drink a minimum amount of water per hour -- according to policy. Anyway, as you prolly figured by now, Joe ain't the kind to follow policy too close -- especially policy that says something as 'stupid as "you got to drink water"' -- his words, not mine. That and the fact he ain't gone a day without drinking at least a sixer of Bud -- not for the last thirty, maybe forty years -- that's why Joe just ignores the policy and drinks beer all day. Hell, he don't get drunk -- a little happy maybe, but not drunk. Plus, there ain't nobody out there to run into anyway. Why, these roads out here -- you could watch 'em all day and not see a single car go by. Joe used to say it was a damn waste of taxpayer's money to build roads out in the middle of the desert in the first place, and it sure as hell added insult to injury to pay someone to split 'em with broken white lines once every ten years or so. 'Like people don't have sense enough to stay on their side of the road unless it's split by them lines', Joe would say. He used to get bent out of shape pretty bad about that. Of course, Joe would get bent out of shape pretty bad over most anything back then -- not so much now, after the incident. But, back then he did. Yessir!


Mmm...good. So, Joe's splitting that lonely stretch of two-lane road, not twenty miles from where we are now, and he's gone maybe a quarter-mile when he comes up to 'The Fence'. Now, everybody around here knows what The Fence is. It's a double fence really: two ten-foot high hurricane fences, each one topped with razor-wire. And, them fences are watched by cameras placed every coupla hundred yards or so. It's the fence that goes around Area 51 -- all the way around. Real ominous looking, like what you might expect to see at a prison or something.


And, as if that fence wasn't scary enough they got these signs. Every coupla hundred yards or so there's a big yellow sign with black print. 'KEEP OUT. NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULL EXTENT OF THE LAW'. Yeah! I know. Not too subtle. Joe and me, we always joked the signs read: 'Tress passers will be violated'. I know, it's a dumb joke -- play on words. But, it goes with the territory seeing how all them folks claimed they was abducted...and probed, and such on board them spaceships. 'Tress passers will be violated' -- by space aliens. I know...dumb. But, Joe and me -- we always laughed -- dumb though it may be. Mmm...good. Good beer. This one's almost done. So, you make the call. You think this here story's worth hearing more of? Yeah?! Well, that's great. Bartender! Another round here.


Thank you much. Mmm...love a fresh beer -- got more pop. I'm glad you're liking the story so far. I know it gets off to kind of a slow start but it gets going after a while. Mmm...good. Anyway, them 'no trespassing' signs... Every damn coupla hundred yards -- the entire length of that fence. Forty, maybe fifty miles along that stretch of SR 375. Joe was always bothered by them signs. Said they affected him somehow -- gave him the creeps. Joe says they reminded him of the secrecy of what they was doing -- or supposedly doing -- in Area 51. Real hands-off stuff...supposedly -- you know what I mean. Said they, each one of them signs, made him think of aliens ships and autopsies. It seemed like, to Joe, every coupla hundred yards there was a sign that said 'ALIEN BODIES INSIDE. CRASHED ALIEN SPACESHIPS KEPT HERE. KEEP OUT'. And them signs keep coming. As soon as the effect of the last one wears off, here come the next. ALIENS IN HERE. STAY OUT! Over and over. Sorta like Chinese water torture.


Not only that. It wasn't just the signs. It was the surveillance cameras. You see, each one of them signs had a camera right above it. Well, not just a camera, but one of those domes, you know? -- the kind with a round metal case and a dome of tinted glass over it? The kind you see in department stores and such. Well, inside each one of them domed cases there's three cameras. One facing either way and one facing straight out at the road -- so they got all the angles covered. Those cameras used to give ole Joe the heebie-jeebies. He said he hated the effing government types watching him come and go. Said it wasn't any of their business watching a public road. Of course, if you tried to explain to him they wasn't watching the road, not really, they was watching for people trying to get over that fence -- or whatever criminal activity that might be going on -- Joe wouldn't have any of it. 'Fuck that' he'd say -- you'll excuse me -- his words. Well, I always just let it go. Anyway, Joe says that every time he passed one of them signs, he'd read it, even though it said the same thing as the last one -- couldn't help himself, he said -- and that would make him think of the little green men and the autopsies and spaceships and such, all over again. And he'd look at the camera above the sign, watching him come and go, and it seemed to him like he was going in slow-motion when what he wanted to do was to speed up. Can you beat that?! He says, after crawling past them signs and cameras for a few miles real slow on that line-painting rig out there in the middle of nowhere in that heat, it about made him lose it -- go a little nuts, you know? Me too -- makes me laugh, too. Every time I think about it. Funniest thing. Mmm...


Welp, anyway, Joe's crawling along and looking at each one of them signs and cameras as he passes them, and sweltering in that hard black plastic seat they got on them line-painters -- just like the ones in the back of police cars, you know -- and he's broiling, and sweating, and drinking tall cans of Bud to stay cool, not eating too many barbecue chips cause it's too damn hot, so the pant leg of his cover-alls ain't too orangey -- not yet. And it goes like that for a coupla hours -- take a sip of beer, read a 'ALIEN IN HERE' sign and look at the camera go by in slow-motion, getting all creeped out, then, as soon as he's passed the sign he calms down a little (with the help of another sip of beer), then he passes another sign and it starts up all over.


Well, Joe's finishing up his second or maybe third tall can of suds when he thinks he sees something up ahead in the blur zone. 'Blur zone' -- that's on the horizon on a hot day. See, the heat rising up from the ground is so fierce you get those ripples -- you know. And, the sky is so plain out here -- it's a real clear blue sky, not hazy like you get in the city -- that when you mix the two you get nothing but blur. Just sort of a wavy gray-blue. You can't see nothing but a blur. 'The Blur Zone'. Starts up about ten in the morning, and keeps going till the sun sets. And, it's worse if you're headed south -- which Joe was, toward Crystal Springs you'll remember -- and you're looking into the glare of the sun. So, all in all, Joe was having a hard time seeing what was up the road.


Anyway, he sees something in that heat ripple maybe four or five hundred yards on. Just a blob at first. Grayish-brown sorta thing in the middle of the road. 'What the fuck' Joe says right out loud. He used to do that -- cuss right out loud on account of he didn't care what people thought or who he might offend. Don't do that no more, though -- not since the incident. Anyway, Joe empties that beer real quick, drinks it down, and crushes the can and stuffs it in his bag up under the seat, you know, in case that blob up ahead is a State Troller making random pull-overs. Joe sure as hell didn't need another mark on his driving record. Anyway, after a bit he's getting closer and now he can tell it ain't no car, regular or police, and it ain't no accident neither. It's just some kind of lump, big one, right in the middle of the black top. And that's when Joe's temper starts a boiling over some. See...whatever the thing is, it's right in the middle of the road. That means it's right where ole Joe is planning to paint them lines. Get it? Yeah! Joe's gonna have to deal with the situation one way or the other in order to get his day's work done. Oh, boy -- let me tell you, that's the kind of thing Joe hates...well, hated -- he gets along okay now. But, back then Joe had a pretty short fuse. Anything out of the ordinary or anything that would cause him extra work would set his clock to ticking.


Welp, anyway, just for a second, during a break in the heat ripple, Joe thinks he sees what looks like a cow. When he told me that the first time I just had to laugh. I mean...a cow? In the middle of the road? Out in the desert? Mmm...good...good beer. You got to admit that sounds pretty funny. Mmm... Well, anyway, Joe says after just a second or two the heat ripples come up and again and since he's looking south into all that glare all he can see is that blob again, maybe a hundred-fifty yards up. Funny thing, though. As soon as Joe thought he saw a cow his tempered got dialed way down. He wasn't worried about no State Trollers nor accidents no more, and thinking it was a cow was just such a funny thing it put him in a pretty good mood again, so he just gets him another beer out of his pack under the seat, pops it, and gulps back a good swallow. Right about then, Joe lifts them rollers -- they're what apply the paint to the road, you know -- and he puts that rig into normal driving gear, and gives her some gas -- gets up to about thirty, I guess -- so he can get up there and see what kind of predicament he had to deal with.


Well, Joe gets up closer and sure enough, it is a cow. He hadn't been seeing things after all. Right there in the middle of the effing road. A big dead, bloated cow.



II

Well, how are you liking it so far? The story, that is. Well, good. I'm glad. Then you figure another round is in order? Well, good! I thank you. Bartender! Two more, please.


I'll tell you. Truth be told, I enjoy telling this here story so much, I'd prolly keep on telling it even if you didn't buy another round. Here comes our beers. Mmm...good. Love a frosty one. Thank you bartender, and thank you too, mister. Mmm...


Well, Anyway. Where was we? Oh, Yeah. So, Joe's sitting there about fifty feet or so from that dead cow just a staring, wondering what to do. Well, he cuts the engine of that line-painting rig and listens to that heavy silence -- the kind you get out in the desert -- for a bit to clear his head.
What a sight. That carcass in the middle of the road -- weirdest thing I ever saw -- I mean Joe ever saw -- sometimes, I feel like the story happened to me -- Joe tells it so good. He's told me a hundred times if he told me once -- I just feel like it coulda happened to me, is all. Anyway, Joe can't hardly believe his eyes. Blinks a few times like that might help -- make that cow up and go away, like a desert mirage or something. But, it don't go away. Stays right there in the middle of the road -- a big dead, bloated, full-grown bessy cow. Been dead at least one full day from the look, maybe two.
Well, ole Joe, he takes him a coupla sips of that Budweiser, and he realizes he can't do nothing about it. Can't move it -- didn't have a length of rope. Plus, even if he did have some rope, he wouldn't move it. That is -- Joe ain't the type to put forth that kind of effort. Besides, policy says you can't do stuff like that. Yep. If it ain't in your job-description and you ain't been trained and approved to do it, you don't do it. According to policy. Can't. Plus, they got people trained to do that sort of stuff, removing dead animals in a safe manner. Official State people with vans and trucks and special tools. Hell, let them do it! Anyhow, Joe ain't about to try to move no damn cow. Thing must weigh two-thousand pounds, stink like hell, and, and!, be a host to all kind of germs and viruses just crawling around inside waiting to get inside you, make you sick. Naw. Joe just sits there a tick or two -- figures he'll take himself a break on the clock -- drink some beer.

Prolly a mistake, if you ask me. Cause, before you know it Joe's killed half that tall can of Budweiser. Well, he'd already had two, maybe three (he never can remember when he tells it), and, even if he didn't want to admit it, the heat was fierce and you can get dried out real fast. And, drinking beer don't count cause it just dehydrates you faster -- most people don't know that about beer. Joe hadn't had any water that day. No sir, not a drop -- not since breakfast. Normally, it wouldn't mean anything cause, usually, you go for a burger or something at lunch and you have yourself a glass or two of water, or at least a Coke or something. But, out there in the desert there ain't no burger joints, not on that stretch of SR 375 there ain't, and, sure enough Joe was a bit dehydrated.


Well, most city folk don't have to deal with it, but folks out in these parts know when you get dehydrated your judgement gets funny -- gets harder to make decisions, at least good ones. Sometimes you get tipsy, too -- have balance issues (which of course would be worse if you was already tipsy from drinking). And, (and this is important), you get skittish -- paranoid -- about almost anything. Don't know why, just goes with it. Well, Joe had to admit, he was showing a little bit of all them symptoms. Said he was feeling woozy, was having trouble thinking, and, well, he was getting spooked again. 'Freaked out', like the kids say. So, bottom line was, Joe was a bit looped on those beers, had a good case of the heebie-jeebies, and was just plain dried out -- needed water. And all that's made worse by the fact that Joe had stopped that line-painting rig of his directly in front of one of them signs and one of them surveillance cameras. Right, directly in front. 'ALIENS IN HERE! SCARY STUFF INSIDE! DON'T YOU DARE COME IN! DON'T MAKE US ZAP YOU! OH, AND WE'RE WATCHING EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE WITH THESE HERE CAMERAS'! Sheesh. Put Joe in a state.

Well, anyway. Joe's trying to choke back the skitters and feeling dumb about it. He's already decided he ain't going to do anything about that cow, per se, but now he's wondering what to do in general. Just sit there? Turn around? Call it in? That's when he looks, can't help himself -- one more time -- at that sign, 'ALIENS IN HERE'... Then up at the camera right above it -- like a big bug's eye watching him. That decided it for him. Without taking his eyes off that sign Joe reaches for the radio mic and keys it. Figured he'd call it in -- which is proper procedure -- but, it also gives Joe a chance to talk to another human being and tell 'em what he'd seen -- which he was feeling the need to do about that time.


Well, Joe keys the mic, and lo and behold, there ain't no answer. Just static. Now, this gets him sorta panicky. He tries again, and again -- nothing, just static. Then he thinks he hears MaryAnn's voice -- MaryAnn, she's the girl that runs the dispatch desk for the Division of Highways -- Joe thinks he hears her voice, just for a second, but he can't be sure cause it's so weak and weird sounding -- what Joe calls 'distorted'. Well, you can imagine. Joe's already jumpy about them signs and cameras, and the big double fence with razor-wire -- not to mention that damn dead cow -- he's already so worked up about them things that when he couldn't reach nobody on the radio it just about pushed him over the edge! Yessir, it did! And, not only that, but hearing, or barely hearing, what he thought was MaryAnn's voice real faint on the radio made it worse! He says that -- every time he tells it -- Joe says the same thing: 'It woulda scared me less if I hadn't heard MaryAnn's voice all distorted and broken up' -- that's what he says...every time. Yep, as if hearing nothing at all woulda been better.


So, now Joe has to admit it -- he's a little drunk, a little scared, and more than a little dehydrated. So, level-headed kinda guy he is he figures there's one solution to all his problems -- water. So, he gets his water bottle out and drinks half of it right down -- which ain't a smart thing if you're dried out, but he does it. Well, in just a few seconds his eyes get wet again and he can see better, his stomach unclenches, the wooziness goes away -- he just plain feels better. Said it cleared his head pretty good -- he felt like he could deal with the situation.

So, Joe gets out of his vehicle and starts to walk toward the cow. But, then he stops when he remembers the video camera -- the one Delores and her husband gave him for his birthday a coupla days earlier -- the one he was going to use to shoot that long boring movie of the two-lane unspooling in front of him. He always tells me the same thing right about here -- he always says he was glad to have that damn video camera -- even though he felt it was a lousy gift and he pretty much disdained Delores and her college-educated husband for giving it to him. That's a funny thing, you know -- how you can feel happy and angry about a thing at the same time. Anyway, Joe was glad to have that camera -- figured he'd have a hard time getting anybody to believe such a crazy story if he didn't have pictures to prove it. Says folks might just laugh at him.


So, Joe goes back to the rig and gets the camera. Well, he ain't no Steven Spielberg, but he was able to get that thing working. (All he had to do was press 'record'). So, it's going and Joe's looking at the little TV on the back of the camera at a shot of his dirty work boots. He pans up and points the camera at the cow. Then, he stops it and replays the video, you know, to make sure it's working. Then, he says something funny. And, this part always gives me the creeps. Every time, even though I know it's coming. Joe says the camera worked fine -- the picture looked just fine -- and when he looked at those few seconds of video of that dead cow it was scarier than any horror movie he ever saw. That's what he says! He says he looked at that cow on the little TV on the back of the camera like he was expecting it -- the cow, that is -- to move, turn and look at him, or just get up and walk away. And it was the fact that it was on video that made it worse. Not what you'd expect -- Joe said he could look right at that cow with his own eyes and not be so affected, not be so scared of it. But, he says that when he looked at the video of it, well, there was just something about that picture that made it scarier than the real thing. Yessir!


Now, if you never saw a dead beast, I mean one that's died out where the sun's hot, then you might not know what they look like and, well, this next part might gross you out a bit. See, when a animal dies out in the desert the gasses start building up and it bloats up -- real big, sometimes so much you'd think it's a gonna pop. After a day or two it looks like someone stuck a air hose in it and blowed it up -- sorta like one of them big balloons shaped like cute animals and cartoon characters in that parade they got every year in New York City. Sorta like that. But, the real thing, laying next to the road, ain't funny -- it's just gross. The legs, see...they spread -- wide -- from the bloating. It's, um...a bit obscene, if you ask me. And the skin is stretched tight -- real tight -- from all the gasses built up inside. Like it might bust any second. Nasty.


Joe says he remembers that puffed up dead cow like it was yesterday -- it was laying there with its hind legs -- spread wide from the bloating -- they were on Joe's left, you see. And the front legs -- also spread wide -- they was on Joe's right. And the cow's belly was facing him. He couldn't see the face nor even the head cause of the angle the neck was twisted at.


Anyway, Joe buckles down and gets his mind under control. Takes a few deep breaths. Then, he starts shooting video again now that he's sure he can work the camera right. Starts walking toward the cow -- like I said it was maybe fifty feet away from where he stopped the line-painting rig. Well, he don't have to walk more than a few seconds before he smells it. Whew! Nasty -- hell, that kinda stench almost gives the word a whole new meaning. I've smelled it a coupla times -- once was a horse that got hit by a eighteen-wheeler, other time it was a just a dog -- but both times that meat had been laying out in the sun for a coupla days -- yessir! I know how fierce bad a smell it is. A ton of fetid cow...


Mmm...good beer. Still cold. Anyway, Joe says he liked to gag on that smell. Had to stop and get used to it a bit -- breathe through his mouth some. Then, he gets this unusual notion -- unusual, but I'll be damned if it didn't make sense. Joe figured that if he took some really big whiffs of that smell, his nose would get used to it, and that way he could get closer for some better video. (Why the hell he wanted to get closer I'll never know, but he was driven by something, that's for sure). So, Joe just stands there -- he's maybe twenty feet away now -- and he starts taking real deep breaths through his nose. In and out, in and out. Said it worked! Didn't smell as bad. Said his nose musta got used to it some. Can you beat that? Then he moves closer -- maybe six, or, ten feet closer -- now, he's right on top of the thing practically, and he commences to taking even deeper breaths through his nose -- to acclimate it to the stench -- which is quite a bit stronger now. Well, Joe says it worked pretty good. Not great -- that cow still smelled like a dumpster full of month-old hamburger on a summer day -- but, Joe says he didn't feel quite as sick -- not no more -- and he didn't mind the smell as much.

Well, now, this next part you're gonna think is just something a coupla old codgers got together and made up over a few bottles of suds, but, there's proof -- that video. Like I said. And, if you want to you can see it I'll tell you where you can find it on the internet -- If you're interested, that is. Anyway, here's what happened next. Now that Joe's up good and close and can get a better angle on that cow, he starts that video camera going again. Well, Joe always gets a little embarrassed about this next part, but, he decided maybe there wasn't enough information on that video for anyone who might be watching, later that is, to fully understand what was going on. So, he turns around and shoots some footage of his line-painting rig and the road back thata way, then he turns and points the camera out at the desert -- ain't a damn thing out there -- then, he turns all the way around and points it at that double fence and razor wire on top of it, then he points the camera at the sign on the fence, and then he zoomed in close so you could read it good, then he gets a shot of the surveillance cameras. Then, he points that camera right back at the cow so now you got a good idea of the setting. Joe calls it his 'Master Shot' -- I don't know for sure what that means but Joe said it put a smile on his face. But then, it occurred to Joe that he was missing a shot of the sky, so he pans up and shoots that beautiful clear blue sky, and it dawns on him that something's missing. Joe takes his eyes off that little TV and looks at the sky -- crystal clear and empty as can be. And, that's what strikes him as wrong. He realizes there ain't no buzzards. He says that's when his smile went away.

I can see you don't get it. Lemme explain. See, you can't, and I mean can't, have a dead thing out in the desert without having every vulture for miles come swooping in for a meal. See? There ain't no food to spare out here and survival of the fittest is the hard rule, and the fittest don't miss a meal -- not for any reason. Now, them buzzards can see for miles -- ten, maybe even twenty. They'll see a dead rat off a coupla miles no problem -- I've seen 'em come in outta nowhere and pick at a dead rat or a dead rabbit, or whatever. Seen it myself. And, it ain't but a coupla minutes before a more join in the meal. And, that's with something small -- there ain't no way, out here where the air's so clear, that a buzzard could fail to spot a dead cow, especially one that's laying out in plain sight in the middle of a two-lane road. No way in hell. No sir.

Now, Joe knew this, and the sight of that clear beautiful sky sent chills down his spine. It was just too weird. Well, by now, Joe's journalistic instincts were getting pretty good so he figures he should get a shot of the entire sky, so he pans the camera from horizon to horizon. There ain't not even one buzzard circling. Not one. Totally empty sky from one side to the other. Now, at first Joe is just perplexed. Why in the hell wouldn't there be any buzzards circling this cow waiting for him, Joe that is, to get outta there so they can go back to feeding on it? Then, he takes a better look at the carcass, now that he's only a few feet away from it, and he notices it ain't been picked at by buzzards. Not at all. The skin is stretched tight, and it ain't been pecked.


That's when poor ole Joe goes from being perplexed to outright befuddled. Now, it's already noonish, or thereabouts, and them birds shoulda been eating on that cow all morning, and probably woulda been eating on it the previous day. Hell, there shoulda been most of the buzzards in this part of the state fighting for their share of that flesh. But, weren't none. Anyway, the point is, between vultures during the day, coyotes at night, and every kind of beetle, bug, worm, and fly in the meantime, that cow shoulda been stripped down to the bone. But, it weren't. Weren't even touched. No, sir!


That's when curiosity got the best of Joe and he went around to the front end of ole bessy and looked at her head -- her face. Well, damn if that cow still had both its eyes. The eyes hadn't been pecked out. Not only that, they was open and staring at Joe, and they had this terrified look. That cow was mighty frightened right as it died. Yessir. Chilled poor Joe to the bone to look into them. Now, the eyes -- it ain't so much the expression in 'em that's important -- a lot of animals will have a scared look when you find them dead. The thing about the eyes that's important is they is what buzzards will go for first. Usually, it's the dominant alpha-type that'll have dibs on the eyes. He'll peck them right out and gobble 'em down while the other buzzard keep their distance and watch -- or maybe go around the other side and settle for some other part. Don't know what's so special about eyes, but a dead animal usually loses them first thing. Nothing's missing from that cow's face. It's the same as the day it was born. That bessy had a face as pretty as a bloated ole dead cow's face can be.


Well, about this time Joe's mind is all a swirl and he can't make heads nor tails of the situation. But, he's still got enough sense about him to make another observation about that carcass. There weren't no flies. Yep. Not a one. No flies, fleas, flesh eating beetles, nor grubs a burrowing -- nothing. And that's when poor ole Joe has to wonder if he's seeing things. See, maybe, somehow, you might could keep a dead cow a secret from buzzards -- who knows...maybe if the wind's blowing just right. But, there ain't no way you can keep such a thing from insects. Why, you so much as spit in the desert and before you know it there's flies and bugs a drinking up it up. Just nature's way. And, Joe was about losing his wits wondering about the strangeness of it -- 'how something can be dead out here in the desert without Mother Nature finishing the process' -- when it dawns on him that there's only one thing that can keep them buzzards and the flies and insects away -- radiation. Yessir! That's what Joe figures.


Well, you can imagine how that made his blood run cold. It scared Joe more than any other thing that had happened. He starts wondering how much of a dose of atomic poisoning he might already have soaked up and whether it was too late to get medical help and whether he might die a gory death, all coughing and spitting with tubes coming out his body every which way, and nothing the doctors can do. Well, he was just about green in the gills, when reason kicked in and saved the day. Joe figured, what the hell, a buzzard can't tell if something is radioactive or not. All a buzzard cares about is whether a thing's dead -- and if it stinks a bit, that's prolly fine too. So, if the cow was radioactive the buzzards still shoulda pecked at it. They might have died themselves from eating poisoned meat, but they woulda gnawed on that cow. Well, no buzzards had gnawed on it. So, Joe figured that cow wasn't radioactive after all. No, sir! And, that surely came as a relief.


Mmm...good beer. Well, Joe stops the camera and he walks around the carcass until he's back where he started -- at its belly. He just stands there. Still perplexed as to what killed that cow. So, he figures he'll look around for clues. No broken glass -- like from a car's windshield after a crash -- no skid marks, no footprints. Just weren't any indication as to what might have happened or how that cow had come to be there. Joe turns the video camera off and turns around and looks back at his line-painting rig. He was starting to formulate the opinion that, if he couldn't reach MaryAnn on the radio, he might as well start thinking about driving that rig around that cow and painting them lines on the other side of it and head on to Crystal Springs and meet up with his partner for a ride back to the station. (Figured he'd just skip lunch considering how much time the incident had already cost him).


Well, ole Joe had just about decided that was what he was going to do when he heard this sound -- from behind him, coming from that dead cow. Lemme take a little break here and get a coupla swigs in me. Mmm... Sorry, but this part...I can't help it, it just gets me. Like one of them old black and white creep shows that come on TV real late when I was a kid. Mmm... Used to scare the hell outta me. Mmm... So, there's this sound and Joe doesn't whirl around like most folks would. Naw. See, Joe's a pretty good hunter and all hunters know that you don't make any sudden moves when you hear something, so Joe just stands there real still, facing his rig -- his back to that cow, and he listens. It's a strange sorta ugly sound, like a slick, wet thing being dragged or picked up -- like a rag in Jello, or something. Well, Joe turns around real slow and looks at that cow and there ain't nothing changed. Now, Joe's looking right at the cow and he hears the sound again -- slick and wet -- except this time there's another sound -- more of a slurping sound, like maybe a dog drinking water, or someone taking a long draw on a slurpy or slushy that's just about empty, you know.


Well, Joe figures it must be gas -- from the decomposition -- moving around inside that cow  that was making the noise. A simple, if gross, explanation. So, Joe's pretty amused, and he's listening for the next of them slurpy sounds -- like a kid waiting to hear a fart -- when he says he sees something move inside that cow's belly. Or, he thought he did. Damnedest thing. Well, he waits, and after a few seconds he sees it again -- a protrusion or bump, Joe says, moving from one side of that cow's belly to the other. You could see it -- like someone moving the end of a baseball bat back and forth inside that cow's belly. Joe says he couldn't help himself, he just jumps back about two or three feet and has to clamp his mouth to keep from yelping. Well, shit. I don't blame him. I'd be freaked out, too. Wouldn't you? I mean, can you imagine? Some...thing moving inside the stomach of a dead cow? That would make most people jump, I reckon.


Well, Joe gets his mental focus back (by now he's been in so many weird situations and figured out a explanation for all of them...well, he's a pro by this time). Joe gets his mind focused and he figures out what it was. A Gila monster. Sure! (Uh, 'Gila' is spelled with a G but pronounced 'Heela'). Gila monster. Ugly lizard that lives in the desert. Poisonous, but real slow moving so you don't have to worry about being bitten by one unless you're dumb enough to pick it up. Anyway, cause the Gila monster is so slow its diet's mainly made up of eggs. They got such a good sense of smell the can find eggs whether they're buried in a burrow under ground, or in a nest up in a cactus. Well, also because it's so slow, the Gila lizard don't chase after prey -- couldn't never catch its dinner! But, they will feed on carrion. Almost anything as long as it's dead and, therefore, not running away. Anyway, that's what ole Joe figured it had to be -- a Gila monster  swishing around inside that cow just a gorging itself on all that flesh.


That's all it was. Had to be. Another mystery solved, or so Joe thought. But, then Joe gets to thinking: 'How come there ain't no buzzards or even flies, but there's a Gila monster feeding off this cow'? When he first told me that, that he had wondered about that, I have to admit I was impressed. Real impressed. Hell, by that part of the story I had done forgot about the lack of buzzards and flies. But, Joe had thought of it despite everything. I was surely impressed.


Mmm...good beer. Anyway, that made a lot of sense -- why in the hell was there a Gila monster rooting around inside that cow when there weren't no buzzards nor flies? And, just about then that protrusion, or bump, goes sliding by from one side of that cow's belly to the other. Well, Joe doesn't miss a beat. He figures the incident is just too weird and titillating for him to leave anything to chance, so he fires up that video camera again and starts taping so he can prove his story is true.


So, Joe's video-taping that protrusion move back and forth again and again inside the tight skin of that cow's bloated stomach when he has another revelation. He figures maybe it ain't a Gila monster inside that cow. Yessir! It ain't and Joe knows why: a Gila monster wouldn't scare off buzzards, and it couldn't scare off flies, so -- it ain't no Gila monster inside that cow.


The first time I heard that it knocked me back on my heels, I can tell you that. Can't lie. What the hell could do that? What could scare buzzards and flies off? Mmm...good beer.


And, just then Joe sees that protrusion go back and forth again, but this time there was a sound -- a new sound -- that accompanied it. Joe says it was a sort of squeak, or squeal -- real high-pitched like a pig or a bird. And, just then that protrusion stopped moving -- it was still making the skin of that cow's stomach stick out, but it wasn't moving. Just stopped, right in the middle of the belly, pointing right at Joe. Then, there was this high-pitched squealing again, except now there was another sound on top of the squeal -- a click. Click, click, click. The squealing and the clicking was going at the same time, real rhythmic -- like a clock ticking. Squeal, tick, squeal, click. Over and over.


Well, Joe had stepped back without even knowing it. He was still video taping, recording both the picture and the sound, but he had stepped back a few feet. Just then, the noise stopped -- both the squeal and the clicking. And, then, that's when the protrusion sorta went away a little -- not all the way, but most of the way. Now, Joe, he knows -- he can tell -- something's about to happen. So, he stands there shooting video as best he can -- he's holding that camera as still as he can even though he's kinda nervous and his hands were shaking a bit. And then, there's a rumble, or a growling sort of snort come from inside that cow. And, Joe, he says he was about to run, that snorting sounded so strange and threatening -- like a warning. And, just when you figure it couldn't get no worse, that protrusion sticks out, way out -- like someone inside sticking the end of a baseball bat against the inside of that cow's stomach as hard as they can. Joe said that skin of the cow's belly stuck out maybe a foot.


Joe says he was almost sick at the sight -- and the sounds. That protrusion pushing that dead cow's taught skin so far out it might pop any second, and that sound -- that growl, and that snorting. And it seemed that whatever was in there was had eaten its fill and was ready to come out.


Joe says he didn't know what to do -- puke or run. Well, he didn't do neither, even though he felt like doing both. He stood there and watched and video taped what was happening. And, it's right about here, when Joe gets to this same spot in the story, every time, that he looks me in the eye real steady and says, "That's when I knew for sure there weren't no buzzards nor flies because of what was crawling around inside that dead cow. And, whatever it was, it was about to come outta there."



III

What's that? You gotta have another before we go on? I could use another, myself. Bartender! One more round, over here if you please. I know what you mean. Yessir! The story gets pretty exciting along about now. And, a good story always goes better with a cold brew, I always found. Just ain't right listening to a good story, or watching a movie, or some such thing, without a tall glass of beer. Well, I guess most prefer popcorn or something like that, but I like beer. Here they are -- cheers...Mmm...that's nice. Getting on to the ending. Lemme get right back to it.


Well, now. Where was we? Oh, yeah... The way Joe tells it that protrusion was sticking way out -- like a tent pole -- like whatever it was inside that cow was fixing to come outta there.  And, there was that growly snorting sound -- like a dog growling and a pig snorting mashed into one sound. Joe was about beside himself he was so disturbed by it all, but, he kept right on shooting that video -- even though he could barely keep the camera still enough so's you could see what's what. Oh, I seen the video -- it's shaky but you can still tell what's going on all right.


Welp, anyway, that protrusion recedes a bit and the growly snorting sound goes away, too. Joe was thinking maybe nothing was going to happen after all -- maybe the whole episode was over. And, right then, the protrusion -- it sticks out again, except this time it ain't like the thick end of a baseball bat. No, sir! Not no more! Now, that protrusion is pointed -- sharp. It's making a sharp peak in the hide of the cow's belly. Sticks out further and further. Joe was just waiting for the skin to pop. Well, sure enough, that point sticks out a few more inches when the tip of it breaks through the skin. Well, at first nothing much happens -- there's just this shiny metal-looking point sticking out of that cow's bloated stomach. Then, a bit more of it comes out, and Joe can see from the look of it, that it's some sorta blade -- like on a sword or something. Said, the realization of it made him catch his breath. And, that blade starts cutting that cow's stomach from one side to the other.


Well, that blade don't cut but a coupla inches -- from left to right -- when all that gas that's inside that cow that was built up from the decomposition, you know -- that gas starts coming out. It made a nasty sound -- like a long wet fart -- and Joe smelled it right off. Says it was one of the worst, most foul smells he ever smelt. There was also some intestine and pieces of flesh and whatnot that sprayed out from that hole, and some of it splattered on his boots. Joe says he had to pinch off his breathing and jump back real quick, stumble, several steps. Almost lost his balance and fell, he says, the smell was so bad. Well, he's a gasping for air and kicking the bits of goo off his boots, and he wipes the tears from his eyes. But he don't make any noise, you know what I mean -- no need to let whatever it was with that sword know he was there, not just yet.


You see, by now Joe knew, well he figured at least, that what was going on weren't nothing normal, and in fact -- there might be some danger involved. But, dangerous or not, getting that video was prolly the most important thing he'd ever done, or have the opportunity to do, in his whole life. So, despite that most folks woulda run, Joe stayed.


Well, that metallic looking blade -- it keeps cutting -- from one side of that cow's belly, all the way over to the other. Real smooth and slow. Joe says it didn't saw none, neither -- didn't move back and forth the way you might saw on a piece of chicken, you know. Said that blade just sliced straight through that skin without no sawing motion at all. Musta been pretty sharp. Then, when the end of that blade got to the other side of that cow's belly, it went back inside and it was gone.


Well, by now all that gas that was causing the bloating had escaped through that big hole in its belly and that cow had shrunk back to its normal size. Joe says it was kinda shriveled up. Well, for a few seconds, nothing happened. Joe's just standing there video taping that shriveled up cow, waiting. Then he sees it -- a hand -- just like a person's hand except the fingers were longer -- and -- there was only three of them plus a thumb. It comes out of that slit and pulls back the skin to make the exit bigger. Then, comes a foot -- with only three long toes -- which sticks itself out of the cow, followed by a leg. And that foot sets itself down onto the pavement.


Joe says the skin was real light colored, sorta like 'milk mixed with black ink', he says. And, it was smooth, and there weren't no hair, neither. Next comes a arm and shoulder outta that cow. Then come the hips, and the rear end, the butt -- pointing right at Joe -- and then the other leg and other arm. Then, last, came its head -- big, bald, with holes in the sides where the ears should be. Couldn't see the face -- he (or maybe she, or maybe it don't matter but I'll call it a 'he'), he had its back to Joe. And, that little man backed out of that cow and stood up. It looked almost the same as a small person or child except its limbs were longer than ours, and the fingers and toes were real long.


Well, it stood up straight -- wasn't but maybe four, or, four-and-a-half feet tall. Little guy. Skinny, too -- all skin and bones. He stretched his arms over his head -- just like a lotta folks do when they wake up -- took a deep breath, and, well, just stood there a few seconds. Didn't look around or anything -- just stood there. Was real relaxed looking, calm. Joe says he could hardly believe his eyes. But, he says, the nature of what he was seeing was so extreme, well, it just sorta focused his mind. Numbed him -- made it easier to keep shooting that video and not panic or anything.


Then, that little man looked at his arm -- there was a piece of something slimy -- some skin or guts or something from inside the cow -- it was stuck on that man's arm. Well, he picks it off with his long fingers and lifts it to his mouth, tilts his head back, and drops it in! Yeah! Doesn't chew, just drops it in his mouth and swallows. Just like that. Joe says his jaw like to hit the pavement. As if that weren't bad enough, then that little man licked his fingertips -- you know, like you do when you eat fried chicken or something and you want to get all of it. Just like that. Joe says he was already feeling nauseous, but now he had to choke back vomit. Well, he didn't mind puking -- prolly woulda made him feel better, he says -- but he didn't want to make no commotion and disturb things. He wanted to see what was going to happen next. So, Joe just swallows it back down and keeps on video taping.


Then, the little man sorta brushes the other bits of that cow's innards off himself -- he didn't eat no more of it -- 'thank the lord', Joe always says. And, then he reaches inside a fold of his skin in his side, like where you'd expect his ribs to be. It wasn't like the pocket of a shirt or jacket -- well, that little man didn't appear to be wearing no clothes no how. He just seemed to reach right into his body! Anyway, he reaches in and pulls out this little case -- small, maybe the size of a deck of cards. He presses the surface of it -- where there musta been controls or something -- he presses it a few times with his fat fingertips, like he was putting in a PIN number at a ATM, you know, and the lid of that case opened up. Then, that little man squatted down and reached into that cow, through the slit he had cut, and he pulls out a handful of goo, and he puts that handful of goo inside that case and stands back up. Then, he presses the controls and the case shuts again. Then, he puts that case right back inside the fold of skin from where he got it. I figure that little man was getting a sample, like a specimen, of that cow's insides -- you know -- to be examined in a lab by scientists later on.


Then, the little man looks up at the sky. He looks from side to side, and Joe's watching wondering what the man is looking for. Joe says he looked up in the sky but didn't see a thing. Then, the man, whilst still looking up in the sky, turns around, looking front to back, like he's scanning the entire sky for something. Well, Joe looks around too, careful to keep the camera pointed at the man -- Joe says he looked all the way around one side, then the other, and behind him, but didn't see a thing. So, he turns back, and when he does the little man is looking right at him!


Well, Joe says he was pretty surprised to be looking this strange little man right in the eye. But, as surprised as Joe was, the little man looked even more surprised. That man's eyes was as big as saucers, and his mouth was in the shape of a big letter O. Joe says the man's mouth was pitch black inside -- didn't seem to have no teeth or nothing else in there for that matter -- pure black. And, his eyes, giant -- each one about the size of an egg, almost the same shape, too. With a funny powder blue color with what looked like a grayish milk floating around in them. And, the color went all the way to the edges -- there weren't no whites of this man's eyes. And, there weren't no nose, either. Nor hair. He was just a little skinny naked bald guy with giant blue eyes, holes for ears, and a mouth (that was currently in the shape of a letter O). And, his body was pretty much the same as ours -- two arms, legs, et cetera. Joe says there weren't no parts in the crotch nor elsewhere from which you could tell whether it was a little male man, or if it was a female...well, you know what I mean. There weren't no parts.


Well, they -- Joe and the little guy -- they just stared at each other for a coupla seconds -- neither one knew what to do. Joe just kept on taping. Said he wasn't nearly as scared as before, not since he seen the guy eye to eye. Said he, somehow, looked like a intelligent and calm sort of fella -- somehow. Anyway, he didn't seem like he meant Joe no harm. And the fella didn't seem scared of Joe (he had gotten over the shock of seeing Joe and his eyes weren't so big and his mouth wasn't in the shape of a O no more).


Right then, the little guy raises his hand and faces the palm toward Joe -- like this. Well, obviously he was waving so Joe raises his hand -- not the one with the camera -- and waves at the little guy. Then, the little feller smiles. And, well, Joe smiles right back. Then, he makes this clicking sound, just like what Joe had heard earlier. 'Clickity, tickity, click', Joe says it sounded like. Just like that. Well...hell -- Joe didn't have much choice -- that man musta been saying something and it musta been some kind of greeting, so Joe says, "Howdy." Then Joe points to himself and says, "My name's Joe." Well, when that little man heard that his eyes got all big again and he smiles even bigger, and he point to himself and makes more clicking sounds. Well, Joe took that to be the little guy introducing himself and he just couldn't help it, he chuckles a bit. "Well, pleased to meet you," Joe says, chuckling.


And, then the little guy, he makes this sorta chirping sound. Little short tweets like a bird might make -- over and over. To Joe, it sounded sorta like a laugh. Well, hearing that made Joe go from chuckling to laughing, don't you know. And, when the little man heard Joe laughing he starts a chirping even more -- faster, and this time with a kind of trill added on. He had a twinkle in his eye and had tilted his head back. Joe laughed harder, a real belly laugh -- said it was the funniest thing. And, there they were -- laughing at each other, each one waving their hand. Laughing and waving, waving and laughing. Right out there in the middle of the desert, in the middle of State Route 375. Lord, every time Joe tells it...I just laugh till I can't see for the tears -- just about like we both are now! Oh, lord! Mmm... That is funny!


Well, this goes on for a bit, then they both settle down and lower their hands and stop laughing, and just look at each other again. Then, the little guy, he looks at that dead cow, then looks back at Joe with a sort of guilty expression on his face -- like the cat that ate the bird. Then, he shrugs. Joe says it looked for all the world as if that little guy was embarrassed or ashamed that he was inside that cow a eating it. Well, hell, Joe didn't mind -- to each his own. "I like a good burger myself -- only mine are usually cooked on a grill and they ain't rotten -- but that don't matter," Joe always says. Yep, folks is different.


Anyway, right about then the little guy looks up over the top of them double fences -- the ones with the signs and razor-wire, and he makes more of them clicking sounds. Well, Joe looks over there, too -- at the sky over Area 51 -- but he don't see nothing. Just a clear blue sky. Then, Joe sees this dot way off in the sky. It's just a tiny speck but it's shimmering the way a star does at night -- except it's the middle of the day. Joe watches that speck grow, real fast, as it gets closer. Says it was going faster than any jet plane he ever saw. It went from being just a speck on the horizon to a big giant thing in just a coupla seconds. Just like that. Well, that ship -- Joe always calls it a spaceship cause it didn't look like no plane or other aircraft he had ever seen -- that spaceship gets right up almost directly over them. It blotted out the sun and Joe and the little man were in its shadow.


Joe says it was the biggest ship he had ever seen. Bigger than a navy ship. Hell, Joe says it was at least as big as two aircraft carriers. Beats me how something that big can be made to fly. And, not just fly but 'whip through the air like a bullet, then come to a complete stop in mid-air, all without making a sound -- completely silent', that's what Joe says. Joe says that spaceship stopped so abrupt (it stopped right on a dime) that, if anybody -- he means normal people -- had been aboard it they'd been killed. Woulda been mashed flat. So, he figures that anybody that was on that ship just wasn't like us -- you and me. Well, when that ship stopped, it kicked up a buncha dust, and you could feel the wind from it. The wind caught a tumble weed and rolled it right out in front of Joe and over to the other side of the road.


Well, that spaceship didn't twitch from side to side nor sway at all, not even the least bit -- just stayed exactly in one spot, as if it was cemented up there somehow. Soundless, motionless -- a long metallic silver-looking cigar-shaped ship. Joe was awestruck, but, by now, shooting video had become second-nature to him and he kept that camera trained perfect and captured events just so. Just then, something stuck out of that ship -- it was a long tube-looking thing -- also silver and metallic, maybe as long as a car, and it turned and pointed right at Joe and the little man.


(Well, at the time Joe thought it was pointed right at him and thought maybe it was some kind of gun they was preparing to blast him with. And, Joe, he ain't afraid to admit it, he prayed. He says he told the maker he was sorry for his sins, and hoped he wouldn't be judged too harshly).


Anyway, then that tube starts humming and there's sparks -- green, blue, some was pink -- coming off it, and Joe figures that was the end for him. The humming gets louder and the pitch goes higher and them sparks are a flying faster. Well, Joe braces himself -- and he still keeps pointing that video camera so as to catch all the action, for posterity, he supposed. Just then, a milky-blue beam emanates from that tube and it hits the little man (not Joe). And that little man raises his hand and waves one more time to Joe, then he (the little man) starts a fading away, and in a few seconds he's gone! Then, that beam quits. Just like that. That man is gone. Well, at first Joe thought they had killed that little man for being seen by Joe -- like a punishment for being caught eating a dead cow. But, that didn't make no sense cause they coulda just killed Joe if they was going to kill anybody. So, Joe figured they had beamed that little man up into the ship -- just like you see on TV. Well, he didn't have but a coupla seconds to think on it cause that tube starts to humming again. And, just like before, the humming grows and the pitch goes up and the sparks are a flying, then that tube shoots that beam a second time -- and the beam hits the dead cow. Well, that cow starts fading away just like the little man did, and not more than a coupla seconds later -- it's gone -- didn't even leave a stain.


So now, Joe's standing there in the middle of the road all alone looking up at that ship. Well, don't you know it -- that tube starts to humming again. Now, don't get me wrong, Joe thinks of running -- sure he does. But, he always says, 'Something that told me to stick around -- see what happens next'. So he just stands there and lets that beam hit him. He says he felt all queasy inside, and there was a deep vibration running through him -- not unpleasant he says, but not what you'd call pleasurable neither. He felt a pressure build in the base of his spine and then travel up his backbone. And when that vibrating pressure got to the top of his head the only thing Joe remembers is -- he dropped that video camera.


The next thing Joe knows, he's standing on some kind of floor that felt all squishy under his feet and there ain't nothing to see except this gray-blue light that surrounded him and what looks like a milky fluid flowing through it. He says it was like he was standing in a mix of milky water, or some kind of fluid, and a bluish light. He says he didn't feel like he was suffocating -- but he don't remember taking any breaths, neither. Didn't feel the need. Says, he just was just standing there not breathing, nor feeling a shortness of breath. And he could sorta make out people (or whatever you want to call them) who was standing just a few feet away. Each one of them looked exactly like the little man that had come out of that cow. After a few seconds, one of them stepped forward and he raised his hand -- just like the little man had -- and he sorta waved at Joe. Well, Joe, not knowing what else to do, waved back. Then, the little man smiled at him, and Joe smiled right back. Then, the other little men raised their hands and waved.


Well, it's right about then that Joe says he saw a brilliant light -- so bright it blinded him. Well, almost blinded him -- he could still see the little man (the other folks had disappeared, but that one little man was still there), or, more precisely, the form of that little man was still there. The form was made up of bright dots. Some of the dots were blue, but most were a grayish white. That's what that man's body had become -- a collection of dots of light. Joe says he was looking into that little man's eyes -- said it was more intense a thing than he'd ever done. But, he says, there weren't no tension and he didn't feel embarrassed or anything like that even though they was looking right at each other. Joe says they looked at each other for maybe a few seconds then, well, Joe says he felt like he was hit by a deep pressure right in the middle of his forehead -- right between his eyes, but up a bit in his forehead. Right here -- you know? He said it was a warm dry buzzy pressure -- but not unpleasant. Said he felt it in his mind as much as he did on his forehead. And, while that buzzing pressure was in his mind he didn't have no thoughts at all. This went on for some period of time, but Joe don't know how long. Coulda been a second, coulda been a hour. Then, that buzzing pressure quits. Stops. Just like that.


And, Joe found himself right back in the middle of the road standing in the same spot he had been standing in before he got beamed onto that spaceship. He got his bearings, looked up at the ship, looked at the spot where the little man and the cow had been, then looked down and saw that video camera laying right where he dropped it. Well, he picks it up and presses the button and sure enough it still worked. He looked up at that cigar-shaped ship and pointed the camera at it -- I guess by now ole Joe was a real proficient camera man.


Just then, he notices that tube retracting -- pulled right back into the ship. Well, Joe stood there a second or two, figuring the ship would leave. But, it didn't. Joe kept waiting. Still, that ship just hovered there. Then, without thinking too much about it, Joe raises his hand and waves goodbye to the ship. Then, there was this clicking sound -- click, tickity, click -- like that. Well, Joe figured them people on the ship saying goodbye. So, he says, 'Take it easy', and he keeps waving and video taping as that ship turned and flew away, back over those double fences, and back into Area 51. And, just like that, in just a coupla seconds, that big ship was gone and out of sight. It left so quick it kicked up a bit of a wind and that tumble weed rolled right past Joe's feet, right back to where it came from, and stopped in the same spot it had been in before.


Joe was still standing there looking past those double fences, still waving, when he come to his senses and stopped waving and looked around. Just like that, it was like there had never been a cow, nor a little man, nor any kind of a spaceship. Joe was just standing out there roasting in the hot sun in the middle of SR 375 video taping the desert. And, that was that.


Anyway, Joe finished up his day's work -- like normal -- like nothing had happened. And, because he hadn't taken no lunch break, he met up with his partner at the south end of SR 375 in Warm Springs, just like they planned, and they went back to the station.


Well, Joe went home and he looked at that video -- the entire thing. Run through it a coupla times, I suppose. Just to make sure he hadn't lost his marbles out there in that desert sun. (That's been known happen every now and then). Joe says he spent that night thinking. Spent the whole weekend thinking, he says. Figured what had happened called for some consideration.


What Joe remembered the most -- what seemed the most important to him -- was when he was on that ship and they -- that little man that was made up of dots of light, and Joe -- when they was looking at each other and Joe felt that pressure in the middle of his forehead, in the middle of his mind -- that was the most special part of being on that ship. Joe says that, in that moment, he felt he knew what that little man was thinking. Not like he could hear the words or nothing, he just knew that man's thoughts. Like the thoughts were imprinted on Joe's mind. Like tracks in the sand, he says -- he has a hard time describing it. Not only that, but Joe says he could perceive how that man's entire life had been -- on a pinpoint -- all at the same time! Anyway, Joe says the more he thought about it over that weekend the more he realized how different that little man was from him.


Well, lemme explain. First, that little man didn't carry no anger, Joe says. Wasn't angry at a thing nor any person. And, not only that, but Joe got the impression he had never, not even once, been angry. No, sir. Not once. And, when Joe thought about it more he realized that little man had never thought a nasty thought about another person. Nope. Also, didn't pity nobody, nor feel sorry for himself, neither. Never had! Not one time. Joe says, "The more I come to understand how that little man lived and how pure his thoughts were, the more I understood how poorly I had been living."


Even though he thought about it all weekend Joe just couldn't figure out why he had carried all that anger with him all his life. He had been angry at everyone, not just folks that crossed him. All the time, he says, even when he was alone. Sometimes it was people that had done him wrong years earlier, sometimes it was strangers on the street. He just carried that anger with him all the time, no matter what. Then, Joe realized that that anger had turned to spite. He hated people even before he met them! Yessir! Like I said at the start, Joe always had a chip on his shoulder. It prolly was the reason he never had nobody -- never had real friends, (except me I guess), or a family, nor no comfort in life. Well, after two straight days of thinking about it Joe figured he weren't gonna live like that no more. Figured he was fed up with it. Figured he'd been carrying enough hate long enough for one man -- for one lifetime.


Well, come Monday morning, Joe went in to work and gave notice. Just like that. And, in the two weeks he had left to work Joe went about making amends with other employees he had spited, either openly or to himself. He got to know about them and about their families and what their interests was, and such. Well, it's fair to say that Joe got to be pretty good friends with his co-workers -- even though he only had a coupla weeks to do it. Got to be good enough friends with some that they have him over from time to time -- for a barbecue, or to watch a game on TV, or celebrate the fourth -- any such occasion.


Well, Joe didn't just have new friends, his life got better in general. Now, he keeps in touch with Delores. After all these years. They buried the hatchet. They exchange emails once in a while -- he sends her kids presents on birthdays, Christmas, whatnot. I was glad to see it. Normally, after being separated for so long two people don't keep in touch at all, but Delores and Joe had something special, I suppose. They're still friends. I guess friendship don't go away even after you call the marriage off.


Joe never did date before the incident, like I said -- but, now he sees this one gal. She's a hostess over at one of them fancy casinos in Vegas. Mighty fair looking woman, too. Joe done good -- again. And, he got his tooth fixed, too. Yeah! After it got knocked out forty some years ago in that fight with that fella in back in high school -- Joe finally replaces it with one of them dental implants. Looks real good, too. (I bet his lady friend appreciates it -- not that I ever asked, mind you).


These days, Joe spends most of his time out in the desert looking to get more video of strange things -- looks for funny footprints, dead animals that ain't quite right, strange formations of rocks and pebbles -- that sorta thing. Of course, objects in the sky remains his primary passion -- UFOs. What's that? Oh, he finds stuff. Yessir! Lots of it. It never ceases to amaze me just how many weird occurrences there are in the desert almost every day -- at least round here. Sure, he does -- Joe gets all sorts of videos. I seen footage he got of weird flying formations -- there's one of a blurry blob just criss-crossing the sky so fast you'd hardly believe it. He's got a lot of UFO footage. You can see it if you like.


But, the videos I like best are the ones of stuff on the ground. Three-toed footprints (ain't no animal out these parts with three toes!), funny imprints that look like landing gear -- usually in sets of three, each about fifty feet apart. Why he's even got a coupla shots of what looks like them little men -- way off -- peeking out from behind boulders, looking at him. Those are fun to watch. I'll watch 'em over and over to see whether there's anything I mighta missed the last time I watched 'em.


Some say the footage is fake, but you'd have to get kids to wear outfits and run around for the camera in order to do that -- just can't see a parent subjecting their kid to that. Besides, them little men -- they don't look like kids no how -- too skinny. I guess you could make a kid look like he had a big head like them little men have, and maybe put some fake eyes on them, like that, but I don't see how you can make a kid look that skinny. Ain't never seen no kid that skinny.  Those little men are as skinny as cats.


Welp. That there is just about it -- the story of 'The Incident'. Mmm...that was good. Three beers. Guess that makes this here a 'three-beer story'. Yessir! Guess I'll be heading home in a bit. Anyway...I reckon ole Joe's got it better since the incident. And, I'm glad for him, but, myself, I reckon maybe it was providence that caused Joe to get that assignment that day. Yessir! That's what I believe. Like, the things that happened were supposed to take place. Like he was supposed to be out there in the desert next to Area 51 that day. I can't get it to add up no other way. No matter how many times I think about it. Makes you wonder. I mean, not only Joe getting that assignment on that stretch of road on that particular day, but him just happening to have a camera -- the only day he ever brought a camera to work with him! Oh, hell -- it had been years since the last time Joe and Delores even so much as talked on the phone, then, she up and sends him a video camera for his birthday, just a coupla days before Joe witnesses the strangest thing he ever saw. No, sir! Just don't add up.


Then, there's the change in Joe's personality to consider. You see, like I said, Joe had decided not to carry all that anger and spite no more, but that ain't the half of it. Now, Joe's concerned for folks. He cares, gives of himself, tries to help out. And...and this is the thing -- he wants to make the world a better place. Can you beat that? He's said that right to my face. Used to be Joe'd just as soon spit if you looked at him wrong, and now he wants to make the world a better place!? If ever there was a higher power at work... Yessir! Joe went from being outright ornery to a philanthropist in just one weekend. Makes you wonder...sure does. Ain't for me to judge, though, I expect. Not any of it.


Anyway, Joe may not believe in no higher power -- or, at least he don't come out and say it -- but he does believe in a higher calling. At least something better than painting them lines down state highways. After he quit his job, Joe cashed in his retirement accounts and set about to answering that calling. He got himself a snazzy computer, and another video camera -- a professional model -- and started himself a website. Yessir! I could not hardly believe it. Ole regular Joe starting a internet website. He gets lots of hits, too. And that's not all -- he even has advertising on his site. People -- businesses -- they pay him good money to show their ads!


Some of them ads are those flashy banner type -- ever seen 'em. Sure -- you have. Everyone's seen 'em. Bother some people. Not me... I don't see Joe too much no more. He's always off doing what he calls 'field work'. Can stay away for weeks. Right now he's down in South America -- Chile -- in the mountains they got down there. Local folks tell of some kind of half-man, half-furry monster lives up in them mountains. So, Joe's aiming to be the first to get video of it. Then, he'll post it on his site and tell the world. I suppose that would make the world a better place somehow -- if we was aware of all the creatures that's half man, half whatever.


Well, don't get me wrong! Joe's work is surely important, and I don't mean to poke fun at it. He does quite a bit more to enhance people's lives than I do, that's for sure. He gives to charities, too. Gives more money than I ever could. No, sir, Joe's efforts accomplish quite a bit. I'd venture he's making the world a better place. Certainly is. Just like he set out to.


Here, lemme write down the address on this napkin. There. That's Joe's website -- that's where you can see his video. And them other ones, too. If you care to. He's also got photos, and personal accounts -- interviews -- from people that say they had experiences similar to Joe's. People from all over the world -- seems like lots of folks have had weird things happen in their lives.


Well, that's the story of 'The Incident'. I thank you for the beers. It's getting late -- gonna get real cold soon. Most folks don't know it but it gets mighty cold this time of year at night round here. No, thank you anyway -- I'm walking, don't need a ride. Just live a quarter mile up the trail. That's right -- it's just a trail -- no sidewalk, nor lights. Nothing. It's safe, though, I suppose. I can still see pretty good at night. Nope. You don't have to worry about no snakes. Nor scorpions, and such. Too cold. They's all burrowed under rocks to keep warm. Gila monster? Naw! They're the first to dig in once the sun gets low. Besides, they're cold-blooded, like snakes. Gila monster's slow as sin during the heat of the day -- at night, when it's cold, why, you could step right on one of them lizards and by the time he turned to bite you you'd be home in bed.


No, there ain't nothing to be afraid of on a cold night out here. Well, maybe other people, sad as it is to say. I suppose I wouldn't want to run into no serial killer. That's just a joke. There ain't no folks out this far to be concerned about. Lemme just get my coat on and I'll be saying good night. I hope you enjoyed it -- the story, that is. I thank you again for buying me them beers. Hopefully, I'll run into you again sometime. Maybe I'll get the next round.


Well, I'll be going. No, sir. Ain't nothing out there to be concerned about out in the desert. Not anything from this planet, I mean. Welp, goodnight to you. Naw...there ain't nothing to be concerned about -- not from this planet, anyways.




















Birth

Here's another short story I found in the back.

Birth

written by
Marcy Green


Part I


It was dark.

Sleep Cycle. Bugsy's section, Alpha 1, was blacked out. No electricity was allocated for lights with the exception of ten minutes Personal Illumination Time, affectionately called PIT. Bugsy's compartment, however, was not completely dark. It never was. The blinking red LED indicated the door was locked. The green-orange light shining through a dirty plastic cover informed the Occupant CO2 levels were within an acceptable range. The tiny blue light floating in blackness meant the ventilation system (VENT SYS) was working properly.

Bugsy had extra Light Ration, as did the others assigned to the ICT, (Insect Clearing Team aka Bug Zappers, Beetle Burners, and Roach Rippers). It was one of the perks, but he was in no mood to use it. Staring into darkness was soothing. It made it easier for him to pretend he was in another place, another time.

The constant thrumming helped lull his senses as well. The sound was produced by giant rotating blades of the VENT SYS which, along with a series of pumping stations, pulled air down from the surface, circulating it to every Occupant. It was the incessant sha-shumm-da sha-shumm-da that reverberated everywhere. It was known as The Heartbeat.

Bugsy's facility, US-UHHF-1702 (United States - Underground Human Habitation Facility - Number 1702), officially known as New South Chicago but called 'The Burrow' by most, was one of the last subterranean living facilities constructed before the Migration Project ended in 2325.

The Burrow was a vertically oriented cylinder, a hundred yards in diameter, extending one hundred and fifty levels into the Earth. As such, elevators were the favored mode of transport, stairways being utilized only for trips of one or two levels. Since there was no day or night the rigmarole of activity never diminished. A sudden high-pitched whir of a passing elevator would interrupt conversations, streams of consciousness, or tenuous slumber, then just as suddenly its screeching would fade and The Heartbeat, the backdrop to all goings on, would return.

It was a bubbling muffled complex compacted cacophonous cottony-soft clangor comprised of a thousand distant frenzied yelps and whispers, a million stomping footfalls, endless door slams, non-stop gear turnings, ceaseless equipment chugs, continual pipe rattlings, and the perpetual hum of surging electricity. On occasion, even a minor earthquake would add to the rumble. It was the facility's audible fingerprint -- the first thing known upon waking, and the last thing known before sleep.

Bugsy preferred it. Liked it better than music. The persistent dull thudding would press on his mind creating a pleasant sort of senselessness in which directed thought subsided, allowing cherished apparitions the space to roam. It was an aural narcotic that created a portal into the past. Once the drug wove itself into Bugsy's mind, facility noises changed into beautiful singing tones. Sounds from a life on the surface. A life before the Earth was scorched by UV storms, before ice caps melted, before the desolation of Z-Virus, before nuclear accidents and attacks, before strange jungles of tall purple and blue plants teeming with hordes of giant insects replaced wheat fields, city parks, and forests. A life that now only existed in the interstices of memory.

Once he managed to quiet his mind and catch hold of the elusive delirium, the squeal of an elevator would mold itself into his daughter's voice calling, urging him to hurry to the playground. The blare of a fire alarm would transfigure itself into his wife's gentle sweet voice announcing dinner. Random clangs and thuds were the happy barks of the family's dog. In this altered state even smells changed. Foul air became the fresh scent of approaching spring rain.

For Bugsy it held more allure than other diversions. Bars and clubs on the lower levels were lurid and depressing. He wasn't much of a drinker and snorting grunge left him with splitting headaches. He much preferred spending down time in his Living Unit, the lights off, staring into darkness, reliving a life bygone.

Tonight, though, he found no solace in excursions of the imagination. He lay in his bunk wide awake, waiting for the alarm, listening to The Heartbeat, breathing thick air, feeling droplets of condensation gather on the hairs of his nostrils. He worried about the work that had to be done. Killing bugs. A nasty job but one that came with advantages. Bugsy couldn't complain about those.

One of the perks was a Living Unit at the top of the facility. Section Alpha. A desirable thing because, simply, it was closer to the surface and, therefore, the air was better. Despite that, the air was still heavy and moist and resisted being drawn into the body. Bugsy found it uncomfortable at times, but was glad he wasn't on a lower level.

In some facilities, the first ones built, the lowest levels had such poor air circulation that deaths were common. Design was revised and new facilities boasted better ventilation and utilized basements only for storage and machinery. Other measures were taken to guard against O2-related mishaps. Each Living Unit was equipped with a small oxygen tank in the event of VENT SYS failure. However, tanks leaked over time and were often empty when needed. Automated sensors were installed to detect high levels of CO2 (as well as low levels of oxygen). However, most of these failed after a few years and were never replaced or repaired due to the expense. While there was a certain amount of protest, facility life is not, strictly speaking, democratic and CA (Central Administration) determined that Vent Teams, which they pointed out, were highly trained in both VENT SYS repair and first aid, offered an adequate response. The need for sensors ceased to be a subject for debate. Vent Teams were posted on every third or fourth level, however they were notoriously slow, sometimes taking ten or fifteen minutes to get to an affected area once the alarm was sounded, the lag being worse when the local elevator was out of order. These factors conspired to make survival of a VENT SYS failure unlikely and the death rate from hypoxia continued to be high, even in the newest facilities.

The signs and symptoms of hypoxia progress in an orderly fashion. First, there is headache, sometimes nausea, an inability to concentrate, then shortness of breath and, often, a sort of cheap high caused by too little oxygen in the brain. Many of these indications were things most Occupants lived with much of the time, hence were usually ignored. Next, the victim becomes sleepy. In day-to-day facility life, drowsiness is an affliction of epidemic proportion and generally goes unnoticed, so, as a symptom is of value only in the most pedantic sense. Next, if no action was taken, the victim fell asleep and his or her skin turned blue. What happened next depended on the amount of time it took for a Vent Team to get to the scene. If they arrived in, say, five minutes, the victim might well be revived. If it took ten minutes or more the victim would be discovered unconscious and taken to the nearest Med Level where, generally, they would lapse into a coma. If discovered dead, they would be taken to the morgue and prepped for disposal.

During the Surface Era, a coma was preferable, at least preferable to dying, as appropriate medical care was widely available, and with a small measure of luck a comatose patient might recover. In the Subterranean Era Med Teams lacked the resources for care of comatose patients. The few doctors a facility was lucky to have were perpetually overworked. Around-the-clock treatment of a comatose patient could last for weeks or even months and the rate of survival was very low. In most cases, if a patient did manage to emerge from this state he or she could no longer contribute any useful function.

Considering all the factors it was deemed that any comatose Occupant, whether their condition was due to hypoxia, alcohol abuse, getting beat up, or snorting grunge or grime or whatever concoction was going around, would be taken to the surface by a Disposal Team and left behind, alive though unconscious. What happened next depended on the current Weather Cycle. If dust hurricanes prevailed, the body would be blown away by a wall of wind thick with pebbles and dirt, tossed and rolled for miles until the parts were no longer congruous. The remaining bits would be pushed and scraped until everything, including bone, was ground into dust, becoming one with the hurricane. In a Growth Cycle, the body would be left in the jungles of neon colored plants where giant bugs would find them. After a day or two nothing would be left. In a Burn Cycle the body would be taken some distance from the facility entrance and left to fry in UV radiation. With the same result.

Keeping a cadaver within the Facility for more than a few days was impractical. Neither electricity nor refrigerant needed for storage could be diverted. Cremation was not viable as no Facility could afford to allocate the resources necessary. Conventional burial was too risky. A Burial Team on the surface might become disoriented in a dust storm and end up wandering aimlessly in the wrong direction until their O2 supply ran out. Or, if particularly unlucky, they might be surrounded by a hunting expedition of bugs.

Even if the body was successfully interred, a marble headstone would be worn smooth by the first windstorm. It was true that fortified steel could withstand a hundred years of blowing dust and sand, but this material was in high demand and far too precious to be squandered on grave markers, especially considering that, without a Surface Suit, no one would dare venture topside to read such a marker until the next period of Climate Stabilization, which was not expected, even by the most optimistic climatologists, for at least a thousand years.

It was currently Growth Cycle. A slow giant storm akin to a cyclone (except without high winds) was centered over Kansas, turning slowly counter-clockwise, making a complete revolution once a week, churning warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, distributing rain to the entire central United States.

The formation, like all new weather patterns, was obstinate. It lingered, hovering stationary over the same spot on the globe for several weeks, a phenomenon previously known to occur only on a few distant planets and large moons. It would rain most nights, all night, and be very warm most days. The sun was barely visible in the dirty haze that had become the sky. In fact, the sun and sky appeared fused into one thing, orange in the brightest part, green toward the horizons, and a sickly grayed-down mauve at the edges, even at high noon.

In locations where there wasn't Growth Cycle, it was Burn Cycle. Ultraviolet radiation bombarded the surface of the Earth, and fire swirled for days or weeks. When there was nothing left to burn the soil baked, and anything that intended to survive had to burrow deep. The windstorms created by Burn Cycle would, in turn, lead to the pebble hurricanes of Dust Cycle in which churned up smoke and ash was carried around the planet. This haze of organic material would collide with a cyclone and mix with the moisture there. The resulting rains would fertilize soil already rich with the remains of insects and plants which had perished in the last Burn Cycle the region had suffered, and once again, Growth Cycle would begin.

The ground was richer than anything ever known and weird life sprung up from it with frightening speed. A brilliantly colored alien jungle could grow a hundred feet, laterally as well as vertically, within a day or two. These new plants were mutations. Their seeds, carried by winds for thousands of miles, were exposed to radiation both from space that found its way through weakened strata of atmospheric defense, and nuclear meltdowns that spewed smoke around the clock. Most species died, but some survived to become rooted abominations.

Beneath unsightly colored broad leaves, in gloomy shade, were giant mushrooms, mostly poisonous. Under the mushrooms was yellow and brown moss and beneath that a layer of viscous clay -- the waste products of the ecosystem.

Insects occupied every level of the jungle and enjoyed eating the plants. Over great periods of time a tit-for-tat battle of adaptation ensued. The plants created defenses. Pollen became caustic. Skin grew as tough as leather and in some cases was like tree bark. Juices were corrosive. Insects made counter moves, growing steely sharp mandibles that sliced through thick outer layers, and mouth parts which were immune to toxic liquor.

As time went on, bugs began eating not only plants but each other. So, further adaptations were needed. Shells grew thick. Venom was concocted which blinded, made the blood boil, or paralyzed the victim so it could be devoured at leisure. The warfare continued and only the most grotesque, queer, and bizarre prevailed.

Insects and plants were all that could acclimate quickly enough to the violent new weather patterns and onslaught of radiation. No higher forms of life, birds for instance, existed though there were rumors of humans who dwelled in caves and suffered from a strange malady.

The beetles were the worst. Some were the size of a car battery. Many were larger, as big as a medium sized dog. Territorial and aggressive, they represented the greatest threat to people who went topside. A large beetle, if disturbed, could chew through a surface suit in seconds, through a leg bone in a minute or two. They always traveled alone.

The small beetles, about the width of a deck of cards, were just as voracious and moved in groups as large as a dozen. Some beetles were tiny, barely visible, traveled in swarms of thousands or millions and, if inhaled, would eat away at the lungs. All were to be avoided.

Leaving a body in such an environment to be consumed by weather or insects was perhaps a barbaric practice by Surface Era standards. However, this was the Subterranean Era. What Surface Disposal lacked in humaneness it made up for in efficient utilitarianism, a commodity highly valued by the Doctrine of Facility Life. So, despite the severe nature, it remained the only practical method to process the deceased.

Even the smallest Facility was home to half a million people and, with that many, there were several deaths each day. The last Disposal Team, coming back from topside, reported a concentration of bugs, mostly large beetles, on the northwest ventilation intake grill. Currently, their report read, the bugs blocked about thirty percent of one vent. Left unchecked there would be total blockage within a week.

With the latest outbreak of pneumonia, brought on by an especially virulent new strain of Toxo-influenza, the death rate had quadrupled and the bugs had doubled in numbers, size and shell thickness. All of which made it more dangerous for one man to attempt to clear them. Going topside alone was never a good idea, but with the crawler population at a peak, there was a better than average chance of attack. While the bug population had increased, the number of bug zappers assigned to Northwest VIS (Ventilation Intake Sector) remained the same. One. Bugsy. That was why he lay awake in his bunk staring into darkness. Sleep always eluded Bugsy the night before a bug bake.

The fluorescent main light stuttered to life. The sight was never different. The same exposed pipes, video monitor, stainless steel mirror above a dirty sink, computer and work area, dents and scratches where they always had been. A soft feminine voice announces, 'The time is six a.m. You are scheduled to zap bugs this morn'-- 'Alarm off,' Bugsy says, stopping the synth-voice. He sits up with a groan, massages the back of his neck. There was time for a cup of coffee and maybe a donut before going topside. He takes a shower, gets dressed, unlocks the door and leaves.