UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 06/2012
LEWIS GESNER

CLOSE ENCOUNTER

         The story in the newspaper was a big one. It was a close encounter. Jamie Larson from Old Town, employed as an insurance salesman at Carl Lobson and Sons was driving home after working late when he was overcome with fatigue. He pulled off onto a narrow dirt drive that led to a field, expecting to close his eyes for a few minutes. And there he saw it. Three bright lights descended straight down from the sky. As they drew closer, he could see they outlined a disk shaped object, which continued to descend, until it landed in the field directly in front of him. Jamie, who the photograph in the newspaper showed looked like Robert Vaughn, took his 22 pistol replica of a Luger from the glove compartment and got out of his car. He approached the silent but now glowing disk and, he said, yelled out, “Who are you?” and when there was no response, “what do you want?” at which time he raised his gun and emptied the clip at it. After the shots had echoed through the surrounding trees, the disk soundlessly rose straight up and disappeared into the sky in a matter of seconds. He reported the incident to both the police and the newspaper. When he went out to the sight with a reporter and photographer, they found a burned ring in the grass where the object had touched down. They took a picture of Jamie, looking like Robert Vaughn, in front of the burned ring with his arm extended downward, holding his gun. It was a dramatic story. It was the talk of the community.

         Elsie and William Kruger sat with their children Scott and Deb at the kitchen table, eating dinner on a Saturday. Spanish rice was one of Scott’s favorite meals, though he could do without the peas his mom always served it with. The hamburger in it tasted a little different than the last time, but this was the meat from the moose that Ruel found shot out behind his house last week, so, moose meat will always taste different. Scott thought, better.

         “Gotta butcher some rabbits for Ruel this afternoon. He gave us a lot of what we’re eating. Funny how the Lord gives when you don’t expect.” William raised his chin in a proud gesture, with him so close to the giver, being the minister.

         “I think Ruel give that moose a bullet!” Scott laughed his child’s laugh, but was immediately sorry for it.

         “You hush!” William reached over and open handed Scott on the side of the head, who swallowed before the hand hit him. He knew better than to spray. That’d mean another swat. “You show respect for elders. Ruel said he found it out back, breathing its last breath. He called the sheriff and sheriff said, "Go ‘head, cut it up, no sense to waste. That’s good enough for me. Straight with God, straight with the law. You feel blessed, boy. God provides.” He shoveled a forkful of the Spanish rice.

         “See about that fella Jamie ‘n yesterday’s paper?” Elsie changed the subject.

         “Lotta hooey I think.” Another shovel full.

         “I think it could be a sign,” Elsie said defensively.

         “A sign he’s drunk. Or on drugs.”

         Elsie was calm but unconvinced. “He looks like a nice young man. Why’d he lie?”

         “Get his picture in the paper, sell more ‘surance!” William choked once and coughed out a piece of burger.

         “What I meant by a sign is,” Elsie continued unaffected, “that in the end time, the Bible says that there will be signs. I think that such things might be end time warnings, and maybe, angels.”

         ”I wanta see one too!” Scott said excitedly. Deb put a forkful of peas in her mouth and shot an exasperated look at Scott.

         “If there are signs, they wont come to a ‘surance salesman. It’ll be a sign to the God fearing. ‘Hold on,’ the sign will say. ‘The end is near.’ “

         “Well honey,” Elsie said, “who knows what’s in the heart of a man. Maybe Jamie will be one of the saved.” Suddenly she felt exposed. The photo did make him look like an attractive man. Why couldn’t a handsome man be saved? Why just men with hard hands, and bent over backs? Elsie felt something disagreeable in her thoughts, and silently asked God for forgiveness right there at the table.

         “There’s nothing up there to see,” William stated. “Just the Heaven and the Hell when we die. And if God gives a sign, there won’t be any speculating for the saved. It will be clear.” He finished eating, dropped his napkin on his plate and ran a hand straight back through his thinning hair. “I’m done. Thank you for cooking, Mrs. I gotta go out and butcher.” And he left the table.

         After he’d left the room, Elsie leaned over to Scott, speaking softly just in case. “Be respectful to your father. I don’t like you to get hit, but you deserve it!” She leaned back and pushed some peas into her Spanish rice.

         From outside came sounds of squealing and cracking skulls on the woodblock. Inside, Elsie leaned into the table again, in case anyone else could hear. “In Bible times, Ezekiel saw a wheel, and that was a sign of prophecy. I think the same thing seen today would be the beginning of the end. That’s what UFOs mean. They’re signs that Christ will be coming again. They say, ‘get your house in order. Repent sinner, before its too late.’” She leaned back, having spoken her piece.

         Scott leaned forward, speaking cautiously like her. Outside another skull crunched under the back of the ax head. “I think UFOs is from space. I read it in Fate magazine from the bus stop. A lot of people been seeing em. Some people get taken away! There’s lots of stuff like that in Fate magazine. They’re aliens in space. If we’re lucky, they’ll choose us to take up!”

         “Don’t talk foolish!” Elsie scolded quietly. “No aliens ever been here. That’s made up. But there’s been Jesus, and prophecies, signs and angels. What do you think, Deb?”

         “I think Jesus should come back,” without hesitation.

         Elsie nodded approvingly. “We’d all like our Savior to return.”

         William came in, changed his spattered shirt and went into his study, closing the door behind him. In a moment his voice resounded in oratory, practicing the sermon he was preparing for Sunday.

         Upstairs after dinner was eaten and dishes cleaned up, Scott showed Deb his Fate magazine. “Here’s this story on levitating. See the picture? It shows how to lay down and then people stand around and raise you up in the air while you concentrate. You try to think how light you are, and they think that too.”

         Scott laid down on his bed and concentrated on being light. Deb sat on the floor next to the bed and also thought, “light, light, light.” After the fifteen minutes concentration period stipulated, she put her hands under Scott’s side and tried to lift up. Scott was rigid and tried to rise straight up in the air. Instead, he rolled on his side and went over the edge of the bed, on the other side. He jumped up quickly. “Did I feel lighter? I thought I floated.”

         “You felt lighter,” Deb said, convinced. “You raised up a little bit.”

         Sunday morning, Scott took a bath and put his suit on. William was touching up his sermon, pacing back and forth in his study with the door closed. Scott ate some cereal with a paper napkin stuffed in the neck of his shirt and walked to church for Sunday school.

         Scott wished he was in a younger class or a more advanced. He didn’t like Mr. Stanley. He liked his daughter Jill, who was in the class, though. Mr. Stanley always acted like she wasn’t there. Last week Jill came in with her left arm in a cast. She said she’d put it in the washing machine. Scott could picture her opening the machine, reaching in and snapping her arm around the agitator. But then he remembered how Mr. Stanley had once twisted his arm behind his back way too hard, just for making faces. Then he could see Mr. Stanley twisting Jill’s arm in his head and not the washing machine. He rubbed his elbow remembering. He thought about the story in Fate magazine. Some of the people who had been abducted by UFOs had returned with old injuries healed. Scars would be gone. One man came back and found out he’d grown an appendix. He’d had it removed years before, but his appendix came back, and the scar was gone!

         Mr. Stanley came into the room and sat down at the table. Scott sat up straight.

         After church, Scott laid on the floor in his room and pulled the books out from underneath his bed. He made some money from lawn mowing. When William went calling at the VA hospital, Scott would go into the Greyhound bus stop up the street and buy some books and magazines. He looked at his collection. “UFOs, Serious Business,” “Lo!,” “The Abominable Snowman”, and a stack of Fate magazines. He opened one. There was an article about a man who’d been abducted by a flying saucer. He could remember being experimented on with strange instruments. He was kept for three days, then dropped off on a roadside near where he lived, late at night. Within a week, he had grown a complete second set of eyebrows on his forehead. He also had an increased brain power. He took an IQ test after he was released and it had risen close to fifty points, to 165!

         Scott looked through some of the magazines for photographs. There weren’t many good pictures of saucers, but a lot of other evidence, and pictures of people pointing. There were burned rings on the ground, and photos of cuts on arms where some people had been probed and tested. A smell distracted Scott. He went to his door and sniffed the air. Deb again. She was going to get in trouble. She was smoking next to the window in her room. He wished she’d stop. William was going to find out.

         “Dinner!” William yelled up the stairs. Rabbit with shake-and-bake, corn and mashed potatoes. “Thank-you Lord for what we are about to receive, and bless and help the less fortunate than ourselves help themselves, in Jesus name, Amen.” They cut into the thick white meat of the rabbit legs, forked the potatoes and corn. “Hard work bringing this to our table. But God made it all.”

         At night, Elsie stepped outside the house and went down back to the Penobscot River. There was a distant moving light. She watched it patiently. It slowly got larger and closer. Eventually a glowing, cigar-shaped object hovered above the water less than a hundred feet from her. “Are you Gabriel?” she asked the air.

         In the next day’s paper, there were two stories of local UFO spottings, accompanied by photographs of moving lights. Scott sat at the kitchen table and snipped out the articles. “I saw it last night,” Elsie said from the sink, putting on rubber gloves to rinse out their bowls. She looked out the window to see William was still outside weeding. “It was just like they said. It was an oblong, glowing object.” Deb was just coming into the kitchen for breakfast.

         “Mum saw a flying saucer,” Scott told her.

         “It was not a flying saucer,” Elsie said. It was a sign from God. It was an oblong glowing object.”

         “Mum saw a UFO from outer space,” Scott said in a lowered voice.

         “Well, do you children think you’re ready?”

         “Just gotta brush my teeth,” Scott said, finishing his dissection of the newspaper.

         “Not for school,” Elsie turned, eyeing them both in a scold, “for the end of time?”

         Scott saw Jill Stanley at recess. She was sitting by herself on a bench, not playing, arm in a cast. He sat down next to her and unfolded the newspaper articles on the UFO sightings he’d stuffed in his pocket. “Have you heard about flying saucers?”

         Jill looked at him shyly, then looked around the school yard too see who was watching, or who might tease her. “Naw. What’s a flying saucer?”

         “Its a UFO, An Unidentified Flying Object,” he pronounced slowly. “All they know,” thinking how to say it, “is they’re from outer space, or maybe another dimension,” not really knowing what that could mean. “I think they’re from outer space. They’re aliens in ‘em. Sometimes they come down and take people away.”

         “Do they bring them back?”

         “Sometimes. Then sometimes,” thinking what he’d read in his magazines, “they take a whole fleet of planes and you never hear about them again.”

         “It’s like going to heaven, huh?”

         “Naw, they go to space. They experiment on ‘em, to learn. If they’re sick or busted up, they fix ‘em. I think they experiment on ‘em so they can fix people better. Like that arm of yours? They could make that like new in five minutes.”

         Jill smiled, her first in a long time. “I want to believe in UFOs too!”

         It was such a warm day, Scott knew the snapping turtles would be on rocks in the water behind the house. After school, he walked home along the river, sneaking up behind turtles and surprising them, and throwing rocks at the sucker fish he could see feeding on the bottom.

         As soon as he got home, he could smell the smoke. Deb was really in trouble this time! He went to the bathroom and got the Glade spray freshener, running around the room, scenting the air with the potpourri.

         Scott felt panic. The car was gone. He went to the kitchen window. There was William, outside weeding in the garden. That meant Elsie had the car for grocery shopping. Deb must have smoked up a storm. “Deb! Deb, you’re in trouble! I can smell it all over!” There was the sound of the door opening and Deb was at the top of the stairs.

         “I don’t care! I’m sick of being scared all the time! You think God wants that? If Dad goes to heaven in the end time, I rather go ta hell! I don’t want no heaven, just hell!”

         The front door swung open hard and banged against the wall. William stood breathing heavy from the weeding but sniffed the air between long puffs of wind. Scott ran past him into the living room. “What’s that smell?” William bellowed. Scott could see him crushing rabbit’s heads with the ax in his mind. He showed this kind of anger when a rabbit struggled. He hoped Deb wouldn’t. She would just make it worse for herself. He tried to disappear on the couch. “You! Come down here, young lady!” She was frozen at the top. “You been smoking in this house? You come down here when I tell you to!” She fearfully descended the stairs. “What other sins you been committing?” William grabbed her by her arm and yanked her down the last three steps, levitating her through the living room into his study and slamming the door closed behind him. “You bring tobacco into this house? A God fearing house?” The smack of his hand hard against skin. A scream like rabbits make. Scott pressed his hands over his ears. Still he could hear her body slamming against a shelf of books. “You fornicate too?” Another slap, this time dull, like maybe he was closing his hand. Rabbit scream. Vomit. “You think you’re scared now? You think you be scared in hell?” Dull hitting sounds, body against wall, more vomiting, rabbit sounds. Long silence followed by a resounding smack. More puking, making him madder. An hour.

         Scott curled up invisible the whole time. Elsie came home and retired to the upstairs bedroom. Eventually the study door opened. William came out and got some paper towels to mop up puke. Deb slunk out, finished with, and crept up the stairs, going into her room and closing the door as quietly as she could.

         William had his supper in his study. Deb stayed in her room. Elsie and Scott ate together in the kitchen, though uncomfortable with each other.

         After dark, Scott went outside and laid on his back in the front yard. Elsie followed him out and laid down next to him.

         “She shouldn’t have sinned. If she just behaved, it would have been all right. But she’ll learn a lesson from it, that’s for sure.” Elsie was quiet. There was a single sniff. “You learn something from this too. Don’t go against your father.” There was another pause. “This’ll be over soon enough anyway,” she said like she was concluding. “Have you seen any moving lights out there?”

         “No,” Scott said, staring at the void above. “There ain’t no UFOs.”

Lewis Gesner is a writer and artist who lives in Taiwan. He remains a member of Mobius artist group, out of Boston, Ma USA, and publishes and exhibits internationally.







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