The Hostage
By: Steve Carr

Cutting through the night sky the glowing cone shaped object left a fiery arcing contrail before it crashed into the woods in the side of a mountain.

Sitting on the back steps of his cabin, cleaning his rifle and watching the object's trajectory, Earnest leapt up as soon as it crashed. "Dang, dang, dang," he shouted excitedly, knocking the cleaning supplies off of the steps.

He opened the screen door behind him and ran into the house, letting the door slam behind him. "Suelynn, you gotta come see this," he shouted as he went through kitchen and into the living room.

Suelynn was lying on the sofa, watching television and eating potato chips from a bag. She shoved a chip into her mouth and bit down on it. As it crunched between her teeth, she said, "Can't you see I'm busy?"

Earnest stood between her and the television, blocking her view. "Somethin' done crashed up there along Barking Ridge."

"Crashed?" she said, trying to look around him to see the television. "Were it an airplane?"

Earnest took off his ball cap and excitedly rubbed his bald head. "If it were an airplane I would have said so. It wasn't like anything I ever seen before. It might have been one of those space ships, a UFO, I think they call 'em."

Suelynn sat up and set the bag of chips on the coffee table cluttered with crumbled candy bar wrappers, empty soda and beer cans. "You think so?" she said with sudden interest. "Maybe it was lookin' to grab someone and take 'em up to do experiments on 'em and ended up crashin'."

"Well, it ain't goin' to be doin' any experimentin' now," he said. "First thing in the mornin' I'm going to go up to the ridge and see what's up there."

"You better call Clarence and have him go with you," she said.

"Dang," he said, "We can't be tellin' anyone about it, especially Clarence. He can't keep a secret even if he swears on a Bible. Findin' a space ship like that might make us a little money."

Suelynn rubbed her double chins. "I didn't think of that," she said. "We could use a new 'frigerator." She looked at the television. "And a new television."

*

Morning fog circled the top of the mountain. On the back of his donkey, Cleo, Earnest pushed aside the brush and tree branches that kept him from going faster. At a clearing in the woods, he looked over a cliff at the long drop to the bottom of the mountain. He wiped moisture from his face with the back of his hand, kicked Cleo's sides, and continued on.

On Barking Ridge, a part of the mountain where a large chunk of it had landslid off ages ago he jumped off of Cleo. The tops of several tall pine trees had been sheared off and lay in piles among the trees.

Earnest inhaled deeply. Somethin' burnt, he thought.

He took his rifle from the scabbard hanging from the saddle on Cleo's back and rested the barrel on his shoulder. Grabbing the rein, he pulled Cleo along as he cautiously followed the trail.

Suddenly, Cleo stopped walking and pulled back on the rein.

"What's wrong with you?" Earnest said as he pulled on the rein.

Cleo refused to move.

Earnest did a complete turn, looking all around him. Several yards ahead a body lay in a pile of pine needles and small branches. Dang, dang, dang, he thought.

He raised the rifle and aimed it at the body as he slowly walked toward it. A few feet from it, he stopped and involuntarily let out a long, low whistle. What lay in front of him was clearly not human. It was about three foot in height, and very thin. It wore nothing and its skin was light orange and as smooth as porcelain. Its head resembled an upside down triangle with large ears and a very small mouth. Its eyes were closed. At the end of long slender arms were inordinately large hands with six fingers on each hand. Short, spindly legs led to long slender feet with four webbed toes on each foot. There were gills along its side. They rapidly opened and closed. It had a thin, snake-like tail that was wound around its waist. There were no genitals.

Dang, we got us an alien here, he thought.

There was no sign of the ship.

Earnest put the rifle in the scabbard and unhooked a coiled rope that was hanging from Cleo's saddle. He bound the hands and feet of the alien then lifted it over his shoulder then draped it over the saddle.

After settling down a skittish Cleo, Earnest turned the donkey around using the reins, and walked the donkey with the alien back the direction he had come.

*

Suelynn was standing at the kitchen sink washing a pot when Earnest entered through the screen door. "Did you find anything up there?" she said.

With a broad grin on his face, he said, "Sure did. Found an alien. I tied it up. It's in the cedar box out in the barn."

Suelynn flicked soap suds from her hands. "What are we goin' to do with an alien? What about the space ship?"

The grin on Earnest's face quickly disappeared. "Didn't see it. I think it might have burnt up. The alien was out cold when I found it. It's lucky to be alive, I imagine."

Suelynn wiped her hands on a dishtowel. "I don't know what good havin' an alien in our barn is going to do us, but you might as well show it to me."

"Be prepared," he said. "It ain't like nothin' you ever seen before." He opened the screen door and Suelynn went out, then he followed.

Chickens scratching in the dirt scurried out of the way as the husband and wife crossed the yard to the weather worn barn. Remnants of red paint spotted the warped boards like measles. Earnest opened the barn door, startling the barn swallows in their nests attached to the walls and pigeons that roosted in the hay loft. In his stall, Cleo kicked the wall that separated her from two goats.

At the cedar box, Earnest removed the padlock that hung unlocked from the lock and slowly lifted the lid. He looked in. The alien was on its back and its eyes were open. "It's awake," he said.

Suelynn hesitantly peered into the box. "It's pretty," she said.

The alien's gaze drifted to her.

"Oh my heavens, it's lookin' at me," Suelynn squealed with delight.

"It probably ain't seen the likeness of you or me before," Earnest said.

She leaned into the box. "Hey there little fella," she said. "Are you a male or female?"

"It don't matter what sex it is," Earnest said. "You ain't plannin' on marryin' it are ya?"

Suelynn giggled. "Maybe it's thirsty," she said. She went to Cleo's water bucket and scooped out some water and brought it back to the alien. "I hope you drink water," she said as she poured the water into the alien's mouth. The alien purred and its eyes changed color from dark brown to light blue as it stared at Suelynn.

"Look at that," she said. "It sure enough likes water."

"There must be some way we can make some money," Earnest said. "It's not like anyone else has an alien."

"Maybe the government will buy it from us," Suelynn said as she stroked the alien's cheek.

"Maybe so," Earnest said as he lowered the lid.

*

Sitting on a stool by the cedar box, Suelynn poured water from a metal jug into the alien's mouth. The alien purred loudly and blinked its round eyes at Suelynn. She gently ran her hand across the flat, hairless top of its head.

"If I untie you, will you behave yourself?" she said.

She placed the jug in the hay next to the box and undid the knots Earnest had put in the rope. As she pulled the rope from the alien's body, it lay still, intensely watching her.

With the entire rope in her hands she coiled it, then put it next to the jug.

Without moving any body parts, the alien levitated out of the box. It stopped in mid-air a couple of feet from the box and then floated over Suelynn's head to the center of the barn. There it lowered its legs and placed its feet in the hay and stood upright. Its tail was raised and curled and unfurled.

"Oh my," Suelynn said, standing up, "you do magic tricks."

The alien opened its mouth, its thin lips forming a perfect circle, and emitted a series of high pitched squeaks.

Cleo began braying and kicking the walls of her stall.

Suelynn was speechless for a few seconds, then she said, "You been here a week and you ain't done that before. Are you talkin' to me?"

The barn door opened and Earnest walked in, followed by Clarence, both carrying their rifles. They both stopped abruptly when they saw the alien.

"Dang, it done got out of the box," Earnest said.

"No it didn't," Suelynn said. "I untied it and let it out."

Clarence raised his rifle and aimed it at the alien. "You didn't tell me it were so unnatural lookin'," he said. "It might be probin' our minds while we're standin' here."

Earnest put his hand on the barrel of Clarence's rifle and pushed it down. "You dang fool. I can't make no money from a dead alien."

Clarence pushed his ball cap back and with mouth agape stared at the alien as if awaiting to be vaporized.

"It can do magic tricks." Suelynn said. "I was thinking we could sell tickets to let people see it and it could float about for them."

Earnest cautiously walked toward the alien. He stopped a foot from it and stared into its eyes. "We wouldn't make any money that way. Besides, Clarence went with me down to the army recruitin' station in Bellsby and I told 'em we got an alien for sale. Those army fellas picked up the phone right then and there and called some government folks. It won't be long before government cars are going to be pulling up to the house."

The alien lifted its arms and rose from the ground and stopped at a rafter, frightening off several pigeons. It sat on the beam.

"See it can do tricks," Suelynn said.

Clarence quickly raised his gun and shot. The bullet went through the barn roof.

"Dang it, Clarence," Earnest said. "Put your rifle down. It ain't doing us no harm just flyin' about."

"I thought you weren't goin' to say anything to Clarence about the alien," Suelynn said to Earnest.

"Havin' an alien in the barn is a hard thing to keep secret," Earnest said.

Earnest, Clarence and Suelynn looked up at the alien as it looked down at them.

"What now?" she said.

"We just wait," Earnest said. "Keep your eye and your gun on him, Clarence."

*

Out in the moonlight an owl hooted from its perch on a nearby tree limb. Crickets and bullfrogs filled the air with their discordant callings. A soft, warm breeze blew dead leaves across the yard.

Inside and standing under the beam that the alien was sitting on, Suelynn held out a scoopful of water. The alien spread its arms and slid off the rafter and floated down, planting its feet in the hay in front of her. It tilted back its head and she poured the water in its mouth. Righting its head it gazed into hers with soft blue eyes.

Staring into them, she saw for the first time the rapidly changing images of planets, galaxies and star clusters. Awe shucks, she said, "Earnest, you have to come see this."

Lying on the lid of the closed firewood box with a pile of hay under his head for a pillow, he said, "Ain't nothin' that alien's got to show that interests me. I just want what I can get for it from the government."

Seated on a hay bale next to the barn door, Clarence's head snapped back as he caught himself just before falling off to sleep. He wiped drool from his mouth with one hand, while raising the rifle and aiming it in the alien's direction with the other hand.

The single uncovered bulb that hung from a rafter cast long shadows inside the barn. In the near darkness the alien's skin glowed neon orange.

Its tail that was always in movement suddenly became rigid and it turned its head toward the door. Car tires were heard on the dirt driveway.

Earnest sat up. "That must be the government," he said with excitement as he leapt off the box.

Clarence quickly stood up as Earnest reached the door. "You think they'll bring cash?" he said.

"I figure so," Earnest said. "That recruitin' fella told 'em what I wanted and that I didn't have a bank account." He slid the door open.

A black car with its headlights on was sitting in the driveway. The front passenger door opened slowly and a man in a black suit got out. He raised a megaphone and said through it, "Are you Earnest Kerr?"

"I sure am," Earnest said. "You here to buy my alien?"

"You have an alien in your barn?" the man said.

"Sure do," Earnest said.

Three other men got out of the car and with pistols raised the four men slowly approached the barn. The man with the megaphone lowered it and said, "Stand aside so that we can have a look at the alien."

Earnest and Clarence stepped to the sides of the door.

The four men entered the barn with their guns pointed at Suelynn who was standing between them and the alien. In that moment the alien let out a high pitch screech and pushed Suelynn aside.

The men fired their pistols, hitting the alien in the chest and head. Its body exploded into dozens of fragments of light that turned into exact duplicates of the original alien. They crowded the loft and half of the barn.

Suelynn screamed, "It meant no harm. Now look what you done."

"Dang," Earnest said as the government men grabbed him and Clarence and retreated out of the barn, slamming the door behind them.

"You left my Suelynn in there with those things," Earnest yelled.

*

While one of the government men frantically spoke into their car's two-way radio, Earnest and Clarence sat on the rear bumper. The other government men had taken positions around the yard, lying in the dirt with their guns aimed at the barn door.

"Why ain't Suelynn comin' out?" Earnest said.

"They must be holdin' her hostage," Clarence said.

After a few minutes the government man stepped out of the car and said, "We have to pull back, they're bringing in air power to terminate those things."

Earnest jumped up. "Have you lost your mind? You saw what happen when you shot just one of 'em. You try anythin' else like that and these hills are goin' to be crawlin' with 'em." Almost as an afterthought, he said, "My Suelynn's in there along with my favorite donkey, Cleo."

"Sorry," the government man said, "But the only way to contain this problem that you created is to firebomb your barn. Your wife and livestock will just have to be collateral damage." He yelled to the other men, "Time to move back." He gave a hand signal, and the men returned to the car and got in.

Just before getting in the car himself, the man holding the two-way said to Earnest and Clarence, "I suggest you two find cover." The car did a quick u-turn and sped out of the yard.

"Dang," Earnest said.

*

As she pumped water into the trough, one by one, the aliens stepped up, splashed water on themselves and gulped down large amounts of water.

"You boys sure do have a fondness for water," she said.

Cleo was wildly kicking the walls of her stall.

The screeching of the aliens communicating with one another suddenly filled the barn. Feeling dizzy, Suelynn stopped pumping water and sat down on a bale of hay. The aliens surrounded her, linking their hands, and began to hum. She closed her eyes as images of their planet filled her mind. Their world was many times larger than Earth and mostly covered with water.

Surrounded by them, in all her life she had never felt so protected and cared for. She quickly opened her eyes when a steady whirring sound came from above the barn. Then all the aliens disappeared.

Suelynn stood up and slowly walked out of the barn.

Earnest jumped out of the ditch at the side of the driveway that he and Clarence were hiding in and ran up to his wife. "You missed it, Suelynn, a big ol' spaceship was right over our barn for about a minute and then it took off into space faster than a flea."

When three helicopters armed with rockets appeared over the trees, Earnest grabbed Suelynn and pulled her into the ditch.

The helicopters launched their rockets, turning the barn into a pile of burning lumber, hay and dead animals.

With the heat of the fire on his face, Earnest rose up from the ditch, shook his fist at the retreating helicopters, and said, "You damn fools killed my Cleo."

He, Clarence and Suelynn climbed out of the ditch.

Suelynn put her hands on her rapidly rising abdomen. "I think those aliens got me pregnant," she said to Earnest.

"Dang," he said.

The End

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