the Last U.F.O. Report

by James Bronson


Chapter 3 - Still Waters

            Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was no comparison to crossing Death Valley’s flat lands.  The air was oven dry.  The sun burnt my scalp through a full head of hair.  I asked the old man to slow down, but he just stared straight ahead and ignored me.  I didn’t know how much more of this kidney shaking, butt busting joyride my overtaxed body could take.

            “Look,” he said, “the foothills.  When we get there, we can slow down.”

            The romance of the desert, the sea of sand, a blank canvas for the adventuresome mind, looked a lot more inviting on my big screen TV.  At this point, even the lifeless dull brown hills ahead looked like an escape from the washboard road from hell.

            I had a headache, and the nerves in my back felt stretched and pinched at the same time.  In short, I needed an emergency visit to one of those big electric vibrating lounge chairs.  Pops, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying himself enormously.  Every dip and jolt brought a smile to his wrinkled old face.  I wasn’t about to let him know that I needed life support, so I pretended to enjoy the four-wheeling experience of what was left of my lifetime. 

            After over an hour of sage busting fun, we reached the base of the foothills, lifeless and carved with ripples of rock and sandy soil.

            Prune face slowed and stopped, surveying the trail ahead.  At best, it was just wide enough for our jeep to travel.

            “Is that it?” I asked.

            “What did you expect…asphalt?”

            “No, pop, I was expecting an oasis with a deep blue pond and a chorus of lovely young maidens dressed in revealing silks, just waiting to entertain us.”

            “Son, you’ve got Death Valley mixed up with Las Vegas.”

            “Maybe it’s because your breath smells like an old camel fart, and your wrinkled face looks like a camel’s rear end.”

            “Very logical. You found a camel, so there must be a harem of willing beauties nearby.”

            “Look, pop, I’d be happy just to see an old trail sign, anything to show that we haven’t fallen off the edge of the map.”

            “There should be something.”

            “You mean that we are lost?”

            “No, no, not lost, just give me time to orient myself.”

            The water bags that hung off the side of the jeep were starting to look thinner and thinner.  I imagined myself walking back to the highway, the water bags now empty, and I am slowly turning into a life-sized piece of beef jerky.  Then I had the story—

“Reporter’s sun-cooked body found on a remote desert trail, eaten by a troop of hungry Boy Scouts eager to earn a survival merit badge.  At a hastily arranged press conference, troop leader Robert B. Straight exclaimed, ‘All we needed was a little ketchup.’”


            “We’re okay,” erupted my questionable tour guide.  He pointed to a flash in the distance, something that glinted from the top of the nearby ridge.

            “What’s that?” I asked.

            “You know,” he answered.

            I thought for a moment then guessed, “One of your space friends using his vanity mirror to signal us.”

            “No, a surveillance camera.”

            “Of course, why didn’t I think of that?  Here I thought we were being observed by an alien spy satellite.”

            “That too,” he answered.

            “Alright, pop, this joke has gone far enough.  Turn this Bouncing Betty of a war surplus jeep around, and take me back to Baker.”

            “I would, son, but we’re almost out of gas.”  He pointed to the gas gauge that was nearly on empty. 

            “What about the two five gallon gas cans in the back?” I asked.

            “Not gas, water.”

            “What?  You crazy old fool, what have you done to us?!”

            “Not to worry.  We haven’t far to go.  We’re almost there.”

            “Almost where?”  It was getting late.  In a couple of hours the sun would set, and the two of us would be alone in the dark with animals on the prowl.

            “The old ghost town,” he answered.

            What’s next, I thought…wild animals, prune face, space men, and now ghosts.  Unfortunately, I left my gun at home, and I didn’t even pack a flashlight.  “Are there live people living there?” I asked.

            “No, then it wouldn’t be a real ghost town.”

            “Of course not.  What’s the name of this town?”

            “Still Waters,” he answered.

             A biblical reference, and not an encouraging one for a middle-aged reporter with career plans and no obituary.

             The jeep moved cautiously forward.  I remembered an old saying, “Our destiny awaits; let no man avoid his due.”  I looked back on my last thirty-five years as preparation for this very moment of destiny.  The only thing that I could conclude was that the fates really had a sense of humor.  A wasted youth, great promise unfulfilled, a trip to the gutter, a long climb up only to this Death Valley serenade in a lost ghost town, no less.

            “Stop feeling sorry for yourself kid, and pay attention to what’s happening now,” interrupted the old man.  “It’s not what you do--it’s being there to enjoy it.”

            “And where did you get that nugget of wisdom, pop?”

            “I think I heard it on Oprah.  It just came to mind, and I thought it might cheer you up.”

            “Didn’t they teach you at NASA school that people who go around trying to cheer up other people are a pain in the world’s collective ass?”

            “OK, but don’t you think that a reporter about to disclose the biggest story ever might be a little excited?”

            “True, pop, but dead reporters hardly ever tell news stories.”

            “That’s not true.  I’ve been dead for five years, and now I’m back to tell the world the truth.”

            “So you’re the first NASA zombie.”

            “More or less.”

            “And you’re taking me to a Death Valley ghost town to talk with outer space aliens.”

            “Yes, but I didn’t mean that I was medically dead.  I was emotionally dead.”

            “I get it, not a zombie, just a nut case.”

            “You could say that.”  Then the old man started to laugh to himself, again.

            He pointed ahead.  Fifty yards up the rocky trail stood a lone guard shack.  Standing in front of the shack stood a lone United States Forest Ranger, pointing a big gun at us, motioning for us to stop.

            He wasn’t smiling.            


Next Chapter


 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10



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