the Last U.F.O. Report

by James Bronson


Chapter 4 - Shadow of the Moon

             A guard shack on the trail to nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, seemed strange.

            The guard house was about ten feet wide and roughly fifteen feet deep.  It was located on a flat plane on the right side of the trail.  A window air conditioner protruded from its side, yet there were no observable power lines, no satellite disk, no solar panels.  A small sign hung below the observation window reading, “U.S. Forest Service Environmental Division.”  Then below that a second sign read, “NO ENTRY—Classified Field Service Experimental Zone.  Biological hazards present.”

            Did I mention the tall guard in his green forest service uniform pointing a large bore military rifle straight from a Special Forces armory?

            Prune face pulled up and stopped five feet from Smokey, the well-armed Bear.  The guard stood his ground and carefully observed both of us through some kind of fancy telescopic site, a kind of handless pat down.  I followed prune face’s lead and raised my hands in the air to show that we carried no weapons.

            The guard said something into the communication device along the side of his face.  He was clean-shaven, and I noticed that his skin had the white pallor of someone who hadn’t been out in the sun, which was unusual in Death Valley, not to mention for a forest ranger.  The guard lowered his gun and approached the old man.

            “Good to see you, doctor,” he said, “We are all praying for the success of your mission.”

            “Thank you,” said the old man as we both lowered our hands.

            “You are clear to go, sir.”

            I asked, indicating the gun, “Why the big pea shooter?”  Prune face stared at me as if to say shut up.

            The guard smiled and replied, “Rabbits.  I love to hunt rabbits.  They come out at night, you know.”  He pointed to his night scope.

            “Really,” I replied.

            “Sometimes they stand upright and look like some noisy reporters I’ve seen,” he said, patting his rifle.  “But my baby never misses.”

            I felt his stare directly between my eyes.  This guy was no forest ranger.  He could drop me without even blinking.  Sometimes even I know when to shut up.

            “May we go on?” asked the old man.

            “Yes, sir.  You were cleared.  Godspeed.”

            As we pulled away, I looked back in the side mirror.  I half expected to see the ranger’s rifle pointed at the back of my head.  Instead, he had disappeared back into his air conditioned shack.

            “Sometimes people go missing,” commented the professor.

            After we cleared a corner and were out of sight of the guard shack, I motioned for prune face to stop.

            “What the hell?!” I asked.

            The old man slammed on the breaks, stared at me for a few seconds, then said, “You don’t listen, kid.”

            “I’m listening now.”

            “The life you know is over.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “This mission is so secret that you will be under surveillance.  What you write, say, or think will be censored for as long as you live.”

            “I want out.  Just send me back to Baker.”

            “Too late.”

            “Why did you get me into this?”

            “Do you think that I wanted some green kid along with me on a mission that could be the end of our civilization?”

            “Why then?”

            “They wanted you.”

            “Who is ‘they’?”

            “That’s want I’ve been trying to figure out for the last forty years.”

            “Space aliens?”

            “Aliens, yes.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “We don’t know where they come from.  We can’t even prove that they exist.  For all we know, they could be some kind of cosmic illusion meant to confuse us.  They’ve told me their story many times, but I don’t believe anything they say.”

            “What do they want from us?
            “Look, I’ve got three PhDs, I have one of the highest IQs on the planet, and I don’t have a clue.”

            “You’re the expert?”

            “That’s right, and a lot of folks are praying for me.  You heard the guard.”

            “I don’t get it.  Of all the smart people out there, why did they pick me?”

            “Don’t know.”

            I thought for a moment.  “Maybe because when we get together, we’re a challenge, and we are going to kick their asses right back to Pluto or wherever they come from.”

            “I get it…an ex-drunk reporter and a scientist who had a nervous breakdown—humanities’ dream team?”

            “Why not?  Together we can shift the space-time continuum.”

            “I thought you said cheerleaders were a collective pain in the ass.”

            “No, I said I like to look up cheerleaders’ short skirts.”

            “We’re too old for that nonsense.”

            “Speak for yourself, old man.  The knights of old went to war to defend the honor of their lady fair.  We are on a mission to preserve the most perfectly formed female posteriors to be found in the entire universe—earth women.”

            The old man started up his jeep.  He shifted into gear and headed up the trail.  He didn’t respond, but I could swear a tear formed in his eye.  I felt better too.  I guess the idea of cheering up people isn’t as bad as I thought.

            If this was going to be an interstellar chess match, I was glad that the professor was my teammate because I can’t even play a decent game of checkers.

            I watched the shadows grow longer as the sun set behind the distant mountains.  Traces of almost transparent clouds spotted the pink sky.  The cooler air finally allowed me to take a deep breath.

            The rocky trail became smooth as it opened up into a large flat valley.  To my right, a barely readable hand-carved wooden sign read, “Still Waters,” and then underneath it a second sign read, “Let no man fear.”

            Ahead was the ghost town.  There wasn’t much to see.  A few wooden shacks all but collapsed, and a two-story brick building that was almost intact.  I could still read the hand-painted sign, “Still Waters Mine Company.”

            “That’s our hotel for the night,” said the professor.

            “You haven’t had much to say,” I commented.

            The professor’s eyes were red from exposure to the dry sandy air.  He looked nearly as exhausted as I felt.

            “You’re right, young man.  For whatever reason, it’s the two of us.  Maybe it’s the work of a higher power.”

            “I just think of my high school cheerleaders waving their pom-poms and yelling, ‘Go team, go!’”

            “The cheerleaders at Cal-Tech weren’t much of an inspiration.”

            “Yes, but it was your teammates that got us to the moon.”

            “Moon…that reminds me, the town cemetery is called Shadow of the Moon.  It’s out there to your left about a quarter of a mile.  That’s where all the locals hang out, and from what I’ve heard, they’re not too shy when it comes to visiting strangers.”

            “Professor, I can tell you a lot about ghosts.  For one thing, they are living in a dream.  They seem to think that time stands still.  There is no cable news six feet down.”

            “That’s the thing about the aliens, you never know what channel they’re watching, but you know that at anytime they can shut down your broadcast.  To quote an episode of The Twilight Zone--they can send you to the cornfield.”

            “I get it.”

            “That’s good because tomorrow you will make your first contact.”

            “What can I expect?”
            “It’s like being sent to see your elementary school’s principal.  It usually isn’t a good day.”

            Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a creaking floorboard from inside the mining office.  We both turned, only to see a familiar large bore rifle pointed in our direction.



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 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10



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