Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
 
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The Man Named Lance

by George Michael Brown




I’ve been doing this a lot lately—staring. Right now I’m laying on my stomach staring at the grass, the same grass that I mowed yesterday. I want to see if I can see it grow. I know it grows because it is my job to mow the damn stuff every week. But I can’t see it grow. I even set a twig on the grass in an attempt to measure the growth. But no matter how long I stare, I’ll be damned if I can tell if there has been any growth.

I figure that it should grow about two inches a week, that is, if it rains—and, we’ve had a lot of rain lately. According to my calculations, it should grow about a third of an inch a day. I should be able to see that—but I can’t.

It’s the same with paint. I can tell when it’s wet and I know when it will eventually dry. But I can never see when that moment occurs.

You might ask why? Why spend time watching the damn grass grow or the paint dry?

It all started two months ago at the local tavern where I formulated my plan to seek revenge against something evil that has invaded my small northern Wisconsin town.

*****

I was at the local tavern. Not really much of a tavern, nothing like what’s in the big cities. Actually, there’s not much to this town either—six businesses that serve two hundred and thirty-two residents during the non-tourist season.

What we do have are lots of lakes and two rivers. I guess that’s good for the resorts. It brings in tourists, which in turn helps business—but it also brought evil. I’m getting ahead of myself, am I not?

The tavern where I spend most of my time isn’t much to look at. Perhaps I should refer to this place as a bar, or, better yet, a beer joint. The term tavern should be reserved for the big city.

Anyway, I was sitting in the beer joint with my friend, Emil Marthos. Oh, my name is Lance, Lance Wells. We’re both retired. Emil retired early. He was a logger unil a tree fell the wrong way and damn near crushed him. He only suffered a broken leg. However, it was enough to end his logging career. And at the age of sixty-one, and with a bum leg, there was no way he could ever log again.

But it didn’t matter. The company pulled out, and with the loggers gone we lost over three hundred residents and seven businesses. Many people went on welfare or retired. Now we sit around and drink.

The tavern, excuse me, the beer joint, “No Place”, consists of nothing more than an old thirty-foot bar, five booths, a jute box with country songs from the forties, and an old beat up pool table that has a distinct roll to the right.

Tonight there is a scattering of patrons in the joint, all locals except for one. The only time tourists or sportsmen come in is out of curiosity; I guess it’s sort of an offbeat tourist attraction. “Come in and see the locals.” But it’s our bar, our “Cheers” in the woods.

*****

Emil and I are sitting at my favorite spot—at the far end of the bar where I can see the front door. You may wonder why we sit here like Cliff and Norm. The answer is I like to see who enters and exits. Paranoid? Perhaps. But they are out there, I know they are.

I motion for Carl to bring two more beers. Carl is the owner, been the owner for forty years. He inherited the place from his father when his father passed away while fishing on the river.

Carl brings us the beers. I dig twenty cents out of my pocket and thank him. Emil takes a swig then asks, “Now please explain to me why you always have to sit here? I mean, even when the place is empty, you insist on sitting here.”

“I like to see what’s going on,” I say, “I want to see if one of them enter”

“Them? One of them? Who are them? We know most of the people here.”

“Okay,” I said to him, “See that guy over there?”

“Where?”

“There,” I pointed as inconspicuosly as possible to the table by the picture window that looks out at the street.

Emil glanced toward the man. “Yeah, so?”

I took a drink before saying, “Tell me, what do you see?”

Emil took a swig of beer all the while his eyes stared at the man at the table. “I see a man enjoying a drink—so what?”

“What do you mean, ‘so what’?” Carl joined us as I continued, “Take a closer look.”

Emil started to rise. I grabbed him by the shoulder and whispered, “Sit down, where are you going?”

“To get a closer look,” replied Emil.

“No, sit down.” I glanced to Carl. “Carl, what do you see?”

Carl shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, looks normal to me.”

No, no, no,” I said. “Look at his drink.” I take a drink while giving them time to answer.

Emil was the first to reply. “I don’t see anything.”

Carl nods in agreement.

“Look at his glass. Carl, what is he drinking?”

Carl paused for a moment. “Ahh, a Tom Collins I believe. Yes, I remember, a Tom Collins.”

I repeated, “A Tom Collins.”

Carl and Emil looked at me like I grew a wart on my nose.

“You don’t see it, do you?”

They shook their heads in a way that looked like they were trying to patronize me.

“Okay, I’ll make it simple. What man would drink a Tom Collins?” I waited for a reply. Receiving none, I said, “No man would, not from this planet anyway, no sir.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?” asked Emil.

“Look at him,” I said, “Look at the way he’s looking around. And sitting there all alone—no, he’s up to something.”

When the man at the table looked at the three of us at the bar, Carl weakly waved, Emil nodded, and I looked away.

When the man looked away, Emil said, “Appears normal to me.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Carl. Carl then said to me, “I think you’ve been reading too many of those outer space books.”

“Okay,” I said, “But he is up to something.” I had a theory but didn’t want to get into an argument with Carl or Emil. I figured that aliens had the capability of taking over our bodies and thoughts, probably with a potion or some other concoction. That way they could roam amongst us without getting noticed. But I figured them out—I knew their tricks.

I then went on to explain to Emil my reason for the disturbing trend on why our town was losing population. Carl left.

“It’s not the damn tree huggers that killed off the logging industry.”

“Then what is it?” asked Emil.

“It’s the extra-terrestials.”

“The what?”

“Extra...did I ever tell you what happened to me a while back?”

Emil glanced around the bar before answering. He had a habit of doing this every time I was about to tell a story. “I suppose you’re going to tell me regardless...”

I motioned for the bartender to bring us another round. Emil dutifully finished his beer while waiting patiently for the replacement.

“What I’m about to tell you happened about five weeks ago. It was dark, around midnight, when I left the beer joint. I remember there was no moon that night—I mean when I left town it was like driving in an ink well.”

“I suppose having only one headlight didn’t help any,” added Emil. “You still haven’t fixed it yet, have you.”

The beers arrived while I explained to Emil that I hadn’t had the time to fix the headlight—which actually meant to say that I didn't feel like it.

“Anyway, I drove down Lake Mills road, minding my own business and watching for deer, when up ahead, maybe a quarter of a mile or so. I saw a light on the road. At first I thought it was a motorcycle. But soon I realized that it wasn’t moving. I still thought it was a motorcycle or perhaps even a car with one headlight that might be broken down off to the side of the road, maybe Rick Stegman’s car. I knew he had a headlight out and that he travels this road a lot at night; he loves fishing Lake Mill at night you know.”

Emil nodded in agreement, which told me he was still paying attention.

“So, I slowed down. Then I saw it move, not toward me, but up. At first I thought I was seeing things. I pulled over and stoped the car. By now I figured I was about a thousand feet away. Due to the brightness of the light I still couldn’t make out if it was a bike or a car.

“I shielded my eyes from the light. I thought the light was too bright to be from a bike or a car. And then something happened, I nearly pissed my pants.”

Emil broke out in laughter. “Like the time we were fishing, remember that?”

I didn’t want to reminicse.

Emil continued, “Me and you drank all this beer and then here comes these ladies on a pontoon.”

With a disgusted voice I replied, “Yes, yes, I remember.”

“And you had to...”

“Okay, okay.”                                                                                              

“I’m sorry, please, please continue.”

I thanked him and went on, “Anyway, I wanted to get back in the car, but my feet wouldn’t move; I felt I was standing in a foot of mud. My eyes stared ahead as the object moved straight up in the air. Not fast, mind you, slow and easy.”

“Maybe it was a helicopter,” replied Carl.

I jumped. I was so intent of telling Emil what happened that I didn’t realize Carl was listening. “No, it wasn’t a helicopter, I would have heard that. This thing was silent, so silent that I still could hear the insects in the woods.”

I turned to Emil. “This thing rose steadily and silently, like a balloon with a light attached to it. Soon it was at tree-top level.” I showed this with my right hand raised eye level. “There it say motionless, for what seemed like an eternity.”

Emil and Carl's eyes were glued to my hand.

“Then as if on cue, the damn thing took off and went right over my head.” I moved my right hand briskly over my head nearily causing Emil to nearly fall off his stool. “I watched as it disappeared into the night sky.” I paused to take a drink. “It was like the night swallowed it, leaving no trace.”                              “So what do you think they were doing, who ever they were?” asked Emil.

 “My opinion is that they are getting ready to take over this town.”

“C’mon now,” said Carl.

“No, no, listen” I said, “We’re a small town in the boondocks, right?”

Emil and Carl nodded. Emil added, “So?”

“It means they can go about their business unnoticed.”

“Okay smarty,” quipped Carl, “Why here? Why not in North Dakota or Montana?”

I answered back, “And who says they’re not there? Hell, they might be in every state, planning a takeover at any minute.”

“Why would they want to take over this miserable planet,” asked Carl.

Emil nodded in agreement.

I scratched my chin. “I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe their planet is running out of water, so they need ours. Maybe they want our minerals, hell, maybe they just need the space. All I know is that their here and up to no good.”

Emil looked to the bartender and said with a sarcastic voice, “His favorite show was “They Came From Outer Space.”

“Actually it was War of the Worlds, but that’s besides the point. I’m telling you, they’re here setting up something.”

I paused for a moment. I know they didn’t believe me. I sometimes had a hard time believing in such things myself. For me, it started a couple of years ago. I kept hearing strange sounds in the woods. I lived there long enough to know the sounds were not sounds of an animal, nor were they the sound of loggers, not in the middle of the night. And, I’ve seen lights in the sky before, but never as close as what I saw on the road.

“Come to think of it," I said, "I’ll bet I do know what they’re up to.”

I finished my beer and motioned for Carl to bring Emil and me another round. Emil finished his beer and said, “Tell me, what are they up to?”

Before I could answer, the bartender shouted, “Wait till I get there, I don’t want to miss this.”

I smiled politely. “Emil, think it’s going to rain tonight?”

“Not suppose to.”

I glanced over to the table where the man was drinking a Tom Collins. I nudged Emil. “He’s getting up.”

Emil and I kept a watchful eye as the man walked to the far side of the bar. He took one last sip of his drink before setting his glass on the bar. When he walked to the door, he glanced back at us and smiled. Then he walked into the night.

“See that?” I asked.

“What about it?”

“The way he smiled at us.”                                                                                                                     

Carl arrived with our drinks. I told him to get one for himself. He thanked me and poured a beer from the tap. He leaned on the bar and said, “Okay, now explain to us what they’re doing here.”

I said matter-of-factly, “They’re building a communication network.”

Emil and Carl smiled. Floyd, who was sitting half way down the bar, joined us. “A what?”

“They’re building a commun...look, if they are occupying every state, and probably every country, they have to have a way to communicate with each other. That way they can coordinate a final attack.”

Smiling like the Cheshire Cat, Floyd asked, “So what do these so called communication devices look like?”

I knew he was teasing me, but I didn’t mind. After all, Darwin was teased for his theory, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers—all were put down for their beliefs.

“What do they look like? I really don’t...I suppose they would have to look like something that would belong here.”

Emil remarked sarcastialy, “I suppose they wouldn’t want to alarm us.”

“You know,” said Floyd, “I have a thought.”

“That’ll be a first,” replied Carl.

Floyd continued, “Maybe it’s the Ruskies; I never did trust them.”

Carl and Emil laughed.

“Go ahead, laugh,” I said, “Have your fun.”

They took turns apologizing. Our discussion turned to sports and politics, and, as usual, it ended up with a huge disagreement as went out seperate ways.

Driving home that night, my mind wandered. What would those communication devices look like? And, would I even know one if I saw it?

While driving my car with one headlight, I kept checking the sky and twice just about drove off the road. It had been a while since I went this way home. I don’t know why I took this way tonight, maybe for a change in scenery, although at night and with only one headlight, the scenery looks the same on any county road.

I remembered a large development that was being built on Sand Lake, off of Sand Creek Road, two miles east of the road I was on now. From all I’ve heard, this road would soon be a busy place.

I took a swig of beer—I didn’t want to finish it at the bar and I didn’t want to waste it—so, I took it with me. I’ve never seen a sheriff on this road, and besides, I could always toss it out the passenger side window.

As I was taking a drink, my eyes looked down the bottle and caught something along the side of the road, an object I hadn’t seen before. I slowed as I passed it. I knew it wasn’t there the last time I drove past, about a month ago.

I didn’t think to much of it, I guess I was too occupied with looking for lights in the dark evening sky, oh, and keeping the car on the road.

I arrived home, grabbed a handful of salted-in-the-shell peanuts, and turned the tv on to my favorite monster/horror channel. Five peanuts later I sat up and yelled out, “holy crap”.

Those objects I saw along the road, they had to be the communication devices. There could be no other explanation.

I wanted to call Emil. I wanted to tell him that he was right. I wanted to laugh. Instead, I went to the bedroom for my rifle, a Winchester Model 94 lever action 30-30. I kept it in the bedroom in case those space aliens came snooping around. I didn’t want them to perform any outer space experiments on me. I had heard about those people, read about them in the weekly tabloids I buy at Harv’s grocery store. No sir, not me.

I checked the rifle to make sure it was fully loaded. I then found the box of ammunition and filled my pocket. Not wanting to take any chances, I also brought along my Colt Single action 45 that I kept in a holster draped around the dinning room chair.

I grabbed my flashlight and went to the shed. It wasn’t much of a structure. I built it thirty years ago out of old left over lumber I got from the Sythe barn when a storm blew it over. I don’t think my shed had a ninety-degree corner anywhere. But it served its purpose of keeping the lawnmower, assorted rakes and shovels, and my old Clinton outboard, safe and dry.

Also stored within its walls, wrapped in an old horse blanket, were six sticks of dynamite, along with caps and fuses. A logging company sort of donated them to me. I intended to blow up some stumps. However, like most of my projects, that one lie in limbo waiting for the right moment.

I saw the tattered olive green dust covered blanket that held my booty. With the caution of a beekeeper, I uncovered the six sticks of dynamite. They were nestled in the blanket like hots dogs in a bun. I carefully rewrapped them in the blanket and placed them in a World War One army knapsack that hung from a nail on the wall. I also placed the dynamite caps and fuse in the knapsack.

I tiptoed to the car and gingerly set the knapsack in the trunk.

I knew I couldn’t save the world, but I could at least put a damper on their activities around here. Maybe if I showed them that some of us were willing to defend our country, they would back down.

I felt like a sheriff in a western about to have it out with the bad guys. But instead of hopping on a horse, I sat on the front seat of my ‘41 Buick with its one headlight.

I set the rifle on the front seat next to me. I started the car then remembered that I didn't have matches,  I chided myself for almost forgetting them. I don’t know what I would have done without them—rub two sticks together, I suppose. Anyway, after going back in the house and getting the matches, I was off and running, thinking of anything else I might have forgotten.

I drove cautiously, keeping an eye on the sky, as well as on the road ahead. No telling where these little devils might be hiding. I knew that it was entirely possible that they could be waiting in ambush; their spy network could be anywhere, like the man I saw sitting alone in the bar drinking a Tom Collins, a man I’ve never seen before. And who’s to say that a space creature can’t look like one of us. I’ve seen enough movies with outer space beings to verify that.

Before I left I had thought of calling Emil, but decided against. The phone lines could be bugged and, Sophie, the phone operator, might not even be Sophie, it could be one of them.

I thought against driving to his place. Arriving there unannounced would be a sure way of getting a load of buckshot. I knew he kept a loaded shotgun by his side. He had listened to me enough times when I talked about the possibility of a space invasion. Of course, he could have kept it close because of his still.

It wasn’t long until I saw the objective. By my estimate it was a quarter of a mile away. I pulled over to the side of the road, no need to take any chances of being seen. I would walk the rest of the way hugging the tree line. This would provide good cover and an escape route if I were spotted.

With the stealth of a lion stalking its prey, I began my quest. I tripped a couple of times on fallen tree limbs that lie hidden in the high weeds. I cursed myself for not wearing my combat boots that had ankle support.

Half way to my objective, I heard something scramble in the woods to my left. I quickly turned. I didn’t want to use the flashlight for fear of being discovered. My eyes had become adjusted to the darkness but without any light from the moon, I could only see a few feet into the woods.

I stood there, rifle at the ready. My heart pounded. I listened—nothing. I waited a few minutes—not a sound. Was I being stalked? Was it that guy who was in the bar?

I walked for another minute. Nothing, not a sound. I repeated this twice more, walking, stopping and listening. I convinced myself that no creature, earthly or otherwise, lurked in the shadows.

When I felt I was in range of my intended target, I knelt and planned my attack. There were four of those comunication devices, so I had to plan carefully. If they could warn the world all might end right now. My only hope was to destroy these four things and pray others around the world would do the same.

I checked the night sky to see if they were out there. All I saw were the stars, it was a beautiful night. But each star could be one of them. I guess it’s true, you can’t see the forest through the trees, or in this case, you can’t see the alien space crafts though the stars.

I wouldn’t let that deter me; I had a job to do. I still wished that I had Emil with me as a backup. But it was too late for that. I pushed forward.

I stopped about one hundred feet from my quarry. I saw a light come over the hill. The first thing I thought of was it must be one of them—I’ve been discovered. Hunched over, I duck-walked to the safety of the woods. There I lay down. My hand found a thistle. With an eye on the lights, I pulled out the intruder.

The lights continued to draw closer. Any minute I expected to see a beam of light search the woods for me. I immediately layed down in a sniper position.

I crawled back a few feet toward the trees, trying to blend in with the ground while at the same time keeping an eye on an aproacing menace. It began to slow as it closed in on my location. My right hand grabbed my rifle. I edged it forward and slowly cocked the lever action, chambering the round. My finger found the trigger.

Would my 30-30 rifle be enough to stop an alien? I had no way of knowing but much to my relief I didn’t have to find out. I sighed like a leaky tire when I saw that the object of my concern; the lights belonged to Harvey Johnson’s ‘40 Ford pickup truck. My eyes followed the taillights until it was out of sight.

My mind wandered as I thought to myself, “What if those lights did belong to an alien spacecraft? Did I have the means to stop them? And what would they attack me with? What type of devise would they use?”

The screech of an owl brought me back to the task at hand. I rose and then stumbled on another fallen tree limb as I came out of my hiding lace. The night belonged to me again. I felt it was now safe to continue my mission.

I quickened my pace. When I was within twenty feet from my destination, I stopped and knelt in the weeds. I took inventory and discovered I had forgotten one important item. Why it occurred to me now I can’t say. Perhaps I acted too fast—not taking the time to think this out. I thought of returning to my place. But that would only waste time, giving them more time to organize. It had to be now or never.

I sat in the tall weeds and thought about two things: How to solve the problem, and how many bugs might be crawling around me.

I didn’t take into account on how to attach the dynamite to those objects. I had to figure a way to attach the explosives to the posts.

I brought nothing with me to do the job, except my bootlaces. I glanced to my boots and figured they were long enough to attach the explosives to the pole.

“Okay,” I muttered to myself, “time to play.” Like a soldier crawling to his target, I advanced to the first of four towers. I set the knapsack down, knelt beside it and removed one of my shoelaces. Then I took out one of the sticks of dynamite. I handled it as if my breath might cause it to explode.

I placed the dynamite at the base of the pole, then secured it with my bootlace. I gingerly placed the detonating cap and the fuse in the dynamite. I hoped I had brought enough fuse. I still had three poles left.

I rechecked th dynamite then crossed the road to the next pole, the fuse trailing behind me. I glanced around wondering what might happen if a car came by. Would the car take the fuse with it? Would the air current created by the vehicle dislodge the fuse?

I couldn’t let these questions bother me. The faster I complete the task the faster I can get the heck out of here without being discovered. Thoughts kept running through my head; wouldn’t something like this have a guard? And if there is a guard, where is he (it)? Or do they only occasionaly patrol this area? Was the spacecraft I saw a while back patroling this area?

Because I only had two shoelaces I was forced to set two of the dynamite explosives at the base of the poles. I used sand to keep the the dynamite upright against the poles.

A half hour later I completed my task. After looking around to check my work, I skittered down the road as far as the fuse would let me. I knelt and tied the four fuse lines together.

I glanced once more at the night sky, thinking that at any minute now I would see an alien craft come swooping down and use a ray gun on me.

Once I assured myself that I was safe, I dug in my pocket for matches. My hands trembled as I tried to light the fuse—it took four matches. Once lit, the fuse sparkled like a New Year’s Eve sparkler as it raced along the ground toward its final destination.

I didn’t want to wait around for the explosion. Half walking, half running, I began my journey to the car. I forgot about my boots that lacked laces, that is until my feet found the small stones on the roadway. I took a chance and retrieved my boots.

When I put them on my gait turned into more of a shufle. I looked behind me and saw the dim sparkle of the fuses. I took turns gazing at he sky and looking behind me, waiting for either the explosion or them.

What seemed like hours in reality was only minutes, I saw my car in the distance. It still appeared to be intact. That meant they they had not spotted me.

I then heard it, explosions seconds apart. I quickly glanced back but only saw the dark of the night. I had to assume the dynamite did its job. Twenty feet from the car I stopped and once again checked the perimeter around the car. I wanted to make sure no alien was waiting for me.

Convinced I was safe, I went inside the car. I flopped on the seat and let out a long sigh. My hands trembled. What remained of the diet soda I brought was still on the floor of the car. I said a grateful prayer that some of the soda still remained in the can.

I started the car, made a ‘U’ turn, and sped off. Did that soda taste funny? While I was doing my dirty deed, did an alien place some exotic potion in it? If aliens were cabable of laugher, were they laughing now?

*****

The bar was crowded tonight. It had been two days since I disrupted their lines of communication and, the best part, I was still alive. I noticed that my regular spot at the bar was unoccupied and my friend Emil wasn’t there. Could they have captured him and at this moment be questioning him about my where-abouts?

I said hello to Carl and raised one finger. He acknowledged me and brought me my customary drink, a beer out of the tap. I placed my dime on the bar, took a long drink, and asked about Emil.

“I expect him in at any time,” replied Carl.

I was releived to hear that. I gazed around the bar for anyone new or anyone drinking a Tom Collins.

“Did you hear the news?” asked Carl.

I asked him, “What news?”

“Someone blew up the new stop and go lights on Sand Lake road.”

“Stop and go lights?”

“Yup. They’re something new, at least around here. They were on the intersection down where the new resort is being built.”

I finished my beer and asked for another.

When Carl returned he continued, “I guess those lights are the latest thing in the cities, traffic control lights they call them.”

“Traffic control?” No, I thought, that isn’t right. They’re communication outposts. “Who the hell would…?”

“In the big cities...” Carl paused while I took a drink. I guess he wanted my full attention. He also noticed that my hands trembled. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“Your hand...”

“Oh, that. Yeah, it does that once in a while.”

“Like I was saying, in the cities they’re used to control traffic at busy intersections.”

I tried to laugh. “I guess the world is changing.”

“Changing, what’s changing?” It was Emil.

I motioned to Carl to bring us a couple of beers even though I hadn’t finished mine .

Before sitting, Emil asked, “Did you hear what happened?”

I told him that I just heard the news from Carl. I looked at Emil with suspicion.

“Can you believe that some…?” Emil noticed my anxious state. In a voice just above a whisper he said, “You didn’t.”

I didn’t know if I could trust Emil—to me he seemed different. I was waiting if he would turn down my beer offer and order a Tom Collins. All I could do was finish my my beer.

We spent the rest of the evening talking baseball, politics, and drinking beer—the usual stuff. The subject of the exploding lights never came up.

I guess it was after midnight when I decided to leave. I bid farewell to Carl and Emil as well as the rest of the locals. I walked out the door and into the night. A fog was starting to settle in. As I walked to my car I noticed the Sheriff standing there. It was unusual for him, or any law enforcemnt, to be here, especially this time of night.

I waved and tried to walk a straight line.

He walked toward me. “Hello Lance.”

I said hello and wondered why he was here. I knew it couldn’t be a social call, probably after a local.

The next thing I knew I was arrested. I asked him why. He laughed.

*****

The judge sentenced me to this place, where I sit all day and watch the grass grow. They keep a close watch on me—the women and men in their white coats.

But I know who they are and the reason they’re keeping me here.

They know I’m on to them.

THE END


2022 George Michael Brown

Bio: George Brown is retired and resides on a quiet, peaceful lake in Northwestern Wisconsin. He is an author, a screenwriter and has published many short stories and poems.

E-mail: George Michael Brown

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