In the Company of Misery
“So, read that to me again.”
Ray sat up in the seat and turned to Emmitt with an annoyed look, then
pulled the magazine closer to his tired, old eyes.
Ray read, “Though there is no definitive scientific explanation for the
Lethe Effect, there is no doubt that the electromagnetic field accounts
some, if not all of the impact on the human brain. Scientists have not
detected transcranial electromagnetic stimulation but their examination
brain activity shows the growth of neurons in the hippocampus that
memory. It’s possible…”
Ray was interrupted when the truck hit a pothole. “Hey, you old fart,
where you’re going.”
Emmitt ignored the insult and leaned his elbow on the open window sill.
“The steering is still too loose. I thought you fixed that.”
“I fixed it. I fixed everything on this pickup,” grumbled Ray. “I even
painted it. Have you noticed how everyone stares at a cherry red ‘55
3100? And the sound of that engine can make even a grump like you
Emmitt pulled on the bill of his Dodger’s cap and gave a little smile.
“Anyway, back to that article you read. It’s obvious this actually
your brain cells. Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”
“What are you talking about? Are you going crazy?” exclaimed Ray.
travelled hundreds of miles and are only two days from Coahuila. And
you’re suddenly having doubts? Come on! We’ve done the research and
talked about it until we’re blue in the face. The bottom line is we’re
angry, miserable old men. Lethe can give us a new beginning.”
“You’re right,” conceded Emmitt. “People have been doing this for years
now. It may be controversial but no one has complained of lasting
Soon the two of them slipped into their silent comfort zones. Ray
out the side window and watched the flat, Texas plain race by, while
steered the old Chevy pickup along US Route 277 toward Del Rio. Both of
them thought about what lay ahead and rationalized their reasons for
“Looks like an abandoned car up ahead,” said Emmitt.
Ray straightened up and squinted at a dark object on the side of the
“Yeah, the hoods up. It might be an old Dodge. We’ll see when we get
As they passed the car Ray looked out the side window then spun around
look again out the pickup’s back window.
“There’s a woman,” he said.
It took a few seconds for Emmitt’s empathy to kick in. Finally, he
the truck and cursed, “Crap! Crap, crap, crap.” Turning the pickup
he drove back to the other car.
Sure enough, there was a middle-aged, dark-haired woman standing in
of the car. As the guys walked up, she turned and gave them a sour
was obvious she wasn’t in a good mood.
“Oh, great,” she muttered, “my saviors are Moses and Methuselah.”
Ray said nothing and immediately began inspecting the engine. Emmitt
sarcastically replied, “And good afternoon to you, young lady. What
to be the problem?”
“Nothing you can help me with, old-timer.”
“The name’s Emmitt and that guy crawling under your car is Ray. Maybe
haven’t noticed but you’re stranded in a hot, desolate area; on a
with very little traffic. But if you don’t want our help we’ll leave.”
The woman shut up and actually seemed to be considering what Emmitt
“Threw a rod,” said Ray as he walked up from behind. “That car’s not
“No kidding, Sherlock,” said the woman.
For the first time Ray got a direct hit of rancor from the woman. He
caught off guard and turned to Emmitt for help but his longtime friend
“Look, lady…” began Ray.
“Tucker,” said the woman, “call me Tucker.”
“What’s your first name?” asked Emmitt.
She was angry again. “Just call me Tucker.”
“Oh, so you’re like one of those famous people with only one name.” Ray
paused for everyone’s frustration to subside then said, “Okay, Tucker…
can’t stay out here. We can at least offer some protection.” He patted
Glock 19 strapped to his hip.
Tucker smirked. “I was a medivac helicopter pilot for two tours of
Afghanistan. I can take care of myself, but you might give me a lift.
are you guys going?”
Emmitt pointed down the highway and said, “South.”
The woman put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. “That’s pretty
obvious, Mr. Know-It-All. Can you take me to Del Rio?”
“Well, we were planning on camping out tonight and getting there
“That works for me,” said Tucker. “I’ll get my stuff out of the car.”
While she transferred her things to the back of the pickup, Emmitt and
discussed the rationale of taking on a passenger.
“This could be a big mistake,” said Emmitt. “She could be some kind of
bandit or killer. We’ve been warned about running into those on the way
“You’re right,” Ray replied. “But a bandit wouldn’t be talking trash
she does. Let’s just keep a close eye on her.”
There was a brief argument about who would sit where in the truck that
ended when Tucker said she would get sick if she didn’t sit near the
window. Ray didn’t believe her but couldn’t prove her wrong so he was
in the middle for the rest of the day.
“Are you guys going to the spaceship?” asked Tucker as she put her hand
the window and let it roller-coaster in the wind.
“What’s it to you?” said Emmitt.
“That’s where I’m headed. I guess I might as well stick with you until
“Maybe we don’t want you to come with us,” injected Ray.
“Sure you do,” she said. “I’m smart, pretty, entertaining, and funny.
you’re going to Lethe, you probably need lots of fun.”
“You haven’t shown us any fun yet,” snickered Ray.
“Stick around, cowboy, you’ll see.”
A moment later Tucker changed the subject. “The spaceship and the Lethe
Effect were discovered years ago. So why has it taken you so long to
“Old age makes you cautious,” said Emmitt. “We could ask you the same
“My life’s been busy.” Then her tone of voice changed. “It’s only been
recently that things have gone bad. Maybe this Lethe thing can help.”
Emmitt and Ray knew not to ask so there was a long silence.
A few miles down the road Ray tried shifting things. “Did I see you put
shotgun in the back?”
“Yep, it was my grandfather’s Browning Humpback A5,” said Tucker.
wasn’t enough room for it so I threw out that old gray tarp.”
Emmitt slammed on the brakes and yelled, “What? That’s our tent!”
Tucker laughed. “It’s a joke. I’m joking. I told you I was fun. I got
The guys were not amused.
When they stopped to make camp, everyone was in a crabby mood but
to set up the tent, build a fire, and have a decent meal. After driving
day Emmitt soon excused himself and crawled into the tent. It wasn’t
before his snoring was keeping all the local jackrabbits awake.
“Oh, lordy,” said Tucker who was sitting across the fire from Ray, “he
really sawing some logs. You know, he might have some medical
“Leave him alone,” said Ray. “He’s been driving all day.”
“I’d be glad to spell you guys with some of the driving.”
“Emmitt insists on doing all the driving.”
Ray gave it some thought then said, “A long time ago Emmitt went on
vacation with his wife and son. He got tired so he took a nap in the
of the car while his wife drove. There was a terrible accident and his
and son were killed. No one knows how it happened but Emmitt blames
himself. It keeps eating away at him. He can get really depressed at
Tucker poked at the fire and said, “That’s a good reason to go to the
spaceship. What about you? Why are you going?”
Ray smiled. “I’ve been married three times and divorced three times.
a world of misery right there, how about you?”
“I saw a lot of really bad things in the war so it wasn’t surprising
had PTSD when I came home. The doctors treated me for depression and
swings but the worst part was losing the support of my family. I
suicide, but I guess it’s just not in me to do that.” She shrugged and
poked at the fire again.
Ray stared at Tucker for a long time then whipped out his Glock and
The bullet landed inches from Tucker’s feet. She jumped in the air and
turned on Ray.
“What the hell?” she cried.
Ray said nothing. He walked to where Tucker was sitting and picked up a
dead rattlesnake which he tossed into the bushes. Tucker took a long,
breath and released it along with her shock. Ray started to speak but
held up a hand and then stood there while a cold sweat flowed across
Finally she said, “I’m going to sleep in the truck.” Halfway to the
she turned to Ray and said, “Ethel.”
“My first name is Ethel, but I hate it. Call me Tucker.”
Amazingly Emmitt slept through the gunshot but that allowed Ray to tell
version of the rattlesnake story the next morning. This was quickly
followed by Tucker’s version and several rounds of lively banter that
filled the hours as they drove into Del Rio. There they got gas and
up supplies that would get them to the southern end of Coahuila.
It wasn’t long before the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains were looming
the distance. At the same time they ran into the traffic coming from
Pass. It wasn’t bumper to bumper but there was a steady flow of cars
buses headed south to Lethe. Emmitt pulled the pickup into the mix and
caravan of vehicles progressively made its way toward the mountains.
“I think I see it,” said Tucker.
The lower half of one of the distant mountains stood out as a dark blue
mass in contrast to the surrounding grays and browns. As they got
they could tell two things about the spaceship. The first was its
size and the second was that the craft was deeply embedded in the stone
the mountain. This meant that it had been there for eons.
“The pictures don’t do it justice. It’s a lot bigger than I imagined,”
Ray. “Hey, why have we stopped?”
“Probably because of people like you,” said Tucker. “They’re gawking at
wreck of a giant alien spaceship.”
Emmitt was leaning out the window and looking down the line of
“No, it seems to be security people from Lethe. They’re talking to all
cars and working their way back to us.”
Soon a Hispanic in a blue t-shirt walked up to the pickup.
“Yes,” said Emmitt. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to ask some questions and then we can get you started for
it’s just the three of you? Do any of you have an Advance Admission
“No, that costs money,” said Ray.
Tucker made a face at him. “You’re such a cheapskate.”
“Okay, this is the number and location for your camping plot.” The man
handed Emmitt a piece of paper. “At the bottom are the camping rules.
eight o’clock tomorrow morning be at the big green tent. They’ll give
orientation and take you to the ship. Good luck.”
The camping site wasn’t too bad. It was small but it had a brick
pit, a port-a-potty, and they weren’t far from a communal bath. The
neighbors weren’t very friendly but that was understandable considering
everyone was there. As the sun went down Ray was still leery of the
campers so he stayed up all night keeping an eye on them. But in the
morning his feelings had mellowed and he joined all the campers as they
their way to the green tent.
The tent had a small stage at one end and instead of chairs for the
audience there were a number of wooden picnic tables. Ray and Emmitt
some coffee while Tucker picked out a place for them to sit. It wasn’t
before a tall, thin, blonde woman stepped onto the stage to address the
“Welcome everyone, my name is Diane. I’m one of the managers here at
We understand that most of you already know what to expect from the
experience you’re about to have but this orientation can bring the rest
you up to speed and possibly answer any lingering questions.
“Let me start with a brief history. Twenty-seven years ago, a minor
earthquake revealed the ship. Soon after that scientists from around
world arrived here to investigate this fantastic discovery. By
the surrounding rocks geologists determined that the spaceship crashed
landed here about five million years ago, long before modern humans
Diane paused then said, “At this point I always like to add that there
no alien bodies or artifacts discovered. It was just a big, empty
spaceship. There were only rooms and corridors, and that’s where they
learned about the Lethe Effect.
“The corridor that you will be walking through today is bombarded by a
mysterious electromagnetic field that will not hurt you but will change
your life. You will emerge from that spaceship no longer tormented by
sadness, grief, worry, anger, or woe. Those feelings will be washed
you will not, I repeat, you will not lose any memories. The Lethe
will remove your misery and only your misery. You’ll be free from your
“Now wait where you are until a guide comes to your table. Bless you
said Diane as she waved to everyone and stepped from the stage.
“I can’t really say that Diane’s little speech made me feel any better
about this,” said Tucker. “I still have questions like why do they call
the Lethe Effect?”
“I know that one,” said Emmitt. “In Greek mythology the Lethe River ran
through Hades and the dead were supposed to drink from it and forget
their past lives.”
“But Diane said we won’t forget.”
“Right, this isn’t like the mythological Lethe. We’ll forget our sad
feelings but we won’t forget the people or events that the emotions
Tucker screwed up her face. “This is starting to sound like a
“It’s not like that,” said Ray. “It won’t erase the good emotions and
won’t stop you from creating new feelings in the future. Think about
Tucker, no more night terrors, no more panic attacks.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
The guide finally arrived at their table and escorted them to a long
that was leading to the spaceship. The line wasn’t moving very fast so
gave them lots of time to look at the giant ship they were about to
“The closer we get the more I’m amazed by the size of this thing,” said
“Yeah, it raises all kinds of questions in my mind,” Ray replied. “Who
the people that created this? What happened to them? Is the Lethe
intentional or something that just happened when the ship crashed?
and I have been thinking about those things for years. Hey! Where’s
As they looked around they saw that Emmitt had dropped out of line and
standing a ways behind them. He was staring intently at the spaceship.
and Tucker went back to check on him.
“What is it?” asked Ray. “Is something wrong?”
Emmitt continued to stare at the ship. “For many years I’ve lived with
burden of guilt and grief. There were times I didn’t think I could go
Now I realize all of that sadness has become part of who I am. Without
I’m not sure if I would be the same person. In looking back on those
I can see that it was friends like you that got me through it.” Emmitt
shrugged. “Maybe we’re supposed to make our way through the bad as well
the good. Maybe that’s what life is about; maybe that’s what makes us
and not alien. The one thing I can be sure of is that if you’re there
me I’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah, I see your point,” said Ray. “I tell you what, let’s find the
nearest bar and I’ll buy you a beer. We can talk about this some more.”
The two men turned to Tucker who laughed and said, “You old goats don’t
think big enough. Let’s find the nearest bar and I’ll buy us a pitcher
© 2023 George Schaade
Bio: Author...George Schaade is a
retired history teacher that loves writing science fiction and humor.
His stories often reflect the comic books and pulp magazines that he
was raised on.
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