I know, I know, it’s been awhile. I have a good excuse, though: I got a job as a professional writer and spent the last 7 months or so cultivating my new career at NerdWallet. It’s a great place to work and the first job I’ve ever loved, and I plan on working there a very long time.
That said, my baby is this novel, and the dream I’ve always had is to be a novelist, so I’ve come back to it. Speaking of this novel, I’m going to change the title because I hate it and it doesn’t really apply–there’s nothing special about midnight. That’s for later, though. What’s for now is that chapter 3 has been revised and is available for your reading pleasure, without any further ado.
3. Ya Gotta Do What’s Right
Henry’s stomach flipped over as the creature and man disappeared before his eyes, leaving the cell phone behind. His cigarette had burnt down to the filter while he was frozen there, watching, and was no longer any more than a cylinder of ash barely holding onto a stub between his fingers.
After an indeterminable amount of time the phone on the hill lit up and Henry jolted out of his stunned gaze, spreading ash all over the denim covering his knee. Not knowing what to do, he decided getting up was the next step. Henry limped as quickly as he could back to the trail, then toward his home, picking up speed as adrenaline poured into his veins.
Only moonlight and fear guided him as he went, faster and faster, the memory replaying in his head. Eventually terror caught up, and he began to jog as though he had two whole feet. Henry didn’t know why he was running or what he would do when he got home; he was beyond thoughts, a body of pure emotion. His stomach was a ball of angry snakes, tied in a knot and struggling to break free. His breath shortened and his heart raced faster, until all that existed was the snakes and the adrenaline pulsing through him, nourishing his fear, steering him home.
He was coughing and hacking up smoker’s phlegm by the time he crossed the state highway and jumped a ditch. When he finally made it through his dark neighborhood to his tiny home, he could barely breathe at all. He finally felt safe when his bad foot landed on his own land, which was nestled on the back half of a shared lot out of view from the road. He leapt onto the unlit wraparound porch and dashed inside before that bad foot finally felt the accumulated pain. Henry crashed into his kitchen counter and opened the fridge without a thought. He drank a full beer – the cheap, watery kind – balancing on one foot before calling his good friend Robert Wiley.
Robert, like Henry, was disabled and single in his older age. He was also expecting the call, right on schedule; the two kept each other company most nights after Henry’s long sunset walks, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers and talking about mostly nothing. What Robert did not expect was the frantic tone of his friend’s voice, and he agreed to come over post haste.
Henry could do nothing but replace the handset, grab another beer, and sit on the deck to wait. He sat there, catatonic besides his huffing and puffing, for the ten minutes it took Robert to arrive, neither opening the beer nor lighting a cigarette.
The rustling of Robert hobbling through the overgrown yard snapped Henry out of his latest daze. He stared blankly out as the fat old man appeared from the dark yard like an ogre: oversized, unshaven, heavy-footed and grumbling. Slight hint of a hunchback.
“Whaddarya lookin’ at?” the ogre asked his stone-faced friend, who said nothing. “Huh? Henry?”
Henry couldn’t figure out how to start, but when he opened his mouth, the right words came out anyway. “I just saw the weirdest fuckin’ thing. Ever.”
Robert, finally on the porch, blinked and looked in the direction he was staring. “You mean…in the bushes there? Where I just was?”
Henry looked up at the bulbous, confused face looming over him and smiled grimly. “No, at the park. At Red Rocks while I was watching the sunset.” He placed a thumbnail in between his two front teeth and rested his elbow on his knee, as he often did when thinking.
Normally Henry was astute, focused, and reasonably well-spoken, compared to Robert, anyway. He certainly did not engage in dramatics, so Robert just nodded solemnly and said, “mmmkay buddy. I’ma get myself a beer and be right back,” and then limped into the house. His bad foot was the right one, only it was his knee.
Henry remembered then to open his beer, and the can was nearly empty when Robert came back and dropped onto the large wooden rocker across from him. Robert said nothing and opened his own can, one bulgy eye fixed on his quivering friend while he slapped a cigarette free from his softpack and placed it between his plump lips.
“I think…I think I just saw a man get abducted by an alien,” he finally said, wincing in anticipation.
Robert’s cigarette fell into his lap. “Say what, now?” He was the type to over-pronounce the h sound in his whats.
Henry sighed heavily. “Um. So I was behind the uh, the arena there, and a man jumped off the back balcony.”
“He jumped off the balcony?”
Henry forgot that his friend had never been through the park to see the back of the venue; too fat to go just walking, Robert had said. “Well, yeah. It’s not but four feet off the ground in some places, it’s real hilly there. So anyway he dropped his phone and jumped off the back to get it, but it was pretty dark and he slipped and slid down this little hill. Looking, looking, looking for his phone,” Henry said, mimicking the motions of the lost man.
“All of a sudden there’s this bright flash! So bright, kind of a greenish color in the shape of an egg, and this lizard-lookin’ alien appears right behind the guy. He’s holding a silver ball thing, but it wasn’t really round, sorta long like a rugby ball. Anyway, it’s this huge tall lizard with two tails and teeny front arms, like a T-Rex. Mighta been green or blue. Two toned, y’know, lighter on the front than the back,” Henry said, and looked to his friend.
Robert was entranced, his cigarette still cold in his lap.
“Anyhow, he–it picked the man up with one of its tails fast as a whip, and went up his shirt,” Henry continued, and gestured toward the back of his own shirt, giving himself the creeps. He concluded the story and now Robert was the one who couldn’t find his words. Henry sat back, lit his cigarette, and waited for him to respond as the scene replayed itself in his mind.
“So they just…disappeared?”
“Yyyyep. Into thin air.”
“With the man. And the man just froze. And he disappeared with the frozen man,” Robert repeated.
“And you ain’t told no one but me?”
“Who am I gonna tell? Nobody’d believe me if I did.”
“Well, I believe you.” Robert sat back and finally lit his cigarette.
“I knew you would, that’s why I told ya,” Henry smiled.
“Buchew ain’t gonna tell the police or nothin’?”
“Why? What are they gonna do? They got spaceships? Think their radar guns go to outer space? Robert, I just saw a giant lizard grab a man and disappear. Right in front of me! Say I call up Sheriff Hawkes, what do I tell him? What’s he gonna do about it?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Robert said, a little hurt. “Make a report. Someone’s gonna be missin’ that man! Maybe he has a wife an’ a kid.”
Henry thought about this for a moment, not knowing that. It was a reasonable argument, but he still wasn’t convinced. “Robert, they will laugh me out of the station if I tell anyone what I just told you. They already think I’m nuts.”
“Think we’re both nuts. Everybody does,” Robert clarified. Indeed the two had a reputation for being crazy old men: often unshaven, dingy, grumpy, and limping about town at odd hours.
“Right. So why would they take me seriously?”
“They prolly won’t. But if you tell them then at least you did whatcha could. They’ll think yer crazy whether ya do or don’t, anyway. If you went missin’ and someone knew about it, I’d wanna hear the story even if it sounded crazy. Sometimes real life is crazier than people liketa admit.”
“Good point, old man,” Henry said, and went to retrieve two new beers. “I just don’t trust the sheriff. I think he’ll tell everyone in town I’m a nut job, he’s just such a prick. He’s no better’n a schoolyard bully.”
“That’s fer sure, butcha can’t just not make a police report bicuz Sheriff Asshole might hurt yer feelings. Ya gotta do what’s right in spite of ‘im,” Robert said, putting out his cigarette in an overflowing ashtray.
Henry stared down at his tattered brown hiking boots for a moment before admitting, “I hate it when you’re right, you know.”
“Nah, ya don’t. You hate the sheriff and you hate the police,” Robert said, nailing the truth with his Texan drawl.
“Yeah, yeah. Wouldn’t be too surprised if he tried to pin a murder on me,” Henry said.
Robert nodded as though that was entirely plausible and they each lit a new cigarette in silence. With only a dim light from the kitchen illuminating the porch, the orange glow of their tips drew Henry’s concentration as he began to worry about how to retell his story…sanely, and without incriminating himself.
“Y’know,” Robert said, sensing his trepidation, “if ya call tonight you can make the report over the phone an’ I bet the sheriff woneven be there. One less thing ta worry about. If’n that is what yer worried about. You sure that lizard didn’t seeya watchinim?”
Henry looked up to see if his friend was being serious. “No, I’m not sure. Even if he did, I don’t know why he–it would come after me. I just have a very, very bad feeling about this.”