Protect and Serve
by Michael Merriam
Constable George Wellner took off his oversized hat and ran a hand through what remained of his white hair. At seventy-one years, he was getting too old for this sort of thing.
“Now, John. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt. I want you to just settle down.”
“Please, honey, listen to Constable Wellner.”
“You be quiet!” John Olson cried, anguish plain on his face as he kept the double-barreled shotgun trained on his wife. “You ain’t fooling me: I saw you.”
“What exactly did you think she did?” Constable Wellner asked, looking from husband to wife. “Maude, you ain’t been seeing another man, have you?”
Maude Olson shook her head, tears staining her broad nordic face. “No, sir, nothing of the kind.”
John thumbed back the hammers on both barrels. “I told you to shut up!”
Constable Wellner stood up from where he had sat down on the basement steps and placed a hand on his revolver. In a forty-two year career in law enforcement, he had fired his weapon just once in the line of duty, to kill a rabid raccoon. He did not want today to be the first time he used it on another man. “John, I’m warning you-”
John turned toward him, his brown eyes wide and wild. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“She ain’t Maude. She’s some kind of... monster.”
“John, you’ve been spending too much time down at the movie house watching body-snatcher films.”
“I saw it, George. I’m telling you, she ain’t my wife.”
Constable Wellner glanced at the woman. “She looks like Maude Olson to me.”
“I saw some kind of orange stuff coming out of her ears.”
Wellner frowned making the lines on his face deepen. “Maude, are you sick? Should I walk you down to Doc Moeller’s?”
“It wasn’t like that, George. It was like some kind of thick syrup or something.”
Constable George Wellner sighed. He had been admiring Paul Spaulding’s new DeSoto and teasing Paul’s youngest boy about needing a hair-cut again, when Penelope Olson came running up to him, crying that her father was going to kill her mother. George had made for the family’s home as quickly as his aging legs would carry him. When he reached the basement of the Olson house, he had actually needed to sit down and catch his breath. Luckily, his presence seemed enough to keep John Olson from doing something stupid.
“John, how long have I known you and Maude?”
John swallowed. “All our lives.”
Constable Wellner nodded. “That’s right. I watched the two of you grow up right here in Morningside, get married, and have a daughter of your own. Wouldn’t you think I’d know if something was strange about Maude?”
John Olson hesitated for a minute, lowering the shotgun. “You haven’t seen all that I have. You don’t live with her; she’s different.”
When John Olson relaxed and lowered the shotgun, Wellner took his hand away from his own weapon.
“Different how?” Constable Wellner asked as Maude Olson sniffed back tears where she sat huddled in a corner.
“She’s just... different, that’s all.”
Wellner frowned. “Well, if it’s not another man, then is she not taking care of the house, or cooking dinner, or something?”
John shook his head. “The house is fine and dinner’s hot and ready every night when I get home from work.”
Constable Wellner nodded his head. A thought occurred to him. He felt uncomfortable asking, but cleared his throat and forged ahead. “Well then, is it...?”
“No!” John Olson said, blushing bright red. “That’s been better than ever.”
Constable Wellner took off his glasses and rubbed the side of his nose. “So let me get this straight: Maude isn’t fooling around, keeps a clean house, dinner’s ready for you every night, and you’re having good... relations with each other?”
“Yes. She’s different!”
The Constable shook his head. “Son, how much have you had to drink?”
“I haven’t had anything.” John thought for a second. “Well, maybe a couple of beers. But that don’t change what I saw!”
Constable Wellner walked over to John Olson and stood next to him. “John, I want you to think about what you’re saying.”
John blinked in confusion. “But...”
Wellner put a hand on John’s shoulder. He turned toward Maude Olson and reached out a hand. “Come here, Maude.”
She stood, smoothed her skirt, and started toward the two men. John started to bring the shotgun back up, but the Constable took the barrels in a firm grip and held them down. He knew that the younger man could rip the shotgun out of his grasp in an instant, but John just stood still, watching Maude approach. Maude stopped in front of them.
“John, I want you to look at your wife,” Constable Wellner said. “Go on, look at her.”
Maude sniffed, her nose red and eyes puffy from crying. “John, please, just look at me.”
John looked at Maude.
“You two have been together since when? Your junior year of high school?” Wellner asked.
“Sophomore year,” John corrected
“Right, and I found you two kids in the back of your daddy’s old Nash how many times?”
John Olson blushed, and Maude followed suit.
“So what I’m trying to say,” Constable Wellner finished, “is that I never saw two people crazier about each other. Now, John, I want you to hand me the shotgun.”
John Olson hesitated for several seconds, indecision on his face.
“Honey, please, just give Constable Wellner the shotgun.” Maude Olson reached up and placed a tender hand on her husband’s cheek. “We can forget all about this. I’ll make your favorite dinner. Please?”
John Olson seemed to deflate. “Your meatloaf?”
Maude smiled at him. “Of course.”
John released the shotgun.
Constable Wellner took the weapon and carefully placed the hammers back down. “Now, I want to talk to your missus for a minute, so why don’t you head on upstairs.”
John nodded and ran a shaking hand through his brown hair. “I think I need to lie down.”
“That’s a good idea,” Wellner agreed. “And no more Saturday matinees for a couple of months, okay? Those movies have been putting funny ideas in your head.”
“I promise,” John Olson mumbled as he started up the stairs. Wellner heard the door close at the top.
“Constable Wellner, I can’t thank you enough,” Maude said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into John lately.”
George Wellner smiled at her. “Why don’t you have a seat, Maude,” he said, waving at a battered old chair in the middle of the basement. George waited for her to sit down, and then ambled back to the steps. He settled himself on the third one, the shotgun across his knees. “Like I said: I’ve known John and Maude Olson all their lives.” Constable George Wellner pointed the shotgun at her. “So why don’t you tell me what’s really going on.”
Maude’s mouth opened in surprise. “Constable, I-”
“Ain’t Maude Olson. The Maude Olson I’ve known since she was a little girl would’ve taken this shotgun away from John on her own, chewed him out hard enough to blister paint from the walls, then sent him to sleep it off over at his brother’s house.” George gave her a grim look. “The Maude Olson I know hasn’t called me Constable in almost twenty-five years.”
“It’s a little late for that. Besides, alien movies or not, John Olson never had enough imagination to think up some kind of story about orange syrup coming from his wife’s ears. So why don’t you tell me what’s really going on here?”
Maude gave him a flat look for several seconds, and then shrugged. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
She smiled at him. “Okay. I am exactly what John thinks I am.”
George nodded. “I suppose you can prove it?”
She frowned in concentration, then made a retching noise and spit up a glob of thick orange substance into her hand. “Good enough?”
George nodded shakily and tightened his grip on the shotgun. He sat quietly while she swallowed it again. He took a deep breath. “Are you really an alien?”
“Yes. We crashed here almost four hundred of your years ago. We’ve been trying to blend in, live our lives, and study your planet until we are rescued.”
“How many of you are there?” George asked.
“There are one hundred and twenty-eight of us still alive. Over half our number died shortly after we crashed.”
“And your ship?”
“We were the ship, Constable Wellner.”
She shook her head. “It’s very complex and, I’m afraid, beyond your scientific knowledge.” The alien wearing Maude Olson’s form looked him in the eyes. “We only want to go home. We don’t mean any harm.”
“What about Maude Olson? What did you do to her?”
“Maude Olson no longer needed this body.”
George narrowed his eyes and raised the barrels of the gun. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She accidentally electrocuted herself with a string of Christmas tree lights. When she died, I was in a position to take over her body.” The alien smiled gently at Constable Wellner. “I was living in the Olson home as a poinsettia. I found it an easy way to observe your family structure.
“It was a simple matter for me to slip inside her body and restart its basic functions. I managed to absorb many of her memories and experiences, but I am afraid my knowledge of her life is incomplete.
“That lack of knowledge is one of the reasons we are prohibited from using human hosts. And it’s hard to keep from oozing out all over the place, because it takes effort to operate a body. But I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to live as a human for a while. Are you going to shoot me now?”
Wellner frowned. “Would it do any good if I did?”
“I would leak orange fluids all over the basement carpet but otherwise be unharmed.”
“Fair enough,” Constable Wellner said, lowering the shotgun. “How do I know your people won’t try to take over Earth?”
She laughed. “Frankly, your planet is not terribly interesting. No, we just want to go home. Until then, we will continue to observe and study.”
“Well, you’ve a lot to learn about being Maude Olson, but as long as you treat John and Penny all right...” George Wellner shrugged. “The way I see it, John gets to keep his wife and Penny her mother for a while longer.”
George broke the shotgun open and unloaded it. He snapped it closed, stood and pocketed the shells, then set the shotgun by the foot of the stairs. “I just want to keep the peace. You may think we’re boring, but I like Morningside nice and quiet.”
The alien wearing Maude Olson’s body stood and smoothed her blouse and skirt. “We appreciate the work you’ve put into making Morningside a safe community for us all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meatloaf to prepare.”
Constable Wellner let her walk past him. As they reached the top of the stairs he asked, “Are more of you living in Morningside?”
Maude turned and nodded, giving him a solemn look. “Oh yes, and it is not only my people who live here for the security and safety. Many of your planet’s own outcasts dwell in Morningside.”
“There are stranger things in heaven and earth.” She paused with her hand on the doorknob. “You don’t really think the Spauldings are just extremely hairy, or that the Mercers both work night shifts because they enjoy it?”
“I hadn’t really thought much about it. As long as they don’t break the law, there’s no reason for me to stick my nose in their private affairs.”
“Exactly. Now, I need to go pretend that I’m a perfect little wife, just like on television, and cook my husband dinner.”
Constable Wellner bid her good day. He stood on the Olsons’ porch for a minute to clear his head and then set off to finish his rounds up and down the two square block shopping district. As he strolled along the sidewalk greeting the residents of his little town, he could not help but look at them in a different light. Little things were starting to add up in his mind, things he had never paid much attention to before.
Aliens? Werewolves? Vampires? As long as they were law-abiding, it did not matter. They were the people he had sworn to protect and serve.
Constable George Wellner finished his rounds and slowly ambled home.
Copyright © 2007 by Michael Merriam