by Dwight O. Krauss
The ship landed in a cornfield about four miles out of Rantoul, Illinois, making quite a racket and a mess. “Durn Air Force,” Hiram Whittaker, in whose field the ship had landed, said as he surveyed the burnt hectare while calculating the loss in ethanol revenue.
“Air Force left twenty years ago, Pop.” Curry, his eldest, let loose a tobacco stream at a grasshopper frantically trying to escape the seared stubble. “And besides, that don’t look like any Air Force plane I ever see.”
“Um,” Hiram conceded, fairly sure Curry was right and the Air Force wasn’t constructing jets that looked like 40-foot, all-copper Hershey’s kisses. Why, they’d be laughed out of the country. “Must be Russians. Go get my shotgun.”
Curry shrugged, walked off and was back twenty minutes later with the double-barrel and Sheriff Tose. “Hiram,” —Tose walked up as Hiram broke the shotgun to check the loads — “what you planning?”
“They’s trespassing, ain’t they?” Hiram leveled the weapon.
“That they are,” — Tose rocked a bit, eyeing the kiss — “but they just might shoot back.”
Hiram considered that and looked around, but there was no cover, so maybe a sensible man would hold his fire. “All right,” Hiram said, lowering the weapon, “what ya gonna do?”
Tose made a ‘pfht’ sound. “Don’t know till I take a closer look.” He moved forward.
“Still pretty hot, Sheriff,” Curry spat another stream.
Tose put out a flat palm and felt the distant heat. “That’s so. Guess I’d better get the fire truck out.” He went back to his car and, a few minutes later, they heard the whistle off towards town and Curry wondered if he should go to the station and get his equipment.
“They’se comin’ here, ain’t they?” Hiram said, and that made sense so Curry stayed.
The volunteers arrived and, at Curry’s direction, put out a few embers thrown by the ship’s arrival and then stood in a semi-circle on the edge of the road staring at the kiss.
“Whatcha wanna do?” Chief Billy Perkins, who was Chief due more to ownership of three elevators than a steeping in fire science, asked Tose.
Tose put out another testing palm. “How long before that thing cools down?” he asked Billy, who, by his office, should know.
“Well, then,” Tose answered, “I dunno, either.”
You can’t, of course, keep such a thing secret, and the State Police substation heard the excited chatter on the fire net and sent out a car. Trooper Billings took one look at the kiss, said “Damn,” and without consulting Tose, made some calls. Much to Tose’s annoyance, a couple of FBI agents showed up.
“We’ll take it from here,” Agent Culhanney, the older of the two and straight out of central casting, said with some air of importance.
Tose snake-eyed him. “Take what?”
Culhanney gave a self-important laugh as his youthful sidekick Robin, er, Agent Paducah, snake-eyed Tose back. “This.” Culhanney’s gesture took in the kiss.
Tose spat a wad near Robin’s Florsheims. “Trespassing ain’t a Federal matter.”
“Listen, old man.” Robin made a belligerent step towards Tose that Culhanney expertly deflected because, after all, that was his role. He passed a significant look over the rather substantial crowd that had grown in the time, spurred by calls from the firemen and neighbors, and which included a news crew from Urbana currently focused on the G-men since nothing was happening with the kiss, except the occasional pop as it cooled. He passed the significance of the glance back to his partner who, being young and FBI, missed it.
Smiling, Culhanney said, “Excuse us,” grabbed Robin’s coat sleeve, and walked him back to the car.
“Idjits,” Hiram, who still had the shotgun and a baleful eye towards the kiss, summed.
“Got that right,” Tose agreed.
That could be, but Culhanny knew a national security incident and an uncooperative Sheriff when he saw them, and he got on his cell. Twenty minutes later, the Urbana news crew lost its satellite feed just as they were going live with a breaking story that, no doubt, would break them out of this burg.
Everyone else lost cells and radios at the same time, although Culhanney was still talking on his. Five minutes later, two helicopters landed in the field across the road and a platoon of Army Guard smartly took position.
“Who’s in charge here?” the Lieutenant supposedly in charge, asked.
“I am,” both Tose and Culhanney said at the same time, prompting an immediate three-way argument between the National Guard, the FBI, and the Sheriff’s office over who really was. The success of an individual claim advanced with the vehemence of the claimant and the shifting support of the highly amused crowd.
The news crew frantically tried to raise a signal so their hoped-for national audience could participate, but were unable, suspecting rightly the sudden appearance of authority had a lot to do with that.
Hiram watched all this for a moment in disgust, muttered “Heat be damned,” and, gripping the shotgun in one hand, strode towards the kiss. The Guardsmen looked at each other, trying to figure out whether to shoot him or not. It didn’t appear their Lieutenant had won the argument yet, thereby assuring them immunity, so they held off. By the time the chiefs noticed Hiram and shouted “Hey!” he was already knocking on the side of the kiss with the butt of the shotgun yelling, “You’re on my property, dangit! Open up in there!”
They did. A heretofore unnoticed portal slowly rose next to where Hiram pounded, forcing him back as a very nice set of marble-looking stairs, like those at a museum entrance, unfolded and settled against the ground. Moments later, three beings appeared on the landing, surveyed Hiram, who was eyeing them suspiciously, and walked in unison down to where he stood.
They were rather nice-looking, tall, green-tinged, hairless; dead ringers for all the large-eyed, big-headed lipless portraits taken from the almost unanimous description provided by generations of UFO abductees. They all wore form-fitting black jumpsuits of a material similar to Gortex, and they were so skinny Hiram was sure most of his .00 buck would pass harmlessly by. He had no inclination to test that, though, because the beings were just so innocuous.
The three stood above Hiram and looked at him and at the crowd and smiled. No fangs, no terror teeth, just disarming nice-guy smiles that relaxed the Guard and the FBI and elicited “Well, I’ll be,” from Tose. The middle one took a step forward, surveyed the crowd with obvious satisfaction, then raised both hands and launched into a declamation consisting of incomprehensible words, buzzes, and what sounded like numbers to the astonished and mystified onlookers. After about five minutes, he stopped speaking, bowed slightly, and he and his companions wheeled in unison then marched back up the stairs, the portal closing behind them.
All hell broke loose. The crowd and the Guardsmen all turned among each other shouting, “Whadde say? Whadde say?” prompting a great deal of shoving and falling down. The news crew was shouting at Culhanney to let their signal go through while he and Robin wrestled them for the camera. Tose wrestled with Culhanney.
“Durn fools.” Hiram spat his opinion of these shenanigans and turned a baleful eye back on the kiss. “Land on my crop and spout Russian gibberish at me. Idjits.”
“Weren’t Russian. Weren’t gibberish,” Curry, who had joined his Dad, said.
“How you know that?”
“I understood ‘em.”
“How’d ya do that?”
Curry pinched a little more Red Man. “Dunno. Just did.”
Hiram shook his head, “Must be all that durn rap music you listen to.” He walked over to the road and yelled. “Hey! Stop all that fussin’! Curry understood ‘em.”
Tose disentangled from Culhanney. “That a fact?”
“Yep.” Curry scratched a fly off his face.
The crowd exchanged glances. “Well then?” Billy Perkins prompted.
“Now just wait a second.” Culhanney was incredulous. “You’re not seriously believing this...” — he almost said ‘hayseed’ but quickly realized his situation — “...young man?”
The crowd’s hostile reaction brought Culhanney and Robin’s hands close to their sidearms. “We sure are,” Tose spoke for the crowd, “we know ’im.” He nodded at Curry.
“They said,” Curry was absently folding the chew pouch, “they was happy to be here, thrilled to get such a large welcoming committee” — the Guard and firemen beamed at each other — “think this is a historic moment with wonderful opportunities, yadda yadda...”
“Wait,” Culhanney held up a hand, “they actually said ‘yadda yadda’?”
“No, I’m just cuttin’ to it. Then they said they gotta make some adjustments and they’ll be preoccupied with some maintenance...” Curry’s voice trailed and he looked embarrassed, “I didn’t quite catch it, something they called a Stantatac drive.”
“What’s that?” the suddenly nervous Lieutenant asked.
“Some kinda force field,” Curry nodded, more to himself. “Well, anyways, they said they’d come back out soon and they’d like to meet with world leaders, if we could get ’em here.” Curry bobbed his head, satisfied, indicating completion, and fumbled around for his car keys as an excited buzz rolled through the crowd.
“Oh yeah,” he said suddenly, “almost forgot.” The crowd leaned towards him as he triumphantly produced the keys. “They also said, ‘Praise God.’ Goin’ to town, Pa.” He waved cheerfully to Hiram and trotted off.
“Well, I’ll be...” Tose’s tone was pleased as he turned, smiling, to Perkins, who was stunned. Regularity of church attendance determined which reaction, smile or stun, settled on each crowd member’s face.
Excitement or consternation was determined by the same criteria, except for Culhanney and Robin, who both paled for different reasons. “Election year,” Robin mouthed to Culhanney, and they paled even more. Sidling through the now debating crowd, they scampered to their vehicle. Culhanney made a call.
A few moments later, the Lieutenant’s radio squawked, startling him. He listened, paled even whiter than Culhanney and Robin, and whirled in a circle, screaming “Move! Move! Get away from here now! Get away!”
The Guard, not sure why but knowing an emergency when they heard one, began pushing the crowd away from the kiss. Tose grabbed Hiram by the collar and dragged him, fussing, across the road.
Moments later, three gunships hovered over the tree line and let loose a barrage of Hellfire missiles at the kiss. It might have withstood two or three, but not eight, especially with repairs to that Stantatac drive thing underway. The kiss imploded, the various con-and-counter-cussions from that and the Hellfires knocking the crowd over.
As the smoke cleared and the fiery debris stopped falling, the crowd regained its feet. “Think you can get away with that?” Tose asked Culhanney.
Culhanney regarded the camera crew’s disc and hard drive he was holding. “Yes,” he said. He and Robin removed a piece of kiss fuselage from their windshield and drove away. The firemen grabbed their equipment and walked around stamping out fires. The Guard, now with nothing to do, helped them.
Hiram got to his feet, dusted himself off, and surveyed the ruin of his field, making immediate calculations. He spat a contemptuous wad at the molten slag in the middle of the mess. “Knew they was Russians.”
Copyright © 2009 by Dwight O. Krauss