episode one / chapter five…
Peace again returned to property. The homeowner stood alone now, staring into the woods once more. He was in a state of…something. Not shock, exactly, but some sort of uncertainty and confusion. The day’s events swirled. His mind spun but accomplished nothing, like a machine spooling a broken thread.
Joe tried to rouse himself from this unfocused haze, physically shaking his head once and then again to loosen whatever device needed to be unstuck.
There was a lot to consider, but he couldn’t imagine where to begin. His world, and perhaps everyone’s, had been altered forever. It felt like just too much.
He looked back at his home. Through the hazy kitchen window, from where he first saw IT, he foresaw a quiet place to hide for awhile. The rusty extra refrigerator, unevenly standing on the porch, would provide the beer he needed to quiet the outside, and inside, for awhile.
Joe shuffled towards the dwelling. He stepped up on the wooden landing and reached for the busted metal handle that held his liquid escape. Before he could open it, though, a voice broke through from behind.
“Heya Joe, mind if we chat a little more?”
Walt held his hat in his hand, looking pensive. Eli stood a pace behind him, with hands on hips, chewing some gum.
“Oh, hey guys. Yeah, we can talk. Was just going to grab a beer? Either of you want one?”
Joe handed a cold brown bottle to Walt. Eli waved the host off, and shot a sneer at the back of his partner’s head. The drinkers uncapped their beverages, and each took a short sip. Joe leaned against the side of the fridge, facing the two policemen who now stood opposite him.
“So, what happened here?”
Eli’s question elicited another swallow of beer from both men. Joe looked down, and then up at his inquisitor.
“Like he said, military stuff.”
Walt looked at his partner, whose face reddened at the response. Eli’s eyes met his. He took a deep breath and tried to expel the simmering rage at the non-answer as well as the agency that had apparently requested it. Walt acknowledged his friend’s attempt at calmness with a small smirk, and shifted his glance back to Joe again.
“Did you see something crash?”
Joe considered the question, and slowly nodded.
“Was it some kind of ship?”
He nodded again, and took another pull from the bottle.
No answer came this time, only a return to shoegazing.
Again, no answer. Joe raised his eyes past the two men and looked up at the weathered wooden boards that held a torn canopy mostly in place. He began to answer, but paused, noticing a coil of electric wires snaking through the knothole of the fifth plank from the left. He bit his bottom lip.
“So what was it Joe?”
He kept his focus above for a moment, thinking, but quickly brought his gaze back down to avoid suspicion. Eli looked frustrated. Walt downed more of his beer. Joe wanted to end this conversation immediately.
“Guys, I’m really sorry. I..it was something. It crashed, but I didn’t get a good look at it. I don’t know exactly what it was. I’m just not sure I can give you anything else right now. I thought I should call the cops, ya know? But, maybe I shouldn’t have. I apologize for bringing ya up here.”
The cops exhaled, disappointed. Joe felt bad, and very carefully considered what to say next.
“If something else…comes up. I will let you know. Face to face.”
They looked at him, curious.
Walt stepped forward and gave him the two-thirds empty bottle.
“Ok, Joe, thanks. We’ll just leave it be for now. Right Eli?”
Eli stared at Joe for a few moments, considering.
“I guess. For now.”
The policemen stepped off the porch one by one, each giving the same cursory nod to their host. They walked back through the yard, returned to their vehicle, and headed out once more.
Alone once more, Joe held his beer firmly and looked up. From a sawed off piece of wood, a thin black device wrapped in duck tape stared back down. The mirrored plastic screen of a small camera reflected the still potent sunlight back into Joe’s eyes.
The ambulance’s left rear tire bounced in and out of a sizable hole in the dirt road. The prisoner, along with five of the six men seated around him, had their bodies momentarily lifted by the event, causing them to hit their heads on the solid ceiling of the vehicle. The shortest among them, a recent recruit mockingly nicknamed Stretch, went unharmed. He smiled.
“Ouch! What the heck was that?”
The startled crew sat silent, uncertain if they should react to the question from this odd looking creature. They were unsure of protocol, and essentially completely unqualified for whatever type of work this was. Finally, the most senior of the crew, Captain Pickerel, spoke up.
“Uh, a pothole. Lots of them out on the base.”
Erke rubbed the back of his impressive bald skull.
“Well, why doesn’t someone fill them in?”
The captain relaxed, slightly.
“Oh, no money. The feds have already cut the budget for everything except guns. We’re barely able to keep this place functioning. Why, the bathrooms…”
A younger soldier a few seats away interjected, bringing stares from his peers.
“Yes, what is it Private?”
“Should you really be telling…him…all of this?”
“What do you mean Private?”
He leaned past two others, towards his commanding officer, and loudly whispered.
The captain looked back to Erke, who had watched and listened to the discussion.
“You think I’m here to steal your bathroom secrets?”
The military men glanced at each other, and then back to their captive, who shook his head at the assumption.
“I promise not to tell my planet.”
This would be the last talking inside the wagon until it came to a stop a short while later.