Time slogged by at its even pace. Joe looked up at the round Pabst-sponsored clock which hung above his kitchen table. He won it playing that game at the carnival where you roll the wooden ball up the ramp and into one of several varying point-getting holes. He was good at it. His girlfriend at the time, Arlene, wanted the big stuffed giraffe that hung amongst the prizes. Joe needed a clock. They broke up soon afterwards.
The second-hand clicked along per usual, which was far too slow in his current mood. One in the morning now hovered twelve minutes away, and the time he truly awaited ninety minutes beyond that. That’s when it would be 6:30AM in New York, the time that Abby would wake up to get ready for work.
He needed to get a hold of her to tell her what had happened and ask for help. Joe had sent texts initially, and then finally bit the bullet and called her when no response came. He hoped his sister would answer, even though he felt a little badly about potentially waking her at such an hour. When she didn’t reply, he felt a mixture of relief and frustration.
Abby had always been a remarkably light slight sleeper. There were countless times in high school where Joe snuck in after curfew past his mother’s quiet room only to be confronted with a grumpy, wide awake sibling. He knew that her only solution to getting rest on a nightly basis consisted of turning off every gadget within earshot and inserting earplugs. Joe hoped she forgot this time, but figured it unlikely. He would just have to wait.
The midnight sun continued pouring through his open blinds. He couldn’t sleep, but the light wasn’t the problem. Joe had adjusted to the endless summer after moving to Barrow three years ago, and could pretty much doze off surrounded by fire if he had to. No, it was what he had seen, and what could still happen, that occupied his mind and kept him from dozing off.
He paced around his home, from living room to kitchen to bedroom and back. It was an uneven, elliptical loop, and the carpet wore thinner along that path than anywhere else in the house. Joe held a fresh bottle of beer in his right hand as he continued lap after lap. Five Kokanee’s had already been polished off, but they hadn’t any effect on his mood. He just felt too wound up with what had happened. The events of the prior day cycled continuously, and the bullet points were extraordinary.
Seeing an alien.
Talking to an alien.
Watching the military take the alien away.
Joe relived it in his mind again and again. Then, when a tiny sliver of the experience was the slightest bit uncertain, he walked over to his computer and relived it in real time.
During the past spring, he had complained to Abby in one of their weekly phone conversations about some person or critter thrashing the small bits of furniture and camping gear left out in his backyard. He didn’t know if it was a desperate neighborhood addict or some thieving bear, but he figured he should find out which it was so as to set out the right kind of bait in his trap. Abby followed up the chat by mailing him a small camera with step by step instructions for how to wire it back to his laptop for later viewing.
He set the system up right away and, for a time, checked out the yard-cam diligently. However, after a month of inactivity, he stopped reviewing the morning video recap. Joe shrugged off the incidents and told Abby that the destructive creature probably left the area. This, it turned out, was sort of true.
The reality, Joe eventually ascertained, had to do with his first foray into making a small batch of his own barley wine. The mysterious yard vandalism, he figured, had only occurred during nights of the tasting phase of the process. He came to the conclusion that maybe it was him, incredibly inebriated from strong and questionably made spirits, that had been the guilty party. His memory couldn’t corroborate this, but the name of his ex-girlfriend painted onto the bottom side of his wheelbarrow seemed to be a fairly believable indictment.
Eventually, he put the episode out of his mind and forgot the whole thing happened. He also forgot about the camera itself. It had kept running.
Joe sat down at the kitchen table, and pressed play on the video from the past evening for the eighth time. And, as with each viewing prior, the appearance of Erke startled him. Seeing him, tall, red skinned, wrapped in a cloak, emerge from the woods was utterly shocking. It felt unbelievable to see this creature, but it became even more surreal when Joe watched himself enter the frame. In a lifetime of fantasizing about meeting beings who were different than normal earthlings, here existed proof. Reality, face to face. Joe shook his head in disbelief, watching his dreams.
That feeling of excitement, though, got surpassed by a swell of uneasiness and fear. Clearly, the military didn’t know about his film. If they found out, it, and maybe he, would be taken away. Could they find about it? They came to his property after the crash without being contacted. Maybe they knew, somehow.
Joe pressed stop and listened. His paranoia went into overdrive. This wasn’t the first time in the last few hours that he stood absolutely still to try to catch the faintest sound of an imminent intruder. In each instance before, he eventually returned to the video, tentatively accepting the silence at its wordless-ness. This time, however, something, or someone, definitely existed outside.
He looked over to his shotgun, it leaning haphazardly against the stove. A box of bullets sat just above it on the counter. Joe remained frozen.
There wasn’t the usual crunch of boots he heard when people were stepping on his back deck. Whatever was out there, it walked very softly. There were plenty of animal possibilities, but he couldn’t shake the idea the visitor might be something else altogether.
A light knock on his back door forced his breath out.
Not an animal.
Another knock came though. He looked at the gun again.
A woman’s voice whispered through the pine, capturing his attention. He paused briefly, and then shakily called out.
“Yes. Who is it?”
“It’s me Joe. It’s Katie. Can you let me in?”
It took a beat, and the name registered. He stepped to the entry, though not without the level of worry continuing its steep climb upward. Joe’s mind raced. His hand moved slowly towards the knob.