WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED ON AUGUST 14, 2003

 

“I need to confess something.”

Officer Greg looked at the slight, middle-aged man who had stepped up to the barred window. He wore a faded plaid shirt, jeans, and an International Tractor baseball cap.

“OK,” the officer sighed. “Confess to what?”

“It happened a long time ago, sir. Back in 2003.”

“Okay, give me a clue, will ya? Confess something.”

“I was the cause of the great blackout.”

The police officer closed his eyes slowly, wishing he was anywhere but standing at the window. Every once in a while a nut would come in. Today was, apparently, one of those days.

“The world forgives you. Go home.”

“No, no. This thing has been eating me up for years. It’s getting so I can’t sleep. I’ve got no appetite. It’s really weighing on me more and more. Please, listen to me.”

The officer stared plaintively at the distressed man. He finally let out a sigh of resignation.

“You packing a gun? Any weapons on you?”

“No. I said I was coming in to confess. I wouldn’t bring a gun into a police station. I’m not stupid.”

That remains to be seen, the officer thought.

“Okay, empty your pockets, step through the metal detector.” He motioned for Officer Jane to take his place at the window.

Officer Greg looked over the few items passing through on the belt. Nothing but the usual things—keyring, nail clipper, a couple of wadded up store receipts. He instructed the man to gather his belongings on the other side.

“Buzz us in, Jane.”

“Not your day, eh Greg?” She pressed the button and shot her colleague a smirk.

Officer Greg replied with an irritated grunt.

“Have a seat, sir. I’ll get the paperwork started.” He switched on the notebook computer atop the scratched gray metal desk. He pulled a small voice recorder from the drawer and pushed a pen and yellow steno pad at the man. “Print your name and address and any phone numbers you have.”

The man scratched his personal information down, his hand shaking a bit.

“Am I going to jail?” The man slid the pad back to the officer.

“Not until I hear your story…” The officer read the name scrawled on the pad. “Mr. Colby.”

Colby shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then began:

 

Call me Bumper. My real name is Todd, but everyone calls me Bumper since forever. I’m not sure why. I’ve never been able to get anybody to tell me.

Anyway, it was back in 2003, like I said. I got done with my shift at the box factory, second shift. I went home like always. I had this little trailer in a park just outside of Rock Creek. I used to live at home until Ma passed, and then I had to get the rental. Nothing great, but that’s fine.

So I get home, watch a little TV, and then fall asleep in my chair. It was around two, two-thirty in the morning, I wake up. Right then I know, I mean know, that there was someone there. You know that feeling where you wake up and you don’t know what woke you? That’s what I was feeling. Except I get this feeling of something being real close.

The television is still on. All I can hear is squealing tires from some action show, so I turn it off to listen. It was quiet at first. Then, from the kitchen, I heard it. Somebody was crunching potato chips and rattling the bag just enough that I could hear it.

“Who’s there?” I said it pretty loud.

The crunching and bag rustling stopped. I get out of my chair real slow and tiptoe to the kitchen. I turn the corner, and there it was.

An alien. Yeah, I see the look you’re giving me. And I can’t blame you. But every word is true. It was one of those pasty-gray short guys with big oval eyes that kind of wrap around the big swollen-looking heads. It had skinny little arms and legs, and looked naked. Each hand had just three long fingers.

It just stood there staring back at me, a chip in one hand, halfway to its—I don’t know what else to call it—mouth opening, I guess. Then it finally just shoved the chip into its mouth, staring at me like it was nothing.

I was real scared, but then again, it kind of pissed me off. I mean, those were MY chips. It stood there crunching. Both of us staring at each other.

Finally I got my balls tightened up enough to talk.

“Those are my chips, you know.”

The thing never took its eyes off me. It just reached into the bag real slow and crammed more chips into its mouth.

In my mind, I heard, “I know.”

I mean, its mouth was full of chips just munching away, but it talked to me in my head.

“They cost me two bucks,” Now I’m more pissed than scared.

“Money is a thing of your world,” it said in my mind.

“And you’re eating a thing of my world, Snack-King. They’re my chips. Put ‘em away.”

It rolled the bag up and set it carefully on the kitchen counter. Then it turned to me and said, “It’s time for your periodic evaluation.”

“My what?” I had no idea what it was talking about.

“Oh, come on. You know what that means.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes you do.”

“Nuh-uh.” It wasn’t going to let me have the last word.

“Uh-huh. Now let’s stop acting like you’re eight years old and let’s go.” The alien turned and headed for the door. I didn’t budge.

He stopped, turned back. “Well? You coming?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really. The data that you provide is enormous. I just didn’t want to make you unconscious, for once. We find we get much more data when the subject is awake and fully conscious.”

“Jeez. It’s the middle of the night. Can’t we do this during the day? I gotta go to work later.”

“Would you rather be unconscious?”

I thought about it, then shook my head. “Nah, I guess not.” I figured if I had my druthers, I’d rather be awake and know what I was getting myself into.

We went down the front steps, and, being the middle of the night, there were no lights on or any movement throughout the entire trailer park. Completely silent and dark. We stopped in the road, and it looked up into the sky. Suddenly, there it was. I don’t mean it snuck up on us. I mean it suddenly just there, right above my head. Like it might have had some kind of cloaking device, you know, like in those space movies. The thing was a wedge kind of shape, about the length of two Ford one-ton F-350’s with dual wheels and crew cab placed end to end.

A door opened, and light flooded onto the gravel.

“Enter,” it said.

I took a deep breath and went up the ramp. As soon as I got to the top, it lifted and closed behind me. Over to the pointy-front edge of the craft there was another alien dude. I waved at it, and it started to lift a three-fingered hand, then stopped. It turned back to the panel.

“Sit,” the chip-muncher said, pointing toward a recliner that moved out flush from a wall.

I sat, nervous and scared.

“You gonna do that probing thing?”

“What?” it said, surprised.

“You know, the anal probe thing. I heard about it, and it doesn’t sound great.”

“What? No! That isn’t the type of data we collect. Right now we’re on a mission to explore your culture and society.”

“Good. No probes.” Boy, was I relieved.

“Why would you even bring that up? You WANT us to probe you or something?”

“Hell, no. It was just something I heard happens to people who are abducted.”

“And what other fallacies have you heard?”

“Being seduced by sexy space babes.”

“What?”

“You know, your world is dying and you need the seed of manly men to repopulate your planet. So you use space babes to seduce…”

“That is the single most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard from a human.”

“Sor-ry!” I was more than a little sorry to hear that wasn’t going to happen.

“Why is it that your planet insists on needing odd rituals and tall tales? They do no real good, from what we see.”

“So, you’re saying there are no such thing as space babes.”

I could hear it huff out a sigh in my mind. Then it said, “Well, okay, it happened once.”

“Once?”

“Okay, twice or maybe three times.”

I looked at it, feeling a little bit of hope that it might happen to me. “How about today?”

The alien at the panel spun its big head to face me, its mouth bunched up into an ‘O’. The first alien said, “No. Not today.” The other alien turned back to the panel.

“Damn,” I said.

“What is your idea of a ‘sexy babe’?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” I pulled out my wallet, opened it. I flipped past the picture of Ma. I held it out to it.

“Who is this next to your Federal Breast Inspector card?”

“A sexy babe. Not from space. She’s Hispanic, I think. Her name’s Sofia Vergara. She’s hot, huh?”

“I’m afraid that she holds no fascination for me. However, her children will never go hungry.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Is she your mate?”

“I wish! But nah.”

“So, we have a few questions for you.”

“Shoot.” I put my wallet back into my back pocket, then clapped my hands and rubbed them together.

“What are the most important items that you use in your life?”

I thought about it for a while, then pulled out my cell phone. “This is pretty important.”

“That is a communication device, yes?”

“Yep. I can call people, have people call me, send and get texts when I’m too busy to stop what I’m doing to talk.”

“Is that all you do with it?”

“Hell no. I can take pictures. Hey! Let me take a picture of you.”

“No. No pictures.”

“What? You think that pictures make you look fat or something?”

“No. It’s simply that we must ensure our state of anonymity.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“May I see it?”

I paused, then handed it to the alien. Its long knobby fingers felt all over it.

“Hey, since I just let you see my phone, why not tell me your name?”

Without looking at me, it said, “My name would mean nothing to you.”

“I didn’t ask if it would mean anything to me. I asked what your friends call you.”

It looked up from the phone. “Sidonostominyxyx.” He said. This was my closest guess to what his name sounded like.

I tried to say the name, but only got the first part right. “Okay, that’s pretty hard to say. Mind if I call you Sid?”

“That’s fine.”

“What’s that guy’s name?” I asked, nodding towards the other alien.

Another voice, a different one, said “Oomizyxeffoozx.” Another guess on my part.

“Hey, mind if I call you Oomi?”

The alien turned, looked at me and nodded. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sid flipped the phone open. The screen lit up.

“How do you make calls?”

“Easy,” I took the phone back, pulled up the phone list. “See. The phone numbers for everyone I want or need to call are there. I just press the button and it automatically dials.”

Sid pressed a button.

“Whoa there chief,” I said, taking the phone from him and cutting off the call. “I have no idea where we are right now and I don’t need roaming charges. I can barely afford my rent and don’t need no extra bills on my phone.”

“Roaming charges?” Sid asked.

“Yeah. Damn service providers charge a lot more when you call when outside of the coverage area.”

“I see.”

“Where are we right now?”

“What you call the dark side of the moon.”

“I just got here and we are already there?”

“Yes.”

“Pink Floyd’s got nothin’ on me.”

Sid said nothing, simply stared like he didn’t know what to say.

“Where you taking me?” I asked. “You got a window in this thing?”

Oomi looked up, his oval eyes slanted slightly.

Sid nodded. “Show Bumper where we are.”

Suddenly the wall disappeared, and I was staring into the stars. The sight was incredible. I mean, I’ve seen the night sky before, but this looked completely different. I fumbled for the flask in my back pocket, unscrewed the cap and took a big swig of Jack.

“What is that?” Sid asked.

“What?”

“That container from which you just drank.”

“Oh, just my flask. I keep some handy just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”

I waved at the stars. “Oh, something like this. Where’s the moon?”

“Behind the ship.”

“Can I see it?”

Oomi tapped the panel in front of him. The stars seemed to move and then the black shape of the moon came into view, half lit.

“I thought you said we were on the dark side of the moon.” I felt a little like someone was pulling my leg.

Sid sighed, and I saw him lower his gray lids over his eyes, then opened them to once again look at me. “As I would have figured you would know that the term ‘dark side of the moon’ refers to the side of the moon that those on earth cannot see.”

“So this is special, huh?”

“For humans, yes, this is special.”

“So where is your moon base?”

“Moon base?” Sid asked.

“Yeah, I figure you guys can’t be just flying around out in space without getting fuel or getting something to eat. You know. Your moon base.”

“We have no moon base.”

“Well, where is your base.”

“We have installations we keep hidden in various waterways around your earth.”

“What? You mean underwater?”

“Yes.”

I thought about this, unscrewed the cap to the flask again and took another pull.

“Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“Drink that liquid.”

“It makes me happy,” I said, shaking my head. These aliens didn’t know shit.

“May I have a drink?”

I didn’t want to be weird about alien backwash, but I didn’t want to get stranded on some asteroid, so I said, “Sure.” I unscrewed the cap and handed the flask over. Sid’s knobby fingers fumbled a little with it, then got the hang of it and curled all three fingers around the container. I heard the Jack gurgle into his mouth opening. Then he suddenly bent forward, making half-gagging, half-coughing noises. He held out the flask while he was still bent over.

I took it from him with a laugh. “That’ll put hair on your chest, huh?”

Sid finally caught his breath. “Yes, indeed. Especially if the hair comes from intense burning from within.”

I saw Oomi cross the room, looking at me.

“What?” I asked. “You want a tug o’ Jack Daniels?”

“Please.” Oomi said in my head.

I unscrewed the cap again and held it out to him. He carefully took it, glancing over at poor Sid. He raised it to his mouth opening. As he swallowed, his big eyes got even wider than I ever thought possible. When he held the flask out, I heard him whooping, like gasping for breath. Sid took the flask from him, drank some more. I took it from him, drank some more. We passed it around like that for a while.

Oomi got the last of the Jack. He held out the flask to me like he was sorry to see it end. Then he kind of stumbled back to the lighted panel and went back to work.

“So what kind of engine you got in this thing?”

Sid’s lids were halfway over his eyes, obviously feeling a heavy buzz. “Concentrated plasma drive.”

“No shit. Do you go like a bat out of hell?”

“Indeed.”

“Which one of the stars are you from?”

“This star.”

“What? The sun?”

“Yes. We are also terrestrials.”

“How can that be? Don’t get offended, but you sure don’t look human.”

“Think of us as energy forms. We appear as best fills our needs. This form you see is what you expect to see.”

“So why don’t you already know stuff like potato chips and Jack Daniels and hot chicks? I mean, if you’re from earth, you’d know about it.”

“Think of us as visitors from another reality.”

I couldn’t wrap my skull around that one. I thirsted for another sip from my now-empty flask. “How long would it take to get back to earth? I could get us some beer. What time is it anyway?”

“We are outside of time right now.”

“Right. So what time is it?” I flipped open my phone and it told me it was nearly nine o’clock. “Shit! How long have I been here?”

“As I said, your time moves differently when you are in our presence.”

“Well, the Flash Mart is open twenty-four seven. I think I’ve got enough cash in my wallet for a twelve-pack. What say we zip on down and get some fortification. Plus, I can call in sick. I’m kind of enjoying tooling around with you guys.”

“We’re here!” Oomi exclaimed, promptly falling to what must have been his knees.

“Okay, cool,” I looked at Sid. “How do I get out of the ship without being seen by anyone? Hate to make you obvious to anybody else.”

“Don’t worry about that. Just walk down the ramp. We’re cloaked.”

“I KNEW IT! You guys are outstanding!”

The ramp opened, and I went down to the parking lot. As soon as I stepped off the ramp, I heard cars and the gas pumps tinging. I went around to the front of the building and went in. The place was busy, people buying coffee, newspapers, and scratch-off tickets. I pulled a twelve pack of Rolling Rock beer out of the cooler and went to the counter.

The cashier’s name tag said “Mikey”. I set the beer on the counter and grinned at him.

He looked at me and said, “Starting a little early, aren’t we cowboy?”

“Still going from last night, Mikey. Hey, how about some of those kettle chips. They might like those.”

Mikey rang it all up, shaking his head. “You and your friends must be hard core.”

“Maybe we’re just celebrating.”

“What?”

“Does it matter?”

“I guess not.”

We exchanged cash, and as I stuffed the change in my pockets, I grabbed the chips and beer.

“Have a good day, sir,” Mikey said, “The door is twelve steps that way.”

“You’re a funny guy, Mikey.” I said, a little annoyed.

I went back into the side parking lot, but didn’t see anything. I looked around to see if maybe someone was watching me. When I turned back I saw the ramp down so I ran up into the ship.

“What are those?” Sid asked, big-eyeing the bag of chips.

“Kettle chips. They’re good. I think you’ll like them.”

“What is ‘Rolling Rock’?”

“Oh, come on. You guys know about beer, right?”

“Is it like ‘Jack Daniels’?”

“Not quite. But it’s good. It’s got alcohol in it.”

Hearing those words, Oomi turned from the panel to face me, still kinda wobbly. I popped open the box and pulled out three cans. I popped the tops to all of them and handed one to each of my new buddies. Sid raised the can to his mouth opening, made a sucking noise. I figured it was the way he smelled stuff since he didn’t have much of a nose. Then he raised the beer up and took a swig.

When he lowered the can, his eyes told me that he liked it. He immediately raised the can back to his opening and tilted back.

I felt a tap on my elbow. Oomi stood there, weaving a little, holding out his can.

“More?” he asked in my mind.

His can was already empty. I hadn’t taken a drink from my can yet, so I just held out mine. Oomi took it and stumbled back to the panel.

I pulled another can out, popped the top. “Hey Sid! Road trip?”

“Road trip. What do you mean by this term, ‘Road trip’?”

“Aw, come on! You guys don’t know anything! We got some beers, we got some munchies, we just tool around drinking beer listening to AC-DC, eating stuff, and seeing what is out there.”

“AC-DC? How would you listen to electricity?” Sid asked uncertainly.

“Nah. That’s the name of only the best rock group in history. They rock! So. Road trip?”

Oomi’s voice popped into my skull. “Road trip!”

Sid said, “Road trip!”

“Road trip!” I shouted, chugging down half my beer.

Before long, Oomi had made all the walls and floors vanish and we all sat on the weird recliners and drank beer, the landscape whipping by. All the highways and trees and farms and the people not even looking up at us as we whizzed over them. I took out my phone and got a picture of Sid with kettle chip crumbs all over his skinny torso, lifting a beer to his opening. Then I got a pic of Oomi leaning heavily on the control panel, his eyes closed. They were awesome pics, too! Sid grabbed my phone and got one of me with my arm around Oomi.

“We need tunes!” I shouted.

“Tunes?”

“You know, music. Stuff that rocks! You got a radio? Maybe a CD player? Something that rocks?”

Oomi pressed the panel a few times. Sid just sat there swigging beer and shoving kettle chips into his mouth. Suddenly music blared on.

“Alright! That’s what I’m talking about! AC-DC!” I yelled, popping open another beer.

This went on for a long stretch until I got bored. I went over to Oomi standing over the panel. “Thunderstruck” was playing.

“Hey Oomi. You drive this ship, right?”

“Yes. I. Pilot. This. Craft.” He could barely put the words into my head. His big head wobbled on his neck like a top about to tip over.

“Can I try?”

Oomi’s big eyes looked all filmy and his lids were at half-mast. He shrugged and looked over at Sid. Sid said loudly in my head, “Let him drive!”

Oomi showed me where to press the panel to move the ship. I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, it looked like a blank panel to me. Just lights. But I finally got the hang of it with Oomi’s help. The ship moved real slow, but I got it moving.

“Where are we now? Norway? Germany?”

Oomi said, “No. Northern Ohio in your United States.”

“Aw shit. I was hoping to go around the world a few times.”

Judging from watching the passing landscape, the craft was moving at a super slow pace. I didn’t mean to, but I steered us slow and steady towards some trees. Behind the trees I could see power lines.

“Just be careful. You’re moving sideways. Stop. Stop. STOP!” Oomi screamed in my mind.

I pushed the craft into some maple trees. We kind of twirled in the air and then the ship slid over a power line. Suddenly the lights in the ship went bright, and I glanced over to my left and saw sparks flying where the ship grazed the line.

“Oh, shit,” Oomi said in my mind. I was surprised he knew that word. He edged in front of me and corrected our course. But it was too late. That was when the blackout happened. And I was the cause of it. Because I drove a space ship drunk.

 

Officer Greg stared at the man without saying a word.

“You believe me, right?”

“Do you have proof?”

Bumper looked dismayed. “Not really.”

“What about the pictures? From the ship?”

“No. I messed up. I accidentally dropped my phone into the shitter a couple days later.”

“So what happened? Did you go to work?”

“I never showed up. The only reason I didn’t get fired was that the factory floor was closed because of the blackout. You believe me, right?”

“I—uh—don’t know. It’s kind of hard to imagine aliens who can’t hold their booze.”

Bumper slumped in the chair and shook his head. “They told me to not say anything. They told me no one would believe me.”

“Why are you coming forward now? So many years have gone by.”

“Well, I know from news reports that some people died because of it.”

“Well, you weren’t really the direct cause of their deaths.”

“I caused a 3,500 megawatt overload to the entire northeast power grid.”

“By driving a space ship into a power line.”

“Yes! Yes!” Bumper sounded hopeful.

“I can’t arrest you for that.”

“Why not? I’m admitting that I was drunk.”

Greg ran a palm over his face, feeling miserable. He knew he had to think of something to say that would satisfy Bumper and assuage his guilt.

“Aha!” Greg said suddenly, pointing at Bumper. “Statute of Limitations! That’s it! Your accident happened so long ago we can’t legally do anything.”

“You mean you can’t arrest me?”

“No.”

“How do I come to terms with myself over this?”

“You still drinking?”

“Not much anymore. Every time I put a twelve-pack in the fridge, it’s gone by morning.”

“So you’re still drinking a lot.”

“No, I’m saying that Sid and Oomi must come in at night while I’m asleep and take it.”

“The aliens are stealing your beer.”

“Yep. I’m guess I started a bad precedent. They also grab my snack food.”

“Aliens are stealing your snack food.”

“Chips, cheese puffs, popcorn, you name it. I made the mistake of buying Little Debbie Nutty Bars once and, poof, they were gone.”

“Do you see these aliens anymore?”

“No. I know they still visit me, but I don’t remember them. I think they block my memories somehow. So what do I do?”

“Why not stop drinking altogether? And stop buying snack foods. Work to become a better person.”

Bumper nodded. “Yeah, I suppose that would be the best thing really. And it really would save me money, especially since I never get back my can and bottle deposits.”

Officer Greg pressed the button to stop the tape recorder. Then he stood and shook Bumper’s hand, signaling the end of the interview, After Bumper went out the station door, Officer Jane came over, chuckling.

“So?” she asked.

“He’s a good person at heart. You know, I think he actually believes he did it.”

“But it’s a whole ton of bullshit, right?”

Greg paused for a long moment, then shrugged.

He said finally, “Probably.”

 

Catch more of my writing in my collection of weird stories, Banquet of Souls at Amazon. Click here:

Banquet of Souls

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