Bill Rochambeau wore a long grey beard that the members of ZZ Top would have described as “a bit much”. His office was ice-cold, but that’s just the way he liked it.
He shuffled some papers on his desk before addressing my inquiry.
“Watson is a kook,” Rochambeau said to me, “you are aware that he is a proponent of the Hollow Earth Theory, aren’t you?”
“He’s not alone,” I countered, “and how do we know the center of the Earth is not hollow and home to a fine race of people?”
“My friend, it is more likely that the earth has a gooey, caramel center than it does a hollow one.”
“You believe that extraterrestrials abducted him?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I do know that he has a pile of unread newspapers on his front porch.”
“So do I. In my forty-six years, I don’t think I’ve read three newspapers, front to back. But, that’s only because I despise journalists, except you, of course.”
“Of course. Whatever you believe about Watson, he is gone and there is little trace.”
“Watson was not kidnapped by aliens,” Rochambeau promised, “and I doubt that there are any extraterrestrials capable of traveling to earth, anywhere – anyhow.”
“Sagan and Hawking would argue the point,” I countered.
“Mr. Sagan, sadly, is in no position to argue anything and Hawking is possessed by the Mediocrity Principle.”
“Possessed?” I repeated.
“I was searching for a word.”
“And you found one. Shall I assume that you have no interest in the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe or even allowing for the possibility of same?”
“I am doing what I can to find intelligent life around here.” He adjusted his glasses and gave a long pause. “The nearest planet, outside our solar system, whether inhabited or not, is ten and one half light years from earth. Do you know what that means?”
“It’s far away,” I offered.
“So, you leave the house a little early, maybe skip the shower.”
“Shower-skipping aliens, just what we need.” Rochambeau was getting hot and I was half-glad I had gotten him there. He continued, “No form of intelligent life, anywhere, can travel at the speed of light, nor one tenth the speed of light, nor one thousandth the speed of light, period. And I’ll let you in on some interesting data, because I like you, the average age of my students is twenty years, and, based on my conversations with them, less than five percent would tell you they even accept the possibility that we are being visited by extraterrestrials.”
“Fine, if you assume that M.I.T. kids are in the know, that’s your business.”
“How long have you been on this planet?” Rochambeau asked me, after a sigh.
“I’ll be thirty-eight in December.”
“Have you ever seen an alien or an alien spaceship or an alien anything?”
“No, but I haven’t always been looking.” I sipped my coffee, but it had grown cold in Rochambeau’s meat locker. “What do you think happened to Watson?”
“I don’t worry about it. He’ll probably turn up in a week or so with a milk carton tattooed on his back and a story about Inner-Venutian life that found its origin in Atlantis not to mention his collaboration with a Yeti.”
“That sounds like a busy week.” I replied.
“You said it.”
White walls, white floor, white ceiling, endless white as far as one could see, white on white, white, so bright, left and right, endless white, so bright, nothing but white. The ceiling opened without so much as a “whoosh”. A two-foot, orange cube descended until it was at eye level with me. A panel on the front of the cube became a screen. A smile shaped curve appeared – disappeared, next came unrecognizable characters and then the characters reformed as English letters:
YOU ARE TO WAIT HERE – YOU WILL BE CALLED
“Called by whom?” I asked.
WHO! – YOU WILL BE CALLED AT THE PROPER TIME
“Is there any place where I can sit down?’
YOU WILL STAND – YOU WILL NOT SIT
THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU TO SIT
AND – THEREFORE – YOU WILL STAND
“In that case, I will stand.”
YOU WILL STAND AND YOU WILL BE CALLED
YOU WILL WAIT HERE
“Until I am called?” I asked.
The screen became a panel once again and the orange cube rose away.
The ceiling closed.
I had a large French Roast at seven-thirty p.m. and that was a huge mistake. I tossed and turned most all of the night and was shaken by the strangest dream. Janette, my raven-haired love, was the star. She stood on the sidewalk, outside a downtown coffee shop, an odd looking establishment with orange awnings and circular windows. Janette punched the keypad of her cell phone. Katie, her longtime friend, appeared on the screen. Janette punched two more keys and Katie stood by her side.
“Beats the cab,” said Katie.
“Never mind that,” Janette replied, “you have a job.”
“Ooh, I hope it’s a hit. I love, love, love to kill, kill, kill.”
“Nothing so dramatic. You have to pick up and deliver a one hundred seventy pound package.”
“Yes!” Katie enthused. “Is it a male package or a female package?”
“Male, this time,” Janette assured. “By the way, how are the kids?”
“Oh, getting bigger every day, just like their daddy.”
The ladies shared a hearty laugh.
The cube was lime-green and larger than the first. I followed it down the white corridor. The cube emitted a low, rhythmic hum, so rhythmic that I believed for a moment that I recognized a tune, but, no. We came to the end of the corridor and the wall opened. We entered an emerald chamber that was entirely empty, save for a solitary figure that faced the back wall, motionless. The cube departed. The figure turned. She wore a glossy black, high-collared uniform. I knew the face instantly, it was Sherriff Tucker.
“Meddler,” she said gruffly, as if she were plucked from a Scooby Doo cartoon, “a meddling meddler, that’s what you are.”
“I do not know what you mean.”
Tucker moved her portly frame closer. “I have a nick-name for you,” she said. “I call you Question Man. Well, do you have any questions for me, Question Man?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I was wondering where I am and why I have yet to see any furniture, anywhere?”
“You are in a non-material dimension, a dimension neither of space, nor physical nature, a holding area for the mind. There is nothing truly tangible, here, not even you, only your consciousness is really here, everything else is a product of your imagination.”
“Is Watson here?” I inquired, already sure of the answer.
“Yes,” she replied. “your precious Dr. Watson is here, that is to say, his mental essence is here?”
“What will you do to him?”
“Do not worry, he won’t be harmed, just reeducated.”
“You mean brainwashed,” said I.
“I mean reeducated, wise guy.”
“For what purpose?” I asked.
“Dr. Watson is going to run for governor, governor of Massachusetts to be exact.”
“Watson disdains politics and politicians.”
“The old Watson,” she answered.
“And, he has never held any public office,” I added. “It would be years before you could even lay the groundwork for such a run.”
“Years mean nothing to us and I assure you we will need less time than you might think. Once in office, Watson will be in a prime position to help us with some important tasks. If we have to wait a bit for that benefit, so be it. The outcome will be the same.”
“You may believe Watson to be your Manchurian Candidate, but I assure you, you will be disappointed. I know the man.”
“The Manchurian Candidate failed,” she said loudly, “we will not fail.”
“And what of me?”
“We have an interesting plan for you,” smiled Tucker.
“Does it involve flying monkeys?”
Tucker brought forth a loud laugh that echoed through the chamber.
Though the weather had been ideal, I kept a sweater in the car just in case I made a visit to Rochambeau’s arctic palace. It was an indescribably brown piece of clothing and very bulky, but it kept me warm. Rochambeau did not think much of the garment and he told me so upon my next visit, but he soon moved on to much more important matters. I took a seat, presuming I would be there a while.
“I had three visitors at my house last night, my friend,” Rochambeau reported.
“Ghosts or wise men?”
“Mannequins, as in Macy’s mannequins?”
“Close enough, they had no hair, nor eyebrows, their complexions were waxy and they had tiny facial features.”
“Well, how tall were they, what did they wear.”
“They were your size, roughly speaking, and they wore casual slacks and polo shirts,not Banana Republic, either, more like Walmart issues.” Rochambeau smiled at the notion, but he was clearly a bit shaken in recounting the visit.
“What did they want from you?” I asked.
“Nothing from me, except information about you. They were looking for your contact data and details about your background.”
“What did you tell them?” I asked.
“Nothing, I said we were barely acquaintances and I must have been convincing because they bought it and left. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know what I could do. I’ll be happy to talk to them. It might make for a good story.”
“These inpiduals were not interested in helping you with any story. These inpiduals are bad news and they ain’t bears.”
“They contacted me out of the blue,” I told her.
“That’s hard to believe,” replied Janette as she gazed down at her menu, “Boston area newspapers don’t headhunt that way.”
“Okay, they don’t, but I’ve been hired and I will be working the political beat, be sure to check in .”
“Do you think you’ll be happy?”
“Yes, actually, the freelancing was a great, but this job means a steady paycheck and I can always branch out, with the editor’s okay, of course.”
“Good.” She traced the inside rim of her glass with her straw. “What about us?”
“You mean you and me?”
“That was the us I had in mind. I’m thirty-three, I’ll be thirty-four in two weeks.”
“I see the trend,” I told her.
“I don’t want to be old and lonely – and childless.”
“I’ve told you, I don’t believe I’d make a good husband or a good father.”
Janette’s blue eyes welled up. “What are you afraid of?” she asked.
She forced a grin and then became indifferent. “I had a job interview today, a very good job, very good salary, very long hours, a real commitment, a four year commitment, at minimum.”
“That’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
“If I am awarded the position, I won’t have much time for anything else – anything.”
Rain began to pepper Beacon Street.
The blood surrounding Tucker’s corpse formed a grizzly red diamond. I did not knowif I had killed her, but the knife felt right in my hand. Three mannequins stood nearby, observing her body, unflinching.
“Did I do this?” I asked the one closest to me.
“Only you can answer that,” it replied.
“Why didn’t you protect her?” I asked angrily.
“Protect her?” it replied. “Why would we protect her?”
“Don’t you protect your own?” I inquired of the second.
“She was not one of our own,” it replied, “she was human.”
I caught my breath and rationalized, “Whoever killed her did the right thing. She was evil, as to that, there is no doubt.”
“You would know,” said the third mannequin, “she was your wife.”
“Wife?” I laughed. “That’s comical, I am a lifelong bachelor and between you and me, I prefer the slimmer type.”
“But there is the ring,” said the first, as it pointed to my hand.
After a moment, the ring clinked along the graphite floor until it came to a quiet rest.
I sat on the park bench with Toby. He sniffed at the pockets of my cargo shorts in search of a treat. I broke the bad news to him, I hadn’t brought any. He was fine with that. Mixed terriers adjust.
A pudgy boy approached on a bicycle that was a big hit in the seventies. “Hello, mister,” said the kid, after skidding to a stop.
“Hello,” I replied. “That’s a neat old bike. When I was your age, we used to call that a chopper.”
“We still call them choppers. My uncle gave it to me for my birthday.”
“What a coincidence, my Uncle Gilbert gave me a bike for my birthday, a long, long time ago.”
“My uncle’s name is Gilbert, too,” the kid promised. A knot formed in my stomach and my new friend produced a wry smile, as if sensing my discomfort. “What’s your dog’s name?” he asked.
“Toby,” I responded, having nearly pulled myself together.
“He sure is cute.”
“Yes, and he is a heckuva companion, too.” I rubbed the pooch’s head.
“Do you like riddles, mister?”
“Sure, who doesn’t?”
“What’s the point in knowing everything, if nothing is as it seems?”
“I don’t know, kid.”
And then he was gone.
I eased my sedan onto the gravel driveway. A heavyset figure exited the house through the front door as I approached. It was certainly not Watson, unless he had been eating since I had last seen him and had become a woman. The midday sun gleamed on the sheriff’s badge. The officer approached. She was mid-thirties, to my best guess, and she possessed a face that was most comfortable in a scowl.
I said, “Hello,” offering my hand, as I stepped out of the car.
“I’m Sherriff Tucker,” she said, and she shook my hand quickly. “You have business with Mr. Watson?”
“Yes, Dr. Watson is a friend and a former college professor.”
“He’s gone, has been for days, if his message machine is any indicator. When did you see him last?”
“About ten days ago. I received an email from him earlier this week asking me to meet him here today.”
“Did he say anything about taking a trip.”
“No, ma’am, he was very busy working on a class for the fall semester.”
“A class about what?” she asked.
“Speculative Fiction and Anthropology.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“Who reported him missing?” I inquired.
“Who said anybody reported anything?”
“I – uh, nothing.”
“I’m gonna lock this place up,” said the sheriff, “if you hear anything about Watson, please call my office.”
I bumped into Katie as I left the gym. We greeted each other with a hug. She was as beautiful and cheerful as ever. Katie had always reminded me of Marisa Tomei, but after she began dying her hair red, she reminded me of a Scottish Marisa Tomei. I don’t believe I ever told Katie that and I am certain I never passed the news on to Marisa.
“Rick and I were speaking about you just last night,” Katie promised.
“I felt that. Tell Rick I said hello, will you?”
“Of course. How’s that love life doin’?” she asked.
“On a scale of one to ten, I’m a D-minus.”
“Well, my old friend Janette just broke it off with her guy, are youinterested?”
“Tell me more about him.”
“Be serious,” Katie insisted. “She is very pretty and smart like you.”
“She can’t possibly be as pretty as me.” I paused and gave the prospect just a little thought. “Okay, I’m in, no blind dates, got it?”
“Who said anything about a date. You’ll have dinner at my house with me and Rick and Janette will come too, no pressure. I’ll even make my lasagna.”
“Great,” I replied. “I’ll bring some of that wine-stuff I hear so much about.”
It was late, but I continued typing:
Many of the observers reported seeing dozens of lights that they described as triangular or diamond-shaped. The lights appeared just before dusk in a strip of sky about one hundred miles wide and they were potentially viewable by nearly all residents of the Boston Metropolitan area.
“They (the lights) were orange and green,” said Joe Knowles, forty-four, of Concord, MA. “There was one very large one and a bunch of smaller ones. The smaller ones seemed to circle the larger one, but I can’t swear to that. At any rate, I never seen anything like it in my life.”
Hundreds of observers called area radio stations, newspapers, and the Hanscom Air Force Installation in Lincoln, Massachusetts to report the sightings. A consensus of available reports indicates that the lights lingered for nearly twenty minutes and were accompanied by inclement weather. An air force spokesperson, Blake Keplinghouser, issued a brief written response the next morning. He attributed the lights to atmospheric phenomena, such as ball lighting, that found its source in the thunderstorms that were moving through the area at the time of the sightings.
I walked Toby after dark. After ten minutes, it was clear that we were being followed. I moved forward – they moved forward. I stopped – they stopped. I quickened my pace and they did likewise. They were behind us for at least a half mile. I turned behind to gauge their proximity and they disappeared. I turned back and beneath a streetlight in the distance, three waited. The mannequins stared blankly ahead, as if it was a foregone conclusion that I wouldapproach. I was amazed that Toby hadn’t so much as growled at them, but then, there might have been little scent to spur him on.
I sprinted a shortcut through the schoolyard, eager to see the lights of my apartment building. Toby dashed alongside me, joining me in a game that I was not playing. I heard the footsteps getting closer and just before they were upon me, I reached my patio. I turned back and enjoyed the empty darkness.
“Say hello to the Assistant to the Governor’s Press Secretary,” Janette enthused.
“I’m happy for you,” I declared, “and I love the office, but what is with all the green?”
“I love green, I find it soothing.”
“Then you probably won’t want the black mouse pad I got you as a congratulations gift.” I held up the bag.
“Big spender, did you have to break a five?”
“I miss you, you know?”
“I know.” She changed the subject quickly. “How’s your buddy, Bill, doing? I haven’t seen him in ages.”
“He’s fine,” I replied, “but he’s in one of his funks. The last time I called him, he behaved as if he hardly knew me.”
“Did you say something to offend him? He can be touchy.”
“No, no, he’s just a moody sort. He’ll be okay in a day or two.”
“Good,” she said. “Tell me, have you seen Dr. Watson since his election?”
“Just once, for about ten minutes, he was happier than I have ever seen him.”
“Yes, and he is very thankful to you for your support during his run.”
“I just write the facts,” I told her.
“Come on, I’ll buy you lunch.”
My guide was a mannequin. Its physical characteristics would argue that it could not show any recognizable emotions, and yet, I was convinced that there was a tinge of empathy about the being. Toby sniffed among the rubble and soon had an ash-grey nose for his trouble.
“Thanks for letting me bring the dog,” I said.
“It makes no difference,” said my guide. “Do you recognize this area?”
“There’s nothing to recognize, nothing definable, anyway. Is that a section of Interstate Ninety-five?” I asked, pointing to what I presumed was the east.
I pondered for a few moments. “Well, I still can’t pin down this location.”
We walked about one hundred feet along the remnants of a blackened brick path. We came upon a pile of crushed concrete block that half-covered a large red letter.
“That’s an M from a Macy’s sign,” I told the mannequin. “We’re at the mall, the mall in my hometown, I know it, now.”
“The mall,” it repeated.
“The prices were high, but I’ll miss the food court. You know, I used to work here as a kid, scooping ice cream.”
“That was a long time ago,” said the mannequin.
“It was significantly longer than twenty years ago,” said my guide, “significantly longer.”
I climbed atop a concrete slab and gazed about landscape. The surrounds were scorched to black as far as the eye could see. “Who did this?” I asked.
“Evil beings with evil intentions,” came the reply.
“Isn’t it always? Did anyone survive?”
“No, no one, not a person, nor an insect, nor a weed.”
“Why did you show me this?” I asked.
“Who else would I show?”
“Am I in hell?” I asked, as I climbed down from the slab.
“Only you can answer that.”
“Could this have been stopped?”
“I imagine that it could have been stopped.” The mannequin turned his back.
Toby gave a short whine and I picked him up. “Could it have been stopped by me?” I asked.
“One never knows.”
The Cape Anne was set back far from the road and was guarded by pine tree sentries of the sturdiest variety. I saw Watson waiting before the front steps as I pulled down the long, gravel drive. We greeted each other and he escorted me to the back deck where we sat separated by a patio table.
“Warm for April 1st,” Watson noted.
“Yes, Dr. Watson I concurred, we have set three temperature records in the past three weeks alone.”
“You say we like you had something to do with it.”
“One never knows.” I said.
“How about some coffee or tea?”
Watson paused and stared into the woods behind his home. The midday sun hardly complimented his sixty-five year old visage. “They made a visit, again, last night.”
“How many times is it now?” I asked.
“Four. They always come at 10:12 pm. I do not know why. The always come in threes, one representative from each of their continents, Shurn, Fayl and Bext.”
“Eighty percent of their planet is covered by water. There are three super-continents, if you will, and thousands of islands.”
“These visitors – males, females?” I put forth the query being sure to suppress myincredulity.
“No such thing on Plyxint, the inhabitants are genderless, sexless. When one being dies, it is immediately replace by another via a procedure we may refer to as cloning. The population count never changes. Never.”
“How did the first of their kind come to be?”
“I never got to that question,” he said.
“I see,” I said. But I didn’t. “What do they want from you?”
“They want to protect me.”
“From what?” I asked.
“How about some coffee, or a tea?”
“You asked me that three minutes ago,” I told him.
“I can’t live in the past.”Share