Submitted for your approval, another of my fun little amateur attempts.
In The Details
(August 28, 2013)
“Hell is in the details,” my grandfather always use to say. Turns out this was wrong, to a degree. Hell is the details. This thought strikes me as funny and I smile as my eyes scan over the contract once more to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Finally, I clicked the top of the blue ball point pen and signed my full name on the thick, dark line at the bottom of the second page. Initialed twice on the back of the third and front of the fourth. Dated page number five and signed once more before being done.
Mister Gossler grinned a wide, polished white set of teeth my way and arched those bushy eyebrows in a comical gesture. “Well, Mister Harding, I think that just about does it for us. Do you have any further questions concerning the transaction?”
I had a few, but none important enough to bother the guy standing in the afternoon sun wearing a three-piece Alexander Amosu. His jacket and tie probably cost more than my house and pre-owned 2011 Nissan Titan pick-up truck. I start to nod my head but then quickly shake it for a moment.
“Well, fine. Fine! We do take pride in wrapping these things up quickly and efficiently. The best in the business, if I do say so myself” He quickly gathered up the A. Testoni attache’ case and extended the free right hand in offer of a finalized shake. “If there should be any questions, there is a number on the back of this card. Please, feel free to call at any hour for one of our most helpful customer service representatives. And I thank you again, Mister Harding, for your business.” I accepted a card he pulled from a breast pocket that identified him as an independent representative for hire. He didn’t necessarily work for the State Lottery Commission, but he was the gentleman they sent to collect my signatures.
In the blink of an eye, Gossler was gone. The door clicked shut quietly on its hinge and I was left alone. A copy of my contract, a complimentary pen and the promises of a bright new future.
That was three days ago.
Now, as I sit huddled in a basement, wrapped in a thick wool comforter and surrounded by five other strangers, I think I can find the irony beneath it all. After all, I wanted a fresh start, a new beginning, a flip on the leaf of life to a more vibrant existence.
A sudden series of cries and screams echo from above us, far off in the distance, but close and loud enough for us all to hear down here. Growling and thundering booms follow quickly and each of us already knows that poor soul crying for help is gone. Plucked from the earth and either eaten by some foul beast or used for some other horrific purpose that only a foreign mind could comprehend.
Foreign minds, indeed.
I forget how the whole spiel went, despite it having happened only 3 1/2 days ago. But I do know the fool governments of each nation at least got their comeuppance. The lights appeared in the darkening sky of that Tuesday evening. The ships descended quickly, leaving no eye downcast as they hovered over every major city across the globe.
We didn’t stand a chance. Just the fact that they came here in gigantic space ships is enough proof of that. We did good to build automobiles that would get decent mileage on the interstate. These beings created great interstellar vessels capable of traveling billions of light years in a matter of hours. Their weapons shot laser beams, their bodies lean and thick with dark gray and blue muscles and meaty flesh. Their eyes … Good God, those large powdery blue eyes the size of hockey pucks. They didn’t just look into your soul, they reached in forcefully, grabbed ahold of your heart and crushed it with a thought.
Becky, a young lady we picked up a town or two over, began to whimper as the lights flickered. I say lights but what I really mean is a single bare 45 watt bulb that hangs freely from a dangling wire and socket. Obviously codes didn’t get a final say-so in the building of this structure. Thankfully Chad was quick to comfort her. Ever the muscle-bound linebacker, he quickly settled in beside her, pulled his own blanket tight around her and wrapped both of those masculine arms around her own plump frame.
The world is going to hell in a cosmic hand basket, and Chad is still trying to chase tail in the basement of an abandoned house with four other strangers looking on. God bless the red-blooded American youth, my friend. God bless ‘em all.
As our world leaders greeted each delegate of the alien away teams (that is the proper term, isn’t it? I haven’t really watched much Star Trek in my day, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they are called,) the world watched with abated breath. Televisions were flickering in every home, in ever electronic store window and shelf. Those without television managed to stream it on their desktops, laptops and mobile devices. Boris Rosing and Vladimir Zworykin would have been proud.
Media outlets crowded the stages of the events being multicast on every channel in every language across the planet Earth and above it. Satellites bounced signals like crazy as the world came together under one banner as one people dedicated to one cause: being nosey and trying to find out what these creatures wanted.
The President made a big speech about unity and mankind reaching for the stars but always falling short. He talked on and waxed poetic about the vast reaches of space, the ignorance of man in thinking he might be the only species in the universe and so on and so forth. Audiences were enthralled. Even when the first alien ambassador – actually, looking back, perhaps he was more of a general in their military as he had a weapon – stepped forward and blasted a hole through the President’s gut the size of a billiard ball, we just stared on waiting to see what would happen next.
The news reporters were the smart ones. As soon as that first shot was fired, they hauled butt and took cover. What came next was utter chaos. Drop ships began shooting out of the alien crafts overhead. They deployed in dozens of directions in groups of threes. Inside each craft was a small squadron of alien warriors with one goal on their mind: take over the planet, eliminate any threats and capture the humans as either a food source, slave labor, incubators for their larva or some other horrific means to an end.
To be fair, though, no one knew for sure what they were doing with us humans when they captured us. All we did know was that they had no problems killing us if we put up a fight or tried to run. I had witnessed dozens of men, women and children being gunned down – lasered down, whatever you called highly advanced mass murder by weapons that shot little pew-pew beams at people.
What I wouldn’t give for a nice medium rare steak right now. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had a single bite in nearly 48 hours. Perhaps a loaded backed potato with extra sour cream.
Becky has fallen asleep at last, tears dried to her face along with streaks of mascara. Chad is huddled close to her, and while I’m not certain, it looks like he’s dry humping her lightly under the double layer of covers. Could be the lighting, though. Sandra and Tommy have drifted off in their respective corners, too, it seems. Not a bad idea, actually. I could stand to use a little shut-eye before we have to pack up and move again.
That’s when Aaron slides up beside me, wrapped in a camo throw blanket. One of those thin ones you can buy at the Wal-Mart for about $7.50. His hair is a mess, dirt cakes his face and a big, healing scar wraps across his forehead. The man’s had a rough time, I get it.
A minute or two go by and I decide to settle my head into the corner where the walls meet and lean back in an attempt to get more comfortable. My eyes begin to flutter shut.
My eyes flutter back wide and I lean my head up to stare at my new room mate.
“We may have to make a run for it tomorrow morning, Harding. I just want to know that you’re going to be ready.”
I nod, maintaining eye contact.
“Good. Good. I’m not sure if we can really rely on Sandra and Tommy much longer. They seem to be slowing us down. You know? And Chad and Becky over there,” he pauses and squints in their direct. “I think they’re goners anyways. I mean, they’re kids, you know? How they gonna fight?”
“Anyways, tomorrow morning, it’s me and you, buddy. We gotta take care of each other. Human race have to stick together at all costs,” Aaron glances around at our fellow members of the human race. “Well, the strong ones, anyways, right? Am I right?” He offers me a fist bump.
Our knuckles make brief contact and he quickly withdraws his and mouths a fake Boom and explosion. I resist the urge to strike him across the cheek. Instead I return to my uncomfortable resting position and let my thoughts drift and my eyes close.
“Harding. Psst, Harding.”
I open my eyes and sit up to stare at Aaron again.
“Get some sleep, buddy. You’re going to need it.”
I dream that night. I dream of a better life. I am a millionaire. I could literally swim in the amount of money I have. The lottery may have the odds stacked against you, but if you are that one lucky soul, that one man or woman who beats the odds and dodges the lightening strikes – it changes your life. Assuming, of course, you have enough time for it to change. For the better.
I’m startled awake by screaming. This time it isn’t coming from upstairs and outside, it’s coming from Becky. And Sandra. I quickly jump up to my feet and fight the vertigo. Chris is trying to pull Becky under a table of some sort in the far corner. Sandra is no where to be seen, but a red wig lays fluttering on the ground where she was when I dozed off. Tommy is crawling across the floor, forehead bleeding profusely, toward the red wig and crying. Aaron stands defiantly in the center of the basement, waving at me and shouting some nonsense about how this is our final stand and starts singing some hymn at the top of his lungs.
Suddenly three billiard sized holes litter Aaron’s chest and spins him around so that we are looking at one another for a brief minute. My eyes go wide as I see the smooth edges of the holes in his torso steaming in the chill of the air. That’s when I look up and discover that the first floor of the house is gone, as is the side wall.
Staring down at us from the early morning sky outside is a squadron of alien soldiers and a large tank of some sort. It has a long metallic scorpion-like tail folded up and over from the rear, as if waiting to sting. In the front is a long cannon barrel that’s staring us down. The alien soldiers are chittering something as the sun begins to rise behind them.
My last sunrise.
Technically my first as well since I’m usually still in bed at this time of the morning, but I digress.
Aaron finally completes his dramatic death ballet and falls a few feet away, a look of confusion forever plastered on his face. Tommy is no longer crying aloud, he simply whines and rocks on his elbows and knees while cradling the red wig that I assume fell from Sandra at some point. Where her body is, I’m not even sure if I want to know. Chad and Becky are under the table, making out like it was the end of the world.
The soldiers all raise their weapons and draw a bead on each of us. Even the tank, in what I feel is leaning toward a bit of overkill, slightly nudges it’s barrel a bit in our direction. The muzzle of the gigantic war machine begins to sizzle and smoke as a small round gatling-like device begins to spin rapidly.
And this is it. This is what 39 years of life has done for me. I’ve lived a decent life, in my mind. Always listened to my parents, stayed away from the wild kids, did good in school. I went to college and studied computer sciences, earned my degrees, got a well-paying job only to be laid off when the tech sector hit the skids. I got a job working retail as a clerk, made ends meet just enough to have extra cash left over to buy lottery tickets each week. Finally, in the end, I hit it big. Won the Power Ball and a few sweet million dollars to live the rest of my life out on. Now, I’m huddle in a strangers basement surrounded by people I barely know and about to die at the hands of alien beings from another world who decided NOW would be the perfect time to invade our tiny backwater planet.
Son of a —
Suddenly the soldiers stand down. The scorpion-like tank hums for a moment then begins to back up and away from our hideout. The soldiers follow immediately after. I stand there, confused for a moment. Finally getting my bearings, I run up the stairs to the first floor and look out at the open sky where a roof should have been. In the distance, I see the drop ships that brought the soldiers flying back up to the mother ships. I hear a crackle of static and turn to see a news report on a 45” flat panel LED high definition television that no longer has a wall to cling to. Instead, it lays cock-eyed in the rubble, leaning against brick and vinyl siding.
Grabbing the remote, I sit down on the remaining burnt half of an Italian leather sofa and crank up the volume a bit to hear what’s going on in the world. I see Gretchen Maul from News Channel 13 standing in a field in Idaho. Behind her, a tall alien creature with a large bulbous head stands at a table, slightly hunched over. The camera’s zoomed in as Gretchen continues to talk about the drastic change of events. Finally, straightening to its full height, the alien turned and walked away from the table and into a drop ship. The camera focused dramatically on the door as it sealed shut and this shuttle lifted off and flew back to the mother ship.
Gretchen took off in a trot toward the table, the camera man following close behind. She was the only media outlet on the scene, it seemed, as I could see no one else trying to get in her way or stop her. Even the security that was standing around, weary and beat, did nothing to halt her approach.
Finally the camera man came to a stop and eased his camera up into position and refocused his lens.
“I’m standing here in an undisclosed field in Idaho with the gentleman who brokered the peace treaty with the G’Trown forces. What is your name, sir?” Gretchen held out her microphone to the tall, gaunt form of humanities saviour.
“Names Thomas Gossler, ma’am. Just doing my job.” Gossler held up the papers the alien had signed and waved them gently. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to need to get these filed.”
Gretchen looked confused. “But Mister Gossler, a moment of your time, sir!” she called. “What were the aliens here for? Why did they attack? What did you offer them in exchange for peace?”
Gossler grinned a large eerie grin and stared at the pretty little blond reporter before turning his glare to the camera. “Well, miss, that’s where it gets a little tricky. You see, the hell is the details.”
I thumbed the power button and tossed the remote onto the cushion beside me. “That’s what I’m always saying,” I admit to no one in particular. And then I start thinking about that steak again.