“Hey, Larkin, look what I found,” I said.
Larkin knelt down beside me. Together we dug up what looked like a large blob of metal, but upon closer examination turned out to be some type of electronic devise, or a couple welded together.
“Just another piece of junk,” Larkin said, but put it in his backpack anyway. We already had a couple similar items. It was fun to dig up buried treasures in the desert. There wasn’t much else to do.
In the dead of night the sky lit up; it seemed like a dream. Later I would wish it had been.
“Get up, Emery.”
I groaned sleepily, pushed away the prodding hands.
“Come on, Em. You and I have stuff to do.”
I opened my eyes. My best friend Larkin stared at me with his big green eyes. He was seventeen, three years older than I was. He handed me my clothes, and stared out the dusty window while I dressed.
“I kept thinking about our treasure hunts last night,” I said. “Why did we stop doing them?”
“Because we got too old, Em. Digging up garbage was a childish thing and your pa found out. Now get up I want to show you something.”
“I’ve got school, you know.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Of course Larkin wouldn’t worry about school: He had dropped out last year and now worked at the mines with his father and my father. We slipped outside quietly, but not quietly enough.
We followed a worn path to the train tracks. All around us was the Nevada desert: still and dry, ready to roast in the late spring heat. We headed across the tracks and up a steep hill. Larkin led the way until we reached our old dig site fifteen minutes later. But our dig site was gone, the land dropped off suddenly, the sides sheered cleanly. About fifty feet below was the desert floor, dry and bare as it always had been.
“How’d this happen?” I asked and instinctly grabbed Larkin’s shirt for fear of falling.
“I don’t know yet,” Larkin said. “I just found this a few hours ago.”
“Let’s go back.”
“It’ll be alright, Emery.”
Larkin lay down on his stomach and I reluctantly followed suit. We could see better now without the sun’s glare in our eyes and were able to see the bodies. There were three, directly below us, but so well camouflaged I was amazed we were able to spot them at all.
“Are those humans?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” Larkin said. “Aliens, maybe? You know how many people see UFOs around here. Maybe this time it’s true.”
I nodded. Every week someone in town claimed to have seen aliens or their spacecraft. The newspaper from the city was always filled with similar tales, but never as detailed as the ones from around here.
However, no one had ever actually seen an alien body. I shivered despite the heat. “There’s blood down there,” I whispered.
It was impossible to look away and the more I looked, the more details I was able to make out. Each body only had three fingers on each hand. The eyes were pulled from the heads and dried out in the sun. The bodies were split open spilling guts, blood, internal organs, but there were no animals around scaveging. Larkin and I had seen enough dead animals being picked apart to know that no animals had touched whatever these were.
I scooted away from the edge, stood up. “We should tell someone.”
“We don’t have too, Emery,” Larkin replied. “We can go down there ourselves, have a closer look. We could take pictures, send ’em to the city newspapers. We could be famous!”
I chewed my lip in thought. Larkin was always more impulsive than I was. I had to be the one to think things out. “Men might come up here soon. If my pa finds out we’ve been keeping this a secret, and hanging around up here, he will kill me. He doesn’t want me wandering around in the desert.”
“Don’t worry about your pa. He’ll never find out. Come on, Emery, we could make good money off this. We could get out of this dump.”
I liked the idea of leaving this forsaken mining town. But . . .
“No, Lark. I’m going to tell my pa. Those things could have parasites or something. Do you want to die from an unknown disease?”
Larkin shrugged. “Better than dying from boredom. Just think about it. Just this morning you said you were thinking about our digging adventures. It was fun to have that secret, wasn’t it? This could be our new secret.”
“I don’t know.”
I knew Larkin wanted out of this town; he hated this place. His mom had died here and left him with his heavy drinking, chain smoking father. Larkin had to take care of himself. But he was still a boy. I tried to keep him in line even though I was younger. But I was bad at keeping secrets. I was the reason my pa found out about our treasure hunts. Yet, having a secret again would be fun. “I’ll think about it.”
“Where have you boys been?” my pa demanded. Something about the heat and constant sun, I guessed, gave everyone a short fuse.
“Just for a walk,” I mumbled.
“You better be telling the truth.”
“I am, sir.”
“Get ready for school then. You better not be late getting home today.”
Once at school I allowed myself to dwell on what caused the land to drop away. Was it just a natural sink hole? An explosion of sorts? A meteor? Were those bodies just unlucky people in the path of nature’s destruction? Or was this something much deeper, more beyond us humans? Would we be safe?
“Emery, quit daydreaming.”
I jumped in my seat. All the children in the one room school giggled.
“Sorry,” I mumbled to the teacher and sank down in my chair. Larkin used to sit beside me, but now I sat alone.
I slipped away at recess and found Larkin at one of the lesser used mines.
“You should be in school,” he said.
“So should you.”
“You know I had enough.”
“I miss having someone to sit next to.”
“Don’t rub it in that we were in the same grade.”
“I’m not,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“Thinking. I’m going to go back to the drop. I want to figure out what happened.”
“I still feel wrong about keeping this a secret.”
“Do this for me, Emery. Please?”
I sighed. “Okay. I’ll try at least.”
After school I headed home long enough to have a snack and let my mother see me so she could tell Pa I hadn’t been late. I made my way to the exploded land as soon as I could. Larkin was already there, squatting on the dry ground and hooking bits of metal together.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Making a grappling hook to bring up the bodies.”
I wanted to groan, but managed to keep it in. “I really don’t think that is a good idea. Like I said before, they could be diseased.”
Larkin paused in his work. “This scares you, doesn’t it?”
I nodded. “We don’t know what happened here. There could be radiation or poisonous gases. We need to tell someone, or at least stay away.”
Larkin rubbed the dry skin on his arms. “Alright, we’ll leave the bodies be, but lets look around a bit. Maybe we’ll find some kind of clue to what is going on. And if weird things start happening we will tell your pa.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Larkin left his half finished grappling hook in the dirt, stood up, and brushed dust off his pants. We could have been brothers we looked so similar. But that wasn’t saying much as everyone in our town looked fairly alike. The drying heat tended to turn everyone the same.
We searched all around. Checked beneath scraggly desert plants and in them. We dug our heels into the hard ground, dug a bit with our hands, but found nothing. Sweat ran off our faces and grit from the blowing wind stuck to it.
“Might as well go back home,” Larkin said. “The wind is picking up. Might be a storm coming in.”
I nodded, wiped the sweat off my forehead with my sleeve.
As we walked back the wind picked up even more. Sand stung our eyes and made them water. It burned our throats and stung our skin. We could barely see within minutes. Larkin grabbed my wrist. “I don’t remember where the drop is,” he shouted. “I’m afraid we’ll fall in without seeing it.”
“What are we supposed to do then?” Sand flew in my mouth as I spoke making me choke.
“Stay where we are, I guess.”
And that was what we did. It was too dangerous to continue walking since we no longer knew what direction we were going in. And with the drop nearby a step in the wrong direction could be our last. We sat on the ground, bent over with the wind to our backs. I was scared. I had never been caught in a dust storm before. Now I knew why my pa didn’t want me playing out in the desert. “Don’t cry,” I heard Larkin whisper. But I did anyway. He forced my head against his chest. I sobbed wetly against him wondering if we were going to die. With my head against Larkin I didn’t see the creature approach, but Larkin did, even through the blowing grit.
I felt him stiffen and begin to stand. I stood too keeping my face against him, safe from the blowing sand.
“What are you?” Larkin asked.
I glanced behind me and tried not to scream. What I saw had huge eyes, no ears, and one long arm and one short arm. Larkin forced my head back against him. The creature made a few squeaky sounds that hurt our ears, but—if possible—sounded friendly, peaceful.
We followed the creature to a small cave. Inside all was quiet and free of blowing sand. The creature looked at us, we looked at him or her. It was an alien, I was sure of it.
“What do you want?” I asked. Larkin and my fear’s had switched. He was scared, I was curious.
The alien made squeaky sounds again. I forced myself not to cover my ears. Without the wind the noise was even worse. It handed me a piece of paper that it disgustingly took from a slit in it’s side. Some kind of pocket, I guessed, sick nonetheless, but I took the paper anyway. It had a waxy feel to it and slimy from being inside the alien. On it was a drawing. I showed it to Larkin, we both knew what it was: the electronic devises we had dug up years ago. The aliens were looking for their supplies. Had they blown the hole in the ground to try and find it? Did they know we stole their things? I had a feeling they knew we did.
My curosity was gone. I was terrified.
Larkin handed the drawing back to the creature with a shake of his head. He grabbed my hand and we ran. Outside the wind had stopped and we were able to find our way home.
“Doesn’t running away make us seem more guilty?” I asked as we ran.
“I don’t care,” Larkin said. “All I want is as much distance as possible between us and that monster.”
“If you really think about it, that creature was kind of cute.”
Larkin stopped running to stare at me. He rolled his eyes and tugged me ear. “You are so weird.”
I was grateful to see my house. I didn’t care that I would get a beating for being gone so long and out in bad weather. Larkin followed me inside. Sand fell out of our clothes in piles. Ma grabbed me in a hug of relief. Pa patted my shoulder. He didn’t scold, just asked what happened. I lied, told him we were chasing jack rabbits. It wasn’t a bad lie, Larkin and I did it all the time.
Pa sent me outside to clean off and told Larkin to go home.
“I’ll be back tonight,” Larkin whispered to me.
Larkin tapped on my window. Quickly I unlatched it and let him in. A rickety ladder leaned against the house. It was pitch black outside. No stars, no moon. We were far enough from the city to not see the constant light pollution.
“You weren’t asleep yet, were you?” Larkin shrugged off his backpack. Glass bottles clicked together inside.
“Almost,” I said as I Larkin closely. It had been a long time since he’d snuck over. He handed me one of the bottles. I had been twelve when Larkin gave me my first beer.
“So?” Larkin said.
“What are we to do about this creature.”
Larkin snatched the beer out of my hand. I sighed loudly. “Alright. I think we should keep him as a pet.”
Larkin groaned. “Be serious, Emery.”
“If you want to then, be my guest. Though I’m not sure how well that go over with your ma. But, seriously, Em, we have a problem. That thing knows its crap is missing and has a pretty good idea that we took it.”
“I don’t think running away helped at all. We should of talked to it more.”
“That thing didn’t speak a human language. How were we supposed to talk to it?”
“We could of figured something out.”
“Are you drunk already?”
“I’m just saying there might have been a way.”
We stayed up most of the night, both of us tipsy and hyper. I was amazed we managed to keep quiet. Around three I fell asleep, and an hour later my alarm went off: Larkin’s warning to go home before his pa got up.
Reddish light filled my attic bedroom. I squinted sleepily. Was it morning already? I stumbled to the window. Everything was bathed in crimson light. Suddenly, a horrible screeching filled the air. I plugged my ears, but it did no good. Luckily the noise faded away within a minute. Something had flown over town. I could just see it in the sky—a capsule shaped object—then it hit the ground and exploded. I ran outside just as Larkin reached my house.
“It hit near the drop!” I shouted.
Larkin grabbed my wrist and we ran to the explosion sight. There was no smoke, no fire, no burn marks. Only a colossal hole in the ground to the west of the first one making it closer to town.
I shivered as I peered over the edge. Everything was still, dead like. There was no breeze. The rising sun seemed to have come to a stop.
“What happened?” I asked Larkin. I was startled to see him grinning.
“They don’t know it was us,” he said. “The aliens are still looking for their things. Were safe, Emery, were safe.”
I grinned too, but only for a second. “Other people are going to know about the explosion now. What if that makes the aliens mad? What if they try to destroy our town?”
“We’ll just have to wait and see.”
I looked over the edge. The alien bodies were gone, but what looked like a human body lay in their place. I pointed that out to Larkin.
He knelt down and leaned over. A funny expression came over his face. I got down and looked too. Details were hard to make out, but I could see red hair, the same color as Larkin’s.
It was his father.
Larkin shrugged his shoulders a few times, his way of trying to let things slide away. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and stood up. “Let’s go.”
We had barely turned around when an alien appeared before us. It held a glob of welded metal out to Larkin. “You have one like this,” it said in an ear piercing, but understandable, voice. “Give me the box and your father comes back, but he must be replaced. Keep the box and we search it out by any means possible.”
“Give it up,” I told Larkin.
Larkin nodded. “It’s at home,” he told the creature. “I’ll bring it to you.” To me he said. “Go on home. I’ll meet up with you later.”
I went home, but stayed outside. After fifteen minutes or so I saw Larkin heading behind his house a box in one hand and a shovel in the other. I called his name. He looked up and took off running.
“I’m not giving it up!” Larkin shouted over his shoulder.
“Why not?” I shouted back, trying to keep up. “You can save your father. If you hide it you will kill us all!”
Larkin continued to run, but I couldn’t keep up and stopped. Anger began to boil up inside me. How dare that he do this! How dare he decide to murder this whole town. I would give the devise personally to the aliens and let them sacrifice Larkin instead of his pa.
I went home, got in my pa’s truck and drove after him. Larkin was going in a fairly straight line and it didn’t take me long to find him. He stood out in the empty desert trying to dig a hole in the rocky earth.
I blared the horn and accelerated. Larkin jumped out of the way and smashed his shovel against the windshield. The glass shattered. I ducked as shards flew at me cutting my cheeks.
I was out of the truck in a flash holding a pick ax that was in the back seat.
“Get away!” I commanded. “Give me the device.”
“No! It is mine, I was the one who found it. You have no right to take it.”
“Your going to kill us all!”
“I don’t care!”
Larkin knocked the pick ax out of my hand with his shovel. I rammed against him hard enough to push him over. I snatched the box and jumped in the truck, wincing as I sat on pieces of glass.
I was horrible at making turns, the result being a wide half circle at a slow enough pace for Larkin to slash one of the tires with the ax. He dragged me out and tried to pry the wooden box from my hands. I smashed it against his head. He crumpled to the ground and I gasped as I saw blood.
I was terrified. What if I had killed him? He had a pulse, but he wasn’t moving and didn’t appear to be conscious. He was too heavy to carry, and even if the truck’s tire wasn’t slashed I wouldn’t have been able to get him inside. I was going to have to leave him there and give the metal blob to the aliens myself. Like I had wanted to do.
But it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
Leaving Larkin on the hot desert ground I plodded to the drop. Two aliens were waiting.
“Who are you going to kill?” I asked.
“Your friend knows,” one of them said.
“Only he can tell you,” the other said.
I nodded and set the box down to open it and noticed it was padlocked. To say the aliens were angry would have been a lie. They became more disfigured then beforel; they were beyond human emotion.
“I can break it,” I said frantically while using the box as a shield just in case. I worked steadily to break the lock using whatever I could find: rocks, branches, a plastic dinosaur I had in my pocket. I was getting desperate, the aliens were becoming forceful, prodding and kicking me in the back. I wanted to run, but when I happened to look up I saw Larkin. He was coming slowly across the desert, his clothes soaked with blood. I picked the box up and met him halfway.
“Do you have the key?” I asked.
Larkin took the key out of his pocket. His hands were red with dried blood. “I wasn’t going to give this to you before,” he said. “But now, after what you did, I don’t care if you die.”
Larkin slapped the key into my hand.
“I’m the exchange?”
“Of course. Go on, you wanted to give them the devise, now give it to them.”
I looked at Larkin with tears bluring my vision. He had tried to save me, let his father die so I could live. And I had bloodied him up.
But he had no right, I tried to tell myself. To save one life was not the way to go. He should have saved the town.
I was going to die! My legs began to shake and the tears fell free. I could see Larkin’s resolve began to break. However he turned away and began walking toward town.
I continued to cry as I unlocked the box and took out the metal blob. I handed it to the aliens. One of them beckoned me to follow and stand at the edge of the drop.
I closed my eyes. Why had we dug up stuff in the desert? Why had we fought—when we rarely ever did—at this crucial time?
I could feel a huge shadow move over me, intense heat, and strong pressure. I didn’t want to look, but I had to know what was going on.
A capsule was overhead, slowly making it’s way over the town. I saw the aliens nod to each other and then I was falling.
Something wasn’t right, I wasn’t falling anymore, yet I hadn’t hit the ground. Unless I was already dead. I opened my eyes and I saw that my overalls had become attached to a piece of metal sticking out the side of the drop’s wall. It was Larkin’s grappling hook! Somehow it had become embedded in the wall.
I could see nothing but dry desert sand below me and the capsule slowly moving above me. I couldn’t climb up and I couldn’t drop down. Aliens were gathering beneath me.
“I’ll have you up in a minute, Emery.” Larkin lay on the ground above me. His dry, tanned face had never been so appealing before.
A minute later a rope hit the top of my head. I grasped it and Larkin pulled. But I was stuck good. I yelled at him to wait a second and began unbuckling the straps of my overalls.
We didn’t have much time. The aliens were throwing wicked looking weapons at me attempting to rip my flesh open and sacrifice me on the wall.
Larkin began pulling me up again when one of the alien’s weapons sliced my leg. I screamed in pain and nearly let go. Larkin pulled me up as fast as he could.
I felt Larkin’s arms around me, his warmth doing nothing to my cooling body. Everything was turning black.
Emery didn’t die, but his fate was worse than that. He was like stone, he could feel nothing. I don’t know if he could hear me or see me. But I still would not leave his side.
The cut on his leg had healed long ago, but the weapon had been tipped with something that flooded his veins and destroyed all that was human in him. He could sleep and eat and I knew he could tell that time was passing, but he couldn’t talk and all his memories seemed to be gone; he was an empty shell.
“You saved the town,” I told him, as I did nearly everyday. “You were so brave. You were so unselfish. I shouldn’t have let them hurt the person closest to me.”
Emery stretched out his hand. I grasped it and held it to my lips. He wanted to remember, I knew he did, but there was nothing left in him.
He slipped his hand away. His lips parted as if he was going to speak, but no sound came out. Yet I understood. Everything was alright. He was okay that this had happened to him because he had saved the one person closest to him.
I am an aspiring writer from Montana who enjoys working with animals. I am an advocate for animal shelters and it gives me great joy to work with those animals.