The meadow was slower going in the aftermath of the rain. In their haste to leave his house and beat the storm, Aloysius was certain he left his car in the meadow. It could perhaps wait until morning, but he was waist high in wet grass and saw no point in abandoning the effort. A fence constituting one perimeter of a horse paddock pointed the way, and shorter grass around the posts eased the drudgery of the walk; the hiker was unsettled to find a gate unlatched in passing.
Ahead, the low glow of fire gave Nadir Mound a sinister shape, and car roofs, like headstones, dotted the sunken lane leading to it. The man crossed into the easier terrain to grasp the full extent of the festivities. Boisterous students pushed up the side of the hill in waves, prompting the interloper to stay close to an outcrop of padlocked portapotties. A Streamline Trailer obstructed his view of the eastern approach, and on identifying the vehicle by its dated decals, he stepped incredulously to the rear to find his mother and father hosting a tailgate party. A grill was on hand, and college students lined up for broiled burgers.
“Mom? Dad?” he exclaimed. “What’s going on?”
Aloysius’ mother was decked out in Purcell College’s blue and orange. “Hey, Son! Grab a paper plate!”
He was peeved. “Why didn’t you tell me you were passing through town?”
“We had no idea you were living here,” his mother reported. “You never tell us anything.”
His father chimed, “We’re here for the Homecoming Game!”
The son looked towards the hill, unable to see the top of it for students. “I thought the Homecoming Bonfire was a couple of days ago?”
Mom flipped a bratwurst and snickered. “No, this is a special bonfire because of the spaceship.”
Dad explained, “They were going to have the regular old bonfire this year but—out of the blue—this flying saucer crash-landed and saved them all that money on firewood.”
The son was confused. “I thought it was a meteorite that crashed?”
The father reminded him. “The spaceships come down in meteorites in The War of the Worlds. Remember? This is a different movie.”
“Yes,” answered the son. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers… that’s what it said on the video box.”
Jubilant, Mom pointed her spatula at the spectacle. “You better get up there or you’ll miss the best part! They won’t be using an effigy this year for the fire! They’ll be using the alien they pull from the wreckage!”
Aloysius could not cope with the surreality of his parents, so rallied against his fear of crowds to march toward the versant. Halfway up, a reveler, facing the wrong direction, grabbed him by the shoulders and gibbered, “I was told it would be the black monolith from 2001! That’s what I was told!”
The painter negotiated his way around the dithering man, and saw the flying saucer from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still in front of him. Amazingly, Gort, the huge silver robot from the movie, stood alongside the craft. This was surely cardboard and metallic spray paint on exhibit, and the work of a weekend for one of the sorority houses. Still, Aloysius was aghast. “This is the wrong movie!”
The raucous students paid no attention to him; the combustible robot, like a pagan wicker man, was an easy target for their beer bottles and ribald insults.
The door of the saucer was open, and a ramp protruded to the edge of the bustle. A burly college boy emerged from it, and with fist pumping, he addressed the crowd, “We’ve got one!”
A roar rang out, and only got louder when the limp body of someone in a phony spaceman costume was pulled from the mouth of the spaceship. Several fraternity types proceeded to tie him to a wooden post. A cheerleader came up the ramp with a cardboard placard that read “State Can Suck My Slong” and placed it around the man’s neck. The post was then hoisted and dropped into a hole with an indignant thud; Aloysius scowled at the sight. A fire was set to a pile of cheap student apartment furniture, leaving the jostle of school pennants to fan the flames.
The alien wailed from his smoldering pulpit. “Christ could have called ten thousand angels to save him from the cross and lay waste his persecutors! But in his dying breath, he chose to forgive them and became Nietzsche’s Overman!”
The unwitting spectator was barred from escape. He screamed, “This is the wrong movie!”
The cheers grew to a deafening pitch when the fire licked the sacrificed man’s boots. His agony only made the students madder with excitement, yet no one but Aloysius was looking at the world-destroying robot. The visor covering Gort’s one gigantic eye began to lift slowly, and wanting to end the insanity, Aloysius pushed closer in the excruciating heat, getting within earshot of the sentinel. Several college boys endeavored to restrain him, but he struggled to be heard. “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!”
The surging crowd was ready to pour into the space vessel—all were oblivious to the robot’s throbbing cobalt eye.
Aloysius’ body was being sucked deeper into the frenzy, as if the ruffians were about to hurl him onto the pyre. He could think of nothing but Patricia Neal in the movie, fearing for her life as she fell backwards over folding chairs to utter, once more, the words that would save the world. “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” he cried.
The inebriated mob finally focused on the event unfolding before them; a hush washed over their number. Everyone was watching at the robot. His particle beam gaze grew ominously brighter, and the frightened horde responded by shrieking where they turned and ran. Thundering shoes blasted down the holloway, leaving Aloysius at their mud-flinging heels.
Gort’s death ray never reached full force, for having heard the command he was programmed to obey. Impervious to the conflagration, he pulled the lifeless man from the stake and walked haltingly up the ramp into the flying saucer.
Aloysius followed, yet quickly lost sight of the robot. A mirrored corridor curved in front of him like a chamber inside a nautilus, and grew smaller with each step. Gort sent weakening flickers of his eye back through the tunnel, though the delay between pulses meant he was not only shrinking in size but also getting further away.
The trespasser was soon hyperventilating and on all fours. The last glimmer from his walking lighthouse passed through the whorled shaft to leave him stranded in darkness. Aloysius was compelled to keep moving forward.
Impossibly he met Jacques Cretier, who was not incommoded by the interstice, coming from the opposite direction.
“I hid her in here,” he explained. “Back that way.” The little man pointed deeper into the tunnel. “There’s a breaker box, and a switch,” he said, and then continued unhurriedly along the easing path.
The receiver of this information did not understand it. Moreover he did not believe Jacques was the person in the spacesuit.
The amber glow of a candle eventually offered relief. It seeped out a jamb and keyhole to mark the last crook in the chamber; a subterranean tremor emanated from its door. Fearful, the seeker’s eye aligned with a peephole, and he was able to map out the room on the other side.
A silhouette on a far wall placed Klaatu on a slab. Gort’s shadow was slower taking form, and quivered over his master’s body with a will to reanimate it. Aloysius leaned away to escape the violent current rushing through the barrier. The hard edge of a black rectangular box was nicked in the pale light next to him; an electrical breaker inside it was flipped to hasten an end to the vibrations. Another peek into the room revealed the robot’s jellied outline was again solid. The spaceman sat up on the slab—having become female. Her morphing shadow swallowed the keyhole before a darkly jeweled iris peered out.
“Why are you invading my dream?” she whispered.
Chapter Seventeen, Section Three/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.