Chapter 1: Abducted
“Tell me, Flynn, do you know how many used cars were sold in the United States last year?” Beau’s voice boomed into the musty, run-down office. However loud it was, it quivered slightly, indicating his next move could just as easily be breaking down in tears as pounding his meaty fist on the desk before him.
Beau was Flynn’s second cousin, twice removed on his mother’s side. He had earned this name by spending much of his adolescent life engaged in being a voracious South Carolinian. He was a large man, excelling in size in every physical aspect possible. But it was his accent, often riddled with “aint’s” and “right-many’s,” that set him miles apart from his fellow Ohioans.
In spite of the qualities that made him teddy bear-lovable to his friends and neighbors, he could be quite stern and forceful when properly induced.
“Well?” He persisted.
“C’mon Beau, I couldn’t possibly know the answer to that,” said Flynn. “If you are going to push me, I’ll go with one because I’m guessing most people will over-bid.”
“Don’t be a smart-aleck, Flynn.” Beau sat back heavily in a chair whose days were numbered and it moaned for mercy to a room that didn’t care.
“Thirty-seven million and nine. That’s how many were sold last year.”
“Wow. That’s an amazingly high and precise number,” Flynn said, shoving aside his apathy.
Beau ignored him and went on, “Are you aware of your contribution to that quantity?”
“No, not really.”
“I figured as much. Flynn, you sold 10 cars last year. TEN! The entire used automobile industry is deeply grateful to you for saving us from the embarrassment of lackluster sales in the 36-millions. Why the year would have been a bust without you.” The last part came out in uncharacteristic sarcasm, as Beau leaned forward, attempting, by Flynn’s figuring, to stare holes into his soul.
“Beau, I sense you are somewhat disappointed with my performance as your sales associate.” Flynn eased back in his chair, expressing an air of casual but confident dispassion. The conversation had reached critical mass. He could blow it with some ill-advised indifference or he could express a carefully portioned modicum of concern and willingness to change. The latter was his gift, and he turned it on. “Before you go any further and do something Penny would be disappointed with, let me say this: You are perhaps the greatest used car salesman on planet Earth. Anything I do is going to pale in comparison to you. But the good news is, I think you’re rubbing off on me. I can feel it taking effect. How about you give me another year or two and let’s see if I can’t bring my numbers up a little bit?”
There. That should have done it. It never hurt to play the Penny card. She was Beau’s wife and, by great fortune, loved Flynn.
It was yearly review time. Flynn had known what was coming and as usual, was somewhat prepared.
Beau, on the other hand, was never quite on top of things with regard to his cousin. He wanted more out of him and wished he knew the right buttons to push to get him motivated. He was sure the buttons were there.
Because he loved Flynn dearly, he nodded and told him to take home his Sales for Morons book and give it a good read.
Flynn agreed, they hugged, and after a moment of social discomfort both hopped back and gave each other an awkward high-five.
Flynn was satisfied with his performance and stuck the book in his backpack, flung his jacket over his shoulder, and proceeded to the door. As he took hold of the knob, Beau said, “Flynn, I’m going to pray that you learn to face your responsibilities, and stop running away from them.”
Those words weren’t new to Flynn. He knew the Lord and had accepted Jesus, but he was still not completely prepared to give up all of his freedom. Beau and many others from his church continually insisted that Flynn take his life and his faith seriously. He thought that he might one day, just not presently. So, with the threat of prayer floating in the air behind him, Flynn just kept on moving.
It was the end of summer and it was hot. In spite of a career selling them, Flynn didn’t have a car of his own so he walked pretty much everywhere he needed to go. The little run-down shack he called home guarded the main road that ran through Jollypot Springs, Ohio, and Flynn could walk there with his eyes closed. He had actually tried once and other than a minor incident that left ketchup stains on the front of his trousers, it had been a success.
Most days his after work routine included a swing by the town’s general store to pick up something for dinner, but not that night. He would go straight home because there was a big carp fillet waiting for him, compliments of Penny. The grill would get some overdue work and Flynn would relax out back listening to the orchestral movements of tree frogs, crickets, and the occasional twang of his slingshot as he jettisoned projectiles at the tribe of gray squirrels with whom he was in a border dispute.
Jollypot Springs was a small post-industrial town that had gone through severe unemployment pains brought on by the closing of its lucrative fondue set manufacturing plant. The microwave oven industry had been blamed for the overall decline in fondue sales, and the town’s folk had been left bitter. Early on, they had even resorted to running a rather vicious smear campaign, broadcast on four public access television stations one night.
When their intellectual warfare failed and the world continued its microwave craze, a town meeting had been held. At the meeting, by way of overwhelming affirmative nodding, the residents agreed to boycott the microwave industry and stick strictly to heat their food in the conventional oven and on Bunsen burners. It was a passive-aggressive rebellion and went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Over time, though, townspeople began to forget their grudge and the plant closing. While visiting friends and family out of town—perhaps coincidentally—a remarkable number of townsfolk began enjoying ready-to-eat meals cooked in just a few minutes, by microwave. They returned home preaching a message of forgiveness and the miracle of frozen, meat-filled, pastry pockets on the go. Overnight, microwave sales in the town skyrocketed.
By the time Flynn moved to there, it was mainly farm families that fill the adjoining countryside who supported the little town. It had become a faint shadow of its former glory, with half the storefronts on the main street vacant, and those that were still open struggled to get by.
It was a peaceful place, too. With little or no crime, at least so far as the one Sheriff knew. People minded their own business for the most part and spent their time tending to their farms or preparing for the lively county fair that took place each September. Even Flynn looked forward to the fair! When else was he going to get to pat the snout of a 300-pound pink pig or ask a horse, “Why the long face?” It was his week. Seven days of bad 80′s band reunions; rickety, rusty, spinning rides operated by individuals you wouldn’t trust to help a department store mannequin across the street of a ghost town; and food genetically engineered to give the consumer an unrealistic sense of carnival bliss while lowering their life quality standards to just above that of a guinea pig. Which, by the way, can be found in exhibit areas 47 through 108 in building A.
Beau set up shop there, of all places. No one was really sure why, most specifically Beau, but village-wide consensus agreed that they were glad he had. Jollypot Springs was strategically a long distance from a couple of some places and smack in the middle of no place, and it was there Beau sold a few cars and a lot of trucks. All of them used.
Flynn loved working for Beau. It provided him with that easy-going lifestyle of accomplishing nothing, which he had spent the better part of his life pursuing. It’s not that he minded a little hard work per se but he was not the go get ’em type of guy. Life needed to happen to him rather than the other way around. Decisions had to be made slowly, separate from that ugly word “pressure” which just cluttered his ability to find the path of least resistance. That night’s conversation with Beau shook him in just the smallest conceivable way but it was enough to convince him that it was time to start thinking of a Plan B. He resolved that it would soon be time to make a change, no later than the next year or two, or maybe three.
It had gotten dark and the foggy, humid air hung unmoving and dripping with menace. It shrouded and moistened just about everything and whispered that it hid a secret. Flynn pocketed his hands and moved with gritted determination down the slope into the damp mystery.
Nonchalant, he tugged at the door to his mailbox, which, itself, wanted nothing to do with the eerie night, So, it resisted. They had danced that step before and Flynn had no intention of failing to claim what was rightfully his inside the stubborn, rusted box. He kicked the pole to distract the little demon, banged its left side twice, and yanked directly down on the tab, which was clearly designed not to fit any region of the human hand comfortably. It opened, but not without protesting in such a miserably loud and high-pitched whine that Flynn was forced to stop with it only half ajar.
He checked cautiously and a bit suspiciously over both shoulders, and fished his arm into the small opening. He was rewarded with a long scrape up his forearm and an opportunity to claim his chance at the $643,000,000 that he was exclusively qualified to win. The former was certain to result in the need for a tetanus shot, and the latter was a scam he was onto.
Flynn preferred the mosey as his walking pace. It was economical and he was confident it gave him an air of cool that few other paces provided. That night his mosey felt awkward and, in fact, one of his feet—the more jittery of the two—was mucking the whole thing up by dragging every third or fourth step. He was on the verge of tossing mosey and going with a more direct and simple pace like rambling for instance when he was interrupted by a glowing light that burned from behind his home. It was no butane lighter either, it was large and luminous, and silhouetted the shack. It was as if there was an automobile out back with its headlights pointed at the house. No, it was more as if a fleet of big, hillbilly pickup trucks crowded on his back porch with their floods trained at the smallish wooden structure blaring at sun-level lumens.
He froze and squinted, noticing that even the evening’s creature-soundtrack had been paused. There was only the alarming sound of his breath going in and out too rapidly.
Slowly and quietly he stepped backward, intending to return to the street. Backward, however, was not his thing and he unwisely led with the nervous foot. Not surprisingly, he misjudged and misstepped. His foot, in its heightened state of debilitating fear from all the spooky happenings going on, came down on the loose gravel at the edge of his drive, sending him in a clamorous tumble down into the dark, damp drainage ditch that ran along Route 19.
He lay there, paralyzed with fear and unmoving in spite of the cold, wet sensation that now covered his backside. Nothing notable happened for what seemed an eternity, with the exception of a short hop across Flynn’s chest by an impish toad whose evening had apparently been ruined. It paused briefly to urinate before lunging into the tall grass.
He was sure that if the situation did justify the level of fear that began to gnaw at his innards, things would be happening much more rapidly than they were. Bad things. Gruesome things. But nothing continued happening and eventually, he relaxed and considered climbing from the shadowy security of the ditch.
Instead, he continued to lay there, determined that cowardice was his most fruitful virtue. He wasn’t sure cowardice was a virtue by definition but had decided that it was a day he would value qualities based on his own characterizations and not the worlds. Cowardice was a Flynn virtue, along with knowing the words to Yellow Submarine, and compulsive shrub trimming.
His back became wetter. What little light there was faded to heavily obscured darkness and he wasn’t feeling very good about himself. His strategy, however, appeared to be effective, in that, he was alive and the threat he feared hadn’t found him. Unfortunately, the result was that his quality of life was now running parallel to that of a tick.
Still, he was determined to wait the thing out. Whatever was behind his house appeared to also have muted the sounds of all life forms in the area. He spent some time concentrating on the lack of sound and attempting to open his mouth and windpipe up so much that the air just drifted in and out of his lungs without muscular interaction.
The darkness was interesting. It was complete and beckoned for his attention. Still, it was the utter silence that poked at his mind and demanded he stay alerted.
Boldly or foolishly, he ventured a slight squeak from his throat, just to see how it broke the deafening nothingness. Unfortunately, the sound pierced the silence like an atomic blast. Squirrels ran to the aid of their brothers and dogs howled in the far off distance.
As he marveled at the phenomena, he suddenly realized that there was a new and slight hum in the air. It increased gradually and Flynn had the sickening feeling that he had given his location away.
Frightened, frustrated with himself, and generally irritated by the dampness going on under him, he wrestled with the idea of a run. Yes! He’d run like mad down the road and shelter in the woods.
It was a good plan, but he thought better of it because the woods posed their own flavor of anxiety for him. Maybe he would just stay and hold very still some more. The debate raged on for several minutes and with grim intensity. So much so, that Flynn failed to recognize that the hum had steadily increased until he could barely hear the thoughts in his mind. Yes, a run. Definitely a run. He had scored well above adequate in the 600-yard dash in grade school; surely he could outrun some things.
It was settled.
Finally, as he left his thoughts just after the run/no run debate and focused back on things that were actually physically happening, a beam of light shot up into the sky from just over the ridge of the trench. It was intense and bright—more so than any light he’d ever seen, and it pierced the sky into two. Then a second beam—a red one—shot into the air at a mildly different angle. A third. Fourth. Finally, hundreds of brightly colored beams of light-filled the air and merged into one sheet of multicolored brightness. It was beautiful and overpowering.
The light danced around mirthfully as if delighting in the effect it was having on darkness. Darkness gave way wherever the light shone like a jittery hare might give way to...well, just about anything. Jumpy little things, hares. Soon the light seemed to tire of the particular quadrant of space it was darting out into and it shot off toward some other quadrant that Flynn couldn’t make an angle on. All he was left with was an eerie comprehension of a dark shadow floating over him, obscuring all things evening. The humming had become a droning, vibrating howl, coming from the large, shadowy blankness. Then, abruptly, the sound ceased.
Flynn took a deep breath because the sound of his breathing had really become unacceptable and he was determined to teach it a lesson.
A voice came from above him. By accent, British, though maybe Australian; for Americans, it’s hard to tell the difference. It said, “Greetings Earthling. Cooperate and you won’t be harmed too terribly.”
“Yes he will,” came a second voice.
“Shut up. You don’t want him soiling his trousers before we get him into the container, do you?”
“Oh, okay. Well, let’s tell him he won’t be harmed then.”
“Good form,” said the original speaker.
“Uhm, you know I can hear you talking, right?” Flynn interrupted. There came a drawn silence. He considered attempting an escape, but by the imposing mass of the thing floating above him, he once again decided against it.
Finally, the first voice spoke again, “Well, of course, we know you can hear us. We’re the superior beings here, not you! You’ll do well to mind your stuff.”
“That told him, Frank,” came the second.
“I told you not to use names, Hershel!”
“I forgive you, but you need to stick to protocol. We have to bring back a good one.”
It was getting to be a bit much for Flynn. He had prayed fervently when the ship first came into view and was feeling remarkably calm in spite of the unusual and potentially terrifying circumstance. So, against reason, he spoke up again, “You know Frank, Hershel, I don’t know what your intentions are but it’s quite damp in this ditch and it’s getting cold out. Are we going to get on with things soon?” This time, the silence was much longer, as his question seemed to have caught them off guard.
Frank sounded much more irritated as he spoke, “Well, look who’s getting sassy, Hershel! It’s the itty-bitty little Earth-being who thinks he’s going to boss us Asterians around.” He sort of dwindled off, his thoughts and indignation seeming to get lost somewhere up in the big black ship. Hershel was uncomfortable with confrontation so he added nothing.
“What’s an Asterian?” Flynn asked, hoping to absorb them in banter. His initial impression was that, whoever they were, they were a little short on intelligence, so he decided a run for it might be the proper thing to do after all.
“Not that it’s any of your business, you nose-wiping turtle bottom, but our home planet is Asteria which is far superior to this sniveling little rock of yours,” Frank said.
“What was that for?” Flynn asked.
“What was what for?”
“What insult? You short-brained, fat belly.”
“You just did it again.” Flynn was becoming surprisingly aggressive.
“Did what again?” Frank asked.
“Oh come on. You’re insulting me for no reason and not very effectively, I might add.”
That time, Flynn could hear Hershel’s child-like giggling in the background.
“This is ridiculous,” Flynn said, mostly to himself.
“You’re ridiculous, toe jam tree gas.”
“That one didn’t even make sense. What kind of moron are you? Do you have a supervisor up there I can talk to?”
“Awww.” came Hershel’s voice, “You gonna let him talk to you like that, Frank?”
“Don’t go thinking you can lock antlers with me, earth spit. I am in charge, and I am like a cow playing with you like a ball of yarn.” Frank was sounding angry and a little frazzled.
“The phrase is ‘Lock horns’ and it’s cats that toy with balls of yarn, not cows...idiot!” Flynn had climbed back to the driveway and was able to take in the enormity of the ship. It was more massive than anything he could imagine. The discovery killed his hope of escape so he dejectedly sat down and began to pray again. He couldn’t get his head around what God could have planned for him by putting him in that situation, but he would try to remain open-minded and obedient.
He had prayed for several minutes, forgetting the aggressors hovering above him and, for some reason, they allowed him his time. The ship just continued to quietly blank out the sky. Eventually, though, Frank’s voice came back on the P. A., “I have half a mind to zap you into the Cartwheel Galaxy but you have the good fortune of our system picking you as the one we should abduct.”
“Abduct! Me? Why?”
“Our conversation has concluded. Bring him on board, Sarah.”
Almost immediately, a crack of brilliant light appeared in the bottom of the black mass. It grew into a large square that bathed Flynn in its brilliance. It had been dark so long the light nearly blinded him. He stood and watched as, without warning, something very cold and steely wrapped around him many times, pinning his arms to his sides. He futilely struggled but was unable to stop from being hauled up into the air and the brilliant light.
There had been so many clichés already that night that he knew if he heard the word probe just one time, he would lose it.