by Michael C. Keith
Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.
– Gaius Sallustius Crispus
It was out on deserted Route 310, nine miles north of Roseau, Minnesota, that Connor Barnes encountered something unlike anything he’d ever seen. It hovered in the air just a few yards in front of him.
Can’t be real. Must be seeing things. Could be some kind of experimental device to keep out illegals, he speculated. Ain’t nothing around here though, only the border hut three miles up the road. So where’d it come from?
The lights that shone from the object began to brighten, pulsate, and change colors. Looks like a floating Christmas tree, Connor thought as he pressed his face against the windshield for a better look. Things just don’t hang in the sky like that. Should I drive under it? It hasn’t moved for a while. But I got to drop off this feed to Barry’s Hog Farm. Okay, come on. Better get out of here. Probably a mirage. Something reflected from far off.
Connor put his truck into gear and inched it toward the mysterious floating object. It’s staying put and getting bigger. Well, here goes nothing . . . As he drove under the gleaming canopy, he suddenly felt warmer. Nice, he thought. His truck heater worked poorly and then only intermittently. It was early November, and the ground was already spotted with patches of snow. The temperature is really climbing. Better get out from under this thing. Who knows what’ll happen next? Maybe get baked.
Suddenly the truck stopped and wouldn’t budge. He shifted into reverse, but still no movement. Connor decided to get out and see what was happening. He buttoned his coat and pulled his knit hat over his ears preparing for the elements. Good lord, he muttered, discovering that it was as mild outside as it had been in the truck’s cab. If this ain’t the damnedest thing . . . Within seconds he had moved to the edge of the mysterious craft’s shadow. Might be a blimp or hot air balloon, but what’s it doing way out here, and how does it make it so warm like that?
As soon as Connor moved from under of the broad awning, however, the temperature plunged, and he quickly stepped back within its sphere to escape the frigid air. While opening his coat and removing his hat, Connor studied the hovering contraption with both awe and wariness. It’s making a whirring sound like in the high-tension wires, he concluded. As a former lineman, it was a sound he knew well. Must be generating some major power to keep it lit up like that and suspended for so long. Hasn’t got any rotor blades and external thrusters. Not blowing the air around either.
Connor checked the road to see if any other vehicles were approaching, but as usual none were. He then inspected underneath his vehicle for any signs of what might be causing it to malfunction. Nothing. Looks normal. Tires fine. Let me try it again. He climbed back into the truck and shifted into first gear, revving the engine. Dammit! Nothing happened when he threw it into reverse either. Double dammit! What’s going on?
Again, he climbed from the truck and peered up at the glowing mass that he assumed was the source of his dilemma. “What do you want?” blurted Connor, beginning to feel that he might be in serious trouble. This can’t be a good thing. Why would it disable my truck out here in the middle of nowhere? Better walk to Barry’s place and let him know I’m broke down. He won’t believe why, though.
Connor was only a few steps beyond the reach of the luminous cloud when the scene before him abruptly changed. The bedroom in the home he shared with his wife, Helen, replaced the endless strip of asphalt and the flat brown fields that lined it. No, this can’t be happening. What the . . .? At first he wasn’t aware that his wife was standing before her dresser mirror and gazing at him in its reflection. When he finally did, he was rocked by her presence.
“Helen, you’re . . . “
“Hello, Connor. Surprised to see me, I bet.”
“It can’t be. You’re not . . .”
“What . . . really here?”
“Yeah, you can’t be. This is crazy. This is all a frigging hallucination.”
“Why can’t I be here, Connor?”
“You know why . . .”
“Tell me. I mean in your own words.”
Connor’s eyes darted around the room. “How can you be here? This is a freaking dream . . . a nightmare.”
“A nightmare, indeed, dear husband. And of your own making.”
Helen turned from the mirror to her husband revealing a large bloodstain in the middle of her nightgown. Connor shivered at the sight.
“My own making? That’s bull. You were always on my case. Nothing made you happy. I was on the road 6 days a week busting my ass to pay the bills, and all you ever did was bitch at me. ‘We need a better car. Our house isn’t nice enough. My friends take vacations and we don’t . . ..’ You could have got off your fat ass and made a few bucks yourself. But, no, you just complained about every goddamn thing. Drove me nuts. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“And this is what you do to me because you couldn’t take it anymore?” said Helen, pointing at her wound.
“A person can put up with just so much abuse . . .”
“That would be about right,” gasped Helen, flopping into a chair. “This would qualify as major abuse, I’d say.”
“I didn’t . . . I mean, you brought this on yourself,” spit Connor, and then he found himself back in his truck.
Flashing blue lights flooded through the windows as a loud voice ordered him to get out of the vehicle with his hands up. Connor slowly climbed from the truck, and then several state troopers pounced upon him.
“There are body parts back here,” shouted another from behind the truck.
“She wouldn’t shut up. Always made me feel like I wasn’t . . .”
“Quiet, Mr. Barnes. I’m going to read you your Miranda rights now . . .
“Rights? Yeah, I’d like my rights,” grumbled Connor, looking skyward and wondering why nobody else noticed the giant airship.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes stories. www.michaelckeith.com
Category: Fiction, Short Story