Sunday, October 25, 2015


Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

Return to

By R. Peterson

I promise you my love … we will return. Herbert O’Malley thought about New River and the vow he’d made to Madeline as he supported himself with a cane on the floor of O’Malley Motor Company’s VEA (vehicle exterior assembly) line. His arthritis had been much more pronounced the last eight months. A computer operated robot with telescoping arms plucked an exterior shell from a slow moving conveyor-belt and dipped it into one of seven tanks holding heated solutions of chromium, magnesium and nickel along with a patented alloy that produced vibrant color in stainless steel. The resulting uni-body was then flash-dried, joined with an interior and attached to a completed chassis producing a four, six, eight or ten-cylinder Earth Car with glistening rust-resistant color that never chipped or faded.
The Metro-Detroit factory and nine others were on schedule to produce more than seven million Earth Cars (one every eighty seconds) in twelve different models, outselling Ford by 800,000 units, including two economy-hybrids at an average list price of $36,816 for fiscal 2014. It was a good year. Profits for the automotive empire were expected to exceed three billion dollars … not bad for a privately held (non-corporate) company.
Herbert was glad when the plant manager and the group of high level engineers and systems analysts following him through the factory agreed to break for lunch. The group flew into Chicago in a company helicopter while Herbert retired to his immaculate but seldom used upstairs office.
A news report showed a group of humble Amish people in Pennsylvania. A deranged gunman had just shot their children in a schoolhouse. The first thing the religious group had done was forgive the attacker. Herbert marveled at the sect’s great faith and wondered if he could muster the same inner power. He wasted no time calling his wife. Madeline picked up her cell phone the second ring. “Did you see the awful report of the Amish children being shot on the news?”
“Yes,” she said, “On an Delta Airlines monitor. My heart goes out to those people and their most Christ-like exhibition of forgiveness. They are right. Revenge, resistance and hate only gives power to evil but …”
“I talked to our private investigator this morning,” Herbert interrupted. “Harrison James and his team have been searching satellite images of Idaho. They’re covering every inch of ground, but it’s hard. Two thirds of the state is protected wilderness area with some of the roughest and heavily forested areas on Earth. But he assured me that he will find it … if New River exists.”
Madeline barely waited for him to finish speaking. “I might have something,” she said. “I’m at the Friedman Memorial in Hailey with the other half of Harrison’s team. The airport manager has no record of any jets landing here on December twenty-third, let alone a Dessault, but one of Harrison’s investigators found a receipt for 22,419 lbs. of high octane jet fuel … sold on that same date. Now considering that most pilots refuel when their fuel gages show one third capacity, this 22,419 lbs. is two thirds of the capacity for a Falcon 7X at 31,940 lbs.”
Herbert caught her excitement. “What did the airport manager say about the fuel?” he said.
            “He said it had to be a mistake,” Madeline told him. “He has no record of a jet landing or taking off on that date. But this is the really strange part. He said the airport was locked-in zero visibility on that day!  Nothing came in; nothing went out.”
“Keep on it. I think we’re getting close!” Herbert told her as he hung up the phone. The tenth richest man in the world poured Irish whiskey into a glass and settled into a Spanish leather recliner. The first solid lead in almost a year had ignited a light in the dark corners of Herbert’s mind.
 Margene, their only child, had been clinically depressed from birth. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on treatment programs over the years hadn’t restored her to any semblance of normalcy. The night she called from a college in Idaho saying she was bringing home a fiancé for Christmas, Madeline hadn’t recognized her own daughter. Laughter had replaced nineteen-years’ worth of tears and the uncontrollable zest for life erupting from Margene had left both parents mystified, thankful … and overjoyed.
George Weatherbee had proved to be the perfect future-son-in-law. From the time they flew in a Weatherbee family friend’s Dessault Falcon 7X to a small Idaho airport during a white-out blizzard until they woke up a week later in Detroit, life in tiny New River had been an unbelievably wonderful dream. The last day in the delightful village, Herbert had plucked a golden envelope in the shape of a leaf from the town square tree with the name of a New River resident inside. It was a drawing for a Secret Santa exchange to be held the following year.
Herbert poured himself another drink, because this memory started out as a dream and turned into a nightmare. Police at the door at three a.m. in Detroit saying Margene’s flight 419 had crash landed upon arrival in the Motor City. Private investigators saying there had never been a boyfriend, a snowy flight to Idaho, a gold leaf envelope … or a town called New River.
Herbert had been ready to believe the well-meaning friends and acquaintances who expressed their deepest condolences at his loss. With his wife suddenly in a mental facility and a huge company to run he had no choice, until he found the gold-foil leaf. Herbert O’Malley reached inside his jacket pocket and extracted the golden envelope in the shape of a leaf with the name Jack Freeman inside. He still had a Secret Santa gift to acquire before Christmas. Jack loved cars; By God! Herbert would not disappoint him.


Memories flooded Herbert’s mind on the trans-Atlantic flight to France. The rush of adrenaline that coursed through his body while chopping wood in the brisk morning air of New River and the pacifying Christmas carols sung by kindhearted welcoming neighbors were as lost loves in a storm. He had promised Madeline and himself that he would return … he had to find a way back to the tiny, impossible to find, town in Idaho.
The chief operating officer of Dessault Aviation Group, Boïk Segalea waited for him with a limousine in Paris. It was the first time they had met. Although outwardly cordial, the aircraft manufacturing executive was obviously inwardly furious at the hostile takeover of his subsidiary company. “Il semble que vous avez gagné (it appears you have won) Mister O’Malley,” Segalea’s voice displayed no open hostility toward the new majority stockholder. “Vous souhaitez visiter l'usine de fabrication (Would you like to visit the manufacturing plant) or tour your new headquarters first?”
“I don’t officially take control until twenty billion dollars in US currency is transferred later today,” Herbert told him. “I know you keep track of where your jets travel and who flies them. We can put a stop to this all right now if only I can look at your records.”
Je suis désolé mais c'est impossible,” Segalea told him. “Our clients as well as the onboard GPS flight tracking information are extremely confidential!”
Herbert looked at his watch. “I’ll know in about two hours anyway,” he said. “Why not make things easy? Give me the information I want and I’ll see to it that P and W Canada resumes shipments of your turbine engines as well as cancelling the stock buyout.”
Segalea was intrigued. “Why is information sur un vol d'un Falcon 7 X si important that you would use worldwide leverage to force a company like Dessault into submission?”
            “Have you ever been to Heaven?” Herbert asked the executive as the limousine made its way through the Paris streets.
            “J'ai été proche de la mort plusieurs fois (I have been near death several times),” Segalea replied with a laugh. “But I fear it was most likely Hell I glimpsed and not a better place.”
            “I have seen it with my own eyes,” Herbert told him. “Someone I love is very happy there and I only want to find my way back.”
Segalea handed Herbert an unmarked manila envelope. “I planned to give you this after the funds transfer but I see no reason to delay.” He threw his arms in the air in a gesture of surrender. “Vous devriez m'ont dit qu'il s'agit de l'amour!” He smiled. “You should have told me. Love is a completely different matter!”

Three hours later, Herbert was on a private flight back to the United States courtesy of the still intact Dessault Aviation Company. He studied the information the chief operating officer had given him. A Dessault Falcon, number NF7X-419, owned by Joseph P. Callahan from Cloverdale, strangely the same town his wife Madeline had grew-up in, had flown four people to Idaho during a blinding snowstorm on December twenty third, two-thousand thirteen. ‘Gotcha,” Herbert exclaimed.


Joseph Callahan was seated across from an attractive older woman inside a small café called Spare-A-Dime in Cloverdale, Montana when Herbert found him a week later. It was snowing outside and the small café felt warm and comfortable. Judging by the saucer sized grease stain and crumbs on the oversized plates, the pair had just finished two enormous cheeseburgers and were sharing a large order of French fries.  “Mr. Callahan I’m Herbert O’Malley from Detroit.” Herbert held out a trembling hand as he shuffled slowly toward the booth.
“If this is about the broken heater-switch on my 2010 O’Malley Earth Car I’ve already taken it to the garage and the warranty covered it,” Joseph joked. “It works just swell now.”
O’Malley laughed. “Actually I wanted to ask you for a favor.”
            “Please sit down,” Joseph said. “This is my very old and dearest friend Melania Descombey.” He gestured toward a woman had to be at least eighty years old but looked much younger. O’Malley sensed great affection tinged with sadness in the introduction.
            “I’m very pleased to meet you,” Melania said. She grasped two of Herbert’s fingers. He felt a strange sensation as if he were a book being read. “You wish to travel to New River?”
O’Malley was astonished. It was the first time anyone had referred to the tiny town directly as if it were an actual place.
            “Then New River does exist! It is real?” Herbert’s heart beat faster.
            “Of course!” Melania said as she dipped a French fry into catsup. “People often lose dreams … but they can always be found … somewhere.”
            “This is the best news that I’ve heard in almost a year,” Herbert said.
            “You visited New River once,” Melania told him. ‘And you caught a glimpse of heaven. Are you sure that you want to go back? You realize that you may never return to the life you once knew?”
            “My wife and I have both decided that we want to stay in New River forever,” Herbert told her. “When a person has power and money it seems we desire only that which cannot be sold or bought.”
            “How is Madeline?” Melania asked. “I haven’t seen your delightful wife since she was a tiny girl. Does she still love to look in mirrors?”
            “She ran from her own image for years,” Herbert said. “A parent who loves a child shares their children’s fears and anguish. Margene was in deep depression for so many years. Being in New River with a happy daughter and her fiancé made what we thought of ourselves and everything else blissful.”
            “What is it that I can do for you Mr. O’Malley?” Joseph asked.
            “I believe that you own the jet that transported us to New River before,” Herbert said. “I’m beginning to believe that flying in your Dessault Falcon is the only way we can get to where we want to go.”
            “It’s not the only way,” Joseph said with a glance at Melania and then a smile, “but it’s surely the fastest.”
            “We have many things to think about … and to consider,” Melania said.


            Herbert and Madeline drank hot coffee from a thermos inside an empty aircraft hanger while the Dessault Falcon was being fueled. It looked like the beginning of a terrific storm. Large snow-flakes fluttered from the sky like clumps of spinning cotton. Herbert held a wrapped Christmas present in his arms but they had no other luggage. “You decided on a Secret Santa gift for Jack Freeman then?” Madeline pointed to the thin, oblong box. “What is it … a shirt?”
Herbert chuckled. “The shirt off my back,” he told his wife.
            A uniformed man appeared out of nowhere when a small door opened. An icy wind dropped the temperature in the storage building ten degrees before the door closed. Herbert felt a rush of adrenaline course through his body as he shook hands. Madeline visibly swooned as the young man touched her fingers.
            “I’m your pilot, Johnny Lang,” he said. “Flight 419 to New River, Idaho will leave Cloverdale in ten minutes.”


            “It’s a miracle that any aircraft managed to fly in this weather. Mr. Johnny Lang must be some kind of wonder pilot,” Herbert commented as the plane taxied along the runway at Haley airport. The snow was coming down very heavy in the area called Sun Valley, visibility was almost zero. “The flight here was like a dream,” Madeline told her husband. “No sudden drops or stomach spilling turns. I hope the rest of our stay is as pleasant.”
Herbert and Madeline struggled against blowing snow toward the vague outline of a Plymouth station-wagon idling with its lights on high-beam.  Jack Freeman jumped from the driver’s seat of the used-to-be-red automobile and opened doors for them. “The heater still ain’t working so good, so I brought covers,” he said as he stowed their luggage in the back. Madeline pushed the same pile of smelly horse blankets she remembered from before to one side.
Jack, smiling and freckle-faced, leaned over the front seat and warmed them with a smile. “Welcome to New River,’ he said. He still looked too young to be driving an automobile.
            “If I remember right we still have a ways to go before we arrive at your magnificent village.” Herbert stared at the storm raging outside as the inside of the car, and his old bones, especially his arthritic legs, began to feel strangely warm and wonderful.
            “Once the Kharon touches down you’re here,” Jack said. “The airport and the storm are as much a part of New River as the river and the bridge that no cars can cross.”
            “That’s an odd name for an aircraft isn’t it?” Madeline gaped at the sky blue letters scrolled on the nose-portion of the expensive aircraft as they spun away from the airport.
            “It’s probably Joseph Callahan’s mother’s name,” Herbert joked. His legs were beginning to feel better than good … they felt fantastic.
            “No, it’s from Greek mythology,” Madeline shivered. “Kharon is the name of the …”
            “Hang on,” Jack called out from the driver’s seat. “Like I said before, this is almost a sleigh ride.” The careening car banked high on snow drifts piled high on both sides of the road as it spun down a series of treacherous switchbacks. Jack turned on the window defroster and the ghostly voice of Bing Crosby singing an a cappella version of White Christmas rattled from the rusty air-vents as if the long dead singer’s smooth voice was now part of the Plymouth’s malfunctioning heating system. By the time they were almost to the bottom of the mountain, they were all laughing. The snow filled sky had turned brilliant blue and they could see white smoke rising from clusters of roofs nestled in the shimmering snow-covered valley like a toy town spread under a Christmas tree. Madeline gasped in wonder. “I’d forgotten how beautiful this place was.”


            Jack stopped the rusty station-wagon next to a small group of people near an old dilapidated wooden trestle bridge. Children were ice-skating on the frozen river. Herbert recognized several people from the trip a year earlier, plus a few new ones warming their bare hands next to a large fire. A man and woman both smiling and wearing identical floppy ear-muff caps handed Herbert and Madeline each a cup of steaming apple juice. “Welcome back to New River,” they said.
The laughter of the children was drowned-out by the tingling of bells as a horse-drawn sleigh came around a bend in the trees and glided across the old bridge.  Herbert didn’t realize how cold he felt until he was seated. The driver opened a box at the rear of the sleigh and covered each passenger with a steaming hot blanket. The warmth flowed over every inch of his body and for the second time in his life he experienced true joy and happiness. He nudged Madeline several times but he couldn’t stop her giggling as the horses clomped in a wide circle and the sleigh headed for the small town. Herbert began to laugh and then to croon along with a dozen other passengers as they sang Frosty the Snowman.


Margene and George Weatherbee were waiting on the sidewalk with their arms filled with brightly wrapped packages as the sleigh glided down the single main street of the small town. Madeline burst into tears of joy as she jumped from the sleigh and hugged her daughter for the first time in almost a year. Herbert noticed the piles of Christmas presents in his daughter’s and her fiancé’s arms. “I’m afraid we left so quickly we neglected to buy any gifts.” He gestured toward a colorfully lit Gimbel’s Department Store that looked just as he remembered from his youth. “I hope they take credit cards.”
            “Your money is no good here,” George laughed, “And don’t worry, the stores have exactly what you’re looking for.”
George and Margene piled their packages into the sleigh and persuaded the driver to deliver them to a cabin under construction. Mother and daughter decided to visit a newly opened dress store while George and Herbert walked inside the long defunct Gimbels.
Soft Christmas music and the smell of hot popcorn filled the air. A tiny steam train, with the number 419 on its smoking engine boiler, chugged around a huge Christmas tree as a dozen employees dressed as elves helped joyous customers wrap presents at register-missing checkout lanes. Wide-eyed children ambled down colorful aisles obviously filled with joyous fantasies and dreaming of Christmas morning. “I’d like to give my wife and daughter something special this year,” Herbert told his future son in law. “My large company was what I thought would bring me happiness … but I was wrong.”
George Weatherbee extracted two necklaces from floor mounted tree branches designed to hold jewelry. Miniature gilded clock parts shimmered from the ends of golden chains. Herbert noticed the names Madeline and Margene etched on the backs of tiny glistening watch-case plates. “Perfect,” he said. “I should have given the two women I love more than anything else in this world … my precious time.”


            Herbert O’Malley chopped wood outside the cabin his daughter and George Weatherbee would live in after it was finished and they were married. Rather than make him tired, each swing of the splitting mall seemed to renew his energy and restore his vitality. Each crack of the axe sent flocks of chattering Rocky Mountain Blue birds fluttering from snow covered branches. The birds swooped overhead scolding him for the fright and then landed in the same tree again as he placed the next log. From a distance, church bells pealed and tickled his freezing ears. He was beginning to feel like a young man of twenty and didn’t want to stop even when his future son-in-law who was stacking wood in a pile laughingly suggested that they had enough for several weeks and they should quit for the night. “I feel like if I could only go on another hour I’d be in the best shape of my life,” Herbert complained. 
            “I know how you feel,” George said, “but today is December twenty-second. Tomorrow From midnight until six a.m. is La passeggiata del Diavolo The walk of the Devil,” George took off a pair of gloves. “There is balance in all things in your universe and in ours. Where there is great good, there is also great evil. Where there are angels, there are also demons. You do not have to be afraid. But stay in your room and open your door to no-one. Do not look into the streets tonight. Cover your ears and pray you do not heed the sounds. The Black Lord comes to New River at the stroke of midnight and he will tempt those who are weakest. Just remember humility and forgiveness are the two greatest powers on Earth.”
Herbert shivered. He remembered the horrible black thing that had tried to force its way into his and Madeline’s bedroom a year ago, the first time they were here. George and his father had somehow got the creature to leave.
Christmas lights were beginning to flicker on all over the valley. “I plan to spend the evening with my wife,” Herbert said. “Nothing is going to distract me.”


Herbert had just dropped a two by six oak beam inside metal brackets either side of the front door’s frame, to reinforce the entrance, when Madeline emerged from the shower - drying herself off. “I love the feel of the water when it touches my skin,” Madeline said. “I swear every time I look in the mirror, I’m a little slimmer and years younger.”
            “Don’t go too far back - Baby!” Herbert was in a great mood. His wife did look like she could be just a couple of years out of high school. “You can’t get any more desirable than you are right now.”
            “How about a little wine and a movie?” Madeline said as she danced across the floor holding a DVD. “It’s been years since I’ve seen White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.”
Herbert laughed. “You thought that old squeaky heater blower in Jack’s old car was singing that song too … didn’t you?”
            “It was,” Madeline insisted with a giggle. “Everything about this place is magical … why not old cars that can sing to you?”
            “I love you Madeline,” Herbert said as he pulled her onto the bed.


            White Christmas was halfway finished when Herbert heard a scream from outside that made him jump up and shut off the television. Margene’s shrill voice carried from the street below. “Daddy help me!”
Herbert was taking the wooden beam from the door that opened onto a balcony when Madeline griped his hand with hers. “You know what George told us … and you know what happened last time!”
Herbert hesitated but for only a moment. Margene’s terrified wails from the street below made him involuntarily yank the bar off the door. He felt like he was losing his mind. “I lost my daughter once … I will not again!”
The thing was a dark-blue, blackish blur of bristled hair and ragged claws as it forced the door open and burst into the room. A fleshy tail, as thick as a small tree trunk, slapped the walls and a smell like rotting cabbage and feces tainted the air. From the other side of madness Madeline was screaming. Herbert had time for only one thought … My God! My God! What have I done?

To be continued …

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

By R. Peterson

Lemont Hicks burped and tossed his empty Coors-bottle into the back of Ed Fowler’s mud spattered pickup. Bert Wilson’s garage sale was the event-of-the-year for nineteen fifty-nine. The deceased milkman had been one of those UFO chasing weirdoes, but he had also been the biggest junk collector in Cloverdale. Nothing over $1.00 a hand lettered sign proclaimed.
Lemont and Ed walked past mountains of alien-blocking egg cartons as well as water-pistols spray-painted silver to look like ray-guns. Fowler’s brother, Jerry, was getting salty with Wilson’s widow over the price of a battered short-wave radio. Janna Stone and Tina Andrews, both looking radioactive, were laughing as they tried on twenties-era clothing that had been pulled from Mrs. Wilson’s too-full closets and hung on a clothesline.
A pimple-faced Ed Fowler yanked a greasy comb from his back pocket and slicked-back his duck-butt haircut. He kicked a box of Mason canning-lids with his work-boot, but the clatter didn’t make the girls jump. Hicks laughed at the hub cap; he’d show his friend how to spread apple butter.  Hoping for a little back seat bingo, he sauntered over with a practiced James Dean cool and suggested a date on Friday night while looking past the High School Queen at an imaginary, more-interesting something. Janna shoved the hood away and told him to “Get lost!”
Just then Fowler, hoping to distract attention from their defeat, pulled an object from a junk box. “This looks like it might solve the ignition problems on your Ford!’ he called to his clutched friend. Hicks welcomed the distraction as he stomped away from the two girls who continued to ignore both young men. “Are you sure this is the right part?” he asked as he examined the strange metallic cylinder with an engraving that looked like a stylized paper-clip.
“What else could it be,” Fowler said. “It has two screws to hook wires to your battery and a place for the big cable that runs to your distributor.”
“I don’t know …” Hicks said. “Something about this thing feels goofy.”
“What do you mean goofy?” Fowler was looking through a box of old 78rpm records.
“That box has been sitting in the sun all morning,” Lemont told him, pointing to the cardboard container filled with car parts. “But this thing feels cold … too cold!”
Mrs. Wilson had just turned away from Ed’s brother. She hugged the radio against her chest, as if she suspected Jerry might steal it. “How much for this coil?” Fowler called pointing to the object. Mrs. Wilson frowned. “That’s one of Bert’s crash-site souvenirs,” she said. “How about twenty five cents?”


            Lemont Hicks’ battered 1952 Ford with a wrecker-boom in the back, sat in weeds next to his parent’s trailer-house. “Cloverdale Motors wanted four bucks for a new coil,” Lemont said as he lifted the hood on the rusty truck. “I hope this works!”
            “You make twice that every time you winch some nosebleed out of a ditch,” Fowler said. “Why didn’t you just hand over the money and get this heap running?”
            “I still owe Lavar Haskel for a starter and a battery,” Lemont said. “That jerk, won’t sell me any more parts until I’m paid up.”
“Speaking of Haskel,” Fowler said. “I hear Eddie jacketed that seat-warmer you tried to tickle at the garage-sale.”
Hicks laughed. “Eddie Haskel and Janna Stone? Suck eggs! If she won’t date me, there is no way her and him are going steady!”
Ed Fowler lit a Lucky Strike cigarette as Lemont hooked up the wires. “Damn-it!” Hicks bellowed. “The opening for the coil wire is too big!”
            “Not by much,” Fowler said, trying the wire himself. “Swipe some tin-foil from your mamma and we’ll snug this baby down.”
Ed Fowler was crushing the butt of his cigarette into the dirt driveway when Hicks returned waving a box of Reynolds Wrap.
A minute later, Lemont climbed in the truck-cab and turned the ignition key. After a brief hesitation the whole pickup seemed to glow electrostatic blue - Fowler stepped back, just before the engine rumbled to life.
            “Runs like a kick,” Lemont smiled as he leaned out the window. “Climb in.”
            “Where are we going?” Ed asked. He was still blinking his eyes when he plopped onto the dusty seat next to Hicks.
            “To pull some sucker out of a ditch,” Lemont said as he backed up the truck. “If we can’t find any accidents … we might have to make our own.”


Hicks and Fowler listened to Jerry Lee Lewis singing Great Balls of Fire on the radio. They didn’t notice the blue static that followed the truck or the electrical vapors following strands of barbed wire turning the grass alongside the highway brown and scorching the wooden fence posts that surrounded endless fields of wheat and potatoes. Just before they crossed the Cottonmouth River, Lemont hit a chuckhole and the truck bounced and stalled for an instant. The engine backfired. A basketball sized sphere of electricity shot from the exhaust, moved along the metal bridge railings and surrounded two people fishing before it exploded. “What the hell!” Lemont gasped as he pulled the truck to the side of the road and shut off the engine. You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain! Two burley men dropped their poles and approached, glowing like blue mantels from a Coleman gas lantern. Lemont and Ed were ready to fight, but the men surprised them. “What can I do for you?” the first asked. His eyes had a vacant just-left-town look. “You say and we obey,” the second added. You broke my will, oh what a thrill!
Lemont thought they were joking … or being smart asses. He had a reply ready. “I was hoping you’d drive that piece of crap …” He pointed to a station wagon parked just off the pavement.  “… into the river so I could yank you out and charge you four dollars,” he told them.
            “That sounds reasonable,” the first said. Lemont’s mouth fell open as the man started the Dodge Sierra and drove it into the water without hesitation. Hicks and Fowler were both gaping at each other as the man swam from the partially submerged vehicle and climbed the muddy bank. “Give me your chain and I’ll hook it up,’ he offered. “Here’s your money,” he said opening his dripping wallet and pulling out a five. “Keep the change … We’re so glad you came along!”
            “That’s five bucks from you too,” Hicks told the other man. “You were part of the accident … weren’t you?”
The man reached for his wallet with no change in his blank expression.
The mill workers were drying out the Dodge wiring when Hicks and Fowler drove away ten bucks richer. “Can you believe those schmucks?” Fowler said. “It was like they were both under our control. We could have asked them lay down in the road naked and they would have obeyed.”
Lemont and Ed decided to take a joy ride and think about their new change of fortune. Goodness gracious great balls of fire!


“It had to be that ball of fire that shot from under the hood,” Hicks said. “Probably from a backfire. It somehow put them under our control.”
They were passing a secluded house on Canyon Road. A young Spanish woman wearing a blue dress was hanging wet sheets on a clothes line. Hicks noticed an absence of vehicles in the farm yard. He shut the ignition switch off for two seconds and pumped the gas pedal. When he turned the key back-on the resulting backfire sent a blue ball of fire along a power line and toward the lady. A crackling static sphere of blue electricity divided just before it jumped to the metal clothes line cable. A wandering mass of electrical charge surrounded the woman lifting her skirts in the air and showing her long legs and white cotton underwear just before it exploded.
            “¿Qué quiere usted que haga?” the woman with singed hair asked with a dreamy voice as she sauntered over to where Hicks had parked the glowing Ford under an apple tree. She looked hypnotized inside a coat of shimmering blue static. Lemont pointed to a shed filled with loose straw. “Por favor. We want to see the inside of your granero,” he told her. His hand caressed her backside as the three walked toward the piled hay. “… along with a lot of other things.” Come on baby, you drive me crazy!


Lemont Hicks staggered from the barn doing up his belt buckle. A moan came from atop the piled straw. Fowler was still riding the woman. Ed appeared five minutes later, with bits of straw stuck in his sweaty hair. “What we going to do now?” he asked. “Or who are we going to do?” he laughed.
“Tomorrow is November fourth … Voting Day,” Hicks said. “It’s also the Comanche County Fair.” He looked at his friend and grinned. “I’ve always wanted to be elected mayor of Cloverdale,” he smiled. “Everyone in the county will be in town,’ he said, “walking around eating hot dogs and cotton candy. I wonder how many people our ball of lightning can surround at one time?” Goodness gracious great balls of fire!


Francie Jenkins adjusted the straps and tried to pin the waist on the sequined sack dress her mother had bought her from the Sears catalog. “My God! This thing is ugly,” Fran muttered. “It looks like something great aunt Elsie would wear.”
Emma Jenkins stood at the base of the stairway and called up to her daughter. “That Mickle boy just pulled in the yard. Are you ready?”
Fran looked out her upstairs window. Tom had just turned into the yard driving the nineteen thirty-six Ford he’d spent months turning into a hot rod. She wondered sometimes why the best looking guy in high school didn’t dump her for someone like Janna Stone. She vaguely remembered walking through the tall rows of corn and being taken up in the spaceship. Fran didn’t realize the tiny green men with mouths like ducks that had made Tom Mickle super cool had also made her alluring and beautiful.
            Tom smiled when she ran out to his car. “You look great,’ he said. “Is that dress new?”
            “It can’t be,” Fran lamented. “I saw a photo of my mother’s aunt wearing this same dress in nineteen twenty-one.”
            “My jitterbug is a little rusty but I’ll try to keep up if we decide to stay for the dance,” Tom told her with no hint of a smile.
            “Let’s just get to the fair and ride the Ferris Wheel,” Fran told him. ‘I want to feel like I’m leaving this sad world, if only for a little while.”


Early the next morning, Hicks and Fowler gathered the other members of the Lucky Dice car club and then allowed the truck to backfire at every house on the way to Cloverdale. By the time they arrived at the fair grounds they were a caravan with more than twenty cars and a tractor pulling a hay wagon filled with blue, glowing followers. Most of the vendors at the fair sold their wares under canvas tents held together with aluminum frames. Lemont parked the wrecker next to a stand selling elephant ears, large thin scones coated with butter, sugar and cinnamon. By the time the truck had backfired twice and loosened the ball lightning, the people in the hay wagon were eating free elephant ears and waiting for Hicks to tell them what to do. A group of zombies climbed off a blue glowing roller coaster and formed a circle around Hicks waiting for his commands.
“The voting places don’t open until nine,” Fowler told Hicks. “What are you going to have your followers do in the mean time?” Hicks sent Oradell Higley to bring back a megaphone which he hooked to the truck battery. His voice boomed from the back of the truck as Ed drove slowly around the outside edge of the fairgrounds, making the glowing truck backfire and hurtling spheres of ball lightning into the metal carnival rides. “It’s time this town elected a mayor who really cares,” Hicks yelled to the growing crowd. “If Cloverdale is going to have any future at all, all you fine citizens must write the name Lemont Hicks in the “any other candidate” blank box at the bottom of each ballot. As your next mayor, I thank you.”


            Fran and Tom were stopped in a car at the top of the Ferris Wheel. The watched as one carnival ride after another glowed with blue light. The crowd around Lemont Hicks’ truck grew larger and his voice louder. “I can’t believe he thinks people are going to vote for him,” Fran said. “Lemont Hicks has been in trouble since the day he was born.”
            “People often vote for bad government because they are duped into thinking their lives will change for the better,” Tom said. “They see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear without really looking or listening.”
            “He using those glowing balls coming from his truck to control people,” Fran said.  “He’s creating an army of zombies to do his bidding!”
            “It seems like we’ve been stuck on the top of this ride for a long time!” Tom leaned forward and caused the car to tilt. Fran hung tightly to the safety bar. “The guy operating this ride just walked away,” Tom said. “Damn! We’re stuck up here!”
            “I don’t want to become one of Hicks’ mindless twits,” Fran said. “Can’t you do something?”
Tom was already climbing from the swinging gondola. “The balls of energy coming from Hicks’ truck have to follow a metal line to reach people,” he said. “What we need is a lightning rod to transfer the power into the ground.”
            “You’re either the bravest guy I know or a complete idiot,” Fran gasped as Tom began to climb down the structure. “Promise me you won’t fall.”
            “I promise not to fall,” Tom called back, “…and may ball lightning strike me if I do.”


            Sheriff John Walker could see the electrical glow of plasmid energy affecting the rides even before he entered the fairgrounds. He parked his car and walked inside making sure to stay clear of any metal objects. “What the Hell do you think you’re doing?” the sheriff yelled to Hicks as the wrecker swept past with Lemont in the back. Hicks signaled for his driver to stop.
            “Campaigning,” he told the sheriff, “…anything wrong with that?”
The sheriff noticed the large crowd following Hicks included several members of the Cloverdale police force. They all looked like blue glowing mindless robots waiting for an operators signal.
            “Politics has always been a dirty business,” John told him. “But you’ve reached a new low. Shut your engine off and release these people!”
            “No one tells the mayor of Cloverdale what to do!” Hicks yelled. He turned to his mass of followers. “Lock the sheriff inside the city jail for interfering with an election,” he ordered. He looked at his watch. “We have less than ten minutes before the polls open.”

            Sheriff John Walker was helpless to do anything as the crowd swarmed over him. These were the people he’d grown up with; people who’d voted him into office. He surrendered his service revolver and allowed himself to be taken.
            Hicks laughed. “There is a new boss in town, sheriff … it’s time you learned that!”


Tom Mickle used the powers obtained during his alien abduction to sever a huge support cable on the Ferris Wheel and used it to swing Tarzan like to the massive center hub. Hicks’ wrecker was approaching; there wasn’t much time. He wrapped the heavy cable around the gigantic center axel supports and hoped the cable was strong enough to ground the electrical energy like a lightning rod. Tom was halfway to the ground and safety, but there was no way he was going to allow Fran to stay at the top of the wheel alone. He reached the top of the Ferris Wheel the same time that Hicks’ wrecker arrived at the base. “Is everything okay?” Fran gasped as she looked down at the crowd forming around the ride.
            “I hope so,” Tom said as he climbed into the gondola. “I saw the crowd drag the sheriff away. If this works the way I think it will … we’re both going for a ride we’ll never forget.”
Tom put his arm around Fran and held her close. They both watched as Hicks’ wrecker backed up to the ride.


            Lemont Hicks stared up at the huge wheel and smiled. “Now Mayor?” Ed Fowler called from the driver’s seat of the wrecker. He was obviously anxious to unleash another sphere of ball lightning. Hicks looked at his watch … less than a minute until the polls opened. “Wait!’ he said. “When this thing fires up it will be seen for miles. People from all over the county will come into Cloverdale to see what’s going on!” He grinned. “I want my election as mayor to be a landslide … don’t you agree?”
            Seconds later members of the Lucky Dice Car Club all began to honk their horns as the clock above the Gold Strike bank in Cloverdale struck ten a.m.. Oradell Higley, Rodney Phost and Charlie Crane broke the locks on all three polling stations in town and prepared for the voting to begin. Long lines of zombie like followers waited at each location.
            “Now!” Lemont Hicks yelled to Ed Fowler inside the wrecker. Fowler revved the engine to red-line and then turned off the ignition for an instant and pumped the gas pedal. When he turned the switch on two seconds later the backfire was like a sonic boom. The largest sphere of ball lightning so far, blasted from the tailpipe and immediately struck the enormous wheel. Glowing tendrils of plasmid energy swept up the wheel and then stopped at the axel. A ball of lightning formed around the center hub … growing brighter and shrinking as if unable to move. A waterfall of sparks spilled down the side of the wheel and sprayed the crowd below as the two-inch thick steel of the axel support beams began to melt under a temperature comparable to the surface of the sun. Ed Fowler turned off the Ford wrecker ignition and jumped from the cab just as the center of the Ferris Wheel exploded. The blast blew him, Hicks and most of the crowd to the other side of the fairground.


            “You know what?” Fran told Tom as the giant wheel began to roll. “I thought before we ever dated that going out with you might be kind of dull.” She looked down and gasped as the wheel rolled over a hotdog stand and rolled toward the parking lot. The crowd below looked like tiny ants scurrying away from catastrophe in all directions.
            Tom pulled her close and kissed her. “I’m glad that you like being around me,” he said. “But this date isn’t over yet … we still have places to go … things to see!”
The huge wheel had rotated almost 180 degrees and was beginning to wobble. “When I say now … close your eyes and jump,” Tom told her. He gripped her hand and pulled her to her feet just as the gondola car they were in came level with the tops of the vendor tents. “Now!” he yelled. Fran closed her eyes, held tightly to Tom … and jumped.

            Lemont Hicks picked himself up off the ground and glared at Ed Fowler who was caught in the canvas tent cover of a ring-toss game. “What the hell did you leave the truck for?” he yelled. “That wrecker is the only way we can keep control in this town.” He looked around. Without the Ford engine running, the glow that had surrounded his followers was already starting to fade. “You bring my truck back here and you don’t shut the engine off for nobody!”
Ed struggled to extract himself from the tent. He finally used a switch blade knife to cut himself free. He was almost to Hicks’ wrecker when he saw the 52 Ford fire up and spin sideways. Its wheels spat gravel as it tore out of the fairgrounds.
            “Who the hell is driving my truck?” Hicks was furious. “You’ve got the fastest car in town,” he yelled at a gaping Oradell Higley. “Don’t just stand there … we got to get my truck back before my whole political career gets flushed down the sewer.”
Less than a minute later Higley pulled up in a 57 Chevrolet Bel-Air with an air scoop protruding from the hood. All the members of the lucky Dice car club piled inside.
            “How we gonna stop them?”  Rodney Phost asked.
Hicks opened the glove box of Higley’s Chevy and pulled out a 44 Magnum pistol. “We shoot out the tires and then we shoot them,” he said. “Nobody stops me when I’m this close to the top.”


            Fran hit her head on the trucks headliner as Tom shifted gears and headed the Wrecker out of Cloverdale. “Where are we going?” she asked her date.
            “There is something in this truck that makes the ball lightning,” he said. “I don’t know what it is … so the only way we can stop Hicks is to destroy this truck!”
            “How exactly are we going to do that?” She fastened her seat belt as the speedometer climbed above eighty.
            “Magician’s Canyon,” Tom said. “It’s the only place I know where you can lose something like a river and never get it back!”
            “The only way this date could be any better would be if we had some music,” Fran said. She turned on the radio. The Coasters were playing Charlie Brown, she turned up the volume and her and Tom both sang along as the ‘52 Ford turned onto Canyon Road and hurtled across the desert … “Fe-fe, fi-fi, fo-fo, fum … I smell smoke in the auditorium…”


            The members of the Lucky Dice Car Club were listening to the same radio station … He's gonna get caught … Just you wait and see… “Faster!” Hicks reached over and punched Oradell Higley on the shoulder. “You drive like an old lady!” Rodney Phost giggled from the back seat “Faster!” he chorused. Oradell stomped on the gas pedal and the round Chevy speedometer moved past one hundred and twenty. He rubbed his sore arm and sang along with the low verse of the song.  “Why's everybody always pickin' on me?”
Hicks smiled as the tail-lights in the distance grew brighter … closer. He spun the cylinder on the revolver making sure it was fully loaded. This might be better he thought an out of the way place to show his constituents how he dealt with adversity. He could see a girl sitting alongside the young kid driving. “Pull up alongside and then run them off the road,” he ordered as he leaned out the window and aimed the gun. “We’ll have a little fun before we take the truck back to town.”

Tom looked in the truck’s rear-view mirror. Oradell Higley’s souped-up Chevy was almost riding their back bumper. He could see where Canyon Road dead ended less than three-hundred yards ahead on the edge of Magician’s Canyon. “Do you trust me?” he asked Fran as he opened his door. “Yes,” she cried just as a gunshot blasted from behind and the truck careened sideways. Tom held Fran tight. He hoped the powers he picked up from his ride with the aliens would be enough to protect himself and the one he loved. He pulled her with him and they tumbled together from the truck rolling in a tight ball across the sagebrush just as the wrecker flew over the edge of the canyon.


            Oradell Higley hit the brakes on the Bel-Air and they slid to a stop inches from the canyon’s edge,  just as Hicks’ wrecker exploded on the rock wall on the other side. Bits of engine metal and glass fragments flew outward in all directions. Hicks didn’t have to be back in Cloverdale to see the blue glow leaving the crowds of people to know his magic was gone. The popular song on Higley’s car radio was just ending as he climbed from the car and kicked the Bel-Air tires. Why's everybody always pickin' on me?
Less than a hundred yards away Tom and Fran lay entwined together hidden under a Mulberry bush. “Are you okay?” Tom whispered.
            “Better than okay,” Fran said. “I’m in love!” And then they kissed.


Three days later the town of Cloverdale was back to normal. The damage to the fairgrounds had been repaired and shamefaced police officers let Sheriff Walker out of his jail cell. The prosecuting attorney declined to charge Hicks or the other members of the Lucky Dice Car Club arguing that they were also victims of the powerful ball lightning.
            On a craggy edge near the bottom of Magician’s canyon a grazing Mountain Goat spied a strange metal cylinder with an engraving that looked like a stylized paper-clip in a clump of snake grass. The object was impossible to chew so the animal did what it always did with strange objects … it swallowed it.
Late that night the agile animal stood on a large rock outcropping overlooking the desert. The desert sage and grass inside its stomach were already fermenting around two lengths of chewed barbed wire forming a crude intestinal battery. Blue electrical energy arched between its backward curving horns.
            The sheep’s closest relative belched under the light of the moon and a ball of lightning flew from its mouth and floated across the desert. More than a mile away the floating sphere of electrical plasma contacted a wire fence surrounding more than five-hundred Black Angus steers and exploded. The glowing agitated animals circled the inside of the wire fence for almost a minute before they broke through their enclosure.
            Early in the morning a cooling breeze blew from the west and the Mountain Goat left the hill looking for greener pastures … and a glowing herd of blue-tinged cattle followed. Goodness gracious great balls of fire!