The story is now finished. Part V will be the last. I'll post it tomorrow.
I can't believe I actually finished this thing.
The poking ceased, the dreams faded and Luster clawed his painful way back to wakefulness. As he woke, Luster could hear a conversation between two people he couldn’t yet see. It was the same language he’d heard before. Maybe it was them ayrabs. Or the messicans. ‘Speak English you bastards.’ he thought. Crap, I knew I shoulda learned to hablo that espanishola’.
Luster sat up as the memory of where he was suddenly crashed down on him. He looked around him and again took stock. ‘Crapper. It’s a goldurned crapper! I knowed it.’ Then Luster spied something he’d forgotten about. There was a door. And it was open. Luster looked and through the portal he saw a strange being. It looked like the ‘angel’ he’d seen before and it was evidently arguing with someone else across the room.
Cowardice was Luster’s middle name and damn all his momma for that. Still, he did tend to live up to the sobriquet. About the only thing that’d bring out his brave side was sobriety or the specter of sobriety and Luster was looking that particular monster square in the face at the moment. It was enough to motivate a man. ‘Besides, twernt no angels atall, just someone a funnin’ me.’
The gangling Luster rose from the floor like a puppet with half its strings cut. ‘Cain’t nobody treat me like ‘is’ he thought. ‘I gots my rahts’. Luster gathered up his dander and stomped toward the door, ready to give someone ‘a dang good what fer’. Unfortunately, Luster’s indignant march from the room was cut short by a second trip to his back. Luster shook his head and peered at the door for an explanation. He fought his way back to his feet, ducked his emaciated six foot frame and crabbed his way through the 4 four high door. With all the wounded dignity of a Baptist preacher’s mother turning down a request for an unmentionable sex act, Luster approached the small, gray being, leaned in and delivered his memorable line.
The small gray man, Luster was now certain they were small gray men, jumped three feet off the floor, slamming its head into the low ceiling. The second small, gray man simply fell over, dropping a strange device to the floor as it did so. Both were out cold. “Dad gum” he muttered. “Dad gum midgets, that’s what they is. Now who the hail would be a settin’ the midgets on me?” he wondered. Luster dimly remember as how some do gooder down to the welfare office had told him they were ‘little people’ and how he was not to call them midgets but political correctness was never Luster’s strength. Luster briefly wondered if maybe this was ‘all them welfare peoples a doin’’ but the thought went as fast as it appeared. Thinking wasn’t Luster’s strength either.
Luster wasn’t fazed. He smiled in satisfaction. “Serves you sumbiches raht. Kidnap a man and take away his beer. It’s agin the constitution! I’ll see yore asses in jail fer this!” Luster aimed a kick at the nearest. The kick missed by the four or five feet separating the two supine gray men. Luster cursed and tried again. This time he managed to send the strange device rattling across the floor. Satisfied at having regained his lost dignity, Luster spit once and began to explore. Maybe they had some booze?
Luster took a good look around the room. It was small, unadorned. ‘Not even a picture of someone’s momma on the wall’ he thought. He walked around for a bit, poking into this and that. There was nothing he recognized and, even worse, no beer! Luster felt himself starting to shake. ‘Oh Lor’, please don’t let me get the DT’s. Not now.’ Luster was determined, now more than ever, to find the door, get back to his truck and put the two small gray men out of his mind and as far away from him as he could.
It took several minutes of bumping into things before Luster noticed the second room. This one with a window. He shuffled over for a better look, fully expecting to see the familiar landscape of central Oklahoma and a way out of the cramped space. Instead he saw the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. It was blue and green and white all over. As Luster watched he saw a dark line approaching. Hidden in that shadow were points of light, like a thousand fireflies glued to black construction paper. He’d never even imagined anything so beautiful. He pressed his nose to the glass and whistled. A half remembered Sunday school lesson came to mind. “It’s Eden” he whispered. “The garden of Eden,”
Behind him, a small gray man stirred but Luster, enrapt, stared on.
Firth felt the black of unconsciousness lift. He woke to find himself lying on the deck, staring up at a hatch on the ceiling. He noticed it was a slightly different color than the rest of the ship. ‘Kinda off white’ he thought. ‘Maybe eggshell. Firth thought it extremely important but couldn’t say why. ‘I’m supposed to be doing something’ he thought. ‘But what?’ Firth thought and thought but the something stayed just out of reach. Tantalizingly close but beyond his touch. He rolled his head to his left and saw Starth, also lying on his back and facing the ceiling with unseeing eyes. He saw the Axon Memory Beam resting against the bulkhead wall where Luster had kicked it. He saw the pen door to the bathroom and it all came crashing down on him. ‘Oh yeah’ he thought. ‘I remember now.’
Firth took a surreptitious look around but didn’t see the human. Good. He tried to sit but his head felt like someone was trapped inside and desperate to get out. He slid across the deck to his friend. Firth took hold of thin arms and shook him as hard as he could. Starth barely moved.
“Starth. Starth. Come on man, wake up. Starth you rat bastard, this is all your fault now wake the hell up.” Nothing. ‘Now what?’ He spied the box again. ‘If I could just get to the brain ray we might still be able to get out of this.’ Firth didn’t dare stand so, taking another look for Luster; he started to crawl for the box.
Every pull with his arms and every push with his legs was an agony. His head was pounding now and he barely kept awake. Firth was sure he was about to die. ‘Great’ he thought. ‘I’ll never be able to leave my room again.’ Still, he had to try and salvage the situation. Slowly, inch, by painful inch, Firth made his way across the floor until at last, he reached his prize. He extended a hand and grasped his salvation with a cry of relief. He tugged at it to bring it to where ho could get to the controls. The thing was heavy and refused to budge. Firth, tiring quickly, gave one last pull with all the stringy muscle he had left and it suddenly shifted and sped toward him. Too late, he realized that it had come to rest partially on the floor and partially on the wall. When he pulled it away the back of the box, instead of sliding down, came crashing to the deck. The resounding noise sounded like a sonic boom to the now thoroughly scared youngster.
Fear galvanized Firth. His headache disappeared and he found new vigor as he scrambled at the controls. “Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit!” he screamed. “Work you stupid piece of junk!”
Luster’s reverie was broken by a soft sound. It was so faint that if he had not been standing quietly he’d have missed it. Still. “Mebbe them little fellers done woke up already.” Luster hitched up his faded and dirt encrusted jeans and started back. “Gonna have a little palaver with them boys.” Luster chortled. “Heh, heh. Little. I kill me.”
Firth was still madly slapping at switches when he heard the ponderous tread of Luster’s badly worn boots approaching. He was almost wild with terror. So much so that he missed the warning lights flashing out their messages of potential doom from the badly mishandled machine. As Luster rounded the wall, Firth pushed with all his might, lined the machine up in the general direction of the human as best he could and hit the transmit button.
Luster had time to see the small gray man huddled against the far wall, fiddling with the box. He opened his mouth to ‘commence the cussin’ but was struck short. A soft white light surrounded him and Luster began to relive his life.
Luster remembered his childhood. His Ma and Pa. His sister Gertie and his brother Lemuel. He remembered graduating 8th grade and how proud they’d all been. First one in the family to go so far. He remembered sneaking kisses with Cousin Flora at the family reunion and the first time they’d gone ‘all the way’. He remembered his first drink and all the drinks after. Every beer. Every shot of rotgut. The still he’d built from pipe he’d salvaged out of that condemned building. How the Sheriff’d come out yelling about ‘lead poisonin’ you dumbshit hillbilly’ or some such blather and took it all away but not before he’d squirreled away a fair stash. The rubbing alcohol. The paint thinner. All of it. Luster’s brain latched onto those memories like a rabid dog onto a dead possum and refused to let go. Luster tried to think of something else but couldn’t. The memories played back over and over in his head until he thought he’d go insane.
Then, blissful nothingness.
Firth watched as Luster crumpled into a softly snoring ball and finally took a long delayed breath. His body shuddered and his hands shook. He slumped back against the wall and let his fear drain away. “I’m gonna kill Starth.”