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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Outrunning the Storm

by Michele Dutcher
Against a Diamond

by Michele Dutcher
A Fisherman's Guide to Bottomdwellers

by Michele Dutcher
Louisville's Silent Guardians

by Michele Dutcher

Chicken Coop

by

Michele Dutcher



Vicky could hear her dad’s voice calling to her from over the cliff.  The pair was far outside the cities and towns of Southern Indiana, in a canyon called ‘Cave River Valley’ by the locals.  The 10-year-old was standing on an Indian carving of a man wrapped in a shroud, buried inside a mountain.

“Okay, honey – start walking towards the side of the hill.”  She did as directed, looking over the cliff a bit to see her dad standing on the path below her.  “You’re right over the cave, Vicky.  That carving is right over this cave.  It’s probably a burial site – probably by the Miami Indians from the look of the carving. These stones blocking the entrance have got to move somehow. Come on back down here.”

Vicky ran down the path until she could see her dad getting out his flashlight. “It looks like there are stone beams overhead, making up the top of the cave – where you were standing.”  He began to fuss again with the three flat 6’ by 4’ slabs blocking the entrance.  “Maybe if I push on this side…” he said panting, and as if by magic the stone finally turned inward, leaving enough space for a man to crawl through. “I’m going to go in first, sweetheart.  You wait out here until I’m sure it’s safe.”

She watched her father head into the man-made cave, his flashlight throwing puddles of light on the sides of the cave.  She could tell the cave had widened out and the floor had lowered as well, allowing her father to stand up. 

Vicky’s dad looked back at her, knowing how excited she must be with the discovery. “It seems to be solid, honey.  You can come in for a minute.” He smiled and shot the light towards her feet.

Vicky let herself into the small space, quickly hurrying to her dad’s side.  She liked the smell of the dirt that made up the bottom of the cave. Suddenly something caught her eye, some color on the walls.  “Look, daddy, someone made a painting in here.”

He shone the flashlight on the wall closest to them.  There seemed to be a scene painted there: hills, a small river, a tiny collection of wigwams. There were also carvings in the wall of what might have been deer and people and clouds.  “Wow!” whispered her dad.  “We hit the jackpot!  This stuff probably hasn’t been seen in two hundred years.  I can’t wait to tell your mom.  She’ll want to have the college guys come out and look it over.”

The small child was just as excited as her dad as they stood in front of the simple paintings. 

“Let me hold the flashlight, daddy,” she whispered, practically grabbing it out of his hand.  He laughed, allowing her to take it from him.  She flashed it further back into the cave, and there appeared to be a second room.  They walked into the grotto. The beams overhead where still there, holding back the dirt and rocks on top, but the space was almost a perfect cube as if the front of the cavern had been added onto as an afterthought centuries later.

“It looks as if this part could be much older, Vicky,” whispered her dad.  There were paintings on these walls also but they appeared to be closer to actual murals. “Wow,” said her father in a hushed, almost reverent voice. “Let me have the flashlight.” 

Vicky handed over the light reluctantly and her dad shone it onto the flat wall.  “What does this writing say?” she asked him, pointing to symbols on the wall.

“I don’t know, Vicky.  I don’t read hieroglyphics.”

Even a child as young as Vicky had heard that word.  “I thought that kind of writing was in Egypt? – like the Sphinx.”

“Yeah, me too,” answered her dad absentmindedly, while beginning to examine the mural itself.  “There are hills, and a river and the valley, probably this valley…” He allowed the light to go a little farther, exposing more of the mural.

Vicky was looking over her dad’s shoulder. “And here are people, lots of them, but they don’t look like the other people.  And wait a minute, daddy – some of them are floating.  Why are they floating?”

“I don’t know, honey.  Let’s see, there are a few men on the ground and over a dozen in the air.” They both were holding the flashlight now as they looked towards the right.  Suddenly there was a hideous face floating over the strange peaceful village with empty eye sockets and a broad, toothless smile.  The child shrieked.  “I don’t like this anymore daddy.  I’m scared! I want to go – now.”

“Okay, honey, we’ll go.  But I’m bringing your mom back with a team.  She’ll never believe this without seeing it for herself.

Vicky began to run towards the mouth of the cave, but her dad stayed just a minute longer – transfixed by the hideousness of the face in the sky, calling the people up to meet it.  “Hieroglyphics in Southern Indiana – who would have thought it? They might be thousands of years old,” he whispered to himself.

Later that night he would tell her: “It was probably just a tribal legend,” trying to calm her before she went to sleep inside their tent.  “It was just a story to make little children scared so they ate their veggies.”

But it was the face in the legend that left a scar on Vicky’s mind.

 

Tomorrow they would pack up and drive back to Pekin, Indiana – to the safety of their home, to mom and the chicken farm.  Vicky would feed the chickens and gather their brown eggs in a wicker basket with a soft, cotton cloth in the bottom so the eggs wouldn’t break. 

Her mom would write a story in the Salem Leader about the cave and some archeologists would come down from Indiana University to officially catalog the site.

But try as she might, the ten-year-old would never be able to get that face out of her mind.  As the years went on and the child became a woman, she would have The Dream at least four times a year.  In the dream Vicky would know that she couldn't escape, but she would start running anyway. Then the stars would begin to fall.  Soon the screaming would begin, followed by that odd slap-thump sound.  She could see an airship and then suddenly The Face would be towering above her.

***

Vicky awoke with a gasp.  She was still alive.  Instinctively, the thirty-year-old woman looked over at the clock on her bedstand but its face was blank.

"That's right," she breathed to herself, "the power went off a week ago."  She grabbed her leather purse and began desperately clawing through it.  "Where are those pills?"  Vicky heard a rattle.  "Thank god," she sighed, chugging some water and throwing two migraine capsules into her mouth.

She dressed quickly and followed a chunk of sunlight down the stairs almost tripping over three bodies on the sidewalk.  The middle one moved, grabbing her ankle.  "They're here!  The Face," he wheezed.

Vicky waited for a moment, knowing the man's lack of sleep would force his grip to loosen.  She stepped out of his grasp and he fell back into unconsciousness.

There was a pile of two dozen wrecked cars at the corner where people had fallen asleep at the wheel.  She smelled the rotting flesh before she actually saw the bodies.  Dogs had pulled apart one driver and were feasting on his arms and legs.

As she walked on she noticed a fresh body on the sidewalk.  It had shot itself in the head.  "You're lucky," she said.

Saint Regis Episcopal church stood in the middle of the next block.  Vicky stepped inside.  The high domed ceiling trapped most of the August heat at the top of the sanctuary, providing some relief from scorching temps.  People slept on the pews while others watched over them.  A man was screaming through a dream. "The Face! They're here!  They're here!"

A watcher began to shake him.  "Rest now, rest.  I'm right here."  He turned over and began to breathe heavily.  Soon it would be the watcher's turn to sleep.

"Reverend Miller," sighed Vicky as she approached a young man in a tee-shirt and black jeans.  "God be with you..."

..."and also with you, Vicky.  And please, call me Richard.  In the mist of all this chaos it would be nice to hear the sound of my name.  Did you sleep at all?"

"Yes.  The migraine pills are keeping me sane."

"Same here.  Perhaps it’s the grace of God that has allowed a few of us to tend this world gone mad."  He looked over to the college-aged girl at his elbow and smiled, wishing he was perhaps a bit younger than his thirty-two years.  "I’m glad you’re here Vicky. Will you help me?"

"Of course," she answered, picking up a bowl filled with water, handing the young pastor a damp washcloth.  He dabbed water on a sleeper's brow.

"Are we still safe, Richard?  Did you see them last night?"

He sadly shook his head yes.  "Last night the air was crystal clear.  My telescope worked perfectly.  I watched their fleet travel past the right side of Mars and then they began circling the moon’s equator."  He sighed deeply.  "I fear these monsters will be upon us soon."

"Why are they waiting?  Why don’t they just have at us?"

"Maybe they want to be sure we are powerless.  Through these dreams, each of us has seen what appears to be our own deaths.  We are exhausted from lack of sleep.  I haven’t been able to get a radio signal for two days, but I believe that Earth is simply waiting to die." 

The man looked over at Vicky now, as if unsure how to breach a difficult subject.  “Vicky,” he said once trying to gain courage. “Vicky – I’m glad that you’re here with me.”

“I’m thankful that you’re here as well, Richard,” she answered quietly.

“No, no – I don’t mean as your counselor, or as your pastor, but…”  He sighed, despondent.  “I mean that during the years since my wife died, I’ve just been, well lonely.  I miss the touch of someone’s hand in the evening and I’ve always admired your sassiness and wit.  I probably never would have said anything, but under these circumstances, well, I…”

“I feel the same,” Vicky blurted out, touching his cheek with her hand.  And they stood there for a moment, in the back of the darkened church, taking a moment to breathe freely and simply exist, smiling at each other.

There was shouting outside, but it wasn't the regular screaming.  People were rising from their comas, even inside the church, yelling with excitement as they reached the outside steps.  "Look at the beautiful lights," shouted one man.  As Vicky and Richard looked at the sky, it exploded with amazing color.  The near dead had been re-animated, using their last gasp of energy to come into the open and view the magic.

“Don’t look Richard!” screamed Vicky, grabbing his arm trying to pull him back inside the sanctuary.

He was mesmerized by what looked like massive buckets of light thrown against the atmosphere.  “Why Vicky? – it’s amazing, beautiful.”

“Richard!  Look at me!” she screamed pulling on his arm, demanding he come into the darkened church.

He looked over at her blankly.

“When industrial chicken farmers are ready to kill chickens, they flash lights so the birds lift their heads – and then buzz saws come out to chop their heads off.

Richard had been scared out of his stupor and the pair ducked into the safety inside.

Now came the screaming.  The others were completely entrenched in the show of lights but Vicky and Richard knew better.  They joined hands, running down the steps, away from the screaming.  "Run,” Richard shouted.

As they cut their way through the crowds, the couple could see streaks of smoke falling through the colors.  Vicky turned briefly towards the screaming.  The Face, thirty-feet-tall, hovered over the crowd behind her, sucking its victim's souls into two large black eyes.  The mouth and nose of the fleshy mask had been sewn shut.

The screams fell behind them as the pair began running across a baseball field.    The couple rushed into a Laundromat at the far end of the meadow, hiding between some washers.  There was a small window facing the chaos.

"Don't look, Vicky.  Stay here with me."

"I can't, Richard.  I've got to look."  She stood up and stared at the field.

The fleshy mask was attached to a slug-like creature, which moved quickly over the field.  It was followed by a flying saucer, with a large tube protruding from its bottom.

Vicky saw a man and a woman standing in the baseball diamond, staring up at the lights.   As the face sucked out their souls, their knees began to buckle under them.  Before they could fall into the dust, however, the airship vacuumed up their corpses.  "Slap, thump," went their bodies as they beat into the sides of the tube, traveling upwards, upwards, towards an intake portal out of which poured a freezing vapor.  Vicky watched horrified as one man immediately turned blue before being sucked into the spaceship’s portal. One of the bodies screamed, but it was silenced quickly as its bones were crushed by the violence of being thrown around. A stream of blood spilled from the base of the tube.

The face was above the block building now, but Vicky's terror made her powerless to move or even scream.  The priest had his hands around her waist, as if to protect her from herself.

Suddenly, the unholy pair turned around, heading back towards the city.  "They're leaving," she gasped, pointing out the window.

And they were.  The slug floated up the tube and the airship shot upwards into the atmosphere.

***

Two months later, the Earth was repairing itself.  Richard and Vicky sat with a few new friends at her dad’s farmhouse outside of Pekin, listening to a radio.  Electric generators had been easily taken from local big-box stores that no longer had clerks or customers, so they had lights and some power. Televisions and the Web, however, had never come back on.

Richard and Vicky had, of course, been happily together since the end of the assault.

"As far as we can tell, the aliens have disappeared from the Solar System," reported the anchorman, "having taken approximately 85% of the Earth’s former population.  Some scientists are saying cave paintings have been discovered in China and Afghanistan with The Face in them - but we trust those are a hoax and the abominations are gone for good."

“We need to get off this planet and kick some alien butt,” sneered Vicky’s dad, chewing on the end of a Cuban cigar – yes, a real Cuban cigar he had taken off the mayor’s desk.  There were some perks about being a survivor.  He looked over at his wife, Vicky, and his new son-in-law. He smiled. Soon he would have a grandchild, life was good.

"Oh my god," gasped Vicky, clutching her pregnant abdomen.

"What is it, sweetheart," asked Richard, placing his hand over hers.

"When farmers slaughter chickens, they leave some behind unharmed…so they'll breed.  If they came back before, they’ll come back again.”  She rubbed her bulging baby bump.

“Not for another thousand years,” said Richard.

“And this time, humanity will be ready,” said her dad.

Vicky and Richard held each other for a long time, waiting for her to stop shaking.                           


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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Outrunning the Storm

by Michele Dutcher
Against a Diamond

by Michele Dutcher
A Fisherman's Guide to Bottomdwellers

by Michele Dutcher
Louisville's Silent Guardians

by Michele Dutcher


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