by Steve Carr

Jack Turbell was convinced that at some time in his life he had been abducted by aliens and was experimented on. Sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck he stared up at the white stars that freckled the night sky watching for alien spacecraft.

The howl of a coyote turned his attention toward the dark outlines of the hills, mounds and peaks of the Badlands formations miles away.

‘You see anything?’ Mel Larsen said coming from the front of the truck.

Momentarily startled, Jack said, ‘See any what?’

‘Rabbits, you old fool. That’s why we’re out here, to hunt jackrabbits,’ Mel said.

‘No, ain’t seen a rabbit yet.’

Mel hopped up onto the tailgate with a can of beer in one hand and his rifle in the other hand. He laid the rifle down between them and pulled back the tab on the can. ‘Here’s to a night of good huntin’,’ he said, then tilted his head back and poured the beer into his mouth.

Jack licked his parched lips. The a-hole could have at least brought me a beer, he thought.

Mel lowered the can. ‘You an’ I been doin’ nothin’ but herdin’ cattle and huntin’ this prairie together for almost forty years. You ever wonder what we might be missin’ that’s maybe happenin’ in the rest of the world?’

‘We see it all on television or our wives tell us about it,’ Jack said. ‘Besides, ain’t nothin’ goin’ on beyond the prairie that interests me.’

Mel took a long drink of beer. ‘Too bad you got that amnesia thing and can’t recall anything before you showed up on my pa’s ranch,’ he said. ‘Maybe you saw a bit of the world before that.’

Maybe so,’ Jack said. That’s what bein’ experimented on by aliens will do to you, he thought.

Mel took a long, last gulp of beer then tossed the empty can into the bed of the truck. He laid back and placed his rifle across his chest. ‘I’m gonna have a little shut eye. Wake me up if you spot anything.’

‘Will do,’ Jack said.

A few moments later Mel was sound asleep and snoring loudly.

Jack quietly slid off the tailgate, shifted his rifle so that he was holding it across his chest with both hands and walked away from the truck toward the direction of the formations.

At the base of a formation with a gentle slope leading to a flattened top, he stopped and wiped the sweat from his face, then began climbing up. Once he reached the top he walked to the middle of the formation and stared up at the sky. Why does this spot feel so familiar?

As if floodlights had been turned on, Jack and the entire top of the formation was suddenly bathed in rotating different colors of light. Behind the source of a light a large spherical spacecraft whirred about, giving off a high-pitched hum. Jack tried to turn to run, but he was unable to lift his boots.

‘You ain’t doin’ experiments on me again,’ he shouted as he pulled his rifle from his back and aimed it at the spacecraft and began to shoot. Each bullet fell onto the ground almost as soon as they left the rifle barrel.

A panel on the bottom of the spacecraft slid to the side and a ray of red light shot out and enveloped Jack. The light lifted him out of his boots and into the spaceship. Jack screamed as the panel closed.

Suspended in mid-air, Jack looked around at the six red gelatinous creatures that surrounded him. All of them were identical in size and shape; about five feet tall and shaped like upright cucumbers with hundreds of tentacles that stretched out from their bodies and were in constant movement. They had no eyes or ears.

‘What are you goin’ to do to me?’ Jack screamed, bordering on hysteria.

Coming from everywhere all at once, a voice said, ‘We’ve come to take you back home.’

‘Back home?’ Jack sputtered.

‘Your mission on this planet is done,’ the voice said. ‘We are eager to hear what you have learned in your travels on this planet and from all you have learned from its creatures.’

Jack’s rifle, clothes and hat disintegrated into fine dust then disappeared. As his body transformed into that of the aliens, he said, ‘All I know is what I learned by living on the prairie.’

Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over ninety short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. 

He is on Facebook and Twitter @carrsteven960.