“I’m going to die”. Cal Johnson said it quietly to himself. It was not the first time he had made such a statement. He had made it in Vietnam many years ago, in an effort to accept the inevitable destiny of everyone, sooner or later. He said it now, hoping that it would calm the terror that tried to consume his mind now, but it was’t working. he hadn’t thought about dying for many years, at least not with the sudden realization that it might all be over in a few seconds. He had forgotten how to live with death, and now he couldn’t control the rising terror that sought to consume him.
“C’mon! C’mon! Damn you!” He cursed the little Volkswagen which was so sensible for scurrying about town, but was a major disappointment when you’re fleeing for your life, especially on a muddy road, with deep ruts beaten into it after two days of hard rain. He was approaching the bottom of the hill, where the ruts just got deeper, and the Volkswagen just got lower. If he didn’t have enough speed to get over that stretch…
In a panic, and against better judgement, he floored the accelerator, and just as quickly realized his mistake, as the “bug” veered sideways, and he had to slowly ease off. “Damn!” he cursed again, “damn you!”, but his verbal accusations did not affect the performance of the beetle.
Back in control steady acceleration, keep it steady… With one hand, he carefully wiped the ‘sweat’ from the inside of the windshield. All that he could see was a driving rain, hurled against him as if trying to stop him from reaching the main highway, only a hundred yards away. A hundred yards between life and death.
“C’mon, oh God, c’mon!” He was truly asking for a higher power, something that would somehow propel him to that main paved highway…”God! God!…c’mon, you bastard! Don ‘t quit on me now!”
But it did. Neither God nor the beetle was going to accommodate him this night. As the little car hit the bottom of the hill, it sank into the deep ruts until the bottom scrubbed and embedded itself in the mud. Cal shoved his foot against the floor. Wheels merely spun as the motor whined its protest. H eased off, gave it a second, and rested his face against the steering wheel. He had never been a praying man. he had never believed in any kind of God, but he found himself praying. “Just…dear Lord, just give me the clarity of mind to think! Just show me a way! ”
He waited and pondered, but only for a second. They were coming. They would find him, and if they did…
“Shit!” He pushed the door open and stood in the drenching rain. Thank God it was summer. The rain was cold, but bearable. He tried to run, and found his fifty eight year old body toppling helplessly, face down, in mud. Maybe it would help. He suddenly remembered an old movie where a soldier had covered himself with mud to escape infrared. He pushed himself slowly from the mire and treaded as fast as he could toward the top of the hill. His feet would slide. Every few steps, he had to bend and catch himself, but he kept desperately pushing. Maybe he would make it. Maybe–
And then he saw it. As he looked over his shoulder, he saw the craft, dark and silent, sliding relentlessly through the air as steadily as if it rode on concrete. There was no sound, no reflection of any kind of light, but only a moving, searching light from the underside.
The light moved across the terrain methodically, looking for any unusual movement. Cal had to get off the road, into the woods. On either side, there was a high bank that had to be climbed. He quickly decided, and ran toward the ban on his left. At the base of the bank, he leaped, hoping for any kind of purchase, anything that might hold him, but his hands slid helplessly, along with his body, down the embankment. He quickly rose and backed up, getting ready for another flying leap, pausing only long enough to survey the bank for anything that he might hold on to.
Near the top, he saw a root protruding from the bank. It was small, but it might support him long enough to pull himself over. If he leaped high enough, he might make it. Only time for one chance.
In spite of himself, he looked to see where the craft was. Just as he looked, the light scouring the road stopped on his car. The light suddenly intensified, and the whole vehicle started to gleam as if bathed in a red hot lava. Just as suddenly, it exploded.
“My God!” he whispered, not daring to make any greater sound. Only one chance. If he missed that root…
He took one deep breath, and ran as fast as he could. His foot did not slide, and he felt himself leaving the ground driven by the acceleration of fear and terror. His hand reached for the root…Got it! He began to pull himself up, and then just as suddenly, he felt an instant of helpless terror as the root began to pull away from the embankment.
“Oh God, please! Just hold…” The root gave way, dropping Cal’s body down, and then suddenly held. He could make it! As if God had answered, the root not only was longer, but gave him room to hold with both hands and climb. He pulled his feet under him, and began to climb the bank. “Thank you, God. I’ll definitely see you in church this Sunday…”
He was exhausted as he pulled himself over. His marine training was too may years ago. He was soft. But thank God for adrenalin.
His lungs heaved from oxygen deprivation but he didn’t have time to rest. He had to find cover. The damn saucer was moving up the road again, still flashing that damn light back and forth methodically.
Cal ran into the woods and dove for a little ditch made in the ground. There were enough leaves to pull them over his body, still covered with mud, so maybe he could escape if he could just stop breathing so hard. His throat hurt from the gasping for air.
The craft then pulled alongside him, at the spot where he had climbed the bank into the woods. its lights were trained on the area where he had run and made his leap. They saw his tracks. They were studying them. They would soon realize he had climbed the bank, and they would start that methodical search with the damn light.
Cal froze under the covering of leaves, trying not even to breathe. His lungs begged for air, but he breathed as lightly as he dared. Rain pelted him, but he held still. Then came the light, the damn light. It moved right over him and beyond. Maybe he was somehow protected by the layer of mud. Maybe they could detect no body heat. The light came back over him again, but it didn’t stop. It kept methodically searching.
There was a movement just beyond him. Cal turned only his eyes, and saw a rabbit, startled from its hiding by the light. The rabbit began to run, and the instantly the light hit him and seemed to hold him in mid-air. Cal was close enough to hear tiny terror screams from the rabbit as it sat immobilized in the light. he watched as it squirmed, and then its head exploded. Cal almost gasped, but managed to keep control.
His heart was pounding. He was till so exhausted. It was beating so loud…Mentally he implored God to hear him just one more time, making any deal that seemed worthwhile. His heart was beating so loud, he feared a heart attack.
Suddenly in terror, he knew it wasn’t just his heart. It was them. Somehow, they had magnified the sound of his own heartbeat, and it was louder and louder. They were triangulating on his own heart! He could tell they were focusing closer as the light began to come closer and closer…
Cal held his breath, but his heartbeat now echoed through the trees and the rain, as if the whole forest were cooperating with the strange silent craft.
Suddenly the light hit directly in Cal’s eyes, and he knew the game was over. No use in hiding. Noting to do but run. He leaped up, but something strange was happening. His body wasn’t moving. He felt nothing, no pain, not even cold or wetness. he was frozen, as if out of time itself. Only a name now filled his mind: Helen. She would be waiting. She had begged him not to come. he wouldn’t come back to her. “Helen” he whispered, and the forest itself whispered as if mocking, her name ringing through the trees and the rain, mimicking his pain.
Then he felt the crushing pain tearing at his chest like a vice. He screamed, but the scream only amounted to a whisper, echoed once again through the trees and carried by the rain, “I love you, Helen!”