Escape Pod 572: Nothing to See Here
Nothing to See Here
By Arthur Doweyko
There is a comfort in the strength of love;
’Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would overset the brain, or break the heart.
I heard a squawk—kind of like the goose call that comes out of a police cruiser. Blinking red and blue lights danced on the window shade, so I figured they must have nabbed somebody. The trouble was, they were behind my house, in my cornfield.
I peeled back the shade, and what did I see but a crap-load of state police parked sort of in a big circle. The ground mist was so thick, I barely made out the cut corn stalks. The rows led to the police who looked like scarecrows poking up out of the fog—all facing in, staring at the same something. Whoever they got cornered was out-of-luck, that’s for sure.
Funny thing though—nobody was moving. They just stood at their cruisers. My eye drifted back over the rows. Something itched up the back of my mind, and then the sun peeped up over the tree line on the far side.
I threw on a pair of overalls and a flannel shirt, and jogged out to the back porch. “Hey, y’all. What’s going on?” They might’ve been about fifty yards off, but it seemed I wasn’t yelling loud enough for them to hear me. “I said, hey.”
My lungs weren’t all that strong and screaming was going to set me to coughing, so I stepped off the porch, and right away this trooper breaks through the fog, showing up like out of nowhere.
“Sorry, Sir. Please return to your dwelling.”
Dwelling? ”What are you talking about? You know you’re on my land? What’s going on out here, anyways?”
The guy was wearing one of them black outfits, helmet to boots. When he spoke, all I could see was his chin wagging. He raised a hand and pointed back to my house. “Sir, please move back. There’s nothing to see here.”
I was close enough now to see a little better. A motorcycle lay in the field. And that’s when I saw the top of a silvery ball sticking up through the soup. It was twirling around. Reminded me of one of them mirror balls they use at dances. It dawned on me what might be going on. “Is that one of them UFOs?”
A second officer came up to me, same outfit as the first, except he was carrying what looked like a shotgun. He waved it at me. “You’re Grady Pearson, is that right?”
Damn. “How d’you know my name?”
All I got was a blank stare.
“You must return to your dwelling.” He pointed his weapon away from my face and at my house. “It’s for your own safety, Mr. Pearson.”
That was serious talk. I pretty much figured there was no way I was going to win an argument. “What the hell is that thing?”
The first one took a step closer. “There is nothing to see here.”
Like a broken record. I shrugged, threw them both my best scowl, and made a show of taking my sweet time shuffling over to the back porch. When I sat in my rocker, the two turned away and joined the others. They got right back to staring at that ball.
I sat and I watched. The sun rose over the tree tops on the far side of the field, and it wouldn’t be long before the fog lifted. Damn, they couldn’t rightly tell me to go inside my dwelling, least ways I didn’t think so. I’d just wait and see what the fuss was all about. After all, they weren’t going to stay out there all day, were they?
“Grady Pearson, you gonna sit out here all morning?”
The squeal of the screen door and Edna’s sing-song voice worked together to get my attention. I must’ve dozed off, since the sun was way clear of the trees. She was holding the door open, and my stomach flipped at the smells of bacon and freshly brewed coffee.
“Damn, woman. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Ten years married, we knew each other real well. I admit that I was pretty much the grump and Edna, well she was an angel. She had to be.
“Sittin’ on your behind is what I see. You gonna come in for breakfast, or does your highness figure on being served out here?”
“Don’t you see what’s going on?” I pointed. The fog was gone, and that silver ball thing, some twenty foot wide I’d guess, kind of floated over the tops of the corn. It was hovering just like a UFO might. I was sure some little green folks would be climbing down out of it any second.
“That’s none of our business. Right now, your breakfast’s getting’ cold. ‘Sides, you can keep busy watchin’ the doings through the kitchen window.”
That woman was always right. ‘The morning chill was into my bones and I had to keep my mouth shut for fear of letting my teeth chatter. I followed her in.
“Pa, what’s all them police doin’ on our farm?”
Jenny’s missing front tooth always got me to smile. She was big for six and proud of the new one coming in. She told me that was part of turning into a grownup. She was a charmer. I loved that child and took in her face like I hadn’t seen it in years. It was like looking at a faded photo come alive.
“Don’t really know—some kind of police business.”
Edna slid a pair of fried eggs onto my plate and the toaster popped.
“Woman, how do you do it? It’s like you’re a kitchen magician.”
Jenny laughed and spilled some milk out of her glass. Just then I felt a tickle in the corner of my eye. I ran my finger up and came away with a tear drop.
“What’s the matter, Grady? Your eye givin’ you some problems?” Edna’s face had a shine on it, like it was glowing. Her dimpled cheeks got wider and she tilted her head, waiting on me to answer.
“Must be the grease smoke.”
She shook her head. “Ain’t no grease in my cookin’ mister. Maybe you caught yourself a cold sittin’ out there all morning long, that’s what.”
I reached out with a paper napkin and brushed off Jenny’s white moustache. “Maybe you’re right. Must be a chill.”
When Edna got to wiping down the counter, I turned away for a second and used the napkin to blow my nose. She was right. There wasn’t any smoke in the kitchen. I hadn’t felt this good in years. I was feeling damn happy and I didn’t know why.
While we ate, I kept taking peeks through the window. I figured that maybe the army might show, or maybe one of them black heliocopters’d be landing any minute now just like on TV.
“You savin’ that toast for the birds?”
Jenny was gone—probably off to her room and her dolls. The table was cleared up, and Edna had the dishes put away. I shoved the cold bread into my mouth and drowned it with the last of the coffee, the ice-cold coffee.
“Sorry. Must’ve been daydreaming.”
“You’ve been glued to the window, that’s what. Here.”
I don’t know how she did it, but she had my long coat in her hand. She helped me get it on, then handed me a fresh cup of coffee.
“You’re amazing, honey.”
“Don’t you go amazin’ honey me. You got chores, so don’t be sittin’ on your butt all day.”
I gave her a peck on the cheek, shuffled back out, and plopped down in my rocker. Even with the coat on, that chill found a way inside, down my back. It was a bit breezy. That’s probably what it was.
The door behind me squealed. “Daddy, daddy, you’re it.”
I felt my leg get poked, and when I looked down, all I saw was a streak of blonde hair running down the steps and out into the field. Edna’s voice reached me through the screen. “Grady, she’s all yours. Now don’t go gettin’ into dirt out there.”
My mouth fell open. “Hey, Jenny …”
She ran toward the corn. I felt my face get hot and my stomach turned over a few times. I got worried pretty easy. I set my cup on the railing and skipped down the steps. That 9-year old moved like a rabbit, and skittered into the stalks. Seeing the tall corn got me nervous. Something about them stalks.
A minute later I was out of breath and baby-stepping along a row, brushing back the sharp-edged leaves. Every now and then, I heard her giggle, loud and on purpose. Tag was Jenny’s favorite game, especially when I was it. That sweet little girl was a bundle.
And I really missed her.
I almost forgot about the police and that UFO thing. Fact is, I wasn’t even sure they were still out here.
I came on a patch of grass surrounded by corn as high as trees. Jenny sat in one of two chairs set up around a small table. She waved to me, holding up a tea pot and pointed to the empty chair. “Your tea is ready, daddy. Please sit here.” She still enjoyed pretend. I scooted over and sat down. She poured and nodded at an empty plate. “Would you like some? I made them fresh this morning.”
I nodded. Cranberry-orange scones were my favorite. We drank tea and ate, laughed and carried on like a couple of spoiled aristocrats. She was growing up fast.
There was a moment when we just stared at each other. Neither one of us even blinked. A funny kind of shadow passed over us. Everything got speckled, like one of them impression paintings I seen in the city. I looked up in time to catch a raindrop in the face. “Jenny, I think we’ve gotta get going.”
By the time I looked back down, she was gone. I heard the slap of corn leaves behind me, leading back to the house, so I jumped and went after her. The rain got a bit more heavy. The drumming on the corn got louder, and the wet cold stung my back. When I got to the porch, the screen door swung wide and Edna stuck her head out. “’Bout time you got back.”
“Is Jenny here? She was ahead of me. Damn rainstorm came up all sudden like.”
“She made it fine. You’re the one that’s soaked, and you ain’t comin’ in here with them clothes.”
She handed me a bath robe. How she knew I needed it was one of them mysteries of life. I left my wet stuff on the rocker. Damn, the heat from the stove felt real good.
“Is that you, dad?”
It was Jenny’s voice coming from the living room. I poked my head through the doorway. “Be right there, Jenny.” Her long hair fell away from her face as she looked up from my favorite leather recliner.
She had a book on each knee. “I’m stuck.”
Math was as tough on me as it was on her, but I figured two heads is better than none. Besides, I enjoyed the time we had together—time that got more precious with each passing year. She was already talking about graduate school, and that meant going away. I didn’t even want to think about her boy friend.
Before I could sidle over to see what senior college math looked like, Edna announced lunch was ready. Jenny snapped her books closed and beat me into the kitchen. I was a might slower with the rheumatism.
I sat next to her and chanced a look out the kitchen window. A few flakes of snow ran along the glass. The fallow field caught my attention for a moment longer. It was like I might have forgot something out there, maybe something real important.
Edna joined me outside after lunch. The late summer afternoon was perfect for a sit down. We had matching rockers, and I tried to keep up with her. What a gas. After a minute I gave up, and she slowed the pace. For a while, we held hands and listened to the larks gliding across the meadow. A draft of warm air carried with it sweet grass and plowed earth. It reminded me of the corn we used to grow in that field.
Edna sighed and said, “I could sit out here for the rest of my life.”
That’s how I felt. Life was good. With Jenny married, having two kids of her own, she and her hubby had little time for a visit anymore. It was just us now.
I looked at Edna and I saw the girl I married—scrawny and strong, pigtails and a summer dress, and a smile that melted my heart. We sat there for what seemed like hours.
I got up and turned the porch light on. One of the grandkids was at the door. Even at twelve, Josh was still bashful.
“What’s up, pardner?”
He smiled and whispered, “Gramps, I really like it here. Can I stay?”
“I wouldn’t mind, but your mom and dad might have somethin’ to say about that.”
The door sprung open and a blur came rushing out. His sister Julie was a tornado. She reminded me of Jenny when she was a kid. Two grandkids were sure more than I could handle.
“It’s gettin’ dark, Julie. Don’t go gettin’ lost and stay close to the house!”
I don’t think she heard me. The corn was high this season, and of course that’s where she went. She loved to run in the rows.
“I’ll go find her, Gramps.”
Josh walked off into the field, and that’s when I saw it—a damn silver ball, hanging out over the highest stalks. Before I knew it, my eyes blurred. I slumped back into the rocker and cried like a little girl.
The sun rose over the tree tops on the far side of the field and it wouldn’t be long before the fog lifted. I looked to the screen door, but I knew full well there’d be nobody there. I knew there’d be no breakfast and nobody calling at me in that sing-song voice, and no sweet little child waiting for me with a toothless grin. I felt tired and a peculiar heat inside.
A sparkle caught my eye and I turned back to see the ball rising over the police. It glittered and headed straight up without even a whisper. I could see the officers follow it up, moving their heads same as me. After a while it got lost in the blue.
I climbed down the porch and walked over. Some of them troopers were moving now, moving funny, kind of staggering back to their cruisers. One of them came to me—looked like the one with the black helmet from before.
“So?” I asked.
We stood staring at each other alongside a row of corn stumps. His helmet was in his hand and it fell to his side like it was hung on a rope. He was a young man, maybe twenty, with a wide smile and wet, blood-shot eyes. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. I was thinking about what to say, but when I locked in on his eyes, I realized he was just as put off as me. I wiped my cheeks with my arm and asked, “What just happened?”
He shook his head and turned back to his bike without saying a word.
A few minutes later all that was left were tire ruts crisscrossing the rows. A crow glided by like it was inspecting the damage and threw me a shout. I wandered over to a patch of grass near the tree line, all the while peeking over my shoulder, half-expecting someone on the porch.
The sun was just high enough to touch the top of the stone marker.
“Well, that was something weren’t it, Edna?”
I squatted and brushed away a twig and some leaves. Edna was always particular, fussy about everything being in its place. Little baby Jenny lay alongside her mom. I hated coming to see them. Gone twenty years now—it was like yesterday for me. But right this minute, something was different.
“Edna, I miss you honey, and Jenny, you sure grew up into a fine lady. Your mom and I would’ve been proud.” I caressed the stone. “Fact is, we are proud.” I stood and let go a heavy sigh. “Beautiful grandkids too.”
Somewhere, somehow, I knew we had a good life together. Maybe not here right now, but it just had to be true. I saw it myself.
When I got to the house, the newspaper boy pulled up on his bike along the driveway. He got off and looked up and down at all the tire marks. “Mornin’ Mr. Pearson. I heard there was a flying saucer here. Did you see it?”
I looked back at the field and across the tree tops. I thought maybe I should tell him about the big silver dance ball, about them troopers just standing out there, about Edna and Jenny and her kids—the amazing life that we had together. I felt my mouth turning up in a stupid smile. “Sorry, son. Nothing to see here.” My little joke.
The kid stared out past me. After a beat, he shrugged and pedaled off.
I stepped through the porch into the kitchen. Sitting on the table was a freshly brewed cup of coffee. I swore it was still steaming. I’m pretty sure I made that cup myself. Pretty sure.
About the Author
As a scientist, Arthur has authored over 100 publications, invented novel 3D drug design software, and shares the 2008 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award for the discovery of Sprycel, a new anti-cancer drug. He writes hard science fiction, fantasy and horror. His debut novel, Algorithm, is a story about DNA and the purpose of humanity. It garnered a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award (RPLA) and was published by E-Lit Books in 2014. Angela’s Apple won 1st place as best pre-published science fiction novel of 2014 (RPLA) and will be published by Red Adept Publications (July 19, 2016) as As Wings Unfurl. His short stories, P’sall Senji, The Last, and Nothing to See Here garnered Honorable Mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. He lives in Florida with his wife Lidia, teaches college chemistry and happily wanders the beaches when not jousting with aliens.
About the Narrator
Patrick is an American Actor/Voice Over Talent born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Patrick has voiced everything from PSAs to major product brands, with a deep, commanding voice often referred to as “The Voice of God.”