by Frank Dutkiewicz
Harold Travis opened his front door a crack and poked the barrel of his rifle through the gap. He did a quick scan of the area. No flaming bags on his welcome mat. No signs of toilet paper—or any other similar type of decoration—hanging off his roof. No buckets of liquid in position to dump on his head. The Nagoona already pulled those pranks on him before. They never did the same thing twice, but one could never be too cautious.
He kicked the door open and swung his rifle from side to side. Nothing jumped out at him. He probed the floorboards of his front porch, half expecting a trap door or something to spring up. Nothing. Satisfied, he stepped off his porch and onto his bone-dry land, peering up at the city-sized purple monstrosity that was still in the same position it had been for the past year.
Harold’s eyes narrowed as he viewed the ship. The Nagoona had robbed his ranch of nourishing sun and life-giving rain. They had chased away his family and neighbors. Everyone he knew and trusted were gone.
He lifted his hunting rifle and pointed it at the ship.
The gun kicked. The sound of a dog yelping boomed down from the floating behemoth. Yesterday it was the dinging of a bell from a carnival game. The day before it was a woman’s scream. It was never the same.
They think they’re so funny.
Harold found nothing funny about the intruders. They ruined his life. The Nagoona tormented him the first day they arrived and no one—the police, army or government—did a thing about them. How he wished they were dead.
A cloud of dust in the distance captured his attention. He tracked the black limousine as it bounced on his rut-filled dirt driveway followed by a jeep carrying soldiers. They stopped a few yards from his front door. The soldiers jumped out and pointed their weapons at him. Harold dropped his gun and held out his arms; he knew the drill. One of the soldiers did a quick pat of his clothes and grabbed the rifle. Satisfied, he signaled the limo.
Out stepped a Nagoona alien and Captain Charles Bellamare. The alien resembled how a man and lobster might look if you mated them together; two thick legs under a red exoskeleton frame, a pointed head with two beady eyes, segmented antennas that twitched, Popeye-like-forearms, and tentacles for fingers with an opposing claw for a thumb. Its head swiveled on broad shoulders with no visible neck.
“What is he doing here?” Harold asked the Air Force officer as they approached.
“Kazur asked to be here, Harold. Let’s talk about the cows.”
Harold spat out a gob of tobacco juice and glared at the mismatched pair. Without saying a word he walked over to his pickup truck and climbed in. He drove the old Ford a couple of miles to a pasture with the limousine following close behind. The field used to be his neighbor’s, but now the government owned it and allowed Harold to use it. Unlike his, this one got sun.
Harold parked and got out. The limousine stopped a few yards away. Harold, Captain Bellamare, and Kazur walked to the closest cow. It greeted them with a hound-dog’s howl. The one next to it meowed. Another squawked like a goose. One answered it with a donkey’s bray. The variety of sounds went on and on. The pasture sounded like a zoo: a hundred cows and not one moo among them.
“They ruined my herd. The whole lot of them are completely worthless.”
Captain Bellamare set a hand on his forehead and shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong with them, Harold. The Nagoona are playing another prank. Their interpreter device changed the sounds of the cows to make you think they’re making those noises.”
“You don’t know that, Chuck. You cut one of these things open and a jack-in-a-box will jump out. Mark my words.”
Captain Bellamare sighed and looked toward Kazur. Harold knew Bellamare couldn’t deny it.
“Why don’t you leave like your neighbors have, Harold? The government will compensate you and find you a nice place to live.” It was an offer Harold had heard a hundred times before.
“I don’t want to leave. This is my homestead.” Harold pointed at the hovering purple ship. “Make them leave.”
“We’ve gone over this before, Harold. The ship needs to stay here. We can’t allow it to get closer to Houston, and sending it over someone else’s house doesn’t make sense now. Besides,” Bellamare said as he swept an arm toward the alien ship that spanned half the sky, “the Nagoona like it here.”
Harold spat a wad of chaw at their feet and pointed with his chin at the ship. “I’m hoping that hurricane in the Gulf will come up and blow them bastards away.”
“We are currently taking steps to avoid that,” Kazur said. On cue, a hatch opened on the ship. An anchor and chain that should have been attached to an aircraft carrier dropped out, crashing into a barn on Harold’s land.
Captain Bellamare threw his hands up and glared at Kazur. “Sometimes I really wonder why you Nagoona came to us.”
“We are here to serve man,” answered Kazur.
“I wish someone would serve you in a hot pot of water,” Harold said to the lobster-man.
Captain Bellamare kept shaking his head at Kazur in the limousine long after they drove off of Harold’s ranch. “Why do you torment that man?”
Kazur looked up from a book with a steaming iron pot on its cover titled How to Serve Man. “In our culture, we find the one with the least sense of humor to be the funniest,” Kazur said, closing the book. “Although the metal holds no real value for us, in human terms, Harold Travis is worth more than his weight in gold.”
The next day Harold didn’t leave his house until mid-morning. When he walked out his front door he found three aliens in a bubbling hot tub pouring melted butter over their heads. Four soldiers stood close by, just to make sure Harold didn’t start an intergalactic incident.
Captain Bellamare talked on a cell phone next to the tub. He hung up when he saw Harold. “I spoke to my superiors. They agree that these pranks have gone on long enough. The negotiators are going to bring up how you’re being mistreated and are going to demand that they stop.”
A whump, whump noise cut through the air, catching the two men’s attention. From a distance, Harold could see a helicopter heading their way. It slowed as it neared the Nagoona ship, dipping below the purple vessel. It flew within a hundred yards of Harold’s house and landed. The pilot cut the power and the passenger jumped out. Harold raised his eyebrows when he noticed it was a woman. Her brisk walk looked angry. The closer she got, the angrier she looked.
Captain Bellamare straightened to attention as soon as he recognized her. The Nagoona in the tub greeted her with catcalls and whistles.
“Morons,” the middle-aged woman said as she walked by.
Bellamare snapped a salute. “Colonel Barnett! Glad to see you, Ma’am. This is the man I told you about, Harold Travis.”
She ignored Bellamare and addressed Harold. “You should have taken the Government’s offer while you had the chance, Travis.” She turned to Bellamare. “Captain, you are hereby ordered not to assist or try to convince Mr. Travis to leave this residence.”
“I—I don’t understand, Ma’am.”
“It’s like this, Charles,” she said through gritted teeth. “The Nagoona called our bluff and raised us. As soon as we demanded that they leave him alone, they broke off talks and said they were going to the Chinese unless we gave them the right to do what they wished with Mr. Travis. Starting ten minutes ago, Mr. Travis and his ranch fell under the jurisdiction of the Nagoona until the conclusion of these talks.”
“They must be joking, Colonel.”
“Who knows? They probably are, but I don’t want to learn Mandarin bad enough to call their bluff.”
A loud long grinding noise from the barn with the anchor that still stuck out of its roof interrupted the Colonel. It sounded as if lumberjacks were sawing through a log. Harold went to investigate and the two officers followed. Inside, a Nagoona alien stood near a workbench where a large two-handled tree saw, with one end mangled, lay. The alien held Harold’s brand new handsaw and was attempting to cut the mangled end off.
Harold put both hands on his head and shouted over the noise. “What are you doing!?”
The Nagoona alien stopped and motioned with the handsaw as he attempted to explain. “I saw the saw couldn’t saw, and I was sorry the saw couldn’t saw. So I sought a saw, so I could saw the saw, so the saw can saw. See?” The alien held up the handsaw. All the teeth were worn off. The edge was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Harold’s face flushed. “You ruined it!”
“Take it easy, pal. This will make a fine cheese knife. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck,” the alien replied in a perfect Curly Howard impersonation.
The three humans made a quick exit to escape the insanity of the barn. Outside, the Nagoona in the tub were dropping lemon wedges in with them.
“Can’t you just shoot them down?” asked Harold.
“Believe me, we already tried,” said Colonel Barnett. “You’re on your own, Travis.”
Colonel Barnett marched toward her helicopter. The Nagoona in the tub howled like construction workers enjoying the view. She gave them the middle-fingered salute as she walked past.
“Get off my land,” Harold said to Captain Bellamare. Bellamare shrugged and left in his car. Harold now had an idea why these aliens were here and why the military wasn’t doing anything about them. Just how hard have they tried to shoot the Nagoona down? He watched Colonel Barnett’s copter take off. One of the soldiers standing guard over the hot-tubing aliens snickered when a Nagoona cracked open a jar of cocktail sauce and took a swig.
Not very hard.
Harold began to form a plan in his mind. Tomorrow he would take matters into his own hands.
The next morning Harold woke up hours before the sun rose. He got in his pickup and drove east. Three hours later, he arrived at a fireworks place he knew as a kid. Jimmy’s Fireworks stand was now Big Bangers Fireworks Emporium, a supermarket for firecrackers.
After searching for thirty minutes he approached a clerk. The clerk listened to Harold then went into the back room. Harold went out the front door, walked behind the building and waited at the back. The clerk brought out a large dark package. With his wallet five hundred dollars lighter, Harold took off with the package that occupied most of the bed of his pickup.
Harold pulled his truck near the center of his property just before noon. He reached into the bed of his truck, struggling with the heavy package as he dragged it out. Harold drove the truck a quarter of a mile then walked back to the package and ripped off the covering.
The “Mountain Breaker” stood five feet tall. It promised to be the biggest, loudest, most explosive rocket ever sold, legal or otherwise, in the western hemisphere. Harold placed it upright and carefully read the directions. A blue Buick pulled up next to Harold’s pickup and Captain Bellamare hopped out.
“Harold, what are you doing?”
Harold ignored him and unraveled the ten-foot fuse.
“Get away from that thing before you blow yourself up.”
Harold lit the fuse and scurried over to where the Captain stood. “Let’s see how funny those bastards think this is,” he said to the Air Force officer.
Bellamare crossed his arms, shook his head, and watched the fuse burn toward the rocket. “I got ten bucks that says that thing isn’t going to do more than sparkle.”
The rocket roared when it ignited. Smoke trailed the missile as it traveled the entire five hundred feet straight up, just like the clerk promised. With a brilliant blast, it exploded under the Nagoona ship. The sound boomed off the purple monstrosity. Other explosions webbed away from the initial impact site. Smoke billowed out of every porthole and latch covering. The alien ship creaked like steel girders buckling under enormous strain as the explosions intensified. One end started to dip. Lights flickered throughout the ships surface. Then they all went out at once.
One end of the Nagoona ship started to fall. It let out a whine like a B-17 just shot out of the sky. Both men screamed and grabbed onto each other, seeing their impending doom at hand. The north end of the alien ship was going to impact with Harold’s house. He closed his eyes.
Harold opened his eyes and saw the city-sized ship balancing on the tip of the weather vane on Harold’s house.
Just another joke!
He gritted his teeth. Bellamare still held Harold in an iron embrace. Harold shoved the man away.
A hatch on the ship blew open and a blizzard of confetti jetted out, raining on top of the two men. Harold spent the next minute digging, spitting, and coughing his way out from the confetti mound. When he got his head free, he saw the Nagoona ship perched back above his ranch as if nothing happened.
Captain Bellamare’s head popped out of the hill of confetti and he spit out a mouthful of shredded paper. His dumbfounded expression said it all.
“Get off my land,” Harold ordered.
Harold spent the rest of the day on his tractor. With the front-end loader, he scooped up the shredded paper and put it in a pile under the center of the hovering spaceship. Just as the sun went down, Harold set the pile of paper on fire. A probe the size of a small car floated down with a skewer attached to it and a marshmallow as big as a washing machine at its end. The probe stuck the marshmallow in the flames to roast.
“I’m done with you. Do you hear?” Harold said to the probe while it hummed “Kum Ba Yah.”
“I’m done being your clown.” He turned his back on the probe and walked to his house. Once inside he locked the door and pulled all the shades.
Harold stayed inside. He wouldn’t step out the door. He wouldn’t look out the window. He refused to answer the phone. The plumbing still worked and there was plenty of food stored in the basement; he had everything he needed. There was nothing out there for him.
For months he lived in silence. Every so often, someone would knock on the door. He ignored it, for he was sure a pie in the face would be there to greet him if he opened it. One day the door banged violently.
“Harold! Harold! You got to get out!” The voice belonged to Captain Bellamare. “Harold! Listen to me! It’s the sun! It’s the reason why the Nagoona are here!
“Go away!” he said in a raspy voice. They were the first words Harold spoke out loud in months. “It’s just another one of their jokes!”
“No, Harold! You need to listen! The Nagoona are here to save us! They’re going to take us to their Dyson Sphere. The sun is going to go nova! Come see for yourself!”
Harold opened the door. The shadow still covered his ranch. He pointed his rifle at Bellamare’s chest.
“Harold, there are only a few people left on Earth. The sun is going to explode. You need to come...”
Harold cocked the rifle to place a bullet in the chamber. He lifted the weapon and aimed it between the captain’s eyes. “Say one more word and I’ll blow your head off.”
Captain Bellamare retreated slowly, and then ran to his car. Harold watched long enough to see the Buick spit gravel under its tires and head down his driveway. He shut the door and locked it. No one else bothered him.
Two weeks later, while lying in bed, Harold heard a hum from outside. Sunlight shone through the window once again. Harold ran down his stairs and threw open the door.
The purple alien ship that had cast a shadow on his home for so long disappeared into the blue skies. After two years, sunlight returned to his land. Harold stepped out to take a look.
The sun looked sick. Sun spots dotted its orange surface. A Nagoona ship, twenty yards in diameter, descended from the clouds and landed near Harold. Six Nagoona aliens came out.
“Your bravery has inspired us,” said the leader of the group. “We six have decided to stand with you.”
“What?” Harold started to say.
“It is time.”
The six aliens turned to face the sun. It suddenly went dark, then brilliant. Star matter flew off its surface. It made a pattern that resembled a rose.
“Ooooooo,” cooed the six Nagoona.
The sun went dark again, then brilliant. Two flares shot off its surface. They became rings: one red, the other blue.
“Aaaaahhh,” marveled the aliens.
Matter blasted out from the star. A kaleidoscope of colors bathed the sky. It reminded Harold of a grand finale to a cheap firework show.
The Nagoona raised their arms and cheered, “YYEEAAAHH!”
Two black spots appeared on the sun’s surface. A black U-shape traced across the sun and under the spots. Earth’s star was now a smiley face staring back at Harold. The next instant the face faded away and the sun returned to normal.
Harold looked away. Spots filled his vision. He rubbed his eyes while he yelled at the aliens.
“You crazy, insane, lunatics! You tricked all the people to leave and faked the sun exploding for a joke?”
“That would be a great joke,” admitted the alien’s leader, “but even we Nagoona wouldn’t go to those lengths for just a laugh. We need your Solar system’s raw material for our Dyson Sphere.”
“Even the Earth?”
“Especially the Earth. It has a natural wealth of oxygen and water. It would take a lot to change the atomic structure of other elements to create oxygen and water as pure as Earth’s.
“It will take some time before we extract them. We plan on stripping the ice rings from Saturn first. We’re then going to smash it into Jupiter. It should be a great show.”
Harold looked around. Everything seemed so empty. No people. No animals. Only the sound of wind on the plains remained.
“Why me?” he asked.
“It is because you are loved by trillions. You are our most popular entertainer on our Transmaglalaticormiger Visuamalholothon.”
“We just call it TV.”
All the people; gone. The Earth now a rock of raw material, all more than Harold could soak in.
The trembling Nagoona of the bunch approached Harold with a sheet of paper and a pen. “Excuse me sir. I am your biggest fan. It would mean so much to me if I could have your autograph.”
Harold took the pen, and in big letters, wrote two words that summed up just how he felt. The alien gazed at the paper and clutched it close to its chest.
“Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. You. Can I call you by your first name?”
Harold stared at it, expressionless. He shook his head and turned to the leader to ask, “What will happen to me now?”
“You are the last person left on the planet. Technically, that makes you the Ruler of Earth. What is your wish, Sire?”
It took Harold a half of second to think of his one and only edict. “Get off my planet and never set foot on it again.”
The aliens walked back to their vessel and filed in. The ship rose twenty feet in the air and positioned itself directly over Harold, the sun’s rays once again blocked from Harold’s view. He started to walk away then ran as the ship matched every one of his steps.
Harold gave up and looked around. He saw nothing. No cows in his field. No birds in the air.
Am I really the last one on Earth? He needed to find out for himself.
Harold started walking toward Houston. Aside from the foliage, he saw no living things along the way. Could they have taken all the animals as well? Harold reasoned that if they could fake the sun going nova, they were probably capable of anything.
For miles he marveled at the silence and calm. The world felt empty. Aside from the wind, Harold only heard the sounds of his footsteps. Harold walked the entire way from his isolated ranch to the outskirts of Houston. His unwanted shadow, and the one it cast, followed him every step of the way. He walked the rest of the day. He walked all night, sticking to the road, for there were no lights left to illuminate the night.
When the first light of dawn appeared, the Nagoona saucer positioned itself to block Harold’s view.
Can’t even let me see the sunrise, can you? You pricks.
The city skyline appeared right in front of him. He walked down the boulevard to where the tallest buildings stood. The saucer hovered above the towers, maintaining a shadow over Harold.
“Hello!” he shouted. The echo in the deserted city went on and on. Harold walked through the downtown area, hoping to find a sign of life. When he came to a department store he walked inside. The shelves were emptied of all but a few products. He made his way to the sporting goods section. Behind a glass display, he found what he needed.
He grabbed a baseball bat from a shelf and smashed the display. Harold reached in to seize the lone Colt .45 left behind.
Why go on? Harold stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He gagged. Harold pulled the barrel out and saw a flag with “BANG” written on it. He threw the gun and for the first time in three decades, began to cry. He grabbed a handkerchief nearby to dry his tears. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror. His face had ink all over it from the handkerchief.
Harold screamed. He grabbed the bat and swung, shattering the mirror. He marched through the store, bashing things as he made his way toward the exit. He smashed the glass door, went out into the parking lot, pointed the bat at the saucer, then stopped.
No. This is what they want.
It suddenly dawned on him that he was dealing with children. Starved-for-attention children, not much different than the drunken idiots that would tip his cows for kicks.
I am not going to play their game anymore.
The only way to deal with beings that thrived on misery was take away their fun. If he ignored them, they’d get tired of tormenting him, and eventually leave him alone.
He spied the bench across the street. He discarded the bat and walked toward it. It all became clear to him. He knew what he must do.
I am just going to sit here like I’m waiting for the bus. No matter what happens from now on, I am going to ignore it.
Confident that he came up with a solution to foil the Nagoona, Harold took his seat and resolved never to move again. No matter what happened, he would ignore it.
He wasn’t even going to acknowledge the whoopee cushion he sat on.
Copyright 2012 by Frank Dutkiewicz