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FICTION
The Earthling Diaries
Tom Mead

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I

Three words to describe Sheila Norris would be “liar,” “whore” and “communist.” She was a communist because she believed in the forbidden teachings of Karl Marx, which were something along the lines of we should all give our money to the government or something. She was a liar because she kept these perverse and illogical beliefs to herself. And she was a whore because she had for the last six months been screwing her local (married) police chief, Chief Arnold Cooper.

Of these three words (liar, whore, communist), it was the middle one which gave Sheila the greatest pride. In another world, another life, she would have worn it as a badge of honor. But it was November 1961- a full two years before the philandering President of the United States was shot to death in Texas- and a lying communist whore was not widely perceived as a great thing to be.

Sheila worked for a national scandal rag based out in Greycloud, Indiana called the American Investigator. The paper had offices in the center of town, on a dingy dust-blown high street. They would print stories of Bigfoot sightings, Hollywood murders, two-headed babies. Often they would recycle old crime scene photos from twenty or thirty years ago- Chicago mobsters shot to death in delicatessens or behind the wheel of cars; things like that.

The reason the Investigator was based out in Greycloud, in the back-of-beyond, was simple. This was the UFO capital of America. More sightings per capita than the rest of the nation combined.

The reason Sheila was based out here was also simple. Greycloud was home to the fabled “Area C.” You may not have heard of Area C. It was a government compound (now inactive) out in the desert, ringed by barbed wire and guard towers. From the highway, all you could see beyond the fence were a few aircraft hangars. But Sheila had her suspicions.

Right now though, which was a sunny, breezy afternoon in early November ’61, Sheila was in her office at the Investigator. A ceiling fan whirled overhead, blowing the jumble of papers heaped on her desk into further disarray. Sitting across the desk from her was Bernie Fowles, decked out in his best suit. He had an incredibly distressing story for her.

‘What they do is, they take these metal rods- seven of them- and they insert them into every orifice. That is, nostrils, ears, mouth, anus, reproductive organs.’

‘Reproductive organs,’ Sheila repeated, scribbling this down.

‘What they want to do is, they want all the metal rods to meet in the middle.’

‘Why?’

‘To prove something.’

‘What?’

Bernie smiled a little sadly. ‘If we knew that, Miss Norris…’

‘Uh-huh,’ said Sheila, lighting a cigarette and pluming smoke into the poor man’s face. ‘And this happened to you when?’

‘On three occasions,’ he told her with quiet pride. ‘The first was summer 1957. The second was New Year’s Eve 1959. The third was just last night.’

Bernie always gave good copy. And he was one of the American Investigator’s more coherent contributors.

‘Where were you?’

‘On all three occasions I was driving along Route 32.’

No surprise there: Route 32 ran right alongside Area C.

‘And these visitors, they look like…?’

‘They take a number of forms. Their aim is to take the form which appears least distressing to human eyes. So when they took me, they looked like Lou Gehrig.’

On it went, this sad little tale. When she had everything she needed, Sheila paid Bernie and ushered him out of her office. At the door she said, ‘Bernie, will you do me one favor?’

‘What?’

‘Stop driving down Route 32.’

And he laughed a little, and was gone.

It did not matter what Sheila was writing about. Whatever the subject, she could spread messages from coast to coast using anagrams and acrostics to conceal her true meaning. This was why she may as well have written about Bernie and his probes as anything else. And Bernie was at least polite, soft-spoken and easy to get along with. He was always glad of the few bucks she threw his way.

He was also her last appointment of the day. Sheila left the office early. There was no one around to reprimand her, and there was somewhere she needed to be.

II

When Bernie Fowles left the American Investigator offices that afternoon, he headed for Toledo’s, a bar across the street where Investigator hacks would sometimes go to waste their paychecks. He had Sheila’s money in his pocket- a few crumpled bills- and he knew what he was going to do with them.

Seating himself at the bar, he ordered whisky. As it was poured out in front of him, he said the magic words: ‘Leave the bottle.’

In a way, Bernie was celebrating. Not because of the story- he could sell stories any time he wanted. This was something much more important. He was going to change lives.

‘How’s tricks, Bernie?’ said the barman.

‘Pretty good,’ said Bernie between sips.

‘Got any stories for me?’

Bernie thought for a second. Did he have any stories he could share with the barman at Toledo’s?

‘Sure I’ve got a story for you. You want to hear the one about the communists at the American Investigator?’ 

III

Out on the furthest edge of Greycloud stood the Gainsborough Motel, which resembled from the road nothing so much as a messy stack of slates. The unevenly constructed, tumbledown motel run by a half-blind, all-mad old woman named Tallulah was the location Sheila and Chief Cooper chose to conduct their affair.

On leaving the office Sheila drove straight there and, to her delight, found Chief Cooper’s car already parked up outside. He was waiting for her in their usual room: Number 36.

She eased open to door to room 36 and found the Chief snoozing nude on the bed. As she stepped in and closed the door behind her, certain unprofessional thoughts flashed through her mind about the putrid decadence of the West.

IV

Chief Arnold Cooper had arrived at the Gainsborough Motel with a lot on his mind. He was looking forward to some no-nonsense, no-strings attention from sweet Sheila. When he got to the motel he nodded at Tallulah in her little hatch, who ignored him as he ambled over to room 36.

In the room he lit a couple of candles, closed the drapes and began to undress. He had maybe half an hour to himself. This half-hour was perhaps the most terrifying. Nothing to occupy his mind but the petty tribulations of Chief Arnold J. Cooper.

Arnold had been engaged in a raucous extramarital affair for about six months, and he was starting to think his beautiful, perfect wife May had in fact known about it all along. Something in her manner, a certain vacancy in those dark eyes, or how they could never quite meet his own gaze head-on.

But here was Arnold’s flaw: he couldn’t bring himself to face her. It was easier to skulk off to the Gainsborough Motel to see Sheila, with whom he did not have to talk.

V

Arnold suddenly sat up, and was startled by the curious spectacle of his own genitals in front of him. Sheila stood at the foot of the bed, head cocked, appraising him.

‘Jee-zus!’ he yelped. ‘You scared the living hell out of me!’

‘I could say the same thing,’ said Sheila with a lop-sided little smile.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and yawned. ‘I must not be getting enough sleep at night.’

‘Sleep is for the just,’ said Sheila, removing her chiffon scarf and draping it over the back of a chair.

VI

That night, Bernie Fowles dozed fitfully on a bench on Greycloud high street. The money he got from Sheila had seen him through about two and a half bottles of whisky: he could not have told you what happened to the remains of the third bottle.

It hadn’t been his intention to get quite so drunk. After all, he had important work to do. He was awoken at around five-thirty the following morning by a local dog- a runaway- sniffing wetly at his crotch. Bernie burbled something unintelligible and slapped the dog’s snout away. The dog, affronted, bit his hand and then bolted. The pain was sufficient to bring Bernie back to life. He scrambled off the bench, swaying where he stood. He looked at himself reflected in a nearby shopfront. Unshaven, yes, and with breath like mustard gas, but he was at least wearing his best suit.

Bernie wandered the streets awhile, clearing his head and reciting his spiel. It was important to get the words right. So much hinged on the choice of words.

‘Good morning,’ he said when he got to the police station.

The desk sergeant, still bleary-eyed, looked up at him. ‘Bernie, you stink.’

‘I need to speak to Chief Cooper.’

‘How drunk are you, Bernie?’ the sergeant half-rose, sniffing the air.

‘Are you listening to me?’ said Bernie, his voice rising, ‘It’s an emergency!’

The sergeant sighed. ‘Not in yet, Bernie.’

‘What?’

‘Chief’s not in yet.’

‘Well… when will he be in?’

The sergeant slapped the desk with his palm. ‘Damn it Bernie, how the hell should I know? Now are you gonna tell me what it is you want or not?’

But it was Bernie’s lucky day. At that moment Chief Arnold Cooper strode into the building. There was purpose in his step.

‘Chief! Chief!’ cried Bernie.

‘Sorry ‘bout this, Chief,’ said the desk sergeant.

But Chief Cooper did not seem to hear either of them. He headed past the desk to the rear of the building, to his own private office. He stepped inside and let the door swing shut.

Bernie and the desk sergeant looked at each other. It was half-past seven in the morning.

VII

‘Bernie Fowles came to see me this morning.’

Chief Cooper and Sheila Norris sat in a booth in the dingiest corner of Toledo’s.

‘Oh yes?’ Sheila lit herself a cigarette.

‘He had a funny little story for me.’

‘Was it the one with the aliens that look like Lou Gehrig?’

Chief Cooper chuckled. ‘No, nothing like that. He came to tell me you are a communist.’

It was the lunchtime rush in Toledo’s Bar, which meant the place was nearly a third full. The barman (was this Toledo himself? Sheila was unsure, though she’d been coming in here for close to two years) had been eyeing the couple suspiciously from the moment they entered. Chief Cooper had not noticed, but Sheila had. She was trained to notice things like this.

‘A communist?’

Chief Cooper shrugged. ‘That’s what he says. He wanted me to come down and arrest you straight away.’

‘Aha, so that’s why you wanted to meet…’ Sheila was smiling when she spoke, though she feared he would spot the narrow vein throbbing at the side of her throat.

The chief grinned mirthlessly. ‘He’s got irrefutable proof.’

‘Oh really? Like what?’

‘I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. I didn’t stay to hear him out.’

Sheila sat for a moment.

‘What is it Arnold? What’s the matter?’

He sighed. A desperate, deflated sound. ‘It’s May.’ With a faintly tremulous hand he produced an envelope. This he slid across the table for Sheila to look at. She seized it and peered inside. Just an ordinary letter.

‘This is from May?’ she unfolded it and read:

Arnold,

The time has come for me to tell you the God’s honest truth. For the past three years my heart has belonged to another. His name is Lenny and he is a groundskeeper by trade. God knows I would not have wanted to brake it to you like this, but Lenny and I have run away to-gether. We will not be coming back. Thanks for everything.

Regards,

May.

Sheila read all this with one eyebrow satirically arched. ‘Well,’ she said.

‘I just, I don’t know what to do,’ said Chief Cooper. ‘It was on the kitchen table waiting for me when I came home yesterday.’

‘Doesn’t seem like much you can do,’ said Sheila. ‘Doesn’t seem like she wants you to do anything.’

‘What, and just let her go? I should just let her go?’

Sheila shrugged. ‘It’s up to you. What do you want me to say?’

The chief rubbed his forehead. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’

‘Seems like she’s made up her mind…’

‘No!’ he slammed the table with his fist, made the booze leap from the glasses. ‘She’s scared, that’s why she’s running away. We’re both scared. I can’t lose her, Sheila…’ And now he did begin to cry. Ugly tears.

The barman- Toledo?- mopped the bar to hide his embarrassment.

‘Okay now,’ said Sheila. ‘Let’s try and keep things in perspective, shall we?’

They left the bar soon after that. Chief Cooper clung to Sheila’s arm as though to a priceless commodity. Sheila glanced each way nervously as they ambled into the sunlight. She was just beginning to extricate herself from the chief’s booze-addled grip when a man lumbered out of a vacant shop doorway. It took her a moment to recognize this man as Bernie Fowles. He stood before them a moment, swaying on the spot, agog with horror. He saw Chief Cooper gripping Sheila’s arm.

‘No!’ he bellowed. ‘Not you, Chief! Not… you…!’ And he was away at a sprint, the soles of his boots pounding the sidewalk like a jackhammer.

They watched him go. ‘What is wrong with everyone today?’ said Sheila. Then she slipped out of Chief Cooper’s grip and headed back to work.  

When she got up to her office, she glanced out the window. This window of hers looked out on the high street, on Toledo’s. Chief Cooper was gone, but Sheila saw the barman- what the hell was his name?- watching her evenly from across the street. They made unpleasant eye contact for what must have been half a minute.

What is he looking at? She wondered, and then closed the blinds.

She sat down at her desk, the tip of her cigarette luminous orange in the dim light, and began to type, her elegantly manicured fingers clattering across the keys.

VIII

On the outskirts of this unimportant little town, Bernie Fowles was roaming up and down Route 32. It was the busiest time of day on that stretch of road, and Bernie meandered in and out of the traffic, drawing offensive honks from roadsters roaring past. With his hands he flapped at them like some pitiful sea-bird. His face was dirt-caked and crazy. The drivers paid him no mind; they guessed someone would be by to pick him up eventually.

‘You’ve gotta help me!’ is what he was screaming at them. ‘It may already be too late!’  


Tom Mead is a UK-based author of short fiction. Previous examples of his work have been published by “Litro Online,” “Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine” as well as various anthologies.