by Van Peletkian
Camillo Alves walked along the periphery of the farmland. It was a hot night, but that was typical for summertime in Arizona. Beginning at his forehead—from the hairline of his dark brown almost black hair, all the way down to his chin—he wiped sweat from his face with the edge of his unbuttoned flannel shirt, pinching the fabric around the end of his beard to make sure that he caught all the perspiration. Camillo was a rather plain looking man, a little stocky, with gentle eyes, ancestrally Brazilian but raised in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, even though he now lived in Arizona due to the price of land being cheaper.
He followed the beam of his flashlight, keeping his eyes peeled for any activity of the javelinas that had been ravaging his crop. While he had a rifle with him, he hadn’t decided as to whether or not he would be using it once or if he found anything. He hadn’t ever used it for anything other than firing it into the air to scare away coyotes. They were just animals doing what animals do, he couldn’t blame them for that, and death seemed too harsh of a punishment for acting on instinct. He just wished they’d understand that they were eating his cantaloupe crop too early and too rapidly, and if they’d wait another couple of weeks, their scrounging would be met with not only better, more succulent rewards, but he probably wouldn’t even notice the loss.
Camillo had been out for somewhere near half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, and not wanting to worry Frida, he decided to turn around and start heading back to the farmhouse—a small, rustic, single-story. The warm yellow lights were beacons in the vast open countryside, visible for nearly a mile. It had seen better days, but they were proud homeowners nonetheless, despite their meager income.
The stars were magnificent, and he gazed upwards as he walked. There were two stars, brighter than the others that caught his eye. He hadn’t remembered seeing them before, and observed them only momentarily, before realizing they were getting brighter. He stood watching them, two pinpoints of light in the sky getting larger. Were they airplanes? He listened to the silence for the rumble of engines, and hearing nothing of the sort, he ruled that out. There wasn’t any tail that would indicate a comet or meteor, either. Whatever they were, they had gotten even closer now, like flashlights pointing downwards at the earth.
A rumbling murmur filled the night sky, vaguely reminding Camillo of the whoosh of a waterfall. The lights were now close enough that Camillo could see they would land on the opposite edge of his farmland. Dark cylinders, massive in size, vertical in position; not airplanes at all. They were spaceships. Could they be considered UFOs? Was he bearing witness to his own personal Roswell? The ships disappeared over the horizon line and he ran after them, sending up a wall of dust. Curiosity and fear bubbled within him. He had to see what they were.
They stood like silent monoliths as the dust settled and he got closer. They maintained their vertical position even after having landed. Bigger than he had thought them to be originally, Camillo could now fully see them, easily over one hundred feet in height, the earth around them burned black from the landing. By the way the moonlight reflected he guessed their exterior coverings to be either white or silver, but he couldn’t tell which with certainty.
He stopped a few hundred yards away, not daring to move any closer because he didn’t know what to expect. Who was inside? Who should he tell about this? Should he keep it a secret or call the police? Before Camillo could make up his mind on what to do, a whirring sound emanated from the spaceship closest to him. The sound of pistons moving and other internal machinations adjusting caused him to run. The spaceships were opening, and whoever was inside was going to come out. Camillo was sure they would make their way toward the first light source they could see—his house. He had to get back and protect his home from whatever was to come.
Frida Alves was doing dishes when Camillo burst through the door startling her. She stood dumbstruck in her apron, tied above her T-shirt and shorts. Like Camillo, Frida was Brazilian and raised in the United States. She had short cropped hair and was more striking than Camillo. She watched as her husband shut off the outside porch light, then the living room light, and finally made his way into the kitchen turning off the light in there as well, leaving them in the dark.
“Camillo! What are—”
“Go into the living room,” Camillo said forcefully, pushing past her hurriedly, making his way out the back door and into the back yard. She watched as he rushed out to the barn to turn off the single hanging bulb above the door. Already shaken by the urgency in his voice, Frida couldn’t help but notice his rifle was at the ready—something was wrong.
When Camillo returned, charging back in through the back door as hurriedly as he had exited, he locked it behind him. The house was completely immersed in darkness save for the light of the full moon pouring in through the windows.
“Camillo, you have me scared half to death, what is going on?” Frida asked as Camillo made his way from window to window drawing the curtains. He walked to the television and turned it on. He was met with nothing but static.
“What’s wrong with the TV?” he demanded, almost frantically.
“I don’t know. The dish must be out,” she responded.
Was the dish out due to interference from the landing?
“Camillo, tell me—?”
“Damn it! I need the news!” He turned off the TV and rushed to the windows, peaking through the curtains—the light of the television very well could have given the house away. Stupid.
He looked out over the vast desert landscape, straining his eyes for any movement, any indication of the inevitable visit from the occupants.
He sighed with relief. Safe.
For now, at least.
He walked to the radio sitting on the table in the corner. Turning it on and fumbling the knobs with shaking hands, he searched through the static for a voice, any voice of authority that might tell him what was going on and what to expect from this sudden arrival of beings from the stars. Somebody—a scientist, the military, some kind of intelligence agency or government facility—had to have been tracking these things since they entered orbit, maybe even before that. Finally, a voice broke through the hissing static.
He turned up the volume.
“—state legislation has blocked a bill requesting to mine on the southern border of Grand Canyon National Park. After the break, the weather.”
Camillo frowned. Had he missed something? No, he couldn’t have. The voice on the radio was so calm, so collected. If any person had reported the landing of a space craft of unknown origin their voice would be panicked and excited, Camillo thought. This voice was blasé, calm, bland.
Camillo’s mind reeled, trying to rationalize it. Maybe they weren’t allowed to report what was going on. Could it be an issue of national security?
Frida grabbed his arm. “Camillo, please! Tell me what is going on!”
“I saw something,” he began. “Something in the sky.”
“Spaceships,” he blurted. “I saw spaceships.”
“Spaceships? Are you sure? Not just planes? Or satellites?”
“They were spaceships!” he said with more indignant force than was necessary. “I know what I saw, and they landed in the eastern field.”
“On our property?”
Frida walked away from him and went toward the door. Before Camillo could intervene she had swung it open and walked out onto the porch.
“Frida! What are you doing?” Camillo whispered harshly.
“I want to see,” she replied. “If there really are spaceships like you said and not just your hot-headed sci-fi mind getting the better of you, let me see the—” Her voice trailed off as she reached the end of the porch and saw them. Almost trancelike, Frida began walking toward the eastern field.
“Frida, please! We need to go back inside. It’s not safe out here. They might see us.”
Frida stopped and faced Camillo. “Who are they?”
“The spaceships were opening. I heard a buzzing, and some kind of whirring, and I ran back to the house as fast as I could. Something was coming out. Now can we go back inside, please?”
Frida could feel her husband’s hand shaking around her wrist. She looked back toward the tall shadows, and then at Camillo, before acquiescing.
Once back inside Camillo shut the door behind them and locked it.
“If something did leave the spaceships, then what do we do?” Frida asked.
Camillo was silent, contemplative in the dark. He sat down, the gun racked across his knees. He looked at the barrel, shining dully in the moonlight. Would he have the nerve to use it if push came to shove? He looked at his wife somberly.
“Nothing we can do except wait for them to come to us.”
Gretchen Steiner sat silently in her office as Annie Teague explained the situation.
Just hours ago she had been on a video feed in a NASA control room amongst a throng of cheering engineers and scientists as the cargo pod broke into the upper atmosphere, and then beyond. It flew magnificently, a by-the-books launch. As overseer of the launch, Gretchen couldn’t have hoped for anything better. Not only would the International Space Station be receiving a whole myriad of much needed supplies, but the maiden voyage of their improved cargo pod was a success.
She wore a thin smile, determined to maintain her professionalism even though she was jumping for joy inside.
It was when the boosters disengaged that things took a turn.
“And now they’re lost,” she interrupted, flatly. Her intense gaze pierced through Annie, who had tried to pass it off as a simple mistake of entering a few latitude and longitudinal numbers in the wrong order for the re-entry.
“Well, no, not exactly ‘lost.’ We know where they are, they’re just not where they should be. We had visual on them the entire time. It was a good re-entry burn.”
“Don’t patronize me, Annie. Just tell me how bad it is.”
“Could have been worse, all things considered,” Annie began. “They landed just as they should have, nothing seems to be damaged—and the news gets better. They’re stateside, and we’ve determined they’re just across the Arizona border. From the camera feed they appear to have landed in an empty stretch of farmland.”
“How long until we can have people on site?”
“They should be en route within the hour.”
“Good. We need them out of there before this becomes a media circus. Thank you, Annie.”
She watched as Annie disappeared from view. She removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose to appease the cluster headache she could feel forming behind her eyes. She sighed and reached for the telephone to call some of the higher ups to let them know of the situation—and call somebody in public relations as a precaution.
“Camillo?” Frida said in the dark, sitting on the couch across from her husband. Camillo grunted in acknowledgment. “How long are we going to sit here in the dark? Can’t we just go to bed?”
“How can you think about sleep at a time like this?” he asked.
“It’s been so long and nothing’s happened. Maybe they went somewhere else?”
She heard Camillo scoff. “And where else would they go other than here? There’s nobody else around. Our house is the only place for them to go—”
“What is that noise?” Frida asked. Camillo listened, realizing now that there had indeed been a rumbling, starting quiet and growing in intensity. Frida got up and walked to the kitchen. She peered out through the curtains.
“Camillo!” she exclaimed. “Lights!”
He got up and walked hurriedly to the window. As they watched, Camillo and Frida saw a multitude of lights circled around the spot where the spaceships had landed.
“What are they doing?” Frida asked.
“It must be the government,” Camillo said. “Taking them away to somewhere like Area 51.”
“Does this mean we’re safe?”
Camillo opened his mouth to respond but then he saw the unmistakable beams of flashlights, moving all about.
“They’re searching for the crew.”
Gretchen Steiner waited impatiently at her desk for her video call to connect. There must not have been a good wi-fi network out there. From her image displayed on the computer screen she could see that she looked tired. Her eyes were red at the edges and her make-up was starting to cake. She must have been sweating more than she thought. She was always plagued by anxiety sweats. Before she could truly scrutinize her appearance, the face of the technician, Markus Belfort, appeared on the screen.
“Mrs. Steiner?” his voice questioned as his round, stubbled face took over the screen. He was holding his phone too close. “Gretchen?”
“Yes, Markus, I’m here,” she said.
“Hey, sorry it took so long, there wasn’t any connection. Had to walk a little ways but I think we’re good now. I’m heading back to the site. Let me know if you lose me.”
“Just tell me what we’re looking at,” she said. Markus repositioned the phone so it pointed out into the field.
“Can you see the boosters?” he said. “I can’t tell what I’m pointing at.”
“Just flip the camera, Markus,” she replied irritably. “Button on the top right of your screen.”
“Okay, hold on,” Markus fumbled a little but eventually the screen flipped. “Oh hey, that’s great!” The site was now in full view for Gretchen. Markus continued. “As you can see, they’re all in one piece. We can probably have ‘em out of here by—what time is it now?”
Markus’ camera went grey as he closed the camera to check the time. Another annoyance on Gretchen’s part. Time was of the essence.
“It’s 1:20,” he said.
“I’ve got 1:17.”
“I was rounding up.”
“We can’t afford to,” she said flatly.
“Well, we’ve got the flatbeds out here already and they’re in position. We hit a bit of a snafu with the cranes but we’re back on track. Aside from the burnt ground, nobody will know we were here.”
“Yeah, from the rockets.”
Gretchen sighed heavily, a detail she had overlooked. “Show me.”
Markus walked up to where the boosters had landed and showed her the ring of scorched earth. Cantaloupes blistered unrecognizable, vines burned to a crisp, charred black.
“Do we know whose farm this is?”
“Is the house nearby?”
“We noticed one to the southwest of us.”
“Have some people talk to the farmers.”
“They might not be happy getting a 1:00 AM house call.”
“We don’t need a lawsuit.”
Markus noted the twinge of desperation in Gretchen’s voice. She must be in it deep. He sighed, “I’ll send some folks to take a look around.”
“Thank you, Markus.”
“Just clean up quickly.” Gretchen ended the call and leaned back in her chair. She closed her eyes and waited.
Camillo and Frida watched in silent terror as the three silhouettes outlined in the light of the full moon made their way toward the dark house. They weren’t moving with any sense of urgency, but would extraterrestrials understand that the flashlights in the distance were looking for them? They were humanoid in outline but their finer details were obscured by the darkness.
“Go to the bedroom and lock the door,” Camillo replied.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she said.
“Please, Frida. Go,” he said. “I’ll be okay.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too.”
Frida kissed him on the cheek and left the room. Their eyes met one last time before she turned away and disappeared down the short hallway. She closed the bedroom door carefully, the loudest noise being the latching of the lock.
Camillo was left in the darkness. He flipped the couch carefully and knelt behind it, facing the doorway. The rifle felt cold, heavy.
His hands trembled.
The three figures stopped a few yards from the house. Through the glass he could hear muffled sounds, like voices. They were speaking to one another, he was sure of it. It was strange—he felt like he could almost understand what they were saying. Suddenly, one of them broke from the group and began to walk toward the house, the others stayed behind. This one must be the leader, he thought.
A shadow crossed the wall through the curtains as the figure approached. He suddenly felt very vulnerable. A heavy step on the bottom step of the porch. His grip tightened on the rifle.
The footsteps came closer. Now just on the other side of the door. There was a moment’s pause.
A knock resounded off the door. He almost dropped the rifle.
The door knob rattled.
Gretchen Steiner’s mouth hung open as Markus detailed what had happened. A technician had been shot. He was being transported to a nearby hospital. No other activity from the house. Markus finally finished speaking. He looked at Gretchen through the screen, waiting for her to speak. He wasn’t sure if her face was one of disbelief or of abject repulsion.
“How close are we to finishing up?” Gretchen finally asked.
“We’re almost done. I’d say another twenty minutes and the third and fourth flat beds will be loaded,” Markus replied.
“Good. Just finish and get out of there.”
“What about the farmer, though?”
“We’ve burned his crops and tried to break into his home. What leg would we have to stand on if he presses charges? It’s best we just take what’s ours and go.”
The call disconnected and Gretchen slumped back into her chair. This whole ordeal had been a debacle. She prayed no media outlet would catch wind of it, otherwise it would be the end of her career.
About half an hour later she got another call from Markus, they had left the field and were on their way back into California. If that wasn’t good enough news, the technician was going to make a full recovery. It was a close call but they were getting away Scot-free, Gretchen thought to herself.
She hoped the farmer would stay quiet.
Camillo opened his eyes and looked around. He was lying in bed, a damp cloth on his forehead. Frida was sitting next to him in a chair.
“Hey now, take it easy,” she said, helping him sit up.
“What happened?” he said.
“You tell me,” she replied. Camillo rubbed his eyes.
“They tried to get in and I fired a shot, and then I don’t know, I must have blacked out.”
“I heard the gunshot and waited for a little while before leaving the bedroom and I found you on the floor. I was so worried, I wanted to get to you sooner but I was so frightened,” Frida said.
“It’s okay. The important thing is we’re together and we’re okay,” Camillo said, squeezing Frida’s hand. “Are the ships still there?”
Camillo got out of the bed and opened the bedroom door cautiously.
The house was silent, empty. Everything where it should be. The cool light of morning poured through the curtained windows. They crossed the living room, passing the upturned couch. He looked at the rifle on the floor and a wave of nausea washed over him as he remembered firing it. He must have blacked out after that.
Camillo stopped to exam the rifle’s handiwork in the splintered wood of the door, then turned to look at Frida. “Are you ready?”
She nodded, and he opened the door.
The sun was rising. It was calm, quiet. A light breeze wafted across the desert landscape. They stepped out onto the porch, hand-in-hand, down the two steps. They looked at the footprints crossing the field. Three sets coming, and three sets going, one set staggered like they were being carried in retreat. There was very little blood, an indication that he hadn’t killed anything. Camillo sighed with relief. He looked across the field.
The spaceships were gone.
They surveyed the two large rings of scorched cantaloupes, and the myriad of large tire treads and footprints of the unknown retrieval unit that had come to take them away.
“I don’t even know what to make of this,” Frida said. “Camillo?”
Camillo looked at the scorched earth. Then at his wife.
Maybe it was because of the growing warmth in the air, but the weight of the night’s events suddenly hit and fatigue took a hold of him.
“Let’s just go to bed,” he said and smiled at her. She smiled back.
Taking her hand, they made their way back across the field and up to the quaint farmhouse. It really was cozy. They walked back up the porch steps and into the house. Camillo stopped and he looked over the farmland again before entering. It was beautiful in the growing light.
Camillo Alves, the man who defended his home against invaders from space and won, sighed with satisfaction.
He entered the house and closed the door behind him.
Van Peltekian is a writer currently residing in Bellingham. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2016 after graduating from college in Chicago. His work has been featured in HamLit as well as in Tales From The Pandemic: A Modern Decameron published by Chuckanut Press. When not writing he can be found reading, taking photos, hiking with his dog, or playing music.
Van’s story “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” was featured in our Spring Issue: Alter Ego.