TWENTY-ONE: THEY CAME FROM THE EARTH
ANTHONY HAD GROWN TO detest small town life. Unfortunately, he found himself living in Eudora, Kansas, where they wrote the book on the subject.
What he disliked the most about living in Eudora was the total lack of anything to do. Well, anything other than watching corn grow. If you wanted to do something even remotely fun you’d have to drive into Lawrence, or maybe even Kansas City. But, to do that, you’d need money. And a car. Anthony had neither.
What he did have was a fiancé who adored small towns, most especially the one she grew up in. Which, you guessed it, was Eudora, Kansas.
Anthony was from New York City. That’s where he and Maggie had met.
He’d been sitting alone in one of those out of the way coffee houses. They type of place that was cool simply because no one knew it was there. No one other than those that mattered.
Maggie had come to New York for the first time to visit an old friend. The old friend, as old friends do, had taken her out to do a little sightseeing.
The sightseeing had taken Maggie past the coffee shop in which Anthony had been sitting. He’d been gazing out the window, people watching, when Maggie had walked by. He’d sat in awe as she had walked along the sidewalk and then right into the coffee house.
Until that moment Anthony had never believed in love at first sight, he’d thought of it as a myth that people made up just to romanticize their own relationships. But then Maggie had come along and shattered all of that.
He could still picture her out there on the sidewalk. And yes, though it had been over two years ago, he could still remember what she’d been wearing. She’d looked every inch the tourist in her I HEART NY t-shirt and her tote bag with the Statue of Liberty silk screened on the side. But what really made her stand out, at least in his mind, what really threw up that neon sign proclaiming this unique beauty as a visitor to the city that never sleeps was the fact that as she walked along the sidewalk, she had been doing what most native New Yorkers never did. She had been looking up in wide-eyed wonder.
Anthony smiled as he thought about it now, sitting in Eudora’s only coffee shop—The Coffee Bean, and wasn’t that just the most clever name ever—and sipping at what passed for coffee in middle America. He checked his watch, the second time he’d done so in the last two minutes. The shop would be closing soon and Maggie was late.
He shook his head, still smiling. Maggie was forever late, it was her one basic modus operandi, and it did nothing but endear her to him more, if that was even possible. Regardless, he found himself worrying. He glanced at his watch again and then looked out at Main Street through the glass that made up The Coffee Bean’s storefront. Darkness had fallen and the street lights had come on.
Anthony recalled the blackout that had taken out the entire town the month after he’d followed Maggie to Kansas. He’d never been in such darkness in an urban environment before, if you could call downtown Eudora an urban environment. Still, it had unnerved him like nothing ever had and he still shuddered to think about it. The bright lights of New York had always seemed to shine, they were eternal. Sure, the city had had its share of rolling black outs in the twenty years he’d lived there, but even when one area went out, you could still see the lights from other neighborhoods out in the distance.
When Eudora went dark it had been absolute.
He checked his watch for the third time.
“Sir,” a voice said at his shoulder. “We’ll be closing in two minutes.”
It was the waitress, some high school kid looking forward to getting out there and taking a few Mains before going home for the night.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” he said, looking up at her. “I’m just waiting on someone, she should be along in a minute.”
“Well, it’s going to take me at least twenty minutes to clean everything up,” she said, looking back toward the counter. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you wait.”
“Thanks,” he said, “It shouldn’t take that long, but I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” she said, glancing out at Main.
He followed her gaze as a carload of boys drove by, bass pumping from the car stereo, and he smiled. She wanted to be out there.
Maggie had once explained to him what it meant to take a Main, a favorite past time for local high-schoolers. It meant driving up Main, north, pulling a U-turn on Seventh, heading back down Main, south, turning left on Tenth, turning right onto Church, then use the horseshoe lot of the Happy Hamburger Drive In to turn around and head back up Church, north. Then left on Tenth and right back onto Main where you do it all over again.
Once in a while the kids would park in the lot at the top of Seventh and Main and sit to socialize with the kids in other cars. Or they would stop in at a stall at the Happy Hamburger and order soda or food. But mostly they just drove. It had all sounded more than dull to Anthony, but he couldn’t see what else a teenager with nothing but a tank of gas was supposed to do in a place like this.
He finished his coffee, took a last look at his watch, and decided that he could wait no more. Maggie was now officially thirty-two minutes late, which, regardless of her M.O., was unusual for her.
So, he left a twenty on the table—more than enough to pay for the coffee—and left the shop heading south.
Maggie worked evenings at the aforementioned Happy Hamburger Drive In. It was three minutes away by car. By foot it was almost three miles. The Happy Hamburger had closed almost an hour ago and as Anthony arrived he could see that most of the interior lights were out.
Her car still sat in the one of the four employee parking spaces behind the Happy Hamburger and he breathed a little easier. Maggie’s car was alone, meaning she’d closed down the restaurant by herself. That made him angry. Sure, she was the Manager, but she shouldn’t be left alone out here like this.
Anthony checked the front door and found it locked, which wasn’t unusual. Maggie was required to lock up the moment the restaurant closed so that no one could come in while she was counting the register. He couldn’t see anyone inside through the glass of the door, which would only mean that Maggie was in the back. Maybe she was going to the bathroom. He rapped lightly on the glass and waited.
Nothing. No movement inside.
He knocked again, only louder this time.
Anthony turned as a carload of teenagers drove through the lot. They were laughing as they sped by and he could hear the distinct sound of 80’s hair metal coming from within the vehicle.
He pulled his phone from a pocket and dialed in Maggie’s number. As the electronic ring sounded in his ear, he thought he could hear the muffled sound of her actual phone ringing. Her ring tone was rather distinct, it was the sound of R2D2 screaming. A sound he heard now, but distant. It wasn’t coming from within the restaurant, but from around back.
As he moved around to the rear of the building Anthony could hear that it was coming from her car.
He tried her car door. Unlocked. Only in a small town would someone think it’s okay to leave their door open to thieves and malcontents. He sat in Maggie’s car and looked around, finding her phone in the console between the front seats. He sighed.
Then he heard her scream.
It was faint, but it was her. His heart turned cold and he scrambled from the car.
The scream had come from the restaurant.
He was at the back door in five quick strides.
“Maggie!” He shouted, banging on the door.
The back door to the Happy Hamburger was solid and metal. No window. So he couldn’t see inside. He was about to run to the front and look in through the glass when she screamed again.
It had definitely come from inside. In fact it sounded like it had come from the other side of the back door.
“Maggie!” He pounded on the door then grasped the handle in both hands, shaking it so violently that it might fall off of its hinges. But it did not.
Then he remembered the key. Maggie had broken the rules by giving him a spare key to the restaurant, but she’d felt he’d need one in case of emergency, and this certainly qualified.
He fumbled for the ring of keys in his pocket and nearly dropped them. Cars continued to pull through the lot, music blaring through open windows: rap, country, and rock-n-roll. He paid them no mind as he slid the key into the lock and twisted.
The lock didn’t move.
Anthony cursed and ran a hand over his face, pulling it away dripping with sweat. He beat on the door in frustration. Why didn’t the key work?
He twisted the key again and felt more resistance.
“No! Work dammit!” He twisted and twisted, but nothing happened.
He heard a thump from within the restaurant, like something falling against a wall. Following the thump was a sound he couldn’t quite place. It was like a lion’s roar, but more high pitched. It was an animal noise, but not. It was uncomfortable and alien to his ears.
Maggie screamed again.
“Maggie! God, Maggie, I’ll get to you!” He kicked and pounded on the door, twisting the key as his heart raced.
“You okay, man?”
Anthony turned to find another carload of teenagers. A blond kid that was more acne than face looked at him through the open driver’s side window.
“I need help,” Anthony said, shaking. “My fiancé is in there, something—” he wasn’t quite sure how to say it. “I heard her scream.”
He ran to the car and gripped the window sill, crouching to make eye contact with the kid.
“I have a key, but it won’t work. It won’t work!”
“Okay, man, chill,” the kid said. He was alone in the car. “I’ll call the cops, okay, just back up a little, alright?”
“Yeah,” Anthony said, standing. “Thanks. The police, yeah.” He ran his hand over his face again, the other hanging at his side, shaking like an addict looking for a fix. “The key won’t work. It won’t work.”
“Okay, man, okay,” the kid said, tapping at the screen of his phone. “They key won’t work, I get it.”
Anthony turned back to the store. The key wouldn’t work. It never worked, that’s what Maggie had told him. It didn’t just work when you twisted it, you had to—he ran to the door, lifted up on the handle, lifting the door itself a fraction of an inch, and twisted the key. There was a scrape of metal and the lock slid open.
Anthony laughed, threw open the door, and stepped into the restaurant.
Nothing seemed amiss; the restaurant looked as it should after the closers had finished sweeping, mopping, and completing the other various closing activities. He stepped fully inside and let the door close behind him. He stood in a short hallway. A few feet up to his right was a storage area. To his left were the doors to the bathrooms. Ahead was the cook aisle and more storage.
Now that he was in, he stepped cautiously. All he could hear was the pounding of his own heart. He stepped up to the opening to the right and gazed into the darkness of the store room. Maggie had shown him around once. Here was where they kept the vegetables that didn’t require refrigeration, along with cleaners and the boxes of solid grease that went into the fryers. He couldn’t see much but darkness at the moment. So he pulled his phone from his pocket, thinking to shine its light into the room.
But before he could, something stumbled out from the dark of the cook aisle and ran into him, knocking him off of his feet.
“Anthony?” the thing said from atop him.
“Anthony, oh my God, Anthony,” she said, standing. “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.”
She sounded panicked, scared out of her mind. Her clothes were torn and there was blood on her face, oozing from her nose and from scratches on her forehead.
“My God, Maggie. You okay?”
“You have to get out of here,” she said, pulling him to his feet. “We have to get out of here, before it comes back.”
“It?” he said. “What happened to you?”
“I can’t explain, we have to go.”
He rose and helped her to her feet. Then they scrambled out the back door. Once in the lot Maggie froze.
“Maggie,” Anthony said, pulling on her arm. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” she said. Then she turned.
Anthony turned as well.
Standing in the back doorway of the Happy Hamburger was a creature that was short and green. Anthony gaped. Had it not been for the color, he might have mistaken it for a chimpanzee. But only due to the size and the way it stood, leaning on the knuckles of its hands. It was hairless and had long ears that ended it points an inch or so above its head. The creature opened its mouth and gave a hissing cry. Anthony couldn’t help but notice the teeth, they reminded him of a shark.
It stepped out from under the doorway, walking like an ape, using both feet and hands that each ended in long, black claws that clicked against the pavement.
Anthony couldn’t move. Maggie, on the other hand, exploded. She ripped her arm from Anthony’s grip and ran to the creature, screaming. Whatever the thing was, it hadn’t expected to be charged. It froze as if undecided, its black eyes shifting left and right like it couldn’t quite understand what was going on.
At the last moment Maggie slowed and kicked the thing like it was a soccer ball. The creature flew back from the blow and hammered into the wall of the restaurant. It slid to the ground and did not move.
“What the hell was that?” Anthony said.
“I don’t know,” Maggie said. Then she dropped to her knees in the lot.
“The cops should be here soon,” Anthony said, joining her on the ground. “Everything is going to be alright.”
At least he hoped so. The teenager in the car was gone. Did he actually call the cops? Anthony remained hopeful.
Then he heard a sound from behind. Anthony and Maggie turned in unison, seeking the origin of the sound.
He spotted it almost at once. There was a privacy fence at the back of the lot. It separated the drive-in from the housing development currently under construction. Just under the fence the ground was moving. Something was digging its way out from the ground. The earth underneath the fence exploded and dozens of those short, green chimpanzee creatures burst forth. They sped across the pavement like demon monkeys, their claws clicking and scraping.
Maggie was on her feet first.
Anthony tried to rise, but he was too slow, the creatures were on them.
One of them knocked Anthony onto his back. It stood on his chest and hissed at him. He could see Maggie being dragged toward the hole by the remaining creatures.
“Maggie!” He shouted.
He swatted at the thing atop him but missed. It hissed and suddenly he was enveloped by a red mist. It coated the insides of his lungs and burned his skin.
The weight lifted from his chest and he realized that the creature was no longer there. He rose. His eyes lost focus for a moment as the world around him spun and jumped. He rubbed at them with his fists. He regained focus long enough to see Maggie being pulled into the gaping hole under the fence.
Anthony ran to her, but found that his legs didn’t work quite right. He stumbled and at the last moment, fell. Maggie was right there, screaming. Her eyes caught his.
They were pleading, her eyes. He reached out as his vision blurred once again. All he could see now where colorless blobs. His ears shut down as well. He could still hear, but it was as if he was under water. He clawed at the shapes before him, knowing that one of them had to be Maggie. He caught hold of something soft, silky. He took hold of it in his right hand, squeezing for all it was worth, vowing to never let go. He felt resistance. Then it was gone.
He tried to stand, but nothing worked anymore.
He crawled across the lot as his vision returned for only a brief moment and for an instant all he could see were thousands of tiny bugs and worms, centipedes, scorpions, and hairy spiders. They covered him from head to toe.
He wanted to scream but feared that opening his mouth would only invite them in.
Instead he clawed at himself with his left hand, pulling them from his body in bits and pieces, throwing them over the fence until finally, they were gone.
He heard what sounded like a siren in the distance, but it was hard to tell. He couldn’t keep him mind focused on it. His thoughts seemed to leap from idea to idea, his brain playing itself in a game of Twister inside his head.
And then suddenly, Anthony was no longer alone. A woman was standing above him. An amazon warrior, her black hair blowing all about her in the cool night breeze. In one hand she held a long spear.
“Maggie Keaton,” he said to her. “They came from the earth and took her.”
She responded, but not in any language that Anthony recognized.
“They took her,” he repeated. “Little green men. Red mist. They took her down with them!”
The amazon rattled off something in her strange language. He didn’t know what to do. He reached out to her with his left hand, open, palm up. His right hand he had clenched tightly in a fist. He found that curious. He didn’t want to hit this woman.
But the amazon did not see it that way. One glance at his fist and she made to defend herself. Before Anthony could even process what was going on, she had his hands tied behind his back.
“They took her down with them,” he pleaded. “They came from the earth!”
She ignored him. Instead she shoved him into a cage on wheels.
“Little green men,” he said. He was weeping now. Openly crying. He could feel the tears as they rolled lazily down his cheeks. They burned his skin which hissed and popped.
He screamed. He couldn’t stop screaming. He thrashed about in the small cage. It was an odd shape, this cage. He couldn’t stand.
Soon he was moving.
No, he realized, he was not moving.
The cage was moving him.
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