I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been listening to a way-out song called “Suburban Shuffle” from a 1972 album by jazz fusion keyboardist Barry Miles (with incredible guitar by a young John Abercrombie) a lot lately or because I’ve just finished the new book Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded, or a combination of both, but I wrote this short story the other day. It works better, perhaps, while listening to the song (around 4:14 is when the spaceship arrives…) but it’s fun on its own too I think.
–Walking the Dog–
Fred liked to take his dog for walks late at night. Ever since the spaceship had flown over his neighborhood the week before, trailing behind it a bright, net-shaped light beam, things had been different. Spot, his dog, seemed to know too and would look expectantly up at him as soon as the sun sank below the roofline and the streetlights flickered on.
“Soon, Spot, soon,” Fred would say. As much as he too looked forward to their nightly suburban shuffles on the quiet sidewalks, he was also a little apprehensive and would step quickly. He could smell the lingering electricity in the air and wondered if the spaceship would return. The sky now had a purplish tinge to it when the town slept and weren’t those two stars brighter than they’d been before the alien cruise-over? Even the nocturnal animals had begun acting strangely, neighborhood cats staring at them as they walked by, Spot oddly having lost his desire to chase them. In fact, Spot seemed to know something Fred did not and would return the cat’s stares.
Bats, which would usually circle in the streetlights catching moths, were also acting in an odd way. They would stop and hover in the air just above and in front of him, their large black eyes holes in the purplish-orange lit night air. Spot would wag his tail three times when this happened, and the bats would fly away, up towards the two bright stars. As unsettling as all this was, Fred still enjoyed the adventure of each night’s walk. The unexpected charge it gave him; a fear of the unknown mixed with a gnawing curiosity.
On the fifth night, things got really weird. The cats were starting to get annoying by this point and the bats, well, the less said about them the better. There was a rumbling in the distance off towards the mall. But it was late; the mall had closed hours ago and nobody else was out at this hour. Suddenly there it was, the spaceship from the week before, speeding through the sky towards him. He started to run, but Spot kept pulling on the leash, refusing to move.
“Let’s go, Spot, let’s go!”, said Fred. But Spot was like a statue, and a heavy one at that. The saucer-shaped object circled above them in ever quickening gyrations. Spinning and spinning, the same light beam from the week before was now aiming towards the ground, and, of course, towards them. Fred felt hypnotized by the spin of the extraterrestrial craft and was now no more mobile than his (previously) loyal canine companion.
The beam seemed to be trying to lift them off the ground and suck them into the bottom of the spaceship, a dark man-sized hole visible at the bottom where the light emitted. He would rise two or three feet and then fall back to earth again. This went on for a few minutes, as if the spaceship wasn’t quite strong enough to elevate them all the way up. Fred wondered if the journey from their planet had used most of their fuel. It spun faster in apparent frustration. Finally, a rope ladder came swinging down to him. Though disoriented, Fred had enough presence of mind, or perhaps foolhardiness, to grab a rung and begin to climb towards the waiting void. Spot dangled next to him in his harness, since dogs can’t really climb rope ladders very well. The intense light engulfed them as they got closer and closer to the ship.
The next thing Fred knew, it was morning. He woke up in his own bed, fully dressed, gripping Spot’s leash tightly – Spot sprawled asleep on the floor at the other end. He blinked, trying to clear the fog from his brain. He remembered everything from the night before up to just before he got to the top of the rope ladder and entered the spaceship. What had happened after that? He scratched his head in puzzlement, dislodging a small blue feather which floated gently down to the pillow. Putting his hand back on his head, he discovered more small blue feathers stuck in his hair. He sat up and noticed he was wearing shiny bowling shoes and had a clam shell sticking out of one pocket and a tomato (slightly squished) in the other. Looking down, he saw Spot pawing the air in his sleep, now with not one spot but two on his fur coat.
He lay back down, confused but already looking forward to that night’s walking the dog.