Note: as promised, here is the fictional remake of the blog I posted yesterday. I have changed names, even the name of the county (this is part of a collection of short stories I intend to publish very soon) and taken several literary privileges. However, I promise you there is more truth here than fiction.
The early September night is cool and crisp. There is a heavy layer of dew forming on the still green, mountain grass. Most of the residents of Coalton County are home, safely behind closed doors. Only a few wayward teenagers are out, using the excuse of scouting the woods for the best place to build hunting blinds for the upcoming wild game season. Of course, the sheriff is also out, mostly looking for the wayward teens, who he knows are not worried about hunting blinds or anything else except the moonshine they took from Johnny Watson’s shed.
Coalton County is a quiet community of about five hundred people. This five hundred includes the five or six children each family has and in some cases, pets and live stock. The truth is, no one knows for sure how many people live in Coalton County, but Sheriff Jacob “Jake” Stonestreet is on a first name basis with every one of them. Jake has been sheriff for almost twenty-five years. Everyone in the county loves and trusts Jake so much, no one has ever thought about running against him in the elections. They all assume he’ll be sheriff until he dies.
The night is cool and there’s a damp smell of decaying leaves hanging thick in the air. Sheriff Jake parks in the gravel at the end of Frame Road. Switching off the engine, he exits the patrol car as he turns on his flashlight. Frame Road is a popular spot for the local teenagers to hang out for just about anything a teenager wants to do, but can’t do at home. Jake is surprised there are no pick-ups or jalopies parked here. Maybe the kids have already headed home for the night. Opening the back door of the cruiser, he chortles for Rex, his canine partner. Rex is a black German shepherd and Jake’s best friend, other than his wife, of course.
“Come on, boy. We’ll walk the path out to the pond, circle back behind Bartle’s cow pasture. If we don’t find those kids, we’ll head home for the night.”
Rex paces Jake’s stride, keeping perfect rhythm with his gait. They make their way along the path, as Jake bounces his light off into the woods on either side. He hears the occasional rustling from a coon or dear, but sees nothing. Off to his left he hears the soft hoot of an owl as his light disrupts the dark forest. Reaching the pond, they stop, carefully checking along the edges of the tree line, but finding nothing. Suddenly, Rex hangs his head, moaning softly.
“What is it, old boy?” Again, Rex moans softly, not looking up or acknowledging Jake. Bending over to check on Rex, Jake is over come by a soft whining vibration. He stands up looking around, shaking his head as the whine grows louder. Rex is moaning louder and has settled to the ground with his paws across his head. Over the horizon to the right, just above the path to Bartle’s cow pasture, there is a strange yellow glow filling the night sky. The glow becomes brighter as the whine crescendos then the vibration and glow explode together against the hill just below the horizon. Dust rises up in large plumes blurring the white flames as they lick the dark night. The air grows warmer as a strange sulfuric odor assaults Jake’s nose, causing his eyes to water profusely. Rex is coughing and wiping his eyes and snout on the cool, wet grass.
As soon as he can find his voice, Jake pulls his radio out, calling for his deputy, Joey Young.
“Joey, come in, Joey, are you there?”
“Yep, I’m here. What’s up Jake?”
“Better call Gerald and get the volunteer firemen out. We’ve got some kind of explosion and fire out here behind Bartle’s cow pasture. Just at the top of the hill. Tell them to bring plenty of masks and fresh drinking water. I think there’s some kind of chemical leak. Then call Ben Bartle and tell him to keep his cows and sheep at the farm until I check in with him. Don’t want them poor things getting sick from whatever this is in the air.”
“You got it. You need me out there?”
“Not yet. I need you to control traffic there at the end of Frame Road. Also, don’t let any curious civilians out this way. Don’t want anyone getting sick until we know what has really happened.”
“I’m on it. I’ll have them out there just as quick as I can.”
“Great, thanks, and would you call Kathryn and tell her not to wait up, I’m going to be late.”
“Sure will, over and out.”
Placing his radio back on his belt, Jake stares for a few moments as the raging white flames rise up over the horizon. Deciding that he will never get answers standing there, he nudges Rex and begins walking around the pond toward the hill. As they draw closer the heat seems to remain the same. Jake notices that the light from the fire is much brighter, but there is no change in the temperature. It’s only warm. It reminds him of the fires in his fireplace at home. So why are the flames so bright? Reaching the bottom of the hill he and Rex begin the climb to the top where the explosion seemed to have originated.
Rex begins to growl deep in his chest as he snarls toward the hill top. Glancing up, Jake sees a figure emerging from the flames. He sees a tall spindly looking man stumble over the crest and then seemingly float approximately twelve inches off the ground. Thinking his eyes are playing tricks on him Jake shakes his head, wipes his eyes, then looks again. The man is obviously badly burned, his arms are without muscle, appearing to be only bones, the fingers are long and spider like, there is no evidence of hair on the head and the feet dangle like a Halloween skeleton, still about a foot off the ground.
“What the hell?” Jake is torn between concern for the badly burned man and apprehension over how he can be floating above the ground. Swallowing his fear, Jake begins racing toward the man, deciding first aid takes precedence over the unknown.
As he comes within about twenty feet of the man, Jake sees a strange green glow surrounding the man, but there is no face. Only large black slits where eyes should be, a hole in place of a nose and a long jagged split where there should be a mouth. “Hey, mister, can you hear me? Can you see me? Hang on, I’m coming to help. Name’s Jake, I’m the sheriff, and there’s plenty more people on the way.”
Suddenly, the man stops, hovers for a moment and then slides in a vertical line straight to the left about ten yards. The movement happens so quickly, Jake doesn’t realize where the man is until Rex also turns toward the left. “Hey, buddy, just calm down, I’m only here to help you. Nothing to be afraid of, we’re going to get you some medical help.”
Without warning, the man darts off to the left disappearing into the darkness. Jake is in shock. As he hears the sirens approaching, he decides to get the men started on the fire and then he and a couple volunteers can search for the burned man. Considering the extent of the burns, Jake is fairly sure the man won’t go far.
Turning back toward the pond, Jake sees the men hauling tanks and hoses on the other side of the clearing. Whistling loudly, he waves his arms in the air so Gerald Black, the fire chief will see him. He and Gerald have been friends since first grade. Gerald is from England. His family moved to Coalton County when he was a small boy, but he still carries a hint of the proper British accent.
Jogging back down the hill, Jake meets up with Gerald half way between the pond and the spot where the burned man fled from him.
“What have we got here, Jake old’ boy?”
“Gerald am I glad to see you. Not sure what is going on, but we need to contain this fire and get it out before it does any more damage.”
“Any idea what caused it?”
“Not a clue, maybe a plane?”
“There is an odd hint of sulfur, but there’s also another smell I’m not familiar with. Not to worry though, we’ve got what we need on the trucks.”
“But we have another problem, there’s a badly burned man over in the field, about half way down the hillside.”
“Is he alive?”
“He was about five minutes ago. He ran from me when I tried to help him. But based on the injuries I saw, he won’t be for long. Most of the skin was gone from his arms, hands, feet, and his face looked like it melted.”
“Not to worry, I’ll send Carl McGinnis out to look for him. In the meantime, you let Doc Benson check you out.” Carl was a medic for the army and would know exactly how to handle traumatic injuries.
Gerald turns and immediately begins directing the men to get the fire under control. Old Doc Benson walks up behind Jake, taking him by the arm and leading him back toward the pond. Doc is in his late seventies and claims to have delivered every person in Coalton County. No one can remember any other doctor besides Doc Benson…so maybe he did.
As they reach the pond, Jake sees that Doc brought several gurneys and a large box of medical supplies.
“Jake, have a seat on this gurney. I want you to slip off your jacket, unbutton your shirt, and roll up your sleeves.”
“I’m fine, Doc. I just need some water, and then I need to go help Carl find that man.”
“Maybe, but I intend to check you out before you go back up there. Your hair is standing straight up like you’ve encountered a high level of static electricity, and your face looks badly sunburned.”
“I think you’re exaggerating a little there, Doc.”
“Really? Have a look for yourself.” Doc hands Jake a small mirror.
Jake’s eyes grow wide as he gives himself a once over in the small mirror. “Okay, so maybe I got a little closer than I realized to the flames. But honest, I feel fine, just thirsty.”
“We’ll see if everything checks out okay, then I’ll give you the go ahead.”
For the next thirty minutes, Doc checks Jake out from head to toe, finding that Jake’s vitals and neurological responses appear to be normal. Handing him a bottle of water, Doc says, “Alright, you can help, but only from down here. There is something not right about you, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“But there’s a badly burned man out there and he may not be the only one.”
“I’ve looked everywhere, Jake. I can’t find any injured people.” Carl states as he walks up to the two men. Carl is a small, slender man, with a great sense of humor and an even bigger heart who served two terms in the war.
“I saw him, Carl. Even Rex saw him. In fact, Rex saw him first. He came up over the hill out of the flames. I ran up to him, and he darted away from me.”
Doc and Carl exchange a skeptical glance. “If he came out of the flames and is as badly burned as you say, he couldn’t have gone far. Believe me, Jake I walked at least three quarters of a mile. I didn’t find anyone.”
“Please look again, Carl. Please?”
“Okay, I’ll take another look. See you in a few minutes.”
Suddenly, Jake is very weak. He becomes dizzy and willingly sits down on the gurney, as Doc grabs his stethoscope, listening to Jake’s heart and respirations.
“I’m fine, just got weak for a minute. I probably need more water.”
Just then, Carl comes back with Teddy Wilson and Robbie Jenkins in tow. These are two of the teenagers Jake was looking for when he first came out to the pond. Both boys appear to have sun burned faces and their hair is standing up, as if from static electricity. They are both obviously shaken up and complaining of extreme thirst.
Carl sits each boy down on a gurney. Doc begins examining Robbie while Carl works on Teddy. “Alright, boys, tell Doc and Sheriff Jake what you just told me.”
“He was floating. His feet never touched the ground.” Babbles Teddy, obviously in shock.
“He didn’t have a face either. It was, like melted. No eyes, nose, or mouth, just crevices.” Robbie looks as though he will start crying any minute.
Doc turns to Jake, “Well, Jake, is that the man you saw?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Answers Jake.
Without warning a flood of army personnel break through the tree line and surround the pond. They immediately begin climbing the hill with fire extinguishers. Right behind them are more soldiers who begin methodically disconnecting the fire hoses and herding the firemen and other civilian volunteers back through the trees toward their waiting trucks. Very little is said, but the soldiers make their wishes known with intense body language.
Jake steps up and demands to know who is in charge. A man of about fifty comes forward, “General Alan Tate, at your service. And you are?”
“Sheriff Jacob Stonestreet. Can you tell me who called you and why you’re here, General?”
“The base up in Jefferson has been monitoring an unidentified flying object over National air space for the past two hours. We realized it crashed. This is now a matter of National Security. Until we determine who was flying the aircraft, where it originated from and what they’re intentions were we have to secure the area. I would appreciate your cooperation in having your people move back and let my people do their jobs.”
“I have no problem with allowing you to secure the scene and put the fire out. But as a courtesy to me and my people, I would appreciate being kept apprised of the situation and given the details of your findings.”
“Absolutely Sheriff, we’re not here to step on toes. We are just concerned as to the nature of the incident and in securing the safety of all the residents of your little county and the rest of the country.”
“Good enough. I’ll have my guys get out of your way, but do you mind if I stay and watch? Also, these two boys and I saw a badly burned man over in that field about two hundred yards below the fire area. Carl here, looked for him, but couldn’t find him. Will you please have your people search for him?”
“Of course. And yes, you may stay, but I have to insist that everyone else evacuate the area.”
As Jake is advising Gerald and Doc as to the reason for the sudden flood of army personnel, General Tate is dispatching people with high intensity lights to search for injured people. Gerald grudgingly leads his men back through the trees to their trucks. Doc gathers up his equipment and tells Jake he is taking the boys back to the clinic to check them out better. Once he’s sure their okay, he’ll call their parents to come pick them up. Jake has Doc take Rex with him to check him out and watch him for signs of injury from exposure to whatever is out there.
For the next several hours, highly trained army personnel fight the fire and search for survivors of the crash. Just before dawn, the fire suddenly begins to die out as the beginnings of daylight are seen over the horizon. A young army sergeant approaches Jake, saying, “Sheriff, General Tate would like for you to join him up at the crash site, please.”
“Of course.” Jake follows the young sergeant up the hill, meeting up with General Tate.
“What have you got, General?”
“Not much, Sheriff. As you can see, the fire was so intense there is almost nothing left from the aircraft. We are not even sure what kind of aircraft it was. We are gathering any remnants and taking them back to the base for further examination. Can you tell me what you saw?”
“Well, actually, I didn’t ‘see’ much. I was out here looking for teenagers who took some moonshine from a neighbor’s shed. My dog, Rex heard it first. He began moaning, and then I heard a high pitched whine and felt a strange vibration in the air. As I looked up, I saw an orange glow at the crest of this hill. The whine and glow seemed to culminate as the aircraft crashed into the hillside, exploding.”
“What about the man you saw?”
“Again, Rex saw him first. We were about half way up the hillside, when Rex began growling. I looked up, seeing a man stumble over the hilltop and start down toward me. There was no muscle on his arms, just burned bones and fingers, same for his feet. When I got within about twenty feet of him I realized his face was melted. No eyes, nose or mouth, just crevices. I called out to him, but he darted off into the darkness. I just assumed he was so badly burned, that he was confused, disoriented and scared.” Jake was grateful for General Tate allowing him to be privy to the army’s findings, he decided it was not a good idea to tell the General the man had been floating a foot off the ground.
“Well, my people looked everywhere; we can’t find any sign of the man or any other persons. It appears that all bodies were disintegrated in the fire. We are gathering ashes from the burn site; maybe we can find evidence of human remains.”
“Wish I could be more help. Will you be able to let me know if your tests provide any more information?”
“Be happy to, Sheriff.” As the two men turn to descend the hill, the sun peaks over the horizon. Looking down before them, they both see it at the same time. There, streaking down the hillside is a trail of grayish green dust. They look at each other and then turn to look back toward the crash site, looking for the beginning of the dust trail. It seems to start at the edge of the burn marks and flows in a straight line about half way down the hill. Then there is a heap of ash before the trail goes straight to the left about ten yards, where there is another heap of ashes. Finally the trail continues in a straight line to the left disappearing into a stand of trees. Neither man speaks; they just begin to follow the trail of gray-green dust into the stand of trees. The trail begins to narrow and thin out, but then, there on the ground, are pieces of soft white and yellow tissue. They continue to follow the trail of dust and tissue until it ends in a mass of what reminds Jake of melted lard.
“I guess we found your injured man, Sheriff.”
“Yeh, I guess we did. I wish I could have done more to help him.”
“From what I see here, there was nothing anyone could have done. He was dying when he ran from the wreckage. We’ll take the remains back to the base and see if they tell us anything. I’ll let you know what we find after all the tests are run.”
“Thank you, General, I appreciate you allowing me to stay and for keeping me informed of the findings.”
“It’s my pleasure. It was nice meeting you. We’ll talk soon.” They shake hands then Jake turns to head back toward his cruiser. Arriving back at his car, he heads for Doc’s clinic to pick up Rex.
As he pulls into the parking lot in front of the clinic, Jake sees four cars parked by the door. Entering the clinic, he finds Doc, Teddy Wilson, Robbie Jenkins, their parents, old man Bartle and Emma Johnson.
“You saw him too, didn’t you Sheriff?” Shouts Emma from a gurney in the corner, “He got you too!”
“I swear Jake it was the damndest thing I ever saw, I wonder if we’ll ever recover from this.” Ben Bartle is clearly shaken up.
Jake looks at Doc saying, “Can I see you in your office, please?”
“Sure, I think you should see Rex anyway.” Entering Doc’s office, Jake stops in mid stride as he sees Rex sitting in the corner. Every hair on Rex’s body is standing straight up. He looks like a carton animal after it’s encountered an electrical shock. Rex walks over to him obviously happy to see him. Jake reaches down to pet him, feeling the slight tingle from the static electricity.
“What happened to him and all the others out there, Doc?”
“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but this is apparently from encounters with ‘the floating man.’ I can’t find any serious injuries, just a high level of static electricity in everyone’s body. That and you all look like you have sunburns. Gerald left about thirty minutes ago. He bought a Geiger counter over to check for radiation, there isn’t any evidence of radiation poisoning, everyone’s vitals are normal and based on the blood work I ran, sodium and potassium levels are a little low, but not enough to be dangerous. I would like to check your blood to be sure you’re okay.”
“Sure, no problem, I guess I should take statements from all of them.”
“So, can you tell me what happened out there?”
“Yes, but there isn’t much to tell. The aircraft was almost disintegrated. What little there is left is being taken back to the army base in Jefferson. General Tate will let me know if they find anything conclusive. As far as the ‘floating man’, we found some remains, but he was mostly disintegrated too. Nothing left but ash and some yellowish white tissue. That is also being taken back to the army base.”
“What do they think they will find?”
“I have no idea, but I bet I never hear from General Tate.”
Jake calls to check in with his wife, Kathryn, promising to give her all the details later. He then spends the remainder of the morning drinking coffee and taking statements from Teddy, Robbie, Emma, and Ben. Teddy and Robbie were drinking the moonshine they took from Johnny Watson’s shed when they saw a strange green glow coming towards them. When the glow was about fifteen feet away they realized it was a man, sort of, who floated about a foot off the ground. When Robbie spoke to him, he darted off into the night. Emma Johnson was visiting with Ben Bartle when they heard the crash. Going out to see what all the commotion was about, they watched the blaze for several minutes before Ben’s phone rang. He went to answer it, leaving Emma on the porch. It was Deputy Joey telling him to keep his livestock in until he got the all clear from the Sheriff. Suddenly, Ben heard Emma scream. He ran outside to find her face to face with a green glowing man floating about a foot off the ground. The man seemed to be trying to say something to her, but when he saw Ben he made a strange noise and darted off into the night. Emma refuses to say it was a man. She swears it was a monster from outer space and insists Doc run more tests on her, because she is sure she will die from her encounter.
By noon Doc is confident that everyone will be fine. He tells Teddy and Robbie’s parents to make sure they drink plenty of fluids and to call him if either boy develops any new symptoms. Ben Bartle and Emma Johnson are given the same instructions, but Doc is sure he will be seeing Emma again soon.
Ben calls Jake that afternoon to come and investigate some strange gray-green ash in his yard. Jake follows a trail from Ben’s porch out into the trees. The trail just dwindles to nothing. Jake keeps a sample of the ash, although he isn’t sure why. He never hears from General Tate about the incident. But he’s not surprised. The burn marks linger on the ground through the winter. By spring the ground looks normal, but nothing grows there for another five years. Everyone who came face to face with the ‘floating man’ recover quickly. The static electricity gradually dissipates and their hair lies down normally within a week and the sunburns fade about the same time. Based on the different locations where the floating man was seen, Jake is suspicious that there may have been more than one. The only lasting issue from the encounters is that Rex refuses to ever accompany Jake back to the pond.