Aaron J. French

The October Editor's Pick Writer is Aaron J. French

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by Aaron J. French

Rick saw it bolt across the road at eighty miles an hour sometime past midnight between Santa Fe and Colorado. Whatever it was tore out of the shrubs and leaves on his left and went darting across I-25 North.

Twenty minutes earlier, he had seen a falling star. Sandy lay slumped fast asleep beside him ever since Albuquerque, as their U-HAUL sailed through the dark. Not the first falling star he’d seen, but this one was different. Instead of dropping down diagonally, it arced upward and vanished.

Would you call that a “rising star?” he’d joked to himself.

Luckily he didn’t swerve or lay off the accelerator when the strange patch of blur darted across the interstate. He simply watched it move—glide—into sight, then out again.

He glanced over at Sandy. Had she seen it? Her head was propped against the window, her chest moving beneath the sheet thrown over her.

Girl o’ mine, he thought wistfully.

She was the reason they were making this crazy trip. She had received a full-ride scholarship to study medicine at Denver University. He was so proud. They had been waiting for their luck to change. As soon as he secured his supervising manager’s permission to transfer, off they went.

Now I see a goddam UFO, or an alien, or . . . something. But really? He was sleep deprived—and pushing it. Maybe he was hallucinating, seeing things, little blurry men.

I don’t feel tired. He yawned suddenly. Okay, a little tired.

The engine of the U-HAUL thrummed under his seat. The roar of the V8 filled the air. His foot ticked restlessly on the pedal. When he caught his bloodshot eyes in the rearview mirror, he admitted it was time to pull over.

They were short on funds, and the goddam truck had cost over half a grand. The gas was costing about the same. They had discussed the idea of pulling off the road and sleeping at a rest station instead of a hotel but they never finished the discussion. Now Sandy was sawing logs.

We paid seven hundred dollars for this hunk of junk. I vote we sleep right in the back with the boxes.

Sandy had objected. The weight of the entire trip collapsed on him now—the cost, the relocation, their jobs and school schedules. Everything would be different soon. He’d been rushing and rushing to get them off, but wouldn’t things get better? So why did he feel like crying?

Eyelids drooping. His head pitched forward, hands slipping to either side of the steering wheel. He felt himself going deeper and deeper into a warm, safe place where nothing mattered.

He suddenly snapped awake. Sandy’s voice cautioned: “Now Rick, I know you want to make good time, I do too, but there’s no reason to push it. I want you to promise that you’ll pull over as soon as you start feeling sleepy. Promise?”

Of course he promised. And he meant it. But it was going on 1 a.m., and—

Is that . . . daylight? Or . . . What is that—?

The world had gone from light to dark in the flicker of an instant. He saw the sun rising. Was it possible he’d slept through the night?

Crazy. The more he looked, the more he realized it was not daylight. Bright, and in the sky, but it wasn’t the sun. White, not yellow, much closer, much larger. Like a giant florescent lightbulb.

Rick lowered his head, peered out the windshield. The light encompassed one third of the sky. Big dark storm clouds, instead of scudding before or behind it, moved rightthroughit, sort of shimmering hotly, like burning trees.

What the hell?

Then it winked out, taking the world with it.

The intensity of the white light was so great that when it vanished a phantom image endured, blinding everything; it took a moment for his eyes to adjust.

When they did, he saw something that nearly made him steer right off the road. He swallowed hard, fingers tightening.

No. Fucking. Way.

Floating in the dark sky above the hills was a ship. As in spaceship. Triangular, dim red lights glowing at each point. The body appeared blackly smooth like volcanic rock. It seemed made of mineral, not metal, and it occurred to him that it was likely made of smooth glass, that what he was seeing was the night sky shining through it. He swallowed again, muttering instead of thinking—“You’ve gotta be shitting me . . .”

His eyes flicked to Sandy. The moment they did, he grew frightened that when he looked back, the ship would be gone (which he both dreaded and prayed for.) Sandy’s head lay on the pillow against the window. He thought of waking her, then decided not to.

The ship was still there when he looked back. Only it was closer, seeming to hang right outside the windshield. Large, massive: an angry black face.

Jesus,” he whispered, sitting back in his seat. He decelerated down to sixty-five, but the ship somehow shadowed him. He saw another blurry shape go speeding across the road. This time he got a look at its face. Gray with huge diamond-shaped eyes. Not eyes, but deep holes. Bottomless. No nose. No mouth. No humanness.

Shivering, he watched a large green highway sign pass along by the road. The sign said ROSWELL EXIT 278 with an arrow pointing.

Now he was scared. They were nowhere near Roswell, New Mexico. Either they had gone two hundred miles in the wrong direction, which was unlikely, or they had been transported there by unknown means—just as unlikely.

He had to wake Sandy. That thing in the sky wasn’t going away, and his heart was racing like a hummingbird. In spite of this, he couldn’t shake the drowsiness.

Yawning, he reached over to tap—but snapped back his hand, as if from hot coal, his lungs expelling a little yelp of fright. A face hung outside the passenger window, right above Sandy’s head. Floating in the glass, gray and diamond-shaped, big hollow eyes of liquid black. And even though it had no mouth, it appeared to scowl.

Fear slammed into him like a load of bricks. He felt his lungs turn to ice, his blood run cold. Unconsciously, his foot pressed down on the brake until the U-HAUL coasted to a stop on the side of the road. The headlights cut a swatch into the darkness. For a moment, he thought perhaps he’d died of shock, stopped breathing altogether. But when he realized that he hadn’t died, a desperate feeling to protect Sandy swelled up in him like corpse-hand gripping his throat.

“My god!” he said. “Sandy! Get up. Get up now!”

She began muttering as if in a dream, as the face flung forward, phasing through the window. Like a tall glass of water, it poured out into the cab. He felt as if he was watching his worst nightmare come true. Inch by inch it solidified from the floor up until it stood materialized in the storage space behind Sandy’s seat. Rick heard its breathing, a strange metallic sound, and the smell coming off its short gray body reminded him—well—of white cheddar cheese popcorn.

“Don’t fucking touch her!” he yelled. “Sandy, for God’s sake, wake up!”

The alien stared him down, cold and indifferent. Then it reached both hands around either side of Sandy’s head. He noticed it wore black rubber gloves, oddly clinical, which reminded him of something a mortician would wear. In each spidery grip it held bizarre instruments made of metal and blinking lights, a cupped piece of glass on either end.

“Keep away!” He whipped out his arm, but it struck some kind of invisible barrier, the surface rippling before his eyes. The contact burned him. He retracted.

The alien seemed unperturbed. It attached the instruments, one to either side of Sandy’s head, encompassing her ears. The lights began to blink and the glass cups began to glow. When the thing removed them, her ears were gone. In their place only blank patches of flesh remained.

He couldn’t believe it. “Sandy? Can you hear me, girl?” He knew she couldn’t. His words had no effect; she merely shifted, asleep in her seat. He turned back to the creature. “You bastard!”

The alien glared, its face a shiny gray mask. It attached the cups to her eyes, and after a moment they turned bright red and evaporated, replaced by two hollowed out pockets of skin. It moved the instruments down to her mouth and nose.

Horrified, Rick tried again to stop the alien, but every time he called out his words were met with silence. Every time he reached for Sandy, his fingers met with the burning heat of the invisible energy field.

He was powerless…unless he could get away.

He slammed on the gas pedal and drove the U-HAUL wildly back onto the asphalt, kicking up gravel. The interstate suddenly reached a section of particularly windy curves, and he was forced to divert his attention fully to the road. He could see the triangular glass ship hovering in the sky, revolving and rotating, constantly in motion.

Other blurry shapes whizzed apace of him in the passing trees and foliage. Every so often he’d catch a glimpse, an expressionless face gazing back at him. There were hundreds, all racing alongside the interstate, like an army.

The road finally straightened out and he turned to look at Sandy. He was appalled at what he saw. The gray alien behind her had managed to suck out all her prominent features, including her limbs, breasts, ankles, and feet. Her clothes, too—gone. She resembled an undressed mannequin, a hunk of bare flesh sitting in the seat.

“Sandy!” he screamed. His eyes flicked to the alien as anger burned in his soul. “I’ll kill you, you little son of a bitch!”

He lunged but the alien dove headfirst through the passenger window, phased through the glass, this time taking wing into the dark sky. Rick followed its ascent as it cut to the left, rising up before the windshield. It suddenly began to glow like a star; to his horror he realized it looked exactly like the “rising star” he’d seen earlier.

When it reached the triangular ship, it vanished into the shifting, rotating glass. Other rising stars followed, a whole procession, lifting up off the foothills and arcing into the sky. Hundreds, all glowing and soaring up toward the spaceship. The sight was breathtaking.

Suddenly the road cut sharply, and he corrected to keep on the blacktop. Another green highway sign swung into view. This one said BACK TO REALITY EXIT 333 with an arrow pointing.

In his upper register, he saw the spaceship jump into motion from a dead stop. Within a second it was gone and he was left with only the interstate, the darkly rolling landscape . . . and what was left of his girlfriend. He listened. Suddenly he heard her voice calling out to him. 

“ . . . Rick? Rick, can you hear me? Rick, for the love of God wake up! Wakeup wakeup wakeup—”

Then the world began to catapult. He felt himself jostled by unseen hands. He felt hard insistent fingers digging into his skin, and Sandy’s voice calling, “I told you not to push it, to pull over the second you felt tired, wakeup, you jerk—”

Everything veered to one side as his eyes snapped open. The road was gone and replaced by dark shrubs, rocky terrain—and a fast-approaching sheer drop-off. Tires slammed against holes and craters, as the sides of the U-HAUL rattling intensely. 

Sandy plopped into his lap, hands grasping the wheel. She was back to normal, her face and arms and legs perfectly intact. Gone was the vision of the strange, androgynous creature she’d become. She was trying to reach the brake pedal, but failing.

“What the hell’s happening?” he shouted over the clangor.

“You asshole, I’ll never forgive you!” she screamed. “You fell asleep at the wheel just like I said you would—you didn’t fucking listen—”          

At that moment, they reached the sheer drop-off and the U-HAUL started pin-wheeling dreamily into darkness. The back bumper crashed against a boulder, triggering the vehicle into a rapid pirouette.

For one mind-shattering, blazing second, before the U-HAUL again flipped end over end, Rick caught a glimpse of a blank gray face with hollow black eyes peering in through the windshield. He screamed; a scream of pure terror, a scream that followed him all the way down to the bottom of the gorge…and into fire…

Aaron J. French is the author of weird, occult, and dark fantasy fiction. His debut novel, The Time Eater (JournalStone), is available now. He is the author of the collection Aberrations of Reality (Crowded Quarantine) and the novellas The Dream Beings (Samhain), Festival (Unnerving) and others, as well as many published short stories. In addition to writing, he works as a book editor for JournalStone Publishing and the Editor-in-Chief for Dark Discoveries Magazine. He has edited several popular anthologies including The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, Songs of the Satyrs, and the Monk Punk & Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus. Aaron is currently pursuing a PhD in The Study of Religion at University of California, Davis.