“My man, your day of freedom has arrived.”
I shrug. Gary’s statement just doesn’t rev my engine.
“Don’t tell me you’re worried about homesickness setting in.”
My cellmate’s statement is complete bass ackwards stupidity. He’s ignorant, so it’s really not his fault. Maybe though, it’s time to make him understand why it’s better for me to remain behind bars. “I don’t recollect I’ve ever told you how I ended up here.”
Gary answers. “Convicted of manslaughter, by a jury of your peers. But that’s all behind you now. You’ve paid your debt…”
“I’ve never told you ALL the details,” I interrupt. “And it’s time you heard em.”
I was flyin old Betty down some minimum-maintenance backwoods hillbilly road like a bat outa Hell. I remember that night back in 86 like it was yesterday. There should’ve been a full moon shinin. I suppose it was up there somewhere, but black-as-oil clouds blocked it from view.
Well, I’d gassed up Betty at the 7-11 earlier that evening and then commenced to gassing myself with Bourbon and nicotine. Such was my general state of existence back then, not somethin I’m proud of, but if the slammer has taught me anything, it’s that honesty’s a virtue.
Anyway, I’m flyin old Betty down the road, her V-8 roaring like a pride of lions. Dang if she wasn’t the best automobile I’d ever had the pleasure to call my own, a 75 Lincoln Continental painted black as night with lots of chrome to accent her fine lines.
As I say, I’m flying her down that road and my buddy Deke is in the passenger seat hootin and hollerin every time we hit a rise and fall. Deke takes a swig from the brown bottle he’s holdin which ain’t no big deal cause he’s pretty much always takin swigs from brown bottles. He goes for a second swig, but stops. Something catches his eye and he whacks me on the shoulder, demanding my attention.
About a quarter mile off the road, there’s this light, but I know there’s no farmhouse or nothing over there, just acre after acre of barley. The light is kind of a dim amber color, so dim in fact, that if the moon HAD been shinin, I wager that amber glow would have gone unnoticed.
I slow old Betty down to a crawl as I’m fixatin on that light, that sickly amber light. For some reason, I find myself drawn to it like a moth to one of those electrocution gizmos that you buy for flash-fryin bugs.
Well, there’s no road leading out that way and I have the good sense not to plow old Betty into the field like she’s some common John Deere. So, I pull over to the shoulder, all the while keeping my eyes on that light.
“Hey!” I hear Deke call out. “Where you goin?”
I didn’t even realize I’d gotten out of Betty until that moment, but there I was, standing on the edge of the field, just staring at that light. “I just want to see what this is all about.”
“Not me,” Deke says as he takes another swig from his brown bottle. “I’m waitin right here.”
Apparently, that light wasn’t luring Deke, like it was me. For me, the light was like stink bait and I was a fat catfish.
I take a few steps into that field and hear something. Cattttt — cattt —cattl-ckkk.
It wasn’t a voice exactly – more of a clicking, almost mechanical sound. I listen hard and hear it again, fast and choppy. Ctt — caaattt – catt-lack.
“You hear that?” I yelled, but Deke wasn’t hearin even though his passenger window was down. He’d turned on Betty’s radio, and one of her favorite song starts playin. Ooh Black Betty bam da lam. Ooh Black Betty bam da lam… The voice belonged to none other than the legendary Lead Belly himself.
Usually, that was my favorite song too, but not that night. I was too focused on that other sound. cttt – cattt – cattlll-ck.
So I leave Deke, Betty, and Mr. Lead Belly behind and start walkin towards that light, following that clickety-clack noise. The further I go, the louder the sound gets, but now it IS more of a voice, like something with a brain is talkin to me. “Ctt – caettt – ellack,” it says.
A part of me wants to turn back. I try to focus in on old Lead Belly singing Ooh Black Betty bam da lam, Ooh Black Betty catt – ta – lack, Ooh cattt catt, catttt-taaaa-lacckk. I stop trying to sing along because the words aren’t right.
The more I hear that sound, or voice or whatever; the more I want to soak in that amber light. In fact, it’s all I can think of, letting that light shine upon my skin.
I’m now almost in the light, and that voice is screamin, “CATTTT – ALLL – LAAAACKK!”
The sickly light ain’t so sickly now that I’m near it here in the smack-dab middle of the barley field. I take just a few more steps and find myself on the edge of one of those crop circle things, the kind that you read about in supermarket check-out line magazines.
I stagger further into the light, barely aware of the fact that I’ve stripped down to my skivvies. It’s a chilly night, but I’m obsessed with getting maximum skin-to-light contact. I look up because the voice is loudest above me “CATTTTT – ALLLLLL – LAAAACCCKKK!!!”
Above, but not far above, hangs this flying saucer; and cross my heart, hope to die, the old 60s Drive-In Sci-Fi flicks got it spot-on. It’s rotating slowly with the amber light shining down from its underside like some tractor-beam or something. That’s when I kind of pull myself together and realize, for the first time, that I’m up Shit Creek without a paddle.
I try to run, but my legs ain’t working. The light pulls me forward. I’m caught in that beam and up I float through a little open hatch on the underside of that saucer. And wouldn’t you believe that the inside that giant flyin Frisbee, is filled, wall-to-wall with little gray men; again, straight out of Hollywood.
“CATTTTT – CATTTTTAAAA – CATTTAAAALACCCKKK!!!” I hear before blacking out.
“Bullshit!” Gary blurts. His one-word statement jolts me from memories that I know, for a fact, are 100% guaranteed bullshit free. “You’re just yankin my chain.”
I smile because my earlier guess about Gary is absolutely correct. He’s ignorant. Still, I’m too far into the story to turn back now. Plus considering Gary’s future, he deserves to know.
I catch glimpses as I drift in and out of consciousness. I’m on some sort of operating table and those little gray buggers are surrounding me. I remember pain as they poke and prod. I try to fight them off, but my mind seems disconnected from my body.
For some reason, I hear music in the background, sounding all static-ridden like its being piped through an old intercom. It’s Lead Belly’s tune, but it ain’t his voice and it ain’t the right lyrics. Ooh cat – ta – lack, cat – ta – lack. Ooh cat – ta – lack, cat – ta – lack.
Everything feels like a dream, one giant turd of a dream. I have no idea how much time passes, but it feels like I’m serving life.
And then it’s over, just like that. I open my eyes and find myself face-down in the barley field.
I roll over just in time to see an amber-colored falling star, except it’s rising instead of falling. I know it ain’t no star. I blink once and it’s gone, hidden behind those black-ink clouds.
I get to my feet and stumble towards the edge of the field. I’m movin like a man twice my age and my body feels like it’s been thrown into a giant washing machine and set on the spin-cycle. As I make my way out of the barley, the voice of old Lead Belly enters my ears, and this time it’s really his voice and he’s singin the right words. Ooh Black Betty, bam da lam. Ooh Black Betty, bam da lam.
The fact that I hear Black Betty confuses me. It’s not a very long song. Did the radio play it again? Surely I was gone for more than a minute or two.
Deke sees me comin and he leans out the open window. “Hey man, back already?”
Back already? I’m sure I’ve been gone for hours. Then again, Deke’s booze bottle is still mostly full.
Slowly, I get into the driver’s seat, and for a second, I just sit there, trying to get a grip on reality. I turn my head toward Deke and notice that he’s starin bug-eyed at me with his mouth open like a carp out of water. I want to ask him what his major malfunction is, but my mouth feels slow to work.
“Why in the world are you walkin around out there in your tighty-whities?”
I’m speechless. What could I say? Little gray guys in a flying saucer stole my threads. Oh, and they did it in less time than it takes for Lead Belly sing Black Betty.
Deke begins laughin. “What happened to you dude?”
I open my mouth to answer, but only one word comes out. “Cattallackk.”
“Cadillac?” Deke exclaims. “Cover your ears Betty. We know you ain’t no caddy.” He pats her on the dash. “Why, everyone knows that Lincoln Continentals are classier. Caddys are just for yuppies and pimps.”
I want to tell Deke that I ain’t callin Betty no Caddy, but my mouth can only say one thing. “Catttt – taaa – lack.”
“Whatever,” Deke smirks. “Ya know bro, we’ve known each other for a while, but I’d feel more comfortable if you was wearing clothes.”
What happened next is something I still don’t fully understand. All I know is that Deke’s remarks were really starting to stick in my craw. I’m normally more of a lover than a fighter, but then again, I wasn’t really myself at that point in time. I clench and unclench my fists, trying to remain calm, but I don’t believe Deke’s pickin up on these signals.
I’m like a grumpy grizzly and Deke’s just stupid enough to keep poking the bear. “I think Betty’s too classy for you bro. She’d never just sit around in her undies like some redneck in a doublewide watching The Price is Right.”
I try to warn Deke to stop cause something ain’t right inside my brain. I want to warn him, but all that comes out is “Cattallack!”
“Can’t you say nothing else?”
“CATTTAAAALLLAAACCCKKK!!!!” I scream.
“Cadillac! Cadillac! I’m in love with a Cadillac!” Deke chants.
Quick as lightning, I wrap my hands around his neck, and squeeze.
“Dang,” Gary exclaims.
I nod. “The cops found me the next morning. I was still there in my skivvies. Beside me was Deke, dead as a doornail.
“I don’t remember much after I put my hands on his throat, but by the way his tongue was sticking out, all swollen and black, I must have had quite the grip on him for quite a spell. The weird thing was, when the cops asked me if I understood my rights, I said ‘Yes sir,’ even though I was expecting only ‘Cadillac’ to come out.
“I didn’t tell anyone about my encounter out in the barley field. This wasn’t my first rodeo, and I know how the system treats the mentally ill. I knew I wasn’t mental, but also knew I could never convince anyone of that fact if I told them the truth. So, I kept it all inside in order to avoid a lifetime membership in The Straightjacket Club.”
“Well, if you ask me, you’re nuttier than a cheese log,” Gary says. “You’re telling me that those grey guys are inside of you, or maybe it’s just their essence, or perhaps they’re controlling you from their ship, all remote control style. It don’t really matter how they’re doing it because the question remains – Why didn’t they reveal themselves in all the time we’ve spent here together? Why didn’t they ever force you to strangle me huh?”
Gary’s last statement comes down like a wet blanket, and a stuffy sort of silence grows between us. After a moment, I break that silence. “They’re smart little buggers,” I tell him. “They’ve kept quiet all this time, being on their best behavior, just waiting to get out of lock-down. For Pete’s sake, I was even starting to think that maybe they’d left me. But you see they’ve got a mission to complete and it starts once they exit the prison. ”
“I suppose they’ve told you all this,” Gary says, ignorant to a fault.
“Not in detail. All I know is once these guys are out, they’ll start killing again, but this time, they will do it much more discretely. They know now that they made a mistake by killing Deke the way they did – Didn’t realize it would get them locked up – keeping them from killing more. They’re quick learners though and won’t make that mistake twice.
Gary looks at me as if he’s starting to come around. Although I know he’ll never really believe it because it’s too unbelievable. “Well, I don’t see how you can avoid being released. You’ve done your time. You’ve paid your debt.”
I think about it momentarily, but I already know what I have in mind. I don’t like it none, but I’m kinda out of options. “I’ve got to do something that will keep me locked up for life without the possibility of parole. That way, their mission will never be completed.”
“You talkin crazy man,” Gary says as his face takes on a fearful look. “You’re talking about committing murder. That’s about the only crime that gets life.”
“Yes, and it’s got to be done before I get released.”
Gary takes a step away, but not too big of a step. The cell we share is not exactly spacious.
“I’m sorry Gary. I really am.”
“Stop talking crazy bro…”
“CATTTTTT – TAAAAAA – LAAACCCCKKK!!!” I shriek as I lunge for Gary’s throat.
Shawn D. Brink is currently building a following with four novels to his name, the latest being MY GYPSY WAR DIARY (Gabriel’s Horn Publishing) which released in 2018. In addition, he has had numerous shorter works in various publications and anthologies. Key influencers include: Frank Peretti, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ted Dekker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dr. Seuss. For a complete list of published works and/or to learn more about Shawn’s writing or how to purchase his novels, please go to his website: www.shawnbrinkauthor.wordpress.com. @shawnbrinkauth2