It’s been said that the author is the worst judge of his own writing. Luckily, I’ve never been afraid of being the worst at something, so have at this story, and I’ll meet you at the end to do some judging!
It Came From The 50’s
by J. Tanner
It stirred. It slithered up into the burning desert sun feeling the heat on its back warming its blood. It could stay here no more. The food supply was long since depleted. Rather, food remained, it just wasn’t large enough to fill the ever expanding hunger. A swirling cloud of dust and three-toed footprints the size of Cadillacs followed it into the distance. It was hungry. Voraciously so.
* * *
Charlie used a handkerchief, trying in vain to remove the coffee stain from his no-longer-spotless-white lab coat. This job sucks, he thought. Five years of his life, FIVE YEARS, to get a degree in chemistry and he’s a glorified paper-pusher in the godforsaken Nevada desert. Writing goddamn earthquake reports. Everyone knew there were no fault-lines in the desert. Everyone knew exactly what was causing the shaking coincidentally centered on a “top secret” military test site. But it was illegal. So earthquake reports had to be written. Goddamn earthquake reports.
Charlie knew he shouldn’t have set the coffee on top of the box of files. It was an accident waiting to happen. He had even watched the cup slide around on top of the box, waiting for the angle to tip just so, or a jerky turn, to fly off and splatter brown liquid across his spotless white lab coat.
He threw the paper towel down and wiped the cement floor with his foot. Second Assistant Nobody to Professor Barnabus B. Bigshotski cleaning the stupid floor. Nothing ever happens here. This job sucks. Sucks big-time. He repeated his mantra every day–more than once.
He picked up the files and continued down the narrow sloping hallway, under the rows of harsh artificial lights, to the main bunker.
Seven-four-eight-eight-six-two. Charlie whistled the tones emitted from the box as he punched in the security code. A spy would probably use a tape recorder to duplicate the tones and then play them back to bypass the system. Well, that spy would be sorely disappointed; nothing worth stealing in this shithole. A tinny speaker buzzed incessantly. Charlie cranked the handle and pushed open the heavy steel door.
The minor claustrophobia, which always bothered Charlie in the hall, vanished. Natural light licked the room through the foot-thick polarized glass windows nearly twenty feet above. It wasn’t bright, but at least it was real. Charlie set the box on one of the multitude of computer consoles and climbed the metal framework stairs, two at a time, up to the observation deck. The windows, high above the control-room were only inches above the desert floor on the other side. This must be how it feels to be a bug, he thought. The perspective never failed to impress him; he imagined a giant Reebok coming out of the blue and squishing him. No warning. Splat. At least being a Second Assistant Nobody was better than being a bug.
Charlie noticed a dust plume far out on the test site marring the cloudless sky. What the hell was someone doing way out there? They stupid? They want cancer? Must be joyriding motorcycles, or maybe dune buggies. Charlie grabbed a pair of binoculars off a nearby rack and pressed the rubber circles to his eyes. He scanned across the horizon until he picked up the dust cloud. Not a motorcycle, that’s for sure.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
He lowered the glassed and checked to make sure it wasn’t just a small critter right outside the window magnified to gigantic proportions. Nope, it was definitely way the hell out there. He raised the binoculars to his eyes once more to satisfy himself that it wasn’t a mirage, or runaway imagination or something. The last thing he wanted was to tell Professor Bikowski some crazy story unless it was a crazy-but-true story. Yep, there it was in full color, Technicolor even. Charlie descended the stairs four and five at a time hoping he wouldn’t catch the lip of a step with his heel and tumble in a heap to the floor with a broken neck. But no, he made it safely. Once again, he had disregarded Mother’s advice and survived. No broken neck (yet, Mother would add). He ran toward the labs, his no-longer-spotless-white lab coat trailing behind like a cape.
* * *
It was guided solely by instinct. It had no idea the glittering spires in the distance were the multistory hotels and casinos of a city. It only knew it must feed. It headed toward the glinting metal structures taking fifty-foot strides, its claws ripping into the soft earth. Desert mice and lizards scurried among the sagebrush to avoid the path of their enormous cousin. Vegas, baby. It was going to Vegas.
* * *
Charlie banged frantically on the door to Professor Bikowski’s laboratory and then let himself in before the Professor could respond. The Professor sat in front of a computer monitor, its tinker-toy molecular-chain display glowing a pale green. With the green glow of the monitor lighting his face and his unkempt grey-white hair, Professor Bikowski looked like he had just returned from a date with a light socket.
Bikowski turned and said, “What is it? Can’t you see I’m busy.”
“We’ve got a problem, Professor,” Charlie said, gasping for breath between words. “A big problem.”
* * *
Major Dale Parks walked confidently out onto the vast tarmac runway, his mission briefing in one hand, his flight helmet in the other. Heat waves rose from the ground. His mood was impenetrable behind mirrored sunglasses and stone features. The flight crew scurried around the F-15E Eagle two-seater, like ants around the queen, making last minute adjustments on the unusual armaments.
The crew chief saw Parks approaching and jogged out to meet him. The chief removed his cap and wiped the sweat from his brow with a sleeve.
“Afternoon, Major,” the chief said.
Parks nodded acknowledgment.
“Captain Baker is already on board running the pre-flight. If all systems check you should be up-and-running in one-five. I won’t even ask why you’ve got Mavs.”
The Hughes AGM-65D Maverick missiles looked wrong hanging from the fuselage of the Eagle. It normally carried the smaller Sidewinders or extra fuel tanks for long range missions.
Other than the unusual ordnance the aircraft looked as sleek as ever. Its pointed nosecone flowed into the bubble canopy and dart-like wings. It was the finest combat aircraft Parks had ever flown, maybe the finest in the world. He climbed the portable ladder and stepped into the cockpit, eager to get the bird in the air where it belonged. The crew chief assisted Parks as he strapped himself into the ejection seat.
“Nice shades,” said the chief as he tugged on the harness to make sure it was secure.
Parks pulled the glasses from his eyes and tucked them in the chief’s shirt pocket. “If I don’t make it back they’re yours.”
“Thank you, sir, and good luck.”
With the pre-flight ritual completed, the chief climbed off the ladder and pulled it away from the fuselage.
Parks plugged in his oxygen mask and radio lead as the canopy closed, sealing him from the outside world. Air conditioning kicked in quickly, driving the California heat from the cockpit.
Captain Baker’s voice piped over the gritty interphone, “Welcome aboard, Major. Ever read a brief as damned strange as this one? Downright odd.”
Parks conceded that he had not. But if Command had told him the sky was yellow, then the sky was yellow. That’s the kind of airman he was. He got clearance for runway three and taxied toward it, double checking readouts on the Multi-Function Displays along the way.
He stopped the Eagle at the last chance checkpoint and the armament crew rushed to the underside of the plane to remove the safety pins from the weaponry. The crew chief signaled the pilots with his index finger and thumb extended, like a child forming an imaginary gun. Both pilots raised their hand into the air where the chief could see them. Only then did the crew pull the pins and scramble from beneath the aircraft. The chief signaled that his crew was clear, holstering his pistol.
Parks advanced the throttle up to military power without releasing the brakes. The grip felt somehow right in his hand, like an extension of his arm. Part of him. The F-15 vibrated mildly, anticipating the big blue. Parks released the brakes, simultaneously hit the afterburners and the Eagle hurtled down the runway. Acceleration pressed him comfortably back in his seat and the rough surface of the runway rattled his teeth. The adrenaline flowed electric. He nudged the stick back a hair and the Eagle took to the sky. Landing gear retracted and the flaps locked in the up position as the fighter rapidly climbed to ten-thousand feet and leveled off.
“Think it’s really there?” Baker asked.
A new voice broke in before Baker could continue his line of inquiry.
“Chicken Little, this is the Henhouse, do you copy?”
The tower boys seemed to get a real kick out of the code names they created. Humor them, he thought.
“Copy that, Henhouse,” Parks responded.
“The target is bearing three-twenty. Last course three-oh-five. Ground speed is estimated at four knots. Copy that?”
Parks checked the steering bug, banked the Eagle, and settled in to enjoy the flight.
* * *
A million to one at least, Bikowski thought. The odds of that thing’s path crossing the parking lot at that exact point, and its foot landing exactly on that car, and only that car–a million to one at least….
The bitter desert wind whipped Bikowski’s shock of hair as he observed the mangled wreckage of the VW. Crushed like a bug. He could see a bloodied hand poking through the shattered front windshield. It would be most difficult to find another assistant.
* * *
The F-15 was a lonely minnow in the ocean of sky. From the moment of the report from some scientist in the desert all air traffic had been routed from the area. Parks dropped some altitude to position the fighter where Baker wanted it for the launch. The Maverick had a fairly short range for a missile–just under ten miles. And from that range, with a target that size, Parks knew he would be able to see it. Not that he needed to. He knew it was there.
“Locked on,” Baker said. “Sweet Jesus, it’s really out there.”
At first it just looked like a rock formation, but as the Eagle closed the gap Parks started to make out the form. The legs, the tail, the diamond shaped head. A gigantic lizard. He heard the slight buzz of the interphone switching on, but Baker switched it back off without saying anything. It looked just like a normal sized lizard from here, Parks thought. He felt like a kid with a slingshot. A high-powered Wrist-Rocket. One hit would blow the little sucker right in half.
“Target acquired,” Baker said.
Silently, a Maverick dropped from the fuselage. The missile’s engine ignited several seconds later. It pulled away from the Eagle like it was in slow motion, its air speed of Mach one-point-two only slightly faster than the aircraft’s cruising speed. Parks banked the Eagle into a slow turn and waited for Baker’s signal.
A long minute later, Baker confirmed it. “Direct hit.”
Parks dived and rolled the Eagle ninety degrees so they could get a good look at the target as they passed over it. Checking the FLIR just wouldn’t cut it with such an unusual target.
“Shit!” Baker said, “Not enough left for three suitcases and a pair of boots.”
Baker spoke again, but not to Parks. “Target destroyed, we’re coming home.”
“How’d it go Chicken Little,” came the anonymous voice of a tower controller.
“Milk run,” Parks said.
* * *
It would never feed. It would never wreak vengeance on society. It would never be a symbol for the danger of the technology that created it. It was only a big dead lizard. It was fifty years too late.
Still with me?
So, yeah, I’m a big fan of monster movies. The real ones, with dudes in suits, or normal-size creatures superimposed to look huge next to people, or best of all, stop-motion animated. When the masses were packed into theaters watching the Hollywood CGI Godzilla remake/travesty I was sitting in an empty row of a different theater behind a snoring guy watching the Japanese import Godzilla 2000 and laughing like crazy.
So I decided on a bit of an homage to those B movies. And thought about how in every era, no matter how much the technology improved, the monsters were always impervious. And so came the idea to pit the creature from one era (my favorite monster era) against the technology of another (not quite my favorite combat aircraft era but the best to make the point).
And so I got to have some fun with my deeper than average knowledge of flying combat aircraft. Thank you flight sims! And some further fun throwing in the obligatory 50’s style movie scientist, and his more contemporary assistant for balance, to set up the confrontation.
But the problem I had with the story was conceptually it required an anti-climax. I was happy with it. It did what I intended. But it never seemed particularly satisfying as a story. Checking my records, I didn’t submit it much, and the places it went to weren’t the cream of the crop as markets go so even then I wasn’t really too confident.
So verdict is: I like the elements a lot, but don’t think it works too well as a story.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know. I’m totally cool with honest, polite criticism so say what you think. I won’t be offended even if you hate it.