N ight fell and Jerry pitched a tent. He had the foresight to pack one during the scramble from our ship. We prepared for sleep. He looked totally exhausted. After he helped me undress, he shook off his own uniform and crawled straight into his sleeping bag. I noticed the marks all over his back where the leeches had got him. Some of the wounds looked to have gone septic. This one pustule bubbled over with puss but he’d had no trouble slipping out of consciousness.
Nothing ever really troubled Jerry. He just got on with shit. A few years back we were collecting a cargo of baby oil for some snooty intergalactic royalty on a planet with a harsh environment of unbreathable air. Two minutes into the hold and Jerry’s pressure suit snags a twig. It filled his helmet full of noxious gas, it should’ve killed him. His face swelled up and he wound up losing the sight in his left eye. Next day he was back at work with us for another delivery.
That was Jerry for you.
I was a less resilient man. Staring down at the remains of my legs, I contemplated suicide. I was only slowing Jerry down. I didn’t have the guts to do it though. I still don’t know why he didn’t just leave me…
The next day we set off on what Jerry believed to be a Southern direction. I wanted to ask him about what happened on this planet – about the leeches and his screams about an ugly kid.
We’d been travelling for hours and Jerry needed a rest. He brought out a flask of water and took a prolonged sip then offered me some. I figured now was as good a time as any to ask about what happened down here?
– Hey Jerry, is this planet dangerous?
– Don’t imagine so. You gave us the green light remember? ‘No organic life on the contours’.
It was as if his memory had been wiped.
– You were attacked though, weren’t you?
Jerry gave a perplexed face – don’t think so?
– But…the leeches? Look at your body, you’re covered in scabs!
Jerry just stared at me all intense.
– Listen man, I didn’t see nothing down here. You said it yourself, no organic reading on the Quasi-belt…
– Yeah but…
– Listen up mother fucker, I ain’t seen nothin down here, you got that? – Jerry was so mad a leech-scab burst open and oozed down the side of his cheek.
– Sure Jerry, relax…
– And don’t tell me to fuckin relax, ok?
– You got it!
He was built like cattle, I wasn’t going to argue with him. Suddenly there was a noise, a rustling about under the surface of the sand. I saw a trail form, snaking its way towards us.
– Jerry, behind you, look!
He swung round and saw the burrowing sand dweller. He clambered to his feet and pulled out his gun. He blasted two beams at it sending a blinding orange veil of sand into our faces. When the dust settled we started searching frantically.
– Where’d it go?
– I don’t know!
There was silence. Our breathing was heavy.
– D’you think it’s gone?
No sooner had I uttered those words than a monstrous set of bladed teeth come flying at me. I tried to restrain it but I was fighting with phantom legs. Jerry came over and tore the beast away. He tossed it a metre into a massive dune. Jerry charged at it like a quarterback attacking a huddle. Another mist of sand particles flew into the air as he slid into the dune after the creature. I heard it squawk in pain. He emerged with his suit torn to pieces and an alien corpse clutched in his hairy hand. He threw it on the ground in front of me.
– What the fuck is that? – I asked redundantly.
– No idea.
He knelt down and examined the corpse. Its skin was reptilian with a coat of desert varnish on the rear of its scaly hide. The face was something straight out of a bad horror movie – bulging insane eyes, a long lizard snout with a row of crystalline teeth lining either side of its jaw.
– We better keep moving, there might be more of ‘em.
I was becoming concerned about Jerry. He was in denial about his traumatic incident before, now he was behaving in aggressive outbursts. Maybe the heat had gotten to him. Maybe those alien leeches had something to do with it?
We eventually reached the end of the planet. There was a long belt of gravel that seemed to clear the orange sand but it ran right off a cliff edge. Jerry peeked over the side.
– What’s it like down there? – I asked.
– A fuckin abyss.
– You think there’s anything down there?
– Probably just feeds back into space, or worse. Whatever’s down there can’t be good.
He seemed much calmer as we sat on the edge of the planet – Jerry with his legs dangling over the side, me with the bulk of my body leaned against the camper sack. The terrible suns were merciless. A monsoon whisked sand in the air in the distance. It looked far enough away to stay relaxed. It’s funny how stupid little things remind you of home.
My two uncles, Andy and Pete used to love Indian summers. They were the type of guys who were out in the city every night getting drunk and fucking local girls. My parents never really appreciate that lifestyle, they were much too buttoned down.
I’d never met my uncles properly but I could always hear them downstairs whenever they both visited – or when they sat out back sunbathing when everyone else was hiding away inside. I heard Uncle Andy talk about the tornado that tore through the Southwest metropolitan area in 89. I heard them talk about the surreal silence left when they came back out of the basement. No wind, no traffic. It destroyed buildings, put people out of business. Forced folks out onto the streets cos their homes were gone, sent cats into trees, impaled dogs on weather vanes. It was carnage. It eventually left for Ontario and Detroit. Amazingly I think I remember one of them saying only one person was fatally injured. Small town life there seemed to come to a standstill. “The Devil Wind” Uncle Andy called it. Mother told me it came the year I was born because nature knew I was coming – Fuckin A.
It felt ok to try again with Jerry.
– Jerry. You said something about an ugly kid, what did you mean?
Jerry turned to me, the oval of his large head tilted. There was an absence in his stare, like he was brain-dead or possessed. A string of drool leaked out the corner of his mouth.
– You ok Jerry?
I backed away the best I could. He was foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal. I couldn’t contain my horror when I saw the massive leech burst out of his stomach. It broke the ribcage with a quick punch then before I knew it, a giant slime covered body was spilling out with a hoard of intestines. It landed wetly on the sand. Jerry’s body buckled over the edge of the planet and disappeared into the great void.
I started trying to scuttle away but I had no legs!
I crawled as fast as I could. The nightmare wasn’t over by a long shot. I could hear the giant worm slither behind me, making a wet trail in the sand. I got about 5 meters away from the cliff edge when I stopped to look up. To my amazement a beat up old Ford Transit was sitting pretty right in the middle of the desert wasteland. I pulled my body to the bottom of the passenger door when a pair of duck boots stomped beside me. I tried to see a face but all three of the planets moons had obscured it with unrelenting light. I made out the cannon of a shotgun. It fired into the space behind me. There was a monstrous yelp and suddenly I couldn’t hear the leech squirm after me. This guy just saved my life. He knelt to my level, resting the shotgun butt over his knee. He eclipsed the sun directly above him and I saw his face. He had maybe three teeth in his mouth and was drooling like a maniac. I noticed the backward baseball cap with a sports emblem on it. He was wearing a plaid smock with torn acid wash jeans.
– You ain’t from around here are ya?
– No I…
– We got a word for folks like you.
– Fuckin terrorist.
Before I had the chance to dispute, he was tying my wrists together with tether. He picked me up by the scruff of my spacesuit and pushed me into his caravan. At this stage, I was afraid. The “ugly kid” that spooked Jerry before we got him back on board the ship was clearly the same extra-terrestrial redneck currently detaining me. The kitchen looked dilapidated with a ton of unwashed dishes piled by the sink and awful curtain patterns. He started shouting at someone.
– MARTHA? MARTHA? WHERE TH’HELL ARE YA? MARTHA?
A tumbling of pots and pans startled me. A hunched figure appeared from behind a curtain – a woman (I think). She had a face half melted away. Her hair sprouted outwards in random tufts across the bulb of her deformed skull. She too was foaming at the mouth, slobbering in an indecipherable dialect.
– GUESS WHAT WE GOT ‘ERE MARTHA?
She looked at me then back at him waiting for an answer.
– A FUCK’N TERRORIST!
Martha scowled and spat into a bucket.
– A FUCK’N TERRORIST? – she repeated. The redneck man nodded to confirm.
– WELL SHE-E-I-I-T!
The Transit fired into life and someone in the driver’s seat declared – we’re headin back to the shack!
Then everything went dark.