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Mystery Fiction Drama

On an early November night in rural Texas, bright stars sparkled in a dark, moonless sky. Kevin Griffin, a forty-three-year-old Texas Rancher, jumped from his pickup truck into his brother's Jeep. Kevin rubbed his hands together and blew on them. “Burr. It's a cold night and getting colder.”

Logan turned to him, pausing before he said, “It sure is.”

They sat momentarily, staring at Kevin's burnt-out, smoldering sofa in his yard. Suddenly, two blue and yellow spheres of mysterious light materialized on the ends of the couch.

Logan raised his eyebrows and took a shaky breath. “Kevin, what the hell is that?” Kevin leaned forward, watching fiery tongues spin around two swirling balls. Like giant eyes, they hovered momentarily as if to stare at them, then darted in their direction. Just as the peculiar orbs were about to crash into the windshield, they spiraled upward and vanished.

Logan fell back in his seat. Kevin sat silent, his fingers tingling, then turned to Logan, “This has been an unbelievable day. I don't know what else can happen.”

* * *

The day began much like any other. Kevin stood at his kitchen sink gazing out the window at a typical autumn sunrise. Gulping the last swallow of coffee, he rinsed his cup and tossed it on the dish drainer.

Suppose I best get a move on. I told Logan I'd be there before the boys got up.

No matter what, Kevin could always find a reason to be happy. He lived on the ranch that had belonged to his grandparents. His Aunt Blanche lived there until she had to be admitted into a mental institution. Paranoid Schizophrenia was her official diagnosis.

In the twenty-first century, rustlers used helicopters and slings to steal horses and cattle, especially from those near major highways. Several surrounding ranches had lost livestock, so Kevin's daily morning routine consisted of a drive around to count his animals.

Kevin's cell phone buzzed, and he peaked to see Logan's name on the caller ID. “What's up?”

“Hey, Bro!” Logan's grin was visible in his tone. “What time are you heading over?”

Logan was energetic and an early riser. As long as he could get five hours of sleep, he was fine to work all day. Having a day job as a Fuel Dispatcher at the local energy company, he lived in the adjoining small town of Belton with his wife and three young boys.

Kevin's eyes sparkled, and he chuckled, “It's early, but I guess not for you, little brother.”

Logan said, “You know me, I don't believe in wasting daylight, Bro. When are you heading over?”

“I'm about to make my rounds, and then I'm heading your way.” Kevin never shirked his responsibilities and was dedicated to keeping the ranch like his grandparents.

Kevin and Logan were very close. When they were little, their parents died in a car accident. The tragedy resulted in them growing up with their grandparents and spinster Aunt Blanche. As boys, they loved the ranch their father grew up on and enjoyed horseback riding, hunting, and fishing with their Grandfather on the nearby Lake Belton.

Logan was outgoing and friendly and always went out of his way to connect with others. His unique sense of humor drew folks to him, and he enjoyed being around people. Soon after their Grandma passed away, Logan married and moved out. She passed six months after losing her husband of nearly sixty years.

Kevin, who valued his privacy and always played it safe, inherited the ranch and sacrificed much of his time to watch after Aunt Blanche.

Kevin smiled. “I'm excited to go fishing with you and the boys. It's been a while.”

“Well, get a move on then. We'll be ready when you get here. See you shortly.” Logan ended the call.

Kevin dropped his phone in his pocket, grabbed his jacket on his way out, and bounced down the steps. As soon as he put his hand on the door handle of his truck, he paused. A chill ran up his arm, and his mouth went dry. Turning around to survey the old-fashioned ranch house, something caught his eye from the second floor. A lampshade in the window of Aunt Blanche's old room was a glow. The mesmerizing sight of blue and yellow flames flickered and danced around it.

What is that? Holy shit, is that fire?

Kevin dashed through the front door and stormed into the kitchen. Grabbing a metal pail from the cupboard, he filled it with water and double-stepped up the stairs. Charging down the hall to the bedroom, he stopped cold in the doorway.

The color drained from his face. His pupils flared as he stood rooted to the floor. Not believing his eyes, he heard the pail handle squeak, rocking in his hand. The lampshade on the nightstand was engulfed in a perfect teardrop-like shape. Oddly, it appeared it was on fire, but nothing was burning. There was no smoke, and the air was eerie and still.

Kevin crept into the room and eased closer to the nightstand. Moving his hand slowly through the translucent-looking flame, he touched the lampshade. Quickly jerking his hand away, he examined it. Glancing back, the blue and yellow tear-shape stayed in place.

That's not fire, is it? What is that?

Instantly, whatever it was shot away from the table and lamp. Spreading across the ceiling—it quickly transformed into a swirling sea of multi-colored light. Like a kaleidoscope, it reflected all around the room.

A shiver ran up his spine, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. His heart skipped a beat as his chest heaved. Cautiously, he began to ease out of the room. The iridescent mass twirled above and followed him into the hallway.

What's happening? What the hell is this?

At the far end of the hall, a door stood open. Inside, a similar tear-shaped sphere flickered and danced on an empty shelf. As he watched, it grew to the length of the doorway and transformed into a misty white fog.

Kevin thought it appeared to be a passageway of some sort. Dismayed, he dropped the pail, clattering across the hardwood floor. Something was drawing him toward the opening, an unnatural tugging sensation. A high-pitched hum filled the air, and he covered his ears. Glancing to his left into the bedroom, he watched the arms of his alarm clock spinning. Dropping his arms to his sides, as if in a trance, he heard the grandfather clock downstairs chiming wildly. The daylight through the window was changing as if time was flying by.

Unexpectedly, he was sucked through the passageway and surrounded by a pearly-white glowing light. Feeling dizzy, his eyelids grew heavy, and he dropped his head. As if weightless, he felt himself floating inside the light. Just before he blacked out, he heard Aunt Blanche's eccentric laugh.

A thunderous clap rattled the house, and Kevin was instantly back in the hallway. Struggling to stand, he balanced himself with his hand against the wall. Looking up, he was mesmerized by the lights swirling above him.

What is that? What just happened?

Tongues of twirling beams lunged and snapped at him like a giant bird's beak. They nudged him toward the stairs. He covered his face with one arm before stumbling backward down the stairway. He rolled down one step after another, covering his head with his arms. Reaching the bottom, his nose filled with the stench of burning rubber.

Rolling over on his side and peering into the living room, the couch was a blaze like a roaring inferno. Thick black plumes billowed upward and clung to the ceiling. Laying on the floor, he fumbled to fish his cell out of his pocket. His hands were shaking as he dialed the number.

After the first ring, “9-1-1, what's your emergency?”

“This is Kevin Griffin on Taylor Valley Road. I need help right away. Something's bad wrong here. I think my house is on fire.”

“Stay calm, Kevin. This is Betty McGuire. I'll get the volunteer firefighters out there as soon as possible. You're not hurt, are you?”

“No, I don't think so.”

“Alright, Hun, just stay calm. Help is on the way.”

“Thank you. Please ask them to hurry.” Clutching the phone, he rolled onto his stomach and quickly dialed Logan.

Logan answered right away. “What's up, brother? Where the hell have you been all day?”

“What do you mean all day? Logan, it's the house––it's on fire! Or at least I think it is. Something odd is happening over here.”

“What? What are you talking–about–Hold on. I'm getting a call from the volunteer firefighters. I bet it must be for you. Don't worry. We're on the way!” Logan ended the call.

Kevin struggled to stand and dashed to the front door. Turning, he watched a swirl of silky black smoke slithering like a python along the ceiling and following him. Recoiling, it formed into the shape of a hand with long, ghost-like fingers. Reaching down, it wrapped them around and cradled his chin, much like his Aunt Blanche used to do. Kevin twisted his face free and clambered out the door.

Diving from the porch, he scrambled into the cab of his pickup. Winded and trembling, his pulse raced. Fumbling to pull his buzzing cell from his pocket, he saw Logan's name. “Logan!” He said. The sound of a siren grew nearer.

“Yes, we're almost there. Are you okay?”

“Little brother, something odd is happening here.”

The windows on the second floor had the same peculiar iridescent smoke and flames. Wisps of silky black smoke twirled from the ceiling and cascaded toward the sky. It all vanished when the first firefighter set foot on the porch, leaving no visible damage.

“Are you sure you're alright?” asked Logan.

“The strangest fire I've ever seen, and it all happened so fast.”

Kevin and Logan sat on the steps of the fire truck. Logan put his arm around his brother. “I'm glad you're okay.”

“I thought I first saw it in Aunt Blanche's bedroom. Do you remember how she'd say strange things about lights and ghosts wandering through the house?”

“Yes, she always said it was the spirit people.”

“After Grandma passed, she started getting worse. She'd wake me at night to tell me she'd been to the other side, that the spirits had shown her another world, and then do that freakish laugh. She needed professional help.”

Walking up to them, Fire Chief Kelly interrupted, “Fire's out, boys. Things looked a lot worse when we came up.”

Kevin gazed up at the sky. The sunset and the atmosphere quickly transformed into a deep purple. The first stars of the evening began to pepper the sky.

Kevin's face glistened with sweat, and he had streaks of smoke across his cheeks. Glancing around, he said, “It was morning only a few minutes ago. What happened?”

“Brother, you've been out of touch all day. It was about five-thirty in the afternoon when you called 9-1-1.” Logan patted Kevin on the shoulder.

Kevin hung his head, “Am I losing my mind, like Aunt Blanche?”

Chief Kelly took off his helmet and wiped his brow. “Old man Wilson, Bell County's first volunteer fire chief, used to talk about being called out here when your Aunt Blanche was just a little girl. Your Grandpa would ring up the station and tell them the house was in flames and Blanche was missing.”

Logan looked at Kevin, then back to the Chief, “What do you mean?”

“Yeah, I think it happened multiple times. When they got here, there was no fire, and they'd find Blanche wandering in the yard laughing. She'd ramble on about spirits, strange lights, and space people. You know, shit like that. Nobody was surprised when you sent her off to a mental institution. The whole town knew she was crazy.”

Kevin stared up, holding his face in his hands, “So this sort of stuff happened before we moved in with them?”

“Sure did. Some folks said it had something to do with the Apache Burial mounds out back of the house. They used to bury their dead with all their belongings. I've heard they'd go to great lengths to ensure the deceased didn't return and lure the living to go with them. They said the mounds are where the spirits came down from the sky to take the dead and, every so often, the living.”

Logan raised a brow, “We used to find arrowheads playing back there as boys.”

“Yeah, not surprising. All the ranches in and north of the hill country once had Apache villages on them.”

Kevin sighed. “Ah, man. Aunt Blanche may not have been as crazy as we thought. She always said we're not alone.”

Chief Kelly chuckled and put on his helmet. “Maybe not. Today's exception is that you did have a fire. Your sofa burnt pretty bad. We'll put it out front. I suggest you keep a watch on it tonight. Oh, and your power's out. Something melted your breaker box like a stick of butter, but we didn't see any evidence of a fire.”

The other firefighters put away the hoses and other gear. Logan joined them in the firetruck. Leaning out the window, he said, “I'll be back later, brother.”

The stillness of a moonless night wrapped around Kevin as he sat alone in his truck—the stars above twinkled against a deep black expanse.

Kevin flipped on his headlights to see his smoldering sofa. A thin stream of smoke and steam swirled upward from it. His cell phone buzzed on the seat beside him and broke his gaze. It was his brother. “Where are you? Man, it's spooky out here.”

Logan turned his Jeep onto the lane leading to Kevin's. “Dude, chill. I'm almost there.”

Kevin exhaled heavily and peered into his rearview mirror. The headlights of his brother's Jeep were visible. “I think I see you now.”

* * *

As they sat in the Jeep's front seat in shock at what had just happened, Logan slowly turned to face Kevin, “I agree. This has been one bizarre day.” Staring forward, he leaned into the windshield to better understand where the orbs had disappeared. “Kevin, what the fuck is that?” Logan pointed to the field to the left of the house. A bright searchlight swept back and forth across an open area behind the house.

Kevin snapped, “Damn, that must be cattle rustlers!” In the next second, another light popped onto the Jeep's left—a third to the right.

Logan eyed the rearview mirror to see a fourth behind them. “Bro, they're all around us. What are they? Searchlights from a helicopter? I don't hear any chopper blades.” The lights swept back and forth, circling the Jeep. “Grab my pistol––it's under the seat.”

Kevin handed the gun to him. “Where's your rifle?”

“In the back. Get it.”

Reaching back. “Got it.”

Logan glanced at Kevin. “On a count of three, let's jump out and start shooting up. “One, two, go…”

They opened the doors and jumped out. Before either could pull a trigger, two searchlights locked onto them. The silence was desensitizing. The only sound was the hum of vehicles from the highway in the distance.

They dropped their guns and stood with their hands at their sides. The other beams instantly switched off. The sky that seconds ago was filled with bright stars went black. The lights on Kevin and Logan became translucent columns focused on their chests. These strange pillars shone from an almost invisible diamond-shaped object hovering overhead.

Kevin watched Logan's eyes roll back, and his head lifted to the sky. Slumped backward, Logan was slowly raised by the column of light locked on his chest. His arms hung limp, and his legs dangled as the beam hoisted him upward. Then Kevin felt a jolt, and everything went dark.

Waking up, Kevin batted his eyes and twisted his head. He whispered, “Logan, are you there?”

“Yeah, I'm here. Where are you? You sound like you're above me.”

I don't know. I can't move my arms.”

Logan sighed heavily, “Me neither. It feels like they're glued to my sides.”

Kevin lifted his head to look at his feet. “And I'm naked, are you?”

Logan put his chin to his chest. “Yep, as the day I was born. Any idea where we are?”

It sounded to Kevin like Logan was above him, but he wasn't sure. It felt like he was being rotated on a vertical rotisserie. As he turned, through a misty fog, Kevin could see they were in a circular room. Curved glass windows enclosed the space. The floor and ceiling were glowing a soft white.

As he revolved around, Kevin could see outside. His heart raced, and he could feel his pulse throbbing in his ears. Out of the window was a vast star-filled maroon sky. In the distance, a dark mountain range. On the horizon were two moons—one a golden yellow and another a brighter sea green.

“Logan, are you seeing what I am?”

“Ah, bro, I don't think we're in Texas anymore.”

Inside his head, Kevin heard Aunt Blanche's distinct laugh.


August 07, 2023 20:21

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3 comments

Tommy Goround
12:17 Aug 11, 2023

I am liking anything about ranches and cows and blanches just now. Clapping

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Chandler Wilson
14:08 Aug 11, 2023

Thanks Tommy. I always appreciate your comments and feedback.

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Unknown User
18:02 Aug 10, 2023

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