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  • Writer's pictureS.S. Fitzgerald

The Ranch (Part 3)

Updated: Sep 24

The family returned to their home from their alien encounter. Chase had not bothered even considering the asinine idea of staying. He had gone immediately to his car and took off into the night, leaving the family alone to deal with their experience. Sherman sat at their dinner table and stared blankly into the hardwood surface of the table. Terry paced around the house. He still carried his rifle with him, though it was more like a little drummer boy than an actual fighter. Amy stared out a window facing into the cattle out the back, expecting at any moment for the lights to burst out. No harassment came, and yet still Sherman stared into the table, lost somewhere in mystery and abject horror.

Amy broke the tense silence like a brick through a window. “What was that?”

Terry answered first. “Aliens, has to be. Those were UFOs!”

Sherman continued to stare into the table. Lost in a vortex that left his eyes glazed over. His fingers clasped together in a cage as he leaned on his elbows.

“Honey?” Amy asked.

Sherman drew in a sharp breath and finally turned to her. “I don’t know. I have no godly idea.” Sherman stood up, and stretched as if the conversation was nothing more than post dinner chitchat. Sherman stepped over to the couch and sat down on the plush leather seat. He grabbed the remote for the television and clicked it on.

“That’s it?!” Amy could not hide the frantic stutter in her voice. Sherman did not respond. He just stared, blankly at the television as the reporter gave an update on a recovery effort from a tsunami that had hit islands in the South Pacific mid last year. “Hello?!” Amy shouted over the television.

“I do not know, Amy.” Sherman enunciated every word carefully over his teeth. He turned his attention back to the television as Amy scoffed as she turned back to the window.

We turn now to Hamilton Stockton, the report on the ground in American Samoa. Stockton.” The news introduced the speaker.

Thanks Jared. I am here in Samoa, at the sight of one of the worse tsunamis to date. Even after a year, scientists struggle to identify what caused the devastation—or if it will happen again.” The scene changed to a mirage of images of the destruction from last year, recovery efforts, with an exposition being provided by Hamilton.

With another sharp inhale, Sherman stated out loud to the room, to no one in particular. “I’ve been seeing odd things for a while since we’ve been here.” Amy turned in a jitter towards Sherman and Terry stopped his pacing. “It was little things, things I shrugged off as wildlife, or me just being forgetful. Last weekend, when I brought our bulls in, things started to get worse.” He let out a heavy exhale. “I-I’ve seen those lights before. I just thought it was people lost, like you did Terry. I then noticed things started going missing, and the animals have been randomly spooked, like there was something else out there with us.” Sherman looked at his family, first to Terry, and then to his wife. “I’m just glad I’m not crazy.”

There was a silence among the three. Then Terry spoke. “I’ve seen things too. I was too scared to mention them to you guys. I was following the creek a couple days back and found a pond. I figured I could try casting in it and seeing if anything bit. Then, the water rippled like something large had jumped into it. The water parted, and shifted like a large beast was crossing the pond but, but it was invisible. Hollow, but I could see right between the ripples, like a crystal clear glass.” Terry shrank his shoulders down as the last words left his lips.

“I thought I was going crazy, too.” Amy admitted. “I know I have been putting things in places around the house, and they’ve been going missing. I was worried I was having an episode, that something genetic had triggered in me. I was so ashamed. I felt so relieve when you came in the other day asking about the post hole digger. I felt so validated, so relieved, but honey, something, something terrible is going on here.”

Sherman let out a nasally sigh and turned back to the television in contemplation. The reporter Hamilton was being asked if there was any validation behind the rumors of a government experiment in the area. “The Chinese Government certainly claims the US has been violating several international agreements, but with no credible evidence, we have to consider all other scientific possibilities.” Sherman was not taking in the conversation, but instead turned back to his family.

“We need to tell someone what is going on.” Sherman stated flatly.

None of the Green family could claim to have slept that night. Amy had not wanted to turn attention away from the windows, and she had checked, and double checked, then triple checked all the locks on the house. Terry rattled in his room, and even locked the three deadbolts on his bedroom door that, had once been peculiar, seemed insufficient for their potential intruders. Sherman sat on their bed, at the edge, and stared down at his boots on the hardwood floor. Morning finally came, gracefully, and without further incident.

“I’ll handle some tasks here on the land, and then I’ll go into town. I don’t know what I’m gonna’ tell them.” He said to Amy, who now sat on their bed chewing at the follicles of her fingernails.

“The truth.” Amy said between nibbles. “Tell them the truth.”

“Yeah.” Sherman stated flatly once more, I don’t know what the truth is, he thought to himself as he headed out for the day.

He took a ride on horseback to check on the corral where his most treasured cows were kept. Over the morning grog and sleep deprivation, he counted and recounted the heads. He was missing one. He recounted again to ensure his weaken mind was not mistaken. No, I’m missing one. He rode to the far side, and there, on the wrong side of the fence, he saw the unmistakable prints of a cow’s hooves. Relieved he at least found a logical explanation, he followed the tracks into a muddy embankment that led into a dense woodland on the Southwest.

Sherman paused briefly under the shade of the first few trees. The tracks were wide spaced. She was at full tilt. He thought, yet no other tracks were nearby. Something was chasing her was the chilling thought that flooded his mind. He continued his advance into the trees. Still the tracks in the dirt remained wide, and alone. Forty yards more, and Sherman came into a wide clearing. The tracks continued out into the clearing, and stopped dead. He did a small loop in the clearing, looking for more tracks, or the cow, and found neither. A cold chill slithered up his spine. This is just like that goddamn wolf.

Sherman searched for an hour longer. His hope of finding the cow was beginning to diminish, much like how he felt when tracking the wolf from their first day here. With a heavy heart, he turned his horse back towards the ranch. The cow would cost them dearly, nearly $1,800, but he loved his animals as well. The only thing in the world he prized more than his cattle was Amy and Terry. His heart sank that he could not protect his cattle, and likely, could not protect the one thing he valued more than them. Like he had with his son, he ensured he was present for all the care of his animals. The birth of each calf was like a fresh addition to his family. Each trait and feat, an achievement among the family.

His horse pushed its way into another clearing, a small meadow. The buzz of insects intensified in the morning glow. Sherman swatted uselessly at the large fat flies that sought his face. A rancid smell rose. The sweet smell of blood, sour flesh, Sherman covered his mouth with his hand. The horse hesitated as it trotted. Sherman had to tighten the reins and continue to encourage the horse to progress further. The grass dipped, and he came upon the scene.

The cow laid flat on what should have been its stomach. The stomach was missing completely. Intestines and all. Perfectly cut sections were missing from the sides, exposing the ribs to the air. Sherman could see between the thick bones that the internals were missing there as well. Precision cuts had been removed from the fatty places of the cow’s face. Aside from the wounds, there was little blood at the scene. The area around the cow was also undisturbed. He could not find tracks, either from the cow or from whatever had mutilated his prized cow.

He looked about the tree line that surrounded him. Aside from the buzzing of the insects, the surroundings were silent, surreal. I need help. Sherman had thought and concluded. He reared his mount around and galloped back to the ranch, intent on getting into town as soon as possible.

Terry had come out of the ranch finally. He brought his rifle with him now, and he was deadest on carrying his rifle with him every time he left the house from here on forward. He was just stepping into the sun as he caught his father slamming himself into his truck. In a blink of an eye, Sherman was speeding down the road away from the ranch. He sniffled at the odd rush his father was in, but given the night’s events there was little question.

Armed now with a rifle, and a small prized possession, a drone he had gotten for his 14th birthday, Terry headed out for the North side of the property. He felt dumb for not thinking of it earlier. The drone had the ability to record and save the video to his phone. He was fully intent on capturing proof of at least one of the odd phenomena happening to his family. He had figured the North was a logical point. From what he could tell, it was the highest point on the property. He also had not been to the North side yet, which seemed like a good starting point to try to figure out where the weird things were coming from.

Terry took one of the horses as a ride, not wanting to make the journey on foot. The mid-day heat was beating down on him and the ball cap he wore provided little shelter from the sweltering heat. The northern ridge was a welcome site. The canopy the trees cast dropped the temperature for the rest of the ride. The mercy of only a few degrees of difference allowed Terry to wipe sweat from his face and finally feel some relief.

The trees around him were giants of earth. He admired their high reaches towards the heavens. Shame came with the events over the past weeks, had it not been for the events, the property his parents had purchased was beautiful, gorgeous. The sun licked the trees and gave soft beams that just barely peeked between branches in golden streams. The soil was so diverse, there were reds, browns, blacks, grays, and even greens that highlighted the uniqueness of each step. At any other time, this would be God’s country, but Terry had to wonder if it actually belonged to one of God’s fallen.

As he admired the peacefulness, he became captivated by the massive trees. He realized he had never seen such thick and large trees before. They were large pine trees on the North side. Texas had pines, but they were thin, tiny in comparison to the massive giants he rode among now. Some of the trees were as thick as a small car. He had only seen pictures of such trees, and he was not sure such trees should even exist in Texas. It gave the area an ancient feeling, prehistoric almost. It was easy for him to imagine cavemen hunting in such a forest.

He came to a flat ridge that looked out over the ranch at a slight elevation. He dismounted his stead and lashed it to a nearby tree. It was a perfect spot to set up. To his left were large wiry ferns. Straight ahead was a drop and clearing that perfectly framed their home. To his back was a dip that was broken up by their property’s fence. Terry sat on the ground and opened the case to his drone. Inside was a four propeller gray drone and the control station. He had charged it all morning to get the full hour long flight it was capable of. He started with the control station, which was like a little game controller. Joysticks on either side allowed him to control and manipulate the flight of the drone. A small blue screen in the center gave him a reading on the battery life. A hook station at the top allowed him to connect his cellphone, which would operate as the video feed of what the drone could see.

Terry hooked his phone up to the controller and then set the drone down flat on the ground. He switched on both units, and the little controller lit up. His phone blinked, and the image of the ground where the drone sat came into view. Turning the little motors on, the drone whined and began to buzz. In seconds, the small propellers were whining into a high-pitched scream as the drone lifted up and began to hover.

Terry guided the drone up higher and higher. He turned the camera back to himself to check the clarity of the image. He saw himself and his horse on the small ridge, like small action figures. He oriented the drone back towards the house. The house started to appear green. Terry flexed his nose in the sudden discoloration. He reoriented the camera back on himself and he too was green. As he was about to bring the drone back as he noticed his arms were tinted green as well. He looked up to the sky, and the sky had started to resonate. A shimmer rippled the smooth sky between green, and blue, then green again. The shimmering and green light began to intensify. A pulsation began to thump. He felt the ground beat with the pulse, a strong rhythm that continued to beat and shake him. The pulsation grew steady, a major crescendo in some diabolical orchestra. The sky brightened a deep green and disappeared.

A terrible screeching of twisted metal soared through the air. Clapping of large sections of dirt smacked against the ground. Terry snapped around to see the fence behind him had been lifted up into the air. It was floating as more posts were torn from the ground.

Boom! A distant explosion erupted, like a blown transformer. The color of the sky went back to blue. The fence fell back to earth in a tangled mess. The buzzing of his drone cut off, and fell to the earth. Terry looked to the controller—too late and useless, the controller was black as was his phone. He tried restarting the controller as the drone shattered against the ground below. He tried his phone, and it would not turn back on.

“Junk!” He grumbled as he pressed harder into the button only for the phone to remain dead. His horse began to nay. Jerking against the lash he had used to secure to a tree. He jammed the phone into his pocket and turned to calm his companion. “Hey boy, it’s ok, it’s ok…” Something was moving behind him.

Terry turned. He could hear rapid, quick, heavy steps. Pines and leaves crunched as something moved with a series of more weighted steps. He froze, his breath caught in his chest. Whatever it was had stopped. Both he and the unseen entity had frozen. Fear had crept into his vision. A blackness that hid in the corner of his eyes. He turned to scan for where the sound had come from, but it was like whatever it was disappeared before it could be looked at directly. He would sense shadows closing in on him, falling ever closer. Yet when he looked, there was no movement. His horse bucked and tugged at the leash. There then came a musky odor. A fear had then taken hold in his mouth, like blood, sour, and salty. I’m being hunted, something primal told him. A taste of bile rose in his mouth and he swallowed, the acid rising and burning in his throat. A rancid smell, the smell of death joined the musky odor.

Hello?” A voice called off from the brush. A raspy voice, like an old woman who spent her entire life smoking. The teen in him wanted to call out for help. The man in him wanted to seek the woman. Something primal, something passed down long before from early man screamed to reject his modern ideas. This early man in him warned this was the last moment.

“Nope.” Terry stated to himself, and unleashed his horse and quickly remounted the horse. Without a glance back, he began a gallop home. And something fast, vicious, and reptilian pursued.

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