Ship in a Cornfield

Those who know how the world works are obligated to enlighten the next generation. It is their duty, it is all they must do. They are supposed to show the young stupid people how to survive in a frightening place.

They are supposed to lift up a magnifying glass to the world and explain how things like war could actually exist when humans were supposedly the most highly developed species on the planet.

They are supposed to put the world into perspective by saying how horrible things were when they were young, and how the youngest generation is so lucky, or by saying that the next generation is doomed to cleaning up their parents' mess, and how they probably wouldn't succeed.

Either way, they are supposed to contribute. To either be positive or negative, encouraging or doomsday prophets. They were supposed to at least have an opinion.

Not Mr. Grillian.

He didn't ever do anything but tell the Story.

Which, actually, in a way, was his form of taking on the role of doomsday prophet. Only, his prophecy wasn't his.

And to be frank, that's all he ever needed to do.

Every Sunday afternoon for as long as I can remember, the neighborhood kids would gather around Mr. Grillian's front porch and listen to the Story.

He would sit in the old rocker chair with his pipe and a glass of sweet tea at the ready, and he would close his eyes, rock back and forth and start speaking.

The story was based on the fact that when Mr. Grillian was fifteen years old he saw an extra-terrestrial ship.

And before you go muttering about how either I am insane or he is or perhaps we both are, listen.

This man can't make up stories. We've begged him to, asked him for fairy tales, for beautiful and exciting adventures and mysteries, and as the girls, myself included, have gotten older we've asked for love stories.


And he cannot tell stories. He can tell one story, this one about the ship. We have all decided that he actually saw it, because he's so hopelessly bad at telling actual stories that he had to have seen it.

The thing is, his story is horribly depressing. And yet, we want to hear it every week. He has a following, a clan, a group of believers, and we know we're right, just like every other group of fanatics in the world.

You see, Mr. Grillian didn't just see the ship. He talked to the occupants.

This is where it gets a bit depressing. They informed Mr. Grillian that they were, in fact, plotting the end of man.

They told him they had been watching us for right around eighty five million years, and informed him we showed much promise when we were crawling around on all fours, squawking and throwing things, occasionally eating a carrot.

But then, they told him, we took a wrong turn and got on the wrong path.

They said they were planning a humane execution of the species called humans. Told him he had a little under a century to tell the world. And Mr. Grillian, being Mr. Grillian and therefore a fairly smart man, didn't tell anyone but a bunch of first toddlers and then growing children that had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon in the small town of Clover Hill.

We all heard the story about twenty times before anyone asked what the doomsday-predicting space men even looked like. Mr. Grillian told the story so well you sort of forgot about what they'd look like.

But when someone did ask, a little girl named Mandy who was also my best friend, Mr. Grillian put down his tea glass and carefully lit his pipe. He peered down at little Mandy for some time, and then slowly took a deep inhale of the sweet-smelling smoke and let it out in giant rings of gray haze that rose up into the blue sky.

"They looked like you and me, Mandy Grainer. But with eyes so large you'd suppose they'd spill over the sides." He said, demonstrating the monstrosity of their eyes by pulling back his lids and glaring.

"Was they...greenish?" Asked Greg, a little boy with glasses and a bad case of alien obsession at the tender age of five.

"No, Gregor, they were not greenish. They were very pale, some of them, and some of them were very dark. I saw six of them, you see. The only one I spoke to seemed young, the rest were walking a ways away in the grass, gazing up at the sky." He said.

That was when I got the courage to ask what had troubled me since the first time I heard what everyone called simply the Story.

"Mr. Grillian?" I asked softly. I had a terrible tendency to be absurdly shy when I was younger.

"Yes, Grace?" He asked encouragingly. He has always liked me, I think. Maybe because I never, ever, interrupt the story with questions like, 'did the ship have giant lasers?' like some of the others.

"How will they kill everyone? Will they poison us, or simply destroy us like usual?"

"Like usual? How would usual be?" He asked kindly.

"Well, you know, blood like." I explained carefully. A couple of very small girls got wide eyes and nestled into their older brothers' arms. A couple of the older brothers looked like they could use an older brother themselves.

"I really don't know, Grace. But I doubt it will be a horrible slaughter. You see, they view us as uncivilized, and a supposedly exceedingly advanced and civilized culture capable of space travel wouldn't simply drop bombs on every country. After all, they don't want to destroy Earth, they want to get rid of the human race." He explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Ohhh..." I said, nodding. "I understand."

It has been nearly thirteen years since I first heard the Story. I'm fifteen now, and I'm not terrified of the world ending.

You don't get terrified of the dentist, do you? It's something you learn to expect and prepare for. I haven't told mother and daddy about Mr. Grillian's knowledge. I figure that they'd say I was crazy and that I'm entirely too old to listen to space stories.

But I know, somehow I simply know that he's telling the truth.

And someday soon, if the news is any indicator for how bad the human race is getting, we're all going to die.

But oh, well.

Everyone dies at some point. And it would be better to save the Earth and all die a few years early.


*


It was my sixteenth birthday when the world began to end.

June thirteenth.

It was when the shadows crept over the horizon and I realized it wasn't an early sunset but in fact space ships that I started to reconsider my calm feelings.

The voice reverberated across the world, everyone heard it, they had to have.

"People of Earth, we wish to express the fact that we do not intend this to be a personal attack. It is for your own good and for the good of your planet. We have decided that you are no longer fit to inhabit this perfectly functional and promising planet. You are poisoning your water, destroying your oxygen sources and melting half your ecosystem. You will have one hour to prepare for death. It will be painless."

The silence that followed the words was the loudest I had ever heard. It enveloped me, made me cringe and hold my arms around my middle. We were in school when the words came, but not for long. Every person in the twenty kid class was sprinting out the door to Mr. Grillian's within thirty seconds of the voice.

When we swarmed into his yard, all he did was sigh and take a deep pull on his pipe.

"I am sorry you have lived to such dark times, my little ones. Go, be with your families."

And we did. We were like a swarm, all darting off to our houses. Mandy and I held hands as we sprinted back, kissing briefly on the cheek before running into our houses.

I fell into mother's arms, and daddy hugged us both from behind.

"Is it serious? Is this actually real?" I whispered into their bodies.

Silence was my only answer. Mother was shaking and father had the clenched look on his face that meant he would be freaking out if he didn't have a daughter to set an example for.

And then I realized it.

I realized I wasn't ready.

I thought I was ready for death, I thought Mr. Grillian had prepared us all for the chance. But it was a lie, I was completely unprepared. I was scared, pants wetting, hands sweating, heart racing scared, because unlike the rest of the world, I knew what was happening, and I knew it wasn't a fluke.

So, naturally, I ran.

I extracted myself from my parents and burst through the door. I heard Mandy come out on her porch and scream for me to come back, but for once I ignored my best friend and kept going.


My feet led me right where they were always going to lead me, to Mr. Grillian's front porch.

There he sat, sipping on his tea and staring at his hands.

"Mr. Grillian, tell me, quickly, where were you? Where were you when you saw them? Tell me, now!" I cried, grabbing his hands and holding them tightly.

"What are you doing, child? Go be with your family in the time we have." He said, taking his hands back and staring out at the trees.

"No! Tell me! You have to tell me!" I bellowed, grabbing the tea from his hands and slamming it on the table. He started, and stared at me. I was the most shy girl of his listeners, I was never loud, I never slammed things and I certainly never told anyone to do anything directly.

"Child, now is not the time to play at hero. Go back home, Grace, please." He said, shaking his head.

"If now isn't the time, then when exactly do you suppose will be, Mr. Grillian?" I hissed.

He watched my face for a moment, and then brushed my cheek with one wrinkled hand. He smiled.

"Drive down Oak road two miles, turn left on Blake. You'll go about five miles and find a corn field. A bit cliche, I know, but it's there I saw them. There's an old abandoned cow shed out there, you'll see it. I don't know what you're planning, but you're the best of all of them to do it, I'll promise you that." He said, sighing deeply.

I gathered his hands again and pressed them to my lips. "Thank you, sir, thank you so much." I whispered. "Now can I take your car?"

"Go right ahead." He said. He dug into one pocket and tossed me the keys. "If you crash it, it will be the least of our problems." I kissed his cheek swiftly, and jumped down the stairs. The old Mazda sat, dark blue, sporty, and expecting in the driveway. I had seen the old car a thousand times before, but never expected to depend upon it to save the world. Somehow, it was appropriate.

I wrenched open the door and started the engine, pealing out of his driveway like a teenage delinquent of some sort.

The gravel kicked under the car as I sped down main street, headed for Oak. As I shifted and turned on the lights to light up the shadowed road, I could feel the terror slipping into my veins. I couldn't think about it, I wouldn't think about it. I wouldn't think about the Story, I would only think about what I was doing.

Granted, I didn't actually know what I was doing, so that posed a slight problem, but that didn't mean I couldn't attempt to.

As the little sport car sped down Oak, my eyes watched for Blake and my brain screamed for help from someone, anyone.

The silence of the world was broken only by the roar of the little engine. My heart was beating straight through my chest, because the closer I got to the original meeting place of fifteen-year-old Mr. Grillian and the species that hovered over our planet now.

I reached Blake drive and spun the wheel, skidding in the gravel and roaring down the road.

I had ran from mother and daddy. They were probably terrified, scared silly. I was horrible to leave like that. But I was crazy. What was a crazy girl supposed to do?

Then I saw it. The cow shed in the corn field. The breeze was making the corn stalks wave and sway in the shadow of the ship, and it looked strangely eerie.

I slammed the breaks to the floor and tossed the keys on the seat, jumping out of the car.

I started running into the field. It was wet, of course, the sun had never had time to burn off the morning dew. The water collected on my legs, bared by a skirt worn because of the heat of summer. I was running to the center of the field, I knew that. Why I was running to the middle, I was less sure of. But it felt right.

I stopped when I could see equal amounts of never-ending corn on all sides, and the Mazda was a speck in the distance.

Behind the giant shadow there was black.

The hull of the ship, it had to be. I was so scared I felt like I had swallowed all my internal organs whole. I could feel my breath coming in short bursts, but I took a deep gasp of air and put my hands up to the sky.

I tilted my head back and bellowed up to the ship.

"You cowards! You can't do this! This is a world, a planet, a beautiful and horrible place to live! Come down here and face us! Let us see the faces of our killers, if you're so high and mighty and above war and slaughter, then lets see your peaceful faces as you slaughter us!" I screamed, my hands clenched into fists and my hair whipping around my head like a tornado in the wind.

The only reply was the whistle of the wind through corn stalks.

What did I expect? Another great, booming voice? For a sophomore in Clover Hill High? For a girl so shy she doesn't even talk to her best friend very much? For a girl who drove a '72 blue Mazda to save the world?

Save the world? Who the hell did I think I was? I was no hero. I had no godly parents, no special skills, no magic wands, I just listened to stories and thought I was smart.

I slowly lowered my hands and sank to the ground.

Without thinking about it I rolled over on my back and stared up at the sky, the tall corn stalks creating a frame through which to stare at my doom.

It was as though the black hull of the space ship was taking me over, as though it was coming closer and closer and about to smash me all to pieces. As though it intended to, say, kill my whole species.

Then I squinted against the wind and promptly screamed. I scrambled to my feet and stumbled backwards, and then fell again, sprawling. I felt my head hit something hard, and saw stars.

My vision swam with tiny colored dots, and there was a horribly sharp pain in my skull. It felt like a thousand little rats had tiny sledge hammers and were busting out of the inside of my head.

And the world was coming to an end and I was about to get smashed by a space ship.

That was when I realized the ship was no long lowering itself. It was hovering just beneath where cloud cover would generally be.

Then I noticed the pod coming down. Small, cylindrical, and black.

I was unconscious and probably actually dead. This was the end.

Then again, maybe not, because my head still hurt like crazy and I didn't think you kept pain around when you were dead.

Then the pod landed in the middle of the corn field and a person stepped out. It appeared to be a male person, clad in all black with a blue slash of fabric across his chest.

Definitely, on second thought, dead. And this was an avenging angel and I was completely insane not to just stay home with mother and daddy and wait out the end of man.

Then the avenging angel walked towards me and squatted down beside me, took me under the arms and pulled me to my feet.

I swayed for a moment, and then got my feet under me. I stared at the man in front of me. He could be human. He looked human.


Then I shifted my eyes from his body to his face.


His eyes were twice the size of mine, and so pale they were nearly all white, with giant black pupils in the middle, slitted, like a cat's.

"Who are you?" I murmured, putting a hand to the back of my head and feeling the lump that the unexpected rock had dealt me.

"My title is Prine." He said, inclining his head to me. "And your name, earthling girl?"

"Grace." I said, staring at his eyes. "You're one of them. I'm not dead."

"I am indeed one of them." He said. His voice was melodic, beautifully pitched. Perfect, in fact.

"Why are you doing it? Killing us all, I mean?" I asked quietly. There was no time to be trite, no time to think about how I was talking to one of them, how I was talking to an alien.

"You have no hope. You are a desperate people, lacking the finesse needed to navigate the recovery process that your planet needs." The man-being reached out and brushed my cheek with one long finger. "You are killing yourselves slowly, and everything else with you. It is only fair that we should ease your misery and that of the other things around you."

"Don't touch me." I whispered angrily. I could feel the hot tears welling up inside my throat.

"I meant no offense." He said, glancing at the ground. An alien, embarrassed by something I had said. The trick, I was discovering, was ignoring what was happening. Then I could think, barely.

"We may be stupid and we may be killing ourselves, but we have identities, we are people, it is our choice how we go about living our lives." I said, looking away from the alien. If I watched those eyes they made me feel incalculably obtuse.

"Even if you're taking down the rest of the world with you?" He asked softly.

"It is not your choice to make, whomever you are. You can't decide other people's fate, and certainly not other worlds' fates!" I protested, staring up at the sky. Do not think, do not question, do not look into those beautiful eyes, simply save. Save your life, save your mother's life and your father's and Mandy's and everyone save everyone.

"What would you give?" The words took me off guard so I glanced up into his eyes. They searched so hard I felt as though they cut me wide open and gazed at my thoughts. It was somewhat disconcerting.

"What do you mean?" I asked cautiously.

"What would you give for your people's salvation?" He asked. His words poured lemon juice on my already opened soul and heart.

"Anything. I would do anything to save my planet, my world." I whispered, nodding. I didn't look away this time, I let him search me. It hurt, to watch those cat eyes, but I was in another space, a completely different space where nothing was normal and every word was throwing myself off a three thousand foot cliff into oblivion.

"You would give the ultimate sacrifice, you would put your world first in front of even your own safety?" He asked.

I took a deep breath and thought of only my town, of the kids I had known since birth, of my teachers, of my mother and daddy. Then I multiplied that times about five billion and imagined that all gone.

"Yes." I said, refusing to let the tears fall. They retreated out of sheer shame of even thinking of making an appearance.

"You would give your life for the life of your people?" He asked. The alien was asking for my life in return for the world. I had seen it coming, or at least part of me had. I just hadn't wanted to admit it to myself.

It was a fairly good deal...admitted the bit of my mind that still was processing information properly.

My life gone. Grace Belle Preston dead and the rest of the world still alive and well and able to kill themselves in peace, or in war, but also able to maybe, possibly, turn things around.

My body lifeless, the rest of the world free to die at their own rate.

Of course I would do it.

"Of course I would." I said softly. Then I looked up at the alien and glared him straight in the face. "Of course I would."

"Then come with me, Grace." He said. He reached out and touched my neck with what I registered only too late as a syringe.

Huge pale eyes and then blackness.



*


I woke up in a white room on a white bed with golden sheets.

I sat up with difficulty. My whole body ached and my head was on fire with pain. I looked down at my body and tried not to expect anything good.

On the contrary, my skin was scrubbed clean and pink and clad in soft leggings and a fitted shirt.

"Why am I not dead?" I muttered to myself. I swung my legs off of the bed and and made my way to the door on the other side of the room. Naturally, I tried it, and it swung outwards.

That was when I fainted a bit. A passing man with giant eyes bounced to my side with extraordinary speed and held me up as I gaped.

There was a giant view screen directly in front of me. On it shone Earth, beautiful and peaceful, blue oceans, green land, white clouds. Perfection. Such beautiful perfection.

"You are the Grace human?" Asked the savior alien. "The Lord wishes to see you."

"Who is the Lord?" I asked hoarsely, still gaping at Earth. I had a momentary horrible thought that I was dead and I was, for some reason, in heaven. I didn't believe in heaven. That briefly reassured me.

"You will soon find out." The alien led me across the giant room that featured the view screen. I had watched enough sci-fi movies to know what this room was. A bridge of some sort. It had to be.

Don't think otherwise you will faint again like a puny human. I told myself firmly.


The alien escorted me to another door and opened it for me like some sort of strange extraterrestrial 19th century gentlemen.

"Good morning."

It was the corn field alien.

He sat behind a large glass desk, and another view screen boasted another image of Earth, which made me remind myself not to think again.

"Good morning. Pardon my asking, but aren't I supposed to be dead? We had a deal, did we not?" I asked, looking over my shoulder at the now-closed door.

"Grace, child, why would we kill you?" He asked, bowing his head.

"Why would you not? You were about to commit cold blooded murder on six billion people. I don't see what one sixteen year old girl's blood on your hands is going to do to your consciouses." I pointed out.

"Yes. We were going to kill. If we could find no good. You provided us with good rather quickly and emphatically." He pressed a screen on the desk, and my voice flooded the room.

You cowards! You can't do this! This is a world, a planet, a beautiful and horrible place to live and it's ours! We all live here! Come down and face us! Let us see the faces of our killers, if you're so high and mighty and above war and slaughter, then lets see your peaceful and serene faces as you slaughter us!

I winced.

"You were ready to die for your world, Grace. It's all we needed. We needed proof you're not entirely hopeless." Said the man, sighing.

"What?"

"Go back to your home, Grace, child. Try to make it more deserving of your life." He said. He started tapping on the screen again, and a beam of white light came down from the ceiling above my head.

"What? What are you doing? Will you leave us alone? You won't destroy us?" I asked, looking at the beam and at the man and at the beam, back and forth, frantic to learn our fate.

"You have done your job, Grace. One hopes your species will follow your fine example. And yes, we will leave you alone." Said the alien, his eyes holding mine.

I gaped for a moment more. Then the beam fell on my head and I saw my legs disappearing. I swallowed, and opened my mouth. I searched for some heroic and reassuring thing to say, something that would inspire his confidence that our species could pull it together in time for our next untimely judgement day.

Sadly, I am no hero, and all I managed was a feeble sigh of relief.

"Thank you." I said quietly.

"Goodbye, Grace. May the stars watch over you."

"And you." I didn't know what else to say. It was a little worrisome how my entire lower body was gone. The invisibility beam transporter or death ray or whatever this was was creeping all the way up. Now it was right above my breasts and about to swallow my head.

"Wait! Did you ever meet a man named Mr. Grillian?" I shouted, suddenly desperate to know before I disappeared from this ship.

"Why yes. I met him a little under a century ago. A fine, curious human, as human's go. Reminds me of you. Please, do bid him hello for me."

I just stared. "I will." I muttered.

Then my mouth fell open.

"Wait!" I shrieked again. The alien turned back to my disappearing form and tapped the screen on his desk. If an alien could look exasperated, this one was. But it was a patient, expecting kind of exasperation.

"Yes, young one?" He asked.

"You offered him the same chance, didn't you? Offered to take his life for ours, and he accepted, didn't he? And you did the same thing!"

The alien's large eyes were crinkled in what appeared to be a smile.

"For as long as good resides in one heart, who knows what others could be like. We can't go around testing the whole world. Goodbye, Grace of Clover Hill."

Then I stopped gaping, seeing as my face disappeared.


*


I was lying on my back in the wet grass of the corn field.

The first thing I noticed was I could see the stars. The ship was gone.

The second was that I could see the stars. It was night. I had been on the ship for at least a full day.

Oh dear.

So I got up and I got in the yellow bug and I drove back to Clover Hill, all the time telling myself to not think, not think, not think. Not till I was off the road and in my own house, with no ships and no big eyes staring into my soul and no one accepting my death as a sacrifice for the entire world and then promptly retracting it.

Just drive home, return the car, go to bed. Talk to the rest of town tomorrow.

And that's exactly what I did. I was in a daze when I told Mr. Grillian that his extraterrestrial acquaintance sent his regards, and then returned his car with a absent 'thank you'.

He knew I'd seen them. He just held me in those thin, wrinkly arms for a while, and we stood, two of probably hundreds of people over the years who knew just how close Earth comes to total extinction on a fairly regular basis.

When I got home, mother and daddy fell on me in relief, crying and scolding and so on. I told them I crashed Mr. Grillian's car slightly, hit myself on the head and was knocked out for a while. For some inexplicable reason, I couldn't bring myself to tell the truth. It felt too personal, the way the alien had touched my cheek in the cornfield, the way he said he hoped the world would grow to deserve my life.

Mr. Grillian would cover my back, I knew that. He understood about aliens. He had met one, and the alien remembered him.

I had been on a ship that traveled the stars.

I had been ready to die for my planet, my world, my species.

And the whole time all I could think of was Mr. Grillian's Story, and how happy he always was to share it with us.

I knew the world did not deserve a slaughter. Not when such miracles could occur like twenty children listening to a story about space ships and big-eyed aliens.

I was no hero, I knew that. Heroes have capes, fast cars, they're beautiful and sophisticated and they train and they can fight. They don't fall and hit their heads on rocks and get helped up by avenging aliens, they certainly aren't secretly relieved when they get a pardon from their death sentence.

But in the absence of a hero, someone has to stand up for such an elementary world such as our own.

It may be horrible and painful, poisoned and generally messed up in many ways, but after all, it's all we've got.

And I figure it was worth almost dying for.





Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

west county said...
May 22, 2012 at 11:42 am
Very good stuff. Hope abounds. Thanks for this--keep writing, keep writing...
 
thirteenStories said...
May 22, 2012 at 11:38 am
Please comment, my friends...whether it be good or bad, I would love some feedback...
 
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