Thursday, September 29, 2005

Turning Point (Short Short Story)

Josh awoke with a start and bolted upright, bathed in a cold sweat. Confused and disoriented, he looked around the room franticly. His mind raced as sweat trickled down his nose and large drops fell onto the already dampened bedcover. He mopped his brow with his shirtsleeve. Where the hell am I? What time is it? Is it day or night? As consciousness took hold of him, his mind slowly began to regain some focus, but he was in that half awake/half dream state where everything seems surreal. He continued to scan the room with his eyes. Is that a figure in the corner? What the hell is that? Did it just move? Josh thrust his hand over to his nightstand and swept it across the cluttered surface until his fingers wrapped around a small object. Reaching back behind his head, he hurled it towards the shadowy form and at the same time switched on the lamp with his other hand. Instantly the room was bathed in light. No mysterious figure awaited him in the corner, but on the floor, beneath the dent on the wall it created, laid the broken pieces of his cell phone. Josh exhaled slowly and sunk his head back down into the sweat-soaked pillow; the rush of adrenaline now over; a momentary feeling of relief came over him.

His mind began to clear. He was in his bedroom—back in his bedroom actually. It was Saturday night, or…maybe early Sunday morning? This wasn’t the first time Josh had woken up this way. Every few months Josh awoke in a similar fashion. First there was confusion, then realization. They had taken him again, used him for whatever fiendish purpose they had, and plopped him back into bed when they were done.

That was almost two years ago. As usual, he didn’t tell his family or friends about the encounter. Who the hell would believe him, anyway? The countless kooks who showed up on Maury Povich and Sally Jesse Raphael played a large part in discrediting people like him who were legitimate targets of them. This had been happening since he was six years old. Of course as a child it seemed more like a nightmare than an actual occurrence. He would awaken in the middle of the night in a trance-like state in his room, awash in a green glow of hard bright light. Paralyzed with fear, able to only move his eyes, he darted them around the room in an attempt to locate the invaders. Then they would appear, as if materializing out of the walls. They looked just like they had been portrayed in the movies and on TV. Pale skin, large bulbous eyes, slits for a nose, with a wiry body shape. When he got a little older, Josh started calling them “The Grays” like Mulder on The X-Files.

The routine was always the same. After being taken, he would awake early the next morning in the pitch dark, his mind racing and his breath coming in large gasps, as if he had just emerged from a pool of deep murky water after a near-drowning. His young mind, unable to process what had happened, pushed the episodes far into his subconscious where the bad dreams about the boogey man and other similar beasties were stored.

There were reprieves, however. Sometimes the visits would stop for a year or two--but never for more than two years. After long lapses such as these it almost started to feel to Josh as if the abductions had never happened at all. Perhaps they were a recurring nightmare or those sleep disorders he saw on the Learning Channel where people feel like they are paralyzed and have strange dreams while their eyes are wide open. His mind had either found a way to push the memories aside or worse yet--they had a way of making the memories fade. Unlike E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the experiences weren’t at all interesting or life-changing. They were absolutely terrifying. No matter how many times it happened, no matter how regular these encounters where, they never became any less frightening. The Grays, with their emotionless black eyes, their strange metallic instruments moving across his body and the odd electronic devices humming and clicking were sheer torture. They performed their brutish tasks with cold, uncaring, soullessness as if they were dissecting a frog or grasshopper in eighth grade science class.

Josh spent all of his free time researching the phenomenon. He belonged to all the web groups and encounter groups and psychological studies. In the meetings they talked and commiserated. They cried and they prayed and they tried to make sense of it all. About 9 out of 10 people in the groups were nut-cases or delusional psychotics, but there were the occasional others like himself who were genuine abductees. Despite all of the counseling, regressive hypnosis, and psycho-babble he endured over the years, none of it had healed the pain he felt from the encounters or the violation he lived with every day of his life.

It was out of pure frustration and desperation that Josh got the idea. In all of his intensive research, there was one approach to the phenomenon he had never encountered. All of the victims of these violations were passive participants. In the groups they blathered on about how helpless and weak they felt and how powerless they were. Josh had a flash of inspiration. Who said it had to be that way? It was during one of the “down” periods that Josh made this revelation. They hadn’t bothered him in months. He often wondered why they took these breaks. Were they off examining other subjects? Did they take vacations? Maybe their mode of travel took one or two years from wherever they came from.

So he began to train. First there was the hours of karate at the Parkdale Community Center taught by an ex-Marine Drill Sergeant who insisted everyone call him “Stubbs”. Stubbs had two fingers blown off by shrapnel in the first Gulf War and wore the nickname like a badge of honor. With Stubbs’ help, Josh achieved the black belt more quickly than any of the other students. Next, Josh started weight training at the fancy new gym down at the Meadowbrook strip mall. Gary the slightly effeminate body-builder and professional trainer helped him to “blast his quads” and “pump up his pecs”. For further protection, he procured a Glock 9mm handgun from the dirty little gun shop that was the front of Gus Deter’s Mason Street house and joined the Oakland gun club. Three nights a week at the range for target practice with the club plus a combat handgun class sponsored by the Oakland County chapter of the NRA made him sharp with the pistol. The instructor, Nick Logan, was a real Michigan Militia type. He had a small one bedroom home on forty acres of wooded land that he built himself. He used windmills to generate his own electricity and lived “off the grid” as he used to say. Nick had his own Ham radio station and he would broadcast his opinions of the “gov’ment” and “how they were coming to take all our freedoms.” If Nick had a listener-ship of more than 6 people the “gov’ment” would probably have come and paid him a visit to discuss his revolutionary ideas, or maybe why he hadn’t paid his taxes in almost ten years (because taxes were unconstitutional, don’t you know). Of course, the focus of the classes was how to stop intruders from assaulting you in your own home. If old Nick only knew exactly what kind of intruders Josh was preparing to repel…

Now, after months of intense training, Josh was lean, steely, and coiled like a spring—ready and aching for an encounter with Them. They had never been away for more than 24 months, and he knew the time was coming soon. It had been just over 23 months. This time, Josh was ready for them. He examined his past abduction experiences carefully, piecing them together from his journal entries, and he formulated a plan. Josh determined that there was always a period of time, maybe 20-30 seconds, between when he awoke bathed in the green light and when the whole body paralysis actually started. He remembered that he could still move his arms and legs as the paralysis slowly spread from the center of his body out to his limbs. If he fought against the paralysis during this short interval with his newly strengthened muscles and increased mental toughness, if he could reach the pistol under the pillow, maybe he had a chance to take out a couple of the little gray bastards and scare them away for good. As Josh finally drifted off to sleep that night, he repeated the mantra to himself, “not this time, not this time.”

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