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It was a thing from another world, and we're not talking about the blonde bombshell. This was a creature that could not be named. A horror that could not be explained. There was nothing left to do, but call it...

Tall, Dark, and Gruesome
From "The Adventures of Drake Sutton, A Bachelor in Space"
by Christian M. Chensvold

 

Drake was lying on his bearskin rug with Elsa Lindgren, a Swedish gal he met at the Komet Klub. She was tall, curvy, and had hair like golden sunshine. On another planet men would have fallen on their knees for this goddess. On Earth they fell on their backs.

Drake had just had his space-age bachelor pad wired for seduction and was anxious to try it out. "Another drink?" he asked.

Elsa nodded, then nuzzled her blond hair deeper into the plush white fur.

The ace reporter for the Galaxy Times reached into his smoking jacket, pulled out his remote control, and clicked towards the kitchen. There was a faint buzzing sound, then a Bar-O-Matic rolled into the room. Drake picked over the bottles until he found the cognac. Then he pressed another button and the lights dimmed down a notch, while the floor-to-ceiling lava lamp began to glow.

"Wow, it's so gooey!" Elsa purred.

"I think you mean 'groovy,'" Drake said as he poured her a drink. He hit yet another button, which caused the hi-fi to hum. Then the lid flipped open and four violins sprung up, followed by four robot arms that began stroking the strain to Jackie Gleason's "Melancholy Serenade."

Drake slid his arm under Elsa. "As a famous poet once said, 'Your eyes I adore so, and your torso even more so.' Now, what's the Swedish word for ... "

Suddenly the videocom buzzed.

Drake sighed, pointed his remote at the console and pressed answer. The face of Grover Trapello popped up in a state of acute animation. Grover was Drake's oldest pal, a stand-up comic who worked the space station circuit.
"Drake, I've got to talk to you. Sorry, Debbie."

Elsa jumped up. "Debbie? You told me I was your 'main tease'!"

"That's for sure," Drake muttered. "Look Debbie, I can explain "

"Elsa!" Elsa threw on her sweater and headed for the door.

Drake ran after her. "Baby, why are you getting so upset? 'Debbie' is just English for 'Elsa.'"

The door slammed on his nose.

Grover winced. "You're going to forget all about her when I tell you what just happened."

Drake squinted at the screen. "What's that stuff behind you?"

"Nature."

"Where'dja find it?"

"I was only my way to the Seattle Comedy Showcase, but I got a little lost. I'm in Arizona."

"Say no more. So what happened?"

"So I'm looking at a map when all of a sudden this bright light streaks across the sky and crashes behind this hill. So I go and look for it and what do I find? A spacecraft not of this earth."

"It was probably just some crazy Martian. You know what lousy pilots those guys are."

"Trust me, you've never seen anything like it. This story could make your career. I'm in a little town called Woodville, just off of the old landway Route 66.

"By the way, wasn't there a jingle for a bordello that went 'Get your licks on Route 66'?"


II. Crash of the Titan

Drake swooped down from the sky
in his Phobus XK-4 high-performance sports saucer and skimmed along the cracked asphalt of Route 66. According to his navigation system, the town of Woodville was just ahead.

Through the darkness he spied a small crowd on the side of the road. There were several landmobiles parked and a thin stack of smoke rising into the sky. Grover emerged and flagged down Drake. He parked his saucer then walked to a ledge overlooking the wreckage, strolling right past Sheriff O'Malley, who stuck his arm out.

"Whatcha doin' there, son?"

"I'm Drake Sutton. I'm with the Galaxy Times."

"So?"

"So can I look at the spacecraft?"

"Nope."

"Let me try again in Arizonian: I work for newspaper. I must see ship to write story."

O'Malley leaned over and spat a mouthful of tobacco juice an inch from Drake's wing-tips. "Woodville's just getting over a nasty flu virus, son, and seeing as how I don't know what kind of space diseases that thing is carrying, it's strictly under quarantine until Dr. Primrose gets here." A pair of headlights flashed as an old Chevy landmobile pulled to a stop on the dusty road. "And that must be the Doc right there."

Dr. Primrose emerged from the car in medium heels, a tailored gray suit, hair in a tight bun, and black-rimmed glasses. "Gentlemen," she said excitedly, "I came as fast as I could. Is it really a craft from outside our system?"

"Have a looksee," said the sheriff, "and let me know if I should call out the National Guard."

"I hardly think that will be necessary, Sheriff O'Malley." Dr. Primrose walked to the edge of the embankment, then threw off her heels and began descending the slope in her stockinged feet.

"This Doc," Drake whispered, "who is she?"

"Prudence Primrose, Ph.D. Has a lab on the outskirts of town."

"Married?"

"Sure is," said O'Malley. "To her work."

Dr. Primrose reached down to the wreckage and pushed a small button on the outside of the craft. There was the sound of decompression as the top opened. The crowd gasped as she peered at the lone pilot inside. "My God, it's beautiful. This is a shining moment for humanity."

"Is the feller alive?" the sheriff inquired.

"Quite dead. But what a specimen."

Drake peered inside the ship. "Yech! Did you just call that thing beautiful?"

"From a scientific perspective, yes."

"Well science has lousy taste."

Dr. Primrose stood up. "And whom do I have the privilege of addressing?"

"Pardon me. Drake Sutton with the Times."

"Well Mr. Sutton, it looks like you're going to tell the world of this amazing discovery God help us. In the meantime, why don't you gentlemen make yourselves useful and carry the specimen to my laboratory."

O'Malley fetched his stellicopter and airlifted the ship to Prudence's lab. As Drake insisted on getting the scoop, he and Grover met them there and carried the creature inside.

Prudence's lab was inside her prairie house. It had a large telescope mounted beneath a retractable roof, shelves lined with vials and bottles, and an endless assortment of scientific gadgets. There was also an attractive set of drapes hanging in the window.

The men placed the creature on a long metal table inside the lab. There, under the cold fluorescent lights, they got their first good look at it. It was basically indescribable, save for the skin like wet mulch, the hair like sun-dried seaweed, and eyes frozen open like eggs with rotting green yolks for pupils.

"Any idea where our accidental tourist is from?" Drake asked.

Prudence removed her suit jacket, revealing her white silk blouse. "His complexion suggests one of the planets in the Draxon Nebula, but I'm only going by my readings in the Encyclopedia Universalis."

"'Scuse me, there, Doc, but shouldn't we be calling some expert about this thing?"

"I resent that, Sheriff O'Malley."

"But you really can't say what we're dealing with, can you?" said Drake.

"Mr. Sutton, I'm letting you stay here out of respect for the press."

"Or because you want me to rescue you from anonymity."

"Why you insolent space jock! I hardly need you to get head, er, get ahead. And let's get one thing straight: As far as I'm concerned this is my alien "

"Whoah," Grover interrupted. "I was on the scene first. If there's money to made from this thing "

"And who's this opportunistic tag-along?"

"I'm Grover. I'm a comedian."

"So you're why they call them gags."

"Look, I think everybody needs to calm down," O'Malley said.

"I could use a bite to eat," said Drake.

"I could use a drink," added Grover.

"Fine," Prudence scoffed. "Go slake your manly appetites. I need to get some equipment from the basement. Soon I'll tell this tabloid hack about our unfortunate visitor."

O'Malley shook his head and stepped into the living room, where he collapsed into an easy chair. Drake and Grover left the house and strolled down Woodville's main drag to grab a burger. On the way back, Grover bought a six-pack at a liquor store. Back at the house, Grover handed a beer to the sheriff, while Drake caught Prudence on a trip to the basement.

"So whaddaya do for kicks around here?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, where is it you're from, Mr. Sutton?"

"LA."

"I thought I smelled saucer smog. While it's true Woodville lacks the kind of nightspots a roving Romeo like you is used to, the absence of neon simply makes for a better view of the stars."

"Stars are quite fascinating, aren't they?" Drake said, stepping closer. "From far away so cold, but up close so hot."

"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't make passes at me."

"I'm not making passes at you."

"But you're about to." Prudence pushed past him.

"Please, can't I help?"
Prudence pushed her glasses higher on the bridge of her nose. "I could use a hand with my DNA analyzer & Just promise me you won't say anything."

"About what?"

"Anything."

Drake and Prudence descended the stairs. Meanwhile, Sheriff O'Malley had dozed off. Bored, Grover looked down the hallway and saw the lab door ajar. He took a swill of beer as morbid curiosity welled up inside him. Whistling a tune, he casually sauntered over and peeked in the lab door. The alien lay still as stone on the metal table. Grover walked over to it as he chugged some more beer. "You know, you remind me an awful lot of my audience." Grover poked the alien with his finger, which slid into the creature's skin with a slurping noise. "What the hell?" Grover yanked his finger out: It was covered with green slime. He started shaking his finger. As he did, his bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon spilled all over the creature.

"You're lucky you're dead or I'd kill you," Grover said as he looked around for a rag. Then he noticed a foul stench filling the room, kind of like a bonfire burning in a swamp. He snapped his head around and saw steam rising from the body of the alien.

Followed by the alien rising from the table.


III. Reports of My Death
Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

"Thanks," Prudence was saying.
"I do appreciate it."

"No trouble," Drake replied, the analyzer in his arms. "It's really not that heavy."

"I meant thanks for not speaking. It's quite becoming on you."

"But I've been sending you a psychic message all evening."

"And no doubt got a busy signal. I told you I'll pass on your passes."

"It's not a pass, it's..."

"A fail. Why don't you quit while you still have a shred of dignity."

Suddenly Grover jumped out of the lab, slammed the door shut, and leaned against it. "Don't go in there!" he screamed.

Prudence was shocked. "What were you doing in my laboratory?"

"There's a possum in there." There was a loud bang on the door from inside. "A big one."

"Mr. Comedian, if you're trying to be funny it's not working."

Suddenly the door flew open, sending Grover face-first into the opposing wall.

"It is now," said Drake.

Then he and Prudence looked up and screamed in unison. There, standing nearly seven feet tall, was the mulch-faced alien, it's long arms extended and a hideous roar coming from its vocal chords as two flaps on its neck vibrated. The three bolted for the living room and slammed the door behind them. Sheriff O'Malley awoke with a start.

"Sheriff," Prudence said. "It's the alien. It's alive."

"What?"

"It's alive, I tell you. Aliiiiiive!"

"This is usually when I go for popcorn," said Drake.

The door came smashing open. The three ducked behind O'Malley, who was still in his chair.

"Shoot it, sheriff, shoot it!" Drake yelled.

O'Malley quivered as the creature crept towards him. At the last second he reached for his holster, pulled out his ray gun and zapped the creature. The shot had no effect. The alien leaned forward and pressed its face to O'Malley's. Its long green hair tickled the sheriff's nose and yellow drool dripped from its mouth. "Lord have mercy," O'Malley muttered, paralyzed by fear. The creature's nostrils flared. Then it looked down, saw the six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and poured the bottles down its gullet before bolting out the front door.

"You told me the feller was dead," O'Malley stammered.

"It was," Prudence replied.

"Then what's he doin' stealing my beer!"

"He's had no vital signs for almost two hours. Something must have reanimated him, perhaps something in my lab, some foreign solution--"

"Domestic, actually." Grover said sheepishly. He began pacing nervously as the others closely watched him. "OK, I admit it: It's my fault, it's always my fault. I spilled PBR on the alien. Drake, I'll be waiting in the saucer."

"Fascinating," Prudence said as she held up a bottle. "The contents of this value-priced distilled beverage seem to have fostered some kind of bizarre chemical reaction. I don't think the creature's actually alive, which is why your ray gun didn't stop it, sheriff. It's in that nebulous zone, that forlorn state between life and death."

"An astro zombie," said Drake.

"Precisely," Prudence concurred. "Sheriff O'Malley, maybe you should call out the National Guard."


IV. The Right Guard

The group was in Prudence's living room.
Waiting. Watching. Worrying.

"I don't feel so good," Drake said as he lay down on the couch.

"Me neither," said Grover. "Triple cheeseburgers and dead aliens come back to life are a terrible combination."

There was a humming sound from outside that gradually grew to a loud roar. They opened the door and ran outside, where a dozen National Guard rockets hovered over the house. One of them landed in the front yard. Captain Major stepped out and approached the sheriff. "You O'Malley?" he said.

"Sure am. What took you fellas?"

"Frankly sir, the chain of command was debating how to handle this call. You say a dead alien came back to life when doused with Pabst Blue Ribbon? We had to laugh: This sure beats breaking up frat parties on Alpha Seven."
"Captain, I'm Dr. Primrose. I had thoroughly examined the alien and it was positively DOA."

"Well now it's positively AWOL. We just picked up a call that some creature is ransacking Joe's Tavern downtown. Is it tall and dark with hair like dried seaweed?"

"Are there other astro zombies on the loose?" Drake quipped.

"I knew it!" Prudence exclaimed. "It needs the distilled beverage to stay alive, or rather dead-alive. All we've got to do is deprive it of the substance and it will surely revert back to a dead-dead state."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple, ma'am. This is Woodville we're talking about: There's more beer in this town than drinking water. All we need is one clear shot to send it back to outer space."

"I can assure you your weapons will be useless," said Prudence. "We're dealing with something that is in direct violation of the laws of nature."

For a moment Drake, whose mind had wandered, thought the others were discussing his hair.

"Guard firepower doesn't follow laws, ma'am, it makes them. Still, you'd better come with us."

"Excuse me, Captain. I'm Drake Sutton with the Times. Mind if I tag along? I'm seeing a major cover story here, like Man of the Year type stuff."

"I'm sorry, but as a civilian I can't authorize that. You'd better evacuate the area and the let the Guard do its work."

"Sir, you can't silence the press. The American people won't stand for it."

"The American people won't even stand for a drink since Bar-O-Matics were invented. Do yourself a favor and get lost."

"Actually, that's my department," Grover mumbled.

Prudence smirked at Drake and pushed him aside. Captain Major smiled and helped her into the rocket, followed by O'Malley. The fleet took off and blasted towards downtown Woodville.

Grover turned to Drake. "You know, you're looking really pale. More like green."

"That's not making me feel better. Look, I'm not letting that brazen hussy get the last laugh, so let's go."

The two jumped into Drake's saucer and took off towards Main Street, where they found the fleet of Guard rockets parked at the town square. Drake landed his saucer behind the local five and dime, knocking over a garbage can in the process.

"You sure you're feelin' OK?" Grover asked.

"Fi-- hic! -- fine," Drake replied. "They must have sighted it. Let's check it out."

"Waitaminute. You packin' heat these days or what?"

Drake smiled, reached into his glove compartment and took out a silver Barangan 626 his grandfather had given him. With the ray gun in his pocket, the two peered around the building. The Captain, O'Malley and Prudence stood behind a Guard rocket, while two dozen soldiers were on their knees, laser rifles pointed at the door to Joe's Tavern.

The sound of smashing glass rang out from inside. Then the creature emerged through the front door, suds oozing from its mouth. The captain lowered his arms, signalling the soldiers to fire. As Prudence screamed in protest, the men opened up hell's breath. The alien roared as the beams seemed to pass right through its scaly body. Then with one bound it leapt onto the roof of the tavern, then disappeared into the night sky.

"Circle up!" Captain Major shouted. The soldiers formed a circle while the Captain considered his next move.

Meanwhile, behind the five and dime, Drake was belching. "Looks like alien go bye-bye."

"Man, there's really something wrong with you," Grover remarked.

"I know. Hic! I keep having these visions of traveling through space while simultaneously wanting to stand on a table and sing show tunes."

"My God, it's worse than I thought." Suddenly Drake went into convulsions. "That's it, I'm taking you to see the doctor."

"My doctor is Dr. Phil Goode and he's probably busy having an affair with Nurse Headly."

"That's not the doctor I mean." Grover threw Drake's arm around his neck and hobbled towards the soldiers.

"Captain, incoming!" a soldier shouted.

"Hold your fire!" the Captain yelled. "What the hell are you two doing here?"

"It's Drake: He's acting very strange."

"And this is out of character?" Prudence remarked.

"Here, listen to him." Grover slapped his face. "Drake, say something." Drake started singing. "No, tell me where you're from."

"Far away."

"Los Angeles?"

Drake's voice deepened. "Romulus. In the Alexandra Galaxy. But I was banished for a crime I didn't commit. I left a wife, a child and a six-legged dog."

"See what I mean?" said Grover. "He's blabbering all this gibberish."

"Obviously he's been drinking," O'Malley said. "Get him outta here."

Prudence was eyeing Drake curiously. "One moment, sheriff," she said. She pulled out a pocket analyzer and pricked Drake's finger. She looked at the readout. "How much did you say he's had to drink?"

"Nothing, I swear."

"Well he's got a blood-alcohol level of 4.5."

"Impossible!" said the sheriff. "Even Willy the Wino's never been above two and a half."

"Exactly, because he'd be dead."

"Are you saying I'm dead?" Drake asked.

"I'm sure there are plenty of women who wish you were."

Suddenly time seemed to wrinkle into a hazy blur. One moment Prudence was there, the next she was snatched from the sky. Her screams filled the night as the creature bounded back towards a rooftop. The soldiers split up and took off after the creature.

Drake fell to the ground.

The sheriff spit out some tobacco juice and rubbed his chin. "Now I ain't no fancy-pants intellectual type, but I think I know what Dr. Primrose was about to say. It don't take no Einstein to realize that there's something funny going on between this guy and that thing out there. The alien drinks a beer and Sutton gets all the benefits. I think he's our key to getting this thing and killin' it once and for all."

"Drake, did you hear that?" Grover said, shaking Drake's face.

Drake was in a glassy-eyed trance. "So this is what Earthlings call the fair sex?"

The Captain nodded. "The sheriff's right: He seems to have some kind of psychic connection with the alien. See if you can find out what his weakness is."

Grover nodded. "Drake, what are you most afraid of?"

"Marriage."

"Apparently the connection is intermittent. Let me try again: Mulch-faced creature from outer space, what are you most afraid of?"

Drake belched.

"It's no use," said the sheriff. "The boy ain't gonna tell us. Captain, I say have your men keep firing 'til it don't move no more."

"Wait, I've got it!" Grover exclaimed. "We're going about this whole thing all wrong. What we've got to do is neutralize the substance that turned the alien into an astro zombie."

"Interesting notion, kid," said the Captain, "but what's the opposite of Pabst Blue Ribbon?"


V. Sobering News

A soldier rushed to Captain Major's side.
"Captain, we've fired sufficient laser power to bring the water to a boil and are prepared to add the substance."

"Very good. Proceed."

They stood on the patio of the EZ Sleep Motel, near a heart-shaped swimming pool. At the Captain's command, the soldiers dumped every can of coffee from the local market into the boiling pool.

"Mmm &" Grover sighed. "Is that a kona blend?"

"All right, now put Sutton into position!"

Two soldiers carried Drake to a plastic chair beside the pool. The Captain set a six-pack of PBR in his lap. "Now Sutton, you know what's required, don't you? Here's your chance to save Woodville, maybe even the human race."

"Hic! Yessir."

"Concentrate real hard. Speak to the alien. Tell him you've got six frosty ones right here. When he comes, we'll fill him full of laser and send him into the drink. Got it?"

"Yessir. Just one question."

"What?"

"Would you like to dance?"

"That's it, we're doomed," the Captain muttered. "All right men, take your positions! And please can we not hit the girl this time?"

Grover patted Drake on the back, then ducked behind a row of pink flamingos with Sheriff O'Malley.

Drake sat in the dark and looked around nervously. He told himself to concentrate on the alien, but he kept envisioning Elsa lying on his bearskin rug just a few hours before. When these thoughts grew too intense, he told himself to think about baseball, which naturally led him to the high price of beer at Dodger Stadium--

While those thoughts brewed in his head, a warm breeze passed through the cold night air. Drake opened his eyes to find the alien hovering over him, breathing heavily into his face. The creature held Prudence by her hair; her eyes stared at Drake pleadingly. Behind the cabana, Captain Major told his men to wait for a clear shot.

The creature looked Drake in the eye and suddenly the thoughts of the astro zombie came tumbling into Drake's head:

So you going to offer me a beer or what?

Drake fidgeted, waiting for the men to fire. With a loud wail the creature reached for the six-pack, but Drake pulled it close to his chest. Then he closed his eyes for a minute and focused his thoughts. I'll give you the beer for the girl. Many Earthlings would consider this a fair trade.

The creature threw Prudence at Drake's feet. Drake lifted up the beer and the creature grabbed it. As it did, Drake snatched its slimy arms and pulled the alien to the ground by the edge of the boiling pool.

Prudence screamed. The National Guard closed in, but held its fire.

Drake had the creature by the throat. Its green eyes bulged and its gaze penetrated Drake's. You cannot kill me: You and I are one and the same.

"Wanna bet?" Drake said, rolling over. He pulled out his Barangan and blasted the alien into the boiling coffee, where it cried and struggled.

Then floated lifeless in the water like a deflated pool toy.


EPILOGUE

It was official: The alien was dead-dead.
The soldiers had packed it up and were ready to take it away; Captain Major wouldn't say where.

The sheriff was offering Grover a chew while Prudence sat alone on a patio chair, staring up at the indigo canopy spangled with specks of silver, wondering what it all meant. Life. The universe. The great mystery.

Then she looked up and saw the answer standing right beside her. Drake offered a wistful smile. "Looks like they're making off with your research project."

"You know, ever since I was a little girl I've been staring up at the stars, waiting for something. And now here I am looking up and seeing you."

Drake looked her over. Prudence had lost her glasses and her shoes. Her hair fell down her back in rich chocolate curls and her stockings had runs from her painted toenails up to the garter belt that peeked from behind her torn gabardine skirt. The top button of her blouse had also been lost and revealed a faint glimpse of the bashful feminine mounds whose allure had spurned Man onward since the dawn of time.

"By the way," Drake remarked, "what the hell just happened here?"

"They say each of us has a twin. It's fitting that yours should be a monster from outer space."

Drake sat down beside her. "You know, at the final moment, as that thing stared me in the eye, I felt I was looking into a mirror. Like I really was exactly the same as this astro zombie, lost somewhere between life and death, alive on the outside yet dead inside."

"A bachelor," said Prudence.

Now Drake looked up at the stars, lost in thought.

Prudence broke the silence. "This is difficult for me, but seeing as how you saved my life, it seems fitting we should oscullate."

"Beg your pardon?"

To provide the proper lubrication, Prudence wet her lips. Then she pressed them to Drake's, and held them there for a long time.

Grover sauntered over, not looking so well.

"You're looking kind of green there, Grover," Drake remarked.

"It's the sheriff and his damn chewing tobacco. That wintergreen fools you: I kept swallowing it."

"So whaddaya say we grab a beer?"

"Wasn't 14 kegs worth of telepathic inebriation enough?" Prudence inquired.

"But I'd like to propose a toast."

"To?" Prudence queried.

Drake smiled at her. "Something out of this world."



Story copyright 2002 by Christian M. Chensvold bachelorinspace@earthlink.net

Artwork copyright ©2002 by Romeo Esparrago romeo@planetmag.com


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