Woops, by Romeo Esparrago

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The No Name Abduction
by William W. Brownson


Debbie blew her whistle and stopped the practice game. "Don't shoot every time, Tara, just pass the damn ball," she scolded.

Tara's face welled up with tears, "Sorry, coach, I thought I'd make the shot."

"We're a team, Tara. A lot of times you do make the shot, but we have to practice like a team."

Tara started sobbing and ran for the locker room.

"The rest of you continue -- I want to see a lot of ball movement."

Debbie walked to the locker room, where she found Tara talking to Angela, a student teacher. Angela was an idealist and a bookworm; she also happened to be the daughter of Tiffany, a good friend of Debbie's and a fellow teacher. Both Debbie and Tiffany had similar interests in swimming, camping, and hiking; Angela sometimes accompanied the oldsters on these trips.

"Hi, Debbie," said Angela, trying to defuse the situation, which Tara had just been explaining to her.

Debbie, ignoring Angela, said, "Tara, I'm not trying to upset you. You're our best player -- we all know that. Sorry I hollered, but sometimes I get carried away. I'm going to my next class early, so can you handle the rest of the drill for me?"

Tara dabbed at her eyes with a towel, nodded, and left the room.

"I'm glad it's Friday," Debbie said to Angela. "I think I'll go camping tomorrow and work off some of the tension."

"That sounds fun," Angela replied. "I'll tell mom. Well, got to go, it's almost time for my next class." She opened a locker and pulled out her usual pile of books, carefully arranging them in a handbag, as if they were eggshells.

* * *

That afternoon in the teachers' lounge, Debbie ran into her friend, Tiffany.

"I hear you're planning on going to No Name Lake," Tiffany said. "I'd love to go too. Joe could take care of Justin; he's not working right now and sure has the time."

"I'm going to hit the trails hard, and climb fast," Debbie quickly replied. "I'll be gone for the whole day. You'd have a hard time keeping up." She had really wanted to do this alone. Damn! She should have kept her mouth shut.

"Hey, we could spend the day at the lake," Tiffany said, "Me and Angela could go out on my little rubber raft and have some fun. We could have supper all cooked by the time you got back. It would be fun."

Debbie thought about it for a moment. "OK! We'll leave at four in the morning; tell Angela to leave her homework at home."

Debbie felt sure those two would never be ready to travel on such short order. Angela was always so busy with schoolwork, and Tiffany was never much for early morning. Chances were slim that those two would be on their doorstep at four a.m.

* * *

At fifteen minutes before four in the morning, Debbie pulled up in front of Tiffany's house. The porch light was on, and it looked like everyone was sleeping. Debbie gave one toot on the horn of her Ford Bronco; if she didn't see anyone soon, it was her chance to get away quick.

An interior light snapped on in the house, however, and a bleary-eyed Tiffany and Angela opened the front door and began dragging out their gear. Damn, Debbie thought, they have enough equipment for a Boy Scout camp! She groaned a little when she saw Angela dragging a bag of books. Debbie lowered the passenger-side window and bellowed, "We are not going to spend the week up there!"

Angela replied cheerily, "We'll load our stuff, Debs. It will just take a minute."

Debbie grumbled under her breath.

It was about a two-hour trip to No Name from Spokane. Driving to make up for time lost during the loading of the SUV, Debbie pushed past the speed limit while Tiffany and Angela slept. Angela awakened as Debbie took one tight corner a bit too fast; the back tires slid to the right on the sharp left-hand turn.

"Take it easy, Debbie," said Tiffany, who also was awake now. "No Name will be there all day. Let's try to get to the lake in one piece."

Debbie offered one of her rare smiles. "Tell you the truth, ladies, that one made me just about pee my pants. I'll back it off some." Tiffany was pleased to see the speedometer on the Bronco drop from seventy-five to sixty-miles per hour, and for the next twenty minutes or so the girls were pretty much silent.

"How close are we?" Tiffany asked.

"Give me a half hour, and you will be cooking breakfast," Debbie answered. It was then that the doe and yearling fawn broke out of cover near the road and darted in front of the Bronco. Debbie hit the brakes and went into a long skid, screaming "Deer!" Spinning sideways, the Bronco barely bumped the doe's hindquarters with the front end. The back end of the vehicle hit the fawn with a solid thump. The Bronco came to a stop, and the girls got out to survey the damage. The fawn's front legs appeared to be broken, and it writhed on the ground as it tried to get up. The doe was nowhere to be seen.

Angela and Tiffany watched in horror, while Debbie opened the rear hatch of the Bronco. She retrieved the tire iron and made ready to finish off the fawn with a blow to the head. Angela shrieked and the normally low-key Tiffany yelled, "No! Don't you dare!"

"What do you want to do, Tiff? Leave the poor thing here till it dies?"

"I'll splint its legs, and we can put it in the back of the Bronco. We'll take it to camp and nurse it."

Debbie decided to let them have their way. They splinted the animal's leg with sticks, rolled-up newspaper, and duct tape. It was quite a struggle, as the poor fawn was in shock, and having these strange creatures play with its hurt legs was making it panic. It took all three of them to hold it in place for the splinting. Tiffany and her mother loaded the animal in the back of the Bronco after rearranging the camping gear.

As they pulled away, Tiffany saw the brief reflection of two eyes in the rearview mirror, illuminated by the taillights. She wondered if the doe was searching for her fawn.

* * *

About thirty minutes later they pulled into the undeveloped loop at No Name; Tiffany asked where the toilet was. Angela grinned, "Pick a bush, any bush."

"Hang on till I park." Debbie added. "We'll stop where the trail goes down to the lake. It will be a little easier getting your stuff down to the beach that way. And if you need it, I have a shovel in the back of the Bronco."

Tiffany groaned, got up in the seat on her knees, and started pawing around in the back, looking for the shovel. "What type of place is this with no outhouses?" she asked.

"You'll love it, trust me," Debbie said.

After arriving at the camping ground and hauling their equipment down to the lake, the girls started giggling and having fun. Tiffany was busy with her Coleman stove. Breakfast would be bacon, eggs, and hash browns. After the events of the trip, things were starting to look up.

The girls made a nest for the injured fawn out of grass they had pulled. The animal was looking pretty pathetic. Debbie didn't expect it to be alive at the end of the day.

Debbie was anxious to start her hike up to the high country, but she was hungry now, and it would be a long day. She would wait until after eating, and then drive up to where she would begin her climb. Stuffing some Granola bars into her pockets, and filling the canteen with water, she finished preparing for a long, hard day. She checked her backpack one more time, confirming that her handgun was stowed properly. It was a pistol she had inherited from her father. She kept the Charter Arms .357 Magnum tucked into a side compartment of the backpack for quick access. It had a 3.5" barrel and a five-round cylinder loaded with Magnum hollow-points. Recoil was severe, and shooting all five rounds in the cylinder would leave her wrist hurting. The handgun was small but could take down most threats, including human.

* * *

Northeastern Washington State was a favorite area for wildlife officials to move animals that were a nuisance elsewhere. Grizzlies, moose, and cougar roamed these hills. She did not expect to run into anything, but did like to have insurance.

Debbie was an expert sharpshooter due to the many hours she had spent in the country plunking at cans. Most people didn't use .357 Magnum rounds for plunking; a regular .38 would fit the chamber, and the wrists would hold up longer. But she liked the larger rounds. Although carrying the weapon was illegal outside hunting seasons without a permit, Debbie could not allow herself to feel helpless, not anymore.

Debbie grew up as an only child in her dad's care; her mom had split to do her drugs elsewhere, and this abandonment had shaped Debbie's personality. She was a loner. Dad died of a heart attack when Debbie was seventeen. After that, she lived with her mother, who by then was recovering from her addictions. Mother and daughter had a reconciliation of sorts, but they never became close.

Mom had helped Debbie through the Community College. Debbie got a scholarship and worked nights; eventually, she got her teacher's certificate. She had a reputation as a winning coach for girl's basketball. She also had the reputation of being tough, and demanding the full measure of effort from her girls. Enforcing this had gotten her into trouble with the school board at times. Debbie had to be careful, or she probably would be looking for work one day without references.

Debbie had only herself to look after. Her relationships with men tended to be short-lived. She liked them, but just had not developed any long-term commitments. Still a reasonably young woman, and not a bad-looking one at that, she figured the right one would come along eventually.

* * *

Driving up the logging roads and then going cross-country, Debbie headed for the high trails. She spooked a couple of deer on the way. They disappeared into the brush with their white tails flapping. Soon the ground became too steep, even with the four-wheel-drive. It was hiking time. She got out and chucked a couple of large stones under the wheels of the Bronco to keep it from rolling. Not bothering with locking the doors, Debbie hit the trail.

She took a compass bearing to a landmark off in the distance. If caught in the dark, she could backtrack to the bearing and get close to her truck. The slope was so steep she had to work hard to make any headway. Soon she was breathing hard and sweating. This was her idea of fun. She had learned it from her dad.

After spending the day in vigorous exercise, she was exhausted. The granola bars were not doing the trick any more. She needed something substantial to take care of the hunger pangs. It was late in the daytime, time to backtrack the route she had climbed and return to camp. It would not be a good thing to get caught in the dark.

"Imaging reports a human specimen in a remote area. The signature is of a mature female." Tarr-Gn spoke telepathically. "Let us continue with the gathering."

Tam-Arel gave the order: "Shift to visibility. Capture her with the beam."

Debbie saw a strange light in the sky and felt an odd sensation. She began floating upward, as if a giant hand had grabbed her whole body. Above her she saw a glowing ball with an open portal, and a beam of eerie, greenish light reaching down to her. Not being the type to yield to fear in an emergency, she reached to her side and pulled out the pistol. Aiming at the center of the strange, shimmering force that was pulling her up, she fired three quick rounds. Next thing she knew, she was laying on the ground trying to get her breath back.

Aboard the Hortot vehicle, called "The Gather", Tarr-Gn uttered a telepathic burst. "She has damaged the Emitter. Shift space-time and return to base. We must replace it before continuing this mission." He consulted the ship's instruments. "How far did the human drop? Is she damaged? We need that specimen. Did you see her reaction time? The specimen was fast and effective -- we need her DNA."

Tam-Arel notified his superior, "Surveillance reports a hydrocarbon-fueled vehicle at thirty minutes' walking time from present location. The human is likely to use the only road to a series of lakes. That should be a good place for the extraction. Bring the portable mass moderator. We will need it."

It took twenty-two Earth minutes to reach the moon base. Automated emergency repair of the emitter device took seven minutes. The Gather quickly returned to space-time and made the return trip in eighteen minutes. Soon the ship was out of dimensional time-shift mode and began surveying the situation on the ground.

Tarr-Gn was proud of his capable second officer, Tam-Arel. He handled The Gather with telepathic control and was the best of the best -- and the Hortot were the best.

Debbie's right arm had been broken in the fall, although there had been no broken skin or bleeding, thankfully. But she knew a broken arm when she saw one. Damn! That thing had disappeared fast when she shot that last round at it.

She made a sling for her arm from a gauze pad she carried in her backpack for just such an emergency, and she swallowed a couple of aspirin to help with the pain. What if they came back? She knew she had to get out of there and go to where there were people.

Not wanting to be one of those who went into the wilderness never to be seen again, she started thinking through her options. Spacecraft, flying saucer, and aircraft, whatever it was -- she didn't know who was in it and what they wanted with her. And she didn't want to find out, either.

Debbie opened the pistol's chamber and ejected the spent shells, replacing them with new hollow-points. Getting to her feet, she began jogging down the hill. It took her about half an hour to get back to the Bronco. She ran most of the way, taking a couple of falls and skinning up her good hand and both her knees.

She jumped into the Bronco and started it with her good hand. Glad this is an automatic, she thought. She was hitting the potholes and ruts hard, but keeping the Bronco on the road. She would have been bounced out of the seat if it weren't for the seat belt.

Debbie's arm was now painful and swollen and would need attention soon. Concentrating on overcoming the pain and her mounting anxiety, she focused on the road but flicked quick glances out the windows and at the rearview mirror. There was no sign of the thing in the sky, but somehow she knew it would be back soon.

Finally, she reached the loop at No Name, horn honking, lights flashing. She set the hand brake and threw open the door with her good hand.

Debbie ran down the path to the lake, as fast as she could go and hollering as loud as she could: "Leave everything, and get the hell out! There are bad guys out there and they broke my arm!" She damn sure wasn't going to tell them about aliens. The girls would think she had been up on the mountain eating mushrooms.

Tiffany and Angela, in the middle of preparing a meal, were startled by the yelling but quickly grabbed their purses, backpacks, and anything they felt was too valuable to lose, and headed back up the path to meet Debbie.

Debbie was a sight, bleeding from her knees and legs, and from both her hands. Tiffany was shocked, "What did they do to you? You going to be OK?"

"Getting out of here is what will make me feel better," Debbie quickly answered. And the three turned toward the SUV and began running.

Angela, seeing Debbie's broken arm, asked, "You want me to drive?"

"I'll drive" Debbie said, as they reached the SUV and got in with their gear.

They began driving back toward the main highway when the strange ship appeared suddenly, hovering above the exit road just ahead. Debbie slammed on the brakes and handed the pistol to Angela. "Shoot the damn thing, do it now!" she shouted.

Angela just sat there with her jaw open, as if she were in a trance. Debbie grabbed the pistol back. Damn! She would be shooting left-handed from the SUV's window. She extended her arm out and pulled the trigger five times. It didn't do much good: The bullets flew about ten feet, stopped, and then slowly, as if on miniature parachutes, drifted to the ground.

Three green, shimmering globes shot from the craft and surrounded the Bronco with a growing net of shimmering webs. Debbie felt herself being immersed in a sea of molasses. Soon she had lost consciousness.

* * *

Waking up with bright sunlight on her face, Debbie saw Angela and Tiffany still snoozing in their sleeping bags. She sat up and rubbed her right arm for a while; it seemed oddly stiff, but she soon forgot about it as her thoughts turned to breakfast. She felt ravenous. That had been a great workout in the mountains yesterday. As for Tiffany's talk about breakfast -- it looked like they had decided to sleep in. And so much for playing on the lake; these girls were so predictable. They work hard all week. Give them some time off and what do they do? Sleep, of course.

Debbie unzipped the gauze flap of the tent to bright daylight. After her eyes adjusted to the glare of the sun's reflection on the mirror-like lake, she went to check on the fawn. It probably didn't make it through the night. The girls had been nursing it all the previous day, and the poor animal had been in terrible pain. When she got to the grass bed that the girls had made for it, Debbie saw that the animal wasn't there. She wondered if a coyote had dragged it off while everyone was asleep.

Then she saw it: a trail of tiny footprints leading into the woods.



Story © 2003 by William W. Brownson William@thevortex.com

Illustration © 2003 by Romeo Esparrago romeo@planetmag.com

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