“I’m so glad you’re coming with us, Suzanne,” Donna Hayes enthused. She leaned forward and poked her head over the front seat of Agent Eight’s car. “I think you’ll find this get-together super exciting. If we’re lucky, we might see some UFOs—or even meet an alien visitor from the planet Metus! I’ve seen amazing things during these under-the-stars conclaves.”
I shot a sidelong glance at Donna’s husband, William “Wild Bill” Hayes, who was driving us through the Indiana twilight to attend his wife’s “Contactee” meeting. Bill gave a little eye roll, signaling that he wasn’t really into this “True Believer” snipe hunt, either. But…
Here the three of us sat, me and Bill up front, with Donna piping in from the back. She’d insisted on taking the rear seat, because I was a guest, and she didn’t want all of us jammed together on the agency Studebaker’s front bench.
“That’d sure be interesting, Donna,” I replied. My wartime espionage training kept any skepticism from showing in my voice. Donna was a nice gal, but more gifted in looks than brains. Agent Seven, Ruth Donlevy, says the same of Donna’s husband; they’re a matched pair, according to her. Still, Bill is reliable, especially in a fight, and I get along well with both of them far too well to turn down this nutty invitation.
“You and Bill are supposed to investigate saucer sightings, aren’t you?” Donna had asked over dinner at their house. “So… Tag along. What can it hurt?”
“Yeah,” Bill had agreed. “What can it hurt?”
“If you get bored, you and Bill can wait in the car,” Donna had concluded cheerfully.
With that kind of set-up, how could I refuse? Besides, the tilt of Bill’s head told me he wanted company for this venture. So, after dinner, we all piled into the car, and…
Bill pulled his black four-door Champion up a rutted cow path to where somebody—the farm’s owner, probably—had cleared a patch in the tall prairie grass at the base of a lightly wooded hill. A dozen or so cars of various makes and models already sat around the edges of the clearing. A mowed path led from the parking area to the hilltop.
A burnt orange horizon fading to a deep cerulean sky greeted us as we got out of the Studebaker. Evening stars blazed brightly overhead, and the clear summer air smelled of newly mown grass. A hint of fertilizer and fresh-sprung greenery wafted in from the nearby corn fields.
“C’mon!” Donna urged, hurrying uphill.
A glance from Bill told me to hang back and take the hike more slowly.
“You go ahead,” he called to his wife. “We’ll catch up!”
“What’s the scoop, Bill?” I asked when Donna was out of earshot. “Why’d you drag me out here?”
“Because, the more I’ve been away on assignment, the more Donna’s fallen in with this crowd,” he replied. I think it’s a combination of her wanting to be part of my work—investigating UFOs and stuff—plus her not wanting to move to Nevada. You heard the Bureau’s opened up a Reno branch?”
“Yeah. To tackle the desert ant problem.”
“Well, Donna doesn’t really wanna go. She grew up here, and I think she thinks if she’s in tight with the local community, I won’t take the transfer. But I go where the agency sends me. And besides… I don’t trust these compadres. She’s been giving them a little money, and I think they’re sniffin’ around for more.”
“So, you want me to…?”
Bill stopped trudging uphill and looked me straight in the eye. “Suzanne, Donna likes you—she trusts you—and she knows you’re a Big Brain. She won’t believe me if I tell her these people are full of wild blueberry muffins—but she might believe you.”
“I’m not a scientist like Agent Seven,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, but Donna doesn’t like Ruth,” he replied. “Too smarty pants for her. But you… You’re just a regular gal. Besides, you’re here, and as Agent Three you outrank me and nearly everyone in the US Science Bureau. People from this part of the country respect authority—Donna included.”
I sighed. “Yeah, okay. I’ll give it a shot.” Then I laughed. “Who knows, maybe these kooks really do have a line on alien invaders. Those Green Point UFO sightings weren’t that far from here, and I did come out to investigate flying saucer reports, after all.”
A light fog rolled over the top of the hill as the two of us reached the rest of the group, all eagerly sitting cross-legged in front of a middle-aged blonde standing at the top of the hill. She wore white robes emblazoned with dark stars, moons, and planets. Soft white illumination from behind her filtered through the fog, like celestial moon beams. The lighting was obviously carefully staged. This “show” had already begun.
“…Welcome, newcomers to our group tonight,” the woman intoned solemnly. “We also hope to welcome—if the astrological alignments are with us—our benevolent Star Brothers from the planet Metus!”
“The stars are with us!” the conclave folks—including Donna—responded in unison.
A few also chanted: “Star Brothers! Star Brothers!”
“That’s Sister Starlight,” Bill’s wife whispered as we settled in next to her. “‘Star,’ we call her. She’s the one the Metusian Ambassador visited first. She takes turns running the meetings with her husband, Brother Tom—that’s short for ‘Tomorrow.’”
“Is he here tonight?” I asked, scanning the crowd.
“I don’t see him yet,” Donna replied. “Maybe he’ll show up later.”
“Probably waiting downhill with the collection plate,” Bill grumbled.
“I really hope we’re worthy tonight!” Donna gushed.
“Indeed, the stars are right!” Sister Star declared, raising her arms high. “Will you come with us? Will you journey the cosmos with your Star Brethren?”
“We will! We will!” her little cult chimed.
“Now is the time—and this is the place!” Sister Star shouted. “Chant with me: Come in peace, Star Brothers; we await you!”
The rest of the crowd got to their feet, so Agent Eight and I did, too. We didn’t join in the chant, but Donna did.
“Come in peace, Star Brothers; we await you! Come in peace, Star Brothers; we await you!”
Suddenly, a red ball of light streaked through the clear sky overhead and landed behind the fog-bound hill. A flash momentarily turned everything brilliant white. And as my eyes recovered, the shadow of a figure appeared behind Sister Star.
Donna pointed and shrieked. “They’re here! They’ve come!”
Sister Star stood stock still, not even turning to greet the arrival of this amazing extra-terrestrial visitor, as—all around us—her flock went nuts.
The newcomer’s shadow loomed large behind its High Priestess, towering over her, though the creature itself was short, maybe half her height. It had long arms, stubby legs, and wore a silvery bodysuit. A bulbous silver helmet covered its oversized head.
Two people nearby fainted while Donna and the rest kept screaming with delight.
“Our brother, the High Ambassador from Metus, is in psychic communication with me,” Sister Star announced, still not looking at the spaceman behind her. “He bids you ‘Welcome!’”
“Bullfeathers!” I barked.
I sprang up and rushed toward the prophet and her alien buddy before anybody could stop me. Agent Eight followed hot on my heels.
“Wait! Stop!” Sister Star cried as I sprinted past.
Already, the Metusian Ambassador was trying to lope off into the all-too-convenient fog. I clipped him with a strong backhand as I went.
He squawked and thudded to the ground; I kept going.
“Bill, grab the alien!” I shouted. “Don’t let Sister Star leave, either! I’ve got bigger fish to fry!”
“Right!” Agent Eight replied.
To say that Brother Tom—working the lights, the saucer-like flares, and the fog machine—was startled to see me barreling out of the mist would be an understatement.
He tried to brain me with a big metal flashlight as I bore in. I ducked and clouted him with a service regulation uppercut to the jaw. He went down in a heap.
I couldn’t help but grin. “You should have seen that coming… ‘Tomorrow.’”
“So, the ‘alien’ was just a trained monkey in a silver suit,” Agent Eight mused as the police took the space-grifters and their pet away. Bill looked proud of the work we’d done tonight, and I couldn’t blame him.
“I recognized the smell of their dry-ice fog immediately when we sat down,” I explained. “That plus the pre-arranged light show was a dead giveaway that they were up to no good.”
“This kind of hoax may play in Kentucky, but not here in Indiana,” Bill declared proudly. “Not with you and me around, anyway, Rocky.”
“I can’t believe that Brother Tom and Sister Star were trying to cheat everyone!” Donna moaned as we walked back to the agency Studebaker. The rest of her Contactee friends had long ago drifted away, thoroughly disillusioned.
Bill put his arm around his wife. “There are a lot of con men in the world, babe. I’m just glad we didn’t take that train any further!”
“Well, you can take me further, Bill Hayes,” Donna announced. “Like to that new Bureau office in Reno. I could never live this down if we stayed here—and I won’t even complain if your clothes come home smelling like fish, or bug guts, or anything!”
The two of them grinned at each other like young lovers.
“Good job tonight, Agent Eight,” I told Bill.
“You, too, Agent Three,” he replied. “If you hadn’t tagged along, Donna might have been kidnapped to the stars or God-only-knows where, and I’d have ended up a monkey’s uncle!”
ABOUT “PROPHET FROM THE STARS”
I thought it was important to acknowledge that amid the actual weirdness of Atomic Tales: Strange Invaders, not everything in life—or even in this science fiction/horror series—is all it seems.
In the 1950s, when these stories take place, there were a lot of con men (and women) looking to take advantage of the UFO flaps to make money, or to get publicity, or for reasons that most of us will never know or could even understand if we did know them. Probably most of us remember the big spiritualist scams of the early 20th century (the ones Houdini famously debunked). UFOs had their own versions as soon as the sightings started, and some versions of those grifts continue, even to this day.
I chose Indiana as the setting for this story because it’s the home of Camp Chesterfield, a “town of spiritualist mediums,” detailed in the excellent book The Psychic Mafia by M. Lamar Keene, a reformed “psychic medium” who went straight and confessed the tricks that he and his fellows used to bilk money from their victims. That and The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man by David Maurer (the book The Sting was based on) are real eye openers on how ordinary people can be bilked out of their money by clever schemes.
Some of the details of this episode were inspired by the famous Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter. “True UFO stories” are great grist for my storytelling mill, and you’re sure to see more echoes of real-life reports in future Strange Invaders tales.
I am not saying that every psychic or UFO visitation—or even Hopkinsville—is a con. I know perfectly honest Tarot card readers and UFO researchers, and I myself have seen and heard things I can’t explain. But aside from in Sci-Fi and horror fiction, I do think people need to be super cautious about giving money to anyone with an out-there “true” story. (Though it’s always good to pay writers who entertain you—even if they’re full of wild blueberry muffins.) ’Nuff said!
In terms of Atomic Tales, this episode gives us more of Agents Three and Eight, who will play key parts in some upcoming stories. I had this spotlight for Three planned even before I knew one of my favorite actresses, Rachel Grubb, would be playing Suzanne “Rocky” Rockford in the Christopher R. Mihm-produced audios.
Our cast of characters and the world they live in will continue growing as the series progresses.
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!