“I know you’re frustrated, Shannon,” I told the young Doctor Teragon as we rode through the forested mountains east of Yosemite. “I am, too. I didn’t think interviewing Donna Hayes would be any problem. We’ve always been friends… Even if she is fifty feet tall now.”
I remembered a time earlier in the year when I’d helped rescue Donna from a phony flying saucer cult. Things sure had changed since then.
“Drat that Agent Eight,” Doc Teragon cursed. “Pardon my language, Agent Three. I understand that she’s his wife, but I only wanted to run a few harmless tests.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Unfortunately, Bill didn’t see it that way. And call me Suzanne—or just Rocky, if you prefer. We’re off duty, after all.”
She chuckled. “When you’re part of the US Science Bureau, you’re never off duty, Rocky. But I take your point; we need to relax while we can, because you never know when another giant insect—”
“Or a fifty-foot woman,” I put in.
“—Or a fifty-foot woman is going to show up. Which is exactly my point. The bugs are nearly impossible to get samples from, because they disintegrate as soon as they’re killed, and we haven’t been able to capture any live specimens yet. But this subject… I mean Agent Eight’s wife…”
“…Donna is just sitting there, lounging around their pool, soaking up the Nevada sun while Eight… Bill recovers from his rattlesnake injury.”
That comment made me wince, though I tried not to show it. Bill had gotten wounded on an expedition I’d led. “It can’t be easy in their situation. Donna becoming a giant is a big life change—no pun intended—and I’m sure keeping her under wraps only adds to the stress. With all that, I can understand Bill being cautious, especially after what happened to Dr. Hedison.”
“But her giantism is a completely different mutation from the Mansect. I wasn’t going to try and cure her, just find out what’s happening with her biology. I have to tell you, Rocky… Look out!”
I slammed on the brakes of the agency Studebaker and cut the wheel hard, barely avoiding the scraggly vagrant who stepped out of the twilight shadows into the road in front of us.
As we skidded to a stop, he staggered to the passenger side of the car. He looked like an extra from a Brando film: maybe twenty years old, slick black hair, jeans, white t-shirt, and a beat-up leather jacket.
“Are you out of your mind?!” Shannon shouted. “We could have killed you!”
He reached through the passenger-side window and tried to grab her. “You have to help me!”
Shannon leaned away from him, but I already had my pistol in my hand.
“Back off!” I chambered a round, to make sure he knew I meant business.
He put his hands up and backed away. “I’m sorry! I just… I need a ride.”
Shannon eyed him suspiciously. “What are you doing out here alone?”
He rubbed his scalp, and I noticed for the first time that he sported a nasty cut on his forehead. “I had a motorcycle accident,” he said. “I’ve been walking for miles. I need to get to Las Vegas as soon as possible.”
Shannon and I glanced at each other; his story seemed plausible. She shrugged.
“We’re headed for San Diego, but we can take you part of the way.”
“Great,” he said, heading for the rear passenger door.
I scowled. “Nothing doing, buster. I want you up front, where I can keep an eye on you. Mind getting in back, Shannon?”
“Not at all.” She scrambled into the back seat as he got in the front.
“Sit near the door and keep your hands to yourself, and we’ll be fine,” I warned. I started up the Studebaker and got us underway again. “What’s your name?”
Shannon leaned over the back seat to chat. “Why are you in such a hurry, Larry? Getting married in Vegas?”
Larry looked over his shoulder, but not at the doc—out the back window. He drummed his fingers nervously on the seat back. “No. I… I need to talk to someone. I need help with… a problem.”
I frowned. “What kind of problem?”
“You’ll probably think I’m nuts, but… I’m being followed… by flying saucers.”
Shannon arched her slender eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah. They’ve been trailing me ever since I left San Francisco. Look! There they are now!”
He pointed out the back window, where the sky was fading from sunset to starlit night.
I glanced in the rearview mirror at a pair of bright pinpoints in the distance. “Just another car behind us.”
“Um, Rocky…” Shannon said. “Those lights are too high up for headlights.”
Larry pounded frantically on the seat back. “I’m telling you, it’s aliens! They’re after me! Drive faster!”
“It couldn’t hurt to speed up,” Shannon suggested. She kept peering out the rear window.
I remained skeptical but accelerated anyway.
Larry kept babbling. “They know about UFOs in Vegas. The Nevada test sites attract them. I’m sure she’ll know how to get rid of ’em.”
“She, who?” Shannon asked, her scientific curiosity piqued.
I let off the accelerator. “You’re going to see Sister Starlight?” Now there was one hell of a coincidence. “Since when is that fruitcake in Vegas? You know she’s a fraud; right?”
“She used to be a fake, but now she’s for real. She’s seen the lights, and they tell her things. She knows all about flying saucers… and aliens.”
Shannon grabbed Larry by the collar and yanked him back against the seat. She glared at him. “Who put you up to this?”
“Nobody! I heard her on the radio. She’s got a weekly show.”
“Banana oil!” I shot back. “I suppose you don’t know that I was the one who busted her in the first place. I’ve half a mind to dump you out of this car… without stopping.”
“No! Please, don’t! They’ll get me! They’re coming… Look!”
I wasn’t sure what kind of scam Larry was pulling on us, but those lights in the sky were closing in fast—whatever they were.
I decided to put the pedal to the metal once more. “Shannon, if I give you the high sign… Dump this guy!”
“Right!” She scrambled over onto the bench seat between me and our squirrelly passenger, flashing him a wicked smile as she settled in. “Don’t think I won’t, Larry.”
“I believe you. Just drive faster!”
I did, but it didn’t matter. Unhindered by having to stick to a road or avoid intervening trees and rocks, the copters, or whatever they were, easily outpaced us.
I ducked instinctively as one of the two flashed overhead.
“Oh no no no no no no…!” Larry babbled.
The air smelled like a lightning storm as a spotlight brighter than the sun filled the sedan’s interior, and the Studebaker’s engine went dead.
Shannon and Larry threw their arms over their eyes, shielding them from the glare, but I didn’t have that luxury as I struggled to keep the car under control.
With a bang like a shotgun, the left front tire blew out, and we swerved toward a cluster of boulders amid the tall trees.
I guess we must have crashed, and maybe my head smashed into the steering wheel, because the next thing I remembered was opening my eyes with the Studebaker’s nose in the rock pile.
Ghostly silence reigned, and the dazzling white light still surrounded us. I didn’t see Larry, but the passenger-side door hung open, and Shannon was sliding out of the car.
I reached for her, but she seemed to be sleepwalking as she stepped out into the dry ground between the boulders. She gazed blankly at the sky, her mouth gaping, the brilliant light painting her face deathly pale.
I found my gun and forced my aching body to slide across the bench seat. “Shannon, stop!”
She kept walking toward a gap in the tall rocks.
I leaned out of the car, shielding my eyes with one hand, and aiming my pistol with the other.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
I couldn’t see what I was shooting at, but…
The light flashed even brighter, and a sound like thunder rattled everything, including my brain.
And when my vision cleared, the light had gone, and Shannon was sitting on the ground next to the car.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Damned if I know.”
Just then, Larry stumbled out from a gap between the boulders. “Hey… What’s going on? How did I get out of the car?”
I shook my head and shrugged “I’d say we all barely avoided being kidnapped by flying saucers, but…”
“Ohmygosh! The UFOs!” Shannon sprang to her feet and did a quick circuit of the area. As she returned to the car, she sighed. “Well, whatever they were… They’re gone.”
Larry rubbed his head. “Yeah… About that flying saucer stuff… I’m sorry. I musta bumped my head when I crashed my cycle. Those lights… I guess they could have been ’copters. I feel better now.”
“There is an army base near here,” Shannon noted.
“Does that mean you don’t want to go to Vegas anymore?” I asked our newly rational passenger.
“Why not? Vegas is as good a place to wind up as anywhere.”
“Well…” Shannon sighed. “You might want to stick your thumb out and catch another ride. We won’t be going anywhere unless I can fix this car, or we can raise someone on the two-way radio. One thing’s for sure, though…”
I raised one eyebrow. “What’s that?”
She grinned. “Looks like Ray Tyler isn’t the only one who can wreck an agency car.”
ABOUT “Chased by UFOs”
I didn’t realize until I finished the first draft of this story and entered the writing details in my work-tracking document that it had been more than six months since the last time I’d written any Atomic Tales.
I knew it had been a while, because I’d finished drafts of two full-length books—Werewolf’s Curse and Monster Shark on a Nude Beach—in between. In fact, it was because of those two novels (as well as other life stuff) that I’d been too busy to get back to this series, which I dearly love.
Though I guess that’s not entirely true; I had to rewrite AT#17 a month previous, because one of our actors bowed out of the series for personal reasons. (I hope we’ll be able to re-cast Agent 2 in the future.) But that wasn’t a new Atomic Tales, just a rework of one I’d originally written (and rewritten) in November of 2021.
“Chased by UFOs” was a whole new thing, and diving back into the series meant digging through a lot of old notes, doing a bunch of new research (most of which is about things that nobody but me probably cares about), and then getting my brain back into the 1950s, to write these era-appropriate tales.
This tale also kicks off what I intend to be a long string of consecutive story writing for AT, hopefully culminating in finishing the Strange Invaders story arc.
Because each of these epics is self-contained (pretty much), I’ve had the freedom to not have the whole mega-story planned out from the start. I’ve known where “Strange Invaders” was going from the beginning, and how it would end, but not exactly how it would get to its climax.
Now’s the time I hope to figure that out. (Though happily I started to sort and arrange a lot of the storyline at the end of last year.) But before I could finish plotting the whole, I had to write this story, which thankfully, I knew would come next in sequence, even though I remain uncertain about the order of some of the pieces to follow.
In any case, the current episode has our heroines picking up a “stray” who just happens to be chased by flying saucers—or something.
The story gives me a chance to pay (another) tribute to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and numerous other alien abduction stories. If you’re remembering the drive through the hills at the start of that Harryhausen classic and the sudden appearance of the saucer, or the stoplight sequence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then I’ve done my job.
It also allows me to remind fans of Sister Starlight and her dubious history with our heroic agents. I’m not saying that’s a hint of things to come, but…! (Grin!)
Plus, it gives me a chance to show once again that Agent 3, Suzanne “Rocky” Rockford, is a badass who can handle herself as well as any of the rest. If she couldn’t, she wouldn’t be Agent 3, would she?
I hope y’all have enjoyed this story and the hints of things to come.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode…!