Now that he was out of the car I could see that the man in the black sedan was neither short nor tall, neither fat nor skinny. His face was clean-shaven and bland in a vaguely Northern European way. He was wearing black trousers and a matching black jacket with a white shirt. All in all, he was more dressed up than even a typical preacher on Sunday morning around here.
For some reason, I didn’t feel so brave anymore now that that son of a bitch was out of the car and walking at me slow and steady like he knew where I was and wasn’t the least bit scared of me. Some sort of recollection of terror tingled on the back of my neck, but I couldn’t place it. I stayed crouched down and retreated deeper into the cedar trees to try and stay out of sight. He kept walking toward me real slow and steady like you would approach a frightened pet. All the time, he was calling out to me in his thin voice, lisping a little.
“Come now, Mr. Carpenter, there’s no need to make this difficult.”
I army-crawled under cedar boughs.
“You’re only hurting yourself by being so resistant, you know.”
I was coming out from under the cedars and into the open again.
“You’ve always been the most stubborn of our Recorders, but your resistance never works.” The reedy voice almost laughed, and somehow I knew that my resistance had never worked.
I eyed the dense woods of oak and hickory beyond the little copse of cedars, separated by only a few yards of open ground. Maybe I could make a break for it?
“If you weren’t also the most useful Recorder, we would have already terminated your service.”
He was stepping slow and steady through the branches, and I swear to God he didn’t even have a cedar needle on his black jacket. I was either going to have to fight him or run. I sort of chose both. I picked up a churt rock the size of my hand and chucked it at him as I stood up. Then I sprinted for the hardwoods that encircled the quarry.
All that I remember after that was a soft “pffft” behind me, a sharp pain like a needle in my back, and then collapsing at the base of a towering white oak.
# # #
As I came out of the haze, it occurred to me that I was developing a tolerance for whatever sedative they kept shooting me with. I remembered how it had knocked me on my ass all the other times, but then I started to wonder about why it was that I’d been shot with tranquilizer darts enough times for me to build up a tolerance to them. As I tried to focus on remembering those other times the recollections evaporated like fog on a sunny morning.
As I became more aware of myself and my surroundings, I first remembered running like a scared cat through the woods until I heard a soft puff followed by a sharp pain in my back. Now I was in a dark space that smelled of new car, and I could feel that I was moving.
I realized that I was in the trunk of the black car, just as I suddenly knew I had been darted and hauled around in the trunk before. My hands were fastened together behind my back, so tight that my fingers were numb. I felt around as best I could in the dark with my dull fingers until I figured out that there was a zip tie around my wrists.
It was damn near impossible, but by twisting my shoulders and hips in opposite directions I managed to slide my pocketknife out of my jeans pocket. There was no way I could have opened an ordinary pocketknife trussed up like I was, but I was carrying my granddad’s old knife that he’d given me before he died. Granddad lost his right arm from the elbow down over in Vietnam, so he’d took to carrying a one-armed jack. I was damn glad that he had, because I was able to open that knife one handed there in the dark. I was terrified of slitting my wrists with it, but I was even more afraid of facing whatever awaited me at the end of this ride if my hands were still fixed together when we stopped, so I slipped the blade in between my flesh and the restraint and started sawing on the hard plastic.
I’d almost cut all the way through it when I felt the car stop and turn off. I tried to put the knife away in my pocket again, but I only barely had it folded up when I heard footsteps crunching on gravel outside the dark trunk. I palmed the knife as best I could and played possum when the trunk opened up.
Even with my eyes closed, I could see the bright light of the cold winter sun when the trunk was swung open. I stayed limp as I felt two sets of hands hoist me out and plunk me onto something hard and metal a few feet above where I would have expected the ground to be. I realized it was a medical gurney, but I don’t know whether that conclusion came from my senses or some memory of having this done to me before. I was laying awkward on my back, with my hands barely fastened together behind me, somehow still clutching my granddad’s pocketknife when they started moving me.
The gurney rocked and jerked at first, and it sounded like I was being rolled through gravel. Then the ride smoothed out, like we’d reached a sidewalk.
“This one again?” I heard a voice at my feet say more than ask.
“Yeah,” a thin voice that I recognized answered from near my head. “It’s still quite resistant.”
I couldn’t help it. I twitched a little bit as they discussed me.
“Are you sure you dosed him high enough?” the voice at my feet asked. “He’s moving around like he’s coming out of it.”
“I gave him the maximum permitted dose for a twenty-four hour period,” the voice at my head answered. Then the gurney stopped moving as the conversation over me paused. I felt a tension begin to gather like a storm in the cold winter air.
Then the voice of my abductor said, “We must move more rapidly. Another craft is approaching.”
Suddenly the gurney started moving fast. I could hear the wheels squeaking and footsteps pounding at either end of me. I could also feel the gurney begin to rock and bounce as we picked up speed.
At that moment I was caught between three fears.
First, I was afraid of the guys who had tranquilized me, zip tied my hands together, and hauled me to God-only knows where to do God-only knows what to me.
Second, I was also afraid of whatever it was that my captors saw that made them start running with me, and my fear on that count was intensified because I was pretty certain that I knew precisely what “it” was.
Finally, there was a very pragmatic, immediate fear: I was afraid of getting pitched off the goddam bouncing gurney and busting my head open or breaking something.
I figured that if I was laying on the ground hurt I’d be a sitting target for both the men wearing black and the saucer that I could feel oozing through the sky toward me even with my eyes closed. Truth be told, I didn’t like my odds in a fight with either of them even if I wasn’t concussed or something. I figured that my only chance to maybe get away from both threats would be if I could manage to get off the rattling gurney without hurting myself too bad.
I was tensing up to make a dive when the gurney came to an abrupt stop that caused me to slide headlong down the metal and bump into reedy-voiced bastard in the front. I heard a rapid beeping from the man I’d slid into and a rustling sound from my feet. I didn’t figure that I’d have a better chance, so I heaved myself over the side and tugged on the mostly cut plastic holding my wrists together until it snapped. As I started moving, I opened my eyes to see if I could figure out where we were.
We were at the fairgrounds. The black sedan was parked in the gravel between the livestock barn and the exhibition hall. Me and two men dressed in matching black suits were outside of the big metal building where kids would display their 4-H projects and such. Only now there was a keypad and a lock on the door, which is several levels of security beyond what you’d expect for a small-town fair’s exhibition hall. The fellow that had darted me was pushing those buttons faster than I could follow while his partner, dressed identical to the fucker that had tranqued me, had a firm two-handed grip on a pistol just like Ralph always tried and failed to use when we were out target shooting.
Fortunately, the man with the gun wasn’t pointing it at me.
Unfortunately, he was pointing it at the slow spinning saucer that was blocking out the sun above us.