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He trotted, arms loose at his side, Ranger-style as his dad had taught him, through the section of planted pines into the wildlife refuge property, and soon found himself in the fern field. Dusty bounded ahead, seeking out the smells left and right. Some low scrub, wild grasses, scorched palmetto and millions of ferns spread out before him. Spotting the toppled cypress, he approached it. The hole in the ground left by the root ball was already sprouting growth, its shallow pool alive with water bugs lunching on mosquito larvae. He looked at the knife scrapings his dad had made and convinced himself that the soil over the artifact did not appear to be any different from the soil around it. Dusty lapped at the small pool. Reaching for his canteen, Brad realized that he hadn’t put on his web belt. That meant no water, no knife, no camera. Though thirsty, he didn’t like the look of the puddle even though it didn’t bother Dusty. He remembered the little sinkhole beyond the titi thicket. That was decent water, he recalled, if a little tannic. Pushing through the web of branches in the thicket, he thought he might need to bring a machete out next time to cut a little trail through. The water in the hole was dark, even at midday.
He leaned over the same cypress root to get a drink and saw his reflection in the smooth, dark mirror. Sitting back and leaning on a cypress, he relaxed. Dusty curled up beside him and rested his nose on his leg. Soon, as the low whirring of insects and the last heat of the afternoon began to dull his senses, he was nearly asleep. “hell-o?” The thought was tentative. Was it a thought? “What?” Brad sat up, peering through the underbrush all around. “please not a-fraid.” The thoughts forming on their own came in single syllables. "Who is that? Who’s there?” He stood up and twirled around looking for anyone who could sound so close. “friend … glad you back … friend.” “Where are you?” He could feel a cool sweat on his flushed forehead. “here … with you … here long time.” “Where are you? I’m leaving if you don’t show yourself.” “not go … want talk … talked before , you leave." “Last week?” “not know week … be-fore i talk … you leave.” “Why are you hiding? Why won’t you show yourself?” “not hide … here can not see … can only feel.” “How long have you been here? Where are you from?” “here long time … far way … long time be-fore I talk others.”
Brad looked at the table and traced circles along the faded pattern on the Masonite surface. “Didn’t say that I did find something.” His dad would have none of it. “Boy! Look at me. What did you find?” “If this thing is really old, I can only think of one explanation, and it’s just …” he faltered, “… too weird!” “One more time, Son, what did you find?” “A piece of metal.” He looked up at his father’s serious face. “Can’t be Spanish—least I don’t think it is.” “Well, there were all kinds of explorers in these woods. Could even have been from the Civil War.” “No, Dad.” He got up and went to retrieve the piece from under his mattress. As he left the room, he said, “It’s not from here.” "What do you mean, ‘not from here’?” Brad came back into the kitchen holding the blue metal bar in his outstretched arms as if he were presenting a samurai sword. “This thing is not from here! Not this planet!” Whit took the piece and examined it closely. It was as Brad had said. It was bluish, actually more of a teal, and colored as if from a dull powder coat, not polished, but not scratched. One end looked like it might take an addition of some kind, as if something else had been there. Although the thing was unfamiliar, it seemed unfinished in the same way that a socket wrench would look unfinished without a socket. The other end was distressed—broken in fact, snapped off.
Sunny picked up the phone and growled a hello into the receiver. His initial scowl softened into a smile; he’d been expecting it to be another call from a telephone solicitor. “Sure, Miss Sue, I’ll go over and turn everything on. Right, ’cept the lights. Yes, ma’am, next twenty, thirty minutes at worst.” He picked casually at a dry liver spot on the back of his hand. “What’d she want to go back to Las Vegas for? Uh-huh, uh-huh.” He listened attentively for a while with an occasional “do tell” and “don’t say,” as he took in what was apparently an interesting story.
Jasper got up, went outside, and relieved himself of most of the last two light beers, and came back in. Sunny was just hanging up the phone. Jasper, one of Sunny’s longtime fishing partners and a regular at the men’s breakfast club, was known locally as “Jazz” even though his musical tastes ran to sixties country and western. He was another victim of Sunny’s naming system.
“Jazz, don’t set just yet. Miss Sue asked me to go over to Miss Lucy’s and turn on the water ’n’ AC, ’n’ air it a bit. She says to ’spect company in an hour’r two.” Without much more conversation, the old friends hitched up into Sunny’s old pickup and headed out of the drive.
“Miss Sue hire you to take after the place?”
“No, sir, she does not.”
“You got history with her the county don’t know about?”
“Yeah, but it ain’t the interesting kind ends up in the paper for weeks on end.” There was a silence for a while. Sunny’s lower lip was moving like he was considering what to say. Jazz sat looking over every now and then as if to urge on the reply.
When it came, he was dumbstruck. “Jazz? You believe in flying saucers and space aliens?” He waited in the momentary silence for Sunny to continue. “You know, not like in the movies maybe, but do you allow that of all them stars that maybe some of ’em might have smart critters on ’em that can visit now and again?” Two and two did not add up.
Jazz considered his response to the question and asked, “You sayin’ that Miss Sue is a space alien?”
“Naw!” Sunny reached out and flicked Jasper across the knees. “Don’t be an idjut! I’m askin’ the question: Do you think it’s possible that maybe bein’s from another planet might have been to earth?”
“Well, heck! Almost anything is possible, Sunny.” They rode in silence for a little while. Jazz asked. “So you’re saying you do? You do believe in flying saucers ’n’ such?”
"Ain’t sayin’ any such a thing.” He thought a moment and continued, “Guess some people I’ve knowed a long time do, and they come on pretty convincing.” He let go of the wheel with both hands in a palms-up gesture of simple acceptance. “I saw this bit of metal that was found down in the woods that we, er, some folks think fell outta space or got knocked off’n a spaceship or something like that, and, well, Jazz, it sure did not look like anything I’d ever seen before. And I’ve worked on about every kind of metal that comes through a shop. I’ve welded on brass, bronze, steel, ’luminum, mag, stainless, and all sorts of exotic alloys, and I gotta admit I’s stumped when I saw it.” He explained about the coloring and the ring of tiny black dots that seemed to be extruded or formed into the length of the rod and the peculiar details of how it was found.
Jasper listened, saying nothing for a while. Finally, he grinned and punched Sunny on his knee with the back of his knuckles. “Man, that was a good one. You had me for a while there, Sunny. I had taken the hook, and you was reelin’ me in. But I only had two of yore beers. I ain’t that far along!” He laughed a deep, rich guffaw and slapped his own thigh. “Man, I gotta remember that one. I bet I can pull in half the guys up at the barber shop if I can work it into a conversation somewhere.”
Sunny looked sideways at his friend as he drove, wondering if he should push it. He considered it for a while and then laughed aloud and said, “Ha, Jazz, you jumped all over that bait shore as a gator’d go after a pup on a rope.” He laughed again, and Jasper joined in. Sunny realized that not everyone was as liberal a thinker as he was.
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My background is in engineering design, technical writing, and rural and regional planning. I currently work for the Apalachee Regional Planning Council as the Economic Development Planner and in that role secure grants that will I have spent my life’s free time, playing, hiking, kayaking and provide better job opportunities and neighborhoods. This is my first full length fiction work, although I have worked on several short stories and have two other novels in progress. One of these is a sequel to Dreamland Diaries and will cover the efforts of Brad and his girlfriend to get back to earth to warn them of imminent danger from an alien race.
Bruce Ballister - author of Science Fiction whose stories develop strong characters, believable science, and twisted plot lines. His first series begins with Brad Hitchens and his Dreamland Diaries.
Brad's story begins in an old growth Florida forest. Amid the deadfall from a recent tropical storm, an ancient Cypress has fallen. In its tangled root mat an embedded piece of refined metal protrudes, shining teal green in the Florida morning sunshine.
Brad realizes that a bar of refined metal is chronologically out of place deep in the roots of an ancient Cypress. Uncovering the secret of that scrap bit of metal, and helping a lost and helpless friend become the central focus of his life for the next nine years.
The story is bookended by a tropical storm that swept through with little effect in 1975 and the devastating impacts of Hurricane Kate in 1985. Hitchens's adventure takes him from his beloved Florida coastline to the high deserts of Arizona and the very heart of the heavily guarded Area 51 in Nevada. It is a story of growth, resource- fullness, determination, friendship, young love and exploration of an alien culture....
Do you enjoy sci-fi novels?
This book is recommended for readers 13 and up.
Great News! The sequel to Dreamland Diaries, Orion's Light, is in print and ready for your order.