"Ugnng . . ." I moaned silently. My first glimmer of slowly returning consciousness brought with it the single overpowering sensation of pain.
"Oh, damn!" I gritted my teeth against the agony. The excruciating ache almost caused me to lose consciousness again. I felt badly burned, all over, even inside me.
I was lying on my back. I didn't try to move or even to open my eyes at first. I was weak, so watery-weak, that I knew if I attempted to move even my arm I'd lapse back into unconsciousness. A bitter, metallic taste covered my tongue. My mouth was dry and I was very thirsty. Oddly, the weakness in my muscles did not seem to come from hunger. The trembling felt odd, like a strange mixture of exertion and illness. Something was terribly wrong.
I sluggishly dragged my eyelids open. I could not see anything. Then a blurred image began to coalesce. My eyes struggled against the agony. My sight shifted in and out of focus. My vision slowly became clearer. The hazy scintillations of light gradually solidified into an image. I could make out some kind of light source above me.
The fixture was a luminous rectangle about three feet by one and a half feet. The diffused light came from the flat, frosted surface of the rectangle. For an instant I could distinguish the brushed metal luster of a ceiling in the softer, reflected glow above the light. The fixture seemed to be suspended lower and closer to me than the ceiling. I deduced from the nearness of the ceiling that the hard flat surface I was lying on was a raised table of some kind.
What's the matter with my eyes? I asked myself. The ceiling is all crooked. It's too small on this end and too large on that end! Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I closed them against the discomfort, but soon opened them again to ward off the feeling of vertigo that welled up in me. The odd-shaped ceiling was indeed as I had perceived it: generally triangular, with the base toward my feet.
What a weird place! I reflected wonderingly. I had been hurt. Yeah, that was it! . . . But what? I could remember straightening up and feeling as though somebody had whacked me with a baseball bat.
Suddenly, the memory of what happened before I'd blacked out came rushing back with stunning impact. I remembered standing in the clearing in the woods looking up at the glowing saucer!
Where in hell am I? . . . Oh my God — the hospital! They brought me here to the hospital! I thought.
It was very hot and humid. The heavy air was almost stifling. It smelled slightly stale and muggy. I was sweating; warm moisture beaded my temples. Feeling my jacket bunched up under my arms, I wondered why a nurse had not removed it. I still had all my work clothes on, even my boots, and the jacket was just too warm. I must be injured so bad there wasn't time to take off my coat, I thought. Maybe I was in an emergency room of some kind.
Then I felt something pressing down lightly on my chest. It felt cool and smooth. I looked down and managed to hold my eyes open long enough to see that my shirt and jacket were pushed up around my shoulders, exposing my chest and abdomen. A strange device curved across my body. It was about four or five inches thick and I could feel that it extended from my armpits to a few inches above my belt. It curved down to the middle of each side of my rib cage. It appeared to be made of shiny, dark gray metal or plastic.
I looked past the upper edge of the device. I could see the blurry figures of the doctors, leaning over me with their white masks and caps. They were wearing unusual, orange-colored surgical gowns. I could not make out their faces clearly.
Abruptly my vision cleared. The sudden horror of what I saw rocked me as I realized that I was definitely not in a hospital.
I was looking squarely into the face of a horrible creature! It looked steadily back at me with huge, luminous brown eyes the size of quarters.
I looked frantically around me. There were three of them! I struck out at the two on my right, hitting one with the back of my arm, knocking it into the other one. My swing was more of a push than a blow, I was so weakened. The one I touched felt soft through the cloth of its garment. The muscles of its puny physique yielded with a sponginess that was more like fat than sinew. The creature was light and had fallen back easily.
I lunged unsteadily to my feet and staggered back against a utensil-arrayed bench that followed the curve of one wall. I leaned there heavily, keeping my eyes riveted on those horrid entities. My action had caused the device across my chest to crash to the floor. No wires or tubes connected it to me, or to anything else. It rocked back and forth on its upper side. The rocking sent shifting beams of greenish light out onto the floor, from the underside of the machine. My aching body would not do what I told it to. My legs felt too weak to hold me up. I leaned heavily on the counter. The monstrous trio of humanoids started toward me. Their hands reached out at me. With the superhuman effort of a cornered animal, I ground out the strength to defend myself. Fighting the splitting pain in my skull, I grabbed for something from the bench with which to fend them off. My hand seized on a thin transparent cylinder about eighteen inches long. It was too light to be an effective club. I needed something sharp. I tried to break the tip off the tube. I smashed the end of the glasslike wand down on the waist-high metal slab I had been lying on. It would not break. I sprang into a fighting stance with my legs spread wide to brace for the attack. I lashed out with the weapon at the advancing creatures, screaming desperate, hysterical threats. The creatures slowed but continued toward me, their hands outstretched. "Keep back, damn you!" I shrieked menacingly. They halted. In a snarling crouch I held the tube threateningly back behind my head. I felt hopelessly trapped. I was surrounded, with my back to the wall. They stood still, mutely. They were a little under five feet in height. They had a basic humanoid form: two legs, two arms, hands with five digits each, and a head with the normal human arrangement of features. But beyond the outline, any similarity to humans was terrifyingly absent. Their thin bones were covered with white, marshmallowy-looking flesh. They had on single-piece coverall-type suits made of soft, swedelike material, orangish brown in color. I could not see any grain in the material, such as cloth has. In fact, their clothes did not appear even to have any seams. I saw no buttons, zippers, or snaps. They wore no belts. The loose billowy garments were gathered at the wrists and perhaps the ankles. They didn't have any kind of raised collar at the neck. They wore simple pinkish tan footwear. I could not make out the details of their shoes, but they had very small feet, about a size four by our measure. When they extended their hands toward me, I noticed they had no fingernails. Their hands were small, delicate, without hair. Their thin round fingers looked soft and unwrinkled. Their smooth skin was so pale that it looked chalky, like ivory. Their bald heads were disproportionately large for their puny bodies. They had bulging, oversized craniums, a small jaw structure, and an underdeveloped appearance to their features that was almost infantile. Their thin-lipped mouths were narrow; I never saw them open. Lying close to their heads on either side were tiny crinkled lobes of ears. Their miniature rounded noses had small oval nostrils. The only facial feature that didn't appear underdeveloped were those incredible eyes! Those glistening orbs had brown irises twice the size of those of a normal human eye's, nearly an inch in diameter! The iris was so large that even parts of the pupils were hidden by the lids, giving the eyes a certain catlike appearance. There was very little of the white part of the eye showing. They had no lashes and no eyebrows. With all the screaming and the hysterical questions I had thrown at them, they never once said anything to me. I did not hear them speak to each other. Their mouths never made any kind of sound or motion. The only sounds I heard were those of movements, and my own voice. Just as I girded myself to spring at them, they abruptly turned and scurried from the room! They went out the open door, turned right and disappeared. The anticlimax of their retreat was incredible. The extra adrenaline that had squirted into my bloodstream left me trembling uncontrollably. I collapsed back against the bench, struggling to slow my racing heart. I gulped the heavy air in ragged gasps. Afraid of the aliens' return, I looked toward the door. No sign of anyone. I needed something better to defend myself with. I noticed an array of strange instruments lying on the bench. The instruments were arranged near the middle of the bench, leaving either end of it clear. There was nothing I recognized, but some of the chromelike objects reminded me of those in a laboratory or doctor's office. All of the objects were too small to be effective as weapons. I was more afraid of being hurt by some of those instruments. I touched nothing more, throwing the clear tube I still held down on the floor. I've got to get out of here, I thought frantically with a surge of determination. There was a curving hallway about three feet wide outside the door. The ceiling of the hall gave off a faint, almost unnoticeable illumination. I looked to the right down the narrow, dimly lit passage in the direction the aliens had run. There was no one in sight. Seeing nothing in the passage to my left, I began walking that way. I broke into a frightened run down the narrow corridor. The cramped hallway turned continuously in a tight curve to the right. I dashed past an open doorway on my left without looking in, only ten feet down the hall from the door I had just exited. I caught a glimpse of a room but was afraid to stop. Wait just a damn minute, Travis! I struggled to get a grip on my self-control. What if I missed a chance at that doorway to find a way out of this place? I saw another doorway ten more feet ahead on my right. I slowed down to a walk as I neared it. Maybe this would be my way out . . . .
I stood frozen to the spot. He was a man about six feet two inches tall. His helmeted head barely cleared the doorway. He was extremely muscular and evenly proportioned. He appeared to weigh about two hundred pounds. He wore a tight-fitting bright blue suit of soft material like velour. His feet were covered with black boots, a black band or belt wrapped around his middle. He carried no tools or weapons on his belt or in his hands; no insignia marked his clothing. I ran up to him, exclaiming, babbling all sorts of questions. The man remained silent throughout my verbal barrage. I was worried by his silence. He took me firmly but gently by the arm and gestured for me to go with him. He lead me out of that room and hurried me down the narrow hallway, pulling me along behind him due to its narrowness. He stopped in front of a closed doorway that slid open, into the wall. I did not see what caused it to open. The door opened into a bare room so small it was more like a foyer or section of hallway. The door slid shut quickly and silently behind us. Again I attempted to talk to the man as we stood there. No answer. We spent approximately two minutes in the metal cubicle, no more than seven by five by twelve feet. Then a doorway, the same size as the other door and directly opposite it, slid open. The brilliant warm light that came through the opening door into the airlock-like room was almost like daylight in color and brightness. Fresh, cool air wafted in, reminding me of springtime in the out-of-doors, making me realize just how dark and stifling that place had been. What relief that fresh air was! The air moved around me in a softly fluctuating current. I stood and inhaled deeply the clean, cool breeze. The last tinges of the ache in my head and chest almost completely disappeared. I had nearly forgotten the discomfort that had been with me constantly since I had regained consciousness.
I decended a short, steep ramp seven or eight feet to the floor. I looked around to discover that, although I was outside that dim, humid craft, I was not out-of-doors. I was in a huge room. The ceiling was sectioned into alternating rectangles of dark metal and those that gave off light. The ceiling itself curved down to form one of the larger walls in the room. The room was shaped like one-quarter of a cylinder laid on its side. The outside of the craft we had just left was shaped like the one we had seen in the woods, but was very much larger, about sixty feet in diameter and sixteen feet high. It did not emit light; instead it had a surface of shiny brushed-metal luster. It seemed to radiate a faint heat from its hull. The craft either sat flat on its bottom or, if it had legs, they were only a few inches high. It sat nearly in the middle of the large room. On my left, toward one end of the large room, there were two or three oval-shaped saucers, reflecting light like highly polished chrome. I could see two of them very clearly, and a silvery reflection that could have been another shiny, rounded craft. They were about forty or forty-five feet in diameter, quite a bit smaller than the angular vehicle I had just come out of. I saw no projections or breaks in the smooth, shiny, flattened spheres. They sat on very rounded bottoms and I could not see how they balanced that way. The man escorted me across the open floor to a door that opened silently and quickly from the middle outward. We were in a hallway about six feet wide, illuminated from the eight-foot-high ceiling, which was one long panel of softly diffused light. The hallway was straight and perhaps eighty feet long. Closed double doors were distributed along the corridor. At the end of the hallway, another pair of double doors. I watched closely this time. I did not see him touch anything, but again the doors slid silently back from the middle. We entered a white room approximately fifteen feet square, with another eight-foot-high ceiling. The room had a table and a chair in it. But my interest was immediately focused on the three other humans! Two men and a woman were standing around the table. They were all wearing velvety blue uniforms like the first man's, except that they had no helmets. The two men had the same muscularity and the same masculine good looks as the first man. The woman also had a face and figure that was the epitome of her gender. They were smooth-skinned and blemishless. No moles, freckles, wrinkles, or scars marked their skin. The striking good looks of the man I had first met became more obvious on seeing them all together. They shared a family-like resemblance, although they were not identical. "Would somebody please tell me where I am?" I implored. I was still utterly shaken from my encounter with those awful creatures. "What in hell is going on? What is this place?" They didn't answer me. They only looked at me, though not unkindly. One man and the woman came around the table, approaching me. Silently they each took me by an arm and led me toward the table. I didn't know why I should cooperate with them. They wouldn't even tell me anything. But I was in no position to argue, so I went along at first. They lifted me easily onto the edge of the table. I became wary and started protesting. "Wait a minute. Just tell me what you are going to do!"
I began to resist them, but all three began pushing me gently backward down onto the table. I looked up at the ceiling, covered with panels of softly glowing white light with a faint blue cast. I saw that the woman suddenly had an object in her hand from out of nowhere — it looked like one of those clear, soft plastic oxygen masks, only there were no tubes connected to it. The only thing attached to it was a small black golfball-sized sphere. She pressed the mask down over my mouth and nose. I started to reach up to pull it away. Before I could complete the motion, I rapidly became weak. Everything started turning gray. Then there was nothing at all but black oblivion . . .
Consciousness returned to me on the night I awoke to find myself on the cold pavement west of Heber, Arizona. I was lying on my stomach, my head on my right forearm. Cold air brought me instantly awake. I looked up in time to see a light turn off on the bottom of a curved, gleaming hull. As I'd raised my head up, a white light caught my eye just before it blinked off. Either a light had been turned off or a hatch had closed, cutting off the light from inside. I only caught a glimpse as I raised my head; I could not be sure which it was. Then I saw the mirrored outline of a rounded, silvery disc hovering four feet above the paved surface of the road. It must have been about forty feet in diameter because it extended several feet off the left side of the road. It was too large for the highway and it extended past the roadside to my left to clear a cutaway rock embankment on the other side of the highway. It appeared to be about fourteen feet high in the center. For an instant it floated silently above the road, a dozen yards away. I could see the night sky, the surrounding trees, and the highway center line reflected in the curving mirror of its hull. I noticed a faint warmth radiating onto my face. Then, abruptly, it shot vertically into the sky, creating a strong breeze that stirred the nearby pine boughs and rustled the dry oak leaves that lay in the dry grass beside the road. It gave off no light; and it was almost instantly lost from sight. The most striking thing about its departure was its quietness. It seemed impossible that something so large, moving through the atmosphere at such speed, would not have shrieked through the air, or even broken the sound barrier with a sonic boom. Yet it had been totally silent! I scrambled shakily to my feet. My legs felt rubbery. I swayed, then caught my balance. I looked around and recognized the deserted stretch of curving road as the highway that wound down the canyon into Heber from the west. I ran wildly down the deserted highway, across the bridge into Heber, stopping at the new building across from the Union 76 service station. No one answered my desperate knocking. No cars passed by. I ran down the highway, over the second bridge, to the row of telephone booths at the Exxon station. I dialed the operator — a dime was not required to reach an operator in our part of the country — and panted out the number of my sister. She was the only nearby relative with a telephone. My brother-in-law Grant answered. It was 12:05 A.M. I was in an incredible mental state, difficult to describe. As best I can remember, I shouted something like: "They brought me back!" Then I babbled, "I'm out here in Heber, please get somebody to come and get me!" My hand shook as I held the cold receiver. Grant was not amused. He took this call to be another cruel joke. "Uh, I think you have the wrong number," he replied sarcastically, starting to hang up. "Wait! It's me, Travis!" I screamed hysterically into the receiver. "Where are you?" he asked, still suspicious of a joke. "I'm at the Heber Exxon station." "Okay," he replied, almost apologetically, yet still cautious of a prank. "Stay right there. I'll come and get you. Just hang on." Grant drove the three miles from Taylor over to Snowflake and found my brother Duane at Mom's house. He told Duane about the call, and of his doubts it was really me. Duane, too, thought the call might have been yet another example of someone's idiotic concept of humor. But they decided they couldn't risk not investigating. They set out for Heber, thirty-three miles away. Lights suddenly shone into the phone booth. Relief flooded over me when I raised my head and saw the headlights of Duane's pickup. Duane and Grant got out and came to where I was still slumped in the phone booth. Duane opened the glass door of the booth and helped me to my feet. "Am I ever glad to see you!" Grant said. Duane helped me into the warm truck and asked Grant to drive. On the way to Snowflake I tried to tell them about what happened to me, but I just couldn't get it all out. "They were awful — white skin — great big eyes . . ." I sobbed in horror. "Take it easy, Travis, you're all right now. They didn't harm you, did they?" "No . . . but those eyes, those horrible eyes! They just kept looking at me!" "Just so you're okay, that's all that counts," Duane said. "Everyone has been worried sick about you." "If it's already after midnight, I must have been unconscious for a couple of hours," I replied shakily. "Because I only remember about an hour or an hour and a half inside that thing." Duane and Grant looked at me strangely. "Travis, feel your face," Duane said. "Good hell, I just shaved this morning and it feels like a week's growth!" I exclaimed, still not comprehending. "Travis," Duane said gently, "you've been missing for five days!"
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