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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

“Good God, man; what is THAT?!” Three young unreliable jackasses report an immense inverted cone over 40,000 feet high sitting on Lake Pend Oreille. A mirage? A chimera? A tall tale from the tricky
threesome? Things get a bit dodgy while the people of Stationvile and the doofus Dr. Hillpath struggle with the answer. “Good God, man!”

Submitted: June 19, 2016

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Submitted: June 19, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


He, Grant Jacobs, would later describe what he saw as conical in shape, almost like a giant dunce hat, except that the top of the cone disappeared into the lowering marine layer at about two thousand feet.

Dr. John Hillpath was the first scientific person on the scene, where he immediately executed some quick calculations.

He took into consideration the undisputed fact that the conical thing was just barely beginning to progress toward a point when it pierced the cloud. The actual top of the cone was guaranteed to be no closer than fifty thousand feet from the surface of the lake, Lake Pend Oreille.


Of course, everyone in Stationville believed that Grant Jacobs and his two buddies, Harry Strom and Jude Jennings, were simply drunk again and in a mood to tell a whopper, without the slightest expectation of anyone who knew the lads believing a word they said.

However, Dr. Hillpath was not a complete skeptic.

Aside from the singular nature of the tale itself, the description of something that resembled a giant inverted ice cream cone, was novel in his experience.

Dr. Hillpath was a PhD. in aeronautics. He had worked one year on the Avro Aerocar, the closest tangible, full size construction of a flying object ever made in the nature of a sphere. Some thought the AAC had been inspired by witnesses to the Roswell affair; right down to the little windows.

After leaving Avro, Dr. Hillpath traveled extensively in the Orient. Many believed that he had, like Lamont Cranston, learned some secret powers. (several women were standing by to attest to the unimaginable irresistibility of Dr. Hillpath’s ‘line'.) Add to that, the facts that the Doctor was only five feet tall, munchkinesque in appearance, and thoroughly ugly of face as a result of a bad trip at Avro, and you have more than sufficient grounds for all the back-fence talk ascribing the good Doctor with tons of strange and deeply mysterious powers.

You only had to see the guy drive to believe that he had some eerie abilities; and one was to play host to the goblin of the long-dead Argentinean master of the motor car, Juan Manuel Fangio. Doctor Hillpath’s vehicular maneuvers: from dashing up the shoulder to avoid long traffic jams; performing sensational turns; capturing the upcoming green light by U-turning on a red, were now mythical. Some of these aberrant driving actions were done on asphalt; others on grass; and the 360s, he reserved for black ice.

Yes, the townsfolk were unanimous is investing Dr. H. with some damn weird and plenty powerful mojo when he was behind a wheel, although barely able to see over the dash.


Grant Jacobs was a short, blond fellow with a perpetual smile; and all in all, a pretty good guy for a twenty-five year old drifter. He was kind to cats and even kinder to the crazy aunt housed in the garret of his family’s spooky mansion.

Harry Strom was a skinny little dude who was still having trouble sprouting enough hair to shave twice a week. But he was a good kid, despite the crossed eyes and an Alfalfa hair arrangement. He never would tell anyone where he got his hair chopped once a month, but several wags ascribed the dippy do to an old, drunken Irish woman, missing a few teeth, who cleaned furnaces and collected old milk bottles.

Jude Jennings was a string bean with a black mop of hair and a big nose. When he laughed you could hear him ten blocks away; a sort of braying; even hee-hawing snorty laugh that was impossible to resist, and prompted most to join in with lower noises but just as much mirth. 

This goofy trio were inseparable co-drifters, who always managed to come home after a drift, packed full of stories and lies. Nevertheless, they often included a few photos of real places among all the selfies and the crotch shots of women. (using the selfie stick) Sometimes there were solid objects, like a piece of a meteorite that carried a prison term if you chipped off even a knat’s eyebrow’s worth; or part of a dying Joshua tree from the desert near Twentynine Palms.

And then there was all the real junk that the three half-wit drifters would haul home just for the hell of it; an Indian feather, a piece of the Badlands; a Wall Drugs sign—a real one—ripped off the drugstore at three in the morning; a cob of corn from the wall of the Corn Palace in Mitchell; the bottom jaw of an alligator that had torn itself away from a few handy harpoons launched at the plow-snouted son-of-a-bitch as it made off with the twin sister of Bobby Gentry—things like that; things, that even the town elders had to concede did attach some veracity to the men’s anecdotes. In fact, were a poll to be taken, the young trippy threesome would have a bare majority of the local populace leaning toward belief in some accounts of their adventures.

During their high school years, the ‘Trippy Trio’ decided to work back East in the summers. 'Eastward bound' was also the cry during their summers of junior college. All three were still missing a few credits (along with a few other life essentials) but they were constantly buoyant and disgustingly cheerful. Everyone in Stationville openly both loved and hated the dipsticks, while secretly admiring and envying the loony lads’ carefree lives of daring and discovery.

*  *

However, this conical thing forced the town of three thousand to take sides: Yes or No. They saw it; or they’re lying. Period.

It was the ‘Period’ bit that the undecided—as well as the inwardly conflicted—found overbearing.  

‘Facism’ was muttered in the dark corners of the feed stores.

‘Overbearing’ was discussed somewhat more openly in the shadows of the town park restrooms.

‘To hell with them’ was the most rebellious remark arising from this unspoken demand to choose between fact and fiction.

The ‘to-hell-with-themers' were most vocal in Barney’s Tavern, especially as the dull evenings inched along to dusty deaths; sure as hell filled with a lot of sound and fury, but—truth be told—signifying bugger all. Their platitudes reached dog-whistle heights, full of confusion—and some in flight—where their ignorance of just about everything, clashed with all that’s right.

*  *

The local fuzz grilled the three lads both separately and individually.They taped everything, and then listened to it all again at least three times, piercing well into the next morning. The Chief signed an emergency requisition for doughnuts, coffee, and a couple of bottles of rum. While they slurped, gobbled, and belched their nocturnal supper, all interrogators and witnesses arrived at one patently true but deeply disturbing conclusion: The three men told exactly the same story in the evening as they did early the next morning, both when they were with their mates and when they were alone.

Chief Magnusson, a Clausish—as in Santa—figure of a man, potbelly and all, had every smidgen of jollity of his doppelganger, and most of his wit. Nevertheless, the Chief harbored a rarely displayed dark side that flared up on special occasions, much to the discomfort of the assembled thugs.

The Chief prided himself on being a man of science. He was familiar with the string theory of physics as well as the mistakes made by Einstein regarding quantum mechanics. He had a degree in science form the University in Moscow---Idaho, that is---and his computer was rarely off whenever the criminals were sleeping; or on vacation in Coeur d’Alene.

But this damn cone thing. And God knows that’s one hell of a big lake; in the top forty largest in the country. Hunh.

Well, all the textbooks do state very clearly, that if witnesses keep telling the same story with the same words and inflection---and detail---the odds are they are telling the truth.

Damn and bugger!

*  *

Meanwhile, diminutive Dr. Hillpath continued to take all manner of measurements: lake surface temperatures; deep-water temperatures; humidity readings; normal wind speeds; along with a very long list of other measurable items that the Doctor believed would deliver a scientific explanation for all this.

However, the question came to him while sound asleep, in an episode of his bio-dream starring the giant cone: Why was the description by the three men of a conical structure, when every other aerial FO—or grounded FO—was, without exception, described as being round. Angles and cones did not mix well with the reported sightings of all things up in the air not belonging to someone’s air force.

*  *

Following three weeks and a thousand words of grilling, the charges of making a false police report, disturbing the peace, and the violation of several other sections of the Idaho Criminal Code involving actions taken while unfit through drink, were dismissed by the Clausian Chief for lack of evidence. However, the three men were strongly admonished to desist from spreading any manner of story or report—or even a suggestion of weirdness---likely to disturb the feebler minds at the rest home, or they would suffer under the full weight of the law.

Justice must be done.

By this time, the citizenry had just about had a bellyful of the entire bloody cone caper. Those who had initially disagreed about the truth of the silly saga were observed warmly toasting their former opponents in Barneys’, or offering a ride to one of the elderly early members of the opposition. Come three weeks a passin’, and the entire bloody bilk dropped off the town radar. Stationville eased into an outward air, slightly right of abnormality.

*  *

But, son-of-a-bitch, if it didn’t turn out that several sappy souls oozing around the town had not stopped believing the crazy chronicle of the three stooges.

These outliers slowly began to meet; and eventually, all those who believed that there was at least ‘a little something’ about the cone con that might be true, returned to their homes after their last assembly, brimming with the hootch of hopeful hopelessness.

Turned out it was ‘the last’, because the benighted believers urged the three kooks to head out with them to Pend Oreille for a night or two, just to see if the upside down ice cream cone plopped on the area, and either sucked them up into some probe-center for a lot of embarrassing poking, or simply slid a lot of different flavors of ice cream down the sides and into the mouths of the bug-eyed bumpkins.

The fact that the teeny-weenie Dr. Hillpath was the main organizer of this band of blockheads layered yet another layer of numbnuts upon the blockheaded believers who could not wait to go to the lake and rise to the station of ‘true believers'.

*  *

Without warning, jangled-Jude Jennings weakened. He had taken to reading various accounts of supposed encounters with probing, otherworldly visitors as well as their magical mystery rides. He proposed to Harry and Grant that all three of them were probably the victims of a ‘general’, as well as a ‘local’, hallucination, uninfluenced by any smoked or injected substance.

“All right then, man; but who were we hallucinated by?” challenged Grant and Harry.

This muddle-minded counter sufficed to quiet Judas---at least for a few days. However, all the arrangements had been made for the three drifters and damn near three  hundred ‘believers’ and wannabe believers to spend the weekend at Lake Pend Oreille; and just take pot luck.

They took their fishing gear, lots of guns; both hunting and the killer kind. One guy, Terry Danson, brought a couple of AK-47s on loan to him by his buddy from LAPD days who now lived as a member of the largest standing private army in the country: ex-law enforcement officials who were centered around Coeur d’Alene.

Many of the ‘campers’ drove their campers containing among other bizarre survival equipment: their wives and children.

This gaggle of gullibles reached the shores of the lake about six pm, as the sun was deciding how much of the sky to take home for the night.

Bonfires, barbecue pits, and flying embers filled large sections of the shoreline beside the RV parking area. Raucous shouts of lewd songs punctured the perfect night until the simple singers fell over in heaps of drunken slumber or bountiful barf.

Cell phones couldn’t get a signal, with the surprising result that, early on, before the silly song fest, all those men and women—some single—and all those kids, were reduced to talking, a habit that many of them had lost.

During these extremely rare moments, there was no communication with the rest of the world. No one was describing how a giant conical object settled over the lake and the campers before returning to invisible.

*  *

To date, no one has found one item belonging to the daffy drifters of Stationville—nor any items belonging to the three hundred citizens who vanished very early in the quiet time of Saturday morning.

*  *

Dr. Hillpath escaped the aerial suction of the three hundred. He just happened to be at a spot twenty yards beyond the conical edge, throwing a whiz, when the cone had lowered. Member in hand, he gaped in wonder as the people, campers, Winnebagos---everything---was taken up.

Then the cone vanished, and dear little Dr. Hillpath was left to explain this awesome occurrence to the remaining population of Stationville. So excited was the Doctor; so passionate; so loud and pressing, that he was locked up in the one room of the local hospital reserved for those exhibiting signs of insanity, devil worship; or possession.

After a few years, the good people of Stationville tired of paying for Dr. Hillpath’s room and board and insisted that he be set free. At the train station, he was given a passport to occupy the next empty boxcar that became available, in whatever direction the engine was dieseling.

He, Dr. Hillpath, somewhat like the Vanishing Treble Centennials, is still out there.

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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