Shackles

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A struggling writer on his way to meet with a publisher end up stranded in the middle of nowhere. Bizarre circumstances occur.

Submitted: August 02, 2008

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Submitted: August 02, 2008

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Shackles
By Rob Johnson

My last chance at salvation rested firmly in the bosom Oskaloosa. I was making great time. “At this rate I should be able to check into my hotel, get changed and sulk around the hotel bar for an hour or two before the meeting.” I said to no-one in particular. I congratulated myself with several swigs of Southern Comfort. After all, Iowa is no place to be traveling sober.
The road was practically deserted, so I felt no remorse as my tires found their way in and out of the designated driving lanes, leaving an occasional thick black tread mark in their wake.  I was moving at a speed I found hard to comprehend, so fast that only the gods could see me.
The engine was roaring, overburdened by the task I had assigned it. The old girl had never agreed to this. She decided that if there was ever an opportune moment to express this discomfort than this had to be it. In mere seconds she made the transition from a relentless lion’s roar, to the piercing cackle of a hyena. A thick column of grey smoke began to pour from the hood of the car. The speedometer began its slow decline. My heart sank into the depths of my bowels. I wrestled her over to the side of the road, where she gasped her last breath.
After beating the living hell out of my steering wheel and shouting obscenities that weren’t even legal in 7 states, it was time to say farewell to the old girl. I grabbed my briefcase from the trunk and my bottle from the front seat and set forth on foot.
After the first mile or two it became abundantly clear that I wasn’t constructed for walking (I had inherited my mother’s stumpy legs) but it isn’t as if I had been given a choice on the matter, so I carried on, sweat running like a fountain down my forehead.
I was surrounded on every side by flat land that seemed to go on forever. If there is such a thing as purgatory, I bet it’s a lot like this; a whole lot of nothing… except that spec way off in the horizon…
I wasn’t sure what it was, or what it was doing there, but that’s where I was heading. I hoped it was a gas station or a passing car. Hell, for all I knew it could have been a blood red Chevy full of orcs brandishing spears and battle-axes. At least it was something.
I could feel myself picking up speed subconsciously as the spec grew into a dot, as hope supplied me with the pick-me-up I so desperately needed. I could see the dot growing in front of me, and as it did it begun to take shape. It became abundantly clear that the object was producing a thick black cloud of smoke and soot. It had to be a factory. That was the only logical explanation, only the smoke wasn’t rising out of the top of the damn thing, it was the damn thing.
I started to tremble, the sweat that had been running steadily down my forehead now grew rather cold, but I couldn’t turn back. Lord only knew where I was, and what if someone needed help up there? What if that’s the gas station and my last hope of a cold beer for miles. No, I had to trek on.
I finally reached the goddamn thing and the air was thick with smoke. Breathing became a power struggle. The oxygen and the carbon monoxide were caught in a vicious cock fight. The victor would be the one to raise its flag inside me lungs.
I waved my briefcase around like a maniac in a desperate attempt to fan away the smoke and get a glimpse of what I had traveled so far to find.
“Anybody in there?” I shouted into the darkness followed by an encore of a thick hacking cough. If anyone was, they didn’t answer, or couldn’t. I pulled my shirt up over my mouth and took a step into the smoke. Somehow it wasn’t as hot as it should have been. It was actually quite cold. It didn’t seem to be smoke at all, but some sort of steam, or gas.
I pushed forward through the permeable air of the cloud, until I came to a gaping hole. I saw a large metal cylinder with what appeared to be wings jetting out the sides. There was what appeared to be a sort of jet engine attached to each of the wings that seemed to be the source of the gas that was filling the air all around me. I was feeling increasingly dizzy as I gaped at the technological monstrosity before me. My legs started to wobble beneath the weight of my legs. I did a sluggish 180 and started back towards the exit of the cloud as fast as my stumpy noodle legs could carry me. I was starting to feel nauseous, and it was becoming exceedingly harder to breathe. Why weren’t there any exit signs in this heap? I would have to contact my congressman about that when I got out of here. I lost my footing and fell out into the open air, landing face down in the dirt. After that, darkness.
“…sent you?” a bright light seemed to be saying to me as I eased my way back into consciousness. I grunted in response.
“What is your business here?” the light shouted with just a hint of fear hiding beneath the shroud of anger.
“Where the hell am I, you goddamn desk lamp?” I tried to shout as retort, but it came out as an unintelligible series of yelps. Clearly I had developed a bit of a speech impediment. I shook my head violently in an attempt to regain my bearings. My eyes begun to focus a little; the light started to shrink and I could now make out a little more of my surroundings. There was a green blur beside the light. The blur began to take shape. It appeared to be some sort of creature, perhaps the creature that was doing all that goddamn shouting, but who, or what, was this rude fucking thing?
“Who are you?” the creature shouted at me.
The words “Charles Beckman, pleased to meet you,” dripped out of my mouth as a quite mumble as I attempted to reach out to shake this creature’s hand, but something held me back. My wrists were clasped in what appeared to be large chrome shackles. Shocking that I hadn’t notice the ice cold metal around my wrists till this moment. “What’s the meaning of this treachery, you fuckin’ muck monster?” I howled at him.
The creature locked his eyes on mine and his face tensed up, as if every muscle in that fearsome green face of his was working overtime to decipher what was coming out of my mouth. I had received similar looks from fellow bar patrons when I would wobble up and spit some drunken nonsense in their general direction.
The much monster leaned towards me, and his face finally came into focus. It was much less green than I had originally observed. In fact it was tan and leathery and red on the nose and cheeks. His hair was brown, and trimmed short on the sides with a sort of plateau at the top.  The ridges in his forehead were like a treasure map, with the “X” formed by a crease between his eyes. He wore a forest green uniform, a soldier’s uniform. Clearly the monster had taken a human form in order to pump me for information. The creature was here on some sort of reconnaissance mission. His superiors were planning some sort of monster invasion. Not this guy, I wasn’t just going to hand over my planet to these sadistic beasts.
“Listen creature,” I said, trying to lay on as much false confidence as possible in a situation like this, “we earthlings aren’t just going to roll over and take it in the pooper, we’ll fight till the end.”
“What in the holly hell are you going on about, you fucking lunatic?” the creature shouted at me.
“Don’t you play dumb with me creature.” I screamed “I’ve got it all figured out. You thought you had me fooled, but I can still smell the alien stink over your cheap human cologne.”
“For the love of god, man, I haven’t the faintest earthly clue what you’re going on about. Several hours ago we picked up an object entering the atmosphere. When we went to investigate the impact zone we found a large hole with a big fucking plane the likes of which I’ve never seen before, a man (you), and this.” He reached under the table we were seated at and retrieved a moderately sized brown suitcase. He opened the case pulled out a large stack of paper, hole-punched and fastened together with copper pins. He threw it down on the table in front of me. “So how about you stop shouting gibberish and start talking.”
I glanced down at the barbarically bound pen and paper monstrosity that lay before me. It was the product of my own sweat and tears; the catalyst that brought me into this shit-hole. I was looking at my novel. It was a campy espionage thriller I had been working on for the last couple of years. I was on my way to meet with a publisher to show him the first couple of chapters when my car broke down.
The story takes place in cold war era Russia, where scientists are working on a new prototype plane that could finally put the United States in its place. A nuclear powered jet mounted with enormous laser cannons, capable of decimating entire cities in a blink of an eye. It was awful, but I had hoped it would be enough to rake in a little dough, and maybe get my writing career off of the ground.
Shit. All of the pieces were falling together. It was very likely that the creature that sat before me was not a shape-shifting alien bent on world domination at all. It was quite probable that this man was a government operative who, in an attempt to make sense of a very bizarre coincidence, had made all of the wrong assumptions. My eyes swung open like double doors.
“Now wait a second,” were the first words I could shake out of my quivering lips. “This is some kind of enormous misunderstanding. I’m a writer; I was driving out to Oskaloosa to meet with a publisher. This is the first couple chapters of my novel.” I could hear the rattle of my chains as my attempts to bottle up my fears proved futile.
“My, my car broke down on the side of the road,” I stuttered. “I was walking when I saw the smoke. I thought someone might be hurt, so I ran towards it to try and help. When I got too close I got woozy and blacked out. Next thing I knew I was here.”
The officer just glared at me. The slant of his eyebrows told me he wasn’t buying what I was selling. He stood up, and walked towards the door. “Wait,” I shouted after him. “You have to believe me, I did nothing wrong.” He door creaked loudly as he swung open the large rusted steel door and then slammed it behind him. The last sound I heard was the clicking of the lock tumblers as he turned the key to the cell.
“You can’t leave me here,” I cried as loud as I could, my voice shaking violently as tears swelled up in my eyes.
I screamed for as long as my voice could take it. It was evident that either no one could hear me, or no one cared. Neither would have surprised me at this point.
A time that felt like an eternity passed by. Who knows how long it has actually been. The cold concrete walls of this cell lack any way to see the outside world; to see the rising or setting of the sun. I know only that it has been too long. I’ve dropped enough weight that I was able to slip out of my shackles. There is a puddle in the corner of the room that I’ve been drinking from, but aside from the occasional cockroach that finds its way into my cell I haven’t had a bite to eat since I awoke here.
I suppose I will never know the fate of my captors. Perhaps they have forgotten about me. Perhaps they left me here to die. It’s also possible that the pilot of that mysterious aircraft that crashed here, what feels like ages ago, finally caught up with the poor bastards.
I like to imagine that the ship held a group of celestial pilgrims that left their decimated home world in search of somewhere new; someplace fresh, that hadn’t been stripped clean of all life and resources by the ravages of technology and industry. These pilgrims would see the true potential in our quaint little planet. See the beauty in all that nature has blessed us with. They would also see all of the efforts we were going through to destroy this veritable utopia we had inherited.
They would feel no remorse as they swiftly erased our presence from the face of the globe, because it was so abundantly clear how suicidal the human race had become. We were already making every conceivable effort to destroy each other; they would just help us speed the process along. They would give earth the fresh start it deserved, and earth would kindly return the favor. The thought brings a smile to my pale, malnourished face.
Sadly I will never know the truth, as my strength is fading and I fear that I won’t be around much longer. The only thing that has kept me alive this long is the insatiable need to tell my story; to live on through my words. I have carved my accounts into the crumbling walls that hold my body captive. I carved them with the edges of the shackles that once bound me and scarred wrists. The instruments of my capture will be the means of my escape.
I will leave my frail, forgotten body and live eternally through my words.


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