This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge starts with a body. A dead body. In the first paragraph. That’s the only requirement, the usual 1,000 words or so, blah, blah, blah. The idea was there, the execution is a little long, about 1,300 words. As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
FALLEN SO FAR FROM HOME
The smell had led me to the body. It wasn’t the normal smell of death or something rotting. I knew that small from when one of our cows had gotten taken down by some dogs, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. We hadn’t found her for a couple of days and by the time that we did, the summer’s heat had done there work and she was pretty ripe.
No, this was a different smell. Very strong, sort of like you get from fireworks if you’re downwind from the park on the Fourth of July, but also different, exotic. I had been cutting through Hayden’s fields on my way home when the stench stopped me dead in my tracks. If I had been older and smarter I might have gone for help or simply run away, but at thirteen you know it all, so I headed upwind through the corn to figure out what was going on.
The search led me into the small row of trees that wound along the creek between our farm and Hayden’s. There I found it, broken and twisted. There were broken branches all around and it had made a small crater in the mud and cattails along the stream bank.
The smell was strong, acrid, burning my eyes and nose, like the town swimming pool on the first day of summer but ratcheted up several notches. It was hard to see much detail on the pile laying in the mud, but I could see some wisps of some sort of fog or smoke coming out from somewhere. I wanted to get closer, so I swung around upwind, away from whatever gas was coming out.
Once I was only about ten feet away I could see what looked like a discarded and crumpled space suit. The ones I had seen on television and in the movies were always silver, white, or orange, but this one was a dark green or gray. A few pieces of debris had broken off, and a scrap or two of cloth were drifting and waving in the flowing water. There was a thick, squarish part with tubes running out of it. One of the tubes attached to some sort of hard, clear bubble partially buried underneath the rest. The bubble had hit some rocks right at the water’s edge and cracked. That was where the foggy, smelly gas was coming from. There were some blinking lights coming from somewhere under the pile, near what should be the neck below the bubble helmet.
Peering up above I could see more broken limbs and the hole in the trees where this thing had crashed through. There was no sign of any parachute or an ejection seat. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that my prize find had fallen a long way and hit really fast.
In the early evening shadows I was trying to make sense of how this pile would fit together to make a pilot. There were too many arms and legs, which at first made me think there might be two people hooked together. But I could only see one helmet. I was figuring that the gas was some kind of rocket fuel, maybe from some sort of jet pack. That made me think that it might not be smart to get too close if there were any loose or broken electrical connections. If something blew up I didn’t want to be there.
I couldn’t get much closer because of the gas that was making my throat burn, so I took one of the broken branches and stripped off all of the small twigs. My first couple of pokes at the limbs didn’t do much good other than to confirm that whoever was in the suit was dead or unconscious. No matter how hard I poked or prodded, there was no reaction or movement.
Finally I poked at the bubble helmet. On the second or third stab the bubble cracked in two like an egg. What had been a trickle of gas became a gush as the suit started to collapse and deflate. I choked and gagged, clawing my way away through the undergrowth, desperate for air.
After coughing for what seemed ages, afraid that I would break ribs from the spasms my chest muscles were going through, I finally managed to catch my breath. I lay there panting in the weeds as the evening got dark, finally looking up to find myself about a hundred feet upstream from the suit. The air was clearing and I could tell where the suit was by the blinking lights on it. I slowly got back to my feet and stumbled back toward it.
The exhaust of the gas had sent half of the helmet off downstream somewhere. In the faint blinking lights I could see a dark fluid running out of the suit onto the ground. I didn’t know if the thing inside the helmet had looked like a head before it had hit the ground, but it sure didn’t now.
I thought about running to get my dad or the police or someone. This was going to be the biggest discovery in history, right? I would be famous, rich, on every television show ever made.
But looking at what was left of what I figured had been its head, I started to think instead of what it was doing here and who or what it might have been. Where did it come from? Was it old or young? Did it have a family somewhere that would miss it? Had it been here to hurt us, help us, or just watch us? What had it been doing that had let it fall out of our sky to die crashing through the trees into the mud and rocks on our planet so far, far away from its home?
I had seen “E.T.” and I knew what the government and the scientists would do to it. It might revolutionize our view of our place in the universe and all of that, but was there any dignity or respect for the victim in that? Would any of them care at all? More importantly, would I really end up famous and rich, or would the alien and me and my family all just disappear into Area Ninety-Nine out in the desert, never to be seen or heard from again?
Instead of running for the police, I gathered up what broken branches I could and put them over the body to cover it. By now it was almost fully dark and I knew that I would be in a world of trouble when I got home. The big questions of human destiny and alien burial rites would have to wait until tomorrow or the weekend – I was going to have to deal with my father.
It was three days later when I was able to come back, only to find the body gone. There weren’t any tire tracks or huge paths torn through the brush, so I didn’t think that the government had found it. I didn’t see any tracks at all except for the ones I had made. The site looked pristine. There wasn’t any sign of the fluids or blood, nor any broken equipment or scraps of the suit.
Maybe its shipmates had come for him. Maybe it was to take it home, or maybe it was just to keep it away from us. Maybe it had all just been a hallucination or a dream.
As I grew older, there were times when I had doubts. But then I would look at the half of an eggshell shaped piece of helmet that I found about a mile downstream, and I would wonder again what had brought it so far to die here.