I was playing three-handed euchre at the Norseman’s Bar with Sam Hegdahl and Carl Jacobson one Tuesday night when Lyle Pederson came in all excited, calling out, “Boys! Got a surprise for you out at my place!”
“More lights in the sky?” Carl asked.
“You betcha. We’re gonna see a lot of crop circles come summer.” Lyle believes in UFOs. He sees a lot of them. He swears they land on his property. He’s made a shrine to them, a bunch of boards set up in a circle around an old baler, like one of them stone things over in England. “You come out in July, you’re gonna see something, all right.”
“All I saw last July was a whole lot of wheat flattened down to the ground,” Carl said.
“Well, it might have been a circle, if we could have seen it from the air,” I pointed out.
“Looked to me a whole lot more like tracks than a circle,” Sam commented. “Government tanks, heading to a UN concentration camp.”
Lyle shook his head. “No, they don’t have nothing like that around here. Harold’s right. You gotta see them from the air. That’s why they make them crop circles, so they can see where to land, right, Randolph?”
Randolph nodded, but he didn’t seem that enthusiastic. Randolph’s one of those young drifters, show up every now and then, and he showed up at Lyle’s. Lyle let him stay on, help around the place.
Randolph nodded, but he didn’t seem that enthusiastic. Randolph’s one of those young drifters, show up every now and then, and he showed up at Lyle’s. Lyle let him stay on, help around the place.
“But they don’t land,” Lyle continued. “I don’t know why. They fly over all right, and I see the lights, but they go over, to Jeb Olson’s place.”
“Nobody at the Olson place for ten years,” Sam pointed out.
“That’s my point,” Lyle replied. “Nobody goes there, so they could hide them pretty well, over there.”
Well, somebody had to be the goat, so I asked, “What are they hiding, Lyle?”
Lyle leaned over and whispered, “Bigfoot.” Well, he had my attention. “The whole place stinks of Bigfoot.”
“You’ll believe anything, won’t you, Lyle?” Sam asked.
“Now, Sam, you gotta think this thing through. You’ve seen those shows on TV, hunting Bigfoot? I watched them, learned all about it. Big, hairy ape-like things. And stink, Lord, they stink. You betcha. Now I know they say they’ve been around forever, like some kind of prehistoric man, but that don’t make sense, because there’d be more of them. But what come to me was, what if they’re being bred? You know, by aliens. And you hear about all those alien abductions, that strange stuff they do to folks, well, what if they’re breeding them with humans?”
Well, I was polite, but everyone else laughed themselves silly.
“What do you think, Randolph?” Sam asked when he finally got his breath back.
Randolph shrugged. “Who knows? Besides, funny things happen out at the Flats.”
“Yeah, and most of them happen ‘cause of liquor and hormones,” Vi said, delivering our beers.
“Yeah, well, night before last Louise Sanborn saw them, too,” Lyle put in.
“What, Bigfoot?” Vi asked.
“No, the aliens,” Lyle explained. “She come out to stargaze, and she saw them. So did Randolph.”
We all looked at Randolph, who admitted, “We saw something.”
“Louise says they whooshed right past and went over the horizon,” Lyle added.
“So did they kidnap her or what?” Vi asked, glaring. She and Louise are not friends. Some of it has been Randolph, which is ridiculous. Vi’s married, Louise is a deputy sheriff, and he’s way too young for either of them.
“Nah,” Lyle said. “But Larry Jensen’s shed was broken into that same night. Took every chemical he had and an old tub.”
“The least they could have done was take Louise, too,” Vi said, and walked off.
“Yeah, well, listen,” Lyle said, “I want you guys to come out to my place say Friday, Saturday night, and see what me and Randolph have been up to.”
We said sure, and Lyle went away, which was the idea. But he came back. Every night. Circles. Aliens. Bigfoot. By Saturday we recognized that he was going to come back until we went, so Sam and I climbed into Carl’s pick-up and off we went.
Lyle lives way out on the Flats, where the wind howls through like a freight train with nothing to stop it. The Flats make good farmland, but they’re different. Strange things happen out there. Ten years back, a tornado dropped out of a clear sky and whipped through the Flats like a knife through butter, and then vanished. And that was during the day; at night it can scare the crap out of you. Even Sam kept muttering something about “crazy” that sounded right to me.
And then out of the northwest came a blindingly bright light that zoomed in as fast as one of those Star Wars things, and as it came faster and brighter the car swerved and I ducked. When I came back up, the light was gone, the car had stopped, and Carl was gasping.
“Wh-wh-what was that?” I asked.
“How the hell would I know?” Carl quavered.
“Maybe it was aliens,” Sam offered. He knows that deep down Carl and I both believe in aliens, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, and Bat Boy, especially late at night out in the middle of nowhere, though we don’t care to admit it in public. All Sam believes in is government conspiracy.
“You want me to turn this car around and head home?” Carl asked, hands white knuckled on the steering wheel.
“Yes,” I said firmly.
“Look, let’s just go on to Lyle’s and get this over with,” Sam said. “Maybe he’ll have a drink for us. I’m freezing.”
That got Carl moving.
Lyle was out front when we pulled up dancing around, waving his arms and asking, “Did you see it? Did you see it?”
“If you mean that laser beam that went overhead, you betcha, we saw it,” Sam said. “You’re looking awful pleased about this, Lyle.”
Lyle kicked the snow, and I’d bet he was blushing. “It was me.”
“What do you mean, it was you?”
“Come and take a look.”
We followed Lyle around back. Between the shed and the shrine something bulked in the dark.
“What the hell is that?” Sam asked.
“It’s my beacon,” Lyle said. He went over and did something and suddenly the same bright light shot out and blinded all of us. He did something else and the light arced into the sky, drowning the stars.
“What the hell is that?” Sam repeated.
“It’s my beacon,” Lyle repeated. “I was thinking, you know, they’re out there, all right, and they keep coming by, and they signal, and they leave messages, but nobody ever signals back. So I figured, I will. I’ll let ‘em know that we’re looking for them. So I got this baby.” He slapped the metal.
“Where did you get it?”
“Special ordered it from Minneapolis. Randolph helped me get it all hooked up yesterday. Tested it last night. Ain’t it great?”
He made a blinding circle around the farmyard. “For God’s sake, Lyle,” Sam barked, “turn it off before we get black helicopters buzzing us.”
“How much did it cost?” I asked, blinking.
“Oh, it set me back some, I can tell you that. You betcha.”
We spent an hour at Lyle’s, looking at everything from the spotlight to his shed. Not that there was anything to see in Lyle’s shed but what you could find on any farm, and if you want an inventory of the contents, just come on up. Lyle loves company. He’ll fix you coffee, fix you sandwiches, want you to spend the night. That’s what he did with us, talking a mile a minute the whole time. When he mentioned the Bigfoot footprints out in the field, I was happy to go, because I figured even Lyle couldn’t keep talking if his face froze shut.
It was a moonlit night so God only knows how Carl slipped. He hit an icy patch – maybe frozen Bigfoot prints – and, being no light-weight, slid pretty far. We had quite a time wrestling him back up to the house. It didn’t help that he’d sprained his ankle, and he was bellowing like a bull elephant with a toothache. It was enough to shake the snow off the trees, especially when we dragged him by his collar up the hill to the main house.
We were met half way by Randolph, looking pretty disheveled and mighty peeved for a hired man with nothing else to do. But he fetched a sled and we rolled Carl onto it and finally got him indoors.
Exhausted, Carl and I sat in Lyle’s warm and musty den while Sam helped Lyle in the kitchen. Randolph had disappeared back into his little cabin out back.
“How you doing?” I asked Carl.
“Fine,” he said, pulling away at Lyle’s whiskey like it was water.
“You gonna be able to drive home?”
“You gonna let one of us drive you home?”
“Le’s spen’ the night here. Lyle won’t mind.” Then he passed out.
Lyle and Sam came in with sandwiches and coffee. “You know,” Lyle said, “I been thinking. I want them to know they’re welcome any time, but I don’t know if they know how to read Morse code or should I do a binary system?”
“What are you talking about?” Sam asked.
“The aliens. Communicating with them. With the beacon.”
Sam inhaled a sandwich and picked up another. “The only people that’s gonna be reading your messages is the NSA, the UN and the Chinese. They’ll pick you up on satellite and watch your every move.”
“They’re welcome, too,” Lyle said simply.
We spent the night at Lyle’s, Carl on the couch and Sam and I bunked down in Lyle’s spare bedroom, but it didn’t work out too well. It wasn’t the cold – I’ve camped in worse – but Carl and Lyle both snored like two trains in a whistling contest.
“I been thinking,” Sam said.
“Socks in their mouths?” I asked.
“What if there is something going on at the Olson place?”
“I thought you didn’t believe in Bigfoot?”
“I don’t,” Sam snapped. “But there’s something funny going on out here. I’ve had my eye on Randolph a long time. What’s he doing out here, young fella like that?”
“He’s getting free room and board.”
“Yeah, but that’s not enough to hold a young buck. He wants money, he wants a car, he wants –”
“Randolph says he’s ‘not into material things,’” I quoted.
“Now you see, that right there is suspicious.” Sam sat up in bed. “That’s not normal. Something’s wrong with that boy. Or he’s out here working for somebody. I’m thinking maybe the UN. Come out here, scouting things out. Lyle’s talk about all that stink out there at the Olson place. All those chemicals stolen from Larry Jensen. You put it all together, and what have you got? Think about it.” All I could think about was how thin Lyle’s walls were. “You got a secret chemical weapons plant, that’s what you’ve got.”
“In South Dakota?”
“Why not? It’s the perfect place. Out in the middle of nowhere, bunch of farmers, you can get away with anything. Why do you think they picked Randolph to scout? Nice Scandinavian boy, looks just like everybody else. I drove by the Olson place yesterday. To see if there was anything going on.”
“Nothing. All boarded up and rotting. But what else would you expect? Anything going on at the Olson place, why, they’d do it at night, when nobody was around, wouldn’t they?” I got up and looked out the window. “Only makes sense. I’ll tell you what, Harold, get your coat on. Let’s go check the Olson place ourselves.”
“Don’t tell me to shut up!”
“Shut up,” I repeated. “Someone’s coming out of Randolph’s cabin.”
Sam leaped up beside me. It was Louise Sanborn.
“So that’s what Randolph was doing before we showed up,” I said.
“And since we’ve been here,” Sam added. “Where’s she going?”
“Probably parked down the road a piece.”
“She’s no dummy. Didn’t want Lyle to spot her.” Then the cabin door opened again and Randolph came out, all bundled up. But instead of heading after Louise, he headed out towards the footprint field. “I knew it. See? He’s in on it.”
“Oh, my God.”
“There’s a chemical weapons plant, maybe a whole secret UN industrial complex over there. Come on. If we follow him we might could crack this whole thing wide open tonight.”
I was about to protest when Lyle suddenly pounded on our door.
“Come on, boys!” he sang out. “It’s Bigfoot time!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“The Bigfoot! Come on! Quick!”
Well, what you do with a crazy person is humor them, and I had two to deal with, so outside we went. The moon on the snow made it nearly bright as day.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Feeding time,” Lyle said over his shoulder.
“The Bigfoot. They come out to feed every night. You’ll finally get to see them.”
“Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked.
“Oh, he’s up ahead,” Lyle said. “He rousts them out for me.” Sam nudged me so hard I almost fell down. “Shh!” Lyle hissed, and put out an arm to stop us. We stood there, three Popsicles in the snow. And then… there it was.
Have you ever seen that Bigfoot footage they show every once in a while on those documentaries? Bigfoot loping along, kind of looking back over his shoulder? Well, there it was in front of us. Big, hairy thing, taller than Randolph (I knew what Sam was thinking). It wasn’t Randolph. No, this thing was huge, and it was hairy. It stepped out from the shelter belt, kind of gingerly, stepped out. It reached down and picked something up off the ground. Then its head swiveled towards us. I tried to become invisible. Then it leaped back into the shadows of the shelterbelt, and it was gone.
“My God,” I gasped.
“Amen,” Lyle said.
“Where’s Randolph?” Sam asked. Told you I knew what he was thinking.
“Right here,” Randolph said behind us, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. “I’m heading back, Lyle.” Lyle nodded, and Randolph trudged off.
“Bait, huh?” Sam asked.
“Honey on suet,” Lyle said. “They’re a lot like bears.”
Sam started walking over towards the shelterbelt.
“Where are you going?” I called out.
“I want to see its footprints!” Sam called back.
“It’s gonna stink,” Lyle warned, as we followed him. He was right. Kind of a mixture of cat box and skunk and something else, sharp and nasty.
“What is that?” I asked, gagging.
“Bigfoot,” Lyle said proudly.
Sam was glaring like an angry lighthouse. “There’s something going on over there, and I’m gonna find out what it is.”
“It’s just Jeb Olson’s old place,” Lyle said.
“Or a UN industrial complex.”
“Why don’t we just go back to the house and get some sleep?” I suggested.
“Go ahead,” Sam said. “But I’m going over that hill.”
“I’m coming, too,” Lyle said. He whispered to me, “I got to make sure he don’t spook them too much.”
So the three of us stepped into the darkness of the trees. A shelterbelt isn’t that wide a place, unless it’s a winter’s night and you’ve already seen a Bigfoot moving through it. We plowed through the deep snow, thick branches, dark shadows, and thickening smell until we reached the small rise before the Olson farm. Sam reached out one hand and waved us behind him. Then he reached deep into his parka and pulled out a handgun. Well, I’d always known Sam was an ex-Marine, and he’d claimed to never go anywhere without a gun. I’d just never taken him seriously. This was going to come back to haunt me the next time we quarreled over euchre at the Norseman’s.
At the top of the rise, Sam laid down in the snow and waved at us to do the same. Down below us was what was left of the Olson farmhouse and outbuildings after the tornado. But there were lights in the farmhouse, cold blue ones, like they were using fluorescents or maybe alien technology.
“See?” Sam hissed.
Someone came out of the farmhouse. His back-lit silhouette wasn’t tall and hairy, but neither was it tiny and bulb-headed. The short, stocky man walked across the yard and opened one of the outbuildings. The reek that came out of there nearly knocked us down, as far away as we were. It was sharper than a goose farm on a muggy August day.
“Come on,” Sam hissed. For a minute I feared he was calling on us to storm the place like commandos, but he was just sliding back down the hill.
Half an hour later, back at Lyle’s, Sam and Lyle were in the kitchen, sipping whiskey, and I was in the den, listening to Carl snore while I called my sister Matt from my cell phone. She was spending the week in Deadwood, doing everything a sixty-eight year old woman should not be doing, and wasn’t happy about being interrupted. But what Matt doesn’t know about the criminal element isn’t worth knowing. I got her to listen to the story – she laughed her head off at the Bigfoot – and when I was done she said, “Better get Bob Hanson on it right away.” He’s the local sheriff.
“So you think –”
“I don’t think it’s aliens or Bigfoot or the UN, no,” Matt said. “Only don’t tell the boys that. It’d break their hearts.”
“Great. So what do I tell them?”
“How about not telling them a damn thing? I’m fixing to win a jackpot here, Harold. Later.”
She hung up, and I went back in the kitchen.
“Have some coffee,” Lyle said.
“No, thanks,” I replied. “I’d like to try to get some sleep.”
Sam and I went back out to Lyle’s the next night, the night after, and the night after that. We hiked out in the snow, through the shelterbelt, up the hill, and laid out at the top of the rise and saw nothing but the blue lights. One night two people came out of the farmhouse. One night none. The third night, three. No Bigfoot any night.
The fourth night was wicked cold. The air was so clear that you could see every star. No wind, thank God. It was so quiet I could hear Sam’s wheezing and Lyle’s creaking joints. And then they came. Out of the sky. A sound like giant beaters, everywhere. Lights that came out of nowhere. A fierce wind, nearly knocking me down. Something huge and black swooshed over us and I hit the snow. Sam did the same, but he rolled as he hit, pulling out his gun and getting it up and ready. More huge black things went over, and then they were gone, over us, over the shelterbelt and the rise and towards the Olson place.
“Black helicopters,” Sam said grimly, as he came back up on his feet. “I told you the government was in on this. Come on, Harold. I wouldn’t miss this for all the gold in Fort Knox.”
Everything had exploded at the Olson place: dozens of people were running around. Half of them were all in black with big black guns, rounding up the other half. Between stench and smoke, my eyes were stinging so bad I didn’t know for sure what I was seeing. The noise was something else, too.
When the smoke cleared – and I’m not kidding about that – the men in black were tossing the rest into black vans that took off in a wave of snow. The helicopters were looming. Up on a little knoll, standing with a couple of the men in black, was Louise Sanborn.
“What the heck is she doing here?” Sam hissed.
“Well,” I said, “She is a cop.”
“Everything secure?” Louise yelled at a man in black.
“Yeah!” he yelled back. “Clean up crews will come tomorrow! What was the tip-off?”
“Farmer up the road noticed the smell!”
Five minutes later, everyone was gone, including Louise, leaving Lyle, Sam and me in sudden, dark, reeking silence. I creaked my way from crouching to standing when Randolph’s voice came out from behind some brush.
“Wow. What a show!” Randolph walked over to us. “Can you believe it? They even brought helicopters! Man, I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”
Sam grunted. “Let’s get out of here before these fumes kill us.”
We plowed our way back up the hill, where we stopped and took big, deep breaths of fresh, cold air.
“Now you tell me the truth, Randolph,” Sam pleaded. “Those were UN forces in those black helicopters, weren’t they?”
“FBI,” Randolph said.
“FBI,” Randolph repeated. “That’s what Louise told me. Or was it CBI? One of those.”
“What the hell is the FBI doing way out here?” Sam asked.
“Drug bust. That was the biggest meth lab in South Dakota. Ever.” Randolph looked coaxingly at us, while Sam’s face stayed blank. “Meth. Speed. Methamphetamine. Even you guys have got to have heard of them. It was a lab. A meth lab!”
“So, you a cop, too?” Sam asked.
“God, no,” Randolph protested. “Nobody’d want me in law enforcement.”
“So it wasn’t a chemical weapons plant?”
“And they weren’t rounding up people to take them to one of those UN concentration camps?”
“Sam, where do you read this stuff, anyway?” Randolph asked.
“It’s all over the place,” Sam snapped. “Everybody knows about it.”
“No, it wasn’t the UN. It was a drug bust.”
Sam marched off, cussing a blue streak. Beside me, Lyle was crying.
That drug bust was the biggest thing to hit our area in years. People are still talking about it. Sam still doesn’t buy it. He says the whole drug thing was nothing but a cover story the government put out to hide what was really going on. It didn’t help that Randolph drifted off a couple of days later, to parts unknown. Sam said that was proof Randolph was part of it. You can’t change Sam’s mind.
Lyle was heartbroken. He’d welcomed those Bigfoot. He lived for UFOs. To find out it was just a bunch of drug dealers put him in a tailspin. Surprisingly, it was Sam who finally cheered him up.
“You know, Lyle,” Sam said over euchre one night, “I been thinking. I’ll bet aliens really were raising Bigfoot out there, but then the drug dealers showed up and the Bigfoot got spooked.”
Lyle looked up from his cards. “So?”
“So, the aliens decided that the drug lab had to be shut down. They’re good aliens, right?”
Lyle sat up straight. “Oh, yeah. You betcha.”
“So they got a hold of the FBI and turned in the drug lab –”
“How’d they do that?” Carl asked maliciously.
“They can tap into any telephones they want,” I offered.
“That’s right!” Lyle eagerly agreed. “They can. They just don’t interfere with us, because that would violate the Prime Directive.”
“But this time they had to interfere,” Sam explained, “because the drug lab was bothering their Bigfoot. So the aliens called the FBI, and then they herded up all their Bigfoot and hid them to keep them safe.”
“You think they’ll come back?” Lyle pleaded.
“Bound to,” Sam assured him.
“That’s great.” Lyle beamed as he got up and paid his bill. “I’m going home right now and put out some suet for them, you betcha. Let them know I’m still here, still waiting. I just wish Randolph was here. This’d make his day!”
There was a moment’s silence after Lyle left.
“That was a kind thing you did,” I said to Sam.
“I’m just glad he bought it.”
“Of course he did,” Carl growled. “Now deal.”