Fiction · 12/16/2009

Jumping Rooftops

We started with the television sets — we had them tuned to static. It took some doing to find a buzzing snowstorm, but we managed. After fixing both sets, we turned our attention to the radios. We had several in our farmhouse: some connected to compact disk players, some with alarm clocks to wake us at four a.m., and an antique for decoration. It was easier to switch those to static — we only had to turn the knobs to points where no station was broadcasting.

We picked up all the telephone receivers and set them next to their bases, but after a few moments of buzzing they started beeping — Henry called it unnatural and unplugged them from their ports in the walls. Nervous, I kept one hidden behind the television in the sitting room.

Following the telephones, we unplugged everything else. Kitchen appliances, lamps, everything. If it wasn’t a television or a radio, we made sure it would remain powerless for the night. Henry was insistent upon that. There were to be no electronic operations in the house until daybreak. Except the static.

The static, he said, was crucial.

Henry and I had been awake, worrying, for three straight days when we came up with the plan. We were finishing our late dinner of roasted chicken and corn when we decided to stay awake for a fourth full night, create as much static as we could, and wait for the aliens to flatten a crop circle into one of our fields. The plan hinged upon the bit of hearsay Henry picked up at the diner in town, that aliens are attracted to static. That was the word around the county — aliens and static are closer than dogs and peanut butter.

We figured getting aliens to flatten a crop circle into one of our cornfields was the perfect way to save the farm. Surely the bank wouldn’t foreclose if it was alien-approved. There’d be news coverage and droves of tourists. Foreclosing would cause a county-wide uproar, something the bank couldn’t handle. And since Henry knew how to attract the aliens, we thought our plan was foolproof. At any rate, it was the best we could come up with. We couldn’t let the bank just take it. It was our first priority since the day we bought it from his parents. They thought we were too young — our marriage too new — to take care of the farm. We had to prove them wrong.

+

After triple-checking the electrical sockets, I asked Henry about our watches and flashlights. I was worried about waiting in the dark. He said he’d allow a single flashlight, but it didn’t matter what time it was. So we took the batteries out of the rest and tossed them into the basement.

Then I sat in a rocker on the front porch while Henry got into the old Ford pickup and drove to park it down the road. I asked him to bring back the bourbon we kept in the glove compartment.

I could see him swinging the bottle as he made his way back. It’s easy to say now that the bourbon wasn’t a good idea. I might’ve known then, in the back of my mind — but all the same, I was hammered by nightfall.

We sat on the porch, facing the horizon, taking turns taking shots every time a bird flew in front of the setting sun. Staring out over a corn field, this happened a lot. It was like every crow in the county converged on our plot, just to watch me scowl as the alcohol worked its way down my throat.

Henry turned to me and asked, “How’d it come to this?”

“Come to what?”

“Drinking bourbon at dusk.”

“I think it started with the title.”

Henry chuckled. “To the farm we’re about to lose?”

“Yeah.”

“Unless,” he started before taking another swig, “the aliens save us.”

I wondered what his parents had meant by mercy from above, and doubted this was it.

Like clockwork, another crow dashed into the remaining sliver of sun. I was holding the nearly empty bottle. I drained it in time to notice the other birds following the first. They were smaller, having trouble stabilizing themselves in the air, wobbling around the sun-sliver. Finally one dropped through it, into the stalks. Henry asked for the bottle. I told him it was empty and threw it the dozen feet into the road. The smashed-up pieces glimmered in the light for a minute or so, before it all went dark.

+

Sitting in the blackness, rocking occasionally, Henry asked what I thought the aliens looked like.

I tried not to laugh. “We’ll be lucky if we even see the ship,” I said. “Why do you think people don’t know where the crop circles come from? The aliens don’t want us to see them. It’s bad enough people see ships at the horizon.”

“I don’t give a damn about the ship, Jenna. I mean the people — if you can call them people — what do they look like?”

I didn’t know. But they had to be tiny to fit in those saucers.

“All I know,” he said, “is they aren’t green.”

I agreed. But I also thought they might look something like children. It made sense: big heads and tiny bodies, covered in their own secretions.

So, sitting in the dark, I finally asked Henry what had been on my mind for at least a year or two. I wanted to know why we hadn’t had kids yet. He tried his best not to laugh, but if there was one thing I was serious about, even more than that farm, it was having a family. Because what family did I have? My husband of three years, a goat, a scarecrow, and maybe some aliens?

He didn’t say anything.

I wondered aloud if the farm was worth saving. He said “of course,” but why save it when you’ve got no one to house in it, no one to support? I guess we were supporting each other, but I didn’t know if that would ever be enough. We went on rocking in our separate chairs.

When I noticed him dozing an hour or two later I took the flashlight to go get the bottle of whiskey from the pantry. I came back and poured some down his throat. That woke him up. I told him he had to stay awake with me, that it was his duty as husband to see this through to the end. He grabbed the bottle and took a few swigs.

When he set it down I asked him to go through baby names with me. I had asked before and he never wanted any of it. But the dark has a certain way of getting people to talk about things they normally wouldn’t. We tried a bunch, but he was set on Hudson. I thought it could work, under the right circumstances — like if he was born on the river.

+

Everything fell apart at four a.m. In our static excitement we had completely forgotten to turn off the radios’ alarms. We always set three alarms for the same time. And three alarms went off at the same time. The buzzing in the bedroom, the trumpeting in the hallway, and the AM radio in the bathroom: a steady progression to be sure we reached our morning shower.

Terrified that we’d just ruined everything, we rushed into the house. After tripping over each other on the stairs, we made it to the landing and unplugged all three. Then, cursing, we ran back to the porch.

+

I was staring out at the nothingness when he asked how we were going to fix it. I didn’t know. We slumped back into the rocking chairs, each hoping the other would plot a solution or that we’d receive our extra-terrestrial visit anyway. We hoped the alcohol would help.

Henry figured the obvious solution just before dawn. “We might’ve scared them away with the alarms,” he said, “but that just means we have to sweeten the bait.”

I’m not sure if I understood subconsciously or if he explained it to me afterwards, but I found myself carting one end of our industrial-sized ladder to the side of the barn. We grabbed the few battery-powered radios from the house and brought them to the barn’s roof. We stood straddling the peak, holding the radios above our heads. If the aliens wouldn’t come to the static, we’d move the static as close to the aliens as we could.

Eventually the sky started to lighten. Dawn was approaching. And Henry’s patience was depleting as fast as the alien’s window of opportunity. Soon we would’ve been able to see anything they tried, meaning they probably wouldn’t.

He started swearing again — this time at the sky. Had the aliens come then, they would’ve been greeted with calls of motherfucker and cocksucker. I couldn’t calm him. He threw his radio to the ground and kicked a few shingles loose. Then he jumped.

It caught me by surprise, too. And I didn’t think the barn was high enough to cause that kind of damage. But I kneeled to look over the side and his body was lying in a way you don’t see living people in. It looked like he landed badly, at his neck or something. I tried my best to get to him, but working your drunk self down a ladder is difficult. I took it slowly, counting each rung — I slipped on the fifth. It obviously wasn’t as bad a fall as Henry’s, but I tried to move my leg and pain shot through my tendons. There was a break in the bone.

Moments later, a sliver of light — brighter than the dawn — appeared at the horizon. Like a box that slowly grew longer, it extended down to Henry’s body. It was pulling him up, towards its source, where a tiny figure stood waiting. It looked like Hudson.

Then, they were gone.

I was alone, caught in the moments before first light. So I decided to crawl back to the house. There was no time to cry, no time to scream. I had to get help.

I made it to the sitting room and crumpled in front of the television. It was still spewing static but I let it go. Part of me hoped the aliens would hear it and bring Henry back to me. The rest of me knew better. I passed out before I got to the phone. The last thing I saw was the sun, through the window, finally peeking out from the horizon.

+++

Doug Paul Case currently studies writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College, where he is an editor of The Emerson Review. His work is published or forthcoming at PANK, Alba, and Zygote in My Coffee and he posts bad poems on his blog (dougpaulcase.wordpress.com).