A Life's Work
A loud noise interrupted her thoughts and she moved to the side of the road. Two couples in an old Pontiac went wheezing past her on the dirt road. She thought, the latest batch of yankees come down to the hills of Tennessee to try their hand at homesteading. Probably on their way to Dollywood to sell their furs, ginseng, homemade candles and such.
She picked up a stick and beat it against a fence post as she walked toward the driveway. Jimmy Ray was after her to marry him. She wanted to go on to college. She wanted to be somebody.
When Miranda went to Bucky with her problem, he told her to write down the pros and cons of marrying Jimmy Ray on one piece of paper. Write down the pros and cons of going to college on another piece of paper. Then, come back and talk to him about it.
As she approached the entrance to his place, Max and Mercedes, Bucky's Rottweilers, came bounding up to greet her. She looked around and saw her uncle moving between rows of crates. Large wooden crates filled with equipment were out in the open and tons of electronic gadgets were stored away in sheds. Accumulated from government surplus sales and from his time as an electrical engineer in the army.
She felt kinda proud of him. He was a tinkerer, an inventor with an instinct about the inner workings of electrical and mechanical gadgets. He had made some money off more than a couple of patents. Enough to come back home and buy this farm.
He was smiling for a change and rubbing his hands together as he said, "You're here early this week, girlie. Somebody send you over to check up on me?"
Miranda smiled back as she said, "Not only the kinfolks, but half the town'll be wondering what you're up to now."
Bucky hardly let her finish the sentence. He grabbed her arm and headed her toward the new barn. He was walking so fast, his silver dog whistle thumped on its chain against his chest. The dogs loped alongside them.
His salt and pepper hair fairly blazed with energy. He stopped outside the barn and said, "You want to see what I'm up to? I'm gonna show you something special now, but you don't need to tell the nosy relatives nothin' about it. Okay?"
Miranda nodded her head. She could keep secrets for awhile. She noticed a brand new chain on the barn door. The door never had a chain before. Bucky took a key, unlocked the Master lock and loosened the chain.
He opened the door just enough for her to move through sideways. The dogs eagerly brushed past her. Bucky motioned her forward and whispered, "Just take a peek. You'd never believe me. You've got to see it, but be quiet."
Miranda shrugged and moved toward the dogs. Max was sniffing small forms lying in the straw on the barn floor. Mercedes stood between her and the small bodies.
She thought, Children? He has a bunch of kids in here?
She put her hands on her hips and turned back to Bucky. He motioned for her to look closer. She looked again. They had rather long faces and metallic looking jumpsuits. Tiny pale blue hands and feet. Blue? Were they cold? She looked up at Bucky again and he motioned for her to come back outside.
Miranda joined Bucky outside the barn door. "What are you doing with a bunch of kids, Bucky? We need to cover them with blankets. They're cold." Miranda demanded.
"Not kids, pixies." Bucky insisted. "And they're the damndest pixies I ever saw."
"Pixies? They looked like kids to me. Kinda funny looking kids, but kids." Miranda insisted.
"Keep your voice down. Wait 'til you see their devices. You'll think kids. I'm telling you, they tried to zap me. But I signaled the dogs when they started their tricks on me. And damned if the dog whistle didn't knock 'em out."
"Knocked them out? Did you hurt them? Where did this happen?" Miranda whispered.
He led her away from the barn and pointed toward one of his workshops, near the apple orchard.
"They came out of the woods first thing this morning. Right up to the workshop, bold as brass. Two of 'em waved their hands.
While I was trying to puzzle it out, they pixie-mazed me. Quite a jolt. I nearly passed out."
He grinned. "But they fell down fast enough when I blew the dog whistle. I drug them into the barn before they could come to."
"Weren't you scared?"
"Nah. The dogs were close by."
Miranda turned to her uncle and asked, "What are you going to do with them? Do you think they had anything to do with the lights over Knob Hill?"
Bucky scratched his head and said, "Lights over Knob Hill, you say? Probably so. I'm going to leave them in the barn. What did you think I'm going to do with them? They can't get into any mischief in there."
As they walked back toward the barn, Miranda said, "Were you been able to ask them any questions? Like why are they here?"
"Nope. Haven't got a word out of 'em. They've been out cold ever since I blew the dog whistle. I'm going to lock this bunch up and scour the woods for sign of any more of them."
Let me have one more look. I saw them, but I still can't believe they're not kids."
Bucky waved an arm toward the barn door.
They look harmless enough now, Miranda thought. Six of them. Like children, except for the pointed ears. Pointed ears? Skin still kind of bluish. But it's not that cold today.
According to Bucky they packed a powerful punch to be so small. Wonder if they had any other surprises up their sleeves.
She noticed flies buzzing around the uneaten remains of soup beans, cornbread and grape drink left out on a bale of hay.
"Bucky, I don't think they like your food," Miranda said as she eased through the door again. "And any sort of critter needs water."
Miranda put fresh spring water and apples for the pixies in the barn. And laid a couple blankets nearby.
Then, Bucky put the chain back on and made sure the lock was again secure.
She followed him back to his house where he started pulling guns and ammo out of his gun cabinets. Miranda picked up a shotgun and checked to see if it was loaded.
"What do you think you're doing?" Bucky asked.
"I'm going with you."
"No, you're not."
"Bucky, they're kids. Or, at least the size of kids. I'm not scared of them. I'm a little scared for you. You shouldn't go by yourself."
"I'll be alright. I'll have the dogs."
"Bucky, if something bad happens, the dogs can't call for help. I can. Besides, I'm a good shot. You taught me."
He thought about it and said, "Okay. You can carry that Browning Sweet Sixteen, after I load it with pumpkin ball."
As they headed out, Miranda carried not only the shotgun, but a Smith and Wesson .38 special and a knife. Bucky carried a Colt AR-15 with a banana clip, two extra clips with thirty rounds of ammo each, a .45 Colt Combat Commander and two throwing knives.
They went through the orchard where the apple trees were heavy with ripe apples. Miranda picked three apples, put them in her pack and said, "Shouldn't you at least call the sheriff? Maybe there's more of them in the woods?" Miranda asked.
"Nah, not yet. Max and Mercedes 'll roust any stragglers out of the woods." Bucky held a piece of metallic cloth for the dogs to sniff. "Find the pixies, Mercedes. Go get 'em, girl. Go, Max."
The dogs ran in front of them. Noses to the ground, alert for scent. They picked up the trail on the other side of the orchard and backtracked through the woods.
"The new homesteaders passed me on the road. Do you think they might run into some pixies?"
Bucky shook his head. "Nah. They wouldn't know a possum if they stepped on one, much less a pixie. Those damn yankees. They read a few articles in a magazine, and figure they can live off the land. Sure they can, after living in a city all their lives. Load up all their worldly goods in a station wagon and head for the hills. Our hills."
"I wonder why they came here, of all places?" Miranda asked. "The pixies, not the yankees. Why not Washington, D. C.? You said they waved their hands, maybe they were trying to say 'take me to your leader' like in the movies?"
Bucky brushed past some low hanging branches, then said, "If that's what they want, I could call Al Gore's office. Create a stir. Be hard to convince somebody we had real live pixies."
Miranda laughed, "They'd believe in aliens before they believed in real live pixies."
They walked on in silence for awhile. Bucky seemed very alert, watching the dogs and constantly scanning the woods. Miranda looked around, too.
"Another reason I came to see you was I did like you suggested. Turns out I have more reasons for going on to college than marrying Jimmy Ray. Besides, I want to be somebody. Make something my life's work. Like a cure for the common cold. They still haven't found a cure for that. Maybe I could work on..."
Bucky interrupted, "You've got big ideas."
"I just want to do something for society." Miranda glared at him and he threw up a hand in mock surrender.
"I didn't say bad ideas, just big ideas."
After awhile, they came through the woods to the edge of a clearing. Bucky signaled for the dogs to sit and whispered, "Their base is in Possum Hollow. Look there. There's their ship."
A large silver craft was off to one side of the hollow. A little bulky looking. Not saucer shaped at all. Sorta like a bumblebee. Miranda wondered how it could fly.
After watching for several minutes, Miranda and Bucky saw only one pixie. It was moving containers to the inside of the ship. What was it up to?
Miranda whispered, "Samples? Specimens?"
Bucky shook his head and then moved toward the ship.
The pixie was halfway out of the ship when Miranda and Bucky stepped into the clearing. Bucky motioned he'd go first.
Miranda noticed Bucky kept a sharp eye on the pixie as they drew closer to the ship. She felt her neck and shoulders tense up.
They stopped a few feet from the ship and Bucky raised his hand in greeting. The pixie opened his mouth. Miranda was startled by a high pitched noise and an apple dropped out of her pack onto the ground.
She bent to pick it up and noticed the pixie stood quite still and watched her.
As she straightened up, Miranda wiped the apple on her sleeve until she felt less nervous. She noticed it was dressed in the same metallic type jumpsuit as the others. Pointed ears and pale blue hands and face. Maybe the bluish skin was its natural color. She noticed a silver arm cuff studded with large faceted jewels.
The pixie was not tall enough to reach her shoulder. She stepped forward and offered the apple.
It hesitated, then took the apple. In a high, squeaky voice it said, "Thanks you."
Bucky cradled his gun in his arms and glanced at Miranda with a question in his eyes.
Miranda whispered, "It said thank you."
Bucky whispered back, "I didn't hear anything."
Miranda introduced herself and her uncle, then learned the pixie was named Hilo-san or something close to that sound. She could hear the pixie's words, but Bucky could not.
At first, she had a little difficulty in understanding the pixie. She thought, too bad nobody has a universal translator.
After they exchanged greetings, Miranda asked, "Why are you here?" Meaning why were they here on earth?
"Star node," Hilo-san replied.
"Star node?" Miranda repeated so Bucky could hear and indicated with her hands that she didn't understand.
Hilo-san made a fist with his right hand, then opened and closed his hand. With his left hand, he made flying motions around the fist that was still opening and closing.
Bucky said, "A search pattern. Like we'd look for a downed aircraft or signal beacon."
After more squeaks and gestures, they guessed military jets spotted the pixies' ship. The pixies came down hard, but managed to hide their ship.
Miranda asked if the ship was alright.
Hilo-san said, "Ables to fly. Star node is worry. Where other ship?"
After she repeated the question, Bucky mumbled, "Area fifty-one."
The pixie looked at Bucky and said, "What?"
"Hilo-san didn't understand you," Miranda grinned.
Bucky's face turned slightly red as he said, "Nothing, sorry."
Miranda spoke again. "You were looking for a signal beacon, a star node. It came from a ship that's missing?"
Hilo-san squeaked, "Yess. Is worry."
She went on, "I understand the beacon is why you were here, in these hills, but why are you here on earth at all? Why are you on our planet?"
"For scouting. Mmm... gathers facts," Hilo-san replied.
"How long have you known about us? How long have you been here?"
"Ten rotations," Hilo-san stated.
Miranda said, "I don't understand."
The pixie again made a fist with his with his right hand, then opened and closed his right hand and pointed to the sun with his left. "Primary star."
"Primary star?" Miranda was puzzled.
Then she and Bucky both said, "The sun!" at the same time.
With his left hand, the pixie made flying motions around the fist that was still opening and closing. "Planet. Times planet move around primary star?"
Miranda had to think for a moment. The time our planet moves around the sun?
She replied, "Three hundred sixty-five days or one year."
"Ten rotations," Hilo-san insisted.
"Oh. Ten years."
After much gesturing and through trial and error, Miranda and her uncle guessed the pixies were expanding their empire and our corner of the galaxy was close to their territory.
Sounded like this was their first contact with other thinking creatures. Some pixies in authority wanted to leave earth alone. Others wanted to set up trade outposts. So, they planned to withdraw and plan how to proceed.
Miranda asked, "You're leaving? When would you come back?"
The pixie indicated it might be thirty or more years of our time before they returned.
Bucky said, "If you'll explain to your shipmates I meant no harm, I'll let them go."
Hilo-san said, "Sheepmates?"
Miranda said, "The others of your kind. Those who came with you, in this ship."
Hilo-san made a scooping gesture and said, "Brothers be backs soon."
By now it was early afternoon. Max and Mercedes had been sitting quietly. Suddenly, the dogs perked up their ears and went running toward the woods. Back the way they had come.
When Bucky called them, they barked and kept running.
"Maybe they're chasing a deer or rabbit," Miranda suggested.
"I've trained them better than that," Bucky replied.
Miranda watched as he started to put the dog whistle to his lips. The pixie made a jerky movement, and Miranda immediately slapped Bucky's hand, before he could blow the whistle. And Hilo-san stood still again.
Bucky glared at her. She rolled her eyes at the pixie. Then, she saw he realized what he had almost done.
Bucky suddenly said, "Let's go, Miranda. Nice meeting you, Mister Hilo-san. When you or your people come back, you can use a piece of my land as a base of operations."
He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "As a matter of fact, this same hollow if you like."
Miranda felt his hand on her arm. Bucky didn't give the pixie time to reply. He was propelling her toward the woods.
"Mighty generous of you to offer possum hollow to the pixies," Miranda said as they entered the woods. "Considering you don't like strangers snooping around."
"Nothing generous to it. Pixies are bound to start trading some time. We could get a piece of the action early on. And have 'em where we can keep an eye on them. If their intentions are peaceful, then they're no different from the yankees who come down from up north to try their hand at homesteading and barter."
He hesitated and then said, "I don't want my place overrun with people looking for flying saucers and aliens, though."
Miranda followed his reasoning. "So, we'd want to keep it quiet. And if the pixies are out to grab our planet, we can learn their weaknesses. If they're traders, maybe we can barter, trade for whatever it is they want." She stopped walking and looked over at Bucky.
Bucky paused and turned the idea over in his mind, then said, "A good idea."
He started walking again and went on, "Don't really trust that guy. I don't think he was giving us the whole picture. People have been seeing mysterious lights around Knob Hill for generations. If the lights are connected to the pixies, then we're talking more than a hundred years."
"And if these are the same pixies we've read about in folk tales, then they've probably been around for hundreds of years."
Bucky said, "And they should know how we measure time and distance after ten years. Why would he lie about the time they've spent here? And how advanced are they if they are using ultra high frequency transponders? But they knew enough to dodge the military jets and land in Possum hollow."
As they moved through the woods, they continued to toss ideas back and forth.
"I have another question." Miranda said, "How did Hilo-san know the dog whistle would hurt him? I saw him jerk when you grabbed the dog whistle. That's why I slapped your hand. Are you sure you took all their communicating devices?"
Bucky thought, then said "I went over each pixie very carefully and removed any and every sort of device. I put all of them in an old steel safe. The pixies can't get out of the barn, and even if they could, I don't think they could make a dent in a safe that has steel six inches thick on all sides."
"He never did answer my question - what do they want? What do they hope to achieve by contacting earth?" Miranda asked.
By this time, they were moving through the apple orchard toward the barn. They saw the dogs running behind one of the sheds. Maybe the pixies in the barn will be awake and we can ask them some of our questions." Miranda suggested.
Bucky called the dogs as he turned the key in the lock, loosened the chain and opened the door just enough so Miranda could slip through sideways.
She saw several bright lights at the other end of the dark barn. The lights hovered just above bales of hay. She squinted her eyes and tried to make out what they could be...
Bucky moved in beside her, raised his whistle with one hand and the AR-15 with the other, but crumpled to his knees without firing a shot.
Miranda turned and saw two figures in the doorway. Then, she was paralyzed-like. She heard the dogs yelp outside. But she couldn't help the dogs, or Bucky.
An invisible blast had hit her full on.
Suddenly, she was overwhelmed with a powerful surge of emotion. Miranda dropped to her knees as she tried to absorb thepressure.
She closed her eyes in hopes she would stop feeling dizzy. The dizziness only got worse. Somehow, she lost her sense of direction.
Quickly, she put her hands on the ground in front of her. To try to keep her balance. She couldn't make sense of what was happening to her. She felt scared.
Please stop, just for a moment so I can understand, she tried to form the thought.
Then slowly, she felt a glowing sensation, inside her. A glimmer that something very special was here. Right here. A growing feeling that here, in this barn, was the key to her heart's desire. That good things, bright and beautiful will happen in her life, now.
The feeling grew stronger and she sensed that here, in this presence, was fulfillment of all her needs - emotional, intellectual, spiritual and even physical. And she did feel complete. All her needs satisfied, if only she....
Then, she felt the flow ebb. The feelings dimmed, but she could still sense them. She struggled to keep the awareness. She didn't want to let go.
Miranda tried to hug the feelings to herself. Remember them. She wanted to remember how she could feel every cell in her body.
Then, she became disoriented when the sensations stopped completely. As the dizziness faded, she grew angry because something wonderful was snatched away from her. Her body felt forsaken. Like she had lain with a perfect lover only to discover the experience was only a dream.
She opened her eyes and the floating lights dimmed and dropped onto the hay. She blinked, focused her eyes and saw several pixies standing on the hay. They gestured toward the apples, water and the blankets and then smiled at her. How had they made the lights? How were they able to float? Slowly, she shook her head from side to side. But suddenly, her awareness faded to blackness.
* * *
When she woke up, she found she was lying on the barn floor beside Bucky. She crawled over next to him. He was breathing. Thank God.
She was tired, but strangely she felt really good all over. She sat beside him with her hands in her lap.
Bucky woke up, looked her over and croaked, "Pixie-mazed. I was pixie-mazed."
Unable to speak because her throat was clenched tight, Miranda tried to collect her thoughts. What thoughts? She was a bundle of raw nerves and emotion. She felt good, but she felt scared also. Did they do anything to her while she was passed out?
Bucky laughed and said, "Just one dose of that's enough. That'll give you a high, higher than moonshine or marijuana."
He stood up and looked around. Their guns and knives were still there, but the water and apples were gone. The blankets were still there.
Bucky bent over to help Miranda up. She had trouble standing. Her knees and legs were weak. They walked slowly out the barn door.
"They tried to pixie-maze me like that, too. But I had sense enough left to signal the dogs the first time they tried their tricks on me. And damned if the whistle didn't make 'em pass out. I wasn't fast enough this time, one of 'em knocked me out. Looks like they all got clean away."
When they walked outside the barn, they saw the dogs stretched out on the ground. Bucky cussed and stomped around. They were alive, but unconscious.
Miranda pointed out a burn area in the grass nearby.
Bucky studied it and said, "Some kind of craft landed. And a here's a couple of gouges in the dirt, like maybe a ramp was lowered to the ground."
"Should we go back and talk with Hilo-san? Get some answers to our questions?" Miranda asked.
Then, Miranda heard a whining noise and Bucky pointed out the lights over the treetops. Hilo-san was moving beyond their questions.
Bucky ran to his workshop.
Miranda heard him shout. "Damn. They took it."
She moved beside him in the workshop, "Took what?"
Bucky gestured toward his empty workbench and walked over to an open government surplus crate near the wall.
"Had a strange looking device on my workbench. It's gone. Maybe it set off some sort of a signal when I fiddled with it yesterday. Might have been their missing star node or signal beacon. Or, something else of theirs."
"You had it the whole time?" Miranda asked.
"Well, it came out of this crate I've had for over twenty years. A peculiar looking object. I'd never seen anything like it."
"Well, that proves it." Miranda said.
"Proves what? Oh, we caught 'em in a lie," Bucky grinned.
"I wish we could have questioned one or two of the pixies in the barn. See if they told the same story."
"Now that I think about it, I guess the first bunch of pixies tried to talk to me, but I couldn't hear them." He pointed to his ears. "I forgot I have a high frequency hearing loss from working around jet engines. Good thing you came along, or we'd be further in the dark then we are now."
"I wouldn't have missed this for anything. Who should we tell about this? Should we contact the authorities? " Miranda asked.
"Nah. Nobody needs to know. Don't want our new friends to be just another paragraph in a government blue book, do we?"
Miranda thought a minute. "Can you tell if they took the rest of their stuff?"
"From the crates. I'd have to do a thorough search..."
"No, I mean the stuff you took from the pixies when they were out cold."
Bucky slapped his head and they hurried to the house where he checked his large safe. He worked the combination and opened it to find all the devices were still there. Miranda watched as he brought out three small oval shaped items and six silver arm cuffs with jewels.
"Look at the filigree work connecting the jewels. These might look like bracelets, but the design reminds me of a printed circuit board." His finger traced the design.
Then, he handed her one of the oval shaped devices. It was smaller than her open palm and she noticed several slight depressions. She carefully avoided touching any of the depressions.
As she slowly turned it over in her hand, she said, "If these really are weapons, that'll tell us something. If they're only communicators, maybe they're peaceful, after all. Surely the pixies wouldn't have left without them. If we study these devices, do you think we could catch up to their technology in thirty years? Or, at least get a lot closer than we are now?"
"We could sure give it a try. And put patents on any discoveries made from tinkering with them. I reckon there's a possibility of eventually earning some real income from these little babies." Bucky grinned.
"Where would we get the money to pay for the research?"
"Valuable walnut trees are on my land. Worth about twenty thousand dollars each as standing timber. Seed money to get us started. We can do a lot of the actual work ourselves."
Miranda picked a knife up from the table and said, "You're a good tinkerer, I know. I could study physics or mechanical engineering in college. Fields that maybe you aren't an expert in. But if we do it ourselves, it may take a long, long time."
"I get your point. We don't have a long time. The pixies will be coming back."
"Don't you think we could give the casing to a group of metallurgists or physicists to study? The 'guts' to another group to study, maybe electronics engineers. So, no one group has the whole picture. Even if you damaged a couple getting them apart, we'd still learn a lot. "
"That might work. But, if the government ever gets wind of this, they'll confiscate everything."
"Let's hope that doesn't happen. Maybe I could organize the various groups and keep them on course. Only you and I would have all the research results."
Bucky said, "If you're determined to get strangers involved, how about a secret pixie specialist team? In case the pixies have plans to takeover earth, after all."
"Yeah, I'd like to know how they were able to pixie-maze us. To get people to do this without revealing the existence of the pixies will be tricky. Nobody'd believe us."
"Tell 'em they're looking into the problem only in theory. We might also want to drum up public support to restart Reagan's star wars space program. Just to be on the safe side. Best to be prepared." Bucky said.
"Yes. Wow. It's all starting to make sense. We might be able to pull this off. Surely, it'll take years of work for the pixies to study the data they've gathered. My life's work will be to study them."
"And mine." Bucky picked up one of the bracelets and went outside.
Miranda stood in the doorway and watched as he bent over the dogs. She wondered if the dogs also felt a blast of primitive emotion, or if the pixies had simply knocked them out cold. She thought about her experience in the barn. No real way to study how the pixies had pushed her emotional buttons. At least, no ideas occurred to her now. Maybe later.
No human could have projected that blast of emotion. She slowly shook her head as she realized she wasn't really afraid of them. Did they do something to adjust her perceptions when they made the connection with her? Coming face to face with such strangeness, she should feel more... well, excited or scared, maybe.
Then, she felt a surge of anger that she would never feel again, the complex feelings that overwhelmed her in the barn. Not until the pixies came back again.
As she stepped onto the porch and leaned on the rail, she vowed to remember this day, to keep focused. And to always remember the feeling the pixies gave her that she could have her heart's desire.
Her whole future was ahead of her now. She would prepare to work with the pixies as a trading partner. And to study their weaknesses if their intentions are not benign, after all. Her lifestyle, plans and goals will all center around understanding this new technology and being prepared for the return of the pixies.
Out in the yard, Bucky was standing up and she noticed the dogs were awake and trying to get up. Then, Miranda glanced down and noticed she was jabbing a knife into the wooden rail while she was turning her thoughts over in her mind.
As she turned and went back into the house to find some paper, she thought, I'll write down the specific research work needed. And also write down all the things we've discussed and map out of plan of action.
Lida Quillen has been published in over thirty small press publications. Twilight Times is her first publishing venture. Lida is the Web Site Manager of a cyber artists colony -- Romance Foretold. She has also created an award-winning web site dedicated to beginning writers -- Lida's pages on writing.