The Space Visitor

“The Space Visitor”
(A Budget Studio Production)
edited by Norman Prentiss

This previously unpublished story, an anonymous “novelization” of a movie written and directed by Bud “Budget” Preston, was scheduled to appear in issue 103 of Monster Project magazine. For more information about the history of this story, and how I uncovered it, see my Editor’s Note after the end of the story—and continue reading to find out about my forthcoming novel, Life in a Haunted House, that fictionalizes elements of Preston’s life and filmography.

A Note on the Text: Where possible I have transcribed the magazine article exactly as it was planned for publication. As editor, I have limited myself to correcting any obvious typographical errors, or inconsistency in spelling of names or places. I have not tampered with the wording, however, and have left intact some of the strange grammatical quirks of the original author (in particular, the fondness for and overuse of ellipses). –Norman Prentiss

Cory read through the latest issue of Future Space as if it were a complicated instruction manual…studying each word balloon to decode a secret message…examining each illustration to uncover geometrical truths about the unexplored galaxy.

The stories themselves were the main attraction, depicting journeys into space…arriving at two-mooned worlds with plants that breathed and screamed, or an ocean of purple water filled with strange mind-reading fish, or the ruins of a once-majestic city whose buildings crumbled at an Earthling astronaut’s touch.

Even the advertisements within the comic book fascinated him. Not the silly ads for pellet guns or sea monkeys or 100 plastic soldiers…but the list of overpriced back issues that tantalized with further space stories.

And a mail-order pamphlet titled “How to Contact Other Worlds.”

Cory imagined what was in the pamphlet…wondered if it could possibly deliver on its promises.

– LEARN how today’s scientists reach for the stars!

– SEND your own messages into deep space!

– BE THE FIRST to communicate with ALIEN LIFE!

They wanted five dollars, plus postage, for the pamphlet, which was more money than any full-sized book he’d ever heard of. The high cost convinced him the information must be good…they wouldn’t dare ask so much otherwise. But it also put the booklet out of his price range.

He’d decided the makers of the comic book had read this pamphlet…why else would they have put the advertisement between their covers?…so maybe they revealed some of the secrets within their stories.

The position of the spaceship dials in page three of the “Jaunt to Jupiter” story…might be a clue about how to tune a radio signal.

The distress signal in “Marooned in the Asteroid Belt,” where the Captain identifies himself and his crew as Residents of the Third Planet Seeking Assistance…might clarify the proper phrasing when communicating with other lifeforms.

The gesture of Major Williams in “Ice World,” a raised thumb beside his forehead as he meets the ambassador from the Icicle Creatures…might be the universal replacement for a hand shake, considering how other beings wouldn’t always have hands.

Cory referred to his comic book again, added a few notations to his log book, then created a new entry with this afternoon’s date and time.

He set the comic aside, placing the log book atop his father’s work table. He slid the metal stool closer to the table, flipped the switch on the HAM radio that occupied most of the back wall, and watched as the dials lit up. The speakers slowly crackled to life. He slid the large metal microphone closer, and blew into its grill to test the volume.

The garage to their house was big enough for one car, but not big enough for a car and Dad’s tools and half-finished projects…bookcases without shelves, a table with three uneven legs, four broken lawn mowers parked along one wall.

And the huge radio transceiver Dad brought back from last year’s Electronics Expo: a HAM VHF 50 watt tabletop. Dad had secured an amateur radio license, used the set non-stop for about a month…then, as with a lot of his hobbies, practically abandoned the equipment and let it gather dust.

Radio signals spread different ways…followed the curve of the Earth or bounced off clouds, twisted around or through solid objects.  Cory didn’t understand all the logistics, but he managed to combine strategies from his comic magazines with tips from his father’s barely-opened manuals. One thing he learned was that 15-27 MHz were the best daylight bands to reach long distances; for nighttime communication, 1.6-15 MHz was best for long distances.

Good to know, since he was planning to reach the longest distance of all, into the farthest reaches of space.

Cory made a quick sketch of the dials, so he could indicate the positions he chose for each attempt. As he twisted a knob, the speakers alternated between static and high pitched wave-sounds.

He wasn’t sure which was better…electronic squeals or silence…but he was determined to try every relevant combination.

This time, flipping back at earlier log notes to check, he reproduced the “Jaunt to Jupiter” sequence.

Static…wave-squeal…static.

He positioned a cassette recorder beneath the speaker, and pressed the RECORD button.

“Resident of the Third Planet.” He spoke each syllable carefully, and knew the importance of repeating each word in case part of the signal got cut off. “Resident of the Third Planet seeking contact.”

Wave-squeal…static…static.

“This is not an emergency. I repeat, this is not an emergency. Resident of the Third Planet seeking contact.”

Silence…wave-squeal…silence…

He leaned close to the microphone again, preparing to repeat his script.

Faintly, over the speakers…“Fif…net.”

A surge of static, then a wave of the needle as if one dial shifted position on its own. Cory reached up to hold it in place…wondering if he should tamper with the knob in one direction, then another, to force a clearer signal.

“Third Planet,” Cory said. “Please repeat.”

Nothing.

“Fifth Planet.” The robotic voice twitched with the wave-squeal from the radio, creating a definite other-worldly quality.

Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Sit Up Nights, Cory thought. Eyes is Earth…Four…Five…John is…Jupiter? Just like in the story?

“Jupiter.” Cory could barely contain his excitement, but reminded himself to speak each syllable carefully. “We call your world, Ju…pi…ter.”

He waited through another flutter of static. He thought maybe he’d lost the connection.

A robotic voice finally asked, “Who…are…you?”

“I am called Cor…ey.” He enunciated slowly, modifying hand-lettered dialogue from his comic’s word bubbles. “Our planet is inhabited by a race of intelligent beings. We’ve created transport using steam and combustion engines. Our scientists have split the atom.”

A long pause, a muffled crackle, then a monotone request. “Take us to your Leader.”

“That would be the President of our United States.” It was actually happening…Cory had somehow stumbled on the right combination of dials, and was communicating with members of an alien race! A historic moment…he’d succeeded where so many other had failed. Now, he worried he wouldn’t rise to the occasion, that he’d say the wrong words and disappoint his unearthly listeners. “His name is Ken…ned…dy. I don’t really know him.”

“’Course you don’t, cause you’re just a dumb kid!” The connection was perfectly clear…the robotic voice was now identifiably human.

Other sounds came over the radio speaker…several background listeners, finally giving way to suppressed laughter…a series of sputters and guffaws.

“This wouldn’t be Grady’s brother, by any chance? Or maybe I should say Gra…dy.” Another burst of laughter followed. Cory could imagine a group of twelfth graders…smoking, drinking beer, gathered around another wireless transceiver…so pleased at how easily they’d humiliated their friend’s little brother.

#

Mom set the oval tray on the kitchen table, the soft brick of meatloaf already sliced into even portions. Cory took a slice with the serving tongs…placed it next to the small grouping of green beans he’d reluctantly accepted onto his plate…then waited for his brother to pass the bowl of mashed potatoes.

“I heard you’ve been using Dad’s ham radio,” Grady said.

Cory scowled at him. Across the table, his father said, “That’s not a toy.”

“I know!” The words came out stronger than he’d planned. His brother was the one he was mad at, after all.

“He was playing spaceman with it.” Grady passed the bowl of potatoes with exaggerated politeness, as if to disguise the fact that he was finking on his kid brother.

“I wasn’t playing. I was being a scientist. An astronomer.” Cory scooped some potatoes for himself, then gently put a portion on his mother’s plate as she joined them at the table. “Ask him how he knows,” Cory said, before quickly supplying the answer. “His friends were spying on me.”

“Were not,” Grady said. “They just happened to be at Ralph’s listening to tunes, when some dumb kid cut into the radio broadcast. ‘I’m from the fourth planet’ or something stupid. So they turned on their mike and messed with him a bit.”

The corner of Dad’s mouth turned up in a half smirk. “And you had nothing to do with that?” he asked Grady.

“Nothing. I swear.”

Dad nodded, taking a bite of his dinner and pretending to mull over Grady’s weak denial. Cory knew better. Dad had already decided…as usual, taking his brother’s side.

Just a bit of mischief. No harm done. Maybe toughen Cory up a little…jolt him out of that silly fantasy world.

So he turned to his mom for help, asked her why older kids would be so cruel. “They should know what a significant discovery that would be for me,” he said. “Contact with alien life. They shouldn’t joke about something so important. Why would they do it? Why?”

With her fork paused in mid air, Mom looked at his father for a moment. Cory always wondered if they had a kind of telepathy…or some series of secret signals that helped them decide what to say.

Would she agree with Dad? Or had he, with a blink or eyebrow twitch, given her permission to contradict him?

“Well, dear,” Mom said, “I guess they knew it wasn’t likely to happen. There’s no aliens out there anyway. Even if there were, you wouldn’t be able to reach them on your father’s amateur radio, for goodness sake.”

#

After dinner, Cory stepped onto the porch and stared up into the gray twilight sky.

An airplane crossed overhead, a faint blinking light at the end of the entrail.

Beyond the wisps of clouds, the heavens spread far above and around. As evening grew into night, their planet’s atmosphere would disappear under a dark blanket…tiny pinpricks of stars shining through.

More airplanes would cross the sky…red or white lights blinking. And then the flash of a falling star…a comet or meteor. Bits of motion among fixed, predictable constellations.

Many of these lights could be explained. But any one of them might also be an alien ship…passing their Earth without a second thought, continuing into the vastness of space.

#

Cory lay restless in the room he shared with his brother. Grady slept with heavy, regular breaths, his face toward the opposite wall.

The glow-in-the-dark hands of Cory’s bedside clock indicated quarter past two.

Cory moved blankets noiselessly aside…pushed his feet into slippers…grabbed his windbreaker from the back of his desk chair and pulled it over his pajama top.

He walked out of the bedroom, nearly on tip toes the whole time… careful to avoid a creak on the stairs…a slow slide of the front deadbolt, then through the door and outside…

There was no door from the garage to the interior of their house, so heading outside was the only way to access the radio. The rolling garage door was his biggest worry…a noisy, unoiled contraption. He slipped in the key he’d borrowed from the kitchen hook, then strained to lift the door.

He only needed to lift it a short bit…enough to roll himself beneath the bottom lip.

It rumbled like thunder. Cory lifted slowly, hoping to lessen the noise…but it only seemed to prolong the storm.

Finally, he held it steady…a good three feet above the ground. Cory waited a moment, listening for any disturbance within the house…his Mom or Dad alert for a burglar’s entry…Grady waking with a snort, noticing that his brother’s bed was empty.

The night remained calm and quiet.

Cory rolled beneath the opening, and let the garage door rumble shut after him.

He pulled the light chain over his father’s work bench, and the bare bulb clicked on.

His comic book lay on the floor beside the metal stool…his log book was open on the desk where he’d left it.

Cory rewound the cassette tape, so his new recording would erase the embarrassment from earlier that day.

Perhaps Grady’s friends had actually done him a favor. As Cory considered their cruel prank, he’d thought about trying at a different time…when nobody else would be likely to interfere.

That’s when it hit him…His method might be correct, but his timing could be off.

Aliens didn’t work on a 9 to 5 schedule…they didn’t plan their space travel to avoid Earth’s rush hour traffic.

The middle of the night could actually be the best time to attempt contact. The sky was clear and quiet…and with fewer radio or other broadcast transmissions to interfere with Cory’s own signal.

At night, 1.6-15 MHz was best for long distances…

He sat on the metal stool, then leaned forward and flipped the switch to his father’s radio. With a ballpoint pen, he made a new log entry for 2:25am, then adjusted the dials to match. He moved the microphone in place, and leaned closer.

“Testing.” He blew into the microphone grill. “Testing…one…two…”

His signal…he was sure of it…his signal would travel farther this time. Not simply a few streets over, to the party house of his brother’s cruel friends.

The signal went into the air, bounced off clouds, around space rocks and stars…went deeper into space.

Cory pressed the RECORD button. He swallowed, his mouth dry and scratchy. He wished he’d thought to bring a glass of water.

Wave-squeal…static…silence.

His speech was ready…all the practiced phrases he’d borrowed or adapted from the pages of Future Space.

But Cory didn’t get the chance to speak.

A crackle sounded from the radio. Then a strange rhythmic pulse. Not quite a human voice, but it sounded like a language.

Syllables. Repeating syllables.

“T’hais…shygh…” Then a pause. “H’uan…Pt’hou…”

The same pattern repeated again. Cory felt a chill of excitement. The quality of the voice…not a human, not a machine, not a human pretending to be a machine.

There was definitely something…alien about it.

“T’hais…shygh…” A measured pause. “T’hais shygh…H’uan…Pt’hou…”

But Cory hadn’t begun the proper sequence of phrases…hadn’t identified himself or his planet.

He leaned to the microphone, said, “Let’s start over. I hadn’t done it right.”

He took a breath, readied his prepared announcement.

The alien voice switched to a new phrase. “H’lea…T’hyrg…Yu’vrg.” Pause, then repeat. “H’lea…T’hyrg…Yu’vrg.”

Cory wished he could understand. He wished he’d paid more attention during the foreign language unit, when his teacher over-pronounced French or Spanish phrases, expecting her students to repeat them accurately in unison.

There had to be some secret to language…some connection, some key…even when the words were different.

But school language lessons never worked. The teacher spoke clearly, and the class responded in a mangled mumble. “Bonjour!” from Miss Mangraviti, and students would say “Bun Jay Or!”

The alien voice continued its mantra. “H’lea…Thyrg…Yu’vrg.”

He’d once learned a trick from an astronomy book, about looking through a telescope at stars…or at Mars or Venus or the moon. You weren’t supposed to look directly. The better view came from the corner of your eye.

Was there an equivalent approach to listening? Instead of straining his ears to comprehend the voice, he should relax…a kind of inattentive, passive listening…capturing sounds at the fringes of his attention.

“H’lea…Thyrg…Yu’vrg.”

It sounded like…almost like…Let’s Start Over.

And the earlier syllables, following his own warm-up of the microphone. “T’hais shygh…H’uan…Pt’hou…”

Testing…One, Two.

The alien voice was repeating Cory’s syllables. Parroting him…except a parrot doesn’t really understand the phrases it pronounces.

He pressed his mouth close to the microphone and spoke slow and clear…“You want me to keep talking? So you can learn words from my language?”

Pause. Then: “K’le…th’ulk…y’guh.” Keep talking.

Contact.

This was the real thing, Cory was certain. The alien listener hadn’t repeated all his words, but had interpreted them…selecting two as a specific answer. He was communicating with a being from an advanced civilization…with advanced cognition…accelerated ability to process and decipher an unknown language.

Keep talking. So, he obliged with further speech…his full script about Third Planet and Earth and Combustion Engines and Splitting Atoms…adding details about himself and his home life, favorite foods and music, sports teams, TV programs, comic books…all tumbling out in a dry over-enunciated babble…and Cory worried, I’m not interesting…this alien will die of boredom…will click off the connection…fly away as far and fast as possible.

As if in response to his insecurities…the rumble of a rocket engine vibrated through the speakers. The sound was low and deep and shook the whole garage…a spacecraft breaking the sound barrier to escape Earth’s tedious orbit.

“What in the world are you doing up so late? Out here in the cold!”

His mother stood framed in the wide-open doorway. The sliding garage door had made that deep rumble as she’d lifted it, simulating rocket noise.

“Get back inside, young man.” Her arms crossed the front of her terrycloth robe…her slippered feet tapped impatiently.

He tried to protest…to explain his wonderful, historical accomplishment…

“Enough of that nonsense.” Mom flipped the OFF switch on the radio, and gave a light swat to his shoulder. “This instant. Inside.”

Just before she turned off the device…had his Mother’s scolding words gotten picked up in the transmission?

His actual night’s accomplishment, perhaps: he was the first human ever to be humiliated while a space alien listened.

Cory gathered his tape recorder and logbook. In his rush to obey his mother, his foot scuffed against his issue of Future Space, tearing the cover.

He pulled at the garage door, and it clattered to the ground. As he followed his mother back to the house, he cast a quick longing glance at the sky, hoping for a flash of light overhead.

#

The light was on when he got to their bedroom. His older brother was sitting up in bed, his pillow propped against the headboard. “Playing spaceman again, I bet.”

It crossed his mind that Grady had been the snitch…waking in the middle of the night and noticing Cory’s bed was empty…then telling Mom and Dad.

“It’s not a game,” Cory said.

“You’re gonna be in such trouble tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so.” He raised his tape recorder. “I have proof.”

“Proof that you’re a dork.”

“Something really happened, Grady. I’m serious.”

It shouldn’t have mattered what his brother thought. Grady spent more time partying with friends than learning anything at school, and Cory didn’t need his brother’s approval.

But Cory was still bursting with excitement after his contact, he was sure, with a being from outer space. It was news he wanted desperately to share…and Grady was his only audience.

And if he could convince his brother to take notice…well, that might really be something.

“Just listen.” He pressed the REWIND button…the player whirred and the wheels spun beneath the clear plastic window.

“I’m going back to sleep.”

“It will only take a minute.” Cory noticed a distinct whine in his voice, and immediately regretted it.

“Such a baby,” his brother said.

Probably as close to go ahead as he was going to get. He pressed PLAY.

Cory wasn’t sure how far the tape had gone back. He adjusted the volume dial on the side of the player, which created a rustle of static.

“Doesn’t sound like anything.”

“Just wait. There’s a voice. Like a foreign language.”

Grady squinted, as if contemplating voices from the recording. Cory’s voice came through clear, but the sounds from the radio’s speaker were distant and muffled.

“Did you hear that?”

Grady nodded. “Yeah. It’s like blooba click gluck. And listen to yourself. You sound so goofy.”

“I’m pronouncing.” Indignant, as if Grady could never hope to understand the sophistication of his little brother’s grand experiment.

He adjusted the volume higher…but unfortunately, at this portion in the tape the alien voice had dropped out. Cory heard his own enthusiastic “teaching,” and the tumble of words seemed even more foolish now that his brother was listening.

“Oh my god,” Grady sighed. “More pronouncing…”

Then a huge rumble on the tape, followed by their mother’s voice. “What in the world are you doing up so late!” The recorder also picked up Cory’s weak protests…the humiliation as he scrambled to collect himself, to excuse his breaking the rules…

“Busted!” Grady said, laughing.

“That part’s not important.” Cory pressed different buttons on the recorder to cue up an earlier portion of the tape. “Listen to the alien voice again.”

He turned the volume higher.

“What in the world are you doing up so late!”

“Wait,” Cory said. “I didn’t rewind far enough.” On tape their mother continued to yell at him, and his brother kept laughing.

#

Cory might have nodded off a couple times, but the night’s events quickly overwhelmed his dreams and shook him awake. He couldn’t help reliving the exhilaration of authentic contact with an alien being…undermined by his mother’s intrusion, and his brother’s mockery.

His brother slept soundlessly across the room…facing the wall, his covers pulled high.

The house was quiet. He heard the engine of a car along the road outside…turning the corner…its headlights weaving through half-open curtains… throwing shadows across the room, rippling across the wall above his bed.

It was unusual that someone would be driving this time of night. And was this the same pattern that passing headlights typically followed?

As the car drove closer to the front of their house, a strange pulse vibrated with the rumble of the engine. It sounded less like an automobile…more like…

…an imperfect imitation of a car’s engine. As distorted and otherworldly as the alien had sounded, when it repeated Cory’s syllables. A pulsing sound beneath…some strange combination of a breath and wave-squeal, a heartbeat and radio static…

At this point, the soft glow of headlights should have disappeared at the edge of the window frame, while the car continued down the road.

Instead the lights froze in place. Next, shadows shifted and stretched in another direction. The driver had decided to make a U-turn.

The headlights rose higher in the window frame, as if the car had lifted off the ground.

The engine clicked off, but the lights continued to hover.

Cory called out to his brother, trying to wake him. A whisper at first, then more frantic.

The lights hung suspended outside the window…more lights than a single car would have…They blinked and flashed in a strange Morse code that was both frightening and hypnotic.

Cory felt a sudden wave of exhaustion, his eyes heavy. Perhaps he was already dreaming. He could pinch himself. Close his eyes, reopen them…and the lights would be gone.

The horizontal row of lights bent and tilted like a carnival ride…they paused in a vertical line.

“Grady!” The tape recording hadn’t convinced his brother, but this was proof…right outside their window. “Grady wake up! Look!”

Large white lights blinked into a purple glow…then red…then the orange of a blazing fire.

Cory closed his eyes tight. Behind his lids, more flashes of color…the blink and pulse of a muted light show.

He put his hands over his face. The bedroom felt warm…

Those lights were not intended to illuminate the path ahead, he realized…they were part of some alien weapon…warming up through pulses and a sequence of colors…then burning a laser beam through the window glass and into his bedroom.

“Grady, I’m scared. We’ve got to get out of here…”

He removed his hands from his face, opened his cowering eyes. The outside lights had disappeared…

If they were ever there to begin with.

The room seemed warm, yes…but that was a flush of shame. He had called out in his sleep, desperately trying to wake his brother to warn him about…nothing. And now he felt like a fool.

Luckily, Grady hadn’t stirred.

The window framed darkness. No engine rumbles or otherworldly pulsations thrummed outside the house.

Breathe. Calm down. Try to get back to sleep.

Cory closed his eyes again, let his head press into his pillow.

He attempted counting sheep. Testing…one…two… The sheep were covered with golden scales, and had tentacles instead of legs. Instead of jumping, they hovered over the fence…

This night would never end…

The bed creaked beneath him as he tossed and turned.

Not the bed…the door to the room, slowly creaking open.

Mom or Dad had heard him cry out, and they were coming to check on him. He turned his head to the doorway, rehearsing a drowsy apology. Must have had a bad dream. I didn’t realize I’d been so loud.

A shadowy figure stood in the hallway. It wasn’t Mom or Dad.

The vaguely humanoid shape stepped into the room. Its arms and legs wiggled as if they had extra joints in them. The head had strange crags and protrusions…like the surface of a rock, and yet…shiny.

“K’er Gl’uck.”

Shadowy arms waved limber on strange joints…reaching forward as the shape lumbered closer to Cory. The room was almost completely dark, but small peaks of light flashed off the otherworldly face…like shimmers of sunlight on an agitated lake.

The sunken eyes had a large almond shape…dark and soulless.

In a burst of strength, the alien leapt across the room, arms raised. It crashed against the side of Cory’s bed, then scrambled up and over him.

Shadowy knees hemmed him in on either side. The alien face sparkled. Stiff padded hands gripped his shoulders, pinning him down.

It was too dark. Cory wasn’t able to count the number of fingers on the alien’s hand. In his mind, if the visitor had four fingers and a thumb, it would be closer to human…as if that would make it more likely to be friendly…or able to respond to reason. Cory tried to catch his breath…tried to speak…

One of the alien’s hands immediately clamped over his mouth. The skin had a coarse, rubbery texture…like the dry scales of a dead fish. The alien’s face moved closer to his own…a hiss, then a voice like a mouth muffled behind cloth. “K’er gl’uck. Sc’hnick toe.”

The almond eyes flashed wide…blinking beneath a thready webbing.

They looked familiar…

“Grady, you jerk! Get off me!”

And that laugh, familiar too…even beneath the nylon stocking pulled over his head, a layer of tin foil beneath to give that mechanical shine to his face.

“Had you going.”

“Did not. Now get off!”

His brother’s head moved closer again. The improvised mask looked so fake now, even in darkness…Cory couldn’t believe he’d fallen for the gag.

Grady whispered into his ear. “What are you gonna do? Run to Mom and Dad?”

His brother’s knees still pinned him down.

“Or maybe your space visitor will come to your rescue.” The idea set Grady off into another fit of laughter, while Cory struggled and seethed.

Their father’s angry voice sounded from distant darkness. “Quiet down, boys.”

#

“I know you’re out there.” The cassette whirred in the recorder as Cory spoke slowly into the microphone. “I’m attempting communication at the same time as last night’s successful contact.”

He put a check mark next to the date and time in his log book, then spoke the details aloud for the sake of his recording. “I’ll keep talking, both to offer information about human culture, and to provide further syllables for your language banks. This planet is named Earth. I’m calling from the United States of America, in the state of Alabama. My name is Cory, and I’ve lived on this planet for eleven full rotations around our Sun.”

No response. He shifted his weight on the uncomfortable metal stool, prepared for a long night.

“I’ll keep talking,” he said.

In the back of his mind, Cory recalled a common scene from a police show. Keep him talking. Keep the kidnapper on the line. We need 30 more seconds to trace the call.

Crackle. A mechanical buzzing…a rhythmic tone that seemed to approximate language. Not the silly way his brother paraphrased it, monotoned through a stocking mask and tinfoil…but the way a machine would talk…vocal cords of fluttering metal…

If he listened the right way, Cory was certain he’d distinguish intelligible syllables.

“Reugh…Z’ligh…Kee…Ayua..”

Cory relaxed his attention…stared at the radio as if the dials could reveal meaning…then let the numbers blur…

“Reugh Z’ligh.” Something like Visit.

“Kee-Ayua.” Something like Here.

A slow rumble began to build…but it wasn’t the sound of the garage door being lifted.

A few tools rattled as the shelf above the radio began to shake…the table itself trembled, and Cory felt vibrations through his metal stool…through the ground.

The whole garage was shaking.

And he knew they didn’t have earthquakes in Alabama.

Cory stood, accidently knocking the stool to the ground with a clatter.

Last night he’d been frightened by fanciful dreams…by his brother’s silly prank. Tonight he would be brave.

He stumbled to the garage door and pulled it up, the wheels resisting in their grooves as the earth shook from side to side.

Cory stepped into open air.

A light passed over his face, nearly blinding him. It moved away and resolved into a glowing circle in the sky. It flattened to a line, a shape turning as it rode a wind current, spinning for a fresh approach.

The boy waved his arms. “I’m here! Visit here!”

The spacecraft moved closer, heading straight for him. Cory stood in the driveway, exposed between the garage entrance and the car parked outside.

The ship divebombed…an immense craft, travelling at incredible speed. Cory stood his ground.

The earth trembled anew. A flash of light and metal and fire filled his vision…then stopped.

The spacecraft made a sudden fresh movement…a tumble up and back and over the roof of the house…

Soaring in a startled zigzag, then a dramatic drop past their backyard.

A heavy thump sent a jolt into Cory’s legs, knocking him to the ground.

Maybe it wasn’t a crash, exactly…but it hadn’t been a smooth landing, either.

The front door opened, and his mom came running. “I thought I’d find you out here.” As Cory stood up, she inspected him front and back. “Are you okay? You could have been hurt.”

“I’m fine.” Cory stared over the roof of the house, attempting to calculate the angle of the ship’s descent.

“Get inside. Back to your room.” There were other words she didn’t convey directly, but they would come tomorrow… Your foolish behavior has go to stop. We’re taking away your comic books…they’ve given you these ideas…You’re not to use your father’s radio ever again, you understand? I’ll take a sledgehammer to it myself, if I have to.

All because of a small earthquake, as far as Mom understood it. An unusual, but natural occurrence…

Cory was the only one who knew the real cause. The first chance he got, he was going to find out where it landed.

#

He stared out the bedroom window. Their backyard ended at a field…beyond that, a wooded area.

Cory expected to see scorched earth. Broken trees or fences.

The yard and beyond appeared undisturbed. Where was the crash site?

Mom and Dad scolded him that morning over breakfast, citing the dangers of a small earthquake that, according to the newspaper and the local TV news, never actually happened. Meanwhile Grady offered suggestions between shoveled spoonfuls of Quisp cereal. Are you sure grounding him for a month is long enough? You want to make sure he learns his lesson. I’ll help you keep an eye on him.

As keen as Grady was to extend his brother’s punishment, he’d be an inattentive warden. In the afterschool time before his parents arrived home from work, Cory knew he could easily sneak outside to investigate.

True to form, Grady hadn’t come home from school yet. He was probably smoking cigarettes behind the 7-11, or taking an aimless drive in his friend’s used Firebird.

Cory grabbed his pen and spiral logbook. He opened the dresser on Grady’s side of the room, and “borrowed” his brother’s InstaMatic camera.

#

Outside, Cory flipped open his logbook and consulted a map he’d sketched earlier. The drawing depicted their house as a crude rectangle, with an approximate attempt to indicate property boundaries to scale. In the margin, he’d drawn a circle to represent the proportional size of the spacecraft, and a dotted line indicated the trajectory the craft had apparently followed as it glided over the house.

The circle on his diagram was approximately the size of a quarter. He took that item of change from his pocket and positioned it over his map, sliding it along the path he’d indicated.

“It has to be here.” He looked up at the grassy stretch of field at the edge of the forest line. “There’s nowhere else something that large could have landed.”

Cory paced the indicated stretch of land. Puff dandelions sprouted amidst tall grass. He plucked one by the stem and blew on it, dispersing the wispy seeds.

The ship couldn’t have landed or crashed here. The grass and weeds would have been crushed. He’d miscalculated…his diagram was incorrect.

He stepped back a few feet and aimed the InstaMatic at the field, taking a picture. The camera spit out a cardboard-stiff square where the image slowly developed. Cory shook the image to speed up the process.

Using a binder clip, he attached the photo on the page next to his scribbled map. The colors of the image were muted, but patches of green grass shone through. On the stretch of forest beyond the field, leafy green trees appeared on either side of the frame. Summer trees, with the middle group seeming bare…more like fall or early winter.

“That’s odd…”

Most likely it was a problem with the imprecise InstaMatic image…or perhaps the film cartridge wasn’t fresh…

Because the actual trees all looked roughly similar…green leaves without unseasonably bare branches.

And yet…

Cory wouldn’t have noticed it without the photograph as comparison…but there was a faint discoloration in the air, localized around the top half of those middle trees. The leaves were still on the branches, but they weren’t quite as green. And they looked a little…flat, as if a strong, constant wind pressed against them.

He gripped his quarter in a tight fist, cocked his arm back, then threw the coin as hard as he could.

The coin glimmered in sunlight as it spun, twirling towards the upper branches of the middle trees. Cory waited for the quarter to rustle and bounce through branches and leaves.

At its highest point, an even brighter flash of light burst off the coin. A metallic clink followed, and the quarter dropped straight down.

Cory ran to retrieve it.

The quarter had fallen just beside the grass, in a dirt and gravel path that marked the edge of the wooded area. The coin felt warm when he picked it up.

Washington’s profile was distorted, as if a hot poker had been pressed into his eyes and ears and mouth.

Cory held the coin flat in his palm…looked again at the strange blurring and flattening of the middle trees. Then he pinched the top of the coin with his forefinger and thumb, lifting it so it balanced on its edge in his palm…

An approximation, he realized, of the hidden spacecraft.

From everything he’d read in comics…seen in movies and on television…he’d been led to expect a flying saucer. This actual spacecraft was shaped like a disc, confirming those typical drawings and the wire-hanging models from science fiction movies…but it didn’t necessarily travel with its wide body parallel to the ground.

The saucer was hovering on its edge right now…invisible, save for a flattening of leaves where it pressed against a grouping of trees. Cory noticed a faint shimmering of the air above…a flickered muting of colors that corresponded to a dull circular shape on his InstaMatic photograph.

He waved his arms at the massive, barely perceptible shape that hovered above him. “Visit here!” he shouted…followed by identifying phrases from his radio signal. “Third planet from the sun. I’m Cory. I represent the planet Earth.”

More waving of his hands. The muted colors flashed briefly, and the ship’s camouflage device blinked off to confirm the scope and size of the saucer…an enormous silver plate hovering perpendicular to the ground, its surface textured with a prismatic circuit board of lights. It glowed like a strange moon dropped from the sky.

Another blink, and the moon disappeared. After that brief display of light and life, the muted trees behind seemed dead.

“Engines of combustion and steam,” Cory continued, encouraged that the alien ship had revealed itself to him…however briefly. “We have split the atom. Like you, we have ventured into space. We have traveled by rocketship to the satellite that orbits our planet.”

A whirring filled his ears, the sound of something…unwinding.

Another blink and flash of lights outlined a shape like a lever being pulled…or an elevator descending.

Beneath the lowest edge of the upright saucer, a flat metallic ledge appeared and continued to drop. It looked like a futuristic porch swing, but instead of chains, ropes of light suspended it from each side.

The empty seat stopped and hovered two feet above the ground…an invitation…with light-ropes stretching up into apparent nothingness…the muted, deadened circle that hovered above him.

Cory walked forward and sat on the metallic bench. The seat felt warm beneath him, like a living thing.

The contraption lifted him into the air, and he disappeared into the invisible unknown.

#

Grady once described a cruel trick to play on an unsuspecting pet. You go outside and lay a mirror on the ground, reflecting the sky. Then you lift a dog and drop it on the mirror. The animal freaks out, I’m telling you. It thinks it’s been dropped into the sky, and will fall forever and ever. CJ told me this one…can’t wait to try it on Jen’s toy poodle.

Cory now felt like the victim of that same prank. He knew he was inside a spaceship…at the same time, he was walking on empty air.

The cylindrical corridor surrounded him. Out of the corners of his eyes, the curved walls appeared solid, like a window made of glass beads. When he touched them, the surface was smooth…

But when he looked at them directly, the glass beads turned to faint bubbles that evaporated and popped. He saw through them, to the line of trees outside…to the field that stretched behind his house…to his house in the far distance, and the rest of his neighborhood beyond.

If he stared straight ahead, he could walk forward on that carpet of glass beads…if he glanced down, his feet hovered perilously over a bursting membrane of air…the field a neck-snapping, back-breaking twenty feet below…

This alien race must have a different way of seeing…a more complex understanding of how molecules interact…how gravity and pressure and reflection of light create the comfort of solid walls, a sure footing beneath.

Cory closed his eyes for a moment, felt the walkway as a solid cushion, and took a silent step forward. It was a slow process, like learning how to walk all over again.

He opened his eyes and tried to blur his focus. His house appeared in the distance, as if he was looking out a window. A large metallic box floated beside his house…a shelf of lights and levers and dials attached to one side.

Cory took a few more unsteady steps. His house stayed the same size, but that metal box grew larger as he approached.

Turned out it wasn’t a metal box at all. It was a room within the ship.

A control room, perhaps…and with apparently solid walls and floor.

Cory stepped inside and examined the bank of lights and levers and indicators. Part of the shelf might have controlled the communication devices, with a webbed grill over a speaking apparatus. At the center of another shelf of dials and levers, a transparent dome contained a small replica of the spacecraft…faint red lines along the dome’s surface represented longitude and latitude coordinates.

Where was the pilot of the ship?

Cory turned all the way around, and saw no sign of an alien crew member.

Than a hand dropped onto his shoulder from behind.

A gloved hand, with four fingers and a thumb.

Cory twisted around, breaking away from the alien’s grip. A humanoid figure dressed in a metallic spacesuit stood before him. A visored helmet covered the alien’s entire head. Over the mouth portion…if this being had a mouth…appeared a screened filter reminiscent of a gas mask.

For a moment, each of them waited as statues. After everything he’d already experienced…the strange wonders of this invisible ship…Cory was struck dumb as he finally met an actual alien being.

And what might the alien be thinking…Just as excited to encounter a member of a strange new race? Hopeful and overwhelmed with joy?

Frightened, perhaps?

The boy decided to break the silence. “I’m Cory,” he said. He extended his hand in greeting.

The alien stood still, regarding him with…curiosity? mistrust?

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cory said. “Handshakes. It’s an Earth custom.” As a corrective, he performed the gesture of Major Williams from the comic book story, “Ice World”…a raised thumb held beside his forehead.

The alien watched…then slowly lifted an arm…

Aiming a silver pistol at Cory’s head.

He thought of his brother, and the awful trick he’d played last night. Maybe he should have heeded the implied warning…the possibility that a space visitor would be hostile.

“No,” Cory said, hands out in a pleading gesture. Would the alien understand the fear in his voice? The universal expression of self defense?

The muzzle of the pistol sparked…a wave-beam flashed outward.

The boy felt a terrible burning in his head, as if his brain were being turned inside out.

He was nearly blind…a field of black with faint specks of light…a clarity of stars observed from space…

Cory brought both hands to the sides of his face as if to hold his head together. One by one, the stars began to flicker and die.

The beam continued to pulse, and his head throbbed with it. The wave gun was…taking something from him…draining his knowledge.

Then, abruptly, the pulsations stopped.

A voice sounded in his head. “I’m disappointed.”

Clearly, it was the alien…communicating through some form of telepathy. The syllables were correct, but the phrasing was an unpracticed, robotic mimicry. All the same, there was something familiar about the tone of the alien’s inexact speech.

All too familiar.

“You do not understand the concepts you have spoken about,” the voice intoned in his mind. “You are a mere child…And thus are of no use to us.”

The room began to drift into focus again. A blur of control lights flashed around on all sides, and before him stood a fuzzy humanoid shape. The alien figure could just as easily be the taunting shadow of his brother last night…the scolding pose of his mother or father…his teacher at the front of the classroom, asking an impossible question. You are not good enough, they all said. You will never be good enough.

Cory jumped at the space visitor. The element of surprise worked to the boy’s advantage, and he easily knocked the alien to the floor of the control room. He knocked the wave pistol from the gloved hand, sending it skittering to the opposite side of the room. Remembering Grady’s sneak attack the night before, Cory pressed his weight over the alien’s chest, his knees hemming in the metallic torso from both sides. He put one hand beneath the space helmet to grab the alien’s neck. He squeezed.

The neck felt frail. The alien body wriggled in protest beneath him…the metallic suit seemed to deflate.

Cory bent one arm and raised it…his elbow positioned over the visor of the alien’s helmet. He brought his elbow down hard, several times…cracking the visor until it splintered into shards.

The space visitor began to gasp and choke as the gas-mask element fell away and rolled across the floor.

The gurgle was too much for Cory to listen to. He felt an otherworldly expression of pain in his own head.

The inside of the space helmet was a goopy, gray mess…like a bowl of unrecognizable food, spoiled and liquefied in its decay. Cory reached inside the bowl and grabbed a glass-like sliver of the crushed visor.

As the suited body struggled beneath him, Cory wondered how closely the alien matched human physiology. Was there a circulatory system, with a major artery at the neck?

Cory slashed at the alien’s throat. The visor shard easily pierced the thin metallic fabric of the spacesuit and dragged slowly through the alien’s frail neck. A gush of green liquid bubbled out of the opening.

The alien stopped moving.

Cory stood up. He looked around the room, wondering what to do next. He didn’t know which of the controls would operate the light-bench, returning him to Earthly ground.

He dropped the shard of glass. The wave-pistol would be the better weapon, if he needed it.

Before he could get to it…another gloved hand landed on his shoulder.

#

Accompanied by a whirring sound, a strange silvery bench appeared out of thin air…slowly lowered to the ground on chains of light.

A boy sat calmly on the floating bench. He wore a dazed expression, as if he’d lived through an intense trauma, but had not yet come to terms with what he’d experienced.

Once the bench stopped and hovered over the ground, the boy stood up. He checked his surroundings to orient himself, noting the stretch of trees behind and the field of overgrown grass ahead.

The bench slowly whirred and reeled back into nothingness.

A camera and an open spiral notepad lay on the ground in front of him. He walked past them, not bothering to pick them up.

His movements were stiff and uncertain…as if the ground felt unsteady beneath his feet.

A thick green liquid stained the front of his shirt.

In his left hand, he carried a metallic pistol.

#

Grady dribbled a basketball, then stopped to aim a shot at the net-less hoop over their garage door. The ball hit the rim, then bounced sideways into the front yard.

He rushed to retrieve it, then turned around…

His little brother stood in the driveway.

“You’re not supposed to be out here,” Grady said. “You’re grounded.”

His brother ignored him, walking directly to the closed garage door. Cory leaned down to grab the handle.

Grady threw the basketball…it bounced hard off the door, just missing the side of Cory’s head. “Beat it, kid. You can’t use Dad’s radio anymore.”

“Z’leag Kwarg.” Cory straightened up and glowered at him.

Time to put the kid in his place.

“Oh, stop with the stupid space talk. You’re done with that game for a long time.”

“Attar’ab Ot’cin,” Cory said.

“You better go inside, before I rough you up. And clean that paint off your shirt, while you’re at it. You look disgusting.”

The boy raised his arm, and he had some stupid toy raygun in his hand.

“Jerk.” Grady stepped forward, his hand out. “I told you, no more space games. Gimme that.”

“You look disgusting,” Cory said. But it wasn’t his little brother’s voice…it was more like Grady’s own, distorted through a garbled tape recording. “I’m going to rough you up.”

Cory aimed the gun.

Grady knew it was only a kid’s toy…but his brother wasn’t really acting like a kid anymore. He felt a moment of fearful hesitation, then jumped forward to smack the toy out of his brother’s hand.

The weapon fired…

#

“Did one of our kids leave the garage door open?”

A tan AMC Pacer approached the house from the road. As it turned into the driveway, the father said, “Look at my workbench. I thought we told Cory to stay away from my radio.”

“It’s not Cory.” The mother unbuckled her seatbelt as her husband shifted the car into park and turned off the ignition. Both parents exited the Pacer and headed straight to their eldest son, who leaned over and spoke excitedly into the radio microphone.

“Grady,” the father said, “I know we’d made this radio off limits for your brother…but I don’t want you using it, either.”

The teenager whispered something unintelligible into the microphone…a foreign phrase…hissed, like a command.

“Turn it off,” the father said.

Grady pushed back the metal stool as he stood up. Something unusual appeared in his expression…a new awareness, perhaps.

“Attar’ab.” The voice through the radio speaker was so loud that it startled both the parents. The mother raised one hand to cover her mouth…a recognition that there was something wrong with the transmitted voice. Something inhuman.

“It has begun.” This new voice from Grady’s mouth spoke in their son’s tone and timbre…but it shared a fluttering otherworldly quality with the voice from the radio.

“I have borrowed each of your offspring,” the voice continued from their eldest son’s mouth. “The smaller one has committed a terrible misdeed.”

“Listen, Grady, we don’t have time for this foolishness.” Her husband approached the situation the same way he’d treat a few low grades on a report card…a call from the liquor store where Grady had shown a fake ID…a warning from police about vandalism at the abandoned factory outside of town. He couldn’t grasp the true horror as it unfolded…but the mother knew.

She knew.

“I contacted my superiors.” That terrible voice…their son and not their son. Grady closed his mouth completely, but the next phrase continued at the same volume. “They agreed to take appropriate action.”

“Okay, never mind how you did that trick…” The father blustered through…still not believing. “I don’t care who you are. You’re my own kid…or you’re some strange force that’s taken over Grady’s body. Either way, I should spank you.”

Grady’s mouth curled into a terrible smile. It was an…unpracticed smile…the correct muscle movements, but no understanding of the emotions that should lie behind it. Mouth still closed, the voice spoke in their minds. “You need…a demonstration.”

Grady’s arm reached behind to the work table, lifting a harmless toy spacegun that must belong to his younger brother. The trigger might cause a small spark or explode a cap…flicker an LED light or buzz an annoying electronic sound. Nothing more serious than that…

A huge wave of pulsing light ripped the air in front of the gun…a lightning bolt force that flashed towards her husband’s head and engulfed it.

#

The father’s face instantly became numb under the barrage of pulsing light waves. A strange shaking battered at his skull, and he feared the bone matter was melting within his head.

His brain became a sponge, soaking up alien light rays…converting pulses into images…images into concepts, histories, collections of facts and feelings…the weight of an Earth’s encyclopedia squeezing into his mind…as his planet’s past flashed across synapses…the code of other languages and lifetimes and cultures…animal species existing alongside man and species long extinct…the kingly Tyrannosaurus and the massive blue whale…tiny insects and microscopic amoeba…phases of life in Arctic temperatures, in tropical heat…his mind expanding and soaring with birds above mountaintops…slithering on a reptile belly in caves…diving deep beneath the ocean’s surface…and in cities ancient and new, participating in blasphemous ceremonies, his hand raising a sacrificial dagger over an innocent child…in a modern hospital, those same hands in sterilized gloves, guiding a new infant into the world…his world…a world he’d never before experienced with such sublime awareness…an overwhelming knowledge that made him hunger for more…and then a language of mathematics filled his head…calculations about the vastness of space…formulas that twisted time, joined distances to each other…and he was travelling…travelling…

“That’s enough,” the alien said through his son’s mouth. The light pulse stopped.

The new-found knowledge, so intoxicating and affirming…began to fade.

The father felt incredible remorse and loss.

“I trust I’ve made my point,” the alien said.

He lashed out at this being that inhabited his son’s body, struck at not-Grady’s face and, in that moment of surprise, wrested the laser pistol away.

“Stop,” the alien warned. “You don’t know…”

“But I will know,” the father said. “I will.”

He pointed the gun at his own head and depressed the trigger button.

The waves hit with an incredible blast…so strong he almost dropped the pistol. He held on as it vibrated in his hand…as pulsations battered his head at close range…a jackhammer tearing through his skull…drilling into his brain…

The knowledge came back to him in a rush…everything he’d comprehended before…ideas grasped as if through actual experience…as his mind expanded…

#

The mother had watched her husband get shot in the head…a joyous expression on his face as if he experienced religious rapture. She next saw a father reach out and strike the image of his son…stealing that glorious weapon from him, and then turning it on himself.

In the initial blast, his head almost seemed like it was on fire. Through the dying flames, she noticed a strange bald spot at the crown of her husband’s head. His hair was falling out…

No…the scalp beneath was…stretching. Expanding like a balloon.

More skin showed beneath as the scalp spread…hair follicles seemed to dance away from each other.

The pulsations from the wave grew louder, the beat increasing with a staccato urgency.

His whole head expanded as more helium entered the balloon. Her husband’s widening face wore a blissful smile as his head rose taller above his shoulders.

She jammed her fingers in her ears as the pulsations grew louder…the beats so close together they merged into a steady, shrill drone.

Fingers still tight in her ears…a wince in her eyes…tension in her shoulders…

The balloon popped.

A deafening silence fell as the pulsations ceased. Her husband released the raygun, and it fell to the ground.

His headless body followed…

#

“I am sorry.”

For a moment, she could almost believe it was Grady’s voice. There was human emotion…authentic regret.

But it wasn’t Grady. She backed away in disbelief from her husband’s mutilated body…sprays of his blood, of his brain matter, stained the front of her shirt. Grady would not have done this. A son couldn’t watch his father’s head explode and say, simply, “I am sorry.”

She turned away from the horror…only to find another.

At the back of the garage, she noticed a pair of shoes sticking out from behind a stack of cardboard boxes. Cory’s shoes…

“Oh God, what else have you done…” She hurried to the back of the room, pulling heavy boxes away.

As she feared, she uncovered her youngest son’s body. A mess of green liquid soaked the front of his shirt…a pool of red ran beneath him. Above the neck…nothing.

“Your smaller offspring set things in motion, unfortunately.” All emotion was gone as the voice transmitted from Grady’s closed mouth. “This one on the ground signaled to our ship…made many ambitious promises…which, it turned out, he could not fulfill. We quickly learned his mind was too immature to accept knowledge from the transference pistol. He lashed out like a savage, destroying my physical form.”

The mother shook her head back and forth. “Cory was a good boy. We are a good family…”

“My experience proves otherwise. Another crew member used the transference pistol to project my mind-essence into your smaller offspring’s body. Following his memories, I came here to seek a more mature vessel. This older offspring was disappointing as well…” Grady’s hands pointed at himself, then at her husband’s body in the driveway. “Your male partner demonstrated arrogance, greed, and violence.”

“We are a good family…” She kneeled down next to Cory’s body, placing a mother’s loving hand beside where his head should be, as if to caress his absent cheek.

“Unfortunate.” For his parting words, the alien began moving Grady’s lips again, as if to provide the mother more comfort. “A civilization should not perish simply on the basis of one or two momentary mistakes…though many have, in the course of my travels. I reported my findings back to my ship, using your primitive communications device. My crew consulted with our home world. Unfortunate…”

The mother looked into the space visitor’s face, hoping to pierce the illusion of her son’s eyes…to reach through the alien’s cold words and find some sympathy. “What have you done?”

A shadow passed over the mother’s kneeling form. She glanced up through the opening of the garage, and saw a glowing circle suspended low in the sky. Another circle appeared…then another…then another.

“I am sorry,” the alien repeated.

The glowing shapes blocked out the sun…the sky…

THE END
(A Budget Studios Production)

Editor’s Note:

As previously mentioned, this story was scheduled to appear in an issue of Monster Project magazine. Unfortunately, a proposed financial arrangement fell through between the publisher and filmmaker Bud “Budget” Preston and, in the fallout, the magazine ceased publication. Details are scarce, but most blame the filmmaker’s notoriously tight wallet for the dissolved partnership—though Preston’s quick temper may have also been a factor.

The announced issues featuring prose retellings of Preston’s most (in)famous films never saw the light, though test printings of those issues have long been rumored to exist. The main supporting evidence was a blurry photograph of Preston in his crowded office with magazines spread across his desk. However, the resolution of the photo, and the haphazard arrangement of the covers, made it impossible to identify any unpublished issues of the magazine.

Still, the rumors would persist. Fans of Preston’s quirky filmography—I count myself in that number—would jump at each teasing mention of discovered magazines, with the same energy special effects fans would jump at news of missing 1933 footage from King Kong’s spider pit sequence.

Most promising was a claim from a lesser horror author (I won’t stoop to mention this fraud by name) that he was the one who transformed the film scripts into Monster Project articles. When pressed, however, this author could never produce the stories. Excuses varied: “I’m planning to publish them in my next collection” — “I lost them in an office fire” — “I have them, but won’t release them because I never got paid for the job.” Eventually he gave a two-word interview answer that ended further inquiry: “I lied.”

Much hope lay with Bud Preston’s estate, but his reclusive widow had been uncooperative with fans and film researchers alike. I’d sent her an advance copy of my own fictionalized tribute to Preston’s legacy,Life in a Haunted House, but that gesture failed to gain her trust.

In online interviews here and there, I dropped mention of my forthcoming book on Bud Preston, which brought a few unsolicited and unlikely claims to my Inbox. One of the emails contained an attachment that purported to be a scanned cover of issue 101.

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to open attachments from an unknown source, but I couldn’t resist clicking on it.

The cover looked real.

My source—a book collector and film buff who wishes to remain anonymous—told me he had more items to show me, if I was interested.

If I was interested? After viewing another scanned piece of evidence, I arranged the earliest possible meeting.

I brought my checkbook with me.

The actual magazines remain with the collector, but I purchased scanned pages of each. Instead of working with Preston’s estate, I was able to secure publication rights from the owners of Monster Project’s back catalog—thanks to some ambiguous language in the initial signed agreement between Preston and the magazine.

I’d rather not specify how much I spent. Let’s just say that, in current U.S. dollars, Bud “Budget” Preston could have funded at least four new movies with the amount.

The actual authorship of each of the stories remains a mystery, though I have a few theories. If any readers have their own ideas, I’d love to hear them. Seek me out at www.normanprentiss.com.

#

If you enjoyed this rediscovered “novelization” of Bud Preston’s forgotten film, The Dungeon of Count Verlock, there are more stories to come. In addition to further novelizations of Preston’s films, including The Lake Monster and The Space Visitor, I have a forthcoming full-length novel that fictionalizes elements of Preston’s life and filmography: Life in a Haunted HouseLife in a Haunted House is currently in previews at the Kindle Scout site.

Please consider visiting to peruse the 5,000 word excerpt.  If you like it and nominate it, you will get a free copy if Kindle Press chooses to publish the eBook!

#

Life in a Haunted House:

Brendan has always been fascinated by the low-budget horror films of Bud Preston. Imagine his surprise when he moves to a new town and discovers a high school classmate is the daughter of his favorite director. Melissa Preston’s home contains exciting secrets about such strange films as The Stone Stairway and The Dungeon of Count Verlock. But Brendan’s film-fan obsessions threaten to undermine his new friendship…before he can truly understand what it means to spend Life in a Haunted House.

Norman Prentiss is the author of Odd Adventures with Your Other Father (A Kindle Scout Selection), and he won a 2010 Bram Stoker Award for his first book, Invisible Fences. He also won a 2009 Stoker for his short story, “In the Porches of My Ears,” published in Postscripts 18. Other publications include The Book of Baby Names, The Fleshless Man,Four Legs in the Morning, The Halloween Children (written with Brian James Freeman), and The Narrator (written with Michael McBride), with story appearances in Black Static, Dark Screams, Blood Lite 3, Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, and in four editions of the Shivers anthology series. His poetry has appeared in Writer Online, Southern Poetry Review, Baltimore’s City Paper, and A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock

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