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Authors: Gene Doucette

The Spaceship Next Door

BOOK: The Spaceship Next Door
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The Spaceship Next Door
Gene Doucette

The Spaceship Next Door

By Gene Doucette

GeneDoucette.me

Copyright © 2015 Gene Doucette

All rights reserved

Cover by Kim Killion, Hot Damn Designs

This book may not be reproduced by any means including but not limited to photocopy, digital, auditory, and/or in print.

1
The Fault in Our Starship

T
he spaceship landed
on a cool night in August, in a field that wasn’t being used for anything in particular.

Like most remarkable things, nobody realized it was remarkable as it happened. The ship lit up the sky above Sorrow Falls when entering the atmosphere, but that was only slightly unusual in the way a meteor could be slightly unusual.

Later, eyewitness accounts would describe the evening as becoming “as bright as daytime” in that moment, but this was a profound exaggeration. The truth was, while the object flashed brightly, an observer had to already be looking skyward to see it. If one were instead looking at the road, or the television, or the ceiling, the craft would have gone unnoticed as it traveled toward that field on the edge of town.

It was also nearing midnight, on a Tuesday.

Prior to the arrival of the spaceship, Sorrow Falls was a prototypical rural mill town, which was to say there was nothing unusual or spectacular about it. Most residents were either mill employees or farmers. Nearing midnight, on a Tuesday in August, just about everybody was sleeping.

It’s possible the sonic boom woke up one or two people, but as was the case with the supposed eyewitnesses startled by the profound brightness that didn’t happen, the
boom
was unlikely to have awoken anyone. The sound made by the object was more like a
pop
. To those who did hear it, the volume was approximately equivalent to that of a Jake braking eighteen-wheeler two blocks away.

In other words, had the spaceship arrived at the surface of the earth as the meteor it resembled initially, the number of people who claimed to have seen its passage across the sky would have dwindled significantly.

It wasn’t a meteor though, and it didn’t behave like one. Not entirely.

Meteors didn’t slow down and turn. Meteors didn’t have landing lights. And in all of history there had never been a recorded instance of a meteor hovering. These exceptions to the standard trajectory of a falling object were what convinced the handful of true witnesses that this was indeed a remarkable thing.

Someone called the police. (Two hundred and seventeen people in the town claim to have made the call; nobody knows who actually did.) At the time, the Sorrow Falls local police force consisted of twenty-two officers—two of whom were on maternity leave—and seven official squad cars. Three of those cars were dispatched to locate the object.

They couldn’t find it.

In fairness to those officers, they were told to locate a brightly glowing object that had landed from space, which wasn’t a particularly accurate description once the ship touched down and turned its lights off. Also, they had every reason to believe there was no such object and somebody had been drinking.

That left the job of first contact to a man named Billy Pederson. This was entirely due to a combination of luck and an unkind work schedule, as Billy happened to be the first person to drive down the road nearest to the unused field—or if not the first person, the first one to look to his right at the correct moment—and spot the object through an opening in the trees.

He would say later he knew what was there was
not of this world
, but that wasn’t the truth. The truth (as he would admit in private to anyone who asked provided they didn’t work for a media outlet) was that his first thought was
where did this house come from and how did it go up overnight?

The spaceship didn’t look like a house, but Billy’s initial perception was understandable only because most rational people tend to go to “interstellar spacecraft”
last,
after exhausting other options.

It also wasn’t large enough to be a proper house. A pool house, perhaps, or a large shed.

It was a matte black vehicle resting on four squat legs, with a curved surface and with no apparent door. The sides were a warren of tubes and vents and dark round holes that looked either like a place for spotlights or—if you were in the midst of a nightmare and looking at this craft—eyeballs.

It was arguably saucer-like, and no doubt looked round from beneath or above, but from the side it looked like a tall, black, birthday cake, or an unusually thick and wide cap on a steam pipe.

The ship sat in a ring of blackened grass. Again, what Billy did next depended upon who was asking. To the many, many interviewers he sat with after the morning of first contact, he would say that he reached the edge of the landing ring (as it was soon called) and understood somehow that going any further would be dangerous, so he stopped and called the sheriff.

That wasn’t really true. He actually did step past the burnt grass ring, and got within about five or six feet of the ship before deciding he didn’t really feel like getting any closer.

When asked to elaborate on this, he couldn’t.

“I dunno, I just sort of lost interest,” he said. “Didn’t seem important any more.”

He did call the sheriff, though. Thus, the first confirmed sighting of an alien spaceship on the planet was recorded in the police logs at 6:42 A.M., August 14
th
, as a case of possible trespassing.

T
he police came
, and someone remembered the meteor hunt from the night before and connected it to the strange object in the field, and then more police came. Then the fire department, a couple of state police troopers, and an ambulance for some reason, and soon the tiny road—at the time it was called Tunney Way—was so overrun with vehicles nobody could get past.

Sometime around 10:00 A.M., the sheriff got his hands on a bullhorn and started asking if
the occupants of the ship could please come out with your hands up
. This sparked a minor debate as to the likelihood that anyone inside the spaceship A: understood English, and B: had hands. The debate and the question were both moot, though, as nobody inside the craft responded in any obvious way. It didn’t open, or make a noise, or flash a light, or otherwise react to the query.

Another debate ensued regarding the legitimate alien-ness of the ship and the potential that this was only an elaborate hoax. The fire chief pointed out that the craft could easily be something constructed out of cardboard and foam, and surely if that were the case it would be light enough to be moved to the field in one evening, perhaps specifically on an evening when a meteor had also been spotted. The report could have even been a part of the hoax: perhaps there was no meteor either.

This theory gained enough traction that by 11:30, the sheriff decided to postpone the call he’d been planning to make to the National Guard and just walk up to the ship and see what was what.

He and two of his deputies did just that, retracing the same steps Billy had taken and getting just about as far, until all three of them decided this was actually a bad idea—suffering, some said, from a sudden and inexplicable lack of fortitude—and they should try something else.

They stepped back. And when it was pointed out that by not getting any closer they failed to resolve the question of whether or not the object was a large prank, the sheriff took out his gun, dropped to a knee, and fired two rounds at the center of the ship.

A spectacular thing—the first
real
spectacular thing—happened.

The bullets ceased to exist. They reached a certain point in the air beyond the skin of the ship’s hull, flashed brightly, and then were gone, much like a mosquito in a bug zapper. Their disappearance was accompanied by a deep THUD, like a thousand pianos hitting a low C at the same time. It wasn’t so much heard as felt, deep in the belly near the umbilical.

It was enough to convince the sheriff not to fire a third round.

He got to his feet and turned to the nearest deputy.

“Somebody get me the president,” he said.

Of all the embellishments surrounding the events of the morning of first contact, one thing remained true: he actually did say that.

C
alling
the President of the United States was not something the sheriff’s department of a small Massachusetts mill town could just do, it turned out. There were steps to take, and jurisdictions to consider, and people to convince.

Convincing people was a big hurdle. It didn’t much matter how sane and level-headed any one person in this chain of reportage was, the person on the other end of each link was going to begin with,
no really, why are you calling?
and there wasn’t much anyone could do about that.

Compounding the problem was that as far as anybody was concerned, alien spaceships didn’t simply land at the edge of little towns in the Connecticut River valley, and if they did, they didn’t land
only
there. Admittedly, that opinion was colored by Hollywood movies and science fiction books, but actual military history and tactics further informed those stories. If the ship was the vanguard of an invasion, it was in the wrong place. If it were part of a fleet, there would have been other ships. If it was lost, it would have moved, or asked for directions. If it was disabled—it didn’t look disabled, but how would anybody know? —somebody would have asked for help or a wrench. Or something.

In other words, once past the whole spaceship thing, the hardest part about getting the right people to believe that this remarkable event had happened in Sorrow Falls was that the spaceship hadn’t
done
anything.

It just sat there. Sure, it could make bullets disappear, but someone had to shoot the gun. That wasn’t so much a thing it did, as it was a thing it did in response to someone else doing a thing. It was not in any real sense—after landing—a proactive spaceship.

Still, the president was eventually notified. It happened about two weeks after the ship landed and approximately six hours before the media was to go live with the story. By the time of the media announcement, the army had already cordoned off the field and taken over about a third of the town. (In fairness, this was not a lot of space in terms of pure acreage, and the land they claimed was fallow farmland, and the army was, on the whole, extremely polite about the entire thing.)

That evening, the president held a press conference confirming that the planet had been visited by aliens, and Sorrow Falls became the most talked about place in the world.

That was three years ago.

2
On a Pale Bike

T
here were
about seventeen different ways to get to Main Street from Annie’s front door by bicycle. Annie had tried all of them, and liked to brag about it under circumstances in which such bragging was appropriate, which wasn’t all that often. She never listed out what the seventeen or so routes actually were, and also never bothered to count them, so the number was likely closer to ten or eleven.

It was still a large number, but that number became less impressive when broken down mile-by-mile. The problem was there were only five ways to get within a half-mile of Main Street before the warren of side streets and petty tributaries complicated the process of reaching the central drag. Two of those ways were over bridges on either side of Main that would have been impossible for her to use without having begun on the wrong side of the Connecticut River. Two others came from the Northern and Northwestern side of the valley. She could have counted one of those as a valid route if she first went an extra fifteen miles out of her way, looping northward via some minor highway before turning back south in an entirely impractical detour. She hadn’t ever done this, but thought about trying it someday, maybe when she was older and in possession of a bike that was more forgiving on steep hills.

That left one practical road leading into town. She could jump off of that road at any number of places and cut through side streets before intersecting with Main, and that was where most of the variance she ascribed to her route came from.

She had two ways to get to this one practical road—it was called Patience Road, named after one of the original settlers, not the virtue one had to have to drive on it—but she always ended up taking the same one. The first option was to go left from her front door, uphill, until hooking up with Liberty Way. Liberty took her through the farmlands belonging to about six extremely private families whose names she didn’t know but whose cows she was intimately familiar with. It looped down below the farmland, flattened out into a dirt road that was impassible in rain (at least on a bike) that connected with the lower end of Patience. It was the longer route of the two in terms of miles-traveled, but the shortest on the clock.

The second route began as a right turn from her front door and down the hill to connect with a road that used to be called Tunney back when it was one-and-a-half car lengths wide. It was four cars wide now, newly paved, and a dead straight shot to Patience (which had also been widened since, although not as much.) Three years ago it was the nearly as fast a route as Liberty, but now it had traffic lights, and traffic.

And now it was called Spaceship Road.

Annie had witnessed every last iteration of this road, because as much as she knew the Liberty route would ultimately be more efficient, she preferred the path down Spaceship Road, so she took it almost every day.

She preferred it because it was more scenic. Liberty had cows and pastures, which was nice and all, but Spaceship Road had a little bit of everything. It had become a legitimate major thoroughfare, of sorts. The problem with it as compared to most large roads was that it didn’t actually
go
anywhere special. It went
past
something amazing, but the spaceship and the surrounding territory wasn’t officially a destination for anyone who didn’t wear an army uniform. There was no tourist center or lookout point or souvenir shop around the ship, because the government’s approach was to treat it as an unexploded bomb that might or might not be nuclear.

The road had been widened and paved for exactly two reasons: one was to get large, heavily armored vehicles to the spot quickly to defend the nation and the world against an impending alien attack that was exceedingly tardy; and two, so all the campers had a place to park.

Traffic in front of Spaceship Base One—this is what the army called it, despite the notable absence of a second ship to occupy a theoretical Base Two—was a constant tangle of slow-going rubberneckers trying to catch a glimpse of the alien vehicle on a road cut down to one-and-a-half lanes (roughly the width of the original Tunney Way) because of the unofficial trailer park taking up the rest of the street across from the fence. It was fair to say that in the event of a daytime extraterrestrial attack, humanity’s initial defenders would be a cross-section of self-appointed alien experts, mill employees heading to or from work, a farmer or two, and whatever army soldiers had the misfortune of being on gate duty that day. That would be about it, because there was no way the big guns stored in the semi-permanent base two miles up the hill would ever make it through traffic.

Also available to defend the world—for about ten minutes each morning and ten minutes every evening—was Annie Collins, atop a pale yellow cyclocross bicycle.


A
nnie
!” greeted Mr. Shoeman from the top of his RV, with a friendly smile and a wave. “C’mere!”

He gestured her over from the other side of the road. Heading downhill toward Main put her and her bike on the side of the army’s fifteen-foot tall chain link fence and the inbound traffic, which wasn’t moving much. (In the same way Annie had alternative routes down, so did every car stuck on the road. They drove past anyway.) It was an easy enough matter to steer the bike between cars along here, since the cars were traveling slower than she was. The civilian trailers were camped out across the street, on the shoulderless side of the road and at least partway onto farmland that used to be owned by old Mike Pequot, up until the state claimed part of it to build the road. Now it was mostly owned by summer mosquitos and rented by alien watchers, protestors and the occasional Jesus freak.

She hopped off the bike and walked it between the immobile cars.

“Any news?” she asked.

Art Shoeman was of the alien watcher variety, which was actually the only kind of squatter still around consistently. Protestors tended to turn up only for a few hours every day, and the religious zealots mostly confined themselves to the end of Main Street, where they could command more eyeballs.

Mr. Shoeman was in cargo shorts and a Polo shirt with old stains from at least two different meals on it. Scruffy and suffering from what he insisted was premature balding (“I’m not as old as I look!”) he had the same kind of non-threatening vibe as a schoolteacher or a priest. Never mind that one of the first things her mother told her when she started to blossom was to be careful around schoolteachers and priests. Such was the world.

“Dobbs thinks it moved,” he said.

“No kidding!”

Dobbs, a younger, chubbier, slightly weirder version of Art Shoeman, poked his head over the side of the trailer. “Swear to God,” he said.

“I’m coming up.”

Dobbs vanished, as Annie leaned her bike against the side of the trailer and headed up the ladder. Dobbs had a tendency to sit in his lawn chair on the roof in boxers and not much else, for basically the whole summer. As a tubby thirty year old with a perpetual sunburn, there was a lot to be said for him keeping his shirt on, and about a year ago—approximately when Annie started to display the more outward effects of puberty—he arrived at the same conclusion. So as she climbed up, he was undoubtedly grabbing a shirt and making himself slightly more presentable.

It was a little weird, because she could see him from the road every morning. It was like he only cared how he looked if he knew he was being looked at.

Standing on top of the camper was like discovering a new layer to the world: camper rooftop city. Each roof was a singular collection of makeshift furniture—a preponderance of folding chairs and card tables—and gonzo electrical equipment, telescopes or binoculars, antenna arrays, and laptop computers. About half of it was equipment invented by the inhabitants of the rooftop city, to test one theory or another regarding the spaceship. In the unlikely event any of them had a verifiable claim to make, they would first have to prove that the device they used did what they thought it did. The last detail was probably insurmountable.

Like Mika and Morrie, two roofs over. They’d taken an old Geiger counter, attached it to something they promised would amplify its range—somehow—and adjusted it (again
somehow
) to detect auras. If they ever made a discovery, they would have to prove the thing did what they said, and then they would have to prove auras were real.

Annie was pretty sure the last part was going to be tough. Already, at sixteen, she had a mature appreciation of the degree to which adults could delude themselves about things. She’d also learned not to take a whole lot of what she heard on Spaceship Road all that seriously.

Mika and Morrie were just one example. There were dozens of others, all doing what they could to study an object that was perhaps a quarter of a mile away and only partly visible through the tree line for most of the summer. (In the fall and winter, when the trees had fewer leaves, it was easy to see.)

Mr. Shoeman’s roof was kind of homey in its way. He had a green Astroturf carpet that smelled only a little like mildew, a few comfortable chairs, and a cooler with a surprisingly robust variety of beverages. And snacks. Lots of snacks. The alien trailer park collective was fueled primarily by pizza delivery and salty snacks, although on weekends in the summer they liked to have a big cookout, combining the forces of all the trailer neighbors. It was festive. Sometimes a few of the soldiers even came.

“So it moved?” Annie said, once she gained the high ground. Dobbs was (of course) now wearing a shirt, and standing in front of an array of electronic equipment that looked a lot like what happens when Radio Shack has a yard sale. There were three cameras slaved to a laptop, something that may have been a seismometer at one time, and a fourth camera with a telephoto lens mounted on a small tripod. The entire collection was on top of a table with tiny springs beneath it and under a roof made up of plastic sheets. The springs were supposed to be shock absorbers to keep local events such as a sixteen-year old climbing up the ladder from causing a tremble in the equipment. The roof and plastic were to protect the equipment when it rained.

“Maybe as much as two inches!” Dobbs said.

“No kidding!”

“Here, I’ll show you. Hang on.”

Dobbs started tapping away on the computer he used to collect information from the other computers.

“Pretty exciting, huh?” Mr. Shoeman said. He was on the other side of the roof tweaking one of the solar panels.

Power was always an issue. The campers weren’t near any sources of electricity and to refill their gas tanks they had to move, which at least half of them hadn’t done in two years. They made do with a combination of reusable generators, gas trading, and makeshift solar paneling. In perspective, it was funny, only because these were people at risk of running out of power and food and—in the winter—heat, while only a few miles from an ample supply of all of those things. The aliens would have made everyone’s lives a whole lot easier if they’d only landed across from a hotel.

“Sure. Two inches?”

“It’s not nothing.”

“No.”

Pretty close to it though
, she thought.

She looked across the road. Mr. Shoeman’s trailer was in a prime location. Whenever news people showed up, they were guaranteed to take at least one photo from the spot where Annie was standing. The trees framed the ship almost perfectly, and nearly all of it was in view.

They weren’t close. Sure, in the event the spaceship one day rose up and began attacking the citizens of planet Earth, they were entirely
too
close, but putting aside that potential outcome, they weren’t meaningfully nearby. Certainly, they were not close enough to make a potential two-inch movement—in a thing that hadn’t budged since it landed three years ago—more likely than a measurement error in Dobbs’ equipment. Assuming Dobbs was measuring what he thought he was.

“Here, here, here,” Dobbs said excitedly. “Look!”

He turned the laptop around so she could see the screen. It showed a graph with a notable spike. The graph had no context.

“Two inches caused that?” she asked.

“The Y-axis… yeah, it’s in millimeters.”

“Oh, really cool,” she said, mustering a little enthusiasm. “What do you think it means?”

Mr. Shoeman laughed. “Who knows? We have so much more to do first. We have to wait and see if it does it again, and then we’ll see about any patterns and
then
maybe something. We’re publishing our results in a few days. Could be somebody caught the same thing, or something different at the same time. We’ll know soon.”

Publish our results
meant
tell everyone else about it at the weekend barbecue.
These were enthusiasts, not scientists. All the actual scientists were either working with the government (and tacitly not sharing their findings if they had any) or had already gone home.

“That’s really exiting, guys,” she said with a little smile. “You’ll let me know, right?”

“Of course!” Mr. Shoeman clapped her on the shoulder while Dobbs mostly blushed. “Maybe soon the whole world will know!”

“Fingers crossed!” Annie said.

I
t was
difficult to muster up the kind of enthusiasm they were looking for from her. Not so long ago, every burp, tweet, and shrug ostensibly discovered by the members of the trailer park collective was a landmark event. Annie would hear about it and tell her friends and her mom, often out of breath and wide-eyed with the anticipation of a thing to come.

The thing never came, though, because the ship never moved.

There were only two things that could be easily verified from the distance of the roof city: the ship still existed; it was warm enough that snow melted off of it.

The second thing was extremely interesting, but it seemed like most times the people in the campers focused on the first thing, since that was why they were there in the first place. An alien spacecraft had landed in Massachusetts, and this was something to bear witness to.

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