By Darren O. Godfrey
Illustration by Bryan Prindiville
Here I sit, exhausted in the extreme, and wondering which came first, the gravy boat or the scorpions.
My partner yesterday (wow, it was just yesterday, so hard to believe) was Ted Wilson (who sliced every other shot, it seemed, poor guy), and he thought it was a saucer up there in the air and spiders down on the ground, but Ted was blind as a bat, bless his soul.
My eyes, on the other hand, are those of an eagle, and what I perceived was this:
1. The hovering thing in the sky was gravy boat-shaped (though its base may have been circular, suppose), and,
2. What erupted out of the hole on the 11th green of the Preston Country Club were scorpions. And what’s worse, the little fuckers kept my ball from going in the hole after I’d hit one of the best chip shots of my entire life.
I’d assumed the gravy boat arrived first, you see, because it made sense (after a fashion) that the alien craft might have come down and summoned the scorpions up out of the ground, but later I wasn’t so sure. I’m also not sure why it’s important, but my mind just won’t leave it alone.
A beautiful day, it’d been. Perfect for golf, not too hot, not too cold, and not windy at all. The noon whistle (more a siren, really) from over Preston way had sounded as I approached my Titleist 4 where it lay some thirty yards in front of the green. Ted was off in the brush searching for his wayward second shot, and I thought the next town siren call — the 10 pm one — might sound before he’d likely find his Pinnacle. I was also in a bit of a marvel over how good my 62-year-old legs felt. They hadn’t moved with such strength and purpose in more than a year and I had the new exercise and diet regimen to thank for it. And, I had my persistent wife, Myrna, to thank for that.
Irritating as that could be, at times.
Pitching wedge in hand, I addressed the ball. “Hi, ball,” I said (yes, I really did). I widened my stance a little, opened the face of the club, drew it back, swept it forward, and up she went. That ball dropped on the green exactly where I’d targeted it about six feet above the hole, spun backward, broke slightly to the left and made straight for home.
Then a sudden looming presence pressed down overhead (felt more than heard, really) just as a flood of scorpions erupted out of the hole.
I close my eyes now and I can see it all again, clear as day — it wasn’t my imagination, wasn’t a hallucination, scorpions came up out of a golf hole, no shit.
Some of those brown-black fuckers went for my ball, wrestled it to a stop, while some went up right up the flagstick and swung by the little white flag. Most, though, spread out evenly over the green in a noisy dark wave. It looked like gallons and gallons of spilling, spreading coffee. Lumpy coffee. Chittering coffee.
I kinda ducked my head down and pulled my feet up simultaneously, if you can picture that. I moved backwards in a big fucking hurry, anyway, my club held out in front of me.
“Ted!” I shouted, or at least tried to, but it sounded more like a croak. I tried a few more times.
Meanwhile, the neatly trimmed green had disappeared completely under the tide of scorpions; there were millions of the little buggers. Though I still felt the presence of something huge over my head, I couldn’t take my eyes off that multitude of skittering, seething creatures.
“Ted, come here!”
I could hear him, way off to my right, tromping through the big-leafed stuff that divided the 11th hole from the 13th, panting.
“What is it, Jake? What do— holy moley!”
“Yeah, look at all them buggers!”
But I guess that’s not what he was remarking upon, because he said, “All of them? It’s just one great big—” I suppose he’d first looked up, and then, finally, where I was looking. “Jeeze Marie! Look at all those spiders!”
I took that opportunity to look up, finally, but what I said was, “They ain’t spiders, Ted. Spiders don’t have curled up tails like that!”
And there: a white gravy boat the size of an East River tugboat hung in the summer sky. A barely audible thrumming noise came from it.
Ted sucked air and then let out a scream. Upon the intake of his next lungful, I looked from the ship to him. His baby-blues, goggling behind his Coke-bottle glasses, went from critters to craft, craft to critters, his neck fairly becoming rubberized, and screaming all the while.
I wanted to do some screaming myself, felt the need not just in my throat but in every pore of my skin, but I noticed, then, that with each screech, more scorpions turned our way.
“Ted, shut your trap!”
So I stepped over to him and slapped him.
“Let’s go!” I said, and when he went on screaming, I shouted, “If you don’t shut up, Ted, and get a move on, I’m going to smack you with this club!”
That got him moving.
We made for the cart, which had been parked closer to my game than that of Ted-the-Perpetual-Slicer, and jumped aboard just as dozens of scorpions had found its front wheels. I floored it, and discovered what it might be like to glide through a bowl of Rice Crispies. Problem was, it wasn’t happening fast enough. The cart, like most its kind, was a gutless wonder.
Though my hands clutched the steering wheel, one still held the pitching wedge — it was a Ping; very nice. Its grip smacked me in the side every time I turned right and Ted in the arm whenever I turned left. He didn’t seem to notice, though; he was screaming again.
Finally realizing I had to have somewhere to actually go, I angled us back in the direction of the clubhouse (west, I remember thinking Go west, old man!), knowing it was somewhere over hill, over dale, across a creek and behind some trees. And from there: the car. Yes, it was Ted’s Lincoln (why do I let the blind bumbler drive?) but I, the calm-headed one, could drive us out of here.
I snuck a look back. The gravy boat still hovered over the 11th hole, but now a long, dark string wavered from its bottom. It looked as if gravy had been poured and a runner was now dripping from it.
But the scorpions…
That whole end of the 11th fairway was a stirring, chittering, brown-black mass of the fuckers: the rise where the green lay, the first- and second-cuts of rough, the brush, even the trees, all were positively blanketed.
Then the white ship tilted and began moving our way, that dark line still dangling from it.
That’s when I started to laugh, I think, happy in the knowledge that I was going to wake up from this crazy goddamn dream at any second, and won’t Myrna chuckle when I tell her all about it?
But I kept not waking up.
I got us across the creek that bisected the 10th fairway and started down the slope to the cart path (Ted now clutching the roof-to-body support bar of the cart in one hand, the back of the seat in the other, and staring, slack-faced, behind us, while our strapped-in bags of clubs clattered and complained), which would, after a graceful upslope, take us to the clubhouse.
Then I saw.
And slammed on the brakes.
If Ted hadn’t had a good grip at that second, he’d have been Superman, laid out flat and flying, though only my hindmost brain cells registered that. The rest were taken up by what my eyes beheld.
The clubhouse roof was covered, not with scorpions, but with people (several golfers; Jim, the owner and clubhouse Pro; and all the maintenance guys). Above the clubhouse another gravy boat hovered, identical to the one coming out of the east. Like ours, it too had a line descending from it, but this one had people climbing up it.
It appeared they were being rescued.
I brought us a little closer and saw that what had been a parking lot half-full of vehicles was now a sea of scorpions with large humps in it. I also noticed the inside of the clubhouse was acrawl with scorpions, as well, blanketing everything.
And even in light of all these bizarre happenings, I felt something else wasn’t right.
Look, I’m no whiz kid — got C’s in school, mostly — but I do like to think I have at least a lick of sense. It occurred to me, you see: what would space ships need ropes for? Wouldn’t it be more likely that they’d have some sort of tractor beams, or Star Trek-like transporters, or even big vacuum tubes that could suck folks up like lint balls?
Hell, even a rope ladder would be more sophisticated than just a rope.
More reason to think I was dreaming, right? Right. But the waking up thing just kept not happening.
“Go!” Ted shouted.
“Go? Go where?”
“To the clubhouse, Jake; I’ve got to go to the bathroom!”
“Look, you idiot! There are scorp— what? The bathroom? Are you serious, Ted?”
Still goggle-eyed (those glasses were most definitely not becoming on such an already goggly face), he said, “As a heart—” And I’m sure he meant to finish with: “attack.” As in, “Serious as a heart attack,” which was something he said often at the office. By all appearances, though, Ted now seemed to be having one.
Grimacing, he clutched his chest and fell out of the cart. (As he hit the ground, I noticed the spreading wet spot on the crotch of his plaid pants, so I guess he had indeed been serious about the need to pee.)
I slid across the cart seat, images of CPR being administered on plastic dummies running through my head, wondering where to start, and suddenly the feeling of large presence was overhead again.
I looked up. Saw the ship. And the rope.
Only it wasn’t a rope, not exactly.
Before Myrna, the best wife ever, there’d been Ruth, the incredibly selfish bitch. The day after I returned home from serving (Army, Master Sergeant) in what was being called the Korean Conflict, Ruth and I were married, and the day after that we were in Rio de Janeiro. Her idea. She’d wanted to go to Rio ever since her Poppa told her it was the most beautiful place on earth, and if we couldn’t go there for our honeymoon, then, well, she supposed I oughta just get back on that plane and find another war to fight.
To Rio we went.
Some of the days Ruth basked on the beach, and while she did, I went exploring. Not in Brazil’s jungles, but in its restaurants and bars, its churches and zoos. And it was there, in a South American zoo, where I first saw an anteater.
Beautiful creature, even when sticking out its tongue.
Thin, black, and extremely sticky, was that tongue.
And so was this one.
I looked back over at the clubhouse and saw that I’d been wrong — those people weren’t climbing that thing, they were stuck to it. That whatever it was up there had evidently come along and just licked across the panicking group of folks, and now I saw that a kidney-shaped hole had opened up in the ship and up the tongue was going. Retracting.
The ones glued to the tongue were screaming only slightly more than those still on the roof. A couple (one of them was Jim, who’d taken my greens fees not all that long ago, with his usual charismatic smile) jumped from the roof to the asphalt below. Painful landing, by the sound of it.
And at the moment of pause over who needed my help more, the man at my feet (Ted) or the men over by the building (Jim and some white-haired fellow), a sticky slab fell across my face. I leapt backward into the cart, reflexively swinging my pitching wedge up and over onto the tongue, and as I fell back onto the cart seat, I pushed (both hands gripping the club now) down and away. The tongue stretched my cheek out farther than even my Aunt Darlene used to when she pinched it.
It tore away, taking some of my cheek skin and my right sideburn with it. The tip of the tongue swung upward, sticking to itself, the pitching wedge now in its grip. I let it go (it was a nice club, but not that nice) and scrambled back behind the wheel of the cart — those gentlemen were just going to have to cope without me, you understand — and slammed the accelerator to the floor.
Gutless. Gutless piece of upper middle-class means of transportation for gutless middle-aged duffers like me.
Time to use my legs, then; hell, hadn’t I been marveling over their vigor just a short while ago?
I ran. Neither toward the clubhouse and Ted’s car, nor back the way we’d come, but north, into an open field. I remembered Jim telling me he’d been trying to purchase this field from a farmer in order to put in a driving range. I don’t know what kind of field it was (potatoes? alfalfa?), but the bit of low green growth there was easy to run through.
Hard to hide in, though.
I spotted a shack, but decided against it. Wouldn’t do to get cornered, would it? I wondered if it might not have been a good idea to snatch up another club from my bag before bailing on the golf course (and my friend) as I was feeling pretty vulnerable without some sort of weapon. I wondered why the fuck this was happening. I wondered how Myrna was, and was this going on where she’s at — our home in Downey — and was this going on everywhere?
If so, were fighter jets scrambling from Air Force bases? Were exterminators scrambling from their shops in vans with plastic bugs on top of them, backpack tanks loaded with poison?
But for now: where to go, what to do?
Think: when you’re being attacked from above and below, where do you go? In a straight line? And when I spotted a large, skittering brown patch off to my left, I veered to the right; and later, when a gravy boat with a sticky tongue swung up on my right (is that Ted, stuck there on the end?), I veered left.
Eventually, I came here.
To this house. Empty. Where I somehow, someway, was allowed to rest, which I did. And then I put some hydrogen peroxide on my cheek, and then found this notebook on the coffee table along with some textbooks: some kid’s homework.
Where’s the kid, I don’t know. Parents? Ditto.
I feel positively fucking spoiled — I got the chance to rest, while Ted, all he got the chance to do was relieve himself into his favorite golf pants. I wonder why, as I see an ocean of scorpions on the ground outside and an armada of long-tongued ships hovering in the air, why am I still alive? Why are they letting me—
Oops. Spoke too soon.
I hear massive scuttling in the floor below, and the crunch of roof beams overhead.
To my lovely but unremitting Myrna: Thank you. You are the reason I had these few extra minutes.
A hope, a wish, and a thought: I hope you’re all right, safe and sound. I wish that ball would’ve dropped, and I think that, no matter how crazy the world gets — and obviously it gets pretty fucking crazy — that love is