Benji looked out of the car window at the night sky, the intensity of the moon’s white glow causing his eyes to ache. Trees whipped past him on both sides, partially obscuring the mountains beyond. He felt tired, so tired, after his long day enjoying his sixth birthday at a big, big waterfall. He practiced counting by keeping track of the dark tree trunks, using his eyes to focus on one at a time until each one disappeared, returning the forest to a blur.
“How much longer, do you think?” asked his mother, Betty, up in the passenger’s seat.
His father, Barney, sighed. “Not too much longer. We’ll get back in time to get some sleep before the morning.”
“Maybe we should stop at a motel,” Betty urged. “It’s already almost eleven.”
“It’s okay,” Barney insisted. “We’ll make it.”
Returning his attention to the sky above, Benji noticed that a second, smaller moon had now appeared, a small, white point of light to the left of the larger, more familiar circle. The smaller moon flickered past the stars, moving back and forth in swift, erratic patterns.
His mother had noticed it, too. “Barney! Do you see that?”
Barney glanced out the window. “Huh. Do you think it’s a falling star?”
Before Betty could answer, Benji felt pressure between his legs. “Mommy. I have to use the bathroom.”
Betty and Barney exchanged glances, and the latter responded, “Sorry, Benji. No bathroom around here. Are you okay going on the side of the road?”
Peeking outside hesitantly, Benji asked, “Is it cold?”
“Maybe a little,” Betty replied softly. “But you’ll be okay. I promise.”
“Oh, hey,” Barney added, pointing ahead. “There’s a little picnic area. You can go up there.”
They pulled over to the side of the road, the car clicking as Barney activated his emergency lights. Together, he and Benji trotted toward a wooden table with two attached benches, straining to avoid obstacles in the darkness. Benji began to do his business, turning to look over his shoulder at the car. Inside, his mother peered up at the sky, squinting through a tiny object that Benji didn’t recognize.
“Dad, what is she holding?” he asked, pulling his pants back up.
Barney turned to look at his wife, calling to her when he saw what she was doing. “Honey! Why do you have the binoculars out?”
She said nothing, opting instead to point up at the stars. Benji followed her finger, gasping in awe as he saw a large, disc-shaped object hovering in the sky, backlit by the moon, its underside flickering multi-colored lights. Looking up at his father, he saw the man scratching his head, a confused expression on his face.
“Maybe it’s a new kind of commercial plane?” Barney muttered skeptically.
Suddenly, the disc dipped in their direction, picking up speed as it approached.
“That’s not a plane!” Barney corrected himself, scooping up Benji and hurrying toward the car. They climbed into the vehicle, and Benji strapped himself in as Barney stomped on the accelerator, sending them lurching forward. Benji felt his head press back against his seat, and they zoomed down the old, abandoned road, the flickering disc chasing after them.
“What is that thing?” Betty demanded, craning her neck around the window to look at it. “It’s got to be at least forty feet wide. And it’s spinning, Barney. Just like that flying saucer my sister saw.”
“I don’t know, honey,” Barney admitted, “but we aren’t going to stop and ask for directions with our son in the car!”
Benji felt tears welling up behind his eyes, his parents’ panic upsetting him more than the craft itself. He’d never seen them so scared before.
Ahead loomed a series of mountains, and they pressed forward, the disc so low now that the flashing lights surrounded them. Benji heard a crunching sound, and looked up to see the roof of the car beginning to crumple like aluminum foil. He cried now, and he heard his father swear, swerving to a stop. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a small pistol, opening the car door.
“Barney, what are you doing?” Betty cried as he slammed the car door shut. “Barney!”
As Barney cocked his pistol, the disc lowered from the sky, its massive body filling Benji’s view through the front windshield. Maybe it was because Benji was starting to get hungry, but it reminded him a little of a pancake. Inside the pancake, Benji saw a series of windows, through which about ten shadowy figures seemed to be watching him.
Leveling his pistol, Barney approached the glowing pancake. “Leave us alone!”
Stay where you are.
The voices that whispered seemed to come not from the craft, nor even from beyond the car; to Benji, they bounced around the inside of his skull, as if they’d always been there. Ahead, the thing from the sky lowered to the earth, and a hole opened from the bottom as the whispers repeated themselves.
Stay where you are.
Backing away, Barney sprinted to the car, his eyes wide and hysterical. He yanked open the driver’s side door, collapsing in the seat and gripping the steering wheel. He turned to Betty, shivering.
“They’re going to capture us!” He glanced behind him, his eyes connecting with Benji’s. “I won’t let them.”
He stomped on the pedal once more, swerving around the massive metal pancake, the car grumbling as it dragged itself through the dirt and grass on the side of the road. They blasted past the newcomer, Barney muttering to himself the entire time.
“They’re not human. Somehow, they’re not human.”
He glanced to his right. “Betty, look for the ship. Make sure they’re not following us.”
Benji’s breath came in short, fearful gasps now as he watched his mother slowly roll down her window, leaning her head outside.
“Barney!” she cried. “It’s right above–”
A low buzz vibrated the roof of the car, interrupting Betty as it spread throughout the whole vehicle, tingling Benji’s fingers and toes. Immediately, Benji’s parents relaxed, leaning back in their car seats. Benji’s stomach fluttered as the car began to slow, coasting gently to a stop. Ahead, the pancake reappeared, its underbelly practically a rainbow now. It lowered itself to the ground, and a ramp quickly extended from within the mass of lights, ending at an opening into the pancake.
“Mom?” Benji whispered, wide-eyed. “Dad?”
Simultaneously, the two adults unbuckled their seatbelts, opening their doors and stepping back out into the street. Barney turned to reach into the car, his eyes glazed over as his hands stretched towards Benji. Struggling to escape his father’s grasp, Benji fought against his seatbelt, but it was too late. He found himself lifted into the air, tightly hugged as Betty and Barney walked calmly toward the metal pancake.
“Help!” Benji yelled down the empty street, his young voice floating up into the starry sky.
His parents stepped up onto the ramp of the thing from the stars, carrying Benji into a bright white light. When his vision cleared, he saw a circular, silver room filled with silver tables, the curved walls covered in long, flat windows that flickered like his television at home. Bustling about the room hurried slender grey people, devoid of clothes or any facial features beyond solid black eyes. As Benji and his parents entered the room, the grey people turned to stare at them.
Put the boy down, the whispers commanded, returning to Benji’s skull with a fury.
Barney complied, lowering his son to the floor.
Come to us, the grey people beckoned.
Betty and Barney approached, shambling like dry leaves in a gentle breeze.
Reaching behind them, one of the grey people produced a fiery red orb, holding it up to the two adults’ faces. It began to flicker rapidly, shifting at random between red, green, and blue. Benji’s parents shuddered, and sweat began to drip down their faces.
The boy will stay, Benji heard in his head. He will travel the cosmos with us, and live a happy life.
“No!” cried Benji, running to his parents. One of the grey men grabbed him and held him back while he kicked and screamed.
You will leave, the grey people continued. Forget the boy. Forget.
Betty and Barney turned on their heels, marching back down the ramp without looking back at their son. Benji sobbed, screaming for them to come back, but they seemed not to hear him, entering their car and driving out of sight.
“It’s done, then?” a voice asked from behind.
Benji looked over his shoulder, and through teary eyes, he saw a tall man with a pale face, angular features, and thin, red lips. He wore stonelike armor covered in silver studs, the attire as deep black as his beady eyes. The man’s distorted features sent a chill down Benji’s spine, and his sobs caught in his throat.
It is, Black Pharaoh, the voices bounced around Benji’s skull.
The man nodded. “And the subliminal programming? With Kennedy in office, our plans are handicapped. We need to know they’ll be ready to strike when the time is right.”
They know what to do, the grey people responded, bowing respectfully.
Black Pharaoh glanced at Benji. “You kept the child again?”
They looked amongst themselves, seemingly alarmed, but he chuckled dismissively.
“No, no, it’s fine. My creations deserve a treat. Let’s take off.”
One of the grey people turned to a control panel on the curved wall, and Benji felt his stomach cartwheel as they rapidly rose into the air, jettisoning through the clouds. The moon’s glow filtered into the silver room, causing the world around Benji to glisten, and the grey people turned to face him. Where their mouths were missing, he saw a separation form, and their faces split open, revealing rows of pointed, sharklike teeth. They smiled, the expressions wicked, despite their dead, black eyes. His heart thudded wildly now, trying its hardest to replace the blood he was about to sacrifice.
He knew it wouldn’t be enough.
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