Author : Rick Tobin

Black slime and brown muck sucked cracked leather on his unkempt boots. He inhaled riverbank patent odors by Cairo woodlands, where the Mississippi and Ohio converge in a sordid affair of upstream debris and human waste. Maps fluttered in his head from Horace Bixby’s wisdom notes bludgeoned the Cub Pilot serving the Paul Jones steamboat. Slapping waves, two seconds apart, brought surges over the bulrushes, exposing a yet unseen steamer rounding the bend, with no billowing plume from her growling belly rising above galleried forest of cottonwoods. He chomped on his spit-soaked cigar, wondering who had nerve enough to bear tight to shore during flood season.

Sizzles rose as the cigar fell harshly into turgid waters. A silver craft rose from the river depths to hover over him. Coherent blue light vacuumed his body from the cloying banks, leaving boots standing empty. The spacecraft flashed skyward, away from detection.

“Can you understand us, Samuel?” The blonde woman’s gentle voice awakened him. Her speech was not American; he was sure, but akin to the wealthy British passengers.

“Where the blazes am I?” Sam remained frozen in a high-backed chair of an unrecognized material, metallic yet soft.

“As a courtesy to a pilot, we brought you aboard our ship.” The voice had a slow, masculine resonance, almost mechanical, from a blonde man, similar to his guest mistress. Both wore long, flowing robes with bejeweled gold headpieces across their foreheads. “Look out of our pilot house, as you call it, to see our view as we travel.”

A shudder rolled through the captive as one wall of the room revealed the Earth beyond them, and the moon, half full, rising behind the Earth’s horizon. “Have I died? Is this heaven? Are you angels?”

“Hardly, Sam, as there is no heaven as you know it, no angels and no God watching over you. This you may write about someday.” A slight smile arose on his captors faces.

“Write? I only wrote a few things. I haven’t the time for more. I’ve have a profession, but I must be dead. None of this is real. I need a damn cigar.” He rummaged through his shirt and pants but could find nothing, not even a match.

“You’ll find no such things here. We don’t allow them…especially fire. We hope that after our short talk you might give up this habit, and your dalliance with women of low morals. Both will take their toll if you do not change.”

“If this is heaven, I’d prefer hell. Now get me out of this contraption! I swear…!” He struggled with no progress.

“We can only keep you for a short time here, but you must know, Sam, we have watched over you before birth. You will influence many. There is a terrible war coming. You should avoid it. Your destiny is that of a wheel, to keep ever moving on the road. Steer straight, true and tell others of your ventures…but do not become like the dark souls you will meet. Rise above them for you have seen the heavens, but stay away from Pennsylvania.”

He faded into darkness again, waking far inland, wondering how he had gotten out of the woods and back near the docks by the Paul Jones with his boots on the wrong feet. His hands scrambled about seeking out his smokes. There were none. His mind rebelled against that loss while a sinking feeling haunted him to avoid Philadelphia.

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