Author: David Barber
Imagine you were an alien visiting the world; what would you want to see?
The Grand Canyon perhaps, or the famous Louvre in Paris, or a place where something terrible happened, like Hiroshima. Maybe the strange rituals of the World Series.
The actual alien tourist person visited an abandoned farmstead outside Jordan, Montana. Next, the ATP (hosting a different alien perhaps – that vast craft in orbit must hold more than one) viewed a cemetery in Ridgefield, Connecticut; then the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia.
It remained a mystery until the alien tourist person explained. They were looking for ghosts.
Tracking down a haunting isn’t the kind of thing the Department of Homeland Security does. They were only involved because the ATP might be shot at, or mobbed by the curious, but it turned out it could make everybody within a radius of 3.142 miles, including Homeland Security personnel, feel the urge to leave. Media called it The Go-Away.
The number prompted some head-scratching. Also, one in the eye for the metric system.
Who you gonna call when ghosts fluster Homeland Security? My card says Frank Plattenberg, Psychic Investigator, author of More Haunted Houses, and brother-in-law of the Deputy-Director, Alien Taskforce.
I had someone read your book, he said.
Look, Mike, it’s all nonsense, I told him.
Which is how we ended up at the Desert Motel, south of Jackpot, Nevada. The windows were boarded up, sand heaped against walls and the sign was missing letters.
It was late and we were still waiting for the copter carrying the ATP. Mike drummed his fingers on the wheel of his car while I paced about. He was saying how the alien tourist person bore an uncanny resemblance to a TV actor from the 1950s, the late Ted Rawlins. Make of that what you will.
The aliens wore the ATP like a glove, he said. Rest of the time it just sits there while we fly it round the country.
I never got to the bottom of the Desert Motel Haunting. The place closed down in the nineties; staff wouldn’t live in; guests claimed to have seen things.
That was more like it. What sort of things? Mike wanted to know.
There are no ghosts, right? Evolution gave us hair-trigger threat detectors. It’s spooky out here at night. Creaky floorboards. Animal noises. It’s just the dark messing with you.
In the dark, Mike rubbed his worried forehead. It would have to do.
About midnight, the helicopter landed behind the shadowy row of cabins, and moments later Mike cried out, his face pale, his eyes round with terror. And his team were running or starting vehicles. He gunned his engine and squealed out onto the road. It was The Go-Away.
Soon it was just me, standing outside the Desert Mote, puzzling why I was still there. In the end, Ted Rawlins walked out the darkness to explain.
They were pleased. They had found who they were looking for. They should have employed a native guide from the start, it said.
This was a thin place. The veil between the worlds was thin here.
When they visited once before, in the days when humans were few and shy, there had been small ones who fluttered everywhere. But these were frightened of us, so I was to tell the people with guns, the range of The Go-Away would have to be extended.
I shrugged. Mike could organise a bigger exclusion zone; after all, this was the middle of nowhere.
Yes, said the alien tourist person. The continental United States should be enough.
Really captured a solid noir feel whilst – for me – not quite delivering on the overall concept.
Nice mashup of sci-fi, supernatural, humor and satire.