Denis Meikle

Born: 1947 | Birthplace: Glasgow | Educated: Alleyn's School | Spouse: Jane | Children: Sarah, James | Resident: East Sussex

STOPOVER AT SHADRACK is a story I wrote, ostensibly for inclusion in a collection entitled 'The Company of Night', in the style of those that I used to read as a teenager in the horror anthologies of the 1960s, such as Arrow's Not at Night series or the many Pan Books of Horror Stories. 


‘BUT everyone’s supposed to remember where they were when they heard the news on the day Kennedy died,’ Truman Spengler urged, while trying not to appear patronising.
Again the storekeeper shook his head. ‘Not me,’ he announced.  ‘When did you say it was?’
      ‘November 22nd 1963,’ Spengler repeated. He tapped nervously at the small tourist map of the area that the man had handed to him and glanced over his shoulder for no particular reason. After a short pause, he returned his gaze to the storekeeper.
      The man indicated to the pocket-map in Spengler’s hands. ‘I guess you ain’t from these parts, Mister-?’
‘Spengler - Truman Spengler. Hi, how are you?’
      The man nodded. ‘Some days ‘re more important than others hereabouts. Some days less.’
      ‘I guess..’ Spengler conceded. The man turned away from him and ambled over to the cash-register. Spengler pulled a face and whistled silently to himself; this is Texas, he thought, and maybe there are some things they just don’t want to remember. Then again, Shadrack was a “hick” town - population no more than 22,000 - and like all hick towns (at least, in his experience), maybe the inhabitants were just from another planet altogether to the one that he lived on. Maybe the planet Dork. Spengler tugged irritably at his ear-lobe as the storekeeper returned to his original position at the same leisurely pace at which he had departed, only this time clutching two dollars change. ‘Thanks,’ Spengler acknowledged and slid the map into the hip-pocket of his jeans - ‘Have a nice day,’ he said, and finally turned to leave.
      The man leaned his full weight on the counter, and a slow smile spread over his sun-beaten features. ‘You, too, friend,’ he reciprocated. ‘You too.’
      Within ten minutes, Spengler was back in the lobby of the only hotel in town and heading for a room on the next floor where his wife was waiting for him. They had arrived late on the previous evening and this was to be the first day of what he had tentatively planned would be a two-day stopover for research purposes en route to a long-promised vacation in Mexico. Shadrack had represented something of a detour along the way but Spengler had figured it worth the taking - according to a report (admittedly only one), dating from that infamous Friday in November of 1963, this small East Texas farming town had been subjected to an encounter with an unidentified flying object on the very same day. And what slim evidence there was pointed to the distinct possibility that Shadrack might even have served as a ‘landing-site’ for the supposed UFO.
      Truman Spengler had been writing on the subject of ‘flying saucers’ (and other related mysteries) for fifteen years, and had become one of the phenomenon’s most noted debunkers (as his detractors had it). He had been born in 1952, the year that had seen publication of The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold - the pilot who had coined the term five years before, when he had made his famous observation that what had appeared to him to be a formation of ‘disk-like’ objects in the skies over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State had each been manoeuvring ‘like a saucer would, if you skipped it across the water..’ Spengler had gained his BA in English in 1972 and his MA in ‘73 - both from Wilder College at the University of Iowa, where he had taught until 1977, before switching to literature for a further two years. His fascination with the subject that he had since come to call his own had actually begun at the tender age of fourteen, when a highly-publicised police chase, involving a UFO, had spilled over from Portage County, Ohio, into Conway, in his home state of Pennsylvania. The reliability of the witnesses to the affair (which had included a deputy sheriff), and the news coverage that it was subsequently to receive, had really made him sit up and take notice, and from that time on, he had doggedly pursued these elusive ‘visitants’ in his off-duty hours until several newspapers carried the culmination of his researches in the fall of 1976, in a series of articles which turned out to be a full-blown attack on the ‘Blue Ribbon’ panel of the National Enquirer for perpetuating the ‘myth’ of so-called flying saucers on the flimsiest of evidence, the dubious testimony of eye-witnesses and a complete disregard for serious scientific hypothesis; somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, things had changed - the wishful-thinking of the child had evolved imperceptibly into the cynical logic of the man.
      These articles had won Spengler few friends in the fraternity, but enough notoriety for a publisher to invite him to expand his thesis into a book, and this had led him to write Bright Lights and Bogeymen in the summer of 1977. When the files from Project Blue Book (the USAF’s third investigation into unidentified flying objects) became declassified and therefore open to public scrutiny during the same period, another book followed: Smashing the Saucers. By 1979, he had been persuaded to give up teaching and take up writing full-time. Several more of the same had occupied the intervening years before he had finally tired of the subject, sold the condominium for newly-weds that had been home to Jodie and himself during that period, moved on from Harrisburg to a mock-colonial des res in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and turned his attention - literally - to a host of other ‘things’. But an infestation of ‘crop-circles’ in the UK (and the resurgence of interest that they had brought with them for the age-old pursuit of ‘supernatural’ solutions to the problems that blighted the ante-millenium new age of the ‘90s) had rekindled his desire to ‘nail the sucker’ once and for ever, and he was currently compiling a damning dossier on the host of half-truths and hoaxes which had been postulated as proof of extraterrestrial intervention for the past fifty years: working title - End of an Era: No more Mr Space-Guy.
‘Hi, babe,’ Spengler called out as he breezed into the room. ‘How was breakfast?’
      Jodie Spengler was sitting up in bed, legs clasped in front of her, a discarded breakfast-tray on the coverlet by her side, and a look of satisfaction about her beautiful bronzed face. ‘Just fine - How was yours?’
      ‘I haven’t eaten yet-’ Spengler replied, before it occurred to him to reflect on the nature of his wake-up call that morning. He threw his wife a sideways glance. ‘Fine,’ he revised. ‘Just fine. Nothing like a vacation to revive the spirit.’
      ‘-The spirit sure as hell moved you this morning,’ Jodie cooed. ‘Sure as hell moved me too.’
Spengler smiled. ‘Any chance it might move you out of that bed now?’
      ‘You wanna do lunch-?’
      ‘If you don’t get that beautiful little ass out of bed, we’ll be spending our vacation in Shadrack instead of Acapulco,’ Spengler parried.
Jodie threw back the covers and turned herself onto her knees, thrusting that ‘beautiful little ass’ out in Spengler’s direction as an act of mock-defiance. His will-power deserted him for a brief moment, but he knew this was no time for second-thoughts and blew it a kiss instead. Pouting, Jodie rose to dress.
Spengler drew out his lap-top computer from one of the suitcases, flipped it open and switched it on, then he seated himself by the small utility table that stood in one corner of the room and spread the newly-acquired map out across its surface. He called up a program, and began to plot some possible trajectories from data that he had filed prior to their departure.
      ‘First stop town-library - right?’ Jodie called to him from the door of the bathroom.
Spengler turned to see his wife suited-up in denim slacks and tee-shirt, evidently raring to go. He smiled and nodded. ‘Right - see if you can xerox anything that might be of interest. I’ll take the sheriff’s office.’
      Jodie collected up her quota of essential personal items - gum, roll-on deodorant, lipstick, pens and Ray-Bans - stuffed them all in a plastic pouch on her belt, kissed her husband lightly on the hair-line, and exited the room to perform her well-practised task without the need for further elaboration.
Spengler poured himself a coffee from the pot that had arrived with Jodie’s breakfast, and returned to the map to locate the sheriff’s office and any other administrative buildings that might prove useful. But before he could settle into his part of this domestic research arrangement, there was a loud knock at the door. Spengler waited for the repeat - if it was to come. It did.
      Spengler opened the door. Standing in the corridor was a white-haired man of about fifty years of age with a neatly-trimmed, straw-coloured moustache, and a small cheroot jammed into the side of his mouth. He was conspicuously smart in an expensively-cut powder-blue suit, and he was standing rigidly to attention, with his left hand held behind his back. His smile was as warm as the hand that was quickly extended in greeting just as soon as the gap in the doorway was made wide enough to allow it to intrude. ‘Mister Spengler-?’
      ‘Please.. come in,’ Spengler said, after the hand-shake. The man stepped across the threshold and marched briskly into the centre of the room. Spengler’s initial thought had been that his visitor was the hotel manager - but for the cheroot - though now he saw that the hand that had remained at the man’s back clutched a matching blue stetson. More likely this was a policeman, he figured, as the man turned to face him.
      ‘I’m Bill Macready - Sheriff of Maple County. Just thought I’d call by and extend the hand of friendship.. I heard you and your wife were in town.’
      ‘Very sociable of you, Sheriff,’ Spengler said, as he closed the door again.
      ‘Stayin’ awhile, I understand. Guess there must be somethin’ real interestin’ in Shadrack to fetch you all the way down here from Chicago.’
      ‘Sounds like you’ve been doing some checking up on us, Sheriff,’ Spengler said, pointing towards the mini-bar by way of offering Macready a drink.
Macready waved away the accusation, and the drink. ‘No, sir - no.. I know you from the book-stands, Mister Spengler. Shadrack’s honoured to have such a well-known writer in its midst.’
      Spengler was immediately disarmed. ‘More than sociable. But I must say I’m a bit surprised my ‘fame’ has spread so far; I don’t exactly write best-sellers.’
      ‘Lotsa folks are interested in the kinda thing you write about, son. ‘Specially out here. Nothin’ much between us and God out here.. Mysteries and stuff, that’s what you’re into, ain’t it? Little green men.. But mystery for me - seein’ you’re askin’ - is what brings you to Shadrack. You seen some little green men in our town too, young fella?’
      Something about Macready’s tone seemed to demand a placatory response, Spengler considered. ‘I haven’t had a chance to try the local brew yet,’ he said.
      Both men laughed at that - Spengler, a fraction of a second behind the sheriff - and the air of cordiality was immediately resumed. ‘Mind if I take the weight off my feet, Mister Spengler?’ Macready asked.
      Spengler pointed to the easy-chair beside the bed. ‘Truman,’ he encouraged, continuing with his attempt to build a bridge. ‘Please - sit.’
      Macready lowered himself carefully into the chair. ‘So, you and your lady-wife just takin’ in the sights?’ he enquired, rolling the cheroot between his fingers.
      Spengler had decided to come clean. ‘I suppose you could say that,’ he began to intimate, ‘but it’s sightings that I’m really interested in..’
Macready blew smoke. ‘Thought as much,’ he said.
      Spengler turned to the mini-bar and poured himself a bourbon. ‘Sightings of.. what are usually referred-to as unidentified flying objects,’ he added, saluting the sheriff with the whiskey-glass. ‘And one in particular, that was spotted on radar coming down near Shadrack.’
      ‘I know this is Texas, boy, but even mocking-birds don’t get that big..’ Macready said with a grin.
Spengler gulped his drink. ‘I don’t think this was a mocking-bird, Sheriff.’
      Macready shifted his weight in the chair. ‘I don’t recall nothin’ like that,’ he said, fingering his moustache. ‘You must pack a mighty big shovel, son.’
      ‘Shovel?’ Spengler queried.
      The grin surfaced again. ‘Sounds to me like you’ve been doin’ some diggin’..’ Macready prompted.
      Spengler took the hint. ‘I used to employ the services of a "cuttings" agency - are you familiar?’
      Macready drew on his cigar again. ‘I reckon.. They search newspapers and such.’
      ‘That’s right. And going through some old files, I turned up something interesting: it was a piece about a green UFO that-’
      ‘What’d I tell you - green!’ chortled the other.
      Spengler smiled to humour his guest. ‘Yeah, right. Anyway, a green UFO was spotted coming in east of Houston, on a descending course, nor, nor-west, heading towards Dallas. Only three newspapers carried the report, the Galveston Daily News and the Houston Post, and only one time at that. And nothing was seen over Dallas. But according to ground radar at Houston, it was in falling orbit - and the Conroe Caller cited two highway patrolmen who observed what they thought to be a meteor droppinging to earth somewhere south-east of Fairfield..’
      Macready appeared intrigued. ‘And when exactly was this.. green meteor, son?’ he asked.
      Spengler paused. ‘..Some thirty years ago or so.’
      ‘Shoot,’ whistled the Sheriff. ‘And you’re lookin’ to find somethin’ after all that time?’
      ‘Not really, no,’ Spengler reassured. ‘But since I was in the vicinity, I thought I’d just check it out.’
      Macready nodded agreement. ‘Just where exactly you gonna be ‘checkin’ it out’, then?’
      Spengler took that as a cue to bring the newly-acquired map into play. He whisked it off the small table and spread it out on the bed, next to where the sheriff was seated. Stationing himself in front of it, he urged Macready to focus on the lower right-hand quadrant. Macready leaned closer and narrowed his eyes.
      ‘-From the radar reports, and the testimony of the two highway patrolmen, I’ve worked out that its trajectory would have put it down somewhere around-’ Spengler pointed to an area a few miles outside of town. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Over towards this - pine forest?’
      Macready removed the cigar from between his teeth, and used it to point to the same area that Spengler had singled out. ‘Not quite, my friend. That’s Cone River.. about ten miles west - and there’s an old crop-farm out thataway, right on the edge of the valley. It’s deserted now, but I’d say that where you’re pointin’ is right smack-dab in the middle of it.’
      ‘A farm? Jeez,’ Spengler cursed, making no attempt to conceal his disappointment.
      ‘Reckon so - ‘Lijah’s Farm. Been there for as long as anyone can remember.’
      ‘Wait a minute,’ Spengler rallied. ‘Did you say it was deserted?’
      Macready bit on the cigar once more. ‘Sure is. Has been for - maybe thirty years.’
      Spengler’s interest was suddenly sparked back into life. ‘D’you remember when exactly the last owners-’
      The sheriff was already shaking his head. ‘I can’t rightly say - ‘63 rings a bell, though.’
      ‘-Or why?’ Spengler added quickly.
      ‘Nope. Packed up and moved away, I guess. I recall we had to damn the river awhile back.. Lost some of the small streams doin’ it.. Maybe ‘Lijah’s depended on one of them for irrigation. That’s hard ground there, and I don’t recall the sixties being no ‘good times’.’
      Spengler caught the inference. ‘You’re not a Democrat then, sheriff?’
      Macready scowled. ‘Oh, I’m a democrat alright. But with a small ‘d’. We don’t have too many faggot-lovin’, gun-hatin’ ‘bleeding-hearts’ round here. There’s enough of them perverts on public-access tv. I expect you’re a bit of a liberal yourself, though - bein’ a writer an’ all..’ He gave Spengler a disarming wink.
      Spengler clicked on his conciliatory smile. ‘I try to stay out of politics, Sheriff.. You make fewer enemies that way.’
      ‘Wise words, young fella - anyhow, nothin’ politic about ‘flyin’ saucers’, is there?’
      ‘No - well, other than the fact that this particular ‘flying saucer’ was seen on the morning of November 22nd 1963..’ Spengler waited for a reaction.
      ‘I don’t follow, son,’ Macready said, after another puff on his cigar.
      ‘Surely you remem-’ Spengler began, before quickly changing direction. ‘That was the day President Kennedy was assassinated.’
      Macready snorted. ‘Kennedy, huh? That when it was? - Yeah, I see your connection.’
      Spengler paused to consider what might be the best route out of the blind alley into which he had inadvertently blundered. Macready continued to chew contentedly on his cigar - he smiled an encouragement, evidently in expectation of some further item of information that he might deem to have more relevance. ‘I suppose if you don’t recall the date, you won’t remember anything else that might have occurred that day?’ Spengler added. The supplementary question seemed innocuous now, but he was still trying to find reverse.
      Macready appeared oblivious to the bafflement that his ignorance had aroused in Spengler. ‘It’s usually me doin’ the askin’ of other folks. I reckon you’ve got me appreciatin’ how difficult it can be when the boot’s on the other foot,’ he joked.
      Spengler offered a sympathetic smile.
      Macready shook his head in finality. ‘Can’t think. But I can sure show you how to get out to ‘Lijah’s - if that’d be of help?’
      Spengler offered up the map, and Macready outlined a few simple directions to take him to the Farm. ‘So it would be alright for me to look around?’ Spengler said, just to confirm the situation.
      ‘No reason why not,’ Macready replied. ‘So long as you don’t cross any of the ‘no trespass’ signs.’
      ‘I thought you said it was deserted..’
      ‘It is. But I reckon somebody still owns it.. Take a little advice, young fella. If you mosey on out there around dusk, you won’t arouse no suspicions..’ Macready raised an eyebrow knowingly.
      Spengler understood. He folded up the map. ‘I know it’s a long time ago, but is there anyone else that you can think of who might be able to recall something that far back?’ he asked in a parting shot; he had found the route out to the main highway at last.
      Macready leaned closer. ‘This is a young town nowadays, Mister Spengler.. Most folks round here don’t go back more than two generations.’
      Spengler nodded, but it was without any agreement. ‘I thought Shadrack was settled in the 1850s, or thereabouts-’
      ‘1854, the first wagons came to a halt.’
      ‘1854 then - so, isn’t that unusual?’
      Macready grinned and slapped Spengler playfully on the thigh. ‘There you are, you see - always on the job; always lookin’ for mystery. You’re a big city boy - you know the attractions of the big cities. I’ll bet you’ve seen some things. (Done some things too.) We just can’t compete.’ He stood up, abruptly. ‘Well, I won’t take up no more of your valuable researchin’ time. Nice to meet with you, young fella. And if there’s anything I can do to help, you just let me know..’
      A vapour trail of cigar smoke followed the Sheriff out of the room. Spengler tailed it to the door. ‘I appreciate the, uh-’ he mumbled, by way of a farewell.
      ‘Nice talkin’ to you,’ Macready responded, parrot-fashion, as he made towards the lifts. Spengler waited, but the Sheriff did not look back.
      When he had closed the door and taken stock of the situation, Spengler returned the map to the small table and resumed his former position beside it, his computer at the ready. He called up the ‘Shadrack’ file and read again the three newspaper reports that he had mentioned to the Sheriff, which were typed-in verbatim. The Daily News told of an object sighted high over Galveston Bay, travelling at ‘enormous speed’ and emitting a ‘luminous green light’; it gave the reported time of the sighting as 11.50am and added that the same object was seen over Houston a few minutes later. The Post recorded only the second sighting, but gave a coincident time of 11.53am; the Post’s item also revealed that ground observers had put the size of the object at between 30-40 metres - or ‘as big as a flying fortress’ in the opinion of one excited ex-service witness. By the time the two patrolmen had picked up the trail, the object was ‘no more than a mile high and appeared to be descending at a 30° degree angle’, according to the Conroe Caller; they reportedly lost sight of it at around 11.58, when it vanished over the horizon to the east of them. If these various times were to be believed, they gave the object - whatever it might have been - a speed in excess of a thousand miles an hour, he had estimated.
      Spengler continued to cross-check on the map while he scrolled the screen, looking for corroborative data; he had been reminded of a green UFO that had been spotted from Mercury 9 by astronaut Gordon Cooper in May of that same year - but that apart, there turned out to be nothing of significance. He stared in silent reverie at the liquid-crystal display. He had missed something. It was something about the three newspaper reports. And he felt sure that it was staring him in the face..
      The noise of the door thrown open brought Spengler back to earth with a heart-stopping jolt. ‘Betcha never missed me,’ Jodie teased in greeting. 
      Spengler threw an admonishing glance and recovered his composure. ‘That was quick,’ he said.
      ‘Too quick,’ Jodie offered in explanation. She was already shaking her head in a coded apology as she collapsed into the chair by the bed.
      ‘No luck, huh?’ Spengler commiserated.
      Jodie peeled off her Reeboks; she looked crestfallen. ‘They kept files on two local papers (one of which is no longer published) and two county - hard-copy, not microfilm. But the bad news is, each of the four had an issue missing..’
      ‘November 22nd?’
      Jodie nodded.
      ‘You’re kidding me,’ Spengler said.
      ‘Afraid not. One, I could believe - but all four?’
      ‘What did the librarian say?’
      ‘..She said they were probably destroyed as a mark of respect for the President.’
      Spengler’s disbelief was written on his face.
      ‘That’s what I thought,’ Jodie concurred.
      Spengler threw himself onto the bed, jammed a pillow beneath his head for support, and stared fixedly at the ceiling. ‘Must be a local custom,’ he added sarcastically.
‘I guess,’ Jodie continued. ‘Weird. But that’s not the weirdest part: when I queried the missing editions, she didn’t think anything of it at first - in fact, she asked me what was so special about November 22nd 1963.. It was after I’d told her that she suggested they might have been destroyed. I mean, tell me about it, Tru - is there anybody in the world who doesn’t-’
      ‘-I’ll bet she was about your age,’ Spengler said, distractedly.
      ‘A little older.. Why?’
      ‘..Oh, just trying to be fair-minded. She wouldn’t even have been in her teens when it happened.’
      ‘She could have seen JFK! Anyway, how did you know she was my age?’
      ‘The sheriff paid me a visit while you were gone.’
      Jodie sat on the edge of the bed and draped an arm across her husband’s waist. ‘Really? What about? - What was he like?’
      Spengler shrugged. ‘Nice enough old guy - bit of a red-neck though. Just stopped by to say ‘hi’, he said - he wanted to know what brought us all the way down here from Illinois. But we got to talking and he told me how young the town was in terms of its demographic profile. Mostly the populace are no more than second-generation; the lure of the big cities, according to him. I guessed about the librarian - based on what he’d told me.’
      ‘You must have got that wrong.’
      Spengler looked quizzical. ‘Wrong? - You just said she was about your age..’
      ‘No - about the lure of the cities. About the demographics.. It’s young people who are ‘lured’ away from small towns like this, not their parents. And certainly not their grand-parents.’
      Spengler frowned. ‘Yeah, I thought that strange at the time. But that’s what he said. Made a point of it.. He must have made a mistake.’ Spengler laughed uneasily - it was a complex confusion, and unlikely to have been a mistake for that reason alone, he felt. ‘Whatever. At least he told me where to look for our ‘saucer’.’
      Jodie’s eyes recovered the spark of life. ‘He did? - Well that narrows things down a bit.’
      ‘Yep; reckon we’ll be out of here by morning. Some place called Elijah’s Farm, he said - ten miles west of town.’ Spengler turned his face towards the window, and stared out at the yellowing sky. He lapsed into commune with his thoughts. Jodie took his silence as her cue to tinker with his belt-buckle. He brushed her hand aside. ‘Odd, don’t you think?’ he said. ‘About your librarian, I mean..’
      ‘What about her?’
      ‘About her not remembering the date.’
      Jodie sat upright and thumped him playfully on the chest. ‘That’s what I said,’ she protested.
      Spengler smiled in mock-capitulation. ‘The sheriff didn’t remember it either.’
      ‘Boy - that is weird,’ Jodie enthused. ‘That makes two of them.’
      ‘Three,’ Spengler said.
      ‘How come?’
      ‘The guy in the store. Same thing there.’ Spengler lapsed into silence again.
      Jodie’s enthusiasm for this new mystery was short-lived. ‘I’m getting kinda hungry, Tru’ she said, interrupting his thoughts.
Spengler checked his watch and reached out for the phone on the wall by the bed. He picked up the receiver and waited for a response, but none seemed to be forthcoming. ‘I think they must have cut the line,’ he said, and bit his lip nervously.
      Jodie’s smile froze. ‘You don’t think-’
      Spengler gulped. His hand started to shake. ‘-That this town’s been taken over by.. aliens!’ he screeched. And immediately began to laugh out loud.
      Jodie squealed and thumped him again - much harder this time. ‘You shit! - Don’t you ever-’
      Spengler spluttered and rolled over in pain, massaging the scar of battle. ‘-Just trying to create a bit of incidental colour,’ he pleaded, between groans.
Jodie observed her right to a minute’s silence for the injury that had been done to her before she relented. ‘If you want a bit of incidental colour.. how about this. For such an ant’s pecker on the map, old Shadrack sure has more than its rightful share of famous ‘sons’: four senators, a Presidential ‘aide’, two Supreme Court judges.. and Daniel Hart.’
‘Hart? - Next Governor of the State of Texas?’
      Jodie nodded. ‘Attila the Hart. Or Daniel Fart, as we know him; one-time lay preacher and full-time right-wing reactionary. Not bad for a “good ol’ boy”, huh?’
      Spengler whistled. ‘No wonder they’ve all followed suit. The Yellow Brick Road must start just outside the town boundary-’ He broke off suddenly and scrabbled for the receiver, which had fallen into his lap in the kerfuffle - a voice could be heard on the other end of the line at last.
      ‘Hick towns..’ Jodie bellowed contemptuously.
      Spengler mumbled an apology and gave the room-number. ‘Can we have some lunch? - Say, around 3 o’clock?’ he asked the voice.
      ‘That’s more than an hour away,’ Jodie shouted out again. ‘-What are you doing?’
      ‘I’m ordering us some chilli-dogs,’ Spengler said; he replaced the receiver and unbuttoned his shirt. ‘The sheriff suggested we leave the farm till dusk, so’s not to arouse suspicion. I figure that leaves us with a bit time to kill..’
      Jodie was already slipping out of her jeans.
      It was just after six when the Spenglers loaded up their Toyota for the short journey out of town. Camera, notebook and micro-cassette recorder joined the maps on the back seat, and Jodie settled down to a Diet Coke as her husband donned a baseball-cap and eased the car out of the parking-bay. They drove in silence for the first half-mile, each of them taking in the sights and sounds of Shadrack approaching the end of another working day, then Jodie spoke.
      ‘Have you noticed anything?’ she asked.
      ‘I’ve noticed this town is Dullsville USA.’
      ‘No-one here looks over thirty..’
      ‘Well Macready was right about that then. ‘Course, you’re forgetting our sheriff - and your librarian, for that matter,’ Spengler observed idly.
      ‘I’m not saying there are none, Tru. I’m just saying that I haven’t seen anybody yet who even approaches middle-age.’
      ‘Maybe there’s something in the water..’
      ‘And I’ll tell you something else - there’s a heck of a lot of orientals around. Look over there-’
      Spengler glanced over to where Jodie had indicated and just caught sight of what appeared to be a group of Chinese standing on a street corner to their left. To a man, all of them watched as the Toyota sped by. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ he chided. ‘Slit-eyed extra-terrestrials - MIBs - Close encounters of the absurd kind. You’ve proof-read too many of my books..’
      Jodie blew a raspberry and turned her attention to the radio.
      ‘Cheap labour,’ Spengler said with authority.
      The road out to the farm was pleasant enough; once they had traversed the town boundary and turned off the main highway with its welcoming confusion of diners and car-lots interspersed with gaudy billboard exhortations to buy, drink, eat, sleep or just have a ‘good time’ in Shadrack, the route meandered lazily through a winding terrain of pasture and wheat-field as it headed towards the pine-clad mysteries of the Cone valley. By the time the first trees had come within striking distance, however, they had both been made aware of the low rumbling in the cloud-bank that was now in view farther over towards the south-west, in the direction of the Rio Brazos. A tiny streak of light on the horizon etched itself onto their retinas for an instant as it bridged the gap between earth and sky; it coincided with the appearance of a hand-painted sign that read, ‘Cone Delta: Elijah’s Farm - 3 miles’, and served notice that they were nearing journey’s end.
      ‘I knew it would be too late in the day for this,’ Jodie admonished.
      Spengler groaned to himself. ‘Rolling thunder,’ he said dismissively. ‘It won’t come to anything. Electrical storms are common currency out here.’
      ‘So are UFOs, it would seem.’
      Spengler looked smug. ‘Now you’re getting the picture,’ he teased. ‘Coincidence, huh? - My ass..’
      ‘Your ‘plasma’ theory?’ Jodie queried in response, instinctively brushing a hand against Spengler’s cheek. ‘Still no doubts?’
      ‘My plasma theory,’ Spengler restated with conviction. ‘UFOs are nothing more than a natural phenomenon: the eighth wonder of the physical world - misidentified by inexpert observers, coloured by the imagination, and imbued with the logic of insanity.’
      ‘That’s not a definite ‘no’ then,’ Jodie joked.
      ‘"There are more things in heaven and earth.. than are dreamt of in your philosophy", is that how it goes? Well, not in UFOlogy there’s not; there are more things dreamt up than anyone could imagine possible.’ Spengler paused at a fork in the road. A second wooden sign-post pointed to the right. He spun the wheel and returned to his argument. ‘The mainstream of debate on this subject has always plumped for the former location - if it’s in flight, then it must be a construct of some kind of intelligence, human or otherwise - but I prefer the other rationale: what we have here are earth-lights - seismo-electrical disturbances - geomagnetically-created ionisation effects; ‘wills-o’-the-wisp’, Devil’s lanterns.. whatever you want to call them. Ball lightning - that’s a nice catch-all. Plasmas..’
      ‘But if it comes down to a natural phenomena, what do you expect to find at the farm?’ Jodie pursued.
      ‘Nothing,’ Spengler said off-handedly. ‘That’s the point. But we have to make sure.. Plasmas are formed by ionised nitrogen and oxygen - the very air is electrified, and an anomaly is produced - an anomaly that seems to dart about, acting like it has intelligence. Like it has curiosity.. A ‘living’ light, that can change shape and size - divide and merge - and generate ultra-violet radiation; that can short-circuit electrical equipment. The same light that is sometimes seen near power-lines, and referred to as ‘corona discharge’. A light that can burn and melt and leave no trace; disappear, or explode on evaporation. From Halley, to the hundreds of sailors who’ve encountered ‘St Elmo’s Fire’; from Alexander the Great to Thutmose III - the Pharaoh who had that industrial relations problem with Moses; from the miracle of Fatima to the ‘foo fighters’ of World War 2 - Lights in the sky. Chariots of the Gods.. Spaceships from another world,’ he concluded sarcastically.
      Directly ahead of them, an open gate had come into view. There was a sign slung across it. Spengler slowed the car to a crawl, but his thesis was still running at full-throttle. ‘1965 - Colchester, England. A guy spots a blue light; describes symptoms that would be exhibited if a powerful magnetic field was to act on the human body. 1973 - Pascagoula, Mississippi. Two fishermen see a light. Ditto result: one suffers a nervous breakdown, and the other one winds up traumatised. 1967 - Pilar de Goias, Brazil. Blue light. The ranch-hand who witnessed it suddenly experiences headaches, nausea - dead within two months. Leukaemia, they said. 1969 - Anolaima, Columbia. A farmer this time. Black vomit; diarrhoeia with blood-flow. Dead..’
      ‘Alright already - sold to the man in the drivingseat,’ Jodie interrupted, slapping Spengler on the leg. ‘We’re here.’ The Toyota came to a sudden halt.
Spengler had also reached his summation, and Jodie sat patiently while he expounded it again. Nothing made her happier than to see him impassioned about his work. ‘Finish what you were saying firat,’ she urged.
      He threw her an appreciative smile. ‘When you take away the secret rocket launches, the experimental test-flights, the pseudo-sightings of everything from planet venus to reflections in glass, the dreams and the delusions - what do you have left? The living earth, that’s what. Electro-magnetic energy - it’s all around us. But that’s too prosaic, too downright dull.. People want to believe in the Great Whatsit. They want to believe that there’s something out there. They want mystery..’
‘You’ve got them all beat, Tru..’ After a suitably deferential pause, Jodie directed her husband’s eyes to the gate.
      ‘Elijah’s Farm - Private Property,’ said the sign. Spengler lifted his foot from the brake and turned into the long drive, negotiating the scattered remnants of a gate that looked to have been downed by the elements at least a decade before. He settled back in his seat, and cruised decisively forward.
      The road was tree-lined for several hundred yards. Spengler kept a steady pace, weaving gently between the the pot-holes. A dense clump of trees hid a sudden bend to the left; he steered the car into it and in front of them was the farm-house itself - roofless and derelict. He pulled up directly opposite the path up to the porch and switched off the engine.
‘-Whatever was visited on this place sure left its mark,’ was Jodie’s judgement on the scene before them.
      Spengler nodded. He stared at the skeletal remains of a modest two-storey building, cloaked in dead leaves and prairie-grass; even from where he sat, he could see through the broken windows on the ground floor, and the interior of the house was comprehensively gutted. There had been a bonfire of sorts on the patch of ground between the house and the car, and the blackened earth was still ringed with the odd fragment of furniture and the like that had missed being consumed. Propped up against the steps of the porch was an old double-mattress, torn and bleeding eiderdown. The once-proud picket-fence was uprooted and flattened.
      Spengler leaned forward in his seat and stared upwards at the sky. A solid blanket of cloud was sweeping over them from the south-west in concert with the onset of evening. ‘We don’t have much time,’ he said, casting a quick glance in Jodie’s direction. ‘Let’s take a look at the place while we still can.’
      Jodie unlatched her door and swung herself around, feeling her way on the rocky road before finally levering herself out of the car. She stretched instinctively in the cooling air before turning to gaze in the opposite direction to the house, behind the trees that stood escort on the drive and helped to shield the farm builings from the highway. What she could see was two acres or more of uncultivated land, barren but for the occasional intrusion of the mesquite that had struggled into a precarious existence of its own accord to relieve the otherwise colourless monotony of the dead earth.
      ‘Lookey here, Tru - ‘No man’s land’,’ she giggled.
      Spengler had followed her lead and was already out of the car, taking in the same view.  
      Two bulldozers were standing to one side of a wide trough of turned-over earth that had long-since settled and cracked dry in the sun. ‘..Maybe they bury the town rubbish out here,’ Jodie notioned, pointing them out.
      Jodie turned back to face the farm-house. Her eyes scanned past it to where the road branched out into the various sectors of the farm itself; there was a fork to the right that led to a clutch of out-buildings, fenced off from the path. Between those and the house were the burnt-out remnants of several cars and trucks, littered over what had once been a pleasant grassed verge. ‘This place looks like a bomb hit it,’ she observed.
      Spengler had already begun to wander further along the roadway, in the direction of Jodie’s line of sight. ‘Doesn’t it, though,’ he called back, his voice hinting at secret thoughts.
Jodie promptly abandoned her own vantage-point and ran to catch him up. ‘Hey - you’re thinking of Roswell, aren’t you?’ she cried, tugging at his sleeve.
      ‘Possibly.. But White Sands is more than six hundred miles from here; the greatest distance that a test-firing has ever gone awol from there was at Del Rio, on the Mexican border, and even that was only four hundred miles. Then again, that was in 1948, and there’s been a heck of a lot of ballistic know-how applied to the game since the advent of the space-age..’
      ‘But according to the report, whatever it was came in over the Gulf of Mexico,’ Jodie queried.
      ‘There was plenty of garbage in orbit by 1963, and plenty of new aircraft in the skies. (The X-15 had been flying since ‘55.) It needn’t have been a rocket.’
      ‘A freak accident, you mean-?’
      Spengler indicated a long wooden pole lying at the side of the road, and partially hidden by a covering of grass. ‘Notice something - the power-lines are down.’
      ‘Everything’s friggin’ down,’ Jodie quipped. ‘It’s not like farmers to leave good land going to waste. And you thought there’d be somebody here you could talk to, I bet. Doesn’t add up, does it?’ Jodie thrust her hands into her jeans and kicked playfully at the rocks on the roadway.
      Spengler had lapsed into silence; he was taking in the scene of devastation. Jodie could see that his posture was less relaxed, and his eyes were darting about. She could read the signs - and his mind would be racing too, she figured. Whatever it was that he had expected, this clearly wasn’t it.. ‘There’s getting to be quite a bit that doesn’t add up,’ Spengler tried to explain, as he started to amble in the direction of the nearby huts with his wife following dutifully at his heels. ‘No-one seems to have been here before us, for one thing - even the most ‘mundane’, the most unrewarding sightings have been checked out by someone. There are hundreds of other who’ve been investigating this thing in all parts of the world, yet not one of them seems to have come here, to Shadrack..’
      Jodie stood stock-still, and looked about her with unexpected apprehension; all at once, the search seemed to have taken on a new and darker aspect. ‘That sheriff of yours,’ she suddenly remembered. ‘How did he know we lived in Illinois?’
      ‘Got it off a book-jacket, he said.’
      ‘But the last time you wrote about flying saucers, we were still living in Pennsylvania,’ Jodie contested, running to catch up again.
      Spengler’s brow furrowed fleetingly. ‘So we were - then he had checked up on us. The sly old devil.. And I thought he was a fan.’ He guffawed at the deceit.
      Jodie could no longer share in her husband’s sense of the absurd. They had passed the burnt-out wrecks and come within sight of the gate that would lead them into the small field housing the huddle of dilapidated huts, and something was telling her that this was far enough. ‘-Let’s do this tomorrow, Tru,’ she pleaded, trying not to sound too feminine and foolish.
      The motley array of huts stood in deepening shadow now. Spengler looked up at the purple sky. ‘We might as well take a look. It’ll be nightfall soon.’
      Jodie shivered. ‘I don’t want to be out here after dark, Tru. It’s too goddam quiet.’
      ‘I think we should take a look, honey.’
      There was something about her husband’s voice that worried Jodie. More than a doubt - a fear almost, as if a lifetime’s work was hanging in the balance. What made her think that? A feeling of uncertainty was in the air - it seemed to have descended with the gloom of impending twilight. She studied his profile as he looked once more at the sky. This wasn’t the Tru Spengler she knew. ‘You think something’s not right about this, don’t you, Tru?’ she ventured, in spite of herself.
      ‘Something.. maybe,’ he said. ‘Why do you ask?’
      His reply did nothing to lessen the chill. ‘You’ve always been pretty firm in your opinion on these things - your antenna’s always been good. And from what you’ve told me, this incident is no different to a hundred - a thousand - others: a visual report of an unknown aerial object, explicable in any one of a dozen different ways and probably perfectly commonplace-’ Jodie paused for a beat to steady her nerves; she was beginning to realise that she might not want to hear the answer to what she was about to ask. ‘-Yet here we are, on a dirt-track in the middle of Lone Star nowhere, and you with that look on your face.. What’s gotten into you, Tru?’
      Spengler turned to face her, grinning. ‘Smart-ass. I can’t fool you, can I?’ He took hold of Jodie’s hand; in an instant, the warmth of his touch crossed the divide that her sudden feeling of isolation had started to place between them. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t know, honey,’ he said, lightening the tone. ‘Just that, maybe.. Maybe the ordinariness of it, as you say. Maybe it’s not as ordinary as it seems..’
      Spengler’s smile was reassuring enough. But still, something troubled her. ‘How come?’ Jodie prompted.
      Spengler thought for a moment, then he looked deep into his wife’s eyes. ‘You must have seen a movie where there’s been a couple of characters who know each other - but for some reason, they need to pretend they don’t. And what happens is that they give the game away by not acknowledging each other at a time when they should, at a time when even complete strangers would pass a remark between them.. In other words, in trying to behave naturally, they end up behaving unnaturally.’
Jodie gave an affirmative without comprehending.
      ‘Well that’s what we have here,’ Spengler went on. ‘Everyone makes out that they don’t remember the date - the most significant date in post-war American history. It’s the same thing; as though they’re purposefully not acknowledging something they should acknowledge without thinking.. Something happened here that day, I can feel it. Something they don’t want to remember..’
      Jodie trembled audibly. ‘Christ, Tru - we’d better be careful..’ The gate was still some yards away.
      Spengler strode purposefully towards it now, blind to everything but his own immediate thoughts. ‘You mentioned Roswell, right? - In July 1947, the ‘crash’ of a supposed flying saucer near Roswell, New Mexico. A more likely scenario has always been the crash of some piece of top-secret military hardware - possibly a high-altitude balloon of some sort..’
      Jodie noticed that Spengler’s pace had slowed and he was peering down at the road. ‘I’m thinking, what if this town had been ‘irradiated’ in some way. That would explain the lack of old people.’ Spengler signalled towards the two bulldozers that were standing in the vacant field some way behind them now. ‘I’m thinking, what if that’s a grave back there..’ He paused for the words to register. ‘I’m thinking, what if that nice old Sheriff has a hot-line to Air Force intelligence..’
      Jodie pulled up abruptly. ‘You’re not serious?’
      ‘Why not?’
      Spengler was still scanning the ground in front of him as he spoke. ‘No report was ever filed on this particular incident beyond those couple of newspaper items - a couple of items that if your experience at the local library this morning is anything to go by, appear to have ‘slipped the net’. The rest of 1963 is notable for its lack of sightings.’
      ‘I don’t see the significance,’ Jodie urged.
      ‘After November 1962, everyone forgot about flying saucers,’ Spengler continued.
      ‘The Cuban crisis?’
      ‘Right,’ he said. ‘They had other dangers on their minds. But saucer sightings are addictive, and 90% fall into the category of folks seeing what they’ve been led to believe they’ll see by other folks. Things like that don’t just go away. It’s a kind of self-delusion: first comes the belief, and then comes the ‘vision’ that compounds it.. Yet in 1963, there was no more than a handful of sightings, and all of those were in the last few months of the year--’
      Spengler stopped suddenly. He seemed to have spotted something on the road ahead of them. Jodie followed his gaze: the object was white, round and small - about the size of a marble. He let go of her hand, took a few paces forward and crouched to pick it up. ‘What is it?’ Jodie insisted.
      Spengler sniffed at the ball and handed it to her. ‘What does that smell like to you?’
      Jodie took it from him and held it gingerly to her nose. ‘Fire-crackers,’ she said with some surprise. She looked at the ground. ‘There’s another!’ she exclaimed, pointing behind him.
      Spengler turned, and scrabbled a couple more paces to retrieve a second ball from its resting-place in the middle of the dust-road. He held it between his fingers and pressed; the object exploded into tiny fragments.
      ‘Two more - over there,’ Jodie yelled again, without having any idea of what it was that she was helping to pin-point. Spengler ignored the others and stood.
      ‘There’s more still. Look-’ he indicated along the roadway. ‘They seem to be leading to that first hut..’
      Jodie threw aside the ball that she had been holding and scurried after her husband; Spengler had quickened his pace and had now entered the field through the open gate. ‘But what are they-? Do they mean something, Tru?’
      ‘--The first sighting was in Argentina, on October 21st 1963,’ Spengler said in monotone, returning to his previous theme as if he had been uninterrupted by their discovery of the white balls. ‘Eleven days later, there was another over Brazil. Eleven days after that, one in Maracaibo, Venezuela.. And on November 22nd - Shadrack. Then nothing until the ‘Socorro saucer’ in April of the following year.. Plot it on a map, a line running north from the Antarctic circle..’ Spengler took Jodie by the hand again.
Despite the comfort of the physical contact, Jodie still felt herself to be walking a lonely road. ‘You’re creating a hypothesis out of nothing, Tru - what you’ve spent fifteen years condemning others for doing.’
      ‘Right again,’ Spengler said. ‘But we sure do seem to be piling on the circumstantial evidence.’ He pointed vaguely around him at the scattering of white balls. ‘I told you of the sighting in Argentina,’ he reminded, without looking back. Jodie nodded instinctively. ‘They found objects like those at the scene,’ he finished.
‘You mean, you think it might have been the same-’ Jodie’s step faltered as the pieces of the puzzle began to fit shakily together in her head.
      Spengler had released his hold and was now walking purposefully towards the hut.
      Jodie was still wrestling with the data. ‘But this sighting was thirty years ago. Surely-’
      Spengler was ignoring her - he had already reached the door of the hut that he had targeted from the trail of white balls. Jodie had little choice but to join him on the threshold. Before she could restrain him, he had tried the door and found that it opened without effort. ‘Tru - we’re trespassing,’ Jodie said. ‘There are signs back there..’ Spengler stepped inside.
      Jodie looked around behind her for a brief moment. Darkness was encroaching fast; now she could barely see the wrecked farmhouse for the surround of trees. As for their car, that was further still. The silence bothered her; the sky had clouded over but there was no trace of wind. She felt cold. Worse - she felt afraid. But since there was clearly no-one around to see them, she peeked inside the hut. Then she noticed the smell. 
      ‘God - this place reeks!’
      Spengler sniffed noisily at the air. ‘Chemicals of some kind - pesticide maybe. And something else - paint thinner?’ His eyes searched the dusty floor for a clue. ‘Musta been a store-room at one time, I guess..’ He had wandered down the near-side of the hut and was standing beside a small window in the far corner that faced back onto the track along which they had come.
      Jodie hovered on the threshold, but a quick glance around the inside of the hut revealed it to be empty in any event. ‘You wanna try the others? There’s obviously nothing much in here,’ she offered.
      ‘Only this old clock on the wall.’ Spengler pointed behind him, to a spot just above his head.
      Jodie followed the line of his arm and peered into the gloom. There was a clock there; it was propped on a shelf affixed to the far wall, looking solitary and incongruous. ‘Funny place to have a clock,’ she remarked. ‘They must’ve put it out here because it was broken.’
      ‘It’s broken alright.’
      ‘I can see,’ Jodie said. ‘Either it’s only got one hand or it’s stopped at midnight.’
      ‘It’s got two hands,’ Spengler said quietly. ‘I’ve checked..’
      ‘It stopped at midnight then.’
      ‘-Or at noon.’
      Jodie frowned - Spengler’s tone was strange. ‘What makes you say that?’ she asked.
      Spengler shrugged his shoulders and turned to face the shelf at back of him. ‘Kennedy was killed at noon,’ he replied, matter-of-factly.
      ‘What does it mean?’ Jodie said. Her words drifted aimlessly away, as both of them stared at the clock for a long moment.
      It was Spengler who finally broke the silence. ‘It reminds me of something. On the same night that Sputnik 2 was launched, November 1957, there was a spate of UFO sightings over Clovis, New Mexico - Sputnik grabbed all the main headlines, but the Clovis sightings still made it into the papers.’
      ‘When Kennedy was killed, nothing else was news.’
      ‘I don’t get-’
      Spengler turned towards Jodie, who remained standing by the doorway, lost in shadows. ‘What was the name of that Keel book? - Operation Trojan Horse?’
Jodie shrugged. ‘There’s been so many.’
Spengler smiled. ‘Close the door, honey,’ he said. ‘There’s no-one around.’ Jodie did as she was asked but a faint whooshing sound swung Spengler’s attention back to the window. He peered out at the night. There seemed to be a dark-coloured station-wagon in the distance, at the end of the dirt-track - or maybe it had always been there and neither of them had noticed. He stared at it, trying to detect any movement. Were there people there, or was it just the shadow from the trees playing tricks on his eyes? ‘Correction,’ he spoke at length. ‘I think we might have compan-’
      ‘Tru - Look at this,’ Jodie cut across him.
      Spengler glanced towards her; she had moved to the far side of the room, where a clutter of cardboard boxes lay abandoned against the wooden wall. One was open, and she was kneeling beside it apparently examining the contents. She scooped out a handful of the little white balls that had littered the roadway. ‘Aren’t these what we found on the road?’ she asked, allowing them to rain back into the box from off the palm of her hand. ‘There are hundreds of them in this box-’
      ‘In a box-?’ Spengler repeated. He gave out with a hollow chuckle, as if he had finally come to appreciate the nature of a plan. Or his own foolishness.
      Jodie stood. ‘Are they not what you thought?’
      ‘Something’s sure as hell not what I thought.. Did you say a Presidential aide? And now Daniel Hart.. What was it Vallée said in The Invisible College? ‘Some fine morning, we may wake up from our scientific complacency to find strangers walking through the ruins of our establishments’..’ he mused idly.
      ‘A fine Friday morning in November of 1963?’ Jodie elaborated. She was becoming increasingly edgy now; the intellectual game-play was obviously getting the better of her husband’s common sense.
      Spengler leaned against the wall with his hand and gazed out of the small window. ‘It’s almost as if something happened that day that erased the collective memory of the entire town..’
      Jodie moved towards the door again. The beating of her heart was telling her to make sure of an exit. ‘You know what happened. Something was seen; something landed, supposedly - that’s why we’re here..’
      ‘I don’t know,’ Spengler interjected. ‘But what if you’re right and something did land.’ He turned to face Jodie. ‘And in the process, it stopped that clock-’
      ‘The clock?’
      ‘-At the exact same time that the President of the United States was assassinated,’ Spengler finished, and returned his gaze to the window.
      ‘Some coincidence,’ Jodie said feebly.
      Spengler continued to peer into the murk in search of the occupants of the car. ‘Yes, but it’s tantalising to speculate that there might have been more to it than that. All the people hereabouts remember nothing of the day Kennedy died, while the rest of us remember nothing else. It’s almost as if the two are connected somehow.. As if the one was a diversion for the other..’
      ‘Jeez, honey, I’m starting to get spooked.’
      There was a sudden commotion to the extreme right of Spengler’s field of vision, near the still-open gate that led up to the hut. Spengler strained to see.
      ‘D’you realise what you’re implying, Tru?’ Jodie’s voice was starting to betray a note of panic. ‘Tru-!’
      ‘Aw, don’t worry, babe. But it’ll make good copy.’ Spengler noticed that a small group of towns-people had now gathered at the edge of the field, not twenty yards from the out-house. ‘Hey - where did they spring from?’ he said, half to himself. They appeared to be clutching wooden torches, and had huddled together as though they were about to light them. Two - three - were ignited to pierce the gathering darkness.
      ‘-But the box, Tru,’ Jodie urged. ‘It’s like somebody was laying a trap!’ Instinct made her grab for the door-knob.
      Spengler straightened and turned towards his wife. His own thoughts had crowded out her warning. ‘Let’s go see what they’re up to..’ he said, and then he suddenly stopped short. He had just realised that his right hand was ringing wet.
      ‘The door.. seems to be stuck,’ Jodie whimpered.
      ‘That damn wall’s all wet..’ Spengler spoke across her. He smelled his palm. ‘Christ! - Gasolene. The damn wall is saturated in gasolene.’ He looked at Jodie, who was staring past him out of the window, her eyes widening in terror. Spengler turned to follow her gaze.
      It was Sheriff Macready - or something that looked very like him - who threw the first torch..