May 23, 2022

 

Steaming

 
 
 

'What the hell is that?'

Neil Williams stood scratching his head with one hand as he gestured towards the object of his attention with the other.

'Dunno Dad,' replied his son, Michael as he thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his stained overalls.

The two men took a few hesitant steps towards the pile of silver cylinders. Each one about a metre long and as thick as a punching bag, reflected the bright morning sunshine in all directions making it hard for Neil and Michael to see. Slow rising steam wafted lazily from the cylinders into the air, as they approached cautiously.

'Smell anything weird, Dad?'

'All I can smell is cow shit, boy, and there's nothin' weird about that stuff.'

'Well, whaddaya reckon it is?'

'I reckon I've never seen anything like it,' he said putting his arm across Michael's chest to stop him walking any closer. 'And I reckon we better call someone.'

'Sergeant Hammersly?'

'Yeah, he'll know what to do or who we should call. Let's get back to the house,' he said, but as they turned away, Neil had a thought. 'We'd best throw up some sort of fence in the meantime to keep the herd away from it, eh?'

Sergeant Ron Hammersly was a tall, solidly built man who used to play first grade footy in Sydney before his knee gave out. As the only cop in the rural town of Burrudgie, he didn't have much to do but whatever he did he did it well and had the respect of every man, woman and child in the district. He was used to being called out for all sorts of strange goings on, and not often to what his city police buddies would have called real police work. Neil Williams' description of steaming silver cylinders in his top paddock fit the bill of unusual, and Ron was suitably intrigued.

'G'day Neil,' said Ron as he climbed down from the cabin of his Toyota Landcruiser. 'Michael,' he said with a nod of greeting. 'Show me the cylinders.'

When the three of them were standing staring at the steaming pile, Ron told them he called an environmental expert down from Sydney to have a look.

'Good call, Ron,' said Neil.

Michael strolled around the other side of the cylinders and began to point at them.

'Check this out!' he said. 'One of the tubes is melting and I can see inside and ...' he paused to sniff the air like a hound dog, 'and I can smell something pretty weird.'

Ron and Neil arrived and followed Michael's gaze to a tube at the bottom of the pile.

It looked like a sausage thrown onto a hot barbecue plate, the way the skin peels away on contact with the metal. Inside the cylinder was a dark brown and blue substance, riddled with strands of what could have been hair had it not been so thick and silvery.

'Those silver strings,' said Michael, 'are they moving?'

'Turn it up, mate,' said Ron, waving his hand in front of his face to brush away the foul smell. 'You're imagining it. The stink is so crook it's making my eyes water. I can't see properly.'

'Shit,' said Neil, 'Mine too, what is that stuff. We better clear off for now. Come on.'

Michael continued to watch in fascination as more and more of the silver coating on the cylinders came off to expose more of the putrid smelling, odd-coloured contents. Though his eyes stung and his head ached, he could not draw away. As his father grabbed his arm to pull him away, Michael began to gasp for air and clutch at his chest as the toxic fumes invaded his airways. By the time, Neil had pulled him away from the cylinders, the poison had overwhelmed him and he collapsed in the sweet smelling grass of the top paddock unconscious.

Having been updated by Sergeant Hammersly on the phone as he travelled down to Burrabudgie, Environmental Protection Agency agent Andrew Rostankovski arrived at the Williams' farm expecting the worst. What he found were two paramedics treating Ron, Michael, and Neil inside the farmhouse, and two police cars, a fire engine and a dozen or so locals surrounding the pile of cylinders at a distance of some fifty metres. The cylinders themselves were no longer silver, nor steaming nor emitting any noxious gases.

Quickly summing up all he saw, Rostankovski knew he was just the man for this assignment. Like his hero in the X-Files, Fox Mulder, he was given all the inexplicable and probably unsolvable cases by faceless superiors. Working for the E.P.A, this meant investigating mysterious environmental phenomena. He had a strong suspicion as to what the silver cylinders might be before he even laid eyes on them so he was not too disappointed that they appeared to be inactive now.

Andrew greeted the three injured men, although Michael could not yet speak or open his eyes, and told them he would come back soon to ask them some questions, if that was all right with them. The attending paramedic advised he would be finished soon. Then Andrew left the house and strode out into the paddock.

'How long ago did the cylinders stop giving off gas?' he asked a police officer as he approached.

The officer turned slowly to look at Andrew and then just as slowly to look at his watch before finally saying, 'Thirty-three minutes, mate.'

'Has anyone else, besides Sergeant Hammersly and the farmers, been affected by the cylinders?'

'No,' said the officer, then adding as an afterthought, 'You know Michael Williams is dead?'

'Michael Williams? No, he's not dead, he was knocked out, that's all. He'll be fine.'

'Lucky bastard,' said the officer shaking his head slowly. 'We all thought he was gone.'

'I'll be inside,' said Andrew. 'Call me if anything happens to the cylinders, okay?'

Hurrying back to the house, Andrew asked Ron and Neil for exact descriptions of what had happened. Overcome with the emotion and shock of nearly losing his only son, Neil was unable to continue when he began to tell how Michael had been the first one to notice the silver skin peeling away, so Ron took over the narrative.

'You know, it was like rotting,' said Ron, 'but real fast, you know what I mean?'

Andrew nodded his head thoughtfully. 'So it sounds like the cylinders were, or maybe still are, living tissue or some living organism decomposing at a rapid rate. Abnormally fast.'

'Yeah' said Ron rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. 'Just like a carcass. I mean they look like giant pellets ...'

'Pellets?'

'You know, turds, pieces of shit and they smell like it too, but I never seen shit with skin on it and definitely not that colour.'

Andrew had heard this all before, he could have been playing any one of dozens of taped interviews he had recorded following similar events.

'I think,' said Andrew without a pause or warning, 'That those cylinders are actually organic stools.'

'Stools?' said Neil suddenly back in the discussion.

'You called them pellets,' said Andrew looking from one man to another and back again. 'I think they are pieces of shit.'

Ron laughed. 'I think that's what you're full of, mate.'

Neil said, 'What on earth could drop something like that out of its arse? You're mad!'

The reaction, like the phenomenon itself was no surprise to Andrew so it was no stretch for him to maintain his composure in the face of ridicule.

'Nothing on this earth could have dropped those,' he said.

Picking up on the stress placed on the word earth, Ron asked, 'Are you suggesting that pile of steaming silver pellets are droppings from somewhere besides earth?'

Andrew nodded. 'Exactly. Extra-terrestrial.'

The two wise old country boys were about to launch a round of howling protest when a uniformed officer burst in through the door.

'Mr. Rostankovski, you asked me to let you know if there were any more changes in the cylinders,' he said breathlessly. 'I think you better hurry and see this.'

Andrew ran to the site as police were ordering people to back away. Thick blue smoke rose in a solid tube from the pellets straight up into the air. On closer inspection, Andrew found the pellets had disappeared. Countless red, blue, and silver threads were strewn around the ground where the pellets had been. The earth was blackened as if scorched by a fast moving grass fire.

As the physical evidence was disappearing before his eyes, Andrew ran back to his car to gather his sample collecting equipment. On his return, all eyes were focused on the sky where a large black sphere had appeared at the top of the blue smoke column.

Ron turned to Andrew who had come alongside him to watch the spectacle.

'I guess you were right,' he said.

'I guess so,' said Andrew, stunned like everyone else.

After five minutes the blue smoke had disappeared inside the sphere, and the sphere had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. Andrew moved inside the temporary fence erected by the farmers to collect some samples, but they were all gone. Running a Geiger counter over the burnt ground, Andrew received no indication of radioactive residue, so he declared the site clean and safe. The crowd came closer for a better view but there was nothing left to see.

Coming over to Andrew as he stood up and put his hands on his hips, Ron put a large hand on his shoulder, and said with a touch of sadness in his voice, 'At least they cleaned up after themselves, eh?'






Article © D.A. Cairns. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-05-09
Image(s) are public domain.


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In the same series:

Steaming

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