Alex Horne released the hand brake and inched the van forward until it rested a mere three inches from the car in front of him. Although the directions had been vague, the kind that went "a few miles past the large cottonwood tree..." he'd certainly had no trouble following them. From the traffic congestion, he knew he'd reached his destination as surely as if there were a neon sign flashing, "Alien invaders stopped here."
"Looks like a damn circus," he muttered.
Traffic along the highway had been all but stopped for the last five miles as rubberneckers tried to get a look at whatever devastation or freak show was planted a hundred miles from nowhere. He swore, annoyed at how quickly word had spread. What stone did all these people crawl out from under?
In another fifteen minutes there would be hot dog stands and "I survived a UFO attack" T-shirt kiosks. Alex sincerely hoped there was something left to make his trip worthwhile; although he had been convinced he was wasting his time before he even stumbled out of bed.
A rigid, un-smiling Texas state trooper stood at the center of the worst of the traffic jam, waving cars forward, trying to keep things moving. Alex rolled down his window and stuck out his NASA ID.
"Yes, Sir," the trooper said, halting the oncoming traffic with a flat palm. "You can park anywhere in there."
Alex flipped on his turn signal and pulled off the road to the most convenient spot he could find. He set the parking brake, and then killed the engine.
"Do you really want to do this?" he muttered, wishing he hadn't been half-doped out of his mind when he agreed to investigate. He should have taken another one of those little white pills, then the phone could ring to San Antonio and back and he wouldn't hear it. It wasn't too late to turn around and head for home.
"Idiot that you are," he continued to mutter as he buttoned his coat, eyeing the heavy storm clouds, "as long as you're here, you might as well get the fifty-cent tour."
He had let his hair grow, so he brushed it back off his forehead with his fingers and plopped his battered Stetson on his head. Julie had given him the hat years ago. She had laughed, saying he was finally going native, and she loved tall, handsome cowboys. Dr. Julie Plaising had taken his ride to the International Space Station. Alex kept both the hat and the memory much longer than the relationship.
With a sigh of resignation, Alex maneuvered his wheelchair over to the hydraulic lift which would enable him to exit the van. Now he only had to deal with news teams with microphones, tourists, and the thousand odd fanatics who had stopped to see the spectacle. So if this was a real honest to goodness UFO sighting, whatever that meant, chances were excellent all the evidence had been carted away as souvenirs, or would be covered in footprints, candy wrappers and cigarette butts, which, he decided, was just about par for these events. Alex believed the reason sightings could never be completely debunked was there was never enough evidence remaining to expose the hoax. An official investigative team was coming from California, a second from Indiana, the earliest not expected for another three hours. His job was to secure the scene until they arrived, a simple assignment, except he was probably already a good two hours late.
Frigid air assaulted Alex as the door of his van slid open. What was it the radio announcer had said, highs expected in the twenty-five-degree-range for the next three or four days? Focused on the pain from his legs, he had only briefly caught something about a major storm coming to show this part of west Texas exactly what cold was.
“Whatever happened to nice, mild Texas winters?”
To the north he noticed a front of black storm clouds charging forward like Santa Anna approaching the Alamo. Another two or three hours and everything not nailed down would likely be blowing toward the Gulf of Mexico. So much for saving anything for the pros.
Although the ground was level, it was rocky; each bump sent fresh shards of agony through his shattered kneecaps. Not exactly the best place for cruising in his wheelchair. Alex pushed forward and managed to head toward the worst of the congestion, keeping his mind off the pain by reciting a liturgy of short, descriptive words which lately comprised the entire extent of his vocabulary.
The expletives colored the air behind him, hitting on several diverse topics, starting with the obvious, the unpredictable Texas weather and the genealogy of those who perpetrate hoaxes, branching out to his father and the current crew for the next Russian headed trip to the International Space Station.
There was a scuffle as he passed, fanatics trying to get under the yellow police tape. “I know my rights,” a large, red faced man said, oddly enough waving a Confederate flag. “You can’t keep me away. I’m a taxpayer. I want to see what’s here, before it’s all carted off to Area 53.”
“Fifty-one,” Alex corrected silently, not that he believed there was anything there, either. He kept moving.
Why can't these bloody UFO hoaxes happen in wheelchair accessible places, anyway?