The Gray Machine by Ronald Heath

(Chapter 2)

Robert arrived home and put some last minute things into his backpack before putting it into the car. After eating a grill cheese sandwich for a light snack, he got into his car and drove for six miles before he came to the nearest freeway.

Soon after getting onto the freeway, the traffic began to get heavier and Robert got out his plastic bottle of antacid pills. One of the main reasons that he had left the city was that his stomach became upset while driving in traffic. The fears of an accident and the dread of being cut off returned and intensified. After an hour he chewed up his third antacid. His face had twisted into a tightened mask and his lips were compressed into a thin line. Robert was aware of his worsening condition, but he was going to his favorite camp sight and this was the only road that went there. One more hour of freeway driving, then he turned off the freeway onto a two lane road. This he could handle better, even though the road was an up hill climb. His old celica did not have enough power to go very fast, but Robert would just pull off the road when three or four cars stacked up behind him. Twenty minutes after getting onto the two lane road, Robert stopped at the last roadside restaurant before his destination. His favorite table was empty so he sat there and ordered a bowl of french onion soup. The waitress was not one that he knew, but she seemed friendly enough. Sometimes the soup would relax his stomach enough for him to order some solid food, and this was one of those times. When he had finished his soup, he ordered a patty melt.

He began to feel a bit better and to think about the camp sight. It was already dark outside, but this would be no problem. He remembered having packed his bright fluorescent camping light. The patty melt was washed down with a coke, and Robert convinced himself to relax a bit further.

When he had left his tip, Robert walked out of the restaurant and drove a few more miles of winding road until he came to a forest service camp site. There was no ranger here, just a metal box with slots in it. Robert filled out a form and stuffed it, along with some bills, into the slot. He drove to the space that had the same number as was on the slot, and parked there.

First, he hung his bright fluorescent camp light from a tree and then he pitched his three man tent. Robert opened his folding chair and sat there for an hour while his nerves settled and then he began to get sleepy. He then rolled out the sleeping bag in the tent and settled in for the night.

At sun rise, he awoke and heated up some tea with a small gas camp stove. He drank his tea and munched on a few breakfast food bars.

There were only a few other campers, most preferring to wait until the weather was a bit warmer. The nearest campers were three younger people who were cooking next to a VW van that was parked four spaces away. The smell of bacon and the light sounds of morning conversations drifted over Robert’s camp.

Robert put on his backpack and began hiking along one of the trails that led away from the camp sight. His tent was left set up with the folding chair set up, as if he would return at any time. Robert hiked along the trail. The trail was well maintained and even gravel covered in spots, There were small foot bridges over tiny creeks. There was no one else in sight.

Robert did not hurry, but slowly walked along, occasionally stopping to sit on a stump, or to look more closely at an odd shaped branch. He enjoyed hiking and did not get tired, although 11 years ago he would have been out of breath due to the cigarettes. He continued hiking for a few hours until he came to a lake. Around one side of the lake he found that there was no one near his favorite spot, in fact he had not seen anyone since he left the camp sight. Robert hiked off the trail and up to an open cave in the side of the rock face of the mountain. Here he set up his small one-person tent and folding chair. He cooked some hot dogs and then sat around, reading his novel. When it began getting dark, Robert got out his 50mm low light level binoculars and also his night vision monocular.

He removed the night vision scope from it’s case and held it up to his eye while holding the power button.

This was Robert’s favorite thing to do. He delighted in seeing the nocturnal animals foraging around seemingly unaware that they were being observed. He would sit and watch these animals for hours. This took him back to a time in his youth when he would feed them small bits of bread, but now he preferred to watch them in their natural setting.

Around 11:30 Robert’s night vision scope lit up and the screen went totally white. He turned off the power and looked up as UFO glided down towards the lake.

Robert was not surprised, in fact, this was why he had bought the 50 mm binoculars with the adjustable zoom knob. It was not every trip that this happened, but during the last eight years it had happened five times. He did not bring a camera because the film would have had to be developed and this could cause his few friends to label him as strange. A digital camera was considered and rejected because a computer would have reminded him of his last job.

Robert observed the disk shaped UFO through the binoculars and enjoyed the different colors that glowed around it as it flew. There was no sound from the craft. It did not wobble or dip, but smoothly turned towards the lake. Soon the craft came near the clearing and landed. Robert had chosen this spot partly because it had a great view of this clearing. The first time that he had spotted a UFO near this lake, his view of the clearing had been blocked by a stand of trees. Robert supposed that the UFOs always chose this exact clearing because it was the only clear space large enough to land that was near to the edge of the lake.

Robert steadied his arms on his knees and adjusted the power of the binoculars to the maximum setting. This was definitely a different craft than last time. The shape was slightly fatter. The last one had a more sporty look, while this one looked a bit larger. The hump shape in the center of the disk was a bit taller and a bit wider. The disk itself could be a bit larger, but Robert was not sure.

A ramp extended from the craft and Three aliens came out. These were Grays, just like all of the pictures in the media. The last five sightings had been Grays also, but not these same ones. The last time, only a single alien had come out of the craft.

One of the two larger beings started walking over to the lake. The being was carrying a small object. The other larger being guided the smaller being over to a rock. The smaller being sat on the rock and began using some sort of machine that rested on the small alien’s lap. The larger being then also headed towards the lake. The testing of the water must have worked out well because a long tube extended out of the craft and into the lake. The tube stayed there for a few minutes and then retracted back into the craft. The three beings then walked back up the ramp and into the craft. Robert noticed that the small being had left it’s machine laying next to the rock. The craft took off and hovered for a short time before racing off upwards and to the east.

Robert could barely contain his excitement as he got up and started running down towards the clearing using a small flashlight and keeping an eye out in case the beings noticed the missing machine, and decided to come back.

Luck was with Robert as he reached the rock and retrieved the machine. Without giving it much study, he stuffed the flat object under his light jacket, then turned and ran back to his cave and took down his tent. He stuffed all of his equipment into his pack without regard for neatness, some parts of the tent were hanging out the rear of the pack and it was all lumpy with random bulges hear and there. He hiked back along the path at as high a speed as he could sustain, to the forest service camp, where he arrived at around 2:30 in the morning.

Robert still did not feel safe at the camp, so he stuffed his large tent into the trunk without even rolling it up. He then got into his car and drove back along the road, past the restaurant where he had eaten, and to a hotel that he had passed along the way.

When he was in his rented hotel room, he brought out the machine for a closer look. It was gray colored with a row of symbols near the top edge. The machine was about an inch thick and a foot wide. It had two hand shaped depressions in it. Robert placed his hands in them and a screen with symbols on it appeared in the air above the machine. He moved one of his fingers, and a pointer followed his movement while parts of the text lit up.

Robert was awestruck at his discovery. It soon became apparent that this was some sort of teaching device, because as Robert selected a highlighted grouping of text, pictures would appear. The operation of the device was quite simple, having been designed for the alien child.

Some of the pictures were of a great gold colored globe that was suspended in a huge underground cavern. A three dimensional image was projected above the machine for Robert to look at. There were many moving walkways extending from the golden globe and exiting the cavern through tunnels at different levels of height. Many Grays were using these moving walkways and there were branch points with signs that seemed to be glowing in mid air.

With a few trial and error movements, Robert was soon able to zoom in and out of the image. This was more than just a movie though. His point of view was able to be moved as if he was flying through the space that was occupied by the golden globe. Robert moved his view point along one of the moving walkways, along side of a Gray with a fairly large belly. He followed the walkway into the globe.

Within the globe were thousands of rooms and many large open areas that were crisscrossed by moving walkways. There were small areas with strange purple plants. These were fairly tall with branches like trees with small purple knobs instead of leaves. There were some stores, and even some bars that had had grays sitting at bar stools sipping at different colored drinks. Many of the rooms were apartments that looked really cramped at first, but these were a marvel of space conservation. There was a bed, a room like a shower stall that looked like the only bathroom. There was usually a small kitchen.

Robert thought that he would take his double wide trailer over these any time. These rooms reminded him of a college dorm.

Some of the Grays could be seen heating and mixing various liquids. They did not seem to eat anything solid, just drink different things. The clothes were filmy things that appeared to stretch easily and didn’t fall away from the body like normal cloth would.

Robert was totally absorbed in the device until he finally noticed that it was checkout time. He had not slept at all, but the excitement had not yet left him and so he did not feel tired.

After checking out of the hotel, Robert got into his car and headed for the nearest computer store that was on the way towards his home.

He wrestled with himself for a short time over the purchase of a computer. The decision to buy a computer caused Robert to begin to loose it. Just thinking about the purchase caused the old memories to begin flooding back. Hacking away in his tiny cube late at night with all of the pressure hanging over him. The lit cigarette next to the perpetually cold cup of coffee that he sipped from. His boss going over and over how much the bugs were costing him and how many calls were coming in to get the quick fix, or the work around method. Visions of the old stress related illnesses came into his mind. His hacking cough, the pains in his wrists. The nervous ticks. His stomach was usually in pain even though he continuously popped antacid pills. Visions of His wife complaining about the lack of time at home began to work their way up through his mind. These thoughts were quickly stifled, but they were replaced by other thoughts of his boss pushing him to work harder. It was always the push to get it done before the show, or the shipping date. There was always just a few more bugs and a few less hours of sleep.

Get a grip! Robert scolded himself. Martha is gone for good. The job is gone. The house is gone. There is no real reason that just having a computer would cause the illnesses to come back. He concentrated on the day when he had finally gone to his boss and handed him his resignation. The look of abject horror on the man’s face had been most satisfying for Robert.

Robert reasoned with himself that he would not even need to purchase a compiler, just download some prewritten programs off the web. Besides, there was no time schedule. He could take as long as he required. This last was the winning argument that calmed Robert to the point where he stopped gripping the steering wheel so hard and his knuckles began to return to their normal color.

Yes, thought Robert as he pulled into the parking lot of the computer store, I will take my own sweet time. I will buy a timer that I can set to four hours and when it beeps, it will be bed time and that’s it. No overnighters and no cold coffee. Robert had quit smoking ten years ago and there was no thought of starting again.

It will be a laptop so I don’t get eye strain from the flickering monitor. I will get a trackball attachment so that the carpal tunnel syndrome won’t come back.