by Charles C. Cole
Deetz McCay and Haden Smollett, giddy as schoolboys on prom night, clinked beers over the frozen corpse freshly retrieved from Little Rangely Lake.
“I can’t get over it!” Deetz repeated. “If you hadn’t gone snowmobiling down where the river feeds in, nobody would have found it. An alien!”
“A bug-eyed, gray-skinned extraterrestrial!” said Haden. “Classic, like from a drive-in movie! I couldn’t have moved it without you. Or cut that monster out of the lake. You had the winch and the Husqvarna chainsaw. You earned your half.”
“We should sell it on the Internet,” said Deetz. “Auction it. Bet we’d get a million dollars, enough to buy a deluxe hunters’ lodge for rich tourists from out of state.”
The familiar face, eyes and mouth open, stared blankly, only inches away under gray-blue ice, though the body wasn’t nearly as visible. Where the ice wasn’t smoky, it was the color of puréed algae.
Deetz swore. “If them summer folks would check their outboards for milfoil once in a while, we’d have a perfect specimen.”
“UFOs: Unwanted Floating Organisms. That’s what they call them over to Belgrade Lakes. Alien invaders.”
“We’ve got the real thing!” said Deetz.
“But should we, you know, melt him out of there? I don’t want some non-believing reporter from the Press Herald accusing me of being a huckster. If we post photos online, people are going to ask for snapshots from all angles, for proof. How are we going to do that?”
“We could post a close-up of the face with a line like ‘For Serious Inquiries Only.’ Then, when they start talking money, we show a little more, like a strip tease!”
“Just one thing,” said Haden; “we don’t really know what we’ve got until we know, you know? It could be that we’ve come across some idiot kid who got lost trick-or-treating. Plop! Nobody found him because nobody knew where to look. You and I are thinking alien popsicle, but it’s really just a frozen nerd.”
Deetz choked on his beer. “That would be awful! Take all the fun out of it. Some lost dead guy! Then the police want to know why we’re holding onto the body instead of calling them right away!”
“So we have to melt the ice, at least some of it, to be sure of what we’re dealing with.”
“We could lock it in Phil Wellman’s ice house and thaw it through-and-through with a propane heater.”
“What if it wakes up? Maybe it’s different from us.” Deetz curled his lips at his friend’s assessment. “I know it’s different. I just mean if it can hibernate or something, like a frozen frog, it might wake up and take off into the night without even a ‘thank you’. And then we’ve got nothing.
“I think we’ve got to watch closely, just in case, and I’m thinking maybe a slightly faster method. Junior Mayberry’s sap house is down the camp road a quarter mile. He hasn’t used it since his arthritis got the best of him. We get a cool fire going and load our friend onto that long, wide evaporator pan. Not to boil him; just to thaw him.”
“Is Junior’s old ‘still’ making product?” Deetz asked.
“His grandson took it apart ages ago, but I know where he hid a couple of one-gallon jars, saved for a special day. And this, my friend, is a very special day.”
* * *
The sap house looked like a woodshed without walls, like a covered barbecue grill with a long concrete-block firepit. Haden leaned against the frame of the shelter. His head was spinning. The homemade brew had been harshly effective. Deetz and Haden listened to damp wood crackle under the sap pan.
“You don’t think we’re cooking him, do you?” asked Haden, slightly concerned.
“Simmering maybe. It’s got to be nicer than being frozen solid.”
“The heat feels good, don’t get me wrong.”
“We can drag him away from the fire if he gets too soft. Harden him up again, without the ice coffin.”
Haden lay back on the ground, cocooned inside his down parka. It was a calm winter’s night with a clear starry sky. “Where’d he come from, I wonder, which star?”
“Beats me, but I hope he’s not wearing some distress beacon; I’d hate to have company. I can deal with one of them, but if some ship starts hovering overhead with an armed search and rescue party, you’re on your own.”
“Maybe we should let the fire go out. Do things gradually. Thanks to your ice carving skills, we’ve made significant progress since bringing him out of the swimming hole.” Haden yawned. “I’ve got to nap a bit; I’m pooped. Maybe it’s the home brew or the excitement. Don’t let me miss anything.”
“Go ahead. I’ve got it covered,” said Deetz. “I was always responsible for tending the fire in Boy Scouts.”
Haden closed his eyes and mumbled, “You wouldn’t take off on me, hide him in the woods, would you?”
“Your sister would divorce me. You found him. You get to keep him. Where would I stick him? In the freezer with the deer I didn’t catch this season? Sleep. You found him. Let me earn my part of the bounty.”
Haden sat down heavily. “Good fire,” he said in a mock soothing whisper. “Nice fire. Stay.”
Deetz scooped up armful after armful of dried, cut wood, stocking the coals under the evaporating pan. “Don’t worry, Haden. You and me and our alien friend are going to be quite cozy. You’ll see.” Then Deetz nodded off.
In the morning, Haden stirred first. “Idiot!”
Deetz couldn’t believe his eyes. “Guess I overcooked it,” he blurted.
“I’m going home,” said Haden, stumbling toward his snow machine. “I don’t want to talk about it. You ruined everything.”
“Can I help it if I’m good at my job?”
Their exotic gray discovery had boiled down into a thick, foul-smelling mash. There were no identifying features, none. Nobody would believe them now.
Copyright © 2020 by Charles C. Cole