The Practical Joker
K. A. Williams
The music carried me to a world where worries and deadlines did not exist. What was that pounding noise? I didn’t recall a heavy drum sound in that particular section of the song. There it was again. I turned off the stereo just in time to hear a loud voice command, “Police! Open up!”
Police?! I scrambled to my feet and stumbled over some scattered books on my way to the door. I flipped on the front door’s porch light and peered out the peephole to a black nothingness. The bulb must have burned out. I had my hand on the doorknob and hesitated. “Are you sure you have the right address, officer?”
“We’ve received an anonymous tip that you’re harboring a fugitive.”
“A fugitive?!” I opened the door and a figure brushed by me on the way inside. I closed the door and turned. “Bob!” I regarded the blond-haired, blue-eyed man who was laughing as he thrust the porch light bulb into my hand. I set it down on the table amid several cardboard pizza boxes and empty beer cans while Bob, my nearest neighbor on this stretch of Carolina coastline, continued to laugh.
“You should have seen your face,” he gasped between guffaws. “This was even better than the time I had your car towed away at the supermarket.”
When Bob’s laughter subsided, he helped himself to a can of beer from my refrigerator before reclining in my favorite chair and placing his feet on the ottoman after tossing some magazines off it to the floor. “You need a maid, Todd, you’re such a slob.”
“Thanks a lot.” I moved some magazines from my second favorite chair and sat down.
“How’s the new book coming?” he asked after taking a large swallow of beer.
“Fine. I returned last night from interviewing Kyle Buchanan. He claimed to have been abducted by humanoid aliens and taken back to their planet. He said it was similar to Earth with regard to atmosphere and plant and animal life. My new book will center on his alleged experiences.”
Bob blinked a few times. “Alleged. The way you said that sounds like you don’t believe him. I thought you believed in all that stuff. I mean, isn’t that the main reason you write books about human encounters with aliens?”
My fans automatically assumed I actually believed in the alien encounters I wrote about. So did my editor. I normally just went along with the idea, but I had wanted to tell someone the truth for a long time. Why not Bob?
“No, their stories are crazy. I do it for the money. How else could I afford a house on the beach?”
“Huh. I always thought you believed.” He finished off his beer and added his empty can to the rest of the clutter. “Let’s go outside, I need some air. You should open a few windows and let the ocean breeze in once in awhile.” I caught a glimpse of a small black box in his hand before he shoved it back into his pocket and opened the back door.
Bob led the way down the wooden stairs onto the sand and we walked to the water’s edge. I had often wondered how he could afford a beach house. When I asked him one day what he did for a living, he only said he was a private consultant, but he never said what kind.
I sunk my bare toes into the soft sand, listened to the crashing surf, breathed the salty breeze, and gazed at the shimmering golden path the full moon cast upon the darkened sea.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” Bob said.
I could feel the coming of another practical joke. “So tell me.”
“I had surgery to look human and studied Earth’s culture so I could blend in. I’ve been on this planet for five years. Because of your books, we thought you were a believer and would be a good ally for us when the time came to reveal ourselves to the world. But now I see you are a disbeliever and must be dealt with in the proper manner. I’ve signaled my ship and it’s coming for you.”
“I suppose you called it on that black box you made sure I saw.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I don’t believe you. After we met for the first time, you called the power company, pretended to be me and had my electricity turned off. And you’ve been playing practical jokes on me ever since.”
Lights appeared on the horizon far out over the ocean. “Good timing, but it’s just a plane.” And it was. I laughed when it passed by and headed inland.
I stopped laughing when something suddenly materialized overhead, bright lights revolving along its circular frame. A green beam extended from the ship and danced along the sand at my feet.
Bob said, “Now you will know what we do to disbelievers,” and pulled me into the beam with him. Green light circled us and we moved upward. I struggled and bumped against the light. Then I was falling.
I managed to take a deep breath before slamming hard into the ocean. Water closed over my head as I sank lower, a red haze forming before my eyes. Finally I surfaced and gulped in the fresh air. A green light moved along the water searching for me. I dove back under. When I surfaced again, it was gone.
I swam toward the shore, thankful for swimming lessons and the full moon. When I was close enough to touch bottom, a huge wave knocked me down under it. Strong hands pulled me out of the surf and deposited me onto the shore where I coughed up the burning salt water.
I brushed the wet hair from my eyes and looked up to see my rescuer. “You had me worried.” Bob grinned as he pulled me to my feet. “I just wanted you to see inside my ship.”
First published in print magazine The Ultimate Unknown in 1997.