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Sky People
© 2003 by Tulsa Brown



"But what if it happened to you, Sybil?" I said. "What if the space men took you into their saucer and flew you to their home planet, or the moon? Imagine if you looked out the window and saw the earth!"

"I'd wave," Sybil said. She was driving, wearing cat's-eye sunglasses that were just like Ava Gardener's.

"No, you'd want to tell everybody about it," I insisted. "And if the space men gave you a message to deliver—"

"I'd tell them they had the wrong Patterson. My brother is the famous fiction writer."

I grinned and let it go. For a non-believer, Sybil was a pretty good sport. If she hadn't been my sister, she would have been my friend.

We were on our way from Gaberville, California to the Mojave Desert, for the Annual Great Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention. It had been organized by George Van Tassel, who really had been on the flying saucers, and had met the space men, face to face. I'd read all his books and subscribed to his newsletter, where he posted the telepathic communications he was still receiving from the Space Brothers.

That's how I knew we were standing on the threshold of a new era. In just a few years—by 1960, surely—the world would be a very different place. No matter how the aliens phrased it, their message was always the same: Love. Intergalactic, interplanetary, inter-everything. They said it so often and so emphatically, I knew there was a deeper meaning, one that filled me with glimmering, tingling hope. When the space beings finally revealed themselves, the world would change. And I really needed it to.

I was going to be a writer. I had a typewriter, a black, square-shouldered Royal 330, and I wrote in my bedroom. I loved the solid strike of the keys on the paper, a clackity-clack that vibrated the desk, a happy horse at a trot. Sometimes I could make it gallop, and on some blazing, red-eyed nights, I was the whole horse race, thundering around the track.

"For God's sake, what is that fool doing up there?" My father would stomp to the bottom of the stairs. "David, do you want to come right through the floor?!"

I wanted to be famous. I had just turned twenty and two of my stories had already been published in Saucer! magazine. I had written three-quarters of a novel, Six to Save Orion, in which rocket commander Jack Drake and his five crewmen are stranded on a planet where the heavy mist itself is sentient...

"Good story," the editor of Saucer! said. "Where's the girl?" He was short, rumpled, bristly and bald, a man who kept a bottle of Listerine on his desk, and a different bottle in the drawer.

"The girl," I repeated.

The editor rolled his eyes. "Listen, if you get a girl into the story by the end of chapter three—give her some bazooms, mind you—I know someone who'll publish this. You just have to finish it. And don't forget the tits."

My best friend Chris read Six to Save Orion right before he left for university. He read to the end of what I had on a Sunday afternoon in August, the two of us alone in his garage. The air was cooler than outside, hushed and heavy with the smell of motor oil, grass clippings and forgotten wood.

There was a row of narrow windows above his father's workbench. Chris leaned against the table and read in the slanting beams of light, dust motes swirling leisurely around him. We were both wearing T-shirts, but his looked better than mine, stretched by a body that had laid sod all summer, for a landscaper. His brown hair had been streaked gold by the sun and it tumbled over his forehead, needing a cut. His father said he looked like a beatnik. I thought he looked like a god.

I waited, listening to him breathe, to the rustle of the pages, and my own heart. At last Chris looked up.

"This is great!"

I could hardly speak in the gust of joy. "You...you think so? It's only a first draft."

"You put me right there. I was on that planet with Jack and the guys. It was real," Chris said excitedly. He talked and I drifted closer, devouring every word. Finally, he laid the stack of paper on the workbench. "I even know how it should end."

"How?"

"Like this." Chris put his arms around me in a tentative, trembling embrace. I was surprised but reached up to hug him back. He clasped me hard against his body then, and the revelation shook me: I'd wanted this all summer, I'd wanted it forever.

I was terrified, and thrilled. I could hardly believe I was pressed against the body I'd stared at for so long. My sweaty hands curved around the strong muscles of his back, my fingertips meeting at the V of his spine. I inhaled him, the warm, summery scent of his skin mingled with the dank metal smell of his father's tools, and my mouth watered.

My hard-on was rising at rocket speed.

"Think about baseball," was my father's standard advice regarding hard-ons. But when I felt Chris's rigid length pressed against my hipbone, the Boston Red Sox could have hit a grand slam to win the World Series and I wouldn't have cared. His lips brushed my cheek in a kiss, and I turned my head to return the same, and caught his mouth instead.

Heat hurtled down to my balls. Chris kissed me back hard, a hungry, searching probe that opened my mouth and pulled the deep sound of my secrets up into the air. I felt him fumble between our bodies, struggling to pull up both our T-shirts, and my knees almost buckled. The thought of pressing naked against my best friend had only been a wild dream, and now it was an urgent reality. Nothing could stop us.

Except the door. The tiny, metallic click drove us apart like a wedge, threw us against the workbench, hearts pounding.

Chris's father stood in the garage doorway, a dark, ponderous shadow surrounded by the white blaze of the real day. He looked at Chris, then at me. I tugged my shirt down.

"I need a wrench," he said. Chris scrambled to hand him one.

"Five-eighths, not seven-sixteenths!"

I cringed at the thunderbolt; it was aimed at us both. When his father had the length of steel in his hand, he pointed it at me. "You'd better go home, David."

Chris glanced at me, the bold lust faded to a frightened plea. I grabbed my manuscript and squeezed out past his father, so fast I hated myself for it, sick alarm and lingering arousal slapping me like alternating wet rags.

My letters to Chris came back, unopened. My story Six to Save Orion languished, untouched. I knew how it was supposed to end now, but I didn't know how I could do it. I needed the world to change, and soon.

*                   *                   *

Welcome Space Brothers!

The sign was ten feet by twelve, secured to the front of a platform, which rose twenty feet up the side of a boulder that was seven stories tall. Against the massive chunk of granite the structure looked rickety, boards leaning like straws in a winding, spindly staircase. I studied it through binoculars, nailed in place by awe. This was where George Van Tassel would stand tonight as he channeled communications from the aliens.

"Their message to the world," I told Sybil.

"But not ‘til ten o'clock." She checked her watch. "Let's go get corn dogs."

We worked our way through the crowd that was part carnival and part convention. Some people had set up tables to sell the books they'd written, and held out hand-drawn illustrations of what they'd seen. Everyone had a story to tell.

"And the female crew members are very much like earth women, except for their third breast. Their uniforms consist of short pleated skirts and sweaters, the texture of which resembles angora..."

"...then Ashtok said to me, ‘Go forth, and share our teachings with your brethren. Be ready for the time when we call for you.'"

I had to stop at every booth. Sybil threw up her hands and deserted me, heading for the food vendors. I wasn't hungry—I was being eaten alive by envy. Had everyone been on a saucer except me? I decided that some of the contactees had to be simply riding on Van Tassel's coattails, twisting and reshuffling the experiences from his books. But even if only half of these people were sincere, the night sky was crowded with saucers. Longing wrung me like a rag. I wished one of the space men would talk to me.

I stopped at the booth of a man selling Radiatrons. He was wearing one himself—a metal band that wrapped snugly around his skull at the forehead, with spokes radiating outwards, each capped by a small silver knob. He said that it could turn anyone into a radio receiver for the aliens' transmissions.

"If they choose your channel," he added hastily. "But of course they're more likely to choose someone who's already equipped for reception."

I picked up a Radiatron, my heart running lightly. Sybil would shoot me—it cost ten dollars, half our gas money home. But if it worked...

A man gripped my arm. "You don't need that."

He was so dark and striking I thought he was Navajo, until I remembered native Americans didn't grow beards. His had started out as a moustache and goatee, but now stretched up in a rough ridge of stubble along his jaw. The deep tan of his skin had been varnished by both sun and wind, and his hair was layered with dust, and long enough to touch his shirt collar. He was broader and shorter than me, not muscle-bound but solid; below his walking shorts, his strong, hairy legs bristled with animal health.

On Main Street, Gaberville, he would have been stopped by the police for sheer scruffiness. But here, against the rocky, wind-carved desert, he looked more right and real than anyone I'd ever seen. I felt like a tall glass of milk standing next to him.

The Radiatron man glowered. "Are you questioning the integrity of my invention?"

"Not at all," the stranger said, and released my arm. "My method is just simpler."

"Then you're receiving messages from the space men, too?" I blurted.

His eyes were extraordinary, gold-flecked brown, coyote colors.

"The natives used to call them the Sky People," he said. He cocked his head and smiled, then backed away and slipped into the crowd.

His pace was brisk. I had to lope to catch up.

"You're pulling my leg," I said.

He grinned. "I pull a lot of things, man, but never legs."

"Tell me about your method, how you receive communications from...the Sky People."

"Hell, you can try it."

We were at the edge of the crowd, where the desert had become a congested, impromptu parking lot. The stranger pointed at a rocky hill that rose up near the giant rock.

"Follow the path around that hill, and you'll find my camp. It's only a half-hour walk. Come out tonight at dusk. We'll watch the sunset, and see what happens." He raised his eyebrows. "What they say."

"But George Van Tassel will be channeling tonight."

"And tomorrow night, too. Trust me—it's pretty much the same show."

I was knotted in coils. I'd driven hundreds of miles to hear Van Tassel, and maybe see a flying saucer. Yet this dusty, shaggy stranger seemed to hum a mysterious song that only I could hear.

I laughed nervously. "I don't even know your name."

"Richard. Call me Rich." He thrust out his hand and I clasped it.

"Dave."

He lifted his hand as he walked away. "See you later, Dave."

I waved back, faintly stunned. I'd never called myself by that name before. No one had.

The next thing I did surprised me even more: I lied to Sybil. I told her I'd met some people and I'd be attending the speeches with them.

"Oh, good! I thought you'd drag me to that. A bunch of us non-believers are having a bonfire and sing-along tonight." She shrugged and smiled dreamily. "There's this nice fellow with a ukelele..."

I changed my clothes twice in our cramped little camper, combed and combed my light brown hair, trying to flatten the stubborn wave. I set out into the desert an hour before dusk, buzzing with anticipation.

In minutes the sound of people had fallen away behind me and I was alone under a vast, quiet sky, the rocky hill rising up in black and grey on my left side, a flat, sprawling landscape of ragged earth on my right. It was the perfect landing site for a saucer, yet somehow I wasn't thinking about that. I wondered why Rich had chosen to set up camp so far from everyone else; I wondered at the new name I'd given myself.

When I rounded the hill, I saw his car first, then the green tent with the open flap, and then his naked body. Just twenty yards away, he was standing in a low silver washtub, bathing. I dropped against the rough incline and pressed myself into the rocks, hoping to vanish like a chameleon. It took me three seconds to remember I had binoculars.

Pulses of slick, squeezing guilt didn't even slow me down. Heart thudding, I peeked out over a boulder and adjusted the focus, drawing him tight to my face.

He soaped himself with a sponge and it was glorious: luxuriant black hair laying in flat whorls over his wet skin, white foam frothing up suddenly, then meandering in slow trails down the bronze landscape. He'd already washed his hair and it clung to his head in a dark, gleaming helmet, the ends twisted into dripping tails. My gaze lingered on his strong thighs, tight abdomen, and the soft, meaty penis that bobbed and quivered every time he moved.

My erection came up quickly. I shifted the bulge and fought the urge to stroke myself.

Rich rinsed and toweled off, then crouched down to shave, the mirror propped on a chair. I stared at his back, the muscles that undulated when he moved, the long, tantalizing trail of his spine, and I had an unexpected thought: the space men wouldn't care if he was clean. He was doing this for me.

The surge of hope almost undid my zipper. I had to call up the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Cardinals and the Cubs.

The earth had tilted by the time I ambled into his camp, the white glare of the day burnished gold, shadows spilling in long trails. Rich was dry and dressed, and had set up two wooden folding chairs. A six string guitar leaned against his.

"Have a seat," he said cheerfully, and gestured at the sky. "The show's already started."

A glorious vista was unfolding, endless blue sighing to pink, blazing to orange along the edges of the clouds. Yet even as I gazed at the panorama, I saw his naked, wet, soapy body standing in the tub, as if the image had been burned into my retinas.

Rich said he was on his way to San Francisco; I said I was writing a novel.

"That's so cool. Tell me about it."

I did, in shy, halting half-steps. When he picked up his guitar and began to strum, I stopped.

"No, no, keep going!" Rich said. "You make it sound like poetry. My friends and I do this all the time, in coffee houses."

Twilight fell and the stars came out. Together we transformed Six to Save Orion into a poem and a song. I started out awkwardly, then became exhilarated, dizzy on my own words and Rich's handsome, eager face.

"Commander Drake turned and looked back / at the jagged red rock he'd just climbed. /"

Strum. "Go, man, go!"

"A mountain still towered above him / and the deadly mist was moving in. / Would they ever make it home?"

When I ran out of story, we just talked. Rick lit a kerosene lamp and plucked soft, aimless notes that wound through our conversation. I asked about the natives' Sky People, and he told me about the petraglyphs, ancient carvings on the rocks, just twenty miles from here. When he said some etchings looked like space men, wearing helmets and throwing bolts of fire, I leaned forward, tingling. He'd seen the petraglyphs on his way to the Spacecraft Convention, last year.

"And yet you think Van Tassel is a liar?" The words were a challenge, even in my own ears.

"I think people stood in this desert and saw things they couldn't explain, long before you, me or Georgie ever got here."

"But somebody communicates with you. You said you had your own method."

Rich put the guitar aside, grinning, and pulled a twisted cigarette from his pocket.

I felt as if I'd been drenched in cold water—a whole washtub full. That was reefer, I was sure of it, and marijuana led to madness. I'd seen the films in school. I pushed up to my feet, seasick in the wave of disappointment.

"I thought you were talking about something real," I blurted. "You're a beatnik, a dope fiend."

"And how much ‘real' did you expect to get with a ten-dollar piece of tin on your head?" Rich put the white reed between his lips and lit it with a wooden match.

"I came a long way to hear what those people had to say. I'm missing it because of you!"

"Listen, there'll be at least five speakers before Van Tassel." He took a drag. "And you know what he'll do, Dave? He'll talk to himself for fifteen minutes, pretending that all the different aliens are trying to channel in at once. Then he'll tell us the Space Brothers are going to land and show us a new way, fill the world with love. But in the meantime, please send money."

I was silent for a moment, stung. Van Tassel did ask for donations, in every issue of the newsletter.

"But don't you want the world to change? Don't you think people should just...love each other?"

"That's exactly what I think." The lamp cast swaying golden light over his face, but his gaze was steady, coyote eyes lit by a different glow. We both knew that if I was leaving, I'd already be gone.

I sat down again.

"If you never do anything, what will you have to write about, Dave?" he said softly.

My first puff of the reefer was an acrid, burning gust that made me cough and sputter. It was worse than unfiltered Lucky Strike.

"Here, stand up," Rich said. Face to face, he took a drag and blew smoke into my open mouth. This time the taste was grassy, earthy, easy. Again and again I inhaled his smoke into my own lungs, our mouths separated by inches. When the reefer was finished, it took me seconds to realize I was still staring at him.

His face was enthralling. The freshly-shaved skin looked soft and luminous; his goatee and moustache were a sharp, alluring bull's-eye around his ruddy lips. He had hold of my arm now, the warm, familiar clasp of someone who knew me. I felt a rush, the sudden whoosh of driving over a hill too fast.

Kiss him.

I blinked, astonished. Who'd said that?

Rich smiled. "What are they saying?"

Whoosh.

I leaned forward and opened my mouth over his, easily, fearlessly. I could hardly believe this daring man was me, yet in the same instant I knew it was more true than anything else. I was a bold explorer, I was Jack Drake's older, braver brother.

His mouth was velvet joy. I pressed into it hard and deep, reveling in the wet fusion, the brusque prickle of his moustache. I entered him with my tongue and heard the thick, happy surprise in the back of his throat. His hands slipped under my jacket and shirt and stroked me in strong, thrilling encouragement. I ran my fingers through his long hair, closed my fists in it, amazed at the silky, resilient texture. I'd never known a man who had hair this long. I wanted to put my face against it, but on the way there I got distracted by his ear. I tugged the fleshy lobe into mouth and began to suck.

The sensation was slow, liquid lightening from my mouth to my groin. As a kid I'd never sucked anything, not even my thumb, but the pleasure of that simple motion struck deep, ancient chords. I thrust against his thigh, moaning.

"Let's...go inside," Rich panted.

The glow of the lantern turned his small, dark tent into Aladdin's golden cave, or the secret core of some fiery planet. We pulled off our clothes as if they burned us. The sight of him seized me fresh, his swarthy nakedness, his erection that rose up like a taut, belligerent animal. When I reached for him, he stopped me, eyes gleaming.

"Wait."

The tent itself seemed to be breathing. He made me stand, hands at my sides, while he traced my body with his fingers. I'd always thought I was too scarce, a loose, lanky sketch waiting to fill in. He made me feel like sculpture, a work of art.

"Shoulders," he said, and caressed them. "Pecs." He drew his hands down my chest, thumbs along my breastbone, fingers fluttering over my nipples. Until that moment I'd hardly noticed them, but they hardened abruptly, awake.

"Abdomen." He stroked through the light forest of brown hair. "Cock." He gripped me.

I groaned out loud, swaying in the rush of sensation and sound. That word was the smack of sex itself, and it reverberated through my flesh. Cock. It was the throbbing center of my body, the center of the universe.

And now Rich had it in his mouth. He was on his knees, eyes half-closed in bliss, sucking me in the yellow lamplight. I was engulfed by wet, rippling heat, delicious pressure that stroked up and down my shaft. I cradled his face between my hands and watched the ruddy flesh side in and out of the dark bull's-eye. Cock. A churning meteor gathered between my legs and I prayed to God and baseball to hold it back.

Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, oh, Jesus...

But Rich knew me better than I knew myself. He pulled away in time and led me to the roll-out mattress, then skillfully entwined himself with me. I was amazed at the simplicity of it: his mouth between my legs, my mouth between his. Even on his clean body, the scent was sharp, as distinct and powerful as the word.

Cock.

I took it eagerly into my mouth, and the thrill was magnified a hundred-fold as he enveloped mine, too. We were a perfect, blazing circle of suck. There was no prayer for this, no team in the world could hold it back. I bucked mindlessly and the comet came hurtling out of the darkness, a streaming, unstoppable joy. I shuddered and writhed as I rode it, still sucking hard, and in seconds the pleasure came full orbit and exploded, hot and tart, in my own mouth.

By and by, the tent stopped breathing. Rich and I lay with our shoulders touching, fingers peacefully intertwined. The night seemed unearthly calm. I could feel the vast silence of the desert sky right through the canvas above me.

"It's not too late," Rich said.

I rose up on one elbow to look at him.

"If you still want to see Van Tassel, I know a short cut."

His kindness caught me in the chest. I kissed him hard, courageous and certain now. I was Jack Drake's older, braver brother—Dave.

The moon was bright and high, illuminating the rocky hill in stark silver. That was fortunate because we couldn't have carried a lantern or even a flashlight up the slope. Rich led the way and I followed, hand over hand, nimble with hope. This was a magic place, even the ancient people had known it. I thought of them climbing this hill or another just like it, under the same moon.

My muscles burned by the time we reached the summit. I was panting, heart pounding, lightheaded in the rush of triumph and vertigo. I seemed to soar between the endless twinkling sky and the desert far below. The people and cars were as tiny as toys. I had a sudden, dizzying thought—at this moment, we were the Sky People. I tried to tell Rich but he hushed me, and tugged me down on my knees beside him.

"Listen," he said, and pointed to the Giant Rock, which looked a lot smaller than I remembered it. I finally noticed the animated little man on the platform, and heard his tinny voice echoing through the loudspeaker. George Van Tassel was communing with the Space Brothers.

"Now who am I talking to? Well, somebody else keeps butting in! Confound it, you keep switching on me. Let's settle on who is to do the..." His voice lowered abruptly. "I am Knut from the planet Zorkon. I bring you love."

This time the words struck me fresh. I felt a sensation in my chest that tickled like a string of bubbles, then bloomed into a fountain, a geyser. I leaned toward Rich to smother the sound, and he reached his arm around me, pressed my face against his warm neck. I laughed and laughed, convulsions that shook us both.

Everything had changed.


© 2003 Tulsa Brown. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.


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