The Student News Site of Fluvanna County High School

Strangers in Lander

May 14, 2018

Lander County, Nevada

July, 1958

The sun was beginning to set on the dusty Nevada horizon. Frederick Milton, a World War II army veteran of the Pacific theater, sat on the porch of his ranch home, listening to the evening news for his small town. After the war, Milton wished to get far away from the crowds of his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He only wished to live a normal life, away from the chaos of the real world. Yet the horrors that he witnessed would never truly leave his mind. His time in the Pacific left him paranoid enough to carry a handgun at all times, even though he lived a secluded life in an already small county.

Recent events had brought quite a bit of attention to the small county of Lander. Over the past few years or so, there had been a major spike of “UFO” sightings in the area. But that was just the beginning. Not but three days ago, a local teenager named Marissa Therborugy claimed to have been abducted by a UFO. This claim led to an influx of reporters and journalists visiting Lander to hound Marissa for some answers.

The radio for the past two nights had been filled with programs talking about the encounter, even an interview with a UFO “specialist” talking some nonsense about spacecrafts from Mars, and the Soviets supposedly getting in contact with the Martians. It all sounded like hogwash to Milton.

As he did many an evening, he now sat gazing idly out into the peaceful night air…only to spot something in the distance: dust being kicked up at an abnormal rate down the road from his farmhouse. Milton sighed, and stood from his comfortable rocking chair, switched the radio off, and walked toward his driveway to meet whoever was coming to see him at this time of day.

A red pickup truck with the license plate “J4K20N” pulled up. Milton knew right away that it was his neighbor. Nearly 30 and already portly, Jackson stepped out of the vehicle, his ratty blonde hair and untrimmed beard waving slightly in the breeze, wearing jeans that were obviously far too tight for him and a red flannel shirt with too many buttons undone.

“Jackson, what a great surprise,” Milton said exasperatedly. Jackson was out of breath, which wasn’t exactly unusual, but still odd considering he had driven over.

“Mr. Milton!” Jackson exclaimed, to which Milton winced. “You’ve got to come see this! I ain’t never seen anything like it in my life!” he yelled.

“What could possibly be so important that you’d come racing down my driveway at this hour?” Milton said.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Milton, honest,” said Jackson, “it’s jus’–I saw one of them alien sau-”

“There ain’t any aliens in Lander, Jackson. If there was, the government would be all over this place,” Milton said.

“But there are!” Jackson said “Down in Lincoln County, that air base ain’t bein’ used for no planes, Mr. Milton!”

Milton sighed, done in by all the nonsense his neighbor was spewing.

“Alright, Jackson, fine. Let’s go see this ‘flying saucer’,” Milton said.

The pair hopped into the red pickup truck and started down the road, looking for where Jackson had seen the spaceship. Jackson drove all the way through the town of Austin and down a small dirt road about three miles outside of the town. Milton recognized the area as the split driveways of the Therbourgy and Gilden farmhouses. Jackson turned right towards the Gilden farm, then followed the path towards the ranch. Jackson slowed the pickup to a stop about a mile away from the actual farmhouse, then hopped out and started to walk towards one of the Gilden’s alfalfa crops.

“Hold on a moment,” Milton said as he slid out of the pickup, following Jackson. “We can’t just walk straight through the Gilden’s crops.”

“Well, there ain’t no other way to see what I saw!” yelled Jackson. Milton paused to think of why Jackson would even be out on the Gilden’s land in the first place, then resumed chasing after him.

The pair made it into the center of the alfalfa crop, careful to not crush the delicate plants. Jackson suddenly stopped at an indentation in the crops, then gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Milton said, slowly reaching towards the holster he always wore.

“Right here…it was right here!” Jackson exclaimed.

“What was here?” Milton asked. “I don’t understand.”

“The ship! It was right here!” Jackson said.

Their confusion immediately changed into shock as a loud explosion racked the air. The two looked around frantically as Milton drew his handgun.

“Oh my god, Milton, over there!” Jackson exclaimed.

Milton turned to look over the town of Austin as a large–larger than anything he’d ever seen–greenish-black spaceship that vaguely resembled an aircraft carrier entered the atmosphere over the small town. A smaller, rectangular object, with four triangular spikes sticking out of it, shot off the top of the larger spacecraft and positioned itself above Austin. At that moment, the triangular spikes shot out of the side of the craft and cascaded down upon the town. They crashed into the dusty ground, embedding themselves around the town. Milton looked back at his neighbor, who was white in the face and wide-eyed, only to see another craft of the same design break through the atmosphere only a few miles away.

“Jackson, we’ve got to get out of here, man!” Milton exclaimed.

Jackson only stood in shock, staring at the town where he had grown up, now being attacked by something he’d never thought possible.

“Jackson!” Milton yelled.

But his call landed on empty ears, as Jackson watched the triangular towers around Austin begin to glow in a bright red light. Austin filled with the red energy, just as another explosion came from the skies above. More spaceships began to fall, invading the calm skies above Lander.

“What’s happening?” Milton roared over the explosive sounds of the ships entering the atmosphere.

“They’re here…” Jackson said gloomly.

“Jackson, we gotta go!” Milton said as he rushed towards the red pickup truck, which had almost blended into the blinding red light surrounding Austin.

Milton hopped into the passenger seat, waiting for his neighbor to get into the driver side of the pickup and take them away. But Jackson stood rooted in the alfalfa, staring towards Austin.

“Jackson?” Milton said quizzically, “What are you doing?”

Jackson gave no response, so Milton hopped out of the pickup to grab his friend.

“Jackson, snap out of it man!” Milton exclaimed, “If we stay here, we’re gonna die!”

“We’re already dead, Milton. They’re here,” Jackson said. “Those scientists said they’re gonna kill us all.”

“Only if we let ‘em. Now come on!” Milton yelled.

“Go, Mr. Milton. If anyone can survive this, it’s you,” Jackson said, seemingly defeated.

“I can’t just leave you, Jackson, you know that!” Milton hissed frantically.

“The end of the world is here, Mr. Milton, and I want to be here to see it,” Jackson remarked as if sleep-walking.

“Alright, fine!” Milton said. “Take this, at least.” Milton handed Jackson his handgun, which the younger man absently took and held close to his chest.

“Thank you, Mr. Milton,” Jackson said. “Now go.”

Milton sighed shakily, knowing he had no choice. Milton turned and ran towards Jackson’s red pickup truck. Luckily, Jackson had left his keys in the ignition, which Milton turned instantly, starting up the pickup and switching into the driver side seat of the truck.

The truck whirred to life, rushing down through the alfalfa crop to reach the road quicker. Milton stepped on the gas and pushed down the dusty road back towards his own home. The drive was a rush; Milton’s ears were filled with the sounds of explosions as more bright red lights showed up in the distance. The blinding light was an odd contrast to the dark night sky that filled the Lander horizon.

As Milton pulled into his driveway to his house, he breathed a sigh of relief at the notion that his home had been spared from the attack. He parked in front of his small, white farmhouse, then rushed inside, looking for somewhere to hide. The event had put him in a daze, giving him flashbacks of his time in the war. Shaking his head to clear it, Milton came to his senses as he ran down the stairs to the basement to collect his rifle, the very same one that he had held on foreign beaches fighting for his country.

A buzzing sound filled the air as Milton grabbed the rifle and aimed it at the steps. He walked slowly up them, heart pounding, preparing to face whatever monsters had invaded his home. He reached the top, looking to the right and left, but the buzzing sound wasn’t coming from inside, it was coming from his front porch. Milton let out a sigh of relief as he realized that the buzzing noise was coming from the radio. He opened the screen door and approached the small metal radio next to his favorite rocking chair. He reached to turn off the seemingly-malfunctioning radio, as a familiar sound came from the metal box: a siren, followed by a warning.

“This is the United States Department of Defense. We have been invaded by a force unknown to us. We believe that the Russians are somehow behind this, as our allies are being invaded as well. We are preparing to launch a full-force nuclear strike on Moscow. Please stay in your homes, away from windows and largely populated areas.” The message continued on a loop, following the siren.

“The Soviets?” Milton said “There’s no way…”

Two more of the blinding red lights had risen on the horizon while Milton had been in his house. Whatever was happening couldn’t be the Soviets. Whatever had come to Lander wasn’t from here, from Earth. Milton paced on his porch pondering what could truly be happening. Off in the distance, the light surrounding Austin began to flicker, then disappeared. Milton stopped and stared in the direction of the small town, wondering what those spaceships could’ve done.

For the first time since the invasion, silence took over Lander County. Dazed and confused, Milton sat on his porch watching over the dusty landscape to study his enemy, as more of the spacecrafts began to fly down from what he could only presume was space. The ships varied in sizes and design, some obviously made to drop the triangular spikes into the ground, while others seemed to be more like flying fortresses. They all had a similar greenish-black color, and were almost reflective in the moonlight. The larger ships carried three to four of the smaller-sized ones, bringing them close to the ground before flying off to land.

This time, however, the smaller ships didn’t drop their spikes off, they used them as a form of landing gear. The spikes dug into the ground, holding the actual body of the ship aloft. The large ships stayed in the sky like looming castles looking upon the ground below. Milton sat and observed the machines, as they either began to land or took off further across the county. This truly was an invasion, he realized, and knew that if he stayed for too much longer, he’d surely be found.

Suddenly resolved, Milton hopped up from his rocking chair and rushed inside his house. He grabbed his old army jacket and packed a bag with perishable food and water. He made sure to grab an extra handgun, a knife, and more ammo just in case. He made his way out, grabbing his rifle from the side of his rocking chair and fixing it to his back with the strap. He got into his own truck, a 1958 Scotsman half-ton utility pickup, with dark tan paint. He tossed his extra supplies into the back of the truck, hopped into the driver’s seat and sped off down his driveway.

Milton knew that Austin would be unsafe, but he had to go and help anyone in need. He was a soldier, after all. Milton traveled in the direction of the large ships, since he figured they were still looming over the town. The road to Austin was mostly uneventful, with only a few of the smaller ships traveling overhead, seemingly not paying attention to his movement. Milton turned the radio on, only to be met with static. The warning had been shut off, but by whom? Could the USSR have responded to the threat of an attack by hitting America? That would surely be a world-ending event though, right?

Milton rounded the corner towards Austin, where he could normally see the town, but he couldn’t see anything. All the lights in the town were off.

“Great,” Milton murmured, “it’s just as bad as I thought.”

He stopped a few hundred feet outside of the town, parking his truck, and grabbing his keys and backpack. He took his rifle off his back and began to walk into the town.

The town was barren; all the buildings were blackened, the windows broken and the roofs starting to collapse. Milton crept deeper in, passing the town hall, which had been completely destroyed. The flag post outside where the town hall used to be had snapped in half, leaving a charred American flag on the ground. Milton approached the flag, took it off its pole and attached it to his bag. A sound pierced the silence that had consumed the town, a whirring almost similar to the sound of a helicopter, but much deeper. Milton dove into the rubble of the town hall, covering himself under the wreckage. A greenish-black, triangular-shaped spaceship hovered above the dusty street, a spotlight shining down from the bottom front of it. There was a clear, glass-like window near the top of the triangle where a shape seemed to peer through.

Milton stayed low as the ship passed, then suddenly stopped. He froze, as the ship began to lower to the ground. The spotlight shut off before landing as the ship settled into place, making no noise. One of the triangular sides of the ship lifted vertically, until it reached a point near the tip, then went outwards.

From this angle, Milton got a better view of the size of the ship. It was about 15 feet tall and 40 feet long. As Milton observed the ship, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. A tall, light-purple skinned figure, about 13 feet tall stepped out of the ship. The creature was organic, or at least most of it was. Its legs were made of a familiar greenish black metal, with three toes sticking out at an angle, giving it almost another foot of height. The metallic legs continued up around its torso, framing its figure like armor, and forming diamond-shaped spikes around its shoulders. It wore a dark red cloth over its chest, which was seemingly attached to the metal armor on its body, a black star shape in the center. Its face was dark, not human, with deep, sunken, black eyes, and a wide mouth filled with long sharp teeth. The creature looked around the area, then picked up a black, spear-like object. The bladed edge of the spear gave off a similar red glow to the one that had surrounded Austin no more than a few hours ago. The creature wandered around the ship, looking down the road where Milton had just walked.

All of a sudden, it stopped walking. The creature slowly turned around, revealing a moving metallic spine made of triangular spikes that connected into the head of the creature. It looked up in the direction of the large ships, staring at them. A sharp, screeching noise rang through the air, and the creature responded with a metallic screech, like how a pack of coyotes would communicate. Milton slowly rose, making his way away from the creature, as he began to hear more of the screeches coming from all around.

The head of the creature that left the ship shot in Milton’s direction. Acting on instinct, Milton fired his rifle, mowing down the creature. Silence once again came over the town, briefly, then was broken by the steadily growing sound of pounding metal footsteps coming from all directions. Milton dashed in the direction of the triangular ship, making his way into the alien machine. There was a small area with two benches and a weapon rack with three spears on it. At the front was an elevated area which Milton assumed was the cockpit. He hopped into the area, which had a command center with one lever and two buttons.

Milton experimentally moved the lever forward, making the ship move across the ground. He panicked, pressing a red button on the panel, which caused that ship to rise off the ground and the door to close. The ship rose higher than the rooftops, and a spotlight underneath it switched on, just in time for Milton to see a horrifying sight. Hundreds of the creatures had surrounded the location the ship had just lifted off from, looking up directly at the ship. Multiple blasts of red light impacted the ship, seemingly to no effect. Milton kept going. Another screeching noise shot through the air, causing Milton to cover his ears. He gazed down towards the ground, shocked, as he noticed the creatures had begun to kneel, looking up to the massive ships in the sky. A circular area at the bottom of the ship slowly began to open, revealing a similar, bright red glow.

At that very instant, a bright red beam shot into the ground, right into the center of Austin. Milton watched in horror as the ground began to buckle, cracking and breaking, folding into the Earth itself. Milton looked out to the east, as he noticed more of the bright red beams hitting the ground. The ground continued to vaporize, rushing towards the gathering below him. But the ground wasn’t the only thing being destroyed. Every building in the path of the shockwave crumpled to dust. As the creatures on the ground embraced their deaths, Milton screamed out an unintelligible cry as he and the ship were destroyed.

The invasion was over.

The Earth had lost.

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