When Jimmy Sloan opened his front door three thoughts dashed through his brain like greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit.
The first was that the unkempt hermit that was frantically ringing his doorbell in the middle of the night looked suspiciously like his neighbor from across the street. Or at least, the parts Jimmy could see through the grimy features, matted hair and crusty, strategically stained pajamas.
The second was that the smell that wafted off the old man reminded him of the time his hound Bunyon had brought home a well chewed, well loved, half rotted carcass that may, or may not, have still had all its pieces.
The third was that he couldn't remember the old man's name. Evan? Eric? Earl?
The hermit grabbed Jimmy by the front of his robe. "Get you're car keys, boy, we gotta get out of here!"
"Just hold on a minute," Jimmy tried to pry the old man's fingers free of his robe. But the old man had a hold on him like like Bunyon had on that carcass.
"Alright, I'll get my keys. Where do we have to go?" Jimmy asked.
"Away. We have to get away right now. Before they realize I've escaped."
Jimmy's eyebrows shot up. 'Escaped?" He had to admit, despite himself he was suddenly intrigued.
"Get the keys!" the old man shrieked.
"Jimmy, who was at the door?" Jimmy's wife Helen called down.
"Just the man from across the street, um, Earl?"
"You mean Ernie?"
Jimmy slapped his forehead. Of course, Ernie!
"Keys!" hissed Ernie.
"Um, he needs me to take him, um, somewhere,": Jimmy called to Helen.
"But it's after midnight. Can't it wait?" Helen asked.
Jimmy looked at Ernie. Ernie shook his head wildly.
"I guess not."
"Okay, well, don't be out too late."
Jimmy went to the kitchen and grabbed his car keys off the hook, Ernie clutching his robe the entire way.
They got into Jimmy's Ford pickup truck, which had a dented fender and a busted tail light but was as reliable as snow in the mountains.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Out of town," Ernie said.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather I take you to the police station?" Jimmy asked, but Ernie just shook his head.
Jimmy started driving. Ernie kept looking out the rear window, searching the darkness for something.
After ten minutes, the crossed over the town line and passed the sign, Now leaving Dodge. Come back anytime.
Jimmy cleared his throat and asked, "Who did you escape from?"
"The aliens. They've been holding me captive for the last month. They're getting ready to take over the rest of the block. You're next on their list!"
Jimmy didn't know whether to laugh or turn his truck around and head toward the nearest hospital. From the intensity of Ernie's stare Jimmy decided neither choice would be prudent.
Instead, he said, "Ernie, you haven't been held captive. I saw you mowing your lawn just this afternoon."
"And did I look like this?!" Ernie shouted, his eyes wide and wild like a drunk who just missed last call.
"No, you looked good. You waved and smiled and we even talked about the weather. And the other day you helped Helen with the groceries..." Jimmy's voice trailed off.
"Uh huh, does any of that sound like me?" Ernie growled. "You've been livin' across from me for, what, six years?"
Ernie shrugged. "Who cares. The point is I don't like people. I don't smile and I sure as hell don't help people with their groceries. It's an alien imposter."
The cabin of the truck suddenly lit up like daylight.
"Oh my god, it's them!" screamed Ernie.
"No, it's just some idiot with halogen headlights," Jimmy replied, but he couldn't keep the quiver out of his voice. Suddenly the light was around them and then in front of them. Jimmy let go of the wheel and raised his arms to shield his eyes.
When he opened them he was pulled over on the side of the road. The sky was just beginning to glow yellow with the coming dawn.
There was no sign of Ernie.
Jimmy started his truck, turned around, and headed home. He wasn't sure what he was going to tell Helen, certainly not the truth. But one thing was for certain.
They were selling the house and getting the hell out of Dodge.
copyright 2012 John Lance