“Naw, naw, here's how it went,” Frank Benevito said as he shook his hands and head at the same time. He had long, combed back hair and a goatee that reminded me of a drug dealer or a hockey player.
“Get on with it before lunch is over,” Gary Wittstruck said. Gary was tall and lean in a way that kept him moving so that he showed up most other mechanics on the hangar 2B crew. The shadow of a 747's wing darkened his face. He sat on a toolbox, in a circle, with the rest of us.
“See,” Frank said in an east coast accent tinged with Minnesota vowels. “I heard from the foreman up in 1A. This aint no lie. Some guy got wind that he was getting laid off...”
The shift lead Pat Jones nodded. All ten of us swung our heads towards Pat at once. He was all gray on top, with a stone face you couldn't tell nothin' from. His North Country Airlines cap kept you from seeing most of his military haircut and eyes. Despite his uniform, Pat reminded me of an old, salty gunslinger.
“...I told ya',” Frank said. “Pat heard it too. See.”
Pat shrugged. “Just tell 'em.”
“So this guy. He turns on one of the air compressors we use to torque bolts, you know, and he shoves the hose nozzle up his ass. He cranks the air pressure up full blast...and...fssssssst.”
Our faces scrunched up. A fat guy, named Jimmy, who everyone loved to drink but hated to work with, said, “Ouch.”
“That's right,” Frank says. “His asshole and guts get torn apart. One shot. Fssssst.”
This was in the mid-2000s, just before North Country laid off most of their older mechanics. The Minneapolis/Saint Paul Airport was North Country's base of operations. As of now, I believe the guy who blew his asshole up might have been better off than the rest of us.
“BS,” Gary Wittstruck said. “That's just another one of those urban legends.”
“No,” Jimmy said between mouthfuls of tuna fish sandwich. “I get it now. See...'member how we used to clown around a couple years back? We scared each other by sneaking up and blowing air on the back of someone's neck with the compressor hose. Well, I think the supervisors figured out how to get us to stop it.”
Pat Jones said, “Yeah, yeah. They made up a story about an electrical specialist who killed himself by shoving an air compressor hose up his ass.”
The rest of the crew laughed a bit. I could see their shoulders sagging in relief.
“Whatever,” Frank said. “I'm telling you it aint a lie, but that don't matter anyway. Layoffs are coming. You better be ready to take it in the rear regardless.”
Frank was right. After 19 years of service to North Country Airlines, I gave-up my job. I knew layoffs were coming, so I took a voluntary, paid leave of absence. In the meantime, I sold my house and started looking for a new employer. The other guys didn't do so well. The pink slips caught 'em at unawares.
Most guys I worked with lost their houses, pensions, and sometimes their families. Many of my North Country buddies ended up on unemployment and welfare. Others just disappeared. The friends I talked to told me that quite a few of our North Country crew, like Frank and Jimmy, died.
Anyway, I was finished with working for the airlines. Caught between the unions that demanded too much pay for lazy asses who didn't do crap, and the North Country executives who took billions in return for shuffling papers and drinks on private jets, the average working stiff like me was bound to lose out. That's why I went federal.
Like that was better.
A lot of North Country mechanics ended up out at Hill Air Force Base near Layton, Utah like me. After six months of useless interviews, I got a job there in 2006. All my kids had moved out, so my wife Jan and I didn't have a problem relocating. I counted my blessings for getting out of North Country before they folded—even if that meant moving to Mormon-ville.
The people around there: they made me look over my shoulder. I'd lived and stayed just about everywhere in The States, from Nevada to Wyoming to Florida to New York. People in those places had their quirks, but folks in Salt Lake stared at you like an outsider. They tended to act a bit like Body Snatchers too. I had to put a “No Soliciting” sign up to keep them from bugging me to convert to LDS everyday.
My wife Jan started getting strange ideas about tolerance and getting to know our neighbors, so she invited a Mormon elder over one day. The elder, who was younger than me, came up to me as I was smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer on the porch. Bastard just turned straight around and went back home, thank God.
“Y'all have a good time on that planet Joseph Smith set you up with when you die,” I shouted at the elder. He glanced back with the cold, watery gaze the rest of 'em had, but he didn't say anything. “Remember to bleach your fancy mating underwear too,” I said.
O' course, I can't say all the Mormons were bad. I had some real decent LDS buddies at the base. None of them had offed themselves at the time, but that all changed real quick.
Salt Lake was a desert marshland, if there ever was such a thing. Me and Jan lived in a suburban neighborhood, sandwiched between the eastern side of the Rockies and the Salt Lake itself. The neighborhood looked real nice back then. Everyone mowed their grass, and all the landscaping was to standards. Factory forged tulips and lilies grew tall in most people's yards. People washed their cars regularly too. Sometimes, I felt like I was living in a movie.
I won't lie. My yard wasn't any different than the rest. I wouldn't let the Mormons judge me according to my plants and rocks. They already had enough against me because I drank and smoked.
Jan sometimes worried about the guys from North Country who died. We'd known a few of them, and she wondered if I'd begun to feel like they did. After all, I'd taken a huge pay cut by getting a job at the base. Sometimes, she scrunched her eyebrows over her big, brown beautifuls, and she asked me, “Are you okay,” and I knew the question was loaded with all kinds of 'what-ifs' and 'just-mights.'
I didn't know what to tell her. Everything seemed fine then, even when the first few mechanics on base started killing themselves.
Half of the guys I worked with at the the base were nice enough, but they didn't do shit either. That old saying about bad work being good enough for government is true far as I can tell. I'd been promoted to shift lead pretty fast because I actually did my job. I couldn't get half my crew to get off their butts and finish the jobs they'd begun. The ones that did do something started dying off quick.
Meanwhile, North Country wasn't the only airline with problems staying a-flight either. Every tenth mechanic on base came from Uniter or Sun West Airlines. We knew each other by our work ethic. There was Dale out of Denver, and Sunny out of Anchorage. As for John—the last one who died—well, he came from the MSP airport and North Country like me.
John and me just kind of stumbled across one another. He and I didn't hit it off right away. This old skinny safety guy stumbled into my hangar with a list of violations one day. He told me I needed to fix those violations before I could tell my crew to finish their work on the A-1s in hangar.
“You know every damn crew in this place violates those rules,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” he said, flashing his angry green eyes at me. His eyebrows were thick, but they ended in points. He had a double chin that might've accounted for half his weight. “I work over in 452,” he said. “They've got me pulling this shitty detail until the guy whose supposed to be doin' it comes back.”
“That don't mean...wait...” I stopped mid-sentence. “Where you from?”
“Minnesota,” he said. “Why?” He squinted at me.
“I could tell,” I said.
“How? You pull a file on me or something? No way you could tell where I'm from.” He bared his smoke-stained teeth at me and stared me down like a cornered puma. He balled his fists and backed up. At the time, his reaction seemed paranoid.
“Easy now,” I said, slapping him on the shoulder. “I'm originally from Tennessee, but I spent a great deal of my life in the frigid north working for a no good CEO, under the so-called protection of a worthless machinists union.”
“North Country,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Me too,” he said.
Well, we got to talkin' and John, and I became buddies after that. My wife Jan liked his wife Darcy too. We all used to hang out and brew beer and talk 'til midnight about the old North Country days. Even though John and I had never met in Minnesota, we knew some of the same people.
John's wife Darcy was a fat woman. No way to sprinkle cinnamon on it. She ate and drank more than most men I seen. The only thing on her that shone redder than her hair was her lipstick. Her face was plump and pretty, but she ruined its look with ten layers of makeup.
Darcy was a real estate agent who specialized in foreclosures, so she did well for herself, considering the recent near-depression and all. When I got John drunk enough, he liked to complain about how Darcy questioned his manhood all the time. He used to say he could never make enough money for her.
“She calls me a loser all the time,” John said to me one time while we sat across from each other at my kitchen table. This was during one of our late nights. He was wearing his favorite yellow Hawaiian shirt. I could see the shirt's pee color reflecting in his teary eyes. “And we're in so much damn debt,” he said. “Darcy just keeps on spending and spending. I mean, hell, we've already filed for bankruptcy twice.”
“You got to show her who's boss,” I told him, just as Jan and Darcy stumbled in from where they were having girl talk out on our deck.
“I'm the boss,” Darcy said, glaring at John. She patted him on the head like a kid. “Have you been telling him stories about your mean old wife?” Darcy asked in mock baby speech.
John glared at her. He swayed a bit in his chair as he took another swig of home brew. A droplet of beer ran down his stubbly chin.
“Well, poor little guy,” Darcy said, grabbing a napkin from the center of the table. “Do you need a bib?”
“Shut up,” John said.
“Why don't we tell them about your little friend?”
John said, “Shut your mouth right now.”
Jan and I spoke to each other with expressions and glances. “This is going to get ugly,” Jan's face told me. Uh huh, I nodded.
Darcy's icy air was colliding with John's hot front, and the clash was going to create one hell of a storm. Jan said, “How about we play some pool downstairs?”
John's face got red. He stared at Darcy, but she kept going: “He says something is following him."
John stormed out of the kitchen and went outside. Jan stood there, listening to Darcy for lack of something better to do. I just fingered a blue tile on our mosaic table top and gulped down more beer from the bottle in my other hand.
“Something?” I asked Darcy after a while. "You said John sees some thing?
“Never mind,” Darcy said.
“Well, you pissed-off John real good already," I said. "That made Jan and I real curious. It'd be impolite not to tell us now.”
Darcy wore a big black top that showed a lot of cleavage and a matching knee-length skirt. A gold crucifix hung between her enormous, sagging breasts. She didn't meet me or Jan's gaze. “I...I...don't mean that something is following him,” she says. “He thinks it's watching us, really.”
“So you've seen this thing too?” Jan asked.
Darcy said, “I can't really say...”
“For Christ's sake,” I said. “What is it?”
“Some kind of animal maybe,” Darcy said, meeting my gaze for the first time. The whites of her eyes were watered-over with fear. She looked out our kitchen window into the street-lit suburban night. “It walks on two legs, but its knees go backward like a raven's.
“So it's a bird?” I asked, rolling my eyes and swigging my beer.
“No,” Darcy said. “It's taller and skinnier than a man, but its quick. We...he only sees it through the window at night. Whenever he looks at it, it melts into the night. I mean that's what he says anyway.”
Jan put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes widened like she'd just seen a monster herself. Wondering if I should either laugh or start looking up shrinks on base, I asked Darcy, “So this...creature is black?”
“No. It's a lighter color—maybe green—but it finds the shadows and wraps itself in them like those urban mountain lions you always hear about. Sometimes, John says, it flies too.”
“Oh my God,” Jan said. “Chupacabra.”
Darcy nodded and a grin hiked up one side of her otherwise serious face.
“You're a damn liar,” I said, chuckling as I finished-off my beer.
“No,” Darcy said. “Seriously. I don't believe what John says either, but he swears it's stalking us.”
Jan said, “Darcy, this isn't a joke. There are strange things out there...”
Darcy looked around for her martini glass, which she'd set on our refrigerator so the cats couldn't get to it. “Oh Jan,” she said, reaching for the glass. “Don't tell me you actually believe in that kind of stuff?”
“You never know," Jan said.
“Sure,” Darcy said. “I guess you never do know, but I think my hubby is going wacko on me.”
Darcy and Jan started talking again. I didn't want to hear Darcy badmouth John anymore, so I went to find him. He was leaning against our back deck's cedar rail with a fifth of whiskey in one hand. His sunny Hawaiian shirt nearly glowed in the dark. His Minnesota Twins ball cap was tipped-up on his head as he stared at the stars.
“You got 'em here too,” John said.
“Them?” I asked.
“Never mind,” John said. “Something weird is going on, but I can't figure out if the Air Force or the Mormons are making it happen.”
"You're a veteran of the first Iraq War, right?" I asked.
"Yep," he said, taking a gulp of whiskey. "I was Cavalry. Why?"
“You sure you wanna mix that whiskey with the beer that's in your gut already?” I asked.
John glared at me. “Yes, mom. I can handle it. Now what were you going to say?”
“Nothing,” I said. What I'd wanted to tell him was that veterans could get free shrinks on base.
“Listen,” he said, looking into my eyes with his own dark peepers. I could tell John was sweating. His face reflected moonlight. “Here's how it is,” he said. “I made this video tape after high school prom.”
“Is this gonna get kinky?” I asked.
John cackled and nearly slid off the deck rail. I caught him and set him upright again.
“We haven't refinished the deck yet,” I said. “You may have some nasty splinters in the morning.”
“Pain and weirdness,” he said, tipping his bottle in the direction of our back yard's Norwegian Spruce.
“That's what makes life worth living, right?”
Wobbling in the moonlight, John looked at me. “See there, behind the spruce?” He asked. “That's where that thing goes in and out.”
Fear tickled my back. I searched the night for a hidden something. “Wh...” I began to ask.
“Forget what I just said,” John interrupted. “Enjoy the simple days while they last." He paused for a long time. I sipped a newly cracked beer while he slurped his whiskey. Sighing, he finally asked, "You know I lived in Lakeville, Minnesota when I was a teenager?“
“Sure,” I said. “I lived there too. Remember? That's where my kids graduated.”
“Right right,” he said. “Well, weird shit started cropping up there before I left. These guys. You know? These recruiter guys. They got the idea that I was the best kid in my class at fixing small engines, and they began to come around all the time. They said they wanted me to work with them on some secret project.”
“Who were these guys?” I asked. "Air Force?"
“No,” John said, looking at me with suspicion. “Why? I didn't say it was the Air Force. I mean, yeah, it was them too, but plenty of others.”
“You know, Lockheat Honeygood, Ballihurton, NASA, and Hoeing...”
“Now wait a minute,” I said. “Did you just say Lockheat Honeygood?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“They build space ships and military machines, you know? That was one hell of an opportunity.”
“I know,” he said, taking a swig of whiskey. I could tell where the story was going. His high school history already sounded a lot like my own. “Anyway,” he said. “I turned the recruiters down. The job was too much responsibility for me. But someone started following me all the time. I think it was them."
"What d'ya mean? Who?"
“I'd see shadows disappear around corners or behind bushes when I looked over my shoulder at night.” He tipped his whiskey toward my Norwegian Spruce again. "Like that." A couple of the tree's branches bounced. “I'd black out sometimes too. Days would go missing."
"Huh." I said, "That's strange." But then I remembered how large chunks of my teenage life went missing. One time, I woke-up on top of Clingman's Dome without a clue as to how I got there.
"I loved fixing stuff in high school," John continued. "I was only happy repairing or making things. The rest of the time I wore black clothes, piercings, and tattoos to advertise the chip on my shoulder.”
“You got over it,” I said.
John shrugged. “Even though I was a loner most of the time, I started feeling like I should do those things my parents always talked about, like going to football games and dances and stuff. I didn't want to miss out on what were supposed to be the best years of my life, so I went to my senior prom. I got a tux and a date—which was like hell freezing over for me, you know?”
“Uh huh,” I said.
“But all of that stuff's just dressing,” he said. “It's what happened after prom that still screws with me.”
“Okay,” I said. "So tell me what happened."
“After the dance, my friends and I bought gallons of Jim Beam and managed to sleeze our way into some hotel rooms. We partied all night, and some idiot brought a video camera. Since there was no chance of scoring with my date, I made a tape of myself.”
“Don't tell me you got naked,” I said.
“No," John said. "Nothing like that...". After pausing and staring at the Norwegian Spruce, he continued: “I don't remember recording myself that night, but I do recall watching the tape over and over again. I kept telling myself to kill myself, and that the darkness was closing in on all sides. "They're coming for you," I told myself. "They'll catch you one day. You better be ready.""
I chuckled. “Sounds like you had a good case of teenage angst.” Something besides the breeze was making the spruce's branches shiver. I thought about the animal Darcy had talked about. Nah, I told myself. She was just messing with us. Still, John was acting strange.
“True enough,” John said. “Now I think I would've been wiser to listen to myself. I mean...whatever was following me is still out there In the pines/In the pines/Where the sun don't ever shine,” he sang. “And I think it's looking at you Lance.”
“What the hell...”
“Shhhh now,” he said. “Stay simple as long you can. I was only kidding. You know, Darcy's vicious these days. It's like she doesn't love me anymore, but it goes way past that—like she'd prefer me homeless and dead.”
Thinking I finally understood what all John and Darcy's weirdness was about, I said, “Every married couple goes through rough patches—which is to say quicksand and cliff sides. You'll get past this one eventually, and things will get smoother. Jan and I will help you out the best we can. We're with you.”
“You mean it?” John asked. “No matter what?”
“Sure,” I said.
John laughed. “Shoot,” he said. “I scared that thing away by looking at it too long, but I've got just one more question for you.”
I rolled my eyes, saying “Uh huh. Sure John. I think you're just makin' a fool of me now. Did you and Darcy plan this?"
Ignoring me, John asked, “What would you do if something you had never seen before came at you right now?”
“What d'ya mean?”
“We've all seen bears and mountain lions—on TV at least—and if one of those animals charged you in the wilderness when you least expected it, you know you'd be scared shit less, right?”
“Right,” I said. “Unless I had something to kill it with.”
“But no one has a gun or a sword all the time.”
“A sword?” I asked. "What's that got to do with anything?"
“Nothing,” he said. “Just think about this though: What if something you'd never seen or heard of came out of that Norwegian Pine over there.”
“Like a monster?”
“Sure,” he said. “Or an alien, or something else that you never even guessed existed on earth?”
I tried to imagine it. Visions of panic and fright-frozen muscles came to mind. Then I started to think of what I could or should do to prepare for something like that. The black holes in my own teenage memory filled my mind again. If I gazed into those voids, I thought, I might see a charging monster or two. Jeez. He and Darcy are really getting to you, Lance.
John's teeth gleamed like fangs in the moonlight. “See,” he said, laughing. “I got you thinking. Now keep thinking. I mean, don't be afraid...”
“Ha,” I said. “I aint afraid. You're crazy.”
“Sure am,” John said. “But you were still afraid—and that'll kill you. I mean, if something came up to you and it wanted to shake hands, then so be it, but I got a feeling that things and people who go sneaking around at night want something else...”
“You got a point there,” I said, looking for a way to change gears. “That's why I fully support my own Second Amendment rights with a collection of find Remington shot guns and rifles.”
“Utah is great for hunting isn't it?” John asked, polishing off his whiskey.
“Sure is,” I said.
"Look deep into your past Lance," John said. "You'll find the information and courage you need to survive there. You're just like me. I can tell."
Before I could say anything else, John walked off my deck, into the kitchen, and asked Darcy to take him home. Darcy agreed to his request without a word, which was strange for her.
A week later, Darcy found a young pilot on base. She left John and took everything they had before John could get a lawyer to disagree. Shortly after Darcy left, John's manager Ted fired him for a bunch of bogus violations. I heard all this second hand from the guys I worked with. John never spoke to me again. Shortly after John got an alimony letter from Darcy's attorney, my friend slit his throat.
John wasn't the only Hill Air Force Base mechanic who killed himself either. Dozens of us died at that time, but I didn't have much time to think about my coworker's deaths when the monsters that had hunted John started coming after me.
This is the first chapter in an ongoing blog novel. It can also be read as a stand-alone narrative. You can read the other chapters by clicking on the links below. The Mechanic and all other stories on Tim's Blog are written and copyrighted by me, Tim Miller. Please contact me regarding publishing or redistribution at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm editing this story as I write it, so look for changes as I post more chapters.
Chapter Two: The Walker
Chapter Three: The Mechanic 2
Chapter Four: The Walker 2
Chapter Five: The Hunter
Chapter Six: The Cop
Chapter Seven: The Hunted
Chapter Eight: The Escapee
Chapter Nine: The Mercedes Man
Chapter Ten: The Shooter
Chapter Eleven: The Monster
Chapter Twelve: The Yeshasuri
Chapter Thirteen: The General
Chapter Fourteen: The Wendigo
Chapter Fifteen: The Librarian
Chapter Sixteen: The Suburbanites
Chapter Seventeen: The Paralibrarian
Chapter Eighteen: The Blighted
Chapter Nineteen: The Captive
Tags: story mechanic being alien minnesota utah gary frank lance north country
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