Night Creeps 2: A Very Adult Horror Story
I. Welcome to Parmissing Valley
Parmissing Valley is a small, reclusive town set within the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. Since the alien incursion six months prior in the spring, the population, which was once about fifteen hundred, was now a scant fifty or so.
The cover story provided by the federal government to the public about a rare strain of rabies that spread among many of the town’s population, explained issues such as why the bodies were burned and why the evacuated survivors were quarantined for forty-five days afterward.
Conspiracies filled the internet because of the concurrent and unexplained explosions at an Air Force Base and at nearby Clearview Hospital but, at this point, no one with enough credibility to open an investigation really cared. The problem was dealt with and the matter considered closed as far as the authorities were concerned.
Like Sheriff Justin Bowles and his deputy, Johnny Watkins, their nightmares about the creatures and what they did to their victims would scar them for life. What they didn’t realize was that the spring event was just the beginning of something much more frightening.
*******
On a starry night in the valley, three small lights shot across the sky and vanished over Graham’s Mountain. Justin, now the interim mayor, exited the municipal building and paused to observe the lights. Interesting, he thought to himself and continued to walk the half-mile to his home.
It was rare that he worked into the evening, but he had four days, counting the weekend, to review applicable permits and codes associated with mining in the state and county. An ambitious company was anxious to start a mining project on Graham’s Mountain and Justin wanted to understand all the requirements, both federal and state, before he gave them the okay to initiate the project.
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Now that the town was his, Justin was determined to make it a model for other towns and possibly even cities across the country. This was his opportunity to make something good out of the horror that befell them.
As he strolled along the side of the road, he regretted how long it had been since he dated. He found it difficult for an African-American in a rural, predominantly white region, to find someone of his persuasion. Of late, he felt the emptiness inside and longed for someone to share his life with.
Johnny, the interim sheriff, suggested several times that he ought to take a vacation on a singles’ cruise, which was likely his best opportunity to meet someone compatible. Unfortunately, that wasn’t Justin’s style. He preferred to meet someone naturally instead of seemingly arranged and let the chips fall where they may.
Taking notice of several of the empty buildings along the route, he assured himself that it was only temporary. Once the town’s new reputation spread, potential residents would come from all over and repopulate the town – his town.
He noticed a poster in the window of the local hardware store announcing the date and time of the town’s barbecue on Saturday to celebrate his and Johnny’s official swearing in to their new positions.
At times, Justin found it awkward to replace the previous mayor, who died under horrible circumstances. He often wondered what he would do if someone he cared for became an alien creature. Could he pull the trigger and shoot them or would he, like his predecessor, shoot himself to escape the pain? That was a question he hoped he’d never have to answer.
After twenty years as a police officer and less than a year as the sheriff, he knew it would be tough to take on a bureaucratic job like mayor even in Parmissing Valley. Justin was always on the front line, fighting crime or aliens and mutants, for that matter. He also knew it would be tough to avoid interfering with Johnny when he needed to step back and let him do his job as the new sheriff.
Johnny convinced Justin to join him at the gym regularly where they took out their anxieties from the incursion in the weight room. As a result, Justin looked rugged at two-hundred
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and ten pounds instead of the blubbery two-hundred and sixty that he weighed when he first arrived in the valley last year. He owed Johnny more for that than anything else. With the weight loss, his self-respect and dignity returned. He hoped that one day he could return the favor and help Johnny overcome the effects of their horrific experience.
Justin paused in front of his house and realized he was entering a new stage of his life and would have to accept it. Many things would be different from here on out. He was now an administrative leader instead of a field expert.
It can’t be that bad, he thought and entered the split-level rancher. Sometimes he had to admit that city life had its advantages. There was always someone around to talk to, friend or foe, and he missed that on many an occasion in Parmissing Valley.
After showering and changing into his pajamas, Justin stared in the mirror at himself disappointedly. “Looks like another lonely night in the Bowles household,” he grumbled cynically, then turned off the light and went to sleep.
*******
At twenty-nine, Johnny Watkins took pride in his physical appearance for the ladies and, with a regular workout regimen, he was fit and trim in his tan sheriff’s uniform.
Since the suicide of his girlfriend, Sally, three months ago, Johnny became more of a recluse, with Justin as his only friend. He blamed himself for her death and often wondered that, if he took her away from Parmissing Valley, maybe things would have been different. Since then, Johnny found it difficult to even consider dating. He believed that he was a train wreck when it came to social skills and always would be after the alien encounter.
Johnny expected that nothing much would change at the PV Police Station when he took over except that it was his to run as he saw fit. There would be, of course, the boring administrative responsibilities he dreaded that come with the job.
Then there was the issue of filling the deputy’s position. Johnny liked the solitude of having the station to himself and wasn’t anxious to take on anyone new. The solace gave him
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time to sort his feelings from the alien incursion and also his relationship with Sally. Perhaps one day he’d understand both.
*******
Saturday arrived and forty of the townspeople gathered in the parking lot of the municipal building to celebrate the election of Justin to mayor and Johnny to sheriff. Since the previous mayor’s death, their positions were temporary until a formal election could be held. Now, it was official: Justin was the mayor and Johnny was the sheriff.
A catering service came from the nearby town of Clearview to provide food and drink for the festivities since Parmissing Valley still lacked many of the basic services. When the swearing in was completed, Justin gave a brief speech at a podium on a decorated flatbed trailer and introduced Johnny as the new sheriff. As he stepped down off the trailer to the cheers of his supporters, he noticed a red Miata Mx-3 parked across the street in front of a small hotel. He thought it strange for a car of that caliber to appear in a small town like his. Must be some hotshot business person, he surmised. Maybe even a future tenant.
Another round of cheers filled the air as Johnny finished a short speech and left the podium to join him. The two sat down at one of twelve round tables and shared a beer.
“That was quick,” Justin remarked. “I thought you’d have a lot to say to some of those pretty ladies out there.”
“Not much to say,” replied Johnny with little enthusiasm. “I don’t think we’ll see much crime in this town for a while. Maybe a few cats stuck in the trees. That’s about it, though.”
Justin pointed to an attractive, red-haired woman standing near the concession stand. She wore a skirt and short-sleeved blouse. “She could be the one, Johnny. All you have to do is…”
“All I have to do is nothing,” Johnny responded curtly. “I’m not ready, Justin.”
“You never know when the action’s going to find you,” forewarned Justin. “The key is to be prepared.”
“Yes, father,” Johnny replied cynically.
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A young boy walked by them with a plate of chicken, mashed potatoes, and an ear of corn. Justin eyed the chicken and glanced at Johnny.
Johnny knew that look. “All right, let’s go get some. You’ll pay for this at the gym tomorrow.”
“Just one plate,” Justin suggested anxiously, “and maybe another beer, too.”
“Now, you’re talking.” Johnny agreed heartily. They slapped hands in a high-five and proceeded to the concession stand.
When the two men returned to their table, each had a plate of chicken, an ear of corn, potatoes, and a cold beer. They toasted to their first day officially at their new positions. They joked at the idea of campaigning, especially when they were the only candidates for their positions. It was no surprise they received all forty-seven votes from the permanent residents.
“I feel like a Chicago politician,” kidded Johnny. “You’re guaranteed an easy victory when you’re on the right team.”
“Well, we were the only candidates in this case,” countered Justin proudly. “If we didn’t win, I’d be real concerned.”
Justin sipped from his beer and looked past Johnny at the hotel across the street. A shapely, dark-skinned woman crossed the street and sauntered in their direction. He wondered if she was the owner of the Miata or just another tourist passing through. Quite a looker, he thought to himself as he ogled her.
Johnny interrupted his thoughts and inquired, “What about our man-power issue at the station?”
A sheepish grin crossed Justin’s face and Johnny realized he was in trouble. “It’s funny you should ask,” Justin replied slyly and took another sip from his beer. He was again distracted as the woman made eye contact with him. Justin fretted as he realized she was heading in his direction.
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“Something wrong?” asked Johnny, sensing Justin’s unease. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I was …,” he started to say.
The mysterious woman stopped at their table and interrupted his response. “Well, Mayor Bowles, I believe congratulations are in order for you and your sheriff,” she declared in a very outgoing manner, then extended her hand to each and shook.
Hardly looking like someone in her early thirties, she wore a short skirt, white blouse with her hair tied up neatly in a bun. Her height at almost six-feet, though intimidating, accented her brimming confidence while her friendly mannerism warned Justin that he should be concerned.
Johnny was curious as to who the woman was and even more amused by Justin’s nervous reaction to her. Suddenly the master was shaken.
Enamored by the woman, Justin struggled to regain his composure. “Do I know you?” he inquired.
“If you don’t, you will soon enough,” she answered assertively. “We have a meeting tomorrow at three.”
Justin’s eyes widened with surprise as he stammered, “You must be Ms. Bell from that, uh, magazine.” He was embarrassed that his memory failed him at such a pivotal time.
“Yes, Mayor, I am from … that magazine,” she chided.
Justin strained to recall the magazine’s name while exhibiting humility. “I’m sorry, Ms. Bell. So much has been going on that I have to write things down anymore.”
Johnny turned away to hide his smile. He enjoyed seeing Justin squirm in front of the woman. He recalled Justin’s advice to him earlier: You never know when the action is going to find you. The key is to be prepared. How sweet it is, he thought to himself. So much for preparation.
“Please, call me Sasha,” she requested.
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“Okay, Sasha. Once again, I’m really sorry for …”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Mayor. I’ll let you make it up to me tomorrow,” she said coyly. “Good day, gentlemen.”
The two men could only stare at her perfect ass and admire her as she walked away. Beads of sweat formed on Justin’s brow.
“Holy smokes!” uttered Johnny. “She is hot!”
“I can’t believe I forgot the name of her magazine. I am such a moron!” he blurted as he dabbed his forehead with a napkin.
Johnny reached into his pocket and handed him a tissue. “A little nervous, Justin,” he taunted playfully. “You have to be ready when the action comes to you, huh?”
“There is no action with her. She’s just here for …” he hesitated, wondering why she was there at all.
“I think she likes you,” Johnny commented. “She gave you the ‘look’.”
“Ah, shut up,” Justin uttered playfully. “What do you know about the ‘look’?”
“I’m no rookie, Justin,” Johnny remarked confidently.
The two men tapped their glasses together and drank.
“So, back to my question,” Johnny continued. “What about our new hire?”
“Our new hire,” he echoed smugly. “Let’s see …”
A beat-up, blue Toyota pickup truck pulled to a stop in front of the municipal building. Twenty-five year old Paula Mason stepped out and took a circular view of the mountains surrounding the little town.
With her shoulder-length, blonde hair waving lightly in the breeze, she savored the beginning of her new career away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Chicago. Paula had large breasts for a petite woman at five-foot, four inches and a mere hundred pounds per her
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resume. Dressed in tight jeans and a pull-over sweater, she weaved through the small crowd with a lively gait to the concession stand.
Justin spotted her and leaned back in his chair, delighted by the timing of her appearance. Johnny noticed his demeanor and knew a trap was about to be sprung on him. “What are you up to, my cagey friend? You have a very suspicious look about you.”
“It seems you know a lot about looks today, Johnny.”
“You’d be surprised what I can tell from a look,” he remarked proudly and scanned the area around them for a clue. Unsure of what he was looking for, he turned his attention back to Justin. “All right,” he relented. “What gives?”
Justin smiled and held up one finger. “Wait for it,” he said giddily and closed his eyes, savoring the moment.
“You’d better not screw me on this, Justin,” Johnny warned nervously. “I will get you back.”
Paula searched the crowd as she approached the booths. She questioned the caterer as he prepared a plate for her. He pointed at Justin and handed her a beer. Paula thanked the man and approached their table.
Justin opened his eyes and whispered cunningly to Johnny, “You’re about to meet her.”
“Her?” Johnny responded uneasily, then turned around anxiously and spotted Paula coming toward them.
“Yes, that’s her,” he answered proudly.
“You hired a woman?”
“Yes, and a darned good one.”
Johnny was shocked that Justin would bring in a female after what he went through with Sally. He knew Justin wanted to force him to open up to women again. Johnny put his head in his hands dejectedly as he sensed nothing good would come of Justin’s ruse.
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During the phone interview with Paula, Justin felt a certain attachment to her when she mentioned her need to escape city life due to tragic circumstances. The two of them had that in common and he knew what it meant for him to get away when he came to Parmissing Valley. Hiring her seemed to be the right thing to do for another reason he couldn’t explain. It was just one of those gut feelings you get as a cop.
Paula stood between the two men, beaming with pride while holding her beer and a plate of food. “Good afternoon, Mayor Bowles,” Paula said politely. She set her food on the table and shook his hand. “May I join you, gentlemen?”
“Of course,” replied Justin pleasantly.
The two men stood and Johnny politely pulled a chair out for her to sit.
“Thank you. You must be Sheriff Watkins.”
“I am, ma’am,” replied Johnny cautiously.
“Johnny, this is Paula Mason, your new deputy from Chicago.”
Paula and Johnny shook hands. “Welcome to Parmissing Valley,” replied Johnny graciously. He gave Justin a nervous glance as he suspected there was more to this hiring than just a pretty face.
The three of them sat down together.
“I didn’t expect to see you until Monday, Paula,” Justin remarked.
“I was really excited about coming out here and getting started. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
Justin proposed a toast to their newest deputy. Immediately after they sipped from their beer, Johnny questioned Paula about her qualifications. When he was satisfied that Justin made a good choice, Paula then countered with questions about his background and lifestyle.
Johnny was taken by her boldness. For someone in a new town, she was neither nervous nor intimidated.
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Justin’s mind wandered to Sasha during their conversation and what brought her from New York City to a small town like his. He was convinced that there was an ulterior motive.
Music interrupted their conversation as two local country western singers took the stage and entertained the crowd with cover songs. Six couples got up in front of the stage and danced energetically to the music.
As Johnny watched them, Paula noticed his interest in the music and the hopeful gaze in his eyes. Johnny glanced at her and smiled.
Paula promptly responded as a joke, “Sorry, I don’t dance, Sheriff.”
Johnny was surprised by her remark and countered, “Neither do I. I just like the music.”
“Touché,” she said coyly.
A Dodge Ram drove past the gala, towing a long, unmarked trailer. A large U-Haul truck and an Escalade followed.
That’s odd, Justin thought.
Paula noticed his perplexed expression and inquired, “Something wrong, Mayor?”
“No, just some new visitors in town.”
“Anything unusual going on?” she continued. “That’s a strange combination of vehicles.”
Justin was surprised that she took notice of them without exhibiting a glance and countered. “You saw them, too, huh?”
Johnny turned around to see what he missed but the vehicles were out of their sight.
“I rode in behind them on the interstate,” Paula confessed. “They’re from Nevada.
Justin liked her confidence. He held his beer up to her as a sign of his approval and drank to her.
“I don’t miss much, sir,” she assured Justin and then winked at Johnny.
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Johnny became annoyed with Paula’s bubbly enthusiasm and brimming confidence. He took a sip of his beer and focused on a middle-aged woman standing in front of the stage. She wore tight jeans and a blouse tied at the midriff.
Paula again noticed his interest and teased, “Cougars are a dangerous sort, Sheriff. Sometimes they leave a nasty bite.”
Justin burst into laughter and enjoyed the challenge she posed to Johnny. Unfortunately, Johnny wasn’t thrilled by her audacity and set his glass of beer down with authority. “Look Miss Mason,” he said sternly, “you don’t come in here and start critiquing your boss the first day you meet him.”
Paula looked down sheepishly as Johnny stared her down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it, Sheriff,” she replied innocently. “I was kidding with you.”
She was relieved to see that Justin enjoyed their showdown and didn’t see any harm in it.
Johnny eyed Paula curiously and asked somberly, “Have you ever had a cougar before, Miss Mason?”
Paula was shocked by his question. “Of course not! What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“Well, neither have I,” he continued sarcastically.
“Then maybe you should,” she replied defensively.
“Maybe we both should,” he taunted callously.
The two locked eyes as each waited for the other to blink. Paula refused to back down and kept her eyes glued to Johnny’s.
Justin was intrigued by the surprising turn in the conversation and quickly interceded. “I have a meeting tomorrow afternoon with a representative from a company that wants to mine diamonds on Graham’s Mountain.”
Paula was relieved to end the stalemate and turn her attention to Justin. “Strip miners?” she asked.
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“No, they have something new and improved for their mining process.”
“I’d like to hear more about them when you have time.”
“I can do better than that. You and Johnny will deliver the permits to them when I’m finished with the paperwork.”
“That’ll be great!” Paula replied excitedly. She finished her beer and stood up.
Johnny stared at the band on the stage and pretended to ignore her. She was embarrassed that Johnny wasn’t thrilled with her presence and fretted the idea of starting her knew career off on the wrong foot.
Scrambling for something positive to say, she informed Johnny, “Don’t worry, Sheriff, there’s a lot more of me to like than meets the eye. I won’t disappoint you.” Then she realized how clumsy that sounded. Paula you are such an idiot! she told herself.
“We’ll see,” he said disinterestedly and finished his beer. Johnny winced at the idea of having her as a partner. He envisioned her talking his ear off about how things were in Chicago.
“You’re leaving already?” asked Justin, concerned that he let things get too far out of hand.
“I’m sorry, Mayor. I’d like to stay,” she replied with a pleasant smile, “but I have to meet a realtor about a house.”
Justin and Johnny stood and shook hands with her again.
“Welcome aboard, Paula,” said Justin. “We’re glad to have you.”
Justin glared at Johnny and nodded for him to acknowledge Paula.
“I’m looking forward to working with you,” replied Johnny unconvincingly. “Just be cool. This isn’t the big city out here.”
“I know. It’s cougar country,” she teased, again but immediately wanted to kick herself for the slip.
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“Miss Mason,” Johnny said sternly, “I warned you once already.”
Paula responded apologetically, “Sorry, boss. Thank you both again for the job. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She left them and dropped her plate and glass off at the clean-up booth.
Johnny stewed as he didn’t appreciate her remarks, regardless of how innocently she meant them. He already struggled with self-confidence with women and didn’t need someone to remind him of it.
Justin was concerned by Johnny’s defensive attitude. “She’s only messing with you, Johnny. That’s what friends do.”
Johnny bit his lip and refrained from responding.
The two men ogled Paula as she walked away, eyes glued to her small but shapely ass.
“Damn, she’s got a hell of a walk, eh, Johnny?” Justin sighed as she stepped inside her truck and closed the door.
Johnny said nothing, wishing that she’d keep going and never come back.
“Well, Johnny, I hate to leave but I have a few calls to make. I hope you enjoy your new partner,” he added with a chuckle.
“You’re not right, Justin,” Johnny replied cynically. “You just aren’t right.” Johnny was used to Justin playing jokes on him and became more suspicious of Paula’s selection for his new deputy than at first. He grabbed Justin by the wrist and asked, “What’s the catch with her? I know you all too well.”
Justin smiled at him. “Why would you think there’s a catch? She’s a wonderful girl. Just give her time to get acclimated.”
When Johnny released his hold on him, Justin patted him on the back and suggested, “You need to relax, man. Everything’s gonna’ be fine.”
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“Just what I need around here,” Johnny complained. “Another city cop telling me what to do.” Then he recalled that Justin fit that same description and he laughed. “Must be a special on city cops these days,” he quipped.
“Ah, you and she are going to be a nice match,” Justin assured. “Both of you have excellent perceptive abilities. Remember how you and I started?”
“Yeah, we didn’t hit it off too well at the start either,” he recalled. “I guess I should thank you that we got over it.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Justin replied giddily and left Johnny floundering.
*******
The police station was a simple modular building with a kitchenette, restroom, small supply room, sleeping area, and the main living area. Four desks were centered in the middle of the room. A thirty-five inch TV sat on the counter in front of the window. Blank forms were stacked sloppily in piles on either side of the TV. Files, empty energy drink cans, and food wrappers were scattered across the desktops and three overflowing trashcans next to Johnny’s desk made for a real mess.
Johnny arrived the next morning at the station feeling tired and miserable. He didn’t sleep well and considered seeing a doctor for prescription sedatives. Tonight was his night to go to the gym with Justin but he needed sleep. Justin would surely torment him when he asked to skip a night.
He dropped into his seat at the desk nearest the front window and TV. After rubbing his eyes and yawning, he turned on Sunday wrestling on the TV set. A fly buzzed near his left ear and annoyed him as he watched the feature match between the number two and three contenders for a shot at the wrestling championship. He swatted the nagging fly with a tattered swatter and sipped from a leftover can of Red Bull.
A commercial was running so Johnny muted the TV and peered out the window at an empty street. He wondered if people would ever return or if it would continue to be something just short of a meaningless ghost town.
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Johnny appreciated the effort that Justin put in to help restore the town’s population. After three trips to the state capitol, Justin convinced the politicians to offer incentives to draw people back to the town. With the state’s backing, he hoped to dispel any lingering fears and rumors of plagues, rabid creatures, and mysterious deaths. Johnny felt guilty for not sharing his friend’s enthusiasm but the horrors they experienced don’t fade away easily. The wrestling match returned and Johnny turned off the mute on the TV.
Paula’s pickup truck raced into the parking lot and skidded to a stop between Johnny’s Jeep and the police SUV. She hopped out and retrieved her gym bag from the Toyota’s bed. Feeling nervous on her first day at work, she took a deep breath and walked to the small patio at the entrance. She wholly expected to be welcomed by Johnny with at least a ‘good morning’, but when she entered the station, she immediately noticed his dour mood. She greeted him politely and waited patiently for his response.
Glancing at the clock and then at Paula, he remained frigid toward her. “Not bad, Mason,” Johnny commented stoically. “Fifteen minutes early, but it’s Sunday. Why are you here?”
Paula dropped her bag on the floor and shifted in front of him, blocking his view of the TV. He displayed no emotion over her presence and nonchalantly motioned with his hand for her to move out of the way.
Paula glanced back at the TV and stepped aside. “Sheriff, I’m ready to work.”
“Not now,” Johnny replied in a disinterested monotone voice. “The winner of this match gets the championship match next week.”
Paula was confused by his coldness and pulled up a chair next to him. “Good morning, Sheriff Watkins,” she announced with a tad of attitude in her voice. “As I said, I’m ready to work.”
A commercial came on the TV again. “Damn it!” he complained and muted the voice.
“Sorry if I interrupted your show,” she responded sarcastically.
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Pointing to the desk in the back corner, he replied, “You can have that desk if you like. Uniforms are in the closet next to the kitchenette. The Mayor suggested that you wear kid sizes.”
Paula stood in front of him and proudly stuck her chest out. “Do these look like kid sizes to you, Sheriff?”
Johnny was surprised by her boldness and held his hands up. “I’m only kidding, Miss Mason. You can stand down.”
Johnny became nervous as he sure didn’t want a sexual harassment charge against him on her first day at the station. He focused his attention once again on the TV.
Paula sat down in the chair next to his desk and inquired, “Do you have something against women, Sheriff?”
“Not at all,” he replied without taking his eyes off the TV.
“Is it my age?” she asked disappointedly. “I can understand if you prefer older women.”
Now quite irritated, Johnny turned to her and warned, “If I hear one more reference to older women, cougars, or anything of the sort, you’ll find yourself going back to wherever you came from. Got it, Mason?”
Johnny turned off the mute when the wrestling match resumed. He was determined to put an end to the cougar remarks.
Paula glared at him defiantly and responded, “Fine. I won’t mention your …”
Johnny glared at her and waited for her to say it but she reluctantly refrained.
Perplexed, Paula went to the closet and picked out three shirts and pants. She studied them for a moment and glanced back at Johnny. It was time for her to make a statement. With a devious grin, she took her uniforms to the desk and removed her shirt, hoping to gain his attention from the TV. Johnny continued to ignore her, frustrating her even more. She unbuckled her jeans and tossed them on the desk.
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Johnny finally glanced over at her and was stunned to see her standing there in a pink bra and panties. “Whoa there, Ms. Mason, there’s a rest room for changing.”
“Since you’re ignoring me, I figured I’d change right here,” she countered arrogantly and donned the department’s tan shirt and chocolate brown pants. “You just go back to watching your near-naked boys on TV.”
“They aren’t naked boys, damn it!” Johnny shouted at her. He was clearly distracted by her appearance.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Your near-naked men.”
Johnny muted the TV in frustration, realizing she wasn’t going away. “I guess you want boots, too.”
Paula sat on the desk and wiggled her toes. “No, I think I’ll just work barefoot,” she commented cynically.
Johnny took notice of the size of her feet and reached under the desk for a shoe box with a pair of women’s Wolverine boots inside. He tossed the box to her and turned his attention back to the TV.
Paula opened the box and ogled the new boots. She glanced at the side of the box and complained, “These are size seven. I asked the mayor for a six.”
Johnny sighed and turned off the TV. He wasn’t going to enjoy the show today and maybe never again, so long as she was there. Maybe this was Justin’s idea of a joke – someone to tantalize him.
“They run a little small,” he explained in a more civil tone. “I thought a size seven would be easier on your feet.”
“Ah, you do care about me,” she kidded.
“I didn’t say that,” he grumbled.
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Paula smiled at him and took a pair of socks from her gym bag. “Regardless, it was very thoughtful of you, Sheriff,” she replied as she slid the first boot on. The boot fit nicely as she took several trial steps in it. “This feels really comfortable. Good call.”
Johnny felt aroused as he tried not to look at her. The image of her standing there in a bra and panties was engrained in his brain. Before he let his thoughts of her get too personal, he grabbed the keys to the police SUV and went to the front door.
“Where are you going?” she asked curiously.
“Got some stops to make. I’ll be back later.”
“What should I do?”
“Johnny looked around the station and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Do whatever you think a deputy should do.” He stepped out the doorway and drove off in the SUV.
Paula studied the messy police station and decided to tidy things up a bit. wondered if her new job wasn’t going to be what she hoped for. She recalled how she left her last job in the city because of bigots and chauvinists. Unfortunately, Johnny already seemed like a real pain in the ass and likely was just another male pig.
Perhaps, she hoped, he just needs a woman’s touch. After another look around the messy station, she felt the need to make a difference. Paula bagged much of the trash and emptied the cans. She swept the floor and wondered how Johnny managed to work through such a mess.
When six o’clock arrived, Johnny still hadn’t returned. Paula felt alone with no one to talk to all day. Dejectedly, she closed up the station and went home to her apartment.
She hadn’t eaten all day and felt tired. It would have been nice to have lunch or dinner with her new boss and get to know him better. Instead, she wasted her time and waited for nothing.
As she drove away from the station, horrible flashbacks of her boyfriend being beaten to death by thugs three years ago haunted her. She arrived at the apartment and hurried inside. The
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emptiness sent chills down her spine. Her hopes of putting the incident behind were crushed with nothing positive to look forward to in Parmissing Valley after all.
Several times, she stared out the window at the empty street while eating chicken noodle soup. When she finished, she pushed the bowl away and plopped on the couch. “I’ll go crazy if I don’t find something to keep me occupied,” she grumbled aloud.
After a hot shower, she lay down on the bed and became restless. With the window open, she could hear the sounds of animals from the woods behind her apartment. A cool breeze blew in off the mountain and the curtains flapped gently. The serenity of the night air relaxed her and she finally nodded off.
*******
The next day, Johnny returned to the station and took a seat at his desk in front of the TV. He turned on the Monday morning news and twisted the cap off a bottle of orange juice.
A few moments later, Paula’s truck pulled up outside the station. She pondered what grief she’d receive today from Johnny. When she entered the station, neither spoke to the other. Paula set her gym bag down on her desk and went to the kitchenette.
Johnny grew irritated as she rattled around in the cabinets. He turned up the volume and continued watching the news.
Paula stepped out of the kitchenette with a spray bottle of cleaner and paper towels. “I waited until six o’clock for you to come back,” she announced sarcastically.
“What for?” asked Johnny. “I can’t pay you overtime for that. Hell, I can’t even pay you straight time. You’ll have to book it for comp time.”
“Look at this place!” Paula shouted at him, bristling. “I never worked in such a pigsty before.”
When a commercial appeared on the screen, Johnny lowered the volume. Damn, she’s just like Jeanie. Nothing’s ever right. Then he realized the irony in his thought. Perhaps that’s why Justin hired her.
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He turned toward her and explained, “You have to understand some things here, Paula. We went through a terrible spell with the outbreak and all. After it ended, the Mayor and I were busy recovering from the catastrophe, corpses and the federal inquisitions that followed. Ergo, things are a mess.”
Paula stared coldly at Johnny. “And I see you’re doing a good job of restoring order around here,” she chided. “I guess watching TV is part of your daily regimen.”
Johnny grew weary of her nagging and went to the rest room. Jeanie was his deputy for two short months before moving on to another town. She used to nag him but it was all in fun. They tormented each other like a brother and sister. Paula was…, well, that he wasn’t sure of yet.
When he returned to his desk, Paula entered the restroom and sprayed the toilet seat with Lysol. She figured that two can play at this game.
Johnny did a double-take when he saw what she did. He jumped out of his chair and barked at her. “Leave the cleaning alone, damn it!”
“You like living like a slob?” she taunted. “I thought I was hired to work in a police department, not a daycare center for misfit boys.”
Her words stunned him. Misfit was a good term to describe the state he was in. Ashamed, he promised, “I’ll hire a service to take care of it.” He returned to his chair and raised the volume again on the TV.
“That’s pathetic!” she countered angrily. “You can’t keep a simple place like this clean on your own? What kind of Sheriff are you?”
Johnny raised the volume higher on the TV. His blood pressure rose as he resented her questioning his authority. She grew flustered as well with his stubbornness and returned to the kitchen.
Too aggravated to enjoy the news, he relented and turned off the TV. While watching Paula toil in the kitchen, he felt some remorse. He considered that maybe there was no catch to her. Perhaps Justin hired her because she was qualified and would fit in with their rural environment if he’d give her a chance.
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Johnny stared out the side window toward the mountains in the distance. Dark clouds formed over one of the peaks, indicative of an approaching storm. He recalled the events that led to the alien invasion of Parmissing Valley that fateful day in the Spring. It was a warm and humid day just like this one. The cable had no signal and the radios went dead. Then the bodies turned up. Soon after, the locals became mutants and attacked in packs. It was horrible, like something out of a horror movie.
Paula peered out at him from the kitchenette and noticed the sadness in his eyes. She suspected that there was more to the story that Justin told her during the interview than an outbreak of rabies and she was eager to know what really happened that would affect the men so.
Hoping for a thaw in their relationship, she leaned against the doorway and spoke humbly, “I’m sorry, Sheriff. Please understand, it means a lot for me to fit in here. I’m a city girl and it’s a big change.”
Johnny sipped from his bottle of orange juice and replied somberly, “You will fit in, Paula. Just relax and give me time. I’ve got my own demons to deal with right now and I’m not sleeping well.” He tossed the empty bottle at the trashcan and missed. The bottle rolled across the floor. When he glanced back at Paula, she frowned at him.
“Sorry about that,” he said apologetically and then picked up the bottle.
“I appreciate that,” she replied. “It shows that you respect me.”
Johnny tossed the bottle in the Recycle can and returned to his seat. Feeling her eyes upon him, he turned to her and explained, “Of course I respect you, Paula. It’s me I have a problem with. That damn outbreak really screwed things up around here and it screwed me up even more.”
Growing more curious over the ‘outbreak’, she pulled up a chair next to him and requested, “Would you tell me about this outbreak you guys dealt with?”
Johnny looked away from her and said nothing. Paula grew frustrated again and returned to the kitchenette.
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Johnny considered revealing the details of the alien incursion to her but he was very uncomfortable about sharing his experience. Baffled about whether to reveal the truth or not, he entered the kitchenette and leaned against the counter. Now he had to say something of interest to her.
Paula glanced back at him and then inserted a plastic bag into the trash can. Johnny hoped that she would say something first but she ignored him and continued her task of cleaning the kitchenette.
“To be honest, Paula,” he started sheepishly, “it was more than an outbreak.”
“No kidding,” Paula quipped without looking back. “I already figured that part out.” She opened the freezer and frowned at the frozen contents. A package of ground meat had thawed and refroze during a power failure some time ago and the meat looked grossly discolored. She tossed it into the trash can.
At a loss for words, Johnny found himself in an awkward moment. Paula stood with her hands on her hips and insisted, “How about some details? After all, I am a member of your team. Perhaps you should treat me like one.” She turned back to the freezer and continued to remove spoiled meat.
While considering her words, Johnny took notice of Paula’s shapely figure from behind. Her ass was so perfect and stirred emotions that he hadn’t felt in a while. Quickly, he reminded himself to be professional about their working relationship.
“Well,” she said wryly, growing impatient with his silence.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he began cautiously, still distracted by her ass.
Paula sensed that he ogled her and was pleased that he finally took notice of her. She had her own demons to deal with and hoped that, if she had the right man in her life, she might be able to put the past behind her. Three years was a long time for any woman to be alone.
Another awkward moment passed and she turned to him. “Try me. I might surprise you,” she prodded and gazed at him with big brown eyes.
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Johnny noticed the coyness in her tone and the innocence with which she looked at him. Despite his rudeness toward her, she kept trying to be civil toward him. “Do you believe in aliens?” he asked uneasily.
“Not really.”
“Then you’d better start,” he replied sternly as he became emotionally charged. “You’d better start believing in a lot of things because monsters and aliens … they’re real.”
Paula stood up angrily and got in his face. “Don’t screw with me!” she warned with a cold stare. “I’m not stupid.”
Along with her fire, Johnny saw her passion. Something about that look turned him on. They both were locked in a frozen moment in time until he turned away. Perhaps, he considered, it was better not to reveal the truth about the alien incursion right now. Flashbacks of Sally’s death robbed him of his courage to speak further.
“Stick to the outbreak story,” he advised. “That’s all you can handle.”
Paula wasn’t sure if he mocked her or was that scarred inside but in either case she refused to be treated like a child with boogie man stories. “Oh no, Sheriff. Don’t stop there.” she insisted. “Let’s hear it.”
“Just leave it alone.”
“Look, I’ll decide what I can handle and what I can’t.”
“Forget I ever mentioned it,” he said dejectedly. Johnny wanted so badly to share his feelings about what he went through but who would listen without thinking he was insane. With his luck, Paula might shoot herself, just like Sally did.
Paula floundered for words to encourage him to continue his story. This was a critical point in building trust between them and she had to break through to him.
Johnny reached past her and opened the refrigerator. He took out another Red Bull and left the kitchen with his head down.
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Paula yelled and warned him, “If you’re serious, I won’t doubt you, but if you’re trying to make a fool out of me, I won’t play very well either.”
“Not today, Deputy,” Johnny replied then sat quietly at his desk. He tapped on the desktop nervously with a pencil and rubbed his forehead.
Paula thought better of pursuing the conversation and ruining what little progress she made with him. Frustrated, she resumed the dubious task of cleaning the freezer.
The last item she retrieved was a plastic bag, containing an odd sausage-shaped piece of meat with a flared end on it. Unbeknownst to her, it was an alien tongue, stored there by Justin during the incursion and forgotten. She innocently wondered if it was Jeanie’s poor attempt at home-made kielbasa that went awry.
“Maybe my cooking could help improve things between us,” she hoped. Without another thought, she tossed the bag with the tongue into the trash can.
Once the bag was full, she struggled to remove it from the trash can and lugged it outside the station to the trash receptacle. As she did, she recalled the interview with Justin. He told her so much about Jeanie and her impact on the team during their phone call. He honestly believed that a female is vital to their chemistry and she would be that missing piece.
Paula sensed the camaraderie that Justin and Johnny had for Jeanie and was determined to earn that same respect. More importantly, she needed to belong somewhere, someplace, and to someone for her own sanity.
Johnny glanced at a picture on his desk of him surrounded by Justin, Jeanie and Sally, taken right before Sally’s death. They were happy for a brief period over their success against the aliens but then things changed. The nightmares started. Sally’s suicide made things all the worse. Then Jeanie suddenly left to be with her boyfriend in another town. She was really spooked by Sally’s death and felt that something alien had tainted them.
“What if the aliens return again?” he often asked himself. This time he’d be responsible for taking action the way Justin did before. He recalled last year how he disrespected Justin and treated him as a coward when they first met. Justin came from out of nowhere and took the
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sheriff’s position right out from under him. Then, when the event started, he realized that Justin was the right man for the position. They developed a mutual respect for each other and an even better friendship. Now, it was Johnny’s turn to lead if things ever went bad.
When Paula returned, Johnny hadn’t moved and was still bitter. She lifted a second green trash bag from the plastic can and hauled it out of the kitchenette. This one was much heavier than the first bag. Pausing by the desk, she waited for Johnny to offer some assistance. Without even a glance at her, he left his desk and walked out of the station.
Aggravated, Paula hauled the heavy bag outside and heaved it inside an aluminum trash receptacle underneath a steal overhang. She angrily kicked the lid away and cursed when she jammed her big toe through her boot in the process.
If this is how it’s going to be, I won’t be staying here very long, she decided. “He’s such an asshole.” she complained to herself disgustedly.
Johnny stood by the police SUV and debated making the call to Justin. Something about today gave him the creeps. He sensed the evil that preceded the last alien incursion was returning once more. Perhaps he was losing his mind.
When he looked back at the station, he saw Paula standing at the front door with her hands on her hips, looking pissed. “This isn’t right,” he mumbled to himself. “She doesn’t deserve this.”
Paula shook her head at him disappointedly and went back inside the station. Johnny rubbed his eyes in frustration. Maybe I should tell her what happened, he contemplated. It was times like this that he appreciated having Jeanie around. “Pull up your man-panties!” she’d shout at him. “I’m not your babysitter.” A smile returned to his face as he recalled the good times. Maybe one day Paula could fill her shoes if he gave her the chance. The difference between the two is that Jeanie was in a relationship with someone else. Johnny knew from the beginning that he’d never have her. Paula, on the other hand, was single, according to Justin.
Johnny went back inside and leafed through several proposed zoning revisions on his desk.
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“Feeling better?” Paula asked icily from the kitchenette.
Johnny looked up and tried to ascertain her meaning. “Are you concerned or just mocking me?” he asked.
Paula stood in front of him and spoke sarcastically, “Let me rephrase that: Are you done acting like an ass?”
Johnny was embarrassed and apologized. He picked up a yellow envelope with the permits for the mining company and left the station.
Paula was more puzzled than ever. She took a broom from a closet in the kitchenette and swept the floor, all the while wondering if Johnny was insane or just seriously screwed up. Either way, he was a mess.
*******
Johnny drove the police SUV down the highway toward Graham’s Mountain. His mind was filled with frightening images of mutants and aliens as they attacked the town before. Then, he suddenly remembered Paula standing in front of him at the station in her pink bra and panties.
Damn girl’s got a hell of a body on her, he thought to himself. Then he considered where their relationship could go if he learned to get along with her. He tossed the envelope with the permits in the back seat and parked on the side of the road. “That cougar shit’s got to stop, though,” he muttered and then chuckled over the absurdity of the topic. His imagination took over and he imagined Paula scantily clad. Then she slowly unhooked her bra and …
“What the hell am I doing?” he bellowed as he snapped out of his daydream. He placed the SUV in ‘drive’ and continued on.
As he cruised along the Pomona Trail near the top of Graham’s Mountain, he noticed a charred section of grass and bushes about six feet in diameter. He stopped and inspected the burnt foliage, wondering what could have caused it.
When he knelt near the blackened soil, he noticed a conical depression in the ground of about three feet as if there was an impact from some object. Seeing no evidence of what might
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have caused the depression, he attributed it to a bolt of lightning or even a meteorite. He scanned the area further but saw nothing of interest.
In the trees above him, an alien creature with wings, an Ardonean, watched him with keen interest. The creature, the size of a large dog, resembled a dragon with a patch of short tendrils across its chest. It remained motionless and was unnoticeable in its stance among the branches.
Johnny took his camera from the SUV and snapped pictures of the area including the trees around him. Perhaps there was something he missed that would show up in the pictures on the computer later on. He returned to his vehicle and sat for several moments, contemplating what to do next. Debating whether or not he should deliver the permits, he felt guilty doing it without Paula. She was so interested in the mining project and the new technology that was going to be used.
His thoughts turned to Paula again, standing in front of him in a bra and panties. A smile crossed his face as he imagined Paula wrapping her arms around him and pressing her body against his. “Stop it!” he scolded himself and drove off.
When he arrived at the station, he was relieved to see that Paula had gone already. He felt bad that she waited the previous afternoon for him to return and really didn’t want to roil her any more than he already did. Johnny placed the camera on the empty desk next to his and retrieved his gym bag from underneath his desk. With nothing more to be accomplished, he turned off the lights and left the station.
Outside, he paused to send Justin a text that he would be at the gym. When he peered up at the peak of Graham’s Mountain, he cringed. “I hate that fucking mountain,” he groaned as he climbed into his vehicle and drove off.

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