The cloud came in low over the horizon as if it was holding hands with sky and Earth, and shadows fell from its silhouette forming strange figures of shade across the landscape. Gurley Kindreck, at the lookout post on Foster Creek, grabbed the phone and twisted the crank on an old army land phone. Behind him, wires snaked all the way back to headquarters in the heart of Burrell, Kansas, much of its corn crop already pulled, the rest of it dying in the after-lights of the enemy’s rays.
“Listen,” he said. “I want you to know they have changed their appearance. Now they look like a cloud, a huge cloud where all the ghosts of them have banded together, but the rays hit and destroy everything they’ve been aimed at from what I’ve seen. They destroy crops, trees, wooden houses, and glass in greenhouses, metal parts of vehicles like they were back being melted in the steel mill in Pittsburgh or Bethlehem.”
It was an old teammate on the other end of the line. “Gurley, this is Beaver Palatin. How come they haven’t got you yet? I am surprised, but really glad to hear your voice, Gurley. Never thought I’d hear it again. But how come they haven’t got you yet.”
“Well, old pal, I’m lucky, I guess, but I remember that catch you made in our big game. You were a clutch guy. I’m glad you’re still around too. How’d you do it so far?”
“My luck, too. What’re you reporting?”
“These Boogeymen, as the kids have been calling them long before we ever dreamed of them, thinking the kids were stretching tall tales on all of us, are as real as they can be. But they have locked themselves into one cloud as big as a dozen football fields. You can give this information to the army guys and the militia to see if it’s any good for them, but they tried to get at Silver Hill, which I heard from another spotter and could not get past the rock and the cliffs over there. Just got stood back like those rays went useless around rock walls. Small cabins, houses, huge estates out at Celebrity Ring went down like they were dust. Just oozed off like a dry mud flaking away to nothing.”
“How do you explain that, old buddy?”
“I’m not sure, Beaver, but I’m coming in tonight when my relief gets here after dark and tell the big boys I have a few ideas I’ve picked up. These scary things, Boogeymen or whatever they’re called on their side of the rays, are fearsome, but I might have some ideas.”
“I’ll be glad to see you, Gurley. I remember in some games how you knew what the other guys were going to do before they did it. Sure was fun, wasn’t it? Man, I wish we were back there. I’d block Man Mountain Dean for you if I was called on.”
“How’s the grub holding up, Beaver? I haven’t eaten in two or three days.”
“We got a ton of corn, a few greens, plenty of bread, some turkey if the damned things live long enough for us to catch them. The porkers are all gone like dust on the ground. I’ll have a corn sandwich for you when you show up and my uncle has some jelly in a crock that’ll taste it up.”
After darkness set in, the huge cloud lost overhead, Kindreck started the long walk back to headquarters as soon as his relief arrived.
“Stay behind these rocks, Jackie,” he said. “I found it to be the safest place. Their rays seem to go off course when they get near here. That’s all I can say, except good luck and keep your eyes open. I hope you had something to eat on the way.”
“Thanks, Gurley. I had a corn sandwich. Best buy of the week.” He laughed and settled into place in the darkness as Kindreck headed back.
The militia general and the army guy had Kindreck in the office down below ground. “We hear you have some ideas about beating these guys off, Gurley. What are they? It seems they have failed other places, but we don’t know why.”
If you’ll listen close, I’ll tell you what I think we can do.”
“Hell, son, you’re not even a military man.”
“Has the military been able to protect everything?”
“No, but maybe it’s a matter of time.”
“The point is we don’t have the time. I think we only have one way to save our town.”
The army guy said, “You think it up all by yourself, son?”
“No,” Kindreck said, “I learned it from watching them and their weapons.”
“Tell us what you have garnered here, son, while out there on the lookout post.”
Kindreck studied the people in the room and knew he had to blast them with his plan. “Have we saved every house? No. Have we lost cars and crops and rows of trees and hoping the corn will last? Yes. So what have I learned? Let me tell you, their weapons don’t work on stone. They work on houses, trees, wood, plaster, wallboard, anything organic for sure, and metal. That’s why we’ve had to hide our cars and trucks down below in the deep garages. The water towers in some towns have gone. So we’ll have to put up some stone barriers.”
“My god, son, we don’t have any stone barriers. We don’t have much stone at all. We don’t have any quarries within a hundred miles. Maybe more. How the hell can we put up any stone barriers? We simply do not have the facilities to do so. Our houses are all built of wood, at least most of them. And you’re right there, son; all I’ve seen go are the wooden houses. It’s like they want to save the few stone houses we have for quarters or such.”
“Let me ask you,” Kindreck said, “if we had the facilities, the supplies, would you be willing to give the orders to build a barrier to hold off the enemy? Would you stick to it?”
“Do you believe we’d have a chance, son?”
“Absolutely,” said Kindreck, “all the way.”
“Then,” said the army guy, “I’d issue orders under martial law. But where would we get the stones to build the barrier?”
Kindreck had saved it all for last. “Order your trucks out tonight and get all the memorial stones out of the cemetery and build the barrier across the railroad tracks at the fat end of town.”
“The cemetery?” the army guy said, “Why, the people would be up in arms over that.”
Kindreck said, “Up in arms is the only way. We can end up with a pile of dust for every house that the living want to live in, or have unmarked graves where the dead will linger forever. That’s your choice. But the stones will save the town.”
“Robert Chandler 1923-1991 and His Loving Wife Grace 1925-1997” stared Kindreck in the face as he sat in the morning sun waiting for the rays to bounce of the barrier across the fat end of his hometown.