Friday flash fiction – Sunset Strip

Tears welled in Dorian Bogdanov’s eyes, and even he couldn’t say whether the blame lay with the glare of the setting sun or a sudden crush of emotion.

“Please, for all that’s good and pure,” he said to his companion, “tell me you see that.”

The pale, thin man at his side filled his lungs with the sweet mountain air and focused on the object hanging above the bustling suburbs. “Yes, I see it too. It’s not inconspicuous.”

Dorian help up his phone like an offering to the gods. “Max, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. It’s a real, actual, no-doubt-about-it UFO.”

Max shook his head, his dipping wide-brimmed cowboy hat hiding a small smile playing on tight lips. “Is unidentified really the right word?”

“No,” breathed Dorian. “It’s a spaceship.”

He had indeed lived in anticipation of this exact moment for as long as he could remember. So far it had not disappointed. The object – the spaceship – was a classic design: two fat dinner plates stuck face to face, with two thin pie tins attached at the top and bottom; silver all over, and dotted with random flashes of light. From their mountaintop lookout, it seemed to fill the sky, though Dorian estimated its diameter at between two and three football fields.

“It’s beautiful.” He was suddenly self-conscious, on the verge of tears. He glanced sideways at his best friend and co-spotter.

Max seemed not to notice Dorian’s uneven state. “It is at that.”

Dorian had come by his obsession with visitors from other worlds early. A chance encounter at the impressionable age of eleven with a wildly sensational guide to global UFO sightings called They Descend to Earth! lead to other fanciful interests. Ghosts, monsters, and eerie phenomena. But though his fascination with the supernatural and the unexplained was to carry him down endless rabbit holes over the years, he always came back to where it all began. Dorian Bogdanov considered himself, first and foremost, a UFOlogist.

He studied the records. He frequented the forums, where he and Max struck up their friendship. He sifted the evidence and argued conclusions. He discovered he had a gift for observing patterns and furthermore – most unusually for the circles in which he moved -he had a gift for translating those patterns into the real world.

Dorian’s predictive models for where and when the next saucer sighting would occur swiftly developed a reputation for unprecedented accuracy. One UFO chaser, not entirely playfully, began calling him “the UFO whisperer”, and the handle had stuck. Enthusiasts pestered him constantly for the date and location of the next “drive-by”. When the date arrived, inevitably the blurry, out-of-focus photographs and shaky, breathless videos would flood his inbox, all chalking up yet another vague, unconfirmed sighting to the UFO whisperer’s genius.

Tonight was the first time the date and place were within driving distance of Dorian’s home.

“Are you recording this?” asked Max distractedly.

“Of course I am.”

“Why? You know those pictures never come out.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” said Dorian, not quite ready to admit his secret disbelief that theories of extra-terrestrial surveillance-jamming technology were a more plausible explanation than everyone before him being just too overexcited to take decent footage. He ignored the thrumming shake in both hands. “Besides, I’d have thought you’d want something to remember the occasion.”

“Hmm.” Max looked at his watch. Apparently irritated by what it had to tell him, he took it off and threw it over his shoulder.

Dorian continued to stare at his phone. The UFO hung in the air, a perfect silhouette at the centre of the screen. “You know what I don’t get?”

“What’s that?”

“Down there.” Dorian pointed at the city surrounding the foot of the mountain; it lights were coming on as the sun continued to drop. “From down there the sunset must be hitting the spaceship squarely. It must look like it’s on fire or something.”

“We don’t have time to move to a better photo spot, Dory.”

“No, I mean – why aren’t they reacting? Where are the sirens? The news choppers? The rubbernecking drivers throwing the streets into gridlock? Why don’t they care?”

“Probably because they can’t see it.” Max began to unbutton his shirt. He took his time unfastening each one with his long fingers, as though enjoying it. “You know, I can’t thank you enough. I’d never have ended up here without your help.”

“Hey, come on, you did all the driving.”

Max smiled wider now. He balled up his shirt and tossed it over the safety rail at the edge of the lookout. “No, I mean, I’ve been waiting for years, but I could never get a fix on the pickup zone. Without your calculations I’d have been stuck here for another hundred years.”

“What are you doing?”

Max unbuckled his belt and slid it out through the loops with a quick yank. “I’m getting my clothes off. I don’t want to freak anyone out.”

“Um, you’re freaking me out.” Dorian finally tore his attention away from the spacecraft, although not before wondering whether it was closer than before.

Max sat on the hood of his car and removed his boots, jeans and underwear. “Sorry, can’t be helped. Showing up dressed as a human would be a grave insult to the rescue crew. They’ve been very patient with me.”

“Wait, you mean all those sightings-?”

Max examined his hat with a faintly sad expression. “All looking for me, as far as I know. Look after this, will you?” He tossed the hat to Dorian, who caught it with both hands. “Something to remember the occasion.”

“Wait!” cried Dorian. “Take me with you.”

His pale skin gleaming in the dying sunset rays, Max said, “Would you really want to?”

“I’ve wanted this my whole life!”

“Sorry,” said Max. “No can do, I’m afraid. You’re too human.”

As Dorian’s tears returned, Max took off the last pieces of his disguise and faded away.

I am aware the title is an unforgivable pun for an otherwise straight story. I will have to learn to live with the guilt. I hope you can too.

No real news this week. My household has been involuntarily internet-free for nearly five days, which has been a remarkably stressful experience. This has been a forbidding glimpse of the upcoming dark ages that will surely engulf us all. I fear I can no longer function in a world without Netflix or desktop banking.

I did get a lot of reading done though. That was nice.

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