Title: Truck Stop Earth
Author: Michael A. Armstrong
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Aliens, Dark Humor
Publisher: Perseid Press
Release Date: August 1, 2016
The mother of all alien bases. The big one, the megabase, the center of the Alien Occupation Government, the headquarters, the brain, the nerve center, the absolute pinpoint big base, right there, right in the hills above Della. Forget Roswell. Forget Machu Picchu. Forget Stonehenge and Tikal and all those alleged alien bases, abandoned every one of them. This was the big one, right now, the source of all my troubles, the world’s troubles, the whole solar system’s troubles. Right there.
Out there across the valley, shining across it like a beacon, was a big flat mountain. “Oly’s Mountain” I later heard it called, or Table Top, some said. I could feel it, feel the humming and the disruption of the ether right down to my bones. I didn’t even have to take out my little pocket detector that’s disguised as a Swiss Army knife. I knew, I just knew. And my butt chip burned like an exploded capsule of sulfuric acid. God damn, right there in the mountain — not on it, in it.
I left the lovey-doveys out there on the edge of the light and walked back toward the big bonfire. Barry and his marimba group, Gogogoi, had dragged their instruments down to the beach and set up there on a little flat spot. The marimbas looked kinda like xylophones, except later Barry told me that would be like so uncool to say, since marimbas were far more ancient than piddly-ass tin instruments. “We’re talking Mother Africa,” he’d say, which was kinda funny, since everyone in Gogogoi was like whiter than milk, definitely sans tans.
See, they had like these smaller instruments, three sopranos and two tenors, all with wooden keys and on stands, except for Dan the guy from MentalHeal, who played a low soprano that he could sit behind on account of his MS. The marimbas had big pipes, plastic, really, with holes in the sides covered with pieces of cellophane so they made this like buzzing sound.
Behind the smaller marimbas were the big machines, the engine room, Barry called them, a baritone and a bass, and the bass like so big and tall you had to stand on a bench to play it. They hustled and humped the marimbas out, got them set up. Dan sat on his bench at the soprano at the back, and then Barry stepped up to one of two sopranos perpendicular to Dan’s, the lead soprano, with Grace, the logger chick receptionist, across from him, her hair still perfectly shellacked in place. Boots, the receptionist at MentalHeal, was on one of the tenors, only it took me a while to recognize her, cuz she didn’t have those little granny glasses or that neat and tidy brown bob haircut with bangs. No, it was all frizzed out and spiked, and she wore this wild paisley T-shirt that was really tight. Boots had great boobs, nice firm muscles, and damn she looked hot.
Roz from the ’Stead was on the other tenor, her purple buzz-cut hair spiked out, too, and she had these cool flouncy pants and sort of a white and purple tie-dyed shirt that looked like it had amoebas on it.
Ren was up there behind the baritone, looking almost too clean cut for the group, although, well, with his shirt off he had some incredible tatts, and they didn’t look clean cut at all.
And up there on bass, her long silver-and-black braids all redone into about twenty little braids, was Carol, the bike lady I’d seen on the Spit the first day, her bike propped up against a log not far from the marimbas. Carol kinda moved back and forth on the bench, her hands clutching these big ass mallets, just itching to do something.
Gogogoi didn’t like cough for attention or announce a song or anything; they just laid into it. Roz started first with a couple of quick notes: ba-da bomp-ba bomp ba-bomp bomp ba-bomp, one round, then Carol came in, her arms flying high as she hit the same notes on the bass. Ren followed up, one round, two rounds, with a counterpoint, sorta filling in the spaces.
The other tenor, Grace, and the three sopranos followed up singing, no words, just a basic, “Heyyy,” two more rounds until I thought they were going to run out of breath, and then they all came in with a basic pattern: bom-bom bomp-bomp, bom-bomp bom-bomp, two more rounds of that, and then when the band had been playing together and got really tight, Barry just let loose.
I could feel this like energy lift us up out there, and if we had been sitting down, we stood up, and if we had been standing up, we started shifting back and forth and then damned if by the time Barry’s mallets weren’t running up and down those keys, his hands whirling so fast they were a blur, we were all bouncing and swaying and leaping back and forth. I mean, you couldn’t sit down, you couldn’t stand still.
Carol was like this whirl of energy, her movements straight and pure and right on, the notes just booming, those big resonators booming, and the little flaps of cellophane humming. No, not humming — singing. I swore the instruments started to talk, I mean, not voices inside my head talking, but talking, communicating and saying, I don’t know, words.
Only not words I knew. African words, maybe, Shona words, like where the marimba came from in Zimbabwe, I don’t know, foreign words. I knew the words, though, that was the weird thing. I’d heard the words, could hear them in my head as I danced and flew about, trying to remember why they seemed so familiar.
And it struck me. That sound? It was the sound of the universe when the aliens first dumped me on the side of the road there in Florida. It was the hum of the frogs, the hum of the crickets, the roaring of mosquitoes. It was the voice of the planet, Truck Stop Earth, how the world sung to you if you listened.
It was what kept me sane, kept me alive, kept me going when the Grays first did their nasty on me. I heard the voice of my home singing to me way back when, I heard it every night when the civilized world shut up for a moment, I heard it in the surf and sea and the wind whenever I bothered to open my mind to it, and I heard it in those marimbas.
All the other voices went away, all the doubts, all the worries, all the fears, all the pain and anger and hurt. OK, it didn’t go away; it just laid down low like the sea after a storm, went quiet and didn’t say anything. That song became something else, more than a song, and not only did I feel it, everyone felt it.
We fell into it. Gogogoi played like they were not musicians but instruments themselves, like the song was in the wood and the mallets and their bodies, and all they had to do was let it free. Dan played with force and purpose, his ravaged, weak body somehow empowered. Sweat poured off everyone, and though it seemed like the song would go on forever, eventually it ended, as all songs do, even though the sound kept resonating within.
And then they went into another song, and another, one song flowing into the other, different tune, different melody, different arrangements and different musicians at different instruments, until finally like a good storm we were all played out, danced out, sung out, and we just had to come up for air and breathe.
But the song itself wasn’t over. It just kept going and going, even though we couldn’t hear it.
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Michael Armstrong was born in Virginia in 1956, grew up in Tampa, Florida, and moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1979. He has lived in Homer, Alaska, since 1994. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop and received a bachelor of arts from New College of Florida and a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His first novel is After the Zap. Michael’s short fiction has been published in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Science Fiction, Fiction Quarterly, and various anthologies, including Not of Woman Born, a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and several Heroes In Hell anthologies. His other novels include Agviq, The Hidden War, and Bridge Over Hell, part of the Perseid Press Heroes in Hell universe.
Michael has taught creative writing composition, and dog mushing. He is a reporter and photographer for the Homer News. He and his wife, Jenny Stroyeck, live in small house they built themselves on Diamond Ridge above Homer, which they share with an incredibly adorable labradoodle.
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