Less Than Pulp Special
An Excerpt from Earth vs the Star Mummy
Below is the second chapter of my newest release Earth vs the Star Mummy. The complete novelette is available today on Amazon.
They drove out to the edge of town where Main met Route 63. Over the desert, the sky appeared to have more stars than empty black space. The lack of light pollution made visibility crystal clear and looking up at the night sky out here always gave Andrew a feeling he couldn’t quite describe, something that said to him that no matter what the priest said on Sundays at Saint Gregory’s, Andrew, and everyone else was alone, insignificant, and ignorant about too many things to count. It was both a freeing and frightening sensation, one which kept him awake on more nights than it didn’t. Certainly, more often than he would dare admit to Tommy, Kelly, or his parents.
“Where’d you say it was?” Kelly asked.
“Down the road apiece,” Tommy said. “Two, maybe three mile markers.”
“And you’re sure you saw it?”
It was Andrew’s third time asking. This wasn’t how he’d planned on spending tonight. He’d hoped to finish his meal at the malt shop and then walk over to Jessica Walker’s house to throw pebbles at her bedroom window until she came out to see him. They could’ve sat on her roof, looking up at the stars, and maybe done a little necking. Jessica was a real dolly, but Tommy’s proposal had been too intriguing. Andrew would be real ticked off if this turned out to be a whole lotta nothing or just another joke at his expense.
“I told you, McCready. I saw something. It was big and green, and it fell from the sky. That’s all I know. What’s got you so worked up, anyway?”
He shook his head. “Tired, I guess.”
He could not tell Tommy about Jessica. She had told him not to mention their dalliances to anyone, but especially not to Tommy. He would never let her (or anyone else) hear the end of it.
“You say we girls talk too much, but that Tommy’s a real chatterbox,” she liked to say. “And he never met a bit of gossip he didn’t like. Tell him about us and we’re not just through; you’re dead.”
Andrew took her threat very seriously. She had brothers in the military and a dad who used to be a prizefighter.
Kelly took another Schlitz from the case at Andrew’s feet. He glanced at the shotgun, then at Andrew’s face.
“If things get hairy, do you know how to use that thing?”
Andrew gulped. “I… I mean, I’ve fired a handgun.”
Tommy laughed like he’d just heard the world’s funniest joke. It was a high-pitched, feral sound. Andrew was surprised more people didn’t give Tommy any grief for it. It sounded ridiculous, like a hyena in heat.
“Maybe we should let Kelly do the shooting,” Tommy said.
“It’s all right,” Kelly said. “You just rack, point, and shoot.”
Andrew didn’t feel even a little at ease. Kelly must have picked up on it because he added, “But yeah, just leave it to me.”
Another uncomfortable beat passed where the only sound was the purr of the engine. Kelly concluded, “It’s probably just a meteor or something, anyway.”
“Hey, we’re here!” Tommy said and slowed the Firedome to a crawl.
Andrew looked out the window as the tires hit the roadside gravel, kicking plumes of dust into the night air.
“I don’t see anything,” he said and again thought of Jessica Walker. He could be on her roof right now, holding hands and kissing, maybe doing a little more. Instead, he was out in the desert with these two dopes. “Where is it?”
The Firedome rolled to a stop, and Tommy cut the engine.
“Keep your pants on, McCready. It’s a few paces out yonder.” He flashed that grin of his. “Maybe carry the beer if you can’t shoot.”
“You’re a real jerk, you know that?” Andrew said.
“Ladies, ladies,” Kelly said in his easy way. He reached for the shotgun and fed it into the front seat. He flashed a brief, subtle smile. “Let’s hunt some Martians.”
Once they were out of the car, Andrew could see something about a hundred paces away from the side of the road. It looked like smoke from a campfire, but people weren’t supposed to camp out here. It wasn’t legal, and it probably wasn’t safe. Too many snakes, scorpions, and coyotes lurking about in the sand. They were more likely to need the shotgun for an encounter with the local wildlife than any Martians. Andrew was glad they’d brought it.
“Is that it?” he asked, pointing toward the smoke column.
“I think so,” Tommy said, switching on a flashlight.
Andrew detected a hint of reservation in his voice. Kelly must have noticed it, too, because he exchanged a glance with Andrew. In the dark, it was hard to read Kelly’s expression, but he imagined puzzlement in it. Surely Tommy wasn’t pulling both their legs.
The three young men drew closer to the billowing smoke. When they reached the halfway point between it and the road, Andrew noticed something funny about it.
“You guys see that?” he asked. “It’s green.”
“Didn’t I say it was green?” Tommy said.
“I guess I thought you made that part up.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I never heard of green shooting stars, have you?” Kelly asked.
It was like he’d read Andrew’s mind.
“Maybe coming out here wasn’t such a hot idea,” Andrew said, wanting to kick himself for not saying it back at Marty’s, wishing he was up on Jessica’s roof.
“Don’t be such a chicken,” Tommy said, all reservation now gone from his voice.
Kelly racked the shotgun without even thinking about it. They were nearly at the crash site.
The smoke was thicker than normal smoke, and it had a strange glow to it.
“Anyone else smell that?” Kelly asked.
Andrew took a big whiff and wished he hadn’t.
“God, that’s awful,” he said. “What is that?”
“Smells like formaldehyde.”
Tommy covered his mouth with a handkerchief and trod forward. The odd-colored vapor enshrouded him as he stood over the crater.
“Well, I’ll be a…” he trailed off.
Andrew and Kelly stuttered to a stop beside him. Kelly lowered the rifle. All the moisture dried in Andrew’s mouth.
“It’s one of those mummy coffins,” Tommy said.
“A sarcophagus,” Andrew managed to croak.
The container had smooth, gray edges. Andrew couldn’t tell if the material was stone or some kind of metal; it looked like some combination of the two. A face with feminine features was carved into the surface of the object’s head.
Kelly gestured with the gun. “There’s something inscribed on its chest.”
Using his handkerchief, Tommy bent to wipe away the debris from the inscription.
“It’s in those, what’re they called, hyper-glyphics,” he said.
“Hieroglyphics,” Andrew said. “But they don’t look Egyptian.”
“I wonder what they say,” Tommy said, and scrubbed at the sarcophagus’s sculpted face.
A sudden ooh sound made him jump back. He released his flashlight, and it clattered against the shell of the sarcophagus before going dark. The sound continued, reminding Andrew of a cross between a ghost and something electronic. It warbled and buzzed, shifting its pitch at seemingly random intervals.
“What is that?” Kelly said. Gone was his usual dry tone. His voice wavered with dreadful uncertainty.
Andrew instinctively covered his ears, but his hands did little to muffle the steady flow of sound waves. The notes fogged his brain, making him feel like he’d just awakened from a deeply troubled sleep.
The gray skin of the vessel began to change color, taking on a bright yellow hue, outlined with the same green as the smoke. Every fiber of Andrew’s being told him that he and the others should run back to the car and drive back into town, forgetting this ever happened, but he couldn’t move. Tommy and Kelly were similarly transfixed by the unfolding strangeness, apparently frozen where they stood.
An abrupt hiss brought an end to the bizarre noise, and the coffin darkened back to gray. The boys looked at each other. None of them could find the right words. This was so outside their realm of experience, so unbelievable.
The lid of the sarcophagus yawned open, expelling a thicker gust of green smoke and a headier whiff of formaldehyde. Andrew’s eyes watered, and he felt a little nauseous. When the smoke cleared, he and the others let out a collective gasp.
“It’s a mummy,” Andrew said.
“Yeah, from space!” Tommy added.
“We should go,” Kelly said. “Something’s not right.”
Tommy twisted his face in exasperation. “Are you kidding? This is the discovery of the century. I bet the college will pay a pretty penny for this, and we found it. Hell, I bet the government will give us a medal.”
Andrew tended to agree with Kelly more than Tommy on this one, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn and leave. He needed to keep looking, needed to confirm he was really seeing this, and not dreaming or gone mad from breathing in that green smoke. Kelly couldn’t bring himself to leave either; he stayed put, but he did raise his rifle.
“What are you guys worried about, anyway?” Tommy said. “Newsflash: mummies are dead, or do you believe everything you see in the movies?”
He reached into the crater to grab his flashlight.
A bandaged hand grabbed his wrist.