A Man of Action
By W. Keith Tims © 2023
The desert stretches towards infinity in all directions. The sky is laid bare, the naked curves of the constellations, teasing. But my eyes are on the road. I’m coming, baby.
My Pontiac vibrates as I push it over the red line. The engine screams. I smell the metal cooking. 345 horsepower and it’s not enough. Horses aren’t enough. I need a faster animal. I need cheetahs. I need plummeting falcons. I need them, because she needs me. I am a man of action. And they’ve got her again.
They sent me out here a few years back. Out into the nothingness between Arizona and Utah. Nothing but big rock buttes and the Navajo nation. A void of sand and scorpions. Perfect place for the worst kind of criminals to make their lair. The Bureau knew my talents were wasted back east. The world falls apart the further West you go. Things stop making sense. They needed a man of action out in the dry chaos. And so they sent me.
I knew to expect the usual things. But right from the start, I saw the lights in the sky. Mysterious dots that had no business moving the way they did. Spheres of green, or yellow, or blue, suddenly there and gone, flying across my territory with impunity. I would see unexplained lines in the dirt, neat and orderly lines, stretching hundreds of yards, doubling back on themselves to form intricate patterns, cutting through the yucca and the Juniper trees. Designs. And designs have meaning.
We began to have cases of grisly assaults. People out in the far desert, loners usually, with no neighbors for miles, found attacked. Dead, or dying. Laid out neat-like on the floor with precise slices carving into their bodies. Someone was taking their organs. Not all of them. Usually one or two. I guess they were choosy. And there was no evidence at the scenes. No sign of forced entry. No stray DNA. No fingerprints. No tools or trash left at the scene. But I didn’t let that stop me. No. I’m a man of action.
One night, one of those lights tore through the heavens right over me. Bright. Vibrating. Throwing shades of unnatural colors. I was on it, fast, chasing it across the flat plains just outside El Ciego. I lost sight of it a couple of times, but finally caught up. It was hovering over the abandoned drive-in theatre on 191. With a clap of thunder, it streaked straight up into the sky and let the dark silence return to the world. But I had arrived just in time.
I found her by the concession stand, slumped against a sunbaked advertisement for cotton candy. My Donna. Skinny and soft. Wistful and wan, with her long fingers loose on the sand-covered concrete. Half conscious, in a fluttering sun dress. She opened her big, big eyes as I roused her.
“Oh baby, baby,” she said, trying to focus on me. “Oh, what’s a girl to do?”
I’d stopped them. They hadn’t cut her up yet. I took her hand in mine. “You’ll come with me.”
I set her up in my place. I wanted her close. She was the only survivor of these attacks we’d had, I didn’t want to risk losing her. Let her have my bed, while I took the couch. She couldn’t remember her name, but I’d always liked the name Donna. So that’s who she became. With amnesia, sometimes all it takes it time, so I aimed to give it to her. I asked her about the attacks, explained to her about the lights and the lines, but she shook her head.
“I’m so, so sorry. I don’t remember. But maybe I can help.”
So, Donna, my Donna, became my partner. She helped me organize my case files, track sightings on the map, get my reports for back East in order. After work, we’d spend our evenings together, watching TV, with her skinny body tucked up against me, like she was cold. One night, she took me by the hand, and led me back to my bed.
“Oh, baby, baby. I’m so lonesome.”
After that, I didn’t sleep on the couch anymore. She felt like a piece of me that I didn’t know had gone missing.
The investigation continued, but I was making no progress. I bought her some more clothes, though she said she didn’t need that much. She started going out to the junk and antique stores and would bring home vintage lunch boxes, the kind with old TV shows on them. Starsky and Hutch. The Brady Bunch. The Dukes of Hazzard. Lost in Space. Kung Fu. Happy Days. I don’t know where she found them all, but they started filling up our little space. She asked for so little, how could I turn her down?
Every so often, she’d ask me to take her out to the drive in, West of El Ciego. Usually at night. We’d walk along the rusted fence line and the broken neon bulbs. She was looking for herself, I think. She’d climb up on the snack bar roof and watch the yawning night sky with its legions of tiny lights. I let her look. I’d be searching for lines in the sand. Sometimes I’d find them. Maddening. Mysterious. I hate dead ends. I hate standing still. Pacing the floor. Climbing the walls. Counting the beats of my heart. The heavens were hers. My work was here on Earth.
They caught me flat-footed, damn them. I should have known they’d come back for her. Got a call after dinner. Donna was doing the dishes as I left to handle business. A body had been found in a gully behind a gas station. Both kidneys missing. One eye. Removed neat and clean, just like the others. I called Donna to tell her I’d be late. But she didn’t answer. She always answered. I called again. But I already knew something was wrong.
Back home, I threw open the door. She was gone. They’d come for her. And I had only one hope of where to find her.
I can just make out the silhouette of the drive-in’s screen against the stars. A dust storm swirls in the wake of my car. The tires slip on the sand as I wrench the wheel, leave the road, thunder across the cracked concrete. The door slam echoes across the infinite desert.
I call her name. But it’s the sky that answers.
The light smashes the earth and me under it. The beams sizzle and flick across the ground, forming patterns in the sand in circles around me. The ground vibrates. The thing in the sky is kicking up a swirling wind. I draw my sidearm, aim for the center…
… when I see her. Donna. My Donna. Standing on the roof of the snack bar, smiling sadly down at me. She has all her little lunch boxes with her. The wind whips her hair and the hem of her sundress, the one I found her in. And as I watch, the lunch boxes begin to slowly rise into the air, ascending around her, heading up into the light.
“Wait,” I say. “Wait. You can’t go.”
“Goodbye,” she says, still smiling. “Goodbye. Goodbye.”
Her feet leave the ground. She’s rising up, too, ascending.
“Donna, my Donna. What about my heart?”
Languid, beatific, she raises a hand. One of the lunch boxes floats into place before her. Starsky & Hutch. The latch comes undone. The lid opens. And out floats, cherry red, wet and pulsing… a heart. Neatly cut from the veins.
“Oh baby, baby,” she says. “Don’t you know? It’s too late.”
She rises higher and higher until the light swallows her, taking my heart with her.
And then she’s gone. I fall into the dirt, surrounded by patterns I could never unravel. The sky is empty except for the stars, and the immeasurable, cold, and empty spaces between them.
I slide my fingers against the scar on my chest and fall into the void under it.