The Cockleburrs

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Jean twisted the dial on the radio until the volume of voices came out louder than the ubiquitous static. The past couple of days had sparked a revival of AM radio not seen since audio theater, with people in the Heartland panicking at the thought of little green men. It was real this time though. Jean and Walter had witnessed the monster fly in, and the mob of black helicopters and jeeps that followed.

"... haven't even allowed the press inside to document it! What we have is some grainy, Bigfoot-type footage of a flyby. But there's no denying the fact that miles of Rocky Mountain peaks are gone!" One of the voices argued vehemently.

A deeper, condescending voice replied, "They have been manipulating this kind of footage for years. It's exactly what they want you to think, because everyone is too afraid to say the word 'Terrorist'. Plain and simple. This country, and this administration cannot afford another Nine-Eleven!"

Jean and Walter wrinkled their noses in unison as she searched for another station. As siblings, their thoughts and expressions were often in harmony. They were brought to the balcony by the behemoth's otherworldly keening, wearing faces of wonder as it passed overhead. People in the streets held hands to their heads, temporarily deafened by the bellow.

"... myriad possibilities, but most experts agree that it crashed due to some sort of navigation malfunction. Theories range from a rash of intense solar activity three weeks ago, to an overpopulation of communications satellites in orbit above Earth. One fact that could help determine the cause would be to conclude whether the object is organic or not."

A static shush overtook the program, forcing the siblings to find yet another channel. They looked warily at each other as they resumed the search, waiting for their father to join them from outside. The booming, overtly Southern drawl of a televangelist roared from the small speakers.

"Cans't thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? Or bore his jaw through with a thorn? Behold, the hope of him is in vain. Shall not one be cast down, even at the sight of him? Brothers and Sisters, this an Old Testament sign from an Old Testament God. An angry God. A God that will hold us accountable, Jehovah-Jireh!"

The preacher clipped his last words with unbridled enthusiasm. Father entered the room through the remnants of a sliding glass door, turned a slick gray by a duct tape patch job. All the windows in town had been blown out when the creature crashed, some smaller structures completely obliterated as the beast un-domed McGregor Mountain and turned Bighorn into a crater. The grizzled man threw a clipboard onto the worktable and made his way to a gun cabinet, unshelving a giant A-Square .557 Tyrannosaur, meant to take down Kodiak bears and rhinos. It was the largest caliber modern weapon a man could use with only his shoulder as a backstop.

"End o' the fucking world and that bastard is still begging for money." Father gestured to shut off the radio. He tapped the clipboard he had previously discarded. "They're all accounted for. Twenty-two Blackhawks, fifty-six Jeeps, thirteen Humvees, and three Lincolns. Gone as fast as they came in. And unless they sectioned the thing up Russian mob style and drove off with the pieces, it's still out on the range."

He continued trekking between the table and the weapon racks, bringing back a pair of thirty-aught-sixes and three flare guns. One for each of them. Father looked the teens in the eyes as he spoke. "Those spooks don't give a good goddamn about us or our neighbors. We're gonna go find survivors or answers. Both if we're lucky." He kissed his children on the forehead then strode to the front door. "Mount up."

***

The jacked-up truck took a right, off Fall River Road and onto Lawn Lake Trail, which wound its way around Bighorn Mountain. Estes Park was a ghost town on the way out. Father drove slow to accommodate the pickup's wide berth and keep an eye out for the monster's final resting place. They had to brake hard near the river. The trail was blocked by exploded detritus that formed a star-shaped pattern back to ground zero. The three unpacked the bed of the truck, shouldered their supplies, and hoofed it up the mountainside.

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