Jake laughed around the hand-rolled cigarette now burning in the corner of his mouth. "Naw," he said. "Confiscated this from Martin, though, believe it or not." He took a drag. "It's just tobacco. Pretty good, though."
"Got another one?"
"Last one. But here, try a puff." He passed the cigarette through his window to his friend.
"That is nice. Your boy does good work."
"Little shit. What I get for naming him after you, I suppose." Both men laughed at this old joke, a favorite right up there with "How's your wife and my kids?"
"But seriously, where'd he get this stuff?" Marty asked, passing the cigarette back.
"Hell if I know. He clammed up when I confiscated 'em"
The two men sat back in their cars, listening to the squawks and static of their radios, sitting up only to pass the cigarette back and forth until it was done.
"Sometimes I can't believe we get paid for this shit, you know?" Marty crowed.
"Shut up. That's how the bad shit starts," Jake said.
Marty had a point, though. It was a calm, windless Tuesday night, lit by a half moon and a million stars and nothing else, and Marty and Jake had no worries beyond answering the odd status check and keeping an eye out for those freaks the local ranchers kept reporting, freaks with a taste for skinning and stabbing cattle and dancing around an open fire with udders on their heads. Freaks that no one else ever saw -- but there was no denying the dead livestock with strange triangular cuts, bore holes really, like a geologist's core sampler.
Based on where they tended to strike, they had to be using Rattlesnake Road, though, and so the county sheriff, just months away from a hotly contested Election Day, had ordered Marty to stake it out, and Marty had convinced Jake that it would behoove the Highway Patrol to help out with the exercise.
"Wait, I think I see something!" Jake said, waking Marty out of a light doze.
"Where? Over beneath the mountain?"
"Gotcha. Man, you snore like a fuckin' bandsaw. How does Brandy put up with you?"
"Asshole," Marty said, but Jake could hear his smile.
"Whatchoo doing Monday?" Jake asked after a while.
"My day off. Might... well, shit, I don't know."
"Let's do some fishing, then. Best time of the year for it. At least until the moon's full."
"Good idea. Mind if I bring the squirt?"
"Miss Melissa is always welcome in my boat."
"I thought so. We gotta get her back in town by noon, though."
"Oh yeah, shit, kindergarten." Jake thought about it for a moment. "Well, hell, we'll probably need a beer run by then."
A faint, greenish ray of light flashed across Marty's face.
"Hey, pod, I think you've got your radio turned down again. Someone trying to get ya?"
Marty bent toward the dashboard, checked some dials, picked up the mic. "Everything's on... Nicodemus, Carbon, you trying to reach me?"
A tinny yet somehow still sultry voice came back over the radio. "Negative, Nicodemus. How's the moo detail?"
"That what they're calling it?"
"Outstanding. I'll be sure to bring some evidence just for you."
"No thanks. I've seen your boots."
"Ha ha. Ten-four."
"Damn, that woman could come talk on my radio anytime," Jake said appreciatively.
"She's not bad, she just talks that way," Marty said.
The green ray lit up his face again, for a moment longer than before.
"There, you see it?" Jake said, pointing.
"Where's it coming from?"
Jake craned his neck to peer out his passenger side window. As he did, another green ray lit up the back of his head.
"You've got one, too, now."
"Where are them sumbitches?"
Cautiously, Jake and Marty got out of their cars and circled around them. Neither had drawn his weapon yet, nor turned on his flashlight, but they were ready for either.
"See anyone?" Jake asked?
"No. Not even any cows."
The two continued their circuit around their parked cars. When each was back at his own car door, they exchanged a look in the moonlight.
"I'm calling this in," Marty said. He reached through his open window for the mic. "Nicodemus, Carbon, I'm gonna be out of the car for a few."
"Unknown yet. I'll be available on portable."
"Ten four, Twenty-one fifty-six."
"You reporting this in?" Marty asked Jake.
"I don't have radio contact out here, usually. I was just planning on driving back out to the highway every couple hours and checking in. Long as you got signal, we're good."
"Twenty-one fifty-six. Twenty-one fifty-six. Twenty-one fifty-six...." Marty's radio had suddenly gone crazy. Every iteration of his dispatcher's sign-off -- the current time -- was at a different speed and pitch, and continued on and on. Marty hit his mic button to try to cut in and was rewarded with squealing feedback.
"What the hell?" he said angrily, shaking the device as if that would make it work better.
"God damn things..."
"Behind you --"
"Behind you, too!"
Jake felt an enormous hand cradling his head. An unearthly voice crooned nonsense into his hear. An impossibly long and strangely jointed finger caressed his neck and tickled at his chin. His eyes darted over to his friend, who was being cradled in an impossibly huge set of arms. Jake counted... four of them. Attached to... nothing he could see.
And now Jake, too, felt himself being lifted into the air, but not at any great height. The voice continued to babble. The sound soothed Jake into not minding that he was actually helpless, could not even reach for his sidearm. The sensation of floating was pleasant, the gentle touch of the weird hands calming.
Marty, too, was weirdly relaxed as the pair of them were carried, swiftly, away from their cars. He thought fleetingly of his five-year-old daughter and her pet rabbit, Clover, but couldn't think of why...
"Hmmmm..." Jake managed to say, not really fighting the urge to doze off as he was gently rocked and stroked and petted.
"Mommy, can we keep him?" Little Melissa's voice echoed in Marty's mind's ear.
And then there was nothing.
The next thing Jake and Marty knew, they were sprawled out on the hoods of their respective cars, awakened by the distant scream of a siren. Another county car was screaming up the dirt road, lights ablaze. Kicking up enough dust to make the men cough, the squad car ground to a sudden halt nearby, and Sheriff Al Guerra himself leaped out, not even bothering to shut the door.
"The hell you two doing, napping?" the sheriff demanded, angry but also, obviously, a little relieved.
"What? What's going on?" Marty asked, sitting up a little too soon. Dizziness overtook him, but he struggled to stay upright.
Jake was already standing, thinking fast. "What's the problem, Sheriff?"
"The problem is, nobody's heard from either of you two yo-yos in six fuckin' hours," Guerra bellowed.
Jake swallowed, noticing for the first time that dawn was creeping up from behind Elk Mountain. "Well, we don't have much reception here, do we?"
"I take it you didn't catch anyone pulling shit," the sheriff said.
Jake and Marty looked at each other, trying to come up with an answer, still confused.
"Nope," Jake finally said.
"So whatchoo been doing for all this time?"
"It's... it's complicated," Marty began, but his boss cut him off.
"You can tell me about it when we hit town. You're buying. Oh, and you also owe Danielle a box of chocolates. Worried her white-haired, you jerk. Come on."
And just like that, the sheriff was back in his car and revving up its engine, letting its roar communicate the rage he was too professional to express verbally.
"Ow," Marty said, rubbing at his shoulder as the sheriff drove off.
"You too, huh?"
Both men had small, triangular wounds in meat of their scalene muscles.
"I can't explain it," Marty said, pouring himself another cup of coffee.
"What about you, Patrolman?" the sheriff asked.
Jake just shrugged. In the background, the diner's phone rang loudly. A waitress answered, and soon sashayed up to the table where the officers were sitting.
"Jake, it's for you," she said. "It's your boy."
Jake walked to the counter, picked up the receiver, and simply said "What."
"I'm busy, Martin."
"You didn't, uh... you didn't..."
"I didn't what, Martin?"
"You didn't smoke those cigarettes, did you?"
"What if I did."
"Uh oh. Um, so..."
"So, um, have you ever heard of DMT?"