Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Six

She was seated at the window sill staring out into the woods in a rare moment Caroline Banter wasn’t looking over her, Carrie Gerald watching the forest quietly hoping for a deer or a squirrel.

"If you’re so worried about this hitman," Resin Gerald said to her husband, "why are you always hanging around open windows?"

"Because that’s not how the Sandman operates," Monty replied, his head in his hands at his desk.

"Have you even tried to call Winchester?" Resin was pacing around the office as Carrie continued spying the trees for a Sasquatch or a chipmunk. She’d’ve even settled for a rattlesnake at that point.

"Of course, I’ve tried calling him," Monty replied. "When the President of the United States doesn’t want to be reached, he can’t be reached." As if speaking of the phone caused it to ring, they both fell silent when the phone rang.

"Think he has the office bugged?" Resin asked.

Monty shrugged and replied, "Probably." He picked up the phone and said, "Yes?" He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Thank you, Shasta, but we won’t be needing to replace the signs on Mt. Gerald, so don’t offer again." Monty slammed the receiver on its base.

"Ole’ man Shasta giving you grief?"

"Think he knows about the hit?"

"I doubt it," Resin said, shaking her head, but her tone said it was wishful thinking.

...a mountain lion, a bald eagle, a raccoon, anything at all entered their property, Carrie Gerald was ready to see it.

Cocoa waved her head around, her eyes rolling around behind her lids. A fire burned slowly in the rock fireplace above her as Harold sat reading a book. She had fallen silent for the moment, but rolled around on her back, purring loudly.

He wasn’t in the room, but his voice was loud in Cocoa’s ears: "Cocoa Tael! You have fallen into a human trap!"

"Mmm," Cocoa said, "you never told me, Mandrake, that human traps could be so delicious, or so much fun."

Harold glanced above his book, and turned to a notepad. He wrote the word "Mandrake" with a question mark next to it.

Falling to her side, she let her paws swim in the catnip Harold had spread around her, the smell of salmon still strong in her nostrils.

"They have tools," came another voice in Cocoa’s head, "they are not weak. Do not let your hostility make you complacent, Cocoa Tael."

"No," Cocoa said with a grimace. "I don’t want to talk to you right now. Send back Mandrake the Magician."

Harold appended his note with "Magician" and set the pen down.

"I’m not sending back Mandrake," the new voice said. "I’m here to help you, Cocoa, because they found me."

"No, no, they didn’t," Cocoa said in her psychedelic fugue state. "They couldn’t. Not you."

"They could, they did, and they’ve gotten you, Cocoa. On your first day out. You couldn’t survive one day on your own, Cocoa Tael, and now FRAG has you."

"No!" Cocoa yelled. "FRAG doesn’t have me!"

Harold set his book down. The rising aggression would draw her out. The catnip wouldn’t have an effect much longer. He took a drink from his beer.

"Don’t leave me," Cocoa shouted. "Don’t leave me here, Nibbles!"

Flinging her body across the carpet, she struck the rock of the fireplace and spun in the air, landing on all fours. She was looking around the living room with quick jerks, then found Harold. He was staring at her, the color draining from his face.

"How do you know that name?" he asked.

"You," Cocoa said with a growl, "you’ve been extracting information from me. With drugs."

"Catnip is hardly a drug," Harold said, setting his beer on the end table. "I had my suspicions about you, Cocoa Tael, and I think those suspicions are confirmed. You were trained by Mandrake the Magician. Who is he?"

Cocoa hissed at him, turned and walked away. She stepped into a carpet-covered cathouse and disappeared into the shadows.

"I’m trying to help you, Cocoa," Harold said.

"Like you tried to help Nibbles?" she replied from the shadows. "You should do a better job cleaning, bub. His scent is all over this thing."

"He never liked that name, at first," Harold said. "Funny that you know it, being I was the one who gave it to him."

Cocoa didn’t respond. Harold sighed, crossed the living room and quietly headed down the hallway to his bedroom.

Two cat eyes glistened in the shadows as she stepped out into the light. Those eyes narrowed when she spotted the knife block on the kitchen counter. She leapt up and onto the counter, grabbed a knife with her mouth and pulled it out, triggering a switch which threw a lever which pulled on the net she didn’t even know she was standing on. It flung her into the air, the knife clanging as it hit the floor.

"Curses!" she shouted.

"Good night, Cocoa," Harold hollered from his bed.

Cocoa grumbled as she rolled over within the net.

Despite the darkness, the remains of Shasta High School were brightly lit by floodlights as workers poked around the blackened chunks of high school littering the grounds. Faber and Floyd both stood behind Jessica Holiday as she stared silently at the remains from the top of a hill overlooking the school.

Silently to her, not quite so silently to Faber and Floyd.

"The blast initiated from the inside," she whispered, "not outside in. Sandman prefers outside in. No visible tire tracks, equipment had to be carried in. The Sandman prefers trucking in his equipment. No evidence the bomber was the Sandman."

She turned quickly and said to Faber and Floyd, "I’ve seen enough," as she marched by them. "Take me to the next site."

"Sure thing, boss," Faber replied.

Floyd whispered, "Do you think she knows she’s..."

"I don’t think she does," Faber quietly replied.

It was shortly after sundown when Carrie Gerald got her wish. Seated at the window sill, alone in Monty Gerald’s office, she saw an outline. It was unclear to her what the outline was of: perhaps it was a bear, upright on its hind legs, perhaps it was a person, but Carrie had an idea.

It was an alien.

Had to be.

Caroline had left Carrie watching an educational channel of some kind, unaware that this particular channel ran a program about aliens and their activities on Earth.

This particular educational channel had gone downhill in recent years. No name pointing, no point in getting litigious here.

This program postulated that aliens land regularly on Carrie Gerald’s planet and–this part stuck with her–they preferred volcanoes.

The outline just had to be an alien, so Carrie ran squealing from Monty’s office, down the hall, turned at a antechamber and went running out the front door into the night.

The soft padding of her onesie became saturated with dew within seconds of reaching the lawn, but Carrie didn’t let that slow her down. She sprinted across the grass and into the woods. Stepping quietly so as not to scare off her alien, she tiptoed through the forest.

Behind a tree, not far from Carrie, the Sandman sat with his back to the trunk silently cursing himself for being seen, hoping the kid would just get bored and go home.

"Hi," came her tinny voice and the Sandman sighed.

"What are you doing out here, kid?" he asked.

"Are you an alien?" Carrie said.

Turning to look at her, the Sandman was about to say he wasn’t, but then he thought, Why not?

"Yes," he said. "Yes I am."

Carrie let out a loud squeal as she jumped up and down. "I knew you were an alien! You guys like volcanoes! That’s a volcano up there!" She pointed at the mountain top, or where it would be visible were it daytime. "It’s called Mt. Gerald! It’s named after me! I’m Carrie Gerald!"

"I thought it was Mt. Lassen," the Sandman said.

"That’s its old name! Now it’s Mt. Gerald! After me!"

"That’s," the Sandman said, "that’s great, kid, listen: don’t tell anyone you saw me out here. My mission is a secret. Nobody can know I’m here. Otherwise, worlds will collide."

"Hey, why do you look like everyone else?"

"I’ve assumed human form to blend in with the dominant creatures on this planet."


The Sandman lifted a finger. "Not a word. Understand?"

Carrie nodded.

"Now go home."

Carrie took off running toward the lights of the mansion. She stopped suddenly and turned. "Will I see you again, Mister Alien?"

As he watched the little girl, so hopeful, so eager, the Sandman hatched a little scheme. With a smirk, he said, "Definitely."