The shrieking noise blended into the howling of a coyote, a howling which gradually died out in the cold night desert air, as if the animal had lost heart and simply given up.
An open jeep drove slowly across the top of the mesa.
Lt. Perkins drove, Colonel Masterson sat next to him. In the back behind Perkins sat Captain Pym, his lit pipe in his mouth, leaning over the side and running his flashlight along the wasted ground.
“Slow down, please,” said Pym. Then, after a few more seconds, “Okay, stop. Stop I said.”
Perkins stopped the jeep and Pym leapt lightly out.
“Sh-should I keep the motor running, sir?”
“Yes. Stay with me, but try not to run me over,” said Pym and, following some tire tracks in the dirt with his light, he started walking toward the edge of the mesa, some twenty feet away.
“Run him over,” muttered Masterson.
“S-seriously?” asked Pym.
Masterson sighed, and flicked away a cigarette.
“Just follow him, Perkins,” he said.
Pym came to near the edge of the mesa. The ground here was churned up with horse-hoof prints. He walked around, shining his light on the tortured dry earth, then after a minute he stopped, and, crouching down, he picked up a half-smoked hand-rolled cigarette. He put it to his nose, sniffed once, and his thin nostrils quivered. He stood up.
Perkins stopped the jeep to the left of Pym.
“Whatcha got there, Pym?” asked Masterson, trying not to sound too interested.
Pym handed the cigarette to Masterson, who did exactly as Pym had just done and put it to his nose.
“I’m not supposed to know what this is,” he said.
“You were in Vietnam,” said Pym. “You know what it is.”
Pym held out his hand and Masterson handed the cigarette back to him. Pym placed his pipe on the hood of the jeep and took his lighter out of his coat pocket. He lit the joint and took a good toke. He held it in, gazing down at the desert spread out before him, and at the somber small geometrical shapes of the distant abandoned atomic town. Two tiny stationary lights glowed from the within the town square.
Looking off to the left, over the hood of the car, he saw a knot of headlights streaming across the desert like a living blob of mercury, seemingly headed directly for the mesa on which he stood.
Pym turned to Masterson and, finally, exhaled.
“Thai stick,” he said. “Very hard to find in this country.”
He took another good toke and then proffered the joint to Masterson. Masterson stared at him. Unperturbed, Pym extended his hand past Masterson and offered the joint to Lt. Perkins. Perkins hesitated, but then, habitually obedient, he took the joint. He put it between his thin lips, but before he could inhale Masterson grabbed the joint and flicked it away over the the hood of the jeep.
Pym watched the little speck of light disappear over the slope of the mesa, and then he exhaled a great cloud of smoke.
“This is where you saw the truck disappear?” he asked Perkins.
Pym picked his pipe up and then tapped the dead ash out against the side of the hood. He paused for just a moment, and then climbed back into the jeep behind Masterson. He took out his tobacco pouch and began to refill his pipe.
“Do you think you could take the jeep down this slope without breaking our necks, Perkins?”
“Um, I, uh, I, uh --”
“Oh, Christ, Perkins,” said Masterson, “just do it, will you?”
“Y-yes, sir,” said Perkins, and he put the jeep in gear.
Pym took out his lighter, and drawing with precise little puffs, he began to light his pipe as Perkins carefully nosed the jeep over the dipping verge of the mesa.
The coyote began to howl again.
Straight ahead across the desert the two tiny lights still glowed like a pair of marooned stars in the deserted atomic town, and off in the left distance the mass of headlights drew closer, its lights separating from one another like an approaching swarm of fireflies.
Cleb and Attie Parsons stood with their bikes by the driver’s side of Big Jake’s idling red Coupe de Ville convertible. Cleb wore a red-and-white striped polo shirt, a blue windbreaker, dungarees and Keds. Attie wore a pale blue shirtwaist dress, a pale grey cardigan and saddle shoes. Their clothes were clean and ironed, but looked well-worn. A very faint green nimbus outlined their bodies.
Doc Goldwasser, grimacing, still held his hand over his right ear.
“What’s ailin’ the Doc?” asked Cleb.
“The Doc’s got a war wound, son,” said Jake. “He’ll be okay soon’s his medicine takes full effect. But doncha think it’s a little late for you kids to be bikin’ out here in the desert?”
“We lookin’ for the flyin’ saucer,” said Cleb. “Same as you, I reckon.”
“Well, I do admire your scientific curiosity, Cleb,” said Jake, “but --”
Cleb raised his arm and pointed in the distance, beyond and to the left of the car.
Big Jake and the Doc both turned and looked.
In the distance they saw what looked like two automobile headlights bumpily descending the slope of a large mesa.
“Shit,” said Jake. “That the saucer?”
“Don’t think so,” said Cleb. “Think it’s car. And it’s headed right down into one of them atomic sink holes.”
“Damn idiotic fools,” said Jake.
Paco and Derek were still smoking dope and watching it all go down on the little TV.
“It’s all starting to come together now,” said Paco.
“Dig it,” said Derek.
Suddenly the screen went haywire -- strange sounds, weird psychedelic patterns.
“What the fuck,” said Derek.
“It’s the Woofer, man,” said Paco. “The Reality Woofer.”
“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” said Derek.
(Continued here, breathlessly. Buy your limited edition A Town Called Disdain action figures now, available exclusively at Kresge’s 5 & 10s everywhere.)