Out There

It was by far the most fantastical tale I had ever heard, and as frightening a tale, as well.

I couldn’t let go of some of those comments Conners came up with. He simply didn’t fit the profile. Life in this county was quickly making me a believer in the idea that more people didn’t fit the profiles often ascribed to them, than do.

Tim walked the streets around the old courthouse, living out of a vehicle that it was said died where it sat, so he decided to stay where he was. The farmer that owned the land that bordered the small town gave him permission to stay as long as he needed to until the car was repaired. Tim figured as long as he didn’t repair the car he could stay forever. Each time the farmer entered the field he asked Tim, “Got that car repaired yet?”

“No, still saving up,” Tim would reply. The two men became friends over the course of a year and eventually it simply seemed assumed that Tim would always be there.

Tim, by the way, is a multimillionaire. I know because the farmer had me run a check on him not long after he arrived. Though he can be a little bit of a pain at times regarding his views about government, more often you can find him across the street from the courthouse at the diner. He’ll tell you a tall tale or two if you buy him a meal or snack, though I’ve never been quite sure the tales are as fictional as they might lead one to believe.

There are other interesting characters that come from all over the world. Most don’t fit the part their clothing and accent would lead an outsider to believe they are playing. And that’s just the way everyone likes it here. But by far the most interesting is Conners.

After my trip of inquiry out to his place some months ago, I couldn’t let go of the questions he asked. Despite my being warned by my boss not to ask any further questions, I went to visit him anyway.

As usual, Conners was sitting on the front porch in a corner, shotgun across his lap. This time he recognized me and asked if I wanted to sit for a while and share any interesting news, news he found interesting anyway.

Not much went on despite the stories people had to tell: the occasional high school kids pulling pranks, or the local farmers and ranchers messing with each other. Most all of it was in good fun. But what Conners told me this day was unlike anything I had ever heard before. There was a pause in the conversation when Conners face turned rather serious and he said this:

“It’s out there. I know he is.”

“Who’s out there?” I asked.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. They’ll replace me soon enough, just like they did the others. Guess it’s the price I pay for freedom.”

“Are you in some kind of trouble, Conners? What’s got you so bugged?”

“Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway, Styles. I’ve had mostly a good life. Their populations swell and they need sacrifices for their god. Ain’t nobody safe from those things, or whatever they call themselves.”

Being a lawman I found myself with no choice but to inquire further. I had a little training regarding mental health, so I was hesitant to simply assume the worst, sometimes life kinda scars a soul in such a way that it never quite recovers. Paranoia isn’t always about doing wrong, after all, a lot of the time, its about whats been done to you.

“They replaced my wife back in the war, but you don’t know anything about that, no one does. They patched up the shattered remains of time good enough that few recognize the time slips when they open up. But every now and then you hear of the disappearances or the arrivals. You can’t close them all when a war that catastrophic takes place.”

“Well, you’re right, Conners; I don’t have a clue what you are talking about. But I’d like to know more, if you are willing to tell me.”

“How it began is difficult to say, and where in the timeline I am now is even more difficult to explain. I only know once you fall through an opening, there is no getting back. People that were supposed to be dead are still here, but I think somewhere there is a timeline where I am just as dead as the others.”

It sounded down right confusing to me to say the least. And I must admit to you now I was a bit nervous about inquiring any further. But the man seemed so sincere I simply had to know.

“What happened to you, Conners?”

“They kidnapped her. There one minute, gone the next. Then out of the blue she appeared again. She was in front of me, I turned around, she was gone when I looked back. She reappeared minutes later behind me as though nothing had ever changed. But there were signs, signs as time wore on. Signs something wasn’t the same.”

“This is your wife you are talking about?”

“Was my wife. Whatever replaced her wasn’t from here, or if it was, it wasn’t the same her.”

“‘It’ wasn’t the same ‘her’.”

Those words stood my hackles on end like no other sensation of fear I had ever known. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to ask further, but his statement at the beginning had been about a “he”, “Tell me, Conners, who is out there that you are so worried about?”

“Not who, what.”

“Okay, what is out there that you are so worried about?”

“My replacement.”

The more I asked, the deeper the mystery got.

“Replacement for what?”

“Me. They’ve been trying to replace me like they did her all those years ago.”

“Where is your wife now, Conners?”

Silence.

I realized in these moments I had probably crossed a boundary I should never have crossed: the kind that can infect the mind, cause a person to lose all sense of reason regarding reality.

“I don’t know where she is, Styles. I’ve never been able to find her. All I’ve got is what’s left of my wits and this here shotgun. I may be carbon based, but I can register a threat better than those things, whatever they are.”

Conners didn’t seem as delusional as his words seemed to imply. There was an air of truth within them. But what truth, I knew not.

“Well, Conners. I best be going. If you need anything, anything at all, I’m just a phone call away. Don’t ever hesitate to call, even if you just need someone to talk to.”

“Thank you, Styles. But I’ve dealt with ’em before, I’m sure I’ll get through it again.”

“You wouldn’t be willing to share with me who they are, would you?”

“Best you don’t know. Without training you’d never know what hit you, and it may already have, just by speaking with me.”

“Alright then. Have yourself a good day and remember to call if you need anything.”

“Ain’t got a phone, but if I did I believe I could rely on you, Styles.”

“Good day, then.”

I walked away with more questions than answers and spent a good while driving around the county on my day off, just to see if anything had changed. I was going around a new highway loop around the town in the county where the courthouse stood when it happened. One minute I was driving all peaceful like; the next I was downtown. There was no memory of exiting the highway, nor any of slowing down. One minute I was driving at a safe speed of 55 miles per hour; the next I was sitting at a red light. I looked to my left to see Tim watching me from across the street, kinda like he had seen something I hadn’t. He shook his head before continuing across the street, glancing back a few times, mumbling about something and continuing to shake his head and scratch it a few times.

As the light turned green, I started to go, but immediately hit my brakes as a pedestrian had walked across the intersection late. I honked in frustration, wishing I had been in the patrol car. That’s when I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Conners, but not the Conners I knew. This Conners was dressed in the finest suit you have ever seen. He went on his way, never seeming to notice I was even there.

I decided to follow him a few blocks, but a soccer ball from a yard bounced into my vehicle from the left and scared me so bad when it hit that I stomped on the brakes. I figured a child would follow out from the yard and sure enough, a bright eyed young girl came chasing after it. When I turned back to look for Conners, he had vanished. Nothing but the two completely open lots and the sidewalk passing in front of them remained, there was no sign of Conners.

I returned to Conners’ place just as fast as I could get there. He was still there, sitting on the front porch, just as I had left him hours before, but with no memory of my visit. “It would have been impossible for him to have made it here in such a short amount of time,” I thought.

Not wanting to bother him, I approached the front porch and told him I thought I had lost a business card. Though he recognized me, I repeat, he had no memory of our conversation, just the memory of my first visit some months before.

I went home to a sleepless night; more such nights followed. I never got the answer to the disappearance I had witnessed with my own eyes, and I stayed about as far away from Conners’ place as I could from there on.  I asked about him from time to time and learned through neighbors they had seen him at the mailbox every now and then, but they, too, were hesitant to enter the property.

I’ve listened to many a tale about Conners over the years from locals, most of which were so far off base from the man I met that there was simply no choice but to not believe them. In the end, I decided life can get a little weird from time to time. Better to leave some questions unanswered and keep your sanity, than to know the truth and  without choice be declared insane by ignorance, even when that ignorance comes from within.