It’s a crisp fall morning, shortly after Thanksgiving, a perfect day for pheasant hunting. After a sunrise drive into the countryside, you and your buddy, Jim Nevil, set up a block at the end of a long waterway at the edge of a recently-cut sorghum field. The sweepers in your hunting party, Marty and Joe Potater, are marching toward you through the cottonwoods and Johnson grass from the opposite end of the field.
Hopefully, among the parade of wildlife they roust from the waterway, there will be a few pheasants.
Your heart picks up a few beats as you settle in beside a stand of redbuds. Oh, the excitement! It’s primal, this hunting. The wild man is alive and well in you and your friends.
After just a few minutes, you hear the rustling of leaves in the thick underbrush. A deer bolts into view, leaps past you, bounds over a barbed-wire fence and disappears. A few meadowlarks flutter higher into the treetops and a couple of ground squirrels scurry by.
You glance over at Jim, 50 yards away. He looks back, cradling his 20-gauge and grinning like mad. He gives you a thumbs-up. The rustling grows louder. It won’t be long now, you think.
Another deer appears from the tree line, 10 feet away. You can practically touch him! Another flurry of meadowlarks sprinkles through the trees like confetti. And then…what is that?
You squint, hard. Stumbling into view are four, tiny, bearded men, each of them no taller than your knee. They seem confused, each of them turning in circles and bumping into the others. They’re dressed only in white bikini briefs, though one is wearing a sleeping cap, and another one has shaving cream on his upper lip.
They notice you, and stop. They point and you simply stare at each other for a few seconds, motionless. Then they run, boosting one another over a log you would have simply stepped across. You look over at Jim, who shrugs and moves his mouth: gnomes.
No shit, you mouth back. You turn back to the tree line, just as the 1994 Slovakian Olympic hockey team appears. You recognize Zigmund Palffy. They’re all wearing striped sweaters in the Slovakian national colors.
“What are you guys –?” you whisper, and they turn to look at you, at once. They seem frightened, as well, and they run, their powerful skater legs carrying them easily across the waterway and out into the sorghum field, where they go into a full sprint and disappear over a far terrace.
1994 Slovakian Olympic hockey team, you mouth in Jim’s direction.
What? he mouths back.
You start to say it again, but there’s a terrific roar as a military tank crashes through a tangle of wild blackberry brambles. It pauses in the clearing, its huge diesel engine growling. Without warning, the turret spins in a complete circle, its enormous gun reducing several cottonwood trees to splinters. The engine revs and it rolls away, clackclackclackclack, smashing a jagged tunnel through the woods.
You and Jim stare at each other. You throw your arms up and shake your head. He mouths something, and shrugs. You shake your head again.
“LeClerc battle tank,” he says, just loud enough for you to hear him. “I think. Could be an AMX-30. Definitely French.”
You nod, slowly. You thought for sure it was Italian.
There’s no time to think, however, as a nine-foot, extraterrestrial flagellus with a puckered, siphon-shaped feeding orifice hurtles from the brush line directly in front of Jim, terrified! It shrieks and throws up its 12, biforcated grappling stalks, then falls on your friend, sucking his head into its gelatinous vacuole.
There’s a strange slurping noise as Jim’s body pulses in and out of the flagellus like a baby’s pacifier. After a few seconds, however – apparently disliking the taste of cheap aftershave, you tell him later – the creature spits Jim out, his head dripping with a translucent mucus. After a frantic emission of both gas and digestive lubricants from his porous membrane (a defensive gesture), the flagellus disappears down the waterway using a series of rapid muscular contractions.
Jim seems stunned, shrugging and shaking his head vigorously in your direction.
What was that? he says, mouthing the words.
You mouth the words extraterrestrial flagellus.
“Huh?” he says, a little louder.
“Extraterrestrial flagellus,” you say. “Big one.”
He nods, and gives you another thumbs-up. You both turn back to the trees as there is, once again, something coming.
This time it’s pheasant! Two beautiful birds pop from the Johnson grass and you blast away, loading and reloading your shotgun as fast as you can. You shoot from the shoulder, from waist-level, from between your legs. You even get out a little mirror and shoot Annie Oakley-style, over your shoulder. You shoot into the side of a steel pipe and hit the ground as pellets zing over your head. From your back, you shoot straight into the air about 20 times.
You shoot and shoot and shoot, for a good half-hour. You can hear Jim doing the same.
When you finally stop there’s a thick, white haze in the air and your ears are ringing. You look over at Jim. His gun is jammed, and he’s sitting on one of the pheasants, beating it with his fists. “Die, bitch!” he screams. The pheasant is shielding its face with its hands.
Then you realize: It’s not a pheasant! It’s Joe Potater! And Marty Potater! You run over and pull Jim off. Joe and Marty look up at you. Happily, you missed.
“Good golly!” Marty cries. “Do you guys shoot at everything that moves?”
“Uh, sorry,” you say. “I guess I thought you were a pheasant.”
“Look here,” Joe says. “I don’t look anything like a pheasant.”
You look at Joe, trying to suppress a smile. You look at the other guys, who are doing the same. Jim kicks at a clod of dirt and lets out a little giggle.
“Well, Joe, actually you do,” says Marty. You all laugh. Joe laughs, too, wiping a tear from his pointed beak.
Then you all go home, bringing this story to a convenient end.