Diner Counter Encounter of the Scifi kind


“Mmm! Coconut custard pie! Heart attack on a plate,” he murmured, as the waitress laid it in front of him. ” Pie first thing in the morning,” he added, “with some black Coffee.” grinned Eli,”It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Best water in the Midwest, right here in Kearney county. My plan is to bottle it and sell it.” She remarked..

It was still very early and the bright light of the interior of the diner had the effect of making the darkness of the outside pitch black. If you swiveled around on your stool, you could try to peer out into that perfect blackness through the large windows of the diner. Stare into a starless space. But you would not see any stars. You would only see yourself and the reflections of the diner. If anything existed out there it had not yet entered the world of the diner.

The Ticktock diner at 4:00 a.m., surrounded by the inky black sky before dawn, then took on a bizarre aspect. The bright neon Clock outlined in Red made the interior appear like the nucleus of a spaceship. The windows like some vast viewing portal. All the metal implements for eating and drinking, meaningfully laid out, seemed the settings and apparatus for some kind of intergalactic space travel. Even the jukebox looked like a control panel awaiting instructions from Spock.

Eli, who liked the occasional outer space movie, found the whole atmosphere of this diner at this particular time of the morning most satisfying. The fact that it was a solitary, vibrant core of light in the total emptiness of the Nebraska expanse only served to enhance the eeriness of it to him, the other worldliness of it all.

The pretty Latino waitress, behind the counter, kept her back to him. She

was now busy replacing stock and making a few notes on a small notepad. She finished off her chores and then turned round to re-fill Eli’s cup with coffee.

“I hate those damn prairie dogs,” she blurted out, “if I saw one around here I’d freak.”She spied sidelong at him as if analyzing him.

“Oh! they’re not so bad. In small groups they’re quite playful.” She squirmed a little making a slight noise of disgust then headed for the back grill.

“I’ll bring you back one if you like?” he shouted. She turned her head, giving a small grimace, and then disappeared.

Eli’s job took him all over the western plains. And he loved it. His friends called him the ‘prairie dog’ man, but that did not bother him one little bit. When they were stuck in the city inside stale offices, he was outside in the clean air. While they saw cars and yet more cars, he saw blue sky, rugged landscape and dirt, mounds of dirt, but what the heck, he liked the feel of the earth.

Like a lot of naturalists Eli was essentially a bit of a loner, (the waitress already had him figured out on that one) and if you cornered him on the subject he’d probably admit to you that he preferred the company of animals to that of his fellow man. But he was not what you would call anti-social. He would rather communicate one on one, and socialize in smaller doses and in less congested conditions than most of his peers appeared to do. A solitary naturalist if you like, but he was easygoing and content with his life and career choice. He was born to observe, hard wired to make connections. No fuss; no yapping on about things, just quietly observing, inserting tracking devices, and giving fanciful names to the dominant leaders of the pack. He’d been like that since his childhood, ever since his mother encouraged him to keep a diary.

So doing field research for World advocacy, a non profit organization dedicated to the preservation of wild animals, was the ideal job for Eli. Observation, note taking, and solitary field trips, what could be better? ‘it’s like a sore dick, you just can’t beat it.’ he mused to himself.

Throw in some Coconut custard pie, a cup of black coffee and I imagine he would tell you that nothing could be better… except maybe Prairie Dogs.

Prairie dogs, almost trapped and killed to extinction, as he would tell anyone who asked, were his specialty. But really he liked all the wild animals on the plains, and he could track and monitor all of them. ‘All the hunters and all the gatherers’, he would say. On the one hand: Wolves, Coyotes, Grey fox and the Ring-tailed Cat; and on the other: Gophers, Prairie dogs and Jack rabbits. Today, in point of fact, as all last week, he had been surveying the population numbers of the rabbits and prairie dogs in the outlying prairie.

As he drank his coffee, Eli was still staring out the window and musing over the empty diner. It was just perfect at this time in the morning. That such a mundane place could be so contemplative just amazed him. Before setting off from the diner, he climbed down off the stool, to move over to those side booths, stretched out behind him.. Here he would finish his coffee while looking out into the blackness that was the window or at the solitary plant pots that sat on the window ledge.

As he slid into the black leather booth, he checked one of the plants to see if it had been watered. He’d never looked closely over the rim into the potted plant. It contained small grey pellets must be fertilizer and a small water funnel. The device protruded from the surface like a miniature water tower on a lunar landscape. Two dark green stems, perfectly cylindrical, left the soil like bamboo, each forking into two and having at their summits palm-like fronds in profusion, deep green also, but fringed at the tips with brown. Perfectly still the alien looking pot plant pretended to be asleep. Asking only for some space to grow and some rest when all the cups and saucers had returned to mother earth and the darkness of space again closed in on the cafe and its interior.

Satisfied, he wrote up his private diary. Not his official one. Just a few observations about the previous day, a few lines concerning curious or strange things he’d seen the day before. He did not feel settled in his mind if he did not make those simple statements in his diary. They brought a kind of closure to a day’s events for him. They kept a crisp record of strange, but minor details in his life that he could relive and mull over on re-reading. Invariably it began with words like, ‘the strangest thing happened, ‘ or “I couldn’t believe my eyes….’. So, after settling down on the seats, he opened the diary up and wrote: “I couldn’t believe how strangely the animals were acting yesterday…. playing by a high tension wire, running round and round like mad hatters…’ The waitress came back with the coffee pot.

“We get a lot of kooks in here,” she said in a matter of fact tone, glancing at the notebook.

“Like Old Kamikaze Petersen?” Jeff smiled, looking up.

“Yup! I saw you two talking yesterday, must have a lot in common.”

“So you noticed he’s a little off?” Jeff asked. “He loves the water too.” He teased her.

“Oh, he’s just an ol’ crop duster over the hills back of the road. He flies in sometimes, real early. Just parks his plane right in the middle of the road.”

He laughed, “Yes, I noticed that plane.”

“did he tell you ’bout that monster Jack Rabbit he saw last year?” she was smirking as she said it.

“I thought he said it was a mole,” Jeff was grinning now.

She snorted “Whatever it was, he’s a few screws short.”

He laughed again, “he look’s harmless enough”

“Yea! Sure, probably has someone tied up in his basement,” she replied, and walked away.

It was time to go to work. The best time to observe rodents was dawn, or dusk, and he’d pitch his little tent in the field. The tent was covered in fake ivy with an opening for a camera, it would take at least a half hour to set up his place of observation.

The map said he had only to follow the road for twenty miles and then walk for five into the shrub. There was an army base somewhere behind the distant mountains according to the map, but there should be no problems with any flyovers.. If he drove fast enough he could be in place while it was still dark, get settled in and hunker down for some Prairie Dog watching.

The spot Eli selected was a comfy indent near some bushes overlooking the Platte River, and what looked like Goose foot, and Gentian growing nearby. He touched the plant and decided it couldn’t be Soap weed, must be Locoweed. The soft dirt had a small, flat, low stone in front of it, ideal for accommodating binoculars, night vision of course, and other bits and pieces. It was still well before dawn when Eli saw his first groups of ‘doggies’. He snapped some photos. Usually there was a small surge of ‘maiden’ activity then a brief lull and then the main showing of the clan. He had seen the first but the second didn’t seem to be coming.

He took a drink of the cool crisp water and vaguely wondered why the change in behavior. Then, while picking his binoculars up, he saw what he could scarcely believe. Inaudibly, and as if from nowhere, a large silver circular object rose quietly out of the river, as it came into view, Eli noticed it was covered in fantastic lights. Soundlessly it hovered, not a hundred metres from where he lay, spinning all the while. There was no sound whatsoever from it. Not a leaf stirred. And it was the noiselessness that amazed him even more than the sight of the thing. Eli was well used to picking up the most minute of noises. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the thing literally disappeared. It simply vanished.

He rubbed his beard and breathed in deeply. At that point some Prairie Dogs popped their heads up out of the ground, and gave the ‘all clear’ signal , They formed a small circle and yapped excitedly. The ‘doggies’ had witness the same exact thing as Eli. He quickly by habit started snapping their picture, wondering why he just stared at the craft and did not take photos. He stayed there all morning taking readings and giving names to the ‘doggies’ puzzling in his mind what he had just seen. Then, before the heat of midday took hold, he drove back to his motel, back past the diner, back past the thin stream of traffic now heading the opposite way.

In bed he mulled over what he had just seen. “Was it? Wasn’t it? What was it? Military? Extra Terrestrial?” Still unsure he fell asleep.

The next day was to be his last survey in that area. He now had to choose a different spot, but he could still visit his favorite diner for his early breakfast. He had half hoped to meet Kamikaze Petersen, but the plane was not sitting on the road this morning.

“Mornin,” the waitress drawled, “the usual?”

“No, I’m running a bit late; just some coffee.”

“Sure!” She disappeared into the kitchen.

The place was completely empty. Eli slid into one of the booths by the window and stared out into the darkness. Then he took out his diary. He turned over onto a new page, dated it, hesitated awhile, and then wrote, ‘I can’t believe what I saw yesterday, a spacecraft. It rose up out of the Platte river, circled slowly then vanished…

He suddenly felt the urge to go see a man about a horse. He had woken late and forgotten to go back at the motel. So he got up, and leaving the open pad on the table, went to the restroom. The waitress saw him enter the toilet as she came out of the kitchen with the fresh coffee. At the bench table, the coffee poured into the cup, she noticed the open notebook on the counter. . Never much of a reader herself (though she considered herself a reader of people) she just couldn’t resist a peek at it. She fixed her stare on the opening line, read it, reread it, and mused, “must be something in the water….”

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