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Cosmic Bradbury WC Winner!: Home

This LibGuides page is for showcasing the winning submission for the 2021 Cosmic Bradbury Writing Contest, presented by the Waukegan Public Library.

Welcome! The purpose of this page is to formally recognize the winning submission of our Cosmic Bradbury Writing Contest! But first, we would like to express our deepest appreciation for everyone who participated in this space themed writing contest, the judges definitely enjoyed reading all of your creative stories. No matter the outcome of the contest, you should all be proud of the writing that you have done. Just as Ray Bradbury would, we encourage you all to continue writing and expressing yourself!

 

Below you will find the winning submission:

 

The Unidentified U.F.O. by Orty Ortwein

 

Orton (Orty) Ortwein, age 46, is a Midwestern writer, currently residing in Pewaukee, WI. His short story, The Unidentified U.F.O., provides an interesting twist on the trope of aliens and what an "invasion" by them might be like.

 

For all the writers out there, be sure to watch for future writing contests!

The Unidentified U.F.O.

By Orty Ortwein

 

     Every weekend Chad hopped into his ancient 1985 Econoline and took to the road, hunting. Thrift shops and garage sales were crapshoots, but certain locations at particular times were annual fishing holes, secret treasure troves jealously sealed in his opportunist brain. The Hachette book sale was the first weekend of June, when the publishing giant sold thousands of remainder books for exactly one dollar each, all brand new with uncracked spines that he could easily post on Amazon. At the Plymouth, MI, city-wide garage sale, he secured over ten grand worth of furniture less than 1k. Today it was Madison, WI. All leases at the University of Wisconsin began or ended on 8/15, no exceptions. That day kids could drag almost anything to the side of the road. Scavengers like Chad had their pick.

     U-Hauls and minivans clogged streets as students moved bunk beds and suitcases in while dragging out beaten blond furniture, $200 textbooks, and anything else these spoiled kids didn’t want. Chad eyed the flotsam and jetsam greedily, ready to turn trash into treasure. He parked his van at the end of a block. Rubber gloves protecting his hands and a strappy rucksack on his back, he foraged.

      He snatched a milk crate of vinyl albums, a box of dishes with silverware, hauled few chairs and a table into the van knowing he could clean them up at little cost. He found a clock with glow-in-the-dark hands, a few old tube televisions (he would at least scrap the copper), stumbled across a MAD board game, picked up a barely-used dart board in a wooden case with the Cheers logo spelled across the doors, found a Star Wars poster, grabbed not one but two electric music keyboards. He knew an instruments guy who would take them off his hands. He scored an abandoned bike. He knew a bike guy, too.

     His shoulders burned from a day of hauling and his feet ached, foraging was the only exercise he got, but it was a good, profitable pain. The collector was ready to climb back into the driver’s seat triumphant when he spotted it; a cardboard box, dropped right by the rear wheel of his van. It wasn’t there when he parked. Chad paused. There was always room for one more box. He kicked the cardboard, heard metal jangling. Metal was a good sound, he could probably at least scrap whatever was inside. The pudgy young man stuffed the box snugly between a couple of chairs in the back of his van.

      Back in his basement apartment, Chad flicked on a single light bulb hanging by a cord. His 250-pound frame collapsed on a warped wooden chair in front of a bulky desk covered with tattered paperbacks, comics, toys, materials Chad was putting online. He found his laptop somewhere in this pile and opened it, bringing it glowing to life. He picked up the box, the last catch of the day, and piled it on top of the piles. His catcher’s-mitt hands pawed through the contents.

      A fat thumb and index finger picked up a toy man. For the first time in his life, Chad held an action figure but had no idea what to make of it. He knew every Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Wrestlemania, could identify all by sight. What he beheld now was beyond his knowledge. It was clearly a spaceman of sorts, in silver jumpsuit and matching boots, with green hands that curiously ended in three fingers at the ends of gangly arms completely out of proportion, emerald fingertips stretching past knees. A silver helmet crowned the spaceman, with a single window where a face should be. The visor was pitch black, making it impossible to identify whatever was inside. Chad touched the visor and found it cool, like glass. The scavenger looked inside the box and found both a flying saucer plus a dozen more spacemen, all in the same astronaut jumpsuits. He lined them up on his desk and saw little green men similar but not the same, some taller than others, although uniform in dress. Were they hand-made?

     He picked up the flying saucer. It was a good-sized toy, roughly the same radius as a garbage can lid. Viewed from the side, the U.F.O. looked like two glued together silver cymbals. The ship had depth in the top and bottom but narrowed away from the center, one unit of two concave shapes. A small cylinder jutted from the top. The cockpit, Chad supposed, or maybe an observation tower for little green aliens. Was it made from a kit? Doubtful. He felt metal in his hands, and the ship was empty of any decals. Metal was good, very good. Tin toys were almost always worth something, though this didn’t quite feel like tin. He let one index finger glide around the rim where the flying saucer’s upper and lower halves met. His fingertip sensed no glue or welding.

      Chad wiped the object all around, looking for a way in. The toy came with a dozen alien spacemen, he assumed the ship must come apart so a little boy could drop the Martians inside. He guessed the spaceship unscrewed at the half, revealing a hold full of ray guns, control consoles, maybe a dissecting bed for an abducted human.

    He twisted the two halves in opposite directions. Nothing.

    Next he grabbed the tower atop. Maybe this was the entrance, or a way to unscrew the whole thing.

    Nothing happened. Nothing gave or caved or unscrewed. Solid as granite.

     He needed both hands to turn the large toy upside down, hoping to find a ramp that unfolded and led into the ship, maybe legs for the U.F.O. to land on.

     Nothing.

     No wonder he’d never heard of this toy before. The thing was a piece of crap. It didn’t blink, open, it did nothing but sit on his desk, the little robot aliens evidently trapped outside. This must have been a prototype of a toy that never launched. If so, it could be worth a fortune. Oddly it was the toys no one played with that brought in the most dough.

      He surfed the evening and well after midnight looking at toy spaceships. Vintage tin Japanese flying saucers, plastic gray Frisbees, the rare model Nazi U.F.O. pulled after outrage from Jewish groups. None looked like what was sitting on his desk.

     Maybe it was a rare movie prop? A couple hours of searching revealed nothing created by Lucas or Harryhausen. He scrolled down to the 30th page of Google hits, came up empty. Finally he snapped a photo and uploaded the picture to a chat room of male collectors (more women haunted porn sites than those devoted to rare toys), asked if they had seen such a thing before.

     He wasn’t expecting anyone to make an offer that wouldn’t rip him off. But if someone could at least identify this unknown unknown flying object, that would be a start.

****

     The next morning Chad swung from his cot and into the wooden chair in front of the battered desk in one fluid motion, hoping for good news. He’d slept all of five hours.

      Predictably, disappointingly, no one had any information. Someone named RobotAlienHunterKiller #27 offered to buy the thing for $500, the only buzz this one-of-a-kind toy created. Chad found the offer tempting - $500 would cover rent - but didn’t bite. He’d learned to never take the first offer and besides, this unique U.F.O. had only been out there five hours. Granted, those were between 1 to 6 AM, busy browsing times for men like him, but he held out hope for bigger pay.

       The businessman carried on through the day, posting other items to sell, one eye always on the other tab left open, checking back every ten minutes. Nothing.

      An unfamiliar sound wrecked his concentration, a piercing sound he’d never heard before. After the sharp noise repeated it registered this was the doorbell ringing for the first time. Confused, he opened the door to a statuesque blonde with a bouncy halo mane of curly locks framing her angelic face. Her 5’9 height enabled her to look him directly in the eye. Chad didn’t encounter women often but this was clearly one of those fancy ones who got up hours early just to prepare her face and hair before stepping out into the world. She could’ve been a model. It was as if by magic one of the girls he always looked at online had materialized right on his step.

    “Hi Chad!” she smiled, flashing perfectly gleaming teeth, blue eyes beaming. The smile was a little too perfect, forced, lower lip quivering. Chad felt himself trembling and flushing red. She was easily the most striking woman to ever utter his name. He had always been about as attractive to women as a clumsy moose on ice. Whenever female eyes twinkled in his direction it was so he’d buy them a beer at Kowalski’s Pub and Grill. What could this girl want, here, now? How could she know him? Girls like her didn’t attend gaming nights.

     Chad was speechless as she leaned in, kissed him on the check. They embraced. He hadn’t had a date in years and what he did next was based less on muscle memory and more on what he’d seen on TV. He awkwardly fumbled his chapped mouth with her naturally pouty lips. He closed his eyes, heard blood surging everywhere, felt a bulge in the jeans he’d been wearing for three days.

      Then a tickling scurry in his scalp. Something was crawling in his hair, an insect? Hell, this thing had cold feet, a rodent! He pulled away from her and was about to go digging into his own black strands when a stinging pain pierced the back of his skull, just above the nape of his neck. His whole body was one painful wound and he collapsed to his knees, spitting out a barely audible “Help!”

     But the girl had fainted, graceful legs curled beneath her knees. Chad wasn’t certain she was alive.

     Tears clouded over his eyes and streamed down grizzled cheeks. He was jerked up and back onto his feet like a puppet, spun away from the girl. Nothing he was doing was voluntary. His mind screamed no, no, no, as someone asked him where the spaceship was.

     It wasn’t a voice, but a sense. This is what it is to communicate telepathically, he supposed, while his mind desperately fought the invasion. Something had commandeered the captain’s wheel of his mind and controlled him. It wanted to know where it could find the unique toy and was scanning his brain for answers.

    NO NO NO! he screamed silently. One of his long legs moved, then the other, he shouted internally as his body was yanked back to the clutter.

     As he was forced to march he could see his captor’s memories. Chad saw an entire armada of ships just like the one he’d found yesterday. Thousands descending on Earth, here to wipe out humanity, loot our planet of all that makes life possible, suck it dry and toss Earth aside like an orange drained of nectar. Then onto the next galaxy and next planet. That is how these creatures live.

     What they don’t count on, what none of their probes explained, was that Earthlings are a giant race 100 times their size. The two-inch-high creatures may have superior weapons, but the Earthlings are just so huge, and there’s simply too many. And so Operation Earth is abandoned.

     After hovering over cities like New York and Tokyo and London, the Lilliputian aliens realize their mistake and beat a hasty retreat. Not all of them make it. The armada of drone-sized U.F.O.s are only spotted by a handful of humans, who point and laugh, thinking they are seeing someone’s toy drones. Out of thousands a few are fated to crash. One is taken out by a homerun just west of Chicago. A dog in Toronto snatches one in his jaws. Still another invading ship slams into a volleyball net just outside Madison, WI. The soldiers inside bail but die on impact.

      The denizens of these crashed ships are left on their own, knowing theirs is a military that leaves men behind. Their superiors callously abandon them. It’s easy enough for the tiny survivors to hide on a world whose surface is barely inhabited, but their intention is always to go home.

     As his long legs seat him to where their ship is waiting, Chad’s hijacked mind sees gizmos his Earth brain will never understand. Queer gadgets that allow these tiny men to communicate across the globe. That is how they found one another and regrouped in clusters, waited. How they searched the internet for a strange, one-of-a-kind flying saucer. Finally one of them kidnapped a beautiful woman that lead to Chad’s doorstep.

     Chad watched helplessly as his hairy arms picked up the saucer. Several little green men were speaking now across continents. He could not hear specific words or sentences but felt their thoughts and knew what the cacophony of extraterrestrial sounds were saying:

    Here it is! Finally, and fully intact! This will bring us home! And we will take back the bodies of our brothers that this primate has scattered about and give them a proper burial, with full honors. Our children await.

     What to do with him? another asked, And with the female? Best to cut off the blood to their heads, that is how these things die.

    The death of two young ones could lead to questions.

     But we can’t leave them here to tell.

     These things are stupid. They think we built pyramids and crop circles. Two more dumb ones saying they saw us will make no difference.

     It is still too big a chance to leave them alive.

     If we end them officials will investigate. Better these two be the only ones who know.

     I concur. No one will believe them and even if anyone does, they will never understand. This one has no idea what I am or what I am doing to him, and I am inside him! I will temporarily take the breath out of this one, as I did the female who is sleeping. Then I will take our ship and bring everyone home!

     A chorus of cheers was the last sound Chad heard before he drifted off, dreading he would never return.

****    

    He awoke on the slime of the basement floor. First came confusion, then memory creeped in. He looked at his desk, picked up the paperbacks, plastic toys, old comics. No trace of the flying saucer, little spacemen, or the girl.

     Others would turn to religion. Chad fired up his laptop.

     The chat room where he’d first posted was still up. He almost clicked it away before he read the last response to his query.

RobotAlienHunterKiller #27:

    You should have taken the $500.

Thank you for reading!