My heart sank as we turned the corner. “That’s the truck?”
“Yup.” Tommy beamed with unadulterated pride.
“You said it needed a little work.” The Chevy pickup buried its nose in the pasture, front wheels gone, sightless without headlamps. The missing front bumper gave it a toothless look, as if it was gumming the grass. The backbone of its frame bent painfully between the cab and the bed, suggesting it might never carry another payload. The faded body paint had blistered and peeled, appearing almost sunburned on top, with a greenish mold on the sides.
“It was running, or almost running, when Uncle Otis parked it, sort of. O’course, that was fifty years ago.”
“And then some,” I said, as I walked around the vehicle. “That’s a ’52, maybe a ’53. They didn’t have side vent windows until 1951, and they stopped making split windshields in ’54.”
“See? I knew you’d appreciate it. It’s a classic.”
“It’s a classic, all right,” I said, “A classic piece of junk.”
Tommy seemed smaller somehow, deflated by my remarks. “So, you don’t want it?”
“I didn’t say that. Is it all there? Does it have a motor?”
“It’s all there—except for the front bumper. Otis lost that in the river.”
“The river? It’s been in the water?”
“Otis used to run white lightning across the state line. The Revenuers were hot on his tail one night, so he took a short cut and drove across the river. He lost the bumper when he hit some rocks and ended up stranded on a sand bar.”
“How did he get it off the sand bar? And what did you mean by ‘almost running’ when our uncle parked it?’”
Tommy squirmed a bit and stammered something unintelligible.
“Tommy? Say again?”
“It was them damn aliens. They done it.”
“You mean like illegals? Mexicans?”
“No. The other kind. Space aliens.”
Here we go. “Okay, I’ll bite. What space aliens?”
“Uncle Otis was stuck on that-there sand bar for three days and three nights. On the third night, right about the time he’d decided to make a swim for it, some aliens come by in their flying saucer and sucked Otis and the Chevy right into their ship. We didn’t see him again for five weeks.”
“That’s pretty far-fetched, Tommy. Why would you believe something like that?”
“Otis’ story was that the aliens wanted the hooch. There were twenty cases of liquor in the truck bed, and they drank it all.” Tommy looked thoughtful. “O’course they couldn’t handle the stuff—it was Cousin Merle’s best brew. It took a while for them to sober up and return Otis, and on the way back the aliens got lost. Otis said they took a left turn at Jupiter instead of a right. Anyway, they dropped Otis and the truck in Aunt Ethyl’s front pasture and left.”
I shook my head. “I repeat—why would you believe a story like that? Isn’t it more likely that Otis just went on a bender and took five weeks to sober up? Or sold the booze himself, kept the money and ran away, but felt guilty and came back?”
“Maybe. But the tailgate was full of bullet holes, and all the paint was burnt off the pickup. That’s why it looks like it does.”
I was silent. “Anything else?”
“Otis didn’t drink.”
“Oh, yeah, and the truck showed up in the pasture without any tire tracks. The pasture was fresh plowed. No way could it have got there without tracks. Plus, Otis was different.”
“You’ll see. Otis hasn’t changed his story in fifty-odd years. He refused to touch that truck again. It’s been there ever since. He never replaced the battery, but the radio still works, even after all this time. And it’s stuck in 1955.”
“What’s stuck in 1955?”
“The radio. All the stations play music and news from 1955. You know, Elvis Presley, Brooklyn Dodgers, Dwight Eisenhower.”
I brushed dirt off the tailgate, exposing a half dozen bullet holes.
“Can you show me? Show me the radio?”
“Not me. Only Otis has the key. But I’ll ask him. He moved in with Ethyl—that’s his baby sister—after she started feelin’ poorly. They live in that house over yonder.”
We walked to the farmhouse. Tommy climbed the steps and knocked on the door. An elderly lady answered and hugged Tommy warmly. After a brief conversation, she went back inside, and Tommy stepped off the porch and stood next to me.
“That’s Ethyl. She said she’d ask Otis.” The screen door creaked. “Here he is now.”
A tall man strode across the porch and skipped down the steps. He smiled broadly and stuck out his hand.
“Hello, I’m Otis Bradley. I hear you’re interested in my Chevy.”
My mouth hung open as I shook hands with a twenty-year-old man.
Note: A version of this story won 2nd Place in the Granbury Writers’ Bloc monthly contest in May 2017.