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Gray Men

by Ronald Cypress

The whole thing wouldn’t have been so bad if everyone in the town hadn’t insisted on knowing and talking about it. Dennis Barnett was back, and he had quite the explanation to give for where he had been for the past few of years. Everyone knew that Dennis had gone missing, leaving behind a wife, Veronica, and two teenage kids, Farah and Byron. The expectation at the time of his disappearance was that Dennis had just gotten drunk and wandered off somewhere. He would probably be back within a day or two, the sheriff said to Veronica Barnett after she went to the police to report that her husband was missing. Everyone, with the exception of Veronica, seemed to have the same opinion as the sheriff. Dennis Barnett was a drunk and sometimes drunks wandered off to places, especially if they were facing opposition to their drinking at home.

A few years went by, and Dennis still hadn’t been seen. Most people forgot all about him. Some people said that he had probably just left, moving on to another place. There wasn’t much to keep him around. All he had in the town was his immediate family, but everyone knew that Dennis hadn’t been much of a family man. Some were even surprised that he had stayed around for as long as he did. He had finally moved on, people said. Veronica and the kids would just have to go on without him. The police made a few searches for the missing man, but they were feeble attempts and eventually the town residents were asked to keep an eye out for him. Dennis Barnett wasn’t really missed, and only a few people truly wondered about where the man could have gone.

Out of the blue, someone happened to spot Dennis walking down one of the main roads one afternoon. That someone was Lydia McClean, the woman who often worked behind the counter at the gas station that was near the town’s only grocery store. She was on her way to work when she saw the familiar face walking towards her car. Lydia slowed down to get a good look at the man. There was no doubt that it was Dennis Barnett. He looked the same as he did a few years ago.

Lydia went to the police department and notified the police about spotting the only reported missing person in the town. The police went out to investigate the man who Lydia believed was Dennis. They found him walking down the same road that he been walking down when Lydia noticed him. After stopping him and talking to him, the police concluded that the person was indeed Dennis Barnett. The sheriff took control of the situation, talking politely to Dennis and inviting him to get in the back of his patrol car.

“Yeah,” Dennis said, agreeing to go with the sheriff. “That’s a good idea. Have I got a story to tell you. I need to tell you about what happened. I want to tell you about them.”

The sheriff assured Dennis that he would get to tell him all about where he had been and what he had seen. He drove him down to the police station, where Dennis told his story for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Is he really going to come back here?” Farah Barnett asked her mom. “Can’t he just stay at the hotel like he’s been doing? Or go back to wherever he really was?”

“Go back with the aliens?” Byron Barnett said with a smirk on his face.

“I said where he really was, not what he just made up.”

“I never said I had made up my mind,” Veronica said. “It just seems like the best thing would be to have your father return home.”

The three had gathered in the kitchen. The kids were sitting across from each other at the dinner table. Veronica was lethargically cleaning up the counter and thinking about the past few weeks. Everyone had heard about the story Dennis had given to the sheriff. They all knew about where he claimed to be for the past two years. Suddenly, it seemed like everyone had an interest in Dennis, the man who claimed he was abducted by aliens.

“He should be in jail,” Farah said. “I can’t believe they let him out. They could have least put him in a mental hospital.”

“They say he’s not crazy,” Byron said. “He appears to be mentally sound. And he hasn’t broken any laws.”

“He still owes child support on you and a little bit for me. They could have held him on that.”

“Your father doesn’t belong in jail,” Veronica said. She turned to face her children. “He’s a sick man. And something obliviously happened while he was going.”

“You think he was abducted by aliens?” Farah asked.

“No, but something happened to him.”

“Yeah, a drug and alcohol binge probably. The man was probably strung out until he finally decided to get home.”

“Dad didn’t do drugs,” Byron said. “He just drank a lot.”

“Whatever. The man clearly needs to be in a hospital.”

“We will welcome him back with open arms,” Veronica said. “That is all we can do right now.”

“I think people are gathering outside again,” Bryon said. He got up from his seat. “I can hear them.”

“This is so embarrassing,” Farah said. “I’m tired of people asking me about him.”

She got up and walked out of the kitchen.

Veronica stood still in the quiet kitchen. She was tired. Her mind hadn’t rested since finding out that Dennis was back in town. The news about where he claimed to have been reached her before she got a chance to briefly visit with him. Dennis hadn’t said much during the meeting at the hospital. He kept saying her name and looking at her as if he couldn’t be completely sure that who he was looking at was in fact his wife. Veronica had hugged him and promised that there would still be a home for him when he was ready to return. Until that day came the sheriff promised to keep a good eye on Dennis and to take care of him.

 

Dennis spent most of his time on the couch in the living room after returning home. It was where he slept, and he didn’t wander too far from it during the day. Two topics he frequently brought up were his time with the aliens and how old the house looked.

“I just don’t remember it being so old,” Dennis told Veronica one morning. “I keep looking around, and it seems to have age so much. Was it really like this when I left?”

The house looked the same to Veronica. The home wasn’t that old, and Dennis hadn’t complained before.

“You just got to get used to it again,” Veronica said. “That’s all. It just seems old because you haven’t seen it in a while.”

Veronica didn’t mind hearing her husband talk about how old the house appeared because it was better than listening to him go on about his time on the spaceship. Her husband had been a pretty reticent man in the past, but since coming back Dennis had been garrulous when it came to talking about his time with the aliens. He had even allowed a few reporters and fans of sensationalism into the home so that he could talk more about his supposed ordeal.

“They looked like us,” Dennis said about the aliens. “But their skins was grayish and they were pretty tall, taller than most of us.”

Veronica had heard it too many times. The aliens were gray giants who had kept him locked up in a metallic room.

“I was in there for a long time,” Dennis said. “I don’t know how long. I was alone most of the time, but they came to examine me a few times.”

The examination had involved stripping Dennis naked and probing him with different needles. Veronica had almost laughed at how unimaginative Dennis’ account of the experience was. But he had seemed sincere when telling her about it. Dennis trembled a bit when recounting what the aliens did to him. It could have been genuine trauma, but Veronica was far from being convinced by Dennis’ story. She wasn’t even sure if he believed what he was saying. He could have convinced himself to believe the story. Or Dennis could have just decided that he had to be committed to the story. Veronica felt some desperation for the truth, but she had to accept that it would only come when Dennis was ready.

“The police should force him to be in the hospital,” Farah said to her mom, whispering so that there was no chance her father would overhear. The two were talking in Veronica’s bedroom at night. Dennis had already gone to sleep. “I thought he would give up this whole thing, but he hasn’t. He needs to be committed.”

“He doesn’t need to be committed,” Veronica said. “He just needs to get through this phase. It will go away.”

“It’s so embarrassing,” Farah said. “This is the worst thing he has done to us. Why couldn’t he just stay away? Weren’t we better off?”

“Your father needs us. We should try to do what we can for him.”

Both Farah and Byron had made a few attempts at reconnecting with their father. Byron had driven Dennis around the town, giving him updates on things that had occurred while his father was gone. Dennis had spent most of the trip looking out the window with a blank expression on his face. Byron wasn’t sure his father recognized the sites. They didn’t seem to mean anything to him, and Dennis didn’t seem to care much about what had happened around the town.

Farah had sat on the couch with her father and watched television with him. Dennis had the same blank expression he had when riding around with Byron. She tried to speak to him about her job and plans for the future, but Dennis didn’t show much interest in what she said. Desperate to improve the conversation, Farah forced herself to ask about the aliens. Her father sat up, and the words started to flow out. Farah made herself sit and listen as her father talked about what the aliens had done to him. He also spoke about how they had stopped probing him towards the end and allowed him to walk around their spaceship.

“It was beautiful,” Dennis said. “They had all kinds of things on there, things we don’t have down here. They had different devices. There was this one thing they could inject you with and you would feel incredible. They started giving it to me at the end. It almost made up for all the horrible things they had done before.”

Farah smiled and rebuked the anger that was building up inside of her as she listened to her father. She decided that she wouldn’t ask about the aliens again, but there was just one question.

“Why did they bring you back?”

“I don’t know. Their leader told me I had served my time and said I had to leave. I was happy to be coming back, but…Well, I’m happy now.”

Farah watched the blankness return to her father’s face. She was certain that the anger she felt towards him would continued, but one night Farah stepped outside of her room to use the bathroom and heard a sound coming from the living room. The sound of crying was instantly recognizable. Farah walked down the hall slowly. She peeked into the living room and saw her father sitting up on the couch, sobbing with his head down. Farah started to move back down the hall, but a realization made her stop.

Instead of walking away, she went into the living room and sat down next to her father.

“Dad,” Farah said. “Are you okay?”

Dennis looked up at his daughter’s face. “I’m really sorry. I really am, Farah.”

Farah knew that she had to at least consider her father’s apology. It didn’t come close to making amends for what he had done to the family, but she could see how broken he had become. People had talked about how much Dennis looked the same after returning, but Farah took a good look at him and saw what the time away had done. It suddenly blanketed his face, and Farah understood that the man she had known before was no longer there.

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