The train rocked mildly, its wheels clacking below the dining car. Sniffing at a glass of wine, Uncle Morty peered through the window at the yellow prairie fading outside under a twilight sky.
“Do you remember Barry?” he asked.
(Yes, I remembered Barry. He had been Uncle Morty’s boyfriend twenty years ago, when the brother of my sister brought Barry to our house for dinner or to play cards with my parents. I recalled how dissimilar they were, the two: Barry the rugged outdoor type, with broad shoulders and a boisterous laugh, Uncle Morty the quiet gentleman and not outdoorsy the least. Greeting me, Barry would rub my head and call me Champ; Uncle Morty would not.)
“Wasn’t that the one with a red, white and blue U.S. Marines insignia tattooed on his bicep?” I asked.
(Uncle Morty was twenty-six, then, and I was six. Tatoo’s the kind of thing that impress a six-year-old.)
Uncle Morty sighed. “Yes, that was him.” He took a sip of his wine.
(I gulped down the last of my iced tea and looked around the car. We were the only diners left. The bartender was washing glasses behind the bar.)
“Did I ever tell you what happened to Barry?” he asked, and took another sip of wine.
(I tried my memory but couldn’t remember ever hearing what had become of Barry—Uncle Morty had always had a steady flow of boyfriends that went without much ado.)
Uncle Morty leaned his forehead against the glass. “I loved Barry more than I’ve ever loved anyone,” he said. “I’m sure we’d still be together if that frightful night hadn’t happened.”
(I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I suddenly wanted something strong, like straight whiskey. Uncle Morty was my mother’s only brother and I grew up with him around. By experience, I knew when he was about to start to blubber; he was given to crying with little provocation.)
“What frightful night?” I asked.
He lifted his head. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He refilled his glass from the bottle left at the table during the meal. “See those rock formations on the horizon?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. I had been looking at them for some time, the distant cliffs, shifting along the horizon as the train plowed deeper into the dusk.
(“Take the train trip west with your uncle,” my mother had implored me. “You know how scared he is of flying and he would appreciate your company. Besides, you’ll enjoy the scenery.”)
Uncle Morty chugged down half of his refill. “Barry loved to go camping,” he said. “To please him I purchased the required outdoor wherewithal and we went—we camped in forests, on beaches, on mountains, everywhere. Eventually we went to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.” Uncle Morty bit into his lower lip and choked back a sob. “We were going to spend a week there. In the first couple of days we saw buffalo, prairie dogs, fox, and all kinds of birds. We hiked all over the park, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. Not once did I bring up things like ‘room service’ or the things that come with it, like ‘comfy hotel accommodation’.” Uncle Morty’s hands shook as he downed the rest of the wine and refilled his glass again.
(I took an ice cube from my glass and plopped it into my mouth.)
“On the fourth day,” Uncle Morty continued, “Barry wanted to hike to the top of a formation and wait there until night so that we could be closer to the stars at nightfall. It sounded wonderfully romantic and I could never refuse him anything he wanted anyhow, so we hang around until late afternoon and climbed to the top of a formation. We spread a blanket, stretched out on it, and waited for night.” He stopped and took a long drink of his wine.
I looked towards the window. The darkening dusk had turned it into a mirror. My reflection stared back at me. “Then what happened?” I asked.
Uncle took a napkin from the table and blew his nose. “At some point we both fell asleep. We were woken by a high-pitched humming coming directly from above. I grabbed Barry’s hand when I saw a spaceship hovering overhead. A saucer. An SUV, no, I mean, a UFO. I swear. But Barry said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, darling, I’ll protect you.’”
“He let loose of my hand and stood up. In that instance an opening appeared in the bottom of the ship. A beam of light shot out from the opening and enveloped my lover. The beam lifted him into the air, pulled him into the ship, and then the ship flew off and disappeared into outer space.”
I crunched down hard on the ice, breaking it into pieces. “And you never saw him again?”
Uncle Morty poured the last of the wine into his glass. “It’s for the best that I haven’t,” he said. “If he were to leave me again in any other way it would be quite anticlimactic don’t you think?”
Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 390 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had six collections of his short stories published: Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock and 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, and LGBTQ: 33 Stories. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. He maintains his own website, and is on Facebook.