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The alien hung frantically at the end of the noose, the rope cutting into the soft gray flesh of its neck. Its already big black eyes were opened wide as its long, spindly fingers clawed at the rope. The alien's small slitlike mouth was agape and emitting a horrid screech as the crowd looked on in horror. Suddenly, the alien's body lurched into an inhuman pose, and then fell silent. The only sound was the audible gasp from the alien's mouth as the last breath escaped his chest.
The once angry mob fell utterly silent. Their torches were still blazing brightly on this cold November night in 1589. A brisk North Carolina wind began to whip across Roanoke Island, twisting the alien's thin dead body back and forth at the end of the noose. One by one, the crowd began to fall back.
A large woman stepped out of the crowd holding her small infant girl. Her usually neat brown hair was flayed wildly about her head and shoulders. She had lost her bonnet in the fray. Swinging her oil lantern toward the alien, a look of horror crossed her face. "What's the matter with ya?" She turned to look at the body, "It's of the devil! It deserved to die!" she said in a British accent. Turning back, she stared angrily at the silent crowd while her baby cried. She looked down and tried to comfort her baby, "Hush, Virginia Dare. Be a good girl for Momma."
A tall, rugged man stepped out of the crowd. Lifting off his hat, he moved closer to the woman. "Elenore, I can't speak for the rest of us, but I don't think we did the right thing." His voice was low and gravelly, but filled with regret.
Elenore quickly turned and scowled at the man, "Don't you give methat, George. You were shouting to kill it just as loud as the rest of us. Don't you go and be gettin' sour on us."
"I ain't gettin sour," he stroked his thick brown beard. "I just think we should've thought this through a little better." The crowd responded with shouts of agreement. "I ain't ever seen anythin' like this before." George kicked at the dirt with his boots, "I don't think it's of the devil, Elenore."
Elenore took a step away from George and the crowd. She quickly pointed at the alien while coddling her child in her other arm. "Look at it! It ain't no person, and it sure as hell ain't no animal I ever seen! And have we all forgotten where we found it? It was sneakin' around Dan Anderson's farm! Terrorizin' his family!"
George dropped his head. "That still don't make it of the devil!"
Elenore stepped up to George, even though she was a full two feet shorter. "Dan's daughter said this thing came ev'ry night and took her away! It was takin' our children for god's sake!" Elenore swung around to face the crowd, "How many of you want this thing takin' our kids in the middle o' the night? I sure as hell don't!"
The crowd muttered in agreement with Elenore.
Elenore turned and pointed at the alien, "Now I say we cut this thing down and burn it!"
The crowd cheered and began to approach the alien. They suddenly stopped when a bright light appeared in the sky over them. The light exploded into a huge silver saucer. It hovered silently over them for what seemed like an eternity. The moment was shattered when a beam of light jetted from the hull of the ship and pinpointed the body of the alien. The beam then slowly moved along the ground, and before the crowd's eyes, three more gray aliens materialized. One of the aliens stepped forward and with a wave of his hand, the noose opened, allowing the dead alien to fall to the ground. The three aliens crouched down by their fallen comrade, apparently mourning their loss. One of the aliens stood up and turned to address the crowd. They quickly fell back in terror.
Elenore could swear she saw anger in the alien's face. She mustered all the courage she had and stepped forward holding Virginia tightly against her chest. "Devil be gone!"
The alien made no motion toward her, instead it turned and stepped back into the circle of light. Picking up their fallen shipmate, the other two aliens joined the third in the circle of light, and were gone as quickly as they came. The crowd, still astonished at what they had just witnessed, turned their gazes skyward toward the craft.
Screams began to fill the air as the white light abruptly shifted to red and a smoke began to settle over the one hundred or so settlers in the crowd. The gas immediately went to work on the colonists' respiratory system, shutting it down. The gas also seemed to be acting like an acid, burning their flesh. The settlers writhed in agony as their flesh burned and their lungs began to produce thick yellow foam. They were drowning.
Summoning all his strength, George clawed his way out of the light. Standing up, he looked through blurry eyes at his hands and arms, now covered by burns and blisters. Turning around, he watched his fellow colonists dropping to the ground one by one, their bodiesbeginning to melt into pools of fluid. He saw Elenore on the ground, her large frame covering her baby as she tried to protect her. George turned away, trying to block out the screams that filled his ears. He couldn't take anymore.
George knew he was about to die. Turning away from the horror behind him, he ran toward a small outcropping of trees. He needed to leave a clue to what had happened here. He didn't want all one hundred and seventeen settlers dying for nothing. He didn't want others to repeat their mistake.
Whipping out his knife, he started to carve a word on the tree. George searched his vocabulary for a word that closely meant "extraterrestrial", and came up with "Croatoan". The Croatoan's were a tribe of Indians that had helped the settlers learn to fish and hunt when they reached the New World. Several of the settlers, upon first meeting the Croatoans, had remarked how unearthly they appeared compared to the English.
George had spelled out C-R-O when he saw the beam shift directions. Bolting off in a dead sprint, he weaved his way deep into the brush and trees. A tall wooden fence that cut through the thick foliage finally stopped George. Crouching down in terror, he watched the awful red light break through the treetops around him. He knew they were looking for him, and they would find him. Standing up, he carved the letters C-R-O-A-T-O-A-N in the wooden fence post behind him. He only hoped Governor John White would understand the message when he returned from England. When he returned to find the first colony of the New World had vanished without a trace.
Copyright © 2005 Terence West