Universal Behaviour

By Benjamin Hayes

sfgenreJon, Elise and Cactus set forth into the pine plantation in search of buried bullion, supposedly pillaged by highwaymen a century ago, and then forgotten to the earth.

The three of them circled back to their camp around midnight after Elise led them astray. Cactus leaned against a tree, smoking a cigarette, frustrated. “Nice one, Elise. You should have listened to me.”

Elise indignantly rolled her eyes back. “Shut up, you idiot!”

“What do you think?” he asked Jon.

“About you being an idiot?”

Cactus permitted a smile. “Should we head north for a bit?”

“Let’s stay with the creek this time,” Elise said. “Those frolicking hippies troubled me. Their skin was so white.”

“The naked body is a beautiful thing,” Cactus teased. “They were celebrating it.” He stubbed out his cigarette against the tree and pulled his backpack on, their only shovel sticking up out of it. He peeled away behind the tree to urinate.

Jon, meanwhile, referred to the treasure map while Elise shone torchlight onto it. “Do you want to go home?” he asked her. “The gold can wait but my love for you can’t.”

“You’re such a softy.” She kissed him gently on his cheek. “But let’s keep going, Jon. Imagine what we can do with all that gold.”

He nodded. “We’ll never have to work again.”

“Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

Cactus snuck up behind them, out of the darkness. “Boo!”

Elise shrieked and jumped backwards. “Jesus Christ, Cactus!”

“Quit it,” Jon said.

“Whatever,” Cactus said.

Cactus’s real name was Dick. He was a smartalec. No one liked him much in high school, including some teachers. They’d say, “I don’t like you, Dick. You’re cactus. I’ll see you after school by the monkey bars. You’re cactus!”

They headed northeast in single file, Cactus leading them deeper than ever before into the eerie forest. “I’m Cactus, Cactus,” he said quietly to himself.

“I think he just farted,” Elise said back to Jon, wincing, holding her nose.

“Was that you, Cactus?” Jon asked, smiling.

“Sorry.”

Jon and Elise took the lead, walking hand-in-hand. They stumbled upon an open grave wherein lay an alien dressed in a one-piece silver suit, its glass fishbowl helmet shattered. Elise played her torchlight over its green complexion and clouded eyes, perplexed. “What is it?”

Cactus jumped down into the hole, excited. “It’s an E.T.”

“Is it dead?” she asked.

“Should I give it mouth-to-mouth?” Cactus joked. “Golly, it’s ugly. Jon, give me a hand lifting it out.” Cactus pulled at its boot and its entire foot came away with it.

Jon cocked his ear. “Shhh,” he said.

Elise gripped his forearm. “What is it?”

“Someone’s coming.” He gave Cactus his hand. “Hurry, get out. We’ve got company!”

“Maybe it’s the hippies,” Elise suggested.

They managed to scramble away behind some trees, hunkering down on the pine needles. Cactus removed his backpack and threw it aside as two more aliens listed out of the darkness, clearly under the influence of alcohol.

“What the hell’s going on?” Cactus whispered.

“Shhh,” Elise said. “Look!”

The taller alien led the smaller one to the edge of the grave, coaxing it. An argument broke out in alien speech after the smaller one saw its colleague dead. The taller alien drew a laser gun out of its holster, chuckled, and pulled the trigger.

“Get down!” Jon said.

Cactus muttered, “Jesus.”

The intense blue beam of particles pierced through the smaller alien’s body. It was dead before it hit the ground. The beam, for a split second, fell upon a tree overhead. The top of the tree that Jon, Elise and Cactus hid underneath exploded, sending sparks and fire skyward and downward. Cactus’s backpack and plastic-handled shovel caught alight.

Elise held Cactus back from wanting to smother it out. “No,” she said, “it will see you.”

“She’s right.”

“Okay,” Cactus conceded.

The alien rolled its deceased colleague into the grave and unearthed a shovel it had hidden beneath the carpet of pine needles. It buried them both, huffing and puffing, sometimes even giggling to itself.

“Where’s it going?” Jon asked.

Cactus made a drinking motion. “Probably the pub.” He stood up after the alien was out of sight to inspect the damage to his backpack and shovel. “Bloody hell.”

“It’s cactus,” Elise said.

“I’d say.”

“Where’s Jon?”

“I don’t know.”

“Over here,” Jon said, standing where the alien had set off into the forest. “Come on, guys. Let’s follow it.”

They caught up with the alien, keeping their distance, as it dragged the shovel behind it, whistling an interstellar melody.

“Golly,” Cactus said, “what is it?”

“You know damn well what it is,” Elise said, cowering behind Jon. “It’s a freaking flying saucer!”

Jon squatted. Elise and Cactus did the same. They watched the alien drag a chest up the flying saucer’s steep ramp. The chest tilted back, spilling bars of bullion down onto the ramp. The legends were true after all. The alien feverishly collected the gold and disappeared into the flying saucer with its precious loot. The ramp rose into its closed position and the flying saucer took off into the night sky at high velocity, zigzagging erratically.

Cactus made a drinking motion at its crazy flightpath across the stars, and then stood up, dusting himself off. “Come on, let’s head back to civilisation.”
“What about the bodies?” Jon asked. “They might be worth a lot more than the bullion.”

“You could be right,” Cactus admitted, suddenly feverish himself. “Why are you looking at me like that for? You’re worrying me, Jon.”

Jon helped Elise to her feet. “You look weird,” he said.

Elise nodded. “You look bloody crazy.”

“I’ll stay with the bodies while you two lovebirds go back for shovels and supplies.”

“Over my dead body,” Jon said.

“Yeah,” Elise said, “over his dead body.”

“What?!”

Cactus crossed his arms over his chest, defiant. “We’ll see about that,” he said.

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About The Author

Benjamin Hayes

Benjamin Hayes was born in Western Australia in 1979, and he has seldom ventured far from home. In 2008, he won the Australian Horror Writers’ Association flash story competition for “The Exchange.” It was featured in the anthology, Award Winning Australian Writing, 2009. He is especially pleased to have had several stories included in AntipodeanSF, such as “Poor Mrs Rosenbaum” and most recently, “Fortune Favours the Brave.”

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Asset Class
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The Drop Out
By David Scholes

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By Kevin J. Phyland

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By Laurie Bell

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By Kevin J. Phyland

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