Fort Kentucky Air Force Base is sometimes referred to as the Area 51 of the East. It is a top-security Everetti base that consists of experimental aircraft test flight runways, regular fighter and bomber aircraft runways, hangars, control towers, satellite dish arrays, droid control centers, fusion weapons storage, Fusion Deployment System control centers, and a large underground and secured facility for housing storage, research facilities and other classified uses. In other words, it’s a party of clandestine activities.
What, exactly, does “everetti base” mean? To this day, I still have no idea, but “everetti” can be used to refer to tarantulas (Phormingochilus everetti) or toads (Pedostibes everetti) so let’s begin there.
The dreadful Toadantula spider-toad hybrid monstrosity had poor Willem all webbed up and was preparing to suck out his vital juices when I heard a barbaric shriek from overhead. I looked up to see Florida-Man swooping down from the roof of the cavern, a wild look in his eyes that indicated he had found the Magic Margarita concoction that gives him his powers. I dropped the flamethrower and watched Florida-Man do what he does best — wreak absolute havoc. At one point, I almost found myself feeling sorry for the Toadantula, a poor, stupid creature brought unwittingly into a world that it did not understand. Then I remembered that all of us had suffered that exact same fate, the Toadantula was not so special, fuck it, and set about freeing Willem from the sticky, stringy mass that entangled him.
How did we end up in this dreadful place? As I uncoiled Willem, I took a moment to reflect. Willem and I had awoken in the back of the El Camino when it had pulled into an underground garage beneath the wastelands of Kentucky. We crawled out from under the tarp just as a group of heavily-armed soldiers in black body armor stormed in and swarmed around us, pointing their rifles at our heads. Before we could even ask where the fuck we were, Florida-Man slid out of the drivers seat and, lighting a cigarette, said:
“It’s alright. They’re with me.”
An awed hush fell over the armor-clad mercs as they lowered their weapons, a few muttering the phrase “Florida-Man!” in hushed tones. Finally, someone said it loud and clear. It was a woman’s voice:
We turned to see a woman in a white lab coat enter the garage, flanked by two men in dark suits, hats, and glasses.
“We were expecting you days ago!” the woman said.
“Yeah,” said Florida-Man, snapping his Zippo lighter shut and dropping it into the pocket of his Members Only jacket. “Well, you can’t use the word ‘expect’ and ‘Florida-Man’ in the same sentence, ma’am.”
A girlish tittering arose from the armored guards, but was quickly silenced by a sharp flash from the eyes of the woman. The troops fell back and stood at attention as the woman approached our group.
“Did you retrieve the package?” she asked. Florida-Man ripped back the tarp that had shielded Willem and I for the 861-mile journey from Florida to Kentucky to reveal the mysterious crate we had liberated from the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. The woman scanned it with her eyes.
“Excellent,” she finally said, and gestured at her foot soldiers. Three of them sprang forward and removed the crate.
“Just what the hell is that thing?” Willem dared to ask. I expected him to get a very efficient German-style slap across the chops for his insolence, but the woman simply answered his question.
“An experimental engine, Mr. Dafoe,” she said. “What else would you retrieve from a drag racing museum?”
Willem and I exchanged a confused look as we were all ushered through a large doorway that had LAB LEVEL 6 painted across it. As the soldiers disappeared down a hallway with the crate, Willem and I followed Florida-Man, the woman, and the two black-clad gentlemen into a room furnished with comfortable chairs and a large mahogany desk. We took the chairs, the woman sat behind the desk, and the two strange men stood by the door.
“If that engine proves to be what we think it is,” the woman began, “then we will proceed immediately with Project Achilles.”
“And if it doesn’t live up to your expectations?” Florida-Man asked, tapping his cigarette ash into the meaty palm of his open hand. The woman locked her eyes on his open, ashy hand, a smoldering ember glowing visibly against the bare skin. Her eyes then looked into his, noting the complete lack of any indication of pain. In an instant, her hand shot up from beneath the desk and hurled a shining disk directly at Florida-Man’s head. Without dropping a single ash, he caught it between the beefy fingers of his cigarette-holding hand, mere inches from the bridge of his nose. He lowered the object, which I could now see was just a harmless ashtray, and dumped the ashes into it.
“If it does not satisfy our engineers,” the woman said. “Then the Naturalists continue their work, unabated. If it does what I expect it to do, however…”
“Then the Naturalists are mine,” Florida-Man almost growled. The woman cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Indeed,” she said. “As per our agreement.”
We sat there in stony silence for what seemed like an eternity, the lab-coated woman staring directly into Florida-Man’s steely eyes, his steely eyes gazing directly back. Then there was a buzz from the intercom on her rich mahogany desk. Without averting her gaze even one iota, she reached down with one slender finger and hit the com switch. A voice on the other end said, “We’re satisfied.”
She removed her finger from the switch. “Well, Florida-Man,” she said. “It seems you have lived up to your end of the bargain.”
From under her desk, she produced an envelope and slid it across the smooth, dark mahogany wood. Florida-Man leaned forward, his eyes still locked on hers, and deftly swiped up the envelope. He slipped it into the pocket of his Members Only jacket without bothering to open it.
“Fine,” he said. “Now let me see her.”
The woman cocked her other eyebrow. With both eyebrows now cocked, she took on a rather inhuman appearance. I could feel a tense charge of energy in the air.
“Very well,” said the woman. A panel built into the wall of the room slid open, and there stood an honest-to-god Gray extraterrestrial! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I took out my cell phone and started snapping pictures. Surprised that no one was stopping me, I turned to look at the woman behind the desk. She just smiled, that weird double-cocked eyebrow look still on her face.
“By all means, take all the pictures you want,” she said calmly. “Your phone will not be able to record any data of any kind while you are on the base.”
I looked at my phone, switching over to view the photo gallery. She was right — all I had was ten shots of a totally black screen. Instead, here’s a picture taken from a black and white film strip smuggled out of the files of the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union. The alien looked almost exactly like this, just less grainy.
Florida-Man ran over to the Gray, who met him halfway across the floor. As they embraced, I felt a wave of sheer happiness come over me, and I noticed that Willem had suddenly started weeping tears of joy. Florida-Man also noticed, and smiled.
“Relax, fellas,” he said. “Her people are powerful empaths. You’re just picking up on our feelings. You see…” he stopped and gazed lovingly into the bottomless black pools of the creature’s eyes, “We’re in love!”
The moment was broken by the sound of an irritated “Ugh!” as the lab-coated woman stood up and headed for the door. “Get a room,” she said as she exited, followed by her two black-clad goons. The door hissed shut behind her, and we were alone in a secret military base with Florida-Man and his beloved Gray alien. I gotta admit, once the shock of seeing her had worn off, she was kind of attractive… Damn empathy. I was feeding off of Florida-Man’s weird proclivities. Willem dabbed the tears away from his eyes and stood up.
“Well, all’s well that ends well, I guess,” he said. “Now if you two love-birds will just show us to the door…”
“Wait,” Florida-Man said, a sudden sound of alarm in his usually steady voice. His Gray girlfriend had pricked up the little holes that seemed to act as her ears, and he had noticed. “Something here’s not kosher…”
Before we knew what was happening, the floor opened up under our feet, and Willem and I were sliding down a dark chute into a room several feet below the one we had been in. We landed with a thud on a hard floor as the ceiling sealed shut above us. We stood as a side door opened and the lab-coated woman entered, looking decidedly more Mantis-like than before. She was still flanked by her two-man Men In Black goon squad, who now held what looked like black magic wands in their hands. They pointed the strange devices at us, and I felt every muscle in my body lock up as a crushing paralysis turned me into a statue. In my peripheral, I could see that Willem was having a similar unpleasant experience, the chords in his neck standing out as they strained to move his head.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you two civilians just waltz on out of here, after all that you have seen?” hissed the Mantis-woman.
“We… had… hoped…” Willem managed before the slightest gesture from one of the goon squad cent him hurtling against the wall.
“Stop!” I said. “Your… secret… safe!” The Mantis-woman cocked her whole head at me. I can’t describe it, really, just… she cocked it, and there was an audible ‘click’ sound.
“How do you mean?” she asked. I could hear her voice tearing through my head like the collective buzz of a thousand hornets. Somewhere behind me, I could detect Willem screaming.
“Who…” I struggled to convey my message, “Who… would… believe… us?”
The buzzing sound and Willem’s agonizing shrieks rose to a fevered pitch as her buggy mantis-eyes widened endlessly, and then… silence. We collapsed to the floor, blood dripping from our noses.
“Perhaps you are right,” said the Mantis in a lab coat, and I noticed her appearance was starting to regain some of its more human-like qualities. She regarded us with a cool, insectile stare. “Still…” she said, “my pet needs to eat.”
Once again, the floor opened beneath Willem and I, and we slid again, this time for several seconds before we were unpleasantly deposited on the damp floor of a large, dimly-lit cavern adorned with what appeared to be thick strands of Spanish moss.
“Christ!” groaned Willem. “How many trap doors they got in this place?!”
Before I could answer, I heard a strange sound emanating from a shadowy corner of the cavern, and my spider-sense began tingling again — and trust me when I say SPIDER-sense. The sound was a sort of dry clicking/wet flopping, hissing sound. My eyes began to adjust to the dim lighting, and I could detect movement along one side of the stony walls. A large, hideous shape was emerging… it was, of course, the previously-mentioned Toadantula, a horrible, gigantic hybrid, the product of lord knows how many tried and failed genetic experiments. Willem struggled to his feet, but before he could run even an inch in the opposite direction, a viscous tongue shot forward from the creature’s gaping maw, snagging the back of Willem’s filthy coat (remember this was a man ravaged by skunk apes not 48 hours earlier, and he had not brought a change of clothes with him) and pulled him, screaming, back into the shadows.
I froze in place, my heart pounding in my ears. The adrenaline poured into my bloodstream, and brought clarity to my eyesight. I could see a cluster of webbed-up corpses, and the bones of various creatures — human and otherwise — scattered around the chamber. Against the wall, I could see the spider-toad, its spindly legs extending from its fat, slimy body, frantically working the silk threads from its abdomen to enshroud poor Willem Dafoe, who was now frozen with shock. My own mind struggled to stave off shock of its own as it was bombarded with questions: Had he been bitten by this abomination? Was the venom lethal? Was that Donny Osmond stuck to the cavern wall behind them? Before I could answer even one of these questions, I noticed a discarded flamethrower at Donny’s webbed feet. I threw myself to the ground, rolling between the frantically-knitting forelegs of the Toadantula, grabbed the flamethrower, and pulled the trigger.
In a burst of absolute nothingness, a feeble hiss emerged from the fuel canister, and then silence. There was no pilot light to ignite even the tiniest amount of gas that had managed to escape from the once-deadly, now-defunct device. All I could do was watch helplessly as my friend had his vital juices sucked and devoured by this unspeakable horror. It was then that I heard the battle-cry of Florida-Man emanate from above, and this, as you know, is where we came in. I will skip the horror and heroics that ensued, but as I am sure you can imagine, they were all at once chaotic and cataclysmic, culminating with the sound of the revving engine of the El Camino as it smashed through the door to the cavern that was the Toadantula’s lair. Behind the wheel was the Gray alien, now adorned in a wife-beater T-shirt with a lit Lucky Strike dangling from where you’d expect its lips to be. On its bulbous head was a custom-fit baseball cap that read simply, “Margaritaville.” The car-truck hybrid slammed into the bloated spider-toad hybrid as its horn blasted out a triumphant rendition of “La Cucaracha.”
“Bobbie!” screamed Florida-Man as he felled the now-unbalanced hideous spider-toad critter with a rock from a sling made out of webbing and an old, discarded purple sequined sock. As the abomination let out a surprised squeal of pain and rage, we grabbed Willem and piled into the El Camino. The Gray alien (whose name I was suddenly aware was ‘Bobbie’) hit the gas, and we tore ass through the underground complex beneath the Kentucky Air Force Base. Jeeps loaded with more foot-soldiers appeared from nowhere, hot on our trail, but Florida-Man was full of surprises.
Lifting the lid off a secret compartment in the bed of the El Camino, he raised a rocket launcher and began firing shells. As explosions rang out behind us and debris fell all around, I could have sworn I heard the phrase, “Yeeeeee-Haaaaa!!!’ echoing in my mind as a narrow, gray arm emerged from the driver’s side window of the El Camino, flipping a long, slender middle finger at the fiery chaos behind us.
Hours later, we were parked at a rest stop about a mile from the Tennessee border. We had gotten all of the webbing off of Willem, and he was in the restroom vomiting out the last of the toadantula’s venom. I was sitting by the El Camino, chatting with Bobbie the Alien when Florida-Man brought out some soft drinks and chips from the vending machines. Willem emerged, wiping his mouth, and snatched up one of the beverages. He rinsed his mouth with Mountain Dew and spat the refuse onto the gravel of the parking lot.
“Don’t worry, Willem,” Bobbie said telepathically, as is the way of her kind, “The last of the venom should be out of your system in a few hours. Just take it easy. Until then, no more wacky adventures!”
“Easier said than done!” Willem said, and we all laughed. In the peaceful silence that followed, we all took a moment to just look at one another, happy that this adventure had ended well. Finally, Florida-Man spoke.
“Fellas, I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “I don’t think I could ever have gotten Bobbie out of that place without your help.”
Willem and I smiled. “We really didn’t do much,” I said.
“No, no, you did,” Florida-Man continued. “But now I have more to do.” He pulled the envelope that the Mantis-woman had given him from the inside pocket of his Members Only jacket. “I’ve got to find these so-called ‘Naturalists’ and put an end to their bullshit theories that we Swamp People are anything but Everglade-borne!”
Willem nodded, knowingly, and said, “God speed, Florida-Man.”
“Speakin’ of the Glades,” Florida-Man said, “You boys want a lift back there? You’re more than welcome to join the Swamp People an…”
“Nope!” Willem and I burst out in chorus, and we all laughed again. After a brief farewell, Florida-Man and his alien bride-to-be pulled out onto the highway, bound once more for the Sunshine State. Willem and I soon managed to flag down a flatbed headed for Memphis, and we celebrated the end of another great adventure by getting drunk on Beale Street. We spent the night in Jerry Lee Lewis’s bar, singing round after round of “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” before passing out at a nearby Motel 6. The next day, we did the Graceland tour, as required by Tennessee State Law, and then went our separate ways. At the bus stop, before we bid our final farewells, something at a newsstand caught Willem’s eye. Shaking his head, he let out a small laugh. Before I could ask what was so funny, he pointed to a newspaper on the rack. A small headline at the side of the page read:
NAKED FLORIDA MAN ARMED WITH CROSSBOW CLAIMS ALIENS WERE AFTER HIM
“I guess Bobbie’s family had misgivings about their wedding,” I said.
Willem just smiled at me in that Willem Dafoe way of his.
“Florida-Man will survive,” he said, “Florida-Man will survive.”
And with that, we shook hands and parted ways.
Epilogue: Somewhere in a dank cavern deep beneath the Kentucky wastelands, Mitch McConnell stood silently beside his Mantis master, watching the hideous scene unfolding before them. An egg sack was hatching, and hundreds of tiny creatures that bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. McConnell, the current Senate Majority Leader of the United States Congress, emerged, mewling for sustenance.
“Good,” hissed the mantis-like creature. “Goooooood. The tortoise-turkey/toad-tarantula breeding program was a success! Look upon your brood, McConnell, and rejoice!”
Mitch McConnell dutifully laid down on the loamy floor of the cavern, quietly undoing the buttons of his shirt, and each of the horrible little creatures took to a teat to feed… and to grow.