My Favorite Column Ever

(Last week, I spoke of writing my best column during sugarbeet harvest. It’s long one so fill your coffee-GN)

“The Nelson boys save harvest and the world.”

(this is part one of a Halloween Farce, please enjoy and don’t panic-it’s all fiction. I don’t want to start an incident like the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast did in 1938. No rota beeter drivers were harmed in this production and even it they were, I’m not sure they are protected by the same laws as protect the rest of us humans )

Sugar beet farmers in the Red River Valley planned for an anxious harvest. They feared the loss of profits this year when they were forced to leave ten percent of their crop in the field due to a large harvest. Hindsight shows they should have been satisfied with that fear; there was something far worse in the sky than out in those fertile fields.

Sugar beet harvest is an intense time of long hours, sometime boredom and fatigue; most participants in this yearly ritual have come to accept the toll it takes on mind and body. Funny stories exist of truck drivers and harvest operators’ sleep-deprived hallucinations and their reactions to hallucinogenic images of deer or even people suddenly appearing in their headlights. That sort of delirium would seem like a fond memory after the real-life nightmare about to unfold.

It started out quite simply when a transmission on the citizens band radios that most vehicles carry during the harvest. Someone reported lights in the sky near Warren and our reporter was even able to effect panic in her voice (yes, women even drive sugar beet trucks.) Most harvesters thought it was a joke and laughed it off. Tall tales have long been spun between truck drivers and the men in the field as a way to pass time. It really wasn’t a surprise that lights in the sky would join the tapestry of baloney born by the public airwaves.

Ryan Swanson slept in the cab of his tractor. Ryan operated the rota beeter which is used to defoliate sugar beets prior to harvest. He was well-ahead of the harvester and so Ryan slept. We can guess Ryan heard the transmission about lights in the sky and it’s also safe to assume he laughed then went back to sleep. Ryan was quick with a laugh and had a friendly, open manner. Even at three o’clock in the morning he probably met whatever walked up to his tractor with a smile. Ryan probably thought the creature even needed a little help.

Grant Nelson started driving sugar beet truck nearly fifty pounds and sixteen years ago. He used to talk a lot on the radio but now mostly just listens. Grant believes in Unidentified Flying Objects, or rather he believes sighting a U.F.O. qualifies you as an idiot (Gosh he’s honest.) Grant heard the citizens band radio transmission about these lights and was torn between longing for a time prior to women truck drivers and looking to the sky for the alleged light. He thought that if only everyone who saw a U.F.O would actually report it then all of them could be rounded up and put into a “idiot sanitarium.”

Ryan Swanson was one of the younger guys on the harvest crew for R and R Farms, located just southwest of Warren, Minnesota. Ryan was the brunt of practical jokes that bordered on the sadistic. Grant Nelson woke him from a deep sleep during the harvest of 2004 at the door of his tractor bright and early at two-thirty in the morning. This wouldn’t have been so shocking except Grant had been wearing a Monica Lewinsky mask with seventies-style Disco glasses. Ryan awoke, screamed and ran from the relative safety of the tractor into the dark where it was easier for Monica in disco glasses to continue the pursuit. Ryan was used to late night visits to his tractor and that, along with the fact he was sleeping behind the wheel of the tractor, may have been why the light from the sky sought him out also.

Joe Pierce and Mike Rosendahl were the prodigals. They left home a few years back, blazed their way through college, founds jobs then came back just in time to become the third generation of R and R Farms. When Mike was younger, he had become caught in a sticky trap placed in a truck, panicked and almost lost a limb in his efforts to gain release from the trap. Grant had mostly saved Mike from himself although Mike would always need a special left shoe from that day on. Joey had grown up at harvest without loss but had gained a strange sense of humor as evidenced by his placement of “Dominoes Pizza” delivery signs on cars that sat parked in the field at night during harvest. Joe thought it would be funny to place a Dominoes sign on Ryan’s tractor while he slept. Joe was standing on the roof of the monster tractor when he noticed something different about Ryan. Ryan wasn’t sleeping but he wasn’t Ryan either.

The second transmission Grant heard on the radio that night wasn’t so funny, Joe Pierce sounded shook. He said something was wrong with Ryan Swanson and he needed help. Grant had gone to school to be a first responder but that knowledge had been crowded out as he acquired a near-encyclopedic knowledge of micro-brew beers (mostly pilsners and ales.) Grant hoped if Ryan was hurt that he would be able to help. The radio crackled again that Joey needed some help with Ryan. Truckers mashed down accelerators and tractor driver’s pulled up their implements and headed for the tractor and rota beeter in the south corner of the field near the Farley town hall southwest of Warren.

That woman truck driver on the radio earlier that night was correct; it was a light from the sky. It wasn’t a UFO however, it was a diversion. That light diverted attention from their base of operations which was just west of Argyle. The aliens who created that bright light had monitored the Earth for years. They had seen France and it’s people defeated and even evicted from their own country many times so Argyle seemed a likely candidate for attack (they apparently had never played them in football.) An Argyle abduction had been planned. Unfortunately, for the aliens, a recent immigrant was at work in a field near Argyle that night. Darrel Nelson was Norwegian, Swede and half Bohemian and had never been evicted from his country. The first abduction attempt during the sugar beet harvest of 2006 was of an ancestral mutt who didn’t want to leave. Darrel owned a repair shop and had been called out in the night to fix a harvester but left the correct wrench back at the shop. He did have what he referred to as his “good hammer” with him. Yeah, the first alien abduction of the 2006 sugar beet harvest was foiled not by cold germs, nuclear weapons or technology. It was foiled by a mechanic and his “good hammer.” (Grant’s note, “Darrel really did tell me that one farm where her serviced trucks and tractors had only one good tool, it was a hammer.)

Leaving Argyle, the failed Alien abductor followed their own diversionary light to its end near Warren. They had already tried an abduction of a deputy years back near the town of Stephen but the Aliens had little patience with his boring stories of traffic tickets he’d written (man, I can sympathize) and so returned him to his squad car. The Aliens were confident in their superior technology and that was their one failing, arrogance. They knew they could plop down their cigar-shaped craft, pick and choose from whatever earth-beast they found and still be home for supper, or rather with supper. Now they had already been foiled once by the bohunk mechanic and his “big hammer” so they wanted something for sure this time. They found little Ryan Swanson who wasn’t doing anything but counting up all that money he was making while asleep in that monster tractor out in the southern corner of a sugar beet field near Farley town hall at three in the morning.

I can’t tell you what happened to Ryan at three that morning because I don’t know. I can tell you what happened about five minutes after three in the southern corner of that beet field near Warren. Trucks and tractors aligned themselves in a hap-hazard circle around the tractor in which Ryan slept and occasionally worked.. The scene was a one of confusion; Joe Pierce was attempting to pull Ryan from the cab of the tractor, the new guy that no one knew stood clasping his hands and wishing he was somewhere else as he had only taken the trucking job for a little extra money and to find a few more people “under him” for his phone card pyramid scheme.

This first to arrive to help had been Alden Filipi; Alden was pragmatic and hard-working. He was also the first to find out that Aliens not only enjoyed diversions, they like to create traps. The incident at the tractor in the southwest corner was not only to abduct one sleeping tractor operator, it was to abduct the whole crew. The aliens had not only taken what they wanted of Ryan Swanson, now they had a whole supermarket of earthlings from which to pick. Alden was dispatched and stored beside his own tractor for safe-keeping. One scrawny alien stood guard at the storage site while the others waited for more earthling delicacies. One by one rescuers were converted to abductees and “earthlings currently in cold storage.”

Grant Nelson was proud to tell people that his brother was Darrel Nelson. He hated when people said “oh and what about your other brother Darrel” which was in reference to the famous line from the Bob Newhart show. Grant showed his bohunk side more than Darrel and was also only a few generations from being an immigrant. Grant had been waiting to dump his load of beets when he heard Joe Pierce call for help. Grant backed off from the ramp at the beet dump and while doing so the step on his truck caught on the piler mechanism and tore open his fuel tank. Most tales tell of people leaving a trail of bread crumbs but Grant left a trail of Roadmaster number #2 as he sped to help. Grant made a call to his brother Darrel to meet him in the field to fix the leaking fuel tank.

The scene when Grant arrived seemed peaceful and serene, he thought that perhaps all of the screaming was just a practical joke and that the crew had gone home because it was too cold to harvest. The tractors and trucks were all in one place with apparently no one around so the boys must have shut it down for the night. Grant operated the box lift on his truck, stepped down through the puddle of diesel fuel at the bottom of the truck steps and thought how grateful he was that it was all a joke and everything was okay. Darrel and is dog, Buzzy, arrived just then to repair the fuel tank, good hammer in hand and ready to go to work. Grant grabbed his long-handled scraper to clean the truck box and stepped down from the cab, ready to go to work.

The Nelson boys’ work should have been fairly simple; fix the fuel tank and clean the truck box. Darrel and Buzzy walked up to Grant and were about to say hello to each other when destiny arrived. They surprised the first Alien (or they surprised each other) and Grant learned what Darrel knew, that while these Aliens were technologically quite advanced their fight or flight instincts had long ago left them. The scraper he used was meant for hard ice or frozen soil so it was over-qualified for Alien flesh. Grant’s fight or flight instinct was still intact as was his “good scraper” which was not subject to Alien technology. The Nelson’s hammered and scraped their way through waves of aliens while Darrel’s dog, Buzzy, chased alien squirrels brought to undermine the native squirrel population. Alien’s in cold-storage” soon started to outnumber “arrogant Alien’s waiting to trap unwary humans” by five to one.
In the end, all turned out okay. The aliens realized the United States was already over run with illegal aliens and soon there would be nothing to steal so they flew home. The cold-storage humans had only been lobotomized and so would probably be even more effective as harvest truck drivers and tractor operators. Poor Ryan Swanson was so traumatized that he could never relate to humans again, so he now works for the Postal Service. Darrel and Buzzy went home to Argyle and repaired the world instead of saving it. As for Grant, well he survived that night and had to go back to night shifts at the Sheriff’s Office. That, as it turns out, was the real horror of this story.

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