“What d’ya think they’re doin’ up there?” Thelma scratched her head and stared up the road at the big factory at the top of the hill. A big sign read: New American World Hunger Elimination Program—NAWHEP—Keep Out. One side of the building glowed orange-red like the devil himself had come to brew some mischief. The other side loomed dark against the purple gloom of evening. Above a green streak splashed across the sky. God’s paintbrush, she thought. The bright pinpoint of light glowed about the house.
“Dunno. Don’ wanna know. It’s scientific business.” Elmer shook his newspaper and hunched over it. “Just want me boiled beef and taters.”
Thelma thought he was beginning to look like an old goat every day. Hair sprouted from his ears, and his shoulders slumped, and his voice had started to take on an annoying whine. “Elmer! Just come look at this.”
Sighing, Elmer stood. He shuffled to the door. “Dang it, Thelma. Can’t a man get any rest?”
“I’ll fetch your beef and taters in a minute,” she said. “Just take a look.”
“Fine.” He threw open the door and stepped outside. The wind began to stir up, and Elmer put his hands up in the air. “Sure is warm tonight,” he yelled. “Shut that door, Thelma. All the dust’ll blow in.”
Thelma closed the door and returned to the window. She wished she could what was happening, but the fine dust whirled in circles. Only that light penetrated the gritty air.
“Oh my,” she gasped before a white light seemed to shoot straight through Elmer and pin him to the ground. Thelma screamed and buried her face in her hands.
When she looked again, Thelma saw that Elmer was gone. She opened the door and ran outside but only an old white goat remained in the spot where Elmer had been standing.
“Elmer?” she said.
“Maaa, Maaa,” the goat bleated.
A man in a black hazmat suit waited in the field as Thelma came panting up.
“We warned you people. We warned you that the area was unsafe. NAWPEP still has kinks to work out.”
Thelma nodded meekly. “Will the effects wear off?”
“We don’t know. Probably not. Will you sell now?”
“I’ll sell, but what about Elmer?”
“We’d better keep Elmer.”
Thelma sighed. “Well, he’s extra. And you better remember to feed him good. He likes his beef and taters.”
The man in the hazmat suit smiled. “Don’t you worry about Elmer, ma’am. We’ll take real good care of him. Why don’t you come with me up to the main building, and we’ll get you your money?”
“Well, if you’re sure.” Thelma looked back at the house. Men in black suits were converging on it. They carried all kinds of strange instruments. It made her uneasy, but she let the man take her arm. “I’m gonna hold on to Elmer here,” she said.
“That’s just fine,” the man said. “We’ll go together.”
Elmer bleated, and Thelma got the strangest feeling she wasn’t coming back. She stared at the bright light and walked towards it.