Cliff told Cory he’d be down to The Cliffs pronto. He brewed a pot of coffee and emptied it into a thermos. It was gonna be a long day out there, he could tell. That was, if he could get there at all. In the garage of his building, he found his parking spot… empty.
Cliff didn’t have time to deal with his missing car, though. He needed to get to the Cliffs right away to check out this strange skeleton Cory’d found. So he called a cab. It arrived quickly, almost suspiciously quickly.
Cliff climbed up into the front seat of the cab with the cab driver and tried to pry his steering hands off the steering wheel. The cab driver’s grip was strong, but finally Cliff did it. He yanked the steering wheel to the right sending them off the road.
“Hit the breaks,” Cliff demanded, but the evil cabbie only punched the accelerator, sending them flying… off a cliff.
“That can’t be,” Cliff whispered to himself. Then he remembered Cory’s call, the strange skeleton. “Hey, could you give me a ride to the ranger station?”
The two paramedics looked at each other. “The ranger station?” one said.
“Sir, there’s is no ranger station here at The South Cliffs Recreational Park,” said the other.
“The South Cliffs Recreational Park? You mean this isn’t Cliffs State Park?” But of course, the cabbie had gone in the wrong direction; it couldn’t be Cliffs State Park. “But how?” Cliff said, more to himself than to anyone else. “My dad always said there was just one set of Cliffs in Cliffton.”
Cliff got the address of the house where his father was living: 127 North Fatherson Lane. It was right in town and the paramedics gave him a ride. He thanked them and then made his way to the house. The door was unlocked. At the breakfast nook sat his father.
“Well, you’ve finally found me, Cliff,” said his father, Cliff Sr.
It was a room set up like an office. There were several white boards with vague phrases written on them like ‘the return’ or ‘estimated landing date.’ Yarn connected a number of blurry photographs tacked to a corkboard. Four men worked at desks, typing furiously, their computer screens filled with coordinates and figures Cliff didn’t understand. They stopped working and looked up when Cliff Sr. and Cliff walked in.
“What is this place?” Cliff asked.
“It’s the operation room,” said Cliff Sr. “For our… secret operation.”
“Hey dads, can I borrow a car?” Cliff asked his dads.
“Sure,” said Rice. “Take mine.” He tossed Cliff the keys. “It’s the red convertible in the garage.”
The garage was bigger than Cliff expected. Besides the convertible, there were three other cars. One was covered up with sheets. Cliff couldn’t help but be curious. He lifted a corner of one of the sheets.
The sun was out and Cliff drove through town in Rice’s convertible with the top down. It was a beautiful day and Cliff was about to be doing what he loved most in the world: investigating strange happenings at Cliffs National Park.
So why did he feel so uneasy? Moreover, why did he feel like… he was being watched?
Wait, so we do share a dad, or multiple dads?” Cliff said.
“Oh, no,” Cory clarified. “I’ve just been taking improv classes recently, where the fundamental thing is go along with what your partner says. ‘Yes, and.’ That sort of thing. I’ve been trying to incorporate the lessons I’ve learned into day-to-day conversation, but obviously I misapplied them this time. Anyway, we should probably look at this skeleton. It’s… well, let’s just say you might be surprised by what I’m about to show you, Cliff.”
“It might’ve been the cab driver from before,” Cliff said.
"Wait, I thought you said, ‘Was he crabby,’"Cory said. “He was definitely crabby. Kept saying something something, he has three more storage rooms to clear out. Something something, he had to run the incinerator.”
“He took off right before you got here,” Cory said. “I didn’t pay him much mind. I was just waiting for you to arrive. I didn’t even know what he was doing back there. Figured it was just another service visit, like when they come to switch the water cooler or to fix the printer.”
“What was he driving?” Cliff asked.
“A work truck,” Cory said.
“How do you know it was a work truck?” Cliff said.
“Because it said the name of the business right on the side,” Cory said.
“What was the business?” Cory asked.
“I forget what the name was exactly,” Cory said. “Something something Storage Room Junk Removal & Incineration.”
Cliff turned and looked where he’d parked. Rice’s red convertible was right where he’d left it. “It’s right there,” Cliff said, pointing.
“Oh, right!” Cory said. “I meant your car. It’s funny I know you’ve only been here a few minutes, but it feels like it’s been much longer, and so I totally forgot you drove a different car today. Stuff like this has been happening all morning. It’s like time has moved differently… since I found that skeleton.”
“But I heard you say–” Cliff began, stepping down from the truck.
The driver waved a hand silencing him. “We just say we have an incinerator, but really we load stuff into a warehouse”–he indicated the big building they were parked outside of–“and then we sell the stuff.”
“But then again,” the driver added, “it’s not that we have mob ties or something. It’s more just that any organization whose contract states one thing–in this case, incineration–but then the company in question is doing something else–in this case, selling stuff–isn’t very trustworthy. Which makes them dangerous, in a sense. Know what I’m saying?”
“So, not like dangerous dangerous,” Cliff said.
“Exactly. More like, not the exact business you want to do business with dangerous,” the driver said.
“How are you going to find buyers for this stuff?” Cliff asked.
“Oh,” the driver said, “the buyers? They’re already lined up.”
“Your dads live at 127 North Fatherson Lane?” the driver asked.
“That’s right!” Cliff said. Then something occurred to him. He took a step back from the driver. “How did you know I said ‘dads’’ as in the plural possessive and not ‘dad’s’ as in the singular possessive?”
“It was my senior year of college,” the driver said. “I’d studied homophone differentiation for four years. I was consistently at the top of my class. I won all the contests. I was set to make six figures working for the FBI, distinguishing the homophones that came in on the wire. There’s a lot of value in that, you know? Being the guy who can distinguish if someone’s talking about a great deal, as in a very good deal, and a grate deal, as in a deal on grates. But then… the impossible happened.”
“It was the final exam,” the driver said. “I sat in the room and the professor said a series of words out of context but thinking of a specific spelling and use. I had to distinguish all of them in order to pass. I was doing well, 9 for 9. Then came… the last word.”
“There I was,” the driver said, “the top of my class. Confronted with a word of many meanings. Buffalo. And I was stumped. I could tell it was none of the versions of buffalo I was familiar with. But I didn’t know what it was.”
“What was it?” Cliff asked.
“It’s too embarrassing,” the driver said.
“C’mon,” Cliff said. “You can tell me.”
The driver had been looking away, leaning on his truck, lost in reminiscing. Now he looked Cliff directly in the eye. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“I suffer from heartburn,” the driver explained. “Very bad heartburn. So I don’t eat spicy food. My friends and family understand this about me. They respect my issue. And that respect is what cost me my career in homophone differentiation. Because if they’d been a little less respectful–if they’d suggested, just a few more times throughout my life, that, hey, why don’t the bunch of us split a plate of Buffalo wings–perhaps I could’ve picked up on the nuances. And then, maybe, I wouldn’t be here today, driving around junk taken from storage rooms and selling it to the highest bidder.”
“Wow,” Cliff said. “What an interesting story. Anyway, can we get back to the thing where you were going to deliver the skeleton the house occupied by my dads?”
“Totally,” said the driver.
But just then, they heard something. It was coming from the truck bed.
“It’s because I called you at 5am! And it’s like noon now,” Cory said. “I’m just tired, Cliff!”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Cliff said. “I left right when I got your call. And sure there was the accident, which knocked me out for a bit. And the visit to my dads and now this, but that doesn’t explain how so much time has passed.”
“Maybe you got knocked out for longer than you realized,” Cory said.
“No, not all of it,” said agent Halverston who’d purported to be the driver for Jimbo’s Storage Room Junk Removal & Incineration. “Just the ending part, where I didn’t know the instructor was referring to buffalo sauce. I knew it alright and I aced that exam and went on to join the FBI as a homophone differentiator on the wires. But now, this is my first field assignment.”
“There aren’t any chairs,” Cliff said. “And I don’t want to sit on the ground. Besides, we’ve been standing around this nondescript facility for a long time now, and it might be best to change settings.”
“I agree,” Cory said.
“Fine,” said agent Halverston. “We’ll go somewhere else. But be warned. You might not like it.”
“It gets three stars on Yelp,” agent Corlane said.
“Pretty hit or miss,” agent Klington said.
“That’s why I said you might not like it,” agent Halverston said. “I did not guarantee you would not like like it.”
“Can we get to why a bunch of FBI agents are posing as drivers and paramedics and stole an inhuman skeleton found our place of work and are planning on selling it to my dads, who are engaged in some sort of operation, the details of which I don’t know?” Cliff said.
“Fine,” said agent Kington. “We’ll tell you everything.”
“Can you imagine it,” said agent Halverston. “A rumor about aliens? At Cliffs State Park? It would do unthinkable economic damage! The tourism dollars lost would be through the roof. And then, there’d be copy cats. State parks all across the country, would be shutting down from one crackpot theory started by a cliff ranger everyone trusts.”
“But they’re not Cliff rangers,” Cliff said. “At least not anymore.”
“That’s right,” said agent Klington. “But you are.”
“Again, that’s why they switched the cab out for your car,” said agent Corlane. “They’re messing with you, Cliff. So you’ll believe their wild, outlandish theories. Because they’re a bunch of out-of-work cliff rangers past their prime. But you? You’re a valued public servant in his early thirties. You’re of sound mind. People will believe you.”
“I can’t believe it,” Cliff said. “My own dads, messing with me like that.”
“But you don’t have to take it,” agent Halverston said. “You can mess with them back, Cliff.”
A rudimentary plan was established. Cory and Cliff would go in through the side door, swords brandished. The agents would sneak around the back and wait until they got the signal from the rangers. The signal was to call out: “Flyswatter.”
Cliff and Cory made their way to the front door. Cliff was reaching for the door when Cory stopped him, holding up a hand.
“That’s my co-ranger, Cory,” Cliff said. “He’s with me. But what I need to know is: why do you guys have swords?”
“We heard something in the other room,” Cliff Sr. said. He didn’t lower his sword. The dads, Cliff, and Cory: they all kept their swords raised.
“At first we thought it was the dishwasher,” Cliff Sr. went on. “but then it sounded like people. Like two people. Like two people, one of which is our collective son. So now I need to ask you: why do you have swords?”
Cliff lowered his sword in shame. “Because I’m part of an FBI raid on this place, dad. I’m sorry.”
“Dads?” Cory said. His eyes filled with tears. He was so distraught that he let his grip relax and the sword slipped out of his hand. Cliff watched it fall. It seemed almost to be going in slow motion.
“Hot damn,” Rice said. “They are already here! We’re too late!”
Agent Halverston and the other agents who were also presumably aliens laughed a strange echoing laugh. “You fool,” he said, addressing Cliff. “You should’ve known! There is no such major as homophone differentiation. Except… on our home planet!”
The room fell silent (except for the sound of that fly, which they’d never swatted, and which had, amazingly, survived when the aliens crashed through the windows, including, presumably, the one it was buzzing against).
They all turned to towards the sound of the voice. It was Cory. “If you’re my dads, and you’re aliens does that make me… an alien too?”
With Cory holding off the tentacle with his own tentacle, Cliff fled. Out of the house, across town, running on foot.
When he got back to his apartment, he sheathed his sword, leaned it against the wall, locked the door, and collapsed onto the floor. He lay face down, and tried to concentrate on controlling his breathing.
“What are you talking about?” Cliff said, raising his sword again.
“Sorry,” Bob said. “I meant to phrase that as a question: are you in some kind of trouble? Because that would explain why you’re running through the building on a beautiful Saturday with a brandished sword.”
“Oh, right,” Cliff said, sighing with relief and lowering his sword. “Nothing to worry about, Bob.”
“Good,” said Bob. “Because that’s another reason I came over. I’m in some trouble, Cliff. Some serious trouble.”
“The very field I was wandering through,” the figure said, “it seemed to end. I walked to the edge and looked over and saw that it was not the end of the world. Rather, the field continued far, far below.”
“That sounds just like Cliffs State Park,” Cliff said.
“I saw it one day,” the figure went on. “Something rocketing towards the ground. It landed in the side of the cliff. It looked almost human but with tentacles for arms. I did not speak its language. Hell, I had no language of my own. But the high pitched noises it made, I understood intuitively.”
“What was it saying?” Cliff asked.
“It was saying,” the figure said, “‘This land will be mine.’”
“I don’t have much time,” the figure said. “You need to go, Cliff! They’re taking your dads to Cliffs State Park.”
“Should I call the police?” Cliff said.
“No!” the figure cried. “Don’t you get it? Your dads make up the FBI’s entire Department of Cliff Dwelling Extraterrestrial Research & Terrestrial Cliff Protection. And they were no match for them. The police won’t be able to help you.”
“But if they can’t stop the aliens, who can?” Cliff asked.
“I work most days. From around nine in the morning until five in the evening,” Bob said.
“Why are you telling me this?” Cliff said.
“I just said ‘any time,’ but that was untruthful,” Bob said. “There are definitely times when I’ll be too busy to give you a ride. Namely between nine and five. But also, a little before nine and a little after five too. Because my work hours don’t account for the commute. Also, I play Ultimate Frisbee on Thursday nights in the summer.”
“Okay, good to know,” Cliff said.
“Great,” Bob said. “Glad to clear that up. Anyway, do you need to me to wait to drive you home, because I should actually get a few things done…”
“No, I should be good,” Cliff said.
“Cool,” Bob said. “Well, I’ll just take off.”
“Great,” Cliff said.
“Rolling up the window now,” Bob said.
“Sounds good,” Cliff said.
“What was that?” Bob said. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you over the window rolling up.”
“I just said ‘sounds good,’” said Cliff.
“Ah, great,” Bob said. He rolled up the window.
As for Cliff, he leapt. Right off the edge of the cliff.
“Wait, is that a harness he’s wearing?” Paul asked.
“By golly, it is!” Cliff Sr. said. “And it’s attached to a rope!”
Cliff rappelled easily down the side of the cliff, just as he’d learned at the Cliff Ranger Academy years earlier. When he reached the bottom, he quickly took off the harness and drew the sword slung across his back before the aliens could attack.
“Now, we fight!” Cliff shouted… just as a rogue tentacle shot out, stripping him of his weapon.
@Superllama7 Bedtime for me! Anyone is welcome to update the story; if you do, please include the episode number to keep things in order. If you leave it for me, I’ll finish in the morning.
/giphy stay classy
“As a Canadian, it took me a long time to earn my citizenship and eventually earn full-time employment with the FBI,” Rice went on. “So, there was a few years where I freelanced as an alien investigator and worked part time as a cab driver.”
“Oh, great,” said Cliff. “That clears everything up.”
Then the dads and Cliff and Cory drank champagne and rejoiced because they’d defeated the aliens and there certainly weren’t any unanswered questions left. Not one. Nope. The story had wrapped up perfectly.