February 2006 Revised March 2010
Written as AnitaLife
NON-Slash – In the spirit of the show and characters
Disclaimers: Greatest American Hero is the property of Stephen Cannell. Any resemblance to anything is strictly coincidental. Fan fic is merely a tribute.
No spoilers. It’s in response to “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Divorce Venusian Style”.
Setting: 25 years after Ralph was given the suit. Bill’s cabin in an isolated valley.
Inspired by a man who lived this way in the 1960’s.
RIP Bill Maxwell. I hope you are flying around the Universe with the Little Green Guys.
Something was growing inside him as sure as his aging heart tapped its sometimes erratic rhythms. It began as a tiny tug, barely perceptible, but just enough for him to know it was there. It was a gentle call. It didn’t insist as much as persist. This tiny inside tug, however amiable, rattled him to his very soul.
From the get go, the whole thing bothered him. He did NOT believe in little green men from outer space. He did not accept any of the wild ravings of delusional, low IQ tractor jockeys, squatting in a remote field, who reported encounters with creeps from another galaxy. It was just not possible or credible, no way, no how, end of scenario!
But, there it was just like a hippo in a car wash, un-contestable, un-ignorable, unavoidable. There were aliens, people from outer space, intertwined with his life. The fact of it ran counter to everything that he was and spat in the face of everything that he believed.
He took a break from chopping wood and ran his hand through as shock of his long, wild, white hair. He regarded his small, hand-build cabin, thinking of what still needed to be done. Winter was coming and his stock of timber was low. Luckily, the fishing had been great, the hunting abundant and he did manage to stockpile a nice supply of smoked meats for the long winter.
His sleep was fitful at best, often leaving him too tired to keep up with what needed to be done for his survival. When he did pass out, for that is the only way he slept, he suffered from endless visions. Dead men walked toward him warning him of impending doom. Green hands reached at him. He would run forever in place, fall endlessly, sometimes falling up, always trapped in a corner alley like a rat. If he was lucky, he would wake with a start and gasp for air. If there was sun light left in the valley, he would try to do what chores he could manage, but he always fell behind. He had always been a lean man, but he had become gaunt with fear, showing the still strong sinew under his skin.
In his waking hours he planned every means of escape from the inevitable. A car was a sure method for “them” to get him. That’s how “they” always did it. He made sure he was as far away from cars as possible.
A cabin in the woods was dicey too, since “they” did like to isolate their abductees. However, he thought vainly that could line the cabin with something…something that could hide his lonely existence. That project fell by the wayside due to his lagging energy and a sense that no earthly substance would divert “their” attention. He was grasping at straws.
On his death, he feared that “they” would resurrect him as he had witnessed them doing to other people, including his old partner. He constantly fretted about how he could prevent this from happening to him. Many grim prospects entered his mind as he thought of how he could destroy his body in the event of his death.
Answers to his dilemma did not come readily. If they wanted him, they could have him.
He could elude any human threats but this was beyond even his expertise. “They” could manipulate objects and even take hold of his will. How can even the most seasoned veteran agent overcome those odds single-handedly?
The sound of the roaring stream was pierced by the shrill cry of a red-tailed hawk. Bill Maxwell, retired Federal agent, returned to his chore and lamented the futility of his efforts as the tiny tug grew.
Ralph Hinkley sat in his home office looking over fiscal reports from the last quarter. As Director of Special Education for the region, his work often spilled into Sundays but he didn’t mind; he loved every minute of it. He sipped at some rich cocoa brought to him by his teen-age daughter, who doted on her dad. She had her mom’s beauty and brains.
Ralph had “filled out” in that contented American way and his signature curly hair had been tamed. Small crow’s feet and laugh lines accentuated his handsome features. Life had been good to him.
His eldest son, Kevin had finished his Ph.D. in education and was making a name for himself. His wife was a highly respected person, active in the community and raising millions for worthy causes. He was contented.
Judge Davidson-Hinkley was across the hall in her den, catching up on some recreational reading but starting to doze in the embrace of a cushy couch. From his vantage point, Ralph could see his beautiful wife’s head slowly nod toward her chest. He smiled, thinking of joining her for an afternoon snuggle but found the corners of his mouth begin to sink.
A feeling which he had not experienced in many years rippled through his stomach. It was unmistakable and therefore he was not surprised when his sound system abruptly flipped on of its own accord.
Mister…Max…well.” The halting message blurted as the digital tuning bounced around.
Ralph heaved a sigh and rubbed his face.
“I wish could,” he stated quietly. How long had it been since Bill had gone AWOL? Had it been five, eight…? No! It had been ten years! Time presses forward and events fade together, even hurtful ones. He missed his offbeat companion. He pulled out the crumpled yellow note he had received so many years ago and laughed at himself for keeping it at his desk as a treasured souvenir.
Ralph had it memorized, but read it one more time: “I’m leaving. Don’t look for me. I got to do this, kid. Sorry for no good-bye. Kiss the warden for me. Be good.”
Melancholy sunk into his otherwise peaceful afternoon. Once he was told by a Tarot card reader that his life would end with a very long trip into the great unknown. A safe prediction. Doesn’t everyone’s life end that way? But for it him it had another meaning. Was this tug a foreshadowing of great ride he had anticipated? He hoped not, at least not yet, while he was in his prime. He did not want to leave his family or his work, especially when he was really having an impact on the lives of many wayward young people.
“I don’t know where he is and I don’t know how to find him.” Ralph said futility to the speakers. “No more suit, remember?”
Ralph’s flat-screen came out of sleep mode. His browser popped into Virtual Earth and he watched the rapid zooms into a sparsely populated area of mid-northern United States. The printer began to churn out the GPS coordinates and maps, pin-pointing exactly where Bill had sequestered himself.
“Would ja look at that? We really could have used this stuff in the old days,” Ralph commented thinking of using the suit to try to “vibe” the locations from possessions or bits of clothing. Time had brought many improvements.
Bill’s body galvanized as he heard someone approach. He knew every creak and crack of his surroundings, including the all-too-familiar clatter of his 70 plus year old bones. Bears rumbled and snuffed about in a certain way, raccoons were delicate; skunks broadcasted their presence with their signature scent. This was the unmistakable clumsy steps of a city slicker, a creature who stumbled awkwardly through this harsh setting with difficulty and inexperience.
Adrenaline propelled him into his home and with cat-like movements he retrieved his largest pump-action shot-gun and prepared to meet his unwanted guest.
It was late afternoon. The sun had rolled behind a large bank of clouds and an autumn chill was over the valley. He listened for the foot falls and soon found his quarry.
“Hold it right there, partner!” he commanded. The unmistakable shick-shick of the weapon punctuated his order. “This is private property!”
“Alright! Alright! Take it easy!” the man said in a familiar voice, his arms raised in surrender.
“Sheesh! Ralph!” Bill croaked as he pulled the gun into a safe position with exaggerated movements. “I coulda drilled a hundred holes in you! What’er you doin’ here!”
“Well, I would have called Bill, but your cell phone must be on the fritz!” Ralph cracked as he turned around to face Bill.
“Cell phone! I don’t have… ”
Ralph stood akimbo, his lips pressed together their corners pulled back forming a sardonic expression. “Yeah. Exactly. No cell…
“No Cell Phone. No Boat, No Light, No…
“I’ve got a boat.” Bill stood dumbfounded in his tattered army surplus, taking in all that Ralph’s visit implied. He pulled his raggy green coat over his chest, suddenly aware of his appearance.
“No!” Bill recovered his old bluster. “I am SO glad you came all this way…just for the sarcasm! Huh! Typical!”
“Bill, you look terrible! Why have you done this to yourself?”
“No, I am NOT going with you!”
“I didn’t say anyth…”
“You don’t have to. I know what you want and the answer is NO! End of argument. Good bye! So long! Tally-ho-ho, Negativo! It ain’t even funny!” Bill stalked off toward his cabin to return his gun to its proper place.
“Bill, will you listen to me!” Ralph caught Bill’s elbow, feeling the bone under the thinning fabric.
“Yeah, right.” Bill spat under his breath, freeing himself from Ralph’s hold with quick turn of his arm. “I’m gonna listen to a lot of yammerin’ about taking a trip…whirrrr spin…into the Twilight Zone! ‘Our Time’ and that stuff. Well you can just forget it!”
“Bill!” Ralph stomped after his friend.
“Ralph, I ahwl-ready rode that E-ticket, a couple’a times. I just don’t wanna to do it again. I certainly ain’t gettin’ on a one way junket!”
It was Ralph’s time to look haggard, though certainly the years had been more kind to him than to Bill.
He had deeply missed this man. But if his friend chose to hole himself up like a crazed uni-bomber, living off the grid and out of the loop, what could he do?
“How did you find me anyway? I did everything I could to cover my tracks.”
“I was downwind.” Ralph winced as he caught a whiff of his au natural friend.
“Yeah, yeah. Nothin’s really changed, has it?” Bill’s demeanor shifted, Ralph’s crack brought back the old days when the two of them were what Bill sardonically referred to as “thick as thieves.”
“Well, well. Here you are. You want some Joe or have you had your venti, half-caf, de-caf, latte, matchiata for the day?”
“Macchiat-toh.” Ralph corrected automatically. “I’ve missed you, Bill.” Ralph stated, a lump beginning to form in his throat. Seeing his best friend in this state saddened him profoundly. Waves of guilt overcame him. He should have done something sooner.
Bill was caught up short by the emotion in Ralph’s voice.
“Get in the cabin, Ralph. It’s getting late and even with that Halloween costume from Yuppie Central Outfitters and your fancy lil’ ole walking stick, you don’t want to try to trek outta here in the dark. Bears and wolves like lost hikers, Ralph, for snicky-snacks. Heh heh.”
The two men spent a fine evening reminiscing about the old days, the highs and lows of saving the world. Bill used his pension to receive shipments of goods he could not produce, hunt or grow, so the scotch was top shelf. The smoked game was surprisingly good and the rosemary seasoned potatoes were a revelation, delighting the palette like no farm-grown vegetable could.
Ralph told Bill all the news about Pam and the kids. Ralph and Pam’s first son together had been named for Bill, an item that still touched Bill right in the old ticker. Young Bill was fronting a garage band and having some success in the local club scene. Ralph painted a picture of great contentment and Bill was at once happy for and envious of his friend.
The repast settled comfortably in their stomachs. Bill hadn’t eaten that well in a good long while. The fine liquor soothed and warmed them and the fire crackled and sputtered its hypnotic rhythms. Silence came between the pair but there was still a hippo dancing in a tutu right on the mantle.
“I’m not going with you.” Bill finally stated, his voice cutting into the night.
“Do you have a choice? I mean, I know they want me. I just know it, don’t you?”
Bill squeezed his eyes shut. “I gotta have a choice! I jus…I just gotta.” he insisted, trying to convince himself.
He placed some more timber into the fire and poked around in it. The orange-red light of the flames daubed his face. He looked like an ancient alchemist with his ragged white beard and a blanket like a cape surrounding his shoulders.
“Bill I don’t want to see you live like this anymore. You don’t have to live in fear!”
“I’m fine.” Bill insisted.
“You could come and live with us.”
Bill laughed. “Heh, wouldn’t your old ball and chain love that! Heh, heh.
“Look, Ralph, I know you mean well, as always, but I don’t wanna be anywhere near where “they” can get me, I mean, Ralph, I gotta try to…”
“Do you remember the first thing the aliens ever said to us when we met them? They played FDR saying ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ The very first message said, ‘You will not be harmed.’
“It doesn’t matter.” Bill didn’t want to argue. He was ready to pass out again, the fatigue flowing into his aching limbs.
“Yes, it matters! It makes all the difference. They helped us help our world and save people’s lives. What part of that don’t you get?”
“You don’t have to fear them, Bill. Whatever happens, whatever they do, it won’t be to hurt us, it’ll be to help us. I know that’s true! I believe it or I wouldn’t be…. Bill?
Bill was sawing zzz’s like he hadn’t done in years. A much-needed deep sleep had overcome him, taking him to a quiet place he had not been in for a long, lonely time.
“Awh, ya never did listen to me. Why would you start now?”
Ralph pulled a few blankets over his friend and then got himself squared away on the cot near the fire. The fatigue of the long walk to the cabin and the emotion of the last few days carried him instantly to the arms of Morpheus.
It was late morning when Ralph’s eyes fluttered open, the cool air a bracing alarm clock. Bill had been up since dawn, feeling better than he had in a long time. He was preparing his camp for his inevitable absence. During the night that small tug had become a full, urgent call. Ralph’s presence had sealed the deal. He knew he had to leave and he hated every second of it.
He vowed he would return to his home if he could. Now he knew that “they” could get to him, but at least he could feel he was living on his own terms–as close to the earth as he possibly could.
“Here, kid. Try this.” He handed Ralph some coffee that would revive King Tut.
“Wow!” Ralph exclaimed, as he felt the brew hit him.
“Huh? You won’t get that at your frou-frou Coffee-schmucks.”
“What time is it?”
“Late. You better get your little nap sack together. Where’s your car? If you’re down river, we can take the stream and maybe even catch a fresh lunch.”
Ralph was ecstatic and surprised. “What happened to all that stuff you said…?”
“I have a few things to stow, but other than that, we can leave. Ralph, would choo wipe that grin off your face?”
The river compliantly cradled the pair on their journey. Ralph was taken by the utter beauty of his surroundings. He watched Bill as he expertly guided the boat through a patch of dangerous water.
Their passage prompted a flock of great blue heron to rise to the sky, creating a tableau from Jurassic Park with their pterodactyl silhouettes. A group of beavers ignored the boat and worked at their twiggy home. An impressive Elk sipped from the stream and eyed the boat warily. Ralph thought he caught a glimpse of a wolverine that was also going about the business of survival.
“If this is to be my last hours on earth,” he thought, “then this is a good way to spend it. I just wish Pam were here.”
“This should do it! Where’s your map. Gimme.” demanded Bill.
When they arrived at the car, Bill froze. It took a few minutes before he allowed himself to get into the passenger seat. That tug was stronger now and he substituted its pull for courage.
“Seatbelts.” Ralph said.
“Buckle your seatbelts.”
They often drove in silence, sometimes taking turns napping and driving. They stopped overnight at a motel for some serious bathing. Ralph ran to a store to get Bill some clean clothes. Bill shaved his long beard and tied back his silver-white tresses. Ralph was happy to see Bill’s face again, however aged.
They stopped only a few times along the way for fuel and food and all together, logged a good 20 hours of driving time.
Ralph called Pam and tried to allay her worry. She would meet him in Palmdale she told him. The unspoken part was “if ‘they’ would allow it”. If he had to go, he did not want to go before seeing her. Now he was empathizing with Bill’s misgivings.
“This could be it,” he said without thinking. He was trying not to make these comments. Bill was having a rough time, fidgeting and fooling with the radio. They were close to the site, very close. Bill was visibly shaken, his nerves showing in his every movement.
“Ralph!” he gasped when they saw a Welcome to Palmdale sign.
“It’ll be OK. We’re gonna be OK…” But, for his part, Ralph was beginning to have serious doubts. If he could only see Pam and the kids one more time.
Ralph’s satellite radio fired up making Bill jump from his seat like a rider in a coaster getting air time. The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” came across, loud and clear. Ralph understood the message and tried to take it to heart but he didn’t think Bill got the significance, as his fists were white and clenched and every muscle in his body had tensed.
“Everything will turn out alright…”
Bill clasped his hand over his heart and Ralph was becoming agitated, not in response to the approaching light in the dark sky, but fearing for Bill’s life.
“Don’t worry baby
“Don’t worry baby
“Don’t worry ba-by”
Ralph hit the dash board in frustration. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to him?”
Suddenly he realized that the car had come to a complete halt. The radio ceased its appeal for calm and simply requested, “Please…come…on…board.”
Bill found himself on the other side of the passenger door and Ralph followed suit and exited the car. They were both staring at the ship. Pam was nowhere in sight and Ralph was beginning to adopt some of Bills sentiments.
But, feelings, fears and sentiments didn’t matter. They both felt themselves being propelled toward the ship like puppets. Bill was shaking and Ralph tried to steady him despite his own sense of helplessness.
“Ralph,” he gasped.
“Ralph, I want you to know, you were right. I’ve been a coward, trying to hide in the woods.”
“I didn’t say that, never even thought it.”
“The only way to deal with fear is to face it, head on, guns drawn, no holds barred. Same’s true with little green guys too.”
“That sounds like the old Bill Maxwell I know and love. No lead lined forts or tin foil hats.”
“Never used ’em myself. The tin foil only amplifies radio waves. Some egg heads did a study.”
Ralph felt Bill begin to calm as they stepped into the enveloping light.
Ralph awoke alone in the familiar holding area. He wondered at the time in his life when he thought traipsing off to a distant galaxy would be the ride of a lifetime. Now he could only think about his family and worry about Bill’s fate as well.
Reluctantly he got off the table and moved to the door, which whooshed open for him and then shut immediately after he walked through it. He took the translator hearing aid from the small creature in a blasé manner. Oh, how the awe and wonder had worn off for him.
“Come with me, Mr. Hinkley.” said a green man.
“What’s going on? Where’s Bill? Are we going to…”
“All will be made clear.”
“I’m sure.” he thought sarcastically to himself. The aliens had never been particularly forthcoming with ‘clear’. Ralph followed the alien to a part of the ship he had not seen before. He gasped a giant gulp of air when he saw the scene before him.
Bill was suspended in a giant contraption in the middle of the chamber. Tubes and wires draped and gripped his unconscious form like snakes. Balls of white light flickered around him as he slightly writhed from their energy. Several creatures worked around him, adjusting instruments and adding more hookups and further binding his helpless figure.
Was it true? Was this the horror that Bill had tried to escape all these years? Bill’s gut feelings were often dead on accurate.
Ralph reeled toward the creature. “What are you doing to him?” he demanded as anger and fear welled in his chest.
“Please, Mr. Hinkley, this is not like your planet’s science fiction movies. We have no intention of harming you or Mr. Maxwell.”
“What then, huh? Are you just going to experiment with us? Is that what we get in the end? You know, this is exactly the kind of thing that Bill was afraid of!”
One of the other aliens approached them. The creature held a crystalline object in his hand and referred to it as he spoke.
“His condition is precisely what we had suspected, sir. Mr. Maxwell had heart disease and a cancerous condition. If left untreated, he would have died within half an earth year.”
“Thank you. Please complete the treatment.” said the first alien.
Ralph felt like a heel. “Look, I’m…”
“Mr. Hinkley, we know that our contact with you has been unsettling to you both, especially for Mr. Maxwell. We also respected Mr. Maxwell’s wishes to be left alone on his world. We waited as long as we could before intervening.”
Ralph looked at his be-wired friend and then to the green man. He still assumed that this was the big ‘IT’, their one way ticket to the stars, as Bill might say. “Will I be able to say goodbye to my wife?” Ralph asked plaintively, feeling he deserved no favors from the aliens but longing for the closure.
“That will not be necessary.” the alien said compassionately. “It is not your time to come to us.”
Ralph was reunited with Bill in softly lit comfortable room. The color in Bill’s face had returned as he rested on a couch-like object, sipping a delicious but unidentifiable drink.
“How ya doin’, kid?” Bill asked cheerfully.
“I was gonna ask you the same.” Ralph said as he sat on the couch next to Bill.
“Ya see? Told ja. Nothin’ to it! Have you tried this stuff? Get some of this stuff, it’s delicious.”
Ralph chuckled. It felt like old times.
“Yeah!” Bill continued. “Just a bunch of friendly, down on the farm, little green guys, flyin’ around in their chandelier. Just a stroll with in the park. Nothing. Heh heh.”
“You amaze me, Bill. You always have. A stroll in the park?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Piece of cake.”
“Are you really OK?”
“Well, Ralph, ah…for a geezer who just got his insides put through a Cuisinart on high, yeah. I’m good.” He paused. “I’m OK with this, Ralph, now, I really am.”
“Let’s go home, Bill.” Ralph smiled.
“You know, ‘started together, finish together’… Huh? What did you say?”
“You heard me right. It’s not our time yet.”
“Go home, Ralph? As in terra firma, U S of A?” Bill’s spirits lifted to the heavens.
“Yeah!” Ralph grinned to both ears, his smile the size of California.
The two shook hands and patted each other on the back.
Bill spent the next week with the Hinkleys, getting under foot, getting on Pam’s last nerve—which she cheerfully endured—and catching up on the world. He would go back to the cabin, at least for now, but would no longer live in fear. Ralph intended to visit Bill on a regular basis and make sure he was OK.
– – – – – – – – –
Ralph saw Bill to the airport.
“You know, ah, Ralph,” Bill began pensively, “I’ve been thinking…”
“That can’t be good.”
“Now hear me out here. I was thinking that, well, I kinda…owe those green guys my life.”
“Lemme finish. I owe ’em my life at least a couple times over, so if they want me to…ah…take a ride…a little magic carpet ride to, you know, to outer space…Well, maybe, ah, maybe that’s OK.”
The idea still made Bill squeamish, but the deep fear that had haunted him for so many years was completely gone. He could face his future, come what may.
“Bill, when our time comes, it’ll be right.”
They parted, reluctantly, knowing it was not the end.