"Harold, what the hell are you doing out there?"
He didn't even look away anymore. He was used to her constant nagging interruptions, and there were so many more important things to see. SSE-19 was high in the sky tonight, and it shined azure against the blanket of pitch. Harold wondered for the millionth time how long it would take to fly there. He imagined himself floating out in space, just out of its gravitational pull, admiring its beauty and perfection.
He had no idea what the real name of this particular heavenly object was, but it didn't matter; it was his. Every night he would trudge outside after dinner, find SSE-19 among the countless other objects in the sky, and focus in with his trusty telescope. He was positive it was a planet or moon, because it didn't flicker like stars did. It was also very blue, which sometimes made it hard to pick out. But every time Harold found it, the annoyances and irritations of his life drifted away. He could gaze at it for hours, his mind envisioning vast alien cultures and strange cities. He shifted his position on the lawn chair, the aluminum and plastic straining to support his bulk. Harold reached up to adjust the focus, his stubby fingertips working the dial with less than precise movements.
"Dammit Harold, I'm not waiting up for you again." The strident voice played along his spine like nails on a chalkboard. Maybe there were alien assassins for hire up there, he thought. A rather morbid plan maybe, but Beatrice was not exactly the most supportive wife. After 23 years, she still didn't really understand him. Alcohol didn't improve her disposition either. He wasn't exactly sure when she had adopted the habit, but it was irrelevant. Keeping an eye on SSE-19 was the only important aspect of his life anymore. He adjusted the eyepiece once more, sighting in on the prize once more. They were close to perfecting civilian space travel, he'd heard on the news the other day. Once it was safe, he'd mortgage everything he owned and be gone. Maybe he could even hijack the spacecraft and pilot it there himself. Now that would be an exciting trip.
As Harold gazed skyward, a pinprick of light flashed on SSE-19 and raced towards him. Before he could recoil, it lanced his eyeball and sent an intense wave of pain throughout his body. In the space of a breath, he could feel electrical spiders crawling along his nerves, biting and gnawing. A flash of light surrounded his body in a tight cocoon. The scream clawing its way out of his throat went unheard as his body stretched to an infinite length. Like a new rubber band, he snapped back into shape before collapsing. His breathing was labored, and coughs racked his body as strange gases invaded his lungs. A mask was placed over his mouth and nose, and suddenly he could breathe easier. His eyes still burned from the blinding flash, his vision shattered and incoherent. His arms were grabbed, and Harold could feel himself being dragged along a long corridor. He was then unceremoniously tossed into a small chamber as pain overtook him.
Some time later, Harold awoke to find himself lying on an icy metallic floor. He no longer had a mask on, but breathing was still difficult. The very air seemed to press in on him, so that even sitting up was a chore. Two thick metallic bands of blue encircled his wrists and ankles, he noticed. His head was pounding, a headache of migraine proportions that made thinking difficult. Harold managed to stand with effort, the bands on his wrists heavy and uncomfortable.
"It's good that you are awake finally. I was about to institute further protocols, ones that I'm sure you would not have enjoyed."
The voice seemed to come from everywhere around him, leaving Harold turning his head this way and that. He was in a small metallic room about ten feet across, with only one apparent door built into the wall. There were no light sources, but the walls, ceiling, and floor glowed an eerie blue. The corners were deep shadows, so Harold retreated to the center of the room. His frantic eyes looked this way and that, but he couldn't see anyone.
"Who said that?", he cried, trying to keep his voice level. "Where the hell am I?"
"Hell, as you put it, it exactly where you are." A shadow coalesced in the corner, standing just out of the light. Harold could barely make out two prismatic eyes that blinked and flashed within the blackness. "Your daily reconnaissance of our planet is at an end, spy." The voice echoed from all directions rather than coming from whatever this thing was.
"S..spy?" Harold managed, terror clutching at his heart. "I'm just..."
"We know exactly what you are, fool. Your pathetic attempts at cataloging our species is over. How much have you told them? What intricate plans are your people working on right now?" The voice was silky and softer now, almost feminine.
"I...I...I don't know what you mean. I'm just a guy with a telescope. I don't know anything." His voice quavered, his eyes reeling as he looked for a way out. This had to be a dream, a nightmare brought on by too little sleep. He ran towards the door, the metal bracelets banging against the walls as he pounded the door with his fists. "Let me out. I don't know anything. I'm not a spy, dammit." The sweat was poring off him in torrents as fear consumed him.
Something grabbed him from behind and slammed him back against a wall, the bracelets holding him a foot above the floor. His head rang as it struck the rough metal surface, sending lights dancing across his vision. "You're going nowhere, vile creature. Tell us what you know, and perhaps we will end your existence quickly." Harold shook his head, unable to form the words.
"TELL US WHEN THE INVASION IS COMING!" The voice made him wince, the echoes rebounding against the walls. The shadowy figure's eyes were flashing in violent rhythms now, and a grey hand extended out of the darkness, one large claw extended in his direction. Harold sputtered and wheezed, trying to wrench his arms and legs free in frantic terror. The hand disappeared once more into the darkness.
"As you wish. Your pathetic struggles will not free you, spy. We will get it from you soon enough."
A moment later, Harold fell to the floor in a heap, his legs collapsing beneath him. What the hell was going on? "LET ME OUT", he wailed. Hearing only echoes, he closed his eyes and prayed he would wake up back in his bed. With an audible click, the glow of the walls vanished as Harold opened his eyes to darkness. It was then that he truly learned what screams were for.