Santa Fe is one of those interesting cities. It’s home to whatever gender you want to name – male, female, or other. As well as whatever bedroom antics turn you on. People that speak multiple languages, sometimes including English. Streets the width of a supermodel but with more curves. Drivers that believe speed limits and stop lights are merely suggestions. Old cars that die elsewhere.
I was out doing a parts run, trying to find what I needed to restore a classic hot-rod, at least enough so I could say it ran. Most of the parts stores couldn’t even locate what I wanted, and the two junkyards in town weren’t much help. A transient approached me as I left the fourth store and headed for my Bug. Apparently, he’d been staying out in the arroyos lately. He looked the way you’d expect. Stained jeans, T-shirt, lined windbreaker, carrying a green duffel bag obviously loaded to the hilt. Thing is, he didn’t look Hispano, Indian or Anglo. More like a mix of everything. I do mean everything. I wasn’t surprised when he asked for a ride. Going to school to pick up his son was curious. But what really got me was his accent. I’d talked to a number of tourists, and quite a few of the residents here, but his accent was like none I’d ever heard before.
I’m not sure why I agreed to give him a ride. Maybe it was because it was early December, and he wasn’t really dressed for the weather. Or it may have been my generosity. Or curiosity. Like I said, I’m not sure.
He directed me over to one of the elementary schools nearby. I asked if he wanted me to wait when we got there. He just nodded his head. That simple motion got me wondering. First, there was a small sliver of green at the base of his hair near his shirt collar. Second, the skin on his face seemed a little loose. Not flabby, just loose. Like he’d recently had liposuction to his cheeks and nothing had had a chance to settle back in place.
I hoped that whatever he had wasn’t contagious. I still owed some money to St. Vincent’s for my last visit, and wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of running the bill up any more.
He came back out, practically dragging his son behind him. From the fight the youngster was putting up, he either liked school or hated his father. Or both. The kid seemed like he was in about fourth or fifth grade. Like his father, it was hard to tell what his ethnic background was. Had a touch of Hispanic to his face, but wasn’t as brown as the ones that usually lived around here. At least he looked cleaner than his old man.
The boy stopped, looking at my Bug, and mouthed the word, “wow.” He pulled himself from his father’s grasp and ran up to the car. He started stroking it like he’d found a new favorite toy. Couldn’t understand why. There are plenty of these cars around town, not including the imitations they came out with a few years ago. When he got to the front, the trunk lid sprang open. I was as surprised as he was, seeing how the latch jammed two months ago and I hadn’t gotten around to fixing it.
“Get in,” his father said. “We need to get going.”
Once they were settled in, I asked, “Where to now?”
“I’ll give you directions as we go.”
I stopped the car in the middle of the parking lot. “I don’t think so. I saw the way the kid was fighting when you came out. Now, you’re going to have me take you someplace, but won’t tell me where. How do I know you’re really his father, and not some – .”
“Forget it.” I reached for my cell phone, but pulled my hand out of my coat pocket empty. There was my phone in his hand. I swear I hadn’t seen the guy move.
The kid must have seen what happened. “Dad,” he said. “You’re always telling me not to do things like that.”
“I know,” the father said, turning to the boy. “I’ll explain later.” He turned back to me. “Just follow my directions, please.”
“And nobody gets hurt, right?”
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
I figured, what the hell. Maybe I can get enough information to turn him in later. I started the car up again, and followed his directions. We ended up near one of the arroyos outside of town. Neither of my passengers said anything, other than the father giving directions.
When he told me to stop, I figured I could let them out and take off. Real quick, so I wouldn’t be a part of anything else that happened. No such luck. The Bug chose that moment to stall. I tried to get it going, but I couldn’t even hear the starter click. Great, I thought. The electrical system finally decided to fry. I turned to the father. “Looks like I’m going to need a push-start to get going again.”
“You’ll be okay in a few minutes.”
“You some kind of VW mechanic?”
“Then how do you know – ?”
“You’re asking for an awful lot, bro.”
“Just wait here. I’ll be back in a few moments.” He got out of the car and started walking up the arroyo. After a few steps, he picked up a stick.. I noticed that a circular area further ahead was swept clean, like a dust devil had touched down in only the one spot. Couldn’t tell from here how large it was. However, I could see the dead pinon trees in the middle of the circle. Three of them, slightly flattened out. Near the edge of the circle, he swung the stick like he was trying to hit something only he could see. I heard a faint sound, like he was hitting metal. Like I said, though, there was nothing to see that I could tell.
“Figures,” his son said from the back seat. “Couldn’t find it with both hands.”
“So what is he looking for, anyways?” I turned in my seat to face him.
“Where we live. Especially the door.”
“Which is … ?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“The way today’s been, kid, I’d probably believe anything.”
“There we go. Found it.”
I turned back around. No sign of the father. “Where’d he go?”
“Inside what?” I turned back to the kid.
“You’ll see. Maybe.”
“What do you mean, kid?”
He shrugged. “Depends on whether he feels like showing it to you.”
“Show me what?”
The kid just sat there.
“Look, kid – ”
“My name is Enrique. What’s yours?”
“Stu. Maybe you can tell me what’s going on. Your old man sure doesn’t want to say much.”
“That’s the way he is.” Enrique pointed past me. “Here he comes.”
I looked where the kid was pointing. And felt myself starting to freak. He was still dressed the same, but his face was very different. You know those pictures in the tabloids about space aliens? That’s what he looked like. Green skin and oval eyes and no nose and all that. Seeing the round spaceship behind him was a dead giveaway.
“Time for me to go,” Enrique said.
About that time, the “father” came up to the car. He opened the door so Enrique could get out. After that, he reached for the duffel.
I roused myself enough to grab one of the handles. “Hang on here. Tell me what’s going on.”
The alien didn’t say anything. He just pulled on the other handle, which decided to tear off. The duffel flew at me. Turns out it wasn’t zippered shut. That’s how I saw the money fall out. Twenties, fifties, a few hundreds, and some bills I’d never seen before.
“What the hell is this?” I bellowed.
Enrique said, “Oh, man, dad. Not again.” He began crying and reached for the loose cash.
“Hold on,” I said. “You guys aren’t going anywhere.” I looked at the alien.
“Let me explain.” His accent was even more pronounced.
“Don’t bother. I’ll just call the cops on your ass.”
He held up my cell phone again. “No phone, a dead car in the middle of an arroyo. It’s a couple of miles to the nearest payphone. By time you get to the phone and get the police here, we’ll either have the ship hidden again or moved. No proof. Assuming the police even believe you.” He looked at me a moment. “Then again, you know this town is friendly to us ‘undocumented aliens’.”
I had to think about that for a second. I could just imagine the scene, trying to explain to the cops what was going on. Even Bill Richardson couldn’t charisma his way out of this situation – three dead trees, a duffel full of cash and a crying 10-year-old in the middle of an arroyo. Plus a flying saucer and its alien pilot. Yep, Bill may be one of the smoothest-talking politicians around, but even this would have him speechless.
“Why’d you do it, dad?” Enrique’s crying subsided to a quaver. “You said you’d stop.”
“You know how much it costs to live here.” The alien closed his eyes for a second. “Can’t live for free.”
“But still … .” The quaver was more pronounced.
“What do you want me to do?” The father opened his eyes.
“Get a job,” we both said. “Who are you?” I added. “And what are you?”
“ ‘What’ is obvious, I think.” Surprisingly, that barely visible mouth actually smiled a bit. “As for ‘who,’ my name is something your mouth can’t get around.”
“Try me,” I said.
He let out a very humanlike sigh. “Very well.” He made a sound. He was right. No way I could even try to pronounce it. Or put it on paper.
“How about if I just call you ‘Fred’ for short?”
“Good as any other, I guess.”
“So, Fred. You gonna tell me what’s going on?”
“I’ll make it short.” He turned to Enrique. “You have any homework?”
“Not today.” The boy had stopped crying.
Fred turned back to me. “A number of years ago, two of my kind had gotten married.” He looked like he was thinking. “You’d call them my uncle and aunt. My uncle had had a little too much at the party after the ceremony. Anyway, they borrowed a ship without permission for their honeymoon.”
“Right. They ended up here, and crashed near the south end of the state.”
“Let me guess. Roswell.”
Fred nodded. “My family asked me to come here to pick up their remains. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the site at first and ended up in Santa Fe. That’s where I met Enrique’s mother.” He held his hands cupped in front of his chest. “Nice personality.”
I laughed. “There’s a few of them like that around here. So what happened to her?”
Fred let out another sigh. “She’s gone. About a year after Enrique was born.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Oh, nothing like that. She decided I wasn’t the right person for her after all, so she left me.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “For another woman.”
Disclosure - my writing group corraled me into attending open mic night at Writers and Books in Rochester. I was of the impression we would all embarass ourselves, but the rest wimped out, leaving me to present the above story. A perfect YouTube moment, and nobody had a camera.