(Chapter 2 of Aliens Crashed in My Backyard)
So, what do you do with three aliens who crash land on your back hillside? Yeah, there were three. One alive, two dead, killed in the crash, their bodies bashed and smashed in their harnesses. The living one badly injured.
After Clay got there and saw what I had there in my poison oak patch, for the first five minutes all he could say was, “Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit!” It wasn’t until he calmed down and we poked around in the rest of vessel, clambering over the strewn debris of equipment, that we found the two dead crew members.
The living one, whom later I called Breadbox, but right now was just the non-dead alien, we decided our top goal was to keep her alive. I figured out how to give her some water, by pouring it into a loose piece of material that was vaguely saucer shaped, and holding it up to her. (Why did I call her a “she” from the very beginning? It turned out I was right, but I had no way of knowing then.) She needed a doctor. An ambulance. We should bring in Dr. Ellmon, and maybe the coroner, what’s his name.
Let me tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t inform the authorities. Why not, you might ask? Aliens, biggest story in history. Advanced technology. Possible public health threat, world wide pandemic caused by germs from across the galaxy. A smart person, a good citizen, would have called the government so they could take charge and do the right thing.
Well, it’s like this. Among my friends in the city, I’m known as the hard-hearted conservative. I own a rifle. But up here, with my friends along the coast, I’m thought of as the bleeding heart liberal. These folks, and this includes our sheriff Jim, do not trust the government at all. They all have gun racks in the back windows of their pickup trucks. To them, the purpose of guns is to protect ourselves from our own government, or from invasions by the United Nations. So when we discussed what to do, the option of calling in the Feds never even came up. We knew what would happen. We’d all seen ET and the X-Files.
So we couldn’t bring in our local doctor, Old Man Ellmon (we call him “Old Man” even though he’s younger than me), because he’s a damn liberal, and a stickler for regulations. He’d turn us in. Instead we called in the vet, who doesn’t want me to use his name. (I’ll call him Doc.) He’s head of the local chapter of Sons of American Freedom, but he’s done great work on Clay’s horses and my old dog Buddy after he tangled with a coyote—rest his soul. (Buddy, not the coyote. I tracked that varmint down and shot him, for killing a member of my family.)
Two dead aliens, one still alive, barely. So what are we going to do with them?
Let’s back up a bit. After Clay got there and stopped hyperventilating, we sat in stunned silence and stared around us. It was all so . . . alien! Yet at the same time recognizable. We could look at things and kinda figure out what they were for–even though the crew of this vessel had been so different. It’s as if there’s a law of convergent evolution for aircraft and space vessels regardless of where they come from. They all have to be able to handle the same functions. I must say, however, that this cabin was much less cluttered than photos of the space shuttle I’ve seen. But equally tight and claustrophobic.
Speaking of claustrophobia, it’s Clay who hates caves. To explore this vessel, which was obviously lying upside down—and totally dark—we had to crawl through passageways that were like tight underground passages I’ve been in. Creep forward on hands and knees, holding the big flashlight in one hand, and peer around. Clay, the big brave manly man, couldn’t handle this at all. So I did it. Plus, I fit better in skinny passages than Clay’s 6’- 6 frame.
That’s when I found the two dead crew members. It was terrible. They looked—and smelled—like road kill. Mangled, torn bodies in the same kind of harnesses. Dripping the juices of their former lives. I just lost it. I trembled and shrieked and upchucked last night’s dinner. Clay had to crawl back there with me, despite his fear.
Wow! How do we tell the remaining one that her comrades are dead? She’s marooned all alone on an alien world.
She kept looking and pointing toward the rear, where her fellow crewmembers had been. We had to let her know: I crawled back there, and brought out artifacts from each.
The tough work always comes down to the woman, right? I communicated the best I could. At last she got it. I could tell by her reaction–she trembled and twitched and shuddered. A tiny mewling sound. Seemed like crying to me. So I joined her, broke down and bawled. I held her, as best I could. Like trying to hug a twitchy microwave oven.
Clay was so embarrassed to see me crying. I was embarrassed, too. “Don’t you dare tell,” I growled. “I’ll rip your heart out!”
Clay fumbled for his handkerchief, handed it to me, and mumbled, “If we’re going to do anything, we’ve got to bring in Doc.” Clay called him by cell. I let him explain the whole dang situation. It took Doc a long time to get past thinking it was a big joke. Finally, Clay convinced him to take it seriously, keep his mouth shut, and come help us. “Better bring a couple of body bags.” After a second, he added, “Maybe three.”
When Doc got there, with his bag of magic tricks for big animals like horses, he started checking her over with no hesitation.
What amazed me about Doc, knowing how worked up he can get about people with certain political opinions, is how matter of fact he was. He may have his problems with human foibles, but he is truly a healer of animals. He saw this poor alien as a beastie in need, so he went into full vet mode.
We then had the conversation about what to do next. Clay and Doc and me. I did not want her to be carried away by men in white coats. Doc said, “Maybe we should put it out of its misery. Looks close to death. I’ve had to put down many animals.” Me: “No way! Let me nurse her back to health!” Doc: “Bad idea! You can’t do this by yourself! Even if it doesn’t die.” Me: “So help me out.” Doc grimaced and huffed, but relented: “Okay but if this one dies, we’re calling in help.”
Clay: “Should we tell Sheriff Jim?”
Doc: “How would we keep it a secret from him?”
Me: “I’ll do the deed.” I called Jim on my cell, but could only leave a message.
We had to somehow retrieve the dead crew members. Couldn’t leave them there.
We managed to get the two dead ones into the body bags and drag them out through the narrow dark passageway, past the survivor and out the gash in the hull.
What to do with two dead aliens? We’d have to freeze them or bury them. Nobody had the freezer space, so we buried them, right near their craft. No caskets, but in the body bags from Doc.
Clay dug two small graves using the spade I keep in the back of my jeep. Thank goodness the soil is deep and soft here along the creek. But still, he dug only a couple of feet deep. We held an impromptu funeral, with a combo of Fundamentalist and atheist platitudes. Doc was thankfully forgiving of my cynical secular philosophy.
Later, I put flowers on their graves, and made grave markers with a couple of extra flagstones from behind my shed. I used a permanent marker, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just wrote down the date of the crash.
We stood there in the afternoon sun reflecting on this amazing event. Clay asked the thing we were all wondering about: “Where did they come from?”
Doc’s brow furrowed, “Don’t think they came from the Moon. Mars maybe.”
Clay shook his head. “Naw, we got our rovers crawling all over Mars, and they’ve never found anything like this.”
“Maybe they’ve been in hiding, waiting for us to show up so they can follow us home.” That seemed too preposterous even for Doc. “How do we know they’re not from somewhere on Earth? The Chinese or Russkies, cooked up in some lab. Or the North Koreans.” For Doc, every cloud has a silver conspiracy lining.
Clay: “Must be one of the other planets.”
Me: “Nothing like this ship came from Jupiter or Uranus or Saturn. They’re just big frozen gas balls. You’ve seen the documentaries.”
Even with our level of cosmic ignorance, we saw that if they didn’t originate from any other planet in our solar system, they had to come from somewhere else. We knew all the possibilities from seeing various sci-fi flicks over the years. This would be a voyage of many lifetimes. Had they traveled in suspended animation? Maybe they were like androids—machines that were in essence immortal. No, those broken bodies were definitely flesh and blood, or something quite similar.
Did they have some kind of warp speed? Clay pointed out repeatedly that this violated the universal laws of physics. But I wasn’t so sure. When you’re confronted with undeniable facts that contradict your theories, what gives?
Doc confessed that this whole thing troubled him because he couldn’t reconcile it with Bible teachings. These beings couldn’t be made in the image of God. But the same shift in perception was happening with him. You could see his wheels grinding–flesh and blood facts confronting deeply held beliefs.
Our remaining alien was shaking and trembling and drawing into almost a fetal position. Seemed to be shrinking. She’s not long for this world. I gave her some more water. What else could we do for her? Alas, not much.
Doc’s phone blurted out the beginning of Stars and Stripes Forever. “Gotta take this. Yeah, what’s up?” Frown, then, “I better go. Three goats got into some bad garbage. Belly aches. And that’s something for a goat. Communal farm up on the ridge, those damn hippies. I’ll bring some more stuff when I come back.”
“I’m sticking here with you,” Clay said protectively.
“I know you’ve got choir practice this evening, Clay. I’ll be all right here.” He protested, but I knew he had to go; he’s the choir director. I pushed him outside. “She probably won’t last out the night. I’m staying here with her so she doesn’t die utterly alone.”
“I’ll be back afterward.” Then he added over his shoulder as he headed out, “It’s an it, not a she. Better not personalize it. Just a dying alien being. Don’t let yourself get attached.” Easy for a man to say.
I hurried back to my house and gathered up a few essentials. I hadn’t had anything to eat all day, so I made myself a humongous sandwich, and gulped it down with a beer. Not very ladylike, I know. But on my tours, hopping from city to city, sandwich gulping is what keeps me going.
What else would I need overnight? I brought back my down sleeping bag and a pad—my joints aren’t as limber as they used to be.
By the time I got back it was dusk, hardly 24 hours since the crash. I looked in. She hadn’t moved. I spread out my bag and curled up near her as the last light faded away.
Doc and Clay both got delayed, and ended up not returning, but they did check in by phone. You don’t suppose these two strong men were afraid of the dark, with alien ghosts rising from the ground?
Then Sheriff Jim called back. I dreaded his call. Even though he’s a good friend, I always get a bit nervous when I’m being questioned by The Law. Part of me assumes I’m guilty of dastardly crimes. Especially when he started out in his “just the facts, Ma’am” voice. But during this conversation was when I first referred to my visitor as “Breadbox.” Sheriff deputies on this coastline get to see a lot of weird stuff, so hearing about an alien in a flying saucer didn’t phase him as much as I expected.
I lay there in the dark talking to her. I asked her questions. Where are you from? Why did you come here? What happened? What was your life like? How old are you? I got no response of course. Wasn’t sure she was still alive.
I told her my entire life story. There in the dark, I confessed many things that I’d never revealed to anyone else. Including myself.
How I was strong and self-assured on the outside, but inside? Not so much. How I’d come to the road less traveled, but had stayed on the freeway.
How I had dumped the only guy I’d ever truly loved because of my stupid music career, and all my tours. How I often studied myself in the mirror, standing sideways, wondering if I should bother trying to keep myself slim and in shape, or whether I should let it all go and enjoy my cheeseburgers. How I knew I could never go for Clay, even though I knew he had a big crush on me, and he’d be a damn good catch for an aging chick like me.
How I’d never even tried to publish the songs that were the most important to me because I didn’t think they were marketable, and instead churned out all these maudlin ballads. Which of course made me a shit load of money, and allowed me to buy my dream property here on the coast, psychically as far as possible from Lala Land. But which left me with this empty hole here near the core of my being.
There in the dark, I began to hum this one melody I’d written years before, and had never performed in public. It was my internal anthem—the music for my secret self.
My alien companion, lying in the dark covered by a horse blanket, in a tiny squeaky voice, hummed along with me.