“The Man in the Gorilla Suit”

evolution Photo credit: bigfatnapoleon

The man in the gorilla suit never misses Fridays. At least we believe it’s a man, and we think it’s a suit. He sometimes comes other days of the week too, though never Mondays.

The man in the gorilla suit never comes Mondays.

Kevon, the packing lead, finds the man in the gorilla suit annoying. Kevon says the man, or at least the suit, stinks. I say we all get a little ripe by shift’s end. I do admit to having taken Migs, as we call the man in the gorilla suit, aside and spraying him with Dove Body Mist once or twice, but Kevon shouldn’t complain; Migs packs a lot of orders for him.

Migs doesn’t spend as much time in my area. Squeezing through merchandise stacks to pick orders is a cumbersome task for a man in a gorilla suit. My pickers like Migs, but he slows us down when we’re trying to get batches of last-minute orders filled, which always seems the case Friday night. Migs still helps my line though, tidying up and what-not, when he can.

I’m the picking lead. My name is Loretta. I’m standing at the head of my lines, ripping orders, shoving totes down steel rollers. The rollers ring, echoing through canyons of racks.

From this spot I have a clear view to Kevon’s area. Industrial bags bloated with Styrofoam peanuts float above his packing stations. Packers load boxes with merchandise and fill them out with the peanuts. Then they tape the boxes and attach packing slips. Migs is doing that now, and he’s a sight. Packing peanuts are stuck all over his fur. Kevon has plenty of packers tonight: two per station. Kevon glides around his area now, checking that his people have boxes, tape, whatever they need. His arms and legs, as always, are constant motion. No matter what he does, he always reminds me of a outfielder racing to get under a fly ball and pull it back from the fence.

I pick up my walkie-talkie. Kevon’s not far away, but the rollers, and the plastic totes crashing into each other, are too loud to shout above.

¿Qué quieres?” answers Kevon. Many packers come from Latin America; Kevon has picked up Spanish, which we aren’t supposed use, per company policy, but he doesn’t care. He just wants orders out the door, and sometimes he forgets who he’s talking to. I do understand some Spanish phrases. My maiden name was Rincón, after all, though I never went back to my maiden name.

I envy Kevon’s bilingualism, though it would make no difference in my job. Order pickers, immigrant or native-born, all speak English. Here, on second shift, many are community-college kids, in class by day and studying who-knows-when. New temps are assigned to pick or pack based on a reading test. It doesn’t matter how well or poorly a potential temp reads in general, just how well he or she tests compared to others applying the same day. If we need four new pickers and five new packers, then the top four scorers become pickers.

“Give me somebody,” I radio to Kevon.

“Can’t spare anyone.”

“You have Migs. We’re backed up. Give me Dante. Or Noi.”

“No way. You can take Albert if you want.”

Albert was seventy. My pickers would trample poor Albert.

Carol then,” I say, hoping to split the difference. Carol is neither fast nor slow.

“Done. Never radio me again.” Kevon breaks off and disappears behind some stacks. He radios back a moment later. “Lorrrretta?”

“What?”

“You still love me, right?”

I roll my eyes. “Yes, of course, Kevon.”

“Dante’s coming over.”

That’s Kevon: first he says he won’t help you, can’t help you, and then he helps you.

Kevon had been a community-college kid once. He had started for me as a picker … six years ago? He was twenty-three then. I know because he’s thirty years younger than me (my birthday’s coming up Monday) and we celebrated Kevon’s twenty-ninth with cake last Friday. Migs broke everyone up by getting frosting mooshed all over his snout. Kevon had almost smiled.

Once he got the lead job, Kevon quit college. He started six-sigma certification here, which would have gotten him into management, but the classes bored him. He would rather fret, strutting up and down the lines night after night. Didn’t he want more? Didn’t he fear getting trapped?

Dante comes over. “Did you see Migsy?” he asks, grabbing some order sheets. “Got peanut all over him!”

I smile. It is funny, but nevertheless I have an urge to go pick Styrofoam bits off the man in the gorilla suit.

Over the next hour, we catch up. I shut down one line so half my crew can go to lunch. It’s dinner time, but they call it lunch here, no matter the shift.

The packers near Migs are also scheduled for first lunch. Kevon goes too. One of us stays on the floor at all times, so he and I switch off. After the packers leave, Migs looks up, right, then left, to discover he’s alone. His great shoulders sag.

Noticing me, he jumps, then lopes over. Finding a broom he circles me, sweeping the concrete. “Thank you, Migs,” I say, “but there’s nothing to sweep.” He looks at the clean floor and scratches his head. “Rrruh!” he grunts, then puts the broom away. He looks at a stack of empty totes, then places his hands on it. “Rruh?”

The stacks are getting low. “Yes,” I say. “You may go collect the empties from the other side.”

He scampers away. He comes back twenty-five minutes later, as the first group returns from lunch. He’s pushing a dozen tote stacks before him, each stack six-feet high.

“Migs, we’ll never use that many!”

He shrugs and goes back to packing.

At the same moment, Kevon comes toward me for the hand-off. He passes Migs, giving him a dirty look. Migs shields his head with one arm, then scurries away in a pretense of fear.

“Why, Kevon?” I ask.

“I don’t care for visual humor.”

“What’s the harm?”

“Have a good lunch,” says Kevon. “There’s cupcakes.”

I go into the break room and stand in line to microwave my stuffed peppers. I used to make my own, but it’s too much trouble for one, so I bring Stouffer’s now. They taste fine.

What’s left of the cupcakes Kevin mentioned lie in long caterer’s boxes. The cupcakes have orange, yellow, or lime-colored smiley-faces on them. I ask the crew if it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary, but no one seems to know where the cupcakes came from. They look good but I don’t take one. I want to make sure everyone gets a chance. After microwaving my lunch I go into the offices. Kevon and I are allowed to eat in the managers’ offices, empty at this hour, so we can read our email. I mostly get newsletters and departmental cc’s, but I have to check in case there’s something important. They sometimes forget us.

I scroll through my inbox as I eat. There’s one announcing inventory control classes on site, free, beginning next month. Though Kevon is already cc’d, I forward it to him. Maybe if I pester him enough he will take advantage. Twenty-nine seems young, but it isn’t.

I delete until white appears at the bottom of the window. The last email surprises me:

From: Peg Strange, Human Resources

To: Department Heads, Managers, Supervisors

Cc: Leads

Subject: Animal-costumed individual on shop floor.

Due to insurance concerns, OSHA regulations, union contract negotiations, Department of Homeland Security -issued guidelines, and in compliance with company policy, the individual wearing an animal (gorilla) costume is not allowed on the order fulfillment floor during regular business hours (or after business hours) or elsewhere on the premises during or after business hours. This includes the parking lot.

This is not new policy, but clarifies existing policy.

The individual is not an employee or sub-contractor. The individual does not have I.D. and has never been explicitly granted access to our staff and premises. No one remembers how or when this individual first appeared. We do not know who this individual is, where this individual comes from, nor where this individual vanishes, like a specter, into the night.

We realize this individual has become a beloved figure in our workplace; therefore this clarification will not take effect until second shift ends tonight. Please take a moment to stop by and wish the individual in the animal costume well. There will be cupcakes in the break room :)

Peg Strange, Vice President, Human Resources.

I print the email, take the page from the tray, and fold it over. Then I leave the office, and call Kevon on the walkie-talkie.

“—¿Qué qui—”

“Meet me in the front,” I say.

Kevon must have caught something in my voice, because he trots toward me, brow tight. “What?” he asks.

I shove the email, planting it in the center of his chest.

He looks at me, stunned. He unfolds it and reads. Without blinking he says, “Loretta, I didn’t do this.”

“Migs annoys you. You always say so.”

“Everybody annoys me, but I wouldn’t complain to …” Looking again at the email, he laughs. “… Peg Strange in Human Resources. I don’t even know people upstairs.”

I snatch the paper. “You should know people upstairs! Do you want to be on the floor all your life? You should have reported Migs. He’s against policy. You might as well have got something for it. You’re acting stupid! Stupid!”

“Hey, hey!” says Kevon. “That’s enough!”

I realize I’m hitting him on the arm with the email.

Then we’re both stunned; we hear a deep harsh, “RRRuh!”

Migs is standing close. All work on the floor has stopped. The crew is staring, open-mouthed, as we fight.

Migs waddles closer.

When he reaches us, he takes my hand and Kevon’s, clasping them together between his paws. He shakes them once, twice. Then he twists his head left and right. He looks at me. “Rruh!”

“All right.” I say. “We won’t fight.”

He turns to Kevon. “Rrruh!”

Kevon nods.

Satisfied, the man in the gorilla suit exhales. He turns to the shop floor, regards the people, the lines, the stacks of totes. Then he turns to me, looks at the paper still in my hand, and shrugs.

“You already know?” I ask.

He nods.

I straighten myself.

The man in the gorilla suit sets his arms akimbo and looks at his feet. He scratches his head. He nods again, this time to himself. “Rrruh,” he says, and turns toward the nearest door. I want to grab him, pull him back, we have hours before the shift ends, but he moves away from me with such noble resolve that I stop myself. He deserves dignity in his departure.

He reaches the door and opens it. It should be armed, but the alarm doesn’t go off. Someone must have forgotten.

He steps outside, the door falls shut, and he is gone.

The pickers and packers whisper amongst themselves. They don’t realize what has happened yet. Kevon claps once, sharply. Not smiling, he yells. “Get the lines moving!”

Orders have backed up. We have fallen behind, but work resumes, and soon the ringing of steel rollers crushes the silence. I put the email away.

Before returning to my place I go to the exit to set the alarm. I peek out into the parking lot. It’s dark. Migs is nowhere, though, reasonably, he couldn’t have gotten far.

Alarm set, I return to the line. My pickers send questioning gazes. After we catch up I’ll explain. I’ll try to do a better job than the email did. We have other things we can look forward to. The weekend’s coming. Then on Monday there will be birthday cake.

The man in the gorilla suit never came Mondays anyway.

“The Common Knight”

Man before the darkness

Photo credit: rolffimages

The Common Knight

Matt never paid attention to other people on the bus. Anyone normal rarely did, and certainly not at this time of the commute. Not at 7:20 PM. At this time of the commute, some seats remained open. But not so many that weirdos had the opportunity to interfere with tired commuters or single one out. Sometimes Matt worked as late as ten, and then it became him and the weirdos on the bus. But now the bus held a happy medium: not too crowded, and not empty enough to cause anyone to pay him too much attention. Matt was a weirdo magnet.

If he happened, some summer evening, to be sitting in a group of four or six in an outside café, every wandering street schizophrenic would zero in on him. He always got the seat on the plane next to the man so uncomfortable in his own skin that not only did he want to chat non-stop, he needed to chat non-stop. The saloon crank with the solutions to everything wrong with this country always took the stool next to Matt’s. Every woman he dated turned out jealous and crazy, so his relationships proved short and distant—though not especially painful.

Healthy people, sane people, ordinary people stayed away from Matt. He just didn’t know why. And this night, this particular 7:20 PM commute, it happened again. He could not hide.

Matt chose a seat near the front and opened the ereader app on his phone. However, he had made a mistake. He’d taken a seat reserved for wheelchair access, so, at the very next stop, he had to rise and make way for a passenger who needed it.

Somehow the bus had filled up more than he’d thought it had, leaving him with two choices. Stand in the relatively spacious area by the rear-door exit, or take a seat in the back row. The back row had room for four to sit across, but only one person sat there now: a woman with a weathered face and matted hair, wearing what looked like an entire set of drapes (perhaps bluish or purple, they were too filthy to tell) wrapped around herself. She occupied the middle of the long seat row, staring straight ahead.

Matt elected to stand by the rear-door exit. It did no good. The robed woman turned her head slightly. Once she noticed Matt she continued to look at him. It had happened again.

He, at first, ignored her, swiping quickly through the pages of the novel he was reading but without retaining any of the words.

The bus hit the expressway and immediately slowed to a crawl. Traffic still hadn’t cleared, even at this relatively late hour. That meant the commute—which, in the mornings, took about half an hour from the moment he left home around six, might well stretch to at least three times that long. The woman appeared ready to stare at him the whole way.

Matt scrolled back about ten percent of the way in his novel. It was volume seven of the series, and it didn’t hold his interest like the others—especially now with the disturbing gaze of the weirdo upon him.

The first couple volumes had been great, and he’d heard that the series picked up life again around book ten, which was written from notes left after Donald Barger, author of this planned twelve-volume epic, The Autumn Land, had died. The first volume, Rogue’s Glory had been good enough, but the second, Lady, Crown, and Godspawns was spectacular.

None of the subsequent volumes had lived up to its promise though, and reading volume seven, Storm’s Sorcery, felt like as much of a job as his job, actually. Lady, Crown, and Godspawns had introduced a subplot (lasting several hundred pages) concerning two characters, Indigo Knight and The Common Knight, a matched pair that had warred in different guises for millennia. Indigo Knight—ruler of a country of shape-shifters—had killed The Common Knight many times. The Common Knight was an everyman, Lowborn, but rising to some illusory degree of prominence in each new incarnation. No matter how many times The Common Knight died, he rose again. To die again.

Every time The Common Knight rose, Indigo Knight sent shape-shifters and spies to seek him out—in the taverns, in the streets, on the highways—to tempt him into some cause, some service. The Common Knight always demurred. And, at the hand of Indigo Knight, died again. Though Indigo Knight never relented, both characters had been all but dropped in the later volumes.

When he learned that a new writer was taking over the series, Matt posted his wish on several Autumn Land forums that The Common Knight and Indigo Knight story arc be revisited. Rarely did anyone chime in to take up his cause. (Fake fans found The Common Knight arrogant and egotistical—and, at the same time, passive and ineffectual. The conventional wisdom maintained that his creation was a horrible misstep, a horrible failure at manufacturing a sympathetic character—but they were wrong; the Common Knight merely knew his own intrinsic worth and, as for being passive—there was simply nothing of significance given to him to do.)

But anyway, most readers were more interested in War of the Eleven Elven Princelings against the Dwarves of Forest Unfathomed. Or the promised Return of the Empress of the Solstice. All that would happen, of course, no matter who took up the series. The balance of harmony would be restored in the end and the wicked undone. That expectation was sure to be fulfilled. The extant ten volumes were fecund with dropped subplots and dead ends. It infuriated Matt, as it did many fans. If only he could have a conclusion to Common and Indigo however, Matt, at least, would forgive all the rest.

He realized he’d been tapping through pages again mindlessly. He moved the scroll bar on the app back the same ten percent with a sigh. He needed a new series.

Ebooks were a godsend to him. He could indulge his guilty pleasure. None of his work friends or other ordinary associates had any idea how many fantasy and science fiction novels he devoured. For all anyone knew he was texting or facebooking right now, like everyone else.

Since ebooks, no more shocked looks on those mornings when, after bringing a girl home from a bar, the girl—who had come home with Matt, the smooth, successful, young executive with the important-sounding title, Investor Brand Director, at Flippo.com—awoke to find herself in a bedroom imprisoned by walls stacked high with paperbacks, each one the thickness of a Scrabble dictionary—so thick many sported full portraits of characters or scenes from the novels, not only on the front and back covers, but on their spines.

That would be the girl’s first clue. She would then investigate deeper. The Atari classic console in the corner. The Ikea desk with a two-monitor setup and double-rowed surge protector which rested, not on the floor, but on the desktop, sprouting cables like Medusa’s head sprouted vipers.

There would be no need for her to look further. She was done, and she would escape quickly. She would never even find out that, at Flippo.com, Investor Brand Directors pulled down less than forty-six grand a year. But it all started with the disturbing number of paperbacks. So the phone app had helped with that. He’d put his dead-tree books in storage.

Matt exited Storm’s Sorcery and browsed through the title list in the app for something else. He had books on there he’d forgotten that he owned, let alone hadn’t read, but he wanted something new anyway.

Somewhere, somewhere, in all creation, something new had to exist.

Before he could shop for it, for some alternative, the crazy lady in the back of the bus stood up. She clanked. She threw back her folds of drapery. The drapery was not common purple, of course. Indigo. Beneath it, hence the clanking, she wore a suit of armor. It shined. She drew her broadsword. Passengers dived for the floor. Many screamed. She held the sword in both hands and rushed him.

The weathered face, the matted hair. She hadn’t bathed, certainly in days, and possibly in weeks. Indigo Knight was relentless and focused, after all. She never rested in her travels from realm to realm until she sighted The Common Knight again.

The Common Knight could run and run, but he could never escape Indigo in her many guises. Indigo sent out spies and minions to draw him in: the wandering panhandler, the chatty seatmate on a plane, the bar crank. But the spies, the minions, always failed. The Common Knight avoided, demurred, forced Indigo Knight again and again, in world after world, to appear in the flesh.

She swung her broadsword now. Tomorrow, Matt imagined, there would be a huge headline on local news sites: Sword Killer! Nightmare Commute! Something. But, of course, he could not say for sure, and he wouldn’t be around to find out. Not this time. Maybe someday. Maybe someday the story would come to an actual end. If someone invented a way to write it. Indigo Knight’s blade swept the air. Matt did not resist.

§

Think of a Pink Ship

Clay and Molly Wexler, lately of Dallas, were driving through the desert in early September, many miles yet to Albuquerque and the bend the road would take there toward a newer new start in Santa Fe. The marriage had taken a bend of it’s own — “a turn for the suck,” in Molly’s vernacular — after Clay’s transfer from the San Francisco office. A wretched summer of heat, church picnics, Fourth of July picnics, Labor Day picnics and miscellaneous other redneck adventures had boiled up into a choice between upend their lives by leaving Dallas, or divorce. Clay and Molly opted to try the upending option first. Molly’s parents weren’t divorced and Molly didn’t want to be divorced. So now, as Clay had remarked in a snide moment of weakness, neither of them had jobs, but at least they were not divorced.

Molly said Santa Fe, for the arts community, and Clay said yes because at that particular moment in the decision-making process she had the moral high ground. Arts community maybe, but precious little call for a structural engineer like himself, certainly. Nevertheless he would bide his time. She would get bored, and if she didn’t get bored something else would happen. The air in Santa Fe was thin. Of course she didn’t believe that coming from him, but she’d experience it for herself soon enough. They would be back in the Bay Area within months, and Clay was certain he would be able to get back on with the firm as a consultant — at more than twice the pay no doubt.

Molly was at the wheel now, but she kept looking over at Clay rather than watching the road consistently as he would have preferred she do. But how she could see the road with her bangs practically combed down right over her eyes he didn’t know.

“What are you thinking?” she asked she finally asked him.

And here we go, thought Clay.

Nothing, was what he was thinking most of the morning. Nothing. Really. Just now he had set himself the task of thinking hard about beauty, beauty of the majesty of painted deserts variety. That lead him quickly to thinking about planets. Many — if not most — planets have no plate tectonics but our planet does have them. A handful of plates, buckling against each other, comprised the world’s crust. The sheer cliffs of the painted desert are striped with the ages of the earth. And all that shit.

Thinking of matters cosmic was Max’s little way of trying hard not to think of something else, something much more immediate. He was failing at that.

“Well?” said Molly. “What are you thinking?”

He vamped. “I’m thinking about the hierarchy of needs. How does it go? Body first. Air, then water, then food. Clothing, shelter. Then the needs of the mind. Self-esteem, sense of purpose. Do I have it right? Gets vague quickly after that. Our unnamable needs.”

“Where’s that Evian bottle?” she asked.

“Empty.”

“Oh fuck, Clay. We should have stopped.”

Yeah well, but we didn’t, what did she expect him to do about it now? “Are you thirsty?”

“Never mind.” She paused. “And the spirit. Don’t forget the needs of the spirit.”
“How could I? Can’t forget the spirit.”

“Oh, but before spirit you need financial security in there somewhere. Without money you slip right back to base needs again. You have to pay for everything.”

“Yup,” he said.

“No free lunch,” she said.

“I’m telling you.”
“So maybe money is the like, basic basic need, at least in this world,” Molly murmured.

“I think I have to take a shit,” he told her.

“Shut up.”
“Had to for an hour.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? I wanted to stop back at that town and buy water anyway. You wouldn’t let me.”
“Need me to say it? You were right, okay!”

“I’m pulling over,” she said.

“You wouldn’t mind? Out on the side of the road?”
“Jesus, I’d rather you did it than talked about it.”
“All right, all right. we should switch anyway, you’ve been driving most of the morning.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “It isn’t a question of right.”

He refused to take the bait. She pulled off the highway.

Clay hopped from the Cherokee.

Molly leaned over, rolled down the window. “Clay? You really have to go, right? You’re not playing a joke?”

“A joke? A joke like what?”

She shook her head.

“I’ll be right back.” Everything had to mean something else. There always had to be a catch.

He hobbled into the hinterland, butt cheeks clenched. Didn’t think about toilet paper or a toilet-paper substitute until he’d gone too far to turn back.

Clay stood ankle-deep in brush. He looked for a spot. What kind of spot? Level, he guessed. Did it make a difference. Cat and dogs (he thought) sniffed around and circled a spot before committing to it. He looked at the ground. A brown jackrabbit darted right past his feet. He watched it go. It was cool, but so much smaller than he would have expected a rabbit to be.

Okay then. He looked at the ground, which was still there. He unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them and his underwear down just a little ways. He bent, twisted. Tried a couple different positions guessing at what the right angle should be. How the fuck do you do this without taking your pants all the way off?

He figured a way, squatting, reaching between his legs to pull the back of his waistband clear of all likely trajectories, hoped for the best, and then thought about rattlesnakes. Don’t think about rattlesnakes! Yeah right, and don’t think about a pink elephant while you’re at it.

The air was still. He’d hear a rattler if there was one. After all — they rattled.
Now he couldn’t go.

Don’t think of rattlesnakes, think about elephants, think about jack rabbits. Shit, don’t think. Don’t think! Shit!

A blue shadow moved over him, blocking out the sun. Something descended from the sky. He forgot rattlesnakes, bounding brown jackrabbits and all. His bowels released.

An extraordinary blue. A cosmic blue. How could something that big and blue and solid appear in the sky without noise — from nowhere?

It wasn’t saucer-shaped — more diamond-shaped really — yet a Dallas city block in length. It set down on one narrow point of itself without sound, without disturbing the dust or the brush.

He yanked up his jeans and ran in the direction of the highway, the Cherokee and Molly.

Molly was running toward him, shouting his name. She saw it too, so he wasn’t crazy.

He hugged her, took her hand, continued to run with her back to the Cherokee.

He opened the passenger-side door. “It won’t start!” shouted Molly.

“Won’t start?” Yeah, you read about that. UFO’s fucked with your car’s electrical system. Happened all the time.

But she had tried to start the car? “Were you just going to drive off and leave me here?”
“I was going to drive out and get you! How could you think …? It is a four-wheel drive you know.”

“No, no. Right.”

He crawled in. Turned the key. Didn’t start.
“I told you! Why don’t you listen to me?”

“I’m just trying it.” He ground the ignition again. Silence. Even the indicator lights stayed dim, like the jeep was a relic, a hump of static metal.

Molly said, “Oh fuck this whole trip, you and your ideas.”
“Later, Jesus, Molly. This is a situation.” He found the cell phone, where it had been dropped by Molly on the passenger’s seat. No signal.

“I tried that too,” she said.

“You certainly had a lot of time on your hands.” That’s my wife, he thought.

“I tried to start the car to drive out and get you, I tried the cell to call help for you, I ran out to find you. Why are you picking on me!”

“All right.” He took a breath. “Thank you.”

“Fuckwad. Are you okay?” she strained against tears.

“I’m okay. It didn’t do anything to me. It’s sitting there … quiet.”

“It’s so blue,” said Molly.

“That’s what I was thinking. Have you ever seen quite that color before?”

She shook her head.

The blue ship did something.

Though its surface was seamless, it split now, surrendering itself open into two half-diamond shaped concaves, which settled down next to each other on the basin of the desert.

Clay and Molly waited, watched. Five minutes.

“What’s inside?” asked Molly. “Can you see?”
“Not from here.” Pause. “Someone will come along.”
“Don’t even think about. Someone will come along.”
“Maybe. This is supposedly a busy highway and no one’s passed in all this time. Maybe no cars are running.”

“Don’t say that.”

Molly leaned into the Cherokee, reached under the seat, and brought up the Evian bottle.

“It told you that was empty,” said Clay.

“I’m just checking it. You checked the car, you checked the phone. Now I’m checking the water bottle.”
“I don’t want to bicker,” he told her.

“Me either.”
“See, we agree.” The tension broke.

“On everything. That’s why I can tell my parents we never fight,” Molly said.

Clay rolled his eyes. “Your parents.”
“No. Your parents.”

Molly’s smile faded. There was more activity with the blue thing. The open concaves of the diamond ship started to fill, then to overflow. Icy blue liquid cascaded down the outside walls. It reminded Clay of Lake Tahoe for seem reason: cool and clean. Damn it was hot in New Mexico in September! Tahoe next year for sure.

He found himself leaving the Cherokee and walking toward the shimmering pools; Molly too. They reached the ship. The water did not spill onto the desert floor, rather it flowed in deeps streams down the walls, then turning, it streamed back up again.

A hint of spray dampened the air. Clay and Molly held fingers under the stream. So cool.

Molly cupped her hands. She brought the water to her face. She splashed herself, swallowed. She cupped her hands for more. “This is like the best water ever … ”

He did as she had. The water touched his skin, mixed with the stinging salty sweat above his lip, and cleansed the sour away. “I didn’t know how thirsty I was,” Clay said.

Molly undid some buttons, stepped into the falling water, letting it stream down her neck and front. “What a great gift,” she said.

Clay took his shirt off, pressed against the side of the ship. The water flow over his back, cooling his flushed skin. “Water,” he said. “Alien water.”

They undressed, they bathed and they held their clothes out to be cleansed: their shoes, belts, car keys, wallet, everything.

The waters ebbed. They stood naked. The sun was at zenith, but Clay stayed cool, even after the air dried him.

Clay thought about it. “That was probably a bad idea.”
“What happened?” asked Molly.

“Are you okay? I think I’m okay.”

“I think I’m okay. What?”

He realized he was looking at her. Shook his head. “You’re better than okay.”

She crossed her arms over herself. “Shut up. I wasn’t prepared for this you know.”
“You are really really beautiful.”

She picked up her clothes, but they weren’t even close to dry. “Damn,” she said.

“What are you worried about? You look fine.”

“Fine? A second ago it was beautiful. Now I’m fine.” She put the back of her hand under her jaw, the way she did when she felt self-conscious about the slight hint of a second chin.

Don’t say anything, he warned himself. But he tried to fix it, it was like a sick compulsion and he couldn’t stop himself. “Neither us is getting any younger.”
Molly shot him her red glare. Then she tried to pull on her heavy wet jeans. Oh, shit, he thought, will I never learn to quit when I’m behind? “Molly.”
She forced her arms into twisted, soaked sleeves. Picked up her sandals. “I’m going back to the road.” she said.

The blue ship slowly closed itself up. Then it rose from the ground without causing a ripple in the air. To see something so huge move so gracefully: Clay had nothing to compare it to. “I can’t even wrap my mind around it,” he muttered.

The ship hovered a hundred feet off the ground, then zipped west.

“Well that’s that,” said Clay.

“It’s going the same direction we were.” said Molly.

“If the aliens wanted directions to Albuquerque, they only had to ask,” said Clay.

“Let’s not tell anyone about this.”
“No way. I don’t want to be interviewed on some Discovery Channel freak-fest. No thank you.”
“Aren’t you going to put your clothes on?”

They felt a little dryer now. “Nah.” He placed his arms akimbo. “Think I’ll stay like this.”

“Shut up,” she said.

He shifted his feet and was stabbed by a pointy pebble. Then again, maybe just put on the shoes.

Two silver ships descended from the sky.

Smaller than the blue ship had been — automobile-sized, in fact — the silver ships landed side by side.

Like the blue ship, the silver ships were completely smooth and seamless. Clay hesitated.

“Let’s leave,” said Molly.

“I wonder if they are going to open.”
“No. I want to go.”

The ships opened. From each a silver orb ascended, like two human-sized wobbly balls of quicksilver.

The wobbly balls started floating toward Molly and Clay.

“Run!” Molly shouted too late.

A quicksilver ball hit her and splattered. The other hit Clay like hot Jell-O and nearly knocked him flat. Silver goop covered his eyes. He wiped them quickly, trying to see what had happened to Molly. The goop slipped over his skin, climbed up his urethra and every other opening, filled every wrinkle and crevice, enveloped each muscle in his body. Once it touched all of him it began to bead out his pores. The beads gathered into globules sliding down his length, dropping at his feet. They vanished into dry ground.

The silver ships closed, floated up, and scooted away.

Stunned, when at last able to move again and see — he saw the same thing had happened to Molly. He clothes lay in tatters around her, as if her silver glob had shredded them to get to her skin. She was shorter. No. He was standing higher all of the sudden. No. He was taller. His muscles rippled, filled with coursing blood.

“Oh man. Look at my … ”
She was looking.

“I’m huge,” he said. He wrapped his hand around it. It was beautiful, the most magnificent phallus imaginable. “I can’t believe it,” he said.

“And look at me,” Molly said. “My ass. My legs.” She ran her hands over her breasts. She touched her new long neck. “Oh fuck,” she whispered, and broke into a run.

He tore after her, leaving his clothes.

She reached the Cherokee, yanked open the nearer door and bent over the side-view mirror. Clay reached her and stopped. Stretching, and turning, trying to see as much of herself as possible in the tiny reflection, she examined her lean chin, her narrow shoulders.

She turned to him at last, with satisfaction. “Oh you lucky boy,” she said. “Look at your gorgeous wife.”

He caressed his shaft. Still hard. “And you lucky girl. Look at this incredible cock.”

She smiled. “I’m completely swollen too.” It was true, her nipples were like raspberries. “Look at my clit. I think if I touched it, I’d … ”

He touched it, she exploded.

He watched her for minutes, standing there, half supported by his giant hand around her slim biceps, as she came in waves. With every wave she changed: little things, just enough, hair color from rust to golden to jet. Her skin from brown to ivory and pink. The angle of her breasts, the cut of her shoulders, everything flowed, moved, like a hundred or a thousand different women. My god, this could go on forever. Her eyes fluttered (blue, green, and brown) and one of the thousand women coming under his hand whispered, “You’re here. For me. Here for me now.”

At last she settled. “Molly,” he said. “Do you know that I’m in love with you, that I’m attracted to you? Do you know?”
“Yes, honey. I know it, I know how you really feel, and I know you really meant it before when you said I’m beautiful. Even before we changed.”

In her, he saw every woman he could ever imagine, every desire, endless variety. In him, she saw trustworthiness, security, a man who desired her without end. I love the silver ships! he thought.

He held her, looked for a smooth area on the rough desert floor to lay her down. He was not in a hurry, not desperate — his huge cock was going to be full and ready forever — but he was anxious to please her with it. She looked around, seemed to read his thoughts. “There’s no good place,” she said.

“I’ll try the engine again. We’ll find a hotel.”

“No. I want to fuck outdoors,” she said.

He nodded. “So do I.”

A dozen green ships descended from the sky, landing silently on either side of the highway, then opening unassumingly. Plumes, powdery emerald dust, billowed from their hollows and covered the desert like green snow.

From the settled powder, a new landscape arose: beds of downy moss upon the ground. Nimble shade trees stretched toward the sky. Ponds of blue water pooled. Furred creatures grew out of the tree limbs and scampered back and forth, chattering pleasantly. Rainbow fish jumped in a babbling stream. Once or twice, what looked like miniature unicorns carrying big lollipops in their mouths darted through the forest. When all this was made, the green ships closed, floated above the trees, and moved west.

Clay carried Molly down and made love to her.

The afternoon rolled by. Molly got up after awhile and slipped into the nearest pond. It was one of the hot ones, with steam rising off. After a time, she moved to a cooler one, and floated on a lily pad. She called Clay to join her.

“In a bit,” he said. For now he lay content on his back, listening to the new forest, dancing fingers over his stomach, his pubes, enjoying the stickiness, in no hurry to wash off.

He must have napped awhile, because the next thing he sensed was Molly’s cool skin and hair against his chest as she slipped next to him.

She lay her hand across his scrotum.

“I’m glad you’re my man,” she said.

“Me too.”

“Let’s never fight.” she said.

“We made up.”

“So, no divorce.”

“No divorce.”

“Clay.”

“Mmm.” He drifted.

“The ships didn’t go back the way they came, did you notice? Not into the sky. They like followed the highway, west.”

“Yeah,” he said. Did they have to talk right now?

“Maybe this is happening everywhere. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“Splendiferous,” he muttered.

She was silent, but for a moment only.

“Who are they? What do they want?” she asked. He didn’t answer. “Clay? Did you hear me? Who do you think they are, what do you think they want?”

Imponderables. Always with the questions, this one.

“To spread joy and peace and hot sex through the galaxy,” he said. “Let’s talk later.” Right now, he floated in an endorphin sea which occupied him plenty, thank you.

“Maybe if I’d found a job I liked,” she said.

Clay grunted.

“In Dallas, I mean.”

Forget all that now, thought Clay. Who cared?

She spoke again. “In Dallas, you know? Or maybe if we’d never gone at all. I could have gotten into one of those church groups. Would you have gone to something like that? Or maybe if …”

If what? “Don’t start that, Molly.”

“Still, all those brown lawns, all those malls. All those glass buildings blinding you when you drive past on the freeway. And those Texas flags flying everywhere. Flags big enough to cover a football field. And all those football fields!”

“Okay, okay,” murmured Clay. “Anyway it’s over.”

She sighed comfortably. “That’s right. Dallas is over,” she said. And then she said it again. “Dallas is over.” He felt her settle comfortably closer to him, but only for a moment.

“Why would they do all of this for us? These ships?”

He pretended to sleep, not that that trick had ever worked on her before.

“Do you think there are other kinds of ships?”

He shifted his weight, tried to get comfortable again without actually turning completely away from her. “Oh, Molls,” he said. “If they want to do for us, let them.”

He rubbed his eyes. They’d been thirsty, and the ships brought water. They had a stupid fight about body image and the ships fixed their bodies. The ships made the desert a paradise for lovers, because — well because they were lovers. What else could she want? My needs are met.

His stomach knotted. “That’s it!” said Clay. “I get it! The ships read our thoughts, fulfilled them.”

“My god, you’re right. I wanted this body. I wanted it for myself. Unconsciously, but it happened.”

“Well great. Then you should be happy. Have a nap with me, Molly.”

“Can it guess what we’re secretly wanting, way down inside? What will the next ships will bring?”

Next ships? “No no. We’re fine, right now.” He wanted nothing more. Don’t think about it.

“What if someone had desires they weren’t proud of? Or shouldn’t have. There could be black ships, there could be red ships. Bad ships. People have all sorts of thoughts.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” he said. Black ships filled with plague, white ships filled with fire. No. No there couldn’t. Don’t think that. Don’t think anything. Red ship, black ship, white ship, bad ship.

“But we don’t know Clay. We don’t know what we really, really want. It changes. They could be pretty pink ships, but inside, deep down, for all we know — Ouch!”

He had grabbed her biceps harder than he meant to. “Leave me alone! No! Sorry!” he shouted, sounding shrill. “You’re going on and on! Happy happy ships, full of sunshine and goodness and everything right, I tell you!”

She wrenched her arm free. “Don’t talk to me like that!” She looked at her arm and it was bruised purple. She bruised easily. “You said never again!” Molly said. Reproach — her fucking long suit.

“That was an accident, obviously!” he said. And he’d never touched her, never touch her, never done more than put his own fist through the wall, or shake her hard to get her attention, so who was the real victim here anyway?

Never mind. Too late anyway. Too late now for apologies or excuses, or reasons. Try reasoning with her, can’t be done. Try not to think of a pink elephant. Can’t be done.

Above the new tree line — by the hundreds, by the thousands they showed: blotting the sky, housing shadowed desires in their pretty, shining holds and descending. He’d know something

in a minute, maybe. Or she would. Or nothing. Or not. Molly raised one arm to the level of her face in involuntary — surely futile — defensive action. Clay, in his nakedness, shuddered. Pink ships. Pink ships.

^^^^


(photo by winjohn: www.sxc.hu/profile/winjohn)