Read More: A brief interview with James Winter
Emma tells me the Martians put a chip in her head.
I believe her.
“Hypnosis got some of my memories back,” she says, “none of them good, but hey, at least they’re mine.”
She’s forty, my age, and like me, she moves from place-to-place, taking whatever jobs pay the rent. Right now, she washes dishes at some greasy spoon up in Spokane. Everybody there calls her ‘Spooky.’ “Makes me sorta proud,” she says.
I say my ex once asked me if I was running from the law.
Emma says, “And what’d you tell her?”
“I told her, ‘Yeah, something like that.’”
We clink mugs and laugh, leaning on one another at the bar.
I lower my voice. “Words come so easy with you.”
She says, “Think it’s just a pity thing? Two broken old souls?”
“Nah,” I say. “I think it’s unspoken. Elemental.”
We met maybe a half hour ago, tops, at the big summer festival in Roswell. They have it over a long weekend, twenty, twenty-five thousand people, most in costume. I’m almost seven feet tall, and my get-up, silver moon boots, purple robes, a sleek scepter, and a rubber mask, a green Martian with pointed ears and black almond eyes, is especially killer. There’s lots of pointing, smiling. Kids laugh. People want photos. I’ll pose and flash peace signs.
Tonight, I’d nabbed a front row civic center seat to see Bill Dobbs, Saturday’s keynote speaker. Onstage, the retired pilot, wearing his old dress blues, stretched his Texas drawl from behind a podium as he clicked through slides of his time flying fighters in Vietnam, and sneaking through Soviet airspace in bombers, Douglas A-4s, outfitted, he said, with alien cloaking devices.
The civic center’s air conditioning had shit the bed this afternoon. They warned everybody over the loudspeakers, but I didn’t really start to sweat until the screen behind Dobbs flickered to life with the first UFO he’d caught on old, grainy colored film. The triangle of white-white-lights was hovering below a cloud, just checking out the scenery.
In the next piece of film, taken years later, the image was a little clearer, the colors sharper. It was another craft, your standard saucer, zipping past Bill’s cockpit for a looksee.
After a moment of hushed silence, Dobbs started talking again, wielding a laser pointer.
The images repeated, frames slowed to a crawl.
I lost time.
I felt myself shrink.
My eyes filled with bright, bright light, and my ears with a steady, machine hum.
Another sound, closer. Like squirrels skittering up the hood of a car.
Hands on me, tugging.
A voice in my ear: “Hey, hey.”
The colors bleed back into the world, and there was the stage again. There was Dobbs. On the projector screen, in his green flight suit, his helmet under his arm, he was shaking Ronnie Regan’s hand.
There was a Man in Black in the seat to my left, Yoda to my right.
“Gonna make it?” Yoda said, and then, in character: “Shaking, you were.”
I fanned myself with my festival program. “Just the heat.”
He handed me bottled water. “Worry not. Hydration you need.”
Outside of the civic center, I was thankful for the crowd, not liking to be out under the stars alone, not after I’d lost time. The world still wobbled at its edges. I planned to stroll downtown with everyone, duck in my hotel, and call it a night.
I was doing just that when a Predator and a xenomorph, newlyweds, they said, asked a Klingon to snap my photo. I posed: peace signs as usual. The Klingon cut off the top of my head.
“No worries,” I said, with a wave. “Happens all the time.”
He gave it another go. Success.
Now, it was his turn. His son was dressed like ET. At least, I think it was his son. Maybe just a friend, a little person. Or a guy walking on his knees.
“You on stilts?” ET squeaked, looking up at me. He sure sounded like a kid.
“Nope,” I said, “just picked up my genes from Big & Tall.”
That got a good laugh.
Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still wanted a picture, too. I knocked on his suit, real tin. He said he’d welded it out of trash cans. I asked wasn’t it sweltering in there. He said, “Hell, yeah,” his voice a distorted, mechanical buzz. “But ain’t it worth it? I mean, for once a year?”
“Damn straight,” I said, and held out my fist, told him to hit the rock.
I kept walking, only stopping at the traffic signal on West 8th by the Buffalo Wild Wings to take off my mask and mop the sweat from my face. That’s when I caught this little redhead—Emma—eyeing me up.
She was dressed in black yoga pants, black gloves, and a black t-shirt, “I Want to Believe” in cracked white lettering across the front, her arms and neck painted green. She showed me the mask in her hands, a Martian with pointed ears and big almond eyes.
“Maybe we bought it from the same store,” she said.
As people flashed by, we smiled without any shyness.
I never do stuff like this.
And maybe that’s why I did it.
I said, “I’m Mulder.”
“Scully,” she said, not missing a beat.
We shook hands, our palms damp with sweat.
“Well,” I said.
“Well,” she said. “Hungry?”
This is how we end up on stools at joint called Farley’s. The place is packed, the jukebox going. Silver spaceships hang from the ceiling on wires and tin alien heads are bolted to the walls, their eyes swirling with trippy-colors, like what you’d see downriver on Willy Wonka’s boat ride.
At the bar, we’d taken off our masks and looked at one another. I mean, we looked, like some answer was floating between us and if we stayed quiet, we could creep up and snatch it.
“Do I know you?” I said.
“I dunno,” she said. “Do I know you?”
The bartender’s dressed like Greedo from A New Hope. He’s got the mask, the green-skin jumpsuit, tan fishing vest with front pockets, and a plastic star-blaster in the holster on his hip. He poured us drafts, shouting through his mask, asking if we’d come to Roswell for our anniversary.
“No,” we said, and giggled.
Emma wiggled the fingers of her left hand. “See a rock here, chief?”
Greedo pointed to his flat, purple eyes. “Ma’am, I can’t see shit.”
As he tottered down the bar, Emma said, “I just picture him wearing that around the house.”
“Maybe he makes love to his wife in it,” I said.
Emma threw her head back and thrusted her hips. “Oonta goonta, Solo.”
I told her I’d made the trip from Scottsdale, having saved up my vacation days at the Wal-Mart deli. In a white smock, paper hat, and plastic gloves, I chop meat, fry chicken, mix potato and bean salad. I like slicing lunch meat best, getting the thicknesses exact. The rattle of the machine, the whisper of the blade. You need a steady hand, a sharp eye.
She got here yesterday, too, bought her pass at the county courthouse and watched a stolen CIA alien autopsy video at UFO Research Center. Here, we’d both stretched out on the civic center lawn last night, lifting our masks to stuff handfuls of greasy popcorn in our mouths while Independence Day played on a drive-in screen. We’d laughed whenever Will Smith cracked wise and cheered for Randy Quaid going kamikaze, taking his jet-fighter up the ass of that last saucer.
I told her I hit the mall today, stopped at the celebrity booths. Ten bucks, I got my picture with the guy who played that fake psychic, the Stupendous Yappi, on two episodes of The X-Files. He stayed in character the whole time, a shrimp in a stiff grey suit and red tie. “Call me,” he said, raising an eyebrow, “at 1-900-555-YAPP.” He put a finger to his temple. “I know you will.”
Halfway into our cheeseburgers and fries, she starts opening up about the support groups, about being called “Spooky.” Hypnosis. Memories. Rental after rental. Highways. Her fear of settling, of letting life, and them, catch up to her. She tells me about that chip in her head.
As a kid, she slept in the attic under the eave. A tractor beam, crisp blue light, would ease her out of her covers, out the window. Past her toes, her hometown was hundreds of feet below and getting smaller. Streetlights. Cars, the windshields with a little shine to them. Headlights on the interstate, like meteors inching across the desert. The saucer was silver, spinning in place like a top. A bottom hatch would open, all black inside.
The aliens stopped abducting her when she was about twelve. That last time was when they sewed the tracking device under her scalp.
She turns on her bar stool and holds the back of her hair up. I poke at the spongy, boxy nub on the nape of her neck. I ask if it hurt when they did it. She says she doesn’t remember.
“And now?” I say, still touching it, feeling pervy, but damn, this is extraterrestrial tech. […]
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James Winter is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University. His fiction has won the CRAFT Short Fiction Prize, a Pushcart Special Mention, an Honorable Mention for the J.F. Powers Prize, and was a finalist for the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. It has been published in One Story, Salamander, PANK Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and Dappled Things, among others.
Read More: A brief interview with James Winter