by J. L. Navarro
Now we get more than our fair share of them flying disks, you know the ones, them spinning saucers people see every now and then. Around the valley, we see these things two three times a weeks. So they ain't no big thing to us. We get our share of them so-called crop circles as well. But what I saw that day I don't think anybody's ever seen. At least in these parts. It was early spring around here when I noticed that Jesse, one of my cows, was missing. Every so often one of the heifers wonders off into the foothills and I have to ride out and fetch her. It's not the first time Jesse took off on me like that. She just has one big wandering spirit, I suppose. Certainly more than the others. I got up on Ken, that's my prize-winning bull, and rode out toward the east pastures. The last time she went adventuring, that's where I found her, so I'm thinking maybe that's where she was.
Sure enough, I'm coming over a hill when I see Jesse grazing on a distant knoll. The old girl turns to look at me and then real kromu like decides to walk away, heading over toward Luke Hodges' place. I can see her plain as day walking horizontal to me. I can see her big pinto spots flanked along her side and that's when I see her head disappear clean down to her neck. So there I am looking at a cow with no head. Like I say, strange things happen around here mostly all the time, but that was a sight that nearly knocked me off my bull. When this happens, she stands stark still. Frozen. So there she is standing on this knoll with her head completely gone, and then she backs up easy as can be and her head is right where it should be again. Can't make heads or tails of what happened. Jesse looks over my way and then walks a ways a bit and starts grazing again. I'm sitting on Ken wondering if I should approach her or not. I ain't afraid to admit that I was scared. I suppose most people would be. Knowing she ain't gonna come unless I go after her, I giddy my bull and take off. She's standing there cool as winter chig eating up that grass, just waiting for me.
I guess I must have been ten yards away from her when I saw what looked like a man's head come out of thin air and start to look around. Now this is really peculiar and I stop Ken quick as can be. Me and Ken are standing there looking at this man's head turning here and there, and all the while Jesse is minding her own business nibbling her grass. The man's head looks at me and Ken, and then I see the head has some shoulders on it, and finally an entire body. The whole thing came in out of nowhere. The man's got black hair on that head of his, and he's dressed in blue fings and wearing a light tan jacket. Nothing unusual about that. He's standing there close enough to touch Jesse if he wanted to and looks in my direction after dropping what looks like a drung colored rock on the ground. He doesn't seem too concerned about seeing me and raises an arm to wave. I ain't too sure I want to do the same thing. Ain't everyday you see a body walk in out of nowhere, straight out of thin air. But I don't have to move if I don't want to because the man is walking toward me.
He has a real excited look on his face that's covered with a beard as black as his hair. I'd say he was somewhere in his forties, and he calls out, "Where is this place?"
By now he's practically up beside me and Ken. "You're in Sutter's Valley," I tell him. "What'd I'd like to know is where the gincha you come from?"
"I was in Chaco Canyon," he tells me.
"I never heard of it."
"It's in New Mexico," he says, looking up at me sitting on Ken.
"Well you're a long ways from there," I tell him. "Sutter's Valley is in Maynard County, right smack in the middle of the grand old state of Hermon."
"I'm sorry, what? Did you say Herman?"
"Her-mon," I tell him. And then I tell him again, "Her-mon," so he can't mistake what I told him the first time.
"This is definitely an alternate dimension," he says, mostly to himself.
He looks around like he's more lost than ever. By this time, my fear kinda ebbed away from me. He didn't look dangerous at all, just a little confused.
"How come you're not riding a horse?" he says.
"Never heard if it," I says. "This here's Ken, he's my prize bull. I don't travel much away from home without him."
"So you don't have any horses around here?"
"Guess not. Couldn't even tell you what one looks like if my life depended on it," I says. "But if you don't mind, mister, I think I'll get my cow and just go home." The way I see it is if he's lost then all he's got to do is go through that hole in the air and go back where he come from, wherever the gincha that might be. That ain't none of my business, so I don't bother to ask. Then I start to giddy to get old Jesse when I get this thought that maybe I done solved myself a mystery. I'm thinking maybe this fella is the guy who makes all them circles in the hergash fields around here. I ask him point blank if that's the case.
He says, "I've never been here before. First time. But listen, do you mind if I talk to you a minute. I'd like to learn a little more about this place."
"You can ask me anything you want," I tell him. "But you know what fella, I'm getting awfully hungry, so if you don't mind I'll just get myself a little nourishment while you ask me whatever it is you want." I hop off old Ken and go up to Jesse who looks at me with those big brown eyes, all the while the man is looking at me like I'm some sort of strange gunchi. Well, I don't pay no attention to that. But then I think, maybe I'm being a little rude here. Maybe I should introduce myself proper like. I tell him, "Name's Sam Egan." Then I stick my hand out in a friendly way. He looks at it like it's some kind of zulgo offering. Finally, after I'm standing there with my hand sticking out he grabs it with his and says, "Pleased to meet you, Sam. My name's Roland Blanco. I'm an anthropologist with the University of New Mexico."
"Pleased to meet you, too, " I tell him, and give him one of my friendly smiles.
Well, sir, that's when he jumped back about a yard. I don't know what got into him, but I'm too damned hungry to care. I go up to Jesse and pat her head before I open my jaws and clamp my filas on her neck. I get real famished around this time of day.
For a second I thought I was seeing things. It's not every day you see a cow jab its head through thin air. I want to make it clear that I wasn't drinking or smoking any funny stuff on that particular day. I'm grounded in logical, imperative explanations, as any reputable scientist would be. You can therefore imagine the concentrated shock I felt when I saw this beast's head floating in midair looking at me with those big liquid eyes of hers. She was close enough to me where I could have reached up and touched her nose. In fact, that's exactly what I did, wanting to make sure that what I looked at was a real cow and not some projected mental aberration. No sooner had I passed my fingertips across her damp muzzle than she backed up and took her head with her, disappearing completely from view. Moving on impulse alone, leaving all reason behind, I stuck my head through the same space the cow had just disappeared into, poking my head as if it were through a non-existent window. On the other side of this chasm, I saw a lush green valley better suited to the Northwestern part of the country than the New Mexican desert. Besides the cow, who was now grazing peacefully on a patch of grass, there was a man sitting atop a saddled bull that had the unusual color of burgundy wine. They were some yards away from me. The man wore a dome type hat on his head with a wide floppy brim. He was dressed in buckskin and moccasins, looking a lot like the mountain men of the 1800's. The look on his face was one of immense surprise and mystification. He must have felt pretty much the same as I did.
Once the initial shock settled down, I quickly assessed the remarkable discovery I had just made. My bewilderment had shifted to one of scientific curiosity and shear unabated excitement. I climbed through into this other world and dropped a rock in front of the rift so I'd know where it was and then I waved at the man sitting on the bull. This has got to be the grandest discovery of all time, I thought. It was going to put me very prominently on the scientific map. As an anthropologist, my contributions were minuscule compared to what I had inadvertently discovered. I would be the toast of the scientific community for generations to come. I would write books about the newfound land and its inhabitants. This was a fortuitous day indeed for me. I could barely contain my excitement as I walked toward the man sitting on his sturdy bull.
When I began talking to him, I noticed that he had what sounded like an English accent delivered in simple colloquialisms better suited to a country bumpkin. I must bring this man back with me, I thought. It was the only way people were going to believe me. I could not afford to let them know where the space rift was located. This was certainly something the government would want to oversee. I'm sure they would just as quickly shove me aside and take all credit themselves, if they didn't hide it altogether. This was definitely not the time to reveal what I had found. The man was another matter altogether. He could corroborate what I reported, give credence to what I claimed. This might be a one-time incident. For all I know, the Anasazi might have disappeared through that very rift hundreds of years ago. Like the Mayans, the Anasazi people seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth for no apparent reason. If I went back, I would need proof. I was not going to run the risk of this thing closing up on me.
The man said his name was Sam Egan. He looked to be somewhere in his early forties, around the same age as me, and his left eyelid didn't completely open up, looking like a window shade that was halfway drawn. It was interesting to find out that he had never heard of a horse. Then again, they may have called the animal by another name in this strange new place. A million questions were swarming through my mind. Sam Egan said he was hungry and was going to get something to eat. And that's when he grinned at me. The fangs in his mouth gave me a start. They looked like teeth you would imagine on a vampire, long, pointy, and sharp as a spear. He walked right up to the cow and fastened those spiked canines on its neck and held them there for at least two solid minutes. The cow didn't so much as bat her eyes as this unusual behavior was taking place. She just stood there very accommodating until he was finished. He turned around and looked at me, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"S'matter fella. Ain't you ever seen a man eat before?" He put a rope he had in his hand around the cow's neck and led her back to the bull."
"Not like that, I must admit," I said.
"Well, you're welcome to have some if you want," he offered. "I don't know where you're from, but around here we're just one big happy family. If I got, you got. That's about as right as it gets, don't you think?"
"Yes, that's certainly very generous of you," I said. "But right now I'm not very hungry. Are you a rancher?"
"Yes I am," he said. "I raise cattle. Just about everybody else does too."
"Excuse me, Mr. Egan," I said. "But are you a vampire?"
"Don't know what that is?"
"Some one who drinks blood."
"Then I suppose I am. But let me get this straight now—you don't drink blood?"
"Well, not like that. That is, not by sucking on the neck of a living creature."
"How do you do it then?"
"Well, for one thing, we don't concentrate our consumption of blood. There are some traces of it in our food, but not much. And it certainly isn't raw."
"Well then, what do you eat?"
I was afraid of offending the man if I told him that we ate dead cows, so I refrained. "We eat vegetables and fruits, lots of juices, cereals. And milk, lots of milk."
"Well, we eat all that stuff. Nothing new there. Guess we ain't all that different after all." He walked past me and was about to step up on his bull.
"You know, where I come from we got bulls twice as big as this. Cows too."
His eyes widened at hearing this information, and even his bad eyelid shot all the way up, showing me emerald green eyes with black pupils and orange irises. His face was weatherworn and creased with thin lines. Except for his eyes and his teeth, he looked as human as anyone else I know. "You ain't spinning no yarn here, are you? You really got bulls twice as big as Ken here?"
"Bigger," I said, straight-faced with my eyes focused on his. "…Some of them."
"I sure would like to see something like that."
"That can be arranged," I said.
"You gonna bring one over here?"
"Better yet," I said, "you can go over there and bring back as many as you want."
He looked at me and squinted his eyes. "I tell you, I've heard of people going up in them flying wheels. Some come back happy; some come back not too happy. I guess what I'm trying to say is how do I know I'm going to like it over there? What if I can't find my way back? It's not like people come and go from that hole everyday of the week. I never even saw the thing until today."
I could plainly understand where he was coming from, and now that I had him on the hook, I didn't want to scare him away. "Mr. Egan, I can guarantee you a safe trip to and from. You have my word on that."
"Well," he said, looking at the ground with his head turned to one side while he scratched the back of his neck with his right hand. "I don't know. I ain't the kind of man to take risks, I want you to know that right now. I'm just a homebody. Me, my wife, and my kids, we don't ask for a whole lot. So, Mr. Blanco, I'm not so sure I want to take you up on that offer."
"Do I look like I'm going to do you harm?"
"I didn't say that."
"Sam—you mind if I call you Sam?"
"Go right ahead."
"Sam," I said, "look at it this way: you bring back three or four of them big bovines and you're going to be the toast of the county for many years to come. Just think what you're going to introduce to your countrymen. Think of the contribution you'll be making to the community." If the people here were as socialistic as I supposed, then the offer I made to Sam Egan was one that he could not refuse.
"I can't stay long," he said, giving me a sidelong glance.
"I'll have you back before the sun goes down," I assured him. "Fair enough?"
Looking back on it now, I suppose I shouldn't' have listened to him. He told me some scrunky story about having cows twice as big as Jesse where he come from. Sounded too good to be true. But a man like me, well I guess I just couldn't pass up something like this, short of knowing I was going to find myself in a world of woe.
First thing he does is pile a bunch of rocks in front of the air-hole so we'd know where it was when we come back. He tells me all about the place we were in, some place called Chaco Canyon. Says he liked to hike around the place and think, says it was just the place to get the brain juices going. We got land like that, but it's way north of us. There was a bunch of ruins he says belong to people who used to live there. I nod and all, not really knowing what to say. The place looked like a catastrophe had hit there. Guess maybe them people went to better lodgings. We're walking to something he calls his 'jeep.' All the while I'm looking around to see if I can see any of them big cows. Ain't nothing but desert and hot as gena. I'm studying the lay of the land, picking out things to remember. Near to the pile of rocks in front of the air-hole, to the left of us as we come out, is one huge boulder that looks like a vuna bird. That's one rock I ain't gonna forget. I kept that image in my mind as we keep walking toward his ride. The rest of the place looks like a wide, flat valley baked by the broiling sun. I don't know why people choose to live in such an ogashmac place. "Whatever lights your ulsura mill," says my wife, Ada. Guess I just don't like living in hot places. Nice to visit, but that's as far as I go. Two days and I'm outta there.
In the nebuss sky, there's a bird with a wide wingspan floating on the currents looking pretty as ever. From the looks of it, it looks like a wongo. Then, as we continue walking, I see this ugly looking thing coming out from under a boulder that looks like nothing I ever seen before, crawling low on the ground with a long fat tail, squat in the middle, and a pointy snout. The skin looks like its put together with orange and black colored beads. Ain't big, just ugly.
"What's that?" I say to Mr. Blanco.
"A Gila monster. It won't bother you, if you don't bother him," he says, walking ahead of me. "Stay away from it; it's poisonous."
Keeping my eye on it, I see that this Gila monster is heading straight toward the rock pile we placed in front of the air-hole.
When we come to it, this jeep of his is some strange contraption made of teral with big round rubber wheels. Well, sir, we get into this thing and first off, he wants me to strap a belt around my stomach before he starts it by inserting a piece of what looked like jagged gerst into a slot. Suddenly this thing kicks over with a roar that startled me good there for a second. While all this is going on, I'm as fascinated as a gurbled hog floating on a cloud of jasbine filos. He jiggles a stick poking out of the floor of that jeep of his and we're moving, and moving fast, faster than Ken could move, that's for sure.
"Ever think of relocating?" he says, the contraption moving over the dirt road swift as a moono.
"Where to?" I say, hanging on tight to a piece of the teral frame.
"Here. To our world."
"What for?" I ask him. "Never gave any thought to your world till today. And I tell you, if it's all like this, hot and dry, I think I'd just as soon stay in my own place."
"We have places like that here," he says. "I can arrange for you and your family to live in a location similar to yours."
I can't figure why he's being so damned friendly. Folks back home say that over friendly people usually have something else on their minds, 'sides their good intentions. But I tell him, "I think maybe I'll take a few of them big cows back with me and maybe later on I can come back for a visit. Truth is, I like where I live. No hard feelings."
"No, of course not," he says.
We're on that road for a good stretch before he turns onto a paved narrow one the color of a dark blig and we follow it a ways before he turns onto another dirt road, and we travel down this for a spell, not once seeing anything but desert and no other living creature. I'm getting a little disappointed just about then. Ain't seen one big cow yet. Finally, we're coming to a dwelling that looks like it could have been part of the cliff that rose up behind it like a tall chunk of cow gilm. I'm getting worried too, thinking if I had to find my way back to that air-hole by myself I'd be in some serious trouble. By now, them big cows are getting further and further away from my mind. I'm thinking about Ada and my boys, knowing they're going to be awfully worried if I don't show up for supper.
Pulling up in front of his dwelling, he says, "Here we are," happy as can be.
"Is them big cows around here somewhere?" I say, looking all around the place, seeing nothing of what I'm looking for.
"Close enough," he says. "I have to make a few calls and have them sent over."
"And how long is that going to take?"
"Not long. The sooner I make the calls, the sooner they get here."
"What kind of calls you gonna make."
Course that don't tell me nothing. But I say, "Well, I suppose you better make them calls then."
"Let's go inside."
Just as we're about to go into the dwelling, we see another one of them wheel contraptions coming down the dirt road raising dust behind it as it sped our way. This one had a closed roof, not opened like the thing we rode in.
"Who's that?" I said.
He kind of crumpled up his face like he was seeing something he didn't want to see as he looked real hozgo at that dust cloud getting closer to us.
"Looks like my daughter," he says, that hozgo look still planted on his face.
"She know anything about them big cows?'
"Everybody knows about the big cows."
When that moving contraption came up to us, this girl looks at us and smiles wide. She's pretty as a spring day in Gornika and she's wearing these big glasses that are as black as filmer fillings. She says, "Hey, dad, how's it shaking?"
"How come you didn't call?"
"I did call," she says real ramor like. "Left a message on your machine."
When she got out from behind the wheel, I saw that she was a tall girl with a nice bodice and round supple looking flangs. She peered at me over her black glasses and smiled, "Hi, name's Sandy, Roland's daughter."
"Pleased to meet you," I says. "Name's Sam Egan."
"Well, Sam, hope you're hungry," she says. "I got enough pizza to feed an army."
"Sam doesn't eat pizza," her pappy says.
"Everybody eats pizza,"
"Sam's a vegetarian."
"Well good; I have stuff to make salad. But the pizza's really good."
"Well," I tell her. "I just ate a little while ago. I'm more interested in seeing the big cows."
"Really," she said. "Well, they have a cattle ranch about thirty miles up the highway. Are you a rancher?"
"Yes I am," I told her. "Just about everybody is where I come from."
"That's interesting," she says. "A vegetarian rancher. Are you from out of town?"
"I think we better go inside," Mr. Blanco says, heading for the front door.
Barring a few minor traffic tickets, I've never had any serious run-ins with the law. I'm just not a criminal at heart. I know that on the surface it looked like I was kidnapping Sam Egan. But if you weigh the overall situation, you can plainly see that humanity stood to gain much more in the end. This was my primary concern: the betterment of mankind, the increase of human knowledge. And it's not like we were going to keep him away from his family for any length of time. When I say "we," I mean Eleanor Medina and myself. She was a professor of archeology at New Mexico U. before I got her involved in all this. None of it turned out the way I expected. Of course, at the time, I didn't know what to expect. I was playing it by ear, and everything happened too quickly; I didn't have time to sort any of it out, give it any real thought about what I was going to do to get Sam to stay with us for a while. All I knew was that Sam Egan had to stay on our side of the rift one way or another. I needed Eleanor to substantiate what I had discovered. I needed substantiation from someone with credentials, someone I could trust, and, above all, someone who would not usurp the moment to glorify herself. Believe me when I say that some of our most esteemed scientists are as vainglorious and self absorbed as ditsy movie stars. I offered Eleanor partial credit in my discovery for simply corroborating anything that I may say or write about this wonderful exploration we were about to embark on.
Would things have turned out differently if my daughter had not showed up? Probably. I had not counted on her unexpected visit. I wish I could say that my relationship with Sandy was one of mutual love and respect. Though I know she loved me, I cannot say that there was a whole lot of respect involved. This unfortunate situation came about because of circumstances involving her mother's separation from me. Ellen, her mother, is also an anthropologist. The same professional bug that had infected the immortal Margaret Mead bit my wife when Sandy was twelve years old. One day Ellen realized that she needed to be in the mist of things, needed to have the culture she was studying run like a blood element in her veins. I knew the feeling perfectly. Without question, a very commendable quality for an anthropologist. This characteristic, however, did not work well for our marriage. She wanted to live with a splinter group of the Kayapo tribe who had gone farther into the Brazilian rainforest to escape the increasing invasion of their lands. As a professional, I knew how important her research was to her. My daughter, however, as time went on, did not see it that way.
My dad is a jerk. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I know there're a lot of them out there. I've dated a bunch of them, so I know first hand what a real and true jerk is, believe me. But dad is in a very special league all of his own. I know he loves me. I know mom loves me. But if it were a toss up between who's the bigger jerk (my mom or dad) I would have to say it's my father. Why? Because he just is. Okay, so my mom wanted to become part of that Indian chief's harem, or whatever they call it, somewhere in the Amazon. But it's not so much what my mom wanted to do with her life, it's that my dad didn't have the backbone to stop her, or to even try and talk her out of her harebrained idea. How would you feel if your mom, out of the clear blue sky, suggested to your dad one day that it would be a good thing if he traded her off to another man (who couldn't even write his name in a child's scrawl) like a piece of chattel for nothing more than a half ounce of some exotic hallucinogen that was scraped off the skin of some weird frog? Does any of that sound right to you? She writes and sends us pictures every now and then. I still can't get used to the idea that my mom is running around the jungle with her naked tits flapping around. But my dad says it's all about "true life research," that it has nothing to do with me or with him, and that sooner or later my mom is coming back to us, and that we'd once again be a happy family. Yeah, like she's going to come back from that bizarre place as if returning from an extended vacation after living with that weirdo (who wears a lip plug no less that makes him look like a platypus) put on her apron and pick up where she left off. Yeah, right. It's been eight long years and she's still in that jungle doing her so-called research and fucking that creep.
I wasn't going to visit him that day. It was one of those momentary flashes that come over you when you're between projects and just plain bored. I figure what the hell, I'll visit dad and share some quality time with him. When mom went off to live in the jungle, dad became more concerned about the time we spent together. He'd take me everywhere with him, camping, field trips, vacations. We were a team. He was trying to make up for losing my mom, I suppose. In the beginning I thought I understood, but the more I thought about it as I was growing up I finally had to conclude that my dad was a complete and total asshole. I even told him that once to his face. I said, "Dad, you're an asshole." It was the day after I graduated from high school. And then I told him he was an asshole on one other occasion. It was when I explained to him what I wanted to do in life. He thought being an artist who painted pictures of dead people with their cremated ashes was not the most auspicious choice. Auspicious. That was his word. I had the last laugh, though. I've made a pretty good living painting pictures with dead people's ashes mixed into the colors. It's pretty cool. I call it "mort-art."
Anyway, I had some free time that day and decided to pay him a visit. Well, you can imagine what happened when I found out what was going on.
Once we was in the house, first thing Mr. Blanco does is pick up this instrument off a table, pushed his finger over it and then began talking into it.
"Eleanor, this is Roland," he says, looking at me while his daughter brings in the food and places it on a table. "I've been okay, fine. But listen, you have to come out here as soon as you can. …No, it can't wait. Yes, today. You need to come out now. The difference between a mediocre career and a brilliant one hinges on it. I don't want to get into it over the phone. You wouldn't believe it if I told you. This is something you have to see. …Can I count on you being here within the hour? …I'll explain when you get here. …Okay, see you then."
Sandy says, "What was that all about?"
"That was Eleanor Medina. She's coming out to visit."
"She bringing them cows with her?" I say.
"That's what we're going to talk about when she gets here," he says.
On the table, I can smell the food she brought, and I got to say it didn't smell none to good. Smelled like a wuko when it gets real sweaty. Being polite and all, I didn't say nothing about it, but sort of distanced myself away from it without being too obvious of what I was doing.
"So where about you from?" Sandy says.
"I'm from Sutter Valley in the grand old state of Hermon."
"Hmmm," she says. "I don't think I ever heard of it. Did you mean Hermon County?"
"No, the state of Hermon. A course, it's on the other side of that air-hole me and your pappy come through."
"Well, yeah. The one over by that rock that looks like a vuna bird."
She's looking at me like I lost some of my cuner.
"Honey, go fix our friend here some salad, will you," her pappy says.
"Yeah," she says, still looking at me like I was a real makode of some sort. I wanted to tell her that I wasn't really that hungry, but she was already in the other room, so I just kept quiet.
Well, sir, she comes back with this bowl of greens all mixed together and not so much as a drop of blood on any of it. I say, "Do you have any dressing?"
"What kind would you like?" she says, biting into a wedge of that funny smelling stuff.
"Blood," I tell her. "Is there any other kind?"
"Sweetheart, Sam here is from…a different part…of the world," her pappy says, like them words are being pried out of his mouth. "They're partial to fresh blood."
"Well, dad, I don't think we have any fresh blood to give him." There was definitely a sarcastic tone in the girl's voice, and she was looking at me like I was really on the other side of gooloe.
"I realize that," her pappy says. "I think he'll make do without it, won't you, Sam?"
"Why sure. I'll nibble on what's here the way it is," I says, not wanting to be a bother or anything like that. Fact is, food was the last thing on my mind. It was them big cows I was thinking about, and getting awfully edgy about not seeing any thus far.
So there we are, sitting and just sort of staring at each other. Sandy is looking at me and then at her pappy, and finally she says, "Okay, what's going on here? I don't care who tells me, I just want the truth."
"Well, it's like this," I begin to say. "When you're pappy went through that air-hole—"
"Sam, I don't think we need to go into all that," her pap says. "There's no point."
"Point? What point?" The girl is getting a little mad now. I can tell by her fiery brown eyes all lighted up and glaring at us. I don't see why her pappy don't just come out and tell her why I'm there.
"Truth is," I says, "I'm here looking to take me back some of them big cows you have over here."
"Cows? The only cow my dad has is what's in his freezer."
"Sandy, please. Not now," he says.
"What are you talking about? Do you think my father is a rancher or something?"
"I don't know what he is," I says. "I'm just here to take me a few of them big cows back to Sutter Valley."
"Well, you're looking at the wrong place to get them," she says. "Cows are cows and you sure as hell aren't going to find any around here."
I turn to look at her pappy who's just sitting there looking like he forgot how to breathe.
"Now you ain't lying to me about them cows are you, Mr. Blanco?"
"Of course not."
"What cows?" she says. "You talk about them cows like they're different from any other cows."
"I'm givin' to understand that they are," I says. "At least bigger than what we got in Sutter's Valley."
"Cows are cows. They don't get any bigger than any other cows in any other part of the world."
"Honey," he says, "you don't understand. Sam here is from," and then he sort of looked away from her and muttered, "a different dimension, an alternate universe."
For a second she don't say nothing, just stares at him with a real blank face like he done lost some of his goosgo. Then she says, "Have you lost your mind?" and I'm sure her voice was loud enough for Jesse to hear her back in Sutter Valley.
"I know it sounds a little strange, Sandy, but it's true. There's a rift in the fabric of our reality that leads straight into Sam's here."
"And that is the truth," I put in, not wishing to bring any kelbo between kin.
"Take a good look at him, Sandy; don't you see anything different about him?"
The girl stared at me one way and then the other. "Well, besides the way he's dressed, his eyes are a strange color."
"Sam, give her a smile," her pappy tells me.
So I turn up my lips and show her my filas. Well, she had pretty much the same reaction as her pappy when she seen them. Her interest was so intense she came up to me face-to-face and stared at my smiling mouth for some time until my face got tired of holding the pose.
"No way," she says. "No fucking way."
"Sam here is a real honest to goodness vampire from another dimension," her pappy says. "Do you know what that means, Sandy?"
"Yes. It tells me you're completely out of your mind," she says, turning to look at him. "This is the twenty-first century, dad. Vampires don't exit any more than Santa Claus does."
"It's not that simple. What you see there sitting in front of you isn't a Hollywood make-up job. I have discovered a brand new frontier out there. And Sam here is my proof."
She looked at her pappy a good while before she says, "And he's here to get some kind of cow?"
"Yes," I tell her. "That's pretty much it. And I haven't seen any of them cows yet. …Now, I don't mean to be disrespectful or nothing like that, but if I don't see one of then cows soon, I'm going to have to get myself back to where I belong. Ada's going to be worried. "
"What exactly are these cows suppose to look like?"
"No—now you wait. I'm beginning to get a sneaky feeling here that you're lying to this man."
"I'm not lying to him."
"Then where do you propose to show him these cows he's so bent on seeing?"
"We'll get to that as soon as Eleanor gets here."
"What does she have to do with cows? She's an archeologist for God's sake."
"Sandy, will you just stay out of this…please."
"No I'm not. Not if you're deliberately misleading this man for some selfish reason you're hiding from us. And that's what it sounds like to me, dad. I'm sorry, but whatever it is you're trying to pull off here, it's not going to work."
Now I really hate it when there's some spevel between kin. It just don't settle well with me. I figure the best thing to do is go on back to Sutter's Valley and then have Mr. Blanco bring some of them cows over when he manages to get a hold of some. And I tell him this.
"Now, Sam, just be patient," he says. "Eleanor'll be here soon. We'll get it all straightened out then."
Well, I didn't know what to say. But his girl sure did. "I'll give you a ride, Sam. Where do you want to go?"
"Well, best I can tell you is that it's out near that rock that looks like a vuna bird."
"I'm sorry, but I don't know what a vuna bird looks like."
"Honey," Mr. Blanco says. "I think you're jumping the gun here. Sam is our guest. He can stay as long as he wants."
"Seems to me like he wants to go home."
"Well," I say, "that is in fact the truth. You got to understand that Ada'll be real worried if I'm not there by supper time. And I can't be leaving Ken and Jesse out in the pastures over night, not that far from home."
"Come on, Sam," Sandy says, grabbing her bag off the table and slinging it over her shoulder. Then she starts heading toward the door.
When I said my dad was an asshole, I meant it. And what he did after we left the house only underscored my very perceptive assessment. Knowing I was going to head somewhere into rough desert, I decided to take his jeep. I have a spare key hanging on my ring along with my own car keys.
"You can't take my jeep," he said.
"I'll be back after I drop him off."
So what does he do? The jerk gets behind the wheel and plants himself there, gripping it and stares straight ahead. "This jeep isn't going anywhere," he says.
"Dad, come on, don't be an asshole. The guy wants to go home."
"Not in my jeep."
"Okay, Sam, let's take my car."
As I'm walking toward it, Sam following, my brilliant father comes up behind us and says, "Sam, you have to stay. You don't know how important you are."
"Mr. Blanco, you're real hospitable, but I really got to get back. Like I say, when you get them cows, bring them over and we'll talk then."
So we continue walking to my car when suddenly dad grabs Sam from behind around the neck and starts to drag him back into the house. "Sam," he's saying, "you have to stay. It's important to all of us."
Sam can't talk because dad has his arm around his neck and I can see he's choking him. I don't think he's doing it deliberately, but he's doing it nevertheless. And I'm running around yelling at him to let him go. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Let the man go!"
Sam is getting red in the face, and all of a sudden, out of desperation, he clamps his teeth on my dad's arm, who yells out loud and backs off. Sam staggers away, grabbing his throat.
"Mr. Blanco, now you stay away from me," Sam says. "I appreciate your hospitality and all that, but I got to get back to my folks."
"Neither one of you know what you're doing," dad says, and he's breathing hard from that little struggle he had. His eyes are wide with excitement and adrenalin.
"I'm taking your jeep, dad. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to let you take advantage of this man, who plainly doesn't mean you or anyone else any harm." And I start walking toward the jeep again. "Come on, Sam."
Just as I get behind the wheel, dad comes around and tries to wrench the keys away from me. Well, that's when I let him have it. I didn't think; it was pure reaction. All them Tae-Bo classes paid off in an unexpected way. I cold-cocked him across the jaw. He fell back on the ground and just lays there, eyes closed.
By this time, Sam is in the jeep. I kick over the engine and we're gone.
"Now where abouts did you say you live?"
"That big rock that looks like a vuna bird," he said. "It's the best way I can describe it. Near some dwellings that look like they're made out of hard mud."
"What does this vuna bird look like?"
"Well, it has big round eyes, pointed ears and a round, flat face."
"Ah ha—an owl," I told him. "I know exactly where that's at."
When Eleanor arrived, she found me lying on the ground. As soon as I came to, I'm looking up into her green eyes and look of concern on her tan face that's framed in a soft helmet of brown hair. The first thing I tell her is that I want to go after Sandy and Sam, explaining how they stole my jeep and why it was important that we find them. Even though the sun was going down, it was still hot so Eleanor naturally had the notion that I was delirious. She thought maybe the hospital was a better destination.
"Eleanor, we don't have any time to loose. We need to find them."
Without further comment, I got into her small 1975 VW and insisted that she hurry up. I had no idea how much of a head start they had on us. The small car sputtered along like a wheezing burro. Why in the world is a tenured professor still riding around in one of these tin cans, anyway? I thought angrily as I told her where to go.
"Looks like you're hurt, Roland," she said. "Your arm's bleeding."
I looked at the sleeve of my shirt that was soaked with a patch of dry blood. "I'll be alright," I said. "Just drive."
As the car is pulling off the highway and onto the dirt road, I get this strong feeling to throw up. The car's bouncing like a boat in choppy water and without saying a word I open the door and spill mangled pizza all over the road that's moving like jagged carpet beneath me.
"Are you alright?" Eleanor says.
"Fine, I'll be fine. Just drive."
Ahead of us, I didn't see a thing, not even a dust trail. As we're moving, I try to explain to Eleanor what I discovered without sounding altogether insane. In a nutshell, I explained everything that happened before she found me passed out in front of the house. I did not look at her. I didn't want to see her reactions, didn't want to see the look of suspicion in her eyes as I related the events of the day. I was putting myself in her shoes, and I knew what I would have thought if someone had told me the same thing.
"Let me get this straight," Eleanor said, fighting the wheel to keep the car on the road. "You found a rift in the atmosphere that leads into an alternate universe; a man who is a vampire came back with you under the pretext of finding enormous cows on our side, and your daughter decided she would give him a ride home. Is that it?"
"More or less," I said, knowing her assessment bordered between sarcasm and barefaced disbelief. "You'll believe me when you see the rift for yourself."
"And you think the Anasazi disappeared into this rift?"
"It's a possibility." I was starting to develop a hypothesis that there might be rifts of this type all over the world. Maybe the Mayans as well had gone into one of these dimensional curtains.
"Then why hasn't this rift been discovered before?" Eleanor said.
"Well, that's just my point. Maybe it has a limited window. Maybe it only opens up during certain times. I don't know. Don't you see, Eleanor, that's why it's so important that we get evidence. Sam Egan is that evidence."
"I'm sorry, Roland, but shanghaiing someone to prove your discovery is somewhat unethical, don't you think?"
"Not in the least." I was beginning to wonder if I had wasted my time in contacting her. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I didn't say that." She was trying to light a cigarette as the car bounced over rocks on the road. Then, unexpectedly, she lost her grip on the Zippo lighter and it fell between her legs. She tired to get hold of it and in so doing lost control of the car as it rolled over a large rock and headed straight into a ditch, pitching us forward as one of its fenders slammed into the bank.
"Shit!" Eleanor jumped out of the car, patting her crotch that had caught fire from the lighter. Her hair was tossed every which way on her head as she stood looking at the car. "We're not going to be able to get it out without a truck."
The last rays of the sun were disappearing behind the surrounding hills, leaving the horizon washed in a dazzling band of scarlet.
"We haven't got any time for that," I said.
"We're not going to get very far on foot." She had fished her cell phone out of her purse and was dialing.
"Who the hell are you calling?"
"It's going to take them forever to get out here."
"Do you have any better suggestions?"
It was all academic because she couldn't even get the thing to work.
"We haven't got any choice but to continue on foot."
"How far is it?"
It was at least five miles, but I didn't want to tell her that. "Not far," I said. "A mile maybe." I started walking. "Are you coming?"
I turned and saw her glaring at me. This is the woman that I had once considered marrying, but then changed my mind, thinking Ellen might come back to us some day when she decided that her research was done. When Eleanor didn't answer, I turned and continued walking.
I gave it a lot of thought when I got home. And after I talked it over with Ada, I decided the best thing to do was to seal up that air-hole with a brick dome. Mr. Blanco's daughter explained to me as we were driving along that the cows on their side of the hole was no different than the ones we got. Well, then, why do I want to have anyone come though it again? I asked myself, seeing right away that there was no reason for me to go back anytime soon anyway. First thing next morning, I take Ken and hitch him up to a cart filled with bricks and arcsha to close up the hole. Spent the whole day out there, didn't once stick my head through it to see if anyone was there. I figure some things just need to be kept where they're at. I had no quarrel with Mr. Blanco. And I sure did feel bad about biting him like I did. But you got to understand that I couldn't breath. I really had no choice but to do what I did.
When the dome was finished, I stood back and looked at it. Took me a good two days to put it up. I'm not sure it's going to keep them folks out, but I had to do something. I figured maybe putting a fence around the dome might help. But that can wait awhile. If anyone asked me what it was, I'll just tell them it's a monument to my cows, or some such thing. May sound crazy, but it sure beats telling the truth. I didn't even tell my boys what I'd gone through. Just Ada. She agreed that I was doing the right thing.
"We can't have aggressive people like that running all over Sutter's Valley," she said. "You're lucky you got away there, Sam. I reckon that girl saved your life."
I hate to think that Mr. Blanco meant me any harm. But it sure looked that way to me. When the girl walked me to the air-hole we took some time to get rid of the rock pile her pappy had made to find it again.
"Guess my dad wasn't lying," she says.
"No," I says. "Not about this he weren't."
That girl didn't have anywhere near the same amount of curiosity as her pappy did. She just stuck her head in that hole, looked around real quick and that was all she needed to see.
"You tell your pappy I'm real sorry about that bite I gave him," I told her. "I feel real bad about that."
She laughed. "He had it coming. Don't worry about it."
That was the last I saw of her.
As much as I tried, I couldn't find the rift again. Eleanor and I continued searching for them after her car ended up in the ditch. It took us a while to get there and we looked for it a good part of the night and found nothing. I'm sure Eleanor was convinced that I had completely lost my mind as I poked around in the air trying to find it.
"Give it a rest, Roland. There's nothing there."
"It's here, I tell you. Help me look for it."
But no matter how much I poked and searched, I could not find it, wondering if perhaps the window had closed.
I know they're looking for me. For the last couple of days I've heard helicopters flying around, swooping low over the canyons and valleys. I don't go out in the daytime. Not only because I don't want to be seen, but I can't stand the sun's glare. It hurts my eyes and burns my skin like fire. There are plenty of caves around here to hide in. They may or may not have found Eleanor by now. I don't know. I dug a shallow grave and hid her body under some rocks, but they might have dogs searching as well, although I haven't heard any. I had no intention of killing her. At the time, I had no idea what had come over me. All I knew was that I was experiencing a hunger like I had never experienced before. And, instinctively, I knew she was food. I don't have a mirror to look at myself, but I can feel the fangs that seemed to have grown within a matter of hours after getting bit by Sam Egan. They feel sharp and stumpy. I don't have a pulse either. Which means, technically, that I'm dead. My physical speed seems to have increased a great deal, so I have no problem foraging for small desert creatures to feed on. But their blood is not the same as human blood. Without doubt, Sam Egan's bite on my arm had a devastating effect on me. I cannot account for this. I can only assume that our physical chemistry is proportionately different and therefore the negative reaction.
I don't know how long I can stay in this valley before they catch me. I don't plan on being caught. But I can't discount that either. All I know is that before they get me I need to taste human blood again. That's all I think about, is feeding. I need to savor that distinctive taste one more time. Just once.