Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Bedtime For Roswell

by P. B. Hampton


I took a vow 70 years ago that never would I divulge details of duties performed for my country. Therefore, the tale I am preparing to impart is a purported series of personal memories. Nothing within this document is to be accepted as factual even though every written word of it is truth. In point of fact, I don't recall being involved at all.

Why, after all this time, would an old, old man decide to get off his chest a thing with which he has obviously learned to live? Could it be construed as the final dramatic scene of his last act, strutting across worn and sagging boards which form the stage for his tired life? Or could this forthcoming owe to pangs far more private, such as a nagging sense of guilt he has harbored for nearly 64 years? Nah, he does it because he is a cantankerous old bastard who is sick to death of all that he said, she said, we saw, they said...

Harry liked him, is how he figured, back when the hero of this damned story was 24 years old. Seems mighty young, yes it does, to be called for by name into a one-on-one with Ol' Give-em-Hell Harry but that kid had carried a wizened soul inside a body the old, old man could not believe he had once owned.

He remembered what Harry had been wearing: a wrinkled white shirt, unbuttoned at his throat and a red tie which hung like a noose around his neck. And he also remembered the look in Harry's eyes, an unfocused gaze he would witness on several more faces within the next 20 hours.

"I knew we were opening a can of worms with that nuclear crap!" Harry spat.

"Yes sir." Hell, the kid was as cool as the proverbial cucumber despite the burning July heat and the so-so air conditioning they had back then. He didn't have a hair out of place, his head thick with dark strands which had been plastered to his skull by Wild Root Crème Oil. His mouth was filled by spotless teeth and his suit was crisp, tailored perfectly to fit his muscular body.

Good God, the old, old man reminisced, but did that boy think he was hot shit!

Harry wouldn't look him in the eyes, watching instead a groundskeeper on the lawn. "We got ourselves a mess out there in New Mexico."

"Yes sir, I caught some of the scuttlebutt."

"You don't know the half of it, young man! I want you out there on the double!"

The kid stood as if ordered to fetch a cup of coffee. That's the way it worked; they told him what to do and he did it.

"There's one thing you should know, son."

"Yes sir?"

Harry got to his feet as well, moving to a window where the gardener tended flowers. He would not turn his head away from the glass. "You were asked for by name."

"That's not a first, Mr. President."

Harry muttered something unintelligible, something which carried tired and defeated tones, never turning his head from the flowerbed as the kid went away.

####

He did not get there in a private plane, hell no, he didn't even exist! You could scan every flight log archived for July 10th, 1947 and would not see an extra piece of cargo on any of the lading sheets manifested for five different flights. The kid had swayed and bounced with the netted cargo in cavernous holds and the crewmen of those flights didn't care to notice; they knew what that kid did for his country.

His last hop touched down in New Mexico at three a.m. on July 11th. He dropped from the belly of the beast into surprisingly cool air, aided by a zephyr which slipped across his smooth chin (yes, he had shaved that damned baby face and had taken a whore's bath before landing). Roswell appeared as a mere mote of light in the distance, a tiny dot under an incalculable sea of stars. He admired the soft firmament, feeling the uncomfortable hardpan beneath his feet, finally deciding he lived upside down.

A jeep with its bug-splattered windshield locked in the up position slid to a stop before him. The driver was a sergeant, snapping gum as he eyed the kid with a sneer. "You can't be the guy.", he drawled.

"Nah", the kid had said as he climbed onto the passenger's seat, "no way I'm the guy. I can't be, because there isn't a guy."

The old, old man pauses his memories long enough to swallow a handful of pills, smiling as he did so. That sergeant had no idea what he had allowed to get in the jeep with him although he must have held, just like everyone else, a particular dislike for this kid who didn't even exist. He didn't miss a single stone, crack, bush, or crevice on their ride to the barracks. He was giving this pup of an O.S.S. agent the ride of his life, you see. Two things about that: the kid loved the ride and didn't work for the O.S.S., whatever that was.

Now, all you students of Roswell, casual or otherwise, have heard about a red-haired captain intimidating people to force them away from the area. Yeah? You've heard the mortician's tale? Many discount his version because he says the captain was flanked by an African-American sergeant. They called black folks Negroes back then, or buffalo soldiers if they did time in the service. Well, he was there all right, was that big black man and this fact was not lost on the kid; something awfully strange was afoot when segregation was ignored in 1947.

Anyway, that red-haired captain went straight for this baby-faced agent, of course he did, this kid in a full suit with his hair all slicked back. "Who in the blue fuck are you supposed to be?" The guy had a loud voice, probably frustrated as his rank was being ignored by all the suits and bigger brass running around. He also, very likely, had a reputation as a brawler, as a man to be feared. That was all well and good but the kid couldn't tolerate strident voices as a rule and that captain had moved so close there was no way around him as he puffed whiskey breath up the kid's nostrils.

"Stand down, Captain." He tried to keep his own voice as even as possible.

The captain blinked, shocked, uncertain that he had heard such a soft, audacious order. "What? Why, you little piss ant!" He reached as if intending to mess up the kid's perfect hair, maybe get a good laugh from soldiers who had gathered to watch.

So, the kid broke that infamous red-haired captain's collarbone and hip-tossed him into the bed of the jeep. He did it quickly and instinctively, no problem.

The old, old man looked at his bony hands, splotched by age, long arthritic fingers gnarled into virtual claws. Heaven above, such instruments they had once been!

A startled hush fell over the crowd, well, except for the captain who was howling like a desperate coyote from the back of the jeep. The kid looked around, as if inviting any further confrontations. "Let me pass, Sergeant."

"Awright, make a hole!" A cigar! The black sergeant was chewing the stub of an unlit cigar! There's a detail which could be cross-checked...

A lane opened, leading to a long wooden building with two wooden steps and a short porch. He entered through a screen door which had a spring attached so the door would clack shut behind him to keep out all the night fliers attracted to the light inside. It was a busy place, people in white clothes rushing to and fro, yet he stood there being dutifully ignored. Very strange sensation, as if his simple humanity made him invisible.

It wasn't long, however, before someone took notice. A red-eyed chaplain, another captain, rounded the corner of a hallway and spotted him. The guy made a beeline for the kid, clutching a worn Bible as if in water over his head and that book was a lifeline which kept him from going under. "Are you..." Now, here's where it gets a little tricky. Harry is the only real name this tale will allow and this particular mission is when he coined the term Double Top Secret. Make no mistake about this: if terrorist tried to take over the old, old man's street he would drag out his shotgun and give 'em a go, and that kid had been just as patriotic. So, we'll just make up names as we go. No big deal, really, just names to carry conversations which took place that morning. "Are you George Washington?" the juicy-eyed chaplain asked as he drew near.

"Yes sir. Please, Captain, do not put hands on me."

"But you have the power to stop this insanity! Don't you see? It has asked for you by name!"

"Please, sir..."

At that moment, roaring in like a tsunami with junior officers as little boats in his wake, a general appeared from the hallway. "Stand down, Captain!" he bellowed. The guy had a couple of stars and that is saying too much about him already; we simply don't do names in our business.

"General Lincoln (Abraham, see?), please sir, the Lord begs for mercy!"

"Then He shouldn't have put us in this mess to begin with!" He turned to a pair of armed soldiers caught up in his wash. "Escort the captain to his quarters."

They braced the guy and led him away; echoes from the sorrowful litany he droned could be heard bouncing along the hallway.

General Lincoln knew the kid; they had done business before this event. "I'm not real happy to see you, Washington."

"Is that so? And here I thought myself such a delight."

"I got a good notion to make you disappear, boy!"

That kid, that damned kid, just smiled. "You'd better get some help, don't you think? Yeah, I'd recommend you get yourself a little more help." When no one offered movement he said very softly: "Stand down, General."

What is that long-standing mnemonic for the colors within a prism? Roy, good boy, eats vegetables? Yep, and General Lincoln's face went through every one of those hues over the next few seconds. Finally, just before it appeared he might burst open, he deflated with a huge and helpless sigh. "Come on, Washington, follow me."

Down the hallway on wooden flooring, something frantic going on in one of the rooms to his right as they passed, out the back door into dark, nippy morning air. The ground was packed as hard as asphalt, a huge hangar looming against the clear sky.

For just a twinkling, rising in his breast like lost love, the kid realized Van Gogh's vision. No wonder, he thought, that the guy painted from an asylum ward; nobody could stand that much beauty without going a little crazy. He was brought thudding back to earth as the hangar blocked his view of the sky. Two more armed soldiers bracketed a slit in the massive doors to the hangar, snapping stiff as General Lincoln approached.

The kid saw that look on their faces in the gloaming, sort of lost and powerless, the same one Harry had shown back at the Oval Office.

Inside were yet two more armed soldiers, this pair guarding an entrance made of dangling rubber strips which served as a doorway set into a hastily constructed wall made of what appeared to be translucent glass. The old, old man was beginning to fret, dreading the memories, but the kid refused to show anything other than a calm façade.

"Dammit, Washington," General Lincoln bemoaned, "we need more time! Why does it have to be this way?"

"I never ask myself that question, General, and I damn sure don't ask our bosses."

A figure pushed through the rubber slits: a man in a protective suit. He wore a helmet with a hose attachment appearing like a snout which curved over his left shoulder to hook into a backpack, apparently a filtering device of some kind. The headgear had a glass aperture for him to see through and he looked the kid up and down. "This is the one whom it has called for, this kid?"

"Yes," General Lincoln nodded, "he's the one. Don't be fooled by his baby face."

The man, who had to be a doctor, stepped close in the dim interior so their eyes could meet. "What kind of man are you?" His voice whined through the snout.

"It would seem I am the kind who gets called for." The kid began removing the crisp jacket he wore, a terrible anger threatening to enter the pit of his stomach.

"Get him a protective garment." the doctor ordered to no one in particular.

"Belay that! I won't require a protective suit but I will need soap and a bucket of warm water."

"What in heaven's name for?"

"So I can wash this grease out of my hair." The kid was both surprised and angry at just how close he was to tears. "She doesn't like it."

"We have yet to establish a gender..."

"Get me water, goddamn it, and soap!"

No, no, no, the old, old man buried his face in big, lumpy hands. Even now, 64 years removed, he was trying to rein the kid in. Unpleasant things happened whenever the younger model lost his cool.

The kid was snatching off clothes, slinging his tie, popping a button or two on his shirt as he revealed his torso. An officer in the general's entourage gasped loudly before he could catch himself. "What's the matter, Colonel, never seen any battle scars before?"

"Dear God, son, where have you been?"

Bite it! Chew it! Swallow it down! The kid fought back a red haze which threatened to overcome him, finally relaxing enough to draw a breath. "To a place where many other American soldiers have been, sir, maybe just a little deeper is all."

Oh, such an instrument he had been back then! What is it they work so hard in the gym to get these days? Six-packs? The kid was packing a twelve-pack, shoulders wide and supple, with the waistline of a damned ballerina. He never did like anyone seeing his ravaged body; it told them that when the war was over here was a warrior who didn't know how to stop fighting.

A soldier poked his head through the slit in the doors of the hangar. "Could we do this out here, sir?"

The kid, as the time drew near, grappled with a horrible despair. He could sense her, could feel her crying out for him.

"Stow that sir shit, soldier. You're older than me."

"All right, what do I call you?" The guy was a corporal, scared by all the recent happenings, a pail of water rattling in his right hand. He probably had a wife and children, hell he damned sure had a life! At least he had a name that didn't have to be whispered!

"Relax, Corporal, okay? Don't worry about calling me anything because I don't even exist." He bent at the waist. "Pour."

The corporal had a rough towel thrown across a shoulder, laying a heavy bar of soap in the kid's right hand. "All they would give me was cold water. I'm sorry, but you don't seem to be very well liked around here."

"That's all right because I don't give much of a damn about myself right now. Pour it, Corporal, just do your job."

"I'm sorry." the corporal whispered as he tilted the bucket.

The old, old man rubbed his bald head, still able to recall that stinging cold against a starry summer's night, as he made motions of soaping up a full head of hair. "It's all right, Corporal," he answered softly in unison with the kid, "rinse."

The makeshift officer's club was very silent when he returned. They were obviously frustrated, feeling as helpless as the kid, but they were also patriots who followed their orders to stay out of his way. He put his shirt back on, starting for the doorway made of rubber strips. The man in the protective suit, who had removed the bulky helmet of that outrageous get-up, dared to reach a restraining hand as the kid neared the doorway.

"Doctor..." the general warned, but the groping hand had caught a forearm. The kid looked down at that hand as if he had never seen such a thing. He was so distracted, sensing her need so powerfully, that he would later have trouble recalling this brief aside.

"Please, is there no other way?" the doctor pleaded.

He gently removed the hand from his forearm. "Doctor, I am the other way." He pushed through the rubber strips, into a hallway lined with plastic sheeting. Now, in 1947 you couldn't run down to the corner hardware and grab yourself a roll of plastic but the Army Air Force had it, oh yes they did. He wondered fleetingly if this handy stuff was a byproduct of Cape Girardeau...The pathway was narrow, leading to a shiny window set into another make-do wooden wall. The kid, damn, damn, the kid was fighting against a lump threatening to clog his throat. He walked right up to the window, damp hair hanging down to his eyes, and looked inside. He saw a table with five chairs aroundit, a small cot and an extraterrestrial being; pretty hard to elaborate because that's all that was in there.

She sat on the edge of the cot, facing away from the window, probably so tired of being studied like a fish in a bowl. He was beginning to cry. God in heaven, he couldn't bear looking! How could he do what he had been called to do?

Greetings, little one.

Oh dear God, why? Why did it have to be her? Huh uh, nope, this was one goddamned assignment too many! This was one he just wouldn't be able to do! And yet, how could he not? He had no trouble understanding her means of communication for he had been taught the elegant geometry required to convert thoughts into words. That is to say he could receive messages, not yet able to send any. The exchange was actually quite natural, no reason whatsoever to disturb the atmosphere with vibrations, but he could not get the mathematics to emit beyond his thick skull.

Where is your voice child? Would you not greet your friend?

It took everything he had to keep from breaking but he was, sure enough, one tough bastard. "Hello, Zizi." His voice irritated his own ears; it was a caveman's grunting compared to her sublime transmissions.

The old, old, man laid his wrinkled face in the crook of his arm and did what that kid could not: he bawled. Great, salty human tears soaked the sleeve of his robe as this memory he had kept locked tight broke free to consume him. He might as well have been standing right outside that window!

We knew our little one would never forsake us.

"Oh, Zizi, why does it have to be you?"

You presume the greater, child. Your Zizi is as any other.

"Not to me you're not, huh uh, never!"

We require your touch. Does our little one no longer love his Zizi?

He didn't need to answer for she knew how he felt: they had played when he was a child; she had shown him wondrous things! She also understood his weaknesses for she moved to face him, flitting to the window in that jerky way they move: a progression which included a sort of dipping in and out of his human's range of sight. Actually, years before, Zizi had explained how they glide along a continuum but it involved more than one dimension and he never could get it. Anyway, she was suddenly on the other side of the glass, looking up at him with yearning in those big black eyes. Now, the average Joe could see a roomful of Zizi's species and not be able to tell one from the next. The experience would be, to Joe, like looking into a jar filled with bees. But the kid could pick his Zizi out, oh yes he could, and he knelt on his side of the glass so their eyes could meet.

Oh, dear God, she had been burned! "Zizi...!" The tears came unabated, his heart so full that something had to give before he burst.

Find your strength, child! You were intended for this moment.

"But, Zizi, I love you!" he wailed.

She drew him into those big black eyes where he had so many times before seen himself. The moment is now at hand for your love to shine. And with that she did something she would never have done if he hadn't been so weak: she gave him her pain.

"Noooo! Yaaahhh!" He came to his feet, bringing the wall with him. It wouldn't have mattered if the damned thing had been made of steel, oh God, his Zizi was on fire! Nails creaked, boards cracked, glass shattered. He had lost his mind, he had found his love! Zizi was about the size of a ten-year-old girl, spreading wide her little arms to welcome him, closing her eyes so he could not see the monster she had set loose.

The old, old man was on his feet, working with the kid, reaching to take her head into hands made savage by love and snapping her thin neck quick and clean. She sighed (the old, old man heard it once again, turning his head to look behind him) and slumped into the kid's waiting arms. His rage dimmed as quickly as it had shone, gently cradling her limp, virtually weightless body to his breast. She had taken her place among the lights of heaven, he knew this, and could not have gone there on her own, a really big no-no there, nor could her family have sent her. It had to be the kid; he had been picked by Zizi and trained for this moment. If he had failed her, if he couldn't have gotten through that wall, she would have been left in a limbo of some sort. He didn't understand, not really, although he did realize he had been entrusted with a glorious honor...

The cavalry arrived about then, two or three of the infantrymen drawing a bead on him with their carbines as he gingerly lay his Zizi down and stood up straight. "Go ahead, do it!" He spread his arms as Zizi had done. There are no words on this earth to illustrate how little that damned kid cared right then about what would happen to him.

"As you were," General Lincoln ordered his troops. "The man has done his job."

The doctor stepped forward, shaking his head as he surveyed the amazing destruction which had occurred in a matter of seconds. "Why did it have to be like this? We would have done it! For the love of God, we are not barbarians!"

"No," the kid said, "thanks to them we're not. It had to be me, Doctor, although you are quite correct; it didn't have to be done like this. I was too weak to do it any other way."

General Lincoln turned to his gawking entourage and their armed escorts. "You are dismissed, return to your posts. Commanders, wait for me outside."

That doctor, who might have joined Zizi by now if he proved worthy enough, was just so perplexed. "They knew this would happen?"

"Yes, they knew, just as they know what will follow."

"Nothing will follow," General Lincoln promised, "because this thing is going to be locked down tight!"

The kid smiled patiently, wiping his red eyes. "Would Jesus have become an international icon if he had just traveled around preaching his gospel? Would Joan of Arc have been sainted had she merely purported direct communication with God?"

The doctor got it first: "Martyrdom?"

"Yes. Do you imagine, given their technology, that one of their craft would go shuddering across the desert floor? What luck, for us, their machine hadn't crashed into the Empire State Building. This event, shrouded by the dubious cover-up to come, will live well into the future and will slowly open otherwise closed minds along the way. They tried this once before, prior to the atomic age, at Cape Girardeau in Missouri. There were no survivors there nor did it slip out before the government had a chance to cap a lid on it. After we displayed our willingness to use atomic weaponry they had to do it again, and this time there would be a big leak before it got muzzled. There would also be a survivor to intensify the legend as well as opening a dialogue..." He looked to the doctor who was listening raptly. "How many days did she try to communicate with a telepath before she called for me?"

"Three.", the doctor replied. "I'm afraid our comprehension was found wanting."

Three days in that much pain! The kid lowered himself to straighten one of Zizi's arms which had gotten under her little body. "I don't believe they figured on how badly the survivor would have to suffer."

"We did all we could!" the doctor defended. "With God as my witness, I would never allow a creature of any species to suffer!" He looked like he might cry, now realizing the pain my Zizi must have endured while she was trying to make them see.

"It's okay, Doctor, she understands."

"Well," General Lincoln grumbled, "I don't! What good is all this?"

"There will be a committee formed, Harry will see to that." The kid felt a tremendous peace within, as if an old nagging pain had been soothed. "They will meet with opened minds to sort out our futures. Rumors will fly, legends will grow, and they'll have one hell of a time keeping it all under wraps which is just what the visitors wanted. It's ironic," the kid smiled, "that duplicity will be the catalyst for honest dialogue. Open your eyes, gentlemen, they are here and have been for a very long time. They are willing to teach us, probably so we don't ionize each other, but the citizens of the world will have to be prepared in small doses. The media, most specifically through bulk letters and cinematic showcasing will play a large part in the coming years." He smiled, realizing the beauty of their plan. "This would have passed quickly, would it not, if a strange craft had simply crashed in the desert? Hell, the Army Air Force was trying out some kind of new flying machine, huh? But there was a survivor, and enough people saw her to grow the legend, so we would be forced to face the future knowing we are pretty much like children in this galaxy and need their knowledge to thrive. And not just America, oh no, this sort of thing will happen in Russia, France, Great Britain...Their hope, I would imagine, is that we will one day finally realize we should all live as one species on this planet rather than a bunch of diverse creatures who have learned to hate each other. It will take time, we may not live to see it, and religion is going to build walls against it all over the world. The citizens of our planet will learn new and wondrous things in spite of our worst efforts. How we use what they give us, of course, remains to be seen."

General Lincoln was staring hard. "Hell, boy, for somebody who has never put more than five words together that I know of, you sure did some talking just then."

"I am speaking for her." He nodded to the lifeless form of his Zizi. "I realize now how much effort they put into me just so I could be here today."

The doctor nodded. "When were you chosen for this incredible obligation?"

"I was six or eight when they began preparing my psyche, as well as my physiology, for this morning's event. I would have to guess they must be a bit surprised at the weakness I displayed when the time came because they were eventually forced into helping me by allowing me to feel her pain. I think they underestimated the power of love; they might have taken a lesson away from this as well."

General Lincoln was nodding. "If they had made a show of their superiority we might have crawled into our damned defensive shells. Very smart, demonstrating their mortality by crashing their craft just as any human pilot could do."

"That's right, sir, and leaving bodies for us to examine. Their message is this: You are not alone but your physiology is unique throughout the cosmos. They are, as much as showing their willingness to interact, trying to make us aware of ourselves."

The doctor squatted next to my Zizi who was now at peace. "Ingenious. This event will be talked about for decades, with every question sprouting a counter question."

"Yes." The kid was done, taking his leave as he stepped through the rubble he had created. He felt...neutral, as if he had been released from a set of grinding gears.

"Where are you going?" General Lincoln asked. "We could use a man like you."

"It's no good, General, because I'm no longer a man like me."

He didn't look back either, and Harry, followed by Ike, ordered him left alone until he was out of the loop altogether. Committees were formed, dialogue was opened, and we entered the computer age when they gave us the amazing microchip.

After that day I felt as if a burning spear had been pulled from my heart. I had been driven to kill, one of the best they had after the war, just to keep my edge so I wouldn't fail when my time came. And, damn, I was almost undone by love when I was finally called. Powerful stuff, love...

I now just bide my time, a wrinkled old man with three cats and a dog named Zizzle. I broke a toe last March and the doctor who examined me reminded me of someone. I would have to guess he was wondering why I was so emotional about a cracked toe. He did some blood work and demanded a second panel because he couldn't believe the first set of readings. He said he had seen men half my age who would like having my numbers.

When I was a boy and would play with Zizi, after those somber guardians in attendance would so curiously observe my delight, she would give me a pill. She told me it was for my internal care. I was never sick growing up and have always had amazing endurance. Zizi had chosen me, way back then, to be the one who would send her into the lights of heaven. Sometimes I smile at being given such an honor, sometimes I cry.

Roswell was not an accident. Everyone who saw what they saw and said what they said, well, they were all part of the plan. Yes, there was a massive government cover-up. Big deal. Yes, there was a committee called Majestic 12. Big deal. What was a big deal was a survivor who opened a lot of minds, answering all the questions she could bear before she had to call for me. The big deal was one tiny creature who gave herself to help our world.

Writers began turning their talents toward our tenuous future; filmmakers began demonstrating how we indomitable earthlings could overcome every threat from beyond. The major powers of our planet turned their eyes to the sky, devising ways to get up there. All of this after Roswell, all of this after my Zizi suffered so to get our attention.

I'm tired, okay? I might be healthy enough but I am, after all, 88 years old and I nodded off a couple of times during this tale. Believe it or don't, that's up to you, but friends, it is ancient history. There are a lot greater concerns you could be spending your investigative energies on. So, if you would, please, repeat after me:

Good night, Roswell, good night.

THE END


© 2011 P. B. Hampton

Bio: P. B. Hampton describes himself as a work-a-day man who is proud to be a human being and is happy to carry about his portion of the foibles required by that particular station. (He also says that we should all be grateful that he did not supply an author photo...)

E-mail: P. B. Hampton

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