Aphelion Issue 272, Volume 26
May 2022
 
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The Sky Daughter

by Meg Smith


Kelsie carried an envelope with her in her bag. She took it out at lunch, every day, and opened it.

The envelope was full of letters from her mother.

Invariably, they became mixed, but Kelsie decided long ago it didn’t really matter what order in which she read them.

After all, she knew the chronology of events.

“Dear Kelsie,” her mother wrote, “Santa Fe is a lot colder than I thought it would be. But very beautiful. You would like it. Someone asked me if we were from Saturn. Ha! I told them, ‘Wrong neighborhood.’ I’m glad you’re doing well in school. I am so proud you got an ‘A’ in your history project. Valentina Tereshkova is a very important lady! A lady astronaut! I’m hoping we’ll get back your way in the months to come. Miss you. Love, Mom.”

Roswell, Kelsie thought.

There was no way her mother went to New Mexico without going there. And not only that, Kelsie knew, it had been a big disappointment.

So, her mother had left out that part. No mention of diminutive aliens, the wreckage of a spaceship, or dazed earthlings with a strange story to tell of abduction.

 

Because she didn’t want to hurt me, Kelsie thought. It was like a mantra in her mind. She didn’t want to hurt me.

But her mother had left an aching hurt Kelsie knew would never heal.

Kelsie wished more people understood this, but she had given up trying to tell them.

They didn’t understand. Just like they couldn’t grasp that she, Kelsie Grand, the daughter of Cynthia Dren, worked in a florist’s shop, and was able to stay in a comfortable home because of the largesse of friends.

One of those friends was Celia, who owned the shop, A Dream of Flowers, where Kelsie worked.

When Kelsie was growing up, at night, when skies were clear, she and her mother would go to Blanchard Park.

They would look up, searching for any light that appeared to move erratically, or would move closer to them. No matter how many times they failed to see such a light, they kept looking.

A woman came into the florist. Kelsie could tell by the rivulets in her makeup that the woman was there to pick out a funeral arrangement.

They had them online, too, but Kelsie knew a certain person would always want to come into the florist and look at the book.

Kelsie said, “Take your time,” in a soft voice she had cultivated for speaking with people in the midst of bereavement.

There was a small, round table set up for people to sit and look at the book. “Would you like some water?” Kelsie offered.

 

“Oh, no, thank you. But if you have some Scotch!” They both laughed.

The woman pored over the pages, and announced, “You know. I think he sold drugs. Crack, mostly, but he had a sideline in Oxycontin. What sort of arrangement do you suggest for someone like that?”

It was not the first time Kelsie had heard such a request. “Well,” she said. “There’s an orange blossom spray. I think it’s the most — sensitive.”

The woman smiled, and her makeup broke into a hundred smiles across her face. “Yes,” the woman said. “That would be perfect. Goodness, my dear, you are good!”

Kelsie smiled. “We’re here to help.” She reached under the counter, and pulled out a bottle, and poured two small paper cups. She held out one to the woman. They bumped the cups together, and tipped them back.

Over time, she came to realize that the florist shop was, for some people, a kind of otherworld, a planet in and of itself, ruled by beautiful flowers.

There was a Victorian-style couch, a fainting couch. People could sit  — or faint, if they needed to — or pet the store dog, Merv, an arthritic golden retriever, who trotted over to visitors with a gentle sense of authority.

Rarely did anyone ask Kelsie about her mother. It was one reason working in the florist shop suited her.

Anyone coming in there — whether because of death, a breakup, a furtive apology after an alcohol-powered fling — was too absorbed in their own worries.

 

But that day, after the woman left, satisfied in picking out the right arrangement for a deceased, self-styled apothecary, Kelsie looked at her reflection in the door of the refrigeration unit.

There she was, a slight, pale-gray woman with round spectacles, surrounded by roses seemingly in a dance of frozen animation.

“I’m stepping into a spacecraft every day whether I want to or not,” she mused, reaching for the bottle under the counter, and putting it down again.

She glanced over at Merv, spread out like a languid, threadbare stuffed lion, in repose. He was done comforting humans for one day.

There had been a time, for a little while, after the news broke, and the curiosity-seekers found her, that Kelsie feared she would lose her job, that even Cynthia would finally say, “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t do this.”

There were the Trekkies, who came in dressed in vintage-style uniforms — including short dresses and go-go boots for the girls. “Live long, and prosper,” one of them intoned. Then, “Sorry. Too late.”

They all disintegrated into giggles.

Kelsie had pulled out a toy blaster a previous customer had given her. When she brandished it, the self-styled cosmic comedians stumbled into each other, and she was afraid they’d all collapse in a heap.

Merv barked.

“That’s dog for ‘Your act needs work,’” Kelsie snapped at them.

“I guess it’s true,” one of them gasped, in amazement.

 

The group left soberly, now just mere terrestrials in cheap outfits.

A couple days later, one of them, a girl, came back in. Kelsie did not recognize her right away, because now she was wearing a T-shirt that said St. Clarence, and her hair, wispy and white-blonde, was in pigtails.

There was a look of pure contrition in her eyes. “Um, I’m really sorry.”

“Okay?” Kelsie said, and Merv gave a high-pitched sneeze.

“The other day. My friends.”

“Ah.” Kelsie remembered.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. It was my boyfriend’s idea. And he’s —”

“An ass hamper,” Kelsie finished for her.

“I was gonna say, history. But, yeah.”

“Okay,” Kelsie said, grimly. “Cool. You apologized. Have a good day.” It wasn’t the first cruel joke, and it wasn’t the first apology.

“So, anyway — I’d like to buy a single red rose.”

“Sure.” Kelsie went to the refrigerated cabinet, selected a rose, and wrapped it with her swift, punctual grace. “Here you go. Anyone special?”

Kelsie realized that this girl’s ex-boyfriend would not be coming in to buy her “I’m sorry” flowers, because he was the type who was never sorry.

“It’s for me,” the girl said. “My name’s Lynn, by the way. I’ve decided I don’t need a guy to buy me flowers.”

After that, Lynn came in regularly, to buy herself a single red rose.

 

Kelsie kept, in a cabinet in her room, a stash of CDs and in some cases, VHS tapes, ink faded on the side labels. There were recordings of herself in various interviews she’d given, and would still occasionally give.

After the shock of it all, Kelsie realized events moved swiftly, from one disaster to the next, taking the attention of the world with it.

It was both a relief, and overwhelmingly lonely. Few people could understand how talking on Larry King or The History Channel or that woman named Spinner from National Public Radio was helpful.

“You’re just inviting trouble,” Ephraim, one of her housemates, said. Ephraim was Cynthia’s ex, who still inhabited her house, like an agreeable ghost in a gray flannel sweatshirt, with a bowl of Cheerios for supper.

She did, from time to time, field the odd postcard from someone claiming they had been abducted, including from one woman who insisted that her captors insisted on her reciting, over and over, “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot.

Kelsie’s reactions ran from humor to impatience to anger.

She had resolutely refused to give interviews to anyone with a show about UFOs. This earned her, in some circles, nasty nicknames. Ephraim, Cynthia and Lynn, with whom she became distantly friendly, advised her not to listen to or watch them.

But this did not stop her one time from tuning in to a Podcast called Searching the Skies.

 They were making a joke about her mother, but the host, Clarence Fisher, told the joke-maker — the best-selling author of a book about alien architects, “to stuff himself in a flying saucer full of shit.”

 

Kelsie felt compelled to email Clarence and thank him. Kelsie turned down his invitation to come on the show — “You could vindicate her” — and Kelsie thought this would be the end of it.

Clarence continued a correspondence, though he did not repeat his request.

Kelsie came to look forward to his quirky notes, and even an animated alien waving from a passing spaceship, saying, “Keep looking up.”

From anyone else, it might have been annoying, but from Clarence, it made Kelsie smile and tear up at the same time.

 

Lois Pinehurst was born Dec. 1, 1931, in Broken Bow, Nebraska. She came into the world in a place where the Depression had destroyed crops, incomes, and lives.

When Lois was eight, her father had hopped a box car, telling his wife and daughter he was going in search of work. He may well have been — he was the only kid in his family to graduate high school, and everyone said George Pinehurst was “going places.”

But as the freight train rattled through the cold night, he was thrown to his death amid an argument over a poker game, and his insistence that a man named Clyde Tombaugh had discovered a planet called Pluto.

Lois’ mother had not waited for news of his fate, and instead packed up her daughter and put her on another train — a passenger train — headed east to some relatives better-situated than she.

Lois learned to blot her parents from her mind, like smearing a watercolor angrily with a saturated brush. In any case, her mother’s family was kind, and her needs were met.

She grew acclimated to life in New England, looking forward to fire-gold of leaves in autumn, and school field trips to the Peabody Museum of Comparative Zoology.

She most enjoyed her time with an unmarried aunt named Lucinda, who wore long black dresses and long, loose white hair, and was cheerfully indifferent to her spouseless state.

Lucinda had inherited a house and a trust, and liked to hold salons for assorted college professors and intellectuals.

But her favorite guests were members of the Theosophical Society. At first, Lois could not pronounce “theosophical.”  When the gathering got down to the business of summoning loved ones from the beyond, Lois was entranced.

Asked if she cared to call on her parents, Lois said matter-of-factly, “No, thanks,” and asked about H.G. Wells, author of War of the Worlds. The gathering was amused and slightly unnerved.

For years, Lois cherished her memory of sitting in a dark, candlelit room, chatting with H.G. Wells and insisting that maybe not all Martians were bad.

 

Eventually, Lois’ aunt split from the theosophical society. Lucinda was warming to the idea of a kinship with extraterrestrial beings. There were no hard feelings — Lucinda wanted to shift her focus from spirits of the hereafter to attracting friends from space, whether near or far.

 

But cancer began to steal her strength, though not her resolve. She lived long enough to watch the launch of the manned mission to the moon, in 1969, on a television in her hospital room. Lois held her aunt’s hand, smoothing the long, flowing white hair, spread out like an aura around her pillow.

 

Lucinda waved her hand at the television screen. “Someday, women will go, too,” Lois said, kissing her aunt’s cooling forehead.

 

Her aunt’s last gesture, of salutations to the astronauts, was captured in her still form, her eyes still gleaming with a celestial light. To Lois, the scene on the television blurred, as tears flooded her view.

Lois had channeled her love of science into nursing. It was her aunt, Lucidna, who said, “You’ll be self-sufficient. You’ll always have work. And you will be using science to help people.”

Lois surprised herself with her own technical mastery, and the tenderness and when necessary, firmness in dealing with patients.

She felt her days as a Depression orphan were a distant dream, a page from someone else’s life. She had Albert, a husband with sturdy roots in the area, and a sturdy job as an engineer. Everyone said how well-suited they were to each other.

Indeed, as their 25th anniversary approached, Lois repeated friends’ observations to herself, sometimes when driving to work, sometimes, in a whisper, while walking the halls of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Somerville.

They had three children — a daughter, followed in three years by fraternal twins, a boy and a girl.

 

She named her oldest Celeste Lucinda — which provoked one of the few marital arguments. The name “Celeste,” meant “heavenly.” Albert was aware of his wife’s fascination with space, but didn’t want it imprinted on their children’s birth certificates.

But, he conceded, and fashioned the nickname “Kelsie,” which sounded more Earthbound to him. When the twins were born, Lois wanted to name them Apollo and Artemis — after the sun and moon goddess, who were brother and sister.

Another argument ensued, in the hospital room. Lois said, “Fine. I just shot two kids out of my body into this world. I’m too tired to argue.” “Apollo” became Albert, a paternal namesake, and “Artemis” became Anne.

When a Greek family introduced a girl and boy named Apollo and Artemis, into the twins’ kindergarten class, Lois did not know whether to feel triumphant, or resentful.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Lois adored the twins, but they went about their schoolwork, play, eating and chores with the same gravity-harnessed determination as their father.

Albert had an artistic side, she knew — he painted landscapes, but found less time amid work, home repairs, and a second job to help save for the kids’ college.

It was her oldest daughter, Kelsie, in whom Lois found a true kinship. When an ailing Lucinda beheld the baby girl, she declared her great niece “a little emissary,” and implored, “Bring her up well. This one has the touch.”

Lois brought the tiny, wriggling bundle outside, in the dark of night, at Blanchard Park, and held her up jubilantly to the dazzling stars. She was baptized at the First Methodist church, but Lois would always consider that night to be Celeste’s true christening.

 

Blanchard Park would become their sanctuary. Shortly after Kelsie’s seventh birthday, they went on one such outing. Kelsie said, “Mum, what if a spaceship comes and kidnaps us?”

After a moment, Lois said, “It wouldn’t be kidnapping if we went willingly. If they wanted us to go with them, would you want to?”

“Oh, Mom!” Kelsie laughed, and mother and daughter smiled at each other in the starlight.

 

Even as her parents’ marriage fractured, Kelsie kept an intense closeness with her mom.

 

Eagerly, they watched the same shows together — Lost in Space, Star Trek — and not even a cruel joke, many years later, could spoil her love of it, or the idea of women, and even kids, traveling the depths of the universe.

They stood in line to see Chariots of the Gods? And mother and daughter each had her own, dog-eared copy of the book.

Then, one day, her mother gathered all the children to tell them she was leaving.

Kelsie said nothing during this announcement, and then went to a friend’s house, where she dissolved into shaking sobs.

Soon after her mother left, Kelsie began receiving letters, postmarked with places in the Midwest, the Southwest, with raving descriptions of the unobstructed night sky.

“Your mother,” her father said, “is off to find her mission.”

Her mother would write of gatherings around campfires, even traveling in a camper whose denizens included a pet iguana named Tex.

 

As her aunt Lucinda predicted, her mother’s nursing skills served her well, allowing her to work at clinics and even birthing centers, and the occasional homecare job. She sent money to her husband, and to Kelsie, with erratic regularity.

In one letter, postmarked from Oklahoma City, her mother reported excitedly that she had met Hayden Hewes. Kelsie remembered — the great UFO sleuth, who her mother talked with for over an hour.

Another was postmarked from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Seeing how near her mother had been had sent a shooting pain through Kelsie’s system.

In Portsmouth, her mother had written about her audience with none other than Betty Hill. Betty Hill and her late husband, Barney, were driving home from a vacation in Canada when they said aliens accosted them on the craggy, granite-etched roadside.

While in Portsmouth, her mother had written to say she also met Norman Muscarello, who as a hitch-hiking teenager had a terrifying encounter with a UFO near Exeter, New Hampshire.

 

Her mother, it was clear, was on a mission. About two weeks after the New Hampshire visit, Kelsie got a letter confirming this.

A race from a planet called Eden would contact Earth people of their choosing, and they had chosen her. And Kelsie. But Kelsie should finish school first, Lois urged her daughter.

“And then we can reunite, my dearest. I know there is a place on this path for you, too.”

It was Lois’ job to collect the chosen—to form a community based on Eden’s principles of love and fellowship — a Paradise on Earth.

 

Kelsie harbored some disappointment. It seemed a compromise, when their real desire had been to go someplace else, off this planet. But maybe in doing so, the Edenites would arrange to visit Eden. They’d have to be ready.

Then came the TV appearance.

Kelsie remembered her mother as hard-working, someone who read astronomy books as well as astrology, who had an autographed copy of the Cosmic Connection, by Carl Sagan, the young astronomer making his own headlines.

But on television, the people surrounding her mother did not remind Kelsie much of Carl Sagan, or even of her mother.

“They’re lost souls,” her father announced. He stopped short of saying anything about Kelsie’s mother, but her younger siblings did not have the same inhibition.

“Mom’s spaceshot,” declared Albert, turning to leave the living room. Before anyone could stop her, Kelsie picked up a copy of The Atlas of the Solar System from the coffee table, and flung it in the direction of her brother’s head.

She clocked him squarely on the back of the skull, and he fell.

“Look out for meteors, shit bucket,” Kelsie shouted. Her father exclaimed something unintelligible, and Anne, as she did in any crisis, began jogging in place, batting her hands against her ears and screaming.

Albert went to the hospital with a concussion. Kelsie felt only vaguely remorseful.

But, with the later letters and postcards from her mother, Kelsie found herself reluctantly thinking there was some truth in what her brother had said.

 

There were Days of Reconciliation — in which her mother’s followers would go to a certain place, and the place always seemed to be a remote outpost, like a highway in a desert, or a trail deep within a forest.

The people of an old, wise and gentle race would come and join them from beyond — sometimes Mars, sometimes Pluto, sometimes an exotically different place outside the solar system.

They never came. Or if they did, her mother remained mute about it in her correspondence to Kelsie — which never included a return address, or a place that Kelsie could join her.

At that time, a new millennium was approaching, and the news seemed filled with ominous portents. Her mother’s cards and letters told of events interpreted to be signals, especially the scarlet sun that blazed as fires erupted on the west U.S. coast.

“We’re not fighting fire with fire,” her mother had written. “We’re fighting it with the might of the ocean. A sage once said, ‘The way to heaven is as good by water as by land.’”

This message came to Kelsie on a postcard from San Francisco, with the Haight-Ashbury Street sign. A crossroads. They were at a crossroads.

“The way to heaven is as good by water as by land.”

Her mother had written such things before, but this note struck Kelsie with alarm. Kelsie told her father,” I need to get out west. I need to see Mom.”

Her father only said, “Well if you need to go, you should go.”

No offer of help for a plane ticket, nothing. Kelsie had simmered with anger.

 

But by the time Kelsie received the card, everything had been orchestrated, and the plan put into place.

The cars — long, heavy Buicks, station wagons, Oldsmobiles, all relics from the 1970s — were lined up at a craggy, rock-covered pass, high above a grim, black shoreline.

Several passing motorists called the police to alert them of this formation of cars, some of which had stars and planets spray-painted on their sides, and some with silver banners streaming from the windows.

A woman, small but resolute, stepped out of the front passenger side of one of the vehicles.

She surveyed the row of cars, and announced in a clear voice over the coastal breeze: “Today we join our brothers and sisters in space. You’ve seen the runes in the Perseids. It is time to go.”

With that, she slid back into the car and closed the door. One by one, the engines roared, and one after another, drove off the cliff, hovering for just a moment before sailing in rapid arc to the waters below.

Police arrived. One officer went down with the last car, as he leapt forward in a futile effort to force the driver door open.

Great, splashing, fallen crafts — like meteorites striking the water’s surface.

It was over in barely three minutes. Some of them sang, others muttered prayers to themselves. Some simply sat quietly, with eyes closed as the water rose around them.

A dive team managed to save a couple of them. But some of the rescued managed to break free and, picking up heavy stones along the edges, leapt back into the water.

 

Kelsie’s mother, Cynthia Dren, the great leader of the Eden Brotherhood, was simply gone. As was most of the Brotherhood. Her mother had one of her closest followers tape her hands to the steering wheel.

Most of these details were scrawled in a note with an orange marker, a note included in a package, wrapped in a brown paper shopping bag, by a woman named Catrice Leger.

The package included some notebooks with her mom’s writing, a plush extraterrestrial figurine that Leger said had sat on her mother’s nightstand, and a red envelope with a Christmas card in it.

When Kelsie had opened the Christmas card, there was a note in it, with instructions.

“I know some of this won’t make sense right away,” her mother had written. “But you have always trusted your own instincts. I am asking you to trust mine. When the time is right, go to the bend in the road in New Hampshire. There, you will find your answers. I love you always, Mom.”

Kelsie went into hiding, in the basement of her family’s home, huddling on a cot meant for camping, crying. Her vision filled with purple flares that did not fade for a few days.

It was Celia who insisted on coming to see her, and shaking her out of her grief-filled fog.

“Come work with me,” Celia said. “You’re still here on Earth, and as long as you are, you need a job.”

Kelsie did find that the routine of going to the flower shop every day — of talking to customers, of stocking the refrigerated cabinets with bundles of roses, of feeding and petting Merv — provided a structure she did not fully expect.

 

But the packet of her mom’s letters provided her a link, and as long as she had that, Kelsie found she could in fact, cope with life on Earth.

Apart from the occasional jokesters, or invitations to talk with the media, Kelsie found that her life had become quite ordinary.

But a part of her had surrendered any hope of a truly normal life. For her, there would be no falling in love, no buying a house, no retiring to travel the country in a Winnebago.

And then, one day, a woman walked into the florist shop. It was a chilly, winter day, and red roses and ribbons were in abundance in the shop, to remind boyfriends and husbands that Valentine’s Day was near and they better remember.

It was clear, however, that this woman was not interested in Valentine’s Day.

She did not offer pleasantries. She wore a silver dress and a pert, silver hat, and silver eyeshadow, and looked like a being ready to ward off advances from an ardent Capt. James T. Kirk.

Before she introduced herself, Kelsie knew who she was. It was Catrice Leger.

“I know my visit is most unexpected,” Catrice declared.

“Uh, actually, no,” Kelsie replied, looking down at the business card holder on the counter. She almost added, And quit talking like Spock.

At his spot by the fainting couch, Merv lifted his head, and sighed, causing both Catrice and Kelsie to glance at him quickly.

“I’ve come to tell you that now is the time,” Catrice said. “You must gather your followers and go.”

 

For one of the very few moments in her life, Kelsie guffawed in laughter. “You’ve got me mixed up with Jesus, or Gwen Shamblin. I’m not Mom. I have no followers!”

Catrice said steadily: “Tonight, go home, and summon your followers. And this is where you must take them!”

It never occurred to Kelsie that someone getting ready for an otherworldly departure would wear an outfit with pockets. But Catrice reached into a pocket in her silver dress, and pulled out a folded, creased map.

She spread it on the counter. Kelsie realized it was a map of New England, with a purple marker drawing a line from the community where the florist shop was located, to a spot in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

“What’s so special there?” Kelsie demanded.

Catrice said, unwavering: “It’s where Betty and Barney Hill were brought aboard the craft.”

By happenstance, at that moment, Lynn came in, ready to buy her regular rose for herself. But before greeting Kelsie, Lynn said to Catrice: “Hey, you’re almost out of time.” Lynn presented Catrice with some quarters.

That night, Kelsie sat on her bed and looked at the crinkly map. It felt weird to look at an actual, physical map. She looked at the purple spot, and thought of what Catrice had said.

It was the spot where Betty and Barney Hill said they’d been stopped in 1961, on their ride back from Canada, by a spaceship with blaring, white lights, and were hustled aboard a craft.

 

“This is bullshit,” Kelsie declared out loud, crumpling the map into a crude ball and tossing it toward a waste basket. It missed, and instead landed in her laundry.

She’d said it more loudly than she meant, and brought both Celia and Ephraim — from their respective rooms, and respective universes — to her door.

Ephraim was wearing a polka dot bathrobe and stirring a cup of tea. Celia was covered with bits of baby’s breath— she must have been working on some arrangements.

Kelsie looked up. “I’m sorry. I’m just — “ Tears sprang hotly.

Ephraim stood in the doorway and sighed, but stopped stirring his tea. Celia came to Kelsie’s side, sitting with her on the narrow bed. “I want to say it’s okay, but I know it’s not,” Celia said, rubbing her back.

In halting words, Kelsie told them about Catrice, about the map, and about Catrice’s insistence that Kelsie gather her followers and go to Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Ephraim startled them both when he said, “Well, why don’t we go, then.”

“I’m just saying — maybe — if you went there — it might bring — “

Closure,” Celia finished for him, with a slight mocking in her voice. But to Kelsie, she said, “He might be onto something.” It was not unusual for Celia to talk about Ephraim as if he wasn’t in the room.

Kelsie could see something else in their eyes — a glisten of fear. They think I’m going to drive over a granite cliff, she thought.

“I have to admit — it might be a good idea,” Celia said. She still had her arm around Kelsie’s shoulder. “Why don’t — why don’t we all go. You don’t have to do this alone.”

 

Lynn came to the florist shop the next day, even though Kelsie thought it might be a little soon for her to get her rose for the week. “I’m in!” Lynn exclaimed.

Kelsie had not told her about their plans. “Fine. We’re leaving on Saturday.”

Celia had an assistant manager, a burly man named Drummond, come in to cover.

Drummond was tall, with ferocious eyes,and a scraggly beard. He didn’t look like someone with any panache for flowers, but on her first day, Drummond had taken Kelsie to task for mislabeling magnolias.

Celia didn’t elaborate to Drummond where they were going, or why, but all the same, Drummond let out a snorting laugh.

As they left, Kelsie glanced over her shoulder. “Get chuffed, Magnolia Boy.”

Evil flames seem to burn in Drummond’s eyes. But, he said nothing.

They crowded into Kelsie’s Honda — Kelsie, Celia, Ephraim, and Lynn, clutching a red rose.

“Catrice is gonna meet us there,” Lynn said, excitedly. She’s a young girl going to encounter something really big, Kelsie thought.

An image flashed — herself, about 10, standing with her mother in Blanchard Park, looking up at the stars, and crying out when a gleaming light sailed across the night sky.

It turned out just to be a dumb satellite. But at 10, that didn’t matter.

They said very little on the drive.

Lynn was sitting in the front, next to Kelsie, Ephraim and Celia in the back, quiet.

“Should we sing a song, like, ‘BINGO?’” Kelsie volunteered, and everyone chuckled.

 

Kelsie had her clutch of letters, postcards and photos from her mother, tucked into her pocketbook. As they moved past the first tolls on Route 3, she grasped the pocketbook close to her side.

It was an inauspicious place, and it gave Kelsie a pang of disappointment. The land was covered with a thin layer of snow.

There was no one around. It had been, after all, as the Hills described it — a remote point along Route 3. She pulled the car over as tightly as she could onto the shoulder, and they all got out.

The air was thin, and cold. Everyone looked around.

“This is definitely the place,” Ephraim announced, and for a moment, Kelsie wondered what authority he had. But she knew he was right.

 

It was where, the Hills claimed, on the way home from their honeymoon, their vehicle simply stopped running, and bright lights engulfed them.

Whoever these beings were, the Hills, an unassuming couple from New Hampshire — a social worker and a postal employee, and their dog — were no match for this strange power.

Then, it was Lynn who spoke. “You know, I was wondering,” she said, coming up to Kelsie’s side, and still holding her red rose. “I mean — why, why would they do that?”

Everyone turned to look at her, and she looked at the snow-crusted ground.

“Just — okay, so you’re from outer space, and you have some kind of message for the people of Earth,” Lynn said. “Why would you zap these two people and their dog? Why not tell, I don’t know, the president, or the pope, or the Dalai Lama?”

 

Kelsie was not sure how to respond, except to say, “Well, in the Bible, God is always appointing ordinary people as messengers.”

Ephraim and Celia nodded, and this made Kelsie wonder — they didn’t read the Bible. Ephraim, however, had a copy of the Necronomicon.

Lynn nudged at the snow with the tip of her boot. Kelsie realized that Lynn was the only one wearing sensible footwear.

Kelsie had on sneakers, and Ephraim still had on his bedroom slippers, and was now shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“Well, no disrespect, but I can’t think of these space people the same way as God. And anyway, only a few people ever believed the Hills, so –”

About that time, another car was pulling up behind Kelsie’s. It was a tidy little hatchback, with a bit of rust around the wheel wells. Out stepped Catrice, and from the passenger side, a man, also dressed in silver.

They were shivering. Maybe their outfits were good for an inhospitable planet like Mars, Kelsie thought, but they weren’t doing them much good here on Earth in the winter.

Catrice did not speak right away, but she nodded.

“So, this is the place, then,” Kelsie said, finally. Ephraim and Celia had moved closer together, and were almost huddling.

Lynn, however, though standing close to Kelsie, was her own, independent, properly-attired self.

There was silence, and then all of them looked up to the gray skies, as if instruction would surely come from there.

 

Kelsie’s heart began to thud, building a thunder like horse’s hooves. Her head began to feel light.

Cars were coursing by on the slightly winding road, where snow and ice melted, and tires made a marshy sound as they passed.

Kelsie watched them, and it was like watching people going somewhere in a different world — an ordinary world, of tourists and tax-free shoppers, or hearty locals going home from hunting trips.

It was a cross-section of New Hampshire life, and none of it involved looking for interplanetary beings.

Kelsie’s breath came, deep and cold, and tears began to pool in her eyes.

Deeply, desperately she wanted her mother back, standing next to her, as they had those many nights in Blanchard Park, long ago.

“So,” Lynn said, crisply. “What’s supposed to happen?”

“Honestly, honey, I don’t know,” Kelsie said. There was a relief in saying it.

Catrice’s eyes grew wide, and Ephraim looked ruefully down at his slippers as Celia glared at him.

“I’m serious,” Kelsie said. “I have no clue. Why did aliens snap up a postal clerk and a social worker out here in the middle of the night in 1961? No idea. Why did my mother drive off a cliff with her followers?”

Her gaze slashed across Catrice’s face, as if she could slice it. This person was there, and could have done something. Could have stopped it. And she didn’t.

Catrice looked back, impassively. She doesn’t freaking get it, Kelsie realized.

 

“Ow!” Kelsie yelped, and pulled back her foot. Something felt hot — or cold — like a sting.

She looked down. There was something like a crumpled-up soda can, jabbing at her foot through her sneaker.

The crumpled-up can shifted on one side. They all gathered around it.

We’re a bunch of idiots on a New England roadside, looking down at a smashed tin can. Kelsie wanted to laugh, but found she could not.

Her lungs felt hot, but the air fell around her, damp, and cold. Kelsie crouched down. “Hey. Genius. Come out of there,” she barked at the small, dirty, metallic wreckage.

Lynn declared, breathily, “Oh, Mother —”

It was a long, thin, ragged hand — or finger — or something — tasting, testing. But Kelsie realized, it was not eager or curious. It was tired, and its life was depleted.

“What,” Kelsie said, then, more loudly: “What the holy hell!”

Her nerves buckled with pain. Her hands flew to her head, and she sunk into the cold, wet ground. “Cut it!” She screamed.

The others rushed in around her, but no one seemed to know what to do. Not even Catrice, who sighed.

It wasn’t this weary, ratty thing that accosted Betty and Barney Hill.

Back then, it had been something robust, eager for discovery.

Not something kidnapping two sober, law-abiding New Hampshirites to impart a grave warning for the rest of mankind, or a star map, or a formula to deactivate nuclear weapons.

 

No, this thing had reached out to the nearest life form, pleading for help. It jibber-jabbered at the Hills, who jibber-jabbered back, all to no avail.

The Hills woke up, forgot, and tried to get on with their lives, until hypnosis revealed events that stayed with them until their final days.

And this thing — trapped — stayed, and contracted, and drew in its life-shielding craft with it, to save energy. It managed, for decades, to do just that.

A flood of images told Kelsie this story in her mind. She could hear herself yelling out a narrative, as Lynn, Catrice, Ephraim and Celia huddled about her like an EMT crew — but one completely unsure what to do.

Except get an itchy blanket out of the back of the car.

Tentatively, they put it around Kelsie’s shoulders.

She shrugged it off.

“Fuck you!” she yelled. They pulled back. “Not you guys. This one!”

She stabbed a finger toward the slender digit, which turned gray in front of her eyes. “My mother and her friends drove into the bay because of you!” she no longer cared how ridiculous she looked, or sounded.

And then, in feeble, but discernible waves, came an answer: “They did that all on their own.”

Kelsie knew it was true. This sad, dying being had nothing to do with the death of her mother, or of her mother’s followers.

That idea was born of Earth, and died of Earth. Earth, a host planet to a million insanities, and if it had any reputation in the broader universe, it was that.

 

“I’m tired. Let me go.”

Kelsie felt something like grief.

Grief from a creature that  never saw home again, that had tried in vain to extract help from two organisms on this strange world, who were known to everyone else as Betty and Barney Hill.

It was about to die, as all life forms must, cells, if that’s what they were, curling in on themselves, molecules decompressing and pulling apart.

It had no final message, no great warning. “Uh.”

The shell around it pulled in on itself, and fell over, inert, like a dried-out beetle. Which was basically what it was.

We could’ve helped each other, Kelsie thought, staring at it.

But it was too late.

Kelsie looked up. Everyone had tears coursing down their faces. There were no other sounds, no traffic passing by.

A slight, cold breeze stirred the blanket. She pulled it closer around her.

“We should give it, um, like, a burial,” Lynn said.

“Yeah. Yeah,” Kelsie said. Her own mother’s remains had never been recovered.

An image flashed in her mind. A being, somewhere, maybe on the most remote planet ever, wondering what the hell happened to a son, or daughter, or spouse. And having no idea.

Maybe they don’t care about each other like that, she told herself, but a stirring in her own heart told her otherwise.

 

There was a small gardening shovel in the back of the car, because Kelsie was just that prepared for absurdities.

With it, they managed to hack at the obdurate Granite State ground, finally eking out a space deep enough, and cradling enough.

When they had smoothed it over, Celia ventured: “Um, should we say a prayer?”

Catrice turned and looked away. “I don’t really know,” said Kelsie.

There had been no funeral for her mother. Not even a proper memorial. Just Kelsie, standing alone on the shores of Hampton Beach, looking into an ocean on the other side of the world from the ocean where her mother had met her final rest.

Kelsie clasped her hands together and struggled for some words. Finally, she said, “You came on a long journey. Now you can rest. Rest peacefully. Amen.”

Lynn placed her red rose on the small, smoothed-over mound.

Catrice went to Oregon without saying goodbye, and started a Podcast about UFO sightings, but never mentioned that day along the Lincoln roadside.

Kelsie knew Catrice wouldn’t, because nothing that happened that day buttressed anything Catrice might have believed.

Ephraim proposed to Celia, and she told him to pack up and move out. A week later, they rooted out a justice of the peace and had a perfunctory ceremony, followed by a trip for breakfast at The Eagle Diner.

Lynn began taking some classes at the community college and eventually majored in geology. She told Kelsie, “I want to learn more about this planet. It turns out, it’s pretty cool.”

Kelsie thought, that’s the way to do it. Go back to school. She thought maybe she would, some day.

Many times, she began an email to Clarence, to tell him about that day at the roadside. But she would type a few words and abandon it, with a plentitude of unsent notes in her “drafts” folder.

In 2011, the state of New Hampshire put up an historical marker at the site, commemorating the story of Betty and Barney Hill’s reported abduction. The marker was put up over the burial site, but without knowledge of it.

Lynn and Kelsie came back every year, to stand at the marker, and place a red rose at the base of the sign post.

THE END


2022 Meg Smith

Bio: Meg Smith is a writer based in Lowell, Mass. She has published numerous poems, short stories, and other writings and journals, publications and anthologies.She is the author of four poetry books. Her latest poetry book, Night's Island, is available now!

E-mail: Meg Smith

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