The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 3)

Uncas’ car was a brown-colored old Saab that’s seen better days. There was a metallic squeal when Wilburn opened the passenger-side door. The smell inside was odd. There was trash strewn about.

“Sorry about the mess,” Uncas said, embarrassed. “My wife and I are having marital problems and I’ve been kind of living in and out of my car lately when I can’t afford a room. Pharm Farm doesn’t pay people shit. Surprise, surprise.”

Uncas slammed his door with an angry thud. There were specially installed bars and handles for him to be able to operate the car without having to reach the foot pedals. He leaned, turned the key and it sputtered to life.

Uncas put the car in gear and pulled out of the glossy parking lot and onto a road that connected to another. He turned right. The metal moon was blue, low, and bright. It cast a glow across the soft desert. Wilburn thought he saw bent figures moving in the fields out there — in those rectangular patches etched into the hard earth around it and splashed with the light the color of spilled milk.

Uncas fussed with the radio trying to find music to break the awkward silence but all that came across were the familiar weird vibrations and messages that came from somewhere else.

“Extraterrestrials, those not of this Earth,” said Uncas, and his eyes quickly darted upward, through the metal roof of his beat down, beat up car and all the way to space. “They keep messing with us down here, but not enough people pay attention.”

Wilburn tried to focus on his thoughts as the car bounced along the late-night road toward the guts of Giza, New Mexico. “You believe in that sort of thing?” he finally replied.

“That sort of thing?”

“Yeah. That sort of thing.”

“What kind of question is that? It’s all I believe. It’s everything I believe. It’s all I can believe. The star people are the creators. What do you believe?”

“Well, I was born into the generalized idea of religion. You know, church on Sunday, Jesus on the cross, God up in Heaven, sins and hell and all that.”

“Yeah. And how’s that been working out for you all this time?”

“It hasn’t. I want to say I don’t believe all that, but, when it’s in your blood, it’s kind of hard to get rid of… I can say, with all my own truth, that it’s never done me a bit of any good.”

“Hmm. Sounds like you need to get out more and take a real look around for yourself. Perhaps you were baptized into the untruth.” Then, after a long patch of silence, “Here it is.”

The car came to a slow roll in front of a roadside motel, the tires crunching on gravel. There was a fluttering pink neon sign shaped like a bird and the light bounced off the surrounding landscape of rocks and brush — Crane Valley Motel. Vacancy.

“This be okay?” Uncas asked.

Wilburn scanned the area with his tired eyes. “Looks fine to me. Thanks.”

“All right. I hope you find whatever you have lost.”

Wilburn got out of the vehicle and strange little Uncas drove off. He watched as the red tail-light dots grew smaller and then disappeared completely. He turned and realized someone was standing out in front of the motel office smoking a cigarette.

“Do you need a room?”

“Yes. Do you have one?” Wilburn stepped closer.

“I do.” The man studied him. “You don’t have any luggage?”

Wilburn searched around himself in earnest. “No. Just my backpack.”

“Lost it, I suppose,” the smoking man pointed out.

“No, just a minimalist.”

The man looked at him as if he didn’t understand. “Well then. Just as long as you’re not up to no good. I guess it’s all right. Not so much me. I don’t care what people do, but it’s my wife. She doesn’t like people coming here with those unclean prostitutes. Gives us a bad reputation, she says. Mostly truckers do that though. You don’t seem to be a trucker.” He looked over the parking lot. It was empty. “I don’t see a truck.”

“I’m not a trucker, just a traveler.”

“Oh yeah? A traveler without luggage or a truck.” The man laughed to himself, coughed, and snuffed the cigarette in an oval ash can tray. “Ah hell. I’m just messing with you. As you can tell, I’m glad to have the business no matter what way it comes. Step inside and we’ll get you registered.”

The office was small and bright and smelled of disinfectant and flowers and oldness. The man stepped behind the counter. He was thin and his tan face was taut and wrinkled. He awkwardly maneuvered a pair of wire-framed glasses onto his face, sniffed and opened a registration log. “All right then.” He handed Wilburn a pen and turned the logbook toward him. “If you’d just fill out that information there for me, and how would you like to pay?

He looked over the previous entries out of curiosity and in three different spots he saw the name Uncas Bravo had been written in. Wilburn scratched his own name into the next blank space. “Why do you need my address?”

“Something wrong?”

“No, just want to know why you need my address?”

“In case you leave something behind, we can send it you. That a problem? I can’t rent you a room if you don’t provide us an address. It’s our policy.”

Wilburn made something up and turned the log back around to the man. He looked it over. “Hmm, Mr. Valentine, is it? All the way from Santa Monica, California?” He looked up at him, suspicious. “That’s a long way to go without any luggage and a car, don’t you think?” He laughed, sputtered, coughed.

“You should quit.”

“Quit what?”

“Quit smoking and quit asking questions about my traveling, no disrespect.”

The man sheepishly looked away, removed his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes. “That’ll be $65 then.”

Wilburn withdrew cash from his wallet and set it on the counter. “If I decide to stay longer than one night, will that be okay?”

The man scratched at his face and thought. “Yep, just fine, sir. Should be at least. Just let me or my wife know by noon tomorrow. Her name’s Mandie. I’m Sid, by the way.” He pushed the room key across the counter with the tips of his fingers. “Room 17. All the way at the end there. Should be nice and quiet and private. My wife will have fresh coffee and donuts set out here in the morning, no extra charge. The Thundercloud Diner there serves up a pretty good breakfast, too. Give us a ring if you need anything. Can’t promise we’ll answer but give us a ring. Goodnight now.”

Wilburn Valentine sat on the edge of the bed in room 17 drinking water from a paper cup. The room was small and dim. One of the walls was wood paneling. The other walls were cinder block painted a dull yellow. There was a small round table beneath a hanging lamp with an amber glass ashtray dumped and wiped clean set down in the middle. There was the smell of past lives, quick sex, loneliness, and lingering cigarette smoke.

He turned on the TV to the Weather Channel. The hosts were celebrating wildfires and hurricanes and all-around global devastation. He kept the volume low. He went into the bathroom and clicked on the bright light. It was clean. He undressed and looked at himself in the mirror. He was in decent shape still. He pulled the shower curtain aside and reached to turn on the water. He gathered the small samples of shampoo and soap from the sink counter. He stepped in, activated the shower, and let the world around him fill with steam.

Wilburn Valentine was an impatient man and it aggravated him. At the age of 59.5 he felt the end was coming closer and closer. Now more than ever. He hated wasting time. Hated it. He felt every moment should have purpose and value, be meaningful, productive, full. He felt he was constantly being chased by that reminder of time always draining away, that ever-ticking clock, those subtle sweeps of the hands, that endless feeling that “I must do something, I must get somewhere, I must accomplish something great!”

Not practicing mindfulness was one of his greatest weaknesses. But what is life if not for the small, simple moments that merely present themselves? His quandary.

Yet he was a man who squandered most of his life away worrying about not squandering his life away. He didn’t know if it was a defect in birth or motivation or if he was just overwhelmed all the time. He envied those that accomplished things in life. He questioned his own talents. He questioned his own intelligence. Self-doubt lingered in him always.

He stood in his room at the Crane Valley Motel with just a white, thin towel wrapped around his waist and he was mindlessly looking at the TV and rapidly clicking through the channels. Nothing interested him. Maybe that was his problem. Nothing kept his interest anymore. It was all thoughtless crap. He clicked it off. He swallowed some of the chamomile capsules with some water. He turned down the sheet and thin blanket on the bed and released the towel from his waist and crawled in. He reached over and clicked off the light on the bedside table. It was quiet and dark except for a narrow glow from the parking lot coming in through a gap in the curtains. He turned on his side, facing away from it, and tried to escape into the world of sleep.

You can read the previous excerpt from this novel HERE.

Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 7)

Gracelyn Polk stood in front of her social studies classroom and cleared her throat as she looked down at the paper she held in her hands. She moved her head up, addressed the empty desks with her eyes and smiled.

“For my report on the person I most admire, I chose someone that I just met. You may wonder why that is and how could such a notion come to be… The truth of the matter is, I’m often quite lonely. I don’t have a lot of friends and my family is all long gone. I don’t really know where they went or why. But here I am, before you today.”

She paused and looked out at the empty room. She started to feel foolish but went on with her speech regardless.

“My new friend’s name is Farm Guy.” She chuckled. “No, it’s not a joke this time. His name really is Farm Guy and I know that sounds awfully peculiar, but once you get to know him, it fits somehow. He’s a very nice man and a very smart man, too. He knows a lot about life and history and how to build things… And how to make the most delicious chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. And he’s nice to me. And in a world such as this, I suppose that’s the best thing a person could be… And worthy of my admiration. Thank you.”

Gracelyn waited for the applause that never came and then went over to the large desk at the front of the room that once belonged to a teacher. She opened a drawer and pulled out a red marker. She yanked off the cap and sniffed at the tip, careful not to get any ink on her nose. “I just love the smell of markers,” she said aloud to herself. And then she moved her hand down to her social studies report and wrote A+ at the very top and circled it twice. She held it up in front of her, smiled with pride, and then went back to her own desk.

Astron Puffin looked down on planet Earth as it spun there on its fragile thread in the cradle of space.

“It’s set to snap,” said a strange voice from behind him — a deep voice, a slow voice, like a tape recording playing back on the wrong speed.

Astron turned his head. “And then where will the world go? Doesn’t it have to go somewhere?” he asks the one that looks different but is the same — his skin an oddly green color, but richer than that of himself, the eyes the brightest blue there could ever be, strange hair.

“It will drop out of the universe like a Price Is Right Plinko chip… And there will be no prize.”

Astron let a small, haunting laugh escape from his throat. “Price Is Right?”

“Come on down,” the alien said in his slow, monotone, deep voice.”

Astron turned away to look out the incredibly large window again. The Earth was still there. “I don’t ever want to go back,” he said. “Please don’t ever take me back.”

But then Astron’s eyes were closed for him, and when he opened them back up, he was lying on his back in the middle of a cabbage field. It was a very large cabbage field, seemingly endless except for the low hills at the furthest edges, the color of green mist. The air around him smelled of good dirt. He looked up and the sky with its dying sun was there — an ocean of blue filled with the white sails of cloud ships. He stood up and looked around him, turning slowly in a circle like a searchlight. It was an unfamiliar place to him for it was not his own farm. Deep in the distance he saw something that jutted up out of the horizon. It was a house — a large and welcoming house of yellow. He decided that was the direction to go in.

Gracelyn set her bicycle down in the front yard of Farm Guy’s big, yellow house. She bounded up the front porch steps and excitedly knocked on the white door with the inset frosted glass window. It wasn’t long before it opened, and the man was standing there in a plaid shirt and denim pants. A bright smile came over his face.

“Well, well, well,” Farm Guy said. “If it isn’t the infamous Gracelyn Polk.”

“It is me. I wanted to bring your cookie container back and I have something to show you.”

“Then please come in,” he said, spreading out a long arm before him in a gesture of welcoming. His eyes then quickly darted around the outside world with a hint of suspicion before he closed the door behind them.

Farm Guy took a seat in his favorite living room chair while Gracelyn sat on a small sofa across from him. The girl looked around the cozy room that reminded her of Christmas when there was a Christmas. A fire crackled gently in a large fireplace, even though it wasn’t extremely cold outside. The heartbeat of an old clock pulsed in rhythm atop the mantel. The view out a large window was lonely. She saw old pictures of other people scattered about the room on walls, tables, and shelves. Some of the people looked strange, different in an unexplainable way.

She set her backpack to the side, unzipped a pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. She stood and took it to him.

“What’s this?” he wanted to know.

“I did a report about you.”

“A report? About me?”

“That’s right. And as you can see, I got an A+.”

Farm Guy reached to his chairside table, fished for a pair of reading glasses, and placed them on his face. “I’m going to have to take a look at this very closely,” he said, smiling and tipping his head forward, eyes looking out from above the frames of his readers. He held the paper before him and began reading it, his eyes half squinting as they intensely glided across the words. He let out brief snorts of wonder and charmed humility as he went along. When he was finished, he set the paper aside and withdrew his glasses and looked at her.

“What do you think?” she eagerly wanted to know, sitting on the edge of the sofa now.

“I’d have to say that’s just about the finest report I’ve ever read,” he answered. “And I don’t say that just because it’s about me. Do you mind if I keep it?”

“It’s all yours.”

Farm Guy got up from his chair and made his way out of the room. He motioned to her to follow. “What do you say we take this in the kitchen. I’ll hang it up on my refrigerator. Come on. How about some peanut butter cookies?”

Gracelyn sat at the kitchen table with a tall glass of milk and a plate of peanut butter cookies set before her.

“Can I ask you something?” she said.

“What’s that?” the man said as he stood, his back to her, admiring the girl’s report that he had just attached to his refrigerator with a Las Vegas souvenir magnet.

“How do you have all this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“The milk and the cookies… And the good electricity. Everything. I mean, it’s all just like a regular house from how it was before. Where does it all come from? How does it work?”

Farm Guy turned to look at her quizzical young face, her upper lip now striped with milk. He went to sit at the table across from her and struggled to think of a suitable answer, a serious tone morphing his face. He reached for and then handed her a napkin. “Do you believe that life extends far beyond what we experience here?”

She wiped her mouth and thought about it. “Do you mean on this planet?”

“Yes. But not only on this planet… I mean all around us. Even here. Right next to us right now in this very room. There’s so much more happening around us than we ever even acknowledge.”

“You mean you get all these things from somewhere else?”

He leaned back and studied her. “I suppose that’s a pretty good way of putting it,” he said, moving his head around to look at everything. “It all comes from somewhere else.”

“And what about you?” Gracelyn questioned. “Do you come from somewhere else?”

He looked at her intently, tempting to reveal himself completely, but at the last moment pulling the punch.

“Of course, I do. I’ve lived in many other places. Haven’t you?”

“Absolutely… At least it seems that way,” the girl said, and she tilted her head to the side and gazed at him with wide eyes “Can I ask you something else?”

“You can ask me anything.”

“Why do I never die?”


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 5)

A bastard chill struck a prophecy of a coming autumn as Astron Puffin sat on a fallen tree deep in the woods. He was looking down at his small but thick hands. He turned them slowly before him, and it was hard to imagine that those were the same hands used to crush their throats. But he had to do it, he rationalized, or their fate could have been much worse.

He remembered the day the strange men had come to his cabbage farm in their protective suits and told him they were there to shut everything down. They went into the house and destroyed all the pipes and cut all the wires. He remembered how they talked about the jail maximus and how it was burning and how all the lions were escaping from the zoo. There was so much chaos. Everything was falling apart. Then they just kept coming back and taking his wife and daughter behind closed doors — locked closed doors. He tried to shake the sounds of the thumping walls and their cries from his head.

Astron yelled out in the silence — hoping the bad vibes would shoot out of his soul like an exorcism. He looked up and the trees looked down. He saw the mustard-stained blue sky interwoven with the scraggly branches. And then the ship appeared again, to do its analyzing of a world it could no longer save. Astron watched the red-glowing disc hover slowly and silently above. There were quick, bright flashes — like old time flashcubes on those cameras that used film. He wondered if the visitors, these immortal observers, would suck him up again into the belly of their craft. He half-hoped they had never returned him to Earth as he bowed his head and waited to become weightless. But then, just as they had smoothly and silently appeared, they vanished. A crow berated him from a nearby branch, and then it too flew away. Perhaps every other living being in the universe had given up hope on man.

Astron suddenly remembered and reached into his pocket and pulled out Gracelyn’s drawing. It might give him a sense of purpose and peace, he thought, as he carefully unfolded it and then held it before his eyes. He would go to her again, he decided, even if she still rejected him as a friend, or a guardian. If the strange men in the protective suits ever came back, it would be better if she wasn’t alone — it would be better if he wasn’t alone as well.

Gracelyn was in a sleepy daze on the old living room couch when the knocking started. She had been halfway dreaming of meandering through the throngs of people on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution — or maybe it was merely a conscious memory. She darted straight up and listened as the knocking became more persistent, trying to figure out where exactly it was coming from. Her head turned toward the front door and she got up and stood before it. Dead and gone loneliness floated in the morning gray-gold cloud filtering into the foyer from brightening spaces throughout. She watched as the door rattled slightly with each pound of someone’s fist.

“Who is it!?” she said, a threatening tone in her voice.

The knocking stopped and there was a brief silence before he spoke.

“Astron Puffin. From the school.”

“I’m not going to class today. I don’t feel well…. So, you can’t force me to go. I’ll make up my work later.”

“I’m not here to make you go to school.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I can protect you,” Astron offered.

“Protect me from what?”

“You know what. The things of this new world.”

Gracelyn paused for a moment, thought about it. “I don’t need your protection. I’m very capable of taking care of myself.”

“You’re a young girl… Alone.”

“And I’ve done just fine for myself, haven’t I.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Gracelyn snapped. “I’m smart. I’m resourceful. I’m strong. Probably stronger than you.”

“Do we have to talk through the door like this?” Astron looked about the grounds around him, thinking he felt something, someone in the air. “I’d rather be inside if it’s all the same to you.”

Gracelyn moved toward the door, stood on her tiptoes, and brushed aside the curtain that covered a small window. She looked out at him. Astron smiled. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.

Astron looked around the old farmhouse as she led him to the living room. He pulled off his knit cap with the long point that hung over to one side of his head, a puffy ball on the tip.

“You can sit there,” the girl said, pointing to the couch. “I don’t have much, but would you like an apple?”

Astron nodded. “I can’t believe you live in this big old house by yourself,” he said to her as she trailed off to the kitchen.

“Why can’t you believe it?” she asked as she returned to the room and presented him the apple. He took it, rubbed it against his shirt, and bit into it.

“All the space. All the memories,” he said as he chewed the apple, a bit of juice leaking from his mouth. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

She sat down on the couch, but as far away from his as she could be. “I’m used to it. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

“How long?” he wanted to know.

She pressed her lips tightly together and considered the question. “A lot longer than you could imagine.”

“Why don’t you like me?” Astron asked point blank.

She looked at him, puzzled by what he said. “It’s not a matter if I like you or not. It’s a matter of survival. I barely know you… And why are you being so forceful about this friendship thing, or whatever it is you’re searching for.”

“You let me in… So, you must trust me, at least a little bit.”

“Have you been here before?”

Astron looked at her but didn’t immediately answer.

“You have, haven’t you?”

“No,” Astron assured her. “I haven’t.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out her drawing. He unfolded it, laid it out on the table before them and tried to smooth it out with his hands.

“Why do you have my drawing?” Gracelyn asked. “Why did you take it?”

“I like it. It brings me some sort of peace… It helped me find you. Here.”

Gracelyn stood up, angry. “You had no right to take that! It was for my art class, and I was going to be graded on it. Now I’ll fail! I’ll fail because of you!” She snatched her drawing from the table. “And now look at it. You’ve made a mess of it! I’ll probably have to do another.”

“You’re all alone at that school, don’t you realize that?” Astron blurted out, raising his voice to her for the very first time. “There is no school anymore. There are no other students or teachers or anyone. It’s an empty building full of ghosts.”

Gracelyn looked at him, her eyes wide and on the verge of being wet. “I want you to leave.”

Astron sighed, clasped his thick hands against his thighs, and got up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he breathed. He turned back to her before he got to the door. “If you need anything, you can come find me. Even if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t need you… For anything.”

“I’ll be at the school if you change your mind.”

Astron tugged on the front door and went out. She went to the open doorway and watched him walk away. He threw the apple off to his left side, like he was skipping a stone across an unmuddied lake, before a bright light appeared in the sky, and in half of a blink of an eye, he suddenly vanished.