Trump Has No Love

Author’s  Note:  I first posted this Sept. 29 on Facebook.  It was widely shared, probably the closest thing to a viral post that I’ve done there.  I’m parking this revised and slightly expanded version here as a more permanent record.

Kersten’s been gone for a few days, at a church retreat. Wandering around this big house, so crammed with her things but so empty, I got a sudden insight as to why I’ve been so frightened by Donald Trump. It’s not just his narcissism or his lying; those are just symptoms of a deeper problem.

The man contains no love. He experiences other feelings: he lusts, he envies, he covets–but he seems utterly devoid of love. He cheats small contractors, rips off the students at his bogus university, trades wives like cars when they start to lose their shine, has never changed a diaper, thinks paying no taxes proves he’s “smart.” He values things, and people, solely by their appearance–luxury hotels, solid gold toilet seats, fashion-model-shaped women. But he has no innate sense that warns him why it’s not good to use ethnic slurs or to insult women based only on their appearance. He doesn’t even care about himself, really–just about Donald Trump’s image. He’d look at my small, round treasure of a woman and have no idea that she’s beautiful.

This house if full of Kersten’s things, some of them quite pretty–but that’s not why she keeps them. Most of them are connected to loved ones, both present and departed–her sister’s art, her mother’s socks, the backpack of Russ, her former boyfriend who died in a car accident that she survived. They’re not valued because they’re things, but because of her love, which permeates this house.

I’ve seen pictures of Trump’s mansions. They’re filled with ostentatious art, ostentatiously arranged, spotlessly clean but but utterly cold, devoid of attachment. Everything is there for display, and nothing on display remotely resembles  a personal object. Maybe somewhere in his vast empire, he has a secret apartment filled with teddy bears. But if he  does, I suspect they’re rare collector teddy bears bought as investments.  Everything he shows the world is loveless, things for the sake of having things.

I would not trade Kersten and her house full of memories for all of Trump’s towers and all of his golf courses and all of his mansions full of things. But it’s getting harder and harder just to keep even that house.  All that need for acquisition and luxury is leaving less and less for the rest of us to to live on. I can’t afford to stay at his hotels, and his friends are buying up land here in Hawaii, driving up the price of everything and giving us, in return, only hotel jobs  150 miles from the nearest affordable housing. And he expects me to blame the Mexicans.

Such a man, so completely devoid of compassion and empathy, has already demonstrated how much misery he can casually inflict with the power that he has. He must never be entrusted with a whole country.

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An Open Letter to Mr. Trump from a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Dear Mr. Trump,

Earlier today, I posted a Facebook note on your vile language about woman during your van ride with Billy Bush, and your vile excuses in the debate last night, in which you slandered the other half of the human race by claiming that “all men” talked like that. As I pointed out, most of us don’t. But I then made an incorrect statement: I said that the last time I’d heard anyone talk about that was in high school locker rooms, and that the kids who did were generally the same kids who bullied other kids.

Well, I was wrong, and must own up to it.  I’d forgotten about a different time when I heard that sort of language–a time that I’d tried to forget. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, I’d occasionally have to travel to Bangkok to pick up materials or get a medical checkup. On those occasions, I usually stayed at a hotel that was frequented by Thais and by other Peace Corps volunteers. But one night that hotel was full, and I ended up at an international hotel that serviced a very different clientele. When I went down to the coffee shop for supper, it was full of American, Australian and German men, most of whom were there to find a Thai prostitute,  either for a one night stand or to take home. It quickly became apparent why those men were there in search of foreign women: no American. Australian or German woman would have put up with them. They discussed women as if they were pieces of meat or masturbatory appliances.They recounted. with relish, the sex shows they’d seen at Patpong, including one where women pulled strings of razor blades out of their private areas. They bragged about how many women they’d had or how pretty or how young those women were or what they’d done to them. And like you, they boasted about how the women here would let them do anything. They made me ashamed to be an American, ashamed to be a Caucasian male.

I quickly finished my dinner and left.

Those men in the coffee shop weren’t stars or billionaires. To treat women like objects, they just had to be jerks and losers with no morals and a little extra cash.

I spent two years and three months in Thailand. Everywhere I went, I had to turn down women and pimps who assumed that since I was American, I wanted the services of an “impolite woman.” I lived a pretty monkish existence, trying to undo some of the damage to the image of America that men like that had done–to demonstrate that not all Americans were like that.

And now such a perverted loser wants to be our president?

No, Mr. Trump, most American men aren’t like that. Most men aren’t like that, period. Please crawl back into the gilded hole that you came from, and stop soiling our country’s name.

Sincerely,

Alan McNarie

The Numbers that Favor Dictatorship

Okay. here’s what scares me about this election, more than anything else.  According to CBS News, the final results of the presidential primary in California, the most populous state in the Union, showed that “more than 8.5 million people, or 47.7 percent of registered voters, took part in the election.”  But the U.S. Census Bureau says that as of July 1, 2015 California had a population of 38.9 million people, only about 25 percent of whom were under the age of 18.  That means that, if those figures are roughly the same this year, then 30 million voters, well over three percent of the population over 18, either were disenfranchised or disenfranchised themselves in the crucial  swing-state election that decided the Democratic ticket. Those kinds of numbers repeated themselves across the country; in most or all states, a tiny fraction of eligible voters actually voted.

That’s a recipe for dictatorship, as the residents of Germany discovered in the late 1920s: What happened was no longer a democracy, where the majority rules, but a situation where the majority doesn’t care or has given up, and whoever can whip up a small minority of frenzied followers on election day can rule.

And right now. that exact situation could be playing out.   Earlier on, we had two candidates who could generate large, enthusiastic crowds: Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. But now a large number of Sanders voters are likely to be sitting on the sidelines on election day, while the Trump supporters will be flocking to the polls. Even if the majority of the population favors Hillery over Trump, are they enthusiastic enough about her to actually show up on election day? Whose tiny fraction of the population has the willpower to actually show up at the polls?  Whoever they are, they will rule over the vast majority who stay home. Then, all that protect that majority from the excesses of the minority is the rule of law. And with so many Supreme Court justices in their eighties, the rule of law could be the next target.

 

 

Dick, on the Donald: Trump’s Golf Course Rules

Dick writes:

 

Below is a list of rules for Donald Trump’s new Scottish golf course. It was sent to me by a disgruntled crab, who says he found a copy pinned under a red-and-black golf ball when he was paying clandestine respects to his former home. We burrowing critters have got to stick together:

Welcome to the Trump International Golf Course, Aberdeen.
This is the best golf course ever designed, because Donald Trump designed it, and Donald Trump knows more about golf than anyone. We know that Scotland claims to have invented golf. But what they called “golf” back then was batting balls into gopher holes with cricket bats while someone played the bagpipes in the background. Bagpipes are just goats’ bladders full of air, and no one knows bags of air like Donald Trump. Donald Trump perfected the art of being a bag of air, and here at Trump International–Aberdeen, he’s perfected golf, too.

Perfecting Golf has involved some changes of traditional rules. Here at Trump International–Aberdeen, those new rules are in force for the first time.

Rule #1: No one can win but Donald Trump. The rest of you are losers, and you might as well get used to that, just like those dudes from Abu Dhabai who didn’t know golf, so Donald had to bail them out and buy their whole resort over in Turnberry. And just like those loser Mexican-loving neighbors who couldn’t stop Mr. Trump from building this course, and those loser crabs that lived in the sand dunes before Mr. Drump built this course on top of them. Scots are particular losers. They lost their country to the English. They lost their king to the English, when he inherited the throne and moved to London. They lost the Brexit vote, even when they won it. Not that we expect any loser Scots to actually play golf here.

Rule #2: Since you’re going to lose anyway, you might as well cheat a little and have fun. So long as one number on your score card is true, you can lie about the others. If it’s a par 4 and you took twenty-four swings, for instance, you can just right down the ‘2’ and leave off the ‘4.’ Mr. Trump has been using this system for years, and it’s worked for him.

Rule #3: Likewise, any club is playable if part of its name is true. Mr. Trump suggests a waffle iron for the third hole, and a two-by-four wood for long puts on the eighth hole.

Rule #4: Friendly bets are allowed. Of course, if you lose the bet, you can declare bankruptcy and still keep your money, even though you’re still a loser. Again, Mr. Trump has been using this system for years.

Rule #5. However, if you make a bet with Mr. Trump and he declares bankruptcy, he’s still a winner. But that will never happen, because you’re a loser and he isn’t.

Logging In….

The Soul Keys has a number of wild characters.  Among them: an invisible talking armadillo, a teenage existentialist rat, and a bridge that’s thinking of becoming a dragon, not to mention various odd humans…. But one minor character who might be overlooked is a rotting log. It doesn’t say much, but has an important lesson to teach, as well as a key role to play at a crucial moment. It gets introduced in the  chapter below:

 XIV. A Blatant Foreshadowing

Meanwhile, on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai`i, a koa log lay rotting.

Listen.  This is important.

Before humans and their allied creatures arrived, Hawaii held no grazing animals bigger than bugs and no predators larger than a small hawk.  The rainforest was full of strange and luxurious plants, from 20-foot-tall primeval tree ferns to juicy giant akala raspberries, for whom thorns were about as useful as an appendix.  It was all one big, happy family, with nobody killing each other any more than absolutely necessary.  Even the insects were so laid back that many had lost their wings.

When Polynesian voyagers first arrived, they wiped out several species of birds.  But pretty soon the Polynesians learned to fit in, too, and became Hawaiians, and happily practiced survival of the fattest.  Literally.  The plumpest woman was the preferred mate.  Screw you, Darwin.  Aloha.

Presiding over this Edenic jungle was the great koa, one of the weirdest and most beautiful trees on earth.  Young koa look like thornless locust trees.  But as they mature, the little locust-like leaves are replaced by big sickle-shaped “leaves” that are actually elongated, flattened petioles — the little stems that normally connect leaves to twigs.  Koa is the caterpillar-butterfly of the tree world.  It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “turn over a new leaf.”

Youthful koa grow tall and straight in big groves that are mostly the same root system with many trunks.  If a trunk falls, knocking down the underbrush, the koa roots sense the sunlight warming the soil of the new-made clearing, and saplings sprout from the roots.  But as the grove matures, fewer trunks survive.  They grow into enormous, mossy, twisted grandmothers like giant bonsai, and produce thousands of seeds in long, curling, wonderfully rattly pods.  The seeds fall to earth, where they can lie for years, awaiting the trigger of sunlight on bare soil.

One day, Captain Cook arrived in Eden with a shipload of cannons, horny sailors and VD.  Soon another captain decided it would be a great idea to drop off some cattle.  The cows thought it was pretty great, too.  They ate all those juicy, thornless understory plants like ice cream.

The koa roots felt sunlight on the denuded, cow-trampled soil, and obligingly sent up little green koa shoots.  The seeds felt the warmth, and popped their little shells.  Millions of tender green seedlings and rootlings shot up all at once.

Yum, thought the cows.

Soon nothing was left in most places but old trees, their roots trampled and muddy, their children eaten.  The cows started losing weight. So ranchers brought in Kikuyu grass, which had evolved on the African veldt, where it had learned to grow really fast, to make up for all wildebeests and elephants, elands and zebras, cape buffaloes and kudus and giraffes that were chewing on it. Kikuyu grass was so virulent that it would grow on top of fence posts.

Spreading over the ravaged forest floor, the grass grew so thick that sunlight never touched the soil again.  One by one, the grandmother koas grew old and died.  Soon Mauna Kea’s middle slopes held a vast koa graveyard, where only broken grey trunks poked up through the grass.

Koa can be beautiful even in death.  When polished, the rich, golden-brown wood seems to glow with an inner light, a treasure for furniture-makers.  But there was plenty of dead wood to salvage, without probing under the turf.

So the log slowly changed into termites, hidden under the grass that had smothered its children.  There was little aloha left in it.  It was not murderous — it was a log, after all — but it was perfectly capable of abetting a murder.

Remember it, lest you stumble.

 

Hawaii Articles

In addition to news about my novel, I’ll be using this site to post archival articles and links from my quarter-century or so of covering news and events from the Big Island of Hawaii.

In the earl  1990s, I left teaching and began reporting for a small alt weekly named Ka’u Landing. At the time, the island’s biggest paper, the Hawaii Tribune Herald, rarely sent reporters outside of Hilo, so we found fertile ground for some real investigative reporting.  Near the beginning of Ka’u Landing’s history, I reported on efforts by a corporation called Oji Paper to convert the former cane land of Hamakua to eucalyptus trees in and sell them to paper mills in Japan.  I found out that the scheme would  only generate a fraction of the jobs that the sugar industry had. I also learned that the company wanted to use not just private land, but thousands of acres of state and county lands that local residents had hoped to access for diversified farming. I documented that residents’ complaints that they and their pets had been poisoned by aerial spraying that the company was using to kill the cane prior to burning it and planting eucalyptus; and I found out that Roundup, the chemical the company said it was using (which its makers then claimed was safe enough to drink) had never been tested by the government in its entirety; the FDA had only tested glyphosate, the “active” ingredient, without testing the whole chemical cocktail–or what was produced when it was burned.   I also found out that the company was using other, even more hazardous chemicals. Those and other revelations led to a grassroots rebellion that eventually shut down the project.

That was only the first of many such stories that I covered for Ka’u Landing and its successor, the Hawaii Island Journal.  When the state and a private prison company wanted to build a prison-for-profit in the rural district of Ka’u,  for instance, we analyzed the company’s and the state’s spin on the project and what had actually happened, both positive and negative, in other communities that had hosted such prisons. The result, once again, was a popular rebellion, and the governor ended up killing the project at a public meeting with hundreds of angry residents.

I  did several articles covering  the controversy over genetically modified papaya, which its backers claimed had saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from something called papaya ringspot virus. In fact, the industry remained only about a third the size that it had been before the virus. The articles documented how plans to plant GM papaya only briefly, then go back to non-GM papaya after the virus had died out, had failed due to bureaucratic snafus and farmer resistance to planting the less lucrative GM  strains.  Later articles covered the continuing debate over GM crops as it expanded across the country and documented plans to build an industrial plant that would expose papaya to nuclear radiation in order to kill the virus before shipping the fruit to the mainland.

Another series of articles tracked off-island money in local elections. Stories on the long-standing controversy over the building of telescopes on Mauna Kea are still quoted by the litigants in the dispute.  We published early stories about the Texas-sized “garbage patch” of drifting plastic that’s grown in the mid-Pacific.  I also did stories about artists, entrepreneurs.nonprofits and government officials who were making a positive impact on the community. And because we held to high journalistic standards, residents read us and took us seriously.

Eventually the Journal’s publishers decided to retire, and sold it to a Honolulu company that couldn’t connect as well with local advertisers. It finally closed us down, but some of the Journal’s articles are still available at various sites across the web.

I’ve continued to write feature stories and investigative articles  for a series of other magazines, journals and Web sites–most recently the Big Island Chronicle.

Links to some of those articles are below:

Hana Hou!

“The Restoration Movement”

hrttp://www.hanahou.com/pages/Magazine.asp?Action=DrawArticle&ArticleID=1408&MagazineID=85

“Root Medicine”

http://www.hanahou.com/pages/magazine.asp?Action=DrawArticle&ArticleID=1122&MagazineID=70

 

“Sugarland” (originally appeared in Hana Hou; copied by this Web site)

http://www.switzernetwork.org/leadership-story/sugarland

 

“Birthing Bowls”

http://www.hanahou.com/pages/magazine.asp?Action=DrawArticle&ArticleID=1030&MagazineID=65

 

Big Island Chronicle

“Sustainable, Illegal: Sustainable Living Communities Hold Summit in Lower Puna”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2013/11/24/hawaii-news-sustainable-illegal-sustainable-living-communities-hold-a-summit-in-lower-puna/

 

“Kohanaiki: Is the Battle Over?”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2013/04/28/hawaii-news-kohanaiki-is-the-battle-over/

 

“Island Dairy Uses GMO Corn”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2012/10/01/hawaii-news-island-dairy-uses-gmo-corn/

 

“Electronic Legislature: The Social Media Comes of Age in Hawaii Politics”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2013/05/30/hawaii-news-electronic-legislature-the-social-media-come-of-age-in-hawaii-politics/

 

“Dueling PR: A Botched Mediation Attempt”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/05/13/hawaii-news-dueling-pr-a-botched-mediation-effort/

“Thirty Meter Telescope Stats”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/05/13/thirty-meter-telescope-stats/

 

“Death of a Food Bill”

https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/death-food-bill

 

“Commentary: On Yet Another ‘Domestic’”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/07/16/commentary-on-yet-another-domestic/

 

“Parallel Realities on Mauna Kea”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/05/12/hawaii-news-parallel-realities-on-mauna-kea/

 

“It’s Alive: Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill Survives Conference Committee”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/05/04/its-alive-medical-marijuana-dispensary-bill-survives-conference-committee/

 

“Commentary:  Kama’aina Blues”

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/2015/08/20/commentary-kamaaina-blues/

 

Ke Ola Magazine

 “Kaliko Beamer-Trapp: A British Transplant and his Love Affair with ‘Olelo Hawai‘I”

https://keolamagazine.com/kom/people/kaliko-beamer-trapp/

 

“Reef as Community: Cold and Fuzzy”

http://snorkelbob.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Ke_Ola_Magazine_ColdandFuzzy.pdf

 

“Old Hilo Hospital: Ghosts, Peace Corps and Adult Care”

http://inbigisland.com/articles/ke-ola-magazine/the-old-hilo-hospital-ghosts-peace-corps-and-adult-care

“Every Store Has a Story: Kilauea General Store”

http://www.kilaueagifts.com/about

 

Hawaii Island Journal/Ka’au Landing

 

“New Treatments for Our Auto Addiction”

http://www.hawaiiislandjournal.com/2010/02/hawaii-auto-problems/

 

(archived at www.alanmcnarie.blogspot.com )

 

“The Amtrak Diaries”

http://alanmcnarie.blogspot.com/2008/10/amtrak-diaries.html

 

“A Plywood Plant for Hamakua?”

http://alanmcnarie.blogspot.com/2009/10/from-archives-beginnings-of-tradewinds.html

 

Hawaii Tribune Herald/Kama’aina Shopper

 

“The Art of Bonsai Lives on after its Creators”

http://www.fukubonsai.com/1a11.html

 

Four Kama’aina Shopper (Hawaii Tribune Herald) articles archived at PlanetPuna.com

http://planetpuna.com/Shopper/Shopper-Main.htm

 

Lei Magazine

“Surreal Real Estate”

http://leiculture.com/surreal-real-estate/

 

 

Hawaii Independent (news  blog)

“First Light Far Off, if Ever”

http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/first-light-far-off-if-ever

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing The Soul Keys

My new novel is out!  The Soul Keys is a satiric fantasy that runs a bit on the wild side.  It asks vital questions such as: What if you found a flying saucer, but nobody was in it?  How could a talking armadillo end up in your bathtub? Why would the Oakland Bay Bridge consider becoming a dragon? Is it the purpose of humankind to create a Heaven of Rats? And, of course, what are the three keys to unlock the soul and end the world?

In pursuit of the answers to these questions, Sander Keynes and his girlfriend, Jenny Duenckel, engage in a mad odyssey from Springfield, Missouri to a secret military base on the Big Island of Hawaii, while being pursued by the FBI,CIA, NIA, NASA (no, not that NASA), the Centers for Disease Control, the media, Jennie’s homicidal ex-husband, industrial and government spies, flying saucer cultists, mad scientists (well, pretty disgruntled ones, anyway) and someone with a French accent.

Below is a sample chapter, in which we meet another key character: Apollonasia “Appy” Duenckel, retired belly dancer, mystical advice columnist and mother of Jenny:

                       VII. Familiarity Breeds a Puppy

Apollonasia Brechtlein Duenckel was a good mother and a take-charge sort of person. But she had another important qualification for dealing her daughter’s current problem. Appy Duenckel believed in ghosts.

Also vampires, demons, rakshashi, angels, manitou , djinn, nixies and fairies, among others. Appy was an equal-opportunity believer. She believed in many levels of reality, and figured they all must be as richly populated as the natural world.

That went for philosophy, too. “Some folks think life has no purpose,” she’d been telling people for more than four decades. “That’s poppycock. The problem is that there are too many purposes, a lot of which we don’t care to notice.”

At age 18, when she was already supporting herself as a belly dancer at county and state fairs, she’d spent the night on the State Fairground in Springfield, Illinois (no relation to Springfield, Missouri), listening to the scurryings and rustlings after the marks had all gone home. The next day, she’d bought a small composition book. On the first page, she’d penned, very neatly:

The purpose of humanity is to feed and shelter rats.

Thus began her life’s work, her magnum opus: The Book of Purposes. On the April morning after the flooding of the Big Piney River, Appy had finished her morning chores and had just started Volume 98. She did most of her writing on the computer these days, but continued to hand write this project in composition books, just for consistency. She plunged into the first page, riding a tide of inspiration:

The purpose of Argon street lamps is to accustom us to the lighting of  Hell.
The purpose of computers is to provide a warm hiding place for certain species of ants.
The purpose of paleontology is to give God a better hiding place.
The purpose of astronomy is to give God a better hiding place.
The purpose of geology is to give God a better hiding place.
The purpose of physics is to give God a better hiding place.
The purpose of God is to hide from humanity.

Of course, she’d recorded many other purposes for God, over the years. An infinite God could have infinite purposes.
She forged onward:

The purpose of Hell is to discourage humans from dying prematurely.
The purpose of Heaven is to free the gene pool more rapidly of people who can’t stand the idea of dying.
The purpose of burial is to keep things that eat the dead from accidentally eating the living.

She was interrupted by the sound of gravel crunching in the driveway, and stepped into the front dining room to look out the window. An older but well-kept blue Honda hatchback had pulled up. Doors popped open. The driver emerged: male, slightly balding, sandy-haired, late-30s or early-40s. Then Appy’s youngest daughter got out, wearing a man’s windbreaker draped over disposable hospital scrubs. The blue paper “fabric” around her bra and panty lines was crinkled and discolored, as if it had been wet. A fat white support collar hid her neck. Red welts and scratches stood out on her face and arms.

Appy went and got her .22-caliber Favorite varmint rifle from its rack over the back porch doorway, then went back to the front door and opened it.

“Hi, Hon,” she called to Jenny. Then, cradling the gun casually, she turned to the man. “Hello, there. You don’t really look like an abuser. But they usually don’t, and I’ve sort of had it. So I’ll let Jenny explain why she’s been in a hospital, and then I’ll shoot you if she says so.”

“No, Mom, don’t!” her daughter exclaimed.

“It’s okay, Jenny. I’ll just tell them I thought it was a robber. Nobody’s going to put a little, wispy 63-year-old woman in jail for protecting herself.”

“No, Mom, please! This is Sander Keynes. He’s a nice man.”

“I’ve heard that one before.”

“No, I mean it, Mom! I got in an accident, and Sander took me to the emergency room.”

“I’ve heard that one before, too.”
Sander stood where he was, frozen. He’d been about to say, “Hello, Ms. Duenckel. I’m glad to meet you.” His mouth was still half-open, in a slight smile, though his eyes had widened.

“No, Mom, really!” said Jenny, frantically. “I totaled the Yaris! Somebody hit me — I mean, hit the car . . . .”

Sander unfroze enough to say, “Honest, Ms. Duenckel. I-wouldn’t hurt a mouse. Literally. I use live traps. I’d never hit a woman, and I certainly wouldn’t hurt Jenny . . . .”

“I’ve heard that before, as well,” Appy said. “But I’d like to believe it. So Jenny, what are you doing here, why the paper suit, and why does it look like you peed your pants and milked your bra?” Another suspicion raced through her mind. Had she lost a grandchild before she knew one was coming?

“I got out of the car and got lost, Mom,” said Jenny. “My clothes were wet. The ER gave me these to wear.”

“The hospital wanted to admit her, but she wouldn’t stay,” offered Sander.

“Mom, we’re in trouble,” her daughter said. “It’s not Sander’s fault. Well, not much, and he didn’t mean it — I mean, it’s got nothing to do with me getting beat up — I mean, because I didn’t get beat up. Not since Harlan. It’s something different this time, and I did get in a car accident, and Sander rescued me, but he called the police and the TV station before that and — can we come in and explain?”

“I don’t know,” said her mother. “Can you do it any better inside than you’re doing out here?”

“I-I . . . .”

“Well, come in anyway. There’s still some of your old clothes up in your room. I don’t know if they fit anymore, but they’ll fit better than anything of mine would.”

“Thanks, Mom.” She walked stiffly up on the porch.

“You can come, too, I guess,” Appy told her daughter’s male companion. “But if you don’t mind, I’ll keep the .22 with me a bit longer. I always wanted to shoot a real varmint with it.”

“Uh, okay. That reminds me — I’ll be there in just a moment.”

Appy halfway expected him to get in the Honda and drive off. Instead, he opened the tailgate and pulled out a soggy-looking pink blouse and a wet pair of jeans. But he didn’t close the hatchback again. “Stay here for now, okay?” he said softly to someone inside, paused, then added, “Well, when that cop came and I had to leave you by the roadside, you didn’t go ‘pfffffft’ and disappear then, did you?”

Appy, who read lips very well — a useful skill from her “theatrical days,” as she called them — noted this one-sided conversation without comment.

“Here’s Jenny’s clothes,” Sander said lamely, approaching the porch. “Honestly, Ms. Duenckel, I wouldn’t hurt Jenny for anything. She’s a sweet girl.”

“That hasn’t kept other people from hurting her,” Appy noted, watching the car as she took the soggy evidence of Jenny’s story.

“Well, after you. Living room’s through the dining room and to the right. Hon, you find anything wearable?”

“I think so, Mom!” Jenny called down from her bedroom. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

Her male guest had perched himself nervously in the living room’s least comfortable armchair.

“Want some lemonade?” Appy asked him, without smiling.

“Uh, yes, please, that’d be nice, thanks,” said Sander.

Appy dropped the wet clothes off on the back porch, then went to the kitchen and returned, walking with the easy glide of veteran waitress, a plastic pitcher in one hand, three glasses in the other, and the .22 cradled in her left elbow. She set the glasses and pitcher down on the ring stained coffee table, then settled in the recliner. “Help yourself,” she said. “‘Fraid it’s not real lemonade, just that instant stuff.”

“Uh, thank you,” said Sander. “Shall I pour some for you?”

“Sure.”

A few moments later, Jenny joined them. She’d found an old Missouri State sweatshirt and squeezed her lower half into a pair of faded, uncomplimentarily tight jeans.

“So, what have you two been talking about?” she said brightly, settling on the corner of the couch nearest to Sander.

“We haven’t yet,” said Appy. “Now, you were saying about trouble?”

“Lemonade, Jenny?” asked Sander, pouring.

“Sure. Uh, Mom, you know about that UFO they found in the Big Piney?”

“Sure. I do check the news sites sometimes,” said Appy.

“Well, we found it first.”

“Huh,” said Appy. “Well, tell it.”

“We went canoeing Thursday. We were the first ones on the water, and it was a weekday and early in the season, so we pretty much had the river to ourselves. . . .”

“Wait. How’d you come to be free to go canoeing on a weekday?”

“Sander had some vacation coming, and I’d covered for another employee last weekend. I didn’t get fired again, Mom.”

“We figured Bass Pro could do without me for one day,” added Sander.

“Wait another minute, Sander,” interrupted Appy again. “How can a man who can’t bear to set a mouse trap work for Bass Pro?”

“Mom!” ejaculated Jenny, embarrassed. “They sell lots of things, not just guns and fishing rods. Hiking boots, canoes, camping gear. There’s even a restaurant.”

“I maintain the aquariums, Ms. Duenckel,” said Sander. “I preserve life.” Staring at the .22 still resting in Appy’s lap, he thought of the fish that he sometimes found floating when he went to work. He gulped and added, “I try my best to keep them alive, anyway.”

Appy grunted. “I got no quarrel with selling hunting gear, per se. One purpose of life is to die and feed things. I was just curious as to how you reconciled yourself to it. Well, go on about the saucer, Jenny.”

“At any rate, we came around an island, and there was the saucer. The door was open, but Sander looked in and said nobody was inside. So we floated down to our takeout, and Sander called the police. Then, for some reason, he called the TV station . . . .”

“I just figured that if we told only the authorities, we might never hear about it again,” Sander interjected.

Appy leaned back and considered. “So you’re the ones they’re looking for, eh?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so, Mom. And if they catch us, they’re gonna lock us up in the School of Chemical Warfare . . . .”

“What?”

“We heard it on the radio. They’re taking anyone there who saw the UFO to Fort Leonard Wood. But that’s not the worst of it, Mom. That saucer — we think it may have done something to us.”

“Done what?”
Sander cleared his throat. “We may be seeing things.”

“Or hearing things,” added Jenny.

“What sort of things?”

Sander shifted uncomfortably. “A talking armadillo.”

“And Charles Kuralt,” added Jenny.

“Didn’t he pass away sometime back?” her mother asked.

Sander nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“And this aardvark . . . .” began Appy.

“Armadillo,” corrected Sander.

“This armadillo. What sort of things does he say?”

“Uh, mostly that he’s hungry,” said Sander.

“He’s sort of sarcastic,” added Jenny.

“Speaks good English, eh?”

Just then, the phone rang.

“I’ll be right back,” said Appy, and went into the dining room to take the call.

“So how are we doing, do you think?” asked Sander softly.

“Well, she hasn’t shot you yet.”

Appy returned. “Now, this armadillo — is he out in the car?”

“I told him to wait there,” said Sander.

Appy nodded. “Let’s go see him.”

“Uh, Ms. Duenckel?” said Sander as they followed her out onto the porch.

“Oh, call me Appy,” she said.

“Uh, Appy, if you can see the armadillo — you’re not going to shoot him, are you?”

Appy glanced down at the gun, still cradled in her elbow. “Nah. The only varmint I planned to plug, maybe, was you. But I guess I owe you an apology, Sander. That was Sheriff Schmidt on the phone. He said there’d been a car accident down in Pulaski County. He asked if I’d seen Jenny. I said I hadn’t.

“Oh God,” Jenny moaned. “They’ve found the car. You can bet they’re going to check with the emergency rooms . . . .”

“And they’ve got my name from the outfitter,” groaned Sander.

“Who’s ‘they’?” asked Appy.

“Everyone,” said Sander. “The FBI, the Forest Service, the media . . .”

“. . . and somebody with a French accent,” added Jenny.

“Hmm,” said Appy, and continued her march down to the Honda. She peered into the open hatch. “So, where’s this armadillo?”

He should be there in the back,” said Sander. “There he is. Dick? You awake? This is Appy Duenckel, Jenny’s mother.”

“You folks haven’t been fishing, have you?” Appy asked.

“No,” said Sander. “We’ve been fleeing. Why?”

Appy shook her head. “Well, I don’t see any armadillo.”

“I actually can’t see him, either,” said Jenny. “I just hear him, and sometimes feel him. Sander says he’s an armadillo, and so does Dick, so I have to take their word for it.”

“I can’t hear any armadillo, either,” said Appy.

“Oh great,” moaned Jenny. “So we are hallucinating.”

“I didn’t say that,” said Appy. “I just said I couldn’t hear nor see him. But I think he exists.”

“Why?” asked Sander, almost dumbfounded.

“Well, either he’s there, or one of you two was eating worms, and left a couple of wriggly bits behind.” Appy considered the situation. “Is Dick housebroken?”

“Uh, not exactly, but he tells me when he has to go.”

“Then we’d better invite him in. You hadn’t ought to leave an animal in the car. It could get heat stroke.”

“Okay. Come on, Dick. What? Sorry.” Sander turned to the others.

“He’s a little grumpy about being woken up. Armadillos are nocturnal, you know.”

He leaned over, picked up something invisible but moderately heavy, and lowered it gently to the ground.

“He’d make a hell of a prop for a mime act,” remarked Appy. “Let’s go up on the front porch. It’s a beautiful spring day, and your critter can do his business whenever he feels the need. ‘Good thing I haven’t replaced old Abdullah yet.

“Abdullah was the farm dog,” Jenny explained. “He died last winter.”

“Uh, could I wash my hands?” asked Sander. “Armadillos can carry . . . .”

“Sure. Through the dining room, first door to the right. I’ll put the gun up and fetch another chair.”

As she did so, Appy rapidly leafed through her mental catalogue of supernatural possibilities.

“What does this armadillo say about himself?” she asked, after they’ve all reconvened.

“Uh, he doesn’t seem to know much about himself,” said Sander. “He claims he has no memories from before I found him in the bathtub.”

“Well, that rules out a pookah,” said Appy. “Pookahs know who they are.” She sipped her lemonade and considered a moment longer. “I suspect your armadillo friend is a familiar.”

“A what?” said Sander.

“A familiar. Now, I’m no witch, but I’ve known a few and studied a little. A familiar’s a critter that becomes a witch’s psychic companion. Traditionally it’s a cat, or maybe a bat or a toad, but it can be just about anything. A lot of witches today use white rats, I understand. More portable.”

“But why can’t you and I see him?” Jenny asked.

“So what’s the connection between witches and UFOs?” Sander asked, almost simultaneously. It said something about his changing mental state that he hadn’t just snorted in disbelief.

“Sometimes other people can’t see the familiar,” Appy said. “I suppose it’s a spell or something. I haven’t been initiated, so I wouldn’t know the mechanics. Anyway, I see two possibilities. Either Dick’s a spy, sent by some witch who’s gotten interested in Sander and the saucer . . . ”

Sander winced and stared at a spot on the porch floor. “Dick’s denying that pretty emphatically.”

“. . . or else Sander has the makings of a pretty powerful warlock and doesn’t realize it. Maybe the saucer freed up something in him, and he summoned Dick subconsciously.”

Sander thought for moment. “But that’s not really an answer,” he said. “It just puts a pat name on the mystery. How did I summon him? How can he talk? How’d he get in my bathtub, and why can’t he remember anything before he got there?”

“Hey, that’s how science works,” snorted Appy. “Witchcraft, too, I suspect. You don’t solve any mystery, really. You just give it a name, describe its behavior and put it to use. We don’t really know what gravity is — just what it does.”

“Huh. So what does an invisible armadillo do for you, Sander?” asked Jenny.

“I don’t know. Mostly what any armadillo does, I guess. Eats bugs, poops, sleeps all day. Criticizes my life choices.”

“You made choices? That’s unusual,” remarked Appy.

“Well, not many, I guess,” Sander admitted.

“He’s asleep again, now?” asked Jenny.

“Curled up like bowling ball in the corner of the porch.”

“It’s not his purposes as an armadillo that count for you, I think,” said Appy. “It’s his purposes as a familiar. Familiars go where witches can’t, and find out things.”

“He offered to do that,” said Sander wonderingly. “He wanted to check out the saucer. He said the army wasn’t going to notice an armadillo. We were headed there when we found Jenny.”

“My, now, that was a huge coincidence, wasn’t it, Jenny? Were you going back there, too?” asked Appy.

“No! I was coming home to see you. But there was a traffic jam, so I got off the Interstate to find a way around, but somebody hit me from behind — hit my car, that is, and . . . .”

“I see, I see,” said Appy. “Hmm. If I remember right, a witch sends his or her spirit into a familiar to use it. The talking part of the armadillo may be part of you, Sander. Anyway, something’s trying awful hard to get you both back to that UFO. Maybe it’s something inside you, maybe something outside. But it does seem your purpose to go back to it.”

“Well, if that’s our purpose, we bollixed it royally,” said Sander. “The radio said the saucer was somewhere at the bottom of the river. We’d have to evade the whole Armed Forces just to look for it.”

“Maybe not,” said Appy. “Maybe not.” This talk of psychic familiars had reminded her of someone . . . .

“I’m too tired to go looking for flying saucers,” said Jenny despairingly.

Sander nodded. “The doctor said to take you home and put you to bed.”

“Well, she’s home now,” said her mother. “Her bed’s right where she left it when she went off to college. And I imagine you’re tired, yourself, young man, after being up all night talking to animals and rescuing my daughter. You could borrow my oldest son’s room. Why don’t you both make like your invisible friend and hibernate for a bit?”

They didn’t require much persuasion. Appy waited until she heard satisfactory sleeping noises, then got on the phone to make a call before someone bugged her line, if they hadn’t already. After all, the purpose of telephones was to let people talk without seeing whom they were talking to.

“Hello, Gilroy?”

“I know,” said the phone. “Stop by. We’ll work on it.”

“Thanks.” She hung up, got the .22 down again and went out to the porch swing. As soon as Dick’s gone, I should look into getting a puppy, she thought. Maybe a Rottweiler this time.

At about 4 p.m., the FBI called — followed by CBS, CNN, Fox News, the Kansas City Star, the New York Post, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Al Jazeera, a man with a French accent and Harlan Chillingworth — the last in violation of two different restraining orders.

Appy denied everything.