(They were of very different cultures, yet conceived a passionate friendship through which they discovered commonality while working with no shared language through a mystery fallen.)
From a Summer Sky
by Glynda Shaw
At first I thought someone had dynamited a tree, one of those stately elders of the Idaho northwoods which still tower like Spokane high rises. I’d slept through the explosion, if explosion there had been, but the air about me was still a-thrum with the frenetic thrill of the disturbance. My dream-grogged mind grasped some long-winded subsidence somewhere out in the distance. The neck, hairs where they grew beneath my self-administered bowl cut, rasped against the collar of my old pea jacket and I mastered the autonomic urge of my calf muscles to be up and sprinting.
Though late July, the temperature was dipping into the early forties each night by one or two A.M. The nights were so clear though that I couldn’t resist being out in them. I’d let my supper fire go out and set myself up with a lawn chair on the front deck porch of my cabin, my dense-weave mariner’s coat, my stocking cap and a copy of Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes to while away the intervals between shooting stars and other celestial activity. It’s an Autumn yarn but in this part of Idaho, I won’t tell you exactly where, Autumn pretty much starts in early August so I wasn’t really too far off target. I’d settled down with a pillow between my knit covered head and the shiplap face of my cabin, alternately reading by the clip-on page light and staring into the darkness, feeling the closest to peaceful I’d managed in years now. I drifted off to sleep somewhere between the lightning rod salesman and the boys’ trip to the library. I remembered I’d been wondering why nobody had written stories about girls going to a library to read anything of adventure or suspense. Things have changed after all these years and science fiction/fantasy is populated with as many females as males but in those days in was still pretty much a boys’ club and like everywhere else, I felt the outsider.
I must have slept for two hours or so and the feeling had left my fingers. Ray Bradbury had slumped to my lap and I’d made some attempt to hide my curled fists in the buttoned front of my wool coat. Now what was that? I stretched then resumed listening, watching, my social phobia swimming to the top of my consciousness as I considered the possibilities. Dynamiting a tree, I thought again, or maybe a huge stump? Why would anybody do something like that this time of morning? That answer wasn’t too hard to find. Some of these trees were protected, especially if not on your land. I didn’t hear any chainsaw growling nor the night-splitting rumble of one of the local beater trucks. There was still this sense though, not quite a sound, just a kind of subsidence, it’s hard to describe it, like the land was settling down after something rather catastrophic. I wondered about an earthquake but when I coaxed my frozen butt out of the chair webbing, striking the kerosene railroad lantern at my elbow, I noticed no evidence of anything having been disturbed. Again the hairs on my neck stood to attention and thanks a lot, I told my murky subconscious.
If someone had come back here into the woods, nearly thirty miles from any town to speak of, and if there were no engines large or small it would stand to reason that they were either still doing whatever they’d come to do or were hiking overland and might, whoever they were, be seeking a place to lay up or seeking possible witnesses? Kennedy lived a half mile down the goat track which neighbors called a road and Clyde Hasse and his dad lived five miles toward the County highway. Anyone who knew this area back here would know they could best keep a secret if it really needed to be kept, by silencing four reclusives and I the closest and the only one in the habit, so far as I knew, of sitting out on my porch nights as soon as the mosquito squadrons declared a good day’s work and whined off to the hangar for a brief night’s sleep.
I was still fuzzyheaded, but right now, the nightblack woods looked a lot safer than my little yellow pool of lantern light. I grabbed the wire lantern bail and got the light and me behind the closed cabin door. I took my canteen, bag of walnuts and dried huckleberries, my flashlight, my walking stick with the knife in the handle, a mostly used up toilet paper roll and my gun. Yeah that’s right. Those owners who get hurt instead of the assailant’s burglar, probably aren’t competent to own a firearm. Thanks to the U.S. Navy, I can use one. I like to say feminine protection is a .38 designed by a woman gynecologist. I stuck mine in the outer pocket of my Pevera-jacket and left my door ajar in case anyone would consider forcing it, breaking my $9.00 lock. Stepping off the end of my porch nearest the tree line I burrowed my way into the undergrowth.
I headed in the direction from which I thought the disturbance had come. This was a deep ravine, some ways downhill from the property belonging to my cabin. It was maybe 200 feet across at the top and so choked with drifted leaves, conifer needles and the occasional tree blown over in the countless windstorms, that it was difficult to judge the depth of the declivity. Further to the west, it widened out to something more like a valley and water pooled here, green and brackish, a fine breeding place for insects and things that fed on them.
It wasn’t clear why anyone would be setting off explosives or carrying out logging operations in this place but the closer I came, the more dust I encountered. Pretty soon I was choking in the stuff and wetting my handkerchief in a little canteen water, I tied it over my lower face. It helped, but only a little. By the time I reached the ravine edge I was going on hands and knees, partly because of the unsure footing hereabouts and partly because of my healthy paranoia. Light was beginning to glimmer in the east visible now here at the treeline, but the dust was more apparent too. Dirt began dislodging as I crept nearer to the sunbaked claybank overlooking the moldering tangle dozens of feet below me. I could see at first, nothing of note either below or as I furtively stabbed my flashlight beam, in short flicks to right, left, then straight ahead, at top level either.
Still, the freight of particulate in the air persisted and was perhaps stronger now than before. Now it contained a certainly quality of rotting matter or something rather fecund like a field being manured. What had stirred up this mess here in the cleft? I emboldened myself to shine the light more directly downward and for more than just an half second, though keeping a solid tamarack within reach to hide behind in case my flashlight should arouse notice.
Here was something that hadn’t been before on my previous visits. It was of a dull color, gray, perhaps black. What I could see was curved. It wasn’t a pickup or anything like that. Once in a while somebody goes over one of the cliffs so common in this mountainous area, but usually it happens in the winter. Besides nobody would be able to get a vehicle back here among the trees. I wondered about a private aircraft perhaps, but where were the wings? Besides this didn’t look like a fuselage to me. I could note no movement nor did anything appear to be on fire, my best guess was that maybe somebody had dropped a fuel tank? perhaps from a forestry plane, obviously in the wrong place. Maybe a forest fire was imminent. I sniffed, scenting no fuel odor, just airborne dirt and mulch.
It breaks down into four cases, I decided. Case 1, this is some screwy vehicle of some sort with people in it. (If so, nobody’s managing to get out and I’ve no way of getting to them if they do.) Case 2, this is a screwy vehicle of some sort that had people in it but somehow they were either thrown clear or walked, ran, crawled or flew away. Unless I run across any of them, it looks as if they’ve got their own rescue plan in
2place. Case 3, this is just screwy and here because of somebody’s carelessness. If it contains anything toxic or flammable, it at least doesn’t appear to be ruptured. Of course the fourth case was that, more simply delusional, but it wasn’t real useful to go there. Only one of those cases seemed to me to require any action on my part, so far as present information suggested. It would be too bad if someone was in there, too badly hurt to make a noise and trapped alive. But I still couldn’t do much of anything with what I had. Again I decided to turn the matter over to either Kennedy or Hasse leaving the matter to their macho curiosity and proclivities. If there was anything of significance or value, either of those gents could be trusted to ferret it out. I wasn’t a rescue mission. I was in the business of minding my own business.
I backtracked then, first scooting backward on my hands and knees, till I could trust the ground sufficiently to stand on it, but turned frequently to peer behind me for daylight was gathering rapidly now and the skeeters were climbing out of their little skeeter beds and clamoring for breakfast, I.E. me.
In case Case 2 was correct, I.E. there were people walking around in my backyard, I swung wide of the trail back to my cabin, circling around behind well clear of the wood pile and skirting the meadow, through the trees. I kept to the best cover available, coming up along the north side of my home, cupping a hand to my ear for any hint of voice or other sound from within. Taking my pistol in my hand, I stepped soft-footed on my porch, winced at the creaking boards, slid to my front door and flung it open, traversing with the gun muzzle to cover everything in the room in quick succession. Of course I felt like an ass when it was clear that not the smallest thing had been bothered in my absence. My neck follicles were still urging caution though so I scanned the front clearing once more, then backing into my cabin, closed the door. If I’d had a CB I suppose I’d have called somebody but being in touch wasn’t my personal prime directive when I’d come here more than a year before. I really should find Ken or Clyde, I thought, but truth to tell, I was real skittish about being abroad. I salved my conscience by telling myself that anything I’d heard they’d likely have too and I could not think of any scenario in which a sane person would at this moment be at the bottom of that brushy ravine, inside of an overgrown water tank or whatever the hell it was. I needed to pee and being not ready just now for a hike to the necessary, I got out my trusty five gallon condiment bucket from Dairy Queen, removed the lid and solved that particular problem. I started a fire then, and set my tea pot on one of the range runners, deciding I needed caffeine as much as anything else just now. I’d visit one of the neighbors when I felt a little less apprehensive.
I was considering having a laydown to try to recapture the large chunk of my night’s sleep of which I’d been robbed, when I heard light footsteps on the porch deck and as I turned to look through the little Vis-Queened window hole cut in the cabin door with a four-inch expandable drill bit, I saw a woman, in what looked like snowmobile gear standing slightly stooped, looking back at me through my peep port. When I’d thought of marauders in the neighborhood, I guess I’d been imagining burly loggers, motorcycle riders, perhaps National guard troops, definitely male, intrusive at least if not actually threatening and who knew? One woman was herself, looking as confused as I felt, just didn’t add up to a local invasion. Without thinking I opened the door. She stepped in, stood still a moment, then moved cautiously inward, letting me close and secure the door behind her. I waved her toward the chair I used for eating when I ate inside and she looked at it as if not quite sure what it was for but sat, somewhat clumsily to her bulky white suit which seemed to bulge here and there with tools or supplies, not unlike your average hiker I guessed, but you’d work up a sweat in a contrivance like that come ten in the morning or so.
“How’s it going?” I asked. She didn’t say anything, just moved her head in a manner quite not a nod not quite a head shake, more of a circular motion. “So,” I tried again. “You been out all night?” Again she said nothing but made what might have been a throat clearing sound. I figured maybe she was speech impaired or possibly from one of the foreign immigrant communities which had been sprouting up all over Washington and Idaho since Vietnam and the brushfire conflicts which followed. I got an inspiration and pointed at her, then shielded the kerosene light and pantomimed walking, taking high steps like maybe going up hill, then I uncovered the light and did some more walking then pointed at her again. Somehow I got the idea she caught this. She made a noise that sounded positive, I don’t know why, it just did.
She was smallish, smaller than I without all of that padding. She had sort of a pug nose, green eyes set wide apart, a mouth unsmiling currently, but looked like it could under the right conditions, a deep tan, not looking Hispanic or anything, but sunbronzed. She had some sort of fabric hood over her hair, but it was mousy brown where it showed in wisps around her face. I gestured at the hood and mimed pushing something back off my own head. She took the hint and freed herself of the hood, showing quite a lot of hair done in a knot at her nape. I had no way of guessing how old she might be but had the impression that she was younger than my ancient twenty-five years with all of it’s cynical world experience. Her little head now bare, sticking out of that suit made her look childlike and very vulnerable. I wanted to hug her. By now the kettle was whistling and I poured into my cup atop the muslin tea bag, then got out my extra cup, filled a dry bag and poured a second cup. I replenished the kettle from my water pail, sitting it back on the stovetop, now on four pennies to keep it warm but not squealing. She watched everything I did, staring particularly at the second cup of tea I’d prepared.
Suddenly I noticed she had heavy gauntlets on her hands and I had some doubt as to her ability to hold anything like a cup handle. I undid the buttons of my pea jacket and shucked out of it, the cabin being warm enough was now. I studied the front of her suit and couldn’t detect exactly how it was gotten in or out of. I made a zippering motion down my own shirt front, then pointed to her. She got the idea because she did something with her suit and it came apart inverted Y fashion down the front of both legs. “Neat.” I offered her my arm to help her step out of the boots which were attached to the ends of the suit legs. She shucked out of the gauntlet sleeves, standing there in the cabin in just a gray undergarment, damp I saw since her gear was maybe a bit overbuilt for summer even this far north. I waved at the chair and at the cup of tea, then and went back outside to retrieve my other major piece of furniture in which I’d sat last night initially to read, then to sleep in order to be jarred awake. The thought of marauders was far from my mind now though I hadn’t quite made the connection between the disturbance this morning and the presence of a strange woman in my cabin.
As I returned with the folding chair I noticed her doing something with a little silvery device with a needle end which she dipped into the teacup then appeared to be taking a reading or at least squinting at the opposite end of the little gismo. Perhaps some sort of water tester? I thought and was a bit irked at her distrust of my own precautions but you couldn’t really blame her. It occurred to me again that she must be a downed flier, possibly from the Soviet Union? That’s not all that far from North Idaho really, and though I was ex-navy I didn’t feel like carrying on my own cold war, so I really didn’t give a damn where she was from.
I sipped my tea. I was parched I realized and the hot black brew unjittered my residual nervousness and sent a rush of peacefulness through my being. She sipped in her turn, tentatively at first, then drinking in earnest. “Kara,” I said, stabbing at my myself with an index finger. She said nothing at first, so I tried again, “Kara,” then pointed toward her. She pointed at me, “Kah rah,” she said, then aiming at herself, made a noise I’ll not even try to set down. It sounded more like a horse whinny than anything else.
“Wow,” I said, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to manage that. I knew what I was saying probably meant nothing to her but she listened and moved her head again in that circular sort of way. Studying her features, the green eyes, the little pug nose, the rather vivid mouth, I was struck with an inspiration. “You look like my Aunt Winnifred,” I cried. Dad’s eldest
sister with her foul mouth and her impish sense of humor, had offered frequent respite against Mom’s rather tightassed approach to most things where I was concerned. “How about if I call you Winnnie?” I pointed at me, “Kara,” at her “Winnie.”
“Wee-nee,” She said, then at me, “Kah-rah!” I saw that wherever she came from people smiled there too.
Okay it’s obvious the chick was an alien right? You probably knew that from the time she knocked on my door, maybe as soon as I saw the thing in the ravine, maybe way back to the disturbance in the night. The Bradbury book certainly would sound like foreshadowing. I’d read a lot of SF and had imagined all my life, or since I was eight anyhow, what a first alien contact might be like. I’ve got to tell you though, when you’re living through it, the obvious is obvious, only to somebody reading over your shoulder. Winnie moved in, just like that and we made an already cramped cabin of about 200 square feet accommodate two instead of one. Nothing more than that, nothing torrid, nothing lustful, just two gals, able to communicate only in hand gestures and a few shared words, pulling together out in the mostly male-infested woods. A couple days after she arrived, I started revising my suspicion of her as a downed foreign pilot.
Clyde, Ken and a couple of guys from closer into town were felling a huge tamarack just over my property line and proposed to drag it across my land. We’re pretty civil to each other about things like that and at least give warning that we’re going to cross somebody else’s boundaries, since there’s still a frontiersman’s concept of claim here and most folks keep firearms of some sort. Clyde came across toward where Winnie and I were stacking wood.
“Hey,” Clyde said.
“Can’n we pull a log across?” he indicated where.
“What’s it worth to you?” I quipped.
“Hundred thou’.” He said solemnly. The other two men were coming up behind him. “Soon’s I win the lottery! Hey did I say something wrong?” Winnie had disappeared.
“About every time you open your damn mouth,” Walt, Clyde’s dad declared.. The other two guffawed. “Female problems,” said Fred Lappe, the near to towner.
“Beaver fever,” Kennedy put in, referring to the waterborne giardia virus which is the scourge of every neophyte wilderness dweller in these parts.
They dragged the log and Winnie reappeared. “You’re scared of men,” I said, hoping I sounded sympathetic. I’d fallen into the habit of talking to Winnie though I had no idea yet, how much was getting through. “Don’t blame you. I was a Navy Nurse. My CO tried to rape me.” Winnie made that head motion of hers, then resolved into a nod, which she’d picked up from me, along with the standard-style headshake, which she seemed to understand as a negative. “I was stationed on a carrier, anchored 75 miles or so off the Coast of North Vietnam,” I elaborated. “Lt. Colonel Amos D. Leddbetter MD. (called Bedwetter by all the nurses), tried to get me in the sack just about everytime he found me off duty. When I finally made it clear to him that I was not interested and never would be, he stuck me with a charge of being a sex-su-all deviant. He even got a female seaman first class to claim she had reason to believe that I was a Lesbian. She testified at my discharge hearing that she’d entered our cabin, my roommate and mine, and had the distinct impression that a ‘sexual act had recently taken place.’ “That was the end of my military career,” I finished. “Medical Discharge, my credentials as a nurse essentially worthless.”
“Sex-su-all act,” Winnie consented nodding wisely.
“I’m not gay,” I told her. “I mean I have a couple of times but I never lived there.” The circular head motion.. “Have you been hurt?” I inquired pointing in the direction the men had taken. She looked that way, pointed, then pointed to herself, then to her head which she shook violently. She let out a screed of gibberish which I think was meant to represent many different voices talking at once.
“You hear in your head when people are around?” I asked her. She nodded. “Just men?” I asked, pointing again down the road. Winnie looked confused
for a moment, then pointed where I had then swung her arm around in a circle, like maybe she was indicating everywhere or perhaps everyone.
“Do I bother you?” I asked, gesturing toward myself. Winnie shook her head, looked flustered again, pointed at me, raised one finger, pointed down the road then in several other directions, wriggled all of her fingers, indicated me again and smiled. “Bother,” she said and shook her head. So, many people in her head were disturbing, maybe painful, one person, especially someone she felt friendly toward–? Where on earth could a person like that live for long and how had she come to my cabin possessed of that fancy suit and other things I’d noticed.
“You aren’t from around here?” I asked slowly not for her benefit because the new paradigm so to speak was just dawning on me. God, how dull I must be! I pointed to her, then to the ground at her feet, then made motions like someone coming from the road then to her and the ground again. I nodded. Winnie shook her head then pointed toward the sky.
“Around here,” she said then shook her head.
I wouldn’t have you think that Winnie’s relative inability to talk indicated any lack of intellect. I have no idea if she’d ever seen a tree in her life, but she was using my little chain saw to cut deadwood into stove lengths on the second day we were together. Watching me for fifteen minutes, she was using a splitting axe like a professional thereafter. She instinctively fathomed the mysteries of the stove damper and draw, the rising of bread, the operation of a can opener, how my handmill turned out flour. Perhaps things are similar everywhere. I learned fairly soon that though unable to understand many words as such, Winnie had a way of understanding what I thought though, I never quite understood how that worked, and I never learned to read her nearly so well. If I talked about something long enough, she’d nod or shake or do that circular thing and she’d find some way of showing me what I wanted to know.
Early in her stay we were standing together outside near my fire pit, burning some brush wood. It was a fine clear night, most of them are I guess at 3,200 feet above sea level. I looked up at the stars, pointed, then looked over at her. She nodded, then did a rather strange thing. She pointed at one star cluster those name I had never heard, then shifted slightly to indicate another speck of light a few degrees away from the first.
“What?” I asked. “You come from two different places?” Winnie shook her head. She pointed at first one, then the other, then did a funny little dash from where she was to a place maybe fifteen feet away. She looked at me then pointed at the first star group, at herself, gestured with her hand, pointed at the second stellar light then pointed at herself then down to the ground and at me. “You were going someplace and you came here instead?” I asked. She nodded, rather uncertainly I thought. “Just a minute,” I said. I went inside for a flashlight, a piece of paper and a pencil. She drew very well, I found early on when we were trying to plug some communication gap or other and this looked like something she might be able to explain that way.
Winnie took the pencil and paper and as I held the flashlight for her, she sketched a three-star system or at least three little circles with points issued from all three, rather like I’d draw suns, then a line and another star system, in between perhaps a third of the way from beginning to end, a funnel-shaped object. Near to this, she drew a star with planets orbiting, mostly just dots. She pointed to the third dot from the star then pointed to the ground. Taking up the pen once more she called my attention to the funnel, to the ship, drawing a vaguely sausage-shaped object, much smaller than the ship, then an arrow going counter to the direction the funnel ship had been travelling. She pointed at herself, then the smaller object, the life boat? escape pod? then to the third dot of our solar system then in case I’d missed it, to the ground again.
“Your people,” I tried, “are in that ship and only you came here to earth?” I pointed in my turn to the ground. She nodded.
“Why?” I asked and got only a circular head motion. Causality, unlike ballistics, I was finding are virtually impossible to represent with hand gestures or hieroglyphs on paper.
After the first few days Winnie started disappearing for an hour or two everyday, showing up again with what I took to be a troubled look or her face. Of course I had no idea what passed for courtesy or rudeness either where she came from and didn’t feel like intruding on her privacy but this neck of the woods was a mixed bag of druggies, folks with warrants out on them, religious fanatics, PTSD sufferers and refugees from the recent war, (including me). I had no idea what would happen if Winnie met one or more of the less savory sorts we harbored back here in the woods. One day I watched her a little more closely than usual and made a point of staying was her side as much as possible. We went through our usual agenda of sawing, splitting, stacking, some for evening, some for the winter which I at least, knew was not far off now. Around noon I smeared some peanut butter on cold slabs of fry bread and made lemonade from the dwindling pile in my make-shift pantry. Soon when everything had to be packed in and out, jars and fruit carried just for juice might well be too heavy.
After lunch Winnie looked at me, nodded and headed for the door into the blazing afternoon sun. I followed as casually as I could and still keep her in sight. When she noticed she had company, Winnie stopped, looked at me, stood still for a moment, then making a gesture not unlike a shrug, turned and allowed me to accompany her into the forest. She led purposefully to a clearing I’d used a few times for picking wild flowers or just a quiet place to read before mosquitoes became too thick. She stopped and bent to examine a selection of the low-growing plants, a wild strawberry, a small buttercup, a tiny pine seedling. She took out the little silver device I’d seen once before, from her jeans pocket, and inserted it in turn into each of the plants, studying what was obviously some sort of display. Moving on, she tried again with some other low-growing herbs. She shook her head.
“Is this what you’ve been doing while you away?” I asked, “Plant testing.” Winnie nodded. “Well,” I said, “Maybe I can help you find what you’re looking for.” A circular head motion. It was hot but beautiful and my cramped muscles felt like a walk. I led back out of the woods and down toward a creek which ran near to my place and where anything growing around here, would likely be found. We talked as we hiked along. That is, I talked and Winnie made head moves and hand motions.
“I hadn’t been out of the Navy long,” I said, “when Daddy died. Him and Mom had separated donkey’s years ago and Mom had remarried about the time I was a Senior in high school.” Winnie nodded. “So I was real glad to have someplace to go from that situation, even if it was a war zone, hell I’d lived in a war zone most of my life.”
“War zone,” Winnie agreed, nodding.
“Even though they hadn’t gotten along for a long time, well much at all I guess, I figured Mom’d want to know when Dad passed away. I thought she’d at least want to offer me some comfort. I called and left a message for her. She had one of the first answering machines; but she never called back. A week went by and I called again, got her husband, Harney, got Mom finally. I asked what was up, why hadn’t she gotten back to me? Dad had died. She baldfacedly told me she hadn’t known who had died or who had called her. She claimed she thought I was my cousin Karen, talking about one of Dad’s brothers or something like that. Yeah right, she didn’t even recognize her own daughter’s voice. Well, screw you Mom! I’d had enough. I headed out here a year ago last March and I’ve got no plans to have anything to do with her or Hubby!”
“Skrooo-yoooo Mawum!” Winnie cried delightedly and let go a laugh that was not only contagious, it was pandemic! When we were through doubling over with tears running down both our faces, Winnie went back to work with her little machine, checking dozens more specimens, squinting at each readout, moving on to the next. “Skroo yoo Mawum.” she said, straightening up. We both dissolved again. The hunt was still relatively young then, the desperation hadn’t yet set in.
“So,” I continued. “The Navy didn’t want me. My mom didn’t remember me. I seemed to catch shit wherever I went. My nurse’s credentials weren’t any good. My Uncle Jimmy, Dad’s older brother, has owned this place out here since as long as I can remember. Nobody uses it anymore, but the neighbors know Jimmy and leave things alone more or less, you know, watch out for it. When I needed to get away, (we paused for Winnie to test one last sample, this time a puffball mushroom,) well, I got away here.” Winnie listened solemnly to what I had to say without comment.
I can’t recall exactly when I realized that Winnie was pregnant. She’d arrived with only that quilty undergarment beneath her suit for clothing. I’d found her a couple pairs of jeans, a couple shirts, some underwear. I noticed they were getting tight on her I guess and that didn’t stand to reason because we both worked too damned hard to get fat, that’s one advantage to being a pariah, out in the woods. You lose weight just keeping house and staying warm! Winnie saw me looking at her one day, centering on her burgeoning belly and she nodded, then taking the little sketch pad she carried with her everywhere now, she drew a simple picture of a woman, just a stick figure with boobs and a circle where the belly would be, then she drew within a circle, another, tinier stick figure. I suppose you couldn’t get much clearer than that.
“How many?” I began and started to hold up fingers. But what good would that do? How was I supposed to know how long a month was where Winnie came from? She shook her head slowly, then drew a line on her pad and made a mark a little shy of halfway from left to right, putting her finger on the leftward end then tracing with the finger to the mark, then patting her belly. I made it about four months along.
“And that’s why you are looking for the plants?” I asked “The, (I gestured toward the pocket where she kept her little machine) whatever you’ve looking for?” Winnie smiled and nodded. “Plants,” she said, then “Skroo yoo mauwam,” but didn’t laugh.
“Winnie,” I said, “how come are we so much alike?” This drawing no facial response, I indicated the pocket she carried her note pad in and she gave it to me. I wasn’t sure what I intended when I first set pencil to paper, but had an inspiration. In made two sets of three dots on one line, then an equal sign and then six dots together after the equal. Then below that I made do dots then six dots and another equal and aj dots. “Equal,” I said. “Same.”
Winnie studied the paper looking puzzled but nodded. “Five” I said holding up one hand, fingers spread, “And five,” other hand, “equal ten,” both hands.
“Equal,” Winnie said,” “same.” I nodded vigorously then pointed to her then to me, then to the ground then up to the sky. To emphasize I gestured to her then the sky, to me then the earth. “Same, why?” I strained with every effort of eye, mouth, shoulders, palms outspread. “Why the same?”
Winnie looked in that way she did when once again her machine rejected a sample for that’s what I assumed must have been happening. She stamped her foot once as if having something she wished to say if only she knew how. Finally she took back the pad, turned to a fresh page and drew a spiral which I recognized as The Milky Way Galaxy. At some point nearer the center than I thought our sun resided, she marked an X which she’d seen me do to indicate a location. She drew a circle around the X then looked around us a that the ground, selected a thistle going to seed and bended, plucked it very gingerly. She’d had experiences with these before! Raising the thistle to her lips she blew upon it, sending down in a puff away from us, then pointed to the X on her diagram, then to the sky, gesturing with her arm, indicating I understood, a lot of sky. She pointed then to me and to herself. “Same,” she said. “Equal?”
Wow! Was she saying that we all came from a common place and had scattered through this part of the galaxy? Were there humanlike races all around our spiral arm? That is an old SF idea of course but exciting as hell that it might be true. Who needed bug-eyed monsters when you could have cousins to teach you someday about your own isolated little family, teach us about us, through comparison, through things like and not like. I hugged Winnie. She hugged back. “Yes,” she said.
It was around this time I think, that I realized how ill Winnie was.
In spite of the intense sunlight, from which Winnie seemed to tan just as I did, I saw her growing pale and she wasn’t keeping weight on like she should either. Most of my nursing experience had been with war wounds and the like, but I’d done general anatomy and knew she was setting up for a dangerous pregnancy. We needed a doctor but nobody was going to make a cabin call this far out into the woods and what would happen if somebody found out about her difference? I envisioned the hordes of reporters, thrill seekers, religionists, sincere investigators, crackpots. I was having these thoughts one evening with Winnie sitting besides me as the radio, drawing from the deep cycle battery, played national Public Radio over the crackle of the stove fire. “No,” she said, shaking her head decisively.
“What then?” I demanded. “I wish I knew what is wrong!”
Winnie got up and walked over to where that funky space suit of hers lay. Probing in a pocket, she withdrew a little case, which opening, displayed a set of what looked like medical instruments. They were in fact medical instruments, because she withdrew a needle, opened a tiny bottle of some sort of aromatic liquid, alcohol I thought though I wasn’t sure which sort, dipped the needle into the bottle, waved the needle in the air and pricked the ball of her third finger. A drop of blood oozed out. She locked eyes with me as if to make sure I understood.
“Blood?” I asked. She nodded. “Something wrong with your blood?” Another nod. I handed her a tissue for her finger. We stared at each other for a few minutes, each of us striving I suppose, to find a way to communicate on this new subject. Finally she took up her pad and sketched a small circle in the center with a much smaller circle perhaps an inch from that, then a larger circle surrounding the central one and passing through the smaller. “The earth and the moon?” I wondered aloud then no, she’d point at the ground if she meant earth. “Maybe a hydrogen atom?” I took the pencil and drew a more complex diagram, what was oxygen, eight protons, eight neutrons, sixteen electrons? With my meager artistic ability I drew out the larger atom. Of course atoms don’t look anything like the way we draw them for kids, but she’d used the simple planetary model so I hoped she’d understand. I in-drew breath and huffed it out, pointing again at my oxygen molecule. She did get it and nodded. She took back the pencil and pad,
9making a dot mark near the hydrogen then by the oxygen making a funny cross mark then held up ten fingers till she saw I understood the mark was for ten, then made six more marks by the oxygen.
“Oxygen is number sixteen on the periodic Table of elements,” I quoted from high school chem. She nodded excitedly. with a new sheet she made a line of numbers, A, ,B all the way to nine all with groups of single dots, then the symbol for ten then ten and one, all the way ! two tens. She moved down the page and made 10 ten marks and then one more and a group of ones. I could see we’d need a new mark for hundred and marks for five and fifty would be real useful. A hundred and five elements, I’d learned in school but okay a hundred and nineteen was reasonable.
“Okay,” I said. “Many elements. There is one element which you need in your blood?” Winnie made that circular maneuver with her head then pointed rapidly at one number, then another, seemingly without pattern, back and forth up and down the list. “A compound?” I asked “Many elements?” together?” I pointed at several of the numbers she’d drawn each with a different finger, then crammed the fingers together in a bundle. Winnie nodded and slumped back down in her chair, evidently exhausted by the effort to communicate. “Can I have your kit?” I asked pointing to her med packet She gave it to me.
I found a piece of cotton from an aspirin bottle, sterilized a needle, pricked my own finger and dabbed blood on the cotton. I pantomimed picking a plant from the ground, then holding my hand as if it clutched something about the size of her little machine, bent down and pretended to peer at a readout dial. Winnie gasped and was up again, bringing the little machine. The machine sniffed the cotton with my blood on it and emitted a satisfied little chirp. Well I thought, just my luck to be the only donor within how many miles? I’m type O but I was also the only person I knew of anywhere, who would believe my own fish story about a girl from the stars and some compound I couldn’t identify, but was pretty sure existed in my blood.
The next couple of days Winnie grew weaker and weaker. She had no energy for her plant searches even if there’d been any point in that. She had been examining roots lately, nothing above ground having shown promise but I saw little point in that. If any mineral or compound was of significant presence in a plant, one should be able to detect it in leaves or flowers even if the root concentrated it. I spent a couple of sleepless nights, tossing and turning next to her, looking at the implications of what I was contemplating. Maybe if I’d been older or felt less rejected by the Power Structure of my own planet, I’d have done differently. I was who I was and where I was and when I was and I’ve decided not to blame me. You can make your own judgement.
When the Navy divorced me so to speak, taking away my nursing credential I was at loose ends for several months, staying with one relative or the other, trying to avoid questions about the why of my being released prior to my hitch being up. Though I couldn’t get a job as a nurse and was damned if I’d go back to hashing and tending bar, I found that a few weeks of watery training would let me call myself a phlebotomist, somebody able to draw blood. The demand was high just then with the Red Cross needing vast supplies for the same military that had rejected me. Having been a nurse, I breezed through the course, and kept body and soul together for the next two years, riding around with blood mobiles, poking needles in arms eager or not, in school gymnasia, cafeterias, Senior homes or Legion Halls. That lasted until the debacle with Mom and my lighting out literally for The Hills one balmy Spring evening with no leave asked or given but with my Id and uniform packed in dust and waterproof plastic like a mothballed prom dress, something for which I was suddenly very grateful.
The next day I arranged to borrow Clyde Hasse’s truck. Suspected Lesbians are allowed to drive, even in Idaho, and I used what mad money I had left, to fill the old International’s tank. I drove down to Coer d’Lane and by showing up early enough, using more guts than I thought I had, I managed to get aboard an outbound mobile unit assigned this day to a blood drive at a junior college. There was some confusion about my sudden arrival but I told them straight-faced, I’d been hired from the Spokane Red Cross office just the day before and I was here to help out, if I didn’t get paid today that was alright, just keep me busy. It wasn’t too hard to find and procure the things I needed.
Winnie and I shared a bed. I had only the one and it was pretty lumpy, just a make-do for when Uncle Jimmy went hunting. It was surely too cold by September for anybody to sleep on the floor. In case you’re wondering, no we never made love but we could hardly have been more intimate if we had. I’d managed to score some of the nitro skin numbing compound along with the tubing needles and bags. Early next morning when the light was good enough, I drew a pint of blood from my left arm, then did the same for Winnie and transfused her with my blood. I’m big enough that the loss didn’t bother me. My heart was hammering though every step of the way. What in the hell was I doing? Well I didn’t see an alternative. The change in Winnie was spectacular. Two days later I gave her another pint. Yeah, I know that’s stupid but I didn’t exactly have General Hospital around to offer support. Winnie practically had a migraine every time more than one other person was near the cabin. No way would she handle even Priest River. The first two pints of Winnie’s blood I disposed of, making a little hole in my garden patch and pouring it in, covering reverently with soil. I sort of felt I should say something over it but wasn’t sure what so I just said “Please make this work. Make Winnie well. Amen.” The third pint I took from my arm, I replaced with one from Winnie’s. I was a bit lightheaded was now and maybe that was the stupidest thing of all but you know, I’m awfully glad I did it. Winnie’s color returned and she got strong again. On the fifth day she let me know with hand gestures that she was making a trip. I started to shake my head but “Yes!” she said so firmly that I didn’t feel like arguing any more. I pointed at her and then at myself, and she said again “Yes.” She started making gestures with her two hands, as if holding something between them, the hands far apart, then moving together, now looping whatever she held, tying a knot. “A rope!” I guessed, (Winnie would be great at charades!) Winnie nodded.
I went and rummaged the little storage shed out back and turned up a 50 foot roll of half-inch line. Winnie inspected it and made a circular head motion then gestured that I should follow. She had put on her flight suit as well and had something, a little square box clipped on the back of a harness belt which went around her waist and was attached with crossing between her legs.
When we reached the ravine Winnie drew a thin filament with a tie arrangement on it from her belt box. She secured the tie around a balsam pine near at hand then detaching the box itself from her belt, she took some pains showing me how it worked. Pushing a stud, she drew out a couple feet of line, with a click-clicking noise like a fishing reel or ratchet. then pushing the stud again, caused the line to reel in once more. The device didn’t seem to exert a great deal of power and worked like a dozen other devices I could name from chalk lines to measuring tapes. Next Winnie directed me to tie my own rope to the same tree, a bit above her own line. I did so, with her watching my knots. (Well I’d been a Navy gal, even if I’d never been within five miles of a sail or a yardarm!) This done, Winnie re-clipped the box, this time on the front of her harness then threw the free end of my rope into the chasm. She got on all fours, facing away from the ravine and slid backward over the lip, not free falling, keeping contact with the cliff face but supported by the slowly unreeling line. When she began to swing, she reached for the sisal rope, put some tension on it and stabilized, reaching bottom a few seconds later. She unstrapped her harness then, and started the box working, climbing it’s way, harness and all, toward where I stood topside.
Winnie swept a arm at me as the harness emerged. I stopped the reel, climbed in and secured the straps around and under me. I’d done some rappelling in Basic as a naval recruit and I made the trip about as well as she did. Standing besides her on the detritus next to the decidedly not fuel tank, I helped Winnie brush away accumulated needles and leaves, till we’d uncovered a patch the size of a car door.
11Winnie did something to the panel, for so it turned out to be, and it swung downward to meet the ground. There was a little cubby inside, like a small closet but shorter; a minimal airlock arrangement I decided from my many science fiction adventures and what looked like ventilation hardware within.
Winnie made an adjustment to a knob on the inner door and it swung inward, then retracted into the side of the lock. That was a good thing because the inside was compact to say the least. A sweetish, somewhat fetid odor of stale house keeping issued from within. Winnie preceded me into the little craft, sliding into a seat at what appeared the forward end, leaving me room to enter. To say the interior was cramped is like stating that a mountain is large. There was room for two but just barely. About the waist of the thing was a bulging in the hull like an inner tube on edge, so you passed through the doughnut hole going from fore to aft. It put me in mind of a big toroidal magnet. The discussions I’ve had with people who claim to know, indicate this would be reasonable. Not only must the ship but protected from onrushing atoms in “Empty Space,” but the means of braking the craft from interstellar speeds, to come to rest near the earth might be magnetically accomplished.
In front where Winnie sat in a sort of web-harness chair, were two banks of controls, dials and switches, also something which might look like a radio but with a kind of headset I’d never seen, though that wasn’t surprising. Back where I was perforce confined, there being no room for me to be anywhere else, were a collection of tanks large and small. There was also something that looked like an oubliette with a tightly-clamped lid and there was a rather complex little machine about the size of an ice chest, which seemed to be mostly coils with perhaps a motor.
Seeing my interest, Winnie made deep breathing noises and pointed to a tank perhaps two feet high a foot in diameter, and covered with gray insulation-looking material. I decided that must be a liquid oxygen tank. This boat was intended for short trips evidently. I made a drinking motion and she indicated another tank, this one of maybe 20 gallons capacity. I reckoned rapidly, two or three liters per day would last perhaps a month. Water can be condensed from exhaled air of course but the intended trip was to be short. I lifted the oubliette’s lid, undogging the clamps and peered inside. No particular odor be some whitish gray ash inside, probably an incinerating toilet, maybe exhausting to space? I indicated the coil machine, Winnie exhaled lengthily, then made a drinking motion but turned her imaginary cup upside down. Maybe this machine removed carbon dioxide and water? I’d heard this was possible through cryogenics, but one must admire the compactness of the design. I saw nothing that looked like food.
While I was so absorbed was Winnie’s housekeeping appliances, she had turned her attention to the radio-like thing up forward. She’d taken that strange headset, clamping it on her head in a way that neither covered ears nor mouth but perched on her temples. She sat with eyes closed as if listening intently, which I suppose she was. After a while I saw her mouthing words or what might have been words, but no sound issued. She listened a while longer or grokked or whatever her people do on devices like that, then waved me toward the hatch. I squeezed through the doughnut then slid down the ramp to the ground. As Winnie emerged, looking suddenly very weary,I grabbed a quick outside tour of the craft. It was perhaps twenty feet long and might have run seven feet diameter external. No part of it where it was visible, looked particularly shiny. The exterior appeared ceramic-like but not tiled or seamed in any way. Winnie had seen my tools and had used most of them, so I mimed hammering, cutting, screwdriving, pointing at the craft. She shook her head.
“How then?” I wondered aloud. She considered this a moment, then bending, plucked a small plant growing at her feet and traced from the root, to the stem, to the branchy arms, to the tiny leaves. “What, it grows?” She nodded slowly then her characteristic motion. Wistfully I thought, she lifted the ramp off the humus beneath the ship and caused it to restore itself as a panel in the side of the little ship. I worked my way around to the end of the craft, opposite to where the pilot seat had been and brushed at it, uncovering a. small jet or nozzle I presumed, then another farther down, probably part of a ring at and stern. “Can’t it fly anymore?” I made an airplane of my hand and with an eeeeow-buzzzz, sound, passed it through the air, indicating her ship.
“Eeeeow-buzzzz,” Winnie repeated, then “no.” She picked up her harness, handing it to me. I took a look at her and decided I best stay below and let her climb first. I pushed the harness back to her and pointed first to her, then to me. She nodded, forced a smile, faced her little craft which must have been her home for days, weeks? probably not months I decided. “Skroooo yoooo Mauwam!” she said. I laughed but didn’t feel any joy in it. Winnie began to climb.
The device reeled in or out and held strongly while you were stationary. It didn’t really pull you up but it was a lot easier to scale a cliff if you were sure you wouldn’t fall back or lose ground. With fingers and toes I scrabbled my way upward and stood again next to my friend, who was white as a winding cloth and trembled visibly. I got an arm around her and walked her to the cabin. “No more cliff climbing for you young lady!” I scolded, wondering again how far along Winnie was. She shook her head. We locked the cabin door, shared blood then knocked off for the rest of the day to sleep off our recent experience.
It was growing really cold now. October in Northern Idaho is like December in kinder climes. With both of us working together, I thought we’d gotten enough wood in to last till Spring but there wasn’t much to spare. Winnie was showing big-time now and the stethoscope I’d made from a gas funnel and a siphon hose, showed the second heartbeat strong and distinct.
I wangled a ride into Hayden Lake and managed to get more bags, some extra needles, a gallon of isopropyl alcohol. That’d have to do until the baby was born. Would Winnie still need blood after that happened? Who knew? I hadn’t a clue why she was missing whatever it was and why my blood supplied it, or even for sure if, though when Winnie had one of her bouts of pale and weak, it did seem to help. Still the bouts came more frequently now. I lugged my booty along the final two miles to our cabin, our cabin I realized, to find her with venison broth on the stove and a very passable loaf of rye just out of the oven.
One clear November night, on our way back from the little cedar shake outhouse, I happened to look up at the stars, and saw a meteor streaking across the sky from west to East. Winnie noticed it too for she looked up and held her gaze there a long time. I pointed to her then to me then to the sky I made a pass with my hand like she’d sometimes employed when indicating the ship from which she’d come.
“Winnie,” I said, up there, (pointing up) is everyone like us, (I pointed to each of us, this time specifically at our breasts, like us, or are there (I put my hand down to my crotch and moved it around as if waggling something down there.)” Winnie looked perplexed and glanced dubiously back at the privy, striking a pose as if to say Okay, I’ll wait. “No” I laughed. I pointed down the road from whence Clyde and Ken had arrived that day of the log dragging episode. I lowered my voice to sound like Clyde who talks as if he’s swallowed a bullfrog.
Understanding lit on her face. “Same,” she said, pointing first to my breasts then to hers, then made the wigwag sign down south, shaking her head. “Same,” she said. I thought she’d just told me she’d come from a woman only ship, well then, how had she gotten with child as they say?
I’d picked up a couple of books at the Library over in Hayden Lake, old even then but about as informative as one could find in those days. One was James Sullivan’s We are Not Alone,, because I sure’s hell knew now we weren’t and wanted hints on how to proceed now. The other was Arthur Clarke’s Voices from the Sky, which among much else, contains some of the best articles I’ve seen on interstellar transportation. The interstellar ramjet, scooping hydrogen up between the stars, squirting fusion plasma out the tail as rocket exhaust, seemed to be a prime contender. Winnie always drew her people’s ship as a funnel, big end facing forward. One evening I duplicated her rather stylized drawing of the ship, then drew in the little escape pod she’s arrived in. (How?) I thought really hard, then traced with my finger backward from the path of the larger ship, indicating again the pod then, “How,” out loud this time.
Winnie frowned then reached for our flashlight which we used for after dark excursions. She pointed at the ram-ship on the paper, laying the flashlight in such a way as to point away from the ram-ship’s tail. She pointed at the pod, then placing her hand a few inches from the lens of the flashlight, flicked it on, letting her hand recede from the lens, as if being pushed was the light. then, taking up the light, in her right hand, made a fist of her left. She moved both light, pointing backward, and the fist, rightward for a foot or more, then with the flashlight still in motion, slowed the progress of her fist, letting it come to rest, apparently under the influence of the light beam, then pointed at her pod where I’d drawn it on the paper. “How,” she said. I’d never thought much about light, probably laser light I supposed, being able to push something, to speed it up or slow it down, but I found that was valid physics. It took me a while to understand all she was trying to tell me, but I had my books.
I think the thing I felt the worst about was that Winnie had no books. I never found out how her people set things down for future access and I suspected had it been me, I’d have foregone food rather than be without reading material however limited the capacity of my lifeboat, but though Winnie drew and quite well, I never saw her write. During the summer days when there’s always plenty to do the lack of printed matter wasn’t too significant. Now in the darker times of the year, with snow several feet deep on the ground and even the trip to the outhouse being a major foray, the dreaded boredom was apt to set in. I tried reading to her, but though she had by now a handful of English words and that uncanny ability to catch notions from my thoughts, plain recitation seemed to be as futile as playing a symphony for a deaf person.
Strangely enough though, music did seem to ease the passing of time. I’d pull in the national public radio station from Spokane on my 12-volt radio, and play The Thistle and Shamrock or Prairie Home Companion, Inland Folk or the 10-Pound Fiddle. Winnie would take on a truly far-off look as if remembering sweetly. One evening, following a particularly energetic Irish reel, she stamped her foot and cried “Screw you Mom!”
“Ay, Begorrah,” I agreed. “Skroo yoo mawum!”
We’d begun with one blood sharing per week, which I seemed to be able to bear. Toward mid November, when I judged Winnie to be entering into her third trimester, we went to two. I knew we were in trouble when three per week were necessary and still Winnie failed.
Ever evening for some time and now during the day as well, Winnie labored feverishly over some project of hers, involving another of her peculiar little devices. This one was not analytical in nature. I guess you could call it more physical–It made things. It was about the size of a radio shack battery charger, the sort that charge radio or tape deck batteries. One could put odd bits of metal, a bent nail for instance or a screw, even a bottle cap in and through some curious integration of woman and machine, new things appeared. I’m talking maybe a gear made from a rusty nail say, totally reformed and purified, bright metal, like new. I use a gear as an example because the things which came out of the little device were a lot weirder than any machine parts I every saw in my uncle’s workshop. The machine worked on rocks too, silicon I suppose. Some of the parts were little ceramic things, electronic components most likely or whatever exists after electronics are old news. The only thing I knew about electronics and how they looked was from when I took the back off my old transistor radio and tried to trace all of the wires, or the time Jimmy opened up the back of our Ejs vintage Philco TV to replace a couple of tubes.
On November 29th it was that the device was completed. Winnie made one final connection with a little tool from her medical kit and pressed the thing into my hand.
“What is it?” I asked. To describe it would be like trying to get across what a casserole looks like if you have no words for foods or cooking. Wearily Winnie tore a blank page from her tablet and sketched a shape I knew well was now, first her lifeboat closed, then the lifeboat with the hatch open. Moving from the first drawing to the second, she touched the little artifact she’d created was will-power alone it seemed. She touched the hatch in emphasis, then the device again.
“A key?” I wondered. Winnie nodded. “How do I use it?” She shook her head, then touched her forehead. Her little manufacturing machine had forehead contacts not unlike the communicator device in her ship but though I’d tried a number of times, I’d been totally unable to get results from it. “How can I use it?” Winnie drew my calendar closer to her and made a vague gesture as if tracing future-ward through the weeks, through the months, pointed off somewhere into the distance, then that circular head motion. “Someday?” I wondered, “In the future?” She nodded. She pulled off her sweater and well-used jeans and fell into bed.
Winnie couldn’t get up the next morning. She was livid with fever and she fought for each inspiration, gasping, rolling her eyes, crying out from time to time in that strange equine-sounding speech that had inspired her name. I reached for the transfusing equipment., opening a clean swab uncapped the alcohol bottle, prepared the needles. I’d determined to hook up with her and stay connected until this thing broke or–; Winnie, suddenly clear-eyed, motioned the needles away. “No,” she said.
“You’re sick,” I protested.
“No,” she said again. I grabbed my improvised stethoscope and applied it to her abdomen. I moved it around listened, moved on, listened again. No second heartbeat and the beat I could hear weak and erratic. Winnie gestured to request her med kit. I gave it to her and she withdrew a little instrument which she applied to her arm, then her belly, sensing something I supposed though I wasn’t sure what. She shook her head. “No,” she said.
“No what?!” I demanded. A circular head movement then a head shake. “To hell with the psychic thing!” I screamed. “I’m getting you to a Doctor.” Thinking this was rather late in the game for me to put my medical foot down, I helped her out of bed, to the bucket, into the warmest clothes I could find.
I beat my way through the snow the half mile to Kennedy’s cabin. “Can you give us a ride into town?” I shouted over the wind. Most people had given up driving by now this year but Kennedy had been known to drive a tractor with sled behind and once even a team of horses to reach the freeway.
Ken scratched his stubbly chin. “God Kary,” he said, mispronouncing my name as always. “I can get us there but storm’s blowing in. Don’t know about getting back.”
“Winnie’s having a baby,” I told him. “She’s got to have a Doctor.” I knew that Winnie was having no baby now but pleading labor was the short way to explain what had to happen.
“Winnie,” Kennedy repeated. “your friend?” I nodded. “Whew,” he exhaled from puffed out cheeks. “We’d best get at it then (glancing at the sky). There’s not much time.”
Somehow the two of us got Winnie bundled into Ken’s two-ton. The ancient engine (kept passing warm through the night by a pair of oil lamps, wick set low under the oil-pan) coughed, belched, farted and shuddered to life. We slalomed across the abused mud track which served as a residential boulevard, fishtailed across the board and beam bridge spanning the thundering creek, and wound along the switchbacks leading out and down to where the County road waited.
Out a couple of miles was a sort of staging area, a widened expanse through private and public roads met, where four-wheel drivers and mountain trucks might make it into town and back the winter through. A dozen or so houses ranging from Boonesborough to Ma Kettle in style and construction, clustered about this geographic divide. Long before we reached this Winnie began to scream. By the time the double rank of parked vehicles at the roadside came into view, she was unconscious.
“Hate to tell you this Honey,” Kennedy said, with real concern breaking through his crusty demeanor, “but yer friend ain’t gonna make it so far as town. We gotta find another way.”
“What way?!” I sobbed. “There’s no place closer this side of Hayden Lake!” Kennedy swung the truck about in a sweeping but cautious circle with one hand, while stoking up his Radio Shack CB. A flood of crackle spattered voices and squeals issued from the radio. Winnie’s eyes fluttered.
“Breaker, breaker” Kennedy chanted. “Break on Ten, C’Mon?” Three brief but decisive conversations later he said “No use, Kary. Storm’s hit Hayden and Goer d’Lene. “Nobody is coming out this way tonight.” Before I could throw my lungs behind my frustration, my fear, my grief, “You got a fire goin’?”
“Yes,” I told him. “Was going when we left.” He nodded.
“Mebbe I know somebody,” he said.
I’d heard of Sharree, who most people when they spoke of her at all, called the Old Witch of the Woods, though I’d warrant she wasn’t ten years older than me. She had the only herb garden around these parts I heard and rumor had it that she was half Irish and half Apache and superstitious on both counts. What I can tell you for sure is the storm didn’t stop her from getting to us. I’d spend a tense half hour or so, stoking the fire, making sure Winnie was warm, trying to recall the signs of shock while wondering if I should try the transfusion cure once more.
A light tap on the door and the very thin, almost skeletal woman entered, Kennedy’s act, rather pugnacious form showing behind her in it’s enormous mackinaw. “You ladies signal if you need somethin,’ Kennedy directed, handing me a pistol. I stared dumbly at the thing for a moment then realized, yes, this would make more sense than trying to use a radio in this weather, even if I had a two-way. “She’ll speak louder than yours,” he commented. “I’ll come if I hear two shots and I’ll let the Hasses know to come too.”
Sharree closed the door. “We’ll heat up all the towels you have,” she said, then peering into the five-gallon canner I kept always hot on the stove during Winter. “We’ll feed some snow in there so we have enough water. I won’t go into a lot of details but as I already knew, Winnie’s body was trying to rid itself of a fetus which was already dead and had been for some hours. Whether her body was just too weakened from the obviously incomplete help I’d been able to offer or if there was just too much stress from the still-birth I couldn’t say. Toward the end, Winnie gestured toward our Doctor, our emergency worker, our spiritual mentor, pointed toward the door.
“Please?” she pleaded in a tone I’d never heard before. Without a word, Sharree let herself out onto the porch into the teeth of the scudding storm.
“Me,” Winnie said barly loud enough to be heard over the wind. I went to her, laying on the bloodsoaked bed, fearing to disturb her body, encircled her neck with both my arms.
“I’m so sorry,” I wept into her hair. “I wanted to do so much more, I wanted to–” my voice broke down.
Winnie touched my chin,, even that effort making her gasp. “We are same,” she husked. “We are–love.” I held her until the earliest stethoscope known to humanity registered no heartbeat.
I don’t know how long I lay there before I remembered that Sharree was standing out in the wind in the snow, in the gathering dark. I began to apologize but she waved it away. “I know,” she said simply. I saw.”
“Saw what?” I asked confused. “Her aura as it left,” she said.
“Her spirit light,” she clarified. “It was colored from bright blue through Indigo and even into the violet. She was at peace. She knew love. There was something not of this world about her, something of the stars.” I nodded, my throat too tight to speak any longer. Sharree helped me into the cabin and sat quietly while I cried myself dry at least for now, then brewed a rich brown tea from a little pouch she had beneath all the layers of weatherproofing, within her flannel shirt. “Are you sisters?” She inquired at last.
“No,” I said in some surprise, never having thought we’d be mistaken for relatives let along sharing the same mother. “Why do you ask?”
“Unlikely for two auras to look so similar between two who aren’t of common blood,” she said, and I knew what conclusion she must be drawing but it didn’t matter.
Three days later Sharree stood with me, Ken, Clyde, Walt and Clyde’s brother John; about the hard-won hole scooped first with dynamite, shaped with shovels and mattocks, and the rough cedar box we’d cobbled together in Walt’s woodheated workshop. Walter Hasse had lost his wife a couple of years back and the family had buried her there on the homestead, their dad officiating since they didn’t hold much with churches and their money-grubbing ways. We’d moved my reserve woodpile to get down to ground level and alerted the countryside with a stick of explosive dropped down an auger dug five-inch hole, otherwise I swear we’d be pick and shoveling yet. Walt opened the moth-eaten Bible he carried and intoned about ashes to ashes and dust to dust then the part about If I go I will prepare a place for thee. After a round of amens, I pulled off a mitten, fished out the folded scrap of paper I scrawled upon the night previous and though committed to memory the penciled words were a comfort, something to fix on while trying to keep my eyes clear enough to see the others about me.
From out the starflecked vastness
Fallen from a summer sky,
To commingle twining lifelines,
we spoke beyond words have you and I,
Though dizzying with the globe’s rotations,
resounding with the earth’s heart thrum
Your light shall ever bide and guide me
Something beautiful this way comes.
“Amen!” it was a chorus worthy of a Baptist revival. My eyes were not the only ones now swimming with tears. Ken handed me the shovel and we began the distressing yet finalizing business of filling the grave.
I’ve a social worker friend who happens also to be blind. He handles a disability and pregnancy caseload, a mixed lot of often desperately needy folks. He’s commented numerous times how fate–or something, keeps landing in his interview chair people he’s uniquely qualified or able to assist. Though not particularly religious, he’s opined that the whole system of events and the interconnection between them is like a contour map with mountains and valleys, get into a general region and you’re apt to start rolling into a common basin, into a common low-spot, ending in adjacent locations the someone you’re Supposed to meet, though you’ve start from very different points of departure.
“You can write God into the thing or not,” Dan’s commented, “But it’s apparent to me that like attracts like or maybe need attracts opportunity if you can somehow get loose from your local friction.” That’s the only way I can even begin to explain how Winnie happened to fall out of the sky in a region sparse enough to keep her away from the psychic Impediment of Earth’s population, to find a particular human who could keep her alive for the evidently critical few months to initiate what ultimately happened.
I’d missed my last two periods previous to Winnie’s passing. At the time I put it down to my sharing of the pregnancy hormones coursing through her system these past months. It wasn’t until January that I finally believed I was pregnant. It wasn’t that unbelievable I guess. Virgin births aren’t that common but they happen, a spontaneous dividing of a woman’s egg without influence from a man. Winnie had told me, or I think she did, that she came from a starship with only women, or was that a misunderstanding? Do women in her group, her society, her race, impregnate one another? Or can a woman who’s about to lose a baby pass the embryo somehow to another or can two eggs be entangled like electrons so they grow in mystical association? Over the years I’ve read in fields from cellular biology to quantum physics and I still don’t know.
My baby was born on June 21 at Summer Solstice that year. I’d moved back to town by then. Staying in that cabin with Winnie gone was just too saddening. I named her Winnefred, for my renegade aunt, or so the family assumed and that was okay. Mom came to visit her granddaughter, if not me. Well Skroo yoo Mauwum. I could ruin your country club requte was telling how your granddaughter was born. I invented an old Navy boyfriend for the family then imagined him into a veteran’s hospital for something mental. Mom was glad enough to leave him there. Starting very early, when Winnie asked me about her daddy, I told her that once in a very long while, a baby girl can be born just because her mommy wants her so, so much and that just went to show how very important she was.
Winnie was sharp, I know all mothers say that but she really was, sharper than me, especially with things mechanical. She showed a distinct preference for her own company or one or two other people, child or adult, male or female. When thinking absently about something or perhaps nothing, she wound her face about in that peculiarly circular way which always made me want to bawl. Instead I’d find something urgent to occupy me elsewhere.
I’d kept the suit with which Winnie had appeared, with the little med kit, the analyzer, the tiny factory, the climbing device, the device I thought of as Winnie’s Key. I knew I was sitting on the treasures of an alien race but explaining how I got them might prove, well, difficult. Besides this was young Winnie’s heritage, not mine.
When Winnie was 14 I sat her down one evening, out under the stars and told her from beginning to end, who she was and as well as I could, where she’d come from. “You mean I’m an alien?” she said more calmly than I’d have expected.
“Well, no,” I said, “not really, you were born right here on Earth, from my body.”
She seemed a bit disappointed at that version of things. “I’m from another race,” she contradicted.
“Half from another race,” I compromised.
“Like Mr. Spock,” she said.
“Like Mr. Spock.”
“Did she come in a spaceship?” Winnie asked.
“Yes,” I said, “sort of a spaceship,” more like a lifeboat.”
“Where is it?” she demanded then.
“Well,” I said, and the result of the succeeding discussion saw us driving to Idaho the following Saturday when I could get time off from the hospital, standing on the ravine edge, which looked much like it had nearly fifteen years before. There was no hint of the tank-like craft because the organic drift of the forest had filled the gorge to the point where I figured major rubbish removal would be necessary to plumb the depths.
“Is it still there?” Winnie wondered. “How can we find it?”
“Maybe we can’t,” I admitted, but here’s the key.” I don’t know why I’d waited till just now to show her Winnie’s cunning little assembly or indeed any of the artifacts I’d brought away from Uncle Jimmy’s cabin. My daughter took the device with fascination, turning it over in her fingers. “I believe” I told her, “one puts it to her head, though I’ve never gotten any results from that.” She did so.
“There’s a clicking noise,” she gasped, “Like when you’re calling long distance or something.” I looking into the ravine but nothing was happening down there. I half expected to see the blunt hull shape come burrowing up out of the dirt but no such–?
“Mommy!” Winnie cried. “I hear it!”
“Like a stream,” she said. “A stream of people’s thoughts. I can’t quite–oh yes, I can understand some of them.” She stood rigidly there for long minutes, her coat fallen open, her blonde hair streaming in the wind, holding the little device to her temple. The key. Had Winnie been just too exhausted to do more than indicate the device was merely for opening her craft? Had she known that our child, the child we had made together, would carry a measure of her own powers? Was that the reason for the peace she’d felt at the end? I hoped so.
“It’s like a song Mommy,” Winnefred enthused. “A song from the stars.”
“A song of Winnie’s people,” I thought and my regret at being effectively deaf to this music mingled with the bright apprehension that one way or another my daughter would have the stars!