Shameless expeditionism

So, some of you might have read the previous post, in which the author was indiscreet. No worries; I came to my senses and …

Wait! No, I didn’t, because I promised to reveal what I did about my writing dilemma. I brought the inciting event forward to the first chapter, along with essential preliminaries, and I think that’s going to work. See if you agree.

Chapter 1

August 16, 1928 — The Lazy L Ranch, South Dakota

Outside parking was prohibited — everyone knew it, and if they didn’t, there was a sign on the porch that said so. But there it was, a shabby, thousand-year-old FastVan Plus, hovering twenty meters from the front entrance, its owner nowhere to be seen.

According to the lodge Oma, the van was operating without a transponder; so, contacting the pilot was off the table. Francine Suraksin, the resort executive, was ready to have it towed. Doctor Tafid Falun, her companion for the evening, was partial to waiting. “There’s no airplanes in the area; let’s see who it belongs to.”

A few minutes later, a young Anye male sauntered off the porch toward the van — skinny, barefoot, shirtless, in loose bib overalls, braided mane and pelt shaved so tight the skin was showing. He made eye contact in passing, an insolent expression on his face — and might have spoken if he hadn’t caught a look back from Doctor Falun.

Falun was Kopin, distinguished by prominent fangs and a chassis designed for taking down large game — from whence came legends of werewolves. Falun growled, the young man stepped lively, and the van was airborne without delay.

Francine breathed a sigh of relief. “I was afraid you might start something.”

“Pardon me, but wouldn’t you know it’d be some raggedy-ass Vyala punk.” Falun pointed his chin at an aircar arriving without passengers on board. “I think this one’s our rental.”

Francine flew the car low over the resort’s lodgepole pine privacy screen, away from Black Rock Township, before circling back at altitude. Doctor Falun was uncharacteristically quiet for the duration, breath eliciting a blot of condensation on the passenger side window. It made her wonder if he was ill-at-ease. “Tafid; are you doing all right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He turned his face toward her, smiling. “Does your pregnancy have you feeling moody, Mrs. Suraksin; homicidal perhaps?”

“No, but I’m nervous.” She looked west. “I’m going to wait until the sun drops past the horizon before I land.”

“Okay; so, show me around the town.”

“Uf!” Francine wiggled her shoulders. “You’re the real pilot; how low can I go?”

“A hundred meters; keep it moving, and the locals won’t even see a blur.” He pointed south toward Black Rock. “What are the tall structures?”

“Silage bins.” She kicked pedals. “Did you know I took a stagecoach ride through town once?”

Falun made a face. “Come on.”

“Winter season, 1899. They were celebrating a new century and Christmas — the town all dolled up with outdoors decorations, luminaires, kerosene lamps, fire kettles … it was really something.”

“You went after dark?”

“Eight o’clock; lots of people out and about. I rode with a group of human guests, in the middle of the coach with a hood on, ready to hide under the bench if we had to stop.” She rotated the axis controller, tilting the car over Granary Road. “See that barn? That’s where I got on board.”

“How old were you?”

“Eleven. I was a little bitty thing.”

“You’re still little bitty. What was it like?”

“Exciting, enchanting, sad. I wanted to be a part of it; wished our people had stayed in the open when we had the chance.” The car coasted over town center. “There’s Doc Harrison’s American Conservatory of the Dakotas, next to the Zephyr Theater. They’re showing a film by Fritz Lang, entitled Metropolis.”

“Science fiction?” Falun craned his neck as they flew past. “Maybe the good doctor will be in a receptive frame of mind.”

“I don’t think he’s seen it.” Francine looked through the car’s roof at bright stars popping into an inky black sky. “Anyway, I felt entitled because I was born here. I know better now.”

“We’d have ended up responsible for everything.” He watched a Model T Ford stopped in the street next to a horse-drawn carriage while the drivers chatted. “You’re sure he won’t meet us at the door with a shotgun.”

“Pretty sure.”

“Is there a dog in the house?”


“And the other daughter is at the theater with Tom.”

“Her name’s Charlotte.” Francine steered toward the outskirts of town, where stood a roomy Victorian-style home on a tree-covered rise. “I’ll set down in back.”

“That’s fine.” Falun shook his head. “I can’t believe our Doctor Bjornson’s been living in the man’s house for ten years without revealing who she is.”

“Ya, ya; shame on her.” She dropped the car on the blind side of a garage. “Come around and help me get out.”

Unexpectedly, it was fourteen-year-old Thomas Bjornson who answered the bell. He stepped across the threshold pulling the door behind him, panic on his face. “You shouldn’t be here”

Francine replied, “You’re supposed to be at the theater.”

“Doc overdid it today with the walking. I stayed to make his supper.”

“He’s lucky to have you.” She pinched his cheek. “May we speak with him?”

Tom was about to reply when the door opened behind him. In years to come, Francine would describe the look on Elbert’s face as priceless. She gave him the sweetest smile she could manage without showing teeth. “Good evening; we’re from the Sasquatch chamber of commerce. May I have a minute to tell you about our bake sale?”

Eighty-three-year-old Doctor Elbert Holland Harrison was a civil war veteran, disinclined to be shocked out of his senses by anything, much less a furry lady dressed in a tailored western-cut maternity blouse, culotte skirt and cowboy boots. Quite the opposite — he was thinking, ‘Aren’t you the prettiest little thing?’

He kept it to himself, hobbling across the threshold with a hickory cane at his side. “That’s a good opening line, madame; sets me right at ease.” He clasped Tom on the shoulder. “I’d be otherwise if I hadn’t heard you talking; friends of yours?”

“Yes, sir.” Tom made a pained expression. “Franny; what are we doing?”

“Telling my secret so you can tell yours.” She reached out to shake Elbert’s hand. “My name is Francine Suraksin; my companion is Doctor Tafid Falun. Our species originates on another planet. My family operates the Lazy L Ranch, which is how we know Maryanne and Tom.” She studied his demeanor for signs of distress; none were apparent. “You may examine my hand if you like; it’s different from yours.”

Francine’s bare palm was warm; the fur on the back of her hand soft, slightly textured. Her claws tickled, sending electricity up his arm, inducing a slight tremolo in his voice. “So, you’re not really Sasquatch.”

“We kind of are, but that’s not what we call ourselves. Do you need more evidence?”

“No; I’m convinced.” He let go. “There’s people from another planet up at the dude ranch.”

“It’s all very innocent. We offer lodging, hiking, horseback rides, art classes, access to global attractions …” Francine was afraid she was starting to babble. “You should visit.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Elbert rocked his head. “Nice to meet you. Would you like to come in?”

“Thank you, but we don’t want to meet your daughter Charlotte on the way out. One ambush at a time, that’s my policy.” Francine took a step back. “So, Maryanne and Tom have a secret they couldn’t share until now. Do we agree?”

For an instant, Elbert had a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. He nodded. “I would say yes.”

“Wonderful; my work here is done.” She kissed Tom on the cheek. “Good luck, sweetie.”

“Thanks, Franny. I hope you cleared this with Mom.”

“I did not.”

He groaned. “Should I call her?”

“Good question.” She took his arm. “I’ll tell you what I think on our way to the car.”

Elbert watched while Tom escorted their guests around a corner of the house — expecting to see something unusual, although he wasn’t sure what it might be. The wait seemed overlong; apprehension creeped in, a list of questions followed, but the first thing he could think of when Tom returned was, “Did that really happen?”

“Yes, sir. Are you okay?”

“I guess. What are they driving?”

“A flying car.” He kicked grass off his shoes. “I asked them to bring it around front, but Franny didn’t want to.”

“Well, nuts.” Elbert went to the porch swing, then reconsidered, taking a bentwood chair instead. “The lady seems nice; her friend was awful quiet.”

“Tafid has a mouthful of fangs; it makes him lisp when he’s nervous. Or maybe he thought you’d be scared of him.”

“He looks like a werewolf.”

“He’s Kopin; that’s what they’re famous for.” Tom lowered himself onto the swing. “The secret you just heard about from Francine belongs to a civilization that relies on people like me and Mom to go about our business without calling attention to ourselves. I didn’t even learn about it myself until I was six, and that was sooner than Mom intended.”

“You were already living here, with us.”

“It’s a thing you don’t find out until it’s necessary. Even so, we should have fessed up a lot sooner than this. Pepaw …” Tom grinned at him. “I’ve been waiting a long time to call you that. Mom was born in 1864, nine months after you met Lisbet Porter in Chickamauga. Mom’s your daughter, I’m your grandson.”

“Whoa.” Elbert leaned forward; hands folded. “Okay; if I had another family, it would have to be from Lisbet, but how is your mother sixty-four years old?”

“The Anye have treatments for aging. Mom stopped the clock when she was thirty, but let it start running after we got here so we’d look normal.”

“Maryanne’s my daughter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re my grandson.”

“She brought us to Black Rock so we could know you.”

Elbert heaved out of his chair, digging in his pocket for a handkerchief. “Make room.” He had to grip Tom’s forearm to settle into the swing. “This is an interesting development.”

“Hello, Pepaw.”

“Hello, grandson.” Elbert dabbed at his eyes. “Tell me exactly how your mom starts and stops her aging.”

“She’s a physician; Doctor Falun’s a co-worker.” Tom put an arm around his grandfather. “I hope you don’t get mad, but Mom’s been attending your health without you knowing about it.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Elbert poked him in the ribs. “And here I’ve been bragging about how tough I am. What’s she been giving me?”

“Tonics for tissue elasticity and blood vessel descaling. You had a cancer vaccination and a couple other one-time deals, but I don’t know what they were. Are you upset?”

Elbert took a few seconds to think about it. “Should I be?”

“I’m sure it didn’t hurt you.”

“Then I’m grateful.” He rubbed his eyes. “And flabbergasted. Jesus.”

Tom fidgeted. “I know; It’s a lot to take in.”

“So, that’s why I’m fit for my age.” Elbert’s voice was hoarse. “Am I getting younger?”

“Parts of you are, but if you had the full treatment, you’d be really sick at last half the time. Mom couldn’t do it without you knowing.”

“Wow.” There was a long period of silence. Elbert watched the stars, taking deep breaths, trying to get used to a new reality. “All right, well — do you ever talk to your grandma Lisbet?”

“Once in a while. She’s living in Belgium with her second husband; used to say if she’d known you were such a fine catch, she’d have gone looking for you.”

“Do you think I should call her sometime?”

Tom nodded. “She’d love to hear from you.”

“I wouldn’t want her to think I was unhappy about anything.” Elbert looked at his watch. “We have about an hour before your aunt Charlotte gets back.”

“Are we going to tell her?”

“Not tonight.” Elbert patted his grandson on the knee. “I have questions; why don’t you make us some tea.”

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