This is the first draft of a science fiction novel I've penned named "Hollis Whittaker." There are succeeding drafts underway, with both storyline, chapter order and grammatical changes, but if you have any thoughts, feel free to contact me about them. I'd love to hear what you think, even if it's critical.


Hollis Whittaker

Chapters 31-33

XXXI

“It’s not much, but I wasn’t trying to set up the Waldorf-Astoria,” said Biggs, his voice echoing slightly. He was giving the nickel tour of his apocalyptic safety zone, a cave set into the side of the desert mountains. The mouth of the cave was slim, three feet across at its widest, and about eight feet high. Up close it seemed that the rocks had split, like a tear in fabric. From a hundred yards away, the casual eye wouldn’t even notice the opening. It appeared as another wrinkle on a set of crimson mountains, which resembled Naali’s skin as much as anything else.

Inside the fissure, Biggs’ cave opened up. The ceiling rose to fifty feet or more and the cavity, which was twenty feet wide, at least, stretched back into the blackness, a chasm which led who knows where. The air was dry and dusty, cold. Several yellow and black industrial storage containers were stored along one of the walls, next to a generator and three five-gallon gas canisters. Along the other wall, a couple cord of wood was stacked neatly and in the center of the area, the remains of past fires. Biggs had spent many nights camped out in the cave.

“There’s a small stream a couple hundred yards to the west coming off the mountain. It isn’t always flowing, so you need to store water for the leaner times,” Biggs said. “The way I figure it, even at nighttime, a small fire inside here can’t be seen from the air. We’re going to have to hide your car somewhere. That’s an obvious giveaway.”

“What about heat tracking?” Cha’Risa asked.

“Hey, if they know where to look and have heat detection, what can I say? It isn’t perfect. But I don’t have a military budget and it’s available.”

“We’ll take it,” said Naali.

“I guess I should have thought to bring some blankets from the house. I can run back and get some.”

Cha’Risa had the blankets she’d been using while camping with the boys, but she knew that more was always better. “That would be great. And we need to figure out what to do about Naali’s oxygen as well. Buy a few tanks and bring them out here.” She pointed to the darkness deep within the cave. “Where does it lead?”

“Most of what I’ve found have been dead ends,” Biggs replied. “But there are some tunnels that keep going. I usually end up following them a few hundred yards before I turn around.”

“So if anyone finds us, running deeper into the cave isn’t our best option then.”

“No way. All they’d have to do is stake out the entrance and wait for you to walk into their arms.”

“Are there like rattlesnakes or something in here?” Kirby asked.

“Not at this time of year,” Cha’Risa answered. “If we stay here for longer than a few weeks though, we’ll start seeing them.”

“I’d like to get you out of here sooner rather than later,” said Biggs.

“Agreed,” Cha’Risa replied.

Naali spoke. “I have great misgivings of starting this child down a path where he is always looking over his shoulder.”

“Me too,” said Hollis.

“What were you expecting, Naali?” Cha’Risa’s voice had grown agitated. “You sent me out to get him and there wasn’t ever a plan on what to do afterwards? That’s just insane. You had your whole life to come up with something.”

“It never dawned on me that the Níłch'i Bee Hane'e would fall into the hands of a young boy. For all of our history it has been handed down to someone much farther along life’s road because of the immense responsibility. Only one person in each generation had the liberty of representing humanity to the gods.”

“That’s not what it is,” said Hollis.

The cave fell silent as the boy took a seat on the ground by the industrial containers, his knees scrunched up in front of him, his head hung down.

“Hollis,” said Naali. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not talking to the gods.”

“You said you sense them. Is that still right?”

“I said I sensed someone, but I didn’t know who.”

“So who is it?” asked Cha’Risa.

Hollis lifted a stone off the ground and tossed it into the darkness of the cave, its sound echoing off the walls.

“Hollis?” said Naali.

The boy wouldn’t raise his head. “Alien.”

“It’s an alien?” Cha’Risa exclaimed.

He nodded.

A smile from ear to ear grew across Biggs’ visage, his voice becoming animated. “Whoa!”

“Are you sure? That would mean the whole mythology behind this thing has been all wrong,” Cha’Risa said.

“I disagree,” said Naali.

Cha’Risa sat next to Hollis. “Hollis just said he’s communicating with an alien, not a god.”

Biggs’ voice grew fevered. “This is awesome!”

The boy genius rose and left the cave, Kirby running after him.

“An alien,” Biggs said, folding his arms in front of his chest.

Naali cast a glance toward the cave entrance. “It makes sense when you think about it. I do not know that our ancestors would have seen a difference. It was someone not of this world, with knowledge far superior to our own. Why would that seem like anything other than a god? It’s just a matter of interpretation.”

Biggs said, “Weapon making aside, I doubt the government would want a kid being the sole voice to some super-advanced alien civilization.”

The thought hung in the air for a moment before Cha’Risa spoke. “I’m going to check on him.” She strode toward the entrance. The outside temperature was a good ten degrees warmer than inside the cave. Cha’Risa made her way to the two boys, who had climbed on top of a couple large rocks, the sun beating down on them. “You two okay?” she asked.

Hollis and Kirby nodded and Cha’Risa hopped up on the rocks next to them. “We’re going to find a way to for both of you to see your parents again. And we’ll keep you safe.”

“How are you going to do that?” Hollis asked.

“I don’t know, but we’ll figure a way.”

Kirby was Rolling Stones on his pants and tossing them down on the ground. “So where does this alien dude live anyway?”

Hollis pointed back toward the cave.

“Are you serious? The thing is living in there?” Kirby asked.

“Not in the cave. On a planet in that direction.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s on a planet about ten-thousand light years in that direction.”

“So you know where it is,” Cha’Risa offered.

Hollis nodded.

Kirby’s face had contorted. “I thought the stars were up there.” He pointed to the sky.

“They’re over there too,” said Hollis. “And under our feet. They’re everywhere around us. In space, there is no up or down, east or west. In fact I’m learning that time is more flexible than most people think too.”

“Is that how come that lady could visit us from 1945?” Kirby asked.

“That’s why.”

“What’s his planet like?” Cha’Risa asked.

“It’s smaller than earth,” Hollis replied. “And warmer. It’s a lighter atmosphere with liquid water. Two moons. The days are shorter than ours too. They have a different kind of sun. The sky is yellowish during the day and red when the night starts. And depending on the moons, it can be pitch black or kind of bright.”

“Wow,” said Kirby.

Hollis continued. “And it’s not a he. They don’t have males and females.”

“So can you see the planet?” Kirby asked.

“No. It’s more like I can sense what it sees sometimes.”

“What does it want with us?”

“It’s curious. It loves to experience other places and beings. It gets a sense of what it’s like here, what I’m like. It can feel what I feel.”

Hollis stood up and gazed into the distance, back toward Biggs’ house.

“What is it?” Cha’Risa asked.

“I think . . .” He squinted. “We’re not expecting anyone, are we?”

Cha’Risa and Kirby shot to their feet and studied the horizon. In the distance, a tiny speck of dust was rising off the desert floor.

“Is that the wind?” Kirby asked.

Cha’Risa’s skin turned a shade paler and her mouth dropped. She remained silent for a few seconds before speaking. “That’s not the wind. Someone’s coming this way.”


• • • • •


“We need to get out of here now,” Cha’Risa shouted, bolting into the cave. Naali and Biggs were in the middle of conversation. They stared at her in nervous anticipation. Had she witnessed something outside? Was Hollis in need of medical help again?

Grabbing a liter of water off the cave floor, Cha’Risa barked at them again. “Now, goddamnit!”

“What is it?” Naali asked.

“Someone’s coming.”

Naali was as stolid as they come, but Biggs was a horrible poker player and the look of horror drained all the blood from his face. He seemed as if he were about to collapse in a twitching bundle of nerves.

Naali, who had been seated on a crimson rock, struggled to his feet. “How far out?”

“I don’t know . . . ten, fifteen minutes, depends on what they’re driving.”

Naali rolled his oxygen tank toward the cave entrance, walking in baby steps as Biggs remained static. The old man spun around and raised his voice. “Biggs, you need to shake out of it. You cannot stay here.”

It was enough to wake the man from his paralytic slumber. “Yeah,” he said, rising to his feet. “Gotta go. Can’t stay.”

Outside the cave, Hollis and Kirby were in the Camry’s back seat awaiting the crew. Cha’Risa shot to the driver’s door and climbed in as Naali and Biggs made their way over. But Biggs stopped unexpectedly, and sensing the lack of motion in his friend, Naali turn again to face him. “Biggs, what is it?” Naali wondered if Biggs was frozen with fear. “Biggs, we need to go.”

Biggs was staring at the cloud of dust in the distance as it drew nearer. He had once again lost all focus. “How did they know?”

Cha’Risa cranked the engine and poked her head out of the car door. “Biggs, let’s go! We’re not waiting!”

Naali edged back toward the man to encourage him to keep moving, but Biggs’ voice grew more confident. “How did they know where you were?”

“What do you mean?” Naali asked.

“I mean, it’s been an hour, probably more. There was no one coming when we left my house. How did they know where you were?”

“It doesn’t matter, Biggs,” Cha’Risa shouted. “What matters is getting out of here.”

Biggs moved toward the car with no intention of climbing in. “Don’t you see? They’ve got a tracking device on your car, or a satellite or something. They knew you were here.”

For a moment, there was silence, just the idle of the Camry’s engine. Then Cha’Risa stepped out of the car. “So what, they’re watching us by satellite?”

“What, you don’t think the government would stoop to using a satellite? That medallion is probably the number one military priority.”

The boys climbed out of the back seat and turned their attention to Biggs.

“What do you suggest?” Naali asked.

“Cha’Risa, you can take my bike with the kids and head up the side of this mountain. They won’t be able to follow you in a car. Head down the other side and there’s a maze of rocks almost immediately—miles of hiding spots. It’s at the edge of a state park. Wait until it gets dark, and if you keep your lights off, their satellites probably won’t be able to track you.”

“What about you two?”

Naali answered. “We’ll take the car. Maybe they’ll follow us.”

“Not if they’re watching us on a satellite.”

“There’s no cell phone reception out here. They won’t be able to communicate with anyone.”

“Unless they have a satellite phone,” Biggs offered.

“Just go!” Naali commanded, his brow showing signs of distress for the first time.

Without any hesitation, Cha’Risa opened the Camry’s trunk and removed a backpack and her rifle. She threw the bag at Kirby and strapped the rifle across her back, climbing on the motorcycle. “Let’s go!” She looked at Hollis. “You’re in front.”

Biggs helped to lift Hollis onto the front of the bike. The boy grabbed hold of the handlebars, his knuckles turning white as he gripped tightly. Kirby got a hold of Cha’Risa’s backpack and pulled himself onto the rear of the bike as she sparked the engine to life, spitting sand out from the rear wheel as she steered toward a gentle incline up the mountain.

Naali and Biggs watched their three companions ascending as the sound of the motorbike gradually faded. But the serenity of the desert was their enemy now. As long as the bike could be heard at ground level, the trio were in danger. Naali eyed the incoming cloud of dust. “You’d better drive.”

“Yeah,” said Biggs darting for the driver’s seat. Naali’s frailty slowed their exit considerably, his feet shuffling toward the passenger side of the Camry with the oxygen tank in tow. Biggs turned over the engine and hit the gas, slamming Naali’s door closed.

“Take it easy,” the old man said.

“Yeah right.” Biggs spun the car east, riding along the base of the mountain, the gravel crunching under the car’s balding tires, a cloud of dust billowing behind it. Occasionally both riders would jump out of their seats as the loose, uneven ground tore up the Camry’s suspension. Biggs glanced over at the vehicle barreling toward the mountain. “Are they following us?”

“I cannot tell,” said Naali, who hadn’t moved his eyes from the speck in the distance.

It was another minute before Naali could answer with any certainty. “They are not.”

Biggs eased his foot from the gas and shot his eye toward the visitors. “So, what do we do?”

“I think we need to turn around.”

Biggs slammed on the brakes and spun the car in the opposite direction, redlining the engine and losing a hubcap in the process. He couldn’t tell whether he was hitting every rock in the desert or if the car was falling apart from the moonlike terrain. They were closing fast on a silver SUV, which was dangerously close to Biggs’ cave.

As the SUV drew to a stop in front of the cave, two figures stepped from its interior, attention turned toward the speeding Camry. They were clad in sunglasses, dark pants and white shirts.

“Shit,” said Biggs. “That is definitely government issued trouble. What should I do?”

Naali didn’t know.

“Should I ram them? I should ram them,” Biggs said. “I can’t ram them. What am I crazy?”

The figures raised their arms toward the Camry.

“Are they motioning me to stop?” Biggs asked. Years in front of a computer hadn’t done the man’s eyes any good.

Naali scrunched into his seat. “Get down!”

Biggs put his head down just in time as the windshield cracked, spiderwebbing. It didn’t even sound like much, like he’d hit a small rock, but there was a hole in the center of the spiderweb and the driver’s side headrest had its stuffing blown out. Three more bullets hit the windshield in succession, making it all but impossible to see through. Biggs was driving blind as the sound of more bullets pierced the car’s body, barely discernible thuds over the roar of the engine. He felt the car suddenly veer to the left. They’d hit a tire.

As Biggs hit the brakes, the right side of the car jolted upwards and in a millisecond the car had flipped onto its side, Naali falling down onto Biggs, followed by his oxygen tank. The car skidded to a halt in the gravel.



XXXII

Cha’Risa no longer had a clear view of the mountain’s base. She skirted the motorcycle along a precipice, Kirby’s arms wrapped around her waist, his fingers clawing into her stomach. He was cursing under his breath. Clinging onto the handlebars in front of her, Hollis had gone silent. The path Cha’Risa had chosen seemed like the only viable route up the mountain. It would have been a difficult climb on her own, but with two young boys strapped onto the motorcycle as well, it had proven a slog. To her left, the red clay rose sharply and to her right, the ground gave way to a hundred foot drop. There were only a few feet on which to navigate.

Hundreds of feet below, the SUV that had been approaching from across the desert was obscured from view. She hoped that Naali and Biggs had been able to divert whoever was following them, or at least had reached safety somewhere, but she didn’t have high hopes. In all likelihood, there were government agents already ascending the mountain, closing in on her and the boys.

The hillside was beginning to rise sharply in front of her. She inched forward a few feet, but knew the motorcycle would not be able to make it up such an incline. She turned the wheel toward the walls and spun the bike around, the front tire going half-vertical in the process. Kirby’s added weight behind her nearly caused her to lose balance, a disaster that would have brought the motorcycle crashing down on top of them all. The boys clung on as she got the bike moving again, ever upwards.

Underneath them, the ground opened up for a few hundred feet, a gentle incline with room to spare on either side. It was the fastest she’d been able to push the machine in awhile and it gave her hope, but the path once again narrowed and her options ceased. By the time she realized the motorcycle wouldn’t be making it up the mountain on their current route, it was too late to turn back. The only other viable options were close to the base of the mountain. They’d be walking right into the arms of their pursuers.

She shut down the engine.

“What’s going on?” Kirby asked.

“Come on,” she replied. “We need to walk from here on.”

Kirby held on to her backpack and unloaded himself. “Are you serious?”

Cha’Risa pried Hollis’ fingers from the handlebars and helped him find his footing on the ground again. “It’s too steep,” she said, leaning the bike against the stone wall.

The air was biting at this height, the sun strong. Against the hillside, the sky burned a rich cobalt blue. They all squinted up at the summit, still a precipitous journey ahead of them. She led the way up, clutching at bits of rock to steady herself, the rifle strapped across her back. Hollis followed and Kirby took up the rear. There was rarely room for two across as they made their way skyward. Hollis stopped, leaning an arm on his knee, his face as red as the clay, but Kirby urged him onward. This was no time to be taking it easy.

Occasionally, Cha’Risa glanced down, trying not to alarm either of the fifth graders. She couldn’t catch sight of anyone tailing them, but she knew they were there, tightening the screws with every passing minute. At a child’s pace, anyone following them would eventually catch up, but the question was whether or not Cha’Risa and her troop could make it over the mountain to the maze of rocks Biggs had promised. Every second in haste brought them that much closer to being caught. Cha’Risa knew it, as did the boys. But there was only so much Hollis could physically undertake. Climbing a mountain was hard work for anyone, but for someone with heart disease, the trek was infinitely worse. She could hear the boy wheezing behind her. How much could he endure?

Hollis threw up a hand. “I need a second.” His chubby face was coursing with blood, the sweat beading off his brow despite the chill in the air. He was having trouble catching a full breath. The trio had almost reached a plateau.

“Okay,” said Cha’Risa, her own heart pounding from the ordeal. “Catch a breath. I’m going to take a look down from up there.”

She climbed another ten feet and stood up tall, the first real chance to relax for awhile. The rocks had flattened out and in any other situation, it would have been a good place to make camp for the night. But there wouldn’t be that kind of rest any time soon. She peered over the edge of the slope for a minute or so. There were no signs of anyone else. But then she saw it . . . a movement. It was someone’s head, just visible over a rock for a half second. Unmistakeable.

She took a few steps down the hill and offered her hand to Hollis, trying not to let the panic pulsing through her brain become evident. “Come on. We need to keep moving.”

The boy accepted her help, his arm almost wrenching off as she yanked him up to the plateau, his friend on his tail, apparently no worse for the wear.

“We can’t stop,” Cha’Risa said. “I’m sorry.”

Hollis nodded and followed her to the next incline, where the grunting and heavy breathing continued. The boy thought back to the races he held in his back yard, races with only himself. He was always victorious, the fastest kid on the field. But this was reality. He couldn’t outrun anyone younger than a hundred. His predicament was finally setting in. He was going to die. He’d never see his parents again. The jerks who tried to kill him before would win, the one who beat up his father. If he’d had any strength, Hollis would have been raging, but he was running on fumes, his heart pounding at a mile a minute. Every once in awhile Cha’Risa glanced behind him down the hill. She didn’t think he noticed, but he did. “Come on,” she’d say. “Gotta hurry.”

But he knew better. Someone was closing in.

For what seemed like hours, every time they’d thought they’d reached the top of the mountain, it was just another bit of flat ground on the way. But their next plateau proved the last. There was nothing more above them. Cha’Risa pulled Hollis up and started speed walking across the vast open space, not even pausing for a breather. Hollis knew they were in trouble. Kirby overtook him as they both jogged to keep up with her, but Hollis’ legs were finalizing their transformation into rubber. His brain was pounding in his skull, his heart in his chest. He began to trip over his own feet. Then he fell to the ground. He let out an involuntary yelp as he hit the ground, which caught his comrades’ attention. They raced back for him and helped him up, then urged him to keep moving.

And so he did. But his strides were no longer sufficient. He was chugging along like an underpowered train struggling up a hill. A small indentation in the rocks was all it took. He went down a second time. Cha’Risa stepped back to the boy, who was now face down in the rock. “Here we go, pal,” she said, reaching out and grabbing his hand.

It was limp.

She heaved him onto his back, his cold sweat tacky through his shirt. His eyes were rolled back into his head.

“No,” she said. “No. Not now, oh god, not now.” She slapped his face a couple times, kneeling beside him. “Come on buddy, don’t do this now.” She felt the pulse on his neck. It was racing.

“Oh Jesus,” said Kirby. “What do we do?”

Cha’Risa unstrapped the rifle from her back and handed it to Kirby, who took it without flinching. Then with all of her strength, she yanked Hollis up over her shoulder and slowly straightened herself out. She turned for the far edge of the mountains and started jogging.

A sudden loud crack from behind her stopped Cha’Risa in her tracks, a rock at her feet disintegrating into dust. There was nowhere to go. The edge of the mountain was still a hundred yards away. Whoever was following them had caught up and fired a warning shot.

“I missed on purpose,” came a deep voice from behind.

Cha’Risa and Kirby turned to face the two agents they’d escaped when their journey together had begun, a man and a woman looking for trouble. They were forty feet away and marching toward their prey. The woman clutched her firearm by her side, but the man had his arm fully extended, aimed directly at Cha’Risa.

“Put the boy down,” said Agent Breiner. He pointed his gun at Kirby.

Out of breath and wide eyed, Cha’Risa did as she was instructed, laying Hollis, unconscious on the red clay mountaintop, his breath coming in quick bursts. “You don’t have to kill him,” she said. “We know a way to break the connection with him. You can have the damned thing and leave him alone.” She was lying, but the agents didn’t know that.

Breiner and Grey closed the gap. “Put the rifle down,” Agent Grey ordered Kirby. The boy didn’t budge.

“You heard the lady,” Breiner said, cocking the firearm, which by now was clearly aimed at Kirby’s head. The boy stood firm.

The agents stopped six feet away. There was no way Cha’Risa would be able to lunge at them without being shot. “You don’t have to do this. I told you there’s a way to disconnect him from it. I can show you how.”

“You really fucked up our mission,” Breiner said to Cha’Risa, without moving the gun from Kirby’s head. “How’d you know we were coming?”

Cha’Risa was under no illusions that she, Kirby or Hollis would be making it off the mountain alive. As far as she was concerned, the fewer facts her interrogators had, the better. She wouldn’t mention her grandfather or the Níłch’i’s role in their family. “It was part of our folklore.”

“Folklore, huh? So a chambermaid drove across the country and stopped me from completing my duty because of her folklore, right? You buy that Agent Grey?”

“I do not,” Grey replied, her cold eyes staring directly into Cha’Risa’s.

“Do you know what happens to people who disrupt our assignments?”

Cha’Risa was silent. She knew what was about to happen.

“You do, don’t you?” Breiner snarled, basking in the vulnerability of the target. The mountaintop grew silent for several seconds. There was no wind, no motion before Breiner finally spoke again. “We kill them.”

He moved his arm two inches to the right, aiming at the center of Cha’Risa’s chest. She gasped in anticipation, but at that moment Kirby whipped the muzzle of the rifle up in Breiner’s direction. The trained killer had no trouble moving the two inches back to Kirby’s head before the boy could complete his maneuver. The agent’s finger squeezed on the trigger.

And then Breiner’s gun fell to the ground with a metallic thud, along with his clothes and sunglasses. He had vanished.

Kirby froze with the rifle at half mast.

Agent Grey’s eyes went wild. She saw Breiner’s clothes in a heap on the rocks and was momentarily stunned.

Hollis sat up, bent ninety degrees at his midsection. He was calm and studying Agent Grey.

In a split second, Grey realized that Hollis was responsible for whatever happened to Breiner. She raised her handgun and aimed at his torso, her mouth open in panic.

And then she disappeared. Her gun fell to the ground, as did her clothing, her glasses landing silently on top of her shirt.



XXXIII

Hollis’ bedroom had been cleaned, the clothing and toys picked up off the floor, the books neatly stacked and his bed made. The curtains were open and a ray of bright sunlight illuminated half of his room. Kaos, King of the Orcs reared his menacing mug from the poster on the wall. The room was still indelibly his. He clomped to the bureau and was buoyed to see his stack of Lurkin’s Realm comics, still wrapped in cellophane, held its place of honor inside the top drawer. He pulled out a pair of underwear and socks. There was no sense in reintroducing himself into his parents’s lives clad in nothing but the Níłch’i. The medallion, hanging from his neck, had taken on a permanent bright blue glow.

He inspected the next few drawers. All of his clothes had been washed and folded. It bugged him when everything was creased, but it was also comforting that his parents had prepared for his ultimate return. He slipped on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt before dropping to his knees at the end of his bed to search for sneakers. There they were, two pair lined up neatly under the bed. He grabbed the blue ones and hopped on the bed to tie them on.

A very subtle noise caught his attention. It was his bedroom door handle slowly twisting. His parents had heard the commotion he’d been making and were cautiously inspecting.

“You can come in,” he said.

It was a second before the door burst open. His parents stood in the jamb, their faces drawn of all blood. His mother nearly knocked over his father as she barreled past him into the room, her arms extended. Her reaction revealed the emotions clamoring to get out of her—fear, relief, exhilaration, anger, joy, the color flowing back into her cheeks. She rushed to the other side of the bed and wrapped her arms around the boy, lifting him off the bed and holding him tightly. His father ran over and embraced them both.

He heard his mother whimper, her warm breath next to his ear, “oh my god,” as she began sniffling. “We missed you so much. Are you okay? Oh, my god, you’re back.”

“You can put me down, I’m fine,” Hollis said. She was holding his head into her shoulder. “This is actually a little uncomfortable.”

But she continued to hold him, his feet dangling a foot off the floor, the laces of one sneaker untied and the other foot still shoeless.

“Mom,” he said.

She lowered him back onto the bed and his parents just stood and stared at him.

“What happened buddy to you buddy?” his father asked. “Are you hurt?”

“Never better,” the boy replied, as he continued to tie on his sneakers.

His mother took a seat next to him, close enough that you couldn’t slip a piece of paper between them. “Honey, where have you been? How did you get in here?”

“New Mexico,” Hollis answered. “We drove out to New Mexico.”

“New Mexico?” his father parroted. “Did that lady drive you back here? What did she want?”

“Cha’Risa’s still in New Mexico.”

“What about Kirby, is he okay?”

“Kirby’s home too.”

“We were so worried,” his mother said, putting her arm around the boy’s shoulders. “After that man tried to kill you . . . And then we figured maybe that woman who took you was going to do the same thing.”

Hollis finished tying his shoes. He glanced at his mother, deep into her eyes. He had missed his parents like he’d never imagined he could. And it was good to be back. “Cha’Risa saved me. And the two agents . . .” He eyed his bookshelf, and in particular, a picture book on ancient Egyptian history. “We’re not going to be seeing them again.”

“Why not? Were they arrested?” His mother seemed unconvinced.

“Let’s just say I hope they like sand.”

“Well, we’re going to have to call the police,” his father said.

“You can’t call them, dad.”

“What do you mean? They need to know you’re back. There are a lot of people looking for you right now and somebody’s gotta be held accountable for whatever happened to you and Kirby.”

“Cha’Risa’s one of the good guys. There’s nobody to arrest.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about Hollis. You need to let the adults handle this. You’ll thank us when you get older.” His father turned for the door, but Hollis grabbed his arm.

“I’m serious dad. The people that tried to kill me were with the government. If you tell the police I’m here, they’ll find out and they’ll try to kill me again.”

“Honey,” his mother said. “That woman filled your head up with lies. She might have seemed nice, but she needs help.”

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one,” Hollis said.

“Buddy,” his father began. “You know we only want what’s best for you, right? Whatever that woman told you was just made up. I don’t know who those supposed agents were, but the government doesn’t kill innocent American kids.”

“Not usually,” Hollis replied. “Look, this is going to be embarrassing for me, but you need to know that this is all real.” With that, his clothes fell silently onto the bed, his sneakers dropping with thumps onto the floor, socks still in them. With no body to hold it up anymore, his mother’s arm fell before her muscles instinctually stopped it midair. His parents regarded Hollis’ absence in horror. They’d lost him once before and now he had up and vanished right before their eyes. But a noise from his bureau drew their attention. Hollis was standing naked pulling out a set of underwear from the top drawer. “Don’t look,” he said, pulling them on. “I said this would be embarrassing.”

The boy grabbed a pair of slacks from the bureau and slid one leg into them. “I think I’m going to name the new planet Eleanor. It’s as good a name as any.”

His parents were having a hard time processing the boy’s apparently magical transportation.

Hollis pulled the other leg through the pants and buttoned them up. “Look, I have a lot to tell you about what happened after I left, but there’s a bigger fish to fry, and by fish I mean asteroid.”
His father plumped down on the bed next to his mother, both of their jaws agape.
“How do you guys feel about living in Central America?”


• • • • •


“Where is it?” Margaret asked.

Eleanor’s eyes didn’t move.

“I shot her in the side,” said the man.

Margaret grabbed Eleanor’s shoulder and pulled, exposing a back caked in dried leaves and a bullet hole directly in its center spurting out blood. Then she let go and the injured woman flopped back onto the ground. Margaret shot the man an angry glare. “Well, you missed.”

They glared at Eleanor. “Double check,” Margaret said.

The man bent over Eleanor and ripped open her blouse, buttons popping off with the force. Obviously furious, he reached down to the bottom of her skirt and yanked it up. Eleanor let out moans of pain as he pulled her torso off the ground and continued jerking at the garment until it was bunched up around her waist. “Look for yourself!” he bawled.

Margaret kicked Eleanor’s leg, which didn’t even get a reaction from the incapacitated woman. “What did you do with it?”

Eleanor’s breathing was short; her eyes had begun to glaze over. Margaret hovered over her for a few seconds, then leaned over and slapped her face, knocking it to the side. It didn’t rouse her. “Where is it?” Margaret shouted.

Nothing.

There was a look of sheer abhorrence in Margaret’s face. She stood up straight again, reached her arm out and took hold of the pistol the lead man had in his clutches. The man relinquished the weapon.

Margaret placed her foot in the center of Eleanor’s bra and shifted her weight onto it, causing groans of pain and increased gurgling. Eleanor turned her head toward Margaret and her gaze focused up at her. The added weight on her chest made it impossible to breath.

“Goddammit!” Margaret screamed. The rage was most prevalent in her eyes, which were wide and piercing as the two women stared at each other. Margaret pointed the gun and put more of her weight on Eleanor’s chest. The pain was unbearable for Eleanor. Her eyes rolled up in her skull. And Margaret pulled the trigger.

Eleanor’s clothes dropped, her body having vanished. Margaret’s bullet shot straight through the back of an empty blouse and into the dirt beyond it.

Margaret straightened herself out in shock. “What the hell happened to her? Where’d she go?”

“Jesus,” the man said. He moved in, kicking at the clothes lying crumpled on the ground.

“She was here. She was right goddamned here!” Margaret cried. She emptied the gun into Eleanor’s now discarded clothing, cursing all the while. “Goddammit! Somebody’s head is going to roll for this and it isn’t goddamned going to be me.”

The lead man glanced back and met eyes with one of the other agents closer to the road.

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