The gangly man grins at her. Vern loves going fast over these dirt roads, with his next greatest love involving seeing how afraid Gladys would get, especially when the truck fishtailed around a corner making her squeal. A big plume of dust billows behind them coating the trees that seem to hang over the road like a wall of green. Vern spots a corner that he likes approaching, and floors the pedal.
“Don’t you dare,” Gladys shouts over the loud engine, but she knows her protests only encourage him.
The wild side of Vern something she cherishes in him. He can seem so quiet and shy sometimes, and it can be painful to watch. However, when Vern cut loose in moments like these, it arouses Gladys.
“Hold on, sweet pea,” Vern yells as the truck rounds the corner at full speed.
“VERN…” Gladys yells as the truck sashays across the road.
As the ride smoothes out again at the skillful hand of Vern something silvery flashes from the side of the road.
“Watch out,” Gladys calls too late.
A man steps onto the road a few feet in front of them, too close for Vern to do anything about it, and in a moment that runs in slow motion, the truck hits the unwary pedestrian. Gladys watches helplessly as the man turns and stares right at her, his eyes wide and face pale, followed by the bone-jarring thud as the front of the truck hits his body. The man’s body rolls onto the hood and hit the windshield, cracking it severely, then disappears over the back of the truck into the dust cloud swallowing him like some merciless monster.
Vern hits the brakes when he sees the man, but the old drum brakes need pumping before they do any good. They pull up a hundred feet away, at a stop that makes Gladys hang onto the dashboard for grim life, to prevent hitting the windshield.
“What have you done?” Gladys shouts at Vern, tears already rolling down her cheeks.
“What chance did I have? He steps out of thin air!” Vern said, visibly shaking.
They climb out and run through the dust still hanging in the hot, humid air of the Mississippi summer. The man lies on the ground before them, not moving. ‘Please be all right, please Lord Jesus, help him,’ thought Gladys as she runs. They reach the body lying on his back, his clothes bloody and torn. Squatting next to him, Vern shakes his shoulder.
“Mister…Mister? Can you hear me?” he shouts.
“Is he alive?” Gladys asks, standing back fearfully.
Vern stares at the man’s chest that still rises and falls. “Yep, he’s breathing,” he said.
“We gotta get him to Doc Jones,” Gladys said.
“Hmm… OK, I’ll back the truck up, and we’ll take him.”
Vern stands, and runs back toward the truck. The stranger suddenly moans and Gladys falls to her knees next to him and takes his hand.
“It’s OK, we’re gonna get you to Doc Jones,” she tries to reassure the man.
Staring at his body, she can see the bone sticking out of his leg, and wonders what other injuries he has. He has dark hair and seems tall and skinny. The material of his clothes still has a silvery sheen to it and is unlike anything Gladys has seen before in these parts. She thinks he must be from the city. The man opens his eyes and turns his head toward her, blinking rapidly, his eyes a deep blue.
“Kwala bon mesa?” he mumbles.
“What?” she asks with a deep frown.
“Kwala bon mesa?”
‘Maybe he hit his head,’ thought Gladys. The man grips her hand tightly, and as she’s about to try to comfort him again, he starts to glow. Her eyes fix on his; they appear large, impossibly large. Pain grows in her head that became unbearable within seconds. Gladys tries to pull her hand from the strangers grasp, but cannot. His eyes suddenly turn black, not just the iris and pupil, but the whole eyeball. It’s as if some oily substance is somehow filling his eyeballs until they’re so impossibly black and large. Gladys is suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling she’s being pulled into that empty, bottomless darkness. She screams and collapses unconscious next to the glowing stranger with big black eyes.
As Vern backs his pickup truck down the road, he doesn’t see what happened to Gladys, he notices her lying on the road next to the stranger, and his eyes bulge. The man’s stomach starts churning. When he stops, Vern jumps out of the truck in a hurry and kneels next to his wife, taking her hand. ‘You stupid idiot,’ thought Vern, ‘now yer gone and given her a turn too.’
“Gladys? Gladys, can you hear me?” he shouts at her with a reddening face.
He waits, rubbing her hand and calling out to her for several minutes but Gladys doesn’t wake.
“Oh, fuck it,” he groans.
Vern stands and opens the tailgate of the truck, and then he scoops Gladys into his arms and gently lays her out in the back. After that, he does the same to the stranger he ran over. Once Vern’s satisfied the two are secure, he jumps into the truck and speeds off back down the bumpy road.
“Oh, shit…” Vern grumbles. “Gladys is gonna kill me, she’s really gonna kill me…”
Gladys opens her eyes to find Vern, and her brother Travis, sitting nearby. She glances around and recognized Doc Jones waiting room with its strange posters of the human body, worn-out chairs, and gray walls. The air has a hint of cloves and antiseptic to its smell. Vern notices she has woken, and jumps out of his chair rushing to her side.
“Sweet pea, are ya all right?” he asks making the sign of the cross.
It comforts her seeing how much Vern worried for her. “Yeah, what happened?” Gladys asks.
“I was hoping you’d tell me. You plumb fainted as I was backing the truck up,” Vern said scratching his head.
She frowns, thinking hard but remembers nothing. “I don’t know? One moment I was with that stranger, and the next I’m here,” Gladys said sitting up then spotting Travis for the first time. “Oh, hey Trav, don’t tell me Vern’s gone made a fuss over this?”
Travis smiles as he stands and moves closer, greeting his sister with a kiss to her forehead. “You know Vern,” he said with a shrug.
“You can talk,” Vern said to Travis with narrow eyes, “The moment you heard you were blubbering like a baby.”
Watching the two men making a fuss over her made Gladys laugh, her family mean the world to her. Then she remembers the accident and the man who was hurt and her smile vanishes.
“What about the stranger? Is he OK?” Gladys asks wide-eyed.
Vern shrugs. “Don’t know. My business is with you first. Figure Doc Jones will tell us when he’s ready.”
“Help me up,” Gladys orders.
“You sure? I mean we don’t know what…“ Vern began.
“Come on, I feel fine,” Gladys insists.
They left the sitting room to find Doc Jones and the stranger they had run over. They stop at the door to the surgery and knock.
“Doc Jones, may we come in?” Gladys shouts.
The door swings open to reveal a portly man in his fifties, wearing glasses that hang low on his nose, and a suit vest over his white shirt with sweat stains under his armpits, and a gold watch chain going from a button to a pocket.
“Gladys? How are you feeling?” Doc Jones asks with a raised eyebrow.
She shrugs. “I’m fine, Doc, but what about that stranger?” Gladys asks, trying to glance around the man into the office.
“He seems all right,” the Doc said with a nod.
“Where is he?” Vern asks.
“He’s in the guest room, come on, I was about to go check on him anyway,” Doc Jones said.
They follow down a corridor toward the back of the house and enter a room to find the stranger lying on a double bed covered in a sheet. His clothes lying on the table, all torn and bloody. The man seems strange, his face slightly longer than usual, so he has a pointy chin with a high forehead that seems to jut-out over his eyes. His pale-white skin contrasts with black hair. He has darkness under his eyes, like someone who hasn’t slept well for weeks, but no bags.
“Is he dead?” Travis asks, thinking the man looks like a corpse.
“Nah, he’s alive. Blood pressure and heart rate are low, though,” Doc Johnson said.
“How’s his leg?” Gladys asks.
The Doc shrugs, and said, “Nothing wrong with his legs as far as I can see.”
“But he had a broken leg, his bone was sticking out n’ all?” Gladys said, staring wide-eyed at Doc.
Doc Jones grabs the sheet and pulls it back to expose his legs. For a moment, Gladys sees the man’s penis, and she blushes at the size of it.
“Nothing’s broken, Gladys, and that’s what troubles me.”
“What ya mean, Doc?” Vern asks scratching his head.
The Doc puts the sheet back. “I saw your truck, and judging by the damage on it I think this man should be dead, or close to it. His unusual clothes are ripped and bloody, yet when I examined him, there’s not a scratch on his body to show where the blood came from,” Doc Jones said.
“Do you know him?” Travis asks.
The Doc shakes his head. “Nah, he’s not from these parts. He has no identification on him either. So I called the Sheriff to come round to help us identify him.”
“Looks like he’s awake, Doc,” Vern said pointing.
The man on the bed opens his eyes and gazes up at them. His chin begins to tremble as he glances from face to face. As he gazes at Gladys, his body visibly relaxes, and he smiles at the woman.
“Are you OK, son?” Doc Jones said to the man.
“Where am I?” the man said in the strangest accent they have ever heard. It sounds like a German-speaking in an English accent, with each accent recognizable.
“You’re at Doc Jones house,” Vern said then lets out a huge breath.
If anything has happened to this stranger from his speeding, Vern would’ve been in serious trouble with the law, the kind of legal trouble that sends a man to prison for years.
“Who are you?” Gladys asks.
The man stares at her blankly for a moment. “I think my name is…A-Ron,” the stranger said.
“You think?” Travis said, then laughed. “What, don’t you know?”
“Damn, A-Ron is a funny name,” Vern said and Gladys hit him making the man shrug apologetically at the stranger.
The man glances at Vern and then Travis as if trying to recognize them. “You still haven’t told me where I am?”
Doc Jones scratches his nose. “You’re in Tupelo, Mississippi. Where ya from, A-Ron?”
“Too-pello,” A-Ron said with a frown.
The watching quartet glance at each other with raised eyebrows. “Where are you from?” Doc Jones asks again.
A-Ron thought for a moment. “I don’t remember,” he said.
“What you mean, you don’t remember?” Vern said shaking his head.
“Now, leave the poor fellow be,” Doc Jones said, “I’ve read about people losing their memories when they get a nasty bump on the head.”
“Do you remember anything?” Gladys asks.
“I remember…you,” A-Ron said. “You saved me.”
“He’s loco,” Travis said with a smirk.
“I didn’t do nothing,” Gladys said to Vern. “I didn’t even touch him.”
“What ya gonna do with him now, Doc?” Travis asks.
“Well…” he starts, gazing at Vern with eyebrows furrowed, “He’ll need a place to stay until we discover whom A-Ron is, and where he’s from. Seeing as you put him in this mess, to begin with, I think you should do it.”
“Doc, we don’t have room for him,” Vern said, shaking his head.
“You live in one of Orville Bean’s old huts, don’t ya?”
“Yeah, but we don’t even have the electricity connected,” Vern continues to resist.
Gladys knows they’re responsible for what happened to the poor man. She felt terrible for A-Ron, with Vern being so stubborn about it. The woman knows they’re trying to have a family, and a stranger around might cramp their style. However, she decides the Christian thing to do is help A-Ron.
“Vern, I think the Doc is right. We owe A-Ron for hitting him with the truck. We could’ve killed him,” Gladys said then grimaces.
Vern stares at her glumly; he knows what it meant for A-Ron to stay with them too. “Well, if you think it’s right, sweet pea, then I ain’t gonna argue. You always know what’s best, long before I do.”
She smiles at him. Gladys knows Vern can be a stubborn man, sticking to his beliefs regardless of how people push him. What she loves about him though is once he figures out something is wrong he changes his mind. A streak of integrity runs through Vern that no one but those closest can see. Some farmers, he worked for in these parts don’t trust him, and thought of Vern (and Gladys for that matter) as poor white trash. When Gladys first saw the true inner man, she fell in love with Vern immediately.
Travis goes to A-Ron’s clothes and picks them up, screwing up his nose. “He’s gonna need something to wear. He can’t walk outta here stark naked.”
“I have some old clothes he can wear, it ain’t much,” Doc Jones said and left them to get the clothes.
“You’re gonna have to work if you’re staying with us, you understand?” Vern said to A-Ron.
A-Ron stares at him blankly. “Work?”
“I wouldn’t worry Vern,” Travis said with a smirk. “By the looks of these clothes, I think he’s loaded. So once he remembers he can pay you back.”
“He better,” Vern said with a sneer.
Doc Jones found an old flannel shirt and some overalls for A-Ron to wear. The only clothing A-Ron has that he can still use is his shoes. They’re strange too, made of some soft, velvety material that gives the impression it would rip with little force, yet still tougher than leather. They drive back to Orville Beans farm and down to some old huts that once housed slaves, but seasonal workers now occupy.
The early evening sends a chill through the air as they pull up outside the rough-looking hut. A porch at the front, with only four rooms. To say the house was primitive would be an understatement. Clad in gray vertical weatherboard like a barn and on stilts that are essentially tree stumps. Inside, the furnishings are rustic too, the walls are weatherboard and cracked, which lets the draft in.
As they enter, Vern stops and lights a lantern, Gladys does the same and takes it to a wood fired stove and lights it. A-Ron stands in the doorway with a frown, glancing at the insides with trepidation. Vern, seeing A-Ron hesitate suddenly points to a mattress on the floor in the corner of the room.
“You can sleep there,” he said to A-Ron gruffly. Vern then grabs a couple of jars with clear fluid in each off a shelf and hands one to A-Ron. “Here, this’ll take the pain away,” he said then grins.
Vern drinks the liquid with relish as A-Ron just sniffs at it and frowns again. Vern notices this and sneers.
“It’s bad manners in these parts to turn down a man’s shine, ya know.”
A-Ron gets the message, puts his lips to the jar, and drinks. At first, it tastes somewhat bitter, and as he swallows, then A-Ron feels it burn his throat and it causes him to cough. Vern laughs aloud at the strangers discomfort.
“You sure ain’t from these parts, are ya? You drink like a man who’s never had shine before,” Vern said.
“I’m not sure where I’m from, but I’m sure I’ve never drank anything like that before,” A-Ron said.
“Yeah, you’re some soft city boy, ain’t ya?” Vern chastises. “Maybe you better stick with water.”
He reaches over and takes the jar from A-Ron, who seems disappointed. A-Ron then notices a strange object sitting in the corner of the room. “What is that?” he asks pointing to it.
“It’s a guitar. Don’t tell me you don’t even recognize a guitar?” Vern said as if it’s a joke.
A-Ron shakes his head. “No, what does it do?”
“You play music on it, geez Louise, have you heard of music?”
A-Ron nods, he has heard of music. Gladys appears wearing an apron and said, “Dinner will be ready soon, it’s salted pork and beans tonight.”
“Sounds fine to me, sweet pea,” Vern said smiling.
“What are you men talking about?” Gladys asks glancing between the two.
“Oh, old A-Ron here says he’s never seen a guitar before. Isn’t that the darndest thing ya ever heard?” Vern said, followed by another swig of moonshine.
“Maybe you should play him something, might help his memory. I’d like to hear you play before ya get too dunk,” Gladys said rolling her eyes.
Vern puts his jar down on the floor and retrieves the guitar. After strumming it a few times, he began to play in a soft drone. To A-Ron’s surprise, Vern starts singing:
“O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made,
I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”
Vern’s soothing baritone voice fills the small house as he sings the words from his heart, only like a man who loves to sing can. Gladys hums in the kitchen as she listens to her man sing her favorite hymn. A-Ron listens politely, not sure what to make of the music he hears. He doesn’t know whom this ‘God’ is, that Vern sings about, but he can agree with the wonder of the universe.
When Vern finishes, he put the guitar down, picks up his jar, and sits back in deep contemplation drinking. A-Ron watches feeling amused at how the doleful song had affected Vern. A-Ron can make out the simplistic mathematical cadence of the song and found it unsatisfying. He senses that Vern doesn’t seem to hear the music as he did. Gladys came in holding metal plates that steam rose from indicating heat, the smell of the food hit A-Ron and makes him feel immediately nauseated.
After Gladys hands him a plate, A-Ron gazed at the baked beans and bacon bones, feeling his head spin. Something told A-Ron this food would not be suitable for him. Gladys notices his reluctance to eat after she had taken several hearty mouthfuls of the food herself.
“What’s a matter, A-Ron, don’t like beans?” she asks with a frown.
A-Ron puts the plate down, gazes up at her, and smiles weakly. “I’m not a good guest, am I?”
Vern suddenly picks up A-Ron’s plate and tips the contents on his own.
“Vern…” Gladys said sharply.
With a mouthful, he said, “Well, he ain’t gonna eat it.”
Gladys shakes her head at Vern disapprovingly but has an idea. She stands and goes back to the kitchen, returning not long after with a couple of peaches.
“Maybe this fruit will be better, till you get your proper appetite back…” and she offers them to the stranger.
A-Ron takes them and sniffs the fruit. It smells pleasant to him, almost familiar. He bites into a peach feeling the sweet juice explode in his mouth and enjoys it. He eats the peaches.
Vern and Gladys watch him eat four peaches in quick succession. On the last one, A-Ron leans back and smiles like a contented man after a banquet. Vern stares at Gladys with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, if all it takes to feed A-Ron is water ‘n peaches, then I suppose keeping him ain’t gonna cost us nothing,” Vern said sarcastically.
After they eat, and Gladys washes the dishes, they retire for the night.
Lying in bed, Vern hugs Gladys and runs his hand down her stomach, while he gently kisses her cheek.
“Stop it, Vern. A-Ron is in the next room,” she whispers.
“I can’t help it, sweet pea. When I’m this close to you, I wanna hold you close. I wanna feel you breathe,” Vern whispers back.
She turns her head, and they kiss, sliding tongues in each other’s mouth, he pulls her body close, Vern’s manhood hard already as his love bubbles deep inside.
“I love you so much, sweet pea, more than life itself,” Vern said softly.
Gladys shivers all over in pleasure as his words lifted her soul. “I love you too, Vern,” she whispers, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Vern’s hand runs down her leg and grabs the hem of her nightgown, pulling it up. He lightly caresses her inner thighs, as they kiss deeply.
Outside in the living room, A-Ron lies awake staring into the darkness thinking. Although he could clearly hear the coupling in the next room, he also seems to feel it too. At least A-Ron decides that must’ve been what happened. He somehow felt Gladys’ feelings of love and pleasure as she held her man close. As the couple expressed their passion in their primal way, A-Ron’s orgasmed when Gladys did, and now feels the post-coital bliss she’s feeling.
‘What is this connection I have with her,’ wonders A-Ron? ‘Why is this place so strange to me? I don’t belong here, I know that. Nevertheless, where do I belong?’
The next morning, Vern and Gladys are up at sunrise and woke A-Ron in the process. They drink cheap coffee and chat while the stranger drinks water and watches, feeling like an intruder.
“What ya gonna do with yourself today, A-Ron?” Vern eventually asks.
A-Ron shrugs. “Maybe speak to the Sheriff and see if he’s discovered who I am?” he said.
“You can come into town with me,” Gladys said. “I work at a clothing factory in Birmingham. But you’ll have to find your own way home.”
“We’re planting corn today for Orville Bean, you’re welcome to come and work with us,” Vern offers.
“Maybe tomorrow,” A-Ron said, wondering what corn was.
Not long after Travis arrives in his truck and Vern goes with him to their work leaving A-Ron alone with Gladys. As she washes the dishes from breakfast in a bucket, he said, “I do appreciate you helping me like this.”
She smiles lightly. “That’s fine; I guess since we nearly killed you, we owe ya. But I wouldn’t get to thinking this arrangement is permanent, though.”
“I understand,” A-Ron said and smiles.
“Do you remember anything yet?”
He thought for a moment and then shakes his head. “Everything seems so…alien to me, except you.”
“Don’t say that to Vern, he’ll get mad,” Gladys said then chuckles.
A-Ron, feeling a compulsion, touches her hand. Gladys’ body suddenly stiffens, and she gazes straight ahead with wide eyes, as if in a trance.
“Gladys, it’s me,” A-Ron said.
Gladys turns and stares at A-Ron. “Vern? I thought you went to work?” she said.
“I need to be with you.”
“You know I ain’t gets no time for that, I have to work.”
“I need to feel you close.”
A-Ron pulls Gladys close, starts kissing her, his hands feels her body, and it sends shivers of sensuality through him for he’s feeling her passion as well as his own. This strange psychic connection he has to Gladys is beguiling, he cannot understand what it is. Gladys moans softly in his arms as they continue to kiss deeply. Suddenly, there’s a car horn from outside the home, breaking the trance both are in. A-Ron gasps, pushes Gladys away and runs out of the house leaving the stunned woman to stare after him.
Outside, Travis’s wife Anita waves to A-Ron as he runs past, the man turns and glares at the redhead woman making her drop her hand and frown. After waiting another couple of minutes, Anita toots the horn again.
“What? What the hell?” Gladys said snapping out of whatever had her so distracted..
The car horn sounds again, and Gladys glances at her watch. Anita has arrived to take her to work. Feeling confused at how all that time passed and she doesn’t remember anything. ‘The dishes haven’t even been finished,’ thought Gladys. ‘I hope I’m not having one of them brain strokes.’ She decides she must’ve been daydreaming and then remembers her guest and the offer to drive him to Birmingham today.
“A-Ron…A-Ron…” she calls out but gets no answer.
She shrugs, and grabs her purse, running out to greet Anita. ‘Whatever happened to A-Ron,’ thought Gladys, ‘he was supposed to come into town with me.’
A-Ron finds himself running through the lightly wooded fields for miles. His eyes dart everywhere and the dryness in his mouth becomes uncomfortable. He doesn’t understand what’s happening to him, or why he did that to Gladys. His cheeks burn leaving a heat tingling in his face and A-Ron wishes he could just disappear and never been seen again. ‘What kind of monster am I,’ thought A-Ron. ‘Gladys saved me and I do that to her and Vern?’ He suddenly trips and falls to the ground by a small stream cutting his arm open in the process.
“Ouch…” he moans.
The man gazes at his arm and blood flows from the wound. Suddenly, the wound begins to close, and in moments, it has completely healed, without even leaving a scar. What is this, wonders A-Ron? His ears suddenly buzz and he rubs them, but the sound doesn’t disappear. Climbing to his feet, he gazes westward to where the buzzing sound comes from. A soft buzzing, like an insect, it seems to call to A-Ron and his body wants to follow the sound. Yet he resists the compulsion. It feels as if the buzzing noise has concern for him. A-Ron doesn’t understand how he knows this, but he does. He takes a step toward it, when suddenly Travis steps out of the bushes holding a bucket. Upon seeing A-Ron there, Travis gasps and his eyes go wide.
“Hey? Did ya decide to work with us after all?” Travis asks.
A-Ron frowns at the man and grimaces. Still, the buzzing insists he follows it. “Can you hear that?” he asks Travis, who fills the bucket with stream water.
“That… That buzzing noise…” A-Ron said gazing to the west.
Travis stands and gazes in the direction A-Ron is, trying to hear the noise. “Nope, can’t hear anything. Maybe you gotta fly in your ear?” Travis said, then laughs.
“Maybe…” A-Ron said with a deep frown.
“Come on, we’re about to have morning tea, and Mrs. Bean has made us a cake.” A-Ron stares at him blankly, prompting Travis to say, “Don’t tell me you don’t remember what cake is?”
A-Ron shrugs, making Travis laugh again and they walk off toward the field where Vern is working. As A-Ron leaves the spot, the buzzing subsides, until he reaches the field where it disappears altogether. Upon seeing A-Ron walking beside Travis, Vern stands and stares at him wide-eyed.
“I thought you are going into town with Gladys?”
“I found him near the Millers Creek, standing there in a dopey daze. I think he was lost in the woods,” Travis said with a grin.
“Come on, you might as well stay here with us now…” Vern said shaking his head. “If you get lost in the woods again Gladys will tan my hide.”
He turns and introduces A-Ron to the other men present, all dressed in work overalls.
That night, Gladys brought home some apples and pears for A-Ron, which he seemed to enjoy eating. Gladys and Vern ate catfish with mashed sweet potato for dinner instead. She asks him what happened to him this morning, but A-Ron shrugs and said nothing, not looking in her eyes. Her soft voice awakens those feelings again, or is it her scent? It makes his cock stiffen being near her voluptuous body.
“A-Ron, here, worked with us today planting corn,” Vern told Gladys.
“Yeah? How’d he go? He doesn’t seem like he’s used to manual labor,” Gladys said with a chuckle.
“Ah, he tried, and to his credit he got it, but planting corn isn’t that hard.”
“How’d he get there?” Gladys asks still talking as if the stranger isn’t in the room.
A-Ron suddenly said, making her glance at him, “I walked…”
She nods thoughtfully. “That’s a fair walk, must be five miles from here.”
“Trav found him, acting all strange by Miller’s crick,” Vern said and stuffed a fork full of potato in his mouth.
Gladys stares at A-Ron and senses he feels uncomfortable about the conversation. “So, you going out with Trav, tonight?” she asks turning to Vern.
“Yeah, we’ll be gorging ourselves on Red Mountain Crawfish by tomorrow, I hope,” he said.
“Mmm, my favorite,” Gladys said and smiles.
Vern glances at A-Ron saying, “Shame you eat nothing but fruit, A-Ron, cos Red Mountain Crawfish is as good as it gets in these parts. The city toffs pay good money for what we eat for free.”
Gladys’s eyes bulge suddenly. “Why don’t you take our guest with you? A-Ron might have fun catching crawfish.”
Vern shakes his head. “Nah, sorry, A-Ron, but you’ll just get in the way.”
A-Ron nods, not feeling disappointed at all. Gladys seems upset on his behalf, anyway.
Vern eventually leaves to go fishing with Travis, and Gladys and A-Ron sit up for a while in the soft candlelight while she reads her bible. He becomes curious about it and asks her to read him some of it. Gladys nods and starts flicking through the pages until she finds something she likes. Clearing her throat, she begins:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.”
They sit in silence as the words hang in the air. Gladys has her eyes closed in prayer.
Eventually, A-Ron asks, “Who is this…Lord…your book speaks of?”
Gladys turns to the man with a frown, surprised he doesn’t know who God is.
“I forget you can’t remember stuff, it must be strange.”
He shrugs and smiles at her.
“Well, the Lord is the one who made everything. He watches over us and provides for us.”
“Where is he?” A-Ron asks with a raised eyebrow.
She chuckles. “God is everywhere, even here with us in this room.”
A-Ron glances around. “I don’t see or sense any other presence here.”
“God ain’t simple like that. He’s here, but you can’t see him, or hear him, or touch him.”
“Then how do you know he’s real?”
“You gotta have faith.”
“Faith? Surely if this ‘Lord’ loves you, he would reveal himself to you?” A-Ron asks scratching his head.
“The Lord will some day, but till then, we only see him after we die, in heaven.”
A-Ron suddenly bursts out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Gladys asks, feeling as if he’s laughing at her.
“I’m sorry, but your Lord sounds made up. Primitive cultures often develop false supernatural beliefs to help them cope with things they do not understand,” A-Ron said coldly. “Often, as they evolve, those supernatural beliefs get institutionalized as a way to control a populace by the most powerful on that world.”
Gladys frowns and then her face turns red. “How dare you insult my God…”
A-Ron, sensing her anger, controls himself. “I’m sorry, I mean no disrespect.”
“So you don’t believe in God, I know people like you exist.”
A-Ron thought for a moment. “I guess I believe in the Cosmos.”
“The what?” Gladys asks with a skeptical smirk.
“The Cosmos…It’s all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
“Sounds like you’re talking about God: the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end,” Gladys said and smiles smugly.
“The Cosmos is not a supernatural being we only meet when we die, Gladys,” A-Ron said softly. “Everything is the Cosmos. We’re all part of it. We’re born into it, made of it, and when we die we return to it so our essence seeds the next journey of life. From the smallest bacteria to the largest plants and creatures, we’re all children of the Cosmos.”
Gladys thinks for a moment. “Then how does your ‘Cosmos’ know you?”
A-Ron shakes his head. “The Cosmos doesn’t know me or you or anyone, it’s not like that. Yet it knows itself through us and all the life that inhabits it, for we are the witnesses of its existence. The proof, if you like. You don’t need to die to see the cosmos, you’re already in it.”
“But where is it? How can I bear witness to it if I can’t see it?”
A-Ron laughs softly. “It’s everywhere, Gladys. It’s you and me, your chair and bed, the stars, the trees…it’s everything you can see, touch, smell, and hear…that’s the cosmos. It’s Mississippi, Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. It’s everything.”
“Sounds like you’re talking about God to me. You’re just using a different word.”
“I’m not. In your belief, your God is the center of everything,” A-Ron said. “In the cosmos, life is the center of everything.”
She seems skeptical. “And how do you know this anyway? You some kinda educated man?”
A-Ron frowns and glances at his hands, wondering the same himself. Eventually, he gazes up at Gladys and shrugs. “I don’t know, sorry. I just know this stuff…”
“Maybe your memory is starting to return?” Gladys said.
“Well, I’m not sure I believe what you’re saying, but you’re entitled to your own beliefs in this country. Just don’t go talking like that around Vern, he ain’t as tolerant as me,” Gladys said, rising.
“I won’t. Vern’s lucky to have someone like you,” A-Ron said.
“We’re lucky to have each other. Now I’m going to bed, will you be OK to set up your bed tonight?” A-Ron nods. “OK, good night.”
Later, in the darkness, Gladys feels someone touch her face. She opens her eyes to see the outline of Vern standing next to her. Sleepily she asks, “You home already? I thought you wouldn’t be home until dawn?”
“I’m home,” he said.
“Did ya catch many?”
“Red Mountain Crawfish, as good as it gets in these parts,” Vern said stroking her face.
“Are you OK?” she asks, thinking he doesn’t sound right.
“I am now,” he said and leans down and kisses her lips gently.
“Vern? What’s gotten into you?”
“Silence, I wanted to be with you.”
Vernon is a virile man, but lately, his passion for her body seems to match his great love. Since they decided they want a baby, he seems insatiable. He sits on the bed beside her and strokes her face gently. Gladys wonders why he’s hesitating, she so wants to make love to her.
“You gave me something recently, and I need to return it to you,” Vern said softly.
“I don’t remember giving you anything?” Gladys said then giggles.
He leans down and kisses her deeply again. “Tonight I won’t be interrupted,” he said.
Now he stands briefly, pulls the sheets back, and gets into bed with Gladys. They continue to kiss and as their bodies move together in the act of love, soft moans are growing. The bed moves as their bodies join in physical union and a heat starts to grow inside Vern’s body. The man grunts, feeling a fog lift from his brain at last as the life force he took from Gladys to heal his body after the accident returns to its rightful place. A-Ron’s memories come flooding back. A truck hit him and touching the woman at the time healed him, but also befuddled his mind.
Gladys moans loudly now as they approach the climax of their coupling. Vern’s skin begins to glow in the darkness, and she opens her eyes seeing it. She gasps as the sight scares her back into reality.
“What the…” Gladys began, but A-Ron puts his hand over her mouth.
He continues the merry dance and Gladys finds it hard to resist her own desires. As he reaches his climax, the light coming from him flashes so bright, it blinds her. His seed pumps inside her womb. Gladys starts having convulsions, she screams, and loses consciousness.
Vern and Travis enjoyed the night of crawfishing, and made a reasonable sum selling them that morning. It gives Vern more money to help build the house he has planned. The man knows Gladys will get pregnant soon, given her sexual appetite lately. ‘Enjoy it while you can, Vern old boy,’ thought Vernon merrily. ‘Eventually it’ll dry like an old well.’ They stop outside Vern’s rustic home and climb out.
Travis grabs a bucket filled with Crawfish and said, “I’ll get this started so we can eat.”
“Good, I’ll go wake Gladys, she’ll be fixing to eat a good mess of ‘em too,” Vern said.
He enters the rickety house and notices A-Ron’s mattress is empty. He shrugs as he doesn’t care for the man that much. ‘I wish he’d go back to where he comes from,’ thought Vern, ‘and good riddance to him too.’ In the bedroom, Gladys lies on top of the bed naked. The room smells of sex.
“Sweet Pea?” Vern calls, Gladys doesn’t stir.
He went beside her, staring at her naked form, wondering what’s going on. He shakes her, but his wife doesn’t wake.
“Sweet pea, wake up…” he said louder, but still gets nothing.
‘He’s raped her, that asshole A-Ron has raped her,’ thought Vern, angrily grabbing the blanket and covering her.
A female voice calls out from the living room. “Vern…Gladys?”
Travis’s wife Anita has arrived to share in the Crawfish feast.
“In here…” Vern shouts. He kneels, caressing Gladys’ face in his hand. “Wake up, sweet pea, come on.”
Anita comes in with a smile but freezes when she sees Gladys. “What’s going on?”
“I think A-Ron raped Gladys last night, while we were out crawfishing. She won’t wake, ‘Nita, I’m scared.”
Anita runs to Gladys’ side, lifted the blanket, and gazes under it, then she shakes her head and grimaces. “I think you’re right, Vern, she’s been sexed, no denying it. Is he still here?”
Vern comes to his senses. “I don’t know, but when I catch him, he’s gonna wish he was dead. You look after her for me, will ya? I gotta find that A-Ron before he gets away.”
“Get him, Vern, make him pay,” Anita shouts as Vern runs out the door.
He runs through the house and finds no trace of their guest. A-Ron has disappeared. Travis joins in the search but comes up empty too.
“Where is he?” Vern spat in frustration. “He doesn’t know this place.”
Travis has an idea. “Maybe he’s gone back to Millers Creek, you know, where I found him the other day. He said there was some noise to the west bothering him.”
“West of Millers Creek, shit that sounds like where we hit him with the truck,” Vern said with a sneer.
“Let’s get going then,” Travis said as they get into the old pickup truck.
Minutes later, the pickup truck speeds down the dirt road throwing up dust heading for to the place Vern ran over A-Ron.
The buzzing A-Ron heard a few days ago began to get stronger as he walks through the fields and woods. He now understands the sound is a homing beacon, made especially for him. Only he can hear it, even among his own kind. The day feels warm now, and insects and birds are going about their business. All A-Ron can think of though, is Gladys. A-Ron wishes he didn’t have to fool her like that, but he took something from her, and the only way he could return it back was during the intimate act of sex when connection is at its greatest.
He comes to a road and stops before he crosses. A-Ron remembers this place, the road where Vernon ran him over. The memory is clear to him now. He was walking from the opposite direction, distracted by a hawk, floating on the breeze. Then A-Ron stepped onto the road without looking. A-Ron remembers being near death when Gladys took his hand and his survival instincts made him use her life force to heal his body. Gladys’s life force overwhelmed A-Ron’s brain causing a loss of memory. Only the sex brought A-Ron back because it enabled him to return that life force back to Gladys and clear his brain to think properly again.
After A-Ron crosses the road, he climbs through a thicket and comes out into a clearing. The buzzing gets louder, and after he goes another ten meters into the clearing it stops. The air in front of him shimmers like a heat wave, then as if out of thin air, a man appears. He looks like A-Ron, except he wears a shimmering silvery suit.
“Where have you been?” the man asks. “We were worried you’d been killed.”
“Forgive me, A-Dar, I was hurt in an accident, but I’m OK now. Some indigenous people helped me.”
A-Dar’s eyes bulge. “You’ve been with natives?”
A-Ron nods. “Yes, I understand quarantine will be necessary.”
A-Dar suddenly twists his head as if listening to something. “Two male natives approach this area, they have primitive weapons. We think they’re after you.”
“I had to mate with a female native to recover. One of the natives coming this way is probably her spouse. I suspect he’s angry with me,” A-Ron said then grimaces.
A-Dar glares at A-Ron. “You mated with a native too? You know it’s against the rules.”
A-Ron sighs, his shoulders drooping. “I had no choice,” he said staring at the ground. “I’m ashamed of it myself. Especially since the native female will think poorly of me because of it. I didn’t intend to hurt her, but it was necessary.”
“What if she gets impregnated?”
“Surely our DNA is too incompatible for that?” A-Ron said his head snapping up.
“The cosmos always surprises us when we least expect it,” A-Dar said sternly. “You should never have risked it.”
A-Ron suddenly smashes his fists into his side. “I told you, I had no choice…”
There is silence for a moment as A-Dar processes A-Ron’s strange behavior. Eventually he said with raised eyebrows, “I look forward to hearing your full confession, A-Ron. I’m sure it will be most interesting.” Then he turns his head slightly to listen again and nods. Turning back to A-Ron, he said sternly, “Come, we must leave now, the angry natives are getting closer.”
The air around the two begins to shimmer.
“Through here,” Travis shouts. He can see the back of A-Ron, who appears to be talking with another man of similar appearance. “Come on, we got him now.”
Vernon and Travis burst into the clearing with their shotguns ready to fire, to find no one.
“I thought you said he was here?” Vern said rolling his eyes.
Travis scratches his head. “I can swear he was standing right there, with some other guy.”
“You’re seeing things,” Vern said. “Come on, I see some tracks.”
They take a step toward the tracks, and suddenly, a bright light fills the clearing. A shock wave hits them, knocking them to the ground, which begins to shake. A high-pitched noise makes both men cover their ears, and the light shoots up into the sky very fast, and disappears, leaving them in silence. The stunned men climb to their feet, staring at the sky.
“What, in the name of God, was that?” Travis asks, eyes still bulging.
“How the fuck do I know?” Vernon said.
“Does that mean A-Ron is gone for good?”
“How he’s gonna pay for raping our Gladys then?” Vernon asks his face turning red.
“I guess only God can reap that debt now,” Vernon said then sighs. “Come on, let’s go home.”
“What are we gonna tell Nita and Gladys?”
“We just say we couldn’t find him, we never tell anyone about what we saw here today. They’ll think we’re plumb crazy,” Vern said with a shiver.
Travis stares at Vern wide-eyed. “Do you think that was a UFO, and A-Ron was…”
Vern is still gazing at the sky. “Enough,” he shouts turning to Travis. “We never speak of this again, got it?”
“Come on,” Vernon said, “Let’s go home, I’m worried about Gladys.”
By the end of June, Gladys knew she was pregnant. Sometime around her fifth month, she feels sure she’s having twins, as she’s unusually large, and can feel two babies kicking her. There’s a history of twins on both sides of the family. With one-hundred and eighty dollars Vern borrows from Orville Bean and the money Gladys’s father gave him, he set about constructing a family home on the Old Saltillo Road, and they move in that December. Although she and Vern secretly worried the babies might be A-Ron’s, they decides to love them anyway. They had made love many times before and after the A-Ron incident, so it wasn’t a fait accompli the father was A-Ron.
Early January, nineteen thirty-five, Gladys delivers her babies. The first child comes out stillborn, and the midwife whisks it away before she can see it. Several hours later, she delivers a second child, a healthy baby boy.
As she cradles the baby in her arms, Vern sits next to her on the bed filled with pride in his wife, and their newborn son. “Have you decided on names yet?” Vern asks her.
“I wanna call the stillborn, Jesse,” Gladys said softly.
Vern nods sadly. “What about him?” he asks.
“I wanna name him after you and A-Ron,” Gladys said. “Your middle name first and A-Ron’s name second.”
Vern’s eyes bulge for a moment. “Why A-Ron, he raped you, sweat pea.”
“Cos he might be the daddy, I can’t be sure,” Gladys said. “I don’t of think it was rape though. I don’t know why, but I think it helped him remember who he was. I’m not mad at him.”
Vern’s eyes pop. “Sweet pea, no one will understand. They’ll always ask us why we named him A-Ron—who’s A-Ron—Are you sure you want that?”
“It feels right,” Gladys said stubbornly.
Vern suddenly has an idea. “What if we use Aaron instead of A-Ron? That way we’ll know what we mean, and nobody else will. Especially the boy,” Vern suggests.
Gladys thought for a moment and decides she likes it. “All right, sound good.” She kisses the baby on the forehead, and whispers, “Welcome to the Cosmos, Elvis Aaron Presley.”