¡here we ae of the going again

¡here we ae of the going again!

Chapter 1: The Penultimate Cremation

"Satellite," Jesse says and points at the sky. I don't know why I bother to look.

GPS satellites, weather satellites, broadcasting satellites. About 9,000 different satellites in orbit at any given time. I think I could have just made that up but I don't really care. Science has never really interested me so I usually show up to Ms. Kleinstuber's class drunk or stoned or both. But I usually show up everywhere that way. That's just kind of how you deal with a town like this.

Bethlehem High School is nestled in a little town in Kansas known as (drum roll, please) Bethlehem. When the pilgrims landed in Kansas (or wherever they landed; I don't pay attention to history either), they decided that the best name for a crapper in the middle of nowhere would be Bethlehem.

It goes a little something like this:

"Where are you from?"

"Bethlehem, Kansas."

"Jesus' birthplace, eh?"

"…Yes, just where Jesus was born. We live right next to the manger, you know. The actual real one from the Bible…"

The town's population stands at a whopping 1,583 residents. The town is so small that when a child of ours is born at St. Mary's Hospital in McKinley, the next town over, someone will drive out to the Bethlehem town limits and change the numbers on the welcome sign. In fact, our town is so small that even Wal-Mart wants nothing to do with us, and thus they haven't bought out the Mom 'n Pop stores that litter the streets. The only things you can buy here are Bibles and furniture and a limited selection of stale groceries, everything else you have to drive out to McKinley to get, especially weed.

You can't even buy a dildo in Bethlehem (…Not that I've ever been interested in owning one, mind you—it's just the principle of the matter). Since nearly the entire population identifies themselves as Christian, Mayor Keebler declared shops that sell such "foul and degrading items that bring about uncontainable immorality in today's society" as unlawful. I live in one of the few cities in North America that has outlawed dildos.

"Pass me a beer, Nate!" Frankie yells at me. I reach down from the roof of my '89 Ford F-150 and around the 9 foot hand-carved statue of Jesus to throw the beer to Frankie, who catches it in one hand and throws the empty one down into the wheat field we're overlooking. It's too dark to see where it lands.

I watch Frankie on the ridge as he picks up a few more cans and throws them. He plays baseball a lot, so he's halfway decent at catching and throwing. Beer cans aren't so great for that, though. They spin and spray and splatter, and in the end you could be a MLB player and you'd throw them just the same as the three-year-old down the block.

"You want another one, city slicker?" I lean over to ask Jesse. He shakes his head and sips quietly from his can.

"Man, I love this view," Frankie hollers and follows it up with a whistle.

"Never knew you were so sentimental, Frank," I call back. Frankie's merely a black silhouette of a fat kid near the ledge with the sparkling night sky outshining his beauty, or lack thereof, from behind. That's the way it is with him—he can say something totally genius but no one will listen because there's always something better to listen to or look at.

"Satellite," Jesse says, pointing somewhere at the sky.

Satellites really only look like stars, but they move if you watch them for long enough. That's why you usually don't notice satellites, but if you're looking for them, they're easy to spot. They're like the misfits of the stars, seeming like they fit in at first glance, but if you give it any thought at all they stand out like a sore thumb. Kinda like Jesse himself.

Jesse Jones just moved here from Los Angeles. His parents are probably more racist and closed-minded than everyone here put together. That's saying something. They also have more money than everyone put together as well. Jesse tends to walk around with a chip on his shoulder from being moved from So-Cal to the middle-of-nowhere and I don't blame him—I have one too and I was born here.

Jesse Jones is a small kid, real skinny like a chick and wears a pair of glasses that in all honesty are way too big for him and make his hair stick out in funny places. That's the thing about Jesse—he's what I imagined Draco Malfoy to look like before I saw the movies, except his hair is longer, his face doesn't sneer (mostly just looks cold most of the time), and he has blue eyes. Maybe Malfoy has blue eyes too, but I really can't remember. Anyway, Jesse wears shirts that are too big for him, and shorts that are too long, and right now he's clutching my jacket around him, sitting next to Jesus, getting drunk. I don't want to sound gay or anything, but I'd fuck him.

Little Jess is odd too, as he never really talks or smiles, just sits in class quietly and gets straight A's. He gets kicked around at school for being so scrawny and everyone says he's queer. There's also a rumor flying around that his dad or granddad or something was a Nazi, and I believe it.

"Satellite," Jesse says again, and I look up. Sure enough, there one goes soaring west in the night sky. In the middle of nowhere like this, you can see everything, even the curve of the Milky Way as we look through it. This is, like, seriously, the millionth satellite Jess has pointed out to me this evening. I guess they're harder to see in California.

"Dude, they're everywhere," I say to him flatly and take a long chug from my can, emptying it. I crush the can and throw it down at Frankie.

Military satellites, I think.

"Ow, fucker! You got me in the head!" Frankie rubs his head and lifts his can back threateningly at me.

"Don't throw it at me, sissy. It was pretty boy over here."

Jesse looks down at Frankie, who yells, "You threw that, faggot?" Jesse stares Frankie in the face and doesn't even flinch as the half-full can of Bud misses him by a foot and a half.

"Oi! That was almost full, you dippy wanker. You're wasting it!" I call out. The faster we go through beer, the sooner I'll have to splurge to get more. Money is a bit tight these days, since everyone knows I'm trying to get the hell out of this little Jesus-pit so no one will give me a job. Must be some sort of discrimination there, but it doesn't matter because this town is such a cult that even the feds are too afraid to get involved for a little thing like job discrimination.

Little Jess just goes back to his can as Frankie cusses at him and looks around on the ground for something else to throw at him. I lean over the 9 foot hand-carved statue of Jesus and ruffle Jesse's hair. He doesn't even blink when I do it, just watches Frankie.

Wait, I don't think I've mentioned exactly why we have a 9 foot hand-carved statue of Jesus with us. Right now I'm too drunk to remember why we decided this, but somehow at ten in the evening we came to the conclusion that the last thing the local church needed on top of its steeple was a 9 foot hand-carved statue of Jesus. One pair of pliers, a broken toe, and twenty minutes later, it managed to make its way into our possession.

"Faggot!" Frankie yells one last time before limping off to the edge of the overhang.

I've known Frankie for a long time. Almost everyone here knows everyone else here from elementary school, and the same goes for me and Frankie.

Frankie was the fat bully type in second grade and I was the skinny easy-target type. Hence I was his victim—that is, until I told my parents because I was a little dipwad like that. Still am, sort of. Anyway, back then, we had a huge meeting with Frankie's parents before the principal decided that the issue was resolved. Frankie got clean-up duty in the cafeteria for a week and I got counseling. Then one day he came up to me and started giving me poo-poo for being a snitch and a goody-two-shoes. I kind of expected this, because I was tricksy back then, and had prepared thoroughly. He started pushing me around and stuff so I pulled out that infamous tiny little spray-spray I had lifted from my mother's purse (I knew it was a weapon because I had seen my mother mace the Russian grocer with it after he told me that excessive facial hair is God's way of punishing adulterous women) and pointed it right at his eye.

Now, I don't know, but all common sense tells me that most second graders have never seen a can of mace before, but somehow Frankie knew what it was and managed a small, "You fucking little pussy-faggot," before I pressed down the button and sprayed a tasty little jet of chemical aerosol straight into his face. Frankie deserved it. Frankie was cussy-mouthed like that, even back then. Some people just don't change.

At least I can say that I was the first second-grader at Bethlehem Elementary School to be suspended.

Frankie and I didn't talk through third grade and half of fourth but somehow we started eating together at lunch with a newfound respect for each other. I think I'm the only person that can say that I've maced my best friend in an act of self-defense. I can dishonor myself bad enough to commit seppuku, but at least I'll be able to say that.

"You guys, I think I really did break my toe!" Frankie shouts.

"Is it swollen?" I ask him, leaning forward so that I look more interested than I actually am.

"Shooting star," Jesse says.

"I dunno, let me see," Frankie says, taking off his shoe.

"Guys, Shooting star!"

"Dude! Look at it! It's so gross!" Frankie shouts and even in the dim light I can see that his foot is actually swollen around the pinkie toe.

Funny, I thought he was just whining.

"We might have to take you to the hos-pi-tal!" I say.

"Hey guys! Look!" Jesse says with a bit more urgency in his voice.

"Yeah, Jess, we see it! Why don't you just make a wi-" But I as soon as I look up, all thoughts of Frankie or his goddamn toe disappear from my mind.

There it is, as bright and beautiful in the sky as a supernova. It's growing bigger and bigger, and somewhere in the distance I hear Frankie yelling about hospitals but I don't catch what he's saying. For a second, I'm horrified that what all the grown-ups have been saying is true and Rapture is finally here. But then, in an instant, the sky is filled with the whitest light I've ever seen and I think that this is too pretty to be God. I wonder briefly if it's from North Korea.

If I died now my body would be nothing but carbon and bits of me will be blown into the ocean, to France and China just like the dinosaurs. The ultimate cremation. The penultimate cremation. I don't actually know what "penultimate" means, but it sounds cooler than ultimate so I'm using that instead. Or, better yet, "The ultimate cremation of the penultimate creation."

I'm not sure if this is me or the alcohol talking, but for some reason I think that this is exactly the way I want to die, in the end of the world.

Or, maybe I should be praying right about now.

But sadly, when the light finally subsides, I'm still here and everyone else is alive. The object, traveling at terminal velocity, smashes down into the southwest corner of the wheat field. We watch it stupidly.

It bounces once, twice, and then it is in too many pieces to follow. In a flash, the debris lights about half a mile of fresh, soggy wheat on fire. That's how hot it is. We all sit in complete silence and Frankie takes this moment to shut up about the hospital and turn around.

Reconnaissance satellites, I think. Biosatellites.

Spy satellites.

All at once, without a word, we pile into the front cab; I crank the ignition, pop the clutch, and press the pedal to the floor while Frankie stumbles to grab onto the side and pull himself in. Frankie and I are cussing and laughing and Jesse Jones clings to my arm for support as we barrel down the hill. The half-case of Bud rushes through my bloodstream, making the car fly, and Jesus rattles around in the back.

We follow the flames to ground zero, where there's a huge gash in the ground and sitting in the middle of a blackened, burning crater is a chunk of blackened, burning metal.

I slam on the brakes and we almost go through the windshield. Frankie starts to open the door before I yell at him to stop.

"Why?" he asks me.

"What if it's an alien?" I ask. It's better to be safe than sorry, I figure.

"Fuck you, dude! I'll be the first human to punch an alien!" and he's out. Jesse seems to head my advice and stays in the truck. I think he's forgotten he's still clutching my arm.

"That hurts," I say. Jesse looks at me and lessens the pressure without actually letting go. I look through the glass at Frankie as he approaches the hunk of metal that's still glowing from the friction of entering the Earth's atmosphere.

"Hey guys! It's not an alien!" He calls out to us, sounding a little bit disappointed, but itty-bitty Jesse seems to sink lower into the seat.

"How do you know?" I yell back.

"Cause it's a satellite!" he says.

I remove myself from Jesse's grip and jump out of the side. The owners of this farm, the Biggams, madly over-water their land (and then they always wonder why their soil is the least fertile in all the town), so the hunk of metal is sitting, sizzling and steaming, in about half a foot of mud. You can tell it's not the whole satellite—maybe about half of it, if that. The rest, I guess, broke off in the fall.

Frankie puts his finger on part of it and then removes it quick.

"Shit! This bitch is on fire! …Oh wait, that's what I told your mom last night." Frankie laughs but I am too awestruck to care. Jesse has ventured out of the car at this point and stands behind me, putting me between him and the wreckage.


"Dude! It's a Russian satellite, look at the wings!" Frankie shouts and starts touching it in different places to see how hot it is. Maybe he's trying to burn off his fingerprints, for all I know. We talked about that once, after watching Men In Black.

"Those are solar panels, stupid!" I say. "And it's American, look at the flag." I point out the little American flag, and Frankie shrugs.

"They put that on there to confuse us in case it crashed."

"To confuse random people who stumble upon it? Because I'm pretty sure the government would know."

"Shut the fuck up, man! Shooting all my ideas down like that," Frankie mumbles but still runs around the side to inspect it from another angle.

"How long you think it'll take to cool down?" I ask, reaching out to touch it myself. It burns like a stove and I quickly recoil. It's no good 'cause I'm sure the fire's gonna attract some attention soon, and besides, I don't want it to burn too close. It must be a hot one, because I don't think the Biggams ever let their wheat get dry (and then they wonder why their harvest is always moldy).

"Why?" Jesse cuts in, his voice frantic.

"So we can lift it into my truck," I tell him, and his eyebrows curve up almost to his widow's peak.

"If only we had, like, a hose, man," Frankie says, still mumbling. He bends over onto his hands and knees to see beneath the wreckage, but if he knew how much his fat ass sticks out when he does it, I'm sure he'd think twice about it. But maybe not—it is Frankie, after all.

"What are we going to do with it?" Jesse keeps asking, still frantic.

"Take it back with us, faggot," Frankie says.

Jesse blinks and hardens his face. It's funny-looking, for him. "Well, what about Jesus? There's no way it's gonna fit in with Jesus."

He has a good point. Even Frankie has to admit it, and he does so by pausing, straightening up, and glancing back and forth between the statue and the satellite. Finally, he sighs.

"We gotta pick one or the other. I say a space satellite is ten times cooler than Jesus."

"I second that," I chime in, and Jesse looks at me like I just called his mom a fat cow. She is one, granted, but I've never called her that so far.

"So, what are we gonna do with Jesus, then?" Jesse persists.

"Swap Him with the satellite, I suppose."

Jesse looks absolutely appalled that I said it. I try to think of a reason why, but nothing comes. Maybe it's because I'm drunk, but I'm pretty sure I recall Jesse not being so Christian.

"We gotta do it quick, man," Frankie says, touching the satellite and holding his hand there for a good three seconds before yanking it away again. "Fire's burning closer. Grab the wings; they're not so hot no more."

"Solar panels," I correct as I climb into the truck. I quickly (and quite roughly) knock Jesus out of the bed, and then I move into place around the satellite. Frankie and I pause, staring at each other, and then almost in unison we both turn glares on Jesse Jones who's just standing there like a tree.

"Come on, faggot," Frankie growls. "Don't be totally useless."

Jesse frowns, pauses, but I think he's a little scared of the fire because it's really burning high now, and he scampers into position. On the count of three, we grab the panels and practically catapult it into the bed—it's heavy as cow poo and makes a huge clanging sound that even the noise of the fire can't block out, and weighs my truck down so much the wheels begin to sink into the mud.

Oh, please don't let my baby get stuck. Though, that'd be something right out of an action movie, right there—I mean, there we are, surrounded by a raging fire, trying to get my truck out of the mud, and we race for our lives from both the secret government ninja operatives and the fire all at once.

When we climb into the cab and I start it, though, I find that sadly enough, it is not stuck. It rolls out just fine, with a bit of bitching on the engine's part.

I turn the wheel towards the ridge, ready to make a climb back up it on wheels, but Jesse Jones cuts in before I can.

"We can't just leave Him there like that," he says.


"Jesus. I mean, what if it is all true and Christianity is the one true religion after all? We'll go to Hell because we left the Son of God sitting in the mud in the middle of a burning wheat field," he explains.

"Eh, something tells me we're going to Hell anyway," I suggest, but they ignore me when Frankie quickly cuts in, "He's right… The faggot has a point."

Little Jess looks proud—as much as he can with his perpetually blank face.

"Okay," I say and cut off the engine and climb out of the truck. The other two stay inside, so I'm not quite sure what they're expecting of me. Okay, so what am I supposed to do? Itty-bitty Jesse complains that Jesus is sinking in the mud in the middle of the burning wheat field. The wheat field—there's nothing I can do about that without reswapping Him with the satellite again, and there's no way in all seven levels of Hell I'm ever doing that. So I'll just have to fix the other part of it.

I walk over to Jesus, lift Him up onto his feet, and steady Him so that He stands upright without my support. Then I turn and start walking back.

"He looks so sad and lonely there," Jesse says out the window at me.

"But I absolutely love it when He smiles," I finish the song in my head.

"Of course He does," I say aloud. "I'd be sad and lonely if I died on a cross too."

Jesse Jones shrugs, indifferent.

Though, I bet this kid is secretly laughing it up behind that pouty face of his. I bet I'm just one giant ha-ha to him. But whatever. I turn back to Jesus, grab a discarded Bud can, and place it into His hand.

"There. Now He'll have something to do all night," I say. Or, at least until He catches on fire, I think. Little Jess doesn't say anything, so I figure he's satisfied and resume my earlier position behind the wheel.

The fire's spread enough that I actually have to make a little detour around it, but eventually my trucky-baby (whom I've affectionately named Gertrude) makes its grueling way up the ridge and I guide it around the curve so we can't see the fire anymore, and suddenly everything's really dark and quiet and sleepy. Frankie's preoccupied and I don't ever know what Jesse's thinking and me…well, I've reached that point where I'm starting to sober up but still pretty drunk so everything feels kinda surreal like when you confuse a movie with your own life or something.

"Guys," Frankie says softly, his voice all shaky and maybe he's gonna cry or something, "I think I gotta go to the hospital. I mean, like seriously, I can't take off my shoe."

"Well, um," I start awkwardly, taking my eyes off the road to look at this shoe that he can't take off, but then I realize I'm probably drifting and quickly look back to swerve back into place, "I'm not sure it'd be such a good idea to drive up to the hospital with a satellite in the back of my truck."

"It's bro-ken, Nate! It's gonna get infected!" Frankie gasps, talking in instead of talking out. And by that I mean he's inhaling as he speaks. Or at least it sounds that way. "I'm gonna get gangrene."

"Um…" Little Jess starts, but goes quiet.

"The only doctor open right now is the E.R. in McKinley," I say, almost groan.

"Take me there."

"Man, there's a satellite in the back of my truck."

"I don't give a rat's ass, Nate! Take me there!"

"You up for it?" I ask Jess, secretly hoping that he says no. He just shrugs, indifferent.

I growl and shift gears as I pull onto the highway.

It's the middle of the night, so naturally the E.R. is crowded, with people almost spilling out into the cold night air. They're all old, too—no young people, except for us, which seems weird because everyone always talks about how dangerous young people are, so you'd figure they'd get hurt more often.

I pull my truck into a narrow space between another truck and some weird jeep-type vehicle, and then me and Jess have to practically carry Frankie because by now he's kicking and screaming about his toe.

He signs in at the counter, and then we have to stand in the waiting room because all the seats are full. About a half hour later, a nurse comes in and calls a name, and a fat woman with frizzy red hair goes to follow her, and following her I guess is the whole family, from gramps to some dark-skinned little boy that I wonder if he's even related. It opens up four seats and I dive in to claim three of them, but unfortunately some tall junkie dude with a brown mustache and hunter's cap grabs two of them, so I only manage to get two myself.

"I get one," Frankie announces. "I'm the patient."

"You're the dipstick that broke himself jumping off the four-foot tall fence," I correct him, and he shrugs.

"Same dif, dude," and he takes the seat next to me.

Little Jess shifts awkwardly, standing in front of us and looking back and forth, unsure of what to do. I smile and pat my lap.

"I guess we'll have to double-up," I suggest, and his face colors a bit.

Frankie gags loudly and then mutters in a peculiarly articulate voice, "That's dis-gust-ing."

I just stare at Jesse expectantly, until he shrugs and says, "Nope."

"Nope?" I repeat. Rejection stings.

"Nope," he answers and turns away. "I'll stand."

And I'm left to stew in misery and defeat as I stare at Jesse Jones's back for another good half hour, while Frankie blabbers on endlessly about…baseball I think it is. That's all Frankie has ever been interested in, baseball, and it shows. As a jacket, he wears a baseball shirt. He's never without his Red Sox cap backwards on his thick fat buzzed head. And, he's always wearing baseball cleats. That's his shoe of choice.

I wear these old boots I got from the Russian Svyatoslav who owns the grocery store—I think they belonged to his father who was in the Soviet military. The boots are, like, actual Soviet military boots; they almost reach my knees. I think maybe Svyatoslav's father died in these boots. But I won't go into that right now.

Jesse Jones wears skater shoes.

But, anyway, Frankie's love of baseball isn't an odd thing for a kid in Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, there isn't even a movie theater, so naturally sports is the way to go. Since there are only two pools, and one's private and the other's only open on weekdays, it gets down to horseback riding and baseball. Me and Frankie, we both used to be way, way into baseball—so much so that when just the game itself became boring, we began adding new twists and turns.

I was the one who came up with tackle baseball. The teachers at Bethlehem High banned that, so I came up with bat-tag baseball, where you hit your opponents with the bat to tag them out. Or knock them out.

I was banned from playing baseball at school, and no one would play with me outside of school anymore either. It bothers me that my parents wouldn't buy me a horse.

Jesse Jones doesn't play baseball. Jesse Jones doesn't even know how to play baseball. I'm not sure what Little Jess does in his free time. He said he went on the internet in So-Cal. The only kind of internet we've got in Bethlehem is dial-up and satellite.

I wonder if we even have the latter anymore, as that might be sitting in the back of my truck at this point.

But, see, Jesse and I are kindred spirits. I used to be way into baseball; Jesse used to be way into the internet. Now I don't have baseball and he doesn't have internet. We're like two peas in a pod, Jesse and I.

Or so I think. Jesse stares at the TV of the E.R. stubbornly.

A nurse comes out, calls Frankie, and he gets up and follows her back, hollering and whining like he's about to die. Jesse quickly grabs his seat and plops down beside me. I look at my watch.

It'll be dawn soon. I wonder what they'll say about Jesus in a burning wheat field, holding a can of Bud. Maybe Budweiser will be the new holy water.

I turn to Jesse.

"What's it like, in So-Cal?" I ask. Jesse shrugs.

"Bigger, more interesting…not so hopeless," he answers.

I look away, and then look back. "Are you ever going to go back?"

"I sincerely hope so," he answers.

"Are your parents going to move back?" I reiterate.

"I doubt it," he answers.

I pause, glance at the TV screen. The news is starting.

"When I get up enough money," I say without looking at him, chewing my bottom lip, "I'm going leave this place. Just pack up my truck and go."

I see him look at me, so I turn back to him to find him staring at me almost expectantly. I raise an eyebrow at him.

"Doesn't it sound nice?" I ask. "I mean, imagine it. Just imagine being on that highway that stretches out all the way to the horizon, and it's just you—just you and your truck and your road, all alone with no one holding you back anymore."

He looks away and I feel like I've said the wrong thing.

"But," I say quickly, "if you want to go too, I've got room in my truck. We can find some shack in Los Angeles. We can be roomies, you know? That's a promise."

Now he looks back at me and from the expression in his eyes, I know I just said the exact right thing, and that makes me happy. Still, Jess isn't smiling.

Jesse Jones never smiles.

He looks away and so I do too. My eyes drift up to the TV and I make another promise. This one's to myself.

I promise that one day, I will make Jesse Jones smile. Scout's honor.

"…Bethlehem, Kansas, where locals say that it is a sign of God…"

I tune into the TV quickly, watching the Chinese news reporter walking backwards through the wheat field we had just been in hours ago. By now, all the fire's gone but there are fire trucks still in the background.

The news reporter stops just next to Jesus.

"…Believe that it may be the work of teenaged arsonists, but reports are still inconclusive. The owners of the farm, a Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Biggam, have announced they do not want an investigation, claiming the incident a 'miracle…'"

"'Arsonists?'" I repeat disbelievingly. "How can they think that we set the fire? You'd think the bits of satellite scattered around would tip them off. Damn…our policemen are idiots." Our two policemen are, that is. Hank the sheriff and Hugh the other sheriff.

I look at Jesse and he's really pale, which is saying something because he's really white anyway.

"What?" I ask.

"The Bud," he says softly, and I frown concernedly at him.


"The Bud… The beer can. It's not in His hand anymore," he says.

I look back at the TV that is still sporting the 9 foot hand-carved Jesus, and sure enough, His hand is empty. I can't figure out why that makes Little Jess so nervous though.

"So what?"

He turns stiffly toward me, pursing his mouth to say something, but before he can even croak out a word, the doors to the back room burst open and Frankie comes hobbling out, his face red.

"Shit, guys, we gotta go FUCKING NOW!" he roars louder than I've ever heard anyone roar before, and instantly Jess and I are on our feet. But, before anyone can go anywhere, a whole stampede of nurses appears and Frankie's on the ground, hollering and screaming and occasionally making very piggy sounds.

I take the initiative and dive forward onto a nurse, knocking her away and partly freeing Frankie. Jesse is next to me in a second, battling nurses left and right and for a second, I'm reminded of Silent Hill. Just wish I had gun so I could shoot them like in that game. But then I'd have to go and pick up matching ammo and it's really not that easy in real life.

We manage to force the nurses into a retreat, and so we take our chance and jet. We fly out of the E.R. and into the parking lot, only to find that my truck is surrounded by a huge group of people. One guy's wearing a weird costume.

"Beat it, people!" I bellow, thinking myself totally cool for being able to make my voice so deep.

Or, at least I think so until I realize that they're all just staring at me like my parents did when I first told them I didn't believe in God. Like I'm a blasphemer of some sort.

"Behold the gift of peace from our Brothers in the Sky," the weirdo in the costume says and points at the satellite in my truck. "This satellite is their communication treaty." I lift an eyebrow at him.

"It's not a satellite!" Frankie butts in quickly, looking nervous. Both Jesse and I glare at him.

The weirdo in the costume opens his mouth to say something, but I cut in before him with the first thing that comes to mind.

"Er…It's a spaceship," I say brilliantly. Sometimes I'm quicker than others. Both Jesse and Frankie look at me like I'm an idiot. "An alien spaceship. I captured it to get the little green freak back because he abducted me…"

Most of the people, other than the guy in the costume, look fairly normal. And they're not buying my story. It's a dumb one, anyway.

"Anal probes…and all that jazz…" I finish lamely.

The guy in the costume—he's a really squat guy with frizzy brown hair pulled into a pony tail, even though he's got male-pattern balding—he says, "Our Brothers in the Sky are not a violent race. They do not abduct. They only practice peace, unlike us barbaric humans."

"Right," I say.

"It has a fucking American flag on it, dumbfucks," Frankie growls.

The door to the E.R. whizzes open and the army of nurses is on the move again. This time they've got a rent-a-cop with them. I yelp to get my friends' attention, and instantly, like before, we're in the cab of the truck with Frankie scampering to jump in the side.

I put it in reverse and screech out of there—I'm pretty sure I hit somebody on the way out, but I'm sure it wasn't bad. They're in front of a hospital, anyway.

A few minutes later and we're safely back on the highway toward Bethlehem. So far, no police cars are following us, so s'all good.

"You're a hick, Nate," Jesse announces sometime along our drive. He's stuck between me and Frankie, but it's not a very tight fit. Itty-bitty Jesse probably only has to pay half a ticket when he rides on planes, since he's so small.

"What?" I ask hostilely, but really I'm thinking about how I've never ridden in an airplane before. I'll have to do that one day before I die.

"I said, 'You're a hick, Nate,'" he repeats.

"No I'm not!" I insist. I've stopped thinking about airplanes, since now I'm busy wondering what about me makes me a hick. I mean, compared to my friends, I don't consider myself one, but I think the city kid would know.

"Yes you are. What was that, claiming the aliens anal probed you?" Jesse goes on, and I growl. "That's totally hickish."

"Hickish isn't a word," I lecture him, even though I really don't have the right to because I always make up words.

"And, you know why it's always only hicks that get abducted by aliens, right? I mean, hard-working businessmen, world leaders, rich entrepreneurs, they never get abducted. It's always the fat, greasy bald men with the shotguns and the cows that get abducted," Jesse says. "You know why that is?"

"Because they're crazy."

"Because hicks are dissatisfied with their lives. Because hicks are so backwards in the head, they start having really crazy fetishes about anal alien sex," Jesse says.


"But, if you look at their wives, you'd understand, I bet," Jesse says. "Those fat whores are about as ugly as the men themselves. I mean, aliens are waaay hotter than those horrid sows."


"So, the men go out into the wilderness and jack off to the thought of aliens fucking them up the ass, and then when their wives ask them where they were and are they cheating on them, the men make up stories about aliens because it's halfway true anyway," Jesse says.

"You know what?" I say. "If you don't shut it, Jesse, I'm going to anally probe you."

"Hick," Jesse mutters, and I'm about to slap him, but before I can, Frankie cuts in.

"I bet he'd like being anally probed…the faggot."

The rest of the ride is spent in a sort of awkward silence. Sometimes, Jesse really surprises me, but I don't know why, because after knowing him for a few months, I've learned one thing about him, and that's that you really can't know Jesse Jones.

It's about six o'clock in the morning when I walk into my house after dropping Jesse and Frankie back at their homes, and as soon as I walk in, I'm accosted by the strong, greasy vapor that can only mean my mom is cooking.

Unless she's cooking breakfast—and she hasn't done that in about five years now—something's up.

"What's up, Mom?" I ask, waltzing into the kitchen. She's cooking tuna casserole.

That can only mean one thing. New neighbor.

"New neighbor," Mom answers.


She doesn't ask me where I was all night. She can probably guess. Dad sometimes gives me the beer himself.

The fact that she's cooking it at six in the morning isn't surprising. Bethlehem is so devoid of all entertainment, even the housewives have started to feel its effect. Now, all the women on the block have a certain unofficial race to see who can greet the new neighbor first.

"He's moved into the old Wilkinson place. Handsome fellow, if you ask me," she says.

"He's too young for you," I say, even though I've never met the guy. He is, though. Everyone she's attracted to is too young for her.

"Oh, I'm married under God anyway, Nate," she says with a laugh. I try to make my grin not so obvious.

"I want you to take this to him," she says. "I'm almost finished."

That's how I first met Jesse Jones. Jesse lives a block away, and I took a tuna casserole to his family at six in the morning. I got cussed out by both his parents for waking them up so early. They slammed the door in my face and Jesse was the one who opened it, apologized, and took the casserole from me.

We ate it together in his kitchen, just me and him.

"Did they change the sign already?" I ask out of vague curiosity. By "sign," I mean the welcome sign. Whenever somebody new moves in, we rush out to change the population number.

"Will Hopkins went out half an hour ago."

"He moved in last night?" I ask.

"This morning, actually," my mom corrects. "I think he might be a priest to investigate the miracle that happened last night. He looked pretty Catholic to me." She says the word "Catholic" as if it were synonymous with "devil-worshipper." In her mind, it probably is. But then she stops and swings around. "You heard about the miracle, right?"

I wince. "Right…yeah, I did."

Moved in to investigate the miracle, eh? That was…fast. The "miracle" happened only hours ago. I didn't think priests could move that fast. Do Catholics have on-call priest investigators?

She smiles and turns around. "Good. I'm glad you're so up-to-date on things, Nate. That's important in this world. It's amazing, though, that miracle. Jesus come down from the church to christen the Biggams' place. Just more proof that God's still out there, watching, yeah?"

"Huh," I answer noncommittally. She's been trying to reconvert me ever since I told her praying before we eat is a waste of time and only serves to make the food cold.

It's slightly ironic, in a way.

"Here, I'm done," she says, taking the casserole out of the oven and slipping a glass lid over it. She takes off the oven mitts and hands them to me. "The old Wilkinson place. Be nice. And tell me about him when you get back."

"Why don't you do it? I'm sure he'd like your kind of greeting much more than mine," I think, but I don't say it aloud because last time I did my dad backhanded me one something awful. I deserved it, though, because it wasn't entirely a joke.

I slip on the oven mitts, grab the casserole, and begin walking down the road. My driveway looks empty without my truck in it—I put it in the shed out back because I couldn't get the satellite out without Jesse and Frankie's help.

The old Wilkinson place is kinda small and in serious disrepair. I ring the bell with my elbow, being unable to let go of the casserole, and about three seconds later the door cracks open only as wide as the chain will allow and a nervous, mousy face looks out at me.

"What do you want?" a matching mousy voice squeaks.

"Ehm—like, my mom, she…wanted me to give you this…casserole, or something. It's not, like, poisoned or anything. We're not like that in this town."

I said that to Jesse, and he shrugged and opened the door for me. This guy doesn't take it so well.

"I don't like casserole."

"Then dump it in your backyard or something," I suggest. "Good for the plants."

He closes the door in my face, and for a second I'm really offended, but then I hear the chain rattling and the door opens again, revealing my new neighbor.

He's somewhere between twenty and forty years old. Any more specific than that, and I'd have to look at his teeth or something. He's got short brown hair. He's skinny, a sketchy sort of fellow, with nervous, twitchy eyes and bony fingers that are laced within one another and squeezing anxiously.

He doesn't look like a priest, despite his collar.

"You—ah—what's your name, kid?"

"Nate Rarick," I say.

"Nate," he repeats and smiles crookedly. "You hear about that miracle last night?"

"Yes, sir, I did," I answer, and hand him the casserole. He looks at it uncertainly, and then takes it from me.

"It's Father Crisler," he says. "My name—Father Crisler."

"Right, Mr. Crisler."

"Father, please," he says.

"You're not my father," I say, and Crisler frowns. I try not to gloat.

"So—ah—what do you think about that miracle?" he asks. He talks with a northern accent, Boston maybe, slipping the random 'r' in at the end of his vowels, like President Kennedy did.

"Pretty miraculous," I say.

"You think—ah—you think He came from space, that Jesus?" he asks, and I lift my eyebrow.

"He came from Heaven," I answer him. "Where else would our Lord and Savior come from? Um, welcome to Bethlehem from my family—the Raricks." And then I turn and walk away.

I don't go home. Instead I go past my home, to Jesse's house. I knock on the door, and his fat cow of a mother answers it sleepily, giving me a disproving glance before turning around so that I have to jump out of the way of her huge swinging ass and bellowing into her household, "YOUR FRIEND'S HERE!"

I'm pretty sure Jesse's an only child. He's also the only one in this family with friends, and he's not even very good at that.

His mom waddles away and he quickly replaces her, and it's amazing such a little person came from such a huge one.

"Nate?" he asks, like he can't believe it's me. He's wearing his big blue pajamas that have a couple of bears on the front pocket.

"Dude…I think the CIA's after us," I say, glancing back and forth, nervously lacing my fingers together but in a calculating way like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.

And Jesse just rolls his eyes.


Now for some ridiculously long AUTHOR'S NOTES!! The first part of this chapter, up till the point of the satellite crash, was actually written by my friend, not me. I tweaked it excessively, though, and from that point on, everything's mine. The characters Nate, Jesse, and Frankie, as well some vague idea of the plot (or lack thereof), are my friend's creations, and I don't even know how on-target I am with their original concepts so…I claim them as my own. (You just try to sue me, Spiwolf. I know where you keep your moped). Everything else is from my brain. And this is very weird because as I'm writing this I'm trying to translate it into Russian in my head…

Um, let's see. This is a very silly little story with no real direction, continuity, or purpose. I've given up trying to make it go somewhere or mean something. I just think it's funny and had a good time writing it, so I figure maybe you'll have a good time reading it. Don't take it too seriously.

Thus said, this story isn't finished yet. I don't know when it will be finished. Right now I've got finals, and immediately after that, I'm enrolled for pre-calc summer school, as well as two 200 level and one 400 level language courses for next fall, as well as trigonometry and computer programming. And I have a job. And I'm attempting to study abroad. So, in other words, I'm really really busy and, unlike my other stories, I can't promise regular updates. Sorry, but I got sick of this thing just sitting on my computer.