A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "*" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
New Mexico is an extraordinarily average state. It’s one of those places you drive through at top speed on the way to someplace else and about halfway through you stop for gas and a bite to eat at some classic Route 66 diner and you look around and think, ‘This would be a great place to raise the kids… But what in the heck could I do to earn a living?’ The landscape is resplendent with mesas and distant snow-capped mountains, the painted desert still sprawls in all its glory even after all these years since Walt Disney first captured it on film, even the sporadic vegetation and animal wildlife are endearing in an odd romantic novel sort of way.
Route 66 takes you across the northern part of the state, playing a sort of do-si-do with Interstate 40 as it weaves both north and south of the more modern thoroughfare. Tourist traps, aging cafes, and defunct 1950’s era motels dot the road that was once known as America’s Main Street.
Ignoring both Interstate 40 and historic Route 66, there is a road forty or so miles to the east of Albuquerque that leads more or less due south to what was once nothing more than an out of the way crossroads; a speck on the map worthy of not even a passing nod. That changed for a while in the late 1940’s but most of the excitement died down with government denial only to arise again with the admission of the existence of Nevada’s Area 51 five decades later.
Roswell, New Mexico is a plain little town, two hundred miles from everything and completely mundane as long as the passing tourist ignores the prolific alien décor that both repels and delights concurrently. Tourists are somewhat rare and passing tourists are nearly unheard of, so far off the beaten track is the little town. The only reason to find oneself in Roswell is due to unwavering intent.
The car tore down the road, bisecting the rolling scrubby desert that ran along each side of the cracked asphalt in an endless barrage of brown monotony. Occasionally a rabbit or roadrunner would dash across the pavement in front of the speeding Mustang, playing their own versions of ‘chicken’ to pass their boredom. After four days behind the wheel, Ella was more than ready to put an end to her road trip, no matter how high the digital numbers on her speedometer rose in the quest to reach her final destination it simply wasn’t fast enough. Two thousand miles was a long distance to travel no matter how you looked at it and Ella was about a thousand miles past her endurance level, not to mention she was only about half-way through her trip.
She heaved another beleaguered sigh although no one else was present in the car to appreciate her effort. What had possessed her to make the trip from Seattle to Jacksonville by car was still a mystery to the exhausted woman. All she was sure of was that it had seemed like a good idea at the time. The trip would take her through states she had only seen from the window of an airplane, she would be able to see things she'd only witnessed via postcards and photo calendars, but perhaps the most compelling aspect of such a cross-continental drive had been that she would be alone during the trip. The much-needed solitude had proven to be too tempting to turn down, even if it had been ill advised.
She was only a little more than halfway to Florida. Had she gone ahead and driven straight to Interstate 10 from Washington instead of taking the scenic route down Route 66 she was sure she would have already been there, or at least she would have been closer than she now found herself to be. But no, she had decided it would be loads of fun to see the infamous Route 66. She admitted that it had been fun for the first couple hundred miles, but after two days, she was ready to sacrifice amusement for haste.
Worse even than Route 66 had been was the small highway she found herself on. At least America's Main Street had places of interest to stop at every hundred miles or so. Having missed the turnoff for the major highway that would have sped her along from Albuquerque to Interstate 10, she had decided to take the exit for Roswell and continue on to I10 from there rather than backtracking and losing even more time. Had she been forewarned of the high boredom level this particular stretch of road would generate, she would have turned back and sought out the other route in Albuquerque without any qualms.
The road never ended. She felt as if she were trapped in one of the Twilight Zone or Dark Side episodes she had loved to watch as a child. No matter how far she drove, she still couldn’t manage to get any closer to Roswell. At the top of each rise all that was visible beyond was more road and additional rises.
Even after the two and a half hours spent on the seemingly endless farm road, when she saw the smallish billboard twenty miles out of town she nearly turned around and headed back toward Albuquerque. Roswell was known for one thing and one thing only. The sign for the UFO crash sight reminded her of that and almost sent her running to the hills. If there was anything her crazy and completely mixed-up life didn’t need it was UFO’s, aliens, or theories of government conspiracies.
Gritting her teeth, she pressed the gas pedal down just a little farther and turned her eyes back to the road. She would just have to ignore all the extraterrestrial paraphernalia. After all, it wasn’t like she was going to be in Roswell for more than a few minutes, just as long as it took to stop for gas and continue on down the road.
She passed the city limit sign and was surprised to discover the population of such an out of the way place was nearer 45,000 than she had suspected, although how there could possibly be enough employment opportunities for so many folks, she couldn’t fathom. Nor was she entirely sure where so many people could be hiding in such a small town.
Plunging further into the city, she breezed through the center of town with little worry of traffic congestion. Even had it been rush hour, she doubted there would have been the likelihood of a traffic jam regardless that her path would lead her directly in front of the courthouse.
The main square surrounding the green-tiled courthouse was bustling with cars. She rolled her eyes at the International UFO Museum and Research Center one block past the impressive government building, trying to push all thoughts of what might be inside the renovated movie theater out of her mind. Some people, she thought, had far too much free time on their hands. Of course, her own thoughts were pointedly elsewhere up until the second after she felt her car come to an abrupt stop and her eyes flew back to the road ahead of her, or rather the back of the four-ton truck she had inadvertently plowed into.
She cringed inwardly as she exited her own vehicle and slowly peered at what was left of her front bumper. Staring blankly at the crumpled hood of her car and baffled as to what might have become of her bumper that seemed to be completely missing, she sighed again. The white smoke that was beginning to seep out from under the ruined bonnet couldn’t possibly be a good sign, nor could the bits of fragmented fiberglass and safety glass that littered the roadway.
Ella raised her eyes from her damaged car, trailing them over the remarkably unmarked rear end of the truck she had collided with, to at last meet the eyes of the truck’s driver. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I could have done that. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.”
The man grunted something that may have been an affirmation of her statement as he looked at the storefront their vehicles were stopped in front of, his eyes absorbing the building’s facade. “Out of towner, eh?”
“Oh no,” she muttered, turning to look directly up into a giant silver replica of a UFO that was “crashed” into the side of the UFO museum. “You don’t think that I… No, no, I was just passing through.”
He looked back down at her as she stumbled over her denial. “Lady, Roswell ain’t on the way to anywhere. There’s no where to pass through to… unless you’re plannin’ on tourin’ Carlsbad Caverns.” He surveyed her tidy white linen suit with open skepticism.
“No, I missed my exit in Albuquerque and I just thought I’d take this road down to I10. I didn’t even want to be here.”
He grunted again before he looked back down at her car. “Well,” he drawled, “I don’t much imagine you hurt my ol’ Bessie any but you’re gonna need a tow. I’ll get on the horn to my cousin, he drives a truck and can work ya a deal on the tow and on fixin’ it.” He looked her dead in the eyes and explained, “He’s got another cousin who’s a mechanic.”
Less than thrilled but willing to accept his offer as long as it might hurry her on her way out of New Mexico, Ella accepted his recommendation and watched as the man walked back to the cab of his truck to extract a cell phone.
After he had completed his conversation, as well as a lengthy discussion as to the health of what must have been a good half of his extended family, he motioned to Ella. “He’s on a call right now but I expect he’ll be here shortly. Told him I’d push you out of the street so there won’t be too much of a ruckus. There’s a diner over there you can wait for him in ‘til he makes it here.” He motioned across the street toward a building sporting yet another “crashed” UFO: The Crash Down Diner.
“I’m in hell.”
Having decided that sitting among inflatable alien replicas and dangling miniature UFO’s was preferable to drawing far too much unwanted attention standing on the sweltering sidewalk, Ella trudged into the diner, grimacing at the Twilight Zone tune that jangled upon her entrance. She slipped into a booth near the door where she had a clear view of her damaged car and waited for someone to hand her a menu while she soaked up as much of the chill of the conditioned air as she could.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
She glanced away from the scene outside the picture window long enough to accept the proffered laminated menu and request an iced tea.
“Are you sure I couldn’t interest you in a Crash Down Freeze? They’re kinda like a fruit smoothie and are awfully popular when it gets this hot outside.”
Looking up at the teenaged boy who stood next to her table, a personable smile adorning his lips, she cast a glance around the empty diner. “Yeah, I can see that. No, just an iced tea, thanks.”
“Your loss then. I’ll be right back to get your order.” He disappeared into the kitchen leaving her again in the deliciously cool silence of the empty diner.
Cracking open the menu, Ella’s stomach turned. UFO Burger, Grilled Moon Beam Sandwich, Saturn Dogs… There had to be something available that wouldn’t turn to ashes on her tongue at the mere mention of its name. Nothing. The entire menu had been given themed names to match the diner’s cheesy décor.
The boy returned and slid a tall glass of tea brimming with ice in front of her. “Have you made up your mind yet?” His smile had yet to abandon him in search of a new host.
“Green salad, dressing on the side and no croutons.”
“One Alien Graze, drain the juice and hold the crunch,” he cheerfully called over his shoulder to the as of yet invisible kitchen help. He reclaimed the menu and once again disappeared.
Taking a closer look at her tea, Ella grimaced and snagged the swizzle stick from its chilled depths. Bringing it up to her eyes, she stared into the huge black eyes of the alien head that topped the plastic utensil. “This isn't hell, this is beyond hell…”
The tow truck wheezed and clunked as the driver pressed a button to raise the hydraulic lift. Ella watched intently as the burly driver secured her car for transport to the nearby mechanic’s shop.
Once the Mustang was loaded, he grinned at her over the still smoking hood. “Not from around here, huh?”
“As a matter of fact, no,” she said, pushing lank bangs back from her streaming brow. She looked pointedly at the Washington plates. “What gave me away?”
“Oh, I dunno. Just a feelin’ I guess. And that’s what Frank said when he called up to the shop.”
She shook her head and looked away toward the storefronts that lined the street. It would take several hours at least for the mechanic to determine the full extent of damage done to her car and probably days to fix it enough for her to continue on her road trip, and that was only if he proved to do fast and competent work. She wouldn't have been surprised if the mechanic she was being sent to would have trouble telling the trunk from the hood.
The tow truck driver, whose grease smudged coveralls displayed an embroidered patch bearing the name Joe, swiped his forehead with a bandanna before replacing his cap and shoving the red checked material deep into a back pocket. He grinned at her and offered the most helpful bit of information she’d received all day.
“There’s a half dozen or so hotels on up Main Street toward that new fangled hardware store. Only problem bein’ there’s a conference in town for the New Mexico Public School Association and they’re booked up solid. A few blocks over from Dan’s shop there’s a little place though. It’s not one of those fancy national jobs, but it’s clean and the owners are real friendly folks. I could drive you there if you’d like.”
Short on alternatives, Ella climbed up into the tow truck and bounced along down the road on the busted springs of the passenger's seat, half-listening to the cheerful if inane chatter the middle-aged man kept up. She caught about every other sentence he prattled, nodding when it seemed appropriate and occasionally making noncommittal noises.
She watched the scenery as they rode along Roswell’s smaller side streets. It looked like any other little country town she’d ever driven through. The same small family run shops cropped up on the busier roadways with hand-painted signs with the same clichéd names: the Hair Affair Salon, the Burger Barn, Two Sisters Botique, the list was endless. She had no specific aversion to such places, everyone had the right to earn a living whichever way made them happiest; but she didn’t make it a point to frequent them either. Ella wasn’t at ease in any area where the population dipped down below 100,000. She had grown up in Chicago and had since lived in a dozen or so other large cities across the country, even taking up temporary residence in Montreal at one time. Towns where everyone knew everyone else worried her, they seemed far too Stepford Wife-esque to be healthy.
Jostling through an intersection where Joe seemed to know all of the passing motorists, tossing up a wave and a smile for each of them, they finally pulled up to a remarkably tidy auto repair shop. Ella’s worst fears weren’t to be realized in the neat appearance of the yard and shop, nor did they materialize when a young man stepped out of the shaded interior of the open building and stopped in the sun drenched, crushed shale yard, clean cut and freshly showered, his short damp hair drying rapidly in the summer sun.
“Hey, Dan,” Joe called through the open window of the tow truck. “Got a job for ya’.”
Dan waved and grinned as the tow truck lumbered to a stop, casting a furtive glance at his cousin’s passenger before looking more closely at the battered vehicle that sat atop the truck bed. He let out a low whistle and crossed closer to the truck, hopping up lightly to stand against the side of the dusty Mustang.
Ella suppressed a sigh and tugged on the door handle, wresting it open so she could slide out of the greasy cab. Her hell wasn’t looking to improve by the sound of the mechanic’s initial reaction.
“Well,” he began, looking down at Ella who stood in the small patch of shade cast by the tow truck, “I’d say it’s defiantly fixable.”
“But…” Ella had anticipated difficulty and buts were no exception. She wasn’t a fool; she knew the car had sustained significant damage. She only hoped it wouldn’t take long to repair.
“But Mustangs aren’t the norm as far as cars go here in Roswell. I’ll get an order out in the next hour or so for the parts I’ll need and put a rush on the delivery but I’m afraid the work probably won’t be done for a week or so.”
Dan studied Ella’s pale eyes as she watched him closely. “I’m afraid so.”
“That’s great.” She threw up her arms in disgust and spun around to survey her surroundings. “Fabulous,” she spit out when she was again facing Dan. “What in the hell am I supposed to do for a week in Roswell, New Mexico?” she demanded.
Not bothering to suppress his grin, Dan leaned back into her car and crossed his arms thoughtfully, before he replied, “You could always go out and tour the alien crash sight.” The wilting glare she sent his way elicited no more than a chuckle from the young man. "I'll see if there's any way I can get the parts sooner but I'll warn you now, I probably won't have any luck."
Ella allowed her cool facade to drop long enough to kick visciously at the shale beneath her feet, sending shards skittering across the yard. "Whatever," she replied when she raised her eyes again. "Joe," she jerked her head toward the tow truck driver, "said he would take me to a motel nearby. I don't know where it is or what it's called, but if you give me a business card-"
Dan's eyes danced in the bright afternoon light. "You takin' her over to the Sunset, Joe?" he questioned his relative.
"Yup, already called Maggie and Spud about it." He turned his attention to Ella when he added, "They're lookin' forward to seein' ya', said they’re getting the room ready now."
“I can’t wait,” she muttered, fumbling in her bag for a pair of dark sunglasses. She shifted her gaze to stare for a moment at the faded sign that hung from the eaves of the garage on rusty links of chain. “Dan’s Repair and Rebuild: two out of three R’s ain’t half bad”
“I can give you a call when I know for sure how long it’ll take,” the mechanic offered, smiling pleasantly still. “Or better yet, give me half an hour and I can drop by the hotel with the information and a car for you to use until yours is repaired.”
The dark plastic lenses of her sunglasses hid Ella’s eyes but the icy glare she gave him wasn’t diluted by the shades. Irritation seemed to seep from her very pores as she stood in the blazing sun, her arms akimbo and her feet firmly planted on the ground despite the high-heeled shoes she wore. “Lovely, so I’ll have the illusion of being able to go somewhere without actually being able to go somewhere.”
An hour after leaving Dan’s Repair and Rebuild, Ella sat down on the foot of the bed in her motel room, her hair dripping slowly onto the towel she’d draped around her neck. The small air conditioning unit was turned up as high as it would go and a gale of icy air wafted across her damp skin. The shower had been an experience but she had finally figured out how to adjust the water so that it was a bearable temperature, rather than all cold or all hot.
She plucked listlessly at the hem of the pair of shorts she’d found in the bottom of her suitcase. She was tired but didn’t dare lie down for a nap. If she did in fact fall give in to her body’s desires for a mid-day nap, she’d never get to sleep that night, plus she was expecting the ridiculous mechanic to appear at any time with the promised car.
Stifling a yawn, she stood up and scrubbed at her hair with the towel until she could brush it out and not leave her shirt collar damp. She tugged the blonde mass into a knot and secured it with a wooden pick she’d discovered in the depths of her luggage before turning a critical eye to her appearance. She looked alright, she supposed, as long as she didn’t run into anyone she knew, otherwise the country chic look would have to do in the oppressive heat. She refused to ruin another linen suit just to appease fashion dictates that didn’t seem to exist so near the desert.