The Illegal Immigrant

Shirley said to Alex, “Now that Randy has moved out of the garage apartment, we’re empty-nesters.”

“Yup,” said Alex. “That’s it, then: we’re old.”

“Don’t say that!” Shirley said, furrowing her brow. “Old is a state of mind.”

“It’s also a state of body.”

Shirley thought about the shade of blonde she’d been using to touch up the little gray wisps for the last fifteen years. She’d had to start using more color lately, probably because they’d made the product weaker. Once “The Change” had done its work, she’d noticed in the mirror that her girlish figure had transformed into something with more character, an erudite carriage. Generic naproxen was working wonders on her hips and knees.

“We’re maturing,” she said. “We’re not growing old.”

“Hmph,” said Alex.

“But since you mentioned it,” she said, bending over at the waist to put some of the groceries in the fridge, “Randy and the boys were always so helpful around the house; that’s what kept me so young, no extra wear and tear with them around.”

“Good boys,” said Alex. He was looking at his iPhone, trying to send an e-mail to one of the grandkids. “How do you attach a photo?” he muttered.

“Ginny Caulfield has a girl who helps around the house.”

“What’s that? You want a servant? My state pension isn’t that flush.”

“Well, she’s not a servant, exactly,” said Shirley.

“Oh, that’s right! I know all about that,” he said. “One of those mulatto girls who doesn’t speak English. Paddy told me all about her. Squat little girl, right?”

“Dear!” said Shirley. “Mestizo, not mulatto.”

“I’m sorry, dear,” Alex said. “I don’t really know the difference.”

“It’s such a shame,” Shirley said. “We have these derogatory labels for these people, but they’re not properly called indigenous because they have European ancestry. They still need our help, though. Can’t we hire one of them?”

“What? An illegal?!?”

“It shouldn’t be illegal. I mean, they shouldn’t be called illegals. They’re undocumented. They haven’t done anything more illegal than break a law that is targeted against them.”

“Hmph,” said Alex. He stared at his phone, pushed a button, and smiled. “I think I did it right this time”

“Well?” said Shirley?

“All right, all right. I know Pastor Barb keeps harping on it during just about every one of her sermons. I’ll ask around. I don’t think you put an ad in the paper for something like this. I mean, do papers even run want ads anymore?”

“You should use Greg’s List,” said Shirley.

“Greg’s list?”

A few days later, Shirley answered the door to welcome a tall young man who had too much curly hair standing straight out from his head, like an afro, except he was white. His glasses were those retro thick-framed kind, and he wore a long dark gray scarf around his neck, complementing a denim jacket over a bright red t-shirt tucked neatly into a pair of skinny jeans. He wiped his Vans on the doormat before walking in.

Under his arm was a short, overweight, young woman with mottled complexion, and very dark, straight hair which hung to her shoulders.

“This is Ana Lucia,” said the young man. “She’s a teen-aged immigrant from Guatemala, ready to make a new life in the United States. This interview, as you know, is sponsored by Immigration Without Bigotry, and is intended both to make sure our patrons, such as yourself, can be comfortable with our wards, and also to make sure our wards are in a safe environment. Since the law of this land is so capricious with respect to immigrants, liability is very difficult to ascertain, so we do our best as a liaison in order that as many people are happy as possible.”

Ana Lucia rubbed her nose, which was broad and flat. She stifled a cough.

“Many of our immigrants have difficulty adjusting to our east coast climate, with the damp and the cold,” explained the young man. Shirley’s heart broke for the girl, and she loved her.

The next day, Shirley showed Ana Lucia to the garage apartment, where she immediately took up residence and called it her home from that day forward.

Several months later, Ana Lucia’s complexion had cleared to a lovely creamed-coffee color, and, because her nutrition had shifted away from stove-top fried rice and beans to fresh vegetables and lean meats, she had lost weight. Shirley kept her active with chores and work, but not so much as to strain the girl beyond what her conscience could bear, and she noticed that Ana Lucia had not only lost weight, but she had become fit and athletic, a beautiful young lady. She helped style Ana Lucia’s hair.

At her Ladies Aid quilting group at the church, which Pastor Barb did not attend, Shirley proudly explained how she and Alex were fulfilling the Lord Jesus’ own words to have mercy on the poor. It was a topic of much interest, and many of the ladies nodded with approval.

One day, she heard Alex talking to Ana Lucia. They were walking up the stairs together, where Ana would be tidying the master bath.

“Do you like working for us, Ana?” asked Alex.

“Yes, Mr. Alefson,” said Ana Lucia in her best English accent, which was still very heavily influenced by her Central American Spanish tongue.

“Oh, my,” said Alex, with a chuckle. “You shouldn’t call me Mr. Alefson. Call me Alex. Me llamo Alex. Now, do you like working for us? Do you really enjoy it?”

“Yes, Mr. Alex,” said Ana Lucia.

Alex laughed aloud, and Shirley could hear no more of the conversation, except the muffled sounds of talking wafting down the stairs. She continued reading her magazine, absorbed in the latest window treatment fashions. After a while, she looked up at her own kitchen bay window, wondering how what she was reading might apply to her east-facing breakfast nook, and she noticed that it had become very quiet in the house.

Alex sauntered down the stairs, then went to his den, where he turned on the television to watch cable news.

A few days later, a similar scene played out. Shirley was on the couch reading a magazine, poring over the pictures, comparing them to her own living room, when Alex went upstairs with Ana Lucia, asking, “Do you like working for us, Ana?”

“Yes, Mr. Alex, you know I do.”

This time Shirley listened, and she heard the sound Alex made only under very intimate circumstances. It passed away after a few seconds. Shirley thought of her quilters at church, so she returned to her magazine, telling herself, “Well, at least I’m off the hook, now. What a relief.”

She put the magazine down, went to the cabinet, and poured herself a glass of wine. Alex sauntered down the stairs and went directly to his den.

The play continued like this, monotonously, until, a few months later, Shirley heard Ana Lucia in the bathroom, weeping.

“Ana, what is troubling you?” she asked. She knew. Without being told, she knew.

“Mr. Alex is no good to me,” said Ana Lucia. “He is no good to me. I have a baby from him inside me.”

“You come with me, young woman,” said Shirley. She trundled Ana Lucia into the RX 350, and they sped away. Shirley fought back tears. “Reproductive rights,” she kept telling herself. “Violated.”

When she told Pastor Barb what had happened and what she had done, Pastor Barb held Shirley’s hands in hers, and they cried together. “You did the right thing for Ana Lucia,” she told Shirley. “It was the right thing to do. Think of what kind of trouble that would have caused the girl. You have power, now, Shirley, power to help the weak. From now on, you should supervise her so that she doesn’t fall in with any other predatory young men.”

Shirley nodded.

“Do you like working for us?” Alex said. And it grew quiet, as usual. Shirley returned to her magazine, then a glass of wine, as usual, to still her conscience, which had brought her to her boundary. Alex did not saunter down the stairs and into his den as usual. Shirley waited. An hour passed. Curiosity sprang into her conscience, and then anger, fueled by a second glass of wine.

“This is brazen!” she thought.

She went to the foot of the stairs. “Should I go up?” she asked herself. When she put her hand on the banister, her pinkie finger knocked against some jingle bells she’d tied there as Christmas decorations. Her eyes followed the artificial evergreen garland and the strand of white lights reaching up to the second-floor landing. She ascended.

There, on the bed, lay her husband, Alex, his throat cut. Blood had pooled on the sheets.

“Good for you, Ana!” she exclaimed. “You deserved it, you bastard!” Her breast heaved with a mighty outcry, and she made to spit on him.

While she was still in the act of spitting on him, the same dagger cleaved her esophagus and windpipe.


The Illegal Immigrant

South Asian Man Found In Niagara Whirlpool

Normally I don’t read the newspaper; I prefer skimming Twitter for interesting headlines. For local stories I have my next-door-neighbor, so why take the paper? I was sitting at the phlebotomist to get some routine bloodwork done when I saw an abandoned paper on the seat near mine, folded open, and the headline caught my eye: South Asian Man Found in Niagara Whirlpool.

A South Asian male, as yet unidentified, was found in the Niagara Whirlpool Thursday morning by two fisherman. Authorities suspect foul play, but have released no further details.

And that was all. The Niagara Whirlpool, if you don’t know, is like a garbage collector, and the recently-deceased often spend time there, as in a kind-of purgatory, waiting to be released by the whims of current to float down the river through the gorge, seeking release to their final resting place along the shores of Lake Ontario.

During the spring, for those of you who enjoy the macabre, those who perished by falling through the ice on Lake Erie during ice fishing season will make their way through the whirlpool sorting system, most of whom are eventually identified by self-appointed amateur body spotters. Suicides likewise.

The mafia, if there is such a thing, has been known to use the whirlpool as an unemployment office; those are the more interesting stories. From those stories, I know that local authorities never tip their hand like this, namely that they know foul play was involved, so it must have been somehow obvious. The reporter hadn’t been curious enough to ask for details from the two fishermen who found the body. A South Asian man, murdered and dumped?

I should ask around.

South Asian Man Found In Niagara Whirlpool

Going Over The Falls

It is a curiosity that wherever there are great waterfalls, the indigenous peoples of that region, without any near anthropological connection to each other, all have similar stories concerning an ancient distraught princess throwing herself to her doom. Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls, you name it. I suppose the notion that a young girl would commit suicide rather than be without her true love resonates with a certain sentimentality present in every spirit. Who knows? Nevertheless, spirits are set free, then, to haunt the immediate confines with the low wails of youthful tragedy, wails undergirded by the ceaseless outcry of falling water.

Easy ghost story, right? Well, about 30 years ago, when I was 12 years old, one of the local Chickasaw gentlemen serving as a guide at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama taught me a little more about these liberated spirits. Spirits specifically compelled to go over the falls by frustrated romantic love, he said, cannot merely wander, as it is always told. No, they must remain incarnate within something material. Thousands of people over the ages have gone over the falls, yet only a handful are known to call out. Why? Because these went over the falls with something material in hand into which their spirits could remain incarnate even after their bodies had been obliterated. As for this Cherokee princess at Noccalula Falls, she must have carried some sort of talisman with her which embedded itself in the rocks behind the falls.

Fascinating, right? Over the years, especially after I developed an interest in cross-cultural deep structural analysis, that is, what makes us all common to each other within our cultural expressions, I’ve made a small hobby of investigating his teaching. He was old, so I believed him.

Here in the Niagara Falls area, there is a subculture of collectors, much like philatelists who specialize, say, in Pacific Island stamps–there is a subculture of artifact collectors here in the region who specialize in broken bits of the barrels in which adventurers have died when they went over the Niagara Falls. After some inquiring, which was considerable–these guys are very close, shall we say–I was directed to a little meeting room above one of the halal places on Third Street, from which you can see the Niagara Falls.

I remember trying the door, and it was unlocked, yielding a view of a room filled with canvas, burlap, and glass display cases. Some of the display cases were electrified, with sensors blinking alternately green and red as they cycled through their monitoring programs. I stood in the doorway, taking it all in. A few chairs were scattered here and there.

“Hello,” said a voice behind me. Naturally, I was startled.

“Sorry,” I said. “I was looking for someone to talk to.”

“We’re not a therapist group,” he replied, but he was smiling, indicating the jest.

I told him who I was and what I was doing, mentioning the Chickasaw guide from back when.

“Oh, Indians romanticize perfectly measurable science,” he said. I cringed at the prejudice, but I was listening. He continued, saying, “It’s not just specific to distraught teenage girls, but he’s absolutely right about incarnation. High Place Phenomenon gives us a ton of artifacts to work with, you see, and we can run experiments. The easiest ones to work with are those which float, like pieces of barrel. If you run a control, the pieces which went over the falls tend to move as though they have a will of their own, propelled by some sort of unseen force.

“What we don’t know, and we haven’t developed a proper experiment for, is how life force is caught up in some pieces and not others. Our pedigree analysis is fairly thorough, so we know that two pieces from one barrel will have a different measure of life force. Competing theories abound up here, but it’s all speculation right now. The two main lines are: first, that a strong-willed man might actually be able to call the life force of others who linger nearby to join his life force, and which creates the guise of uneven distribution. The second is that the material does not break up uniformly or in sequence, so the life force is distributed at the moment of death into the nearest largest shard.

“Again, we’re scientists, but our methods are terribly under-developed.

“Of course, we might be entirely wrong: the death of the man in the barrel might actually invoke the life force of the falls to enter into the material, a sort-of by-product of the material slash life force exchange going on in an extraordinary circumstance. High Place Phenomenon is an outside influence on the psychology of perfectly ordinary human beings, you know.”

“Don’t forget the woman,” I said.

Going Over The Falls

Trusted Travel Talisman

Even civilized nations are wont to have messy frontiers. The frontier between Niagara Falls, New York, USA and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada is no exception. Some fairly valuable bric-a-brac can be found littering the immediate border region, especially within the Niagara River Gorge, which washes ashore a considerable pile of flotsam and jetsam jettisoned by five of the Great Lakes, most of which create the Canada-USA border, at least where people live.

I heard tale of a gentleman who went down into the gorge early one morning for smallmouth bass fishing. Darkness seals the nether regions of this frontier long after the sun is illuminating the grand bridges, the war-commemorative monuments, and the towering bluffs themselves. Light plays tricks on the water down there: the Niagara River is still hustling along at a fair clip, producing some real white water, so with the blues of the sky, the reds of the bluffs, and whatever might be reflecting from automobile traffic, the eye can be deceived. Besides, to get a decent fishing spot, you have to get up pretty early in the morning, so your mind is sleepy, in one way, but also working hard to make sense of the changing light environment. It’s like Nature herself is conducting an experiment in psychological perception, the one where it is demonstrated that the mind will construct “reality” from the ethereal.

The way his wife tells the tale, he was down there at about five a.m. one morning late in June (right about the time for sunrise everywhere but in the gorge), when his eye caught a glint in the water. It looked every bit like the strange rainbow-like effect a laser-inscribed hologram produces when light reflects off it. This little glint, whatever it was, had him, and made its way toward shore where he was standing, bobbing there, holding itself against the current, still reflecting light from somewhere. He reached down to pick it up.

It was a Trusted Traveler Card, a kind of credit-card sized passport for frontier locals to make their cross-border traveling more expedient. The photograph was quite vivid, but, aside from the holograph inscription, everything else had eroded from the facing of the card. It was blank. He rubbed it with his thumb, and when his thumb touched the hologram, he found himself in a field in the middle of nowhere. Yes, he had been teleported to south-central Ontario, which resembles in many ways the farm country of Iowa. For a while, he was confused about where he was, but he made his way to a highway, and finally deduced from the evidence where he was.

“I remember him saying,” she said, “that in the movies, something nefarious should have happened, but nothing did. He called me on his cell, and I got his stuff from the river, brought along his travel papers, and fetched him. The border guards were none the wiser. We had a nice supper in Niagara Falls that evening.

“Now, I won’t go to saying that it wasn’t unusual, and that we didn’t, you know, think about its unusual-ness, but we really didn’t thing much of it. He took it out at dinner and rubbed on it, but nothing happened. I was kinda disappointed.

“The next day, however, he took it out and rubbed on it, and -poof- he was gone again. Scared the bejeesus out of me, you know? There was no smoke or anything: he was just gone. It’s not like TV at all. Your heart jumps, and your eyes blink, and fear comes up in you, like when you nearly get in a car wreck, you know. Pretty soon, the phone rang, and he was in the same place as before.

“What’s so great about a magic charm that transports you to south-central Ontario? Magic charms are supposed to be something you make wishes on or maybe bring you adventure, even if it is nefarious.

“Anyway, he rubbed on it and rubbed on it and rubbed on it all that evening, but nothing happened. He handed it to me, and I rubbed on it and rubbed on it, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the thing work, either. So we set it aside.

“The next day, he says to me, ‘I wonder if you’re supposed to hold one thumb on the guy’s face while you rub the holograph.’ Before he even finished the sentence, he vanished, just like before. Except this time, he forgot his cell phone. I drove over to where he appeared the other two times, but he wasn’t there. I even asked around if anyone had seen him, but no one there had actually noticed him from the other two times, so they were no help at all. I’m really worried about him.

“And, no, I can’t call the police: they’ll think I’ve murdered him. A Trusted Travel Talisman? Can you imagine?”

The way she tells it, when you take a look at how she handles the rest of her life–clean house, goes to work, plays with the grandkids, nice garden, etc.–you can’t help but believe what she’s saying.

Right now she’s telling people who ask that he’s visiting Vietnam to lay some old ghosts to rest.

Me? I’m just a powerless authority figure she can trust. I’ve changed enough of the details to protect her should anyone get more interested.

Trusted Travel Talisman

Hunters and Hunted

The deep dread you feel is a sure sign that one is nearby. Set your crossbow: you’re about to feed your family for a month.

We all expected mutants after the big one, ironically, commenced on our annual observation of H-Day, Hiroshima Day. Up here in the Great North, we were surprised by the nutrition they provide. It should come as no surprise, given how difficult they are to kill. We sit around our fires and speculate whether the mutation is uniform across the continent, that the radiation fired up the same weakness in a single gene, or whether the intensity of the blast caused the expression of different mutations from the same gene, or whether racial differences played a role in mutant distribution, but here we are, hunting mutants for food.

Up here, at least, ours mutated with an impenetrable armor across the forehead, protecting that all-important central nervous system. Shotgun blasts to the face don’t even knock these monsters off their stride. They are impossible to approach from behind, and any powder-fired ammo that might reach them unawares is expensive, far more expensive than the risk of bow-hunting these steaks and roasts walking upright.

Most of them make a move, when they see you, to induce fear, raising their arms and giving a shout. When they do that, if you can resist the fear reflex, you have just enough time to unload a bolt or an arrow into their nasal cavity. It doesn’t matter whether you go in by the nostril or by the mouth, as long as the business end of the arrow is underneath that armadillo face-shield, headed toward the brain.

On occasion, the veterans of their number know better than to give you a chance to shoot. That’s when things get interesting. With one motion, they swat you down by the head and then kick you in the kidneys. If the swat doesn’t knock you out cold, the kick to the kidneys will render you immobile, and they pounce. A good hunting partner will put him out with an arrow to the back of the head.

They normally run in packs, and if they see you, you’re a goner. You might as well set your weapons aside for someone else to find them because you’re not going to have the time to test fortune on a single one of them. What we’ve taken to doing, instead, is setting watch for the weak. You have to watch for the weak ones wandering around alone. Not the diseased, mind you: the weak. You can’t always tell the difference, but the weak don’t ever smell bad. The diseased ones sometimes do. Regardless, a diseased one is just as dangerous as a healthy one, so it’s good practice, even if it is inedible.

You cook them up just like you would any large animal: steaks, chops, ribs, loins, etc. Even though we’re generally hungry, I, personally, can’t bring myself to enjoy the offal. At first, for us, anyway, we had to intone to ourselves, “They’re mutants; it’s not cannibalism. They’re mutants; it’s not cannibalism. They’re mutants…”

It’s not like you can’t recognize intelligence in their eyes, when they lay their eyeballs upon yours. The surprise you see is what gets to me. I’ve been jerked awake from a pleasant sleep by those surprised eyes. They’re surprised to be dying, after all this. They survived the nukes, and they survived the mutation, yet a simple bow and arrow has drained the lifeblood from their brains in just a few seconds, and they’re off. Besides, they’re hunting us. One of them told me so over his surprise, but I didn’t need to be told.

That’s why I’m writing this. If you find this, and you’re having trouble finding food: the mutants here own the above-ground world. It’s a crying shame that they won’t sow or reap so that we could set up trading posts, or hire ourselves out to work for them, or what-have-you. No, they love the taste of our flesh more than anything in the world, so they’re hunting us. That part the movies and alt-fic got bang-on correct: they have an insatiable appetite for non-mutant flesh (I don’t even feel guilty about being non-mutant anymore, or appropriating that term to ourselves. We aren’t the ones with armadillos living on our faces). Every spring we give thanks to God that some number of us survived.This kind of terror is proof that there is a God, that’s for sure.

To them, hunting us is like searching for turtles’ egg nests: a soft spot in the ground is enough to tell them that a doorway to a non-mutant enclave is near at hand. They search in great circles whenever they find a vent or a chimney.

We’re adapting, however. We’re busily recovering as much copper wiring as we can, developing electrical circuits to set traps for them. We need a larger voltage source, and that will take some doing. Afterwards, we’ll debate the ethics of farming the mutants. I mean, they really are delicious.

Inspired by the great @spivonomist, who ought to be continuing this series soon.

Hunters and Hunted