For all practical purposes, it was just the two of us in the little bar in Las Tres Mujeres, New Mexico. There were five other guys in the place, but two of them had passed out, two were more legitimately asleep, and the fifth was an intensely quiet drunk off in his own little world. That left me and the Mexican-American bar owner named Germán.
The bar, El Cantinero Solo, boasted few modern amenities save the cooler for the cerveza and the satellite TV. The drunks didn’t seem to mind so I overlooked it too.
The TV was showing an American newscast; a superannuated U.S. senator was halfway through a sound bite. I’d been mildly captivated by the fifth drunk and caught only the last part of it.
“… not in the interest of the decent people of the United States to permit these aliens to penetrate our border and live here illegally.”
The anchorman’s bland face replaced the senator’s; any port in a storm, you have to figure. “The senator is pushing a bill that would establish a nuclear power plant to electrify the fence between the United States and Mexico. The bill also includes a half-mile-wide minefield on the Mexico side of the wall.”
Germán had had enough of the news. A scowl crossed his leathery face and switched to an all-soccer channel and turned down the volume.
Ever the good liberal, I said to him, “That’s got to be offensive to you.”
He snorted. “What’s offensive is that the fools are going after the wrong aliens. He’s worried about my cousins from the old country who just want to work themselves to death to feed you gringos. Those aren’t the aliens he needs to worry about.”
“What other aliens are there?” I asked, trying to think. “The Japanese?”
He snorted again and I tried to surreptitiously move my beer a couple of inches to the right.
“No. The aliens.” He tossed his right shoulder and head in a half shrug to indicate the heavens. “The Marciano.”
The only Marciano I knew of was Rocky, the late heavyweight boxing champ. Was Germán trying to say Rocky had returned? Surely I hadn’t had that much beer. Marciano … Marsheeano … Martiano …
“Martians?” My eyebrows climbed toward the top of my scalp.
He nodded. “Not necessarily from Mars, but from up there.” And he made the half shrug again before leaning on the bar. I had a good look at his gold front tooth as he spoke. “You may not believe me and that’s your business and your bad luck. But I tell you, amigo, they’re out there. And they come here.”
“Here?” I asked, pointing at the top of the bar.
He nodded and tapped on the top of the bar. “Here. Right in this bar. One time. Elio, that borracho over there who’s still awake? The one staring at nothing? He didn’t stare like that before. In older times, he would get drunk and break a chair or two and pass out like everyone else. Now, there isn’t enough alcohol to make him pass out.” He paused before confessing, “It is saving me money on chairs.”
I turned and looked over my shoulder at Elio. He was tight as an owl and did seem at least vaguely disapproving of whatever it was he was seeing that I couldn’t see. I turned back to Germán.
“When were they here?”
“In the bar? Three months ago. But they’ve been landing their spaceships in this area for years now and wandering around as if looking for something. Whatever it is, they haven’t found it yet. And they didn’t find it in here.”
I must have let a little of my skepticism show on my face, which was a poor thing on my part. I’ve always found it more pleasant to agree with my bartender no matter what he’s saying.
“You don’t have to believe me,” Germán repeated. “But it’s true. Ask him tomorrow when he’s sober. Ask other people in town.”
“What did they look like, the Marciano?”
“You know what they look like. Everyone has seen pictures.”
“What? Big, bald heads with enormous black eyes? In need of a good meal?” I asked, and Germán nodded his agreement.
“Do you have any idea what they’re looking for?”
Again with the snort, and I moved my beer back to the left. “If I knew I would give it to them so that they would leave us alone. Instead, they keep coming and walking around people’s homes and walking into people’s homes and frightening the children and the dogs and the chickens. Cows don’t give milk for two days after they’ve been here. Grown men cry themselves to sleep after seeing them.” He shook his aged head. “No, I do not know what they want. It wasn’t a beer, though. I offered them several kinds. On the house.”
Germán closed his bar shortly after this conversation. He roused the sleepers and I helped him to deposit the incapacitated drunks on the porch. Elio seemed to be able to find his way home. I went in a different direction, down the little street to the little town’s little inn where I temporarily lived.
My car had broken down just outside of town two days before. The owner of the little repair shop, El Herrador Solo, which used to be a horse stable, told me the water pump was shot and I needed a new one. He could have one from Flagstaff, Arizona, within a week. I asked why he couldn’t get one from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. It turns out he had made enemies of every parts distributor in the state of New Mexico as well as El Paso, Texas. As friendly a fellow as he seemed, I had to wonder how he’d done that.
So a week it would be. Under other circumstances I would have yelled and kicked something and raged at the gods and at shoddy automotive workmanship and the condition of the roads and offered a few uncharitable thoughts about the ancestry of the people who were supposed to be maintaining the pavement. But this was an odd time in my life when it didn’t matter in the least where I was or when I showed up anywhere else. I’d give a lot to have that back.
I checked into the little inn, El Posadero Solo, and made myself at home in Las Tres Mujeres. It was an old pueblo town just off the main route between Carlsbad and Santa Fe, charming in a dusty, rundown sort of way.
I had made a few – very few – inquiries about the name of the town, which means “The Three Women,” and why so many businesses were named for lonely men: “The Lonely Bartender,” “The Lonely Innkeeper,” “The Lonely Farrier” (now the auto repair shop) and so on. I never got an answer. Depending on whom I asked I would receive a shrug as if there were no answer to be had, a look of furious embarrassment, or a sly look as if the answer were obvious. Germán had snorted when I asked, and I let it go.
Now, the day after learning there were extraterrestrials landing in the vicinity every so often, I asked the locals about them. The townsfolk proved more forthcoming about the Marciano than they were the history of their community.
The town’s one restaurant was in the inn and it didn’t open until lunchtime. I’d had to buy several packages of powdered doughnuts at the grocery store for my breakfasts. So I first spoke with Rafael at the auto shop. He told me everything he knew about the aliens. Which didn’t amount to anything Germán hadn’t already said, but I thanked Rafael just the same. He seemed pleased that I didn’t ask about my car.
Las Tres Mujeres was just large enough and isolated enough to merit its own post office. Enriqueta, the postmistress (if that’s not sexist), was one of the people I’d asked about the town’s name, and she gave me a wary look when I walked in again. She brightened considerably when I asked about the aliens.
“Oh, yes, they’ve been coming around for years. One night they walked right into my sister Lupe’s home. She said she and her husband, Lucero, watched from the open doorway of their bedroom as the Marciano walked around the house, picking things up, examining them and setting them down again. One of them took a few steps toward Lupe and looked at her for a long time before they all left.” Enriqueta lowered her voice. “The chain had been on the door before they came in and it was hooked again when they left.”
At lunch, back at El Posadero Solo, I asked my hosts, Alejandro and his wife, Raquel, about the aliens. I mentioned I had heard about Lupe and Lucero. Raquel boomed out a laugh that fit her generous size, and Alejandro smiled, lifting his eyebrows as if appreciating something only he could see.
“Lucero tells the story a little differently than his oh-so-prim sister-in-law,” Raquel said. “He and Lupe have been married only six months; they’re young, still newlyweds. They were in the middle of what young newlyweds do in the night when they realized they had an audience.” She paused to laugh again. “They weren’t sure whether to be frightened or embarrassed or both. And they had been so surprised they hadn’t covered up. One of the Marciano walked right up to them and looked Lupe up and down. Then he gave Lucero a little bow as if to say, ‘Well done, amigo!’ and then, only then, did the aliens leave. It’s been a source of great pride for them both!”
Raquel’s shoulders and ample bosom were heaving as she bellowed with laughter and Alejandro joined in, although he was still clearly thinking of Lupe. I made a mental note to find Lupe for at least a quick once-over myself before leaving. Her big sister, Enriqueta, was a fine, handsome woman. It sounded like their parents had done even better with practice.
A few other people I spoke to during the day mentioned the peculiar whirmp-whirmp sound the alien craft made. There was a story corroborating what Germán had said about the area cows drying up after an alien visit. By far, though, everyone’s favorite tale was about Lupe and Lucero.
“I’ve been asking around about the Marciano,” I told Germán that evening at El Cantinero Solo.
He nodded; he knew that already. “And?”
I shrugged and pulled my beer close to me to protect it from his inevitable snorting. “Who am I to tell an entire town they’re not seeing what they’re seeing?”
That satisfied Germán and he went to overserve some patrons at the tables behind me. He had the all-soccer channel on again. I couldn’t care less about soccer, but it was on TV so I watched Scunthorpe beat Cardiff 3-2. They’re English teams.
The evening wore on and I was starting to glaze over watching the soccer. The picture suddenly went out and all we were getting was static. I considered it an improvement. The lights dimmed a little and in the long mirror in front of me I could see everyone behind me quickly look upward.
The air felt odd, as though a static charge were building, and I heard a soft whirmp-whirmp sound which steadily grew louder. I caught Germán’s eye in the mirror and then whirled around to stare directly at him. He gave a slow nod. Elio gave a soft moan and waited as a man does for his execution.
The bottles and glasses behind the bar rattled and El Cantinero Solo seemed to have plenty of company upstairs. I started to rush out of the bar to look.
“No!” Germán yelled. “Let it get a little past us! Anyone who stands directly underneath gets a terrible burn.” He looked upward. “It’s moving slowly. You’ll have plenty of time to see.”
You would have thought someone earlier in the day would have mentioned that, but no. After 10 or 15 more seconds, the thrumming eased up and I rushed outside. I ran off the adobe cantina’s wooden porch and looked up. I’m not ashamed to admit I fell back on my butt in the street.
There, over the auto shop, as big as a battleship, was a spacecraft. It was oval except for hexagonal protrusions at the front, back, and on either side. Landing pads, maybe. What I could see of it was a dull gray metal color with pink running lights on the port side and amber ones on the starboard. A rectangular blue light pulsed from the back of the ship to the front, disappeared, and then started over. I wondered whether it was a scanner or a Marciano idea of safety lighting.
I don’t know how long I watched the ship before realizing that Germán was standing next to me. It was a little longer before I decided to get up off the ground. By that time, the ship was descending at the edge of town. I started to run in that direction. Germán yelled at me again.
I stopped and finally realized we were the only two people on the street, and Germán was heading back into his bar.
“If they want to see us, let them come to us. No one has ever approached the ship,” he shouted.
I ignored him and ran toward the landing site. I couldn’t possibly be content with waiting to see if the aliens wanted a drink at the bar tonight. Not when an entire alien spaceship was within blocks of me.
And there it was. There were more lights and a half-dozen markings in a language I had never seen. There were six small bubbles on the top of the oval, unevenly spaced. The ship was silent now.
A doorway opened on the hexagon closest to me. A dim light shone out and three Marciano walked out of the ship. They started for the town and stopped short when they saw me.
They were straight out of Whitley Streiber: shorter than me, rail thin, bald heads with enormous black eyes, and long, thin limbs. I was astonished but managed to keep some of my wits about me. I spread my arms, palms outward to show I wasn’t armed.
“Greetings,” I said. I still wonder why I didn’t just say, “Hello,” like a normal person.
They stared at me and I didn’t sense any particular friendliness. They turned inward as if they were talking to each other but I didn’t hear anything. Then one of them pulled a little box off of his belt and aimed it at me.
Next thing I knew, I was here. And that’s my story, Your Honor. I’m not a stowaway. I didn’t sneak aboard that ship, like Commander Grfiz claims. I was kidnapped from my planet, it must be two years ago. By now Rafael has probably sold my car and I never got to see Lupe. So if it please the court, Your Honor, I want to go home.