Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Magic Beans, Albany County, Laramie, Wyoming

 The ghost appeared out of the dark and stood in my headlights, her right thumb extended… a hitchhiker. I stopped and peered at the young woman dressed in a white, high-collar prairie dress. She had short blond hair that cupped her heart-shaped face, big cupid lips and wide brown eyes.
          I was leaving the truck parking area where I had paused to gather myself after Tasha spooked me at the Little America Motel. Slowly pulling forward, I rolled the passenger window down and leaned over as the girl came to the window.
          “I need a ride.” She said with a smile.
          Explaining I was going as far as Laramie for the night, she nodded and without pause clutched the door handle. I clicked the doors open and was startled when a young man dressed in an army field jacket appeared, opened the rear door, threw in two back packs and then climbed in. He was medium height and thin, with a long face and a stringy van dyke beard. The young man stared straight ahead mechanically, not speaking or moving.
          “My keeper.” The girl said motioning toward the back as she climbed in, putting her arms to her chest and shivering. I paused, were they dangerous? Could they be connected to Tasha and my search for Embry Hamilton? Or was the conspiracy just my imagination?
          “You’ll be fine.” She laughed, as if reading my mind. “We’re just on the road.”
          We exchanged names and she told me her name was Ariel, no last name, just Ariel. We chatted about the cold weather, upcoming Thanksgiving, and I subtlety tried to find out more about them, but she avoided direct answers. It was another two hundred miles to Laramie and I planned to find an economy motel on the north side of town. My two hitchhikers looked tired, so I offered to get them a room at the motel, but Ariel demurred, saying they would get out on the Laramie outskirts.
          After a quick two hours Ariel pointed at a looming Pilot truck stop, so I exited the interstate and pulled into the sprawling complex. At 3 in the morning, the place was still functioning, a haven for the night truckers. I stopped and watched as Ariel’s companion unloaded their back packs and stood waiting rigidly. Ariel looked at me, touched my cheek, and handed me a small, rectangular tin.
          “Use them sparingly.” She said and then got out, joining her friend. I pulled ahead to the exit and took a left turn, then looked over, expecting to see them trudging toward the main building. But they were gone.

Later I settled into an economy motel room, away from the interstate. I sipped a bottle of Deschutes River Ale, thinking about the hitchhikers, and then I recalled my trip to Vegas and the girl I dropped off a few days ago on the Nevada extraterrestrial highway. She had told me about parallel universes and travelers. Were Ariel and her keeper travelers?
          I remembered the tin she had given me and took it from my shirt pocket. It was quite elaborate, painted a midnight blue and festooned with stars. An unpainted line divided the top in halves, a similar night sky on the right side, but different. Did the cover represent similar, but different universes?
          I opened the tin and gawked in surprise. I gently spilled the contents out on a kitchenette plate and poked them with my finger. They were kidney shaped, an odd brown and white speckle, perhaps a quarter of an inch in length.
          “Use them sparingly.” Ariel had ominously directed
          Were they magic beans?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Little America Encounter, Sweetwater County, Interstate 80, Wyoming

The riddle nagged me. Where was Embry Hamilton? Two psychics had “seen” Embry, one said he was killed and buried in the Humboldt-Toynbee Wilderness, the other that he was abducted near Area 51. After my visit to the Bellagio in Vegas, I had visited the Alamo Inn in Nevada where Embry had stayed and sent an email.
          Dennis, the current Alamo Inn manager, said the previous owners were dead. The husband killed his wife when she crashed his beloved Mustang, then shot himself. There was no record or memory of Embry staying at the Alamo.
          When I got back to Boise I typed up my report, reluctantly concluding I did not know what had happened to Embry who had vanished seven years ago
          I made an appointment to see Louise Hamilton, deliver my report, and receive my final check for services and expenses. I arrived at the Warm Springs Victorian and the Latina maid informed me Madam, Louise Hamilton, was unavailable. The maid took my report, handing me a manila envelope and motioned for me to open it.
          Inside I found a hefty check, plus a neat handwritten note directing me to go to Boulder, Colorado and check on the owner of the Boulder Herbal Company. Apparently years ago Embry had a dalliance with the young entrepreneur who had started the now successful health beverage operation.
          I had friends in Boulder so I agreed to drive over, an 800 mile trip through southern Idaho, into Utah, then across Wyoming and down through northern Colorado to Boulder. 
          Leaving early the next morning, I got as far as Little America in western Wyoming. The hotel-truck stop complex on I-80 was an oasis on the cold November afternoon, a welcome break in the bleak, undulating prairie hills. After checking in and showering, I headed for the main-building restaurant. As I entered, a woman appeared out of the gift shop. Studying a road map, she collided with me.
          Fashionably dressed in jeans, a white sweater and boots, she was medium height.  I pulled back and she looked angrily at me, her brow furrowed. Then she composed herself and gave me a weak smile, apologizing.
          We stood appraising each other. She had a heart-shaped face, wide spaced, hazel eyes and strawberry blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Waving the map, she explained she was on the way to Boulder Colorado and was looking for back roads. We introduced ourselves and she told me her name was Tasha. I suggested we eat together, promising to study her map.  Noting I was on the way to Boulder for business, I offered to show her a less traveled route south from Laramie, through Fort Collins and on to Boulder.
We took a table by the stone fireplace and ordered glasses of Merlot; Tasha went for a salad, while I ordered the featured prime rib. I spread the map and pointed to Laramie and US 287, which snaked south into northern Colorado, explaining the road was a byway through interesting topography, especially the badlands border area between Wyoming and Colorado.
Tasha nodded, saying she would follow me. I agreed, pleased at the convoy idea. Our food came and we ate engaging in small talk, touching the economy, the Washington mess, and then settling on college football as Tasha was a rabid Oregon Duck fan.
I offered to pay for the meal, but Tasha insisted of picking up the tab, her gratitude for my travel assistance. We left the dining room and paused at the motel, a line of single story rooms that stretched along the large parking lot. We agreed to meet at 7 the next morning. To my surprise she gave me a hug and a curious smile, then headed off to her room which was two doors down from mine.
I went in my room, and then hesitated. I thought about the Little America waffles, deciding to suggest to Tasha that we meet at 6:30 and have a quick breakfast. I went outside and heard a voice. Tasha was standing at her room door with her back to me talking on her phone.
“…it’s him.” I heard her say. I slipped into the shadows of the next room doorway, the hairs on my neck tingling, a cold chill down my spine.
“…yes, we’ll take 287 south. Just over the Colorado line, there is a scenic pull off; it’s a lonely place, a perfect site.”
A perfect site?
I shrank back to my room and went inside, closing the door softly. Without hesitation, I gathered my belongings and grabbed my overnight bag. I opened my door and peeked out, but Tasha had gone inside. I stood there until her light went off, then stole outside to my car which was parked a few spaces away.
Getting in, I waited until a truck rumbled by going west and then started my engine and slowly pulled away from the motel. I got on I-80 and sped east. I gripped the steering wheel and peered into the night. When Tasha realized I had vanished she would know I suspected them. Would they look for me on the I-25 or the US 287 back road?
I sipped the coffee I’d made in my room. Tasha had bumped into me by design, but why? Because of my search for Embry Hamilton? Or was it my planned visit to Boulder Herbal? Suddenly, I shuddered and felt my stomach churn.
I pulled into a darkened truck parking area and got out. Above me the Wyoming sky was resplendent with twinkling stars. I drew a breath suspecting a conspiracy, a plot against me. Did they plan to kill me?
But then the cold, night wind hit me and I hesitated, trying to clear my head, to recollect. Had Tasha really been on the phone or fumbling for her key card? Had she been talking to someone, or was it the prairie wind?  Was Tasha even there, or was this like my prior encounters?
Other voices, other rooms?