A new relative entered every ten minutes. There were Joe and Bonnie Williams, my half-drunk aunt and uncle; there was Clive Williams, my other uncle, and the architect who built Marylou's house; there was a troop of cousins, some older than I, some younger, all of them equally obnoxious; there was Marylou's kid brother, Jasper Williams, a fridge of a man with huge dock-worker muscles who went on and on about gun rights; there was Larry Jones, a sheepish neighborhood mailman conscripted for this event by Grandma, no doubt; there were a slew of other faces I didn't recognize, not because I forget faces easily, but because those faces weren't worth recognizing. At the center of all this sat the Woman herself, the machinator, the buff and brilliant Marylou, dressed in a darker red than I'd seen her in yesterday. Her husband Ernie sat behind her gazing out at the gathering crowd over a little pair of specs; he looked shriveled, almost infirm, as if his years married to that woman had wrung out his soul.
I stood in a hallway looking at charcoal drawings of ducks while trying to ignore the panting from the guest room as my mother and father went at it. Then came the chime of a triangle, and the crowd got quiet. I went into the living room to see my grandmother standing in the middle of everyone, holding the triangle and grinning.
"Alright, you worthless moochers," she said. "The turkey's out and steaming, so hustle into the dining room and grab a seat before they run out. Losers sit on the floor." We went into the dining room behind her, found our chairs, and sat. Calhoun and Delilah came in last, looking spent. Ernie came out the kitchen holding a huge plate of turkey; his shoulders looked ready to dislocate. The guests "ooh'd" at the sight: golden skin, a glaze of butter, and of course, Marylou's signature throwing knife planted in the spine. When it reached the table, she plucked out the knife with Arthurian gusto, and said, "Viola." We all dug in.
After everyone had claimed their piece of turkey, she started in on her story. "You won't believe the yarns going round town," she said. "Crop circles and such; it's amazing."
"Crop circles?" asked Jasper. He cracked a wing. "What about 'em, 'Lou?" Ernie blew into his handkerchief.
"These ain't crop circles like you see in the papers," she continued. "In the papers, they're always intricate things, all windy and such like a Muslim rug. These ones--well they're strange because they got no symmetry, no pattern. Almost like some, I don't know, equation."
"How d'ya figure?"
"It's not like any math equation you'd find in the universities, oh no. They don't got numbers we recognize, just symbols ordered around all strange-like, in bars that taper into smaller and smaller symbols, getting more complex as they go. I tried to figure 'em out from the pictures I've seen. Can't be done, and I've read more QM papers than most professors."
"QM?" Jasper squinted at Grandma.
"Quantum mechanics, you dolt."
"So these crop circles," I said, "they just started appearing here?"
"About a month ago, yes. Strange things been happening. Real strange."
"That's 'Grandma' to you, runt."
"--I've seen plenty of strange things."
"We know," said Jasper. "Your bear escapades made the papers. Not to mention, word got round about the Stingray. No names were dropped, but it didn't take work to guess who."
"That said," I continued, "such things won't shock or horrify me."
"Fine." Grandma wiped her lips on the tablecloth, then leaned in surreptitiously to tell me more. The adults were drinking more now, and getting as rowdy as their children. "There have been reports going round that beings from above are visiting Morningbird."
"Beings from above?" One of my uncles leaned into our conversation. He looked worried. "Like angels."
"She means aliens, nitwit," I said. "Extraterrestrials. You know, cow-fuckers from the stars."
"Calhoun"--my uncle turned to my father--"you oughta wash your young one's mouth out."
"He's beyond my jurisdiction."
"Now, now," said Marylou. "We don't know what these beings are. Aliens, angels; for all we know, it could be the Soviets. Could be anything. All I've heard is late at night, round two, three in the morning, these crafts come down, not all flashy like you hear people say who see these sorts of things, but dimly and quietly, they come down in the fields. Some say the crafts just sit there, idling in stalks of corn. Some say they open up and beings come out, beings too dark to see, and anytime someone tries to get close to one of 'em, they disappear."
"Are they Greys?" I asked, now rapt. The prospect of aliens never really intrigued me till now, till I was this close to a sighting. Could they really have visited?
"You mean those pasty-looking things with the big eyes? Doesn't sound like it. No, the people who see them say they're tall, maybe seven feet, and wilder-looking than any Grey. They're protected too apparently, behind some shield that stops bullets dead-on."
"Stops bullets?" Jasper guffawed, then pulled apart another slab of turkey. "Nothing can stop bullets dead-on except diamonds. And they ain't got none of those, lest they wouldn't be diddling round fields."
"Maybe," said Grandma. "And maybe you're dumb as a brick."
"Can it, 'Lou."
"Anything else?" I asked her. She nodded, smiling with menace.
"Yes, in fact. The farmers who've seen them--they look like they blame near saw the mouth of Hell. These beings have this effect. I don't know what you'd call it. Harrowing, maybe. They harrow people, sometimes to the brink of madness."
"Harrowers, huh?" I threw back some wine. "I'll look into it."