by Penelope Thomas
Sally, Joe, and Sydney the pomeranian left Oakland at 7:00 pm to make the trek to Tahoe, hoping to arrive before midnight, to meet up with Alvin and Sibyl who had been staying at a small cottage 10 miles from Carson Pass, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Sally and Joe arrived at midnight and began to look for the cabin named Snowshoe amongst the twenty-five scattered buildings. It was dark and clear and cold. The stars always look brightest under those conditions. The snow added a layer of quiet to the emptiness like a blanket muffling a sound. They soon found a cabin called Snowshoe Thompson that was unlocked. Joe didn’t remember the Thompson part, but no other cabin was named Snowshoe, so it had to be the one. He opened the door and peered into the darkness. He heard a sound and saw what looked like two shadows wrestling. “Da?” he ventured. There was a sound, but it was not the sound of a father answering a son and Joe quickly closed the door. “Not it?” Sally asked rhetorically judging from the look of shock and embarrassment on his face.
Loaded with bags, Sally and Joe trudged from cabin to cabin, peering in through the windows as much as possible. With no sign of people or the cabin, they started to panic. Then finally, they noticed a tiny phone number on the office door and a pay phone. After digging through every pocket, every bag, and a trip to the car to look for change on the floor of the backseat, they scrounged up fifty cents. Jim answered. He lived ten miles away and had to drive up to look in the books for the Bitter’s cabin. Sally and Joe waited in the sauna until he arrived, keeping Sydney out of sight in a backpack until he was gone. Dogs weren’t allowed.
Sibyl and Alvin had a good laugh at the story. They got out of bed to give the children hugs and kisses on the cheek, and even a pat on the head from Alvin The cabin was not called Snowshoe at all, but Silver Crest. Joe could not figure out why he had written down Snowshoe. He insisted that that was what his father had said. He was positive, he claimed, because he usually doesn’t write things down at all. Alvin asked, “why would I have said that?”
Alvin had been looking forward to this trip for a while. The mountains always cleared his head and made him function better on returning to normal life. Like hitting the reset button on a video game, he always felt like he was starting out fresh after days of skiing on the trails of this particularly barren and beautiful piece of the mountains.
The next morning, after bagels and lox, the three Bitters plus canine set off for the trails. Alvin was especially anxious to get out there. They headed to a trail that Alvin and Sibyl had been on the day before. The first part of the trail was groomed but after about a mile it continued up the mountain without grooming. Sibyl turned around at that point and returned to the trailhead, planning to return for the rest at 4:30. Alvin was anxious to continue onward, but thirty yards ahead insisted on stopping. He scanned the horizon intently.
As he looked out through the clearing in the brush at the snowy, rocky peak across the valley, he said, “Isn’t that peak an interesting shape? It looks just like flying saucer on top of a mesa. If you narrow your eyes you can almost see the little lights around the outside, and the rocks look like little windows. Maybe it crashed on the mountain years ago when nobody came here.” He smiled.
Joe looked at the peak his father was talking about and mentioned that he has always wanted to hike up a mountain and snowboard down. Sally had tried to move off the path to the overlook, but had fallen and was busy attempting, unsuccessfully, to manage both skis and poles at the same time. When she was finally standing again, it was time to move on.
As Joe and Sally skied and scooted, respectively, up the trail, Alvin gave a long hard look at the trail behind him. Unlike the day before, he saw nothing unusually colored except a tiny spot of yellow from Sydney’s pee break. As he turned to move off, he didn’t notice a trickle of greenish purple ooze emerging from the spot where he dug his poles into the snow.
The three skiers trudged on through the fresh snow. They were heading higher and higher up the mountain. When they finally decided to turn around, Sally had her first downhill experience, which led to her first attempt at stopping, which led to her twenty-first fall --- and 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th. Joe stopped to chuckle, but Alvin was already half way down the hill and didn’t notice.
Alvin was feeling in top form. Never had he gone down a hill so fast and so long without falling. As he focused more and more on the feeling of the snow under his skis as they cut through and glided over different textures, he began to feel as if his body was a clear glassy gel that reacted to fine-tuned sensors in the bottom of his feet where they connected to the boot. As the snow pushed against his ski, his leg smoothly and immediately gave way in a fluid ripple all the way up his body. Then the other side reacted in a balancing motion. His eyes were aware of everything and nothing as he breezed down the hill. He was too focused on feeling his body to fully register the other senses. Then he felt himself slowing. His feet started to feel heavy and he began to get tired. It felt as though the liquid were hardening into cement deep within the snow. He was no longer floating on top of it; he was a part if it. It was as if his boots had become water logged and were pulling him under. He looked down and wondered if he was suffering from dehydration or exposure because the snow appeared as a purplish green puddle around him with little swirls like gasoline on top, and he had sunk in up to his knees. Then all went dark.
He woke to a tickling sensation all over his body. When he looked around he could see a million little hairs floating all around him, blowing as if by a fan. And it was tickling him. One little hair flew in his nose and he sneezed. Instantly the hairs moved away from him. When they moved, he saw himself. At first he thought it was a mirror. Then he saw himself several times over. He thought it must be a hall of mirrors. Then he remembered that he had been skiing and thought he must have fallen and hit his head and he hoped that Sally and Joe would hurry up and get down the mountain to find him. He wondered how long it would take to get an ambulance out to the trail. Then he noticed that he was talking to himself. Or rather, the image of him was talking. Was he talking? He couldn’t really tell at this point. He heard it say, “Welcome back Alvin! We have been waiting. Unfortunately we are snowed in right now and can’t leave anytime soon, but we are glad you finally made it back. Georhmin can’t wait to read your Memgat card. You’ve been gone quite a while. The earthling introduction program succeeded far beyond our expectations. In fact, I bet that you are not even aware of your present surroundings right now.” He chortled. “What an adventure, what an adventure. There are not a few shomlings who are jealous of you right now. You just happened to be the most programmable and that was that. I expect that in your 60 years you have filled your Memgat card completely with memories.”
The voice droned on as Alvin drifted back to sleep. When he woke up, the reflection was still there.
“Feeling better?” the reflection asked him.
“Where am I?” he said to himself.
“In our ship which is parked on top of the mountain waiting for the snow to melt. We hadn’t anticipated that it would behave this way.”
Then the mirror image of himself moved, and this time, he knew that he hadn’t moved.
“We’ll be on our way soon, don’t worry. In the meantime we’ve started working on your Memgat card. What a rich collection of memories you’ve gathered!”
“Are you, not me?” Alvin asked. The image looked at him puzzled. “Of course not, I’m Luluop. I guess that the programming hasn’t worn off yet. You were our most successful case.”
“Why do you look like me?” asked Alvin.
Luolop looked puzzled, “What do you mean? All Shogs look this way.”
“Shogs?” said Alvin.
“Of course, the fastest growing race of aliens in the galaxy. Making technology to help you escape yourself.”
Alvin thought he sounded like an ad. “So you are saying I’m an alien?”
“An alien to all other aliens, of course. Just a Shog to us. And just as soon as we figure out this damn snow, we’ll be on our way. On our way to being the wealthiest planet in the galaxy. Woo-hoo!”
“Does that have anything to do with why I am here?” Alvin asked, starting to feel more and less comfortable at the same time, like when you have been sitting in a car dealer or principal’s office for a long time.
“ Of course! You are our hero! Without your Memgat card we’d be nothing! For sixty years you have lived on earth as a human, programmed to think you were a human and all the time holding a Memgat card to capture the experience. You are the only one who succeeded! Now we can take your Memgat card and create a whole theme park based on your life on earth. Then we’ll syndicate it and be rich!”
He held a small plastic thing the size of a credit card. It had a little slot so that it looked like it might hold a credit card. Then Alvin recognized it.
“That’s my address holder! I use that to keep my piece of paper that has all my important addresses and phone numbers on it. I haven’t lost any contact info. since I’ve had it!
“Yup. I would’ve thought you would be more careful with something so valuable, but I guess with the programming you couldn’t have known.”
“So now that I’m here, I’m going with you back to, Shog? What if I don’t want to?”
“I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to be the richest Shog in all of the galaxy,” he said, offended, “but in any case, you can’t go back, there are too many restrictions.”
Alvin panicked. “But what about my wife and kids? I won’t see them.”
“Nope,” said an irritated Luolop.
The panic was rising and Alvin felt claustrophobic – like the air was closing in on him. He leaped onto Luolop and knocked him down. Luolop fell easily and didn’t move again. He was a business Shog, not a prizefighter. Alvin frantically beat against the walls of the green room, trying to find something, make anything happen that would release him from the pressure and the panic and the suffocation.
Then he was cold. He was sitting in the snow. He must’ve fallen. Joe and Sally skied up behind him. Sally was grumbling about how cross country skiing was supposed to be easier. Alvin felt light headed.
“Hey Da – how’s it going?” asked Joe.
Alvin shook his head a little and looked around him. “I fell, he said. “I was doing so well and then I fell.”
“That’s ok,” said Joe
They made their way down to the trailhead where Sibyl was waiting in the car. Alvin pulled out a hummus and tofu sandwich and ate it on the way home, looking out the window thoughtfully.
Once the sandwich had settled he cheered up tremendously. Food is nice that way. A nap and a shower helped even more. He was still thinking about his encounter but it didn’t seem so overwhelming. He considered it as one considers a strange vivid dream. “Maybe that’s what it was,” he thought. “In any case, I’m glad I’ve got my address holder/ Memgat card. I don’t know if my life needs to be an alien theme park extravaganza.” He double-checked his wallet for the thin plastic holder and sure enough it was there, along with all important addresses and phone numbers. He slipped it back in his wallet and put it in his pocket.
That night the four went out to dinner. During dinner, Joe asked if anyone had any quarters for the pay phone. He wanted to call his friend Alex to talk about meeting up to go snowboarding the next day. No one did, but Alvin had a phone card number on the paper in his newly discovered Memgat card. It was all starting to amuse him. So that he wouldn’t forget the phone numbers, he kept them in this little piece of plastic that was, itself, supposedly storing so much more. It was starting to seem more like an exhaustion-induced dream and he was enjoying the thought of it.
Alvin gave his son the paper and the holder and told him not to lose it. Joe decided to take the dog with him so she could poop. He walked across the snow to the phone booth and made his call. Joe took the paper from the plastic and put the plastic in his pocket while he typed in the numbers. On his way back Sydney relieved herself. Not wanting the dog to be discovered, Joe felt around for something to pick it up. He found a piece of something in one of his pockets and used it to scoop the poop. As he walked under a porchlight, he looked to see what he had used.
“Oh shit. That’s Da’s plastic thing.”
He walked in to apologize, but midway through burst into laughter at the look on his father’s face.
Alvin was pissed. That plastic holder had been useful! He hadn’t lost any important information since he had it. It may have seemed insignificant, but it had been with him a long time. Damn it, it was important! And now it was covered in dogshit. Joe, Sibyl, and Sally laughed and laughed at his outrage and eventually Alvin couldn’t continue to be mad amongst all the laughter (although succumbing to the humor of the situation also made it somehow even more irritiating). Alvin resigned himself to his fate and threw the plastic holder in the trash.
As Alvin was falling asleep that night, he thought about his day. For some reason, he felt exhilarated. Aliens, skiing, dinner, anger and laughter. It left him feeling fresh and free---like he had shed several layers of emotional dirt. He remembered that this was why he had come to the mountains. In his half sleep he rolled over and looked out the window at the snow and saw his reflection staring back at him.
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About the Author
Penelope Thomas is currently a full-time mother of two-month old twin baby girls, and writes in her (brief) moments of spare time. Prior to becoming a mother, she taught high school English at Oakland School of the Arts and was/is a clown for Cyclecide Bike Rodeo. She lives in Berkeley and spends a great deal of time with her husband Rudy, looking for adventures and talking about art projects they would like to do. In an alternate reality, she is a ballerina and a chorus member of Broadway musicals. This is her first attempt at science fiction and her first publication.
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