JULY 7, 1947
It was early morning when Barry Whitestone rode out to check on his cattle. He noticed right away that something was wrong. The herd was spooked. They moved restlessly about, bunching together, shivering and bellowing, their eyes rolling in panic. Sweat colored their flanks. As Barry rode slowly through the herd, he saw something glint on the ground in front of him. He stopped, dismounted, and bent over to pick it up. It appeared to be some sort of metal. It looked a little like aluminum, finely polished, very strong yet extremely flexible… an odd thing to find in a dusty pasture. As he slipped it into his pocket, he suddenly realized that similar pieces were everywhere. Looking towards the south, he spotted a larger object, which appeared to be made of the same material. As he hurried in that direction, the sun reflecting off the object made it glow so brightly that it almost blinded him. Squinting in the sudden brightness, he saw what appeared to be two human-like forms, slumped against the object. Barry backed away and ran towards his horse. He scrambled aboard, and raced back towards the ranch… now every bit as terrified as his cattle.
* * *
I had a job at the feed store that summer, quite a feat for a boy of eleven. In the middle of the morning, when the men I worked with took their break, I’d scoot next door to Sally’s Diner for a quick cup of coffee. My parents never let me drink the stuff, afraid that it would stunt my growth. But I was a working man now, and Sally understood that. I’d sit at the counter and she’d wink at me as she poured me half a cup, never more, and made sure that I had a full pitcher of milk to mix it with. Anyways, there I was, drinking my cuppa joe, when old Barry from out at the Whitestones’ place came running in. He was terribly pale, sweat poured from his brow, and he trembled all over as he took the reviving cup of coffee that Sally offered him.
He sat down at the counter, a few stools away from me. He wasn’t drinking his coffee, just holding it, and his hands were shaking so badly that it was sloshing all over. Several ranchers began calling out to him, but Barry didn’t respond. In fact, he never even looked up. His eyes seemed to be focusing hard on the countertop, or on some place deep inside the counter, like he was looking through it into another world that none of us could see. When he did look up, the diner went silent. His eyes were wide and his pupils were huge, his face was tinged a sickly gray. Suddenly, Barry wasn’t the only one trembling. My chest felt hot and I started to sweat, but my limbs were cold and shaky. I could hear my pulse pounding hard in my ears.
Finally Barry said, “Fellas, you’re never gonna believe what I got in my pasture.”
“Whatcha got?” someone called out. “Cows?” Laughter rang out. A few of the men began to moo. Sally hushed them with a look. There weren’t many men brave enough to stand up to Sally, especially when she had a hot pot of coffee in her hands.
“What I got,” said Barry, “is a flyin’ saucer.” The entire diner went quiet. “… and I got a piece of it right here,” he continued, slipping his hand inside his pocket. Just then, the door banged open, and everybody jumped.
A man in a black suit entered the diner—his dress was pretty unusual attire for these parts. He strolled over to stand behind Barry. Six other men, dressed the same way, followed him in the door. They were all big, and calm and quiet, and they all wore dark sunglasses, which made it impossible to see their eyes. Then, the first man spoke. “Mr. Whitestone? Mr. Barry Whitestone?”
“Who’s askin’?” said Barry.
“Come on now, Mr. Whitestone, no one wants any trouble. Who we are is not really important,” said the man. “We’re from Washington. That’s all you need to know. Now please, stand up. You’re coming with us.” You could tell that Barry wasn’t really too keen on the idea. He stood slowly, looking around the diner like he was waiting for one of us to save him. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. It was all kind of like a dream.
I watched as the men loaded Barry into a long black car, which then pulled away up the dusty street. I wanted to follow them. I needed to follow them. I ran outside and hopped on my bike. The car already had a good head start, but I was determined to catch it. I pedaled faster and faster, until the wind began to sting my face, and my feet kept slipping off the pedals. But the car just kept pulling away. By the time I lost sight of it and stopped my bike, my legs ached and my lungs were on fire. I looked around and realized that I was near the turnoff for the Whitestone place. I decided that if I couldn’t catch the car, I might as well ride on out to Barry’s and see what really was in his pasture.
As I approached the turnoff, I could see quite a commotion going on up ahead. There was a roadblock and lots of army vehicles. I recognized our sheriff, who was arguing with yet another man in a black suit. “Listen here,” I heard him say, “this is a county matter and I’ve got jurisdiction.”
The man replied, “You don’t argue with Washington, mister, we’ve got direct authority from the president to be here.”
Soldiers paced nervously back and forth, their rifles at the ready. As I pulled up, one stepped forward and stopped me. “I’m sorry son,” he said, “but I can’t let you pass.”
“But I live right up the road,” I lied. “I’ve got to get home or my mom will be worried.”
“She won’t even be home,” the soldier replied. “All the people who live up this road have been evacuated to the high school gymnasium in town. You can join her there.”
“All right,” I said, “then I guess I’d better be going.”
I pedaled slowly back to town, the whole time scheming about how I could get out to Barry’s place and have a look at his pasture. I thought about it all afternoon before I finally decided on a plan.
It was pitch dark. As I drew closer to the Whitestone place, I was shocked to see that everyone was gone. There wasn’t even a cow to be seen, just weeds and dust, and moonlight reflecting off empty ground. The G-men must have taken everything… everything! I was so angry that I kicked the ground. Dust rose up to cover me in a cloud and that’s when I saw it. I had unearthed a small shiny shard of metal. It seemed to almost glow in the moonlight. I picked it up and slipped it into my pocket.
* The newspapers were full of stories about flying saucers and aliens from outer space. Barry came back a few days later. He was the closest thing to a celebrity our town had ever seen. “What was in your pasture?” we asked him.
“Don’t ya know, boys?” he told us. “It was just a plain old ordinary weather balloon.” But we couldn’t help noticing that Barry was driving a nice new truck.
* * *
I walked into Sally’s Diner and was pleased to find that the place really hadn’t changed. I sat down at the counter. An old man walked over to join me. His face was pruny, his back was bent, and his hands shook with fine tremors. “Billy!” he said. “Is that really you?”
“Do we know each other?” I asked.
“Don’t you remember me?” he said. “It’s me, Homer Fairway.” I would never have recognized him. He looked so old. “How is it you look so young?” he asked. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Clean living, I guess.”
“Do you remember Emma Baker?” he asked me. “Your old grade-school sweetheart?” I allowed as how I did. “Well, I hate to break the news to you,” he said, “but she passed away on Monday. You and I are the only ones of our generation left. But I’ll tell you something. Do you remember old Barry Whitestone?”
“Sure I remember him,” I said. “How long has he been gone?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” said Homer, “he’s not gone at all. He’s livin’ at that nursing home just outside of town.”
“Wow,” I said, “he must be a hundred years old.”
“Actually,” said Homer, “he’ll be a hundred and nine next month.” I whistled. “He’s still sharp as a tack,” said Homer, “and still has all his hair! By golly, I wish I knew why some of you age so well, while some of us just waste away until we’re gone.”
Saying my goodbyes to Homer, I decided it couldn’t hurt to drop in on old Barry. I walked down the road to the nursing home, a distance of about a mile. When I arrived, I wasn’t even winded, not bad for an old guy like me. I went in and asked the nurse where I could find Barry. She was an annoying little girl with a syrupy-sweet voice, big poufy hair and long painted fingernails. As she pulled the gum from her mouth and began to wrap it around her index finger, she said, “That would be Room 109, sweetie, right down the hall.” Not having any family to take care of me in my old age, was this what I had to look forward to? I sure hoped not.
Barry was sitting up in bed, reading a copy of Newsweek. He recognized me immediately. “Billy!” he shouted, his eyes lighting up. “What are you doin’ back in town? Don’t tell me that your kids stuck you in this place too!”
“Actually, I don’t have any kids to put me anywhere,” I replied.
“Well, lucky you,” said Barry. “My own kids got too old to ‘take care of me’ and the next thing I knew they’d stuck me in here. Nasty little crumb snatchers. You’d think I’d raised them better than that. Course they’re both dead now.”
“Dead?” I asked, startled. “You outlived your children?”
“Got a couple of grandkids left,” he said, “but they’re in their seventies and not doing so well. One actually lives down the hall, but she has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember me. The other lives in Texas. I get a card from him at Christmas sometimes.”
“Say,” he said, “why don’t you take me to lunch? We’ll go down to Sally’s Diner and talk about old times.”
“Will they let you out of here?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, “as long as someone signs me out.”
“Wait,” I said, “I walked here.”
“Listen,” he told me, “I can still walk. I’m the only one in this place that doesn’t need a wheelchair, a walker or a cane.”
“But it’s about a mile,” I protested, “a lot longer than one of these hallways.” Barry, already leaping from the bed, didn’t seem to hear me.
Once Barry was dressed, we walked down to the desk. The nurse was still there. She was now reading Soap Opera Digest. “Excuse me, miss,” said Barry.
She looked up in alarm. “Did you know,” she squealed, “that Jake just divorced Sarah again?! What will she do now?”
“I shudder to think,” replied Barry, “but listen, this is my grand-nephew, Jason Whitestone, and he’s going to be taking me out to lunch and then for a Sunday drive. We might be gone all day, but should be back by bedtime.” The nurse, however, had gone back to her magazine and didn’t seem to care much. Barry filled out most of the information on the form, then pointed to an empty space. “Just sign right here, Jason,” he said with a wink. So I signed my name as Jason Whitestone, and the next thing I knew we were out the door. It was almost too easy.
Once we were outside, I asked him about the ruse. He put his arm around my shoulders. “Son,” he said, “I’m planning on a good long lunch.” When we reached Sally’s Diner he asked where my car was. “Let’s go for a drive,” he said. “We can talk while we’re on the road.” Once out on the highway, heading south at Barry’s request, he said, “You were in my pasture that day, and you picked up something that looked just like this, didn’t you?” He held out a small metal shard. I pulled the similar shard from my own pocket.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Did it ever occur to you,” said Barry, “that we are not aging at the same rate as other folks?”
“What was it that day,” I asked, “out in the pasture?”
“Well,” said Barry, “after two full days of debriefing, those government types convinced me that it was a weather balloon, and that’s the story I’ve stuck to ever since. The new pickup truck they bought me to sweeten the deal didn’t hurt either.” He chuckled. “Of course, that pickup’s been in the junkyard for some time now, so I guess that means all bets are off. The truth is, I don’t know what I saw. It sure looked to me like a flying saucer but there was this bright light and it made it hard to see and the truth is… I didn’t stay all that long to look. I was spooked, Billy, really spooked, so I took off. But here’s what I do know. I picked up this little souvenir here,” he pointed to his metal shard, “and you picked up one just like it. And look at us. I’m 108 and not only am I not dead, but I’m healthy as can be. And how old are you now Billy?”
“Seventy-one,” I replied.
“Seventy-one,” repeated Barry, “and not a streak of gray in your hair. No diabetes, no heart trouble, no arthritis. Haven’t even been sick since you were a boy, I bet.”
I thought hard. “No,” I replied after a while, “I haven’t.”
“Now think about it,” he said. “Ya think there could be some kind of connection between that and these strange pieces of metal?” I thought about it, and then decided that I didn’t know what I thought.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Well,” said Barry, “if I have anything to say about it, we are not headed back to that nursing home. The problem is, they may start looking for me around dark. But since you used an alias, and since young Dora don’t really look at us old folks all that well, and especially since they have no description of your car, it may take them a while to find us. With some good driving and no stopping, I figure we can be in Mexico before dark.” It sounded like a plan to me.
* * *
JULY 1, 2031
Me and Barry crept over the border into Mexico in the dead of night. And by golly, we do enjoy our lives here. My savings lasted us a good long while, and when they ran out we got ourselves some jobs, Barry on a cattle ranch and me running a diner. We’ve had to move around a bit to keep people from noticing that they age a lot faster than we do. But everywhere we have gone, the Mexican people are friendly and welcoming.
Barry is still not willing to talk much about what he really saw in his pasture that day all those years ago, but now that I’m 95 and Barry’s pushing 133, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was definitely not a weather balloon.