You are kidding me. You are absolutely kidding me. I finally find myself on the right side of the pond, and the first thing I stumble into isn’t even a Walmart or something—it’s a bunch of lousy crop circles.
I hate my life. I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my—
“Well,” I interrupt myself, “we’d better get exploring. Make sure there aren’t any radioactive bits of rock or anything left behind by the aliens for a farmer to break his tractor on.”
Rose and I follow the path between the circles, trying to get a feel for how many there are. The one we first found is definitely the largest, but there are another four beyond it. We have to dodge left and right to follow the paths between them, like we’re walking over a messed up version of the Olympic rings.
When we finally reach the fifth circle and can’t find a new path leading off of it, I plop down off to the side, away from the more dangerous center of the circle, and Rose hovers to a stop beside me.
“There are five circles,” I say. “Five big ol’ alien-made crop circles right in the middle of a perfectly good cornfield.”
“Maybe the aliens like sports?” she muses. “The circles seem sort of like the Olympic rings.”
“That’s creepy,” I say. “I was just thinking the same exact thing. Either you’re a mind-reader, or we have definitely been spending too much time together.”
“Lucky for the both of us, I do believe it’s the latter. I don’t want to know what goes through that insane mind of yours.” She fakes a shiver, and the sunlight goes wobbling through her.
I roll my eyes and say, “No worries, I devise plans for offing Randy far more often than you.”
“That’s probably because I’m already dead.” She crosses her arms.
“I’d say the alien presence in these crop circles was making you grouchy, but it might just be the fact that I am finally happy and you’re naturally a sourpuss.” I rest back against my arms, stretching out along the edge of the circle, and close my eyes. The sun is warm on my cheeks and forehead, the cornstalk-strewn ground squishy and soft beneath me, and I’m sleepy… sleepy… veeery sleeeeepy………
“Mary!” Rose snaps. My eyes fly open and I jump to my feet. There’s dirt all over my legs, leaves in my hair. I tug my pint-size business attire back into place and stare at her, mouth open. I am suddenly alert.
“We have to get out of the crop circles,” I say.
“Why?” There’s even more distress in Rose’s expression than her voice.
“They’re messing with my mind, making me tired. This is bad. Really, really bad, so we’ve gotta get out, and—” I stop. “Hasn’t it been this intensely sunny and beautiful out for an oddly long time now? And those clouds—” I point, “—they haven’t moved! Quick, get out of the circle.”
Despite her bemusement, Rose follows my instructions and floats her way into the nearby corn. I race after her, crashing through the stalks. The moment my feet leave the crop circle, the sky turns to night so quickly it’s like I’ve gone blind. We continue until we’re a solid fifteen or twenty feet away from the nearest circle, and then I collapse out of exhaustion, but for an entirely different reason this time, as my adrenaline falls.
“If you thought I hated aliens before,” I huff between gasps for breath, “you have noidea how much I despise them now.”
“That was weird,” Rose says. She’s staring back the direction we came.
“Why would the aliens leave weird magical circles behind.”
“You’re my informant on all things alien invasion,” I say. “Shouldn’t you be telling me?”
She frowns, not seeming to have heard me. “What are they doing in the United States, after you’ve been looking for them in England?”
I rub the heel of my hand across my eyes and groan, “Alien invasions always occur in the United States, Rose. We’re the epicenter of the entire freaking universe, don’t you know? I was only looking for them in England because I was stranded there.” I force myself to my feet and begin pushing my way through the corn back in what I hope is the direction of the road, and not more alien voodoo magic.
Soon enough, we’re back on gravel instead of dirt and bird poop, and we walk in the opposite direction of the Beverly Hillbilly’s house. The sun is just beginning to rise for real when we find ourselves in Podunk Town, America. There’s one block of cracked pavement here, along the sides of which are a hardware store, a gas station with only one pump, a general store, a teeny tiny schoolhouse that I’m pretty sure even the Little House on the Prairie peeps would scoff at, and a diner.
My stomach grumbles on sight.
“Do you think they have ice cream in there?” My mouth salivates.
“You are truly the most unhealthy, disgusting person I have ever known,” Rose says, “and believe me—I have met quite a few disgusting people throughout my life.”
“Yarg, I’m Rose, I’m a pirate.” I cover one eye with a hand, like an eyepatch, making sure to leave my heart-shaped mole visible.
She scrunches her nose and glares. “Just go get your ice cream, would you?”
I stick out my tongue at her.
The diner appears to have just opened for the morning when we stumble our way in. Unlike the Cowboys & Aliens-style bar I’m expecting, it has a dusty linoleum floor that probably hasn’t been mopped since it was installed in the ’50s, flickering florescent lights overhead, and chrome-plated tables. Some farmers, even dustier than the floor, sit at the counter sipping coffee and munching bacon. A redheaded waitress with big eyes and an even bigger smile bustles her way over to us at the door, a menu under one arm.
“Good mornin’, sweetheart! Just you today?”
It takes me a second, in my sleep deprived state, to remember that Rose is invisible, and doesn’t eat anyway.
“Yeah. Yeah, just me.”
I catch the waitress biting her lip at my Tarzan-style hairdo, and she gives me a wary but sympathetic smile. “Well, right this way then, missy.”
She sets me up in a booth near the windows and plops the menu down before me. I try to lift it from the table, but the surface is so sticky the darn thing won’t budge.
The waitress turns to head back to the kitchen, still smiling her head off like she’s Barbie or something, when it occurs to me to ask, “Wait—please!” She whips back to face me, and her beehive hair doesn’t sway an inch. How much hairspray is this woman wearing? She could put a hole in the ozone layer all on her own. “Have you ever heard of Shady Lane?”
“Shady Lane, darlin’?” I nod. “Well of course I have, hon! I darn right live on it! ’Bout half a’ town does, I reckon. Ya know someone out that way?”
“Yes, yes,” I say. “My brother. I haven’t seen him in years. Would you mind giving me some directions to the street?”
“Why of course not, sweetheart.” She pulls a pad of paper from her apron and draws a quick map of town.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Rose asks from the other side of the booth.
I shoot her a look that says, I just got here. I’m not going to reply to you right now and make myself look even crazier than I already do when this lady is in the middle of graciously helping me.
Rose gives me the evil eye. I turn back to the waitress and give her the biggest, most obnoxious smile I can manage on an empty stomach. It’s still not as big as her own when she hands me the map.
“Thank you so much! You’re so kind,” I say.
“Of course, honey! I’ll do anythin’ for a friend, and we’s all friends here at Rosie’s Diner!”
Rosie’s Diner? Why didn’t I think to look at the name of the place before coming in?
As soon as the waitress is out of hearing distance, I say to Rose, “Rosie’s Diner. That’s sort of strange, don’t you think?”
“There are quite a few people in the world named Rose, Mary,” she replies dryly. “You truly are losing it if you think that means anything.”
“I live in a world without coincidences, Rose,” I say. I slouch against the bench. “And there have been quite a few strange coincidences since we arrived in the USA.”
She’s just opened her mouth to speak when the uber-friendly waitress comes flitting back with a mug in one hand, a bowl full of white crystals in the other. “Tea and sugar for the sweet British girl!” she grins.
Oh no. Not another one thinking I’m a Brit.
“I’m Ameri—” I begin to say, when the more important response occurs to me: “Wait. I didn’t order tea.”
“No worries, dear, it’s on the house.” She sets the dishes on the table, sloshing tea over the rim of the mug, and then hurries away without a backwards glance.
“See, Rose? It’s strange.” I stare at the mug. “Plus, this tea hasn’t even been prepared properly. There are leaves floating all in it.”
“You dowdy Americans have never known how to brew a good cup of tea.”
“Says someone who can’t even drink it.”
“Now that was just plain rude.”
I wrench a spoon from the table and dip it into the tea, lifting the floating leaves out of it. I’m about to wipe them onto my napkin when I realize they’ve formed themselves into a shape—two words.
“‘I’m here,’” I read.
“What?” asks Rose.
Then the lights go out.