Hurricane, Utah

“The moon looks awfully suspicious tonight,” Frankie said, curled on her side behind

Stella and staring out the little window of their trailer. The moon was bright, its craggy gray face

staring down into their bed, making Frankie’s pale skin glow and bathing Stella’s hairy arms

with white light.

“The moon definitely isn’t sentient enough to look anything other than rocky,” Stella

said. She closed her eyes and wrapped Frankie’s arms tighter around her waist.

“I don’t see how you can know that for sure.”

“Babe. Please go to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning if you want.”

“Okay,” Frankie said, brushing her nose against the top of Stella’s spine. “But you have

to promise you’ll actually listen to my theory this time.”

Stella, exhausted from a full day of computer programming and wrangling their kid into

bed at a reasonable time, was already asleep and snoring, too far gone for even Frankie to wake

There was a routine to their mornings, or at least the semblance of a routine, well

thought-out but not nearly flexible enough to accommodate the volatile emotions of a seven year

old. Manny was a squirmy little kid, intent on finishing what he started and with an avowed

distaste for anything green; a distaste that Stella shared but couldn’t give in to if she wanted him

to eat vegetables at any point in the foreseeable future.

“Manny, how many times do we have to tell you that you need to eat your breakfast first

and then you can color in your sketchpad?” Frankie asked, tucked into the little reading nook

with an easel and jars of nontoxic paint, her own miniature studio. She liked to tell Stella that

dawn was the best time to paint, the sun rising up into the vast Utah sky, the tips of the cacti

perking up at the first hint of warmth, the quiet so deep you can taste it on your tongue, sweet

and cloying. Personally, Stella thought that was a load of shit. Frankie just liked to have an

excuse to laze around their living room and take naps while fielding orders from her Etsy shop.

Stella made her way over to Manny, who was doing a phenomenal job of ignoring them,

and grabbed his fists with her large hands, dwarfing them in comparison, two little moons resting

in the blank emptiness of space. Her palms were warm and welcoming, coaxing his clenched

hands open until he dropped the marker he was using.

“Did Mama Frankie ask you to stop coloring?” Stella asked, looking sternly into the deep

brown of Manny’s eyes, the ones he inherited from her.

“I don’t remember.”

“Manuel. You’re a smart boy, I know you remember.”

“Yes Mama Stella.”

“Yes what?”

“Mama Frankie told me to quit coloring.”

“And why didn’t you do what she said?”

“Because I wanted to finish my drawing so I could show you and Mama Frankie.”

Frankie looked over from where she had been carefully shading in the russet oranges and gentle

beiges of the rocks that rose up like giants out of the sand, a smile tugging at the corners of her

mouth. As much as Frankie tried to play it cool, Stella knew she was delighted that Manny

seemed to have inherited her propensity for visual art. Their fridge was filled with pages ripped

from Manny’s sketchpad, drawings of big dinosaurs and cacti and dogs. Stella’s favorite was the

one that featured her and Frankie on either side of Manny, holding his hands. It was mostly just

three blobs connected by two thin lines, but underneath each blob Manny had painstakingly

written their names: Estella, Manuel and Franklyn.

Stella expected something similar, maybe a more detailed drawing of their little family,

with noses and eyes and ears this time, but instead what she saw, drawn on the page in Manny’s

childish scrawl, was a monster. A familiar one. It had four red crayon lines etched into its cheeks

right below dark, bulbous eyes and its lanky body was outlined with green, its mouth a dark

smear. Stella still remembers the feel of its hands, moist and huge, pressing into her body,

skating along the edge of her jaw. Frankie kicked and yelled until she was hoarse but Stella had

just drifted, vacant and sad, while the creature explored their flesh.

It was something that she and Frankie had tried desperately not to speak of in front of

Manny. They had been so careful, keeping all of their musings, at one time such a huge part of

their life, relegated to the bedroom or the miniscule shower barely large enough for their bodies.

Manny would make his own decisions on this; they would not force their (often warranted)

paranoia and mistrust upon him, their beautiful little boy.

“Stella?” Frankie said into the stretched out quiet. Stella handed over Manny’s drawing,

unable to speak. In times of tension Stella often found herself stricken mute. She would open her

mouth and strain her throat, but her vocal chords, usually so intent on producing a sound louder

than she intended, would be paralyzed.

“Manny, why did you draw this?” Frankie asked. Her hands were shaking but her voice

was deep and steady, sure.

“I don’t know.” Manny said it matter-of- factly, looking away from their searching eyes

and back down at his barely-touched breakfast.

“Honey,” Frankie said, dropping her brush into the bowl of murky brown water and

making her way over to Stella and Manny, squatting down beside the two of them, “you’re not in

trouble or anything, ok, we just want you to tell us if you drew this from your imagination or if

you saw something, or someone, that made you want to draw it.”

She didn’t ask if he had seen it at school, or if he had noticed any strange lights outside

his bedroom window at night, or if he had felt paralyzed, unable to move, while lying in bed.

After years of chasing conclusive proof of the existence of extraterrestrials, Frankie and Stella

had learned that the power of suggestion was a strong one, especially for young children. To

preserve the accuracy of a witness’s sighting, it was important to allow them to speak of their

encounter in their own words. Asking leading questions, naming specific places or colors or

creatures, would taint the witness’s consciousness, planting ideas that may not have been there

organically.

Frankie never thought she would use those techniques, once as familiar as breathing, on

her own son. At least, that’s what she and Stella had both hoped to avoid by settling down. They

had loved it so much when they were young, working odd jobs for a few months, making enough

so that they could go on the road, just the two of them, a map, and whatever UFO they were

running after this time. But they knew that things would have to change with a kid in the picture,

so they stayed in Hurricane. It was close to Frankie’s family, who considered her betrayal of

faith unforgivable but still loved Manny, even in the light of his mother’s misgivings.

Manny sat, poking at his oatmeal, seemingly oblivious to the worry in Frankie’s voice. “I

don’t know. Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Stella asked, tongue unsticking from the roof of her mouth, voice rough but

audible.

He shrugged, done with both his breakfast and his mommy’s weird questions, and

hopped down from where he was perched on a creaky metal folding chair that they had found at

a yard sale a few months ago. Frankie didn’t believe in buying new, thought it was a waste of

money, and so their furniture consisted of old, half-broken things purchased at yard sales and

pulled off the side of the road.

“Alrighty then,” Stella said, clearing her throat of the last of the remaining tightness,

“let’s get you to school.”

Riding to school was part of their morning routine, although who drove and whether they

got there on time was always up in the air. On this particular morning Stella drove, Frankie in the

passenger seat and Manny strapped down in his car seat. Vehicle traffic in Hurricane was never

really a problem seeing as it was a town of less than 15,000 people, but the foot traffic made

Frankie want to bulldoze over a couple of Latter Day Saints members, so Stella usually drove in

the mornings.

The car was quiet, absent Manny’s usual sunny chatter. Frankie, generally incapable of

sitting properly in her seat, was sitting the right way around, looking straight out the windshield

and gripping Stella’s hand tightly.

They pulled up to the line for the Drop’n’Drive at Lil’ Sprouts Elementary School and

Frankie reached back and unbuckled Manny, handed him some money for lunch and then pulled

him forward until she could wrap her arms around him in a hug.

“Love you buddy. Be good at school today,” she said.

“Love you too Mama Frankie.”

They inched closer to the front of the line and Manny got ready to fling open the side

door. Stella pressed the brake and snagged Manny by the front of his shirt before he could leave

the car. She tugged him towards the front seat, just far enough to kiss his forehead.

“I love you,” she said, smoothing his fine blonde hair away from his eyes.

He rolled his eyes, said, “I know Mama Stella. I love you too,” and then removed himself

from her grip and threw the car door open. A chorus of honks sounded from behind them, urging

them to move forward, so Stella let her foot off the brake and clutched at Frankie’s hand until

she could no longer feel it.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Frankie said, holding back just as tight. “He could have just

drawn something he saw on TV. You know we like to watch Star Trek when you have to go in

and work late.”

“I know.”

“If he was taken -” Stella sucked in a breath, as if Frankie’s words had hit her in her soft,

vulnerable stomach. Frankie started over. “If he was taken, then we’ll just have to make sure that

they didn’t do anything to hurt him.”

“And to make sure they never take him again,” Stella said. She pulled into their parking

space back home, a rectangular area covered in gravel a few feet from the door of the trailer.

“Yeah,” Frankie said as gravel crunched under the slowly rotating tires. Her voice was

steel. “That too.”

Stella and Frankie met when they were fifteen, after Frankie’s parents finally let her

enroll in public high school. She had been going to Liahona Preparatory Academy, a private

school for LDS members only, and the freedom to choose between classes like band or robotics

or shop felt like she had already been given her own planet to rule over. Robotics was easily

Stella’s favorite class, because the teacher, Mr. Robertson, didn’t really care what she did as long

as she got her work done. Frankie spent the class doodling eyes all over her notes while Stella

diligently wrote down everything that Mr. Robertson said, just in case he included it on their

weekly quiz. By all accounts they shouldn’t have worked, but in the span of about six months

they went from strangers to lab partners to friends to inseparable. It took them three years after

that to start dating, but they’ve been together for seventeen years since.

It would have been easier to steer their obsessions towards something more productive,

something that could have helped them later on in life, but it was hard to care about something

when it was full of people that either outright hated them or disagreed with their “lifestyle

choice.” How could their fellow conspiracy theorists blink an eye at two women in love when

they were dissecting video footage of the moon landing to determine whether or not it was

faked? They were weirdos, yes, but not any more so than anyone else.

And so they started looking into UFO sightings and accounts of alien encounters when

they were seventeen, started believing them more often than not when they were twenty four,

and had their own close encounter at thirty-two.

A decade and a half of chasing something that seemed impossible, and then to have it

confirmed for them without a doubt? It should have made them even more dedicated to the

cause, impossibly committed to revealing to the rest of the world that we are not alone. It should

have been something celebrated and told and retold, over and over until their voices were hoarse

and the crowds of people gathered around to hear the truth could only repeat Stella and Frankie’s

words back to one another. It should have given them a deeper insight into the consciousness of a

being not of this earth.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was two days of violation and hurt and fear. Moments of sharp clarity subsumed by

dizzying blindness and the overwhelming urge to scream. It was the stuff of nightmares, the stuff

that filled the testimonies of people that they had interviewed but never really listened to. How

could they have continued on in their search if they had truly understood the horror and trauma

that these abductees had experienced?

They woke up in their trailer, parked out in the middle of nowhere in the Utah desert, two

days later, after what felt like a lifetime, sheets rumpled and kicked down to the foot of the bed,

tangled up in one another so completely that it felt like the prelude to orgasm, or maybe the

aftereffects. They felt disoriented, swollen, tottering around like toddlers as the endolymph fluid

in their ears readjusted to earth’s gravitational pull. There was blood under their fingernails and

speckled on the backs of their hands.

What do you do when you and your partner have just been abducted by some kind of

unknown, unidentifiable being? Well. You go to Super Taqueria and get the 3-for- 2 deal. Then

you go back home, put your head firmly in your partner’s lap, and cry a whole bunch.

They talked, after the tacos and the tears. About what they had been trying to accomplish

by chasing after UFOs for so long. Was it proof? Recognition? Knowledge? Whatever it was,

any desire to accomplish it had deserted them in the face of their own experience. When Manny

came along in the wake of their abduction it made sense to create a new life, away from all those

forgotten beliefs. And now, after almost seven years in Hurricane with little reminder of their

past, their son might have been taken as well. It was unacceptable.

After years of partnership, Frankie and Stella knew how to work together under pressure.

Frankie would call whoever needed to be called – Stella’s supervisor at IBM, the principal at the

Lil’ Sprouts Elementary School – and charm them with her southern Utah’n accent while Stella

would research, looking up names and phone numbers and email addresses that weren’t readily

available and sliding them across the table to Frankie.

They were a bit out of practice – Frankie overshot charming and went straight into down-

home hick while Stella stomped around their bedroom trying to find her old travel journal,

pleather-bound and ragged from years on the road, where she kept contact information for all

their old acquaintances – but after Frankie’s second stilted phone call they got back into the

swing of things.

“Hey Al, it’s Frankie, from college?”

“Oh shit, Frankie? I thought you and your girl had gone and gotten yourselves taken to

the mothership.”

“Yeah, well, we fought our way out. We need some help if you don’t mind.”

“What do you need?”

“I know you used to be good buddies with that meteorologist over in Salt Lake. Is there

any way you could ask him if he’s seen or heard about any weird weather patterns around

Hurricane in the past month or so?”

“You think something came through there?”

“Well,” Frankie said, not sure how much she should say. Al had been a good friend back

at Southern Utah University, had actually been the one to invite her and Stella to the Conspiracy

Club in the first place. But he was still, as far as she was aware, active in circles that she and

Stella had abandoned long before they stopped chasing and planted themselves in the harsh sands

of Hurricane. She finally settled on, “We’ve got our suspicions,” and left it at that.

It took them a little over an hour to call everyone they could think to contact. Frankie

wasted little time on pleasantries, and their acquaintances (friends? fellow believers?) could

sense the intensity in her voice. When they asked after Stella, Frankie responded with a curt

“She’s doing fine,” and pressed on, asking favor after favor of people she hadn’t seen in years.

They were all understanding, though. A community like that, with nothing more than

circumstantial evidence and a willingness to believe the impossible, had to be.

“Okay, so I’ve called everyone that might be able to help in the Utah area. Do we wanna

try Arizona next?” Frankie’s knee was bouncing up and down, causing Stella’s pen to roll right

off the table.

Stella wanted to call every single person in her journal, every number that she had

scribbled down for hotels and local police departments, and then maybe a few on top of that,

ones that had surely been disconnected but that she knew all the same. Her mami. Her Tio

Miguel. Her baby sister.

“No,” Stella said. She leaned down and picked up the pen, hooked it onto the old pages of

her journal. Frankie’s leg remained at a steady jog under the table, so Stella reached over and

pressed her large palm over the meat of Frankie’s thigh. Her leg slowed, and then stopped. It was

quiet in the trailer, only their breathing, slightly louder than usual, disturbing the morning. It

wasn’t even noon yet. “We’re going to go see Lynn while we wait for everyone to get back to

Lynn L. Excell was the Chief of Police in Hurricane, had been for thirty years, and she

was the kind of intimidating woman that Stella often felt compelled to call Sir. She was also, as

far as Stella and Frankie knew, the only other believer in town.

“I haven’t heard or seen anything weird, no. At least nothing non-human. A couple of the

folks from that polygamist colony came through the other day but they didn’t stick around very

long.”

Frankie hated it, but one of the only reasons she and Stella were able to do what they

wanted without too many people giving them trouble was the proximity of something worse than

two women living with one another and raising a child together. Even still, that didn’t stop

everyone.

“I know you’ve never had an encounter,” Frankie began, quieting her voice so it wouldn’t

echo through the police station, “but these fuckers are the real deal. They’re humanoid and tall,

maybe 6’5’ or 6’6’, and they’ve got markings on their face. Four lines across what we would call

each cheek. The eyes are big and black and its body is green. If you see anything, don’t try to

reason with it or talk to it because you won’t be able to. If you’ve got your gun, shoot it.

Otherwise, just get away as fast as you can. And then call us.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Frankie,” Lynn said. “I’ll let you know if I see anything. Just take care

of yourselves.”

“Thank you, Lynn. We really appreciate it,” Stella said.

“You really think those things are around here?”

Frankie shrugged. “I hope not.”

“Alright, well, you let me know if I can do anything else. And tell Manny that Cheeseball

misses him.” Cheeseball, Lynn’s enormous orange cat, hated everyone except for Lynn, her

husband Daniel, the man in charge of Animal Control, and Manny. After their first meeting

Manny had begged for a kitten of his own, but Stella and Frankie had both agreed that their

trailer was too small for a cat and an outdoor pet would likely be eaten by desert foxes.

Frankie and Stella left with a promise that Lynn would contact them if she noticed

anything that seemed even remotely extraterrestrial. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t anything. But it

was all they could do.

As the afternoon wore on the calls came in, a litany of reassurances: no unusual weather

patterns, no sightings in or around Hurricane for at least seven years, no strange animal behavior,

no nothing.

When they were younger, wide-eyed and eager to confirm the existence of even the most

unlikely UFO, reports like these would send them into a funk. Frankie would claim government

cover-ups and Stella would replay witness accounts over and over again until the words were no

longer coherent and her head was full of static. So much had changed in seven years. So much

more than they could have ever predicted.

They were sitting in the Lil’ Sprouts Elementary parking lot, almost a whole hour early to

pick Manny up, and for the first time that day Stella felt as if she could breathe freely. Frankie’s

elbow was planted firmly on the driver’s armrest, her head resting on Stella’s shoulder, long hair

the color of corn silk prickling Stella’s neck.

“So. Why do you think he drew that thing?” Frankie asked into the silence.

“Assuming he wasn’t taken?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Stella said, “he’s a creative kid.”

“He gets that from his mother,” Frankie chimed in, smirking.

“He could have overheard us talking about it. You know how thin the walls in our trailer

“I know,” Frankie said.

“Or,” Stella began as the bell signaling the end of school started ringing, “he was just

drawing a man with scars on his face. And he used the green marker because green is his favorite

color.”

Children streamed out of the front door of the school, running to get their favorite seat on

the bus and looking around for any sign of their parents’ car in the Drop’n’Drive line or the

parking lot.

“Maybe,” Frankie said, doubtful, but let it drop when they saw Manny push his way to

the front of the sidewalk.

When Manny spotted them his eyes, beautiful brown and almond-shaped like Stella’s, lit

up. He smiled, cheeks dimpling, and waved goodbye to a tall man standing just a few feet behind

him. The man had scars on both cheeks and wide, dark eyes and his smile was the same, the

exact same, as Manny’s.

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