HENRI AND I GO INTO TOWN ON SATURDAY FOR the Halloween parade, almost two weeks after arriving in Paradise. I think the solitude is getting to us both. Not
that we aren't used to solitude. We are. But the solitude in Ohio is different from that of most other places. There is a certain silence to it, a certain
It's a cold day, the sun peeking intermittently through thick white clouds gliding by overhead. The town is bustling. All the kids are in costume. We
have bought a leash for Bernie Kosar, who is wearing a Superman cape draped over his back, a large "S" on his chest. He seems unimpressed with it.
He's not the only dog dressed as a superhero.
Henri and I stand on the sidewalk in front of the Hungry Bear, the diner just off the circle in the center of town, to watch the parade. In its front
window hangs a clipping of the Gazette article on Mark James. He's pictured standing on the fifty-yard line of the football field, wearing his letterman
jacket, his arms crossed, his right foot resting atop a football, a wry, confident grin on his face. Even I have to admit he looks impressive.
Henri sees me staring at the paper.
"It's your friend, right?" he asks with a smile. Henri now knows the story, from the near fight to the cow manure to the crush I have on his exgirlfriend.
Since finding out all this information he has only referred to Mark as my "friend."
"My best friend," I correct him.
Just then the band starts. It's at the head of the parade, followed by various Halloween-themed floats, one of which is carrying Mark and a few of
the football players. Some I recognize from class, some I don't. They throw handfuls of candy to the kids. Then Mark catches sight of me and he nudges
the guy beside him--Kevin, the kid I kneed in the groin in the cafeteria. Mark points at me and says something. They both laugh.
"That's him?" Henri asks.
"Looks like a dick."
"I told you."
Then come the cheerleaders, walking, all in uniform, hair pulled back, smiling and waving to the crowd.
Sarah is walking alongside them, taking pictures. She gets them in action, while they're jumping, doing their cheers. Despite the fact that she's
wearing jeans and no makeup, she's far more beautiful than any of them. We've been talking more and more at school, and I can't stop thinking about her.
Henri sees me staring at her.
Then he turns back to the parade. "That's her, huh?"
She sees me and waves, then points to the camera, meaning she'd come over but wants to take pictures. I smile and nod.
"Well," Henri says. "I can certainly see the appeal."
We watch the parade. The mayor of Paradise passes by, sitting on the back of a red convertible. He throws more candy to the children. There will
be a lot of hyper kids today, I think.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around.
"Sam Goode. What's the word?"
He shrugs. "Nothin'. What's up with you?"
"Watching the parade. This is my dad, Henri."
They shake hands. Henri says, "John has told me a lot about you."
"Really?" Sam asks with a crooked grin.
"Really," Henri responds. Then he pauses a minute and a smile takes shape. "You know, I've been reading. Maybe you've heard it already, but did
you know that aliens are the reason we have thunderstorms? They create them in order to enter our planet unnoticed. The storm creates a diversion, and
the lightning you see is really coming from the spaceships entering Earth's atmosphere."
Sam smiles and scratches his head. "Get out of here," he says.
Henri shrugs. "That's what I've heard."
"All right," Sam says, more than willing to oblige Henri. "Well, did you know that the dinosaurs really didn't go extinct? Aliens were so fascinated by
them that they decided to gather them all up and take them to their own planet."
Henri shakes his head. "I didn't know that," he says. "Did you know that the Loch Ness monster was really an animal from the planet Trafalgra?
They brought him here as an experiment, to see if he could survive, and he did. But when he was discovered the aliens had to take him back, which is why
he was never spotted again."
I laugh, not at the theory, but at the name Trafalgra. There is no planet named Trafalgra and I wonder if Henri has made it up on the fly.
"Did you know the Egyptian pyramids were built by aliens?"
"I've heard that," Henri says, smiling. This is funny to him because though the pyramids weren't actually built by aliens, they were built using Lorien
knowledge and with Lorien help. "Did you know the world is supposed to end on December 21, 2012?"
Sam nods and grins. "Yeah, I've heard that. Earth's supposed expiration date, the end of the Mayan calendar."
"Expiration date?" I chime in. "Like, a 'best if used before' date that's printed on milk cartons? Is Earth going to curdle?"
I laugh at my own joke, but Sam and Henri pay me no attention.
Then Sam says, "Did you know crop circles were originally used as a navigational tool for the Agharian alien race? But that was thousands of
years ago. Today they are only created by bored farmers."
I laugh again. I have the urge to ask what sorts of people create alien conspiracies if it is bored farmers who create crop circles, but I don't.
"How about the Centuri?" asks Henri. "Do you know of them?"
Sam shakes his head.
"They're a race of aliens living at Earth's core. They are a contentious race, in constant discord with one another, and when they have civil wars
Earth's surface is thrown off-kilter. That's when things such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. The tsunami of 2004? All because the Centuri
king's daughter went missing."
"Did they find her?" I ask.
Henri shakes his head, looks at me, then back at Sam, who is still smiling at the game. "They never did. Theorists believe she is able to shift her
shape, and that she is living somewhere in South America."
Henri's theory is so good, I think there's no way he made it up that quickly. I stand there and actually ponder it, even though I've never heard of
aliens called the Centuri, even when I know for a fact that nothing lives at Earth's core.
"Did you know..." Sam pauses. I think Henri has stumped him, and as soon as that thought pops into my mind Sam says something so frightening
that a wave of terror shoots through me.
"Did you know that the Mogadorians are on a quest for universal domination, and that they have already wiped out one planet and are planning to
wipe Earth out next? They're here seeking human weakness so that they can exploit us when the war begins."
My mouth drops open and Henri stares at Sam, dumbfounded. He's holding his breath. His hand tightens around his coffee cup until I'm afraid that
if it tightens any further the cup will crumple. Sam glances at Henri, then at me.
"You guys look like you've seen a ghost. Does this mean I win?"
"Where did you hear that?" I ask. Henri looks at me so fiercely that I wish I had remained silent.
"From They Walk Among Us ."
Henri still can't think of how to respond. He opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes. Then a petite woman standing behind Sam interrupts.
"Sam," she says. He turns and looks at her. "Where have you been?"
Sam shrugs. "I was standing right here."
She sighs, then says to Henri, "Hi, I'm Sam's mother."
"Henri," he says, and shakes her hand. "Pleased to meet you."
She opens her eyes in surprise. Something in Henri's accent has excited her.
"Ah bon! Vous parlez francais? C'est super! J'ai personne avec qui je peux parler francais depuis long-temps."
Henri smiles. "I'm sorry. I don't actually speak French. I know my accent sounds like it, though."
"No?" She is disappointed. "Well hell, here I thought some dignity had finally come to town."
Sam looks at me and rolls his eyes.
"All right, Sam, let's get going," she says.
He shrugs. "You guys gonna go to the park and the hayride?"
I look at Henri, then at Sam. "Yeah, sure," I say. "Are you?"
"Well, try to come meet us if you can," I say.
He smiles and nods. "Okay, cool."
"Time to go, Sam. And you might not be able to go on the hayride. I need your help at home," his mother says. He starts to say something but she
walks away. Sam follows her.
"Very nice woman," Henri says sarcastically.
"How did you make all that up?" I ask.
The crowd begins migrating up Main Street, away from the circle. Henri and I follow it up to the park, where cider and food are being served.
"You lie long enough and you start to get used to it."
I nod. "So what do you think?"
He takes a deep breath and exhales. The temperature is cold enough so that I can see his breath. "I have no idea. I don't know what to think at this
point. He caught me off guard."
"He caught us both off guard."
"We're going to have to look into the publication he's getting his information from, find out who is writing it and where it's being written."
He looks over at me expectantly.
"You're going to have to get a copy," he says.
"I will," I say. "But still, it makes no sense. How could somebody know that?"
"It's being supplied from somewhere."
"Do you think it's one of us?"
"Do you think it's them?"
"It could be. I've never thought to check the conspiracy-theory rags. Perhaps they think we read them and can root us out by leaking information
like that. I mean..." He pauses, thinks about it for a minute. "Hell, John, I don't know. We'll have to look into it, though. It's not a coincidence, that's for sure."
We walk in silence, still a little stunned, turning possible explanations over in our minds. Bernie Kosar trots along between us, tongue dangling, his
cape falling to one side and dragging on the sidewalk. He's a big hit with the kids and many of them stop us to pet him.
The park is situated on the southern edge of town. At the far border are two adjacent lakes separated by a narrow strip of land leading into the
forest beyond them. The park itself is made up of three baseball fields, a playground, and a large pavilion where volunteers serve cider and slices of
pumpkin pie. Three hay wagons are off to the side of the gravel drive, with a large sign reading:
BE SCARED OUT OF YOUR WITS!
HALLOWEEN HAUNTED HAYRIDES
START @ SUNDOWN
$5 PER PERSON
The drive segues from gravel to dirt before it reaches the woods, the entrance to which is decorated with cutouts of ghost and goblin caricatures. It
appears that the haunted hayride travels through the woods. I look around for Sarah but don't see her anywhere. I wonder if she'll be going on it.
Henri and I enter the pavilion. The cheerleaders are off to the side, some of them doing Halloween-themed face paintings for the kids, the others
selling raffle tickets for the drawing to be held at six p.m.
"Hi, John," I hear behind me. I turn around and there's Sarah, holding her camera. "How did you like the parade?"
I smile at her and slide my hands into my pockets. There's a small white ghost painted on her cheek.
"Hey, you," I say. "I liked it. I'm think I'm getting used to this small-town Ohio charm."
"Charm? You mean boringness, right?"
I shrug. "I don't know, it isn't bad."
"Hey, it's the little guy from school. I remember you," she says, bending down to pet Bernie Kosar. He wags his tail wildly, jumps up and tries to lick
her face. Sarah laughs. I look over my shoulder. Henri is twenty feet away, talking to Sarah's mom at one of the picnic tables. I'm curious to know what
they're talking about.
"I think he likes you. His name is Bernie Kosar."
"Bernie Kosar? That's no name for an adorable dog. Look at this cape. It's, like, cute overload."
"You know if you keep that up I'm going to be jealous of my own dog," I say.
She smiles and stands.
"So are you going to buy a raffle ticket from me or what? It's to rebuild a not-for-profit animal shelter destroyed in a fire last month in Colorado."
"Really? How does a girl from Paradise, Ohio, learn of an animal shelter in Colorado?"
"It's my aunt's. I've convinced all the girls on the cheerleading squad to participate. We're going to take a trip and assist in the construction. We'll
be helping the animals and getting out of school and Ohio for a week. It's a win-win situation."
I picture Sarah dressed in a hard hat, wielding a hammer. The thought brings a grin to my face. "So you're saying I'm going to have to cover the
kitchen alone for a whole week?" I fake an exasperated sigh and shake my head. "I don't know if I can support such a trip now, even if it is for the animals."
She laughs and punches me in the arm. I take out my wallet and give her five dollars for six tickets.
"These six are good luck," she says.
"Of course. You bought them from me, silly."
Just then, over Sarah's shoulder, I see Mark and the rest of the guys from the float walk into the pavilion.
"Are you going on the haunted hayride tonight?" Sarah asks.
"Yeah, I was thinking about it."
"You should, it's fun. Everybody does it. And it actually gets pretty scary."
Mark sees Sarah and me talking and scrunches his face into a scowl. He comes walking our way. Same outfit as always--letterman jacket, blue
jeans, hair full of gel.
"So you're going?" I ask Sarah.
Before she can respond Mark interrupts. "How'd you like the parade, Johnny?" he asks. Sarah quickly turns around and glares at him.
"I liked it a lot," I reply.
"You going on the haunted hayride tonight, or are you going to be too scared?"
I smile at him. "As a matter of fact, I am going."
"You going to have a freak-out like in school and run out of the woods crying like a baby?"
"Don't be an ass, Mark," Sarah says.
He looks at me, seething. With the crowd around there is nothing he can do without causing a scene--and I don't think he would do anything
"All in due time," Mark says.
"Yours is coming," he says.
"That might be true," I say. "But it won't be coming from you."
"Stop it!" Sarah yells. She works her way in between us, pushing us away from each other. People are watching. She glances around as though
embarrassed by the attention, then scowls at Mark first, then at me.
"Fine, then. You guys fight if that's what you want to do. Good luck with it," Sarah says, and turns and walks away. I watch her go. Mark doesn't.
"Sarah," I call, but she keeps walking and disappears past the pavilion.
"Soon," Mark says.
I look back to him. "I doubt it."
He retreats to his group of friends. Henri walks up to me.
"I don't suppose he was inquiring about yesterday's math homework?"
"Not quite," I say.
"I wouldn't worry about him," Henri says. "He looks to be all talk."
"I'm not," I say, and then glance at the spot where Sarah disappeared. "Should I go after her?" I ask, and look at him, pleading to the part of him
that was once married and in love, that part that still misses his wife every day, and not the part of him that wants to keep me safe and hidden.
He nods his head. "Yeah," he says with a sigh. "As much as I hate to admit it, you should probably go after her."