Here’s the final installment. For those of you who have stuck with this, thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to let me know how you liked it… or didn’t.
39. Alien Parade
While three dogged reporters grilled L. Grayson Charlie, the Sunday morning sun rose over Narvik and burned off the frost. It promised to be a dazzling fall day in the Driftless.
By late morning Sam was in the parking lot of Reynolds Seed Company, the parade staging grounds, making final checks on her lists. The parade had always been a loose affair with Joe Ellsted just lining things up as people arrived and sending them off in appropriate intervals. But this year Joe had gladly taken a demotion down to parade coordinator assistant and passed along the real power to Samantha Tucker.
Now, with Joe still an hour away from his promised arrival time, Sam walked the parking lot alone taping signs to the asphalt. The Narvik high school marching band should stand here. The Redding marching band here. The grand marshal float should be here. The mayor’s convertible should be here. The Nelson’s Redding Hardware float here. The riding lawn mowers here. The Shriners precision walking team here. The flying saucer Chevy (oh please, if there is a God, please may he bring Larry Mercer and his Impala here this morning) will go here. And so on.
Sam wasn’t really sure how many people, floats, bands and such would show up. The rule was that pretty much anybody who was in the parking lot on time could be in the parade. But unlike the previous liberal years of the Joe Ellsted administration, Sam had a list of must-haves and cell phone numbers to go with them. For all but Larry Mercer, who refused to give his out and Ole Olson who had no phone at all.
She was just about done attaching her signs when Joe Ellsted showed up right on time at 11 AM. He took it all in. “Very organized, Sam. You’ve lent a spirit of professionalism to all this. We’ll never go back,” he said.
“Nice try, Joe,” Sam replied. “Next year you’ll be back in charge.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t count on that now. Time to pass the torch, I think. Anyway, what are my assignments, boss?”
Sam and Joe huddled to go over her lists, copies of which she had made for him. There were step off times for each confirmed parade participant and Joe’s main job was to make sure they started moving when assigned.
Each unit started to show up right on time just as requested. Joe, Sheriff Harold Rhude and Mayor Claire Kornstedt had started referring to Sam affectionately, but behind her back, as “The Hammer.” And this morning it fit. Parade participants that in previous years had wandered in just before step off had gotten text messages last night and this morning from The Hammer. They actually feared being late so they weren’t.
Even Grand Marshal Ole Olson was there on time though he could not be reminded with texts as he had no phone. Ole wore his best heavy plaid shirt and clean overalls and what looked to be a brand new Narvik Nimrods ball cap.
Joe and Sam fussed over him, complimented him on his attire and placed him in the back of a pickup at the front of the parade, which was equipped with a rocking chair. It wasn’t just any pickup, but a huge, brand new white F-150 owned by none other than Robbie Porter, esq.
Robbie sat beaming in the driver’s seat above a sign on the door that read, “Ole Olson, Original & 36th Anniversary Grand Marshal.” And in print just as large, “Brought to you by Atty. Robert Porter, Grand Marshal Emeritus.”
The wording had been carefully negotiated by the mayor who convened the Parade Committee, which it turned out was herself and Robbie.
Five minutes to step off and still no flying saucer Chevy. Then Sam and Joe heard a car roaring into the parking lot. They turned and saw Alan, Harriet and Thelma speeding back from their excursion. Harriet poked her head out the passenger side window and caught her friend’s look of disappointment.
“Sorry we’re not Blue Man Group or anything,” said Harriet. “Just us. Hey, no flying saucer?”
Sam shook her head. “Not yet.” She pointed at the three of them, making a circle with her index finger. “I don’t like the looks of this. You’ve been up to something.”
“We have to find a place to watch the parade!” shouted Thelma from the back seat. “Of course, the authorities haven’t provided any official viewing stand for the working press, now have they? Of course not! Get a move on, Alvin!”
Harriet grinned, shrugged and raised her window as Alan Mossberg did as he was told.
Joe walked over to where Sam was left standing. “It’s getting to be about that time,” he said. Then nodding at the fast receding car, “What are they up to?”
“Nothing good, I suppose,” Sam said distractedly while looking down at her watch and then over at the blank spot right in front of the fire engine.
“Yeah, Larry promised me he’d make it happen,” said Joe Ellsted, Narvik Public Works Director. “I’d take away all our business if we had another realistic option.”
Sam looked into Joe’s eyes for just a second. Ya see, she thought. This is just it. In the Midwest it occurs to people in Joe’s position that they could retaliate when someone breaks a promise… but they’ll consider the realistic options. Where she came from a man like Larry Mercer would be crushed. Crushed! He’d never drive a flying saucer in this town again.
Joe could feel a charge of contempt in her gaze at him, but he couldn’t figure out why.
She put her whistle in her mouth and walked to the front of the line with Joe in toe. Just then a shiny squat silver object came rumbling into view. Larry Mercer’s flying saucer Chevy, waxed and detailed and humming like a Harley, pulled into the parking lot and took its place right in front of the fire engine just where it belonged.
“Well, I’ll be,” said Joe with a laugh. “I didn’t think he’d let us down.”
Sam let the whistle drop from her mouth. “Now you don’t have to consider maybe taking away your business if it didn’t offend him too much, for cryin’ out loud.”
She looked down to her clipboard and checked the last name off her list.
“They don’t call you ‘The Hammer’ for nothing,” Joe said under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Just a little prayer of thanks,” said Joe.
Sam blew her whistle and grabbed the bullhorn resting on a short ladder. She took two steps up and gave her final instructions. “Now, let’s move!” she shouted and with that the Narvik Nimrods Marching Band struck up the school fight song, “Hail Nimrods, Thine Aim is True!” and turned onto Main Street to start the parade right on time.
The Grand Marshal pickup followed the Nimrods marching band, which followed the color guard. So everyone was already standing and cheering when Ole cam into view. Just like the old days Ole looked from side to side as if wondering how he had ended up in this strange position with all this unaccustomed attention. But his fellow Narvikians cheered him wildly and in the complicated mind of a shy man with just a little too much quiet in his life Ole drank it in, so much attention and goodwill that it was enough for a man his age who drank from that well so sparingly for the rest of his life.
Behind the Grand Marshal and Grand Marshal Emeritus came the Sheriff’s shiny black and gold SUV. Iggy drove as Harold, as was his custom, walked behind it, waving to the crowd and throwing candy to the kids.
Then there was the mayor, the Shriners precision marching team, the Redding band, the riding lawn mower figure 8 crew, various floats from implement dealers and such and on and on.
And as the parade came to its climax the crowd along the route noticed first the red flashing lights of the Narvik fire truck, which signaled the end. But then their gaze fell to just in front of the truck where the red lights reflected off the flying saucer Chevy, making its appearance for the first time in over a decade.
Narvikians snapped pictures with sincere pride and some with a tear in their eye. Redding residents snapped pictures with a feeling of smug contempt that was starting to wear off. Redding had nothing like this. Madison hipsters and young people from other cities snapped pictures and posted them instantly. This was sooo stupid and sooo cool. They all wanted to come back next year.
When he and Izzy finished the parade Harold Rhude dropped her at her house and drove to Darla Schmitt’s farm bed and breakfast.
There he found Dr. Martin Boyd sipping coffee in the kitchen. Darla greeted him and offered him a cup. He thanked her.
“Darla, can I have a moment with Dr. Boyd?”
“Of course,” she said as she busied herself upstairs.
Boyd was working on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Rhude had finished it before he left for the parade. He noticed Boyd was struggling with it.
“How was the parade, sheriff?” Boyd asked, not looking up from his paper.
“Oh, the best ever. Everything came off without a hitch. Big crowd too.” He took a long sip of his coffee. “Guess you’re wondering why I’m here.”
Boyd put down his puzzle and pencil and adjusted his glasses before he looked up. “I know exactly why you’re here. The questions are what took you so long and what are you going to do about it now?”
“So, you figured we’d ferret out that it was you all along then?” asked the sheriff.
“I took your measure immediately. Bright man stuck in a simple town. Yes, I knew you’d complete the puzzle. It was just a question of when. To be honest, I’m disappointed in you that it took as long as it did.”
“Well, I had other things on my mind, you know. Retirement calculations, that kind of thing.”
Boyd cocked his head. “You’re not running again, sheriff?”
“No, I figure I’ll hang it up now that I’ve solved the crime of the century in Narvik.”
Boyd chuckled. “No harm done then?”
“Oh, there was harm done,” said Harold Rhude. “You defrauded a vulnerable old man out of $2,500 and the village of Narvik out of $500. Moreover, you weren’t forthcoming in an official investigation. I could say that you obstructed justice.”
“And will you say that?”
Sheriff Harold Rhude was quiet for a moment. He hoped Martin Boyd might sweat, but he saw no signs of it. “Well, we’ll have to see about that. I could say that on balance the whole thing’s been good for Narvik and no real harm was done to anyone. Of course, it’d be up to others to press charges or not.
“But here’s the thing that really bothers me, Martin. May I call you Martin?”
“Okay then, Martin. Here’s the thing about what you said that really concerns me. This idea that the alien is still among us and all that.”
“I said the alien was kind.”
“I know. I know. And I’m sure nobody really believes you about any alien in the first place anyway. But just the same this whole notion that there might be somebody floating among us that is different, that might have some sort of special powers. That’s not healthy for any community, now is it?”
“You’re afraid someone will be scape-goated for something.”
“That. Yes, that and also, well, it’s hard for me to explain it, I guess. But it kind of makes the community feel, well, not responsible for itself in a way. The whole idea that there are more powerful forces effecting things, well, that means whatever happens to Narvik just happens. It’s out of our hands. Nothing we can do about it. And, when you get right down to it, that’s been Narvik’s problem for a long time now. This feeling of helplessness and what you did contributed to that.”
“I see,” said Boyd. “Fair enough. What can I do?”
“Leave for one thing. I don’t see the point in your hanging around no matter how fond you are of Darla.”
Boyd raised a guilty eyebrow. There was no point in denying it.
“And put this damn ‘alien among us’ thing to bed before you leave,” the sheriff went on.
“How the hell should I know? You’re the bright guy who made it all up. You figure out how to get yourself out of it.”
Just then the phone the sheriff had placed on the table buzzed and vibrated. He looked at it, excused himself and walked out onto the porch.
“Iggy?” Boyd could hear the sheriff say. “What’s up?” A pause. “Shit. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Without saying goodbye the sheriff walked briskly to his car and pulled out of the gravel driveway. When he turned onto the county road Boyd could hear his siren kick in.
41. Just like that
Sheriff Harold Rhude pulled up to the village park where the parade ended. The Redding paramedic unit was on the scene as was Izzy. A crowd milled around the big white pickup truck belonging to Robbie Porter.
The paramedics were tending to someone on the pickup bed. The suspension of the truck creaked as they administered CPR.
“Ole?” asked the sheriff.
“Yep,” said Iggy. “They said he got through the whole thing and then Robbie parked so that Ole could watch the rest of the parade finish behind him. After all, when you’re in a parade you usually miss the parade, you know? Anyway, when it was over Ole just looked up at the sky through the trees and slouched over in the rocker. That was it.”
Iggy nodded at the paramedics. “They’ve been at it for ten minutes. It’s a formality at this point. Due diligence.”
42. The reviews are in
Two weeks later Narvik was abuzz about the Travel Section of that Sunday’s New York Times.
Tiny Wisconsin Town Shows Off Its Alien Spirit
By Harriet Sobelman
The Flying Saucer Chevy flew again in the tiny town of Narvik, Wisconsin as it celebrated over three decades of alien adventures amid the heart-breakingly beautiful, yet haunting, hills of the Midwest’s Driftless region.
Narvik, population 732 souls and maybe one extra, has celebrated its “Alien Day’s Festival” for 36 Halloween weekends, ever since then-young Ole Olson and his father claim to have seen a flying saucer jettison itself into the sky above their farm in 1981.
A year later, Narvik kicked off its first weekend shindig with an “investigation” of those strange goings on at the Olson place a year earlier. The late Dr. Harrison Boyd, a world-renown UFO investigator from New Mexico, came to Narvik and proclaimed before a packed house in the high school gymnasium that aliens had, in fact, visited the Olson farm.
Fastforward to this September when Ole Olson reported another strange phenomenon on the very same farm. This time Olson claimed that someone had rearranged firewood in a gently curving stack.
Sensing an opening, Wisconsin economic development expert and former New Yorker Samantha Tucker cajoled Boyd’s son, Dr. Martin Boyd, to come back to Narvik and have a look at Olson’s odd woodpile.
Before another packed house almost 36 years to the day of his father’s presentation, Martin Boyd concluded that indeed aliens had done the stacking. Moreover, he calculated that on December 21st , the winter solstice, the setting sun would line up perfectly as one stood at one corner of the curved wood stack and looked over the far edge.
Tucker’s marketing instincts, which were in her DNA since her family has owned the Tucker & Tucker public relations firm for three generations, swung into action. She dubbed the stack “Firewood Stonehenge” and all bets were off.
The rest of the weekend’s festivities, including the Saturday night “Alien Ball” and Sunday afternoon’s “Alien Parade” (no conflict with the Packers who had the week off) were packed not only with Narvikians but with trendy young people from the UW Madison campus a couple counties to the east and with urban hipsters from around the Midwest.
“This is crazy,” said Alan Mossberg, a barista and part-time reporter for The Badger, Madison’s alternative weekly. Mossberg was sampling “Alien Ale” while listening to the Buck Rogers Blue Grass Band at the ball held in the high school cafeteria. The band even composed an original song for the event.
“Narvik is so cool,” Mossberg gushed. “It’s like the whole town is in on the alien joke. Only is it a joke really? Nobody’s really sure. That’s what makes the whole thing even better.”
As if the overall vibe weren’t enough, Martin Boyd flicked a switch and electrified the crowd for the whole weekend when he announced at the Friday evening symposium that the alien who had arrived in 1982 had never left.
That’s right. There was at least one alien among them at the ball and the parade. But who was it? Boyd said that it wasn’t necessarily a newcomer. The aliens may have taken up residence in someone already present.
Whoever it was Boyd assured them that he or she or it was “kind.” Boyd explained that any culture advanced enough to build a space ship to earth had obviously survived its nuclear age without blowing itself up. So, it stands to reason that this alien is the representative of a very advanced society that has a well-developed sense for how to get along in the universe.
The weekend ended tragically, however, when Olson who’s age was not known but who was believed to be about 80, succumbed to a heart attack at the end of the parade in which he had just served as grand marshal.
But his passing may have closed the circle of mystery surrounding the Narvik sightings. A week after the festival Boyd issued his “final report” from his offices back in New Mexico. Given Olson’s proximity to both sightings and to his kind nature Boyd strongly suggested, without saying so explicitly, that Ole Olson himself may have been the resident alien of Narvik.
Not convinced? Then you’ll just have to visit Narvik for yourself. When there check out Darla Schmitt’s charming Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast just outside of town. Darla serves fabulous farm breakfasts sourced mostly from right outside her kitchen window.
For such a sparsely settled rural area Narvik also has some surprisingly fine dining experiences available. Try the Modest Expectations Café in nearby Redding where your expectations for comfort food cooking might just be exceeded.
And finally if you want the real thing on a Friday night you have to try the fish fry and an old fashioned at, what else, the Flying Saucer Bar and Grill on Main Street in Narvik.
The emails jammed Thelma Rhude’s inbox. Television and radio stations from Duluth to Springfield and from Chicago to Des Moines wanted to interview her. They all wanted her special take on the little Wisconsin town that was now nationally known for its weird character.
Darla Schmitt booked every room for six months out and the Modest Expectations Café stopped taking reservations when they got into July.
Between the various municipal revenues that were projected to come in through all the new activity Mayor Claire Kornstedt could present her village board with a balanced budget that kept the street lights on. She took the occasion to also announce her retirement. Board members begged her to reconsider but when it was clear that her mind was made up they rose and gave her a standing ovation.
Sheriff Harold Rhude also announced his retirement that same week and Robbie Porter wasted no time in throwing his hat in the ring for the next election.
And Samantha Tucker got offers from public relations firms from around the country, but most notably from her older cousin who now ran Tucker and Tucker in New York.
43. Too big to stay
Claire Kornstedt and Sam Tucker convened at their usual table at the now hopping Flying Saucer.
“You should take that job, dear. You’re growing fast and, I’m afraid, our beloved Narvik won’t be able to keep up with you.”
“That’s strange advice coming from the mayor. Aren’t you supposed to be begging bright young people to stay? Isn’t this some sort of mayoral malpractice or something? Couldn’t you be sued?”
“Be serious, Sam. What kind of life could you end up with here?”
“Well, maybe yours. It doesn’t look so bad.”
Claire looked down at her cocktail. “No. It’s not so bad. It has been a pretty good life. It suited me, I suppose. I once had bigger ambitions but then I just settled in. It’s pretty country and the people are… well… the people are just curious enough. But is that enough for a young woman with your talents? And what about men? There’s no one in Narvik smart enough for you.”
“How do you know it’s men I’m interest in?”
Claire considered that for a moment. “Oh, my dear! The prospects in that case are even worse!”
A moment of silence passed between them.
“I was sitting there all by myself,” Sam mused. “I was alone in the cafeteria of the high school late on Saturday afternoon. All the decorations were up and everybody had gone home to get dressed up. The light was coming in at just that angle. I was halfway through the weekend, but I felt like I had crossed the finish line. I had pulled it all off. And here’s the thing. It wasn’t just me. It was you, Claire, and Joe and Ole, God rest his soul, and even Robbie and Larry Freakin’ Mercer. It felt like home, ya know?”
“Home is where you’ll flourish, Sam. Can you honestly tell me you’ll flourish here? What’s your next big thing after the Alien Parade? Where’s the next challenge big enough for someone like you?”
Sam stirred her cocktail. “You really think I should go?”
“It breaks my heart. But… yes. Go. ”
Just before sunset they gathered at the vacant Olson farm. Joe Ellsted had plowed the long, lonely driveway and a parking area. One by one they pulled in. Claire, Harold, Thelma, Sam, Darla, Robbie, Izzy, Larry Mercer. Half the town it seemed arrived to see for themselves.
Joe built a fire between the farmhouse and the curved stack of firewood. They stood around it in the stillness of the cold encroaching evening and sipped coffee or something stronger from thermos mugs.
At precisely 4:24 on December 21st it would be the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere most definitely included this tract of 130 acres near Narvik, Wisconsin.
Sheriff Harold Rhude checked his watch and at 4:20 invited as many folks as possible to line up at one end of the firewood stack. He counted off the seconds and just before the sun touched the horizon it first touched the far corner of the firewood stack, just as Dr. Martin Boyd had predicted it would. Just as Claire and Harold, but no one else present, knew that Boyd knew it would because he had stacked that line of curved line of wood himself so precisely and sprayed it with fire retardant back in September.
As the sun set they all cheered. Then they finished their drinks in the light of the fading fire and one by one drifted back to their cars and down the long driveway and out to the main road and home to Narvik.
Sam Tucker stood near Claire and Joe and the fire. For a long time they stood wordlessly. Then Sam gave Joe and then Claire a long hug.
She crunched through the snow to her packed station wagon. She touched the start button and felt the heater kick in and the seat start to warm. She pulled into the driveway and then out to the county road. She looked right back toward Narvik, paused for just a moment, and turned left toward the east.