A couple of years ago I went to visit my aunt Terry down in Missouri to find out something about my southern relatives. Mom had always told me that if I met them I'd love them, and that sounded good to me.
When I got there aunt Terry was out of town on business, though I didn't know what business she was in. My cousin Billy-Bob met me at the trailer door and moments later I was sitting on a tiny sofa nursing a cold one at ten in the morning.
We went through the usual chit-chat. I told him about the headaches of life as a contractor and he told me about the crap he put up with at the mill.
Just then something brighter than the sun streaked across the sky at about a million miles an hour.
"What the hell was that?" I asked.
"You know whut it was," he said.
"No, I don't," I insisted.
"It was the gald-darned Martians," he spat, without missing a beat. "Dontcha know nuthin?"
I was a little bit taken aback at his implication that it was me who was dumb, in light of the fact that he could barely speak the English language. But I figured discretion was the better part of valor, and I held my tongue.
"Yep, we sees em around these-here parts all the time. The gumint knows all about em -- has them some dead alien bodies at Roswell or Area fifty one or some such place. Says so right on the internet."
Now I could see where Billy-Bob was coming from. Even though his trailer and furnishings put together were worth less than my oldest Mercedes, this bozo had probably plunked his life's savings of twenty five bucks down on a used three eighty six PC computer, linked to one of those free internet servers, read every document he could find about UFO's, and believed every ridiculous word.
Come to think of it, maybe he just looked at the pictures.
"Lemme tell ya a story," he said, and I rolled my eyes and either he didn't see it, or he ignored it. "Happened two years ago last summer, and if this don't make yer hair stand on end, y'ain't human."
I just nodded because he didn't seem to need or want my permission to continue. Besides, sitting there sipping a Bud and listening to him talk was the most fun I'd had since Sarah stormed out the door last week, taking the kids and Visa card with her, leaving me with a need to go places and experience things.
Until now I thought I might even learn something from old Billy-Bob.
He started bubbling like a bottle of uncorked champagne. "We wuz far from civilization an ya could'n see no city lights. Me and Zeke wuz drinkin coffee so strong it'd kill most horses. I seen this light streak overhead, juss like you juss did, and I'd said sumpthin ta ole Zeke bout it an he'd just dun glared at me sumpthin awful til I had ta look away.
"Then he tells me bout the time he wuz off hikin through the woods lookin fer some fishin hole some fella done tole him bout. Seems he took the left fork when he shoulda took the right, or some such thing, an he'd already gone five or six miles in the wrong direction when he realized whut he done.
"So he decides ta set up camp an call it a night. He'd just drops his backpack on the dirt and pulls out the tarp so's he could set up a leanto when he'd noticed it."
"Noticed what?" I asked.
"Ya gonna let me tell the tale or ya gonna keep intaruptin?" Billy-Bob asked.
I decided Cousin didn't know anything about manners and I wasn't going to take anything he said personal; after all, I was the one with the college education, and this old back-woods boy didn't have a clue. I allowed him to continue ...
"Whut he noticed," he continued in one of those exasperated tones that let's you know you're out of line, "wuz a flyin saucer out thar in them woods."
A flying saucer. I should have known. Old Billy-Bob has probably been drinking moonshine made in stills with soldered connections and managed to get a nice case of lead poisoning, contributing to his brain damage. I seriously thought of excusing myself so I wouldn't have to listen to more of his fabrications. I hated being lied to. Sarah had said Jeremy was just a friend from work, and I'd believed her. Lies. When she said she had to go to his apartment to complete an assignment for work, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, even though in the back of my mind I knew something was wrong. When I caught the two of them in bed, my life was over. Now I was here with Cousin Billy-Bob listening to the biggest lie to escape two lips since the Sarah-Jeremy story, and I didn't want any part of it.
As if old Billy-Bob knew what I was thinking, he said, "You don't believe a word of this, do you?"
"No," I said, "I don't."
"Neither did I. I wuz a confirmed non-believer in anything. But whut Zeke saw in them woods changed my mind a mite."
"Okay," I said, digging deep. "Go ahead, tell me the rest of it if it will make you feel better."
"Feel better! Feel Better!"
I thought he was going to go off on me, but in a moment he calmed.
"Anyway," he said as if the outburst had never happened, "Zeke went right up ta that flyin saucer and there wuz seven or eight of them bug-eyed critters millin around, so he asks em whut they's here fer an cordin to ole Zeke he nearly jumped outta his boots when they spoke ta him in his head."
"In his head," I repeated.
"That's right, you got a problem with that?"
"Nope." I figured I would let him get it all out and then I could leave.
"So Zeke asks em whut they's doin here. They tells him in no uncertain terms they's here ta do research on everythin: plants, animals, rocks, people, all of it. So Zeke asks em hows come they don't know everythin already an they says it's on accounta they juss got here."
"Just got here," I said.
"That's whut I said," he said. "So he asks em whut bout all them other flyin saucers like at Roswell an they says it weren't them an as far as they's concerned all them other times people thunk they seen things it wuz secret gumint experiments. Weren't no aliens bafor them."
"And you believed everything he told you?" I asked, incredulous. "Don't you think there's at least a small chance he could have been making it up?"
"When ya sees whut I got ya gonna believe me," he said, and he fished in his pocket and handed me what I thought was the biggest fake diamond I'd ever seen.
When I was working my way through college, one of the jobs I took was at a jewelers, and I got pretty good at distinguishing real gems from fake. This huge gem in my hands was the real thing. I estimated its value at somewhere around a million dollars. And this country bumpkin was carrying it around in his overall pocket like it was a dime-store trinket.
"Where'd you get this?" I asked, giving him the eye of suspicion.
"Where'd he get it?"
"Why'd he give it to you?"
"He has plenty more."
"You believed him?"
"Man works at a chicken farm til he's twenty three an suddenly he's got a pretty wife, fancy car and a big house in the rich part of town. Sure I believed him."
"And how come you've got this million dollar gem in your pocket and you live in this ... place?" I was hoping he wouldn't get too insulted that I was putting down his unique living quarters.
"This trailer?" He pointed around at the walls and laughed. "I don't live here! My mom lives here. I live in town an there's plenty room fer her if'n she ever wanted ta move in with me an the missus, but she'd rather stay here and play cards with her friends."
I looked around and noticed for the first time that the car he'd arrived in was a Mercedes and it was a newer model than mine. "How can you afford all that working at the mill?" I asked.
"Mill? I don't work at the mill no more. After I found out about Zeke gettin all them diamonds I followed him out ta the woods and found his meetin place. Got ta know them aliens mahself. They make these easy nuff," and he pointed to the diamond in his hand. "An they don't mind givin em away."
I think the term I'll be damned didn't quite cover how I was feeling. I'd worked my fingers to the bone for years to build a construction company, and all I got for those long hours and hard work was a wife who felt neglected and ran away with the first man who had the energy and time for her that she needed. I lost her, I lost the house, I lost my daughters. And I thought I was doing everything right.
All Billy-Bob and Zeke had to do was serendipitously run into Martians on a scientific expedition and they were set for life. No hard work, no long hours, no extensive training.
Life isn't fair.
I'm not proud of what I did next, but I think you'll understand. I had to learn how to be stealthy so I could pull it off. I made several slip ups, and once I almost got caught. But eventually I managed to follow Billy-Bob into the woods, and I got to meet those bug-eyed Martians with the automatic diamond-making machine.
I've got a new Mercedes now and my beautiful wife is thrilled with the mansion, the acreage and the horses. I bribed a judge to get my kids back, though I didn't get as much for my construction company as I thought I should have.
The hours are good and the work is better. My new wife has no reason to leave me and my daughters are happy with all the toys and clothes and spending money. When the money runs low I go to the special meeting place in the woods and ask for more diamonds. The Martians gladly comply. I think they're happy to have me as a friend. I know I'm happy to have them as mine.