Space Girl Blues
by Bruce Pavalon
A young man with a troubled past falls in love with a young woman who believes she’s been abducted by aliens and that one of her alien abductors has fallen in love with her.
Chapter 14: Something Else
Bear sat behind the cash register in the empty mini-mart, listening to an AM radio talk show. It was a little past five in the morning. Aaron stepped into the store and stomped the snow off his feet.
The host spoke on the radio. “Illegal aliens don’t even want to come here now that legal aliens have taken all the jobs.”
“This guy really knows what he’s talking about.” Bear grabbed an old newspaper.
“Yesterday’s news is free today.”
Bear prepared to throw the paper, but Aaron grabbed a new newspaper off the newspaper stand and said, “Today I am going to pay for today’s news today.”
Stunned, Bear put down the old newspaper and turned down the radio. “So you’re going to lead the high life now that you have a job?”
“I’ve just decided it’s time to get up to date. How much does a newspaper cost these days?”
“That would be fifty cents.” Bear laughed. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long,” said Aaron, dropping a couple of quarters on the counter.
“You know, Tunes, they say in a few years newspapers won’t be printed on paper anymore. All news will all be transmitted through the air.”
“Won’t that be something?”
“The world is constantly changing.”
“No doubt about that, Bear. You know that guy Nikoli?”
“You betcha I do. What a great guy, and an excellent magician.”
“How long have you known him?”
Bear thought for a second before replying. “I’m not sure. Seems like he’s been coming around as long as I remember.”
“I bet it does. Anyway, I should get going.”
“Off to work,” said Bear as Aaron left the mini-mart.
* * *
Aaron arrived early at Schroeters’. He read the newspaper by the front door, waiting. The headlines read, “Giant Puffer Ice Sculpture, Global Warming Causes Severe Weather, Police Shoot Bear Near Downtown, Santa Claus is Coming.” To Aaron, it now seemed like everything had an alien connection.
Carrying her umbrella and wearing her snowmobile suit, Anini walked up to the bakery.
“Good morning,” said Aaron.
“You’re early again.”
“I don’t know what to say. I love coming to work so much, it’s hard to wait.”
Anini took out her keys, “You know that bagel baking apprenticeship you’ve been talking about?”
“It starts today.” Anini opened the door.
“Really?” asked Aaron, confused.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah, I just don’t know what’s changed.”
“Everything has changed.”
They entered the building together and headed toward the backroom.
“And what about this Nikoli guy?” asked Aaron.
“What about him?”
“Doesn’t he seem suspicious to you with all this stuff about that triangle?”
“I’m going to check him out.”
“He’s definitely after your heart.”
“He already sucked up enough volts at Olsen Brothers’. He should be safe,” replied Anini. “Do you want to learn to bake?”
“Then let’s focus on that.” Anini went to the backroom, and Aaron followed. They took off their jackets, and they put on aprons and baking hats. Anini set Aaron up in position to bake, surrounded by the boiler, sink, convection oven, and racks of raw bagels. She let him do everything. All she did was supervise and guide. He was suspicious of her motivations but went along with it. He really wanted to learn the craft of baking bagels.
Aaron dumped a tray of raw bagels into the boiling water, waited, and started to scoop them out, but before he lifted them from the water, Anini stopped him. “Wait till they all float to the surface.”
“Patience, and the bagels will come to you,” he said as he waited. The bagels all floated to the surface of the dark malted bubbling water. “Love floats.”
“We’ll see about that,” replied Anini.
“Don’t you think it’s possible that Nikoli’s entire performance was an act to trick you into thinking he’s human?” said Aaron while scooping the bagels out of the boiler and dumping them into the sink.
“I think you need to confront your own demons. Now, stack the racks with the boiled bagels.” Steam rose from the bagels. Aaron grabbed one and it burnt his fingers, causing him to drop it. Anini shook her head and said, “You can run the cold water to cool your hands if you need to.”
“Do you do that?”
“No, my hands are used to it. They can take the heat.”
“Well, if you don’t need to do it, then I don’t need to do it.” Aaron grabbed a bagel and placed it on a rack. It burnt his fingers, but he didn’t acknowledge the pain. He grabbed another and another and another until all the racks were ready to be put in the convection oven.
“Why are you training me to bake?” he asked as he placed the racks of bagels in the oven.
“Just in case.”
“Just in case what?” Aaron placed the last rack in the oven.
“Just in case I need you to bake. Now, close the oven and dump the next batch. Baking is a timed cycle, and you have to get into rhythm. So focus on the work at hand.”
Aaron closed the oven and flipped the switch, causing the oven to rotate. It all seemed very suspicious to him, but he let it go and just followed her instructions until all the bins in the front were filled with the freshly baked bagels and the morning rush had ended. Then Aaron approached Anini, but she spoke first.
“You did a great job. I think you can handle things from here. Laura will be here soon. Then you can go home.”
“I need to run some errands.”
Anini went to the back room, changed, and left the bakery. Aaron didn’t know what to say, but one thing was for sure; he was going to find out more about this guy Nikoli. After Laura had relieved him from his responsibilities at the bakery, he caught a bus to the Mall of America.
* * *
There was nowhere in the entire state of Minnesota that was more suspicious to Aaron than the Mall of America. Nickelodeon Universe, the constant echoing of voices, the endless corporate chain stores, the towering Christmas tree, SpongeBob Squarepants... This place clearly lacked humanity.
Aaron anxiously weaved his way through clusters of people past corporate chain stores, the American Girl Store, the Disney Store... This place was as close to Hell as Aaron could imagine. Aaron caught sight of his destination, the Laser Emporium of Mall of America. The sign was a magnificent 3-D display with the words “Laser Emporium” coming out like glowing red tubes suspended in the air.
Aaron entered the dark store. The walls were covered with holographic pictures ranging from rare birds to impossible Echeresque geometries. Throughout the center of the store were three-dimensional laser projections of animals and dioramas that looked so real they appeared to be alive. There were projections of famous people like JFK, Marie Antoinette and Hitler. It was so overwhelming that Aaron didn’t know if anyone real was actually in the dark showroom.
In the back of the store, he saw Nikoli talking to Anini. She was wearing her ski mask. Astounded, Aaron walked up to Nikoli and Anini.
“Speak of the Devil,” said Nikoli.
“What are you doing here?” asked Anini, surprised and agitated.
“What are you doing here?” asked Aaron, clearly pissed-off.
“I assume you both have come to see my holograms and 3-D laser projections,” said Nikoli. “Follow me, I just finished a very special series of projections I think you’ll both like.”
Anini and Aaron gave each other spiteful sideways looks then followed Nikoli to a series of 3-D laser projectors in the back of the store. The projectors stood in a row and looked like the bases of ancient Roman columns.
Nikoli pulled a remote control out of his fanny pack, pointed it at the first base and pressed a button. A six-foot tall red, yellow, black, and silver statue of a Viking holding a shield and spear appeared on the base.
“Wow,” said Anini. She reached out to touch it, but her hand went through the projection. “It looks so real.”
“Too real,” added Aaron, growing evermore disgruntled.
“It’s a laser projection of a 3-D photograph,” said Nikoli. “The real one is twenty-eight feet tall. It’s in Alexandria, Minnesota. They call him Big Ole.”
“Big Ole what?” asked Aaron.
“Use your imagination,” replied Nikoli. He pointed the remote control at the next base and pressed a button. A statue of a Native American chief wearing a full headdress of feathers, holding a battle-axe in his left hand, and saluting the sky with his right hand appeared on the base. “In 1795, Chief Wenonga led some fifty Ojibwa warriors into battle with the Dakota. They were victorious, but only a few Ojibwa survived, including Wenonga. All of the Dakota were killed.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a victory,” said Aaron.
“Yeah, it sounds like a big toll to pay, but the land has remained Ojibwa land. And over two hundred years later, the battle is commemorated by a twenty-three foot tall statue of Chief Wenonga standing at the site of the battle in Battle Lake, Minnesota.” Nikoli pointed the remote at the next base and a statue carved from wood of an ancient bearded man with a grasshopper stuck to his pitchfork.
“I know this one,” said Aaron. “It’s a piece of Minnesota craftster history carved from laminated oak by Jerry Ward in 1982.”
“Very good,” Nikoli said with a smile. “St. Urho, the patron saint of Finland, who used his ‘splendid and loud voice’ to chase the grasshoppers out of pre-Ice Age Finland and save the grape harvest.”
“But in reality, St. Urho was invented in the 1950s by a couple of Minnesota Finns as a joke,” said Aaron.
“Maybe in your reality, but not in my reality,” said Nikoli. “That’s just a myth about a myth created by two guys to discredit good old St. Urho.”
“How do you know?” questioned Aaron.
“I have my sources,” replied Nikoli. “Here’s one I’m sure you’re familiar with.” Nikoli pointed the remote control at the next base, and a statue of the Jolly Green Giant with his hands on his hips appeared. “This 55-foot fiberglass statue stands proudly in Blue Earth, Minnesota.”
“Okay, that’s it!” said Aaron, angrily. “What type of game are you playing?”
“I’m not playing a game,” replied Nikoli.
“You obviously aren’t who you say you are,” said Aaron.
“Oh really? I’m not Nikoli Walsh from Zumbrota, Minnesota?”
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to find out,” replied Aaron.
“Maybe if you took a look around, you would realize that we’re more alike than different,” said Nikoli. “It’s just my crafts are made with high technology.” Nikoli looked around for Anini, but she was gone. “Where did Anini go?”
Aaron looked around. He had been so focused on Nikoli, he didn’t see Anini leave. “I’m out of here,” said Aaron. “This isn’t over.”
“You bet it isn’t,” said Nikoli as Aaron left the store.
Aaron made his way through the Mall of America back to the bus stop, more convinced than ever that aliens existed and that Nikoli was somehow connected to them.
Copyright © 2015 by Bruce Pavalon