Chapter 3

The road trip had been an impromptu idea of Ben's. He thought it would be nice for himself and Bailey to take a weekend break in the off-season. To see more of their part of the world than just trees and mountains, and the never-ending stream of leaf-peeping tourists from New York City.

It was late autumn now. The leaves were brown, if not gone altogether. Halloween was nearly upon them. However, they lived off a rural highway, miles from town. They never had any kids stopping by, and the two of them felt they were too mature to play dress up, even for one night.

Niagara Falls had been amazing. Especially with so few tourists to crowd the railings. Ben and Bailey were virtually alone as they strolled along, admiring the views. They even took the chance of walking hand-in-hand in public.

"It's a shame we can't be married." Bailey said wistfully. He squeezed Ben's ha

nd, as they walked past a closed shop that specialized in newlywed items.

For over a hundred years, Niagara Falls was famous for being a honeymoon destination. Dust was already gathering on the items in its display window. Like many resorts in that region, the Labor Day holiday the last weekend of August spelled the end of the summer tourist season. Some came back again, for a few weeks in October, to view the kaleidescope of colors that the heavily treed northeastern U.S. and Canada were famous for. Now, with nearly everyone gone, they could just kick back and be long as nobody was looking.

"Hmmm—" Ben shrugged noncommittally. "Wouldn't change our relationship, though."

"Who knows? Maybe someday, decades from now, people like us could marry and live normal lives right out in the open. Maybe even be able to adopt kids and get joint health insurance policies. Wouldn't that be something? Look what's been happening down south with that King fella'. Maybe someday, we'll even have a black president, eh?"

Ben snorted negatively. "In this country? That'll be the day. Dream on, buster."

"I believe it. Well..." Bailey said more hesitantly, "I want to believe it, anyway."

"You'd believe in anything." Ben teased. "Leprechauns, horoscopes and the Red Menace."

"Nah. I hate the color red, and communists make me break out in hives. And I don't believe in capitalist Irish midgets with a rainbow fetish, either. Or ghosts. Or UFOs." Bailey smiled. "But your horoscope did say you'd be getting the surprise of your life, this weekend." He said, giving Ben a lingering, suggestive look. They both laughed.

Then their dog, Little Joe, a border collie mix, began barking at a small group of elderly people who were walking towards them. Ben and Bailey quickly let go of each other's hand. Their private moment gone, Ben pulled on Little Joe's leash and reversed course. The pair of them walked in silence the rest of their way back to their car.

The two of them had such a relaxing, enjoyable weekend, they decided to take the long way home. They took their time, Crossing the border into Canada. Ben drove their beat up station wagon through Quebec instead of the more popular route, across New York state, then north into Vermont. They began the trip home at four the next morning, stopping for an early lunch in Montreal.

"We're gonna' need gas." Bailey advised him from the right side passenger seat. He was holding a map spread out on his lap, taking on the role of navigator. And, backseat driver. The one thing he did, that was guaranteed to get on Ben's nerves. "Also, I think you' might be lost, Ben."

"No foolin'? Gee, and I thought we could get home by wishing." Ben said under his breath.

"What?" Bailey asked, as he searched the map for the best route out of the city.

"Nothing. I love you, sweetheart. I'll ask the attendant at this gas station the best route out of the city." Ben said, as he pulled in off the road.

"This city can't be that complicated to drive through. I keep telling you which routes to take." Bailey shook his head in wonder at Ben's confusion, before once again consulting his road map.

"Yeah." Ben muttered crossly, as he shut off the car and got out. He slammed his door shut, "And that's why we're lost, sweetheart."

The station sign running across the front of the little building was in English. Though someone had mis-spelled the word, 'tires'. 'Esso. Petrol—Oil—Tyres. Put A Tiger In Your Tank.' Unfortunately, the gas jockey spoke mainly French. While the man cleaned his windshield and pumped the gas, Ben tried to convey to the man that he was trying to get to Vermont. The attendant's eyes lit up at that word.

"Vermon'?" He said. "Ah! Oui!" Then, with many active gestures, he helpfully explained which way to go. Handing the man his Mastercharge card, Ben nodded his thanks. He hadn't understood a single word.

It wasn't until two that afternoon when they finally reached the Vermont border. Around seven o'clock, they stopped for a dinner of burgers and fries at a diner in Bennington. They were still almost two hours from the New Hampshire border. Bailey worried about being on the road so late at night. He wished he'd learned to drive. Ben looked awfully tired. They placed their orders at the counter which ran the length of the room, then took seats at a dark booth in the back.

"Maybe we should find a motel. Drive the last leg home in the morning?" Bailey suggested, leaning across the booth's table with concern on his face.

"Nah. I'm fine, honey. Just a few more cups of coffee and I'll be up all night." Ben winked, as he drank his fifth cup.

"Normally, I'd find that a very attractive proposition." Bailey smiled, his leg surreptitiously touching Ben's under the table. "But I'm exhausted. You'll need to install an elevator to get me up to the bedroom, when we get home."

"We can always settle in on the sofa downstairs." Ben whispered.

That's when Bailey noticed the driver of the logging rig that was parked outside, staring at them suspiciously from his stool at the front counter. Bailey quickly shifted and sat stiffly, dissecting the remains of his coleslaw with his fork.

"How 'bout those Celtic's, eh?" He said loudly in his most macho voice. "Think they'll make the finals this year?"

"What are you talking about? You hate basketball." Ben said, blissfully unaware of the logger's scrutiny. "I thought you liked hockey players?" He smirked, "Mind you, they do have nice bu—"

"Finish your coffee, Ben." Bailey interrupted nervously, "The sooner we're back on the road, the better I'll feel."

Shrugging, Ben slurped down the dregs and walked over to the cash register at the counter. He paid the check, picking up a white paper sack with a few burgers to go for the dog. By ten o'clock, they'd left behind Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, and were driving a winding two-lane macadam through New Hampshire's White Mountain range. Bailey predicted that in less then two hours, they'd be home. Then he slouched in the seat in a light doze, letting his trusty map fall to the floor.

That's about the time Ben noticed the bright light in the sky.

Almost driving off the road a few times, Ben couldn't help staring at it. It was brighter than any other star he'd ever seen. Was it really a planet? Or one of those space satellites? Whatever it was, it was hanging low on the horizon, just over the tree tops.

After a few dozen miles, he got a jolt of realization. It seemed to be moving. Following their car. He told himself over and over again that it must be some sort of optical illusion. That he was tired and was only imagining things. The car was passing a long, tall mountain range. It was nothing but a dark silhouette in the clear night sky. Ben breathed an unconscious sigh of relief, knowing he'd not see the star for a while.

Yet, see it he did. It was still following the car! Only now it was on a parallel course. In front of the mountain. Ben pulled over. He boggled. It couldn't be. But there it was. Bigger and brighter than ever before. Seemingly closer than it had been twenty minutes ago. And it took on a slightly different shape now, as well. More like a cigar with many lights, rather than than a single bright orb.

"Bailey!" He said, shaking his partner. "Wake up! You gotta' see this."

"Huh? Wha?" Was Bailey's only comment. "What's wrong, Ben? Do we have a flat tire or something?"

As Ben sat staring, the cigar shaped light seemed to almost hover there in the dark, as if it were observing the car, just as Ben was watching it. Whatever it was. He felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck. Slowly the lights began to blink on the thing. It seemed to be even closer, now.

Without warning, Little Joe, who'd been curled up asleep in the back of the station wagon, let out a low growl, deep in his throat.

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