“My great-great grandfather, Old Bartholomew, was on a spaceship.” Frank sipped his coffee and picked at the glazed doughnut in front of him. Always the soft-spoken, sensible one of the group, the others stopped arguing.
Like they did most days, Frank and his buddies, Rick, Larry, and Hank, all late forties or fifties, sat around a horseshoe-shaped counter in Danny’s Donuts, a small chain in Grand Island, Nebraska.
“There’s no way your great-great grandfather’s alive,” said Rick. He was the gray-haired one who always had to be right.
“He isn’t. This happened in 1894 when he worked for the railroad.”
Hank, the redhead, scoffed and pointed to his cup for a refill. Melissa, the counter attendant, filled it.
Larry chuckled. “Nothing like an eye witness to change the conversation.”
“Well, seeing’s believing, and I didn’t see it,” said Rick. “He’s not exactly here where we can interrogate him. The likelihood that there’s life out there—let alone life that could visit us—is prohibitively small.”
Frank wiped his fingers on a napkin. “You keep saying that, Rick, but just last week you said the likelihood that life would appear on earth was prohibitively small.”
“It’s true.” Rick put two creamers in his coffee. “Just because we observe life doesn’t make it not true.”
“Right,” said Larry. “And having an eye witness is a game changer, both for life here and in space.”
“Oh, come on,” said Rick. “You’re going to call a two hundred year old legend a credible eye-witness account?”
“Hold on, guys.” Melissa filled Larry’s mug. “Let’s here the story at least. Go ahead, Frank.”
“They picked him up north of Albuquerque.”
“They abducted him?”
“No. The aliens paid Old Bartholomew’s construction camp a visit. First just a few, then all together. Only time his foreman ever let up on them, according to Old Bart.”
“Okay,” said Rick. “Stop right there. Why would extraterrestrials want anything to do with the railroad crew?”
Frank took a bite of his glazed and chewed.
“It’s a good question,” said Hank.
“I’m glad you asked.” Frank washed the glazed down with coffee. “They needed iron and gold. We had the iron and we helped them get the gold.”
“You mean Old Bartholomew did,” said Rick.
Frank flinched. “Right. We Americans had it. They needed it.” He pushed into the next part. “There was no sense in not cooperating, they figured being on good terms was best. It didn’t hurt that the aliens led them to a rich lode of gold ore, and the aliens didn’t take it all. Wasn’t one of us that didn’t wind up wealthy.”
“One of them,” said Rick.
“You expect us to believe your great-great gramps was a slave for the aliens.” Hank shook his head and scoffed.
“Not at all,” said Frank. “They worked out a deal. Mined the ore for the ETs and kept mining it for themselves. Not one of them had to work another day afterwards.”
“What about the spaceship?” asked Larry.
Frank’s eyes went vacant. “It was a magnificent vessel, as Old Bart told it. Full of lights and whistles and servos and things, but all kinds of implements like nothing we’ve ever known.” He focused back in on his coffee mates. “Bart helped them repair it, and they took him and a few of his pals on a long trip into space. Did a flyby of Jupiter.”
“Nice story,” said Rick. “But seeing is believing.”
“That’s right,” said Frank. “Seeing is believing.”
Rick put down a few dollars for tip and grumbled. “Nice story.”
The others left one-by-one until Frank sat alone.
“You’re a naughty boy, Frank.” Melissa wiped the counter and grinned.
“You went to acting school in L.A., didn’t you?”
“Pretending to slip on the ‘we’s and the ‘us’s. You can’t fool me.”
“What you see is what you get.”
She trilled a laugh. “You’re hysterical.” She put the towel aside and leaned next to him, forearms on the counter. “I do believe one thing, though.”
Frank gazed into her eyes.
“You are a very old soul.” She pinched his chin and went back to work.