BAS Fiction– Them SpaceCrafts: Part One
THEM SPACECRAFTS: Part One
by Devin Holt
Turns out it’s good that Aunt Tina is so bitchy. Because if she wasn’t, none of this would have happened. Papi would have got burned in the fires, we never would have found them SpaceCrafts, and Damone wouldn’t be two-inches from becoming my boyfriend.
They had cancelled drum group after school that Tuesday, the day after the fires started, and I saw Damone wander off with loud-mouth-ass Cindy, so I went home. It was just me and Aunt Tina. She was on the couch, KRON blasting on the TV and a big orange-and-black skull with a Giants logo she had been knitting on her lap. Aunt Tina got pissed that Papi had left — I did too — and she was staring at me mad sideways. I know what that look means, so I cut out. The 27 came quick.
I took the bus down to Powell and wandered around for awhile, just thinking. I get weird like that whenever there’s a fire. I got on a random bus at Bush and Montgomery, the 76X. I don’t know why. It just sort of called to me, and I didn’t want to go home anyway.
Usually, I sit in the back, but there was a creepy-looking dude with like four trash bags and a mangled cabinet back there. I sat up front instead, with the only other people on the bus. They were two Muni drivers. The one driving looked Chinese. The other one wore her brown uniform kind of loose. She was Latina for sure, and looked kind of like Mom: stout but not thick, and pretty with dark hair and black eyes. Right away the woman looked at me like she knew me, like she could see stuff I couldn’t. Her voice sounded like Mom’s too. It had that same high pitch.
“What are you doing here?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know. Guess I just wanted to get away from all the fire talk.”
I really do hate fires. Mom died in an apartment fire three years ago, when I was 12. That’s how we ended up living with Aunt Tina. I told Papi not to go fight those fires in Santa Rosa, but he wouldn’t listen. Papi’s from up there. He used to be a volunteer firefighter, a long time ago, before he moved to the Mission, and before he met Mom.
“I can’t just let it burn, Biscotti,” he told me.
Biscotti is an old nickname. My real one is Reyna. Papi’s kind of a nickname, too. Mom started calling him that a long time ago and it just stuck. She used to joke that it would make him feel better about being surrounded by so many Mexicans. Papi’s white but we never see his side of the family.
The woman who looked like Mom was still staring at me.
“Well you’re on the wrong bus to avoid fires,” she said. “This is the Marin Headlands bus. Probably see the earth burning as soon as we hit the bridge.”
She leaned when she talked, like every word was serious. It was hella stuffy on that bus with the windows up — everybody was saying the air would make you sick — and I could smell a sour tang from her hair. I recognized the scent right away: Vidacious Citrus Conditioner. Mom used that all the time.
“Whatever. I just won’t get off then.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. “But take one of these.”
The woman who looked and sounded like Mom dropped a white mask in my lap. When she did, I swear I could kind of see through her for a second. Like she was made of dust or particles or something. The woman must have noticed I was staring because she turned to look out the front window and kept perfectly still. We had just gotten to the Golden Gate Bridge. She was right. You could tell the earth was burning. A thick, brown haze clogged the space over Marin.
“Here it comes,” the woman said, without moving at all. The driver was totally still, too. It was just him, the bus, and the road.
I put my earbuds in and tried to pull up the Spotify travel station, but it wouldn’t load. I closed it, killed all the apps in the background, and opened Snapchat. I figured I’d send a Snap to Damone. Something with the smoke and the bridge in the background would look cool, and kind of ballsy. But I couldn’t get Snap to work either, or my camera. Nothing on my phone was happening.
“Things are different here,” the woman said.
This time, it was creepy how little she moved. I couldn’t even tell if her lips were moving. And the bus did seem different. It was quiet, too quiet for a bus. All I could hear was a tiny whirr, more like a Prius than a bus on the freeway. And there was something like a glaze on the outside of the bus. It made everything look a little bit wet. I could still feel the air from outside though. It was heavy and made my lungs hurt. I put the mask on.
The woman turned and locked eyes with me: “Wait for it.”
Right when we hit that tunnel with the rainbow, she reached across and grabbed me by the arm. That’s when things really changed.
The light cut out and the bus got way quiet. The end of the tunnel was just a tiny, little point of white in the distance, like someone stretched the tunnel out as far as possible. A match sizzled next to me. The woman dipped it into a clear, glass candle, and that created a small dome of light around us. I could see the woman’s skull underneath her face, but I was too confused to be scared. Up close, she looked even more like Mom, but older.
“I don’t have long,” she said. “You have to save Andrew. From the fire.”
Andrew. That’s Papi’s real name. It’s also my cousin, but I was pretty sure she meant Papi.
“You mean Papi, right? But how?”
“Go back to where we met,” she said.
“But you’re my Mom, aren’t you? I don’t know where we met. I mean, we met when I was a baby, right?”
“No, not that,” she said. “I mean, yes, but you have to go to the place where Andrew first da—”
We came out the other end of the tunnel and light rushed back in. The bus rattled hard, like it fell and landed on the pavement, and my tailbone popped against the seat. Music started blasting in my ears — Kendrick rapping about loyalty — and I yanked my earbuds out. The woman was gone.
“Hey,” I yelled at the driver. “Where did she go?”
He looked at me, then back at the road. I yelled again.
This time he grunted: “I don’t know! Only drive.”
Bus drivers. It was pointless. I sat, stunned, as we wound through trees, up and down hills, without a stop. The creepy guy was asleep in the back. Eventually, I went and poked him. He smelled like a microwaved bag of sewer juice.
“Did you see that woman on the bus?” I asked.
He stirred a bit and burped. Stale-ass liquor. I poked him again.
“You mean that see-through driver?”
“Yes! Yes!” I said. “Where did she go?”
His eyes moved from my head to my feet and back.
“You got a dollar?”
I stared so hard he could feel it.
“That was my Mom,” I said.
The sewer juice man pulled the string, and started collecting his bags.
“C’mon now,” he said. “She can’t go through the tunnel.”
“What do you mean?”
The bus stopped, and the sewer juice man shuffled his bags out the door. He didn’t even bother with the cabinet, just left it in the back. I asked again, but all he would say was she couldn’t go through the tunnel. I thought about blocking the door, but that guy smelled so bad, I would probably throw up if he rubbed me.
The rest of the ride was quiet. No one got on or off. When we got back to the city, I pulled the string as soon as we hit Lombard. It was a long way from the Mission, but I wasn’t about riding no bus right then. The driver motioned for me to come up front.
“Here,” he said. “Take this.”
The driver handed me a paper transfer. I stuffed it in my back pocket, pulled my mask on, and got out at Lombard and Scott.
I thought about the bus ride the whole walk home. Was that really Mom? And if she wanted me to save Papi, what the hell took her so long to bring it up? By the time I got back to the Mission, I decided it was a dream. That made the most sense. I put Spotify on, fell asleep, had a crazy dream. Simple. That bus driver must have thought I was hella crazy.
Our street looked pretty rough that day. Aunt Tina’s house sits on the same block as this old hippied-out warehouse arts center place. It had a big fence around it that took up the whole block, and big chunks of the building had been ripped out. Papi said that fence was totally depressing, because him and Mom used to go dancing there. Aunt Tina was on the porch when I walked up.
“Where the hell you been?” she said. “I been calling you.”
“I went on a Muni ride. To Marin.”
“To Marin? On what?”
“I took the 76X.”
Aunt Tina narrowed her eyes.
“Don’t make shit up, B,” she said. “Just tell me if you’re out smoking weed. They don’t run no 76X on Tuesdays. Especially not with these fires. That’s just holidays and shit.”
I didn’t say nothing. I just went straight upstairs and checked on my Chromebook. She was right. Weekends and some holidays. I reached in my back pocket and pulled out the transfer. Down at the bottom, where it usually has the expiration time or says late night special, it had one word printed, in all caps: “ALWAYS.”
Read part 2 of “Them SpaceCrafts” here.
Devin Holt has been a lot of things: A wayward street-corner youth, a circus performer, and a farm boy loading firewood into the family pick up truck. Now, he writes.