“In the dream he did this?” I asked.
“Not in the dream. He had just had the disturbing dream. Now he is at the window looking out.”
“Got it,” I said. But I wondered what the dream was. Etienne went on.
“So my best friend looks out of that window, and what does he see?”
“I have no idea.”
“He sees a flying saucer, all silver and bright, sitting in his father’s cow pasture. And who do you think is standing in the open hatch door of the saucer?”
I shook my head, shrugged.
“My friend was astonished.”
“Who was it then?”
Etienne touched his thumb to his chest. “Me! My friend could not believe his eyes because it was me inside there, with the doorway open, and waving at him. And here is the funny part – I am also lying asleep in the bed opposite my friend.”
“You were spending the night?” I asked.
“Sleep-over sort of thing, you call it. Yes, me asleep in the other bed. And me waving from the portal of the saucer.”
Then, for a little while, Etienne busied himself with helping me make supper over the fire. It was dark by then and the fire was cheery. Soon we had some tomato soup starting to bubble and the wind came up and crept around the camp and I remembered that we were on Apache land.
“Look, quickly – there!”
I turned my head in the direction Etienne pointed towards. Just in time to see a little scribble of light that streaked downward from the night sky and ended up somewhere on the desert floor some sixty miles away from our campsite. White Sands Missile Base was down there and, no doubt, there were things we didn’t know about their little missions with satellites.
“What was that?” I said, “satellite?”
Etienne gave me a dreamy lemur stare. “Maybe we will be taken together,” he said, casually stirring the soup with a fat spoon. We slurped in silence. The temperature dropped. It was autumn in the high country. The wind got more playful and threatened to toss our tent down into the desert. I pounded some extra stakes in the loopholes, and nailed the little cocoon tight to the earth. Then I got my down jacket; Etienne was already wearing his. We went from soup to hot chocolate. Etienne's eyes never left the heavens.
Out of the dark, he whispered just over the wind. “I can sense danger. You know that I can.”
That gave me a creepy feeling. “Why do you tell me that?”
“I am picking up your fear,” Etienne said. He drained the last of the cocoa in his cup. He was still staring at the sky. The fire was down low, just red coals which the wind would breathe upon and turn a ripe orange. From where I sat on a round stone, Etienne looked like a sprite, an elf. Even his ears, large and lemur-like, looked odd in the dimming afterglow of the fire.
I said nothing in return to Etienne’s offbeat comment about my fearfulness. But I had to chuckle because he was right, I was feeling weird, to say the least. But not much worse than that. Just weird. I looked into the space of sky between the pines. There was a round hole full of stars, and I gazed in that direction.
As if Etienne had commanded it to happen, there appeared a steadily moving, lightly glowing object, like a kind of uncertain star. It moved in an arc and began its descent along the curvature of space. “What is that?” I said aloud.
“Satellite,” Etienne said, then: “Why don’t you admit you’re afraid?”
“Because I’m not.” Saying that unnerved me.
I glanced at my watch. The luminous dial said it was 11:13. The wind picked up and growled around the tent. “If it makes you happier, I’m scared,” I said. To no one, as it turned out. Etienne had risen without a sound and was peeing on a pine tree. He was a ways off and couldn’t hear anything I said with the wind moaning.
I unzipped the cozy nylon tent and slipped into my cozier down bag, but it had gotten so chilly, I kept my sweater on. Etienne appeared seconds after I nestled in, and got into his sleeping bag. “I heard that,” he said.
But he didn’t say what.
I was so tired from the long day’s drive from Santa Fe to White Sands and then to Mescalero that I found myself almost laughing myself to sleep. What was I nervous about anyway? Etienne was crazy. Big deal. Who isn’t? So I had no story. Big deal. I was safe and snug. I loved camping and this was camping. And Etienne, well, he was a friend just the same. Crazy or not. I slept, and dreamed. And saw a little boy standing in the portal of a flying saucer and he was waving to me, and it was Etienne. I woke with a start.
I looked at my watch. It was twenty-six past three. I was hot, sweaty. Unzipping my bag, I let the cold, crisp mountain air circulate on my fully clothed body.
My heart gave a shudder. I lay there, feeling the rush of fear fly from my adrenal glands and take further flight through my bloodstream. I was wide awake. And frightened. There were two unison breathings. One came from Etienne. The other came outside the tent. Two distinct bodies of breath. Within and without. I listened. Could the thing outside the tent hear my heart thunder?
My mind was working hard to reason it out. The sound of breathing inside was obviously Etienne. But what was the breathing outside the tent? My mind deserted me. Deer, bear, elk, coyote?
I sucked up my own breath, and held it, so there was no distraction.
Listening, I heard two things. Etienne with his deep intake, followed by a rattle-snore as he let go of his breath. Or as his breath let go of him.
Outside the tent – same exact thing. It was as if there were two Etienne’s, one within, one without. I placed my index finger over the entrance of my right ear. The outside breathing stopped. The inside continued drawing and rattling. I released my finger and the outside breathing resumed.
At that moment it would’ve been a relief if the exterior sound had moved. If it had proven itself to be that of an animal. Even a bear would be a relief. As it was, my fractured mind was forced to accept a single conclusion – Etienne had a doppleganger and that double being, so to say, was right outside, waiting for one of us to do something. I lay and sweated it out for quite some time. Maybe an hour. Then, all at once, I unzipped the tent flap, and rolled out into the starry night. For a moment I sat in starlight, breathing deeply of the pine-scented air. Then I poked my head back into the tent. Etienne was sawing logs, in out, in, out.
I chuckled. There is such a thing, I reassured myself.
It’s an auditory illusion, I told myself.
And got back into the tent, soft as a mouse, so as to not waken the stranger in the dark.
I got comfortable. Glancing at my watch, I was surprised to see it was almost five AM. I’d wasted a perfectly good night’s sleep over – what? Nonsense. Scaredy cat nonsense.
The last thing I remember seeing before sunrise was Etienne floating in a dense blue, incandescent fog a couple feet off the tent floor.
Background music credit: Kerri Lake