It was a short walk from the park to the local tavern. We ordered whiskeys and I tried to get Lee to tell me where he’d been for the last three years. He was evasive. He’d been around the world, he said. Spent some time at sea. Been to Africa and the Arctic. Now he was working a high-powered job for an aeronautics company down south.
Which was an odd thing for him to be doing. But by the time we got to that part of the story, I was two drinks to the good and not in the mood for an interrogation. I was happy just to see him, and we soon got into one of our usual conversations about aliens, the nature of existence, and Jimi Hendrix. We kept on drinking till closing time, then wandered off into the cool, surprisingly starry night. There was no teary goodbye, just a handshake and a manly half-hug. I turned to walk home, and Lee strode off in the opposite direction.
In the morning I had a hard time believing that the encounter had ever happened. For a minute I thought I’d dreamed the whole thing, but my hangover said otherwise. Plus Lee had given me his sunglasses after I said I liked them; they were sitting on the bureau in my bedroom. I realized to my chagrin that I’d never found out where he was staying or gotten an address or phone number, and so that was the last I heard of him until a year and a half later, when I went down to L.A. on business. I decided to try to find Lee while I was down there, but it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. His phone number was unlisted, naturally. I couldn’t remember the name of the company he worked for, but in the end I was able to get an address through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
It was somewhere around Barstow, out on the edge of the desert. I took off from my hotel at 10 in the morning on Saturday and by 1:30 I’d left civilization far behind. My map proved to be less than useful, so I finally pulled into a gas station—the only sign of human habitation for miles around—to ask directions. It was an old, rundown station with the old mechanical pumps; behind it was a junkyard of sorts covered with rusty machinery, in the middle of which stood a brown wooden house that could just as well have been called a shack. Behind that was a vast expanse of nothing.
I parked beside one of the pumps and got out. There was not a single sound to be heard, though I could have sworn I heard rust working away all around me. It was dusty and hot and although there were no actual tumbleweeds, in my mind’s eye a dry wind was blowing balls of dead plant matter through this Godforsaken place.
I waited a minute to see if anyone would appear, then leaned on the horn to scare up some action. A few seconds later a figure in a white robe materialized out the junkyard and came toward me. There was something familiar about the way it moved, and…well, you’ve probably figured it out already. His black hair was long now and his face had a considerably browner hue, but it was Lee.