First Place in Fiction: "Founder's Day (The UFO Diaries)"

City Paper

Halloween 1998

When I was 9 I told my younger foster brother Rory that he was an alien. At first I was joking because he was going as one of the Martians from “Toy Story.” And he always looked kind of goofy. I mean, he had these big thick glasses, and messy red hair. I actually tried to get him to go as Chuckie from Rugrats, but he refused. I even said I would go as Angelica; I already had blond hair. Then, at breakfast, a breaking news report came on television:

“A woman from Illinois claimed to have seen a UFO fly over her house last night. She identified the craft to be shaped like a triangle with bright white lights at each corner.”

An artist’s rendition of her description appeared. My foster siblings and I stared at the TV in amazement, thinking it was an alien spacecraft. Betty, our foster mother, quickly dismissed it. She said it was “nothing more than a Halloween prank.”

Before I could even talk, I was put into foster care by my mother. She had issues, I guess. Unfortunately, I was named after her. An elderly couple from New Hampshire, who had been taking care of foster children for years, took me in. Betty was a kind and nurturing woman. Her husband, Randy, was a sweet but paranoid man. Their house was a white Cape Cod with an added porch, buried deep in the woods of a town called Grantham. When I moved in, Betty gave me a new name, Crystal. She gave everyone a new name when they came into her care. She also didn’t believe in birthdays; instead we each had our own Founder’s Day. In other words, we were celebrated for the day she “found” us. However, her names and Founder’s Day would only last until we were adopted. Then our new guardians would have to explain the truth to us.

Randy thought differently. “You don’t know that, honey; for all we know it could be Rory’s kin.” We all looked at him and asked what he was talking about. “Well, kids, on New Year’s Day 1992, just an hour after it officially became ’92, your mama and I found baby Rory right out there on our doorstep. He just… POOF… appeared! And we took him in. Do you know why?”

Betty cut in, “Because we love him and—” “Shush, Betty!” interrupted Randy.

“No, kids, it’s because we didn’t want to upset his parents…”

“Who are his parents?” asked Peter.

Randy leaned in like he was going to tell him a secret and said, “Little green men, probably from Mars.”

Betty nodded her head with disapproval and told him not to fill our heads with nonsense. Randy argued that it was true. “Rory’s parents are aliens! And they gave him to us so he could learn the ways of the human race!” Betty slapped him with a dish cloth and told him to knock it off. He shrugged his arms and asked what he had done to deserve that. Then they got into their usual morning argument. We were used to that.

There were six of us kids: Peter, Lucy, Alex, Rory, Lillian, and me. Lillian was taken in a few years before me. She was a fun big sister, when she wasn’t being a bitch. Lucy arrived not too long after me. We used to be inseparable. Peter came next, followed by Rory, then Alex. Believe it or not, none of us had ever known our real parents.

Alex and Peter would usually tease Rory for being weird. However, on that Halloween, Rory didn’t mind. As far as he knew, he wasn’t from Earth, and he liked that. When we all went trick-or-treating that night, he led the group and shouted, “Follow me, Earthlings, follow your master Rory!” While the rest of us said “Trick-or-treat,” he would say, “Earthling! I demand you give me candy this instant!” I apologized for his rude and eccentric behavior, but no one seemed to mind; they understood that he was just having fun. After a long night of trick-or-treating we settled in the living room and swapped candy. I noticed that Rory was missing, so I called him. Lucy said he was outside. I walked out onto the front porch and saw him standing on the lawn, looking up at the sky.

“What are you doing, E.T.?” I asked.

“Trying to find my parents,” he answered.

“Rory, you don’t really believe all that stuff that Randy said, do you?”

He looked at me and said, “He’s an adult, isn’t he?”

“Well, yeah, but Rory you—”

He raised his hands to the sky and announced, “I am the mighty Rory!”

I didn’t want to rain on his parade, so I just smiled and said, “OK.” Then he lowered his arms and wrapped them around me. He asked me if I still loved him even though he was an alien. I laughed and threw my arms around him and said, “Of course.”

Then he asked me another question:

“Crystal, if you get adopted, you’ll still be my big sister, right?”

“Of course, Rory,” I said, “Always.”

That was our last Halloween together.

 

Summer 1999

When I was 10, I was adopted by Joseph and Mary-Beth Brown, a couple from Andover, Massachusetts. They had always wanted a child but were unable to get pregnant. I was shy when we first met, but after talking with them for a while I started to come around. They were, and still are, very nice people whom I’ve grown to love over the years. Moving out of New Hampshire and away from my foster siblings was tough, however. I had grown up with all of them, and it was hard to say goodbye, especially to Rory; we had grown close since last Halloween. I remember I gave him the longest hug and promised that he would always be my little brother. I was sad to leave Betty and Randy too. After all, they were the closest things I had ever had to parents. Betty gave me a big, motherly hug and a kiss on the cheek; her last words to me were, “We’ll always be here for you, sweetie.” Randy gave me a hug too, and told me that my new family and I could use his Y2K shelter as long as we didn’t tell anybody else about it. I said one last goodbye to everyone and got in the backseat of the Browns’ SUV. As we drove up the dirt road, I took one last look at the only home and the only family I had ever known. They were there, and then they were gone.

 

2000-2002

When I was 11 I learned that June 18, 1989 was my birthday. I had just gotten home from playing soccer with some friends at the local college when Mary-Beth and Joe jumped out and said, “Happy Birthday!” I was surprised. There was a cake on the kitchen table with 11 candles and a ton of wrapped gifts just for me. This was something I had always seen on TV and in movies but had never experienced myself. It felt great. Joe and Mary-Beth had welcomed me into their home with open arms. They were the parents I had always wished I would have one day. And it seemed like that wish had finally come true. Yet, as great as things were here, I would still think about my foster brothers and sisters. I would try to call them but the phone line would either be busy or I would get the dial-up noise from the Internet. I decided to just write a letter.

A week later I got a letter back. The writing was messy, but I could tell that everyone had signed it. Rory’s signature was INVADER RORY. For a while we would write each other once a week, but as time went on fewer and fewer signatures appeared in their letters. A year later I received a letter just from Rory. He mostly talked about looking for UFOs with Randy, and how they were planning on breaking into Area 51. What caught my attention, however, was reading that all of our siblings had been adopted. He was the only one left. He also said he missed me a lot. I cried when I read that, and immediately wrote back. I told him that I missed him too and would come to visit soon. It was just the two of us now. I remember he asked me if I ever found out what my real name was. I told him no, I wanted to stay as Crystal. He said he liked that. We continued to stay in touch until I turned 13.

 

December 5, 2009

It was a normal Saturday morning when Joe yelled, “Hey girls, come take a look at this.” I joined him and Mary-Beth in the living room. He was watching the news and what we all saw I could not believe. It was video footage of a UFO flying over Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Without thinking, I ran into the kitchen and pulled out Mary-Beth’s address book. I looked through it frantically, trying to find Betty and Randy’s number. I called it. Disconnected, now what? I hung up the phone, grabbed my car keys and ran out the door, paying no attention to Mary-Beth asking me if I was all right. It wasn’t if I was all right, it was if “he” was all right. I felt like a bitch, I hadn’t written him a single letter in years and I needed a damn UFO sighting to remind me of him.

Two hours later I was pulling off Exit 13 on I-89. I was back in Grantham, New Hampshire for the first time in 10 years. Everything was as I remembered it. I pulled off the main road and onto a familiar dirt road that led me into the woods.

The house looked the same, but it was vacant. Something I never thought I would see. There was a For Sale in the front yard and it looked like it had been there for a while. I got out of my car and walked across the lawn towards the front porch. I thought about looking in through the window, but I didn’t. I just sat there on the porch, alone and cold. It didn’t surprise me that Rory wasn’t there. And it finally occurred to me that his 18th Founder’s Day was coming up. Betty had told us that we couldn’t live with her and Randy after the 18th anniversary of our Founder’s Day.

I sat there for a little longer and thought about leaving when I heard a voice say, “Hello.” I turned to my right and saw a middle-aged man standing at the far end of the porch.

“Oh, hi,” I said getting up. “I’m sorry I—”

“Oh no, no, please sit,” he said. “I don’t live here. I just wanted to see the place.”

“Are you interested in buying?” I asked.

“Oh jeez, are you a realtor?”

“No.”

“Well then, no.”

He sat next to me and we talked. His name was Ted Brock, and he was passing through town on his way up north. I told him my name was Crystal, and that I lived here when I was a foster child.

“Really?” he asked.

“Really,” I said.

“That’s kind of why I’m here. I used to… uh… know, someone, who was a foster child here. And for some reason I thought he’d still be here, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah I do,” I said.

There was a pause, and then I asked him, “What would you say to him, if he was here?”

He took a deep breath and said, “I love you. And I’m sorry I left you here.”

I turned away and looked at the lawn. Rory stood there again, staring at the sky.

“Me too,” I murmured.

Copyright © 2018, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy
45°