Melissa’s Departure


Of all the places in the world, you’d think a young woman would be safe in Lakeforest, Illinois! This is a wealthy neighborhood!

“Meet me at the big tree in Lakeforest,” Bobo had said, “Do you know the one I mean?”

Of course I knew the tree. It’s located right at a traffic light intersection, on the edge of a Chicago Prairie park. We used to drive past it many times when I was a girl, on our way to visit my uncle.

I took a taxi to Lakeforest and told the driver to let me out at the traffic light. I was so eager to get on with my trip that I got here a full hour early! I was breathless with excitement and intrigue, but there was nothing to do but stand around and wait. It was a very pleasant wait (at least for the first half hour). I just looked across the street at the hill where we went tobogganing with our cousins in the winter, and my memories kept me busy.

Until that kid came by.

Now who would be skateboarding at two o’clock in the morning, I thought as he approached. Then he suddenly careened very close to me, and nearly knocked me over! I tried to dodge him. Before I knew it he had smoothly relieved me of my bag! It was over in a flash. The sound of his skateboard wheels had long faded away before I recovered from my astonishment.

Oh, crap! I thought. My meager ten pounds of baggage is gone forever, and there’s not a thing I can do. By the time I find a phone and call the police that kid will be long gone. I can’t even describe him! All I know is that he was tall and thin. No one can catch a thief with such a vague description! Assuming, of course the police would believe me. (I can hear them now, ‘Just what were you doing at that street corner at two o’clock in the morning?’ What would I tell them? ‘Hitching a ride to the Moon?’)

No, there’s nothing I can do about it.

Imagine: I, Melissa Franklin, am about to embark upon the interstellar journey of a lifetime, and I have no baggage. Just the clothes I am wearing! I leaned back against the tree and contemplated my situation.

I tried to fight back the urge to cry, but I couldn’t. This is my whole life! Just when something beautiful is about to happen to me, somebody ruins it all and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t travel without luggage! I turned every possibility over in my mind. Everything I could think of involved a delay that would cause me to miss my ride—and who could say if I’d ever get a second chance?

With a sniff, I decided that my only course of action was to walk to my uncle’s house, invent some story to explain my predicament at this time of night, and forget the whole idea of going to Thorgelfayne. It’s a silly idea anyway, and I shouldn’t bet my whole life on a science fiction fantasy concocted in Ken Collins’ demented mind. After all, I could lose more than my baggage by waiting on street corners at all hours of the night for a little black man from Nigeria to pick me up in a space jitney! I pushed myself away from the tree and resolutely headed in the direction of my uncle’s house.

After I had walked a few yards, I turned back and looked. There was the tree (it really is a very big tree!), the hill where we went sledding as kids, and the traffic light turning green-yellow-red. What a wonderful dream it was, I thought as a lump came to my throat, a whole planet full of people who are mature, kind and nice. I sighed as I reflected that Homelander traffic lights turn blue-yellow-red, and saddened as I realized I would never see one.

“They might as well be on the Moon,” I said to myself, sarcastically. Then I just stood there with my hands over my face, half laughing and half crying at the absurdity of that phrase! How did I ever get into this mess? I’m not even sure that this place exists, and yet I’m all broken up over not going there!

“Melissa!” came a familiar voice, out of breath. I looked up and saw Bobo running towards me from out of the woods. “What is wrong? We almost thought you didn’t want to go!”

“Oh, I want to go all right,” I said dejectedly, and then I explained about the purse snatcher who made off with my miniature luggage.

Bobo hugged me warmly and reassured me that everything can be replaced at the commissary at Earth Watch Base. There were three or four other sympathetic faces, and occasional snatches of questions and compassionate explanations in some language I don’t understand.

“But I don’t have that much money,” I protested.

“Correction!” someone said, “You have no money at all! Your currency is not valid off planet; but there’s nothing to worry about! We’ve already taken care of that problem!”

I was beginning to be embarrassed about all the hugging. The most embarrassing part was that I needed and enjoyed it!

We picked our way through the woods to the jitney, which had landed where it would be out of sight. By the time we walked that short distance, I felt completely relaxed—as if I were among old friends. I told and retold the story of the purse snatcher before I realized I was really on my way!

Our tortured old Earth sure looks pretty from up here!