Except for a small shed, she saw nothing except a bare stone surface extending out of sight in all directions. Since it was a dark night, Lois couldn’t see far. Next to the shed sat a large pile of rocks and dirt.
Lois was dressed in slacks and loafers, of which she was grateful. It looked like she was in for some walking—as it turned out, on solid rock. The teen found what looked like a roughly-hewn road extending in two directions. Choosing one at random, she began walking. After an hour, Lois saw something in the distance.
It turned out to be more piles of huge rocks. Next to them was a drop-off of fifty-feet, into a large hole in the ground—with no warning signs in sight. More heavy machinery stood nearby. Lois didn’t know it but she was in a large rock quarry and had picked the wrong direction to walk. With nothing to do but retrace her steps, she turned and started back.
Two hours after that, the girl could see buildings in the distance. The sun was coming up and people were moving around the structures. Coming in to work, she thought. The tired youngster could only keep plodding along, hoping no one would think to stop her or ask what she was doing there.
By the time Lois slipped tiredly past administration buildings, the place was crawling with dark swarthy men and a few women in work clothes. She heard cat-calls and what sounded like improper suggestions in an unknown language, but no one actually tried to stop her.
Tired from all the walking, Lois still had no idea of her location. It might be Brazil, as the woman in Shanghai had thought, or anywhere else in the world. The only thing she knew for certain was that it wasn’t her native China.
Lois eventually came to a public road. It and its few passing vehicles gave her no clue as to her location. The autos were going too fast for her to read license plates in the half-light. Lois hoped it was at least on the American continent. It would be a pain to have to find another ship to try again.
Exhausted, feet burning on already hot asphalt but not knowing what else to do, she continued walking. More cars were going in one direction than the other, so she went that way, hoping to find some sort of town. After a couple of hours, Lois was ready to snap home for a drink and some rest and come back later. Before that happened, she saw signs of civilization ahead of her. It looked like the outskirts of a town.
Hurrying down a last slope, she found herself among mostly one and two-story adobe buildings. Spying what was obviously a type of restaurant nearby and badly needing a drink, she plodded in that direction. The closer she came to the building, the more strange but mouth-watering odors assailed her.
Lois didn’t know what the local currency would be. She did have Chinese money, a few Japanese yen and American dollars on her—the last two thanks to her father’s travels. It should be enough for a drink of water and something to eat, she thought. At the least, she would be able to sit and rest.
A boy her age slouched behind the counter of the flashy food outlet, reading a comic book. He perked up when Lois approached and asked her a question in an unknown tongue. The two simply stood and looked at each other until he tried what seemed like another language. Finally, he asked in English, “Last chance, pretty girl. Understand me?”
She instantly snapped to attention.
“Yes, sir. I can. You speak English?”
“I asked what you want to eat? This is a McDougles and we have the same things they have in your country. What can I get you? A hamburger, maybe?”
“What’s what? You mean a hamburger? Where you been that you don’t know what a hamburger is?”
“I came from China.”
“I think we got them there. They’re everywhere.”
“Not where I live. Look, forget it, uh? Can I have a drink of water?”
He turned around to filled a large paper cup from a spigot.
“I should charge for this but you seem like a nice girl and thirsty.” He gave her the cup, along with a broad smile, saying, “You have time to wait? I get off in twenty minutes. The meal’s on me if you do?”
“Okay, I guess. Where should I sit?”
“Over there, in the corner booth. Oh and here . . . you can have this,” he said, hurriedly slapping a couple of hamburgers onto a tray and adding a large bag of fries. “I’ll see you in a while,” he told her, turning to the new customer.
Famished after after all the exercise, Lois went to the booth and sat down. The food smelled strange but tempting. It looked so gaudy after her experiences in the small noodle shops of Lanzhou and Shanghai.
There were no restaurants in the valley. Everyone ate at home or at special events. And Lois had rarely stopped to eat during her forays for groceries in Lanzhou. The restaurant had so many bright lights, some even flashing messages in English as well as in an unknown language.
She also thought the boy might at least tell her where she was. That was the first thing she had to find out. It was a good sign that even a peasant understood English. That would mean she probably wasn’t in some place like Russia.
Lois sat, watching and thinking, until the boy finally came over without his paper hat and apron. He was a nice-looking kid, she thought. And with such pretty long black hair and muscles, she noticed as he sat across from her in the booth.
“My name’s Jose,” he told her, raising one eyebrow and waiting.
Not knowing what he meant by that—the eyebrow—she told him, “I’m Lois. Where am I?”
“You’re in a McDougles. I told you that before.”
“Yes but what town and what country?”
“You got amnesia or something? You don’t even know what country you’re in? Everybody knows what country they’re in.”
“No. I mean, no I don’t have amnesia or know what country. Just tell me, please? I have to know.”
“You’re in Canatlan in Durango State, all this in my country of Mexico,” Jose told her, proudly waving both arms while grinning. “Does that answer your question, little girl?”
“Thank you, Jose. I appreciate it. Thank you.”
She knew that Mexico was close to the United States, though she couldn’t picture just where. Her Chinese schooling didn’t spend much time on that part of the world. She didn’t even know if it were closer than Brazil or not but at least she was on the right continent.
“Does your appreciation mean I can drive you home? If you remember where home is, that is?”
“I don’t think so. It would take a long time and you couldn’t drive there anyway.” Lois had to grin at the idea. “But you can take me to your home . . . if you like?”
Jose sat up straight. Did he hear what he thought he had?
“Wha – What was that again? Take you home with me?”
“I would pay you. I don’t have much but you can have what I got.”
Na. Jose had heard of fast women but nothing like that—her paying him.
“I mean, if you have a place for me to sleep? I’m new here and have nowhere to go,” Lois said, seeing him apparently confused by the simple request.
Jose was also aware that his English wasn’t all that good but he still couldn’t pass it up. It wasn’t every day that a beautiful girl seemed to proposition him.
“Sure. Come on, let’s go. I’m parked outside.”
He even helped her out of the booth, a perfect gentleman, as he showed her to his fifteen-year-old Ford. The boy couldn’t help glancing nervously at the strange girl as he drove her to his one-room shack, a converted garage behind his parent’s house.
“How far is it to the United States, Jose? Do you know?” she asked, idly looking out the car window.
“A long way, girl. Six or seven hundred kilometers,” he answered, dashing around a heavy truck loaded with stone from the quarry and taking up most of the narrow road. “Do you have a passport? Is that your home?”
“It’s going to be, as soon as I can get there. At least for a while. My father came from there.”
“Then you have a passport. We have a hard time going there. My uncle tried and was caught. It took him three tries to stay and he had to pay a thousand pesos to do it.”
“I don’t have a passport.”
“Then you can get one. If your father came from there, you’re a citizen.”
“I was born in China and my mother is Chinese.”
“Don’t make any difference. I have a cousin and her mother was born in the US, later living here when my cousin was born. She, the cousin, got a passport. My uncle said if either parent was born there, you’re a US citizen. You got any papers that said he was?”
“I have all that stuff back home but not here. If I go home and get it, can you take me to the United States? I can pay you. You want gold? I have some at home.”
He thought he must have some nut-case with him. Not only didn’t she know where she was but she wanted to go home to China, come back and have him drive her to the U.S. The girl didn’t look or seem crazy otherwise, only sounded that way. Well, if she was nuts—if she was—he could always kick her out in the morning. Not tonight, though. He wanted to have fun tonight.
“Oh, sure, I like gold. All you can give me. You gonna pick that up in China today, too?”
“You think I’m crazy. Don’t you?”
Lois sounded angry, and just as he was parking behind his shack. Damn, Jose thought, he didn’t want to spoil his chances.
“Oh, no. No way. You just go to China, get the gold and hurry back. We can go tomorrow. Okay?”
When she didn’t answer, Jose turned in his seat—to find the other one empty.
“What the hell? Where did you go?” He looked in the back and even under the passenger seat. The girl had disappeared. He must be the crazy one.
Jose sat, shaking, in his car for fifteen minutes, afraid he’d seen a real ghost.
By the time Lois snapped back, it was getting onto evening in the valley. Without even changing clothing, Lois went looking for old Chu Li, the village elder. She found him sitting in the shade outside the Community Center cum Administration building, taking a break from his labors.
“Chu Li . . . sir. I need you right away,” Lois called, running up to him. “I need some sort of paper showing I was born here.” She anxiously explained her problem, while the old man sat, silently watching clouds chase each other over the skies.
“No problem, honey. I got ’um ready a’ready,” he told her in English, “I kinda figured you’d be wantin’ ‘um.” He scratched his arm. “I sent for ‘um months ago, was surprised you didn’t ask ‘fore you left.”
“How did you know?” She was often surprised by the old man. “I didn’t even know that you knew about me leaving.” She hadn’t told him because she’d figured he might try to stop her. “And what are you doing out here in the heat? It’s not good for your old bones.”
“Hey, baby. How you think I got ta be a elder. I din’t get this old by bein’ stupid.” He laughed. “Nope, stupid I ain’t, an I can’t take all’a that cold,” he said, as though it were a joke.
They went to the air-conditioned Administration Building and he gave her the papers, all properly stamped by the Communist government. They had been there all the time. Lois couldn’t help hugging the old man, then turned to leave.
“Don’ forget yer father’s papers. You need ‘um too,” Chu Li yelled after her. He turned to look at the sky. It was too late to go back to the fields, so he returned to working on unfinished paperwork.
Lois found her father’s birth certificate and passport among his other papers and figured she should take all of them, just in case.
Remembering Jose’s advances, Lois thought it would be more prudent to wait for morning in Mexico before returning. She settled down to sleep. Her brother was still out somewhere and she hoped he wouldn’t wake her with questions. She was still tired from a long morning of walking in the Mexican heat.
Remembering the time difference and wanting to be there when Jose got up in the morning, Lois decided to leave soon. Hopefully she would be in time to meet Jose before he left for work. She hadn’t snapped the restaurant and didn’t want another long walk in that heat. Before she could leave, her mother and brother came into the room.
“Lois, baby. What’s this I hear you going to the United States? Samuel told me. I’m your mother. How come you didn’t tell me you were leaving us?” Su Lin was sober for a change.
“But I . . . but. . . . Sorry, Mother. I know I should have told you.” Lois didn’t want to start an argument about the drinking. She’d lost too many of them in the past.
“Are you going back, baby? Are there many Chinese there? Maybe you could take me shopping in America?”
“Later, Mother. I’m not there yet. I still have a lot of traveling to do.” She smiled. “I’ll be glad to take you later, once I’m in America and get a job.”
“How about taking me along, Lois? That way if something happens to you, you get in trouble or something, I can at least get to that Mexico place. It might help to have me able to get there quickly.” Samuel said.
When Peter heard she was back, he had the same request. They could take a few minutes off from work to go to Mexico and back.
That afternoon she hugged her brother’s hand tightly and snapped them both to Mexico. He took a mental picture of a nearby rock in Jose’s backyard, then they both snapped back—where Peter was waiting his turn.
“You get there alright?” Peter asked Samuel. “We never snapped that far before. I don’t think anyone but your sister has.”
“Sure. Why not? Come on I’ll take you,” Samuel offered, reaching out.
“The hell you will,” Peter responded. “If I gotta hug someone, it’s gonna be your sister. Let’s go.”
After looking around, Lois faced Peter, a stern look on her face.
“I’ll be glad to take you but don’t let Meili snap to my new home. I don’t trust her anymore.”
“Aw, Lois. She’s a good girl.”
“A good bedmate is what you mean, buddy,” Samuel quipped.
“Well . . . yeah.”
“Please. Just don’t show her, okay?” Lois asked, seriously. “I have my reasons.”
“No problem. She don’t like you much anyway,” Peter replied. He grabbed Lois around the waist, hugging her tightly and away they went to Mexico.
Jose stepped out of his shack, going out to his car on his way to work, when he noticed a stranger walking around in back of his home. A quick glance is all he had because, even as Jose watched, the guy blinked out of existence. The astonished boy crossed himself and, hesitantly, started down the steps from his garage home. Although afraid of the apparition, he had to get to his car in order to drive to work.
He had no sooner reached his auto than the pretty Chinese girl from the day before appeared—hugging a large Caucasian man. As he approached her, the first man popped back in, as though from the air itself.
Jose was so shocked that he was rooted to the spot, unable to move. The three spoke in a foreign language for a moment and the girl—Lois, he remembered—turned and saw him.
“Oh! Sorry, Jose.” She seemed surprised too but not as much as the Mexican. “I thought you would still be asleep. Uh, this is my brother, Samuel and our friend Peter. Peter’s a Viking, you know?”
“I—I believe you. He looks like a—a Viking. Wha—Whatever you say.”
“Hi there, Jose,” Peter came over to shake hands with the boy. He towered a foot and a half over the other man.
“How you doin’ Jose? Take good care of my sister,” Samuel instructed Jose. “We have to leave, time to go to work. Come on, Peter.” The two snapped back to China.
“Well, you ready to go? I told you I’d be back,” Lois addressed Jose, handing him a package. It was so heavy he nearly dropped it. The boy opened it to find two exotic figurines inside. Both looked to be made of gold, at least they were the right color and heavy enough—two small golden pandas. Since he’d never seen real gold before, he had to take her word for it.
“Uh, yeah. I guess so,” he muttered. It was too much to digest so quickly. “We better stop at the store so I can use their telephone to call off work, first.” He excused himself to tell his parents. Coming back, the two climbed into his old car and drove toward the road, heading north for the border.