Camino Pope always imagined her first alien encounter to be in an abandoned field in Kansas, not a small outdoor mall in Delaware. She thought there would be more cows, more lights, more eyes, maybe. Though now that she was here, there were none of those things. There was a strong looking boy leaning against a clothes rack, wearing a black and white checkered coat and smoking a roll of quarters he’d borrowed from the Bank of Southern Delaware, but there were no cows. Camino wouldn’t have even known he was an alien if not for the fact that he had taken out his wallet and shown her his official ID. It did not say, Citizen of the United States of America. It did not say, even, Citizen of Planet Earth.
It said, in faintly green letters, Citizen of Planet 32, and Camino Pope was not at all sure where that was located. She had gone shopping with her mother that morning to buy a new set of underwear, and now she was being accosted by a strange, strong looking boy at Target. What an awkward thing, Camino thought to herself, trying to glance at the boy and his otherworldly ID while also rifling through a large bin of discount sports bras.
She stopped rifling. “No, that’s not me.”
“Don’t lie. I know who you are.”
The boy sighed and smoked some more. The air smelled like metal, but not like pennies or nickels. It was the smell of a dollar tree item split in four. Quarters. “I know because you’re still wearing your name tag.” He nodded towards her. Camino looked at her shirt and found that she had left her work name tag pinned to it. Darn you, Chick-fil-A, for making your workers announce their names to the universe. Huzzah. “So hey.”
“Hey yourself. I don’t know what you want.”
“Let me help you out.”
“No, are you crazy? I don’t know you.”
“Yes you do. Think about it for a minute.” He leaned back against the clothes rack, sending the rows of lacy womenswear swinging.
Camino rolled her eyes. “Are you my eighth grade math teacher?”
“Nah.” He didn’t know how to do math.
“Are you a cereal salesman with a strange marketing tactic?”
“Uh, no again.” He wasn’t sure what cereal was, actually.
Camino stepped closer to him and peered curiously at the black and white coat he was wearing. “A relative of the villain Cruella Deville, perhaps?”
“Mmm, don’t know who that is, so nope.”
“Are you like a reverse agent for MIB?” She meant Men in Black, obviously, but the young alien boy was not introduced to such high levels of culture yet.
“A reverse agent for Maybe in (the) Bahamas?”
“No.” She sighed. “I give up. Who are you?”
Camino laughed. Someone had heard about the contest she was in and wanted to play a little joke. “Oh, that’s very funny. Who sent you?”
“No one sent me. I just knew you were in need of assistance.”
That was true. The contest wasn’t really a contest, but more of an impossible task she had been assigned. Her father was a boastful man, and he had gone too far one day. He posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and his private writing blog a whole weird article about how Camino, his daughter, could predict the crashes and rises of the stock market.
Camino Pope was not a fortune teller, though. She had hobbled through her economics classes, scraping by with a high C, but her father, as always, took things out of context and wove them into bizarre lies. Now Camino was being asked by not just the mayor of her town or the governor of her state, but by the president of the whole country, to come and prove her talent was real. If it was, her parent’s debts would all be erased, her college fees would be paid for in full, and she would be given a guinea pig for extra measure. If she could not prove what her father said was true, they would all be thrown in jail. It didn’t make sense, but the country was bored and in need of the scandal, the government bored and corrupt. Now Camino, a young seventeen year old girl, was stuck in the middle of it all.
So how did this weird kid know what was going on?
It wasn’t an immensely private ordeal, but it wasn’t like the whole world knew about it, either. Camino just stared at the kid. She didn’t know what to say.
“But if you’re Rumplstilskin, you just ruined the story. You told me your name.”
He yawned. “Yeah, I don’t see why the old ones never just cut to the chase. I have other things to attend to so there’s no time for all that riddle crap. Want my help or not? I have the papers here for the stock rise and crash.”
“Well, yeah, I want it! What do I have to give you?”
“Just come with me to a meeting for something. I don’t have anyone to go with me and it’s kind of weird to go alone.”
“What kind of meeting is it?”
Rumplstilskin sighed again. “It’s a poetry reading.”
“Oh.” Camino hadn’t written poetry since she was in third grade. “I mean, sure.”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
Camino smiled. “Okay, well, do you have a phone?”
He shook his head. “Haha, no. Can you imagine how many people would be bothering me all the time if I had a phone number? That’s not even getting started with telemarketers. I hear they’re kind of annoying.”
Camino shrugged. Her dad was a telemarketer and he was annoying, but that didn’t mean everyone had to be. “What’s the address of the poetry reading? I’ll meet you there.”
Rumplestilksin handed her a stack of papers. “You can’t. It’s not on your planet. It’s actually by my planet. Cute place. It’s called Bodacious.”
“You mean I have to leave my solar system?”
He smiled apologetically. “That’s why it’s such a big favor. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I’ll just take my papers back and go find some other person in need of extraterrestrial aid.”
“No, I’ll go.” Camino grabbed her purse from the rim of the discount bin. “I’ll go, but promise we can stop by McDonald’s on the way.”