The End…or?

Dear intrepid readers and/or wanderers who have stumbled upon this story,

We have come to the final chapter of this part of the story of The Enchanted El Camino. As you can tell by the way the last post ended, although the book has come to its end, the story is far from over. But it is time to wait and watch as interest and excitement grow over the revelations contained in this blog. Once the interest reaches a tipping point, I am sure a new blog will become available with the continuation of this fantastic adventure.

To read the story from its humble beginnings, go to the first chapter by following this link:

May all your El Caminos be Enchanted.

Christopher Bowen, San Francisco, CA January 27, 2013


BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 6: Adam and Craig Take a Wild Ride

El Camino n' Asteroid-Like-PotatoAdam knew that there was no time to waste. If the plan was to beat the rocket to the asteroid, they had to leave as soon as possible. He was happy that Craig was still asleep when he checked his room. He sat on his bed and shook him awake.

“Craig, I have to talk to you. It’s about the asteroid. You gotta wake up!”

Craig struggled from what looked like a much better place that he was in while dreaming and managed to wake up, rubbing his eyes. “What’s up? Is something wrong?” he asked.

“Well, yes and no. I have a lot of explaining to do, so let me go back to the beginning…” Adam started into his long story, starting from the weird dog, Poochers, and how he found all the parts for his car.

By the end of the story, Craig was wide eyed and sitting straight up. At first he thought that his brother must be playing some stupid trick on him. Sure, he thought, a flying car with a talking radio was an easy thing to believe in. Yeah right, it was Adam who made the new lake.

But when he thought back to the fire, he had always wondered about why the boxes he had stacked hadn’t burned before Samwise got out of his cage. And how did Samwise even get out, when he was sure he had closed the cage very securely? If Adam’s story was true, the El Camino must have helped the iguana to escape during the fire. Then he remembered how Adam had said that Samwise was in the car when it had appeared at school. Craig wondered whether the car and iguana had a friendship which would explain why Samwise had insisted on living in the garage next to the car instead of in his warm, cozy room.

Adam didn’t give Craig much time to spend mulling over the news. “So anyway after all that, this morning it told me that we have to go to the asteroid and somehow help the rocket to push it off course. And we have to go now if we are going to have any chance of getting there in time!”

If there is one thing we could count on about Craig, it was his courage. That, combined with his curiosity, helped him to make the quick decision to “descend into madness”, as he quoted from a novel that he had read in school. He got dressed while Adam threw some food and water into a backpack. Adam collected his old book on star charts, as well as his pocket calculator and some graph paper. He remembered at the last to get the family’s thirty five millimeter camera. This was an adventure that they would need pictures of to even believe themselves, if they managed to get back at all.

Craig finished getting ready in the meantime. He made one smart decision when he also brought along a couple of empty milk jugs. “Adam, I am not going to go into space without someplace to pee. It isn’t like we could go out the window or something.”

Their parents were starting to shuffle around in their room when they felt like they had all they needed. The boys knocked on their door, and went in to tell them the story they had previously invented about wanting to go for a long drive that day. Tony and Helene were pleasantly surprised by the intensity of their hugs when they left. But it never entered their minds that their sons were about to embark on a space mission.

When they both had loaded the car, Adam started up the engine. Craig tried to make light of the situation by talking to the radio. “Earth to Commander Camino, are you reading us, over?”

“…potatoes, potatoes, so many ways to eat potatoes…” “…the last straw…” “…the last straw…” the radio blurted out making Craig jump so high he bumped his head.

“What the…Is that thing talking to me?” he asked.

“…potatoes, potatoes, so many ways to eat potatoes…” “…the last straw…” “…the last straw…”  Commander Camino repeated.

Adam was getting good at understanding El Camino-ease by now. “It’s talking to you, and it wants us to bring some potatoes and straws. You better go get some.”

“Potatoes and straws? Oh, of course. I should have thought of that. What else would you bring to space?” Craig was using his sarcasm to compensate for his fear and the complete insanity of what they were doing. But he got the items anyway.

It was extremely interesting for Craig to witness the next few steps Adam went through to get air born. Adam explained each step along the way. He was actually having a great time now. He had kept this whole experience an absolute secret for the last months. It had been difficult logistically, but also emotionally. The relief he felt in sharing overcame the shear madness of the situation, and allowed him to just concentrate on getting up into the air and beyond. Besides, now that Craig knew he might need a copilot at some point, so he better teach him how things worked, at least those things that Adam knew about.

Once they had lifted off and were coasting above the foothills that rise above Tesuque, Adam asked the El Camino what to do next. They weren’t going to get into space by doing any of the flying tricks that Adam had tried so far.

“…sit back and enjoy…” “…light my cigarette…” “…light my cigarette…” was the strange mix the car responded with.

“It wants us to sit back and light a cigarette?” Craig asked Adam.

“I guess. Try sitting back in the seat and trying the lighter,” Adam replied. “I made sure it worked, but I never used it while driving or anything.”

Cars in those days almost always had an electric cigarette lighter that you heated up by pushing it into the dashboard. It took about thirty seconds, and then it popped back out when it was heated up.

“…push that pedal till it roars…” “…push that pedal till it roars…” “…light my cigarette…” the El Camino kept insisting.

“I guess I better also hit the accelerator pedal while you push in the lighter,” Adam suggested, and the horn tooted agreement.

The brothers took a look at each other and both swallowed. They knew they had to try, so they turned to face forward and they set their jaws. Craig counted off three counts. At the end he pushed in the cigarette lighter. Meanwhile Adam pushed the accelerator pedal in to the extra notch and beyond.

At first Adam thought something was wrong. The El Camino started rising up, but it didn’t go any faster, or at a steeper angle, than usual. He knew enough about physics to know that there is a speed you had to go, called the escape velocity, in order to escape the Earth’s gravity. Their current speed was fine for flying, but it still wasn’t getting them into space.

He was just about to tell Craig that it wasn’t working and let up off the accelerator, when the cigarette lighter popped out to show that it was heated up and ready to be used. Suddenly both boys were slammed back into their seats. The El Camino quickly angled up to almost ninety degrees from the Earth’s surface, and started accelerating like nothing Adam had felt it do before. It wasn’t clear what force was pushing the vehicle, but it was strong enough to get them hurtling straight up into the sky.

They were jerked back and forth as the El Camino’s geometry was buffeted by winds. In order to get up to escape velocity, or about 25,000 miles per hour, they had to continue accelerating through the atmosphere. This creates a huge amount of wind drag. Luckily, the atmosphere got thinner with each second as well. After a couple of minutes the back and forth motion died down.

After a few more minutes they noticed that the color of the sky around them quickly turned from pale blue to a darker blue, and then purple. It wasn’t long before it was blacker than the darkest night sky, and it was only blue below them where their home planet stretched in a gentle arc on all sides.

They felt the seams of the car tightening as they rose higher. The car was trying to make itself secure against the increasingly intense vacuum outside. Their ears had popped several times, but that stopped after the car’s fan turned on by itself. The El Camino had some source of fresh air that it had started pumping into the cab of the car to pressurize it and provide air for Adam and Craig to breathe.

They realized that they continued to feel the pressure of acceleration on their bodies for a long time after it seemed like they were no longer captives of the Earth. They continued to be pushed back into their seats in a way that made them feel like they were still on Earth, with their chairs tilted over backwards and their legs in the air. The force they were feeling is called one G, for Gravity, because it is the equivalent of the force the Earth’s gravity pulls on your body when you are on its surface. In their case it was caused by the ship accelerating, or increasing speed, pushing against their body’s own tendency to stay at the same speed it was already going. The end result was that they quickly gained a great deal of velocity, since the rate at which they accumulated it kept increasing.

The boys didn’t really have time to think too much during this first part of their incredible voyage. At first they were just in shock and amazement. Then they were in awe of the sight of naked space as they looked out the windshield. It wasn’t until they found themselves weightless that they had time to react to what had just happened to them.

The acceleration stopped suddenly, and the El Camino began to coast at its vast rate of speed without change, which also ended the artificial gravity effect. It was the first time they truly had the feeling that they were in space. It can be a very disconcerting feeling at first, even for someone who has trained for it. These boys had been basically hurled into space from their beds that morning.

“Okay, that was some kind of ride!” Craig made them both laugh, until he turned green all of a sudden. Luckily they had a paper bag with their food. He had just experienced one of the effects of weightlessness that astronauts have described; space sickness. He managed to get the bag out and empty it, before refilling it with the contents of his stomach. But luckily, this effect goes away fairly quickly, and Craig felt fine once he had an empty stomach.

An hour after leaving the Earth’s atmosphere the radio started up again, “…explorers made crude maps to try to keep their bearings…” “…a three dimensional model was constructed…” “…the line passes through the circle…”

It was as if the El Camino had saved a whole set of phrases from news and documentary programs to use at this moment. The sophistication of the plan that it wanted to convey was more complicated than anything it had communicated before. Eventually the brothers got the idea that they were supposed to make a three dimensional map of some sort. They asked the car how.

The El Camino responded by repeating his song from before lift off, “…potatoes, potatoes, so many ways to eat potatoes…” “…the last straw…” “…the last straw…”

It wasn’t until an hour later that the boys felt like they had finally understood its plan. What the car had in mind was related to what they had done to save Tesuque and Santa Fe from the flash flood. The El Camino wanted to dig tunnels through the asteroid, from one end to the other. It wanted Adam and Craig to make sure that they made as many tunnels through the asteroid as possible in the remaining time that they had left before the rocket sent from the Earth got there. It told them that it was crucial that the tunnels be evenly spaced throughout the asteroid. This seemed to be of the utmost importance in making whatever the car hoped would happen take place. This also finally explained why it had insisted that they bring the potatoes and straws.

Since the asteroid was basically a solid iron rock hurtling through space, interference from the metal would make it impossible for the El Camino to know its position while digging the tunnels. The car used visual clues and information from the magnetic fields of planets to know where it was. So it wouldn’t be able to self-navigate below the surface of this solid metal object. The plan was that Adam would be responsible for steering as they dug their tunnels driving in reverse. Craig would be responsible for estimating the path each tunnel took. He would insert straws through a potato each time they dug a tunnel to represent the path they just took. This way they would have a three dimensional model of the asteroid, with the potato representing the asteroid and the straws representing the tunnels. If it worked they would wind up with a potato and an asteroid, both evenly pierced by straight holes all throughout their bodies.

After this conversation with the El Camino, the three settled into silence. They had a lot to think about. And they had a lot to look at. They found themselves in almost total silence, except for the steady whistle of the car fan pumping in life giving oxygen. They could hear their own heart beats and breaths as they contemplated the vast, pitch black darkness of eternity, just outside their windshield. The stars were no longer star shaped and glittering. They were solid, intense balls of light. Some were big enough to be round, like white hot pebbles floating in the blackness.

After another hour they saw that one of those points of light had become larger. It had become big enough that they could see it wasn’t perfectly round. It was the asteroid. The light that made it glow wasn’t from its own internal fusion reactions like the stars. It was reflecting the photons of light that were created by our own sun’s magnificent nuclear engine. The engine that has powered life on our planet since it began so many eons ago. As they progressed, the asteroid quickly took shape. It did in fact look more and more like a potato spinning in space.

It was such an extreme experience that both Adam and Craig were in shock. Their brains seemed to have adapted to the outrageousness of the situation by deciding it was a dream. They could figure it all out later. But for the time being, why not live for the moment, and see where the dream took them?

That was the frame of mind they nurtured over the next six hours before the radio sprang into life again. “…you better slow down…” “…you better slow down…”  “…you better slow down…”

“I think you should hit the brakes,” Craig was nice enough to interpret for Adam.

By this time, the asteroid appeared as large as the Earth had an hour after they had left it. They knew that they must be pretty close to the asteroid since it was much smaller than the Earth. The El Camino told them to start slowing down.

They weren’t prepared for the shock they got when Adam applied the brakes though. They were both propelled by a severe force against their seat belts. American cars didn’t have shoulder straps in those days. The boys only had the seat belt to keep them from being thrown out the front windshield. The force was great enough that they were both bruised across their waists, and Adam banged up his arm on the steering wheel. When they had accelerated away from the Earth, the car had kept the forces at a comfortable one G. In their need for haste now, though, the El Camino had apparently decided that it better push the deceleration forces to two G’s. The boys had to spend this time with the equivalent of another body their own size bearing down on them, pushing them towards the dashboard. It was not fun, but luckily it only lasted forty five minutes.

They were grateful to find themselves weightless again and hovering over the asteroid at the end of this torture. It was a beautiful sight. Although the surface was much darker at this distance, it was also much more varied. There were dull, rust colored spots. But there were also polished areas that gleamed different colors in the sunlight. There were craters and long gashes that showed some of the ancient and brutal history of the space object. It made Adam and Craig sad to think that they were about to do so much damage to this visitor from the edges of our solar system. But they were fighting for the survival of every species of plant and animal on the Earth, so their choice was clear.

Adam was able to take control of the El Camino now. He slowly settled down on a flat looking field of polished metal. They didn’t have any time to waste and they knew it. They had a hard time getting the car to stop while landing, though. The asteroid was big and dense enough to have a weak gravity, but it was nothing like the Earth’s. Adam had to use the brake pedal very delicately and just allow the car the float to a stop.

They had enough time to take a quick glance around at the scenery before getting to work. It was very strange to have such a short horizon. Since the asteroid was so small, the horizon fell away quickly and was visibly curved. It almost felt like they were on the top of a hill, and that the rest of the land stretched away below, hidden. There were very few features to be seen on the surface but they could see a few crater rims, giving the horizon a jagged surface in those directions. The sun’s light was incredibly intense. They knew that if they opened the door, they would be both cooked and depressurized before they knew what hit them. Luckily the El Camino had somehow come equipped to protect them in its cocoon.

Almost immediately the car honked angrily to let them know that they had less than three hours before the rocket got there. The El Camino didn’t say anything to explain how it knew this, but they assumed it was by picking up radio transmissions from the computer in the rocket.

It was time to start digging. Craig took out the potato that looked the most like the asteroid from the bag that they had packed. He got out several straws to serve as markers. Craig prepared to push a straw into the potato in as close as he could estimate to their corresponding position on the asteroid. Adam started to back up. As soon as he could Adam pushed the accelerator pedal past the final notch, and they started tilting backwards as the El Camino started to dig in with its tailgate.

The digging wasn’t anything like what it had been the last time Adam did it in the loose New Mexican top soil, even with its hard layers of colichè. This was digging through a metallic rock. Sparks flew and the car was rocked from side to side. But Adam never let up on the pedal. He did his best to make sure that they were going straight through the asteroid, but it took some doing. The sound was so loud that they both put balled up pieces of napkins in their ears to cut down on the noise.

It took them roughly ten minutes to work their way through to the other side. The whole trip felt the same and they couldn’t see where they were going, so they were completely surprised when they literally popped out the other side. They were able to spot their location on the asteroid since they were propelled out into space with their momentum, and mark it correctly on the potato with the straw. But this also meant they had to waste time turning around and landing again before they could dig the next tunnel.

They decided to make the next tunnel through the long axis of the asteroid. They knew that they could carve through even the metallic sections now, so they needed to make sure their tunnels were evenly spaced. This trip took a lot longer, and didn’t go as smoothly. Apparently there were other types of metals in the asteroid, which they hadn’t encountered during their last trip through the short axis. They found out when there was a huge grating/crunching/squealing sound, and the car suddenly veered to the left as if it had been deflected off a barrier on a highway. They were able to right the car and get back on track, but it took a bit longer to carve through the denser metal deposit. They encountered another larger dense area later on their way through this axis as well. These obstacles made the trip take forty minutes, which wasn’t good news. But they knew that they could now take a few short axis trips before they would need to do another long one.

They had made two more long tunnels and several short ones, when they realized that their progress was becoming much slower. They looked at the El Camino the next time they found themselves on the exterior and noticed that the tailgate had been sustaining a lot of damage. It no longer had sharp corners. And one side had been bent back so badly that it wasn’t providing much digging surface at all. They knew that the time was growing very short before they needed to get off this metal ball, which was about to become the target for the Earth’s most powerful weapons of destruction.

They decided to take one more trip through the short axis before retreating to what they hoped would be a safe distance. They had been averaging about ten minutes a trip in the short direction, so they gave themselves fifteen minutes to be safe. Then they would just keep going in the direction they would pop out in, and flee the area as quickly as the El Camino could manage. At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, not only did they hit one dense pocket, they also hit a second one shortly after. By that time the bent part of the tailgate gave way and fell off.  It wasn’t until they were able to angle away from the second dense region, and luckily find one of their own tunnels, that they were able to exit from the interior of the asteroid.

They had lost time and they had put themselves in danger. Adam managed to spin the car around itself almost immediately, and he pushed down on the accelerator harder than he ever had. Craig had pushed in the cigarette lighter while they were still inside the tunnel, when they had found their branch and were speeding out of it. This meant that they only waited ten seconds before the El Camino engaged its space travel engines and slammed the brothers rudely into their seats.

This wasn’t a gentle 2G acceleration. The car seemed to understand the danger they were in, and it used all the force it could, without doing the boys any permanent damage. It pushed the forces as high as 5Gs, and both Adam and Craig were battered and bruised by the experience. It is one thing to take high G forces in a specially designed seat, in a specially designed space suit. They were forced to endure the factory automobile seat’s irregularities, and lack of uniform padding. It hurt, and it hurt a lot.

But it hurt a lot less than what they would have felt if they had been closer when the rocket from Earth plunged its nuclear bombs into the asteroid. They had been traveling for three minutes when they saw the flash. The interior of the car was lit up as if a gigantic flashbulb had gone off behind them. The boys were lucky to have been facing the other direction when this occurred. As it was, the seats protected them from the worst of the radiation of this first blast.

If they hadn’t been so preoccupied with their current acceleration induced pain, they might have been terrified by the intensity of the flash. As it was, they noted it and waited to see what would happen next. It took several seconds longer, but they were soon hit by a series of concussions that rocked the car back and forth.

The El Camino must have realized that there was no sense trying to get any further away once the light had hit them. Since radiation travels at the same speed as light, if they were close enough to be hurt by it, it would have happened when they saw the flash. The car somehow knew that the radiation levels had been high, but not much more than an x-ray exam. The boys wouldn’t suffer from radiation poisoning. Neither Adam nor Craig was aware of that fact, though, so when the car slowed down and was buffeted by the expanding gases of the explosion they both assumed that they had reached the end of their mission, and their lives.

But the concussions of gases settled down after a couple of minutes. They found themselves floating weightlessly in space again. It was almost peaceful. Adam took control of the car and turned it around. They found themselves in front row seats to the aftermath of the explosion, and it was breathtaking.

Where the asteroid should have been, there were now many objects radiating away in all directions. They hadn’t knocked the asteroid off course as they thought had been the plan, they had obliterated it! It made sense once they had time to think about it. If the car had wanted to help push the asteroid, it would have just had them park on it and use the cigarette lighter to accelerate against it. But the El Camino had known that they couldn’t push it enough to get it off course, even with the bombs. But they could weaken it structurally. That way when the bombs exploded, the asteroid couldn’t hold itself together and it also exploded like one of the chemical bombs that they had made in chemistry class.

They were far enough away that they were out of danger of being hit by fragments, so they were able to watch the exploding asteroid bloom like a flower. The atomic explosion at the center provided the light and color, the gases and fragments expanding in all directions provided the petals.

Some of these fragments would later hit the Earth, although most of them were deflected off in other directions. But, the boys would find out later that in addition to providing a spectacular meteorite display, with hundreds of small asteroid fragments burning up in the atmosphere, only one meteor would hit land near Tokyo. It was fairly small, only ten feet diameter. But it destroyed an apartment building, and killed fifteen people.

The reason the pieces of the asteroid were faster than the El Camino getting back, was because Adam and Craig decided that they were in no hurry. They had succeeded in actually saving the planet, or at least helped immensely, and they thought they deserved some kind of reward. They discussed whether they were going to tell anyone what they had done, but after a few minutes of arguing, decided it would be best if they didn’t. Nobody would have been able to see an object the size of an El Camino digging tunnels through the body of the asteroid from Earth. They would just need to explain to their parents why they weren’t at home when the bombs hit. Adam decided to leave that excuse to the brilliant mind of his brother.

So they spent another twelve hours flying on a scenic route through the solar system. They didn’t have time to go too far, like to the moons of Jupiter for example, even though they did consider it. But in the end, they took a fly by of Mars and got exceptionally close to one of its moons; Phobos. It looked a lot like a smaller version of our moon, but up close it was a beautiful brown and deep green colored rock. They saw the other Martian moon, Deimos, from the distance. It looked more like the asteroid that they had just watched explode.

The sight they enjoyed the most was one the El Camino suggested. It was a practical way to gain speed for the return trip, and would provide a special scenic detour. By using the gravity of the planet next closest to the sun from our Earth, Venus, they could get it to swing them in a huge arc back towards the Earth. They would let the gravity of Venus build up their speed as they fell towards it, but they wouldn’t get close enough to hit it. Instead, they would be thrown back around towards the Earth. This would allow them to make up lost time, and get back home before their parents had started too big a manhunt for them. They would have to pass very close to the surface of Venus in order to maximize the speed they received in this slingshot-like maneuver.

What this offered them in the way of a view was literally out of this world. Venus is covered in clouds of carbon dioxide. In images from telescopes that the boys had seen, the planet appeared as a blurry brown lump. From close up, the browns broke up into shades of reds, yellows, and even purples. The swirling gases were churning with weather phenomena. They saw bolts of bright green lightning that occasionally shot out of the clouds into space. They saw collisions of different colored cloud banks creating a variety of effects similar to the lava lamps which were very popular were at the time.

What Craig and Adam were most intrigued by though was something different that they saw. It was while they were at their closest to the cloud surface. They noticed a flashing light obscured by mists, but visible. It only stood out from the other random flashes of light in the clouds because it was regular. It was flashing in a pattern that wasn’t random. But they could only observe it for a few seconds before they moved on. Later, Craig would swear that he also saw a huge dark surface below the clouds near the light that had a clear sharp edge. Adam always told him he was dreaming, but he had seen something big and dark hovering in the swirling mists for just a moment himself.

But their visit with Venus was quickly over. Thanks to the close orbital positions of the Earth and Venus at the time, and the boost they received from Venus’ gravity, they were soon in orbit around their mother planet again. From their vantage point it looked like such a magnificent, yet fragile, gem floating in space that they allowed themselves to slowly orbit a few times before starting their final descent. They were returning to a planet that they felt an even greater love for.

The mystery of life had also become so much greater thanks to getting to know the Enchanted El Camino. Although they knew that they would have to keep that knowledge and their part in the destruction of the asteroid to themselves.

But they returned to a world that had been taught a huge lesson. In their hour of need, the normally feuding nations of the world were able to come together. They had combined all their collective resources for the good of everyone. It was possible for humans to accomplish acts like this. Unfortunately, it seems as if we just have to be pushed into it sometimes.

Adam suddenly felt like he better say what he had been wanting to for a long time, but hadn’t felt comfortable enough to get out. “Craig, I’m sorry I got so weird when you told me you were gay. I was just shocked, and I didn’t know what to think. And I got scared, and I acted like a jerk. You’ve been an awesome little brother, and I wish you could just go on being you until you die happily of old age.”

“To tell you the truth,” Craig answered, “I always understood why you acted like that. You were just being realistic. It is a lot easier not being gay in the world we live in. You were just trying to protect me, and yourself, I guess.”

Adam continued, “All I know is that you are one of the bravest guys I have ever seen. I woke you up in the morning and told you that we need to fly through space to an asteroid to save the planet, and you got up and helped me. How many people would have had the guts to listen to me and do what we just did?”

Craig shrugged. “I wish it was guts. I didn’t believe you at first. I just wanted to see how crazy you had really become. I was actually more scared that you were hallucinating, not about going into space. It wasn’t until the car told me to get potatoes that I thought you might actually be telling me the truth.”

They both laughed nervously. Then they did something that they hadn’t done in ten years; they gave each other a big brotherly hug.

BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 5: The El Camino Makes a Crazy Suggestion

welcome-to-new-mexico w El CaminoIt was a grim drive home, and nobody said much. They were all completely exhausted. At home, after Tony made everybody sandwiches, they decided they would try to take naps.

As Helene said, “Sometimes in times of great stress all you can do is hope to sleep a couple of hours at a time. So let’s try to get those couple of hours now while we can.”

Tony and Helene did manage to sleep a little in their beds. Adam took a nap in his car, since that was where he felt the most protected. And Craig managed a four hour nap with his iguana, Samwise, curled up in his arms. They each had their special place in the house, and their own special friends, and it was a good time to try to enjoy them while they lasted.

They had a delicious dinner that night. Tony decided there was no reason to be frugal, given the state of affairs, so he invited them out to a restaurant. It turns out that worrying can give someone a huge appetite. They wound up eating at one of the traditional Santa Fe restaurants; The Kiva, which was a block from the city’s central plaza. It was known for its excellent New Mexican cuisine combined with a variety of other foods from New Orleans to Chicago. They had been friends with the owners for years, and they were Craig’s god parents. But the Celiers almost never allowed themselves the expense of eating there, and they wouldn’t think of not paying because of their connections. So this evening was quite a treat. Adam was even allowed to have a beer, but not the margarita that he tried to order.

They all managed to get some sleep that night, but Adam was surprised to find his mom and Craig in the kitchen the next morning at 4:15 AM, while on his way to the garage to take an early morning flight. He made up a story about wanting to go for a drive, which worked fine until Craig wanted to go along. Luckily Helene stepped in right away and said that Adam probably wanted to go alone, and that he should if he wanted to. So he got to take flight again in the protected shell of his most cherished possession. Who had also become, strangely but understandably, his best friend.

The sky was clear and the landscape was magnificent. It was close to a full moon, so even though the sun wasn’t up, the scenery was lit by a ghostly luminescent glow. The moonshine in Tesuque on a clear night, with a full moon, was so bright that Adam’s dad had driven one night all the way down the big hill between Santa Fe and their house with the headlights off. Helene never let him do it again, but the memory of the ghostly vision of the terrain was burned into Adam’s imagination. Seeing this effect from the air was stunning, but as night ended, brief. The color of the sky and land to the east soon changed, half an hour before a sliver of the sun first peeked over the low mountains towards Pecos.

“…we can work it out…” “…there’s a solution…” “…we can work it out…,” came out of the car radio all of a sudden, waking Adam from his reverie.

“Okay, we can work it out. But, who are we, what are we working out, and how?” were the obvious follow up questions that Adam asked.

“…come together…” “…the governments of the world…” “…we can work it out…,” the radio replied.

“I hope you are right to be so optimistic.” Adam was feeling some of his typical teenage cynicism regarding human possibilities. “I hope our different countries can come together enough to get a rocket with bombs thrown together and accurately target the asteroid in time. But it seems like a lot to ask from people who are so often at war with each other.”

Adam and Craig were exhausted after a day of school spent trying not to look like anything was different, so they wouldn’t have to lie to their classmates. Their parents seemed to have had an equally tiring day. But they were all uplifted by a phone call that they got that evening. Governor Aragon took time from his chaotic schedule to call them and let them know that a rocket was being prepared. The Earth would be able to at least attempt to knock the asteroid off its course.

The only problem was that nobody was sure if it would work. The scientists and builders had to make too many assumptions about the density and structure of the asteroid to know what effect the bombs would have. On top of that, even though they were confident that they would hit the asteroid, they couldn’t control the exact location. It was possible that they would hit one end and simply cause it to rotate more on its own axis, end over end, instead of changing its orbit.

But it was enough of a chance that the global leaders had decided to tell the world what the situation was the next morning. The leaders hoped that seeing the example they had set in working together would help avoid panic. If the one time enemies could work so well together to overcome this possible destruction of our planet, maybe our species was worth saving. There would be a world wide televised message at 8:30 AM the next morning Eastern Standard Time. It would be broadcast throughout the world repeatedly for the following six hours, and the progress of the rocket would be followed continuously until it reached its target.

The Celiers were very relieved to hear this. The human race was not going to be knocked off the planet without a fight. You can say a lot about our species, but you can’t say that we aren’t resourceful and able to adopt to change. Those are advantages that having a bigger brain truly gave us, along with a few disadvantages as well, like knowing in advance the peril our planet was in. But it looked like we just might be able to dodge a bullet again by working together and using our technology when we need it.

The next twenty four hours passed as well as could be hoped. There were some outbreaks of craziness after the announcements though. There were riots in several cities. Many people sought religious solace, and violence had broken out in the crowded houses of worship as different theories on why the asteroid was coming were hotly debated. Some people just took advantage of the opportunity to loot and destroy property.

Luckily, it had been a stroke of genius to use the rocket launch as a way of keeping people looking forward, and not just blindly thrashing about in a panic. People started paying attention to the broadcasts about the rocket progress all day long. If there wasn’t a TV to watch, people listened on the radio. If there was no radio, the news passed by word of mouth. All the news that they saw or heard seemed positive. The rocket was on course for impact. With a little luck, it would hit the asteroid out of its orbit like a batter hitting a home run. At least that is how one exuberant newscaster described it.

Adam early morning flight the day after the launch was an emotional one. He took the time to both recharge his batteries, and to appreciate the beauty that he and his fellow humans were blessed to live in. Our planet seemed so much more precious and delicate with the recent events. Adam was developing an almost religious love for the land he had come from.

These feelings made what the El Camino tried to get across to him during the flight even worse. He had been saying something to the El Camino about how they would be enjoying flights like this for years, when the radio started up again.

“…help arrived too late on the scene to avoid an accident…” “…too little too late…” “…the impact of the two vehicles was inevitable…”

“What are you talking about? Just two days ago you said we can work it out! Now you’re telling me we can’t? How do you know these things anyway?” Adam practically shouted at the car.

“…we can work it out…” “…in the end it is the little people who can move mountains…” “…all that they needed was some assistance…”

The car was obviously struggling to communicate some complicated ideas. And it was resorting to quoting from some obscure sources in order to do that. The more the conversation continued, the more Adam was amazed by what the car seemed to be saying to him. The El Camino somehow knew that the rocket and bombs wouldn’t work. They weren’t big enough to do what was needed. But the absolutely crazy part was that the car seemed to think that they could help.

It took almost an hour of broken radio speak to convey this, but the car wanted Adam to fly up past the atmosphere and into space, and somehow go fast enough to beat the rocket to the asteroid. It wasn’t specific about what to do once they got there. But it did get the strange request across to Adam that he should bring Craig.  Apparently Craig was needed to help accomplish their mission.

By now Adam was very secure in his belief that the El Camino only had their best interests at heart. And everything it had gotten Adam to do had worked out for the best. But this was beyond flying and digging. This was space travel! How would they breathe? Even if the car could seal itself from water, could it withstand the pressures of the vacuum of space? And what if they hit something?

These were all valid questions, but Adam was forced into his decision in the end. Time was growing short, and if there was somehow some way that he and his car could do something as crazy as the El Camino was suggesting, then he would have to try. But he told the car when they had parked in the garage that he couldn’t decide for Craig. Adam felt it was only fair to explain everything to him, and let Craig make his own choice.

BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 4: Craig Makes an Unsettling Observation

GOKeeffeCaminoOn the fifth day after Craig had started doing his calculations, he came home looking worried. Even Adam, who wasn’t the most sensitive to other’s emotions at that age, noticed the expression on Craig’s face.

“Hey little bro, what’s wrong? Did somebody give you a hard time at school?” Adam asked.

Since his brother’s revelations about Jerry, Adam had a lingering fear about other kids finding out about their relationship. But Craig and Jerry weren’t letting down their guards at all, so something else was troubling Craig.

All four of the family members happened to be home then, mainly since they knew night would fall soon and they all wanted to see how big the asteroid had become as it approached the Earth that day. So Craig was able to tell all of them his news at the same time. “I just spent three hours with Mr. Sena. We tried it at least ten times. Either I measured wrong every evening, or we are in trouble.”

“What are you talking about, Craig?” their dad asked. “What did you measure wrong? What kind of trouble are we in?”

“I measured the asteroid wrong. It has to be. Mr. Sena was so upset after I left that he is coming here to watch how we make my measurements. We have to find out what I did wrong!”

Craig was pretty upset, but he was trying to make the universe make sense again, and the calculations he had done had made it seem as if the universe was going mad.

“Because, don’t you see? If my measurements were right, and we didn’t make a mistake with the calculations, the asteroid has become captured by our planet’s gravity. With each day it is drifting out of its regular orbit and it is aligning directly with us. Guys, my calculation say it is going to make a direct hit on the Earth!” Craig finally told them the source of his excitement. It was fear.

The Celier family exploded into a flurry of conversation. They all assured Craig that there had to be something wrong. Why would the government promise them that it wasn’t going to hit them if it was? And how could their luck be so astronomically bad? Even though meteors had hit the planet in the past, one as big as this one hitting during their lifetimes would be an impossibly bad stroke of luck. They assured him that he must have made a mistake by neglecting some obvious flaw in his process or thinking. Or maybe they were making mistakes with the measurements. Having Mr. Sena come over and observe was a great idea. He would cast a new set of eyes on how they took measurements, and he would find the error in their process.

Needless to say, they didn’t pay much attention to their food during dinner. Helene finally told them to just go eat in front of the TV. It was obvious that they all wanted to see if there was any more news concerning the asteroid. They scanned the five network channels that people had a choice of in those days before cable, but there was nothing. Given what Craig had mentioned, they were all starting to find it a little odd that, not only had media interest dropped for this news story, it had disappeared entirely. It was starting to appear like the newscasters were purposely trying to distract people from thinking about the story at all. At least that is what the Celiers were starting to think, whether they said it aloud or not.

Mr. Sena showed up at 8:05 PM. He had brought a briefcase with all the calculations that he and Craig had previously done, as well as planet charts and other tools for charting celestial orbits. He also brought a Polaroid camera that he planned to use to document the measuring process. These new instant development cameras were an exciting new consumer item at the time. Even though the quality of the final result wasn’t as good as conventional film cameras, it was great to not have to wait at least a week to see your pictures, as they were getting developed in a lab, to know if they had even worked.

He asked the Celiers to go about their observations and measurements the same way they always did. He would just watch and ask questions if necessary. All this attention to detail made the Celiers feel how important this was to Mr. Sena. And the gravity of what they were doing sank in even more, now that they were going through their routine for him. It was ironic that they tried to work as systematically as they always had, but they were actually hoping to find a flaw in their work the whole time. They silently hoped from minute to minute that Mr. Sena would shout out that he had found the problem.

But that didn’t happen. And after they finished, he just scratched his head and started to look a little sick to his stomach. They decided that they would do the whole thing again, but this time stop at each stage and discuss what might have gone wrong. Even though this took another hour and a half, they agreed and went through the whole thing, stage by stage. And yet they failed to find the fatal flaw in the observations.

Helene was the mathematician of the family. She had once considered becoming a chemist. So after they attempted to find flaws in the observation of the asteroid, she had them return indoors to go over the calculations again. She and Mr. Sena each took the evenings results, and combined them with the previously observed positions and times. They used formulas that had first been published in 1609 by the German astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, called Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. By observing the positions of a celestial body in the sky, combined with geometrical assumptions about the behavior of elliptical orbits, one could plot the motion of any body given sufficient time for observation. At least that is what Helene tried to explain to the family. They understood more or less, but told her to get on with her work. They were all looking white faced and nervous by then, and didn’t care how well they understood as long as she found the flaw in the calculations.

After recalculating three times, both Mr. Sena and Helene had the same results. They already knew the Earth’s orbit, and when they calculated the path the asteroid was taking, and accounting for the pull of the Earth’s orbit that the observations had disclosed, they proved that the two bodies would collide in five days!

Craig asked, “So, there have been meteors that hit the Earth before, right? There is that huge crater in Arizona. Didn’t the dinosaurs die when a meteor hit? We’re smarter than big lizards, we can survive, right?”

“Yeah, we’ve been hit by meteors before, but this one is a lot bigger,“ was Mr. Sena’s sad response. “This thing is like an irregularly shaped rock, a third the size of our moon.”

Adam thought he might have a solution. “What if we sent missiles with nuclear bombs to explode into its side and send it out of its orbit?”

“That is what I was thinking,” Mr. Sena said. “If we could generate enough momentum soon enough to jolt it off course, it might miss our planet all together. But that depends on us having enough bomb firepower that can be sent that far into space. And we need to have the ability to reprogram a rocket very precisely for such a complex task. I don’t know enough about the science, but we have to tell someone soon so they can get people who do know enough involved.”

The family and Mr. Sena decided there was only one thing to do. They would take their results to the government as quickly as possible. They tried calling several Washington, D.C. offices, but it was late at night on the East Coast. They called the police in Santa Fe, but they kept receiving the same response. Nobody thought it was possible that their family, with their amateur telescope, had made observations that the most powerful telescopes in the world had missed. The police responder told them that they had received a message from the highest offices of the F.B.I. saying that a group was making prank calls like this, and that calls of this nature were to be ignored. Helene had made this particular call, and the officer threatened to charge her and her family with interfering with police affairs if they called again.

“Wow,” she told the others. “That sure was an overreaction to a concerned citizen trying to do her civic duty. I guess the idea is too much for people to even try to believe.”

In the end they decided to go to the capital building in the morning and talk to anyone who would listen. They hoped they wouldn’t spend the rest of their time on the planet in jail. But, if that was what it meant to at least try to save the Earth, it seemed like a small sacrifice.

They tried to get a couple of hours sleep that night, but it was hard. For one thing, they knew that every hour might be one of their few remaining ones, and it seemed a waste to spend it sleeping. Besides, with all the thoughts going through their heads, it was lucky if any of them slept more than a half hour. Mr. Sena had gone to his home before they went to bed. He found them all sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee the next morning, when he came back at 5:30 AM. They had half hoped that he would have thought of some overlooked and miraculous error in their work, but he just looked grim faced as he welcomed the coffee that Tony handed him.

They were at the State Capital Building at 7:00 AM. They hoped to catch some diligent government official getting to work early to get some work done while it was quiet. Unfortunately, those people didn’t get to work until 8:30 AM, with the majority straggling in between 9:30 AM and 10:00 AM.

While waiting, they had a chance to admire the New Mexico State Capital Building. It is a unique building in that it is essentially round. It was designed to resemble the Zia sun symbol in plan. The Zia is a traditional Native American design used extensively by the New Mexican Pueblo Peoples. It consists of a circle representing the sun, with rays of light represented by lines extending from the top, bottom and sides. In plan the capital building is also a circle with four rectangular extensions on the top, bottom and sides. The exterior is finished in the Territorial Style. This is a style unique to New Mexico, mainly seen in governmental buildings but also in a few residences. It features a blend of native materials, such as stucco plaster and wood trim, combined with a classical Roman sense of proportion, window and door treatments and ornamental detail. The parapet is traditionally topped with a couple of courses of brick veneer, while the wood window and door trim is painted white. The Celier’s view of the CapitalBuilding that early morning, with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop, was spectacular. It only made the thought of actually losing this beautiful planet that much harder to bear.

When people finally started arriving they tried speaking to the first couple. But it was a while before anyone would respond with anything other than that they didn’t know anything and that they couldn’t do anything. They told the family to wait until the people from reception got there. The Celiers found it incredible that governmental bureaucracy was so stubborn that the end of the world couldn’t make it move any faster.

Luckily the fourth person who arrived took them more seriously. He had gone to Harvey Junior High School, like Craig, and he had even had Mr. Sena as his teacher. His name was Bob Gurule and he was a public defender who worked in Albuquerque. He listened to what Mr. Sena and Helene laid out for him. Bob was an avid science fiction fan, so he understood a lot of what they were saying. He took it as well as could be hoped, and he said that he was willing to help, even if he wasn’t entirely convinced that they were right.

He was only in Santa Fe for the morning, but he was meeting with Lieutenant Governor Bertricks to discuss some land rights issues. If Mr. Sena thought it was important enough, than he would certainly let them take over his meeting to inform Mr. Bertricks of the impending disaster.

They had to wait another ninety minutes before the harried, and obviously not overjoyed to be at work, Lieutenant Governor Bertricks was ready to see them. He was even less overjoyed when his routine meeting with Mr. Gurule was steamrolled by this family and their Junior High School science teacher. But to his credit, he decided to listen to what they said, while trying to appear like he wasn’t overly bored. And as he listened, he started to feel a chill run up his spine. What these people were talking about could actually be a big deal. Although they might be crazy, they seemed rational, if a little over excited. He was trying to decide if he should mention this to his superiors in the government when his secretary interrupted him on the intercom.

“Mr. Bertricks, Governor Aragon is out here. He needs five minutes of your time,” the electrified voice coming from the box on his desk said. “Please come out here so he can speak to you in private.”

He wasn’t used to his secretary giving him orders, so he was really beginning to dislike this day. But he realized it must be important, so he excused himself and went out to his reception area.

He stopped worrying about himself so much when he saw the governor’s face. The man’s usual tan had turned a pale beige. He was actually sweating, even though it was still early morning. Mr. Bertricks wondered if he was sick.

“Listen Bertricks,” Governor Aragon spoke in a hushed almost frantic voice, “I just got word from Washington. I need to meet with you and all the other high level members of our offices. We are in the middle of a disaster, and we need to start moving immediately!”

“Does this have anything to do with the asteroid?” Mr. Bertricks was starting to have a bad feeling. “Because I have five people in my office who claim to have calculated its orbit, and they say it is going to hit the earth.”

“What?!” The governor raised his voice and then lowered it again. “That is not good news. We have been ordered to keep the details of this situation from the general public. Can you imagine the panic if everybody found out?”

“What should I do with them?” Mr. Bertricks asked.

“I’ll call security.” Governor Aragon spoke in a hushed, almost frantic voice. “We have to detain them until we hear from Washington what to do. Try to keep them in your office talking while I make the call.”

Everyone noticed how nervous Mr. Bertricks looked when he came back in his office. They hoped that the importance of what they were telling him was starting to sink in. They gladly complied when he asked them to explain again how they had made their observations, and how they had done the associated calculations. And that was how the security guards who came in fifeteen minutes later found them; deep in an explanation of elliptical orbits, unaware of what the governor had planned for them.

They were told to follow the guards to the security offices, under the pretext of needing to get that department involved with a discovery as important as theirs. But it soon became clear to them that this was not going like they had hoped. They begged the three security officers to make sure that everyone who was in a position to do something about the rogue asteroid would be notified. In the end, they were taken down a couple of flights of stairs to the basement of the building. The guards corralled them into a drab beige room with no exterior windows and told them to wait. They noticed the click of a lock as the guards closed the door.

They were left alone in the room for almost two hours before someone came down to talk to them. It turned out that this someone was none other than the governor of the state, Jerry Aragon. They were relieved to find that the most important person they could have hoped for was finally going to listen to them. They had spent the last hour arguing and worrying about what they needed to do to make themselves heard.

Governor Aragon began the conversation in a surprising way. “Listen, I really want to commend you for your bravery and civic responsibility in coming here today with your information. Under normal circumstances I would have welcomed you very differently. But these aren’t anywhere close to normal circumstances.”

They all shook their heads in agreement as he continued, “I can congratulate you on the accuracy of your observations and calculations, though. You see, they agree completely with what a very limited number of governmental leaders, including myself as a state governor, were told by NASA just three days ago. The results were also confirmed independently by foreign science organizations in Russia and Japan. We agreed to put the world on a news black out at that point to try to avoid panic.”

Adam and his family looked at each other as these words were being spoken. So, they were right.

“Is that why the police reacted the way they did when we called last night?” Helene asked. “Is that why we were told that crackpots were trying to spread a lie about the asteroid hitting the Earth when we called the police? The police were told that so they would ignore any call like ours?”

“That is exactly right,” Governor Aragon replied. “Our hope was that we could determine a way to use our current global missile self-defense systems and space programs to mount a worldwide effort to deflect the asteroid. We wanted to tell the planet the news after we already had a solution.”

“That is exactly what we thought should happen,” Mr. Sena said. “We hoped that, with all the countries working together on a solution, we would be able to come up with a plan to be able to do something like that. Have they found a way?”

“I wish I could say they have,” Governor Aragon replied, “but the problem is that, as of today, we only have four days time before impact. We are trying to send up a modified rocket that was meant for a lunar mission with a payload of nuclear bombs. But the amount of momentum required to move the asteroid, combined with the short time we have to work with, is making this a very difficult problem to solve. We will certainly attempt something, but at this point in time nobody knows if it can work.”

They continued to discuss the situation at length but this was the main outcome. The world governments were pulling together in an amazing way considering their pasts, but nobody knew if they had a chance. This was hardly reassuring, and they understood why the government was trying to keep the news from the general public. It would get out soon no matter what they did, but it did make sense to try to avoid panic. Certainly a solution would be found more easily without riots in the streets, and who knows what other sorts of panicked animal behavior.

In the end it was agreed that Adam’s family and Mr. Sena could return to their homes. They swore that they would not let the word out. The governor understood after talking to them that these people were the last ones he had to worry about as far as leaking the news. So he felt comfortable letting them go, and he went back to his other efforts.

BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 3: Exciting News from Space

ElCaminoOverLakeIt was the following March when events occurred which threw the Celier family and the rest of the world into a completely different realm of worry, and made Craig’s troubles seem minuscule in comparison. The first hint of what was to come happened on a Thursday evening, right before the family sat down for dinner.

Tony was acting as the chef this evening since he had an arrangement with Helene to do the cooking three nights a week. This meant that Helene could do her favorite activity of watching Jeopardy and then the world news on television. She was feeling pretty good since she had done well enough at Jeopardy for both Adam and Craig, who watched that evening with her, to be impressed.

“How do you know all that stuff, mom?” Craig asked.

“I don’t know,” she joked. ”I just read a lot of books and magazines. My head is filled with useless information, and then sometimes I can’t even remember which aisle I parked the car in.”

But all three became serious at the start of the world news.

“Scientists at NASA have announced today that they are tracking a previously undiscovered celestial object which appears to be on course for a near miss of our Earth. There are many asteroids and comets in our solar system which orbit our sun in highly elliptical orbits. This is one that astronomers had not previously detected with their telescopes, but it appears to be larger than any previously discovered near-neighbor asteroid.

Although the data has not been completely analyzed, there is no cause for panic. The object is not expected to impact our planet. We will keep our viewers informed as the details emerge. It sounds like we are in for quite a show, as we pass closer to this asteroid than our planet has come to an object like this in centuries.”

The family shared a love of astronomy. They had purchased a fairly powerful telescope when Adam was twelve. Through the years they had used it to observe many celestial events, man-made and natural. One good thing about where they lived in Tesuque was that they had very good viewing conditions for star gazing. The 7,000 foot altitude meant the atmosphere was less dense than most inhabited places in our country. Since they were sheltered by hills on both sides of the Tesuque valley, they had very little light pollution. This was helped by the six foot adobe wall they had surrounding their front yard. Anytime they heard any news about the skies, they would train their telescope to the affected area to see what they could spot from their unique vantage point.

When they heard about the approaching asteroid all three had the same idea. They set up the telescope to try to spot the approaching asteroid before they ate Tony’s delicious dinner, which made him a little angry until he understood what they were up to. As it turns out, it was still too far away to be seen by anything less than a world class telescope, so they just left theirs pointed in that direction and went inside to eat.

Although this was a minor event for the family, since they had witnessed several celestial occurrences in the past and they couldn’t even see this asteroid yet, Adam had an uncomfortable feeling of intuition that made him pay attention to any news he could get from the TV and newspapers. The asteroid was in the news for several days in a row. The astronomers seemed to be getting more and more excited about the chance to take such a close look at the rare object. They tried to think of a way to launch a rocket probe to get even closer to the asteroid, but they said there wasn’t the time or technological resources available to make this possible. But, every telescope in the world would be trained on the surface of the object, and it promised to reveal a wide array of information about the formation of the solar system and our own planet.

In the interest of using this event to their advantage, the science teachers at the Santa Fe public schools came up with a competition to develop and execute a scientific study of the asteroid. The students would present their findings along with documentation in a presentation at the respective schools. The three students chosen from each school would receive an A+ in their science class and a guaranteed place in the state science fair in Albuquerque at the end of the school year.

Given that they had a fairly powerful telescope at home, and in Craig’s case the guaranteed A+ would mean he could get away with less work all year, they both decided to enter the contest by making use of the family tool.

Craig came up with a study to try to determine the orbit of the asteroid by measuring its speed and location as it passed by. This meant doing some pretty sophisticated math, but Craig got along well with his Physics teacher Mr. Sena, so he had asked if he could have some adult help with that part of the study.

Adam was becoming more visual thanks in part to his map charting flights. He had started to appreciate the beauty and grand time scheme of geology. His competition entry was to take pictures of the asteroid, using an attachment his dad had rigged up with their camera and the telescope. He would use the pictures to draw a detailed map of the surface of the celestial body.

The asteroid became visible from their home two evenings after they first tried to see it. It was a small light like a star the first time Helene spotted it. It was small enough that she made everyone else confirm that she really had found the right asteroid. But by the next evening, it seemed to have grown three times as big, and it had become one of the largest starts in the sky. The evening after that it started to be visible as a large body and not just a point of light. Craig and Mr. Sena did a quick calculation on what kind of speeds would cause the object to grow so quickly, and they were amazed at the results. This thing was coming at them faster than any rocket humans had ever produced or could have. The orbits of the Earth and the asteroid were actually combining to throw the two bodies more or less straight towards each other.

Craig and Adam’s respective observation plans worked well because they would be using the telescope for different purposes, so they could schedule their evening observations around each other. In the end though, they often helped each other out since they were both doing interesting studies. It only took a couple of nights before the whole family was spending a few of hours observing the asteroid every evening, taking notes for Craig and pictures for Adam.

The odd thing was that after about a week since they had first announced the asteroid, the news services became quiet about it all of a sudden. It seemed as if they just lost interest from one day to the next. That is the way the news media has always been, so the Celiers didn’t pay much attention to it. They just continued their own observations, and calculations on Craig’s part, of the exciting visitor from the far reaches of our solar system.

BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 2: The El Camino Teaches through Music

El-Camino-&-Asteroid-Towards-EarthAdam planned on taking an early morning flight the next day, and after the upsetting day he had, he needed it even more. Craig had not spoken with him all evening. When their parents asked why the two were sulking, they just said they were tired. But the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife, as long as it was a very sharp knife.

Adam made sure he hopped out of bed at 4:15 AM the next day. He grabbed a couple of bananas and jumped in the car. Everyone was so used to his early morning “drives to the gym” that he didn’t have to bother covering his trail anymore. He quickly pulled out onto the main road and drove to his launch strip, otherwise known as a driveway up the road, where he was blocked from being seen from the road or any nearby houses.

Once they were up in the air, the El Camino started playing through some of Adam’s favorite songs. They were flying north this early morning, following the other main New Mexican river, the Pecos, up the valley it carves on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Adam was silently pondering his brother’s news and his own reaction to it, when he started noticing a pattern in the songs the car was playing.

“Hey, how come you are playing so much Queen and Elton John, El Camino? I love them, but you usually play more variety.” Adam decided to see if he could get a straight answer out of the car.

“…his preferences weren’t influenced…” “…the top selling artists…” “…gays are a part of our community just like every other minority…” The El Camino was able to get right to the crux of the subject, thanks to a couple of talk show type programs on AM radio.

“Yeah, I know all about how gays are a part of our community stuff, but that doesn’t change the way people feel about it at school, and in the world. Besides, what does that have to do with the songs you have been playing?” Adam asked.

“…the group has adopted the previously pejorative nickname of Queens for Freedom…” The car found another obscure news report that related to its point.

Adam was starting to understand. “You mean the band calls themselves Queen because they are gay?”

Looking back in his later years, he always got a chuckle out of how ignorant he had been at that age. Just looking at one picture of the band would have signaled a savvier observer that the lead singer, Freddy Mercury, was not shy about his orientation.

It was surprising how unaware of the gay community Adam was, given that Santa Fe had a reputation from the early 1900’s of being a refuge for artists and intellectuals. Certainly for the southwest at the time, it was one, if not the, gay friendliest cities in the surrounding states. Adam’s parents had several artistically leaning friends, some of whom were certainly gay. But nobody spoke to Adam and Craig about it, so he just didn’t have the concept in his mind. And neither should Craig have, which is one of the reasons why the whole thing was so confusing. Craig really must have been born that way, because there was nothing in their environments that was any different.

“So, I guess that means Elton is gay too, huh? I guess when he is singing those love songs; it is actually to some guy.” Adam was starting to understand things better.

“…Saturday night’s alright.” the car quoted the artist himself.

Although he was still upset and worried about people’s reactions, Adam was feeling a little more open minded by the end of their flight. The car was right. If Queen and Elton John could rock like that, being gay didn’t take away your rocker-ness. And he had started to understand that Craig hadn’t done it on purpose. The honest truth is that, unless you wanted to bring a lot of unwanted attention your way, being gay was probably not a choice a young man would want to take in those days. And this led him to again feel the big brother’s desire to protect his younger sibling.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy for Adam to lose his prejudices. He was able to talk to Craig a bit that evening. He even apologized for his reaction the day before. He didn’t, on the other hand, come out and say he was okay with things. And he made Craig furious by suggesting he go to see a psychologist.

“I spoke to both school councilors about this,” Craig told him. “One told me I needed to get active in church and the Lord would cure me. The other started asking me about incest and rape. They all want to change me, but I know myself, even if I am only fifteen. It’s just the way I am!” Craig slammed his bedroom door on Adam after pushing him out of his room.

In the end they reached a silent truce. They didn’t speak about it, and they went on with their lives like they had before. Adam tried not to notice how much time Craig spent with his friends from the swim team. And Craig tried not to be too obvious when he got back later than usual some days from practice.

BOOK 4: The Enchanted El Camino Saves the Planet – Chapter 1: The Brothers Have an Awkward Discussion

El Camino in Asteroid SituationThe whole state quickly heard about the miraculous new lake that had formed during the big rainstorm, thanks to several articles and pictures in the local newspapers. It was clear when looking at maps that it was incredibly lucky that the dam had formed at the last possible location it could have to still save Tesuque and Santa Fe. Many of the more devout Catholics said extra prayers to the Virgin Mary and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), to give thanks for the miracle. But, the fact that there was now a recreational water feature where before there had been ordinary Piñon tree dotted foothills, made for quick acceptance of the lake as a good thing, and something to be both amazed by and grateful for.

The land the lake was located on was part of the Santa Fe National Forest, so there weren’t any issues with private land rights. The lake belonged to the public. The city of Santa Fe quickly declared the lake a public park. They paved the dirt access road that led to the area, and installed some picnic benches with trellis shade structures.

In the future the lake area wouldn’t be used much from November to April. But, with the spring thaw and the monsoon season rains, the little lake would fill up and be a very enjoyable place to take in the natural beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising above.

Adam and his friends were able to take advantage of the new lake right away since it was still early fall, and the lake was full of water for the first time. They started going to the lake after school, and when their athletic or scholastic activities were finished. They would often hang out on the banks for an hour or so before dinner. They went out and sun bathed on those first weekends as well, which provided a setting for some very pleasant teenager days.

The fact was that Adam and the El Camino had managed to create a new location for social activity that Santa Fe sorely lacked at the time. The only other main social activity for teenagers was to drive slowly around the town “Plaza”, or city square, on weekend nights with hundreds of other cars that came from as far away as Española and Albuquerque. This was known as “cruising” at the time, and it was pretty impressive the first few times seeing all the low riders and chopped up cars people would take out for display. They were usually filled with at least four people, and riders would yell out greetings to each other, mainly asking if anyone knew where there was a party. As was standard practice, a lot of the guys would go through elaborate macho rituals of showing how ready they were to get into a fight, even if a real fight only broke out in a few cases. So it was great to have a place like the lake to just hang out and socialize in the healthy outdoors.

One Sunday morning at the end of September Adam drove Craig and Robin to the Lake for a picnic. They all had the morning free, so they decided to take their books and some food to the lake, and to enjoy themselves and get some work done at the same time. They knew it would be winter in a little over a month, so they felt like they better take advantage of the weather while it lasted. They were having what was called an Indian summer that year, which meant nice warm weather late in the fall. It was almost like nature had fooled all the Gringos into thinking summer was over, so just the natives could enjoy this special treat. Adam, Craig and Robin were glad to be part of the native population that morning, since it was a stunning day with clear sharp colors and air as clean as the blue sky above.

On the way to the lake Adam and Robin enjoyed themselves by teasing Craig. They were both very curious about Craig’s romantic life, so they spent the ride trying to determine which of the girls in his class held a special place in Craig’s eye. They went through a list of possible candidates, with Craig doing his best to ignore them and not answer yes or no to their repeated questions.

“See Adam, that is how a gentleman should respond when questioned about his paramours, the less that is said, the better a lady’s honor is preserved,” Robin finally explained to Adam, realizing that Craig was starting to look a lot irritated and a little hurt by all the questions.

“Yeah, Craig is a real gentleman all right,” Adam replied sarcastically. But he stopped with the teasing as well.

The three set up camp at one of the picnic tables. It was still before 11:00 AM, so there were only a few people there. More started to show up after church services let out. Once more people started coming, they were able to socialize with more of their friends, although their homework did slip as a consequence. But that is what Indian summers are for, and they had a great day.

Craig had gone off pretty quickly with a couple of his friends, and Adam and Robin spent most of the day with theirs. They came together around 1:00 PM for lunch, but Craig went off and spent the rest of the time either swimming or drying off. He and his two friends were on the swimming team, and they were in great shape, so they looked like otters swimming in the lake. Robin and Adam didn’t swim much, but they made up for it by spending an hour kissing behind a couple of Piñon trees, while they were supposedly on a walk.

But all good days must pass, and it was soon 5:00 PM. The kids had to get home for Sunday dinner, and actually do the homework that they had brought to the lake. Craig asked if they could drop off his friend, Jerry, on the way home. Adam was happy to, since he considered Jerry a cool guy. Not only was he on the swim team, but he was a cartoon artist and guitar player. Plus, he was fearless at parties, so by just hanging around with him you met everyone in the room.

The four of them snuggled into the El Camino for the ride home, which meant Jerry had to sit on Craig’s lap in the passenger seat, while Robin awkwardly straddled the middle. With the seatbelt rules we have today, they wouldn’t have dared drive like this for fear of getting a ticket, but it was a different era socially in the 1970’s, and all it made them do was laugh at the absurdity of it.

While they were driving to Jerry’s house, Adam decided to try probing his little brother again for girlfriend information. With his friend Jerry there, maybe he could get Craig to spill some gossip. But all he got was an even angrier stare from Craig and Jerry in return.

“Boy, you guys sure are respectful of girl’s honor, to the point of making you freaks,” Adam snapped at them when he was a little hurt by their unwillingness to share.

“…we will, we will rock you…” came on the radio by the band Queen. The song had just come out on the radio, and it distracted the four of them with the pounding beat it is based on. They drove in silence, and the El Camino segued into Saturday’s All Right for a Fight by Elton John until they got to Jerry’s house.

Jerry said an awkward good bye. There was still some tension between him and Adam. He exchanged a meaningful glance with Craig that Robin just happened to catch. Being a sensitive person, and having traveled a bit in her life, she started to have a suspicion that she knew what Craig’s behavior was all about.

Adam was still very much in the dark, though. “What the hell was that about? Sorry I dared to even ask you a question,” he growled at Craig once they were moving again.

“Look, guys,” Craig spoke in a more serious tone of voice than Adam ever remembered, “I need to talk to you about something, and it kind of sucks. In fact, I think you are going to have a bad reaction, and maybe even hate me after I tell you. But it is the truth, and I know it, and I am sick of hiding from it. I really, really could use your help about it, too.”

Adam considered himself to be a great older brother, so he braced himself for some horrible story of deceit or thievery, or both. But he would find the good in his brother, and he would help him through the difficulty, since that is what good big brothers did.

“That’s okay, Craig,” Adam told his brother in calm voice. “You know you can tell me anything. We’ll figure out what to do about it. I’m sure it isn’t worse than anything else you’ve done.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Craig started his revelation. “I don’t want to do anything about it. It is just the way things are, and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to. But people aren’t going to feel that way.”

“You keep asking me what girls I like,” he continued, “Then you see me hanging out with Jerry and Ignacio all day. Are you blind? Can’t you see? I don’t like girls! I don’t want a girl friend. I do have a special friend like you keep asking me about; it’s Jerry.”

One thing that has to be understood in order to understand Adam’s reaction is that Santa Fe was a very macho place to live in the 1970’s. The Latino culture was very strict about its condemnation of gays. And the “gringos” were often even more so, since they were already considered less macho by not being Latino or Catholic. Adam didn’t meet a single gay person who was out of the closet, sadly including his brother and Jerry, until he was in college. There just wasn’t anything positive to be gained about being an openly gay person in their environment, so being gay was not a happy occurrence. And Adam couldn’t help but think about how awful it would be for Craig if people knew. But he also feared what it would do to his own reputation. It couldn’t help either of them, that was for sure.

The irony in all of this was that later during college a surprising number of people Adam knew in high school wound up coming out of the closet. In a couple of cases, it turned out that cool guys who got all the dates in high school were actually gay. One thing is for sure in everyone’s life, you can’t judge a book by its cover. But Adam didn’t know that yet, so he had a predictable reaction.

“What?! Are you serious? That’s disgusting! No way. You’re a fag?! How could you possibly like touching guys?!” Adam went on and on, until Robin punched him in the arm as hard as she could.

She had never done anything like that before, and it hurt more than he would have admitted, so he shut up and drove in silence for a little while.

Robin was the first person to say anything, “If you ever call anyone a fag near me again, I will never, ever go on another date with you. Or, is that what you call my uncle Charlie when I’m not there?”

“You’re uncle Charlie’s a fa…he’s homosexual?” Adam asked, again showing his lack of awareness.

Robin smirked, “No, he has a pink BMW because he thinks it keeps the interior of the car cool.”

Charlie wasn’t someone who cared what macho people thought of him. He enjoyed the attention.

“Oh god,” Craig moaned, “this is exactly what I knew was going to happen. I am nothing like uncle Charlie, and neither is Jerry. We are normal guys, who do sports and stuff. But, we can’t deny that we also like each other in a way that we don’t like girls.”

Craig had already spent many months thinking about his situation. He knew it would cause huge problems. He would have changed if he could have. He had tried. But when he examined his heart, he found that he would be lying to himself and everyone else. That just couldn’t be right.

“What am I supposed to say?” Adam was not exactly filtering his thoughts in his dismay. “Am I supposed to welcome the idea that we are going to become the laughing stock of the whole school? I had just established myself as a cool guy. Now I am going to have to re-descend into the pits of geekdom, or worse. Awesome!”

“Oh, so you don’t care if I am a ‘fag’, you just care if it hurts your standing at school? Wow, nice to know you are looking out for me.” Craig managed to Adam cut to the bone with that sliver of truth.

“No, that’s not what I mean. I’m just trying to say, have you even tried kissing a girl? I mean there is nothing like it. Maybe if you just tried you would be feel the magic and realize what you really are looking for.” At least Adam was trying to be helpful.

“I have kissed several girls. Girls always like me. I kiss mom too. But there is nothing like the feeling I get when I kiss Jerry. That is why I say I am gay. It feels the same way it feels for you when you are into the person you’re kissing. I just get that feeling for guys, not girls.” Craig tried to explain his thought process.

“That is just grossing me out. Don’t talk to me about kissing guys, okay. I think you’re just being a freak to get attention. You probably want the whole school to hear so you will stand out and people will think that everyone in our family is a freak. You don’t even care what happens to us!” Adam was starting to lose control again, and Robin raised her fist to remind him of her promise.

They spent the remainder of the ride in painful, awkward silence. Robin asked Adam to drop her off at home, even though she was normally supposed to have dinner at their house. She said that she just wasn’t in the mood anymore. The two brothers had to drive home acting like a couple of angry statues.

When they got to their house, Craig bolted out of the car before Adam could pull into the garage. Adam was horrified to realize that Craig was crying. Adam wasn’t feeling very happy himself. But why did his brother have to make everything so hard for everyone? How could he possible be gay? It was completely absurd!

Before he turned off the radio, he heard part of another Queen song, “…we are the champions my friend, we’ll keep on fighting until the end…” He turned off the garage light thinking about what a rocking band Queen was. Why couldn’t Craig’s friend, Jerry, play in a rock band, getting all the girls, instead of being Craig’s gay boyfriend?