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Smart Hay

by Duane Dunkerson

The aliens landed while they were looking for a human and a being. They found Persnit. Actually it was Persnit in his shack. They got so close to the shack that he couldn't get out. The door would only crack a few inches. Persnit persisted in pushing the door, then launching himself at it - to no avail. He snaked a hand out and around the door and touched nothing but he felt heat, nearly painful, the further his hand went around the door. So no go.

Then the questions began. The same questions in a series. The series were repeated three times as Persnit remained mute. On the fourth go around, Persnit answered the questions. There was a long pause. Persnit looked toward his door. Last chance, he felt. Going to the farthest reach of the shack, Persnit then got into a half crouch like a distance runner waiting for the starting gun. Persnit responded to such an imaginary gun and hit the door with good effect. The door flew on its hinges hard left and Persnit went out and down hard into the dirt on his hands and knees. From this position, he slowly turned to the left, then the right. All looked as it should be. But then what was directly behind him? He got to his feet and slowly he turned - all OK. Whatever that had been, was gone. He looked carefully at all the normality. No way he could go back, just yet, into the shack. So he headed down the valley toward the observatory.

I could sometimes find Persnit traversing that shallow valley going to or from the club observatory. More often, for whatever reason, I would run into him outside the SuperMart. Like today, for example. Here he comes with the usual sack of day old to week old to dented to broken foods and their containers. He was at the side door in the smaller parking lot. I had come from the retro five and dime next door. Lots of trinkets left over from a long ago Japanese consignment. Back then what was cheap in price was cheap. Whatever would have become of the much more than trinkets we buy today if a third bomb had dropped? I am often given to speculation about alternative histories. But as for Persnit, being the only one he is, it is hard to think through different scenarios for him. Alternativeness finds its forte in the manipulation of millions.

Persnit, on the other hand, was one in a million. He was now shifting from one foot to the other, sack in his left hand, his right hand was doing aimless doodles in the air. But he listened, polite in the short run, as always, to whatever I might say so long as I didn't overdo it. The state of being overdone was determined by Persnit, limited by the allotment of politeness in the short form.

I didn't ask Persnit about the aliens, not again after the Night of Nine. That night was the alien response to the answers Persnit gave on the day of the landing. His answers certainly had been truthful and how should he know to what use they would be put? He wanted out. And they gave plenty of warning anyway. Since they could do something like that, Persnit didn't mention them, except for that one time he told me at public night at the observatory about the "door jam" he had overcome.

I could see at the top of the sack there were bakery cinnamon rolls, reminding me of the hay bales, like cinnamon rolls, resting now in the valley's main field. No doubt Persnit wanted to get those rolls of the sack to the shack soon enough and then walk down through those other rolls to the observatory. Persnit started to go. I shut up. Off he went.

I was at the rest stop that sits up on one east shoulder of the valley. I got there via the Interstate that cuts the valley into a northern third and a southern two thirds. Persnit's shack was in the upper third. I had forgotten my binocs but any one coming from the south up the valley at noontime would be him. He would walk through the cow herd or sheep on the flanks of the valley or the corn field or hay bales. Now it was hay bales. No one around here would be out at noon. Noon was for dinner. So Persnit could walk from the observatory to his shack unobserved except by city slickers at the rest stop.

I was the rest stop exception. I was on a mission in any event since I had gotten my letter like most others of the civilized world. Our letters, as all knew, were from the aliens. It was widely regarded as a prelude to an intelligence test. We were notified that we would soon receive questions that they wanted us to answer to the best of our ability. Some were doing crash courses in knowledge aquisition. Some boned up on trivia. Some reviewed old high school or college textbooks. Still others decided to sit tight and wait. I would do so except I wanted to talk to Persnit. So without binocs I awaited his approach. He was a no show.

My letter from the aliens had arrived. The instructions said to answer the enclosed immediately and leave it on your doorstep or windowsill or some such. I had given a lot of thought as to what I would be asked and what I would answer. I, like most, felt it was an intelligence test. No knowledge survey would be done this way by them. They had enough knowledge and power to pull off the Night of Nine. I remained convinced they were out to rank us by intelligence. Did you want to be found smart or dumb by the aliens? Which way should you go? And if we went for dumb, then wouldn't some be dumber than others? So if you were of the genius class? Buddies with the aliens or subject to a leveling program? How about good old "a little above average"? Ok, but how little is little? And who is going to make the curve? So my parents were dumb, do I have to be penalized for that? Or that I attended the local CC - so did I get a good prep for this test? The test is their business not ours. Their intelligence or ours?

I opened the letter and I was asked - "Should God exist? If so, why?" These questions I answered and then I went on to the other pages. All remaining pages were blank. Misprint? An alien screwup? No, not likely. This was an intelligence test? A joke?

I went back to the rest stop. After I parked, I whipped out the binocs and saw Persnit down in the valley among the hay bales. He was standing, leaning as if to hear well. There was nothing there but the hay. He looked at one bale, then another. Back and forth his attention went like for a short tennis match. Persnit then quickly straightened his back and headed toward the observatory. No way was I going into the valley after him.

Two days later, after hard searching for Persnit, I saw him in the valley. Noontime. Heading north to his shack. No hay bales were in the valley. I started to run. Persnit had some more questions coming. As I closed on him, he waved. His walking and my running disturbed strands of hay remaining from the bale removal. The strands were up into clouds at our backs.

He was smiling and slowly waving. I thought not to beat about the bush :
- So what's with the alien questions?
- Did you respond as you thought you should?
- Yeah, but to two questions?
- It's what they wanted to know, our answers to those questions.

Persnit gestured to where the hay bales had been.

- How can any measure of intelligence be gotten from those questions, I asked.
- Who said it was for IQ?
- Oh come on! What else could it be?
Persnit smiled even more.

- OK, big guy, how did you answer, I asked.
- They had me pick from 26 answers.
- What! Hey, that's cheating! Come on, no fair!
- Easy, easy. I didn't use any of the answers.
- So what was the answer?
- None of the 26.
- Isn't that what I just asked? So what was number 27?

Persnit now began to chuckle. Quite rare for him.

- No, no, the correct answer was "none of the 26", he said.

Persnit was going on now, looking back, softly waving a polite goodbye.

- Hey. Hey! What kind of answer is that?
- The answer they wanted.
- So OK Mr. Insider. What about the rest of us?
- What has changed?
- Huh?
- Got to go. Be seeing you.
- Persnit! Persnit! Come back here! I don't get it. I do not get it! I want a real answer. You've got to go to the SuperMart some day. Don't you forget it.

Now I was alone in the valley field, a slight wind was stirring the bits of hay. Some of the hay fragments were sticking to me. The wind was picking up. More hay might stick. No thanks. I wasn't going to talk to the hay. Leave that to Persnit. I hightailed it out of there. And despite what I said to Persnit, I think I'll try not to find him for a few weeks. Serve him right.












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