[Editor's Note: The following is Part III of an unfinished short story that the author and BlockRadius have chosen to publish in serial form, until its expected completion in Fall 2019].
PART I - Click here
PART II - Click here
That winter, at an existential crossroads, I took a trip to Bolivia to meet the girl with whom I envisioned spending the apocalypse in 30-40 years. Just when we needed to, we met an old Romanian “goods” smuggler (he was adamant he never smuggled drugs, only “goods”) and his 20-year-old first-generation American nephew.
Well, first we met the nephew. “You guys have to meet my uncle,” the nephew said. “He’s absolutely fucking insane.”
They were both named Sam. The uncle was Big Sam. The nephew was Young Sam. We had met Young Sam hiking up a mountain. We met Big Sam at his hotel patio. He was in a recliner, with his shirt unbuttoned and his big sunburnt belly out, smoking calmly and, prior to our intrusion, alone.
After speaking to us for about fifteen minutes, somewhat mistrustfully but at the passive insistence of Young Sam, Big Sam invited us to join him and his nephew in the morning for a day trip through the mountains – by taxi. The mountains around Coroico are meant to be seen from a mountain bike speeding down Death Road at some 30-40 mph, but as Big Sam put it, “you don’t see anything, because you’re looking down the whole time, afraid for your life.” Plus, Big Sam added, he (Big Sam) is old and fat he has done the “Death Road” many times before, and it gets more touristy, and more expensive, every year. Just in general, it’s not all it’s made out to be, and this driver, I know him, and he’s giving me a discount, just 100 Bolivianos (about $14) for the entire day. But you decide.
That night, while the girl with whom I envisioned spending the apocalypse rested in our hostel, I met Young Sam in the Plaza Principal. We went into a small corner store, bought big bottles of Bolivian beer, and walked downhill, looking for a remote yet safe place to drink. We settled on the bleachers of an empty soccer field, overlooking the dark, invisible mountains. There, Young Sam prepared me for the day ahead, explaining a few things about his uncle. How he believes in the apocalypse. How he believes in aliens – specifically, ancient alien civilizations, including the Tiwanaku in the area that is now here, present-day Bolivia, and of course, the ancient Egyptians. How he has sailed around the world, smuggling. How he comes to South America every year, and has at least for the past 25 years, for about 3-4 months at a time.
But of course, I wanted to hear all these things from Big Sam himself.
The next day, Big Sam did not disappoint. In the backseat, window rolled down, Big Sam smoked and talked, talked and smoked, smoked and talked, happy, I thought, to be smoking and talking to people in English with whom his nephew (who couldn’t speak Spanish and who didn’t smoke) could also talk. Coroico, Big Sam said, was one of his favorite places in Bolivia, maybe all of South America, maybe all of the world. But… was. He comes back here every year, and it makes him sad. The increased tourism. The new development sprouting up all over, on the mountains across the valley, or along Death Road. The changing character of the compact little town. The new vegetarian restaurants. The girl with whom I envisioned spending the apocalypse challenged Big Sam’s pessimism. This was one of the most beautiful places she has ever been, she said in Spanish. Her English was poor. She was vegetarian.
“It’s still very beautiful. That you are right,” Big Sam replied in Spanish. “But you should have seen it before.”
Carefully, I tried steering the conversation to the future, to the apocalypse. But keeping with the Spanish, so that the girl with whom I envisioned spending the apocalypse could understand.
“What do you think is the future of Coroico?” I said. “What will it be like in 30-40 years?”
“I don’t want to think about that now,” Big Sam said, releasing the smoke from his nose out the window with a silent sigh. “Let’s just enjoy the view in silence, for a minute.”
It was a minor setback. But after I shared my story, about how I met the girl sitting between us, how we met as fellow solitary tourists in Shanghai, how I followed her to Buenos Aires, and now to Bolivia – and, though I left out this part, will lead or follow her in 30-40 years to the Spanish coast, just north of Barcelona, as the whole world burns and humanity comes together – Big Sam opened up again. He began smuggling in the first grade, he said, growing up near the Bulgarian border in communist Romania. He had a little boat, and he would travel back and forth with his first-grade friends, trading soda, and other items rationed to the town in excess, for sneakers, mostly sneakers, which, significantly, had become abundant in Bulgaria back then, thanks to the magic of capitalism. Eventually, he smuggled his way around the world, marrying three times, most recently, back when he was 50 years old, to an 18-year-old prostitute from the Solomon Islands, with whom he is now divorced and has been divorced from for several years. Today, he runs ponzi schemes in Chicago until he gets caught, at which point he declares bankruptcy, renounces his possessions, and finds refuge in South America for 3-4 months, or until he can legally work again in the United States. Inevitably, that time comes, at which point he returns to Chicago, develops a new ponzi scheme, etc. Twenty-five years he’s been coming to South America, he said, reminding us. Make of that what you will.
Later that afternoon, on the way back, after a day of bonding through activity, something like that, I finally felt sufficiently comfortable to ask Big Sam about aliens, the Tiwanaku and the theory that they were aliens. Immediately, as if waiting all day for this topic to be raised, Young Sam turned around from the front seat. “Sam, tell them about the Inca!”
“You can tell them about the Inca.”
“No, you just tell them,” Young Sam said. “You’re the one who believes it. How the Inca was just one person.”
“The Inca King,” Big Sam began. He put out his cigarette with his fingers. He looked out the empty car window, took out his cigarette box, and put the cigarette butt into the box. He spoke around deep breaths, as if talking to us younger travelers were boring the life out of him. “Inca is not plural. It’s singular. One King. That all the people follow…”
“And the one King was an alien,” Young Sam chided in.
“Yes, an alien…”
And we learned that day that there were several ancient alien civilizations. The Harappan. The Egyptians. The Tiwanaku. The Incas, kind of, but not really, since they were not alien but instead learned from and worshiped the alien Inca King. And the Jews, who we learned were not aliens, but unique among human beings in that they were the only human society to be enslaved by two alien civilizations: the Egyptians, and the Babylonians. That’s why they know so much about money. Because slavery can only exist in the lexicon so long as money, and paid labor, exists in the lexicon.
“And so what happened to these ancient alien civilizations?” I said. “Some apocalyptic event?”
“I don’t know that anything happened,” Big Sam said, smoke coming out his nose. “Corruption?” he suggested, smirking at us mysteriously, and then letting out a hearty, reflective laugh.
PART IV - Click here