They don’t really hang up ‘WANTED’ posters at the Post Office anymore, which is probably why it got my attention.
The post office in the tiny town of Fort Quinn, New Mexico wasn’t much bigger than most people’s kitchens, but seemed like it did a pretty brisk business despite the onset of the internet age.
I made it to the Post Office to get a money order about five minutes before closing time when I first saw it on my way out.
A ‘WANTED’ poster.
It was on a bulletin board in the post office’s ‘lobby’ where the locked post boxes were kept. Mixed in along with fliers for music lessons, brush clearing, tractor repair and veterinary services was a ‘WANTED’ poster.
Only instead of fugitives whose whereabouts were being sought after by the FBI, there was a string of headshots featuring some young and fairly attractive girls.
Except….I noticed one thing when I got closer and began reading.
They weren’t human.
None of them.
One of them- a statuesque blonde in a ten gallon hat, vest and bikini top with bovine horns growing out of her head- was cheerily holding up a placard that read ‘Terry O.’. A caption beneath the faux mugshot read ‘Terios- Brahma type Minotaur’.
Immediately to the right of that was a young, attractive woman with light colored hair and what appeared to be a reptilian- almost serpentine lower body. This one seemed to have a pair of horns or antlers that looked a little like tree branches growing from her head, with some bells attached to the one on the right. She apparently was some sort of dragon with a snake-like lower body and was clearly vamping it up for the camera as she daintily held a folding Chinese fan in one hand while looking right at the lens.
Her caption read ‘Fan Long- Far Eastern Golden Dragon’.
The laminal with the biggest picture is a striking brunette with canine features. Her picture shows her clad in a pair of snug short shorts, a tank top and a headband to go with a bushy tail and a pair of pointed canine ears on the top of her head. From the looks of it, she had a nice figure and worked pretty hard to maintain it. She seems to be smiling and looked a little flushed, as though she finished a pretty intense workout.
For the canid girls’ caption, it reads ‘Polt- Founder and CEO of Sports Club Kobold Nippon, LLC’
I read a little further down.
Here’s the pitch:
Attention families and individuals-
Are you looking for a roommate or have a spare room in your house? Why not open your home to an Extraspecies guest and enroll in the Interspecies Exchange Program? By doing so, you will be providing valuable insights for your guest as they are immersed in human culture.
If you’re interested in building bridges between humanity and these beings once thought to be nothing more than mere legends, contact the Interspecies Cultural Exchange of America today.
Host households that meet certain eligibility criteria may qualify for a stipend or financial aid through the program.
Hang on a sec- Stipend?
Well now- there’s the magic phrase.
I needed money, and I needed more than I could realistically get scraping by with a series of seasonal/odd jobs, otherwise I was going to lose the ranch.
A few years ago, my Uncle Bill had passed on after a long illness. What I didn’t know right away was that he had bequeathed his 108 acre ranch nestled between the high plains of New Mexico’s Llano Estacadero and the Sierra Diablo mountain range to yours truly.
Attached to the faux wanted poster was several postcard-sized slips of paper where interested parties could tear away and fill out their basic information before sending it off to the exchange program.
Without even thinking, I grabbed one of the slips on my way out.
If I wanted privacy or even decent lighting, I probably could’ve done much better than filling out the Interspecies Exchange Program’s questionnaire at the Copper Spur.
The Spur was my watering hole of choice- and just about the only bar in Ft. Quinn. I was starting to wonder if filling out the mail-in form so publicly was a passive invitation for input from some of the regulars on my participating in this ‘Exchange program’.
Cigarette smoke hung in the air and the sound of country western music from the jukebox was occasionally interspersed with the hard *CLACK* of billiards balls making contact with each other on a pool table behind me. So far just some basic questions about age, income and whether or not I had ever been convicted of a felony.
The sound on the TV was off, but the captioning was still visible. A perky blonde anchor reading a teleprompter in Albuquerque was talking about the revised interspecies exchange bill.
“…….A sticking point of the law was immunity from arrest and prosecution ‘Liminals’ would have. This was resolved in 11th hour negotiations in which law enforcement, prosecutors and legal scholars would seek guidance from the Interspecies Exchange Program in return for M.O.N.- the Program’s enforcement arm- being granted the power of arrest under certain circumstances here.”
That’s a start, I guess. As much as I distrusted this nation’s human leaders, I didn’t think much good would come from having insanely strong dragons, spiders, wolves and snakes causing mayhem and then invoking something akin to Diplomatic Immunity when the cops showed up- even if the overwhelming majority of these ‘Liminals’ were in the form of attractive young women.
“With the last of the legal hurdles cleared, the first of the American Interspecies Program’s guests arrived at their new homes this week.” the camera was no longer on the anchorwoman but showing footage of some of these extraspecies women emerging from a charter aircraft on the tarmac of an Air Force base in California and greeted by the press, local officials and their host families. The first one appeared to be a nervous looking blonde girl with ram’s horns wearing overalls as she made her way down the moveable stairway that was rolled up to the plane. Following her was a lean woman with what looked like splotches on her face and some sort of primitive glider strapped to her back. Only when she stepped onto the stairway did I realize those ‘splotches’ on her face were scales that tapered off and the ‘glider’ was actually a set of reptilian wings growing from her back.
Standing motionless by the base of the stairway were a trio of women- the first one was clearly a demihuman or extraspecies woman. Although she seemed to have a warm and kind face, she stood at well over 7 feet tall and had a single dark horn protruding from her head. Flanking her were two smaller women- one was a redhead that appeared to have stitches on her face while the other was a stoic looking dark-haired woman wearing reflective sunglasses. However, none of them appeared to be among the new arrivals getting ready to greet their host families. The three of them were wearing what appeared to be bulky yellow and black uniform jackets and were scanning the crowd.
‘Extraspecies security detail’ I chuckle to myself as the camera is focused on the reptilian woman once again.
Someone managed to stick a microphone in the dragon woman’s face. The question wasn’t shown on the captions, but her reply was.
“It’s been a long flight, but I’m glad to be here and meet my host family. For now, I’m just looking forward to getting some rest and sunshine.”
Although the lizard woman and ram woman were pretty easy on the eyes, I was distracted when I felt a pair of eyes on me. To my right was a lanky, sandy haired man in a polo shirt with his business’ name on it.
That was Cyrus.
To my left was a stout, slightly unkempt darker haired man in a dirty button up shirt- as though he had come straight over to the bar after he had been dismantling working on heavy equipment.
That was Clyde. The duo had been my drinking companions for awhile now, each of us often serving as a soundboard for the schemes and dreams another one of us had cooked up. Cyrus was far more calm and collected, running his own small business that centered around drones inspecting farm and ranchland from the air. Clyde was a bit more hot headed and prone to believing any rumor or conspiracy theory that he had heard, no matter how farfetched.
“Bryce- I thought we agreed on this earlier. No more than one life-altering decision needs to be made over beer.” Cyrus said, nodding at the form I was filling out.
“I thought this was my freebie.” I tell him, vaguely remembering the discussion awhile back.
“Nah- that was trying to fix up your uncle’s old ranch.” Clyde chimes in.
“You gonna do it?” Cyrus asks, glancing down at the Exchange Program’s questionnaire I was in the middle of filling out.
“I think I’m gonna do it.” I reply.
“Don’t you do it.” the other voice warns. “You just know them folks trot out the cute ones for PR and then stick you with some really dangerous ogre or spider girl or zombie….”
“How do you know, Clyde?” I ask. “Did you apply to host a homestay too?”
“No….I just read things…..”
“I read lots of shit online too, Clyde. Doesn’t make me an expert and doesn’t make it all true…” Cyrus interjects. “But he’s right- discretion is the better part of valor.”
“What do you mean?”
“You get a stipend from the program, right?”
“Now- if all these extraspecies types were cute, docile little rabbitgirls, you gotta figure they wouldn’t be dangling out this big fat payday for prospective homes.” Cyrus reasons.
Damn it- he’s right.
“No, but….” whatever rebuttal I had dies a quick death in my throat. Maybe the stipend is incentive to coax households still on the fence about hosting- even if their guest is cute and ultimately harmless. However, Cyrus speaks up before I can formulate my thoughts.
“Caveat Emptor, Bryce.”
“How much money we talking about anyway?” Clyde speaks up, getting straight to the point.
“Checked around online- the Program itself is keeping it quiet, but word is some of these host families on the west coast are getting six figures.”
Clyde blinked in surprise and even Cyrus seemed a bit taken aback. Gotta admit- even low six figures was pretty eye-opening.
“….per liminal.” I clarify.
“What would you do with that kind of money?” Cyrus asks, startled at the revelation. “That kind of scratch would be more than enough to fix up the old ranch.”
“You thinking about hosting more than one?” Clyde quickly follows up.
“I figure one should be enough for now.” I say
“Yeah- but you got no say in who they stick you with.” Clyde replies.
“I know….” I say as I finish off my hard cider. “Chance I gotta take, though.”
With my tab paid, I bid fairwell to Cyrus and Clyde before venturing out into the mild night. The mild buzz I had working from the beers, black and tans and hard ciders was already starting to wear off as I took in the sedate nocturnal scene of just another night in a small southwestern town. Just about all the shops were shut for the night- the only lights that were on besides the Spike were for the Sinclair station at the other end of Main Street.
Before I know it, I’m standing in front of the post office. The big, blue mailbox out front opens with a metallic squeak as I pulled the handle down.
I hesitate, thinking through all the possible outcomes once I dropped that application in there. A form rejection letter, perhaps? A walking or slithering bloodthirsty nightmare making itself at home under my roof? A voluptuous and affectionate animal-eared girl inexplicably doting over me?
Here goes nothing.