New Mexico "That poor child," Mrs. Murakami said. "We should stop and pick her up!" The ceiling of gray-and-blue clouds hanging low over the rented minivan was suddenly veined with lightning. The vehicle's interior flashed blue-white. It might have been the judgment of the kami. Alien spirits of an alien place, Mr. Murakami thought. Obsessed enthusiast that he was for the history and culture of the southwestern United States--so different from his grim industrial suburb outside Tokyo--Murakami should have been in heaven. Instead he was peeved. Not to mention lost. "What child?" he demanded, as the echoes of a shattering thunderclap died away. "That child. Hurry! It's about to rain," his wife replied. This is the desert, he thought. It isn't supposed to rain. Although from his studies he knew that it did. Rarely. But violently. And there was no denying a violent downpour was in the offing. He could smell the rain and the ozone, overlying the sage and dust of the deceptively flat-looking khaki terrain of the Acoma Indian Reservation where he and his family had wandered, small and utterly lost. A few drops splatted against the windshield like fat, transparent bugs. He looked the way his wife's sturdy arm pointed. "A child!" he exclaimed. "What can she be doing here?" She stood in the clumpy weeds by the side of the rough dirt track. She wore a sort of blue dress with a scarlet cape around her shoulders, pinned off center with a gold clamshell brooch. Small pink feet in sandals poked out beneath the hem of the robe. She had a plump, round face framed by flowing brown locks spilling from either side of a hat with an astonishing plume and the brim pinned up in front. Though he couldn't drive faster than twenty miles per hour without jostling the van intolerably on the horrendous collection of ruts and rocks that passed for a road, Murakami hit the brakes so hard the vehicle squeaked and jerked sideways as it stopped. The children, Taro and Hanako, looked up from their furious head-to-head battle on their video game. "A little girl!" Hanako cried. "Can we pick her up?" her brother asked. "Can we, Daddy?" "We have to!" Hanako said. "She'll wash away." Murakami growled like a bear. His family wasn't fooled. They knew he was a kind man. But Murakami was also well and truly stressed. They had reservations at the Old Town Hotel in Albuquerque for five that afternoon. He knew that they could be in trouble if they missed their reservation. The whole are was flooded with visitors. But he was a stranger in a strange land indeed. None of his loving studies had come close to preparing him for the unreal size of this western New Mexico desert. The land was so wide he had felt in danger sometimes of falling right off the planet. They had driven through mountains with pine trees, almost like home, between Gallup and Grants. But somewhere south of U.S. 40 they'd found themselves stuck in the middle of a vast bowl of desert rimmed by wind-scalloped mesas. He stopped the van. His wife hopped out into a barrage of raindrops. She opened the sliding side door of the van and clucked and cooed to the oddly dressed girl. "What's a child doing alone out here in the middle of nowhere, anyway?" Murakami asked. No one answered him. His children had unbelted their eat belts and were hopping up and down chirping like happy birds. With Mrs. Murakami's help the child stepped into the van. Startled, Mr. Murakami realized it was a boy. "Thank you, honored sir, for stopping to pick me up," the child said. The Murakami children slid the door shut as their mother returned to her seat hastily. Taro and Hanako barraged the curious-looking boy with questions thick and fast as the rain as they helped him buckle himself in the seat between them. He answered only with great, beaming smiles. Gently but firmly he insisted on keeping hiArcher, Alex is the author of 'Rogue Angel The Chosen ', published 2007 under ISBN 9780373621224 and ISBN 0373621221.