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I read this in the 80's or early 90's but I believe it was older even then. The protagonist discussed how so many communities had a few families that had all kinds of piles of "junk" in their yards. Well, it turned out that they were all either stranded or descendants of those stranded (I don't recall which) when their space ship malfunctioned and was stuck on Earth.

One morning all of these individuals were suddenly gone, from all such communities I think, as someone had finally found the missing part, and so they had repaired their ship and left. I even want to say that this story was written with the idea that these stranded aliens were so-called "hillbillies", but I might be mixing that up with another story.

Also, I believe this was one story in a compilation, but I do not recall if it was all by one author, or if multiple authors appeared in the book.

  • This rings a vague bell. Was it told from the perspective of some government employee, a social worker or someone like that who wasn't part of the community? – John Rennie Aug 21 '14 at 9:08
  • Yes, that sounds right to me. (I am sorry I didn't see your comment earlier...life intruded.) – Kat Sep 6 '14 at 3:35
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I suspect that this is not the correct story because it isn't told in the first person, however the plot is basically similar and I wonder if it's related. If nothing else it might jog a memory somewhere.

Anyhow, What the EPA Don't Know Won't Hurt Them is a short story by Suzette Haden Elgin. It's a prequel to her Ozark trilogy, which is about twelve Ozark families who managed to travel to another planet and colonise it. In the short story a group of the Ozarks have been stranded on Earth when their spaceship broke down, and they're hunting for the parts to repair it.

They find the final part purely by accident when a child playing in a junkyard finds it. They rebuild their spaceship, and the next day they're gone.

Possible or not, there it was. "Twelve Arkansas families disappear from the face of the Earth overnight!" the newspapers screamed, using the biggest type they had available. "FBI estimates a thousand gone without a trace! Authorities baffled!" "Administration suspects terrorists!"

They were gone, and much of their belongings with them. All their houses and outbuildings were swept and tidy and still. On every kitchen table lay a neat stack of envelopes with bills inside, and checks or cash in each one to cover the obligation. Even the junk piled in the yards and ditches and ravines was tidy; the vegetation around it seemed to have all been burned away by the kind of fire that burns so hot it leaves not even ashes behind, though not a single fire had been reported. The junk itself looking burnished and shiny and sparkling, with no sign of the rust and filth that had been there the day before. But nobody had seen the Ozarkers leaving the hills. Nobody had seen them drive away, or get on a bus, or board a plane. Nobody'd sold them gas; nobody'd sold them tickets. Not one of them had given notices at the places where they worked, or offered any other warning. They were just GONE. As if they'd never been there at all.

  • 2
    Wow, that's intriguing, as I did read that story. It was published in the March 1990 issue of F&SF and I have it, and just re-read it...except for it not being in the first person, told by some sort of outsider, it seems right. I will have to think a bit on if this is correct, and perhaps my memory is a bit fogged on those details. Given that I can't imagine another story with so many similarities to this one by Elgin, I suspect this is in fact the story, and how funny that I've had it all this time on my bookshelf, as I am a long time subscriber to F&SF! – Kat Sep 27 '14 at 17:24
  • @Kat: the thing is that I think I've read the story you have in mind and I don't think it's the one I've described in my answer. But I'm damned if I can remember any details of it. – John Rennie Sep 27 '14 at 18:15
  • I am torn. I marked your response as an answer because it seems so close, but yes, it seems like the other elements should be there...the outsider, etc. Plus I really thought it was more than just the 12 families. I would love to find the one I am seeking...I recall it struck me as a bit of a funny explanation of these folks that collect all the junk, like the author was having a lot of fun with it, and while Elgin's is very similar, I don't get that funny vibe when I read it...if that makes sense. – Kat Sep 27 '14 at 19:33
  • I'm not sure the EPA story is it. ... I seem to remember that same story, and there were 3 or 4 homeless men that somehow, could identify the aliens. I specifically remember the last few lines, as the story was told through the view of one of the homeless men, asking something like, "So, do you have any worthless junk we might take a look at?" – Michael Lawhorn Jun 13 '17 at 21:20

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