Day 1 – It was five years to the day that she lost Jeb. He hadn’t really been very talkative, or knowledgeable, or hardworking. But she had loved him with everything she had left. It was long enough for the magnets to get packed away in little Ziploc bags in the kitchen cabinets, her photos to be packed away in albums, and the portrait of him to be stored in the (surprisingly) spacious back closets.
But never would enough time pass for her heart to be fully healed again. As she roughly did the dishes she stared out the window past the downpour, to the birches with their thin bark peeling off covered in green lichen, she wondered how anything could grow out there, smelling the ozone. She remembered how, as a girl, she would wish for this or that on the evening star, or, on one spectacular occasion, a shooting star. As neither were present, she indulged herself by closing her eyes as lightning struck a few hundred yards away in the tired, soggy new-growth forest that mostly consisted of a few ancient and rotting oaks, scattered pine, and clusters of pale, pathetic birch.
Had she looked, she might have seen a shockwave and a cascade of a few trees. She just swore when the power briefly surged and went off, and put her hand off when it sputtered on again. Maybe that was something, she thought.
As for the rest, she thought wistfully, it was just rain, condensed water falling onto already wet soil and creating fog and unearthly clusters of pallid, fleshy mushrooms. The lightning was just a particle hitting another particle and causing a potentially deadly but mostly just sublime reaction. That was the kind of stuff that Jeb used to say all the time, over heaping servings of her pasta, over popcorn on the couch whenever the Mets were playing, and just before bed, before she had to put pillows over both of her ears and turn over toward the wall on account of his odious snoring.
To be honest with herself, he had been too old for him, too decrepit, and too whiny, full of physical complaints even though he had a clean bill of health and always denigrating his fellow bus drivers and the kids in his charge, as well as Mac, his supervisor.
As for his comments, she knew he was smarter than he let on, but never pressed him and certainly didn’t count what he said as wisdom. In that he was a fool. There was more to life than “particles hitting each other”. Maybe if he had believed that, she thought bitterly, he might have stood a chance when something went wrong in his liver. Not that she knew what that “something” was…
She realized the sink was overflowing, and that wouldn’t do. She always overdid something (or things) when her thoughts got out of control. She inhaled sharply and closed off the faucet. At least this time it was something that she could easily reverse, she chided herself, not like crashing Jeb’s Oldsmobile on the way to have the lease terminated last month.
The rain turned to a downpour and she realized the flower beds were probably flooding, she’d have to find someone to weed it before she seeded it, hopefully with perennials as she no longer cared to take care of them as vegetable gardens- somehow rabbits had come back in force, even after the upswing in birds of prey.
She thought a lot of this simultaneously, while she was preparing dinner for one for the umpteenth time. Her sisters gradually stopped inviting her for cards and outings, in part, she reasoned, because Jeb wasn’t around to curb her considerably more sour attitude and in part because they were old-school and probably saw his abrupt passing as bad luck.
No matter. She wasn’t stupid or lazy. She worked as a veterinary assistant, which was her mainstay, though since losing both her strays it had kind of lost it’s charm. At least it kept the house running. She didn’t need anyone.
There was a knock at the door. She straightened herself, desperately hoping that it wasn’t the oil company or anything related to Jeb’s less than stellar acquaintances or financial agreements. She made a resolve and then strode across the kitchen heading toward the door. She didn’t care to deal with anybody at this hour, but she supposed it was better than slowly losing it, as her own mother had done after her stepfather had passed. She scoffed, thinking that she wouldn’t give his friends much more than that- people you talk to so you don’t go irrevocably insane.
She took a deep breath, put on her most neutral expression (that nonetheless contained more frown lines than she would have liked lately) and opened the door, not bothering to check behind the curtains, it made her feel like an old spinster, and despite the obviousness of her situation desperation, she thought with a hint of disgust, wasn’t in her blood.
And perhaps desperation was not in her blood. But there’s a bit of bewilderment in us all, especially when we encounter something we do not understand.
Seeing that someone rather small was standing there, maybe one of the neighbor’s smaller ones or something, (the older ones, who she hated for their rudeness and loud music, had been thankfully out of earshot since they started going to OCCC) She switched the outside light on. What she found waiting for her at the door was at once familiar- in the distant way that a character in a fable out of antiquity is familiar- and, at the same time defied all reason.
She had many strong memories, especially survived in what she would later learn in therapy was a deeply dysfunctional household. But none would quite replace this one ever again, as long as she lived.
There on the patio was a five foot tall or so person dressed in a grey hoodie. Either his skin was so dark or he was wearing makeup, or else a mask, that she couldn’t see anything except his luminous yellow eyes with it’s pupils slit like a cats, again obviously part of some costume. She softened a bit, then wondered if it wasn’t just another prank to top them all.
“You know, Halloween already passed.” She said as softly as she could muster, at the risk of being egged again like… well, like this past Halloween.
Then the little person hoisted up a bouquet of flowers, either sprayed with the most radiant and yet nauseating iridescent colors or bio-luminescent. She had taken college biology classes, so she knew that these were either artificial but from the hands of a master craftsman or something she had never seen before. They couldn’t be from anywhere around here, and yet they looked like they had been ripped right out of the ground.
She thanked the small visitor before taking the bouquet, and smelled them fully expecting to be hit by the lung bleaching fumes of spray paint. But no, the bouquet was a rapturously strong aroma that reminded her of icing mixed with vanilla with notes of coconut and something meaty and heady but sweet nonetheless.
“Where…where did you get these? Who sent them?” she asked.
The person gestured toward themselves, but very weakly. She noticed his tight, ill fitting pants were caked with mud in places from top to bottom. They weren’t wearing any shoes, and there were twigs and thorns everywhere. Something triggered her maternal instincts when she realized his hoodie had blood in places, as did the bouquet in her hands. He was shaking, soaked. This kid probably had problems. Who knew where they had come from?
Short of hysterics, she brought them in from the rain, which had begun to pour straight down scolding that they could have caught their death if they had stayed out there for a bit longer. Safety being the first priority, she sat down in with a few blankets and put some water for tea on the burner. She went on a bit about foolish it was to send someone that small all that way, in the freezing rain. She really was just trying to collect herself. The kid probably lived in one of the apartment complexes out in town.
She would get his name, get on the phone with the police, that was that. For now though, she put the flowers in a vase almost empty except for one rose, with some difficulty as if she didn’t want to let go of the alien looking bouquet.
She put out two cups and some teabags in them. Later, as the tea whistled, there was the sound of scraping on metal. She whirled around, and realized that the kid was scratching into the table with… what looked like sharp nails. Something was more off than usual, even for the little ones around here.
“Doesn’t anyone cut those for you at home, huh?” she said, stepping toward him in her best I- know-best posture (she had learned it from her mother) and gently placing her hand under his to take a look.
Then the shit really hit the fan as he- they were almost surely a he- yelped out something that sounded like it was in a primitive language and raked her hand like even Saucers, one of the two cats she had gotten from the shelters never had.
He was frightened. When she saw that, she bit back her instinct to give him a shove. She was hit with a wave of unease when she saw his eyes. Those luminous green eyes with their odd pupils surprised her as they dilated, shot through with as they were with veins. Definitely not contacts.
“Who-“ she started.
He opened up his mouth wider than should be and emitted a wailing yowl, revealing two rows of feline looking teeth, and a split esophagus that gave the noise an unearthly reverberation. The glass in her cabinets shook and, to her incomprehension, the flowers he had given her closed a little, as if it were the opposite of when flowers move toward the sun.
She grabbed a knife and sat down. He shuddered constantly, so she put it down on the table. “You can talk, can’t you?” she asked. “Come on, I heard you before, I need you to talk to me.” She said, making a talking motion with her hand.
He seemed puzzled. Then he spoke in a clipped garbled lingo like he had done before.
“Ok, stop, stop.” He obeyed her. Interesting.
“So you do understand English, even though you can’t speak it.” She said.
He nodded slowly.
“Ok. Then I have a few questions for you. Answer them right, and I might let you stay.” She said.
“But no claws. No biting.” She touched the flat of the blade. “Or else.”
He nodded enthusiastically, fidgeting with his clawed hands. She noted that they were a little gnarled and had seven digits and rather sorry looking, though taloned, thumbs. Precocious young specimen… She was guessing his species were hunters. Which, seeing as the notion that he was a cryptid was pretty unlikely, raised other, more worrysome questions.
“Ok” she said flatly, trying to hide her unease. “Where are you from?”
He stood up and went to the window. She followed him, though not before taking the knife, and looked on as he pointed toward the sky.
“How did you get here?”
He pointed again at the far off lightning. It was impossible except… of course it wasn’t. They must be using some form of energy based teleportation. But why send someone so obviously weak and small? They were either disposing of him, or testing him somehow. Or perhaps he was more than he seemed.
“How did you get those clothes?” She said nervously.
He broke into a coughing fit, as if he was hacking up a hairball. Then he belched. She recoiled as something bloody thumped against the kitchen sink and rolled onto the floor.
Within the bloody mess was a small finger.
“Well… I guess that answers what you eat, too, then.” She said, holding the knife close to her fluttering chest.
This wasn’t going to work. She needed expert advice. So she did the only thing she could do, looked up the Port Jervis hotline for survivors of Alien Encounters/Abductions online, and dialed the number into her phone.
The only thing that came up was a ridiculous messaging system with science fiction music that sounded like it was out of the 1950’s playing in the background.
“Hello.” Began the prerecorded message, in a warm and quavering elderly voice. “You have
reached the Eastern chapter of the Survivors of Alien Encounters and Abductions hotline.” She rolled her eyes.
“We are currently unavailable to take your call. If you or your loved ones have experienced Extraterrestrial encounters and are seeking counseling, please press pound to leave a message.”
She thought a minute, and heard her “guest” snarling at the television. She closed her eyes and muttered a quick complaint and pressed pound.
There was a three note chime and a younger, more robotic voice said, “We’re sorry, our mailbox is full and we are unable to take any messages-”
She hung up, cursing as she heard the whole table go down in the next room.
I need help now, she thought, sitting back down to access their forum. Apparently, this was a branch that had followed a counselor in a sizable split from the main hotline because differences in treatment theory and philosophy, she read as the sound of nails against antique furniture made her cringe.
She followed the threads down to the one she needed…
Types of extraterrestrials, planets and solar systems of origin, motivations/psychology, biology, habitats, diets…well, at least she knew that, she thought, shivering. She stopped in biology but she cursed despite herself. It was just one of those Grey alien cutouts that looked like it had been designed on a relic paint program on one of the old workstation mac computers she used to on when she had been in elementary school. Despite it’s hokeyness, she pored over the site for an hour, looking for some grain of truth among the generalities, platitudes, and out and out bullshit until she was surprised that the scratching, banging, and wild caterwauling had stopped. She was pleased for a second and then a pit formed in her stomach. She couldn’t hear the tv. Something was wrong… well, more wrong than it already was.
She walked over with the knife brandished, sure that her visitor had wrecked her entire kitchen. There were deep furrows on the table, (how strong was he?) but little else. The television was off. He was either quite clever or knew from beforehand how to use technology. Or both. Her visitor had found more blankets and had somehow curled them up around the chair. He looked like a sitting mummy or a giant burrito with a little face sticking out.
She relaxed a little, not pleased, not near won over, even as she watered the strange flowers, (stopping when they seemed to turn toward her) but reluctant to throw him out in the rain again. She sat next to him and drank peppermint tea, now gone a little cold and very strong, but she always took hers black. She thought for a bit, rubbing her forehead. Her guest, for the time being anyway, wasn’t human, that was for damn sure. But he was a “person”, or a personality. But for the particular expressions he acted like any human three year old having a tantrum (and some grown ass men and women she had known). It was also a bit like having a stray exotic animal in a closed house- you could get it to respect you, but he was a fish out of water, and from time to time he would act like one.
She carefully rested her hand on his forehead, and he opened one eye a little, smiling and making a sound somewhere between a kitten mewling and a lizard rumbling (with some basso whup-whup-whup sounds that made her ears hurt a bit). His attention also melted her, and she fussed a bit. His temperature was high, but not feverish.
“Wait here.” She said. He nodded, seeming to understand. She searched the medicine cabinet, but nearly wacked herself in the forehead. He was from another world. If that indeed was the case, that meant she didn’t understand his biology. She wasn’t a doctor down at the vet’s anyway, just a nurse..
She woke him up carefully and got him into the next room with some ham slices (he wouldn’t eat raw meat, and hated tuna. Perhaps he was being a little spoiled…), sat him down on the couch and piled blankets on him. He thrashed and made his loud, ear-splitting contented sound. Delighted, she tried to hug him, but he thrashed and squirmed like a gator on one of those reality shows that her husband used to watch.
“You’re got a little engine in there, huh?” she said, crouching down next to him to keep him company. Thankfully, it was a holiday, so she didn’t have to get up for work the next day, just make some calls
When he finally exhausted himself an hour later, she was sitting splay legged on the floor, her hands propping her girth up and her eyes and chin nodding off from time to time. His unearthly, window rattling snoring that sounded like a diesel engine made her old husband’s sound like nothing. His metabolism must be off the charts. She was not exactly looking forward to tomorrow. Perhaps it was for the best that she had never had kids, though she guessed this was a form of adoption.
Satisfied, she yawned and trudged to her room, the sound of his snoring somehow hypnotic to her even though it rattled her door. sleep She knew this was only a holdover, and something more should be done for him. Still, she could use some company.
Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all.
She woke up with a start still in a dream. In her dream she had been disembodied, and fallen through a kaleidoscope of stars, planets, gasses, asteroids, comets and other things that seemed like impossibilities. Then, she hit a patch of black clouds that looked like faces. She felt imprisoned there for a time among the ice, the flashes of lightning and brooding shapes the size of mountains that seemed to talk to one another in harsh whispers.
Then, there was a flash of light and spiraled the ground towards some worn down and rolling mountains she recognized, towards an even more familiar copse of trees, towards a small animal that looked up at her and hissed…
Then another flash of light, and searing pain, and a loud yowl. She woke up and there was her feisty young ward, who had scratched her arm lightly and was growling a bit as the light hit her eyes.
She turned groggily to him, trying to piece the images together. “Was that your dream?” He nodded, and licked his claws, which expanded slightly and retracted.
“That’s new.” She observed. He seemed to be a bit taller. Well, she knew he was young yet, but his metabolism was faster than anything should be at his size. She bathed him, and though he took to water well, his claws were a bit of a nuisance even with the scars she bore from her years at the clinic and her own stray friends. In absence of clothes for him, she put on his stolen ones, which were a little tight on him.
She went into the fridge (the whole room smelled of those uncanny flowers. Maybe she should get rid of them…) to get him some ham and milk, and found out why his clothes didn’t fit him. The ham had been bitten right through the bag, and the milk had been drunk from the bottom and the dregs left dumped over. She scolded him, but he slunk behind a chair, making a low rumbling in his throat.
She took a steadying breath and reminded herself of what he (as far as she knew) was.
“Fish out of water. Riiiight. Huh.” She prepared some tuna. “Well buster, you went and ate all the ham so all you get is fish. Comprende?” she asked.
She glared at him. “Wait… you know English and Spanish?” she asked.
He fidgeted with his claw-like hands, but nodded slowly.
“Wonder what else you know. What am I getting myself into here.” She said as she slipped the tuna from a can onto a plate.
She walked back with it, but he had sneaked up from behind her, and smelled the meal. He hissed in discontent, almost making her break it. They sat down, and she pondered him for a while as he cautiously ate the processed fish. When she was sure he was occupied, she took out her phone and saw 37 missed calls from her late husband’s brother Dereck, with whom she was in a halfhearted fight for the rest of her husband’s estate which hadn’t been written into the will- basically a few thousand dollars and some collectibles that he probably couldn’t bear the thought of having gone without, even unto the cold grave.
She called him up, and after a brief normal conversation he screamed at her and did not stop. She just said “uh-huh”, knowing that this was just much ado about nothing and at any point in the conversation, if things got too rough she could just hang up on him and nothing would change. She put her feet up on the table and wiggled her toes, relishing that every call had with him, as interminable as they were, was one less call she ever had to make to him, and felt the tip of the pen slide across her notepad as she crossed him off his list of things to do today.
She talked him down, and after about forty five minutes he started to apologize and say how it “Wasn’t Her” just “how everything made him Feel”. This was of course ridiculous. Their enmity was mutual, and he just wanted his brother’s paltry belongings and some more down payment on his second mortgage.
Her strange visitor was licking as his plate. She shoved it away with her big toe and waved her finger disapprovingly at him. He took a banana from the shelf and talked some of his strange language into it. He put up his bare feet on the table, also with multiple digits and little claws that curved in and out as he flexed unique tendons in his foot. He retracted them and cozied up to her digits.
She tried not to laugh initially, but at length for the first time in a long while she let out a roiling giggle like she used to in college when she was toasted. Her brother in law (or ex-brother in law) lost it and hung up. That was all well and good for her, because though usually she would mope about it, her situation had changed. For the first time since Jeb passed on, she felt camaraderie; it wasn’t just her, it was her and… whatever his name was. And they had more important things to do than listen to whiny 60 year olds.
Wait… she thought, blocking the man’s call for a bit. What was his name?
“Hey, you.” she said affectionately. At the same time, she took her feet off the table. “What do I call you?”
He threw his hood on and sighed, slinking his hands inside his hoodie and sullenly leaning over the table. She swore, it was as if he had gone from a mewling kitten to a sullen tween in one day. He huffed and yawned, and muttered something in his strange language.
“Oh, right, you can’t talk. Can you at least write?” she asked. She took a pen she didn’t care about and a stained pad and forked it over to him.
He began to draw something. At least that’s what it looked like he was doing. He straightened up like and held the pen like a calligrapher. The end result was that he drew a little pictogram. It looked like a series of glyphs. The first one was of a fish. The second looked more or less like a person wielding a jagged club, and from then on they just got too complex to read.
“Is that your name? Can you say it for me?” she asked
He cleared his throat loudly and pronounced it. She balked at the sound, a bit metallic and consonant in the syntax but also melodic. She swore, it was like someone had distorted a humans voice and that of a few animals, duplicated it, and then put it through a fan.
Being careful not to voice any of those concerns (though, she supposed, if telepathy was in his future, she was a goner as he seemed deeply passive aggressive), she said, “Well, I guess that’s just not going to work.”
He looked downcast.
In a gamble, she put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey… why don’t we pick out one for you? Just so I can talk to you by name?” she said slowly. His ears perked up and he scratched his chin.
“How about…” she went through a list of names, to which he shook his head, one of which he even hissed at, until she sat back, a little exhausted. Who did he remind her of? Then, seemingly from nowhere, she remembered an exchange student came to live with her family for a while when she was a young girl. Like her visitor, he was lithe, quiet, and a little explosive, but grew on you…
“Oh!” she said, putting a hand down on the table and making his ears perk up. “How about Ferdinand?” He closed his eyes and purred/grumbled, seeming to like it. “You like that name, huh?” she said, patting him on the head. He winced and stuck out his spade like tongue at her.
“Ferdinand it is.” she said.
Later that night, they watched the big TV on the sofa until he fell asleep. She then hit the lights and retired to her room, resolving to get him some new clothes after the extended holiday. She hummed to herself a little as she thought what he might look good in and where, on her budget she could get them food and him clothing. What would things be like as he grew, though Would he become more dangerous? Up and leave? Would his people come back for him? She squeezed her pillow, turned toward the window to watch the pale, lanky birch trees waving in the occasional gale and realized for the first time that she was more afraid of him leaving than of any of those obviously disagreeable things.
She hadn’t noticed that as soon as she had turned off the lights, the flowers on the windowsill had trembled and buzzed to one another. Once they were in agreement, they choked up the lone rose and pulled it underwater, their stalks began to wind together and their roots dig into the poor rose.
As they drained it of it’s precious chlorophyll, the petals touched slowly fanned together and touched one another, the moon giving them the energy they needed to to form a collective bulb that glowed with potential.
“Ferdinand”, meanwhile, crept up the closet, where to his delight he found a plethora of folded blankets stacked one on top of the other. In a swift and delicate motion, he closed the door and snuggled in between two vertically arranged down comforters and promptly began to dream.
His dreams were at first a mix of Earth feline and human, trivialities that only distracted him from Remembering. He slipped between these with the energy he had been loaned from the Earth’s moon, and into visions of his time in a place no longer whispered of by the living in this lonely, but all important world.