Day 3 – She dreamed that she was in a field of flowers. It was night time, and the moon was out, but it was an angry red sickle in the sky and had none of the craters, mountains, or anything else you would expect. In fact, it looked like a sandy beach at the edge of a vast jungle. The light was so strange. Even with the mood there, the sky was starry and filled everything on the ground with a strange luminescence.
She looked around. It turned out that she wasn’t alone. There was Ferdinand, weeping and looking into a pool that reflected the moon and the stars but other than that was actually quite clear. The water went down and down into a winding cave like a Cenote, though the bottom was too far away for her to see clearly with the dim light.
She called out to him, but he didn’t seem to hear her. He dragged something up it, an ornate bundle tied with a tight cord from which trinkets of gold dangled and swayed in a warm breeze. He stared at it, and she stopped. His face was- different, wrong- or was this how he really looked? She didn’t know. But she knew that look, and she could guess from the odd protrusions what was in the sack. She was all but certain when he took a bouquet of flowers and placed them in the top of the arrangement. It was a funerary bundle, and the water was a burial pit. He pushed the bundle into the water and…
She woke up calling his name, the dim light of November eking through her window. She got up, and looked for him before even changing (she still had her robe and some slippers on) and stormed around the house, looking for him. She walked out in front of the closet and heard some stirring in there. She scowled and opened it.
He spilled out, wiggled a bit at her feet and sprang up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. His voice was deeper and more mature, had a bit of a hiss to it.
She was surprised to see that he was quite bigger than last time, His sweater and jeans were torn, and he had two scaled tails with rattles at the ends. She remembered what had happened in the yard the other day.
She wondered idly what else had changed, but truth be told it was hard to block her thoughts this early with the smell of those flowers in her nose. Maybe she should throw them out. Speaking of which, she was going to get answers from this… whatever-he-was. Pronto. Or he was going to go the way of the sabertooth.
“The dream last night.” He put his now lanky arms behind his back, tried to give her a I-would-never face.
“Don’t give me that look, mister. Come on. Who was in the bag?” she asked.
He blanched, wincing, and shook his head.
“Did you do something bad? Is that why your people sent you here?” she asked.
He nodded even more strongly.
She studied his eyes. It probably wasn’t anyone he killed, though she still had her doubts. She felt safe, mostly. She was wrong about him. He was attached to her somehow. Otherwise his instincts would have taken over and she would be a human kebab by now. He seemed more like an outcast than a criminal. The rest well… was probably him just doing what animals do in the wild.
She gritted her teeth. “Come on. Let’s get you some dressed. Can’t have you walking around naked now that you’re grown.” Not that he ever hadn’t been, she thought, feeling a little cheated but that receded when he retracted his claws and held her hand. She squeezed a little, looking back and smiling as if saying sorry.
She thought as she dressed him, somewhat easier than before now that his manic energy was gone. From what she had seen, he was a carnivore, but she rather pitied him if turning on her was his goal. It was her house. She’d kicked out one of her mom’s boyfriends and three of her own.
But in this case, it seemed he needed him more than she did him. A little annoying, but at the same time, a welcome change. He wore an oversized T-shirt she used to wear to bed in college with TMNT! on it, and a pair of sweatpants she tied carefully.
“Alright, young sir, follow me.” He scampered after her and sat in the kitchen. She started some tea and eggs on the burner, putting tuna in one and keeping hers plain. She turned the tv on cnn and he just watched, yawning repellently and trying to figure out what the saltshaker was for, before losing interest in it.
She smiled faintly, absorbed in her cooking and managing to get everything right.
Then she looked on the windowsill and saw the flowers. The rose that had been there was a husk at the bottom of the vase that was impossible to recognize except for it’s shape. All of the color and pulp had been sucked out of it as if by tiny straws, leaving only the very outer tissue of the plant.
It was coiled around itself and almost completely transparent. She recoiled as she saw the tip of a root gently tap one of the few remaining petals and drain it of it’s color, until in a manner of seconds it was curled around itself and became transparent. Just cell walls and hollowed veins keeping vestiges of water.
This couldn’t be happening, but how many times had she said that? Of course it was. Everything happened for a reason, so her mother had said for years and her bestie Charlene had said after. Maybe she, and not some troubled alienists, were who to see next.
Getting him into the car was…interesting… but not that difficult. He freaked when it started though.
“You’re telling me they don’t have anything like this where you’re from?”
He shook his head.
“How do you…” she remembered she couldn’t understand him.
“Neeeever mind.” she said.
After forty five minutes of an awkward car ride, she pulled up to Charlene’s single floor house in Pine Bush, in a nice clearing like her house was in, but unlike her property, where all the foliage was uneven and the rotting trees fought with each other for the same sunlight, Charlene’s grass was cut and the trees were tall, healthy pines that were planted in an evenly spaced cube with mulch and manicured lower branches.
She pulled her putting Honda Civic up alongside Charlene’s Prius, which still had a stylized O for Obama and a peeling “Honk for Hillary” that either she or someone else had tried to scrape off with their keys at some point.
“Tell me everything that happened.” Charlene demanded.
“From when to when?” she asked.
“From just before you two… met… to right now. I’ll make us some tea. Bring him outside and wait with him.” Charlene said, pointing to the deck on the backyard and some rustic wooden chairs.
She grimaced and brought him out. Her and Charlene talked until dusk. Charlene grew increasingly disturbed and asked her friend to stop a few times as she rubbed her head. At a certain point she held her hand up.
“Ok, stop.” Charlene said. “I love you and your… friend here. And I think I can help but this is a lot for me. I have to keep myself afloat too.” She gripped the teacup by the handle, and shakingly drew it to her lips. He drew his knees up in the chair, resting his head upon his knees and dozing off with that awful snore.
“So he does nothing around the house?” Charlene asks. “Or for you? And you just let him live there in spite of…everything?” Charlene pointed wildly at his sleeping form. “He’s worse than the last one. I swear, you have no taste in men. Well, I shouldn’t say that, at least this one doesn’t curse. He is male…?”
“Yeah, I dressed him, so I’m ninety nine percent sure, but don’t quote me on it. I am getting him to do some stuff, like weed pests out of my house and garden.”
“How sure are you that he isn’t one?” Charlene said.
“I’ll give him a chance.” She said defensively.
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Charlene said between her teeth. “Though, you could have him do your taxes for you.”
“Ha ha. No, that I doubt he could handle. So… erm, how are you, Charlene?” she said, cupping her tea with both hands, having learned how to drink from and hold hot vessels from childhood.
Charlene, who had not, trembled from nervousness and from gripping a full cup of tea in her fingers. “WELL, let me just think… seeing as I just got a fresh load of ‘an alien sleeps on my best friends couch’ dumped on my head. So considering that, I’m fine.” She drained the rest of her tea and breathed a sigh of relief.
“So… you have questions for me, no doubt.” Charlene said with an air of trepidation.
She swallowed. “Is he one thing or… whatever he ingests? He seems like a composite.” She said.
“Like a sponge for forms.”
“He’s not.” Charlene said. “He’s been here before, he put himself into the form he was used to having the last time he was here.”
“When was that?” she asked.
“Who knows, but it wasn’t here and it wasn’t now, at least not from our perspective.”
“What do you mean, not from our perspective.”
“He and his kind don’t see time as we do. For us it’s linear. We’re born, live and grow, and we decay and die. For him it’s cyclical and self-renewing because, where he’s from, nothing is physical. It’s not exactly spiritually based either, though that’s not to say they don’t have souls of some kind. Life where and when he lives is energy based.”
“Eh. More like neon trapped in a tube, slowly radiating and releasing itself as time goes by. Without a source of energy, his world will die. So will those like him. Or at least be unable to return, and have to steal their freaking juju from elsewhere.” She scoffed. “Good riddance.”
“You’re saying he’s bad.” She said.
“No. It’s not a question of good or bad, it’s a question of better or worse for you. I’m saying he takes and uses energy in a particularly voracious way. And it’s only going to get worse as he “ages”. You can’t take care of him forever, he’s a wild, erratic spark of the cosmos in a temporary body.”
“Maybe we all are.” She argued.
“But not all of us are the type, which makes it worse. I’m sorry, but he won’t be good for you in the long run.” Charlene said. “Follow what I’m saying?”
She nodded but didn’t want to believe that just yet.
“Any way to change that?”
“No. It’s his nature.” Charlene said gruffly.
She looked over at him, hearing and understanding what she was saying but forming her own agenda. Probably as he did. Maybe his alien mindset was rubbing off on her somehow…
“So what can we do for him?” she asked.
“I won’t waste time we don’t have explaining. Wake him up and I’ll talk to him.” She said.
She nudged him. He woke up with a start.
Charlene glared at him. “Look at me,”
He sniffed, but did so.
“Maybe she doesn’t know what you’re doing, but I do. You know you don’t belong here. You’re being a little brat, you know. You’re a tourist in this world like everyone else is.” Charlene said, in a gentle but severe voice.
He lowered his eyes, as if thinking deeply, though both women wondered privately if anything could sink under his instincts.
“You’re being too hard on him.” She said.
“No I’m not, he needs rules.” Charlene said, before turning back to him. “This isn’t your body.” Charlene said.
He gave Charlene an almost bemused look.
Charlene kicked him in the shin with the tip of her shoe. He yelped “What did you come here for?”
He gave a terminally bored expression, and before Charlene or her could react, his hand darted out and he coiled one of his misshapen mits around her wrist, tangling his claws together so she couldn’t let go.
Visions flashed through Charlene’s mind. A sky with wildly different stars and a red, desert moon hanging low over it. Thick jungles thick with swarms of insects, bloated fruit, and flourescent flying things that were neither bird nor reptile. Strange jumbles of civilization that twisted for miles like roots until they shot up to an impossibly colorful city of temples that shot upward and sickened the mind with it’s panoply of protrusions, like a rotting tree. Perched on top of that impossibility, a Golgotha and a Baccanal, forbidden place of torment brooded over by overlords that defied the mind.
She could see none of it, but watched the intensity Charlene’s roving eyes which darted to and fro with a palpable dread.
“Ferdinand… umm… can you please break it off? She’s seen enough.” She asked.
He nodded sleepily and released Charlene’s hand. The woman shook, and then sank down into her chair. Her breath came in a shallow rhythm. She was strong though. She never took her eyes off of Ferdinand’s, who studied her with a pointed interest she hadn’t quite seen in him yet.
“Are you alright-“
“No… No I’m not, but it’ll pass. At least I got what I needed to know.” She said, starting to stand up.
“Wait! We need to know how to help him-“ she pleaded.
“There is no helping him. He was born here, and only death can send him back to his home plane.” She said, pausing. “That is, if they take him back.”
“What then?” she asked.
“He has to find a new home. Three guesses where.” Charlene asked.
“How do you know all this?” she asked.
“Erm, years of apprenticeship, both hands-on and study, with my guide. You remember Germaine, the one that had a bit of a carny look about her?”
“Vaguely. We used to see her at the farmers market, she was a good friend of my mom’s.”
“She passed on some three years back. Still, it was her training in general that gave me the knowledge and ability, plus a book made by a wack job down south that helped me place your little friend there.”
He snorted, perhaps not understanding her words, but definitely her tone.
“Anyway, sorry. No ethical solution I can give you right off the bat. Just… look I’ve never seen a case like this. I’ll see you in a week, half fee, like this time. I can recover, and you just keep in touch with me over the phone if anything happens, with him, or with those crazy flowers.” Charlene said, standing up stiffly.
She rummaged through her purse and pulled out a small book.
“Here. This was written by a recluse. I didn’t want to make more of it than it was at the time… but it may have some facts mixed in with the mumbo jumbo.” She said, handing it to her. “Just don’t open it unless I say, ok? Sorry but it’s pretty out there, even as far as things go.”
She took the book and nodded.
“In the meantime, I’ll do some more research, and let you know what your options are. I’ll call you if anything comes up.” she said.
“Charlene, you’re the best. Thank-“
She held up her hand and scoffed. “No problem, just keep it together, will ya? And keep a closeeye on ‘im.” She opened the screen door and stepped inside.
“So, were good? Nothing to worry about?” she said, standing up along with Ferdinand, who shook the evening dew off.
Charlene turned her head back to look at her hopeful friend and raised her eyebrow, offering a wizened smile with the corner of her mouth.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that…” Charlene said, closing the door.
She felt a tingle up her spine. She felt a little cheated as she walked toward her car. Those last words echoed in her mind a bit, and for the umpteenth time in their friendship, professional and otherwise, she wondered if she knew the woman at all.
But, despite her cryptic nature, she was the best around at what she did, never mind the otherwise suspicious hidden fees. So, crazy as it all sounded, she knew it was too crazy to make up and had to be at least mostly true, based on what she had seen. At least she knew what she was dealing with.
How to deal with it would be a different story, she thought, as she looked at Ferdinand sleeping against the window. Perhaps, she thought worriedly, for a different time and place. People these days, even Charlene, weren’t ready for what the universe had to offer.
And yet here was one of its riddles, right there next to her. Part of her dreaded whatever was coming from him, but something else, like curiosity but deeper, something she had boxed away for a long time, was blooming like strange flowers. Though she felt like something else was being drained of life at the same time.
There was life in our feelings, she thought, and that life died somewhere along the road and these strange protists grew in the gardens of our memories. It was her cousin talking, she thought, the philosophy major who had gone up into the mountains to live in a cabin on the ridge. They found him lying sideways on a meditation cushion in a gazebo out in Minnewaska State Park. They said in the end he had gone insane cooped up in there with no one.
She felt she knew better than that. At least if she went out, she wouldn’t be alone. That thought came unbidden. She liked to think of herself as survival-minded, and she didn’t like it, so she pushed it away.
They arrived home, and she rapped him on the forehead. He scrunched his face and yawned. He smiled and took playful half swipes at her hand. Each time, she pulled her hand away at just the right moment. She was amazed at his reflexes though. Even when his eyes were closed, she thought almost proudly. After all, when she had found him- when he had found her, rather- he had been a scrawny, wild thing. Now he was healthy, or something approximating it anyway.
She got him out and he sleepily followed her in, his head drooping.
“What’s making you so tired all of a sudden?” she said, shaking him playfully.
She picked his head up, and saw that his eyes were bloodshot. She opened his mouth, not thinking if she got her finger bitten off, and saw that his tongue was swollen and dry.
“O crap, guy. Not good, not good at all.” she said, sitting him down. He grumbled something repetitive in that haunting language of his, somehow a little more coherent sounding than the day before.
She sat down in the kitchen, and though it was probably too soon she texted Charlene.
“Hey, it’s me.”
“What’s up. I was just about to take a power nap.” Charlene texted with a snoozing emoji.
“Sorry, it’s Ferdinand.”
“He trying to kill you already? You know what to do.” She joked.
“Oh please he’s sick. His eyes are swollen and his throat is dry.”
“He’s not sick. He’s starving. He needs more energy than you and I get from food.”
“He eats though. What more does he need?”
“Think. He’s etheric, energy based. What’s the number one way of harnessing energy? How do we run our ever hungry appliances?”
“YES. I’m telling you, plug him in.”
“What, to a wall outlet?! Won’t he die?”
“Probably, if you give him that much. There’s always the next thunderstorm, that’d obviously fry his body. Though I kind of doubt he’d make it ’til then. Remember the one he rode in on was probably induced and not “natural”, at least that is to say not-”
“OK I GET IT CHARLENE. Thanks, I’ll do what I can.”
“Welcome. Find a way to get him to “eat” that doesn’t involve electroshock. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. Don’t die by the way.”
“Great.” she said, putting the phone down on the kitchen with a bit of contempt and going to fetch Ferdinand. “I swear, that woman’s mind…”
When she got back, some of her magazines were shredded, the pages he liked stacked on the side of the table. He sitting in a lotus position on the floor, swiping her tablet, staring at it with the intensity of a scribe in some monastary. He wasn’t really reading anything (at least, not as she could tell), just swiping right through news events over and over.
“I love you, but you are so dramatic sometimes.” She said sitting on his left side and looking through his stack of stuff. She puzzled over him, unsure about Charlene’s theory. She tried him anyway.
“Ok. Here’s the deal. I’ll feed you all the electricity you want.” She said. “But ya have to help out around here.” Wincing a bit, as she felt she would regret that later. “Deal?”
He looked up at her sleepily, and nodded, saying something that sounded affirmative, and to her surprise held out a hand. She shook it, wincing as he scraped her palm without noticing.
“Let me just find you…” she started.
He took the tablet and put most of the device in his mouth.
“Do you realize how much that costs?” She berated him as two fangs descended and punctured the screen. The device crumpled and blackened as his eyes sputtered to life and his fur sparkled and cracked with static. His twin tails rattled as the energy dispersed into the air around him.
“Always precocious, huh?” she said as the smoking husk of the tablet clattered to the table. ,She cursed and grabbed some rubber mitts and some tongs from the fireplace, putting it in a tub full of rice so at least the unit didn’t catch fire.
She came back flustered, taking some wet rags and wiping the table free of ashes, though she couldn’t do anything about the scorch marks.
“Careful,” she said. We live in a wood house? See?” she knocked on the table. “Come on now. If they have jungles, they have wood where you’re from,” she said slowly poking his nose. His eyes followed it and he sniffed when she booped him.
He pursed his lips and touched her arm with the tip of a claw. She yelped and jumped up as he zapped her arm.
“HEY!” she said, grabbing a rag and winding it up, a devious look in her eye. He fled as she cracked it near his rump.
There was a calm for the rest of the night as rain came down again. No snow this year just yet, maybe global warming, as Charlene used to yawp about and now gloated as if it were a happy fact, maybe just a global heating cycle people were contributing to. The thought made her suspicious of holding an “energy thief” this close. She did keep thinking that he had broken some rule or other, but who was that not true of? Maybe she was in breach of interstellar law or something by keeping him there.
She drifted off to a troubled sleep.
He, meanwhile, rolled himself into every blanket there was, relishing every hint of static in a way he couldn’t do before. There was something about being physical in the world that gave things more agency. Not that he thought about it that way. Like all of his kind, his thoughts were quite incoherent.
But he understood, and felt the growth and limitations inside and outside himself. That was what it was about for him, though he had another goal here. Time permitting though, he would stay here for a while. After all, it had been centuries…
On the windowsill the protist, for calling it a plant or flower was not quiet right, opened its gills and began to feed, energy from the oxygen around it as it’s central bulb. It began to unfurl in a slow spiral pattern as something emerged from inside…
Day 4- Saturday
Her dreams came just before she usually got up, like the last 3 days. There was the same gulf in space under the same desert moon, still a cruel sliver but swirling with sandstorms this time. There was a dais and an inordinate, almost unbelievable number of the most bizarre looking people she had ever seen.
All manner of ostentatiously decorated but vaguely humanoid creatures of different shapes and sizes sat around the dais. All had a smear of what must be blood on their foreheads. All were seated in various poses. No two looked alike. Three eyes, two tails, odd numbers of fingers and/or toes, and even second (or, rarely a third) seemed common too. Thankfully, she didn’t see their faces. No small mercy either. Some were so repellent to her eyes she felt like she would lose her mind if she had to see the whole thing in broad daylight.
There was no common form of dress, language, or even mannerisms. It seemed astounding to her that they even shared the same planet. Was there status? Could they even understand each other? Why did some seem like they wanted to jump off the dais while others were so still they only seemed alive when they blinked or yawned? There were no satisfying answers.
But there was a pattern. Several of them sat behind and aloof from the multitudes, and were quite larger than the others. Huge in fact, and almost stationary, having some characteristics of one clade or another, but unlike the others, seemed more as individuals unto themselves.
The largest of them sat back and away, with a veil over its face. Despite the covering a small light a strong blue light seemed to almost penetrate the material.
In the middle of all of this, was of course Ferdinand, hands bound behind his back and something unpleasant looking stuck in his mouth. When he looked around, she realized it was a bunch of dirty rags.
The figure behind, obviously someone/something of great importance, slowly raised it’s right hand and growled something in a hideously bass voice and crude sounding tongue. Everyone else stopped talking at once as he stood up and looked down on the bound creature.
The wind wove among the strange jury as if invoked. They looked around and whispered to one another. The towering figure made the monosyllabic command again. He began to say something in a roiling speech that sounded like lava, gesturing alternatively to Ferdinand and to the mostly obscured moon, or planet as if it stood over the proceedings. It seemed of supreme significance to them as they shook their heads. Some of them clicked their tongues or covered their faces.
Ferdinand spat out the gag. He interrupted the speaker to say something in what sounded, from his shifting tones, to be part stream of consciousness, part accusation, and part a desperate plea.
Fear coursed through the crowd. The speaker took only three steps toward him. As he was talking, the giant kicked him straight off the dais almost quicker than thought. Only a smear of ichor where the captive had kneeled remained…
She woke up dizzy, the sun in her eyes, reflected off of the fresh snow, and found that she had overslept so much she couldn’t get up. Her nose was numb as if someone had put cotton in it. Her phone buzzed. It was Saturday the thirtieth of November.
“Tough crowd. So, you broke the rules. Kind of figures. Have to wonder which ones…” She mumbled, going off to the shower and then getting dressed. She almost forgot her… houseguest? Tenant? Room mate was probably the best word, she thought, though maybe there was a better one in whatever jargon he spoke. She wondered how it worked, if it had an alphabet, books, or just those strange glyphs like the one he had drawn.
She looked groggily at the refrigerator door, and smiled when she saw the piece of paper with his glyph tacked to the door. She then realized, she hadn’t done that. She then saw a pot of coffee, poorly brewed (too many rinds the lid was off and it smelled like burning tire) and nearly did a double take when he was already in the kitchen, actually changing the channels on his own.
With out a remote. He just blinked and the tv sputtered and changed. That couldn’t be good for it, but at least it had kept him from destroying more of her belongings. She wondered if he had done this before. Probably not, she felt. If so, he would have been a lot quicker and less fascinated… and ignorant.. about what he saw. If what Charlene had said was so, she thought pouring some coffee for herself (he already had her favorite mug!) he had not been to Earth in a long time.
“So, sneaking around the kitchen making me coffee? Well… thank you.” she said.
He turned his head to regard her, a little in between casual recognition and guarded interest. He then grabbed his spoon, and touched it to her hand, giving her another zap. He smiled with his eyes, and looked back at the screen.
She shook her hand out, a little tingly. “I’ll take that as a “your welcome”. She said. She got him to keep it on the morning news, which she hated. Nonetheless they sat there and watched for a few minutes, sipping coffee. She was about to ask him something when…
Her phone buzzed, a text from Charlene again.
“Omg where are you? Are you alright?”
“Calm down. Were just watching tv.”
“All day news. He made coffee this morning and were hanging out.”
“You’re… your kidding me. Whatever, just don’t put on the news for him.”
“Why, I doubt he knows what they’re saying.”
“No, but he understands what he’s seeing. If he goes back with sensitive information it could be bad for us.”
“Don’t be silly. Besides, you said he can’t go back unless he dies.”
“That brings me to the next thing I was going to say to you. Either he has to go or that damn plant goes.”
“Why are you being so paranoid? It’s probably “I come in peace” or at least “please don’t kill me.”
“No. I don’t think it’s like that. Are you that thick? Let me spell it out for you: he was banished. He’s trying to find asylum somewhere no one can find him.”
She paused, her eyes flitting over to Ferdinand, who was watching one older newscaster’s hairpiece with piqued interest.
“How did you know that?”
“I had the same dream as you last night.”
“I never told you I had any dream!”
“But I had one about him and from the sound of it, so did you.”
“I feel you’re tampering with my head right now, Charlene.”
“Right, because you’re my friend and he’s showing you what he wants you to see, which makes me fear for your safety.”
“I can handle myself. See you next week.”, she texted.
“There’s more, please hear me out.”
“TTYL.” She wrote.
“Well, no matter how good it seems to be going, it won’t end well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Charlene texted rapidly, a line of skull and crossbones emoji trailing the text.
“OK BYE.” She texted, before shutting the phone and putting it down.
She looked up just in time to see Ferdinand turn his head away. She felt uneasy. Could he read? She looked up at the screen which was split between a sports game and two laughing news anchors. They played a light game of hand over hand, but stopped when she got shocked too many times. They shared tea and some light dinner that night, but there were still nagging questions she had as it rained lethargically outside.
“Ferdinand, I’m going to need to set things straight with you. It’s about the dreams we shared.” He looked away with some nervousness. He extended one of his increasingly long claws and tapped them on the table. At the risk of being slashed, as she had seen his reflexes before, she nonetheless leaned in and gently turned his face from the tv to her.
“Don’t do that, I know you remember I saw you lost someone in the first one. Charlene told me about your homeworld.” He mumbled his first words she had ever herd him say in English. “It’s nothing.” It had a click or two and sounded like two people talking at once, but she understood him now. Frowning, she thought to ask him if he had known it from the beginning, but the answer was now obvious and she didn’t want to lose the conversation.
“It’s not nothing. In this morning’s, I saw how you got banished…or died…or whatever.” She said, leaning back and crossing her arms.
“No, it’s not. They were furious at you. What happened?” she said.
“No.” he said. His eyes flashed with energy.
“Come on you’re smarter than this.” She said.
He shook his head.
“Just tell me what you did.” she said. “Everyone’s done something.”
He leaned back and put his hands on his knees, stiffening up and looking between his legs before sighing and seeming to deflate.
“You wouldn’t understand.” He said, straining with the sounds.
“I’m not saying I will. I just want to be a better friend. Do you follow.”
An ear perked up, and he nodded slowly, though he did not make eye contact.
“I see. Well, it’s not complicated. I was adopted by the royal family. As one of the many conditions of being part of it, I was supposed to marry a maiden from another house. One not of my choosing.”
“Would that have been so bad?” she asked cautiously, trying to match his tone.
“Perhaps not, although the bride that was presented to me was past concern… the problem was that I had fallen in love with another.” he said, flexing his claws.
“Oooooooh…” she said. “Now, I’m interested! I love these. Sorry, this happens all the time in
“Is that so?” he said.
“You’ve been here before. You know about our legends.” she said.
“No, I don’t. I was last here so long ago that the stories were mostly about us and our deeds. This place is but a distant memory to me, though some things are more familiar than others.”
“Oh… right.” She said. “Wait, how is it a memory if you came from the past?”
“No, that isn’t right. I came to your relative past from somewhere that doesn’t have a past, present or future.” He said. “It just happens to be a long time ago.”
“How do you occupy yourselves?” she asked.
“Much the same way you do, maybe in different ways. I must say this whole setup is…what is a good term…rustic.” He said clumsily.
“Pfft.” She said. “Not from what I saw. What do you have that we don’t?”
“Too many questions.” He said.
Wow, arrogant much? She thought. But rather than counter it, it another thought occurred to her.
“I’d, uh, like to ask you something else…”
“Mmm?” he said, turning on the tv with a flick of his eyes.
She turned the tv off.
“Why did you come here, specifically? And don’t say it was by chance. You’re as smart as they come. You knew what you were doing before you got here. You brought…flowers or something…to my door. Is that a peace offering? ”
He dug his claws into the table, but she put her hands on top of them. He met her stare, puzzled. “What is it here?” he asked, strained.
She rolled her eyes and facepalmed. “Are you like this with everyone?”
“No, it’s just…”
He sputtered a bit in his own language, but she laughed kindly at him, diffusing his confusion long enough to get through his defenses.`
“…just with women you like?”
She laughed and sat next to him. “You…you came all this way because you’re heartbroken? Oh, my…”
“Look if you want I can leave…”
“No…no it’s ok. I really thought it was something like to steal Earth secrets or to plug us in for an energy source.” she said.
“I don’t know if there are any Earth secrets, your news men say more than I care to know each day and I don’t recognize anything. As for the second one we have all the energy we need… hey!”
He pouted animalistically, and it only made her laugh harder. She wiped tears from her eyes and
Said, “Ha…ha…wow, so either I’ve become good at this over time, or you’re really bad at disguising your motives.”
“It might be both…” he said, flinching. “Have you had other… um…”
“Yes, I’ve been married once, and before that I had three boyfriends. That miiiight be why you don’t phase me.” she said.
“Is… that sort of thing allowed here?” he asked, holding up three fingers.
“Is that… oh, you thought I had them all at once? Well, it’s not advisable, unless your culture permits it. I think it’s a bit much, but you know…”
He rested his head in his arm. His lips twitched.
“Well. So maybe you don’t know. Hmm…”
“No, I do, we have arranged marriages, but the limit of one spouse at a time is mostly among royals.”
“I see. Why is that?”
“We’re supposed to show propriety and carefully cultivate our lineage.”
“Sounds awful and goofy, a bit like royals on Earth. Not that there are too many left. Maybe they got it from you.”
“I doubt it. We weren’t here for very long, and we didn’t really build any patterns for them to follow. Anyway, I agree. It is awful. And goofy. Awfully goofy.”
“You’re unusually verbose for someone who was born-er-reborn… a few days ago. Still, how are you picking up our language if you’ve never been here to this time before now?”
“Ah…too many questions. But it’s passive, nothing intrusive. I’m just picking it up, I’m not siphoning it out of you.”
She whistled and stared at him. “Wonder what else you can do.”
He put a hand on the back of his head and sniffed, perhaps trying to show some modesty.
“Nothing really impressive or wonderful here. If I were back where I was, yes, I could do a lot, relatively speaking.”
She rolled her eyes. “Show off.” She said.
“I’m really not trying too.” He said, dead serious.
She laughed again, tickling his tummy a little. He made some wild caterwauling, so she stopped.
“What, is that where your brain is?” she asked playfully. “Would make sense, you actually
manage to eat more than the last one. Maybe you’re just sensitive from eating all that fish. And those
“No…” he said with a sigh. “The energy just gets stored evenly, not in a single organ. It’s that I have bad memories associated with my stomach.” He said, cringing. “I can’t go into detail.”
She put her hands on hers and groaned in consternation. “And I can’t help but feel I will never figure you out. Can I ask you one more question?”
“Anything.” He said, before realizing his mistake.
“So, as I said earlier, as long as you’re willing to help out with things, you can stay here as long as you’d like.”
He looked worried, as if he were holding back something important.
“Just, two quick things. One, no secrets.”
He blinked hard, as if she was the one switching to another language. She had the funny feeling that secrets were part of the game with… whatever he was.
“I can agree.” He said, at length. “Between us, I mean. There’s things in my head it wouldn’t help you to know.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that. But I get it. Good enough for now.”
He sniffed. “What else were you going to ask?”
“Hey!” he said, louder than he meant to. “You just said we wouldn’t have any secrets.”
“Indoor voices. Easy on the the table, you’re going to be sanding it down anyway.”
He looked down at his hands apologetically. His claws had scraped another furrow in the steel tabletop. He withdrew them and crossed his hands.
“You seem so uptight. And why? I’m not after your silly secrets…” she said. She hoped he’d take the hint.
“Right…well if I seem “uptight” it’s because nobodies like that where I come from.” He said.
She groaned mentally. This was a serious case. Nothing she couldn’t handle, though.
“Ugh! Forget about where you come from and relax, just…” she squeezed between his fingers, not even wincing as his tendons clenched and a fair bit of talon slipped out, grazing her hand.
“See? That wasn’t so hard.” She said.
“For me it was.” He chirped miserably. She could feel his heartbeat through his hand, which kept clenching and unclenching.
“What are you so damn afraid of?!” she asked.
“I don’t have permission ok? I’m not like you. None of us are. You have all the freedom there is.” He said.
She shook her head. “I have a job, bills, expenses, and now you. I’m just on vacation until next week.” she said, a little sad. “I bet you’re something where you came from. Again- don’t you dare try to say you weren’t. You were a noble of some kind. What did you have to deal with at all?”
` “You wouldn’t know. Endless religious ceremonies, funeral rites, birthings…weddings…” he shuddered “the Lunar Assembly… feasts are all right but you know what there’s so many rules, they change all the time, and they kick everyone out who’s not like them…”
“Er, I’m gonna cut it short. Don’t be a complainer in my house if you know what’s good for you.”
He made a horrible sound in his throat, but she quickly took her free hand and scratched his forehead. He closed his eyes appreciatively.
“But that last one sounds like just about anywhere. We might not be as diverse as you folks, but we do try to keep things a certain way. It’s changing, but it’s not what you think. We probably have more in common than you know.”
“Mmm… that’s good to know.” He said, relaxing the hand in hers so his talons slipped back in.
“We have got to get those trimmed.” She said.
He looked at her worriedly.
“Ok, ok. Never mind.”
She stood up. “Just…help me get some old stuff out of the back, if you will.”
They spent the rest of the day doing chores and clearing out her back closet of three exe’s worth of stuff, plus her clothes from when she first moved in. They found an astonishing amount of old chairs- some wrecked, some in near perfect condition- an antique chess set and an accordion which made him run hide behind the sofa when she briefly tried to play it.
“Why would anyone call that music?” he asked as they continued.
“It is, where my mom came from.” She said, annoyed. “What’s music like for you, erm, guys?”
“It’s mostly ceremonial. You know-“
“I got it.” She said, giving him a box of old of books to carry.
“Ancient texts?” he said.
“You’re being polite. Stop. Those are college textbooks.” She said.
“What was your father’s trade?”
“Wow you folks are BEHIND. remind me never to visit wherever it is your from.”
He growled, but received the next box.
“Anyway it’s from my trade, not his. He was a carpenter. I’m a vet. I doctor people’s pets.”
He went out to the porch and dumped the rest out. “I think I understand. We don’t have doctors for that specifically. But we do have healers.” They went back and forth like that, working and discussing points of interest between their two cultures. When they were done, evening had fallen. She just wiped some sweat from her brow, but he seemed winded.
“It used to be we had ten times that amount of stuff. This is just the last of it. You should know I usually do that by myself these days.” She said, cracking open a beer, but thinking twice before deciding that was the last thing this neurotic visitor from another time needed.
He sat down and gave a stretch before curling himself around the chair in a position that she wasn’t pliable enough to even emulate. Eyes only half closed, he lapsed into that horrible snore of his. She swore it had gotten worse every day. Although she felt a stir of déjà vu coming along from her last boyfriend, she figured he had earned his keep for today, and started to get dinner ready.
He tangled himself on the opened back chair probably more than he would be able to do if he were awake. It was strangely comfortable, kind of like the knotted rope he had in one of his hideouts at home. Perfect for dreaming or remembering, which he did respectively.
His dream was a recurring one he had started having many cycles ago. He was out of body and saw himself levitating over an endless sea, with rain starting to pour, and lightning was starting to form in the cloud. There was more to it, but he could never interpret it, nor could anyone he brought it to. So he tuned it out, though if he ever got back he would take another go at it, as he was sure there was more to it than just a blip on his consciousness.
He switched to remembering. Not too deeply, he thought, just enough to unpack the rest of what he needed to do modestly well for himself here before it was time to return. There wasn’t much left he thought he needed, just the rest of his language absorption (just enough to not sound awkward) and a bit of space for any new earth lore he could pick up. He wouldn’t choose to come here again, but it could help him next time.
To this effect, he visualized what he wanted. It was more difficult tenfold than he remembered, perhaps- no, definitely- because he was on Earth, it’s unique position, and the state it was in. What should have taken moments took almost all the time he had. Nevertheless he managed to free up some storage for later use.
There was something else there though, a kernel of thought he had placed there in case he Became to tied materially to his temporary home and couldn’t return to his real one. He accessed that as well. It contained some end-of-life meditation for finding his way back- he had coined one of the priests a hefty sum to teach him. Unfortunately for his goal, this in turn contained something else. Not a memory or a skill, but more like a feeling.
Actually, it lead to a container of sorts, a whole trove of motives he had taken the best care to shut off in the time between his travel and his emergence. He mostly didn’t want to open it, but that kernel of feeling that he had found (which by now he had been following for many, many cycles) poked a hole in his defence, which felt like a gourd filling up with feelings he hadn’t felt since he had gotten there. Since he didn’t break the session off fast enough, it went on until he was filled with an uncanny desire to see whatever memories or other useful items might be waiting, unguarded, for him to see.
So, naturally, he revealed his tension and began to unpack it, though as soon as he did, he realized that his time here would be shorter than he had hoped. That thought too was soon subsumed by others he had quarantined before he left homeworld. It had been so long since he had been here that he couldn’t actually remember why he was banned from visiting. He was enjoying his visit, however taxing, and starting to enjoy his hostess. He hoped he didn’t get another something-hundred year ban.
Uneasy, but satisfied, he began to go into deep sleep.
He felt a hand shake him violently. He screamed and tried to spring into action on old instinct. In the end, his efforts only knocked the chair backward so that he was holding broken pieces of it ready, to defend himself from an adversary that he dimly realized wouldn’t come.
“Yoo hoo. I made us some food. Don’t thank me, just come to the kitchen.” “I sense some displeasure. Was this chair valuable?” he asked, getting up shakily and piling the pieces together.
“Lucky for you, it wasn’t.” she said. “I got it at a yard sale.”
“Could I put it back together?”
“Don’t bother, it was crap to begin with. Come to dinner before I break you.” She said, peering back dangerously.
He felt a bit flustered, but didn’t say anything.
Dinner was strained vegetables, which he tried to eat as best he could, and a rather large filet of grilled fish. The tv was off and she started streaming on her Iphone. It didn’t sound particularly exciting to him, but at the very least it was melodic.
He peeked around her as she was washing vegetables. On the windowsill the “plant” had begun to opened its central bulb. It unfurled visibly but lazily until it’s electric blue bottom petals unfurled to reveal a hint of the red, swollen inner bulb. Its gills fluttered and the central stem worked to fill the room with a pleasant, albeit numbing smell, like a faint mint mixed with poppy.
He tried to contain his excitement; it had worked after all. He could at least stay here for about the duration of a human life if he found it worthwhile, as long as he could manage to prepare and consume the bulb without her paying attention. What effect would the vapor have on her, though?
Part of him that was used to clandestine doings such as this thought to himself that he had to terminate the plant, and, now that he remembered it, his mission. Another part of him, albeit nascent and probably formed along this trip, felt that he had to at least run it by her before making his choice.
He tried to teleport the bulb into his hand, but only succeeded in moving the entire plant an inch or so over to the sink from the shelf. She came back with a plate of green beans and, realizing he would have to find another way, he swore in his language.
“That didn’t sound nice.” She said somewhat sardonically.
“It wasn’t… I just remembered something I was going to ask you.” He said.
“What was that, hun?” she asked.
He guessed “hun” was a term of endearment.
“I just wanted…” What he wanted to do was tell her about the plant and his true mission, but his fear that she would throw everything into disarray won out.
She cocked her head, not knowing what to expect.
“to…” his eye went from her to the plant even though he didn’t want it to.
“Yeeees?” she asked.
“…let you know I think your cooking is excellent.” He said, holding his fork up to make it
“You’re being polite. Again.” She said.
“No. Take the compliment.” he said, concealing a world of unease. Though, truthfully, as he had just re-learned to some faint regret, it was in his nature to be underhanded.
They finished up. He washed the dishes and she put away the rest of the food in transparent Containers he was too conflicted to ask about. Well, he thought, the emotionally hardest, but logistically easiest, option was gone for now. He had to find another way to get the bulb out of the plant without her noticing.
Ordinarily, he remembered, the plant would make a person not used to it slump down and go into a deep sleep within minutes. For some reason, the plant’s output was not affecting her other than make her remark about it’s pleasant aroma and some lightheadedness, but then he remembered they didn’t do anything much unless you smell them quite close and quite into the plants life cycle.
Because of certain… dangers inherent in the plant’s late life, he would have to steal the bulb and terminate it soon. Perhaps he would just wait until she was asleep, grab the bulb, and plant it in the soil, perhaps explaining to her afterward that the plant was dangerous and disposing of it.
He unfurled himself on the couch and she tucked him in. Hopefully she didn’t notice that one eye was open. He waited until the coast was clear and went into the kitchen, as quietly as he could manage with his new size, not needing to turn on the lights due to the emergence of his enhanced vision. It helped him see energy signals, so he at least got an outline of the kitchen along with the plant, which burned with an intensity only possible with something from his strange, twilight homeworld.
He swore profusely every time the old wood floor creaked under his feet, and snarled when a sizeable splinter went under a toenail. Finally, there, above the sink, was the plant, now close enough to appear in ordinary vision (which he assumed was probably still better than most human’s despite the amount of time he had spent away.
A nocturnal plant, it glowed with an audible buzz and breathed more deeply and actively. The blue petals now proudly unfurled with a cherry red seed pod the size of his fist in the middle of a sticky mess of sap and plant tissue that had once been completely around it, protecting it from pests and falling prematurely.
How fast the plant had quickened its strange offspring on Earth! He wondered if everything here grew this quickly, but it was obvious that there was probably an average of some kind. He and the plant had come along faster than normal, being charged composites- more real, but far less long lived than they would have been as the cycles back home went.
He reached for the bulb and tore it free from the plant with a swivel of his claws. Triumphant, he was about to go for the door when he whirled around only to be confronted by his host, hands on her hips and looking about as tense as he had ever seen her.
“Is… something wrong?” he asked, holding the seed pod behind his back and pretending to give himself a scratch back there.
“I don’t know. You tell me. I was just coming to the kitchen for a midnight snack.”
“Oh…so was I.” he said.
“What’ve you got there?” she asked.
He decided to take a gamble.
“Oh…well, just a part of the flower I brought you that you can eat. I mean, that is edible. I mean, you can’t eat it. I was going to throw it away.”
“By throw it away, do you mean, “eat it myself?”” she said coyly.
“No. Really… I was just going to toss it into the woods.”
“Into your mouth you mean”
He searched her face and reviewed his remaining options. He couldn’t lie, not outright. But he could fib. He tried something else.
“Look you can’t eat it with your biology. You’ll get sick.” This at least was true.
“Nice try. If you can stomach it than odds are I probably can.” She said.
He scratched his head with his free hand and brought the sticky, red pod to bear. He thought of telling her more of what it was, but then had another idea. One that he hadn’t want to do before his nap because it would change his plan, but was looking like the only way out, and may even have a benefit.
“Probably.” He lied. “Listen, how about I make you a drink with it? It’s not really meant to be eaten, you break it open and there’s some seeds inside that you add to water.” He said. This was true, back home he had seen people drink them all the time, though the effect would be the opposite. She nodded. “So, it’s like chia seeds?” she looked it up on her phone and showed it to him.
He nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. It’s good for the body system.” He said, wincing internally.
“Allright. You make some, and we’ll both drink.” she said. “I could use something after a long day. Maybe I’ll put some Smirnoff in with it.”
“That alcohol?” he asked, sounding worried.
“Yeah why?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t.” he blurted out.
“Why, will I explode?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that.” He said, though that was basically what would happen if she did that. “It ruins the flavor, and I don’t know if I can get that plant to flower again.” He said, which was at least partially true.
He cracked the pod’s slippery shell with a lobster sheller she had, and scooped out the pulp and hundreds of tiny yellow seeds with a spoon. He added it to some water and, after soaking the seeds for a good hour, saw that they had bloated and gained a telltale gel coating. Inwardly moaning that he could have more easily planted it in the woods somewhere, he nonetheless put it in a mixer and shook it before pouring it into two clear glasses apparently meant for beer.
They both drank at the same time. It was sweet, sour and a little meaty, and pleasantly crackled with a static charge when it went down her throat and both of his.
“Wow… that’s, um, strong. What do you call this?” she asked.
“I can’t really translate it. I doubt there’s a word for it anymore in any Earth languages. I don’t
know how I know, but it doesn’t grow here anymore. I think… it’s called “soul nectar” or something like
that. We usually drink it when we’re physically or psychically exhausted.” He said, his legs already
tingling from the effects.
She burped lightly. “Oh, ‘scuse me. Well… it sure is energizing. A little interesting going down.”
“If I knew we were going to have some tonight, I would have advised against having dinner.” He said.
“Stop being this polite. You know you’re not. Plus, sometimes you have to let your hair down,
you know?” she offered, nudging him with her elbow.
He sighed cryptically. “I supp- yes, you’re right. On both accounts.”
“Oh, question, can we heat this stuff up?”
He thought about it. “Well…yes. Not too much, but if you cook it a little, it energizes the drink and adds to both the texture and flav-“
“Good.” She said, taking the cup out of his hand and putting it in the microwave. He cringed, but reminded himself that things would probably move faster this way. After both beverages were audibly crackling with weak electricity and covered in a sweet smelling white foam.
They put jackets on, and took them to the front porch and watched slush come down quietly, sipping the soured, warm. and energized ichor as best they could. The only sound was their sipping, the mad crackle of the stuff in their cups and the neurotic shift of their feet on powdered snow.
Both had their own musings usually, but for a brief time it seemed like they were both just small beings under a placid white sky with the simple desire to share a drink and enjoy the inexpressible.
It faded after a while, and they headed inside. Before she could ask him not too, he shook all over the living room, making everything wet.
He slept on the couch and she in her bed again. He forced himself into the deepest sleep he could, not really sure what it was that he wanted from her or from this sparse but all important world anymore, though, he thought as he drifted off, it must be something.
Meanwhile, her mouth felt dry and saccharine at the same time. Her throat opened and closed like when she had a cold. She felt energy throbbing at her fingertips and toes, kind of like a sugar rush but more like an electric rush. Static shocks pinched her every time she tried to move under the blanket.
Eventually she just threw it off, and the yelped as she felt a cluster of zaps saw a bunch of faint sparks like when she used to shuffle her feet and poke her friends in school every time her mom made her wear a wool sweater.
After long enough, she put a jacket on and lay sideways on the bed until she was tired and merely drifted off. In the end, she slept so deeply that she missed an urgent text message from Charlene.