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Resident Alien


by


Christine Taylor Rees








Smashwords edition copyright 2018 Christine E Rees

All Rights Reserved


No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either originate from the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons or aliens - living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is purely coincidental and unintentional.


Cover Artwork by Daf Puw.








Acknowledgements


This book is dedicated to my husband, Phil, in gratitude for his patience with my frequent disappearances into the imaginary world inside my head and for encouraging my sense of adventure; to James, Polly, Gareth, Iwan, Gruff and Eben for the eternal joy and inspiration they bring into my life; to my wonderful friend Fiona, the world's best beta reader and to my late parents for making everything possible.


Prologue


Unable to breathe as a wave of panic overwhelmed her, Alice worked her way around the trailer shoving random items into her backpack with shaking hands. She needed to get away and quickly. She had spent so much time thinking about her getaway in the last few weeks, why had she never made any practical preparations? Only the realisation that he would be back in a matter of hours had spurred her into action.

The few minutes it took for the taxi to pick her up seemed to drag on for an eternity. She spent the time repeatedly glancing towards the door, anxiously praying her abuser wouldn't get home just yet. The taxi driver attempted small talk, but all Alice could manage was monosyllabic answers to his barrage of questions. She thought the man looked familiar and hoped it wasn't because he was one of the cronies who hung around the trailer.

On reaching the bus station and discovering the next westbound bus didn't leave until the following day, she broke down in tears. Her courage leaked away with the salty droplets. She was trapped. A comforting arm around her shoulders made her jump. She was afraid to open her eyes in case he'd tracked her down already.

“Are you OK, dear?” asked an elderly, female voice. Alice continued to sob, silently berating herself for her weakness. The woman sat and waited patiently for her to compose herself before offering a ride. It would only take Alice about twenty miles out of town but any distance she could make would be a start.

When they reached her rescuer's home Alice was beginning to pull herself together. Determined to keep covering ground, she declined the kind gesture of a bed for the night. She preferred to keep moving on foot if necessary.

How had she been reduced to this? She was homeless, on the run from an abusive - now ex - boyfriend, and everything she owned was in the bag she carried. Had he realised by now that she was gone? For a couple of days he'd been in Mexico, where he was becoming heavily involved in the drug trade. She had no desire to end up in jail, or more likely dead.

Getting her next ride proved tricky. She refused offers from a couple of lone men in the first half hour. After another hour and a half plodding alongside the highway, worrying the man she was fleeing could drive by at any time, desperation pushed her to climb into the cab of a passing truck. It wasn't long before the driver's hands began to wander menacingly and eventually he pulled off the road. Alice was terrified.

Unwilling to put herself in the position of victim once again and unable to reason with him, she resorted to pulling out her gun. She’d stolen the nine-millimetre from the trailer. The handy arsenal was the only advantage of hanging around with scum. She hoped that brandishing the weapon wouldn't make the situation worse. The trucker may pull a gun himself. Was she really prepared to shoot him?

Moments passed tensely as she aimed the gun at his head and watched for the slightest movement of him reaching for a weapon. She thought her heart would stop from fear.

The trucker broke the silence. “Get out you crazy bitch!”

Alice had never felt so relieved to be insulted. She scrambled from the cab.

Engulfed in a thick cloud of desert dust thrown up by its wheels, Alice watched the truck's lights disappear into the darkness. As the sound of the engine faded, she carefully put the safety back on and replaced the gun in her bag. Plunged into the blackness of night in the wilderness and feeling very alone, she dropped to her knees and began to cry.

She allowed herself only a few minutes of self pity before attempting to compose herself. If another ride came along at all, the chances of them stopping to pick up a hitchhiker at three am in the middle of nowhere were slim. The probability of them making that pick up if the hitchhiker turned out to be a hysterical woman was even less.

Judging by the time she spent in the truck, which felt like forever, although in reality it was only a couple of hours, she estimated the next excuse for a town must lie around eight or nine miles ahead. On the plus side, there was no chance of getting lost; this was the only road around. She was startled briefly as a coyote skulked across the road in front of her in search of dinner. Wiping tears from her eyes and picking up her bag, she began to walk.


Chapter 1 - Arrival


Hesitantly he tried again to pull himself upright. If he moved with deliberate slowness this time it might help calm the spinning feeling in his head. Successful, he stood for a few moments allowing his eyes to focus on the bright surroundings. He reached for his dark eye-glasses; the glare was too much for his sensitive eyes. His next overwhelming sensations were hunger and thirst, which wasn’t surprising considering all his body had endured since the last meal. It was too soon to break open the emergency food supplies he had. He had better steel himself for a visit to the unfamiliar world waiting outside.

Flinging open the door far too forcefully he stepped out into the dry heat, hoping no one had seen the door flying wide. The air carried the smell of what he assumed to be food. Although it was no scent with which he was familiar, it confirmed his suspicion that in the unassuming building nearby he should be able to help ease his hunger.

It was a low building of a curious pink shade. Dark windows did not allow him to see what was inside. Above the windows hung a sign in the language he'd been trying to assimilate. Right now he had no patience for deciphering what it meant. A bright, red light flashed more of those letters; O-P-E-N. That he understood. Taking care to take his steps exaggeratedly slowly, he made his way to the door and pulled it open with caution.

"Hi there, honey. I wondered when you'd be surfacing.” He was greeted by a friendly-faced female with hair the colour of fire, worn long but pulled back tightly behind her head as he had often bound his own before it was cut away. He struggled to keep up with her rapid speech and was mesmerised by her hair. He'd never seen such long hair on a female.

“I saw your RV in the lot - nice rig. It’s a good job you got up before the boss gets in, or he'd be wanting to charge you for overnight parking. Are you ready for breakfast?"

Now came the moment of truth. He knew she'd asked a question by the rise in tone of her voice. It was time to open his mouth and try out his language skills. Would his lack of talent in linguistics betray him straight away? He hoped Malla had been a good teacher. He knew he was a poor student.

“Hungry. Want to eat.” His first, pathetic words of the strange language were met merely with a grin. Taken aback at the baring of teeth, he pulled away slightly.

“I don't suppose you're from around these parts. Sure, we’ll fix you up with some breakfast. Take a seat wherever you like." His brain was slow to catch her meaning so she kindly clarified. "Sit,” she said bluntly, pointing an extended finger to the nearest table. He obliged, shuffled to the booth the lady had indicated, and settled himself on the red vinyl seating. She returned with a large jug of brown coloured liquid and poured some into a handled container in front of him.

“I thought we had one of those picture menus around here somewhere for you foreign tourists, but I can't seem to track it down. I won't stress you out with the menu. Why don't you just tell me what you want to eat?"

A brief moment of panic followed before he came up with a feeble response. He had no clue what to order for this meal, although he remembered it was called breakfast. "I eat what you recommend. High protein, please.”

"You sure look hungry. How about I bring you the full American breakfast experience?"

He was lost but a nod of the head sufficed. She walked away towards the source of the barrage of odours assaulting his senses and disappeared through a set of swinging doors. He guessed this was the kitchen and relaxed a little. He wouldn't pass for a local but the server's lack of alarm was reassuring. He reached for the cup of liquid she'd left and was surprised to find it too hot to ingest. A curious sniff revealed a strange aroma, not unpleasant but unfamiliar. He'd try it when it cooled if he dared.

He picked up a jug of clear liquid from the centre of the table, took an exploratory sniff, and poured some into a smaller, clear container. Cautiously he sniffed again. It certainly looked like water, so he took a nervous sip. There was a slight tang of some kind of chemical, probably for purification, but otherwise it was acceptable.

Looking around, he checked out the other items on the table. Trying to remain inconspicuous, he poured a little of the contents of each small bottle he found into his hand beneath the table and gingerly took a taste with a fingertip. The first was a white powder, crystalline and almost unbearably sweet. The next contained a darker coloured powder. After taking a taste his lips began to burn, he started to cough, and quickly reached for the water to wash away the evil spiced powder. The third container was just what he was looking for, the familiar, comforting taste he sought - salt. He looked around to make sure he was unobserved, tipped a liberal amount of precious salt into his water and gave it a quick stir with his finger. After a tentative taste, he downed the entire glass quickly to avoid tasting it again. They told him this would help him rehydrate.

Preoccupied with his experiments, he failed to notice a young female slip into the seat opposite. He raised his eyes in alarm, taking in her long, dark hair with its gentle wave. Her striking green eyes were like beacons standing out of a lightly tanned, attractive face. There was so much colour compared to his own pale complexion. His nostrils flared as he took in her scent. The scent called to him somehow and made him wonder how it would feel to run his fingers through that soft hair. She waved her fingers and bared her teeth.

"Hi there. Where are you from then?" she asked cheekily.

Not entirely feigning puzzlement he responded, "I travel from far away, other place."

Excitedly, like a child, she interrupted. "No, no, don't tell me. Don't tell me, let me guess."

He became nervous as she eyed him up and down taking in details of his appearance. He wondered what was going through her mind. He didn't need to wait long to find out.

"Your clothes are pretty weird, so I’d say some place in Europe. Those European men always dress so stylishly. Who else would dress entirely in black in the desert? The clothes would have made me think maybe Italy, but look at your beautiful pale skin and your fair hair. It's somewhere in Scandinavia, isn't it? I bet it is. Now all I need to do is remember the names of those Scandinavian countries.”

To his intense relief the waitress chose that moment to return with a round platter piled high with food.

"Don't be bothering my customers, Missy. I don't mind you waiting in here in the cool, but no annoying my paying guests.” Looking in his direction she went on, “The poor girl has been hoping for a ride since opening and you're our first visitor. I'm beginning to think I'll never be rid of her. Maybe I should put her to work if she's going to be hanging around. Has she asked you yet?" She laughed. It was a sound he was unaccustomed to hearing but he knew what it was. She turned back to the girl. "Give the poor man some peace to eat his food.”

He wasn't sorry when the girl moved reluctantly to another table leaving him some privacy to investigate the contents of the plate before him. He poked and prodded at the food experimentally. A large pile of grain based carbohydrate, golden brown in colour, probably safe. The shiny, sweet, and sticky sauce on top seemed to be some kind of plant extract. These people certainly had a sweet tooth.

In the corner of his eye he could see the girl continuing to observe his actions, which made him uncomfortable. To avoid arousing further suspicion, he picked up the metal implements beside the plate to push some food into his mouth, as he’d been taught. He was just plucking up courage to tackle the yellow-and-white-coloured protein item in the selection, which was a strange combination of solid with a liquid centre, when the girl appeared opposite him again and looked shiftily in the direction of the server.

"Mister, you seem OK. I am really desperate to get out of here, so if you could give me a ride I'd be very appreciative. You're the first person who has stopped here this morning.” He must have looked confused. “I don't care where you’re headed,” she pressed on. "You can drop me at the first civilised place we come to with transportation, but I do really, really need to get out of here.”

He got the impression she was speaking more slowly and clearly than normal for his benefit. Gradually his mind worked on solving the puzzle of her language. As her request took shape in his mind it was joined by a feeling of anxiety. By way of distraction he picked up an item from his plate. It appeared to be animal flesh but he wasn’t entirely convinced. "What this is called?" he enquired.

“Bacon," was the woman’s bemused reply.

"What is bacon?"

"You know, like ham." He still looked perplexed. "Meat from a pig,” she added. She made a strange snorting noise and laughed.

"Pig, animal?"

"Well yes, duh." She wondered if he followed one of those religions that didn't eat pork, but as he tucked in she changed her mind.

He hoped his enquiries would be considered a language lesson for a tourist rather than, as was actually the case, explanation to a stranger encountering these items for the first time. To delay answering her repeated request for transportation and allow himself more time to think about it, he pointed at the yellow and white item he had not yet identified.

"That one is called egg in English," she explained. “This, we call pancakes with maple syrup and that one is sausage. That is probably made of pig too but with sausage you never can be too sure!" She laughed again. He was beginning to enjoy the sound of it.

Looking down at the sausage he frowned and pushed the offending item to the side of his plate. He continued eating in silence while he pondered what to do.

“So, did you decide about the ride? I bet there's plenty of room for two in that motorhome of yours. I'd pay you if I could but… Anyway, my name is Alice. I’m pleased to meet you.” She thrust her hand out towards him and bared her teeth, confusing him some more. "Here in America we shake hands when we meet.” She lifted his hand from the table causing him to drop his fork and moved it up and down in hers. "Just where in the hell are you from, Mister?" she muttered quietly.

Ignoring her question, he contemplated an idea forming in his mind. "Where you want go?" he asked.

"Anywhere far from Del Rio where I started from.” He looked bewildered. He assumed he would be the only traveller with no fixed destination. "What's your name? You know you should introduce yourself when I've told you my name!" she demanded.

"My name - John,” he lied.

"Strange for a foreigner to be called John.” She paused. “Well, John, to be honest, I really don't care what your name is, who you are, or where you’re from. I'd just be glad if I could get a ride further away from the guy who did this.” She turned and slightly raised the back of her upper clothing, showing a selection of brown and blue bruises and angry red burn marks on her back.

He felt sudden and unexpected compassion for his new friend and wondered who had treated her so badly. His people might be right to worry about the Humans. Something compelled him to help her. He feared he was about to break the 'minimum involvement with locals' command.

"We make trade?" he suggested attempting a smile.

“What exactly do you expect in return for a lift, John?" She seemed annoyed and he didn’t understand why. "I may be desperate, but I do have principles.” She rose from her seat. There was an angry look on her face and the space between her eyebrows creased, leaving him confused.

"Wait, please. I explain my idea. I travel here in America, get information for…travel book. Difficult for me, with different culture and when I speak your English very bad. If you have nowhere to go, maybe you travel with me too - if you want - in RV. You help me understand and see places. I buy all food.” He paused nervously awaiting her reaction and wondered what he was getting himself involved in.

"That's all you want from me? You want a tour guide. No other conditions?" She smiled sceptically. He nodded. She took in his appearance again observing him more carefully this time. His pants looked like some kind of soft leather or expensive calfskin and the cut of the garment was unusual. It must be all the rage in Europe, she supposed. When she looked more closely at his silky shirt it wasn't entirely black as she'd first thought. When he moved and the light caught the fabric, a faint pattern appeared, almost like a watermark. It must be some pricey kind of material. Those striking ankle boots, with their unusual method of lacing up the side, didn't come from Walmart either. Perhaps John was loaded. Finding her mind wandering to contemplation of the body that might lie hidden beneath the clothes, she blushed and gave herself a mental slap, after all she had vowed to avoid involvement with men for a while.

“Hmm.” She wondered for a moment just how trustworthy this odd guy was. "A camping trip sounds like fun.” Fun wasn’t the true thought in her mind, but at least it would offer a transportation option and help her cover some ground.

“You want finish food, Alice? I fill up." He pushed the mountain of food remaining on the plate towards her as a distraction. She took a look down. The bacon and eggs had disappeared, the hash browns had been sampled, but the sausage and heap of pancakes were untouched.

“I wouldn't say no," she replied and grabbed a fork. She was starving.

The waitress returned. “More coffee? Oh, you haven’t even touched it. Here’s a cup for your new buddy too and the check.” His next moment of anxiety was upon him. He’d been assured that the strange looking card he’d been given would cover all commerce requirements during his visit but it seemed unlikely. He handed the card over and with relief watched the redhead place it on her tray without a second glance. Worry returned as she disappeared with his precious card.

“She bring it back?” he asked his new companion.

“I sure hope so, otherwise how are you going to buy all that food you promised me?” Alice noticed how quickly he pocketed the card on its return.

“Just sign on the dotted line,” the server requested and handed him some kind of writing tool.

Alice leaned forward and whispered. “You know it’s polite here to tip?”

“Tip?” he looked panicked and unsure what she meant.

“Here let me.” She took the pen and added another generous figure at the bottom of the paper. “Now just sign.” He took the writing implement from her and, trying to make the action of writing look customary as it obviously was for her, scrawled on the line. “Man! You could be a doctor with writing that bad.” Alice chuckled and the sound immediately made him feel calmer. “I sure hope you’ll be typing your travel book notes!”

He rose from the table and headed for the door with Alice close on his heels. As he swung the diner door open, he was momentarily dazzled by the glaring sunlight outside. Even with dark glasses, it was extremely bright here.

Briskly he strode outside and paused briefly to take in the dusky pink rock landscape which surrounded them.

“Which way are we headed first?" Alice asked in a voice perky with false enthusiasm. She hesitated and her tone became more serious. "Just one thing, John, you're not a spy, a terrorist, or something bad like that are you? I don't need any more trouble in my life right now.”

Without responding to her questions, he headed across the parking lot towards his vehicle.


Chapter 2 - On the Road


What the hell was she doing? Acting like a dumb bimbo and accepting a ride from an eccentric, even slightly weird, yet somehow fascinating man, right after getting out of the clutches of that last groping trucker. This was a sure sign of Alice’s desperation to put as many miles as possible between herself and her ex.

She wasn’t entirely convinced 'John' was just the innocent foreign tourist he made himself out to be but needs must. She had to get away before the psychopath tracked her down. Lust for adventure and for a handsome guy had already been her downfall too many times to count in her short and misdirected life. This time her instincts told her that the cute stranger may indeed be odd and definitely wasn't being honest with her, but somehow she sensed he wasn’t a danger to her. Still, it was nice to know that the nine millimetre was loaded and snuggled securely but accessibly in her shoulder bag, just in case.

Out in the early morning sun the rugged rocks of the surrounding desert hills already reflected the heat. The temperature was rising by the minute. John’s vehicle appeared at first glance to be a small but flashy motorhome, yet something about it was off. It was hard to pinpoint. It was uniformly grey with darkened windows, which prevented her from getting a glimpse inside. The hood had no markings to indicate what kind of motor it had. If the inside was as flashy as the exterior looked, she'd be travelling in style. Perhaps it was just that she was accustomed to seeing tourists pass through in basic, uniform, rental motor homes, with gaudy logos splashed along the sides. It was a fairly small vehicle, around twenty four feet, nowhere near the motor coach size of which she'd seen so many last winter; all those retired snow-bird baby-boomers. It looked like there was plenty of space for two, at least for the amount of time she planned on riding along.

“You wait here," he said gruffly. He walked ahead and disappeared inside the back of the vehicle. She suspected he was about to ditch her right there in the parking lot and shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. A few minutes later he re-emerged and held open the front passenger door to allow her to climb aboard.

“Don't I get the tour of my new holiday home?" she joked to disguise her anxiety.

“No," he replied brusquely and gesticulated to urge her into the cab.

This gift horse doesn't come with charm, she mused, as she clambered into the passenger seat. It was a fancy bucket seat design more like you'd expect in a sports car, covered in a similar leather to the material of John's pants. As she sat down she noticed it was surprisingly cool to the touch, despite the harsh sunlight shining through the window directly onto the soft black fabric.

In the driving seat John fumbled for a few moments. He appeared to be trying to remember how to operate the vehicle. He fidgeted in his seat, adjusted it back and forth, and then studied the dials on the dashboard. They would look more at home in a Ferrari. She couldn't even make out which dial was which. They moved off hesitantly onto the highway. The engine was so quiet, she hadn't even realised he'd started it up.

“You may prefer to drive on the other side of the road, John,” she quipped in an attempt to conceal her terror at the rapidly on-coming pickup truck. “That way we may live till lunchtime.” He quickly corrected his mistake.

“Sorry. We head north, OK? I think it less hot there.”

“North is fine with me. All you'll find in the other direction is Mexico.”

“Mekico?” he looked puzzled.

“Yes, you know, the country. The border is just a few miles south of here.” He nodded but she wasn't sure he actually understood what she was telling him. The fact that he'd arrived here without seeming to know he was so close to the border was curious.

Time passed in awkward silence. The closeness of the Earth woman with her enticing scent and strange mannerisms made John feel flustered. It was all he could do not to reach out and find out for himself how that delicate looking facial skin and those full red lips would feel.

“What do you want to see here in the good old U.S. of A?” she asked, as he struggled to regain his concentration.

He gave a quick frown. “U.S. of A?” He appeared bewildered again.

She was certainly going to need to use clear language, not local slang, for this guy. A translator riding along would be a good idea for him after all. “Here in America, John, what do you want to visit? Where do you want to go?”

“I study lifestyle and customs of local population, nature, weather conditions, and language," he rattled off like a mission statement learned by heart. Alice was alarmed to notice that his driving tended to become a little erratic as their conversation distracted him.

“Put like that, you make it sound like we Americans might just be your lab rats."

“Rats?" he looked perplexed.

“What I mean is you make it sound like you are a scientist and America is your experiment."

“No, not scientist, just tourist,” he responded. Was that a trace of panic she detected in his voice? He shook his head for greater emphasis.

“Like I said, John, I don't much care. I'm hoping to head north towards Montana eventually but I'm not in a big hurry. Riding around seeing some of the country on an all-expenses-paid RV trip sounds like a fun way to go." It might even throw her ex off her scent if he did decide to come after her. Heading straight to Montana wasn't such a good idea when he knew of her connections there.

“You my guide. You choose place you want to go. You want go to a Montana, we go a Montana. You find way for me."

“There’s no rush, John. We can see some of the famous places on the way.” The idea of the trip was actually starting to excite Alice, who had always been a risk-taker. She knew this crisis point in her life wasn't really the best time for a holiday, but she never got the chance to do any sight-seeing in her own country and hadn't been on vacation in years. If John treated her right and was true to his word, maybe she could persuade him to drag the trip north out over a couple of weeks and take in some sights on his dime.

“Before we head out into the wilderness, John, and start our camping trip, we should stop at the next big town to pick up supplies and maps to plan our trip. I'll take you to one of America's most famous landmarks; the retail wonder-world of Walmart,” she laughed.

“Valmar? What Valmar?" he asked.

“Walmart," she corrected although his version certainly sounded more exotic, “is a place where you can take that magic plastic credit card of yours and get everything you need for our camping trip. In fact you can get pretty much anything you need for anything, right there under one roof.” She was making an effort to speak slowly and clearly and he seemed to be keeping up much better already. "I bet you've never seen anything like this back home, but," cautioned the voice of experience, "we absolutely must make a list of what we need, otherwise shopping there is just dangerous."

“Dangerous?" he queried with concern.

“Don't worry, John. It’s only dangerous to your bank balance.” He looked confused again. “Take a left at the light.”

He didn't seem to be slowing the vehicle as they approached the intersection. “John, the light is red. You have to stop before we can turn.” Abruptly he obliged and they jerked to a halt.

“Are you sure you even have a driver's licence?” It was another question that went unanswered.

She directed him into the parking lot. Pausing briefly in the entrance, he looked around and stopped the RV in a double space between two white lines next to another motor home, copying the way it was parked.


Chapter 3 - Honesty


“Let's take a look in the back to see what supplies you've got and what we need to buy,” Alice suggested. The cab of the vehicle was sealed off from the living area by some kind of divider. Before John could stop her, Alice opened her passenger door and leapt out of the cab. He raced around the front of the vehicle to intercept her but Alice had already turned and opened the rear access door. She climbed up the small steps into the back of the motorhome, where she came to an abrupt stop. Damn he'd forgotten to lock it!

"What the hell?” she murmured.

In John's haste to catch up with her, he smacked right into her back where she stood open-mouthed at the top of the entry steps. His nose was buried briefly in that luscious hair, until she took another step up away from him.

The RV looked flashy from the outside but the inside was surreal, like something from Star Trek was Alice's first impression. She'd never seen a camper like this one. Smooth panels of light grey lined the walls, interspersed with large banks of flashing lights. The seats at the table and the long bench seat were covered in a soft fabric of the exact same shade of grey as the interior. The windows were tinted in a very dark shade, giving a clear but muted view of the outside world. Another divider shut off the back end of the vehicle, concealing whatever lay behind.

Alice closed her eyes and shook her head sure it couldn't be real. Nobody had ever built a motorhome that looked remotely like this one. She raised her eyelids again, half hoping what she saw was just an hallucination. However, the image remained the same, and that other half of her, the wilder half which sought out and needed adventure, felt a sudden surge of excitement. Something was just so weird about all of this. Her brain screamed ‘out of the frying pan into the fire.’

“Mister John, either you are the world’s most dedicated sci-fi geek to fit your RV out this way, or…” She paused, looking around again. Her gaze came to rest on a panel of assorted coloured, flashing lights marked with unrecognisable squiggles. She turned to face him. “Where in the hell are you from exactly?”

His heart pounded at twice its normal slow pace. He’d been in this unfamiliar place only a few hours and, despite all the training, he was already in trouble. Should he dump the girl quickly and disappear into the dusty desert, or was this was to be the dreaded moment of truth? Could he trust this woman? Would he need to harm her to keep his secret safe? He took a long, slow look at her innocent, trusting face and her long-lashed, vivid, green eyes which were open wide in a mixture of what he read to be disbelief and excitement.

“Sit,” he said, pointing at the seat and mimicking what he’d heard earlier. Silently she obeyed and waited anxiously for her explanation. He noticed her reach into her bag and check for something. Was she armed? He knew the general population in this place had access to weapons. What could he say to make her understand and not freak out? The last thing he needed was for her to wound him, or to flee in terror into this crowded building and raise the alarm. He felt in his pocket and was reassured to find his last line of defence close at hand but hoped he wouldn’t have to use it on this new companion. Spotting this slight motion, Alice looked more afraid. If he could ensure things went well, she could be very valuable to him, a useful ally. He calmed himself, taking a deep breath, and made his decision. He began to lift his arm. Standing, he towered over her. Did he imagine it, or did Alice flinch in fear at the raised hand?

Still doubtful, he took hold of the dark glasses and removed them agonizingly slowly from his face, keeping his eyes tightly shut. His other hand firmly gripped the device in his pocket. As Alice waited, apparently not breathing, he lifted his eyelids and looked at her for the first time through just his own eyes. A gasp was followed by stunned silence. He waited patiently and calmly for her reaction.

“Oh - my - God!” were the first words she finally uttered with their eyes still locked. Although the same shape as hers, his eyes looked totally other-worldly to Alice. The whole eyeball was a fiery golden colour with a narrow black slit in the centre, almost feline in appearance. He looked panicked. “No, I not God. I just from other place, other island in sky.” He pointed upwards to clarify. Alice stood open-mouthed, trying silently to process this information for several moments. Meanwhile, outside, life in Walmart's parking lot continued unperturbed.

“John, are you telling me that you come from another planet in space; that you are an alien?”

He offered no confirmation instead demanding of her, “Can I trust you keep my secret?" He kept a tight grip on the device in his pocket.

Alice thought for a moment of the implications of this knowledge. Fear and excitement were battling in her mind.

"John, that would depend on just what you are doing here on my planet. Can we trust you? How many of you are here? Is this an invasion? Should we be worried? Do you come in peace? Do you want me to take you to our leader?" By the final question there was a touch of humour in her voice, as she thought back to those cheesy alien invasion shows on TV. Frantically he shook his head.

“OK, wait. I explain. Most important, I just here to observe not hurt Human. I research for my people, only me and one other Guy called Khevn. He long way from here in other part of your country. My people ask same questions when we find Earth. We worry Earth people dangerous for us. You must decide right now, can you keep secret? You still help me?" Her mind was buzzing. She needed time to think but felt strangely calm and inquisitive. A long silence stretched between them.

“John, I think I need some time to recover from this shock. Let's buy what we need from the shop. We'll talk more about this later when I've had a chance to get my head around the idea. A million questions are spinning in my head, but for the moment just believe you can trust me. Your secret is safe.” She added silently, at least for now.

She knew her curiosity was winning out. John was even more intriguing with her new knowledge. If the apocalypse was imminent, she may as well get a couple of square meals and an adventure out of this experience first, while putting some distance between herself and her ex. Anything she learned about this stranger might be useful if intergalactic trouble was brewing. What would this alien do if she refused his request for secrecy? Would he kill her? Maybe she would never be seen again, just disappear.

Alice needed time to understand what this guy was about and what he was doing here. She had no problem at all believing what he told her, one look around and she felt like she was in a space ship. She tried to convince herself she might be doing her planet a massive favour. For once in her life she could be important. She reassured herself again by checking for the trusty gun in her bag but instead brought out a notepad and pen. “Please put your glasses back on before I change my mind. Let's make a shopping list.”

Alice took a longer look at her surroundings. “I need a tour. I have no idea how any of this stuff works, or even what it all is for that matter. Priority number one, where do you hide the bathroom? You do have a bathroom aboard, don’t you?” She wondered just how dissimilar this alien before her might be. Did he even use a toilet? She sure as hell wasn’t digging a hole in the ground. Even the crummy trailer she’d fled had a bathroom. John looked puzzled. How would she explain the concept of a toilet to her new friend?

“OK, just show me around or this will take all day. Show me what you have here." She waved her arm around the RV in explanation. He caught on and stepped right to touch the pale bluish-grey panel in front of him. Almost quicker than the eye could follow the panel slid back and the cabinet transformed itself into what at her best guess was a mini-kitchen, containing something almost like a microwave oven. Her hunch was confirmed when John pointed at the small cuboid device and raised his hands to his mouth miming the act of eating.

"This is where you prepare your food?" drew a quick nod in response. "What food do you have here?" He touched another panel, which opened to reveal a cabinet almost empty except for a container of what resembled dishwasher pellets in an unappetizing shade of brown.

“That doesn’t look very tasty, John. Is that all you eat?" she asked in horror.

“Supply of protein concentrate for emergency," he explained shaking his head.

“We are definitely going to have to buy some real food. Do you have a fridge here?" Anticipating his language problems, she added, "How do we keep food cold to stop it going bad?" A quick touch opened another door, revealing what she assumed to be a chiller. She confirmed this with an exploratory hand, sensing the cold interior.

“Cooking implements?” she asked. John just looked confused. “Do you have any tools for cooking food or eating?” He seemed to understand and shook his head again. This was going to be a big shopping list.

“What about water, to drink and for washing?”

“Have only one small bottle to drink but big tank under here. I must fill with water.”

“I guess we can do that when we find somewhere to camp.”

“So, where's the bathroom?" She was relieved when he finally seemed to comprehend that word, perhaps because she'd mentioned washing. Quickly he opened the sliding door at the rear of the RV by placing an index finger on it. Hidden behind the shiny silver panel was what appeared to be fixtures vaguely similar to a normal bathroom; sink, shower, and most importantly to her, what looked like a toilet. It was all very cramped and she may feel like she were taking a pee in outer space, but it beat squatting behind a tree. She moved on to her final concern.

“Where do you sleep, John?" He pointed to a large cushioned area located above the driving position, covered in that same leather-type black material.

“Hmm, so, where will I sleep?" she frowned. Only the one large bed was obvious.

Again he pointed to the same bed. Turning back to look at her face, he spotted her sceptical expression.

“I don't think so, John.”

He pointed to a bench seat by the table. “You sleep here if you prefer, or I sleep here and you have big bed, whatever you like.” He was keen to keep her happy.

A couple of moments of silence followed while they sized one another up. Alice felt tingles running up her spine as he gazed at her so intently. Suddenly he lowered his eyes and she could breathe again.

She returned to the safe topic of their shopping trip. “Basically, we need to buy everything. Those protein thingies just won’t do it for me. We need some real food."

“Indeed, they taste most horrible!" he smiled.

"And some bedding. I don't know how you sleep, but I'm not sleeping on that hard cold bench without any blankets.”


Chapter 4 - Curiosity


Taking her friends’ small children around the superstore in the past had been a trial. Taking an alien, new to Earth, on his first shopping trip was more like an ordeal. He acted like an excited kid and the craziness began when they picked up a shopping cart. He examined it closely, pushing it back and forth, and spinning it around.

“That's where we'll put the things we want to buy,” Alice explained.

It took forever to reach the housewares section with John picking up everything he saw, sniffing and poking each item before looking eagerly to her for an explanation. After explaining the first few random items which drew his attention, her patience was already wearing thin. How could you even explain some of those ‘As Seen On TV’ items? Would they ever get out of the store? She threw a random selection of bedding, towels, and kitchen items into the cart, for once not worrying about the cost or choosing the cheapest. John wasn’t worried, he was busy trying out an office chair he found nearby, twirling around like a kid in the centre of the aisle.

Next they hit the pharmacy. She needed to pick up a few toiletries as she'd left home in a hurry. Carefully selecting shampoo from the shelf, she turned around and John was gone again. A commotion in the next aisle drew her attention. She heard a strange rattling noise. Sure enough, there he was, working his way along the vitamin and mineral supplements, peering at each label before shaking the bottle and moving on to the next.

“What this?” he asked, using the latest curio like a maraca.

“These are vitamin and mineral supplements.” Her explanation drew a total blank from her companion.

“They are pills of different chemicals used in the body. People take the supplements to stay healthy.”

“You need all this pills just for be healthy. We just have one pill. I not sure it keep us healthy at all,” he continued enigmatically.

“We don't need the pills, John. With a healthy diet we don't need any.” John just looked more confused.

“Why so many then?” he pondered. “This one here,” he pointed at a bottle of vitamin E, “it say same as this one. Just bottle different colour. Why two or three different coloured bottle all have same inside. It make no sense to me.”

“That'll be your free market economy, John. Several different businesses sell a similar product. The customer has to choose. Don't you have that…” She paused, stopping herself before she said something which would be damning if someone were to overhear. Instead she opted for, “…Where you come from?”

“You need medicine, doctor give you medicine. Same pill for everybody. One medicine for one sickness.” He was about to venture into the next aisle over and she wasn't ready to explain diet meal substitutes just yet. Instead, she steered him towards the grocery section, hoping that pushing the shopping trolley would keep his hands busy.

Unfortunately their route wasn't a direct one. They had to pass through Sporting Goods first and here Alice lost him again. He wandered the aisle selecting a fishing rod at random from the display and flamboyantly waved it in the air, swishing it back and forth. “Alice, what this is?” he enquired.

“That's a fishing pole, used to hunt for fish in rivers or lakes,” she began to explain before being interrupted.

“Nobody can hunt with this stick. It not very strong.” As he spoke he grabbed the tip of the rod and flexed it up and down between his hands. “Look, already it nearly broken.” Snatching the rod from John's grip, she hoped it wasn't actually broken or they would end up paying for it.

“It will be broken soon if you carry on bending it like that,” she chided him like a child. She turned around in search of a reel and fishing line, wanting to explain the intricacies of fishing, but by the time she had picked up the items, John was nowhere to be seen again. A loud clang from the next row over alarmed her.

Hurriedly Alice discarded the items and raced around the corner to find the alien apparently juggling with a couple of extremely heavy looking dumb-bells. He ignored her, bringing the hefty items up alongside either ear, obviously wondering at their purpose.

“Those weights are used for training. People lift them to get stronger and fitter,” Alice explained patiently.

“You get stronger by lift this? It so small.” John smirked and abandoned the weights with another noticeable clang of metal as they dropped to the floor, rattling nearby shelving. He was already out of sight, attracted by some other random item, leaving Alice to return the weights to the shelf. Thinking of John's juggling antics, she assumed they must be lighter than they looked, but was shocked to find herself having to lift one weight at a time, using both hands, to avoid a back injury when moving them.

By the time she caught up with him, he was perusing the range of bicycles.

“Transportation?” he queried. When she nodded and taught him the name for the device in English, he asked why some were so small, pointing at a vivid pink child's tricycle.

“That one is for a child,” she explained.

“Where do child this small go alone on bi-cy-cle?” He struggled with the pronunciation of the word he had just learned, drawing it out so long that it was almost unintelligible.

“Children that small don't go out and about riding their bikes alone,” she explained. “They just use them for play.”

“What is play?” John wondered, leaving Alice stumped for an explanation. No matter, he was out of earshot and bound for the toy section. Perhaps it would be easier to explain there.

As she arrived, his next question was fired at her. “Weapon?” he enquired, looking unconvinced, as he pondered the toy gun in his hand, the type that fired those foam bullets.

“Just a toy for a child, used for play,” Alice tried to explain.

“You train small child to shoot gun. You use childs in warfare?” he asked looking horrified.

“No, John, of course not.” Alice remembered for a moment those poor children in Africa she'd seen on TV being used as soldiers and wondered whether that was information to be shared with her alien friend. She decided against it, as it appalled her. “Children just play with these things. You know, make-believe?” He looked completely bewildered, so she tried a different word. “They just pretend to have battles and wars. It's not a real weapon. Surely you played games with your friends when you were a child?” It was Alice's turn to be curious. The perplexed look on his face was so cute, it made her want to ruffle his hair.

“Why someone want to pretend there is war? Already there is too much war.” John was still muttering to himself as he replaced the toy gun and headed over towards the section of toys for girls. Here a toy mobile phone drew his attention.

“Communicator?”

“Only a toy one, John. It doesn't really work. Children can imagine they are talking to somebody on it, but you couldn't really hear anyone.”

“Somebody make a communicator that don't work, so child can imagine to talk with someone, when nobody is there. That crazy! On Guyara they send somebody to doctor for think they talk with somebody who not really there. Here you want children to do this. I don't understand.”

“We try to encourage children to use their imagination, John.”

“I not know this word imagination. Maybe we don't have. What is it?”

This was starting to give Alice a headache. “OK, imagination is when you think, inside your head,” she poked his temple for emphasis, making him lurch backwards in surprise. “You make up stories in your mind and picture things which you have never seen. When you set off on this trip to visit with us, you must have imagined how Earth would be?” Nervously Alice looked around to make sure nobody was within hearing range.

“I think about what we know, that is all. Guns, war, murder, scientists who want to hurt alien, people who suck blood, things like that. Make me afraid, so I stop to think about them. Is that what you mean is imagination? Seem frightening for a child.”

Exasperated, Alice tried to herd John away, hoping they would get their grocery shopping done before she died of old age, but she was out of luck. He grasped a Barbie doll in one hand and was looking at Alice mystified. “This is for Human man to imagine mate?” Inquisitive he turned the doll upside down in his hand and peered up her skirt.

“John, girls like to play with the dolls, dress them up, and make up stories with them. They aren't toys for grown men.” Laughing she snatched the dolls. “They need bigger dolls!”

It was hard to tell when these Humans were making what they called a joke. He was grateful that her chuckling helped him understand. The cheeky glint in the corner of her eye made him want to smile too.

“Why everything here is this horrible colour? What it called?” Alice looked around her and realised that they were in a sea of pink.

“Pink. I guess the people who make the toys think girls must really like this colour.”

“How people can like or not like a colour? Colour is just colour. You don't have to like or not like.”

“You called it horrible, so I guess you don't like it!” she responded, pleased to have caught him out. Now Alice made him think about it, John realised he was becoming rather fond of the green colour of her eyes. Taking him firmly by the arm and pushing their cart with the other, Alice dragged him away from the toys.

In the grocery section cans of food were tapped with his closed fist, as though knocking would magically open them. The pictures on the labels of everything they passed were closely examined. Loaves of bread were picked up and poked and trays of meat inspected, as though John couldn't quite believe they actually came from an animal originally. Alice continued shopping, using the time he was taking studying everything to slowly fill their cart with supplies.

“It so hard to get food here. You want bread, there are many different bread. How you know what to choose? Everything wrapped up so tight or in box. You can't smell if food inside is good or bad. What happen to all food people don't choose?” In the interests of ever leaving Walmart, Alice pretended she didn't hear his questions.

Alice was determined that if somebody else was paying, she was going to enjoy some healthy, fresh food for a change. Among the produce, things only got worse. Here John began picking up, sniffing, and trying to taste each new item he spotted. She'd seen him bite the end off a cucumber before discarding it back into the pile.

“John, unless you want to meet the Earth Police really early in your visit, you’d better stop that. You can’t lick the merchandise until it’s paid for!” Alice smiled.

Looking around anxiously to check no-one was watching, he quickly replaced the red pepper he’d experimentally licked and put his hands into his pockets out of harm’s way. Alice recovered the tasted item and threw it into their cart.


Finally they reached the exit. The magic plastic credit card caused Alice some anxiety at the checkout. Now she knew who he really was, she didn’t even want to think about how his credit card worked, but sure enough it did.

Back at the RV, John opened cabinets and left her to stow their purchases wherever she thought best. He slid away the panel which blocked off the front of the vehicle, and clambered through into the driver's seat.

“Do we need gas? It's always cheaper at these big stores,” Alice asked as they headed back towards the highway.

He looked perplexed. “Fuel, John, do we need any fuel for the RV. It could be a long way between gas stations.” Understanding, he silently shook his head.

Once they got back on the Interstate, he relaxed a little.

“Alice?” he began to speak as the traffic thinned out.

“Hmm.”

“What all this lines?” He glanced in her direction and found her looking confused. “This lines here up high.” He pointed towards a row of telegraph poles running alongside the interstate and then towards some power pylons in the distance.

“Just power lines, some are telephone lines I think,” she explained. The blank look on his face meant that a more simplified explanation was obviously going to be required. “Some lines are wires which carry electricity, power, from wherever it is produced at the power station to people's houses and anywhere else it’s needed, factories and shops.”

“Lectricty? That is power you use here?” he asked. “How you make lectricty?”

“Well…” This was like a pop quiz at school, she smiled to herself. She should have paid more attention in class. “Some power stations burn fuel, like oil or coal, to make electricity, some use nuclear power from atoms, and then some electricity is made from the heat of the sun or the force of the wind or water. To be honest I don't really know too much about it. I know if you keep paying the electricity company, they keep sending electricity to your house.” Her trailer had often been cut off when her ex had spent the electricity money on partying instead.

“You have to pay money to have lectricity?” he asked in amazement.

“Oh yeah. Nothing is free here,” she laughed.

“Atomic I know; sun, wind, water power, I understand how it work. What is oil and coal fuel? How does it make lectricty?”

“Mostly they come from under the ground.” She found she enjoyed the challenge of explaining things in a way he could understand. It was like talking to a small child. “We dig up coal in mines and drill for oil in wells. Then it is transported to the power station, where it is burned as fuel to power electricity generators.”

“Then power travel in these lines to be used up? That's a lot of lines.”

“Some of the lines are for telephone too. That's how we communicate with people who are somewhere else.”

“How you know where they will be? How you know where to put a telephone line to talk to them?” The concept was obviously completely alien to him. Alice made herself laugh - of course it was alien to him!

“You don't actually have a line running from where you are directly to where the other person is.” Glancing at his baffled face, Alice checked herself from laughing at him. It wasn't really fair. She couldn't imagine being dumped in a totally alien world herself. “The lines all join up at big exchanges, so you don't need one line to run directly to the person you want to speak too.”

“Still you need lot of lines here.”

“We do have wireless phones too, but the lines were the system they invented first,” she explained.

“You don't have wireless lectricty too?”

“No, I guess we haven't invented that yet.”

They hadn't travelled far along I-10 but John was beginning to look weary. Alice felt tired too, having missed out on sleep the night before.

“John, how long have you been here on Earth?” She began conversation, worried he may fall asleep at the wheel.


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