A young woman sat on the dock of a lake, playing with her auburn, braided hair and trailing her bare feet in the water. She occasionally swirled them around to make ripples along the surface which disrupted the reflection of the crescent moon and the stars which peppered the clear spring sky.
The pale light illuminating the lake suddenly changed to a reddish color as something flared angrily in the sky over the mountains. A streak of hot white light broke off from the fireball and the woman had to squint against the brightness before they both disappeared behind a large ridge. The glow in the sky slowly faded as she stood in awe and waited for any further activity.
“And I swear to God it shot right over the mountains, bright and red as hellfire and then there was this other white light and they both went down behind Ford’s
She had rushed over to the church an hour before she had to work in order to tell her coworkers about the strange sights of the night before.
“So, you’re saying you saw an exploding star?” one of the men said, leaning on his shovel.
“Yes, what do you think I’ve been saying?”
“Well, Annie,” a second man started, chewing the tobacco in his mouth carefully as he considered his words. “I think you’re full of shit.”
He and the other men broke out into raucous laughter which prompted Annie to kick dirt at them all.
“All y’all need to grow up!” she snapped.
“You’re the one yammering on about a fairy tale,” the first man chuckled. “And the other day I seen you trailing after McAllister’s truck, hoping to get a free melon.”
“Yeah, and what’d you do after you saw this thing, anyway? Make a wish?” a third man grinned.
“As a matter of fact, I wished for a real man, ‘stead of you lugs.”
“Like you’d know what to do around a man!” he shot back, causing the other men to snigger.
“A helluva lot more than I’d do with you!” Annie yelled, kicking him in the shin before storming off and ignoring the men’s hooting laughter.
Out in the desert behind the mountains, one man was struggling along in the heat and supporting another badly hurt and older man.
“Hang on, professor,” the younger grunted.
Through the waving and arid landscape, he could just make out the buildings of a nearby town on the horizon. The weight of his professor on his back told the younger man that he was dead, but he wouldn’t allow himself to abandon the body. His feet were blistered, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and his entire body ached, but now that he had seen signs of civilization, he couldn’t think of anything else. He vowed to make it.
He collapsed not more than a hundred yards from the nearest building.
“I’ll see you and raise,” Annie grinned, tossing a few coins onto the table. She held her cards up close to her face and peered mischievously over them at the men seated in front of her. As was the case with most of their arguments, she’d forgiven, forgotten, and went out for a drink and card match with her coworkers.
“Damn, why do I even bother playing against you…” one of the men muttered. “I fold.”
“If Ed’s folding, so’m I,” a second man said, slapping down his cards.
“Y’all are a bunch of babies,” Annie sneered, sticking her tongue out.
“And you say you don’t act like a kid…”
“Look, Annie, I’d love to play, but you don’t have to deal with my wife if you lose,” Ed sighed.
“Yo, Annie,” her boss called from the doorway of the room.
“What is it, Bart?” she asked, distracted by her hand.
“Two unclaimed just came in, it’s your turn.”
“What?!” she shouted indignantly. “Oh come on!”
“Sorry, them’s the rules. Hop to it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she growled, scraping the money off the table, shoving it in her pocket, and sulking out the door.
“Hey,” Ed said, taking a peek at her cards. “She had a pair of twos!”
“Damn, every time we play…”
Muttering as she went, Annie ambled her way down to the little graveyard behind the church, grabbed her shovel from the tool shed, and headed out to the unmarked graves section. The bodies of two men were laid out on straw mats and the blue thumbprints on their foreheads showed they had been blessed by the priest. One of the men had to be at least 50 and looked rather beat up; his face was scratched in several places and there was dried blood around his mouth. The second man was much younger, around Annie’s age, and had probably died of dehydration. His shoes were scuffed and dirty and his tan hair, clothes, and glasses were filthy with dust; he’d walked a long way with the other man on his back.
Still grumbling to herself, she set about digging the first grave for the older of the two. When it was a good couple feet deep, she climbed out and began to give the body a final inspection.
“Nothing…nothing,” she said as she rooted through his pockets. “This guy’s pretty well-dressed for a drifter, so where’s—ah,” she grinned, pulling out his wallet. “Shit, what’s this garbage?”
She thumbed through the wallet, but found only a bunch of cards with foreign writing on them, no real money.
“What a waste of time,” she sighed, rolling the body up into one of the mats, tying it up, and lowering it into the grave.
She had just finished filling it back in when she heard a whisper.
Whirling around and holding the shovel as a weapon, she was faced with only the empty graveyard.
She looked down this time and gasped when she saw the second man’s eyes were slightly open and his lips here slowly moving.
“Woah, shit!” she yelled in surprise.
“Velai,” he repeated in a hoarse voice.
“What? I can’t understand you,” she said, kneeling down.
“Yeah, ‘velaye’ but what—”
His hand slowly moved up to his throat.
She fumbled around for her canteen, lifted his head, and carefully poured some into his mouth. The man smiled faintly before closing his eyes.
“Hey, hey,” she said, shaking him. Leaning over his face, she was relieved to hear and feel him breathing. “He just fainted, that’s all. But…” she paused and looked around. “What am I supposed to do with a half-dead drifter?”
After a bit of internal struggle, she decided to carry him back to her apartment which was in the basement of the church. She laid him on the couch and wrapped a cold, damp towel around his neck before taking off his shirt in order to cool him down; she could tell he had been in the sun for too long.
It took a few hours, but the man slowly woke again and tried to sit up.
“Woah, buddy. You had a bad case of heat sickness, you need to rest. You were getting a bit delirious,” Annie said, appearing from the kitchen and handing him a glass of water. “I brought you back to my place,” she explained as he drank it quickly. “You’re real lucky you came to, you could’ve been buried alive.”
“Zeitareg havegra?” he sputtered, spitting out a mouthful of water as he did so. “Roshar al yugal Keroch mav linde? Escar dyain slenoy? Con—”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t understand you,” she sighed hopelessly.
“Eyah,” the man groaned, running his hand through his hair. “Tewa, tewa vi kegra,” he said, making writing motions.
“Uh, hang on.” She looked around and handed him a chalkboard and a piece of chalk.
“Vey--?” the man started, confused.
“Look,” she said, marking the board with the chalk and then erasing it with the tail of her shirt. “See?”
“Seh! Loy,” he muttered, starting to draw.
He was a rather good artist and had quickly sketched up a picture of an older man in a few minutes.
“Oh,” Annie said, recognizing it as the old man she had buried. “He’s uh, he died,” she shook her head and drew an X over the picture.
“Shleyesheg,” he whispered to himself, slowly erasing the board.
“Hey, um, what’s your name? I mean…” she started. “Annie,” she said, pointing to herself.
“Rothar zey Jonas.”
“Jonas? That’s you?” she asked to which he nodded.
“So where, um,” she said, taking the board from him and drawing a crude map of the country. “Where are you from? Where?” she asked, pointing at it.
The man cocked his head, confused.
“See, me,” she said, putting a dot next to the mountain range. “Where are you from?”
“Sehhh,” the man nodded, taking the board, erasing it, then drawing in some circles and odd-looking shapes.
“Besh,” he said, pointing from Annie to one of the circles. “Kar,” he said pointing at himself and one of the other shapes.
“What do these mean? I don’t understand.”
He looked around, then suddenly got up and rushed out the front door.
“Hey!” she cried, following. “Get back inside, you’ll freeze out here!”
He was standing in the field, looking up into the night sky and breathing heavily. He faltered a bit and Annie had to catch him before he fell.
“Chey,” he panted.
“Chey,” he repeated, pointing up.
“Veka dio,” he half-nodded.
“You’re from the stars?”
“Ooookay, I think you need to get some rest,” she said, dragging him back toward the apartment.
Early the next morning, Annie was woken by the sound of a loud thud and rushed out into the living room, shovel in hand.
She spotted Jonas smiling awkwardly from the floor, his foot caught under the rug.
“Would you not do that? You shouldn’t be wandering around anyway?”
“Sheh, polagiar amet,” he said, standing up.
“Why do I get the feeling you can understand me when I don’t know what the hell you’re saying?” she sighed.
Seemingly inspired, Jonas hurried over to the coffee table, picked up the chalkboard, and quickly began to draw.
“Oh great, the board again,” Annie yawned, sitting on the couch and laying the shovel on the floor. “What the hell is this supposed to be?” she asked when he shoved it at her. It looked remarkably like an egg with windows.
“Euh,” he scratched his head. “Shey—”
He held the chalkboard out in front of him and began to make a low humming noise as he turned and tilted the board.
“Oh, charades now, this is so much better. I don’t know, fishing? Mining? Driving?”
“Io, io,” he grinned, pointing at her.
“You want me to drive you somewhere? Well where--?”
He had already erased and begun drawing a new picture. He finished and showed her a rough map of the mountains and an arrowed line leading away from the town.
“Okay, fine,” she sighed. “Let me get dressed.”
An hour later, Annie and Jonas were driving out in the desert in a truck she’d borrowed from her boss.
“You’re positive you know where we’re going, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Euh, sechar vey…” he said uneasily.
“Wonderful, we could be—”
“Sai!” he shouted, pointing out the window.
Annie pulled the truck around and parked the truck near the large metal contraption Jonas had pointed out. He hopped out excitedly and hurried over to it as she looked at it, her mouth wide open.
“What the hell is this?” she whispered as Jonas pushed a few buttons on the thing’s surface, causing a door to pop open. “What the hell is this?!” she repeated, much louder.
It was at least twice as large as the truck and while parts of it were dirty and torn up, most of it shone brightly in the sun. The roof was domed and tapered down to what she assumed to be the front end which was partially buried in the dirt. The windows were dark in color as was the underside which was partially exposed.
She continued to stare, even after Jonas had emerged carrying several bags and cases under his arms. Digging around in one, he pulled out a small box which contained what appeared to be plastic beans.
“Tefa, sejaklesh,” he said, offering one to Annie.
“Huh? What’s this?” she asked, snapping out of her state of amazement.
“Telesh raleb bekag,” he said, moving his finger toward his ear.
“You want me to put this in my ear?” she asked.
“Io,” he nodded, pulling a similar-looking object from his own ear and replacing it again.
“Okay…” she said, doing the same. She heard a bit of static at first, then nothing. “What was the point of all that?”
“Well, it should make that board unnecessary,” Jonas smiled.