by Colin P. Davies
|Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Nostradamus clearly took a delight in narrating the story, as his nose whipped and snapped with the rhythm of his telling. He had settled himself on the floor of the hut and gestured for Santana to sit on the chair recently constructed for their human visitor by the pups of the Woodtool School.
“It was clear something was going to go terribly... wrong when smoke was spotted on the far side of the Strait.” Nosey licked an eye. “Our people would not venture there and the spiny quadrupeds are afraid of fire. ”
“Humans,” said Santana. “The first wave.”
Nosey ignored the interruption. “One of our number, a male known to my father as... in your language, Hollow Echo, decided to build a bonfire, hoping to communicate. Unfortunately he built the fire out upon the frozen sea. He was warned, but he did not hear.” Nostradamus sprang up on his thick legs. He began to walk around the small hut. “After he’d kept the logs aflame for two days, the ice finally submitted, and he... crashed through into the sea below.”
Santana breathed heavily and clutched his handheld to his heart.
“All this was to satisfy the words of the prophet,” said Nosey.
“What prophet? You’ve never mentioned a prophet before.”
“My father told Hollow Echo that the ice would break.”
“That’s just common sense. It’s hardly clairvoyance.”
Nostradamus stopped walking and his nose became rigid. Moisture gleamed on the black globes of his eyes. “You had to be there... ”
“You mentioned an alien.”
Nosey began to pace again. His wrapped feet made soft thuds on the floorboards. “In their excitement the villagers... did not see the approaching sled, which moved without pulling or pushing. Nor did they see the large creature riding upon it. ”
“The creature was of a kind unknown to us, and unsettling to look at. It leapt from the sled and threw out a rope to Hollow Echo, who was clinging to a chunk of floating ice. As if alive, the rope coiled around Hollow Echo’s arm and the alien dragged him out of the water.”
“I’d suspected the story was going to end badly,” said Santana. “I’m glad I was wrong.”
“I did not say it would end badly.”
“But you did mention a proposition.”
“Yes.” Nostradamus stopped pacing. “We would like you to play the alien.”
* * *
Santana watched from the beach as a group of villagers cleared snow from the frozen sea and polished the surface of the ice into a makeshift arena. They stacked up the sticks for a bonfire. Snow was falling thinly and patches of blue sky had appeared.
The cold had begun to penetrate Santana’s boots and he paced about on the bristly coir-grass to keep warm.
An hour later, the snow had stopped and preparations were complete. A surprisingly large number of villagers gathered upon the beach — males, females and pups, together with a contingent of crab-like scavenging beetles that Santana preferred to think of as pets, but which he suspected were actually black-shelled chickens. Then the harbingers parted and Nostradamus emerged, and behind him, unshackled and cheerful, was Paul.
They approached Santana. Bright sky and scattered clouds were reflected in Nosey’s huge eyes. “Paul will play Hollow Echo,” he said. His teeth chattered together in apparent amusement. “A fitting name for the lunatic.”
The senior harbinger known, to Santana, as Gulliver, came out of the crowd, flanked by two lieutenants. Paul and Nosey moved to the side. One of the lieutenants lifted a huge book and held it open for Gulliver to read. The elder turned the pages with his nose, went too far, turned them the other way, then held the tip of his nose to a page. He read in universalspeak: “Welcome to... the thirty-ninth enactment of ... The Intervention of the Alien.” He slammed the book closed so suddenly that the lieutenant struggled to hold on to it.
Gulliver spoke directly to Santana. “This is the first time the... play will have been performed in your language. Most likely a mistake we will regret later.”
“I’m grateful for your consideration.”
“It will be a novelty.”
Nostradamus took Santana’s parka sleeve in a paw and tugged, indicating the human was to follow. They made their way onto the cloudy surface of the frozen sea.
“My lines,” said Santana, as they reached the piled sticks of the bonfire. “I don’t have any. What do I say?”
“You will know what to say.” Nosey returned towards the beach.
“But I... ”
The harbinger spoke without looking back. “When the time comes, you will know.”
Paul was rearranging the sticks on the tall bonfire. “At least we’ll be warm.”
Santana gulped and swallowed frosty air. “You mean they’re going to light it!” Fear reached down from his chilled lungs and clutched his guts. He grabbed the handheld from his pocket.
Santana tried to reset the frequency of the handheld to contact the security chief in New Reykjavik, but his hands were gloved and shaking.
A harbinger approached the bonfire. He was carrying a huge flask. As he tossed liquid over the wood, the smell of oil struck Santana like a slap.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” he said.
Paul pointed a stubby finger across the frozen Strait of the Aurora. “Look... Smoke!”
Santana gazed at the distant white mountains. No smoke. “Where? Where?” Perhaps help was near.
“I am simply performing my part,” said Paul. It seemed to Santana that the renegade harbinger’s smile grew wider.
“You don’t have to do this,” said Santana. “I think I’m supposed to save you... and I can’t swim.” He noticed the villagers were moving out onto the ice and circling around the performing area.
“I think I shall build a bonfire,” Paul announced.
“They’re going to kill you if you stay here, in this village.”
A flame bobbed above the heads of the crowd as a torch was carried down the beach and onto the ice. As he tried to intercept the bearer, Santana’s boots slipped and he whirled his arms to regain balance. The young creature out-maneuvred him easily and tossed the torch onto the bonfire. The oil ignited and the bonfire was ablaze.
The heat was uncomfortable on Santana’s face. He grabbed Paul’s arm and dragged him away from the fire. “We’re leaving. It’s time to go home.”
Paul did not resist and they moved towards the perimeter of the cleared area. The villagers were on the ice and blocking their way.
“Move!” Santana commanded. But the creatures remained as before. He pushed between them.
Suddenly a pup leapt at his leg and sank its teeth through outer cloth and insulation and into his flesh. He screamed and released Paul. Others now jumped upon Santana and he was forced to the ground, face pressed into the cold sea ice. “Let me go. You little bastards. Let me go!”
“Now, you remember your lines.” It was Nosey’s voice. “Let the alien go.”
Santana was released and the creatures backed off. His leg throbbed. He raised his head. Odd... There was something in the ice, a white shape, directly beneath him.
He flung himself away.
A human face... only a fist’s depth below the surface. Pale, rigid and timeless. The eyes stared with the terror of death. The teeth were bared from drawn-back lips.
Santana got up onto his knees. He was shaking. So this is what happened to the alien. They put him into the ice... preserved him all these years. Santana jumped to his feet.
Nostradamus was close.
“Why? Why kill him? He saved one of you. He was a hero.”
“Oh yes,” said Nosey. “And at first we welcomed him. But his optimism was depressing. He began to upset the elders. We had a debate and decided his people were in need of re-educating.”
“How does killing him achieve that?”
“He was asked to take my father back to his city to teach his people our way, but he refused. So my father insisted.”
“You mean he tortured the poor man?”
“The alien had a transformation and agreed to take my father.”
Santana stared down at the body in the misted ice. “What went wrong?”
“The alien had deceived us and tried to leave by night, alone.”
“So your father killed him.”
“The ice was still thin... and the alien was careless. He had been warned that something dreadful was bound to happen.” Nostradamus’s nose grew rigid, his eyes reflected fire. “Now we finish the play.”
Santana grabbed Paul’s arm and charged at the villagers, hauling the harbinger behind him. As though stunned, the creatures parted and let them through. The fugitives ran up the beach, feet skidding on frosty stones, then set off into the frond-forest and the safety of Santana’s sled.
No-one followed them and presently Santana slowed to a walk. The elderly harbinger was gasping for breath. It would be a tough journey home. Five hours across the Strait and then three days to New Reykjavik. Difficult and dangerous. But God would look after him. Hadn’t God always looked after him?
The sled was where he had left it, hidden under decaying fronds and a scattering of balloon-tree leaves. Santana tore the cover away. “I’m sure you can squeeze into the rear storage compartment,” he said. “There’s only the tent in there — everything else, all the food, is back at the hut.”
“I am certain we will manage.”
“I wish I had your optimism.”
Then Santana noticed something upon the driver’s seat. A package wrapped in cloth. He opened it and found his own food. Biscuits and many of his concentrates. There was enough here to see them home. But who was the mysterious benefactor?
It could only be Nostradamus. His friend Nosey. The harbinger had known what was coming and had prepared Santana’s escape. That creature would make a Christian yet!
They rode the sled down to the sea and, within an hour, the island of the harbingers was no more than a portentous smudge upon the fading horizon.
* * *
Civilization greeted Paul with fascination and celebrity. He was interviewed by the media. He held audience with the wealthy and curious. Santana attempted to train him in the ways of the Church as preparation for returning him to the island, but Paul showed little interest. Instead, the harbinger followed his own path.
By the end of the first year in New Reykjavic, Paul had established a network of xenophiles and hangers-on. He liked to call them disciples. Santana meanwhile had gained news of an indigenous race of tripeds with a tradition of epic literature and cannibalism. He gathered his safari suit and sun creams and headed for the tropics.
Paul, however, stayed in the city that had made him so welcome.
On the first and third Thursday of every month, he could be found in an upstairs room in the quayside Beowolf Inn, with his growing group of disciples and a handful of visiting seafarers . He would tell them of the long history of his people, the story of the first alien, and the adventure of Jesus Santana and his mission to the island. He told them how his own son had once hung him up by his heels for an hour, in a cold cell, head pounding and legs aching, as a selfless sacrifice to help the visitors to this world.
And he would tell them not to concern themselves with mapping out the future — with careful planning and anxious trepidation. Only one universal law governed the path of life.
Something dreadful was bound to happen.
Copyright © 2006 by Colin P. Davies