By Donald Sullivan
Shag woke up with a booming headache and a mouth as dry as cotton. At first he thought his vision had blurred, but then realized that a heavy fog had settled in. A truck rumbled by on the bridge overhead, sounding like thunder in Shag’s ears. He reached for the wine bottle and sighed with relief. It still had a couple of good swigs.
He put the bottle to his lips and took a long swallow of the warm, red liquid. He felt better already. Within moments, he felt warmth spreading through his body, fighting off the morning chill.
He pulled a handful of change and crumpled bills from his pocket. He still had three bucks and eighty cents from yesterday’s donations from the good citizens of Oakdale. That should buy him a decent breakfast and get him through another day of soliciting donations.
He took another long drink of the sweet liquid and discarded the empty bottle. His headache was almost gone now, and he was beginning to feel a pleasant glow. Just one more drink, and he could face the world. He was now torn between buying breakfast or buying another bottle.
He decided he’d get another bottle. Later on in the day he could solicit donations for lunch money. He had no sooner made that decision than he spotted Dutch lying nearby, his feet sticking out from a tattered blanket that he had found in someone’s trash.
Dutch was still asleep, and an almost full bottle of port was lying near his head. He and Dutch always shared; Dutch wouldn’t mind if he pulled a swig or two. He picked up the bottle.
Ten minutes later, the bottle was half empty, and Dutch was still asleep. He muttered something in his sleep, rolled over, and broke wind. Shag caught a whiff of the foul odor and quickly moved upwind.
Shag was feeling good now. He would go for breakfast, and then he would go into town to collect donations for another bottle. Shorty’s Diner was about a half-mile down the road, but Shag knew a shortcut through the woods.
He was about halfway there when he reached a clearing in the piney woods. The fog was beginning to lift now, revealing a large object sitting in the clearing. As he approached the object, he could see that it was a large metallic dome. He rubbed his eyes. He had been through this clearing many times, and he knew that this object didn’t belong here.
As he stared at the object, his jaw dropped when a door in the dome slid open. He almost fainted when a strange creature emerged from the opening. It was humanoid, and had a large, bronze colored head with pointed ears. Its face was covered with bumps, welts, and ridges.
He rubbed his eyes again. He had a glow on, but he knew he wasn’t that drunk. He was seeing an alien stepping out of a spaceship. He stood there frozen as it walked up to him and stopped. It stood there a moment, as if sizing him up. And then it spoke.
“Hey, there, Buddy,” it said. “My name’s P’Jorp, and I’m from the planet Quirple. What do they call you?”
“Sh-Shag,” he stammered.
“Hey there, Sh’Shag, good to meetcha. I’m here to learn a little about you guys on Earth. Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Shag was beginning to recover. The creature was ugly, but seemed friendly enough.
“Sorry,” he said. “but I ain't never seen a space alien before. You scared the livin' pee out of me.”
“That’s understandable,” said P’Jorp. “I’m prob’ly uglier than sin to you. You Earthlings are delicate creatures. You don’t have bumps, ridges, welts, pointed ears, or sharp teeth like most folks in the universe.”
“Well, I ain’t scared no more,” said Shag. “You talk like a reg’lar guy. I thought space aliens talked like college perfessors.”
P’Jorp held up an object. “See this? It’s a translation gizmo. Whatever I say comes out in your lingo, just like you talk. If a college perfessor was standin’ next to you, then I would sound just like a perfessor to him.”
Shag looked at the device. “Amazin’. And I guess whatever I say comes back to you in your own Lingo.”
“You got it. Now, mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Glad to. But I could sure use a drink. And a bite, too.”
P’Jorp handed him a pill. “Here, chew this. It’s a complete meal with dessert and several after dinner drinks.”
Shag chewed and swallowed the pill. He burped. “Wow! That’s great stuff. Bring on the questions, Pal.”
For the next couple of hours, Shag answered P’Jorp’s questions. He was able to answer nearly all the questions, since most of them dealt with everyday human activities.
“You’ve been a great help, Sh’Shag. I’ve learned a whole raft of stuff. Thanks a bunch, pal.”
“Glad to help ya. But I got a question of my own. It must have taken a jillion years to get here from Quirple. How did you survive, by freezin’ yourself or somethin’?”
“Didn’t have to. We Quirplians live for jillions of years. Heck, ten of your years is but a minute to me.” P’Jorp pointed to a watch on his wrist. “See the hand on my watch that you’d call the second hand? It takes ten of your years for it to go all the way around to complete a ‘minute’ in Quirplian time.”
Ten Quirplian years equals one minute in Earth time? Shag tried to compute that and gave up. “Jeez, how can you live so long and manage to support yourself?”
“No problem. I own a couple of planets loaded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and such. Heck, a few million of your dollars is nothin’ to me. You said you was a panhandler, Sh’Shag. We got panhandlers on Quirple, too. When they ask for a handout, I just toss them two or three handfuls of diamonds and rubies.”
Shag’s eyes widened. “Holy smoke! that must be worth a couple million bucks.”
“In your money, I s’pose it would be couple million. But heck, a couple or three million is just pocket change to me.”
A couple or three million bucks like pocket change? That got Shag’s attention. If he could play on the generosity of this citizen of Quirple, he would never again need to solicit from the good citizens of Oakdale. Visions of banquets, champagne, and beautiful girls danced in his head.
“P’Jorp, I was more than glad to help you. Now I’m goin’ to ask you for a small favor.”
“Sure,” said P’Jorp. “Anything within reason.”
“Could you spare me some pocket change, ol’ pal?”
“Sure thing. I don’t have it with me, but if you’ll wait here for just a few minutes, I’ll go get it for you.”
Shag watched as P’Jorp’s ship rose into the air and disappeared. He was ecstatic. In just a few more minutes, he would be a rich man. He would be wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
But as the minutes stretched into hours, his heart began to sink. He remembered something else that Jorp had said. A minute meant ten years to the Quirplian! A few minutes to P’Jorp would mean a few decades.
Shag put his hand in his pocket and jingled the coins. Enough for a bottle, he thought. He set out for Oakdale.
Maybe, if he was still around, he would come back to this spot in a few decades.