The Stranger in the Not-So-Strange-Land

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jack finds himself in an altogether alien, yet completely familiar, world.

Submitted: April 12, 2009

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Submitted: April 12, 2009

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Jack stood, his legs ached where they had slammed into the ground. He looked up, a sky somehow white and cloudless. He wanted to remember a flash, but he couldn’t. He tried to picture a spark of electric current running down his spine– and for a moment he could feel the ghostly sensation of tickling about his neck, but it subsided, and no such memories arose to comfort him. He could remember an automobile crash– no, no there hadn’t been an automobile crash, it was another trick, another rouse his mind found to comfort him. There had been, well, there had been nothing. He had slid easily into his bed one evening, and he was here. Or had it been daytime?

A road stretched below his feet, long, unbroken, unwavering, and untraveled. It shot like a beam of light in both directions, like a photoelectric current frozen in time and painted a dull, concrete-gray, white and yellow lines drawn onto it by a child with a crayon for no apparent reason other than they felt like it. Either side of the road was desert– as unbroken and painted-looking as the road, stretching into dunes and cracked rock. A bright sun in the white sky burned heavily in Jack’s eyes, and he averted them from the horizon, grazing across a rocky cliff-plateau, standing like a statue in the desert. It was slightly off the highway in one direction, away from the sun, and Jack thought he could see the traces of brown grass and shrubs growing up the side of it.

He started walking, and as his feet awkwardly lurched ahead of another across the pavement, he realized he was in a new, albeit dirty, suit. He searched through his pockets, finding each disappointingly empty. His dress shoes fell uncomfortably on the pavement, and he weighted the benefits and cons or removing them. He didn’t have much firsthand experience with deserts; Upstate New York wasn’t exactly the Mohave.

Dizzying himself, he confirmed that there weren’t any mountains along the flat, unforgiving horizon, mutated by waves of heat from the sand, and so he continued to follow the road– which he realized was a highway, elevated a few feet from the sand and somehow immune to its dunes piling over onto it. His heels started to bite into his ankles, Christ, hadn’t he only been walking a few hundred feet? He would have to remove his shoes, soon, and wrap them in something, maybe his suit jacket which was already growing hot across his back. Then, he realized he was walking uphill, looking back he saw an impossibly steep downward slope, how did he not notice? The weights on his ankles lessened, and soon he was level to the plateau at his right. Dead grass and rocks, no water. No oasis. Instead, a house. Crisply painted and white, with a front porch enclosed in a deck, fenced in by white pickets. In the middle of the desert, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on Long Island. A car was parked in the gravel driveway that led to the house, a blue sedan. Again, it was immune to the buildup of mounds of sand– the small rocks of the drive separated neatly and perfectly from the brown sand around it, not a speck of dust blew against the white paint of the house.

The soles of his dress-shoes fell easily on the gravel driveway compared to the road, and the crunch of the small pebbles as he walked comforted him. He realized, it was the only noise he heard. He stopped, strained his ears, and heard nothing. He licked his finger, raised it above his head and began rotating it like a mad pinwheel, and could feel no wind. He looked up, the sheet of white that blanked the sky was unnatural, and from his elevation he could see naught a cloud in every direction.

More crunches of his feet on the gravel, and then the knocking sound of his knuckles against the metal of the door. A pause, a moment of silence, and then more knocks.

A moment later, a man answered the door. It slid open a foot, and Jack barely saw the man– middle-aged, graying hair at the fringes of his otherwise bald head, protruding belly– before he spoke abruptly in a gruff voice “not interested, sorry.” And closed the door. Jack licked his lips, glanced his eyes down to his feet, and knocked again, more urgently than before.

The pause this time was longer, and again the door opened, this time wider. Jack could see the man was wearing a pair of relaxed-looking pants and a sleeveless white T-shirt, he had dark bags under his eyes. “Look,” he said again, “whatever it is you’re selling, I’m not interested.”

Jack tried to speak, and found his mouth dry. He swallowed deeply the desert air, very dry and hot, and opened his mouth again to speak. “I’m not here to sell anything, just– and I’m not crazy– can you please tell me where I am?”

The man’s head turned to the side, and his eyes shot up and down Jack, as if gauging his sincerity by his body. His lips pursed together for a moment, then he reluctantly opened the door all the way/ “Well, come on in, boy.”

He did step in, and found to his disappointment that it was no cooler or less dry than the desert, no air conditioner was running, no fan to circulate air. No windows were open. The living room was very minimally furnished, with a television switched off in one corner and a couch facing it, against the far corner a bookcase and desk with lamp and chair A book lay open at the desk, and the lamp was switched on. Against one wall, a doorless frame that led to a small utilitarian room with scantly more than a couch and against another, a closed door which must have been a bedroom to the one-story home.

“Well, take a seat.” The man said, and he set himself on one of the couches. A figure emerged through the room to the sparse room; A woman, barely more than a girl, and excessively pretty. Her hair, red and sleek was slung across her shoulder where it ended at her mid-torso. Her eyes were green, like the sea, and framed by a dark black rim– her eyelashes, curving upward like blades of grass on a vast plain. She had lips, curving impossibly smoothly into an inviting shape, which was at the moment arranged into a curious smile.

“Who’s this, papa?” she asked in a voice, both musically sweet and somehow dry.

“Well, this is…well, who is this?” the man said, and his gaze went to Jack.

“Oh, hey, right.” He said. “I’m Jack.” He extended his hand, the middle aged man took Jack’s hand in his and shook it. It was cold, barely warmer than the couch on which he sat.

“Walter,” the man said, and released Jack’s hand. The girl stepped forward in a moment and gripped Jack’s hand. Her hand was equally cold, it felt lifeless, dead, yet Jack couldn’t help smiling at her.

“Julia,” she said, and smiled back. “Pleased to meet you, Jack. But I’ve got to run, work, you know. I’ll be back a little later, if you’re staying.

“Yeah,” Jack said for lack of anything better to say. She slipped through the door, and into the car outside, which roared to life and drifted down the road.

“So, Jack,” Walter said. “where’d you come from, where’re you going?”

“Well, I wasn’t going anywhere.” Jack said, and added hopefully “But I’m from Monroeville.”

“Monroeville?” Walter asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes,” Jack continued, losing some enthusiasm. “It’s In New York, about a hundred miles north of New York City.”

“You been out in the sun too long?” Walter asked. “I ain’t never heard of a New York.”

“Yeah,” Jack said to himself, too quietly for Walter to hear. “I suppose that was too much to hope for.” Now he spoke louder, “What do you call this place?”

“Doondra,” the man said. “positive you’ve been outta the sun?”

“Positive. What state is that…erm…this… in?

“State?” Walter’s confused expression had turned to one of frustration.

“I’m not trying to play a trick on you, just, what state? You know, what… what country is this?”

“Oh, he said. Somalar, of course. Then he shot a fleeting glance across the room, near the desk. He looked back to Jack, with suddenly empathetic eyes. “You’re not,” he began. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Jack sank deeper into the sofa, the palms of his hands pressing against his eyes, which had snapped shut. “Bingo,” he said. And, after a moment, said. “But, aren’t you speaking English?”

“No…Walter said, no, I’m speaking Somalarian, same as you.”

There was a pause, Walter looked intently at Jack and Jack looked at nothing at all. Eventually, he mustered words in his rapidly drying throat, “What’s on the other side of the desert?”

“Los Avagos. It’s a big city– they have cities, where you come from? You mentioned one, New York, and another– Monroeville?”

“Yes, they have cities.” Jack still had his eyes closed, his palms pressed against them on his face.

“What’s your world called?” Walter asked.

“Earth.”

“Oh. Ours is called Orana. How big are your cities on Earth, how many people?”

“Well,” Jack said, his hands finally slipping from his face and resting on the couch on either side of him. “It depends. New York is big, more than ten million people live there. But only about thirty thousand people live in Monroeville. Most cities are between those two.”

“Ah,” Walter said, and relaxed in his chair. “It’s about the same here. Los Avagos has about three million. Do you have, have a leader on your world? In your country, I think you said it was…”

“I didn’t. It’s the United States of America. We call it ‘America’ for short. We have a president. The president calls a lot of shots, and appoints a legal system that enforces laws. Some of the laws are written by the Congress, which is elected, just like the president. The president and the congress guide the nation, and they also manage war, and–“

“War?” Walter asked, and Jack stopped midsentence.

“Yes,” Jack began slowly. “War, you know, fighting between countries, you…you don’t have it?”

Walter sighed. “No, no.” he resigned. “we have war. Too much, I was, I was just hoping– that you didn’t.”

“Oh.” Jack, too, sighed. “Well, how about the rest of that stuff, do you have it? If you have war, you must have a leader of some kind.”

“Yes, we have an elected leader. I think the equivalent would be your president, we call ours the supreme counselor. And we have an elected lawmaking body, we call ours the counsel. And we have moderators that try offenders to our laws And the counsel or counselor declare our wars.”

“What do you fight about on this planet?” Jack asked. Walter became flushed, as if embarrassed.

“We fight for land, space, you know to build things on. And we fight for the things under the ground, like for a thick, viscous substance we use to run cars. And sometimes we fight because another countries’ counselor is doing things we don’t like, and sometimes we fight for no particular reason at all.” A long pause, and finally Jack resigned himself to the thought.

“Us too,” he said. “What do you fight your wars with?”

“Men. Men and bullets, and skyships that soar through the air and drop bombs, and ships on the sea that throw bombs, miles and miles. And rockets, rockets with bombs attached to them that can cross the world in a half hour and blow up over an enemy city. We have ones that blow up an entire city, but we don’t really use those, not since they could be used on us. What do you have on your planet?”

They talked, for hours. Comparing the slight differences with the striking similarities of their two worlds. They discussed politics, warfare, history, religion. And found the vices and virtues of humanity on each planet indistinguishable, save for menial details and figures. They discussed technology, and found the two worlds on-par with each other, neither having an edge over the other. And, in fact, they both enjoyed the conversation so much that they had just barely begun discussion about Jack’s voyage between the worlds when the sun was creeping down the opposite horizon, and a car slid into the driveway. Walter glanced to a clock.

“Is it that late, already? Heavens! I have to return to work. Feel free to stay, Jack. I’m sure my daughter can keep you company. Perhaps, we can find you a way home in the morning.” With that, the man stood, and walked to the desk, where he scrambled to collect the book and a pen that had been laying beside it.

“I never asked,” Jack said. “What is it that you do?”

“Me?” asked Walter. “I’m a writer.” And he scurried through the closed door, closing it fast behind him. His daughter, Julia strode into the house, looking as fresh as she had when she left.

“Jack,” she proclaimed with a smile across her lips. “I’m so glad you’re still here.” She sat down on the same couch, keeping her distance and glancing to him, and then to the television and the remote, which still sat atop the box.

“Have you and my father been talking all day?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jack said, and he couldn’t help but smile. “I guess we have.”

“I hope he didn’t bore you.”

“Not at all.”

“How do you know my father, if I may ask?”

“Well, I don’t.”

“Strangers make the best company.” She was sliding closer to him now, her foot slid across the foor and wrapped around his. Somehow, his arm found its way around her shoulders, and she continued her slide into his arms. Her seagreen eyes focused on his, mesmerized, he couldn’t look away. He saw them growing bigger and bigger, then closing as his face approaches hers. Their lips pressed together, and– and nothing.

Her mouth resembled sand, her tongue, like a block of wood. He retracted himself. Her eyes had snapped open again, in shock, and she slid away from him on the couch.

“I, uhm, it was nice meeting you, Jack. She said. And she left, disappearing quickly like a hair through the still0open doorway to the sparse room and behind a corner Jack could not see.

A moment later, Walter emerged from his study.

“What was that?” He asked. Jack couldn’t explain it, his mouth opened, and then closed, and opened again, he tried to find the worlds to describe it.

“Do– does this planet have, saliva?”

“Saliva?” After their hours of conversation, Walter again looked genuinely confused.

“You know,” Jack said. “Spit? In your mouths?”

“I don’t know what you–“ and Jack held out his hand, gathering as much spit as he could in the harsh desert air, he spat a wad of it onto his palm. Walter watched with fascination. “No…” he said “I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.”

“What about blood? Do you have blood? That comes out, in your wars? When people get shot or when bombs explode too close? Blood or saliva, mucus?”

“No…”

“Do you drink?”

“Drink?”

“Do you urinate, piss? Do you kiss or…or make love?”

“You do?”

“Yes, yes we do.” Jack said. And Walter looked away. “Huh,” he said. “Ain’t that something.” He paused a while, and raised the shutters on a window. He looked across the desert, the sun had turned a beat red and was falling rapidly behind dunes in the distance. “You kiss the girl by the end. I think…I think I might just skip all the middle stuff and go to the end.”

“The end of what?” Jack asked.

“Of the story.”

And the house was vanished. The desert air surrounded him again. Only now, with the setting of the sun, he could feel a light breeze lick around his face– it felt good, soothing, human. A skyward glance revealed layers of clouds drifting lazily across the sky, which was beginning to grow a dark blue and shine with stars. His business suit was clean again, and his tie had vanished. He wore only the shirt, untucked at the waist. The girl approached. She was wearing a green dress, which hugged her figure. Jack wanted to speak, but he couldn’t. He opened his mouth, looking for words, but found only her lips as she thrust them against his, filling him with warmth and above all, an exceptional wetness.

In his study, Walter penned the final words in his story, which he entitled ‘Jack– the Water-Mouthed Earthling.’ He wrote the last words in the center of the page because he felt like it, and because it was a tradition on his planet. The last words of the story were these:

The End.


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