Author's note: I have always been a fan of Science Fiction. Written in 1999, this short story is my first venture into that world. It's the story of mis-communication between two travelers: One in need of a substance, the other who would be better off without it.
The old Ford gave one final cough, then shuddered and died. As Jerry abandoned his vehicle, he cursed his bad luck. “That’s just great, ten miles out in the Arizona desert at two a.m. Like somebody’s gonna be on this road to lend a hand. I’ll be lucky if I don’t freeze to death before morning!”
He reached into his pocket for the tinfoil that held his stash and opened it up to reveal a handful of little blue pills that would make everything better. Minutes later, he had a buzz that gave him an itch to walk the ten miles to town. “Might as well try it. Better than freezing out here tonight or frying out here tomorrow.”
It was December 21, the winter solstice. The moon was brighter than it had been for 130 years. The white lines of the deserted highway shone luminous under its glow, giving the desert an eerie, unearthly feeling. Jerry shrugged his body deep into the Nike windbreaker and began the trek into town.
Three quarters of a mile down the road, about 100 yards off to the right side, another traveler had stalled his vehicle and, like Jerry, left it to search for help. Moru’s enormous eyes readily adjusted to the darkness of the moonlit desert. The luminescent white line that had guided him through landing was now like a beacon pointing the way towards help.
“Much warmer here than at home. Hope I can find some help before too long.” The short hairs on his wings bristled as they sucked in the air he would need for take off. His sensors picked up a presence not too far away.
“Ah, life-form. Help!” Would this earther be friend or foe? Maybe he should hang back, just in case it was the latter. The slight desert breeze added buoyancy to the Uranian’s body as he lifted in flight.
“Man, this rocket fuel is really something else! I can hear the energy! What a buzz! Crank it up!” As the man loped down the highway, the buzz grew in strength with each step he took. He felt the buzz, the desert and his body connecting to his being.
Moru hadn’t yet turned on his translator, so he couldn’t understand human audio. He flew around the jogging figure, his wings humming through the silent desert air. He sensed that something wasn’t quite right with this earther, but he didn’t know what. They all might be like this one, but he sensed a fluctuation in this one’s brain pattern; something too fast, a clicking sensation that Moru found most unsettling. He decided not to reveal himself until he was certain this earther would offer the help he needed with no threat to his own safety. He clicked on his invisiband.
With every step, the buzzing grew louder and louder. With every step, Jerry grew more annoyed. “What is this trash?” Could it be the tiny twister had caused the buzz? He had only picked up the meth this afternoon and was on his way to Tucson to sell it. In fact, at the price he intended to ask for it, he wouldn’t have taken any if he hadn’t been stranded.
Jerry picked up the pace, trying to leave the incessant buzzing behind him. Moru circled the earther, going faster and faster, his body hairs sucking in the desert air and becoming the erect spears that he would use for defense if worse came to worse. Finally, satisfied that his inflation equalled the girth of the earther, Moru flew quickly to a spot about one hundred feet ahead of the now galloping human.
The buzzing had grown quieter, but it seemed to come from some spot ahead of Jerry. He slowed, thinking aloud. “What should I do? If I go back, I might go right back into that infernal buzzing. But it seems like it’s settled ahead of me somehow.”
“Oops.” Moru still had his invisiband on. He flipped the switch in his neck-piece to off.
The man’s drug clouded eyes picked up some kind of image. “What the hell? This has to be a hallucination! Has to be!”
Moru hovered a foot over the pavement. His fluctuating wings still drumming the air. “Hum. Hum. Hmmmmmm.” The sound becoming a Mantra, filling the stillness of the desert night.
The human couldn’t believe his eyes. The buzzing was louder again. The intensity grew until it filled every cell in his body, and now he saw where it originated. The rhythmic pulsations of wings sliced the air as the porcupiny creature took shape before Jerry’s eyes.
Moru’s golden quills glowed in the moonlight like a thousand-point star. He called out, “Stop human. Listen to me! I’m stranded. I need your help!”
First the buzzing and then the vision. Now the creature opened its mouth and emitted a high-pitched screech. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” The sound pierced the night like fingernails on a slate chalkboard. Jerry planted both hands hard against his ears.
The sound intensified as the creature desperately pleaded for help. The man’s heart beat wildly, already frazzled from the combination of too much drug and too much running. His ears filled with a sound louder than the highest volume of any boom box.
“Too much! Too much!” Jerry’s cries pierced the night but were barely audible to him. The sensations of the buzz were overpowering. His mind and body no longer could withstand the strain, and he collapsed to the pavement. His only chance for help was to make this creature understand that he was overdosing on methamphetamines. “Meth. Help, meth.”
Now that he had heard the earther speak, Moru put the sounds into his translator. They had pleasantly surprised him. It appeared that the human wanted to help him find fuel. “Yes, meth. Meth.”
“Help.” Jerry gulped a last whisper.
“Yes. You can help,” But Jerry had gone limp. Moru didn’t know how to revive him, if revival were even an option. He looked around the area, but there was no sign of rocket fuel, the methane Moru needed for his ship.
Moru fluttered over the fallen human for a few seconds, slowly deflating to normal size. He wondered exactly what had happened. There had been something not right about the earther, but he had tried to help. Moru was sorry that he could not help the man. He decided that the earther may have been running towards a store of meth. Gaining altitude, he flew quickly away in the direction that Jerry had been running. His hairy wings hummed through the stillness of the desert.
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