Part Three: As the Curses Rage
I took the jar of fruit and sat Blue up. Though she wasn’t yet very lucid, she had been chewing her food and swallowing on her own.
“Oh, Chirchirrup, thank you so much,” Blue said with happy eyes. Evidently the Osminog skin I wore over my body was tricking her mind for now, but the disease was easing off and would soon get better. “What is this you’re feeding me?”
I put down the warm jar of fruit and used my gloves to say, “It is fruit heated by my fire. Do you know where you are, Blue?”
Blue coughed a few times and glanced about. “No.”
I wanted to laugh at how simple this all seemed to Blue, but didn’t as I spooned her some more fruit. As she chewed, I said, “You are getting over a curse and I am helping you feel better. Would you like some more water?”
Blue nodded. “Yes, please.” I poured the gourd of water into her open mouth, to which she responded, “You are too kind. Protector bless you.”
I put the gourd back down, watching as Blue’s eyes closed a bit. Crouched, the skin just hanging onto me, I said, “You do realize, Blue, that I’m not Chirchirrup?”
Blue jerked and opened the eyes of only one face, the one nearest me, then said, “That’s nice, dear.” The eyes then closed back, the Osminog soundly asleep. This time, her fever reduced and her body in better shape, she had at least responded to me – if incorrectly. Each time she awoke, she was slightly more lucid than the last, somewhat more involved with her environment.
I chuckled as I took the near empty fruit jar, emptying the contents out into another jar that was also half-emptied. Soon, I’d need to return Blue to the first floor to ensure that she didn’t see me, make sure that I could reveal myself to her slowly. This sleep didn’t seem to be deep enough to warrant moving her, though, so I resolved to wait until nightfall when she would be much more tired and likely to stay asleep throughout the ordeal. While she slept, though, I needed to do a few more chores. I took the empty jar over to some of the water, pouring a small amount in and placing it on the stove to heat the water and clean it. I hung the Osminog skin and gloves up on the wall so that I could wash the jar.
The jar cleaned, I leaned over to pop open a can of nutritional paste, placing that atop the element on the stove to heat. I looked at a can of tomatoes and wished that I could even eat just that, merely gobble down that disgusting meal instead of this nearly inedible one. I stuck a spoon in the paste, watching it glop back down into the jar disgustingly, the gray slime oozing out unpleasant smells.
I couldn’t do it. Out of all the things I hated, nutritional paste had to be number one or two on the list. I decided that starvation, at the moment, was preferable. Even so, I could not let the whole can go to waste. I stuck the spoon in my mouth, gagging as I forced the paste to slither down my throat.
I finished the jar and set it down, coughing and repulsing from the thing. “Damn paste…” I grumbled. I shook my head and, despite not wanting to, poured some water in the jar to wash it out. At least snow freshly fallen tended to be pure enough that I didn’t need to send it through the filter. I’d need to make sure that Blue stopped getting at the frozen mud underneath the snow when she got ice to melt for water.
A quick glance away from my dishes, I spotted Blue. She had woken back up and, this time, there wasn’t confusion in the stare she was giving me. There was abject fear.
I remained as still as I could, hoping that she would think herself delusional and let herself go back to sleep. Within me was this hope that she hadn’t healed enough to start realizing what was going on, but I knew that was unlikely at this point.
With no change in the status quo after a minute or so, I flitted my eyes to the wall where the gloves were hanging, wondering if I could pop up and grab them quickly without disturbing Blue.
Though the gloves were my intention, the mere glance to the wall with the Osminog skin was enough to cause the situation to collapse. Blue began screaming, pushing herself weakly against the wall and causing empty jars to fall and break upon the floor.
“No – Blue, hold on!” I said in my real voice, reaching out to her with my hand. “It’s just me, Ann.”
“Predator!” Blue screamed. She flailed about, frantically looking for the way out of the room. “Predator!”
I stood up, making her even more nervous, then grabbed the gloves from their hook. She obviously wasn’t willing to listen to my real voice, definitely wouldn’t understand what I was trying to tell her. I felt dumb for having even tried to soothe her with such strange noises.
“Shh, Blue!” I said with the gloves. “It’s just me, Creature who lives above you.”
Unimpressed, Blue pointed a tentacle at the skin on my wall, the bloodstains on the floor. “Predator!”
I realized, now, what she thought. She thought I had killed another Osminog to get the skin. How could I convince her otherwise?
I backed up to the wall far away from Blue, waiting for her to work herself out of the frenzy. She continued to shiver in the corner, a high pitched whirr continuously emitting from her. I watched, constantly thinking about what I should say but never settling on anything.
I looked around the room and saw the half empty jar of preserves. I crawled forward on all fours, trying to seem as small as possible, as I grabbed the jar from its table. I put the still warm fruit on the ground near my bed, making sure that Blue had opportunity to see the contents. She wouldn’t be hungry, but I hoped she would recognize the gesture. I backed away, returning to the corner opposite from my bed.
“Predator,” Blue squeaked. She poked at the jar, tipping it over and watching the preserves run out. I wanted to groan, but I should have known that this would happen. If I had never really intended to meet Blue in person, I should have killed her when I first realized she’d seen my hideout.
But no, I hadn’t killed her. I looked at my hands and realized that my attempts to befriend this lonely alien, no matter how pathetic they were, made me human, made our species better than whatever species made up the Next Level.
“I am not a predator,” I said.
Blue backed into the corner when I spoke. “Creature?” it asked, terrified, its voice barely understandable as it shook.
“Yes, it’s me,” I said. “This is where I live, just above you. You were cursed and I helped you get better.”
“Predator! You said you were Osminog!”
I shook my head, realizing that the way I moved and the way that Blue would expect a shake to look didn’t match up. “No, I said I was Osminog, but not Osminog. I didn’t know how to explain.”
She curled up into the smallest ball I’d seen her in yet, cowering from me and my supposed prowess. I remained where I was, certain that the distance we had become accustomed to over the months could never be recreated. I watched, not enjoying the tiny squeal that Blue constantly emitted.
“I didn’t kill that Osminog,” I said, trying to talk about what I thought was bothering Blue the most. “Chirchirrup said that her friends had died on the way over, so I searched for them. I found this one, and, rather than letting her go to no use, I took the pieces of her body to create useful things. That skin is just one of them.”
“Would it just be better if I left?” I asked.
“You would hunt me down. I’ve seen your power, Predator, and I know that I could not escape you.”
“Then why do you think I’m a predator?” I laid down, making myself smaller and less threatening. “Is it because I look like one? I don’t think I look like any predator you’ve seen before.”
Blue huddled smaller, staring at me.
“Do predators normally speak with their prey?” I asked.
“Most predators don’t keep the teeth of the Osminog they eat.”
I shook my head and leaned forward a bit, letting her still see my gloves. “No, Blue, I don’t eat Osminog, and these teeth are just teeth I found lying about your village during the two times I visited.”
Blue sat still, then nervously asked, “If you don’t eat Osminog, what do you eat?”
I kept an eye on Blue as I leaned over to a jar, cracking it open to reveal the disgusting nutritional paste. I gagged, but then shoved it forward so Blue could look inside. “This will kill you if you eat it just as much as the fruit you enjoy would kill me.”
Blue peeked in the jar after I backed away into the corner. “What is it?” she asked, repelled by the scent.
I shrugged, bobbing my head as I thought. “Fruit, in a way. I took the fruit you sacrificed to make that stuff, a type of food that I hate but can eat without harming myself. We’re very different from each other in some ways. It’s as if your people are clockwise and my people are counterclockwise, down to the deepest levels,” I said, knowing that Blue wouldn’t quite understand what I was saying. She didn’t know about molecules, much less chirality.
“This isn’t Osminog?” she asked.
“No,” I answered. “I do not, and would not, eat Osminogs. I am not a predator.”
“Then why do you look like that?”
I swallowed some spit then answered, “I come from very, very far away. I come from a place so far away that, in all of your travels, you haven’t even gotten any closer to it. All the distance you’ve walked couldn’t get you even a small bit of the way there. To get here, my people had to make something we call in our language a ship.” I paused here, waiting for her to finish cringing at the sound of my real voice. “This thing can go very far in no time at all. But my ship broke, sending the person I loved and me falling from the sky and crashing here, where you live. He died in this crash, his body crushed as we fell. The ship he was in became your fire pit, the ship I was in torn apart to become pieces of this place, a thing I call a house. My partner’s body is buried in that mound you and Chirchirrup both thought holy, the mound that grew fruits from my world which I can eat without turning into this nasty mush.
“Anyway, my partner looked like me, a creature called human, and I loved him in a way that the Osminog do not understand. I became lonely once he was lost and, by the time you came around, was willing to forgo all the rules I had set for myself just to have some company. Like your people, my people are very social. We even go so far as to prefer physical pain to loneliness.” I shifted my eyes to the floor. “Now you know what I look like, I hope you’ll soon understand why I didn’t want you to know. My people anticipated the existence of people like yours and have learned many things yours does not know. I was prepared to see you, but you could not have been prepared to see me. Your first thought would have always been to associate the unknown with predators.”
Blue seemed scared still. I opened up the hatch, pulling on the string to lift the wooden door out of the frame.
“There is a ladder leading down to your part of the house. You can leave if you want. I won’t stop you, though I do request that you don’t run outside and freeze again.” I laughed in my own voice, hoping that Blue would become used to what I actually was. Something about being revealed made me feel more complete, finally clean.
Blue held herself still. I knew that I might possibly never regain the level of trust I had earned just peeking through the hatch.
“Then… Creature… if your people know so many things and have so much, why would you come here if not to eat us?”
I smiled, something that Blue didn’t appear to like. “We came here to watch you and remind ourselves that we, as a people, are not alone.”