I finally finished this short story that I started months ago based on a writing prompt from a site called Reedsy, the writing prompt was "Write about a mysterious figure in one's neighbourhood."
So, someone moved into an abandoned barn on the outskirts of town. It’s a little dilapidated, but me and the other kids round here know for a fact that it has, or at least had, working plumbing - as we used to play there and fill water balloons from the tap. There’s a stove as well. It’s liveable. Is it haunted, you ask? Well, there were never many rumours of that sort, and me and the gang never saw nuthin’, so probably not. But, what with the outskirts of town being a little too rural for most of the adults to venture out there, and us being reluctant to mess around somewhere occupied? No-one really knows anything about the person who moved in there, not yet at least. Heck, for all we know they could be a quiet, unassuming alien that eats plants and bugs, or lives offa crystal energy or somethin’ like that, and we’d be none the wiser. Not that we think they seem like an unpleasant type, whatever they are. They ain’t caused no trouble for nobody. Well, unless you call making us all a touch perplexed “trouble”. What I’m tryin’ a say is, we never see ‘em! Well, no more than occasional glimpses, anyway. And they cover their face. Now there ain’t nothin’ fundamentally wrong about that neither… but there also ain’t nothin’ fundamentally wrong about bein’ curious, in my view. Helps keep the mind alive.
Well, it’s a week later, and I must admit I was tossing and turning most nights wondering about this, and also thinking “don’t hurt to be neighbourly, could take over some good food and try to introduce myself.” So here I am, walking through town, with a store bought, still boxed apple pie carefully nested flat in a wide-bottomed bag, in the hopes that it won’t become an unsightly mess before I reach my destination. I ain’t dressed particularly fancy but I’m washed and wearing clean clothes, and I’ve combed my hair. Some of the meaner kids in the town are up ahead in the middle distance, so before they can notice me I duck into a different way, as I can’t be doing with getting into a brawl when I’m carrying food I spent half my allowance on, and would rather not meet this mystery person for the first time with a shiner on my face. Thinking about it, maybe I should have asked a friend to come with me, but I find myself suspecting that that might be perceived as intimidation by numbers, when approaching someone who appears secretive and as far as I know, completely alone in the world.
I manage to avoid being spotted by any a those bullies and enjoy a summer breeze as I make my way past the last few remnants of the town’s shopping district - a machine repair shop and one of several Chinese takeaways in Leafton, the last place to get a proper meal in this direction before everything becomes just dusty, earthy roads, trees and woods, plus the odd peppering a cows, sheep and pigs in fields here and there, it’s neither intensively farmed, nor fully wild and gone to seed. Now I like this town just fine, when I’m with my friends or at least not getting picked on by them fellas I mentioned earlier, but I love it out here - for all that I know that nature ain’t always nice and there’s all that hidden struggle and fightin’, it’s peaceful and relaxed, and the sun feels gentle on my skin (I got short sleeves) as I approach the barn.
“Uh… hello?” I call as I walk on to the premises, feeling a mite nervous and going slow, with soft footsteps. No answer. As I move towards the front door it opens and the stranger rushes out, flailing their arms hidden beneath clothes that conceal them completely apart from their eyes, and speaking forcefully “please go, please get out, you must leave!” Without thinking much, I say “I’m sorry but I promise i don’t mean you no harm, I just came to say hello and I bought a pie!”
I hold out the bag and wonder at what their reaction will be, mouth agape now I’ve stopped talking and breathing a touch heavy.
“You have food?”
“Why yes, yes I do. Do you want some?”
“Ok, no problem, do you want to eat indoors or out here?”
“I would prefer you did not come inside. I am sorry.”
“That’s completely alright, don’t you worry at all about that.” I reach into the bag and extract the pie, still sealed.
“That smells wonderful.”
“You must have keen senses, I can’t rightly smell it myself and I been carryin” the darn thing all this way!”
“Yes well I… uhm…”
“I-I’m sorry… didn’t mean to pry.”
“Ya got any spoons or forks?”
“I do indeed have these things that you speak of.”
“Well, if you wouldn’t mind can you get one for each of us from inside the barn?”
“Uh yes of course. I will go and get them now.”
They get up and go back indoors, and I sit on a tree stump, feelin’ perhaps slightly worried that they might come back with a weapon. But they seem nice enough. In all honesty I’m concerned for ‘em, about whatever it is that’s got ‘em so afraid of me, and, I’m guessin’, anyone else who passes by.
They return bearin’ cutlery and so far as I can tell, nothin’ more dangerous than that.
”Which do you prefer?”
“i’ll take a spoon, thankyou kindly.”
“Please do not leave with this spoon, I require it to obtain sustenance.”
“Oh don’t worry, I ain’t goin’ nowhere with it. Just want it to eat my half of this pie!”
“I now understand. Please take care of it.”
They hand it to me and it catches my eye, gleaming in the sunlight - they obviously wash their dishes mighty carefully. I wonder what the rest of the barn looks like, if this person in front of me who takes such care over small things can work other kinds of magic on this unlikely abode. That said, I’m not much of a domestic type myself so if the barn is still mostly a scruffy heap? I respect that too, and as far as I’m concerned, a home is a home.
“Shall we tuck in?”
I take the pie out of the box and hold it out in front of me - it’s no worse for it’s trip across Leafton, apart from minor dislodgment of a little bit of the crust at the edges.
“Yes, yes please.”
“Uh… do you need to uncover your face to eat?”
Their eyes dart around, and they are obviously disquieted internally.
“Would ya rather face the other way? Really it’s alright."
Appearing very visibly relieved, they thank me in a fashion that seems almost abject, and divvy up the pie onto two plates that they’ve brought outside along with the cutlery. Also meticulously spotless the both of ‘em. We sit and start to eat, and it turns out both of us are real quick at that - we’ve cleaned our plates in less than 5 minutes!
“That was yummy.”
“Oh yes it was delicious! Best thing I’ve eaten all week!”
“Me as well.”
“Well… are ya eatin’ alright, in general?”
“I do indeed have sustenance, yes thankyou.”
I think about asking more questions but conclude that it is best not to at this point in time.
“That’s good, hope it’s tasty.”
“It is adequate.”
“Adequate ain’t so bad I suppose!” I say, smiling at my new friend.
Me and this new pal a mine spend a fair bitta time at the barn after that - chattin’ and eatin’ quality food which I bring with me. They ain’t very physical or active when I’m there (probably partly to avoid revealin’ themself) but they enjoy watchin’ me stretch and do cartwheels, handstands and so on - I ain’t a champion athlete but I like to play and throw balls around and whatnot, like most kids I suppose. It’s a good feeling, being here with this person, among soft grass and tree stumps for restin’ on. I know I ain’t mentioned it before, but they have a curious sorta voice, that I find hard to determine much from. It’s a perfectly fine voice mind. Just a touch mysterious, but it’s quite a beautiful thing really, to hear ‘em speak - almost like a song. Like some sort of profound harmony with the earth, and trees, and wind. Now listen to me soundin’ all poetic and taken! It’s not really like that, in truth, at least I don’t think so. I just am happy i met someone who I can feel at peace with, when we ain’t sayin’ nuthin. Our conversations are constrained by them not wantin’ to let on too much about themself, but we do find things to talk about, like flowers, and food, and the animals I’ve seen in the woods nearby, and how breathtakin’ the night sky is round these parts. I do still see my other friends sometimes, but I don’t let on what I’m up to, for reasons that in all honesty i don’t fully understand myself. I want this to last forever, I hope they can stay here forever, and that time will slow a little for us, before it’s sand runs out and we have to grow up altogether. We may be lucky, as there is little to no sand in Leafton to go around puttiin’ in hourglasses in the first place, it bein’ about as coastal as the centre of the Sonoran in Arizona (though thankfully, nowhere near as feverishly hot). Imported sand ain’t popular here either, though of course, everyone still loves ice-cream and popsicles and other such beachly things (me included).
One day a lamb hobbles into the yard outside the barn and we both feel mighty sad for the poor thing, limpin’ and lookin’ uncomfortable. We’re unsure what to do, but neither of us being farmers we keep our distance for a bit as we think it through. The lamb finds a soft patch of grass and lies down, grazing on it and the other plants within reach, but after a while it bleats again sadly, as if it is crying large tears.
“Aww we can’t just leave it there like that, whatta we do?”
“I think I may be able to help soothe it.”
They get up and slowly move towards the injured creature, and to my surprise, it makes no moves to get away, seeming calm. Doesn’t even squirm. As they reach the lamb, they sit down and very gently stroke it, starting to sing. I can’t make out the words, but it’s like the voice of an angel. Then a couple of lines I do recognise as English “And when we cannot think of much to say, you always tell me that you love me. I respond in kind, and within the other’s mind, we each sense a kindred spirit.”
The lamb seems reassured, and relaxed.
“I could not heal her.” My friend says sadly.
“Well no-one was expectin’ ya to do that with just a song and a bitta pettin’, don’t feel bad! She looks so much happier.”
“Yes but… yes I am glad too.”
Even though I cannot see their face, I can tell that they are smiling. But perhaps crying inside too. As the lamb stands up and hobbles away again, I walk over, reach out and put my hand on my friend’s hand. I feel unsure as to if this will be welcome, but they let me keep it there, as tears flow from their eyes into the light grey cloth covering their face.
“She is leaving, will she be alright?”
“I reckon so, there’s a field fulla sheep the way she’s headed. I’m sure her mama’s there.”
“Where is your mama?”
“She’s… she’s in the ground.”
“What is she doing there?”
As the penny drops, they continue, “I am so sorry. Where is your father?”
“Grievin’. For about five years now.”
“Perhaps I should not have asked you these questions?” They say, looking down at the ground as the tears keep falling, from my eyes now too.
“You didn’t do nothin wrong at all, so don’t you worry about that. Please don’t ever feel like you did anythin’ wrong.”
“Oh but I did.”
”Well you never done no harm to me.”
“I am very relieved to know that.”
I’m silent for a while, still holdin’ their hand, thinkin’.
“You know, you can talk to me about things… even stuff like that. I care about you a whole lot and I worry sometimes, about what you’re carryin’.”
“I am sorry but I do not feel able to speak of this.”
Their voice and what I can see of their expression tell me that they feel they’ve disappointed me… maybe that they feel that they are a disappointment.
“I promise you ain’t let me down none!” I say putting my other hand underneath theirs and gently moving them up and down like we’re shakin’ on an introduction.
“I was wonderin’, uh, what your name is… and what the song you sang to the lamb is about?”
“My name is Kyria.”
“I’m Pete, how do you do?” I say, laughin’ and smilin’.
“The song is about two people who love each other very much but cannot always find the right words to say in the moment… sometimes they are separated, but whether that is by their difficulties with communication or a physical distance is left for the listener to interpret.”
“Well, ir was a very pretty song… I reckon maybe it’s meanta be both?”
“Yes it appears that way to me also.”
We stand there holdin’ hands for a good while.
“So Kyria, if y’don’t mind me askin’… where ya from?”
I hear a whirring from above, and then someone or something lands on the ground behind me with a soft thud. I look around. There is another stranger with a covered face moving towards us, holdin’ one scary-lookin’ weapon.
“Who the hell is that?!”
“An exterminator! RUN, PETE!”
I run, or rather, we run. No way I’m leavin’ Kyria behind. But we’re not fast enough, and before we know it they’ve caught up to us and grabbed us both. Couldn’t even make it out into the road.
“So you thought you could get away, Kyria, and play house on earth with this soft looking boy?”
“Please do not hurt him! I am so sorry, please!”
“Ah ah ah, sorry’s not good enough for murderers!”
“I know it’s not, I-“
I managed to elbow-jab this asshole in what I assume is a fairly sensitive area as he yelps and lets out a curse word that I don’t recognise. I would like to mention at this point that I do know plenty of those types of words, I just personally choose not to use ‘em much. But some of my closest friends curse like it was goin’ outta style! So if I don’t know this word, it’s probably not a commonly used English swear. The stranger grabs me by the ear as I try to make a run for it with Kyria again. The pain is instant and sharp.
“Wait a minute… did you say earth?” I manage to utter.
“i’m not surprised she didn’t tell you! Wouldn’t want some stupid bloody redneck knowing you “ain’t from round these parts” eh girlie?”
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry Pete!”
Tears fill their eyes and my heart just about tears in two. What can I do?
“You ain’t gotta apologise to me for nothin’ Kyria, don’t you think th-“
“Disgust me though it does to admit it, the boy is correct, it’s me you owe a million more sorries to, me and your dearly deceased dad, who’s never coming back because of YOU!”
“I know, I know. Please I-“
“Would everyone please try to calm down!” I say, in a raised voice, desperately trying to defuse the situation. Suddenly, this fella pull the cloth off of Kyria’s face.
“Stop being rough with them… like… that.” I say, visible shock on my face as I look at Kyria’s for the first time. Bruises and welts all over… and an x across it with the centre at the nose.
“X marks the spot Kyria, can’t run from the mark now can you?” He has the audacity to say this with the kinda sadistic glee usually reserved for the villain in a low end comic book movie.
“Sir are you even gonna give my BEST FRIEND the chance to explain themselves? Kyria I don’t know why ya did it but I know there must have been a reason why you did… it got somethin’ to do with those marks on your face?”
“On my planet, our species, we-“
“Take a life and get marked with an X by god, FOREVER!”
“SHUT THE HELL UP YOU PRICK!” While he’s reeling in shock at bein’ spoke to the way he rightly deserves, Kyria manages to say,
“He wouldn’t stop beating me… he wouldn’t stop. There are marks all over my body. There is still pain… even now… but you shouldn’t try to save me Pete. You really shouldn’t. What I did was still very wrong and you’re just going to get hurt. I will go with you Da’gar, just please please don’t hurt him, please don’t.”
“But that just ain’t right Kyria, it just ain’t right at all! You’re just a kid like me, and I’ll bet this fella was real big and strong and wouldn’t leave ya alone no matter what ya did! Damnit Da’gar don’t ya got no laws protectin’ people who’re bein’ beaten within an inch a their life on your planet? Don’t you think Kyria’s worth protectin’? Everyone deserves protectin’!”
“Oh there are laws, which just makes her sin all the more unforgivable, don’t you think? She could have gone to the authorities but instead she resorted to murder!”
“Da’gar you shameful liar! You will hold your tongue!” Another figure descends from the sky, right in front of us.
“Rea’chim! I see you decided to make an appearance, an unwelcome one I might add.”
“Oh up yours and your hubris Da’gar, who do you think these children are happier to see, me or you? Let them go!”
“I will not.”
“Pete, I want to answer your question. There are laws on our planet, and some of them are good, but some of them are not, and the most powerful people usually do not have to obey any of them… I believe it is the same here?”
I lower my face and nod to the best of my ability, given the pickle I’m currently in.
“There were people on our planet who wanted to save Kyria, and others like them, but laws take a very long time to change. A good man defended them in our courts as best he could but alas he was unsuccessful and your friend had to run, otherwise they would have been killed.”
“That’s awful! Kyria, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know, I didn’t know…”
“Stop this nonsensical whimpering, boy!” I feel my ear being pulled harder and wince.
“Da’gar, for someone who considers himself so fiercely moral you’re remarkably unmoved by people caring about other people.”
“Oh shut up Rea’chim! She. Is. A. Taker. of. Life and you shouldn’t be defending her.”
“So you don’t care that Kyria was being treated like something their father had found on the bottom of his shoe then? Aren’t you here to murder Kyria yourself?”
“She has the X!”
“So will you if you kill them. Did you even think about that?”
This Da’gar feller actually looks a little shocked and a touch guilty in the eyes upon hearin’ this.
“Think you’re so clever don’t you Rea’chim? I AM AN EXTERMINATOR! I have X marks all over my body! But none on my face! That proves that god favours ME!”
Words scornfully tumble out of my mouth.
“You know what, just because your sins ain’t showin’ on your nose for everyone to see that don’t mean you didn’t commit ‘em!”
Mercifully, I manage to wriggle free of this questionable fella’s clutches, and feeling somewhat emboldened, I continue sayin’ what needs to be said as I move away from him towards Rea’chim.
“Who the hell do you think you are showin’ up here to murder some poor kid who had to leave their home, their whole PLANET, to get away from you? Like what in the actual goddamn hell Da’gar are you out of your freakin’ mind? You think killing Kyria will somehow make the world, the universe a better place? Kyria never woulda hurt nobody unless they really, REALLY had to, I know enough to know that. What if this “father” of Kyria’s-“
(I will note at this point that I don’t believe such a man rightly deserves to be called somethin’ so respectable.)
“-had beaten them to death? Just stop this ********* right now, stop trying to kill my friend! I love Kyria and I’m not gonna let you swat ‘em like a fly that won’t stop buzzin’ round your head! You’re a fanatic Da’gar, so what if Kyria has a goddamn ‘X’ on their face, you’ve got way more ‘X’es on ya than they do, it’s just convenient for you that they’re hidden when you go out in public and it don’t render all that ‘exterminating’ you did any less vile! I wouldn’t be surprised if for every vicious criminal ya snuffed out, you took the life of someone like Kyria who didn’t deserve it one bit! I-“
I hear a bang, feel sudden agony, scream, and fall to the ground. Kyria howls in anguish, crying out for me.
“Pete! Pete please don’t die!”
“What’s, what’s going on?”
I say, feeling extremely confused and strangely feverish.
“Right Da’gar, you contemptible turd, you are not getting back on that ship alive.”
“Don’t be so sure! I-“
Another loud bang. Da’gar yelps loudly and lets go of Kyria with frozen open stunned eyes.
“I’m sure. Bye bye brutie.”
Rea’chim spits unceremoniously on Da’gar’s corpse and turns back to the two of us, Kyria having run to me, cradling my head and upper body softly with theirs and sobbing uncontrollably.
“I have no power to save him anymore… I lost it, I lost it… PLEASE HELP HIM REA’CHIM! I’m begging you! I would lie in the dirt before you if I didn’t need to hold him up right now!”
“No need for that, honestly my dear. I will sing for him.”
Rea’chim starts to make the same beautiful sound that Kyria made when we met that poor little injured lamb, and I can feel the pain in my body subsiding, the air no longer cold on my open wound as it seals and heals.
“There we are Pete. All better now?”
“Yes, thankyou. Are you OK Kyria?”
“I’m not sure the tears will stop Pete, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
“It’s really OK, take all the time you need, I promise I’m OK now, I promise I won’t go anywhere.”
“Will your tears stop Pete?”
I suddenly realise that I’m crying myself, profusely at that.
“I’m sure they will soon, don’t you worry about that.”
We both smile at each other, and enjoy a few peaceful minutes under the stars.
“Well, I’d better be on my way, you know if they catch me they’ll have me court-martialled for this.”
“But why? You’re a hero!”
“Yes, well, I’m afraid the law doesn’t really view it that way. Trust me, you were worth the bother.
“Can we do anything to help you?”
I’m pleased to hear Kyria say this, as I was wondering about it myself.
“Keep being kind. To yourselves and to each other. And don’t worry about clean-up - I’ll get it sorted.”
She says this with a friendly smile and a wink. She’s a little terrifying occasionally, but a good person - at least in my opinion.
“Right, off I go!”
She makes another pretty sound and a ship descends from the sky, she climbs aboard and before I know it, she’s gone, having disappeared into the night sky.
“I do hope she’ll be alright Pete.”
“Me too Kyria.”
I take my friend’s hand and hold it gently in my own.
“I was just thinkin’… were there good things about your planet too? Things ya miss?”
“Yes… quite a few… I will miss the music the most I think.”
“Can everyone sing like you and Rea’chim where you’re from?”
“Not everyone… but many can. It is very woven into our society.”
“We can sing together, if you like?”
“That would make me even happier Pete. I am happiest when I am with you.”
“You’re gonna make me cry again!” I say.
They instantly lower their head dejectedly.
“Oh I am sorry… are you displeased with what I said?”
“Kyria, there’s always a song inside me when I’m with you.”
“…is it a happy song?”
“It’s a symphony. All a life.”
Kyria smiles, and the sun shines out of their face, as if they were a small, humble deity of some kind.
“Let’s keep living!” They say this joyously.
“Absolutely!” I say, beaming right back at them.