The crisp fall breeze ruffled my hair as I trudged through the thick leaf coating of my backyard. When I closed on the house this spring I hadn’t even considered the price I would pay for the glorious collection of trees that filled the lawn. Of course my father had predicted it and kindly bought me a rake for my birthday three weeks ago. He is much more practical than sentimental.
Lucky for me it wasn’t cold enough for a jacket and gloves; my Hudson Valley Renegades hoodie was enough. In typical Rosalind fashion, I surveyed the task before me and planned my approach internally before I would begin. I could break it down into quadrants, rake small piles, and then make a second pass and shovel each mound into bags. At least, that was my plan anyway. I calculated that if I began at the farthest rear edge of my yard and worked my way forward it would be less exhausting to begin the arduous process.
I had raked two neat circular piles before my plan derailed. It was the third stroke of the rake on the third pile to be exact. I uncovered what looked like a duffel bag, but it was covered in a thick, sticky, purple substance. My curiosity got the best of me and I opened it to find wads of cash in various currencies. I quickly dropped the bag again and looked around my yard to see if anyone was watching. Whoever had left this here had to be desperate to get it back. I know I would. I wasn’t sure what to do.
The property behind me was hundreds of acres of woods owned by a conservation society. Surely that would’ve been a better place to hide something like this than under the leaves of my comparatively open backyard. The neighbors on either side were both elderly and barely left their house, neither had grandchildren that could possibly have hidden something like this here. The only logical reason was that a criminal had hid this here. I briefly considered calling the police, but the moment the thought crossed my mind I thought I saw movement in the woods out of the corner of my eye. My eyes scanned the vicinity and I convinced myself it was my mind playing tricks on me, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.
With far less consideration than was truly necessary for something of this gravity, I snatched up the bag and ran inside with it, hoping whoever had left it wasn’t watching. Three days went by; my fear of whoever left behind the bag coming for me grew as each day passed instead of diminishing. Giving in to my guilt and fear, I dragged the bag back out to return it where I found it. Again, I got that sinking feeling of eyes on me. As I turned to go, I heard a quiet but almost robotic voice.
“You didn’t like your gift?”
I scanned the wood line but saw no sign of movement. I held up the bag to whoever was watching. “This… is for me?”
“Yes, as a gift. But it seems you do not like it. Was it not suitable?”
I furrowed my brow and stared at the pack again before returning my eyes to their search of the forest. “It is quite… suitable, but I’m not sure what I did to deserve this. I also wasn’t sure where it came from… or if it was going to get me in trouble.”
A machinelike chuckle shook the woods in front of me. “No trouble. I just found you to be a deserving human being. I have collected the money quite legally during my time here, disguised as one of your kind.”
Human being… so he wasn’t? “How could you possibly know that? Do I know you?”
“Not yet, but I am hoping we can become friends. I have been watching you, Rosalind. You are kind to your neighbors and animals, you do not disturb nature, and you do not seem to have the propensity for the materialism that plagues the rest of your species. You also seem to have a vast interest in the stars, I see you observing them often.”
Species? So not human, and he’s been watching me? Okay this is getting freaky. Wait, he even knows my name. He… is it a he?
Before I could voice how I felt about all of this, he interjected again. “I am sure you have many questions and concerns. Let me assure you, you have nothing to worry about. As you likely suspect by now, I am not of this world. I am merely an observer. I have watched many on this planet, but you are the first I would like to call my friend. The package was meant to be an olive branch before I reached out further. Would you like to be my friend Rosalind?”
My head swam, this was just too much. It was also absurd; this had to be a prank. I scanned for anything that could possibly be a camera, but I saw nothing. “Okay, very funny. Where are you hiding the cameras? I’m sure you’re getting a big laugh out of this. Let me guess, you have a hidden speaker with a voice changer to do the talking?”
The mechanical laugh came again. “It’s not a joke I promise you. I can prove it to you, but you are going to be afraid. Please do not be afraid, Rosalind. I shall not harm you.”
Instinctively I stepped back, never moving my eyes from where I thought the voice was coming from. Without a sound, an immense purple slug-like creature with kind eyes and towering antennae slid out of a shadow I hadn’t even noticed. Once visible, it stopped. Not out of hesitation for its safety, but out of a kindness for me. My brain told me to run, but my body had given up on me, especially my mouth and legs.
After a few moments, it spoke again. “My name is Yonnelia, my species is Grox and I am from the planet Groxalia. That is of course translated to English, which I have been studying for 250 years. I am 324 years old and this is the 13th planet I have visited. I have chosen a single friend from each planet to travel with me. I am hoping you will be my 13th. I assure you, the fear you are feeling currently is normal. Each of them was as afraid as you are right now, but in time I taught them much and they came to accept me. I understand this is a lot to deal with at once, so I will leave you to your thoughts and I will return five nights from now as the sun sets to await your answer. If you choose to decline you may of course keep the money. Have a lovely evening, Rosalind.” Yonnelia slithered deeper into the woods and with each yard he pulled away my body relaxed.
I sank to the ground and sat in the pile of leaves holding the bag. My brain went into overdrive to try to process everything I just learned all at once. We weren’t alone on this planet. I had a bag full of money that would allow me to buy whatever I liked without any repercussions. Hell, I wouldn’t even have to pay taxes. But, most importantly, I was being stalked by a huge purple slug from another planet that wanted me to travel through space with him. As a child I dreamt of being an astronaut, instead I fell back on engineering because my chances of making it were slim. I had a good life, but I had no children or pets. I’d miss my parents and my friends, sure… but… space travel. I had all but made up my mind that I was going, but first I’d need more answers. I’d hoped he hadn’t gone too far.
“Wait,” I yelled with all the strength I could muster after my mentally exhausting ordeal. He slithered back unbelievably quick for his size. “I have some other questions for you so I can make a better decision. I want to know how much I’ll be giving up, my family will worry.”
His mouth formed what I can only assume was a grin; it was far less spooky than I had predicted. “Ah, that is the beauty of it Rosalind. Each trip will range from a single day to a week depending on where you would like to see. My species has perfected worm hole jumping, you see. Your family and friends likely won’t even notice you are away. You can maintain your current work life if you choose to, or I can ensure that you are compensated well enough to cover your expenses. You may keep your dwelling and all of your belongings as I can return you here as often as you like. I do ask however that you not inform any other humans of my existence. It is not time yet.”
It was my turn to return the grin. I surprised myself when I shouted “I’m in” without as much consideration as I would have expected from myself. I was going to travel the stars.
“Very well, we can leave as soon as tomorrow. When will you be packed and how long would you like to be gone for?”
“We can leave Friday night and return Sunday night if that’s alright. Start small to see how it goes.” What the hell am I getting myself into?
“I shall see you in three nights then. We can discuss how you would like to move forward on the trip. I look forward to our friendship, Rosalind. I think you’re going to be very happy.”
“Good night Yonnelia, and thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome my dear, it will be an honor.”
I spent the next few days informing friends and family that I was going on a brief weekend trip, providing very few details. I packed for every kind of weather as I had no idea what to expect. As it got closer, I felt the dread melt away into excitement. Friday night couldn’t come fast enough.
For my first trip, Yonnelia took me to a planet in a neighboring solar system. Don’t ask me the name of the system or the planet, because I couldn’t pronounce either. The flight was fairly brief, just two hours. Between the excessive comfort in the plush, lounge-like space ship and Yonnelia’s tales of his travels, his previous companions, and about his life growing up, those two hours felt like five minutes. I learned a lot about his species as well as the different beings that lived on the planet we were headed to. None of it prepared me for being on another planet for the first time.
The door whizzed open before I could even ask if the air was breathable. The instant my eyes registered what they were seeing, my jaw dropped. The first thing I noticed was the size of the sun; it was much smaller than ours. I also noted the planets two moons, which is just bizarre to witness. The sky seemed to glow purple, but not like the deep purples of sunset on Earth. This was a lighter, almost neon purple. Similar to Yonnelia’s coloring, only he was translucent and didn’t seem to give off as much of a glow.
The ground was a field of orange stalks; I would describe them as something between wheat and cattails. In the far distance were dark maroon mountains topped with white snow, at least I assumed it was snow. It was stunning. Yonnelia let me gape for a few minutes before finally asking if I was ready to go exploring. I got to ride an animal that resembled a horse, but was much larger and had scaly green skin like a lizard. We sampled some of the street foods from the local market. Yonnelia knew exactly what my biology would allow me to consume and what would make me sick. As we walked, he translated for me and told me more tales. This was everything I had ever dreamed of and Yonnelia was one of the kindest beings I had ever met, we quickly grew close.
We spent two days exploring this planet before it was time to return home. The following work week was unbearably boring compared to how the weekend had been. After you’ve been to space, office work is mundane. I decided to put in for the following Monday and Tuesday off so we could go on a bit of a longer trip, and we did. I asked Yonnelia if we could travel to his planet, but the look in his eyes assured me I should never ask that again. “I am not welcome there Rosalind.” I wanted to know why, but I didn’t want to press further until I knew him better.
This time we travelled to a planet much more similar to Earth, though the wildlife was not at all like what I was used to. We went to what they considered a zoo, but none of the animals were caged. They roamed freely and happily and you could even pet most of them. I got a little worried around the bat-monkeys – that’s what I’m calling them because yet again I can’t pronounce their real names – because Yonnelia seemed to tense and started looking around nervously.
“Is everything okay?”
“Honestly, I’m not quite sure Rosalind. We may have to cut this visit short. Do not be alarmed, but let’s slowly head towards the exit. Whatever you do, stay quiet and do not turn around.”
That’s like telling someone to not think of a pink elephant, all they want to do is think of a pink elephant. Of course I peeked after we got a good distance away and I saw a being that looked remarkably similar to Yonnelia, but it seemed to be wearing some kind of over the top police hat. When I turned back, he insisted we make a run for it back to the ship and we did. Once in the safety of our space lounge and already in departure mode I couldn’t contain myself any longer. “Okay Yonne, you’re freaking me out. I think the least you could do is give me an explanation. Who was that and why are we running?”
He sighed and his body seemed to sink. “That was another Grox from my home planet, one who is a member of the Interplanetary Space Force. I had hoped not to worry you with this so early in our friendship, but I do not feel right lying to you. I am a fugitive of my planet and they are looking for me. That is why I travel so much, I’m on the run.”
My jaw dropped, sweet Yonne was a criminal? I couldn’t believe it. “What did you do?”
“The ruler of our planet was starving our people and was a violent and brutal beast. I killed him. I would do it again a million times to save my friends and family and a life on the run is well worth it.” I shook my head in disbelief, Yonne was a good person. Alien. Whatever. I never expected he could have killed someone, but he did it for the right reasons. “I’ll take you home now, I understand why given all of this you wouldn’t want to travel with me anymore.
“I didn’t say that. I understand what you did Yonne. You’ve shown me the universe and it’s all I could have dreamed of. In fact I’ve decided that I’m going to quit and join you on your travels from now on, the least I can do is make sure you feel at home too… with me. I’d only like return to keep up appearances with my friends and family when it’s safe, but I will let them know I have a new job that requires me to travel often. It will be our little secret.”
“You won’t miss having a normal life. Dating, children?”
Looking down and picking the dirt from under my nails I responded, “I haven’t felt the last few years like that was in the cards for me. Space travel is beyond my wildest dreams of being an astronaut; I know this is the right path for me.”
Yonne smiled and took my hand in his. “Well then, our little secret it is.” After a moment of heartfelt silence between us he jumped up in excitement. “Well then, we still have three days. Where shall we head next?”
I smiled back and said, “Take me to your favorite places.”
While we played roommates aboard his luxury space-liner, he retook the human form he had used to gather my nest egg on Earth. I became so accustomed to it that it morphed into a loving relationship and even children, two so far and a third on the way. As it turns out, some alien species – including the Grox – are biologically compatible with humans despite their severely different appearance the majority of the time. My pregnancies are thankfully shorter and the birthing easier when the children are half slug. Yonne likes to complain when I call him a slug, but his eye roll says he finds it endearing.
It seems the Grox develop this shifting ability when they are five, so I’ve struggled not to share this with my friends and family until then. It’s killing me to hide this from their grandparents, but I know it’s for the best. I love to ponder on the laughs we will surely get when we tell them it all started over a pile of leaves, a duffle bag, a crime of passion and a universal first date.