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by Sterling

The flat rock landscape lay open under the azure sky. Fluffy white cumulous clouds hung overhead like overblown apparitions. Marion wondered how her tiny adobe house, which held the entire contents of her life, managed to keep from being crushed by the heavens. She wasn't from here, this Southwestern outpost to nowhere, but from a major city back East, where the firmament took a backseat to a gridlock of buildings and traffic, pollution and over-population. There was safety in numbers, safety from one's own mind.

Cinnamon coffee perfumed the kitchen. Marion gratefully poured herself a cup. She lifted the heavy, ceramic mug and headed out the back door. The yard was small by local standards, but huge by hers, made larger still by its barren flatness. Not a shrub, tree, or flower dared to grow in the dry, inhospitable gravel that paved the place.

The day had started out warm. Marion sighed, feeling Grizzle's course fur brush past her bare leg. The terrier headed straight for an arid corner of the yard. Marion laughed to herself. At least he had no mixed feelings about his new home. Now that he had his own territory it was as if he'd never been an apartment dog.

Marion became aware of an acrid odor. A cloud of steam hung around the lifeless night-light. Used to unfamiliar phenomenon in this strange place, she became more curious than perturbed. Nothing was leaking from the house, thank God. Neither was this a swarm of insects. A gentle breeze dispersed the vaporous stink.

Marion felt her muscles relax. It was beautiful here in a spartan way. She watched Grizzle mark his territory and return, demanding breakfast. The peace of the moment broken, Marian went inside. It was almost time to write anyway.

The night she had the dream began uneventfully enough. She'd spent four hours at the computer hammering out the final draft of the Bounty Cruiseline brochure. She'd scored the account three years before. It was easy to give them what they wanted. She sent off the finished product and poured herself a glass of wine, feeling a sense of low-grade accomplishment and boredom. Grizzle had been pestering her all night, yipping and yapping and barking hysterically at nothing.

"Alright Grizz, Mommy's here for you now." He wanted to go out. The yard was pitch but the stars were bright. So many white-hot pinpricks in the blackness overhead. She wondered silly, city-girl thoughts. Was there life on other planets? How long would it take to reach those celestial bodies?

"Come on Grizzle." He came in and sat by the television. They ate melted cheese sandwiches and watched sitcoms till ten. Marion snuggled up against the terrier, warm under the weight of a handmade comforter.

Marion tossed fitfully in her sleep. The dream was vivid. There was a buzz in the field like the rub of a thousand grasshopper legs. She felt her face grow tight and bubble up with heat rash. On the horizon a star burned to earth, crashing into the parched surface and throwing up dust. The buzzing intensified then ceased abruptly, leaving silence, save for the irregular rasp of the wind.

It was pulling at her leg with shriveled chicken feet. It's face was cooked, mouth and nostrils melded together, leaving only its eyes to petition her, "Help me."

Marion screamed, displacing Grizzle. She was swimming in sweat, her little room was overly warm. The dog began to bark at the back door.

"Don't think you're going to make a habit of this," Marion grimaced. The floors were cold despite the warmth of the house.

She stared at her rather pale and sweat-streaked reflection in the back door window. She tilted her head to stretch her neck. A man stared back at her; stone-black eyes set in a sculpted, ivory face. It was as if a hallucination had pierced the veil between real life and sleep, and just as soon faded when she lifted her head. Her tired, over-active imagination had gotten the best of her. She warmed a glass of milk. Grizzle climbed back onto the bed and fell asleep. Rural life had a way of making small details seem relevant.

The next day Marion couldn't concentrate on the computer screen. The angry, red welt on her neck throbbed and itched. Damn it, she hadn't even seen a wasp or bee since she’d been here. Ant bites would be smaller she was sure. She fed Grizzle and went to lay down. She didn't feel so good.

There may have been barking in the background of her fevered dream. A dry, baking wind blew the back door open. She felt her throat blister. Her eyebrows must be gone; her skin crackled and broke open. Was her blood still liquid?

Mercy. She was asking for it, in her mind. Mercy. Begging now. Ready to except whatever it took. His hands descended. Cool, soothing hands that promised to reshape her into something that would never thirst again.

She came back to consciousness days later, flaking. The skin was peeling off her arms and legs. The epidermal layer cooling. Her core was glacial cold, causing her eyes to smile. Her nipples rubbed loose under her T-shirt. Her fingernails hung like wood chips caught in the irregular holes of the afghan.

He would come to her. This she knew. Pairing off was natural. The liquid motions of mating, mercy. She would have thought death would come before this. But here came light and love. His hands descending. Pinned to the sky her heart flew from her chest. They jumped death to be joined.

Now in the night as part of the firmament she flew bloodless, feeling the pulse of the bloody creatures below, who she would nuzzle and bite.

The village had been set upon, before it knew, what fell from the sky had descended to earth and conquered.

Written by Sterling
May 14th, 2003.

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Created: May 2003 © Paul Kinder Last Updated: 15/5/03