A short sci-fi story for your reading pleasure.
The windshield wipers barely kept up with the downpour. Natalie leaned over the steering wheel to peer into the darkness. She strained to see the faint yellow lines in the center of the road.
Clutching the wheel, she forced herself to keep her breathing steady. How could this be happening? A few days earlier, five alien ships appeared in the sky. No one knew where they were from or what they wanted. They didn’t respond to any attempts at communication.
Then the aliens sent small ships down to the surface. One landed in Bethel Park, just south of the city. Riots broke out. All the news reports warned people to stay away from the aliens, to consider them dangerous invaders. And to report any sightings.
The military sent up a few fighter planes. No one knew what happened, no one knew who fired the first shot, but suddenly a few planes blew up and one of the alien ships was damaged.
Then late this afternoon a bomb fell near Natalie’s office at the University of Pittsburgh. The explosion’s impact knocked Natalie from her chair and she hit her head on the corner of her desk. With that, she didn’t hesitate. Not even stopping to wash the blood from her face, she left her office. Most of her coworkers did the same. She got in her car. She didn’t know where she was going. She only knew she had to get out of town, away from the battle.
Thousands of others had the same idea. The longer she drove, the more traffic built up. At least I got ahead of most of it. After an hour, she made it past Monroeville. She decided to keep heading east, then veer north and make for upstate New York, where her parents lived. Maybe it will be safer in the country.
She drove for hours, into a heavy rainstorm and growing darkness. Feeling alone, she tried to find a radio station. Nothing but static.
She blinked as a bright light fell from the sky, disappearing from view somewhere ahead of her. Was that a meteor? Or a burning plane going down? “What do I do now?” she said aloud. “I don’t want to go anywhere near whatever that was.” She glanced at the side of the road and peered ahead, searching for road signs that would mean a side road was coming up and she could change direction.
She drummed her fingers on the wheel. Surely, there’ll be a sign soon. A few minutes later she smiled when saw a green sign in the distance. She slumped when she finally was able to read the words, “Blairsville 4 miles.” I think that thing fell closer than that. With all the curves in the road, she was losing her sense of where the light came down.
An explosion in the sky made her jump and nearly miss a curve. Pieces of burning metal fell from the sky, lighting it up like spent fireworks, reflecting on all the raindrops, making it harder to see the road. Wide-eyed, she forced herself to breathe slower. I hate driving in the rain. She gripped the wheel tighter as the road bent sharply to the right.
A figure ran into the road. Natalie slammed on her brakes. The car skidded on the wet road, and fishtailed. A loud thump sent the car skittering toward the center of the road. She clutched the steering wheel, and gradually brought the car to a stop. A loud horn sounded behind her and a car sped around her, followed by two more. The last one clipped her back bumper and jolted her car toward the shoulder. She maneuvered the car to the shoulder and put her head down on the wheel, breathing raggedly.
Gradually, she stopped shaking. She couldn’t help thinking that she had hit a person. Her heart pounded, and she could feel the blood rushing in her ears. She turned off the engine, reached for the flashlight she kept in the glove compartment, and slid out of the car.
To her relief, the rain was slowing up. She walked to the back of the car. Her light revealed the damage, a smashed-out taillight. Great. Then she made her way to the front. There was a large dent in the bumper. She winced. What – or who — did I hit?
Then she heard it. A faint groan coming from the other side of the road. She crept toward the sound. If it’s a wounded animal, I’ll have to kill it, she thought. I can’t leave it to suffer.
Her eyes widened when she saw the foot sticking out from under a bush. Horrified, she rushed to the bush and pushed aside the branches.
A slender person lay face down. From the clothing, some kind of non-descript running clothes, Natalie couldn’t tell if the person was male or female, or even guess at the age. The person moaned, shivered, and rolled over onto its back.
Natalie couldn’t restrain the scream that burst from her throat. This person had four eyes. All lined up in a row across its forehead. She pressed her hand to her mouth to keep from screaming again, as its eyelids fluttered and opened.
Four orange eyes fixed on Natalie. Four eyes, alien that they were, full of pain and fear.
Now in front of her face was one of the aliens who’d come to invade and kill.
She squatted near the alien’s head. It let out a soft moan like a wounded animal. Natalie gently touched the side of its blue-tinged face. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see you in the dark. I didn’t mean to hit you.”
Other than a slowing of the alien’s breathing, there was no reaction.
“You probably don’t understand me, do you?” She shone her light over the alien’s body. Its clothing around the abdomen and down one leg was soaked in some kind of mustard-yellow fluid. “I really hurt you, didn’t I?”
The alien shuddered and gasped for breath. “Are you dying?” Natalie asked.
The only response was a fixed stare on Natalie’s face.
How horrible to die alone. She rubbed her forehead, wincing when she felt the wound she’d forgotten about.
She knew she should call 911, report what she’d found, but she felt a strange fascination. This person has flown from where? The next solar system? Another galaxy? To do what? To kill us all? Or just to explore?
She felt the alien’s eyes on her, staring. It slowly reached a hand toward her face. She recoiled. The alien blinked, then continued to hold its hand out.
What does it want? Can it kill me by touching me?
She must have bent closer without realizing it because the alien suddenly lurched forward and touched her forehead. She jumped back, heart racing. “Why did you do that?” she asked.
The alien just looked at her, blinking, gasping for breath as if it had been running.
Natalie tried to calm her own breathing. Then she realized. The pain in her head was gone. Did the alien heal her? She touched the place she’d been cut, but felt no pain, no trace of an open wound.
She leaned over and touched the alien’s face. “Thank you, I think.”
The alien moaned, its breathing growing weaker.
Natalie took hold of one of its hands. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t leave you.”
For answer, the alien squeezed her hand, then closed all four of its eyes.
What do I do? She thought about dialing 911, but hesitated. She was beginning to wonder if all the fighting had been a mistake. If they’d come here to kill us all, why did it heal me?
But maybe it’s trying to get me to let it live, so it can get away and fulfill whatever evil mission it came here to do.
As the minutes passed, the alien continued to cling to her hand. From time to time, it would open one or two of its eyes, stare at Natalie, then close them again. The third time that happened, Natalie decided. She wasn’t going to call anyone. She couldn’t let this alien die a violent death. It was suffering enough.
She shifted her weight, trying to get a little more comfortable in her squat, not wanting to sit on the wet ground. Every few minutes, the alien moaned and gasped. After half an hour, the alien’s grip on her hand loosened. The alien coughed, then let out a long breath. Then it went still.
Natalie remained where she was, holding its hand for a long while. “I don’t know what you were looking for when you came here,” she said. “I hope now you’ve found peace.”