Babora Books

Action Adventure SF Publishing

Excerpt from ALIEN STALKER by C.A. Dawson

Copyright 2000, 2012, by C.A. Dawson. Illustration by Alan Giana

Chapter 1 — The Landing

Brandon sped along the deer trail, crashing through bushes alongside the road. Pain shot through his left hip as the arthritis that had settled there a few years earlier complained at the unaccustomed effort.

Wet branches raked his face. Breathing hard, he frantically lashed out at them and raced up a small incline just as the thing disappeared over the top of a rise.

Tripping over a tree root, he sprawled face first into peat and twigs with a grunt of exhaled air. His father’s old Winchester, clutched in one gnarled fist, came crashing through bushes with him. The undergrowth tore mercilessly at the backs of his hands, drawing blood. The antiquated weapon, barely grasped in one bleeding hand, pushed aside overhanging branches.

“Shit!”

Brandon hauled himself up and ran on. The creature’s passage through the forest sounded more distant.

Brandon’s boots smashed unevenly through the underbrush as his good right leg hit harder than the other. His and the ungodly creature’s footfalls, muffled by the morning fog, were the only sounds disturbing the silent timberland.

Nothing moved. Nothing dared. Birds, speechless after the noise of the crash, flew to distant trees for safety. Small creatures crouched in their dens or hid in the dripping undergrowth.

Closing on the thing, Brandon dodged a branch that snapped back in its wake. His quarry may have youth on its side but he still had that old McKinnley determination.

Fallen twigs cracked beneath his feet. Ducking another limb, he tried to bring the rifle up to fire. He was no marksman, but he couldn’t miss at this distance. The weapon caught in a tangle of blackberry vines, unbalancing him and pulling him to one knee—luckily his good knee.

“Hell!” he hissed, his patience all but gone. Time had tricked him. Age had crept in like fog, sapping him of strength. Panting, he hoisted himself up.

Fog closed in, hiding the godless thing. He heard its progress through the bush and listened for any change in direction. His breath came in short painful gasps but he pressed on, drawing closer.

He had to kill it. He was the only one who knew what had come to this world and, by God; he wasn’t going to let a little age interfere with killing this thing.

The hip screamed. A branch, hidden in the fog, cruelly lashed his unshaven face, clawing his gaunt cheeks.

The fog broke. He raised the rifle and fired without aiming. A sharp crack split the air, the gun’s recoil against his shoulder bruising the arthritic joint. Wood splintered at the side of the path. The alien broke stride but rallied and dashed on.

“God damn!”

He grimaced as pain burned a path through his shoulder to his wrist. As if the arthritis and the impact of the recoil weren’t enough to contend with, stinging sweat ran into one eye. Fearing the fog would close in again, he swung the rifle to his other shoulder and fired. Another miss. More punishment from a weapon that wouldn’t have made a difference to a healthy body.

Ignoring the pain as he ran, he worked the lever to chamber another round without stopping. Breaking into a clearing, he fired again. Another miss! Rich topsoil at the side of the trail rained down on ferns. The beast screeched with fury and disappeared into the dark woods unharmed.

He looked resentfully at the old weapon as his boots beat an uneven rhythm on fallen leaves and needles. If only he’d taken an interest in his father’s life-long hobby and learned to use this antiquated thing!

“You can do it. Come on, Brandie,” he coaxed. “You’re not old yet.”

His blue eyes scanned the line of trees, assessing the trail his adversary had taken. “I’m gonna kill ya, ya bastard!” Brandon screamed.

One ragged sleeve of his red-checked coat flapped as he ran. Spider webs hung from branches, heavy with droplets condensed out of the fog. He raised the rifle once more.

“Come on!” he growled through clenched teeth, aiming for the first time. Catching sight of the thing, he fired. It roared with pain, stumbled, but kept running.

His heart hammered. “Yes!” he hissed between wheezes. “Next shot takes ya down!” he snarled. He felt in the pocket of his ruined jacket for more shells.

Ahead, the alien had encountered a nurse log. Ferns, small saplings and moss protruded from the massive hulk that was slowly returning its substance to the forest floor. It lunged this way and that, holding its thigh, trying to find a way over the obstruction.

Confusion. Here was Brandon’s chance! He had it!

Breathing hard, Brandon closed for the kill, feeding shells into the rifle’s magazine. His fingers trembled as he raised the Winchester to his aching shoulder.

Suddenly vaulting the log, the creature raced away. Hissing, it darted a look of pure contempt over one shoulder.

“Damn!” Brandon snarled, hesitating. He’d been too slow. The creature had slipped out of easy range. Lowering the gun, he started after it.

You’ve got to do better than this, Brandon. In answer, the recluse hurled himself over the log like a young buck, the jarring impact of his landing sending pain from his ankles all the way up his spine.

He could do it when he had to. Ya see! He could do it when he had to! And he had to now, more than he’d ever had to in his life.

The rifle still smoked from the last attempt to bring down the unearthly beast that wore a face he knew.

He’d seen that face in his own mirror just thirty years ago.

How had it done that?

One minute a blank slate, smooth flesh moving above him, wrestling him into the underbrush at the crash site; the next it wore Brandon’s face imprinted over its vacant features. The burning red eyes—it’s only distinguishing feature—disappeared. Penetrating, black, human-like eyes looked out at the startled farmer.

Yes. That was the only thing this shape shifter couldn’t duplicate, wasn’t it? It couldn’t copy his deep blue eyes.

* * * * * * *

Helen cranked up the music. This was a bit she loved! There was nothing better than running tree-lined back roads listening to Ferron FULL BLAST. Why the hell not?

She brushed unruly strands of blond hair from her eyes only to have them fall right back.

In the Highlands for her usual adrenaline fix—hell the only thing that kept her sane—a weekly event that stayed the boredom of a sedate, though moderately successful life. She chuckled at this. Imagine her, Helen McMaster, being successful. Yes she was and, thank you very kindly, she was going to stay on that path even if it meant coming out here once a week to work out some of the kinks.

She gunned the little hovercar.

Reaching speeds of up to one hundred and fifty clicks on the open stretches she had just traversed was nothing compared to what lay ahead on the twists and turns of the narrow mountain road.

“Ohhhhh!” she screamed. “Let’s go! We’re in the pipe.”

On a clear day, she’d only hit sixty or seventy on the upcoming stretch but the thrill of taking the switchbacks; the dips and peaks even at that speed—

“Invigorated.” She laughed, tossing her head to get the hair out of her eyes.

In this fog she wouldn’t get speedy on the switchbacks. Forty maybe fifty if she was lucky. But fog presented other challenges.

She cuffed the steering yoke with the palms of her hands and sang along to the old recording. The woman who sang her favourite song, long dead, still filled the cab with words Helen took to heart.

Thunder cracked in the woods. Puzzled, she peered up at the misty sky then quickly back at the winding road ahead.

Thunder? In a fog? The fleeting thought grazed her mind, easily pushed out by the music and the adrenaline rush of keeping the hover under control.

 

In the back of my mind I maintain
The thought of you, my heart’s horizon line
They say love travels blind
How come I still see myself with you
whenever I look behind
I have to say I don’t know…*

 

Helen had never traveled anywhere blind, let alone in the company of love. She’d never had anyone on her heart’s horizon line. Melancholy rolled in, defying the adrenaline high as the song wound on. Imagine letting a song get to you, she thought, as she brushed away another wisp of hair. Sentimentality was not a part of her adult life. She wouldn’t allow it in.

The hovercar accelerated.

Helen took the turn leading onto the rarely used section of road too fast, nearly losing control.

“Whoa!” she yelled, spinning the yoke to stabilize the vehicle, the seatbelt cutting sharply into her flesh. The little red toy veered from the asphalt, tilted dangerously, then rocked back on its air cushion. Her heart pounded fiercely as she fought the controls. The car steadied and her heart eased up as the songstress plied the rough waters of that long ago relationship.

We weren’t untrue
It’s more we just spent our love imagining
We were something else.
I have to say I don’t know
Wouldn’t say that I know
And as soon as I find my shoes I’m gone.

“Ya,” she said aloud. “As soon as I find my shoes I’m gone, baby. Outta here! Whoohoo!” she cried, pressing harder on the accelerator.

Excitement dancing behind her eyes; smiling so hard it hurt, she turned onto the roughest part of the road, cheeks ablaze. The bun atop her head, loosed by the jostling, released more blond hair to tickle her face.

Fog clung more closely in the dense bush. Golden pine needles carpeted the road, thicker at the edges where the trees grew than in the center. Wind from the hover’s passing scattered the damp needles, driving them further to the sides as she ran the centre line of the narrow road.

She plunged into thick fog. As low-lying cloud closed around the car she slowed. “Aw come on!” she complained. Speed always comforted her, drove away her demons. Excitement! She craved excitement!

Suddenly a silver flash…A blur…

Without warning a man crashed onto the front of the vehicle. Helen gasped and braked abruptly.

“Aw SHIT!” The hard reverse thrust, combined with the weight of her unwanted passenger, pitched the craft forward, collapsing the air cushion. The hover grounded hard, sliding in the pine needles.

He groped for a hand-hold as the hover spun out of control.

“Oh my GOD!” she screeched, fear instantly gripping her.

As it lost forward momentum, the craft’s back and front ends tried to swap places. Helen spun the controls to the right, trying to counter the skid but overcorrecting badly.

The man on the hood toppled this way and that, grasping at the lip of the windscreen.

Cranking the yoke to the left to prevent the hover from upending, she managed to stay on the road.

Managing barely to hold on, the rider’s feet slid across the air intake and caught briefly on one of the nav-lights. Losing his grip at last, he tumbled off before the vehicle came to a full stop.

Helen slapped the music off and jumped from the vehicle almost in one motion. “Are you all right?” she cried.

Running to the man’s side, she bent to help him. The craft idled behind her, its lights piercing the gloom. With her assistance, the man struggled to his feet, gasping and moaning. Stunned. She supported him, holding one elbow, apologizing all the time.

“I didn’t see you,” she gasped. “I’m sorry! Oh God what have I done?” She brushed at his strange shiny coverall. What was he doing up here anyway? No one lived up here.

Then something big crashed out of the bush behind her.

“Get away from it!” a man’s voice screamed hoarsely. “Get back for Chrissake! It’s not human!”

Turning her head without letting go of the guy’s arm, Helen gaped at the man covered in mud and dressed in rags. Trying to understand what the wild-looking creature was saying, she stared at him. Get away?

She shouted back. “I didn’t mean to hit him! Honestly. He just came out of nowhere.”

“Move away!”

“I didn’t see him ’til he was on top of me!”

The sound of Helen’s heartbeat pounded in her brain, drowning out any sense she might otherwise make of the old man’s command—and command it was. The victim leaned heavily on her, mumbling something incoherent.

She strained to see the fog-shrouded figure more clearly.

“Get away from it!” the man shouted, his voice booming angrily in the mist.

She mouthed his last words with incomprehension. ‘Get away from it?’

Behind her, the man who’d landed atop the hover babbled something unintelligible through clenched teeth. He’d been talking all along in a language she couldn’t understand.

Anger seemed to cloak his words. Of course he was angry. He had a right to be. She had just hit him with her car. She looked at his strange tattered clothing, the sleeves torn, the silver coverall smudged with dirt, wet leaves clinging to it. He looked odd. ‘Get away from it?’

Thank God she’d been forced to slow down. She would have killed him at the speed she’d been travelling only moments earlier.

Alap ovkala gu zia!” the stranger yelled.

Although she couldn’t make sense of his words, she knew he was telling her to do something. Then he grabbed her arm and began dragging her toward the hovercar.

Somewhere in the turmoil into which her mind had spun on hitting the stranger, this at least registered. Resisting, she yelled, “Get off me! I didn’t mean to hit you! I’m sorry I hit you but you have no right—”

Unintelligible words spilled around her like sawdust, suffocating her protest.

Pulled off balance, she stumbled. On looking up, her gaze met the darkest most intense eyes she’d ever seen. Set in a handsome though strangely inexpressive face, they commanded her to act.

“Let go of me!” she demanded, jerking one arm away.

“Get down!” the mountain man ordered, urgency ringing in his voice.

Not intending to comply with the order but unbalanced by the man who was forcing her back toward her vehicle, Helen fell. Her knee connected with broken asphalt. Abruptly, before she could gain her feet, the stranger’s cold hands were on her, pulling her up.

At the same time a shot rang out and dirt beside her leapt skyward. Helen screamed and sprang to her feet.

The stranger released her.

“Shit!” she yelled, sprinting toward the open door of the hover, realizing she was in real danger.

Gravel kicked up behind her as more shots rang out. She closed on the hovercar.

“No! For chrissake,” the man with the gun screamed, running towards her.

It all made sense now. This maniac was trying to kill the guy she had hit. That’s why he ran out in front of her. He was trying to escape a crazy man. And the poor s.o.b. was just trying to get her to take him out of harm’s way.

Whimpering, she dove inside the craft. She fumbled with the passenger door to admit the man she’d hit, while more shots struck the vehicle. The stranger lunged through the door, slamming it behind him, barking orders in a language she couldn’t understand but the urgency in his tone was obvious. She hit the accelerator and the hover shot forward.

* * * * * * *

Brandon doubled back along the lane that passed for a road in these parts, limping badly on a twisted knee and the arthritic hip, which was determined to punish him for the transgression of running full out.

He charged into his familiar farmyard just as the mist turned to rain. Jumping into the old pickup that reclined like a dinosaur in the driveway, he swore while rummaging through the glove box. Finding a carton of shells for the old rifle, he reloaded, then set the gun on the seat beside him. He turned the key that always stayed in the ignition.

“Come on ya bloody shit bucket!” he cursed as the starter groaned. He’d done more swearing since eight o’clock this morning than he usually did in a week and Brandon was no stranger to colourful language.

In trouble throughout his senior years at school for, among other things, his treatment of “The Queen’s English” as his teachers put it; he’d given up on ever finishing. In fact, Brandon had given up on most things connected with life. The wreckage of three marriages was strewn out behind him as he set out after the beast this wet Saturday morning on the last day of October.

He couldn’t give up on this, though. Shit! This was no game. He just knew this thing wasn’t here for the fun of it. Whatever it had come to Earth to do would impact on Brandon too. Society could go to hell, for all Brandon cared, but he still needed an infrastructure of some sort out there beyond the limits of his little subsistence farm.

“Please baby? Please?” he coaxed. The engine caught. “All right!” he yelled, slapping the steering wheel. “Now I’m gonna nail your red-eyed ass!” Then the truck shook violently, misfired, and a piercing clap split the air. The engine died.

He cranked the starter again. This time the engine caught. Great blue clouds billowed from the exhaust.

Peering over one shoulder, he hurled an arm across the seat as though anchoring himself and threw the transmission in reverse. The pickup lurched backwards toward the road.

Reaching the potholed pavement of Millstream Lake Road, he slammed the truck into first gear. Tires spun with the abrupt change of direction. Brandon geared up and pressed down hard on the gas. The speedometer slowly climbed to forty.

“Come on! Come on!” he urged as the truck laboured. Not daring to travel these roads any faster, and knowing he couldn’t force the jalopy to do much more, he slapped on the windshield wipers and tried to see through the muddy mess they spread across his line of vision. Switchbacks and hairpin turns he knew by rote waited ahead.

He snatched the rifle off the seat and cradled it on his lap using his elbows but keeping his hands free to work the steering wheel and shifter. Away in the distance, the sound of the little red speed demon tickled at the edge of hearing. He rolled down the window. Rain pattered on his left shoulder. Taking a corner without slowing he closed the gap between them.

“I know this road better than you do, girlie,” he whispered.

His breath came raggedly. The Winchester almost slid off his lap as the old rust bucket dipped into a gully. Then her nose thrust suddenly into the air as the ancient vehicle had to climb a steep hill, slowing with the effort.

With the gas pedal to the floor, he jerked back and forth as though the motion would help the pickup overcome the incline. The gun leaned back against his gut reassuringly. The truck nosed down to follow the road and the firearm slid onto his legs. A switchback came on him from the right and he piloted the broken asphalt like winter run-off in a river bed, hugging the banks. The insect whine of the hovercar’s turbine grew closer.

* * * * * * *

Helen leaned forward, gripping the yoke with both sweaty hands. The swoosh-flip of the wipers across the windshield distracted her from focusing on the road. Trees crowded at the edges of the asphalt, branches overhanging in places, scraping the little red hovercar as it passed.

Gra flap a kap! Gra flap a kap!” the stranger yelled striking the dashboard with his open hand. He stared over his shoulder anxiously.

“I’m going as fast as I can in this fog!” Helen protested, taking his meaning if not his words. “And the rain isn’t helping.” The worst switchback on the road loomed ahead and she slowed to negotiate the turn. The stranger gripped her arm painfully.

“Wina calbritron, Diasala!”

Helen wrenched her arm away and yelled at him. “You can go to hell if you think I’m wrapping this thing around a tree!” Steering with one hand, she nearly did just that. “I’m going as fast as I can! Now back off!” The last words were spat like venom.

Now it was his turn to take her meaning, if not her words. He sat back in the bucket seat and regarded her with cold dark eyes.

In the rear-view mirror a battered green pickup truck poked its head through the mist. A shot rang out and something struck a fist-sized chip of bark from a tree at the edge of the road.

“No!” Helen breathed, stepping down hard on the accelerator as she came out of the turn. They pulled ahead and the truck disappeared in the fog. A battered sign flashed past in the haze. Helen announced their locale. “Mount Work Regional Park,” she stammered. “McKenzie Bight. Almost there!” The windshield wipers whooshed across the screen. “Come on, baby!” she encouraged the little craft. “You can do it!”

Another shot ripped past the speeding craft.

Gra flap a KAP!” the stranger shrieked.

“Oh shut up!” Helen screamed back. She nevertheless stepped harder on the accelerator. Ahead, a fork in the road announced the start of a two-lane road. She spun onto it without braking and the staunch little craft flew over the smooth blacktop, speeding them away from the maniac with the rifle.

* * * * * * *

Brandon negotiated the corner with a squeal of rubber on pavement and let up on the gas. He pulled the old green Ford to the shoulder and watched as technology crippled him. There was no way in hell he could catch the hover now, not on the roads it was built for. No way in hell. And hell was exactly where that fat blonde was headed.

* * * * * * *

Helen felt like a rabbit that had just outrun a fox. “Good grief! That guy is nuts!” she said looking wide-eyed at the man she’d rescued from the lunatic. If it was excitement she’d wanted, she had surely found it. Only this wasn’t the sort of excitement she had been expecting.

“I’m going straight to the police with this.” With immediate danger receding behind her, she was, of course, now trapped in a speeding car with this stranger.

The thought crossed her mind that she might be no better off than she had been a few minutes earlier with bullets whizzing past. She dismissed the thought nervously.

Her passenger’s head lolled back against the seat. His eyes closed. He groaned loudly, then opened his eyes. Without a word, he ran his right hand over his thigh and groaned again.

“You’ve been shot!” she exclaimed, suddenly realizing that the old idiot with the rifle had hit his mark after all. “Why didn’t you say something?” Then it dawned on her that she wouldn’t have understood him if he had. She jerked the vehicle to the side of the road and stopped. “Let me see,” she said with authority, leaning over him to examine the wound.

Casan innash nova it a-bray, DIASALA?” he snapped, pushing her away. “Gra flap!” He gestured to the steering yoke.

“Don’t you speak any ENGLISH?” Helen asked, carefully enunciating the last word, as though that would make a difference. She wrinkled her brow in puzzlement. He frowned hard, peering into her pale eyes. Without answering her question he shrugged toward the controls. “Gra flap,” he repeated.

The wiper continued its whoosh, flip, whoosh, flip.

Gra flap,” Helen repeated. “Drive.” She adjusted herself in her seat. Gripping the yoke, she looked out at the empty road, eased away from the shoulder.

“Drive,” the stranger said perfectly as if in complete command of the language. No hint of an accent clung to the word.

“Do you speak English?” she asked again cautiously, hopefully, glancing over at him.

“Drive,” he parroted.

“Yes.” She nodded with disappointment as trees sped past, realizing he couldn’t speak English. “Yes. Drive,” she said belligerently. “What am I here for but to rescue you from raging lunatics and ferry you around?”

“Yes,” he said nodding.

“I have to get you to a hospital. I’M TAKING YOU TO A HOSPITAL,” she said in a loud voice, carefully pronouncing each syllable. “You know. Where there are doctors and things like that?” Then to herself she added, “Then I’m going to report that psycho to the police.”

He frowned at her. “Drive,” he said, jerking his head toward the road.

“I have to get HELP for you,” she announced, knowing he didn’t understand a word of what she said. The statement helped clarify what she must do. Leaning across his lap, she tapped his injured leg in an effort to explain. Instantly, in a flash she didn’t even see, he had her by the arm.

“Ouch!” she complained. “Let go!” She twisted in his grip. “Let go!” she repeated, unable to wrest her arm free. Her eyes darted from the road to his face and back. The hover swerved dangerously, hitting the gravel shoulder and veering back onto asphalt, rocking as she tried to steady it with only her left hand.

“Let. Go,” he uttered, staring into her frightened eyes, releasing her arm with an exaggerated, almost contemptuous jerk.

“Never mind,” Helen said angrily, gripping the yoke until her knuckles turned white, easing back onto a straight course. Trying to control her temper, she said, “I’ll just get you to the hospital. You don’t need to know where I’m taking you. The doctors can deal with you.” She sighed loudly. “I shouldn’t have got involved. Should have left you back there to face that nut. You’re two peas in a pod, as my old grandmother would say.”

He grinned with what looked like amusement. “Oh you think this is funny?” Her blond brows shot up challengingly. She shook her head. “It’s not funny, buddy.” He shrugged and mumbled something that could have been an apology. After a moment, Helen sighed again and the anger eased. He was some kind of foreigner after all. “I’m just taking you to the hospital. They can worry about you.”

“Drive, Diasala,” he said.

“Diasala?” she asked, thumping her chest in a superior manner.

He looked over at her with mischievous dark eyes. “Yes,” he replied, smirking. “Diasala.” He nodded.

“Helen,” she said, this time pointing to her chest. Anger still lurked just under the surface. She repeated her name as though speaking to someone of an inferior mental capacity. “Hel-en.”

He nodded and the smirk changed to a grin, melting whatever residual annoyance she still felt. “Jonflan,” he said, rapping his own chest.

“John Flan?” she repeated, looking puzzled. “That’s a good English name.” She thought a moment. “Or maybe it’s Irish. Whatever! You should be able to speak English. You look English enough. Actually you look just like that guy who was trying to kill you. Only younger. Is he your father or something?”

John just stared at her without comprehension.

“Never mind,” she said. “We’re almost at the hospital. They can deal with this.”

Taking a turn onto Wilkinson Road, she guided her little, now less than perfect, red sports hovercar into the Victoria General Hospital parking lot nearest to the emergency entrance.

Anger rolled over her. It would cost a lot to repair the damage to her car. There would be a lot of inconvenience too, waiting on repair men, deadlines that would never be met. As the thought planted itself, she wondered how she was going to explain what had happened to the police and her insurance. Hell, she’d have to give the doctors some account of how her companion had been shot. She flipped off the wipers.

“OKAY,” she said loudly and clearly in an attempt to be understood. “You.” She enunciated the word carefully and gingerly and tapped his shoulder, not wanting to lose a hand in the attempt to communicate. “And I—” She touched her chest. “Are going—” She pointed toward the hospital entrance and, staring steadily into his dark orbs, nodded. “Understand?”

To Helen’s relief, the light of understanding did indeed dawn on John’s face. “Ac innash ovkala zit,” he said, motioning with his chin toward the towering grey building with its faded red, blue and yellow ventilation ducts running outside the building from the ground to the sixth floor, making it look like anything but a modern hospital. “Vas in noval obra,” he sputtered, lowering his head.

“Vas in what?” she asked. “Oh John,” she said with compassion. “You’re ill. Please let’s just go inside.”

“Vas in noval obra, Diasala.”

“We have to go inside,” she pleaded, opening her door. Her eyes spoke compassion. The sound of her words, almost cooing, seemed to soften him. He looked at her, puzzled. “Come with me,” she coaxed.

She started disembarking. Swinging one leg out, she began bringing the other after it. Suddenly, like soap bubbles, the mood broke. He grabbed her arm with familiar strength—strength she thought out of place in his present state—and pulled her back inside, whipping her around to face him.

“Drive!” he demanded.

“You have to get that WOUND seen to,” she insisted, pointing to his injured leg.

He shook his head. “Wound,” he said clearly. Then he patted his chest.

“Oh. The wound is John Flan’s?” she asked, nodding and feeling stupid at expressing his thought in so simplistic a manner. “Macho man I suppose.”

“Yes. Wound. Jonflan.”

“No!” Helen shook her head and looked stern. Perhaps the injury had made him delirious. For his own good, she had to get severe. “John must see doctor,” she jabbed a finger toward the hospital. For comfort’s sake she brought her leg back into the car.

“No. Vas in noval obra, Diasala.”

“Vas in noval obra?”

“Yes. Drive.” He tapped her on the chest. “Vas in noval obra, Helen. Gra flap, Jonflan in noval obra, Helen. Obra!” he repeated, pointing down the road to a house that was barely visible from their position.

“Obra?” she said, trying to understand what he wanted of her.

He closed his eyes for a moment, swallowed hard and, on opening them, tapped her on the chest. “Nova - noval!” he said, exasperation scarcely controlled. “Nova innash, Helen. Nova innash, Diasala.”

He tapped her on the chest again. Never before today had a man tapped her on the chest for any reason. Now suddenly, one was doing it repeatedly; like he owned her. In some sense it was quite a comfortable and familiar action. In another, it was threatening.

“Nova innash Helen,” she repeated, concentrating on the words. “You are Helen!” she said. “You are Diasala.” She smiled broadly at her accomplishment. “Nova innash! You are!”

“Yes. You are Helen,” he said. He rubbed her face gently. “Helen, pi griezin op, Helen. Obra,” he repeated pointing to the house he had earlier indicated. “Drive Jonflan in noval obra.”

Suddenly she understood. “That’s a house? You want me to take you to my house?” she stated with incredulity.

“House,” he repeated. “House?” He pointed to a house in the distance. “Obra?”

“Yes. That’s a house,” she said.

“Obra. Yes. House. Take Jonflan Helen house.”

“OH no, buddy!” she said. “You just hold your horses,” she pointed a finger at him. “You need medical help and the hospital is where you’re going to get it.”

He clenched her arm with authority and looked deeply into her pale blue eyes. Running his hand along her jaw he examined her face. Helen stretched her chin out to smooth a plump little ripple she knew hung there. Suddenly she realized she was attracted to this man. There was something compelling about his rugged good looks. He looked as though nothing could harm him. Strength. That was the first attribute she would ascribe to him.

“Listen,” she said softly. “You need help. John Flan needs to see a doctor.”

“Jonflan take Helen house,” he said. “Helen gis sakin bray, Jonflan.”

“I should look after you? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Helen.” He touched her arm and then tapped his wounded leg. “Gis sakin bray, Jonflan.”

“That IS what you’re saying!”

Sakin bray. Jonflan. Helen house.”

“Oh Christ!” she said, inhaling deeply.

He rubbed her chin playfully, then grimaced with pain. “Helen, ovin griezin op.” He smiled and touched her hair. The bun on top of her head had loosened and strands hung down in blond and light brown wisps.

“What language is that?” she asked. “German? Russian? Spanish? It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard before.”

“Drive Jonflan Helen house?” he asked gently.

Drawn into his gaze, she felt paralyzed. Like a doe in the headlights of an oncoming car. Dizziness momentarily gripped her. When her head cleared she felt enormously calm.

“Okay. Drive John Flan Helen’s house,” she said. “I’m probably going to regret this,” she told herself, shaking her head with incomprehension.

She started the car. “But what the hell.”

“Nova zik ashley pi slitt vera.”

“Well I hope that’s a compliment,” Helen said. “I hope you’re not saying I’m the biggest boob that’s ever lived.”

“Apil zulis os gin fonnar noval griezin op taka slitt!”

A chill ran down Helen’s spine as he finished the statement. Of course she didn’t know what he said. It was the way he said it. Something in the way he said those words made her uneasy. The only word she could really comprehend was noval. Noval was ‘your’. If nova was ‘you’, noval must be ‘your’. She suspected ‘griezin op’ meant pretty because he’d said that when rubbing her face the first time.

Or maybe her vanity interfered with her comprehension. She had no idea what was meddling with her ability to reason, although something inside said the idea of taking him home was crazy, insane.

It wasn’t often a man called her pretty. She was flattered. ‘You’re pretty’, if that’s what he’d said, sounded almost like a slur. And the word fonnar; he’d said fonnar like it was a weapon.

But why then… was she taking him home? Her vision blurred for a moment as she asked herself this. But then the self-doubt cleared out like morning fog and she stepped down firmly on the accelerator.

The words of that old song ran through her brain.

In the back of my mind I maintain
the thought of you, my heart’s horizon line
They say love travels blind…

*Song lyrics by Ferron. Used with permission.