Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Day-Tripper" By Maureen Bowden

           Our visitor came from Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. He was a tall, slender hunk, with bronze skin, golden hair and long-lashed green eyes. I’m a warm-blooded woman and I was smitten.

I work for the Department of Investigation into Outer Planetary Sentience (DIOPS), located on England’s Cornish coast. My boss, Jimmy, accompanied me to the laboratory. “We’ve got an interesting specimen here, Alison.”

We watched the visitor being ex-rayed, probed, prodded and given the usual grilling imposed on self-proclaimed aliens. It invariably establishes that they’re either attention seekers or nut jobs. This one was different. Jimmy said, “The local plods found him wandering around in the Outer Hebrides. They shunted him down to Cornwall and dumped him on us.”

“How did he get to Earth?”

“Teleportation. He describes it as jumping. Distance is apparently no obstacle.”

I reluctantly dragged my eyes away from the green-eyed Adonis. “You think he’s genuine?”

“Well, his internal anatomy’s certainly not human, and his mental capacity’s weird. He learned our speech patterns and language structure in less than three hours.” 

“Impressive.”

“Yes, but he has a very limited attention span. He gives us small doses of information about Ganymede’s civilisation in the sub-surface ocean, and then he gets bored and shuts up.”

“I hate to break it to you, Jim, but we’re a pretty boring lot. Can I meet him?”

“Yeah. He may find you interesting enough to keep him talking. We call him Gan.”

He led me to the raised bed where the alien lay. He was wearing a white hospital gown, and brain link probes were attached to his temples. I noticed two tiny flaps of skin, presumably gills, on the sides of his neck.

Jimmy said, “Gan, this is Alison. She’d like to be your friend.”

The young man pulled out the probes before anyone could stop him, turned his head towards me, and smiled.

My heart fluttered. “Would you like some clothes?” I said.

He pointed to one of the lab technicians, Reuben de la Rosa, known as Benzi, who has a weekend job as a Rapper. “I want clothes like his.”

Benzi was happy to oblige, and presented Gan with knee-length baggy denim cut-offs, a tee shirt bearing the logo ‘da Benz is da Biz’, red and black trainers the size of small boats, and a floppy-brimmed felt hat.

I said, “Would you like to come to my house?”

“Yes. I don’t like it here. They ask me questions and I have no fun.”

I took him home and wracked my brain for something he might find fun.“Do you like music?”

“What’s music?”

I gave him a stash of CDs I’d accumulated over the years, and my ancient, much loved CD player. Call me old fashioned but it has better sound quality than downloads. I showed him how to play the discs. He was entranced. Within an hour he could sing along to dozens of them. His favourite was the digital re-issue of the Monkees’ sixties hit, ‘I’m a Believer’

When the afternoon drifted into dusk, he said, “It’s your sleep time. I’ll jump home now and I’ll come back tomorrow.” He vanished.

I looked forward to spending the next day with Gan, but I’d arranged to have lunch with Kieran, Asda’s Area Manager. We’d been enjoying a light-hearted flirtation for a few weeks. I called him. “Sorry I won’t be able to get away for lunch. We’ll have to leave it for a while. There’s a situation at work, but I can’t talk about it, of course.”

“Okay, Ali, but don’t ride off into the sunset with ET.”

I forced a laugh. “No chance. I don’t have a bike.” I persuaded myself not to feel guilty. I hadn’t lied to him and we’d never made any commitment to each other.

Gan appeared next morning and hung a necklace sparkling with rainbow coloured gems around my neck. He said, “Do you like Ganymede jewels?”

“They’re very beautiful. Thank you.”

“I’ll bring you more.”

He did, every day. I had no idea whether they were valuable or not and I didn’t care. I left them in a mound on my bedroom floor.

We visited Cineworld. The matinee featured ‘Shrek’ for the hundredth time. The soundtrack includes ‘I’m a Believer’. Perfect. He cheered and clapped through the film, and sang along to his favourite song. I bought him a Shrek bath-towel from a souvenir stall in the Cineworld complex.

Afterwards, we walked in the park and I tried to get him to talk about Ganymede. “I know you live in the ocean, Gan,” I said, “but do you ever go to the surface?”

“Yes, but we don’t stay long. There’s no food.”

“You get your food from the ocean?”

“Of course. It lives there.”

“What do you do on the surface?”

“We play. Let’s play now. You run. I’ll chase you.”

Ganymede was forgotten. He chased me around the duck pond, caught me, and swung me around in his arms. I sat on the grass with his head in my lap, and I stroked his hair as we watched the setting sun stain the clouds pink.

Each evening he transported home and each morning he returned, bringing me more jewels. The mound on my bedroom floor was turning into a hill.

We took the Shrek towel with us on a trip to Tintagel beach, and walked along Cornwall's Atlantic shoreline hand in hand, splashing in the breakers. He said, “Why is the ocean on top of the surface?”

“Earth is different from Ganymede. We live on the surface and sometimes we play in the ocean.”

He pulled off his clothes, ran into the deep water and dived beneath the outgoing tidal waves. I felt momentary panic. What if he lost his bearings, or the current was too strong for him? I reassured myself that he could teleport back to the shore whenever he chose.

After a few minutes he reappeared close to land, spat something into the shallow water, and scowling, marched onto the sand. I handed him the towel. He dried and dressed himself without speaking.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“Food’s not good. Not like at home.” I preferred not to speculate about what he’d eaten. He didn’t speak throughout our journey home. I was puzzled and irritated

When we arrived I handed him his favourite CD. “Play the Monkees. They might cheer you up.”

He snatched it from my hand, screamed, “I don’t like it,” flung it across the room, crossed his arms, and sulked.

Realisation dawned. I’d made a mistake about him. We all had. I needed to tell DIOPS.

“Go home, Gan,” I said.

He pouted. “You can’t keep my jewels. I want them.”

I put as much authority into my voice as I could manage, “I’ll pack them up. You can take them tomorrow. Now, go home.”

He glared at me and then he vanished.

I called Jimmy. “There’s something I have to tell you about Gan. We’ve been wrong about him. He’s a-”

“A child. I know. I was about to call you. Our biologists say his brain waves indicate that his degree of maturity is the equivalent of a five-year-old human.”

“Sounds about right. It should have been obvious from his behaviour. I feel so stupid, not to mention embarrassed.”

“We all made the same mistake. We judged him by his appearance. Listen, Alison, I have to ask. Did anything inappropriate happen between you?”

My face felt hot. I knew I was blushing. “What? Absolutely not. Perish the thought.”

“Good.” He sounded relieved. “Is he with you now?”

“No. He threw a tantrum and I sent him home, but he’ll be back tomorrow.”

“You must persuade him not to come to Earth again. We don’t want the population of Ganymede accusing us of child abduction. Do you want me to be there when he shows up?”

My pride asserted itself. “No, I can handle it. I’ll call you after I get rid of him.”

After Jimmy ended the call I looked at the heap of bling on my bedroom floor. What could I pack it in?

I drove to Asda. Luckily, they were open until late, and they’re always glad to get rid of excess boxes. A shelf stacker pointed to a mountain of them piled up next to the rack of ‘past their sell-by date’ bananas, and told me to help myself.

I selected what I needed and was making my way back to the car park when I met Kieran. He looked at the boxes and raised his eyebrows. “Not moving house are you, Ali?”

“No, just having a clear-out.”

“You look upset. Is anything wrong?”

I shook my head. “Only work stuff. It’s sorted now.”

“Well, if you need to off-load you know where to find me, and I won’t expect you to spill any official secrets.”

I saw in his eyes the concern of one human for another, and I was glad of it. “Thanks,” I said. “I may take you up on that.”

Before I went to bed I slung all the bling into the boxes and left them on my living room floor. The sooner they were out of my house the better.

Next morning Gan popped out of the air. He wasn’t alone. His companion was over seven-feet tall, with muscles the size of prize winning pumpkins. The gaping gills on its neck oozed stinking oceanic silt. Green scales covered its body and its limbs were clawed. The only characteristics it had in common with Gan were green eyes and a few tufts of golden hair remaining on its balding head. It snarled, “We want our jewels back.”

I pointed to the boxes. “They’re all there. Take them and go.”

The monster gathered them up in its arms, and turned to Gan, “Is there anything else of ours here?”

He lowered his head and mumbled, “No, Mother.”

Mother! Fighting the urge to laugh, I said, “I told you they’re all there. I’m not a thief.”

“I’ve studied your species’ languages and cultures,” she said. “You lie and cheat and steal from each other.”

I couldn’t deny it, and I acknowledged to myself that it isn’t green scales that make a monster, but I was angry and I refused to be intimidated. “If you’ve studied us you’ll also know that we can be ferocious and bloodthirsty. We make bad enemies. Tell your petulant child to play closer to home in future. Keep him safe.”

I saw uncertainty in her eyes. She turned to her son. “Come. We’re leaving.”

Gan leaned towards me and clutched my arm so tight it hurt. His nails dug into my skin. They felt like claws. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t be sad, Alison. When I’ve grown up I’ll come back for you.”

#

Epilogue:

Alison told Jimmy about Gan’s promise to return. He assured her that DIOPS’ biologists had concluded that Gan would not reach adolescence until approximately one-hundred-and-fifty years’ time. There was, therefore, no possibility that she would ever encounter him as an adult.

Eventually, she and Kieran moved their light-hearted flirtation onto the next level. They are currently planning a life together. ‘I’m a Believer’ is back on her CD shelf, but she gave the Shrek towel to the Oxfam shop. 

Jimmy wrote an article for ‘The Journal of the British Astronomical Society’, exploring the dangers of communication with extra-terrestrial life forms. The BBC gave him a guest spot on the TV programme, ‘The Sky at Night’.

Benzi gave up Rapping and pursued a career in politics.

The End


About the Author: Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had 133 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 Alban Lake published an anthology of her stories, 'Whispers of Magic.' She loves her family and friends, rock 'n' roll, Shakespeare and cats.