In the middle of a training trip, Keeska’s shuttle navigation fails and strands Keeska on Earth—alone, no way to contact home, and with no chance of help from the locals…until one does.
When Eric starts leaving food in front of an abandoned storefront in the crappy strip mall by his house, he thought he was helping a dog or a homeless kid. He gets the shock of his life when he discovers an alien instead. Not sure what else to do, especially with the alien bleeding and in shock, Eric realizes he’s about to have an unusual houseguest.
But as Keeska’s health improves, they both forget that Keeska should probably be finding a way home. As they grow increasingly close, they are forced to figure out the answers to questions they never thought would have to be asked…
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Eric kicked at the dust motes in sheer frustration.
He walked by this ancient, run down, little strip mall almost every day because it was on the way to the bus stop closest to his basement apartment. This spot had been empty for months, seemingly deserted.
He had never cared, barely noticed it in fact. What was another empty storefront in a six-store strip mall where the businesses came and went like migrating birds? So he hadn’t paid it any attention.
Until last week. Last week something had changed. He didn’t know what had changed, just something. It made no sense and he couldn’t see anything visibly different.
All he really knew was that he was drawn to the dark windows of the empty space. It was like someone was sitting right inside the door, whispering his name just loud enough for him to hear.
It had taken a few days, but the feeling of being summoned had finally made him walk across the tiny parking lot, step up onto the crumbling sidewalk, and try the door. It had stuck at first, but he could tell it was unlocked. He had tugged a little harder until it popped open with a force that made him stumble. Then he had stepped inside for the first time.
Eric looked around the dusty space. It was the same as it had been yesterday and the day before.
The afternoon sunlight crept weakly through the dirty windows, casting eerie shadows on the scraped up white linoleum floor and the ugly tan walls. There were two old wooden chairs sitting against the left wall, one of them broken and leaning drunkenly against the other. The stack of boxes in the back right corner loomed threateningly. A door in the center of the back wall had resisted all his attempts to open it. There was nothing else.
He sighed and turned to go. But as he stepped toward the door, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that made him stop. There was a flash of color that he was sure hadn’t been there before. A small fleck of it sitting on the chair that wasn’t broken.
He went quickly to the chair, almost afraid that this new thing would vanish before he could see what it was. Unsurprisingly, it stayed still until he picked it up to get a better look.
At first, he thought it was just a strangely colored feather. But then he felt how soft it was and looked closer. It looked like a feather would look if someone had carefully pulled off all the vanes and replaced them with the finest, softest fur they could find.
He stepped toward the window and held it up to the light. It was mostly dark grey, but it shimmered with iridescent streaks of copper and purple. It was beautiful.
“What on Earth?” His stunned whisper echoed through the empty space as he examined the not-feather. Slowly he lowered his hand and looked around the room again. He cleared his throat and tried to make his voice loud but unthreatening. “You can come out. I won’t hurt you.”
Eric waited, straining for any sound or hint of movement, but there was nothing. He sighed and walked back over to the chair, leaving the not-feather where he had found it.
“There’s probably nothing here,” he muttered. “I’m just talking to myself like a crazy person.”
Still, he hesitated. The feeling of waiting wouldn’t leave him. He went to the forest green messenger bag he had dropped by the door and pulled out the two granola bars he kept on hand in case he missed lunch.
Okay, he was leaving food, but where? He shrugged and went back to the chairs. Whatever it was had been there at least once if it had left something there. He started to set them down but hesitated. If it was an animal, it couldn’t exactly open the packages. But what if it wasn’t an animal? He laughed at himself. What would it be if it wasn’t an animal? People didn’t have weird feathers… But people’s clothes did…
He huffed and opened the granola bars anyway.
Eric went back to the door and picked his bag up again. He stopped with his hand on the handle. “I left you food. If you’ve been here a few days you must be hungry. Um… I opened the packages. Sorry if I shouldn’t have.”
He shoved the door open and rushed through, back out onto the crumbling sidewalk.
“Shit,” he muttered, frustrated with the entire thing. He felt totally stupid. He looked over his shoulder, but couldn’t see much of anything through the grime and the reflections on the glass. He still couldn’t shake the feeling there was something there.
Frowning, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed home. He’d have to put extra snacks in his bag for tomorrow. He knew he’d be back to see if the granola bars were gone, and if they were, he’d want to leave something else.