Photo by Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash
“One Arrow” simply scrawled in pencil on the back of an old faded business card with a familiar address. She grinned. This one was easy. Excitement spread through her body as she made her way through the city, not to the address on the card but to the one the “one arrow” had directed her to. He’ll be waiting there with that smile, with that touch her soul craved.
She had found the card wedged in the driver’s side window of her VW when she left work. It wasn’t the first one she’d found. She’d been seeing Jay for months and every time he was able to get away from his work, she’d find a business card on her windshield, a short cryptic message about where she could find him. She’d smile when she saw the card, pluck it from its spot and sit inside the car to muse over it and figure out where to meet him that afternoon. As soon as she had it, she’d turn the key in the ignition, fire the old bug into action, and make a beeline for the spot.
Sometimes it was a secluded part of the wilderness park, an empty lot, or some other remote outdoor location. Other times it was an abandoned house on the edge of town or a friend’s apartment that he’d secured for the meeting. Once it was a swanky hotel room in the city with a giant bathtub, eight flights up, and set in a giant window overlooking the streets below. She just never knew where he’d lead her next and that was the fun of it.
When she arrived at the “one arrow,” the big wilderness park at the edge of the city, she knew something was different the moment she saw him. She pulled her car into a parking spot and switched the ignition off as he moved toward the car door to let her out. Taking her hand and pulling her from the car, she moved easily into his arms and held him close.
Walking to their usual spot near the pond, she sensed his nervous energy. She felt as if he might take wing at any moment. Car horns, birds, a barking dog, all made him jump out of his skin. When she asked him if anything was wrong, he said he was worried that someone was following him.
“Why would someone be following you?” she asked.
“You know I’m not supposed to be here.”
“I know but…” her answer trailed off as she thought about why. He had never really told her why and for some strange reason she accepted it and didn’t press for answers. She wasn’t typically the gullible sort, but his mystery intrigued her and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. She didn’t want to.
He wasn’t all that handsome, not much taller than her and thickset. He had dark, close-cut hair and deep-set eyes that glimmered when he looked at her in the strangest way as if they had no real color. His eyes were almost silvery, reflecting the colors he was wearing or looking at. He wasn’t skinny or fat, but he looked big, well-fed and strong. It was his hands that attracted her, his strength when he pulled her close and kissed her. She felt overpowered and weak, a feeling she had never enjoyed in the past. With him, she felt safe, at home, and all the mystery only made the affair more alluring to her.
“There are things I need to tell you. Things I didn’t think I’d have to tell you, but…”
“You can trust me, you know.” She murmured, looking down at her feet dangling over the edge of the block wall they were sitting on. “I’m not going anywhere.” The park was empty this time of day. Large trees looming over them, as they sat together on the retaining wall along the edge of the park. The sun was starting to set and the shadows were deepening.
“It’s getting late and I don’t want us to get caught in the dark. Not now.” They hopped off the wall and started to make their way back to the cars. She could feel his tension get stronger. Something was really bothering him. Walking up between their two cars, he took her hands in his and kissed her. She melted. All was right. She was starting to think maybe he enjoyed creating the mystery as much as she enjoyed being in it.
“Come back here tomorrow. Ok?”
“Again? So soon? It won’t be suspicious of you leaving two days in a row?”
“Maybe, but it’s important. I’ll think of some excuse. I need to talk to you, but it doesn’t feel safe right now. Tomorrow?”
“Sure. Same time?”
He pulled her close, one hand behind her head, wrapped up in her hair and kissed her deeply.
“I love you.” She whispered as he walked away.
She was only a few miles from home, but the ‘wilderness’ park was in the edge of the city and driving home just after sunset, rush hour, took her more time than usual. She pulled into the parking garage under her apartment building well after dark. Even in the familiar garage, she was never comfortable coming home alone at night.
Her reserved spot was tight for most cars, but her 69 VW bug fit with ease. Shutting off the engine, it sputtered once and died. She grabbed her bag from the vinyl seat next to her, got out and fumbled with the key to lock the door behind her. That’s when she heard the noise.
Coming home in the dark always set her on edge and even though the parking garage was brightly lit, there were deep shadows in the corners and plenty of places to hide behind cars of all shapes and sizes. She ignored the quiet shuffle and pop sound she believed came from the stairwell beside the elevator entry and walked on.
As she approached the elevator doors, she breathed a sigh of relief when she pushed the call button and the door immediately slid open. Stepping inside, turning to push the button for her floor, the doors started to close, stopped, opened, and then closed again as if someone had put their hand in the way to hold them open.
The doors closed completely and the quiet hum of the elevator machinery filled her mind as the car carried her slowly to the third floor where she lived.
That soft pop sound again. Her heart raced when she heard it, especially so close and in such a confined space. But she could see there was no one there, nothing to bother with, probably just the elevator noise she reasoned.
The elevator stopped at her floor and in a moment the doors slid open to let her out. Walking down the hall toward her apartment, she heard the doors stop closing, open, and then close again behind her. She walked a bit faster, with her keys clutched in her fist just in case, unreasonably frightened. Why was she being so skittish? Maybe his strange fear and cryptic tone had creeped her out more than she thought. But he was just being mysterious to make it more fun. It’s just a game.
Instinctively she pulled the door key out as she approached, slid it in the deadbolt lock, swung open the door, stepped inside and quickly shut it behind her, sliding the bolt back at the same time. A big sigh came from her. That felt good. She was home. Safe.
Turning into her apartment, she dropped her bag on the floor and screamed. He was there, just sitting down on the couch. What the hell? How could he be here? She had never told him where she lived.
Jumping up from the couch, he rushed to her side, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…sorry…let me get that.” The words tumbled out of his mouth as they both reached for her bag and keys.
“How in the world…?” She couldn’t even form whole sentences. Even now, standing up straight, knowing it was him not a murderous intruder, her heart was racing in her chest from fear.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…let’s sit down a minute. Let me get you a drink of water or something.” He ushered her to the couch and sat her down, moving through her apartment as if he had lived there for months. She set her purse down on the couch beside her and stared wordlessly as he moved toward the kitchen and reached for the cabinet to get a glass. He crossed over and grabbed her favorite whiskey, the one she hid behind the breadbox, not the cheaper mixed drink stuff she had in the pantry for parties.
He walked back in, short glass, two ice cubes, two fingers of whiskey, just how she liked it. How? They’d never drank together. He’d never been here. She just sat and stared, trying to slow her heart rate and catch her breath as he sat beside her and handed her the glass.
“Are you ok?” he asked. She hadn’t yet said a word. She just stared and took a sip, watching him warily.
“I guess, but…”
“How did I get in?”
“How did you even know where I lived and why are you here? You said meet again tomorrow.”
“I have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do’ right Lucy?”
She just sat dumbfounded. Jokes. Right now? Maybe she should call 911. He might be crazy. She didn’t really know him that well, really. What if he turns violent? Why in the world is he here?
“Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not.”
And now confusion filled her. She started to set her glass down but picked it up again. She might be able to use it as a weapon.
He smiled sweetly. “I’ve scared you and I’m so sorry I had to do that. There was no other way.”
“No other way to do what?”
“Get away from them. I couldn’t say it out loud or even really think of it too much. I just had to follow my instincts. You’re easy to follow in that red bug, so I just followed you here tonight.”
“But how…you were here before me.”
“How? If you followed me, how could you be on my couch when I walked in?”
“That’s going to take a bit more explaining. Finish your drink while I make us a snack. I know you’re hungry at this hour.”
Just as casually as he uttered those words, he rose from the couch and went to the kitchen. The open layout between the livingroom and the kitchen of her small apartment allowed her to watch him as he moved around the kitchen with ease, throwing together a plate of salami, cheese and some grapes he found in the fridge. When he returned, he set the plate between them on the couch and encouraged her to relax and take a few bites while he told his story.
The gist of it?
Several years ago, he came here and was soon followed by three “things” that didn’t want him to be here. They made it abundantly clear he was not welcome on this planet.
“Wait, ‘on this planet’?”
“Yes. I guess I kind of jumped into that. Maybe I should back up.”
“I’d say.” He had to be crazy. She sat munching quietly listening to his story, all the while trying to figure out how to get away from him. Could she make a run for the door? Her building was notorious for ignoring the drama that went on in the halls on a daily basis. Would her neighbors just assume there was some domestic dispute going on and ignore her cries for help? Maybe she could fain fidgeting with her phone but really be dialing 911 while he spoke. They’d send someone to investigate if someone called 911 but just left the line open, right?
“I’m not going to hurt you, you know. I’m the same person I was an hour ago. The same person you’ve been meeting and loving for the past six months.”
“Yes. But…now you’re mysteriously in my apartment and telling me how you came to be on earth. I have some reason to a little wary, don’t you think?” She was feeling bolder. Oddly enough, even now, she really didn’t feel threatened by him. Just like at their meetings, she felt strangely pulled toward him. He’d always given her a safe, at-home feeling. It was why she had started to fall in love with him. What was he doing to her?
He began his story again but from farther back. He was an alien, not a non-citizen from another country, a real alien from another planet. “Right out of the movies,” she thought. It figures. The man she finally feels something for ends up not even human.
He said he couldn’t get into the physics of it, how he got there, etc. Not that she wasn’t smart enough to understand, but the less she knew, the safer she was. That old line. Really, he just didn’t think he had time to explain at the moment. The important things needed to be said first, before they found him and did what they wanted to do.
He came here to get away and figured he would just blend right in with us. It was working for a while, until he met her. At first, he was only a little interested in her. She was attractive and intelligent, fun to talk to over a couple beers and a cheeseburger. He had been on this planet for what seemed like a few years to humans, but millennium to him. He was beginning to be lonely and then there she was, someone to talk to. Why was she different? He didn’t know. He only knew that he felt safe with her, at home for the first time in eons.
The relationship progressed with ease, from dinner and drinks to long days at the beach, and then one day she kissed him and it was over. He felt that kiss all the way to his toes. He was alien, he kept telling himself. This can’t happen. But it did.
There they were, checking into a hotel, and the rest was history. It had been the best months of his long, lonely life. She touched his soul and he couldn’t let go.
“I felt that, you know?” She stopped his story.
“That instant connection.” She instinctively moved closer to him, putting her hand on his knee.
“I’ve never felt that with anyone before. I was planning on telling you tonight but you were so anxious and then we parted so quickly. I didn’t have the chance to bring it up.”
“I’m sorry about that. There’s something going on. They’ve caught on to where I am and it could be any moment that they take me back.”
“Who? What? You need to explain more. Maybe I can help?” She was starting to get caught up in this crazy story.
He sat bolt upright at a sound she didn’t hear. “What?” she asked, “What’s happening?”
He looked into her eyes, took her hand, and suddenly a feeling of complete peace. She saw nothing, felt no physical sensation whatsoever. There was only thought, presence.
“I knew it!” She felt him think. She felt it. She couldn’t hear it or see it. The thought was just there.
“You’re one of us!” His elated astonishment washed over her like a wave of warm liquid.
“One of what? What’s happening?” She wanted to panic, knew she should be panicked by this sudden lack of physical being, but she couldn’t. Just like the first time she saw him and that first kiss, she felt at home here, as if she had always been this way.
Just as suddenly it was gone. Pop, they were standing in the park hand in hand. She collapsed to the ground under the sudden return of weight on her consciousness. For a split second it was devastating. She gasped for breath, feeling her lungs fill with the heavy physical air. He knelt beside her, reassuring her that he was still with her.
“The first time is a shock. I’m so sorry you have to feel it. It gets easier.” He whispered to her as she took another breath and attempted to slow her heart rate.
“What the hell?” Losing her physical body for a moment was exhilarating, coming back to it was terrifying. How did it happen? And how could anyone get used to it? She felt crushed and smothered by the weight of the universe. That’s when she threw up.
“I’m sorry. Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry you had to go through it like this.” His cooing over her was becoming annoying now.
Getting herself under control, another deep breath, she stood and straightened her shirt, shivering in the cold. Too bad they couldn’t have manifested some jackets when they popped out of and back into existence!
“We need to move.” That was the soundest thing he’d said so far. Walking would keep them warm and distract her from the thoughts racing through her head. “We may have escaped the moment, but they won’t be distracted for long. I’m afraid I’ve dragged you into this now.”
“Dragged me into what? What just happened, Jay? What are you?”
“Alien to this world, but it looks like you are too. Did you not know?”
“I’m not alien! I was born right here in this city. I know my parents. We have never moved to another neighborhood, let alone another planet. You have the wrong girl.” This was insane. Clearly he had drugged her or done some hypnosis trick on her to get her to think this was all real. It all seemed like a pretty elaborate hoax to get her to run away with him. And completely unnecessary. She’d already started to fall for him. Why must she always fall for the crazies?
They walked quickly toward a thicker stand of trees and away from the entrance of the park.
“Where are we going? I’m freezing and I’d really like to go home now.”
“There’s a cave further into the park. It’ll be safe there for a while and we’ll be warmer.”
They walked in shivering silence for several minutes. There was nothing she could do. She couldn’t run from him here. It was dark and cold and no one was around. The park had been closed for hours, no rangers or park attendants to help. She was stuck. She thought maybe she could humor him for a while until she found a way to escape, all the while not really wanting to. It was that safe feeling again like she was where she was supposed to be. So strange.
“Here it is.” And he pushed aside some branches to reveal a small hidden cave dug out of the sandstone. It was just surreal like she’d stepped into an old movie. There were a few blankets and bottles of water stored away in the back of it. He rummaged around, picked up a flashlight, turned it on and set it up on its end to shine on the ceiling of the cave, casting a warm glow around them.
“There. That’s better.”
“Is this your house? Do you live out here?” She looked around her, the flashlight lantern dispelling the darkness to the far reaches of the cave and revealing a small homey interior.
“Well, not really. Not all the time. It’s just one place I like to come to when I need to be alone. For some reason, they can’t find me here but I can’t stay in it forever.”
He bustled about making tea on a small camp stove, like an old frontier woman. Shaking out a sleeping bag and draping it over a rock, he motioned to her. “Here. You can sit here and keep warm in this for now.” She reluctantly sat as he draped the sleeping bag over her shoulders.
“How long do we have to stay here? Who can’t find you here? And what in the hell just happened?” Her questions came pouring out of her as she became more and more aggravated by his empathy for her.
“I know. You have lots of questions. So do I! I had no idea that would happen. I’m as shocked as you are really. I know we had a connection, but I had no idea it went that far. I had no idea anyone else could do it. I thought I was the only one!”
While she was shocked, scared, and a little hostile, his line of questioning was excited and curious. The more he rambled on about transbody experiences and “they” and how can this happen, the more irrationally irritated she became.
“Stop, Jay. Just stop. You need to slow down and tell me what’s happening as best you can. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
“Oh yes! I’m sorry. I’ve just been alone for so long. You have no idea how lonely it is. I mean, I’m here walking among you but connecting with no one. Surrounded by people but completely separated. The very idea that one other like me could exist never occurred to me.”
“One other like what? What are you?”
“Well, that’s a good question. Since I always believed I was the only one, there is no definition, no simple title. You could be called a woman, a human, an American, but me? I’m nothing. I belong to no group that helps others define me. I’m…a…me.”
She just sat staring at him for several minutes while he sat across from her smiling like the Cheshire Cat. He was shivering and instinctively she pulled him close and shared the sleeping bag with him. There was that feeling again, that home feeling. She turned her head to look at him and he was still grinning.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You did it. I can’t believe it. I took your hand and you just gave it up, your whole existence in a flash. It was unbelievable.”
“I didn’t do anything. You did it to me. You took my hand and pulled me somewhere.”
“No,” he said shaking his head, “that’s not possible. I’ve done this a hundred times over the years I’ve been here and no one has ever come with me. I was only feeling bad that I was about to pop out of your life to get away from them. You just came with me. You trusted me. You instinctively let your physical self go and POP we were gone. You’re different.”
There was silence between them for quite some time. They huddled close together in the warmth of the sleeping bag, both considering what had just occurred. He was right. She had gone with him, voluntarily. The moment he took her hand and looked at her…
Never before had she felt so complete. All her life she’d struggled to fit in with the people around her. Her parents were good people with honest intentions. They loved her. She knew it, she felt it every day. But something was missing. The people she had met at school, at work, online in chatrooms and social media groups, filled her life with obligations and responsibilities. But every day, she came home to her apartment alone. She had never felt connected to them, never felt a kinship. It was like there was an invisible bubble around her that kept her from actually reaching out. She had begun to believe something was wrong with her. Had she created that bubble? What kind of person can’t love?
And then she met him and it all changed. It didn’t creep up on her. It didn’t slowly seep into her consciousness. It hit her. The bubble burst. No, he walked right into her bubble and they were in it together. The rest of the world didn’t exist to them.
He didn’t need to explain the details of his existence. He didn’t need to comfort her or take care of her. They were home when they were together and nothing else mattered.
He sat upright again listening. “What do you hear?” she asked him, knowing already what it was. Footsteps nearby, several heavy people shuffling through leaves and murmuring in hushed tones. The sound of quiet searching.
“They can’t see us here. They’ll walk right by. They know we’re close but for some reason this place shields us.”
“But we can’t stay here forever.”
“No, we can’t.”
She took his hands this time, looking into his eyes. And POP. They were gone forever.