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Alex went to bed that night thoroughly convinced that Miss Vee's arrival at his house, in the wake of Dart's attack on the creatures that had stalked him, was too much of a coincidence to be that. All the events leading up to her arrival kept swirling around in his over-active mind as he tried vainly to make sense of it all. All that she had told him made him only thirst for more answers.
And what of the words that that dark thing, "the Other", had spoken from the shadows; who was, "The Royal", and, "The Gardener-Who-Waits?” There were many gardeners and farmers throughout Delta-Town, anyone of whom it could have meant. The Royal? There was absolutely no sense in that statement.
Whoever they were, Alex was most certain that the wicked unseen things, the Others, had meant to find and deal with them in a most unpleasant manner. If Dart and those creatures were truly from Mars, how did they get here and why choose his home in this whole big world?
The Others were hunting for him…and maybe for something else too. Alex tossed and turned restlessly, feeling befuddled by the mysteries and not a little afraid as well.
After a while though, he relaxed and did what he liked best during the quiet midnight hours - let his imagination run free. Soon Alex began picturing in his mind all his marvelous, mechanical creations and trying to decide how best to build them, one piece at a time. He even pieced together in his vivid mind how each part of these exciting machines would fit together and affect each other as they moved.
Hydraulics and electrical components were mere trivial matters that Alex had long since solved and which he thought of as elementary, adjustable components to be placed in key areas in order to produce the forces for various movements.
In his brilliant imagination, Alex could visualize those beautiful machines and see them operating and moving in all three dimensions. A smile of enjoyment played across his face whenever a puzzle in design or problem of physics was solved.
This continued in a dream-like way as it always did so that, ever so gradually, the velvet shades of a deep sleep fell softly over Alex. Nevertheless, even as the calm warmth of restful sleep overcame him, for one brief instant, a small sound came faintly from very far away as well. It was that sound of alien wind-chimes again but, this time, after the chimes faded away, they were replaced by the tragic voice of a child crying softly.
The child seemed to cry out for something or someone whom they missed very dearly and, as he listened, the soft cries then lead Alex into a dream. And as he fell into the dream’s embrace, Alex also heard the soothing sound of water flowing around him, as if, instead of lying under heavy blankets, he drifted along in a slowly flowing stream which carried him far, far away to another, very different place.
In the dream, he walked alone in a desert at night - but such a strange desert... From horizon to horizon it stretched before him with not a solitary sign of life, no not even a thorny weed or shrub to break the monotonous brown-orange of the fine, dusty sand.
A deep loneliness could be felt all around him; even the air was thinner as though it had lost all its vitality. Alex found that, indeed, he had to make an effort with each breath, even to get a single lungful of air. Dusty fine grains of sand blew constantly in his eyes so that he found himself regularly rubbing the grit out of them. Such silence, such a lonely, eternal silence.
Then, quite unexpectedly, Alex heard the same sound of a child crying. As he topped the rise of a softly rolling, windswept dune, Alex came upon what was indeed a child. Although her hair was rather strange looking, Alex knew instinctively that it was a girl sitting there in the lonely, swishing sand.
She sat cross-legged as many kids do at the beach on a summer day, making sand castles or digging for shells, letting the cool ocean waves splash and flourish around them as they sat, lost in thoughts of simple, wondrous things; things long lost to the adults around them.
But there were no adults sitting in the cold, arid sand watching over this child as night fell swiftly around her. Her back was to Alex and her head was bowed low as she sobbed quietly. As Alex drew nearer though, she turned her head slowly to face him. Her features were unlike any he had ever seen before.
There was an oriental appearance about her that was exotic yet almost familiar to him. It was very puzzling. The girl's hair was her most striking feature for the long strands stuck out straight and bristling almost like quills and were silvery white like an old woman’s. Though she looked to be quite young, there was ancientness in her eyes which could not be explained, yet was there even so.
When the girl saw Alex she gave a start and ceased crying. The cold darkness of the desert closed in around Alex as he stared back at the young yet old child. Then slowly she pointed down at a spot in the sand where she sat, and for the first time, she spoke.
Whatever she was saying to him though, Alex had no comprehension, because, her words were as those from a land so distant and alien that he could only stare back at her, speechless. Again the girl pointed down at the shifting sand and repeated her words, this time with renewed desperation and she scooped up a handful and held it out to Alex in a beseeching manner. She wanted him to try to understand something very important to her, something about the land or what lay below it.
Then, with a shock, Alex saw something else, something that made the hairs on the nape of his neck stand up, and a shiver run down his spine. It was her eyes, they were the deepest blue that Alex had ever seen, and though the girl cried out with all her heart, she shed no tears. Though the fine, stinging sand blew back into her face she did not look away or shut her eyes.
She seemed to belong to the desert wasteland in every way. Yet still, she pleaded with Alex with alien words and though he could not understand a syllable, he knew deep down that she desperately needed his help with something very important.
Then, with a ferocity which he did not think possible for one so small, the girl sprang up and rushed at Alex, halting so close to him that he had to take a step back in shock! She yelled at him then gestured frantically behind her at the little spot in the sand, then up at the sky and the land all around them.
Alex followed her waving hands and then the depths of the dream truly overwhelmed him. For the sky above his head was not the sky he was used to seeing outside his bedroom window, nor were the stars in their proper places. The dusty horizon had a strange smallness about it that caused it to curve away much too sharply. And rising over that horizon was not one moon but two!
Alex let out a yell which seemed much to faint in the thin, alien air and tried to turn and run but the girl caught hold of his pajama sleeve and spun him back round so that he was again looking into her beautiful, tear-less eyes!
Then, for the first time, one word she said he did understand. Looking up at him with dark, deep blue eyes the otherworldly girl cried, "Please!" Alex awoke then with a tremble and a yell and sat up straight in bed!
The dream had been so real that there were still faint remnants of it floating ghost-like in the darkness before his eyes. Somewhere within the drifting fragments, Alex thought he still heard the faint cries of that strange child. But why, he wondered, did her cries seem to be gaining more in reality even as the dream, itself, faded away?
"Please...", said the faint, pleading voice once more. The same sound of a fresh wilderness stream filled his senses once more, then faded away until all that remained were the still shadows around his bed.
Next: Chapter 7 - The Stranger He Knew
As of 2017-03-12, Chapter 7 may be found at: Deep Sky Stories