by Wendy S. Delmater
For the fifth time in as many miserable days, Zxrendol had sent another pair of “traveling shoes” off, never to return. At least he had not been in them. If they did not come back, immediately, then he was glad he hadn’t risked where they would take him.
Cursing the day his original pair malfunctioned and left him here, he started on yet another pair. He used to know how to make a decent pair from scratch. What on Blexor had possessed him to take a pair of untested shoes, from a merchant he did not know, for this so-called “day excursion? ”
Some excursion. This planet was stinking, horrible, rocky– and green! It was unnatural, a green planet. Almost everything was flesh-colored. Nearly all but the blue sky was green, green, green. Even the water had a greenish tinge to it, and the rocks, the filthy rocks, were covered with some sort of greenish growth. Repulsive.
Muttering under his breath, he did not hear the aliens sneaking up behind him. They had been drawn by the sound of his hammer, as he put the final touches on the casing of his sixth try. He pushed a button on his belt, and prismatic light shot briefly into the air beside him. The supplies he’d hidden inside a cloaked shield winked into sight. Blenx forbid what would happen if some creature on this sickening world found his tools and metallurgy supplies. He’d be stuck here for good.
Two young eyes watched him from the cool green shadows. Although it was their ears that had led them to this spot, it was their eyes that were held by the unmistakable sheen of the gold he was measuring.
“We daren’t go back to the town empty-handed. They won’t believe us,” whispered eleven-year-old Móenach to his younger sister. They looked about, certain at last that they had shaken off their guardians and thrilled to be having a real adventure.
“Aye, the whole of the Tuath would be laughing at us if we told them without proof,” she agreed. “But what is the little green man?”
“He doesn’t seem to be armed, except for his hammer.” Móenach drew himself up to his princely five-foot height. “Perhaps I should speak to him and welcome him in the name of the clan.”
“No, brother! If it ‘tis of fairy folk it will at best disappear without a trace, and at worst cast a horrible spell on you! You mustn’t!”
He looked fondly at his sister. She seemed genuinely distressed at the prospect. “It is said that if you are polite, and not greedy, great good can come from meetings with such creatures. Never fear, my dear Eri. I shall be unfailingly polite and very friendly.”
He pulled his sister’s hand off of his tunic sleeve and stepped cautiously into the clearing, dagger sheathed and wearing his best court smile.
The appearance of a strange being from this planet startled Zxren so much that he nearly dropped his tools. He stood there staring stupidly at it for a moment, both hearts pounding. He was momentarily too terrified to notice the fetid air that had nearly been choking him. Thank Blenx he had a paralysis rod.
The pale reddish-pink biped towered over him, more than twice his height. It must be ancient, he thought. It was clothed in some sort of green sacking and had a head that was much too small for its body. He decided that it was probably not very intelligent, with a brain casing that small. Just then, it opened its mouth to expose rows of crushing teeth. It was making sounds, though, perhaps trying to communicate.
Trembling, Zxrendol reached very slowly under his vest and pressed his translator on. He hoped for the best, but Blenx only knew if it would work better than the shoes. The translator had been bought from the same thieving merchant as the malfunctioning footwear.
Making the universal symbol of non-aggression, which involved putting your hands on your hips and politely turning down the corners of your mouth, Zxren slowly turned to face the monster. He could not quite understand what it was saying and turned up the volume on his translator. And this is what he heard:
“…so, in the distance is the excuse that I stop at you. I close in from the dirt of my Tu-Ath and craving to grapple with among else…”
Zxren whacked the unit hard, but the translation was still pretty bad. He cleared his throat. The creature fell silent. And the traveler responded in these words:
“Please, just leave me alone. I want to fix my shoe vehicle and leave your planet. My supplies are very precious to me, but I will give you something small if you will just go away.”
Of course, that was not exactly what the children heard. What the translator told them was something more like this:
“Enchanted, just escape from me forlorn. I lack, mend my shoes to go and abandon your sphere. My treasure is very precious to me, but I will give you a nugget if you will slightly vanish.”
Enchantment! Treasure! “How can I ‘slightly vanish?’ And abandon what sphere?” asked Móenach breathlessly. The ‘mend my shoes’ part was clear enough. He supposed that such a simple request might be the sort of moral test those from Faerie would ask of him. Still, he thought it best to wait courteously for a reply.
Meanwhile, Zxren was in a lather. What he’d heard the creature say through translation was, “How can creature just end and drop that ball?” Right. Kick it to Zandor, what a lousy translator!
Since the creature was waiting quietly, albeit in a threatening posture (hands at sides and corners of its mouth ominously turned up), he decided he had better give it a trinket to keep his word. “Trinket for you?” he asked pleasantly, keeping his every move slow and easy.
But the translated “Nugget in place of you?” sounded pretty ominous to his sister. “Móenach, run! I don’t want any treasure if it means he gets you in exchange! Quick! Run away and let the elders deal with this little green man! Don’t just stay here until the grownups come!” Eri roughly pushed at the little man, just as he was opening his cloaked shield. There was a brief flash of the rainbow light, and Zxren tumbled inside the perimeter. He snapped the shield shut behind him. To the children, it seemed that they had just blinked, and he disappeared.
His translator had said, “…until the large ones come.” These were small ones? From inside his cloaking shield, the Zxren came to a hasty decision. He could not stay inside the cramped shield for very long and did not want to meet the ‘large ones,’ ever. Anywhere had to be better than this horrible place, so he began to gather up all of his supplies.
The creature that had shoved him was temporarily frozen in place since it had touched his paralysis rod. “But DELAY, who ARE you?” the other creature roared as it looked around wildly. He ignored the monsters and spoke directly to the shoes. “Jump! Scout ahead!”
Or as the children heard it: “Leap! Recon!” There was a brief shimmer in the forest, and the little shoemaker was never seen or heard from again.
The paralysis rod wore off, of course. And years later, when Móenach became king, he made sure the memory of the strange Leap-recon lived on in Irish lore.
Wendy S. Delmater has been editor of the Hugo-nominated magazine, Abyss & Apex, since 2006. She is also the editor of The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volumes 1 and 2. Wendy’s recent publication credits include short stories and poetry in The Singularity magazine, Gathering Storm, Little Blue Marble, Star *Line, Illumen, and The Silver Blade. You can visit her Amazon Author page, or follow her on Facebook — or Twitter — where she’s known as @safewrite.
Featured Image by darkmoon1968 via Pixabay