Well, it’s been more than a week since my last update, and here was I thinking I might start to get a bit more ‘regular’ with Drifting Astray – but never mind. This will be my third entry within the month of March, and that’s got to be a good sign!

The last two weeks have been exciting indeed (many, MANY lovely occurrences, such as meeting up with Squeaky, her hubby and Talulah, as well as finding a shiny new apartment to move into with teh Wereboy) and I haven’t had a world of time in which to write, but Aisling Weaver’s Weekend Writer challenge helped, once again.

This week I have another short story to offer, although I’m not convinced that it isn’t the start of something longer. AND I had tremendous fun/trouble fitting the images in … some of the links are quite tenuous. Some of them are laughable.

Either way, you should be warned that it is about naked alien boys and the nice girls who go looking for them. 😉

Here’s the prompt …

… and here’s what I wrote!

Earthbound

I looked down into the clear waters of the fountain and saw, in the reflected sky between the lilypads, something falling towards the earth.

I turned around to look, and saw that the falling thing was a boy who was descending gently, feet pointing towards the ground. It was as if an invisible parachute suspended him, slowly dropping him through the sky.

I felt a prickle of fear and excitement as I watched, but at the same time I was rooted to the spot. If I moved even an inch, everything in front of might begin to make sense again.

The boy in the sky was falling towards the earth. It couldn’t be real … but it was.

He’s not falling, I thought. He’s just following the most natural path through curved space.

I learned that from a TV program about the universe. Objects like the earth, or the sun, distorted space around them. Anything that moved towards those objects would naturally follow the curve of that space; everything reacting to everything else.

I turned back towards the house, wondering if anyone else had noticed the falling boy. But the house was big and at the moment, almost completely empty. No faces peered, incredulous, from the windows. No one had seen.

Mum and dad were on holiday for three weeks in the Maldives, which meant that I was the sole permanent occupant until their return. I’d already read all my books, listened to my iPod while I explored the old, dusty house, and watched all the DVDs I’d brought with me. The library was the one place I hadn’t explored, because it was off limits. Dad’s collection of antique volumes and first editions was too valuable to touch. The house staff were friendly enough, but they were usually too busy to talk to me. On the occasions where I tried to lend a hand, I mostly ended up getting in the way.

I spent a lot of time each day wondering whether to just call one of my friends from school and invite them to stay for a week. My parents didn’t have to know. The problem was that the house was a million miles from anywhere, and I didn’t have a car. My options were limited.

There was too much space in the house for me to occupy. And every day it seemed to grow bigger.

Space itself is expanding, the professor on the television had said.

The world was a tiny mote in the vastness of the universe, and what if there was nothing else, no other planets with intelligent life forms? There had to be. Otherwise, it would be like the house and me, but on a much, much bigger scale. Me, the sole occupant of this cavernous place, like the world hanging lonely in the sky with the stars moving ever further away.

Loneliness was reserved not just for humanity, but the universe as well.

Even so, I’d seen a boy fall from the sky. I decided to go and find him.

The gardens were sprawling and wild, and it took me five minutes to walk to the edge. The northern boundary was made of water, that most ancient and impassable of elements. The Ring Wraiths had fallen at the Ford of Bruinen; vampires and evil spirits could not cross running water. I mentally went through all the books I’d read where running water is invoked in that way. The list was long.

Luckily, this boundary was not impassable. A small stone bridge, gated and padlocked at my end, spanned the stream and plunged into the field of wild grass that lay on the other side. I climbed the gate and crossed the bridge, and felt instantly lighter. It was like shaking off the shabby clothes of winter and stepping into summer: the house was behind me and the world stretched ahead.

I scanned the field and saw something white lying in the grass near the old oak. As I walked towards it I recognised the shape of a boy, long legs spread out in the grass, arms askew and –

No clothing. None. Not a stitch. I gasped, turned and covered my eyes. Then turned back, took a peek, and turned again. He was really, definitely naked.

He could also be seriously injured, I reasoned. Moving closer, I made myself look at the back of his head, then the skin around his temples and his jaw and neck. My eyes strayed over the rest of his body and I felt hot and embarrassed, but not in an entirely unpleasant way.

At least he didn’t look hurt. It was as if he really had fallen as smoothly and lightly as a feather … or as if he hadn’t fallen at all. Somehow he’d swum through curved space and landed in this field. I knelt in the grass next to his head and looked up into the sky, which was cloudless and perfectly blue. Then at the boy again; having made myself look, I couldn’t look away for long. He had short, white-gold hair and pale skin, but his eyebrows were light brown. His nose was a classical Greek, straight line. He was as beautiful as a vampire, as a boy-siren.

He opened two perfectly blue eyes and looked up at me. He caught me looking, I thought, and blushed yet again.

Susa kuk-kuk a lai?” he said. I blinked.

“What?”

Susa kuk haja?”

“Um, I don’t understand – English?”

His eyes closed and his whole body went rigid for a few seconds. “Sorry,” he said, as his body relaxed again. “It takes a few minutes to adapt … I don’t have much control.”

“To adapt to English?” I asked, incredulous, but he didn’t seem to hear. He lay still for a few minutes, eyes closed, breathing heavily. What if he was concussed? I should have been thinking about how to get him back to the house so I could call a doctor, not gaping at his naked body.

He opened his eyes. “I’m okay,” he said. His voice was croaky, a voice that hadn’t been used for a while. He coughed and cleared his throat, then tried to sit upright. He ended up propped on one elbow with his eyes screwed up tight, as if the movement had caused him pain. “Who are you?”

“Natalie,” I said. “What’s your name?”

He gingerly opened his eyes, and blinked several times. “I don’t have a name. Or if I did, I don’t remember it now.”

“No name. That’s strange. Where did you come from?”

He didn’t answer me. He simply looked up, his eyes two mirrors of the sky. I looked up with him, and thought about space expanding and galaxies moving further and further apart all the time. The sky was like a protective blue blanket, but at night time it disappeared and revealed the naked space behind everything, around everything. I was nothing but a speck on a rock that hung suspended in total blackness.

But here was a boy who had fallen through space towards earth … towards my house. How long had he been falling for?

“I don’t know if I can walk,” he said. “I’m not used to … this. Gravity is different here.” His eyes widened and he stared at me, as if he’d just realised that he’d spoken out loud.

I smiled. “You’ve come a long way?”

“You’re not supposed to know that,” he said, searching me with his eyes.

“You didn’t exactly cover it up very well,” I said, grinning. “What with arriving here naked, and not speaking any English, and then suddenly learning it in a few seconds.”

He looked frantic, then slightly puzzled, then his face relaxed. “You feel … okay. I feel like I can trust you.”

“Are you reading my mind?” I asked, slightly dazed.

“Yes and no,” he said, shaking his head distractedly. “I’m an exile. One of many. But … not all here.”

“You mean … not all on earth?”

“Yes. Our planet is … dying. The sun is expanding, burning everything. I’ve travelled many light years so by now … it’s probably already gone. All of my people left at once. We went in different directions. Some of us alone, some of us together. I was with a few others when I began but now …” He looked around, searching the sky. “I don’t know if they’ve arrived yet or … if they will, ever.”

“What do you mean, a few? Why not all of your people?”

“It was known that the death of our planet would mean the death of our race. The few of us who find habitable planets are expected to blend in with its races and become like them. Not to colonise or impose.”

“But … won’t you just die out as a race, that way?”

He shook his head. “It’s always been our way, to adapt to our habitat. We were tied to our world so completely, it was part of who we were. Without that, a part of me is missing. The only way I can hope to survive is to become something else.”

I was struck by how profound and beautiful that sounded. And at the same time I knew that I was fascinated because it was so perverse: a sentient, intelligent being whose completely natural desire was to fade away, to blend in and not to stamp, shout and fight against the thing that was forcing it to become extinct. So unlike everything human.

“So,” I began, uncertainty spiralling through me. “Is that why you look … human? To blend in?”

He nodded.

“How long have you been travelling for?”

“I don’t remember … too long.” He looked for a second like he might pass out again.

“Here,” I said, reaching under his shoulders to support him. He muttered something in protest, but I ignored it. “Come with me.”

Practicality took over as I put myself to the task of helping him. First, getting him off the ground. His weight was unsteady as he tested his legs. Eventually we moved, with his arm around my shoulders and one of my arms around his waist. We were like tortoises, shuffling across the long grass towards the bridge.

“Where are we going?” he asked as we crossed it. I noticed his eyes widening as he looked at the water flowing underneath.

“To get you something to eat,” I said. “And to find you some clothes and a bed to sleep in. You look exhausted.”

“Sleep?”

“You did sleep, didn’t you? On your planet before you … left?”

“When you travel through space,” he said, “you begin to lose your mind. Sleep fades into waking, waking into sleep. It feels like it will never end. I began to wish I’d stayed on my planet … witnessed the explosion of the sun. Then, at least, my particles would have been unravelled … I would be the stuff of new stars.”

I smiled at him. “You have no idea how much I think about that kind of thing. Like, all the time.”

Something in him seemed to lighten, and he returned the smile. We stumped towards the house together and I wondered how this was going to work; how I would smuggle him – naked as he was – past the staff without being seen, and how I would tell my parents that we had acquired a stray boy from the sky, and whether they would care at all.

As I half carried, half dragged him around the side of the house to the greenhouses and the slightly shabby back entrance, I remembered that he had no name.

“I’m going to call you Swift,” I murmured, quietly enough so that he might not hear.

“Why?”

I took a moment before answering. “Because Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, about a man who travels the world. And because swifts spend most of their lives in the sky, on the wing.”

And, I added privately, because Swift seemed like a good enough name for a strange boy who’d travelled through space to survive.

“You can’t live in this world without a name,” I said. “It’s who you are, it tells people that you belong, that you have a right to exist.”

I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he hesitated, finding his way around that concept. “Swift,” he said, and then said it again. “Hi, my name is Swift.”

I shrugged with my free shoulder. “Or we can call you Jonathan, whichever you prefer.”

He shook his head. “I like Swift.”

We looked up at the expanse of stonework and plaster in front of us.

“Welcome to my house,” I said. “It’s big, but you’ll get used to it.”

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