by J. A. Buxton
A friendly alien visits Earth throughout history.
“Look at the kid’s weirdo feet!” Johnny yelled this to the other boys scattered around the small town’s drugstore entrance.
Billy, a rather short towhead with insecurity issues, lisped, “Who wearth thokth with wireth on them and no shoeth?” Laughter broke out in the group, both because of the new boy’s socks and Billy’s wet words.
The owner of the aforementioned apparel smiled when he heard the taunting comments. He knew the reason behind his metallic footwear. His dark blue eyes looked past the group of teenage boys as if they didn’t matter. In fact, they didn’t. They were temporary and thus of no importance to Julius Orange. For some unknown reason, the 15-year-old chose that name before leaving home. Thank goodness, I’ve only a few minutes left here. This thought, accompanied by a sigh of relief, marked the end of a two-hour stay for Julius in Colma, California. He had decided to finish his vacation with a visit to the town known for its many cemeteries.
“Hey, kid, why ya got on wire socks?” Keith, the largest of the boys and unarguably the dumbest, swaggered up to Julius and forced him to halt. He poked Julius in the chest right on the middle of five buttons going down the smaller boy’s pink sweater. “Why ya wearing a girlie color sweater?” Keith turned his head toward his friends while saying this. He wanted to make sure they could hear him and felt rewarded when he heard their snickering at his witty comments.
Julius ignored Keith and walked around him to continue on his way. He glanced down at the timepiece on his left ring finger. One more minute, and then I’m off. He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew without turning around that Keith was intent on continuing to show off to his friends.
Shaking his head at this unwanted disturbance, Julius turned back to face the belligerent bully. In a quiet, unthreatening voice, he warned, “I think you might want to remove your hand or suffer the consequences.” He could feel the familiar tingling starting in his toes and knew it was almost time.
“I ain’t scared.” Keith sneered at what he took to be a harmless geek, who didn’t know better than to wear weird socks and a girlie pink sweater. Keith dug his fingers deeper into Julius’s shoulder. “It’ll take more than a skinny runt to hurt me.”
Johnny called out, “You should be careful, kid. Keith can whip your…”
Julius smiled sadly when he once again looked at his finger’s timepiece. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He and Keith suddenly disappeared in a flash of sparkling light.
* * *
Screaming in terror, Keith found himself lying on his stomach, spread-eagle on the deck of a large, sinking ocean liner. All around the severely canted ship, he could hear the cries from hundreds of drowning people. Standing next to him was Julius with a look of mild curiosity on the young woman’s face. The nerdy boy was now a beautiful female in her early 20’s. Instead of the khaki shorts that had revealed the knobby knees of the teenage boy, she had on a long black skirt that reached just to her ankles. Below the hem, Keith could see the weird wire-bound footwear.
“Stop screaming.” The woman gave Keith a gentle kick in the ribs to nudge him to his feet. “You’re perfectly safe if you hold onto me. We’ll only be here for two minutes, so calm down.” After a horrified Keith managed to get to his feet and grabbed her arm, Julius continued in her sweet alto voice, “You must have heard of the Titanic. We have arrived to enjoy some of its history.” She walked closer to the ship’s rail and looked down into the freezing water.
When Julius heard Keith whimpering, she knew it was time to move on. Already she found it difficult to stand upright and only managed this by holding on to the railing with both hands. Her socks were becoming damp from the rising ocean water sloshing over the deck. When her toes once again began tingling, she made sure that Keith was holding on tightly before the sparkling light removed them from the ship. Within seconds, the Titanic slowly slid down into the sea.
* * *
Before Keith even blinked once, he stood next to a volcano starting to erupt. Wide-eyed as the red-hot lava inched closer to where they stood, he heard Julius say in an old man’s quavering voice, “Vesuvius, 79 A.D.” After that, they stayed only briefly at each event. Julius, in various human forms, showed Keith many forms of death and destruction.
One stop ended in a busy morgue during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Another time, they stood on the shore in 1853 to watch a New Haven Railroad train run through an open drawbridge and plunge into the Norwalk River.
A series of visits to other disasters culminated near Colma in 1906 San Francisco. The loud rumbling of the earthquake blasted against Keith’s ears, and the acrid taste of the dirt from the falling buildings filled his mouth. “I want to go home,” wailed Keith, trying not to see the bodies lying underneath the rubble.
A contented look crossed Julius’s boyish face. “I’ve had great fun on my vacation, but I guess it’s time for both of us to return home. You’re first, Keith!” The teenager sparkled out of view. Julius then returned to an amorphous orange blob before winking back to its own planet.
* * *
After what appeared like days away from his friends, Keith found himself back on the sidewalk with them.
“…scrawny butt. Right, Keith?” Johnny’s startled voice raised an octave when he noticed Julius was nowhere in sight. “Where’d the geek go?”
Keith tried to explain to his disbelieving friends about the places he visited with Julius. He finally stopped when their laughter became too much for him to handle. Never again, though, did he bully anyone.
The trip with Julius had taught him appearances could be deceiving. Tingling toes sometimes mean socks might be more than simple foot coverings.
“Aw, come on, Julius!” D’Ar danced around its friend in excitement. The purple, spiky creature’s whining in English occasionally lapsed into its planet’s language of musical whistles. “I’ve been studying that planet where you vacationed, and I know you’re going back there for another visit.”
The two friends were floating through Selinia’s thick atmosphere. The gas giant had been home to D’Ar since the creature’s emergence as a single molecule one millennium ago. Not so for its friend, the oddly shaped, orange blob who had arrived on this planet only recently.
Ignoring D’Ar for the moment, Julius began to morph into its favorite human shape. The 15-year-old boy looked down at his bare feet and watched the traveling socks appear. Their green and yellow stripes edged up his spindly legs until they reached knobby knees. The wires, once thick and rather ugly, now were slender silver threads woven into the yellow and lime-green slipper socks.
“All right, you can go with me.” After saying this, Julius tapped the topmost spike of his friend. He grinned at seeing D’Ar turn into a chubby 12-year-old girl and gently took her hand in his.
Without any further hesitation, the two creatures left Selinia and landed inside a dark cave. Burning torches suddenly appeared in their hands. “Watch your step, D’Ar.” Julius started down a narrow, uneven path in the cave. On one side was a solid wall of limestone, while the other side of the walkway fell off into a deep hole.
D’Ar gave a terrified whimper, before asking, “Where are we, Julius? I wanted to see Earth, not be inside it.”
Stopping to let his scared friend catch up, Julius explained this choice for the younger Selinian’s first visit to Earth. “D’Ar, for you to understand humanity, I wanted you to experience where they first lived.” He continued down the path with D’Ar walking almost on his heels. “On Selinia, your species start as gases like argon, n-Octane, and dozens of others mixed with oxygen and methane. These, of course, are names Earthly humans use for the gases and not their real names. All of you eventually slowly change into your varied solid shapes.”
Julius stopped once again, and D’Ar almost bumped into him. “Where I come from, we evolved much differently. Some day I’ll tell you about my planet and more about my fellow travelers.” With that promise, Julius started down the path again, not looking back to see if D’Ar was following him.
“Living together in what human’s call a home is foreign to both of us.” Julius cautiously made his way around an outcropping of limestone. On the other side, the pathway widened to allow the two aliens to walk side by side. “Caves like this one, however, are where primitive Earth people first lived.”
“Why? It’s cold and damp.” D’Ar looked around the cavern they’d finally reached and began smiling. “Okay, I agree it is pretty.” The cave glowed with phosphorescence, appearing a deep blue, like dusk on the outside.
Julius placed his torch to one side of the cavern’s entrance, taking care not to snuff out the flame and motioned for D’Ar to do the same. “To answer your question, early humans found caves provided a safe place away from wild predators. Caves also sheltered them from the harsh elements. This particular cave is the Üçağızlı cave, located in Turkey.”
For the next hour, Julius explained how useful caves were to early humans. He ignored D’Ar frantically tugging on his shirt until grunting sounds reached them from the other side of the cavern. Coming toward them were two fur-covered individuals, barely recognizable as human. They were brandishing clubs over their hirsute heads, clearly intending bodily harm to the two unknown interlopers.
“Run, D’Ar. Run back up the path. Hurry up!” Julius prodded D’Ar in the back to get her moving. Angry, fierce grunts from the two cave dwellers sounded closer, even as the two aliens raced toward the cave’s opening. Just when they started to see daylight ahead of them, Julius reached for the young girl’s hand and grabbed hold.
D’Ar gave a huge sigh of relief when they winked out of the cave. The relief disappeared when she looked around. They were standing in a wide arid desert. Wind blew sand into their eyes, and the sun beat down on their scantily clad bodies. Sand sculpted by the simoom’s hot and dry, dust-laden winds surrounded them.
“This is a further step in the human evolution.” Julius appeared unaffected by the harsh conditions and began walking up one of the nearest sand dunes. “After they left the safety of the caves, humans traveled to all points of the Earth.” He looked around at the desolate landscape.” We’re here in the Arabian Desert that was home to countless nomads or wanderers.”
D’Ar wiped her sweaty brow and pleaded, “How about we become nomads and wander to someplace cooler?”
“Sure, first let’s see where some of them lived.” Julius grabbed D’Ar around her waist, and they were suddenly at the edge of a wide grassy field. Strange appearing round buildings dotted the landscape. “We’re now in Mongolia where some of the nomadic humans lived in those small huts they call a ger. People in other places use the name yurt.” Julius motioned D’Ar closer to one of the felt and stick buildings.
As if on command, an elderly woman pushed the hide covering the opening aside and stepped outside. She let out a shriek when she saw the two young people standing only a few yards away.
Julius once again grabbed D’Ar around her waist. “I think that’s our cue to leave. Here we go.” The woman gave a terrified cry once more when she saw the young boy and girl disappear.
Instantly, they were standing in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. Julius rapidly pulled a stunned D’Ar to the safety of a crowded sidewalk. Neon signs all around them flashed on and off advertising food, entertainment, and other aspects of modern civilization.
“Hey, you idiot girl, watch where you’re going!” A fat man scowled at the two visitors when D’Ar accidentally stepped on his shoe. Still muttering, the man continued down the sidewalk away from them.
The loud blatting sound of a nearby car horn made both Julius and D’Ar jump. Julius recovered his wits first. “What you see is just one way humans live now. In the country, they still have smallish homes, but do you see that building over there?” It pointed at a 34-story building of concrete, steel, and glass. “Some humans live huddled together in something called apartments. Most aren’t much bigger than the yurts and hardly more pleasant than a dark, dank cave.” Seeing D’Ar beginning to panic from the noise and confusion, Julius knew it was time to return to Selinia.
On arriving there, D’Ar gazed in relief around its gaseous world. It unknowingly quoted Dorothy by saying, “There’s no place like home.”
“Why do I have to be weak female again?” D’Ar stared at the pink, cotton dress that had materialized on her 12-year-old body. Only seconds before, both Julius and D’Ar were shapeless blobs floating through the gaseous planet of Selinia. Now they stood on Earth in human forms, and D’Ar was once again complaining.
“You are lucky to be a female,” scolded Julius. The 15-year-old boy shook his head in disgust at hearing his friend whining. “Females are not weak by any means. Why, some have even ruled their world.” He took hold of the girl’s hand, and suddenly they were standing at the side of a sod house. The small building stood at the edge of a field where, in the distance, a man guiding a mule-driven plow down a long furrow of overturned black earth.