The drivers of the first sixteen cars that passed by thought it was nothing more than some dead animal, hit by a car in the darkness, shifted to the roadside by passing traffic, and tangled together with an old t-shirt someone had lost.
Sixteen drivers missed the miracle.
It was the seventeenth car that stopped. And it wasn’t the driver’s doing. The morning’s appointments had run long, whittling away at the hour she’d intended to spend handling emails. Intent on getting home, she would have assumed she was passing road kill, too, if it hadn’t been for her daughter, singing in the back seat.
“Bears, bears, they got no cares,” the tiny blonde child sang, “Bears don’t drink from a—TEETH, MOMMY, STOP!”
Shrill and demanding, the command forced the mother’s foot to the brake pedal. She skidded to a halt at the side of the road and whipped round to face her daughter.
“What is it? You scared me!”
“There was an alligator,” said the girl.
The driver turned back to the wheel and began checking her side mirror, looking to see if it was safe to get back into traffic. “Don’t be silly honey,” she said, “We live in Michigan.”
The little girl craned her head to see around the side of her car seat and out the back window. “I’m not silly!” She was adamant. “It’s right back there.”
Her mother tried to ignore her. She tried to move her foot to the gas pedal and push it, to speed back into traffic.
“Mommy.” The little girl’s tone was urgent. She leaned forward, and said quietly, “I think he’s hurt.”
It was the quiet that caught the mother’s attention. Her daughter was rarely quiet. She yelled, she hollered, she screamed, she laughed, she called out, she sang…but she rarely spoke quietly. The mother looked away from the mirrors and turned back to look in her daughter’s face. As she considered how to respond, something outside the rearview window caught her eye. The road kill was moving.
The mother set the lights blinking and stepped out of the car to investigate. As she approached, one stubby arm wrenched itself out of the bundle and set its—its hand on the ground. The mother blinked. She’d seen alligators at the zoo. They did not have hands. They had, well, paws. But this creature’s appendage could only be described as a hand. Yes, it was thick and clawed, but it was certainly fingered and had an opposable thumb.
Perhaps stranger than the shape of the creature’s digits was the fact that its arm was enswathed in the material that she had dismissed as an old t-shirt. Not cotton, the cloth shone, though the sun was covered with clouds. Somehow, it seemed to be reflecting light, though there was little to reflect.
The creature shifted again, using its planted hand to lever itself upward, and the mother saw what had caught her small daughter’s attention in the first place: A long snout. Narrow-set eyes overshadowed by horn-like brows. And teeth. A maw full of them. There was no mistaking it. It was the head of an alligator…almost. There was something about it that didn’t carry the menace of that mysterious creature, floating in his bogs and rivers.
The mother remained a few steps away, hesitating. Finally the creature came to its full height, all two-feet-five-inches of it. It was regal in its miniature way. Strange, bizarre, outlandish, and utterly baffling. The alligator-ish snout was set perpendicular to its body, like the cartoon alligators in her daughter’s storybooks. Its arms and legs were shaped far more like a human’s than a reptile’s. And its tail, perfectly balancing the weight of its mug, curved down like the bottom half of a C.
The creature was clothed, neck to ankle, wrist to wrist, in the material she had seen on his arm. The fabric of the jumpsuit glowed with that strange, internal reflective light.
The mother stood, watching as the creature gathered its wits. That’s it, she thought. Wit. Horned brows, armor-plated snout, stubby hands, curved tail, even the teeth—none of it terrified her as it should because in the creature’s eyes there was an expression of intelligence, of wit, of something almost—human. She half expected to understand it as it opened its mouth, obviously to speak.
“Blook snork whistle,” it said.
The mother blinked.
“Whistle whistle, rupp.”
They took the creature home. There didn’t seem to be another course of action. It wasn’t injured, but it moved stiffly.
The little girl sat beside it at the kitchen table, watching it.
“Snerk rumble, wapple rupp,” the creature said to her.
Her blonde head nodded. “Twiddle, cumb rumble sych.”
“Whistle blook wapple snoot,” said the creature.
“Twaddle harrumph wapple snork,” said the girl.
“What are you doing?” asked the mother, entering the kitchen from the pantry.
“We’re talking,” said the girl.
“You can’t understand him, honey.” The mother set a can of soup on the counter and opened a drawer to dig for a can opener.
“No,” said the girl. “But sometimes it’s just nice to talk.”
“Blook snork whistle,” said the creature.
“I think he’s hungry,” said the girl.
The mother looked up from the can she was opening. “It’s a he?”
“Oh, yes,” said the girl. “He looks like a he.”
“And he’s hungry? How do you know that?”
“Whistle whistle, rupp.”
“I’m hungry,” said the girl. “I think he would be too.”
“Well I’m making lunch,” said the mother. She opened the refrigerator. “Here are some grapes to tide you over. You can share them.”
The girl took the bag of grapes from her mother and stood up on her chair to reach the pile of plates in the middle of the table. She took one for herself, and one for the creature. She pulled the grapes out of the bag and plucked them off the vine, loading the plates with the bounty, chattering all the while.
“Snerk, tattle rupp rupp,” she said. “Orin welp sore kremp.” She spoke back over her shoulder to her mother. “I’m telling him that these are grapes and they’re delicious.” She pushed one plate of grapes over in front of the creature and took the other for herself.
The little girl demonstrated how it should be done by popping a grape into her mouth and biting down with gusto. “Snerk wapple tuk grump,” she said to the creature.
The creature sniffed at the grapes. It pushed them about the plate with its snout. Tentatively, it reached up with one stubby hand and picked one up. Imitating the little girl, it opened its mouth wide and tossed the grape in, snapping shut so hard that the mother jumped at the sound.
The jaw chewed once, and then the girl watched the muscles of the creature’s throat contract as it swallowed the grape.
“Rupp whistle snerk?” she asked.
The creature’s eyes bugged wide. Its whole body shivered, then convulsed. A shudder began at the tip of its nose and rippled back over its head, down its body, and out through its tail. It coughed. It hung its tongue out between teeth on the side of its mouth.
“I don’t think he liked it,” the little girl said. “Do we have any water?”
The mother filled a glass with water and set it before the creature. It sat, panting, eyeing the glass suspiciously.
“Blook, whipple snork,” it said.
“It’s just water,” said the little girl. “Water couldn’t hurt him could it?”
“I don’t know, honey,” the mother said. Her mind was only just recovering from the first shock of finding the creature by the roadside. She suddenly began to wonder what it did eat; and she wondered if those teeth were meant to tear into fresh meat. She looked at her daughter, who was leaning in with a compassionate expression on her face. “Honey,” the mother said. “Maybe you better move to the other side of the table.”
“Oh, he won’t hurt me,” the girl said. “We’ve just got to find him something like the food from where he came from.”
“Where do you think he came from?” the mother asked.
The girl turned and studied her mother carefully for a moment. “You don’t think he’s from here, do you?”
The mother looked back at the creature. It cautiously reached for the glass and, leaning its head back, poured the water down its throat.
That set it coughing again, and the shudders roiled over his body once more. “Snerk, brubble wrapple blook!” it choked out.
The mother’s eyes grew wide as she stared at the creature, her mind reeling again. “No,” she said. Her knees grew weak and she fumbled for a chair. Pulling it out, she sat down across the table from the alien creature sitting in her kitchen.
They tried every food in the kitchen. The creature couldn’t get anything down without shuddering and wheezing like an old car engine. By late afternoon, it was curled on the sofa, shivering uncontrollably, tears dripping from its eyes.
“Blerk, supple whipple snook,” the little girl said as she kneeled by the creature’s side, patting it in the back and pulling the afghan up around its shoulders.
“Blook snork whistle,” it said, faltering as it choked out the words. “Whistle, rupp rupp.” It closed its eyes and its breathing slowed.
“I think he’s asleep, Mommy,” the little girl whispered.
The mother stood by them. She wanted to cry, but no tears would come. She wanted to protect her daughter from this heartbreak. She wanted to fix it all. But she was helpless.
Pity. Compassion. Sorrow. For an alien. Five hours earlier she’d nearly driven past it without another glance.
“Sit with him, honey,” she said to her daughter. “Sing him the bears song.”
She walked to the kitchen and pulled out her phone. She dialed her husband at work and waited for him to answer. When he did, she poured out the whole, impossible story. “And I think it’s dying,” she finished. “And I can’t do anything for it.”
Her husband was silent on the other end of the line. She knew he must have thought her crazy. “Do you want me to come home?” he asked.
He had planned to work late that night.
A tear escaped and ran a path down her cheek. “Yes.”
She returned to the living room and sat down next to her daughter. The little girl climbed into her lap and together they hummed quietly as the creature slept, its breath shallow and ragged.
Her husband arrived thirty minutes later, just as it grew dark. He walked in to the living room, and the little girl jumped up to greet him.
“Daddy!” she said, hushed, but excited. “Come see him!”
She pulled her father to the sofa where he looked down, taking in the strange alligator head, the tail that stuck out from under the blanket, and the shivering body, wrapped in a ratty old afghan. He looked at his wife, wonder and disbelief in his eyes. Then he looked back at his daughter as she beamed with pride over her new discovery.
“Sweetheart,” he said, “Your mommy thinks he might be dying.”
The little girl’s face fell. She looked at her mother. “Why?”
“Because we can’t find any food he can eat,” said the mother. “We’ve tried everything I can think of, honey.”
The girl studied the creature again. “We just need to find food from where he came from,” she said.
Her father knelt down and put his hand on her shoulder, looking into her face. “I don’t think that’s possible, sweetheart,” he said. “He’s not from here.”
The girl looked from one parent to another. They blinked back tears, knowing they couldn’t protect her from this hurt. She considered them for a moment, weighing her father’s words. Then her eyes widened. “No!” she said, a smile crossing her face. “He’s not from here.” She sprang into action, hugging her mother, then her father. “Daddy! Can you pick him up? Mommy! We need to go to the car!”
“What do you mean?” her mother asked. “Where are we going?”
“Where he came from!” said the girl.
“Honey, that’s impossible,” her mother replied.
“No it isn’t! We were just there this morning. We need to go back to where he came from!”
The mother looked at her husband, at a loss for how to explain to their child that the side of the road where they’d found the creature was not its home. The tiny girl tugged at her father’s shirt. “Pick him up, Daddy!”
Her father looked at her mother. He shrugged. “Maybe it’s better this way,” he said.
She knew what he meant. Maybe it would be better for the creature to die alone in the darkness than on their sofa. Then, perhaps, they could keep their daughter’s joy whole. She sighed. She nodded. She stood and got her keys from the kitchen while her husband picked up the creature and followed his daughter to the van.
The little girl climbed in and patted the seat beside her, “Put him right here,” she said.
The creature barely stirred when it was moved. It snuffled as the father settled it into the car seat and clicked a belt in place around it. Then it went back to its inert state.
They drove through the deepening darkness back to the stretch of road where sixteen cars had passed a miracle that morning.
As they approached, the vehicle’s headlights caught something at the road’s edge. “Here!” yelled the girl. “Right here!”
The mother pulled to the roadside and stopped the car. She couldn’t quite make out what it was that lay there on the shoulder. It gleamed silvery-grey in the headlights of the car. The little girl unbuckled her belt and begged for the door to be opened. She hurried her father around the van and made him pick up the comatose alligator alien. She pulled at his pant leg to hurry him along to the pile of fur and flesh pushed to the side of the road by passing traffic.
The mother followed. And as she stepped closer she realized what it was. Another strange creature—foreign, with its beady eyes, silvery fur, tiny ears, and pink nose, paws, and tail. A strange creature, but very much of this earth.
“Put him down here,” said the little girl, pointing to a spot next to the dead possum.
The father looked at the mother. She shrugged her shoulders. Nothing in her day had been reasonable; why should she start arguing the point now?
Her husband set down the creature next to the road kill and stepped back, pulling his daughter with him, holding her shoulders as she leaned back against his legs.
They waited. Five cars passed by the scene, bathing them in light before rushing off into the darkness again.
Five cars drove past a miracle that night.
For as the father and mother stood with their child, they saw the creature begin to move. It sniffed. Then it opened one eye. It pulled one arm free from the afghan and set its hand on the ground. It levered itself up to a sitting position and leaned over the dead possum. It sniffed again. Then it reached out, picked up the dead animal, and, opening its maw, downed it in two snaps.
The family stood, eyes wide, as the creature made its way to its feet. The mother and father looked at their daughter, taking in the serene expression on the tiny child’s face. This was no surprise to her.
The creature turned to face them. The mother felt a surge of outlandish joy in her heart at the sight of its wit-filled eyes. She smiled, her soul washed clean of her doubts and her fears.
“Blook snork whistle,” the creature said. “Whistle whistle, rupp.”
—– —– —–
Featured Image by Paul Boekell