Mark L. Van Name has had stories published in several anthologies.
Written by Dave Freer
Illustrated by Verónica Casas
I was going to run. As soon as he . . . it . . . the THING stopped looking at me. Staring a hole through my stupid head with its four eyes. I was going to run like the wind. I shouldn't have come here. Never. I swore to God . . . if I ever got out of here . . .
The thing opened its mouth. The wrong way, like a vertical slash. The inside was watermelon-pink, full of tombstone teeth. Orange tombstones. Glowing even in the moonlight.
"Candy-blossom?" it said. Or that is what I thought it said, anyway. It sounded like one of those wind-chime magodies that that langhaar by the beach sells. What was the word he used again? Oh, Ja. Mellifluous. Mellifluous with just a little bit of lost-child despair.
Nothing that looks like a cross between a nightmare and train-smash should speak like that. Not even to an old poacher. My bag of illegal spiny lobster twitched where it lay on the sand.
The creature jumped like a startled rabbit. He pointed the thing in his—hand?—at the bag and backed off. I was happy he was pointing it at the bugs. I didn't know what a set of semi-see-through rods in these modern dayglo-fashion-design colors did. But something about the thing said "gun."
A spiny lobster stuck out a feeler and went "eerrrrrk." A bleddy scary noise in the quiet, if I say it myself. The thing crouched and aimed the gun-goody, waiting. Hey, the bugs could make a sudden move and find out if it was a cigarette vending-machine or not. Me, I was out of here.
I tensed myself to make the dash. Just a few seconds and I'd be gone behind that big gray granite boulder. And then I'd be away. I'd sneaked around these granite bricks and scrubby fynbos for thirty years. If the bleddy army couldn't catch me, then furry feeler-face Candy-blossom hadn't a chance.
Suddenly my ears picked up a familiar sound. One I was used to listening for.
Put-put . . . Patrol boat.
Old Candy-blossom heard it too. His four eyes nearly bugged out. And then, from up the hill, we heard a radio-crackle.
Shit. Not even to save my life from this alien thing was I going to be caught here! That bleddy magistraat at Vredenburg wouldn't give a damn how I'd been caught this time. . . .
I didn't have to be a mindreader to understand the alien. It was just as scared of being caught as I was. And I'd bet "Enku" meant please.
"Oh, bugger it. Ja. Come." I picked up the bag.
It stood, looking bleddy pathetic.
"Man! Heretjie-tog, follow me, dammit."
It still didn't move, just made a miserable little "eeep!ting" sound. The patrol-boat was getting closer.
"Ja, all right then, bleddy Candy-blossom. Now come."
* * *
Down here on this patch of beach there was no cover, unless you counted the piles of half-dry washed-up kelp. I'd got myself caught once before, hiding in one of those piles. The bleddy patrol had stopped and sat down on the rock next to my pile for a smoke-break. The buggers were parking off maybe three feet from where I was lying under that stinking kelp. They didn't have a clue that I was lying there with a streepsak of perlemoen and those damned kelp-goggas crawling all over me. Ai. It still makes me gril just thinking about it. Eventually I just had to scratch, even if it meant getting caught.
I wasn't doing that again.
Up the slope was mostly those big granite boulders and scrubby little renosterbossies. Not an easy place to hide but also damned near impossible to keep a skirmish-line patrol in contact with each other.
You could hear the dumb troepsvloeking their way through the bushes. Hell. There must have been a couple of hundred of them up there. This wasn't just a patrol out looking for old Piet Geel poaching in the military reserve again. They must be out looking for Candy-blossom here. Looking for him seriously.
I'd been wondering if I'd done something really stupid. Maybe I should give this monster to them. I mean he was . . . an alien. Like from the X-files, on the teevee down at Minna's place. But they shouldn't have come searching for him like that, not with half the bleddy Military Academy out after him. That got me mad. I'd had them looking for me before. Right now old Candy-blossom and me were up the same damned creek. I'd get him away, then, maybe . . .
There was a little vlei just up the hill in a bit of a flat-patch there. The water is the color of rooibos tea that's been boiled for two hours, with this red-brown scum on it. At the deepest it is just over knee-deep, and it's full of platannas and waterblommetjies. I pulled old Candy-blossom out into it, and made him lie down in between the lily-leaves. Then, pulled a couple of them over him and put one on his face. I lay down next to him, with a leaf on my face, too.
I heard them splash in the shallow water. Couldn't hear what they were saying, because my ears were underwater, but I know troeps. There hasn't been a troep born that is going to walk into the water deeper than half-way up his boots, if he gets that wet. Not on a winter's night, that's for sure. All I had to worry about was that there'd be some snotkop officer watching them. A torch shone across my face. I lay still. The torchlight stopped blinding me. Moved on.
The splashing stopped. We waited.
I gave old Candy-blossom a nudge. We got up. The skirmish line was downhill from us now. On the sea I could see not one patrol boat but all four. All around where we'd been. Not, thankfully, where we were going. I poured the water and a happy little plattie out of my boots and led old Candy-blossom over the ridge.
Now, you leave a boat on the beach, and anyone can see it. Put it in the open water and it's pretty obvious in the moonlight. Cover it with kelp and it gets full of those damned kelp-goggas. Me, I always leave the boat in a patch of three big gray rocks just off the beach. Who notices if there are three or four rocks? They're higher than my old boat. I put a bit of kelp on the back and just leave her there.
She stayed there three months, last time I got arrested. They thought I'd come over the fence. Lelik is niks, maar stupid . . . Like, I'm going to climb a ten-foot razor wire fence when I can just row around? So the old boat just stayed there. Even in the daytime nobody noticed her. Okay, it means I get myself wet getting out to her, but what is a bit of wetness to old smokkelaar like me? I could see my rocks below us, and in two minutes we'd be away.
Except there was some troepie gyppoing on the point. Okay. Maybe he was supposed to be on guard. Looked more like he was having a smoke and a daydream. Funny, they reckoned these black troeps would be different from the white ones. But a troep is a troep is a troep, like they say.
We couldn't wait. I'd swear blind that was a dog I heard. You can't fool dogs as easily as you can people.
"Stay here," I whispered. It didn't work. Candy-blooming-blossom followed me anyway. There were no small rocks around, but I took a couple of nice undersize perelemoen from my bag. There's a good thick patch of bush in the gully just other side of the headland. Couple of bat-eared foxes have their hole there, and this close to morning they're pretty near to it. I know. They nearly made me shit myself the first time I came that way. I waited till the guard had taken a nice deep pull on that smoke, and chucked the bat-eared foxes a perelemoenfor breakfast.
Hey, I didn't expect that troepie to shriek like that. "Hai! Haii!" and then to go in shooting. Shooting, nogal! Shit. I felt sorry for the bat-eared foxes. They don't even eat perelemoen. Still, we were into my old boat faster than I can pull a snoek. I've been shot at once before and I didn't like it.
Quiet like mice I rowed us away between the bricks and kelp. I tied off the bag and hung it over the side, as usual. If a Sea-fisheries boat found us now, I'd just cut the rope. I wished like hell I could do that with old Candy-blossom, too. 'Cause now that we were in the boat, I was thinking, What am I going to do with this . . . thing? I mean, I live alone. But my grandchildren are in and out of the place. Maybe I should just—
A helicopter whopped away out of the dark with a searchlight, off towards Saldahna.
Ag, so what the hell could I do? I just kept on rowing along the edge, keeping near the bricks. The moon was nearly down now, and we still had a couple of hours till sunrise. Hennie and some of his boys had been going to set some nets for galjoen when the moon went down. I wondered how they'd feel about that chopper? It made me laugh. I'll bet old Hennie thought the Sea-fisheries boys were getting pretty bleddy sneaky.
We slipped across, with a couple of ships shining lights around in the dark. They never shone them at us. My word, but there are a lot of little boats out there in the bay at night. All on perfectly legitimate business, I'm sure. They kept the Navy boys busy. The Academy Reserve looked like a Christmas tree with all those lights flashing around. Me, I know you see much better without a torch, but the army always knows better, né?
So we pulled the boat up. I'll say this for Candy-blossom. He gave me a hand. Actually, he gave me four hands, and man, was he strong. I took him up to the house. It is not much of a place, but it's my home. Just an old strandhuisie, but my father's, my grandfather's and my great-grandfather's before me too. I put the spiny lobster and the perelemoen down, lit the lamp and got out a bottle of brandy and a couple of glasses. After this lot I needed a shot. Hell, I thought we both needed a dop or two.
Old Candy-blossom took one look at the bottle and got excited. "Candy-blossom? Candy-blossom? " He picked up the bottle, and tried to open it by pulling the lid off. Looked like he'd never met a screw-cap and he needed a drink badly.
I grabbed it back. It was my brandy, after all.
"Hey. Los uit. I'll give you a drink, but you can't have it all!" I poured him a shot into the glass. A good double. And you know what he did?
He stuck that gun thing into it.
It turned blue. All of it. Bright glowing blue.
He pressed the button on the thing. I didn't end up dead, although, Ja, I did duck behind the table. Then he picked me up. I mean right up, off the ground, like I weighed nothing. "Candy-blossom. Enku?" and he held the brandy bottle in one of the other hands.
Ja-nee, well, what could I say? "Okay. Candy-blossom. Enku Enku. Whatever you like!"
"Splidzat." He put me down, and, with my bottle of brandy in hand he walked outside. It wasn't quite dawn . . . just gray. And the road in front of my place was full of this big thing. Long, and that same kind of blue as the thing I thought was his gun. Something spiralled out of it. Old Candy-blossom turned back to me.
For a bleddy bad minute I thought he was going to take me with him. Instead he pointed this thing that I'd thought was his finger at my doorstep. It's just a piece of the rock, that oupa-grootjie shaped. Candy-blossom cut that shape in it. With red light. I reckon if he could cut rocks, he could have sliced soldiers. Then he climbed into that seat-magodie that had spiraled out and . . . whoop he was up into the thing. With my bottle of dop. With not so much as a dankie oom or a wave goodbye.
Two seconds later he was gone. The only thing to show he'd ever been here was that twisty shape he cut in my step.
I wonder what it means. Maybe, it is like the mark the Israelites put on the door. You know, when the aliens come they won't kill me and the grandchildren.
Ja, well, maybe. But, Ag well, it is probably just alien-hobo for "you can get a dop off this old balie."
* * *
The candy-blossom wasn't very pure. Barely good enough for the ship to run on. Two enku was a quite a price for such a little. Still, the enku glyphs should protect the aboriginal for some years. And with its lifestyle, it needed them.
* * *
Glossary for the Afrikaans-deprived:
(Note from the author: The language in the story is Afrikaans of the dialect used by the Cape Coloured, as their original khoi-san has disappeared. It's about as different as English in the deep South spoken among black Americans is to "proper English" spoken by someone from the upper crust of New York or Boston.)
Ag = och
Dankie oom = thanks, uncle (uncle = any older male, a term of endearment and respect)
Dop = stiff drink.
galjoen = a prized reef-fish which it is totally illegal to net.
gogga = creepy-crawly
gril = shudder
Heretjie-tog = For God's sake
Ja-nee = lit. Yes-no. More or less means "Well, okay."
Lelik is niks, maar stupid... = Ugly is nothing, but stupid...
Los uit = leave it alone.
magistraat = magistrate
magodies = thing-a-majigs
Nogal = yet
oupa-grootjie = great grandfather
Perelemoen = abalone
Platanna/plattie = lit. Flat-Anna. Clawed aquatic toads, slimy, black flat, ugly as hell.