Those Who Came to Learn and Die

Mark Fewell

 

 

 

In Indiana, you can tell how deep it is into summer by the number of dead raccoons lining the highways.  At least, that's the way it was when I was a kid a few years ago.

 

Okay, I admit it.  It was more than a few years, more like sixty or so.  In those years, I've dropped out of college, gotten married twice, buried one wife and divorced the other, but only once fell in love.  I've sired children and baby-sat grandchildren.  And I was there the day the Dweezils arrived, landing their alien craft in the middle of a Boone County cornfield.  This was the biggest thing to have happened in the county since President Lincoln had spoken to Union troops from the back of a train.

 

And no, I'm not quite that old.

 

Nobody knows who gave the Dweezils their name, or why they had been given such a silly name.  I guess if you squint at them hard enough, they do look like a cross between a weasel and an underfed Dalmatian with bright yellow instead of black or brown spots.

 

These days you can tell how deep it is into summer by the number of Dweezils lining the highways.  Nobody knows why they've started dying.  But then no one knows why they came to Earth in the first place.  I guess when you get right down to it, we don't know much at all about the Dweezils.

 

I had been sent back home by the government to find out why the Dweezils were dying, and because I'm the only human who's ever been aboard their ship.  I don't know why this is, but because of it, the government gave me a job, making me special liaison between the United States and the aliens.  In their infinite wisdom, they also set me up in an apartment in Washington, DC, even though all the world's alien visitors were just outside Lebanon, Indiana.  I got paid a lot of money for having subordinates write reports to the politicians, letting them know nothing had been learned.

 

I got ride in the local taxi out to the cornfield where the Dweezil craft sat like it had for the past four years.  The cabbie didn't ask me any questions or ask for any autographs for which I was grateful.  He probably took a lot of tourists out to see the alien spaceship.  I paid him and told him he could leave.

 

I walked across the cornfield, though perhaps I shouldn't call it a cornfield since no corn had been grown here since the Dweezils had landed.  As I moved across the cornfield, I looked around for any sign of the Dweezils, dead or alive.  The only sign I saw of the Dweezils was the big, black square box they had traveled the galaxy in.

 

I remember the first time I saw the box, big, black, and shiny, with the faint outline of a door on one side.  The opening disappeared, and I stepped inside.  Dweezils scurried back and forth, carrying all kinds of gizmos I couldn't and didn't understand.  The Dweezils yipped and yapped while I listened to the banging and clanging of machinery.

 

I stood there with my mouth open, trying to count the Dweezils, until one of the aliens walked up to me and said, "Hello."

 

In the present, nobody opened the door for me, and I had to knock.

 

Nobody answered.

 

I looked back towards the road; the cabbie had left, and there weren't any cars.  I could either wait for a Dweezil to show up or I could hike back to town.  I sat down on the ground and leaned back against the cold, hard metal of the Dweezils' ship, but it started to rain.  The rain chilled my bones, and the only way to keep warm was to get up and start walking.  Besides Dweezils hate water more than cats do.

 

About a mile down the road, I smelled my first dead Dweezil before I saw it.  Not having stumbled upon a deceased Dweezil before I was sure that some vehicle had sent a skunk flying to the road's shoulder.  I walked a few more feet and saw it wasn't a skunk lying on the road.

 

I moved up to the alien and looked for any signs of injury, but I couldn't find any.  Not surprising, since all reports I read of the phenomenon said that the Dweezils had been going up to the roads' shoulders, lying down and dying.  They weren't being struck by cars and trucks like the raccoons, skunks, opossums, and occasional cats and dogs.

 

I knew a lot of scientists who wanted to see the inside of a Dweezil, but so far all the alien rights groups that had sprung up since the Dweezils' landing had kept any scientist or doctor from slicing open a Dweezil; nobody wanted to deal with a months long court battle, or worse yet paying out millions if they lost.

 

I have to admit I was tempted to use my pocket knife to slice into the Dweezil and find out what made him tick.  I couldn't do it; I didn't think the knife would slice him, and I had never broken the law.  Not even a speeding ticket.  Perhaps I'm just a coward.  Besides not being a scientist or a doctor, I'm not sure I'd understand the Dweezils' anatomy.  I could easily see myself wondering where the heart was.

 

I got down on my knees, putting them in a puddle.  The cold rain caused a shiver to go through my body.  I reached out and poked the Dweezil; it felt like any other dead animal, cold and clammy.

 

I heard a horn beeping.  I turned my head just in time to see a car barreling down on me.  It stopped a few inches away, splashing water into my face.  As I wiped the water out of my eyes, I saw that it was a gas-guzzling monstrosity from the previous century, not one of the new electric hovercars.

 

A man's head leaned out the car's window.  "Are you okay?  What are you doing out here anyway?"

 

I got to my feet and moved so that the man could see the Dweezil.  "Checking out the Dweezil."

 

"Dead, ain't it?"

 

"Yes, it is."

 

"About time they started dying out.  You want a ride to town?"

 

I didn't like the idea of taking a ride from a man who was clearly an alien hater, but I liked the idea of catching pneumonia from the rain even less.  I walked over to the passenger side of the car and climbed in.

 

The interior of the vehicle smelled of tobacco, and I had to kick empty beer cans out of the way to find a place for my feet.

 

The man offered me his hand.  "I'm Hank Kelly.  You from Lebanon, or just passing through?"

 

"Both," I said.  "I was born and raised here, but right now, I'm just passing through."

 

"What's your name, friend?"

 

If he really was a fanatic against the Dweezils, I could have been putting myself in danger by telling him the truth, but I didn't think he would kill me which was the worst thing I could think of happening.  "I'm Joseph Browning."

 

"Are you the famous Dweezil doctor?"

 

"Yes and no.  I'm who you think I am, but I'm not a doctor of any kind."  Because the Dweezils would only talk to me and nobody else when they first arrived, everybody assumed that I had to have a Ph.D. of some kind.

 

"I want you to know I'm not like some of those people who think everybody who's ever had anything to do with the aliens should be dead.  I just think Earth should be for Earthlings."

 

That made me feel so much safer.  "So tell me, Hank, what can you tell me about the dead Dweezils?"

 

"Just what I've read in the papers."

 

Which meant he knew everything I knew.  I almost asked my good buddy Hank about the speculations that the Dweezils had been poisoned by Boone County residents, but I didn't want to take the chance that he would become one of those people.

 

When we arrived at the city limits, Hank asked, "Where you staying?"

 

"The Holiday Inn."

 

I didn't expect him to give me a ride to my hotel, but he did.

 

I unlocked the door to my room, walked over to the bed, and laid down, wondering what I was doing back home.  I wasn't going to learn anything, even if I was the only one the Dweezils talked to.  I started thumbing my way through the phone book, thinking about calling Brittany, the one great love of my life.  Born during a time when every third girl born was named Brittany, she was several years my junior.

 

I found a number and e-mail address for a Brittany Bromwell; she had never gotten married.  I reached for the phone and started to dial, but I didn't finish.  What would she think about me calling after all this time?  Would she be happy to hear from me, or would she refuse to talk to me, wanting to go on with her life?

 

It was better that I get on with my research of the dying Dweezils and forget all about Brittany Bromwell.  Forget all about how I had been working at a convenience store, a dead-end job if ever there was one, when this teen-ager walked into the store.  I couldn't keep my eyes off her eyes; I had never seen that shade of blue.

 

When she dropped a six-pack of beer on the counter, I had to card her and found her true age to be twenty-nine, still too young for my forty-three years.  For months, we couldn't be separated.  Then the Dweezils arrived.

 

When I found myself Earth's representative to alien species, I left for Washington without saying good-bye.  I've never forgiven myself.

 

When I again got a ride out to the Dweezils' ship, I found Tippy pacing circles around the ship, and walked up to him.  I had to look down on him since he stood three-and-a-half feet tall.  "Hello, Tippy."

 

No, Tippy wasn't and isn't the real name of any Dweezil as far as I know.  I couldn't pronounce any words in the Dweezils' language which sounded like the yips and yaps of a small dog; it was good thing they had learned English before visiting our planet.

 

"Joseph, why are you here?" asked Tippy.

 

"I think you know why."

 

Tippy stared at me for minutes before saying anything.  "No, I don't.  Have I forgotten something important?"

 

"I'm here because your people are dying."

 

"Are we doing something wrong by dying?  Do your people have a law against dying?  If so, we will stop doing it."

 

"A law against dying?  How can there be a law against dying?  It's a part of life.  My people were afraid we were the cause of your dying."

 

"We die when we want, and now is our time.  I have tasks I need to do.  Meet me for dinner."

 

He didn't tell me where he wanted to meet for dinner.  There was only one place we ever ate together, the deli on Main Street across from the courthouse.

 

That night I walked into the deli and ordered a Reuben, took a seat, and made small talk with the waitress; her nametag read Debbie.  That was the thing I liked best about the deli, real human employees.  They even accepted paper money unlike the fast food places.  To me, there's nothing more dehumanizing than slipping your cash card into a slot and waiting for your meal to pop out of a hole in the wall.  I'm sure that somewhere in the restaurant there are people, teenagers or senior citizens, cooking the food, but you never get to see them.

 

The thing Tippy liked best about the deli were the toasted cheese sandwiches.  After taking a seat at my table, he ordered twelve of them along with a root beer.  I don't know he managed to put all that food into his body; it shouldn't have been possible.  Debbie had to get him a booster seat so that he could see over the edge of the table.  We were the only customers; I guess most people prefer the fast food places.

 

"Tell me, why your people are dying?"

 

Before Tippy could answer, the chimes above the door began to ring.  Both Tippy and I looked up from our meal at the group of men and women coming in the door.  The men dressed in suits, and the women wore dresses.  In middle of the group, I saw Brittany.  Her appearance hadn't changed much.  There was some white in her hair, but she remained tall, blond, and beautiful.  I looked down, hoping she wouldn't see me.  But that couldn't happen; I was sitting with a Dweezil.  The whole group of newcomers stared at our table.

 

Last night I had wanted to hear her voice.  Now that I had a chance to do more than hear her speak, I was acting like the nerd who had a crush on the school's most popular cheerleader.  Except that I was too old to have ever gone to her school.

 

"Hello, Joseph, I didn't know you were in town.  Why didn't you call me?"

 

Only Brittany could ignore the fact I was sitting with an alien from outer space.  "I just got into town today," I lied.

 

"I guess you're here because the animals are dying."

 

This was an old argument of ours.  Brittany insisted that the Dweezils were nothing more than animals while I treated them as if they were human.  Of course, we were both wrong; Dweezils were Dweezils.

 

I introduced my dinner companion to Brittany.  "Brittany, this is Tippy."

 

"Hello, Tippy."  Brittany grabbed a chair and sat down at our table.

 

"Shouldn't you be joining your friends?" I asked.

 

"They're not friends; they're just people I work with.  You're my friend, Joseph."

 

I nodded over at Tippy.  "I'm here on business, Brittany."

 

"That's not a good reason for not calling me."

 

"Excuse me," said Tippy.  "I'll let you two be alone to complete your mating ritual.  Meet me at the ship tomorrow, Joseph."

 

Mating ritual?  Was that what we were during, Brittany and me?  "What kind of work have you been doing?"

 

Like the first time we met, I found myself drawn to Brittany's strange blue eyes as she described her job as a legal secretary for the prosecutor's office.  I spent the night in her apartment.  We again become inseparable, but I knew that to be a lie.  When I finished with the Dweezils, I would return to Washington.

 

The next morning Brittany gave me a ride on her hovercycle which looked like a silver dirt bike minus the wheels.  I held tightly to her waist, being sure that I would fall and scrape my body against the pavement.  No accidents happened.  We arrived safely at the Dweezils' ship.

 

I asked Brittany to let me talk to Tippy alone and climbed off the hovercycle.  Tippy waited outside the ship for me.  "Let me make sure I have this straight.  You're dying because you want to."

 

"We have learned all we want about your people.  It is time for our existence to cease, but do not despair, friend Joseph, there may be others of my kind who wish to learn of your planet."

 

I looked down at Tippy; I didn't want him to die.  "How many Dweezils are left?"

 

"I'm the last one.  I stayed to say good-bye."

 

I didn't know how to respond to that.

 

"Have you learned everything you want to know about your world?  Have you learned all you can about Brittany?"

 

I had to think about that second question.  I had learned a lot about Brittany the previous night.  About her job, her friends, and the things she had done since I had last left Lebanon.  Despite all that she was as much as a mystery to me as the Dweezils.  "No, I haven't."

 

"You are not ready to die."

 

"I don't think I'll ever be ready to die."

 

"That's because you're human."

 

"Are you saying you're willing to die because you're a Dweezil?"

 

"Yes, I am."

 

"Can you at least tell me why you all have chosen to die beside the highway."

 

"We don't all chose to die that way," said Tippy.  "I plan to die in the ship."  He turned and walked through the ship's hatchway, closing it before I could enter.  I pounded my fists on it, shouting for him to open up and let me in, but I knew it wouldn't happen; I knew he had died.

 

That night I got drunk and tried to learn all the mysteries of Brittany's body.  In the morning, I was suppose to return to Washington to make my last and final report on the Dweezils.  I wasn't going; I was where I belonged.

 

I woke up at sunrise, leaned over, and kissed Brittany's cheek.  I got dressed without waking her and stepped outside for a walk, wondering what a world without space aliens would be like.

 

Mark Fewell has been writing for almost twenty years and has had over 200 works of poetry and fiction published. His work can be found in print and online in such places as Alienskin, Fantastic Stories, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and Hadrosaur Tales. Anybody wanting to know about Mark and his publications should check out his website at http://home.earthlink.net/~markfewell

 

Photo Courtesy of 123rf.

 

 

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Fiction Copyright 2007 Mark Fewell. All rights reserved.