“You sure about this?” asked the cook, wiping a tattered red handkerchief across his brow. Captain John squinted against the sun and scratched at his scraggly, pecan-colored beard.
“Who in blazes knows, Cookie?”
He prodded the unmoving figure on the sand with his boot. “But aye, I reckon we should tie him up.”
“Fine, soon’s you show me how to tie up a piece of goo.”
Captain John stared at the creature sprawled out at their feet. He hadn’t been trained to handle anything like this. One minute he and his crew were battling a storm at sea, the next minute he and Cookie were stuck in some desert. Then this impossible purple alien comes out of nowhere.
“Lemme think,” he said, looking around the arid expanse they’d thought was a lake. His tongue played at the grains of sand on the back of his teeth. If there were any stones around, he’d put them in his mouth and suck on them. That’s what he’d always heard you did for thirst, anyway. Not that he, as a sea captain, ever thought he’d be stranded in the desert.
“Best hurry that thinkin’ up,” said Cookie. “What if there’s more like him comin’?” He jerked his head toward the blob on the sand.
Captain John looked down at the creature and pulled at his beard.
“Somethin’ tells me his army ain’t nowhere ‘round here.”
He wasn’t sure what made him think that. Maybe it was how the creature had quivered when it approached—‘course, how else would a gelatinous thing like that look when it moved?
“Dunno Cap. If there’s more of ‘em around, they’ll be lookin’ for water just like this one. Just like us.”
The captain crouched over the purple blot on the sand and sniffed. It smelled kind of vinegary, with a whiff of boiled potatoes to boot. He stood and crossed his arms. There was something about the way it came at them, at their flasks to be exact, like it didn’t want to touch anything but their water. It had no way of knowing the flasks had been empty for days but, it seemed to know what they were and what they were supposed to hold. If that was the case, if this thing knew more about them than they about it—dangerous state of affairs, this.
A stately, sand-faring ship approached, white sails billowing, parting mustard-colored dunes with its prow. The craft shushed to a halt before them. A railing creaked open; a gangplank descended over the lip of the deck, guided by unseen hands.
The two men looked at each other, then back up at their best chance for survival.
“What should we do with him?” asked Cookie.
Cookie’s breath whistled in and out through his nostrils. Captain John stared at the purple blob, hard. The creature lay there, all shriveled and gritty, like the captain’s own tongue had flopped onto the sand and tried to crawl away for help.
Still, thought the captain, there was something sad in the way the creature had pulled away from his fists, twisted away from his kicking boot. Now, puckered and covered in sand, it looked like a helpless jellyfish washed ashore.
Cookie’s breath whistled in and out.
Captain John clenched his teeth, picked up the alien, and slung it over his shoulder.
Cookie smiled wide.
Captain John grunted and started up the gangplank. The vinegar smell was enough to knock him out, but the thing wasn’t as slimy as he thought it’d be. Probably too dried out by now. Halfway up, he turned back to see why the cook’s boots weren’t clomping up the plank behind him.
Cookie stood on the sand, not moving, but not completely still either. Fuzzy.
Captain John shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could let go of his load to rub them. The cook was still out of focus when he opened his eyes again.
“Cookie, come on,” he called out, hefting the alien’s weight on his shoulder. “You’re wastin’ daylight.”
The cook’s form wavered and shifted. As Captain John looked on, Cookie’s body fragmented and blew away in the wind.
“Don’t worry,” said Cookie’s voice. “You won’t be needin’ me anymore. You passed.”
Light swelled within the ship. Captain John turned slowly around to face the enveloping glow.
BIO: Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Previous publication credits include stories in Barrelhouse, Punchnel’s, Toasted Cake Podcast, Luna Station Quarterly, SciFi Romance Quarterly, Masters Review and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.