Susannah slammed the trapdoor over the crudely dug pit she’d caught her enemy in. “I’ve got you now, devil, you won’t be haunting innocent women in these mountains again,” she crowed. She caught a glimpse of a stick protruding from a muscled green shoulder as the door slid in place with a metal screech.
The trapdoor was designed to slide over the pit with a lock to keep prisoners in. The lock slid easily in place, and she frowned down at it. Did it used to be this clean or easy to slide over the pit? She shrugged. There wasn’t time to think about it now. From inside the pit, something scraped against the dirt wall and a growl rumbled up from the depths of the dark hole.
Susannah inched out of his sight, half convinced the devil would try to climb out. He might be trapped inside the pit, but he could reach through the gaps in the trapdoor and grab her.
“Female.” He sure didn’t sound human.
Susannah sank down on her knees and cautiously crawled to the edge of the pit, trying to see in without the creature inside noticing. Pebbles scraped her knees through her heavy black dress that kept tripping her. “Kick off, already.” She whispered the forbidden words defiantly.
Brother Joseph had said it was a sin to use those words, but she couldn’t see how it was a sin to say the same thing with different words. And she wouldn’t feel guilty for wishing the monster dead.
“Show yourself, human.”
Again, goose bumps spread over her body. His voice, from inside the pit, sounded like a shovel when she shoved it into the dry rocky ground on the east of the farm. It scraped over her skin, invaded her body. It should make her want to run away screaming, but instead she leaned closer to hear more.
She shook off the strange feelings and answered him. “Why should I?”
Never before had she dared be this openly defiant and it was good. Blood rushed through her veins. Large green hands gripped the iron grid she’d locked over the pit and shook it. For one horrendous moment, she thought he would break through the iron. She’d dug the pit deeper, day after day, until she thought her arms would fall off. And this green man with the horn on his head could still reach it.
Susannah jerked upright. Her heart hammered so hard she couldn’t hear her own ragged breathing or any of the everyday noises on the farm. She breathed deep until most of the panic subsided. His hands had disappeared inside the pit again, and she sagged. She’d thought for sure he’d break that door and get to her.
“I said show yourself,” he ordered again. He spoke English with a slight accent, his rough voice grating against her nerves. She’d believed that he was a demon come to haunt her when he appeared before her almost four years ago. Then last year, Caine, a brother who moved from farm to farm, had told them about the aliens. She wouldn’t presume to know better than Caine, the man she’d come to love, but she couldn’t see how an alien that supposedly came from high up in the sky, could speak her language like this one did.
“Don’t order me around, ungodly creature.” This time it would be different. No one would punish her for seeing him like they did four years ago when he’d appeared before her. Instead, she’d use him to get off this farm and find Noah. She fisted her hands in the clumps of grass growing sparsely all over the farm. It had cost her everything, and he had no right to talk to her in that know-it-all way. Ghostly little legs crawled over her skin, and she tightened her grip on the grass blades until her knuckles ached. It was over, the whippings, the punishments in the pit with the creatures coming at night to crawl into her hair and over her body, the endless sermons. She still woke at night, her body sore from her frantic slapping at creatures that came out at night, in her dreams, to crawl all over her with scratchy little paws. She brushed her hand over her braided hair and then forced herself to stop, to lower her hand and rest it on her knee. No insects crawled over her.
An exaggerated sigh from inside the pit. The rough ground scraping against her knees, she carefully crawled closer and peered over the edge of the hole. Straight into eyes that looked exactly the way she always thought evil satanic eyes would look. Her body vibrated, as if she’d hit an unyielding rock with a pick axe. Those eyes had haunted her dreams. He stared up at her out of a face with sharp cheekbones, a big jaw. All those years ago, when he’d suddenly appeared before her, she’d been too scared to notice anything beyond the fact that he was green and large with unholy red eyes. She’d thought him evil incarnate, the devil come to take her for her sins, and had run screaming. She gripped the edge of the trapdoor until her nails tore. If only she hadn’t screamed. If she could go back and change her reactions that fateful day, maybe she’d still have Noah.
“I am wounded female.” He sprawled against the dirt wall of the pit, like a brother newly given his own farm and women to supervise.
He wore a silver uniform, but the skin on his hands, neck, and face were green and gold. It reminded her of the skin of the snake Joseph showed them once when he did a sermon on the serpent in paradise. The being in front of her had the evil beauty that fascinated and repelled at the same time. Worse than those eyes were the horn growing out of his head and into his forehead. She’d never thought demons existed, but that horn almost convinced her. Her demon. No matter that Caine said he was an alien, in her mind she’d called him that ever since that day he’d appeared and destroyed her life.
During one of his trips to the farm, after they’d become close, Caine had given her a TC. A wonderful box with a button you pressed, and then moving images of wondrous things appeared. Next to the gifts from her mother, that was the best thing she’d ever been given. She’d kept it hidden from the others. It told her about the aliens, and still, in her mind, she called him a demon. He’d appeared to her that one time, long ago. One moment she was alone and the next he stood in front of her. Big and mean and glaring at her with red eyes straight from hell.
That was when Brother Joseph’s punishments had gotten worse. Turned more evil than this alien creature. He’d drawn the others into his hatred for her. A hatred that never made sense to her. How could you hate someone because of the shape of their eyes?
After that time four years ago, the evil red-eyed creature never showed himself again. But she knew he watched. Had felt his gaze burn over her. Branding her. She didn’t dare mention this to the others, but she feared the creature wanted her. That he wanted to have relations with her.
She’d almost gotten used to feeling his gaze on her every few days when, a year ago, he’d disappeared. She didn’t even want to admit it to herself, but she’d almost missed feeling his presence. Then, last month, her personal demon had returned. She never saw him, but she knew he was there. Watching her. Always watching her.
Caine had told her that aliens came from the sky and claimed they now ruled Earth. The brothers who ran the farms in Montana didn’t recognize outside authority and had ignored the fact that aliens now walked on Earth. She didn’t know if she believed anyone could fly through space in something like a car. Even if it had wings, she didn’t think it could fly that high. And how did they breathe up there? The only reason she discounted Brother Josephatus’s theory, that they crawled out of hell, was that she refused to agree with the man who took Noah from her. About anything.
She frowned down at her prisoner. “Your wounds are not my concern.” He was frighteningly big, but not close to the size the alien on the TC had been. That one had easily gripped a human in one ugly claw.
“Are you a baby alien?” Was it right to keep a baby alien trapped? Even a scary looking one? It was difficult to judge with him sitting down, but she thought maybe he’d grown since she last saw him.
The alien jerked upright from being hunched over. He didn’t look wounded or weak anymore, even with the blood stained stick protruding from his shoulder. The breakfast she didn’t have scrambled in her stomach. Death stared up at her out of acidic eyes.
“You call me an infant?” He reminded her of the way coals smoldered red when you blew on them. She should’ve dug the pit deeper. Her muscles still ached from climbing in and out of the hole, clutching a bucket of dirt, for hours every day. It was ironic. The pit, where she’d spent so much time being punished, meant she was lucky that she had an existing pit to use. If only she’d dug it much deeper.
“You’re smaller than the alien on the TC, the ones that ate the humans.” The Lord help her if he was a baby alien. What if he grew some more while she waited to hand him over and the trap wouldn’t hold him anymore.
The alien slammed his head back against the dirt wall, and she winced. Whatever rumbled in his chest didn’t bode well for her.
He straightened, seeming unaware of the stick protruding from his shoulder. Did demons, no aliens, even feel pain? “Zyrgins do not eat humans.” He managed to convey his low opinion of her intelligence.
He might say they didn’t, but she didn’t have to believe him. “How fast do you grow?”
“I. Am not. A baby.” He thumped his head against the dirt wall with each word. His neck arched and veins and muscles moved under his tough looking skin. She’d never seen anyone so muscled. Not even the Space Ranger she’d seen on the TC before it broke.
She leaned over farther, grabbing her long black braid before it could hang down into the pit. “If you’re not a baby, how come you’re so small? And you’ve grown since that first time you came here.” She’d thought this one scary big that day, until she’d seen that horrendous monster eating a human. She shuddered. Blood and pieces of meat had flown everywhere when the alien had bit off a human’s head. Crunching on the head with big spiky teeth.
He seemed at a loss for words. His mouth opened and closed a few times, and he eyed the trap door in a way that caused her heartbeat to go all crazy again. “I just came out of my third change,” he gritted out.
She had the strong impression that he wanted to keep thumping his head against the wall. Or jump out and choke her. She eyed the steel grid. Parts of it were rusted. Even if he was a baby, he was still bigger than her. Who knew how strong their young were? “I don’t know what you mean by your third change.”
He glared up at her. “We go through three changes and shed our skins.”
She recoiled. “Like a snake?”
He bared long ugly incisors, and she recoiled farther.
“I am a grown Zyrgin warrior.” He snarled at her, and she retreated far enough that she could still see him, but not so close that he could jump and grab her through the grid.
He was trapped, she reminded herself. She was safe from those teeth. She hoped. “I saw one of you eat a human with my own eyes. He held a man in his claw. So if you’re not a baby how come you’re not big enough to hold someone in your hand?” Never in her life did she expect to see something that awful. She was lucky she’d run into a smaller alien all those years ago, or she might’ve been eaten. At least it would’ve been over with quick. Joseph’s punishments had been never ending.
She inched forward again and peaked over the rim of the hole. This alien sitting in the pit of atonement, muscled arms over his massive chest, fascinated her as much as he scared her. He was built a lot different than human men. Even the space ranger didn’t have that many muscles. Everywhere on his body, they bulged and rippled, and she had to remind herself that evil sometimes came disguised as beauty. Because, despite his snake -like skin and evil eyes, he had a wild, almost hypnotic beauty.
She’d dug the pit deeper and planted sharpened sticks at the bottom. One of the sharpened spears had gone deep into his shoulder. Her stomach turned. It had to be painful. He slouched down every now and then, and she had the awful feeling he had to remind himself to appear weak and wounded. “Where did you see a giant Zyrgin eat a human?” he asked her. He absently wiggled the stick in the wound.
Susannah’s stomach turned again when blood spurted out of the wound. She gritted her teeth. She wouldn’t feel sympathy, she wouldn’t. Because of him, Brother Josephatus had put her in the pit of atonement. What was wrong with the alien? Didn’t he feel pain? And why did he act as if she didn’t know anything that happened in the world?
“On the TC.” It was strange, being able to admit that she had a TC without fear of punishment. It showed this creature that she was modern and informed and not a backward person. Before it stopped working, the TC had been a treasure trove of information about the outside world. She’d been inconsolable when it just died. After everything had been taken from her, it had felt as if she was left naked and bruised.
Another savage noise from his chest, and she inched back a bit. “That was resistance propaganda,” he said, managing to sound as if he knew everything and she said only silly things.
“I saw an ugly green alien that looked just like you, only bigger, grab a human and bite off his head. How can the resistance lie about that?” She tapped her forefinger against the trapdoor. “Tell me that, Mr. Clever Green Demon.”
He stared up at her, and she had the impression he was at a loss for words.
“I would’ve preferred to live the rest of my life without seeing that creature bite of a human head.” She shuddered again. “How can you keep eating with blood spurting everywhere?” She didn’t know which was worse, all the blood or the headless body that was still kicking in that awful claw. She swallowed the bile rising in her throat. It had sucked the blood out of the decapitated human’s neck. “Crunching heads with your teeth is disgusting.”
“You know about the resistance?”
“Everyone knows of them.” He didn’t have to act as if she didn’t know anything about the outside world. In the short time she’d had the TC, she’d learned a lot.
He relaxed slightly, leaning back against the dirt wall. Blood oozed out of his wound. He had red blood, like a human. Did that mean he was one of God’s creatures? Was she evil because she was determined not to get close enough to him to care for his wound?
“The resistance created those films using TC generated images.”
She frowned. Didn’t want to admit she didn’t know what generated images meant.
He narrowed his eyes and clarified. “It wasn’t real, those were drawings that moved, not real Zyrgins and humans.”
She planted her palms on the ground and leaned slightly over the rim to mock. “Drawings that look like real people. That move? Only a baby would believe something like that.” How gullible did he think she was?
He stared up at her, and again she had the feeling he didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t even react to being called a baby.
“How do you know about the resistance, but not TC generated images?”
There was something in his voice, some emotion, and—so help her—if it was pity, she’d put back all the dirt she’d dug out of the pit and bury him alive.
“Caine told me about the resistance.” He’d shown her a way to contact them, but the alien didn’t need to know this. She rubbed her chest. She missed Caine and Noah so much. What did she do wrong? Was she such a terrible person that she had to be punished like this?
He didn’t move, the only physical sign of rage was the way his eyes glowed like red hot coals. But it emanated from him in a wave so strong, she shuffled back, ignoring the rocks digging into her knees through the heavy fabric of her dress. “Who. Is. Caine?” His voice was so rough she could barely make out the words.
“No one that needs concern you.” She visited his grave every day, but she couldn’t stand the thought of Caine in the cold hard earth. When she stood there, her heart aching, her arms empty, she pretended that he stood with her. Alive and talking to her. Telling her amazing things about the outside world. Assuring her that they’d get Noah back.
“I will find out,” the alien said, and it was a threat. He pointed to the cheese squashed into the ground when he fell. It lay inside the sizable dent his body had made on the floor of the pit when he fell in. “Why was there cheese on one of the sticks?”
“It was to lure you into the hole you evil…Satan.” It had been a huge sacrifice. Her food stores were depleted, and the soil wasn’t yielding anything anymore.
“You think we Satans eat cheese?” The evil pest dared to mock her after everything he’d cost her.
“It worked, didn’t it? You’re trapped in the hole like a rat in a trap.”
He moved, as if he would get up and break through the iron grid. “Do not ever again call me a rat.”
Keeping a wary eye on him, she smirked. It was heady to have the upper hand for a change. “I will call you whatever I want. You’re my prisoner, and you can’t stop me, rat.” She leaned closer. “Rat, double rat.”
He thumped his head against the wall of the pit. Several times. Strange grating sounds coming out of his mouth.
“Are you speaking your language when you make those strange growly noises?” She liked being like this, in charge and not afraid to taunt a dangerous being.
He stilled and nailed her again with those eyes that were sometimes black and then glowed red in an unholy concoction.
“We call ourselves Zyrgins and, yes, that was my language. A language so complicated that no other race has ever managed to speak it.”
If only she had a gun. “Are you calling me stupid?”
It was the one thing she’d promised herself when the others left her behind. Never again would she allow anyone to call her stupid or treat her like she was.
He looked up at her for a long time. She could almost feel his gaze like a physical touch on her head scarf, her face and for the longest time her breasts that were, thankfully, properly covered by her dress. Again, she had the feeling that he understood much more about her than she was comfortable with. “No, my…no, female, I would never call you that. I would kill anyone that dared call you stupid.”
“When you came here all those years ago, why did you appear in front of me and not the other women?” Every time Joseph put her in the pit, when the lashes fell on her back, when they took her baby, that’s what she wanted to ask. Why her?
“I did not choose them.”
“Choose for what exactly?” She scowled at him. When he’d appeared in front of her, out of thin air and she’d screamed and ran, she’d made the second biggest mistake of her life and told the others she’d seen the devil. Even before then, her life had not been easy among the cousins, on account of her being different. But after that, Brother Josephatus had said she was touched by evil and that she should be punished until the evil was purged. Life had become hell. She’d thought it was hell until they took Noah from her.
“I chose you for my—” The alien hesitated, as if he tried to hide something from her. “I chose you as my woman,” he said at last.
She scrambled back, away from his words, her dress trapped beneath her knees, hindering her. Deep inside, where she didn’t want to acknowledge it, she’d known. Even so, it still shocked her that such a creature would want to, want to….
She couldn’t even think the words in her mind.
She jerked her dress out from under her and then leaned forward again. At this rate, she’d wear out her knees. “Never say such a thing again, you ungodly creature. I would never commit such a sin.” She shuddered to think of the punishments the others would mete out for something like that. They might have left her behind, but if she did that, they’d come back especially to punish her.
The silence stretched as they tried to outstare each other. His gaze burned her, and she had to blink. He didn’t. “Your eyes are ugly,” she blurted.
He thumped his head again, harsh sounds coming out of his mouth. At last, he stilled and visibly calmed himself. “I am aware of your beliefs. The human woman who…belongs to my leader explained it to me.”
“One of you took a human woman?” That poor woman. How could she have relations with such a big…
Her mind wouldn’t go there. It was a good thing she decided to capture this one. Who knew what he would’ve done to her if he walked around loose?
“Are you sure you’re fully grown?”
He was big, but if his leader was his size at least the human woman he kept captive wouldn’t be torn apart during relations. Nothing would convince her that the woman went to the creature of her own free will. Tiredness settled on Susannah’s shoulders. After she’d found Noah, she’d have to try and find a way to help the poor woman. She couldn’t live with herself otherwise. Then she’d settle somewhere the brothers would never find her, and, hopefully, life wouldn’t be a struggle every day.
“Yes, I’m fully grown,” he said, long suffering.
“I will not be your—your woman. Your skin is like a snake’s. You must be some kind of unholy reptile. It would be a sin to have relations with you.” She bit her lip. She wouldn’t judge the woman their leader had taken. After she’d found a way to rescue her, Susannah would explain to her that she couldn’t help what was done to her and couldn’t be held accountable for the sin. If her relatives wouldn’t accept her back, Susannah would let her stay with her and Noah.
The alien’s skin changed, the green striations faded, until his skin turned a beautiful copper. “Does my skin please you now?”
“How did you do that, what are you?” In the weak light shining into the pit, his skin glowed, like Cousin Esther’s prized copper pot. The copper shine and the way his uniform bulged with well-developed muscles was oddly beautiful. Maybe Brother Josephatus was right. Maybe she was a woman of sin.
“Only a warrior can change his skin, it should please you that you were chosen by one.”
“The only thing about you that pleases me is that you are safely captured.” Blood oozed out of his wound again, and she sighed. “I will bring you some disinfectant and bandages for your wound.” She couldn’t ignore the fact that he must be in pain and getting weak from blood loss. But, he’d changed his skin color.
“Finally, you react the way my—b—woman should. You will look after my wound and sponge me down when the fever comes?”
She scowled at him. “I’m not coming down there. I’ll drop down what you need, and you can do it yourself.”
He made a low growly sound that scraped over her skin, and nothing could get her to say it out loud, but he was strangely beautiful, sitting on the dirt, his throat arched, those eyes staring at her.
“You are a most unnatural human female.”
“I’m unnatural? Who’s the freak with the green skin around here?” A freak that could change it from green and gold to copper.
“A normal female would want to bathe my warrior body when the fever comes.” He ignored her reference to his green skin.
“Are your kind prone to fevers?” She needed to keep him alive until they came for him. Fevers were tricky, she’d seen two cousins die from it, but she didn’t dare go down there.
“Are you about to kick off, is that why you think you’ll get a fever?” she asked and didn’t know if maybe she should hope for that. She could just hand over his body. She rubbed the sturdy cotton covering her chest. The thought of this strangely compelling creature dead made her heart ache.
“You wish me dead, female?” He was scarier than the alien on the TC when he spoke in that accented, grating voice.
Susannah stared down at him and had the craziest urge to laugh and laugh until all the anger, pain, and fear escaped her body. They’d stripped her naked, whipped her, threw her into the punishment pit for two weeks. Because of him. Because she told them she saw a green demon. It led to her losing the person she loved more than her own life. And this creature calmly asked her why she wished him harm. As if she didn’t carry the reminders of what he’d cost her on her body.
“You cost me everything, demon. But I don’t wish you dead.” She only wanted him to stay alive because the resistance would probably pay more for a live alien. Not because he was less a monster than she remembered.
Maybe when she had Noah back, she would stop hating him, but now every time she looked at him, she remembered. The marks on her body ached as if the wounds were fresh. She didn’t have it in her not to hate him. But she wouldn’t become like Brother Josephatus. When she found Noah, when she had him in her arms again, she wouldn’t be a monster that knew only hate. “If you die from the fever, I’d give you a Christian burial,” she told him. He looked tough to her, and she didn’t see any sign that he was in pain, but he might be injured worse than she could see from up here.
“Zyrgin warriors don’t die that easily, female.” He moved, as if he wanted to stand up and intimidate her. She was even more grateful now that Brother Josephatus had made the iron cover for the pit. Life could be strange sometimes. When she’d been in the pit, she’d hated it. Now it kept her safe. He leaned back again, hunching his shoulders, and, again, she had the uneasy feeling that he’d forgotten that he was trying to appear weak and injured.
“I will get the bandages and antiseptic.” She needed to be away from him for a while. He upset her in ways she didn’t understand.
“Before you go, tell me about your TC.”
She turned back and frowned at him. “My TC?”
“I did not think your people had technology. You said you saw the propaganda clip on the TC.”
She shrugged. “We don’t. Brother Josephatus—I mean, Joseph—said it was the devils instrument, but I had one I kept hidden.”
Joseph had insisted they called him by that pretentious name. When they left her behind, she’d promised herself that never again would she call him Brother Josephatus.
Even if they took her back, she wouldn’t call him that.
“Is Brother Joseph the male who never did any work and ate so much he became a very round human?”
She smiled, and it felt strange on her face. Properly raised cousins were supposed to work and not give themselves over to frivolous pleasures that made you smile. “Yes, that’s Brother Joseph.”
He cocked his head at a strange angle. “What do you plan to do with me?”
“I think I’m going to sell you,” she said.
Copyright 2018 Marie Dry