“The Shallows” by Nathaniel Lee

"It’s a long walk to the ocean. I ran the whole way." Courtesy of Jon Nicholls, Flickr.
“It’s a long walk to the ocean. I ran the whole way.”
Photo courtesy of Jon Nicholls, Flickr.

I found the piece of the alien ship out back, right on the marsh edge. I was out fishing, or least I was supposed to be, but mostly I was “lollygagging and woolgathering,” Pa would say. Pa don’t approve of gathering wool, nor gagging no lollies, either. He says a girl my age ought to be practical. No one wants a girl who can’t clean a fresh-caught catfish and keep a boat in working order. No one round here, anyway.

The piece of ship was a hard lump of crystal, all glints and angles in the orange sunlight that leaked through the overhang like marmalade. I’d seen it under a couple feet of water, when it flashed in the light, the sun catching one of the sharp edges. I’d fished it out of the water and the gritty mud: a pretty little rock maybe the size of my fist. News-man said the ship had been diamond, but not like actual diamond. Something different about it, something built, synthetic or what-all. Not worth more’n a cubic zirconium in itself, other than being alien. I could maybe have hocked it on the Internet, but there were so many fakers out there already that I didn’t expect I could get much for it, and I kind of liked the look of the thing. Bits like that one came down all over – across near all the top half of the planet, they say. Most of it landed in the ocean, sank right down, but the ship’d been awful big.

Pa was watching that Fox News when I came in, so I didn’t say nothing and neither did he. We’d pretty much said all that was needful already. There was a man on the show talking about the aliens like they were going to come right down and start abducting all the womenfolk and molesting the cows, which was just silly. The aliens blew up; everyone knows that. Sent a code-signal that knocked out the radios and the teevees, then boom. Might’ve been the other way round, setting themselves to blow and then crying out to the planet in front of them. Or it might’ve been nothing at all, no message but the sound an alien makes when it dies.

I went to my room and put the alien rock on my dresser and turned on the radio. The aliens were there, too; they were a nine-day wonder on about their eighth-and-a-half day. “The reconstruction makes no sense,” the lady on the radio was saying. “It shouldn’t work; everything we know about physics says that something like that ship should have done, well, exactly what it did, which was fall to pieces. But somehow it didn’t do that for all the years and years it was traveling toward us. What kept it together? Or what made it dissolve?” She paused, like we was going to answer her somehow. “Our theory, and we admit it’s pretty radical, is that maybe – just maybe – what we call the ‘constants’ actually aren’t. That if you go far enough, or deep enough, maybe you get to a place where the speed of light isn’t what it is, where gravity and electromagnetism work a little differently. That ship, those beings, whatever they were, whatever they tried to tell us – if it was a message – they came from one of those deep places and just… ran aground. On us, on the shallows where we live.”

I liked the way the lady scientist talked. I wish I had the words and the knowledge to talk like she did, making big complicated stuff that I couldn’t understand sound easy and simple and just like common sense. And it was sensible, the way she explained it. It’s happened before around here; something strange from out in the salt comes up the wrong way, then the tide goes out and it’s trapped in a pool, puffing away in the brackish water. Sometimes they get out when the tide turns and the cold fresh water shows them the way to go. Other times they stay stuck there till they die. I never know quite what to do with them, and Pa says they’re probably poison and won’t eat them.

The lady on the radio was still talking and the sun was still setting, and just then I suddenly couldn’t stand it no more, sitting on my bed with the stupid ruffles that’ve been there since I was four, looking at a rock that wasn’t even diamond and listening to my radio like it was eighty years ago and there was no such thing as TV and the Internet. I hauled up and left. I took my rock with me. Pa didn’t say nothing when I blew past him like an exploding spaceship and huffed out the door.

It’s a long walk to the ocean. I ran the whole way.

It was full dark and more by the time I got there. The sky overhead was empty. Prob’ly a storm coming through in a little while, though.

I cocked my hand back and threw that little piece of alien ship as hard as I could, watched it sparkle one last time in the lights from the pier before it hit the water. It fell. I don’t know what I expected. For it to fly? To explode? It was just a rock, wherever it come from. People like to make a lot out of things, want excitement, want everything to make sense. They want too much. It was a lump of carbon crystal that used to be alien. The waves would take it out to the deeps, with its kin, and they could roll around in the dark where nobody’d look at them. It could maybe belong there, if it couldn’t be what it was meant to. Might be that was what it would want, if rocks could do any wanting to speak of.

Least that’s what I like to think.

The Eyes of Nathaniel Lee

Nathaniel Lee puts words into various orders.  Periodically, other people pay him for doing so.  No one is entirely sure why.  His writing can be found at Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and all three Escape Artists podcasts, among other venues online and off.  Nathan’s semi-weekly writing blog is at www.mirrorshards.org, where he posts 100-word stories and flash fiction intermittently.  He lives somewhat unwillingly in North Carolina with his wife, son, and obligatory cats, in a house slowly filling with small cardboard boxes of wooden cubes.  One day, curious strangers will break down the door to find only a terrible wasteland of European board games and the scrawled message: “Wood…for…sheep…”