Story A Week (SAW) 17: April 23rd, 2018
By Adam O’Sullivan
Based on a title and ideas created by Big Fork’s Infinite Skies rehearsal held on Monday April 16, 2018
Note from the author: At 11,000 words, this is currently the longest short story I have written (multiple outlets call stories of between 7,500 – 20,000 words a ‘novelette’). For this reason, I offer a PDF version of the story to make offline reading easier: My Friend Xirlax
April 16, 2018
A teenager of about 15 years old stands at his bedroom window, staring out as the rain pours down outside. Rather than the expression of a child whose day has been ruined by the weather, this teenager wears an expression more aligned with a general surveying his battlefield and trying to decide the next step. The only light in the room comes from a street lamp outside.
A cupboard stands beside a double bed. The wood is worn, faded, but incredibly solid and sturdy looking. It appears to be a family heirloom, or at least passed down from generation to generation. When the door to the room is open, it slightly covers the cupboard, but both the bedroom and the cupboard doors are closed. There is a short burst of intense light from inside the cupboard, barely visible through the gaps between the wooden slats on the cupboard door.
The door of the cupboard slowly creaks open. From it emerges a pale blue hand. The pale blue skin is covered in tiny little hairs, and it appears wrapped over a skeletal hand. The fingers are long, twice as long as normal human fingers, and are tipped in nails that taper to a tip. These nails seem razor sharp – they’re made for cutting and slicing.
Slicing appears to be exactly what this hand has been doing. It is covered in a slimy green fluid, with the thick consistency of blood. The hand is holding a chunk of flesh that, whilst misshapen and definitely not of this world, is still recognisable as a heart – different from the human heart, but similar valves can be seen leading from the organ. The heart continues to beat, slowly, causing the valves to shoot spurts of the green fluid over the hand reaching out of the cupboard.
Following the hand is the body of its owner. The creature looks like the oldest person you could ever imagine – the head is topped by wisps of pure white hair, the bones of the creature can be made out as they press against the thin blue skin that covers its entire body. The short little hairs cover the visible parts of the creatures skin, the teeth are large in the creatures mouth and the gums seem to have receded. The creature wears a brown robe made of a shimmering, silk like material. It would once have been a very smart and extravagant item of clothing, but now is in disrepair.
The creature walks forward, out of the cupboard and toward Alan standing at the window. Alan doesn’t turn around, though he hears the sounds of the creature as it makes it’s way slowly towards him. The creature makes a deep, raspy, wheezing noise as if it has difficulty breathing. The creature is a thing of a little boy’s nightmares. Any other person, faced with such a vision, would be terrified. Alan does not move.
Lightning flashes outside, illuminating the room briefly in light. The creature stops, a few steps out of the cupboard and standing next to the bed. It stands, expectantly, waiting for something to happen, some sort of sign that it’s arrival has been acknowledged. A small drop of green blood slides off the creature’s hand and lands on the carpet.
“Lord Alan,” the creature hisses in its wheezy voice, the voice of pure death itself, “I have brought you another heart.”
The boy, Alan, not yet a full man in the eyes of human law, still doesn’t turn around. His very expression in the reflection of the window doesn’t seem to change. He remains stoic, determined, unfazed. A second flash of lightning from the storm outside lights the tableau of a teenager and his alien friend, bringing him the present of an alien heart.
The creature waits, and the waiting turns to minutes. The only sound in the room is the ticking of a clock on the wall. The hand holding the heart lowers ever so slightly. Dejected, the creature turns and returns to the cupboard.
“I guess I’ll try again next week” he splutters as the dark of the cupboard envelopes him, pulling the door closed. There is a loud sigh that is cut off by the bright flash of light.
All the while, Alan stares out the window as he considers what to do next.
Alan hadn’t always shown a demeanour wise beyond his years. He started off as a normal kid. He liked to play spaceman and aliens in the backyard, he liked to watch alien movies on TV, and he liked to learn about the solar system. He wasn’t, however, afraid of monsters in this cupboard like normal kids until he reached the age of 6. Even then, it wasn’t a scary movie or someone playing a prank on him that made him scared. One day, whilst trying to get a cookie out of the cookie jar, he knocked the glass jar of sugar off the counter and it shattered on the kitchen floor. Knowing he would be in trouble, Alan raced to his room and hid in the cupboard.
Little did Alan know that his cupboard stood in the perfect position for an interdimensional portal. All you had to do to be sucked into the portal was to stand in the same spot for a few seconds. Alan’s parents, not knowing about the portal, thought it was a good place to put his grandfather’s old cupboard for Alan to use to hang his clothes in. This was Alan’s first time hiding in it.
Alan remembered seeing a light build in the cupboard, and he tightly closed his eyes. The light got brighter and he held his hands against his eyes. When the light was gone, he slowly opened his eyes and realised that he wasn’t in the cupboard anymore. The first thing he noticed was that it was cooler in temperature than his room. The walls around him seemed to emanate a chill. He reached out and touched them, and realised that the walls were made from some sort of stone. By pushing on each wall, he eventually found the door, although it was much harder pushing it open than the cupboard door. He opened the door just enough so that he could peek out, and then Alan saw the creature for the very first time. It looked like a skeleton, like the ones in the library at school, only it painted blue, the same blue as the sky. The thought crossed his mind that this might be what it looked like if someone fell out of a plane, and their skin and muscles were ripped from the bones by the wind, and the sky had dyed the bones blue, but when the body fell to Earth, the bones refused to stop moving. His mind slid these parts together in his head from different parts of various movies he’d seen in the past. His breathe caught in his throat and Alan could feel warmth on his leg from where wet himself in fright. He pulled the door closed behind him and curled up in a ball. The light flashed again and Alan sat crying in the dark until his mother found him in the cupboard an hour later.
April 16, 2018
The creature emerges from a stone door, still holding the beating heart. Two other creatures, slightly shorter than the one holding the beating heart, race over to help open the stone door.
“Xirlax!” exclaims one, “how did the ritual go?”
Xirlax, the creature holding the heart, does not respond but walks straight past them. He exits the room as the other two creatures stand looking confused.
“My Xirlax!” shouts the other creature to the departing Xirlax. It is too late, he has left the chamber, leaving a dripping trail of green blood.
The second time that Alan entered the cupboard portal was when he was 8 years old, home from school with chicken pox. He awoke from a nap and in his fever state, wandered into the cupboard while looking for his bedroom door so that he could get himself a drink of water. The light flashed before he fully awoke and could remove himself. Once again, he was in the small stone room. With sweat dripping down his neck, from the memory of last time and the high fever, he pushed open the stone door. One of the blue skeletal creatures was walking past carrying cloth and jumped when he saw Alan emerge. When Alan saw that the creature seemed to be as afraid of him as he was of them, it gave him some power and he stepped fully out of the door. The blue skeleton creature looked like a timid kitten, watching him from across the room. Alan was reminded of the time that he leaped at a kitten and it had run away, this creature looked like it would do the same. It was just to Alan to make friends with these weird creatures. He introduced himself. He didn’t realise that it was strange that both he and the aliens could understand each other. It just seemed natural to a boy that age that everyone spoke English. He was taken to see Xirlax, the leader of the creatures. He was introduced to Xirlax’s betrothed, Stephlax, and told about the upcoming ceremony, where Stephlax and Xirlax… well, he didn’t understand the words they used at that point, but he understood it was like mummy and daddy’s getting married. He wished them luck. Alan was brought before a giant room filled with the creatures. He’d never given a talk at school before, but he told them about Earth, and that he was a human being, and that he wasn’t at school because he was sick.
“But it’s just chicken pox,” he rambled, as the creatures seemed to hang on his every word, “It’s not the most dangerous disease. It’s actually pretty common. It’ll go away in a few days.”
With that, he started coughing, and Stephlax offered him her handkerchief. He accepted it, and the coughing soon stopped.
“I’m sorry, I hope you don’t get sick,” he said as he politely passed the handkerchief back to Stephlax, who accepted it graciously. She gave a short, shrill laugh and advised that their people were not known for getting sick. By then, Alan was feeling very tired, so he said goodbye to his new friends and headed back home through the stone door.
April 16, 2018
Thousands of light years from Earth is a small galaxy in the shape of a flower. On the edge of one of the petals is a solar system rotating around a red dwarf star. The fourth planet from this star is a deep reddish brown, and the closer you get to the atmosphere, the redder it becomes. Sand storms and high winds whip the surface of the planet, making it difficult to see. A large stone structure sits in the middle of a cluster of sand dunes. The building dwarves everything around it. Inside, the building is as cavernous as it appears from the outside. The building looks like a giant stone cathedral, with a massively high roof. Sound echoes through the space and mixes with the sounds from outside as the sand scratches against the outer walls.
At the back of the structure stands a raised platform. Atop this platform sits a large stone throne, the back reaching halfway to the roof. Upon this throne sits Xirlax. He is hunched forward, dejected. In his hand, resting against the armrest of the throne, is the still beating heart, spurting green blood onto his hand and trickling down the side of the mighty imposing throne.
Above the throne hovers a large glass screen, the most modern looking piece of technology in the whole room. On the screen is an image of the heart in Xirlax’s hand, as it continues to beat.
Standing in front of the platform are rows and rows of creatures similar to Xirlax. These creatures refer to themselves as The Lax Clan, and they have inhabited this planet for millennia. They form neat, orderly rows in the large space, filling up as much of the room as possible with their bodies. At least ten thousand of them stand in the massive room, raising their fists towards the screen, towards their leader, towards the beating heart. As they pump their fists in unison, the Lax Clan chant “Alan! Xirlax!” over and over again. There is not a single misstep in the whole room. This ritual has been performed before, enough times to ensure there are no mistakes.
Xirlax stares at the back of the cathedral room as the green blood drips to the stone platform floor.
After the first official visit of Alan, Stephlax retired to her chambers. The next day, or sun-cycle as the Lax Clan called them, she complained about feeling strange. One the second day, she was very ill and spots began to appear over her body. On the third sun-cycle, when welts and boils appeared in place of the spots, she was placed in quarantine. Xirlax offered to go into quarantine with her, but he was told that he would be needed to hold leadership. One the fourth day the boils began to burst, causing Stephlax to scream in agony, a howling wail that filled every room. She begged to be put out of her misery. Within a week, delirious from the fever, she tried to dash her head against the stone wall of the room. Though she injured herself, she was too weak to find the relief she sought. Xirlax was held back to stop him from running into the room to soothe her suffering. It was clear that this was not a normal illness, and exposing even one more person to these human germs would be disastrous. Within two weeks of Alan’s visit, Stephlax crawled into the corner of the room with her remaining strength, and never moved again. The Lax Clan waited a season-cycle and then entered in whatever protective clothing that could fabricate to enter and burn every trace of Stephlax, her body, and the germs away. The planet wept for the loss of their future queen.
The Lax Clan now knew that the human could hurt them with a ‘common’ sickness.
April 16, 2018
A sun-cycle’s ride from the massive stone cathedral is a building built to similar specifications, but on a much smaller scale. Each and every town on the planet of Laxaria has a comparable structure, built in homage to the original at the capital. Inside, there are still rows of the Lax Clan, chanting and thrusting their fists towards a small glass screen at the front of the building, which shows an image of the slow beating heart in the hand of Xirlax. Although this building holds perhaps only 1% of the creatures in the massive structure that Xirlax sits in, they are no less fervent in their devotion. Each moves in perfectly synchronicity, following motions that have been performed countless times again. The whole town is there. It’s an unspoken requirement of the Lax.
The only Lax who isn’t chanting with the crowd stands at the back of the building. He is leaning against the wall with his arms crossed against his chest, clothed in the same tattered cloth garment that the rest of them are, dyed deep brownish red. It is the unofficial uniform of the working classes, especially those who mine into the sand. Bright colours are highly sought on Laxaria, but can only be afforded by the very rich, as they can only be worn inside. Everything worn outside will eventually be stained the same colour as the sands.
With a silent sigh, the rebellious Lax lowers his arms to reveal a name tag clipped to his shirt, which states his name is ‘Fredlax’. He is disgusted by the mindless display of his fellow clanspeople. Unable to take anymore of the sight, he turns and exits the structure. No-lax tries to stop him. No-lax pays attention to him. They are too focused on the screen. As Fredlax strides away from the building, the wind eddies sand around his feet. He can hear the chanting continuing inside before it finally subsides. The ceremony is now over for another week. Time to go back to work.
Sickness was not a common occurrence on Laxaria. The Lax Clan are a sturdy, hard working people, and over the years illness has been all but bred out of them. Anyone who actually presented symptoms of being sick was sent into the desert, where their options were to get better and return, or to die and protect the townslax. The disease that humans know as chicken pox, mild in children but potentially dangerous already to human adults, was something that the modern mature aged Lax Clan body could not handle. The ordeal that Stephlax went through was proof enough of that.
After what happened to Stephlax, Xirlax’s advisors wanted him to attack, to pour their troops through the stone door portal and eradicate the humans. Xirlax wouldn’t allow it, he needed time to consider their next move. If a human still in their pupae stage could already wreck such devastation with a ‘common’ illness, then what could a mature aged human do with a more advanced sickness? The Lax Clan knew nothing of germ warfare, but they believed themselves to be under attack by the humans.
Xirlax ordered the stone door to be blocked. They would await to see what the human did.
A week before Christmas, Alan’s mother gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Jessica. Alan was not happy with this development. Suddenly she got all the attention. Whilst the family cooed over the baby, Alan slipped off to return to the cupboard. He had a bunch of alien friends who didn’t even know about the existence of Jessica. He was their only human friend.
When he passed through to the stone door, he found that he couldn’t move it. It was blocked from the outside, and he was left alone in the dark. He beat on the door, but it wouldn’t budge. He cried out for Xirlax. A short time later he was returned to his cupboard.
Alan tried multiple times over the next few months to get back to visit Xirlax, but every time the stone door was blocked. Alan became increasingly erratic. He beat at the stone door until his hands hurt, and he called out. He threatened to come back and make them wish they were his friends, he threatened to destroy them all. He shouted whatever he could think of to try and get someone to pay attention to him.
Xirlax, sitting on the other side of the stone door whilst Alan made his threats, had a big decision to make for the sake of his people. It seemed the human would not give up so easily.
April 16, 2018
That moon-cycle, on the day that Fredlax had become disillusioned to the ordeal his people were being put, everyone talked about the ritual. There was speculation around why Alan was refusing the Hearts of GaLAXxalag. The last time a similar thing happened, the human known as Lord Alan had asked a favour of the Lax.
“What do you think, Fredlax? Do you think we could become useful again?” Morlax, the closest thing that Fredlax had to a friend, slapped him on the back and made him spill his Laxarian Beer on the table. The Laxarian Beer was served to all workers to help them sleep at night. It was said that not to sleep inebriated would be to slumber in a half sleep, kept awake by the howls of the night sands. Well, Fredlax was sure it was just night sands. The Lax Clan believed that murderous creatures prowled the sands at night, hunting for any Lax who wasn’t protected or inside sleeping. The Lax Clan were incredibly superstitious creatures. The only differences to the myths were the types of creatures that prowled the night sands. Each region passed along a different story whispered to the young Lax to make them go to bed. Out near the capital, the night terrors were said to be sentient sand, carried on the wind down your throat to rip you apart from the inside and turn you into sand particles. Halfway around the planet, it was thought to be giant rabid Quin-Sloots, usually such a docile animal.
The rumour in Fredlax’s region concerned shooting stars and creatures from beyond the stars. It was said these creatures either hitched a ride with the stars or were encased inside of them, somehow suggesting that they had found a way to crack open stars and live inside of them. Different families in the town had their own variation on what these alien creatures looked like, but once Alan visited their world, the stories all started to agree like never before. Yes, the creatures were surely covered in cream coloured skin, a full head of hair and appeared more well fed than the Lax. A diet of wandering Lax would help any human retain their alien looks. No-one spoke the word ‘human’, but the stories usually agreed – that’s what the creatures wandering the sands looked like. Some thought that the creatures just couldn’t be captured, some thought that the Laxarian government was hiding their existence, whilst still further thought the creatures walked amongst them by learning how to camouflage themselves. Even though all of the Lax Clan knew that a single human could mean the destruction of their entire world, it was still a fun myth to be passed around.
Fredlax didn’t hold much faith in superstitions. He was beginning to see the world as it truly was, and he didn’t like the Lax Clan sitting under the yoke of a single human. Their leader put more store in pleasing the human than caring for his people. Fredlax wanted the other Lax to see, to open their minds in the way that his had been opened. But how to make an entire planet see the truth, right in front of their face the whole time but completely missed by the masses, at least since the human made them his slaves.
“I think we are already useful, and we don’t need a stupid human to prove it” hissed Fredlax at Morlax. Morlax reached out and clasped his blue bony hand against Fredlax’s mouth as the teeth rattled.
“Quiet, Fredlax. You know we try to live a life of peace with the human. A single drop of his fluids and it could infect us all!”
Morlax waited until they were outside the hut before he released his hand on his friend.
“We should take control! We should fight back!” blurted out Fredlax in a loud whisper. He believed what he said with every muscle in his body, but he still lacked the strength to speak the truth at more than a whisper to his friend.
“You yourself know that you wouldn’t succeed. Why else would you take in hushed tones, like the morning winds over the dunes?” Morlax slapped him on the back, in an attempt to diffuse this sort of treasonous conversation.
“Maybe it’s time to do something. Maybe it’s no longer time to follow.”
“You know the Lax Clan are made for work, made for orders. Only Xirlax is given the ability to make decisions, and he makes them for all Lax-kind.”
“Well maybe that’s about to change.” Fredlax stormed off towards his cabin.
“Hey, Fred! You’re in no state to try and sleep through the night!” called his friend. Fredlax waived him off. Morlax watched him until his cup was empty, and then joined the others to get more Laxarian beer.
That night, Fredlax got hardly any sleep as he listened to the whistling of the desert night winds. In his head, he was scheming a plan.
Once a planet cycle, a new brood of Lax Clan are birthed. During the mating season, the female Lax Clan take their single blue glowing egg, about the size of a grapefruit or a lawn bowl, and place it in the birthing cave overseen by the town elder. Then, in order of eldest and wisest, the male Lux Clan take turns in the birthing cave to try and fertilise as many eggs as they can. Once all of the males of the town have been through this ritual, the same is offered to visiting male Lax. A single egg is removed by the elder, who checks to make sure it has been fertilised. The remaining eggs are covered in desert sand, and the birthing cave is sealed until the newborn Lax Clan are strong enough to free themselves. The single egg removed by the elder is then delivered to the capital as a sign that the mating ritual of that region has been completed successfully. The egg is then buried in the royal birthing cave along with the eggs brought from all regions. When they hatch and free themselves, these pupae stage Lax are known as the Children of Xirlax. Their lives are very different from the lives of the ordinary working class Lax Clan. From the moment they emerge from the birthing cave, they are held up to a higher standard – trained in the arts of self defence and killing, but also raised in the opulence of luxury. They are trained in the sciences as well as governing. They are tested through treks out into the harsh desert, but when they return they are hailed as champions. The Children of Lax are also required to travel all over the planet as emissaries of Xirlax.
Being a Child of Xirlax comes with its downfalls as well. The Lax Clan see the heart as the seat of all power and energy within their bodies – it is the organ that converts the elements of the planet into the will and actions of that particular Lax Clan. A Lax that falls to the swirling sands will have their heart removed so that it can be delivered to the family for burial.
Once a week, a Child of Xirlax is selected, and the ritual of GaLAXxalag begins. The selected Lax Clan member is bathed as per an ancient receipe in a mixture of desert sand, Laxarian spices and the milk of the noble Xaxaxax (which looks like the body of a cow with an elephant trunk where the head would normally be. On the end of the elephant-like trunk stalk is a small head, which is often held aloft like the head of a giraffe. The creature is covered in a pelt of a wool like material that keeps the creature warm during the cold desert night, but which falls off in the morning to keep the creature cool. The hair-wool is harvested for the Lax Clan’s clothing, but the milk is jet black and causes hallucinations if drunk).
The acolyte of GaLAXxalag is then brought before Xirlax, who embraces them and thanks them for their sacrifice. In front of the entire planet, the GaLAXxalag lays on the beautiful, blood stained marble dais, where Xirlax will stand above them and use his razor like claws to slice open the chest cavity before severing and removing the heart of the selected GaLAXxalag. The bodies of the GaLAXxalag are said to still have a faint smile on their lips, as they accept the purpose their entire life has led towards. The removed organ, know as the Heart of GaLAXxalag, still beats with an unnatural energy even though the host body has died, and will continue to do so until it is consumed. The continuous beating is said to represent the resilience of the Lax Clan, the heart of the planet, and the pattern of the desert sands. The Lax Clan present the Heart to warriors deserving of the honour, who eats it whole. It is believed that the heart contains the power of the GaLAXxalag, which through consumption is then bestowed on the devourer. If no sufficient members have been nominated for the honour, then the Heart of GaLAXxalag is usually consumed by Xirlax, to increase his power and strength for the whole planet.
Until Alan threatened their world.
It may seem like a cruel custom, but the Lax Clan see it as a journey, the same as any life cycle. Most of the Children of Xirlax will have their heart removed to satiate another’s desire for power. But for one, they will never see the ritual of GaLAXxalag.
For when the old leader dies, through an intricate ritual, one of the Children of Xirlax becomes the new leader.
A week after Alan threatened the Lax Clan, his cupboard blinked with bright light. Alan was sitting playing on his laptop, but he closed it in excitement as the cupboard door opened.
There stood Xirlax. Holding a beating heart.
“Ew” said Alan. “What’s that?”
“Lord Alan,” started Xirlax, hating himself with every word but hoping that his actions would save his people, “we present to you the Heart of GaLAXxalag. It is our highest honour. I bring this heart for you to consume, so that you may draw upon the power of our mightiest warriors and smartest scientists.”
“What?” Alan’s face scrunched up as he tried to understand, but to Xirlax it looked like he was getting ready to spit on him. He steeled himself to stop from flinching. If this sun-cycle was to be the sun-cycle that he became infected, he would not give the human the benefit of seeing any weakness.
“I bring you an offering of peace. We wish to have a peaceful alliance.”
“And the thing in your hand?”
“The Heart of GaLAXxalag. You consume it and absorb the might and will of our greatest specimens. It is an ancient ceremony that dates back to the dawn of my people.”
“Oh, right.” Alan wasn’t sure what was going on, but he liked the thought of someone treating him like a leader. “And what do I do with it?”
“You, um. You eat it, Lord Alan.”
‘Lord Alan?’ thought the young human boy. ‘I like the way that sounds.’ But he wasn’t going to eat a disgusting heart just for a name.
“Um, sure. Yeah. Look, I’ve just eaten. But I’ll totally eat it. Later. Just not now.”
“The Heart of GaLAXxalag is juicier and more ripe with the fluids of its host the fresher it is.”
“I’m sure it is mate. But I’m not hungry. Look, I’ll put it in the fridge. It’ll keep until I’m hungry.”
“As you wish, Lord Alan. I’m sure you have technology that will improve upon our ritual.” Xirlax tried to keep the sarcasm from his voice. He knew he held the future of his race in his hand here, literally, but the impudence of this human, thinking he knew the best time to consume the Heart of GaLAXxalag!
Alan moved to the mini fridge in his room. Usually it was filled with soda, but it was currently empty until his mum got back from doing the shopping. He pulled a plastic bag from the floor and wrapped the heart in it. It was still beating. He could FEEL it. He dumped it on the top shelf of the fridge and closed it before turning back to Xirlax.
“So, we’re friends now, right?” He wiped his hands on his jeans. He was sure he hadn’t got any green on him, but it still felt like he could feel the beating thing in his hands. God, aliens were gross.
“Friends. Yes. We are yours to friend as you see fit.”
“Sweet.” Xirlax was lucky that he didn’t see the glint in the eye of the young boy.
On the day of his sister Jessica’s first birthday, Alan was in a foul mood. Not only was Alan being teased and picked on at school, but his sister was getting all the attention from his parents. Now his parents just kept telling him over and over again about how he needed to be a ‘good boy’. He hated being a good boy. Being a good boy got him picked on at school. Being a good boy meant no-one noticed him at home. Being a good boy sucked. So he lashed out and pushed his hand into Jessica’s birthday cake to express the rage building up inside of him. He was sent to his room until he was a ‘good boy’ again. Jessica was laughing as he walked past, but Alan didn’t realise it was because she was entertained by his actions. He thought she was laughing at him. Like everyone at school did.
He went to his room and wished his sister wasn’t around anymore.
The cupboard flashed and the door swung open. There stood Xirlax, holding another heart. For the past month, Alan had been in such a mood that he couldn’t even be bothered to accept the hearts that Xirlax brought him. The thought of going through the motions of pretending he would eat the heart later and sticking it in the fridge just made him angrier. He moved the accepted hearts down into the old fridge in the basement, the one usually used for Christmas. He would have to throw out the ones currently in there before the family Christmas preparations began for the year.
A month earlier, Alan had found out that his father was storing beer in the old fridge down in the basement. It turned out that the hearts were somehow contaminating the beer. Thinking the hearts were some sort of science project that had gotten into his beer, his father made Alan throw out every single one.
Today he whacked Xirlax’s hand and the heart flew across the room. It hit the door with a wet squelching noise and slid to the ground.
“I don’t want your damn hearts, Xirlax!” He threw himself under the covers of his bed.
Xirlax, sensing that a human in a temper may do things that he may regret later, like genocide of an entire planet of loyal beings, sat on the edge of the bed. He cleaned his hand on his robe and reached out to remove the pillow from the head of the young boy.
“Alan, tell me what causes you such distress. We are friends, remember.”
“Yeah, the only friend I have is an alien.”
“Some people would consider that lucky.”
“I’m not lucky.”
“If I can do anything to alleviate your mood, then I and my people are at your service”
Alan sat up in the bed, an evil smile starting to form on his lips. There was a glint in his eye, but this time Xirlax did notice it.
“You’ll do anything to help me?”
“Of course, Lord Alan. We would not want to evoke your wrath.”
“I want you to get rid of my sister.”
“As you wish. Take me to her and I will slice..”
“No!” Alan recoiled in horror. “I don’t want you to kill her. I just want you to remove her. Take her to your planet.”
“No!” Xirlax hoped that the boy hadn’t noticed how nervous he was at the prospect. Suggesting that they take a human back to Laxaria. Was he threatening them? “Lord Alan, that would not be possible. My world is no fit place for a human.” ‘or their deadly germs’ thought Xirlax.
“Then shoot her into space. I don’t care. You need to do this. Today!”
“As you wish. I will return when I have a solution.”
Xirlax returned to his people with a worried expression. He called for the greatest minds on the planet to join him at the capital. The Lax Clan were not a space faring people, there was no desire amongst them to leave the safety of their dust strewn planet. However they did have the technology to send probes up into the atmosphere, to test for dust storms and prepare for extreme changes in weather.
Lord Alan didn’t want his sister to be harmed, so Xirlax and his scientists built a ship using all of their best technology – sun shields and weather resistance, shock absorbers that would keep the cockpit safe while the craft rattled around in space. The Lax Clan had never built a spaceship, and couldn’t guarantee that the ship would actually survive the depths of space, but they realised that if it looked like it could, then that should please Lord Alan. They even placed an air recycler, usually used by miners who went on extended trips to mine resources from the ground. The sister wouldn’t last forever in such a craft, but as long as she lasted long enough for Lord Alan to see her disappear safely, then Xirlax figured they were pretty safe. Once the ship was in space, it was no longer part of their purview. The sister would be out of Lord Alan’s view, the Lax Clan would have fulfilled their promise, and everything that happened afterwards… well, if the ship should break up in the atmosphere and the sister of Lord Alan suffocated in the depths of space – that was nothing to do with the Lax Clan. Secretly, to Xirlax, one less human sounded like a good premise.
Xirlax, as leader, decided to undertake the mission. How could he ask a member of the Lax Clan to put themselves in such danger? The Lax Clan did not know it, but Xirlax did not care if he fell sick to the human’s diseases. He figured that to die in the same manner as his betrothed may mean that he would one sun-cycle see Stephlax again.
A week after the initial request, at a time when the next Ritual of GaLAXxalag would have started, the ship was ready. It was displayed to the Lax Clan as both a demonstration of the Lax Clan’s might and ingenuity, but also as a symbol of their resilience and importance in the life of the human, Lord Alan.
With the makeshift spacecraft strapped to his back, Xirlax stepped into the portal.
A week after Jessica’s first birthday party, Alan’s mood had subsided. He still felt angry most of the time, but he felt angry at everyone, not just his sister. He was most angry at his parents these days. Jessica cried for most of her party, and that made Alan secretly happy. He figured that eventually he could train his younger sister to hate the parents too. Perhaps they could be allies eventually.
Alan returned from the bathroom after brushing his teeth for the night with his new Spider-man toothbrush. His parents bought it for him to allay some of his temper, and it was working in some small part. He noticed as he walked passed Jessica’s room that she was finally silent. She must have fallen asleep.
When he got back to his room, he switched off the light and the room was illuminated in the glow of the outside street lamps. He went to close the curtains of his windows so that he could sleep, when his eye caught a glint of metal in his front yard. He could see someone moving down there, dragging something heavy. As his vision adjusted, he made out the hunched over figure of that ugly creature Xirlax. He seemed to be dragging what appeared to be a metal ball about half his size. Xirlax looked up and saw Alan staring down from his bedroom window. He turned the craft around and prepared it for launch. When it was finally ready, he pulled up the heat shield so that the boy could confirm that the request was being fulfilled.
Alan could see Jessica encased in the metal ball, and was reminded of the demand he had screamed at the alien in a fit of rage just before her birthday party. Part of him wanted to race out and stop the stupid alien, but he didn’t move. Part of him still wanted this, and the mix of confusion, terror and delight caused the 9 year old boy to stay planted where he was. Jessica was crying in the craft, but he couldn’t hear anything from where he stood. In fact, due to the sound dampeners and the robust outer hull, Xirlax couldn’t hear Jessica crying either. With a flourish of his hand, he presented the encased Jessica for Alan to see. When the boy made no further movement, Xirlax took that as his consent. As he closed the heat shield, the crying infant disappeared from view. Xirlax long, bony finger reached out and pressed the final button on the launch sequence. He scurried away as fast of his decrepit limbs would take him and dived into the bushes beside the house to hide.
As Alan stood there, he watch the boosters glow red hot. There was no fire, like with Earth rockets. Just a build up of energy, followed by a short, loud pop, like a rubber band being released, flicked through the air, and the craft launched directly into the atmosphere. Alan watched it speed out of view until it was a speck in the sky, and finally it disappeared completely. Down in the front yard was a small patch of scorched earth where the craft sat seconds before. He was shaken back to reality by the sound of the alien entering his room and closing the door.
“It is done, Lord Alan. We are friends?”
Alan stared at him in disbelief. He couldn’t think properly. What 9 year old boy could comprehend sending his younger sister into the wastes of space? Worse still was the part of him that still actually wanted it to happen, that was glad it was done.
“Yes.” He said quietly. It took all of his remaining energy to form the word.
Xirlax nodded. There seemed an understanding between the two now, that they were both embroiled in the same atrocity. Without another word, he entered the cupboard and returned home. As the cupboard flash subsided, his mother frantically burst into the room.
“Alan, have you seen Jessica? She isn’t in her cot.”
Alan, slowly becoming more twisted adult than innocent child, shook his head.
The years since Jessica’s disappearance become difficult for Alan, as he learned to control his emotions. When he finally realised the enormity of exactly what he had done, he would burst into tears at the smallest reminder or provocation. His parents assumed he was crying over the loss of his sister, and never suspected that he had anything to do with her disappearance, though internet sleuths assumed that the whole family were in on it. His parents were trying to keep a brave face for Alan’s sake, but the stress and the rumours were getting to both of them. The loss of their daughter affected them both deeply, as it would any parent. The police didn’t find any evidence except for the scorched patch in the front lawn, and Alan never told them anything. Even in the deepest midst of his guilt, he didn’t admit what he knew. Partly because he knew no-one would believe him, partly because he was worried he would be sent to jail, but also partly because he wanted to keep the portal to the alien world secret. It was his secret. He didn’t want anyone else to know.
As Alan grew older, he learnt to control his emotions, and the sympathy from the kids at school made school life not as bad. The bullies found someone else to pick on. Alan mainly kept to himself and his thoughts. His thoughts of the entire world that he controlled. Where a single sentence, said in anger but not really meant, could be taken out of context and have dire repercussions for the people around him. Alan felt like Aladdin, where he could make wishes but they would have unforeseen consequences.
The week after Jessica was sent into space, Alan took the Heart of GaLAXxalag from Xirlax with his bare hands. He was still disgusted by the slimy, warm thing. He had no intentions of eating it, and he still placed it in the fridge, but he wanted Xirlax to see exactly how much he had grown.
How much Xirlax should fear him.
May 12th, 2018
Xirlax read the note brought to him by one of the letter bearers. There was unrest in one of the colonies. Thankfully not a full on rebellion, not yet. Just a single Lax Clan making noise, speaking to the workers about the current status quo. This impetuous Lax Clan would need to be taught a lesson. They would need to be shown what life was really life.
Xirlax issued the order to have Fredlax brought to the capital.
May 13th, 2018
The sun beat down on the small stone square. There was a small crowd gathered, but they weren’t there because they believed in what the young Lax was talking about. They were there to watch a youngster lose his mind slowly. They were there to laugh and jeer.
Fredlax didn’t care for the reasons why they were there. He spoke to them as if they really wanted to be there, in the hopes that at least one of the group was listening. Just pretending to join in the hostilities towards him. Maybe they could start a secret revolution.
“We should fight back!” he yelled into the crowd, over the voices yelling back at him, “We should live our lives for ourselves!”
“Ha, stupidity!” called forth one of the older Lax in a voice that travelled over the crowd and caused them to quieten. “Rituals and tradition are what they are. Whether we live for ourselves or live under the love of the human. It doesn’t matter to the common Lax. We will continue to live as we always have.”
“Don’t you want a leader who cares more about the Lax Clan than the whims of some other race?”
“Oh, now we see what you’re up to. Might that leader you suggest… be you?”
Fredlax spluttered. He hadn’t thought of it like that, but if they brought down Xirlax, then who would be leader? Surely they could do worse than Fredlax?
The older Lax started laughing, and the rest of the crowd joined in.
“I’m an old Lax. Might end up being an elder, one sun-cycle. I’m not going to join your desire to go up against Xirlax. Him or you, it’s all the same in the end.”
He walked away, still chuckling to himself, and the others slowly start to disperse. There was a difference between fun and treason. Fredlax stood down from the box that he’d set up as a small podium, and went the opposite way to the crowd. He entered the backstreets, dark even in the middle of the sun-cycle, and less hot than the main streets. There was also less chance he would run into anyone. Or so he thought. As he turned a sharp corner, he almost ran into a hooded, hunched over figure. The figure pulled back the hood and Fredlax gasped in surprise.
“Quiet boy, you may be being watched. I suspect that the capital will come to collect you any sun-cycle soon.”
“Why would the capital care…”
“Xirlax will have a chat with you. The same way the previous one chatted with me. When I tried to start up my rebellion.”
Elder Brolax motioned for him to follow, and then opened a door dead in front of them. Inside was a small room, lit by candles in all four corners.
“Yes, boy. Back when I was young, we didn’t have to contend with a human lording over us, but I do believe that we should be forging a better path for our species than what we currently do. Imagine if we could go out into the stars and find a planet rich in resources. We could elevate our entire way of life. But our reasons do not matter. We both believe that there is a better life that the Lax Clan should be following.”
“I agree.” Deep down, Fredlax was stunned. To find a fellow dissenting person so high up to the top! An elder was seen as the protector of the town, and the one who upheld the law of Xirlax.
“Then I have something I must show you. The biggest secret of the Lax Clan. I doubt even Xirlax knows about it. You must come with me. It will take two complete sun-cycle’s ride, but what you will see will change the course of Lax Clan history.”
May 20th, 2018
Xirlax looked down at Fredlax, standing in front of him with his arms bound. They found him, eventually, riding back into his town. Obviously out trying to spread ‘the word’.
“They tell me your name is Fredlax.”
“That is correct.” Xirlax removed himself from the stone throne, and walked down the stairs towards the bound Lax.
“Tell me, child, what is the purpose of your revolution? What are you hoping to achieve? Do you have desires to be the new Xir? Would you like my position?” Fredlax was silent, glaring at Xirlax. “You don’t understand. With the impetuousness of youth, you think you understand the world much clearer than those around you. You think others have just become complacent, that they have love their youthful drive. The same desire that causes us to fight and struggle and push to leave our birthing caves, you think we who have lived longer than you have lost this.”
Fredlax said nothing, but his head dropped so he was looking at the ground. Xirlax took that as a sign of consent. “You think my life is so much better than yours. You think I spend my time having fun? When I became Xir, they stripped me of my name. It was discarded and replaced with the title of Xir, so that I would remember that I am but a vessel of the entire planet and every Lax Clan who lives upon it. I do not remember the name given to me by the elders. I do not remember the town where I was hatched, or the possible mature Lax who may have been my mother or father. My past was ripped away from me, to create a bright new future for all Lax. You, like so many before you, think that I am the only one who can make decisions. That might be true. But oh, what terrible decisions I must make.”
Fredlax’s head snapped up with fierce determination. “I’m sure it was really difficult to give you your entire race to a single human. I bet you thought long and hard about saving your own neck!” He was yelling as the Xirlax stood there calmly.
“The human. What a decision I had to make about that. Do you think I like this arrangement? Do you think I enjoy bowing down to a creature such as that? Do you think that I like to lick the sand from the feet of the one who killed my betrothed. I have spent my entire life alone, with a partner, with my precious Stephlax because of that creature. I wish I could rip the human’s heart from his chest cavity and feast upon it. I dream about ripping the human limb from puny limb while he squeals in pain. But I cannot make a decision that will benefit only me. I made a decision that protects all Lax Clan. I made a decision to bow at a time when I felt least like bowing, to save our entire race. Tell me you could do that. Tell me you could put your people before yourself, and I would call you a liar. No Lax may consider such a position until they are faced with it themselves. If you want to go up against a creature whose very body fluid is poisonous to us, then so be it. One commonplace illness of the human killed the one Lax that I was to spend my entire life cycle with. I have stared death in the face more times than you could count. I may seem weak on the outside, but I could rip you limb from limb to show my power if I so choose.
“Then do it!” Fredlax raced up and stuck his face into Xirlax’s. The guards nearby started towards him, but Xirlax waved them off. He let out a laugh as he looked down at the young Lax’s steaming face.
“You are stupid, boy. You do not know how the world is run.”
“I know enough to make my own decisions. I know enough to bring you down.”
“What could you possibly know?”
“I know the biggest secret in all of Laxaria. And I know that that secret is ready to be shared with you. I know that you will tremble at the sight of it. And you will understand that we can make our owns decisions. Come with me. To the outskirts of the capital. By my calculations, my friend should be ready.”
Xirlax rode with Fredlax to the outskirts of the capital. Xirlax rode without his advisors, without his guards. He knew how to handle himself.
They reached a small hut nowhere near any other buildings. The elder of Fredlax’s town stood guard, but waved to Fredlax to acknowledge his arrival.
“Elder,” stated Xirlax as he neared and saw the mark on his clothing. “Shouldn’t you be attending your duties?”
“I felt this was more important at the moment, Xirlax.”
Fredlax stood to the opposite side of the door, and he and the elder held back the reeds that hung down as the door. Xirlax ducked to enter.
“If this is a trap, I will have both of your heads” he mumbled as he entered the hut to pitch black. The reeds fell back into position, and even the light from outside was extinguished.
“No trap here” came a thin, reedy voice from the darkness. “I have waited so long to meet you, Xirlax.”
There was a spark and a flash of light as a candle was lit. The figure appeared to be older, much older than Xirlax. Her skin was a pale blue but the flickering light showed patches that appeared to be cream in colour. Surely this was the light of the candle playing tricks with his eyes. She placed the candle on a small metal circle, pushing it up into a glass structure connected to the roof. The light was refracted and illuminated the room. Now that Xirlax could see the female better, he could see that there were indeed patches of cream amongst her blue skin. Her arms appeared plumper than his, less bone like. A full head of silvery white hair flowed down her forehead, over her ears until it touched her shoulders.
“Who are you?” Xirlax was suddenly scared.
“Who do you think I am?”
“Yes, I believe that I am. I had my suspicions from the start, when I was old enough to realise they were dying my skin blue with powder to hide me away. By the time I was a teenager and started developing breasts, I was forced to hide in huts whilst others played outside. I would help out by peeling ground berries, or crafting new clothes for the workers. I knew myself to be very different to others, that my body didn’t work like a normal Lax Clan. When I caught a glimpse of the human boy, I recognised something about him. Though our bodies were slightly different, I recognised that we were both from the same species.”
“And you have never been sick?”
“Oh, I’ve been sick many times. A lot more recently. I fear I don’t have too much time left, which is why I asked the elder to fetch for you.
“You can’t be human then. A single sick human would wipe out this entire planet.”
“I’ve heard the stories, seen the visit of the sick human. I have never had the same spots on my skin. I don’t think I have ever contracted the disease that he had.”
“What are you saying?”
“I imagine that whatever he was sick with was a particularly nasty disease, or didn’t play nice with our, sorry, with your, DNA.”
“Why have you never come forward?”
“Oh, the few townspeople who knew wouldn’t allow it. Not once you were on your tirade. Not once you submitted your will to the boy. And I wasn’t sure. There’s no time left for me to be unsure anymore.”
“And now you come to make a mockery of me.”
“That was never my intention. You see, there is more than one reason why I couldn’t reveal myself. I feared that your people would not understand. That you might not understand.”
“What would I not understand? That humans are barbaric, stupid creatures?”
“Oh, I would say that for a human, you’ve done pretty well for yourself, son.”
Xirlax felt like the strongest soldier in the army had just punched him in the guts, before his anger raced back in. How dare this, this, this human!
“How dare you!”
“You don’t believe me, I understand. You’re only half human. Your father was the previous Xir. When I reached womanhood, and it was obvious that I wasn’t a true Lax Clan, one of my protectors reached out the Xir at the time. He came to see me. I was never really attracted to the Lax before, I was too worried about what I was. But the way your father came in and took control. It was magnetic. He was also so soft. He ensured I would be taken care of until he could decide if they could risk trying to send me home. But it was already too late. We were infatuated. He started visiting regularly, week after week. I showed him my naked body and he showed me his. Neither of us was disgusted by the other, though he knew that I was different to the other females he had seen naked. I didn’t know any different. I just knew I wasn’t like the other females. That night he fertilised me, though it took weeks before I realised it. When he found out, he told me that he couldn’t see me anymore. He needed to look after the planet and his people. I told him that I was one of his people, but it didn’t help. When you were born, you made such a mess of my insides. I almost died, but thankfully the healers were able to patch me up enough again to live. I could never bear children again, but I was alive. I kept you in the hut I called home, until you were old enough to start recognising me. It was astounding, how much you looked like your father. There really were no human attributes about you. Except for an aura. People could just feel that you were different. They listened to you, even at such a young age. So you were smuggled up to the capital, and mixed into the Children of Xirlax. I have heard that the moment your father set eyes on you, that he smiled. It was almost as if he knew. I’d like to think that he did. I’d like to think that’s why he made you the new Xirlax.” She coughed into her hand.
“It’s said that when you become the new Xirlax, you have your name taken from you. So that you become the speaker of the people. Tell me, do you still remember your name, Stevelax?”
Xirlax was speechless. He had dreamed of finally figuring out what his previous name was, but never imagined it happening like this. He didn’t know what to say. Could the human woman be trusted? She had been hiding amongst them for many planet cycles. She could be a grand forgery by these simple mining folk. He could destroy everything here and no-one would never know.
Except that he would know. He knew deep inside that what she told him was true. There was no faltering in her story, except when age slowed her words. What she said was pure and true.
Xirlax himself was half human. Not only that, he spent part of his mature stage of life being afraid of a human, his half kin. He had spent the past few planet cycles thinking that a single infection could destroy his people, when it seemed that it wouldn’t have even harmed him.
“How did you end up on this planet? Is there another portal?”
“Not that I know of. I need to show you something.” She moved to the corner of the room, where something was covered in a cloth tarp. “The stories they tell, of people falling from the sky? Well, sometimes they come true.”
She pulled back the cloth tarp, and Xirlax felt like someone had slapped him across the face. What he saw, couldn’t be possible. There was no way that it was true. This woman was so old, this woman was Xirlax’s mother. So then how…
Xirlax reached into the cracked heat shield of the small spherical ship. Inside was an item of clothing, a single piece of cloth. It was a pinkish hue not seen in many clothes on Laxaria.
The tag inside the clothing said “Jessica”.
Xirlax turned back to the woman. “It can’t be!”
“Apparently it is to be. When I was found, no-one had any idea what the craft was that I was found in. As the planet-cycles went on, the people looking after me would sometimes come home, excitedly talking about new technology that had been developed, that looked like a part of my ship. Had I somehow travelled from the future? One or two Lax liked the idea that I wasn’t a different species, that I was a Lax Clan from the future, where our skin was no longer pale blue and food was plentiful enough that laxkind started to fatten up. Then there was the sun-cycle when they unveiled the ship that you were going to take to the human’s planet. The ship you were going to use to get rid of the boy’s sister. We couldn’t believe it, just like you couldn’t believe it now. It was the very same ship.”
Xirlax spent what little time they had left with his mother, but that evening she passed away peacefully, having finally met the son she had watched growing up from afar. They organised a secret ceremony to bury Xirlax’s mother, Alan’s sister Jessica. Xirlax left Fredlax and the elder, who were both told the truth of who Jessica was, to conduct the ceremony as he rode off, back to the capital.
Xirlax had one thing left to do.
Xirlax pushed open the cupboard door. Alan turned and noticed him standing there.
“Ah, Xirlax, I have a little errand I need you to run.” Alan was surprised when Xirlax walked towards him. He noticed that the alien didn’t have the customary heart in his hands. Alan had been slowly building up the courage to give one a taste, if they truly believed it would bring him power.
“What are you..” The words were cut off in Alan’s throat as Xirlax slashed out with a single finger. A small incision was made on the teenager’s throat, and he gurgled as he brought his hands up to his throat to stop the blood flow. Xirlax grabbed the boy’s shoulder and held him upright, bringing his face close to Alan’s ear.
“My dear Lord Alan,” Xirlax spat in his face, “It turns out I should no longer be afraid of you. And this time, you really have brought this on yourself” Alan’s eyes went wide with surprise before Xirlax plunged his razor sharp nails into the boy’s chest cavity and pulled out his heart. He left go and the body fell to the floor as the teenagers eyes swam to the back of his head. It began to rain outside. Seconds later, the heart in his hand stopped beating and was still.
“Typical” spurt out Xirlax, before he brought the hand up to his mouth. As a peal of lightning flashed, illuminating the bedroom, he tipped his head back and felt the human muscle slide down his throat. The taste could never compare to the hearts back on his home world. It tasted slightly of death, as if the human flesh was already starting to decay. Other than that, it tasted like any other meat. Nothing special.
Disappointed, Xirlax turned back and entered the cupboard. As the light started to grow brighter, a fit of rage hit him and he thrust out his arms, smashing and splintering the wood of the cupboard.
Alan’s parents came home later that afternoon to find their only remaining child, brutally murdered in his room. They were never to know that the murder was the consequence of their first child going missing. They just thought they were being cruelly dealt a bad hand by fate by losing both of their children to mysterious circumstances.
The ensuing investigation never turned up anything concrete. The police were baffled. There were theories – mostly around the destroyed cupboard found at the scene of the crime. Murder story fans sought out pieces of the wood like sick souvenirs. The theories flew fast and furious, from murderous government assassins to an elaborate scheme gone awry. No-one ever stood in that exact space for long enough for the tear in space to take them to the planet of Laxaria.
Alan’s mother, wracked with guilt and sorrow, soon passed away from a broken heart. His father, who was already starting to slide into alcoholism, soon stepped in front of a train, unable to live his life without his family.
Thus ends the wrath of Lord Alan.
Back on Laxaria, Fredlax was waiting for him.
“It is done” intoned Xirlax.
“We can live for ourselves now.”
“You can. I have no energy left. I leave this world to you, Fredlax.”
“I no longer want it. Not without your help.”
“I don’t understand…” When Fredlax knelt before the Xirlax and licked at the fingers that still dripped with human blood, Xirlax understood well enough. The two had shared a lot in the past sun-and-moon-cycle. A certain kinship. A fire that burned deep inside of both of them. A spirit that connected them. They weren’t really that different, the two of them, when you thought about it.
Xirlax’s heart, so quickly ready to run cold now that all of this was over, sparked back into life at the thought of finally ruling with someone by his side. The thoughts of Stephlax still stung, but then Fredlax would never replace her. Fredlax and Xirlax would bring something new.
A new age of Laxaria.
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