THE GALACTIC HEALERS

Bradley Sides

            From my bedroom window, I watched them descend on our highest hilltop. Their spaceship looked like the setting sun—slow and sure, but the sun had a habit of fading. Their vessel did not. It still glowed in the evening sky as it sat perched above us all.

            My heart danced in my chest.

            My prayers had been heard.

            I leapt from my desk and ran toward them.

            “Healers! Healers!” I cried.

            I didn’t stop for shoes. Or even for a shirt. I sprinted out the front door.

            My legs burned as I climbed the hill. Jagged rocks cut the soles of my bare feet. My breaths came quickly and with sharp pains. Still, though, I ran. I didn’t stop until I stood at the spaceship’s door.

#

            “Healers!” I called, gasping. “It’s Lian! I’m the one who prayed you here!”

            The spaceship shook as the engine died. The door lowered with a soft rumble. Out they stepped. A dozen slender, soaring bodies with translucent skin stepped onto the earth’s scorched floor. The same brains. The same lungs. They, too, had hearts pumping blood throughout their bodies.

            I moved to welcome them, but a hand grabbed my shoulder and threw me onto the ground.

            “Go home,” my father said. “Go home now.” His voice was quiet, but angry. He didn’t blink as he looked down at me.

            “It’s because of me that they are here,” I explained. “I prayed them here.” I planted my hands on the ground and sprouted back to life, brushing off the dirt that clung to my body.

            “You are a child, Lian. You don’t know anything.”

            My father stepped toward me, but another foot moved at the same time. My father paused. We both looked up and saw one of the healers. It extended an arm and pointed at me–at the bright crimson trail that began at my ear and ran down my neck. The healer took another step toward me, but my father stepped between us.   

            “Don’t!” my father commanded at the healer. “Don’t lay a finger on my boy. He’s sick.”

            The other remaining adults appeared behind my father. Stoically, they stood. Some flexed their arms. Others cracked their knuckles.

            They didn’t last a night before they demanded to go inside the spaceship.

            I followed them.

           

#

            Inside, the largest healer cocked its head toward me. Its eyes questioning, but kind.

            “It will be okay,” I said, reassuringly.

            It looked away and turned its attention to the adults, who explored the blooming landscape along the spaceship’s vibrant floor.

            Greens and yellows filled the spaceship. Water flowed along the strange vessel’s walls. Birds floated from one blossoming flower to another. Giant plum blooms swayed among the flutter of the various creatures’ wings.

            “It’s like in the books,” I said to my father.

            “Hush, Lian!” he said.

            “Why do you beasts have such extravagances? Did you take them from us? Is that why our earth is dying?”

            The healers remained silent, looking from themselves to the adults.

            “They are here to help us,” I said from the corner of the ship. “They are our saviors.”

            The adults grunted. A few chuckled.

            “Help us what?” my father asked.

            “Help us get well,” I replied.

            As soon as I said it, I felt the familiar feeling return. I touched my ears and looked down at my hands. The blood covered my fingers.

            My father grabbed my soaked hands, and he rubbed them until the blood covered him just the same.

    “Does it look like you are well?” He grabbed my neck and turned it so that I was forced to see the blood. “Does it?” he yelled. “These aliens aren’t healers. They’re thieves. Murderers. They are here to finish us off. Why can’t you understand that?”

I bit my lip and stared at him. Tears rolled down my face.

“Go home, Lian,” he said.

So, I turned toward the exit and walked.

#

A healer stood at the door with one of the purple flowers that sprouted from the spaceship’s floor and broke it in half. The gooey insides dripped from the stem, but the healer cupped the remains into its hands.

The healer looked at my father and held out its palm. “It’s okay,” I said.

My father remained still, willing to see proof of the miracle I touted.

The healer moved to the ground and pulled me beside it. It crossed its legs and brought me into its hold. It slathered the flower’s juice on my ear.

My body quivered at the surprising coolness of its hands—and of the tingling that came from the sap.

There were no mirrors in the spaceship, but there didn’t have to be for me to know that the bleeding had stopped.

#

            My father ran to me, and, for the first time in years, he held me. “Your ears!” he cried. “You’re not bleeding!” He turned to the adults. “He’s not bleeding!” he repeated. Tears dampened his cheeks as he cried inside the healers’ spaceship.

            He grabbed his sleeve and wiped his face. “Give me the flowers,” he mumbled. But his voice soon, like always, found its footing. “Give me the flowers,” he said. “Give me all of the flowers!”

            The healers looked at him, unaware of the meaning of his words.

            He pointed to the flowers and then to himself. Quickly. Angrily. He repeated his motions.

            The healers chirped and twirled circular movements to one another. Then, they nodded.

            They bent toward the floor and plucked all of the blooming flowers on their spaceship and handed them to my father.

            He stuffed them into his pockets so tightly that some of the stems busted open. The medicine ran down his legs and onto the floor. Wasted forever. Gone.

            “I have to protect him,” he said. “My boy is the only one left.”

He went to the door, and he lead us back to our homes.

#

            I prayed all night. That they wouldn’t give up on us. That they would stay. That they would help us. That we would be okay.

#

            I found them outside the next morning. They were working in the ashy dirt that used to be our harvesting field.

            They saw me watching them from behind the glass, so they signaled me over.

            They pointed to the ground and began their precise movements. Their long fingers dug deep into the dry earth–so deep that the dirt became damp—and they made long, thick rows.

            One healer grabbed my hand and placed a seed from the spaceship on my open palm. Carefully, it moved my hand into the dirt and turned it over. The healer led me to cover the seed. It cupped my hands and, together, we tightly packed the dirt surrounding the unborn life.

            “Is this how we make the medicine?” I asked. “The flowers?”

            The healer only smiled. I pointed to my ears. It nodded and pointed to where we had buried the seed.

            I held out my hand and told the healer to wait. “Water,” I said, annunciating the word. “I’ll bring some water for the seed.”

            The healer watched me leave. I turned back and waved, but the healer didn’t understand.

#

            When I returned from our only remaining stream, the adults were standing in the field, watching the healers.

            My father was the one who saw the cup in my hand.

            He ran toward me and slapped the cup from my grip. The container and the water it held collapsed below us, falling onto the cracked earth.

            “We do not give our water away, Lian. Especially not to them.”

            “It’s for the seeds. To help them grow,” I explained.

            “To help the seeds grow? You see a flower on a spaceship and think that now we can grow whatever we please in this dead dirt? It doesn’t work that way.”

            “The healers are here to help us. They are showing us how to rebuild.”

            “Healers? Is that what you call them? They are aliens. They crashed, and we got lucky that we found their spaceship before they could leave. Did you see them offering any flowers to us before we went on their ship? No, we had to take them.”

            “They are healers. I prayed for them to come. You barely gave them time to get off the ship before you were harassing them.”

            “You are a kid. You don’t know anything about praying. You don’t know anything about harassing. You don’t know anything about living. You sure don’t know anything about dying. You don’t even understand that that’s what’s happening to you. You are dying, Lian. Just like your mother. Just like your friends. You’ve got the sickness. We’ll all have it soon. Pray all you want, but there is nothing that can save us.”

            I couldn’t speak anymore—not to the person who stood in front of me. I took my fist and, with every bit of strength that remained in me, I punched him in the chest.

            I watched him collapse on the ground, coughing and spitting, and I ran to the healers. I leapt into the arms of the first one I came to, and I begged it to take me with it.

            It cradled me against its body.

            The only thing the healers were guilty of was loving me.

            I should’ve known better. Love left our world a long time ago.

#

            The healers tried to explain why they had held me, but no one could understand. They clicked their tongues and stretched their lips across their broken, jagged teeth. The words they searched for remained absent. All that came were squeals and hisses.

            Their towering bodies shook as they tried to explain themselves.

            I told the adults that it was my fault. I was the one who pushed my father down. I was the one who ran to them.

            They wouldn’t listen. They never did.

            There was nothing left for me to do, so I sat on the ground and wept.

            The wind swirled viciously against my bare arms. Rocks rolled past me.

            The earth shook when the healers finally took off. My whole body shuddered, and, for a moment, I thought that I still might go with them.

            I imagined a long arm reaching from the sky. My personal savior plucking me from my hell.

            I prayed that they could somehow still save me.

            Dead leaves and rocks flew into my face, but I didn’t flinch. I owed the healers that much. I sat still and watched the orange sky as the healers’ bright and metallic sphere smoldered up into the atmosphere until it was no more.

            A ringing in my ears began as soon as they were out of sight. The blood wasn’t far behind.

#

            I stayed on the hill until nightfall, sitting in a puddle of my own blood.

            I talked to the healers although they couldn’t hear me.

            I prayed again. Maybe the healers would come back in the morning. Maybe they would give us one more chance.

            I tried to remember the people who once lived. Their laughs too far gone to be heard. Their smiles broken in my imagination. Life must’ve been a beautiful thing once, but that was long ago.

            When I realized the sky held no more miracles for me, I walked home.

            It would be a fine place to die.

#

            I stepped inside and shut the door. It wasn’t nighttime silence that welcomed me; it was the sound of sobbing instead.

My father cowered in the corner. His veins bulged under his skin. His bloody hands clung to his ears. He pushed into his skull as hard as he could. The pressure didn’t work for Mother. I knew that it wouldn’t work for him either.

            But the flowers. The flowers might save him.

            I ran to the bowl where he kept the items that occupied his pockets.

            Then, I saw them. Brown and stiff. Dead. Broken. Lost forever.

            There was a steady wailing rising from beyond the window. The other adults. The sickness had come for them all.

            I kneeled beside my father and cradled his head against my shoulder.

            I sat with him for the rest of the night.

            It was almost morning when he took his last breath.

            I was ready to take mine, too, but then I saw something illuminating the horizon.

            The sun? The healers?

            I closed my eyes, and I prayed.

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