The alien sat, if you called it sitting, in my tree house as I tried to explain the game of Monopoly to him.
"No, no, no," I said. "You're stupider than Billy Ailes and he's been left back twice. Boardwalk is yours. You bought it and you own it. You just can't give it up. Maybe you can sell it, but if you hand over all your properties you'll lose the game." Our tribe didn't have a word for the huge, winged race of reptiles who shared the cliff faces with us. They were just "The Clasp." Same as us. One tribe. One name. One shared livelihood as old as the great butte.
When I was a young boy, before I knew better, I asked my grandmother if we were pretending to be like the big, scaly tribesmen or if they were pretending to be like us. After all, we didn't look anything alike. When I finally made her understand my question, I hated the way she looked at me, like she'd tasted something bitter. "It's always a beautiful day."
Those words, not spoken but thought, fell across Ward's mind. He even noted, with a chuckle, that the "voice" in his head had the same Massachusetts accent as he did. It spoke his language; anything to make him feel at home. A skull stares from the floor beside the bed. Grasses sprout from the hollows of its eyes. Ralph hardly notices. He scans the grass for hidden thorns, for anything that slashes, stings or bites. Finding nothing dangerous, he puts it out of mind.
It's just another skull. He's seen so many bones by now, they've ceased to signify. They're like the flies, the flowers, the green-tinged light. They're like the cracked and peeling walls, the rot, the dust, the creepers on the floor, the sleepers dozing in their cloaks of mold. Tom had said-- You stand there watching me try on this blouse.
"It looks nice," you say, and this time you're actually paying attention.
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