WHAT WILL YOU OFFER? by Mark Salzwedel


by Mark Salzwedel

The alien called itself the Visitor. It orbited our planet beyond our moon for many months and was mistaken for an asteroid. It monitored what it could of our communications and watched buildings go up, forests come down, and the seemingly most intelligent species moving about everywhere without any fear of predators other than others of their kind. It descended into the shadow side of the planet. The Visitor chose a place where it would be sure to find a representative and one that was close to water, because it liked water.

       It was just before three-thirty in the early morning, and Doroteia was trying to find some place in the favela that was not too grimy or too smelly to eat the two grilled chicken legs the boy at the back of the restaurant had given her. He often gave her treats because he said girls need healthy food to grow up strong. She climbed a bit higher, hobbling because of a sore on her foot, gnawing off bites as she went. She turned around only once to look down at the flickering lights of the city and the big statue of Jesus.

       When she turned back, in the middle of the otherwise deserted cobblestone street sat the Visitor. It was not quite as tall as she. It was kind of like a lumpy bag of fluid. Several dark spots randomly decorated its midsection, but none of them looked like eyes or mouths to Doroteia.

       What will you offer? It was like a voice inside her head speaking in perfect Portuguese.

       “Excuse me?” she said, not even certain the words had come from the Visitor.

       What will you offer me? The words appeared in her head as if spoken aloud. She considered the remaining half-eaten chicken leg in her hand, but she took another bite of it instead. “I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” Doroteia whispered.

       When I visited the Gaveckians, they offered me some rocks and some of their food. When I visited the Sen-Sen, one of them exhaled at me. When I visited the Ko, they refused to offer anything; they only wanted to trade. In my visit to a small, icy planet, the inhabitants couldn’t see me, so they didn’t believe I was there. I have been offered pets and offspring. Those I have visited have attacked me, tried to consume me, and have taught me one of their skills. I leave your gift up to you.

       Doroteia was pretty sure the Visitor wasn’t from Earth, because none of the places it visited sounded familiar. She thought of what a visitor from another world might want, or find useful or emblematic of Earth. She looked down at the chicken bone she had now picked clean and tossed it to the curb. “I’m just a homeless orphan,” she whispered. “Maybe you should try someone who has more to offer.”

       Your status does not matter, the voice in her head responded.

       Doroteia sat down on the cobblestones fairly close to the Visitor and looked at it to try one last time for inspiration. “I have an idea. I don’t know if you will like it.”

       I appreciate spontaneity. Please proceed.

       “There once was a little Visitor who traveled all over the universe. He met all sorts of different people. He asked them for a gift, and they all had a different idea about what to give him. He thought some of the gifts were good, some were not, but he always learned something about the giver. He visited Rio one night, and everyone was asleep except for little Doroteia. She had nothing to give but this story, and the Visitor really liked it.” She let out a puff of air as if she had just completed a strenuous task.

       It is original, the voice in her head conceded. I have never been put into a story before. Several of the dark spots on the Visitor seemed to move around a little. Is that the whole story?

       Doroteia nodded her head, but then she realized that the Visitor probably didn’t know what that meant. “Yes, I think so,” she whispered.

       So for you, stories are only histories of what has happened?

       “No,” Doroteia replied. “They sometimes imagine things that haven’t happened yet.”

       Imagine that for me.

       “Hmm,” she said as she thought about the Visitor’s future. “The Visitor left Earth and couldn’t stop thinking about Doroteia’s story. He eventually decided that he needed to take Doroteia away with him, so she would always be warm and healthy and have plenty to eat.”

       I can’t take you with me. You would not survive.

       “It’s just make-believe,” Doroteia clarified. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

       The Visitor hopped to the side of the road, and Doroteia followed it. A few moments later, a car sped past going too fast. The Visitor saved Doroteia from being crushed by a car.

       “Now you’re getting the idea,” she said a little louder.

       The Visitor hopped around the corner, all the while composing thoughts in Doroteia’s head about the grand adventures that the two of them would face. A bright light shot up out of the alleyway. She watched it turn into a point of light and then fade away.

       “He’ll be back,” she told herself.

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