Shadow Stepping

By Kim McFarland

A small, peculiar vehicle emerged from a large, low building in a field and moved to a straight road that did not connect to any other streets. The vehicle positioned itself at one end, then rushed down the strip. Before it reached the end it lifted into the air.

She watched, startled. She had never seen anything like this tiny, noisy machine. It looked like a giant insect, buzzing through the air on wings too small to hold it aloft. She hid in a low cumulus cloud so its pilot would not see her.

When it reached her height it began doing stranger things. It swooped and dove, spun and twisted in a manner strangely graceful for such an ungainly craft. It was tinier than she had first thought; she could see now that it did not even have room for two people inside. They were sitting as if in a boat, with only small clear screens to protect them from the wind. They did not have jet packs like she did. They were brave!

It climbed steeply, almost directly over the cloud in which she was hiding. While she watched, it executed a tight loop in the air, and a speck detached itself.

She watched with sudden alarm. She could hear a cry of terror coming from the speck. Someone had fallen from the vehicle! And it would not be able to effect a rescue; it could not move fast enough. She made a quick decision in the back of her mind and darted out of the cloud to intercept him.

She managed to snatch his arm and stop his fall. Her jet pack automatically compensated for the increased weight. He stopped screaming and stared at her in surprise. She stared back. She had never seen an alien this close. He was just a child! He could be her age!

She sensed no fear from him, now that he was no longer falling. He was not afraid of her. He was bewildered. She caught images of the flight from his point of view; it had terrified him. He had been afraid to fly in that strange, buzzing contraption. But he was not frightened of her and her jet-pack. In fact, they fascinated him.

She smiled. Now that she saw an alien up close, he wasn't so strange after all! She could even sense his thoughts as if he were one of her own kind. Telepathically she asked, <<How did you fall?>>

She sensed more bewilderment from him. He must not be used to talking with his mind. But he had heard her, because the image flashed through his mind of the plain looping, turning upside down, and himself slipping out. His eyes squeezed shut. The fear returned. She told him, <<I won't let you fall.>>

He opened his eyes again. The fear faded. Then he looked down again and started laughing. He thought it was funny that he was flying without a 'plane'. He liked it.

She laughed too. Holding tightly to his hand, she began to fly over the landscape.

He soon understood what had happened. She was an alien from another planet. He could tell that just from looking at her and her jet-pack. She was important somehow, so she was separated from most kids her age and had to study things instead of playing. She had snuck away from her caretaker so she could have a look at this strange planet her spaceship was visiting. If asked, he would not have been able to say how he knew all this; it simply was so. She was telling him by making him know.

"Ya wanna have some fun?" he asked.

She looked at him in amazement. He had spoken! He looked too young to be able to talk! The people of this world did not have the ability to speak mentally, so they had to talk out loud, even when they were children! But she understood him. She nodded.

He pointed at an area in the landscape with a number of brightly colored buildings and strange moving things. "Let's go there."

She approached the area from a low angle, at they would not be seen. He threw her off balance at the last minute by struggling when the ground came too close; as a result they tumbled into a stack of empty cardboard boxes. She emerged unhurt. He had to pull a box off his head. When he looked around and saw the rubble he laughed. Crashing wasn't so bad after all, she caught from his mind. It was fun!

He led her by the hand into the fairgrounds. When they went up to a cotton candy stand someone looked at her and screamed, "An alien!" People fled. He was surprised - what was scary about her? So she had antennae; he thought they were kinda cute. But she would need some way to go around without anyone noticing what she was. Her face was normal enough, even if it was a little on the purple side. Then he looked at the cotton candy that he had caught when someone had run away. He grinned.

She spent the next hour riding the rides in the park, her head and antennae hidden by a "wig" of cotton candy. She could hardly believe that she was surrounded by aliens, and they didn't notice her! This was more fun than she could ever remember having. On one ride, a large, slowly spinning wheel with seats made to look like animals, he turned to her and said "I wish this could go faster, don't you?"

She nodded, closed her eyes, and willed the machinery powering the wheel to move faster. It did. Soon the scenery outside the wheel was blurring by, too fast to see.

After a minute she allowed the wheel to slow and stop. He sat on the seat, still gripping the pole running through the animal sculpture for dear life. She sensed his dizziness. After a few seconds he opened his eyes and began laughing again. He made an odd gesture at her with his thumb and one finger. She could tell from his attitude that it meant "good".

They left the fair and went to the adjoining park. Nobody else was there; they went directly home after their time in the fair. She removed the cotton candy wig. Thankfully it was only sticky enough to stay on, and not enough to get messy. The sun was now low in the sky, almost touching the trees. He said, "Tag!"

He was pointing at the ground. She had drawn the meaning of the word from his mind, but he was too far away to touch her. She looked down at the ground he was touching. Her shadow stretched out behind herself; he had put his hand on that. She stepped back to move her shadow away.

He followed it, laughing, trying to step on it to tag her. Smiling, she ran over to some of the strange structures in the park. She caught an image from his mind that showed her that these were for children to play on. She ran over to an arrangement of boards hung between pairs of chains, leapt onto one of the boards and grabbed the chains on either side. It swung forward. She swung her legs to add to its momentum.

She looked back. He was watching her, grinning with concentration, trying to figure out how to tag her shadow while she was swinging. He moved forward, about to step on her shadow, then had to dart to the side when she swung back. Several times he tried, each time getting closer. She leapt off the swing. It swung back and hit him, knocking him over. She heard his surprise in his mind, and know that it had not hurt him.

She ran over to a wheel, like the one they had ridden earlier, except this one had no seats. It was smaller, and had rails to hold onto while it spun. She jumped on, grabbed a rail, and willed it to spin.

He picked himself up and ran over. He could get her this time! He chased her around, trying to keep up with the spinning of the wheel. She caused the wheel to move faster, and grinned as he struggled to keep up. He had almost succeeded when his foot hit a rock, and he tumbled to the ground.

She slowed the wheel and got off of it, concerned. He had fallen hard. But, again, she sensed that he was not upset by his fall. It had not hurt him. He extended his hand. She barely managed to jump away before he could tag her shadow.

He got to his feet and ran after her. She darted about, changing directions, staying barely ahead of him. But eventually she heard a triumphant, "Gotcha!"

She looked around. <<Really?>>

"Yeah! You're it!" He said. His foot was touching the shadow of her head.

Instead of turning around and chasing his shadow, she activated her jet pack and took his hand. She lifted them into the air. Once again they were flying. This time she tried a few acrobatics to impress him. She imitated the loops that she had seen the airplane do in the air; he laughed and held on tightly to her hand.

Soon, however, they saw a huge, metallic thing emerge from the clouds. She recognized it at once; it was the spaceship that she had snuck away from. They had found her. She told him in a brief image.

The spaceship matched their flight in seconds. A portal opened in the bottom. Another alien, an adult wearing an expression of annoyance, looked out at them. He aimed a complicated-looking gun.

That was the last thing he remembered.

He was back in the airplane, his mind foggy. His father was still practicing for the airshow; he had not even noticed that he had fallen out. He looked back at his son. The boy was staring into the air in confusion, as if he had just awakened from a faint. He said, "You're looking a little woozy, son. Maybe we better go back down."

Launchpad did not reply. He must have fainted from fear. But, he realized, he was not afraid now. He wondered why.

This story was inspired by the Darkwing Duck episode "U.F. Foe" and the Urusei Yatsura (Lum) movie "Only You".

All characters copyright (c) Disney. Story copyright (c) Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.

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