Author’s Note: So I wasn’t willing to leave the alien alone after his last experience. Poor guy. He needs a hug, not that he can have one. 🙁
The cemetery seemed a place that suited him and his recent activities, a place where he could attempt some measure of understanding, though he knew none of these humans wanted to be intruded upon in their grief. He was not capable of mourning, not capable of tears, and though he had done as much as he could to offer some measure of respect and atonement for his own actions in the barren and that of the other in the solar system, he found it was far too little.
He had decided that he must understand this feeling, the grief and loss that others felt, and only if he did could he start to atone for what he had done, for what his kind had done. No amount of hiding in the barrens would accomplish that. He could surrender himself and accept death at their hands, but not until he was certain he knew what he was doing.
Why did life matter so much? Why were these other species able to form such deep attachments and cling to them? If his species was capable of it, then they would not be able to consume, and that would be better for everyone, would it not?
He watched the crowd from the funeral separate, each of them going their own way toward vehicles, and he shook his head, not sure why some of them embraced each other when the others did not. He did not think he should ask, but he was so confused by these customs.
He turned away, walking toward the other end of the graveyard, past the many headstones with flowers and without. What caused that? Why did only some of them have flowers and not all? He wondered, and sighed again, frustrated by his ignorance. He considered asking the woman alone at one of the other graves, but he knew that he should not. She was not here to answer his questions.
“This is stupid. I don’t even know why I’m doing this. It’s not like I believe you’re still in there or anything because you’re not. You’re gone. I guess if I got it off my chest, how much it makes me angry or how I can’t stand watching Dad wander around without you, maybe then I’ll feel some measure of peace, and who’s going to tell me it’s all going to be all right or that you’re looking down on me with a smile—honestly, what idiot thinks that’s comforting? If you’d had a choice, you’d still be here, and if I had a choice, I’d pick the same, so how the hell could you ever be happy just watching me from some distant la-la land?”
He frowned. He was intruding, and he knew it, but that voice, the unmistakable hair, he knew her. He did not think she belonged in black or that it suited her hair, but he did think it was more likely to have come from one of her paintings than the other colors. “Luna?”
She jerked, turning around and wiping at her face. “You? What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you in months and all of a sudden you’re in a cemetery as I talk to an empty grave and—Okay, what is going on here?”
“I came to the cemetery to understand mourning.”
“Oh. Cute. Because you can really understand that when you haven’t lost anything. That’s when you understand what it is. You can say you do before then, you can sympathize, but you’re wrong. It’s different for everyone, and I wish they’d stop telling me they understood.”
He hesitated. “I suppose it does not help any if I say there is almost no chance of me ever comprehending what you are feeling or why?”
She looked at him, and even though tears spilled from her eyes, she started laughing. “I think it does. I wouldn’t have thought so, but it does.”
“Oh. That is surprising.”
She shook her head. “You really don’t get it, but that’s okay. I don’t want to talk about it. Everyone keeps bringing it up because they can’t not bring it up or it’s this elephant in the room that’s doing some creepy staring thing—I had to paint that one—but they never know what to say.”
“That seems to be a constant state of my being.”
Her lips curved into a smile, and she brushed at her cheek. “It is, but it’s cute on you. Not so much on them. Where have you been, anyway? I was kind of counting on those afternoon reads with you keeping my mind off watching her die, but you never came back.”
He lowered his head. “My kind is only destruction. We eat, consume, destroy—”
“Thought you were using your curiosity to avoid that.”
“I fear it does not matter. Another one of the children of the vortex was found after consuming a solar system. That one was executed.”
“Not sure how that would work when you can eat anything you want.”
“It is not a pleasant experience, but we can be hurt.”
Luna nodded. Her eyes seemed clearer, but her face remained red. “So you were hiding? Do you think they’ll come after you?”
“I deserve the same fate. I have consumed plenty.”
“Would you say that about all humans? They keep talking about global warming, about the ozone layer, about the way we’ve wrecked our planet. Does that mean all of us should die, too? I know there are some extreme vegetarians who think all people who eat meat are murderers, but does that mean that everyone who eats meat should die?”
He considered that for a moment. “You have an interesting way of looking at it.”
“I’m an artist. We’re supposed to be eccentric.”
He shook his head. “It is more than that. Your perspective is so… unique and compelling, something I do not know what to think of at all.”
She shrugged. “I’m a mess. Not sure when I last showered, think I got these clothes off the floor this morning, and don’t know when I last ate. Don’t care, either. Things haven’t been the same since she died. I’m not okay, and I see no point in pretending that I am.”
He nodded, though he did not quite understand that, either. “What is the point of pretense?”
“You want me to explain that to you?”
“If you can.”
“I doubt it. We feel the need to hide sometimes—out of fear or shame or even kindness—but it depends. Not everyone uses pretenses. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I could pretend that nothing was wrong. They’d stop asking me about it.”
He wanted to touch her, not to consume her or even to comprehend her, but because he had seen those others offer each other comfort that way, and she deserved that. He looked down at his hands and sighed. “What if your very nature is a pretense?”
“We’re all one step from the abyss, you know. Push us the wrong way, and we break. You’re not the only one who has to struggle against the darkness. Some of us do it better than others. Some of us never win that fight. Others of us embrace it—the despair or the anger or the violence—and they’re the ones that we all fear.”
“You… fight the darkness? The lines in your paintings?”
She let out a breath. “I’ll never be the kind of artist that is a success. I don’t have the courage to be one. I can’t sell my soul to do it. I sometimes think I have talent, but that doubt eats at me all the time…”
His hand started toward her, and he had to stop himself. Sometimes he thought if he was careful enough he could interact with everything the way he did the ground when he walked on it, not consuming it, just walking, but he did not want to test that on her.
“I should get back. I need to check on Dad.”
“Would… would it help if we read books now? It is not the same, but if you think it would—”
“Come by the shop tomorrow.”