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It was cold up in the attic. Naghe huddled in the shadows, glad for the little heat that seeped up from the dwelling below.

He could hear them making dinner. The sounds of pots and pans found him and he was glad the family below had returned to their regular rhythms and that the special days that happened every year at this time were over.

Naghe pulled the pilfered blanket closer around his neck and shoulders, and wished he could develop enthusiasm for the food they were preparing. He knew their food was un-absorbable. He'd have to take his nourishment from the photosynthesizing plants in the yard and hope no one saw him before he was able to grab enough calories to keep him alive – holed up in an attic in a miserable little house at the edge of the universe. Nowhere.

The hollow feeling nested in the pit of his being was more about companionship than it was hunger.

It was his own fault. He knew it. He had traversed a no-crossing zone. It was rather like skiing or snowboarding out of bounds, you only have yourself to blame for what happens.

Naghe watched the last crimson ribbon of sky uncurl before night enveloped the mountainside. He watch the stars reveal themselves and knew exactly which direction he imagined home to be.

"It's been so long," he thought. I wouldn't even know what to do with myself at this point, he thought, shaking off the last vestige of hope for rescue ages ago. "I am no longer from my home. I am here and this is where I'll die – a dried up twist of space/time junk, holed up in an attic on this stupid rock."

He knew the people in the house where he lived thought he was an apparition – and this explanation worked, for the most part. Once, the smallest human in the house had wandered up to the attic looking for forgotten treasure. Seeing Naghe, standing upright in the apex of the attic's roof scared the little one so much he nearly fell backwards through the opening. Later that day the child's father had come halfway up – swinging the beam of a flashlight and that was the end of it.

How long had it been? Naghe lost count. There was local time and then there was his own time which was reckoned in a much different way than the diurnal pump and grind of earth time.

It was impossible to do anything here. He realized there was something about the polarity of the planet which prevented him from traveling as he might usually. The physical mechanism that allowed him to teleport to the places he needed or desired to go were not available to him here. This is why he was stuck. He got here, but he could not leave.

He imaged others, like himself, who had wandered off the path of known places and energies, too, found themselves huddled and hiding, cold in an attic, basement or other lonely place, hoping for a miracle rescue or at least a diversion from the loneliness that solidified around him like he was encased in stone.

Naghe listened to the other sounds in the surrounding houses. If he strained, just a little, he could hear for quite a distance. It was a result, he guessed, of the planet's heavy atmosphere. The biggest problem he had was actually screening the sounds out. There was no use listening to the hum of a well drill pounding and vibrating the ground a mile away, when he simply needed to keep his ear trained nearby, to keep track of the people below his little hiding hole.

During the night time Naghe would climb through the small opening in the ceiling of the pantry to the kitchen floor below. He'd slip, like a shadow, down the hall and out the front door. Crossing the front yard, his foot prints would leave the grass dry and brown. He was grabbing nourishment as he stepped. Then, it might take quite a while before Naghe could lift himself into the big tree in the front yard.

While straddling one of its branches, Naghe sucked a little of the life out of it. The tree was pretty old and very strong, and Naghe was careful not to feed too long from one branch for fear of doing real damage to it. The tree and he had become old friends, of sorts. He was touched by how readily the tree participated in Naghe's robbery of energy.

Then it was back through the front door and up the hall before the sun gave any notion of rising, because this family was made up of early risers.

And this is how Naghe occupied his time every day and night. Sitting still and looking out the little vented window in the peak of the roof, and slowly easing down to the front yard and up the tree at night. He sang to himself, at least he thought he was able to keep the song within his head, but sometimes, he'd catch himself actually humming along.

No talking. No singing, he reminded himself. No drawing of attention unless he wanted to be exposed and then, he'd lose the little bit of control he had on the future and outcomes.

He knew hope as both a killer and a breather of life. He held out hope for rescue, but he really, truly knew there was no help for his situation.

He had strayed off the path and he was doomed to haunt this attic in this house in the middle of this nowhere until he died, which would probably take a very long time - not only in earth time but in his native time.

Tonight, he'd have to take his meal from an evergreen that stood 100 feet away from his friend, the old tree. The ground was covered with snow and it would take Naghe a long time to make it through the heavy atmosphere to the deep green triangular-shaped tree. In seasons past, the tree had not been as welcoming as the old deciduous tree to yield up its lifeforce. Naghe found the energy it held to be a little ragged in comparison and he didn't care for these long stretches with little sunshine.

He wished he could process the light himself, and if he had brought the right gear with him when he slipped into the out-of-bounds zone that brought him here ... "but what's the use of 'what ifs,'" Naghe scoffed.

Ingestion of a simple symbiotic organism would have allowed him to process the sunlight during the daytime rather than have to sneak it from unsuspecting plant life or receive the shared sunlight from his old friend.

Of course, finding a way to hide in broad daylight, along with the slowness of his movements, brought with it a whole new set of limitations and problems.

Naghe felt doomed sometimes, and other times, he just felt glad to have a little hope left to pull the blanket closer and dream of a day when he either found another being from his time or place, or was rescued - either by flaming chariots from space or death.

He pulled the blanket closer and listened to the sound of snow falling outside. He counted snowflakes until the humans in the house went to sleep.



for SciFiQuest 9999