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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 1

“You need to get up, mijita.”

The words rang through Alex’s mind as softly as a sledgehammer. She winced and tried to draw her hands to her face, but they wouldn’t respond.

“Princesa, the clock won’t wait for you.”

Alex groaned at the annoying saying, a favorite of her father’s. “Five more—”

All at once, clarity hit. The gritty sand stinging her cheek was not her jersey-sheet-covered mattress. The chilled water lapping at her ankles was not her down blanket. And the soothing voice urging her to wake was not her father’s. It couldn’t be.

Still, the moment of confusion had stinging tears building behind her lids.

The world around her spun, and an accompanying wave of nausea forced her to remain perfectly still.

Where am I?

Alex’s eyes flashed open. The rapids! Lily! She jerked her head back just in time to retch cloudy water onto a large log lying next to her.

Her ears rang with the struggle to expel the contents of her stomach. With great effort, she dragged herself to her hands and knees and waited for the dizziness to stop. It only increased until she collapsed onto her side, her thrumming head cradled in her hands.

Everything was too intense. The sound of water made her skull feel like it was being compressed to the size of a grape. Blinding light from overhead speared through her tightly shut lids and caused a furious buzzing to rattle in her ears. She could barely think straight, and whenever she did, the use of any bit of brain power made the dizziness worse.

Need to get somewhere quiet. Inch by inch, Alex crawled away from the river on hands and knees. She didn’t know how long it took her to find the sheltered niche carved into the hillside. Or even how she’d been lucid enough to realize that the curtain of vines concealing the muddy alcove could be moved. But the primal part of her mind set on survival took over and urged her to settle onto the cool, wet earth in the dark.

The damp shelter buffered the noise from outside, and the curtain of vines concealed the painful light. Pulling her knees into her chest, she shut her eyes again and tried to focus on the memory of her father’s voice. She might have imagined him, but even if she had, the sound was right. The voice familiar. Concentrating on it, the pounding in her head lessened a fraction. Before she knew it, the world had grown blissfully quiet once again.


Time no longer existed to Alex. She’d wake up, attempt to move, and fail in an extraordinary display of dizziness often accompanied by dry heaving that renewed her headache. Then, after a while, exhaustion would overtake her, and she’d fall back to sleep. Had days passed? Or hours?

The last thing she could remember before finding the shelter was the current of the rapids dragging her under and a stabbing spike of pain to the back of her head.

One thing she was becoming concerned about, in her moments of lucidity, was her increasingly dry throat. Lily’s words about how long a human could survive without water replayed in her mind. After they’d escaped from the bunker they’d been held in and ventured into the alien forest, Lily had made it a point to show Alex how to treat water so it was safe. There was no way in hell Alex would be able to accomplish that right now, though. She could barely keep conscious long enough to recall her surroundings.

What if she’d been held up for days? How much longer could she go without water? Did she dare drag herself back to the stream and drink directly from it? Before she could decide, her vision faded.


Noise in front of Alex had her lids creaking open. She didn’t even have enough energy to be afraid that something other than her was making noise. Through her blurry vision, a small yellow object on the ground came in and out of focus.

Alex noted her rapid heartbeat and excessively dry mouth and somewhere in the back of her foggy mind wondered if she might be dying.

Something small and fast scurried past the yellow object, dashing out of sight behind the curtain of vines. Maybe it was adrenaline kicking in, but her vision cleared for a brief moment and the yellow object revealed itself to be a cup hollowed from a plant of some kind. The fast creature, whatever it had been, was nowhere in sight. With much more effort than it should’ve taken, Alex dragged herself over to the cup and peered in.

Was that water? Sweat trailing down her forehead, she tried to focus on whether or not she should drink, but the harder she focused, the more muddled her mind became until all she could think of was an argument from The Princess Bride. Vizzini and Westley sitting across from each other, sparring over which glass was poisoned. Would a small forest alien have poisoned the water hoping she’d drink it and die so it could move in on her body? Or was it trying to help for some reason?

Memories of the movie slipped away from her, and Alex realized she must truly be dying. It was one of her favorite films, after all, and there was no way in hell a healthy version of herself would’ve ever forgotten details about it.

Tentatively, she sipped the water, intending to test a drop or two. The liquid forked a hydrating path through the dry valley of her throat, and she couldn’t keep herself from downing the rest in one greedy gulp. She fell onto her back, yellow cup in hand, and whispered, “Iocane powder. Inconceivable,” before drifting to sleep…or possibly to death.


Her mind came back to her more readily the next time she woke. She turned her head, now only pounding a little, and found the yellow cup resting near the vine curtain where she’d seen it before. Feeling a bit better, Alex forced herself to sit up. Perspiration dotted her forehead with the effort, but she was able to do it, and that was all that mattered. Before grabbing the cup, she searched her small muddy cave, hoping to find the creature who’d left it. She was alone.

She sipped the water and ran her hands over a tender area near the base of her skull. She winced in a breath as a sharp pain speared through her mind. Sure enough, when she brought her fingers to her eyes in the dim light, she could make out dried red flecks mixed with thick congealed blood.

Alex dragged in a calming breath. Dried blood meant it wasn’t actively bleeding. It was healing. There wasn’t anything else she could do, unless she could somehow get herself to the river to clean it.

She finished off her water and placed the empty cup back where she’d found it. Fatigue swept through her, and she sat up straighter, attempting to fight off sleep for a little while longer. Lily would know what to do in this situation. A memory of the utterly defeated look on Lily’s face as Alex had let the current carry her away flickered in her mind. Had she survived? A lump in her Alex’s throat swelled. She and Lily had escaped the aliens who’d imprisoned them and survived for weeks together in the forest, and the thing that had finally torn them apart was a crumbling ledge. Alex had barely stepped on the edge of the cliffside overlooking the river before it had collapsed, dumping her and Lily into the unforgiving rapids.

The lump in her throat grew painful, and her eyes stung with tears. Her gaze traveled to the curtain of vines, and she wanted to kick herself for being so stupid. She began to cry.

Why had she crawled in here? Sure, Alejandra, your survivalist friend got to shore and is probably looking for you, so why not go hide someplace she’ll never fucking find you!

Silent, fat tears streamed down her cheeks. Her battered body knew the pain that accompanied sobbing the way she wanted to would be too unbearable. How far had she floated down that river before dragging herself in here? Was Lily close by or miles away? Between the uncertainty concerning how long she’d been drifting in and out of consciousness and the unknown of the river, it was unlikely she’d ever find Lily.

Beyond the vines, the two milky-white moons lit the humid forest. The familiar buzz of the insects that had always hung around their camp could be heard. Weeks alone with Lily, talking and coming to terms with their abduction, now felt like a dream. Better than this lonely existence. Afraid, starving, and blanketed in mud.

A flash of tiny lights, like a thousand miniscule fireflies all grouped together, shot past outside. Alex froze and stared at the area where they’d disappeared. Just when she was sure whatever it was had gone, it darted past the entrance again. Alex had the distinct impression the creature was trying to peek inside on its mad dashes.

The vines in the left corner lifted, and two large, glowing eyes stared back at her.

Alex’s frantic heartbeat made the ringing in her ears return in full force and her vision waver. She begged her mind to study the creature logically, reminding herself it was probably the thing that had been bringing her water, but her brain didn’t want to hear it.

Stars floated in front of her vision, and the small animal blinked its bright-yellow eyes at her as though just as curious about what she’d do as she was.

In a move that was rather unhelpful on many levels, Alex’s dizziness overcame her, and she slumped onto the wet ground, mind going quiet before her cheek hit the mud.


With her knees pulled into her chest and her eyes fixed on the entrance, Alex waited determinedly for her little savior to return. She spun the gold band on her right-hand ring finger, a nervous habit.

When she’d awoken last, she’d found her small cup of water as well as some very fuzzy and very dead insects. In all their time together scrounging for food, Lily had never made her eat one of the fat, flying bugs that had kept Alex awake at night—but only because they hadn’t been able to catch them.

The thought of how disappointed Lily would be if she ever learned Alex had turned down food of any kind in a situation like this spurred her to eat the bugs. Not wanting to know if they tasted like chicken, she’d swallowed the four smashed bugs whole.

And now she waited. Alex didn’t know if there was a way to thank this creature, but she wanted to try. It was intelligent; the handmade cup made that clear enough. The damp smell of her cave mixed with the dirt hole turned bathroom in the corner would be enough to push any creature to stay away, but it had kept coming back. Why?

A flicker of light from outside caught her attention, and she slowed her breathing. It dashed by once, twice, then settled in the far corner just like before. This time when its round yellow eyes met hers, she gave a tight-lipped smile, making sure not to expose any teeth and scare it.

“Hey there, little…thing,” she whispered on a croak, her voice strained from disuse.

Two bat-like ears came into view on its long face. The animal was furry, kind of, but its fur was wiry, and each strand was tipped with a glowing blue light as if it weren’t hair at all but millions of strands of blue fiberoptic threads.

“Thank you for the water. I think you saved my life.” Alex gestured toward the cup, keeping her movements slow.

The creature shuffled farther in, and she studied its features. It had a stretched, flexible nose, sort of like a fluffy trunk. Its long arms, legs, and tail reminded her of a spider monkey, but the webbing under its armpits was more flying squirrel than anything.

If she forgot about her life-and-death circumstances and thought about the creature as something created for a movie, she could admit it was cute. Haphazard tufts of glowing hair sprouted from its large ears and chest, making it look like an overworked cartoon character who’d guzzled one too many cups of coffee.

With three spindly fingers, it snatched the cup and darted outside.

“No! Wait!” Alex rose and tried to follow but only managed to stumble through the vines until she sprawled facedown in front of her cave.

Quick thumps against the top of her head had her craning her neck. The small creature was jabbing her with its long trunk like an accordion. When she only squinted up at it, it shoved at her head with its small, three-fingered hands until she unsteadily made her way back to the cave.

The frantic creature followed, forming itself into a smooth ball and rolling after her. It paused by the entrance in its round form, waiting to make sure she wasn’t planning on moving again before rolling away. Alex rested her head against the muddy wall and calmed her breathing.

Before long, the creature had returned with another cup of water and some slimy, wriggling insects.

“This is gonna sound beyond ungrateful, but couldn’t you have killed them again?” Alex grimaced as one particularly fat slug with stubby legs meandered back toward the exit. Her little furry friend swept the bug farther toward her and sat back on its haunches, peering at her with delight.

Alex lifted the fat bug between pinched fingers and waited for her wave of nausea to pass before slurping it down. She contained her wince and forced a grin, then nodded toward her little friend. “Slimy, yet satisfying.”

Over the next few days, Alex started to feel better and better. Whenever her harried nurse allowed it, she would take short walks outside, washing in the river and using the forest as her upgraded bathroom. She’d search for signs of Lily before her headache forced her back into her shelter. Her new friend had become more comfortable with her as well, now sleeping next to her rather than spending its time wherever it used to.

Alex peered down at its sleeping form, curled into a tight ball in her lap, and stroked its thick yet surprisingly soft fur. Each time she ran her hand over it, its illuminated hair would light up in a wave behind her moving fingers. The faint scent of pineapple wafted off the creature and made her smile. It was odd to smell something so familiar from such an unfamiliar creature, but it filled the gnawing hole in her heart just enough to help her not think about how desperately she missed home and her family. Almost like having a bit of home with her. Sliced pineapple topped with some Tajín would always be waiting for her whenever she visited her tía’s apartment.

Pain sliced through her chest at the memory that had squeaked through her barriers, and she sucked in a breath. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. She concentrated on the curled-up ball in her lap instead. 

“You need a name, friend,” she whispered.

Alex refused to ponder her life now or how she hadn’t yet allowed herself to feel the full weight of what had happened to her. It was easier to not think about it. Years of practice burying and ignoring negative emotion kept her from devolving into hopelessness. That and her new alien sidekick. She was stranded alone on this alien planet and the one friend she had—besides Lily, of course—was this tiny thing who’d somehow known she needed help.

“You’re the only thing keeping me sane, little one.”

The creature rolled under her palm in what she’d learned was an affectionate snuggle.

Alex grinned. “How about Wilson? You aren’t exactly a volleyball, but we’ll ignore that.”

She curled onto her side, pulling Wilson close, and worked through what the hell she was going to do next.


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