Dolga and Dagma, the twins, agreed with me. We could not imagine any beings so different from ourselves. We tried to convince Darian that Grandfather was simply the best of all story-tellers, but she just glared at me through her glorious brown eyes and said that we were the fools.
"You have no imagination, Dayle," she told me one day. "Do you really believe ours is the only planet on which life exists? You and I learned the same lessons. Would our teachers tell us false?"
We were alone for once. The twins were learning to swim in the nearby lake. It was a beautiful day for swimming but Darian and I had passed our test the first time so we had no need of extra lessons. The outspread branches of a huge elm tree provided us with shelter against the day's heat.
"Do you believe the other lessons we've been taught?" Darian continued, lying comfortably on the shaded grass.
"Of course I do. It's what our teachers are for, to teach us how to survive once we leave our parents."
"Then why don't you believe in the other worlds Grandfather talks about?"
"Because he is a story-teller, not a teacher. There's a big difference."
Darian shook her lovely head. "There's no difference really, Dayle. Our teachers stick to facts, while the story-tellers add the color..."
"And bits from their own imaginations as well," I interrupted.
"You believe only what you see!" my sister snapped.
"What else is there?"
She rose to her feet. "I can't understand how you and I are sisters. We are so unalike."
"What about Dagma and Dolga?" I enquired. "They believe as I do."
Darian made herself comfortable on the ground again. "They don't," she informed me. "Oh, they say they agree with you, but when you're not around I hear different things from them."
"You're saying I'm the one who is different?"
My sister was silent for a moment. "Not different, exactly, just more difficult to convince. But something will happen soon which may show you Grandfather's stories are not as weird as you think."
She would not explain, and changed the subject. She seemed to delight in my puzzlement. There was no time for me to ask more because our younger sisters returned, delighted to inform us they had passed their swimming test.
Life continued much the same in the following days, although Darian spent long periods with Grandfather. We assumed she was hearing again those old stories. For three lunar cycles she left us thinking the stories claimed her attention. Then one day she met us outside our home.
"There's something you should know," said Darian, staring at each of us in turn. "You, Dayle, will not believe what you about to hear, but our sisters might."
We waited patiently for her to continue but she took her time; as if choosing her words with care.
"We've seen something in the sky and we've been watching it carefully."
"What sort of thing?" Dagma shivered as she awaited Darian's reply.
"Whereabouts in the sky?" demanded Dolga.
A smile lit Darian's brown eyes. "Have you no questions, Dayle?"
I shrugged. "I'm just waiting to hear the story-teller's newest tales."
"Think what you will," Darian replied impatiently, "you'll soon see this is not just a story. Neither were Grandfather's tales."
"What?" I scoffed. "You believe beings came here from some distant planet?"
"Yes, and there are more on their way now."
The twins gasped, and moved closer together. I stared at Darian, convinced my sister's mind had been touched by dreamers.
"Our parents should know about this," I told her, meaning she would need careful nursing if her mind was to be saved. But Darian heard only the words I spoke.
"Our parents have already been told," she replied, "and they are making preparations."
"Are the beings dangerous?" asked Dagma.
"We don't know," Darian replied gently, "so we are taking precautions. There are parts of Grandfather's stories he thought unnecessary for us to know when we were younger, but he has now told me."
"Why has he told only you?" I demanded.
"Because you never believed!" Darian snapped.
I turned away from my sisters and walked out toward the lake, knowing if I stayed there would be yet another argument. Darian sounded so convincing I began to wonder if there might be a fraction of truth behind the tales.
Were there beings on other planets? Could at least some of them have reached a stage of civilization where they could travel through space? Why would they want to visit our planet? It wasn't the first time I had asked myself these questions, but in the past my sensible self had convinced my doubting self the stories were wholly fiction. Darian had now heard more parts of the stories, because we did not believe as she did. What was it we were not allowed to know?
My sisters were still beneath the elm tree when I returned. It was obvious the younger two were no longer doubting our eldest sister.
"So, when are these things supposed to arrive?" I demanded, not wanting them to know my interest had been aroused.
"As far as we can tell," said Darian, "they will arrive after sundown, or soon after sunrise."
"That soon?" Despite my doubts I felt a flicker of fear. "Why have we not been told before this?"
"There is nothing you can do, Dayle. There is nothing any of us can do. We can only wait."
The twins cuddled closer to each other. I saw a tremor pass up Darian's body, but she exhibited no other sign of fear. We remained beneath the elm until the sun disappeared behind the distant hills. Then we moved to sit by the fireside with our parents, waiting for Grandfather to appear. But he stayed away all through the dark hours.
"He's watching," Darian explained. "When he knows exactly where they will land he'll come and tell us."
"Are you sure they're coming here?"
"Oh, Dayle! Don't you believe even now? Well, you won't have long to wait. Then you can see for yourself."
It was the first time I had seen my lovely sister look worried. Suddenly, her fear was contagious. A shiver went down my spine as I realized we were facing the unknown. Just what were these beings about to descend on our world, and what did they want from us?
Then we heard a shout. Grandfather appeared at the entrance to our home. With a shock, I realized he was old. The skin around his eyes was baggy and there were sagging folds of skin at his neck. But his eyes glowed. He was excited. Despite the danger, despite facing the unknown, Grandfather was excited.
"They've landed! They're here!"
Old he may have become, but he could still outrun his children and grandchildren. He raced ahead of us in the dim light of sunrise. Then he stopped.
"Quiet!" he ordered as we came panting to his side. "They've come looking for us. There's no point in hiding from them, but there's also no need to show ourselves too soon."
He padded ahead. We followed. The sand muffled our footsteps, but they still sounded loud to me. Darian assured me these strange beings did not have our excellent sense of hearing, nor did they seem to hunt by scent. The more Darian told me the stranger they seemed.
"Our kind has also lived on their planet," Darian explained as we stared in amazement at the craft on the sandy beach of our lake. "When Grandfather was young these beings visited our world, which they discovered by accident. Our kind had died out on their planet so they took some of us back with them. Grandfather doesn't know what happened to his uncles, father and sister, but he thinks they must have died. It's possibly the reason for this visit."
"They're going to kidnap some of us?" I gasped. "Why do we not hide?"
"Even if their senses are not as good as ours, they can still hunt," Darian explained. "There's no use hiding. They'd find us. That's why Grandfather convinced our teachers to help us learn another language, the language of these beings."
Then my nose sent messages to my brain. But my first sight of our visitors came as a shock. They walked on their back legs, with no problems balancing. Their head fur was dark, but their body fur was different colors.
"What are they?" I asked Darian.
"They call themselves Homo sapiens," she replied. "They're humans. Grandfather calls them Earthlings."
One human walked towards us, its shape different from the other three and its voice softer.
"Oh, look," it said. "Look at the darling doggies."
Dogs and other live animals make wonderful holiday presents, as long as they're the stuffed, plush kind.If you're thinking of giving the live variety, animal authorities beg you to put the plush kind under the tree and let the receiver help choose his/her animal friend after the hurly-burly of holiday time is past.