THE COMPOSTELA TRAIL
The rip in the fabric of time and space repaired itself behind them.
The aliens took stock. A few hesitant movements assured them the human forms they had assumed were in working order, and they stepped forward with more confidence.
They were on a narrow path that wound uphill. To each side stretched arid scrubland. Ahead the path vanished into a belt of dark trees. Their advance information had been that Spain was one of the lands of Earth that produced a mysterious product known as wine. Throughout Earth's history, men alluded to the charms of wine. The aliens were to investigate and report back.
“We continue until we find a village, and then decide what to do,” Ekert told Bilic.
Unaccustomed to walking, they soon panted with effort. Footsteps sounded behind them, and a human was upon them with a shouted “Hola!” He dropped his pack on the ground and drank noisily from a plastic water bottle.
“Hola,” Bilic responded with caution.
“Are you guys walking the trail? Where's your badge?” He wore a white scallop shell emblem on a cord round his neck. “Gotta let people know we're the real thing.”
“We started only this morning, and would benefit from your advice.” Ekert's voice sounded human, even to Bilic.
The earthling, whose name was Dave, needed no encouragement. “Back home, I was a teacher. Then I got burn-out, so I decided to get away from it all, get close to nature, and discover the meaning of life.” He waved a hand at the stony scrubland. “Like rivers to the sea, all roads lead to Compostela, so the Spanish say.”
Bilic managed a grunt of assent.
By the time the night's refuge came into view, the aliens were weary. Their companion's incessant chatter irritated them, and his spiritual pilgrimage afforded no useful information.
The communal dining room was a welcome surprise, its depths cool against the afternoon heat. “Hola!” the landlord greeted the pilgrims, setting olives and wine in front of them. Dave emptied his glass in a few gulps, and belched before demanding a refill. “I'm more a beer man myself, but this ain't bad. Fourteen days down, five to go. Compostela, here we come.”
Ekert noticed the landlord's tightened lips. He took a cautious sip and rolled the wine across his tongue, feeling the fresh tingle as it slid down his throat. The golden liquid condensed the flavours of the sun. It also reminded him of the bursts of fragrance they had encountered along the path, wherever straggly herbs had taken hold. He no longer felt his sore feet. A sense of peace took hold as he recalled images of the day. A hilltop village, dusty in the heat. A wide-winged bird hanging in the sky. He took another sip, set the glass down and turned to Bilic, who cradled his own elixir. “Now I understand. We have indeed discovered the meaning of life.”
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