In a word, balloons. I’m referring to “Familiar Stranger,” which takes up two-thirds of the novella. Like me, the protag Cassandra can’t pass a gift shop without stopping in to buy a Mylar balloon. Her apartment is a rainbow-colored forest. It contains balloon trees in each room and Cassandra admires the Mylar fruits that grow on them. At night, nightmares about her uncertain past trouble Cassandra unless she’s got six to eight balloons surrounding her head. Their soft feel and shushing sounds lull her to sleep. Believe me, I know. I used to have a lot of nightmares about Mike’s health until I started sleeping with balloons around my head.
People have said they’re looking for a good juvenile balloon tale from me. I’ve got balloons galore in “Familiar Stranger,” but it’s not a kiddie tale. The helium in them serves as a lethal weapon. Good thing, too, because the bite of the alien centipedes, or hydeons, carries a deadly poison. “Familiar Stranger” originally appeared as “Echoes from a Different World” in Alien Worlds. The anthology got a four-star review; but thought nagged at me that Cassandra developed this close friendship with Yarol, and he traveled all the way to Earth to warn her about the evil Kronos. Cassandra, a nurse, didn’t have political connections. Why didn’t he contact the President or other US official? There had to be some romance to motivate his approaching her. Cassandra and Yarol didn’t exactly play Tiddlywinks when they were alone.
“Familiar Stranger” explores the romantic angle, but the danger remains. Cassandra’s survival depends on whether she’s willing to face her past. To find that out, you’ll have to read the book.
Close Liaisons is available on Kindle. You may download it here.