The Alien by Kotzwinkle Chapter 1

The alien moved slowly through the crowd, the figures before him distorted, his vision made for other realities. He was stranded. Figures passed him, traffic heaved, a patchwork of disorientation. If anyone touched him, they quickly withdrew, unconsciously repelled. He could have given them the jolt of their lives if he weren’t confused.
Border entities had stripped his memory, for amusement or nourishment or for no reason at all. Border entities were rapacious and stupid. Setting traps is what they did best. He remembered a struggle, a shattering defeat. And then he’d surfaced in this kaleidoscopic tunnel of fear, unable to remember his own world.
“… watch where you’re going… you idiot…”
A glancing blow, he must be careful. These creatures were vicious.
Wrapped in a heavy coat, how had he come by it? It was saturated with menace. Who had been its owner?
Every voice was unsettling. Some awful finality, like a death, had occurred, the action of an ominous cosmic law. These figures had not suffered it, their certainty had shape, substance. He shuffled brokenly, footsteps uncertain, walking among them, an intruder in their dimension.
How was he going to survive? He was afraid to look at himself. He was a predator, that much he knew, that had not been erased. But who or what was his prey?
He turned toward a window, caught his reflection. Features, form, he had the outward characteristics of these creatures. The border entities had seen to that.
But where will I eat? Where will I lie down?
Pointless questions. I’m a predator. I’ll eat, I’ll sleep. Slowly assemble.
The creatures among whom he’d fallen were comfortable with overwhelming noise surrounding them. Comfortable with bright light flashing everywhere, spilling from meaningless signs. They moved in and out of open doorways, their voices as loud as the sound with which they surrounded themselves.
A noise louder than all the others shook the air and flames leapt into the sky, pouring out of a dark crater. Bystanders looked at it appreciatively, some of them clapping. A second roar shook the air and the flames leapt higher, licking the night sky.
He watched until the flames died down. “Every hour on the hour,” murmured one creature to another. “The Mirage is something, baby.”
A mirage? It looked perfectly real to him. He crossed the busy thoroughfare toward the now silent crater. It was certainly not a mirage.
He continued on, telling himself he could survive this place. Faintly he remembered other places, but only in fragments. He sensed he’d been a traveler, but not in clumsy contraptions such as those moving in the street beside him. Nor in a body such as the one he found himself in now. He’d traveled as energy, shaping himself as circumstances required. Yes, he remembered that much. Bodies of extreme density such as this one he was stuck in at the moment – that had not been his predilection. He preferred traveling as a phantom. How he had achieved that state, which surely was a higher one, he did not know. But now here he was, mired in density of the worst kind, the kind that oppressed the mind, dulling it, limiting its scope. This was part of his memory failure; he didn’t have the quickness required to reassemble the past. The fragments surfaced but were gone too quickly. He was in a high maintenance body of muscle and bone. Gone was the swift reaction time of the energy traveler.
“Check it out, massage, in your room…” A string of young men were handing out leaflets mechanically, and he felt how their attention was somewhere else, on some hidden plan they had. He felt a faint affinity with them. People avoided them, brushing by them as if they weren’t there. And the leaflet men were themselves elsewhere, their thoughts far away. He took one of the leaflets, took a second one, took one from every one of the young men. The leaflets were meaningless to him but he put them in the pocket of his coat anyway. Because of the young men, because they too were elsewhere in the mind, traveling on energy. But to where? He formed words in his head, found a voice to utter them and asked one of the young men,”Where do you go?”
“Call the number.” The young man hardly looked at him, couldn’t care less.
He stepped away from the young man, leaned against a building, watched.
“Come on in,” said a recorded voice coming from a speaker above the door. “We’ve got the best penny slots in Vegas.”
He stepped inside, into the flashing lights and the ringing bells. Smoke hung over the huge room. People sat on little stools in front of colorful machines. The machines spun images which they watched closely, going on little trips, then returning, then traveling again, guided or inspired by the colorful machines.
He had much to learn about this world called Vegas.