Dan cornered me in my garage. It was a Thursday afternoon, three days after my seventh anniversary of moving into this house. He looked perplexed, apprehensive. His usual jocular demeanor was still present, like the Detroit Tiger’s ball cap, which almost seemed a part of his actual body, but submerged beneath a white mask of near dread. There was a question lingering on his lips, burning behind his eyes and exerting pressure on his gut like the anxiety faced by any Republican candidate trying desperately to not say something sexist, racist, or otherwise blatantly offensive.
I had always liked Dan. He was cute in a redneck-sort-of-way, and his wife Linda baked brownies good enough to warrant selling your own kidney (that is to say, for those who actually have kidneys) for just a bite. They also kept up their house, never made any noise, always waved hello, and gave me a box of candy every Christmas. For these reasons and others, I chose to spare him the dilemma of asking his question.
“Yes,” I said slowly and clearly. “I did it.”
He looked both relieved and increasingly terrified at the same time. But still, he wasn’t leaving. He didn’t turn and run. He didn’t back away in fear. He just stood there, perhaps wondering what to do next, or waiting for an explanation. I’m not sure exactly what was going through his mind or what he needed, but I decided to go with the latter.
“For the most part,” I began, “I’ve learned to control my cravings. It’s taken me a long time…a very long time…but those people just pissed me off.”
“No, no,” I clarified. “I’m not sexually interested in humans. Oh, many of you are attractive, sure, but I can’t imagine myself—perhaps I should back-up a little…”
Dan nodded. Again, he neither fled or assumed a defensive posture. My garage was full of sharp objects—knives, power tools, chisels of every shape and size—not a place where anyone might feel safe when confronting a confirmed murderer. Yet he remained, apparently anxious to hear my story.
As suggested, I did back up, but not quite to the beginning. “Do you remember when we met?”
Again he nodded.
“I was moving my shit into the house, and you and one of your sons came across the street and offered to help. Who was it, Bill?”
“No,” Dan said, “Bill was in school. It was Eric, on leave after boot camp.”
“That’s right.” I smiled remembering how much father and son had looked alike. “How is Eric? Didn’t he get married recently?”
“Last year,” Dan seemed to relax.
Shit, after more than five hundred years on this pathetic, yet highly entertaining planet, I have learned more than a little about manipulating the natives. A simple appeal to ego will open so many doors…
“He and Marissa are expecting their first baby in a few months.”
I produced a warm, toothy smile. To my surprise, I actually meant it too. “That’s great! Congratulations. I guess this makes you a grandfather again.”
He smiled with the kind of pride only a grandfather could understand. It was one of the things I liked—and hated—most about humans; their obsession with reproduction. Every living thing in the universe reproduces, and with surprisingly few variations. However, only Humans see their own progeny as something extraordinary. Many of them use the word miracle. How can something that happens X number of times a day be considered a miracle? A real miracle would be those people who don’t have babies…which certainly doesn’t include my recently departed neighbors—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Anyway, I had just moved here from Istanbul—”
“Is that near Chicago?”
“You told us you came from Illinois.”
“True. Because they both start with the letter ‘I’. Makes it easier to keep my story straight. But the truth is I came here directly from Turkey. Over the years, I’ve developed a successful algorithm using map coordinates to determine my next destination…never mind all that. I had gotten carried away with myself in Istanbul, and the local authorities, such as they were, were on to me. A surly café owner pushed my buttons and I went on a bit of a bender. More of a binge, really. Anyway, I had to get out of there fast. When I came here, I vowed to try harder to control my…um…inclinations?”
No reaction came from Dan. Either he was trying to process what I had told him, or maybe it still wasn’t enough to paint a complete picture.
“It was actually pretty easy,” I said. “I like it here. It’s a nice neighborhood, and of course, once I met Sophia…”
Dan smiled at the name. Everyone had loved Sophia. She was the sweetest old woman anyone could ever want to meet.
“I never had a grandmother—or even a mother for that matter, but if I had, I couldn’t have asked for one better than that sweet old lady. She cooked for me sometimes. And I found shoveling her driveway actually made me feel good,” I explained. “True, my kind is totally unaffected by the cold and I only need to sleep one hour per cycle—day—so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice, but her gratitude was something really special. She made me feel as if I belonged here…all of you did, but Sophia in particular.”
“We all like you,” Dan affirmed. “Even though we knew you were different.”
Quite an understatement, but the sentiment still fit. Different. Yeah, you could certainly describe me as different. I was grown in a factory, twenty-five thousand years ago on the other side of the galaxy. My survival on this isolated planet, orbiting a fantastically ordinary sun, is testament to my superior construction. Of course, not superior enough to get me off this rock, so I’ve adapted. Most surprisingly, is how easy adaption had been in the past seven years. This was the first place I’d settled that seemed like home, and I’ve been very happy…or I was until those assholes arrived next door.
“After she died,” I continued, “I was willing to look after her house and yard, even though her lazy children couldn’t be bothered to do anything, but I felt I owed it to her. When it finally sold, I was relieved. My duty to a good friend had been accomplished, and I could look forward to a new kind of relationship. Fuck me.” I have learned a certain appreciation for human expletives. No other race in the entire galaxy has a word more flexible or meaningful than fuck.
“It wasn’t bad at first. They moved-in during the winter, so I didn’t have any real contact with them for a while. I did go over and introduce myself and welcomed them to the neighborhood, but that was about it. I didn’t start to worry until spring.”
“What did they do?”
“Nothing. Nothing, and I mean that on a colossal scale. They didn’t wave back when I waved, they didn’t mow their lawn or supervise the grandchildren when then came stomping through my flowers. They were just a constant pain-in-the-ass, while simultaneously radiating an attitude of entitlement.”
Dan knew about that attitude. I watched him get into a screaming-match once with Smack-Head over their cars blocking his driveway. Their defense: I have kids. Apparently, on Earth, breeding gives you special rights, even over those who have also managed to reproduce. Growing-up over the course of thirteen hours in a small glass tube has rendered me clueless to this whole line of logic.
“I’m not sure when things turned really ugly. Sure, I was pissed when I watched Horsey-Face throw candy wrappers in her driveway, which didn’t get picked-up until they blew into my yard and I took care of it.”
“She did that?”
“Often. Go look at the pile of shit behind their garage. Also, too fucking lazy to recycle. That really infuriates me.”
“Really?” Dan was clearly surprised. After everything I had already admitted, or at least alluded towards, this is the part that made him question?
“Sure,” I said. “Even though I’m not…native…the condition of the planet is very important to me. You see, I am virtually indestructible. My life functions could easily continue for another ten to twenty thousand years. Personally, I don’t want to live on a polluted rock, covered with plastic water bottles and industrial waste. Not that it would impede my survival, but just imagine the smell.”
Dan actually chuckled at that last part and nodded. “Yeah, that matters to me too, even with only thirty years ahead of me. So… Where did you come from?”
I was reluctant to offer the specifics. My experience here told me that the locals were not equipped for this kind of truth, even though their fiction and imagination had, at times, come remarkably close to the greater reality above. However, most of them still clung to the mythologies of their not-so-distant past. According to the fish plaque on Linda’s car, she was definitely one of them, so, I assumed, was her husband.
During the past few minutes, Dan had not only remained, but in fact seemed more open now than when he first arrived. He was leaning casually against the table of my radial arm saw with the expression of a toddler during reading time. I witnessed no evidence of disbelief, or even a concern for my sanity. He didn’t beg a deity to grant him salvation, didn’t reach for any magic amulet for protection. And what the hell, I had already revealed enough to make certain a decision on my part was looming; a few more details wouldn’t change much.
“I was on deployment—”
“—You’re a soldier?”
“Something like that,” I half-lied. This is one point where I’m sure the complete truth might be too much. “Anyway, I was in storage when my transport crashed on this planet. I have no idea what happened since the vessel was automated. I wasn’t aware of anything until I found myself drifting in what I now know to be the Pacific Ocean.”
“No one came to rescue you?” Dan was aghast, actually showing concern for my safety.
I shook my head. “And no one ever will. Constructions like me are intended to be disposable.”
“How did you survive alone in the middle of the ocean?”
“We are designed to adapt instantly to any environment. Actually, I spent years swimming around the ocean, as you might say, ‘happy as a clam.’ I didn’t even know there was intelligent life on this planet until I bumped into a ship.
“By the way, I’m sorry about all those sea-serpent legends. I was prepared for the worst. In fact, at first, I didn’t even know it was a ship at all because it was so primitive and smelled like piss and disease.”
“Was it an old ship?”
“Yeah. Ferdinand Magellan’s, actually. After that initial encounter, I kept back and followed them for a while. Eventually, I tried living on land among you. For the most part, it’s been okay.”
“And you lived around humans all this time, and no one has noticed?”
“Oh, people have noticed! That’s why I move around a lot. That was much easier in the past before you started keeping detailed records, but I manage. I have taken sabbaticals from humanity, like the two decades I spent alone in the Himalayas. Sorry about that Yeti-thing too. I was trying something new, but it didn’t quite work out as I expected.”
Dan laughed. I don’t know if he thought I was joking—which I was not—but I guess it was kind of funny either way. “What about the Loch Ness Monster? Or Big Foot?”
Now was my turn to laugh. “Your people made those up on your own. However, I did take advantage of the Big Foot thing in the 40’s, but that was just to have some funsies with a drunk neighbor.”
“So you’ve had neighbor problems before?” Dan asked with a smirk.
“Yes, although I’ve never resorted to violence. Well, there was that one time in Shandong, but it was during the peak of the Boxer Rebellion. From there I moved to Russia, and soon after, found the need for a better strategy.”
A blank stare from Dan confirmed what I should have suspected. He probably knew nothing about turn-of-the-century Chinese history, or the rise of the Bolsheviks, and really, none of that was important right now. The current question forming on his lips, one that he was probably reluctant to give breath, was much more pressing.
“I could handle the garbage, and their roaring engine tearing in and out of the driveway all day and night. I could even stand the smell of processed crap wafting from their kitchen window. But things really got nasty when they brought that dog home.”
Dan nodded at that mention of the dog. “Yeah, I was unhappy when I saw the pit in their back yard. One of those dogs attacked Linda when she was walking Posey.”
“Right. The only thing worse than having a pit bull next door is having a mistreated pit bull next door. And believe me, they mistreated that poor animal. On hot days, the only water she got was either from me or Peyton.”
“He told me about that,” Dan agreed. Peyton was the young man living on the other side of the dirt-bag’s house. Although not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and an obvious steroid junkie, Peyton was nice enough. And the two of us were, apparently, the only…organisms…who cared about the nameless pooch.
“I was sitting on my patio,” I explained, “and watched the old bitch whip the dog with her own leash. She was trying to get some attention, some affection. For that, she got whipped. I complained, and Horsey-Face, and her slack-jawed son, had the nerve to threaten me. Me! Not that they could have known, but I personally, or as part of a larger effort, have decimated nineteen populated planets.
“I’m sorry if I overreacted, but I just couldn’t let that one go. Especially later that evening when I heard them screaming at the dog to stop barking. She probably just needed to urinate, and they were too lazy to take her outside. That’s when I decided I could go for a little something to eat. So I did.”
Now Dan was a little uncomfortable. More than a little, actually, but still not running in fear, or trying to defend himself with the nearest tool. “You…you actually…”
“Well, teeth were involved. I certainly didn’t swallow!”
Dan laughed a nervous little laugh. And then I laughed. Soon, we were both bellowing a hearty guffaw, complete with tears and more than a little snot.
“Oh, you had me going there, for a minute,” Dan said, struggling to catch his breath. “I watched you guys screaming at each-other that morning. And then when I saw the cops…I thought maybe you finally lost your temper. Like you said, they are dirt-bags. They probably just ran-out on their mortgage or something. I hope the dog is okay.”
“She is,” I confirmed. “Animal control came by while the police were still there, but it looked like Peyton took her. She’ll be fine.”
Dan made a noise of approval before slapping his own hip. “Good to hear. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they ever come home. We might have to take care of the grass until somebody claims the house.”
I nodded in agreement.
As he turned and started walking towards home, he chuckled again and turned back. With a toothy grin, he pointed at me and said, “Magellan. Ha!”
Watching him shrink into the distance, I was relieved. There had been a huge belch forming in my gut for over fifteen minutes, and I couldn’t contain it any longer. It was nearly loud enough to shake the windows, and had the distinct odor of human flesh.