The surge of alien bodies against the barrier is so violent that I feel the ground under my feet actually quake.
Not so ironically, my knees start to do the same thing. Nearly tripping in my hurry to back up, I collide into another woman. She snarls—but when I twist sharply, intending to toss an apology to her, she’s not looking at me at all. She’s facing the… the sight in front of us. My eyes dart back over them, but it’s not a whole lot more believable this time.
Where am I?
“Please be pranking me. Please, let someone with a big camera step out and say this is all a stupid, stupid, terrifying joke.”
“It’s not a joke,” the woman next to me mutters. I’m too scared to admit she’s right. Too scared, but with every passing second, I’m forced more and more towards the possibility that this—this situation—is a reality.
I just dropped off my girls at daycare. I’d been about to head to work! Now I’m here, in a pen, facing a sea of aliens.
Aliens. I double over, gasping. Are my girls safe right now? Did the—I swallow, having a difficult time even thinking the word, no matter what my eyes are telling me—did the aliens leave the daycare safe and untouched when they sucked me up into an alien spacecraft? Did anyone see me get taken? Not that I even saw it happen—vaguely, I think I recall bright light—but it doesn’t matter what I remember. They’ve got to find my car, surely. They’ll know I couldn’t have just disappeared out of thin air. Of course, if no evidence of a freaking spacecraft exists though, they’ll draw the logical conclusion.
And what would that be, exactly?
They’ll think I’ve been abducted, true, but they’ll never guess this. Aliens. Nobody will know where to look for me—how to look for me. How do I get back to my girls?
This last thought makes me heave.
“Yo, you’ve got to keep it together, Pongo.” I feel a flick against the side of my neck. My heavily, heavily freckled neck.
I cough. “You didn’t just 101 Dalmatians me,” I manage to say as I turn to the woman who may, or may not, be trying to insult me.
“That I did,” she replies. “I’d come up with something wicked-clever here about dogs and biting but I got nothing. Guess abduction days aren’t my days, you know?” And although she’s wearing a smile, she’s not committed to it. Her face looks grim, her eyes are rounded and wide, and the terror reflected in them is probably a pretty good match for mine.
“So... this isn’t good,” I say conversationally, having to swallow bile down before I can force the words out. I shove up my sleeves and try to calm my mind.
“No shit. What gave it away?” Her eyes are drawn down to my skin again. “Geez, were you beaten with the freckle stick?”
I can understand why she’s curious. There’s ‘freckled’ and then there’s ‘leopard spot Appaloosa’ and about there is where my skin coverage falls. I’m ready to lob a comeback—I’ve had a lifetime to store them up, after all—when, I don’t know why, but I look over her shoulder.
And see him.
An alien has his hands on the top ‘rung’ of the mish-mash of stuff that forms a barricade between all of us humans, who are standing here huddled together like startled water buffalo facing down a threat—and the aliens clamoring in predatory fashion on the other side.
His eyebrows look charmingly strange—quirky—not made of hairs, exactly, but something else, sort of chunky and spear-shaped and he otherwise appears almost human. It’s reassuring somehow. That, and the fact that he’s not shoving around others near him like a psycho, or screaming things at us we can’t understand. Not like the rest of the aliens here doing exactly that.
He’s staring at me, and as he does, as the woman beside me runs a hand over my freckles, examining them, he runs a hand over his arm—not looking down at it, but seeming to mirror the move thoughtfully.
I have no idea what that means.
I try to break his stare but he gives me a small smile, and it’s so unexpected, small but so kind, that I feel my jaw drop a little.
Then, tentatively, I close my mouth and feel my lips curl up in a tiny return show of… what? Reciprocated kindness? Politeness? I guess it’s nice to know not all aliens are evil and insane.
Though you certainly can’t tell when you look at the rest of them.
Shouldn’t alien lifeforms want to make friendly contact? Or… I don’t know—study us?—in some clinical, hands-off, impersonal way?
That would be better. That would be preferable to—to this.
If you told me the whole Playboy mansion was the prize for the alien who could exhibit the worst behavior, then this would make sense—especially if all the bunnies came with the deal, because that’s how they are ogling us.
Not reassuring. Not reassuring in the least, let me tell you.
At my tiny returned smile, this alien almost seems to bounce on his feet, bobbing lower behind the barrier for a beat but I can still see his face and… seriously, there is something cute going on with his eyebrows, but he’s too far away for me to make the details out. My glasses are smudged, and carefully, I take them off and try to find a spot on my blouse that isn’t covered in sand—that’s what we’re standing on right now; silty, soft sand that kicks up and coats us in a layer of dust.
That’s when something clamps over my arm and yanks me sideways, sending my glasses tumbling to the dirt.
I scream, “Ow, stop, stop! My glasses!” and try to yank back my arm but I’m being dragged along and I have no real leverage to stop this—and the alien that has ahold of me doesn’t feel sorry for me in the least as he takes another one of his hands (of which he has several) and wraps it in my hair, yanking it so hard my neck pulls and I let out an involuntary shout.
There’s an answering holler from the women I was just separated from, and there’s an uproar from the aliens on the other side of the barrier, and then there is this angry, strange, cackling warble that I don’t even know how I notice, how I pick it out from the rest.
But I do, and tears pooling at of the corners of my eyes, I fight the hard grip on my hair to turn enough to see that alien again, the one who smiled at me.
He isn’t smiling now.
He makes an angry motion with his arm, cutting the air in what I’d like to believe is a ‘Stop hurting her!’ gesture that the alien gripping me only laughs at before rattles something back to the unsmiling alien with the quirky eyebrows. Quirky bird-chitter-coughs a reply, confirming what or rather, who, made the cackling noise. He is making it: loud and harsh sounding. And the crowd goes wild behind him. The exchange comes even faster now, the thing holding me starting to sound like a dang auctioneer…
My hands freeze from where I’ve been uselessly trying to pry the cruel fingers out of my hair.
Auctioneer… oh shoot. Oh shoot, oh shoot! My blurry eyes wildly fly around the pen. The pen. Are we in an auction pen?
Other aliens start calling out what sound frightfully like bids. They are bidding on me. What do they want with me?
A flash of this morning, when Megan was struggling to help dress herself, strobe-lights right into my frontal lobe. It’s followed by Simone making a face at the pureed squash I set down in front of her for breakfast. Megan! Simone! I can’t go to an alien! I have to get home to my kids!
I can see the other women have figured out what’s going on too as they stare at me in horror, and I start to struggle against the mean grip even harder in my panic. When the auctioneer gives me a shake that makes me feel like he’s going to peel my scalp right off my dang head, I scream again—and Quirky Eyebrows yells out something that makes the crowd go dead quiet.
Well… this is scary…
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!
The auctioneer does that auctioneer thing, where he tries to goad someone else into jumping in, but despite what sounds like grumbling, there’s no takers. Almost reluctantly, the auctioneer grouses what I assume to be confirmation that Quirky is the one who will be taking me out of here.
I’m hit with a profound sense of relief.
Which is insane: he’s an alien. Feeling relieved would practically be reason enough for a straitjacket except that he appears to be the nicest alien of all of them. Shoot, if they’d just asked me, ‘Now which alien do you want to leave with today, darlin’?’, out of the bunch, I’d have tried my luck with this one anyway.
I just need him to get me home.
I can’t be here: this isn’t where I’m supposed to be. Mothers being separated from children should not be a thing; neither mother nor child should get abducted by aliens. And they certainly don’t get auctioned off to an alien. It’s crazy. It’s not possible. Maybe exhaustion has finally caught up with me and I’m having a whacked-out nap and this is all just an insane drea—
Quirky leaps the fence.
He bounces right over it! Due to the fact that it is nearly as tall as he is, and because he’d been leaning against a part of the pen wall that was solid, I hadn’t been able to see his bottom half before this.
I am so, soooo seeing it now.
And I thought he looked human?
My eyes struggle to make sense of his long, thick, lightly furred tail. To make sense of the powerful, sleek-muscled legs that are not at all hidden by his form-fitting pants. And his feet—his feet are longer than my arms—and when he jumps? His back arches over just like…
Standing before me, I can see that having a pair of different eyebrows is nothing when you consider the fact that the rest of him can be classified as Mutant Kangaroo.