“After the Aliens”

We felt a great looming. We told ourselves stories. We wrote books and made movies, blockbusters full of explosions and glory. We believed we were worth fighting against. We believed we were worth conquering. All our interhuman wars would be justified. We had been practicing. We believed in the missiles and bombs we planted underground. They would bloom beautifully!

Take this, we would say. And that! You want to suck out our spinal fluid? Well, take our nukes and bullets, our lasers and fusers! You want to deplete our earth of her energy rich core? Take our atomic catalysts and poisoned radio waves! Oh, you want to string us up like puppets from your giant green fingers? Take our photon neutralizing rockets! Take our screams and bites, kicks and cries, slaps and scratches—our punches in your alien gut! Take the full fury of our desire—our human desire—for life! Because we will live or we will be annihilated magnificently!

That’s what we believed.

Or—and we had considered this possibility, albeit a much less likely possibility we were sure—we would get to spread wide our strong human arms and embrace the needs of those less fortunate passengers on these swirling planets and stars we call the universe. We would offer shelter, house them, clothe them in whatever garb might best suit their particular size and shape. Oh, you are star-shaped and uncomfortably cold. We can knit you a star-shaped sweater. Oh, you are a shape-shifting mass of cells that struggles to subsist in our gravity. We can build gravity-controlled chambers. Yes, we can make them mobile. We can do that! We can feed you, and if our food makes you dyspeptic, we can create new food. We can learn your language. We can speak to you, but more importantly listen. We can provide for your emotional and psychological needs. It must be hard having to leave your home planet, we would say. There, there, we would say. Here, rest here.

And together, we would be better, stronger, faster, more technologically advanced, more spiritually adept, more content, more whole, more human, more…

But they got here before we knew it. They caught us off guard.

Suddenly, they were standing on the steps of our Congresses, Capitals, Palaces, and Parliaments. They were speaking to our leaders. They had already learned our languages, they told us, on the flight in. They took the tour. They saw the sights: the Grand Canyon, the Louvre, Angor Wat, Angel’s Falls, the Pyramids, Easter Island, Mount Everest, the Galapagos, Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, Yellowstone, the Sistine Chapel, Machu Picchu, the great Barrier Reef, Bora Bora, Challenger Deep, both poles, all of it. They saw all of it. They even had a commission in place to experience our arts and cultures. They celebrated holidays, witnessed births and funerals, attended weddings, sang our songs, read our books, danced our dances, drank our various fermented beverages, drank our various non-fermented beverages, finger-painted, wrote haiku, watched puppet shows, took siestas, made pancakes, found God, lost God, played our various ball-based sports, played our various non-ball based sports, held mock elections, ran mock dictatorships, meditated, herded cattle, slept in hammocks, felled timber, snorkeled, sculpted, lifted weights, ate ten pound cheeseburgers, fasted, skied, surfed, argued Socratically, etc. etc. They also uncovered cultural artifacts we had yet to discover: a lost root language, Atlantis, a fifth gospel. All of this occurred on their first day here.

They stayed for three.

For the other two days, they stood still, all of them, and watched us. Just watched us. They stood on our street corners, in our backyards, in our kitchens, on our rooftops, in our yurts. They were everywhere: on our couches, in our canoes, at our offices, in our Jacuzzis. For two whole days, they watched us.

We did different things. We hid. We pretended they weren’t there. We performed. We imitated them. We worshipped them. We told them about ourselves. We tried to have conversations.

We asked them, what are you doing here?

And they told us, we are watching you.

And we found that most unnerving. So, of course, deep underground and deep inside mountains and under oceans and behind secret dead-bolted doors and far back in the woods, we were also readying ourselves for that one great battle, flicking switches, heating rays, loading clips, firing up the ultra-beam. Just in case, we said to each other. Remember the looming, we said. Why are they watching us?

Then after one day of experiencing life on our planet and two days of watching, they left. They didn’t provide a detailed analysis of our strengths and weaknesses as a species. They didn’t say watch the stars because we will be back to take all of your resources. They didn’t say prepare for battle. They didn’t say help us. They didn’t say goodbye.

They left and we don’t know where they went. We don’t know where they came from. We watched their ship blip out of our atmosphere and then blip off our radars and then blip out of range of our farthest satellites.

And then we were alone again, as good as alone, worse than alone, amongst the twirling whirling planets and stars we call the universe. We were left with our weapons and operas, our siestas and cheeseburgers.

What was that? we asked each other.

What do we do now?

About Riley Kross

Riley Kross was born in Iowa but grew up in the backwoods and suburbs of Middle Georgia. His fiction has also appeared in Grist. He received his MFA in fiction from North Carolina State University and currently lives with his wife and son in Birmingham, Alabama.