A Solitary Man
by Margaret Karmazin
part 1 of 2
Louis Pickett had finally, after years of carefully saving his money, attained the status of homeowner. The house was a small Cape Cod in a neighborhood changing demographics; Jewish and Italian ladies dying or leaving for nursing homes and middle-class blacks, Hispanics and single WASP women moving in. Louis’ house sat on a corner on a large lot backing up to woods.
His first action after settling in was to erect birdhouses on high poles. Possibly he could prevent the squirrels from reaching them, though he doubted this after watching an Animal Planet show on highly intelligent creatures. Female squirrels were in the top ten. As he’d feared, they were into the birdhouses within a day.
While Louis anticipated spending his weekend building a better squirrel-proof birdhouse, the phone rang. Annoyed, he picked it up and barked hello.
“Helloooooo, Louis,” trilled a chipper voice he instantly recognized as that of Melissa Banks, a fellow teacher at the high school where he taught math. He shuddered. Something about her filled him with dread. Usually, if he saw her coming, he would duck out of sight.
“Um, hi,” he muttered.
“Just wanted to remind you that you’re assigned to bring a dessert to the party!”
Damn! He’d forgotten. The faculty Halloween party at the Croushores’ he’d somehow gotten himself involved in. Jack Croushore, the burly wood-shop teacher and his speech therapist wife Aileen loved to entertain and show off their sprawling home, which Jack was always adding onto. There would be the usual tour where everyone was expected to ooh and aah, then forced conversation with the haggle of single teachers who, Louis knew for a fact, had not yet figured out if he was gay or a weirdo because he never asked any of them out. He wasn’t gay and if he was a weirdo, so be it.
“What time does it start?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Eight o’clock,” said Melissa, “and don’t forget to come in costume!”
Damn! What a barbaric ritual. It reminded him of Black Death parties during the Middle Ages.
“Well, see you then,” he muttered and hung up before she could drag him into something more. He pictured her pear-shaped, flabby body and shuddered.
He shuddered, in fact, at most close social contact. Why couldn’t people just leave him alone, as long as he did his job, which he believed that he did reasonably well?
Now he needed a dessert of some kind and a costume. Grumbling, he managed to locate an old brownie mix in the cupboard and after getting this into the oven, remembered he had junk from his college days in a box in the basement. In it was a black yarn wig he’d once worn to a party, made by his friend Martin’s girlfriend.
Suddenly, he felt a lump in his throat. Martin had died in a freak accident, diving into a lake. Louis had never been as close to anyone since. Could he bear to wear the thing? Well, it was either that or spend his Saturday fighting mall traffic, so he headed down the basement stairs.
Half of the basement had been finished by the former owners, the walls covered in a depressingly dark, “wood” paneling, the floor tiled with 1980’s speckled linoleum. The furnace squatted in the center like Jabba the Hutt with a regular basement beyond that: concrete block walls and gray cement floor.
As Louis headed in that direction, he suffered one of those strange little chills his sister claimed meant that “something is going to happen.” Whatever the case, he made a mental note to do something about this end of the basement sometime. Maybe fix up the whole thing, whitewash the walls, lay down some modern tile. He found the box on metal shelving, pulled out the wig and figured he’d go as a Rastafarian. That would have to do.
* * *
The party was exactly as he’d feared. The same people he saw every day at school, along with spouses and relatives of the hosts, milled about in uncomfortable costumes till someone guessed who they were. Nothing of interest popped up in the conversation other than George Martin, his fellow math teacher, telling Louis that he planned to leave on sabbatical after the holidays. Louis did not have any real friends on the faculty besides George, so the news depressed him.
Jack forced everyone to follow on the usual brag tour, after which Aileen plied them with sweet, spiked punch. Louis was planning his escape when Jack herded everyone into the family room, turned on the wide screen and popped in a DVD.
“Our trip to Africa in June,” Jack announced. “We’re starting up a program in West Cameroon to help a school there. Maybe some of you will volunteer in the summer? You’ll meet some of the students and teachers in this film.” Out went the lights.
The presentation reminded him of church basement missionary meetings his parents had forced him to sit through when he was a kid. It was hard to believe that at thirty-eight years of age, he had to endure this sort of thing again. Not that he didn’t care about Africans. Dutifully, he wrote out a check.
By the time he pulled into his driveway, it was almost one o’clock in the morning. Not used to staying up late or drinking that much, he felt so punchy he almost failed to notice the odd glow coming from the back of the house. When he did, he panicked.
The neighbors’ houses were dark and silent. No cars revved, no dogs barked, which was most unusual. Indeed, there seemed to be a strange silence over everything.
He pulled out the .22 he carried in his glove compartment and crept around the side of the house. What he saw caused him to drop the gun and wet his pants before passing out.
* * *
He came to inside the house, foggy as to what had happened. Someone had carefully laid him on his bed, cleaned up his mess and dressed him in sweat pants that had been hanging on his closet door. These were, oddly, on backwards. The gun was lying on the nightstand. Frantically, he checked to see if it was loaded, which it was. Why would a burglar or killer return his loaded gun?
The hallway floor creaked and a shadowy figure appeared the doorway. It was very tall... frighteningly so. The head touched the top of the door jamb and appeared to be oddly shaped.
Louis’ heart thumped before settling into a loud hammering.
“Sorry to disturb your serenity, Louis Pickett,” said the stranger in a surprisingly high-pitched voice, “but we have chosen your home as the precise spot for our headquarters. Just for a short time, perhaps a year or two. We will do our best not to disturb your normal life routine. Please lie back and rest as there is nothing pressing for you to currently perform.”
Louis scrambled for the gun, got his finger stuck in the trigger and shot the ceiling. His head felt as it were made of oil with fuzz in it, his stomach a bottomless pit swarming with darting bats. The figure moved into the room and stopped. It raised its hand and the barrel of the gun grew blistering hot. Louis let it drop.
“Violence is never a solution,” said the figure, still in shadow. “If you prefer, we can sedate you and you will be able to sleep for one or two days.”
“No!” shouted Louis, fumbling to sit up. “Who are you? What are you?” He was certain he was having a heart attack. His hands were numb.
“We are Nineed and Leegar from a place with which neither you nor your government is familiar. Somewhere far from here and of no importance to you. We need to study your world environmentally and culturally first.
“I, Nineed, am the... anthropologist, while Leegar is the biologist. It is possible that another associate will join us later. We will not annoy you; you may continue with your normal life routine. You do not have to feed us, we have our own food sources.”
“Not annoy me?” Louis shrilled through clattering teeth. “Are you insane? Are you...?”
Nineed stepped a few inches closer. His arm moved into the faint light from a street lamp outside the window. Louis saw, with a stab to his already hellish stomach, that the arm was longer than normal. When Nineed raised it to make a gesture, the now visible hand at its end was long and bony.
“I’m going to vomit,” said Louis, which he immediately did over the side of the bed.
“Uh,” exclaimed the unwanted visitor. “A rank odor. This would be the undigested content of your internal organ for the consuming of food?”
Louis once again fainted.
This time, when he woke, Nineed was slightly less cordial. By his side stood another like him, though shorter.
“Cleaning that up was an unpleasant task,” said the other, who had to be this Leegar. “Please refrain from repeating that behavior.”
Apparently not one to suffer fools, the creature reached out a snaky arm to flick on the light. He held his other hand up in a “halt” position. “Abstain from losing consciousness. Better to know us now since we will be living in the same space.”
There was, at this point, little danger in Louis fainting again. He felt as if there was no more blood left to leave his head and that he had turned to stone.
Before him stood two creatures from a nightmare. Gangly white things with sunken dark eyes and pursed little mouths, heads shaped like potatoes, vein work showing all over their chests and arms. They wore tight, slate-blue pants over their oddly shaped legs that bent backwards like those of a dog. Their ears were small and high on their heads.
“We are not from around here,” Nineed again pointed out, unnecessarily.
* * *
It was at least nine hours before Louis could again speak and another three before he dared leave his room. By the time he did, it was mid-afternoon Sunday. His stomach growled in spite of his sense of unreality.
There was no sign of the monsters as he crept to the kitchen other than some odd equipment stacked in a corner and softly humming. Furtively, he glanced about as he attempted to down a slice of peanut butter toast. His stomach was so tight that eating felt like shoving cardboard into a block of wood with a ramrod. Every nerve in his body was electrified. Should he call the police? The Marines, the Air Force? Had it all been a terrible dream, perhaps instigated by party booze and food poisoning? He had some memory of vomiting after all.
Nineed suddenly materialized in front of the refrigerator. Louis slammed both hands on the table and tried to stand, but was too feeble to accomplish it.
“Sorry to frighten you,” said the monstrosity. “I could have walked up the stairway but this is so much easier. We are still unloading our equipment. The lower level is very good for most of our work, so for ninety-eight percent of the time we will not be in your way. You can see that my rendering of your language is vastly improving, no? Soon, I will be speaking with current argot.”
“The basement?!” demanded Louis. “What about my projects? I’m in the middle of building a birdhouse! And what about my laundry? The washing machine is down there!”
“Do not rile yourself, Louis. We will allow you to use your machines. We will wall off that area or possibly bring them upstairs so you can use them here. What would please you more?”
“What would please me more?” gasped Louis. “If you left, that’s what! What right do you have to do this? I’m calling the government!”
“Which part of your government, Louis? Would the President answer your communication? I do not think those in positions of power would believe you. They have not believed all the other humans who have tried to convey this type of information, have they?”
“No, but...” Louis tried to think though his brain felt as if it were occupied by crazed bees. Every time he looked at the creature, his vision blurred.
“You must think of this as an honor, Louis,” said Nineed. “Of all the humans in the world, we could have chosen anyone, but we chose you. We chose your home. We need to be in the midst of humans but undetectable.”
“But I’m in the middle of a development!” exclaimed Louis. “Kids and mothers will see you, old ladies will see you!”
“We will make certain that no one sees us, but you,” said Nineed, tilting his large, misshapen head. Louis noticed now that his eyes were navy blue, his skin a pale ivory. The creature had black fingernails. -That was not appealing. Well, nothing about him was.
Louis opened his mouth but nothing emerged.
Leegar appeared in the doorway from the basement. “You are fortunate to have us,” he said firmly. He was all business, different from Nineed and his apparent compulsion to explain things. “You should be pleased with the opportunity our presence confers.”
What opportunity?, Louis wanted to scream. “This is rape of some kind!” he managed to sputter, though he was dimly aware that this term did not exactly describe the situation.
“Do not concern yourself,” said Nineed, not unkindly. “We will not be performing probes to your body openings. We will hopefully not be touching you at all.”
“How do I know you’re not planning to invade Earth and eat us or something?”
Nineed looked offended, his eyes actually appearing hurt. “We do not eat animals and most certainly would not risk contaminating ourselves with alien flesh!”
“Oh, so you consider me an animal?” snapped Louis. “And you didn’t answer the question about invasion!”
“If we wanted to invade, we could do it as easily as you could destroy a colony of ants. And yes, you and I are both animals. That does not rule out the idea of possessing interior energy forms, which you humans refer to as ‘souls.’ As for how are you to live normally, Louis, we selected you because you do not appear to be a social animal. You have not mated long term with anyone. You do not invite others to your residence for social interaction. We could hardly set up station in a busy, social family abode, now could we?”
“My sister drops by a lot,” Louis said desperately.
“By ‘a lot’ I believe you are meaning once or twice one of your months? Let us face the truth, Louis. You are a solitary man.” For the first time, Nineed appeared to smile, if a stiff grimace could be called that. “A very solitary man,” he repeated.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Karmazin