The Alienation of Clark Monohan
by James Rumpel
The day was Clark Monohan’s twenty-first birthday. No one at the furniture factory knew that fact. Clark didn’t need for them to know. The rest of the workers were congenial toward him, but none of them extended the bond of friendship. He didn’t have or need friends. Clark was a loner.
He gazed upon the numerous stacks of various-sized furniture pieces before him. In his hands, he held thousands of little stickers emblazoned with individual capital letters. His job was to place the appropriate sticker on each of the unassembled parts. Most people found this duty to be exceedingly boring and would request to be transferred to a different task sometime during their first day. This was not true of Clark. He loved this job. He found great pleasure in removing each little circular sticker from its background and adhering it to the rectangular-shaped pieces of wood.
As he performed his job, there was always a crooked little smile on his face, though most people might not have recognized it as a smile. Clark had never mastered the art of smiling. He could only make one side of his mouth curve upward. To most, his awkward smile looked like a sneer.
Artie Brewer, a coworker, approached him with a huge grin plastered on his face. Artie’s smile was not difficult to perceive. “Hey, Clark, that UPS lady is in the office. You should go and talk to her. She is a looker. If I wasn’t married, I’d be asking her out.”
Clark shook his head. “She’s not my type,” was his only response. This was true. While every other male employee at the factory found the UPS lady to be gorgeous, she didn’t impress him. He didn’t find curvy women with shiny hair and big eyes to be attractive. Clark was different.
Artie shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “Come on, Clark, you have to lighten up and have some fun.” Just then, one of the factory’s many power saws malfunctioned. The resulting ear-piercing screech caused Artie to cover his ears and cringe. Clark, on the other hand, briefly flashed his odd smile. He found the high-pitched squeal to be rather enjoyable.
* * *
That evening, Clark stared across the table at his three teenage brothers. They glared back, silently. As usually happened at family get-togethers, a major portion of the time was spent in awkward silence. The eldest Monohan always marveled at how different he was from the rest of his family. The other three boys all had straight red hair and green eyes, while Clark’s head was topped with a mop-like clump of curly brown hair. His bangs often cascaded down into his slightly crossed dark blue eyes.
“So how is work going?” asked Clark’s father, attempting to get a conversation started.
“Fine,” was the brief reply.
“I hear he does a very good job,” interjected Mrs. Monohan. “Artie Brewer says that no one else has lasted more than a week doing Clark’s job. Artie thinks Clark enjoys it.”
“I do, Mother.” Clark appreciated his mother’s support and took her statement to be a compliment.
“Well, Clark enjoys a lot of weird things,” added one of his brothers. “Remember when he nearly got kicked out of school because he wouldn’t stop running his fingernails along the chalkboard?”
“He said he liked the sound,” added Sean, the oldest of the siblings.
“Now, boys,” scolded their father, “quit giving Clark a hard time. He is doing very well living on his own. How do you like living in Grandma and Grandpa’s old farmhouse?”
“It’s fine,” answered Clark.
“Why don’t you open your present?” suggested his mother, as she handed him a neatly wrapped box. “After that, we can have some cake.”
“Thank you, Mom,” said Clark as he carefully broke the tape and slid back the gift paper. Inside was a DVD of the original Twilight Zone, season 3. “I like it,” he announced and gave his mother a clumsy hug.
“We got you something too,” proclaimed the boys in unison. The youngest went out to the porch and returned carrying a bright green helium-filled balloon. “It isn’t much, but we know how you enjoy watching balloons float into the air.” With that, he released the balloon and it slowly climbed upward until it bounced to a stop against the kitchen ceiling.
Clark couldn’t help himself. Despite his usually grumpy mood, he let out a brief chuckle. He found nothing to be more entertaining than watching balloons, or anything else, sail upward.
His brothers also giggled, but for a different reason. “Your laugh is so funny,” announced Sean. “It sounds more like a wheeze.”
“It sounds like you have asthma,” added the youngest.
“Okay, boys, behave!” commanded their mother. “Let’s just have some cake and leave Clark to get some rest. He has to go to work in the morning.”
* * *
Later that evening, after his family had finally departed, Clark settled down to begin watching the DVD his mother had given him. A vast majority of his free time was spent watching old science fiction television shows. His two favorite shows were The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek. He liked these shows because so many of their episodes dealt with people or beings who were out of place. A vast majority of Clark’s DVD collection was made up of these two series and a few PBS documentaries on hot-air ballooning, which he watched whenever he needed a good laugh.
He had made a snack for himself. He spurned the left-over birthday cake his mother had left. Clark didn’t like cake. Instead, he indulged in his favorite treat: dill pickles dipped in ketchup.
While watching his new DVD, he was suddenly aware of a thunderous noise and a brilliant light coming from outside the farmhouse. Clark hesitated before moving to the window and then outside in hope of discovering what was going on.
Once outside, his eyes were immediately drawn upward to a large saucer-shaped craft that was slowly descending into his yard. The saucer was approximately fifty feet in diameter and about twenty feet tall. A track of what looked like blinking Christmas lights encircled its circumference. Four extremely bright floodlights shot out from the bottom of the craft. One of these beacons captured the young man within its rays and stayed on him as the spaceship settled to the ground.
Clark reacted as he always did in times of great anxiety; he burped in fear. Unable to move, frozen by a combination of horror and amazement, Clark watched the saucer settle onto the grassy yard. The craft sank about five feet into the soft soil, leaving the blinking marquee lights at ground level.
Clark broke from his trance-like state long enough to think, Mom and Dad are not going to be happy about having to fix the lawn. The floodlight that had focused on him during the landing had somehow moved to the edge of the saucer and was still illuminating Clark.
As he watched, a panel on the side of the craft slid to the left revealing its brightly lit interior. Despite the glare, Clark was able to make out a shape moving towards him. A short rectangular metal object emerged. It moved forward on two rotating tracks. It looked like a silver box mounted on top of a miniature military tank. The mechanism rolled to a stop and spoke: “Clark, please follow me.”
He obediently followed the machine. Maybe it was the shock of hearing the robot call him by name. Maybe it was a level of courage that he didn’t know he possessed. Maybe it was the fact that everything happening was so different from normal. Whatever the reason, Clark felt compelled to obey.
Once inside the saucer, Clark realized the lighting was not as intense as it had seemed from the outside. The room he found himself in was rather dimly lit. A row of what looked like stadium seats occupied the center of the chamber.
Six seats faced what appeared to be a large flat-screen television set. A few other unidentifiable instruments or machines lined the outer edge. These devices each had a several flickering lights which blinked in no discernible pattern. Clark also noticed that each was labeled with a sticker. Each sticker displayed a single unique symbol.
The robot spoke: “Please, have a seat. We have a great deal to discuss.” This time Clark noticed that the voice sounded as if it was from a female, high-pitched and nasal. Once again, he surprised himself by following the instruction.
The voice continued: “Clark, you are not from Earth. You were placed here as an infant for your protection. Now that you have reached adulthood and the threat to you has passed, I have been sent to retrieve you and return you to your home planet and your family.”
Copyright © 2020 by James Rumpel