Cleveland Parrish dreamed big and his waistline grew bigger. Success as an inventor remained just out of reach.
At least until the alien walked into his basement and gave him a chance to improve his life.
Fans of aliens visiting Earth will enjoy this light-hearted look at an Alien Conspiracy Theory.
Cleveland Parrish, forty-one years old with an expanding midsection and a thinning top-section, enjoyed the warm air the dehumidifier blew across his feet. The Frigidaire appliance looked something like a Star Wars droid, a fact that he enjoyed. It squatted next to his desk, a battered state surplus piece of furniture complete with scratched putty-colored paint and a peeling wood veneer top. The desk and Cleveland were right in the center of his mother’s basement beneath the hula dancer lamp with a single bulb that was strapped to the ceiling and plugged into a squid surge protector also held to the ceiling by a thin strip of metal. More power cords plugged into the surge protector’s many arms and dangled down to the computers and monitors that covered the desk in a web of components not too unlike something from a Borg cube. This was his special place, his top secret workshop, that no one—not even his mother—was allowed to enter. Which made it all the more surprising when the door at the top of the stairs opened and the alien walked down into the basement as if he owned it.
Cleveland didn’t doubt for a second that the alien was in fact an alien, even though the shadows on the stairs somewhat obscured his features. To someone less observant the alien might even pass as human, with the long black business coat, collar flipped up like some hard-boiled detective, an expensive black suit and a hat on top of a too-pale head. But to Cleveland, he saw that the alien’s legs didn’t bend in the right places as he walked down the stairs and two of the fingers in the black gloves he wore didn’t move at all but stuck straight out unnaturally stiff. Even what was visible of his neck and face was pale and waxy as if he was an escaped exhibit from a wax museum. When Cleveland saw that he had an alien intruder in his basement he pressed four keys simultaneously on his primary keyboard and just like that all of his systems went into a lock-down mode.
Leaning back in his Aeron chair—deliberately not even glancing at the hidden panic room—Cleveland folded his hands on his ample belly. “I don’t know what you want, sir, but you aren’t going to get it out of me. I doubt even you will be able to get past my encryption.”
The alien walked until he reached the circle of light cast by the lamp strapped to the ceiling and he stopped. He held his hands out to his side, palms up. “Mr. Parrish?”
“That’s me.” Cleveland was pleased that his voice remained steady. Aliens knew about him. There was actually a freaking alien standing right in front of him. Even though he suspected that the alien wanted his invention, he still found it sort of awesome. “Who are you and what planet are you from?”
The alien reached up as if to take his hat off but his face and neck came with it, peeling free of the alien’s head. Wet fur glistened in the dim light. The pale dangling mask looked like Michael Meyers, and Cleveland rubbed his moist hands on his stained lab coat. Beneath the mask the alien’s face screamed “animal” to Cleveland. Furred, big domed head, with bright yellow eyes and a mouth full of white teeth. It should have looked like a monkey’s head, or an ape’s, but somehow it didn’t look like those at all. Something about it still suggested a non-terrestrial organism. Cleveland looked into the alien’s eyes and had no doubt that they had evolved under a different sun. No special effects makeup ever could look so real and yet so alien at the same time. Even with CGI it would probably prove impossible to ever capture the exact sense of alien that he got from his visitor. The alien was like a live actor inserted into a cartoon. No matter how much it interacted with the cartoon characters it just never felt like it belonged. This being, this person who had evolved under a different sun, didn’t belong on Earth.
“Mr. Parrish, I came to offer my assistance with your invention.”
Despite the constant warm breeze from the dehumidifier, Cleveland felt a chill. “My invention?”
He knew his voice came out too high-pitched, as it always did when he was nervous.
“We’ve detected your early tests. Without our assistance there is a risk that you might destroy your entire planet.”
“That quake was totally not my fault!” Cleveland winced. He tried to lower his voice. “I don’t believe that my invention could do what you’re suggesting.”
“Not now, but further testing could lead to the construction of a stable singularity that could engulf your entire planet.”
Cleveland shook his hand at the alien, warming to the topic. “Ah, but you’re mistaken my alien friend. Even if I somehow created an artificial black hole it would evaporate quickly. And that’s not what I’m doing anyway. Why are you really here?”
The alien looked at him and blinked. The silence stretched on. Cleveland picked up a red plastic eight-sided die and rolled it from one hand to the other. The alien kept blinking. Cleveland rocked back in the chair, he rolled the die. Still the alien didn’t move. Didn’t do anything except blink. It’s a test. A test and Cleveland could wait. He’d wait all day if he had to. If the alien had any sort of expression Cleveland couldn’t read it. The alien might as well not exist.
That made him wonder. What if the alien didn’t really exist? Suppose this was nothing more than a sugar-induced hallucination, a bit of chocolate that had gone bad? That could explain why he thought the alien didn’t look like it belonged here—maybe it didn’t. Cleveland got up from the chair. Enough of this, he’d find out if this was something more than a stale Twinkie.
His stained lab coat billowed out behind him as he walked around the desk. He reached out his right hand. He only meant to touch the alien, to ascertain the reality of what could after all, be reasonably taken as a potential hallucination. Cleveland didn’t even seen the alien move but in the next second his hand was caught in an incredibly painful pincher grip. The alien squeezed with enough force that it felt like he would pulp Cleveland’s hand. Not only that but the alien used his grip to pull Cleveland around and twisted his arm up behind his back. Another hand seized the back of his neck and applied equally painful pressure. The trinity of pain, his hand, his shoulder and his neck, had Cleveland gasping.
“Please! Stop! I just wanted to make sure you were real!”
The pressure vanished in an instant. Cleveland staggered away and dropped down onto his knees. He cradled his wounded hand. He didn’t want to look—had to look—and oh, shit! Already the center of his palm was turning purple with an alien-induced stigmata.
“Apologies, Cleveland Parrish. I took your approach as some form of attack.”
Cleveland cradled his hand. “How am I supposed to work with my hand like this?”
Cleveland dared a glance up at the alien. He still couldn’t read any expression on that furry face.
The alien smacked his lips together. “I will return with a medical device. I believe it’ll be safe to use on you, and it should heal your injuries.”
Believe it’ll be safe? Cleveland opened his mouth to protest but the alien was already pulling back on his Michael Meyers mask and hat as he turned away to stomp back up the stairs.
The alien returned with two silvery hula hoops. Cleveland had considered leaving but he didn’t dare leave without his equipment. What if the alien came back and found him gone? He had gotten up and made it back to his chair at least before the alien returned and he had dried his tears. He knew his eyes would look red—they always did after he cried—but he doubted the alien would understand his expressions any more than he could read the alien’s face. The hula hoops drew Cleveland’s attention. What were those?
As if reading his mind the alien lifted the hoops up. “This is the medical device I mentioned.”
“Yes. This.” The alien dropped one hoop onto the floor. It thunked as if very heavy. He dropped the other above the first only it flew upwards and thudded against the ceiling.
“Wow, nifty trick. What —”
A column of blue light filled the space between the two hoops. It pulsed slowly from bright to faint and back. The alien peeled off his Michael Meyers mask and tossed it aside. He spread his arms. “Please, enter the device.”
Cleveland’s hand was killing him at that point. The pain throbbed with his heart-beat. He couldn’t even hardly move his fingers and the hand was swelling rapidly into a balloon-caricature of a hand.
“You’re sure this is safe?”
“I believe it’ll be safe, Mr. Parrish.”
“Right.” Cleveland struggled up out of his chair, harder to do with one hand, and walked right up to the column. “I just step inside? What does it feel like?”
“Yes. It feels like sunshine. It’ll make you well.”
Cleveland took a deep breath and stepped into the column. Wow! Sunshine on a hot day! It felt like a hundred degrees in the light. Looking out the whole basement was blue tinted. The heat soaked into his bones. After the shock of going from the cool basement to the hot light passed it actually felt good. He realized that his pain was gone. Even the headache that had been creeping around in the back of his skull. And the backache he always had. He took a deep breath and felt remarkable. Like he could run and jump. The warmth soaked deep inside and he couldn’t remember a time he had ever felt better than right at that moment. He laughed from the sheer joy of it!
“Are you in distress?”
Cleveland looked at the alien. “No, I feel great, actually. This is amazing.”
And his hand! Cleveland lifted it up in front of his face. All of the swelling was gone, the bruise was vanishing before his eyes like water drying on a hot sidewalk. It shrank and shrank away until it was only a dot and then nothing! He wiggled his fingers. No pain! He laughed again.
Then his pants fell off, puddling around his ankles.
Cleveland bent down to grab them and pull them up. They were huge! He held his pants up to his waist. “What’s going on?”
“You are being healed.”
“My pants got bigger!”
“No, Mr. Parrish, your excessive fat deposits have been removed.”
“What?” Cleveland looked down and for the first time in he couldn’t remember how many years he wasn’t looking down the rising slope of his belly. He looked down and saw his feet in last year’s worn leather Christmas slippers.
“Remain in the light until the cycle completes.”
“Uh, okay.” Cleveland licked his lips. Talk about your weight loss miracles. He still felt fantastic, but as he looked down he realized his shirt also hung loose. The warmth reached a peak intensity that almost felt like he was being scalded from the inside out. He grimaced but didn’t dare move.
The light stopped a moment later. Cleveland stepped out of the metal hoop, still holding his pants up. He licked his lips nervously. “Maybe I’d better go change into something that fits?”
“Certainly.” The alien bent and picked up the hoop from the floor. When he moved it the one stuck up on the ceiling fell but the alien caught it as easily as a juggler. “I will put this device away.”
Away. Cleveland looked up the stairs. “So you’ve got like some sort of spaceship outside?”
“Won’t people notice?”
“No. My vessel is shielded from detection.”
Oh. “Well, that’s great. We’ll meet back here in five minutes?”
Good, because Cleveland didn’t want to leave the alien down in the basement alone. Still, it made him think of something. “What do I call you?”
Big yellow eyes blinked at him and then the alien said, “Deep.”
“Deep? I’m supposed to call you Deep?”
“Okay.” Cleveland gestured to the stairs. “Go ahead, Deep.”
Deep picked up his mask, slipping it on again before he went upstairs. Cleveland suppressed a remark about the alien’s—about Deep’s—disguise, and followed him upstairs.
The kitchen was empty and Deep went right out the screen door without any hesitation. Through the door in the living room Cleveland heard the sound of the television. He walked past the long counter, everything shining from his mother’s dust rag, and into the living room. His mother looked pretty much as she’d always looked to him, just more gray and heavier, the gray and weight creeping up on her over the years. She sat where she always sat on the right side of the couch, her feet up on the recliner’s support, and a glass of iced tea on the end table beside her.
“Having fun with your friend?” she asked, without looking away from the show she was watching.
“Yeah, mom.” Cleveland hurried on past, glad that she didn’t bother turning around since she’d see him standing there holding up his pants.
Cleveland went through the living room, up the stairs past the photos showing him getting older and heavier on the way to the top. His room was the second on the right. He got inside and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes for one second, then two, and then he thought of Deep coming back from his apparently invisible spaceship and going downstairs. Cleveland opened his eyes. He didn’t have time to waste.
He let go of his pants and marveled as they slid down his legs to the floor. He stepped out and then shucked off his lab coat and pulled the t-shirt off over his head. A mirror hung behind his door, he hardly ever looked at it anymore, but now he stood in front of it and looked. Several things happened.
First, he didn’t recognize himself. It was like looking at a stranger that sort of resembled him, maybe a distant cousin, but it definitely wasn’t the way he pictured himself. The guy in the mirror was ripped, muscles everywhere without being overly bulky. Unruly hair cascaded down to his shoulders. He looked like he might be in his mid-twenties.
If that wasn’t enough the guy in the mirror wasn’t circumcised!
Cleveland gaped at his reflection and the reflection gaped right back at him. “No way!”
The reflection moved as if it was him, but how could it be? Cleveland looked down and sure enough—he was intact! Plus, looking down he could see his rippling abs and the muscles in his thighs. He felt dizzy and groped behind himself for the bed. His fingers touched his comforter and he sat gratefully down onto the bed. The medical device Deep had produced would make him billions! Everyone would want access to that device. He had to convince Deep to give it to him, or at least the specs! But to do that he might have to share his invention. Still, for this? It might be worthwhile.
Thinking of that reminded him that he didn’t have much time. He got up from the bed and went over to the closet. On the bottom shelves he pulled out a box of old clothing that didn’t fit, stuff that he’d kept meaning to take to the Goodwill. He pulled out a pair of black jeans—so small it was hard to believe he could have ever fit in them.
He slid on the pants, not bothering with underwear because everything he had was too big, and even those jeans were loose on him. They hung on his hip like the way a lot of the kids wore them. From the same box he found a Warcraft t-shirt and pulled it on. Also too big but it had to do. Good enough. He grabbed his lab coat on the way out of the room.
Running into the living room he heard the screen door opening. Deep was back. This time Cleveland’s mother turned around. Her eyes widened when she saw him.
“What did you do? How?”
“I’ve been working out,” he lied. He saw Deep lingering in the kitchen. “Look, Mom, I’ve got to get downstairs. Sorry. Talk later?”
Cleveland ran out of the living room into the kitchen. Deep’s eyes watched him from the pale Michael Meyer’s mask. Unreadable eyes that had seen who-knows-what amazing things. Cleveland forced himself to smile.
“All set then, let’s get back downstairs before my mother starts asking too many questions.”
Deep stood back when Cleveland opened the basement door. They went back downstairs. As soon as they were safely down Cleveland turned back around to face the alien.
“Listen, that medical device. It’s interesting. I’d like to take a look at the specs, if I could?”
Deep had peeled off the mask, and his coat. He stood looking down at Cleveland. “I don’t have that information.”
“You don’t have it?”
“That is correct.”
“Well, how about the device? I could study it. If I could make that available, do you know how much good I could do? The people that could be cured?”
“The device is powered by my vessel. The one won’t work without the other.” The alien made a sneezing noise, although without any convulsive head movements. “No.”
Cleveland crossed his arms and then immediately uncrossed them because the muscles felt so weird. His arms were hard! “So what do you want?”
“Your tests caught my attention because they match predicted readings indicating a temporal wormhole. The technology to create stable temporal wormholes doesn’t exist.”
“Until now,” Cleveland added proudly. He crossed his arms again and held the pose this time. “What are you going to do about it? Suppress the knowledge? Tell me not to violate some temporal prime directive? I’ve built safeguards into the system. Even if you destroy my equipment here my time capsules will open and send the information to every news media company, scientist, government and blogger on the planet.”
“Our readings indicate that you have not yet achieved a stable connection.”
Deep’s big eyes blinked with exaggerated slowness, as if he was trying to wink with both eyes. “Our theories may help stabilize the field generated by your technology.”
“Okay, that sounds good. But if you already know how this works why are you helping me?”
Deep took two steps forward and then spread out his hands as if he planned to give Cleveland a giant bear hug. Cleveland stepped back. Deep didn’t seem to notice.
“Your planet’s history is a mess. No one can seem to remember what happened, and even when something is explained there are those among you that deny the explanation. Recently a number of balloons in New York were believed to be alien spaceships —”
“You’re proof that aliens are visiting Earth!”
“True, but our ships would not appear as a bunch of balloons over the city. Even now no one suspects the ship in your backyard.”
“Most people do not believe the official account of the death of your President John F. Kennedy. Some believe that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not a surprise, or that other administrations had prior knowledge of other disasters. There is a strong distrust of authority figures in your society.”
Cleveland nodded. “And I suppose that the military doesn’t have any of your ships at Area 51?”
“They do not.”
“Right.” Cleveland walked over to his chair feeling like he could bounce along like the astronauts on the moon. He felt as light as but the concrete was cold on his bare feet. He sat down and tucked his feet up onto the seat. He hadn’t been able to do that since he was a kid. “What’s your point about these conspiracy theories?”
“Your device, if it works, could serve as an objective witness to historical events.” Deep pushed forward, right up to the edge of the desk. Cleveland leaned away.
“Don’t you see?” Deep asked. “Your invention will enable your people to stop lying to one another. The truth will be known. Anyone doubting the landings on the moon—and I’ve seen the foot prints myself—can use this technology to witness those events. You can trace back any detail, all of history will be laid open. You must finish the device.”
Cleveland tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. “That’s it? That’s why you came? To make sure that I finish the device?”
“Yes. As a historian it is impossible to get an accurate view of your world’s history without this technology.”
“Well, that’s nice. And I want that medical technology. It sounds to me like we should make a trade.”
Deep stared at Cleveland. The silence lengthened. Cleveland stood up and waved his arms. “Forget it, we’re not going to start that again.” He looked up at the alien. “I want your medical technology. You want my invention. Even swap. I show you how to look back in time and you give me the medical technology. Easy.”
Deep made a rumbling noise. “The medical device is integrated into the ship’s computers and power systems. To give you the device I’d have to give you the entire ship.”
“Okay, then call for a ride and give me the ship. Still sounds like a fair swap.”
“I must consult with the others, but we may reach an agreement.”
“I get the ship first,” Cleveland said, barely concealing his excitement.
Deep picked up his mask again. “I will return.”
Cleveland raised a hand. “I’ll be waiting here.”
When Deep went back upstairs Cleveland went to his workstation. He pressed five keys simultaneously. The system came back up. He sat down and entered several commands into a terminal window. With a hiss a panel appeared in the wall on his right. Cleveland spun his chair around and pushed away from the desk as the panel swung open.
Four aliens walked out of the hidden panic room that Cleveland had set up years ago. Unless someone was very observant they’d never notice that the main room of the basement was smaller than the house above. The first alien was short, as tall as a child of five or six, with scaly green skin and walked on four legs. Her outfit was silvery and layered. Once out she sat down her tongue flicked out, tasting the air. Behind her was a tall, slender, naked alien that moved with boneless grace and lacked any sort of visible head. Thousands of thin pseudo pods lined its arms and legs, while pearl-white eyes clustered around the mouth at the center of its body. The other two aliens belonged to Deep’s species and wore black suits, white shirts and thin black ties. Like Deep they wore masks and these two also wore black glasses.
Sc’int—the scaly alien—hissed and warbled. A pendant she wore around her neck translated. “Our plan worked. We will gain access to the historian’s ship.”
One of the alien men-in-black, Cleveland couldn’t tell them apart, spoke. “Yes. The plan worked, for now. Assuming our human doesn’t make a mistake.”
Cleveland shook his head. “I’m not going to make a mistake.”
“There must be no mistake,” the other man-in-black said. “He can’t discover the deception.”
“He won’t,” Cleveland insisted. “The equipment will function long enough to convince him before it fails.”
Sc’int hissed some more. “You must be correct.”
“I am. And we’ll have the ship, but I still want the medical device, you didn’t tell me about that.” Cleveland spread his arms. “Look at me! That thing is amazing.”
The tall alien’s limbs thrashed about. Sc’int watched it with one eye and then turned her attention back to Cleveland. “General Crush agrees to share the technology with you for your assistance in ending our exile here.”
Cleveland heard the screen door upstairs open. “Great! Get back inside. I’ll take care of everything.”
They all went back into the panic room and the door sealed shut behind them. Deep came back down the stairs. He peeled off his mask and shook his head.
“Uncomfortable?” Cleveland asked.
“Yes. The mask is not to my liking. I look forward to being rid of it.”
“Couldn’t you make something more realistic?”
“Duplicating faces is a difficult task. With an obvious mask people accept it and look away, some sort of societal taboo?”
“Sure, you could say that. So what was the decision? Are you going to help me finish the time camera in exchange for the ship?”
“No.” Deep reached into his coat pocket and brought out a black pointed device. Cleveland didn’t need any explanation to understand he was staring down the barrel of a gun. Up above the screen door opened and he heard more footsteps. “Step away from the equipment.”
Cleveland slowly raised his hands and stepped back. “What’s this?”
More aliens came down the stairs holding weapons. Cleveland held very, very still. Deep’s gun never wavered. The other aliens headed over to the panic room panel and took up positions on each side.
“We are here to apprehend the exiles before they create more trouble. The next world that they are left on has a more primitive culture.”
“You were always after them?”
“Yes. When we detected the signature of time manipulation it was clear that the exiles must be involved.”
“I could have come up with this on my own,” Cleveland said defensively.
Deep shook his head. “Unlikely. Open the chamber.”
Cleveland didn’t move for a second but what other choice was there? He literally had a gun pointed at him. He went back to the station and hit the keys that opened the chamber. The exiles had screens inside, so they already knew what waited for them. They all shuffled out without a struggle.
“Too good to be true,” Sc’int said, through her translator.
The exiles were cuffed and led back out up the stairs until only Deep remained.
“What about me?” Cleveland asked. “What are you going to do to me now?”
“Nothing. I will leave you,” Deep said.
Cleveland gestured at his equipment. “And this?”
“That too. It is unlikely that you will succeed in creating a stable temporal wormhole.”
“I have some ideas. I might get it figured out.”
“Unlikely. If you do, we may return. The technology would be of interest.”
Deep put away the gun and picked up mask. He didn’t put it on, but shoved it in his pocket. Cleveland watched him head up the stairs. Right before he reached the top Cleveland’s mother opened the door. For a second they looked at each other.
“Excuse me,” Deep said.
Cleveland’s mother stepped aside and the alien left. The screen door banged behind him. Cleveland sank down into his chair and looked at the equations on the screen. Deep didn’t think he could solve the problem, but what if he could? What if he could look back and find out what happened in Dallas? Or Roswell? His mother looked back down into the basement.
“That’s some mask your friend had on. What are you guys up to?”
“Do you want something to eat?”
He thought about a plate of Twinkies and pushed it aside. He took one last look at the equations and then shut down the system. He got up and started up the stairs.
“I think I’ll go out for a run instead. Clear my head. Is it sunny outside?”
She moved back as he reached the top and then he could see out the window that there was nothing but blue skies and sunshine.
This story is the 51st weekly short story release, written in October 2010. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the story. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Playing Possum.