Roger squinted through the dirty windshield of his truck at what appeared to be a person walking down the road. Nobody walked the road this far outside of town, especially this early in the morning, he thought to himself. Squinting harder he realized he didn’t recognize the stranger and pulled up alongside them to make sure they weren’t lost.
“Mornin,” Roger said, squinting again. The stranger sure didn’t look like anyone he knew. Their head was larger and more bulbous than anyone in town, that was for sure, and there was a blueish tint to their skin and what looked like cheetah spots running up the back of their bald head forming a pattern on top where there was supposed to be hair. “You lost?”
The stranger didn’t say anything at first, looking back and forth down the road instead of directly at Roger, and that was sort of unnerving.
“Just seeing if you were okay, don’t see too many people out here walking. I’m headed into town if you need a ride.”
“Town?” The stranger asked. Roger didn’t quite like the look of his sharp yellow teeth, but he’d been raised not judge people. From the look of the stranger’s bloodshot eye’s he’d been up drinking all night, and well, with a skin condition like that he probably had a right to tie on one once in a while.
“Yep. Hop in if you’d like,” Roger said, clearing a few things from the seat so that there was room for the stranger who seemed to have a hard time opening the door.
Roger reached over and pulled the latch to open the door, “It’s an old truck, gets stuck once in a while,” he lied. “I shouldn’t be driving without my glasses, I damn near could of run you over.”
He grabbed the glass case out of his jacket pocket and wiped them clean before setting them on his face. Getting a good look at the stranger for the first time he noticed that he was staring at him as if waiting for his reaction. Probably gets all kinds of remarks with that skin, Roger thought to himself.
“Name’s Roger,” He said holding out his hand.
“Roger,” the stranger said, holding out his own hand. “I am Klortho.”
Roger shook his hand, noticing the longer than usual nails for a man, and what felt like only three fingers and a thumb. But he stopped himself from looking so as not to seem impolite towards a stranger’s handicap.
By the time they reached the edge of town Klortho hadn’t said a word, which was unusual for people these days, Roger thought to himself, but he didn’t mind the silence.
“I was headed to the diner here, but if you need to go into town I can drop you off and come back,” Roger offered.
“This is good,” Klortho said. “You eat here?”
“Yep, are you hungry?”
“I will join you if that is okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Maybe you can tell me how you ended up in Briarwood,” Roger said with a chuckle.
They sat in Roger’s regular booth, and the waitress popped over with a single menu.
“Mornin Roger, thought maybe your friend might need a menu,” she said, but didn’t finish the thought. She froze in place when she got a good look at Klortho.
“Um, a menu is fine Becky, thank you,” Roger said taking it from her hands. “Give us a minute Becky. Becky?”
“Uh, sure… sure, Roger, I’ll give you a minute to look things over with… your friend,” she said, apparently finding it hard to pull her eye’s off the stranger.
“I apologize for that,” Roger said to Klortho as soon as she had walked away. “I don’t know what got into her.”
“You are very kind Roger, but she was afraid of my appearance. They all are.”
Roger looked over Klortho’s shoulder and saw Becky talking to Vern, the local Deputy Sheriff having his coffee, and noticed the customers at other tables trying not to stare.
“Jeez, I’m really sorry about this, I thought the people in this town had more manners than this,” Roger apologized.
“What in the hell you got here, Roger?” Deputy Sherrif Vern said as he walked up to the booth in the corner.
“Fine. Deputy, is that how your mama taught you to greet strangers?” Roger asked.
“My Mama? You got a lot of balls old man, talking to me like that, bringing a… God knows what into the diner. What are you anyway?” Vern asked, squaring off to face Klortho.
“There’s no need for the tough guy routine Vern,” Roger said but was pushed back into his seat before he could get up.
“Stay put old man. And you, you speak English?”
“I do, Deputy,” Klortho said.
“Jesus Christ ain’t you the freakiest thing I ever seen,” Vern said, placing his hand more firmly around the grip on his pistol still in its holster.
“Is there some kind of law against having breakfast, Vern?” Roger asked.
“That’s Deputy, old man,” Vern said.
“This is ridiculous, Carl, are you going to let him threaten your customers like this?” Roger called to the owner, noticing that all eyes were on them at the end of the diner. But Carl just shrugged. “That’s it, we’re out of here Klortho.”
“Klortho?” Vern asked, noticing too late that Roger was getting up out of the booth. “I said sit…”
But Roger quite easily slipped away from the Deputy’s arm and was standing up next to him before Vern knew what was happening.
“Meet me at the truck Klortho, I have to have a word with the Deputy,” Roger said, tossing him the keys. Klortho easily caught them and stood up, the two of them on either side of the Deputy. “Look at me, Deputy. You’re being mighty rude to my friend here for no good reason.”
“I’m in charge here,” Vern said. “Sit back down in that booth.”
“Or what?” Roger asked. “You’ll arrest me? You better call for backup if you think that’s what’s going to happen. Who else is working with you today? Randy? Call Randy, let’s get a level head in here.”
“I’m in charge, we don’t need a… I don’t need Randy,” Vern said, realizing that he was losing control of the situation.
“You need to deescalate the situation, Deputy. Take a deep breath. There’s no danger here except the one you are creating,” Roger said in a slow and steady voice. “Klortho, you can go to the truck now.”
“No he can’t,” Vern almost screamed.
“We’ll both wait there for your reinforcements to arrive,” Roger said.
“I don’t need reinforcement,” Vern said, drawing his gun from his holster. A collective gasp went up from the people in the diner who scrambled away from their stools at the counter or ducked a little lower in their booths.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Roger said. “You are a disappointment to the badge.”
“For Christ’s sake Vern, you can’t draw your gun in my diner,” Carl said. “This is a family establishment.”
“Over here old man, with your friend,” Vern said, directing Roger with the barrel of his gun so that the two of them were on one side. “Hands up. Outside, now.”
Roger just shook his head and motioned for Klortho to lead the way out of the diner.
“Hands up I said!”
“Don’t do it,” Carl said from behind the counter when he saw the look on Roger’s face.
“Do what?” Vern asked.
“He’s telling me not to take your gun away and beat your ass,” Roger said over his shoulder to the Deputy as they stepped out the door.
“In your dreams old man,” Vern said. But Roger stopped in the parking lot and turned around.
“I didn’t tell you to turn around,” Vern said, looking over his shoulder at the crowd of people in the window and coming out the door behind him. “All of you, get back inside.”
“What is it?” Becky asked. Others murmuring the same sentiment. The rising sun had burnt off the morning fog and Klortho appeared anything but human in the bright sunlight.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Vern said. “What are you!”
“I am not from here,” Klortho said.
“No shit,” Vern said.
“It’s a skin condition,” Roger said, “Nothing more. You folks should be ashamed of yourself for making a stranger feel uncomfortable because of a medical condition.”
“That ain’t no skin condition, he’s an alien,” Carl said, the rest of the crowd agreeing.
“Alien. Skin condition. It still ain’t polite to make a person feel uncomfortable,” Roger said, lowering his hands.
“That ain’t a person, old man,” Vern said rising his gun to point directly at Klortho.
“How do you know?” Roger asked. “How do you know it’s not some kind of costume? That you aren’t on some kind of hidden camera reality television show?”
“What?” Vern asked, looking around briefly. Everyone did, trying to see if they could see cameras. Smiling because they thought they might have a chance to be on television. “If it’s a costume, take it off.”
“That’s not the way this is going to go,” Roger said.
“It takes off the damn costume or I shoot,” Vern yelled.
“Nobody’s going to get shot here,” Roger said stepping in front of Klortho and raising his hands once again.
That’s when Vern fired. If you asked him later, and if he was being honest, he would have admitted that it was a mistake. A simple little accident. But once the bullet was out of the gun there was nothing he could do.
“You stupid little shit,” Roger said, falling to his knees in the parking lot. Blood soaking his shirt.
“Take the goddamn costume off or I shoot you too!”
But Klortho stepped towards Roger and Vern fired again. This time though the bullet only made it halfway towards its intended target. There it hung, suspended in the air. And everyone noticed how quiet things had gotten all of a sudden.
“Look up Vern,” Carl said from the crowd. A large ship hovered over the crowd and the diner.
“Oh God! Look down,” Becky screamed.
Below them, the ground was gone and they could see the diner and the cars in the parking lot. They had been instantaneously transported on board the spaceship and were now looking down through a clear floor that supported everyone from the diner.
All around them stood aliens that looked exactly like Klortho, with only subtle variations in spotting patterns had anyone taken the time to notice.
Vern pulled the trigger on his gun as soon as he saw them but the gun didn’t fire. It went click, repeatedly. And it was the only sound anyone could hear in the large open space where they were standing.
For a moment nobody said anything, then several of the aliens parted and out from behind them walked Roger wearing a clean set of brand new clothes. There was no blood and he appeared perfectly healthy.
“How?” Vern asked, confused.
“You’re dead,” Becky almost shrieked.
“No, I would have been if it had been up to Vern, but these generous friends have healed me.”
“They’re your friends now? I thought it was a stranger with a skin condition,” Carl said.
“Or a reality television show?” Becky asked. “Is that what this is? Reality TV?”
“It’s reality Becky, no television required. But that was last week, when Vern shot me. A lot has happened since then Vern. I’m glad you all have finally woken up.”
“I wasn’t asleep,” said Vern, shaking his head, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
“We’ve been kidnapped?” Carl asked.
“Look at the floor!” Becky shrieked. They all looked down and could no longer see through the now solid and opaque floor.
“Calm down everybody,” Roger said, holding up his hands. “It would seem that we have failed at first contact. Not that it was the actual first contact, but that’s neither here nor there. As such we have been given an opportunity to rectify the mistakes we made in how we chose to treat a stranger.”
“What kind of opportunity?” Carl asked. Vern was speechless, still frozen as if none of this made sense.
“It’s pretty simple really. We can show the people of Earth how we failed to treat a stranger with hospitality, in which case we’ll all be returned home.”
“What, show everyone that we, I mean Vern shot you because you brought an alien into the diner?”
“It wasn’t just Vern that was responsible,” Roger said.
“I was just concerned for our safety,” Becky said, not sounding too sure. She turned to the group, “We all just wanted to make sure it was safe, right?”
The aliens silently watched as the group all started talking and arguing amongst themselves. And Vern, who wasn’t part of the discussion couldn’t take his eyes off the aliens surrounding them. Watching them.
“What are you looking at!” Vern screamed.
And just like that they were all back in the diner where everyone turned on their stools and from their booths to look at Vern who had just yelled out for no reason.
“He’s having a heart attack,” Carl said from the window to the kitchen.
“Someone call 911,” Becky yelled as those nearby got up to help him.
They would never remember the time Vern tried to shoot the alien because to them it had never happened.
Of course, they never again saw Roger whose truck was left in the diner’s parking lot.