I lay face down on my towel, letting the August sun warm my back. I had been reapplying sunscreen religiously but my skin and the sun were in an endless battle that always pinned me as the loser. Atchison is essentially land locked so my back porch was as close to the beach as I could get but I milked the mild Kansas heat for all it was worth. If I squinted hard enough the wood planks almost looked like a dock and the raspy brown grass nearly shimmered like water. I did my best to pretend, closing my eyes and turning up the music on my iPod.
A shadow passed over the sun. I kept my eyes closed, hoping it would pass soon, and shivered a little. I barely heard a faint buzzing over my music. It was probably my dad with the lawnmower again, so I sat up to inform him about how inconvenient his timing was. It was finally summer vacation and all I wanted to do was relax. I opened my eyes and found myself face to face with a small green monster. My jaw dropped to scream and the monster slapped a tentacle over my mouth, oozing slime across my cheek.
“Take me to your leader,” it hissed from its gills. It hesitated before removing the tentacle from my face.
“You mean the president?” I stuttered. My heart felt like a thousand elephants were tap dancing inside it. I scavenged my brain for every sci-fi movie I’d ever seen, thinking that maybe one held the key for what to do during an alien encounter.
The alien’s eyelid twitched on its stalk. “I must speak with the ruler of this planet immediately. It is an issue of great intergalactic importance and while I do not expect a being of your intelligence to comprehend the urgency, I would think that you might at the very least recognize a superior life form and obey orders.”
“I’m so sorry,” I snorted. “Let me just call Obama on my cell phone right now. He told me he had plans with Michelle today, but I’m sure he can make an exception for you.”
The alien’s gills flapped in a smug manner.
“Are you joking?” I nearly screamed. “I don’t have Obama’s number! I don’t even know what you are and you expect me to do insane favors for you like it’s nothing. Where did you come from?”
“As if I would tell an insignificant creature like you!” The alien snarled, its gills waving wildly. “I demand you take me to your leader right now or you will face the wrath of my entire people.”
I looked up at the small silver saucer flying above us, looking as far away as the moon. It seemed doubtful to me that it held anything even remotely terrifying, especially given the creature standing in front of me. After I got over the initial shock of being confronted by an alien, there really wasn’t much to be scared of. The being was smaller than me, maybe three feet high, and its body jiggled like Jell-O on a rollercoaster. There were no sharp teeth or menacing claws and I actually found myself feeling something resembling pity for the alien. Clearly it had an important mission to complete, but here it was stuck with me in the middle of nowhere important arguing about nothing.
“Listen, I guess I can probably help you out,” I sighed. “I know where to find the president.”
The alien’s eyes narrowed, the irises flashing different colors.
“You are serious? I will not hesitate to annihilate your entire family line if you lead me astray.”
“I’m serious,” I said. “But he’s, like, at least a thousand miles away so if we could hitch a ride in your spaceship that would probably speed things up a bit.”
“Impossible,” the alien snapped. “Human life forms are not permitted on intergalactic spacecraft.”
“Fine,” I huffed, feeling a little snubbed. “I can drive but you’re going to have to be patient.”
I led the alien across the yard to my garage where I knew my brother was hiding. I hesitated before opening the door but one look at the alien told me I’d better hurry up. I rammed the old door open with my hip and braced myself for the inevitable cloud of smoke. The alien’s gills sputtered a bit as we entered.
“Hey Tony,” I shouted over the Dead Kennedys blaring from his radio. “Can I borrow your car?”
“Hey man,” Tony chortled from his seat on the dusty couch. He removed the joint from between his lips. “Woah, check out that little dude. Where’d you find him?”
“The smell emanating from that man-child is utterly atrocious and I cannot stand to be near him any longer,” the alien said shuffling towards the door.
“Tony, it’s really important,” I said, trying not to inhale too deeply. “Where are your keys?”
“They’re in here somewhere bruh,” Tony let out a cloud of smoke in the alien’s direction. “Can I touch him?”
The alien’s eyeballs went wide.
“You certainly may not, you foul earth scum,” it cried. It turned to me. “I demand to speak with higher authorities. It is evident to me that you are incapable of even the small task of delivering me to your leader, therefore I will find someone more able.”
“Man, chill out,” Tony clapped a hand on the alien’s shoulder amicably. “My keys were in my pocket the whole time. Be gentle on old Bertha, eh?”
I grabbed the keys from Tony’s hand before he could forget about them and stormed out of the garage, the alien waddling behind me. It followed me down the driveway all the way to where Bertha, my brother’s ’94 Honda Civic, sat parked on the curb in front of our house. I opened the passenger door and the alien let me help it onto the polyester seat. Its webbed feet didn’t reach the floor.
“Can you wait here for a minute?” I asked. “I’ve got to grab something from the house.”
I slammed the door shut and ran away before the alien could object. I’d been too surprised earlier to feel self-conscious about wearing only a swimsuit, but now that a cross-country road trip was on the table, I figured I’d better change. The shag carpet squished under my toes as I ran to my bedroom and pulled on jeans and a t-shirt. In the kitchen, I scrawled a quick note to my dad saying I’d be back a little bit, and then snagged a 20 dollar bill from his wallet sitting on the table.
The alien’s eye stalks were pressed against the window when I got back to the car. It jumped when I opened the door and slid in.
“You all right, little guy?” I asked, pulling away from the curb. “You didn’t think I was going to abandon you, right?
“Do not call me little guy,” the alien snarled, clearly over its fear.
“Right,” I sighed. This was shaping up to be a long drive. I settled into my seat and felt stale crumbs dig into my legs. “So do you have, like, an internal GPS or should I use Google Maps?”
The alien flapped its gills quickly and I could see its eyelid twitching.
“Google Maps it is,” I said. “I hope you’re comfortable. Looks like we’ll be here for about sixteen hours.”
* * *
The alien’s eyelids fluttered open as I pulled into a McDonalds near Indianapolis.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Hungry?” The alien stared at me. “Please explain yourself.”
“You know, hungry,” I said. “You need food for fuel so you can do whatever it is you need to do during the day.”
“I do not require food,” the alien stated. “My race uses the sun for fuel, though your star is considerably weaker than that of my planet.”
“Okay, keep doing that,” I said. “I’m going to get a burger.”
I could feel the alien’s eyes judging my grease stained paper bag when I reentered the car.
“My odor detectors are clogged by the stench of that ecologically inefficient bag,” said the alien.
“You’re kind of a jerk, you know that?” I said around a mouthful of fries. “I’m doing you a favor right now, like a really massive favor, and you’re not being very nice at all. And your dumb spaceship hovering behind us this whole way is really creepy. Why hasn’t anyone else noticed?”
The silver dome had been following above us ever since we’d left my house. I assumed they were watching over the alien but it was distracting to see a UFO every time I looked in my rearview. Even weirder was the fact that no one had called the police raving madly about the saucer.
“The saucer is disguised. The average miniscule brain of a human being is not capable of differentiating it from the sky. You are an exception because you are in my presence,” the alien explained.
“Fair enough but you’re still kind of a dick,” I told it, keeping my eyes straight ahead to avoid seeing its face.
“Is your mind really so feeble and small that you genuinely believe I am concerned about being nice to you?” The alien snorted indignantly. “I am merely concerned about informing your leader of the great universal turmoil unfolding as we speak. I am the one doing you the favor. Your precious planet would be destroyed within the week were it not for me.”
“Seriously?” My jaw dropped. “What’s happening out there?”
“I take it that by ‘out there’ you mean the universe, but I am not authorized to tell you. At any rate, it does not concern you.”
“Wouldn’t you want to know if your planet was going to be destroyed?” I cried. The alien’s eye stalks went stiff.
“My planet was destroyed long ago,” the alien stated plainly.
“Oh, shit, I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. I hadn’t meant to start an argument, I was just feeling a little underappreciated. I chewed my burger and stared at the alien. It sat straight as a board in its seat, the seatbelt digging into its gelatinous body. Its eyes looked straight ahead at the McDonalds playground where kids crawled on the greasy plastic structure. I put both hands on the steering wheel, more determined than ever to take the alien to the White House.
* * *
The alien was squirming in its seat as we neared the White House. I had spent a lot of the trip describing it and when the alien caught a glimpse in the distance, it recognized the fortress immediately. I made it wait until I pulled directly in front of the gates to get out. It struggled with its seatbelt for a minute while I parked Bertha in the middle of traffic. Car horns sounded behind us as the alien opened the door, leaving a green slime smear on the handle.
“Good luck,” I told the alien. Its gills wiggled goodbye as it waddled across the sidewalk to meet with the president, pedestrians scrambling in all directions to gawk at the little green monster. A siren sounded when the alien reached the immaculate White House lawn but he continued, determined to reach the front door. I drove away as screams rang out behind me.