Tightrope, As Read By a Genius

It was kind of raining. Claire sat, very cross, in her overturned car, mentally removing the spine of the man in the Civic who ran her off the road. Well, technically she was still on the road, but her car was upside down. An orange bolt of lightning shot across the sky, or across the hood of the car, or across Claire’s eyelids, or across synapses in her brain. She gleaned at her surrounds for a moment, began to hyperventilate, and then quite accidentally removed the wrong vertebrae from the Civic owner during a complicated surgery, which, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is more common an occurrence than you might think. Claire gave herself a slap on the wrist: heavy compensation to the bereaved (collateral) and disbarment from her impassive medical practice. She laughed then ached and passed out.

Four cars back, Rudyard angrily honked his horn. Moments later he embarrassingly helped pull Claire from her overturned car heroically. Three cars back, Dr. Marquez sat dialing 911 on his Blackberry while excitedly filling pages in his ideas folder. The second car back was surrounded by lit road flares, a caution sign, and parked across both lanes so no traffic could sneak by no matter how much they gritted and revved and cursed. The first car had somewhere else to be and drove away a long time ago, sorry, so sorry.

The owner of the Civic paced next to the overturned car holding his breath, exhaling, then holding his breath again. He made it up to seventy-five. If you imagine you’re underwater it makes it easier. Also, do that quick breathing thing divers do (as not to draw attention to himself, he did it as quietly as he could.) On his way past forty-three he saw a flash of orange lightning in the sky and imagined a giant clownfish swimming in front of him. He swam up to the fish and held it in his arms. It kicked and squirmed against his chest so he let it swim away, because he knew he’s a compassionate man.

The owner of the Civic dizzily and copiously exhaled as Rudyard and the owner of the second car back (Victor, very eccentric) pulled Claire from the wreckage. Claire hallucinated that her car disappearing in a flash of orange lightning. She then definitely didn’t see the car that was riding her ass for the past twenty-five god damn miles burst into flames with lit flares launching into the sky like over sized fireflies with diarrhea. The next car didn’t split perfectly in half in an explosion of paper and metal, not leaving the driver side to fall precariously on its side like a toddler. She looked at the forth car and finally noticed the only thing that actually did happen, a circular ten foot red then orange then silver ball landed directly on top of it, which delighted Rudyard because, for the second time this year, he was allowed to genuinely scream.

Dr. Marquez barely noticed the silver giant behind him. He was too flustered and preoccupied with collecting his various short stories, screenplays, poems, and songs off of the road before anyone accidental picked them up and took them out of context.

The ball did a bunch of things that can’t be understood and then produced two old men that looked a generous amount like Bob Newhart. No one thought to ask if they were simply taking on human forms (they were) and what the actually looked like (we’ll never know.)

“Ok, I guess I’ll just get this out of the way real quick,” one of the aliens said, it doesn’t matter which. “I studied a vexingly small book on the short trip here that outlined your few languages in a both formal and colloquial manner. So when speaking to you of my own world and life, even though I may be saying “high school” I am either vaguely translating a more complex word from my home tongue, or am just flat out conveniently lying to save the time and energy of explain a concept that is so foreign and confusing to you that it would be like explaining Ulysses to a zygote.”

They all collectively blinked.

Victor looked around anxiously at his fellow earthlings and gleamed. A middle aged bald crybaby, a squirrelly Mexican running around the road picking up litter, a dizzy black man, and a bloody woman in pearl. Victor’s heart soared. It’s time for him to be presidential. So casually, he placed his hand on his hip and strutted towards the aliens. Sinew effortlessly and comfortably sprung his legs against taut denim with a perfect hint of swagger, as if from a tight ropewalkers dream. No one could possibly read the aliens thoughts, but if they could, Victor imagined they saw him as being right in between arrogant and nonchalant. “So I see you boys had a little accident here.” He said.

“Oh my, no. The only accident we’re capable of making would be so severe that you and everyone else on this planet would never be able to see anything again.” An alien said.

The man in the Civic clenched his fists and hoped to God that the aliens couldn’t read minds. Then he couldn’t help but embarrassingly imagine the aliens naked. He quickly recovered by thinking of, oh, um, oranges. Had anyone in the vicinity been able to read minds, they would have been flummoxed by the ensuing mental battle the man in the Civic had with himself. Of course, no one can read minds. He finally decided to think only in a language that he could understand, and struggled tremendously with creating a new word for everything he could possibly think of while trying not to think of anything at all. The man in the Civic is very hard on himself.

“We have already arranged due compensation for your destroyed automobiles, but that will come in time. We must first properly introduce ourselves.” An alien said. The alien put his hands behind his back and straightened his spine. The other alien passively picked lint off of his suit. “We are the least intelligent aliens from the peaceful, virtuous, and cooperative Planet of Paquet.” The alien paused, as if just finishing a punch line, then continued. “Being such an advanced and productive society, even the most philistine of our world are still slightly smarter than the most intelligent men from any other planet in the galaxy. As a sign of strong diplomacy, of the pride and faith we hold in our culture, and of simple compassion for you and your slightly under developed minds, We, the lowest scoring, but still much, much smarter than you, members of our society have been sent to deliver a gift of immense value to…” The alien looks absent-mindedly around the wrecked pavement.

“Earth.” Dr. Marquez says while stuffing his suit pockets with paper.

“Yeah.” The Alien says.

A strong wind blew through the earthlings’ ears, noses, and gaped mouths. They echoed like yawning caves.

“Can you take me to the hospital?” Claire said.

“Sorry?” An Alien said. “You’ll have to speak up, I was speaking, and therefore I could not hear you.”

“I need to see a Doctor, I was just in a horrific car crash.” Claire said.

“Oh my, what for? Our first aid kits are more advanced then 1,000 of your hospitals.” The Alien said.

Rudyard knew that he was the first of them to reach a level of unadulterated loathing for their new guests (just like always.)

The alien picked up Claire and somehow placed her inside their craft. After a disconcerting fifteen minutes she emerged bandaged and with crutches as if returning from the Spanish American War. She half-heartedly smiled at the aliens and crutched her way back amongst the strangers.

“Yeah, in about two weeks go see an actual doctor about all of that.” The alien said intently. “Now, do we have all the trivialities out of the way? Perfect. OK, good news, we’re going to help you build this device that will end all war on your planet.”

The wind went back to work stirring in the Earthlings orifices.

After a few minutes of rapt silence Victor grimaced. That’s a lot of responsibility. “Uh, shouldn’t we take you to someone a little more qualified to talk about this?” He said. The man in the Civic shook his head in agreement, which he now called ploffing his head.

“Nah, it doesn’t matter, once it’s on it can’t be undone. We just need someone to flip the switch. No it isn’t something that’s going to kill you all.” It sincerely wasn’t. “It’s going to take a couple of days but we’ll be safe where we’re going. Now if you’ll all please follow me.” The second alien whispered something into his ear. “Oh yes.” He produced five crumpled envelops from his pockets and cumbersomely handed them out amongst the Earthlings. “Here is your compensation for your destroyed cars. It’s a more than adequate gift from us for your help on this project.” A bundle of envelopes falls precariously from the inside of his jacket. The alien awkwardly picks them up. “We didn’t really know how many cars there would be. Here, everyone can have two.”

The aliens had fully expected to kill at least twenty people, be forced to build the humans a resurrection machine, and spend the next few millennia teaching them how to properly use it. Their adulation was hidden behind a thick wall of accidental condescension. They would spend the night carousing and frowning at the Earthlings primitive methods of intoxication.

“In our highly advanced culture we have found that the best way to open a gift is not in the presences of the givers.” The other alien said. “It’s awkward. Now we can take any questions any of you have, but first we have to immediately proceed to the- mffhhrrrhhh.” A piece of paper flew into the aliens face. He clutched it off as if removing pie residue. “What the hell is this? Oh of all the… I am very annoyed at this bit of paper.” The alien unwittingly began to look at page fifty-six of The Wincing of Mary Weatherworth by Luis Marquez. “My most important speech this decade and… ugh. Let’s just see your raison d’etre you little…” Mr. Marquez’s heart dropped into his shoes.

“Where are we going?!” Dr. Marquez yelled in a terrified tone that everyone accepted as genuine fear.

“Oh, uh, just off into the jungle here a little ways.” An alien said as he pointed towards the cluster of trees following the road. “That’s a joke; I understand that you call that cluster of trees over there a forest. Ehem. We will all be fine there, and again, we can answer any questions soon, but we really must be going. If you will please follow us.”

The aliens walked off into the forest without even considering the possibility that their ambassadors would no follow them. Not arrogantly, they hadn’t an arrogant bone in their bodies, they simply had not thought of it. They had walked a half hour into the forest before turning around and realizing that the humans were not following them. The plainer one, who had spent the time explaining the intricacies of metaphysics and how it related to the problem he had with his father growing up, was especially annoyed.

“We’ve been talking and we’ve decided to help you.” Claire announced to them as they arrived back at the road.

“Well, wise minds prevail.” The less plain alien said. Their craft digested the wrecked cars and they ventured off into the forest.

Claire’s arms hurt. Claire’s arms hurt and she thought Rudyard was too high strung. Claire’s arms hurt, she thought Rudyard was too high strung, and that Victor was a really good-natured asshole. Claire’s arms hurt, she thought Rudyard was too high strung, that Victor was a really good-natured asshole, and that Dr. Marquez would never be a imaginative as he was smart. Claire’s arms hurt, she thought Rudyard was too high strung, that Victor was a good natured asshole, that Dr. Marquez would never be as creative as he was smart, and that the man in the Civic was adorable like a child and just as lost. Claire’s arms hurt, because a couple of pretentious (the closest Paquetian translation of this word roughly meant “Jolly”) dickheads mummified her and are now marching her through the jungle. Err, forest, forest.

“We’re here.” An alien said when they were there. A large parachute lay next to a slightly damaged cabin. One of the aliens went inside and turned the lights on and off. “Alright, the accommodations are good then.” He said. “Well I guess we’ll get to work.” The aliens walked away and began removing metallic objects from their ship and putting them together while vaguely consulting some rather lengthy directions. The earthlings stood behind them sullenly.

“Do you need any help?” Victor asked.

“We just need someone to agree to turn the crank. You guys can relax in the cabin for the next couple days.” An alien said.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?” The man in the Civic said.

“Ah damn it!” One of the aliens said as he apparently accidentally did something. “No, no it’s fine. Just make sure you get in the house, it’s going to get dark soon.”

“Alright everyone, you heard the guys, err, Paquetians, I think it’s time we headed in.” Victor said.

Rudyard speed walked to the house and slammed the door. Claire dismissed herself politely, smoked a cigarette, and then begrudgingly went to sleep. It took her four hours. Dr. Marquez didn’t hear the announcement to leave; he was busy staring into the night sky. He wrote down a sonnet, emailed his students about missing the next few days of class, and fell asleep on wet moss. He would wake up with earthworms in his pockets. The man in the Civic would stay up most of the night, pacing next to the aliens and politely asking half the questions he wanted to. The aliens worked.

From a very high vantage point with one of those fast cameras they use to film flowers blooming, the two aliens zip around the metal structure as it expanded greatly, looking like ants building a machine to stop all ant wars. No one ever saw it this way. The only five people who saw it at all were plotting to kill the aliens. The two weeks of condescension had really gotten to the humans.

Victor had tried to help the aliens build machine, but every piece of it he touched melted in his hands. They chastised him like a child, but Victor was not a child, Victor was really, really helpful damn it. A short discussion of film that Dr. Marquez had with the aliens had ended with an uproarious blast of laughter. They apologized, stating that on their planet they had something, which they could only translate as, “super film” and that his delving into the intricacies of film with them would be like a caveman delving into the intricacies of commas with him. The man in the Civic told them all of his fears and anxieties. They, very passionately and comfortingly, let him know that they were all wrong. Claire mostly avoided them during these two weeks. One night the startled Rudyard with a sudden explosion that shocked him so much that he spilled an entire cup of coffee on himself.

Rudyard had convinced Claire that they were going to destroy the planet (He had no proof, but after two weeks within present company he quickly realized he could easily get away with murdering the aliens.) Claire took the idea with a grain of salt, but still told the man in the Civic. He trembled at the idea of contemplating death, and quickly helped create the first intergalactic militia. Dr. Marquez always wanted to write about war and violence. They told Victor last, as a group. Before the end of their fortnight there, he had ripped down the five biggest branches from the five biggest trees. They lit them on fire and emerged from the log cabin.

When they got to the machine, the aliens were crying.

“We’re here to kill you scum!” Rudyard screamed. The rest of the group stood silently.
“Are you guys okay?” Claire said.

“Terrible, terrible news Claire. Terrible terrible terrible.” Said one of the Aliens.

“This sounds bad.” The man in the Civic said.

“A census. A god damn census. A new planet wide test pushed forward by the god damn… well your politics here aren’t any where near as advanced as our so to define this group by any- oh god damn it what am I doing! They’re fucking liberals! What ever!”

“Ok, ok, just calm down,” Victor says as he sets down his flaming stick. “What do you need us to do to them?”

One of the aliens stares at Victor blankly and continues talking. “According to a new report, we are no longer the dumbest aliens on the Planet of Paquet…”

“Oh, great!” Dr. Marquez says.

“Great? GREAT? It’s horrible! The tests have apparently been rigged since the beginning!”

“So where do you guys rank now?” Victor asked.

“Rank? Everyone is the same!” An alien said. “Sure, with some considerable flocculation, I am slightly smarter than my partner here, but when looked at it as a whole, we’re all the same!”

The humans stared at the aliens.

“I knew none of you would understand, and I don’t care! Your stupid machine is finished, but watch out! It was designed, tested, created, paid for, lobbied for, lobbied against, vetoed, illegally made, used once, and the built again on your planet all by COMMONERS.” The alien said before he broke down again.

“Out of a sign of appreciation,” the other alien explained. “We’ve written a verse from your work on the side of the war stopper, Dr. Marquez. One of your stories is going to end all war, it was the least we could do.”

Dr. Marquez rushed to gigantic silver igloo. In small print, on no discernable part of the machine, he found his name, below a quote surrounded by giant parenthesis.

“A wince?” Grandfather Pennington announced a loud at the crowded wedding party. “How deplorable, and on the eve of your sisters maturation!” Mary frowned a grimily frown and fled from the Andalucían beach on the last available stead. “Damn!” Announced the aging fishmonger. “How will I pull the succulent crustaceans from the foam in time for Potch-Spotting Day? With my hands, like a plebe?”

“Is that something that inspires lesser minds?” The alien asked with full sincerity. Dr. Marquez laughed like a mad man. He told the alien that it couldn’t be more perfect and felt a good deal content. Still, it would have been nice to have the books title somewhere. In case anyone actually…

“Victor,” the more together alien said. The other alien continued to sob. “I have a very important job for you.”

Victor put on his sunglasses.

“This machine is not complete. We have to leave soon and won’t have enough time to finish the task. I believe you should have the honors.” The alien said while handing Victor a small triangular piece of metal no bigger than a baseball. “The fate of the world rests on this task.” Victor passionately placed the object in his pocket and flicked his head farewell to the aliens.

“Rudyard beat me to death.” The sobbing alien said. “Go ahead buddy use that stick.” He did. It upset him deeply and he would never forget it.

“I was going to give you this dream-catcher.” The other alien said to Rudyard somberly. “You can still have it. Catch some dreams and maybe they’ll come trueeeeeeee.” He wavered his voice at the end to make it sound more mystical. Rudyard never spoke again.

The man in the Civic looked around halfheartedly. “Got anything for me Oz?” Oh he’s so clever.

The remaining alien stared deeply into the man in the Civic’s eyes. “You know what we’ve given you, Louis.” The alien said. He did, and he was content for the rest of his life.

Claire was still staring at the corpse of the alien. Rudyard sat next to him with his head in his hands. “Claire you’re not supposed to be here. You’re car crashing screwed up the entire trajectory of this mission. I had to take you along so you were not a security issue, but now its time for you and me to go.” The alien addressed the men. “Good luck gentlemen, turns out it was actually a uh, a switch, and not a button or a crank. So, that’s easier, that could be considered easier. So, good luck gentlemen, and a found adieu from the… from the Planet of Paquet.” The alien, its craft, and Claire all stereotypically disappeared.

It had just occurred to Dr. Marquez to check his envelope for his “due compensation.” He opened the envelope down its side and removed the contents: a piece of paper guaranteeing unlimited flier miles through Ocean Airways, a golden ticket. “Those dummies gave us plane tickets for our cars.”  Dr. Marquez said laughing. No one else heard him.

“Looks like we got one final job to do boys.” Victor said as no one listened to him. Rudyard had devolved into the fetal position, Dr. Marquez was busy etching a date into his quote, and the man in the Civic smiled and thought to himself. Victor searched the device and found a triangle shaped hole. He put the object in the opening, and it fell through the slightly bigger hole like a loose tooth down a throat, echoing as it hit the metallic bottom of the igloo. This was not very encouraging for Victor but he continued his work. He flipped the switch. The machine exploded in a burst of light and all four of them died in the ensuing blast. Happy, content, busy, and sad.

Back on the road, the aliens face retracted from Claire’s fist. “You killed them you bastard! What did that explosion do? What did you do to our planet you piece of shit?” She yelled in between jabs and hooks.

“Everything worked out fine.” The alien said backing away form Claire’s assault. “They had to die, I’m sorry, but the machine worked perfectly. Your planet will be at peace.”

“The why do I want to kill you?”

“I don’t know, I’m not from your planet am I?” His bacterial ancestors, actually, were. Tears began to roll down his face. “I guess I’ll be going home now. Average.”

“I don’t care! Why did you put me through all this?”

The alien was on Earth for a total of sixteen days. He thought about what it would have been like spending a much, much longer time talking with people like Claire. “You caused that accident you know. It wasn’t the man in the Civics fault. You didn’t signal.”


“Thanks for your shitty driving Claire.” Something happened and the alien was in his ship. It disappeared into the stratosphere. There was never war again. Claire sat, very cross, on the road. It was kind of sunny.


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