Something Higher

aliens

by

Nyi Thet

February

It was a Thursday when they came down from the skies, little oval leaves floating down with the wind.

We huddled together on the couch in front of the television, muttering distracted syllables of awe as the camera weaved in and out of focus, helplessly trying to trail the meandering flight patterns of magenta spaceships.

They had dominated the news cycle for months, slowly invading snippets of our media till they became a growing inevitability, like a far distant family coming over for Thanksgiving.

Our phones blew up with group chat notifications, emojis and exclamation marks reeling across the screen. I pulled Kat closer as the ships hovered above the ground, her shoulder blades jutting up against my underarm, and I chastised myself for the hoarding of flesh. She turned to plant a quick peck on my cheek, flashing a smile that somehow still felt genuine.

“Don’t forget the bet ok, three legs and below is my win.”

I nuzzled her neck. That too had been shaved down to webs of flesh hanging off an oesophagus.

“What if it’s a gelatinous blob? Or if they turn out to be just corporeal bodies floating around with argon eyes?”

“Still my win! 3 and below, remember? Just because there are aliens now doesn’t mean the concept of mathematics has changed.”

She protested through giggles as the dull echo of steel scraping against cracking concrete filled the living room. They had landed, or at least one of them had, while the three other ships remained hovering over their primary anchor.

It didn’t look very much like an oval now that the camera had properly latched onto them. Their wings were folded downwards, curling up under the belly of the ship like an upside-down fortune cookie.

The hoard of armed men in uniform cordoning off the area tensed as the seconds went by, their shoulders pulled imperceptibly towards the blood ship.

They wore stripes and blotches of every creed as they gathered together in a masquerade of unity, trying desperately to impress the new kid in school.

“A latch appears to be opening on the side of the spaceship, this is it, the answer to what is out there, our place in the universe and who exactly these creatu…entities who have conquered the vastness of space are.”

Kat stretched out a yawn and rested her head on my lap.

“Just show us the scene you stupid reporter. Why do they even do that?”

I laughed and stroked her hair, eyes fixated on the latch slowly jutting out of the side.

“Because we can’t take an unsaturated dosage of pure newness. The red spaceships and green aliens are what draw people in, sure, but the balding man in a 24 year old suit is what keeps them there.”

Kat mumbled a response that tickled my thigh.

The camera focus adjusted once again, zooming in on the slab of metal-like substance being dislodged from the ship just as it hit the ground. Little pockets of concurrent streams from other parts of the world were plastered on the top right and left portion of the broadcast, showcasing other arrivals in different countries.

A head came first, poking out from the ship like a mischievous child. The camera zoomed in once again as the reporter launched into another flurry of hyperbole. It was pitch black, absorbing all the colour from the sun, earth and magenta spaceship, only reflecting the darkness.

They had no distinct features, or at the very least, no features I could recognise. Even the shape of their head felt odd – too flat, too triangular.

A hand shot out next, long and spindly, with joints interrupting the ascent in untimely places. It wiggled as it stretched to its full length. The shaky camerawork and hyper crop work provided little context other than an in-depth character study on the cameraman’s rapidly devolving composure.

Gasps preceded another shaky jerk from the camera – the alien had emerged from the opening, standing tall as it placed its hands to filter out the lights streaming in from spotlights trained on the spaceship.

It was cloaked in an all black garb that seemed to break into lined segments at the end of its torso. Or maybe it was just the camera acting up.

It was the first time I considered the possibility that the alien was actually wearing a spacesuit instead of being an all black entity. It seemed quite silly now to assume interdimensional space travellers would not have figured out their equivalent of fabrics.

“So how many legs do they have?”

Her eyes remained adamantly shut, eyelashes fluttering impotently against the weight of heavyset lids.

Life that hopped down from dull lukewarm stars, slouching cosmonauts from unknown galaxies, the promise of a future derailed from any attachment of the grainy mundane past.

All that mattered little to fast decaying matter.

“Ah man, they got two, your win.”

A flicker of a smile fizzled into blankness as slow ebbing flows of rhythmic snoring brushed against my lap.

I turned down the volume and watched the footage of landing aliens until the telecast began to loop.

May

A thin reedy man with an oversized white medical coat from a more prosperous time clipped the grainy black and white photos onto the board, surveying them with the same apprehension I did.

We went through them together, each filling holes where the other trailed off, both taking some portion of the blame for Kat’s death sentence.

Soon, the conversation drew to a close as I watched him shuffle the radiographs in a desperate attempt to find a different answer, like an increasingly flustered medium sifting through card after card of unyielding swords.

A nurse burst in on our sentence-less ellipsis, startling the doctor into dropping his radiographs.

She never once looked up at me or the doctor, who was now crouched down on the floor, hands scavenging desperately for the errant pieces of paper.

“Andrew, can you hurry down to the emergency ward? There are only four of us there now.”

Her hair frizzled out into braids of glistening black as she fumbled around the table, wading through the stacks of paper piled up on it.

The doctor looked up from the floor, squinting behind the veneer of his spectacles; the coat had partially devoured him, giving off the impression of a child masquerading as a doctor.

The nurse pulled out a single sheet of paper from the stack, inadvertently toppling over one of the larger stacks of paper.

She hesitated as it spewed across the floor, making a slight jerk towards the mess she made before ultimately scurrying out of the room.

The doctor too had given up on the thankless job of gathering messily strewn death sentences.

He straightened up into his oversized white skin, took a quick sideways glance at the mess of paperwork plastered over the corner of his office, turned around to me and apologized profusely, then surveyed the mess one last time before running out after the nurse.

I checked my phone for the time – 3.37, an hour and three minutes till Kat woke up. The original plan was to hole up in the doctor’s office and wait it out. The air conditioning was strong enough and I wouldn’t have to deal with the cascade of sick people flowing through the hallway.

But the papers flung onto the floor had turned the room into a crime scene, with the unhinged soon-to-be widower the most likely culprit.

They would chastise me; wag fingers of disappointment that gave way to equally obnoxious sighs of sympathy before finally granting the sad man their benevolent amnesty and sending him on his way. I decided to grab some coffee instead of going through the motions of false accusations and apologies, shutting the door on a crime scene I inexplicably felt responsible for.

The waiting room buzzed with the sound of a conversation-less crowd, where noise seemed to emanate from the sheer number of people rather than any actual commotion. I hated that more than anything else – the deafening sound of silence.

I walked past row after row of pale faces slouched down on pockmarked plastic chairs, briefly looking into eyes that weren’t really there. Clouded over by hospital rooms and operating theatres was a room full of shouldn’t-be-there’s.

A young woman stood up from the middle of the waiting room, checked her watch, pulled up the straps of her purse to the edge of her collarbones and trudged off to one of the hospital wards.

And that was how the landscape kept shifting – broken men and women replacing each other on warm seats before leaving once again at the beckoning of silent calls.

I took the seat of a middle-aged man with an unconvincing combover who had rushed off towards the operating rooms, wispy dregs of dirty brown hair lagging behind him as he panted out of sight.

The lady beside me jerked a little as I adjusted into the groove of the creaking joints, but her eyelids remained shut as she smacked a burgeoning yawn out of existence.

The coffee from the hospital cafeteria tasted like brown swirls infused with stale water. Maybe it was an intricate placebo styled experiment to find out whether the mere illusion of caffeine was enough to keep us awake. I gingerly downed the rest of the drink and placed the empty styrofoam between the chair’s metal legs.

An aggressively blonde actress was pouting on the muted television mounted above the reception room, housing an incredibly bored nurse. The actress on screen held a rather awkward pose, shoulders angled sideways while her arm slumped lazily onto the cushion of her waist, her neck disobediently aligned with the blades as her eyes darted across the multitude of cameras going off all at once.

I took out my phone to check the time – 47 more minutes. My thumb pressed impotently on the unresponsive screen. I still hadn’t fully kicked the habit that had built up from years of using touch screens and I wiped away the thumb prints once more from the cheaper, data-less anachronism.

The Cannes segment was over and an aggressively blonde anchor was now mouthing rapid syllables beside an image of two different rosaries.

One was embossed in sterling silver, with the crucifixion of Christ strung along silver beads. The other was coated in a dark purple, the sides of the crucifix extended far longer than ours and curved off at the end. The purple one didn’t have a figure of Jesus either, or whatever their version of Jesus was.

It had been quite a revelation when the scientists had released their paper on the aliens. What were they calling them, Degens?

The extreme similarities of some of their books and relics to our own holy texts noted in the paper fuelled hundreds of phone calls and text messages from long silent relatives, especially from Kat’s side, eschewing the final nail in any non-believers coffin.

They paid far less attention to other segments of the report detailing Islam like relics, as well as various other tokens they hadn’t been able to conclusively identify.

I’m sure Muslims celebrated the same frame specific conclusion that Kat’s family did, and atheists probably hastily pointed to the void of scriptures acknowledging life off Earth as the inherent flaws of organised religion.

What seemed like a hundred sci-fi flicks had been greenlit over the past few months, and converts to Scientology had more than doubled over that time span.

The same footage from the night they came down played on the screen once again, this time in a small box on the top right corner as the blonde anchor chatted animatedly with a large headed man in an uncomfortably snug suit.

They cut to a few dozen people thrusting up picket signs, their underarms flapping as the thin wooden plagues fluttered aimlessly in the wind. I spotted a few “Send Them Back Where They Came From” and “Stranger Danger” in the midst of the rapidly circling group.

There had been masses of adoring crowds too of course; day after day, they camped near the landing sites, demanding a variety of grievances, stretching from full alien rights to calling for the end of their government detention, to be redressed.

I even remembered reading a rather lengthy text that went viral on the Internet a couple of months back, when the religious similarities were first established.

The original poster claimed that another far more advanced alien race was the one that had originally concocted the religions and spread it across the cosmos, with the inhabitants of the various worlds being just mere tools to propagate their religion, scurrying limbs that took the scriptures and ran with it, crafting stories around them, composing hymns and melodies, shaping their own altars and temples.

We read it together, me and Kat, back when she could still read without the constant onslaught of dizzy spells and dry heaving. Her eyes brightened up at the purported mysteries put forth behind their arrival, and we made plans to go see a heavily promoted sci-fi thriller that we never really got around to.

“What the hell is wrong with this generation?”

A bearded man in a red plaited shirt sat down heavily on the chair next to mine, his chest and stomach rushing out in a short lived race. I wrecked my brain trying to remember who the person before him had been, but came up empty, gifting the burly man permanent rights to the seat.

I looked at the screen once more; the news was now covering the video of a 12 year old boy coming out of the closet during morning assembly in front of his entire school.

“Why the hell are they applauding this fucking faggot? I say keep that crap to yourself, am I right?”

I checked the time on my phone again, 29 more minutes. He took my silence as affirmation; they always took silence as affirmation.

“You know what would be great? If those fucking aliens took every goddamn faggot here and bring them back to their god damn planet.”

Maybe I would just walk to Kat’s ward now, a slow measured walk that will cut down whatever remaining time was left before she woke up.

I took the empty cup and made my way to ward C. The man in the plaited shirt was still seething with anger, temporarily stripped of a medium as I walked past.

That was basically what everyone had expected of them, they had hoped the aliens would share with us the secrets of the universe, bring to us the word of God, let us examine their futuristic spaceships, teach us their language, lavish upon us rare jewels and minerals, save us, destroy us, take away all the faggots, cure my wife’s fucking cancer.

To us, they were just bottled up genies residing in spaceship shaped lamps, and we were merely filtering out the gifts most worthy to be bestowed upon us.

I threw the empty cup into the bin beside the reception area, halved my steps once more and continued depleting the time till I reached Kat’s ward.

December

I fidgeted with the final button on the seventh shirt I had tried on while the other six lay crumpled across the bed, a rainbow of varying shades of blue. None of them fit right. They either felt a little too tight across my chest or flopped a bit too loosely around my arms.

I started unbuttoning the latest cyan shirt, its fabric just a bit too prickly against my skin, and flung it onto the shirt covered mattress. I sat down on the small sliver of the bed still free from blue, silently listening to the exaggerated ticking coming from my bedside clock.

There was still a small chance I could make it on time for the morning service if I left now, if I pulled on a shirt and rushed straight for the church, shaking off whatever droplets of apprehension that still remained before stepping into the presence of pious bench sitters.

I decided on a black T-shirt and blue jeans combination and wiggled feet-first into a pair of sneakers that felt half a size too small. I finally dragged out an uncomfortably puffy winter jacket from the sides of my wardrobe, draped it over the casual wear and made my way to church.

It was that time of the year when Christmas hadn’t technically arrived but the dates were close enough to justify the excessive lights and trees and the infectiously merry jingles reverberating from the lobbies of shopping malls of which doors were held ajar by a fundamentally unhappy Santa Claus.

The 15 minute walk felt less like a jaunt through the city and more like an avant-garde piece of street art decrying the debasement of religion.

When I was younger, like anyone else in a predominantly Christian suburb, going to church had been a family affair, a day out for the entire family. Where hymns were almost always followed by lunch at a fast food joint and maybe even a trip to the movies.

I enjoyed the later part of the Sundays without developing a liking for the actual service, and the minute I got my own place, I just stopped going. Kat dragged me to a few sermons here and there, but this was probably the first time I had ever stepped into a church by myself.

I spent the rest of the walk mentally fact-checking that statement over and over, flipping through a rolodex of distorted memories till I reached both the church and an illusion of consensus.

There was a sizeable crowd gathered at the entrance of the church, spilling imperceptibly off to the sides to gaze through frosted windows.

The scene felt strangely at odds with the numerous articles Kat’s aunt continuously forwarded detailing slumping attendance in church goers and the degradation of the country, followed invariably by a deluge of frowny emojis.

I felt a slight irritation fester as I cut my way through the excited chatter, an unearned indignation at the shuffling gaggles congregating outside my sanctuary.

“They’re so much taller in real life.”

I squeezed my way inside the chapel and past another wall of smartly dressed men with their necks stretched out, muffled whispers echoing inside the sparsely populated halls.

The hymns were sung in unchained sputters, young faces nervously turning every now and then to stare at the back benches causing the tones to sputter, only to be straightened back to the front by equally nervous adults.

I stood for a while at the back of the church, the best vantage point, staring at it as the pastor began to preach. It sat at the corner of the back benches without standing with the others for the hymns.

Instead, it crouched, long limbs folded close to its chest gripped together tightly by gangly arms. I recognised their version of a crucifix tightly latched onto its forearms, a shocking purple against a backdrop of black. I still wasn’t sure whether it was just their skin or an alien fabric, the creature had no lines I could make out, no seams that dripped out carelessly from sleeves.

It reached my height without standing but its shoulders were half as broad as a human adult’s and its thin arms limply hovered just above the floor with its triangular profile effortlessly bridging the gap between benches.

A perpetual silhouette, like a child that had been poorly stretched out by Photoshop.

The pastor was starting to outline the minutes of the service, previewing the verses he would be going through, Luke 19:10, his eyes shifting every once in a while to the goliath at the back.

I sidestepped an elderly acolyte’s gentle attempt to guide me to a seat up front and shuffled my way towards the other end of the alien’s bench.

It turned its head towards me; I didn’t even know I had been staring until I caught my reflection on its face.

A bearded compressed iteration of myself, unkempt hair straggling down on a lumpy oversized coat, slack-jawed and unfocused eyes trained on the glistening black.

I wondered whether he was staring back, whether he even had eyes to stare back with. It was a standoff that felt divorced from reality based on neither anger nor pride, an unending waltz till time swallowed one of us.

We held our positions till my mouth gripped shut, till the corners of my face unclenched into a straight line of neutrality before curling back up to form a phantom smile, till my inadequate number of joints finally folded, allowing me the privilege of a seat.

My neck craned up as his bent down. I’m not sure who broke off eye contact first, my stretched out reflection or me, but the noise came flooding back as the pastor broke into a call for prayer.

I gave a quick little nod, and it would be nice to think he reciprocated, as we both lowered our heads and looked towards something higher.


Thet likes writing, and doing some stuff. However he doesn’t like doing some other stuff.

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