Monday, June 13, 2011

What Kind of Alien Rides the Metro?

Mark Goodman tolerated his commute, once again. Once again the train was running late. Once again the lines were long. Once again the train was full. But, once again, he was at last heading home to Sheltonville and then a short walk to the car and ten minutes to the house and supper and the wife and the kids and Bubba-the-dumb Dachshund who, like Mark Goodman's wife and kids, was happy always to see him back home.

Sheltonville was a ordinary town. Really. It was. About 75,000 people or so with a scattering of shopping centers and a worn-out downtown and a continual squabble over sidewalks and greenways and what were the town's core values and what were the priorities for spending, but for all that clamor on the evening news, crime, however, seemed to always be somewhere else, and the same clamor he got at work from his co-workers and even sometimes from Donny Mason, his boss, who could just be such an idiot that Mark Goodman had decided about a month ago to polish up the resume and see about finding a place to work a little closer home. Sheltonville offered him relief from work. Nothing much happened in Sheltonville. Although the city commissioners and the library and the schools (one high-school, two junior high-schools, seven or eight or nine --Mark Goodman never could remember the exact number) were always trying new things to liven the place up. He kind of liked dull. Excitement brought people and people brought problems and problems brought quirky solutions from every corner of the town and, before you knew it, the clamor was in the paper or on the evening news.

Mark Goodman didn't usually pay much attention to the collection of people on the train. After ten years, he felt he'd seen it all. There were ordinary looking people like himself. Office types. Coat and tie and hat and briefcase and tired going to work and tired coming home from work. A few musicians heading out to gigs with piles of boxes and guitars and stuff. A guy or two in jeans and work boots. Women in finery and women in sweats and a few high-school kids huddled together in animated chatter. And the occasional freak that commanded a seat by himself although sometimes "himself" wasn't necessarily a "him" because as far as Goodman was concerned he couldn't tell sometimes. But in the decade, now, of this commuting twice a day he'd never been accosted in any way nor had he seen an attack. Which was good, he would tell you.

A decade? he thought. Five hundred weeks? Five hundred and twenty weeks. Less twenty weeks of vacation? Twenty-five hundred days. Five thousand commutes. God, he thought, it's time for a change if nothing but to change the commute. Look at some other passing scenery for another ten years.

They stopped at the Woggan Street station and on walked a person --very tall, almost ducking under the lintel-- skinny, looking like they were heading towards a costume party, dressed in a full-length, white, monk's habit, hood up, with some kind of long, ankle length skirt underneath, long, white stockings and shoes that might have easily been slippers, although Mark Goodman would say later that the person --the being, the thing, what ever it was supposed to be-- was male. He wasn't sure why he felt that. Maybe it was afterward Mark Goodman decided the person was male. The hood was pulled forward enough to create a tube over the face. It must have been warm in there although the robe was gossamer, almost, but at least very thin and maybe cool enough for the evening a warmish rail car.

The thing sat next to Mark Goodman who scooted over six inches.

About five minutes later, the train running smoothly and, surprisingly, on time, the thing leaned over and said, "Nice evening, isn't it?"

Mark Goodman ignored the man.

"I say," said the thing, "nice evening, isn't it?"

"Sorry," said Mark Goodman, "I'm not in the mood."

He didn't need to say he wasn't in the mood to talk. The protocol was that you said "No" in some form with authority because to say more was to invite an opening into a conversation. Or, better yet, you ignored the person. Buried your head in the newspaper. Or the iPod, which was difficult to bury your head in.

"Okay dokey," said the man. The person. The being. It sat still. Looking straight ahead. As if trying to decide if to risk saying something again, or just taking pleasure in being alive on a nice evening listening to the clack of the rails, and taking comfort in the cradle rocking of the car.

"Do you believe in aliens?" said the being in white.

"Not interested," said Mark Goodman.

"Not interested? Not interested in what? Not interested that aliens might exist? Or not interested in your belief that they might exist?"

"I don't believe they exist," he said. Rose to the bait. Hooked.

"What if I told you I was an alien," said the person.

"What if I told you to get lost?" said Mark Goodman.

"Okay dokey," said the white being and resumed its statuesque pose.

Out of the corner of his eye Mark Goodman began to notice the being's chest did not rise or fall. Yoga, he thought. No magic there. Not very alien.

"It's not yoga," said the being.

Mark Goodman ignored the being in white.

"Yoga was a fraud," it said. "So is all your rubbish about personal after-life and heavens and gods and minor spats about who owns what property and what culture is better than another. All that kind of silliness."

Mark Goodman studied the far wall of the car. Studied the paint. Studied the rivets. Should he move? Was this guy a nut about to blow us up so we can meet God in heaven and save our souls and render perfection forever?

"No," said person. "I'm not a fraud."

"You're not an alien, either," said Goodman.

"Oh? How'd you come to that?" said the person.

"You look too human, I think. Just not alien enough."

"Not green."

"Well, not that. That'd be too obvious."

"Not a robot?" said the person.

"No. Not that either," said Mark Goodman.

"Then, what would it take to convince I was an alien?"

"Levitate yourself."

"Okay dokey," said the person.

Mark Goodman watched the body next to him.

"Well," he said. "Anytime now."

"Don't get pushy, fella. What do you think? I can just snap my fingers and I'll rise up?"

"Sort of kind of. Yes."

"What else would I have to do?"

"I dunno. Stop a bullet?"

"Can't do that."

"Then you're not much of an alien. They do that all the time in the movies. Superman could do that. Why can't you?"

"Well, 'cause I might be an alien but I'm not Superman. Superman wasn't an alien."

"Seems like an easy answer. You don't have to prove anything that way."

"Yup, 'tis true," said the thing.

"And if you can do it, then that proves you're an alien. Right?"

"Right." They paused. Both took a breath, debating the next step. "You're good."

"Thanks," said Mark Goodman. "So, get on with it. Let's see some proof."

"Would you believe me anyways?"



"What you do."

"Oh," said the thing, "If I satisfy you, then, I, have to satisfy each and every other person, too? Right? Got to have too many tricks for that."

"That's how it works."

"Hmmm, that's how it works?"

"Yup. That's how it works?"

The train rolled into Marlborough Street. The passengers all stiffened and leaned into the stop. Like the cast of a cheap movie they all settled upright in unison. Few rose to get off including the creep sitting next to Mark Goodman. Everyone else, except one, of the passengers just kept their faces buried in the reading. Goodman noticed the teenage boy across from him with ear plugs and closed eyes.

The thing walked across the car and out the sliding doors. The station wasn't empty. People hurried across the platform towards the light of parking lot. Goodman wasn't sure, but he thought, when he got home and didn't bother to make his wife suffer another commuter-urban legend, that the guy seemed awfully light on his feet.