The Aliens Have Landed on Aisle Fifteen
By V. R. Craft
You know how some people are underwater in their mortgages? My diploma is so far underwater it’s basically toilet paper for fish. Maybe that’s why I didn’t run away screaming when I saw the spaceship, because an alien artifact had to be my ticket out of this shitty town and living with my parents. My worthless college degree sure wasn’t.
I had my hands on a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray player marked down from $299.99 to $74.99—a major score for a reseller like me—when the screaming started, and I looked up to see a huge vortex in the ceiling over my head.
The ceiling tiles were gone, replaced by a swirling hole of black that gradually dissolved into the sky outside. Then the black of the sky was blotted out by something else.
It was a gray, saucer-shaped object, not unlike those things you see in old black-and-white movies from the fifties.
Other customers screamed and ran away. Let them, there were still two more Blu-ray players on the shelf and I could double my money on each of them. I shoved them in my cart quickly, wondering what an alien artifact would go for on eBay.
The spaceship descended, stopping awkwardly as the edges caught on the tops of the shelves. It rocked a little, then whoever was inside apparently figured out that was as far down as it was going. A trapdoor on the bottom popped open, and a stairway unfolded.
Was security was going to show up and do something, or were they all running away too?
A set of feet descended the stairs, followed by the rest of what I guess was an alien. It had one of those big, gray, lollipop heads like you see in movies about alien abductions. The feet wore smooth-looking shoes with no visible laces, and the rest of its clothing looked like a shiny silver jumpsuit, also with no zippers or visible ways of getting it on or off.
A second, similar-looking alien followed him…her? I didn’t see any boobs, but who knew if these things were even mammals? For all I knew, they laid eggs.
The only way to distinguish between them was the fact that the second one wore a blue shirt with the logo of Mallmart, largest retailer in the known universe.
I’d seen a lot of people wearing the same shirt the last few days, many of them chattering in languages I didn’t understand. It was shareholders’ week, when Mallmartians—as we locals call them—flooded the city in Mallmart shirts to celebrate owning, in some cases, as little as one share of stock in the company. I guess that’s still significant if you bought when it was a penny—you know, a million years ago, back when the economy was supposedly good or something?
One of the aliens waved something pointy at me and I stepped back. Not that it would help if they had some super awesome laser gun. I looked for a weapon, but all I saw was a shelf of single-digit-threadcount towels and a spinning fidget thing with someone’s gum stuck in to it.
Yeah, I was screwed.
The pointy-thing waver said something that sounded like high-pitched gibberish. The Mallmart shirt alien spoke in even louder gibberish. They sounded angry.
“I don’t work for Mallmart.” Best idea I had. Who isn’t angry when shopping here? There’s never anyone around to help you find the particular piece of cheap plastic crap from China you’re looking for.
The one with the pointy thing wrinkled its face in what might have been a frown. It turned to the one in the shirt and they conversed in unintelligible mumbling. Then it turned back to me, looked down, and adjusted a dial on the side of the pointy thing.
I ducked behind my cart, not remotely sure two Blu-ray players would protect me from a laser space weapon.
But nothing happened, and after a few seconds I peeked around the players, through the rusted bars of the cart. There didn’t appear to be a red dot coming from the pointy thing.
The alien in the shirt spoke again, this time in English. “Hello, human, sorry to startle you. Could you tell us where the…”
It trailed off, leaned over, and said something in the other alien’s ear. The other one whispered something back.
“Where the bathroom is?” An electronic sounding voice boomed from the pointy thing.
Of course! The pointy thing was a translator, not a laser weapon. I stood, keeping my hands on the cart—maybe they weren’t going to kill me, but they weren’t taking my haul either. “You’re looking for the crapper?”
Shirt alien blinked its big, black eyes, dug a finger in its ear. “Yes. Use toilet. Do I need to find someone who works here for directions?”
“No, you won’t. Find anyone who works here, I mean. You’d have to buy an electronics item and not deactivate the tag right at the self-check for them to appear.” What would an alien’s Mallmart shareholders’ shirt go for on eBay?
I pointed toward the front of the store. “The bathroom’s up there in the middle. The womens’ is on the left and the…” I still didn’t know how they identified, or if they even had genders on their planet. “Oh hell, just use whichever one you want. One thing though, you probably aren’t familiar with Earth ettiquette so….one time I went in there and someone had taken a crap not in the toilet but next to the toilet, and I don’t want you to think that’s standard on Earth. I mean, uh, shit goes in the toilet, not next to it.”
I never pictured myself explaining humanity to an advanced alien species exactly like that, but it was the truth.
The shirt alien blinked. The rest of its face stayed frozen, like it had too much Botox done. “Thank you.”
It walked off toward the bathrooms.
Pointy-thing alien looked around the aisle, then back at me, as we stood in an intergalactic awkward silence.
“So, are you a shareholder too?” it asked after a minute.
I laughed, and it jumped back. Maybe my laugh sounded like nails on a chalkboard in alien language. Okay, I’ve been told that by some humans too.
“No, I’m just a shopper. I buy stuff to sell on that website, The Big River. You ever consider buying stock in that company?”
The alien blinked. “We’re not here to buy stock. We’re here to shop for our own version of The Big River.”
Of course! The aliens were resellers too—they better not want my Blu-ray players. I edged closer to my cart. “Uh, you’re here to shop the clearance rack? Because I saw this shelf first.”
The alien made a staccato sound—its own version of a laugh? “No, we’re trying to get something from every department. It’ll all be scarce soon.”
They were time-traveling aliens? I’d spent enough time watching reruns of scifi shows to know wherever these aliens were from had to be light-years away. So if they had faster-than-light travel, they must have had some method for bending or manipulating space-time…which implied time travel.
Was the alien trying to tell me my planet was headed for disaster?
“What do you mean?” I asked as the second alien reappeared, shaking its hands to dry them. Guess it couldn’t figure out the paper towel dispenser. What did they use on their planet?
The alien without the shirt looked at me. “Nothing.”
Evasive. He could run for office as the first Extraterrestrial-American congressperson.
“You said all this would be scarce soon.” I waved around the store. “Is the company going out of business? Some of this crap is sold elsewhere, so…”
I trailed off as a worse thought occurred to me than the economy-wrecking event of Mallmart going Chapter 11. The t-shirt alien swiveled its head from me to the other alien and back. The unclothed extraterrestrial looked down and shuffled its feet.
“The planet,” I said. “Or human civilization, at least. I already figured it out, you can tell me.”
T-shirt alien feigned interest in a display of singing beer can paperweights.
“Outcomes can change,” the other alien finally said. “We were supposed to help you fix things, but now that we’re here, our calculations show our intervention is unlikely to be successful.”
“That’s why you’re buying all this soon-to-be-scarce crap.” Bizarrely, I was jealous. I’d spent years scouring yard sales for anything I recognized as a rare, priceless piece from those antique wheel-and-deal shows, and all I’d ever found was mass-produced crap. Now these aliens were going to buy the same stuff and make bank because it was going to be rare and—and oh yeah, we were all going to be dead.
What can I say, I’m great at prioritizing.
“Since we’re here anyway, our broker assured us this was a relatively safe investment,” T-Shirt alien said.
“Any chance I could go with you? As an expert on human artifacts? I could help you authenticate pieces other people bring in, shit like that. Like on those reality shows, where they call an expert?”
“That’s against several laws.” The unclothed alien swiped an open-box bobblehead of Jesus waving an American flag in one hand and holding a beer can in the other. Tucking the find under its arm, it stumbled up the steps. Its companion followed.
“Thank you,” it said. “I really did have to use the bathroom.”
“Wait!” I ran toward them as the stairs started retracting. “At least tell me what’s going to happen. Give me some clue how I can try to fix things, to change the timeline?”
“Look around, it should be obvious.” Shirt alien reached the top and the door started to fold up. It moved its hand in what might have been an awkward wave, then stopped, a wrinkle spreading across its brow. It pulled the shirt over its head, and tossed it out.
“I told you we’d be less conspicous with the hats,” it told the other alien as the door closed.
I grabbed my prize as the spaceship rose through the hole in the ceiling, and I waved, not really sure why. Then I looked back around the Mallmart, pushing my cart to the end of the aisle. The other shoppers seemed oblivious to what had just transpired on aisle fourteen. I wondered if the shirt-wearer would wind up on that “People of Mallmart” site after its jaunt to the bathroom.
Over on aisle sixteen, that guy who walks all over town talking to himself petted a stuffed teddy bear, rambling about the problems in the Middle East. A few feet away, a tired-looking guy in ripped jeans juggled a screaming baby in one arm and an economy-sized box of condoms in the other. Guess he learned his lesson. At the tip of the next aisle, a guy in an oversized t-shirt that screamed, “Don’t trust the press, trust the president!” alternated between scratching his ass and his beer belly. A few rows down, a woman studied a hair dye box while her kid pulled more boxes off the shelf, finally ripping one open. She turned her back as a bottle of dye poured onto the floor.
The mumbler ambled to the nearest endcap and looked up and down, apparently unsure if he needed the 2-pack of personal lubricant or the 24-pack of bottled water to rehydrate after he used all the lubricant. He rubbed the bear’s head and stared at the 2-pack.
“They’re saying it’s going to be a real disaster,” he said to the bottles.
A dripping noise alerted me I was leaning against a rack of shampoo bottles. I pulled away, worried I’d gotten some on my alien t-shirt score, which was draped over my arm. It better not be stained!
But it wasn’t just one bottle, and they weren’t just dripping. Amber liquid poured from the shelf. Two bottles looked as if a horiontal hole roughly the size of my arm had been eaten out of them. I looked at the shirt. The liquid was beaded on the blue cloth, and I brushed it off. A no-stain fabric, cool. But what just happened to the bottles?
Despite my better judgement, I casually leaned against a shelf of deodorant, pressing the shirt against a tube. After a few seconds I stepped back. A hole had been eaten in the plastic. The metal shelf was untouched, and my arm seemed no worse for the wear, so…
The t-shirt was made of cloth that ate plastic.
My mind raced with ideas. Could the aliens be wrong? Could our planet be saved if we didn’t have so much plastic floating around? It would reduce pollution, and the carbon footprint of transporting plastic waste to landfills.
Never mind that, think how much money I could make if I found a company to replicate this technology. Maybe the aliens had given me the solution to two problems at once. I would have to work very hard, figuring out how it worked and finding someone to produce more of it, but I could do it. I needed the money, and the planet kind of needed to be saved.
I looked up at the ceiling, where the alien’s ship had disappeared. “Thank you, Mallmartians.”
I’m sure that didn’t seem at all out of place.