Note: This story was first published on Errin Krystal’s Saturday Showcase. It’s part of a series of science fiction short stories in which I imagine annoying people abducted by aliens.
“Yeah, I have a plan.”
“Is it a good one?”
“I have a plan.”
Great. Most of my friend Charlie’s plans go like that. This is probably the worst one I’ve ever heard though.
“Charlie, I don’t think I understand. Why do we need to kidnap an alien again?”
He rolls his eyes and pushes his glasses back up his nose. “Because we’ll be the first humans ever to kidnap an alien instead of the other way around.”
“You don’t really think—”
“That we’ll get away with it?”
Charlie squints at his phone, which is set to some app that displays the rear camera and a bunch of blinking things. “There are all sorts of laws about kidnapping U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. But nothing about kidnapping aliens.”
“Um….I’m not sure that defense would hold up in court.” I follow him down the sidewalk toward the shopping center. Truthfully, we’re only friends because he’s the only person I know who’s a halfway challenging opponent at Intergalactic Dragon Wars, and the sooner I convince him to give up the alien hunt, the sooner we can start playing. “If we get caught, some alien rights’ group will probably pop up in five seconds, I promise.”
It makes more sense than convincing him there aren’t any real aliens. I mean, no one’s even spotted a shooting star or a weather balloon or strange lights in the sky or anything lately, why would there be aliens just chilling at the mall?
“What is that app, anyway?” I ask as we walk through the sliding glass doors.
“It’s called Alien Tracker. It’s free in the app store. You should download it.”
“Oh…so it’s a game?” Just when I thought Charlie had finally gone off the deep end. What the hell, I was sick of those yellow blobs, anyway.
Charlie finally tears his eyes away from the phone long enough to roll them at me. “Of course not. This is an app for serious alien hunters, Jamie.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Is it endorsed by Miss Cleo?”
“Miss Cleo is dead, and that’s a whole other fandom.”
“If her fans believe in psychics who talk to dead people, why would that matter?” My fandoms include any group that sponsors a never ending argument over whether Star Trek or Star Wars is better (I’m #teamTrek), and the reality show Who Wants To Write A FanFic? I have no interest in psychics.
“Like I said, not my fandom.” He stops in front of a clothing store pumping the latest hit by some boy band singing in bad falsettos.
“The alien is hanging out in there?” Imagine traveling light-years to listen to a bunch of cookie-cutter guys moan “Oohh, baby, baby” into a microphone. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of humanity.
“Yep.” He points at the screen. “See that red X near the back of the store? That’s our alien.”
“Right.” But I follow Charlie into the store, jerking him out of the way right before he can walk into a mannequin’s outstretched arm.
A salesperson pops out from behind a clothing rack. I can only describe her as bouncy—bouncy curls, bouncy boobs, bouncy personality.
“Hi-ih, welcome to The Zipper, what can we dress you in today?”
I fucking hate bouncy people.
“We’re just looking.” Charlie ducks around her and heads toward the back, and I start after him.
Bouncy hops in front of me, obviously deciding I’m more serious about buying clothes in this place than he is. “What are you looking for today? I can help you find something while your boyfriend plays his game.”
Yes, that’s right, just assume women are interested in clothes and guys are interested in games. Way to set feminists back twenty years, Bouncy.
“He’s not my boyfriend, and I’m really just browsing.” I duck around her. Maybe if Charlie discovers there’s no alien in here, we can go home and I can kick his ass at an actual game.
“This would look great on you,” she yells after me.
I walk faster, but it doesn’t do any good. Bouncy pops back into my path, several pairs of jeans that all look identical in her arms. “I’ll just start you a dressing room.”
I open my mouth to tell her I don’t want to try anything on and I’m not wearing that ugly crap and I really don’t want any help, but then I realize if she goes to start me a dressing room she’ll get the hell out of my way and I don’t have to explain to mall security that I punched her in self-defense because she was threatening my sanity. “Sure.”
She bounces off and I hurry to catch up with Charlie. I find him in a corner by the dressing rooms, staring perplexedly at a rack of overpriced purses with various designs in tassels, rhinestones, and, in one case, selfie sticks. “It’s supposed to be right here.”
“Well, clearly it isn’t.” I wave at the purses. “Now, why don’t we just go play Intergalactic Dragon Wars? Maybe I’ll let you win this time.”
I will do no such thing, but I want to get him out of this store.
“But the app says it’s here.” He points at the red X.
“Maybe there are too many people hunting aliens right now and the system overloaded, causing a malfunction.”
“Yeah, I guess…wait, let me just check the dressing rooms. Maybe the alien is in there.”
“Uh… I don’t think the girls in there would appreciate you peering under the doors and checking to see if they’re aliens.”
“You’re right, they wouldn’t appreciate me doing that.” He scrunches his face up, his usual begging look. “Pleeeeease, Jamie? Just make sure the alien’s not in there, and I promise I’ll play as many rounds of Intergalactic Dragon Wars as you want, even though I know you’re not really going to let me win.”
I sigh. “They’re not going to appreciate me looking under the doors to make sure they’re not aliens, either.”
He shrugs. “You don’t have to look under the doors. Just knock on them and ask if they can come out for a minute so you can look in the stall, because you think you left your phone in there or something.”
“As many rounds as I want?”
He nods enthusiastically.
“Okay.” I duck into the hallway, slip past a male mannequin wearing a straw hat and some sort of Hawaiian shirt, and reach for the first door.
“Oh, I have you a stall down he-ere,” a bouncy voice yells from the other end.
I turn and face Bouncy with a fake smile. “Thanks.”
She waves at an open door, and I can’t think of a reason why I would need to check a stall I haven’t used yet, so I go into the one with the hideous jeans and leave the door open a crack so I can watch Bouncy leave.
Once she’s gone, I slip out, squat down, and look to see which stalls have feet in them. Only one does, the one at the end. First I try the other doors, but they’re all locked—I guess this is one of those stores where the salesperson has to let you in.
I wander down to the last stall and knock.
“Hi, sorry to disturb you, but I think I left my phone in there and I really need to take a selfie of myself in these jeans.” I try to imitate Bouncy’s chipper voice.
“I don’t see it.”
“Well, can you step out for a minute just so I can look and make sure it didn’t, um, fall under the bench or something?” My stall had a bench along the wall, no doubt mean to hold all those extra pairs of identical-looking jeans some girls need to try on, so I assume they all have one. “The light’s better out here anyway, and they have one of those three-way mirrors.”
I hear a groan, and a minute later girl I’d describe as Bouncy Junior pops out. She saunters over to the three-way mirror and checks out her own rhinestone-studded ass as I duck into the stall and look under the bench. No alien hiding there, big surprise—but I had to keep up the pretense, didn’t I?
“Thanks anyway,” I say with a shrug.
She goes back into the stall, and I head to the end of the hallway. Just as I pass the mannequin and start to turn the corner, a cold, clammy hand wraps around my elbow.
I whip my head around, and stare into the dull, lifeless eyes of the mannequin. What the hell? Who’s holding my arm?
I look down. It’s the mannequin. The mannequin’s fingers are wrapped around my arm. But they don’t feel like mannequin fingers, they feel as malleable as human hands.
Oh great, this must be some new way The Zipper keeps customers from leaving without buying anything—some sort of animated mannequin stops you from leaving the dressing room empty-handed. Seriously? I’m writing a Yelp review about this.
The mannequin grips my left arm, so I reach out with my right hand and grabs its cold fingers, pulling them back one by one. I wonder what kind of technology—
“You’re not going anywhere,” the mannequin growls, and I’ll admit that makes me jump. It’s other arm swings forward and grabs my right shoulder, designer bag swinging aimlessly as its elbow straightens.
“Get your fucking hands off me.” I reach up and grab the mannequin by the throat. I bet the if I rip the head off, the controls are inside and I can shut this overzealous robot down in five seconds flat.
That’s when the formerly lifeless eyes blink, and I’m staring at two red lasers. Must be sensors of some sort. I manage to wrestle my right arm free and stab two fingers at the red dots, kicking the mannequin in the stomach at the same time. It flies backward, toward the wall—
Taking me with it, because the damn thing still doesn’t let go.
But the wall isn’t really a wall, it’s some sort of trap door, and I find myself lying on top of the dummy, pounding my fist into its face. “Let go of me or I’m telling all eight hundred of my Facebook friends never to shop in this hellhole again!”
“Stop that, you’re hurting me,” the mannequin says, its face loosening. It’s almost like the plastic or whatever it’s made of melts a little, becoming fluid. Meanwhile, the fingers feel like steel spikes squeezing my arms.
“Let. Go. Of. Me!” This thing has to have an off switch somewhere. I rip off the floppy hat and toss it aside, the fingers clawing at my arms, and take another stab at the eyes. Only this time, I just cover them with my hand, trying to blind the damn thing.
It lets go of one arm to flail at its face, and I push off its chest and jump up, but it still has my other arm in a death grip, so I can’t straighten up all the way.
How anatomically correct is this thing, anyway?
I pick up my foot and stomp down on the crotch of the mannequin’s swim trunks as hard as I can.
“Aaagghhh!” It screams, and I wonder why no one has heard the racket. Oh, of course, this room is soundproof. I can’t heard the stupid boy band anymore.
I keep stomping, and the mannequin finally lets go of my arm. I wrench away and whip around, but the door is gone. What the fuck?
But I’m not an idiot, and I know whenever some stupid woman in a horror movie turns her back on the apparently-disabled serial killer, he’s standing up and coming after her—
I whirl back around, and the mannequin is on his knees now, reaching under the Hawaiian shirt with one hand.
For a weapon?
I step to the side, looking for something to hit him with, but the room is as bare as my bank account—nothing but gray walls, gray ceiling, gray floor.
Great. I’m locked in an empty room with a demented robot intent on selling me ugly jeans.
“What do you want?” I stall for time.
He pulls his hand out from under the shirt, his hand gripping what looks like an unusually long stylus. That can’t be good. “I want you. You’re a rare human, and if I capture you, I’ll make it into the finals.”
“What?” I pat the wall behind me. Surely there’s a catch that makes the door open again, right?
“You don’t know how hard it is to find the rare humans, the smart ones.” It taps the long stylus, and a bright red light appears on the end pointed at me. “The game officials should be here to collect you soon. There’s no point trying to escape, that doorway will only open for me.”
“What game officials?” I slide my hand into my back pocket, fingers closing around my phone.
“The ones who will collect you and grant me the win. There’s no point trying to use your communication device, it won’t work,” he adds, nodding at my right hand. My left grips the key fob in my other pocket.
“What?” I pull my phone out and glance at the screen, keeping one eye on him. No bars. What the fuck?
“I know most humans have a communication device attached to their rear end. I assume you have charging ports installed there.” He gets to his feet and starts toward me.
I stay still until his hands grab my arms again, tugging my left hand out of my pocket, keys still in my fingers.
“You won’t be needing those.” He reaches for the keys.
I flick the blade out of the Swiss Army knife on my key ring and slash at his hand, cutting through the liquid-plastic whatever the hell it is. Surprisingly, he doesn’t bleed—the skin hardens as it peels away.
“Aaaaghhh!” He tries to grab the knife with his other hand, but I’m already stabbing at his face, slashing away at the fake skin there. He bats at my hands, and I find myself wrestling with him. If I keep stabbing at him, he might be able to grab me again, and he has a vise-like grip.
“Please, you’ll kill me!” He yells.
Well, that’s good to know.
“Aren’t you going to kill me?” I slash at the skin-suit on his arm then duck out of the way. “You think I feel badly for you? I don’t.”
The skin or whatever it is peels away easily. Beneath is a layer of pale gray skin, rapidly turning purple.
“That exo-skin is protecting me from the air here.” He doesn’t try to grab for the knife, but instead jerks the flap of skin away from me and tries to pull it back over himself, like a coat. It does stretch, sort of like Silly Putty.
“Why the fuck are you dressed like a mannequin and hiding out in a clothing store?” I point the knife at him as a warning not to come any closer.
He shakes his head. “Trying to capture the rare humans…the smart ones. There’s a very large bounty. The economy on my planet isn’t so great and I… I need the money.”
“How do you know who the rare smart ones are?”
He shakes his head. “The ones who find me, who hunt me down. That app—lots of people try it, but most give up. You touched me, so I knew you’d found me.
I brushed against a mannequin and he thinks I’m smart? Great. Just fucking great.
I step sideways, ducking as he tries to grab me again. Jabbing the knife at his midsection, I manage to tear a few inches of exo-skin there. “Tell me how to get out of this room.”
“I need the money.” He jumps away from the knife and presses a hand over the skin. “Please, you’ve already exposed me to too much of your air. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please don’t rip off the rest of my environment suit, I could die in seconds.”
“Then tell me how to open that damn door.”
“I can open it.” He wheels around, circling me.
“Then do it.” I take a step back, facing the wall we fell through, and point at it with the knife.
“Let you out and let that horrible music in?”
So, he doesn’t like the boy bands, either.
Just then, the stylus thing makes a beeping noise. It must not be a weapon, or he would have done something other than point it at me by now. Communication device?
He looks at the end, which is now blinking blue. “They’re here. I just need to outlast you a few more minutes, and then the game officiators will come collect you and I get my prize. You and I both know if you get too close I’ll catch you. This suit also gives me the strength of ten humans.”
Damn. The odds of my tearing off enough of his suit to make him open the damn door without getting caught in his super-strong robot-hands don’t seem very good. What to do?
Distract him, just like in Intergalactic Space Dragons, right? With what? I don’t have any magic discs to throw—but maybe I do have a secret weapon.
I glance at my phone, still in my other hand, and thumb-tap the screen, turning it on. It appears to be functional, so I’m guessing he’s just blocking communications in and out of the room—except through the magic wand thing.
“That still won’t work.” He moves toward me and I dance away, jabbing in his direction with the knife, more to ward him off than because I think I’m going to hit him again.
Keeping my eyes on the alien, I tap a few more icons on the phone screen, only seeing it out of my peripheral vision. First, I turn the volume up all the way, then I navigate to my stored ringtones and hit one.
Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” blares from the phone. I may not be able to send or receive information, but I still have access to what’s stored on it, and I once downloaded that song not because I liked it, but so I could assign it as a ringtone to my loser ex-boyfriend. You can guess why.
The alien makes a screeching noise, worse than when I stabbed him, and covers his ears, letting the skin flap. “Noooooooo, make it stoooooop.”
I lunge at him, slashing from the top of his head down his face and into his chest from left to right as I jump out of the way. But it isn’t necessary, because he barely takes one hand off his head to grab at the flapping skin. As he pulls it back together, I see a large, top-heavy gray head with big black eyes—classic gray alien.
I consider trying to slash him again since the music is even more distracting than I thought, but then I realize it isn’t necessary. Clutching the skin flap with one hand and his head with the other, he crumples to the ground. “Please…make the music stop…it’s excruciatingly painful for my species.”
If I get out of here and sell my story to The Enquirer, I’ll be sure to list that as “Things We Have In Common With The Grays.”
“I can turn it off if you open the damn door.”
“Please…make it stop.” He covers both ears with his hands again, letting the skin flap.
“Only after I get out of here.” Since the volume is up all the way, I wave the phone closer to his head.
He pulls out the stylus thing, taps it three times rapidly, and a doorway appears in the wall behind him.
“Please don’t go,” he pleads as I step carefully around him, still clutching the knife and my phone in equal death grips.
“Try to kidnap anyone else, and I’ll tell everyone what your weakness is. Go hunt on some other planet.” I back out and the door disappears almost immediately, as if it had never been there.
Blinking, I tap the wall. Nothing. Just a designer bag lying on the carpet where an ugly mannequin used to be.
And Justin Bieber singing “Sorry.”
I turn that off immediately, then bolt around the corner, back into the store. Charlie is still messing with the app.
“I give up,” he says, his eyes on the screen. “The red X just blinked out. It’s like the alien beamed back up or something. You were right, this is stupid. Are you ready to play Intergalactic Dragon Wars?”