Do You See What I See?

Boundary Shock Quarterly #24: Science Fiction Holidays

When extraterrestrials land on Christmas Day, an off-duty cop named Melisandre is the first one to greet them. As she strides up to the largest alien, she's pissed, because her kids are in danger.

Melisandre doesn't care about their POV, but they care about hers.

Because it's about to change.



The aliens floated down on Christmas Day, the little buggers, stocking caps pulled down over their big, weird eyes.

It was the first snow the town of Griswold had seen since world warming had reached the tipping point. People were pouring out of their houses to gaze in wonder at the white sky, everyone instinctively moving toward the center of town, to gather at the Bailey playfield.

I inhaled the delicate bouquet of chill air like a cool drink and it put me in an excellent holiday mood. A fat snowflake landed right on the top of my nose: a cold, welcome kiss. I crossed my eyes, touched my nose with my finger, then to my tongue, and made yummy noises. Both my kids laughed.

Around me, folks grinned and whooped, wishing each other Merry Christmas in the most ardent of tones, saying how maybe this was a sign that things were turning around, what with the Third Pandemic finally over. And look--we had snow!


Old farmer Judy waved at me. "Melisande, sweetie! Look at this miracle!" Then: "What cuties they are."

She meant my kids, who kept crouching to try to scrape together enough snow to make snowballs to throw at each other. The snow wasn't deep enough yet, but at this rate, it wouldn't be long.

Cara was twelve, Freddie was ten. I was a working mom with the next four days off, happy as a clam to have time with my kids to celebrate the holiday.

"Oh, my," said Judy. That got my attention right quick--it wasn't the kind of language she used.

People were pointing upwards, fingers slowly lowering to track the descending red-and-white figures. A meter high each, they looked like elves, drifting to earth along with the snow.

We live in times of fakes, deep and shallow, of androids that seem nearly human. No one believes in miracles anymore.

So folks were laughing, speculating about RealTV, and searching for corporate logos. Phones came out. People cleared throats and began livestreaming. Suddenly half the crowd was talking to invisible audiences.

My mom was a detective. I'm a cop. So I pay attention to details. I was looking up for parachutes, wires, and stealth 'copters, trying to figure out how these figures were descending at the speed of snowflakes rather than the less forgiving pace of gravity.

The first short little bugger landed, close enough that I could hear its three black boots crunch the snow. In a glance I knew that I was seeing the real thing.

Each wore red-and-white stocking hats pulled down around over their eyes, leaving only the white fuzz of faces. Which, if you squinted, looked a bit like white beards.

They stood waist-high. Each, as it landed, pulled off the stocking cap, revealing large yellow eyes lacking pupil or iris, in an impossibly narrow head of skin the color of gray-blue lentils.

You know how, when something so strange happens you can't quite wrap your mind around it, a sort of buzz goes through your whole body? I had that now. My hand went to my hip, where my duty Glock 48 usually rode. I hadn't put it on this morning. Christmas day, kids, snow--why would I?

Around me folks still smiled, as if this was about to be a great show. Others looked around uncertainly, fear kindling in their eyes, as if searching for someone to tell them it was going to be okay.

Scientists would later call the pace at which the aliens descended the anti-Boson-something effect. Call it what you want--we still don't know anything about it.

My kids lagged behind, scraping up snow. I turned and shouted at them to go home, to get inside. I used the code phrase we'd agreed on--"the fuck inside"--which I had explained that I was most likely to use in a true emergency. This meant that they should not only get into the house, but into the basement, which was kitted out as a no-fooling-around bomb shelter.

I groped again for my gun, which still wasn't there, and gritted my teeth.

Later we would come to call our visitors Zetans, after the star system Zeta Serpentis, which scientists said they were heading toward when they left. Doubtless they called themselves something else, but somehow that didn't come up in conversation.

Thing is, no one--no nation's military or scientists--had seen them arrive, but we saw their ships leave Earth's atmosphere, so it was clear to anyone who could think that they wanted us to see where they were going.

As the carpet of snow began to thicken, more Zetans landed and stood on our Earth. Each one pulled off its hat, tilted its head back, and began ho-ho-hoing in a high-pitched voice. The sound, like a pack of coyotes in heat, filled Bailey playfield.

Then I noticed the smell. Ever come across a Dragon Lilly? The bloom is a deep purple Mediterranean flower, stunningly pretty. Looks like it should have an astonishing scent, and it does: it smells like days-old rotting meat.

The Zetans didn't smell like that, but they had the same sort of shocking very-wrong stench you recoil from when you put your snoot up to a Dragon Lilly hoping for something rich and spicy and are instead slapped across the olfactory with the delicate scent of putrid dung.

I think the stench was what shocked people awake to the fact that this was the genuine, real-deal alien invasion thing. Not a movie set, not Candid Camera, just aliens who could mess with gravity and were here for a holiday visit.

Some townsfolk took this moment of clarity to run, though it wouldn't save them. Others stood frozen. The town is thick with churches, so a few were on the ground, praying and howling, adding to the general cacophony.

The majority moved forward, following me, converging on the little creatures who were now dancing like a flashmob. Nothing like this had ever happened in Griswold before, and let's face it, everyone knew that one way or another, we were all going to be famous.

I shouted at my phone, which binged helpfully in response. You've probably heard the recording of my calling it in. I've got a million followers for the one line: "Yes, an alien invasion. Gar-dammit, Elaine. You ever know me to joke about something this serious?"

Ah, but the best was still to come.


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