by Will Liangco
The crash was preceded by some very ominous signs. My father, who was a frustrated medical student, painter, songwriter, everything, started telling us over dinner that he was going to write a novel. Yup, that’s right. A novel. After having so many failed attempts to actually build a career, leaving us with a lot of unpaid bills, a mortgaged house, and a very high-strung mother, my father has actually told me, my mom, my brother Eli (with a long i), and my sister Kathy who seems to be intent on following his footsteps, that tonight he is going to sign a contract to write the Great Filipino Novel. Before we could even protest, before Eli could even complete his eye rolling, before my mom could even cry out in anguish, my father has swiftly told us a very brief synopsis of his novel. According to him, it would be, in equal measure, both entertaining and socially relevant. It would be about a middle class family, with a working father engaged in a massive protest against the abusive factory he was working for. See, that’s socially relevant. Plus points for the reviewers, and it would eventually become a school requirement, and possibly a movie.
That was the first sign. The second sign to augur disaster was my mother giving us the silent treatment the rest of the dinner till dishwashing time. It is usually preferred over her endless yakking that I better finish high school and pass the UPCAT after which I should forget my girlfriend Kristy who I so love more than life itself (how cliché, but that’s true!), and that Eli better finish college and not get that girl pregnant, and that my sister better find a job and not quit after two days and get a rich boyfriend and not break up after two days, and that we better change her bedpans when she gets old, what with her getting hunchbacked in our small canteen as a cook and manager and janitress twenty four seven just to pay our family’s mind blowing debts from everyone in this town. Her silent treatment is bad, because it means that after a few more minutes she would burst out and yell at everyone, with her excuse being, “I’ve been bottling this up for so long!”. Although we know, of course, that she’s been bottling that up only since dinner.
The final sign, and quite ill-advised, I tell you, was that Eli should tell everyone, right there in the middle of dinner, right there and then when father was telling his dream and mother was pouting in between munches, that he had gotten Mimi, his girlfriend, pregnant. He couldn’t have said it at a worse time. “I’m writing a novel,” then immediately, “Mimi’s pregnant!”—bad idea. Mom’s silent treatment was cut short. She caterwauled and the sinigang bowl went flying, I am not kidding you.
Those were the signs, the portents, of an even graver, more astonishing thing to come. After dinner Eli went to Mimi, Dad went to his “agent”, Kathy went somewhere, Mom took a very long walk towards Aunt Angie to sing her depression out in videoke. Normally I would have relished the solitude, those short, fine moments when nobody was yelling at somebody just because somebody had forgotten to close the comfort room door, and I wouldn’t have to scream at Eli or Kathy, those old, ancient people, for reading my mint-preserved comic books in the toilet and leaving them there to get all moist and feces-y. But something in the air felt wrong, something foretelling the event that made me want to revert to a fetal position, something odd. And a few minutes later, it happened. The crash. Late last night, in our backyard, something came plummeting down. I peered through a small crack in a wall, and saw something, a creature, crawling out of that thing that crashed down. For some reason I let the seriously injured creature in the house and hid it in the basement, and promised him that I wouldn’t let my family know that he was there. Ladies and gentlemen, yes, I have an extra-terrestrial biological entity right in our very house.
In Cordel’s What To Do When You Get Abducted, he outlines what one should specifically do and not do if one is beamed up a spacecraft by an alien. For instance, never feel nervous or scared because they are telepathic and can read your apprehensions, facilitating further abuse. Think happy thoughts. Try not to imagine or anticipate what possible experiments the aliens might do on you, such as anal probing, metal implanting, and brain sucking. Instead, you should try to be as sincere as possible in asking the aliens, through your thoughts, of course, to set you free. You might convince them by telling them that you are a very ordinary, uninteresting person not very different from the ones they’ve already abducted and experimented upon, or more effectively, recommend another person in your place by enumerating his or her interesting characteristics. Don’t go over the top, though, because their telepathy could go another level and detect insincerity. That would be the end of you. You may also engage in a physical battle with the aliens if circumstances would allow, although this should be your very last resort. Focus on the black, wraparound eyes if it’s the run of the mill Zeta Reticulan because you wouldn’t be cognizant of its other sensitive and vulnerable areas.
Very interesting and possibly useful suggestions, Cordel, but I was quite disappointed that I didn’t have to use them when the injured alien came crawling to me in our backyard, seeking refuge. Of course I wasn’t deceived by that seemingly frail body, by his height (around 3 feet), by his very small hands each with four slender, suction cup-tipped fingers. The head, in all its disproportionate bigness with those very large eyes and small mouth, didn’t scare nor lure me into being nice to him either. All I could think of then as he walked towards the back door was that Whitley Streiber was right, the X-Files was right, and that those who claimed to have been abducted or seen aliens were not lying. The alien sent a telepathic message of alarm to me: its spacecraft malfunctioned, he was friendly, can I give him some food. Now as I walk towards the basement carrying this small plate of rice and salt I still am not sure if I’m doing the right thing.
“You shouldn’t move, you’re still bleeding,” I say as I mix a few tablespoons of salt with the rice. Last night he specifically asked me for rice with salt—after centuries of hovering over the entire world and observing us, he confessed that they have all learned all kinds international cuisine. Possibly because he has been assigned in Asia for quite a while now that he has taken a liking to rice, with some salt for flavor, nothing else. Meat, vegetables, and other flavorings are too exotic for him.
The extraterrestrial biological entity, whom I have decided to call Baron for no reason at all, winces as he dabs his terrible knee injuries with the sponge I have given him last night. His race has remarkable healing powers, but the impact of the crash still proved too much. Baron has sustained deep knee injuries and his arms seem horribly burned. He assures me that the burns will heal in no time, but I’m not sure. I decide to feed him, thinking that someday, when he has already recuperated, I can ask him for favors. But I must stop myself from thinking all of these, as he is clearly telepathic.
“Thank you, Tommy,” he tells me, not through telepathy this time, but in a voice barely distinguishable as male or female. I nod and do the Trekkie V sign. Baron seems to understand, and my heart warms as I realize that he, too, smiles. Of course, for all I know, what we as Earthlings consider as a gesture of thanks and happiness could be a symbol of irritation or antagonism in their home planet, but who cares, it feels good to make someone smile.
“Why are you here?” I verbalize. “What is it that you want from our planet?” I suddenly grow very excited as I utter these questions, the realization that an alien is right here, in our very home, injured, finally setting in. I try to borrow some more formulaic questions from the many movies and TV shows I’ve seen. “Do you come in peace? Are you here to invade us?” Then I finally realize, of course, that if they have come to invade us, then he wouldn’t really tell me, would he? Then I police myself: I can’t allow myself to think like this, too dangerous.
“I come in peace. I am merely here as an emissary. We plan to help you replenish your energy resources, restore peace, stop pollution. We are kind.”
Hearing all of these I suddenly make an excuse that I am having some stomach cramps, and climb back up and lock the door. I try to catch my breath. Upstairs I hear dad typing away, and screaming a supposed writer’s block’s “Aaaaaargh!” I quickly run outside, to the farm, notwithstanding the mud soiling my bare feet. I have to run far far away, where he could not read my thoughts.
For I now know his real purpose. I now know, for a fact, that he is an enemy, that they are here for an invasion. How have I come to this conclusion, you ask? Because he is an idiot. Baron, as an emissary, sucks as a liar. For him to suddenly blurt out and enumerate all of their supposedly benevolent intentions, for him to directly say that “we are kind”, reeks of… lack of restraint. And to be an emissary! It just smacks of terrible planning—why, haven’t they learned of our nature as humans all those years of abducting us? Haven’t they caught wise of our nuances, of what make us tick, of what obfuscates us? Haven’t they watched a single episode of the hundreds of alien conspiracy shows on TV? No wonder invasion still hasn’t happened! To boast of the latest technology, the most intricate spacecrafts and computers and metal implants, and to not know a single thing about human nature! Amazing!
But then again, what if he indeed lacks subtlety, but it’s still the truth he’s telling us? That all of their latest gizmos can indeed zap pollution out of existence, and lengthen the lifespan of our dear planet? What if they could indeed provide oil, and electricity, and water, and food, and that I am just being paranoid and hostile?
But wait, what if they are indeed bent on doing those altruistic things, but at a price? That seems more likely, doesn’t it, because there never really is such a thing as free lunch? What if, supposing, assuming that…
Eli has finally decided that he is not going to marry Mimi whom he has started coldly referring to as “that girl”, and it’s hilarious that they now hate each other more than ever, now that they are to have a baby. Knowing Eli, I’m sure he has persuaded Mimi to get an abortion; perhaps he has even volunteered to do it himself with a straightened clothes hanger. That wouldn’t happen to me and Kristy, for we have both promised to keep our love alive forever. I hate Eli, and this hatred intensifies every time he walks very comfortably around the house, shirtless, yawning and stretching and scratching his wet, hairy body and ordering people around. He walks past the stairs leading to the basement. He doesn’t know, nobody knows, what’s in there.
“Hey Tommy go get me two sticks of Marlboro from Aling Laura,” he says as he flips the pages of one of my most prized 60’s comic books ever, Adventure Comics #204. That’s the one where Chameleon Boy’s protoplasmic super pet Proty sacrificed himself and gave his life force to Lightning Lad by impersonating Saturn Girl.
“You’re not going to smoke while reading, Eli, bad for the paper,” I say nonchalantly, and besides, who the hell does he think he is. I roll on my back on the floor and pick up Superboy #192. It’s sweltering in this house and I’m putting my comic books at risk every time I read them. Sweat definitely damages the papers irreparably. Summer, in general, poses a threat to my massive comic book collection, as this ancient wooden house can just combust to flames in no time.
Irritated Eli throws the comic book down on the floor and I want to cry out in total despair and agony and hatred as I see the forty-year old comic book spine incur multiple cracks! Teary-eyed I retaliate by throwing a pen at him, which he throws back at me. Without bothering to put a shirt on he walks out the house to get his own death sticks.
It’s one thirty, and this time I bring Baron one cup of rice and some salt again. I try to guard my thoughts every time I enter the basement. He’s there again, hiding behind the shadows cast by the large boxes of Christmas decors. Apparently some of his burns have healed and he seems to have quickly gained some weight. He also regains his dexterity in using his fingers, and is now quite capable of feeding himself. Amazing, that he could fully and swiftly regenerate his epithelials without the aid of anything, that he doesn’t need exercise to fully regain the use of his muscles…
“Thank you, Tommy,” he transmits through telepathy, and I nod. Through telepathy or verbalization these aliens seem to be very laconic, although it is possible that it’s just his personality. Or it could be poor planetary foreign language acquisition.
“I am regaining my strength and may be able to leave soon, Tommy,” he says.
I nod and with much panic run back upstairs, lock the door, and go to the comfort room. I sit on the toilet bowl. He is regaining his strength! Soon enough he would be able to walk and possibly fix his personal spacecraft which he has turned invisible in our backyard. Then he would pilot it and signal his friends, and invasion would slowly commence. And what if this entire crash was just a ruse, a covert act to gather information?
“Hey Tommy you there? Faster my stomach’s killing me,” I hear Eli scream as he knocks, pounds on the tin door. I turn the water faucet on and wait for a few minutes just to spite him before I go out where I see him clutching his tummy and squirming.
In the living room I dial my friend Ronald’s number. His father is a pharmacist and Ronald told us albeit jokingly that if we ever want to poison anybody for whatever reason, we only need to call him. I never realized that I would make that call.
Kathy is driving me to Manila so I can take some college entrance exams, but I don’t think I can concentrate knowing that I left Baron in the house, with Eli perpetually walking around the living room like some fucking supervisor, and my father comfortably typing away in his room using his very old typewriter, his very thick eye glasses on, occasionally taking slow drags of cigarettes in between paragraphs like some fucking quaint, tormented artiste. I have specifically instructed Baron to just sit still and keep quiet in the basement if he knows what’s good for him. To be sure I’ve tied his hands and feet and plastered his mouth with a packaging tape.
“I haven’t told anybody yet, Tommy, but I’m planning on getting into showbiz,” Kathy says as she turns left towards a very small eskinita. “Don’t tell mom and dad just yet. My boyfriend’s friend told me that he knows someone who auditions girls like me.”
“What do you mean girls like you? You mean confused, jobless girls who would take on TF roles?”
“No, I mean girls like me who dare to dream. To follow their heart.”
My eyeballs roll by themselves. Kathy belongs to the Follow Where Your Heart Leads You School of Crap, which is why she has never finished college. Every time her heart told her something, she obeyed and said thank you. Her heart has led her to go to Journalism, then to Mass Communications, then to Special Education, then to Political Science, then to bartending. But I don’t have to listen to all of this right now, I have an alien, a cosmic problem (!) to worry about. Did I do the right thing, gagging him, or was it too violent and hostile? But I explained it to him, that Eli has an uncanny ability to sense that something is off, and that today I am not there to constantly distract Eli from turning his super hearing on.
“So what do you think, do you think I can make it?” she asks, full smiles.
“I don’t know, maybe it would be safer to hook-up with a DOM,” I say and immediately regret saying it. Kathy is not the type to take things too seriously, but one needs only to say the proper words to dredge up old insecurities and scour old wounds with acid.
“Mr. Cruz was not a DOM. Occasionally we kissed and dated and he gave me money, but let dead men rest, Tommy,” she mumbles, her voice breaking, and I know that that’s the last time I would hear her speak today. Unlike Eli she is subtler in her antagonism, but she’s as effective nonetheless. Guilt, specially when it concerns your sister’s former lover/ sugar daddy who died of colon cancer, can be lacerating. What I said was evil. I mean, if Kathy says something that severe about me and Kristy…
And so Kathy and I shopped and dined and drove back without talking to each other. By the time we reach home it is already 8 o’clock, and apparently my mother is out again singing videoke with Aunt Angie, my father is asleep perhaps after many hours of thinking of a good title, and Eli is out with his barkada. Kathy fetches a pack of cigarettes from her room and utters in the fewest words as possible that she just needs to take a walk, and that she’d probably kill herself.
My heart pounding I walk down the stairs—I don’t know, maybe it’s the apprehension that Baron could be dead, or that Eli discovered and killed him, or that Baron would hate me altogether for gagging him, not believing the lie that what I did is for his own good. And then my heart sinks as I turn on the light bulb—the ropes, the tape, the plates of food are all there on the floor, with no sight of Baron anywhere! He had sensed it! He knew that I was privy to his nefarious plans, and he escaped!
Panicking I look for him in all the rooms in the house, running up and down the stairs, checking and rechecking every single room, the attic, the garage, the comfort rooms, the store room, but he is nowhere to be seen! But I know for a fact that he is still in pain and that he couldn’t possibly be far. Finally I go to the backyard and just feel, sense, that the invisible spacecraft is still there, and that Baron couldn’t have left. He couldn’t possibly leave his spacecraft behind!
And there, behind the long row of tall gumamela, I see him, lying on the grass, moaning as his legs are obviously still smashed to splinters. I could only feel rage for this small creature as I pick him up by the neck and slap him left and right. Cordel is wrong. You could hurt an alien the way you hurt other people. Through telepathy he transmits his groans of pain and apology, telling me that he only wants to inspect his spacecraft, and for that lie I slap him again.
These books on alien life and alien invasion do make sense to a certain extent, for it says here that very rarely are there aliens with benevolent intentions. I have borrowed some from our neighbor, Lemuel, who really believes this stuff, and I had to gag myself from telling him what I have down there in our basement. That down there I have Baron, who I have, since his foiled escape, kept gagged and bound to a chair. That down there is an alien life form who I am killing, very slowly, by mixing bits of poison in his rice. And who cares if his death precipitates or thwarts alien invasion, I have done my part!
I always feel apprehensive whenever I feed Baron, afraid that he would read from my mind and figure out that there is poison in there, so I always distract myself with happy thoughts. I psych myself up before entering, convincing myself that I really do anticipate feeding him with healthy stuff so he could soon get out and go back to his planet or his mission or whatever. And it pays off, I think, as he always ravenously eats what’s in front of him. I dare not just stab him to death or slit his throat, that would just be too gruesome.
The phone rings and I lunge at the receiver before Eli could get it. He snarls at me. My God just for that my 26-year old brother snarls at me. It’s Kristy, my girlfriend of two years. I promised her that I will apply for all the courses in all the colleges that she is applying for. Two years, but my heart, to use a cliché, still skips a beat whenever I hear her voice, that giggly voice that has since the beginning tickled me. Kristy is very, very cute specially when she started wearing a pair of glasses and braces, and her personality has always amazed me. She will be my wife, I know. You could just tell it by her eyes. I have never met a girl as charming, and smart, and beautiful, and caring as Kristy. We had tiny, itsy-bitsy rows before, but that’s normal. In fact we’ve just had a very big fight yesterday, but that’s normal.
“Hey Kris! Baby!”
“It’s over, Tommy,” I suddenly hear her say.
“I figured one of us has to decide anyway, and I’m doing it. We no longer love each other, Tommy, let’s not fool ourselves,” Kristy says and then hangs up.
I couldn’t say anything as I tightly grip the edge of the table, and before I know it I have swept the telephone and sent it crashing on the floor.
Walking dazed to the basement I now notice that Baron is indeed dying, his movements weaker, his breathing faster. I sometimes go down and peer a little to see if he’s trying to escape, but no. He is just feeble. The poison is taking effect, and he will soon die. I feed him more salted rice, and I can only murmur “Eat, eat, eat…”
For a while he closes his eyes, his very gray and very large eyelids cloaking his gooey corneas. He takes a deep breath as a human being does, perhaps feeling the movement of the food down his stomach, looking forward to the energy that it would give him, telling himself that he could soon go back to his planet, and plan, and conquer. Suddenly his eyelids snap open. He asks, “What are you feeding me?” and I recoil as he vomits and his mouth foams. “Are you giving me poison?” Then his entire body convulses, and the chair with it.
For some reason I am hurt. To accuse me of killing you, Baron! I am hurt! Hurt! How dare you, after I’ve taken you in and given you food and salvaged you from certain death! Baron apologizes through telepathy, saying he didn’t really mean to, that it was probably his body chemistry being incompatible with the food, but I am not taking any of this, Baron! Notwithstanding the smelly, unearthly foam running down his face I clutch his neck and just glare at him, you ungrateful cunt, you ungrateful little cunt! I push him and send him crashing down the floor, and I kick his stomach and his face and his shattered legs, and he telepathically pleads for me to stop, but why would I stop you idiot, why would I stop!
Baron attempts to escape my wrath by rummaging through my thoughts, by telling me “you’re disturbed, Tommy, you have a problem. You have guilt, and resentment, and pain! Stop!”
Stop? And let you invade our planet? And take everything away from me? Stop doing what, Baron!?
I continuously kick Baron till he coughs out green blood. But I don’t care, I have never cared, because I have problems of my own.ψ