Fiction – “I’ll Take You With Me” by Richard Larson
Everyone around me was obsessed with the alien invasion. The surprise appearance of a bulky metallic ship perched in the sky above the city, the panic following the series of random abductions, and then the media frenzy as the little green creatures descended and dispersed all throughout New York City: these things were worth thinking about, and not just in the abstract.
The problem was that I was having trouble believing in the alien invasion. The aliens were there and not there at the same time, and I was caught somewhere in the space between. But a photograph of an alien was plastered across the front page of all the major newspapers, the caption usually reading something like, “I have come to destroy you and everyone you love,” and even though I knew all about Photoshop, I was still beginning to doubt my instincts. My boyfriend had just stopped talking to me after a particularly dramatic fight which I, having been drunk at the time, barely remembered, but during which words were said that I didn’t mean—so it was sort of like that: knowing something was true but still trying not to believe it.
The aliens had apparently arrived just at the moment that my boyfriend turned the corner away from my building and was potentially gone forever. At least that’s what the newscasters told me when I finally went inside my apartment, shaking and crying, to the television that I had forgotten to turn off before leaving for that stupid party in Brooklyn. The alien invasion was like being forced to accept a very bleak medical diagnosis even though you still felt pretty much okay. I guess everyone just blindly trusted Katie Couric these days, especially when she said things like, “Run for your lives! Save yourselves!” But when my friends called to tell me that their apartments had been overtaken by aliens and that now they were on the run and what was my escape plan going to be, my responses usually contained words like “conspiracy” and “hoax.” I referenced the famous Orson Welles radio performance of The War of the Worlds. I said to my friends, “They’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still the same thing. You’re all going to feel so silly later.”
But I refused to leave the area by the window in my apartment where I had installed a mini-fridge on the floor which contained many bottles of wine. Empty cartons of Chinese food piled up around me in obscure towers. I was creating my own alien city while trying to catch a glimpse of the real one. My friends said, “We’re worried about you,” but I just wanted to be alone with my mini-fridge and my delivery menus, challenging the alien invasion to reveal itself to me. The television behind me in the living room kept telling me that aliens were here and they were abducting everyone, but this footage could be a loop from days ago and I wouldn’t know the difference. I remained unconvinced about the alien invasion because even with the doomsday reporting and the post-traumatic eyewitness accounts, I somehow remained safely inside my apartment instead of held captive in a spaceship being used for medical experiments, which is what everyone was worried about. So I figured it could definitely get worse—and if it did, I would be there to see it happen this time.
I couldn’t sleep at all, and my eyes had become alarmingly red, staring back at me in the window like search beacons across a vast emptiness, as if they had somewhere for me to go but I had to figure out how to get there on my own.
I had learned that it was difficult to accept a potential break-up during an alien invasion. Everyone expects you to be able to do a lot of things at once: mope around saying snarky things about all the happy couples you see holding hands on the street; brood in your bedroom while listening to mournful ballads and crying silently to yourself; and also try your best not to get abducted by aliens. I kept getting distracted while talking to people on the phone and trying to reassure everyone that I was fine, because there was just so much to think about.
I doubted the aliens would be able to get me if my boyfriend would just come over, but he wasn’t answering any of my calls, text messages, or emails—even the ones that I sent from anonymous accounts. I ordered survival guides online and I was waiting for them to arrive so that I could devise some sort of plan. While waiting, I just drank more and more wine. I drank quickly, steadily, with the goal of getting drunk. I felt like I was preparing for a date with another version of myself, and each drink was a necessary stop on the way between here and there. Maybe this drunker version of me would know how to handle the situation.
There was only one way to find out.
Things kept coming back to me about the last time I had seen my boyfriend: the words I had said, the way I had put my hand to his chest and shoved him backwards as he tried to move past me into my apartment. I was crippled by the fear that that would be the last time I would ever touch him; that everything between us would end with the physical act of me pushing him away. Because what I felt when I touched him then—maybe too late—was all the other ways I had touched him before. We had met soon after I moved to New York, and being with him was like bandaging a wound that I had never known was there at all. Now, alone again, I would bleed and bleed and no one would care.
I didn’t know what my next move should be. Maybe I should take up a hobby, or start watching a popular television series from the very beginning so that I could talk to my co-workers about it afterwards, and also post my comments to blogs and entertainment websites. There are lots of things to learn when you start over from nothing at all. It’s like when you enter a new grade in school and you’re suddenly a totally different person with a whole new set of problems.
If aliens were real, maybe there was a way to travel back in time, too. Maybe all the science fiction books could be true, and I could rewrite everything the way it should have been. And if my boyfriend had already been abducted by the aliens, maybe he would tell them to abduct me, too, so that I’d have a chance to explain myself.
Losing someone is kind of like an alien invasion: difficult to accept, and usually a surprise. Even when the way you lose them is that they stop loving you. But when my father died, years ago, nothing really changed. I was twelve and I hadn’t seen him in months; he was very sick, but we didn’t know it. He was hiding out, keeping the return of his cancer a secret, presumably as a way of protecting us. After the divorce, I already saw less and less of him as he saw the bottoms of more and more cans of beer, so his final absence had not been particularly transformative: just an empty space for me to fill with something else.
I remember being embarrassed about my inability to cry when I heard about my father’s death. Even when my grandparents came over to our house to discuss the funeral arrangements, all I could talk about was my grandmother’s new cat. I wanted to impress my grandmother with my knowledge about cats. I told her about the best litter to buy for odor control, the tastiest and least expensive dry foods, and the best way to brush the cat to maximize the comfort to productivity ratio. I recommended certain expensive toys. “They’re worth it,” I said, referring to experiences I had had with our own cats.
None of this was about my father. We had only gotten cats after he had moved out. I didn’t know why I couldn’t muster the recollection of a sentimental memory, or maybe just a lost-in-the-crowd blank stare—something to prove that I understood what was happening.
“I’m drunk,” I said at the window, to myself but also to aliens who might or might not be out there. I thought that maybe I could see something moving outside so I looked and looked into the darkness, hoping to make something from nothing. Maybe I could create the alien invasion if I thought about it hard enough. Or maybe everything out there would just fade away like stars, dead before anyone ever knew anything was there at all, sending ghostly messages from an afterlife which we would chase forever because we didn’t know any better.
The first time I was able to cry for my father was at his funeral, when my grandfather took my hand and placed it on my father’s coffin. “One last touch,” my grandfather said. I cried then because he had suddenly been returned to me, along with everything that had been a part of him, like his enthusiasm for local sports teams and the scratch of his beard when he hugged me. But he was only there as a promise that he was never coming back. And now the aliens are running down the street toward my apartment building, and the whole street outside my window is green and evil, and Katie Couric is back on the television screen telling us that she has just heard word of a disturbance downtown but that we should continue to remain calm, we should all remain calm—we just have to stay tuned and wait for more information.
But Katie Couric sounds really nervous, and I wonder, when the aliens finally get to her, what she’ll wish she had done differently. Because we’ve all heard this kind of thing before.
I stand there with both hands on the window and I look at myself in the reflection: tired, haggard, lost. All these holes where things used to be. I punch the window and it shatters more easily than I would have expected. When the cold night air rushes in, I feel extremely awake. I feel like I am part of the alien invasion, like the only difference between me and the alien invasion is that the aliens know exactly what they’re doing, and I’m only just beginning to figure it all out.
I hear my cell phone ring next to me on the chair where I had dropped it after sending my last text message to my boyfriend, his name illuminated now on the tiny screen. I suddenly can’t believe I had ever thought that no one was out there to take me away. I can’t believe that I thought people could be gone, just like that. I bet the aliens will eventually say something to me like, “No one is ever really gone, we’re all just floating around out here together,” and I’ll smile wisely because it will feel like the truth.
But right now I just close my eyes and wonder what the aliens will remember when they touch me, their green hands grabbing me and pulling me up—and whether they will think this is an ending, or a starting over.
About the Author
Richard Larson was born in 1984 and is a Brooklynite by way of St. Louis, MO. His stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, ChiZine, Electric Velocipede, Sybil’s Garage, and others, and new stories are forthcoming in Subterranean, Shimmer Magazine, and Wilde Stories 2011: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. He also reviews books and movies for places like Strange Horizons and Slant Magazine. He went to grad school but all he got was this stupid T-shirt, so now he’s writing stories while working at New York University and haunting Brooklyn coffee shops.