Johnny America


Skins Like Wet Paper


Every­thing in the sky was a UFO to him. Clouds, birds, air­planes, every­thing. Each a re­volv­ing chrome dis­cus with a se­mi-liq­uid qual­i­ty to its ex­te­ri­or. When­ev­er he saw these “UFOs,” his first re­ac­tion was al­ways hys­ter­i­cal. It was pret­ty in­trin­sic. Think of vis­cer­al fear of the un­known, brought about by some­thing re­veal­ing it­self as though from noth­ing — that would im­pel you to re­act hysterically.

But, you’re skep­ti­cal — feel­ing you, your­self, wouldn’t do the ex­act same?

Sil­ly as it sounds, pic­ture your­self in new shoes, his new shoes. Imag­ine you’re stand­ing there in your nice new shoes and you’re con­vinced you sud­den­ly see a UFO. So then how would you re­act? Calmly?

Prob­a­bly not calmly.

In his brief but pow­er­ful state of hys­te­ria, he felt he’d been de­liv­ered back to the state of na­ture — was in dan­ger there of be­ing preyed up­on. Worse, he was vague­ly aware he’d have lit­tle time for phi­los­o­phy in the state of na­ture, or any­thing else he’d nor­mal­ly liked to do.

Quick­ly, he re­al­ized his hys­ter­i­cal re­ac­tion was a bit much. He’d look around, still quiv­er­ing and quak­ing with fear. No one else would seem con­cerned, at least about any­thing oth­er than his hys­ter­i­cal re­ac­tion. (His hys­ter­i­cal re­ac­tion was ex­treme­ly noisy and at­ten­tion grab­bing, even from the gen­er­al stand­point of hysteria’s be­ing a noisy con­di­tion.) If there were a throng of fel­low passers­by in the vicin­i­ty, the throng’d gape in­quis­i­tive­ly as his hands were thrust heav­en­ward, and gri­mace when he emit­ted that un­pleas­ant squeal, the one that forced them to imag­ine Porky Pig be­ing butchered. So car­toon­ish and so hor­ri­ble. Thrown pa­pers flut­ter­ing around, if he’d been car­ry­ing papers.

He’d even­tu­al­ly re­cov­er his wits. Fo­cus his at­ten­tion on some brick limned per­fect­ly with mor­tar, step­ping aside foot traffic’s flow to make him­self even less the ob­ject of in­ter­est to passers­by. If he found he’d be­gun whistling ner­vous­ly, ab­sent­ly, he would im­me­di­ate­ly stop. He’d re-en­ter the herd more grace­ful­ly than he’d been briefly ex­pelled, al­ways hop­ing it would nev­er hap­pen again. Al­ways dis­ap­point­ed when it did.

Every­thing changed the day a re­al UFO came and land­ed be­side him, some half-dozen yards away in an aban­doned lot. He him­self was stand­ing on the near­by side­walk. He was amazed by his calm at the sight of it. The un­re­al­i­ty of his calm.

The UWC (Uniden­ti­fied Walk­ing Crea­ture) stepped forth from the UFO, down an ex­it plat­form ex­tend­ing out­ward­ly from deep in­side the ship like the un­curl­ing of an elephant’s trunk. It ex­plained to the man that it had plans to change the way things were “done around here.” It was re­fer­ring to chang­ing Earth and Earth­lings, with peo­ple the most im­me­di­ate­ly af­fect­ed Earth­lings of all.

It was a hu­manoid. In terms of stature, it was much small­er than the av­er­age hu­man be­ing, but it said it was “HUGE” (its term, spo­ken ef­fu­sive­ly) on its home plan­et. It was al­so much weak­er and more vul­ner­a­ble phys­i­cal­ly than the av­er­age hu­man. The UWC’s skin was like pa­per, wet pa­per. It could lit­er­al­ly be torn in half by a man or a mild­ly ag­gres­sive baby’s touch. Any­thing with a mouth could eat the UWC eas­i­ly. He was wor­ried that some starv­ing and tooth­less crea­ture would emerge from nowhere to gum it down.

The UWC ex­plained that its plans were hor­ri­ble, in terms of chang­ing the way Earth­lings of all per­sua­sions did things. It had a laser gun, which it fired at the man. The shot struck his bi­cep. The pain was mild­ly in­tense, rem­i­nis­cent of a very hard pinch. The UWC told him that it would be crowned “KING OF THE EARTH.” That was the way things would soon be. That was its lone ob­jec­tive, but an ob­jec­tive that would lead to dras­tic and im­me­di­ate changes.

He didn’t be­lieve the UWC stood much of a chance.

It had a hor­ri­ble plan, as in its plan was not very good, was very bad. It had a hor­ri­ble gun with a pow­er­ful pinch but noth­ing more in the way of ad­vanced weapon­ry. It was frail and kind of stu­pid, cer­tain­ly ar­ro­gant. What made it so sure?

The UWC, mak­ing good use of the first let­ters of its acronym, dubbed it­self “Ulysses W. Crown.” With that and the help of its large ef­fu­sive voice, it as­cend­ed to the throne of Earth. A throne that hith­er­to its ar­rival had sat va­cant and wait­ing. Once seat­ed and crowned, King Ulysses be­gan de­cree­ing immediately.

King Ulysses did not for­get the man, that re­ac­tionary man, and brought him on as its chief courtier. His du­ties were to clean the eggs it laid — non-vi­able be­cause two or more of the alien sex­es weren’t present — and to pro­tect King Ulysses from harm. He suc­ceed­ed at the lat­ter for about two weeks, un­til a crea­ture came from out of nowhere and gummed the king down.

Earth im­me­di­ate­ly de­scend­ed in­to chaos with­out its king.

Not know­ing what else to do, the man thrust his arms in the air, squeal­ing hysterically.

Filed under Fiction on May 2nd, 2014

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