by Steve Rasnic Tem
World Fantasy Award winning author Steve Rasnic Tem's most recent collection is Onion Songs (Chomu Press). This will be followed soon by his career-spanning Celestial Inventories (ChiZine). In December Britain's NewCon Press will collect the best of his science fiction stories in Twember as part of their Imaginings series.
The two officers at the front door looked doubtful. Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe it was the less-than-pleasant neighborhood. Maybe it was the short shorts Clarence had fashioned out of aluminum foil to shield his naughty bits from alien rays.
He didn't mind their skepticism--he'd been laughed at before. Which he might have tolerated better, frankly, if it hadn't been his therapist snickering through their last session.
"We received a call from this address regarding a home invasion?" The shorter, older officer looked tired, eye bags saggy as a sack full of snails. "Are you the owner?"
"Not so loud--I think they're still here!" Clarence whispered. The younger officer, a tall man with an unsteady grasp on gravity, pulled out his gun.
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The older policemen disarmed him casually and handed back his weapon. "Not until I give the word." He pointed at Clarence's shorts as if in explanation. "So, Officer Roberts, what would you ask this gentleman next?"
"Sir, were you the person who placed the call?" the tall one asked.
"Yes, I'm the owner, and I placed the call." He paused. "I live here by myself." He gazed around the room, as if daring anyone to disagree with him. "I mean, they don't pay rent; they don't even pitch in for pizza, even though they eat all the black olives. Of course, I've never liked olives. Does that make a difference? Or are you allowed to give legal advice?"
The two officers exchanged glances. "Just calm down, sir." The older policeman looked at him sternly. Clarence suddenly wished he had dressed better for the occasion.
People were always telling Clarence to calm down. Some people just couldn't tolerate enthusiasm. "Oh, I'm calm. Swear to, well, whatever your deity or philosophical construct of choice, officers. Now yesterday, when they tied me up and made me watch the Shopping Network, I admit I wasn't so calm. They bought jewelry, they bought commemorative coins, they even bought pants! Dozens and dozens of pairs of pants! I mean, do I look like I need more pants?"
The policemen glanced down at Clarence's aluminum foil shorts. The older one wrote something in his notebook. Clarence doubted it was a grocery list.
"So, who are you claiming did this to you?" The officer continued to write.
"Well, glad to see you have an open mind, just like that pest control fellow I tried. He took one look around the premises, listened to my detailed recounting of the crisis, grabbed me by the shirt collar and provided a quick demonstration of how the cicada sheds its skin, and left. Very educational."
"Would you like to make a formal complaint against this person?" the older officer enquired, scribbling furiously. Clarence considered whether the fellow might be working on his memoirs. My Life As a Cop: Don't Even Ask!
"No. He's coming for dinner Friday night. It turns out he collects tin foil. He has a huge ball of it, keeps it on a chair in his living room so they can watch TV together. Might make things awk-ward."
"Sir, it's been a very busy night. Lots of calls..."
Clarence narrowed his eyes. "I knew it.... Have there been other in-fest-tations?" He asked it slowly, with emphasis. He tried to make his standard knowing smirk, but given the officer's vaguely appalled look he was pretty sure he'd mistakenly offered him seductive leer number two.
"Maybe if we start with some description. Height?"
"That's how it's played, isn't it? You say 'potato,' I say 'goat,' see, because I had a goat once, Oliver, and he loved potatoes."
"Maybe if you just held your hand out to show how tall the perp was."
"Ah! The perp, the perp! I love cop talk!" Clarence held out his hand, palm down, as if he were about to pet someone approximately his own height. Then he lowered it, as if he were going to pet, say, a small pony. Then lowered it more, as if he were going to gently stroke the back of the afore-mentioned goat, who'd likely kick him for his trouble, then lower, then lower still, until he was on his knees, and his hand was still sinking, like the officers' trust in his sanity.
Clarence looked up. His head and his hand hovered inches above the rug. "They were short. About the height of your average Gherkin, if the pickle were standing, and wearing a little space suit. Similar complexion as well, actually, when they had their helmets off. Kind of, alien, sort of."
The officer put his pad away and stared at Clarence. Apparently he was no longer inspired to write.
"You're the one who called about the fairies last week, aren't you?"
"I believe those were Brownies, actually."
"You mean like the girl scouts?"
Clarence considered the question. "Well, they ate all my cookies, but they didn't try to sell me any."
"Sir, are you on any sort of medication?" the taller officer asked, attempting to participate. Clarence wondered if he was about to witness a little game of good cop/bad cop, or old cop/new cop, or maybe the game was going to be sidewalk hopscotch, and he'd get to play the sidewalk.
"I can honestly say the drugs are non-medicinal, officer."
The two policemen sat down on the couch. The tall one loosened his tie. The older cop continued. "Okay, we're going to ask a couple of more questions, make a few notes, look around a bit--with your permission, of course--then I'm going to give you a phone number to call in case you ever feel the urge to call us again, okay?"
"Oh, I don't expect any special treatment," Clarence replied.
"Oh, but you're obviously a special case," the officer said. "So, when did you first notice the intruders?"
"I had gone down to the kitchen for a snack, and I found all these foil-wrapped candy bars lying around on the floor. I couldn't quite read the brand, so I prodded one with my foot, and it bit me on the big toe, and, well, I was thinking that was rather strange behavior, even for a high-calorie snack food."
"Very astute, sir," the young officer remarked. The older man looked up at his companion in annoyance, then went back to writing in his pad, but from Clarence's point of view it closely resembled a game of hangman. The hanged figure was dressed in shorts.
"Did you attempt to communicate with the... erm... perps?"
"Well, somewhat. I'm a little shy, and never was one much for small talk." He paused then, distracted, contemplating how it would be if his tongue were attached at the opposite end. "But you don't get the opportunity to interact with aliens every day. Outside of Texas, I mean. You know, they travel the entire cosmos, and I haven't even been out to the new mall yet! I have all kinds of questions. Like is it true the universe is mostly nothingness, and if so why are real estate prices so high? And if I decide to travel to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light and there are no rest areas along the way, how much penicillin will I need to treat the resulting bladder infection?"
The senior policeman struggled to his feet then, his companion almost dragging both of them down as he lost balance while helping. He shrugged off the younger officer's helping hands and gave Clarence a small card. "I've written our special phone number on the card. Remember, next time you have an impulse to call, use that number. I think that's enough questions--I'm pretty sure we got more than we need. We'll just perform a cursory... um, a thorough check around your home and then we'll leave you to your... evening."
The doorbell rang as the officers went into the kitchen. When Clarence opened the door he found the pizza delivery fellow waiting, a stack of boxes in his arms. "Ten Anchovy-Lover Specials, one with extra bacon?" He held the boxes out at arm's length, his head turned away, face contorted.
` "Could you just drop them directly into the dumpster out back?" When the fellow just stared, Clarence grabbed them and shoved them into the coat closet. He stuck a rolled-up one-dollar tip into one of the fellow's nostrils and slammed the door.
He turned around just as the police officers were coming back through, walking quickly. "Well, we looked everywhere, couldn't find a thing. All clear--it's official. No reason for us to be here, anymore."
"Not a thing. They must have left, gone on to invade some other house in a different neighborhood, no doubt. You've got our card in case there's further trouble. Use that number--it's even better than 9-1-1."
As they went out the door the tall rookie turned back. "Oh, sir? That shiny new refrigerator? They work better if they're plugged in."
Clarence walked into the kitchen. He saw a gleaming stainless steel refrigerator standing in the middle of the floor. But something was wrong with his eyes--the refrigerator kept losing resolution, tiny bits of it falling off, then scrambling to climb back on.
"Open the door, put the pizzas inside," a chorus of tiny voices said in a fuzzy sing-song. "Then no one gets hurt."
Clarence held up the card the officer had given him and dialed the number on his cell. He listened to the time and temperature approximately thirty times before deciding the policemen probably wouldn't be coming back.
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
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