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Grocery Games

Anne Patterson Friedman is a writer, a visual artist, and co-founder of a nonprofit organization working to protect undeveloped land. With her husband, she lives on and manages a preserve of wild Florida habitat.

Emjid was thrilled to be using human eyes. As he pushed his cart down the aisle, he turned his head to the left--a joy with a twistable neck--and savored the red of tomato-paste cans. What fun!
"Excuse me, sir."
Emjid glanced back to see a stocky, young female angling her cart to pass. After reading her tight face, he concluded she was annoyed.
He pulled to the side. "I'm sorry," he said, enjoying the play of vibrations in his throat.
As the female slid by, she returned Emjid's practiced smile. He took her response as proof that, despite being a novice, he was good at this game. He recalled how other players had mocked his lengthy research into Earth's customs. Experience was key, they had said. But he would show them. Yes, he would be the last one to slip up.
Passing the produce section, he noticed a sign: Alien Gamers Not Welcome! He had heard that, after so many competitions, humans had caught on. Still, the sign made him nervous. If he did or said anything odd, police would try to grab him.
Placing a melon in his cart, he shook off his worries. There were challenges, yes, but they made the game more exciting. Besides, police wouldn't have a chance to test his DNA. He could vanish in a flash, return home, shamed but safe.
He explored each aisle, loading the cart full. More products meant more bonus points, as would the use of his credit card, a fake he was proud to have crafted, one certain to pass any scrutiny.
He stopped in the dairy section and reviewed the procedure--swipe card, push credit, hand card over, sign slip. Yes, he had it down. He could already feel the trophy gripped high in his right prong.
Anxious to check out and ease closer to victory, Emjid picked the least busy lane. When his turn came, he unloaded his cart.
"Paper or plastic?" the female at the register said.
Emjid opened his wallet, fingered his paper money, then held up his credit card. "Plastic," he said, grinning.
He watched the female's narrowing eyes. When a shrill alarm blasted through the store, he knew he'd made a mistake, though what it was, he couldn't imagine. Before flashing from view, he felt his human heart drop.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Author Comments

The spark for "Grocery Games" was the recognition of an alternate meaning for the common paper-or-plastic question. The story flowed naturally from that. I'm drawn to plots requiring an alien point-of-view, a perspective that peels away some of our cultural conditioning.

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