Alien Phoebe wants to fit in with her human husband, but the other humans are not on her side. Desperate for work, she takes a job as an exhibit in a petting zoo, but will this be her sanctuary or her downfall?
“Look! It’s eating an apple!”
I freeze. The slice of apple suspended in limbo, half way between my mouth and the plate.
I can’t see who’s talking, since they are behind me, but I imagine a gorilla in a plaid shirt, grubby white t-shirt over a beer belly, and a cap with some humorous slogan telling the world he’s ‘The Boss’.
“What? Let me see! Move out of the way!” The second voice is higher, thinner. Scrawnier. Why can’t they all be like my Martin?
I exhale and the steam shoots from my nose, then swirls lazily in the November air, released from the warm confines of my lungs to wander among the cold molecules of the outside world.
It is bitterly cold. But inside my long, brown robes, the sweat trickles down my back in itchy lines like marching ants.
I can’t react. The advisor said, ‘Don’t let them see that they can hurt you’. Then he patted me on the shoulder – short business-like taps really – and ushered me out of the warm confines of his office to mingle with the cold strangers of the outside world.
Making money by sitting in a compound doing nothing for five days a week under a sign that says, ‘Space aliens on display’. What a glamorous job! But three years after graduating as an engineer I was still looking for work. Then, when Martin, my human husband, lost his job, well… anything which pays is fine by me.
I feel something hit my back. They throw anything: cans, half-eaten sandwiches, rocks if they can.
“Hey! Brat! Lookee here what I got!”
No! I can smell that sickly sweetness, even from here. I close my eyes. Breathe! That makes it worse. Those warm, sticky bananas call to me. Everything about Earth proved totally habitable to my people after the disaster. But a banana bread loaf proved to be dangerously addictive. Some thought it was the combination of glucose and potassium. No-one knew for sure. It was a joke. A deadly joke played by the galaxy on my dying race.
The two men aren’t going to give up.
I turn slowly and glare – not at them, but at the bread in the big one’s hands.
“Look at its eyes!” the scrawny one says.
“What we have here, is a female of species, I do believe!” The big gorilla has the hairiest arms I’ve ever seen on a human and a way of elongating his vowels which makes me feel sick.
“Come on girly!” He wafts the bread towards me. I know my eyes must have changed to purple by now. It’s a dead giveaway. The purple of desire. They will feed me that bread and I’ll be dead in a couple of days. Something in it wrecks what humans might call my kidneys.
I start to move toward it. My limber arms clamber easily up the vertical walls of my enclosure, and over the thick, steel fence. It is really there to keep the humans out. I hear someone scream far away.
“Oh no!” Scrawny yells in mock panic. “It’s coming for the bread! Help!”
Under my robes I am six feet of dense muscle. If I wanted, I could throw both these bozos over the fence with one hand. But my full attention is on that bread. I glare at it like a vampire in a B movie glares at a neck. I’m hypnotised by it. There is a throbbing in my head and my vision has narrowed to a single point of focus. It is how we hunt - how we hunted, when we still had a planet.
I could spring up… I could…
“Phoebe, it’s me! Turn your head, honey! Look at me!”
The teeth of the gorilla are stained red for some reason. I see them as he grins and breaks off a chunk of the bread to toss in my direction.
“No!” Martin screams - a strangled sound of desperation. All visitors are searched when they come in – or I would never have agreed to do this!
“Honey! Remember why we opened this petting zoo! “
The piece of bread would have landed close to my foot, but one of the guinea pigs, which we let roam freely, darts out from under a bush and runs off with it.
“Come on, honey!” Gorilla says, elongating the final word – hurnee. “Come and get this lovely bread. You know you want it.”
What do they want? Do they want to kill me? Capture me? The part of my brain which is still functioning catches sight of a hint of black metal under the plaid shirt. ‘Kill me’ it is then. This is a group which wants us gone. They want every last one of us off the planet.
My breathing is ragged. I’m losing. In a second, the ‘me’ part of my brain will be gone and these two will be piles of minced meat lying on the ground, one, indistinguishable from the other.
* * *
There was a deafening bang, followed by screeches and calls from animals nearby. I can feel rough concrete digging into my elbows and a heavy weight on my chest. I open my eyes.
Heaving sobs escape from my mouth. Martin’s face is gazing up at me, his eyes don’t move. My right hand is lying in something hot. Without looking I know that it is human blood from the smell of the iron.
“Martin!” My cry is savage. The emotion of loss is unbearable to me and my body has gone limp and heavy. The volition of staying upright is lost. What is the point if he is gone?
I hear people shouting around me and the zoo workers calling into their radios. What is the use? Between the smells of the gunshot and the iron, there is yet another smell. A sticky sweetness.
I turn my head. Just within reach, I see the slice of banana bread.