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Alien Among Us

Alien Among Us

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Published by Kim Bellard
Chris Dixon has a problem: he's not sure he is human. He looks human. He acts human. He always thought he was human -- until one day a crazy old man tells him that he is not. Of course, at first he is naturally skeptical, but the old man keeps turning up unexpectedly, in a variety of disguises and knowing more about Chris than he has any right to. The old man, in turn, is relentlessly pursued by a group of paramilitary thugs. To complicate things further, a new love interest -- Ellen Baskin -- conveniently happens along, and Chris can't be quite sure that she won't think he is crazy…or that she might be an alien too.

Chris comes to trust the old man -- who calls himself "Pete" -- and does fall in love with Ellen. He comes to realize that future each offers him is very different, and he has to make a choice about staying true to his nature versus staying true to his heart -- a very difficult decision indeed.
Chris Dixon has a problem: he's not sure he is human. He looks human. He acts human. He always thought he was human -- until one day a crazy old man tells him that he is not. Of course, at first he is naturally skeptical, but the old man keeps turning up unexpectedly, in a variety of disguises and knowing more about Chris than he has any right to. The old man, in turn, is relentlessly pursued by a group of paramilitary thugs. To complicate things further, a new love interest -- Ellen Baskin -- conveniently happens along, and Chris can't be quite sure that she won't think he is crazy…or that she might be an alien too.

Chris comes to trust the old man -- who calls himself "Pete" -- and does fall in love with Ellen. He comes to realize that future each offers him is very different, and he has to make a choice about staying true to his nature versus staying true to his heart -- a very difficult decision indeed.

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Published by: Kim Bellard on Jan 07, 2010
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07/08/2013

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"You're not really a human, you know," the old man remarked casually. "You're an
alien."

With those words, my life changed. Of course, I didn't know it at the time.
That's how things happen. You lean over for a second to change the radio station in your
car, and a car barrels through the intersection to broadside you. You've having great sex
while your father dies of a heart attack miles away. You're out at the Seven-Eleven
buying a Lotto ticket when a plane crashes into your house. Life just sneaks up on you
and changes everything.

It's a funny story, really, or it would be if it happened to someone else. Most funny
stories are like that, I suppose -- only funny when they're about other people. Perhaps
years from now I'll be able to look back on all this and laugh. But right now I lack that
perspective, so the irony is more apparent to me than the humor.

Anyway, the statement -- delivered matter-of-factly, with no hint of sarcasm or flippancy
-- took me aback. I'd been sitting peaceably enough at the counter in Nick's Diner.
Nick's was my favorite place to come for my afternoon snack -- usually a milkshake,
sometimes a piece of cake. It was an aberration in this neighborhood of office buildings;
some new, some old, but all very proper and businesslike. Nick's was a throwback to the
thirties or forties, when this neighborhood stood on the outskirts of the true downtown.
This had been a real neighborhood diner, with a real neighborhood around it. Real
people would have come here and eaten what we would fondly think of today as home
cooked meals. They probably were looking for a break from home cooked meals.

Now it stood surrounded by these looming giants, those producers of so much talk and
paper; a refugee from a simpler time. People like me came here now, businesspeople
slumming or stealing a break from their normal lives. Actually, not many people like me

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Alien Among Us

did come here; I wasn't quite sure how to characterize many of the other few regular
patrons, but I suspected they weren't businesspeople. But underneath the veneer of today
stood that folksy diner of years ago, hidden but accessible if you had the imagination to
look for it.

That was perhaps its charm to me. That and the fact that I loved the milkshakes.

Anyway, since my office had moved to some leased space nearby a few months ago, I'd
taken to this little ritual of slipping out for a break in the mid-afternoon. I'd been pleased
that my department had escaped being stuck in the company's main complex, an
impersonal high rise that I felt sure would wither any hopes of my unit truly becoming
the guerilla marketing area it was supposed to be. I told my staff that my time at Nick's
was essential to my ability to be creative, and so far they were buying it. Even my boss
seemed slightly cowed -- knowing it wasn't good corporate policy, but afraid to disrupt
that mysterious creative process.

In truth, it had less to do with creativity and more to do with sanity; at that point in the
afternoon I usually needed a break from work. The sugar high was just an added bonus.

Nick's was generally pretty deserted when I came in, a big point in its favor. Nick, of
course, was always there behind the counter. At least, I assumed that it was Nick. He
seemed to be the owner of the place, and he certainly looked like a Nick. For all I knew,
though, the Nick of Nick's Diner was some long ago owner, and this formidable presence
was just another employee. He could be an Art or a Matt or a Duane. I just liked to think
of him as Nick. It made the place feel homier somehow.

Nick -- if that was indeed his name -- was a large African-American man. He looked like
he might have played football at some not-too-long-ago point in his life. If he had, I
suspected he had been a linebacker; he had that fierce scowl and intimidating manner
down very well. I don't think I'd seen him smile once in all the time I'd been coming. I
counted it as a good day when I even got an acknowledgement from him that I had

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Alien Among Us

arrived. Other people might have put that on their list of reasons not to come; they would
prefer that false gaiety that infects most modern establishments. Not me. Me and Nick,
we had an unspoken understanding: I just wanted my milkshake and some peace and
quiet, and all he wanted was his two-fifty. It seemed acceptable to both of us.

Anyway, my point is that I wasn't expecting anyone to come up and start talking to me,
especially with an opening line like that. I peered cautiously at the stranger who had
settled down next to me at the counter. It was an old homeless man, or so he seemed. I
would have guessed him to be sixty or so, but there was something false about the age.
He could have been eighty, or he could have been the same age as me, with a hard life on
the streets accounting for his evident deterioration. His long, gray hair reached down to
his shoulders. It needed to be combed and washed, and I couldn't tell if the
accompanying beard was intentional or simply the result of years of indifference to
shaving. His clothes were an amalgamation of shapeless old things, articles of attire that
even Goodwill might turn down. All in all, he was not a pretty sight. And here he was
sitting next to me at the counter.

I peeked quickly at Nick. He was at the other end of the counter, patiently washing
glasses. He wasn't paying us any attention, so I couldn't give him a "get this guy away
from me!" look. I reluctantly turned my attention back to the old man, who was waiting
patiently for a response.

"I beg your pardon?"

Oh, I know; that was pretty lame. Hey, you try to come up with snappy repartee in the
situation.

"You heard what I said," he answered confidently. I'd have thought him deranged, but
this was not confidence based on madness. I didn't know what it was based on. "And I
can see that you don't." He settled in the stool, enjoying its cushioning versus whatever
he had been used to. Park benches probably didn't feel so soft, and he was milking the

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Alien Among Us

softness for all it was worth. That wasn't the only engaging feature of the stool for him.
It also revolved. He twisted around on it, back and forth like a kid; I half-expected him to
start doing 360-degree turns and trying to get dizzy.

I eyed him more carefully. His teeth were bad, and his face and neck looked as dirty as
his hair and his clothes. There was grime under his fingernails. In short, he thoroughly
looked the part of someone who had been sleeping outside for a long time. I wondered if
Nick had a policy of letting homeless people get a cup of coffee or a donut free of charge,
although I'd never seen any such customers previously. I'd have to register my complaint
to Nick after the old man left.

And yet, there was something about him that kept me from acting precipitously. That
confidence, for one thing. He didn't seem at all agitated or nervous; he had a sort of
presence about him, as though he was entirely comfortable in this -- or, I daresay, in any
other -- situation. His eyes were sharp and had an unmistakable gleam of intelligence.
He seemed to be having more fun than I was, which I slightly resented. A sense of
humor and intelligence; there was something in him that was more than met the eye
initially. I just didn't know if it was a remnant of some former self, or if I was missing
some larger picture. Just to be safe, I decided to be polite. I'm a polite kind of guy, you
see.

"No, I don't believe I have realized that," I said with as with as much sincerity as I could
muster. "But thank you for pointing it out." See -- I can be charming when I want to be.

He smiled, exposing those crooked teeth to me. "Don't be patronizing, young man. You
probably think I'm some nutty old man. But I'm telling you: you have some serious
thinking to do."

I sat back from the counter, and cocked my head. Charm alone wasn't going to cut it, it
would seem. "How so?"

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Alien Among Us

He leaned in closer, and put a filthy hand on my forearm. I involuntarily flinched at the
touch, imagining the cleaning that the shirt would now need. He smiled triumphantly at
my reaction.

"Think now: haven’t you ever felt like an alien, like everyone else is different from you
somehow?" He stared at me with those penetrating eyes, looking in mine for some
recognition of what he'd said. "Don't answer now; just think about it." He looked
quickly out the window, scouting for who knows what. Perhaps his keepers were looking
for him. I could only hope so. Whatever he saw, or didn't see, must have triggered some
response in him. He slid smoothly off the stool, releasing my arm in the process. As he
stood to go, he smiled once more at me, this time an odd look of almost pride. It didn't
make sense to me.

"A tip: check out the thumbs first," he whispered, glancing at Nick to make sure he wasn't
able to overhear him. "They almost never lie."

And he departed, leaving me sitting alone and slightly confused at the counter.

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