Maggie was determined not to take any chances — her Thanksgiving dinner would be a success. She had planned it for far too long just to have it ruined by a disintegration or worse yet, by James Brenner making another inappropriate pass at Dr. Sandra Quintero like he had at last year’s party. So when she sent out the invitations she made sure to attach a copy of the government’s e-pamphlet on Alien Visitation and Interactions as well as write a personal note to James admonishing him to be on his best behavior.
As her grandmother would say, forewarned is to be forearmed.
Should an alien materialize out of thin air Maggie wanted her guests to be prepared. She also wanted to have James sitting as far away as possible from Dr. Quintero, so she spent the better part of the afternoon playing around with the seating arrangements; a daunting task since she simply couldn’t seat her guests anywhere. Personalities had to be complemented, conversation maximized. She kept shuffling the seating cards around the table until she found a suitable configuration, all the while trying her hardest not to think about the aliens.
Ever since the Nazca Landing five years ago, aliens kept gate-crashing the homes of unsuspecting hosts and hostesses, siphoning all their wine with meter-long protuberances, reanimating the turkey to the horror of the guests, then finishing off the night by absconding with the decorative miniature pumpkins and gourds. The government insisted no one openly confront the aliens on their boorish manners lest the complainant inadvertently start an intergalactic war. All grievances were to be reported solely to the Office of the Ombudsman of Alien Affairs. The e-pamphlet had those words in bold upper case. Maggie hoped it wouldn’t come to that. A dinner party was stressful enough without getting the government involved.
An hour before her guests were to arrive, Maggie slipped into her little black dress and returned her much thumbed copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette to the living room’s barrister bookcase. While she was tuning the plasma walls to a relaxing medley of classical music, the doorbell rang. Maggie checked her watch. Whoever was at the door was five minutes early. Giving herself a quick glance in the foyer mirror she practiced her best smile then opened the door.
There was no one there.
She was about to close the door when she felt all the hairs on her arms standing on end. There was a crackling in the air, the faint smell of ozone carried on the crisp autumn wind followed by the cloying and unmistakable stench of a close encounter of the third kind.
Standing frozen at the foyer, she kept telling herself it was for the good of the planet she had to put up with her unwanted visitor. Top officials had deemed the aliens mostly benign. When they weren’t busy upsetting mealtimes, they performed good works around the globe like fairy godmothers flitting in and out of people’s lives finding lost objects or mending broken hearts.
Maggie closed her eyes and recited the three basic rules delineated in the government e-pamphlet.
Rule #1: Do not touch the alien.
Rule #2: Do not talk to the alien.
Rule #3: Do not make eye contact with the alien.
She turned around slowly and from the periphery of her vision caught a glimpse of a gelatinous glob undulating in her foyer, sliming its way toward the kitchen. What xenobiologists had concluded was the alien’s cerebral cortex was lighting up in a bioluminescent display of colors much like the comb jellyfish when luring its prey. Maggie resisted the urge to follow it.
Even if she’d wanted to, she had no time. Her guests began to make their way up her drive, and one by one she took their coats and urged them to make themselves at home. James Brenner was the last to greet her at the threshold. He kissed her on the cheek, his lips lingering longer than deemed polite, his hand lower than what would be anatomically considered the small of her back.
Maggie’s grip on the door knob tightened. He had been drinking.
It was bad enough she had an alien shuffling around in her kitchen. No doubt by now there was a reanimated half-cooked turkey losing its stuffing as it pranced over her polished parquet floors. But it was James who would no doubt ruin everything with his goatish ways. So instead of leading him into the dining room she asked him to be a dear and check on the turkey for her.
As she joined the rest of her guests at the dinner table an ominous clashing of pots and pans emanated from the kitchen, the crescendo punctuated by a shrill and shortened cry followed but a loud pop.
With any luck, there would be a smoking pair of shoes where there was once a James Brenner. After all, Maggie was one never to take any chances.
Both Fitzgerald and Y.N. Thom share the same alma mater. Thom graduated, Fitzgerald did not. But Fitzgerald will always indisputably be the better writer of the two. Growing up, Thom wanted to be an astronaut, but settled for surviving hair-raising tuk-tuks rides in Bangkok.