Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Quarantine Summer
by Rebecca Birch

Calling Time on Candy
by Mark Patrick Lynch

Revenge in Shanty Town
by Seth W. Kennedy

A Boy’s Apocalypse
by Eric Del Carlo

How to Be a Foreigner
by Karen Heuler

Could They But Speak
by David Steffen

Bob’s Day Out
by Mark Bondurant

Everybody Comes to Rick’s
by Tim McDaniel

Equations in the Mirror
by Therese Arkenberg

by R.W. Warwick


If We Find ET What Will ET Be?
by J. Richard Jacobs

Regarding Fermi’s Paradox
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




How to Be a Foreigner

By Karen Heuler

“STAND STILL,” MARIA SAID, annoyed. “Stand still on the ground.

Because that’s the one thing that seemed to be the hardest for the alien to remember.

Maria had convinced it to stop being green, to get rid of the extra arms, and to get its face in a shape that resembled a human face. It was a little too bulbous (obviously the way the alien saw Maria’s face, how insulting), and the skin color was a little too consistent. Kind of Photoshopped.

The alien got a patient look on its face. It was starting to pick up mannerisms. Her mannerisms? She frowned; the alien watched her.

Maria was determined to get this going right; she was big on organization and positive reinforcement. “Good for you!” She smiled heartily. It smiled back.

“Now about your clothes—” This was going to be harder. She could pass it off as a foreigner rather than an alien if it fit the local idea of what a foreigner looked like. People here were convinced that foreigners meant illegals. It would be better if the alien didn’t look so—so—fashionable. So ahead of things. So much the avant-garde.

Unless it was Italian? Could she get it to look Italian? The locals had seen Italians on TV, she was sure of it. She went to the Internet and brought up various examples. She wanted modern ones, but not from New Jersey, she decided. The locals might have relatives in New Jersey, for all she knew, and they might ask technical questions.

She was getting side-tracked. She looked at her visitor with renewed focus.

The alien, with its one-tone skin and its indelicate features, wore a kind of silky tunic over two sets of leggings, one ending at the feet, one ending below the knee. The colors were muted but the clothing caught the light and seemed to shimmer. The tunic had a band around the hips, emphasizing a strangely attractive tubular waistline. There were two thin scarves draped at the neck and curving down across the breast and to the back, like bandoliers. A stiff, almost pleatherlike collar lay flat along the neckline. There was a band running from the forehead down to the back of the neck, where it scooped out a little bit. Soft boots. Loose bracelets of tight beadwork at the wrists. She thought she saw a sixth finger, and then it was gone. Perhaps it was hanging from the beadlike chain that dangled where a designer would have put a pocket. Because a few things did dangle from it, and Maria was determined not to look at them too closely.

This alien had style. Maria licked her fingers and wetted her own eyebrows, as if to enlarge them, and the alien did so as well—and its eyebrows were thick and had an interesting arc to them, not so much startled as slightly dumbfounded. Or, yes, startled and slightly disapproving. It didn’t matter. The more Maria saw, the more she was convinced that this look would catch eyes, and instead of trying to have this alien fit in, which was her original thought, now it made more sense to try to promote it in some way that might reflect well on her. Because, after all, she had not killed it when it plunked right down on the top of her car parked in her driveway, which she’d been thinking about washing. Fell just like blue ice from an airplane.

She had looked up immediately but saw only a vapor trail.

The creature had been slightly stunned. It sat up on the roof of her now-dented car, and looked at her.

One extra eye. It was slower than the others. It disappeared after the alien looked at Maria intently. That’s when the third eye closed slowly and began to erase itself.

It didn’t matter, that part didn’t matter. The alien made no threatening moves, and although Maria could have shot it—she was a good shot when she went out for skeet—she didn’t. That made her responsible for it, but also meant she deserved something in return.

The alien emitted strange little beeps. Maria mimicked them a few times, but who knew what she was actually saying? So she spoke in clear, educational sentences: “I would like you to come with me very nicely, not making a problem of any kind, while I figure out what to do.” She waved her arms around in an effort to help. It seemed cooperative, with the disappearing eye and all; perhaps it would learn to speak. She could go with the Italian idea. Though if she ran into an Italian ...

Some island in the Mediterranean, then. Be vague. There are a bunch of countries in the Mediterranean; if they ran into anyone Mediterranean, it could always be an island off some other country’s coast.

Maria had a habit of fingering objects as she thought, and the chainlike thing at the alien’s pocket level had caught her eye and, inadvertently, she was holding on to it. She suddenly jerked herself upright and dropped it, alert to a movement from the alien’s arms.

It took off the chain and handed it to her. “Took off” was perhaps too benign. It pulled it with a little force, a little tug and yank. Maria would have thought it would unhook, if it was an accessory.

In turn, the alien touched Maria’s necklace. It was not particularly meaningful, so she took it off and handed it over.

Then, compulsively, Maria touched the wrap around its neck, which it removed and then it touched Maria’s sweater, which she removed and then touched one of its tunics ...

Stripped, they stared at each other. The alien touched Maria’s breasts; she touched some pouchlike things under its arms (no doubt that explained the particular drape of its scarves). There was a moment or two of processing, then the alien handed Maria back her underwear and she handed it back its leggings, and so on and so on.

When they were done, the alien climbed back on top of Maria’s car and looked up to the sky.

With hope? Was it wishing to go home? She supposed it was.

But then there was another thump, and next to the alien was another alien.

Maria cursed herself. She had looked away, really just for the briefest time; she had looked at her watch and she had missed how this had happened.

The two aliens leaned together and looked at her.

And then there was another alien, just like that. She was looking at them even as she heard the thump, so she never actually saw the moment—perhaps it was too fast?—when the next one arrived. Or the one after that.

In all, there were five, all of them beautifully dressed according to her own standards. The shades of the clothing varied, and she admired certain combinations more than others. A few had more scarves or more of the pleatherlike bands. The newest arrivals had three eyes and an extra arm, but as they looked around, checking the earlier arrivals, they quietly disposed of the extra things and matched skin color and numbers of organs and appendages.

They climbed down off the car and all but one of them rose off the ground. Then they noticed the first one stood on the earth, and they followed suit.

They surrounded the car and began to touch it.

She was beginning to think it was something like a bus tour.

“You’re not taking my car,” Maria said firmly, but she was outnumbered. They climbed into the car, leaving the driver’s side empty, and the first one—she could tell it was the first one—grabbed her by the hand and pulled her around to the driver’s side. “Well, just this once, but I decide where to go,” she said grumpily.

In fact it felt good to have a load of aliens politely asking to be shown the sights.

She took the long way into town, passing a stand of lodgepole pines (her favorite), which caused the aliens to crane their necks and make their sounds. They passed some forsaken shacks with broken things in the yard. They passed a school with flagpoles and fences.

They came into town with its blinking lights and its parked cars and lots of people getting in and out of the cars. The aliens were very interested in the people and kept pointing and beeping.

She took them to the general market, thinking that this would be the best cross-section of culture. Two of them went down aisles looking at boxes and cans and jars, examining the photos and drawings on them. The rest went with Maria to the clothing section, picking things up and holding them against each other. They fingered the fabrics.

A group of teenagers came in; it was obviously after school, something Maria would have avoided if she’d thought about it.

But the girls clumped together and started hooting at the foreigners.

“What is that?” one of them squealed to Maria.

“He’s French,” she answered. “You know about the French.”

“He’s French!” the girl screamed, and the other girls joined in.

The aliens froze. They looked at the girls in their tiny tee shirts, their shorts, their painted nails and freeze-dried hair. One alien went over and tentatively touched an earring, causing more screaming.

The cashier called out, “If you girls can’t stop screaming, you’ll have to leave the store.”

“He’s French,” the ringleader shouted, and the girls proceeded to giggle and turned and left the store.

The French aliens beeped to each other rapidly. They put down the clothes they’d been looking at. The ones who’d been looking at food didn’t have anything in their arms, either.

Maria naturally headed for the counter and the cashier, since she had a bag of sugar. There were some old, sad tourist items on the counter—some keychains, postcards, maps, and a few snow globes.

The aliens liked one snow globe very much. It was a replica of a cabin and a cactus and a coyote howling at nothing in particular. The aliens kept upending the globe and beeping. Did they like the snow? Didn’t they have snow? Or did they think that shack and that cactus were representative of life on Earth?

Two others conferred together near the plate glass window, looking at people in the street. Maria watched with them and saw people in sweat pants, loose jeans, loose, torn tees or sweatshirts, and sneakers. The men were grizzled; the women were dowdy. She looked at her aliens, all impeccably fashioned. One little girl passed by with leggings under her dress and they got excited. Maria felt a little embarrassed for her town.

They handed her the snow globe and she paid for it. They all went straight to the car and climbed in.

She thought they looked away any time she looked at them in the car. “Tell them we have great health care,” Maria said weakly. Then she remembered that wasn’t true for aliens.

She took them back to her place, where they all got back up on the car and, one by one, reversed the thump and disappeared.

They took the snow globe.

After a day or so, nothing happened, and Maria felt the need of marking the aliens’ visit. Plus, of course, they might come back.

She wasn’t sure they would; she thought perhaps there was nothing much to see. Had they liked the lodgepole pines? Hard to tell.

There had only been one thing that she was certain they liked, so she found another snow globe, and took photos of it stark against the best fabrics she could find—and one at the base of the lodgepole pines—and took the photos to the print shop and made post cards on glossy stock and on matte.

She seeded them around town, at the market and at the movies, and stood a rack at the end of her driveway, where she waited for a tell-tale thump. In the meantime, she was practicing tying a scarf a dozen different ways.

She knew how picky the French could be. END

Karen Heuler is an active member of SFWA. Her stories have been published in over 60 markets, from “Clarkesworld” to “Daily Science Fiction” to “Ms. Magazine.” Her fourth novel, “Glorious Plague,” will be published by Permuted Press in 2014.






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