Read by Jonathan Nazer
I sat between two aliens on the London Underground today. At first I thought they were men dressed in shiny silver foil with clothes hangers as antennae, but on closer inspection, their scaly skin was not well-applied face paint but a true algae pigment, and their webbed fingers were not artificially attached, but biologically correct.
They boarded the train at 9:46pm, waddled down the empty aisle, and ignoring the two rows of available seats, sat on either side of me. I contemplated moving because of the breeze from their gills against my cheeks, but I didn’t want to appear rude. So we sat there in silence, me and two aliens, until the train left the platform.
"Oh, what are we going to do? We’ll never escape this wretched planet now!” the alien on my right wept. The other leant over me and patted his companion on the back. I squirmed in my seat.
"Cheer up, brother. We'll find a way. I have been thinking, my dear brother. I have a plan, but it won’t be ... pleasant." The alien turned his head at an impossible angle to look at me with his catlike eyes.
"Pardon me, I go by the earth name of Philippe. What is your name, friend?" the alien asked me, raising his voice over the sound of the train speeding through the underground tunnels.
"Michael," I replied, doing my best impression of a 'this isn't weird' smile.
In response, Philippe showed off a frightening array of pointy teeth in a big gleeful smile. "It's nice to meet you friend Michael. My brother here, Frog, and I are from a world that is leap years away from this botanical disaster zone you inhabit. Do tell me, have you any anomalies, oddities or peculiarities, my human friend Michael?"
I looked at him, open-mouthed, frowning. Anomalies? What the...
While the extraterrestrial stared at me, waiting for my answer, a thin film of white goo quickly slid back and forth over his shiny black eyes, like a strange kind of window wiper, sharpening his vision to better eye me up as a womb to hold his eggs, or a meat pack of ready-to-eat lean human protein.
"Ahh, no?" I said as polite as humanly possible, trying to avoid initiating any type of abduction situation. I could imagine it now: waking up one night, stark naked, covered with green slime, in the doorway of one of Soho's notorious adult stores, illuminated by the cherry hue of flashing neon triple-x lights.
Frog, whose whimpers had turned into a subtle purr, had begun to prod at the stray curls of my beard with a long skeletal finger on one of his four-fingered webbed hands. I waved him away like a pestering fly.
"And what have you of animals, friend? Bovine or swine? Feline or canine?" Philippe's tongue, thin and forked, licked the air between us, wafting the fishy scent of his breath against my face.
"I'm not a farmer, if that's what you're asking. What's this about? Actually, don't answer that, I — "
"This is the Piccadilly Line. The next stop will be... Caledonian Road," announced the train's intercom, my saviour. I sighed with relief. Frog had started to sniff my shoulders and squeeze the flesh on my exposed forearms, smothering them with a stringy slime. Petite bubbling sounds had also started to escape out of his long, droopy nose, and the scales over his skin were changing colour with each touch, vibrating the change in waves up his arm and over the rest of his body: crimson, lilac, indigo; glittery and dazzling. That was it! I had to get off this train, I told myself. It had all become too weird for my liking.
I pushed up out of my seat, manoeuvring around Philippe's hovering form. "This is my stop, um… it was... nice to meet you." I didn't smile, just quickly turned and made my way towards the doors, wishing for the train to reach the platform as soon as possible. I could not remember a time where the ride between Kings Cross and Caledonian Road had ever been so agonisingly long. It felt like I had been on that train for eternity.
"Please, friend, one more question," Philippe called out. I looked back at my fellow extraterrestrial passengers. Frog was making puppy-like eyes at me. "Please tell us, have you eaten in the last hour?" Philippe's face was not giving anything away.
I glared at him. "No, I haven't!"
"That's good to hear my friend, good day."
The carriage jolted and the lights went out, throwing us into darkness. When the lights came back on, the aliens were gone and the train was pulling into the platform. I disembarked, feeling a slight tingling in my abdomen. My stomach rumbled. I remember thinking, I could really do with a hamburger.
My life has changed since that bizarre and unnatural train ride. Not because of the unhealthy liking I've developed for Filet-O-Fish burgers, but rather, the unfortunate reality that despite the five weeks of extensive physiotherapy, I still haven’t been able to sit right ever since.