I hate hospitals. Helpless patients are undressed, poked, prodded, and probed by complete strangers. Nurses ask intimate questions. Doctors root out a body’s deepest-held secrets, sharing the devastating news impassively. The unexpected diagnosis shatters reality. And life, as you know it, changes forever.
I did everything I could to quash illness and control my anxiety issues through meditation and breathing exercises, staving off the need for any sort of medical care. But I was helpless when the Grandmother of All Panic Attacks landed me in the emergency room at Cordova General. A gaggle of nurses descended on me, hooking up tubes and wires, drawing blood, taking my temperature and finally, blessedly, giving me a shot of the magic elixir that returned my heart rate to normal.
An hour later, the doctor crept in, his puzzled expression marring what I assumed was a typically smug countenance. He stared at the iPad in his hand. “Your tests came back somewhat… irregular. We’ll have to do more tests.”
“Irregular how?” I queried, but he’d already turned and strode out the door. The nurse who came in next had nothing to say on the matter of my irregular test results other than that she was not allowed to discuss them. Oh, great. I’m dying.
I woke later as two men from the transport unit unhooked me from the beeping machinery and wheeled me (still in my bed) to the top floor of the hospital. They stuck me in a slick white room with no lifesaving equipment or even basic monitoring devices. Oh, but I was being monitored — by two armed guards posted at the door. The anti-anxiety drug still held its grip on my nerves. My heart beat contentedly in its little cage, consciously uncoupling itself from reality.
I startled when the door flew open and a half-dozen G-men filed in, the ER doctor trailing behind them. I pretended not to see the Suits ‘n’ Sunglasses and did my best to remain calm. I hadn’t committed any crime, unless calling 911 to report a mere panic attack was an actual felony. Steeling myself, I asked, “So what’s the verdict, Doc?”
The doctor cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak, but one of the agents — I’ll call him The Tall One — held up his hand to silence Doctor Feelgood. [I never did catch his name.]
“Tell me, Mizz Francis, where did you come from?” The Tall One asked.
“Newport News, Virginia. And then we moved to Maryland, when I was six, I think, but we only lived there a year-”
The Tall One interrupted my babbling. “No, Mizz Francis. I mean to say, which planet are you from?”
My writer’s instinct to correct his grammar was shoved aside by the realization of what he’d asked me — and with a straight face, I might add.
“Umm — what?” came my measured response.
Another agent — I’ll call him Skinny Tie — gripped the handrail on my bed and stuck his face in mine. Then, as if realizing I might have something contagious, he pulled back and straightened. “We know the truth, Francis. By the way, is that just your Earth name? What other designation do you go by?”
“Ummm…” The anti-anxiety medication wore off and I rebounded — hard. Tremors raced through my body with such force that Skinny Tie jumped forward and pinned me to the mattress. My head became a whirlpool of confusion; I sank into an abyss of jumbled logic. Oh my gosh — they know! They know I’ve faked an entire Facebook page. And that profile on Looking 4 Love — well, that’s me, but that’s not my name. Does the government really get involved in catfishing? Not that I’ve ever done that. And who ordered this takedown anyway? An old boyfriend? A jealous co-worker? How could anyone know I’d end up in the hospital? Wait — have I been POISONED? What is happening to me?
“Whi- which name do you want?” I stammered between chattering teeth. My body stiffened, to the point that I could have easily beaten the basement cadavers in a game of So You Call That Rigor Mortis?
Skinny Tie was no longer afraid of me, or of catching whatever exotic disease had convinced these men that I was from outer space. He leaned in like Sheryl Sandberg and blasted me with warm, humid air from his nostrils. “Your alien name. What do they call you on the planet you came from?”
My Irish temper bubbled up through the haze. “Mary Katherine Francis!” I shouted. “From Planet Earth, you moron.”
“Not according to your test results.” The doctor scrolled through his iPad as if to confirm his statement.
Skinny Tie wheeled on the doctor. “Get your patient under control.”
The doctor blanched. “My patient? No thank you, gentlemen. She’s all yours. Take her wherever you take…her kind.” He swiveled to the door and wrenched it open, then power-walked down the hall and disappeared around a corner. A hallway guard reached in and pulled the door closed. I heard a soft click as it locked.
I was alone with the agents; alone with six men who shared the insane belief that I had originated from outside our known universe. Thoughts of Area 51 and Alien Autopsy flooded my mind. The tables were turned: on Earth, humans probed the aliens. And they thought I was one.
My spine tingled from tailbone to neck, then the creeping sensation enshrouded my head and pulled my scalp taut. My face tightened and sizzled as the agents studied me silently. I waited for the voiceover from Rod Serling, wrapping up these events with a pithy warning about government intrusion into private medical care. None came.
Frustrated, I directed my words to a man who had yet to speak, let alone breathe on me. Lester, I’ll call him. I don’t know why, but he looked like a “Lester” to me. “Assuming you’re all serious about this” [spoiler alert: they were!] “exactly what makes you think I’m from another planet?”
“Did you really think you could hide from us?” the Tall One butted in.
“Hide where? In plain sight? Anyway, that doesn’t answer my question. And I didn’t ask you.”
The Tall One glared at me through his shaded glasses.
“And if I’m such a threat,” I ranted, “why haven’t you–” Oops! No, no. Don’t want to give them any ideas. But why hadn’t they tied me down? Were they not afraid of my magical alien powers? Inspired to act, I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated all my conscious energy on turning into my actual alien self. I would be a glorious, terrifying, scaly, fire-breathing creature.
“Why haven’t we what, Francis?” Skinny Tie asked. Before I could answer, Lester stuck out an arm and moved Skinny Tie aside. His turn.
Lester unlatched the bed rail and swung it downward, then took a seat next to me on the mattress. Good cop, I see. He removed his shades and pocketed them, then folded his hands together and rested them on one knee.
“Miss Francis, it is customary, when we get a call to investigate a citizen, to delve into the subject’s background. Of course you know what we learned about you.”
I breathed through my nose, steadying my nerves. “I’m a science fiction writer.”
“That’s right,” Lester said, then added, “I mean, correct. That is correct.” He winked at me. Good cop, indeed. Did he want me to believe we were in cahoots?
“Well, this is weirder than anything I’ve ever come up with,” I pleaded.
“True.” Lester nodded. “You’re not a very good science fiction writer.” [Ouch. That hurt.] “It’s one of the things we learned as we compiled our file on you.” He cast a thoughtful glance at the floor, then settled his hazel eyes on me. “We know that you are deeply interested in life on other planets, space travel, wormholes, alternative forms of energy and interstellar communications. The question is, why–”
“Um, because I’m a science fiction writer?”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Lester chided, then gazed at me so long that I wondered if he was going to kiss me. Should I stick out my forked tongue and get the ball rolling? “I was going to ask you, Miss Francis, why you chose to settle on Earth. You don’t seem very interested in our race.”
What is a stronger word than “astonished”? Because that was my reaction. Gobsmacked, the Brits call it. These men really, truly believed I was something other than human.
“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I flipped the thin bedsheet aside and scooted over the far edge of the bed. In response, five men pulled their weapons and pointed them at me. Not at center mass, mind you, but at my head. What exactly had those tests revealed? I couldn’t contain my curiosity. I spoke slowly, in case what sounded to me like English was coming out garbled and alien.
“What…makes…you…think…I…am…not…from…this…planet?” I stared at each man in turn, until I spotted an agent who was drop-dead gorgeous. How had I not noticed him before? I made a mental note to ask him on a date — if I made it out of here alive. We’d have plenty to laugh about later.
GQ — as I call him — must have noticed me staring at him with my eyebrows raised and mouth hanging open. He renewed his grip on his handgun and leveled the barrel to a spot between my eyes. Oh. He must think I’m going to spit acid on his face and devour him. Time to shut the gaping maw. I clamped it; he relaxed. One of those things we’ll laugh about later, I suppose.
Skinny Tie stepped forward menacingly. “We’ve seen your test results. You’re not one of us. If you were, you’d know that no one is actually from Earth. We’re all sent here from Gorgon.”
“In the Medusa sector,” Lester added helpfully.
“Wait — everyone?” I looked from one man to the next, mentally checking today’s date. April 18th, so not April Fool’s Day. Ohhhh — unless Gorgons celebrate it on a different day. Oh, man, they got me good. I cannot wait to blog about this. “April Fool’s, right?”
“But people are born on this planet,” I argued.
“CGI.” The Tall One smirked.
“WHAT?” I squealed.
“Have you ever actually witnessed a birth, Mizz Francis?”
“No, not live and in person–”
“And have you ever given birth?”
“No. Oh come on. People are born here every day. It’s a fact.”
“The only fact,” Skinny Tie cut in, “is the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re not one of us.”
“What about my parents? Are they Gorgons who raised me out of pity? Was I swapped as an infant with a Gorgon baby?”
GQ spoke up. “Please do not refer to us as ‘Gorgons.’ That is a derogatory term used against us by Castorians from the Pollux sector. Frankly, we hate it.”
“What in the world? But you’re from Gorgon! How can that be derogatory?”
“Please, Miss Francis. As a race, we now prefer to be called ‘Bieberians,’ after Justin Bieber, our leader.”
“Well, that explains a lot.” My stomach gurgled, and the back of my throat began to burn. “What I want to know is, if I’m not human, than what am I?”
Lester waved his hand at his fellow aliens in a “holster your weapons” manner. “Well, that’s just it, Miss Francis. You may, in fact, be a human. We’ve just never seen one before. We thought they all died out, like the dinosaurs, or moved on to another solar system, eons before we won this planet from the Castorians.” He winked at his chums. “Gotta love Texas Hold ‘em.”
I’m a human for real? Oh dang. No special powers, then.
Overwhelmed by the late-breaking news that I was possibly the only human left on Earth, I began to feel lightheaded. My dinner was sounding retreat, and if there’s one thing I hate about being human, it’s the vomiting. So do I throw up or pass out? So many choices, so little privacy. Could I even throw up in front of these guys without getting shot? I had a feeling I was about to find out.
I heaved violently, my abdominal muscles clenching and releasing in quick succession. I bent over, clutching my belly. Something large burst from my mouth; I choked as it slithered out. Not food. Not liquid. A tongue. A giant forked tongue. [I called it!] The rumbling in my stomach forced its way up my throat and released itself in a mighty roar.
The G-men jumped back and pulled their weapons. Even Lester took no chances: his Glock’s laser sight flashed against my eye. I stood straighter, arched my back, and roared until the building shook. The skin on my back split apart, shredding my clothes, as giant rubbery wings unfurled themselves, knocking several agents to the floor. The Gorgons began firing at me, but the bullets ricocheted off the armor plating now covering my body. I reached for Skinny Tie, sinking six-inch claws into his chest. I didn’t mean to kill him, but he didn’t look healthy after I dropped him to the floor.
I quickly outgrew the room — my wings battering the walls, my neck and back twisting as my head banged against the ceiling. Clearly, taking the elevator to the ground floor was not an option. Time to see if these wings could fly or if they were for decoration only. I looped a talon through the collar of GQ’s shirt, figuring he would make an excellent souvenir, then stood to my full height, crashing through the ceiling and then the roof of Cordova General Hospital.
Free at last, I leapt up, hung in the hair, then settled onto the roof, careful to avoid the hole I’d just made. I tested my wings, stirring up a windstorm that caught some passing birds and flung them several yards. Oops. No matter. With a mighty surge from my wings, I rocketed into the air and carried my prize to a lonely island in the South Pacific. Those G-men weren’t wrong: compared to them, I was the alien all along.
[Writers' Group Theme: You've just discovered undeniable proof that everyone else on Earth is an alien. What is the first thing you do (tomorrow)?]