I’m probably only going to post this, my first day’s effort, since I’m sure anything that follows will be even less coherent:
Neaton clapped his hands, eyes twinkling, and said, “Halle-boo-yah!”
Those around him glared. His own face remained locked in a smile, undistorted by everyone else’s reaction.
He was standing on a downtown sidewalk, peering up at the face of the building in which he lived. The graffiti surrounding his apartment window seven floors up was being painted over. Hmm… Neaton would miss the image of the drooping green breasts, but the rest of the montage failed to speak to him. And whew, now his apartment wouldn’t stand out like a drooping green thumb, wilting plants in his window notwithstanding. He’d have to remember to water them.
Kirst was sitting at the dining room table reading a piece of periodical literature when he opened the door. Not looking up, she acknowledged him with a lazy salute. “Dinner’s in the microwave,” she informed him. “The time’s already keyed in, so just hit ‘Start.’”
Kirst was often waiting for him with food (nearly) prepared, but she didn’t live with him. She simply had a key and an odd desire to see him taken care of in certain basic ways. She didn’t have any children or pets, and didn’t seem to want them, yet she seemed to need some sort out outlet for… whatever you want to call it. Neaton didn’t mind—they were close friends—but it did put him at a disadvantage, always feeling like he owed her. He did treat her to nights out on the town when he could, so at least there was that.
“Thanks, Kirst,” he said as he removed his shoes and boogied to the microwave to hit the button. “You may actually make my Christmas list this year. At least the re-gift list. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that Jesus door poster you gave me last year. You could get lucky!”
She finally looked up at him. “Hey, if I can’t give someone Christ on Christmas, what’s the point?” she argued before quietly snickering into her sleeve, pleased with herself.
“You’re a goof. Hey, did you see they were painting over the mysterious graffiti?”
“Uhh, yes, Neaton. It’s going on right outside the window I’m sitting by. Why do you think I’m sitting here in the first place? Painter Dude was putting on a show for me before you ruined it by coming home.”
He looked out at Painter Dude. “Paint me skeptical,” he said.
“I still have no idea what graffiti artist is scaling buildings,” she wondered. “I guess he has to do something to stand out. When I think about it that way, it’s kind of sad his work is being buried under a layer of non-expression. But then I remember those green breasts and I’m over it.”
Neaton was now eating his stir fry—she made stir fry—and he swallowed so he could counter her disapproval. “Hey, alien babies need nourishment, too. Don’t hate on green breasts. Maybe out comes Shamrock Shake. Would you really deny alien babies naturally produced Shamrock Shakes? Don’t be so unfeeling.”
But she was done with that conversation. “In any case, I’m headed to the skate park to heckle the helmeted daredevils. Travers should be there, and maybe I’ll talk to a couple of the more goon-looking hooligans to see if I can get a lead on climbing graffiti artists. I simply must get to the bottom of this. I can’t have the person whose home I intrude on being targeted. That just wouldn’t do.”
“I like where this is going,” Neaton told her, letting his thumb grow upward into a show of approval.
* * * * *
The lights at the skate park turned on as Kirst approached the huddle Travers was part of, dusk being what it was. “Hey, Traversty!” she barked. “Travs! Revolve your face a bit so I can talk to it.”
Travers, a little embarrassed in front of his friends, turned around, resignation slumping his shoulders. “Hey, Aunt Kirst. What’s up?”
She surveyed the concrete landscape with squinted eyes, making it seem like the thing she wanted to discuss was going to be important, and not necessarily for everyone’s ears. Indeed, when she finally spoke, it was with, “Let’s walk over to the other side of Yonder Half-pipe.” The half-pipe was, in fact, yonder, but she wasn’t just calling it that to be a goof. It was actually named that. There was a sign and everything. Okay, there was only a sign, but the everything was implied.
Fifty paces later, she revealed her purpose. Travers listened with only semi-apparent boredom as she outlined what she wanted from him, which was to casually uncover who might be behind the graffiti of curious elevation.
“Didn’t you see the news?” he asked her. “They’ve discovered two more similar tags, one in Eastside and the other in… the Safflower district.” It was news to her. “Yeah, the cops are looking for a link, but they don’t know anything yet. I haven’t heard much from my friends except that it’s cool, and they hope the guy covers a lot more area before he’s done. I guess the one on the building in Safflower is a barcode, and if you check on what product the barcode is for, it’s the color of paint they just used to cover the one at Neaton’s place.”
“And the cops didn’t think that was a link? I guess I didn’t need you after all. I should have just watched the news. Anyway, let me know if your friends find anything out. I needed a new interest, and this should pass some time for me.” She sighed. “Not having to work can make for a boring life.”
Travers kicked up his skateboard, caught it, and pointed it toward her. “You could always take up skateboarding, Nancy Drew.”
“I’ll leave that to you and the Hardly Boys,” she said, indicating the mid-life crisis crew who were destroying themselves as they tried to grind on various edges.
“Ugh,” Travers said, which said it all.
* * * * *
“Smoke my sausage,” Neaton said to Kirst when she entered. “They’re talking about it on the news.”
“So I heard. Eastside and Safflower?”
“And apparently South Brill.”
“I heard about the barcode one. What are the other two images?”
Neaton paused to hear the reporter finish her sentence before answering. “Well, the one in Eastside was of a bunny rabbit drinking a soda pop. Those are the reporter’s words, not mine. The one in South Brill was panoramic, depicting the skate park you were just at.”
“Okay, that’s kind of creepy. I don’t know what the rabbit with the soda has to do with anything, but the others are way too tied to us, specifically. What kind of soda was it?”
“King Kong Root Beer.”
“Ooh, I could really go for one of those right now. Oh, damn it, see, it’s even creepier now. How did the artist know I would want a King Kong Root Beer?”
“The power of suggestion. I think it’s flattering we have a fan. Of course, we may have inadvertently enraged him by allowing the apartment manager to Wite-Out some of his work.”
Kirst pointed out the window. “Umm, speaking of fans, Painter Dude left a while ago, but there’s a face out there looking in.”
She wasn’t wrong. A prominently mustached gentleman who seemed to be floating peered in at them, and he even raised his hand to stroke his mustache.
“Hey, he stroked his mustache,” Kirst pointed out.
“I saw that. If it was a window I could open, I’d stroke it, too. And then I’d knock him out with my fists.”
The suspended gentleman rapped his knuckles on the glass.
“If it was a window I could open,” Neaton said to Kirst, “I don’t think I would at this point.”
Kirst was placing a 911 call. “Yes, this creepy guy is here right now, staring in at us. He has a mustache, and the mustache has been stroked. No, this is not a prank. Please get your helicopter here as soon as possible.”
The information became outdated as she hung up. A whoosh happened, and the face was gone.
“Goddammit,” she said, rushing to the window to try to see where he went. She found no sign of him, even with her important-looking squint.
Neaton stayed back, a little more put off by the experience than she was. “Kirst, can I crash at your place tonight?” She was already nodding and gave him a reassuring hug, but he continued on. “I know your place has never been our rally point, but I think you may have been right about me being targeted. Even if you’re in the same boat, at least your place is on the ground, with windows that we can open. That face wouldn’t fare so well at your place.”
“Grab your gear. Let’s go.”
* * * * *
Harvey Habilis tapped his cane against the building’s brick wall to shake loose some debris it had accumulated. He wasn’t used to the filth in this part of town. It was his first visit to Eastside.
He would have preferred his first visit to be during daylight, with a friend, but he didn’t have a lot of time. The locals were eyeing him. He could tell they knew he was out of place. He tried to walk with a little more authority, like he knew what he was doing, but it was hard to pull off given the circumstances and with the cane as a factor.
Harvey turned on Grayson Street and could see the building up ahead. Ammutory-Straub. He could faintly see the markings. He needed to take a sample of whatever was used to draw the barcode. If it confirmed his suspicions, the world wouldn’t be happy, but at least his name would mean something again. The scientific community would have to take him seriously once more, and maybe they would even pick up his tab at The Jackass Whisperer, his oft-visited watering hole. One could dream.
They knew he was coming at the front desk. The attractive brunette pointed to the elevators down the hall and told him what floor, and that there would be a gentleman named Archer to meet him. He leaned against the wall of the elevator and gave his cane some relief. Maybe he would relieve his other cane on the attractive brunette. It was in the realm of possibility if this played out like he hoped it would.
The elevator door opened, and a man with a goatee stood in front of him, looking in.
“Archer, I presume?” he asked the man. Was the man’s skin tinted green ever-so-slightly, or was it just his imagination?
It wasn’t the confirmation of his theory he had hoped for, and Archer didn’t live up to his name as he brought his impressively whirring, glowing firearm to bear on Habilis’s chest, but realization flooded Harvey as his torso vaporized and his extremities scattered. Yes, aliens were finally among us.