Aphelion Issue 258, Volume 25
February 2021
 
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The Hurry Up Lube Job Hero

by Charis Emanon




Reggie had a tale practically bursting to get out of him. It was all about the night this spinning alien ship had taken him up on high, in the grip of a blinding light, before his body had been wedged through a metal tunnel, tied down to an examination table, and then a robotic blade had sliced deep into his chest.

“There, see, there!” he’d cry out, to some new-found friend that Reggie had cornered near the end of the bar, his voice carrying over the flow from the taps, the beat of the juke box, the crack of the cue ball smacking against the other colors.

His long, crooked finger would point towards a slash that emerged on his neck and upper torso, a crevice of flesh that separated the front of him into sections, a poorly-sutured wound that revealed the full length of its dehiscence as Reggie pulled back at the ratty wool sweater that wrapped him in. His cracked thumbnail packed under with black crud (left behind from the oils he worked with at the Hurry Up Lube Job joint next door) poised there over the gash.

“I know! I know! It ain’t healing proper,” Reggie said, noting the look of horror that crossed his companion’s face. “My doc asks me silly questions, like if I’ve been opening it up and sewing it back. She don’t understand: it’s the aliens and their technology what’s done me in. See!”

Reggie just sat there, waiting. Waiting for what exactly? Waiting for acknowledgement of his suffering? Waiting for affirmation of the truth of his story?

No. Reggie waited to be told that he had experienced something extraordinary, an event that marked him as unique, as a chosen one.

Night after night, though, time and time again, Reggie was disappointed. The only response was a harried look in the eye, a polite but firm, “Well, thank you for the beer, mate,” before this brief acquaintance sidled away into the faceless mass of “never again bother me” kind of people.

Reggie had stopped being surprised. After all the reaction had been little different when he’d found his way into the 24 Hour Urgent Care that night only a few months before as a ripped-open mess, his insides threatening to spill out everywhere, blood draining out of him like a Chevrolet with the underside of its oil pan jaggedly ruptured.

While the emergency crew sewed him up Reggie had told them the story of his encounter, then to a patrol officer, a detective downtown, an on-call shrink at the county jail, a pair of social workers at the human services agency, and his ex-wife’s lawyer. Always it had been the same: first revulsion, then raised eyebrows, the rolled-back eyes, the looks of pity, followed up with a slow slide into being just another person that Reggie used to know, a conversion into the crowd of the disbelievers, the “doubting Thomases.”

“Drove away another one, did ya’ love,” Sharon asked, as she set another sweating bottle of Raging Fire Ale—the top already popped—in front of Reggie.

He wrapped the fingers of his hand around the bottle, took a long, deep swig, then looked back in the direction of the chemical blonde. She had already twirled away, without waiting for his rejoinder.

“Yup, another one who can’t see the truth when it is right in front of their nose!” he called after her. “Their loss though! It’s all of you who are losing out! I know what I know.”

He buried his face in his oversized hands for a long time, sitting there at the far end of the bar alone, preferring the dark of his palms to the company of apostates. After that passed he submerged his head in drink for the rest of the evening, killing the psychic pain as well as the physical as he slowly got stoned.

Then he managed the walk back a block to his garret over top of the office in the garage, the one the manager, Lou, had set up for him on account of them being old friends and all: “I don’t know what really happened to you, but I don’t want to find my best mechanic sleeping in this doorway no more. This is a respectable business you know.”

Reggie felt his way up each rung of the ladder in the dark, managing to pull his body up and over the top of it. He crawled onto the loft, tore off the layers of clothes until only his boxers were left, and then rolled his body into his old Army sleeping bag.

He thrashed about and then was out. The slit on his neck opened wide, from top to bottom, like a zipper on a jacket being pulled down. Light shone out from his rent flesh, illuminating Reggie’s chin.

Three little bioluminescent flitter flies pulled out of the gash, their little wings beating hard. Goop from Reggie’s insides flung off of their rapidly whirring bodies.

“It is so good to get out of this guy’s skin! The stench is unbearable! And he tried to blow our cover again!” one said, in a high-pitched voice to the others, yelling to be heard above Reggie’s snores.

“Yes, but it’s of no consequence,” called back one of the others. “They never believe him.”

“Why would they? Even their doctors with all of their training and experience didn’t find us hidden behind his lungs. Relax, Larry, these humans simply don’t have the wherewithal to match wits with us.”

“Right, right, Darryl. Okay. Yeah, you’re right. We stick with the plan. We stay buried in his hide for the rest of the year, to prove that the environment is safe, and then we put out a call for the entire slathern to join us.”

“You know it! Thanks to our pioneering work here the whole furrow will be able to escape, before cooling ices over our home globe. We will save our entire civilization and prove Dr. Wristerling’s theory is correct about our odds of planetary escape in this microsized form. We’ll be heroes!”

“Yes, heroes!” replied Other Darryl. “Can you imagine how the suffering of our kind will end once down here, with all of these oafs ripe for the harvest? It’s a buffet. Each and every human can host a full coterie—and there are billions of them. We just slice and slip in and let their bodies nourish us. We will wear these bodies like skin, and nobody will be the wiser. Just inside of each one of them, nibbling away at these living feed bags, until we’ve stored away enough eggs to ensure our dominance when we emerge full size!”

“Nothing can stop us!” the three cried in unison.

Reggie, startled by the suddenness of the high-pitched squeal, grunted. He threw out his hand in a swat at the noise; it landed heavy, his hairy arm squashing the flitter flies into the hard plank flooring of the loft. The three of them crunched against the wood, becoming nothing more than a glowing green ooze that coagulated into a tacky gum on the floor.

Reggie pushed deeper into the cloth bag, pulled the rounded top of it over his head, and rolled over. He continued his slumber.

He had overdone it, that’s for sure. He’d wake up with a thumping head and ripped stitches that would land him back in a hospital in the morning.

Sure, Reggie had a tale that would be told the rest of his dismal life to disbelievers. But you and I know the truth. This very night that rugged drunk saved our species from certain extinction.

On such miracles rests our entire existence. On one planet, the tragedy of a lost expedition of discovery means that it is the end of the line; on another, civilization marches ever onward without so much as a passing backward glance.

There’s a Reggie in every corner bar in every town and city tonight, getting rip-roaring drunk and telling wild stories about strange encounters. Somewhere out there at least one—possibly even two or more of them, and we never know which—is an unsung hero.



THE END


2021 Charis Emanon

Bio: Charis lives along the shores of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. They maintain a wildlife refuge for words that have developed consciousness at ElectricSoupfortheSoul.com . Their writings have been published widely, including in Mobius, Parting Gifts, Barbaric Yawp, The White Crow, and Jokes Review. Their latest book, Portland Must Die: 51 Ways to End Your World, is due out through Montag Press in the coming months.

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