Ever had one of those dreams…those light midday dreams where you nod off mid-thought and nothing really changes? You dream you are where you are, doing what you’re doing, and when you wake up, it’s like…shrugging off a distraction. Seamless, sort of thing. Like drifting between rooms.
I had one just recently. I was editing a book and an alien broke in, just squeezed through my window and climbed down the blinds. I heard scrabbling and looked up. My earring caught on my collar. I choked on my own spit, and the alien…it giggled. It was the size of a barn owl with wings like a bat’s, feathered, but clawed at the tips. It had long skinny legs and milky blue eyes, and it had two sets of lashes, one on its eyelids, one on its nictitating membranes. It plopped down on my pillow and asked for a snack, so I shooed it to the fridge.
It was too short to reach, so I picked it up. I held it under its wings where its feathers were sparse. It felt like a budgie, all warm and thin-skinned. Its toes dangled down and scratched at my knees. It told me, between bites, it was just leaving Earth. It wouldn’t be back, nor would any of its kind. It had come to say goodbye.
“You’ve flubbed the fifth hurdle,” it said. “You never left your solar system. That’s the threshold for sentience. For legal first contact. I shouldn’t be talking to you, but you’re technically extinct.” It glanced back at me with rice on its beak. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I wiped my nose on my shoulder.
“Do you have any chutney?”
I did not.
“I guess I’m full up, then. Put me down.”
I put the thing down and it started to preen. The rice stayed on its beak. I kept rubbing my nose, but it didn’t catch the hint.
You know those awkward moments where there’s a window to say something and you let it go by, and the silence stretches out…
…this thing sat on my floor, licking its claws. I felt rude just staring, but what could I do? You don’t turn your back on home invaders.
It spit-shined its feathers. Fluffed up its wings.
I cleared my throat and I said to it, “could you take me with you? If we’re all dying anyway?”
It laughed and it said to me, “I can’t keep a plant alive, much less a pet.” It brushed itself off and flew out the way it’d come. I drank some tomato juice and went back to work. That’s when I woke up, reaching for my laptop.
…I wonder what it meant about us being technically extinct? (Or what I meant, given it was my dream? Maybe we’re functionally extinct, a colony on the verge of collapse?)
Mm…stupid alien in my dream. Stupid, warm alien, with its fast little heartbeat.
I also dreamt, recently, I was massaging a cat. I woke up kneading my own knee.
I think I need a pet.