Do you believe in aliens?
Author’s note: This was a fun story, but I thought it was a little too silly for the book, and it didn’t fit the theme.
Do you believe in aliens?
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Bicycling down the Stuart Highway through the center of Australia, the road gently twists and turns and ascends long, shallow hills that pass almost unnoticed except that miles ahead the road appears to come to a dramatic dead end and the hazy blue sky melts and runs down the highway like a waterfall. When I crest the hill, sometimes hours later, green patches of trees and yellow patches of grasses recede into infinity on the swells of a red ocean.
One of Australia’s most distinctive features is the trillions of flies. My record for snatching flies out of the air with my bare hand is four at one time, and I have smashed 40-50 in one swipe that were hitching a ride. I have learned a lot about the psyche of the Australian fly. If I don’t move, they can’t see me; however, the can smell me, and on the move, I attract more flies than a dead kangaroo. They flit about tasting various bits before settling in one spot. I collect flies one by one until there are hundreds if not a thousand, many attached to my back as if they know I can’t reach that spot. I hypothesize that they are waiting for me to die or lay a big, juicy pile of poo. (Note to self: As much as I love Australia, think twice before moving here.)
But if you learn to ignore the tickling flies, you turn your attention to the scenery. It takes a keen and educated eye to appreciate the diversity and beauty of Australia, in particular, the manner in which life has adapted to such harsh conditions, such as the way some plants have branches designed like gutters to funnel the sporadic rainwater towards the roots. A closer look at the Out-back-o-beyond reveals: termite mounds bursting out of the earth like pimples; earth blackened from a recent fire; leaves colored burnt umber or silver-backed green, depending on whether they survived the natural or unnatural disasters of hapless tourists and their cigarettes; piles of white ash and matching silky-white clouds; yellow flowers highlighted by the blue sky for the butterflies; Technicolor flocks of parrots swooping and soaring; the world’s most venomous creatures scuttling about; occasional glimpses of kangaroos and emus hiding among the boulder fields; dusty red rocks; and, of course, there is the constant buzz of the bush fly. But after a month or two, such things become rather mundane to the less discerning minds.
For me, Australia is fascinatingly monotonous, incredibly isolated and superlatively boring. (In fact, the government actually rebuilt sections of the road with more hills and twists to prevent drivers from falling asleep due to boredom.) In self-defense, my mind retreats into itself, and I have many amusing daydreams and clever thoughts that generally elude me by the end of the day. For others, the outback is a hellish haul hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometers from one attraction, like a bunch of little round boulders, to another, like one giant red rock. Sometimes there is literally nothing to see, like when I reached the geographic center of Australia and a sign informed me that I was in the most remote and desolate spot on the continent. Often, if there is nothing to see, the locals build something amusing to divert the stream of tourists off the highway, like Wycliffe Well. According to the newspaper clippings, this is a famous pit stop for aliens to swing by and disassemble and reassemble Australians, apparently, often with some parts missing or loose. If perchance the aliens have had a long journey and are a bit homesick they can spend a night in a motel room surrounded by murals of their homeworld. Likewise, if the aliens are bored there are plenty of kangaroos, emus and parrots that, judging by their dilapidated state, are used for practicing disassembly and reassembly.
As an example of this alien culture—though, technically, as a foreign national visiting Australia, I am the legal alien—once in a pub, I asked the barkeep, attempting to calculate the price to calorie ratio, “How big is a plate of chips?”
“It’s a plate full of chips.”
“Is it a big plate or a little plate?”
“The plates are all the same size.”
“What kind of fish comes with the chips?”
“A frozen fish.”
“That sounds refreshing after a long day in the hot Outback,” I joked, thinking she had been in the outback too long, herself, but it didn’t even create a flicker of amusement in her inhuman eyes.
Another fat bloke with a croaky voice told me to lock my bicycle outside his hostel for the night. I asked if it was safe, “I don’t know what planet you come from, mate, but it’s not safe anywhere I’ve ever been.”
And another time, I asked a woman, “What do you think of all the flies?”
“Oh, I guess, we just take ‘em for granted.”
“Take them for granted? Don’t they drive you crazy?”
“Oh, no. We’re used to ‘em. We wouldn’t be the same without ‘em.”
And as final evidence of the alien Outback, I met a man who looked like a beet-red version of Captain Kangaroo who said, referring to Planet Earth, “That’s why the Americans are trying so bloody hard to get off this rock. I was watching tee-vee—a while back—and NASA was broadcasting live pictures from Mars and right there was a sphinx and pyramid—on television. I saw it. Now the bloody Martians—this is my theory—ruined their planet. Look there’s no water just dry riverbeds. And they came here. And now we’re halfway finished with this one.”
“Are you telling me, I’m a Martian?”
“Well, now, I’ve never thought of it like that. I guess I am. We got to get off this bloody rock. And I’m telling you—there’s not going to be room enough for all of us on the spaceship.”
His theory isn’t new. My friend’s father designed the cameras that flew in some of the first missions to survey the moon. After the first successful reconnaissance, he developed the film in his laboratory and was shocked to find enormous structures on the dark side of the moon, which could be nothing but an alien base. While he and his friends and my friend, surveyed the photos in the lab with an amazement that must certainly rewire your whole belief system, rumors spread and shortly government agents arrived to confiscate the film. Whether this is true or not, I’d like to think this isn’t the only speck of sand in the universe with some life on it.
Perhaps, the Aussies aren’t that screwy—now, this is my theory—maybe the Aussies have been replaced by body-snatching aliens. What better place is there to hide a base camp of flying saucers than in the Australian outback? These flies—“We wouldn’t be the same without ‘em.”—are probably alien drones programmed to re-sequence human DNA. And, obviously, the alien’s secret plan for world domination is—
“Ah! Dang flies. It bit me.”
“G’day, mates. Come to Australia. You’ll love it.”
* * *
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