I’d set up my tent in Campsite 51. When I got here on the weekend the sites were packed, but now everyone else had left. As far as I knew, I was the only one in the campground. I expected a peaceful vacation.
On Wednesday, my last morning, I got up and opened the tent flap and gazed out at the glorious morning light on the lake, the yellow and red October foliage of the woods beneath the campsite. Site 51 had a fine view.
There was a trail going through those woods below — I hadn’t explored it yet, but I’d heard a few other people rustling by when the crowds were still here. The trail was deserted now, so I climbed down the slope behind my tent to take a morning walk, still in the grubby sweatshirt I’d slept in. That was camping. Dirt, nature, no need to get dressed up… I’m not going to meet anyone else, anyway, I thought. I thought.
I’d seen the names of the various trails in the park at the Ranger Station the other day and knew this one must be the Lake View Loop. I walked along, watching a bathing blue heron and a couple of egrets.
Eventually I saw a gap in the trees ahead. I pushed myself around a bend and emerged expecting to see some great vista. But all I saw was another bunch of campsites. The trail just threaded around the base of the sites and came up in the back of Site 88.
Kind of a dud, the Lake View Loop. Instead of taking the trail back to my tent, I started to cut up through Site 88 toward the paved campground road that wound over to Sites 50-59. But I never made it to the road because then I almost tripped on a lone alien lying by the fire grate in a sleeping bag.
The alien looked like all the others: pale skin, giant bulbous head, long neck — just like we’d always pictured the aliens would look, in fact, in all those Roswell scenarios and “Close Encounters”-type things, before they actually came. But this alien’s huge black almond eyes were closed into slits, its mouth hung wide open and it sprawled one skinny arm above its head in a most undignified manner.
I peered closer. Was it dead?
The aliens were always dignified. They were always superior, strolling around, examining our ways. I once had one come up to me on the sidewalk when I was walking out of The Bean Café. It lifted my freshly bought cup of Fair Trade Guatemalan with its three webbed fingers, peered at it and asked, in that infinitely polite way they have, “What is the purpose of this liquid?” After I did my best to explain coffee (I wasn’t sure how to answer, “It is vital to life? Yes, no?”) the alien said, “Processing the information.” Then it left with my coffee. To do what with it, God only knows.
So far they never seemed to engage in real two-way conversations, nothing beyond gathering data. Everyone assumed they were some ancient race with vast stores of knowledge that they might one day impart to us if we could only find the key to communicating with them. They seemed distant, unreachable, supreme.
The alien on the ground in the sleeping bag made a snoring noise. It drooled.
It did not look supreme.
The alien snortled again. It turned over. “Takka tarka hum,” it murmured. It was actually kind of cute, like this. I was struck by the crazy notion that it was dreaming about being tucked in by its mom as a little alien kid.
Unfortunately I had to ruin the moment by stepping on a twig.
The alien half opened its eyes. “Takka?” Then it saw me and said, “Farko hey!” and sat straight up.
Immediately at the alien’s cry a huge RV materialized over near the power hookup in Site 88 and a bunch of aliens crashed out of the flimsy door. They saw the alien in the sleeping bag.
To us they always spoke very proper English, very polished and precise, but now the alien in front was speaking in highly irritated tones and gesturing around at the poor sleepy thing.
“Prakto lum nut zortinagel faz!” it sounded like it said, and the other one tried to explain, pointing at the sky and the trees and saying “Lossa lossa,” a lot. And then after all kinds of alien talk I heard the little guy by the fire grate say, “Experiment sleep under the stars. ”
At this the RV aliens looked exasperated. The head alien gestured back into the RV. “Zoonit inhur RV group camping experiment on the double.”
The alien rose from beside the fire grate, looking a bit sheepish. Then they all noticed me standing there watching this whole scene with fascination. They froze.
Surely they wouldn’t hurt me. No one had ever seen them act hostile. Maybe this was the fabled Breakthrough, the Moment of Communication everyone had been striving for all these years.
I waved. “Hi there,” I said.
They still stared at me, unmoving.
“Uh,” I said, and struggled to recall some of the words I’d just heard. I remembered the sweet look on the alien’s face as it talked in its sleep.
“Takka,” I ventured, and they all got wistful smiles on their faces like they were thinking of someone from long ago, and they nodded and said, “Ey, Takka.”
Buoyed by my success, I tried adding another word. “Farko takka.”
They lost the wistful looks. They looked really, really pissed. They burst forward from the RV holding what I swear were some kind of space blasters that materialized out of nowhere and blew the little wooden “Site 88” sign to smithereens.
“Farko tuuu takka!” they said, as I realized what I had told them — and ran for my life.
Erin Ryan is a freelance copy editor and writer who lives in Maine, United States.
This story was sponsored by
Rotten Little Animals — An unnatural novella by Kevin Shamel. Animals are people too! And that is messed up. It’s a crazy ride from the backyard to the Big Time. Zombie-cats, car chases, puppet shows, kidnapping! Fear your pets from this day forward…