“There are no written ways to arrive at this,” Charles Tully said, “but I know, I know for a fact, Ben’s not… From around here.”

It was near closing time at the comic book shop on the corner of Fifth and Main. The blinds were drawn half-way and the neon signs strung up on the glass buzzed impatiently.

Aaron was boredly leafing through a culture magazine. “Well, you’re right, Charlie. He’s from Indiana.“No. When I say ‘not from around here,’ you know, I mean that he’s not from anywhere here. Here on this planet, here.”


Charlie leaned over the counter. He brought his voice to a whisper, despite the fact that he was working alone and Aaron was the only customer here. “The guy’s an alien. From outer space.”

“Oh my God,” Aaron said, “Here we go again with another one of your conspiracies. Here we go again.”

“This time, I swear to God, Aaron, I am onto something. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed the signs.”

There was a strange glint in Charlie’s eyes now, somewhere east of mania and west of terror. Aaron put down the magazine.

“The way he talks, first off,” Charlie continued, “is uncanny. Like he learned the language in school. Over pronouncing the consonants, lingering on the vowels.”

“Well, some people just have a certain way of talking. Or, I don’t know, speech impediments.”

“People don’t talk like that, Aaron. It’s not a lisp, it’s not a stutter, not anything like that. And it’s not from Indiana. Neither is his smile. Have you seen it?”

Aaron shrugged.

Charlie bit the inside of his cheek. “Whenever he walks into the shop, he gives me a wave hello with a smile. But the way his mouth turns up is wrong. One corner and then the other. One at a time. A slight delay, like he has to remember the polite gesture a foreigner should make to a local. To say, I’m one of you.” He shuddered. “Gives me the creeps just thinking about it. And then there’s the obsession with the solar system mobile.”

Aaron looked up at the ceiling, where nine paper mache planets were hanging by silver wires.

“He always stares at it, dead silent, for a good thirty seconds before ever coming up to make a purchase,” Charlie said. His eyes joined Aaron’s on the ceiling. “I think it reminds him of home.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Aaron scoffed.

“I wish I was.”

“You are, though. What kind of space-trekking alien would be mesmerized by those crappy balls?”

“A martian, naturally.”

“Jesus Christ.”

The sky outside had drifted into a sleepy purple, taking the sun down with it. The wind tugged at the empty road, the dying bushes. It was peaceful.

“The signs aren’t all so in-your-face obvious,” Charlie went on, “Most of them are more subtle. Things you wouldn’t notice at first glance. But they start to add up. The length of a step, the twitch of a hand. The head that turns slightly too far around, just one degree too many. You know, all these little abnormalities start to come together and you don’t want to accept what they’re adding up to. But you have to.” He swallowed. “Even if it puts your sanity through the wringer and makes you question everything you thought you knew about the world.”

At some point, the radio had turned off and Charlie’s talking started to fill in all the cracks, thick like cement in Aaron’s ear. The shop was quiet and the wind wasn’t strong enough to register through the window.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Aaron said finally. “The whole thing seems… Unlikely.”

“How much are these?”

Charlie and Aaron both felt their blood run cold at the sound of the voice.

Ben was standing a few feet behind Aaron, pointing to a box of vintage comic books in clear plastic slips. How long had he been in the shop? Lurking, behind a shelf, against a wall? Had he heard the whole conversation?

“The price is not marked,” Ben said. He smiled.

Charlie took a breath. “Oh. They’re all… Twelve dollars each.”

“Well,” Aaron said, backing away from the counter, “It’s almost time for you to close up, so I’m going to head out. Okay, Charlie?”

No. No. “Okay,” Charlie said, “you have a good night.”

Aaron zipped his coat and briskly walked to the door. He opened it, let the wind in, and disappeared.

Charlie was alone with Ben.

“We’re closing in about ten minutes” Charlie said, “Just so you know.”

“Thanks,” Ben said. He picked up the comic on the top of the stack. “I would like to make a purchase.”

Fighting every animal instinct in his body that told him to run, Charlie stood still behind the counter. He watched Ben cross the moat that was the carpet.

“If you blow my cover, Tully,” Ben said, placing the comic on the counter and offering another queer smile, “I can assure you my people will eliminate your entire bloodline.”