The quaint, little bell in the small gift shop tinkled as the front door opened, and Marcy Durham looked up from her sales report, surprise evident on her face. It was a Tuesday, and very little happened on Tuesday mornings. Monday was the coffee special, and Wednesday was buy-one-get-one-free greeting card day, but Tuesday was nothing special. Marcy, the shop owner, had been expecting another quiet morning.
As such, the arrival of the two short men, precisely one minute after she’d opened, was a welcome break to the usual Tuesday routine. At first glance they didn’t seem to be the usual clientele her shop on West Reitman Street attracted, but they seemed even more out of place due to their nearly identical appearance. It was as if they had stepped off an assembly line and right through her door.
The two little men couldn’t have been more than three-and-a-half feet tall. They were dressed in identical gray suits, a size too large, with bowler hats jammed over slicked-back hair. One wore a yellow bow tie, while the other’s was bright green. Even so, the oddest thing about them was the fluffy, pink slippers they wore on their feet. She considered asking them if they had escaped from the circus, but thought her chances of making a sale were probably better if she didn’t insult them.
These strange little men were, in fact, the first known aliens ever to set foot on the planet designated as “OR-35”—what the indigenous life forms called “Earth.” Zort, the one wearing the yellow bow tie, stopped and surveyed the interior of the shop. His scientific colleague, Quigbat, paused just behind him. Zort was pleased with what he saw. Though the shop was small, there were more than enough shelves and aisles to provide ample cover for the pair to quietly observe the social interaction of the humans.
Since this was the first scientific mission to this planet—and their first mission as well—Zort had chosen this particular location because his research determined that it would offer a wide variety of humans for observation while still providing an adequate amount of safety. He took additional pleasure in the fact that they had arrived as planned—the shop was empty, allowing them plenty of time to find the best spot to hide and study.
He took a moment to glance down and assure himself that his disguise was still intact. The Molecular Manipulation Unit was functioning perfectly, and it continued to maintain the cohesion of the human figure—which his research called a “calendar model male”—around him.
Phase one, ingression, was complete.
He glanced over at Quigbat and indicated, with a quick nod of the head, that they should proceed with phase two: concealment. Quigbat nodded in understanding, and they moved deeper into the purple-lace atmosphere, sauntering towards the middle of the store, and doing their best to appear as though they were normal purchasers of Earth-based items.
The only human present was the owner of the shop, who they were expecting. She watched them, as they walked down the aisle, with a bemused expression on her face. Trying not be obvious, Zort observed her right back. Though she seemed tall to them, she was of average human height, either five-foot-six or five-foot-seven by Earth measurements. She had shoulder-length red hair that Zort had learned was caused by the mutation of a human gene. He was curious to see what an Earth mutant would look like, but she did not appear any different from what his research indicated an Earth female should look like. She was trim with the appropriate amount of appendages, most likely in the lower range of three Earth-based decades. Her normal appearance was a bit of a disappointment, Zort admitted to himself, but also a relief as well.
They reached the middle of the store, still scouting for the best spot for observation, when their small, hyper-sensitive noses were ambushed by a round-house punch of perfume, cinnamon, and flowers. These aggressive odors assaulted their noses, and Zort knew he had made a mistake—a terrible, horrible mistake.
Marcy stepped out from behind the counter and was about to approach her unusual customers when they froze, and their eyes widened in shock. Their breathing became labored, moving in and out with an audible wheeze. The one wearing the green bow tie let out a short, high-pitched sneeze, quickly followed by another and another.
Zort’s eyes began to water, and he felt multiple sneezes, like Quigbat’s, assembling in his nose. It was clear that his research had failed them—at least in regards to the odors found in human enclosures. He realized that analyzing a single location (a “restroom,” which had contained a very unique smell) for ambient odors had been inadequate. He should have expanded his inquiry to include multiple locations, especially the one they had decided to use as their first exploratory location. But, as the first sneezed blasted forth from him, he realized it was too late for that.
Their first mission, which had started out precisely according to plan, had turned into a complete and utter disaster. There was no way they could remain in the shop, much less blend in with the Earthlings. The priority now became getting away as fast as they could.
Zort tried to find Quigbat through his blurred vision so he could tell him to abort the mission. Quigbat must have come to the same conclusion, because he was also attempting to locate Zort through his own watery eyes. As a result, neither one found the other, and they stumbled around with their arms flailing about. Quigbat turned in circles trying to grab Zort, while Zort crashed into a rack full of postcards and sat down hard, pictures of a donkey wearing sunglasses floating down around him.
Alarmed by this sudden change in demeanor, Marcy made her way down the aisle and approached the two little men. “Are you guys okay?” she asked. The one on the floor managed to twist his head toward her and emit a noise that sounded like “glarrg”.
Glarrg? thought Zort. That does not sound like human speech. The translation matrix must be malfunctioning! He sputtered a few additional “glarrgs” before he realized that sound was all that would come out of his mouth. It was a literal translation of the only noise he could make at the moment.
In desperation Quigbat wiped his eyes clear and for a brief moment managed to locate the door they had entered through. Before his eyes blurred again, he found Zort on the floor, hauled him to his feet, and pushed him out the door—back into the cleansing environment of fresh air. The door slammed shut behind them, and Marcy saw them disappear down the street more quickly then she thought those short legs could have moved.
I need to relocate out of downtown. Too many weirdos, she thought as she began to pick up the fallen postcards and replace them back into the rack. Then, a bright sparkle caught her eye. Close to the spot where the odd man had fallen down, she noticed a small, cylindrical object on the floor. She picked it up and looked at it. It was golden and smooth. Almost metallic, but it was soft to the touch—yielding just a bit when she squeezed it. There were no markings of any kind, but it appeared to fit into something, as one end was double notched.
“Well,” she said out loud, “when those guys come back to get this, I’ll be sure to charge admission. Ye-haw to that.”
The doorbell tinkled again, and she whipped around expecting to see the funny little guys, but it was one of her regular customers. She greeted the customer with a wave and stuffed the last few postcards into their appropriate slot. Then she tossed the golden object into a pocket of her coat, which was hanging behind the counter, and continued on with her morning.
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