Online since August 2002

The Holy Land
A novelette

Chapter 3

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

That's what we called them – on the sly, of course. We were supposed to call them our Extra-Terrestrial Co-Workers – ETCOWs, in anagram parlance, as per the original, and continuously updated, directive form The Holy Land's DTR, Director of Tyn Relations, Ms. Holly Poretz.

But we called them Bugs, shortened from the original Pill Bugs, a tag they'd earned for the habit of curling their stringy simian bodies into seamless orbs, just a bit bigger than beach balls, when confronted with perceived threats – a situation that was all too common in the kitchen of the Loaves and Fishes Buffet: If you told Elizabeth (Holy Land name) that she needed to move a little faster on the deep-sink scrubbing of the pots and pans before the sanitizing procedure of running them through the roaring dishwashing machine, she'd squeal like a squirrel and ball up on you, and roll in the direction of the floor tilt toward the central drain.

"Balling" them – giving our ETCOW/Pill Bugs a scare to elicit this evolved protective behavior – became something of a game in our workplace, back in the beginning, during the Inter-Species Integration Period (ISIP). A brandished knife, a shouted "BOO!", a purposely-dropped steel steam line insert pan banging on the floor – BANG! – and they would ball. Any number of things would have our small crew of aliens curled in on themselves up, ready for a good side-foot soccer kick.

These harassing behaviors on the part of us humans are now forbidden by HRO decree; and the Bugs are assimilating, feeling less threatened than they had in the beginning.

But it still happens; they still ball when provoked, and provoke them I did when I slunk out the rear entrance of the Holy that day in the first minutes of my banishment/suspension.

Parking lot I felt drained, wrung out like a dirty mop, as I stepped into the blazing sun and radiant heat that rose from the parking lot's surface. Squeaking – I heard them squeaking in their eerie language as they approached, two incoming Tyn room maids, the spider monkey bodies disguised by over-sized powder blue smocks. I stopped and looked at them, and thought, not for the first time, that if not for the striking whiteness of their hair, the nostril slits instead of the more prominent human noses, the too-large eyes, the faint olive green hue underpinning the chocolate brown color of their skin, that they could pass for human girls.

The Tyn on the left returned my gaze, forthrightly – almost brazenly, it seemed – and the stories of an underground sex trade involving the ETCOW slithered into my mind. There would surely be a market for it. Their "alieness" was no longer a repellent factor, now that we'd become accustomed to their faces; no longer a factor that would deter a determined man who harbored those particular proclivities.

They continued their approach toward the door I'd exited; and I stood there in exile – out of work and pay because of one of their kind. So when they both looked from me to each other, and giggled, like school girls, I snapped like a rubber band and charged them, roaring like a grizzly bear, with my arms above my head.

The girls stiffened; their big eyes widened further, showing the creamy white surrounding their sky blue irises. Their necks elongated (this was the point in the typical Tyn alarm reaction that our butcher, Toby Koenig had swung his knife); they squealed like scared rabbits, then curled themselves into their fetal orbs. My momentary feeling of triumph quickly faded. I dropped my arms and thought about God – The Holy Land maintained a surveillance system in the parking lots as well as inside the resort/casino. Of course. I knew this in my bones. I turned back toward the casino to see a security cart humming my way through waves of heat shimmer, as the two balled Tyn girls began to roll toward The Holy Land, riding the slope on the parking lot toward the back doors.

The security cart served to avoid one of the balls. A swimming pool net shot out from the passenger side to scoop it up as it rolled alongside. The other ball continued its pilgrimage, on a collision course with a big yellow Hummer – disaster avoided by a swift application of the big vehicle's brakes. The loose Tyn ball rolled on, bumping to a stop against the stucco wall beside the rear door, then bouncing back toward the parking lot, to be retrieved by a quick-thinking Holy Land maintenance man.

The security cart whooshed up to me. The guards debarked. The driver/crew chief, Angelina Diaz – a former Loaves and Fishes waitress who had moved up in the world – smiled brightly at me, the sunlight flashing tiny star bursts off her big white teeth and shiny black hair. With a sure knowledge of my suspension (no secrets from Security), she beamed, "Well, Mr. Neil Payne, it seems you just can't keep your butt of trouble, can you, my man?"

Published October 2007

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