The Martians landed everywhere at once: in London and Paris, in Detroit and Chicago, in Hong Kong and Katmandu — and in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Which was where I was at the time.
There weren't Martians, of course. That is, they weren't really from Mars. Their home was Kurvaishas II, a planet occupying (to within a rough approximation) Earth's position inside of an alternate time-stream dimension.
(In their universe, Kunep explained to me later, God hadn't rested the Seventh Day, and that that had made all of the difference.)
But people called them Martians just the same. It seemed like the right thing to do, and they didn't seem to mind.
They landed at 7 am Eastern Standard Time, exactly twelve noon in Greenwich. Punctual folks, these Martians.
I was in my room at the dorm. Glaser. A part of the Carlton Road residential complex of Case Western Reserve University. (Three dorms, an eating place, four frats, and a couple of tennis courts.) Atop the only real hill in the greater Cleveland area. The middle dorm, nestled between Kusch and Michelson. (All three were concrete and brick structures, six stories high, and, when seen from above, shaped like a cross. X marks the spot, we used to say.)
I was supposed to be sleeping. I wasn't.
I was snuggled with Quilla June. We were in bed. We both had all of our clothes on. We were talking, as we'd been doing (more or less) the whole night, deciding what it was we should do next.
We both thought that maybe we were in love.
Quilla June was in jeans and a silk-screened t-shirt which read GLASER across the chest. Above the word on the shirt was a picture of the sun rising over downtown Cleveland. The sun was orange. GLASER began as orange and bled into yellow. The shirt itself was midnight blue. It was an impressive design and I had one just like it, but a size larger, inside my dresser drawer. Which is to say, the drawer of my bed.
"I don't know," Quilla June said. "I don't know if I want to commit myself."
The room itself was eight feet by ten. We were resting atop its largest fixture, the dresser/bed, which was wooden, three feet high by three and a half feet wide and six and a half feet long. A mattress was on top. I'd made up the mattress with sheets, pillow and a bedspread, and we were on top of that. There was also a closet, a desk on one wall with three shelves set above it, a chair, and a window which extended the entire width of the room.
It was through this that the Martians came. Or at least tried to.
"That is," she said, "I want to. I want to commit myself. I want to very much. But I'm afraid. I'm afraid, " she added, "of making the wrong decision."
She was crying.
I watched a tear form in her left eye and then, thanks to gravity (she was resting on the pillow, facing the wall; but I was between her and the wall and facing her face), dribble across the bridge of her nose and into her right. A second tear (or perhaps a continuation of the first) ran from there towards her hair and the pillow.
"Quilla June," I said, catching the tear with the backs of my fingers, "I —"
But she shook her head, or at least tried to, against the pillow (or perhaps trembled).
"There are," she said, sniffling as she did so, "so many possibilities. And no one criterion" — she sniffed again — "by which to select..."
She left the sentence unfinished. There was despair in her voice.
* The Martians, meanwhile, had made an appearance. They had popped out of the time-stream ether and into the space just outside my dormitory window. We were four floors up. The window was open but a screen blocked their path. They popped again (the sound of one finger inside of one cheek, quickly snapped) —
I looked up (a twist of neck) and out (bending of torso). There was no one there. (We were four floors up.)
"Dave...?" (Quilla June, on one elbow, was looking at me.)
"Hmm?" I said.
"Nothing," I told her. "Thought I heard something, but..."
— And popped a third time:
(Two half-tennis balls, eighteen inches in diameter, one blue and one green. Male and female (animal and plant), respectively. A symbiotic pair...hovering chest-high off the floor of my dorm room. (Quite a sight.)
They asked us (through holes in their undersides) if we knew of Laughter and where they might find it.
No, we told them, It wasn't that easy. Laughter was a thing you must find for yourself —
— But they stayed for an hour, in any case, telling us stories of themselves and their world, Kurvaishas II — of their boredom, of the exacting tediousness of bliss; of their discovery of the transmission signals (radio, TV, et al.) from Earth; of their decision to make the voyage; and of their quest for the big L.
"It is, we think," said Kunep, underside protuberance (and male sex organ) a-quiver with words, "a reason for life, to keep on li —
— At which point, (I'm sad to say: I did like the Martians) the building's fire alarm let out a scream; the alien pair vanished ("pop" for a fourth and final time); and Quilla June and I (along with the rest of the dorm's inhabitants) made quick exit of the premises.
("It's these first few moments of indecision," said a bleary-eyed Sam on the stairs, "that often mean the difference between life and death.")
There was on the first floor an all-purpose restroom for visitors; on its door was a sign used to indicate the sex of any occupants. The sign was a blue paper arrow attached to a red cardboard semi-circle. Someone, as a joke, had pushed the arrow past Men and Women to Other; and it made me think of the Martians.
Quilla June tugged at my arm.
"C!mon," she said. "Let's go."
A false alarm, the fire was — but we didn't know that at the time. The Glaser population migrated to Michelson, one dorm north, and there watched cartoons on the TV set in the lobby: Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny and Road Runner — Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes.
Quilla June and I snuggled on the sofa.
At 9AM, after the fire trucks had come and gone, there was a break in the action — as a news report detailed the arrival and subsequent departure of the Martians. All of them, it seemed, had vanished: returned, presumably, to their natural place of origin.
"Wherever that might be," said one of the newscasters.
Quilla June and I, experts on the subject, were then exploring new horizons. There were, we decided (through mutual consent), even more possibilities than we had originally hoped for.
We didn't mind. (We were a bit late, I believe, for our classes that day. Didn't mind that, either.)
Hand in hand, we chose to meet the world: one male and one female, a symbiosis of sorts — together, at least, until the boredom set in.
There was time for that later.
Multiply-talented NEIL RENTON has sent us some short poems, as well as fiction pieces. He lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA.
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