Day after day, I watch him come in and out of the building, I watch him walk the halls of our group home in nothing but boxer shorts and a low hanging t-shirt some nights, I watch him do chores and laugh and play with the other boys. And often I wonder...if I'm the only one that stares at him this way. His beauty just CAN'T be lost on the other boys that reside here....I don't care HOW straight they are. They've gotta 'notice' him, even if they're too scared to say anything about it. They know. He's just...this total jewel of a person, you know? A walking work of art. He deserves to be stared at.
"What are you looking at, Riley?" My best friend, Mark. Hiding my attractions from him is beginning to get more and more difficult by the day. Especially with boys like Asher around.
"Nothing, I'm just...I'm zoning out, that's all." I told him, still trying to catch a peek or two when Mark wasn't staring me in the face.
"I swear....you need your head examined. You zone in and out of consciousness all day long. And it's getting worse, man. I've seen goldfish with a longer attention span than you." Mark said, but my eyes were still trying to take a few glances of my adonis. "Maybe you've got that 'A.D.A.D.' thing..."
"That's A.D.H.D., Mark. And, no, that's not it. I'm just thinking. That's all."
"Well, whatever it is, dude..you need to put a freakin' LEASH on it or something so you can stop being such a damn zombie all the time when I talk to you." He said. But I didn't allow his comments to distract me too much from my thoughts at the moment. I was a bit too involved in my position as a group home 'groupie'.
You know...the second somebody mentions a 'group home' kid, they instantly imagine that we're all extremely troubled teens that keep one foot in a prison cell and the other in the supposedly safe public streets of the city. But that's really not the case with most of us. We're just...boys who didn't get placed in foster homes when we were young enough to appeal to adoptive parents. That's all. Parents are looking to adopt 'kids'. Teenagers have a bad enough reputation as it is without it actually being YOURS to claim as a blood relative. So...once you pass a certain age and the adorability factor lessons a bit...we just kinda wait until we turn 18 so we can go out on our own. Maybe build a family and a home for ourselves to replace the loss of having one when we were younger.
They take good care of us though, the counselors and resident assistants. They teach us life skills and tell us how to prepare for the big bad world before it hits us right in the face. They give us shelter, food, stability...and all we have to do is a few chores a day and stay out of trouble.
The 'chores' part is easy.
Grabbing some lunch from the group home cafeteria, Mark and I stuck close together. But even though I was making a valiant effort to pay Mark some attention...the very sight of Asher in the same room with us distracted me from every last word that came out of his mouth. I couldn't help but be completely absorbed by the strong narcotic quality of his blessed and fascinating presence. Just watching him walk past the sunlit window was a magical experience in itself. Asher had this neatly cropped, preppy styled, sandy blond hair that would lighten or darken depending on the weather and the time of year. It was never anything less than perfect. At least in my eyes it wasn't. And he possessed a set of big, light brown, bedroom eyes that seriously gave you the 'tingles' whenever they spotted you, even in a crowd. He was tall and slim with a deep voice that had finally made the big 'change', recently pushing its way through the roughest parts of puberty to relax at the SEXIEST pitch imaginable. Asher was only a year older than me, but he had this really cute sense of unselfish maturity about him that made him seem older than his 16 years. God...what I wouldn't give to bury my face in the side of that long, slender, neck just ONCE..."DUDE!!!" Mark said loudly in my ear. "Snap OUT of it! I'm trying to talk to you here."
Ugh! "WHAT???" I asked, slightly annoyed by the interruption. "What the hell is it that you could POSSIBLY want from me so badly, RIGHT NOW, at this very SECOND? WHAT???"
"Geez! You know what, never mind then. Fuck it."
"No, you needed my attention soooo desperately, it was a HUGE freakin' emergency...so spill it! What is it? What do you have to say to me that just couldn't wait a few seconds?"
"You know, Riley...people just randomly 'talk' all the time. There doesn't always have to be some big profound reason for it. I just wanted to have a conversation with you...since we were going to be sitting at the same 'lunch table' and all. It's called friendship. Look it up some time." Mark said.
"Well, if you didn't have anything important to say, then stop treating it like it's some kind of an urgent matter that I answer you. Maybe I've got other shit on my mind."
"Other shit, like what?" He asked, and I suddenly remembered that I didn't really have a heterosexual answer ready for that particular question. "Right. I thought so." He said after my brief hesitation. And he walked over to sit down at one of the cafeteria tables to eat his lunch. I saw Asher across the room, smiling as he chuckled it up with a few of his friends, and when he chose a spot to sit down and eat, I made sure to sit at Mark's table in a strategic position where I could talk to him and keep Asher in sight at the same time. I know it sounds weird and stalkerish....but I was just sooo addicted to the very sight of him. Allured by the soft angelic features of his face. He once walked past me as we went through the doorway, and I actually inhaled deeply just so I could, like...smell him. I have no idea why....but it was something I felt I just had to do. When it came to Asher and my obviously 'abnormal' behavior, I practically had no choice in the matter.
Mark started digging into his dessert first. Don't know why he always did that, but it was a predictable part of his routine and I had gotten used to seeing it. "So I hear they're trying to get an 'Indiana Jones' marathon going for this weekend in the rec room. All four movies, with popcorn and everything. You gonna go?"
Still stealing peeks at Asher, I answered, "Nah. I don't think so. I might just stay in my room and read for a while. I'm not really in a big mood to be social right now, you know?"
Asher was eating some kind of soup out of a cup, and I swear that I felt a slight quiver below the belt every time that warm plastic spoon came into contact with those ever so suckable rose colored lips of his.
"That's too bad." Mark said with a smirk. "Because I've got a very 'special' activity planned for tonight that you might just get a kick out of."
"A special activity like what?" I asked.
"Party. A BIG one! Over in the middle of the forest preserve by the old golf course on the edge of town." He grinned. "DUDE! It's a kegger! College kids...you know? If we go over there really late, like around 1 AM after curfew, they'll already be half blitzed. We show up, they won't hesitate to let us join the party. Drunk college chicks, man! Tony and Brian went to one of those parties a few weeks ago, and they just walked right up to the keg and got a cup. No questions asked. And Tony even got LAID by a 20 year old! If they can do it, WE can do it, right? I mean...why not?"
Obviously, crawling on top of a mishy-mushy, half conscious, drunk chick was NOT my idea of a good time. Neither was getting 'wasted' in the first place. I could have put on this big front and gave him a 'maybe' just to give him the mild appearance of interest...but why even bother? It would just be procrastinating as I'd have to have the same conversation with him later on tonight. Mark isn't the kind of guy who takes hints. You pretty much just have to tell him no. Not that he didn't expect me to say that anyway. I used to put on the whole 'I Like Girls' mask...but it's getting more and more draining to do so. Especially when there's so many cute boys around me night and day, and I know I'd MUCH rather be with them.
Oh wow....Asher had this little bag of apple slices, and he was kinda munching on them in the most adorable way. I almost had to keep myself from sighing out loud. I saw Mark look up from his lunch, and quickly darted my eyes away from Asher before I got caught gazing at him. I, instead, pretend to be casually glancing around the room...and that's when my eyes landed on a boy that I had never seen before.
When you're in a boy's group home, it's pretty rare that you come across an unfamiliar face. In fact, it's damn near unheard of. He looked about 13 or 14 years old, with blondish brown hair, and these really 'feminine' eyes. Displaying a strange color of blue. Or maybe a complicated mixture of bluish colors. But definitely noticeable from a distance. Something about him held my attention, and seeing the look on my face, Mark looked over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of him too.
"Oh yeah...the freakazoid." He said.
"Yeah, he just came here last night. But he's not staying. He's like...transferring out or something the day after tomorrow. For some strange reason, he's been assigned to stay here while they place him in another district or something." Mark told me. "He's freakin' WEIRD, man. SO weird. I think there's something wrong with him."
I watched the boy as he looked all around the room. At the other boys, at the floor, at the ceilings, at the walls, at the food being put on his tray. It was just...so odd. Mostly because he almost looked as if he were seeing the walls and the floor for the first time. Not just in this building, but boys, walls, and floors, in general. "Something wrong with him like what?"
"Hell if I know. But whatever it is, it's safe to say that that kid is a 'few sandwiches short of a picnic'...if you get my drift."
I looked a bit closer, now even more distracted by this new boy than I was by Asher. It wasn't so much an infatuation...even though the kid was extremely cute. But I was drawn in by the visible oddity of his behavior. He just looked...a bit 'lost' to me. And yet, he seemed fascinated by his own bewilderment. Almost as if he were enjoying it to a certain degree.
He got his lunch...and he seemed to smile and say hello to everyone around him. Which doesn't sound so strange really when you think about it...but he said it with this sense of 'artificial' politeness. It's hard to explain. It's almost like the way I would say it if someone dropped me off in the middle of Russia, without me knowing how to speak a lick of the native language, and having to somehow try to find a human connection through the expression on my face and tone of voice alone. I wonder if he knows English? Or if it's his second language or something. He seemed kinda 'uncomfortable' with it.
"So are you gonna help me sneak out, or what?" Mark asked me, and I suddenly realized that I had stopped paying attention to him again.
"TONIGHT, dude! Jesus, do you listen to ANYTHING I tell you?" Mark put his sandwich down and wiped his hands off on his napkin. "Listen...Brian and Jeff are gonna distract Mr. Fitterman around 1 AM and say that they wanna talk about...whatever. Like...they're 'bi-curious' or some crazy shit like that. And while THAT'S going on, you and I go up to the roof, and I've got a rope ladder with knots in it that can let me down to the ground. Then I'm off to the kegger undetected. But you've GOTTA make sure that you're awake when I come back so you can let it down again and I can climb back up, or I'm SCREWED!"
I watched the new kid smile at a few of the other boys, and give them a nod and a friendly greeting, but they all just kinda wrinkled up their foreheads and gave him a weird look for being such a geek. He attempted to awkwardly push his hand out to shake and present a formal greeting, but the boys just mocked him and walked around him as though he wasn't even there. He didn't really understand. He seemed to be struggling with himself. It was like....he had the 'words' and the 'greetings' right...but the other boys still kinda shrugged away from him. Ugh...it was so freakin' AWKWARD. From his smile to his movement from the cafeteria lunch line to an empty table, where he sat all by himself.
"RILEY!!!" Mark hollered at me.
"FINE!!! Jesus! I'll do it!" I said. "What time are you planning your big 'escape'?"
"I TOLD you already. It's 1 AM! Dude, c'mon, don't fuck me over on this one."
"If you get caught, Fitterman's gonna blow a gasket. You know that, right?"
"We're NOT gonna get caught!" Mark said. "Not if you do what YOU'RE supposed to do and get us in and out."
"Sighhhh....whatever." I told him. "Just...don't have me up all night waiting for you and you don't come home."
"We're just going for a LITTLE while. I swear! It'll be awesome!" And then, once the strange new boy looked at the contents on his tray, almost not knowing where to start with his lunch...I watched as he figured out how to pull the tin foil top off of his jello cup. He then turned it upside down and tried to shake it out onto his tray. And when that didn't work, he brought it up to his lips and tried to 'lick' it out of the cup. What the hell was he DOING??? Mark looked back at him, seeing my focus being stolen, once again, by another boy in the room. "What the fuck is he doing NOW? Does he NOT know how to eat jello?" After a few tries, he put the jello cup down and found his plastic spoon. He looked at how some of the other boys were eating theirs, and took their example. He then began to dig the jello out of its cup, a big smile spreading out across his face as he watched it jiggle for the first time.
Mark was right. He was definitely NOT like the rest of us. He turned the plastic cup upside down again and now that he had taken a spoonful or two out of it, he let the jiggly green colored gelatin fall to his lunch tray. Not from a 'normal' distance, either. He like...raised the cup over his head, and dug it out with the plastic spoon until it plopped down to his plate, making a bit of a mess. And then he picked some up with his fingers, toyed around with its consistency, sniffed it, and put it in his mouth. I heard Mark laughing at him, but...I don't know...something about him really confused me. It was like...like...he didn't understand anything that was going on. Like a baby, trying to figure things out for the first time. Some other boys walked past and laughed at him for being such a nerd, but I don't think he fully understood that either. He smiled and waved back to them, attempting this fake laugh as though he was trying to 'fit in' with the crowd of teens that were teasing him. I practically felt awkward enough for the both of us.
It wasn't until he observed the other boys actually using their utensils to eat the jello that he seemed to catch on. And he began to imitate the people around him as he dove into his lunch.
"Alright, so we're on for tonight right? You'll help me get out of here?" Mark asked.
I told him, "Dude...I swear, if you get me extra chores over this, I'm totally gonna kill you."
"It'll be FINE! It's worked out, and I'll be back before you know it. Just make sure you do your part, and maybe I'll sneak a bottle home to keep in our room. Deal?" He asked.
I sighed, but didn't think much of it. "Deal. Just....be back on time, ok? I don't feel like being up all night."
I saw Asher get up from his table, ready to throw his empty wrappers and all in the trash, and I knew that his hall was at the other end of the building, but he had to pass my room to get there. I already knew the routine. I had done it many times before over the last six months. I just...I needed to leave when he left.
"I've gotta go." I told Mark.
"Go? You just sat down, like, five minutes ago."
"I know, but...I'm gonna, like...eat in my room, or something." I said, and gathered my stuff up quickly so I could follow Asher out. "Come get me later when you're ready to sneak out, k?"
"Sure thing." Mark said, and we both looked over at the weird transfer boy again. Mark shook his head. "Is he trying to PEEL a freakin' APPLE??? What the hell is WRONG with him? He's crazy as cat shit, I SWEAR he is!"
I left the table and returned my tray to the same place that Asher was at the same exact moment. I didn't want to be TOO obvious, but I timed everything just right to stand next to him as he threw away his wrappers in the trash. We were practically shoulder to shoulder...even though he was taller than me. And I smiled and mumbled, "Hey...." Trying not to shake myself to pieces in front of him. Asher turned to look me in the eye, and my insides turned to mush as he gave me a smirk and a nod.
"S'up?" He said, and then he put his tray down and turned to leave. It might have only been one syllable...but my GOD...it felt as though he had just serenaded me with a full blown love ballad as far as I was concerned. This is one of those times where I feel so WEAK...allowing such a simple thing to excite me this way.
I put my tray down too, and gave Asher some space in front of me to walk down the hall as I followed closely behind him. Not saying anything or even giving him a reason to acknowledge my presence. I just....I wanted to 'watch' him for a few minutes more, I guess. Admire him from a safe distance, where my fantasies could still run rampant while the reality of him possibly liking women could remain a conveniently unanswered question. That was all I could ask for. At least until I gathered up the courage to at least...'talk' to him with more than one word sentences.
I walked down that hallway, staring at the back of his head and shoulders, his trim and sleek waistline, the movement of his sensually shaped ass as it flexed with every step under the frustrating cover of faded denim jeans...trying to imagine what it would be like to just...be heading to the same room with him or something. Trying to imagine how awesome it would be if we were actually walking together right now, hand in hand, going some place private to kiss with our shirts off, and enjoy the intimacy of two boys who truly loved each other outside of the social judgements of everyone watching. I mean, yeah...sometimes I had hardcore sexual fantasies about Asher that would make a porn star blush. But most of the time...I just wanted him to hold me, you know? Sometimes I could just lay back on my bed and create visions of us sharing a passionate kiss and get the same effect. It wasn't all blowjobs and buttsex...I was truly, hopelessly, infatuated with him. And I couldn't even speak to him.
I could have made an attempt. I could have walked faster and tried to make a 'connection' with him for the first time. But I didn't. I swallowed it whole, like I always do. Like I HAVE been doing over the last half year of sharing the same space in this building.
So...when I reached my room, and Asher kept walking towards his...I slowed my pace down to a complete stop. And I...just let him go. I watched him turn the corner at the end of the hall, and I refused to pursue him. My feet wouldn't let me. My FEAR wouldn't let me. It sucks, I know. But ONE of these days...I'm gonna get the guts to follow him all the way back to his room. One of these days, I'm gonna really have a real conversation with him. And then...if I test the waters enough and think it's safe...I might even tell him how I feel about him. Yeah...maybe 'one' day.
But not today.
I stood there for a moment, longing to see him again and already missing his beauty, and then turned to go into my room. But standing there behind me, nearly scaring the living SHIT out of me, was the weird kid from the cafeteria. He was standing there, practically nose to nose with me, wearing a giant, creepy, smile on his face, and he spoke to me. "Hi!"
I tried to hold back a weird look, as he just seemed so anxious to make a new friend. "Hello..." I replied. He kept smiling at me without saying another word, staring me in the eyes. And it kind freaked me out. So I slid my way past him...and then I backed into my room, slowly closing the door in his face.
"Goodbye!" He said from the other side of the door. And then I heard him walk away. Jesus. He IS weird.
The rest of the afternoon blitzed right by me. The biggest event was that I masturbated over the idea of Asher and I having hot sex on the ping pong table in the rec room. I don't know why that felt so sexy to me, but something about it brought me off really fast this time. I felt this aroused little tingle for the rest of the evening, just from thinking about him on top of me. That boy does weird things to me, I swear. I wonder if he masturbates too? Oh wow...that would be SO hot!
I was already yawning and wanting to go to bed when Mark knocked lightly at my door. Great. Here we go. I was hoping he'd forget. The second I opened the door, there he was, freshly showered and all dressed in black. "You ready, man?" Sighhh...whatever. I guess I DID promise.
I put on some clothes and a pair of shoes, and I followed Mark up to the roof. There was a secret little staircase that was almost always locked, but Mark had found a way to jimmy it open and lock it back without being noticed. Making it an excellent escape route any time he needed one. The rooftop of the building was silent. Dark. I saw some beer cans here and there, lots of cigarette butts and paperclips with tiny burnt out joints in them, and a dirty magazine tucked away in a corner by the ventilation fans. I take it that Mark was far from being the only one who knew about this place.
Mark opened up a metal box and pulled out the long rope ladder. "Here. We just hook these onto the big nails over there on the ledge...I climb down...and you pull it back up. That's all there is to it." He said, and I agreed. We went to the roof's edge, and I just happened to notice something scribbled on it. Some kind of weird...'symbol' thingy that I just figured was some kind of graffiti. But it was almost....glowing. Weird. Mark hooked the ends of his ladder to each nail, and tossed it over the side of the building. It was on a corner, so he could avoid all the windows on either face of the group home. Clever. He quickly shuffled his way down to the ground. "One AM, don't forget, Riley! Don't fuck me over!" He whispered loudly from the ground, and I assured him that he didn't have to worry. And with that, he was off. Running into the darkness to go be a part of some normal part of growing up that I guess I should be envious of. Some rite of passage that I was denied by being...different.
Sure, there were times when I wished I had it as easy as the other boys. But honestly...nothing that they do really interests me the way it's supposed to. Like...ever. Maybe I wasn't meant to fit in. Maybe I'm not destined to be a part of things like everybody else. Who knows?
"I absolutely LOVE your sky!" Came a voice from over my shoulder, and I jumped. So startled that I nearly dropped the rope ladder over the ledge as I was pulling it up.
I looked back over my shoulder to see that super weird transfer kid again, walking out of the shadows and marveling at the dark sky overhead. "What the hell are you DOING up here?"
"I followed you and your friend. I'm sorry, I don't sleep as much as you do. 'Day' and 'night'...they work a little differently where I'm from." He said plainly as he walked further out onto the roof, not taking his eyes off of the air above us. "Wow...it's breathtaking." He sighed with awe. "Our sky is never this dark. We don't get to see as many stars as you do. Not all at once like this. But...looking at it now...it's so beautiful. It's almost like you can see the whole universe from here."
"Ummmm...what the hell are you talking about?" I asked, almost annoyed now by his confusing level of abnormality.
"Your sky! I mean...aren't you completely blown away by it? Aren't you mesmerized by its beauty? The stars all look so different from this angle. They're completely rearranged. And your moon? It's silver. Oh, that is so...'cool'!"
Shrugging my shoulders, I told him, "It's ok, I guess."
He looked down for a second to smile at me. "Oh...well, I suppose you're used to seeing it this way, huh?"
"They don't...have a sky where you come from?" I asked with a touch of sarcasm.
"Not like this." He said softly. I said it as a joke, but I think he took it seriously. Then, he suddenly started walking towards me REALLY fast with his hand out and an even bigger smile. I cringed and instantly started to move back from the unpredictable nature of his speedy approach. "Hi! My name is Cairo!" He said happily.
"Your name is 'Cairo'?" I asked, trying to settle my nerves enough to shake his hand. "Like...the city?"
He smiled. "YES! Like the city!" He gasped excitedly. "I love Cairo. That's where my ancestors used to dwell." I pulled up the rest of the ladder and moved away from the edge of the roof to put some distance between me and 'psycho boy'. But whenever I moved in one direction, he moved right along with me, step for step. Grinning like a toddler on a sugar high. "I am SO happy to be here. It's my first time, so I am only allowed to stay for three of your day cycles. But it has been an enlightening visit. I really feel a touch of sadness...knowing that I have to leave soon."
"Right...you just transferred in for a day or two, right?" I asked, and he seemed a bit confused at first.
"Oh...yes. Transferred in. Indeed." He said, and looked back up at the sky again. "Fascinating." He whispered to himself, staring to the point of distraction. "Look at that one...OOH, and THAT one! Don't you see them??? WOW! This is beyond belief." He saw me not really understanding what the heck he was babbling about, and his arm lashed out to take a hold of my hand and roughly pull me forward. I didn't even have a chance to protest. "LOOK! You see that star there? And that other one over there?" It was kinda hard to see what he was pointing at. I mean there's a million stars up there in the sky. Hard to pinpoint just one with the point of a finger. "And you see that little cluster of stars, right over there? They're not even THERE anymore! They've been dead and gone for over a century now. But HERE...here you can still see them clear as day! Amazing! I've only read about those stars in books. I never thought I'd ever actually get a chance to SEE them."
"They're...not there anymore?" I asked.
"No. You see, that one in the center died...there was a huge explosion, and there's a giant black hole there now. It sucked in all the stars and moons around it a LONG time ago. But to see it now...WOW...it's like nothing ever happened. It's almost like those stars are still really there....looking at it from this distance, anyway." He said. "I guess you guys won't see it like we see it for another few hundred years....but...if you can catch sight of it...the explosion is one of the biggest in recorded history. It's legendary to most civilizations. If only you could see it. It's like a burst of color...then a spiral swirl of light being pulled towards the center...and then total darkness."
"Cairo? Ummm...I'm not exactly sure what it is that you're talking about, but since you seem to be having soooo much fun with your little 'delusion' here, I'm gonna leave you to it and go back downstairs. K? Enjoy."
His smile dimmed for a second, and then he turned around to look at me as I headed back towards the door. He seemed confused. "But...but wait. Where are you going?"
"I'm going back to my room. And I suggest you do the same before Fitterman catches you up here. It could mean a world of trouble for you, believe me."
"But...Riley..." How did he know my name? I turned around to face him and he smiled again. "...I want you to be my witness."
"My witness. Every time one of us comes down for a study, we're allowed one 'visitation'. We can choose one witness of sound mind and intelligence to bear the message." He said. "I choose you."
I wrinkled my brow even more, and took a few steps closer to him. "Wait...I don't get it. Choose me? Witness? A witness for what?"
"Why...a witness for the coming revelation. The ultimate disclosure." He said. "You still have a ways to go yet, but it will happen in your lifetime, I am certain."
What the hell kinda drug induced cocktail was this kid on??? "Cairo...I'm afraid...you lost me here."
"Lost you?" He asked. "OH...lost...meaning 'confused'. And not 'misplaced'. I comprehend fully. Your expressions are so wildly detached from the actual meaning of your words sometimes. But I like it. It adds complexity to your languages." He said. WHAT??? "I will attempt to...'un-lose' you, Riley." Cairo came close and took a hold of my hand again. Why the hell was he so 'touchy'? "I needed to choose someone to tell the message to before I went back home. I picked you because of your strong sense of compassion, and love, and partially because of your inner conflicts."
"My inner conflicts?"
"For the other boy. Asher." He said, and I suddenly felt as though I had swallowed an entire brick and felt it drop down into the pit of my stomach. The blinding shock of TERROR that went through me as I tried to deal with the paralyzing concept of being 'exposed'.
"I don't know what you're talking about..." I said, now trying to pull away from his hand before anybody even saw me up here, holding hands with a boy and looking at the stars.
"Of course you do. He is the boy you experience feelings of love for. Am I mistaken?"
"Yes! Yes, VERY mistaken!" I said, and yanked back harder. "Can you let go of me please? Like...NOW?"
He let go, but he was baffled by my reaction. "What is wrong? Did I do something to insult you?"
"I told you, I don't know what you're talking about. There are no...'love feelings' for Asher. You hear me?"
But Cairo only smiled, and then seemed to get excited again. "Hehehe, if there is one thing that impresses me the most about your species...it's your absolutely mind-boggling ability to lie to yourselves and to others. I've never witnessed anything like it. I could almost say that it was an 'art' of sorts. A mental and emotional dance that is to be admired and appreciated." He grinned, staring at me in awe. "I am sorry if I offended you. I realize that homosexuality is...socially unacceptable amongst your species. Where I come from, the love and affection is all that matters. It is either given or taken, accepted or denied. There is nothing beyond that. No reason to harm or humiliate anyone who is capable of love. Your customs on this planet are much different. I meant no disrespect."
"On this planet?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. "Wait...wait..."
"So let me get this straight, Cairo...you um...you think you're an alien?"
"We prefer the term 'extraterrestrial', seeing as 'alien' has such negative connotations among many of your planets' inhabitants."
"Okaaaaaay...and on THAT note...I'm checking out of this little magic asylum and going back to my room." I told him.
"We search for the biggest stars, wherever we can find them. And we follow those paths to see the surrounding planets and moons to see what forms of life might have sprung up there. This planet was a VERY big find. A virtual treasure chest, if you will. Such a RICH variety of genetic material for us to study. Such a confusing and provocative system of rules, regulations, morality, sexuality, social norms...your kind is truly one of the most difficult and yet most rewarding species to study out of all the ones we've found so far."
I looked at Cairo's giggling face, and I started to laugh a little bit myself. "Ok, ok...har dee har! Did Mark put you up to this? Is that it? I get it, he gets me to come up to the roof, and then brings you out here to fuck with my head, right?"
His eyes widened. "Heavens, no. 'Fuck with your head'...? That sounds unpleasant."
"Ok, you can cut the act now. You got me. Ha ha. Now go away. The game is over, ok?"
"Hmmm...I'm afraid that you have...'lost' me, Riley." He said. "You humans are so quick to deny facts without investigation. You reject truth as though it were a threat to your peace of mind. I have tried to understand this phenomena, but it escapes me."
"Ok, listen to me very carefully...you are NOT from outer space. K? I'm not buying it." I said, raising my voice a little.
"How do you know?"
"Well, for one thing...none of the other planets in our solar system are able to support life."
"They are unable to support YOUR form of life." He told me. "But just as all life on this planet lives and thrives off of your oxygen, your water, your heat and your cold...so does the life on other planets and moons throughout creation. Those particular forms of life grow and evolve and adapt to their climate and atmosphere in different ways, that's all. But they operate with the same delicate symbiotic balance as you do. Some places, even more so." Then he tilted his head to the side slightly. "Why is it that humans think that all they know is all there IS to know? The ego is overwhelming. All this time and you're still convinced that the entire universe revolves around you. I find that delusion so interesting. Intelligence does go beyond what you've discovered so far, believe me. I applaud you for being a highly developed species, but to be completely truthful...as far as evolution goes, you're not that special." Should I have taken offense to that, or what? "In fact, from our studies...if I may be brutally honest for a moment...cockroaches are more evolved than you. They have almost 300,000 years of evolution over human kind. They're stronger, more efficient, they reproduce faster, they work together without error or prejudice...they're much better equipped to survive than your species could ever hope to be. Trust me, they'll be around long after you're gone. Fascinating creatures. I can't believe how they're treated here on this planet. You could be easily overrun if they were a truly malevolent species. But I believe they look at you the same way you look at them. Just...giant 'bugs' that happen to get in the way."
You know, the way that he kept looking around and staring at the sky with such childish wonder...you almost kinda wanted to believe him. I mean, he seemed to enjoy just breathing the air itself. It was so entertaining to watch, that I decided to humor him for a bit. After all, what else did I have to do besides wait for Mark to get back? "So...'Cairo'..." I started, holding back a smirk. "...You just decided one day that you were gonna leave the mother ship and come down here for a little visit, huh?"
He looked at me, seemingly puzzled. "Mother ship?" Then after a blink or two, he said, "Oh...yes. Mother ship. I have seen a great deal of your cinema. Very amusing. But no. There is no mother ship."
"No mother ship? Then how did you get here?"
"That, my friend, is a very long and detailed story. And it involves physics that your species won't stumble upon for many many years to come." He grinned. Then he took a breath, and walked over to touch my hair.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I am so very interested in your kind. You are all so beautiful. So 'individual' from one another. No two alike. You have no idea how rare that is among the life forms that we've encountered. It's almost as if each and every single one of you is a select species of its own."
"Okaaaaay, if you say so." I said. "So that's it? That's the whole story, you just woke up one morning and decided to come to Earth?"
"Well, only Earthlings call it Earth. To us, you're Raijjin-9. It means 'blue/green stone'. But then again...where I'm from, you're just a tiny little blue speck in the sky to us. We can only catch a slight glimpse of your planet once every....hmmm...I'd say it would be about 4 of your 'Earth' years. We don't get to just travel where we want without the proper training and guidance for how to survive. I had to earn several degrees in life form studies, star travel, customs, language, social sciences...it takes true effort and high marks to come to a place like this. And even then, I can only be here for a three day trial run before I'm whisked back home. This is my 'practice' run. If I do well...I might be able to stay longer next time." He told me.
"Riiiiight..." I said, hoping that he would eventually get bored and talk to me like a regular person. I mean this little game is starting to wear out its welcome here.
"Are you aware of how unreasonably FAST your planet is spinning right now. I don't know how you stand it. I spent the whole first day nauseous, just trying to get used to it." I watched as Cairo walked over to the big ventilation fan, and held his arm out to feel the breeze coming out of it as the loud hum of the spinning blades blew his wisps of soft hair backwards. "Your gravity is much lighter on your world. I feel like I'm floating half the time. It tickles. It's also extremely warm here. Hot even. We're much further away from our life giving star, so that also takes some getting used to. The first time I saw your sun, I nearly went blind from staring at it for too long. So close. So...BIG! I would think it would be terrifying to be that close to something so universally LETHAL."
I gave him some more of my undivided attention, amazed by the fact that he had yet to 'break character'. Not a snicker, not a blink, not even a stumbled word. Do you know how long you'd have to rehearse something like this to get it just right?
"So...that's what you wanted me to witness, or whatever? That you were, like...'here'?" I asked. "Because that's one hell of a wasted trip if that's what this is all about."
"There's no such thing as a wasted trip anywhere. Experience is the greatest treasure we can ever hope to have." He smiled. "I am curious about a great many things. As I am sure you are too."
I sighed to myself, and finally asked him, "You're just not gonna stop, are you?" He blinked once or twice, staring at me blankly. "Hehehe, I mean...c'mon...this is a JOKE, right? C'mon!"
Cairo paused for a moment, and looked back up at the moon. 'Our' moon, I guess. And then he looked back at me and said, "I needed to choose a proper witness for my visitation. I believe I made a good choice with you. It was one of the things I was best at in my studies. But I only have one night left here on Raijj...I mean, Earth." He said, and then reached out to strangely feel the fabric of my shirt with his fingers. Then he touched his own sleeve, and smiled to himself. "Soft." WEIRDO! "I will be here, in this very spot tomorrow night. I would love to talk to you some more. Maybe you could answer some questions for me. Maybe I could answer some questions for you. But I'm pretty much required to make a connection before I leave, or I risk losing my chance at coming back someday soon." Blue. His eyes were so unnaturally blue. "I want you to meet me here tomorrow night. I'll allow you to ask me almost any question you like. And perhaps you can help me understand some of the customs that I haven't quite figured out yet. It would do wonders for my research."
"Are you serious? Because this whole thing seems a bit lame to me. Already, you're taking this stupid joke a bit too far. Eventually, there's got to be a point where you just cut it off and leave it alone. You know what I mean?"
"Hehehe...belief over truth. It's JUST like the textbook said."
"Human beings not only have this strange fetishism for competition and comparing numbers...but you also have this ability to violently defend your beliefs....even when the truth presents itself in plain sight. Your kind PREFERS the illusion. You reject anything outside of your normal experience. Fascinating..."
"Ok, will you STOP with the 'fascinating'???" I said a bit louder. "I mean, belief over truth...what does that even mean?"
"It means that you are more comfortable sticking to what you thought was true all your life than you are with the realization that you might have been wrong all along. There are many other life forms that easily accept new information and push forward to learn more, much like your computers, but you humans are so bound by tradition and pointless ritual that you refuse to go beyond the many things that you have been told over an extended period of time. You'd refuse ANY truth that seemed abnormal or out of sync with your past teachings, wouldn't you? It slows down a species' evolution considerably when they get stuck in patterns of learned behavior."
I squinted my eyes slightly, and looked at him sideways. "Ok...so let's just say for a moment that you really ARE what you say you are..."
"But, I assure you, I am." He said.
"Yeah, whatever." I replied. "Are you telling me that there is another planet out there, just like Earth...that's full of intelligent life?"
"Of COURSE there is. Do you know how unfathomably HUGE the universe is? Surely you didn't think the whole of existence revolved around YOU, did you?" He giggled at the thought. "There's life all OVER the place! The Sombrero galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, Cainin Major...which you're on a collision course with, by the way. Did you know that? When it collides with your Milky Way it's gonna be QUITE a spectacle!" He got more excited as he spoke, practically bouncing on his heels. "There's even life on six of the over 60 moons orbiting Saturn. You might think that all life is either super advanced or simplified single celled organisms...but in all honesty, most of the life we found on other planets and moons are just like you. Just average beings of higher intelligence and a potential for great achievements...all just trying to understand and find their place in the grand scheme of things."
Cairo should seriously write this stuff down. It could make for a cool sci fi story or something. "So these...'other' life forms...they're like us?"
"Well, not exactly like you. Naturally, every species looks different, acts different, has their own set code of ethics and social structure. But the basic theme is the same." Then he added, "And they're not as 'violent' as your species is. Not by far."
"Hehehe, you think we're violent?" I said. "I can't really argue with that one."
"Yes....out of the 897,213 documented civilizations of intelligent life that we've discovered across the universe so far....in terms of most violent, human kind is ranked at number six."
"NUMBER SIX???" I gasped. "Out of fucking 800,000 species???"
"Closer to 900,000, but yes."
"Well...there ARE five other species ahead of your planet. But you fell to number six only because of your aversion to acts of savage cannibalism. You don't devour your own kind. In MOST cases, anyway." He said. "You seem surprised."
"Surprised??? That's putting it lightly."
"Hmmm...have I offended you?"
He was genuinely worried about insulting me, but...I was the one being strange for even buying into this. Even for a few seconds. "No, it's just...geez, to tell you the truth, I'd be pretty ashamed if I knew you guys looked at us that way."
"We don't mean to shame you. That is not our goal. We want to study your cultures and attempt to understand why you do the things you do. Maybe then we can help you. After all the suffering and conflicts...your species is capable of such great displays of beauty. Art, and music, and cinema. We've learned much from watching you. Even through your worst hardships and tragedies, your kind demonstrates great acts of kindness and spiritual strength when needed most. The inhabitants of Raijjin-9 are some of the most complex and intriguing forms of life in the known universe. Please don't think for one moment that we look down upon you and your achievements. Every species evolves at its own rate, in its own time. We are here to make observations, not judgements."
There was this weird pause in our conversation, and it seemed as though he was smiling at me...waiting for me to ask more questions. I can't really explain it...but the way he looked at me was unlike anything that I had ever experienced before. He really did look at me as though a small child was at the zoo or something, seeing some exotic 'animal' that he had never seen before. It was a look of unrestricted joy. A trance of curiosity mixed with the slightly timid caution of approach. I had to ask him, "Cairo...listen...can I ask you something?"
"Yes. You may ask." He grinned, giving me his full attention.
"Do you..." God, I hope he doesn't flip out on me and try to push me off the roof or something. "Do you...really BELIEVE what you're saying to me? I mean...like...really?"
But his smile only widened. "I suppose the real question is...do YOU believe me?" Then he asked, "Do you?"
I could have given him an answer, but instead..."Listen, I think...I think I'm going to go inside now. I'll...see you later, or something."
"Tomorrow night. Your night time. I will be here on this roof. If you want to learn more, and teach me more, this is where I will be." He said proudly.
"Yeah...you know, I don't know if I'm really gonna be up for that. You're nice and all, but...if you don't mind me saying so, this is a little weird for my tastes."
Cairo came over to me, and for some reason gave me a HUG. Not a regular hug. It was clumsy and strange, and he almost didn't know what to do with his hands. "Well...if you change your mind, I will be here. And you can be my witness before I leave. Ok?" And then he let me go. "Aren't you just a little bit inquisitive about what I have to offer you?"
I connected my gaze to those strangely aqua blue eyes of his. They were the most 'extraterrestrial' thing about him. But after getting a good look, I said, "Maybe."
"Very good. I'll take that as a 'Cool'." He giggled. "No wait, that's wrong. Well, I'm sure you understand my meaning. Collect your questions, and bring them with you. I am so anxious to see what you have to say."
I don't know why I even feigned that level of interest. Much like with Mark, I should have just come right out and told him that I wasn't coming back. But....then again....who knows? Maybe I should consider this a bit more. If for no other reason than it's extremely entertaining.
"I'll see you later." I said, backing way towards the door.
"Goodbye, Riley." He answered, and he tilted his head back to look up at the stars some more. Such a peculiar boy. Seriously.
I watched him for a second more...and then closed the door. Naturally, I wasn't going to allow myself to give my 'sane' mind over to the idea that this was some weird teenage alien visiting from another planet. But....I don't know. There was something about him. Something that wasn't your everyday brand of 'crazy', you know? And that alone kept me awake until Mark came home that night.
I spent hours thinking about him. About some of the things he said and the way he said them. I mean...it didn't sound rehearsed or made up out of thin air. I think he believes himself to be the real deal. And something about that made him...as HE would say...
The next morning, Mark woke up with a bit of a hangover. I was scared half to death that he'd fall from the top of the rope ladder when he came back plastered from his forest kegger party. He stayed in his bunk bed with a blanket covering his head, moaning every time he heard even the slightest bit of noise from out in the hallway. That's what he gets for partying too much. Let the punishment fit the crime, I always say.
I sat down on the edge of his bed, and he groaned lazily, turning over onto his side to face the other way. "Ugghhh...what do you want? Leave me alone."
I sat there for a minute, and I said, "I talked to the kid last night. You know...the weird one?"
"What? The transfer student?" He asked.
"Yeah. His name is Cairo."
"Cairo? What the hell kinda name is Cairo?" He mumbled from under the blanket. "Well? Is he totally butt fuck crazy, or what?"
I thought about it for a second..."Well...he didn't really SEEM crazy. But..."
"But? But what?"
"Well, he KINDA said..." I can't believe I'm about to tell him this. "...He thinks he's from another planet."
Mark slowly lowered the blanket from his face to look at me over his shoulder. Then he snickered to himself and covered his head back up again. "Hehehe, brilliant. I certainly hope that they keep that kid way from sharp objects and certain varieties of porn."
"No, Mark, I think he's serious. I mean...he's totally convinced that he's from outer space. I mean...what the hell is that all about?"
Mark let the blanket come down again for a second, but he was just staring blankly off to the side of the bed. "He might have just been yanking your chain to see what you would do. A kid like that, no friends...he'd probably use any gimmick he could think of to get people to have a conversation with him." Then he thought about it a second and added, "I heard Fitterman talking with Counselor Davis once about some kids who have, like, weird reactions to separation anxiety and all. They move around a lot to different group homes and orphanages, and they just come up with these crazy stories just to feel...like...'special' or something. They're not really insane or anything, they just feel more comfortable role playing than they do just being themselves. Maybe this 'Cairo' kid is one of those."
"Hmmm...yeah. Maybe." I said, but...the compulsive urge to talk to him again wouldn't leave me. And it wouldn't really accept that as a scientific explanation for what I had...taken part in the night before. Something about that conversation just didn't sound all that 'delusional' to me.
At that moment, I heard a familiar voice out in the hallway, and I saw Asher walk by with one of his friends. Instantly stealing my attention away from everything else in existence.
"Ummm...hey, you know what? I'll be right back. K?" I said, getting up from Mark's bed.
"Riley? Can you go to the cafeteria and bring me back one of those ice cold Ginger ale cans, and maybe one of those little packages of powdered doughnuts from the vending machine?"
The way he said it was so darn pitiful, how could I say no? Besides, my pretty pretty heartthrob was getting away. "Sure thing. I'll see you in a bit."
I dashed out of the room, but made sure to stop and start walking casually again once I reached my usual safe distance from Asher Denton's radiant glory. I followed behind him and his friend, step by step, straining my ears to hear his cute voice as they exchanged words in their playful conversation. Silently, I prayed to myself that he was actually gay. That he was just wearing a mask and putting on a show the same way that I was. That maybe...just MAYBE...there was a space for me in his life, that I could curl up and force myself into...just long enough for him to learn to like me. Maybe even love me.
But again, these fantastic visions and surreal fantasies were only meant to be enjoyed from a distance. A rather long distance. LIGHT YEARS away from where I'd rather be. And after following him for as far as I could without being noticed, I slowed down my pace again, and ducked into the nearest staircase so as not to be seen.
Not today. Maybe another day...but not today.
I spent the majority of my day thinking about what Cairo had said to me on that rooftop, and tried to imagine what it would be like to experience the whole of the human race without having been brainwashed into knowing what to expect from our kind. Without having this...fixed historical background to act as the foundation for everything I know and everything I believe. To just...see things from a completely different angle. What the hell would Earth look like to someone who had never been here before, and was visiting for the first time? What would the differences be? How would they see us? It's easy to think we're the most intelligent life there is...when we're the ones SAYING that we're the most intelligent life there is. I couldn't seem to let the idea of it go. As mentally unstable as he appeared, Cairo had definitely sparked somewhat of a frenzied pattern of thoughts that had never really crossed my mind before. And going back to see him that night became an opportunity that I didn't want to reject.
So...after a few restless hours of tossing his claims back and forth in my head, I actually sat down at my desk...and I started to write a few questions down. You know....JUST to test his 'psychosis', of course.
The sun set, the unusually warm day had cooled off to something a bit more comfortable, and once the coast was clear...I journeyed back up to the private staircase and made my way back up to the roof.
Sure enough, Cairo was up there waiting for me. I saw the dirty magazine at his feet, but he was, instead, feeling the leaves of some strange weed that had grown up the side of the building. He's like...14 years old, he has a choice between a porno mag and a 'plant'....and he chooses the plant. If THAT doesn't scream 'alien being', I don't know what does.
When he saw me approaching, his eyes seemed to sparkle with joy, and he smiled from ear to ear, hurriedly walking over to greet me with a tight hug. "Riley! I am SO very happy that you came back. I would have been 'lost' to find another boy worthy of being my witness if you had not showed up."
"Yeaaahhhh, right. Um...can you let me go?" I said, feeling a bit awkward in his bear hug crush. He let me go and took a step back. "You know, we all don't hug each other and shake hands ALL the time. Sometimes...we can just say 'hello'." I told him.
"Ahhh, I see. The subtleties of your culture are hard to distinguish sometimes. I shall remember that." He walked back over to the weed like branches at the edge of the roof, and felt the leaves on it again. Almost as if he were petting it. "You know...your planet has such lush vegetation, but it also gives birth to some of the most predatory forms of plant life that I have ever witnessed."
"Yes. The growth patterns, the alluring fragrances, the spores and pollen, the seeds...you may not realize it, but almost all of the plant life on this planet has an agenda to overtake everything around it, by any means necessary."
Ok, just when I thought he couldn't get any crazier...."But...it's just a plant."
"Every form of a life has a plan, Riley. And while these creatures may not move and communicate like you do...they are fighting to survive pretty much the same way you are." He moved closer to me with a grin. "Take your fruit, for example. The plant protects its seeds in the center of the fruit, but it makes it flavorful and juicy and fragrant...this attracts animals, such as yourself, to eat it down to the core once it has ripened. Then the seeds are free to plant themselves into the dirt once again and create more vegetation. This is no accident, it is by design. The roots of your trees dig deep, the spores of a dandelion float on the winds to find other spots to land and multiply. Pollen can attach itself to your clothes, your shoes, your hair...they're very parasitic in nature. It's astonishing that you humans aren't terrified of them, really. Gone unchecked, they could completely destroy your civilization as you know it, and flood the planet with more aggressive plant life than you could ever hope to control." I think Cairo saw the look on my face and could tell that I was totally confused about his current topic of conversation. So he let go of the plant and turned to face me. "I see that you have questions." He smiled, nodding towards the neatly folded piece of notebook paper in my left hand.
"Ummm...yeah. I guess I do." There was a moment where I felt really silly about it, but Cairo seemed to be so unashamed about this little exchange of ours that it actually began to warm me up to the idea.
"Very well, then...let us begin. We have, by my calculations, one hour and four minutes." He said.
"That's it? I thought...you weren't leaving until tomorrow." I said.
"That IS tomorrow." He replied, and I looked at my watch. 10:56 PM....shit.
"So you're leaving at midnight on the dot?"
"'On the dot'? What an odd expression. I doubt I will ever learn them all." He grinned. "Yes. I will be departing...'on the dot'." Cairo seemed so happy to have learned a new slang. Or...at least to HIM it was slang.
"Well...I guess I should hurry this along then."
"Oh no. Please don't hurry yourself. I would very much like to interact with you fully. It may be many years before I get another chance like this."
"Ok, suit yourself." I said, and opened up the piece of paper to look at my list of questions. I scribbled some of the 'dumb' ones out, and tried to make out the rest of my chicken scratch by turning the paper sideways. My first question, though, had been bugging me since last night. "Cairo...how did you know my name?"
He blushed slightly, and he reached up both hands to feel his cheeks as though he had never experienced that before. "Your thoughts."
"Your brains operate on electrical charges. Thoughts, actions, emotions...and I am sensitive to those charges. Through a small decoding process it allows me to monitor your thoughts and feelings as you experience them."
Appalled...invaded...I felt my jaw drop slightly. "You've been reading my mind?"
"I wouldn't say 'reading'. I just happened to notice. It would be like...walking past a television and accidentally catching some of the dialogue from the current programming. That's all. I would not have noticed if it wasn't for the strong impulses I received concerning the Asher boy."
Omigod, I was SO embarrassed. "So...you 'saw' that? Or...I mean...'heard' it, or whatever?"
"Yes. But there is no need to be embarrassed. I thought the impulses you were feeling were beautiful. Nothing to feel sheepish about. It was refreshing. It was heartfelt. That is the main reason why I chose you to begin with. Anyone, exhibiting such feelings of unselfish love must surely be able to receive the message."
"Why is that?"
"Because in order to love someone, you have to be able to transcend beyond yourself. Beyond ego, and greed, and pride...and truly put your trust in something that is not only intangible, but fragile in more ways than you can imagine. It is a leap of faith. An advanced understanding. The ability to put yourself in an emotionally vulnerable position for the sake of someone else. That is the quality that a witness needs in order to be able to see beyond what he has been told is the truth. It is a necessity for further enlightenment."
"Right." I said, still trying to keep up with his answers without the idea of him being completely BONKERS slowing my absorption rate down. "How is it that you...like, 'talk' like the rest of us? The whole universe can't speak English."
"Oh heaven's no. I had to study many years to learn to speak your language. I was at the top of my class. I assure you though, it's a very difficult way to communicate."
"Well...what language do YOU speak where you come from?" Ugh! Riley, what are you saying? 'Where you come from', don't be ridiculous!
"We don't have a language where I come from." He said. "We speak telepathically. Emotions, wants, needs, and information, are simply transmitted to each other with our thoughts alone. I had to actually train very hard to learn to speak out loud. That takes a LOT of practice. We're very used to having our thoughts conveyed through thoughts alone. The only thing we really do 'vocally' is laugh and cry...and perhaps express feelings of ecstasy during sexual functions.. Hehehe!"
"So...they NEVER talk on your planet?" I asked.
"No. Not really. In fact, the first few hours that I spent here, I found it extremely noisy. And one thing that I noticed was...with all the many spoken languages on your planet, you seemed to have developed them more to hide true emotion and information than to express it. It's something that we have never managed to figure out about you all." Cairo picked up a small rock from the rooftop, and I watched him drop it over the side, watching it fall to the concrete. "Hehehe, your gravity works so softly. It's like magic." Then he tried to regain his focus. "Tone of voice was the hardest part of your language to learn. The pitch and the emotion conveyed through particular cases of emphasis, is nearly impossible to understand. I don't have the time, I DON'T have the time, I don't HAVE the time, and I don't have the TIME...can mean four completely different things, concerning the context of the sentence. Then you have to factor in sarcasm, slang, metaphor, and double meanings...it's all very complicated. But I studied and passed all of my exams. I guess you could say that I have somewhat of a passion for your kind specifically." He said. "Please...ask me more."
Looking at another one of my questions, I asked, "You said that your...ancestors had been here before? What did you mean by that? Like...more aliens have been here before."
"Oh yes! Many many times! Many many different species as well." He said. "Which reminds me, your planet has a rather unhealthy infestation of Greys, did you know that?"
"What the hell is a Grey?"
"You know, the small creatures, bald, grayish colored skin, big black eyes? The ones your books describe as the typical 'visitor'? They're not really 'aliens' as you would think of them. They're somewhat intelligent, yes. But most planets just become infested with them, much like your locusts. Or perhaps mice. They move from planet to planet and set up hives. Most species recognize them right away, but Earth seems to have allowed them to burrow deep and multiply due to the denial of their existence. They won't really do much HARM...not on a global scale, anyway...but they can be pesky critters when it comes to the wildlife. Abductions and mutilations and all of that. You humans should really get that taken care of."
"Yeaaaah. We'll...um...do that." I told him with a raised eyebrow.
"To return to your question, we have been here many times before. We come and go all the time. The variety of life on this planet is mind-blowing, so you are a major habitat to study and report on." Cairo then folded his legs and sat down on the rooftop, inviting me to do the same. "There have been other species that came to your planet when it was still very young. But we have no idea where they might have gone to. We have found structures like your pyramids and obelisks on other planets and moons, but none of us have really discovered where they came from or what species designed them."
"It wasn't you?" I asked. "I mean...your...'planet'?"
"No. Whoever they were, their civilization is much older than both of ours put together. But chances are we might never see them again."
"Why not? Can't you just...'go there' to their planet the way you came to ours?"
"Hehehe, no. It's not that simple. Galaxies MOVE. Nothing in the universe is stationary. Whatever race of extraterrestrials visited Earth back then, their planets, moons, and galaxies, have probably spent the last 2 or 3 thousand years traveling further and further away from you at speeds that you can't even imagine. The chances of them coming back are slim. Not impossible...but slim."
"But like...you guys...you, like, 'found' us?"
"Yes. It took some time, many explorations, but your solar system appeared to be a good place to search for intelligent life, and what we found was amazing. It's not unlike people on your planet looking for gold or drilling for oil. To find it...is a treasure beyond words." He said.
"So the whole...the big UFO Roswell crash thing..."
Instantly, Cairo rolled his eyes. "Ugh...don't even mention that. You know, a lot of species are still very upset about that incident. Raijjin-9 was considered what you humans would call a 'slum' for many many years after that. Very dark period. A lot of hostile emotions surrounding that."
"So you're...telling me that was REAL? Do I have that right?"
Cairo leaned forward and said, "Well...let me put it this way...an extraterrestial ship crash lands on your planet, the passengers become lab rats and are basically tortured to death, their ship gets dismantled, and even though everyone denies their existence...human technology suddenly takes an evolutionary jump the likes that it has never seen before throughout its entire history. Does that not sound a bit strange to you?"
"Hehehe, are you saying we 'car jacked' them for their technology?"
"Everything from the microwave to the atom bomb. Digital television, computers, microchips, fiber optics, Kevlar bulletproof vests, night vision goggles, home video game systems...even the technology to get you to your moon was stolen from them. They even stole the lava lamp. Many other species are still quite upset about it. It is what you humans would call...a 'touchy' subject."
"Hehehe! You can be very convincing, you know that?" I chuckled.
"You still do not believe me, do you?" He asked. "Your kind can be so very hard to teach. You accept almost nothing unless the information has become used and stale and in desperate need of updating. How is it you have learned to adapt when you think this way?"
"Gee, I don't know, maybe because it sounds crazy."
"What is 'crazy', other than a concept that operates outside your current perception of common knowledge?" He asked me with an innocent tilt of his head. "Everything that we know and everything that we are, is as normal and as natural as the rest of creation. Whether other people understand it or not."
"Well, if it's so 'normal' and 'natural'...why don't you show yourselves to the rest of the world? If it's so natural, why do you hide?"
"I don't know. Why do YOU?" He asked, and I instantly felt the impact of him striking a chord against my sexual orientation.
"That's different." I said.
"Is it? You don't want people to know who you really are because of the discomfort and the awkward reactions of the others who are different from you, but exist in much greater numbers. There is danger in being too different for your peers to understand. Am I right?"
"Sighhh...ok, MAYBE you've got a point. But still...couldn't you give us a sign or something to say, 'hey, here we are'?"
Cairo shook his head softly. "I am afraid not. Any advanced race is instantly suspect of being malevolent. Your kind's first protocol would be to study our weapons capabilities and match them to their own. And if ours were more advanced, they would deem it logical to create a preemptive strike against us to protect their way of life. We don't want violence, we simply want to bring your form of life into the collection of others that we've found so far. But we have to do it slowly. And your species is almost ready for the revelation. It will still be some decades yet, but you're reaching a level of evolution that will soon be able to accept the coming message, and your cultures can combine their knowledge with ours to help us find even MORE life out there among the stars. That is what we have been waiting almost a century for. It's a very exciting time."
"We're not ready?"
"Not quite. But very soon. You are in, what we call, a 'technological phase'. Where your species is making great advancements in almost every aspect of human life, but your curiosity pushes you further than you should probably go at this point. Much like children playing with matches." He told me. "But eventually, your advancements will become so far beyond anything that you've ever seen before...that moral questions will become much more prevalent in their implementation. That is when your kind will begin to cultivate a global consciousness that operates on more than just the consequences for your actions. When that awareness has reached its peak, and the human race is ready...they will be given access to all we know. And we can share the knowledge we have collected so far."
I wrinkled my brow. "You can't share it with us now?" He laughed at me.
"I'm sorry, Riley, but that isn't possible. Not yet. We've SEEN what you do with that level of knowledge...and from the Crusades, to Nazi Germany, to the Native Americans, to you current war in Iraq...we would be foolish to give you direct access to such information. Other planets are not to be 'conquered' and 'converted' to your way of life. Merely observed, and awakened. Humanity as a whole still has a long way to go before they can be trusted with these things, I'm afraid."
"So...you're saying we're irredeemably flawed, is that it?" I said, almost hurt by the bad image. Forgetting that I was supposed to be treating this as a game. I don't know...maybe a part of me wanted to believe.
"EVERY species is flawed, Riley. But some are flawed in ways that are dangerous to life all over. No behavior is irredeemable. You simply have to learn. Human beings still operate from a culture of EXTREME self importance. You still believe that you are the center of the universe and that all life is meant to take a position beneath your superior intellect. We cannot allow such ego to further your advances out into the rest of creation."
"What makes you think we're all so evil? I mean...I think you're being a little HARSH on us, don't you think?" Heh...little Riley...attempting to defend the human race. Who would have thought it possible?
"It's not about 'evil'. That is a matter of perspective. Again, we don't make judgements, we make observations. Look at the society around you. Do you have any idea how many reflective surfaces there are on this planet? The buildings, the skyscrapers, the fountains, the glass...cameras, and video, and audio recorders...your species is obsessed with itself on a scale that hundreds of thousands of other planets aren't. Your sense of identity is geared so addictively to self worship that there isn't a single aspect of your society that isn't corrupted by it. Even many of your acts of kindness are done with the idea of self gratification in mind. And your amazing ability to lie to yourselves and others only enhances the self destructive effects of it. Even when the truth is presented to you, your belief system is programmed to defend itself. It refuses to accept new ideas, new possibilities. Belief over truth. Instead of seeing a new way of thinking as an opportunity for growth, your kind sees it as a threat to their stability. And therefore it is rejected, ridiculed, and blocked from all methods of conversation and debate. But you can change you way of thinking. And as a global community...you can eventually overcome the pride and prejudice of the 'one' authoritative voice to discover the truly unique parts of your world, and yourselves. THEN...you'll begin walking the path towards the great revelation. And we will be waiting."
"Geez...you're not really one to pull punches when it comes to visiting another planet, are you?" I said.
"Pull...pull punches? I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Nevermind." I looked at my watch again. Only 20 minutes left. Where do I even begin? "I've GOTTA know...what's your planet like? Hell, what is ANY other civilized planet like?"
That made Cairo very happy. He grinned as a touch of nostalgia glistened in his unnaturally blue eyes. "My planet? It is truly beautiful. Very different from your Earth, but beautiful in its own way. We are much further away from our sun, so it's much colder there. But for us it's rather comfortable. Experiencing 75 degree weather and hotter on your planet was a shock to the system. I suppose your body's perspiration glands keep you from overheating, but to us...living here would be VERY uncomfortable without your cooling devices. We have white sand beaches, and large oceans..but they aren't made of water. It's a consistency that I doubt you would be able to imagine. I suppose it would be similar to your element, Mercury. But purple in color." He said, and I tried my best to imagine it all. "We have 7 moons. All are inhabited. Sometimes, during certain parts of the year, the moons are close enough to us where we can look up and see the lights of another metropolis on the moon above us. It's so close, we can almost wave to them." He grinned. "Other civilizations that we've discovered live on moons, and not planets. Much much smaller. Visiting another moon is similar to you visiting a large city here on Earth. I've seen some moons where you can walk in the same direction for just three of your Earth days and end up right back where you started. It's quite a different structure from what you're used to, I'm sure. But beautiful, nonetheless."
I hesitated with my next question. Because...well....I wasn't quite sure whether or not I really wanted to know. Whether the answer was 'yes' or 'no'....the definitive, undeniable, answer itself nearly cause a shiver to run up my spine. Maybe Cairo was right. Maybe holding on to our beliefs really IS a problem when it comes to the search for truth.
Either way...here goes. "Cairo...just...the fact that you're here, and that there's so much 'life' in the universe..." Don't ask, Riley. For the sake of your own SANITY...just...don't ask. "...I mean...does that mean that there's no....God?" It sounded blasphemous to even say it aloud, but the look of shock on Cairo's face brought me some temporary comfort.
"Of COURSE not!" He said.
"So...there IS a God, then?" I asked.
"Well...we're really not sure. Our species is looking for meaning and purpose the same way yours is. The same way ALL forms of life are."
"But...but I thought..."
"Riley...whatever it is that you may believe, it's not going to be destroyed by the knowledge of our existence. If anything, it should be enhanced by it, expanded even. If you have a purpose, a reason for being here, then why can't we? Why can't any of the many species that we've discovered in the universe? Every living thing has a different concept of what you call God. I've been to planets where God is the ocean. One where God lived inside of a giant volcano almost the size of your entire American country. And one where God lived on one of their fiery moons, that blazed a trail of light through their atmosphere only once every 16 years. But no matter where our travels have lead us, the idea of God has always been the same and it has always served the same purpose. To act as the 'source' of creation. The 'unexplained'. The ultimate answer to any list of questions that one could ever hope to imagine and more. That's all. We're ALL searching for a creator out there. And while some current perceptions of a deity may be a bit 'limited' in the grand scheme of things...the idea of life on other planets shouldn't destroy your belief in it. In fact, you should be even MORE intrigued by the concept of an intelligent being at the center of all this that is looking out for all of us together. Taking CARE of us. And that it is somehow waiting for all of us to put our differences aside...and 'find' one another despite the unbelievable distance, to unite in peace and love." Cairo said with a caring nod. Something about that answer...it just made me feel good. "You know...one thing that was EXTREMELY hard to figure out about your religions on this planet was their difference from your average fiction novels. But I suppose it's just something that I have to study more to understand. My marks weren't so high in those classes. Honestly, reading your written texts, I couldn't tell the difference between Mithras, Osiris, Jesus Christ, Robin Hood, Hercules, Paul Bunyon, Abraham Lincoln, Sherlock Holmes, or Superman. It was all VERY confusing to me, trying to distinguish one from the other and figure out why you humans seem to pick ONE story as the complete and honest truth and another as folklore. Especially while the storytelling aspect of using times, dates, places, and characters, are seemingly identical. Some stories are considered silly and 'far-fetched' while others are followed religiously without question. Even if it sounds just as fictional as anything else in modern literature. Intriguing cultural behavior. Hehehe, I have to confess that I was actually pretty disappointed when I found out that Metropolis wasn't a real Earth city. Not as I expected it to be, anyway. But Manhattan is a real place! Is Spiderman real?"
"Hehehe, sorry, but no." I said.
"But Bethlehem is a real place, correct?"
"So THAT story is true right?" He asked me.
"Ummm....well...like you said, belief over truth. Hehehe! Sometimes it's a GOOD thing."
"Ahhh...better not to know then? I think I understand. So BELIEF...can sometimes mean MORE to an individual than the actual evidence. I believe it is starting to make a bit more sense now! I wish you had been there to help me with my studies, Riley. I would have scored higher." He giggled. "So is Paul Bunyon Real?"
"John F. Kennedy?"
"What about Justin Bieber?"
"Hahaha! Beings on other *PLANETS* know about Justin Bieber?"
"I was under the impression that EVERYBODY knew about Justin Bieber." He said, and I laughed out loud. "So....he is not a real boy then?"
"Yes! Hahaha! Yes, he's a real boy, just...wow..." I said.
He saw me laughing, and it made him chuckle as well. But he soon stopped, and with a serious tone, he said, "You should talk to the Asher boy. I think you may be surprised at what you find."
"What do you mean?" I asked, but he only gave me a smirk.
"Your impulses are not so different from his." What the hell was THAT supposed to mean??? Cairo suddenly perked up, as though a hidden alarm had gone off in his head or something. He reached out for my hand and looked at my watch. "It is almost time. I apologize, Riley, but I must depart soon."
"Already?" I asked, wondering how the hell an entire HOUR could have flown by me so fast.
"I'm afraid so." He said. "Our visitation has to come to an end." He began to stand up, and I felt this....incredible 'loss' inside of me. I had all but abandoned my previous skepticism and thrown myself into his story wholeheartedly at this point.
"But...but wait! I have so many more questions!" I said, getting up as well.
"As do I, Riley. But I'm afraid that I have to leave at a precise moment in time to provide me safe travel back home. The calculations have to be precise." He said, and he walked over towards the edge of the roof.
"So...so wait..." I said, trying to get a few more questions in. "How did you get here? I mean...how do you 'travel'?"
"That is much too complicated a question to answer in the time that I have left. But do not worry. Your kind is very close to finding the answer, believe me." Cairo stepped up on the ledge, and I trembled as I wondered whether or not he was planning to jump.
"Cairo? What the hell are you doing?"
"This is my travel point. See?" He pointed downwards, and I saw that he was standing on the same weird symbol that I had seen the night before. Glowing just as brightly as it was then. "This is where I depart from."
"You really shouldn't be on the edge like that. Why don't we both go inside...and maybe talk some more."
Cairo smiled knowingly. "Your doubt returns. My, how your species fascinates me."
He looked up at the stars again, and then back down at me. "It was a pleasure to spend some Earth time with you, Riley. I will make sure that my class knows that your kind is both bright and compassionate beyond our wildest dreams. I do believe that some of our past visitors have been mislead in their perception of you. What I have seen has been a blessing."
"WAIT!!!" I said in a slight panic. Anything to squeeze in a couple more minutes. "What about...um....what about our planet? Is it...is it almost 'done'? I mean...like global warming and stuff? Are we doomed?"
Cairo fixed his eyes on the sky again, as if he was looking for his exit. But he attempted to answer me anyway. "Hehehe, you have nothing to worry about, Riley."
"You world is indeed getting warmer, weather is changing, but the same is happening to all of your surrounding planets. It is a natural part of a cycle that is leading up to an inevitable planetary alignment." He said calmly. "It is no different then your four seasons, changing from Winter to Summer and then back to Winter, except...instead of a one year cycle...it's closer to a 25,000 year cycle. It predates all of your recorded history, so I would assume it s a frightening occurrence to deal with for the first time. But I assure you...it has happened many times before and it will happen many times again. Your planet will get warmer and warmer until it reaches the peak of its cycle...and then it will begin to naturally cool down again as its secondary orbit takes it further away from your sun. Slowly guiding you on another 25,000 year journey towards your next global ice age...and then back again. Summer...Winter...Summer...Winter. You understand?"
"So...we didn't screw it all up with our environmental disasters and all that?"
"Hehehe, no, Riley." He said, still gazing...searching for a sign in the stars. "Your planet has survived a billion years of hot molten volcanic eruption, immeasurable earthquakes and storms, and apocalyptic impacts from the farthest reaches of space...I think it can handle pretty much anything its tiny inhabitants can throw at it. As long as you don't go too overboard. You'd pretty much have to want to destroy the Earth on purpose for that to happen. And even THEN, it might put up one hell of a fight."
There was only one more question that I had to ask, and as I had only a minute or two left...I didn't want to lose my chance. "Cairo...will I ever...see you again?"
I couldn't understand the sudden attachment that I felt for this...misfit of a kid that I had only spent maybe a collective total of two hours with in my whole life. But for some odd reason...it almost hurt to think that he would suddenly vanish, never to be heard from again. I think I enjoyed this more than I had expected to.
Cairo stepped down from the ledge...and he gave me a hug around the neck. I finally allowed my arms to wrap themselves tenderly around his soft middle, and as he clung to me he asked, "Is this the appropriate expression of affection for a departure?"
"Hehehe, well not when you say it like THAT, but...yeah. I'd say you got it about right."
He gave me a squeeze, and then let me go. "You have to always remember, Riley...that you're not the center of the entire universe...but that doesn't make you any less special. Or any less unique. It doesn't mean that you have to give up your religion, or that you have to feel small or inferior to species who have evolved faster than you have. All it means is....we're not alone. Any of us. We're all just trying to find our place and our purpose. And the only way to get there is together. Take pride in being a part of something much bigger than yourself. And know that we need YOU to reach our full potential as a part of creation itself...so that we can all someday find what we're looking for...out there in the great big black." He smiled.
"Please just...if this was a joke...you'd tell me right?" I asked with all sincerity. "I mean...how do I know if any of this is real? How do I know that what you're telling me is the truth?"
"It's not about truth, it's about belief. Isn't it?" He smiled. "Do you believe me?"
Conflict. "I don't....I don't know. I WANT to, but..."
Cairo smiled, and took a hold of my hand as he moved over to stand beside me, almost cheek to cheek. "Do you see that star there, directly horizontal from your moon?"
He lifted my hand up for me, and folded my fingers down to point to it. "I...think so." I replied.
"Ok. Now follow your finger upwards towards the next star, and back again towards your moon. It makes a very small, but distinct, triangle." He said. "Now...what do you see in the very center of that triangle?"
"Precisely." He grinned. "That is where my planet is. It's millions of light years away from here, but the light from my planet is still traveling INCREDIBLY fast to get here. It just hasn't reached Earth yet. Your planet is a lot older than mine...so we can see your world, you just can't see ours. Not yet. But you WILL. One day. And within your lifetime, I'm sure of it. The light from my planet is almost here."
"So what are you saying?" I asked.
"If you come out here one night in the future, and look at your evening sky on this very date, at that very spot....eventually, like magic, you'll be able to see a small flicker of light where there wasn't one before. When the light from my planet reaches Earth...that will be your proof. That will be me, waving at you, and wishing you well." He said. And with another quick hug, he walked back towards the ledge to stand on his magic spot. "Just remember, Riley...believe in us....like we believe in you. Above all things, just know that...you are not alone. You never were." Then his eyes seemed to focus on something above my head, and he smiled. I looked up at the stars, but I didn't see anything so special. Nothing out of the ordinary. But...when I looked back down again....he was GONE.
My very first impulse was to rush to the side of the building. Thinking that he had JUMPED! Oh GOD....I'd never forgive myself if he had jumped! But there was no body down on the concrete below. No splatter, no mess, no rope, no pipe, no open windows or ledges. Cairo was simply...'gone'.
I did spend a few minutes checking every nook and cranny of that rooftop, but as far as I could tell, he had vanished without a trace. And while my rational mind continued to look for an explanation that made sense...a trick, a gimmick, a puff of smoke...there was a wondrous child in me that simply smiled to himself...and submitted to the fact that Cairo was a boy from space, and now he was on his way back home.
The next morning, I awoke with a beam of sunlight warming my face through the bedroom window. All my life I had seen the sun, but today...I seemed to take a special notice of its radiance. The whole thing seemed like a dream to me, until I heard Mark say, "So...did you talk to the 'freakazoid' again last night or what?"
"Heh...yeah, I talked to him, alright."
"Well what?" I asked, smiling as I gazed blankly out the window.
"What did he say? Is he fucking bananas or what? What did he tell you?"
I looked over at Mark, and I said, "He told me exactly what I needed to hear."
"And what's that?"
I thought about Asher for a moment. I thought about being gay and being different and never once feeling like I really 'fit' like I was supposed to. But then...I thought about Cairo's words, and I said..."I'm not alone." I grinned at Mark, which he matched with a look of total confusion. But that didn't matter. Hehehe, because I felt GOOD! REALLY good! And THIS time, when I heard that familiar voice walking past our room...I got up out of my bed, fixed myself up as best as I could in the 30 seconds that I was given. And I bolted out of that room as quickly as my bare feet could carry me.
I saw Asher walking with a friend of his, but...instead of just following him aimlessly, I took a deep breath, and for the first time ever...I called out his name. "Asher?"
He turned to face me in the group home hallway, and I caught up to him...my stomach turbulent with a nervous quiver, my breath short with unrestricted infatuation. "Yeah?" He said, not knowing me al that well, but giving me the chance to speak. Arrrgh! Now that I've come this far...what the hell do I SAY???
"Listen...I know you don't know me, and that's....cool?" Wait...is that what I wanted to say? No no no no! I should start over! No WAIT! No! Just keep going! "I just thought that maybe....I wanted to know if..." I looked into those big bright eyes, and found myself completely lost. But I pushed forward, and gave it a shot anyway. "I know how to get to the roof." I blurted out.
"The...roof?" He asked.
"Yeah. I mean...I know this spot on the roof where...you know, we can see the city and the....and the stars and stuff..." It was the most socially awkward thing that I have ever done, but I couldn't stop now. It would be a BAD thing to stop now. "I just...we never talk, and I see you all the time, and if you wanna get to know one another a little better as long as we're staying under the same roof and all..." I rattled it off in one long sentence, but I was afraid if I stopped that I'd lose my momentum and never get it back. Luckily, Asher stopped me instead.
"I know who you are, Riley. Hehehe!" He said.
"Of course I do. I just...I kinda thought that you never wanted to talk to me. Which is fine, but...you know, whatever." Then he asked, "Did you say something about the roof?"
Dreamily, I tried to keep my heavy sighs to a minimum. "Yeah...um...do you think, maybe...we could hang out some time? I mean...it would be a shame to waste our sky, you know?"
"OUR sky?" He giggled.
"Well...uhhhh...you know what I mean."
He thought about it for a moment or two, and yeah...I guess it WOULD seem kind of strange for me to be doing this all of a sudden. But after a brief hesitation, he said, "Alright. Sounds cool. I'll come by your room later and we'll make plans."
"Definitely." And then Asher SMILED at me! And not just like, one of those smiles where he's just trying to keep from laughing in my face either! This was....'nice'. And my life, as I knew it....began right there in that hallway. Bringing me to where I am today.
I'll have to admit...I looked for that spot that Cairo told me about in the night sky every year for a long long time. I remembered the position by heart. I even went to the observatory a few times to see if the powerful telescopes there might give me a glimpse of this so-called far away planet. But as the years went by, and I got older, I kinda stopped searching for its existence. It didn't matter anymore. After all, it was like he said...the belief of what he told me that night on the rooftop of that group home meant so much more to me than the evidence. And whether Cairo was really from outer space, or just some screwed up teenager looking for attention...he made a major difference in my life. And he made me think differently about...well, just about everything. And that was all that I really needed to know.
One evening, shortly after my 43rd birthday...I went out in my backyard to lock the gate. And curiosity got the best of me. So I looked up at the night sky one last time...and I traced the path from the moon, to the horizontal star, up to the second star, and back again.
And right there...faint...but clearly visible...was a very dim sparkling light. Right in the center of that triangle. A light that I KNOW wasn't there before, because I had been searching for it since I was 15 years old, back in that group home, waiting for my answer. I stared at it, feeling my chest swell with excitement, and I smiled so wide that my jaw dropped open. A boyish burst of energy EXPLODED inside of me, and I just couldn't contain it for a second later.
"Asher! Baby, come look at this!!!" I yelled into the house. And my life partner hurried out to see what the fuss was.
"What, what? What is it?"
"I see it." I grinned. "I SEE IT!!!" I pointed up at the sky, and Asher had heard me tell the story so many times that he knew exactly what I was talking about and where to look for it.
"Yeah...Cairo." I said, and I felt Asher's strong arms wrap around me from behind, as he kissed my cheek. My GOD...I felt like a little KID all over again! It was a magical moment that overpowered every other except for the night that I kissed Asher on that rooftop for the first time. He held me close that night, my sweetheart, as that one tiny little flicker of light entertained my wildest fantasies for almost an hour straight. Well, I'll be damned. It took a lifetime, but his light FINALLY reached Earth. Raijjin-9. And hopefully, somewhere out there...he kept his promise...and he was wishing me well.
I believe, Cairo.