It was the middle of the night, and Dan couldn’t sleep. This was nothing new for him; every night for the last 15 years, his bladder had needled him awake at the witching hour—that time when all the clubbers have gone back home, and the city rests before clambering back to life for another busy morning. It was the one hour every night when New York City was impossibly quiet.
He softly sat up and massaged his trembling right hand. He tried to remember the date, but was unsuccessful. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the days had begun to blend together into a monotonous loop. Somewhere along the way, the weeks had turned into months, then years, and finally decades. Now, at age 40, it felt like time was a slow avalanche heading towards him, too big and powerful to escape. All he could do was stand at the bottom of the mountain, watching the snow inch its way down, waiting to be crushed.
He stifled a sigh, not wanting to wake up his sleeping wife, Amy. He quickly glanced at her slim shoulder poking out of the blankets, then her blonde hair as it fanned across the pillow. She snored softly like a potbellied pig, deep asleep from a hard day’s work. Despite the slow press of life, he half-smiled at his wife. Even after all the time he’d spent simply surviving, the sight of Amy’s exposed shoulder sent little flutters through his chest. He felt like he won the lottery because she loved him. She helped him more than she’d ever know.
He gently put the blanket up over Amy’s shoulder and stumbled out of bed, no longer drunk, but still buzzing. He slowly shuffled down his tiny hall to the bathroom, his good hand on the wall to guide him through the dark. Once inside, he closed the door, flipped on the light, and pissed out the six Miller Lite’s and three shots of whiskey he tossed back a few hours earlier. He finished and flashed himself a smirk of satisfaction in the bathroom mirror. His secret was still safe.
For the last 15 years, ever since his only child, Toffer was born, Dan would wait until his wife and son both fell asleep, usually around 10:30, and he’d slip out the door, careful not to make a sound as he closed it. Once outside, he’d fly down the one flight of stairs to his 1970s Oldsmobile Sedan and snatch the six-pack from his trunk he’d bought that morning. He’d guzzle down one beer after another, throat open for maximum speed, trained like a Jedi through 1000s of repetitions, all the while staring out into the night, looking at nothing, focusing only on the touch of the beer bubbles tickling his throat and the way his wobbly right hand gradually became steady. Immediately after he finished, he’d scamper across the street with the empty six-pack in hand and throw the lifeless bottles in the dumpster, getting rid of the evidence with a content bend of his toes. Then he’d rush back up the one flight of stairs, step inside his little apartment, and grab his fifth of Jack from underneath the sofa. Bottle in hand, he’d blast back three deep swigs to get himself really spinning. He’d slide the bottle back under the sofa and plop down in his La-Z-Boy staring blankly at the evening news, the spectacle of two Lester Holt’s swirling around the TV soothing him like the lullabies his mom should have sang to him every night when he was young. Gradually his eyes would grow heavy and he’d make his way to the warmth of his wife to get his four hours of shuteye.
Dan finished smiling at himself for being the best undercover drunk in New York City and trundled across the hallway to check on Toffer when his foot landed on something squishy underneath the little red rug with a cartoon hen, his wife had bought at a garage sale a few years back. Dan looked down and saw a lump bulging oddly out of the hen’s face, lifting the battered rug half-a-foot off the ground. He shook his head, “What in the world could this be,” he mumbled to himself.
Curiosity peaked, he bent down and reached underneath. A pencil thin, 10-inch purple tentacle with green suckers latched onto his arm. Dan, alcohol swirling through his blood, assumed it was a toy, perhaps a lifelike octopus Amy had bought Toffer a long time ago that had somehow found its way from the closet into the hall. He lifted his arm up from under the rug with the tentacle still attached and examined the toy.
He stumbled back and stared at some type of softball-sized octopus with unblinking dark green eyes that gazed back at him. Suddenly, a voice loud as a bullhorn echoed through his brain, “I have put a toxin into your body that stops you from making any noise with your mouth,” the octopus-like-thing thought to Dan. “You can use telepathy to communicate with me.”
Dan chuckled, thinking he’d somehow miscalculated the amount of Jack Daniels he’d drank earlier. He hadn’t allowed himself to get drop-your-pants-in-a-bar-and-show-your-penis drunk since before Toffer was born. He delighted at the long-lost feeling and decided to play along. “What are you?” Dan thought to the octopus as he studied its purple face devoid of nose and ears in the darkened hallway, only the bathroom light casting a slither of illumination along the wall and floor.
“I am what you humans call an alien. I come from a planet named Stellphase Arena 767 in your language.”
Dan shook his head and chuckled. “Damn. I’m drunk as shit,” he thought to himself.
He lifted his arm up towards his face, right hand trembling slightly harder, and examined the “alien.” It looked incredibly real. He poked his tongue out to give it a half-drunken lick, but it puffed its body to twice its original size, expanding like a balloon. Its tentacle tightened around Dan’s arm, and the little suckers dug into his flesh. Dan felt dizzy for a moment and then completely sober.
“I have pumped a chemical into your bloodstream to remove the alcohol distorting your reactions,” the alien shouted into Dan’s brain. “Now stop this foolishness.”
Dan stumbled backward and grabbed at his throat, gagging, unable to breathe. The thought of an alien in his little apartment pounded inside his brain, taking over everything. He collapsed down onto his knees. Moments later, he felt a cooling sensation flow through him, taking away all his terror. “Your response is quite normal, especially for a human as weak as you. I have pumped another chemical into your bloodstream to stop your biochemical reaction of panic,” the alien thought into Dan’s brain.
Dan rose back up to his feet, feeling slightly removed, but mostly normal. He locked eyes with the alien, and it was like looking into a can of emerald green paint. The octopus’s gaze was detached, unblinking, and he suddenly felt like he was an ant swimming in that can of emerald green paint, trying to escape, knowing it’d take everything he had to get out.
The tentacle tightened further around Dan’s arms, the hundreds of suckers jabbing through his skin like needles, and still, they stared each other down, neither blinking. Dan felt his trembling hand grow heavy, then his arm. Still, he couldn’t stop glaring into those deep green unblinking eyes, even though he felt like he was drowning, losing the fight inside the can of paint, his head about to dip underneath the surface.
Dan heard a crunching sound on his pinkie and felt a slight twinge, but it seemed far away, like in a dream. “What do you want from me?” Dan thought to the alien.
After watching Dan immediately succumb to a panic attack like his commander said he would, the alien held his head high, growing more confident. “I’m here to eat you, and then I will become a replica of you.”
Dan felt another crunch on his hand, still off in the distance. “How are you gonna eat me? You’re so small?” Dan asked.
“Here is how this works, human. I am pumping a pain blocker and blood coagulant, along with the panic removing chemicals, into your arm through the suckers on my tentacle,” the alien thought to Dan. “If you try to remove me from your arm, I’ll stop giving you the pain blocker, blood coagulant, and the panic removing chemicals. Your hand will start bleeding profusely, the pain will be unbearable, and you’ll start to panic again.”
“Why would I feel pain and bleed?”
“I’ve already bitten off two of your fingers. My body needs ten minutes to process them, then I’ll start to grow, and I’ll continue to eat the rest of your hand?”
The alien’s drugs continued to flow through Dan. He felt no pain or fear, only confusion. “Why me?” he asked.
“Because you are pathetic. You’re a middle-aged assistant manager at McDonalds who has no friends. And you never even talk to your parents or grandparents. Your wife and son love you, but you never try to give them a better life. Instead, you come home every night to this little apartment and get drunk by yourself before you pass out and wake up a few hours later at 4:00 in the morning to relieve your bladder. And then you always walk down this little hall over this little rug to check on your son who’s always sleeping in bed. My commander calculated that all-in-all, you are one of the easiest targets in all of New York City. You are easy prey for me while I’m in this enfeebled state.”
Dan’s mouth creaked up into a grin, and then he shot the alien the biggest, brightest smile he’d ever managed in his life.
“Why are you leering at me like that human?”
“I know why your commander picked me. He saw that I’m a middle-aged assistant manager who hates his job and doesn’t even know what day it is. And yeah he’s right. I do get drunk every night by myself, no friends to comfort me. And your little commander saw my thinning hair, and the black bags under my eyes, and my potbelly. And he put everything together and thought, I’m a soft pile of shit. But there’s one thing your commander doesn’t know about me. You see, my dad was a mean alcoholic, and after my mom had had enough of his temper and left, he turned his anger towards me. He beat the shit out of me every night. And I’m not talking a few slaps to the face. No, my dad used to break bones. So, you see, for a guy like me, a guy who went through the shit I went through growing up, this life I have is a victory. It’s a fucking miracle that I’m merely an alcoholic who hates his job and has no friends when I should be living on the street, getting drunk in front of a trashcan fire every night. What I got here in this little rented two-bedroom apartment with my wife and son, is like Bill Gates’s life for a guy like me. And let me tell you something else, those two fingers you chewed off, my dad broke those fingers twice when I was growing up, so I ain’t scared of a little pain and blood.”
Dan lifted his right arm above his head and smiled again. He was sober, yet his hand was steady, firm like a rock. “You fucked up,” Dan thought to the alien before he slammed it on the ground.
The alien exploded with a satisfying thud into a ball of emerald green goo.