Contest #210 shortlist ⭐️


Science Fiction Fiction Contemporary



Mel Makaw

The more I got to know my new neighbor, the more I liked her. She was a little mysterious, you might say, but she was curious and enthusiastic, and she laughed easily. I thought we might become good friends.

She hailed from somewhere in the Midwest. Iowa, I think she said, although I often get Iowa mixed up with Ohio, so I’m not really sure. She was excited about being a new Oregonian and was determined to “leave the past behind.”

“Hi!” she’d waved and called from the house next door, the very day the moving van was there, and a couple of burly young men were unloading her household belongings. I was unloading groceries from my car; I took the hint and wandered over into her yard.

“I’m Cindy Johannes,” she offered as I approached her, and then she stated the obvious: “I’m moving in today!”

“I see that,” I said. “I’m Lynn Smith, and I beat you here by a few months. Welcome to the neighborhood.”

We both laughed and then stood there talking for a few minutes while the men manhandled boxes and odds and ends into her new house. I found out that she was in her forties and recently single, like me, and had a new nursing job lined up in the city. “I’m here for a fresh start,” she’d declared, but had offered no other information about that.

 I left her to it before I became a nuisance on her moving day, but I must admit that while I was curious to find out more, I had an instant good feeling about her and breathed a sigh of relief that someone interesting was finally moving into the vacant rental house next door.

It wasn’t long after she got settled that we started sharing the occasional cups of coffee in the mornings, and the getting-to-know-you conversations that accompany such occasions. She was so excited about this new chapter in her life that she wanted to talk much more about our now shared city of Portland than she did about her past. I was fine with that as I felt the same; although I’d lived here about half a year, I was still learning about my “new” environs and wasn’t much interested in talking about my life before, either.

So it was that with a shared interest in learning more about our immediate surroundings we started taking daytrips together when our schedules allowed, to explore different local sites and areas. Sometimes we attended lectures offered by the history department at the university.

One such outing was a tour of the Portland tunnels, the “ghost tour” through the old Shanghai underground, which both of us found fascinating. Actually, I had taken the tour a couple of months before but found it to be much more interesting when shared with Cindy’s enthusiasm.

“I just love off-the-wall stuff like this, don’t you?” she asked. I certainly did.

Another such outing was to a lecture about aliens and UFO abductions and experiences, where we found out that according to some current study, Oregon ranked sixth in the nation for UFO sightings. I found that to be very thought-provoking as well, but Cindy showed a whole new level of excitement about the possibility that there might be aliens among us, right here in the city.

“I think that might be stretching it a bit,” I cautioned. The lecturer had not suggested such a thing in so many words, but I’d already learned that Cindy had quite the imagination and was often quick to expound and/or extrapolate on subjects that interested her. Especially the off-the-wall stuff.

“But it’s possible,” she countered. “All those sightings must mean something, and why not? You can’t think we’re alone in the universe, can you?”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “But it’s hard to imagine little green men from another planet coming here and passing as human so we don’t recognize that they are aliens. In fact – “

“But it’s not that hard,” she interrupted. “If they’re smart enough to get here from that far away, they’re smart enough to fit in somehow to learn about us, aren’t they? And who’s to say aliens have to look like we think aliens look anyway? Who’s to say they don’t look pretty much like us to begin with?”

“Well, for one thing –”

“Nobody knows for sure, and even if someone did see an alien who looked like a little green man or some sort of reptile – or like those strange creatures in the Roswell stories – it doesn’t mean that all aliens, from all over the Universe, look the same, does it?”

There was no stopping her just then, and no getting a word in edgewise, so I let her babble on. It seemed as if the subject had really hit a nerve with her, and if my goal was to talk sense or dissuade her on any level, I was going to fail miserably. 

* * *

Shortly after Cindy had moved in, I’d invited a few people in the neighborhood over for a potluck to meet her. We lived in a modest suburb, and while I can’t say our street was one of those where neighbors get together socially on a regular basis, I did know a few people that I really liked, and I wanted my new friend to get off to a good start in her new community.

The get-together was a success and made Cindy feel more at home than ever, and I was glad for that. The neighbor on the other side of her house, Marybeth Buttierre – a married lady and mom of two – especially hit it off with Cindy. The three of us sometimes had coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evenings, whenever Marybeth could get away from her familial responsibilities.

After a few weeks of sporadic meetups, one evening when Cindy was working at the hospital Marybeth made a surprise appearance at my front door and asked if I had a minute. I did.

“So what’s with Cindy and the aliens?” she asked when we were seated in my kitchen.

“What do you mean?” I asked, getting up and getting another glass in order to share my open bottle of wine. This was obviously going to take more than a minute.

“I mean ever since you went to that lecture, that’s all Cindy wants to talk about. It’s getting weird.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I offered. “You know how excited she gets about some things. You should have heard her talk about ghosts after the tunnel tour.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but this seems different. She really seems to believe aliens live on our street. And the other day she started asking me about my DNA and ancestry, and about my kids, if they were really mine, for crying out loud! I finally ended up asking her point blank if she thought I was an alien,” Marybeth said.

I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud. “Are you?” I asked, taking a sip of my wine.

She shot me a look and then she laughed too. “Good grief,” she said, “I thought my kids were bad, but this just takes the cake.” Her kids had great imaginations and were always making up stories and playing tricks on each other, traits which I’d assumed they’d gotten from their father.

“If it helps any,” I said as seriously as I could, “I never thought you were an alien.” It was hard to keep a straight face.

“Good to know,” Marybeth said, smiling. Then, getting serious again, “How much do we really know about Cindy and where she comes from and all that? She avoids talking about her ex or her family or anything about before she moved here.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, or where Marybeth was going with this train of thought. I could only agree that I knew very little about Cindy’s past.

“I’m to the point of wondering whether the lady doth protest too much,” Marybeth said. “I mean, she keeps talking about it and turning questions away from herself, and meanwhile we don’t know anything about where she’s from. And she has all that ham radio stuff in her basement.”

“Ham radios don’t mean she’s talking to outer space,” I said, topping off both our glasses.

“And sometimes she just stands on her back deck and stares at the sky for long periods of time. It’s like she’s in some sort of trance.” She swirled her glass and took a swallow. “And you know she got a telescope delivered yesterday.”

I didn’t know that, but I didn’t really think much of it. I had a telescope, as did several of our other neighbors.

“And she’s a nurse. What better way to find out about human beings than being in a place where people are helpless and bleeding and willing to tell their secrets, and are used to being poked and prodded?“

I was a little flabbergasted. Marybeth was a down-to-earth mom of two young teenagers, not usually given to flights of fancy or incredible ideas like suggesting that aliens might be living next door in the form of a friend and nurse, working at a hospital to prey on and learn from the vulnerable.

“Marybeth, do you hear yourself talking?” I asked. “My god, are you really serious?”

“Well, she scares me a little when she says she can’t wait to ‘make contact,’ or to ‘expose’ someone. She seems convinced there are aliens living on our street. And I’m beginning to wonder if she’s trying to make us all wonder about each other and she’s really the one we should be worried about.”

I had no words for that, no answers. I hadn’t realized that Cindy had spent so much time talking with Marybeth about it, or that she had gotten as carried away as Marybeth seemed to think she had. I wondered how many other neighbors she might have talked to, and if there was anyone else she might be ready to “expose.”

All I could really think about just then, however, was how it would be a great idea to stop all the alien talk and get Cindy off on some new kick, if that was even possible. Maybe we should go back and revisit the idea of ghosts in the tunnels.

* * *

“Cindy, we need to talk,” I said to her a few days later when she and I had settled into lawn chairs in my back yard for the evening, with the ever-present bottle of wine. “Did you really ask Marybeth…” I paused and took a sip of courage. “Do you really think she might be an alien?” It seemed like such a bizarre question to be asking, yet there I was, asking it of my new friend as if it was a perfectly normal question to ask.

“Well, uh…” she started to stammer, then took a long drink. “Yes, I did. And I do.”

“How could you even think such a thing?”

“I know there are aliens among us, Lynn. We are not alone here. And Marybeth is so smart and calm all the time, like she knows things we don’t. And she always pooh-poohs my ideas like she doesn’t want to talk about it, like she’s hiding something. And she has kids! Her house is always clean! I don’t know how she stays in control all the time; it’s like she has some superior abilities that the rest of us don’t have. It’s weird!”

Cindy took a quick breath and another small swallow and continued, “And I hear strange noises, like humming, coming from her house in the middle of the night, like she’s getting some kind of transmissions from the electrical wires, or through the cable box or something.”

I found myself draining half my wine glass while I tried to think of something to say. I had two good friends, and each of them seemed to seriously think the other one was an alien from outer space living in our neighborhood. I was at a loss.

“And sometimes I hear her and her husband in the backyard saying words I’ve never heard before, like they have their own language when no one else is around. And you’ve got to admit, those kids are just plain weird sometimes. They’re either being too wild or, like, too good to be true.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It all just sounds a little too farfetched.” I didn’t know where to take the conversation from there. Marybeth did have her idiosyncrasies – don’t we all? – and her kids did seem too smart for their own good sometimes, but really.

“I’ve joined a group,” she said, sitting up straighter and setting her wine glass down. “At least they believe me.”

There were many groups in the area that believed there were aliens among us, I knew, but I’d never actually met anyone who was a full-fledged member. As stimulating as the subject might be, it was not anything I personally felt a need to pursue.

“Okay, good,” I said. “I’m glad you’ve found some people to talk to. But I think you and I need to not talk about it anymore. Marybeth has questions about you, and you have questions about her, and I’m just here in the middle… and it doesn't set well. I can’t talk about it anymore with either one of you.” I almost surprised myself by making such a sensible statement. But I was glad I did; it had come to that.

“She has questions about me? Oh, that’s rich. She’s just trying to divert your attention away from herself.”

“Cindy, I want to be your friend, but I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking about a mutual friend maybe being an alien. It’s just too much. You have got to drop it.”

And drop it she did. She got up and left without another word. I fleetingly wondered if she really was a being from another world, and if that was the way they usually handled conflict. Or if she had learned that unsatisfactory reaction right here on Earth. Either way, I decided I was glad she was gone, and I finished my wine in peace.

* * *

Sadly, I never really talked with Cindy again after that. She moved away the following month, letting another neighbor know that she was moving in with some other nurses, people with whom she had “more in common.” I still sometimes wonder what that meant, as her abrupt departure left me full of unanswered questions and mixed feelings.

I was able to restore my friendship with Marybeth, but I admit, I never got some questions answered there either. By mutual agreement, we just simultaneously dropped the subject. As for our other neighbors, no one else seemed to have taken any of it very seriously, thank goodness.

Then again, none of it weighed too heavily on me as it was all part of the experience of my assignment, and I really enjoyed my work. These feelings and involvements were all relatively new to me, and all part of the bigger picture in our never-ending search for knowledge and understanding of the creatures on this planet, the ones who call themselves human beings.

I found Cindy and Marybeth to be curious case studies, but there had been others before them and there would be more to come before I was scheduled to leave. As long fingers weren’t pointed at me, and there was enough of this planet’s delicious wine, I was good to go.

I was just a visitor here, after all, and my two-year mission was almost half over. In due time I would be heading home to make my official reports and do my own lecture tours about what other visitors might expect on the planet these humans called Earth.

With a freshly poured glass of wine, I wrote up my preliminary findings on Cindy and Marybeth, filed them away, and looked forward to whomever I might meet and observe next.

The End.

August 07, 2023 18:49

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Amanda Lieser
18:15 Sep 14, 2023

Hi Mel! Welcome, welcome, and congratulations! I have to admit I was a bit intimidated by this week’s prompts, but I thought that you did such a great job of rising to the occasion. Aliens in the suburbs is such an awesome idea and perhaps we are always quick to dismiss people until the moment they become correct. This was a great take on human connection and the way we form friendships, before truly knowing someone. It’s always a risk. Nice work!!


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Nick Rogers
19:42 Sep 05, 2023

this was relly put together


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Mary Bendickson
06:10 Aug 25, 2023

Yes, me thinks she protests too much. Witty. Welcome to Reedsy and congrats on shortlist


Mel Màkaw
18:58 Aug 25, 2023

Thank you Mary!


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Philip Ebuluofor
13:44 Aug 20, 2023

Funny that what am passing here at times sound how fits with your story. I have learned that when people start accusing you of one thing or the other, whoever is shouting most or showing uncontrolled anger and insult. Has something to do with whatever he it she is accusing you of. The highest, two years you see things for yourself as they are.


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Wally Schmidt
16:46 Aug 18, 2023

I agree with Cindy! A Mom with two teenagers, who is in control and has a clean house and quiet conversations in the backyard with her husband that only the two of them get..the only plausible explanation is that she's an alien. LOL Really liked the twist at the end and so relieved to discover that the aliens among us are wine sippers. Really nice writing that flows and the story telling here is top notch. Congrats on the short list Mel.


Mel Màkaw
17:31 Aug 18, 2023

Thank you Wally!


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James Merrick
16:11 Aug 14, 2023

Hi, Mel. You have crafted a story that held my attention until the end. You developed a believable conflict among the three main characters. The use of “mysterious” in the opening paragraph is an effective technique in launching your story. I suggest that you take your writing to a new level by utilizing all of the senses, especially smell. Great writing. I’ve chosen to follow your writing.


Mel Màkaw
17:30 Aug 18, 2023

Thank you James!


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