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Jump to Chapter 1
The doctors said it was a miracle. Ben agreed. The broken bones of a human simply didn’t heal within hours in normal situations. Also, people didn’t recover from significant blood loss so quickly. It didn’t matter where you were from. Humans were humans. How was it possible, then, for Ben, a human, to experience such a speedy and remarkable recovery without any drugs or side effects?
They tried to keep him at the hospital for tests. But Ben declined their offer of a free one-month VIP room stay, food included. He hadn’t wanted to be an experiment subject in the body of a blue alien; he didn’t want to be one in his human form either. Luckily, the people at the hospital didn’t want to be rude. Who knew how long that foreigner planned on staying in this country? Nobody wanted to give him bad memories of their country. More importantly and practically speaking, what if he went to the embassy and complained?
So they gave up after Ben said No the third time. And Ben left the hospital so hurriedly, he didn’t hear them whispering about his good smell.
When Ben went to work at 7 p.m. that evening, wearing the spare T-shirt that the hospital had given him, Mr. Kang barely looked up from his desk in his little office in the kitchen.
“Hey,” was all he said.
“Hey,” Ben said.
“How’s the cat?”
Ben needed a second to realize what he was talking about. “Oh, the cat. The cat died.”
Mr. Kang looked up. His thick black beard trembled with sadness. He shook his head. “Assholes gotta drive slower on these streets.”
Ben nodded and went to the back room.
“Hey, Ben,” Mr. Kang called out. “Why aren’t you wearing your uniform?”
“Because of the cat,” Ben called back, dropping off his wallet in his locker. “It got smeared all over with blood. Even with the handkerchief. I had to throw away both the T-shirt and the handkerchief.”
Surprising, how smoothly he could lie. You learned new stuff about yourself every day.
Mr. Kang said, “Let me grab you a new one.”
Ben heard him carefully lifting up the chair, moving it back, and stepping out. Mr. Kang never carelessly scraped the floor with the chair. A daddy bird never did that to his beloved nest.
Mr. Kang soon came into the back room with the new T-shirt. He sniffed.
“You changed your perfume or something?”
“No,” Ben said.
Mr. Kang shrugged. “You smell nice.”
The whole evening, then into the night, the customers said the same thing. You smell nice. They said he smelled of sophisticated but dense detergent.
He couldn’t figure out how. He couldn’t smell the detergent at all. What made the atmosphere in the World’s Fair olfactorily pleasurable for him was the absence of confusion. There was nothing wrong with his nose. Somehow, only the confusing mess had been removed from the variety of food smells that filled the World’s Fair.
Along with that, a serene clarity kept him calm the whole evening. As always, some people pointed, some people giggled, and others made sexual jokes. But whenever Ben stopped and looked at them, they shut up.
It was bizarre. It seemed that, before Ben looked them in the eyes, they’d expected him to feel embarrassed because that was the human reaction to being pointed at, even when one had done nothing wrong.
But once they saw his eyes? They could tell he was different. Extraterrestrial different.
Better not mess with that kind of danger. They averted their gaze.
And every time, Ben grinned as he turned away. Maybe this was the effect of the invisible flower-petal blessing that the alien prince had bestowed upon him. An eternally good smell, a quick recovery, and a touch of the not-of-the-Earth. At least the rude little thing had given him those…
…as well as a fear of the back alley.
Ben really didn’t want to go out there tonight. But if he didn’t, Sera and Mr. Kang could become suspicious. (Of what, he couldn’t put into words.) So, he dared to open the back door when his midnight break began.
The alley was as dark as always. No one had puked here tonight. At least he couldn’t smell it. He was sure that if there was something as important as puke reek to smell in the air, he’d be able to. Certainly the alien prince couldn’t have been so idiotic as to rob him of important sensory information. If the prince really was an advanced lifeform, he couldn’t have.
Ben stepped on the dry pavement. The heavy steel door panel clicked closed behind him. The night sky looked as usual: yellowed, pinked, and greened by the garish store signs. Tourists and natives filled the street at one end of the alley. It was still autumn, one of those rare days that were livable without air conditioning or heating.
He tried a smile. Yeah. Nothing had changed much. He was still twenty-something and free. If anything, things had improved. Tonight, he hadn’t felt dizzy once. He smelled nice and people loved it…
A cat began meowing from amidst the black trash bags.
Ben froze. So he could look around only slowly. He’d had enough from the last first contact. Really, he didn’t need another extraterrestrial acquaintance…
A little gray kitten appeared. It gazed up at Ben and fiercely meowed. Ben laughed. The little kitten shared one thing with the alien prince: it didn’t doubt for one second that it could demand things from Ben.
“Come here, you,” Ben said.
He knelt down. With the end of his T-shirt, he swaddled the cat. It didn’t seem to mind. Ben opened the back door.
Ben wanted to ask permission to leave early and take the kitten to the vet at exit 6, for real this time. Mr. Kang wouldn’t say no. The cat from yesterday had died, but this baby wasn’t going to.
© 2022 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.
— The End. —