He hid in the shadows; they were after him, he was sure.
Every day they watched him from the television set. They made movies just to record his presence in the theaters. They counted every box of pop-corn he consumed. On the radio they plied him with pop-songs. When he answered the phone, he would hear them talking about him:
“Hello! I’m with Clyde’s Miracle Health Spa and you have won a free week in our weight-lifting room!”
And he hadn’t even asked for it? How could they have known? He slammed the phone down. There, in the phone – a tracking device? In the hand-set, an electromagnetic voltmeter reading the electronic impulses in his brain? The synaptic charges revealed who he really was. He thought about cutting open his own skull and pouring water onto the brain, short-circuiting it. But he knew they would still be able to read his finger-prints.
And his DNA – his precious DNA. The genetic material contained the code identifying him as something other, as something different. If they ever found out….
Beyond the curtains, the sun was down. But he couldn’t put on the light. The utility company would measure his power usage, and tag on a fee for doing so. He tucked on the wide-brimmed black hat that dipped low over his eyes, so no photographers could steal his soul. He locked the door on the way out. and then double locked it. He went out to get some dinner.
He bought it walking up to a drive in window. he was heading home when he spotted the headline of the newspaper in the box on the corner:
“Chicken beats pork as the nation’s meat of choice.
Poultry gets 39 percent of the vote, followed by pork at 30 percent.“
So – they even knew what he was eating. He ditched his bag of chicken nuggets in the trash-can by the newspaper box. Then he double-checked the trash-can to make sure no one was hiding in there.
He had to make his way back, but he didn’t know where to. Not home – he couldn’t go home – Had it ever been home? Or was it just the cave he nested in, recuperating from his last attack.
It had been fierce; scales popped through the skin and hair fell out. And his teeth – oh, god his teeth hurt!. He couldn’t go through that again….
But he was hungry; and he knew the hunger brought on the attacks. He had to find something to stuff his mouth with soon….
At the end of the alleyway, there was a boy, not more than fourteen, eating cotton candy. He staggered to the boy, and begged in a husky whisper – “please, I’ll give you money, just a taste of that cotton candy….” The boy looked at him. He could see the boy looking at him! That horrifying stare that said ‘I know you!’ digging deep into his soul, wrenching the such-ness that he was out of him…. He reached out – the street flooded with a brilliant white light.
The next thing he knew, he was standing alone, his mouth filled with cotton candy – and something else, something … meaty.
The boy was gone… wrong to have talked to him. Yet at least now he felt fed…
Something was running down the street – something was after him….
He slipped back into the shadows of the alleyway and began crawling as fast as he could on all fours….
He had been this way for too long. Ever since they had gotten here, and he had seen them. The hideous others with far too much hair. They stood tall, they smiled, they pretended friendship. And then they had started watching him. They said he was something they could measure, something – a number they could count, a ‘resource’ to be used.
“I was born free!” he told himself – “Free to be – you and me – and me and me!”
As he got back to his apartment, it was raining. He could feel the wet burn through his skin. For a moment he remembered the place of origin, so far away, so long ago…. Could that have been him once, in the sunlight by the water?
But now he was trapped in a dark place with foul air surrounded by strangers, who could find nothing better to do than know him. He saw the palpable injustice in it. But the universe no longer evidenced any justice. It was if a great silence emanated from the stars… and he could not even see the stars tonight.
“They will know me; they have known me; but don’t know me… not yet, not now, not here, not there, not anywhere….”
Slowly, every muscle aching, he unlocked the door to his apartment and slipped inside. Once again he locked the door… and double-locked it, and bolted it shut. The apartment was dark. He could not turn on the lights in the living-room, they could be seen. He found his way to his one safety zone, the bath-room. He shut the door; he locked it; he double-locked it; he bolted it tight.
At last he could switch on the light. But dare he? Would he not be seen in the mirror. Of course, supposedly, he would only be seen by himself. But who was he to see himself? What if the mirror lied?
It was but a moment’s hesitation; but the problem of being watched all the time is that one loses one’s sense of identity. This ‘self-hood’ dissipates under study. Inside the laboratory, there is no self, only the studiers and the studied. And he often, now, forgot which one he was.
So he needed the reminder, although it risked his sanity, not to mention the few dollars additional charge on his utility bill.
He felt under the sink. It was still taped there, hidden so no one could find it. Since he had found it, he was no one – he smiled grimly at the irony that language reveals in fate.
It was the dimensional refractor. They had told him that everybody needed one, it was the fad where he came from at the time.
He reached for the light switch, then turned to where he believed the mirror to be. Simultaneously, he switched on the light and pressed the button activating the dimensional refractor – and raised his eyes to look in the mirror.
Slowly the mammalian flesh of his guise dissolved, revealing the green scales of the lizard underneath. It reminded him of his self-ness and otherness, his purpose in being. He had come so many light-years, just to make this earth the home of his people. For a moment he felt he belonged.
“Soon, we will hide no longer,” he told himself.
Himself looked back from the mirror and nodded assent.
With the refractor turned off, the mammalian guise reconstructed itself around him. This other face, this other self, smiled weakly, and watched himself swoon to the floor, passing into the oblivion of unconsciousness.