Los Angeles

“Done shelving those VHS?” said Carl, the weekend manager, the collar of his blue polo a bit worn.

“Yeah, man,” said Seth, the shelver, his long blonde hair revealing only his chin and mouth.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I already set every one of them down, man. Look,” Seth said, nodding his head backwards in the direction of the far wall.

Every best-selling VHS cassette of the last twenty years was arranged alphabetically in single copy, their covers sun-faded through yellowed plastic casing. Sure, the tapes weren’t all facing the same direction, but that was a lot to ask when Seth was only making like five dollars an hour. The other aisles in the store glistened with newly-printed DVDs.

“Alright, alright — I just wish you didn’t look so anxious to leave your work. Customers pick up on that.”

“What customers? Place is empty. Look, I gotta get out of here, man. It’s Friday. Catch you later.”

Seth grabbed an XLarge bag of Twizzlers, sailed over the front counter and unplugged the outside displays from behind the cash register in a well-worn movement. The hanging doorbell — a relic of his mom’s movie store before it was bought out by Blockbuster — jingled as the door shut behind him.

He slid into his maroon hatchback and turned the ignition. The tape deck automatically started blaring midway through Cobain’s “Heart-shaped Box”. On the drive home, he nodded his head slowly to every sixth beat and chewed on the red strands of candy.

“You can do it. There’s a good bitch,” Seth whispered as he maneuvered the car gently through a stall. It settled to a rough park directly in front of his building. The white walls of the faux-villa apartment building bounced the orange of the sun. He skipped every other step all the way up to his apartment on the third floor, excited for the end of the week.

A polished silver box rested on his welcome mat, which read “AY CARAMBA” in The Simpson’s font. The words were crisply reflected in left-to-right mirror image on the package. His chain wallet vibrated wildly, levitated and then smashed into it, ripping his wallet and jean belt buckle loops.

“Ha! Rad,” he said to himself, his eyes widening for the first time all day.

He pried open the package, which was tightly sealed and turned the tips of his fingers white. The inside of the cube was lined with purple crushed velvet — cushioning for a bag of Doritos and a handwritten note which read:

Gratings, Aerthling!

Accept these gift from our peoples to for you.

By accept these gift, you agree a lucrative intergalactica position.

Here from you soon.

400,0.00 gil strong!

Yours truthfully,

Chancer Lorbdot

He flipped the note to check the backside, which was blank, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it on the ground.

Inside his apartment, he sat down on the well-worn side of the couch and grabbed a rectangular black remote. He clicked on the television absently, his attention squarely on the Doritos bag. It was pristine. He opened the seal, whiffed the familiar garlic-cheese, and popped a tortilla chip onto his tongue. Delicious. MTV blared “The Real World” and he fell asleep thinking about being watched on camera all the time — his hand resting contently inside of the bag of chips.

Seth awoke in a silk bed. A tall worm of a creature stood erect before him, wearing a tubular tuxedo without arms or legs.

“Rise or shine,” it spoke through the tiniest mouth in the tiniest voice.

“Haaaa, raaad! Shit’s real?” said Seth.

“Yes, much so, sir. Are you ready to for be Aerth ambassa-door?”

“Well, you know, I dunno if I’m really the best…”

“Nervous is normal! You are perfectly Aerthling. No do worry. I must guide you. I make you very well.”

“Ok, well what do I need to do? To be an ambassa-door, heh, I mean,” said Seth. He pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Simple ceremony. Supreme prestige honor for Aerthling.”

“Sure, alright, buddy. What am I supposed to do in it, though?”

The alien pointed him to a crusty pamphlet filled with instructions and diagrams. Seth looked it over beneath furrowed brows.

“Hmm, hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yah, man, I think I can do this.”

“I am female, but ok. Very.”

A few Aerth-hours later, Seth walked down a narrow corridor, strutting like a peacock in 15th century leggings, a WWII general’s button-down, rollerblades, a fluorescent Native American headdress and make-up in the style of Marilyn Monroe  or possibly Marilyn Manson.

The passage led to an enormous arena — empty except for a huge tree-like being immobilized in the center. Upon entry, Seth followed his directions and clapped wildly. The alien opened a single, huge eye, and spoke through telepathy.

“Welcome, human. Please forgive the Alnos’ grasp of English. But we know that, after accepting our gift, you have demonstrated that you are intelligent enough to have understood the terms of your visit.”

“Absolutely! And I am here for you, oh wise spirit… rad.”

A hidden intergalactic lawyer took note of Seth’s response.

“Please begin,” said the space tree.

Seth smashed together cymbals secured to the tips of his fingers. He cleared his throat and sang the Pledge of Allegiance to the tune of the “ABC” song, but in Spanish, with his natural, surfer-boy accent. “Y justicia parra tooodooos…” Seth lifted his right leg and commanded a loud fart.

The being exhaled through branches that gripped the ceiling. On this cue, a team of Alnoses rolled a cart holding six liquids and a fine powder into the clearing.

Seth took the cart and approached the large alien. He slowly poured each concoction in a precise order onto the alien’s wooden-like roots. He correctly remembered to run his fingers through his long, golden hair between each treatment. The eye dilated and seemed to evaluate every last inch of Seth’s personhood. Maybe this was what it felt like to be on “The Real World”.

“The cymbals…”

“Oh, yah, totally!” He banged them in repetitions of three. “Righteous.” The entire structure vibrated.

“Excellent work, human — very promising.”

The eyelids pried open, wider still. Seth climbed towards the big orange globe, thought “when in Rome” to himself, and spit directly onto its lens. He dismounted the behemoth, and shivered through imaginary snow angels on the cold, sterile spacecraft floor.

Both its woody limbs and root structures oozed gobs of clear slime that encased gold-foil petals. Dozens of Alnoses slithered into the building and played tiny trumpets while whipping colorful ribbons decorated with alien scripts tied to their tail ends.

“Good show, human! Good show! I am pleased. Return to your home world with pride, knowing that your performance here has dissuaded me from destroying your planet. You are my, err… a hero. However, if you tell anyone about our meeting, I shall change my mind at a swift pace and use my power to erase humanity from the Cosmos.”

Seth awoke to Carl’s voice struggling to stay above the static of the answering machine.

“Late again, Seth? I’m not going to yell. I’m not going to lecture. I’m just going to say that you can pick up your last paycheck anytime after next Tuesday. Me and your mom go a long way back but I’ve had it. You’re fired, kid.”

He lifted his head off of the armrest on the couch to silence the message and immediately slipped — the cushions were doused in transparent goop and four thousand crisp single dollar bills. Underneath the sofa lay several bags of Doritos.

Back on the illegal planet-sized asteroid-ship, the alien addressed its Alnos slaves. “Let’s get that yellow-haired one again. That was the best sex I’ve ever had.”