On the Day the Alien Came to Church
By Peter Wood
REVEREND PAUL MONROE sipped his sweet tea as the alien stooped through the door into First Presbyterian’s social hall. Not many Zael made it to Mentone, Georgia, and Paul couldn’t remember one ever coming to the weekly informal midweek lunch and service before. The extraterrestrials stirred up emotions in most people from discomfort to hatred. Paul just felt sorry for them. He motioned for the visitor to join him.
While the organist finished playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” the Zael picked up a plate of country fried steak, boiled potatoes, collards and corn bread. He squeezed his tail through the open backed chair and sat beside Paul.
Paul stuck out his hand. “Glad to have you join us, brother. My name’s Paul. You down from Waycross?” For thirty years the Zael had lived in a dozen camps scattered across the South, the only climate the aliens could tolerate.
“Yes, sir. I am Moag.” The alien extended a balled up fist, so that Paul wouldn’t hurt himself on the talons. “We are restoring the rotten pews in the courthouse. The foreman said this was a good place for lunch.”
Paul was surprised Moag was skilled enough to work with wood, a rare and expensive material. “Yes, sir. You know, we have a twenty minute service right here in this room every Wednesday before lunch. Maybe you could make it for the sermon next time?”
Tom Muzeen, a mechanic, had just finished telling Paul about the time a farmer expected him to fix a gasoline engine. He turned to Paul. “Good sermon today. Never figured Goliath was nothin’ but a giant.”
Paul smiled. “We all have our Goliaths. Whatever you’re facing won’t just go away. Faith—”
Tom grinned and held up his hand. “Come on, preacher. I already heard the sermon once.”
Paul laughed. “Sorry.”
Tom turned to Moag. “Hot enough for you, spaceman? Name’s Tom.”
Paul hoped Tom wasn’t trying to start an argument.
Moag attempted a smile, but his bared fangs did not look friendly. “January is unpleasant for us.”
Paul wondered what the Zael home world was like. The Zael asked for work assignments in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia’s relentless summer.
The usual cross section of townspeople— from businessmen to field hands— filed past with heaping plates of food. Paul felt like he was at the unpopular table in the high school cafeteria. Paul’s mind raced as he tried to think of uncontroversial topics that would keep the conversation flowing until Moag left.
Tom slid a bottle of Buford’s Insanity Sauce across the table. “If you like heat, try this, spaceman."
“Come on, Tom. Take it easy on him. Let’s have a quiet lunch,” Paul urged.
Moag drizzled hot sauce on his collards. “Thank you.”
Tom laughed. “They’ve been fixin’ up the courthouse since I was a kid.”
Paul coughed. “My great granddaddy used that courthouse.”
“I bet a lot of things have changed since your daddy’s day,” Tom said to Moag.
“I didn’t know my parents. I was raised in a state hatchery,” Moag said.
“That must have been difficult,” Paul said.
“It was not hard,” Moag said.
Tom stabbed a potato and swished it in red-eye gravy. “Ain’t no hatcheries around here. Somebody must have raised you.”
“I came on the ship,” Moag said.
Tom’s eyebrows rose. “How old are you?”
Moag swallowed a forkful of collards. “Two hundred years.”
Tom whistled softly. “Sweet Jesus.”
It was remarkable, Paul thought, how little everybody knew about the Zael or cared to know.
“I like the sauce,” Moag said.
“It’s great how peaceful things have been since the war ended,” Paul said, hoping that Tom would take the hint and lay off Moag.
Tom stroked his unshaven chin. “The U.S. has always treated the losers well. We about built Pakistan a new country not too far back.”
Moag looked up from cutting his steak. “Losers, sir?”
Tom shrugged. “Y’all gave up.”
“We surrendered. We did not lose.”
“Not much difference, spaceman,” Tom said.
“There is a difference,” the alien said.
Tom smiled. “Y’all only sent one ship. You couldn’t have beaten us.”
Paul wondered how cocky David felt after he felled Goliath. And what would the shepherd have done if the giant had just been playing possum?
Paul cleared his throat. “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking politics. This is church.”
Tom’s smile vanished. “We’re talking history, Paul. Spaceman’s wrong. They underestimated us. They gave up.”
Moag took a sip of sweet tea. “The journey here was seventy-five years. The ship was crowded. Some died. Nobody wanted to return home. We overthrew our masters and stayed.”
Tom smirked. “And gave up without a fight.”
“What sense would it make for freed slaves to enslave a world?” Moag asked.
Tom frowned. “Y’all couldn’t have done it.”
Moag did not respond. Instead he stared at the salt shaker which quickly turned bright red. It split neatly in half without salt spilling out. “Now when I release my mind’s hold ...”
Both shaker sides fell down and salt flowed onto the pitted wooden table.
“With our minds we can do many things. And the ship had weapons of vast and terrible power.” Moag scraped his chair back and stood up. He towered over Tom and Paul.
“Thank you for joining us,” Paul managed to say.
“I must get back to work,” Moag said. His tail knocked the chair askew as he turned to the door.
After Moag had left, Tom pushed one broken half of the salt shaker gently with his finger. “My daddy was around when their ship came. That’s not how it happened. I don’t care if the spaceman can slice salt shakers by lookin’ at them. My daddy said we sunk their ship.”
“Maybe they sunk it. The navy scuttles ships.” Paul wondered if the ship was lurking underwater, waiting for the Zael to summon it.
Tom shrugged. “So, they sunk their ship. Big deal. If he’s so powerful, why’s that spaceman slinging a hammer all day?”
“Why was Christ content being a carpenter?” Paul asked as he sopped up the last of the gravy with his cornbread.
Peter Wood is an attorney from Raleigh. He was recently published in “Asimov’s.” His previous story for us was “Foggy Planet Breakdown,” in the 12-DEC-2013 update.