Tourists: A Tor.Com Original

Tourists: A Tor.Com Original

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by Sean Craven

His grandma is just your average sweet, supportive, lipstick-wearing, enchilada-loving Christian Scientist. Yeah, and the aliens are just tourists....


His grandma is just your average sweet, supportive, lipstick-wearing, enchilada-loving Christian Scientist. Yeah, and the aliens are just tourists....

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Tom Doherty Associates
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A Tor.Com Original
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By Sean Craven, Goñi Montes

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2010 Sean Craven
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2619-5


They pushed me out of the portal, dumped me into the sage and manzanita. The great orb's pastel colors glowed against the clear night sky. As I backed away she rocked, then lifted into the air, the only sounds a scrape and rattle as dirt and pebbles rolled into the hollow she'd left. I saw the sparkle of distant flashbulbs from the perimeter of the landing site, like stars on waves.

I wondered if it was my fault the aliens had stolen my grandmother.

This happened back in the eighties. Like everyone else, Grandma and I followed the story on the news. I remember the first time we saw the ship on television, a soft globe banded in edible-looking shades of pink, orange, and yellow that floated down through the atmosphere and settled lightly on the ground.

Over the next months we watched as they guzzled psychedelic herbal brews in the Amazon basin. We saw them at the pyramids and Machu Picchu. We heard an interview with them when they visited the south of England to marvel at the crop circles.

I even read the book they'd published to finance their tour. It was one of those big-type/widemargin/one-platitude-per-page deals. "Beware of rationality — it is an enemy of the spirit," seemed weird coming from a space-going culture. The rest of it was the same kind of thing.

They'd spoken to the Pope and the Dalai Lama and had made an absolutely baffling appearance on The 700 Club, so it shouldn't have surprised me when they cozied up to my grandmother.

* * *

Since Amy dumped me, I'd gotten in the habit of drinking on weekends. She'd been my first girlfriend. Her sharp mind and soft body, the unexpected sight of myself through her eyes, had given me the first real feelings of joy I'd known, and now I needed something to fill the time I used to spend with her. That Sunday I was sober. Grandma had promised to introduce me to her new friends. I was excited for the first time in months.

Grandma was a small woman with hair that had gone white when she was young. She kept it in a disciplined bun and wore a blouse, skirt, and jacket that hid her body, reduced it to a piece of furniture. She preferred to live from the neck up. Age had taken most of the individuality from her face. From a distance I recognized her by her glasses and bright red lipstick.

We drove to church in her oxblood-and-silver Buick sedan, a four-door with power everything. It was early spring, and the light of the wine country cast a tawny color over vineyards that curved with the slow roll of the land. Grandma was repeatedly startled by the behavior of other cars or the sudden appearance of stoplights. She should have had her license taken away at least a year ago.

"It's called Christian Science because when you apply the principles you get predictable results," she said.

"Then why don't they work on cars?" I hated these discussions; they brought out my mean side and it always made me feel like a jerk when I teased Grandma. But she was the one who started it. "You know what you ought to do? Get a garage next to a reading room, do Christian Science auto repair."

I glanced over, scared for a second that I might have hurt her feelings. There was a faint smile on her lips.

"You know," she said, "that's not a bad idea."

Affection and irritation had a quick tussle. In the end I felt a little pride in the invincibility of her faith. No one pushes buttons like family; they installed the buttons in the first place.

We had to walk a roped-off passage through the crowd to get into church. Grandma had been complaining about this for weeks. I'd expected more news people, but I suppose they'd covered this part of the tour already. Inside, the back two rows were full of aliens. A cross between a palm tree and a jellyfish bobbed like a fishing rod with a bite on the line. A licorice-black man turned pointillist on close inspection, his flesh a swarm of insect-sized machines. A trio of six-limbed fliers the silver-green of sage leaves fluttered around each other, then settled down in one of the pockets where the hymnals were stored. Church had been the place where I'd found out that I hallucinated when sufficiently bored, but there was no need for hallucinations around this crowd.

"Dear," Grandma said, "I'd like you to meet Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie."

A gleaming blob like a six-foot chrome slug flowed out from under a pew and extruded an antenna toward us. The tip of the antenna swelled and winked open to reveal a monitor that displayed an older woman, the simple richness of her dress set off by a string of video pearls. Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie's icon was a wealthier version of Grandma.

"Your grandmother has told me everything about you," Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie said. Her voice came from a grille just under the monitor. I wanted to touch her; I couldn't tell if she was hard like steel or soft like mercury. "You know we all love her very much. You're very lucky to have her."

I wondered what the word love meant to an organism that didn't use serotonin and oxytocin as neurotransmitters, but I didn't say anything. I read the brass letters shining on the wall behind the pulpit.


* * *

A couple of days later Grandma and I were in the kitchen of her mobile home. We'd finished supper and gone through the ritual fight over who was going to do the dishes. She won, as always. She wouldn't let me do the laundry either. She said it was women's work. It drove me nuts — she was putting me through school, even giving me pocket money, and the only thing she'd let me do for her was cook. It was bad enough that I let her do all that, but the worst part was that I liked being cared for.

"I've invited Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie to bring some of her friends over for dinner on Wednesday." She dabbed her lips with a napkin.

I looked down at the willow-pattern plates, the celluloid handles of the silver, the cut-glass tumbler with the faded red band at the lip. All the things that I'd known since I was a child. All the safe things. "You want me to take care of it?"

"Why don't you make those things you make," Grandma said, "those Spanish enchilladees." She made a gesture with her mouth as though she'd just taken a bite. "Oh, those are so good."

"Sure," I said. "Enchiladas, dirty rice, green salad, three-bean salad, and whatever you want for dessert. But do they even eat?"

"Well, they can at least try it," she said. "I think they'd like some of that nice Spanish food."

* * *

Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie brought two friends. Skipper was star-shaped, about fourteen inches across. A row of blue eyes the size of BBs twinkled under the lip of a shell gnarled as a walnut and spotted with patches of yellow and maroon moss. A fringe of hair-like legs spun him as he moved. At dinner he'd crawled over his table setting. When he was done eating, a lovely radial pattern was left in the enchilada sauce that clung to his plate. He was the only one who ate. That was because he occupied his real body. Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie and Doodad were simulacra. Their real bodies, if they had any, couldn't live on Earth.

Doodad had me on edge. Like Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie, she'd chosen to model herself on a human female. She was something out of a Japanese cartoon, a sexy cat-eared space girl with thick purple hair, eyes three inches across and cleavage that looked like it had a grip. The combination of manifest inhumanity with calculated sexual cues was exactly what I did not need.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The room should have been crowded, but Grandma had arranged it in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house. She'd chosen the convenience of the mobile home, but still felt it was shabby to live in one.

I'd always loved her living room. The little sandalwood table, square and red and fragrant, carved with figures from the Ramayana; the spinning circular brass table with its elaborate filigrees and scalloped lip; thick glass bowls of cookies and candy; the lamps and Chinese lacquer boxes she'd brought back from the Philippines after the war....

Grandma held the coffee cup that was never more than a foot away from her. She had a small filterdrip machine and went through ten or fifteen little pots a day, easy. When she spoke to Skipper I could hear the frustration in her voice.

"No," she said. "I work for people, I don't heal them."

Skipper lifted one edge of his shell and looked at Grandma. His voice came from Mrs. OuterbridgeHorsie's speaker grille, a vocoder baritone. "So God does the healing?"

Grandma closed her eyes and pursed her lips, exaggerating her expression. "No," she said. "There isn't any healing. It makes me so mad when people in the church say that. They should know better." She opened her eyes and relaxed her face. "It is simply a matter of recognizing God's perfection. We are made in his image and likeness, and all of us are perfect. Imperfection is only a matter of mortal error, a belief in physical reality. Man is not material; he is spiritual." She straightened up, adjusted her glasses, and took a sip from her cup.

"Maybe you should give them an example," I said.

Grandma sipped her coffee and thought for a moment before speaking. "Back around 1969 I was driving back from Bodega Bay when I saw a roadside stand selling wild mushrooms. It was run by some of those hipsies or whatever you call them. They had the greasiest hair I've ever seen hanging down over their faces. The girl was barefoot and her feet were just filthy." She shook her head. "Well, I bought a basket of mushrooms from them and they were so rude to me. They laughed as though buying mushrooms was the funniest thing in the world.

"I had those mushrooms with my supper that night, and about an hour after that I started to feel awful. Those people hadn't known what they were doing and they'd sold me poison mushrooms. So I sat down with my Science and Health —" she held up the black-bound volume bookmarked with neat rows of metal tabs "— and I did my work." She looked seriously and deliberately around the room, held us silent with her gaze. "I sat there and recognized the perfection of all God's creations, even those mushrooms, and before the night was over I felt fine again. Perfectly fine. And when I looked in the newspaper there weren't any reports of people eating poison mushrooms. Not one." Her face softened and her voice grew gentle. "When I was doing the work, when I should have been dying, I felt God's presence more than I ever had before. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life."

I'd heard that story when I was a kid but this was the first time I understood that she'd bought psychedelic mushrooms. That was a rotten trick for a bunch of greasy hipsies to pull on an old lady. I wished I'd had the opportunity to lay hands on them.

"That's wonderful," Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie said. "Truly marvelous."

"But it isn't," Grandma said. "It's simply a matter of recognizing the divine principles that underlie all existence."

"That's what I mean," Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie said. "Our people need to hear exactly that message. I've been trying to figure out how to ask you this and I hope it isn't too awkward, but would you consider coming home with us?"

I sat up at that. "So you're going to take people with you when you leave?"

"Not people," Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie said. "I mean your grandmother, or at least her teachings. There's an audience for spirituality, and they are endlessly hungry."

Grandma set the coffee cup down in its saucer. "Well," she said, "I wouldn't try and force it on anyone."

Doodad put her purple-nailed hands on my Grandmother's arm and looked into her face.

"That is so wise," she said, then turned to Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie. "Isn't this exciting? Isn't this just perfect?"

"Truly," Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie said, and curled a little closer, making the floor groan and shift. The metal in Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie's simulacra must have weighed a quarter ton. I was waiting for her to go through the floor.

Skipper flattened himself against the carpet.

"I don't understand," he said. "If God is perfect then why would He make us capable of imperfection?"

"He didn't," Grandma said. Her voice got louder, and she sketched figures in the air with her hands. "We are perfect reflections of God. That kind of thinking is mortal error! You need to think this through because it all makes sense. It's just like one and one is two."

Skipper made a moaning sound with his actual body, puckered his eyes shut, and ground himself into the floor. I knew just how he felt.

* * *

The next weekend Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie and her entourage showed up unannounced. I was three drinks into my Saturday routine. I'd get eight tallboys of malt liquor, which made a nice even gallon, and a half-pint of whatever vodka or tequila was the cheapest. I'd crack a can, take a slurp, and top it off with the hard stuff. Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie asked Grandma to take her to the Christian Science Reading Room. After they left, Skipper and Doodad crowded into my bedroom.

My room was actually one end of Grandma's office. The bed was too short for me so I'd packed some foam camping mattresses between the foot of the bed and the wall. That was the worst part of my living situation: I did not fit.

Doodad leaned forward to put her hand on my leg and wave her stiff plastic boobs at me the way a real woman wouldn't. I didn't like her, but something in my pants was convinced of her fertility.

Skipper was perched over a soup-bowl with about an inch of tequila-laced malt liquor in it. "Imageand-Likeness says your grandfather died from drinking," he said.

His voice came from a silver blob that Mrs. Outerbridge-Horsie had stuck on his back before she left. His tone was a little more mechanical than it had been before, his English a little rough around the edges — running translation on a smaller processor was my guess. It got on my nerves when they called Grandma "Image-and-Likeness." They used Christian Science jargon without understanding it.

"She's never given me the straight story about that," I said. "Did she tell you how it happened?"

Skipper rotated a bit, looked at me with fresh eyes. "Fell off a boat when he was drunk. Got into a fight with two merchant marines when he was drunk. Walked into a hurricane when he was drunk so he could get more beer. Fell off a dock when he was drunk." He crouched and slurped. "Asked an engineer if she was seeing alternate timelines and now they laugh at me."

"Yeah, I totally bought the first couple of versions she told me," I said. "Now I don't know if she's lying or if she's really crazy."

Skipper collapsed on top of the bowl and splashed on the newspaper I'd laid down over the carpet. "I'm crazy. Crazy with mortal error. It makes everything my fault."

"That's because you think too hard about it," Doodad said. She turned to run her hand over the moss on Skipper's back, and in the process park her cool silicone buttocks against my thigh. I let her and hated myself for it. "You need to feel the truth inside."

"No, I feel feelings inside," Skipper said. "Image-and-Likeness doesn't like drinking but it helps me evade the snare of rationality. May I have some more?"

"Sure," I said, leaned over and poured from my can into his bowl.

"Image-and-Likeness is worried about you," Doodad said, turning back to me. "She told us about Amy. You know it makes Image-and-Likeness sad to see you this way."

"What did she tell you?" I must have sounded a little defensive. I wondered how sophisticated their translation systems were.

"That she was just a girl, that she didn't know what she was doing." Doodad stared off into the distance, face gone blank. "What did Amy do?"

"She went to school," I said. "I was going to follow her in a year, but she found someone else. I wish she'd just let me go, but she won't. I've been demoted from boyfriend to house pet." I took a gulp from the can and another, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. "She says she didn't start things between us because she thought I was asleep the first time she touched me. She says she didn't dump me because she figures she can take me off the shelf when she wants me again. Maybe she's right."

Doodad's face came back to life and formed an expression of sympathy. She patted my thigh. Camera eyes and microphone ears; I wished I'd kept my mouth shut.

"What does Image-and-Likeness mean when she talks about sensuality?" Skipper asked. "She said that was what you and Amy did. She didn't approve."


Excerpted from Tourists by Sean Craven, Goñi Montes. Copyright © 2010 Sean Craven. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sean Craven is an American writer living in Berkeley, California. "Tourists" is his first professional sale.
Sean Craven is an American writer living in Berkeley, California. His website is at “Tourists” is his first professional sale.

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Tourists: A Tor.Com Original 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book made absolutely no sense! I'm so disappointed that I paid even a dollar for it. 48 pages of convoluted spit. Will not read this author again.