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“Up to a billion birds die in collisions with glass each year in the United States.”
—American Bird Conservancy
When they finally came, the aliens were not friendly, nor were they hostile. Rather, they just stood there, like cartoon villains paused in mid-chase.
A motionless alien stared at a dead beaver beside a pond.
Across the pond, a man leaned on the passenger side of a sports car that played new-age music. A thin metal rod extended from his back pocket. “Tim. Shit alive. You gonna take a bubble bath?”
Tim chuckled and opened the glove compartment. “Well gee Bill. Did your Bulldogs win last night?” Tim’s baseball cap displayed the same padlock-shaped logo of his car’s hood ornament.
“Boom boom boom.”
Bill snorted, then jumped and swatted at a dragonfly. “Lasers got more money than anyone. By far.”
“It’s one of those things guy. Like you get what you pay for?” Tim took from the glove compartment a North American bird guide.
A third man flapped an orange garbage bag. “You should like his music Bill. You know, with your music box collection?”
Bill touched the rod in his back pocket. “Right humanitarian of the year.”
“I’m a caring neighbour.”
Bill yelled toward the alien. “Hey ugly. How ya like my handiwork?”
The alien did not move or avert its eyes from the dead creature.
The humanitarian pulled an aluminium can from his bag.
Tim flipped through his bird guide. “You’d think these aliens would get out there and, you know, do something.”
“Shit alive, I saw one of those bastard beavers last night and I got the bastard. Nice wax job.”
“You shot … that’s Chime wax.”
“The bastard was trying to gnaw down another tree.”
“Chime’s one of my clients. I thought you were going on vacation, guy.”
“Yeah I wanted to hang back, take care of those bastards.” Bill picked up a rock. “Besides, I always go in a separate car.”
The humanitarian tossed the can onto the shoulder. “It’s unacceptable. I didn’t buy a three-quarter million dollar home – look at these views – to have the trees knocked down by some rodent.”
Bill tossed the rock from one hand to another, then yelled toward the alien. “That’s what he gets for gnawing down my fuckin’ trees.”
The alien remained fixed on the dead beaver.
Tim pointed at a telephone pole. “Check that out guys. That’s a hawk. A Cooper’s Hawk I think.”
“Oh that’s such a beautiful majestical…” Bill pretended to shoot the bird.
“Watch this.” The humanitarian walked backwards toward his discarded can. “You ever see Cooper’s Reign? They say I look like the guy from Cooper’s Reign. I think he looks like me.”
Bill hurled the rock at a pair of dragonflies. It missed and landed in the pond. “Hey ugly, you better get a buddy over here.”
Tim turned up the music. “It’s Sensory Summonings. One of my clients turned me onto it.”
“We need to get some Mexis out there, clean up my beaver kill. Them Mexis could make it into a cap or somethin’.”
“Concert tickets are a fortune.”
Bill, watching the dragonflies, pulled the rod from his pocket. It was a flyswatter that extended. “What’s with the pink bag? You get some new underwear?”
“Yeah it’s got music boxes on it.” Tim turned down the music, then studied hawk illustrations. “Nah, it’s that Princess Netpath stuff. Your girls like that? I got the green tiara, gotta take it back. Din wanted the blue one yada yada yada.”
Bill extended the flyswatter to ten feet and yelled toward the alien. “Hey, like that hawk? That Coover’s Hawk? If I had my crossbow out here you’d have two dead animals to stare at.”
“Watch this.” The humanitarian picked up the can, then put it in his bag as a Lexus passed. “There were two, weren’t there? Two beavers?”
“Yeah. Maybe them beavers were married, and I got the husband. Mrs Beaver, your husband’s dead.” Bill leaned on the car. “Car still smells new. Nice.”
Tim watched the hawk. “My dad always had nice cars. We’d be driving and he’d say, ‘Smell that. I earned that smell.’ Then he’d yell at the guy in front of him, ‘Get outta my way, cocksucker.’ There he goes.” The hawk took flight.
Bill, using his ten-foot device, swatted at dragonflies over the pond. “Get some Mexis out here.”
As Tim passed the alien, he rolled up his windows and turned up Sensory Summonings.
The aliens usually beamed down in the morning, then stood in the same place all day. We’d see one staring at a pigeon crumpled on a sidewalk, or examining a coyote smashed beside a road. One would watch a caged mascot cower amid forty thousand screaming fans. Another would stare at a rotting elephant carcass with its tusks sawed off. At dusk, the aliens would beam back up.
The office smelled of lavender. Tim bounced his leg and looked out the window. In the corporate courtyard, an alien watched four men in orange vests. They stood near an evergreen and a sculpture.
The man with Tim held a green metallic box. He wore a scarf and sucked on a tablet. “Cut it down, right?”
One man in the courtyard talked on a phone. His voice came through a speakerphone. “I think it’s sparrows or maybe robins or somethin’. You can hear babies up there, chirpin’ and stuff.”
Tim took binoculars from his sport coat.
The bescarved man set the metal box on the desk. The box had the same symbol as the sculpture. It resembled handcuffs. “I said, Seven Sixty-two…” He smacked his tablet. “…cut it down.”
The voice continued. “Come on Marty.”
“I thought that newsletter said somethin’ about environment somethin’.”
Martin threw back one end of his scarf, then came closer to the speakerphone. “Cut it down, yeah? Or I’ll pay someone else to do it. And everything else that you do, Seven Sixty-two.”
“All right.” The man outside pocketed his phone, then talked to the others.
“You believe these guys Tim?” Martin took from his desk three amber-coloured vials. “When it comes to image, these blue collar types are as sharrrp as marrrbles.”
Tim looked through the binoculars. “Maybe a warbler?”
“Environmental.” The tablet clacked against Martin’s teeth. “That Chime sculpture’s made entirely of recycled metal. That’s environmental, right?”
Tim lowered the instrument. “But gee, Martin, you can see the sculpture from here. Easy. Even with the tree there.”
The alien remained still while the workers manually sawed off lower branches.
Martin opened one of the vials, then sniffed its contents. “Here. Give this a whiff. We’re testing some scents for a new wax line.”
Tim sniffed. “Nice. It looks like a warbler nest.”
“Now try this one, yeah?”
“Probably a Pine Warbler. Wow. This one’s even better.” A man yanked and twisted a branch until it came off. “You can almost see that whole sculpture. I saw another alien this morning—”
“Feel this.” Martin extended his hand. “Go ahead.”
“You can see like ninety-five percent of it.” Tim touched the palm. “Feels like a pond … pebble or something.”
A woman’s voice came over the speakerphone. “Martin, this gentleman … he’s been waiting.”
“He can wait fifteen minutes, Tara. Right?”
“Actually, it’s been over an hour.”
Martin traced the Chime logo on the green box. “Fifteen, and he can wait a couple more.” He pushed a speakerphone button to cut off Tara, then touched his palm. “It’s a BB, Tim. And guess who shot it. Huh? Huh?” He pointed around his office, then at the courtyard. “Him. Seven Hundred and Sixty-two.”
“What? The guy on the phone?”
A chainsaw started, then its user ducked under a branch.
“He shot me when I was a kid. Seven Sixty-two. It’s still in there.”
“I threw up.” Martin tapped the green box. “This is recycled metal too, probably.”
The chainsaw buzzed. Tim hummed and removed an envelope from his satchel. “I like that scarf. Those green flecks? Reminds me of these shoes I had when I was a kid.”
“Thanks. I call him Seven Sixty-two. Because in our high school class? He graduated seven sixty-twooo, right? That’s seven sixty-two out of fewer than eight hundred.”
“Nice.” The men in orange vests backed away from the tree. Tim unlatched the envelope. “Clinchers. They were called Clinchers. Those shoes?”
“I can’t believe he brought up that environment thing. We’re all about the environment here, yeah? Look at this.” Martin pointed at a plaque with a tree symbol. “This is from the Ecological … Society … oh watch this.” He scurried to the window. “There it is. Chiiime.”
The tree made cracking noises as it fell. It hit the ground and twigs and branches burst from it.
“Gee, there you go, guy. I guess you can see your logo now.”
“Those aliens … if you’re going to come here, at least do something productive.”
“Astute, astute.” Martin opened a tin that displayed white tablets. “Would you care for an Arrêts?”
“That must be the smell. Kind of a floral smell?”
“They’re lavender-flavoured pastilles, imported from Parrris.”
“I’ll pass.” Tim took from his envelope architectural sketches, then set them on a table. “I have a couple options here.”
Martin touched the sketch that showed a curving glass wall. “Show me glass, yeah? A big glass wall showcasing gleaming carrrs.”
“You might want to reconsider glass. With the forest preserve right across the street?”
Martin picked up the green box. “Imagine a gleaming Gehören.”
“That glass will reflect those trees across the street.”
“A Gehören gleaming with Chime wax. Gleaming through the glass, right?”
“You’re gonna have a problem with birds crashing into it.”
Martin inserted an Arrêts, then handed Tim the green box. “Here. For my arrrchitect.”
Tim removed from the box a wind chime that suspended Chime logos. “Nice! Thanks. I’ll hang it on the deck. Blaire’ll love this.”
“At some point, you have to ask yourself a question.” The Arrêts tapped against Martin’s teeth. “Like what’s more important if you’re a business? Bird nests? Or brrranding? Right?”
The alien watched the chainsaw user segment the tree, while the other men dragged larger branches toward a chipper.
Tim nodded and cupped the chimes. “My porch overlooks a pond.”
“Let me take care of this graphics guy.” Martin activated the speakerphone. “Tara, send him in. He’s waited fifteen minutes.”
Tim asked Martin if he wanted him to step out.
“No. This will be great. This guy, this graphic designer? He doesn’t remember me, but when we were kids, he hit me in the face with a football.”
“Deliberately? You deliberately hired—”
“We’ll keep that quiet, yeah?” Martin crunched his Arrêts.
The newcomer’s duffel bag caught on a Chime sculpture, then the strap broke. “Ohp. Sorry.”
“You need a leatherrr bag, AA, right?”
“Ah, I’m kind of a no animal products kind of guy.” AA set down the bag. It had a Warhawks emblem.
Martin kneaded his scarf. “Aren’t vegetarians usually more educated?”
“I mean…” AA shrugged, then extended a coffee. “It might need a little warming up.” He looked at Tim. “Sorry, I didn’t know you’d…”
Tim shook a Lasers keychain. “I don’t know guy. I’m not sure I could accept any gifts from a Warhawks supporter anyway.”
Martin took the cup. “You have a stain there, AA. You’ve been waiting fifteen minutes, right?”
AA stretched his shirt to reveal a brown blotch. “Well … I mean … a little longer.”
“Fifteen. Your stain … it’s the same colour of those aliens.” Martin introduced Tim as “the brilliant architect who’s designing my expansion. He’s got a master’s degree, AA. Now let’s see what you got.”
AA fanned brochures. “Let me preference this by saying these are just some bare bones mock-ups. I’ll tweak them after your input.”
“Preference.” Martin held the cup away from himself. “These are foam, right Tim?”
Outside, the alien watched Seven Sixty-two crouch beside the fallen tree. Tim held the Chime chimes together. “Why can’t those aliens…”
AA picked at the stain. “Yeah, Grantos Coffee.”
“We embrace the environment here, yeah? We don’t drink from foam cups. And Grantos isn’t my preface.” Martin winked at Tim, then dropped the coffee. It thumped into the garbage can.
Seven Sixty-two stood, then shook his head.
Tim released his grip and the chimes tinged.
AA pulled his shirt. “Must be mustard or somethin’.”
Martin scanned the brochures. “You wasted a ton of paper here. We’re eco-frrriendly here.”
“Absolutely. Next time I’ll—”
“You’re wasting paper. You’re unsustainable, right? Tim, should I do business with someone who’s unsustainable?”
“All right, all right. Sorry about that. I just wanted something bare bones.” AA tried to reattach his strap. “Next time I’ll do it all digital.”
Tim shook the wind chime.
“If there is a next time.” Martin flipped through a brochure. “I’d say a two-year-old could do better than this. AA, you said you have an AA degree in graphic design? I want you to bring it in. I want to see it.”
“Like I said, it’s just a draft. Really bare bones.”
“I’ve seen some pretty bad designs, but this…” Martin stretched his scarf.
“…this doesn’t even warrant a review, yeah Tim?”
The wood chipper screeched and Tim ran his fingers through the chimes. “Well, let me preference this by saying this is coming from me, a guy with a master’s degree. I’d say it needs work, guy. I’d say this is elementary at best. I mean, does this even look close to professional to you?”
After AA shuffled away, his broken strap trailing him, Tim asked Martin if AA’s football throw intentionally hit him in the face.
“I had a black eye for two weeks.” Martin opened a window. “Ahhh … the smell of frrresh pine. You smell that?”
The alien watched a bird circle the fallen tree, while Seven Sixty-two toted segments toward the chipper.
“You know what?” Tim sniffed from a vial. “I really like this one.”
“You can almost taste the pine.” Martin drew closer to the window and yelled, “Hey Seven Sixty-two. That sculpture’s made of recycled metal. Now that’s environmental, Seven Sixty-two.”
Tim picked up the sketch with the glass wall. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll try one of those candies you got.”
Martin flipped the tin to Tim. “I say go for the glass wall. Natural light and eco-friendly and all that.”
“Those Clinchers? The shoes that look like your scarf? My dad got them for me. They were the most expensive in the store. He’d say, ‘Keep them sparkling clean, and you know what? When your classmates see them, you’ll thrive.’”
“Boom. Boom.” The bird landed on the felled tree, then disappeared into it. “I don’t understand these aliens. They’re just…” Tim inserted the Arrêts. “…here.”
A few months after the aliens appeared, most of us grew indifferent. The aliens that we passed while we made our calls in shopping centres or while we sent our texts on the way home from work were no more noticeable than trees.
A fair number of us disliked the aliens. They stood in public spaces, but contributed nothing to society. Some people told them to “go back to your own planet.”
Then there was the hostile camp, which claimed that the aliens were using the guise of pointlessness to scope out the Earth for an eventual attack. However, they’ve been here for five years, and nothing has happened.
A small group of people roused our ire by defending and even imitating the aliens. First these weirdos stood right next to the aliens, then they started venturing out on their own. We’d see these people standing on street corners and staring at a smashed turtle or frog. Or they’d pose in the middle of forests while bow hunters passed.
Tim, studying a laptop, sat on an illuminated deck. The sky rumbled and wind chimes hanging from the house sounded. “I got to get that car in.”
A woman – the word “OUTLAWS” was painted on her face – reached into a shopping bag. “And I got one for you.”
Tim pointed at his cheek. “Gee Blaire. Don’t you think a lot of people around here are gonna really love that?”
“I got lots of Likes for it so far.” Blaire ran her finger along a small box with an orange triangle.
“What’s that supposed to be? A miniature traffic cone?”
“No. You slup. It’s yours: I got you one too.”
“Eau de traffic cone?” Tim’s laptop showed a glass wall that displayed cars.
“Entrave. Let me spray some on your wrist.”
“I don’t think I need that now. I’m sure that’s all you got, right?”
“Just some hair yummies.” Blair returned the cologne to the bag.
“Martin’s all gung-ho about this glass wall.” Beneath the rumble and the chimes was a quieter sound. “I got to get that car in the garage.”
“Wow-ah. It’s just rain.”
“Just had it waxed. You hear some kinda—”
“You haven’t said anything about my new hair colour.”
“Uh … a little hard to tell out here.” Tim bounced his leg and shook his mouse. “There was this pine tree, over at Martin’s office. And an alien.”
“Those aliens. They’re so annoying. It’s called Brava Brown. The hair colour?”
“Yeah?” The chimes tingled.
Blaire held up her wrist. “Here. Here’s the female version.”
“Fruity. How much did you pay for that?”
“Geegack.” Blaire looked at her phone. “Those chimes are kind of annoying.”
“You hear that?” Again the hushed sound underlay the chimes. Then music overpowered both.
A girl appeared at the house’s screen door. A speaker was attached to her waist, and she sprayed herself with a misting fan. “Where’s my tiara?”
Blaire took a black T-shirt from the shopping bag. “Turn that down, Din.”
“The blue one. Dad said he’d get me the blue one.”
“I said turn that down.”
Din sprayed herself. “Daddy where’s my blue tiara?”
Blaire put her hand on her hip. “One … two…”
“Geegack. You’re slack.” Din turned up the volume, then sang along. “Keep up, you slup. Keep up keep up you slup slup slup.”
Tim focused on the laptop. “Tiara? Now didn’t you want the dark blue one?”
“Nooowah. Light. Light blue.”
“Oh I think…” Tim tapped his lips. “…I left it in the car.”
Din ran into the house. Blaire yelled after her. “I got us some hair yummies.” No response. Blaire turned away from Tim, then put on the T-shirt.
The unidentified sound grew louder. It was a cooing. “Martin wants this glass wall.”
Blaire turned off the deck light. The chimes tinkled, and “OUTLAWS” glowed on the T-shirt. “It’s my new team.”
“Don’t you know the Outlaws are like the Warhawks’ arch nemesis? You’d think that with everyone around here being Warhawks fans…”
She took a selfie. “So? You like the Lasers.”
“Blaire. Lasers are in a different league. Way over on the West Coast. Speaking of hawks, I’m pretty sure I saw a Cooper’s Hawk this morning.”
“What are some good hashtags for this?”
“Hashtag ‘senseless?’ That glass wall’s gonna kill lots of birds.” Thunder growled and the chimes rang with more intensity. “Would you mind bringing the car in? Before it starts raining? I just got a couple things with this rendering.”
Din’s music returned. Her tiara sparkled, and she sang along. “Geegack. Get back, or you’ll get glacked by the furry snurry Splack.”
“Nice tiara.” Tim pointed into the darkness. “Hey Din, I saw an alien this morning. Right out here by the pond.”
Blaire pinched her T-shirt’s Outlaws logo. “This is splack.”
“The Splack is a monster, not some dumb glowy shirt.” Din turned on her handheld fan.
“I need you to set the table Din.”
“Spaghetti. We’re having spaghetti, or you’ll get glacked.”
“No we’re not. I’m making fish.”
“Yes. We. Are.” Din sprayed Blaire’s face, then smeared the Outlaws logo. She ran into the house.
“You … get back here. When I get in there, you better be setting that table.” Blaire looked at herself in her phone and gasped. “You had to get that tiara for her? You had to get the blue one?”
“It’s one of those things like … if she’s the first in the class to get it.”
“You’re just like your father.” Blaire turned on the light, then took out the Entrave box again.
“There was an alien by the pond this morning. That nutcase Bill shot a beaver.”
“Just let me spray this.”
“Martin has this scarf … you hear that? It’s a weird…” Tim pointed toward the pond. The chimes clattered. “Blaire. How much did you spend on this … Enslave.”
“Enclave. I got it half off. Buy one, get one half off.” She opened the box.
Tim shook his head and focused on his screen.
“Look at you. You spend so much on all this car detailing cleaning stuff.”
“Don’t make me get the credit card bill, Blaire.” The chimes banged against each other.
“A hundred each time.” Blaire had a triangular glass bottle filled with orange liquid.
“…going to the salon? Boom. This perfume? Boom. A new dress boom boom boom.”
“…Gehören hat, Gehören shoes … you should get glacked.”
“You get what you pay for.” Thunder cracked. “I got to take that car in. Dammit.”
“Ha. Just got three more Likes. I’ll go start that spaghetti.” Blaire set the bottle on the table, then went into the house.
Tim uncapped the Enclave bottle. The chimes slammed against the house. He smelled the nozzle. Lightning flashed and the coo, a kind of mewling, stretched from the pond. Tim set down the cologne, then took down the chimes.
He went to the railing. Maybe the odd sound was the remaining beaver, grieving its dead mate. The scent of rain grew strong, and a mist alighted on Tim’s skin.
Perhaps there was a way to coax Martin away from the glass wall.