The day aliens invaded Earth, Skip turned on me. Prior to the alien invasion, we were inseparable, spending 24/7 together. I went to bed every night with him curled up beside me and woke every morning to his wet tongue slobbering across my face. He followed me to school and waited outside the gates for me. We were the best of friends.
Thanks to Skip, I had some semblance of a social life. Through him, I even met my first serious girlfriend.
Six months ago, I sat on a park bench with Skip lying at my feet. A redhead sat next to me and said hello. I recognized her from school. Once, I’d made a half-hearted attempt to strike up a conversation with her, but it didn’t go anywhere. She wore an oversized flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and grubby jeans.
“May I pet her?”
“You may. His name is Skip.”
“Oh, you really like hanging out with boys.” Her steely brown eyes met mine, and a mischievous light flickered in them.
“No, I don’t, actually.” I felt myself blush. In middle school, I’d had a few girl crushes, but I’d never acted on them. Back then, I didn’t even try to flirt. Besides, I figured I wouldn’t even have my first kiss until I got my braces off. I was so convinced metal shouldn’t figure into that one-time, special occasion. At any rate, I was hardly a social butterfly. No one knew I existed.
“He’s like my brother,” I managed to say and felt silly afterwards. The girl picked Skip up and cooed over him. For a brief moment, I was jealous of him.
“I’m Briar.” She reached out and took my hand in hers. A strange, yet exciting tingle surged in the pit of my stomach.
“Do you like dogs?”
“Guess so. But my parents won’t let me have one.” She scrunched up her freckled nose like a little girl.
“You’re always welcome to pet mine.”
“Thanks. I may take you up on that.”
“By the way, my name is Jennifer. Everyone calls me Jen.”
“I know. We were in Mrs. Brown’s algebra class last semester.”
We exchanged numbers before we parted ways. That night, in our respective rooms across town, we texted back and forth getting to know each other until we both fell asleep. I was the first one to send her a heart emoji.
A few months had passed between us—a few more relationship milestones, too, like saying “I love you” and meeting the parents—when researchers noticed a pattern in a series of mysterious radio signals from space. They worked their butts off to decode them. In the end, it wasn’t necessary. The signals were approaching us at breakneck speed. It was the first contact, and also the last. Headlines screamed, “We Are Not Alone.” TV pundits declared our civilization would never be the same. And they got that right, although no one expected what happened next.
Clusters of spaceships appeared in our night sky, visible at first through powerful, government-funded telescopes, and then through the hobby telescopes that quickly became the world’s hottest commodity. Everyone wanted one, and the manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the sharp spike in demand.
There were watch parties in those early days. Instead of binge-watching the latest TV show, people gathered in their backyards to peer through a single telescope. They watched the ships appear out of nowhere and zigzag across the sky. The spaceships settled over the tallest skyscrapers, hovering aloof. They cast ominous shadows over our future. Some people locked themselves in their basements in panic and never resurfaced. Others started a new religion with the aliens as deities. According to their beliefs, the aliens created us and put us in charge of Earth thousands of years ago. But we had our chance and blew it. The aliens were so angry with us they came back to replace us with animals. Who knows if any of this is true? Even so, their technology was far more advanced than ours, and if they turned out to be hostile, we were at their mercy.
Our lives were turned topsy-turvy for a while. Most of us gazed up at the sky, eyes wide, mouths agape. Many kids slacked off and played hooky. Grown-ups became too preoccupied to pay heed to us. But eventually, we went back to our daily routines. Despite the ennui hovering around us like a dark cloud, we carried on with our lives as best we could.
When the aliens finally landed, they refused to communicate with us. Instead, they busied themselves feeding and grooming animals, including our pets. At night, all the dogs in our neighborhood looked skyward and barked. Skip, too, acted strangely. He no longer ate from my hand. We once went out for a stroll in the park. I threw a Frisbee and told him to fetch it. But he sprinted in the opposite direction. He drifted away like a loose kite. I ran after him, called his name, but he never even looked back.
A few days later, Briar came over to my house after school. When she stepped inside my room, she commented on Skip’s absence. I hadn’t seen him for days. She sat on my bed beside me, and I grabbed the remote and flicked the switch. The TV came on, showing scientists attempting to communicate with the aliens through music, pictures, and gestures. Since their arrival, a limp sort of hostility hung in the air. Yet the aliens pretty much remained enigmas. Their apathy was an affront to us. Their passive-aggressiveness rubbed us the wrong way.
“What’s up with the alien invasion?” Briar mumbled. “It’s not what I expected.”
“Don’t get me started.” I felt like snuggling up to her like a suckling kitten. When I reached for her, however, she flinched from my hand.
“Jen, I have something to tell you.” Her voice trembled. By reflex, I clutched her fingers in alarm. She slowly pulled away and straightened herself.
“What’s wrong?” I frowned. A peculiar sensation stirred in the pit of my stomach.
“My parents have decided to go underground. And they want me to go with them.”
“Seriously? But what about me? What about us?”
“I don’t know.” She wrapped her arms around me. I cried in her arms until her skin was sodden with my tears, snot, and sweat. We exchanged an awkward kiss and an even more awkward goodbye.
Two months have passed. The alien invasion ruined my life. Thanks to the aliens, I’m alone again. Dad says it’s not the end of the world, but I almost wish the world would end. Mom says there are plenty of other girls out there. Their advice, however well intentioned, is useless.
I miss Briar. She and I still text each other, but not as often as I’d like. From her undisclosed location, she says cellphone reception is sketchy. She says I can see other people, but it’d feel weird. I don’t have a head for it right now.
I miss Skip, too. The other day, I snuck up to the alien settlement on the outskirts of the city to look for him. He was nowhere in sight, but one of the Pooch Liberation protesters picketing outside told me he must be at the canine academy run by the aliens. The activist said dogs were being trained to replace us. Maybe someday Skip will turn into a humanoid dog, and once he replaces me—sits in my room and rests his head on my pillow—I wonder if he’ll look to the stars and smile.
Toshiya Kamei is a fiction writer whose short stories have appeared in Bending Genres, New World Writing, and SmokeLong en Español, among others.