You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself


An image of an apartment building at night, with the moon shining above. The window closest to the viewer is lit, while the others are all dark.

The night before the inauguration, I’m abducted by aliens. Or at least I think I am.

So I’m lying on the couch when suddenly I hear this whoosh-whoosh sound. Like an obscenely large flag blowing in the wind. It just won’t shut up, you know? And all you can really do is yell at it.


“Shut up!”


“Leave me alone!”


“Go away!”


Anyway. When I look out the window, everything is eerily still. Anti-climactic, you know? Like watching a zombie movie but when you expect the dead to emerge from their graves, nothing happens. The dirt doesn’t break into song. So you just sit there, still watching, because maybe that’s the point, right? How dread is more dangerous than disaster.


Then suddenly there’s an explosion overhead. Then a wave of blue light and I’m not in my apartment anymore. Instead I’m floating in what smells like a hospital. But in my heart of hearts, I know it’s a ship. There are others floating beside me and although they appear to be strangers, I know they’re people from around the neighborhood that I never bother to talk to. I’m not gonna lie… I feel pretty bad about it. Not befriending the people who live near me.


And you should too.


Then suddenly this robot claw comes down from the ceiling. It starts feeling me up. Then it plunges into my stomach. It hurts. But I don’t remember anything after that. Now that I’m talking about it, you know what freaks me out the most? Definitely not the abduction. That makes sense to me. Stuff like that happens all the time, you know? What really freaks me out is that I feel I deserve it. Maybe penance for being an awful citizen.


So when I come to, my partner is yelling at me from across the room. Apparently I was loudly groaning in my sleep. I tell them I was abducted by aliens. And they tell me that it was only a bad dream. That I’ve been listening to too many podcasts before bed. That I should go back to sleep. But I don’t. Instead I go to the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee. As I stand there watching the Keurig spit me out a cheap energy boost, I can hear my upstairs neighbor running up and down the stairs. His name is Duke and he looks a little like Machine Gun Kelly. Duke, however, does not have a Megan Fox by his side.


Duke, Duke, Duke… he’s a character. He’s at least got that going for him. He is always on the move. Always running up and down the stairs and slamming the doors at all hours. I should also mention that he’s, like, the worst drug dealer in all of Buffalo. And by worst, I mean, the laziest. Obvious, you know? Not subtle or sneaky at all. He’s always leaving behind bottles of pills in the gold mailbox next to ours. He’s always on speaker phone making deals. You can hear everything through these walls. And if I have learned anything in life, it’s that trouble will always make itself known, one way or another.


This one time, Duke “misplaced” an envelope full of cash. He then contacted the landlord about it, who then told all of us. I can tell you one thing. Considering the times we live in, no one, and I mean no one, is reporting anything when they find an envelope of cash. And that’s all I’ll say about that.


This other time, he stole a rug we store in the basement and then posted on Instagram about his “new” rug. When we confronted him about it, he broke into tears and told us he really needs the apartment, to not tell the landlord because he can’t be evicted. I’ve been creeping on his social media ever since and he’s always posting about how you can’t trust everything you see on the news and it’s like, Oh boy, he’s one of them, but moving on.


Look, it’s the night before the inauguration and I’ve just been abducted by aliens. The last thing I need right now is Duke being loud and fiddling around with his gold mailbox. He’s gonna wake everyone up and we need our sleep because we’re all a little on edge before the big day. So I mask up and go tell Duke to be quiet. And he looks puzzled and tells me, “Going down stairs is hard.” Now I’m puzzled too, but don’t say anything more to him.


Since I’m awake, I decide to head toward the 7-Eleven, which I hope is open, but it’s tough to tell these days. I want to get some Pepto-Bismol in case my stomach acts up. You know, because of the aliens. Because of the things I choose to believe in.


When I get to the 7-Eleven, I can’t tell if it’s open or not. It doesn’t matter though because I decide I don’t need any Pepto-Bismol. Sometimes my imagination is bigger than my brain. Sometimes a dream is just a dream.


On the way back home, there’s a plane in the sky and the gold mailbox is open but nothing is inside. I open up the door to my building and I can hear Duke arguing with somebody in the basement and for the first time all night, I’m not thinking about aliens or whatever’s gonna happen in Washington on Wednesday. All I’m focused on right now is my neighbor and the person he’s with, and how maybe I can ease their burden. Maybe that’s all we can do. Believe in empathy and go from there.


So I walk toward the basement and as I’m heading down the stairs, I think about how in high school, I jokingly told my guidance counselor that when I grow up, I want to be an urban legend, something blurry. Something the camera wants to capture but can’t. A Mothman octopus swimming through shipwrecked fingertips. But I don’t think that joke is funny anymore.


I guess we all must shed the midnight that’s holding us back, the secret coronations no one knows about. How we all seek community in the invisible basements of America. How when we find it, it’s tough to escape the mold. In the end, we must radiate and survive. And then radiate and survive some more.


 

"An image of Justin Karcher, a person with short dark hair and a beard. He is looking at his phone, which has been used to take a picture in a mirror.

Justin Karcher (Twitter: @justin_karcher, Instagram: the.man.about.town) is a Best of the Net- and Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, NY. He is the author of several books, including Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review.