Bad Trip

In May of 2011 I volunteered to teach a writing workshop in a juvenile correctional facility in Sacramento. In order to encourage my students to engage with me, I invited them to join me in crafting a science fiction story. They could contribute whatever plot elements they wanted, and I would help them weave it all into a single narrative. And it was okay if the elements were a bit crazy, I said, because this was science fiction; I wanted them to have fun with it.


So we wound up with a First Contact story in which aliens chose a junkie drug dealer for their first human contact. Because, you see, the aliens needed to buy some meth.

When I heard that the day after my workshop all the kids were abuzz with delight over having helped create a story in which a drug dealer was responsible for an alien invasion of Earth, I decided to write it up for them. It turned out kinda cute, so I thought I’d share it with ya’ll.

Louie cursed on his way up the staircase. By itself that was not a noteworthy event; his neighbors had long since resigned themselves to the stream of profanity that accompanied his exit from the building, as well as the matching one that heralded his homecoming. But today’s tirade was of a higher volume and sharper quality than usual, and was accompanied by a series of loud thumps as his fist struck the grimy wall of the stairwell. Apparently in his meth-induced haze he believed that he could drive his hand through solid concrete.No one got in his way. You didn’t mess with Louie when he was high. Which generally meant that you didn’t mess with Louie at all.He fumbled for the keys to his small apartment, staggered inside, and slammed the door shut behind him. “FUCK!” The expletive reverberated throughout the dimly lit apartment, the peeling walls echoing his frustration and rage back at him. “FUCK FUCK FUCK!” He picked up some a object and hurled it at the far wall in rage, hoping for a satisfying spectacle of destruction, but he had long ago stopped leaving breakable items near the door. The object made an unsatisfying thud as it added a new dent to the drywall, and then it fell to the floor, bouncing twice before it rolled to a stop right near his feet. He kicked it away with a growl.

He had lost three customers today. Big customers. Two of them had been picked up by the police somewhere on the streets, but the third had been nabbed in a raid at the club just as Louie was showing up to make a delivery. He’d almost gotten caught up in the raid himself, and only a quick exit through the bathroom window and an hour of cowering deep in the club’s trash dumpster had spared him the indignity of having to explain to the cops why he had half a dozen packets of meth hidden in the lining of his jacket. Like there was anything good you could say about that.

What a fucking rotten day.

His jacket smelled of rotten garbage now — no great surprise — so he pulled it off and dropped it in a heap by the door. He was too agitated to sit down so he paced back and forth nervously, stalking from the foldout couch that he never bothered opening to the dingy refrigerator that he never bothered stocking in five quick steps. It was a tiny studio, but it kept the rain off his head and gave him a safe place to stash his drugs; what man needed more than that?

A cold wind whistled in through the frame of the apartment’s one window, raising goosebumps along his neck. The heat in the apartment had been shut off last month, along with all the other utilities, and while he’d managed to get the lights back on and the toilet running, central heating was a luxury he still couldn’t afford. He kicked the kerosene space heater in frustration as he passed, as if hoping it would just light itself in self-defense, but the small part of his brain that was still capable of rational thought knew that he’d have to feed it some more fuel before it could function. And with only half a can of kerosene in the house (do not store kerosene in this containe! it said), he wasn’t going to do that until it got really cold.

He picked up a grimy glass from the counter and was about to pour himself a drink of water when the refrigerator began to glow. Hurredly he dropped the glass and backed away, trying not to knock over the can of kerosene in his retreat.

The light rapidly became so bright that he had to shield his eyes. From what little he could make out it didn’t seem to be coming from the refrigerator itself, so much as filling the space that surrounded it. When he had backed up all the way to the front door he knelt down and fumbled for his jacket — though whether that was because he wanted the small handgun in its pocket or because in times of stress his first instinct was to protect his product, he could not say.

The light was as bright as a thousand light bulbs, and when he shut his eyes to protect them it burned right through his eyelids. Then, just when he started seeing spots swim in his vision, it receded. As his eyes readjusted, Louie could make out a rectangular frame where the refrigerator used to stand, like an oversized doorway without a wall attached. While he stood there gaping at it, a giant lizard stepped through.

Now he was sure it was the gun he wanted.

It was sleek and black and it stood on its hind legs like the Geico lizard, its crested head brushing the ceiling. One swipe of its long, muscular tail would have trashed everything in the apartment. Its neck was covered with irridescent frills that fluttered with each breath. A thin black tube came out of the corner of its mouth and ran down its neck to some kind of collar. And a faint acrid odor seemed to emanate from its skin. Acetone?

Louie pulled out his gun and fired at the thing, his hand shaking as he pulled the trigger again and again and again, until he ran out of ammunition. Most of the bullets hit the wall surrounding his target, but in an apartment this small even a meth-addled junkie could not miss every shot. Two bullets hit the creature head-on. . .and bounced off its sleek scaly hide like they were made of rubber.

Bounced off.

“Fuck,” he whispered hoarsely.

The lizard blinked once, then fiddled with a small black apparatus that was strapped to its chest. After a moment it hissed into the object and a rasping mechanical voice came out of it. “Is this good? Is this your language? I do not have ‘fuck’ in my linguistic databank.”

The fact that the thing seemed to be speaking with an Austrailian accent only made the whole scene more bizarre. “Where did you come from?” Louie rasped. “Why are you here? Are you going to kill me?”

The giant lizard was silent for a moment, evidently listening to the strange sounds that emanated from its translator. Finally it began to hiss again. “To kill you? No. I have come. . how do you say?. . .in peace. Yes, that is it. I-have-come-in-peace.”

It all would have been hard enough to absorb on a good day, and thi was not a good day. “Why come here?” Louie demanded. “Don’t you want the leader of Earth or something like that? I’m no one important.”

“I have come to buy meth,” the lizard said. “You sell meth, that is correct? I have come to buy.”

Louie blinked. “Say what?”

“I have come to buy meth,” it repeated. “I have many things that you value. Our trading will be an act of mutual happiness.”

Yeah, Louie thought derisively. Right. A giant reptile has come all the way across the fucking universe just to purchase drugs from me. Cause I’m the best fucking drug dealer in the whole fucking galaxy, right? Tell me another one.

But then, with a sinking feeling in his gut, he realized what must really be going on. Earth was clearly on the brink of some kind of alien invasion. This guy had probably come to see if humans were strong enough to stand up to his people, or if they would make useful slaves, or something like that. Louie didn’t have a clue why an alien lizard would start off its campaign in his apartment, but maybe that had to do with a former tenant or something. Maybe the CIA had set up shop here once, and left something important behind. That would explain the listening devices he sometimes saw the cockroaches whispering into.

“I haven’t got any meth,” he told it. Trying to sound braver than he felt. “So you can go away now, back to your Lizardopolis or wherever you came from. Okay? No meth here.”

The lizard cocked its head. “Detectors say meth is present. Detectors say. . . .” He pointed. “There.”

The black, scaly finger was pointing to the wall behind his unused oven, the very spot where he hid his main stash. A chill ran up Louie’s spine. Whatever drug technology these guys had, he was sure glad the cops on Earth didn’t know about it.

Then he realized: He’s here to raid my stash.

Now he was really angry. The thought of aliens conquering the earth was pretty damned scary. But the thought of this giant lizard stealing his drugs. . .that was personal.

“I will pay you well,” the lizard persisted. “I have many trade goods of different types. Reveal what you value.”

Drawing in a deep breath, he forced himself to nod. In his current state it was hard for him to organize enough brain cells to come up with a meaningful plan, but a few useful thoughts flickered weakly inside his skull. He made a show of putting his empty gun back in his jacket pocket, hoping the alien would not see him rummaging for the other thing that was in there. It was stuck in a hole at the bottom of the pocket and he almost couldn’t get it out.

“Okay,” he said, as the object finally came free in his hands. “I’ll show you what I’ve got and you can make me an offer. All right?”

His heart pounding, he headed toward the oven. The jacket was draped over his hand, hiding his new acquisition from sight. Any human being would have smelled a trap a mile away, but how much did this guy know about normal human behavior? Apparently not much, for he didn’t even look down as Louie passed by him. Or maybe he was too focused upon his upcoming meth purchase to think about anything else.

The can of kerosene was on the floor.

He kicked it. Hard.

Fumes filled the air as the container broke open, splashing its contents across the floor and onto the alien. Throwing off the jacket, Louie reached down and flicked the cigarette lighter. Yeah, he was gonna have to get burned pretty badly to pull this off. A couple of his more functional brain cells had figured that out. But a man had to do what a man had to do.

He touched his flame to the outer edge of the kerosene puddle and then jumped back. Not quickly enough. A wall of fire exploded right in front of his face, and he could smell hair being singed as he raised up one arm to protect his eyes. Somewhere in the distance he could hear an unearthly high-pitched screaming, the kind of sound you might imagine a seven-foot alien lizard making as it burned to death.

And then it was gone. All of it. One minute there was fire and screeching and the choking smell of kerosene, and then there was a sucking sound, and then. . .nothing.

Wiping his face with a shaking hand, Louie discovered that both his eyebrows were gone. The floor where the lizard had been standing had been charred black, but there were no other signs of fire. No pool of kerosene. No dead lizard.

I guess I just saved the Earth. Or something.

Louie stared at the scene a moment longer, then staggered over to the couch and collapsed on it. Now that the moment of danger had passed it occurred to him that he might have just tried to set fire to a hallucination. Thank God there hadn’t been more kerosene in the can, he thought, or the whole apartment might have gone up in flames, and him with it.

His landlord was gonna give him hell over the scorched floorboards, that was certain..

Some time after that a three-headed elephant came out of his pantry. It said that it was looking to buy some crack, so he told it to go find Duke, the big black dude.who worked the corner of 14th and Main. That was acceptable to two of the three heads, so after they argued about it briefly among themselves and then voted, the creature disappeared.

Life was what it was. Sometimes you had to deal with meth monsters on their own terms, or they just wouldn’t go away. He’d seen enough of them to know.

Now, though, he had to deal with real problems. Like, where the hell was he gonna find some new customers?

* * *

In the shadow of the moon the mothership hung still, its great engines rumbling soundlessly in the vacuum. On its bridge five Hsst’sst had gathered, and their wide, fluttering neck-frills offered an impressive display of rank.

“You are sure he burned you deliberately?” Commander Sz’sz asked. “Perhaps he merely wished to offer you a kerosene bath after your long journey.”

“I am quite sure,” Officer Vs’shtah responded. His hide was still slick from the healing ointments he’d applied, and the lights of the bridge glittered along his scales like twinkling stars.

“All you did was ask to trade for supplies?”

“I followed our protocol to the letter, sir.”

The commander let out a short screeching trill that might best be translated as Hmm. “How very curious. And inconvenient. Our store of meth is running dangerously low; we must restock before leaving this system.” He looked at his first officer. “There are no other sources available?”

“Not in this system, sir.”

Commander Sz’sz tapped his tail in frustration. He knew what had happened the last time someone had tried to synthesize meth inside the volatile confines of a Hsst’sst starship. Scavengers were still searching for body parts.

“Did you tell him how much gold we were willing to offer?” Officer Ks’shtz demanded. “And about all our precious stones? Perhaps he didn’t understand you.”

He set me on fire,” Vs’shtah growled. His tail slapped the floor angrily.

Commander Sz’sz held up a claw to quiet them both. “Obviously the natives here don’t want to trade with us. And just as obviously, we must have supplies for our journey. So, since there is no other viable source of meth anwhere in this star system.. . . .”

He stared out at the moon for a moment. And then sighed heavily.

“I guess we’re going to have to conquer Earth after all,” he said. “Go tell the gunships to get ready.”