Jeff was watching the news in his living room when a knock sounded on his apartment door. He opened the door and smiled at the rotund mailman, who’d been serving the apartments for ten years. “How ya doin’, John?”
Holding a mid-sized cardboard box, the mailman smiled through his thick and graying mustache and asked, “What ya order?” He inquired only because he knew Jeff wouldn’t consider the question intrusive.
“I didn’t order anything,” said Jeff as he eyed the box.
“But it has your name and address on it,” the mailman said. “Why would someone bother to send you something you didn’t order?” He rapped his knuckles lightly on the box. “Good packaging job.”
Jeff shrugged. “I’m not sure I want it. Maybe you should take it back.”
The mailman, who wished to avoid carrying the package back to his van and back to the warehouse, chuckled. “Now that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like they’re chargin’ you or somethin’. Take it. It’s yours.” He leaned toward Jeff and held out the box. Convinced by the mailman’s hard sell but also curious about what the package held, Jeff accepted the box — about two square feet and five pounds.
The postal employee saluted. “US Mail delivers once again.” He turned and rumbled down the stairs with one more glance and a smile at the middle-aged man standing at the door to apartment 106.
* * *
Jeff walked into his apartment and shut the door. He laid the box on the coffee table and heard the postal van chug away. He then fetched a knife from the kitchenette and cut through the tape sealing the box. The label didn’t have a return address. He liked the fact that his last name, Simmoneyous, was spelled correctly. Many times when he’d requested an order, his surname was jumbled by the sender, though never to the point of a botched delivery.
The box contained a fireman’s red helmet and black jacket, both of excellent quality and authentic-looking. His first name was etched on the front of the helmet and above the breast pocket of the jacket that fit snugly around his shoulders, yet left plenty of room to raise his arms. The helmet also hugged his scalp well, as if the designer knew the exact circumference of Jeff’s head.
A warm vibration soothed his skull as soon as the helmet was resting on his head. Then a stocky, sky-blue creature formed from thin air and floated a foot off the ground. The creature had no limbs. One watery-brown eye centered its round face that had no mouth or nose. Two short tentacles rose from the top of its head.
Jeff gasped and took the helmet off. The creature dissolved. Jeff stood trembling. A moment passed and the creature was still gone. Jeff patted the helmet inside and out but found nothing unusual. He gingerly put the helmet back on. The sky-blue life-form reappeared. Jeff kept his shaking hands on the helmet, ready to snatch it off, when the creature said, “Hello.” He had a deep, friendly voice, like the one heard on National Geographic documentaries, when a pleasant British chap follows the exploits of a family of chimpanzees.
“I promise not to harm you,” the creature said.
“Who are you?” Jeff asked and squinted in disbelief, though with less trepidation.
“I am Koy, from planet Zoomar.”
“You’re an extraterrestrial?”
“I am. Zoomar would be, according to human calculations, about two million light years away from Earth.”
The human let out a protracted whistle. “That’s amazing. How do you space travel? Do you go through black holes? Did it take you two million years to get here?”
Koy gurgled like someone rinsing his mouth after brushing his teeth. “Yes and no. Yes, I have been traveling for two million years, actually much longer, and no, it did not take me that long to get here. I appear anywhere I need to be, regardless of the space-time continuum.”
Jeff laughed. “Star Trek lingo? Okay, the joke’s on me. You’re a hologram or something. What is this, some kind of promotional thing?”
He took off the helmet. The creature vanished. He sat on his new maroon-leather couch and fondled the helmet, tapping on it with his fingers, caressing the interior with his index and thumb. Then he gazed out the open porch door. Oak trees had recently bloomed and shielded the porch with shade and greenery. Late May was quickly warming up.
Jeff put the helmet on. The sky-blue alien appeared, shiny skin shimmering with tiny ripples.
“Can I touch you?” Jeff asked.
“I do not have a physical presence,” the alien said. “Your fingers will feel only air.”
“So you are a hologram?”
“I am pure energy, which allows me to travel faster.”
Koy’s direct and matter-of-fact demeanor served to lessen Jeff’s anxiety as he realized that a close encounter of the third kind was indeed taking place. Calm reigned as he sensed that Koy meant no harm. Comfortable silence ensued as the human sitting on the couch and the alien hovering a few feet away observed each other.
“Why did you choose to show yourself to me?” Jeff asked.
“Because you are wise and compassionate.”
“Me?” Jeff laughed. “You got the wrong guy for sure. I’m a surly fellow, some say acerbic.”
“Let he who cannot be judged cast the first rock,” Koy said.
Jeff raised his eyebrows. “It’s ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’”
Koy’s tentacles quivered. “I shall make that correction.”
“Why the fireman’s helmet and jacket?” Jeff asked.
“Humans like official hats and other colorful trinkets.”
“Why through the mail?”
“Because primates have an uncontrollable curiosity to open boxes and see what’s in them.”
“It’s a really nice hat,” Jeff said and took the helmet off. Koy vanished. Jeff put the helmet on and took it off five times in rapid succession. The alien came and went and seemed nonplussed by the cumbersome display of human curiosity.
“Can anyone else see you?” Jeff asked.
“And what if someone else puts the helmet on?”
“They will see nothing.”
Jeff sighed. “So you’re basically saying I can’t share what’s happening with anyone else?”
A shrug sounded in Koy’s voice. “You can try, but it is unlikely to be a good idea. You will not be able to produce any proof of my existence.”
“And what happens if I put the helmet on when someone else is in the room with me?”
“I will not appear,” the alien said.
“So what’s the point?” Jeff said. “It’s like discovering electricity and you can’t share it. It’d be cool if everybody knew about you and planet Zoomar. Wake people up big time.”
Koy gurgled, which Jeff now understood was his way of laughing, and said, “Only disaster would come from all humans knowing about me. Great confusion will set in when billions realize their God is dead. The universe is too big and diverse for mortals, company excluded, to comprehend and accept.”
“Do you show yourself to people other than me?” Jeff asked.
“Four others,” the alien said.
Jeff sat up. “That’s it?”
“Yes. The rest are not ready.”
“Who are the other four?”
“A woman in China, a woman in Russia, a man in Peru, and one other in Scotland.”
“Can I meet them?”
“I am sorry, but you cannot.”
Jeff slumped on the couch. He would’ve liked to share his fortune with Myron, his good friend. He imagined what would happen if Myron came to visit and Jeff mentioned that he spoke with an alien when he put on a fireman’s helmet, and then was unable to show proof. Myron would be offended, feel like Jeff was making fun of him. The friendship would suffer, perhaps irreversibly. The same could happen with his friend Alisa, who’d been understanding and accommodating even when Jeff spent two years experimenting with alchemy, trying to convert nickel into gold.
* * *
Jeff’s excitement at meeting Koy turned to sadness: he’d appear insane if he tried to share his findings. Jeff took off the helmet. Koy vanished. Jeff packed the helmet and jacket in the cardboard box and placed the box in his closet. Then he walked to the Starbucks across the street from his apartment, sat on the patio, and sipped a cappuccino. The coffeehouse hummed with young professionals perched over laptop computers. Jeff wanted to stand up and shout, “I met Koy, an alien from planet Zoomar. He’s pure energy and doesn’t have any limbs.” Instead, he withdrew into his chair and sighed deeply. Thoughts of mutiny consumed him: He’d hide a video camera in his belt buckle and film the alien; he’d set up a sensor to track the vibrations of Koy’s shimmering glow, the tiny ripples that radiated off its blue skin. The intent to rebel, though understandable, also amounted to nothing. Jeff knew that trying to “put one over” on the alien was absurd. His anger having abated, new questions came to mind.
He rushed home and put the helmet on. Koy appeared.
“How long have you been coming to Earth?” Jeff asked.
“By your calendar, about two billion years.”
“But you’re not God, even though you’ve lived that long?”
Koy gurgled. “I am not God. I am the result of a timeless and infinite consciousness, the same origin that you come from.”
Jeff entwined his fingers and tapped his thumbs. “If the universe is infinite, then it has no center.”
“I can vouch for that,” the alien said.
“And when are you going to die?” the human asked.
“By your definition of death — the body decomposing — I have died millions of times. You must remember that thought triggers everything and that thought, inception, never dies….”
“Because of its timeless and infinite origin,” cried Jeff.
“You understand that,” said the guest from Zoomar, a smile rippling in its voice. “That is why I am here, with you.”
Jeff frowned. “But I can’t share your existence with anyone. Who’d believe me?”
“I am sorry,” Koy said. “There is no other choice. You cannot advise a man who is not ready to listen.”
“What about reincarnation?” Jeff asked.
“That does not exist,” the alien said, a touch of sadness in is voice.
“What’s wrong?” asked the human.
Koy’s sigh was a high-pitched whistle, like the one used to alert dogs on a duck hunt. Then it said, “There is one fact I have not shared with you.”
Jeff nervously sat up on the couch. “What is it?”
The sky-blue alien then explained that life on Earth wasn’t a result of spontaneous evolution; rather, it was an experiment conducted by him and his associates, a chemical and anthropological study of how life evolved from the molecular to the bird, or fish, or tiger, or man. “We planted the seeds of life on Earth. We did the same with other planets with various environments and used different seeds. On H12, we have an intelligent race of Aves. They have language and governance much better than yours, perhaps because they use their wings instead of cars, though they have those too. We have not done well with creating life on Earth.”
Jeff listened to Koy’s confession and then said, “That’s cool. We’re like germs in a Petri dish. We’re genetically engineered. I can dig that.”
Koy’s voice choked with cosmic tears. “We tried so hard to make a good world for you. Our best minds labored tirelessly to help humanity succeed. We failed, and we are sorry. Man turned out to be toxic to the planet.”
Jeff scratched his balding scalp. The alien sounded like a frustrated five-year-old whose tree house had collapsed. “Why are you so upset? If we all come from the same timeless infinite intuitive thought, then we’re still all an extension of God, with you as a facilitator. It’s all good.”
“I am happy to hear you say that,” Koy said, “for what you say is true. We are all one.”
“Besides,” said Jeff. “You could be someone else’s experiment.”
The alien’s sky-blue skin dimmed slightly. “I am not sure what you mean.”
Jeff held out his palms. “Duh! Like us humans are your experiment, though only five of us know that, maybe your race is also a Petri dish set up by another race.”
“But I have revealed myself to you,” Koy said, a cheer in his voice. “If what you say is true, why have I not met the race that created me?”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “Because you’re not one of the five of your race to know. Like your secret is safe with me and the other humans who know, so is the secret safe in the hearts of a few of your people, or race, or blue blobs.”
Koy’s shimmering ripples turned pinkish-green. He shrunk to about half the size of when he’d first appeared. He hovered only two inches off the carpet.
“That is a silly theory,” he finally said.
Jeff raised his arms in surrender. “If you say so. You’re probably right. After all, you made me, so you know better.”
Koy said nothing. Then he vanished, even though Jeff was still wearing the red fireman’s hat.
Jeff took the helmet off and placed it on the coffee table. “Nothing new under the sun,” he said and hoisted himself off the couch and walked to the fridge for a glass of milk. Pouring the milk into the glass, he chuckled and said, “And that’s not a bad thing.”