There was a light knock on the door, and Dan slammed his whiskey bottle back into its hidden cubby. Audrey poked her head in, saying “They’re here again, sir,” but the two creatures were already pushing past her and into his expansive office.
Their presence was an increasingly familiar, increasingly unwelcome sight. There was no acclimating to their grotesqueness. Standing about eight feet tall, they looked like an enlarged model of some primitive deep sea creature. Their rigid, rail-thin bodies were a translucent pearly white, and constantly secreted an oily substance. When at rest, their four tentacle arms stuck out perpendicularly, and their mouths faced skyward at the top of their saucer-like heads, surrounded by a ring of grasping mandibles. Dan’s unasked-for exclusive with them had meant that Hawk News had been the first news outlet to break the story, and the first to refer to the creatures as “Coatracks.” The similarity was rather obvious, and a name for the creatures was necessary. Still, though it didn’t feel as silly as calling them “aliens” (which was exactly what they were), the word made Dan feel ridiculous if only because the fear he felt before them seemed absurd attached to a harmless piece of furniture. But neither species had any hope of pronouncing the other’s tongue, and they had to call each other something. The aliens had easily circumvented the language barrier, using human technology. The shorter of the two standing in front of him was awkwardly holding a laptop.
The larger one grunted a command in their strange language, sort of a combination of insect clicks and a deep-throated whalesong, and his deferential companion gently set the computer in front of Dan.
The screen read, “Our respectful greetings to Dan MacHennessey, Leader of Earth.”
“Goddamn it, that’s not me!” Dan shouted. “Why is it so hard for you to understand that there is no ‘Leader of Earth’?” As he spoke, the words were translated on screen. Part of him, the cowardly part, immediately regretted the outburst. As the silence dragged on, he felt he was awaiting his death sentence. Finally, the smaller one spoke to the larger one, but its words were not translated. The two seemed to argue, or discuss something, and the large one pulled away to loom aggressively over Dan. He was not accustomed to seeing their mouths, or the horrible little limbs they used to feed, and he understood that he was right, that he was about to be killed. He couldn’t move.
Instead, the thing spoke. The words appeared on the screen without any delay, in perfect English.
“Do you know who I am?” Dan wordlessly shook his head. It reared back, its amorphous eye spots whirling beneath the skin. It seemed angry.
“I am the leader of this expedition. You cannot pronounce my name or title, but I permit you to call me Columbus as a sign of goodwill. The parallel with your people’s ancestral hero is obvious and I would not be surprised if some of your folk believe I am your hero reborn. I trust you will not be inhospitable.”
Dan was apoplectic. He didn’t know if he should laugh, cry, or kill himself. One second the things thought humans were an advanced galactic race, the next a bunch of primitives in the mud. They couldn’t understand that he was just a news anchor, just a TV personality. When they came to him first, he was flattered. When they demanded his surrender, he sent them to the authorities. Whom they swiftly slaughtered. “Inhospitable? Is that why you destroyed Washington?”