She left the house. Macavity was sitting on the porch, scowling, whipping his tail from side to side. Amanda knelt beside him and scratched him behind the ears. The cat made a low, rough purring sound, not much like his usual purr.
Amanda said, “You aren’t happy, are you, fella? Well, don’t worry. I’ve told the alien to leave you alone, and I guarantee you’ll be okay. This is Amanda’s fun tonight. You don’t mind if Amanda has a little fun, do you?” Macavity made a glum, snuffling sound. “Listen, maybe I can get the alien to create a nice little calico cutie for you okay? Just going into heat and ready to howl. Would you like that, guy? Would you? I’ll see what I can do when I get back. But I have to clear out of here now, before Charley shows up.”
She got into her car and headed for the westbound freeway ramp. Half past six, Friday night, the sun still hanging high above the Bay. Traffic was thick in the eastbound lanes, the late commuters slogging toward home, and it was beginning to build up westbound, too, as people set out for dinner in San Francisco. Amanda drove through the tunnel and turned north into Berkeley to cruise city streets. Ten minutes to seven now. Charley must have arrived.
She imagined Connie in her tight T-shirt, all stoned and sweaty on oregano, and Charley giving her the eye, getting ideas, thinking about grabbing a bonus quickie before taking off with his cassettes. And Connie leading him on, Charley making his moves, and then suddenly that electric moment of surprise as the alien struck and Charley found himself turning into dinner. It could be happening right this minute, Amanda thought placidly. No more than the bastard deserves, isn’t it? She had felt for a long time that Charley was a big mistake in her life, and after what he had pulled yesterday, she was sure of it. No more than he deserves.
But, she wondered, what if Charley has brought his weekend date along? The thought chilled her. She hadn’t considered that possibility at all. It could ruin everything. Connie wasn’t able to engulf two at once, was she? And suppose they recognized her as the missing alien and ran out screaming to call the cops?
No, she thought. Not even Charley would be so tacky as to bring his date over to Amanda’s house tonight. And Charley never watched the news or read a paper.
He wouldn’t have a clue as to what Connie really was until it was too late for him to run.
Seven o’clock. Time to head for home. The sun was sinking behind her as she turned onto the freeway. By quarter past she was approaching her house. Charley’s old red Honda was parked outside.
Amanda parked across the street and cautiously let herself in, pausing just inside the front door to listen.
“In here,” said Charley’s voice.
Amanda entered the living room. Charley was sprawled out comfortably on the couch. There was no sign of Connie.
“Well?” Amanda said. “How did it go?”
“Easiest thing in the world,” the alien said. “He was sliding his hands under my T-shirt when I let him have the nullifier jolt.”
“Ah. The nullifier jolt.”
“And then I completed the engulfment and cleaned up the carpet. God, it feels good not to be hungry again. You can’t imagine how tough it was to resist engulfing you, Amanda. For the past hour I kept thinking of food, food, food —”
“Very thoughtful of you to resist.”
“I knew you were out to help me. It’s logical not to engulf one’s allies.”
“That goes without saying. So you feel well fed now? He was good stuff?”
“Robust, healthy, nourishing — yes.”
“I’m glad Charley turned out to be good for something. How long before you get hungry again?”
The alien shrugged. “A day or two. Maybe three. Give me more oregano, Amanda?”
“Sure,” she said. “Sure.” She felt a little let down. Not that she was remorseful about Charley, exactly, but it all seemed so casual, so offhanded — there was something anticlimactic about it, in a way. She suspected she should have stayed and watched while it was happening. Too late for that now, though.
She took the oregano from her purse and dangled the jar teasingly. “Here it is, babe. But you’ve got to earn it first.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I was looking forward to a big weekend with Charley, and the weekend is here. Charley’s here, too, more or less, and I’m ready for fun. Come show me some fun, big boy.”
She slipped Charley’s Hendrix cassette into the tape deck and turned the volume all the way up.
The alien looked puzzled. Amanda began to peel off her clothes.
“You, too,” Amanda said. “Come on. You won’t have to dig deep into Charley’s mind to figure out what to do. You’re going to be my Charley for me this weekend, you follow? You and I are going to do all the things that he and I were going to do. Okay? Come on: Come on.” She beckoned.
The alien shrugged again and slipped out of Charley’s clothes, fumbling with the unfamiliarities of his zipper and buttons. Amanda, grinning, drew the alien close against her and down to the living-room floor. She took its hands and put them where she wanted them to be. She whispered instructions. The alien, docile, obedient, did what she wanted.
It felt like Charley. It smelled like Charley. And after her instructions, it even moved pretty much the way Charley moved.
But it wasn’t Charley, it wasn’t Charley at all, and after the first few seconds Amanda knew that she had goofed things up very badly. You couldn’t just ring in an imitation like this. Making love with this alien was like making love with a very clever machine, or with her own mirror image. It was empty and meaningless and dumb.
Grimly she went on to the finish. They rolled apart, panting, sweating.
“Well?” The alien said. “Did the earth move for you?”
“Yeah. Yeah. It was terrific, Charley.”
“Sure,” Amanda said. She handed the spice jar across. “I always keep my promises, babe. Go to it. Have yourself a blast. Just remember that that’s strong stuff for guys from your planet, okay? If you pass out, I’m going to leave you right there on the floor.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“Okay. You have your fun. I’m going to clean up, and then maybe we’ll go over to San Francisco for the nightlife. Does that interest you?”
“You bet, Amanda.” The alien winked — one eye, then the other — and gulped a huge pinch of oregano. “That sounds terrific.”
Amanda gathered up her clothes, went upstairs for a quick shower, and dressed. When she came down, the alien was more than half blown away on the oregano, goggle-eyed, loll-headed, propped up against the couch, and crooning to itself in a weird atonal way. Fine, Amanda thought. You just get yourself all spiced up, love. She took the portable phone from the kitchen, carried it with her into the bathroom, locked the door, and quietly dialed the police emergency number.
She was bored with the alien. The game had worn thin very quickly. And it was crazy, she thought, to spend the whole weekend cooped up with a dangerous extraterrestrial creature when there wasn’t going to be any fun in it for her. She knew now that there couldn’t be any fun at all. And besides, in a day or two the alien was going to get hungry again.
“I’ve got your alien,” she said. “Sitting in my living room, stoned out of its head on oregano. Yes, I’m absolutely certain. It was disguised as a Chicana girl first, Concepción Flores, but then it attacked my boyfriend, Charley Taylor, and — yes, yes, I’m safe. I’m locked in the john. Just get somebody over here fast — okay, I’ll stay on the line — what happened was, I spotted it downtown outside the video center, and it insisted on coming home with me —”
The actual capture took only a few minutes. But there was no peace for hours after the police tactical squad hauled the alien away, because the media were in on the act right away, first a team from Channel 2 in Oakland, and then some of the network guys, and then the Chronicle, and finally a whole army of reporters from as far away as Sacramento, and phone calls from Los Angeles and San Diego and — about three that morning — New York.
Amanda told the story again and again until she was sick of it, and just as dawn was breaking, she threw the last of them out and barred the door.
She wasn’t sleepy at all. She felt wired up, speedy, and depressed all at once. The alien was gone, Charley was gone, and she was all alone. She was going to be famous for the next couple of days, but that wouldn’t help. She’d still be alone. For a time she wandered around the house, looking at it the way an alien might, as if she had never seen a stereo cassette before, or a television set, or a rack of spices. The smell of oregano was everywhere. There were little trails of it on the floor.
Amanda switched on the radio and there she was on the six A.M. news. “— the emergency is over, thanks to the courageous Walnut Creek High School girl who trapped and outsmarted the most dangerous life form in the known universe —”
She shook her head. “You think that’s true?” she asked the cat. “Most dangerous life form in the universe? I don’t think so, Macavity. I think I know of at least one that’s a lot deadlier. Eh, kid?” She winked. “If they only knew, eh? If they only knew.” She scooped the cat up and hugged it, and it began to purr. Maybe trying to get a little sleep would be a good idea. Then she had to figure out what she was going to do about the rest of the weekend.
[ THE END ]