The Right Answer
by James Miller
While I certainly didn’t plan on an alien encounter, my life had been in such a downward spiral that I had gotten used to expecting the unexpected.
Cheryl, my wife, and Ryan, my friend and boss, had been spending some extra time together without me – nights mostly. I handled this by 1) punching Ryan in the mouth, twice, then 2) spending the rest of the day drinking lunch, and 3) picking up dinner at the liquor store. On the way home, my car expired on the freeway, by spewing steam and smoke then finally bursting into flames. I did, however, manage to rescue my bottle of dinner vodka before its fiery demise, but somehow forgot my personal laptop was in the back seat. I eventually reached home only to find Cheryl had gone. Judging by the amount of stuff she had taken with her, it was for good.
I surveyed what little remained in the house. In the living room there was carpeting with clean spots where the furniture had been, and a TV stand with no TV. In the kitchen I was left with one red plastic cup, an unopened box of flexible drinking straws, and a bag of pretzels. In the bedroom I saw a bed frame with no mattress or sheets, wire hangers, and a torn Sports Illustrated. I grabbed the pretzels from the kitchen and made my way out onto the patio to get away from the heavy absence of my material items. I was considering which lawn chair I might sleep in, when I noticed a little green creature standing in my back yard. It took a while for my senses to come into agreement; I was looking at Fonzie. Yes, Fonzie, the character played by Henry Winkler on Happy Days.
He didn’t look at all like Fonzie in the face, or even his body type. In that regard he was as stereotypically expected: green, about four feet tall, three long fingers on each hand, comically big eyes, with no nose to speak of, and a very tiny mouth. It was the leather jacket, pinch rolled jeans and perfectly greased jet black hair that gave the general appearance of the Fonz.
The creature leaned coolly against my fence, holding one finger of each hand in the air. I assumed those were the closest thing he had to thumbs.
I am sure most other times I would have reacted with fear and horror, fleeing the situation in order to head straight for the police or psychiatric help, but tonight was special. I had given up caring about a lot of things, including concern for my own well-being. Whether this was an alcohol induced fantasy or plain old reality, I decided I had plenty of free time to roll with it.
“So you’re an alien. Sure, why not. Before we get on with the probing, can you tell me why you’re dressed like a Happy Days character?”
“I am a respected person from your media.”
“How clichéd. So why Fonzie? Why not Abe Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson or Scarlett Johansson or Scarlett Johansson as a nurse or Scarlet Johansson as a naughty teacher, or any of the other Scarlett Johansson possibilities that I would be really open to right now?”
“Everybody loves the Fonz.”
“I sure can’t argue with that logic, but your timing is terrible. You know that character went off the air 30 years ago.”
“Is Arthur Fonzarelli no longer a viable form?”
“Well, let’s just say if you are trying hard not to be noticed, there will be a high degree of failure in your future. Right now, for me, you couldn’t be more perfect. But do tell me tiny Fonzie, what brings you all the way across the galaxy, or universe, or from New Jersey, to my pathetic back yard? Did Mary Beth dump Ritchie again?”
“I am here to share our technology with you.”
The little guy didn’t seem to be bothered by my sarcasm, which just invited more.
“No kidding? The old technology routine? Well…okay, I’ll take it. So does that come on a disk or some sort of thumb drive? Wait, you guys aren’t all Linux are you? I respect the open-sourcedness, but I am a not in love with the whole penguin as a logo thing.”
“As the ambassador for your planet, you will first have to convince me why the human race is worthy to receive our gift.”
“As the ambassador for your planet, you will-“
“I heard what you said, but how did I become the ambassador?”
“Out of six billion people? And yet, I can’t get more than two right on Powerball. That figures. Say, I hope you don’t mind, the Ambassador has had way too much to drink, so I am just going to go ahead and urinate by this shrub over here. ”
Little Fonz only shrugged. For some reason his indifference made me belligerent. Or I should say more belligerent. I stepped up to a rant while watering, or maybe killing, an arbor-vitae.
“You are really too much; you know that Fonzie? ‘Worthy of your gift’. What makes you think your technology is any better than what we’ve got? You’re from the fifties.”
“I traveled here. When was the last time you left your planet?”
“You mean me personally?”
“The question was meant to be rhetorical.”
He shuffled across my burnt-out grass and sat in the lawn chair I had just been using before nature called. Clearly his sense of etiquette wasn’t tuned for the subtleties of how long you should wait before taking over someone’s seat. Once his skinny ass hit the chair, I realized it would be even harder to take him seriously. Past the pinch rolled jean cuffs were lanky lime-green chicken feet. He was short enough that when he was sitting his feet didn’t even touch the ground.
I caught an odor from him that reminded me I should check the cat’s litter box.
“Whew, can I offer you something to freshen up with? I’d recommend Lysol.”
“You have three attempts to convince me.”
“Of what? Our worthiness?”
“Aaaaaaaayyyyy,” he said again with fingers in the air.
“Was that a ‘yes’? Because it seemed like it meant ‘Hello’ earlier.”
I zipped up and we looked at each other silently. I noticed that he had a third set of eyelids, and he noticed that I had a bag of pretzels.
“What are the rules on this thing?” I asked.
“No rules,” he said between quick crunching bites of pretzel.
“So I just have to come up with a good enough reason and the gates to your E.T. knowledge will open up for all mankind?”
“Um, okay. So is it something along the lines of ‘We are a noble and honorable species, and we would do great things with your technology to benefit all of mankind’?”
“No. You have two attempts left.”
“Wait, that was a dry run. I was talking out loud.”
“Jeez. Was I at least even close?”
He started coughing dryly as though something was stuck in his throat. I offered the only liquid I had readily available, his tiny mouth barely fitting over the top of the vodka bottle. He took three quick gulps before throwing up a fluorescent yellow slime all over my patio. Along with the small chunks of pretzel, there were little white insects crawling around in the mess.
“Whoa. I take it you’re not a martini man.”
Green Fonzie dropped to the ground and started picking the white bugs from the goo. He gathered a handful, and swallowed them. Except for the white bugs, I probably wasn’t too far off from having my night end the same way.
Little Fonz jumped back up in the chair and returned to the pretzels.
“Just what kind of technology are we talking about?” I asked. “Because if it’s those little white stomach bugs, I’m not so sure we’re interested.”
He sat up in the chair, let the bag of pretzels drop, and pulled what looked like a switchblade knife from his leather jacket. He pressed a button that should have flipped it open to a blade, or in Fonzie’s case, a comb, but instead the device started projecting an intense white beam of light. He fiddled with a tiny knob on the side of it until he had tuned the beam to a dark green. With a wave of his Kermit-the-Frog arm, tiny Fonz ran the beam along the back of my yard, planting a row of thirty-foot tall pine trees that continued through my fence, then into, and up through, the neighbor’s garage.
Walt was going to be pissed about that.
Little green Fonzie changed the beam to red and with another wave, cut down the first few trees. They crashed onto the other fence line, destroying part of Susan Anderson’s gazebo and all of her quarter scale wooden windmill.
Susan was really going to be pissed. It was, however, an impressive display.
“Ok, so you’ve got something there,” I said.
Susan came running out of her house. Even though it was after nine, she was, as usual, still in a business suit. She had always played that off on “the busy life of a Real Estate Agent”, but I think it just made her feel important. It certainly made her act that way.
“Oh, my! Oh, my! Is anyone hurt? Oh, my!”
It was all so ladylike and professional until she got to the flattened windmill. There was a flash of horror on her face that was quickly replaced with an angry sour look as she peered across the felled trees, seeing that they originated in my yard, and yet somehow completely missing the fact that the trees weren’t there the day before.
“What in the hell happened to my wind–”
Susan fell to the ground. I turned to see my pretzel-loving friend pointing the device in her direction.
“She’s only sleeping.”
I looked back at Susan. There was a subtle movement of her chest and the sound of a quiet snore. Her leg was bent at an uncomfortable angle, but I could live with that. After what that rumor mill had put me through, oh how I could live with that.
I immediately thought of two other people that I wouldn’t mind being able to put to sleep at will or drop trees on. I looked back at the Fonz.
“You’re right. I could definitely use that thing.”
“Why are you worthy?”
He said “you” as though maybe my situation had something to do with it. Maybe it wasn’t random at all, but maybe they had been watching me, or even setting me up. I had seen Star Trek; I knew the classic answer to the question was that the human race has compassion and that we have the ability to love. So maybe Fonz wanted to see if an embittered guy like me could still believe in such a thing.
I thought back on my relationship with Cheryl for a moment and realized that, yes, I still did believe in love. Maybe it wasn’t the case anymore, but at one time Cheryl and I were very much in love; I was quite certain of that.
If I was going to be honest about it, the infidelity thing may not have been entirely her fault either.
As innocent as I wanted to be in the whole her and Ryan thing, the truth was Cheryl and I had been drifting apart for some time. I knew it; I felt it, and yet I did nothing about it. I just didn’t think we had quite drifted to the shores of infidelity, not yet anyway. At least I hadn’t drifted that far. Maybe the fact that she was the first to find someone else was making me the most upset. Or that it had to be that S.O.B. that used to be my best friend.
Even though I wasn’t “in love”, it didn’t mean that I didn’t believe in love. It seemed like the right answer. I kept thinking about it until I had convinced myself that it had to be the right answer.
“I think we are worthy because we can love.”
“No. One attempt left.”
“What? How can love not be it?”
“Love is a participant emotion in the biological imperative for your sexual reproduction.”
“No– not always. In fact, thinking back to college, probably not even most of the time. And what about a mother’s love for her children?”
“Parental love is a participant emotion necessary for the protection of offspring until maturity.”
“You are sounding less and less like Fonzie. He would never say any of that.”
“One attempt left.”
The little guy was pissing me off. It didn’t help that I was incredibly bad at the challenge, and I’d probably lost some respect for him when I realized he couldn’t hold his liquor.
I tried to look at the question from another perspective. What could possibly qualify us as “worthy”? We didn’t exactly have the best track record. We were constantly killing each other off with some sort of war. And we had no problem messing with our environment until we were now facing an impending global climate change.
Even the leaders were embarrassing: Hitler and the Nazis, Nixon with Watergate, and then there was that whole Monica Lewinski thing.
It seemed that the definition of being human was to make mistakes. Fallibility was the cornerstone of our existence. It occurred to me that maybe the right answer was that we weren’t worthy of such technology. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what their full technological menu had to offer, the appetizer seemed pretty daunting. Hell, Susan was still sleeping, and that ability alone was probably more than most people could handle.
“You know what, Fonz? I don’t think we deserve it. That’s my final answer; all in. The human race is not worthy of your technology. You heard it right NOT worthy.”
“You are correct.”
“I got it?”
“No, the answer is wrong. You are correct that you are not worthy.”
“Oh, well no biggie I guess, I just struck out for the entire human race. Could you just kick me in the nuts before you go? That would kind of finish my week off nicely.”
The Fonz stared at me as though he were seriously considering my last statement. I found myself wondering how bad a chicken claw kick to the crotch could really be.
“What was the right answer by the way?” I asked.
“Humor? Why is that it?”
“There is no biological reason for laughter. There is no other species on this planet or in the universe that possesses that ability.”
“And how would that make us worthy?”
“It alone does not, but knowledge of its power does. Humor has the ability to cure your planet of its ailments.”
“You are going to have to explain that one to me.”
“I’ll let think about it.”
With that final enigma, Fonzie was gone. No ship, no flash of light, nor vortex of a wormhole, just gone.
Past Walt’s garage I could see the lights of his pickup as it came up the drive way. He turned off the truck and got out, surveying the pines sticking through the roof of his garage. He saw Susan sleeping in the yard, listened to a few heavy snores and then turned his to focus to me.
Somewhere in the universe, my little Fonzie was taking off his jacket and jeans, ungreasing his hair, and telling whoever sent him that Earth was not ready to receive their technology. I felt pity for the lot of them, because they didn’t possess the sense of humor needed to appreciate the look on Walt’s face.
“What in the hell happened here?”
“An alien did it.” I said, taking a pull from the vodka bottle.
Walt rolled his eyes, turned, and went into the house.
I guess that wasn’t the right answer either.
About the Author
During the day, James A. Miller works on Milking Robots in the Madison Wisconsin area. At night, he spends time with his family and does his best to come up with fun and creative fiction. He is a first reader for Allegory e-zine and member of the Codex writer’s group. He has two cats but will resist the urge to say anything cute about them here.
About the Narrator
Adam Pracht lives in Kansas, but asks that you not hold that against him.
His full-time day job is as Marketing and Volume Purchasing Program Coordinator for Smoky Hill Education Service Center in Salina, continuing his career of putting his talents to work in support of education.
He was the 2002 college recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy award for writing about the disadvantaged and has published a disappointingly slim volume of short stories called “Frame Story: Seven Stories of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror & Humor” which is available from Amazon as an e-Book or in paperback. He’s been working on his second volume – “Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead” – since 2012 and successfully finished the first story. He hopes to complete it before he’s cremated and takes up permanent residence in an urn.
You can also hear his narration and audio production work on two mediocre Audible audiobooks, and as a regular producer and occasional narrator for The Drabblecast.