SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
August 3, 2014

What the Hell are They Doing Up There?

 

Morgan and I got up Sunday morning to discover someone had dragged two of our garbage cans into the street, set them about fifteen feet apart and placed a long plank across them. It was a standard way to announce to the neighbors you were preserving a couple of parking places in anticipation of the arrival of a moving truck later that day. It seemed the people who lived on the top floor of my building were heading out three days ahead of schedule. We’d learned about a month earlier they were leaving, so it came as no surprise. I admit I was relieved to see them go. Not that they’d caused trouble or hosted loud dance parties up there three nights a week. Far from it.

            The truck showed up about four that afternoon, and immediately things seemed a little off. The truck was massive, almost as long as a standard eighteen-wheeler, and so wide it nearly blocked off the narrow street. It was large enough to carry the contents of an entire house, so seemed a bit excessive to haul away whatever might conceivably fill some rinky-dink third-floor apartment in southern Brooklyn. The other weird thing is that it wasn’t a U-Haul, it wasn’t a Mayflower, it wasn’t Moishe’s, it wasn’t anything at all. The cab, the trailer, everything but the tires had been painted white and remained completely unmarked, like some kind of generic ghost truck.

            Two men emerged from the truck and entered the building. After that was silence. Twenty-four hours later, almost nothing at all had happened. The truck was still sitting where it had been parked. There had been none of the usual clomping bustle that comes with moving, the heavy footsteps on the stairs over and over again as boxes and furniture were hauled out. I’d heard no indication at all that the truck was being loaded. Morgan said she heard someone loading something at about four a.m., but that was it. Just that one load. The two apparent movers had not been seen since entering the building.

            When the couple first moved in two years ago they seemed pleasant enough. Quiet types, right? He was in his early fifties, she was a few years younger. He told me he was a personal finance advisor, and his wife designed furniture coverings “for both indoor and outdoor use.” They were so adamantly pleasant it allowed me to entertain myself during slow hours with the idea the creepy blind guy in the basement was starting to worry them a little. I always wanted to be Peter Lorre, and now here was my chance.

            Over time though they turned the tables on me. It wasn’t that they were pleasant. Truth is I soon came to conclude they weren’t pleasant at all. No, they were far, far worse than that. These were The Most Boring People on Earth, and believe you me, earning that title takes some doing.

            Although he was a burly bald man, he spoke in an agonizingly slow, soft, and gentle voice, mostly about the weather. “It seems to be very warm today, I think,” or “it’s raining, but not very hard.” And even when not commenting on the weather (which was rare) he still insisted on stating the obvious: “Checking the mail, I see,” or “taking some trash out, eh?” His wife, meantime, though perfectly capable of speaking fluent English, usually said nothing at all, even when greeted directly in a hallway. A dozen times or more she simply walked past me. Normally I would never hold that against someone, but in her case I decided to make an exception. There was something not quite right about them, at least from my perspective.

            The one time they were invited to another neighbor’s backyard party, they spoke little, save to note repeatedly that they didn’t drink alcohol.

            Given his speech patterns, I might have suspected pot or heroin were in the mix somewhere, if they’d ever given the slightest indication they had any idea what pot or heroin were. No, I think they were simply suffering from a genetic predisposition that left them (well him at least) utterly incapable of giving voice to anything but the clearly visible and obvious. It was as if the idea of saying anything that might conceivably, under any circumstances, be construed as in any way offensive to anyone on the planet was, well, inconceivable to him. And that I found much more terrifying than if they’d been openly disturbed or evangelical. They weren’t just acting like pod people—I eventually came to the conclusion they were pod people, real and for true, mere tools in the quiet alien conquest of the planet.

            About eight months ago he stopped leaving for work in the morning, which meant I began running into him unexpectedly while (as noted above) checking the mail or taking out the trash. (“Putting some more bottles out, I see.”)

            Then a few weeks ago they seemed to stop leaving their apartment altogether. Now and again I’d hear some shuffling up there, but little more. Quite unexpectedly, in June they announced they were moving out. Moving to another state, even, where the woman would be starting another job. Instead of designing fabrics for both indoor and outdoor use, she had taken a job with the Department of Corrections.

            Well, that seems a bit of a leap, but I guess I’ve made some strange career jumps myself. Here’s the thing, though. When we heard they were moving, I contacted the landlord to look into the possibility of renting their apartment. Then I dropped them a line to ask if there were any particularly irksome maintenance issues we should know about. The building is rife with maintenance issues, but I wanted to know some specifics about the top floor. Here’s the response I got:

            “We have, at our own expense, installed a very nice light fixture above the dining room table. If you were to rent the apartment, we would be very happy, as we would know it was being rented by someone who would take good care of it. If you care to see the light fixture, please come up for a visit any time.”

            I ask you, who would write such a thing apart from a pod person? They’re living in a world with no troubles and no worries, right? At least that’s what the movie said. So of course there would be no maintenance issues they’d want to talk about! And I bet they have a couple of pods stashed and waiting in that light fixture, too, hence the invitation.

            Suddenly the abrupt career change also made a lot of sense. She was obviously planning to spread the alien infection in a controlled environment to transform violent prison inmates into docile and obedient drones. It would also help explain the whole unmarked moving truck business, and why those two movers were never heard from again except maybe at four in the morning. They figured the neighborhood was asleep, so it would be a safe time to load the pods onto the truck. Being pod people, of course, this could take a very long time, and the truck might be there for several days, if not weeks. If all this wasn’t enough evidence already, later that day Morgan saw that a garbage bag teetering precariously atop an already overfull can out front was swarming with maggots. It hit me immediately that, being aliens, they likely had no idea what refrigeration was all about. Why would they, given they had no use for human food anymore?

            No, whenever they leave I can’t say I’ll be sad to see them go. Let them go spread their alien spores in some other state. Part of me is tempted to run out to the parkway and start banging on the hoods of passing cars, screaming “You’re next! You’re next!” but I figure from the looks of things it’s already far too late for that. But if Morgan and I get that upstairs apartment, I gotta say the first thing I’m getting rid of (right after carefully searching all the closets) is that fucking light fixture.

 

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