Buildings touched the clouds, floating with a surreal kind of buoyancy. The streets twisted with sharp curves, jutting out low and high, left and right, here and there like a roller coaster promising chills and thrills. An everlasting chain of immortal trees, with their roots stretched out, freed from soil’s sovereignty, dominated the sky’s vast chambers. Bodies of water, carrying all forms of life from the seas and oceans, snaked around lost cities like murky aquamarine serpents.
The aliens, the new world kings and queens, with their technological advantages and unorthodox mindsets, have transformed planet Earth into an abstract painting. Ever since the invasion, people would wake up to a world plunged in irrational mayhem.
People woke up to a world where gravity was no longer stable and things would drift away into the void for no reason. People woke up to a world where order didn’t hold meaning and chaos was the norm. People woke up to the ruins of an old world.
After the invasion, the aliens had established a social ladder that was law, with humans ranked in the bottom rung.
So as far as Gwenith was concerned, life was shit.
Being human meant she had to exceed at the two following things: serving and manual labor, both of which she sucked at.
Even though the world had ended, litter was still an issue that plagued the environment. As someone hired to reduce the amount of trash in a trashy wasteland, it was Gwenith’s duty to follow where the river would take her and eliminate any unnecessary junk.
She was basically a trash woman setting sail on the seas.
Gwenith cast her rowing oar aside and knelled down. Her legs dug into the boards of the gondola she was traveling in. She leaned forward, stopping to soak in her watery reflection. Frizzy hair, hazel like almonds and cropped short to her shoulders, draped over her dark face.
The new haircut suited her, complimented her prominent features - a pair of amber eyes and plump lips. She did it herself with a pocket knife. Her fingers grazed the river, smudging her reflection. Ripples disturbed the glassy surface.
“Human.” A voice shook the air with a rumble. Gwenith recognized the voice. She turned around.
Ghinti, her employer, approached her, a signature scowl marked on his face. His bluish skin glowed underneath the sun’s spotlight and his broad pixie-like wings fanned out. His feet, clad in silver boots that blinded Gwenith’s eyes with an overpowering amount of shine, hovered inches over the water.
“Human, what do you think you’re doing?”
Checking myself out, sir, was what Gwenith wanted to blurt out. Instead, she offered a plastic smile and said, “I thought I found something over here, but it turned out to be nothing, sir.” She never left out a ‘sir’ in any sentence addressed to Ghinti.
Ghinti was the one who supplied her with monthly paychecks. She feasted on those paychecks.
“If you’re not busy, I have something to discuss with you.”
“I am in search of a caretaker for my youngest son. You are one of the few humans acquainted with my family.” He pinned her down with a wide-eyed stare, expecting a response. When she didn’t speak, he continued. “You are my last resort.”
Gwenith’s eyebrows skyrocketed. “Are you suggesting that I be a caretaker, sir?”
“Sir, I have no experience with kids-”
“Excellent, you’re hired.”
And so, Gwenith’s career as an alien babysitter began.
As far as she could recall, Gwenith’s experience with children was shit. She often deemed the things she disliked as shit and this was one of them.
Children carried audacity, the sort of audacity that vexed Gwenith just because. They were bold and boisterous, oblivious to what the dying world had to offer. She didn’t even like children when she had been a child herself.
When she arrived to her designated location, Ghinti provided her with a tour around his gorgeous living quarters. He and his family resided in a tower built upon glittering glass, something Gwenith would never have the privilege of owning.
When the tour ended Ghinti handed Gwenith verbal instructions on how to perform her job. Before he could make his departure after supplying a list of tasks, he threw a sharp glare in her direction, his eyes shifting from a golden amber to an eerie red. She stiffened, an electric shock coursing down her spine.
“If I find that you’ve done something wrong or my son is not satisfied with your work, you will cease to exist. I can easily dispose of you. You are human, I can and will replace you.” His lips pressed together in a line. “Understand?”
“Yessir.” Gwenith tried to mask on a straight face, despite the jittery nerves swirling in her stomach. Silence hovered over them like a stormy cloud.
Then, Ghinti left, leaving her alone with his youngest son.
Sinjin hadn’t uttered a word to Gwenith since her arrival. He wore a sullen face similar to his father’s and tended to his own business, which meant occupying himself with games and coloring books.
Gwenith didn’t know what to do. He seemed capable of taking care of himself just fine.
“You do your thing and I’ll do mine. I’ll remind you when it’s time to eat,” she said lamely, before taking the time to explore the tower more.
After several hours of testing and savoring luxuries she could never afford with her low-waged income, Gwenith glided inside of the kitchen with a hoverboard she had acquired in the game room. Might as well borrow it while she was here, she would never get a chance to outside of the tower.
She called Sinjin over while preparing his slug smoothie and cockroach salad. Sinjin flopped in his chair after flying in, his wings folding together. With a fork, he probed at a dead cockroach sandwiched in between layers of lettuce.
“They’re heated, right?” he asked, the first words he had spoken to Gwenith. He glanced over at her with a skeptic eye.
That was the only conversation they shared.
According to Ghinti, Gwenith did a decent job taking care of Sinjin. Decent equaled adequate. She was eligible enough to continue watching over Sinjin on a weekly basis.
Three months have passed since she was granted the title of an alien babysitter. By now, Gwenith was familiarized with her surroundings. Every weekend she would enter the tower, check on Sinjin on occasions, and do her own thing.
Sinjin was still as mute as ever, never bothering to engage in conversations unless necessary. He was different from any other kid Gwenith knew. He never bothered her, let alone acknowledged her existence.
Whatever, Gwenith didn’t get paid to socialize with him.
One day, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Gwenith was aggressively watering a bed of geraniums and chrysanthemums in the front yard. The hose blasted away with maximum capacity. She was watering flowers in the middle of a storm, which was, to say the least, absurd, but she needed to fume outside of the tower. She needed an outlet for her rage.
Gwenith had woken up to a stabbing pain in her neck, missed breakfast, crashed into a flying lemur, gotten cussed out by the alien owner of said lemur, tripped over air, fell into a ditch (nearby construction workers had to lend out helping hands), and encountered a speeding space ship while crossing gravity-defying roads (she was almost killed).
Right now, as the rain pelted her with an icy downpour and the hose slithered in her hands like a snake struggling to make its escape, she felt like shit.
“What are you doing?” Sinjin’s voice echoed behind her.
Gwenith turned around. This was his first time initiating a conversation with her. “Watering the flowers.”
He crossed his arms. “In the rain?”
A pause. “Your hair looks weird.”
Gwenith’s mangled mane was poofed up with heightened curls and insane frizz. “It does this when it’s wet.” An itch twitched her nose. With a dramatic heave, she let out a sneeze that rocked her back on her feet.
“You humans are weird,” Sinjin remarked. “You do things that you know will affect your health.”
If Gwenith wasn’t burning with fury she would’ve dismissed his comment. She threw her hands up. “I’m sorry that my species is weird and yours is the definition of perfection.”
“Isn’t that the way that it’s supposed to be?” Sinjin asked, pure curiosity lacing the question, like he truly didn’t comprehend.
“No. And if you can’t understand why, then you never will.” With that, Gwenith stormed past him, her shoulder smacking his, and retreated back inside of the tower.
A trail of puddles were left behind in her wake. Shivers racked her body. Goosebumps scattered across her skin. She was drenched to the bone and in desperate search for towels.
After drying herself off in the bathroom, she lingered in front of the mirror, studying her disheveled state. Bags underlined her eyes, accompanying the fatigue that weighed in her facial features. She stalled the time by trying to tame the insane hairdo the rainwater gave her (only to fail since aliens don’t own flat irons and blow dryers). She had snapped at Sinjin without thinking. She would be fired for sure. Either that, or ‘cease to exist,’ as Ghinti quoted.
When she finally came out, Sinjin didn’t speak to her.
Sinjin didn’t rat her out.
“You’re not mad at me?” Gwenith inquired the next day.
“No,” was all he responded with. He switched his attention back to the coloring book sprawled out before him. A disarray of crayons and markers crowded his work station.
Instead of leaving him be like she used to, Gwenith sat beside him. He didn’t scoot away.
She picked up a yellow crayon. “Can I join you?”
“You’re not a kid.”
“I don’t have to be a kid to color. Is that a no?”
Sinjin shrugged. “I don’t care.”
Gwenith took that as a yes.
She colored with Sinjin the entire day, tossing him compliments over his impeccable coloring skills every now and then. In return, he critiqued her on her sloppy techniques, emphasizing that she should stop coloring outside of the lines.
She would color outside of the lines anyway.
Ghinti often invited his children to visit his workplace, so as far as Gwenith knew, most of his offspring were grown and around her age, ripe with young adulthood. They owned different towers and traveled separate paths. Whenever they dropped by they disregarded Gwenith’s existence like every other alien would, treating her like the slave she was supposed to be in the world.
A family reunion was hosted in Ghinti’s tower. A swarm of relatives were gathered together, their chatter buzzing in the air. Gwenith, alongside several other humans, was to serve any aliens refreshments and obey their every whim.
While scrubbing the dishes with Finn, one of her co-workers, Gwenith felt a tug on her apron. She turned around.
“I need to show you something,” Sinjin said, looking up at her with slanted amber eyes.
Gwenith tilted her head to the side. “What is it?”
“You have to come with me to know.”
“All right. Sorry, but let me finish this first.”
Sinjin pulled out a chair. “I can wait.”
When Gwenith finished she wiped her hands through her apron, bid a brief farewell to her co-worker Finn, and followed Sinjin up two floors, through a maze of corridors, and down the vast chambers of the garage, where all the spaceships were being parked.
Gwenith scanned the area. “What did you want to show me?”
With his back bent, Sinjin sifted through a mountain of scraps in a corner. Lifeless bulbs, rusty screws, and other obsolete materials were tossed over his wings. After shoveling up a mound of junk with his hands, he uncovered what he was searching for.
Sinjin pushed it in Gwenith’s hands. “This controls an antique TV box in one of the guest rooms. I don’t watch the TV box often, but sometimes I will when I’m bored.”
“Oh,” she said, blinking. “All right?”
“We can watch the TV box together,” Sinjin suggested. He wrung the hem of his shirt with his fingers, anticipating her response.
“Oh,” Gwenith echoed, this time with an all-knowing smile. “All right.”
Sinjin talked to her much more than before. Most of the words that spilled forth from his lips would come off as bitter and indifferent, but sometimes he sprinkled hints of kindness here and there.
Sometimes he cared, more than Gwenith would imagine.
Today was Gwenith’s birthday, she was turning twenty-one. However, she never hosted any grand celebrations over the day she was born (she couldn’t afford to either), and this year was no exception. She had planned on carrying out her usual life duties and seizing the day like normal.
When she entered the tower’s kitchen, expecting routine to follow, she was startled to find a crooked three-layered cake thrust in her face.
She staggered back, alarmed by the leaning hunk of mud and dancing worms presented before her.
“Happy birthday,” Sinjin announced. The apron Gwenith usually wore for baking draped over him like a dress, splattered with brown and green.
Gwenith blinked, her breath stolen away by the elements of surprise. “Is this all for me?”
“Who else would it be for? You’re the only one here with me.”
“Thank you.” Dimples dotted Gwenith’s cheeks. Warmth squeezed her insides. “Sinjin, how long did it take you to make this?” She indicated the giant cake with her hand, a sunny smile planted on her ebony complexion.
“Not long.” The bandages around his fingers told a different story. “Do you want to eat now?”
“Oh.” Gwenith scratched her neck. “I really want to, but I can’t eat mud and . . .” She stopped after witnessing the dejected look on Sinjin’s face.
Quickly, as to not burden her, he erased all signs of chagrin. “I’m sorry, I forgot.”
With a sudden charge of determination coursing in her veins, Gwenith swiped a spoon from a drawer and settled down in a chair. She raised the utensil gripped in her hand, waving it. “I’ll eat the cake.”
“I’ll eat it.”
Gwenith scooped a mound of shiny dirt and shoved it in her mouth. Something crawled down her throat - one of the critters that had been swimming in the cake. She choked down on slug slime and grime, her taste buds screaming in protest. Tears swelled in her eyes and she attempted, with all her might, to not scrunch her face up too much.
Smiling through it all was the most difficult task she could ever do.
Sinjin gaped at her with wide eyes. “You’re crying.”
“Tears of joy,” she sputtered.
Of course, Gwenith had vomited later on, but Sinjin’s cake was still the best present she had received in years. Besides, it was worth seeing him smile at her efforts.
Something smacked Gwenith hard enough to fade her vision out black. After coming to terms with consciousness and shaking off the befuddled haze that clouded her throbbing headache, she found herself confined in a metal chair. Handcuffs bit into her wrists. The butt of a ray gun pressed against the temple of her head, cold against clammy skin.
“Pathetic human,” Ghinti spat, venom oozing in those derogatory words. His voice bounced off the walls of a dim attic.
Gwenith flinched, the chains coiled around her producing sharp jangles.
Shadows danced across his bluish face, which flushed purple and gave way to newfound anger. “I warned you. If you were to do wrong I would end your existence. You are disposable. You can be replaced. You will be replaced.”
Gwenith’s eyes popped from her sockets. “Wha-”
The ray gun cocked to the side with a dangerous click, silencing her. She swallowed on her own saliva.
“You’ve brainwashed my youngest offspring with your nonsense,” Ghinti continued, red eyes thirsting for bloodshed. “He is not to think of you the way he thinks of you now, he wasn’t ever supposed to. He’s turned soft, like a human. You must be at fault for his irrational thoughts. You-”
Just then, the door screeched open. A hoverboard tackled Ghinti upside down the head. He swayed for four to five seconds, grasping what just happened with dazed shock, before crashing to the floor.
In a blur, Sinjin rushed by Gwenith’s side to untie her. The chains and cuffs were unlocked. Then, she was yanked by the wrist, the road ahead of her warping together into one gigantic mess. Her feet burned with energy, running over fire. The gasp in her lips died as she burst into the outdoors, where a spaceship with neon bulbs awaited.
Sinjin pushed her inside, flung himself at the navigational controls, flipped open a lever, and punched a green button.
With a hideous hack and a growl, the ship launched away.
Gravity vanished. Gwenith and Sinjin slipped away from the floor tiles their feet had been rooted to, their bodies cushioned by air resistance. The ship shot to the sky and mingled with the clouds, cruising past various city sites and local towns.
“Your father tried to kill me,” Gwenith blurted, the first words she’d spoken to Sinjin since he rescued her. She spun around in a complete circle. “I think I’m fired.”
“Where are we going?”
Sinjin shrugged. Or tried to while floating in mid-air. “Somewhere better.”
“It’s not home anymore. Home is not home if you are no longer with me.”
Gwenith beamed. “Wow. You’ve really grown.”
His lips cracked with a rare smile. “I still have some more growing up to do.”
“Sinjin, the world might get upset if you hang around a human like me.”
“If I cared about what the world thought I wouldn’t have done this.”
As the two exchanged chatter throughout their runaway journey to no particular destination, Gwenith thought, maybe, just maybe, her life wasn’t always shit after all.