Thursday, November 10, 2011


The Happy Traveler
By Alex McNall

The aliens came here to escape a dying world. That’s what they told us. A meteor had struck their planet, creating a toxic cloud that blocked the sun and killed all life. I believed them at first, everybody did. I think it was because of their trustworthy faces—honest, wide, and never without a smile.

Surprisingly, we didn’t feel threatened by them at all. How could we? They were too damn cheerful! There were also only twelve of them left in the entire universe. If anything, we felt bad. We wanted to take them in, protect them, show them how welcoming humans could be.

They were such a friendly bunch, so happy and sociable. We couldn’t get enough of them. Their grinning alien faces were plastered across T-shirts, made into plush toys, and used to sell everything from orange juice to automobiles. They traveled the globe as celebrities, shaking hands and pressing the flesh.

Then one of them died. She was fine one day, bleeding to death the next. We chalked it up to one of our Earth illnesses, some microbe she wasn’t adapted to deal with. As the rest of them started dropping like flies, we discovered our pathogens were not to blame.

When I finally got a good look at the virus inside them, I saw an organism much more exotic that the beings it infected. Their planet was dead, that part was true, but it wasn’t due to a giant space rock. It was because the virus had wiped them out. This plague, which they called “the happy traveler,” had come from some other planet, and probably another one before that. When the aliens realized they were doomed, they sent this group that eventually found Earth. Turned out the ship had a stowaway.

It infected them all, survived the cryo-freeze, and slipped past our detectors on Earth. The viral infection is virtually symptom free, other than a feeling of elation and an urge to be around others. Then, after a few days, weeks, or even months, the victim starts to hemorrhage and dies. We quarantined the last survivor. I spent day and night with him, trying to understand what he had and how to get rid of it before it decided to kill him.

I found the happy traveler to be a brilliant piece of work, admiring way it hid itself, buried deep in the host until it was done with them. It had been creeping from planet to planet, species to species, for millennia, mutating God knows how many times before it came under my microscope. I had to admit it was a thing of beauty.

Just when I got close to figuring out how the virus worked, the last alien started to bleed. He went quickly, but before he did, he let me in on a little secret. He said they had never wanted to leave the planet. They wanted to stay and die with their people.

“Then why did you come here?” I asked.

“It made us.”

That’s when I saw the virus for what it really was—the true Supreme Being of the universe. Life seemed to exist only to do its bidding, to spread it across the stars. It was too ancient to fight, too perfect. I knew these things, but more importantly, I felt them.

We announced the alien’s death the next day, sending Earth into mourning for its fallen friends. I haven’t told anyone about my revelation. They will know soon enough. While humanity weeps, I feel purposeful. Happy. The aliens may be gone, but their legacy will live on. It’s my turn to spread the cheer! It’s an exciting feeling, one that never fails to put a smile on my face.

The funeral and procession will be attended by thousands. I plan to be among them. Shaking hands and pressing the flesh.

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Alex lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He enjoys creating stories, novels, and un-produceable screenplays.

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