It was – if you really thought about it – inevitable.
John thought so.
But, John was a man never completely convinced of his ordinariness despite years of evidence that could support no other conclusion. He was ugly, as are all people, if you really look at them hard enough. His body sort of spread around the corners to fit any shape of any chair or sofa he occupied, having long since given up physical activity. He’d already eaten foods from every country whose name he could pronounce and many he couldn’t, which for John meant a loss of interest in eating altogether. So, he remained rather thin unlike most of the people he attended high school with so many years ago.
One of whom he’d married. Her name was Delilah.
He was John. She was Delilah. Almost everything you could expect from a couple who had reached a certain level of life experience with those respective names had manifested with divine precision in the comfort of their affordable apartment. In the morning, John read the news and obsessed over the chaos created by the election of Donald J.Trump, another man, painfully average, but not inclined to accept his lot. Delilah excelled at yoga and infidelity. John knew this to be true. While Delilah was out with her “artist” friends in the evenings, he trolled political blogs and played video games.
If anybody asked, John did most things very well. Work. Home. Keeping his distance from family. Even feeding and nurturing his suburban chickens until he realized what a bad idea that had been. Poultry contains carcinogens according to a rather convincing documentary he watched on Netflix.
John’s life followed “the template.”
That’s why he felt he deserved the admiration of his peers although somehow he was regularly overlooked. Most other people at his job didn’t follow the template as well as he did. And since taking on longer hours with fortnightly pay enough to repair his credit, just in case Delilah wanted to have children or maybe a cat, he had had to consider that the entirety of his life was going to be this dull. And there would be no gold star at the end.
Naturally, that made no sense, given his extraordinary qualities, even for a guy named John. Something had to happen. A car accident. A robbery. Maybe someone famous would move into the neighborhood and invite him out for coffee just so he, she or they could brag to their famous friends about how they were accepted by an ordinary John, like an ordinary Joe, but someone more likely to work in IT.
Don’t think John needed anything to happen.
Not at all.
John firmly believed what Bilbo Baggins said in his monologue at the opening of the first Lord of the Rings movie.
It is no bad thing to celebrate an ordinary life, Frodo.
That had a ring of truth about it and he had to be satisfied with such wisdom. John wasn’t rich. He wasn’t famous. Girls didn’t seem to think he was funny and he didn’t think they were funny either. Delilah was the only one that always seemed to make him laugh. She wore bright colors and kept her hair in uncommonly tight curls to present the illusion of being very interesting, but he knew her as a girl who couldn’t resist reading the covers of People magazine when out grocery shopping.
He did see a therapist once to discuss questions he had about his sexuality, but he bored her with his fleeting interest in watching other men have sex with his wife. Just tell her, she said. No, he said.
To be interesting, John clearly needed to get out more, but work exhausted him and more often than not he found himself falling asleep each night drooling on his over-stuffed red recliner in the corner of his musty house effectively ending a game of internet poker he played with his best friend, Juan.
No matter what Juan claimed, that man was being held captive by a meaty wife, their five kids and endless heaps of laundry which had grown over time into an impenetrable fortress of cotton and synthetic fibers. In comparison, John had been lucky. He didn’t have to hide in the bathroom with his phone pretending to be having an affair just to play poker with his neighbor. It hadn’t been that long since the incident with “the bad vodka,” but John and Juan were not going to be allowed to organize “real” poker games again any time soon.
On the inevitable night that things finally changed, John was having peanut butter and jelly for dinner. In a rare divergence from his routine, he made a mental note to do something about the slight tilt toward the front left corner when he sat down in his red recliner where he noticed a moldy bread crust perched on the carpet beside the television stand.
“Do you want some?” John asked the green lump. It must have been a few weeks old.
He sighed and punched a few numbers on his phone, which he regretted as soon as he heard his mother’s shrill voice demanding to know why he didn’t call more often.
“Where’s Delilah?” She said, trying to maintain a displeased tone.
“She’s helping out at the theatre tonight,” John replied as he was chewing. He knew his mother would believe him, because she would want to believe him. He never doubted that know matter how many times she confronted him with lying. Although, this was a partial truth. Delilah was with “actors.”
For a few minutes, the woman jabbered on like Bigfoot probably would if it ran into one of its own kind in the woods. Something about squirrels. The cost of a gallon of milk. And why are all the “libtards” trying to stop Trump from bringing back jobs? Don’t they know they lost the election?
“Maybe they don’t like all the racism,” he said.
She didn’t like that. John looked at the mold and rolled his eyes. As an only child, he’d always pretended to have a sibling that agreed with everything he thought, a willing conspirator. A rock. A pencil. Anything content to appear in agreement.
“…and tell Delilah we love her,” his mom grunted as John watched the greenish lump of mold looking back at him. Then, it rolled its eyes, too.
He jumped from his seat.
Now, granted, there is no easy way to jump from a recliner when you live as sedentary a life as John. Each and every muscle had atrophied into a pure gelatinous state of ineffectivity, but what had remained active tensed so suddenly and with such violent force, that his bones were raised within the puddle of flesh he called his body and he felt as if he had leapt momentarily off the crummy surface of his favorite chair.
“Trump is a tyrant!” John shouted.
It was not what he meant to say, but as long as he could remember he’d always blurted out his deepest, most honest thoughts whenever scared or caught off guard. And at that moment, he realized he didn’t want to deny obvious facts anymore.
“Truman did the same thing and it turned out…” John hung up. Just a reflex. He’d text her tomorrow and say his battery died.
Somewhere in the middle of this panic, he had found enough clarity to recall that Delilah’s indiscretions were largely his own fault. Only after they married, some time during a thunderstorm – a really, really bad one, John confessed to his relatively new wife that he was still seeing another girl for the first six months they dated and, by the way, he often fantasized about her with and other men.
That revelation was going to be important soon, because the mold was now blinking and soundlessly stretching its mouth. Delilah was going to have to pronouce him sane or not, because he wasn’t entirely sure.
What had been a portion of uneaten crust slowly morphed into an arm. On the opposite side of the fuzzy green lump, another appendage began to sprout, in much the way John expected mold to grow in a time-lapse photography only this was his living room and real time.
An ordinary person might have rubbed his eyes or thrown a shoe at the thing, but ordinary people probably didn’t find themselves with sentient mold growing on the carpet.
John held on quietly and waited quietly as two whisper-y legs developed underneath the lump to support its budding torso. Within a moment, seconds maybe – John had lost his sense of the passage of time during the shock of going completely butternut flapping mad – but, certainly before he could think of something to say, the mold was pressing its new feet into the carpet fibers and lifting its knuckles off the ground. It wobbled a bit as it found support.
Probably most new life forms take pause and marvel at their hands, John mused. Hands really demand a lot of attention with their incredible complexity, although this mold didn’t look like it had an intricate network of muscle, tendon, bone and ligament forming in its paws. The ends of its appendages seemed a bit more sticky hand and not exactly pixie pluckers. What was probably the final state of the mold man’s development reminded John of a miniature green Bigfoot. No toes.
John wasn’t sure if this was the moment when you’re supposed to call the hospital and turn yourself in or question everything he’d been taught to believe about reality.
“I must be dreaming,” he stated out loud, although he intended it as a silent, private thought.
“I must be dreaming?” repeated the mold man whose eyes had enlarged and taken on a quality that even the most skeptical observer would have to have admitted was “soulful.”
John had questions, but were he actually experiencing a psychotic break, wasn’t it best not to interact with a hallucination? He didn’t know, so he googled it and the results were a bit mixed, depending on who you asked.
Nothing in John’s life had prepared him for talking to sentient mold.
When the door latch turned and the door frame creaked, John experienced the most relief any human had ever known. The creature looked at him quizzically as John waited.
The anticipation would have killed a normal man.
John and the mold watched as Delilah pushed her way in, arms heaped with paper and bags of paint supplies hanging from her arms.
“Can’t you help me with this, honey?” She said.
Her hair clung wet around her temples. She didn’t have the decency to shower before coming home. John tried to keep focused on the mold as he got up and fretted over her bags until she finally she shoved the one with the recycling symbol into his arms and kicked the heavily scuffed door shut with her sneaker.
John’s wife then unleashed the details of her day at John as he stared at the mold, which was doing a few stretches. Like biblically significant city walls, his concentration crumbled under the force of the surreal event that had taken place. Ignoring the sentient mold and his wife’s description of traffic, John leaned in toward her damp curls and sniffed.
“You’re smelling my hair?” She said, looking stern and sweaty. She knew what he was doing. He knew she knew. And she knew that, too. “John,” she waved her small hand in front of his guilty face, You were smelling me.”
It was true.
“I am getting so tired of you accusing me of having an affair, John. I am in a play! I am not having sex with any of the actors,” she started. “I am not having sex with any of the neighbors. Not the guy at the shop. Not the bank teller.”
There were a lot of “nots” and there was living mold growing in the corner of the living room, which was making its way up the TV cables. You could never underestimate the importance not reacting to wives or mothers when they weren’t upset-upset, just providing clear guidance as to the dictates of their whims. Faux-upset. Acting. Her infidelity, however, wasn’t an act. John knew. He just had a feeling.
“Delilah!” John shouted and pointed stereo-typically at the mold just before it hit the power button on the TV screen. John had forget that was there until he saw the thing go for it. An anchor woman popped up and cried, “Breaking News!” Although, it wasn’t important. The whole country had been in chaos for the past few months since the election.
Delilah smiled in wonder. She saw it. That might mean he was sane. Or that maybe Delilah was also crazy. Or maybe Delilah wasn’t real either. He could not be sure.
“That is a remarkable robot!” she cried as the green mold moved behind the screen to cower at her attention. She rushed up and looked it over. “I don’t know what you paid for that, but it’s not worth it.”
Both John and the little green mold man took a pregnant pause to marvel at Delilah’s denial as she kissed John on the forehead, pushing him down into the recliner.
“Don’t stay up too late,” she said, handing him his phone, and then she went to the bedroom.
There was no light under the door once it closed.
“Now what?” John asked the mold. “I mean. You’re- you’re not a robot.” John breathed in. “I mean. What are you? Where did you come from? How did you get into my house?”
He had more to ask. A lot more, but right then, the six-inch-tall green humanoid also had a lot to off its fuzzy little chest.
“Please. I Space Invader. Alien vs. Predator. Alien Isolation. Aliens Infestation. Nintendo. PC. Sega,” it finished with a labored breath, but then continued, “by Capcom-”
John was getting the idea and interrupted, “You’re a video game alien?”
“I play video games,” it said brightly, as there was now an understanding between them.
“You’re an alien,” said John. It was clear the thing did not spontaneously generate from the bread, jam or remaining peanut butter, if there was any. No, it probably was projecting its consciousness from a space ship.
“Video game playing alien,” said the mold. “Pardon. My human is rusty.”
“You haven’t spoken English in a while?”
“Correct!” it said, jumping to the floor. It staggered to the game consoles, of which John owned many, spanning all the decades of the late 20th century to the present, though he preferred his computer collection.
Perhaps if John hadn’t played so many games, he might not have been prepared for this moment. He didn’t faint. He didn’t try to kill it. In fact, he knew exactly what needed to be said.
“You can’t just come into my house and play my games without asking permission,” John said, sternly, taking the Atari joystick away from the little green man. He wiped it.
“Human,” it said. “I have six hours to play the games. Vacation. My work is hard. My commander does not appreciate me. Please. I play Space Invader.”
“What’s in it for me?” John laughed, the mold was pathetic.
“Whatever you want,” it breathed, coughing out a few spores. “We trade.”
It was in that moment that John’s extra-ordinariness became truly manifest. A regular person might have asked for world peace or to bring a loved one back from the dead. John knew better. He had to avoid the obvious traps. If he asked for Donald Trump to be replaced, he might get Hillary or Pence. Not that anyone could be worse, but he didn’t want to know what the Trump supporters with their militias and misinformation might do if their leader was disposed within this alien’s time frame.
“I want Juan to be able to play games with me, too. Tonight and every night. Well, every night he wants to play games with me,” said John, straightening himself up so the thing knew there would be no negotiation.
Mold Man did not grant his wish in an instant. No flash accompanied the process. John had to explain the situation. He talked a little bit about the vodka even though it embarrassed him. Eventually, his sentient mold alien companion for the evening got the bigger picture and devised his own solution.
They would break into Juan’s house.
Anyway, that was part one of the plan. Part two involved mold man using some alien ability to wipe Juan’s wife’s memory of the incident with the bad vodka. Part three would be inviting Juan to come join them for an all-night-er playing Mega Man with Mold Man. No man would pass up an opportunity to play video games with a domestic mold inhabited by a genuine space alien.
Juan lived on an attractive plot of land with a brick-layered driveway. The house itself was unremarkable, but for the first time, John realized home important it was to have windows low enough for a grown man and his alien sidekick to enter without a ladder. Eventually, they agreed Mold Man could enter the garage through a broken window, unlock the door and they would borrow a ladder, only it turned out that inside the garage, the door that led inside the house, was unlocked.
John had never broken into anyone’s house and so the experience of creeping through the familiar, but dark kitchen recalled memories of fetching animal crackers while his mother slept on the couch within hearing range. He tried to rest the ball of his foot carefully in each step as if the silence would repeal the very real possibility that someone would get up to use the restroom, turn on the light and see him there with the alien.
And, of course, that’s what happened. Juan’s wife looked groggy and bitter when she first flipped the switch to their buttercream colored hallway. She stood terrified in her sweats and pink t-shirt that read, “Who needs brains when you have these?” The font was a tad frayed, so John starred a little harder than was probably necessary.
“Juaaaaaaan!” she screamed, in not a very high-pitched blood-curdler, but certainly with ample volume.
John’s heart thrust blood up his chest a little too hard. His first fear was that the police would break down the door before the mold man could work his alien magic on the woman, but then he remembered this was reality and that they lived in an average neighborhood, which meant an average response time. Chloroform would have been useful right then.
Before Juan reached the doorway of his bedroom, his wife collapsed and it was then that he noticed the alien had been starring her down rather hard.
“Help her,” Mold Man urged, flicking his round dark green eyes toward the woman.
John knelt down and placed his hand upon her shoulder, lightly, and gave her a shake. Juan and a number of their children poured into the hallway as John helped her up.
Juan’s wife grabbed him and embraced him even though she wasn’t wearing a bra. Tears flowed. Words were spoken. Heroic. Savior. John had no idea what was going on.
“John,” she gasped, “chased some guy in a ski mask inside and he ran out. You must have seen him lurking outside. You saved us all.”
Mold Man had done well and after an hour of waiting to file a police report, Juan was finally permitted to go to visit John even though it was nearly midnight and he was a father with responsibilities. He couldn’t sleep, he said, and out of gratitude or guilt she agreed to stay alone with the kids.
The mold was not happy about the bureaucracy of the justice system. It hid in a colorful laundry pile and slipped out of Juan’s house before the inconvenienced officers arrived to document a break-in that didn’t happen. John and Juan found it deep into Mega Man 2, straddling the arm of the recliner and eating some jerk-seasoned popcorn it had apparently fixed on its own. Needless to say that impressed John, because there was a box of crackers open right next to the microwave.
After the shock of having an alien in the house dissipated, Juan voiced his appreciation for the invitation with four consecutive, DUDE!s. As an orthodontist, Juan more or less cleaned most unprofessional interjections from his vocabulary, which left him relying on the remnants of a more juvenile set for this important occasion.
“I cannot believe we’re playing Mega Man with an alien!” Juan shouted almost loud enough to wake Delilah. He was swiftly shushed.
Mold Man, as John had decided to call it, turned out to be “an absolute phenomena” at destroying Dr. Wiley. At 3AM, they called a break to rush to the closest 7-Eleven Store and buy energy drinks and cigars, but decided to go full retro when they found Yoohoo in the cooler.
“This is awesome,” Juan said, taking the cartridge for Mega Man 7 out, blowing on it and reinserting it again. Twice. Three times.
“Yeah, it’s too bad Mold Man couldn’t bring a friend,” said Juan, scarfing down a turkey sandwich, so dry, he would have traded it for pickles on sandpaper.
Mold Man loved his new moniker and Yoohoo, too. “Actually,” the little green alien said, after tipping the mouth of his bottle down carefully and picking his controller back up, “My friend did come. Normally, we control separate humans during our vacation.”
“Where is he?” Juan asked.
“Inside John,” it said.
“There is nothing alive inside me!” John cried, probably waking his wife, but his assertion immediately fell flat out right in front of the three gamers, as he realized that may not be true.
“No, he’s in there,” Mold Man started. “Arrived before I did. We miscalculated the projector and I ended up on the sandwich and he’s been trying to get out ever since he form in that-”
“Don’t tell me,” said John, pulling himself up and moving carefully toward the kitchen to the old black refrigerator where a certain mostly empty bottle sat collecting dust right on top. “I sure fucking hope he likes vodka.”