Across the Board Stories

Linda C. Baker is a Thoroughly Average Human

Linda C. Baker was a thoroughly average human in all regards other than the fact that she wasn’t a human.

Sure, she looked like an average human on the outside, not especially attractive, but not particularly ugly either, just as if you averaged the faces of thirty normal human women and pasted that on a totally average human woman’s body. Her hair wasn’t long, but it wasn’t not long. Her clothes weren’t stylish, but they weren’t not stylish. Everything about her was meant to blend in and be forgotten, not particularly offensive nor memorable. 

Within a week of landing on Earth, Linda had already befriended a human who went by the name of Martha, which Linda considered to be quite an achievement because she hadn’t even mastered human language by that point. She simply mastered the art of smiling and nodding, which apparently was enough to endear her to Martha.

Linda didn’t particularly mind. Martha did enough talking for the both of them. In the span of a month Linda learned practically everything about Martha. Martha was 20 (Earth) years old, had two gerbils, despised seafood, adored donuts, and above all else was obsessed with fireworks. Martha had every type of firework memorized and kept track of the new latest fireworks, which surprised Linda because she didn’t even know people were inventing new fireworks. As a whole, Linda thought this was weird, to be super obsessed with fireworks, but she had learned that it was considered impolite to tell someone you think they’re a total freak for being obsessed with fireworks.

“You know, there’s this new type of firework you can ride,” Martha told Linda one day. 

“Oh, that’s cool.” It had taken Linda 2.4 (Earth) years to finally master the ability of polite small talk with Martha and move on from smiling and nodding.

“Yeah, duh, I know it’s cool. That’s why I’m telling you. Apparently you can, like, fly into space with this thing.” Martha’s eyes lit up as she spoke, as her eyes usually did when she talked about fireworks. “So I was thinking, we should get one. The Fourth is coming up so pretty much everyone’s gonna have one.” 

Fireworks didn’t typically excite Linda, but the thought of returning to space did. After all, it’d been years since she’d been in space and Earth hadn’t exactly been what Linda dreamed of. She picked up the required skills, learning her meat suit could move, then learning she could make sounds with her meat flaps, then learning those sounds had meanings. She did what humans were supposed to do, she got a job, she made friends, she found hobbies. She was nice and friendly and affable and every other word people used to describe someone they didn’t really know. She did everything right. Linda C. Baker was a perfect human. Almost. 

Despite looking human, acting human, she wasn’t. Because deep down, underneath Linda C. Baker’s average human face and her long-but-not-too-long hair and stylish-but-not-too-stylish clothes was a pile of 647 eyeballs, originally from space, that had somehow found themselves on Earth. And space eyeballs didn’t belong on Earth.

“Alright, I’m in.”

Martha was right, pretty much everyone did have the new rideable fireworks she was talking about. There was the usual backlash against them, mainly by NASA and other space agencies who were concerned with the health and safety of passengers. Apparently the speeds at which one needs to reach outer space would rip off any human’s skin (this is bad for human health). Also NASA didn’t want a ring of space trash around the Earth. They wouldn’t have the funding to clean that up.

When Linda told Martha this, Martha simply said, “Dude, I just wanna see some pretty space fireworks.” And that proved to be the common sentiment of other humans. 

Elmwood Beach was especially crowded with humans and their rideable fireworks on the Fourth. Each rideable firework was approximately the size of a motorcycle in order to accommodate their passengers, with the family sized ones being the length of a small car. Linda had even seen some particularly egregious ones, about the size of two busses and American flag themed with smaller fireworks hanging off side, filled with college kids and cheap beer. Linda found herself sitting with her plain orange firework on a cramped beach towel next to one of the American Flag themed ones. She had originally wanted a pink one, but they were too expensive so she settled for a plain orange one she found off some random website for four dollars. Martha and her gingham themed firework sat next to Linda on the towel. The plan was to ride off at exactly 10:30PM, when the firework show began. 

In the crowded heat of the beach, filled with the drowning chatter and smell of thousands of excited humans and their cheap beer, it was hard to be grateful for anything, but Linda was at least grateful for the clear night. Stars littered the sky, as crowded as Elmwood Beach that night. How much livelier the sky seemed on Earth than in space. 

Linda had spent eons in the cosmos, drifting through the void, seeing dead galaxies, empty solar systems. How lonely those eternities had been. Meaningless forevers spent totally lost and utterly alone in the vast chasm of space. Linda C. Baker was unique, progeny of the stars, born from the primordial chaos of the universe, a single specimen in a universe of infinite possibilities. And that sucked. She wasn’t human. She was an anomaly, a paradox of the abnormal and the mundane, a pile of space eyeballs disguised as a thoroughly average human. Space eyeballs aren’t even supposed to exist.

“Get ready!” Linda heard Martha yell. The show had begun. To her left, she saw the American flag firework rise with all its passengers hooting and cheering as the firework left the ground. Families began mounting their own fireworks, following the trajectory of the college kids, filling the night sky with flickering sparks. Martha wasn’t far behind, riding off in a gingham blaze. Linda immediately lit her own and flew up seconds after.

As Linda rose, the crowds of Elmwood Beach began to disappear, meanwhile the stars showed no signs of getting closer. Around her, families and couples rose, more American flag themed fireworks with college kids and alcohol leaped ahead, leaving behind glowing red, white, and blue trails. On her left a child was screaming on his small-car-sized firework while his parents clutched him. Martha rose higher and higher while the stars seemed forever out of reach to Linda. Turns out her firework had been four dollars for a reason. It became clear she wasn’t going to reach the stars. Linda C. Baker would be left behind as humans ascended into the cosmos. 

How ironic, Linda thought, that the anomaly of the skies wouldn’t be able to join, that she’d be trapped on a planet she didn’t belong on. Space was dark and cold and lonely, but it was where Linda C. Baker belonged. She’d be forever stuck pretending, performing as a human, an imposter. When she came to earth, she had thought Earth would give her some purpose, some reason to be. Perhaps she would find others like herself, other lost and confused piles of 647 space eyeballs who came to Earth. Or maybe she’d be able to become human, to shake off the loneliness of space, to join something bigger, find a community. Anything to avoid the bitter isolation of space, of the eons of lost drifting.

But it turns out Earth was no different than space, no less confusing, no less empty, no less lonely. No matter how hard she studied humans, how well she imitated their speech, how thoroughly average she was, she didn’t belong. Each human on Earth was as equally distant as the lightyears between Linda and the stars. Instead of drifting through galaxies, she drifted amongst humans, just as untethered as before. Because deep down, being Linda C. Baker is the same anywhere. Nothing would change the fact that to be Linda C. Baker is to be a pile of 647 eyeballs drifting through space. Gliding through the cosmos, meandering past stars, floating in emptiness. No idea what you’re doing or where you’re headed, confused and lost and scared, and totally and utterly alone.

Soon Linda’s firework began losing steam and before she could even escape the atmosphere, she began her descent. By this point there was only the occasional straggler left around her, the only other traces of humans around her were the colorful sparks they left behind, floating in the cool summer night.

Linda would’ve closed her eyes had she not heard Martha’s voice shout “Dude, look!”.

Turns out NASA was right, the speeds at which one needs to reach the escape velocity of the Earth are in fact enough to rip off human skin. Except it seemed as if there weren’t any humans. 

Above Linda, as passengers reached the boundary between Earth and sky, they shed their skin, letting human skin husks fall to the ground with glittering shreds of fire, displaying their clearly non-human selves.

The college kids with their cheap beers were beings of pure light, glowing yellow on their rafts of red, blue, and white. The screaming child and his parents were shimmering humanoids with twelve arms each, the mother using seven of her’s to clutch onto their firework, and the other five to hold onto her child and husband.

As the firework riders reached the heavens, revealing sprites and aliens and beings of light, Linda saw Martha look down at her. Martha’s own skin had begun peeling off, revealing hints of silver underneath. With some effort, Martha climbed out of her firework, jolting Linda even further awake (she was already pretty alert given the fact that thousands of humans were shedding their skin, but this woke her up even more). After all, what could cause Martha, lover of all things fireworks, to jump ship right before she could finally see space fireworks?

Linda didn’t have long to ponder this question given that Martha immediately jumped off her gingham firework and slammed into Linda, knocking them both back to Earth. After tumbling onto the now empty beach, coating themselves with sand and firework soot, Linda finally composed herself to ask, “Dude, what the actual fuck?!”

“What?” Martha replied with a smirk, playing dumb.

“Just, like, why?!” Linda asked, unable to think of anything else to say. 

For the first time, the same Martha who spoke enough for the two of them, the same Martha who was able to talk to a girl who just smiled and nodded, didn’t speak. She just grinned, basking in the symphony of colors above them.

Linda attempted to speak again, “But, like, didn’t you wanna see the pretty space fireworks or something?!”

Another silent grin.

 “Why’d you jump?! What was the point?!” 

““I dunno. Figured the Earth ones were just as good,” Martha said with a shrug as she stepped out of her remaining skin suit, revealing herself in all her silver-scaled, ten-legged, non-human glory. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d wanna watch the show alone.” 

Linda took a moment to process Martha’s words. It was her turn for grinning silence.

So Linda C. Baker, the pile of 647 space eyeballs, and Martha, the silver-scaled, ten-legged thing, sat together, covered in sand, smelling of cheap beer and soot, silently grinning at the summer sky, darted with fireworks and filled with non-human humans, listening to the echoes of drunk college-aged light beings. And oddly enough, sitting skinless on an empty beach in the dead of night, illuminated by burning flesh husks and American flag themed fireworks, with a trash ring around Earth, next to a silver-scaled, ten-legged Martha was exactly where the thoroughly average non-human, Linda C. Baker belonged.

Perhaps the pile of 647 eyes had been blind. Sure, she was still tumbling through the cosmos, just as lost and confused as before, albeit on a rock called Earth now, but at least this time Linda C. Baker wouldn’t be alone. As it turns out, pretending to be human is the most human thing of all.

Linda C. Baker and Martha (again)

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