Intergalactic Litany by Kayleigh Shoen

Before the first ship touched down. Before pod doors hissed open and the first visitor appeared: a creature with a remarkably familiar human shape, two arms and two legs, but eyes that seemed to see light-years beyond us. Before we took their dry, soft hands in our own. Before our politicians embraced their leaders and received their gifts—crystalline harps that sang with light, berries of unparalleled sweetness, and spheres that contained the mysteries of space. Before we wrote books like Intergalactic Peace and United by the Stars. Before we wrote books like The AlphaCent Guide to Fashion and AlphaCents Don’t Get Fat.  

Before we grew bored with their peering eyes. Before they became fixtures in our malls and sidewalks, eerily silent and in the way, who never refused a free coffee or salted pretzel. Before we rolled our eyes at green faces on TV selling Beats by Dre or Pepsi. Before we resented the expensive baubles designers hung from their ears and tied to their necks. Before crystalline harps and space spheres cluttered our second-hand stores and used bookshops refused to buy our unopened Intergalactic Peace.

Before our generosity turned to spite, when ships kept coming and began to be refused. Before the borders closed across the Americas, Europe, and everywhere else. Before the deserts of the world were overrun with the gaunt green creatures, their dry skin yellowing in the sun, phosphorescent crystals in their pockets, a currency that bought neither water nor food nor protection. Before AlphaCent became a slur on our playgrounds, and “alien” the only non-sexy costume in the Halloween store. Before this world turned them into desperate animals, green outlines of skeletons, keening in the sand on the wind.

Before the second band of ships arrived and hovered over every continent—round-trip ships that beamed up the AlphaCents and left behind deadly spheres. Before the forgotten trinkets in the bottoms of our closets and trunks of our cars heeded the ships’ calls and released their violent potential. Before our yards, streets and homes rose against us, the entire world exploding like popcorn, and inert objects—rock, wood and metal—burst into kinetic energy. Before we were destroyed.

Before all this, perhaps there was a child with a bookshelf full of Bradbury and Asimov. Full of wonder, with a telescope trained to the sky. Just for a moment he saw a flash in the darkness and, mistaking it for a shooting star, made a wish. As if the Universe were built for granting wishes. As if it would never ask something in return.