I was just getting over the rush of sitting on the set during a shoot. WPTN was filming the pilot for a series centered around an alien species their writers called the Aquati. According to the story line, the Aquati had come to Earth from a planet completely covered by water. The series would be mired in the boredom of a typical cheesy plot to save the planet from the evil aliens, but it was still thrilling to watch it filmed live.
“The Aquati sure do look real don’t they?” I asked. It wasn’t really a question. Their costumes and makeup were incredible!
Billy held a finger to his lips. I rolled my eyes. Whenever he get’s that look in his eyes…
Once Billy had me meet him for coffee and donuts at 6 am on a Saturday so we could witness the end of the world together. Another time he dragged me out Haller Road at midnight to prove you can summon restless spirits with beer. It’s hard to forget having to accompany him to the hospital so he wouldn’t be alone during his brain surgery.
Actually, I might have to give him credit on that last one. What they took out looked to be about the size of his brain, and it came from in between his toes, so…
Anyway, Billy had that look now.
There was a huge plexiglass wall in the studio with a deep floor-to-ceiling aquarium on the other side of it that appeared to contain nothing but water. I imagined they intended to film certain scenes inside it and I walked up and stood next to the glass to see if I could guess one. The set was almost clear now and the crew had dwindled to a couple of grips resetting mics and such.
“It’s because they can take any shape,” Billy finally whispered.
My reaction probably should have been one of impudent disgust, but I thought I saw something in the water that distracted me. It was as if somehow the water density changed in several places at once and made the light bend differently to produce an outline… of one of the Aquati? I strained my eyes through the glass, but whatever it was, it was gone.
“You don’t get it, Pockets,” he persisted. “They’re not aliens. They’re water people and they’re being held against their will.”
I spun around and pried one of his eyes open to see if it was bloodshot.
Billy brushed my hand away casually with his usual dead serious look. “You’re either for me or you’re against me.”
I blinked and shook my head. I knew what those words meant. I had already committed to something and I had no idea what it was. I was suddenly vacillating inside, my desire to flee wrestling no-holds-barred with my curiosity to see what lunacy Billy’s brainectomy had failed to prevent this time.
I dragged the silence out as long as I could before voting against my conscience. “Um… for you?”
He clapped his hand over my mouth and spun me back toward the glass wall. Yay, my mind deadpanned. Theatrics.
“We need to free them. All I need you to do is go find the guys with the guns and stall them. Create a diversion. You think you can do that?”
Guys with guns? It was all I could do to keep from falling on the ground in fits of laughter. “Um… okay?” I snickered.
He pointed in the direction of the studio exit and pushed me, so I followed his sense of urgency and walked toward the exit. When I got to the door, I found two guys in suits on the other side, so for fun, I pretended they were the enemy. “Excuse me,” I said. “One of the Aquati escaped. Did you see which way it went?”
Behind me an alarm sounded inside the studio. Both men immediately jumped to action. The man closest to me grabbed me by the neck and pushed me back through the studio door. I realized I could feel the cold barrel of a handgun pushed against my cheek. Billy had broken the emergency glass and removed an axe. He was swinging it for all he was worth at the aquarium wall. The other man drew his gun and aimed it at Billy, but he never got the chance to shoot.
A small crack appeared in the glass and Billy dropped the axe and threw his hands up in surrender. The whole studio began to groan and shudder. The wall exploded and water poured out everywhere. A seemingly endless torrent washed everything away. The men with the guns, the studio, everything, and yet I couldn’t feel any current at all. I wasn’t even wet.
“We did it, Pockets! We’re heroes!” Billy’s voice came from behind me.
My head was spinning in confusion. My whole world had disappeared before my eyes. I stood staring at an entire landscape of water, serene and clear. There really were men with guns! Nothing made sense. What did we just do?
You’re not a hero, Billy. You’re an idiot! I wanted to scream it at him, but my voice had washed away with the flood.
The water was only a few inches deep, barely over my heels, but looking down it seemed to disappear below me as far down as my eyes could see, as if the ground beneath my feet wasn’t really there. As I stared, a ripple formed at the center of my focus. Then, just as I had seen on the other side of the glass wall, the water changed in density and an image formed on its surface.
Freed from its aquarium prison, it didn’t just form an image. It shaped itself into a man’s hand and reached up toward me. It’s because they can take any shape. Billy’s words echoed in my head now. I wasn’t standing in water at all. I was standing in the Aquati!
I watched in amazement as an arm followed the hand. Little by little, a man’s nude body emerged, until he stood before me, tall, beautiful, perfect. I could only tremble as he reached out to touch my cheek. I could feel his thoughts reach into me through a touch that felt like cold Jello against my skin.
The Aquati aren’t aliens. It was just like Billy said. They have always been here, but they abhor us. The anguish they feel over the way we’ve treated their world was almost too horrible to bear. It forced my tears down my cheeks.
I could feel the incredible gratitude he felt for their freedom. Billy and I really were heroes to them. He wiped a tear from my cheek and put his finger to his mouth to taste it. The most gorgeous smile I’ve ever seen spread across his face. And then he was gone. The water receded and the Aquati were gone.
I stood there blinking. The only thought in my head was that I’ll probably never see a man that perfect naked again. …and he wasn’t a man.
© 2012 Anne Schilde