“If you ask me,” Douglas said in a whisper, “I don’t think things are so bad.” His face was pressed to the wall of his bedroom. It was a thin wall, and the man in the adjacent room could hear him perfectly. The other man was tossing and turning in his bed restlessly, feeling trapped by his new room, and desperately wanting to avoid another conversation through the wall. His name was also Douglas, and that wasn’t an accident. Everyone in the building was named Douglas
“Did you hear me?” Douglas said again.
“I heard you,” the other Douglas said. “I think you’re crazy. Things are terrible. I’d never even been to Bushwick before this. It’s awful here.”
“Were did you live before?”
“All the way uptown. Inwood.”
“Did you like it?”
“It doesn’t matter. I liked it better than here.”
“I’ve lived here forever.” Douglas said, “Like five years in this building. 450 bucks a month for my room. A railroad, yes. But still, a good location. Right off the L-train, fifteen minutes to Union Square. Tops.”
“Sure, but now there’s no goddamn L train!” the other man hissed, “Those bastards vaporized it! How can you say things aren’t so bad! Anything’s better than this alien overlord bullshit!”
About the alien overlord bullshit: the extreme brutality of the extraterrestrial invasion was far more insidious than any attacks dished out by H.R. Giger’s chest-bursting creatures or the killer bugs of Robert A. Heinlein’s Klendathu. The alien conquerors weren’t pod people, zombie monsters, or mutated cyborgs hell-bent on the totality of extermination or assimilation of the Earth. In fact, their invasion was specifically aimed at New York City. Even Staten Island. Though they had a particular (and peculiar) focus on Brooklyn.
Throughout the five-boroughs, the aliens leveled all apartments, condos, townhouses, brownstones, high-rises, and houses systematically with top-of the line laser death-rays. Afterward, new buildings were constructed, and nearly everyone was relocated to a new apartment; a 10-foot by 10-foot living space with an incredibly low ceiling and a sliver of a window. That is, except for a few railroad apartments in Bushwhick.
Masters of efficiency, the aliens deemed many of the Bushwhick buildings needn’t be destroyed, but instead renovated slightly. Douglas, and a surprisingly high number of Bushwick residents, were among those who were permitted to keep their rooms. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, slightly nearer to what was once the DeKalb L-train stop was an apartment building populated by all Emilys. (The aliens found it handy to organize the humans by first-names.) In the Emily building, six of the women were long-time residents, with two Emilys having been moved only a few blocks east from Williamsburg.
“Better than the alien overlords?” the first Douglas said incredulously “Not true. This place was cheap before. Sure, but it was still a railroad apartment. I had this roommate. Not like you. He’d walk through my room whenever he felt like it. Even when I was doing my private business! Never knocked! Not once. At least these guys tap their tentacles on the door and let you know it’s time for the breadline.”
“Are you saying this building is actually better now?”
“Listen. I’ve not seen a single bedbug since these aliens showed up. Not one.”
“Come on man,” the other Douglas said. “I think a few bedbugs are better than the total enslavement of the human race!”
“Hey it’s not the entire human race! It’s just New York City! You have to admit, real estate used to be a racket here.”
“What about our freedom!?” the other Douglas said.
“Freedom? Listen buddy, all I know is I’m not paying rent, and I’m not stressing out how close I am to public transportation. This matter-transportation beam thingamajig seems pretty damn good!”
Had the invasion included the whole of America, then families accustomed to large houses, complete with more than one bedroom, laundry facilities on the premises, reasonably close parking spaces, and other countless “normal” luxuries, would have surely been driven insane by the new policies. The aliens knew this. They picked New York, and focused on Brooklyn specifically for a reason. Here, there were scores of scrappy, starving artists who were accustomed to living conditions that- if not equal to this level of squalor- were sometimes much worse. Back in the Emily building, one out of-work sculptor spoke to a former sex columnist, about the apartment she’d been forced to give up in the East Village when the aliens arrived. That place, apparently, while in a great part of town, smelled like cat piss. Through the thin wall, another Emily countered with a story about living in Hell’s Kitchen and paying a ton, but being forced to have a shower that was in a separate room from her sink.
“I’d always heard Bushwick was good,” an Emily said. “Now I guess I’m stuck here.” Throughout the neighborhood, more stories were being swapped about annoying doormen, weird sublet policies, inflatable mattresses, and a complete inability to have large packages delivered without incurring an avalanche of passive aggressive memos from all past and present members of the co-op board.
The aplomb with which many Buswhick people took the new housing situation was actually an important component of the galactic overlord master plan. In Bushwhick, there would be no substantial human revolt. Most saw things the way Douglas did. Unwittingly, whispering through the wall, he articulated the summation of the alien plot perfectly,
“Actually,” he said, “I think these alien guys are pretty smart conquerors. From what I hear, they’re still new at this galactic empire business. Like this is the first planet they’ve tried to conquer.”
“Yeah, so what?” the other Douglas said.
“Well if they can make it in Bushwick, I’ll bet they can make it anywhere.”
Image by Gabriela Vainsencher
Read more of Ryan’s stories here. Ryan’s writing has also been published with Nerve, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Opium and Clarkesworld. He has performed stories on stage with The Liar Show, The Moth, Stripped Stories and Heeb. Ryan’s plays have enjoyed staged readings and full productions in New York City with Collective Unconscious, The Longest Lunch Theatre Company and The Tank. From 2008-2009 he wrote a short story every day and posted them to his blog called “Side Affects.”