SciFi Sessions: Restricted Areas for Aliens in China

by Katrina Hamlin

The first alien showed the second alien the document. The second alien studied the text in silence. As he read, his companion wrapped an enormous hand around the thimble of beer. He delivered the flat liquid to his cavernous mouth in a graceful swoop.

The nervous waitress hovered nearby, trying to decide whether or not these giants could drink more. The first alien held the bottle up to feel its empty weight, caught her eye, and nodded.

She hurried over with a new bottle, and levered the cap from its neck as quickly as she could. Then she backed away to her plastic stool in the shadows.

The second alien reached the end of the page, and looked up. He released a stream of atonal sounds.

The first alien replied in the same unwavering pitch, and poured out two more thimbles of beer. He pushed one across the table for his friend.

The second alien swept yellow hairs from across his forehead, and raised his thimble for a toast. He made a short, sharp noise, and they downed the beers.

The waitress listened, and watched.

When they left the little restaurant for their lodgings along the street, she looked at the paper they had abandoned on the table. The white sheet made her think of their ghostly skin.

She couldn’t understand any of the characters on the paper. But after an evening of listening, and watching, she had started to see that the aliens’ expressions were the same as her own, warped across exaggerated features and thrown into stark relief against their complexions. Like emotions painted on a mask, she thought.

The innkeeper heard them coming up the stairs. Of course it was them; each step had the force of three ordinary people. On the kang besides him, his son stirred in sleep. His wife was already wide awake. She shuddered. He put his arm around her. “The palest one, I think he tried to tell me they will go tomorrow.”

“But I still don’t like it.”

“They’ll go.”


The sun came up early in the morning. The first alien threw the pack onto his shoulders, huffing in the thin mountain air. His hot breath billowed like smoke from a dragon, exactly the way it was carved on the temple walls in town.

The old man at the baozi stand saw this and laughed. Up the hill ahead, a spindly coolie bore a burden twice as large.

The alien’s white brow wrinkled into a twisted frown. He might not be strong, but his sheer size was overwhelming, and the fierce expression spread over that weird pallor unsettled the old man. He bit his lip and offered a ball of bread in apology. The alien accepted, and his lips thinned and stretched into a grin, showing teeth even whiter than his skin. The old man took a step back, unnerved by their gleam and sharp contours. The alien dug in a pocket for change, but the old man waved it away. The old man sighed with relief when the alien’s companion hoisted his own pack, exhaled a cloud of steam, and turned to leave, gesturing for the other alien to follow.

As they plodded up the short road, which would lead them onto the steep path and then the plateau, the village held its breath. A girl peeked through a keyhole. A woman stood frozen in the shadows of the outhouse. The innkeeper hushed his son as towering silhouettes darkened the window. Then they were gone, and a collective sigh washed out over the street.


That evening, a crowd gathered in the restaurant. The empty beer bottles had been polished and were now lined up against the wall, like trophies. The waitress made them count, again, how many bottles the giants had drunk. She complained that her arms had tired after carrying so many bottles, and opening so many caps.

Then there was the food. So much food. She got a good laugh when she described the way chairs creaked under the aliens’ weight, even before the feast.

A boy, the innkeeper’s son, put his hand on her arm. “Were you scared to be here, alone with them?”

“I don’t think they were dangerous.” But she puffed out her chest as she spoke. She was lying; she knew she’d been brave.

“They might have been.” said the innkeeper’s wife. “I couldn’t sleep, all night long.”

“Such terrible faces,” muttered the baozi seller, in sympathy.

“Where do you think they went?” asked the boy.

“I don’t know.”

“Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know.”


“Where did they come from?” This time the boy asked his cousin, on their way back down the street. She was older than him, and she there had never been a question she couldn’t answer.

She tilted her head to one side, thoughtful.

“I can’t be certain.” She paused for thought, and gravitas. “But, you see that star?”

“The big one.”

“No, no. The one next to it.”

He squinted. “Yes.”

“It’s there, the place where they come from.”

“Why do they come here?”

“They don’t have beer there. You heard how much they like beer.”

“At the restaurant, she said they also had lots of the fish-taste aubergine and twice-cooked pork.”

“They also don’t have that, at home.”

“Where did they go?”

“I don’t know that. I don’t know everything.” This surprised him. He was polite enough not to let it show. She realised her mistake, but carried on, imperious. “Now. I’ve told you.”



The boy went home to the inn. His mother was already curled up on the kang. But she wasn’t asleep, and she still looked uneasy.  He went to join her. She smiled, and put an arm around him. She let her eyes close, and a little afterwards, she let out soft snores.

He lay awake besides her. His father was still at the restaurant. The boy lay there for perhaps an hour, but he couldn’t sleep. He rolled away from his mother, careful not to tug her arm as he unwrapped her embrace.

In the dark kitchen, there was a plate of cold leftovers: aubergine and pork. His father had also left half a bottle of beer. He took a swig: not worth their long journey, he thought. He ate some of the cold leftovers. The oil was congealing in the night chill and the slimy vegetable clung to his palate. He took another swig of beer to wash it down. He burped. There wasn’t so much beer left. He thought he might finish it, just to see if he could.

He took another gulp. There was still some left. He burped again, and gave up. He went to throw the bottle onto the rubbish heap.

He threw the bottle hard, for the satisfying clunk. He burped once more.

He heard another noise from down the street, maybe an echo – or his father? – he turned to slip inside. But these steps fell so heavy on the ground, and dragged over the gravel. There was more than one set of feet. He squinted, and saw two ghostly shapes in the dark. One of them was waving at him.

Uncertain, the boy waved back.

They reached the gate. He took them in, standing up as straight as he could. The aliens were dusty, and weighed down with fatigue.

They stared at him, staring at them. Then the innkeeper’s son looked up to the sky above them, and picked out the correct star. With great precision he pointed a finger towards the star. The aliens followed his gesture with their eyes.

They seemed very tired now.


The boy could, he thought, hear a longing in that quiet sound. He felt bad for drawing their attention to the distance between here, and there. He signalled that they were to stay on the step, and went inside to get the cold aubergine and pork, and two sets of chopsticks.

The aliens formed very wide smiles across their broad faces. Their lips curled upwards to reveal the bright teeth. They threw the packs down on the ground, and sat on them while they ate the cold food.

After a while, the congealed oil cloyed their mouths, and they needed to drink. One of them mimed a hearty swig. The boy considered, and went inside. He came back with a dusty bottle of beer and three small glasses. He poured three careful measures. He passed the aliens their share, and squatted on his haunches, clutching his own glass in one hand.

He pointed back to the star, and raised his glass in a toast. Very solemn, the aliens followed his gaze, and raised their own glasses to the stars.