Written by David Glen Larson
Ruben felt different the moment he awoke, but wasn’t sure until he looked in the mirror. There was the confirmation. The eyes looking back weren’t his, yet he recognized them as he would his own. They belonged to the entity.
He was only twelve or thirteen the first time it crawled into his skin, but he hadn’t been afraid, and when he/she/it had gone again, he felt hollow, like an empty house, his own lonely voice echoing off his bare inner walls. But it had always come back to him, and this morning he was full again.
“Hello,” he said, but the entity didn’t answer. It never did.
Showering still felt strange, but the entity looked away to protect his modesty, waiting until he was dressed to be fully present again. Putting on clothes was different too, his fingers thicker, clumsier than when he was alone, as if the skins of his hands were another’s gloves.
Not wanting to speak to anyone in this awkward state of possession, Ruben tried to sneak out the front door, but callused fingers wrenched his ear and spun him around.
His mother’s dark eyes bored into his, and for a moment he felt like a teenager again, caught trying to escape. For one rueful instant, he realized how little had changed since then.
“So,” she said, “It’s you.”
“Of course it’s me,” said Ruben. “Who else?”
Her lips twisted, and she tugged him into the kitchen like a disobedient dog. “You must eat, Rubencito.”
He considered protesting, but whenever his mother folded her imposing arms like a general on the field of battle, it was useless.
Ruben slumped into the chair and sipped his coffee. It tasted different than it had the day before, but then things always tasted different with the entity inside, as if he were using a borrowed tongue, and he wondered if the entity had a tongue of its own somewhere.
It arrived while he slept, always slipping inside like a whisper, never waking him, so he had no idea what it looked like. He liked to imagine it as a floating ball of light, though it might’ve resembled a giant rabbit or an earwig, or nothing at all. Perhaps it came from a place without features; a world where everything was invisible, and all that distinguished one thing from another was presence. That was a strange thought, and Ruben seldom had those. Had he or the entity been thinking then?
It was just another puzzle among many. The biggest still remained. That is, of all the seven billion people crowding the planet, why had the entity chosen him? Ruben was painfully ordinary in almost every way. He never missed a day of work at his boring IT job at a Century City law firm, still lived with his mother, was twenty pounds overweight (give or take), drove a fifteen year old car, and if he got a spare moment to think about it, he was probably depressed. But what could he do, tell a shrink that an alien entity was occupying him like a timeshare, and that he was perfectly fine with the arrangement? They’d lock him away for life.
“Stop playing with your food.”
Ruben wasn’t aware of it, but he’d been splattering droplets of hot sauce onto yellow swirls of egg yolk over a horizontal smear of avocado. The image reminded him of when he used to lie on the grass and stare up at the stars. It was a work of art, and he was no artist.
“I can’t be late today,” he said, pushing his plate away. “We’re training the lawyers on a new system.”
He rose, and the Entity brushed against his gray matter — a tickle to get his attention — and a daydream dropped into his mind. It was the thought of warm sand pressing up through his toes and the salt smell of crisp ocean air. It wanted to know what it was to be awake, to live as a human being, to write poetry and sing at the top of his lungs in front of strangers. It wanted to quit his job, to run away and drive across the country looking at everything there was to see. And today it wanted to go to the beach.
Ruben bent and stared at his distorted reflection in the metallic toaster. A poet once said, a man is a mirror with six faces, and through him God looks out in all six directions at once. He didn’t know if it was God, a ghost, or some alien explorer, but whatever was inside him, it picked a poor host.
Fat chance, he told it. There would be no beach today.
“You should listen to it,” said his mother with a scolding tone. “It knows what’s good for you.”
“What?” She couldn’t have known.
“Those eyes might fool other people,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “but they do not fool me, Mijo.”
“How long have you known?”
“You were such a sad boy after your papa died.” She made the sign of the cross. “All summer you stayed in your room, and I thought the boy I loved was gone. I prayed every day for your return, and then one morning, they were different?”
“What was different?”
“Your eyes. They were smiling.”
“Do you know what it is?” he asked, clutching her wrist. “Do you know what’s inside me?”
She laughed. “Of course, Rubencito. Don’t you recognize it?” She placed her hand over his and grinned. “That’s your soul.”