Author: David Barber

An agency employed Morgan as an instructor for the alien tourists.

They wanted to visit, but not encased in space suits or lumbering robots. They wanted the genuine experience, blending in without the screaming and gunfire of the first time, so now they wore human bodies like gloves.

Morgan was qualified to teach English as a foreign language, though by an irony of the process, their gloves retained the ability to speak English like a native. He glanced around at faces blank as dinner plates.

The elderly balding man was Mr Frank Belknap. Sammy Beck was the one with the tattoos and wasted veins. Morgan wondered who rented themselves out like this. But then, what kind of alien would want to wear Sammy Beck?

Yesterday, Morgan came back to the classroom with a coffee, and found them all hunched over in their seats, wrists and arms bent like a preying mantis, silently snapping jaws in unison. A reminder that these weren’t people.

It was near the end of the brief course on how to pass as human. It covered the basics of eating, excretion, shopping and sex, hopefully enough to get by for a few days without the locals calling the cops.

They sat round a table in a bar, which Morgan justified to the agency as a practical test. To pass, each had to order a drink, eat some peanuts and use the restroom.

Frank Belknap had a queasy fascination with the drinks on offer.

“Excreted by micro-organisms, you say?” He held his beer up to the light. “But they are dead now? The ethanol kills them?”

Everyone else either gulped the glassful, or sipped and left well alone.

Buying drinks was a success. Perhaps monetary exchange was universal. The eating practical not so much. Peanuts still fell out of mouths.

Morgan took a deep breath. The restroom business had been a nightmare. Just sex then.

“Listen up guys. There are quite a few rules—”

“May I ask a question?” This was Sammy Beck.

“It’s what I’m here for.”


Funerals weren’t covered in the course; in fact, Morgan didn’t think they were even mentioned in the handbook.

Expressionless faces swivelled towards Morgan like radar dishes.

He cleared his throat. “You do know what funerals are?”

“Ashes,” said one.

“Heaped earth.”

“The coffin and its perplexing cargo.”

“And you want to see one?” It was better than his vague plan with hookers.

There are funerals all over the city every day. What these graveside mourners made of his class visit he couldn’t imagine.

The priest’s voice rose and fell, just audible over the rain pattering on umbrellas.

“Such mayfly lives,” murmured Sammy Beck.

Afterwards, Morgan let them watch the backhoe filling in the grave. He was proud how they stood in respectful silence, and perhaps that was why he found himself telling them about his dad’s death; how he’d squeezed his hand tight, as if that could stop him slipping through his fingers.

He saw them savouring his words like fine wine.

Tourists offer payment for such conversations now, and snap pictures of coffins.

Their alien flesh endlessly renews itself by clever tricks of the science we envy so much. Is that why they are obsessed by our mortality?

These days they pay top dollar to witness life support turned off, live as it happens. Special rates to watch euthanasia. Also executions, for the connoisseur.