Bryce needs a fucking job – Season 1, Episode 1 of Starlight

Starlight, Season 1, Episode 1: Bryce needs a fucking job

Copyright (c) Ben Foth 2021

Word count: 9175


Bryce Waterman’s first ever summer job hunt is an endless series of “we’ll call you if we’re interested” and “need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience” frustrations. Hiring managers hate him, and he hates hiring managers.

Bryce keeps himself busy in his free time like any 19-year-old student does – working out, drinking and getting high, partying, going out with friends, and running a blog about extraterrestrial sightings in the city.

Bryce’s blog catches the attention of a mysterious group he’d thought was only a myth – Starlight. And his wish for some real income and responsibility in his life may very well be fulfilled by these alien hunters.


Bryce needs a fucking job

By Ben Foth

Blogging about alien sightings wasn’t going to pay the bills. Bryce Waterman knew that. But they were real, right? If only someone would believe him… And give him something to do from 9 AM to 5 PM now that school was out for the summer.

Bryce unbuttoned two buttons and rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt as he walked through the hustle and bustle of the ByWard Market, taking a leisurely stroll between two job interviews.

Was he even a man yet? Or still an aimless, irresponsible boy? Was he worthy of the respect and love he craved from the men and women around him?

Another interview I’ll probably never hear back from, he thought. Why can’t someone just give me a fucking job already? The manager seemed more like he wanted to get it over with than actually interview me.

He pulled his phone out and looked again at the “job interview tips” articles he had open, then he checked the stats of his blog “Aliens in Ottawa”. More visitors than usual today. Awesome. The one about the stripper whose coworker had concealed wings and claimed to be from another planet was getting some serious traffic.

A pretty white cat suddenly dashed by him. He speedwalked after it.

“Wassup, kitty?” Bryce patted its soft fur. He smiled. The cat meowed and rubbed itself against Bryce’s calf in black jeans. “You’re so cuuute. You gonna let me pick you up?”

Bryce lifted the cat by its armpits. Its tail and hind legs dangled. Bryce took in the cuteness of its soft tiny nose, thin whiskers, glowing red and black eyes, and large fucking fangs that looked ready to rip him apart as it hissed.

“Whoa, shit,” Bryce calmly, tensely set the cat onto the ground and backed away. He’d never seen a cat with teeth like a sabre tooth tiger before, or with demonic eyes like that. They weren’t there when he first saw it.

“There it is!” A fit man dressed in a skull t-shirt and black vest exclaimed behind Bryce. His arms were covered in tattoos. He was with a shorter, conservatively dressed man with shaggy black hair. “Move away, young man. This here is beyond your understanding.”

“It’s just a cat with, like, fangs…” Bryce said as the two men slowly cornered the cat, which kept hissing. The shorter guy was carrying a high-tech cat carrier type of thing. “Wait, is this another alien?”

Bryce pulled his phone out, then the taller guy gently gestured at him to put it away. Bryce complied. The cat jumped at the shorter guy, manifesting bigger, sharper claws like a wolverine, or Wolverine himself. The shorter dude’s rugged fist punched it out of the air as it let out a savage yelp. Bryce winced. Was this animal cruelty?

“Tom, don’t let it run away!” The shorter guy exclaimed in a British accent.

“On it,” the guy apparently named Tom shot the cat with a tranquilizer. The cat flopped onto the pavement. “Thought this one would be peaceful, guess not.”

The two men seemingly ignored Bryce, sweeping the defeated, demonic cat into the carrier. Then as they walked away, the British guy said – “Don’t put this one on your blog, Bryce.”

Bryce did a double-take. “Wait, who are you guys and how do you know me?”

They said nothing and kept walking.

Bryce thought – Were they Starlight? He’d only ever heard of Starlight while browsing obscure Internet forums. Were they right there in Ottawa, just like the myths?

***

Shoes and sandals on glass shelves lined the white walls of the store. Its glass front drowned out the mall-going crowd’s chatter. A few shoppers in summer clothes browsed the items, including one girl Bryce’s age, who he checked out while pretending he wasn’t. Sex was in the hot summer air.

That girl looked at Bryce with bright green eyes that quickly turned a regular brown. Bryce didn’t know if he’d hallucinated that. He hadn’t gotten high all week. Too busy hunting for jobs and keeping himself in shape.

First the cat, then Starlight, now her. Am I going batshit? Bryce thought.

The store’s manager walked out of the back room at 13:07. Bryce had gotten to the store at 12:45. He pretended not to notice her out of the corner of his eye.

“Bryce?” The manager asked.

“Yeah,” Bryce faced the manager and forced a smile.

“Hi, I’m Ashley,” she shook his hand. Seemed to be in her mid-20s. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Bryce made intent eye contact. Should I have called her ma’am?

“Follow me, we’ll find somewhere to sit.”

Bryce and Ashley sat across from each other at a food court table. Ashley fumbled through her folder full of resumes, then placed Bryce’s in front of herself.

“Can you tell me a bit about yourself, Bryce?” Ashley asked.

“I’m a student at Eastern University. I’m working towards my Bachelors of Communication and I just finished my first year,” Bryce said. “I’m just in Ottawa for school, but…”

“For sure. How do you like your program? And Ottawa?”

“It’s good, I really like it here. I’ve met some great people and had some great times.”

“For sure. So, any previous retail or customer service experience?” Ashley skimmed through the resume’s two pages, lacking real work experience but stuffed with absolutely every hobby, extracurricular, and volunteering experience Bryce had ever taken part in, along with buzzwords and exaggerated academic achievements that he’d thought a retail or food service job would care about.

Ashley would respond to everything Bryce said with a hurried “for sure”. Then she ended the interview with a “We’ll call you if we’re interested.” Bryce had heard that one enough times to realize what it really meant.

Bryce took his stack of resumes out of his backpack and threw them into a recycling bin.

***

Bryce mixed a shot of vodka into a glass of orange juice. He sipped it. His blonde, bearded, burly roommate Ryan sipped on a beer. Assorted half-empty liquor bottles covered the kitchen table between the two young men. Bryce blankly stared at them.

“A cat from Hell. It was literally a cat from Hell,” Bryce said. “And those guys could have been Starlight. They knew my name and my blog. Maybe I’m finally getting famous.”

“Starlight? Like the myths you’ve lectured me about when you were drunk?” Ryan asked. “Is that one going on your blog?”

“Don’t even know if I’ll type this one up,” Bryce said. “Did you read the last one? About the wedding photographer who caught some werewolf type creature during a shoot?”

“Probably just Photoshop, man.”

“Well, what I saw today wasn’t Photoshopped. I swear, this girl I saw before my second interview today had glowing green eyes for a second. I’ve never seen eyes like that before.”

“I forgot to ask you, how were your interviews today?”

“I don’t know if I’m getting either of them, man,” Bryce took another sip of his drink. “Probably not. I’m probably just going to figure out a way to make money blogging. Fuck job hunting and fuck all these hiring managers who never give me a chance to really prove myself.”

“How come?”

“No experience. It’s bullshit, man. You need experience to get a job, you need a job to get experience. Everyone I know already has a summer job, but I don’t. You know, it’s just cause the managers only see the shit on the resume, they don’t care about what I can do, they only care about your fucking work experience.”

“You should just lie. Put down some jobs at companies that have closed down, maybe something like a camp counselor. Everyone does it.”

“I’m not lying on my resume, that’s just dishonest. I’d rather get a job without having to lie.”

“Whatever, yo. Any girls coming tonight?” Ryan opened another beer.

“Yeah, Chad’s bringing some girls. Rachel’s coming with a friend too.”

“Alright. Good luck, man.”

“Good luck,” Bryce clinked his glass with Ryan’s beer. “I just hope I know what to say to them.”

“Dude, you’re buff,” Ryan said. “Act like it.”

***

The walls of Bryce and Ryan’s apartment were beige and undecorated during the day, but on weekend nights, strobe lights would illuminate them. A few young men and women nursed their drinks on the living room’s centrepiece, a leather couch behind a liquor-stained wooden table. Two guys sitting in black moon chairs flanked the couch. One of them had a girl on his lap. A black and white patterned rug over the hardwood floor complemented the pitch black television on its pitch black table.

Bryce was living out his bartender fantasies behind the kitchen table, amusing himself and a girl by mixing many liquors into a single drink – absinthe, gin, vodka, brandy, and liqueur.

“Try this one! Tell me what you think! It’s called an Aunt Roberta!” Bryce spoke over the trap music and overlapping conversations fighting for dominance. He handed the drink to Rachel, the girl across from him. She took a small sip and gagged.

“Aah, it tastes like licorice,” Rachel winced. “I don’t think I can handle the rest!”

“Yeah, it’s really strong! The website I found this on said that like, 30 people have died drinking it!” Bryce said. He took the drink back from Rachel and took a large gulp with a smile. “I hope I won’t,” he coughed. “Hope I won’t be one of them!”

“Oh my God, that’s going to kill you!” Rachel giggled.

“I don’t have to drink all of it, you can have some more! All the different liquors cancel each other out, so you can barely taste the booze!”

“I’m good, thanks!”

“How about I mix you something weaker?”

Bryce poured some of the gin into a glass, then mixed a sports drink into it.

“Try this!” He gave the glass to Rachel. She sipped the drink.

“I’m going to mix you another one of these, be right back!” Bryce said.

As Bryce hunted for more liquor with his Frankenstein of a cocktail in his hand, he bumped into a tall, muscular guy who was burlier than Ryan – Chad Preston. He set his drink onto the kitchen counter.

“Chaaaaad!” Bryce exclaimed over the music.

“Bryyyyyyyce!”

The two young men shook hands and slapped each other’s backs. Chad had already downed quite a few drinks, but at his size, they only got him a bit tipsy.

“Aliens! In Ottawaaaaa!” Chad half-exaggerated his exclamation.

“Fuck yeeeeeaaaaaah!” Bryce returned the enthusiasm. “Yo, you wanna drink Aunt Robertas with me?”

“What’s that?”

Bryce picked his drink up and said – “a whole bunch of stuff, bro.” Then he mixed an Aunt Roberta for Chad. They cheersed and drank up.

“I met the weirdest cat today!” Bryce slurred. “It had like, fangs and shit, and, it tried attacking this British dude who was with this punk rock looking guy… Weird shit, man.”

“Damn, you serious?” Chad sipped his Aunt Roberta. “Put it on your blog, brother.”

“But they knew me, I don’t know how. Could have been Starlight.”

“Starlight? Like the secret society you told me about?”

“If they’re not just a conspiracy theory, yeah. Girl alert.”

A couple decently hot girls were checking out Chad and Bryce. A blonde and a brunette. Both short, in jeans. The blonde wore glasses.

“Which one do you want?” Bryce asked.

“I’ll take the brunette, you can have the blonde,” Chad said.

Bryce didn’t remember what happened next, but then he was sitting on his couch with the blonde and ranting to her – “So, I run a blog called Aliens in Ottawa, which is exactly what it says in the title, and I get people sending in their stories of alien encounters here… And a few people think it’s to do with Starlight, but I don’t know, I always used to think it was a conspiracy theory until today…”

“Um, I think my friend needs me,” the blonde girl coldly inched away from Bryce.

Bryce kept downing his Aunt Roberta.

***

Bryce regained consciousness in his bed. The morning sun shone through his room’s blinds. His head was pounding and his body didn’t want to get up. The previous night’s clothes were on his hardwood floor, his jeans drenched in piss. Not again. Another night of blacking out. Not again. Bryce reluctantly stood up and threw some sweatpants and a t-shirt on. He puked in the toilet.

In his kitchen, Ryan and Chad were chilling.

“Great party last night, eh, boys?” Bryce said as he started cooking some eggs and downing entire bottles of water. “How’d it go with whatsherface?”

“Took her home, easy peasy,” Chad said. “Won’t kiss and tell.”

“Good man,” Bryce said. “Look, guys, I’m out of service today, so I’m not gonna make it to the beach. Just gonna down a bunch of pickle juice and see what else I can stomach till this gnarly fucking hangover goes away.”

“Bryce, you okay?” Ryan seemed concerned. “Sit down with us.”

Bryce sat down.

“You’ve been blacking out and passing out at every party the last couple months. What’s up?” Ryan said. “Are you still pissed about Madison?”

“Just being a normal student,” Bryce held his head up despite all the pain and drain in it. “I keep telling myself, when I get a job, I’ll drink less, I’ll stop getting high, especially if I have work in the morning, but I really have nothing to do but that and blogging and the gym.”

“Just watch your liver, eh?” Ryan said. “My uncle died from drinking too much, and I don’t want that to be you too.”

“Sorry for your loss,” Bryce said. “But I’ll be fine, you know… After this fucking hangover goes away. And this time, I won’t ‘hair of the dog’ it. I’m officially kicking the morning-after beer routine today, as much as I could use one right now.” Bryce stood up and checked on his eggs.

“By the way, if you’re not doing anything today, can you get us some milk? We’re out,” Ryan said, looking at directions to the beach on his phone.

“Sure will.”

***

Don’t puke. Don’t puke. Doooooon’t puke, Bryce thought as he walked like a zombie through the grocery store aisles. Well, I already puked a bunch of times. Need milk, and eggs, and fish and stuff… And a nap…

As Bryce checked a carton of eggs for cracks, he spotted a familiar face picking up a carton of milk – punk rock guy apparently named Tom. Should I say hi?

Bryce walked past Tom, but kept an eye on him. Was he really Starlight? Bryce kept his eye on Tom during his shopping, and took the cash register beside the one he took. Tom made friendly conversation with the middle-aged female cashier.

“I’m a little old to be a student, but I’m flattered,” Tom said after the cashier offered him a student discount.

Bryce paid for his groceries and intently followed Tom out of the store after he’d packed his. Tom was carrying probably 5 packed bags in one hand. Normal male behavior. Bryce shifted all his bags into one hand too, trying to show Tom up as he walked towards the nearby parking lot.

“Excuse me, Tom?” Bryce said.

Tom jumped and turned his head.

“Tom, from yesterday? Demon cat?” Bryce continued.

Tom was at a loss for words. He ran. Bryce pursued him. The two men kept an iron grip on their grocery bags shaking in the wind. Tom got to his car and put his groceries in the trunk.

“Look, I just want answers. What the hell went on there?” Bryce said. “Are you Starlight?”

“You know about Starlight, eh, Bryce?” Tom opened the passenger door of his car and reached into its glove compartment. “I have your answers right here.”

Bryce breathed a sigh of relief. “Good, because-”

Tom quick-drew a tranq gun and shot Bryce in the neck.

Bryce only felt a slight weakness. He stayed standing.

“Do a lot of drugs, eh?” Tom said.

“Not for a…”

Tom shot Bryce again. This time, he passed out. He dropped his bags of groceries onto the pavement.

***

Bryce regained consciousness behind metal bars, on top of a metal bed with sheets. Shit. Where the fuck was he? The room looked Victorian with its old-timey arch designs on its white painted walls. He tapped his pockets. His phone, keys, and wallet were missing, probably confiscated. So were his watch, his shoes, and his belt. He tried putting his hands on the bars, but a blue force field spontaneously blocked his fingers from passing through.

Bryce almost began to cry, then Tom entered the room.

“Bryce Waterman,” he said. “I put your groceries in the fridge. Wouldn’t want to waste that food.”

Bryce stayed silent as he stared Tom down. He didn’t want to lose his cool. His heart beat quickly.

“Am I getting out any time soon?” Bryce broke his silence.

Tom sized up Bryce.

“Don’t give me that silent treatment shit,” Bryce held down his indignation. “Are you keeping me here forever or killing me or what? Is this even legal, what you’re doing?”

“Perfectly legal,” Tom said. “But you forgot to ask me how we know you.”

“Who’s we?”

“Starlight. That’s right, we’re real. And we don’t like wannabe journalists like you poking around in what should be our business. I know it’s a fun little hobby for you, exposing extraterrestrials around here, but on a level of national security, you could very well do a lot of harm. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but you’re staying here.”

“Wait, so… “ Bryce began as Tom walked away. “I’m not getting out?”

Tom shut the door.

***

Bryce woke up the next morning on the same sheet-covered hard slab. He contemplated starving himself to death. Better to die young than live in this small cell for the rest of his life, right? At least his hangover was almost gone.

A short young woman entered the room carrying a tray of breakfast – eggs, bread, bacon, and a glass of water. Her brown hair was in a ponytail and she was dressed like a generic businesswoman. Seemed to be in her early 20s. She disabled the force field, slid the food under the bars, and reactivated it.

“Thank you,” Bryce said.

She said nothing and left.

She did the same thing at lunch.

Then around dinnertime, Tom revisited Bryce.

“How was the food?” Tom asked. He looked grim in his black slacks, black flannel button-up shirt, and black suspenders.

“It fed me,” Bryce said. “Now what do you want?”

“To take you to dinner. Don’t worry about getting your wallet back, it’s on me. You pick the location.”

***

Tom picked a booth in the far corner of the restaurant, where no one was in earshot.

“Cut the crap, Tom, if that’s really your name,” Bryce said as he dug into his burger and fries. “You can probably guess what questions I have for you.”

“We’re Starlight. I’m sure you’ve heard the, quote unquote, conspiracy theories,” Tom said. “Extraterrestrial, supernatural, it’s what we investigate. It’s all in Ottawa for some reason, and we’re what keeps it from getting out of hand.”

“G-men, eh? Punk rock g-men…”

“One way to put it,” Tom sipped his glass of wine and chewed his steak. “You didn’t want anything fancier than a burger and fries? You know I’m paying.”

“And you didn’t want me exposing you,” Bryce stayed on subject. “I don’t want to bargain. You want me to stop bothering you? Kill me. I’d rather die than live without my freedom. I know you won’t be dumb enough to let me go and just blindly trust me not to say anything.”

“You’ve got heart, kid,” Tom set his eyes on Bryce. “You’ve got heart, so I’ll tell you what’s up. Aliens are real, you already know this, and my job is to keep them from getting out of hand. Now, we’re leaving your blog up. Deleting it would just give you more credibility. Still working on a cover story for you though, I mean, if you really have to disappear forever. We’re not the bad guys, we’re just professionals at what we do. Starlight is a non-government organization, because oddly enough, they, well, we decided bureaucracy would just get in the way of everything. Aliens and supernatural beings aren’t animals. They could be more powerful than us, and legislation could be powerless against them. Someone could always leak something big or piss off the wrong intelligent, violent being. So we’re a small operation, people who trust each other, people who have proven their loyalty and integrity to each other and who are willing to boldly go where no man’s gone before. That’s from Star Trek, but I’m pretty sure you know that.”

“You trying to hire me or something? Cause I’ve been looking for a job all summer.”

“No,” Tom looked at his food.

***

Bryce’s heart sank as Tom drove him into the outskirts of the city. Bryce wasn’t going back to the jail cell, or to the apartment he shared with Ryan, or anywhere, was he?

Tom parked his car on the side of the road and produced a gun from underneath his steering wheel.

“Let’s go. Don’t run,” he said.

Tom led Bryce into a deserted grassy field illuminated by moonlight. Trees surrounded it and there was no person, house, or sign of civilization in sight.

“This is my least favourite part of the job, you know,” Tom sighed. “I hate that I have to do this, but you know why I’m doing it. On your knees. Let’s make this quick.”

“So that was like what they do on death row?” Bryce stayed on his feet. “You let me pick my last meal.”

Should have ordered a steak and wine like Tom did, Bryce thought.

“On your knees,” Tom repeated. His finger was off the trigger. Gun safety, right? “And it’ll be less painful. I’ll shoot you right in the head instead of letting you slowly bleed out of everywhere else. You move and I’ll shoot.”

Bryce put his hands behind his back. He stayed on his feet.

“On your fucking knees! Beg for me, and maybe I’ll let you go back to the cell so you can live and eat and watch a bit of TV instead of dying like a dog here! This is what happens when you know too much, Bryce, you either get killed or locked up forever. Now choose! On your knees, and I might have some mercy!”

“Fuck you, Tom! You ugly punk rocker wannabe with your douchey black shirt and suspenders that went out of style half a century ago! I bet you jerk off thinking of Marilyn Manson sucking his own cock. I’m not getting on my knees for you, you faggot! Bet you want to fuck my dead body, that’s why you brought me out here all alone!”

Tom held a straight, stern face. Bryce stared death and Tom right in the eyes. Tom burst out laughing and holstered his gun. He reached his hand out and shook Bryce’s.

“Welcome aboard,” Tom said through his laughter.

“What?”

“This is probably the weirdest job interview you’ve ever had.”

“What?”

“Wanted to see what you were like under pressure. Just asking you the typical job interview questions wouldn’t have been enough.”

“What?”

“Young man, it was a job interview. I talked to the team yesterday and since you’re already in the scene more or less, we agreed to give you a chance if you proved your integrity. And it wasn’t the nicest thing pointing a gun at you, but… -”

Bryce punched Tom in the jaw with all his might and tackled him to the ground.

***

“You might need a night or two to process this,” Tom said through the pain of the bruises Bryce had just given him, as the two drove back to the city. “So we’ll hold you at the base tonight, then let you go home tomorrow. Give you a bit of downtime, then your orientation is next week.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. And I mean it this time, not just saying it all politely like I’d always do at the end of job interviews,” Bryce said, also savoring the Tom-inflicted pain all over his body.

After a bit of silence…

“Would you have actually killed me?” Bryce asked.

“It was in the cards,” Tom said.

***

“Holy fuck, you’re back!” Ryan greeted Bryce, who was munching pizza on their couch while smoking a joint. “Where were you the last few days? I was going to call the police if you didn’t come back this week.”

“I went camping,” Bryce said. “In Gatineau Park like we did that one weekend. Had my phone off the whole time. Spontaneous decision. Felt like getting away from civilization and technology for a while.”

“Damn, why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was a spontaneous decision. Sorry for not getting the milk like I promised.”

“It’s fine. Just let me know beforehand next time you disappear, you worried the fuck out of me.”

***

That night, Bryce fired up his blog at the coffee shop near his apartment and wrote a new post:


 

Goodbye

Hey people, it’s Bryce.

I want to thank the Aliens in Ottawa community for all the great support since March. We documented a lot of stories and had a lot of fun sharing them. I’ll be forever grateful for all of you. But now, I’m moving on. I’ve realized some things: I’m just a really bored young guy who wanted to find some sense of meaning in his boring life, and now I’ve found it with a new internship that may lead to an exciting new career path. This blog and talking theories with all you people were fun while they lasted, but now I must pursue a different path.

I’m also going back to school in the fall and I’m excited to keep pursuing my degree while gaining work experience and keeping myself busy with the gym and maybe some new writing projects. And I’ve opened up about this before, but my drinking habit has taken quite a toll on my well-being and enjoyment of life, and I wish to take the proper steps to quit that and live a happy sober life.

I’m looking forward to see how much I’ll grow because of all these life changes. I imagine great things will come to me. And maybe one day, we’ll know for sure if there’s aliens out there. Could be, but we don’t know yet.

Hope you all live awesome lives from here!

  • Bryce

P.S. I’m still answering everyone’s emails, so feel free to send some.


“Guess what I just wrote,” Bryce said to Kayla, the barista who’d served him. Her soft brown hair was in braids and the sleeves of her flannel shirt were rolled up at the ends, exposing a hair tie on her right wrist’s slightly tanned skin.

“What?” She leaned on the counter and scanned it for blemishes.

“Last blog post.”

“No!”

“Yeah!”

“Why are you quitting your blog, Bryce? You loved working on it.”

“I got an internship at some boring company, rather focus on that. Anyway, how’s, you know, everything been?”

“Just work and summer classes, you know? How’s Madison?”

“Oh, Madison… Yeah, she’s, um… She dumped me before she went home for the summer. But I don’t blame her, you know, alcoholic,” Bryce pointed at himself. “You know how bad it was last semester.”

Kayla was a pretty girl with one flaw – a large red fucking birthmark on her right cheek, but she’d never seemed to date any guys after she’d left her ex. Bryce was pretty sure she was a virgin, though he felt asking her about it would be awkward.

“When you’re done your shift, you want to chill with me a bit?” Bryce asked. “What’s closing time? 10?”

***

Bryce flashed back to Tom pointing a gun at him as he and Kayla strolled through the moonlit park. Kayla smelled like the coffee from her workplace. Bryce had wanted to ask her out before, but he never felt it was the right time. Was she even right for him? He’d considered hooking up with her, but she never seemed like the type for it. She grew up Mormon, after all. And she was 20, almost 21, while Bryce was 19. Only a bit older, but still.

“You think there’s actually anything out there?” Bryce stared at the starry sky. “Because there is. I’ve always known there is.”

“Yeah, I mean, if we were all alone, then that’d be scary…”

A white cat strolled through the street in the distance. Bryce noticed it but kept his mouth shut.

“Why’d you really invite me here?” Kayla asked. “Just to look at the stars? They’re beautiful, but why with me?”

“To be honest, I’m stressed, needed someone to vent to,” Bryce said. “Work orientation’s tomorrow, and I really don’t know what to expect.”

Behind Kayla, something bright fell from the sky. Bryce thought it was a plane or a shooting star at first, but it was closer to the ground than either of those could have been. Starlight would probably drive over and take care of it, whatever it was. Not Bryce’s business yet, but he imagined Tom and the breakfast lady and the British guy handling it like professionals.

“Look,” Bryce said. “Did you see that shooting star?”

“No, did you make a wish?”

“I would have wished for a job, for some place to finally hire me. But I’ve gotten that already. What would you have wished for?”

“For you to get a job,” Kayla giggled. “It’s the least I could have done to repay you.”

“For what?”

“Bryce!” Kayla put her hand on his shoulder.

“What?”

“Saving my life!”

“When?”

“You know when! When I was with Zach…”

Bryce fixed his hair. “And you went on that double date with me and Madison. That’s when you wizened up.”

“She was a lucky girl, Bryce. You were too good for her.”

Bryce looked up at the stars.

“You know I don’t entirely believe that, right?” He said. “But I’m getting there. I’m getting there.”

***

Bryce rang the doorbell of the Victorian-style building that Tom had given him the address of. Bryce followed the “dress a bit nicer than the staff” rule again, hoping to make a good impression. His black hair was freshly cut and neatly combed, he wore a dark red tie, his white button-up shirt was tucked into his dress pants atop his dress shoes, and he wore his favourite stainless steel watch, which reminded him of the ones James Bond wore.

A pretty redhead girl in her early 20s wearing glasses and denim casualwear answered the door. A crystal pendant hung in front of her shirt.

“Bryce? Come right in! I’m Helene, nice to meet you.”

Bryce thought she said “Ellen” at first.

“Nice to meet you too.”

Helene led Bryce through the mansion’s white painted walls, beneath hanging chandelier lights, wooden fixtures, maroon tapestries, and various ethereal paintings on the walls. The place looked like something out of an old timey Sherlock Holmes film.

In a room with couches arranged in a U-shape in front of a screen, all of which was overlooked by huge windows, Tom was giving the team a briefing.

“So, Simon, you know what that means. Toxicology report. All the usual tests,” Tom said, wearing ripped jeans and a tight graphic tee and a refined vest plus a few rakish bracelets. “And here’s the new guy I was telling you about. Our intern, Bryce Waterman.”

Bryce politely smiled at Tom and the 3 other team members sitting on the leather couches.

“Now let me introduce you all. Everyone, we’ve stalked Bryce. He’s a Communications student and an amateur blogger who almost exposed us, then I decided he was worth keeping around, so he’ll be helping us in any way he can. Now Bryce, you’ve met me. I’m Tom Holroyd, Starlight’s big cheese, or more formally, team leader. I’m the guy who sets our course and makes all the biggest decisions.”

Bryce politely nodded.

“This is Jane O’Connor,” Tom gestured to the lady who’d served Bryce a few meals when he was locked up. “She usually does admin and housekeeping stuff, but she’s learned quite a bit here, so we’re promoting her to a field agent. Her background is in social science and business. We hired her for that and her culinary skills.”

Jane awkwardly smiled.

“Omar Atallah,” Tom gestured to a brown-skinned man in his mid-20s with a thick frame and a slight gut, also wearing thin-framed glasses. “He’s our tech guy, but don’t ever assume he’s entirely a geek. He’s a genius and a bruiser. Ex-wrestler with an engineering background. He was so ambitious that designing rockets and stuff got boring for him, so he came to us and decided to help us decipher and reverse-engineer alien tech.”

“Hey, Bryce,” Omar said. Bryce politely smiled back.

“Simon Bannerman,” Tom gestured to the British guy with shaggy hair Bryce had met earlier. “Excuse me, Doctor Simon Bannerman. Former army medic, so he can break all the bones in your body while naming them. He also knows more than anyone about alien biology, so he’s invaluable to us.”

Simon waved to Bryce. Again, Bryce politely smiled.

“And you’ve met Helene Ouellette,” Tom gestured to the slim redhead about Bryce’s height. “She’s our PR lady, and the smartest woman and person in general I’ve ever met. Sorry, Omar.”

Omar rolled his eyes.

Tom continued. “Helene is the reason we’re not deep in any legal BS or any media scandals. She was pursuing a modeling career and going to law school before joining us, so she knows a lot about public image.”

Bryce and Helene politely smiled at each other. She knew what he was thinking – “a model and an aspiring lawyer, NICE”.

“Now Bryce, a few ground rules. Show up to work on time, okay, like any job. You don’t need to be a kiss-ass showing up 15 minutes early, just be on time. This is also a round-the-clock job. You never know when something could come up, so take it easy on the drinking and the drugs. I saw how you took those tranqs. Always have your phone on you just in case. Be responsible, treat your coworkers with respect, and all that jazz. No harassment, no violence, no being an asshole. General ‘being a good person’ stuff.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And don’t call me ‘sir’,” Tom said. “We don’t do ‘sir’s and ‘ma’am’s between us. Tu peux me tutoyer. As for the dress code, have some class. Don’t be sloppy. No slogans, no graphic tees, nothing too baggy, no ripped jeans, no tattoos, no sneakers, solid colors and patterns only. Nothing too flashy. Subtle jewelry is alright. And lose the tie, Bryce, we’re not that formal around here.”

Bryce didn’t know whether to call Tom out on his graphic tee, ripped black jeans, tattoos, converse shoes, and bracelets.

“Exceptions to the dress code apply if you’re as good-looking as me and you can pull it off,” Tom said.

The entire team laughed.

“Your first task, Bryce…” Tom began.

What would it be? Analyze some alien stuff? Go on a field mission to capture a monster? Fight training? Learning to use a gun?

“Get us all some coffees, please and thank you.”

The next one was “clean the windows and floors”, followed by a lunch break. Then “clean the kitchen”. Bryce enviously eyed the liquor cabinet as he did that. These guys were just as stocked up as any frat boys he knew, with wine, whiskey, vodka, gin, absinthe, brandy, tequila… What were their weekends like at this place?

“No, you sweep like…” Omar micromanaged Bryce, who tuned out his lecture on proper cleaning techniques. “And use the vinegar before the dish soap when you mop.”

Then Omar lectured Bryce on how to dress. “Not so formally, but keep it classy, don’t look sloppy. Jeans are fine as long as they’re…”

Just fuck off and let me do my job, you pretentious narcissist fuck, Bryce thought.

“He’s like that,” the British Simon said after Omar left, sipping his coffee. “Wishes he was the big guy around here. Don’t mind him. He’s stupid in his own way like all the rest.”

“All the rest of who?”

“People.”

“Are you calling yourself stupid too, Simon?”

“Sometimes I am, Bryce. Sometimes I am.”

Bryce watched the team at work all day as he cleaned the place up. Tom was all over the place, taking phone calls, working in his office, stepping out then coming back after an hour. Jane spent the whole day in her office, only leaving for bathroom breaks. Omar and Simon stayed in the basement. Helene seemed to be a slacker, taking frequent breaks, leaving her office door open, resting her feet on her desk and being immersed in her smartphone and the knicknacks on her desk more than in her work. A pack of tarot cards and various crystals sat on her desk among other weird things.

Bryce didn’t have an office, so he sat on the stairs and browsed his social media between cleaning and admin tasks.

Helene passed by him during one of his breaks.

“Hey, Helene,” Bryce said.

“Hey,” she said confidently.

“So, I’m curious… Where exactly does all this alien stuff come from?”

“Forces beyond us are bringing it here,” Helene said. “And I’m training myself to be our astrologer and predict the stuff before it happens. I’m guessing you’re an Aries?”

“Taurus actually.”

“Almost had it! Looks like I haven’t quite unlocked all my powers yet.”

Helene sauntered off.

“Well, that was helpful,” Bryce said under his breath.

Then Tom re-entered the place, holding a containment device like the cat carrier from that one time. Some small blue thing, or maybe being, was inside it.

“Yo, Simon! Can you tell me what the hell this is?” Tom yelled, seemingly ignoring Bryce. “Simon!”

“He’s in the basement,” Bryce meekly said.

Later, Bryce knocked on Jane’s open office door. The place’s bookshelves were packed with books and every work-related thing on Jane’s wooden desk was neatly organized.

“Can I come in?” Bryce asked.

“Yeah,” she cordially said.

“So you do admin and housekeeping and stuff, right?” Bryce said as he swept the floor.

“Yeah. It’s my job, or was.”

“Is that, like, basically what I’ll be doing?”

“Yeah.”

“So, like, coffee and cleaning and stuff?”

“Yeah. Just ask me about it. If you ever want to, just ask me about it,” Jane said, tensely.

“Okay,” Bryce said just as tensely.

***

“How was your first day at work?” Ryan asked Bryce at dinner.

“Weird, man. My coworkers are crazy and my boss is the most punk rock professional guy I’ve ever met.”

“Do they believe in aliens like you do?”

Bryce almost spit out his rice.

“Fuck if I know,” he said.

“What company are you interning at anyway?”

Shit, I don’t have a cover story, Bryce thought. Should have asked Helene for one. He looked around the kitchen and adjacent living room.

“The government,” Bryce said.

“The government? Are you a parliament tour guide or something?”

“No, just an intern. Making coffee for important people, keeping the place clean, shutting up and listening to the real adults. Valuable work experience when you’re 19.”

***

On Bryce’s second day of work at Starlight, he dressed a little more casually. Jeans and a plain t-shirt instead of anything dressier. He was called to the basement this time. The bottom of the stairs diverged into multiple hallways. Hallway to the archives in the middle, no other doors in that one. Another hallway led to the medical centre among its other doors, where a few beds were surrounded by cabinets of various medical equipment. Another one led to Omar’s workshop among other doors, filled with weird technology, tools, and scattered parts.

“Hey, you want to see an alien? This is a weird one,” Tom said. “Well, they’re all weird, but this one speaks English and they don’t always do. But yeah, you want to see an alien up close?”

A wide-eyed, hairless, muscular blue humanoid lay on the medical bed, letting Simon examine it. Its crotch was covered by a modest loincloth it had fashioned out of a few towels.

“Impenetrable skin, interesting,” Simon said. “Thank you for letting me examine you.”

“This guy hatched from an egg and screamed to be fed. You missed it. Happened after you clocked out yesterday. Grew really fast,” Tom said, out of Simon and the alien’s earshot. “Fed him anything we could that was half-edible. We call him the blue glutton.”

“Holy shit,” Bryce didn’t know what else to say.

Bryce stood back and didn’t say a word. Tom approached the alien.

“Welcome to Starlight,” Tom said. “We’re the only Earth authority we know of that deals with extraterrestrials. You seem nice enough so far, and you’ve learned the language, so what’s up?”

“I didn’t learn the language, I’m using a universal translator,” the blue glutton said. “We evolved one right inside our skulls.”

“Wicked,” Tom took notes on his phone. “So what’s your purpose here on Earth?”

“I demand you feed me, or I will feed on you,” the blue glutton said. “More of us will come to devour your Earth when I give the signal, but first, I need Starlight technology to send it. Along with all your resources and information.”

“And if we refuse?” Tom asked.

“I’ll eat you and your loved ones one by one. We’ve evolved for merciless takeover. I’m impossible to overpower or imprison,” the blue glutton picked up its metal bed and tore it apart with its bare hands. Its spine straightened as it boasted. “Bury me alive and I will force my way back to the surface. Lock me up and no wall will hold me. Even without reinforcements, I will devour this whole planet on my own and grow larger than any other being.”

Bryce’s eyes widened.

“Ugh, I hate it when they’re evil,” Tom complained like a teenage girl.

***

“Impenetrable skin. That means we can’t do our usual ‘shoot them dead if they attempt world domination’ schtick,” Tom whispered to Bryce and Jane and Omar, making sure the invincible alien occupying the conference room wasn’t in earshot. Helene was in the kitchen, searching for something to feed him with. “He’s also too strong and heavy for any of us to overpower him.”

“Could feed him a bomb, blow him up from the inside,” Omar whispered. “But we don’t have any small enough to fit in his mouth.”

“Trap him in a force field, maybe,” Bryce whispered. “But I don’t know how realistic that is.”

“Yeah, we can’t do spherical force fields yet,” Tom whispered.

“Comply to my demands and maybe your city will be spared,” the blue humanoid munched on a bag of chips, literally the bag itself, not just the chips. “My skin is bulletproof, so you can’t kill me. Give me access to every point of leverage Starlight has.”

“Want some water with that?” Tom asked, nodding to Bryce, who handed a glass of water to him.

“I could use a drink to wash this all down,” the blue glutton said, then took a sip, and spit it out. “Without a sedative pill and various poisons mixed in! Do you know how sensitive my tongue is to all sorts of substances? Stop stalling and give me what I want.”

Bryce felt a lightbulb go off in his head. “Sure will.”

Simon kept watch over the blue glutton, and Bryce gathered the rest of the team in the kitchen.

“Give me a shot glass!” Bryce said. “You want to knock someone out quickly, maybe kill them, I have just the drink. This guy smells drugs and other chemicals, but he might not pick up on this.”

Bryce dug into the team’s liquor cabinet and arranged some bottles on the counter – Absinthe, gin, vodka, brandy, and some liqueur. He poured two shots of absinthe into a glass, then three shots of vodka, a shot and a half of gin, one shot of brandy, and a shot of liqueur, then mixed them all together.

“Voila! It’s called the Aunt Roberta. I drink these when I try to get as fucked up as possible as quickly as possible. I never drink these too fast. I always nurse them over an hour or two,” Bryce explained. “You barely taste the liquor and it hits you very fast, but this drink’s apparently killed people, so I don’t recommend it to women or really small guys.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Helene looked horrified. “Remind me never to drink one of these.”

“Give him more than one,” Bryce began to mix another one. “And make sure he drinks them fast. He likes to eat, let’s see how much he likes to drink.”

Bryce offered the Aunt Roberta to the blue glutton.

“Do you like alcohol?” He asked. “There’s a bit in here, just saying.”

The blue glutton sniffed the glass.

“How much?” It asked.

“Just a bit, and you’ll barely taste it,” Bryce said. “Do you have alcohol on your homeworld too?”

“Yes, it’s sweet in small doses and poison in large doses for us. I would enjoy some, but how do I know this won’t harm me? You could have put a large dose in here.”

“I’ll drink this one then, let me get you another one.”

Bryce mixed another few Aunt Robertas in the kitchen, and gave one to the blue glutton.

“Cheers,” Bryce clinked his glass with its. He chugged the Aunt Roberta as quickly as he could, inspiring the blue glutton to do the same.

“Don’t savor it. Earth custom is to drink these as quickly as you can. Not a lot of alcohol in them anyway,” Bryce said, continuing to chug his drink. “Want another?”

“Yes,” the blue glutton said.

Bryce handed it another Aunt Roberta from the kitchen. The one he drank hadn’t hit him yet, but when it would, it would be enough alcohol to black him out.

“Here you go!” Bryce said.

The blue glutton downed it all in one gulp. Bryce handed him another. Bryce started to feel buzzed, but he couldn’t puke out the alcohol, or else the blue glutton would know something was up. Bryce handed the blue glutton yet another Aunt Roberta, which it downed in yet another gulp.

Four Aunt Robertas in probably 20 minutes. Jeez, that would even murder Chad, Bryce thought to himself. Bryce’s buzz started to become a tipsiness. The paintings and maroon tapestries of the Starlight Manor spun around him.

He mixed another couple Aunt Robertas in the kitchen, then brought them over to the conference room.

“Cheers,” Bryce clinked his second Aunt Roberta with the blue glutton’s fifth. He’d decided to take one for the team and drink another. He needed to sell the illusion that the Aunt Roberta contained much less alcohol than it really did, or else the world would be devoured.

As the young man and the alien chugged their drinks, Bryce saw the life start to fade from its eyes. It was passing out, probably dying, but so was Bryce.

“What did you…” The blue glutton didn’t finish its sentence before it lost its life and collapsed onto the floor. Its skin may have been invulnerable, but its liver was a different story.

“Guys, come in, it’s dead!” Bryce yelled to the rest of the team, who all left Jane’s office and joined him.

“Can you do me a favor and put me on an IV?” Bryce said, beginning to get tipsier and tipsier. “It’d really help my hangover.”

“Oh my God, Bryce, don’t die!” Tom rushed to Bryce and tried keeping him awake. “Stay with me!”

“Sayonara,” Bryce slurred. He blacked out and his body flopped back onto the leather couch.

***

Bryce woke up in the medical bay at midnight that night, barely realizing what was going on, IV in his arm keeping him hydrated and nourished, just like he’d requested.

“Fuck, I need to piss,” he moaned. He had no clue where he was or even what his name was. He still had his pants on, so he pissed them and moaned in pleasure as he did it.

Bryce had no idea the rest of the Starlight team was watching him.

“Thank fuck he’s alive and conscious,” Tom sighed. “Simon, change his pants. No one ever tell Bryce he pissed himself in front of all of us. He’d never live that down. What matters is, he saved the world this afternoon. Let’s not make that an embarrassing memory for him”

When Bryce regained a bit more brain function and awareness, he realized where he was. Omar, Jane, and Helene had gone home, but Simon and Tom stayed at Starlight to make sure Bryce was okay.

“Hell of a second day at work, eh, buddy?” Tom put his hand on Bryce’s bare shoulder.

“Did we win?” Bryce slurred.

“Yeah, we won, buddy,” Tom said with pride. “All because of you, Bryce. If it wasn’t for you, the world could have ended, or at the very least, lives would have been lost. I couldn’t have picked a better intern at a better time.”

Bryce smiled.

“Get some sleep, eh?” Tom said. “Jane will bring you some breakfast in the morning, and Simon will make sure your body’s all healthy.”

Tom stood up and prepared to leave, then Bryce said “You know why I really came to Ottawa, right?”

“Hmm?” Tom looked at him attentively.

“Starlight was why. I read about you guys in high school, in the conspiracy theory circles online. There’s people out there who know you exist. So I came here because Ottawa was my best bet at seeing aliens, something that wasn’t just school or getting a job or making friends or meeting girls. I always wanted more than that.”

“Those people can theorize about us all day, but in the end, we’re not real. We’re just a story.”

“No, you’re real, obviously.”

“No, Starlight isn’t real. You imagined all of this. I think you’ve had one too many Aunt Robertas, Bryce.”

Tom patted Bryce’s shoulder, smiled, and left.

***

“You know what to do,” Simon said on Bryce’s first day of work after recovering from one of his most gnarly hangovers ever. “You may have saved the world, but it’s still your responsibility to keep this building clean.”

“Where’s the mop?” Bryce tried sounding like he was taking pride in the job, but he was really not looking forward to more cleaning.

As Bryce searched for the basement supply closet, he spied Omar shoulder pressing in the weight room, which he was overjoyed to see.

“Holy shit,” Bryce checked out the benches, dumbbells, and other assorted equipment. “I know where I’m getting my workouts in from now on.”

Bryce tried impressing Omar by curling the 45s.

“Not bad,” Omar said. “How’s the hangover?”

“Basically gone, but that was fucking awesome. I saved the world at only 19 years old. That’s quite an achievement, to say the least. I think I’m the only person in the world who can say his alcoholic tendencies stopped the world’s destruction.”

“Don’t get too cocky, Bryce,” Omar’s voice got stern and serious. This wasn’t just friendly advice. He spoke as if he was warning against the end of the world. “You’re not that badass.”

“What? I’m just saying, that’s what happened, I saved the world.”

“Come with me,” Omar didn’t look at Bryce as he exited the weight room. Bryce followed him out.

Omar unlocked the archive at the end of the long basement hallway, and led Bryce into it. Alien artifacts and unfamiliar or archaic technology rested atop shelves and black file cabinets in the dark, vast room illuminated by ceiling lights. Omar showed Bryce a wall of portraits and names in one corner of the room.

“What do these people all have in common?” Omar asked, no lightness in his voice.

“I don’t know, they’re all ex-employees here. Deceased ex-employees,” Bryce said.

“They’re all young,” Omar said. “Not a single one over 50. You know why?”

“Why? They had a really good pension plan?”

“The job killed them. Just in case you ever decide to treat Starlight like a game or a movie, Bryce. None of us is a poser or a young privileged kid trying to prove himself like you are. We’re all young though. Tom’s 27, I’m 26, Jane’s 24, Helene’s 23, and Simon is 31. We’re all young. Because sooner or later, this happens to all of us.”

Omar directed Bryce’s attention to the photos and names of the deceased. Bryce didn’t pay attention to any of the names, partially to spite Omar, partially to avoid the grim reality of his new job.

“Tom’s a savage, Simon’s a doctor, Jane and Helene are two of the world’s finest, smartest women. Then there’s me. Ex-wrestler who was going to be #1 in Canada, top of my class in school, man of God. Even I fear for my life sometimes when I work here. Takes a top-tier individual to work this job.”

“Look, Omar, I understand the dangers of working with aliens, I understand the responsibilities…”

“No, you don’t. You barely do. You don’t carry yourself like you do. You don’t carry yourself like we do. You don’t carry yourself like you’ve seen death or any of the things we have. You don’t carry yourself like you’ve ever had any real responsibilities besides your schoolwork.”

“Well, I did sports all throughout high school, that took a lot of commitment and responsibility,” Bryce’s pride wilted. “And I’ve done a bunch of volunteer work.”

“Bryce. Look at yourself in the mirror. You’re a coward. No other kind of person gets drunk and high like you always do. I’m not saying you can’t improve, but you’re immature. How old are you?”

“19,” Bryce rolled his eyes. “And I quit getting high, because I know the job’s more important than that. Way more important.”

“Good, but you’ve barely lived compared to us. So here’s what you’ll do next – you’ll live by our standard: Cut your pride and your bravado. Listen to Tom, learn from Tom, and never doubt him. He’s our leader for a reason, and he has all his responsibilities for a reason. Get trained like the rest of us. Just lifting weights isn’t enough, okay? I’ll let you think about that.”

Omar left.

You don’t know what kind of man I really am, Omar, Bryce thought. You’re not the one who earned this job by saving the fucking world.


NEXT


Author’s notes:

  • I started writing Starlight in late 2018. The working title was Terrorism Before Alcoholism. Its first draft was in the same format – a collection of 13 episodic stories about a degenerate college boy who secretly craves responsibility finding a job, except it was originally going to be as a spy fighting terrorists. I got 3 scenes roughly done (the shoe store job interview, the party, and one which will be in a later story) before shelving the project. I got back to it in 2021, and the project flourished when I made it about aliens and supernatural phenomena instead of terrorists. Thus, Starlight was born and I got a lot more than 3 rough scenes done after that.

 

  • The first story of Terrorism Before Alcoholism (which became Starlight) was based on my own first ever job hunt when I was a 19-year-old who’d just finished his first year of university. I had the same frustrations as Bryce – being the only one of my friends who couldn’t easily land a job, dozens of job interviews that went nowhere, usually because I had no work experience. And I was trying way too hard when it came to getting hired in retail or food service (including dressing way too formally for interviews like Bryce did on his first day at Starlight). I ended up making a bit of money writing satire articles that summer, and I also got hired at a call center… that didn’t schedule me until the school year.

 

  • I had the same conversation Bryce and Ryan did about lying on my resume with one of my then-roommates. And unlike Bryce, I got frustrated and ended up submitting one with fake work experience that got me an interview… at a store I’d already applied to with a 100%-honest resume. I don’t know if they saw both versions of my resume, but I doubt those retail employees could have been arsed to deal with resume fraud.

 

  • Yep, the Aunt Roberta is a real drink I’ve had on a couple occasions. And it did taste like licorice, plus surprisingly, I could barely taste the alcohol. I only recommend this to daredevils with a high booze tolerance. Drink it slowly, very slowly. This is NOT a drink you want to chug down.

 

  • Ashley’s repeated disinterested “for sure” was exactly what I heard from one female manager interviewing me during my aforementioned job hunt.

 

  • Last one – Bryce is highkey a self-insert of me when I was 19. Fit and social but awkward with girls, ambitious with blogging and writing, really into getting drunk and high but also with a strong sense of responsibility. I’ve grown as a man since then, and Bryce will too.

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