Alistair Covington lay on his back, paralyzed by some phantom restraints that prevented any struggle. The air was static and cold, its atoms too terrified to move. Above him, a crystalline constellation of pulsing lights adorned a chrome sky. Between their blurs, he could see the blue, bulbous heads of beings he knew not to be of this Earth, what we might colloquially call 'aliens.'
Then, the room's chill seeped into him, starting near the base of his back and moving up through his core. It seemed to envelop him, turning his spine to ice disc by disc, before reaching the back of his neck and finally his mouth. He tried to scream as he found himself face to face with one of the beings, penetrated by the knowing gaze from its eyes, as black and deep as eternity.
Alistair awoke with a silent gasp, feeling his mouth. The coldness was replaced by the damp warmth of a body lying close to his in the same bed, beneath the same sheets: a woman. He rolled onto his side and inspected her. She was familiar, perhaps not personally, but he had seen her in a few prestige television series on streaming platforms. A character actress, never a lead, always playing the role of 'nerdy-but-hot.' What was her name? He could never remember.
It didn't surprise him to find a C-list celebrity in his bed. He no longer deigned to bed ordinary people, not even at his drunkest. Was last night his drunkest? Not even close, but the headache was always the same. He needed his regular hair of the dog.
He considered the dream — no, nightmare — as he whisked himself from bed and retrieved his favorite silk kimono from his palatial closet.
Aliens. It had always been aliens for Alistair, even as a kid. Some don’t like clowns, some fear ghosts or monsters, but for him, it was always aliens, UFOs, and abductions that terrified him the most. It seemed to him that aliens might be real, that because they were from the realm of science fiction, and sometimes science fiction eventually became reality, their existence was more concretely possible than other mythical and fantastical phenomena.
“Why would aliens want to abduct you, sweetie?” his mother would tell him when he crawled into bed with her after another night cowering beneath the covers. “Just think about it: there are six billion people on this planet. Why the heck would they pick little Jeremy Buttes of Boise, Idaho, son of a contractor and a hairdresser? You’re just a little, itty bitty, wee boy on a rock in a galaxy of rocks. So I wouldn’t worry about it.”
It was meant to comfort him, but it made him angry. So little Jeremy Buttes of Boise, Idaho became Alistair Covington, hoping someday he would be someone worthy of abduction, no matter how horrifying.
Whether it was the thought of the nightmare or of his mother, he for some reason felt his butthole pucker, and a twinge of pain there with it — not entirely unfamiliar, but still surprising.
He donned the kimono and went to the bed, bent over to sniff the fingers of the character actress resting on the pillow. Could she have?
He could tell from the shade of light emanating from behind the curtains of his floor-to-ceiling windows that it was time to start the day. He opened them as obtrusively as possible, turned to see the desired effect: last night’s hanger-on waking up, stretching in the king-sized bed.
“Mmm, good morning, Alistair,” she said, stretching. He could tell she was savoring it, eager to tell her friends she had slept with Alistair Covington. Little did she know, his assistant would be at the elevator with an NDA to sign. She would sign it. They always did.
“Good morning…you,” he said, gazing across New York from his penthouse, reminding himself that he had risen above petty fears like alien abduction to become a god among men. “Sorry, but I gotta get a move on. I have to be at the Rock by eleven.”
The actress grabbed her black, thick-framed glasses from the bedside table, the same ones she wore in every role, and looked at the alarm clock. “Jeez, day starts at eleven, huh? I gotta get me one of these late-night show gigs. I could get used to that,” she said, fetching her clothes from the night before.
“It’s pretty sweet, I love it,” he lied. If he were as good at acting as he was at lying, his movie career might have taken off. “So anyway, you should probably get going.”
“Oh,” she said, straightening her glasses and buttoning her top. He ushered her to the open-concept kitchen where he lifted a picnic basket laden with gifts from the counter.
“Gift basket. You know, like a thank you,” he said, too proudly.
“So…the rumors are true,” she said, eying the basket, flicking through her phone.
“What rumors? There’s a rumor that I give gift baskets?”
“No. That you’re a prick.”
“Oh, right. Because pricks give out gift baskets. There’s some expensive wine in there, some chocolates, a signed mug, I mean…”
“Wow,” she said, her lips tight, eyebrows raised, taking the gift basket as if it were from outer space. “So great. So nice. Thank you.” The basket was heavy; she had to adjust it in her grasp as she transferred her phone to her clutch. “So what do you think? Can I still get on the show?”
Alistair inhaled sharply as he put his hand on the small of her back and guided her to the apartment’s door, opening it and stopping just short of physically throwing her out.
“Well, you see…I’m sorry, but you kind of need to have something you’re promoting or like, be someone, to get on the show. And to be honest, I don’t even remember your name. Know the face, but not the name. And you need to have both to get on the show. So, no. But thanks a lot.”
Alistair closed the door before she could respond, amused by the shocked and confused look on her face.
He sighed and went to the marble counter in his kitchen, where a green smoothie prepared by his assistant awaited him. In the counter was a drawer stocked with bottles of the finest rum, one of which he retrieved and added a quarter of its contents to the smoothie. Dog, meet hair.
Finally, he sat in his makeup chair, his favorite part of the day. Where he truly became someone else. Where they applied his mask, where he found the space and time to paint over his personality with his own brush of good manners, pleasantries, and smiles. All his kindness was spent on the camera, soaked up by it, leaving the rest of him dry and brittle toward the rest of the world.
Alistair knew he was an ass, but he hadn’t always been like that. The job wore him down in ways he never could have imagined when he signed that eight-year deal with the network. Every day he came into the studio, it was “Mr. Covington, this!” or “Mr. Covington, that!”. No one wondered or asked how he was doing, how his day was; he was rich and famous, always laughing on TV – oh, how he laughed! – and rubbing shoulders with celebrities. How could he ever want or imagine more, how could he ever be unhappy? Mr. Covington must be fine.
He came to realize that all humans have voids longing to be filled, whether you’re a character actress, a hairdresser, a contractor, or even a late-night talk show host on a lucrative eight-year contract. However much or little you have, there is always room for more.
Many of the famous guests he interviewed probably realized the same thing in their own way, and so did the audience members, the man on the street selling hot dogs, his personal assistant, his mother. It’s not a novel thought.
The thought few have is the answer to the resulting question: What to do about this void, if not fill it endlessly?
A tinge of cramp wired his stomach and upset the void within him. What was in that smoothie? And why did his butthole still hurt?
His producer approached: “Are you ready yet, Mr. Covington? We gotta get going.”
“Fuck off,” Alistair told them with his usual charm and grace, whirling around in his chair, making his way to the stage.
He stepped up to his mark behind the curtain, where the flooring was scuffed and worn by the five-nights-a-week ritual. No matter his mood, his inner turmoil, or the futures left on the table as he rode out the contract with the network, five days a week he stood on that spot, adjusted his tie, cuffs, and collar, and pushed his fingers into the corners of his mouth to form a smile, just like his mother used to do to him before he went on set or on stage as a kid.
“No one wants to see you sad. Act happy,” she’d said after his grandma died, her long nails indenting his cheeks.
But it wasn’t an act – it was a lie.
The band played. His stomach turned again. He did not feel well. If it was that smoothie, his assistant was definitely getting fired.
He heard the spotlight turn on, and his hand leapt to his mouth. His throat was on fire. Was he about to throw up at this taping?
“And here’s your host: ALISTAIR…COVINGTON!”
The curtain opened, and the eagle-eyed in the crowd might have seen Alistair Covington’s eyes bloodied red and bleeding as he stepped into the spotlight for the last time.
There was a bang, the sound of flesh and bone and muscle bursting, cracking, splitting all at once, a sound the audience would never forget nor ever hear again. There was a second of silence from them as the blood, guts, and remains of the top half of Alistair Covington, the former Jeremy Buttes, of Boise, Idaho, rained down upon the first few rows.
Then they screamed as they too confronted the eyes of the blue, bulbous alien head which had emerged from him, and knew that the void within them was an eternity deep as well.
thanks for reading this story about someone who was a host in more ways than one. even if you didn’t like it, maybe click the little heart button so that people who might will find it.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS:
Do you think the aliens used other TV hosts as hosts?
Who among is is worthy of alien abduction?
How do you fill the void?
thanks for reading PNP, no late-night talk show hosts were harmed in the writing of this story. if you liked this story, you might also like these: