That Ring Around Saturn Would Make One Hell Of A Hoop
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Invasion"
Originally featured on 10-03-2008
As part of our series "The Bigger They Are, The Harder Empires Fall (The Ions Behind the Scenes of Every Regime Change)"

It was a pretty blatant charge, but Randy let it go. He hated the little ticky-tack fouls they called in the pros, so he and Scott usually didn’t call much of anything in the games they played at Southard Park. From his butt near the foul line, Randy watched his man (so to speak) race to the basket. Scott tried to get in front of him but it was too late; the yellowish-brown creature took two dribbles and laid the ball in off the backboard. He made a joyful, kind of mechanical-sounding squeal as did his teammate.

Aliens 1, Humans 0.

Randy and Scott played ball pretty much whenever they could for as long as they could. The courts were often deserted when they came down to the park and that’s just how they liked it. They enjoyed playing in the pick-up games in the early evenings with the mostly middle-aged guys, but they really preferred when it was only the two of them; it seemed like everyone they played with took the game way too seriously.

Randy and Scott just wanted to have fun. They’d play the classics like 21 and Horse but they’d also have half-court shooting contests (Scott made one once), and practice weird drills like running the length of the floor throwing each other chest passes, and ending with one tossing the ball off the backboard and the other catching it and finger-rolling it into the hoop.

They especially liked playing at night. There were no lights around the court but the poles in the parking lot were bright enough to illuminate their games. Technically the park closed at sundown and they’d been chased off a handful of times by the cops, but that never stopped them from returning.

Scott was the first to see the lights. They appeared to be coming from the parking lot beyond the softball field and he assumed it was just another car most likely containing a couple of older, high school kids. Cars would often park there and he and Randy would gleefully speculate on what exactly was going on inside.

But these lights were different. For one thing, there were many more than two and they were spaced close together. Before he could say anything to Randy, who was busily trying to execute a spinning reverse lay-up, the lights blinked once and then disappeared. Scott shrugged and rejoined the game.

With Scott leading 47-35 in one of their epic 21 games to 100, Randy attempted a floater that went off the front rim. They both chased after the ball but Randy suddenly found himself grabbing it and making an uncontested lay-up.

“Getting tired there, Scott?” he asked, a big smile on his face. “Hey, what are you-?” Randy stopped when he saw what Scott was staring at.

Sitting on the green wooden bench near one of the side baskets were two…things. The bench was draped in shadows but both boys could see that whatever they were, they weren’t human.

“What the…,” Randy muttered.

Scott was shaking his head rapidly.

From what they could tell, the two creatures did have human-like features: two legs, two arms, long finger-like digits, thick torsos. They’re heads, however, were oddly shaped; flat on the top, almost like an upside-down bucket. They had large, egg-shaped yellow eyes, small slit-like mouths, and no apparent noses or ears. They were making soft high-pitched noises kind of like chattering squirrels or, as Randy would say later, Cousin It on the Addams Family.

Suddenly they both stood. Randy and Scott immediately took a step backwards but the aliens weren’t paying them any attention. They plopped to the ground, legs extended in front of them, and began reaching their arms towards their feet.

The boys glanced at each other, a look of mutual concern and confusion on their faces. Before they could say anything, the aliens were back up and heading towards them. The slightly taller alien stopped and held its arms out with its palms open.

“What do you think it wants?” Randy asked quietly.

After a moment Scott smiled.

“I think he wants the ball.”

It was true, the alien’s pose looked strikingly similar to the ones they saw almost everyday, the ones they often gave each other. It was the international sign for “yo, gimme the rock.”

Randy glanced at his well-worn Spalding and then threw it. The alien caught it easily, took a few dribbles, and then shot it at the closest hoop. The other alien grabbed the rebound and put up its own shot.

Randy and Scott peered at each other again, their nervous expressions exchanged for ones of disbelief. If they could read each other’s mind, they’d both see the same thought: Can you frickin’ believe we’re watching space aliens play basketball?

After a couple more minutes, the one that Randy had thrown the ball to made a noise — almost like a meow — and tossed it back to him. He and the other alien stared at them.

“What does he want now?” Randy whispered.

“Whatda you think?” Scott muttered. “Shoot for possession.”

Randy glanced at him.

“They just want to play, man. Look at ‘em.”

The aliens did seem anxious to get started; one of them was pantomiming a jump shot.

“Uh, Scott,” Randy said, grabbing his arm and leading him towards the furthest basket. “These are…I mean…we can’t…are we seriously gonna play these things?”

Scott shrugged. “Why not?”

Randy glanced over his shoulder at the waiting aliens.

“They’re…uh…not, um…they probably don’t even speak English.”

“So?” Scott said. “We played lots of guys down here who didn’t speak English. Remember Manuel and Pablo? And what about that African guy? These are just…different kinds of aliens.”

Randy took another peek at the aliens. “Um, okay, I guess” he said and then slowly walked to the free throw line. He took a quick shot and missed badly. Scott tracked down the rebound and tossed it to one of the aliens. His shot was surprisingly smooth but it missed as well and he uttered a disgruntled noise. Scott calmly sank his shot and he and Randy took possession.

“Uh, check,” Randy said and bounced the ball to the closest alien.

The alien bounced it back and Randy tossed it to Scott. The alien defending Scott held up its arms. Scott dribbled to his right but Randy didn’t move.

“Randy, post up.”

He half-heartedly moved toward the basket and then stopped.

“Randy! Get in there!”

Randy rolled his eyes and then backed into the paint. He cringed when he felt the alien on him, expecting a squishy or sticky texture. But no, he felt as solid as any defender Randy had faced on this court. Scott took another dribble and then fired the ball inside. Randy caught it, dribbled once, and then took an off-balance reverse jumper. The ball clanged off the back rim and the alien guarding Scott grabbed it and dribbled to the top of the key.

“Okay,” Scott said. “You get ET, I’ll get Alf.”

Randy glared at him.

“Which is which?”

Scott grinned.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Alf passed to ET. When Randy crouched down he got a good look at the alien’s face. He noticed ridges along the top of his head — almost like a pie crust — and his yellow eyes contained things that resembled pupils, only they were white and nearly invisible in the dim light. When he took a swipe at the ball his finger tips grazed the alien’s arm. The skin was surprisingly warm but the texture was almost reptile-like. He felt a tingle in his hand but before he could think about it, the alien had knocked him to the ground and was driving for a lay-up.

As the two creatures celebrated with an awkward chest bump (wherever they're from they must get the NBA package, Randy thought), Scott helped him up.

“Okay,” he said, “we got this. Just give him some room. I know for a fact that aliens don’t have an outside shot.”

After Scott missed a floater and the aliens regained possession, ET, perhaps comprehending what Scott had said, fired up a three-pointer. It bounced off the front rim and Scott grabbed it.

“What’d I say?” he yelled, dribbling behind the arc.

It took a little while for another basket to be made; both teams were a little reticent as they tried to feel each other out. But after Randy drained a long jumper and ET made a sound like he was impressed, and Alf made a sweet behind the back pass, everyone seemed to relax a little. Randy had to laugh at the face Scott made when ET scooted the ball through his legs and after Scott made a ridiculous hook shot that had no business going in, both aliens seemed amused.

And then it was just another game. The boys forgot who they were playing, they just played and enjoyed themselves. At one point Randy set an effective pick and Alf was sent to the ground. Without even thinking about it, Randy reached out his hand to help him up. The alien stared up at him for a moment and then grabbed his hand. Randy, feeling that odd tingle again, pulled him to his feet.

“Okay,” Scott said after ET nailed a jumper. “What’s the score?”

Randy, hunched forward with his hands on his knees, glanced up at him and shrugged.

“It’s getting late,” Scott said, “why don’t we just play next basket wins?”

Randy nodded.

Scott, speaking loudly and holding up his right index finger and the ball, attempted to explain that to the aliens. After staring at him and then conferring with each other, ET pointed at the ball and raised one finger, looking remarkably like his new namesake.

Scott laughed.

“I told you that one was ET!”

Once the ball was checked, Randy passed it in to Scott. He held the ball over his head while Randy raced under the basket. Once he broke free from ET’s tail, Scott threw it to him. He went up for the jumper but was met by Alf’s outstretched arm. Instead of taking the shot, Randy found Scott alone in the corner. He took one dribble and, with ET streaking at him, fired.

As if in slow motion, the ball traveled to the hoop. It bounced off the rim, grazed the backboard, and, as it descended to the basket, froze. In mid air.

“What the?” both Scott and Randy said, walking over to the hoop.

ET gazed up at the ball and then said something to Alf that to the boys sounded almost like “C’mon, dude.”

Alf’s head drooped forward slightly and he raised his arm — reluctantly it seemed — and pointed at the hovering ball. It came to life again and dropped through the basket. Randy and Scott glanced at each other and smiled.

After everyone had exchanged fist-taps and said “nice game” in their respective language, the boys watched the aliens go. Once they had disappeared into the darkness, Randy retrieved his ball and he and Scott began heading towards the park entrance.

"Good game," Scott said.

"Yeah, those guys can play," Randy said. "But do you think, you know, we should’ve tried to ask them where they're from, why they're here, that kind of thing?"

A flashing light made them stop. They turned around just in time to see a spinning orb zooming up into the sky.

Scott shrugged.

"Next time," he said.

The stared at the stars for a moment and then continued their journey home.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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Portland Fiction Project

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