The first alien is a bundle of thin black cords. Spread out evenly over the pavement, they stretch for half a block before converging around the corner. At first they seem inanimate, but as the dogs and I approach the tendrils pulse, sliding smoothly backwards and out of sight; like an octopus, flowing into a gap in the rocks.
Later that same walk Mojo rolls in shit. A poor omen.
Canada is a burst of fresh air after the end-of-semester grind. I drive through pine forests, ride bridges over massive lakes. At night the skies are full of stars, but when you’re driving a truck stargazing becomes something of an extreme sport. Especially if you were to take your hands off the wheel to take photos – that would be an insane thing to do.
Final assessments are four days of non-stop comic making, and I remember almost nothing from them. Some days I make good progress, and things are good. Other days I make less progress, and I walk through empty rooms, switching off each light with a limp, isolated snap.
The second alien lives in the trees. Late one night, Mojo senses a presence, starts growling up at the sky. I look where he’s pointing, manage to make out the shadow of something big looming amid the branches. A massive tail arches gracefully back and forth, with a strength that makes me think ‘Xenomorph.’ I can see something tensed against the tree trunk – clinging perpendicular to the ground, right above my dog – and for a minute all I can do is stand there and imagine it falling.
At first I’m confused that all the signs are in French but then I realise: French Canada. So now I have to deal with a language barrier, I guess. I think my sat nav is trying to kill me.
Cutting dangerously across a busy highway, I get T-boned by a jeep. The repairs take most of my profits, so it’s an angry drive to the nearest warehouse, where I find out they need someone to ship eighteen tonnes of fireworks. I had no idea you could carry fireworks in this game!
Cargo doesn’t matter in any real, material way. Toxic chemicals never spill, petrol never explodes. But picking and choosing your freight allows you to make up your own story about what you’re carrying, and to whom. I remember getting a job to carry ten tonnes of yoghurt to a warehouse around the block in fifteen minutes. Somebody just really needed that yoghurt, right away.
“There’s no time for protocol!” I roared, slamming my fist into the desk. “People are hungry.”
Driving through a steep valley, I look up and see a statue of an enormous eagle. It sits on top of its hill, watching the forest and its visitors. I drive past and onward, with no way of explaining what I just saw. Truly, Canada is a land of mysteries.
I never see the third alien. Walking down an alleyway we come across a pile of blue, faintly luminous feathers. They’re scattered over the cobbles and out onto the adjoining street, spread by the wind. The dogs sniff at them hungrily, but I keep walking, scanning the street for movement.
We’re addicted to stories, and places are a great way to get our fix. Moving through a space is like submerging your head into a pool of narrative – all those details to make sense of. It’s only when we stay in one place long enough, walking the same paths each day, that the stories start to run dry.
So we get on a plane. Board a ship, drive all night, and when the sun rises we look out over a world of details. The engines in our head start to churn.
But aren’t these new, exciting spaces – in the end – just someone else’s boring neighbourhood? This isn’t to say that our sense of wonder is misguided, but rather that travel is a state of mind. Every place has its secrets, and it seems unlikely that they can ever truly be exhausted. Maybe with some effort, we can make a familiar place strange again. My family tell stories of bear cubs, fractions of whales – and I count aliens.
The level of customisation in this game is amazing to the point of stupidity. You can change your hubcaps, visor, door handles – all in the interest of self expression. Your truck is a story you tell yourself. A story about someone pretending to be Canadian.
There’s even a custom license plate you can stick in your front window, allowing you to send a message to other (fictional) drivers. I’ve never had much use for it because oh my god wait wait wait WAIT –
I just had an idea.
AMAZING. THIS GAME IS AMAZING.
The last alien is a big tarp, and I know it’s a tarp. But one night I’m sitting beside the heater, and the wind is rattling against the roof. The beam of a streetlight illuminates a large blue shape, clambering up the steps to my door. It breathes with its whole body, skin shimmering in the dark as it expands and contracts. After catching its breath, the creature stretches upwards at an impossible angle, folding itself inside out, and its insides are an ocean. It laps placidly at the edges of the door, and I think about what a great shape that is for an alien to be. A breathing blob, with an ocean in its belly. So strange. So incomprehensible.
See you next week!