UFO Welcome Center

UFO Welcome Center

If Jess were a religious kind of person, the kind of person who subscribed to a strong belief system, she might’ve felt guilty witnessing the persistent yellow billboards screaming in bold red letters from the sides of the highway: FORGIVE MY SINS, JESUS! and REPENT!

“Oh no!” Christopher gasped in mock horror. “You scared?” he asked, rotating his head from the road briefly to face his girlfriend.

“No,” Jess scoffed. Her arms were folded against her chest. “They’re stupid.”

“Who pays for these things?” she wondered aloud peering through the milky passenger window glass.

The only thing Jess had any faith in was that there was no “savior.” No other life existed. Nothing was waiting for her on the other side. This was it. After her existence on Earth ended, there would be nothing but blackness—a void. And no prince charming was coming to swoop her up and save her from dying in this dump of a state. Not now, anyway.

They drove past fields of shriveled corn and dried cotton, abandoned gas stations, and a multitude of empty churches with gardens of old headstones leaning in shaggy, weed-infested grass. They passed more billboards advertising locally canned okra, 100% USDA CHOICE BEEF and LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION! CHOOSE LIFE! The signs added a dark, satirical tone, a swirl of horror and humor that contributed to her overall dismal view of the South. Beyond the billboards, invasive kudzu vines strangled the torsos of pine and oak trees, covering them in a green shroud like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The sky was a cloudless bright blue that afternoon which made the screams of the blood red and yellow billboards seem louder, and when they pulled up to the silvery blue UFO Welcome Center it looked duller by comparison. The ramshackle spaceship sat on the edge of town behind the intersection of a Family Dollar and a gas station buttressed by a dilapidated trailer and a spray-painted scrap metal fence.

“Well, this is it,” Christopher said, framing the view with his hands.

“Is some guy gonna come out wearing a foil hat and tell us stories about aliens?” Jess asked, squeezing her eyebrows towards each other. Jess felt she was making that face again and stretched her eyes wide open until she felt her ears wiggle toward the back of her head. She was paranoid about the crease between her eyebrows ever since her dermatologist had educated her about number 11s and suggested she start preventative Botox. She’d just turned twenty-seven and believed it premature for such expensive procedures. Jess looked at Christopher’s forehead and saw the opposite of 11s: three horizontal lines etched across it, each line the width of a pencil tip.

Christopher put his hands on his lower back, leaned on them, and looked up at the metal sculpture with awe.

“Pretty cool, huh?” he said.

Jess looked around at the scattered cement blocks and sheets of scrap metal on the ground and then back up to the UFO. The smell of fried meat and mothballs wafted through the air from the gas station across the street.

“I don’t know. I guess I expected it to look more like, futuristic or something? It looks kinda like a junkyard.”

“Don’t be so negative,” Christopher said.

Christopher walked around the sculpture to admire it from other angles. He pinched the right side of his clear acetate glasses as if the gesture gave him a more informed view.

Recently Jess had stopped speaking out loud as much as usual, which wasn’t much to start with. It was a private game—seeing how long she could go without speaking before Christopher noticed. She was never one to blab on and on about nothing—words had meaning and she loathed people who seemed to speak just for the sake of speaking or to hear their own voice. She was starting to believe Christopher might be one of those kinds of people. She’d always been more of an introvert than Christopher, but this was something new. She felt like she’d been folded up and stuck inside herself like a piece of origami. Like she was an empty shell, inhabiting someone else’s body the Earth, and attempting to exist like a normal human. Maybe she’d lost her autonomy. Maybe an alien had taken over her body and she didn’t realize it until now but it was too late to regain control.

Jess looked again at Christopher who was ogling the UFO Center as if it were the aurora borealis. He had an expression of stupid, childlike joy on his face that made her burn inside. At first, Jess had appreciated his sense of wonder and curiosity about the world but now it just made her angry. She wished an alien would come down from space and beam her up to its spaceship. She welcomed the abduction, anal probe, and all.

Probe away, she thought. At least I might feel something.

“Howdy,” a voice said from behind. It startled her and she jumped. Her skin prickled and the almost invisible blonde hairs on her arms stood erect.

“Don’t get too many folks out here these days,” a man, who appeared to have materialized from the trailer next to the spaceship, said. Long white hairs on his head waved in the wind like tiny inflatable tube men.

“Hello,” Christopher said smiling, walking towards the strange man. “Nice place.”

“Thank you. Built it myself in ‘94. You can take a tour inside if you like,” the man smiled. “Uh, donations kindly accepted.” He smiled again, looking Christopher up and down like a person salivating over a piece of meat before biting into it.

Christopher reached for his wallet in his back pocket. It was a blue Velcro wallet coming apart in several places. Jess figured a new wallet, like so many other necessities, wasn’t on Christopher’s mental list of expenses. He usually spent his monthly allowance on items that brought him instant gratification, like expensive sushi and extravagant vacations. At first, Jess saw her relationship with Christopher as her ticket out of South Carolina—his family had flown them, first class, to San Francisco. It was Jess’s first time on an airplane.

“Here you go,” Christopher said, smiling. Jess hated that whenever Christopher smiled his tongue bobbed between his upper and bottom teeth like a shy clownfish hiding behind a coral reef. He eagerly handed the old man a crisp $20.

How could he be so happy-go-lucky, Jess wondered? What if this man was a deranged murderer and wanted to chop them up and dump their body parts inside of the UFO Welcome Center as an alien sacrifice?

Christopher was generous. He had no problems giving money away. It was, after all, his father’s money he was giving away, not his. Christopher wouldn’t officially receive his trust fund distributions until he turned thirty.

It was Christopher’s father who had paid for the procedure. A fact that made Jess cringe so hard that whenever she thought about it, she wished she’d dissolve, disappear into a different dimension. When she’d told Christopher she was pregnant, she’d imagined how the scenario might play out but was surprised by his reaction with false, confusing hope for approximately one whole minute.

“It’s ok,” he’d said, smiling at Jess.

“It is?” she’d looked up at him from her hands, where her face had been resting in teary shame. She was confused by these two words and the expression on his face. For a moment, she thought maybe this was something Christopher wanted to do. With her. A life where they were together, walking, smiling, swinging a child between their arms flashed in her mind for several seconds. She was not sure this was a life she wanted either, but she was not opposed to it. Just unsure.

“Yeah,” he’d said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Jess pressed pause on the family slideshow in her brain and waited for Christopher to continue. She sensed a shift in the photo album projecting in his mind.

“It’s just not a good time,” he continued. “I’m about to go back to grad school. And you don’t have a good job.”

Neither of them had had enough money to pay for the abortion. Christopher had called his father and his father quickly transferred the funds over to Christopher’s account. After the procedure, he’d requested to speak directly to Jess over the phone. Jess listened silently to Christopher’s father as he lectured her on the other line, heard his remarks about “responsibility” and “mistakes” and “choices,” but it was as if he were speaking another language. The sound of his voice was muffled and unintelligible. The translation was something about how she should’ve used the proper precautions, how it was all her fault. She sensed that Christopher did not receive the same lecture.


Christopher and Jess followed the old man toward the entrance of the UFO. Signs in crude black spray paint warned ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK and DANGER. The building did look dangerous—sheets of scrap metal and rotted wood were sloppily affixed to form the tiered flying saucer. The top had round portal-like windows made from glass pie dishes. It definitely wasn’t built to code, if there was such a thing as South Carolina Building Code for spaceships. A row of crows black and shiny as oil perched on the electrical lines high above their heads; their caws above an ominous chorus line.

Upon entry, the structure didn’t feel secure. Inside, exposed wooden beams suggested the structure had been hastily slopped together, although from what Christopher had told her, the man who built it had been tinkering with it for decades. With half-used paint cans, electrical wires dangling above their heads like black snakes, strings of red Christmas lights, and loose screws sprinkled randomly across the floor like wedding rice, it felt as though they had entered the tool shed of a maniacal hoarder. Piles of discarded junk littered the floor, threatening to trip them at every step.

Christopher hurried through the inside of the UFO, eager to reach the top, but Jess lagged. She did not want to follow him up the rickety metal ladders.

“C’mon. Be adventurous,” Christopher teased.

“This seems like a liability,” Jess said.

“Don’t you want to be a little more risky? Live on the edge?” Christopher said, ascending the first ladder to the next level.

“If this is how you want to live on the edge, go for it. I’ll wait down here,” Jess said. She walked out of the UFO and made her way back outside. She stood near the edge of the dirt-filled lot where it kissed the asphalt road so she could get a better vantage point. A minute later, Christopher stuck his head out from the top and waved down. Jess looked up at him waving excitedly.

How could someone so intelligent be so stupid, she wondered.

He formed his right hand into a Vulcan salute. Jess took her phone out of her purse and took a picture of him. His sinuses were constantly clogged so that his jaw perpetually hung open making him look like a gross mouth breather.

Idiot, she thought.

The old man with a faraway look in his eyes approached Jess.

“Not a space person, I take it?” he asked.

“No, no. I like it,” she said. “It’s a lovely UFO.”

“Well, well, well. Looky here,” the old man said, as a dainty white cat freckled with orange ambled up to Jess. “Here comes Martha.”

“Hello,” Jess said, squatting down to pet the cat. The cat rolled over, exposing a swollen belly with enlarged, puffy pink nipples peeking through its white fur.

“Oh,” Jess remarked. “Is she pregnant?”

“No. She’s got a litter of five napping right over yonder,” he pointed toward the trailer he’d materialized from earlier.

“She likes you,” he smiled, nodding at the cat now flopping in the dirt by Jess’s feet.

Jess stood back up and dusted the dirt off of her palms. Martha flipped to her feet and rubbed against Jess’s legs. The cat threaded Jess’s calves with its tail and moved it up and down like an antenna as if scanning Jess to detect what kind of person she was on the inside. She hoped she passed Martha’s exam.

Christopher emerged from the UFO, his face aglow in the hot sun. There was a wild twinkle in his pale blue eyes.

He’s so easily enchanted by something so stupid, Jess thought.

Martha winced and dashed away at the sandstorm stirred up by Christopher’s Merrells as he trampled toward them. It was as if she detected he wasn’t a cat person. Jess had been begging to bring a cat home for years but Christopher always reminded her that he was allergic.

“Cool,” Christopher said, beaming at the old man. “So, have you ever seen a real UFO?”

Jess saw a wild gleam appear in the man’s eyes at the phrase “real UFO” eerily similar to Christopher’s.

“Yes sir. Seen two of ‘em with my own eyes. But I can’t tell you the details,” he said. “Or else I might have to kill you,” he winked. Jess saw an electric, lizard-like flicker in the old man’s eye but quickly convinced herself she’d imagined it.

“Ok,” Christopher laughed.

“Well, thanks for the tour.” He turned to Jess, “Ready?” It appeared that he was having the best day of his life. Jess could already hear him ordering his dinner from his favorite sushi restaurant: omakase.

They boarded the metal yacht of an SUV handed down to Christopher by his father and Christopher rammed the vehicle in reverse before Jess had time to snap her seatbelt securely. The tires screeched in the sandy lot and Jess’s body flew forward in the seat, smacking her forehead against the dash.

“Oww,” Jess said, closing her eyes and rubbing the top of her head with her right hand.

“Sorry,” he said, smiling goofily at her as if asking her for forgiveness. The clownfish in his mouth bobbed back and forth between his teeth.

“NO!” they heard from behind the SUV. Jess looked in the passenger side mirror and saw the old man waving frantically in a cloud of dust. Jess exited the vehicle seconds before Christopher could even deduce what had happened. She knew immediately what he—what they—had done.

She knelt beside the old man who was now kneeling in the dirt, carefully holding Martha under the SUV’s enormous chrome bumper.

“Come on, girl,” the old man said, petting Martha’s head. Jess saw a teardrop of red gel in the corner of the cat’s mouth; her eyes caught the pink nipples protruding from her milky white fur.

Jess let out a sound that she had been holding in for months, a sound she’d never let Christopher hear, a sound that acknowledged all the unsaid things they’d need to confront but had both been avoiding. The old man joined in and the two cries met in the air and tangled unharmoniously together like a double helix in an invisible tornado of sound.

Christopher appeared at the edge of the car from the driver’s side and looked down at Jess and the old man huddled around the cat.

“Sorry,” he said. Then quickly blurted, “It was an accident.”


On the drive back that evening, Jess thought of the napping kittens in the trailer, how they needed their mother, how she was never coming back to feed them. She thought how if she and Christopher had never visited the UFO Welcome Center, how Martha would still be alive, how the kittens would still have their mother. The thought that she had any culpability in the cat’s death crushed her.

Christopher looked over at Jess slumped in the shadows in the passenger seat and then back at the highway.

“Jess,” he said. “It was just a cat.”

Jess envisioned her fingers as knives, silver and sharp as razors, clawing at his stupid clownfish of a tongue, slicing through it like a salmon steak, cutting it out until he was finally mute like her. As the vision played out in her mind, it occurred to her that the cat had never, neither before nor after the accident, meowed in front of them, and Jess wondered why she had never shared her sound.


About the Author

Kim Weldin (she/her) is a fiction writer from Charleston, SC. She holds a BA in English from the College of Charleston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Maudlin House, 3Elements Review, Apple in the Dark, Capsule Stories, and Michigan Quarterly Review: Mixtape, among others. She is currently writing her first collection of short stories. You can find her on Twitter/Bluesky @WeldinKim and Instagram @kimhartweldin.


Photo by Michael Herren on Unsplash