I was always the first one at the alley on Bowling Night. We all agreed to meet there at 20:00, but I made sure to arrive there by 19:30 at the latest, so I could have some time to myself before the game starts, and to buy a round at the bar, ready for the guys when they got there.
Through the glass on the doors I saw all manner of activity: children running to and fro and playing on the arcade games, people chatting over drinks, and of course, bowlers bowling, knocking over pins. Yet when I opened the door and stepped inside, the bowling alley was completely empty.
Nobody sat at the tables.
Nobody played the arcade games.
Nobody stood at the lanes.
I rubbed my eyes, bit my lips, pinched my arm, and yet the place remained empty.
In fact, this was the cleanest I had ever seen the place; the carpets were vacuumed thoroughly, and there wasn’t a single discarded wrapper or cup to be found. My mind forced itself to explain what had happened here; I even said to myself, ‘Guess I really can’t hold my drink.’ As I looked around for the janitor who would show me the way out, my eye caught a sign on one of the arcade games:
‘This machine is for display purposes only’.
At this I turned around towards the door, only to find…a different door. Not a double-door with little windows, but a single wooden door, looking more like it belonged in a mansion then in a bowling alley. There I stood, inwardly debating with myself whether or not to open it, when it opened by itself.
In stepped a woman wearing a white shirt with an id card. She had a bowling ball for a head.
In stepped a man wearing a tweed jacket and a mortar board. He had a bowling ball for a head.
In stepped several children in uniform, all of them with bowling balls for heads.
Big round heads with three holes – two eyes and a mouth. All of them green, but made of flesh instead of resin.
‘Oh, what luck,’ said the woman, clasping her hands, ‘we have a spokesperson! And I thought a portal would never appear in this room…’
I wanted to ask her about the portal, ask her how to get back home, yet all I could do was stand there and wheeze.
‘He doesn’t seem to want to talk,’ snorted the man, the teacher.
‘Well,’ said the woman, ‘this is a recreation of what our species inspired when we visited Earth. We explained to the humans our culture, our inventions, our discoveries and yet the only thing they paid attention to was our heads.’
‘And class,’ said the teacher to the children, ‘here we have an example of a human; as distasteful as I thought they would be.’ At that point I had a good mind to slap the teacher or punch him in his tiny face, yet I remained frozen.
‘Can you speak?’ asked the guide, ‘Maybe you’d like to tell us about this game our visits inspired?’
‘I…’ It hurt to speak, yet I forced the words out in vain hopes that they’d show me how to get back home. ‘You…have these balls that…’ I almost said ‘look like your heads’ but chose not to; I’m not sure if I did so to avoid offending them or if because they already knew that. ‘…are made of resin and you pick them up and throw them at pins.’
‘You mean the pointy things?’ asked a child.
‘No, pins are what you call these…well, they’re things you have to knock over. If you get them all, you get a strike…’
Another child spoke up. ‘Isn’t that when people march with signs and stuff?’
‘Well, but this is different…this is…’
The teacher sighed. ‘We had so much to tell the humans, and what do the humans tell us?’
‘Don’t worry,’ sighed the guide, ‘visits to other worlds are temporary ones. You’ll reappear in your own world soon enough.’ Then her, the teacher and his students all just stared at me, arms folded, waiting for me to disappear. I don’t know how long I spent staring at them before I rematerialized back in my own world, but I know it was too long.
When I came back to the bowling alley, no-one apparently noticing I had appeared out of thin air, I had to leave as soon as possible. In fact, I never again joined my friends for a bowling night; every bowling ball I look at, every disembodied head, seems to have a judgemental stare.