Photo: Provided by Kristen Johnson /

“Cyrille, we always knew there was something a little different about you, but we didn’t think it was this.”

Mr. and Mrs. Johnston were sitting on the sofa in their living room confronting her. They were always kind, but a bit reserved. Cyrille had been renting a room from them for a little over a year. She was three months away from graduating with her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

“I promise that it doesn’t make any difference in our relationship. I’m still the same Cyrille who’s lived here for the past year.”

“Well, that’s the problem, Cyrille.” Mr. Johnston was like one of those sitcom Dad’s from the late 1950s, always playing the role of straight man to utter seriousness. “We don’t think we can continue to rent a room to you.”

“But why not?” Cyrille started to get out of her chair, but then realized they might see it as an aggressive act.

“Well dear, you know our daughter Denise comes over with her family every Sunday for dinner.”

Cyrille could see where this was going.

“We just don’t feel comfortable with you interacting with the two little ones.”

“But Mrs. Johnston, Denny and Sasha love being around me. I always read their favorite books to them after dinner. I’m kind of like their Aunt or something.”

“Cyrille, all that is true, but Denise and her husband have put their foot down.”

“You told them Mr. Johnston?”

“We felt it was our moral obligation, young…uh…woman.”

“Do the children know?”

“We decided not to tell them for their own peace of mind.”

“I’m not a monster, Mrs. Johnston. I’m still Cyrille.”

Mr. Johnston stood and used the sternest voice he could muster.

“You are not a monster, Cyrille, but you’re not human either, even if you and your species can pass as human.”

This time Cyrille did stand. “But Mr. Johnston…”

“I’m sorry Cyrille, but my mind is made up. You have until tomorrow to pack up your things and report to the compound set up for…your kind. It’s amazing the university ever accepted you as a student.”

Cyrille lowered her head, fighting back the tears. “Yes, Mr. Johnston. I’ll pack my things. I don’t have much. You can call the compound and have them send a transport. I’ll leave tonight.”

“Very well, Cyrille.”

Cyrille turned to go back to her room. Mrs. Johnston raised her hand and almost spoke, wanting to comfort Cyrille, but her husband shot her a harsh look and she kept her place.

The first refuges had arrived on Earth nearly thirty years ago. Cyrille was born in the alien compound just outside of town. Refuges born off-world were to be confined to the compounds for life, but their offspring, if evaluated and found to present no harm, could live among humans. A university scholarship program was even set up for them so they could be educated and, if they desired, become productive members of human society, if not particularly equal members.

As long as they didn’t mate with humans, the second-generation refuges could live life with humans. Cyrille had to take libido inhibition shots every month when she was living on the outside.

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with or dangerous about the aliens.

They were just different.

I wanted to write a story based on a photo prompt from one of my local TV news stations. I remembered reading This Is My Brave: Event shining light on mental illness and how powerful the image was of Kristen Johnson holding up her handwritten sign.

We tend to act one way around someone we think of as “normal” (whatever that means exactly), and another way around the same person when we discover they’re different in some way. I decided to highlight this with alien refuges, but of course, the topic has multiple applications.

I deliberately didn’t give Mr. and Mrs. Johnston first names because it made them seem less human and less humane. It also, in my mind, made it easier to picture them as stereotypic sitcom parents from the 1950s…a little too perfect.


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