The ostrich has its head in the sand when it hears a high-pitched noise. It looks up to see a large spherical object come in for a landing nearby.
The ostrich watches as it settles to the ground, then wanders over for a closer look.
The object is silver, and very shiny.
It doesn’t smell particularly good.
The ostrich taps on the thing with its beak.
A door opens and an alien looks out.
Yeah, it’s definitely a life-form, it says to a second alien inside.
Well, ask it! says the second. Bring it on in!
The first alien extends a ramp.
Come on up! he says.
He waves for the ostrich.
The ostrich walks up the ramp into the ship.
Welcome, says the alien. We’re hoping you can help us. We’re trying to find the Promised Land.
The ostrich blinks. It stares at the alien.
Do you know where it is? says the other alien.
The ostrich looks around at the saucer’s blinking lights. It reaches out and pecks the steering console.
No! says the second alien. Don’t touch that! Please—those are very important!
Here, says the alien. We have this map.
He spreads it out on the floor.
We’re here, he says. But where’s the Promised Land?
The ostrich turns and looks out the door.
No, here, says the alien.
He taps the map.
The ostrich goes over and looks at it.
Then it turns and runs down the ramp and sticks its head back in the sand.
The aliens stand there, staring down at it.
I’m not sure he’s very intelligent, the second says.
He does seem a little strange, says the first. But perhaps it’s just the language barrier.
The two walk down the ramp and stand by the ostrich.
The ostrich lifts its head out of the sand. It blinks at the aliens, sticks its head back in.
Now come on, the first alien says. We’re strangers here—be a good guide.
Yeah, the second alien says. There’s something wrong—our charts don’t work! We have to find the Promised Land!
The ostrich makes a strange, strangled sound. It lifts its head out of the sand.
It starts running away.
It glances back.
I think it wants us to follow, the alien says.
All right, says the second, and the two take off—on their tentacles, scurrying across the sand.
The ostrich leads them across the desert for miles.
The creature’s legs are very long! the first alien says.
Yeah, says the second, who’s starting to gasp. My tentacles weren’t designed for this!
Mine neither! says the first. And this place is a nightmare—imagine, a whole planet made of dirt!
Just then, up ahead, the ostrich stops.
Both aliens collapse in the sand.
Hey, what’s that? the first alien says.
There’s a strange shape ahead on the horizon.
The two aliens lie there, staring at it.
Is it the Promised Land? the first alien says.
No, says the second, after a minute. No, it isn’t.
It’s their flying saucer.
Shit, says the first alien.
They both look at the ostrich.
The ostrich stares back at them. It blinks.
You’re a stupid animal, the alien says. But I suppose you’re happy with yourself.
I don’t know, says the second. Maybe there’s something more.
Something more? says the first. Like what?
Maybe it’s a parable, the second alien says. Or, you know, like a metaphor.
I don’t get it, says the first.
Yeah, me neither, says the second. But let’s just think on it a bit.
They walk towards the ship.
They stand there a minute.
Then they both look at their feet.
You don’t think . . ? says the first.
The second shakes his head.
I don’t think, but it’s possible, he says. Maybe there was a great big sandstorm or something and the Promised Land got buried beneath?
They look at the ostrich.
The ostrich stares back. It looks from one alien to the other.
Then it looks at the ground.
Then up at the aliens.
Then down at the ground again.
Well, says the first alien. Who’s going first?
I’m not doing this alone, the second says.
Fine, says the first, we’ll do it together.
And together they lower their heads.
The ostrich watches as their heads slide into the sand, and then, abruptly, it lays an egg.
Then it walks up the ramp and into the ship. They don’t even look up as it flies away.
Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011), and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015). His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Gargoyle Magazine, Wigleaf, and the Antioch Review, and been featured on NPR’s This American Life and Selected Shorts. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is an Instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.