It's always the person you least suspect!
|School had just let out, and I was unlocking my bicycle when I heard Steven calling me: "Hey Alien!"
That was his nickname for me. Sometimes he forgot, and called me "Allen" instead. But when he was being extra mean, he would call me "S. Alien Andrews." The "S," he said, stood for "Space."
He was puffing hard as he came running up. He wore a big grin. "Did you watch that alien movie last night, Alien?"
I pulled my bike from the school bike rack and tried to ignore him. "It was about space aliens," Steven went on, "that looked like you!"
He had picked this way of teasing me on account of the X-Files stickers on my backpack. But he was nasty to most of the kids in our class, even the ones who weren't into science-fiction. He would have invented a reason to tease me, if he couldn't find one.
"Yeah, they looked just like you," Steven went on as I straddled my bike. "But they could have looked like anyone, because they were shapeshifters!"
I paused, and felt a cold, quivery shiver go up my back. Steven saw, and his grin turned slimy.
"Yeah, they turned themselves into people," he went on as he unlocked his own bike from the rack. "Then they got rid of the real people, and took their place!"
I knew the kind of movies he meant. I didn't like it when people talked about them.
He got on his bike, then waited for me to get on mine, so he could follow me. We were half a block down the street before he started talking again.
"Did you ever think," he said, "that there might be aliens here already? I mean," he went on when I didn't reply, "I know you do. You believe in secret bases and space ships, and all that other junk." He sniggered.
"It's stupid, but you believe in it," he went on, "but what if it was really like in that movie? What if they were already here, and we didn't know because they looked like ... us?!" He cackled.
I was trying not to get the creeps, but it was hard. I had a horrible feeling about where he was going to go with this talk. I pedaled a little faster, but Steven sped up to keep pace beside me.
"You know how it would happen?" he asked. "They'd come in spaceships, but they wouldn't look like us at first. They'd have ... purple skin! And green snakes for hair!" He laughed. "Except they wouldn't. They wouldn't look like anything, they'd just be gray and blank all over. No faces, even! And rubbery all over. Soft and slimy and rubbery! That's so they could change shape easy!"
My heart started to beat really hard. I could see it, what he was describing. Except I could picture more. I could picture the aliens, and they were almost like what he said. Only in the picture I had, they had a thing like an elephant's trunk inside their mouth and throat. They unhinged their jaws like a snake when they saw you, and opened their mouths wide, and the trunk came out. It was soft and squishy, with red, quivering lips at the end. Stuff like spit dribbled from it, and burned the grass where it fell.
"They'd catch people who were by themselves," Steven said, "and get rid of them. Then they'd turn themselves into that person, and they'd go back to town, and be them!"
I pictured the alien standing in front of me, and I pictured the trunk—the proboscis—coming out and grabbing me and sticking to me. It burned through my clothes and it burned my skin. Then it sucked me inside out, like sucking out the inside of a tomato with a straw. Then it sucked up the skin that was left.
I shivered all over, and my skin crawled like it was trying squirm off my body.
We came to an intersection and stopped for the light to change. I glanced over at Steven. His grin was wicked and gleeful.
"And you know who they turn into?" he said. "They turn into Mrs. Thicke." That was our teacher. "It was after school when they caught her. One of them turned into her, and put on her dress, and sat down to grade our homework. That wasn't Mrs. Thicke at school today." He smirked at me. "It was one of them!" He laughed.
"And Mr. Henderson," he went on as the light changed. That was our principal. "He was the first one they got! Now he's going around to all the classrooms after school, grabbing the teachers and replacing them with squirmy space aliens. Half the teachers are really them! Pretty soon all of the teachers will be them!"
We came to another intersection. My house was one way. His house was down the other street. But Steven didn't turn. He was having too much fun, so he followed me.
"So you know what's going to happen on parents-teacher night, don't you? All our parents are going to go into the school. But it won't be our parents who come home!"
He turned his bike to bump mine, and I had to brake and stop to keep from falling over.
"It won't be your parents anymore, man!" Steven gloated. "They'll look like your parents. But they'll be monsters from outer space!"
I couldn't stand it anymore.
"They'll get your parents too!" I shot back. "Your mom and dad will be monsters too!"
I thought that would scare him into stopping. But he put his tongue between his teeth and grinned at me.
"We're already space aliens!" He laughed. It was a nasty, glugging sound in the back of his throat. "My parents, and my sister, and me! We were the first ones! That's how come we had to watch that movie last night. It had secret instructions for us. We're supposed to go out and catch more people for them to be!"
He leaned across the handlebars of his bike. "Like you!"
I shivered hard.
"Yeah," he said, and he sounded cheerful. "You and your family are at the top of the list. That's my job!" he boasted. "I'm going to turn your mom and dad into aliens! And then you!"
I felt my knuckles tightening around the handles of my bike.
"If you're a space alien," I said, "where's your spaceship? You said you didn't believe in it! It's just a lot of junk!"
For a moment he looked surprised. Then he laughed.
"I just said that to cover it up. Our flying saucer landed last Saturday night. Out there in the woods." He pointed.
I got a pain in my throat, like I'd swallowed something sharp.
"Last Saturday?" I asked. "You saw it?"
Again, he looked surprised. "You saw it come down too?"
"I didn't think anyone else saw it."
Steven stared at me. Then he grinned. "That was our space ship! Come on! I'll show you!"
He turned at the next street, and pedaled toward the low, wooded hills behind the houses. He looked back at me. My hands were shaking, but I followed him.
"You know it's just you and me now," he said when we turned onto a dirt path that wound up into the hills. "That's what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to get you by yourself, to turn you into an alien. I could turn myself into you." He smirked. "Then I would go back to your house, but your mom and dad would think it's you. I'd play in your bedroom and wear your clothes and go to school for you, but it would really be me. No one would know!"
I shivered but said nothing as he led me deeper into the dusty woods.
We followed a gulch until we came to another path. I tried to lead him back down, away from the hill we were climbing. But he seemed to know exactly where to take me, and soon we were in a clearing. The grass was short and singed, like there had been a fire.
"This is where we landed," he said.
"So where's your spaceship?"
"We hid it. In a cave."
"The cave back there?" I pointed over the shoulder of the hill.
Steven looked startled, then dropped his bike and ran up the slope in the direction I had pointed. I groaned, and followed him.
There was a small canyon on the other side of the hill. Steven clambered up and came to a stop in front of a small, shallow cave.
His mouth was hanging open when I caught up to him. Something silvery was glinting inside the cave.
"I don't believe it!" he shouted, and ran toward it. I tried to catch him, but he was too fast. "It's a spaceship!"
He turned around to run back down, but I caught him by the arm. "What are you going to do?" I asked.
"Are you kidding?" he said. "That's a spaceship! I'm going to tell—!"
"You're not telling anyone," I said. When Steven looked confused, I said, "I was the only one who came looking for it. I was supposed to become Mr. Henderson next. But I guess I'll have to become you."
Steven's eyes popped as I unhinged my jaw and opened my mouth very wide.
My proboscis burned through his clothes and stuck onto his skin. It was like slurping the insides out of a tomato, and I finished by slurping down the skin too. After I put on Steven's clothes, my own skin rippled and wobbled all over, like it was trying to crawl off of me.
Then I hid Allen's bike in the cave next to the ship and got on my own bike. I didn't like my new thoughts at first. They were like spiders, and my brain was a dirty, hairy nest that wriggled with them.
But I was used to them by the time I got home. Soon I was figuring out new nicknames for the other kids at school, and grinning while I practiced saying them. It would be fun teasing them while helping the rest of us become them!