How Louis Saved the World

Louis was home in the middle of the day, because he was sick. If it was up to him, he would have been at school.   Today they were going to make ice cream as a science experiment. That was much better than staying in bed and staring at the ceiling.

Unfortunately, Mom said that if you have a fever and a runny nose, and a terrible cough, and a sore throat and can’t stop sneezing, then you should stay home. Throwing up after breakfast hadn’t helped his argument at all, either. So, Louis blew his nose again and sneezed and looked at the ceiling.   Ceilings are boring.

“Mom, I’m bored,” Louis yelled. Then he coughed. Ouch.   His throat really hurt.

“Then take a nap,” his mom yelled back. “You need to rest so that you can heal.”

Louis scowled. He was much too old for naps, and he wasn’t at all sleepy. Well, he was maybe a little bit tired. But not really enough to fall asleep yet. He turned and watched the shadows on the wall move.   The wind must be blowing through the tree outside.

And then, the shadows started to fade, or maybe the room started to glow.   Louis wasn’t quite sure. It was all a little strange. Everything looked a little bit foggy. Louis blinked, and when he opened his eyes, he wasn’t in his bedroom any more.

He was in a strange metal room filled with blinking lights. Something was making a clicking sound. Three tall skinny beings with greenish skin and bright blue eyes looked at him. They were definitely aliens. Louis looked back. One of the aliens said something, but Louis didn’t know what he was saying. “I don’t speak your language,” Louis said.

The aliens approached and one of them looked closely into Louis’s face.   The aliens smelled like dust.   Lots of dust. Louis sneezed right into the alien’s face, and then he couldn’t stop sneezing.

The alien backed up, but the other two crowded closer. The sneezing hurt his throat and upset his stomach. Louis threw up on the other two aliens. The aliens backed up and bowed. One of the aliens pushed a button on the wall, and the room started to get brighter.   Everything looked foggy. Louis blinked.

And he was back in his room looking up at the ceiling. Had any of that really happened? Mom knocked on the doorframe and came in. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Any better?”

“Mom, I was just captured by aliens,” Louis said. “I threw up all over them, so they let me go.”

“That sounds like a nice dream,” Mom said. “Is your stomach still upset?” She put her hand on his forehead. “Oh dear, you’re still quite warm. Would you like some ice cream?”

“For lunch?” Louis asked.

“Why not,” Mom said. “You’re feeling sick.”

Maybe being sick wasn’t so bad, except for the staring at the ceiling part.   Even being captured by aliens wasn’t terrible. It had been kind of interesting.   If it really happened at all, of course.

Two days later, Louis was back in class. He’d missed the ice cream experiment and a math quiz, but otherwise things had been pretty quiet at school. Susie said that Dan threw up on the slide just a day ago.

Louis decided that being sick probably happened to everybody at one time or another. He was glad that he felt better now and could move forward. He hoped he didn’t feel sick again anytime soon and that he never threw up on the slide.  That sounded embarrassing.

Hundreds of thousands of miles away, the crew of an alien space ship coughed and sneezed and stared at the ceiling and tried not to throw up. “I thought it was too eager to give us the samples we required. It was completely suspicious,” one said.

“I thought it believed we were peaceful scientists,” another replied.   “How was I to know it recognized us as a possible threat.” The alien sneezed and sneezed and sneezed.

“Well, I’m going to recommend we don’t try to colonize this world. The inhabitants are far too hostile. And they don’t fight fair, either,” the last one said. And then he threw up.

Exchanges

The boss smiled and handed the designs back to Alex. “That is exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

Alex nodded. “Great!   So, I’ll contact Bob and we can start filling out the paperwork.”

The boss shook his head. “I have some one else in mind.”

“Not Bob?” Alex was shocked. “We always work with Bob.”

“Yes, but the new guy says he’ll work for free and provide all the building materials,” the boss said.

Alex frowned. “That sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

The boss laughed. “He’s going to need a lot of training. He’s pretty new to the planet.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

“Just what I said,” the boss said. He pushed the intercom button. “Ella, can you send Webster in?”

“Webster? That’s an unusual name,” Alex said.

“It’s his human name,” the boss said. “For when he’s an exchange student here, learning how to live with humans. He says it’s the author of his favorite earth book. He even has an artificial human suit to wear to blend in with us humans.”

A man came in wearing a black suit with a white scarf tied around his neck and a white powdered wig on his head. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Webster.” He held a hand out and Alex shook it. He held his other hand out and Alex shook it too.

“Hello, Webster,” Alex said. “I’m Alex.   I’m one of the architects in the firm.”

The boss stood up. “Alex, take Webster with you to the Gregson job. Show him the ropes, all right?”

“Okay,” Alex said. “Come with me, Webster. I’ll give you a ride to the site.”

Today they were going to pour the foundation for the Gregson Dental Center.   Webster looked around the large hole dug into the ground and wiggled the metal and wooden framework with his foot.   “So, you fill this with liquid rock, right?” he asked.

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Alex said.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Webster said. “I’ve got this.” He pulled out what looked like a little pen and wrote something in the air above the waiting framework.

The framework started filling up with lava. Alex jumped back. The wood burned and the metal melted like it was ice on a hot day. “What did you do?” He asked.

“Provided building materials,” Webster said. “It was part of our agreement.”

“But the lava’s in contact with air. It will cool too quickly to be stable and solid,” Alex said. “We use concrete for building.”

“Concrete?”

Alex sighed. “It’s a mix of gravel and sand and cement and water. I’ll show you, after you get rid of the lava.”

“Oh, you’ll have to wait until it cools and dig it out,” Webster said. “I can’t unmake things. I guess I could make a windstorm or a sinkhole or…”

“Just leave it there,” Alex said. “We’ll deal with it later. Let’s go over to the new supermarket addition. We’re building the supports for the walls.”

They drove across town.   Webster’s face was pressed to the window. “These human eyes can’t see as far as my normal eyes,” he said. “Do you have a telescope?”

“Not with me,” Alex said.

At the construction site, Alex knelt down and patted the foundation.

“This must be concrete,” Webster said.   “Maybe I should take a sample.”

“Leave it be,” Alex said. “I’ll give you a sample of concrete later. For now, we’ll be starting the supports.”

“That’s right,” Webster said. “What are they made out of?”

“Wood,” Alex said. “Here’s a list of the sizes we’ll need.”

“Tree products,” Webster said. “I can do that. I saw tree products all over the office when I was there.”

He wrote in the air, and large support beams made of paper appeared on the ground in front of them. “Almost, but not quite,” Alex said. “This is processed tree product and isn’t as strong as wood. Let’s go to a hardware store and I can let you see the materials we’ll be working with.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Webster said. “Do they have telescopes?”

“No,” Alex said. “Just building materials and tools.”

“Oh well,” Webster said. “Let’s get going. I’m looking forward to seeing how you preserve the ice blocks you build with. It seems much too warm for them to stay stable.”

“It is,” Alex said. “They don’t build with ice here.”

“Mud?”

“No,” Alex said. “But we do use bricks that are made from baked clay.”

“Oh good,” Webster said. “Let’s go see some of those. I want to send some home to my friends.”

“Sounds great,” Alex said. “Let’s go.”

 

Playing Dead

Zeke disguised himself as one of the small furry things he’d seen playing with the humans in the park.  Pretending to be a pet was a textbook infiltration technique he’d learned in the academy.

He double-checked his translation and recording devices and ambled up to a tidy-looking front step.  When a human came out, he barked and wagged his tail.  A small human peeked around the human standing in the doorway.  “A dog!  Can we keep him, Dad?” the small human said.

“He might already have a family, Paul,” the tall human dad said.

“We can put some signs up just in case,” Paul said.

“Okay,” Dad said.  Zeke was in.

Fortunately, the humans were happy to teach him what was expected of him.  His duties included fetch, shake hands, roll over, and play dead.  Careful observation of the humans told him that these duties were expected of other small furry things, so he wasn’t surprised.

He had hoped that he’d be able to use his duties for more than just amusing humans.  So, he watched closely.  Humans did shake hands on formal occasions to say hello or goodbye.  His humans were rarely formal.  Humans do not roll over on the ground.  Humans do throw balls for other humans to catch.  He did not see them throw sticks for each other.

Playing dead was a large part of human culture.  Every evening, his humans would sit down in front of their communication screen and play dead.  The first time he watched his humans do this, he was slightly alarmed.  He soon became accustomed to this strange ritual.

Sometimes he would join them in playing dead.  He would watch the screen and try to understand the messages.  They were communicated as stories and advertisements and sporting events.  Sometimes his humans would sit up and yell back at the screen, but the messages continued to play.  Their responses didn’t seem to be heard.

At first, he thought the messages were recordings of events happening somewhere.  He realized his mistake when he saw the story about humans in space.  He knew that humans had not yet developed space travel.  Perhaps this message was requesting support in developing the necessary technology?

His current theory was that humans sometimes strengthened their communications with emotion, and the stories were meant to evoke the emotion that best conveyed the message.  Zeke wasn’t entirely sure.  His humans did seem to like the messages best when they reflected the conveyed message most strongly.  If they looked passive, they’d switch to a new message soon.

Zeke studied many aspects of human behavior.  He surveyed local plant life and structures when out on walks.  He slept on Paul’s bed and monitored his sleep patterns.  Paul was also most helpful in passing him samples of human food.  Paul was especially eager to share any plant matter from his plate.  Zeke was fairly sure this was because Paul didn’t like the plant matter.

Then one day, too quick for his humans to see it, a message from his mission commander flashed across the human communication screen.  At the same time, his communicator buzzed under his fur.  It was time to go home.  That evening, he shook hands with Mom, Dad, and Paul.  Then he barked and wagged his tail for good measure.

After they were asleep, Zeke let himself out the back door.  He briefly wondered if they would put pictures of him up again.  Well, time to write up his mission report.  He took off his furry animal suit and returned to the ship.

An Odd Playdate

One morning, Jeremy came to breakfast holding the hand of a strange little kid. The kid had one eye and three arms and blue fur. Kari knew that wasn’t normal. Mom just smiled. “Great costume,” she said.   “What’s your name?”

“Ummmm…Greg,” Jeremy said. “His name is Greg.”

“And how long will he be over to play today?” Mom asked.

“All day,” Jeremy said. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Cereal,” Mom said. “Greg can stay, as long as he helps you with your chores. Next time remember to ask first. Do his parents know where he is?”

“Yes,” Jeremy said. He got out two bowls and spoons and poured cereal for himself and Greg.

“All right. I’ve got to go get started on the laundry,” Mom said.

As soon as she was out of the room, Kari leaned forward and looked at Greg.   “His name isn’t really Greg, is it?” she asked.

“No, I think he said it’s Glug,” Jeremy said. “Or something like that.”

“He’s not really wearing a costume, is he?” Kari asked.

“No, he’s not,” Jeremy said. He finished pouring the milk into the bowls of cereal. Glug took a cautious bite and then spit it out. He poured the milk and cereal out onto the table and started to eat the bowl. Jeremy sighed and tore a bunch of paper towels off the roll and started to mop up the milk.

“Where’s he from?” Kari asked.

“I found him under the bed this morning. I think the monsters left him behind by accident,” Jeremy said. “I think he’s pretty young.”

Kari looked a little closer. The strange kid was small. He had the obnoxious table manners of their younger cousin Paul, who was two.   “Greg?” she said. The kid didn’t look up. “Glug?” she said.

The kid looked up. “Glug!” he said. He smiled a wide, sharp-toothed smile. Bits of milk and shards of bowl dribbled from the side of his mouth. “Glug, Glug!”

“I’m Kari, it’s nice to meet you,” Kari said.

“Glug, Glug!”

Kari looked over at Jeremy and frowned. “I see what you mean. What are you going to do with him?”

“I figure there isn’t a way for him to go back home until it’s night time.   I couldn’t just leave him there; he was crying,” Jeremy said. “When it’s bedtime, I’ll hide him under the bed, and he can go home.”

“So, until then, he’s over for a playdate?” Kari asked.

“Yeah. Mom said it was okay. Can you help me keep an eye on him?” Jeremy asked.

“Sure,” Kari said. She looked at Glug or Greg or whatever his name was. He’d finished his bowl and was eyeing the table. He opened his mouth wide. Kari handed over her bowl, and he ate that instead. “This is going to be interesting,” she said.

Glug liked helping to sweep. He liked wiping the bathroom mirror clean and eating all the toilet paper. He really liked folding clean laundry, but he kept eating all the socks. At that point, Kari took him outside to play.

Glug did not like the bright sunlight. He ran under the large shade tree and scampered up the trunk. He hung upside down in the shade of a large branch and whimpered. Kari got out an umbrella and coaxed him down. He clung to her and was happy to go back inside.

At lunchtime, Glug ate some silverware and then curled up under the table and fell asleep. “I guess it is the middle of the night for him,” Jeremy said. “After all, monsters like to wander around at night.”

“Do you see a lot of monsters in your room?” Kari asked. “I’ve never found any monsters under my bed.”

“I think my closet is a monster bus stop,” Jeremy said. “I’ve gotten used to them.”

“They don’t try to eat you?” Kari asked.

“They never pay any attention to me. I don’t think they eat meat or vegetables or normal things,” Jeremy said. “I wonder what kind of eater that makes them.   They’re the opposite of an omnivore.   Is that an anti-omnivore? An unvore? But they do eat.”

“Who knows?” Kari said.   “Should we put him up under your bed?”

“Yeah. Can you help me?” Jeremy asked.   Together they carried the little monster up to Jeremy’s room and put him under the bed.

“Glug,” he murmured in his sleep. He smacked his lips and curled up under the blanket.

“We can check on him later,” Kari said.

They checked on him several more times, but the little monster slept soundly for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Their mom asked about him at dinner. “He got tired,” Jeremy said.

Mom nodded. “You’ll have to invite him over again sometime,” she said.

Just after dark, they ran up to check on Glug again. He was gone. “Look, they took the blanket too,” Kari said. “Maybe they’ll eat it.”

“That’s all right,” Jeremy said. “I’m just glad he was able to get back home.”

Lost

Mara was walking home from Amy’s house through the park. When she started out, the sun was shining and she could hear birds singing. Somewhere there were wind chimes playing a new melody as the breeze blew. It lifted strands of Mara’s hair and threw them into her face.

A gust of wind blew past and the leaves shook and whispered. The world went grayer and Mara looked up. Dark clouds were moving quickly across the sky.   Where had they come from? Mara shivered. She wished she’d brought a coat.

The wind blew through even stronger. Mara kept tucking her flying hair behind her ears. The wind chimes clanged an urgent tune. She couldn’t hear the birds any more. Mara started to walk a little faster. As she left the park, she felt the first raindrop.

And then, it poured. It rained so hard that Mara couldn’t see clearly. She was still two streets away from home. She hurried a little faster, rushing through a blurry world that she couldn’t really see, continually blinking the water out of her eyes.   Left turn and then right turn.   She should be almost home.

As suddenly as it began to pour, the rain gentled. Mara looked around. She had no idea where she was. She’d never been on this street before. She would remember that stump carved to look like a bear if she’d ever seen it before. Or that dark purple house.

Mara stopped walking and looked around again. She was cold and wet and it was still raining and she had no idea where she was. She turned around and tried to walk back the way she came. Nothing looked familiar. Should she knock on the door of one of those houses? She wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Besides, it looked like no one was home.

There were no lights on in the houses, even though it was overcast and rainy.   There weren’t cars in the driveways.   Was she alone in the world? Did the rain take everyone away and leave her behind? Her eyes stung and she blinked away the tears. Her nose started to run and she wiped it on the back of her sleeve. She’d change out of this shirt as soon as she got home anyways.

Mara began to slow down. Would walking around help when she was lost and alone? Shouldn’t she wait for someone to come find her? But would they know where to look? She shivered and rubbed her hands together.

The bushes in front of her rustled and a black cat stepped out. It looked at her than tilted its head to the side.   Then it turned, and tail up, it walked down the sidewalk a few steps and stopped.

The cat turned and looked at her. “Meow?” it said.

“Am I supposed to follow you?” Mara asked.

The cat turned and walked a few more steps and turned and looked at Mara again. She took a step forward and it turned and started walking. This time it didn’t stop. Mara followed it. She didn’t have any better ideas.

The cat turned and walked down a path between two houses. Mara hadn’t seen it until they’d turned off the sidewalk.   It was bordered on either side by chain link walls that fenced in the yards on either side. Some sort of leafy vine wove in and out of the fence, making them seem more like hedges. Mara looked close and could see morning glory blossoms, closed tightly against the dark and rain.

The cat continued walking forward, without pausing or looking right or left.   The rain stopped and the sun came out.   Mara started to feel a little warmer.   And then they turned a corner and she knew where she was. If she turned the next corner, she’d be able to see her house.

She sprinted forward and then paused and turned. She needed to thank the cat. But, the cat was gone. She looked around, turning in a circle. She couldn’t see it anywhere. “Thank you for helping me,” she said anyways. Then she turned and ran home.