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Campbells Assemble – part 1

A bit of fun for my family. Mal: Content

Campbells Assemble

Ashwin Campbell looked like an ordinary boy. Like most ordinary boys he was small and sometimes stinky. He was also funny and kind and generous, just like many ordinary boys are too. He was not ordinary of course. He was extraordinary.

It helps, if you wish to be extraordinary, to have an unusual upbringing, and Ashwin certainly had that. His mother, Smitha, was a superwoman who had raised her two sons singlehandedly. Although raising boys singlehandedly is difficult it does not by itself make you a superwoman. Smitha, however, was an actual super-woman. She herself had gained her super powers in childhood when she was raised (as some children are) at an Atomic Research Centre in Bombay, India. She was incredibly smart, beautiful and loving. She was the best mother any little boy could hope for. Her powers had embarrassed her at first and she had not liked standing out as being different so had flown away from her native India to the ends of the earth, trying to hide what she was. True power cannot long be hidden and she was quickly discovered by another secret hero, Ashwin’s father, Mal.

His father is not dead in case you wonder why his mother has raised him seemingly on her own. Nor had he run away. For that matter he had not been abducted by aliens, lost in time or falsely imprisoned. Nothing so silly or unfortunate had befallen him. He was however practically useless.

Fans of superhero stories will be aware that every hero has not just incredible powers but also a terrible weakness or flaw. Something that makes them vulnerable or, worse still, something that causes them to destroy themselves. Smitha, known as Rajkumari, famously wore her heart on her sleeve, which allowed her to share her love openly and overwhelm people with her passion and joy for life. It meant she could command the affection of children and babies everywhere and turn the unhappiest of people into smiling and contented friends. Of course wearing your heart on your sleeve can also cause problems. For one you cannot live in dirt or your heart may get infected and you will quickly become ill. Therefore you must ensure wherever you live it must be clean and tidy. Most importantly, and most sadly, your heart can easily be hurt, which means you may often be sad and miserable. These strengths and weaknesses exist in all people but are magnified in superheroes and Smitha’s woes would most likely break an ordinary person’s heart. Love is a powerful emotion and it can heal as well as hurt; one must always look for it to heal. There is a danger in allowing the fear of being hurt to rule you. If you give in to that fear then the next step would be to shut yourself away from the world so that you could never be hurt again. Thankfully, Smitha’s love was so great that all the people she encountered were so touched by her heart that they could never stay out of her life. If she was feeling hurt, the love she had shared with them would be magnified and reflected, shining back at her and warming her with the power and radiance of the sun. Thus she could never truly be defeated.

Mal had a heart but did not use it in quite the same way. It was tucked away and preserved with the rest of his body for later use. For the most part, his body was a distraction. It kept needing sleep and food which were a terrible inconvenience. This is why he decided what he really needed was to simplify his life. Ashwin’s father was a genius with a mind so vast it was often in five different places at any one time. Often it was not even just in one time but in the past and future simultaneously. Smitha would have liked it to be in the present more often as it meant he forgot a lot of the day-to-day practicalities like helping with the laundry but as a super woman she managed to stay on top of this too. I’m sure if you had super powers you wouldn’t want to use them sorting and folding clothes either so you can imagine that this made her cross on quite a few occasions.

As it happens Mal was no good at this task anyway since he had decided some years previously to live as just a head in a jar. When I said Smitha raised her sons singlehandedly this is because Mal no longer had hands. He could use his mental powers to move some things around and occasionally he used telekinetic powers to control a robot he had built to move him from place to place but for the most part he didn’t need to go anywhere as he could usually imagine what it would be like without actually going there. It wasn’t the most convenient option to choose when you are a father as it makes your cuddles fairly uncomfortable, although Ashwin and his younger brother Nishant did squeeze his jar tight every night as their daddy read them bed time stories.  For the rest of the time it was a very practical solution as it allowed him more time to think and he no longer had to eat or sleep.

By itself this background does not mean that Ashwin would grow up to be extraordinary. His home life was unusual but then many people’s home lives are, yet many of those don’t grow up to be exceptional at all. Ashwin and his brother Nishant would not be those people though. They were definitely different from ordinary boys.

Their childhood was a happy one. They went to birthday parties, played football with friends, flew spaceships and all the other typical things young boys do. When Ashwin was eleven years old and had just finished his final degree at Oxford University, his professor suggested that he might want to do something interesting with his doctorate in science. Ashwin agreed and set up an experimental research company with his brother Nishant. Nishant Campbell was as precocious as his elder brother. His interest in science and business was flourishing again now that he had finished competing at the Olympic Games.

“There are only so many gold medals you can win,” he told his brother, “before it starts to get a little tiresome.”  To be fair at this time Nishant was only six and he did have a short attention span. Ashwin nodded though, having won his Olympic medals four years earlier. He was glad Nishant wanted to try something new, especially as he wanted to explore Nishant’s ideas about transdimensional portals.

Many years previously, while Nishant had been rolling out some Play-Doh, he had layered several colours of dough together and squeezed them tight until they joined as one. “I wonder,” he had speculated, “whether the world might be like this. With us living in a layer of life like this red dough but not realising there is another layer just next to us, and maybe another and another under that.” It had been a simple, childish thought but Ashwin and Nishant had brooded over it for a long time afterwards until they finally decided to investigate the matter properly. This is how the idea for creating a connection to another universe was created and why they developed the now famous Campbell Corridor.

I don’t want to baffle you with science but please understand they were very, very, very, very clever. Not surprising when you consider who their parents were. You’ll also have noticed that they were pretty good at sports but didn’t really understand the fun of Play-Doh.

We all know now how successful their experiments finally were as the trade between the four Open Dimensions has been very successful now that the Vitari Empire has been vanquished. Although billions died during the First and Second Interdimensional Wars it is reassuring that we can get cheap clothes and Klovak milk since the signing of the new Great Peace.

A lesser known story about their youth is worth relating here. In the early days of their experiments,  when they had set aside their gene editing programme for super power creation, there were some failures. This was to be expected as nobody had tried anything like this before and certainly not by working in a secret bunker they had build under their father’s shed . Superpowers are amazing gifts but if you don’t have planning permission the local council will still ask you to knock down any extensions or secret bases you have built in your garden or under your neighbourhood.

The most significant failure came late one evening when Nishant had stayed up past his bedtime. He was tired and grumpy and had misplaced his teddy bear. These factors combined to distract him while he was calculating the effect of the quantum gravitational pull on the “corridor” he was attempting to create. Then, while Ashwin was checking on equipment in the testing area, there was a terrible accident. An explosion ripped through the room where he was standing as several universes tried to occupy the same space all at once. The worst thing that could have happened would have been it created a black hole which would suck in everything around it, starting with the equipment, then the room, then the bunker, the town above it, then with increasing speed, the whole of the planet would collapse in on itself and be absorbed by the hungry hole in space. By the time it got round to swallowing the sun there would have been nobody left to care but certainly both Ashwin and Nishant would have been embarrassed by the trouble they had caused.

Fortunately the worst did not happen. Something stranger and more unpredictable happened instead. As Nishant rushed into the testing room he was surprised to see there was no damage at all and that Ashwin was perfectly fine. Both of him were.

Before him stood two identical copies of his brother. Nishant couldn’t decide whether that was a good or a bad thing but it certainly wasn’t right. Worse still, neither of the two could work out which was the real Ashwin. They both knew the same things, spoke the same way, thought of the same things and laughed the same laugh when someone said, “Bottom”.

For safety, Nishant kept both Ashwins in the bunker for several weeks. He made a fake brother out of papier mâché to fool his parents and pretended he was sick in bed. He filled it with electronics and a selection of gadgets so it would appear real and insisted on looking after his brother. Fortunately his father couldn’t move from his jar and his mother, as Rajkumari, was busy gathering thousands of orphaned children from various war-torn countries to help them resettle in a happier location. History lovers will recognise that these would go on to become the Army of Love which helped defeat the elite Vitarian forces after the betrayal of Summink I-8.

Over time both Ashwin “One” and Ashwin “A” were allowed out. They wouldn’t let themselves be called One and Two or A and B as it suggested that the one that was named first was the real one. Instead they took One and A as identifiers and even had to flip a coin to choose for that (Nishant called it as both boys always chose the same side).  It was months before a real difference between them emerged. When it did, it was startling.

Everybody is more than one thing. You can give to charity and be unkind to a stranger in the same day and not think about it. No one person is just good or just evil. Over time the differences between One and A grew bigger. If good and evil could be people then perhaps that is what they were becoming. It is natural to think well of oneself and ones friends so we record Ashwin “A” as the true Ashwin, though perhaps both were `True`. Regardless, Ashwin “One” grew petty and spiteful, mean and jealous. He became afraid he was not real and afraid that, not being real, he might disappear at any moment. He was convinced that the universe meant for there to be only one of him, and that he, One, should be the only one to stay. These fearful thoughts led him to make an awful decision. He decided to kill his other self.

Killing yourself is a horrible thing and on the whole quite silly. Killing a self who is not you but is you is horrible and quite confusing. For those of you reading at home the general rule is that killing is bad and you ought not to do it. So unless the world government announce that alien killers are once more attacking our dimension we should live our lives without murdering anyone. With luck you will never need to use the boom sticks issued to you when you left school.

We know that Ashwin A did not die (unless you feel that One won and has become a nicer chap since then) but that does not mean the threat he posed was small. One did not target Ashwin A directly.

The two boys had seemed identical for so long they both assumed the other thought and felt as they did. Ashwin A, a warm, loving and carefree boy, felt nothing but kindness towards his new twin and, mistakenly, felt his twin felt the same towards him. One , however, was suspicious and distrustful and assumed Ashwin (as we will call Ashwin A now) would be also. As soon as he conceived of the idea to kill his double he was convinced Ashwin must be intending to do the same. He at least was aware they had begun to think differently although was unaware of the extent of those differences. For some time One  had been lying in his conversations to those around him, knowing they would not approve of his ideas, suspecting they would report everything he had said and denying he had taken any of their sweets (which he actually had done but as Ashwin also said he had not eaten any Nishant assumed what they said must be true). In fact stealing sweets made him happy. He didn’t mind that others didn’t get to have any. He wouldn’t share them and hid the wrappers to cover up any evidence of the crime. He would even break in to other people’s houses to raid their cookie jars whilst they were sleeping.

One night, during a sleepless sugar-filled walk, he found himself in the old laboratories that he and Nishant had once worked on. Or perhaps the other Ashwin and Nishant had worked on, he could not be sure any more even though his memories felt so real. His plot to kill the Other, as he sometimes thought of Ashwin, had been tumbling over and over in his mind for several days and he knew he would need an advantage in a fight between them. If One could do something, then A could also. He needed to be better than A, to be different to him, and he had had an idea that would help him.

The gene editing programme for super power creation had not been completed but was advanced enough that it would probably work. He looked again at the plans he (or the Other?) had made and went to work at finishing the design. There was a chamber prepared that would spray a gas onto whoever was inside and trigger a change to develop their superhuman power. One already knew he was super-smart, he wondered what might happen if he gained even more powers. He doubted the Other would be able to defeat him then. One smiled as he programmed the machine. He set it to randomly generate a power to ensure that the Other could not do the same if he also thought of this. He smiled and imagined being the only One. Of being Ashwin and knowing it for certain.

He stepped inside.

It’s true that he probably didn’t need a cape or a costume, and it’s wrong to suggest that they are in any way bad as Rajkumari often wore her brightly coloured uniform and Nishant himself frequently donned a cape as part of his outfit, but it seems that this was the first thing which One  thought of. He chose a grey cape and a strong red top over black trousers. Possibly the large green dollar sign on his shirt was over the top but he had decided that if there was something worth fighting for (apart from the right to be the only one of yourself in the universe) then it was money. Once the Other was dead he had decided he would become a Tetra-Quillionaire and then use that money to become richer. All the notes that were discovered about his plans afterwards indicate that he had some very creative plans to steal this money and blackmail others for more, yet the actual Ashwin made his first quillion a few years later with the perfectly legal trade in weaponry for the wars which began after the first Campbell Corridor was opened. Later the trade through Campbell Corridors made he and Nishant the richest men in all the Open Dimensions.

Nishant certainly found the costume helped separate the `good` Ashwin from the `bad` Ashwin. He only realised there was a `bad` Ashwin when One tried to squish him. One‘s superpowers had made him incredibly strong and as he strolled into the room where Ashwin and Nishant were dancing (this was part of a genuine experiment), he lifted up a metal cabinet and threw it at his other self’s head. Much to his surprise, nothing happened. Well, Nishant and Ashwin looked surprised, asked what he was doing and turned around to look at the cabinet which had flown straight through Ashwin’s body.

Nishant was shocked. They had been singing his song Bobbob, which had been number one in thirty four countries for several weeks, as part of a test he was running. He and Ashwin were both in different rooms but were communicating with each other via an experimental Holographic Encounter Jelly. HEJ, as you know, means “Hello” in Swedish and truthfully the jelly wasn’t needed to make the technology work but it made them laugh so they’d incorporated it into the designs because they liked it. Nowadays people hej each other all the time, even across dimensions, but few people realise that the J in hej stands for jelly. The name stuck but the jelly was removed as manufacturers had insisted it was impractical and it had tripled the production costs.

At that moment  both boys were glad they weren’t in the room with One. They had meant to surprise him with their new invention and had been looking forward to seeing what he had produced in his time alone. Both had assumed he was working on something productive which is why he had not been spending much time with them recently.

“Did you drop the cabinet?” asked Ashwin, who could not believe that anyone would want to hurt him. One just screamed and charged, jumping on to his other self, intending to squash his skull. His great strength would have ensured his rival’s death but the change must have affected his intelligence too, or perhaps his perception, for he failed to realise that Ashwin was not actually there.  He hit the wall on the other side of the room and cut his head instead. “Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh!” he screamed (This is recorded in the secret base’s video records so we know for certain which words they used). “Why won’t you die? Where are you?”

However trusting and nice you are, there are times when you don’t need to be an actual genius to work out what is going on. That time has arrived. One rose up angrily and proceeded to search the base, ripping doors off hinges when he grew particularly cross. One very heavy door was later found twenty feet away from its frame after One stubbed his toe in that room.

The holograms were only programmed to meet and communicate in the room One had started in so Nishant decided he would stay `old-school` and phoned his brother to discuss the problem.

“We need to hide,” Nishant said as the good Ashwin answered the call.

“No,” his brother insisted. “Did you see the damage he did? I can’t do something like that. He’s changed himself. I think he’s added extra super powers. He must have finished the gene-editor we began.”

Nishant didn’t like that idea and gulped fearfully. He didn’t realise he wasn’t in any danger as he assumed that Ashwin One had simply begun a murderous rampage through the lab. The idea that One hoped to kill his other self and get on with life as normal didn’t seem reasonable or likely. You could argue that intending to do that isn’t reasonable but that is the main problem. Being unreasonable allows you to do all sort of silly and dangerous things. What One hadn’t considered was that other people would view his action as being bad. Too much fear and paranoia was clouding his mind. That and all of the sweets he was eating. Too much of anything is known to be bad for you.

One did not agree with this (another symptom of his unreasonableness) and wanted more and more sweets. This thought had been growing as he stomped about destroying the building until he became distracted in his search for someone to kill and began searching cupboards and drawers for sugary snacks instead. This distraction is probably what allowed the famous Ashwin Campbell to survive and grow into the founder of Campbell Interdimensional Defence Applications (CIDA), amongst his many other achievements. The difference between the two boys had grown so great it was almost inevitable that one would triumph over the other, except that the difference was such that it had blinded One to the greatest strength that Ashwin had: Love.

Whilst it’s true that his mother, Rajkumari, had her true strength in the power of love, it was not the case that Ashwin had love as a super power. But his heart was strong and he fiercely loved his family and friends and would defend them if he felt they were threatened. He felt they were threatened now.

Ashwin knew it was important to stop One. His sweet-addicted counterpart seemed to have taken on all of his worst qualities and magnified them a thousand fold. He shuddered at the idea that any of One could be part of him, even if they shared the same face. He wondered what to do.

Since there were security cameras all over their base (necessary to keep an eye on things and prevent industrial espionage), the most obvious place to go would have been the Control Room where all of the feeds from the cameras could be monitored. From there Ashwin and Nishant would be able to track One’s movements and plan a counter attack. Ashwin therefore sent a quick message to his brother: “Avoid Control Room. Hide from cameras.” The fact was that his first thought might still be One’s first thought and if he or Nishant headed there then they might just run into the evil they were trying to track. He did need to find him, true, but only once he was ready to stop the fiend, and he didn’t feel he was ready just yet.

Nishant messaged back. “Have an idea, come to gym.”

The gym, which is an essential part of any young athlete’s life, was a state of the art facility but still smelled of body odour as the robots that cleaned most of the base were only programmed to look for dust, dirt and debris. If young boys are asked about smells they’re unlikely to find a solution but instead laugh and make some more. Truthfully neither Ashwin nor Nishant ever noticed the pongs they created and their mother had never been to the base to complain. Had she done so she would have had recurring nightmares and needed years of therapy to escape the memory. Only the decontamination shower prevented the two young men from permanently reeking like a skunk’s backside.

Nishant was already there, performing a handstand on the balance beam. His red face suggested he’d been in that position for a while.

“Are you working out?” Ashwin inquired.

“Seemed a waste of time just sitting around, “Nishant replied. “I would have used the treadmill but I thought there might be running later.” Such clear thinking is lost on many of the youth today who are happy to sit for hours on end with no tangible achievement at the end of their efforts at all. The ability to keep a calm head and continue one’s regular routines whilst adapting to disaster is almost a lost art. The Campbell brothers had mastered it nonetheless which no doubt contributed to their enormous successes later in life, whether in the invention of the best-selling board game Ensign or the foundation of the Training Inter-Dimensional Youth (TIDY) programme. Acknowledging the wisdom of this Ashwin began a series of press ups as they their discussed strategy.

Nishant had been able to repurpose a health monitor in the gym and hack into the security feeds to allow observation of the base from their location. He had recorded a scene of the empty gym which was playing continuously should One try and observe that room. Reasoning that his unhealthy food obsessions were unlikely to make him health conscious Nishant had determined the gym as the safest place on the base. One knew there would be no sweets or snacks there, had no reason to think they would go to the gym and if Ashwin had not thought of it then One likely hadn’t thought it also.

They replayed some of the events that had occurred and agreed that genetic alteration seemed likely. His advanced strength, speed and endurance were probably what triggered the need for extra calories. Unless sugar also corrupts the mind (which is possible but no research exists on this as people really don’t want to know). One option they came up with was to simply close the base, hide all sweets and snacks and wait. One would simply tire himself out and fall unconscious. Military historians have agreed this would have been the neatest and simplest way to end the conflict. It is often taught at Officer Training to demonstrate how victory need not always come through violence. Unfortunately, as they also teach, the enemy is often not so kind as to provide simple solutions for you. Whilst the base did have a limited supply of sweets the world at large did not.

One had left the building.

It took a while to confirm this as they were scanning multiple cameras from the display on an exercise bike. Given that One’s intention was to kill them (or so they both thought) they had not considered that he might go elsewhere. Elsewhere meant up, and up led to their home. Geniuses and entrepreneurs though they might be their first thought was `We’re in trouble now. ` For this meant their parents would find out what they’d been doing. However noble their intentions, all young boys dread being caught.

By this stage the secret was already out. Upstairs their father had encountered One.

Mal had never dreaded being caught as he had never really understood shame. He did what he did and that was basically it. Others would adapt and change or they wouldn’t. If he couldn’t control it he generally didn’t pay it any attention. Until “it” was his wild-eyed child and “being caught” meant having his jar stolen. This was particularly important as he was still in the jar.

“Give me sweets or I’ll smash the jar!” demanded One.

Mal couldn’t comply with this and had no sweets at all as he didn’t see the point in them anymore. When he had had a body he ate lots of sweets, pastries, cookies and other unwholesome things to the point where his body hadn’t been at its best and his dentist cringed each time his name was added to the appointment book. Some people with eating problems would have their stomachs stapled to make them smaller and force them to eat less. Mal simply removed his stomach (along with his torso and other appendages), which had an even more effective success rate. Records prove he has not gained any weight in the 873 years he has lived following the removal of his body. Attempts to copy Mal’s treatment, a side effect of which appears to be immortality, have consistently failed leading to a number of grieving families suing the various medical professionals who had promised they could carry out the surgery successfully.

Mal opened his mouth to explain the problem, but before he could speak a voice called out, “Okay. We’ll bring sweets. Just wait while we gather them up and bring them to you.”

Changing what he had been about to say, Mal quickly deduced the situation. “That was your voice promising sweets but here you are demanding them. That puts you in two places at the same time with two conflicting goals. You therefore must be one of two identical sons of mine and – given your threats against me – the “evil twin” of the two. I don’t know what you’ve been up to Ashwin but one of you is in trouble for this. I deduce you’ve been conducting dangerous scientific experiments without my knowledge or permission.”

One glared at his father. “I just want sweets. Do you think telling me I’m in trouble or calling me evil is making it more or less likely that I drop your jar?”

“My son does not just want sweets,” Mal retorted. “He wants love and friendship, praise and respect. He wants success and achievement. He wants to explore and discover, to learn and understand, to help and defend; to elevate all mankind. And he wants security and adventures, forgiveness and understanding, boundaries and freedom, stories and experience. He wants a million things, not just sweets. Although he often does want sweets.” Mal looked at One, knowing him in an instant (for he had the power to read people’s minds just as if he were reading a book). “If all you want is sweets your life will be very empty indeed.”

It was hard to have a conversation with Mal when he wanted to talk. He could be a fantastic listener, which is always when he was the best conversationalist as no one enjoys a conversation more than when the other person is fascinated by everything they say, but should he decide to take on a topic himself he would readily find himself conducting a lecture instead. One remembered this and put Mal down on a shelf facing the wall so he didn’t have to look at him anymore. He found his father’s words unsettling and did not want to look him in the face anymore. Moreover he found it hard to think of Mal as his father. All he wanted right now were sweets: colourful wine gums with embossed edges, pure white chocolate, soft chewy Haribo, smooth chocolate mice, jet black liquorice sticks, hard-boiled lollipops in yellows and greens, tangy sugar coated cola cubes, sleek pied coke bottles, popping candy that exploded and crackled on your tongue, crunchy hard-shelled chocolates, softy jellied rings, speckled eggs with unexpected flavours, multi-coloured gobstoppers to make your jaw ache, powdered pink bonbons, swirling shiny mints, toffees with chocolate centres, strawberry laces, aniseed balls, sugary laddu balls, sweet sticky jalebi, silvered burfi, pistachio kulfi… the list of sweets dizzied his mind and he began to salivate at the thought.

Mal was facing him again by the time he regained his control (a clever manoeuvre he’d mastered by wiggling his ears). “I love you too,” he said, though One had said nothing of the sort

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Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 16

New Gossip                                  

Dawn had been grateful to have her family together again.

Until they’d driven up at nearly ten at night she’d been anxiously worrying about them. She understood the lack of phones but she still couldn’t cope with the lack of communication. She’d offered food but they all had eaten so she had sent Wyman to bed and taken the chance to talk with Karl and Miles about him.

She was happier seeing a change in Wyman over the last few days but now Karl had more concerns which he hinted at but would not expand on.

She’d been cross to start with; honestly the whole experience had been a rollercoaster ride. Wyman’s sulking and passive-aggressive war had begun from the moment she’d announced her intention to move them to Dupin. She’d had the most difficult time finding a realtor she could contact to source a house in the town. Websites were nonexistent and phone lines were patchy at best. She’d had to negotiate through an agency in Finnigan, the nearest town which was over eighty kilometers away. She genuinely couldn’t remember writing so many letters since the nineties. The agents in Finnigan were able to email over the details she needed but all correspondence to anyone in Dupin had to be posted.

The worst person to keep in touch with had been Karl. She’d struggled to believe the problems he claimed the town had. No email, no internet, no cell phone reception, no fixed address. It was the first time she’d considered that he may be having an affair. He’d given her the number for a post office box and told her he’d try to check it once a week. She could acknowledge to herself now, though never to Karl, that it had been that fear which had sowed the first seed in her mind of moving there. She did trust him. She did. It had  just been hard to shake the fear which had grown in her mind.

She allowed herself the hope that things were settling down. Karl still had work out in the woods but she was sure he’d have to spend more nights with them now they had a house here. The first thing he’d done of course was to take Miles out with him so she hadn’t seen either of them for the next few days. She still had no idea how they’d arranged to meet Wyman. Most likely smoke signals, knowing Karl.

Miles chatted happily about the woods and the wonderful peace there. Apparently they’d been fishing and Karl had shown him all the work he was doing. It had been some years since Karl had invited her to see what he was working on.

Dawn hated feeling so petty and jealous but it wasn’t right to be so neglected. Her life was built around others yet it was rare to feel anyone had made the effort to think of her.

She spoke about the work she’d done on the house, which had been unoccupied for some time. The realtor seemed to have passed on a lemon, relying on distance and her ignorance of the town. There were many vacant properties in the area she now knew but it had been impossible to get that information from New York. She felt naïve and angry and had a mind to make a very public scene at their office when she went to Finnigan next. If she went.

She needed to buy a car. Although she could drive she’d enjoyed not having to in New York. The truck rental had been smarter than buying something small and driving it all the way there. They’d needed a truck to take all their stuff. She’d considered putting it into storage but Karl’s work there had ended and who knew where they’d move to after this job?

Miles liked the classic car feel of the town and was introduced to the issues of modern cars simply not working in the area. There was some sort of electrical disturbance that threw everything off in the town and surrounding region. The modern engine did not cope reliably. A local entrepreneur paid $10 to anyone who brought news of a breakdown on the approaching highway before charging exorbitantly to tow the poor stranded travelers back to civilization. Dawn had lucked out when she’d hired an older truck.

She was pleased to be able to talk comfortably about this subject, having had lengthy conversations about it with some of her neighbors. She’d had visits from four separate households, mostly in search of gossip about Wyman’s police escort the other night.

In anticipation she’d begun baking that very night, a lifetime’s experience of home-hopping pushing her to well trodden paths of small town diplomacy. She stayed up late to make some of her mother’s frosted banana nut bars and a couple of batches of soft chewy molasses cookies, a recipe she’d picked up in a cookery class in New York.

Her preference would have been a beautiful grilled stuffed portobello mushroom dish she’d come to love but she knew it could be divisive. Some people couldn’t face a meal without either meat or sugar and she’d needed to make something to heal tensions rather than create them. Pine nuts and mozzarella were not for everyone.

She was grateful the agent had recommended she get her first big shop in Finnigan. Oddly that was the one thing she’d been suspicious of at the time. Clearly her intuition and instincts with people didn’t work so well over the phone.

Dawn had wooed her visitors with refreshments and a friendly despair, hoping to lean on their sympathy for her predicament. She hadn’t mentioned wasting police time but had insisted Wyman had thought he’d seen something and had reported it. Their neighbors seemed to feel a vanishing was perfectly sensible and so relaxed and warmed to her company.

Karl was advised they should host a barbecue soon in order to cement the budding goodwill. He promised he’d try to schedule some time. Dawn was surprised Miles didn’t push him to support her. With Karl there was no guarantee the barbecue would happen this year.

They spoke of cars and the difficulties that plagued the town. It had been founded well before issues of electricity and wifi were ever conceived of but with such obstacles she wondered how long the town could live.

Max Banner from across the way was a prepper of some kind, confident of the inevitable destruction of the United States and happy to be off The Government’s radar. Big G. She wasn’t sure whether the rest of the world was to be caught up in his doomsday scenario or if in Max’s world beyond the USA simply wasn’t important, either way he hadn’t considered any enemy beyond anything Federal in his preparations.

Susie Jarvis was full of admiration for the home repairs Dawn had already undertaken. She’d begun with the plumbing and was refitting some of the wiring already. She’d hoped to involve Wyman in the problem but he’d been distant. Initially she’d thought learning a new skill would gain his interest and she could subtly bond him to the home. There was still a chance he would do so but she’d started worrying less as Wyman had seemed more relaxed in the last day or so.

This weekend Dawn hoped to get Wyman working on painting the house, Miles and Karl too if she could pin them down. Some of her happiest memories had been of working as a family on a big house project at wherever they’d settled. She’d even helped at a barn raising once when they’d been driving across the States on a Freedom Trail. She’d been twelve at the time.

Each time they moved Dawn would begin renovating again, ignoring Karl’s remonstrations to hire someone else to do the work. She enjoyed the process of renewal, of creation. She didn’t just want the job done, she wanted to do it. Naturally she’d love it if her men would join in with her as they had done before. Karl pushed aside discussion of house repairs and so she turned to discussing the other neighbors.

She told them about Susie, whose uncle had disappeared last year, and Hannah Mire who was worried about her husband, a soldier on tour overseas. The two of them had started a business together grooming and boarding pets.

Miles could talk comfortably with anyone about anything but Karl was still distant and distracted. Even here with his family his mind was away at work, she thought sadly.

Karl’s interest returned to the room when she shared Bobby Stuart’s difficulties as his pension check hadn’t arrived in the mail this week. Another quirk of the cut off nature of the town meant that electronic banking wasn’t commonplace in Dupin as there was no way to routinely transmit data in and out. He and Miles looked sympathetic and exchanged concerned glances. Dawn was glad that at least something made him feel.

It was as she was considering turning in for the night that Miles mentioned a girl.

Wyman had been out in the woods with a girl.

All thoughts of rest disappeared and she was intensely frustrated by the men’s inability to give full and accurate details about Nina. They assumed she was from Wyman’s school, unsure whether or not it had been mentioned. They related what they could, or at least what they felt comfortable sharing. She was maybe 175 centimeters, curly black hair, pleasant with a nice smile. What else did Dawn want to know? Mixed heritage, seemed quite smart and conversational. No, they didn’t know if they were dating.

Dawn was frustrated by their lack of interest and for two normally sharp and observant men they’d seemingly noticed nothing. She was almost tempted to wake Wyman up but decided to wait until morning. She couldn’t believe they’d been talking about postal problems for so long instead of this.

Despite their lengthy camping trip Karl and Miles seemed to have more energy than her so she kissed them goodnight and headed up to bed, her head bursting with questions she wanted to ask Wyman about this Nina girl.

Karl waited patiently listening for the sound of the bedroom door closing before he spoke. “He took her there, Dad. They went through.”

Miles’ eyebrows shot up. “Into the … ” his shock robbed him of the words. The Motherworld? He hated that name for it but had never had a better one to use. The Homeworld? Their families had rejected it long ago so it wasn’t home for them. The Other Place? Their world?  

He’d always thought of it as Hell.

Miles sunk further back into his chair, light conversation lost to him. He’d begun chronicling the history of the families and the Motherworld when he was young, at his grandfather’s request. It was a profession the Alvar valued though no scout had performed it before. Not that he was a scout in anything other than blood.

The world beyond, which Miles had observed through dozens of fractures, seemed brutal and dangerous. The view from Dupin, unique in his experience, showed an area less built up than others. Whilst clearly a bigger threat, it seemed less threatening than the other sections he’d found. Even so, he would never have considered actually going there. He could not think of a single incident in which anyone had returned.

Karl watched as his father absorbed the news. At least Miles understood the issue.

“He took her?” Miles asked. “Like a tourist?”

Karl sighed. He’d been working this through in his head for a while, wondering about the difficulties they’d have to deal with and how exactly to punish Wyman.

“Wyman said they were being chased by bullies and he chose to escape `sideways`.”

“Sideways? Well that’s an interesting option.” Miles rubbed the back of his fingers against the stubble of his chin. “This is what comes of delaying his training,” he said as if deciding the root cause was Karl.

Karl snorted and shook his head. Of course his dad would find a way to blame him for this. “They weren’t seen exactly but a pack of wehrhunds tracked them. I had to kill one of them.”

“Did you clean up?” Miles asked.

“It wasn’t safe. I had to get them away.”

“So there’s a mess. If they find that dog they’ll start asking questions.”

“It was in our world, Dad. Ours,” Karl thumped the armrest of his chair. “The kids fled. They did the right thing but they came after them. I tried my best not to leave a trail. Wyman even thinks I let his friend almost die to prove a point.”

“What point would that prove?” Miles asked. “Apart from his own damn stupidity.”

“I’ve been measuring the range of the breach,” Karl explained, fully expecting his thoughts to be dismissed by his father once again. “Calculating the range they can reach. I was entirely accurate with the wehrhund. Their limits are consistent with every thin place we’ve encountered.”

Miles stared at him thoughtfully, his eyes narrowing. “Dawn says you’ve been here for months.”

Karl nodded confused by the turn in conversation.

“In all that time it never occurred to you to let me or the others know?” Miles shook his head in disappointment. He snorted. “This is the biggest development in our war we’ve ever encountered and you sat on it by yourself. What would have happened if you’d been captured? or killed?”

“Dad, I can’t tell if you’re worried about me or cross because what I do works.”

“I’m cross with you because you’re a selfish ass!” Miles shouted. He looked upwards briefly, afraid he may have woken Dawn and continued in an angry hush. “This affects all of us but you’ve been playing on your own like you’ve found a precious toy you don’t want to share.

“Do you know why their society was falling to pieces? Selfishness. They are probably the biggest power out there in the world. In all the worlds. But their giant egos are too delicate. They were ripping themselves apart in their paranoia and politics. Always trying to get ahead and keep things from others.”

Karl looked down, unable to hold his father’s angry gaze. He’d just been collecting data. He thought it would be useful. He hadn’t considered the effect on anyone else. “I thought if too many people came here we’d be noticed,” he said.

“Did you?” Miles challenged. “Did you once think about calling anyone here?” He leaned forward, his anger rising at Karl’s childish excuses. “You’re as bad as they are. Arrogant and self serving.”

Karl shook his head, refusing to accept that criticism.

“You need to show me everything and then we’ll send for help,” Miles said with a note of finality.

Part of him wanted to rebel against his father still, another part to show off all he had achieved. He knew nothing but complying with his father’s diktat would win approval now. Karl sighed wearily and nodded. “I need to go back for some shoes they lost,” he said, trying to regain control of the conversation.

Miles grunted as if Karl had needlessly stated the obvious. “Move the dog’s body too,” he said, disappointed that his son had forgotten this important detail.


Less action in this chapter and a return to focus on relationships. Dawn is given more of a central role as she’s the main human character in Wyman’s life. I want the reader to see her humanity, flawed as it is.

She’s a liberal, wearing her heart on her sleeve and looking for the best in people. She’s also naive and her acknowledgement that her instincts and intuition can be flawed is intended as an amusing understatement. She feels connected with people but she’s unaware of the fundamental nature of her own family. Yet these aren’t qualities to be mocked. These are qualities that make humanity worth fighting for.

Dawn is the figurehead for humanity in this story and while she may not have an active action role her existence provides a moral and emotional compass for when Wyman is struggling.

Mal: Content

0

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 15

New Conversations

Wyman ran towards them, more calls from the gathering pack abounding from the woods.

“It’s okay,” Karl called, Nina far beyond them now. “You’re safe now.”

Nina turned, slowing a little but not ready to stop completely. Karl lowered his bow and loosened the readied arrow.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” Wyman demanded his breath ragged now that he’d stopped running.

“I might have hit your friend,” his dad responded.

“I’ve seen you shoot. You wouldn’t have.” Wyman didn’t believe the excuse though mentally noted he hadn’t tried to snort this time. The shot taking down the alien beast chasing him had come close to striking him, his father hadn’t flinched on that one. Karl looked carefully at Nina who had begun to hobble back to them. “She knows,” Wyman said. “I told her.”

Karl snorted, his nostrils flaring. Wyman felt a little guilty. As far as his dad knew he’d shared a major secret just a few days ago and Wyman had blabbed to the first girl he came across. The vein in his dad’s neck throbbed a little and he wondered if he’d crossed a line too far. Karl took a deep breath and then indicated a tree some way from the route they’d run. From it dangled a strip of green surveyor’s tape.

“I’ve been measuring range, calculating the scale of the rift,” he finally volunteered.

Wyman looked at the tape trying to match it to where the hound had vanished. “You knew it wouldn’t reach us?”

Karl shrugged. “Best guess. Wasn’t sure about the hounds. They’re not usually out on their own.” He turned and walked away before Wyman could express his outrage at his dad ‘guessing’.

Another hound raced into view. This one paused, panting as it stared at the trio ahead of it. A second joined it, then a third. They stood near to each other staring at the party but no longer pursuing as if they could see the barrier ahead of them. Wyman thought their heads looked like those of the Egyptian god Anubis, long ears pointed upward, intelligent dark eyes still fixed on their prey as if memorizing their faces.

Karl turned to see them. “Not safe to get your shoes now,” he said calmly and started walking off again. “Got a first aid kit at my camp. Looks like you could both use some.”

Wyman watched him walk off the pain in his feet beginning to magnify as the adrenalin began to drain from his bloodstream. He hobbled over to Nina and the two of them silently followed the trackless path Karl had walked.

At his campsite less than a mile away Miles was cooking dinner in a kadai bowl over a campfire. Wyman smiled to see it dangling under a tripod from three hooked chains. His dad must have had that thing forever. He was sure they’d had it in his early camping trips. It was one of the things his mom had loved about him, his ease to survive in nature and be with the land. He wondered if it had ever belonged to his grandpa.

Miles stood up as they entered the camp, his half wave turning to concern as he saw Wyman and Nina limping in. “What’s happened?” he asked, concern clear in his voice, “and who’s this?”

Wyman called out feebly, “Hi, Grandpa.” Just under a mile without shoes on badly injured feet was not a pleasant experience. He’s gritted his teeth for the whole journey, walking silently while trying to put his mind elsewhere. It’d been hard, each footstep a painful jolt that made it hard to think. At some point he and Nina had held hands and that had helped distract him from the pain. “This is Nina. We go to school together.”

Though late, the sky was still light and Miles could see the awful muddy bloody mess of their feet. “Get over here,” he called and rushed to get the first aid kit. They took a seat on the log he’d been sat on and he trotted back to tend to them. “Look after the food,” Miles ordered his son.

Karl silently took over the task by the fire, stirring something that smelled delicious but which Wyman couldn’t identify. His dad hadn’t said anything to them for the entire journey except for, “Keep up.” He couldn’t work out what the problem was but he felt it was bigger than having revealed a secret. He realised he simply didn’t know enough about this situation to guess at the implications. However, his dad didn’t know the whole story either so hopefully his worry would pass once Wyman explained.

Miles was introducing himself to Nina. Charming and funny, he had her smiling in no time. Wyman noticed how his face froze momentarily as Nina explained they’d been chased by wild dogs before it adjusted to a mask of shock and sympathy. He was clearly a skilled liar and Wyman had never noticed that before. Miles spoke of hunters and dog fights and  expressed delight that they’d escaped before their masters had called them back. Karl just silently readied the meal, never correcting him about the events. Wyman was fascinated to see just how well his grandpa could evade the truth so he said nothing. To hear his grandpa explain it, some illegal animal fight must have been nearby – or training for one – when the combatants had caught their scent and chased them. Clearly they must have been called back by a dog whistle and the owners would no doubt have fled by now – so they were perfectly safe. He wondered whether he could have been persuaded by that lie if he hadn’t have been told the truth just that week.

Nina went along with it. She wasn’t sure whether Miles was up to date with all the information and wasn’t going to disabuse him just in case. Moreover, years of habit of avoiding talk of strange sightings was hard to overcome. She had always felt that any conversation might be a trap of some kind, a precursor to the sanatorium waiting in the wings. Silence was best, avoidance next, obfuscation as a last resort but never the truth.

The lacerations to their feet were many and varied. Miles’ first aid kit was supported by a bottle of scotch which he’d shared liberally with the two in lieu of any pain relief. He poured some sparingly over their cuts, knowing the value of both antiseptic and good scotch. Wyman wondered if its secondary purpose was to make his explanations feel more credible. He watched in sympathy as Nina’s feet were cleaned first with swabs and tweezers. His grandpa was calm and meticulous going about the task as if it were something he saw every day. It occurred to Wyman that he didn’t know as much about his family as he ought to.

“The biggest risk is infection,” Miles was reassuring them. “You can avoid that if you’re careful but if you’re not up to date with your tetanus shots get those done straight away.” Wyman was fascinated by the ease with which his grandpa worked. He fixed some of the wounds closed with some LiquiBand, though complained it was expensive nonsense and superglue would have done the job equally well. By the time he started work on Wyman, Nina’s feet were wrapped with bandages and ensconced in a spare pair of sandals.

They ate a delicious spiced fish dish and Nina spoke to Miles about how he’d made it, confident that they hadn’t foraged for chili or lime. Miles produced a series of tic tac boxes filled with spices and a small net of citrus from the back of the pickup. He also brought back a walking stick and offered it to Nina, hopeful that it would take some of the pressure off of walking. She thanked him but declined and after Wyman teased him about owning the stick it wasn’t offered to him. Everyone seemed to sense that Karl didn’t want to join in the conversation and so left him to pack up the campsite. Finally he offered to drive them home and Wyman felt it was said in the same spirit with which Deputy Pike had offered him a ride a few days previously.

His only other comment was to direct Wyman to sit in the front. Nina and Miles rode in the back where Karl had stacked his belongings carefully to make some space for his unexpected passengers. Surveyor’s gear and camping equipment were strapped down carefully

Despite commanding him to sit up front Karl didn’t speak for most of the journey. This is becoming a habit, Wyman thought gloomily.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” Wyman said as they finally drove out of the woods, trying to break through his dad’s stony silence. “We were being chased and I just…”

Karl didn’t look at him but his voice was cold. “You know it’s here. It’s not a place to take a stroll in.”

“I didn’t know about the dogs,” Wyman tried to explain. “They followed us across. They can gate by themselves?”

Karl took this confession in. “Followed you across? Did you go there? Did you take her there?” Wyman realised how little he’d explained and began to see the gravity of what he’d admitted. He stopped talking, hoping for silence again. “Wyman, did you go into that world?” Karl insisted, taking his eyes off the road to check his son’s response.

“Uh, yeah. Some guys in  town were chasing us and it was the only place we could hide.”

“You made yourself vulnerable and put my investigation at risk. They don’t know I’m here. That’s what’s keeping me alive, Wyman. This isn’t an adventure playground for you to use.” He thumped the dashboard in frustration. “I knew you weren’t ready for this.”

Wyman felt hurt. He had made mistakes he realized that but this was his dad’s fault. He ought to have been told about all of this years ago.

“You’ve never been there?” he asked.

“There’s never been a place this big before. Anywhere near this big.” Karl said. “Besides, it’s a stupid idea.” The track road reached a road proper. “Where does she live?” he asked.

“Malbone Ridge,” Wyman offered, “7384. Near where we found the postal truck.”

Karl nodded and turned. He knew the area well by now and had memorized maps of the streets and topography. He was creating his own to identify the extent of this rift in the barrier.

“It’s not magic all of this,” he said. Wyman assumed his dad meant the Alvar mess. “I knew you’d be a son because we can’t have daughters. Your mom went all mystical for your pregnancy, crystals and that nonsense. Told me you’d be a girl but I knew.” He flashed his lights to alert an approaching driver who had their high beams on. The beams dropped.

“We’re not allowed daughters,” Karl continued. “The matriarchy won’t take threats to their power and with the enhancements we’re given they could be a threat. You see, they control everything, they’re too paranoid to take chances.”

Wyman took all of that in. Enhancements. So he wasn’t exactly human. Karl breezed past the idea at ease with it all and not thinking that his son might want to discuss it.

“The scouts who came across reprogrammed something in the dimensional bridge. It stopped others from crossing. Dad thinks they coded it to our blood, encrypted it, but it has to be more than that.”

“So how come they can be here now?” Wyman interrupted finally. “Grandpa said -”

“Most places they can’t be. Whatever they did worked but they got in a parting shot. It was like a bomb,” Karl said. “We don’t know if they meant to jam the signal, kill people or what. What happened though was the shell fragmented. For all I know there’s a rift the size of Atlanta up on Mars somewhere, or in another galaxy. I can’t tell how far it spreads but I’m trying to map the fractures here on the surface. It’s a job I need to finish.”

Wyman began to see that a dimensional shield was bigger than the egg shell type protection around their planet that he’d first imagined. He couldn’t visualize it at all now. It would have to be some kind of infinite invisible wall. Of course if there was more than one dimension that surely had to exist anyway. AP physics was not preparing him for these types of questions.

“I don’t know what happens if they capture one of us. Our blood is part of the code to open the lock to this world. Maybe it would be nothing, maybe it would be everything. We can’t take that chance.” He paused at looked intently at Wyman. “You can’t take that chance.”

The pulled up at Nina’s house and Miles helped her climb down from the back of the pickup. She hobbled over to the cab and thanked Karl for the rescue. Wyman wished her well. She was limping home, missing her shoes and smelling of scotch. “If you don’t make it to school on Monday I’ll understand why,” he joked. He looked at her nervously, uncomfortable in front of his dad and unsure about their relationship. Karl laid his hand across Wyman’s chest and pushed him back into his seat. He leaned over him to call to Nina through the window.

“Be safe,” he said. “And don’t tell anyone about this.”

Nina nodded, “Way ahead of you.” She looked reluctantly at Wyman but Karl drove away before she could say anything else.

1

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 14

New Horizons

The blue shimmer flashed and faded around them. Nina pulled back from Wyman in surprise and then, taking in her surroundings, in shock.

“Where are we?” she asked.

Around them was woodland, large white bark pine growing awkwardly in every direction, needles scattered across the floor. Douglas fir and spruce spread out among them and whilst Nina recognized the species the place was unknown to her.

Wyman took his arms away from her, a pang of regret stabbed him as he did so.

They were surrounded by trees.

“We’re in the other place,” he said.

“Holy crap!” Nina swore.

Wyman nodded, equally shocked at what he’d done.

“This is the alley?” she asked.

He looked around and then thought to really look. The flash he saw was more of an orange this time but he could layer the images to see across to where they’d come from. “Yeah,” he said. He pointed just to the side. “Trent and his pals are just there.” He could see them looking in surprise at the empty dumpster.

“You know if I grabbed his legs now I could probably toss him in that thing.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Nina warned him.

Wyman smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, okay. Not a good idea.”

She punched his arm and Wyman refocused, dropping Trent from his vision.

“Are you back with me now or spying still?” she asked.

“With you,” he said.

“You could be a real voyeur with that power, you know,” she said. “I’m glad my bathroom’s on the first floor.”

Wyman’s face colored and he had to look away. Oddly that idea hadn’t even crossed his mind. He turned to hide his blushes and looked about once more.

“Want to go for a hike?” he asked.

They walked for hours. It was as if they’d discovered their very own National Park. The space and beauty of it was breathtaking. Wyman had to remind himself that there were natives and they wouldn’t be friendly.

He tried to pull the view he’d gained from the hilltop to mind. When his grandpa had tried to show him the town through the shimmer they’d seen the area was mostly forested but a few areas of town had been deforested and some constructions erected. He had a good sense of the main points but wasn’t sure of his own location. He tried to visualize their flight from Trent. They’d run north from the coffee shop, east along the first alley and north again through the footpath. They’d crossed the road to the northeast and taken a turn by the post office – he realised now what it was, not having paid attention to it in the panicked rush – and instead of the car lot they’d headed north then east.

“What are you thinking about?” Nina asked observing his distant expression.

He explained his concerns and how he was recreating the route they’d taken.

“Seriously? That’s not normal.”

He’d never thought about it before. His sense of direction had always been excellent and his memory superb. It meant studying wasn’t always necessary as it didn’t take much for whatever information he was given to sink in. He’d always been told he was an autodidact. At times it had made him lazy but his mom had always pushed him to learn other things when he got bored. It was why he’d researched bikes and spent so much time customizing his rides. He gained expertise with ease.

Was he abnormal? He’d known he was different to his peers in some regards and he excelled in so many of the things he did. Was that natural though? Was he even human?

“Hey,” Nina punched his arm again. “Don’t phase out on me here.” She looked at him to make sure she really had his attention. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool you can do that. It’s genuinely the least weird thing I’ve seen you do today. But do not phase out on me here.” She gestured around the alien forest. “You’re my ride home.”

He saw what she meant. “My bad. It’s just a lot for me to take in. I’ve only known about this for a couple of days and even then I’m getting most of it from some hundred year old book my grandpa’s dumped on me.”

“At least your introduction to this came with some kind of explanation,” Nina said. “We moved here nine years ago and this craziness has been in me since then. I didn’t get a user’s manual.”

It was hard to believe she’d coped with that life all on her own for so long. Wyman was impressed. He wondered if he would have been able to cope.

They walked on through the familiar alien landscape, the roll of the land and positioning of hills as normal as anything they’d known. Wyman wished he’d brought his bike. Trail riding here would be amazing.

A river cut across their path ahead, wide but shallow as a stream. Nina’s interruption had thrown Wyman off his mental calculations and he’d stopped worrying about exactly where they were. Mindfulness they called this, he thought. Just being in the moment.

There was birdsong in the forest and signs of wildlife. Nina seemed to recognize most of it though for Wyman most wildlife was alien. If it wasn’t in Central Park it wasn’t familiar to him. He knew that would disappoint his mom who’d taken him camping a lot when he was younger when woods had meant play and freedom. He’d always run off when she’d tried to teach him about nature.

Both of them stopped to watch as a deer trotted up to drink at the river’s edge and Wyman found himself standing very close to Nina hoping the deer wouldn’t leave so that they wouldn’t have to move.

It was beautiful.

When the deer finally moved on Nina took off her shoes and socks and splashed through the water. She walked across it, trousers rolled up to her calves, kicking up waves as she went. She’d worn classic red and white Chuck Taylors which provided the only color in her outfit. He wondered how suitable Converse All Stars were for a hike. His cycling shoes were doing a pretty good job but they weren’t waterproof.

His mind was drifting he realised. It was pleasant to worry about trivia. He sighed and copied her, kicking up his own spray and letting the cool stream of water wash all over his feet, alien earth squishing under his toes.

Nina reached the other side, took off her jacket and laid it on the ground to sit on. Wyman joined her, taking the excuse of the small jacket to sit closer to her. She stretched out her legs and dangled her feet into the shallow river. She had slender feet with long toes that she flexed and splayed in the water. She leaned against his chest, “This is really great. Thank you.” She let out a laugh. “I have never felt so free.”

Wyman smiled, pleased to see her so happy. “We have a whole world to ourselves.”

Nina  turned towards him, suddenly very close, her eyes connecting to his soul. She tilted her head forward and kissed him. Wyman felt like he’d been moved to another dimension.

How had he not realised this was what he had wanted? Everything disappeared: fears, worries, guilt, doubt, all was washed away by the warmth of her.

Too soon she pulled away and his heart sank as he saw her eyes had lost the affection and desire they had just shared.

“We’re not alone,” she said.

Wyman turned to see who was there. Across the river was a hound of some kind. He didn’t know a lot about dogs but it seemed to him that this wasn’t a breed anyone would recognize. It was large, hairless and had a black body that seemed to have a dark blue green sheen to it as it moved.

 It growled, staring at the two of them.

Nina reached forward slowly and grabbed her high tops in one hand.

“Get ready to run,” she said.

“No,” Wyman whispered, desperate not to provoke the beast. “But we should go.” He leaned in to her and felt his way back to his home world. It felt harder to push through and the orange shimmer was more disorienting to pass through.

The growling faded and calm was restored around them. Their arrival caused no note and the birds in the trees around them continued in their familiar earthly calls. The wide river ran pleasant and cool by their feet.

“Hey, we’re still in the woods,” Nina said. “We must have walked pretty far.”

“Yeah,” Wyman agreed, “I know the way though.” He’d consciously brought them east away from the castle so as not to run into any of that world’s inhabitants. The walk had been enjoyable and Wyman hadn’t thought about it ending, particularly about having to walk back again. He felt irritated that he’d been so distracted. He watched Nina looking at him as if she was reading his mind. Well at least he’d get more time with her, he thought. “Come on,” he said, turning to cross the stream again.

As she moved to follow him Nina moaned, “Aww, I left my socks there. Could you get them for me?”

Wyman chuckled. “Mine too. With my shoes.” He hesitated. “I might check to make sure I don’t lose my hand first.”

There was an orange shimmer but not from Wyman. Across the water a gate had opened. The hound appeared and growled loudly.

Wyman stared at it in disbelief. “No way.”

“Run.”

All they had was the distance of the river and wide as it was it presented no real obstacle. They turned and ran, quickly conscious of their bare feet.

Behind them the hound bayed. Nina and Wyman pressed quickly through the woods pine needles and twigs cut and pierced their soles, stones and roots bruised them. Neither slowed as they ran, Wyman glad that Nina was keeping pace, then wondering whether she’d slowed down for him.

The baying hadn’t stopped and hadn’t come closer so he dared to hope it couldn’t cross the water. Instead, other voices took up the call, the sound of more hounds joining the first as it called a pack to it.

Nina looked over to him, panicked. “Keep going,” she yelled and leapt a fallen log. Wyman followed, sharp pain cutting into his feet as he landed. He ignored it hoping to be alive later to investigate the cause.

The hound began. It sloshed through the stream, slipping briefly in the loose mud before racing on. Howls rang through the woodland, each call helping the group find themselves.

The lead dog had closed the distance, still calling to attract its pack. Wyman could see it would be on them soon. He spotted a ridge ahead of them and to his side. Not an easy climb for them but surely impossible for the hounds. “Over here,” he shouted, “make for that ridge.” Nina changed course with him, her arms pumping hard, the red high tops racing along comically in her hands.

“Need a shoe,” Wyman called.

“Yeah, me too,” Nina shouted back, dismissive of the obvious statement. Her feet were killing her.

“No, give me a shoe,” he yelled trying to reach her side.

She cursed, realizing what he meant and thrust one out to him. Wyman took it and yelled to keep running. He glanced back briefly to sight the hound, it was much closer than he’d thought. He headed for a tall solid pine with a trunk as thick as his leg. It’d be like a maneuver in lacrosse he tried to persuade himself. He noticed it had red tape tied around it, as bright as the shoe. A good omen?

He swung out his left arm to catch the tree and used his momentum to swing around it. The force bruised him instantly but his body followed the arc he’d planned and his right arm raised to fling the Converse at the hunting dog. He had a moment only to acquire his target and launch the attack but his aim was true. The shoe flew straight into the beast’s face knocking it off balance and into a tree. It yelped but the brief whine was quickly replaced with angry barks.

Wyman turned to run again. He’d lost momentum and maybe not gained much ground but at least he’d bought some space for Nina.

“Wyman!” she called as she approached the ridge.

“Wyman?” another voice shouted. Of all the voices to hear, his father’s was the least expected. It sounded as surprised as he was.

“Dad?” he called, having no idea where his father was.

Ahead of them, away from the ridge, Karl appeared, still in his outdoor clothes, a bow strung and arrow knocked.

“Huge dogs, Dad,” he called struggling for breath. “Coming now.”

“This way,” Karl yelled waving his arms as if to hurry him along. “Trust me.”

Wyman hesitated, the ridge was a few hundred meters away. But Nina had already turned towards Karl so Wyman followed, hoping his dad knew what he was doing.

They charged over the ground, bloodied soles beating the earth. From the ridge he’d directed them towards Wyman saw a second hound appear and leap unhesitatingly down the steep sides agilely bounding down the smallest of outcroppings. They wouldn’t have stood a chance there. The beast, slavering wildly, looked more ferocious than the first one they’d encountered which was rapidly gaining on Wyman.

“Left,” Karl shouted cryptically. More than his words Karl recognized the movement in his arm, his shoulder shifting out of view as he pulled back on his bow. Wyman threw himself to the side as the loosed arrow whistled past him. The heavy thud and brief whimper told his the creature pursuing him was dead. Ahead of him another closed on Nina. He pulled himself up and ran.

Nina pushed on she was only a few meters from the man with the bow, Wyman’s dad? She threw her remaining shoe wildly behind her but didn’t look to see if it had any effect. The beast behind her frighteningly close.

Karl had nocked another arrow, the bow raised and pointed at her. He was stood just ahead of her by a cedar tree urging her onwards. Wyman from behind her was yelling, “Shoot it!”

The black hound leapt high its powerful legs pushing it towards her neck, jaws ready to clamp down on her.

“Shoot it!” Wyman shouted no other words in his vocabulary. His dad stepped back eyes attentive on the closing gap but bow string steady. Wyman’s heart lurched, Nina was…

Nina was fine. She staggered past Karl her bloody sprint continuing but the hound itself had vanished, a ragged blue gate swallowing it as its teeth caught her hair.

1

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 13

New Places

Dawn had watched Wyman over breakfast with a growing satisfaction. She wasn’t sure what had made the difference but she could see a change in Wyman as the hostility dropped away.

She’d chastised Karl for making Wyman late to school but something had happened. Perhaps it was Karl, perhaps Miles, either way she was beginning to feel like her family was healing.

The two men had been out all night, Karl had explained he was going to show his father where he’d been working. Although it would leave her alone after Wyman left for school she didn’t feel so isolated anymore. She had been right to make the move.

She smiled and put on the radio then switched to cassette as she hadn’t found any stations she could readily tune in to. Exile on Main Street began and Dawn spun happily around her kitchen. She had a list of chores to complete and today felt like anything was possible.

Wyman smiled at his mom as she danced, glad to see she’d relaxed a little. He put his dishes by the sink and grabbed his schoolbag.

“I’m going to look around town with Edgar again after school,” he said and Dawn nodded and waved him off. He snuck away as Rip This Joint began. His mom’s devotion to The Rolling Stones had never faded, even though her idol himself had been bored by his work by the time they’d made that album.

He jumped on his bike and headed for school head full of good thoughts for once and contemplating the returning popularity of cassette as a format. Not that his mom was jumping on that bandwagon, it was more that the rest of the world was coming back to her way of thinking: the cycle repeating.

It was Friday, he realised, and he was completing his first week at the school. Of his many new schools this had been the most eventful first week. A surprise given how little the town had to offer and how little he’d wanted to be there. Even without the threat of alien invasion he felt a lot had happened. Of course he’d been thirteen when he’d last switched schools.

As planned his day progressed quietly. He let the teachers and students get on with their things and stayed on top of the work. He didn’t correct anyone, even when his home room tutor got his name wrong again.

He had lunch with Edgar and talked about music. There was a passion where Edgar outshone him. Fross advised him that in small towns people had to make their own entertainment and he’d be surprised at the skills people had. He then admitted that he could never get enough sheet music so he taught himself as much as he could from tapes, wrote his own and read about the theory.

Music had been a background to Wyman’s life but more of the foreground to Edgar’s. Wyman’s musical scene had been very different and Edgar hadn’t heard of most of the bands he named. He was glad he’d said no to the talent show now. Edgar’s music wouldn’t be improved by anything he could do.

It had felt more like a home today, a thought he reluctantly acknowledged as he cycled to the town after school.

 He locked his bike in place behind Sal’s. He thought it was a barbershop. Presumably if you knew Sal you knew what she did. Or he? The naming system bothered him a bit less. Importantly for Wyman it was shaded and secluded so his bike would likely be there when he returned and not scalding hot.

The alleys ran parallel to the street so Wyman walked along it, confident the storefronts weren’t offering anything more interesting. He paused as he reached the road near the intersection. He could see Nina sat across the street at the window of Abductees and Coffees. Waiting for him.

He was nervous.

He put on his sunglasses as promised and walked to the crossing. He glanced over at Johnson’s Hardware without turning his neck. He didn’t know what he expected to see.

The light changed and he crossed and saw Nina shift as she noticed him. No smile, no wave but she was there.

He pushed the door open and felt the cool rush of air conditioning wash over him. He felt foolish with his shades still on but Nina was wearing hers and looked fine. He indicated to the waitress he would be joining his friend and walked over.

They shifted seats to sit at the window opposite Johnson’s Hardware. Both were drinking milkshakes and stared through darkened lenses at the worlds outside.

“You’re sure he’s one of them?” Nina asked.

“Definitely,” Wyman said. “I saw him vanish. Plus he lied to my face about it.”

“Well that seems odd enough,” she agreed. “What about that guy?”

He looked along the street to where she’d indicated and saw the silver foil wearing UFO nut he’d seen when he’d driven in. Was it less than a week ago?

“No. My mom saw him too. I think he’s just an oddball.”

“Welcome to Dupin,” she said.

“You do odd very well here,” Wyman joked.

Nina pretended to be offended, her face a picture of shock. “We do? What kind of name is Wyman?”

He cut the snort short, almost struggling for breath as he felt the pain rip through his face again. It hurt less than it had but it was not worth repeating. He hadn’t noticed that he did that in New York. “My mom was a bit of a hippie growing up, then she fell in love with The Rolling Stones. My dad wouldn’t let her call me Mick Jaeger but somehow Wyman was okay.”

“You’re named after the bass player?” she said, genuinely shocked this time. “Why not call you Bill?”

“I’m sure they thought it was cooler when they were young. It could have been worse, Grandpa wanted to call me Werner.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with Werner?” she demanded, her shocked face making him smile. “That was my father’s name.”

Wyman chuckled but Nina’s tone suddenly shifted, cutting him off. “Look, there!” she whispered urgently. Wyman had no trouble seeing what had caught her attention. Three serious looking men in unusual uniforms had seemingly walked through the walls of Johnson’s Hardware Store. The leader strode imperiously away, Pride and Danger made flesh. Behind him, the two men, Wyman could only think they were soldiers, bore long truncheon-like weapons and kept an easy pace as they marched on, angled away from the coffee shop. Crossing the road, a passing car phased right through them, oblivious to the figures they had passed by.

“Holy … ” Wyman struggled for words. That was unnerving.

“See why I thought I was crazy,” Nina said.

Wyman squeezed her hand. “You’re not,” he said.

“No one could see them,” Nina said thoughtfully after a moment, “but everyone has seen the old dude across the road. How does that work?”

Wyman struggled with that. Alvar in the other world made sense, that was where they lived. Why here then? Who would travel across dimensions to run a hardware store?

“What about her?” Nina asked as a fearsome old lady strode by.

“Nuh-uh. My dad says they’re all males. No daughters.”

“Wow. Sexist aliens. Go figure.”

He grinned, “Actually women are in charge there. This is grunt work. No woman would touch it.”

“Really!” she exclaimed. “There’s a whole world out there where I’m superior and I can’t get there?”

Trent appeared along the street, swaggering along with a couple of friends Wyman had seen him with before, Nicky Rush and Steve something. He was sure they’d been with him when Trent had smashed his nose.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a game on a Friday night?” Wyman asked, wishing something would take that boy away.

“Not my thing,” Nina said looking around restlessly. “You should duck out of sight.”

Wyman watched the boys approaching, an idea niggling at the edge of his mind.

“Not this time,” he smiled. “What’s the point of having toys if you’re not going to play with them?”

Trent hadn’t even noticed them as they drew level with their table.

“Get ready to run,” Wyman whispered. He placed money for the milkshakes on the table then tapped the glass.

Nina was already stepping away.

Trent and his friends turned. The big jock’s face turned stony when he saw Wyman.

“Look over there!” Wyman called and pointed across the street.

Obligingly the three of them turned to see what was so important.

This is so childish, Wyman thought.

He splashed his milkshake towards the window, opening two small gates before it could hit anything. His dad hadn’t shown him how to weave yet but it worked exactly as he’d imagined.

In his head the worst thing that could happen would be that it fell on a distant forest floor, or even made a mess on the window. It passed behind it instead moving to where no window existed and then returned, covering Trent and splashing his friends too.

Wyman realised that he hadn’t thought anything through beyond this point.

Trent spun around angrily and Wyman looked upwards as if searching for a passing bird.

Nina watched him with disbelief.

As Trent and his friends looked up to the sky Wyman dashed for the door Nina held open and the two fled.

There was only so long his ruse could have lasted. He kicked himself for being so impulsive. His dad would be furious if he found out.

Chocolate milkshake doesn’t really resemble bird poop. Of course it was unlikely that they’d sniff or taste it but sometimes suspicion is all the angry mind needs to let it fall back into familiar grooves.

Nicky spotted the two of them exiting the coffee shop and slapped Trent’s arm to get his attention.

“Hey!” Trent yelled.

We shouldn’t have run, Wyman thought. There’s no way he could have blamed us. Someone could have been on the rooftop.

By then they were already in flight with the mark of guilt upon them. Whilst his father may have needed an evidence based approach, Trent was free from such constraints. The common factor in this incident was Wyman so all his anger could be safely vented in that direction.

Trent had a lot of anger.

Like a hunting pack, instinct set the three in pursuit of the fleeing prey. Wyman rushed up the street and turned into the first alley they reached. He’d discounted running for his bike as he wouldn’t have been able to unlock it in time or carry Nina away. He thought it was best if Trent’s group didn’t find it either.

The hunters were behind them now and Nina pulled him to one side as a narrow footpath between buildings appeared. They dashed down it and raced across the street heading for another back alley.

A car horn honking angrily let them know that the goons were still behind them.

Wyman rejected the vacant car lot ahead of them as a hiding place and ran with Nina to head down another turning. Quickly they realised it was a bad idea.

A single dumpster sat next to the lone doorway, a fire exit without handles.

No egress or hiding places were available.

“I’m not hiding in that,” Nina panted.

Wyman felt his heart racing. The footsteps ringing along the alley told him they’d have company any moment.

He pulled Nina towards him and hugged her.

Steve made it to the corner first with Nicky close behind. Trent, built for power more than speed, caught them as they stared into the empty alley.

“You sure they went this way?” he asked.

Steve nodded and the three walked down to the dumpster, Trent wishing he had a bike chain with him to lock them inside.

They threw the lid back expectantly but only two black trash sacks were inside.

Steve looked at Nicky and Trent in surprise.

“Where’d they go?” Trent demanded.


 

Typically the B-Story in a novel includes the love interest of some kind but really it simply requires a character for the protagonist to play off of in an entirely different environment. The aim is for this second, unrelated story, to provide the protagonist with the perspective needed to resolve their main story. It helps them become a fuller person.

While Nina is developing into a love interest I’m aiming to develop Trent as the B-Story driver. Wyman’s flaws and problems aren’t as pronounced as some of his antagonists’ but he’s by no means perfect. He needs to see how the cycles of conflict continue: repeating and escalating. His petty feud with Trent is a mirror of the more sinister actions of the Alvar. Just as Trent is a copy of his father and all set to grow up to be just like him, so Wyman’s father risks emulating the flaws of the Alvar and Wyman falling into the same pattern.

Lots to develop to see this change but Wyman first has to err before he can reform.

Mal: Content

1

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 12

New Information

Wyman swung idly amid the empty playground. The sun had gone down despite the late summer nights and the park was growing darker.

He checked his phone. The familiar lonely dot of his signalless device made no impression on him now. The time read 20:40. Nina was late.

Gate’s Park was reasonably large but mostly an empty field. If you wanted to meet someone, the small playground would be the place to choose. Or at least check, he thought. He was sure he hadn’t missed her. Had she intentionally left him out here?

He’d grown more self-conscious and uncertain as time stretched on from 8 o’clock. He’d even arrived early, his mom grateful at the idea he had friends to meet.

His dad and grandpa had wanted him to stay, of course. Truthfully he was eager to talk to them more about everything that had happened. Still, something about Nina pulled at him.

He jumped off the swing set and headed for his bike.

“7384 Malbone Ridge,” he recited. It wouldn’t hurt to check on her.

The streets were smooth and the night time ride eased his mind. He switched gears as he ascended the ridge, the lights of the town below him illuminating the small space it took up. The whole place could get lost in a corner of Central Park.

He took pleasure in taking a few short cuts across grass and wooded ground just because he could. His bike was happy with the change of terrain and it gave him joy to rumble over the uneven earth as he pushed along under the stars.

Wyman paused as he approached the house, eyeing it from a distance. Its disheveled appearance made it seem somehow malevolent in the moonlight.

Nina’s light was on, her window half opened.

“But soft, what gentle light is this?” he quoted before thinking of its reference and shutting up quickly. He looked around hurriedly and found a suitable bush to conceal his bike if not his embarrassment. He locked up the Surly and left it out of sight.

Nervously he walked towards her house and began to question his decision again. She hadn’t given him her address. Was he going to look like a stalker?

He only needed to ask her, he thought. Then he could go. Except he hadn’t really thought about what he would ask her.

At the driveway he hesitated, remembering the slap he’d seen Nina receive. There was no way he could ring the doorbell and speak to that woman.

He stood for so long he half expected someone to call the police about him. That would be typical, he thought.

“Just do something, Wyman,” he said to himself. He’d come all this way and now he was paralyzed by self-doubt and indecision. This was not the him he was used to.

Taking a deep breath he looked around. The porch roof extended across the front of the house towards the double garage below Nina’s window. That was possible. He could do this.

He came at the porch from the side, out of sight of the main windows and climbed onto the balustrade. The front would be easier to climb but more obvious and the guttering didn’t look stable. He jumped up to grab the sloped side instead, grateful that nothing gave way as he did so. Gracefully he pulled himself onto the roof and paused to check he had not been heard. He padded carefully over to the garage roof, testing tiles where they looked likely to fall.

Well that’s not a long term solution, he thought. He corrected himself a moment later. It wasn’t likely he’d ever need to come back.

There was a perverse sense of self-satisfaction when he reached the garage roof. Cat burglary could be career if he so chose. Almost afraid to jinx his luck he crouched, remembering his earlier fear that the police would be called. He couldn’t picture a scenario where Deputy Pike wouldn’t arrest him for this.

No squad car came. The road remained silent but the absence of flashing lights didn’t quell the fear in his heart.

Nina was visible now, illuminated as she sat at her desk working. Wyman’s insides turned again. What was she doing? Had she forgotten? How could she be so calm?

He crouched, concealed in the shadows, realizing he was waiting for no reason. He was about to rise and approach when her bedroom door slammed open. The surprise almost unbalanced him. He crouched lower.

A woman, the same one as before, entered. She staggered a little, leaning on the door frame for support and stared at Nina. Nina didn’t react. She kept at whatever she was doing, not turning to look at the figure in the doorway.

That was the menace he’d felt before. The malevolence of the woman seeping into the environment around her.

She attempted to stand straighter never lifting her gaze from Nina.

“You just behave yourself,” she spat, disappointed to have discovered no wrongdoing.

Nina worked silently.

The woman grabbed at the door handle as she turned and stumbled. She pulled it behind her with a force to rattle the windows.

Wyman watched as Nina seemed to exhale, releasing a breath he hadn’t known she’d taken.

Once again he questioned his decision to be there.

There was no way he could just leave now, he couldn’t justify it to himself. This was the second time he’d spied through her window to see things he ought not to have been a party to.

He lifted himself slowly and moved to the window, once again keeping an eye on the tiles.

Tapping on the window, Wyman saw Nina jump reacting to this as she hadn’t to the earlier intrusion. It crossed his mind that only this action had been unexpected.

She stood from her desk looking uncertainly at the darkened window. He tapped again and she stepped back as she saw his hand appear from the darkness. He pushed his face against the glass hoping a funny face would calm her down.

She did laugh, recovering from her shock as he made to squish his nose against the pane but recoiled in pain. Both of them instantly tried to stem the noise they made, anxious not to draw attention to themselves.

Nina rushed to the window and raised it higher.

“What are you doing here?” she whispered.

Wyman nursed his nose again. “You didn’t show,” he said.

“My mom hid my keys again,” Nina responded, a little louder.

“Sounds like a hoot,” Wyman said. “Wanna come out or should I come in?”

Nina sighed. “Out,” she said.

She grabbed her black jacket and pulled it on before clambering out of the window.

Wyman had moved further out to sit above the garage where he felt it looked safest. Nina walked carelessly across and sat next to him.

“My mom will kill you if she finds you here,” she said looking at him with concern. “She’s got some rule against me being happy.”

“I make you happy?” Wyman quipped.

He felt like an idiot as she glared at him, not knowing why he’d said that. Stop trying to be clever, he thought to himself furiously.

The castle was silhouetted above the forests to the west. He nodded towards it. “They can’t see it can they?”

Nina stared at him with a mixture of fear and relief. “There are people too,” she said a well of emotion threatening to spill over through her words. “They just walk about and no one sees them.”

Wyman nodded, his dad had told him about them just that morning though he hadn’t seen any so far.

“I’m scared of them,” she confessed. “You mustn’t look at them. Don’t let them know you can see them.”

He wondered how it must have been for her to live with that all the time.

“Are you the only one who … ” he tailed off, there was a pain in her eyes he’d never seen before.

“Just me,” she said hesitating. “And my sister.” She was close to tears now. “She’s – ”

“In an institution? I heard.”

Wyman felt like he knew too much and too little about Nina. This was the most they’d ever spoken but he knew more of her life than he did of Edgar’s.

Nina sniffed. “She shouldn’t have been. She spoke about it and my mom had her committed.” The first tear rolled down her cheek and Wyman desperately wanted to wipe it away. “I was nine. I was too afraid to say anything.”

He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder trying to reassure her.

“I thought maybe I was crazy too,” she said. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand smearing her tears across her cheeks.

“Everyone’s a little bit crazy,” Wyman said lightly, “but it really is there.” He looked at her wondering at the weight she’d been carrying. “You’re not crazy. You’re special.”

“I’m a coward,” she said harshly. “I let her be taken away.”

“We’re all afraid when we’re little,” he insisted.

Nina shook her head, “She escaped. She came here and begged me to tell them I could see it too but I wouldn’t. I said I didn’t see it, that I was only pretending when I’d said I could. As if it were a game.” The tears came again. “I’m a coward.”

Wyman put his arm around her and pulled her to his side. He could feel her body shaking.

“I would have done the same. Something tells me you would do it differently now.”

She nodded tearfully.

“Then you’re not a coward,” he said. “You’re not a helpless little girl anymore.”

Nina leaned in to Wyman. “I don’t even know where she is. Carla ran off after I turned her down. I haven’t heard from her since.”

Wyman relaxed his hold as he felt her pull away but she just reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a worn photograph. She leaned back into him and turned it for him to see.

The picture showed a young black man playing with two young girls dressed as princesses. The girls were probably both junior school age, if at opposite ends of the age range.

“This is you?” Wyman asked.

She nodded, pointing at the different faces. “My dad, Carla and me.” Carla was the eldest, maybe eleven in the photograph.

“This is the only photo I have of her. Or my dad.” Nina traced her finger over their faces.

“My mom burned the others. I’ve had this one since I was seven after my dad left us.” She paused wistfully. “I wish he’d taken us with him.”

Wyman studied the young man’s face, frozen in the act of playing with his daughters. He’d looked kind and happy. But then he had left. What legacy had her father thought he was leaving behind?

He pulled Nina close wanting her to feel less afraid, to take away some of the pain and heartbreak.

“You’re not alone anymore. You’ve got a friend if you want one.” He sighed, he wasn’t sure what he should or could share but he wasn’t going to leave her feeling like she was crazy and alone.

“I don’t know why you can see them,” he said, “but I know what they are now. Maybe we can do something about it.”

0

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 11

New Perspectives

Wyman sat at his desk scribbling furiously to complete the answer on the history paper. He was almost on the final question when Mr. Hess demanded, “Pens down.”

He ignored the remark and began to explain the quotation he’d referenced, hating to leave someone else’s words to make his point for him when the teacher loomed over him.

“That means you, Mr. Jaeger. You are not above the rules.”

He clenched his jaw and put his pen down. The issues of ante bellum southern agriculture would have to stand for themselves.

Wyman wasn’t sure if Mr. Hess was universally unkind to everyone or whether he was making a special case just for him. He’d arrived late to his afternoon class, his dad promising a note the next day. The school office had called already home and naturally his mom had expressed surprise at his absence. Already he had detention after school.

In another lifetime Mr. Hess would have made a happy overseer if not a plantation owner himself. He seemed to have the mindset for the role and was only denied the privilege by a quirk of historical timing. He was not an overtly racist man but he carried himself with the bearing of one who knows his fellows are inferior.

By the time he’d reached History the test was well under way and Mr. Hess had pointedly told him he was late and directed him to see him after class. Trent had smirked at him clearly enjoying Wyman suffering.

He noticed Edgar wasn’t there and wondered if his friend was ill or had found a way to escape the lesson.

“Test grades form part of your final grade,” Mr. Hess explained. “Put them in my tray on your way out.”

The students happily filed their way out and Wyman heard them burst to life as they exited the room.

Trent waited to gloat. “Not going to ace this one, dummy.”

Wyman let it go. He didn’t need to give Trent the satisfaction.

The jock glared at him but then turned disappointed and left, dropping his paper in the tray as he went.

Wyman looked over to see Mr. Hess looking through papers on his desk, studiously ignoring him. This, he thought, is another test. How long will I wait? Will I sneak out?

He walked up to the tray by the door and saw Trent’s paper. At least the answers on the top page were correct.

A thought crossed his mind and he smiled. He hesitated as he held his test sheets above the tray, opened a gate and pushed Trent’s paper, watching it flutter to the floor of a distant forest.

Mr. Hess was looking at him. Wyman dropped his paper on the top of the pile and turned, smiling, keen to be seen to have nothing in his hands.

“A new year is coming, Mr. Jaeger,” Mr. Hess said. “You must work harder if you want to be on the right side of it.”

“Yes, Sir,” Wyman agreed. “I’m hoping you will see a change.”

Hess’ eyes bore into Wyman. “Oh, I’m very much looking forward to it.” He broke off the intense gaze and smiled. “Off you go,” he waved dismissively.

Wyman was shocked it had been so easy. He smiled and turned away quickly then dashed down the corridor to where he hoped Edgar would be waiting.

Mr. Hess watched him go curiously. He walked over to the tray of papers and flicked through Wyman’s answers disinterestedly. He pulled a red pen from his pocket and drew out a large D. Not that it mattered. It would cause Wyman some mild consternation if he saw it but such small joys kept him going.

A new family in town. That was interesting.

Raymond Hess bent down to the floor and smiled to himself. When he stood, he was holding Trent’s paper.

Wyman couldn’t find Edgar at the lockers and spent the afternoon wondering how people could arrange to meet each other without mobile phones. It must have happened before they were invented. He decided he’d have to ask his parents.

He realised he’d made an appointment of sorts with Nina that night. Was that it? Just pick a time and place and everyone had to show up. It seemed quite primitive.

He was musing on that even after his detention as he walked back to his bike, only to find Edgar waiting for him there.

“Hey,” Edgar grinned, “hoped I’d catch you here.”

“Good thinking,” Wyman said, pleased that Edgar had a handle on pre-tech communication strategies. “Thanks for waiting.”

“No trouble. Brought my bike today,” Edgar said, indicating a faded white Cannondale touring bicycle with panniers. His bag and a violin case were already strapped to them.

“Huh,” Wyman said, questions bubbling up in his head. There was still more to Edgar than he’d gotten to grips with.

They cycled into town and left their bikes behind a closed down furniture store. Edgar laughed as Wyman wrapped his thick chain through his tires and abandoned his own Cannondale as it was.

“I thought you’d cut school today,” Edgar mused.

Wyman had to think for a moment unsure of what to say. He settled on, “Family issues.”

“I was worried it was blood loss,” Edgar joked. “I’d hate to lose you so soon.”

Always blood, Wyman thought darkly.

“Didn’t see you in history,” he said.

“Music lessons,” Edgar replied. “Can’t say I’m bummed to have missed that test.”

“Yeah,” Wyman agreed, “you lucked out there.”

They walked on in silence together, not the awkwardness of people who couldn’t think of anything to say but in the comfort of not needing to.

Today Edgar had promised to show Wyman the sights. All three of them. As he understood it there was a grocery store where younger kids gathered outside when bored and if you waited long enough someone you knew would probably turn up. Like Times Square. As most people their age were now getting cars fewer would be spending their time in that place. Neither of them knew where the car drivers met up, if at all.

Edgar had hinted at a library but warned him not to expect too much. From his description it was smaller than Wyman’s bedroom. If it had more books than Wyman owned it was due to his own downsizing when they moved. He had an e-reader which worked still though he hadn’t downloaded too many books on it.

The third sight was Abductees and Coffees, a place Wyman already knew. The difficulty for most people their age was that it, like everything else of interest, required a disposable income.

Coming out of the alley they turned the corner and as one both wheeled back. A few feet from them, Deputy Pike’s police car was pulled up at the curb. As they peered round the corner they could see the man himself was there and was now shouting at someone familiar.

“I’m up for election this year, Trent,” the deputy railed. His baton was out and he waved it for emphasis. “You can’t use my name when you hit people.”

Wyman and Edgar exchanged glances. Trent looked abashed.

Neither father nor son had noticed their arrival.

“He’s what you said, I agree,” the older Pike said.

Wyman glared as Edgar pointed at him, eyebrows raised.

“But you have to hold it back,” he continued. “Act like a man.”

Trent was sulking, his head tilted away so as not to look his father in the eyes. “Yeah,” he said.

The baton poked him in the ribs.

“Yes, Sir,” he said.

Edgar turned to Wyman and mouthed, “Crap!”

Wyman tugged his arm and the two retreated, doubling back stealthily along the alleyway until they felt protected by the distance.

“Wow,” Edgar said breaking the silence. “I thought my dad was bad.”

“Dad’s can be confusing,” Wyman said thoughtfully.

“So,” Edgar said, his tone changing to his usual cheeriness, “have you had any thoughts about the talent show? We could do something together.”

Wyman considered what he could actually do and imagined using it in a talent show. That would be quite an act.

“I don’t think I’ll enter,” he said in apology. “But good luck.”


Hubris was the downfall of many a Greek hero.  It’s excessive pride (and in the ancient Greek context a defiance towards the gods) or arrogance which sets the hero on a downward path. With his new skills Wyman demonstrates a feeling of superiority, feeling justified in mistreating those whom have wronged him. Partly we will agree with him. Who doesn’t want to avenge the thousand petty injustices we have faced?

Of course as a coming of age story one of the necessary things is a growing maturity. Wyman’s not there yet.

Wyman’s journey is in part learning to face these things by himself beginning with suffering the consequences of his own choices. The hero should face difficulties, whether it begins by choosing to step up to an external problem or by dealing with difficulties of their own making.

Separately, Hess is revealed as an unpleasant character for those who didn’t notice the set up in earlier chapters. Also we encounter Deputy Pike again to balance out the theme of Fathers: Missing fathers (Nina’s), Authoritarian fathers (Trent’s), Pushy fathers (Karl’s) and Invisible fathers (Wyman’s). Most seem to contribute to the dysfunctional child / adult on the page. We should see that we can’t control parents but each individual will have to face stepping into adulthood shaped by their upbringing but not tied to it.

Lastly, I confess to belonging to the pre-tech generation though happily immersed in the ways of the digital world. Wyman’s world without the gadgets and devices he’s so attuned to feels a little bewildering. Used to being on top of everything, it is learning to master simplicity that he struggles most with.

Lots to learn.

Mal: Content

0

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 10

New Skills

He’d spent the next hour or so alone, asking for space and sitting at the far end of the clearing. It was possible nothing he’d known in his life was real. His family, his dad’s job, his humanity. He’d struggled on the drive with the idea that they’d kidnapped someone. Now they’d murdered him too. He’d cleaned up evidence of a crime.

Sorry officer, the guy was an alien, wouldn’t be an effective defense. Certainly not here where he’d been arrested for telling the truth about someone vanishing.

He tried to pull it back to logic. His emotions were out of control.

Miss Oluwabamishe, his teacher at Barden, had spoken to them about circles of concern. In preparation for their exams the anxiety levels for some had been quite high. Not for Wyman, he’d found learning easy. Because he was an alien? He shut that thought down.

The circle of concern was all the things you worried about, all the things you cared about, everything that had your interest and attention. They’d made lists and drawn a circle around them. Wyman calculated his list now and felt it spiraling as he included insane details about Alvar, other dimensions and murders.

Crossing that was another circle. His first introduction to Venn diagrams. In this they were to list all of the things they could control; their circle of influence. Previously it had been populated with easy things: bed times, study plans, looking at past questions, reading mark schemes. Things that wouldn’t help him now.

The key was where the two circles intersected. What was he worried about that he could actually control? He couldn’t change what had happened to the mail man. Douglas something, he’d seen an ID tag in the truck. He could find out more. Hid grandpa and dad knew things. Did his mom? He couldn’t picture her being involved in this stuff.

There was an enemy force hoping to invade Earth. He snorted at the ridiculousness of the idea and pain shot through his face once more. He winced but the pain helped him focus for a moment, driving everything else from his mind.

He had to take care of the things he could. Those within his influence.

He’d actually run through this process the previous night. His solutions had been focused on getting through the academic year with a social life to look forward to for the summer. He cursed as he realised he’d missed most of the school day already. Truancy wouldn’t make a good impression on the principal, about the only person he’d thought seemed on his side. So far. Reports of his activities had probably filtered upwards to the top by now.

Didn’t matter. Right now that was outside of his influence. He’d deal with that later. First he had to speak with his dad.

There was a small campfire burning when he returned. The mail man’s clothing was in the heart of the flames. He could see some of his grandpa’s blanket there too.

His dad was sat in a camping chair next to a bucket full of baseballs.

Wyman wondered why his grandpa had those in his car.

“Ready to play a little ball with your grandpa?” Miles asked. He wore a mitt and tossed one to Wyman before grabbing a ball.

Nothing about killing people then.

Wyman held the glove by his side, not ready to engage in a game.

“I’d rather you just told me – “

With only the dip of his shoulder to warn him, Wyman ducked as Miles launched a ball full force straight at him. He felt it pass over his head, parting is hair.

“Grandpa!” he yelled and held the glove up in front of him as a shield.

“You ducked!” Miles called, disappointment ringing in his voice.

Wyman looked at him in disbelief. His grandpa was stood hands on his hips as if assessing a poor batting practice.

“You threw it at my face.”

“Oh don’t be such a baby,” Miles said. He tossed another lightly to Wyman who caught it. “Throw it back,” he instructed.

He turned to Karl, complaining, “You’ve been too soft on him.

To Wyman he called, “Throw.”

Wyman wound back a pitch, his heart was not in this.

“Not like that,” his grandpa called. “Put some speed into it.”

Wyman began to sympathize with his dad. Grandpa could be a real pain when he chose to be. He stepped back ready to power up.

“And aim at my head,” Miles added.

Wyman almost fell, stumbling at this request.

“Just do it,” his grumpy grandpa demanded.

This they could explain at the hospital, he thought. He pictured the trunk lid being brought down again and again. Winding back he pitched with a fury he’d never directed at anyone before.

The ball raced towards Miles, Wyman regretting the force from the moment it left his grasp. The old man’s arms were still, his mitt didn’t move. It flew true in a line with his skull and Wyman thought he had killed him.

Miles didn’t flinch but before the ball could hit him it vanished.

Relief and confusion crowded Wyman’s thoughts before Karl shouted, “Out.”

Stepping out from behind his father Wyman could see his dad holding a hat in which he’d just caught a baseball. The one he’d thrown through his grandpa’s head.

“What. Did. You. Just. Do?” Wyman asked, walking forward to see exactly what his dad was holding as if it might contain a clue.

Miles chuckled. “You really haven’t taught him anything, have you, Son?”

He looked at Wyman’s baffled expression and scooped up another ball from the bucket.

“We’re in a thin place,” he said. “I focused and pushed it through. Or rather, I opened a small gate.” He tapped his head with the large mitt. “Better than being hit in the head.”

Wyman looked past him again to the ball in his dad’s Yankees cap.

“Can I try?” he asked.

“Sure,” Miles scanned the ground behind Wyman. “Can’t see where that last pitch went. Try with this one.” He tossed the new ball to Wyman.

They played for hours. School would be halfway over but Wyman had never experienced a day where he’d learnt so much.

He was running through the woods carrying the bucket now part filled with baseballs.

This was probably the craziest thing he’d done in his life.             

His shirt was off. It’d been too hot for a second layer and they’d needed a blindfold. At that moment it was wrapped around his head, covering his eyes completely.

He dodged the tree in front of him then stopped short, stooping to scoop up another ball. He put it in the bucket with the others.

“That’s a dozen,” he yelled.

“Got ’em all, kid. Good job,” Miles called, “Now get back here.”

Wyman spun round to where the voice had come from and started charging through the woods again.

To Wyman’s eyes the blue tint overlaid everything. The parallel world was almost identical, trees growing synchronously as if following a hidden design.

His grandpa had taught him to twist his sight, almost like looking for the optical illusions in magic eye pictures. A subtle shift in how he viewed what was around him and a whole new world came into view. Literally.

The odd coloring had shimmered into view as he’d peered for the first time into their world. The Alvar’s. It had passed as his eyes took in their world  and his had vanished from his vision. It had hardly been noticeable until he’d stared at the town. Large parts of it were still forest, though sections had been cut down and cleared. Something his dad had taken great interest in.

Now he was learning to overlay the images, to see both at once or each separately as he desired. This current stunt was his grandpa’s idea. Twelve balls thrown through gates into the Alvar world. Each to be found, whilst blindfolded, and retrieved.

Retrieved. This part felt more like a force of will, bending space to reach beyond what he could see in this world, to physically touch something in another. He had to create very precise gates to reach into, holding them for a few seconds whilst he took back the balls.

It felt delicate to start with. Surgical. Then easier, fluid, natural. The gates, what were they, portals? were falling open for him now. He’d started by feeling like he had to prize open a tiny rift; he’d wanted to use his hands as if he could somehow rend the air with his fingertips. It was more thoughtful than that now. He didn’t need to visualize it. It was automatic.

Oddly he felt he’d learnt this before. His great grandpa, Ralph, the timid looking doctor had taught him how to catch fish with his hands when he was maybe three or four years old. It couldn’t have been later than he thought as he’d died before Wyman was five.

The old man had been a fly fisher, Wyman remembered, but he had been too small to handle the rods by himself. He taught him to approach the fish from downstream and to move towards it slowly before scooping it up. He’d squealed excitedly and run to show his dad when he’d first managed it. His mom had convinced him to release it before it died though grandpa had insisted they should have cooked it, regardless of its size. Cementing the achievement, he’d called it.

The experience had stuck with him. The hardest parts had been putting his hand into the water without startling the fish and dealing with the refraction of the water. His hand wasn’t really where he’d thought it should be. He could see it but not where he felt he was reaching for.

It was that memory that helped him most as he’d practiced with gates. The barrier between worlds was no different to how he was separated from the fish. His hand could pass in and out now with as much ease.

“Come on, Wyman,” Miles called.

The trees cleared here as they did in his own world. A natural clearing then.

Using his grandpa’s call as a beacon he changed course and ran towards him, his family invisible to his eyes with the blindfold on.

“Dad, do you think this is really the best – ” Karl cut off. Silenced by grandpa most likely.

Wyman ignored his dad’s voice, positioned a little distant from his target. Grandpa had set a timer and he was sure that he’d beaten the fifteen minute countdown to collect the lot.

The next thing he knew his legs smashed into something hard and he was thrown forward by his own momentum. The bucket tugged at his hand and he released it as he slid forward face first, his nose an agonizing flame of pain once more. He dropped suddenly, tumbling down and only just raised his hands in time to stop his face taking another pummeling.

Miles and Karl were laughing.

Wyman ripped the shirt from his eyes to find he was sprawled next to the station wagon. His grandpa was leaning over, hands on his thighs and guffawing loudly. His dad was a little distant shaking his hands in innocence but unable to stop his own belly laughs.

He bit back the curses he wanted to hurl at them. They’d moved the car. He hadn’t heard the engine. Perhaps they’d rolled it.

“You did good, kid,” Miles said.

Wyman gingerly touched his nose. It wasn’t bleeding. Thankfully he hadn’t landed on it.

“What was that for?” he asked angrily.

“You’re not invincible,” Karl said. “You’re going to feel it. Like you’re a superhero or something. But if you get cocky you’ll get hurt.”

Miles was nodding along. “We don’t want that,” he said but Wyman wasn’t convinced.

His thighs hurt where he’d hit the wheel arch by the hood. His grandpa must’ve moved so Wyman would run straight at it. He pulled himself up tenderly and pulled on his shirt.

Grandpa shot to the top of his list of worst teachers ever. Was this how his dad had learned?

“Listen,” Karl said, the laughter under control now. “Layering the worlds can be overwhelming. It’s tiring and gets confusing the more divergence there is. Out here in the woods there’s not so much. It gets harder in other places and I’ve never seen a place as big as this so there’s a lot more risk.”

Wyman nodded. He was pretty sure he could have understood that without the painful lesson.

“You need to keep your wits about you, especially in areas where there are changes. Those happen because either us or them have switched something. If it’s them it’s probably not for something good.”

“Also,” Miles added, “you need to not freak out if you spot someone there.”

Wyman looked at him quizzically. “What?”

“There are Alvar around here. We know that,” Miles said. “And they’ll be wandering about in their world too. Except for the assassins they shouldn’t be able to see you so you’ll be safe.”

“I hate that there are assassins,” Wyman said.

“They’re not likely to be a threat unless you reveal yourself. They’d have to be targeted against us. They have strict orders and a tighter leash, their masters are too paranoid to give them free rein.”

“Okay.

Karl spoke up, aware that this was supposed to have been his responsibility. “Dad’s point is that you can see things that other people can’t. Don’t draw attention to that. It’ll make you look weird at best or a threat at worst.” He didn’t feel like this was his area of expertise. Alvar were something he could understand. Children, even his own, felt more alien.

Wyman thought that Alvar society was something he’d have to learn more about later. His main interest now was weaving. His grandpa had opened two gates when he’d protected himself from Wyman’s ball, the first pushed it through to the other world while the second let it back through. He had an idea how he might get it to work but he wanted to see his grandpa do it again.

“What’s next?” he asked.

“School,” Miles said. “You’re late.”

Wyman stared at him. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Not at all. Today is a good day for having an alibi,” Miles said. “Plus your father needs to show me some of his work.” He opened the trunk and lifted up the cover for the spare tire.

Inside the wheel, a cloth was wrapped around a rectangular object. Miles lifted it carefully out of the hiding place and unwrapped it, revealing a large hand bound book, its leather cover detailed with a burned pattern Wyman didn’t recognize.

Miles pressed it into Wyman’s hands. “Now here’s your homework. You’ve got a lot to catch up on.” His grandpa smiled proudly. “Oh, if anyone asks we were driving you to a hospital but had car trouble.” He inspected Wyman’s bruised face. “They should believe that.”

0

Outcasts and Aliens – Chapter 9

New Perspective

Wyman looked over the town from the vantage point his dad had found. The landscape as a whole was pretty, rolling forested hills, a river he hadn’t see before cutting across a section of it some miles away. Distant mountains dripping gold in the sunlight. It was picturesque.

Below them a sizeable section of the beautiful reserve was replaced with the dull concrete builds of flat unimaginative structures. The largest structures appeared to be the school, a few warehouses and general car parks. He couldn’t identify all of the areas but some were more visible than others. The tilted disk of the Abductees and Coffees UFO helped him mentally navigate around the areas of town he did know.

Karl was watching the track behind them as the mail truck driven by his father finally arrived.

Miles looked around the tiny clearing, observing how little space there would be to turn his car around in. Short of reversing the truck out it wasn’t going to happen. He considered his options and looked around the little Grumman LLV. It was quite light weight and not designed for the forest trail they’d come up. Nor was his station wagon of course, not that his heavy footed son had considered that with the speed he’d driven off ahead of him. If it was damaged he’d make sure Karl paid for it.

He considered the light tree line to the side of him and made a decision. He’d driven carefully so far to make sure he could follow Karl but if this was the destination then he could abandon it here. He tugged at his seat belt checking its safety and spun the wheel towards the forest.

He waved once to Karl and then took the truck off the path. He felt it tilt as it slipped onto the softer ground and directed it towards the thinnest trees he could see. Karl start running towards him and chuckled.

There wasn’t enough space to maneuver it far off the track so he rammed the accelerator to push it as far as it would go, hoping to create a little space inside the weaker spots.

The Grumman shunted a tree already tilting away from it. Miles was counting on that indicating it was dying and ready to drop. Scattered brown deadwood at its base had given him the idea though Karl no doubt thought he’d just picked any old tree.

“Dad, what are you doing?” his son called, racing up to him.

Miles smiled at him and pointed through the windscreen as the tree he’d selected began to topple.

“Making room,” he called. “You didn’t leave any space to – “

Miles stopped as the truck shook slightly, the front starting to lift up. From below the ground, the root system of the falling giant pushed up, following the path he had created.

“Oh dear,” he said to himself.

Karl watched as the front of the mail truck rose off the ground, twisted and slipped off as the tree his father had destroyed fell to the ground.

The engine block of the little truck was revealed, its wheels spinning idly as it slewed sideways and toppled over. The noise sent birds flying in a way a falling tree could not. As they flew off shrieking the rest of the woods fell silent, save for the rushing footsteps of Wyman and Carl and the stuttering engine which fell silent giving the impression that the overturned vehicle had died.

Karl carefully moved through the debris trail to reach the front of the wreck. His father had managed to knock over another two trees, now leaning precariously, and flatten the undergrowth which had made navigation between the trees so difficult.

The front windshield was shattered and a branch was impaled through the glass. Unable to see clearly through the spider web of cracks he looked for something to help him climb.

“How’s grandpa?” Wyman called, closing the distance.

“I can’t see,” Karl said.

Standing by the former roof Wyman jumped and caught the sill of the door, pulling himself up to see into the truck.

Miles was slumped in front of the wheel, dangling from his seat belt. His eyes were closed.

Below him, Wyman could see the penetrating branch. He pulled himself up to sit on the top and called to his dad. “I don’t see any injuries but he’s not conscious. There’s a branch here but it’s missed him.”

That was enough for Karl. He turned to the front windshield and used his boots to kick the glass out. Sagging under its own weight it fell away, the laminated glass holding together and dangling from the branch like a drying pelt.

Karl ducked under it and stepped into the cab. He shook his father’s shoulder and called to him. Miles groaned. “Help me take his weight,” he said.

Wyman dropped down and joined him, the two of them bracing the old man’s body as Karl reached carefully to release the safety strap. It clicked back as he pressed the button and Miles fell into them. Wyman eased him down to the floor and supporting his head the two of them carried him clear.

“What was he trying to do?”

Karl shook his head and shrugged. “Seems an unlikely suicide choice.”

Wyman watched as his dad checked his father’s breathing, pulse and body for irregularities. Once satisfied he sat down and waited. “He’ll be fine,” Karl said. “Though I’d like to get him checked out.”

Wyman nodded.

“If anyone asks, he fell at home.”

“Yeah, sure,” Wyman agreed. Explaining what had happened would be hard enough without having to hide a crime.

Miles stirred and groaned. His eyes scrunched tightly and opened, blinking repeatedly as he looked up at them.

“Well that didn’t go to plan,” Miles said.

“What exactly was your plan, Dad?” Karl asked, concern fading from his face as his father pushed himself up to sit.

Miles looked at the truck. He stretched his neck to check all was well. “I was moving it out of the way,” he said. “You didn’t leave any room for my car to get past.”

Karl sighed. “There’s a clearing just over the rise, Dad. I’ve been here before.”

Miles looked affronted. “Well you didn’t say anything about it.”

Wyman watched bemused as his dad and grandpa argued. He reached out to touch his grandpa’s arm. “Are you hurt?”

“Just my pride, Wyman,” he replied. “But the job is done. A shame about the mail in the back. Might have to inform someone where the truck is.”

“No,” Karl said. The longer it’s missing the safer we are.

“Couldn’t we have just left it on another street?” Wyman queried. “Nobody would know where he’d been last.”

Karl and Miles looked thoughtful. Miles nodded.

“Yeah,” Karl said ruefully. “Guess that could have worked.”

“Next time,” Miles said, getting to his feet.

“Please don’t let there be a next time. Dad stunned that guy twice more on the way over.”

Miles scowled at Karl. “In my car? You know what that thing does to people’s bladders.”

They walked back over towards the station wagon.

“Dad, you want me to stop, drag him out on the road and stun him each time he wakes up? I think that would attract attention.”

“Hmph,” Miles grunted. “Why don’t you show me why we’re up here and I can get out of this costume.”

Wyman wondered which of them had the better relationship with their fathers, he or his dad. That brought to mind his great-grandpa, a timid looking man he’d barely known. Had he been part of this? He had a million questions.

They followed Miles as he stalked up to the station wagon. The body inside was still but Wyman already knew the scent of singed rug and urine would confirm his grandpa’s fears. He was glad it wouldn’t be him cleaning it.

Karl steered is father away before it could become an issue.

“Up here, Dad,” he said, taking Miles arm and guiding him to the point they’d been stood at earlier.

“You know,” Karl said, “you’re not as young as you used to be.”

Miles glared at him. Wyman had always felt his grandpa had been weathered into agelessness but he must be quite old. Sixties or seventies? Wyman felt bad. He could memorize entire poems from a few readings but had no idea how old his grandpa was.

“I’m fitter than you are,” Miles snapped.

“Sure you are,” Karl said, “but you might have a concussion so let’s be careful.” He gestured towards the town and over to the school. “Why we test your vision. I want you to really look at this place.”

“What are we looking for?” Wyman asked.

Miles looked out on the vista and his eyes turned towards Abductees and Coffees on Main Street. “Is that a UFO? Cute.”

Wyman shook his head. Not how he’d describe it. It was impressive that grandpa could identify it from this distance so his vision was probably better than most people’s.

“Seriously, Dad. Look at it.”

To Miles’ eyes a bluish tint washed over everything as he concentrated. It was a trick his father had taught him, passed down amongst the families.

He scanned the landscape again and stopped to stare at the castle to the west of the school.

“What the – ” Miles faltered. “It’s huge! There’s an actual building there.”

He stepped back unsteadily. Karl’s hand pressed on his back to keep him from falling.

“How have they – “

Wyman watched him grandpa’s shock and confusion, hoping it wasn’t a head injury. “What are we looking at?” he asked.

“The castle, Wyman,” Karl said. “The castle.”

Miles turned to him, uncertainty in his eyes. “Uh, you have to, um. You have to focus your mind until you can begin to – “

“Dad,” Karl interrupted. “He can see it already. Can’t you, Wyman.”

Wyman wondered if they’d both had a head injury. “Yeah,” he said. “Why?”

His grandpa looked at him with surprise. “Good Lord his blood is strong.”

Karl nodded.

“My blood?”

“It’s all about the blood, son.”

Miles sighed heavily and headed back to his car. “About a century ago the Alvar sent a scout force to this world to explore it and prepare it for colonization.”

Wyman followed his grandpa, eager to hear about the aliens they’d told him about. He looked aside as Miles started taking off the postal uniform.

“They wanted to strip it of all resources including the people.” Miles continued.

Wyman couldn’t picture an alien invasion taking place in the early twentieth century.

“But the scouts had an epiphany. They liked the people more than they liked their masters so they rebelled. They cut off the Alvar and blocked them from coming through.”

Wyman turned, interested, only to find his grandpa in his Mickey Mouse underwear again. He turned away grimacing.

Karl spoke instead, giving Wyman a face he could look at.

“Not completely. The Alvar fired something through before the walls went up. Instead of a complete protective shell there are fractures running all over it where they can creep through.”

Miles opened the trunk to get his clothes, Wyman breathed a sigh of relief. His grandpa was in good shape but it wasn’t something he needed to see any more of.

From the trunk the mail man reared up and kicked Miles backwards. He scrambled to get out throwing the blanket off him.

Wyman spun round, confronted with two old men in their underwear. The mail man, handcuffed, panicked and in pain was a patchwork of tanned and pale skin, his grey underpants damp and burn marks on his chest.

Wyman felt pity for him.

Miles dashed forward bringing the trunk down on their hostage’s legs. The pneumatic door lifted up again as the injured man fell from the trunk screaming.

Wyman watched in horror as his grandpa brought the trunk lid down on the man three more times. Not on his legs this time. When he let the hatch rise again the mail man was gone.

“Damn it,” Miles said. “I wanted to put his clothes back on him.”

Wyman looked at the spray of blood on his grandpa and the trunk lid.

“Would you mind putting yours on?” Karl said.

Miles snorted and reached in to get his bag, pulling out some wet wipes and cleaning the bag first then dabbing at his arms and torso. He checked out the rest of his body and threw the pack to Wyman who caught it instinctively.

“Clear that blood off, will you?” Miles called, indicating the back of the wagon.

Too stunned to object, Wyman walked over to the car and began wiping it down.

Had he just witnessed a murder?

Was his grandpa a killer?

On the floor of the trunk a lodestone shone feebly, its dull shine a dark star calling to him in the abyss of his darker thoughts. Wyman picked it up and rolled it in his palm. It at least was free of blood. He placed it in his pocket.

He jumped a little as his father spoke again.

“It’s like there’s a baby gate holding back an army of psychotic toddlers.” Karl began again. “They’ve been rattling it for years.”

Karl picked up some wipes and stood next to Wyman, joining him in his grisly task.

“It was only ever a temporary fix but if you see all of this then we might be able to block them out permanently.”

Wyman looked at him, puzzled. “Why me?”

His dad placed his hand on Wyman’s back. An affection he hadn’t felt from him in what seemed like years.

“Because we’re the scouts. Our bloodline. We’re from their world.”


One of the things important to me in this work is to show the flawed, egocentric nature of the male characters in the Jaeger family. The Alvar they are fighting against are wilful, selfish individuals convinced of their own superiority. Whether they realise it or not, Karl and Miles continue to display these tendencies as adults. Wyman’s coming of age drama is not just in confronting other worlds but in making choices about who he is to become. This is why Dawn’s grounding influence is so vital to him. It’s something his dad has drifted away from but her warmth and humanity are the things worth fighting for. These are the traits that make the race worth saving.

Mal:Content