by Jamie Brown
“MOM!” I said, hunched down on the floor as I peered underneath my bed. “Have you seen my Pokemon folder?”
“What?” she called from the kitchen. The sounds of bacon frying obscured her voice a little. I was sure she didn’t hear me all the way.
“Pokemon folder, Mom!” I repeated.
“What’s that, hon?”
I sighed as loud as I possibly could, hoping she would hear. “Pokemon folder, Mom!” You know… Electrode, Diglett, Nidoran, Mankey…!”
“Venasaur, Rattata, Fearow, Pidgey!” my little brother echoed from his room.
“It’s in the living room, C.J.”
I raced into the living room, pulling on my shirt. Obviously, I didn’t hear the last part of her reply. See, what she actually said was:
“It’s in the living room, C.J. And Raina’s here.”
Raina has been my best friend since the 1st grade. We’ve been through everything together. Our families have known each other so long, people swore we were sister and brother, even though we looked nothing alike. Still, it would have been nice to have really heard what my mom said, so I wouldn’t have run into the living room with nothing but underwear and a half-on shirt.
“Hey, Ceege!” Raina said. Then she started giggling. I looked down, immediately realizing what she was laughing at. I screamed and threw my hands down to cover myself. I ran back into my room and slammed the door.
“Mom, why didn’t you TELL me that Raina was here?!?” I yelled through the door as I yanked on some shorts from the closet.
“I did, Ceege,” my mom calmly replied, trying her best to hold back her own laughter. She wasn’t succeeding.
After a few minutes, I emerged from the room, this time fully clothed. I swung my backpack down on the table that Raina was sitting at and opened it to put my folder in. I glanced at Raina. She was smiling lightly, the corners of her mouth turned up just a little as if she had just finished laughing, which I suspected was what really happened. Her hair was long, all the way down to her lower back. It was brown with some blond highlights that she had begged her mom all summer to let her put in. There was one braid, a small one that ran down the side of her face and hung by her elbow. Funny. I had never noticed her hair before. Not like THIS. It was kind of strange. I quickly shook the thought from my mind. After all, there were important matters for us to discuss.
“Raina, did you get the new Lugia hologram?” I asked.
Raina shook her head. “No way! That thing is SO hard to find! I bought so many packs trying to find that. I have Chikorita, Squirtle, Marowak and Snoralax holograms, but that’s it.”
“Yeah, seriously.” I turned to my mom. “Mom, can me and Raina go to the comic book store after school?”
My mom looked back with one raised eyebrow. “Maybe after you do your homework.”
I shook my head. “Won’t have any, Mom. Today’s the first day.”
My mom smirked and flipped over the bacon. “When I went to school, we had homework on the first day.”
“I’m surprised homework was invented back then,” I snickered. My mom threw a dishtowel at me and pretended to be hurt.
“Watch it, mister, or you’ll never get to go anywhere.”
Raina and I laughed. And that feeling came back again. I kept looking at Raina. There was something different about her. Her face. I mean, it was still Raina. It wasn’t like she was mutating or anything, but something was different. It was softer. She was wearing makeup. My eyes traveled to her lips. They were a little redder than usual.
“You’re wearing makeup,” I said softly, like I didn’t really want her to know I knew. Raina smiled again and blushed.
“Doesn’t she look pretty?” my mom asked. Raina looked right at me.
“Y-yeah,” I stammered, smiling and turning red myself. “You look pretty. Um…yeah.” I looked down, feeling my face growing hotter than the frying pan. Raina turned even redder, but her smile grew bigger.
Mom served us breakfast and we sat down. We devoured it rather quickly, then raced into the living room. I jumped onto the couch, rolling over the armrest and snatching the control in one fluid motion.
“Beat that!” I smiled. Raina looked at the couch and back at me. She pouted a little and shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Aw, come on! You’re the one that taught ME that!”
“No, I really can’t,” she said, biting her upper lip.
“No, I’m serious, Ceege!”
“C.J., stop trying to make Raina jump over the couch!” My mom called from in the kitchen. I don’t know how she does it, but no matter where in the house she is, she seems to ALWAYS know what I’m doing. Raina and I searched all around the house one summer for the hidden cameras. We pulled up and followed what we thought was a hidden camera cord until we found it ran into my mom’s cable box. She wasn’t happy to say the least.
“Is there a reason why you won’t jump?”
“Yes – did you even look at what I’m wearing?” She gestured down to her waist. A long deep blue skirt hung just a little over her ankles.
“It’s okay. This time,” she said with a wry smile on her lips. She plopped down next to me as we watched morning cartoons.
“You smell good,” I blurted out in the middle of a commercial. She turned to look at me, surprise all over her face like a failed bubble-gum bubble. Her braid brushed quickly against my cheek. Raina grinned and pressed her wrist up to my nose.
“Thanks. I got it from my mom. Finally!” She rolled her eyes out of pretend annoyance at her mother. We watched TV until a horn sounded outside the house. Raina leaped up off the couch.
“Beat you to the bus!”
“No fair!” I cried as I stumbled up. “You didn’t even warn me!”
We raced through the kitchen and to the door where we struggled with each other to be the first one out.
“You move! I was here first!”
“Yeah! Cause you cheat like always! Stop pushing me!”
Raina sprung out the door first and was halfway down the steps with me in the rear when my mom poked her head out of the doorway. “Raina!” she called. “You forgot your purse!”
Raina stopped short and rushed back up the stairs.
“Sorry,” she said, brushing a strand of wayward hair out of her eyes.
“No problem,” my mom said, winking. “I left mine everywhere at first too.”
“Carrying a PURSE now, are we?” I said, as I stood on the bottom step. Raina whacked me in the shoulder.
“Shut up!” she said, grinning, but trying to look serious.
We ran out to catch the school bus, playing in the fallen autumn leaves and listening to them crunch beneath our feet. I threw my arm around my best friend of six years.
“Ready for another year?” I said. She nodded and leaned down to pick something up.
“Fall’s my favorite season,” Raina said, twirling a brownish-red leaf in her hands. She took the leaf and handed it to me as we stepped on the bus.
Ever since he was in the third grade, CJ had believed in aliens. He remembered the exact moment in which he started to believe. April 14, 2002. Friday night. Well, he remembered the moment, but not the exact details, but he was sure that it was an alien abduction, just as sure as he was about wanting to be a mutant when he hit puberty. His memory of that night was blurry and fractured – like seeing his memories through deep water. He remembered large, bulbous eyes, flashing lights and the distinct odor of fried chicken. Come to think of it, he had liked chicken ever since his alien encounter! Well, at least they had done something for him.
After that experience, CJ had decided that his mind was now made up. He had wasted too much of his valuable youth running around without a career goal – after all he was eleven now. CJ decided that he was going to be a paranormal investigator (thanks going to his mother for helping him turn ‘I wanna track down aliens and be on TV and stuff’ into cool adult-sounding words). After Mom’s hearty encouragement and much research on the Internet and various comic books, CJ was working on his first case. He had deduced that aliens did indeed exist on Earth, and they had taken refuge in the most unlikely and innocent of places.
“CJ! Stay away from the Teacher’s Lounge!”
Mr. Gray marched right up to the door where CJ stood, hand on the doorknob. CJ spun around, pasting a wide grin on his face – wide enough that Mr. Gray could see a baby tooth that CJ still hadn’t lost yet. Mr. Gray studied his four-foot tall student with a suspicious eye.
“What are you doing, CJ?” Mr. Gray asked, raising one eyebrow.
“Nooooooooothing,” CJ said, smiling and putting his hands behind his back.
“I though I told you, CJ. The Lounge is off limits for students. You know that.”
“I know, but I just wanna go in. Just once! For like two seconds, I swear!”
“Pleeeeeeeease!” CJ tugged on Mr. Gray’s dark blazer. Mr. Gray shook his arm loose and placed his key in the door.
“No! Now go play, Christopher.”
Mr. Gray began to walk in and then stopped in mid-stride. “CJ,” he said, partially turning so that he faced the boy but blocked the entrance as well, “why are you so interested in visiting the Lounge?”
“Cause you ALWAYS keep the blinds close and only teachers ever go in and everyone always looks around when they enter and leave and I wanna know why.”
Mr. Gray pulled gently at his tie and laughed.
“That’s quite a mouthful. And just what do you think it is we have to hide, Mr. Chavarria?”
CJ ran a hand nervously through his thick black hair that was long enough to hang over his eyes.
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
CJ took a deep breath and whispered, “Some of the teachers are aliens.”
There was a pause and for a second, Mr. Gray went slightly ashen. Then he cleared his throat and smiled.
“And just where did you get this information from, Christopher?”
“I made it myself,” he said proudly. Mr. Gray nodded, understanding that he most likely meant he made the theory himself as opposed to making up the information. Mr. Gray remembered his promise not to laugh.
“You have a very active imagination, Christopher.”
He stepped forward into the Lounge.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Christopher,” he said, noticing the boy trying desperately to peek in. CJ sighed and got off his toes.
“Bye, Mr. Gray.”
CJ pulled at his backpack straps aimlessly as he walked home. He had to figure out a way to get into that Lounge. He had figured his mom would let him in, since she went by some days to help Mr. Gray grade papers, but she always shook her head and responded with the “No, mija. What Mr. Gray says, I say.”
Well, at least Mr. Gray didn’t laugh at him the way almost everyone else did.
The old gate on the house creaked loudly as CJ swung the latch up. Flakes of rust tumbled to the ground and onto his shoe. For a moment, he played Secret Agent in his head, jumping neatly over the green patches of grass that grew stubbornly in the sea of dirt.
He made his way through the door, tossing his backpack on the couch. CJ tucked his legs under himself and was about to flip on the TV when a chill ran through his body.
What was it Mr. Gray had said?
And just what do you think it is we have to hide, Mr. Chavarria?”
CJ never said anything about hiding. In the emptiness of his small house, the darkness seemed to close tighter on him. Something mysterious was going on in that Lounge – and CJ was going to find out what.
CJ checked his watch. 3:30. Almost the time for Mr. Gray to leave his classroom. He made a quick check of his backpack to make sure he had everything he needed. Flashlight. Spy goggles. Cell phone from Dad. Candy (if he needed to bargain with the aliens – he had seen it in a movie).
The watch flashed silently at 3:35 and just like clockwork, Mr. Gray stepped out of his classroom and headed over to the main office. CJ stayed hidden in the background, ducking behind bushes and peeking out from corners. A large man approached Mr. Gray. He had two by fours for arms and a turtle shell for a chest.
“Got anything planned for the weekend, David?”
CJ leaned forward on his knees.
“Nah. Just work, as usual,” David Gray replied.
“Headed to the Lounge?”
“Of course. You?”
“Not today. I’ll work on the project later.”
“I understand.” There was a pause. “Juan, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Juan stepped in closer, folding his massive arms over his chest. “Is this about Christopher?”
CJ felt as if the top button on his white polo suddenly clamped itself around his neck. They were talking about him. Why? No – they were teachers. They were supposed to talk about their students. But “Juan” wasn’t one of his teachers! Was that normal?
“Yes,” Mr. Gray continued. “Juan I think he’s starting to suspect.”
Juan laughed – it sounded about a pleasant as a rotwiler being jabbed with a taser.
“Suspect? It’s only a matter of time until he tries to enter the Lounge. All of our records are in there. He could ruin it for everyone. Unless we do something.”
CJ flattened himself against the air conditioner, feeling the words reaching out for him with invisible claws. Gripping. Choking. He wanted to run. Hide. Tell his mother. Call anyone. But he couldn’t bring his hand to move. It was rooted in place. The only motion was the fluttering of his chest as he sucked in air .
“Keep your eye on that one, David.”
Footsteps clacked on the rough blacktop as Mr. Gray walked past the air conditioner straight towards the Teacher’s Lounge. He glanced twice and slipped a key out of his pocket.
CJ felt a sensation in his fingertips. Movement!
Mr. Gray slid the key into the hole, turned the knob and with one backward glance, he stepped inside.
It was now or never. If he didn’t get up and move now, CJ would be mad at himself for the rest of his life. What kind of paranormal investigator is too scared to investigate?
CJ flung himself forward from his hiding place, legs attacking the pavement.
Please don’t let the door close before I can get there, he thought.
He was running as fast as possible. The door swung lazily inward, as if taunting him. Ha ha, you’ll never make it. I can just take my time and close.
He was almost there – just a few – MORE – STEPS!
The door hit the latch and the hinges let out a high-pitched wine.
CJ’s hands hit the door just as the latch was about to slip into place. The force of his body threw the door wide open and it slammed into the opposite wall, causing tiny fragments of plaster to rain to the ground.
The room was dark, except for the flickering glow cast by the computers that sat on the left and right of the room. Mr. Gray sat behind one of the computers, face bluish-white from the monitor. There was something odd about his face though. CJ hesitantly took a step forward.
“Welcome, Mr. Chavarria.” Mr. Gray said, not turning around. “I figured you’d get here sooner or later.”
“M-Mr. Gray?” CJ said, though he already knew the answer. It was him. He could tell from the suit. Something was wrong.
“Why, Mr. Chavarria? Why are you so persistent in coming here? What is it that you want?”
“I-I just w-wanted to see the a-aliens,” he said, voice quivering with fright. He could feel the tears starting to sting his eyes.
“Do me a favor, Mr. Chavarria. If I show you your aliens, will you promise not to tell anyone? “
CJ nodded, feeling the sweat run down the sides of his face and tickle his neck.
Mr. Gray leaped up and flicked on a light, revealing his face covered by what had to be the cheapest Halloween mask CJ had ever seen. The fear that had been percolating in his stomach diffused away.
“That’s it?” he said.
Mr. Gray’s shoulders sunk. “Um…what do you mean?”
CJ stuck out his lower lip and he could feel himself staring to tear again.
“I really thought I was gonna see aliens! But you just don’t believe me – you’re just making fun of me!”
Mr. Gray removed his mask and walked over to the boy, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry Christopher. I didn’t mean to make fun of you. It’s just that you seemed so interested and into the whole alien thing, so Mr. Palacios and I decided to play a little game with you. We didn’t want to hurt you.”
CJ wiped his eyes on his sleeves. “It’s okay. I just thought I might….you know…I thought I was onto something.”
“Keep believing, CJ,” Mr. Gray said. “One day you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
CJ smiled and wiped his nose with his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Gray,” he said as he headed towards the door. “If my mom comes by, tell her to bring me some food before she comes home.”
“Will do, Christopher.”
Mr. Gray put the “alien” mask in his pocket. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
“Well, that was a close one.”
A large, snail-like creature about five feet long slid from the ceiling down the left wall and onto the ground. A pair of large, bulbous eyes blinked rapidly as Mr. Gray hit the light switch.
“How you doing Mrs. Chavarria?”
The slug wobbled its eyes up and down on their stalks, which Mr. Gray understood meant “fine.” The eyes closed for a few seconds and the slimy, greenish-yellow body of the slug-like creature morphed into a smallish Hispanic woman.
“Thanks for your help, Mr. Gray.”
“Anytime, Mrs. Chavarria.” Mr. Gray wiped away the sweat from his forehead and sighed. “You know, I never would have guessed I’d be talking to an alien mother.”
Mrs. Chavarria laughed. “We’re not the only immigrants in your district. Our home is just a little farther away than most. And the commute was brutal; we bent more than a fender, I’ll tell you that.” She flipped on another light switch and sat down in a chair.
“I’m just not ready to tell CJ yet. But he’s so inquisitive. It’s getting harder and harder to keep our secret a secret. And if I don’t tell him soon, he’ll find out when he hits puberty. And I think that waking up in the morning as a giant slug with transmutational abilities might be a little different than what his peers are going through.”
Mr. Gray could only nod. He sat down next to her and pulled out a red pen. “Shall we continue grading papers?”
“Certainly, Mr. Gray.”
After a few minutes of grading, Mr. Gray turned to Mrs. Chavarria, a smirk crossing his face.
“Mrs. Chavarria, can I ask you a question?”
“What brought you to this planet anyway?”
Mrs. Chavarria let loose a boisterous laugh that echoed in the Lounge. “Seriously?”
“The fried chicken.”