12. January 2024 · Comments Off on EVOLUTION · Categories: ---

Here’s a question many people have asked:  “How do we know we evolved from the ape family millions of years ago, and did not just appear 6,600 years ago exactly as we are now?”

The answer can be complicated. First, humans evolved from a creature whose descendants eventually became two species of primate – apes and humans. So the fact is that we did not evolve directly from “an ape family,” but from an ancestor of both the ape family and the human family. These two families split from one another many hundreds or thousands of years after the original primate lived, and then split again many thousands of years later, and kept on splitting until now, when we have both apes and humans. And many scientists believe that there will continue to be new splits in the future.

Some of the tests that have proven the “theory” of evolution include the fossil record, DNA similarities, geographic patterns, embryonic similarities, various methods of dating (e.g., carbon, tree-ring, radiometric, coral, etc.), and quite a few other factors.

Evolution is a “theory” and a fact.  This seems contradictory to many since in everyday terminology, the word “theory” is often used in place of words like “hunch,” or “inclination.” But in science, the word represents an idea, or a set of ideas, that explain facts or events. Evolution is the best theory that can explain the diversity of life, and how it came to be.  It explains why fossils are arranged in the strata (a bed of sedimentary rock that represents continuous deposits) in the very order that they are, and how this correlates to modern fauna, even in terms of geography.

We know all this because of DNA, which is organized into chromosomes. A simple definition of DNA is that it’s a large molecule derived from smaller molecules, nucleotides. The exact sequence of these nucleotides, similar to the sequence of ingredients in a recipe, tells the living cell how to put organic molecules together to form proteins. DNA is not a blueprint because slight changes to DNA can have a dramatic effect on the end product.

Every living thing has DNA, and this is how we can identify what type of living thing, or what person we’re looking at. Chromosomes vary in number and shape among living things. Humans, along with other animals and plants, have linear chromosomes that are arranged in pairs within the nucleus of the cell. Humans have 23 pairs for a total of 46 chromosomes. In fact, each species of plants and animals has a set number of chromosomes. A fruit fly, for example, has four pairs of chromosomes, while a rice plant has 12, and a dog, 39.

The fact that we did not just appear exactly as we are now, 6,600 years ago, is proven by the fossil record. This is the collective record of biological development reflected in the fossilized remains of organisms through geological history. The fossil record in fact refers to the collection of physical and research evidence that paleontologists and geologists have used to prove the truth of evolutionary theory. The physical evidence in the fossil record (which is what we call pieces of bone from animals that lived long ago) comes from the study of tools and fossilized remains of prehistoric animals. Many fossils and artifacts (e.g., tools) have been dug up and studied, and DNA has been useful in determining what class of animal the living creature was.

For instance, someone in rural England (maybe years and years ago) might have started to dig holes in his land so as to make a change. Perhaps he wanted to build a fence or a wall, or he may have simply wished to plow the land for planting. But while he was digging, he found a bone. Wondering how this bone got onto his land, this person might have sent the bone to a research facility of whatever type (maybe a friend who was interested in things people found in their yards, or a sterile laboratory set up specifically to study fossils). He might have been told that tests (including DNA and carbon-dating) proved the bone was from an apelike creature that lived seven million years ago (e.g., the small ape-like primate scientists have nicknamed “Lucy”).

18. August 2023 · Comments Off on THE NEW GIRL · Categories: ---

CHAPTER ONE

Thursday, October 13

One thing wrong with my life is that my family situation has been stressful for me. You see, my parents have been, for the past decade, junkies. Each time we move, it’s because their need for drugs has caused them to make enemies. So we end up having to skip town late at night, leaving a hell of a lot of stuff every time, and find some new, unwitting neighborhood.

My biggest problem with moving for the seventh time in three years is that I must solidify my position in the new school right away. I’ve had to do that six other times, and it hasn’t always been successful.

Last time, for example, Mom enrolled me in the local L. A. high school when we arrived. It was mid-April of last year, with just about six weeks left in the school year, so I didn’t consider it a priority to work hard at fitting in. And that’s where I made my first mistake.

When I received my class assignments, I saw that I’d have an American History class first thing in the morning, which annoyed me since that meant I had to be at school by 8:10, but I usually didn’t even wake up until 8 o’clock. I was unable to change that class, so I decided to just go with the flow.

Arriving in class on the first day, I heard several snickers and whispered comments. I wondered if I was dressed wrong, and reviewed my ensemble. I’d worn a red and black checkered skirt with a black tank top and a big black belt. I had a nice pair of black ankle boots, and I thought I looked excellent. Looking around at the other girls, it seemed I was a bit better dressed than most of them, and wondered what the snickers meant.

I thought about my hairdo. My long blonde hair curled past my shoulders. I wondered about my walk, I thought I’d walked pretty normally. So I figured the girls were focusing on something else, not me, and I’d coincidentally come in at the wrong moment.

I soon found out how wrong I was.

Halfway through the class, the girl sitting behind me whispered, “Take this.” She reached for my hand and placed a note in it. The note said, ‘Holiday hates you. She hates your boots and belt, and she hates your skirt.’

What the hell!

What was I to do with that information?

So the next day I wore a grey tee shirt with a pair of stone washed jeans, sneakers, and a thick gold chain around my neck. Many of the other girls were dressed similarly.

Sitting in the same seat, I was passed another note: ‘Holiday doesn’t appreciate your jeans or your chain.’

I whispered back, “Who’s Holiday?”

My ‘advisor’ said, “First girl next to the door. She’s Queen Bee here. If she doesn’t like you, you’re dead to the rest of her clique.”

Well, I figured Holiday would just have to stuff it. I didn’t intend to cause problems, so the next school day, I wore the same thing Holiday had worn the day before – a pink floral-print blouse, with a dark grey pencil skirt and a pair of low black heels.

She hated that, too, but this time she decided to call me out. After class, she and four other girls waited at the door as I exited. Before I passed through the gauntlet, several other kids, boys and girls, had gathered. Apparently, word had gotten round that there was to be a spectacle.

As I realized this, I shrugged. I’d see what she had to say and then defend myself, or turn it back on her, or hit her, or whatever needed to be done.

It turned out that all I had to do was wait until a teacher or the principal showed up and dispersed the group. After that, the whispering and snickers continued, but at a reduced rate.

And when the next semester began, most of those girls had graduated, including Holiday, and the others in her clique apparently weren’t interested in harassing me further. So I was there until the beginning of October, when we had to run once again.

***

It’s Roseville, California, this time. A suburb of Sacramento, which is hot, hot, hot.

Maybe this time, as my ‘rents promise, it won’t happen that we have to run off. Hmph, good luck with that.

So, anyways, here we are on day two and I have to start the new school on Monday, four days from now.

My name is Claire Winslow (this time). I started life as Claire Abramson, but each time we move we have to have a new name so the drug dealers we’re fleeing can’t find us. Though they often do. And that’s when we “skip town.”

So this morning I realized: I’m 16 years old, and I’ve spent the past ten years running. I’m not doing it again! This time when they leave, and they will, I’m staying behind.

What I need to do very soon is find somewhere I can land when “the jig’s up.” I’ll get a job waitressing or modeling or something, and take my stuff to a motel to wait till I can find a place. All I need to do is save up a couple hundred bucks.

I do get an allowance, sometimes, and I’ve done some babysitting, so maybe I can get a few more jobs like that for after school. I won’t tell the ‘rents, as they def wouldn’t let me stay back when they run, if they could stop me.

I need to make a connection with some new friends. It’s so hard to just jump in and find girls who will accept me, since I’m almost always the best looking student in my classes. Most girls just dislike pretty girls on principle, without taking any time to learn about them. I can only hope the girls in the Roseville High School will be at least a little different.

So you know, all I want out of this new place is to find a few friends, and somehow fit into the school society. I do a lot of drawing and painting, but I usually have to leave stuff behind when we run. And the ‘rents think it’s stupid, anyway.

But they do like to show me I’m not going to be abandoned, which results in getting my way a lot of the time. So I’ve asked if I can have a Halloween party and invite some girls from my new classes, and they’ve agreed, and even offered the use of the house.

Mom tells me this morning, “Claire, honey, we aren’t going to be doing drugs anymore.”

Like I believe that.

“Daddy and I’ll take off for dinner and a movie that night, so we can be out of the way. How long will we have to be gone?”

“Oh, I want the party to start at 7 and go till nearly midnight. You promise you can stay away till then?”

She promised, but added, “And there will be no alcohol and no smoking. Okay?”

“Sure,” I said. “But we’ll need some food and some sparkling cider and iced tea, okay?”

Mom nodded, seeming grateful that I wanted so much less than she was willing to give.

I’m gonna ask that everyone wear a costume since I’m planning it for October 29, two days before Halloween. I figure I can cobble some kind of costume together out of what we brought. And I don’t drink or smoke myself, so it’s no problem to promise that.

I had managed to escape L.A. with some colored markers and some poster paper, so I spent some time designing a poster for my party. I guess I can post it in the grocers down the street. I’d love to put it on Facebook or Instagram, but I don’t want just anyone there.

I hope I can find at least two friends before the party. Then I’ll ask them to invite six or eight more, and NO BOYS!

Let me tell you a little about our house and us. The house is a three-bedroom place, pretty common looking, and the folks rented it furnished. It’s early American, which I hate, but I guess beggars, which we were, can’t be choosers as my grandma would say if she were still around.

As for us, we’re normal looking people, fairly tall because of the Scandinavian genes, and my mom and I are both fair-skinned blondes, though Dad’s complexion is a bit darker. He’s quite good-looking, I’ve gotta say – wherever we’ve gone, when girls meet him they’re amazed.

I’m an only, and besides the blonde hair, which I usually wear long, I have blue eyes and a couple of dimples. I used to be chunky but I’ve grown out of that and have a pretty good figure.

CHAPTER TWO

Sunday, October 16

Finally finished the poster before lunch today, and I love it! It’s only three in the afternoon so I’ll walk down to the grocers and put up the poster. The grocery store is a Mom & Pop place, and they sell groceries, a few pharmaceuticals, and some magazines and greeting cards.

It’s owned by Joel and Meg Fleming, the mom and pop, though they’re both in their late thirties. They’re pretty good guys, and don’t mind customers standing at the magazine stand for a while. Right now, there’s a kid, about 12, reading an anime comic book.

I was just positioning the poster so it could be visible when you walk into the store when I heard a female voice behind me. “Wow! That’s beautiful!”

I turned and saw an attractive young woman standing there, gazing at my poster. “What?” I asked.

“Did you do that?” she asked.

“Yeah?” I said hesitantly. What could she want? “I’m having a Halloween party for people I haven’t met yet. I’m hoping some of them might come into this store and see it.”

“You don’t know them yet?” she asked. “May I ask, why is that?”

“Well,” I said, wondering if I should tell her, a stranger, about my problems. After a moment, decided it couldn’t hurt anything so I went on. “I just moved here, and I know it’s gonna be hard to meet people at first, so I thought I’d take a proactive stance and get them to my place.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “That’s a great idea. Well, I’m an art teacher at the local high school so if you’ll be taking art, you might be in my class. And there are several girls in my classes who might be good possibilities for friends. I think they’ll appreciate both your talent and your honesty. I see great potential in your creativity.”

“Oh,” was all I could say. Not like L.A., at least not so far.

The lady went on. “My name is Adele Christenson; what’s yours?”

“I’m Claire Winslow,” I admitted. Ms. Christenson was attractive but lean, as if she hadn’t been eating much. Her hair was shoulder length and a light brown, and she wore jeans and a green tee-shirt.

We’d been standing in front of the poster-board, and Ms. Christenson motioned for me to move away so we could continue our chat.

“Can we go next door and talk?” she asked. “I’d love a coffee, and I’ll bet you would, too.”

“Sure,” I said. Coffee did sound good, and this lady, who seemed to be in her early thirties, sounded good, too.

We went next door to a little coffee shop and chatted for almost an hour. I told her all about my parents, and a little about why we’d moved here to Roseville, very little.

She told me about herself. “I’m from San Diego,” she said, “a long time ago. I was married for a short time and he had work here, so we came to live here, and then he left me.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you have any kids?”

She shook her head and smiled, so I knew that wasn’t a sore spot. She also told me she’d been teaching here for four years, and had had an exhibition of her paintings at a local museum last year.

“Could I see some of them?” I asked. She nodded, pulled out a wallet and showed me six photos of her paintings. I thought they were very good.

“Would you like to come to my party?” I asked, after we were both done with our coffee.

She shook her head. “No, honey. You don’t want an old lady like me there. I’ll introduce you to a couple of the girls in my classes, and I’m sure they’ll have friends they’d like to bring, if it would be okay.”

I nodded. I was ecstatic; things were already beginning to gel for me. This Roseville seemed to have been a good idea. For once.

Monday, October 17

However, on Monday there was a minor setback. I found myself in an art class taught by Mrs. Spencer, a dragon-lady, who had no sympathy for my kind of art.

As soon as I could after class ended, I went to the principal’s office and requested reassign-ment to Miss Christenson’s class. I think Mr. Reynolds called Adele and got her agreement, so when he came back to the office, he handed me a paper saying I was reassigned to her class.

This made me think that my mentor might be of some help in relating to some of the girls I’d already seen around the halls, girls who might become my friends. I hadn’t noticed any “mean girls” walking around, or bullying someone, and I thought this might be a good place to live.

Adele’s class was fourth period and Mrs. Spencer’s had been first period, so I had plenty of time to find out where her classroom was. This took most of second period, which was my homeroom. My third period class would be American History and then lunch, so I thought I should try to meet a few other friend possibilities.

In the cafeteria, two girls who looked nice and approachable sat at a table for four, so I slid into one of the places and said, “Hi, I’m Claire. I think I saw you in Mrs. Spencer’s art class.”

Both girls nodded, and one said, “Yes. I’m Jennifer Milton and this is Ivanna Warren. I saw you in there, too. What do you think of her class?”

I shrugged. “Not so much. I’ve already been reassigned to Ms Christenson’s fourth period class, and I think I’ll like it better.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jennifer said. “She’s supposed to be a pretty good teacher, and I heard she’s shown some of her artwork.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve seen photos of them.”

The other girl, Ivanna, was very quiet, but I didn’t get the vide that she was unhappy. Jennifer and I chatted about art for a while, with Ivanna chiming in shyly once in a while, and after that we talked about Roseville. I quite enjoyed  myself.

CHAPTER THREE

After lunch I hurried to Ms. Christenson’s class and slid into a seat in the back just in time. She saw me and smiled, and I grinned back and looked around at the other kids in the room.

As soon as it was quiet, Ms. Christenson announced, “We have a new student, class. Her name is Claire Winslow, and she’s transferring in from Los Angeles. I know this is an unusual step, people, but I’d like you all to stand and face Claire, and introduce yourselves. Monica, let’s start with you.”

A pretty Asian girl sitting at the first desk beside the door stood, dropped her eyes and said quietly, “I’m Monica Hamada.” She turned to Ms. Christenson and said, “Anything else?”

The teacher smiled and said, “Maybe you could say where you’re from. It’s Japan, isn’t it?”

The girl nodded, and said, “Tokyo,” and scooted back into her seat.

The next girl stood and introduced herself. “Lydia Jacobs, from San Francisco.”

“Tony Fields, from Woodland.”

“Rebecca Meyers, from here in Roseville.”

“Albert Frazier. I live in Novato.”

“Freddie Lanzo. I’m from Yuba City.”

Twelve more kids responded, and then Ms. Christenson said, “Thank you all. Now, let’s get back to business. We’re working on perspective today, Claire. Do you have a sketch book and a charcoal pencil?”

When I nodded, she said, “Good. Let’s get to it.”

During class, when we had a few minutes break, Monica came to my desk and asked if I wanted to partner with her when we did partner projects. I wasn’t at all sure I’d like this girl, and hesitated to commit. I thought it over, and decided I didn’t want to dismiss her request out of hand; I needed to find out more about her before I could completely commit.

I said, “Can we revisit this after school? We can meet out by the big oak tree, okay?”

She nodded, happily I thought, and we went back to our seats.

After my last class, I headed out to the tree and Monica was already there. We sat and chatted for a few minutes. We did seem to be sympatico, at first glance.

“What is a partner project?” I asked her.

“Sometimes Ms. Christenson has us work together in teams of two or three to produce some kind of project involving whatever topic we’re working on at the time,” Monica said.

“Like what?” I wondered.

“Well,” she said, thinking, “a couple of weeks back we had a ‘Back to School Sale’ project. We were to imagine we had a store on Trevor Street, and we were having a sale, and devise signage for the sale. We could choose what kind of store, and what things would be on sale, and so on. It was quite fun.”

I nodded. It did sound like fun. “Monica,” I said, “I guess it would be good to partner for those partner projects.”

She smiled and reached across the table to shake hands. I grinned, and thought she seemed like a fun person.

I had observed that she was quiet and reserved, but my outgoing nature might be just what she needed to help her open up a little.

Tuesday, October 18

The next day Monica and I met at lunch again. We went outside to eat, and she unpacked a very fragrant lunchbox. When I asked about it, she said, “It’s Unagi, or eel. It’s a hearty, nutritious bento lunch that’s popular in Japan. My mom serves it with a sweet soy teriyaki sauce, over rice. The Japanese believe eating eel during the summer helps fight fatigue. She packs it for me two or three times a week.”

“Cool!” I said, hoping it was the right response. I asked her, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have a brother named Masashi; it means ambition. He’s six years older than me.”

“Do you have any nieces or nephews?”

“I have two nieces, Akemi, which means bright and beautiful: she’s two, and we’re in the midst of the Terrible Two’s. And Hotaru, which means firefly, is two months old. They’re the best and prettiest little girls in the whole world!”

That’s good enough for me.

After class I stopped her, and said, “Listen, I’m having a Halloween party on the 29th, a costume party. Do you want to come?”

“I’d love to!” she said. “Can I invite a couple of other girls?”

“Sure,” I said. That was what I’d been hoping for. We grinned at each other and I went on to my next class, fifth period Chemistry. In the hall on the way, I overheard two seniors talking. I could tell they were seniors because both wore sweater-jackets that were emblazoned with “Roseville High Wildcats,” and their names embroidered on the front.

One of them, whose name seemed to be Olivia, said, “I heard a new rumor. Some students claim they’ve been talking to ghosts; like, can you believe it?”

The other one, apparently called Sophie, said, “Who’s sayin’ that?”

I walked on by, trying to ignore them. There are no ghosts, of course, so someone was either trying to get someone else in trouble, or there was some kind of scam going on.

CHAPTER FOUR

Wednesday, October 19

Wednesday morning, Monica and I walked together into the school, and she introduced me to two girls: Jasmine Hussain, whose family were from Morocco, and a girl named Kelly. I didn’t think Kelly was much of an artist, but when she said she liked to look at art but there was no art history class until college, I decided to invite her to the party, too.

Jasmine is very pretty, tall and slender, with long curling black hair and pretty brown eyes. The idea popped into my head that someone so pretty had to be a dumb bunny—not including myself, of course. But after we started talking, I learned she wasn’t stupid, just a bit self-effacing. I sort of liked her for that.

Kelly, on the other hand, is extremely outgoing and lively. She’s a bit taller than me, with reddish-brown hair and bright green eyes. I thought she was quite Irish-looking. And her face and upper arms were filled with pinkish freckles.

When I had a chance to chat with Jasmine, she seemed sympatico and I had no hesitation in inviting her to my party. I invited Kelly as well, and two other girls from the art class, along with two more girls who were their friends.

We walked on, and then Monica stopped me to introduce her bud, Josh Britton, and asked if he could come to the Halloween party too.

“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t really going to invite any guys. Sorry, Josh.”

Monica said, “Hey, Josh is gay, and he watches all my videos. Also, he’s pretty good at sketching. Are you sure you won’t make an exception for him? All the girls like him, you know. Pleeease?”

I snuck a look at Josh and saw that he was blushing, but he stood beside his friend, waiting to hear my answer.

“Okay,” I said, “I guess. Unless somebody objects, it’s okay.”

So by Wednesday, my party is already going to end up with eight girls and a boy: Jasmine, Monica, Josh and me; plus Myrna Byrnes, Annie Franklin, Lydia Jacobs, Kelly Imana, and Ivanna Warren, whom I met yesterday. I thought that would be a good size for a party.

In class that day, Monica and Kelly and I participated in a “Halloween Draw-Down,” which Ms. Christenson said was to show how each of our groups combined to picture the best Halloween we could imagine.

Our drawing showed two goblins and a ghost, having a marshmallow roast and singing “Yippie-Kai-Yay-Kai-Yo” at a campfire. It was funny, but the art was wonderful – we had something from each of us, and the whole class clapped when it was our turn to display it.

That was a lot of fun, and Monica, Kelly and I learned a bit more about one another during the draw-down.

Monica told me, “My family came from Japan when I was five years old. We had come to make sure Masashi, who was 11, could be enrolled in a Prep school so he’d get into MIT or Harvard when he was 18.”

“Did he?” Kelly asked.

“He did,” Monica said, grinning proudly. “He’s very smart. He’s at MIT. He wants to be an engineer.”

I said, “How come they all have Japanese names and yours is Monica? That’s not a Japanese name, is it?”

“No, my real name is Manami, which means “beautiful love.” I just wanted to westernize it so I’d fit in better. Monica was the closest name in English I could find. I made my family start to call me that when I was ten.”

Kelly told us she was Irish and Scottish, and her great-grandmother had come to America in 1918. She told us, “Right after my family arrived here in 1918, my great grandma contracted the flu and died.

“My great-grandfather was born here,” she went on, “and so were his ancestors since about 1720, when the Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. The city of Philadelphia was a major port of debarkation, and that’s how we landed here. Then my grandparents came to Los Angeles because my oldest sister wanted to be a movie star.”

“And did she?” I asked. Kelly shook her head, a bit less sadly than I’d have expected; maybe she wasn’t that sad her sister hadn’t succeeded.

As we chatted, Kelly told us she and Annie had conversed with some ghosts. Monica and I laughed until Kelly turned serious and said, “Hey, we can prove it. We’ll prove it to you at the party, yo?”

I shrugged, realizing they must have been the students those seniors had been talking about, and Monica laughed again, but said, “Yeah, if you can.”

CHAPTER FIVE

Thursday, October 22

Mom and Dad seemed a bit strange this morning. It feels like they’re hiding something from me. It had better not be that they’re back using again. I have to speak to Mom.

“What’s going on, Mom?” I asked over breakfast. “You aren’t telling me something. Please don’t say you’re back on your drugs.”

“Of course we aren’t, Claire,” she said, reaching over to hug me. “Nothing is going on. There’s nothing to tell. Please have faith in your father and me. We told you we would not go back to taking drugs, and we meant it.”

“But then why,” I asked, “do you keep having those secretive phone calls, and mysterious meetings?”

“Darling, I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you. You just have to trust us. Now eat your breakfast; you’ll be late to school.”

“No, Mom. Tell me what’s going on! I hate all this secrecy! I can’t believe anything you say any more.”

Dad joined us and frowned. He doesn’t like arguments, and most of the time I can get what I want from them both. But this time, it looked like they wouldn’t tell me what I needed to know.

“I hate you!” I exclaimed, like a child. “Tell me!”

They looked at one another in that secret way married people have, and Mom nodded.

“Okay, Claire. We’ll tell you. All it is is, we’re planning to invite some of our neighbors to a backyard barbecue after Halloween. We didn’t want to interfere with your plans, that’s all.”

“Oh. Well, umm, I guess that’s all right. I guess you can go ahead and make your plans in the open now. Okay? I’m sorry I doubted you.”

There were hugs and kisses, and a few tears, and I left for school, feeling better than I’ve felt for the last few days.

Friday, October 23

Ms. Christenson set up a little contest in my art class. She assigned is to paint in one of four genres: These were portrait, landscape, still life, and figure. My assignment, as well as Kelly’s, was landscape.

I decided to paint the Malibu beach-scape, and put in lots of color: the sea, the sand, several kiosks, the sky, clouds, the sunlight, and a few people lying on the sand or walking along. I even added two surfers, and a dog prancing along beside one of the walkers.

My work came in second to Myrna’s. It didn’t bother me at all when I compared her painting with mine. For her still life, she’d painted a beautiful purple flower just opening, with a pale yellow stamen and green leaves in the background. You wanted to reach out and touch the soft-looking petals of the flower, and smell the gorgeous scent you knew would be there.

Kelly’s painting was of a little boy, running with a kite in a park. I thought it was quite good, but Myrna’s and my paintings were much better, she said modestly.

Adele told me when she gave me second prize—a set of charcoal pencils—that my painting was very, very good, which was reward enough.

In English class, I also met and talked to a couple of other students. A boy named Dennis, who flirted with me, and another boy who sparked my interest. His name is Allen Peck, and he’s a pianist and drummer, playing with a band they call The Roses. I’m hoping Allen will ask me to come and listen to the band one evening.

He and I got a chance to talk a bit, and I could tell he’d be someone important to me. I did think about inviting him and Dennis to my party, but I’d decided no boys, so I had to keep that pact.

After my last class, I ran into Annie Franklin, and we stopped to chat. She asked me if I’d be willing to do a little modeling for her.

“Modeling?” I wondered. “What kind of modeling?”

“Well, see, I have a YouTube channel where I show my designs, and I’d love for you to model some of the dresses I’ve designed. Would you consider that?”

“What would it involve?” I wondered. I’d never modeled anything before, and I’d also never paid much attention to the YouTube videos. But it did sound like fun, so I said I would. We arranged a day and time, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit flattered she’d asked me.

After school, I thought it would be nice to treat myself to an ice cream sundae. When I walked into the shop, I saw Adele sitting in a booth alone.

“Hey,” I said. “May I join you?”

“Oh, hello, Claire. I’m waiting for someone, but you can sit there until he comes, if you like.”

We chatted about class, my new friends, and the party I’m planning, and then a tall, good-looking man walked in and looked around. Adele saw him and motioned him over. She said, “Adam, this is my neighbor and a student of mine, Claire. She was just keeping me company until you arrived.”

“Well, thanks, Claire,” he said, scooting into the booth beside Adele. “It’s nice to meet you. Please, stay as long as you like.”

But I could tell Adele didn’t want me to stay, so I said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m meeting with a couple of friends soon anyway.” And I got up and moved to a booth across the shop.

Adele smiled at me. I wanted to sit nearer to them but I knew it would be intrusive, so I just thought I’d wait until he left, and talk to Adele about him. But they both soon rose and left together.

Adele gave me a little wave as they walked out, and I couldn’t do anything else but smile and wave back.

CHAPTER SIX

Thursday, October 28

By Thursday, we’d almost finished preparing the house for the party, at least enough so Mom and Dad and I could move around until tomorrow night. It looked good, but not at all scary.

Monica and Jasmine, along with Josh, helped me get my folks’ place party-ready. Kelly and I had gone to Parties R Us and bought a bunch of Halloween-themed decorations, along with some black and orange paper plates and plastic utensils. I’d found eight wine glasses in an as yet unpacked box among our stuff, and I bought two bottles of cider.

We planned to roll up the living room rug so we could dance, if we wanted to. Kelly and I prepared a playlist on my iPhone, and sync’d the Bluetooth speakers, in preparation for dancing.

There’s a bathroom downstairs in my house, so I found a baby-gate to block off the stairs. My guests wouldn’t need to go upstairs since I didn’t want them to see our bedrooms.

I worked at putting a costume together. I had a pair of ragged net stockings, and my mother agreed to loan me her red stiletto shoes. So I looked for something in my wardrobe, and my mother’s, that might give me the look of a low-end hooker. That idea pleased me, for some reason. And it would only be girls at the party, after all.

I found a semi-sheer red blouse I’d worn once and decided I didn’t like showing off everything, but it would do nicely for my costume. It took me a while, but I finally found a short black leather skirt in my mother’s closet. When I asked her about it, she shrugged and looked away, so I gathered it was something shameful.

“Maybe I’ll ask Dad about it,” I said, which opened her up.

“It was a very long time ago, before your dad. It was also part of my costume for a masked ball and when I got there, everyone else was wearing long, fancy ball gowns. It didn’t take me long to split, and I tried to hide that skirt.”

“Well, I’m sorry I found it, but it works for my costume, and I doubt the other girls will be wearing ball gowns,” I told her with a grin. She grinned back.

Kelly came by once or twice and repeated her “threat” to introduce us to the ghosts. I told her, “I don’t believe in things like ghosts, or life after death, or angels, or Hell.”

She said, “I’m sorry, I do believe in all those things. I believe in God and Heaven, and eternal life. But we don’t have to argue about it. I’ve had this argument several times before, and it’s a matter of faith.”

I went on to present a scientific case against ghosts, and Monica talked about how the Japanese tend to think about “life after death.” We didn’t convince Kelly, but it was sort of fun to chat about it. But nothing we said changed Kelly’s mind.  

Kelly said her ghosts would make our party scary, if I wanted them to. She told us, “Although most of you won’t be able to see or talk to them, they can move things around a little bit. They’ve agreed to try a little haunting.”

“And they’re both okay?” I asked her. “They’re not mean ghosts, or evil?”

She nodded, “They’re fine. Although Emily said she doesn’t like the idea of haunting anyone, even though she’d been accused of being a witch in her lifetime. But she did remember some of the spells she’d known that might scare the girls.”

We all laughed at this, but I wondered if it was actually that funny. What might a ghost witch think to do that would scare my guests?

CHAPTER SEVEN

Friday, October 29

Monica and Josh were the first to arrive that evening. Josh’s costume was wonderful! It was too bad he’d be judging the others, I thought. If he weren’t going to judge, he would most likely win any costume contest.

He was dressed as Madama Butterfly, and made a most attractive female. His chalky-white face and long black braid, from the wig of hair piled on top of his head, looked truly authentic. Cherry blossoms hung from the wig on one side of his face, and he had bright red lipstick in a bow shape. He wore a beautiful gold and red girdle around a pure white kimono and, in his small white sandals, he took tiny steps as he entered the room, just as I thought a geisha might move.

He smiled at me as a geisha might, folding his hands together and bowing, and walked to the cider table.

Monica was dressed as a ghost, in a white sheet. I thought that was pretty funny, seeing how we would be entertaining real ghosts, but I couldn’t tell what Monica really thought about her costume. She shook her head when I asked her to tell me and Josh why she’d chosen the sheet.

When the rest of the girls started arriving in their costumes, Monica and I took notes and handed out cider.

After Monica and Josh, the next costumed entrants were Annie and Myrna. Annie looked a great deal like her fashion idol, Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  Of course, we were all too young to have seen Jackie O in her heyday, but Annie’s costume convinced me Mrs. Kennedy had been an actual fashion plate.

Myrna was dressed as the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Her costume was splendid, and I’d bet she’d spent a lot of money on it. I thought it might almost resemble Elizabeth Taylor’s costume for the movie, Cleopatra.

Next to arrive were Jasmine, Kelly, and Ivanna. Jasmine was dressed in a poodle costume,

Ivanna in a space alien suit, and Kelly’s clown made me recall the circus I’d gone to just last summer.

At 7:20, Lydia arrived. She was dressed as an angel, wearing a white toga-like outfit, white wings, and a halo. I almost believed she was an angel; it fit right in with her personality.

She apologized for being late, as she often did, but we all told her it was fine; she was only five minutes behind Jasmine and Kelly.

My little “hooker” costume failed to compete with any of these girls’ but I figured it would have been tacky for me to win, anyway.

Monica and I decided to find out more about the so-called ghosts. We settled into seats in the kitchen and, since Kelly was the only one who could see and hear them, we had to pull her into our convo.

I’d decided that, if there actually were ghosts, I wanted them to cross over, to “go into the light” as they say on TV, so I hoped to focus on the actual mystery: Why did they not want to cross over?

Kelly said in her introduction of the ghosts, “They’re two teenage girls – Amy Pelcher, who died in London during WWII, after an air raid, and Emily Danforth, who died of pneumonia during the witch trials. Amy had been 17, and Emily 16, when they died.”

Kelly said, “I’ll be speaking for them, since only I can see or hear them.”

Through Kelly, Emily told us, “I’m still around because I don’t want to cross over until I prove to my murderer’s final descendant that I was never a witch.”

“So you need to find that descendent, right?” Monica asked, frowning.

I began to worry that these ghosts might be around for a long time. I hoped they’d cross over soon, or whatever it was they needed to do.

I said, “I’ve heard ghosts stick around after their death because they have unfinished business. Is that why you aren’t moving on?”

“I hated the magistrate who murdered me, and cursed him as I lay dying,” Emily told Kelly. The interpreter went on. “She said the curse was, ‘May your sons, and their sons, and their sons forever after, be constantly betrayed by women.’”

I said, “Wow! That’s quite a curse.” I guess I admired her chutzpah; I doubted I’d have been able to come up with anything like that in the circumstances. But was it really her unfinished business?

Kelly said, “Hey, Emily. What kind of outfits did you wear when you were alive?”

Emily answered her, and rather than translate for us, Kelly went on: “Did you wear makeup? Did you date anyone? Tell us what life was like back then.”

Monica said shyly, “I’m sorry to butt in, but I’d really like to know: Do you know who this descendant, or descendants, might be? Could it be someone we know?”

It turned out she did know a name, one that had come to her many years before, not long after she died. That name was Trumble.

“Mr. Trumble!? He’s our History teacher,” Monica exclaimed.

“Most of the students hate him,” Kelly observed, “because he dwells so much on the Salem Witch Trials. He tells the students every woman killed during the ‘trials’ was a witch, and had killed or badly hurt someone in the village. So they deserved killing.”

She stopped and listened for a moment, then said, “Emily claims that isn’t true.”

Listening again, she went on, “Not only is it not true, but absolutely none of the women killed was a witch. Some of them knew about medicinal plants, and had helped keep many people alive; some knew ‘magic,’ passed down from their grandmothers, such as a spell to make a love potion; and some were killed because someone disliked them enough to point the finger at them and call them witch.”

I had not met this Mr. Trumble yet, since I was new to the school, so I had no opinion. I added, “But wasn’t there any way to prove they weren’t witches?” I’d known some of what she told us, but this ghost teen knew so much more.

“The magistrates thought so,” Kelly went on, interpreting as Emily spoke. “They would toss a woman into the river and if she drowned, she wasn’t a witch. Of course, no one knew how to swim in those days, so most of them did drown.”

Monica knew all about this History teacher. “Emily,” she said, “Mr. Trumble told us about his ancestor, a magistrate during the ‘witch trials.’ All his ancestors since the 1690’s have died penniless and divorced, widowed, or in prison, having been betrayed by their women. Is that what your curse was for?”

Kelly exclaimed, “Yeah! That’s what Emily has been saying! Her curse worked!”

“Now all we have to do is figure out some way of convincing Mr. Trumble that Emily was not a witch, even though she was killed during the trials. And almost all the rest of the so-called witches killed were not witches at all,” Monica said gleefully.

I was surprised at how far from her usual quiet, shy personality she seemed to have come. Pleasantly surprised.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Later that Evening

Before the party, Monica and I had discussed with the ghosts how they might “haunt” the others, give them a scare, one that would be fun once they knew the truth. The others, except for Kelly and Josh, knew nothing about the ghosts. They simply expected to dance and chat and drink cider, have their costumes judged, and eat.

So after chatting with Kelly and the ghosts, Monica announced Josh would now judge the costumes. Josh rose and stood beside the food-and-cider table, and folded his arms.

“First, I’d like to say, all your costumes are fantastic. It’s going to be tres hard to decide which one should win first prize.”

“What is first prize?” Annie yelled from across the room. The others clapped and shouted, “Yeah!” and “Tell us!” and “What is it?”

When the furor died down, Josh, who had stayed there with his arms crossed, looking for all the world like a real judge, despite his Madama Butterfly costume, proclaimed, “First prize is a free three-tier cake, decorated how you want it and when you want it, donated by Monica’s parents, who own a bakery.”

“Yaaaay!” could be heard throughout the room.

“And second prize,” Josh went on. His voice penetrated the din—whatever din the voices of five teenage girls can make—and he said, “The second prize, donated by Claire’s family, is dinner for two at Mitzi’s, downtown, good for the rest of this year.”

Mitzi’s, I’d known, was one of these girls’ favorite restaurants, so this and the cake would be great prizes.

“So, get on with it!” Myrna shouted. She looked around at her companions, who nodded eagerly. They all wanted to see who won the prizes.

Josh solemnly unfolded his arms and slowly looked out over the contestants. “I’d like to see each costume separately,” he said. “Please line up and walk slowly past the table here, and stop so I can get a good look.”

The first costume to pass in review was Annie’s. She made a valiant effort to walk like Ms Kennedy, whom she was far too young to have seen either in person or on television. But I realized none of the others knew more.

Her gown was icy green, with a draped top that fell off one shoulder, and what I knew was called a matching “pillbox hat,” designed for Ms Kennedy, by Oleg Cassini.

I thought she looked gorgeous, but Josh simply nodded, with a smile.

Next was Lydia, who looked abashed in her toga-like angel costume. It was very white; she probably stitched it up from a bed sheet, but it seemed quite well done. She had a pair of gauzy wings attached to the back of the dress, and she’d fashioned a halo that bounced above her head. Her makeup was excellent, and she looked so much like pictures I’d seen of a “real” angel, I thought Josh must give her at least second prize.

He nodded, not embarrassed any more, and smiled.

Myrna came next. She was dressed as Cleopatra, and all though the party I’d thought how great she looked. She wore a low-cut white linen gown with massive gold-looking necklace and hairpiece, and she was made up with kohl on her eyes, and rouge on her milky-looking cheeks. I’d say she was almost beautiful.

She walked regally past Josh and stopped and stared, as if through him, as a queen might have done. Her makeup was perfect, and it seemed to me her costume was the most authentic of all of them. I knew she would win.

I, of course, was out of the contest, as hostess, but I was a bit proud of how good I looked as a hooker. I had to smile when I thought about it. I was as far from being a hooker as you could get, being a virgin and a non-drinker, non-smoker, and convinced women were the superior gender.

Anyway, Kelly’s clown passed by the judge, and I thought she looked pretty good, as well, but not prize-winning good. She wore a blue fright wig, a red ball on her nose, huge white gloves on her hands and big brown clown shoes. She had a whistle on a chain around her neck, and for the first ten minutes or so after she’d arrived, she’d blown it about every minute. I was glad when she stopped; it was pretty annoying.

I wondered how Josh was going to decide among these great, great costumes, but Monica, Josh and I had agreed he would have the absolute last word.

Next came Monica, who pranced up and twirled, her white “ghost” bedsheet nearly tripping her, and minced away, knowing she had no chance to win and not worried about it.

Jasmine, the poodle, came next. She was so cute in that pink fluffy poodle costume. She’d made up her face to look like a dog, and her hair was sprayed into poodle-like ears hanging beside her face. I had to smile, and wished she might win but I thought she was no real competition for either Cleopatra or Jackie O.

Ivanna was last, and her “little green man” outfit was adorable. Her face was colored a greenish hue, she wore odd-looking glasses that made her eyes seem to bug out, and she was covered in a yellow spacesuit, which made her greenish face look sallow. I was quite impressed, and I think Monica was, too. I couldn’t tell how Josh felt.

He told everyone, “I will have to ponder this decision. You all have such fantastic costumes and I just can’t make a final choice right now. Let’s go on with the party, and I’ll just think about it as I drink another cider.”

Everyone laughed, and he ostentatiously picked up the pitcher and poured a glass, dropping two cherries into it and taking a sip.

CHAPTER NINE

After some music and dancing, I’d grown curious, so Monica and I pulled Kelly aside. I asked her if she knew more about Amy, the ghost who had died during World War Two. She said, “They’re both right here. They’re listening.”

Feeling a bit shy now, I asked, “Amy, Emily, we were wondering why you came to Kelly for help.”

A pause, then Kelly said, “Oh, I see. Claire, Emily tells me they have found few people who can see and hear them, but I can.”

“Why can you see ghosts?” I wondered. I could feel the frown and hoped she wouldn’t be upset.

“Let’s talk about it later, okay?” she responded. I nodded, and she asked, “Amy, what can you tell us about your death?”

She listened for a few minutes, nodding every once in a while, until Monica and I begin to feel a bit bored. She went on, “Amy says during the war, she often went to dances or barbecues given for the soldiers. She had been to a dance a few weeks before what they’ve called ‘the blitz,’ which began with planes overhead. Knowing there would be an air raid, she says, she heard on the radio they should all go to the shelter two blocks from where she was.”

“But you didn’t make it?” Monica asked.

“Oh, yes,” Kelly said. “She did make it. But when she met this ‘bloke,’ as she called him, she guesses they fell in love; or at least, she did.

“So as she headed for the shelter, all she could think of was this soldier, just a few years older than her, who she knew was on the base, a place likely to be bombarded.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Monica said. She was already starting to cry. “Kelly, ask her if she minds continuing. I’d so like to hear more but I don’t want to upset her.”

“It’s all right,” Kelly said. “She says it’s been a long time, and she doesn’t let it upset her any more.

“So, go on, Amy,” she said to the air.

Another moment passed, and Monica was getting hold of herself, when Kelly said, “Amy says there was another girl in the shelter who had been engaged to the young soldier, and she recognized Amy and threw a punch at her when they met inside the shelter.”

Josh got along famously with all the girls in the room except Lydia Jacobs, who apparently has a problem with gays. In front of all the others, she said, “So Claire even invited a fag; your costume would seem to be perfect for a pansy like you.”

This comment caused him to redden in embarrassment. She laughed and went on. “Oh, poor fairy, have I embarrassed you?”

As hostess of this party, I was devastated when I heard this, and didn’t know what to do. But  Monica had a zinger for the girl, making her beg for Josh’s forgiveness.

“Lydia! Please tell me, where in your Bible does it say you must aim your hatred toward a young man, a boy even, who’s never done a thing to you. He’s my friend, and he could be a friend for all of us, if he wants.”

Having known Lydia for years, Monica told us later, she knew something about the girl that made Lydia equally as embarrassed as Josh, and quite unhappy. She backed away, and admitted to her bad feelings, apologized to me, and asked Josh to forgive her. He agreed, hesitantly, but he still didn’t want to talk to her.

When I asked her later what she knew about Lydia that was apparently so hurtful, she shook her head. “You really don’t need to know. Let’s just forget it, okay?

We turned back to Kelly and asked her to continue her conversation with Amy.

“We want to know why you don’t want to cross over.”

After listening again, Kelly said, “She said she doesn’t want to cross over yet because the girl, Nancy Emerson, was clearly also in love with Alan, and she was terrified that he no longer loved her. So she says she doesn’t deserve to cross over and enter Heaven; she stole Alan from Nancy, and never got to tell either of them she was sorry.”

“Then what happened?” I couldn’t help asking.

She said, “Amy lived through the air raid, but after she returned home she became ill and pretty soon she died. She knows now she had pneumonia, from running through the rainy streets to the shelter, and then doing the same afterwards to get home. Also, she says she was so upset after Nancy punched her, she thinks that contributed to her getting sick. And the worry over her soldier,” Kelly added. “Plus, she believes she hurt and betrayed both Alan, her soldier, and Nancy, the girl who hit her in the shelter.”

CHAPTER TEN

The party went on as the playlist I’d planned played from my iPhone, and several of the girls started dancing around the living room. I sat watching, and thinking about what we’d learned about the ghosts. I did want them both to be able to go on, and cross over to Heaven or whatever. But both of them had unfinished business preventing them from “going into the light,” as they say on TV.

How could we help them? What could we do? We had named Mr. Trumble as the descendant of Emily’s murderer, and I couldn’t help wondering just what she had in mind for him. As I understood it, ghosts couldn’t move objects, and they were limited in where they could go. Could they go to our classroom and do something to Mr. Trumble?

And Amy had no idea what she should do about her own unfinished business. I thought she might locate Nancy, if she was still alive—she’d be about 98 or so, and I seriously doubted she would have lived so long. But I thought we’d better just try to find out.

I remembered Monica had told me she was a member of ancestry.com, which would allow her to search for Nancy’s obituary, or whatever she could find. I thought that might work out. If this Nancy was still alive, Amy could maybe communicate with her through Kelly. And if she’d passed on, I thought, maybe Amy had a way of contacting another ghost. I’d have to ask her about it.

Emily and Kelly decided to use Monica’s suggestion that the ghosts “haunt” the girls at the party, to scare some of them.

The lights went off and a window suddenly opened, letting a wind—more like a strong breeze—whoosh in. I learned later Kelly had been behind all of it, but Josh and Monica, who were in on it, screamed and shouted, “It’s a ghost!”

This, of course, led to a little chaos, and I decided to join the fun. I rushed around the room, acting panicked, and tried turning the light switch on and off to no avail, until the lights came back on, seemingly by themselves.

Monica, Josh and I worked to raise the scare factor until Kelly could slip back into the room undetected, and the other girls started to shiver and talk about going home. Since it was only 10, I didn’t want that to happen, so I confessed.

“It was just the ghosts you’ve been hearing rumors about,” I told them. “They’re the spirits of two dead girls who have unfinished business, and Kelly can see and hear them. They’re not at all scary. Okay?”

It took a while, but with a bit more food and cider, eventually the girls calmed down and were soon laughing at their terrified responses. All except for Lydia.

Lydia had not enjoyed being scared, and did not appreciate the explanation. She tried to insist that there was no such thing as ghosts, and kept saying we were lying, and she didn’t think it was at all funny.

I whispered to Josh, “Maybe you should announce the winner of the costume contest.”

 He nodded, and went to the doorway. “It is time,” he droned in an official-sounding voice, “to announce my decision. The winner of second prize for the best costume is . . . “

“Drum roll!” I yelled, and made the noise on the table beside me. Several of the girls laughed, but the tension had been broken and all eyes turned to Josh.

“. . . Annie!”

Everyone else applauded, and Annie went to stand beside Josh, no longer looking so much like the late First Lady. The judge handed Annie a little gold-plated tin trophy cup and an envelope, and turned to face forward. Annie grinned, raised the cup triumphantly and walked back to stand beside Ivanna.

“And the first prize goes to . . . Myrna!” And the crowd went wild, so to speak. They all turned to look at her, and her glossy black hair was still in place, the gown was pristine, and she looked around the room, regally as if at her subjects, and then grinned. She walked up to get her prize and the others clapped enthusiastically as she strode to stand beside the judge.

Josh handed her a slightly larger gold-plated tin trophy cup and the second envelope, and she stood, seemingly waiting for her subjects to bow to her. We all laughed and clapped even more wildly, and Myrna grinned like the Myrna we knew, and headed back to show everyone the cup and her prize.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Monica and I got together in the kitchen when the party was slowing down. I said, “There’s gotta be some kind of lesson in all this. Don’t you think?”

She nodded, and said, “Yeah, maybe we’ve learned forgiving your enemy finally makes you happy, even if you’re dead.”

“Or, we need to forgive them while we’re still alive,” I said. “And I think we all should tell our loved ones who are still on Earth we love them, and not wait until we’re all dead.”

“Um hmm. I can think of a few people I need to either forgive or ask forgiveness, and a few I’ll be telling I love them. You?”

“Absolutely,” I said, thinking of my folks. “But the question now is, do the ghosts decide to wait until they’ve actually carried out their unfinished business, or do we succeed in convincing them they don’t need to, and they should move on?”

“One way might be to remind them that when they do cross over, they’ll be meeting their loved ones again, and might even meet Jesus.”

“Yes,” Monica said. There was a long pause, and she went on. “I say we talk to them again. Let’s get Kelly and have another convo with Amy and Emily, and see if we can resolve this problem.”

I nodded, and we went looking for Kelly. We found her playing a game of checkers with one of the ghosts while Ivanna looked on, seemingly spellbound.

Kelly was also watching, and said, “That’s Emily; she’s learned to play checkers, and move the pieces, since she died four hundred years ago.”

The five of us—Monica, Kelly and I, along with the ghosts—went to my bedroom to have our convo. We all settled on the bed or in the two chairs in my room and Kelly listened to the ghosts for a moment.

She told us, “Amy says she understands why she had a run-in with Nancy, and she thinks Nancy’s probably forgiven her already. She says she doesn’t have to learn about it in person. So she has been thinking seriously she might be ready to cross over after the party.”

Monica and I glanced at one another and grinned, and Kelly said, “Emily has decided that since our teacher, Mr. Trumble, had nothing to do with what his ancestor did, she’s also seriously considering crossing over after the party. And they plan to cross over together, both eager to meet their loved ones who have gone before, as Lydia says.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Tuesday, November 14

Since the Halloween party, it seems all the girls who came, and Josh, have made some real changes for the better in their lives.

Kelly had been a real party girl, and often drank too much; she always attracted boys, mostly the wrong kind of boys. Now she’s become quite subdued, and not so boy-crazy. I’d asked her during the party why it was that she could see ghosts, and she’d said we could talk about it later. So the next day, I grabbed her and asked her again.

She said, “I really don’t know why I see ghosts. I have since I was about four years old, when my great-gram, who died at her own brother’s funeral, appeared to me to tell me she loved me, and to ask me to tell her mother she had loved her very much. I did that, and no one believed that I’d spoken to Gram, even after I insisted.

“Three or four incidents later, they were convinced, and the minister at our church told them to just accept what I said. It was fine after that. I don’t mind at all seeing those ghosts, and I find some of them very entertaining.”

Monica was ordinarily shy and quiet, and reserved. The ghost costume had been her attempt to be invisible. Now she has a bit more confidence, and speaks up a bit more in class. She and I are now the best of friends, and as long as I live in Roseville, I’ll be friends with her. I don’t know about after I leave, if I do.

Josh, who had been the class clown but the kind who was crying inside, has confessed his fears and loneliness, and is now more self-confident and his self-esteem is higher. His drawings are better, too, and Ms. Christensen has encouraged him to show his work at a gallery downtown. It got good reviews, and he’s busy all the time, now, creating new paintings.

Jasmine is lovely and self-effacing, but not as dumb as I’d thought she’d be when I first met her. She’s changed since the party to be a bit more assertive, and uses her intelligence more. She and I would never be good friends, but I like her okay and she seems to tolerate me as well.

Myrna Byrnes was self-centered and focused on doing better than the other girls she knows. After the party, and winning the costume contest, she has become more generous and less self-involved. But she still wants to be the best, and sometimes makes enemies that way.

Annie Franklin had always been majorly focused on fashion, intending to go to Parsons School of Design and become a fashion designer. Now she’s convinced Parsons is the place for her, and she has nearly convinced her parents to allow her to go there. She had, after all, designed her costume herself, and it had won second prize, which helped raise her self-esteem.

Ivanna Warren was a nerd, a Mathlete. She belonged to the AV club and the Astronomy club. Since the party, she’s backed off a bit from her nerdiness, has left the AV club, but is more focused on leading the Astronomy club. She’d loved making the alien costume, and her nerd friends admired her tremendously.

I’d been anxious about my parents, that they couldn’t stop being junkies, and concerned I might have to leave home if they didn’t, and maybe miss out on college. I know my impatience has played a role in my anxiety, and since the party I’ve decided to work on becoming more patient in general.

Since our conversation with the ghosts, I’ve decided to get more information about the Bible, and about Narcotics Anonymous, so I can be more able to help them if they fall off the wagon, so to speak, rather than running away.

All us girls, and Josh, are now a clique at school except for Lydia, who has become a timid wallflower. She seemed to fold in on herself over the past week, until we took pity on her and asked her to join us. She accepted, but seemed to be a new person, a more forgiving person than before.

She told us she has been reading her Bible every evening. I think she understands better what she said to Josh, and is truly sorry.

18. July 2023 · Comments Off on A LONELY WIDOWER · Categories: Short Stories

Martin Devries shook his head as he drove. Mimi is never coming back, he told himself for the hundredth time. This time, he thought he might actually believe it. Their wonderful marriage of ten years had become like a dream since her death, six months ago.

I may as well throw myself off a bridge, he remembered thinking as he approached the covered bridge near his home in Watkins, Utah. She’s never coming back, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

He stopped in the middle of the bridge, stepped out of the car and leaned over the rail. “Is it deep enough?” he wondered aloud. Then he shrugged. “Well, if it isn’t, I’ll just break my neck, and it’ll still be over.”

He climbed onto the rail and balanced there for a moment, glancing in both directions to be sure no one would interrupt him.

Glancing at the late afternoon, overcast sky, a memory came of a similar day, twelve years ago, when he’d invited the lovely Mimi Phillips on a picnic to Overton Falls Park. He’d known her for two years already, and his folks had encouraged him to ask her to marry him, but he’d been hesitant, thinking she might turn him down – and then what?

As the skies had opened, soaking them both as they’d sat on their blanket on the hillside, he’d pulled the ring box from his pocket and fallen to one knee, despite the rain.

“Mimi, you’re the sweetest, most wonderful woman I’ve ever met,” he’d said. “I don’t think I can live without you. Will you be Mrs. D-D-Devries – I-I mean, m-my wife?” he ‘d stammered.

Although she’d started packing up the picnic basket and was turned away from him, he could see her stiffen, her shoulders and head lowering. She’s going to say no, he’d told himself, his own head lowering in sorrow.

After a long moment she’d turned, and he saw her face lighting up with that smile he adored. “Yes! Of course!” she’d exclaimed. “I love you so much, Martin!”

It was then that Martin had known, without a doubt, that this was the woman he would love unconditionally for all the rest of his life.

But now she was gone.

He stepped off the railing and landed, much quicker than he expected, on a soft cushion of grass. As he lay there on his back, stunned not to be drowning, above him he saw drifting clouds in a sunny sky where a moment ago it had been overcast and nearly dusk.

“What the hell…?” he exclaimed aloud.

He sat up and looked around. He thought he was seeing a park beside a small lake. But how could that be? Why am I not in the water, or in a hospital? Looking around, the buildings he could see appeared to be made of some kind of gold material that shone in the sun. And the sun itself was bright and high in the sky, whereas it had been nearing evening just a moment before.

People strolled around him on paths, but they seemed different somehow than those he knew. “Different, how?” he wondered. “Alien, I guess,” he murmured. Then, realizing he was speaking aloud, even if in a low voice, he looked around to see if anyone had heard. No one he could see seemed interested.

“But I just appeared out of nowhere!” he said aloud. If someone had just materialized from nothing in front of me, he thought, I would certainly have wondered. But these folks just kept on walking by, or sitting on or getting up from benches, seeming to ignore this, as he thought, strange event.

Am I really here? he asked himself. He stood slowly, waiting while a minor wave of dizziness moved over him. Then he noticed an attractive woman sitting on a bench nearby. She reminded him a little of his Mimi, and she looked sad, he thought. He decided to speak to her.

He walked over and sat down beside her. “Do you need help?” he asked, hoping his smile was innocent enough not to scare her.

She cocked her head as if she didn’t understand what he said, but then, “No, I’m fine. Why are you here?”

“Why am I here?” he repeated. “I really don’t know. I was on a bridge, and then I was here. What about you?”

“I don’t know why I’m here, either. My car skidded off the road, but then I was here, sitting on that bench. And then you came.”

“Do you think we’re dead, and that this is Heaven?” he wondered.

She shrugged. “I never thought Heaven might be a park in some odd-looking city.”

“Me, neither. I’m Martin, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Lillian. Lillian Fetherston.”

“Maybe this isn’t Heaven, but an alien planet,” he said. “It really doesn’t look much like Earth.”

“Earth?” she repeated. “You mean Erido, don’t you? What’s Earth?”

“What?” he exclaimed. “What’s Erido?”

She tilted her head and seemed to look at him out of hooded eyes now. “It’s where I’m from,” she said. “What’s Earth?”

“It’s where I’m from,” Martin said.

“Could we be from different worlds?” Lillian wondered.

Martin’s eyes blinked involuntarily, and he thought, She’s kidding, right?

What does he mean? Lillian asked herself at the same time.

Both sat silently, each pondering what the other had said. Then Martin thought, Hmm, slightly strange people, someone from something called Erido, gold buildings, different weather   . . . Maybe this is Heaven! We should both be dead, right? She was in a car crash, and I jumped into the river. I wonder why she might be dead.

“Before the crash,” he asked slowly, “on Erido, what were you thinking?”

A frown appeared in her lovely forehead, and her eyes opened wide. “I was thinking that I might be better off dead,” she said. “I’d lost everyone I loved, and there was really nothing left for me.”

Martin nodded in thought. “So, you could have died in that car crash, right? No injuries you can feel? Everything seems normal in your body?”

Now she drew her brows lower and glared at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I jumped from a bridge and should have drowned, or broken my neck,” he told her. “And I had recently lost my wife to cancer. So I felt I had nothing to live for.

“And now, here we are.”

Lillian blinked rapidly, looked around her at the park, the nearby gold buildings, the com-fortable-seeming people all around, and then back at Martin.

“Yes, here we are,” she said. “But where is here?”

“I think we’re in Heaven, or whatever wonderful place people go to on Erido.”

“Heaven,” she said. He nodded.

04. June 2023 · Comments Off on NATALIE AND MADISON · Categories: ---, Short Stories
 
Science fiction/fantasy

ONE

 “Ah’m so lookin’ forward to seein’ mah ole stompin’ grounds, ya know?”

“Natalie,” Madison chided her friend, “we’re not going to stop at Tampa. We only have three days, and we won’t get to Disney World till past 11 o’clock as it is.”

“Yeah, Ah know, Maddy, honey,” Natalie said with a frown. “But it shore would be nice if we could.”

They’d been on the road from Louisville since nearly midnight the night before, and having shared the driving, both were stiff and grumpy. Both girls were eighteen, and this was their first real adventure since their families had stopped being so over-protective. They were on their way to Orlando to visit Disney World, their absolute favorite place. Both girls had loved it there ever since they’d gone on Natalie’s tenth birthday.

“We’ll stop for breakfast at the next diner we see, okay? Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the scenery now that it’s light enough to see everything.”

“Fantastic! Ah’m starvin’!”

The day had dawned clear and warm on this early summer morning. It had been chilly when they left Louisville, but by the time they’d reached Atlanta, even though it was after 3 a.m., it had gotten much warmer.

“Look at that stream,” Natalie said, pointing out her window. Madison was driving, so Natalie had time to watch the world go by. “It’s so purdy, innit?”

“I know you love to watch water flowing,” Madison said, “but you know I can’t look out your window – I’m driving!”

“Yeah, honey, sorry.” Natalie apologized. There was silence for a while, except for the radio playing Harry Styles, and then Maroon 5. “Le’s stop fer breakfast, and then Ah’ll take over the drivin’. Okay?”

Madison nodded, and turned to smile at her best friend. She realized she was tired and grouchy, and that her friend Natalie was, too. To make up for her harshness, she said, “Hey, what’s your favorite ride? Mine’s the Jungle Cruise, or maybe the Haunted Mansion.”

Natalie grinned. “Yeah! Mah favorite’s the Magic Kingdome. And Ah love Fantasyland!”

“Yeah,” Madison agreed. “Me, too. We’ll have plenty of time to tour the Magic Kingdom, and then we can go to Fantasyland.”

“An’ maybe Adventureland?” Natalie asked.

“Absolutely! Adventureland, too.” Madison herself had been to Walt Disney’s Disney World four times since that first visit; this would be her sixth, and she was nearly as excited about it as she’d been when she was ten.

Natalie had been to Disney World three times since she was ten, and she’d gone with her parents to Disneyland, in California, when she was thirteen. Madison had been so jealous, but Natalie’s family already had Natalie, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, Mark and Todd. So they really didn’t have room for Madison. Both girls had been disappointed, but Madison’s parents had taken her to see Star Wars four times while Natalie was gone, so she didn’t feel quite so bad.

During this discussion, they listened to Billy Eilish, Lizzo, and finally Cardi B, before the news came on and they spotted a diner just ahead.

As they pulled into the diner, the newscaster was saying, “There were a couple of strange sightings overhead yesterday afternoon, and two people called in an hour ago to complain about lights and a strange thing hovering over their little town.”

He laughed, and Madison turned off the ignition.

TWO

As the girls walked toward the diner, they noticed six or seven cars, and congratulated one another that there wouldn’t be a crowd, and they’d probably get served quickly.

Natalie Devlin, who had lived in Tampa until she was eight when they’d moved to Louisville, was a few inches shorter than her friend. But she had a very pretty face and gorgeous reddish-blond hair that fell halfway down her back in luxurious curls. Her brown eyes, she’d been told, were her best feature, and she loved wearing eyeshadow that enhanced them.

Today she wore a khaki-colored jacket and pants, with a bright yellow silk blouse. These were her favorite travel clothes, as they were permanent-press and didn’t crease, no matter how long she sat in one place.

On the other hand, Madison Moss had lived in Portland, Oregon until her family moved to Louisville, when she was six. She didn’t remember much about Portland except that it seemed to rain every day.

Madison was three months older than her friend, and she was taller than Natalie, at 5’8. But she was nearly as lovely as her friend. She tended to wear her ash-blond hair in a pixie cut that flattered her face beautifully. She had a pair of dimples, and a smile that friends told her “lit up the room.”

For this trip, she wore a new periwinkle blue pantsuit that brightened her wide blue eyes. She also wore her favorite sapphire and diamond earrings, and a matching ring that her parents had given her for her upcoming birthday.

The girls had met in fifth grade, when Natalie joined Madison’s class, and they’d been BFF’s ever since.

As they pushed through the door into the restaurant, they both stopped and looked at one another. The place appeared to be empty, despite all those cars outside.

Natalie frowned as she looked around the diner, but Madison shrugged and took her friend’s hand. They walked to a booth beside a window, and sat down. Natalie gazed around at the empty diner, and Madison picked up a menu from behind the napkin dispenser.

“I’m gonna have their Breakfast Special,” she said, still studying pages of the menu.

She didn’t look up until Natalie said, “Honey, why do ya think this place is so empty?”

“Let’s wait and see what the waitress has to say, okay? What do you want to eat?”

“Oh, ya know, Ah’m suddenly not so hungry. But, Ah guess, coffee and pancakes?” Natalie said. She turned and gazed out the window, drumming her fingers on the table.

Madison nodded. She was a little concerned too. Why were there no customers? She knew most people ate breakfast before 10 a.m., and it was still only quarter till.

After ten minutes with no waitress appearing, Madison reached over and took Natalie’s hands. “Something’s wrong. I don’t know what, but something is definitely off.”

“Shall we g-go?” Natalie asked, her voice trembling a little.

“Yeah,” Madison said, dropping Natalie’s hands, and started to stand up. But she was stopped in her tracks as Natalie gasped. Madison looked out the window where Natalie was staring, and saw a creature!

“What is it?” Natalie whispered.

Madison shook her head, though Natalie was still looking out the window and couldn’t see her. She started to say, “I don’t know, but . . . “

Both girls were shocked and terrified at what happened next.

THREE

The creature, whatever it was, appeared to be holding onto a child dressed in a little pink pinafore. The creature was about twice the size of the little girl, standing on three . . . legs? It held the child with a hand that seemed far too large for its own size.

Madison grabbed her friend’s hand and squeezed tight, and whispered, “Let’s go!” She pulled Natalie up out of the booth and headed to the door, dragging her friend who seemed to be petrified. Both girls were still watching the creature as they headed to the door. It slammed the child’s head on the pavement, and grabbed the little dog the child had been pulling. The creature banged the dog’s head on the pavement as well, and then turned and seemed to be looking straight at them!

Both girls screamed, and tried to push out the door, intending to run in the opposite direction, despite their car being parked a few feet away from the thing. But they hadn’t even reached the corner of the diner when both were snatched with wiry talons, and held high in the air. Madison tried to see the creature’s shape and form. It was about seven feet tall, with a boxy body. She observed that it had three spindly legs and ‘feet,’ two long thin arms with very large four-taloned hands. Madison found herself coolly estimating its weight might be something more than a hundred pounds, but it was apparently very strong.

The creature carried them back to the front of the diner and then beyond, where they could see a boxy metal thing, about as large as the diner itself.

***

Terrified and speechless for long moments as they flew through the air, Madison finally found her voice and screamed again. This apparently set Natalie off and she screamed, too, but Madison could see that she was crying and her nose was running. This made Madison anxious more than horrified. She could see that her friend was deeply distressed and panic-stricken, and she feared Natalie would faint at any moment. She wondered why she was feeling so much more analytical than Natalie.

Maybe we’re going to die, Madison announced to herself. Maybe it’s better if she does faint. Then she won’t feel any pain when this thing kills us, like it did that little girl and her dog.

But I don’t want to die! And I don’t want Natalie to die! What are we going to do?

It was at that moment that a wide door opened in the side of the boxy contraption. The creature, holding the girls at its arm-length, raced into the . . . boxy . . . thing, and dropped both girls on what felt like a couch, a soft velvety couch!

They rolled toward one another and hugged, trembling and gasping, as they peeked around at their captors.

Other creatures, looking exactly like the one that had captured them, walked, or at least moved, around the interior of what Madison thought must be a ship. They seemed to be identical to one another, and paid no attention to the girls. Madison couldn’t help noticing that they wore no clothing, but didn’t seem to have reproductive organs, nor did there appear to be any opposite-sex aliens among them.

Their faces were blank, with little to no expression. Heads were wide and squishy-looking, with what might have been eyes near the top of the ‘face,’ and a beak-like protuberance with which they made twitter sounds and sometimes what seemed to be a spoken language.

“They’re aliens,” she whispered to Natalie, whose eyes were so big her friend thought they might burst out of her head.

“Aliens?!!” Natalie cried loudly. “Aliens?”

“Shh,” Madison hissed. “They’ll hear you!”

“Aliens?” Natalie whispered, “like from Mars?”

Madison nodded, and Natalie gripped her tighter. “Martians? What are we gonna do? Are they gonna kill us? Maybe they’ll eat us!”

Shaking her head, Madison shushed her friend again. “I don’t think they want to eat us,” she assured her friend. “They’re horrible, but they seem to have some other reason for capturing us.”

“Do you think,” Natalie started, her voice shaking, “they, they captured those people in the cars? That’s why there was no one, no one in the diner?”

Madison put her index finger to her lips, and whispered, “Best be quiet until we know more. I don’t think they plan to eat us, but yeah, I think they must’ve captured the people from those cars. They’re so ugly! I almost can’t bear to look at them.”

Natalie said, “Well, le’s just wait an’ see what happens, okay?”

FOUR

After a while, the girls couldn’t tell how long, two of the aliens moved toward them where they lay on the couch, carrying what Madison thought must be their idea of a gurney. The girls were picked up as they lay huddled together, and placed carefully onto the stretcher-like object. Then they were wheeled by the two aliens toward what Madison had thought was the back wall of the ship, into a room.

“This must be their spaceship,” she whispered to Natalie, as they kept their arms around one another. She told her friend, “They don’t have any hair, and there are no ears but they can hear, so they must have another audio sense. I don’t know if they can smell, but there are scents here on the ship so maybe they have another means of smelling. So they probably also have another means of reproducing. Ugh!” She couldn’t help shuddering.

In the new room, they were picked up together, as before, and dropped onto a bed of sorts. It was comfortable, even though it had looked, in the quick glimpse Madison had as they entered the room, like a flat box.

The aliens left the room, which was illuminated by light coming from seemingly everywhere and nowhere Madison could detect.

After a moment, the girls separated themselves and found they were beginning to relax on this comfortable . . . bed?

They lay there quietly, unable to decide what else to do. Madison looked around at their ‘cell,’ as she thought of it. It was empty, except for the ‘bed’ and a weird boxy item along one wall opposite the door. There was no window at all, and she finally could work out that the light came from where the walls met the ceiling, though none of those things were like she thought they should be.

The ‘ceiling’ was low, and met the ‘walls’ at varying points around the room, rather than at equal points as a human room would have. And the light didn’t seem to come from bulbs, as they would in a human-type room. Madison decided to stop trying to figure out what the room held, and turned back to comfort Natalie, who was still trembling and weeping.

After what seemed to Madison to be a half hour or so, the ‘door’ opened and an alien came into the room. She had no idea if it was the same alien that had captured them, or another. She watched with horror as it came toward their ‘bed,’ carrying a metal tray-like item with other items on it.

Both girls quickly sat up and prepared to fight it, but the alien simply set the ‘tray’ down on the bed, turned and went back out through the ‘door.’

The girls looked at each other. “Wha’ do you think it is?” asked Natalie.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s breakfast?” Madison was skeptical; she’d been thinking that they might be breakfast, rather than eating it.

“Yeah, Ah’m starvin’! Ah hope it’s breakfast!” Natalie turned to the tray and lifted one of the items on it and smelled it. “Well, it’s either food or perfume,’ she said. “It smells sweet, like perfume, but Ah also smell somethin’ savory. Hmm.”

Madison scooped up a small amount of whatever-it-was and brought it to her nose. She too smelled a perfume-y scent, with an undertone of what might be . . . sausage? And scrambled eggs?

“Well, shall we eat it?” she asked her friend. “Either we eat or we starve, or they kill us. I think it’s better if we eat when we can.” Natalie shrugged, and Madison put her tongue out to taste the bit that was on her fingers.

“It’s not half bad,” she reported. She looked around the tray at what might have been several utensils. She picked up one that looked sort of like a spoon, and scooped up some of the ‘food’ and put it in her mouth.

“It’s tasty,” she said. “Go on, Natalie, pick up that ‘spoon,’ or whatever it is, and eat. It’s okay.”

FIVE

The next time an alien opened the door, Madison and Natalie were ready for it. As soon as the door shut, Madison shouted, “You’re ugly! We hate you! What are you going to do about it?”

As if it hadn’t heard a word, the alien walked toward the bed and put the tray down, then turned and walked back to the door, opened it and walked through.

“Well, that didn’t work,” Natalie noted. “Maybe they don’t even consider that we might be talkin’.”

Madison nodded thoughtfully. “You could be right. We’ll have to think of something else.”

Natalie shrugged, and turned to their meal tray. This time the meal smelled fishy. She said, “Do you think they went fishin’ for our dinner?” She laughed, and then giggled, and Madison laughed, and then both girls were giggling. Their laughter soon grew out of control, and both girls were soon weeping, and not eating.

“Well,” Madison said, finally sobering, “I guess all we can do is talk to each other.”

Nodding, Natalie sat down on the bed, picked up the ‘spoon’ and started eating. “It does taste like fish,” she said. “Like salmon, with lemon. Ah can even taste garlic, Ah think.”

“Wow! I wonder how they get the food to look so terrible, and taste so good.” Madison sat down as well, and the girls were soon finished with their meal.

“Maybe we can try to learn their language,” Natalie offered, after a little while. “Have you heard them talking to one another much? I’m not sure I’ve heard them do anything but twitter at each other.”

“Maybe they have another way of talking, like their hearing and smelling,” Madison mused. “Maybe they’re telepathic. Do you think they might be talking to one another with their minds?”

“Do they have minds?” Natalie asked. “They’re so different from us; maybe they’re different psychologically, too. Maybe they’ve got somethin’ like a hive mind? Ah’ve seen somethin’ like that on TV, haven’t you?”

“Yes. But,” Madison objected, “that’s human entertainment. I think we humans just can’t imagine what aliens like these think – if they do think.”

After a long moment of silence, the door opened again and an alien came in. Natalie said, “Do ya think this is the same one that came in before? They all look alike ta me.”

Madison nodded. “Yes, to me, too. But what I’m wondering is, why are they here? Have they come to invade Earth? Or are they just curious about humans? Maybe they’re robots, or people in costumes, trying to frighten people. Maybe they are in costume, but sponsored by Disney World to advertise a new adventure.”

Natalie pondered that as the alien picked up the tray and exited the room. She nodded, and said, “Those are good possibilities. Why would aliens come to Earth, abduct two young girls, and kill a little girl and her dog?”

The girls spent some time pondering and discussing their questions, but finally tired of that and decided to wait for their answers.

“In the meantime,” Madison said, “let’s see if we can get out of this room. We’ve never even tried the door.”

“But there isn’t any doorknob,” Natalie pointed out. “How do we open it?”

Madison twisted her mouth in puzzlement, then said, “I don’t know. Let’s just try it, shall we?”

SIX

The door opened readily when Madison finally figured out that the strange symbol in the middle of the door should be pressed. She stood in the open doorway gazing out at the several aliens who moved around the room, doing who-knows-what. None of them turned toward her, as if they didn’t care if their captives left their room.

She reached over and pulled Natalie out with her, and they moved cautiously among the aliens, not knowing where they should go but unwilling to stay in their ‘room’ any longer.

To the right of the door they’d come through, or been carried through, was another, smaller door. Madison looked around and saw only two other doors, and watched as two aliens went into one of them, and one alien came out of the other one.

“I think this one is okay, Nat,” she said quietly. She located the symbol in the middle of the door that was similar to the one on their door, and pressed it. It opened, and the girls could hear animal noises from inside.

They looked at one another, and Natalie said, “Do they have a zoo here?”

Madison shrugged. “It sure sounds like it.”

Peeking in, she saw a row of cages on either side of an aisle leading toward the back wall of the room. Inside the first two cages, she saw a dog and a horse.

She looked at Natalie, and they both shook their heads but entered the room. Natalie shut the door after her and they stood there, waiting to see if any aliens followed. None did, so they held hands and began to walk down the aisle to look at the further cages.

“Do you s’pose they’re studyin’ the creatures of Earth for some reason?” Natalie asked.

Madison shrugged again. “Maybe,” she said. “Let’s go as far as we can, before we’re captured again and sent to our room.”

Natalie smiled a little, but both girls knew that what they were talking about wasn’t really funny.

***

After the cages with the beautiful Golden retriever, who slept peacefully, on one side, and the agitated black stallion on the other, the next few cages contained a goat, who bleated at them; a Maine coon cat, pacing restlessly; and an eagle. There were two smaller glass-enclosed cages beyond those, containing a swarm of butterflies, and at least a dozen cockroaches. Beyond those were several large aquariums containing a swordfish, a vicious-looking shark, and several other kinds of fish.

“They probably don’t even know they’ve been captured,” Natalie noted sympathetically.

Madison nodded, and pointed beyond the last of the aquariums to a separate set of enclosures that looked more like their own room. As they neared these, they could see that each cage looked like a jail cell, with a couch, a narrow bed, a bookcase, and a toilet.

In each of these cages was a human. They were pacing, or angrily shaking the bars, or sleeping, or sitting quietly on the bed looking at a book. Madison and Natalie didn’t know quite what to make of them.

“Will the aliens be puttin’ us in cages like these?” Natalie whispered fearfully. Madison shrugged once again, but then turned to put her arm around her friend.

“Don’t worry, Nat,” she said. “This is probably how they take care of them. Look, there’s two adult women and four men – no, make that five men,” as they heard a whistle from the last cage in line.

They observed other creatures in nearby cages, including several clearly insane people. One woman had torn most of her clothes nearly off, and was now tearing out her hair. The other woman was ranting at the air, in unintelligible words, as she alternately shook her fist and kicked at the bars.

Two of the men who were pacing were cursing and muttering to themselves, and the one shaking the bars appeared quite apathetic in his efforts.

Both girls shuddered, and quickly returned to their room. They achieved this with no problem, and then sat on the bed, hugging one another and shushing each other’s weeping.

SEVEN

The next day, after their morning meal, Natalie said, “Honey, we’ve gotta work through our fear and figure out how to escape before we’re driven insane, too.”

Madison nodded. “I agree. Do you have any ideas?”

Natalie shook her head, and they sat there for some time trying to work out a strategy of some kind. But every time they thought they had a plan, they quickly realized that it wasn’t going to work.

“Let’s go back to the zoo room and see if any of those people are sane enough to give us some answers,” Madison said.

But this time, when they opened the zoo door, an alien was on the other side. As soon as it saw them, it seized them both in its huge talons, and shut the door. The alien carried the two girls to where another alien, who looked exactly like all the others, sat before what looked to Madison like some sort of controls.

“Maybe he’s the captain,” Natalie commented. The words were strong, but her voice was still trembling, and Madison nodded again.

After the alien holding them made some sounds at the ‘Captain,’ they were transported back to the zoo room, carried effortlessly down the aisle, and thrust into another cage just beyond the one containing the man who’d been sleeping the day before.

After the alien left, Madison turned to their neighbor, who was now standing at the bars between his cage and theirs, and said, “How are you?”

She hoped he would answer her, rather than doing something crazy, and he did. “I’m fine, but you girls don’t look so fine.”

“We’re not!” Natalie exclaimed. She sank to the floor of the cage, put her hands on her face, and wept as if she’d never stop. She wailed and moaned, like the woman in the cage across the way, and Madison began to worry that she might be losing her mind, like the other humans.

“Don’t worry, Natty,” she said, sitting beside her friend and taking her in her arms. “We’ll get out of this somehow, I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you?”

Natalie shook her head and buried her face in Madison’s shoulder, and they rocked back and forth for a little while.

EIGHT

After they’d both calmed down a bit, Madison said, “I’ve got an idea how we might escape.”

Natalie nodded, and asked, “How?”

“We get one of the aliens to come inside the cage, and one of us distracts it while the other stops the door from locking.”

“Well, we’d need somethin’ like a card to stop the door from lockin’,” Natalie noted. “Do you have anything like that?”

“No,” Madison said. “We’ll have to find something that’ll work. Let’s look through whatever we have in our pockets. If there isn’t anything, we’ll look around the cage and just outside it, and there might be a piece of paper, or something, that might work.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.

The only thing Natalie had in her pockets was the tickets for Disney World. “These will work,” Madison said. “So, the next thing is to get one of those things to come inside the cage. Then you distract it, and I’ll stand beside the door when it leaves and slip a piece of a ticket into where the lock engages.”

“Do you think it’ll work?” Natalie asked, her voice still weak but seeming a bit stronger now.

“Well, all we can do is hope,” Madison answered. “Now, how do we get an alien in here?”

“When do they bring our next meal?” Natalie wondered. “It should be pretty soon now. Ah’m gettin’ pretty hungry.”

“Me, too,” said Madison. Both girls paced back and forth, anxious about their plan, until they heard the door open at the other end of the aisle and Natalie went to sit on the bed while Madison made sure her pacing took her very near the door.

She stood back as the alien opened the door and entered, and both girls started twittering, like they’d heard the aliens do, but their visitor paid no attention. It just set the meal tray down on the bed and moved back to the door where Madison waited.

She moved a few steps back when the alien neared the cage door, but as soon as it moved through the door she quietly slipped part of a ticket between the edges of the door and the cage. As the door shut, she saw that the ticket was securely wedged between the bars, and waited impatiently until the alien had delivered the remainder of its meal trays and headed for the door.

As soon as the zoo door shut, she pulled on their cage door and, miracle of miracles, it opened!

NINE

The girls slipped out of their cage and headed for the door, but the other humans apparently saw them, and made a great deal of noise. Several aliens came running, but the girls had been able to slip through the door before any had arrived.

The girls evaded their captors for a while and ran through the ship, but they knew they had nowhere to go. They were in the aliens’ spaceship, but they had no idea where they were in space. And Madison was aware that even if they did know, she didn’t think there was any way they could get down to the ground.

When they found a hiding place that seemed safe for at least a few minutes, they whispered to one another what they should do next.

“We’ve got no idea where we are in space, Maddy,” Natalie said. She’d apparently been thinking along the same lines as Madison had.

Madison nodded. “We’ll have to find a window or something.”

They exited their hiding place after assuring themselves that no aliens were near, and looked for a ‘window,’ or what they thought of as a porthole.

When they found one, they saw the ship appeared to be hovering over their own city, Louis-ville, Kentucky!

“Why aren’t we in Orlando?” Natalie wondered.

“I don’t know,” Madison declared, “but there must be a reason we’re near home.”

But they would have to defer getting the answer as they were quickly captured and returned to their cage, without an explanation, apology, or punishment.

Inside the cage once again, Madison said, “This is truly disturbing. I can’t understand why we were captured in the first place if the aliens aren’t going to do anything to us, or about us.”

Natalie nodded. “Me either. ‘Specially now, when we’re so near home.”

“We have to confront the aliens,” Madison said, steely determination in her voice.

But Natalie was too terrified to think logically for a bit, and Madison had to spend a lot of energy calming her down.

She mused, “Why did they collect all those animals and humans, and why did they cause, or allow some of the humans to go crazy?”

***

They soon found they were able to talk with another captive, who told them to call him Harry. “I can tell you what I know about what’s going on,” he told Madison from his cage across from theirs.

“It isn’t much,” Madison admitted to Natalie, “but I believe him.”

The three of them started talking about how they might escape. Harry said, “The aliens are a race called Echirians. It’s pronounced Ek-hear-ians.”

“How did you find that out?” Madison asked suspiciously; she thought he might be one of those people who turned traitor, and worked against their own kind. She’d seen that in movies, too.

“I picked up a bit of their language,” Harry said, “and I asked what they were called.

“They did have monkeys and a zebra in cages, but the monkeys went crazy and the aliens killed them, and then the zebra died.”

After a moment, he went on. “I watched the aliens land somewhere and load the dog and the horse onboard and into cages several days before you arrived.”

He told them what he’d learned about the other humans in cages, and the animals. He said, “I’m from L.A.; actually, Hollywood.”

Neither girl was impressed, so he went on. “The cages hold me, three women and four other guys,” he told them. “All the adults are at least 40, I estimate. I’m 42.”

Madison said, “I wonder whether any of the adults might be related to any of the others. Also, does the fact that there are three females and five males, and that they’ve now abducted two more females, us, mean they intend for the humans to reproduce as couples?”

She thought, but didn’t add, But that’s a human thing; could it also be an alien thing?

Harry shrugged, and went on. “There already were four other humans aboard when I was abducted, a couple of weeks ago. The other six were loaded just before you came aboard. I had to watch as they all went crazy. I know I’ll be insane if I don’t escape soon, and I can’t help wonder-ing what’s going to happen to the others.”

Harry and Natalie, who seemed quite calm when talking with him, discussed the possibility that the aliens were actually from Mars. “Or are they from some star system millions of miles from Earth?” she wondered.

“The Echirians speak with twitches and other mannerisms, and they also twitter like birds.”

“Yeah, we know,” Natalie said. “Ah haven’t heard them speak, just twitter and jerk.”

TEN

“What are you doing, fiddling with your phone, Natalie?” Madison asked, a while later. “You haven’t gotten a signal anytime since we were taken.”

“Ah know, hon, but you neveh know; Ah might get a signal at any time while we’re flyin’ around.”

Madison nodded and turned back to her meditation.

“Hey!” Natalie yelled a few minutes later. “Ah do have a signal!”

“Well, what’re you gonna do with it?” Madison asked, not sure what that might mean.

Natalie gazed at her friend for a moment, and then said, “Ah’m gonna call my Mama!”

She dialed the number and put her phone to her ear, but slammed the phone down in disgust a moment later. “It rang twice, but it cut out before Mama could pick up!”

“I’m so sorry, Nat,” Madison said. “Here, let me try.”

The two of them kept trying the phone for the next hour, but they never got another signal.

Head down in disappointment, Natalie sat on the bed, but in another few minutes she lay down and whined, “Ah don’t feel good, hon.”

“What’s the matter? Are you sick?” Madison asked. She came to the bed and pulled the blanket up over Natalie’s shoulders. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep. Maybe we’ll get a signal tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Natalie sighed. She shut her eyes and Madison took the phone, but was annoyed to find that the phone’s battery was done.

A few hours later, Natalie awoke and Madison noticed that she’d been sweating a lot. She felt her friend’s forehead and realized that she had a fever. Alarmed, she wondered when the alien would come with their meal. I’ll tell him to get her some aspirin, or something, she told herself. But I’m not at all sure they understand English. What’ll I do if the alien doesn’t help her?

Natalie lay back down, and Madison decided to try and find aspirin herself. “I’ll be right back,” she told Natalie. But the girl was fast asleep again.

***

Madison opened the door of their cage and eased out, shutting the door behind her. None of the aliens seemed to take notice of her, but she had no idea where she might find aspirin.

Think, Maddy, she told herself. Where am I most likely to find aspirin, even on a spaceship? As she walked among the Echirians, she told herself, Probably in a First Aid kit. But where on Earth—or Mars?—would there be a First Aid kit on a spaceship?

Nearing what she’d been thinking of as the control room, Madison looked on the walls where she figured a First Aid kit would be in a human spaceship, and saw a boxy item on the wall next to the door into the control room. There were some weird-looking pictograms on the front of the box but, “Faint heart ne’er won fair ladies,” she muttered.

She walked up to the box and tried to pry it off the wall, and it came off in her hands. Opening it, she saw some strange items inside, including a box with what looked like white pills depicted on it.

She grabbed the box, closed the kit and pushed it back onto the wall where it stuck, to her surprise. She shrugged, and walked back to the zoo room and their cage, where Natalie was sitting up on the bed. “I brought you something that might help,” she said, though she wasn’t at all sure it would.

“Where are we?” Natalie asked as Madison shut the door. “Are we at Disney World?”

“What?” Madison was confused. Why would she ask that? She knows we were captured by the aliens, and we’re aboard their ship. “No, Natalie. We’re on the aliens’ spaceship, remember?”

“Oh, are we at Adventureland? And there are aliens! What fun!”

“Honey, lie down. I brought you something that might help.” Madison moved toward her friend, but Natalie stood and tried to walk past her to the door. Madison stopped her, and put her hand on Natalie’s forehead. “You still have a fever, Natalie. Come on, lie down and take one of these pills.”

The fever must be giving her delusions, Madison thought. She gently guided Natalie back to the bed and helped her under the covers. Then she took out one of the pills and handed Natalie the glass of water on the bedside table. Natalie obediently took the water and the pill, swallowed both, and then lay back down.

Madison stayed with her, worried whether she might have poisoned her friend, until Natalie seemed to sleep.

ELEVEN

After the morning meal the next day, Natalie seemed much better. Her fever had gone down and she was more alert. She couldn’t believe Madison’s statement that she’d said something about thinking they were in Disney World.

“Why would Ah think that?” she wondered. “Heck, Ah know we’re on the alien ship, and we were hoverin’ over Louisville just the other day, weren’t we?”

“Yes,” Madison said. “And I think it’s time we tried to escape again.”

She called across to their neighbor, “Harry, we’re gonna try escaping again. Do you wanna come with us?”

“Sure. I can help ‘cause I did a bit of exploring before you guys arrived. There’s a button they push to get down to the surface. They don’t always go through the door. It’s near the control room, and it’s a red button. But it doesn’t work right away, so you have to be sure there aren’t any aliens near when you push it.”

“Thanks,” Madison said. “Can you get out of your cage?”

“Sure,” he said with a grin. He opened the door and walked over to their cage, opened their door and stood back.

“That’s all it takes to get out of these cages?” Madison asked, almost in disbelief.

“Well, I found a way to disable the locks a couple days ago. I didn’t do it for the crazy people, ‘cause I knew they’d just get out and make trouble for us.”

“Well, thanks so much!” Natalie said. She grinned at Madison, and they both stepped outside their cage. All three crept quietly towards the zoo door.

Harry and Natalie stood beside it as Madison opened it, and they waited for any aliens to arrive. None did, until all three had stepped into the room and two aliens turned in their direction.

“Oh, shit,” Madison said. “What do we do now?”

Harry became a whirlwind, kicking and chopping at the two aliens, until they were down, and the girls headed swiftly toward the outer door. Madison looked back to see Harry crouched as if he were Bruce Lee, waiting for a chance to incapacitate more of the enemy. No other aliens approached him as she watched.

“Oh, dear,” Madison said. “I hope they’re not dead.”

“Why not?” Natalie demanded. “They’re invaders! They’d kill us, and a lot of other humans if Harry doesn’t kill them all.”

Madison didn’t really want them to die, but she did want to escape and she wanted to help her friend escape, too. It looked like Harry wasn’t trying to escape, though. She thought maybe he was going to wait until they were hovering over L.A., so he could escape then.

“I hope he gets home,” she said.

Natalie nodded, and pointed to the red button next to the control room door, just where Harry had said it would be.

She looked around to make sure there were no aliens too close to them, as Harry had advised. Then, “Punch it!” she said.

Natalie nodded, and both girls waited, hoping that Harry had been right.

TWELVE

Suddenly, the girls found themselves on the sidewalk a few doors down from Madison’s house.

“OMG!” exclaimed Natalie. “This isn’t an illusion those aliens created, is it?”

Madison grinned and shook her head. “We’re home. Look, up there!”

Natalie glanced upward to see the big box-like alien spacecraft hovering over them, and both girls watched as it moved up and over, to hover directly above Madison’s house.

“Do you suppose they let us escape?” she wondered.

“What?” Natalie exclaimed. “Let us escape? Why would they do that?”

“Well, I just wondered,” Madison said. “If not,” she went on, “why did they come to Louis-ville? You know, we’re at least a decade younger than the three women up there, and the men. Maybe they didn’t want young people. Maybe that’s why the alien killed that child.”

“Yeah . . .” Natalie said. “But then why did it kill the dog?”

“Maybe because they already have a dog?” Madison said.

Just then, they reached Madison’s house and her parents came out as they walked up the driveway. “Where’s your car?” her dad asked.

“Umm, what?”

“Your car!” he repeated. “Why didn’t you drive it home? Did you have an accident? Or is there something wrong with the car?”

“Oh, Herb,” Madison’s mother said. “Don’t worry about that. Whatever’s wrong, we’ll take care of it, sweetie. Come on in. If you’ve been walking for a while, you must be exhausted. We ate dinner, but there’s still plenty of food. Natalie, you can call your folks from here. I’m sure they’ll be happy to pick you up.”

“Now, kids, tells us all about Disney World,” Madison’s dad, Herb, said as he put an arm around each of them to guide them inside.

“Wait!” Madison cried, stopping short. “We’ve been gone for more than a week! Weren’t you worried?  I’m sorry I didn’t call when we left Orlando, like I said I would, but . . .”

“Don’t worry, honey,” her mother said. “We’re just happy you got home okay. Now come on, I’ll fix you something to eat.”

“But, but,” Natalie tried. But no one was listening.

The girls believed they’d been captives of the aliens for more than a week but apparently it had only been three days. Both families of the girls had expected that, since the girls had been heading to Disney World for the three-day weekend.

They tried to tell their families what had happened but no one believed them, even when they pointed to the alien spacecraft hovering above.

But only the two of them could see it; it appeared to be invisible to everyone but them.

Natalie’s parents picked her up after they’d both wolfed down Madison’s mom’s ‘famous’ spaghetti and meatballs. When she got home, she phoned Madison and they talked over what they’d gone through over the weekend.

“We can’t tell the folks,” Madison said. “First of all, they’d never believe us. And second, even if they did believe us, what could they do? The ship is gone now, I watched it leave just after you left.”

“Yeah,” Natalie said. “It hovered over Mama’s car till we got home, and then it left. Ah think they let us off on purpose, and now they’re gone. Ah sure hope Harry gets away.”

Madison said, “Me, too. I guess it’s a good thing only we could see the ship. If anyone else had seen it, the cops or the military would probably have shot it down.“

21. March 2023 · Comments Off on A MEMORABLE TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD · Categories: Short Stories

ONE

 “Ah’m so lookin’ forward to seein’ mah ole stompin’ grounds, ya know?”

“Natalie,” Madison chided her friend, “we’re not going to stop at Tampa. We only have three days, and we won’t get to Disney World till past 11 o’clock as it is.”

“Yeah, Ah know, Maddy, honey,” Natalie said with a frown. “But it shore would be nice if we could.”

They’d been on the road from Louisville since nearly midnight the night before, and having shared the driving, both were stiff and grumpy. Both girls were eighteen, and this was their first real adventure since their families had stopped being so over-protective. They were on their way to Orlando to visit Disney World, their absolute favorite place. Both girls had loved it there ever since they’d gone on Natalie’s tenth birthday.

“We’ll stop for breakfast at the next diner we see, okay? Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the scenery now that it’s light enough to see everything.”

“Fantastic! Ah’m starvin’!”

The day had dawned clear and warm on this early summer morning. It had been chilly when they left Louisville, but by the time they’d reached Atlanta, even though it was after 3 a.m., it had gotten much warmer.

“Look at that stream,” Natalie said, pointing out her window. Madison was driving, so Natalie had time to watch the world go by. “It’s so purdy, innit?”

“I know you love to watch water flowing,” Madison said, “but you know I can’t look out your window – I’m driving!”

“Yeah, honey, sorry.” Natalie apologized. There was silence for a while, except for the radio playing Harry Styles, and then Maroon 5. “Le’s stop fer breakfast, and then Ah’ll take over the drivin’. Okay?”

Madison nodded, and turned to smile at her best friend. She realized she was tired and grouchy, and that her friend Natalie was, too. To make up for her harshness, she said, “Hey, what’s your favorite ride? Mine’s the Jungle Cruise, or maybe the Haunted Mansion.”

Natalie grinned. “Yeah! Mah favorite’s the Magic Kingdome. And Ah love Fantasyland!”

“Yeah,” Madison agreed. “Me, too. We’ll have plenty of time to tour the Magic Kingdom, and then we can go to Fantasyland.”

“An’ maybe Adventureland?” Natalie asked.

“Absolutely! Adventureland, too.” Madison herself had been to Walt Disney’s Disney World four times since that first visit; this would be her sixth, and she was nearly as excited about it as she’d been when she was ten.

Natalie had been to Disney World three times since she was ten, and she’d gone with her parents to Disneyland, in California, when she was thirteen. Madison had been so jealous, but Natalie’s family already had Natalie, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, Mark and Todd. So they really didn’t have room for Madison. Both girls had been disappointed, but Madison’s parents had taken her to see Star Wars four times while Natalie was gone, so she didn’t feel quite so bad.

During this discussion, they listened to Billy Eilish, Lizzo, and finally Cardi B, before the news came on and they spotted a diner just ahead.

As they pulled into the diner, the newscaster was saying, “There were a couple of strange sightings overhead yesterday afternoon, and two people called in an hour ago to complain about lights and a strange thing hovering over their little town.”

He laughed, and Madison turned off the ignition.

TWO

As the girls walked toward the diner, they noticed six or seven cars, and congratulated one another that there wouldn’t be a crowd, and they’d probably get served quickly.

Natalie Devlin, who had lived in Tampa until she was eight when they’d moved to Louisville, was a few inches shorter than her friend. But she had a very pretty face and gorgeous reddish-blond hair that fell halfway down her back in luxurious curls. Her brown eyes, she’d been told, were her best feature, and she loved wearing eyeshadow that enhanced them.

Today she wore a khaki-colored jacket and pants, with a bright yellow silk blouse. These were her favorite travel clothes, as they were permanent-press and didn’t crease, no matter how long she sat in one place.

On the other hand, Madison Moss had lived in Portland, Oregon until her family moved to Louisville, when she was six. She didn’t remember much about Portland except that it seemed to rain every day.

Madison was three months older than her friend, and she was taller than Natalie, at 5’8. But she was nearly as lovely as her friend. She tended to wear her ash-blond hair in a pixie cut that flattered her face beautifully. She had a pair of dimples, and a smile that friends told her “lit up the room.”

For this trip, she wore a new periwinkle blue pantsuit that brightened her wide blue eyes. She also wore her favorite sapphire and diamond earrings, and a matching ring that her parents had given her for her recent birthday.

The girls had met in fifth grade, when Natalie joined Madison’s class, and they’d been BFF’s ever since.

As they pushed through the door into the restaurant, they both stopped and looked at one another. The place appeared to be empty, despite all those cars outside.

Natalie frowned as she looked around the diner, but Madison shrugged and took her friend’s hand. They walked to a booth beside a window, and sat down. Natalie gazed around at the empty diner, and Madison picked up a menu from behind the napkin dispenser.

“I’m gonna have their Breakfast Special,” she said, still studying pages of the menu.

She didn’t look up until Natalie said, “Honey, why do ya think this place is so empty?”

“Let’s wait and see what the waitress has to say, okay? What do you want to eat?”

“Oh, ya know, Ah’m suddenly not so hungry. But, Ah guess, coffee and pancakes?” Natalie said. She turned and gazed out the window, drumming her fingers on the table.

Madison nodded. She was a little concerned too. Why were there no customers? She knew most people ate breakfast before 10 a.m., and it was still only quarter till.

After ten minutes with no waitress appearing, Madison reached over and took Natalie’s hands. “Something’s wrong. I don’t know what, but something is definitely off.”

“Shall we g-go?” Natalie asked, her voice trembling a little.

“Yeah,” Madison said, dropping Natalie’s hands, and started to stand up. But she was stopped in her tracks as Natalie gasped. Madison looked out the window where Natalie was staring, and saw a creature!

“What is it?” Natalie whispered.

Madison shook her head, though Natalie was still looking out the window and couldn’t see her. She started to say, “I don’t know, but . . . “

Both girls were shocked and terrified at what happened next.

THREE

The creature, whatever it was, appeared to be holding onto a child dressed in a little pink pinafore. The creature was about twice the size of the little girl, standing on three . . . legs? It held the child with a hand that seemed far too large for its own size.

Madison grabbed her friend’s hand and squeezed tight, and whispered, “Let’s go!” She pulled Natalie up out of the booth and headed to the door, dragging her friend who seemed to be petrified. Both girls were still watching the creature as they headed to the door. It slammed the child’s head on the pavement, and grabbed the little dog the child had been pulling. The creature banged the dog’s head on the pavement as well, and then turned and seemed to be looking straight at them!

Both girls screamed, and tried to push out the door, intending to run in the opposite direction, despite their car being parked a few feet away from the thing. But they hadn’t even reached the corner of the diner when both were snatched with wiry talons, and held high in the air. Madison tried to see the creature’s shape and form. It was about seven feet tall, with a boxy body. She observed that it had three spindly legs and ‘feet,’ two long thin arms with very large four-taloned hands. Madison found herself coolly estimating its weight might be something more than a hundred pounds, but it was apparently very strong.

The creature carried them back to the front of the diner and then beyond, where they could see a boxy metal thing, about as large as the diner itself.

***

Terrified and speechless for long moments as they flew through the air, Madison finally found her voice and screamed again. This apparently set Natalie off and she screamed, too, but Madison could see that she was crying and her nose was running. This made Madison anxious more than horrified. She could see that her friend was deeply distressed and panic-stricken, and she feared Natalie would faint at any moment. She wondered why she was feeling so much more analytical than Natalie.

Maybe we’re going to die, Madison announced to herself. Maybe it’s better if she does faint. Then she won’t feel any pain when this thing kills us, like it did that little girl and her dog.

But I don’t want to die! And I don’t want Natalie to die! What are we going to do?

It was at that moment that a wide door opened in the side of the boxy contraption. The creature, holding the girls at its arm-length, raced into the . . . boxy . . . thing, and dropped both girls on what felt like a couch, a soft velvety couch!

They rolled toward one another and hugged, trembling and gasping, as they peeked around at their captors.

Other creatures, looking exactly like the one that had captured them, walked, or at least moved, around the interior of what Madison thought must be a ship. They seemed to be identical to one another, and paid no attention to the girls. Madison couldn’t help noticing that they wore no clothing, but didn’t seem to have reproductive organs, nor did there appear to be any opposite-sex aliens among them.

Their faces were blank, with little to no expression. Heads were wide and squishy-looking, with what might have been eyes near the top of the ‘face,’ and a beak-like protuberance with which they made twitter sounds and sometimes what seemed to be a spoken language.

“They’re aliens,” she whispered to Natalie, whose eyes were so big her friend thought they might burst out of her head.

“Aliens?!!” Natalie cried loudly. “Aliens?”

“Shh,” Madison hissed. “They’ll hear you!”

“Aliens?” Natalie whispered, “like from Mars?”

Madison nodded, and Natalie gripped her tighter. “Martians? What are we gonna do? Are they gonna kill us? Maybe they’ll eat us!”

Shaking her head, Madison shushed her friend again. “I don’t think they want to eat us,” she assured her friend. “They’re horrible, but they seem to have some other reason for capturing us.”

“Do you think,” Natalie started, her voice shaking, “they, they captured those people in the cars? That’s why there was no one, no one in the diner?”

Madison put her index finger to her lips, and whispered, “Best be quiet until we know more. I don’t think they plan to eat us, but yeah, I think they must’ve captured the people from those cars. They’re so ugly! I almost can’t bear to look at them.”

Natalie said, “Well, le’s just wait an’ see what happens, okay?”

FOUR

After a while, the girls couldn’t tell how long, two of the aliens moved toward them where they lay on the couch, carrying what Madison thought must be their idea of a gurney. The girls were picked up as they lay huddled together, and placed carefully onto the stretcher-like object. Then they were wheeled by the two aliens toward what Madison had thought was the back wall of the ship, into a room.

“This must be their spaceship,” she whispered to Natalie, as they kept their arms around one another. She told her friend, “They don’t have any hair, and there are no ears but they can hear, so they must have another audio sense. I don’t know if they can smell, but there are scents here on the ship so maybe they have another means of smelling. So they probably also have another means of reproducing. Ugh!” She couldn’t help shuddering.

In the new room, they were picked up together, as before, and dropped onto a bed of sorts. It was comfortable, even though it had looked, in the quick glimpse Madison had as they entered the room, like a flat box.

The aliens left the room, which was illuminated by light coming from seemingly everywhere and nowhere Madison could detect.

After a moment, the girls separated themselves and found they were beginning to relax on this comfortable . . . bed?

They lay there quietly, unable to decide what else to do. Madison looked around at their ‘cell,’ as she thought of it. It was empty, except for the ‘bed’ and a weird boxy item along one wall opposite the door. There was no window at all, and she finally could work out that the light came from where the walls met the ceiling, though none of those things were like she thought they should be.

The ‘ceiling’ was low, and met the ‘walls’ at varying points around the room, rather than at equal points as a human room would have. And the light didn’t seem to come from bulbs, as they would in a human-type room. Madison decided to stop trying to figure out what the room held, and turned back to comfort Natalie, who was still trembling and weeping.

After what seemed to Madison to be a half hour or so, the ‘door’ opened and an alien came into the room. She had no idea if it was the same alien that had captured them, or another. She watched with horror as it came toward their ‘bed,’ carrying a metal tray-like item with other items on it.

Both girls quickly sat up and prepared to fight it, but the alien simply set the ‘tray’ down on the bed, turned and went back out through the ‘door.’

The girls looked at each other. “Wha’ do you think it is?” asked Natalie.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s breakfast?” Madison was skeptical; she’d been thinking that they might be breakfast, rather than eating it.

“Yeah, Ah’m starvin’! Ah hope it’s breakfast!” Natalie turned to the tray and lifted one of the items on it and smelled it. “Well, it’s either food or perfume,’ she said. “It smells sweet, like perfume, but Ah also smell somethin’ savory. Hmm.”

Madison scooped up a small amount of whatever-it-was and brought it to her nose. She too smelled a perfume-y scent, with an undertone of what might be . . . sausage? And scrambled eggs?

“Well, shall we eat it?” she asked her friend. “Either we eat or we starve, or they kill us. I think it’s better if we eat when we can.” Natalie shrugged, and Madison put her tongue out to taste the bit that was on her fingers.

“It’s not half bad,” she reported. She looked around the tray at what might have been several utensils. She picked up one that looked sort of like a spoon, and scooped up some of the ‘food’ and put it in her mouth.

“It’s tasty,” she said. “Go on, Natalie, pick up that ‘spoon,’ or whatever it is, and eat. It’s okay.”

FIVE

The next time an alien opened the door, Madison and Natalie were ready for it. As soon as the door shut, Madison shouted, “You’re ugly! We hate you! What are you going to do about it?”

As if it hadn’t heard a word, the alien walked toward the bed and put the tray down, then turned and walked back to the door, opened it and walked through.

“Well, that didn’t work,” Natalie noted. “Maybe they don’t even consider that we might be talkin’.”

Madison nodded thoughtfully. “You could be right. We’ll have to think of something else.”

Natalie shrugged, and turned to their meal tray. This time the meal smelled fishy. She said, “Do you think they went fishin’ for our dinner?” She laughed, and then giggled, and Madison laughed, and then both girls were giggling. Their laughter soon grew out of control, and both girls were soon weeping, and not eating.

“Well,” Madison said, finally sobering, “I guess all we can do is talk to each other.”

Nodding, Natalie sat down on the bed, picked up the ‘spoon’ and started eating. “It does taste like fish,” she said. “Like salmon, with lemon. Ah can even taste garlic, Ah think.”

“Wow! I wonder how they get the food to look so terrible, and taste so good.” Madison sat down as well, and the girls were soon finished with their meal.

“Maybe we can try to learn their language,” Natalie offered, after a little while. “Have you heard them talking to one another much? I’m not sure I’ve heard them do anything but twitter at each other.”

“Maybe they have another way of talking, like their hearing and smelling,” Madison mused. “Maybe they’re telepathic. Do you think they might be talking to one another with their minds?”

“Do they have minds?” Natalie asked. “They’re so different from us; maybe they’re different psychologically, too. Maybe they’ve got somethin’ like a hive mind? Ah’ve seen somethin’ like that on TV, haven’t you?”

“Yes. But,” Madison objected, “that’s human entertainment. I think we humans just can’t imagine what aliens like these think – if they do think.”

After a long moment of silence, the door opened again and an alien came in. Natalie said, “Do ya think this is the same one that came in before? They all look alike ta me.”

Madison nodded. “Yes, to me, too. But what I’m wondering is, why are they here? Have they come to invade Earth? Or are they just curious about humans? Maybe they’re robots, or people in costumes, trying to frighten people. Maybe they are in costume, but sponsored by Disney World to advertise a new adventure.”

Natalie pondered that as the alien picked up the tray and exited the room. She nodded, and said, “Those are good possibilities. Why would aliens come to Earth, abduct two young girls, and kill a little girl and her dog?”

The girls spent some time pondering and discussing their questions, but finally tired of that and decided to wait for their answers.

“In the meantime,” Madison said, “let’s see if we can get out of this room. We’ve never even tried the door.”

“But there isn’t any doorknob,” Natalie pointed out. “How do we open it?”

Madison twisted her mouth in puzzlement, then said, “I don’t know. Let’s just try it, shall we?”

SIX

The door opened readily when Madison finally figured out that the strange symbol in the middle of the door should be pressed. She stood in the open doorway gazing out at the several aliens who moved around the room, doing who-knows-what. None of them turned toward her, as if they didn’t care if their captives left their room.

She reached over and pulled Natalie out with her, and they moved cautiously among the aliens, not knowing where they should go but unwilling to stay in their ‘room’ any longer.

To the right of the door they’d come through, or been carried through, was another, smaller door. Madison looked around and saw only two other doors, and watched as two aliens went into one of them, and one alien came out of the other one.

“I think this one is okay, Nat,” she said quietly. She located the symbol in the middle of the door that was similar to the one on their door, and pressed it. It opened, and the girls could hear animal noises from inside.

They looked at one another, and Natalie said, “Do they have a zoo here?”

Madison shrugged. “It sure sounds like it.”

Peeking in, she saw a row of cages on either side of an aisle leading toward the back wall of the room. Inside the first two cages, she saw a dog and a horse.

She looked at Natalie, and they both shook their heads but entered the room. Natalie shut the door after her and they stood there, waiting to see if any aliens followed. None did, so they held hands and began to walk down the aisle to look at the further cages.

“Do you s’pose they’re studyin’ the creatures of Earth for some reason?” Natalie asked.

Madison shrugged again. “Maybe,” she said. “Let’s go as far as we can, before we’re captured again and sent to our room.”

Natalie smiled a little, but both girls knew that what they were talking about wasn’t really funny.

***

After the cages with the beautiful Golden retriever, who slept peacefully, on one side, and the agitated black stallion on the other, the next few cages contained a goat, who bleated at them; a Maine coon cat, pacing restlessly; and an eagle. There were two smaller glass-enclosed cages beyond those, containing a swarm of butterflies, and at least a dozen cockroaches. Beyond those were several large aquariums containing a swordfish, a vicious-looking shark, and several other kinds of fish.

“They probably don’t even know they’ve been captured,” Natalie noted sympathetically.

Madison nodded, and pointed beyond the last of the aquariums to a separate set of enclosures that looked more like their own room. As they neared these, they could see that each cage looked like a jail cell, with a couch, a narrow bed, a bookcase, and a toilet.

In each of these cages was a human. They were pacing, or angrily shaking the bars, or sleeping, or sitting quietly on the bed looking at a book. Madison and Natalie didn’t know quite what to make of them.

“Will the aliens be puttin’ us in cages like these?” Natalie whispered fearfully. Madison shrugged once again, but then turned to put her arm around her friend.

“Don’t worry, Nat,” she said. “This is probably how they take care of them. Look, there’s two adult women and four men – no, make that five men,” as they heard a whistle from the last cage in line.

They observed other creatures in nearby cages, including several clearly insane people. One woman had torn most of her clothes nearly off, and was now tearing out her hair. The other woman was ranting at the air, in unintelligible words, as she alternately shook her fist and kicked at the bars.

Two of the men who were pacing were cursing and muttering to themselves, and the one shaking the bars appeared quite apathetic in his efforts.

Both girls shuddered, and quickly returned to their room. They achieved this with no problem, and then sat on the bed, hugging one another and shushing each other’s weeping.

SEVEN

The next day, after their morning meal, Natalie said, “Honey, we’ve gotta work through our fear and figure out how to escape before we’re driven insane, too.”

Madison nodded. “I agree. Do you have any ideas?”

Natalie shook her head, and they sat there for some time trying to work out a strategy of some kind. But every time they thought they had a plan, they quickly realized that it wasn’t going to work.

“Let’s go back to the zoo room and see if any of those people are sane enough to give us some answers,” Madison said.

But this time, when they opened the zoo door, an alien was on the other side. As soon as it saw them, it seized them both in its huge talons, and shut the door. The alien carried the two girls to where another alien, who looked exactly like all the others, sat before what looked to Madison like some sort of controls.

“Maybe he’s the captain,” Natalie commented. The words were strong, but her voice was still trembling, and Madison nodded again.

After the alien holding them made some sounds at the ‘Captain,’ they were transported back to the zoo room, carried effortlessly down the aisle, and thrust into another cage just beyond the one containing the man who’d been sleeping the day before.

After the alien left, Madison turned to their neighbor, who was now standing at the bars between his cage and theirs, and said, “How are you?”

She hoped he would answer her, rather than doing something crazy, and he did. “I’m fine, but you girls don’t look so fine.”

“We’re not!” Natalie exclaimed. She sank to the floor of the cage, put her hands on her face, and wept as if she’d never stop. She wailed and moaned, like the woman in the cage across the way, and Madison began to worry that she might be losing her mind, like the other humans.

“Don’t worry, Natty,” she said, sitting beside her friend and taking her in her arms. “We’ll get out of this somehow, I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you?”

Natalie shook her head and buried her face in Madison’s shoulder, and they rocked back and forth for a little while.

EIGHT

After they’d both calmed down a bit, Madison said, “I’ve got an idea how we might escape.”

Natalie nodded, and asked, “How?”

“We get one of the aliens to come inside the cage, and one of us distracts it while the other stops the door from locking.”

“Well, we’d need somethin’ like a card to stop the door from lockin’,” Natalie noted. “Do you have anything like that?”

“No,” Madison said. “We’ll have to find something that’ll work. Let’s look through whatever we have in our pockets. If there isn’t anything, we’ll look around the cage and just outside it, and there might be a piece of paper, or something, that might work.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.

The only thing Natalie had in her pockets was the tickets for Disney World. “These will work,” Madison said. “So, the next thing is to get one of those things to come inside the cage. Then you distract it, and I’ll stand beside the door when it leaves and slip a piece of a ticket into where the lock engages.”

“Do you think it’ll work?” Natalie asked, her voice still weak but seeming a bit stronger now.

“Well, all we can do is hope,” Madison answered. “Now, how do we get an alien in here?”

“When do they bring our next meal?” Natalie wondered. “It should be pretty soon now. Ah’m gettin’ pretty hungry.”

“Me, too,” said Madison. Both girls paced back and forth, anxious about their plan, until they heard the door open at the other end of the aisle and Natalie went to sit on the bed while Madison made sure her pacing took her very near the door.

She stood back as the alien opened the door and entered, and both girls started twittering, like they’d heard the aliens do, but their visitor paid no attention. It just set the meal tray down on the bed and moved back to the door where Madison waited.

She moved a few steps back when the alien neared the cage door, but as soon as it moved through the door she quietly slipped part of a ticket between the edges of the door and the cage. As the door shut, she saw that the ticket was securely wedged between the bars, and waited impatiently until the alien had delivered the remainder of its meal trays and headed for the door.

As soon as the zoo door shut, she pulled on their cage door and, miracle of miracles, it opened!

NINE

The girls slipped out of their cage and headed for the door, but the other humans apparently saw them, and made a great deal of noise. Several aliens came running, but the girls had been able to slip through the door before any had arrived.

The girls evaded their captors for a while and ran through the ship, but they knew they had nowhere to go. They were in the aliens’ spaceship, but they had no idea where they were in space. And Madison was aware that even if they did know, she didn’t think there was any way they could get down to the ground.

When they found a hiding place that seemed safe for at least a few minutes, they whispered to one another what they should do next.

“We’ve got no idea where we are in space, Maddy,” Natalie said. She’d apparently been thinking along the same lines as Madison had.

Madison nodded. “We’ll have to find a window or something.”

They exited their hiding place after assuring themselves that no aliens were near, and looked for a ‘window,’ or what they thought of as a porthole.

When they found one, they saw the ship appeared to be hovering over their own city, Talla-hassee, Florida!

“Why aren’t we in Orlando?” Natalie wondered.

“I don’t know,” Madison declared, “but there must be a reason we’re near home.”

But they would have to defer getting the answer as they were quickly captured and returned to their cage, without an explanation, apology, or punishment.

Inside the cage once again, Madison said, “This is truly disturbing. I can’t understand why we were captured in the first place if the aliens aren’t going to do anything to us, or about us.”

Natalie nodded. “Me either. ‘Specially now, when we’re so near home.”

“We have to confront the aliens,” Madison said, steely determination in her voice.

But Natalie was too terrified to think logically for a bit, and Madison had to spend a lot of energy calming her down.

She mused, “Why did they collect all those animals and humans, and why did they cause, or allow some of the humans to go crazy?”

***

They soon found they were able to talk with another captive, who told them to call him Harry. “I can tell you what I know about what’s going on,” he told Madison from his cage across from theirs.

“It isn’t much,” Madison admitted to Natalie, “but I believe him.”

The three of them started talking about how they might escape. Harry said, “The aliens are a race called Echirians. It’s pronounced Ek-hear-ians.”

“How did you find that out?” Madison asked suspiciously; she thought he might be one of those people who turned traitor, and worked against their own kind. She’d seen that in movies, too.

“I picked up a bit of their language,” Harry said, “and I asked what they were called.

“They did have monkeys and a zebra in cages, but the monkeys went crazy and the aliens killed them, and then the zebra died.”

After a moment, he went on. “I watched the aliens land somewhere and load the dog and the horse onboard and into cages several days before you arrived.”

He told them what he’d learned about the other humans in cages, and the animals. He said, “I’m from L.A.; actually, Hollywood.”

Neither girl was impressed, so he went on. “The cages hold me, three women and four other guys,” he told them. “All the adults are at least 40, I estimate. I’m 42.”

Madison said, “I wonder whether any of the adults might be related to any of the others. Also, does the fact that there are three females and five males, and that they’ve now abducted two more females, us, mean they intend for the humans to reproduce as couples?”

She thought, but didn’t add, But that’s a human thing; could it also be an alien thing?

Harry shrugged, and went on. “There already were four other humans aboard when I was abducted, just a couple of weeks ago. The other six were loaded just before you came aboard. I had to watch as they all went crazy. I know I’ll be insane if I don’t escape soon, and I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen to the others.”

Harry and Natalie, who seemed quite calm when talking with him, discussed the possibility that the aliens were actually from Mars. “Or are they from some star system millions of miles from Earth?” she wondered.

“The Echirians speak with twitches and other mannerisms, and they also twitter like birds.”

“Yeah, we know,” Natalie said. “Ah haven’t heard them speak, just twitter and jerk.”

TEN

“What are you doing, fiddling with your phone, Natalie?” Madison asked, a while later. “You haven’t gotten a signal anytime since we were taken.”

“Ah know, hon, but you neveh know; Ah might get a signal at any time while we’re flyin’ around.”

Madison nodded and turned back to her meditation.

“Hey!” Natalie yelled a few minutes later. “Ah do have a signal!”

“Well, what’re you gonna do with it?” Madison asked, not sure what that might mean.

Natalie gazed at her friend for a moment, and then said, “Ah’m gonna call my Mama!”

She dialed the number and put her phone to her ear, but slammed the phone down in disgust a moment later. “It rang twice, but it cut out before Mama could pick up!”

“I’m so sorry, Nat,” Madison said. “Here, let me try.”

The two of them kept trying the phone for the next hour, but they never got another signal.

Head down in disappointment, Natalie sat on the bed, but in another few minutes she lay down and whined, “Ah don’t feel good, hon.”

“What’s the matter? Are you sick?” Madison asked. She came to the bed and pulled the blanket up over Natalie’s shoulders. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep. Maybe we’ll get a signal tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Natalie sighed. She shut her eyes and Madison took the phone, but was annoyed to find that the phone’s battery was done.

A few hours later, Natalie awoke and Madison noticed that she’d been sweating a lot. She felt her friend’s forehead and learned that she had a fever. Alarmed, she wondered when the alien would come with their meal. I’ll tell him to get her some aspirin, or something, she told herself. But I’m not at all sure they understand English. What’ll I do if the alien doesn’t help her?

Natalie lay back down, and Madison decided to try and find aspirin herself. “I’ll be right back,” she told Natalie. But the girl was fast asleep again.

***

Madison opened the door of their cage and eased out, shutting the door behind her. None of the aliens seemed to take notice of her, but she had no idea where she might find aspirin.

Think, Maddy, she told herself. Where am I most likely to find aspirin, even on a spaceship? As she walked among the Echirians, she told herself, Probably in a First Aid kit. But where on Earth—or Mars?—would there be a First Aid kit on a spaceship?

Nearing what she’d been thinking of as the control room, Madison looked on the walls where she figured a First Aid kit would be in a human spaceship, and saw a boxy item on the wall next to the door into the control room. There were some weird-looking pictograms on the front of the box but, “Faint heart ne’er won fair ladies,” she muttered.

She walked up to the box and tried to pry it off the wall, and it came off in her hands. Opening it, she saw some strange items inside, including a box with what looked like white pills depicted on it.

She grabbed the box, closed the kit and pushed it back onto the wall where it stuck, to her surprise. She shrugged, and walked back to the zoo room and their cage, where Natalie was sitting up on the bed. “I brought you something that might help,” she said, though she wasn’t at all sure it would.

“Where are we?” Natalie asked as Madison shut the door. “Are we at Disney World?”

“What?” Madison was confused. Why would she ask that? She knows we were captured by the aliens, and we’re aboard their ship. “No, Natalie. We’re on the aliens’ spaceship, remember?”

“Oh, are we at Adventureland? And there are aliens! What fun!”

“Honey, lie down. I brought you something that might help.” Madison moved toward her friend, but Natalie stood and tried to walk past her to the door. Madison stopped her, and put her hand on Natalie’s forehead. “You still have a fever, Natalie. Come on, lie down and take one of these pills.”

The fever must be making her delusional, Madison thought. She gently guided Natalie back to the bed and helped her under the covers. Then she took out one of the pills and handed Natalie the glass of water on the bedside table. Natalie obediently took the water and the pill, swallowed both, and then lay back down.

Madison stayed with her, worried whether she might have poisoned her friend, until Natalie seemed to sleep.

ELEVEN

After the morning meal the next day, Natalie seemed much better. Her fever had gone down and she was more alert. She couldn’t believe Madison’s statement that she’d said something about thinking they were in Disney World.

“Why would Ah think that?” she wondered. “Heck, Ah know we’re on the alien ship, and we were hoverin’ over Tallahassee just the other day, weren’t we?”

“Yes,” Madison said. “And I think it’s time we tried to escape again.”

She called across to their neighbor, “Harry, we’re gonna try escaping again. Do you wanna come with us?”

“Sure. I can help ‘cause I did a bit of exploring before you guys arrived. There’s a button they push to get down to the surface. They don’t always go through the door. It’s near the control room, and it’s a red button. But it doesn’t work right away, so you have to be sure there aren’t any aliens near when you push it.”

“Thanks,” Madison said. “Can you get out of your cage?”

“Sure,” he said with a grin. He opened the door and walked over to their cage, opened their door and stood back.

“That’s all it takes to get out of these cages?” Madison asked, almost in disbelief.

“Well, I found a way to disable the locks a couple days ago. I didn’t do it for the crazy people, ‘cause I knew they’d just get out and make trouble for us.”

“Well, thanks so much!” Natalie said. She grinned at Madison, and they both stepped outside their cage. All three crept quietly towards the zoo door.

Harry and Natalie stood beside it as Madison opened it, and they waited for any aliens to arrive. None did, until all three had stepped into the room and two aliens turned in their direction.

“Oh, shit,” Madison said. “What do we do now?”

Harry became a whirlwind, kicking and chopping at the two aliens, until they were down, and the girls headed swiftly toward the outer door. Madison looked back to see Harry crouched as if he were Bruce Lee, waiting for a chance to incapacitate more of the enemy. No other aliens approached him as she watched.

“Oh, dear,” Madison said. “I hope they’re not dead.”

“Why not?” Natalie demanded. “They’re invaders! They’d kill us, and a lot of other humans if Harry doesn’t kill them all.”

Madison didn’t really want them to die, but she did want to escape and she wanted to help her friend escape, too. It looked like Harry wasn’t trying to escape, though. She thought maybe he was going to wait until they were hovering over L.A., so he could escape then.

“I hope he gets home,” she said.

Natalie nodded, and pointed to the red button next to the control room door, just where Harry had said it would be.

She looked around to make sure there were no aliens too close to them, as Harry had advised. Then, “Punch it!” she said.

Natalie nodded, and both girls waited, hoping that Harry had been right.

TWELVE

Suddenly, the girls found themselves on the sidewalk a few doors down from Madison’s house.

“OMG!” exclaimed Natalie. “This isn’t an illusion those aliens created, is it?”

Madison grinned and shook her head. “We’re home. Look, up there!”

Natalie glanced upward to see the big box-like alien spacecraft hovering over them, and both girls watched as it moved up and over, to hover directly above Madison’s house.

“Do you suppose they let us escape?” she wondered.

“What?” Natalie exclaimed. “Let us escape? Why would they do that?”

“Well, I just wondered,” Madison said. “If not,” she went on, “why did they come to Tallahassee? You know, we’re at least a decade younger than the three women up there, and the men. Maybe they didn’t want young people. Maybe that’s why the alien killed that child.”

“Yeah . . .” Natalie said. “But then why did it kill the dog?”

“Maybe because they already have a dog?” Madison said.

Just then, they reached Madison’s house and her parents came out as they walked up the driveway. “Where’s your car?” her dad asked.

“Umm, what?”

“Your car!” he repeated. “Why didn’t you drive it home? Did you have an accident? Or is there something wrong with the car?”

“Oh, Herb,” Madison’s mother said. “Don’t worry about that. Whatever’s wrong, we’ll take care of it, sweetie. Come on in. If you’ve been walking for a while, you must be exhausted. We ate dinner, but there’s still plenty of food. Natalie, you can call your folks from here. I’m sure they’ll be happy to pick you up.”

“Now, kids, tells us all about Disney World,” Madison’s dad, Herb, said as he put an arm around each of them to guide them inside.

“Wait!” Madison cried, stopping short. “We’ve been gone for more than a week! Weren’t you worried?  I’m sorry I didn’t call when we left Orlando, like I said I would, but . . .”

“Don’t worry, honey,” her mother said. “We’re just happy you got home okay. Now come on, I’ll fix you something to eat.”

“But, but,” Natalie tried. But no one was listening.

The girls believed they’d been captives of the aliens for more than a week. But apparently it had only been three days. Both families of the girls had expected that, since the girls had been heading to Disney World for the three-day weekend.

They tried to tell their families what had happened but no one believed them, even when they pointed to the alien spacecraft hovering

above.

But only the two of them could see it; it appeared to be invisible to everyone but them.

Natalie’s parents picked her up after they’d both wolfed down Madison’s mom’s ‘famous’ spaghetti and meatballs. When she got home, she phoned Madison and they talked over what they’d gone through over the weekend.

“We can’t tell the folks,” Madison said. “First of all, they’d never believe us. And second, even if they did believe us, what could they do? The ship is gone now, I watched it leave just after you left.”

“Yeah,” Natalie said. “It hovered over Mama’s car till we got home, and then it left. Ah think they let us off on purpose, and now they’re gone. Ah sure hope Harry gets away.”

Madison said, “Me, too. I guess it’s a good thing only we could see the ship. If anyone else had seen it, the cops or the military would probably have shot it down.“