This is a story I sold to the children’s magazine Beyond Centauria couple years back. It was inspired by the book K-Pax by Gene Brewer but a lot lighter plot. It’s short, it’s fun. Have at it.
by Scott W. Baker
Mike had always been an odd little brother, but this was out there even for him. It wasn’t the wheelchair that made him odd; it wasn’t his fault the muscles in his legs didn’t develop right. But he had this crazy idea that he was going to be an astronaut, that one day he would go to another planet and meet aliens. He was always trying to think up ways to communicate with aliens since they wouldn’t speak English. In an art class, he drew a chart of pictures to point at instead of speaking: a smiley for yes, a frown for no, a blue and green ball for Earth…that kind of thing. What kind of nine-year-old thinks of that stuff? He was supposed to be thinking about video games, kickball, who’s his best friend, and how gross girls are; the stuff I thought about in third grade.
Today he had really pushed things and the principal had called Mom. It must have been pretty bad to pull me out of math class. I hadn’t even done anything. At least I didn’t think I had. But there I sat on the wooden bench outside the principal’s office, straining to hear what Mom sounded so upset about. All I could make out for sure was that Mike had lied about something.
“My son is not a liar,” I heard Mom say through the door. “He just has a very active imagination.”
The principal said something I couldn’t hear.
“His father and I will talk to him about it,” Mom said. “I’m sure it’s just a phase.”
I still couldn’t hear the principal — he was soft-spoken for such a big man — but I did distinctly hear him say the words “his brother”. I risked sliding off the bench and pressing my ear to the door.
“So now both my boys are a problem?” Mom said.
“Mrs. Vickers, I said nothing of the sort,” the principal said. “I am simply suggesting that younger brothers tend to be very suggestible when it comes to older siblings.”
“You think Brandon told Mike he was an alien and now Mike believes him? That is the most–”
“I certainly prefer that to the idea that Mike is having a psychotic episode, yes.”
Mom made the grunt she always made when she was too frustrated to yell anymore. “Where is my son?”
“He’s talking to the school psychologist. She has to verify that this is not being caused by some sort of domestic—”
“Where is my son?”
I was a beat too late realizing they were coming out of the office. The door caught me in the face as it opened. Mom looked down long enough to tell me to get my butt back on the bench, then followed the principal down the hall to the guidance office. It was less than a minute before she was rolling Mike back toward me. I helped get Mike and his chair in the van and we left.
No one spoke on the way home, not even Mike. He didn’t seem upset, though, just looked around with an expression of awe, the same face he had when we went to Disneyland. He stared at cows like they were exotic zoo animals, gaped at power lines and flowerbeds. He found a ballpoint pen in the seat pocket and studied it for the last five minutes of the trip home.
Mom went inside right away, leaving me to extract Mike from the van. It was just as well, it gave me a chance to find out what he did. I threatened to leave him in the van if he didn’t tell me.
“Mike is not in the van,” Mike replied. He was still holding that dumb pen.
“Yes you are. You’re right there, now tell me what you did.”
“All I did was go on vacation,” Mike said. “I am…you can call me Goo; it is as close to my name as the sapient mouth can produce. Mike is on vacation on my home world. That’s how it works.”
“How what works?”
Mike cocked his head like I was the one talking crazy. “Mind travel, of course. It would take way too long to transport my body here from my planet. It is much more efficient to send my thoughts to inhabit the body of an indigenous life form. Your ‘Mike’ is in my body.” He raised his arm and looked into his armpit. “I am sure he finds it as unusual as I find his.”
“You’re unusual all right,” I said.
“You are Brandon, are you not?”
I pulled his chair out of the trunk. “I’m your brother. You know who I am. If you keep talking like that, I’m going to punch you in the arm.”
“Punch me?” Mike said it like he was considering a new flavor of ice cream. “You mean to strike me with your fist. Yes, I think I should experience that while I am here. Go ahead.”
Mike rubbed his arm thoughtfully. “Interesting. I do not think I would choose to repeat the experience.”
“Then slide over here so I can put you in your chair. And stop pretending to be an alien, it isn’t funny.”
“That is an unusual choice of words, Brandon. Funny. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, fun perhaps, but neither humorous nor strange. So no, I would say it is not funny.”
I lifted Mike from the van, making sure to pinch him hard on the same arm I punched. He made a curious hum.
“Like an alien would want to travel a gazillion miles just to take over a body in a wheelchair.”
“Actually, I specifically selected a wheeled host form. My species has no legs. Or backbones. We somewhat resemble your world’s octopi, but we are terrestrial. I have known too many travelers who could not operate the bipedal form.”
“Funny, you seem to talk pretty good.”
“Standard policy that travelers speak the language of their host. I also speak Grok, Spanish, Sss-iss-sll, and…I don’t think I can pronounce anything in that language with only one tongue.”
I grabbed the handles and pushed him into the house. “You better stop it. Mom is really upset. What, did you have a test today or something?”
“Of course not. I told you, I am on vacation.”
It went on like this for two days. Dad finally called the nuthouse or some hospital – Mom was too messed up to talk about it. Mike just kept wheeling through the house, examining normal stuff like they were new toys in FAO Schwarz.
I had had enough. It was time to do things the CIA way. I considered pulling out his fingernails, but I had no stomach for real torture. I did the next best thing.
I caught him examining a cactus and pushed him into the bathroom. I turned on the faucet and the shower so Mom and Dad wouldn’t hear us. Then I pulled the stuffed dog from under the sink. Scruffy. Mike couldn’t sleep without Scruffy under his arm and hadn’t a night of his life since he was three. It was ragged and filthy and Mike would have it no other way. I dangled the toy over Mike’s head like a piñata. The long-nozzle lighter from the drawer next to the fireplace was in my back pocket.
“That thing is filthy,” Mike said with his recent tone of curiosity. “Is it supposed to be some sort of animal?”
“You know what it is and I’m giving you the count of three to drop the act or I turn Scruffy into roast dog.” It had sounded better in my head. I brandished the lighter in an attempt to salvage the intended menace.
Mike tilted his head. “Ah, there it is. I see the canine resemblance. Looks a bit like a Norfolk Terrier, does it not?”
“I told you, my name is Goo.”
“One…” I grabbed Mom’s hairspray can, “two…” I struck the flame.
Mike seemed less interested in this event than anything he had beheld in the last few days. Calling my bluff. So I played it his way.
It really does work, making a flamethrower out of hairspray. The stuffed dog was engulfed in flame in an instant. I got my hand a little, too, and dropped both can and dog. There was no salvaging my brother’s favorite toy, its surface was ash before it hit the tile. Mike just watched, mouth open in delight as the orange flames danced on the floor before him.
I grabbed the showerhead — one of those detachable ones — and sprayed the fire out. Smoke filled the bathroom. I turned on the fan, which I should have done for noise reasons anyway. Mike still hadn’t moved. Was he in the room at all?
“Goo?” I said tentatively.
“What do I have to do to get my brother back?”
Goo smiled with Mike’s face. It wasn’t a way Mike would ever smile, baring teeth to the gums like the Joker in a comic book. “He will be back as soon as I finish my vacation.”
“Call it finished and go back where you came from. Don’t you see what you’re doing to my family? I want Mike back in his body, right now.”
“Oh, that is not possible,” Goo said.
“I would never take a vacation that ruined people’s lives.”
Goo shook his head. “Nor should you. But would you go back home without seeing what you wanted to see on that vacation?”
“I left Disney without ever seeing Goofy up close.”
“Well, I won’t be bullied away without seeing it.”
“You came to see Earth. You’ve seen it. Go back home.”
“I came to Earth because it’s the planet with the best oceans.” He pointed to a bad painting Mom had bought at a garage sale to match the tiles: a boat in small waves. “I will not leave without seeing the ocean.”
I clapped my hands. “I can do that. It’s shark week on Discovery.”
“Not the television. I can see images of oceans from my planet. I want to see a real ocean. Smell it, swim in it.”
“Mike can’t swim.”
“I won’t leave without it.”
“But the beach is like an hour away. There’s no way Mom and Dad will take you there the way you’ve been acting. I mean—”
The smoke from Scruffy chose this moment to reach the smoke alarm in the kitchen. The tone screamed and Mike — Goo — curled into as close to a fetal position as his wheelchair and atrophied legs allowed. He whined in agony like I had never seen my brother endure. I covered his ears. His stress subsided but did not vanish. The bathroom door took the edge off the alarm’s piercing note. It irritated me but caused no pain. Was Goo that sensitive to sounds?
I didn’t pause to consider the wisdom of my actions. I wrapped a towel around Goo’s head and pulled him out of the bathroom. I winced under the full force of the alarm; Goo curled lower in his chair. Mom was waving a towel near the smoke detector. She shouted my name, but I ignored her. My mission was too important. I snatched her keys from the hook by the door and shoved the wheelchair into the garage.
Goo must have understood what I was doing the way he helped pull himself into the van. I abandoned the chair, climbed in the driver’s seat, and did what I should never have tried before my fifteenth birthday.
The van started, a harsh metal-on-metal sound rang before I released the key. I pressed the garage button, moved the shifter to R, and braced to do something almost as stupid as it was necessary.
Mom burst through the house door. I couldn’t look at her, so I moved my foot to the gas pedal. The van lurched backward. Mom screamed and ran toward us. I hit the gas again, more gradually this time, and we rumbled into the street. A shift to D and we were moving down the street, weaving as I tried to adapt to the sensitivity of the wheel. Video games weren’t this tough.
I got the hang of things in a few minutes, though I was still terrified any time another car came within fifty feet of us. It was easy to get to the beach, mostly the same road, and we were on our way. Knowing Mom had the cops looking for us did nothing to ease my stress. My heart raced all the way to the Pacific Coast Highway exit. We almost slid off the road as I pulled off the exit.
Then there it was, out the left window. I had never stopped to realize how pretty the ocean was. Now it was more orange than blue in the late afternoon sun. I heard Goo gasp as he beheld that which he had traveled light-years to see.
I stopped the van right on the road and lifted Goo out. It was tough to get past the guardrail with him in my arms, but then we were a small hill away from the soft Pacific sands, less than a football field from the waves.
I heard sirens. Someone must have called in the description of the van in the road. They wouldn’t stop me from getting my brother back.
Goo grew heavier with every step. We were halfway to the water when the first police car arrived. I didn’t look back to see how close they were. The sand was more dense now; high tide came this far up. So close.
“Brandon,” a cop shouted, closer than I had hoped he would be. They knew my name. “Put your brother down, Brandon.”
This was not my brother.
Saltwater gushed up the beach and into my Reeboks. I was ankle deep, shin deep. I had to pull my knees higher with every step. Another wave came in then out. The undertow took hold and I fell with a splash.
The cop was knee deep behind me and pulled me back to my feet. I released Goo, kicked him forward as I was pulled backward toward the beach. The officer tackled me into the sand. I expected him to cuff me but he didn’t, just held me to the ground for what seemed forever.
Mike flopped beside me, drenched and unconscious. A police woman checked his pulse and blew two breaths in his mouth. He just lay there. She pushed on his chest. Nothing.
“Mike!” I yelled. “Come back, Mike. Goo saw to the ocean, he swam, now give me my brother back. Mike!”
Mike sputtered. He rolled to his side as best he could, coughed water into the wet sand.
“Mike?” Was it him?
He looked me in the eye. “Nice. I have bones again.”