Read an Excerpt
Visitors, Book Three
By Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
All rights reserved.
You can't escape the brain stealers. They're coming to get you. Hide in the basement. Hide under the bed. It doesn't matter where you hide, because the brain stealers will find you and they will steal ... your ... BRAIN!
That's what I was thinking after we managed to narrowly escape the aliens who had crashed their mothership in the dark spooky hills beyond our town.
"We" is me and my twin sister Jessica and our best bud Frasier Wellington. Three twelve-year-old kids against an alien invasion from outer space! No wonder I couldn't stop shivering.
We'd been deep inside the caverns under Harley Hills and rescued Jessie from her alien abductors. We'd seen the bubbling lake of glowing liquid where the ghastly creatures were born. We'd been chased down shadowy tunnels by slimy tentacles that stretched for hundreds of yards. We'd tumbled into crumbling old mine shafts that no one remembered existed anymore.
We'd run and run and run. And we'd barely escaped with our lives. But it wasn't over yet, not by a long shot.
We were standing in my backyard, our faces lifted to the sun as our hearts slowly returned to normal. I could hardly believe how good the sun felt after all our time underground. I wanted to stand there forever.
For a moment the three of us felt totally at peace. It seemed like we had the whole town to ourselves. There wasn't a soul around.
Not a person, not an animal, nothing. For a long while we didn't speak.
Then Jessie sighed. "What are we going to do?" she asked.
"We need a plan," said Frasier. "We have to figure out some way to save our parents and the other folks. The only way to do that is to get rid of the aliens."
My eye caught a movement in the street out front. I jerked to attention, my heart beginning to race again. "Right now there's only one thing we can do," I said urgently.
"What?" asked Frasier.
"Hide!" I said, jumping to my feet. "They're coming back."
Frasier looked toward the street. "I don't see anything. Relax, there's nobody here but us." He closed his eyes, enjoying the sun on his face. "Chill out, dude."
He thought talking like that made him cool. Wrong. Good old Frase was a real brain and he knew more big words than the dictionary, but he was your basic cybernerd. Pens in his pocket, thick glasses, and a tendency to fall down when you least expected it. He probably heard "chill out, dude" on some lame old video.
"If we don't find a place to hide, we're likely to be chilled out forever," I reminded him impatiently.
"Nick's right," said Jessie, her eyes darting around anxiously. "Just because we got away doesn't mean we're not in danger."
Frasier made a face. "You guys are such wusses," he said. "The invaders are trapped under Harley Hills. If they weren't, they would have come after us. As long as we stay away, we'll be safe."
It's amazing, really, how a smart guy like Frasier could be so dumb sometimes. Because in all the excitement of making our escape he seemed to be forgetting one fact. One very important fact.
All the adults in Harleyville had been taken over by the invaders. They were all acting more like robots than human beings.
That's right, our parents were alien zombies—and they wanted nothing more than to let us be taken over by aliens, too.CHAPTER 2
My eye caught movement out in front of the house again. Something fast and furtive, darting between the bushes.
"There's something stalking us," I said urgently. "We've got to get out of here fast."
"Where did you see it?" asked Frasier.
I pointed. Frasier peered at the spot, then put two fingers into his mouth and blew a piercing whistle. Something brown and big exploded out of the bushes and launched itself straight at Frasier.
"Frase!" I yelled. "Get down! Get out of the way!"
But he just stood there like a big goofball until the brown blur smashed into him and knocked him to the ground.
"Oh, yuck," yelled Frasier as he struggled to push it off him. It was the Grovers' big dog and he was licking Frasier's face like nothing ever tasted so good.
Watching them I relaxed. They looked so normal, a boy and a dog rolling around on the grass. Although the dog was kind of scruffy, like maybe nobody had been paying attention to him lately.
"Hey, Nick." Jessie's voice was low but her tone instantly raised all the hairs on the back of my neck. "Do you hear that?"
All I could hear was Frasier laughing and the dog panting. From the distracted look in Jessie's tense brown eyes I knew that wasn't what she meant.
"That clomping sound, hear it?" Jessie didn't wait for my answer. "It sounds like some huge giant way off in the distance stomping everything in its path."
And then I did hear it.
CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP!
It didn't sound all that far away to me. And it—whatever IT was—was coming closer.
"Hey guys, what's going on?" Frasier sat up and pushed the dog off, starting to get a worried look on his face. Sensing that playtime was over, the dog went on his way, tail wagging, nose to the ground like everything was just fine.
Frasier stood, bits of grass poking out of his hair and stuck to his clothes.
CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP!
"It's coming from Harley Hills," breathed Jessie fearfully. "Coming for us."
"It can't be the aliens," Frasier said. But not like he thought he was right. Only like he hoped he was. "They slither along on slimy fat tentacles, they don't stomp."
"We'd better get out of here," I said, my eyes darting every which way.
"Yeah, but where?" asked Jessie, her tiny freckles showing up dark against her pale face. "We can't hide in the house. It's the first place they'll look."
"I know!" Frasier announced, sounding excited. "Follow me." He turned on his heel and started running across the backyard, toward his house next door.
Jessie and I looked at each other and went after him, not knowing what else to do. Frasier pushed through the hedge separating our yards. But instead of heading for his house, he turned the other way and ran toward the woods that bordered our backyards.
Jessie slowed. "I don't want to go into the woods. No way!" There was a stubborn, terrified look on her face.
She was right. The animals in the woods had been changed by the aliens. Now they banded together and attacked in mobs. They had already made it very clear they didn't want us in their woods. The thought of facing them again turned my knees to Jell-O.
"Frasier!" I yelled. "Not the woods. It's not safe!"
But Frasier kept going. "Come on," he shouted back. "Hurry up. We haven't got much time."
CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP!
My heart lurched. I grabbed Jessie's arm. She made a whimpering sound but got moving. Whatever giant was behind us was scarier than all the nasty forest creatures put together.
Then Frasier stopped. He was underneath a big old oak near the edge of his backyard. He started to climb the tree then looked toward us uncertainly and dropped back down again.
My heart fluttered as I realized where he was taking us. I heard Jessie's sharp intake of breath as she realized it, too.
"The old tree house!" I exclaimed happily as we caught up with Frasier. "What a good idea. We haven't used it in so long I forgot about it. Nobody will find us here!"
But Frasier had a queasy look on his face.
"What are you waiting for?" Jessie asked impatiently. "We haven't got all day. In case you haven't noticed, they're getting closer."
Frasier shuddered and looked up into the tree. "Like you said, Nick, we haven't been up here in a long time. Something, ah, something else might be living here by now."
I looked up. The old tree house looked pretty dilapidated. The door was hanging by one hinge but I couldn't see inside. What if it was filled with hundreds of bristling squirrels, their eyes that strange angry glowing red? What if they jumped us the second we poked our heads in there?
CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP! CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP!
Panic jolted me. We were nearly out of time. In a flash I jumped into the tree, hugging the trunk.
"Hurry up," urged Jessie, practically pushing me up.
I hesitated for just an instant at the gaping door then crashed on through. No squirrels. Relieved, I turned to give Jessie a hand but she was already in, reaching back to help Frasier. Then all three of us crouched under the low roof, our chests heaving with fright.
"Can you see anything?" Jessie demanded, her voice high and thin.
Closest to the window, I turned and looked out. Even with leaves in the way I could see most of the street in front of our houses. "Nothing," I said. "Don't worry. We're safe here."
Jessie wrinkled her nose but didn't answer. The tree house smelled musty and moldering. There were some kind of animal droppings on the floor and bits of shredded stuff that looked like mouse nests.
Frasier found a stick and was starting to investigate one of the nests by poking at it when Jessie gasped. "Look!" she cried hoarsely.
Frasier dropped the stick. I whipped around. What I saw made me lose my balance. The whole tree house shook when I fell. The floor groaned.
A nail tore loose and the tree house shuddered. Jessie grabbed a post as one end began to drop. There was a hard jolt.
The tree house was falling! It was going to crash to the ground, taking us with it.
If that didn't finish us, that thing in the road would get us for sure!
The tree house shivered. Jessie's fingers were white—she was gripping so hard. Of course it wouldn't do much good to be holding tight on to the tree house when it fell. It was almost funny.
I realized I was pushing on the ceiling like I could hold it up all by myself. The floor dipped another inch.
Then it stopped. Nothing moved. No more boards creaked. We were still in the tree. My eyes flew to the window. The view hadn't changed.
"It's like a giant snake," Jessie moaned.
"A humongous centipede," said Frasier. "All those feet. All moving together like that." He shivered so hard I thought I felt the floor move under me again.
It was like a snake and a centipede but it was worse. It was a long snaky line of people, marching in unison back from Harley Hills, their knees rising and their feet falling in perfect step.
CLOMP, TROMP, CLOMP, TROMP!
As they came closer we could make out their faces.
"Oh!" cried Jessie. "Is that—no! Is it? It's Mom and Dad!"
Our parents were in the lead. Their faces were empty, their eyes as blank as polished stones.
"There's my parents, too," cried Frasier.
"And Miss Pringle, our nice school librarian," said Jessie. "She always found me the best books."
"And Mr. Forester, the fire chief," I said. "He gave me a ride on the fire truck two weeks ago." It seemed like a different lifetime, back when Harleyville had been a nice, ordinary town.
"I see the Grovers," said Frasier. "I wonder if their dog will try to wake them up?"
We fell silent. Every adult we knew was out there, marching along in lockstep. It was creepy and weird, knowing they weren't anything like we remembered them. They were aliens now.
"What are they thinking?" I wondered aloud. "Can they think at all? Or are they just robots obeying alien commands?"
"Maybe they think like aliens now," Frasier said. "Or maybe their real selves are inside, pushed in a corner of their minds, screaming to get out."
"Stop it!" cried Jessie, covering her ears with her hands. "They're our parents, our neighbors, and we have to help them."
Yeah, but how, I wondered glumly, feeling a cold finger trail down my spine as I watched the snaky line wind down the street in perfect formation.
But all of a sudden the line veered sharply in front of Frasier's house. People surged toward the house, then stopped abruptly.
"Uh-oh," said Frasier.
A ripple went through the human centipede. People broke ranks and began milling around one another in confusion. They reminded me of ants when their nest is disturbed.
Except this mob wasn't panicky. And as suddenly as they'd broken apart they re- formed again, still with Mom and Dad in the lead. But they didn't continue up the street.
They turned into Frasier's yard and started lockstep-ping around the house into the backyard, streaming straight for this tree.
Heading right for us.
"They're coming," said Jessie, her voice quavering. "Somehow they know we're here and nothing can stop them."
"Oh, so what," said Frasier, frowning and pushing his glasses back up his nose. "They never do anything. They just wander around like a bunch of zombies, or lug rocks up to Harley Hill."
"Take another look," I said, my voice sounding far away to my own ears.
"He's right," said Jessie, backing up against the wall. "This time they look hungry."CHAPTER 4
The mob surged toward the tree house. They didn't speak but we could hear teeth gnashing.
Frasier suddenly made a dash for the door. The tree house shook violently. Jessie screamed and grabbed the windowsill, white-faced.
The crowd had nearly reached the tree. Frasier whipped a piece of string out of his pocket, tied one end to the door handle and the other to a nail in the wall.
"Good thinking," I told him sarcastically. "That string is probably stronger than the tree house."
"Yeah," said Frasier. "If anyone tries to get in they'll just pull the whole thing down on top of themselves."
A charged, whispery sound came from below the tree, like the buzz of a thousand killer wasps. The crowd had reached the tree and surrounded it. They were looking up eagerly, longingly, like termites who hadn't had a meal in a century.
"I think they really are hungry," said Jessie in a small voice.
I looked out and saw Miss Pringle drooling. It was weird seeing her hair still in its perfect cap of old-lady curls, her kind face just the same except for her bared teeth and the saliva dripping out of the corners of her mouth.
Beside her was Mr. Rodriguez, the hardware store owner. When he saw us his eyes bugged out and drool gushed down his chin.
Jessie and I jerked back from the window and slumped down on the floor. "How did they know we were here?" Jessie asked.
None of us had an answer. My stomach felt gnarly and sick. Sick at the thought of what might happen to us.
We froze as a voice barked from under the tree. "Jessie! Nick! Frasier Wellington!" It was Dad's voice but it didn't sound anything like him. "Come-down-here-at-once!"
Frasier's eyes were big and round behind his glasses. The three of us huddled together against the far wall away from the door. But the floor of the tree house began to sag dangerously under our weight.
We scooted away from each other and the tree house settled. Then we just looked at one another, afraid to move a muscle.
"Reveal-yourselves-instantly!" ordered Dad from down below.
The strange, jerky sound of his voice made my guts twist in knots. Frasier hugged his knees and Jessie's face paled even more. She looked like a ghost.
Dad—correction—the thing that looked like Dad—didn't call again. Instead we heard feet shuffling furtively. Something scraped against the bark of the tree, like an animal with claws. I wanted to look out but I was too afraid to move.
The tree shuddered; the tree house swayed. Something was coming. All of a sudden the tree house felt like a trap.
A thick gargly noise from just below rose up through the floor. The liquidy noise, like bubbling pus, was like nothing I'd ever heard before. It was not a human sound at all.
An answering gargle came from the ground and then there was more from whatever was in the tree. The sound made me feel like bugs were crawling under my skin.
"I think they're talking alien," I whispered.
"It sounds like two elephants with really bad colds," Frasier said. His hair was standing up all over his head.
"Maybe they're trading recipes," said Jessie. "And we're the main ingredient." She swallowed like she was trying hard not to throw up.
Suddenly a voice right outside the door jolted us. "All-offspring-must-obey. Last-chance. Descend-from-this-place. Repeat. Descend-at-once."
Excerpted from Brain Stealers by Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett. Copyright © 1997 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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